Rihanna’s Rancher by Bella Settarra

Rihanna’s Rancher by Bella Settarra
The Cowboys of Cavern County
Publisher: Totally Bound
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

There’s no time for love when you’re only passing through town…is there?

When Rihanna Richards takes a job as the new bank manager in Pelican’s Heath, she is relieved to leave her life in the city behind, especially with all the pitiful expressions of those who are only too aware of how Phil Cartwright dumped her shortly before their wedding.

Ace Blenheim, the new foreman at the Shearer Ranch, also came to the town to put his past break-up behind him.

When the two meet, sparks fly. It seems they both have a tendency to wind each other up, and neither is willing to back down. Rihanna’s stubbornness and Ace’s knack for making assumptions lead to a very fiery relationship.

Ace gradually learns a little about his beautiful nemesis, though, and softens his approach toward her. After all, he can’t deny how he has begun to feel about her.

Rihanna secretly has feelings for the gorgeous cowboy but can’t afford to let her heart get broken again—and, besides, she’s not planning to stay long in Pelican’s Heath.

Rihanna discovers that something is very amiss at the bank, and when her life is at stake, will anyone care enough to come to her rescue? And has Ace overstepped the mark completely when he delves into her past?

She’s not staying and he’s not playing around.

I love stories with characters who initially are mean to each other or get under each other’s skin are thrown together. This story ticks a lot of those boxes. I love the work of Bella Settarra and I couldn’t get this book fast enough. Now add the cowboy aspect and there’s a great thing going. This story has a lot more than that going on.

Ace and Rihanna are great together. I like couples that initially give each other hell and that push makes them grow closer together. It’s good. Guys like pushy women and women like alpha males. In this story, it really works. Plus, he’s a cowboy and I could see him. That’s the best part. The writing was so descriptive, I could see him and felt like I was right there with them. Rihanna thinks she knows what she wants and what she’s going to do. She’s a purpose driven person and relatable. She has her failings, but it was easy to relate to her.

If you’re looking for a story that’s got relatable characters, steamy scenes and a great plot, then this is the one for you.

Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch

Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern


The song. That’s what London constable and sorcerer’s apprentice Peter Grant first notices when he examines the corpse of Cyrus Wilkins, part-time jazz drummer and full-time accountant, who dropped dead of a heart attack while playing a gig at Soho’s 606 Club. The notes of the old jazz standard are rising from the body—a sure sign that something about the man’s death was not at all natural but instead supernatural.

Body and soul—they’re also what Peter will risk as he investigates a pattern of similar deaths in and around Soho. With the help of his superior officer, Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, the last registered wizard in England, and the assistance of beautiful jazz aficionado Simone Fitzwilliam, Peter will uncover a deadly magical menace—one that leads right to his own doorstep and to the squandered promise of a young jazz musician: a talented trumpet player named Richard “Lord” Grant—otherwise known as Peter’s dear old dad.

PC Peter Grant is back, and I really enjoyed this second book in the Rivers of London series. This book picks up pretty much where the first book finished, but I was really pleased to find it stood rather well by itself. The remaining ramifications from the first book – like PC Grant’s friend and fellow police officer, Lesley, physical recovery as well as PC Grant’s governor Thomas Nightingale recovering from being shot – are all quite clearly explained without dragging the book down nor leaving the reader too mystified about what was going on. Indeed, for much of the first half of this book Grant is actually following along with two seemingly separate cases. It’s a bonus that the author manages to slowly and very subtly begin to link them, and I was impressed I wondered before the characters did if they were, in fact, related. So that made me feel pretty good about myself.

I also really enjoy how while there is a very strong paranormal aspect throughout the entire book, it’s not too overladen on the actual storyline. It’s still very much a modern London book, with regular people and plenty of “normal” stuff – there just happens to be magic and other paranormal beings out there below the surface. I found this realism really well handled and personally I felt it really added to the book and my enjoyment of it.

I feel both mystery readers and paranormal readers should feel there is strong enough writing to appeal to both genres – and only purists who dislike anything other than their chosen genre might not enjoy this well written and well-paced storyline. I also really appreciated the author has a “chatty” kind of style – instead of a gritty or stilted type of tone to the telling of his story it feels like two friends catching up on the latest action in their lives over a strong cup of tea. This writing style greatly appeals to me – it’s light enough to not bog me down or depress me over the harder aspects of the plots, but it’s catchy and interesting enough to keep me eagerly turning the pages. I really enjoyed it.

