A Beautiful Poison by Lydia Kang


A Beautiful Poison by Lydia Kang
Publisher: Lake Union
Genre: Historical, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (333 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Just beyond the Gilded Age, in the mist-covered streets of New York, the deadly Spanish influenza ripples through the city. But with so many victims in her close circle, young socialite Allene questions if the flu is really to blame. All appear to have been poisoned—and every death was accompanied by a mysterious note.

Desperate for answers and dreading her own engagement to a wealthy gentleman, Allene returns to her passion for scientific discovery and recruits her long-lost friends, Jasper and Birdie, for help. The investigation brings her closer to Jasper, an apprentice medical examiner at Bellevue Hospital who still holds her heart, and offers the delicate Birdie a last-ditch chance to find a safe haven before her fragile health fails.

As more of their friends and family die, alliances shift, lives become entangled, and the three begin to suspect everyone—even each other. As they race to find the culprit, Allene, Birdie, and Jasper must once again trust each other, before one of them becomes the next victim.

The author takes us back in time to the days of moneyed people having more stature than the poor and women being possessions of men. It’s also the time of the Spanish Flu and the war with the Germans. Besides worrying about friends and family being called to duty, Allene has more to worry about. She’s engaged to marry a man she doesn’t love and her friends from the past have been banished from the house. She doesn’t understand why her father hates them so but she has to follow his rules while living in his house.

The reader learns about wartime rules, how the poor survived, and how bleak some of their lives were. It’s realistic but not too in depth about the flu, which is a blessing. When Allene reconnects with her friends, she’s happy to be reunited. When people in their lives begin dying, she starts to get worried. They are not dying from natural causes, they are being poisoned!

This is a tantalizing mystery that gives the reader enough details to ferret out the killer but she always holds back the final clue. The killer is a surprise. The reason why makes sense. And the survivors have to recover and move on.

This world in the past is one that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Who wants a man telling you what to wear, what to think, and your whole goal in life is to make him happy? Even if you inherit money, if you marry, it all becomes his. It’s no wonder people in this day and age did desperate things. The ending is a bit sad but it’s appropriate. Justice does prevail.

Dante’s Circle by Dorien Grey


Dante’s Circle by Dorien Grey
An Elliott Smith Mystery, #4
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (132 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Dante Benevetti is the darling of the music world…and why not? He’s handsome, talented—and arrogant as only a man convinced of his own brilliance can be. As far as he’s concerned, the rest of the world exists for his benefit.

So, when he hears Dante is dead, a victim of murder, Elliott isn’t really surprised. Nor is he surprised when Dante comes for a post-mortem visit, demanding Elliott find out who killed him. Was it the well-known lyricist who was the only one in the house at the time? The talented young musician whose work Dante plagiarized? Or some unknown the great pianist had mortally offended?

Being famous is never a guarantee that everyone will like you.

One of the things I appreciate the most about this series is how much attention Mr. Grey always pays to his characters. No one is ever one hundred percent virtuous or villainous in this universe. The good guys have their fair share of faults, and even the most devious potential murderers have admirable character traits, too. This pattern continued in this tale. In fact, it was stronger than it’s ever been before, and that made it impossible for me to wander away from these characters until I knew how everything had been resolved and if Elliott would figure out who killed Dante.

I had some trouble keeping track of all of the secondary characters. While I wasn’t as confused by all of the new faces as I was in the third instalment in this series, I still would have liked to see a bit more time spent explaining how they all knew each other. This would have been especially helpful for the characters who only showed up a handful of times in the entire plot. With that being said, this is a minor criticism of a book that I otherwise enjoyed a lot.

The mystery of Dante’s death kept me guessing until the very end. There were enough clues to pique my interests, but they were also shared so sparingly that it wasn’t easy to figure out how they all fit together. I liked the fact that I needed to think so much about who may have killed this musician and what motive they might have had.

This is the fourth story in this series. While the storyline itself could be read as a standalone work, I’d recommend reading them in order to anyone who is interested in seeing how the main characters have evolved over time.

Dante’s Circle should be read by anyone who is in the mood for a thought-provoking mystery.

