Review: EXERCISE IS MURDER by Bruce Hammack

Exercise is Murder. Well, I think so, too. That might be why this title caught my eye. Of course, it’s not really about exercise. Instead, this first book in the Smiley and McBlythe Mystery series by Bruce Hammack features an unlikely team investigative duo, a blind homicide detective and his new partner.

Description*

Found at the bottom of his exercise pool, police believe the death of Steve Smiley’s friend is an accident. Smiley doesn’t buy it.

There are a lot of things a blind man can do, but solve a murder alone isn’t one of them. He needs a partner… one who knows their way around a crime scene. In walks Heather McBlythe. She can help him solve the crime, but can she keep him out of danger? Steve doesn’t have a choice. Without her someone will get away with murder.

Armed with years of experience as a homicide detective and his new partner, Smiley sets out to find a killer. He knows he’s on the right trail when a bullet whizzes past his ear. Will Steve resurrect his life as a master crime solver, or will his sleuthing get them both killed?

*Description and cover from Amazon

My Review

This mystery features a blinded homicide detective Steve Smiley who teams up with a new partner, Heather McBlythe, to investigate the suspicious death of a friend.  The pair are interesting as characters and make an unusual team, a twist in and of itself.  Despite their many differences (he dislikes cats, for one), they work well together as they doggedly investigate every aspect of the case, and the banter between them is humorous and provides insight into their personalities. The murder mystery itself was a good one, with the requisite twists and turns en route to a satisfying resolution.  An enjoyable, well-paced read. 

Tip:  The last time I checked this book was free on Amazon.

Review: SHE’S GONE by David Bell

So I read a lot of mysteries, usually cozies or thrillers. No news there. However, this time I was surprised to find myself engrossed in a new YA mystery – She’s Gone by David Bell, which released earlier this month.

Description*

When a girl disappears, who do you suspect?

When 17-year-old Hunter Gifford wakes in the hospital on the night of homecoming, he’s shocked to learn he and his girlfriend, Chloe Summers, have been in a terrible car accident. Hunter has no memory of the crash, and his shock turns to horror when he is told Chloe’s blood has been found in the car—but she has disappeared.

Back at school, his fellow students taunt him, and his former best friend starts making a true-crime documentary about the case—one that points the finger directly at Hunter. And just when things can’t get any worse, Chloe’s mother stands in front of the entire town at a candlelight vigil and accuses Hunter of murder.

Under mounting pressure from the police, Hunter takes matters into his own hands by questioning anyone who might know the truth and posting videos to prove his innocence. When Hunter learns he and Chloe were seen arguing loudly outside the dance, he faces a sickening possibility. Was he angry enough to kill the person he loved?

*As appears on Amazon.

My Review

After a terrible car accident, Hunter faces accusations which he honestly has no way of proving or disproving. He doesn’t want to believe he might have hurt Chloe but he simply doesn’t remember the events leading up to the crash. A pretty level-headed teenager, he is a likable character and it’s easy to sympathize with his plight and his emotions. He may want to do the right thing, but he is a teenager after all, and in his efforts to root out the truth some of his actions are ill-advised, impulsive, risky. His sister and sometimes partner-in-crime is delightful, a bit snarky, and totally loyal.

The story is told entirely from Hunter’s point of view in an easy to read style that puts the reader in touch with his thoughts and feelings. The writer’s style in this novel is well suited to both teen and adult audiences. The plot was well-placed, building in intensity as the story progressed and Hunter comes closer to discovering the truth. The novel was intriguing enough to keep those pages turning.  Like Hunter, I had to know what happened to Chloe.

Content advisory: This novel includes light description of sex between teens (not erotic at all) and profanity, thus may not suit those seeking “clean” reads.

FTC disclosure: I received an advance review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This has not affected the content of my review.

Review: SUSPECT by Scott Turow

What draws you to a book? Well for me, first off – the cover. And this one definitely caught my eye. Then when I saw the author’s name and the description, I knew I wanted to read it. Hot off the presses, Suspect released last week.