With a small but thoroughly enjoyable cast of characters, two excellent plots that were woven together with great skill and a bunch of mystery and paranormal aspects to the plot I feel this should appeal to a wide range of readers. A great book and I’m eager for the next in the series.

Wild Cowboy by Gemma Snow

Wild Cowboy by Gemma Snow
The Sinclair Seven
Publisher: Totally Bound
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, Action/Adventure, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Submitting to this wild cowboy is one hell of an adventure…

Environmental journalist Reece Prescott never expected to see the mysterious woman from the Turkish marketplace again, so to meet Morgan Tempest in the middle of a summer storm at the top of the Blackleaf Mountains knocks him sideways.

Their instant connection blows him away… and makes him want to return to The Ranch, the secret club he owns with six of his friends. It’ s the closest thing he has to home and the place he always finds himself avoiding when the anniversary of the worst day of his life rolls around. For Morgan Tempest, though, he might just be able to handle it.

Morgan has spent the last year reclaiming her independence and rebuilding her business. She’s in control and saying yes to life now. That includes the wild cowboy she meets in the mountains… and The Ranch, a place where everything she thought she knew about her boundaries—and desires—is challenged.

But before Reece and Morgan can explore everything the other has to offer, the real world comes crashing in, bringing with it climate disasters, armed mercenaries, corrupt politicians and their own troublesome pasts.

If they can survive all that, then maybe, just maybe, they’ll be ready for that next great adventure— falling in love.

Hot and satisfying.

I love a good Gemma Snow book and this one delivered. The writing flowed well and had me on the edge of my seat for the duration. I couldn’t get enough and will certainly look for more in this series. I felt like I was right there at the ranch with these characters. Holy smokes and the chemistry was off the charts.

Morgan and Reece are great together. I loved the instant chemistry and the willingness between them to explore what they needed. I love that this story is set in somewhere not a city club and wholly there for exploration. The real world aspects of the story are plausible and I needed to know what would happen next. I’m glad I did. This story scorched the page and I loved it.

If you’re looking for a solid story, hot characters and plenty of sizzle, then this is the one for you.

Visions by Kaye Lynne Booth, et.al.

Visions by Kaye Lynne Booth, et.al.
Publisher: WordCrafter Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Paranormal, Contemporary, Historical
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

An author’s visions are revealed through their stories. Many authors have strange and unusual stories, indeed. Within these pages, you will find the stories of eighteen different authors, each unique and thought provoking. These are the fantasy, science fiction, paranormal, and horror stories that will keep you awake long into the night.

What happens when:

An inexplicable monster plagues a town for generations, taking people… and souvenirs?

A post-apocalyptic band of travelers finds their salvation in an archaic machine?

The prey turns out to be the predator for a band of human traffickers?

Someone chooses to be happy in a world where emotions are regulated and controlled?

A village girl is chosen to be the spider queen?

Grab your copy today and find out. Let authors such as W.T. Paterson, Joseph Carabis, Kaye Lynne Booth, Michaele Jordan, Stephanie Kraner, and others, including the author of the winning story in the WordCrafter 2022 Short Fiction Contest, Roberta Eaton Cheadle, tantalize your thoughts and share their Visions

From Kaye Lynne Booth, editor of Once Upon an Ever After: Modern Fairy Tales & Folklore, Refracted Reflections: Twisted Tales of Duality & Deception and Gilded Glass: Twisted Myths & Shattered Fairy Tales.

Not everything in life can be easily explained.

As odd as this may sound at first, I smiled at the kidnapping gone wrong in “Tourist Trap.” You see, the main character knew the men who were showing her good photography sites weren’t trustworthy, and she had a plan to handle every curveball they threw her way as they attempted to kidnap her for ransom. It’s always nice to meet protagonists who are that resourceful and intelligent, especially when there are so many plot twists coming to help a reader get to know her even better.

