His Name Is John by Dorien Grey


His Name Is John (An Elliott Smith Mystery) by Dorien Grey
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (194 pages)
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Elliott Smith wakes up in the hospital with a head injury…and an invisible companion. At first, he’s convinced “John” is just a figment of a damaged brain, but when Elliott is fully recovered John is still around—and desperate to find out who he is. Reluctantly, Elliott agrees to help, and discovers Chicago PD has a John Doe on their hands with six bullets in him—who died in the ER at the same time Elliott was there.

As Elliott digs deeper into the mystery of John, he stumbles on a body hidden behind a wall for 80 years, meets a sexy artist who could become more than just a one-night stand, and uncovers a deadly secret that has haunted a nun for two decades.

Sometimes it’s a good idea to listen to the voice in your head no matter how strange it may be.

The pacing was perfect for the subject matter. This is the sort of thing that’s meant to be savoured slowly, and I had plenty of opportunities to do exactly that. There was always plenty of time to adjust to a new clue before the next one was shared with the audience. I relished having so many chances to figure out what was really going on as I was reading.

This is a very minor criticism, but it would have been nice to have a few more clues about when this story took place. The dialogue felt completely casual and contemporary, but there were other scenes that reminded me of the 1970s and 1980s due to the fact the characters almost never used modern technology like cell phones or computers. As much as I enjoyed it, I’m still not entirely sure that I picked the right time period for it.

One of my favorite parts of this book was how it handled the paranormal elements of the plot. Was John a real ghost, an odd, lingering effect of Elliott’s head injury, or something else entirely? This question made it impossible for me for me to stop reading, especially once Elliott came up with a fairly decent answer to it and was able to turn his attention to figuring out who John Doe was and why he died.

Speaking of the mystery, it sure kept me on my toes. I wasn’t able to figure out all of it before Elliott did, and that isn’t something that normally happens when I read this genre. The fact that Mr. Grey was able to keep me guessing until the very end is one of the many reasons why I enjoy his work so much.

If you’re in the mood for a smart, slow-burning mystery, look no further than His Name Is John. I can’t recommend this tale highly enough!

The Wedding by Edith Layton


The Wedding by Edith Layton
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (207 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Mistflower

Her father’s ill-fated ventures land Dulcie Dawn Blessing in London’s notorious debtor’s prison. In a desperate scheme to win her freedom, she consents to marry a stranger…for a day. Down on his luck but ever a gentleman, Crispin West agrees to oblige a lady in need, even if it means playing the groom in a mock wedding. But flustered by the unexpected loveliness of his “bride,” Crispin signs the marriage certificate with his true name, Viscount West of Darnley Hall.

Then Crispin’s fortunes are miraculously recovered, allowing him to proceed with his plan to marry Society’s darling, Lady Charlotte Barrington. But the very night he is to ask for her hand, Dulcie appears at his doorstep. Their marriage certificate, legally binding with Crispin’s signature, has disappeared and may have already fallen into the hands of rogues intent on mischief—or worse.

I enjoy reading historical romances and I found The Wedding to be an enjoyable relaxing read.

The writing style was good. The plot wasn’t original but it was still entertaining. The cast of characters were well developed and easy to follow and I didn’t get stressed because there were no sudden plot twists or urgent need to turn the pages. The story itself was enough to keep reading.

Crispin, the hero, was what every girl dreams of when they dream of falling in love; handsome, intelligent, and self-reliant.

Dulcie wasn’t my ideal heroine. She was too vulnerable, weak and cried way too many times. For those reasons I found her to be difficult to relate to and therefore I had a hard time liking her. However, I did respect Dulcie because she displayed a great sense of integrity. Near the end of the book she did finally demonstrate some back bone which helped redeem her in my eyes.

