Category Archives: Thriller

Hero Haters by Ken MacQueen

Hero HatersHero Haters by Ken MacQueen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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.

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The Urban Boys #1: Discovery of the Five Senses by K.N. Smith

The Urban Boys: Discovery of the Five SensesThe Urban Boys: Discovery of the Five Senses by K.N. Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The action gets going right away, and the opening is gripping; a good omen for what’s to come!

Twenty years ago, a murder occurred in the nature preserve outside Danville Heights. Ross Dawson had been strangled by his former friend, Joaquin Grayson, and left in the vegetation. But there were witnesses. A young couple, in the deserted location for some innocent privacy, had been shielded from the killer’s view by the lush foliage. However, they had heard the struggle, including strange, bright lights and terrifyingly loud clicking sounds that arose around them as they hid. The killer was never identified, but the preserve attained a feared reputation, and everyone avoided ever setting foot there again.

All these years later, that reputation still held, but occasionally students in town dared each other to enter and explore. Such was the case the night the Danville Heights Chargers won a hard-fought football game against their rivals, the Markley Lions. Five high school friends, fresh from their victory on the football field, followed their exuberance into the unknown dangers of the preserve. They, too, encountered the lights and clicking, and the next thing they knew, they were waking up at one of the boys’ homes, exhausted as if they had stayed up all night long. Their memories of what occurred were sketchy at best. But they were also changed. One had increased visual acuity; another enhanced hearing; each of the others had been gifted with a superior sense of smell, taste, or touch.

To the north of Danville Heights was the larger town, Sandry Lake. However, a month or so previously, a gang of criminals led by the mysterious Druth had moved in and taken over everything. They murdered residents and destroyed much of the infrastructure, so word of the town’s trouble was kept quiet. And Sandry Lake was just a stepping stone toward his ultimate goal.

The five young men don’t know it yet, but saving their hometown from destruction by the evil Druth will fall to their close-knit group of friends – and they are the only ones with the powers to meet him head-on and win.

Discovery of the Five Senses, the first book in The Urban Boys series by author K.N. Smith, has an intriguing plot that teased me with its carefully measured bits of backstory and minimalistic opening exposition. The author doesn’t hand-feed the book’s secrets; those are only slowly revealed as the story unfolds. I was in the story with the five main characters for the entire journey, feeling their confusion over what was happening and how to overcome it. This immersive quality reminded me of reading Jeff VanderMeer’s book, Annihilation, from his Southern Reach series.

Many times the author’s use of language is downright magical. It was not an easy read at first. I had to sync with the rhythm of the words, and when I did, I was suddenly wrapped up in the prose, looking forward with anticipation to the next stunning phrase or line.

The five boys are an interesting mix of personalities and circumstances, and young readers will surely relate. I loved the premise of each boy receiving an enhanced sense and that there were others before them who had also been ‘gifted’ in the same manner. In a fresh and fascinating twist to this “gaining a superpower” trope, the new strengths are very hard on the guys, even causing them physical pain at times.

The author gets the action going immediately, and the opening is gripping. It was so compelling I wanted to read straight through to the conclusion. I will definitely put this series on my ‘watch list’ for future installments. I recommend DISCOVERY OF THE FIVE SENSES to young adult readers who enjoy urban fantasy, action/adventure, and paranormal or supernatural elements in their stories.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours.

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Never Play Fair (Sydney Evans, #2) by Leah Cupps

Never Play Fair (Sydney Evans #2)Never Play Fair by Leah Cupps
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A truly explosive follow-up to WHAT LIES IN PARADISE!

After her grandmother’s death, social media influencer Sydney Evans returned home to her Chicago condo emotionally exhausted, only to find Special Agent Elena Browne on her doorstep. It seems Sydney’s boyfriend, Alex Birch, an agent himself, had gone missing somewhere in Central America while investigating the international criminal Vincente Estavez. The Bureau wanted to know if she had any information about Alex’s last whereabouts. However, it had been days since she’d last spoken with Alex, and to her regret, the phone call had ended somewhat abruptly with him telling her he loved her, and she hesitating to reply in kind.