Ashling was shocked to realize she was missing a tattoo in “The Vanishing Tattoo.” Her reason for originally getting it is something other readers should discover for themselves, but I was immediately drawn into her reaction and emotions when it disappeared. I only wish there had been more world building so I could have determined whether this was as impossible in that setting as it would be in the real world or whether such a thing had been known to happen there before. It was a bit confusing for me as a reader to hear about something impossible happening without knowing the context of it all.

In “At Mountains, Majesty,” a wanderer named Ahlam discovered something spectacular that had been created and then abandoned many years earlier. He and his family didn’t have a permanent home thanks to how unstable human society was in the future, but he hoped his discovery might help to change that. I loved the creativity and hopefulness of this tale. While the characters were in a tough situation, they had multiple reasons to believe their luck was about to change. That’s the sort of science fiction I always enjoy discovering.

Visions was a satisfying anthology.

The Infirmary by LJ Ross

The Infirmary by LJ Ross
Publisher: Dark Skies Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

No man is an island…​

In the stifling summer heat of 2014, a killer has been stalking the streets of Newcastle causing city-wide panic. When the officer in charge of the case turns up dead, it falls upon Detective Chief Inspector Ryan to take up the baton and find the person responsible.​

To the close-knit team of police in Northumbria CID, Ryan is still an outsider; aloof and uncompromising. He’s lived a charmed life and has an unbroken track record to match. But, as The Hacker’s death toll rises, Ryan realises this is one adversary he’ll never bring to justice on his own… ​

Murder and mystery are peppered with dark humour in this fast-paced crime thriller, set amidst the iconic North-Eastern landscape.

In the summer of 2014, a killer has been stalking the streets in Newcastle. The officer in charge of this growing case is found dead, and DCI Ryan is put in charge. Still fairly new, he hasn’t yet become solid friends with the close-knit group and as the death toll rises, the members of the team realise they need to work together, or all will be lost.

I was a little surprised to find that this, the 11th book in the DCI Ryan series (the spine of the book clearly states it’s book #11) was actually a prequel. I’m very pleased this is quite clearly shown as a prequel on the title/cover page because I’m not convinced that the opening chapter being set in 2014 would have been enough for me to cotton on immediately and I very well might have been confused for a while otherwise. DCI Ryan and his team have been through a number of cases and history together and so I expect a certain level of friendliness, connectedness and the weight of that history between them all. As this is a prequel the tone and rapport between them all – while still present – is definitely different to my mind, and had I not realized before starting that this was going back in time, that could have been very jarring.

I have to admit though, it was interesting to turn back the clock for a bit and see some of those very early relationship building experiences between the team members. In particular I found it wonderful – though admittedly bittersweet – to see Ryan interacting with his sister. A cornerstone of the series as a whole was how life – and career – changing the death of Ryan’s sister was in this exact case. So, seeing the before and after, watching the events actually unfold even knowing exactly where it would end up was lovely – though at times quite emotionally difficult to read.

I believe as long as readers know clearly and up front that this is a prequel – in fact “the” story of the Hacker and Ryan catching the serial killer who ended up killing his sister – this should be an excellent addition to the series for fans. I could understand some readers will find it jarring to mid-way through the series go back before the beginning and find that a bit hard to wrap their heads around – but overall, I think most readers should really enjoy this. I found this to be a well-paced police procedural style of story with a gripping plot and even though readers who have followed this series will know all the main points and know exactly who the bad guy is and how this ends up, I don’t feel that detracts from the book in the slightest. Highly enjoyable.

Caressed by Ice by Nalini Singh

Caressed by Ice by Nalini Singh
Psy-Changelings, Book 3
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance, Action/Adventure, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

As an Arrow, an elite soldier in the Psy Council ranks, Judd Lauren was forced to do terrible things in the name of his people. Now a defector, his dark abilities have made him the most deadly of assassins – cold, pitiless, unfeeling. Until he meets Brenna…

Brenna Shane Kincaid was an innocent before she was abducted – and had her mind violated – by a serial killer. Her sense of evil runs so deep, she fears she could become a killer herself. Then the first dead body is found, victim of a familiar madness. Judd is her only hope, yet her sensual changeling side rebels against the inhuman chill of his personality, even as desire explodes between them. Shocking and raw, their passion is a danger that threatens not only their hearts, but their very lives…

Complicated, hot and fantastic.

