In the new Republic of Texas, guns are compulsory and nothing is forgiven. Blue Running is a gripping coming-of-age thriller set in post-secessionist Texas. A fast-paced, page-turning book, it looks unflinchingly at what the future could hold, and finds hope there.
Fourteen-year-old Bluebonnet Andrews is on the run across the Republic of Texas. An accident with a gun killed her best friend but everyone in the town of Blessing thinks it was murder. Even her father – the town’s drunken deputy – believes she did it. Now, she has no choice but to run. In Texas, murder is punishable by death.
On the road she meets Jet, a pregnant young woman of Latin American heritage. Jet is secretive about her past but she’s just as determined as Blue to get out of Texas before she’s caught and arrested. Together, the two form an unlikely kinship as they make their way past marauding motorcycle gangs, the ever-watchful Texas Rangers, and armed strangers intent on abducting them – or worse. When Blue and Jet finally reach the wall, will they be able to cross the border, or will they be shot down in cold blood like the thousands who have gone before them?
Some things are worth dying for.
PRAISE FOR BLUE RUNNING:
“Brilliant.” —Heat Magazine
“A fast-paced story that races along, and stays with you long after you’ve finished it.” — The American
“An important and unforgettable read.” — Armadillo Magazine
One of the main themes in Blue Running and other coming-of-age stories is the journey to self-discovery in the midst of “all hell breaking loose.” Like most other novels, my stories begin with the everyday-normal-but-not-quite-right. As a Texan who mostly writes about Southerners, “not quite right” covers a lot of ground. Like many other dystopian novels, my plot takes off when the main character is betrayed by the rules of her own world (“all hell breaks loose”), and her redemption is in her ability to find a way to right a moral wrong. At the root of all of my stories are those confusing formative years, when desire and betrayal and defeat are excruciatingly intense and seemingly never-ending. Many character flaws, I believe, have roots in these early traumas. And of course, environmental trauma can also carry a storyline through to many a self-discovery.
Several novels influenced my attention to trauma, character, and setting in Blue Running. Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale imagined shocking possibilities that stayed and stayed with me. Novels like theirs illustrate that vivid world-building can be effective catalysts for character development. At the heart of their novels and mine, characters pursue a fundamental desire for freedom and human connection. Cultural and political edicts often get in the way.
Blue and Jet, my novel’s major characters, strike out on their own, determined to find answers to their shattered lives. I was inspired by other writers who write powerfully about young people and poverty. Jesmyn Ward portrays her independent young characters in Salvage the Bones with honesty and authenticity. Samantha Mabry’s All the Wind in the World captures the precarious relationship between teenagers who are just trying to survive together in her post-apocalyptic Southwest novel. I wanted to create characters who were fiercely independent and vulnerable, and to craft a novel that foreshadowed the consequences of political and religious fanaticism. At the same time, I hope that, like the novels that inspire me, Blue Running gives readers a glimpse of hope in the human spirit.
Novelist, librettist, lecturer Lori Ann Stephens grew up in North Texas, where she developed an addiction to the arts. Her novels for children and adults include Novalee and the Spider Secret, Some Act of Vision, and Song of the Orange Moons, and her award-winning work has been noted by Glimmer Train Stories, The Chicago Tribune, and the English National Opera. She teaches Writing and Critical Reasoning undergraduate courses, as well as creative writing graduate courses, at Southern Methodist University. She lives in Texas and is a bit mad about her cat.
Lyla Fox knows she has a reputation at the SNAP Agency for impulsivity, but when she receives a threatening letter from a man she helped put in prison, she can’t stop herself from going all in to find out why he’s coming after her. Unfortunately, she’s going to need the help of the one person who questions her reckless choices more than anyone else.
Explosives and weapons specialist Nicolás Garcia agrees to help Lyla in order to keep her safe, but her recklessness continues to be a major concern, especially when her investigation into a conspiracy puts a target on her back. Dealing with bombs is dangerous. Working with Lyla is proving to be just as treacherous–to both the mission and his heart.
Natalie Walters closes out her SNAP Agency series with a bang with this nail-biting story of a deadly government conspiracy, an unlikely couple, and an ending that will leave you breathless.
The final chapter of this trilogy is full of romantic chemistry and edge-of-your-seat suspense!
Blind Trust is the final book in author Natalie Walters’s SNAP Agency Trilogy, and its action and intrigue-filled plot, combined with the undeniable chemistry between the two main characters, makes it a definite winner! Even without having read the previous books in the trilogy, I found BLIND TRUST to be an exciting and satisfying story. I can only guess how fans of the earlier books will love this final chapter.
