Antiques Frame by Barbara Allan

Antiques Frame by Barbara Allan
Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corp.
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full length (240 pages)
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Snowdrop

With their reality TV series, Antiques Sleuths, Brandy Borne and her quaintly kooky mother, Vivian, have a real hit on their hands. But another “hit” enters the picture, after a rival bidder becomes a one-woman show at their televised auctions—and it’s the estranged wife of Brandy’s police-chief beau, Tony! Soon the fine art of murder colors the scene, fitting Brandy for an ornately elaborate frame.

But when you’re inside a frame, it’s difficult to make out the picture. That’s why Brandy’s mom—her daughter now wearing basic jailhouse orange—must sort through a rogue’s gallery of suspects including a too-friendly farmer’s wife, a ratings-happy TV producer, a questionable husband-and-wife auctioneer team, and even the chief of police himself.

Brandy and Vivian race to determine how an empty antique frame can hold a deadly portrait, a picture worth a thousand dangerous words. Aided only by Sushi, their loyal shih tzu, and police dog Rocky, the wacky mother-and-daughter sleuthing team must learn the killer’s identity before they become the subjects of another masterpiece of murder.

Sarcasm absolutely at its best

I know the proper terminology for a review is not “it’s just as fun as can be” but that’s really and truly the first thought that comes to mind. This book is full of humor plus a few tips on finding good buys on authentic antiques. A slightly off-center, well okay, a crazy mother and her somewhat depressed daughter deal in antiques and murder. This whole series is set in a small town called Serenity along the Mississippi River. The town is a wonderful place to go antiquing as there are two or three great stores and our stars, Brandy and Vivian, continue filming their reality show, Antique Sleuths.

This series is mostly pseudo-written or narrated by the daughter Brandy but Vivian, her mother, is now and then allowed to add a chapter. None of this is confusing. In fact, the play and dialog between mother and daughter make this really work. Amongst all of the fun, there are still plenty of twists and turns. The descriptive writing is done well as is the character development.

Painting a picture in words is an important skill for an author no matter what genre might be his or her forte. Throughout this series, the author has drawn not just a map in the front of her book but also has crafted a complete snapshot. You begin to see the delightful characters, the small town, and even the day to day workings of the community. It’s as if you’ve lived there. What that creates is a reader like me who never wants to miss a book in the series.

This is Book 11 of the series called “A Trash and Treasures Mystery”. This reviewer happens to know another book will be out in April 2018 because I can’t wait to read it.

You’re Not Safe by Mary Burton

You’re Not Safe by Mary Burton
Publisher: Zebra / Kensington Publishing Corp.
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full Length (392 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Camellia

He Will Never Forget

The broken body hanging from a tree in Texas Hill Country. . .the frozen figure huddled in a meat locker. . .only at second glance does the truth become apparent. What seems like suicide is far more sinister, and the terror is only beginning…

Never Forgive

One devastating moment changed Greer Templeton’s life and ended two others. Now, with a body found on her property and Texas Ranger Tec Bragg on her doorstep, Greer’s nightmare has returned. With each new victim, her link to Tec’s case grows, and soon it will be too late to run.

And Never Let Them Live. . .

Greer hoped the past was behind her, but an obsessed killer has never forgotten the bond that unites them. One by one, he will track down his victims, finish what was started–and make Greer’s dying wish come true.

Murder with unsettling, eerie elements grabs the reader’s attention from the get-go.

Mary Burton weaves a tale of mystery and suspense that made me shudder at times. She takes the reader into the setting so one can almost feel the sweltering heat in the hill country of the dry Texas summer as the temperature soars above 100 degrees regularly, while all the time pulling the reader into a tale that put down roots in events that happened twelve years earlier. Now, the things that grew from those roots are ripe for harvest—what a horrifying harvest it is.

Texas Ranger Tec Bragg is back in Austin after his stint on the border fighting drug cartels. The media coverage of his warrior deeds on the border make people a little leery of him. He goes about his duties with polite manners and soft-spoken words. Yet, the hard glint in his eyes and straight forward questions make it clear, he tolerates no nonsense. He is not happy when his nephew Mitch, who is back from Iraq with PTSD, goes to work for Greer Templeton, a person of interest in a murder investigation..

At age fifteen, Greer Templeton disappeared from Austin society after she was injured and her brother and his fiancée were killed in a car accident when she was driving. She cannot forgive herself and neither can her parents. They put her in Shady Grove, a ritzy place where “broken” rich children were sent to be “repaired.” Her Aunt Lydia, who owns a vineyard, comes for her when she is released from Shady Grove. With her aunt’s unconditional love and hard work day in and day out, Greer makes a life for herself.

