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The Beauty of the End
Debbie Howells

from FictionZeal.com re: The Bitter End by Linda Hall

The Bitter End (The Em Ridge Mystery Series) (Volume 2) - Linda Hall

Wanderer was the name of Captain Em Ridge’s sailboat, and wandering was often the way she felt as a widow since the death of Jesse, her husband, two and a half years before.  She takes on many different jobs sailing from Maine, where she lives, to wherever the job takes her.  In this 2nd book of the series, we begin in The Bermuda Triangle.  Dr. Papa Hoho had hired Em to sail these ominous waters as he searched to prove that some of the Bermuda Triangle mysteries are true.  He’s recording the events by video, preparing for a reality TV show.


The effort finally proved to be fruitful after twelve days, as they discover what appears to be a ‘ghost boat’ in the distance.  As they get closer, Em’s anxiety grows.  She knows this boat, now with ripped mainsail, and the lone black cat on board.  The boat is the Wandering Soul and belongs to her Uncle Ferd.  Where is he?  She manages to find a note that she assumes he may have left for her.  But, even still, there’s something strange about the note, too.  She brings in help from the Coast Guard and her friend, Ben, from the police.  When she begins digging into what happened, she not only discovers great danger but also a few well-hidden family secrets.


I loved the personal connection this adventure held for Em.  After reading the first in the series, Night Watch, I already felt like I knew her character and I knew she’d do everything in her power to solve this new mystery before her.  New readers to the series can read this without spoiling anything from the first book.  Enough of the Em’s background is provided so that this story can stand on its own.  Reading between the lines, I would assume that Ben will be more in Em’s romantic spotlight in future issues of this series.  With a few twists added in, this novel hits the spot for mystery lovers who also enjoy a nautical environment.  Rating: 4 out of 5.

from FictionZeal.com re: Dark Money by Larry D. Thompson

Dark Money - Larry D. Thompson

Halloween parties are fun … right?  Well, you may want to be thankful you weren’t invited to this one.  Walt Frazier, part of Texas Governor Lardner’s protective detail, brought in additional security for this Halloween party / Republican fund raiser event.  The event is expected to pull in pledges in excess of a hundred million.  Jackson (Jack) Bryant is Walt’s former army buddy.  Walt calls him because he’s got an excellent eye for detail.  With the attendants being the very elite; politicians, and Senator Sinclair, security precautions are necessary.


Even with the heightened security, Miriam Van Zandt manages, with the help from an insider, to get into the party.  She’s dressed as a cat burglar.  When the timing is right, she makes her move, killing one of the guards and Edward Hale and injuring the Governor.  Another guard manages to wound her.  She makes it back to her car and to a motel where she can clean her wound and alter her appearance.  She’s a marksman and daughter of the founder of The Alamo Defenders, a militia group and very anti-government.


What a great beginning.  The reader is given so much information, but yet what we don’t know is just as intriguing.  In Texas, people are allowed to carry weapons.  Add to that balloons popping, Annie Oakley firing her rifle (blanks), pirates with swords, and vampires with knives and you have a security detail nightmare.  The plot is plausible and the action impressive and fast-paced.  It becomes a ‘follow the money’ investigation with the story being told from various points of view.  Rating: 4 out of 5.

from FictionZeal.com re: Join Up by Tudor Robins

Join Up (Island Series) (Volume 3) - Tudor Robins

Do you know what ‘join up’ is in equestrian terms?  I’d not heard this before, but it is when, through body language, the horse bonds with their handler.  In this novel, Lacey Strickland bonded with Night, a horse she met at Julianne Hills Riding Academy & Camp.  She’d stop walking; he’d stop walking.  She’d take a step forward; he’d take a step forward.  She’s a riding instructor this year.  But, there’s more going on that just horse / handler rapport.  Lacey is still pining for Cade who broke her heart and chose to be with her friend, Carly.  What’s worse is that Carly is at camp with her and seems not to consider Lacey’s feelings about her relationship with Cade.  Then, Lacey meets Fitch, the owner’s son.  At first, she’s not even sure she likes him, but he keeps popping up everywhere she is.  Eventually, he wins her over.


