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.

Take the Bai Road by Erika Mitchell


Take the Bai Road by Erika Mitchell
A Bai Shu Novel #2

Publisher: Champagne Book Group
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery, Action/Adventure
Length: Full length (255 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Snowdrop

After the events of Bai Tide, CIA case officer Bai Hsu is safely tucked away at Headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Bored and frustrated, he’s starting to doubt he’ll ever return to the field until he’s given a difficult new assignment: Track and investigate the mysterious Ghost Cartel, who may or may not already have hooks in our government.

With secrecy of the utmost importance, Bai accepts the mission even though he knows he’ll be out in the cold. With no official cover, no backup, and no resources, Bai has no choice but to infiltrate a shadowy organization few know anything about.

Tangled in a conspiracy that will pit him against warring cartels in Mexico, this is Bai’s most impossible mission to date. It will test him, make him question himself and the organization he works for, and ultimately rip away everything that’s ever mattered to him.

This book is much more exciting than its title might sound.

This was a fun book. While it sounds like it might be set in Japan, it actually takes place in the U.S. and Mexico. This is a book about spies and fictitious CIA characters. It is a book about drug smuggling and it is full of action.

I have never read an action book with fighting scenes included that I could really visualize until now. I would tell you that action books are not my thing; nor am I very fond of Charlie Chan type of action but this author seems to be able to describe every move of every fight in a way that makes it interesting…visual. I can only describe this as very good writing. This book also never had a slow moment for me. The end of one chapter flowed right into the next. Every bit of this book was action-packed and humorous. There were quite a few characters in this book but I seemed to have no problem understanding nor remembering them; a classic sign of good character development. I love the type of character who “thinks” humorous asides in what I’ll call a type of narrative writing. In this book Li or Bai enjoy lots of those funny moments and so did I.

This is book 2. I think it read just fine as a stand-alone. However, I will definitely go back and read Book 1.

Bel, Book, and Scandal by Maggie McConnon


Bel, Book, and Scandal by Maggie McConnon
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full length (249 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Snowdrop

Maggie McConnon rings in Christmas in Bel, Boiok, and Scandal, the third adventure for everybody’s favorite Irish-American culinary artist turned amateur sleuth.

Bel McGrath tries her best to keep herself on the straight and narrow but she just has a taste for trouble. This time danger arrives in the form of a newspaper left behind by visitors to Shamrock Manor―and a photograph that jolts Bel out of the present and back into a dark chapter from her past. The person in the photo is Bel’s best friend Amy Mitchell, long gone from Foster’s Landing, at a commune in upstate New York shortly after her disappearance. The picture, and Bel’s burning desire to find out what happened to Amy―and whether she may still be alive―is the catalyst for a story in which old secrets are revealed, little by little…and certain characters are shown to not be as genuine as Bel once thought.

A really fun mystery including a chef but not one that gives you recipes!

I really enjoyed this mystery. Its main character is named Bel (short for Belfast) and she is a chef; come home to live with her parents after what to most would be called a culinary disaster. She is chief cook and bottle washer somewhat at Shamrock Manor. Shamrock Manor is their lovely old Irish home; one which has been restored to hold banquets and parties. I loved all of the cooking jokes and food preparation talk but this is not one of the trendy new mysteries that has a recipe at the end of every chapter; for that matter, it has no recipes at all.

What it does have is excellently described characters and a really good storyline. I would call this a cozy. I liked reading the interplay amongst the McGrath family, the few tussles and aggravations of living all together, with a healthy dose of genuine love mixed in. Definitely a storyline involved enough to make you think. I was surprised at the end just as we all want to be with a good mystery.

This is Book 3 and the series is called the “Bel McGrath Mysteries”. This third book can easily stand alone. I enjoyed it without ever feeling confused because of not having read the first two books. On the other hand, it did make me want to read Books 1 and 2.

Half-Built Houses by Eric Keller


Half-Built Houses by Eric Keller
Publisher: Rogue Phoenix Press
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (320 pgs)
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Ginger

Charley Ewanuschuk has been mistreated all his life and now survives as a ghost, moving through society as unnoticed as possible. However, when a murder occurs behind the half-built house he is squatting in society takes notice of the introverted homeless man as he becomes the prime murder suspect. Brian Cox managed to charm his way into a good job in a national law firm but, when the recession hit, he learned that charm is a disposable commodity. Fired by the firm and forced to take on Legal Aid files to pay the bills, Charley’s murder trial becomes Brian’s first major case. However, this will be no straightforward case. As the trial progresses it becomes apparent forces are working behind the scenes to ensure the homeless man takes the fall for a crime. Told from the point of view of the accused, the lawyer, the detective and the manipulator, Half-Built Houses provides all the thrilling intrigue, clever ingenuity and interesting individuals readers have come to expect form classic courtroom dramas.