I’m very particular about all my plot threads being tied up with a pretty bow and there was one thread that I felt was left loose – Dulcie’s father. There is some speculation as to what happened to him, where he might be and why. I point to a section in the book synopsis, “Dulcie partakes in a desperate scheme to win her freedom” which refers to the mystery surrounding her father. Explaining why is a spoiler so I can’t say anything, but rest assured, Dulcie loves her father and felt it necessary to partake in that scheme. The story ends without a conclusion about her father and there was no reunion after the main conflict was resolved and it was safe to return. I know if it was my father, I’d want to find out what happened to him, especially after all that Dulcie did for him. I’m not entirely sure he even deserved her loyalty. He was never a candidate for a “father of the year “award. It’s a minor flaw but because of that and Dulcie’s proclivity to cry too much, I gave the book a 3 rating.

The relationship between Crispin and Dulcie made for a sensual romance. He found her to be refreshing and beautiful and she found him to be a gentleman. They couldn’t resist their attraction to one another despite being from two separate worlds.

Besides wanting to see how Dulcie and Crispin reached their happily ever after, the side characters such as Wrede, Willie and Charlotte just to name a few, were a large part of what kept me turning the pages until the end.

I really enjoyed the moral of the story which was how you can have all the riches in the world but without love you have nothing. I do recommend this book to those who have some unscheduled free time and are lazing around yet are in need of something romantic to read or just something to cure their boredom.This novel is a decent fix. I think a reader will be entertained for a few hours and be glad they read the book just like me. The ending was bliss.

From Hay to Eternity: Ten Devilish Tales of Crime and Deceit by Sandra Murphy


From Hay to Eternity: Ten Devilish Tales of Crime and Deceit by Sandra Murphy
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (60 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

To the moon and back, here are ten tales with a twist. The unlikely characters have one thing in common–they’re ready and willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals. As the old saying goes, you have to watch out for the quiet ones.

From a quirky inventor, humored by his neighbors, to two old men out to dinner, to a more-than-meets the eye beverage maker, the stories will take you into the minds of the overlooked and unseen. Ignore them at your own risk.

Sometimes good things come in small packages.

“The Chicken Pot Pie Fiasco” followed a family throughout the day as they cooked and otherwise prepared for Thanksgiving dinner. Chicken pot pie was their traditional main course for it, but this year they had trouble finding the right ingredients for it. I can’t say much else about the plot without giving away spoilers, but this was a funny and heartwarming tale that made me grin. Figuring out the mystery element of the plot was almost as much fun as seeing what happened once the pie was ready and everyone gathered around the table to eat it.

While I liked every story, there were a few that had too many characters in them. “From Hay to Eternity” was one of them. It was about guy named Darren who was giving a Halloween hay ride to a teenage girl named Tiffany as well as some other visitors to the farm. There were so many other characters included in the plot that I had trouble keeping track of all of them. It would have been nice to focus on Darren and Tiffany instead, especially once I realized what was really going on during the hayride and why Darren kept mentioning the conflicts that some of his family members were having about what they wanted to do with the farm in the future.

Bert and Sol went out for a fancy dinner at an upscale restaurant in “The Perfect Bite.” Not only were the descriptions of their food mouthwatering, they made me even more curious to find out what the twist was in this tale. The hints were deliciously subtle. The more I read, the more I wanted to know about these characters and their dining experience. This was my favorite tale from the entire collection because of how much it made me look forward to finding out what was really going on here.

If you’re in the market for short, snappy mysteries that are full of unexpected plot twists, look no further than From Hay to Eternity: Ten Devilish Tales of Crime and Deceit.

The Wickedest Town in the West and Other Stories by Marilyn Todd


The Wickedest Town in the West and Other Stories by Marilyn Todd
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Historical
Length: Short Story (123 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Sometimes, wishing someone dead is not enough.
Sometimes, you need to make it happen.
Always, there’s someone there to make you pay.

From one of the best mystery short story writers of her generation comes this sparkling collection of ten chillers and thrillers, where justice takes many forms. Whether you’re a witch (“A Taste for Burning”), a soldier in the trenches (“Michelle”) or a demure churchgoer (“The Wickedest Town in the West”), you will always know that justice is served.

Sometimes justice arrives right on time.