Lyla Fox is talented and competent but is known to act in the moment, taking chances that in her line of work could be deadly. However, being a smart woman, she realizes this tendency and its dangers and knows she’s got to control her impulses better and improve. Nicolas Garcia has his own flaws; a tragic past has burdened him with a load of guilt and heartache. This pair has such chemistry that even their coworkers talk about it! But ultimately, the story is about trust, faith, and love.
The book’s action begins immediately, and the tension is high right from the start. Talk about setting the bar high for the rest of the story! With all the unknowns, there’s really no downtime in the pacing where I felt I could set the book aside; I had to keep reading. There was just no “good’ place to stop! The suspense kept building, and I was kept on the edge of my seat.
I recommend BLIND TRUST to readers of romantic suspense, especially those that enjoy great faith-forward stories, and of course, to fans of the previous books in the trilogy.
Natalie Walters is the author of Lights Out and Fatal Code, as well as the Harbored Secrets series. A military wife, she currently resides in Texas with her soldier husband and is the proud mom of three. She loves traveling, spending time with her family, and connecting with readers on social media. Photo credit Emilie Hendryx Haney.
Exciting, tense, and utterly unique, WHAT THE MONKEY SAW is one of the best crime novels I’ve ever read.
After the line-of-duty death of her partner/fiancé, FBI agent Emily Gayle resigned her position to her childhood home in Meat Camp, North Carolina, deep in the heart of Appalachia. The reason she provided for public consumption was she’d needed to come home to care for her father, a retired police detective after diabetes deprived him of part of one leg. In reality, she was haunted by Luke’s death. She had had to leave him behind, mortally wounded, while she continued to pursue his attacker and hopefully rescue the little five-year-old girl he’d taken. But, in the end, the little girl had already been dead, the monster who murdered her evaded arrest, and Luke had bled out alone. Now, Emily worked as a death doula, a person who sat with the dying during their final days as they made their end-of-life journey. Because no one should ever have to die alone.
Jude and Crispin Courtland’s mother had died when Jude was 14; their father was an unknown. They had been raised by their widowed grandmother, Hazel, near Bristol, Tennessee, among the hills and gorges of Appalachia. Now in their 30s, it was their turn to care for her. Hazel was losing her second battle with leukemia and was tired of the fight, ready to transition to her next life. But Jude refused to give up, hoping for her recovery and determined to get together the money necessary for what he still believed would be life-saving chemotherapy. But in Appalachia, steady jobs and high wages were slim, and options were few and far between. So, Jude, with the help of his girlfriend who worked at the local pharmacy, hatched a plan to hijack the vans that delivered insulin to pharmaceutical outlets in the regions and, through a shady as hell middleman, sell the precious cargo on the black market. Jude justified his plan as helping to provide insulin to people who couldn’t afford the high prices charged by pharmacies. Along with Crispin and their cousin, Devo, the Courtland cousins had already pulled off several successful heists, and Jude had almost all the money needed for his grandmother’s treatment. With only one or two more jobs needed and Hazel beginning to decline, Jude hired Emily to sit with her while he and his brother were working their new gig.
What the Monkey Saw is the first book in author Lynn Chandler Willis’s new series, Death Doula, and it is one of the most fascinating and unique crime novels I’ve ever read. With characters so finely drawn, you’ll feel as if you knew them personally, its unusual premise, its mix of poignancy, heartache, and heart-pounding excitement, you’ll want to read the whole thing in one satisfying and absorbing session.
I loved the main character, Emily Gayle. She’s haunted by the circumstances of her fiancé’s death and conflicted over leaving her former career, but she feels like what she’s doing now is truly of more service than anything she’s ever done. Much of the story is told from her first-person viewpoint.
Jude Courtland is also carrying many burdens. He is desperate to save his beloved grandmother but, at the same time, aches to be free of his responsibilities. He’s weary from the toll that being a caretaker extracts and feels guilty for his desire for release. He’s also keeping his brother in line, while Crispin seems oblivious to Hazel’s and Jude’s needs. Crispin loves animals, and when he discovers a small capuchin monkey inside one of the stolen vans, he takes it home as a pet, but not until after coming to blows with Jude over that decision. In his early 30s, Crispin is a little boy in a big man’s body.
The story is told in alternating points of view, Emily’s and Jude’s, and this works well as the two separate storylines wind their way toward each other. They came together in a tense collision and kept me on the absolute edge of my seat all the way to its shocking resolution.