I am one to cheer for the underdog and when Charley Ewanuschuk, a homeless man who has a history of being picked on and is accustomed to being classified as the less fortunate, I find myself cheering for his innocence to be proven. Will legal aid attorney Brian Cox be able to prove that Charley isn’t a killer?

I enjoyed every part of this book. The author’s writing style, the realness of the characters and definitely the plot structure. The vivid accounts told with liveliness and intensity makes this an astonishing read that I didn’t want to put down. Charley is a homeless loner who has minimal skills in communicating. At the end of his work day he finds solace in a half-built house. It was touching how the author described Charley’s feelings in how such a small space of four walls in the basement of an unfinished home could make Charley feel human and like a man. There was something about Charley’s life, his struggle that drew me in, that made me empathize with him and his situation. Brian doubted Charley’s story but as he got to know him he too started to cheer for the underdog. It finally felt like someone was on Charley’s side, that he had someone to look out for him. Charley having someone to speak for him and fight for him made me cheer even more because this meant Charley had a chance.

As Brian digs into Charley’s past the story builds in intensity and as the case unfolds the climax reaches a high point. The wealthy have a means to protect themselves and their own. Even though Jason was the last person seen with the deceased female, and the circumstances make him look like the guilty party, Jason’s father Hugh Young pulled out all the stops to cover and protect his son and their family name from being mentioned in this murder. As Hugh tries to cover up Jason’s involvement the conflict rises. The twists and cover up helps build a strong suspense. The author exemplifies skillful storytelling in this moving novel that kept my attention from page one until the very end. This is absolutely a book that I will remember for a long time to come.

This is a warning that once you start reading you may not be able to put the book down. If you enjoy suspense this book will not disappoint. This is a title that you definitely don’t want to pass up.

Written Off by Sheila Lowe


Written Off by Sheila Lowe
Publisher: Suspense Publishing
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full length (254 pgs)
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

In the dead of winter, handwriting expert Claudia Rose journeys to Maine to retrieve a manuscript about convicted female serial killer, Roxanne Becker. The manuscript, written by Professor Madeleine Maynard, who was, herself, brutally murdered, exposes a shocking secret: explosive research about a group of mentally unstable grad students selected for a special project and dubbed “Maynard’s Maniacs.” Was Madeleine conducting research that was at best, unprofessional—and at worst, downright harmful, and potentially dangerous? Could that unorthodox research have turned deadly?

Claudia finds herself swept up in the mystery of Madeleine’s life—and death. But she soon realizes that Madeleine left behind more questions than answers, and no shortage of suspects. The professor’s personal life yields a number of persons who might have wanted her dead—and her academic success and personal fortune clearly made her the envy of fellow faculty members. The University anticipates being the beneficiary of Madeline’s estate—but that seems in question when a charming stranger, claiming to be Madeleine’s nephew, turns up brandishing a new will.

The local police chief prevails upon Claudia to travel into town to examine the newly produced, handwritten will. Rushing back to Madeleine’s isolated house to escape an impending storm, Claudia becomes trapped in a blizzard. With a killer.

When her boss asks her to go to Maine and find the manuscript he was helping write, Claudia is anxious to go. It’ll be a trip out of town (her fiancé is out of town now anyway) and it will be interesting. No one knows where the manuscript is…

This book is part of a series but it stands alone fine. It centers on forensic handwriting. Claudia does this for a living and she’s good at it.

This author draws you in as she explains the facts of the case. The professor writing the manuscript was killed. You have two professors who weren’t fond of her and she was running a private group that including those with mental problems. Trying to weed through who might have done what is difficult.

Just to make it a bit more interesting, the manuscript is about a woman serial killer who is in the local penitentiary. Claudia is curious enough to visit with her and she finds a woman sorrowing over the loss of her children. You begin to wonder if maybe one of these students might have been one of her children…

As Claudia finds herself learning more about the college and the students, she finds faults in almost all of them. Everybody has some but some are more deadly than others. Tempers are short in this world and violence can spring up in an instant.

The suspense is good, the stage is set for the reveal and the killer was not on my list of suspects. One thing about it, the psychologist not only finds out who did what, she also learns something about her own self.

This is a good read that’s hard to put down. If you have any interest in reading handwriting, there’s a lot of good information about that included in the story. You may even have to watch how you write in the future. You’d don’t want anyone to think you’re a psychopath…

Foam by Robert Neil Baker


Foam by Robert Neil Baker
Publisher: Wild Rose Press
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (329 pgs)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Snowdrop

It is 2009; the auto industry is imploding. Charlotte Kirby and car manufacturer customer Bill Arnold’s romance gets hopelessly caught up in the intrigue and in-fighting over her new urethane foam. Can it save her company and his career? Who is bent on ruining the project, violently if necessary? Charlotte loses an important player to a suspicious accident, and another defects to a rock band. Bill’s bosses and co-workers at his struggling employer launch selfish agendas. A friend dumps one key co-worker for another. The lovers are challenged by thefts, assaults, kidnapping, and a laboratory disaster. Time is running out, can they unmask the villain and learn the true secret of the foam?