One of my favorite parts of “Room for Improvement” was how casually Mr .Cuthbertson requested help with speeding up the process of his divorce. This isn’t something I’d generally expect to happen in a mystery, so I was incredibly curious to find out why he wanted a divorce, why he was so nonchalant about it, and what he expected the main character to do to help. The more I learned about their unusual plan, the more I wanted to know.

There were so many things I enjoyed about this collection that I really wanted to give it a much higher rating than it received. The only thing holding it back was that almost every single tale in it had so many characters that I had trouble remembering who everyone was or how they knew each other. “Open and Shut Case” was one of the biggest examples of this. The main character, the Great Rivorsky, is a magician who had travelled for years perfecting his illusions and other tricks. When one of his companions died, he was immediately placed at the top of the suspect list. I was mesmerized by the premise of this story, but the plot included so many different people that I couldn’t keep them all straight. This made what was an otherwise interesting read hard to follow.

In “A Taste for Burning,” a community blamed all of their their troubles on a newcomer named Alizon and then burned her at the stake. Figuring out why she was chosen as the scapegoat and who might have been the instigator of that was fascinating. No sooner would I come up with a new theory about what really happened then the plot would twist again and make me reconsider nearly all of my assumptions. I also liked the fact that Alizon’s death was described in such precise detail. While some of the details made me wince, it was important to face exactly what happened to her in order to understand why the people who murdered her worked so hard to cover up their terrible acts later on.

I’d recommend The Wickedest Town in the West and Other Stories to anyone who is in the mood for some clever mysteries.

Eccentric Symmetries by Nancy Springer


Eccentric Symmetries by Nancy Springer
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Paranormal, Historical, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (148 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Eccentric Symmetries, 20 fantasy short stories spanning the forty-year career of author Nancy Springer, showcases tales ranging from the quirky to the transcendent. Including mythic tales of long ago and far away such as award-winner “The Boy Who Plaited Manes,” this collection also contains wry, sometimes humorous contemporary fantasy stories such as “Rumple What?” and “Snow Spawn,” plus mystic magical realism in which cabbage roses grow down from the ceiling (“Mariposa”) and hard-edged future fantasy stories such as “We Don’t Know Why,” a tale of failing “angels.” Like our lives, the stories in Eccentric Symmetries are mostly off-kilter, even laughable, but sometimes achieve a luminous moment of perfect balance, an epiphany. In this carefully selected collection, every fantasy reader should find something to love.

Magic can be found everywhere you could possible imagine.

In “Who’s Gonna Rock Us Home?” Jephed Shue was dreading the idea of being assigned to work for the government for his entire adult life so much that he ran away from home. I was fascinated by the idea of a society choosing occupations for every young person and couldn’t wait to see what his life would be like after he refused to accept his assignment. The more I read about Jephed’s adventures, the more I wanted to know. He has such a stubborn personality that I was never sure how he would respond to the next challenge that crossed his path.

While I enjoyed how all of them began, some of these tales ended so abruptly that I didn’t feel satisfied by how everything was wrapped up. “Gilly the Goose Girl” was a good example of it. The storyline followed a princess named Gillianna who decided to switch places with her maid in order to avoid being married to someone she’d never met before. I was fascinated by this impulsive decision, but it would have been nice to see more time spent on wrapping up the ending. The final scene explained what happened to her, but it didn’t go into hardly any detail about it. I would have preferred to see those events play out in real time instead of condensed into a single paragraph.

One of my favorite stories in this collection was “You Are Such a One.” The main character in it was a middle-aged woman who found her life boring and repetitive. One day she discovered her dream house while out on a drive and struck up a friendship with the caretaker of that place. He told her something that she never would have guessed in a million years. What I liked the most about the plot was how careful it was when it came to which clues it gave the audience about what was happening. Telling too much about it would have spoiled the ending, so I was happy that the narrator was so cautious about that. I surprisingly didn’t figure out the twist ahead of time, although it made perfect sense once everything was revealed.

Eccentric Symmetries should be read by anyone who is in the mood for fairy tales that are set in all kinds of unusual places.

