High Force by LJ Ross

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

Hell has unleashed a demon – and he’s coming for you…

Detective Chief Inspector Ryan’s worst nightmare has just become a reality. Notorious serial killer The Hacker has escaped prison and kidnapped one of his best detectives from her own home. His brutality is the stuff of legend – Ryan lost his sister and nearly his own life bringing the man to justice first time around. Can Ryan do it again to save his friend?

There’s a nationwide manhunt underway but the trail has gone cold and fear spreads like a virus. Ryan and his team must find The Hacker before he takes another life – but are they too late?

The clock is ticking…

Murder and mystery are peppered with romance and humour in this fast-paced crime whodunit set amidst the spectacular Northumbrian landscape.

This book follows on almost immediately after the conclusion of the previous book (Angel). Angel ended on a high-stakes cliffhanger with DI Denise MacKenzie being kidnapped by DCI Ryan’s greatest foe. While this kidnapping and the immediate ramifications are detailed from the very first page of this story – so I feel reading Angel is not strictly necessary to understand what’s going on – I do feel much of the readers’ connection to the characters as well as much of the suspense/tension is better gained for readers having read at least some of the previous books, so they have an emotional investment in what’s going on, particularly for Denise. That said, readers shouldn’t feel like it’s critical to have read any of the previous books as the author does a very good job of explaining the plot, the real danger Denise is in and enjoy the thriller aspects as the team hunt for their colleague.

I was pleased that the author managed a good balance between keeping the conflict/suspense and tension very high but didn’t resort to too many gritty details nor dwell on the serial killer aspect merely for titillation purposes. I strongly feel that there was ample conflict as it was, so I really thought there was no need to go over the top with more delicate or grisly aspects to the story. Rather obviously, the entirety of the book focused on the team hunting Denise to rescue her and bring her safely home, but also return The Hacker to prison.

At times I wondered if there could have been a little more to the plot – because when you really boil it down the book is only about chasing the Hacker and rescuing DI MacKenzie. I feel maybe some readers could feel like the plot of this book is a little one-dimensional for a full-length novel – but there was enough adrenaline, action, suspense and tension I lean toward thinking the book didn’t need more plot to it, but I really did wonder a few times while reading this. I readily admit had there been another sub-plot that it could easily have detracted away from the importance of the team focusing on Denise and her rescue, or stolen pages away from Denise surviving her capture. This could very well have been a Catch-22 for the author with no “correct” answer.

With exceptional characters and a boatload of tension in this thriller/suspense novel this is a good read that might tempt you to finish it in one sitting. Not for the faint of heart (this is about a main female character surviving being kidnapped for a period of time by a serial killer and known enemy), this is a page-turning kind of story that I feel will suit a wide range of readers.

Falling for Vince by Megan Slayer

Falling for Vince by Megan Slayer
Publisher: Pride Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, LGBTQ
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Moonflower

Are second chances possible when the first chance never really happened?

Vince Rhodes has loved Cody Burrows for years, but he’s never been bold enough to ask him out. This wallflower is ready to make a move, so he enlists the help of James, the resident stylist at Dye Hard Style and unofficial matchmaker, to hook him up with his crush. Vince is betting it all on Cody giving him a chance, but will he?

Cody Burrows has admired Vince since they were both in high school. While he was the solid athlete unable to come out, Vince showed his rainbow proudly. Now they’re both older and wiser…and matched up by James. Will Cody allow himself to be free with Vince and find his heart’s delight or will he keep the barriers around his heart forever?

Maybe falling for Vince is just what Cody needs…

Who doesn’t love a second-chance romance?

Cody and Vince went to school together. Vince had a crush on Cody but didn’t act on it. Cody was attracted to Vince but was in the closet at school so just watched from afar. When fairy godmother James gets involved, they meet up and move forward.

These books have been a little formulaic with the beginning. They meet James, who gives them a time and date at Club Jester. They go, they meet, they dance, they misunderstand a situation, they leave, only to try again and succeed. Saying that, this one is my favourite of the bunch. The relationship between Cody and Vince seemed more ‘real’ somehow, as though their relationship from school could be expanded and adjusted to fit them as they are now. I loved how Cody and Vince encourage each other along, giving each other boosts, not knocking them down.

As with the others, it is low-angst with a HEA. A sweet read, perfect for a coffee or lunch break. Recommended by me.

Little Witch Hazel – A Year in the Forest by Phoebe Wahl

Little Witch Hazel – A Year in the Forest by Phoebe Wahl
Publisher: Tundra Books
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Little Witch Hazel is a tiny witch who lives in the forest, helping creatures big and small. She’s a midwife, an intrepid explorer, a hard worker and a kind friend.