I liked a lot about this novel.  The exchanges between Lacey and Fitch were cute.  How they related to the children at the camp was very heart-warming and entertaining.  However, I kept waiting for something more dramatic to happen and it fell a bit flat for me.  Meg, Lacey’s friend, had been the protagonist in the past two novels.  She and Jared did make appearances in this one.  I did see some character growth in Lacey; I loved the closeness of her family; and I loved the gratifying ending to this trilogy.  Rating: 3 out of 5.

from FictionZeal.com re: The Juliet by Laura Ellen Scott

The Juliet - Laura Ellen Scott

What is The Juliet?  It’s an emerald, but it’s also much more.  It’s cursed … or at least that’s what legend would have us believe.  In contemporary day, Rigg Dexon, an old cowboy, lives in The Mystery House.  Tourists would sometimes make their way to his door looking for The Mystery House.  He’d lead them astray telling them the house had to be burned down years before because of some ‘Hantavirus’.  He’s aware of what they really want.  “They were looking for a shiny piece of green rock that had been making fools out of men for more than a hundred years…”


The Juliet and The Mystery house were the brainchild of the Stieg twins back in 1893.  The Juliet had been broken nearly in half during a struggle.  Once rich and powerful, the boys had little in the way of an inheritance from their father.  They decide to create an extravagant treasure hunt for the jewel.  Clues began to appear in The Inquisitor in 1894 – “Where is The Juliet?”


Summarizing this novel is like trying to catch a dozen chickens all at one time.  It’s a multi-layered story with quite a number of characters.  The story is told through the hundred year history of The Juliet.  The author deftly describes the dry and arid conditions of the primary location in Death Valley.  While the land is barren, the characters are anything but.  They’re vibrant and they’re certainly diverse, even erratic.  The Stieg twins were genuinely, and I’m sure intentionally, a creepy addition.  Rating: 3 out of 5.

from FictionZeal.com re: Fading Starlight by Kathryn Cushman

Fading Starlight - Kathryn Cushman

A wardrobe malfunction … that’s how this began.  Lauren Summers is an intern fashion designer for Deb Couture.  She was the last one to put the finishing touches on the evening gown for up and coming teen star, Marisa Remington.  Marisa’s mother and agent didn’t want sexy; they wanted modest.  The dress was beautiful … and modest … before Marisa managed to step on her sash causing the wrapped portion of her gown to fall loose revealing her sexy bra and bikini unders.  Lauren didn’t understand; she’d double checked the stitches.  She gets fired and will probably never get another chance to prove herself in fashion.


But, opportunity knocks sometimes when you least suspect it.  It’s not a lot of money, but she has a place to stay for free in Santa Barbara, CA, while she creates period costumes for a high school drama play.  The little cottage is not in great shape but it’s in a gated community near the beach.  She’s literally across the street from Charlotte Montgomery who is an old lady now, but was once a movie star in the 1940’s and 1950’s.  Lauren may have enjoyed being close to Charlotte except that Charlotte is a recluse and wants nothing to do with anyone.  Some rumor she left Hollywood sixty years ago after having been involved in a murder.  Journalist Kendall Joiner makes a deal with Lauren.  She can prove that Marisa’s malfunction was deliberate if Lauren will do a little research into Charlotte.


I loved the characters and the emotions this enchanting story brought with it.  Lauren is a Christian who just wants to be an inspiration to other people and seeks to do right by others.  So, while she loves fashion and would love to be able to clear her name, is it ethical to poke around into someone’s life; someone who only wants to be left alone?  And what about the murder?  Charlotte is very cantankerous, there’s no doubt about it, but murder?  This kind of reminds me of the story of Pollyanna and how she wins over Mrs. Snow.  The set-up is quite different between the two, but the tenderness is there and it was a very compassionate and welcome read.  Rating: 4 out of 5.