I recommend WHAT THE MONKEY SAW to readers who enjoy strong and thrilling crime stories, unusual premises, Appalachian settings, or tales told from the “villain’s” perspective.
I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours.
Action-packed and enthralling, I loved Ray DeLuca and cheered for him every step of the way.
The son of an east coast Sicilian mafia boss, young Ray DeLuca, was part of “the life” but entered the Navy instead of following in his father’s footsteps. Sixteen successful years later and a SEAL Chief Petty Officer, he retires to pursue a career in protecting and serving with the San Francisco Police Department. However, on his very first shift at Central Station, he attracts the ire of the Watch Commander, Lt. Flynn, who takes any opportunity to criticize and embarrass him.
Assigned to a two-officer black and white, Ray and his partner, Chinese-American Officer Hank Lau, patrol the Chinatown/Little Italy neighborhoods experiencing an upswing in gang activity. Chinatown, already home to the deadly Ghost Boys, has attracted the notice of a Sicilian mob family, and an influx of wise guys shaking down the business owners for protection money has the area teetering on the brink of an all-out war.
When a domestic violence call goes south, and a Ghost Boy dies, Ray is marked for death with a $50K bounty on his head. Ghost Boys make several failed attempts on his life but still seem one step ahead of Ray at all times. One night while he’s out on a first date with his dream girl, four gang members confront the couple. Ray fights back, injuring two and sending them running. His date, appalled by the violence and frightened out of her mind, never wants to see Ray again. But worse yet, later that night, he is called into Central Station, where Lt. Flynn is gleefully waiting with the news that the thugs he fended off have filed charges and a complaint, intending to sue the city. But when Flynn blames Ray and takes the thugs’ side over his own man, Ray loses his cool standing up for himself and earning himself a suspension.
With his gun, ID, and protection of his badge gone, Ray must now fend off continued attacks from the Ghost Boys on his own while waiting for his opportunity to defend himself, clear his name, and return to the job he loves.
Central Station is a riveting crime thriller featuring the engaging and immensely likable Ray DeLuca. The action is non-stop as the story unfolds and we follow the main character through his trials and tribulations and the will-he-catch-him murder plotline. I was glued to this story from page one until the close, smiling almost the entire time. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and the family ate out while I was reading it. Who has time to cook when you’ve got such a page-turner in your hands?!
Our man Ray is a charming guy with a successful career as a Navy SEAL behind him. He has a couple of relationships with different women during the course of the story, some of which, for a number of reasons, don’t flourish. Like Ray’s mother, though, I have high hopes.
While the action and adventure commands center stage, I loved his interactions with his mother. Whenever he got a care package from home, I was dying to know what she’d sent this time. The discussions of her cooking had me enthralled and ready to head to Sicily (or at least the east coast.) One thing I didn’t go for was how her dialogue was written to convey her accented English, but I don’t know any other way the author could have accomplished this. I eventually got the rhythm of it, and it didn’t slow me down as much as it did initially. I also enjoyed the peek inside THE FAMILY, especially when Ray’s father was incarcerated.
The book is GODFATHER long but literally full of exciting action. The author’s writing is smooth, comfortable, and compelling. It is also the author’s DEBUT novel. Amazing! I can hardly wait to see what comes from his pen next and for Ray DeLuca’s future adventures.
I recommend CENTRAL STATION to readers who enjoy crime fiction with a charming main character, police stories featuring organized crime and criminals, San Francisco settings, and non-stop action/adventures that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from Reedsy Discovery.
Nova Albright was going to be the first Black homecoming queen at Lovett High—but now she’s dead. Murdered on coronation night. Fans of One of Us Is Lying and The Other Black Girl will love this unputdownable thriller.
Nova Albright, the first Black homecoming queen at Lovett High, is dead. Murdered the night of her coronation, her body found the next morning in the old slave cemetery she spent her weekends rehabilitating.
Tinsley McArthur was supposed to be queen. Not only is she beautiful, wealthy, and white, it’s her legacy—her grandmother, her mother, and even her sister wore the crown before her. Everyone in Lovett knows Tinsley would do anything to carry on the McArthur tradition.
No one is more certain of that than Duchess Simmons, Nova’s best friend. Duchess’s father is the first Black police captain in Lovett. For Duchess, Nova’s crown was more than just a win for Nova. It was a win for all the Black kids. Now her best friend is dead, and her father won’t fact the fact that the main suspect is right in front of him. Duchess is convinced that Tinsley killed Nova—and that Tinsley is privileged enough to think she can get away with it. But Duchess’s father seems to be doing what he always does: fall behind the blue line. Which means that the white girl is going to walk.