Description*

For as long as Lucia Gomez has been the police chief in the city of Highland Isle, near Kindle County, she has known that any woman in law enforcement must walk a precarious line between authority and camaraderie to gain respect.  She has maintained a spotless reputation—until now. Three male police officers have accused her of soliciting sex in exchange for promotions to higher ranks. With few people left who she can trust, Chief Gomez turns to an old friend, Rik Dudek, to act as her attorney in the federal grand jury investigation, insisting to Rik that the accusations against her are part of an ugly smear campaign designed to destroy her career and empower her enemies—both outside the police force and within…
 
Clarice “Pinky” Granum spent most of her youth experimenting with an impressive array of drugs and failing out of various professions, including the police academy. Pinky knows that in the eyes of most people, she’s nothing but a screwup—but she doesn’t trust most people’s opinions anyway. Moreover, she finally has a respectable-enough job as a licensed P.I. working for Rik on his roster of mostly minor cases, like workman’s comp, DUIs and bar fights. Rik’s shabby office and even shabbier cases are a far cry from the kinds of high-profile criminal matters Pinky became familiar with in the law office of her grandfather, Sandy Stern. But Rik and Pinky feel that Chief Gomez’s case, which has attracted national attention, is their chance to break into the legal big leagues.    
 
Guided by her gut instinct and razor-sharp investigative skills, Pinky dives headfirst into a twisted scandal that will draw her into the deepest recesses of the city’s criminal networks, as well as the human mind. But she will need every scrap of tenacity and courage to unravel the dark secrets those closest to her are determined to keep hidden.

*Cover and description as they appear on Amazon.

My Review

Although I have read several of this author’s previous works, this book caught me by surprise. The main character, Pinky, is a somewhat flaky young PI, with a nail through her nose and tatoos galore. Pinky is working in the family law office, where her boss is defending a female police chief who has been accused of forcing male officers to have sex with her. Despite her quirks, Pinky’s investigative instincts are good – even if her methods are a bit untraditional. And she lacks impulse control. She just does whatever comes to mind (not always realistic). Pinky is excited about the case and intrigued by her new neighbor, handsome of course, and does her best to investigate both at the same time.

It took me a while to warm up to Pinky (I cringed at every mention of that nail) and to get into the story. I also had trouble relating to Lucy (the alleged sex offender) not so much because of her actions in the past, but more because of her attitude and demeaner. Once I got further into the story, I enjoyed the book more as the plot took a circuitous route to its resolution, with more than one surprise in store for the reader. Overall, an engaging read that spotlights issues related to gender and law enforcement in today’s world.

FTC disclosure: I received an advance review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This has not affected the content of this review in any way.

Review: SUMMER CAMP CULPRIT by C.K. Fyfe

For those of us who went to summer camp, it is easy to look back at those days through rose-colored glasses. Nostalgia for times gone by and sweet memories. But not all memories are sweet, as soon becomes apparent in Summer Camp Culprit, a romantic cozy mystery novella by C.K. Fyfe.

About the Book

Camp Starfall is closing. But that doesn’t mean the past is going with it.

Despite her misgivings, Lindsey returns to the campground she last left as a broken-hearted teen. She’s determined to spend Camp Starfall’s farewell weekend focusing on the good memories she has of her time as a camper. But fate has other plans.

Lindsey’s teenage sweetheart Tyler shows up, stirring up feelings in her that had long lain dormant. Too bad she doesn’t have time to dwell on him. Someone is breaking into the cabins, and if she doesn’t find the culprit, more than her heart will be at stake.

My Review

A visit to the summer camp she attended in her youth gives Lindsey the chance to reconnect with friends from her past, as well as get closure with respect to a painful memory from her last summer at the camp. I found it easy to identify with Lindsey and her misgivings. The story is sprinkled with a mixture of reminiscing, humor, and flashbacks to antics and events of the past. But something sinister is going on and Lindsey seizes on the opportunity to out the culprit, put her own demons to rest, and lay the foundation for new beginnings. This well written novella was ideal for a quick escape while travelling.

FTC disclosure: I received an advance review copy from the publisher. This has not affected the content of my review in any way.

About the Author

C.K. Fyfe has always enjoyed a good mystery. Fyfe’s childhood love of Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys led to a grown-up love of writing cozy mysteries with quirky, funny, and kindhearted characters. Fyfe lives in “The Wolverine State.” Much like wolverines, Fyfe’s villains have vicious dispositions, but the clever sleuths know how to tame their foes’ tempers.

Author Links

Review & Giveaway: FALLOUT by Carrie Stuart Parks

So why did I pick up this book? The cover caught my eye and the description intrigued me. What I discovered was an intriguing read.

About the Book

Her carefully crafted life is about to be demolished.

After a difficult childhood, Samantha Williams craves simplicity: jigsaw puzzles, lectures at the library, and the students she adores in her role as an elementary art teacher in the dusty farming community of LaCrosse, Washington.

But when an SUV crashes into the school where she teaches, her entire world is upended. She manages to keep all of the children safe, but her car isn’t so lucky. Oddly, her purse—containing her driver’s license, credit cards, and other identification—is missing from the wreckage.

After authorities discover that the driver in the school accident was shot seconds before the crash, Samantha quickly becomes entangled in increasingly strange events that have her looking over her shoulder.

Samantha has long tried to forget the tragedy of her past, but the twisting maze she discovers between the murdered driver, a deadly secret government project, and an abandoned town can’t be ignored. Those involved are determined to keep these secrets buried, and they’ll use any means necessary to stop Samantha’s search for truth.

My Review

Samantha’s past is complicated and shrouded in mystery. And her life becomes more so when an SUV crashes into the school where where she teaches. She makes for a quirky character who guards her secrets and keeps to herself. For the most part, the story is told from Sam’s point of view, with occasional switches to another character’s viewpoint – I found the transitions were confusing in a few places. Set against the historical backdrop of a nuclear facility during the Cold War created a counterpoint between Sam’s quirkiness and some serious and intesting subject matter. The action was paced nicely, accelerating significantly in the second half of the book to keep those pages turning. Overall, an enjoyable read.

Note: This is a clean read (categorized as Christian suspence on Amazon) with ongoing references to the main character’s faith, however this is not a “preachy” read and is not likely to offend those of other faiths.

FTC disclosure: I received an advanced review copy of this book via NetGalley. This has not affected the content of this review in any way.

Giveaway

Enter a giveway for your chance to win a print copy of Fallout from the author.

About the Author

Carrie Stuart Parks is a Christy, multiple Carol, and Inspy Award–winning author. She was a 2019 finalist in the Daphne du Maurier Award for excellence in mainstream mystery/suspense and has won numerous awards for her fine art as well. An internationally known forensic artist, she travels with her husband, Rick, across the US and Canada teaching courses in forensic art to law-enforcement professionals. The author/illustrator of numerous books on drawing and painting, Carrie continues to create dramatic watercolors from her studio in the mountains of Idaho.

Keep up with Carrie Stuart Parks:

·       www.CarrieStuartParks.com

·       Goodreads

·       BookBub – @CarrieStuartParks

·       Instagram – @carriestuarparks

·       Facebook – @CarrieStuartParksAuthor

Book Links: 
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | ChristianBook | Goodreads

Review: LOVES BILLIONAIRES AND DOGS by Gina Robinson

In the mood for another feel-good romance? I sure was. Penned by an author new to me, this one didn’t disappoint. I’ll be adding the next in series to my TBR list.

Description*

Hot billionaire asks me for a fake relationship. ✓
He doesn’t recognize me as the runaway bride he helped escape in Vegas two years ago. What happens when he does…

Once upon a time in Vegas, I left my groom at the altar in a twenty-four-hour discount wedding chapel. And ran away with my bridal bouquet — the most adorable Corgi puppy you’ve ever seen.

In a nearby casino, a gorgeous stranger with blue-violet eyes helped me escape. An unforgettable stranger I’ve been thinking about nonstop for the past two years, but thought I’d never see again.

Until his handsome Aussie in a studded leather collar finds my little Corgi bitch in the park — irresistible, alone, and in heat…

*As appears on Amazon

My Review

Both main characters are likable and the banter between them entertaining. The narrative alternates between Shelby’s and Dex’s points of view – making clear their respective feelings and reservations as their relationship progress. And there are great dogs and humorous situations. Although there was perhaps a bit more detail on the mechanics of dog breeding than necessary, this was a quick, enjoyable read. Overall, a feel-good romance – as advertised – that makes for an enjoyable escape.

Review & Giveaway: THE SERAPHIM’S SONG by Barbara Casey

When I was given the opportunity to read an advance review copy of the The Seraphim’s Song, I was quick to snap it up, having read and enjoyed the first book in the series. This is the fifth book in Barbara Casey’s F.I.G. (Females of Intellectual Genius) Mystrey series which follows gifted teens on their advantures to explore unsolved mysteries.

About the Book

When a powerful key falls into the wrong hands and disaster begins to strike around the globe, the F.I.G.s must find the artifact and return it to its rightful home. With odds stacked against them, and only their unique intellectual gifts to rely on, they are in a race against time to save the world.

Join the F.I.G.s – females of intellectual genius – as they solve mysteries of historic proportions. Dara Roux with her mastery of foreign, ancient, and obsolete languages; Mackenzie Yarborough with her ability to solve complicated math formulations; and Jennifer Torres with her talents in musical composition and painting are all recent graduates of Wood Rose Orphanage and Academy for Young Women. As the F.I.G.s embark on their own journeys, Wood Rose will always be their home. And Carolina Lovell, the teacher who was tasked with supervising the F.I.G.s during their senior year, will always be like a big sister to the three girls.

Follow the F.I.G.s on adventures to different countries, as they explore some of history’s unsolved mysteries! Mysteries that can only be solved when the F.I.G.s work together and support each other.

Giveaway

Enter a rafflecopter for your chance to win a $20 Amazon/B&N gift card from the author.

My Review

Caroline and the F.I.G.s are back, and the comraderie between the uniquely capable young women are the stronger than ever. This time they face the challenge of preventing widespread natural disasters and saving Caroline from a curse placed by an evil gypsy with a grudge against her mother. The background for The Seraphim’s Song is founded in the first book in the series, The Cadence of Gypsies, in which Caroline discovers that her biological mother is a gypsy with special powers. Like The Cadence of Gypies, this book is rich in gypsy folklore and legends, with a generous dose of supernatural/paranormal phenomena.

Although the Seraphim’s Song was a pleasant read, I felt that the author included more backstory from previous books than necessary, including details about the girls’ previous adventures that had no bearing on the plot of The Seraphim’s Song, slowing the pace down at times. That said, it makes a nice read for young adult fans of fantasy.

FTC disclosure: I received an advance review copy of this book from the publisher. This has not affected the content of my review.

Note: You can read my review of The Cadence of Gypsies here.

About the Author

Barbara Casey is the author of several award-winning novels for both adults and young adults, and numerous articles, poems, and short stories. In addition to her own writing, she is an editorial consultant and president of the Barbara Casey Agency, established in 1995, representing authors throughout the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Japan. In 2014, Barbara became a partner in Strategic Media Books Publishing, an independent publishing house that specializes in true crime and other cutting-edge adult nonfiction.

Review: OVERKILL by Sandra Brown

Whenever I spot an upcoming release for an author whose work I enjoy, I do my best to snag an ARC. As luck would have it, I was able to get a pre-release copy of Overkill by Sandra Brown via NetGalley. I have read and enjoyed several of her previous works. Besides, it has a lovely cover.

About the Book

Former Super Bowl MVP quarterback Zach Bridger hasn’t seen his ex-wife, Rebecca Pratt, for some time—not since their volatile marriage imploded—so he’s shocked to receive a life-altering call about her. Rebecca has been placed on life support after a violent assault, and he—despite their divorce—has medical power-of-attorney. Zach is asked to make an impossible choice: keep her on life support or take her off of it. Buckling under the weight of the responsibility and the glare of public scrutiny, Zach ultimately walks away, letting Rebecca’s parents have the final say.
 
Four years later, Rebecca’s attacker, Eban—the scion of a wealthy family in Atlanta—gets an early release from prison. The ludicrous miscarriage of justice reeks of favoritism, and Kate Lennon, a brilliant state prosecutor, is determined to put him back behind bars. Rebecca’s parents have kept her alive all these years, but if her condition were to change—if she were to die—Eban could be retried on a new charge: murder.
 
It isn’t lost on Zach that in order for Eban to be charged with Rebecca’s murder, Zach must actually be the one to kill her. He rejects Kate’s legal standpoint but can’t resist their ill-timed attraction to each other. Eban, having realized the jeopardy he’s in, plots to make certain that neither Zach nor Kate lives to see the death of Rebecca—and the end of his freedom. 

My Review

A former sports celebrity, Zach has fallen from grace in the public eye and adopted a hermit-like lifestyle when his past comes back to haunt him. He is tasked with making an impossible decision – whether or not to withdraw the life support that is keeping his ex-wife alive (technically anyway). A controversial issue for sure.

Zach is an okay guy who regrets events from his past, while Kate (the state prosecuter) is sharp and determined – but for this reader, not all that memorable. The sparks between them tended to dominate the story. Although the sexual tension enhanced the story, in my opinion, the explicit descriptions of their intimate physical interactions were gratuitous and, at times, a bit vulgar.

The main plot — what happened to Rebecca and how to see that justice would be served — held my interest. It had a fair share of twists — with an unexpected turn as the story neared its end. Not being able to guess how it would all turn out is always a plus in my eyes. Overall, an interesting and enjoyable read.

Content Advisory:  If you are offended by strong language and explicit graphic sex, this book is not for you.

FTC Disclosure:  I received an advance review copy of this book and have voluntarily chosen to share my honest review. 

Review: CORPSE AND ROBBERS by Stephen Kaminski

Imagine a cozy mystery with a housekeeper as the main character. Not unheard of. But if that housekeeper is male, it’s a whole other story. That’s what prompted me to agree to read an ARC of the latest addition to Stephen Kaminski’s Male Housekeeper Mystery series – Corpse and Robbers.

About the Book

Paul Bearer & Sons has two memorial services on the schedule, but three dead bodies. When Rusted Bonnet’s funeral home becomes the site of a murder, Cam Reddick finds himself as a prime suspect. To distance himself from the allegations, Cam must untangle a host of clever cons and mini mysteries, from corpse robbing to a fine art scam to a modern-day treasure hunt. Cam soon discovers that Paul Bearer’s more closely resembles a con artists’ colony than a funeral home. With help from his ex-wife and mother, Cam ultimately unearths the most devious and deadly ploy of all.

Giveaway

Enter a rafflecopter for your chance to win a paperback copy of Corpse and Robbers from the author.

My Review

This is a cozy mystery with a man playing the role of amateur sleuth. Cam was an interesting character – smart and sensible. Likable. Cam has inherited his mother’s housekeeping business and is kept busy handling the admin side as well as pitching in on the cleaning side, giving him a unique perspective and the dubious honor of being treated as a suspect when one of his clients is found dead. I found the storyline to be unique, with an intricate plot. There was also an abundance of characters, some more memorable than others, which were introduced early on in the story at a rapid pace. I found it a bit confusing at first, but eventually I was able to keep track of who’s who, and things fell into place. The journey to the mystery’s resolution was filled with twists and turns, making for a satisfying mystery.

This is the second book in the series, however it can easily be read as a standalone (I have not read the first book).

FTC disclosure: I received an advance review copy of this book from the publisher. This has not affect the content of my review.

About the Author

Stephen Kaminski is the author of two cozy mystery series: The Male Housekeeper Mysteries and the Damon Lassard Dabbling Detective series, both published by Cozy Cat Press.

“Corpse & Robbers” (2022) is the latest of Kaminski’s Male Housekeeper Mysteries. The first installment of the series, “An Au Pair to Remember,” was penned in 2019.

Each of Kaminski’s Damon Lassard books — “It Takes Two to Strangle” (2012), “Don’t Cry Over Killed Milk” (2013), and “Murder, She Floats” (2014) — was awarded the Reader Views Literary Award for the Mid-Atlantic Region, and Don’t Cry Over Killed Milk was named Best Classic Cozy in the 2014 Murder & Mayhem Awards and was a 2013 Chanticleer Media CLUE Award Finalist.

Stephen is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University and Harvard Law School and currently serves as the chief executive officer of a national energy association. He lives with his 120 lb Swissie, Siberian forest cat, rescue kitty, and a gaggle of occasionally tolerable but always loveable humans in Bethesda, MD.

Purchase link: Amazon

Review: EDGE OF DUSK by Colleen Coble

Collen Coble has recently released Edge of Dusk, the first book in a new mystery/romantic suspense series featuring a park ranger as the main character. Having enjoyed some of this author’s earlier works, I was happy to receive an ARC from the publisher.

About the Book*

Even though secrets lie off the coast of Rock Harbor, the truth will set Annie Pederson free—if it doesn’t kill her first.

Nine-year-old Annie Pederson’s life changed the night her sister was kidnapped. The two had been outside playing on a dock, and Annie never forgave herself for her role in her sister’s disappearance. Twenty-four years later and now a law enforcement ranger, Annie is still searching for answers as she grieves a new loss: the death of her husband and parents in a boating accident.

But Annie and her eight-year-old daughter, Kylie, aren’t the only people in the town of Rock Harbor whose lives have been marred by tragedy. While managing the property around the Tremolo Resort and Marina she inherited, Annie discovers a dead body floating in the cold Superior surf and begins to work with the sheriff’s office to tie the death to a series of other mysterious reports in the area.

At the same time, her first love, Jon Dustan, returns after nine years away, reigniting the town’s memory of a cold case he’d been suspiciously linked to before he left to pursue his orthopedic residency. For the sake of her investigation and her heart, Annie tries to stay away. But avoiding Jon becomes impossible once Annie realizes she is being targeted by someone desperate to keep secrets from the past hidden.

* Description as appears on Amazon.

My Review

Like another series by this author, this book is set in the small lakeside town of Rock Harbor. Annie, a park ranger, faces the challenge of raising her daughter alone after her husband and parents were killed in a boating accident. When faced with deadly finds on her property and in its vicinity, she is haunted by past losses – of both love and lives. In this second-chance romance, Annie struggles to cope with conflicting feelings as she attempts to prove Jon’s innocence and come to grip with new realities. On the mystery side, the book was well-paced with an intricate and multi-faceted plot, with plenty of action – especially as tension built toward the story’s resolution. On some levels, the resolution was not a total surprise. At the same time, the book ended kind of abruptly leaving unanswered questions.

I must note that this book includes an over-abundance of information about celiac, which although relevant to the story on a certain level, slowed the pace at times. In addition, this book includes more Christian elements than in other works I have read by this author in the past.

Overall, a well written mystery and great choice for fans of Christian fiction.

FTC disclaimer: I received an advance review copy from NetGalley. This has not affected the content of my review.