Bet you could guess a long time and never figure out what this book is about from its title.

I am not going to ruin this book and tell you anything about what “foam” could possibly have to do with a mystery. While this is indeed a mystery, it is also a wonderfully funny spoof on the giant automakers of our country as well as those in competition from other countries. This story is basically about the plight of the automakers in 2008 with the rising oil prices and first and foremost, it’s about money. It’s about the competition between automakers to stay alive, to develop the best products, and to have them on the market first. The need to be secretive about those products was worse than football coaches hiding their mouths from the TV cameras.

There are scenes that are humorous and others that are realistic. There are desperate people facing failure and those trying to stick their heads in the sand. It actually reminded me of Hollywood where actors and actresses are all trying to stab their competitors in the back, while smiling in their face. It draws a good picture of how many businesses and individuals were affected by one or more automakers starting to fail. But still…it’s a mystery with even a little bit of intrigue and tongue-in-cheek mixed together.

This was a long read in some ways. It seemed to me that there were a lot of characters but in hindsight I don’t know that this is true. It takes a while to build a diagram in your mind figuring out who belongs to which company and for that matter who is “who”. I don’t think the characters are well-developed. I don’t mean to say that you can’t get a sense of the characters; I just think it was a little confusing. It was sometimes hard to determine which was mystery and which was spoof. Then again, maybe that was the idea.

Having said all that… long read or not, I read it all the way to the last page. The storyline kept me wanting to know what would happen next and which company ended up with the secret.

Camino Island by John Grisham


Camino Island by John Grisham
Publisher: Doubleday
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full Length (304 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

A gang of thieves stage a daring heist from a secure vault deep below Princeton University’s Firestone Library. Their loot is priceless, but Princeton has insured it for twenty-five million dollars.

Bruce Cable owns a popular bookstore in the sleepy resort town of Santa Rosa on Camino Island in Florida. He makes his real money, though, as a prominent dealer in rare books. Very few people know that he occasionally dabbles in the black market of stolen books and manuscripts.
Mercer Mann is a young novelist with a severe case of writer’s block who has recently been laid off from her teaching position. She is approached by an elegant, mysterious woman working for an even more mysterious company. A generous offer of money convinces Mercer to go undercover and infiltrate Bruce Cable’s circle of literary friends, ideally getting close enough to him to learn his secrets.

But eventually Mercer learns far too much, and there’s trouble in paradise as only John Grisham can deliver it.

Steal the F Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts? The heck you say… But maybe it can be done.

I’ve mentioned I’m a sucker for a Grisham book. I usually race through the books and can’t wait to see what happens next. This book was no exception. The more I read Grisham, the more I get mildly irritated with the occasional head-hopping, but I’ve learned to deal with it.

Mercer is a struggling author. She hit the semi-big time once and can’t produce another work. It happens. Ask most authors and they’re struggling. She was a believable character. I didn’t agree with all of her decisions, but she had to make them, not me. She gets in over her head and needs a way out…oh and a chance to write. I could identify with her desire.

Then there are the missing manuscripts. Holy moly. Imagine stealing the F Scott Fitzgerald original manuscripts… I can’t. But it happened. I can’t begin to fathom these being taken, then the school opting to pay the thieves blows my mind. I wonder if that really happens. Seems like it wouldn’t, but I don’t know. If they want the priceless piece back that much…it could happen.

Although I liked the book, some of the characterizations were odd. The women writing romance…they felt a tad stereotyped and that done badly. That said, I could see them. The woman who wrote the vampire books… gee wonder who the reference was? Haha. But again, the author made her seem ditzy and almost unrealistic. I don’t know if the romance crowd is that voracious for ‘garbage’ as it was called, but I can see the glut of ‘books’ that maybe aren’t quite ready for publication being rushed through because someone believes they can and will make a buck from them.

That said, the mystery wasn’t as tough to figure out as I’d hoped. Still, I raced through this book and wanted to know what would happen to Mercer. I liked reading about her grandmother, Tessa, and wanted to see how things would shake out on Camino Island.

If you’re looking for a book with intrigue, excitement, mystery and authors, then this might be the book for you.

A Deep Thing by A.K. Smith


A Deep Thing by A.K. Smith
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (375 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Poinsettia

What was her husband hiding in the jungles of Mexico?

Rocked by her husband’s tragic death, Kendall Jackson strives to put her life back together. But Ryder, her nineteen-year-old stepson, is bitter and wants nothing to do with her. And she can’t keep the grief at bay. Sometimes, it’s so strong, she wonders if life is worth living.

A call from a cave diver in Mexico gives her hope of mending the relationship with her stepson. Before his death, her husband arranged a diving expedition as a birthday gift for his son. Kendall persuades Ryder to honor his father’s last wish.

From the campus of Western Maryland College to the woods of Camp David and the caves of the Yucatán, Kendall and Ryder take a journey to discover what her husband worked so hard to hide, and to protect his treasured secrets from falling into the wrong hands. The choices they make will decide their fate and the future of others. Will they risk everything for the truth?

Does Kendall really want to know the truth?

When her husband, Tim, died, Kendall lost the love of her life. Nearly two years later, just as she’s ready to move on, Kendall stumbles onto information that brings to light Tim’s secret life. As Kendall digs deeper into the past, she discovers a conspiracy much larger than she could have imagined. With people of questionable integrity pressing her for information, is there anyone she can trust?

Kendall is a likable character. She’s strong and vulnerable at the same time. Her longing for Tim and her simultaneous need to move on is intense. My heart ached for her as she tried to balance her budding desire for a new man with the deep love she still felt for her dead husband. She is always a swirling mix of emotions, and that made her feel very realistic.

This story is compelling, but not something I raced through. The suspense of this tale comes from not knowing who to trust. As I read, I was always trying to puzzle out the motivations of each character. Even characters that seemed infallible proved to be weak at times. I was never quite sure who was truly trustworthy.

I never really warmed up to Ryder, Kendall’s step-son. Like Kendall, his emotions have been chaotic since Tim’s death. I can certainly understand that, but Ryder makes it hard to like him. Kendall is very patient and kind to him, but he treats her very harshly. I will say that I saw glimmers of hope in him, but never felt a solid change in him. I want to believe that he will be a better man from now one, but I’m just not sure.

The ending is surprising and mostly satisfying. I think the conclusion is in part open to interpretation, specifically the epilogue concerning Ryder. I can’t say much without spoiling the story, but I will say that the reason I’m not completely sure of the ending go back to my misgivings regarding Ryder and his character. I don’t think I would have any doubts about Ryder’s actions and motivations if I were more certain of his character.

I enjoyed reading A Deep Thing. The characters are interesting, and the plot is compelling. Readers looking for a good suspense should give A Deep Thing a try.

When We Were Worthy by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen


When We Were Worthy by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full length (278 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Cholla

A win brought them together, but loss may tear them apart.

When the sound of sirens cuts through a cool fall night, the small town of Worthy, Georgia, hurtles from triumph to tragedy. Just hours before, they’d watched the Wildcats score a winning touchdown. Now, they’re faced with the deaths of three cheerleaders—their promising lives cut short in a fatal crash. And the boy in the other car—the only one to survive—is believed to be at fault. As rumors begin to fly and accusations spin, allegiances form and long-kept secrets emerge.

At the center of the whirlwind are four women, each grappling with loss, regret, shame, and lies: Marglyn, a grieving mother; Darcy, whose son had been behind the wheel; Ava, a substitute teacher with a scandalous secret; and Leah, a cheerleader who should have been in the car with her friends, but wasn’t. If the truth comes out, will it bring redemption—or will it be their downfall?

Small towns are known for a variety of things. Community. Support. Gossip. Oh, and the secrets. There are always secrets, right? Worthy is no different and when a tragic accident takes the lives of four of their cheerleaders, all that they thought was hidden rises to the surface. It doesn’t take much to become famous – or infamous – in a small town. What is the truth, how did they get here, and will the town ever recover?

Told in alternating points of view, When We Were Worthy, is an emotional roller coaster of a novel. Margalyn’s conflicted feelings over the loss of her daughter and the chance to help another, less fortunate girl, hit me the hardest. As a mother, I can understand her position and why she did what she did. Darcy’s story is probably the most tragic, and in a lot of ways, I can relate to her as well. Who wouldn’t do everything they could to protect their child? Even when that child is guilty, they’re still yours. Ava and Leah are both compelling characters with their own secrets and, although I don’t necessarily relate to them as well as the others, they deserve to be heard and seen and understood.

Through the eyes of four very different women, we see a town in mourning as well as a town with problems like any others. When We Were Worthy is a story of redemption, of forgiveness, and human nature at work. These women aren’t perfect by any means, but they are who they are and, by the end of the novel, they have come full circle, having examined the best and worst in both themselves and the town surrounding them. No one comes out unscathed, but everyone comes out changed. You just have to hope that the change is for the better.