Duchess is determined to prove Tinsley’s guilt. And to do that, she’ll have to get close to her.
But Tinsley has an agenda, too.
Everyone loved Nova. And sometimes, love is exactly what gets you killed.
Jumata Emill is a journalist who has covered crime and local politics in Mississippi and parts of Louisiana. He earned his B.A. in mass communications from Southern University and A&M College. He’s a Pitch Wars alum and member of the Crime Writers of Color. When he’s not writing about murderous teens, he’s watching and obsessively tweeting about every franchise of the Real Housewives. Jumata lives in Baton Rouge, La.
An immensely satisfying follow-up to the series debut with relatable main characters and tense, non-stop action!
If her former fiancé’s return to Rock Harbor wasn’t shocking enough, the discovery that her new employee at the resort was her long-lost sister had Park Ranger Annie Pederson reeling. When Annie was eight years old, she and her younger sister were attacked while on the dock of Tremolo Island as they watched and listened to the sounds of the loons that flocked there at night. Annie was stabbed and left to die, but Sarah had been taken and never seen or heard from again. Until now.
The young woman Annie knew as Taylor Moore had shown up looking for work, her natural blonde hair dyed a bright red and wearing contacts to change her vivid blue eyes brown. And while Annie had continued to search for the sister she loved and longed to bring home, Sarah had developed and nursed a deep-seated hatred toward the older sister she believed could have prevented her abduction. With Jon Dunstan back in town, seeking to revive their relationship, and her 9-year-old daughter, Kylie, resenting his appearance in their lives, Annie is determined to uncover the truth of what happened all those years ago and if Taylor Moore is really who she claims to be.
Dark of Night is the second book in author Colleen Coble’s Christian romantic suspense series featuring Park Ranger Annie Pederson. It is even more exciting than the first book. And if you enjoyed the series debut novel, Edge of Dusk, you’re going to love this action-packed follow-up!
Annie Pederson, the titular heroine of the series, is personable and so very likable. I found her to be an intelligent woman and investigator, steadfast and loyal in her relationships, although conflicted, and a capable and knowledgeable outdoorswoman. However, she has been put through the wringer in her lifetime, especially during the last two years with the loss of her husband, Nate, and both of her parents. She is not alone in her grief; Annie’s eight-year-old daughter, Kylie, is still struggling with losing her father and is very vulnerable.
And there’s more.
Adding to the stress and recent emotional devastation, Kylie has had some health problems, which led to Annie’s discovery that Nate is not Kylie’s biological father. Annie had married Nate on the rebound less than a month after breaking up with her fiancé, Jon Dunstan, who had immediately left town for an internship at the Mayo Clinic, never to step foot in Rock Harbor in nine years … until now. I loved that both Annie and Jon still had feelings for each other nine years after their unnecessary split and were giving their relationship a second chance but this time as adults. I ached each time Kylie rejected Jon’s overtures to get closer to his daughter.
Their whole story is made even more complex by the sudden reappearance of Annie’s sister, Sarah, who had been abducted from Annie’s side as a five-year-old. It was agonizing to feel Sarah’s rage over what had occurred and her blaming Annie for her tragic life. Also, I could feel Annie’s great disappointment over their reunion and helplessness in getting Sarah to understand that she had also been fighting for her life at the time, followed by her mistrust of the woman claiming to be her sister. But that conflict paves the way for much more action and excitement later.
A second major plotline involves the character Michelle Fraser, who has been locked in a remote mountain cabin, suffering from a badly broken ankle. Her storyline is so intense I couldn’t look away or put the book down whenever the story shifted to her point of view. For both Michelle and Annie, if it weren’t for bad luck, these women would have no luck at all.
With its relatable and engaging characters, tense storylines, and unrelenting action, I recommend DARK OF NIGHT to mystery and suspense readers and those who enjoyed the first book in the series.
I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours.
Tragic, tense, and gritty, EDGE OF DUSK is romantic suspense at its best!
It was summer again in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and time for Park Ranger Annie Pederson to take leave and oversee the reopening and operation of her family’s marina and camping resort. Annie’s husband, Nate, and her parents had died a couple of years earlier on Lake Superior, so it was now just her and her young daughter, Kylie. The camp was hard work, but it looked like it was gearing up to be a great summer, that is, until she caught sight of her former fiancé in downtown Rock Harbor.