Turning the Tides by Nell Castle


Turning the Tides by Nell Castle
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (258 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Stargazer

Ever the black sheep of her adoptive family, Lee Cooper has finally buckled down to a responsible job as a social worker in Southwest Florida. Defending her client against charges of child abuse awakens buried memories of her own abandonment in a Korean orphanage. Can she remain objective for the sake of a child?

Bricker Kilbourn, the court-appointed guardian, doubts Lee’s judgments–and his opinion might determine the little boy’s fate. He’s got his own family issues and haunting secrets to keep. Falling for a woman is not part of his plan.

He’s running from his past. She’s searching for answers. Will their resolution to protect a child bind them together or wrench them apart?

Sometimes our past comes back to haunt us in unexpected ways.

Lee Cooper works in Social Services assisting parents and children to build better lives after the concerns are raised by Child Protective Services. When one difficult case arises where Lee is convinced that the foster mother is being manipulative of the system, Lee must act. Yet, when she meets the Guardian Ad Litem for the child, she finds more than she bargained for. When Lee learns some hidden information about Bricker, the plot thickens, and Lee’s past comes bursting forth and impacts her future with the one man she feels truly comfortable with.

Nell Castle does an excellent job, telling the story from various points of view. Although Lee Cooper is the primary point of view, the story goes much more in depth and has a great dynamic that many readers would not have anticipated. Several different sub-plots all converge on Bricker and Lee’s relationship, which also entwines another dynamic completely.

The conversations are engrossing and fit right in with the various plots. The characters are strong and each character has an in-depth background which impacts their current character development. The plots are all relevant and the aspects of work and the legal ethics are well researched and strongly presented. I personally liked the interaction between Lee and her supervisor which led to some interesting dynamic between Lee and Bricker down the road.

If you want a strong romantic story that integrates how our past can come forth to impact our future, you won’t want to miss Turning the Tides!

Six Dogs til Sunday by Lia Farrell


Six Dogs til Sunday by Lia Farrell
Publisher: Camel Press
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full length (258 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Snowdrop

It’s January in Rosedale, Tennessee, and Mae December is preparing for her March wedding to Sheriff Ben Bradley. Mae, who boards dogs for a living, is also busy tending to her pregnant dog and scouting locations for the movie featuring the music of her former fiancé Noah West, who died in a car accident four years earlier. Fortunately the picturesque old house at the end of Little Chapel Road is for rent.

Just as filming is about to begin, a man is shot on the set, but manages to drive himself to the hospital, where he dies before he can ID his killer. He was a member of the film crew, but also a local, and circumstances point to his being a confidential informant for Ben’s predecessor, Sheriff Trey Cantrell, also the owner of the house turned movie set. At the time of the shooting, the victim had been stealing a large sum of money from a safe on the premises. Whose money is it, and where does it come from?

The Rosedale Sheriff’s Office not only has another murder case on its hands, but one that will dredge up a past long buried. How far will the guilty parties go to protect their secrets?

This family sort of reminds me of the “Real McCoys” except with class.

This was a fun, light read. I would identify it as a cozy but it had plenty of substance to keep a reader’s interest the whole time. It has some extra advantages because I like dogs but actually I think the word “dogs” is used more in the titles of the series than dogs having any meaning in the story. However dogs do exist in this story as well as cops and bad guys and weddings. Not a bad mixture at all.

This is a really good example of character development. I think I could name all of the essential characters who made up this story but more importantly…I think I know what they look like. That may sound crazy but good authors write well enough that you have a picture of the characters and their surroundings. I also think that once that has been achieved, you won’t stop reading. There might have been a scene or two that I thought could have been cut but the book didn’t seem long. On the other hand maybe those scenes are why I know the characters so well.

This is Book 6 in the series which is called “A Mae December Mystery”. There was not one time in this book the author left me unable to figure something out because of a previous book in the series. The story of the previous books was never given away but they seemed to fit in enough to not leave you hanging in this one. There is no question this book can be read out of order in the series. That being said, if you don’t have a reason you have to read them out of order, don’t. Start with Book 1 and read through Book 6. Maybe there will be a Book 7 by that time. I hope so.