Unfortunately, Sydney was all too familiar with Estavez and his capabilities. The previous year, and how she met Alex, Estavez had been responsible for the murder of one of her best friends. Jack, her husband at the time, had abandoned her, faking his own death to escape Estavez’s wrath when he and his twin brother had meddled in his dirty online gambling business. Now the Bureau wanted her help to find Alex but to do so, she would have to get back in touch with Jack.

Never Play Fair, the second book in the Sydney Evans series is the explosive follow-up to the exciting series debut, What Lies in Paradise. Though this entry can be read as a standalone, reading the previous book first is recommended. Sydney is emotionally-spent after caring for her grandmother during her final months of life, but truth be told, her PTSD from a wedding fiasco in Jamaica had already worn her down. She and Alex have a romance that has quickly gotten serious; however, Sydney is second-guessing her feelings and ability to commit to a relationship again after what she’d gone through with Jack.

Jack is back, and so is his brother, Ethan. The story unfolds not only from Sydney’s point of view but that of the two brothers as well, and readers are privy to the guys’ more honest thoughts and feelings. I loved this triple view of the events occurring in the story.

The action got going quickly, and the story flew by without slowing down. The prologue is an absolute attention-grabber! There are also some very tantalizing glimpses of Costa Rica’s west coast that give the action a sultry, noir feel at times.

With a fascinating triumvirate of characters providing the narrative and a plot that takes off like a speed boat, I recommend NEVER PLAY FAIR to mystery readers who enjoyed the first book in the series and those who like fast action, good guys that aren’t so good, and stories featuring online gambling.

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Concrete Evidence by DiAnn Mills

Concrete EvidenceConcrete Evidence by DiAnn Mills
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A thrilling faith-forward Christian mystery set in south-central Texas near the banks of the Brazos River.

Avery Elliott adored her grandfather, a successful rancher, construction company owner, and former Texas state senator. He had always been there for her, in contrast to the parents that had literally abandoned her to continue to live their lives free of the burden of child-rearing. She had grown up in his house, attended college to gain a business degree, and followed in his footsteps to eventually take part in managing the construction business and ranch operations. But one day, in a remote part of the ranch, when she secretly witnessed him standing over the body of a dead man with a gun in his hand, her faith in him wavered, and she ran away back to the ranch house.

Later that evening, her grandfather drove away from the house and went into hiding. Confused and needing space to think, Avery also left the house headed for Houston and the anonymity the large city offered. But while driving, her grandfather called to warn her of the trouble he was in and telling her to ditch her cell phone, stay out of sight in a hotel, and contact no one or tell anyone where she was.

FBI Special Agent Marc Wilkins had just buried his estranged father and was spending time with his grieving mother when she told him of her suspicions that he’d been murdered. His father had recently gotten an exceptionally clean bill of health from his doctors, one of whom was a cardiologist, and the likelihood of him having a heart attack was exceedingly low. Marc agreed to look into his death to appease his mother, but he honestly thought her concerns were her grief talking. But when one of his father’s friends and work associates is murdered on a remote county road, and another disappears, Marc knows he must take a serious look. And when the daughter of the missing friend shows up at his office in Houston with a bizarre story asking for help, he realizes his father had gotten involved in something big, and his mother was right all along.

Concrete Evidence is a riveting tale of betrayal, revenge, murder, and constant danger. The two main characters, Avery Elliott and Marc Wilkins, are determined in their search for answers and strong in their faith, though both doubt their steadfastness in their relationship with God at times. They are good and kind people, and I enjoyed their cautious but steadily growing love story.