Fulfilling a promise, she made to her dying aunt; Greer hires Mitch, a person Dr. Stewart at the crisis center recommended. This “good deed” really puts her in Ranger Bragg’s sights. He keeps close tabs on her and her activities.

As bodies pile up, all of them people who’d been in Shady Grove when Greer was there, the situation gets tense. Is she the killer? Even with this being a possibility, Ranger Bragg is attracted to her and she to him.

The possible suspects and spooky activity along with unidentified characters that slip in and out of the story, keep tension high. As new characters enter the story, I just knew I’d be able to guess who the killer or killers were. WOW, did I get a surprise!

Mary Burton never drops a single thread as she weaves a tale that involves so many characters with so many problems it makes one head swim. YOU’RE NOT SAFE is a gripping tale about people surviving the best they know how—some winning the battle and other losing.

Mary Burton delivers a scary suspense/ mystery story along with an in-depth look into the characters’ troubled personalities. EXCELLENT READING!

Night Unbound by Dianne Duvall

Night Unbound by Dianne Duvall
Publisher: Zebra Books, Kensington Publishing Corp.
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (425 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

For centuries, Lisette d’Alençon has been a warrior against the dark. She fights alongside her brothers and comrades. But when the dreams start coming, she can’t bear to confess them to the Immortal Guardians’ command. Dreams of a dark-haired man with soft eyes and brutal wounds, a man her heart aches for–and a man she knows has been declared a traitor.

Zach is an exile, a loner. He won’t defend himself against false accusations or grovel to those who should have faith in him. But he’ll damn sure defend the woman who kept him sane against a plague of super-vamps that seems to have appeared from nowhere. The Guardians will blame him, and that will make Lisette suspect, too. With life, death and eternity on the line, who can they really trust?

Fans of paranormal romance who haven’t discovered this series yet are really missing out on something extraordinary. Ms. Duvall has consistently proved her talent with every installment by delivering heart stopping action, thrilling escapes, sizzling romance and heroes and heroines that touch and engage the emotions of a reader. Every single book so far has been almost impossible to put down once I started and Night Unbound continues the tradition. I read it in one day, all 400+ pages. It was that compelling.

If readers like a bad good guy who is misunderstood, Zach is their man. If readers are looking for a romance that embraces sweet and naughty, that can be tender or frenzied, and defies all odds, including threat of death, then this is the book to read. If a race against time and the drama and suspense and all that that entails piques your interest, then a reader should feel right at home. If reading about a strong man who is not intimidated by a strong woman but is turned on by it, who acts like an adorable puppy with the heroine but can wield power better than Darth Vader, then Zach might be the man of your dreams. Zach’s personal growth in this story is tremendously painful but worth every angst filled page. What he turns into is worthy of a swoon – and a rousing cheer.

Lisette is the heroine who teaches Zach to crave a woman’s touch. She’s a warrior and has a wicked talent with swords. She’s also a very brave woman because she stood up to the threat of death in order to be with the man she loved. At no time did the author fall into the trap of making Lisette less than what she started off to be – a strong, independent woman with a confidence to match. Doesn’t mean she doesn’t make mistakes. But the make-up sheet fun was worth reading; every single scene. Well, there was that part that some would consider embarrassing, but I found tremendously funny. I don’t think her brother will recover any time soon. I giggle every time I remember that part.

Secondary characters are too numerous to mention. Perhaps a new reader might get lost when it comes to some of the deep emotional undercurrents between them, mostly because they are much more effective if a reader has the background. But Ms. Duvall did include enough backstory in the natural telling of this tale to catch a reader up to speed so I’m not too worried about calling this a standalone read. In any event, the secondary characters to keep an eye on for future stories are Seth and Aiden. I don’t know too much about Aiden yet but I recognize a wonderful hook when I see one. But Seth, Seth is special. In this novel readers will find out more about him then they ever dreamed they would all in one book. Now I know he is a man in need of love even more than the men I’ve met so far. It’s not too strong of a statement to say that I’m enamored of this series. It’s so rich and meaty!

As for bad guys, Ha! Get ready to be turned around upside down. I was as discombobulated as Zach and as frustrated as Seth. Who could do the impossible and do all that was done? The suspense and mystery of it all had me gripped by my short hairs. I’m still reeling from the ramifications. It was awesome writing.

Night Unbound isn’t just a story, it’s a profound experience. The editing, the characterization, the dialogue, the pace and delivery of the plot and all its environs were simply spot on. I am hard pressed to find anything that didn’t work for me. I adored how Lisette and Zach were together – watching their love grow made me happy. There is sadness too, and tenderness and even hope and joy woven in to keep things balanced. Night Unbound has everything a paranormal romance reader could possibly wish and then some. I cannot express enough my pleasure and satisfaction from having read this book but I encourage readers to discover the unique richness that abounds in Ms. Duvalls books. This book and the rest are treasures.

