Review: Her Darkest Nightmare

Review: Her Darkest NightmareHer Darkest Nightmare (The Evelyn Talbot Chronicles, #1) by Brenda Novak
Series: The Evelyn Talbot Chronicles #1
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on August 30th 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Romantic Suspense
Pages: 432
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION:  I loved this book primarily because of Evelyn and her hottie state trooper Amarok, but I also enjoyed the mystery which was twisty and creepy and kept me guessing.

THE STORY:  Dr. Evelyn Talbot was only a teenager when her world was torn apart by her psychopath boyfriend killed her best friends then imprisoned and tortured Evelyn for three days before leaving her for dead.  Twenty years later, Evelyn studies psychopaths. She is in charge of a maximum security facility which is studying serial killers. Located in a small town in Alaska, Evelyn is not the most popular person for bringing these killers to town.  It has placed her on opposite sides of State Trooper Sergeant Amarok who also tempts Evelyn as no man ever has.  Now a mutilated body of a woman seems to confirm Amarok’s deepest fears about the facility while Evelyn fears that the monster who almost killed her before may have returned.

OPINION: I am a longtime mystery and suspense reader but I prefer my books with a strong dose of romance.  I enjoyed this book because I like Evelyn with all her hangups due to her encounter as a teenager with her psychopath boyfriend.  Evelyn is damaged and while she is accomplished professionally, she is stunted in her relationships.

I love the sweetness of her reaction to Amarok and, for me, their relationship centers and makes the rest of the book worth reading.  While I enjoy a good, creepy suspense, I like to have sweeter and lighter moments as well as a reason to care about the characters.  I like these two and look forward to reading more about them.

I always find it difficult to review suspense and mystery books because I don’t want to give too much away.  That being said, I think this one kept me guessing until the end.  I thought I had it figured out and then the story would twist and go in a new direction.  Plus, there is some really creepy and messed up stuff going on.  I always admire a story that I don’t solve immediately.  There are plenty of suspects here and I didn’t guess the right one, but was satisfied that the ultimate solution was supported in the story.

The mystery/suspense story intertwines so well with Evelyn’s own personal journey that I was fully engaged during the entire book.  This book can satisfy both romantic suspense readers and those who just like a good mystery.

WORTH MENTIONING:  There are still threads of the overarching story for the series that are left at the end of this book, but the main mystery of the book is completely resolved.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  HER DARKEST NIGHTMARE is the first book in the Evelyn Talbot Chronicles series.  There is a prequel but this book can be read without having read that.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4.5 stars.

four-half-stars

Review: Into Dust

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Into DustInto Dust (The Montana Hamiltons, #5) by B.J. Daniels
Published by HQN Books on July 26th 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Romantic Suspense
Pages: 368
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION:  Action packed and very intriguing romantic suspense. There is more suspense than romance, but I enjoyed this one enough to want to read more of the series.  A warning that the story is not self-contained.

THE STORY:  When Cassidy Hamilton, youngest daughter of potential US President, is almost kidnapped off the street, she is saved by cowboy Jack Durand. The two end up on the run trying to find out who wants Cassidy.  The truth strikes close to home for both Cassidy and Jack as it appears that family might be at the heart of the danger that both are in.  The conspiracy that the two tumbled into is decades old and people will kill to bring the conspiracy to fruition.

OPINION:  I really liked that the book began with immediate action.  The book was very focused on the suspense portion of the story.  There is a romance, but I wouldn’t read the book for the romance alone because the focus of the story is the mystery suspense.

The book is filled with overlapping stories and points of view which makes the book a big puzzle.  I thought the book was filled with tension and drama and I worked to figure out who was being deceptive and who was honest.

The suspense story is definitely the highlight.  There is a lot going on here and I think it might have been even better if I had read the other books in the series.

The romance between Jack and Cassidy was pretty predictable at first but wrapped in a very tension filled and dramatic storyline.  I was completely surprised by how their romance ended up.  The story is not complete here and the twist at the end might end up disappointing those looking for a pure romance.  I ended up being completely enthralled by the story and definitely will be reading the next book to find out what happens.

WORTH MENTIONING:  This is the first book by B.J. Daniels that I have ever read, I thought it was good and I now want to read the Montana Hamiltons series from the beginning.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  INTO DUST is the fifth book in the Montana Hamiltons series. I have not read any of the other books in the series, but I was able to figure out most of what was going on. I suspect that the book would be even better if I had read the other books in the series.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: Troublemaker

Review: TroublemakerTroublemaker by Linda Howard
Published by William Morrow on May 10th 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Romantic Suspense
Pages: 400
Goodreads
three-stars

FINAL DECISION: Different than I expected from the description, this book is about two guarded people who are forced together and unexpectedly find peace and love.  Less suspense and more traditional romance, this is a solid book that lacks the power of Howard’s best but is a good read.