Death on the Trek by Kaye George


Death on the Trek by Kaye George
A People of the Wind Mystery, #2
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Historical
Length: Short Story (148 pages)
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Review ed by Astilbe

The Neanderthal tribe of Enga Dancing Flower must trek south to flee the approaching glacier, but the distance is long and the food is scarce. When a venerable elder drowns crossing a flooded river, Enga suspects that it was not an accident, and that a murderer travels with them.

Someone in this tribe is extremely dangerous.

The character development was fabulous. I especially liked seeing how Enga Dancing Flower had changed since I first met her. She’s grown in all kinds of ways since then, and her new status as a fully-grown adult showed in how she reacted to the newest crime that threatened her people. It was interesting to watch her figure out that something was terribly wrong once again. She didn’t have a lot of time to catch the murderer, so I was really glad that she reacted as quickly and maturely as she did as soon as she noticed the threat.

With that being said, there were a few times when I was a little surprised by how openly the main character went about trying to figure out who the murderer was. She knew that her list of suspects was small, so talking about the clues she’d uncovered with so many different people didn’t strike me as the smartest idea. Normally she was much more aware of danger than that. This was a minor criticism of a story that I otherwise really loved, though.

It was fascinating to read a mystery set in a time when there was no such thing as a detective, judge, trial, or prison sentence. Enga Dancing Flower has to figure out what happened to the murdered member of her tribe with only very limited experience solving this kind of crime. This meant that some of her techniques for finding new clues and trying to figure out what happened weren’t at all what I’d normally expect to find in this genre, but that didn’t make them any less effective. It was refreshing to watch this character put such a creative spin on on the process.

This is the second book in the People of the Wind series. While the plot itself technically can be understood if you haven’t read Death in the Time of Ice, I strongly recommend reading this series in order because of how complex all of the family and other relationships are in Enga Dancing Flower’s tribe. The narrator only goes over them again briefly here, so there was a lot of background information that I was happy to have remembered so clearly from the first tale. Already being familiar with that stuff made it much easier for me get absorbed in what was a pretty compelling mystery.

Death on the Trek was a fabulous read. I can’t recommend it highly enough! Anyone who enjoys prehistoric fiction or complex murder mysteries should definitely give it a try.

The Artie Crimes by Jan Christensen


The Artie Crimes Anthology by Jan Christensen
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Short Story (64 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

When your profession is thievery, you’re bound to find trouble. Artie Applegate just wants to have simple heists with no complications, but the women in his life repeatedly keep that from happening. More often than not, Artie ends up trading his burglary skills for mystery-solving talents instead.

Collected here, for the first time, are four short stories previously released by Untreed Reads containing Artie’s many exploits as he attempts to pull off burglaries while solving a crime or two in the process. This collection also contains a brand-new Artie short story, “Artie and the Big-Footed Woman.”

Artie and the Long-Legged Woman

It’s been ten years since Artie had last seen his oldest friend, Henry – and the unforgettable, gorgeous legs of Henry’s wife. When Artie learns Henry might finally have bitten off more than he can chew, Artie tries to help.

I enjoyed this short story. Gritty and written in a very noir-detective style I was pleased that I could pick it up without reading any other of the Artie stories and not only understand what was going on, but also find myself drawn to the hard-boiled detective Artie. A great, quick read.

Artie and the Brown-Eyed Woman

While in the middle of a job, Artie witnesses a brown-eyed woman being kidnapped off the street. He gives chase, but can’t save her in time. Despite his best intentions, he finds himself drawn to helping rescue her. But is the beautiful, brown-eyed woman all she appears to be?

This is another good short story. I enjoyed the twist in the plot (didn’t see it coming!) and found the story fun and satisfying with an interesting plot and fun, complicated characters.

Artie and the Red-Headed Woman

While riding the bus home after a job, Artie bumps into an old childhood friend, Gina. The pretty red-haired woman looks incredibly sad and so for old times’ sake Artie decides to help her.

I really liked this short story – again there was a twist at the end which took me by surprise. The author has a good style of story-telling that I really enjoy, lean and crisp and a little noir-ish. In a very few words characters are made to come alive and the plot is quite gripping despite the short word count.