Annie’s had not been a carefree life. Twenty-four years earlier, 9-year-old Annie and her little sister, Sarah, had snuck out of the family’s lake cabin late on Tremolo Island late one night to watch and listen to the loons. But as they sat together on the end of a dock, a large canoe approached. Annie was stabbed and thrown into the lake to drown while Sarah was taken, never to be seen or heard from again.
Jon Dunstan was back in Rock Harbor to ready his family’s summer cabin for sale. A busy orthopedic surgeon in Rochester, Jon hadn’t been back to the place in nine years, and with his mother gone and his father recuperating from a recent stroke, he wasn’t likely to spend any more summers here. But after embarking on the repairs and upgrades necessary to get the property listed, the beautiful, calming setting began to work its magic on both Jon and his ailing father. And this is where Annie, the only woman he’d ever loved, still lived.
While Jon’s return brings back many memories and regrets for Annie and Jon, his reappearance also sets off old rumors about why he left Rock Harbor nine years ago. He went to take up a much sought-after internship with the Mayo Clinic; still, others gossiped that he’d been involved in the disappearance of two teenage girls who were last seen in his company. Since his return, there had been two random attacks on campers in the area, and some were eager to point the finger his way.
Edge of Dusk is the first book in a new series by renowned author Colleen Coble featuring Park Ranger Annie Pederson. The plot is tragic and tense as Annie investigates the cold-case disappearance of Penelope Day and Sophie Smith to find the answers to what happened to them and, hopefully, clear Jon’s name once and for all.
Annie is an energetic go-getter, working as a park ranger and keeping the family business afloat while being a single parent to her daughter, Kylie. The two are still grieving the loss of husband and father, Nate, with Kylie terrified that something will happen to her mother. It is hard watching Jon try to find common, acceptable ground with Kylie, especially with Kylie’s true parentage up in the air.
The story is told from a couple of different viewpoints: Annie’s, Jon’s, and the hired hand at the marina/resort, Taylor’s. Readers are privy to Annie’s and Jon’s inner thoughts about their failed relationship and continued love for each other. I couldn’t help but root for this couple to finally talk to each other about their past. For most of the story, Taylor Moore is a wild card of a character, and there are surprising plot twists regarding her. There is a big reveal of a cliffhanger ending to this book.
As an experienced law enforcement officer, Annie runs a legitimate investigation into the disappearance of the two teenage hikers. So, while this feels a bit like a cozy mystery, it is much grittier than that, and there is a professionally-trained investigator at the helm. Annie and Jon team up to clear his name, and the pair head out across the Upper Peninsula region to chase down leads. I enjoyed the variety of interesting small towns and legendary local establishments woven into the story, such as Poorrock Abbey’s Jampot in Eagle River. (I can confirm that you can buy their jam online.) The descriptions of the beauty of the area and Lake Superior really shine and will tempt you to plan your next vacation to visit it.
I recommend EDGE OF DUSK to romantic suspense readers who enjoy a lot of action, second-chance romance plots, and a great Upper Peninsula location.
In this gamble, more than a few poker chips are at stake.
When an Army Air Force Major vanishes from his Top Secret job at the Fort Worth airbase in the summer of 1947, down-on-his-luck former Ranger Jefferson Sharp is hired to find him, because the Major owes a sizable gambling debt to a local mobster. The search takes Sharp from the hideaway poker rooms of Fort Worth’s Thunder Road, to the barren ranch lands of New Mexico, to secret facilities under construction in the Nevada desert.
Lethal operatives and an opaque military bureaucracy stand in his way, but when he finds an otherworldly clue and learns President Truman is creating a new Central Intelligence Agency and splitting the Air Force from the Army, Sharp begins to connect dots. And those dots draw a straight line to a conspiracy aiming to cover up a secret that is out of this world⎯literally so.
“[In this] intriguing debut . . . clear crisp prose . . . morphs from a western into a detective story with an overlay of conspiracy theories.” —Publishers Weekly
“Sparkling 1940’s dialogue, wry humor, an unpredictable yet coherent storyline, and a breezy style all his own, make Colin Holmes’ somewhat spooky novel, Thunder Road, a winner. I’ll be on the lookout for his next novel.” —Rob Leininger, author of Killing Suki Flood and the Mortimer Angel “Gumshoe” series
“This genre-defying and enormously entertaining romp is Mickey Spillane meets Whitley Strieber meets Woody Allen. I can’t remember when I’ve had so much plain old fun reading a book and just didn’t want it to end.” —Historical Novel Society, Editor’s Choice
“A carefully crafted and original suspense thriller of a read, Thunder Road by Colin Holmes is the stuff of which block-buster action/adventure movies are made. With many and unexpected plot twists and turns, Thunder Road is an inherently fascinating and entertaining novel . . .” —Midwest Book Review
Thunder Road by author Colin Holmes is an exciting and action-packed scorcher of a story from the very first page, and considering it begins in a pasture somewhere west of Fort Worth among a herd of cattle, you’d think that would be hard to do. But Holmes grabs the story by the horns, and it’s off and running.