from FictionZeal.com re: Jump Cut by Libby Fischer Hellmann

Jump Cut - Libby Fischer Hellmann

Ellie Foreman is a video producer in Chicago.  She’s good at her job.  No one was more shocked than she when her client Charlotte Hollander, Delcroft VP, said her newest promotional video for Delcroft was amateurish and undignified.  Charlotte fired her on the spot.  Ellie had made notes of what was on the video when Charlotte seemed to become uncomfortable with it.  When she later played the video back for herself, she realized those shots included Gregory Parks who’d introduced himself to Ellie as a Consultant for Delcroft.  On a hunch, Ellie contacted Gregory to set up a meeting.  He never made it to their meeting.  He either jumped … or was pushed … into the path of a subway train.  She finds a pack of cigarettes lying near where he was killed.  Instead of cigarettes, the pack held a flash drive.  After finding out the drive was encrypted, she seeks a hacker to decode the contents.  But, unfortunate things begin to happen to people she’s close to.  She determines someone has placed her under surveillance.


The Ellie Foreman series had gone dormant since 2005 (A Shot to Die For) and now realistically, the years have passed for our protagonist as well.  Pieces of this story don’t fall into place naturally, like managing to find the cigarette pack at the scene of the crime without calling attention to herself or being stopped from taking them.  It’s highly coincidental that the pack actually belonged to Parks.   The pace and the mystery are nicely complicated with espionage, murder, and tumult.  Ellie is an amateur sleuth but this not a cozy.  She makes mistakes that many of us would make if we were afraid, and there was plenty to be afraid of.  Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

from FictionZeal.com re: Heroine (Brooke Kinley Adventure) by A.S. Bond

HEROINE: A Brooke Kinley Adventures Novella (Brooke  Kinley Adventures) - Lynne A. Bond

It’s August 1994.  Brooke Kinley and her brother, Jaime, were paddling their canoe in northeast Minnesota when they noticed a girl apparently running from something or someone.  They manage to pick her up from the water she dived into and take her back to their cabin.  Before they even talk with her, they notice how young she is and how afraid she appears.  They give her dry clothes, food, and a safe place to rest.  But, after hearing her story in broken English about her and her friends being abducted from Russia for trafficking purposes, they realize they’re in over their heads and take her to Sheriff Pascoe.  They’re not crazy about leaving her there, but they are told that Homeland Security will be contacted and will keep her safe.


Brooke can’t get Anya out of her mind.  Something doesn’t feel right.  She carries the story to Jack Dawson, editor of the local paper.  He’s able to make a couple of calls and quickly determine that, yes, the girl had been picked up, but no, it wasn’t by Homeland Security.  As soon as they start making waves, someone tries to take their lives.


Paul Harvey used to say his now-famous tagline, “…And now you know the rest of the story.”  In many ways, I feel this prequel of Brooke Kinley tells the rest of her story.  In my review of Patriot, I’d said “Brooke Kinley is a go-getter who won’t be intimidated just because there’s danger.”  Her strong sense of right and wrong and her unyielding determination was apparent in her character even at eighteen years of age.  As a novella, the author wasted no time in getting to the point of the story and into the action.  It was remarkably well-planned and well-paced.  Brooke Kinley is a strong character and I anticipate a long series.  Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

from FictionZeal.com re: The Crooked House by Christobel Kent

The Crooked House - Christobel Kent

Alison used to be Esme … before her world fell apart.  She was thirteen then.  Now it’s thirteen years later.  She didn’t really come back to Saltleigh, an Essex Estuary, by choice.  Her boyfriend and ‘guest’ have been invited to a wedding.  It happens to be very near the old crooked house where she lived with her father, mother, brother and twin sisters.  The only survivors of that night were Esme and her father.  After what the police considered a failed attempt at suicide after murdering his family, her father is little more than a vegetable.


The only reason Esme is alive is because the killer didn’t know she was home that night.  She was spending the night with a friend, but they had teen issues over something minor and she was in her room.  She heard the shots and hid herself in the back of her closet until the house got quiet.  She was the first person to see her bloodied and motionless family members.  Her aunt whisked her away as soon as police were done questioning.  She buried those memories as deep as possible until now.  Welcome back, Esme.