In this four-season volume, Little Witch Hazel rescues an orphaned egg, goes sailing on a raft, solves the mystery of a haunted stump and makes house calls to fellow forest dwellers. But when Little Witch Hazel needs help herself, will she get it in time?

Little Witch Hazel is a beautiful ode to nature, friendship, wild things and the seasons that only Phoebe Wahl could create: an instant classic and a book that readers will pore over time and time again.

Everyone needs some kindness in their lives, including forest creatures!

In “Spring: The Orphaned Egg,” Little Witch Hazel found an abandoned egg in the forest and decided to try to hatch it herself even though it was bigger than she was! I chuckled as she figured out how to safely bring it home and keep it warm as the creature inside finished growing. This was my first glimpse of what a compassionate character Hazel was, and it made me want to get to know her better.

I was not so impressed with “Summer: The Lazy Day.” Hazel’s adventures began with her trying to run some errands and getting frustrated by her inability to finish any of them. As adorable as her day turned out to be, it bothered me a little to see a character not be able to gather berries for the winter, have her shoes repaired before autumn hit, or return library books so someone else could enjoy them next. It wasn’t like she was acting grumpy and expecting everyone else to be equally productive that day or anything like that! She simply wanted to plan ahead responsibly, and I think that’s something that should be encouraged even in lighthearted tales like this one.

There was just a little bit of spookiness in “Autumn: The Haunted Stump” when Hazel heard a scary noise and went to investigate who or what might be causing it. I enjoyed the Halloween themes of this one quite a bit, and the warm-hearted twist at the end made it all even better. As much as I want to go into more detail here, it really is best to read it without any hints about what she finds.

“Winter: The Blizzard” wrapped everything up beautifully. The themes of compassion and kindness repeated themselves for the fourth time, but now Hazel was the one who needed help after she was surprised by a terrible blizzard while walking home after a long day of doing home visits with various patients she was caring for in the forest. The plot was strong and fast-paced here, and I was eager to see how she’d get home safely when she was cold, tired, and still such a long walk away from her cozy fireplace and warm bed.

This seems like a good place to mention the fact that these stories are all connected to each other and should be read in the order they appear in this anthology.

Little Witch Hazel – A Year in the Forest was a magical read.

Hear No Evil by JM Dalgliesh

Hear No Evil by JM Dalgliesh
Publisher: Hamilton Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

When the bonds of brotherhood are strained, who do you turn to?

The celebration of the Viking Festival of Scira ensures that thousands descend annually on the small coastal town of Sheringham, but when one man dies amidst the grand finale, it falls to DI Tom Janssen and his team to identify who the victim was and how he met such a grisly end.

The victim was a local man, successful, hard working and well respected. A motive proves to be elusive. As the case progresses it becomes evident that not all is at it seems. Those within the victim’s trusted circle appear unable, or unwilling, to aid the investigation. Someone has a grudge… one strong enough to willingly send a man to his death in the most brutal, and public, manner.

The answer must lie in the victim’s past; a past that sees highly decorated military service. The past shapes our future and the consequences of our actions catch up with us. Those with the darkest secrets… with the most to hide… will face their day of reckoning.

Witnesses, friends and enemies alike all appear to employ the same old adage; see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil, but a ruthless killer is on the loose and they want revenge… Janssen and his team must unmask a murderer before they strike again…

Set within the mysterious beauty of coastal Norfolk, this fast-paced British detective novel is a dark murder mystery with moments of humour, one that will keep you guessing until the very end when the final shocking twist is revealed.

When DI Tom Janssen along with many of the locals witnessed a person set alight then fall from a cliff during the Viking Festival everyone knew something dark was going on. When the body turns out to be of a returned solider, generally well liked everyone including the police are confused. But then another returned veteran is murdered – someone linked to the first victim’s military service and Tom along with his colleagues rush to try and figure out the truth behind the grisly murders.

I really feel like this series – the “Hidden Norfolk” series – is starting to hit its stride. The author has found a good balance between a layered and complex plot with interesting characters and enough of a small town feel to really lend atmosphere and a gripping murder mystery. While largely a police procedural style of mystery novel there is plenty of twists and turns in the plot, and I thoroughly enjoyed the way events unfolded to reveal layer upon layer.

While this is the fifth book, I definitely feel readers shouldn’t shy away from picking this up if it’s the first one they’ve tried. The plot itself is very well contained in the book and everything reaches a natural conclusion. While the members of Tom’s team are all well-established characters – as well as Tom’s private life with his girlfriend Alice and Alice’s young daughter Saffy – I didn’t get the feel of missing connections between the characters or like readers fresh to just this book would be left lost or unsure of what was going on. This would be an excellent summer read on the beach somewhere or a lovely way to spend a relaxed weekend.

With interesting characters and a deliciously layered plot with some interesting twists I thoroughly enjoyed this book and can strongly recommend both this book and the series it comes from.

Hero by Jamie Targaet

Hero by Jamie Targaet
Publisher: Changeling Press
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Dicentra

Jade — I came back to town because my grandmother passed away and she was the only family I had left. Grams never wanted me involved with the MCs, but I always knew my father was a member. That was all I knew about him. Now he’s the president of Hounds of Hell MC. Or, as it turns out, he could also be the president of their rival MC, the Cottonmouths. Hounds of Hell MC sent one of their men, Hero, to keep me safe until my parentage gets figured out. No one is telling me why that’s necessary. I should go back to Providence. But I’m done with grad school, and there’s really nothing for me back there. And Hero is one beefy, gorgeous temptation of a biker. Part of me wants to stay here, in the home where I grew up. Part of me just wants him.

Hero — When my prez gave me the babysitting assignment to keep an eye on the daughter he’s never known, I resented it. Until I got a look at her. Choosing me to protect her was the right call. The Cottonmouths took her from me once. No one is taking her away from me again — no matter who has to die. I don’t care who her father is. Jade is mine.

Fans of Christine Feehan’s Torpedo Ink series or Harley Wylde’s Reckless Kings will find themselves falling in love with Jamie Targaet’s Hero just as much as I did.

Jade only came back to town to attend her grandmother’s funeral. Despite her wishes for a simple trip, she ends up finding herself smack dab in the middle of a feud between two motorcycle clubs (which her grandmother had warned her away from for years). Will she be able to escape with her life, or will she lose her head (and her heart) in the midst of all the alliances, betrayals, and questions about the truth of her parentage?

A quick read at roughly 90 pages, Hero and Jade’s relationship goes from zero to sixty very quickly. I loved it. The story doesn’t employ a lot of worldbuilding with its short length, so this is a very character-driven tale. Hero certainly lives up to his name and embodies that role when he saves Jade from the rival club. The moments between them always felt very authentic – the author makes it quite clear how bad of a situation Jade finds herself in, and why she needs help (she’s not just some ditzy damsel in distress). All of the motorcycle club romances that I’ve read deal with darker themes (TRIGGER WARNING: references to human trafficking and prostitution), and Ms. Targaet doesn’t shy away from that in this book. But there are also the brighter moments in the story that help to balance things out, and I really appreciated that.

Overall, an entertaining and quick read. If you like stories that feature heartwarming romance and alpha bad boys with a heart of gold, then you will love Jamie Targaet’s Hero. This is supposed to be the first book in the Hounds of Hell motorcycle club series, so I’m excited to see what other members and prospects the author will feature in the future.

*The Bodyguard by Katherine Center

*The Bodyguard by Katherine Center
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Women’s fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Larkspur

She’s got his back.
Hannah Brooks looks more like a kindergarten teacher than somebody who could kill you with a wine bottle opener. Or a ballpoint pen. Or a dinner napkin. But the truth is, she’s an Executive Protection Agent (aka “bodyguard”), and she just got hired to protect superstar actor Jack Stapleton from his middle-aged, corgi-breeding stalker.

He’s got her heart.
Jack Stapleton’s a household name—captured by paparazzi on beaches the world over, famous for, among other things, rising out of the waves in all manner of clingy board shorts and glistening like a Roman deity. But a few years back, in the wake of a family tragedy, he dropped from the public eye and went off the grid.

They’ve got a secret.
When Jack’s mom gets sick, he comes home to the family’s Texas ranch to help out. Only one catch: He doesn’t want his family to know about his stalker. Or the bodyguard thing. And so Hannah—against her will and her better judgment—finds herself pretending to be Jack’s girlfriend as a cover. Even though her ex, like a jerk, says no one will believe it.

What could possibly go wrong???
Hannah hardly believes it, herself. But the more time she spends with Jack, the more real it all starts to seem. And there lies the heartbreak. Because it’s easy for Hannah to protect Jack. But protecting her own, long-neglected heart? That’s the hardest thing she’s ever done.

The Bodyguard is an entertaining and heartwarming story. It centers on Hannah, a personal bodyguard who is dedicated to her job. In fact, Hannah is so consumed with her job she doesn’t have time for anything else in her life. Everything is going well in Hannah’s life, until it all falls apart and she is left feeling adrift and confused.

I decided to read The Bodyguard because It sounded intriguing. Jack is a famous actor and I love reading stories revolving around Hollywood. Hannah is a bodyguard, and I liked the idea of a woman protecting a man, especially a hot Hollywood actor. I liked Jack and Hannah and I enjoyed their story, however, at times, I had a difficult time connecting with them. Overall, I liked the premise of the book and the characters, but it just felt like something was lacking.

Even saying that, the story has its strong points, it kept my interest and I enjoyed reading it. I think other readers will like it too.

The Love Token by Raven McAllan

The Love Token by Raven McAllan
Publisher: Totally Entwined
Genre: Historical, Erotic Romance, Action/Adventure, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Spies, smugglers, scandals. Stealth, seduction and sex. All they had to do was decide which was theirs to take and what had to be earned. And hope they reached their happily ever after.

Jonathon, Viscount Carville, soldier, spy and would-be lover of Miss Miranda Riston, has accepted a mission to discover who is smuggling contraband into East Yorkshire. Her papa, however, is convinced Jonathon is dead, and wishes her to marry elsewhere. Miranda refuses and is delighted to find Jonathon is very much alive but working undercover on behalf of the British Government.

More is at stake than just a few shillings of tax duty owed.

Among their close friends and acquaintances there is a traitor working against the crown on behalf of Emperor Napoleon. Danger threatens as they seek to discover the identity of their treacherous foe.

Who is an innocent pawn? And who is not all they seem?

What’s better than heat and high seas excitement? This book!

I’ve read other books by Raven McAllan and loved them. When I saw this one, I knew I had to read it. I’m glad I did. The story moved at a great clip, the writing kept me enthralled and I couldn’t put it down. I couldn’t stop thinking about the characters after the last page, too.

Miranda and Jonathan have great chemistry. I loved their take-charge attitudes and the way their romance leapt off the page when they got together. The heat certainly was there, and I couldn’t get enough. I loved the way they worked together, and the ending was fantastic.

The tag suggests spies, smugglers and stealth. It also suggests bedroom antics. It delivers. If you’re looking for something hot, historical and fun, while full of suspense, this might be the one for you.

Crisis by Frank Gardner

Crisis by Frank Gardner
Publisher: Bantam Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Introducing Luke Carlton – ex-Special Boat Service commando, and now under contract to MI6 for some of its most dangerous missions.

Sent into the steaming Colombian jungle to investigate the murder of a British intelligence officer, Luke finds himself caught up in the coils of a plot that has terrifying international dimensions. Hunted down, captured, tortured and on the run from one of South America’s most powerful and ruthless drugs cartels and its psychotic leader thirsting for revenge, Luke is in a life-or-death race against time to prevent a disaster on a truly terrifying scale: London is the target, the weapon is diabolical and the means of delivery is ingenious.

Drawing on his years of experience reporting on security matters, CRISIS is Frank Gardner’s debut novel. Combining insider knowledge, up-to-the-minute hardware, fly on the wall insights with heart-in-mouth excitement, CRISIS boasts an irresistible, visceral frisson of authenticity: smart, fast-paced and furiously entertaining, here is a thriller for the 21st century.

After many years as an SBS commando, Luke Carlton needed a change of pace and a short-term contract with SIS seemed like the perfect fit. With impeccable Spanish from a large part of his childhood spent in South America and a razor-sharp mind, Luke is happy to see where this leads him. Only his first big mission is to uncover why a station-leader in Columbia has been murdered. Luke figures with his personal knowledge, some good connections and his military training there shouldn’t be a problem, only Luke didn’t realize just how powerful and ruthless his enemies are – or how far they’re willing to go to achieve their objective.

This is the first of currently three books about Luke Carlton and I have to admit I really enjoyed it. The writing style has a very solid British spy/espionage feel to it and more than a few times throughout the full-length novel I was reminded of a Bond sort of storyline or feel to the atmosphere. At the same time, though, there was a strong touch of the current world circumstances and a very modern feel to it all. This is not a cheesy style of story, but just a very British type of espionage thriller. Readers who want a high level of realism and a modern story should find this really suits their tastes.

There was a lot of realism to the international aspect of the plot too. I didn’t find many of the characters to be overdrawn or caricature-like, which in itself was refreshing. I also enjoyed the fact that Luke’s personal history was where a lot of his talents lay – having spent much of his childhood in South America it made sense he knew the local scenes, customs and languages very well. With his extended stint in the military, it made sense he could handle himself in a rough situation and had plenty of organizational skills and a sharp mind. I really enjoyed the fact the author had covered a lot of these bases and didn’t just write a movie-like action thriller that had huge holes in it.

Readers looking for a tightly woven plot should also find this book very appealing. While there is plenty of action, much of the first section of the book is laying the groundwork – introducing Luke, showing his current situation as a newbie in the SIS office and showing how all the puzzle pieces are arranged. While I did not find this a slow start to the story, neither was it a ramped-up, heavily action orientated type of beginning that a lot of thrillers are expected to have nowadays. I would strongly suggest sticking with the book if you find the beginning a little slow – the action definitely intensifies as the story progresses and I found this a real page-turning thriller the further I went.

With excellent characters, a modern and realistic outlook to our current world and solid plotting and pacing, I thought this was an exceptional spy/thriller style of story and I am eager to read the author’s next offering.

Absolute Zero by Desiree Holt

Absolute Zero by Desiree Holt
Publisher: Totally Entwined
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Sex, murder, cover-up…a lethal combination.

Fourteen days until Sierra Hunt’s brother is sentenced to life in prison for a crime he didn’t commit and the cover-up is so outrageous it’s almost unbelievable. Sierra had no way of knowing that the man with whom she had an explosive one-night stand would hold the answer to her desperate need.

Vic ‘Eagle’ Bodine wanted more than the unexpected one night with the woman who rocked his world. He was shocked when she turned out to be Galaxy’s newest client, and that they’d be joined at the hip as they worked to save her brother from an unjust imprisonment.

Galaxy will need to live up to its motto of We are your last resort for this one, the mother of all cover-ups. But Eagle is going to make damned sure that he gets it done…and at the same time convince Sierra that they belong together.

Mystery, suspense and romance…because this is a Desiree Holt book and that’s what it should have.

I’ve read other books by Desiree Holt and loved them. This one was no different. It had passion, heat, heart and suspense. I couldn’t get through the book fast enough and loved every second. As with the author’s other books, I knew I’d get a happy ending and would walk away satisfied.

Sierra and Eagle are great together. I liked the way they got together. Some authors might have struggled with this timeworn way to get characters, but Desiree Holt made it feel fresh. They have a great chemistry and I rooted for them.

The heat was off the charts and the thriller aspect of the book delivered. If you’re looking for a story that’s got heart, heat and mystery, then this is the one for you. Recommended.

Real Sugar is Hard to Find by Sim Kern

Real Sugar is Hard to Find by Sim Kern
Publisher: Android Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, LGBTQ, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A collection of short stories by Sim Kern, Real Sugar is Hard to Find explores intersections of climate change, reproductive justice, queer identities, and family trauma. Whether fantasy, science fiction, or terrifyingly close-to-home, the worlds of these stories are inhabited by flawed characters whose lives are profoundly impacted by climate change and environmental degradation.

Arranged in a progression from dystopian to utopian worlds, the stories chart a path from climate despair towards resilience and revolutionary optimism. Even in the bleakest of futures, however, Kern offers reasons to hope, connect, and keep fighting for a better world.

Like Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners or Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove, Kern’s stories are unflinching, intimate explorations of trauma and our deepest fears, rendered irresistible through the infusion of fantastic speculative elements and a dark sense of humor.

What the world looks like generations from now depends on what we do today.

Jane developed the ability to hear the thoughts of trees in one of the first scenes of “The Listener,” and she was tormented by their suffering. The plot twists were clever and kept me guessing. At one point I literally had to suppress the urge to argue with Jane because of how shocked I was by one of her decisions. She had excellent reasons for her choices, though, and I enjoyed being surprised by them just as much as I did imagining what might happen to her and her family next.

While I deeply enjoyed this collection in general, there were some stories that I wished had been given more opportunities for development. “The End of the Nuclear Era” was one such example. It showed what happened when children were given the legal right to leave their biological families and live with other people if they so desired. I was intrigued by how such a system would work and yearned to learn more about the practicalities of it all. For example, how old would a kid need to be before they could make this choice? What made some of them stay home and others venture forth? How did they learn that such options existed in the first place? I would have happily gone with a full five-star rating if every tale was equally fleshed out.

In “What Can’t Be Undone,” a witch named Stitcher Lorra tried to fix herself and those around her who requested help with a crude form of magic that didn’t always work the way it was intended to. The world building was fascinating and made me yearn for more information about how magic worked in this universe and why so many people had unrealistic expectations of it. I also appreciated figuring out how Lorra’s deepest faults were related to her work and how far she was willing to go to correct her character. Those scenes were as thoughtful as they were realistic for her personality.

Real Sugar is Hard to Find gave me hope for the future.