The reader is introduced to the book’s hero, Jefferson Sharp, on one of his worst days ever. Between the events of the pasture and discovering he and his wife are no longer a compatible match, the guy takes several tough gut punches and still gets up to start all over, all the while maintaining a decent attitude. He’s a down-to-earth guy and a ‘ride or die’ kind of friend. He’s joined in the story, for the most part, by friends he’s grown up with, some of whom have secrets that bring him a lot of trouble. However, my favorite supporting character is Veronica “Roni” Arquette, the sister of a childhood buddy and the widow of Sharp’s former partner when both were detectives with the Fort Worth PD before the war.
I loved the post-WWII, 19476 time period and the setting in my hometown of Fort Worth, Texas. The author sprinkles the non-stop action and casework with Fort Worth history, historical figures, and local lore. Some characters appear to be fictional recreations of actual individuals, such as Amon Carter. The historical ‘time travel tour’ aspect was so delightful and fun that before I was even done reading the novel, I purchased multiple hardcover copies to gift to family members at Christmas.
The story can be broadly categorized as a thriller or mystery or noir or historical fiction or sci-fi; there is literally something for everyone here. But the main character is a private investigator with cases to work on, so that is the book’s predominant ‘look and feel’. Sharp is a stand up guy who’s good in a fight and takes his drinks with little fuss. The dialogue is crisp, snappy, and clever, and place descriptions are saturated with mood and atmosphere, so much so that you’ll think you’re hanging at the Four Deuces right along with the characters.
I recommend THUNDER ROAD to mystery readers who would enjoy a story with a noirish post-WWII Fort Worth setting and wouldn’t mind a little sci-fi action in their crime drama.
Before the pandemic, Colin Holmes toiled in a beige cubical as a mid-level marketing and advertising manager for an international electronics firm. A recovering advertising creative director, he spent far too long at ad agencies and freelancing as a hired gun in the war for capitalism.
As an adman, Holmes has written newspaper classifieds, TV commercials, radio spots, trade journal articles and tweets. His ads have sold cowboy boots and cheeseburgers, 72-ounce steaks, and hazardous waste site clean-up services. He’s encountered fascinating characters at every turn.
Now he writes novels, short stories and screenplays in an effort to stay out of the way and not drive his far too patient wife completely crazy. He is an honors graduate of the UCLA Writers Program, a former board member of the DFW Writers Workshop and serves on the steering committee of the DFW Writers Conference. He’s a fan of baseball, barbeque, fine automobiles and unpretentious scotch
Intriguing premise, non-stop action, and clever dialogue, with regular people trapped in a plot for revenge.
Jake Ockham is the editor of his family’s local newspaper, and freelances investigating nominees for the Sedgewick Medallion, a prestigious award recognizing acts of selfless bravery. He himself had been honored while in college by rescuing a teenage boy from his burning home. During the rescue, Jake had sustained burns to his hands that had ended his Olympic dream of representing the United States in rowing, however, that wasn’t the worst thing to come from his actions.
When Jake dragged the unconscious and injured boy to safety, he was doing it in full view of the boy’s mother, who was trapped on the second floor of the family home with no way for Jake to reach her. As he watched in horror, the woman’s young daughter came home just in time to witness her mother’s terrible death, screaming at Jake the whole time that he was a coward. Now year’s later, the Medallion recipients were once again in the news. Several of these heroic individuals had suddenly gone missing … along with their medals. Despite the various police departments brushing off the missing persons’ reports from the heroes’ families, Jake was determined to get to the bottom of things and stop whoever was kidnapping the heroes.
I am so happy I was selected to read and review Hero Haters, a new thriller by author Ken MacQueen. The story is a terrifying mind game and pulse-pounding thriller, and it is filled with regular people who, at some point in their lives, stepped forward to help out a stranger. Early on, the reader knows who is behind the disappearances of the courageous medal winner. Still, it is exciting as Jake and Erik hack away at discovering the truth themselves and stop them. I was completely invested in the story from the very start.