THE STORY:  Morgan Yancy, a team leader for a paramilitary group, is ambushed and almost killed.  To protect him, Morgan is sent to a small West Virginian town and told to lay low.  Morgan ends up the housemate of Isabeau “Bo” Maran, the part time administrative police chief.  Bo isn’t happy to house Morgan, but she can’t turn the recovering man away.  Bo knows that Morgan is trouble just when her life seems to be going right.

OPINION:  This was an enjoyable, although not outstanding, read.  I expected the book to be more suspense than it was.  It ended up being bookended by the suspense story but the middle is really a standard romance.  I really liked the quiet between these characters.  Morgan and Bo are both loners and not used to opening up to others.  The quiet time they spend together, the peaceful, alone time they spend was what made their relationship work.

The gentle way in which the two open up and end up finding understanding and companionship withe one another was the best part of the book.  The romance takes a slow journey which was good and worth reading.

I thought the suspense part of the story was fairly predictable with no real surprises as to the villain of the tale.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book is primarily romance with a smattering of suspense thrown in.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  TROUBLEMAKER is a standalone.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 3 stars.

three-stars

Review: Diamond Bay

Diamond Bay
Diamond Bay by Linda Howard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of My Old Time Favorites

FINAL DECISION: This old time romantic suspense book is one of my favorites. I love the strong dominant hero who is completely undone by the determined and independent heroine.

THE STORY: Rachel Jones, a widow and former investigative reporter, finds a man washed up on her beach. Rachel came home after her job caused the death of her husband. She now runs two souvenir shops and writes. She the stranger washes up on her beach, her instincts tell her to keep it quiet. Instead she cares for him herself. Kell Sabin is the chief of a shadowy group of U.S. agents. An attempt on his life has left him weak and vulnerable and in the Rachel’s hands. Danger surrounds the two as they grow closer even as Kell knows that they have no future because he must be alone to do his work.
OPINION: This book was one of the first romantic suspense books I ever read. I loved that this story had suspense but focused on the romance. It is limited because of the length of the novel and its origin as a category romance. The characters are more complex than a normal category romance and the story is exciting and the relationship complicated. Kell is determined to be alone because of the possible pain his life presents, but he cannot hold out against the determined love of a strong woman. I also loved that Rachel loves Kell and so she accepts him totally even if that means that he will leave her. No whining from Rachel even as her life is turned upside down. The book is part of the serious alpha male hero trend in the 1980s but Rachel is no naive innocent. She is strong and a partner.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book was first published as a category romance in the late 1980s.

CONNECTED BOOKS: DIAMOND BAY is the second book in the Rescues series. It has overlapping characters with the first book in the series MIDNIGHT RAINBOW. DIAMOND BAY can be read as a standalone but is more enjoyable as a companion to MIDNIGHT RAINBOW.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.

Review: Driven by Fire

Driven by Fire
Driven by Fire by Anne Stuart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“He was going to kiss her. This man, her enemy, was going to kiss her, and she wanted him to. Desperately.”

FINAL DECISION: Action filled romantic suspense, this book kept me guessing as to the identity of the villains until the very end.

THE STORY: Jenny Parker is a pro bono lawyer and the daughter of a crime lord. She is trying to live her life apart from her family but she keeps being pulled back. When her father calls her to tell her that her younger brother has gotten mixed up in white slavery, Jenny knows that she has to protect her brother from the mess he has accidentally gotten involved in. She meets Matthew Ryder, a member of the Committee, a covert anticrime agency. Matthew knows that Jenny is lying about something and intends to discover all her secrets.

OPINION: The second book in the Fire series continues the stories of the men of the Committee in the United States. DRIVEN BY FIRE is about human trafficking. The plot is complex and goes in unexpected directions which pushes the story forward to its conclusion. The book is romantic suspense and the suspense is predominant here.

Jenny is an interesting character because she makes some morally questionable decisions. Often in Stuart books, the hero is steeped shades of gray while the heroine is bright and innocent. Not so here. Jenny’s family and her decisions make her more morally complex from the beginning. This allows a bridge between her and Matthew. Indeed, Matthew himself is a lighter hero than most of Stuart’s Committee heroes. He’s no Boy Scout, but he doesn’t seem poised on cold homicidal tendencies. While I am a big fan of Stuart’s antiheroes, Matthew is more a traditional hero and perhaps more palatable to those who find her more difficult heroes difficult to embrace.

For me, because Matthew is less dark and more normal, less time spent with him compared to Jenny and therefore he remains a mystery throughout the novel and I felt less connection with him and also less connection between him and Jenny. I enjoyed the book but it felt more suspense than romance to me.