I’ve never read Nalini Singh before and I’m glad I remedied that. I can’t wait to go back and pick up more of her titles. This one was hot, so hot it scorched the pages, complicated – I’ve never read a world this intricate – and fantastic. The pacing was good, and the reveal was even better. I got emotionally involved in the story and didn’t want to put it down.

Brenna is a changeling with issues. Oh boy, does she have issues. She’s been traumatized and her past may be a trigger to some – there is violence and assault toward her – but this makes her who she is. She’s stronger than she thinks. I liked how Judd plays off her, too. He’s cold as ice and trained to be that way, but he’s got a reason. He’s an Arrow. An elite. He’s supposed to be tough, unyielding and strong. I like how he melts for her and the way their pairing progresses. It’s hot and sometimes painful, but worth the ride.

If you’re looking for something intense, then this might be the romance for you. I’m hooked.

Broken Summer by J. M. Lee

Broken Summer by J. M. Lee
Publisher: Amazon Crossing
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Contemporary
Rating: 4 stars
Review by Snowdrop

A death, a lie, a secret. For twenty-six summers he didn’t have the courage to face the past.

Lee Hanjo is an artist at the peak of his fame, envied and celebrated. Then, on his forty-third birthday, he awakens to find that his devoted wife has disappeared, leaving behind a soon-to-be-published novel she’d secretly written about the sordid past and questionable morality of an artist with a trajectory similar to Hanjo’s. It’s clear to him that his life is about to shatter and the demons from his past will come out. But why did his wife do it? Why now?

The book forces Hanjo to reflect on a summer from his youth when a deadly lie irreversibly and tragically determined the fates of two families.

What if you were 40+ years old and found what you thought had been a good marriage, was not that at all? What if you found out because your wife was missing? Even more so, what if your wife left a note making it quite clear that she was aware of your past. Definitely not the good part of your past.

This book slips from one POV to another. It also weaves back and forth in time. Usually, I would say this was irritating, but here, the author seems to handle it well. It flows so well that you don’t realize the breaks. More importantly, it never seems to be confusing.

As far as the genre is concerned, this is a quick read with some tension, but I would label it more a suspense than a thriller. This is actually a point that made it more enjoyable to read as far as I’m concerned. If you’re in the mood for an easy read that will make your mind work a little too, Broken Summer is the perfect solution.

Death Sentence by Damien Boyd

Death Sentence by Damien Boyd
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Fern

The body of an elderly man is found in an abandoned World War Two pillbox beside the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal. With no obvious motive and no credible suspect, DI Nick Dixon starts digging into the victim’s past.

The more he digs, the deeper Dixon is drawn into a case that takes him from the cave systems beneath rural Somerset to the heart of government, and threatens to expose a military cover-up at the highest level.

Blocked by a wall of silence, Dixon must unravel a dangerous conspiracy before the killer strikes again.

When the body of a Veteran is found in a World War Two pillbox DI Nick Dixon at first struggles to find any kind of motive that makes sense. But as he and his team peel back the layers the military cover-up and resounding silence that meets them leads Dixon into very dangerous territory.

I have been enjoying this series and really enjoyed this newest addition. I was very pleased that the author kept a series of strong and believable links between what happened in the past and how it was relevant and still effecting people in the present – I feel this kept the book from dwelling too hard on the history and kept it modern and far more relatable.

I also really appreciated how – tempting though it might have been for the author – the story didn’t have many flashbacks to the past. This also really helped me feel like the story was centered and rooted in the present and I was very happy with this. One slight critique would be that there is a short opening scene at the start of the book set in some underground caves and while I thoroughly enjoyed this scene is it not referenced or linked in any way to the rest of the book until well after the halfway mark of the story. Indeed, around the halfway mark I went back to that opening scene and reread it to make sure I hadn’t missed anything as I could not see at all how it related to the rest of the book. It felt like an incredibly long time to not know how it fit in and I really wonder if it needed to be the opening scene – well written and attention grabbing as it was – or if it would have been better served later on in the story.

That said I really enjoyed this British police procedural style of story. I definitely feel readers can pick it up and enjoy it even though it’s part of a series. While some of the secondary characters feel a little thin – more of a support than a standout character – DI Dixon and the main characters are strongly written, and I found thoroughly enjoyable.

An excellent book. Recommended.

The Way It Is Now by Garry Disher

The Way It Is Now by Garry Disher
Publisher: The Text Publishing Company
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Fern

Set in a beach-shack town an hour from Melbourne, The Way It Is Now tells the story of a burnt-out cop named Charlie Deravin.

Charlie is living in his family’s holiday house, on forced leave since he made a mess of things at work.

Things have never been easy for Charlie. Twenty years earlier his mother went missing in the area, believed murdered. His father has always been the main suspect, though her body was never found.

Until now: the foundations are being dug for a new house on a vacant block. The skeletal remains of a child and an adult are found—and Charlie’s past comes crashing in on him.

Twenty years ago, Charlie Deravin’s mother went missing. His family was already in the middle of a divorce with clear lines drawn in the sand, yet this shattered what remained of the relationships between himself, his brother and his father. Now, on an enforced sabbatical from his own work in the Police force, Charlie has moved back into their old beach shack and had endless time on his hands and the threads of the past have come calling once again.

I really enjoy most of Garry Disher’s works – and am a huge fan of his Wyatt series. A strong Australian mystery writer I’ve seen him reviewed as “Rural Noir” and have to agree with this assessment. Disher writes exceptional mysteries – often set within small coastal Australian towns or the more rural outer reaches of civilization. I thoroughly enjoyed this stand-alone story and found it captivating almost from the first page. With a definite coastal/beachy feel and a good blend of rural and city life this book was really well balanced to my mind.

I enjoyed Charlie’s character, burnt out and mature enough to be relatable and realistic yet not gritty enough to be off-putting or depressing, I found myself enthralled. There were two very strong and well written plotlines – Charlie’s career and association with the Police, and Charlie slowly unpicking the events of the past that led to his mother’s disappearance. I strongly feel each aspect was well handled and both were given a good amount of attention so neither plot felt like it had been tacked on or not given proper attention.

Readers looking for a light or “happy” style of story probably won’t find themselves satisfied. While not dark or overly gritty I felt this book was definitely leaning more to the noir/harder side of mystery rather than a cozy or lighter piece. That said I in no way found this to be dark or true noir – this isn’t some moody or depressing mystery, but a really good balance between reality (the timeline goes until late February 2020 when Covid really began to get its grips in Australia) while maintaining an air of hopefulness. This is definitely Australian enough that while the plot is fully resolved there are – as there often is in British and Australian stories – a slight question mark left at the end as to which direction, exactly, our protagonist is going to take now the mystery is resolved.

I absolutely enjoyed this story and will be re-reading it again in the near future. It goes onto my keeper shelf, and I am very excited for what Disher might have in store for readers next. Recommended.

Son of the Morning by Linda Howard

Son of the Morning by Linda Howard
Publisher: Pocket Books
Genre: Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Romance, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

A scholar specializing in ancient manuscripts, Grace St. John never imagined that a cache of old documents she discovered was the missing link to a lost Celtic treasure. But as soon as she deciphers the legend of the Knights of the Templar — long fabled to hold the key to unlimited power — Grace becomes the target of a ruthless killer bent on abusing the coveted force. Determined to stop him, Grace needs the help of a warrior bound by duty to uphold the Templar’s secret for all eternity. But to find him — and to save herself — she must go back in time . . . to fourteenth-century Scotland . . . and to Black Niall, a fierce man of dark fury and raw, unbridled desire. . . .

Unbridled desire is the truth!

This is the first Linda Howard book I’ve read, but it won’t be the last. This one captivated me right off and I had to know what would happen next. The writing is engaging and the characters fascinating.

Grace has everything she wants–the life, the job, the guy, but then it’s all taken away. I liked how she had to build herself back up to get what she wanted the second time around. There’s a lot of forgiveness in this story and it made it relatable. The suspense is thick, too. Ooh boy! I liked Niall, too. He’s dark, broody and romantic. He’s the perfect hero.

I have to admit the first half of this story moved a bit slowly for me. I wanted it to pick up and for Grace to get a few breaks, but it paid off at the end. Plus, there is some definite steam. I liked how the author teased the relationship for Grace and kept getting right to the edge, then bringing the reader back. That’s great.

If you’re looking for a suspense story that’s certainly a slower build, then this might be the one for you. I’m on the lookout for more by this author.