Artie and the Green-Eyed Woman

While leaving a job, Artie runs into a woman who convinces him to pick the lock on a nearby building. Even though he’s eager to get away – the woman drags him into a new mess, and Artie will need all his luck and wits to get out of this trouble.

I found this to be a great short story, with a very good lesson for Artie. I also enjoyed meeting Artie’s mother for the first time.

Artie and the Big-Footed Woman

While on the bus going home after a heist, Artie has some rotten luck when the zipper on his bag breaks and a big-footed woman nearby sees the jewels from his score. What will the mysterious woman want in exchange for her silence?

I enjoyed this story. I wasn’t at all surprised by the plot twist, but I still greatly enjoyed watching Artie deal with the tricky problem Liz presented. A great read.

Readers who enjoy straight mysteries with a hard-boiled, noir-like feeling should enjoy these short stories. I enjoyed them all and would happily read longer-length stories about Artie’s adventures and crimes. While there is a long-standing relationship between Artie and Josie there is no romance in any of these short stories – they are hard-boiled, old-fashioned, straight mystery/suspense style stories that I feel should appeal to a wide range of readers.

Lord of Dishonor by Edith Layton

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Lord of Dishonor by Edith Layton
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (216 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rated: 4 stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon

Lovely Amanda Amberly was a young lady of unsullied virtue–against all odds. Her bewitching mother, the Countess of Clovelly, was notorious for her amorous escapades, and every hot-blooded gentleman in society expected Amanda to follow in the Countess’ straying footsteps.

So far Amanda had succeeded in steering clear of the clutches of those eager young blades. She even had begun to hope that the eminently respectable Sir Giles Boothe might consider her a possible match. But when, by her mother’s cunning design, Amanda found herself in the arms of the incredibly handsome and charming Viscount North, the most irresistible if infamous rake in the realm, she discovered she could defend her virtue only if she refused to listen to her heart.

A rather artsy historical, Layton’s Lord of Dishonor is written in what seems a purposefully older style, which comfortably suits its setting. It stars the regency realm’s classic clash of respectability and restraint–or scandalous lack thereof.

It also stars to unlikely lead characters, with Amanda, the bubbly countess’ daughter, to Lord North, who is not exactly who he should be. Before a romance can happen, a murky past needs to … well, we really have no idea what needs to happen! Lord of Dishonor’ is unexpectedly unpredictable, with a unique and original cast of characters and some pretty unexpected circumstances, too.

Although descriptions certainly convey a sense of time and place, they are also wordy and this reader found they distracted from the main tale. If words bore physical weight, too many of Layton’s are heavy. However, this might well be because this reader so wanted to rush ahead and discover how it all turned out.  A solid historical read.

Red Jack’s Daughter by Edith Layton

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Red Jack’s Daughter by Edith Layton
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (233 pgs)
Heat: Sweet
Rated 5 stars
Review by Snapdragon

HER HEART WAS DIVIDED IN THREE

Jessica Eastwood’s country sweetheart, Tom Preston, wanted her to be the free and independent spirit that her gallant officer father had raised her to be.

Jessica’s irresistibly attractive distant European cousin, Anton Von Keller, wanted to mold her into a sophisticated woman of the world.

Society’s most eligible aristocrat, the dazzling Lord Leith, wanted Jessica to be the star of the London Season, a model of feminine beauty and fashion.

But before Jessica could find out which of these women she truly was, she had to decide which one of these maddeningly desirable men she really loved…

An unexpected treasure, Red Jack’s Daughter is a wonderful foray into a (sweltering) ballroom in London, at just that point in ‘the season.’ Yes; a wrap up to the annual marriage mart.

The perhaps unfortunate choice of title does not reach out and grab readers; but rest assured it is the only dull note in the entire tale. From start to finish, beginning with the not-young lady’s point of view right to final resolution, the story is entirely unpredictable and intriguing. Main character Lord Alexander Leith is inveigled to dance with the rather easily overlooked Jessica Eastwood. It hardly seems an auspicious start.