Darkness Rises by Dianne Duvall

Darkness Rises by Dianne Duvall
Publisher: Zebra Books/Kensington Publishing
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full Length (403 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Krysta is used to getting the drop on vampires. Her “special abilities” aren’t much, but the plan is simple–she plays helpless pretty young thing to lure them in. Then her shoto swords come out and it’s bye-bye, bloodsucker. Until one night she finds herself with an unexpected ally. He’s a vampire, all right, but different. Mysterious. Handsome. And more interested in saving her skin than draining it.

ȴienne has been an Immortal Guardian for two hundred years–long enough to know that Krysta is special. He can’t stop thinking about her long legs, even more than her short swords. Then he discovers the vamps she’s exterminating have friends in high places, and the Guardians are in danger too. He’ll have to accept Krysta’s help to save them. The stakes for a mortal are high. But the cost to his heart might be higher. . .

If ever there was a book to get excited about and be filled with giddy anticipation as soon as I got my hands on it, I believe Darkness Rises is that novel. I simply couldn’t wait to get started because the last book was amazing and set the bar pretty high. I had great expectations for this new addition to Ms. Duvall’s unique world and I am thrilled to say it has not disappointed. By the time I was almost through the first chapter, my normal everyday human world faded away to be replaced by the amazing one created by Ms. Duvall.

Every chapter seduced me deeper and deeper into the mystery of why my favorite characters were being attacked, again, and who could possibly be the mastermind this time? How were Krysta’s and Étienne’s romance and relationship going to survive and grow amidst all the threats and assaults and divisions of attention? Who is that hunky mysterious guy who fascinated me and ensnared my sympathies? Where is the villain hiding this time? So many questions, so many adventures and all of it found within one book. What a wild ride!

Étienne and Krysta were a fun couple to get to know. The author created a very intriguing way to introduce them to each other and I think that was one of the reasons why I was hooked early on in the book. The heroine isn’t a damsel in distress; she is smart, lethal, determined and impassioned. She has unusual talents that have kept her alive but unless something changes, it’s going to kill her. And that is where Étienne comes in and when the excitement begins.

The dialogue, both spoken and internal, is very important in this story because it provides fast plot movement when needed as well as giving a reader the inside track on both of the main characters. There is a head hop here and there and it’s well placed. In fact it plays a key role when it comes to Zach.

In Zach’s POV I was given suspenseful teasers that I strongly believe foreshadow a bigger event in a future book. As it is, in Darkness Rises he’s a secondary character and an asset to this novel. He provides humor, clues, drama and even comes across as a bit of a tragic character. Compared to the rest of the characters in the book, I’m probably the only person that feels that way.

Other secondary characters interact with or guide, tease, help or come to Étienne and Krysta’s aid numerous times and in varied ways throughout the story. With all that going on, it sounds confusing but Ms. Duval kept a tight rein on all of the people that populate her world. The folks that I met in previous books don’t fade away but are integral to this current adventure but neither do they undermine a reader’s focus on the hero and heroine. There is never a doubt that Étienne and Krysta are falling in love and that it’s their story that is center stage.

Seth’s comments and reaction to their romance made me laugh. In fact there are healthy doses of humor, clever quips and comedic exchanges not only between the hero and heroine, but the heroine’s brother and other key players throughout the novel. It’s one of the reasons I like this series so much – they seem real.

I was also pleased when the loving transferred to energetic sheet action. It was just right and very well written. I had no complaints. It was seductive, erotic at times and the author always made sure that a reader knew the hero and heroine’s love was growing stronger through each encounter.

The actions scenes were tight and well written. This novel has a heavy dose of suspense, action, thrills, sword fights, guns and plenty of bad vampires meeting their end. Every now and again, I noticed the author would state something as a narrator would but that didn’t bother me. Sometimes a fact is a fact and doesn’t need to be embellished by fluff to get the point across.

All in all, I’m a very happy reader. Darkness Rises has more then met my expectations. This is a thrill ride from beginning to end and not to be missed. The novel is rich with story, plot, drama and strong characterizations. In fact, there are so many more juicy details in this book that I could not fit them all into this tiny review. Darkness Rises meets all my ‘must haves’ of an awesome read. It has a wonderful and fulfilling HEA that was top notch. Not only that, but there is a huge surprise at the end. Not just for a reader but for Krysta and Étienne as well. It made me laugh out loud and I wanted to high five Ms. Duval for writing such a clever and cute scene. It made the happy ever after extra special and had me turning the last page with a huge grin on my face. I am wowed.