The suspense is tense, the premise gripping, and the characters exceptional.  After the captivating beginning, the flow of the story became somewhat slow and awkward with scenes switched rather erratically.  That night is something that Alison doesn’t try to recall, but when she does, she doesn’t believe her father killed her family.  She goes back to the police detective who investigated.  She wants to see the records.  She encounters many people from her past, including the friend she was supposed to have spent the night with, and she visits her father.  She talks; he can’t.  Does he even understand?  Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

from FictionZeal.com re: Death by Sunken Treasure by Kait Carson

Death by Sunken Treasure (A Hayden Kent Mystery) (Volume 2) - Kait Carson

Mike is dead having been washed up near a dock on the coast of Florida, still in his scuba gear.  Initially, it appears to be an accident.  Hayden Kent, a paralegal and the friend of Dana Terry, Mike’s mother, dives the scene at Dana’s urging where mike had purportedly found a treasure.  She wanted Hayden to discover what Mike had found … and what may have gotten him killed.  She does locate an old shipwreck and brings up a couple of Spanish doubloons.  When she goes to file Mike’s will, she finds there was another will already filed, both dated a day before his death.  The wills are identical except the beneficiaries had been significantly changed.  As Hayden keeps pursuing the truth, she begins to receive threatening emails.


The second in the Hayden Kent Mystery series, this charming cozy mystery offers up several suspects for our ‘whodunit’ compass.  The list included an ex-wife and an ex-boss and both ex’s were seeing each other.  There was a bit more scuba diving information given than the average reader would want to engage in.  Otherwise, the characters were lively and believable, and the beautiful Florida Keys scenery was a welcome addition.  I’m guessing you’ll find the ending as unpredictable as I did.  Even though it’s a series, it can be comfortably read as a stand-alone.  Rating: 4 out of 5.

from FictionZeal.com re: Father's Day by Simon Van Booy

Father's Day: A Novel - Simon Van Booy

This is the story of a girl named Harvey.  It begins when she is about two years old.  It’s clear to the reader that Harvey is a very well-adjusted little girl with parents who love her.  She has thoughts and questions about adult things expressed aptly through the eyes of a child.  Her father has a brother she never met.  Her mother paints a terrible picture of him.  Her dad offers her a softer view of her uncle.  Even still the uncle had been in prison — rage issues — and is off limits to Harvey.


Her parents die in a car crash when she is only six-years-old.  Wanda, a social worker, gives great thought to Harvey’s options.  In fact, after doing some research, she tweaks the system in order to have Jason, Harvey’s uncle, adopt and raise her.  Fast forward twenty years and Harvey is working in Paris and preparing for her father’s visit.


Upon the initial death of Harvey’s parents, I found her to be almost too disconnected from the emotional trauma that would certainly play out with a six-year-old.  The mystery, if there is one, was given away all too quickly … the fact that Harvey was raised by her Uncle Jason.  It’s suggested that Harvey was young enough to accept that Jason was actually her father, yet I believe six-year-old children are old enough that they would remember their biological parents.  The characters were rather clichéd or stereotyped, and the sentimentality was almost mawkish.  There were many cute references with the flashbacks of a man raising a child for which he had no prior experience whatsoever.  Rating: 3 out of 5.

from FictionZeal.com re: A Darker Domain by Val McDermid

A Darker Domain - Val McDermid

Belle Richards discovered something that would surely boost her journalistic career to the next level.  She was dreaming of it becoming the next big story.  She recognized the puppeteer posters, hidden in a run-down Italian villa in Tuscany, for what they were – the tools that had been used over twenty years before to communicate with Sir Brody Grant, making their demands to release his kidnapped daughter and grandson.


Collaterally, we have Misha who goes to DI Karen Pirie, part of the cold case team in Fife, to report a missing person – her dad – he went missing 22 years before.  She’s thinking that if she finds him, he may be a match for the bone marrow transplant needed to save her son who has a rare disease.  If he’s found, she’s hoping he will agree to help.


The premise is awesome.  It was enjoyable to watch both Belle Richards and DI Karen Pirie work on clues of two separate instances which would eventually connect.  It took a while because instead of going to the police, Belle had taken her documents directly to Sir Brody.  The police would stall the process, but Sir Brody Grant, who lost his daughter and failed to get his grandson back, would provide all she needed to move the investigation forward.  The novel had a heaping dose of suspense and the story was told alternatively from the present (2008) and 1984.  However, the ending, which dropped off like lemmings over a cliff, was a disappointment.  It felt rushed, confusing, and failed to answer some of my basic questions.  Also, for those sensitive to language, the f-word was used multiple times.  Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

from FictionZeal.com re: The Secrets of Flight by Maggie Leffler

The Secrets of Flight: A Novel - Maggie Leffler

What would it take to make your dreams happen?  When Miriam Lichtenstein (Miri) was a young girl in the early 1940’s, it meant becoming a ‘fly girl’.  Now many years later, Miri, known as Mary Browning, spots an announcement in the paper that Congress was preparing to award women who’d served as Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) during WWII.  Along with that article was a picture that Mary was familiar with … one that caused all the memories she’d buried to come flying back.  It was Murphee Sullivan, Grace Davinport, and Miri dressed in their flight suits standing alongside their plane, a Fairchild PT-19.


There’s a new girl that joins Mary’s writers group.  That, too, takes her back to the past because fifteen-year-old Elyse reminds Mary of her sister, Sarah, who she’d not seen since 1945.  Soon she begins to bargain with Elyse to write her memoir … tell her story of how she became a fly girl and how she served as a WASP.  What she didn’t expect was the close relationship that would build between her and Elyse.


Even though I really liked the character of Elyse, I felt her background overpowered the plot of Mary Browning and her past and her growing readiness to share that narrative in a memoir.  The story’s chapters alternated between Mary Browning, both now and when she was a young girl during WWII, and Elyse.  Mary’s personality was fun.  I loved her spunky and energetic spirit; I loved finding out the secrets she’d kept hidden for so many years; and I loved the connection which helped both her and Elyse to move forward.  Rating: 4 out of 5.

from FictionZeal.com re: The Girl Who Stayed by Tanya Anne Crosby

The Girl Who Stayed - Tanya Anne Crosby

What would you do if your childhood home held nothing but bad memories?  Zoe Rutherford returns to her childhood home on Sullivan’s Island, SC.  The story begins with her remembering her little sister, Hannah.  Hannah had disappeared in 1986 and was never found.  Zoe felt guilty.  Yes, she was only ten years old, but she’d not been particularly close to her eight year old sister.  In fact, she often wondered if she loved her at all.  Zoe was closer to her brother, Nicky.  She became more like a mother to him since their mother had closed herself off to the world and from them.  Hannah was their father’s favorite.  After she disappeared, he was often emotionally cruel to Zoe … openly blaming her.


She tries to focus on why she’s there.  She’s not there to relive the past; she’s there to make the home saleable after the death of her parents and the more recent abandonment of the renters.  Even after she’d left home decades before, she’d been involved in a disastrous relationship that she wouldn’t give up on until now.


One of the best components of this novel is one of contradiction.  Old, neglected, and full of grim memories, the house contrasts dramatically with the beautiful and restful coastal scenery of Sullivan’s Island.  Relying on flashbacks, the author pieces together the lives of this dysfunctional family and the mystery anchored to Hannah’s disappearance.  It had a rather slow beginning; it evolved into an emotional drama, yet a grim one.  Rating: 3 out of 5.

from FictionZeal.com re: All Good Deeds by Stacy Green

All Good Deeds (A Lucy Kendall Thriller) (Lucy Kendall #1) (The Lucy Kendall Series) - Stacy Green

As soon as you start reading, you realize this is not your average female sleuth.  She doesn’t pretend to be.  She used to work for Child Protective Services.  Too many children abducted and abused; too many pedophiles let off by an unjust legal system.  So now she’s a PI who takes matters into her own hands.  Justice will be served.  The pervert will pay … by drawing his last breath.


Lucy Kendall is extremely careful about her operation, and still uncomfortable with it.  She couldn’t help her own sister, but she can help many others.  At the beginning, she’s eyeing “Slimy Steve”.  Her poison of choice?  Cyanide.  Another man approaches her.  He tells her he knows what she’s doing.  He introduces himself as Chris Hale and identifies himself as a sociopath.  He wants to help her ‘take the trash out.’  She denies the ‘serial killer’ label.  She tells him, “I’m not a hit man.  I eradicate sex offenders.  I make sure they’ve been given a lethal dose … and then I walk away. …I’m not a freaking killer.”


The premise was unexpected.  Sheer curiosity carries the reader forward wanting to know more.  I didn’t expect to like Lucy nor Chris as much as I did.  Who wants to admit liking a vigilante and a sociopath?  I suspected early on that there was much more to Chris than what was being offered, and I liked the way the author slowly peeled back the layers of these characters.  Shortly after their meeting, Lucy involves herself with the search of a missing eleven-year-old girl, Kailey.  If you want a fascinating mystery with a serious character twist, All Good Deeds is recommended.  Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

from FictionZeal.com re: Quick and the Dead by Susan Moody

Quick and The Dead: A contemporary British mystery - Susan Moody

If we are honest with ourselves, we’d all like a friend with bluntness like Alex Quick.  As a friend, she’d tell you what you need to hear; not necessarily what you want to hear.  But, with her dear friend, Dr. Helena Drummond, she called it wrong.  For some time, Helena had been trying to tell Alex she felt as if someone was stalking her.  Since Alex knew her friend’s flair for the dramatic, she’d not paid attention.  Then, Helena had not shown up for an important meeting with a new client.  She went to Helena’s home in Canterbury and let herself in as they’d exchanged keys.  She found her mutilated body on the bed … No, wait … it wasn’t Helena.  Alex experienced two thoughts simultaneously.  Where was Helena?  Who was this dead woman?


Alex and Helena were collaborators at Drummond & Quick Ltd, working to produce high-quality art book anthologies.  Before this, Alex was a Detective Inspector.  She had cop instincts.  While the police were engaging the thought that Drummond may have been the killer, Alex knew her friend better than that.  At least she thought she knew her.  As she began answering questions for the police, she was finding just how little she really knew about her friend’s life.


The biggest complaint I have of this story is a feeling that Alex, as an ex-cop, should have called the police a little sooner.  Instead, I felt she allowed herself to enter the room and contaminate what would become the scene of the crime.  I really liked Alex’s personality, her rough exterior, and her unwavering faith in her friend.  The story was told at a fast pace and held a nice twist.  Some aspects of the story were not explained fully to my satisfaction.  For the faint of heart, the crime was a bit graphic.  Bottom line, though, is that I’d love to read more of Alex Quick.  Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

from FictionZeal.com re: 300 Days of Sun by Deborah Lawrenson

300 Days of Sun: A Novel - Deborah Lawrenson

The author, Deborah Lawrenson, set this novel in the beautiful scenic backdrop Faro, Portugal.  Our protagonist, Joanna Millard, is a journalist.  She’s taking time off and running from a broken relationship.  While in Portugal, she’s studying Portuguese at a local Language School.  One of the other English students, Nathan Emberlin befriends her.  A younger guy.  She assumes he’s a party guy and not much more, but then he approaches her to help him with some research and everything about Nathan seems to change.  He wants her to find out about a man he knows as Terry Jackson.  In addition, he needs to understand more about a child who was kidnapped here more than two decades prior.


After a bit of research into local news archives, she connects with Ian Rylands, a historian.  He provides her with a book, The Alliance written by American Esta Hartford in the late forties.  Ian leads Joanna to believe that the story written as fiction is actually true.  The Alliance related the experience of a couple and their association with Germany during WWII.  This all seemed far-fetched from the information she was seeking.  Could it all be connected?


Because of the introduction to The Alliance, 300 Days of Sun actually became two books – a story within a story.  I hadn’t expected this and would rather have had our protagonist, Joanna, summarize it as it related to her research.  The beginning of this novel was most interesting and moved at a rather quick pace.  The sideline into The Alliance drew away from the plot and slowed the story down.  It’s clear the author did due diligence in researching Portugal’s past as it connected to WWII giving the reader a realistic feel — yet the story itself is pure fiction.  Rating: 3 out of 5.