Despite what Jake thinks of himself, he is a hero. He continually chooses the high road, well, except for a couple of great jabs at a particularly petty sheriff’s deputy who totally deserves it. His best friend, Erik, is fun and independent and a fantastic sidekick but a genius in his own right. He has some of the best dialogue in the book, too. The kidnapped medal winners are a varied group of individuals, with some continuing to be courageous in their direst moments.
I was immediately attracted to this book by its premise, and as the drama unfolded, I was not disappointed. It is fast-paced throughout, and the author is terrific at revealing backstories without slowing down that pace. And when the climax arrives, things happen even faster. I was really on edge, concerned about whether things were going to work out or not.
The story is told from more than one point of view; the narrative shifts between Jake’s actions and what is happening with the kidnap victims. The author’s writing style is smooth, witty, and easy to read, so I was quickly immersed in the story. I will be looking for more from this author.
With a likable, sympathetic main character, an engaging sidekick, an irresistible love interest, and a breakneck plot, I recommend HERO HATERS to mystery and thriller readers who like non-stop action and regular people trying to make a difference.
I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours.
It may seem odd to seek peace by moving to a war-torn African country, but for medical missionary Dr. Cynthia Myers, it provided a way to escape a shallow life of unearned wealth, a philandering fiancé, and a father now square in the public eye as vice president of the United States. At least here she knows her work and life have meaning. But all that is thrown into chaos when she fails to save the life of a local warlord’s mortally wounded son.
As part of the Army Special Forces A-Team on a mission to capture and subdue the warlord, Captain Rick Norton is compelled to use deadly force to save Cynthia’s life. Enraged at the violence she witnessed and riddled with guilt that men died because of her, Cynthia doesn’t want to like anything about Rick and his team–but an unexpected attraction is taking hold.
With two members of his team badly injured and rebels in hot pursuit, Rick will have to draw upon all his strength and cunning to get her out alive . . . because he’s beginning to think that, despite their differences, they just may be able to make a life together.
WORD OF HONOR
October 2022, 384 pages
You can’t outrun the past
FBI Special Agent Lynda Culter is investigating an ecoterrorist organization in the Alaskan wilderness when she and her partner are taken captive and he’s murdered before her very eyes. The only person who can identify the key players, Lynda gets assigned to take part in a joint operation in Istanbul to take the organization down. As a woman in a Muslim country, she’ll find it much easier to move around undetected with a fake husband. Unfortunately for her, the one assigned to play the role is none other than Army weapons specialist Bill Sanders–the man who crushed her heart in college.
November 2022, 352 pages
You can’t give up on love
When she was just five years old, Melissa Braxton watched her father take her mother’s life and suffered the pain of separation from her sister, Lola. Melissa grew up with a strong desire to help those stuck in abusive relationships. It’s why she became a therapist and opened a domestic abuse shelter.
After losing a leg to a gunshot wound in the line of duty, Phil Osbourne has felt like a man without a purpose–until he hears Melissa’s story and decides to use his Special Forces contacts to track down her missing sister, the wife of a Colombian cartel teniente. He knows what he discovers will break Melissa’s heart. What he doesn’t realize is that helping the women reunite will bring the cartel down on them like the category 5 hurricane striking Miami. Bruised yet not quite broken, Melissa and Phil battle the storm and the cartel, calling on strength they didn’t know they had to escape death, save the innocent, and–just maybe–find healing in each other’s arms.
Captain Rick Norton crouched near the edge of the dirt road. Ears still ringing from the intense firefight, the smell of gunpowder burning his nose, he looked around, counting team members. Gerald “Jerry Maguire” McBride and Daniel “Pot Pie” Swanson came out of their hidden and elevated sniper-spotter positions. They both threw him a silent thumbs-up.
Travis “Trout” Fisher crouched nearby with his carbine pointed downrange and his radio rig tucked away. He also offered a thumbs-up. Jorge Peña “Colada” and Bill “Drumstick” Sanders glided backward toward his position with rifles at the ready. “Up!” they said in unison.
Rick scanned the jungle around him. “Ozzy, position?”
His gut tightened, and he motioned for the men to regroup. Tension flowed through the team like electricity, then came a measure of relief when they found their combat medic, Phil “Doctor Oz” Osbourne, lying under a banana tree. He was trying to patch up his own thigh with a surgical clamp and a threaded needle below his hastily applied field tourniquet. Rick slid on his knees toward him and took the clamp from him.
“Caught one, Cap,” Ozzy said, his voice hesitating as shock started to overtake his body. “No way I’m getting out of this jungle on my own two feet.”