Identity Thief by R. Franklin James


Identity Thief by R. Franklin James
Publisher: Camel Press
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full length (258 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Snowdrop

Probate attorney Hollis Morgan is branching out into criminal law. Pardoned after serving time for her then-husband’s white-collar crime, she knows something about the workings of the criminal mind. Hollis’ first criminal case quickly gets complicated. Her client is a young man initially accused of identity theft, but his charge soon includes murder. Hollis has a knack for detecting lies, and although Justin Eastland lies with every breath, she doesn’t believe he is a killer. Eastland is let out on bail as bait, and Hollis struggles to keep her client alive. She enlists the services of her young friend Vince, a former addict she helped get back on track, telling him to not let Eastland out of his sight. At the same time Hollis is handling a sensitive probate matter for a whistle-blower hiding from a revengeful cartel. It has not been easy for Hollis to learn to trust again, and in both these cases, a surprising number of people are not telling her the whole story. She thinks she can sort the truths from the half-truths and the outright lies, but how reliable are her instincts? Hollis’ sense of justice does not always consider the law. If she’s wrong, her clients aren’t the only ones who could lose their lives.

Absolutely wonderful characters…

This has a good storyline. One that flows well and keeps your interest. Plenty of twists and turns but not one hiccup. Nothing here that throws off your rhythm of reading; makes you have to turn back a page or two to see what you missed. Clean, clearly written, crime fiction.

However, the main reason I liked this book was the characters. The author did a good job of overall character development but she made me love some of the characters. Hollis is the main character. She’s feisty and strong and knows her own mind. Although she’s had some knocks in life, she has picked herself up and become a member of a law firm. Hollis has helped some people that were down on their luck in life too. One of those people is Vince and I came to love him too in this story. My point here is that this author made me care about these characters. I don’t have to like all of the characters, the result of that would make for a very boring book. However, I sure have to know all of the characters and be able to draw my own picture of them. Sort of like a movie in writing. That’s important to me as a reader. This writer accomplished that.

As you can tell, I really enjoyed this sixth book in a series that R. Franklin James has titled the Hollis Morgan Mysteries. While this is the first I have read, I am positive that all of the other five must be an interesting read. I hope there’s another to follow.

Mink Eyes by Max McBride


Mink Eyes by Max McBride
Publisher: Arjuna Books
Genre: Mystery/Suspense, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (286 pgs)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

October 1986—the tarnished heart of the “Greed Is Good” decade. Private detective Peter O’Keefe is a physically scarred and emotionally battered Vietnam vet. Hired by his childhood best friend, ace attorney Mike Harrigan, O’Keefe investigates what appears to be merely a rinky-dink mink farm Ponzi scheme in the Missouri Ozarks. Instead, O’Keefe finds himself snared in a
vicious web of money laundering, cocaine smuggling, and murder—woven by a mysterious mobster known as “Mr. Canada.” Also caught in Mr. Canada’s web is the exquisite Tag Parker, who might be the girl of O’Keefe’s dreams—or his nightmares.

Mink Eyes weaves murder, addiction, obsession, sex, and redemption into a fast-paced, compelling detective novel that also brings in themes of duty, fatherhood, friendship and love. Peter O’Keefe is a reluctant hero who struggles every day to choose in favor of life over death.

Do you sometimes read a book and can’t exactly put your figure on why you didn’t enjoy it as much as you’d hoped? That’s the feeling I got after I finished reading Mink Eyes. I think the plot line is original and it has lots of suspense but on reflection, it could be I didn’t connect enough with the main character, Peter O’Keefe as much as I should have. He’s interesting, don’t get me wrong, but there are other point of view characters in this story and things got watered down so I wasn’t in O’Keefe’s head as much as maybe I should have been for that connection to gel.

There are lots of good things I can say about the story, the setting is great and described well by the author. I also liked that placing it in the Eighties gave it a somewhat nostalgic feel to it…prior to cell phones and the Internet which made for more interesting PI work for O’Keefe.

Pacing is spot on and dialogue is natural sounding, and the underlying theme of fatherhood and friendship is a strong one.

If you like somewhat gritty PI centered stories, I’d say give this one a try and see for yourself. I’d definitely like to see what other stories the author creates using this main character.

Caesar’s Fall by Dorien Grey


Caesar’s Fall by Dorien Grey
An Elliott Smith Mystery, #3
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (181 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

GOOD LUCK CAN BE DANGEROUS

With a new building to restore and his relationship with Steve growing more serious, the last thing Elliott wants are someone else’s problems. Still, when lottery millionaire Bruno Caesar moves into his building, Elliott can’t just ignore the man’s need for help.

Bruno’s life comes to an abrupt end when he falls from his balcony. It might be nothing more than a tragic accident, except for one thing—Bruno was terrified of heights, and never went onto his balcony.

Bruno can’t rest until the puzzle of his sudden death is solved, and Elliott, Steve, and John are once again searching for answers to a puzzle. Did Bruno fall, or did he have help?

Not every mystery begins with a murder in the first scene. Sometimes a slow burn is best.

It’s been a pleasure to watch Elliot’s character development in this series so far. Ever since the first scene in His Name Is John, Elliott has proven time and time again that he is capable of changing and growing in all kinds of interesting ways as a result of his experiences. The more I get to know him, the more I like his calm and empathetic personality. He’s exactly the sort of person I’d want to have around if I was trying to solve a crime that no one else could figure out.

I did have some problems keeping track of all of the characters. While some of them were people the audience had met earlier, there were a lot of new folks introduced in this mystery. I especially had trouble remembering important details about characters that only showed up occasionally who weren’t described with a lot of detail. Knowing more about what they looked and acted like would have helped me to remember who was who.

The mystery was really well done. I especially appreciated how much time the author spent building up to the murder before Bruno died. It was nice to settle into the story completely before jumping into figuring out who killed him and why they did it. I also enjoyed keeping track of the clues that were shared and trying to solve the case before Elliott did. Mr. Grey gave the audience the perfect number of hints before the big reveal at the end.

This is the third instalment in a series. While the main plot can be read perfectly well as a standalone work, I would recommend starting at the beginning in order to fully understand the subplots. The explanations for them left out some details that would be helpful for readers who want to know all of the backstory.

Caesar’s Fall should be read by anyone who enjoys paranormal mysteries.

The Immortals and Other Tales by Victor J. Banis


The Immortals and Other Tales by Victor J. Banis
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Historical, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (90 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Edgy. Controversial. Thoughtful. Brilliant.

There are a lot of adjectives that have been used over the decades to describe the writings of Victor J. Banis. From his start in gay fiction, to forays into other genres such as mystery and horror, Banis’ unique voice has brought to life a myriad of characters and creatures, excitement and entertainment, as well as the trials and tribulations of love between both gay and straight couples. Gathered here are stories spanning more than five decades of Banis’ incredible career, including “Broken Record,” his first story to ever be published.

No matter how strong they may be, first impressions aren’t always correct.

In “New Kid in Town,” the main character had slowly come to regret her marriage to a kind, wealthy man who was much older than she was. She spoke of her spouse in such glowing terms that I was surprised by how tired she seemed to be of their relationship. The more I read, the more curious I became about what could be making her so unhappy. It was as much fun to discover the twist ending to this one as it was to try to figure out what was going on in advance.

While I deeply enjoyed the majority of the tales in this collection, there were a couple that I thought could use more development. “The Journey (a parable)” was one of them. There was one character, and he or she was never given a name, backstory, or any identifying features. I was intrigued by the idea of a narrator speaking directly to the audience about what they think human intellect can and can’t do for people who are on a literal or metaphorical journey, but I would have liked to see more time spent transforming this monologue into something that also included a traditional sort of plot at some point.

The protagonist in “The Canals of Mars” was a man whose face had been badly scarred in a lab accident. After his boyfriend left him, he had the chance to find love again with an old friend. As their love began to blossom, they both began to experience things that defied explanation. What I enjoyed the most about this tale was how many different ways it could be interpreted. Mr. Banis is quite good at tying multiple genres together in ways that I don’t typically see them combined, and this was one of the best examples of that talent of his that I’ve seen so far.

I’d recommend The Immortals and Other Tales to anyone who is looking for some truly creative mysteries.

Hot Water (Heart and Endurance, 3) by J.S. Marlo


Hot Water (Heart and Endurance, 3) by J.S. Marlo
Publisher: Champagne Books
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full length (198 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Mistflower

Can Agent Sullivan repress his feelings for the woman he secretly loves and use her as bait to catch a serial killer?

Nineteen-year-old varsity swimmer Maxime Tremblay is leery of the string of fatal accidents involving female athletes, but after she thwarts an attack, she can no longer ignore the connection between the victims.

Special Agent Ross Sullivan investigates the deadly events on campus only to discover they are not accidents, the athletes are not targeted at random, and the killer is only warming up.

To protect his only witness, he goes undercover as Maxime’s boyfriend, but as pretense and reality begin to blur, Sullivan faces the dilemma of putting her in harm’s way to stop the killings.

This is my second J.S. Marlo book yet my first book in the Heart and Endurance series. Even though this happens to be the third book in the series, it can be read as a standalone.

I enjoy reading contemporary novels that are relevant to me in some manner. The last ten years my sons have swum competitively, therefore I was excited to read a story about a heroine who was a varsity competitive swimmer in college. Maxime Tremblay was a brave, caring and sweet yet fiery red-headed nineteen year-old woman.
The hero, Special Agent Ross Sullivan, was competent, confident, safe and of course, handsome. He was also slightly older than Maxime. This age difference between Ross and Maxime was an internal conflict between the characters. As a mother of an almost nineteen year old I personally felt the internal conflict but from a parental perspective. Trust me when I tell you that it took an exemplary writing style to enable me to connect with this couple and their budding romance considering my ideal age expectations of a hero and heroine. I honestly struggled a tiny bit with Ross’s nicknames for Maxime. They made me feel he was a father figure at times more than a boyfriend. However they were appropriate in the context.

Maxime was very mature and responsible for her age. It was amazing how she balanced all her obligations while her life was in danger. The suspense/mystery plot made for a rapid paced page turner. It was unpredictable and the twists were clever. I’m not sure how realistic it all was but I was definitely entertained.

Over all I was pleased to read Hot Water. The ending was nicely wrapped up giving me complete closure which resulted in a satisfying sigh. I agreed with Maxime’s father when he gave Ross and Maxime his blessings. This was a clean romance with just enough chemistry that made it a heartwarming love story with well-developed characters that will linger in my mind for days to come. I wish them all the best as they go on in their life journey.

Security (Spaceport 1) by Shelby Morgen


Security (Spaceport 1) by Shelby Morgen
Publisher: Changeling Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Paranormal
Length: Short Story (38 pages)
Other: M/F
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A dark corner of a seedy bar on the edge of nowhere. A woman who’s seen too much. A man who moves through the shadows with the grace of a cat.

She’s on his tail, and he’s determined to find out why. Once he might have been flattered to have her checking out his ass. Now he knows women are dangerous. And far, far too expensive.

But Commander Kala Decoltéir always gets her man, and she wants the space pirate they call Dancer — no matter who — or what — he is. This time, Dancer has no escape.

All Kala was looking for was one night of pleasure to help her unwind from her stressful life. Only time would tell if that’s what she’d receive or how she’d feel the next morning.

The world building was well done. I especially liked reading about the slang terms Ms. Morgen had developed for this universe. The fact that she expected the audience to pay attention and figure out the definitions of them for ourselves only made me more curious to figure them out. They also fleshed out this character’s world in all kinds of subtle but worthwhile ways.

I had trouble keeping track of all of the characters. It was confusing to read about them because there were more of them than I’d normally expect to find in a short story and because most of them weren’t described with a lot of detail. This was something that was most noticeable when it came to Kala talking about the people she knew through her job.

Kala and Dancer had great chemistry. I totally understood why things moved so quickly between them because of how intense their attraction was towards each other. They were clearly a great match inside of the bedroom, and that made me wonder if they’d be good for each other outside of the bedroom in the longterm as well. This was a question I had to know the answer to, so I didn’t stop reading until I’d figured out what would happen to them next.

I’d recommend Security (Spaceport 1) to anyone who is in the mood for something short and steamy.