WORTH MENTIONING: I loved the Easter egg reference to ON THIN ICE.

CONNECTED BOOKS: DRIVEN BY FIRE is the second book in the Fire series. It can be read as a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book via Netgalley in order to provide a review. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

Review: Hanover House

Review: Hanover HouseHanover House (The Evelyn Talbot Chronicles, #0.5) by Brenda Novak
Series: The Evelyn Talbot Chronicles #0.5
Published by Brenda Novak on September 1st 2015
Genres: Romantic Suspense
Pages: 200
four-half-stars

Great Start to Romantic Suspense Series

“She wasn’t often attracted to someone like she was attracted to him — and had been from the first moment she’d set eyes on him. Especially someone who didn’t particularly like her in return.”

FINAL DECISION: While nothing is ultimately resolved in this book — it is a prequel, it does its job of making me want to read more about Evelyn, her project and her relationship with Amarok. Suspenseful but also a good romance, I hope the series lives up to the prequel.

THE STORY: Evelyn Talbot is a psychiatrist who studies serial killers and criminal minds. Kidnapped and tortured as a teen by her boyfriend, Evelyn is compelled to try and understand why people do such things. As part of her work, she is coordinating the building of a mental health center/prison in Hilltop, Alaska in order to house and study notorious killers. Many of the residents around the new facility are not pleased to have it in their vicinity. One of those is Alaskan State Trooper Benjamin “Amarok” Murphy. He is unhappy about the center, but attracted like crazy to Evelyn. At the same time, Evelyn’s own past is preventing her from having any relationship including one with the younger and handsome trooper. Also, the man who killed her friends and tried to kill her is still on the loose and may still be trying to kill her twenty years later.

OPINION: This is my first book by Brenda Novak, but it won’t be my last. This book has me intrigued by Evelyn’s story. In some ways, she has recovered from the crimes committed against her when she was sixteen and in other ways she is still that terrified teenager. Her budding relationship with Amarok has the possibility of allowing her to move beyond her past — and, of course, it is precisely at that moment that the past threatens to suck her back in.

This book is creepy and suspenseful and sometimes scary which is exactly what I like in my suspense books. What pleased me the most was how much time was devoted to the relationship between Evelyn and Amarok. Admittedly, I am a romance reader first so I prefer my suspense with a hefty dose of romantic relationship. This book satisfied that requirement for me.

Evelyn and Amarok are just so cute together. She is incredibly vulnerable and he is a protector by nature. Evelyn has lots of hangups and this man who is seven years younger than her attracts her but for her a relationship seems impossible for so many reasons. Amarok’s practical and down to earth demeanor is a perfect contrast to Evelyn’s understandably neurotic behavior.

Along with the intriguing cast of evil characters (the inmates who will inhabit Hanover House), I hope that future books will have a heavy dose of Evelyn and Amarok’s developing relationship.

WORTH MENTIONING: This is the beginning of a series dealing with serial killers. The prequel introduces the overarching plotline and the romantic relationship between Evelyn and Amarok.

CONNECTED BOOKS: HANOVER HOUSE is the prequel to the Evelyn Talbot Chronicles previously known as the Hanover House Chronicles series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

NOTE: I received a copy of this book via Netgalley in order to provide a review. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

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four-half-stars

Review: After the Storm

After the Storm
After the Storm by Linda Castillo
My rating: 4.25 of 5 stars

This One Was Just Too Sad for Me

FINAL DECISION: This story was good. There was an old mystery and personal problems with Kate and John, but this one ended just too sad for me. The stories are getting too predictable in that there is never any positive resolution. It’s beginning to feel like Shakespearean tragedy.

THE STORY: A tornado comes to Painters Mill and brings destruction but also uncovers old secrets. When a set of human bones are discovered in the wreckage, a murder that occurred decades before comes to light. Kate Burkholder, Chief of Police, stirs up old mysteries. Also, just when things seem to be going well for Kate and her live in lover John Tomasetti, a new problem brings fractures in their relationship to light.

OPINION: There is so much sadness in this story. The mystery itself has a sad story. The investigation uncovers so many other sad stories. The result of the tornado is sad. And then there is Kate and John’s relationship which has a sad turn but which seems like there will be some happiness in this story — but then that also ends in a sad manner. All this might work well if this was one story among many, but honestly, just about every one of these books are so sad. It seems like there is no bright spot in these stories. This was one book where I hoped that someone would have a happy ending — alas, it was not meant to be.

All that being said, the story was good and had great pacing. Once starting this book, I couldn’t stop until I had finished it. Exciting with many stories intertwining. Just too sad for me.

WORTH MENTIONING: These books always end up too sad and unhappy at the end. I keep wishing for something good to happen once in a while.

CONNECTED BOOKS: AFTER THE STORM is the seventh book in the Kate Burkholder series. It can be read as a standalone although the relationships and characters grow and develop throughout the series.

STAR RATING: I give this one 4.25 stars.

Review: A Hidden Secret

A Hidden Secret
A Hidden Secret by Linda Castillo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Small Mystery But Chance to See Kate and John’s Relationship

FINAL DECISION: A sad solution to a small mystery but with an optimistic ending. I liked this book more for the development of Kate’s character and the chance to know how her relationship with John is evolving.

THE STORY: Someone has abandoned a newborn baby and Kate Burkholder comes to investigate. The infant was left with some items which lead Kate to believe that the mother might be Amish. With the help of her lover John Tomasetti, Kate must determine what would lead a woman to abandon her child.

OPINION: One thing I liked about this story was that there was really a happy ending — especially for this series. The mystery here is small and it solution is pretty obvious because of the short nature of the story but the story works out well. This novella gives Kate and John a chance to have further development in their relationship. It is clear that Kate is serious about John and their relationship might be taking a new direction.

WORTH MENTIONING: This novella gives a good sense of the structure of the novels in this series although the mystery is less grim. In fact, this may be one of the happiest endings ever.

CONNECTED BOOKS: A HIDDEN SECRET is book 6.5 of the Kate Burkholder series. It can be read as a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

Review: The Dead Will Tell: A Kate Burkholder Novel

The Dead Will Tell: A Kate Burkholder Novel
The Dead Will Tell: A Kate Burkholder Novel by Linda Castillo
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Very Creepy Crime Thriller in Amish Country

FINAL DECISION: Sad, creepy and filled with secrets. This is a story of how the past doesn’t stay buried and what people will do for revenge. The overlap between the main mystery and John’s story gives this book extra heft and interest.

THE STORY: Kate Burkholder. chief of police in a small town, and her team are called to an apparent suicide. A man hanging from the rafters of his barn seems obvious but quickly the investigation turns to murder when it is discovered that the man was shot. His murder seems connected an 35 year old crime — the horrendous murders that decimated most of an Amish family. It seems like a ghost has come back for revenge. At the same time, Kate’s personal life seems to be going well until her lover John gets news that one of the men connected with the death of his family has gone free.

OPINION: This book excels because of the connection between the revenge crime Kate is investigating and John’s own feelings for revenge. This book is all about how the past never really dies. Kate and John are in a good place as this book begins, but the crisis that arises shows that there are still problems that they have with trust. Kate doesn’t trust John not to seek revenge — because he has before — and John cannot truly talk with Kate. There are some very interesting parallels with the investigation (I won’t say more to not give away spoilers). These connections raise this book to a level beyond a standard mystery.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book takes place six months after the previous book in the series.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE DEAD WILL TELL is the sixth book in the Kate Burkholder series. It can be read as a standalone although there are some ongoing stories which are secondary to the main mystery.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

Review: Her Last Breath: A Novel

Her Last Breath: A Novel
Her Last Breath: A Novel by Linda Castillo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Emotional and Deeply Personal Amish Murder Mystery

FINAL DECISION; I loved this book. The book delves deeply into Kate’s emotional world and the personal connection to the murders being investigated bring out all sorts of difficulties for Kate.

THE STORY: Kate Burkholder, Chief of Police, is called to a horrible accident. An Amish father and two of his children are killed when their buggy is struck by a vehicle. This hit and run accident at first appears tragic but accidental. Soon, however, questions arise and it appears that the “accident” may actually have been murder. Kate is left trying to figure out who would want to murder the husband of her childhood friend.

OPINION: This is a murder that deeply wounds Kate. Because of her personal connection to the victims, Kate’s past is churned up. This is a book all about the churning up of the past. The mystery was really good in this one. It kept me guessing until the end, and honestly I didn’t see the ultimate solution coming. Winding through this mystery are two other personal issues with Kate. Her relationship with John is a prominent part of this story as she needs to decide whether she wants a deeper commitment with him. Also, Kate also finds out that secrets don’t stay buried as the crime that touched her life when she was fourteen is uncovered and she fears that her life will fall apart. I think the best part of these books is the personal connection that makes these books so compelling. This story is too strongly entwined with Kate’s life that it gives great insight into her and also into the case itself. I can find a decent mystery anywhere. It is the extra personal connection that makes this book so compelling.

WORTH MENTIONING: Kate and John’s relationship has a significant turn in this book.

CONNECTED BOOKS: HER LAST BREATH is the fifth book in the Kate Burkholder series. It can be read as a standalone although a dark mystery from Kate’s past returns here. Readers would be better served by reading at least the first book in the series first.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.