For all the nurturing love her grandparents lavished on her, Avery still has issues with her parents abandoning her as a young child. They continue to treat her horribly as an adult; they are awful people. Coincidentally, Marc experienced a similar situation at the hands of his father. The scene describing his father leaving him as a small boy of eight had me in tears. The subplot of how these two come to terms with this part of their pasts is emotional.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so compelled to keep reading as I was with this book! The main plot, and the reason Avery’s grandfather goes on the lam, has a unique foundation and has to do with his construction business, making this book’s title a stroke of genius. There are twists as the story progresses and I was kept guessing and completely the entire time.

With its intricate storyline and engaging characters who consider their words and actions within the framework of a life of faith, I recommend CONCRETE EVIDENCE to readers who enjoy faith-based tales of mystery and suspense.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Christian fiction, Contemporary fiction, Mystery, Romance, Romantic Suspence, Suspense, Thriller

Book Tour: Friends Like These by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez

Friends Like These

by

Jennifer Lynn Alvarez

Young Adult Thriller

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Pages: 384 pages

Publishing Date: November 1, 2022

SYNOPSIS:

Twisted secrets that will have readers guessing with every flip of the page. Perfect for fans of GONE GIRL and Karen M. McManus.

Tegan Sheffield’s annual end-of-summer beach party is the only way to start their senior year. At least that’s what Jake Healy tells his girlfriend Jessica Sanchez.

But when a video prank from the party goes viral and a body is discovered at the beach, Jake and Jessica find themselves at the centre of a national media storm and a police investigation.

It’s a race to uncover the truth before the killer strikes again.

Content Warning: Toxic friendships, sexual assault, rape, mentions of various types of abuse

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REVIEW:

A thrilling story I didn’t want to put down!

Friends Like These is an enthralling and thrilling mystery that had me hooked from the very start! The story unfolds from the points of view of the three main characters, Jess, Jake, and Tegan. I started the story thinking I was reading about simple, straightforward high school kids and drama, and I was so wrong. Not only are some very complicated personalities revealed, but the plot is also so much more complex, with twists and turns that make me blink.

The story involves one of the main characters disappearing without a trace from the end-of-summer party. Because of the circumstances and personalities involved, I was never sure if they were actually missing or just hiding out, although all indications were the former. There were more than a few alternatives for the disappearance and several possible suspects, depending on which scenario was the right one. I never guessed the truth until it was actually revealed.

The main characters’ backstories vary, but all are affected by their pasts and past relationships. There are so many pivotal moments during the story’s events where had a different choice been made at any point, what happened at the party never would have occurred. This was very much a ‘perfect storm’ of a story.

In addition to a missing person case and a murder, the book explores drug-assisted sexual assault within its unique plot. Some very important points are demonstrated, and though the hook is the story’s drama, readers of all ages can learn something from what some characters do and what happens to others.

FRIENDS LIKE THESE was a thrilling story I didn’t want to put down, and I recommend it to readers who enjoy YA mystery fiction or thrillers.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

I received my B.A. in English from the University of California at Berkeley. I’m fascinated by underdogs and power dynamics between groups of people. 

I’m the author of LIES LIKE WILDFIRE, a teen thriller soon-to-be published by Delacorte Press, and two middle grade book series, each published by HarperCollins Children’s Books, THE GUARDIAN HERD (a quartet) and RIDERS OF THE REALM (a trilogy). Before this, I self-published a middle grade fantasy called THE PET WASHER. 

When I’m not writing, you’ll find me galloping my little black mare through the foothills of Sonoma County or teaching free creative writing workshops to kids and adults at various branches of our local library system. 

The Healdsburg Literary Guild selected me as their 2019/2020 Literary Laureate for my work in building literacy in my community. It is an honor I hold dear. I am also the current SCBWI Sonoma County Coordinator and a volunteer on the Sonoma County Library Advisory Board.

​I live in Northern California with my husband, three children, and more than my fair share of pets!

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everywhere and nowhere – Review
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Charli’s Book Box – Review
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Nine Bookish Lives – Promotional Post

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Stuck in Fiction – Promotional Post

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Book-Keeping – Review
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Forthenovellovers – Review
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The Perfect Brother by Chris Patchell

The Perfect BrotherThe Perfect Brother by Chris Patchell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Perfect Brother is the perfect choice it you’re looking for a smart, thrilling, suspense-filled mystery!

Dr. Amar Safar, a professor of business ethics at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, is engaged to be married when he helps one of his students whose car won’t start one evening after class. One thing leads to another, and he eventually begins a clandestine relationship with her. It wouldn’t look good for the young, untenured professor to be dating one of his students after all. Amar has never told Mallory about his engagement. It was a match arranged by his very traditional Indian parents, and he’d gone along with it; however, there was no chemistry between him and his fiancé. He was in love with Mallory and had been trying to break the engagement but had never found the right time to do so.

Mallory Riggins is finishing her degree on her own without support from her parents. She is sharing a cheap apartment with another student and making ends meet with a part-time job as a barista at The Daily Grind. Recently her life was the definition of the old quip, “If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.” So, when handsome “Dr. Hottie” comes to her rescue, she soon falls head over heels for him. Now she keeps getting the feeling that someone is watching her, and small items go missing only to be found in plain sight. She knows someone is messing with her; she just doesn’t know who or why. Could it be the smarmy frat boy that always tries to sit next to her during her business ethics course? Or is it the flirty guy from The Daily Grind whose girlfriend has gone missing? The girlfriend that suspiciously resembles Mallory.

When software developer, Indira Safar’s brother, Amar, is arrested for Mallory’s murder, Indira knows he’s innocent. However, the police are convinced they’ve got their man even when the evidence is all circumstantial and refuse to pursue further leads. Using the new innovative software she’s been instrumental in developing at work, Indira starts her own investigation to save her brother from life in prison for something he didn’t do.

The Perfect Brother is a page-turner extraordinaire! With a plot that has twists upon twists, I didn’t want to put this book down! The story is suspenseful from the beginning, starting with the disappearance of a young female student, and doesn’t let up until the final page.

The author has created an atmospheric setting for the story, with the chill and rain of Vancouver and much of the action occurring at night adding to the moodiness. When characters said they felt like someone was watching them, I felt it, too.

The main character, Indira Saraf, is a very strong female protagonist. She loves her family but doesn’t let her parents or her more compliant brother run her life. She refuses to go with the flow as her traditional Indian parents lean on her to marry or move home and chafes at being treated as second-rate because she’s female. I really enjoyed how she took matters into her own hands to help clear her brother’s name. And although I usually roll my eyes when amateur sleuths confront possibly dangerous suspects alone, with Indira, I almost felt like she could handle it. I liked both of the romantic interests in the story and approved of her final choice. Her bestie, Sabina, was a true ride-or-die friend.

As I mentioned, the plot had several twists and turns, most of which were shocking! There were also some good alternate suspects for Indira and her friends to weed through, making for some excellent red herrings. I didn’t guess the killer until the actual reveal. In addition, the moral and ethical dilemmas Indira faced regarding the software she was working on and then used in her investigation were thought-provoking.

With its clever plot and relatable main characters, I recommend THE PERFECT BROTHER to mystery and thriller readers, especially those who enjoy a touch of romance, fascinating and entertaining cultural aspects, or a setting in Vancouver.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours.

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Book Tour: Pretty Dead Queens by Alexa Donne

PRETTY DEAD QUEENS

by

Alexa Donne

Young Adult Thriller

Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers

Pages: 336 pages

Publishing Date: October 4, 2022

SYNOPSIS:

Seaview High’s homecoming queen is dead . . . and she’s not the first. From the critically acclaimed author of The Ivies comes a nonstop thriller about a decades-old mystery, a copycat killing, and the teen who won’t stop until she discovers the truth.

After the death of her mom (screw cancer), seventeen-year-old Cecelia Ellis goes to live with her estranged grandmother, a celebrated author whose Victorian mansion is as creepy as the murder mysteries she writes. On the surface, life is utterly ordinary in the California coastal town . . . until the homecoming queen is murdered. And she’s not Seaview’s first pretty dead queen.

With a copycat killer on the loose, Cecelia throws herself into the investigation, determined to crack the case like the heroines in her grandmother’s books. But the more Cecelia digs into the town’s secrets, the more she worries that her own mystery might not have a storybook ending. 

| Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository |

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REVIEW:

5 stars!

Pretty Dead Queens is not your typical high school drama, though there is plenty of that to satisfy. It’s a sharply-paced thriller that will quickly get your heart pounding! There are many engaging characters, a realistic high school setting, and a good murder mystery to unravel.

Cecelia Ellis is a likable and sympathetic heroine. She’s just lost her mother, reunited with her intimidating and somewhat off-putting grandmother, left behind the only home she’s ever known, and now faces being the new girl during her senior year at a school where everyone else grew up together. She has no emotional support system, so it’s pretty remarkable how well she handles everything thrown at her. It also makes her reactions later in the story so much more understandable. The cast of supporting characters is an interesting mix of personalities and problems, with all the teenage angst one could expect in a high-school-based story. The friends all have their secrets, and you suspect from the start that one of them is going to die. But who?

The story builds slowly and steadily. Cecelia does a pretty decent investigation on her own, with help from the friends’ group at times. But the story picks up at a blazing pace when she realizes the shocking truth about why the homecoming queen was murdered. The resolution is riveting!

With its engaging heroine, realistic setting, and pulse-pounding action, I recommend PRETTY DEAD QUEENS to readers of YA mysteries and thrillers who would enjoy a plot involving a cold case murder, a possible copycat killer, a high school setting, or a northern California coastal setting.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Alexa Donne is the author of sci-fi romance retellings Brightly Burning and The Stars We Steal, as well as the young adult thrillers The Ivies and the forthcoming Pretty Dead Queens, both published by Crown/Random House. A graduate of Boston University, she works in TV marketing and has done pro bono college admissions mentoring since 2014. A true INFJ, in her “free” time she mentors with WriteGirl, runs the Author Mentor Match program, and manages one of the most popular writing advice channels on YouTube. She lives in Los Angeles and you can find her in most places @alexadonne.

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October 3rd
AndOnSheReads – Interview
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Stuck in Fiction – Promotional Post
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Books Tale by Me – Review & Mood Board
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Kait Plus Books – Interview
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Whispering Stories – Interview
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The Damned Lovely by Adam Frost

A modern mystery but spectacularly reminiscent of early crime and detective thrillers and film noir of the 40s and early 50s.

Sam Goss had been living a traditional life, a college grad, a girl who liked him and liked to cook, and an excellent job with an LA marketing firm, writing ad copy until suddenly he.just.couldn’t.anymore. He felt he needed more, so he quit the job and the girlfriend, eventually ending up sharing an apartment with Nick in Glendale and trying to make it as a writer.

His life mostly revolved around The Damned Lovely, a dive bar owned and bartended by Jiles, a retired cop who rented him a stuffy, dim, windowless box of an office space located in the back of the building. Sam looked up to and respected Jiles in place of his father, who disapproved of his career move. But things were not going great. He was existing month to month as an Uber driver, and he knew he was drinking way too much. However, a small glimmer of light was starting to shine in his life. There was a recent addition to the regular patrons of The Damned Lovely, a beauty in a black fedora who sat at the bar reading a book and sipping her Negroni, not engaging in any conversation other than to order her drink.

Sam was smitten and, as yet, had not gotten up the nerve to approach the young woman. However, when a man at the bar began to hassle her one night, Sam stepped in to stop him, ready for a fight. Unfortunately, when he regained consciousness later in his office, she was gone, leaving behind the bloodied denim shirt she’d used to cushion his head when he’d been laid out on the bar floor. Sam never saw her again…alive.

The Damned Lovely was a genuine page-turner of a book that kept me reading late to get to a good stopping point. The problem for me was the story was so good, with Sam’s ongoing investigation and constant drama, there just wasn’t one. I always wanted to see what was going to happen next.

Sam is a good guy, but he’s worked himself into a hole. His literary agent is a harpy, his roommate is an inconvenient convenience rather than a friend, and his friends are a bunch of barflies with their own troubles. I loved the collection of personalities and stories the author has conceived for The Damned Lovely’s regulars. Everyone has a story. The author has a knack for dialogue and a talent for putting the reader in the story.

The bar itself also has a personality, as does Goss’s Glendale. The moody descriptions set a tone and paint a vivid backdrop for the book’s action and events. I could clearly envision the bar, Goss’s home away from home.

But the plot is what kept me in my seat, or rather on the edge of it. The police investigation goes in a different direction than Sam’s, with twists and turns to follow and some entirely believable red herrings. The clues to uncovering the truth behind the murder are right there, one by one.

With the main character’s alcohol-infused decision-making and struggles, gritty action, sudden violence, moody setting, and overall feeling of impending doom, this modern mystery is spectacularly reminiscent of early crime and detective thrillers and movies. I recommend THE DAMNED LOVELY to readers of mystery fiction, especially those that enjoy the film noir genre of the 40s and early 50s.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours.

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All The Broken Girls by Linda Hurtado Bond

All the Broken GirlsAll the Broken Girls by Linda Hurtado Bond
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Murder and the ever-present threat of the evil eye create an atmospheric story of danger and dread.

Even with 11 Emmys to her credit, when a tip from a confidential informant leads to a lawsuit against the television station where she works, crime reporter Marisol ‘Mari’ Alvarez is put on probation, quickly becoming persona non grata. Her disgrace hits bottom when she returns to work, and the boss publicly pulls her from the crime beat, assigning her to cover fluff pieces and filler. But old habits die hard and on her way to her first feature assignment, a new baby sloth at Busch Gardens, Mari sidetracks to the scene of an unfolding murder investigation only blocks from her own home. If she gets on location before the police button down the crime scene, people are more willing to talk about what they know.

When she and her photographer, Orlando, arrive, they discover a woman had been gunned down at point blank range as she answered the door. Whoever committed the murder had placed a gold coin with a crown on it on one of the dead woman’s eyes, a possible sign that this was the work of the local gang, the West Tampa Kings. But for Mari, the murder becomes much more personal. The circumstances are eerily similar to those surrounding her own mother’s murder ten years earlier. Fearing the two crimes could be related, Mari worries that her mother’s unidentified killer has returned to their peaceful neighborhood.

All The Broken Girls was a fantastic thriller of a mystery! Mari, the disgraced reporter, had my complete and immediate sympathy. I admired how she kept her head up when all her coworkers were eyeing her, and her boss blamed her for the lawsuit when she knew she had the goods all along. I loved her relationship with her abuela and was fascinated by the inclusion of her practice of Santeria traditions, rituals, and belief system. I liked that Mari was clever and figured out the clues quicker than her police contacts. I felt her heartbreak as she identified with the two Rodriguez sisters and later discovered the betrayal of family members. I enjoyed the sprinkling of Spanish in her thoughts and dialogue throughout the story.

I also liked the police detective, Antonio ‘Tony’ Garcia, and the tension and eventual chemistry between the two main characters were fabulous. His family was delightful, especially his mother. I loved how she was so in charge of the family and her son. I liked how they and Mari’s family were such an integral part of their neighborhood.

The setting in West Tampa was unique, and I enjoyed the geographical mentions and the tantalizing inclusion of the market and other real places. The descriptions of the Cuban-American community were both colorful and comfortable. The subtle references to traditional foods and dishes teased me to find the nearest Cuban-influenced restaurant “quick, fast, and in a hurry.”

The action is constant, and I had trouble finding a good stopping point to put the book down. Consequently, I couldn’t leave the story alone for long; it was that absorbing and exciting. There was a sense of urgency to see what happened next. There was that feeling that whoever was behind the murders was watching the heroine, and something terrible would happen. With a creepy stalker dude hanging around somewhere just out of sight, mysterious and puzzling notes cropping up, and the ever-present threat of the evil eye, the story had a continuous atmosphere of danger and dread.

I recommend ALL THE BROKEN GIRLS to readers of mystery and thrillers who like strong female protagonists and those who would enjoy the Cuban-American flavor of its West Tampa setting.

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Immoral Origins (The Desire Card, #1) by Lee Matthew Goldberg

Immoral Origins (The Desire Card, #1)Immoral Origins by Lee Matthew Goldberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The author’s immersive writing drew me in from the start, and I flew through the story.

It’s 1978, and Jake Barnum, a young man in his 20s, already has a rap sheet of small-time, petty crimes. Out of a short stint in jail, he’s living with his parents and disabled brother in his childhood home in Hell’s Kitchen with no prospects to improve his situation. The younger brother, Emile, needs costly medical attention and future surgery to survive, so the entire family is living on the razor’s edge, trying to keep it together and makes ends meet. His father works two full-time jobs, his mother picks up occasional work as a legal secretary when she can get someone to watch Emile, who requires constant care, and Jake feels the guilt of failing his parents and not helping out enough. Jake hooks up with a petty criminal in town, stealing and reselling coats through his childhood friend, Maggs. However, it doesn’t net him much, and his father and mother are reluctant to accept what they know is dirty money.

But at the Halloween party dressed as Robin Hood, Jake catches the eye of a mysterious and intriguing woman dressed as Marilyn Monroe. They get to talking, and Jake is taken with her, even though she refuses to remove her “Marilyn” mask or give him her real name. She explains to him that she helps fulfill wishes for a living and wants to introduce Jake to her boss, thinking Jake would be a good asset for their company, The Desire Card. The company motto is “Any wish fulfilled for the right price.”

Impressed by the boss and the company concept, Jake accepts the job offer and is immediately sent on his first assignment: a simple delivery of a small box to a woman at an exclusive address in the city. An extremely generous fee payment follows, and Jake is hooked. But as the assignments edge closer to the illegal and immoral and jobs start hitting close to home, Jake is caught between wanting to maintain his new lifestyle and cash flow and getting away from The Desire Card before the company decides he’s a liability.

Immoral Origins is the first book in a thrilling new series, The Desire Card, by Lee Matthew Goldberg. With its very different sort of hero and plot that includes him successfully performing dirty deeds, I was hooked. I was glued to the story every step of the way, not wanting to put it down until the very last page.

The characters surprised me. I don’t believe there was a genuinely likable one in the bunch. Jake is pretty much a loser. Marilyn is a damaged young woman, and Gable, the boss, a power-mad sociopath (as are all of The Desire Card’s employees.) Thugs, hoods, and mobsters populate the story, showing their very worst sides. But through it all, I was compelled to root for Jake to overcome the odds and come out on top. I had much the same experience when reading The Godfather, heinous people doing horrible things that you still are compelled to get behind.

The Desire Card operation was fascinating. Everyone works incognito, wearing masks when doing a job, visiting the office, and even attending the annual office holiday parties. Their rich and famous clientele also wear masks at the client events hosted by the company, and everyone goes by the name of the person the mask depicts: Marilyn Monroe, Bette Davis, or Errol Flynn, to name a few.

The late 70s setting encompassed iconic people and places and the headlines and music of the time. It was so well done; I was immersed in that time and that place. Goldberg’s writing drew me in from the start, and I flew through the story, feeling Jake’s confusion, hopelessness, and fear as he tried to make sense of it all. The story was fascinating, with a heavy dose of bizarreness that had me turning those pages for more.

With its well-defined setting, laden with recognizable persons, places, and events, extraordinary characters, and fascinating plot, I recommend IMMORAL ORIGINS to readers of thrillers and mysteries, especially those who like stories set in New York or organized crimes and like a touch of the bizarre.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours.

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