We feel at once the one’s discomposure but also, quickly, grasp his main interest’s point of view. Jessica is indeed an amazingly self-possessed heroine and (quite unlike most of the rather well-behaved ladies of the time) she will make up her own mind and pursue her own fortune. Still, we cannot but hold out a hope for the well-meaning Alex, who just set out to do a friend a favor. It all begins with a little conspiracy; a consideration of fashion (while of course avoiding the spectacular.)

Fashion and the ordering of new dresses seems like the most obvious (and dull) event given the times, but no dressmaker ever quire ran into a challenge like Jess!

The ins-and outs of London society are visited from a very different perspective in this tale. We readers begin to suspect there may indeed be reason to hope…although there is no escaping personal history…but, no spoilers here!

If you enjoy historical romances, you must put this one right at the top of your list. The writing style is beautiful; characters deep and very light, (except for rather grumpy aunty) and Layton’s perceptive touch with humor is quite perfect.

I cannot remember when I have enjoyed a dance in the ballroom of London’s marriage mart more: clever and Most enjoyable.

Blood Moon by Marilyn Todd

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Blood Moon by Marilyn Todd
High Priestess Iliona #2
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Historical, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (166 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Poinsettia

In a cave in the hills, seven candles burned, and tonight, when the moon was at its full, it would be time to light another. Oh, the Blood Moon was so aptly named…

Three ritual killings on the same night can’t be coincidence. More an attempt to sabotage the peace between Sparta and her new allies from across the Black Sea.

High Priestess Iliona has no wish to become embroiled in politics. Especially now. The son she gave up at birth has discovered her identity, and emotions she’d worked so hard to lock away have surfaced, raw and painful. But Lysander, commander of Sparta’s hated Secret Police, gives her no choice. And because she hopes that uncovering conspiracy, murder, kidnapping and adultery will help dull her pain, she fails to notice a killer on the loose with a pathological hatred of women.

Who’s picked Iliona as his next victim.

If only Iliona wasn’t such a good spy…

All Iliona wants is to serve in the temple of Eurotas and take care of the people who come to her for help. Unfortunately, she’s done an excellent job of spying for Lysander in the past, and now he has another job for her. Iliona would refuse if she could, but Lysander knows too many of her secrets. One word from him and her life could be forfeit. Iliona knows she has no choice, so she grudgingly agrees to help, but solving this mystery brings more pain that Iliona ever could have imagined.

I enjoyed getting to know Iliona better in this book. I read and enjoyed the first book in this series, but I felt that I didn’t know Iliona as well as I would have liked when I finished reading. I’m pleased to report Ms. Todd fleshes out Iliona’s character a bit more in this installment. After learning more about Iliona’s past and what she has survived, I like her even more.

While this book could possibly stand on its own, I do recommend reading the first book, Blind Eye, before attempting this tale in order to have a better feel for Iliona, Lysander, their history, and the world they live in. Also, Ms. Todd switched between a lot of viewpoints in Blind Eye, and she continues that pattern in Blood Moon. I feel I was better prepared for this having read Blind Eye first. I do think that the number of viewpoints could be whittled down a little. While the differing perspectives are interesting, I found myself wishing I could spend more time with Iliona and Lysander.

Lysander and Iliona’s partnership continues to be interesting. Iliona barely tolerated Lysander in Blind Eye, and her feelings for him haven’t changed. She definitely resents his presence in her life. That being said, I do think they worked together better this time around. Iliona seems to be developing a grudging respect for Lysander, and I daresay he is starting to like her. However, Lysander is a very secretive character, and I can never be sure what his true motivations are. I look forward to seeing what will happen to them in the next mystery.

Ms. Todd did an excellent job of weaving mysteries together. As I read, I enjoyed trying to figure out if various characters were connected or acting on their own and who the murderer was. I must admit that when the culprit was revealed, I was a little shocked with how Iliona chose to deal with the murderer. It was certainly a side of her I’ve never seen.

I truly enjoyed reading Blood Moon. It is an intriguing mystery sure to keep readers engaged. I’ll certainly be picking up the next book in this series.