Wordlessly, Rick clamped Ozzy’s artery despite its best efforts to worm up and out of sight, then wrapped a fresh field dressing bandage around his thigh, securing the clamp and protecting the wound.
“You don’t know that, Doc,” Sanders said. “I’d want Daddy patching me up if you were otherwise occupied.”
Despite his tension, Rick internally rolled his eyes at the “Daddy” nickname. Sanders had drawled the words in an Alabama accent just to make them sound sweeter. Rick would address his mockery in a more appropriate manner, maybe with a bucket of ice water in some idyllic moment of downtime. For now, he let it slide and listened to Fisher calling headquarters for their extraction. He looked up expectantly as Fisher ended the radio call.
“They can pick us up twenty klicks from here, azimuth 26.”
Twenty kilometers? With a quick calculation, Rick translated that distance to just over twelve miles. He scratched his beard, estimated the amount of blood already lost, observed the rate it continued to soak into the field dressing, and concluded that Ozzy wouldn’t make it two miles, much less twelve. He would lapse into hypovolemic shock before they could get halfway there, and he would undoubtedly expire soon after.
The team’s military intelligence asset, First Lieutenant Peña, retrieved and studied the laminated map that hung from a snap ring on his pack. In his fascinating mind, Peña carried all their mission details. He had an olive-green bandanna tied close around his head but kept his curly black hair uncovered, and his heavy black beard was shaved close to his face. “There’s a village two klicks east. Near the river. They have an American doctor, Cynthia Myers, in residence.”
Rick pressed his lips together, knowing that his lightly freckled skin beneath his red beard had just turned a few shades paler. He knew all about the American doctor. At least, he knew all about her father. “Any other options?”
“Drop packs,” Peña said. “Four-man carry to the exfil LZ. Bounding overwatch. Rotate out every five to ten mikes.”
Rick considered how long it would take for them to carry Ozzy through the jungle. Even after dropping their heavy packs and rotating in shifts, they would move too slowly. “It would take too long.”
“Have them move up the exfil time or relocate the LZ. This is a PR, after all,” Sanders said. Personnel recovery missions merited an elevated priority over routine combat operations and could require a more accessible landing zone.
“No-go on that one, Daddy,” Fisher said. “Limited resources. Politically sensitive area and such. Azimuth 26 is the best we got.”
Rick glanced at the blood-soaked bandage and nodded. Making his hand into a blade, he gestured toward the tree line. “Village it is. Maguire, Colada—fashion a stretcher. Trout, tell HQ to save their fuel for now. Pie, go collect some visibility on the AO until we’re ready.” He turned to Sanders. “You’re on point with me, Drum. First leg.”
“Check,” Sanders said.
“Go get yourself a little recon while we partake of this incredible good fortune.”
“Medals, Cap,” Ozzy interjected, his tone dry. “Thanks of a grateful nation, for sure.”
“You concentrate on stopping yourself from bleeding so much, Doc. I will take this time to plan our exfil, secure in the knowledge that this mission will doubtless earn us all legendary chest candy and fruit salad.”
His team snickered. They did not do their jobs for recognition. Green Berets had a reputation as the “quiet professionals” for a reason.
Using a nylon-poncho liner and some cut-down saplings, they fashioned a makeshift stretcher and carefully lifted Ozzy onto it. Sanders returned with a nod, indicating a clear path.
“Trout, toss your rig and Doc’s pack on there too,” Rick said. “You and Jerry Maguire make like Sherpas for Doc Oz. Pie, take overwatch for the first klick. Drumstick and I got point out of the gate.” He focused on the tall Black man with the thick black beard and shaved head slicing an apple with his razor-sharp K-BAR knife. With the name Daniel Swanson, everyone called him Pot Pie. “Pie, when we arrive, stand to. You and Colada establish a home base close to the village. Bring silence to bear if the situation screams for it.”
“Roger, wilco, Cap,” Swanson said with a nod.
“Any questions or suggestions?” Rick searched his men’s faces in the ensuing silence. “Right. Let us know if your little arms get tired, ladies. Let’s roll.”
Hallee Bridgeman is the USA Today bestselling author of several action-packed romantic suspense books and series. An Army brat turned Floridian, Hallee and her husband finally settled in central Kentucky, where they have raised their three children. When she’s not writing, Hallee pursues her passion for cooking, coffee, campy action movies, and regular date nights with her husband. An accomplished speaker and active member of several writing organizations, Hallee can be found online at: