Blog Tour: The Ex Husband by Karen Hamilton

Thank you to Harlequin Trade Publishing for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. They also provided all info and graphics.

The Ex-Husband 

Author: Karen Hamilton

ISBN: 9781525811609

Publication Date: January 18, 2022

Publisher: Graydon House

Book Summary:
It’s an offer she can’t refuse…and can’t escape.

True: Charlotte has an unsavory past. She married the wrong man, got caught up in his con artist games, took what wasn’t hers. She got out, though: divorced Sam, started fresh.

False: She left him before things went too far. Nothing bad happened.

True: Sam is missing, and before he disappeared, he left cryptic messages about someone threatening him—someone who has been threatening Charlotte, too.

True: She’s on the straight and narrow, has accepted a job as a personal assistant for an engagement party on board a private luxury cruise ship, the Cleobella.

False: No one on board knows about her past, and she’s far away from anyone who means her harm.

As the Cleobella sails through its glittering destinations—the Bahamas, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago—increasingly sinister events haunt the guests, and the turquoise waves and sun-drenched beaches give way to something darker. Someone knows what Charlotte did. Is it the blushing bride? The seemingly placid mother-in-law? Or the mysterious heiress?

Someone knows, and someone wants revenge—before the ship reaches its final port.

Review

Unfortunately, I have decided to DNF this book. It took a long time for the book to get to where we know it’s going based on the synopsis and while the locations are stunning I just don’t care enough about our main character, Charlotte, to continue. I prefer character driven stories, which this is, and I don’t mind an unlikeable narrator, which she is, but I think the problem is how boring I find her. I also think that Hamilton went a bit heavy handed with the writing and she would repeat the same thing often, sometimes even on the same page. I do think that there are some that would find this book enthralling and so I do think it is worth checking out the excerpt below to see if your interest is piqued by this story. I did really enjoy Hamilton’s previous two books so I think this book might just be the wrong time for me to pick it up and I fully intend on reading future books by her.

Author Bio: 

Karen Hamilton spent her childhood in Angola, Zimbabwe, Belgium and Italy and worked as a flight attendant for many years. She has now put down roots in the UK to raise her three children with her husband and she also writes full time. Her books include The Perfect Girlfriend, The Last Wife, and The Ex-Husband, out January 2022.

Social Links:

Author Website

Twitter: @KJHAuthor 

Facebook: @karenhamiltonwriter 

Instagram: @karenhamiltonauthor 

Goodreads

Excerpt

THEN

Eighteen Months Ago

Barbados

A TIP-OFF. THAT COULD BE THE ONLY EXPLANATION.

Dreaded realization filtered through the rows of passengers and crew in the cruise terminal via mutters about delays intermingled with curiosity and general resignation at the inevitable holdup. Sickening dread roiled deep in my gut. Surreptitiously, I glanced back at the queue snaking behind me. Still no sign of Sam. Where was he?

The person in front of me took a step forward, pushing his backpack with a foot. Reluctantly, I followed.

Sam had only darted back to the ship to pick up his watch, carelessly left beside the basin in his cabin. It should have taken him fifteen minutes—twenty max. He had insisted that I save our place in the line to save time. Our flight to freedom was less than four hours away.

I messaged him.

Where the hell are you? Hurry up! I am nearly at the front of the line.

Well, not quite, but it was true enough. 

No reply.

Indecision kept me rooted to the spot. Sam would be annoyed if I lost our place. It would break one of our rules about blending in. Then again, neither of us was thinking straight. Our nerves were frayed. We were both tense after a wakeful night dissecting what had gone wrong, each of us blaming the other. But he left me with no choice. We always disembarked together. We had each other’s backs. Rule number one.

I tried to calm my fears. The upheaval wasn’t necessarily anything to do with us. I was too quick to jump to worst-case scenarios, usually after my conscience had given me a good poke. Sam and I excelled at slipping beneath the radar, despite his popularity.

In the corner of the vast, high-ceilinged building, portable air-conditioning units blasted out woefully inadequate cool air. My heart pounded so hard it almost hurt. Sweat slid down my spine. I stepped out of line and walked back in the direction of the ship. James, head of the ship’s security team, was standing by the exit. Relief. He would know where Sam was.

Strangely, James didn’t acknowledge or return my greeting. His manner was uncharacteristically off. No, he said. I couldn’t go back on board.

“But Sam should have been back by now,” I said. “He only went for something he’d forgotten.”

James shrugged.

“Just wait for him in line. He’ll show up. There’s nowhere else for him to go. This is the only exit.”

“What’s going on?” I said, trying to cajole James into thawing his attitude.

I opted for a friendly, neutral tone. And why not? We were colleagues, after all. Friends, companions. Equals, really.

“There are searches, from time to time.”

“Not that I’ve ever seen,” I said. “I hope it doesn’t hold us up. What is it? Drugs? Weapons?”

I smiled, safe in the knowledge that I was carrying neither.

“Get back in the line,” said James. “Wait for Sam there.”

I had no choice. As I turned, I saw Sam up ahead. He must have joined a different line. His bag was already being searched. How the hell had we missed each other? Why hadn’t he called me? Why did he go through without me?

There was nothing I could do but rejoin the queue and watch. I couldn’t read the expression of the person searching his bag, but the body language appeared at ease. Jolly, even. Everything felt off, badly wrong. Fragments of our heated conversation last night started piecing together. Just wait until I get hold of Sam, I thought. I would kill him for breaking our rules and putting me through all this extra stress.

I watched as Sam exited into the outside world. I could imagine the sun brushing his face as he inhaled the warmth of the Caribbean air. I distracted myself by dissecting the type of people they were pulling over. Lone travelers. Fresh, bubbling red rage at Sam rose. I called him. Straight to voice mail.

I was now among the stragglers, recognizing some of the faces. God, this was torture. I fought the urge to push to the front, explain about Sam and ask to be whisked through so that I could catch up with him, find out what the hell he was playing at. Breathe, breathe, breathe, I repeated over and over in my mind. I can do this. It’s all about playing the game.

A calmness descended over me as I was beckoned forward. One step after another, a neutral expression on my face. I could see the sun through the glass doors. No sign of Sam in the crowds beyond. I focused on the large brandy or whiskey I was going to order on the flight. I thought about the type of movie I would watch, a comedy or something light and easy to absorb. Or maybe I wouldn’t bother with any distractions at all. I could use the time to think.

Half a yard, then another. The man in front was pulled over to my right, with a brusque wave. A harmless-looking elderly couple was also summoned. Not me. Not yet. I was so nearly there. Please, God. I know I’ve made mistakes. I know I’ve made bad choices, but just let me keep walking and I will make amends.

“Miss?”

Shit.

“Yes?”

“Can you come over this way, please, and place your bags on the table?”

I smiled. “Yes, of course.”

Everything turned numb, as though this was happening to someone else. Invincibility was Sam’s superpower, not mine.

Victimless. That is what Sam and I had always said about the people we befriended. Relax, I told myself. They won’t find anything. I’d triple-checked, hadn’t I?

My bag felt unusually heavy as I lifted it up. It was still covered in hotel, airline and cruise stickers. Funny, the inconsequential things I focused on. Sam often told me to scrape them off. “Bland and anonymous is always best. The smallest of details can offer up rich clues to the wrong people.” He would know.

“Open your bags, please.”

“Sure.”

My mouth was dry. I rotated the combination on my lock: one, eight, eight, my birth date and month, a small act of rebellion when it came to Sam’s insistence never to do the obvious. It clicked open. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to lift the lid, to display my personal belongings ready for public inspection. It was humiliating.

The officer lost patience and did it for me. Time slowed as he unzipped the bag. Nestling on top of my favorite red blouse was something that, although familiar, didn’t belong to me.

Blind panic.

“That’s not mine.” I reached to grab it, to remove the emerald necklace from its nest among my possessions. Someone had put it there.

“Stand back, please.”

I felt the fresh horror rise inside me as two other customs officers walked over and peered at the necklace.

“I said it’s not mine. Someone has been in my bag.”

Stony faces, bland expressions, dismissive words.

I tried again.

“You need to go through the CCTV, check who entered our cabin. Someone planted this.”

I looked from face to face.

Still nothing.

I should’ve kept quiet. They’d already decided that I was guilty. A thief. Someone without rights.

Anger replaced fear as my privacy was violated. My swimwear, toiletries, underwear, shoes, travel guides, my Spanish-language course books, my costume jewelry, my every-bloody-thing was removed and examined by careless rubber-gloved hands.

A glimmer of hope ignited when their search concluded. All they had found was something that was such an obvious plant. The necklace rested on the side of the counter, taunting me. Not for the first time either. Magpie-like, the moment I had first spotted the emerald-and-diamond choker with a teardrop pendant, I longed to own it. Green was most definitely the color of envy.

“Come with us, please.”

I was shown to an interview room. I could hear a baby crying outside. Alone, without my belongings, I had time to piece things together. Grim reality, like a blast of icy water. I had been sacrificed, thrown under the bus. Sam knew. He’d been tipped off. Instead of saving the two of us, he’d chosen to save himself. “For better, for worse” clearly no longer applied. It was a final act of cruelty. A brutal end, regardless of how rocky our marriage had been. All that mattered was himself.

       Time spooled and distorted. I sat, trying to appear nonchalant, yet as outraged as an innocent could be, robbed of her freedom. I felt watched. The heat stifled me. I wanted to plunge into a cold pool, swim below the surface, somehow wash away the dirty feelings that threatened to swallow me whole.

Anger took over as I sat there. I wasn’t taking the rap—no way. As two police officers walked into the room, I was prepared to embrace my inner canary. Whatever it took. But it became clear I wouldn’t need to sing that day.

I was free to go. It had all been a terrible mistake. Huge apologies. Strange, but true. My belongings—even the necklace—were returned.

Outside, despite the heat of the midday sun, I wanted to run. I had got away with it. I was free. Except… I wasn’t.

I didn’t like the person I had become—hadn’t for a long time. Something needed to change. Sam’s customary reassurances that “all would be well” had been my elixir. It smoothed away fears and doubts, the ones my conscience tried in vain to shove to the forefront of my mind during the darkest hours. The sudden and horrible unraveling of our gilded situation was the result of arrogance. His and mine.

But for now, I had to put myself first. I walked toward the shade and sat on a bench beneath a palm tree. I had less than two hours to catch my flight, but I could still make it. I sent Sam a message.

Call me. ASAP.

Nothing.

I hailed a cab to take me from the cruise terminal to the airport, deciding to make one detour to a friend’s house en route. I wanted to hide my pot of gold somewhere safe.

As we drew into the airport, fear took hold again. What if I was making a mistake? In a daze, I checked in. The airline staff wouldn’t tell me if Sam had checked in too. I called him again even though I knew, deep down, that there wouldn’t be an answer. As I placed my bag down to go through the X-ray machine, I heard my phone beep. I had to wait more painful minutes while my bag passed through the checks before I could snatch up my phone and read it. Sam!

One word.

Sorry.

What the hell was he doing?

Sam’s empty plane seat taunted me all the way to London as I planned the things I was going to say and do when I next saw him. Because I would see him again. He wasn’t the only piece of unfinished business, because there was someone else I needed to track down too. The real owner of the necklace and the catalyst behind our downfall and the death of our marriage. 

Excerpted from The Ex-Husband by Karen Hamilton, Copyright © 2022 by Karen Hamilton. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

Buy Links: 

BookShop.org

Harlequin 

Barnes & Noble

Amazon

Books-A-Million

Powell’s

~Cassie

Blog Tour: Little Girl Gone by Amanda Stevens

Thank you to Harlequin for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. They also provided all info and graphics.

LITTLE GIRL GONE by Amanda Stevens (on-sale Dec.28, Harlequin Intrigue): Nothing matters more to her when a child’s life is at stake. Special agent Thea Lamb returns to her hometown to search for a child whose disappearance echoes a twenty-eight-year-old cold case—her twin sister’s abduction. Working with her former partner, Jake Stillwell, Thea must overcome the pain, doubt and guilt that have tormented her for years and denied her a meaningful relationship. For both Thea and Jake, the job always came first…until now. 

Review

I love the premise of this story but unfortunately, it let me down a bit in execution. I was instantly hooked on the idea of two little girls going missing from the same bedroom almost three decades apart and Stevens did a great job balancing the two stories and keeping us guessing the whole way through. Thea and Jake had good chemistry and I enjoyed the second chance romance element they brought to the story. I also liked that they did a lot of their investigating solo so we got a lot of suspense and action that switched between the two of them. With that said, a couple of things that happened to them seemed over the top and too much time was spent on those elements. I did appreciate that Stevens balanced the romance aspect of this story well with the mystery of what happened to Kylie and Maya. I never felt that the romance was taking away from them solving the crime and I was even surprised at how little romance was in this book. The ending of this book leaves a lot to be desired since there isn’t a resolution of all of the pieces to the puzzle but I feel a little better knowing that the second book in this series comes out next week. It follows different characters but I am hopefully that tendrils of this story will continue into that one.

About AMANDA STEVENS: Amanda Stevens is an award-winning author of over fifty novels. Born and raised in the rural south, she now resides in Houston, Texas.

Excerpt

Excerpt, LITTLE GIRL GONE by Amanda Stevens

“While I was trying to fish the doll out of the pool, someone came from behind and hit me over the head hard enough to daze me. Next thing I know, I’m caught in a whirlpool several feet below the surface. I lost my flashlight, so I was spun around underwater in complete darkness. No up, no down.” He paused. “For a while there, I wasn’t sure how I’d get out.”

Thea watched his expression as he spoke. He still seemed shaken from the experience. She’d never seen him like that. “I knew something bad must have happened.”

He summoned a brief smile. “I know what you’re thinking. I even thought so myself at the time. So much for my keen instincts. Someone came up behind me and I never sensed a thing.”

“That’s not what I’m thinking.”

“No?”

“I’m thinking you could have died down there and I would never have known what happened to you.”

“Thea.” He said her name so softly she might have thought the tender missive was nothing more than a breeze sighing through the treetops.

The sun bearing down on them was hot and relentless, but Thea felt a little shiver go through her. It hit her anew how much she’d missed that tender glint in his eyes as their gazes locked. How much she’d missed his husky whispers in the dark. The glide of his hand along her bare skin, the tease of his lips and tongue against her mouth. The way he had held her afterward, as if he never wanted to let her go. But he had let her go and she’d done nothing to stop him.

She drew a shaky breath. “Don’t ever do that to me again.”

“Get caught in a whirlpool? I’ll do my best.”

She scowled at him. “Don’t make light. You know what I mean.”

“I’m fine, Thea.” He seemed on the verge of saying something else, but he held back. Maybe he thought she wanted his restraint. She did, didn’t she? They were in a precarious situation. Adrenaline and attraction could be a dangerous combination. Throw in unresolved issues and they were asking for trouble.

IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781335489357 

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Little-Girl-Procedural-Crime-Story-ebook/dp/B09798Q8BQ/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=LITTLE+GIRL+GONE+by+Amanda+Stevens&qid=1637001796&qsid=133-7575147-1798556&sr=8-1&sres=B09798Q8BQ%2CB003KVL35W%2C1250209765%2C1250132363%2C1250153964&srpt=ABIS_EBOOKS 

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/little-girl-gone-amanda-stevens/1139689805?ean=9781335489357 

Harlequin.com: https://www.harlequin.com/shop/books/9781335555557_little-girl-gone.html

~Cassie

WWW Wednesday 1.19.22

This weekly meme is hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words. I was pretty sick last week with a terrible sinus infection (I did take a Covid test just to be safe) and then we had family visiting for my little one’s birthday (he’s five!) so I didn’t get a lot of reading done. Last night I stayed up pretty late reading so I have made some pretty good progress the last couple of days.

What are you currently reading?

The Ex Husband by Karen Hamilton and Little Girl Gone by Amanda Stevens are both for blog tour posts coming in the next couple of days. I’m throughly enjoying both although Little Girl Gone has started to unravel a little for me.

I haven’t read anymore of Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie or A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James but I hope to finish Appointment with Death tomorrow.

Last night I finished another part of House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas and I am so happy that I decided to reread this before the second book comes out next month.

What have you recently finished?

Tall, Dark and Off Limits by Shannon McKenna

What do you think you will read next?

I was hoping to start this last weekend but I will definitely be starting it this weekend.

Synopsis:

How far would you go for happily ever after?

For as long as she can remember, Evangeline Fox has believed in true love and happy endings…until she learns that the love of her life will marry another.

Desperate to stop the wedding and to heal her wounded heart, Evangeline strikes a deal with the charismatic but wicked Prince of Hearts. In exchange for his help, he asks for three kisses, to be given at the time and place of his choosing. 

But after Evangeline’s first promised kiss, she learns that bargaining with an immortal is a dangerous game—and that the Prince of Hearts wants far more from her than she’d pledged. He has plans for Evangeline, plans that will either end in the greatest happily ever after or the most exquisite tragedy….

~Cassie

Blog Tour: Backstage Benefits by LaQuette

Thank you to Harlequin for providing all info and graphics for this post.

BACKSTAGE BENEFITS by LaQuette (on-sale Nov.30, Harlequin Desire): When show business leads to secret pleasures, how can they resist in this Devereaux Inc. novel by LaQuette.Their daytime partnership sets the night on fire. Who said they can’t have it all? Lyric Smith didn’t become the nation’s most successful lifestyle guru by losing focus. Yet Josiah Manning, daytime television’s hottest—and sexiest—young Black producer makes her do just that. Publicly, Josiah wants Lyric to star in a new talk show. Privately, he’s headlining her sexiest fantasies. But when their explosive chemistry leads to complications instead of contracts, will Lyric find the ultimate partner to help her crush her rivals…or exit stage left alone?

About LaQuette:An activist for DEIA in the romance industry, LaQuette writes bold stories featuring multicultural characters. Her writing style brings intellect to the drama. She crafts emotionally epic tales that are deeply pigmented by reality’s paintbrush. This Brooklyn native’s novels are a unique mix of savvy, sarcastic, brazen, & unapologetically sexy characters who are confident in their right to appear on the page. Find her at LaQuette.com & at LaQuette@LaQuette.com.

Excerpt

Excerpt, BACKSTAGE BENEFITS by LaQuette

“Are you okay?”

She seemed slightly dazed, and he couldn’t tell if it was because his hand was still lingering on her arm. He was a perfect stranger, and just because he was boys with her play cousin Jeremiah didn’t mean he had a right to touch her or barge his way all up in her mix.

He dragged his hand away. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to overstep.”

    Josiah let his hungry gaze slide down her body, then brought it back up to meet hers. “If this is a hot mess,

then I don’t think the world is ready for when you get glammed up. You’re breathtaking.”

She nodded, smiling playfully as her laughter filled the cozy space between them. “You are a charmer, aren’t you? I bet all the Hollywood starlets fall at your feet when you pay them those kinds of compliments.”

He lifted a brow and pursed his lips. “You’d be wrong. I don’t pay compliments easily. And trust me, there’s no one in Hollywood that looks like you, so no, I’m not usually this charming.”

He could see the brown of her cheeks burn into a deep mauve as she blushed. “Then thank you,” she responded. “And on that flattering note, I’m gonna call a car and head home.”

“Call a car?” His question stopped her mid-turn. “You didn’t come in your own?”

“No, my cousin Amara and I had business earlier, and I hitched a ride with her. But as the family lawyer, there’s no way she can leave now.”

“Then let me take you home.”

Her cute smile as she dipped her gaze and blushed again tore down all his defenses. As a producer, he was around beautiful women all the time. But none of them disarmed him the way Lyric did.

“Is ‘take me home’ just an offer of transportation or a euphemism for sleeping with me?”

Pump your brakes, man.

He wasn’t thinking with his head at the moment, so he simply said, “Whichever you want it to be.”

He braced himself for the slap he knew he deserved. But it never came. Instead, she stepped closer to him, filling his senses with the light fragrance of citrus and coconut she wore.

“Take me home, and I’ll use the duration of the trip to decide.”

Well, I’ll be damned.

~Cassie

January Weekly Kindle Haul #2

Happy Sunday! I believe I bought six books this week because I decided to take a look at the monthly mystery/thriller books that are on sale this month and I found quite a few good ones. Some of them have been on wishlist for awhile so I’m pretty pleased with my finds this week.

I’m a cult survivor and a single mother.
At thirty, I’m trying to piece my life together.
Now that I’m finally settled in a place of my own, with my two youngest children, I’m determined to make a life for myself. I’ve even started my own home business.
Things are looking up … until I find my friend murdered.
I know my ex-husband did this to get back at me. He’s been looking for me since I fled Garden Temple. 
He wants control — over me and our children.
For the last year I’ve been acting the part of a suburban mom, hiding from my past. But it’s catching up to me.
I have no choice.
I was the sweet sister wife long enough. Now it’s time to be the woman who fights back.

The Sister Wife’s Secret is the first book in a new suspense series.

FREE

Love isn’t always pretty. Sometimes you have to break the thing you love in order to put the pieces back together again.

“Life is all about choices. Do I want pizza or a hamburger for dinner? Should I wear a red skirt or blue slacks to work? Do I take a million dollar check and divorce the love of my life to keep my baby brother out of jail? In case you’re wondering, I took the check. Now my ex is back in my life. He’s still angry and…he’s my new boss.”

Pretty Broken Girl is the passionate retelling of a marriage gone wrong. 

From the boardroom to the bedroom, Dakota Atwell and Samuel Seaforth are locked in a battle of wits and desire. One of them will break. One of them will pay. Both of them want to win. Neither of them expects to fall in love…again. 

This is Book 1 of a five book series. It contains adult language, adult situations, and hot steamy sex with a HFN ending. Although it can be read as a standalone, it will be much more enjoyable when read with the other books in the series. 

FREE

Abigail’s out-of-the-blue inheritance of a mysterious cottage in the middle of nowhere is perfect timing, providing her refuge from the man she’s been trying to escape. But the grumpy, smoldering cowboy seems to come with the property, and his scowls are as dark as the storm clouds she’s hoping to escape.

Abigail intends to turn her cozy little windfall into a knitting shop and spend her days spinning, designing, and purling. But the gorgeous Cade, now owns everything surrounding Abigail’s ramshackle new home, and he views this sexy city girl as nothing but an unwanted interloper.

But chemistry working overtime is drawing two very different people closer than they ever thought possible, and when the past that Abigail thought she’d left behind comes calling, she’ll have to somehow learn to trust her handsome adversary with much more than just her heart.

FREE

Tim Stag has it all under control. He’s taken charge of his family ever since his mother’s death, raising his brothers while finishing college and law school early. Now he runs an empire, and nothing will stand in his way as he looks to expand Stag Law. 

Until Alice Peterson comes along. 

The new corporate chef is supposed to give his company an edge, but Alice Peterson is anything but corporate. Wild and spicy as her food, Alice sweeps into Stag Law and drives Tim to distraction. He’s not used to distraction. 

Sweet Distraction is a short, stand-alone, contemporary romance with an HEA and steamy love scenes. This is book one of a series, so stay tuned to read about the other Stag Brothers and the women they weren’t expecting to love.

FREE

Hailey Tate thought she was worth more than a straight flush. 

Apparently not. 

When camera-shy author Hailey Tate’s agent loses a bet and brokers a deal, it leaves Hailey in the last place she wants to be: backed into the corner of Publicity and Paparazzi. Now, thanks to her girl-next-door image and role as pretend girlfriend to a womanizing shortstop, she’s getting the attention she always managed to avoid. 

Connor Ryan is not only America’s Sexiest Athlete, he’s also the current Bad Boy of Baseball. But when he goes a base too far, management wants to bench him…permanently. One thing he never counted on? Falling for his sweet, fake girlfriend. He’s the guy who can catch anything and now she’s next on his list

FREE

The Montgomery Ink saga from NYT Bestselling Author Carrie Ann Ryan continues with a steamy new series.

Years ago, Annabelle Montgomery married not for love but for a promise of hope. When she lost him weeks later, she told herself she never needed those sentiments again. Only when she discovers years later that her new neighbor is her late husband’s brother, Annabelle finds she can’t quite shake the emotions she’s long since buried. 

Jacob Queen vowed he’d never set eyes on Annabelle again. When they’re forced into each other’s lives once more, they realize that no matter how far they run, no distance can keep them apart forever. More than ghosts lay between them, and when they finally give in to temptation, walking away whole may no longer be an option.

$2.99

Hwani’s family has never been the same since she and her younger sister went missing and were later found unconscious in the forest, near a gruesome crime scene. The only thing they remember: Their captor wore a painted-white mask.

To escape the haunting memories of this incident, the family flees their hometown. Years later, Detective Min—Hwani’s father—learns that thirteen girls have recently disappeared under similar circumstances, and so he returns to their hometown to investigate… only to vanish as well.

Determined to find her father and solve the case that tore their family apart, Hwani returns home to pick up the trail. As she digs into the secrets of the small village—and reconnects with her now estranged sister—Hwani comes to realize that the answer lies within her own buried memories of what happened in the forest all those years ago.

After her father vanishes while investigating the disappearance of 13 young women, a teen returns to her secretive hometown to pick up the trail in this second YA historical mystery from the author of The Silence of Bones.

.99cents

The true story of Melody, aged 8, the last of five siblings to be taken from her drug dependent single mother and brought into care.

When Cathy is told about Melody’s terrible childhood, she is sure she’s heard it all before. But it isn’t long before she feels there is more going on than she or the social services are aware of. Although Melody is angry at having to leave her mother, as many children coming into care are, she also worries about her obsessively – far more than is usual. Amanda, Melody’s mother, is also angry and takes it out on Cathy at contact, which again is something Cathy has experienced before. Yet there is a lost and vulnerable look about Amanda, and Cathy starts to see why Melody worries about her and feels she needs looking after.

When Amanda misses contact, it is assumed she has forgotten, but nothing could have been further from the truth…

.99cents

When a depressed, alcoholic single mother disappears, everything suggests suicide, but when her body is found, Icelandic Detective Elma and her team are thrust into a perplexing, chilling investigation.

PAPERBACK STAR PICK in THE TIMES CRIME CLUB

When single mother Maríanna disappears from her home, leaving an apologetic note on the kitchen table, everyone assumes that she’s taken her own life … until her body is found on the Grábrók lava fields seven months later, clearly the victim of murder. Her neglected fifteen-year-old daughter Hekla has been placed in foster care, but is her perfect new life hiding something sinister?

Fifteen years earlier, a desperate new mother lies in a maternity ward, unable to look at her own child, the start of an odd and broken relationship that leads to a shocking tragedy.

Police officer Elma and her colleagues take on the case, which becomes increasingly complex, as the number of suspects grows and new light is shed on Maríanna’s past – and the childhood of a girl who never was like the others…

$1.99

FROM THE BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF OUR HOUSE, WINNER OF THE CRIME & THRILLER BOOK OF THE YEAR AWARD

On the morning of Monday 23rd December, Jamie Buckby takes the commuter riverboat from his home in St Mary’s, southeast London, to work in Central London, noting that his good friend and neighbour Kit Roper has not turned up for the 7.30am service they usually catch together.

At the London Eye, where he disembarks for his job in a café behind the South Bank Centre, Jamie is met by the police. Kit has been reported missing by his wife.

As Jamie is taken in for questioning, he discovers someone saw him arguing with Kit on the boat home late on Friday night. The other passenger believes Jamie committed murder.

But what really happened? 

$2.99

Welcome to the Ho-Lee Noodle House, where the Chinese food is to die for. . .

The last place Lana Lee thought she would ever end up is back at her family’s restaurant. But after a brutal break-up and a dramatic workplace walk-out, she figures that a return to the Cleveland area to help wait tables is her best option for putting her life back together. Even if that means having to put up with her mother, who is dead-set on finding her a husband.

Lana’s love life soon becomes yesterday’s news once the restaurant’s property manager, Mr. Feng, turns up dead―after a delivery of shrimp dumplings from Ho-Lee. But how could this have happened when everyone on staff knew about Mr. Feng’s severe, life-threatening shellfish allergy? Now, with the whole restaurant under suspicion for murder and the local media in a feeding frenzy―to say nothing of the gorgeous police detective who keeps turning up for take-out―it’s up to Lana to find out who is behind Feng’s killer order. . . before her own number is up.

.99cents

Police officer Alexander Blix and celebrity blogger Emma Ramm join forces to track down a serial killer with a thirst for attention and high-profile murders, in the first episode of a gripping new Nordic Noir series…

Oslo, 2018. Former long-distance runner Sonja Nordstrøm never shows at the launch of her controversial autobiography, Always Number One. When celebrity blogger Emma Ramm visits Nordstrøm’s home later that day, she finds the door unlocked and signs of a struggle inside. A bib with the number ‘one’ has been pinned to the TV.

Police officer Alexander Blix is appointed to head up the missing-persons investigation, but he still bears the emotional scars of a hostage situation nineteen years earlier, when he killed the father of a five-year-old girl. Traces of Nordstrøm soon show up at different locations, but the appearance of the clues appear to be carefully calculated … evidence of a bigger picture that he’s just not seeing…

Blix and Ramm soon join forces, determined to find and stop a merciless killer with a flare for the dramatic, and thirst for attention.
Trouble is, he’s just got his first taste of it…

This was my pick for January’s prime first read

In Victorian England a witch and a detective are on the hunt for a serial killer in an enthralling novel of magic and murder.

After a nearly fatal blow to the skull, traumatized private detective Ian Cameron is found dazed and confused on a muddy riverbank in Victorian London. Among his effects: a bloodstained business card bearing the name of a master wizard and a curious pocket watch that doesn’t seem to tell time. To retrieve his lost memories, Ian demands answers from Edwina and Mary Blackwood, sister witches with a murky past. But as their secret is slowly unveiled, a dangerous mystery emerges on the darkened streets of London.

To help piece together Ian’s lost time, he and Edwina embark on a journey that will take them from the river foreshore to an East End music hall, and on to a safe house for witches in need of sanctuary from angry mortals. The clues they find suggest a link between a series of gruesome murders, a missing person’s case, and a dreadful suspicion that threatens to tear apart the bonds of sisterhood. As the investigation deepens, could Ian and Edwina be the next to die?

FREE

Tricked into taking a Caribbean cruise, former Navy SEAL Luke “Brooklyn” Chapman is expecting free-flowing booze, bikini-clad women, and an abundance of recreation.

Hardworking Sharla Kramer has her hands full keeping her sticky-fingered grandmother out of trouble. Looking forward to a nice rest while on vacation, the last thing she needs in her life is a high risk Navy SEAL.

Toss in a couple of swindlers, a retired cop, and a few fun-loving ladies in red hats, and a little high seas R&R quickly becomes a lot of high stakes shenanigans!

$1.99

Winner – 2012 Hollywood Book Festival for General Non-Fiction

Honorable Mention – 2012 New England Book Festival for General Non-Fiction

Honorable Mention – 2012 London Book Festival for General Non-Fiction

Who really murdered Mary Pinchot Meyer in the fall of 1964? Why was there a mad rush by CIA counterintelligence chief James Angleton to locate and confiscate her diary? What in that diary was so explosive? Had Mary Meyer finally put together the intricate pieces of a plan to assassinate her lover, President Kennedy, with the trail ultimately leading to the CIA? And was it mere coincidence that Mary was killed less than three weeks after the release of the Warren Commission report?

These are the questions that author Peter Janney finally answers in a way that no one else ever has. In doing so, he may well have solved Washington’s most famous unsolved murder. Based on years of painstaking research and interviews, much of it revealed here for the first time, the author traces the key events and influences in the life of Mary Pinchot Meyer, including her first meeting with Jack Kennedy at the Choate School in 1936; her explorations with psychedelic drugs; her relationship with Timothy Leary; and finally how she supported the president as he turned away from the Cold War toward the pursuit of world peace. As we approach the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination—and Mary Meyer’s—Mary’s Mosaic adds to our understanding of why both took place.

FREE

AeroMy life is chaos. I’ve been on a downward spiral since losing my sister a year ago, but a call from an old biker friend in Monument, Colorado might just provide a much-needed change of scenery, and reignite my passion for the road.Unfortunately, not every new start is a clean start. Especially, when a gorgeous blonde wraps herself around my heart and I realize she might just heal me in ways I could never have expected. But she wants something else. Something I’m not sure I’m willing to give.VioletI’m a reluctant MC princess, and quite frankly, I’m over the life entirely. I’ll happily ditch my crown if it means I can graduate and find a nice, boring man to take me away.The problem is, the heart wants what the heart wants, and when it steers me toward a new club prospect, I’m forced to make a choice. Stay within the safety of my father’s grimy, yet gilded tower, or walk away from the only man who can satiate my hunger.

$1.99

Ursula K. Le Guin’s groundbreaking work of science fiction—winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards.

A lone human ambassador is sent to Winter, an alien world without sexual prejudice, where the inhabitants can change their gender whenever they choose. His goal is to facilitate Winter’s inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the strange, intriguing culture he encounters…

Embracing the aspects of psychology, society, and human emotion on an alien world, The Left Hand of Darkness stands as a landmark achievement in the annals of intellectual science fiction.

$2.99

A black sun is rising … 

Young Corban watches enviously as boys become warriors under King Brenin’s rule, learning the art of war. He yearns to wield his sword and spear to protect his king’s realm. But that day will come all too soon. Only when he loses those he loves will he learn the true price of courage. 

The Banished Lands has a violent past where armies of men and giants clashed shields in battle, the earth running dark with their heartsblood. Although the giant-clans were broken in ages past, their ruined fortresses still scar the land. But now giants stir anew, the very stones weep blood and there are sightings of giant wyrms. Those who can still read the signs see a threat far greater than the ancient wars. Sorrow will darken the world, as angels and demons make it their battlefield. Then there will be a war to end all wars. 

High King Aquilus summons his fellow kings to council, seeking an alliance in this time of need. Some are skeptical, fighting their own border skirmishes against pirates and giants. But prophesy indicates darkness and light will demand two champions, the Black Sun and the Bright Star. They would be wise to seek out both, for if the Black Sun gains ascendancy, mankind’s hopes and dreams will fall to dust.

~Cassie

Books featuring a podcast

Since I just reviewed The Sorority Murder by Allison Brennan a few days ago I thought today it would fun to share a few of my favorite books featuring podcasts. I really love books that have a podcast element and how they help tell a story in an interesting and fun way. Also if you are sensitive to anything then make sure you check out trigger warnings for all of them because I’m pretty sure that all of them deal with one or more difficult topic.

My thoughts: This is probably one of the most well known in the podcast trope/genre but it is truly incredible. The best podcast books actually feel like a real podcast and give a similar experience as listening to one which Sadie does perfectly. This is the only book on this list that I listened to as an audiobook and I loved the experience so I definitely recommend reading it that way as well.

Synopsis:

A missing girl on a journey of revenge. A Serial―like podcast following the clues she’s left behind. And an ending you won’t be able to stop talking about.

Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him.

When West McCray―a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America―overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.

Courtney Summers has written the breakout book of her career. Sadie is propulsive and harrowing and will keep you riveted until the last page.

My thoughts: I have read three of the Six Stories series and these books are pretty much all podcast. They are called six stories because each podcast season (or book) is six episodes long and features a new witness/character to help solve the mystery. The third book is my favorite of the three that I have read. I would recommend that you read them in order because we do get to know the podcast host, Scott King, pretty well and things do happen related to him. However, if you are purely wanting to read a good podcast book then you may just want to read the synopsis of all the six currently published books and see which one is calling to you the most.

Synopsis (for the first one):

1997. Scarclaw Fell. The body of teenager Tom Jeffries is found at an Outward Bound center. Verdict? Misadventure. But not everyone is convinced. And the truth of what happened in the beautiful but eerie fell is locked in the memories of the tight-knit group of friends who embarked on that fateful trip, and the flimsy testimony of those living nearby. 

2017. Enter elusive investigative journalist Scott King, whose podcast examinations of complicated cases have rivaled the success of Serial, with his concealed identity making him a cult internet figure. In a series of six interviews, King attempts to work out how the dynamics of a group of idle teenagers conspired with the sinister legends surrounding the fell to result in Jeffries’ mysterious death. As every interview unveils a new revelation, you’ll be forced to work out for yourself how Tom Jeffries died, and who is telling the truth.

My thoughts: I love the way MacMillan used the podcast element to tell her story and I thought it was a unique take on what could have been the standard trope. While this book does feature a podcast it is also a detective novel and I enjoyed seeing those two things play off each other. This one does get a bit messy between the dual timelines and the variety of characters but it was still an entertaining read.

Synopsis:

From author Gilly Macmillan comes this original, chilling and twisty mystery about two shocking murder cases twenty years apart, and the threads that bind them.

Twenty years ago, eleven-year-olds Charlie Paige and Scott Ashby were murdered in the city of Bristol, their bodies dumped near a dog racing track. A man was convicted of the brutal crime, but decades later, questions still linger.

For his whole life, filmmaker Cody Swift has been haunted by the deaths of his childhood best friends. The loose ends of the police investigation consume him so much that he decides to return to Bristol in search of answers. Hoping to uncover new evidence, and to encourage those who may be keeping long-buried secrets to speak up, Cody starts a podcast to record his findings. But there are many people who don’t want the case—along with old wounds—reopened so many years after the tragedy, especially Charlie’s mother, Jess, who decides to take matters into her own hands.

When a long-dead body is found in the same location the boys were left decades before, the disturbing discovery launches another murder investigation. Now Detective John Fletcher, the investigator on the original case, must reopen his dusty files and decide if the two murders are linked. With his career at risk, the clock is ticking and lives are in jeopardy…

~Cassie

Blog Tour: Tall, Dark, and Off Limits by Shannon McKenna

Thank you to Harlequin for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. They also provided all info and graphics.

TALL, DARK AND OFF LIMITS by Shannon McKenna (on-sale Dec.28, Harlequin Desire): His job is to protect his best friend’s sister…not seduce her! Don’t miss the conclusion of the Men of Maddox Hill series by New York Times bestselling author Shannon McKenna. When it comes to his best friend’s sister, he’s tempted to be much more than her protector. Assigned to keep an eye on social media darling Ava Maddox, security expert Zack Austin is more than up to the task. After all, she’s like family. But dealing with the dynamic beauty requires every ounce of patience…and sexual control. They’ve been denying their forbidden feelings for way too long and soon professionalism gives way to passion. Zack’s willing to face her overprotective family’s wrath, but is Ava’s talent for finding trouble about to explode in his face?

Review

I really enjoyed this romance with a hero and heroine that had immediate and instant chemistry that came across as natural and authentic. However, the premise of this book threw me since there was a lot of talk about the troll that made it necessary for Ava to have constant protection but it never seemed that serious to me. It was just an excuse to get Ava and Zack together and then seemed to be put on the back burner until McKenna needed it again for the dramatic ending. The business trip that Zack accompanied Ava on was wonderful and I enjoyed seeing them being together in close quarters. I did find the bedroom talk between them entertaining but clunky. Another aspect of the story that I enjoyed was how upfront with their feelings both Ava and Zack were. McKenna could have gone the route of overusing the miscommunication trope but I think she handled it well. I always love in a romance when characters talk about and share their feelings so that was a big plus in this story. With that said, I was not a fan of the ending and how quickly things were wrapped up between them. Other than the premise not really working for me, I did think this book was entertaining and definitely delivered the steamy romance it promised.

About Shannon McKenna: Shannon McKenna is the NYT bestselling author of seventeen action packed, turbocharged romantic thrillers, among which are the stories of the wildly popular McCloud series and the brand new romantic suspense series, The Obsidian Files. She loves tough and heroic alpha males, heroines with the brains and guts to match them, villains who challenge them to their utmost, adventure, scorching sensuality, and most of all, the redemptive power of true love. Since she was small she has loved abandoning herself to the magic of a good book, and her fond childhood fantasy was that writing would be just like that, but with the added benefit of being able to take credit for the story at the end. Alas, the alchemy of writing turned out to be messier than she’d ever dreamed. But what the hell, she loves it anyway, and hopes that readers enjoy the results of her alchemical experiments. 

Excerpt

Excerpt, TALL, DARK AND OFF LIMITS by Shannon McKenna

“No wine,” Zack told the waiter brusquely, realizing too late how stuffy and uptight that sounded. “For me, of course,” he said to Ava. “Feel free to have some. I never drink when I’m working.”

“Good for you.” She smiled up at the waiter, whose name was Martin, according to the tag on his shirt. “I’ll have a glass of red wine, please.”

“I have a beautiful 2016 Romanée-Conti that’s open,” Martin told her.

“Sounds lovely.” She gave the waiter that trademarked blinding smile that brought men to their knees. Martin stumbled off, probably to walk into walls and tables.

And Zack just sat there, tongue-tied. When Ava Maddox was around, his foot always ended up stuck so far into his mouth, he needed surgical intervention to get it out. She was giving him that look. Big, sharp blue eyes that missed nothing. So on to him.

The restaurant had low light and a hushed ambience, and they were in the back, tucked in a wood-paneled corner booth. Now the challenge was to kick-start his brain into operation, instead of just staring at how beautiful she was in the flickering candlelight.

She just waited, patiently. Like she was all too used to men losing their train of thought as soon as they made eye contact with her. Like she was accustomed to cutting the poor stammering chumps some slack while they pulled themselves together.

Her cell rang, and she gave him an apologetic glance when she saw the display. “Gotta take this. One sec.” She tapped the screen and held it to her ear. “Ernest? Thanks for getting back to me. Are you still in the office?… Yeah? Could you get a cab to swing by the Mathesson Pub and Grill on your way home?… Yeah, I need my laptop, the pink one with the collage cover. I’m talking to the Maddox Hill CSO about the online harassment…yeah, I know, but still…uh-huh. Okay, thanks. You’re my hero. Later, then.”

She laid the phone down. “Ernest is my assistant. He’ll bring my computer here so I can show you the master list of the last few of years’ worth of Blazon’s projects.”

“I’m surprised you don’t have your laptop with you at all times,” he said.

“I usually do,” she said. “But I had every intention of going back to Gilchrist House tonight. I have a crazy weekend coming up. Ernest and I are flying down to the Future Innovation trade show in Los Angeles tomorrow. It’s a very big deal.”

Zack couldn’t hide his disapproval. “Traveling to Los Angeles? Going back to a deserted office late in the evening? Leaving by yourself, going home by yourself? With all this going on?”

Ava sighed. “Zack, Gilchrist House has a twenty-four-hour doorman. And I would call a car to take me from doorstep to doorstep. I’m not an idiot.”

“I never suggested that you were.”

“I’m not in physical danger,” Ava assured him. “Really. This is just, you know, the new normal. The incivility of our modern electronic age. It’s ugly and unsavory, but I’ve got to get used to it and learn to roll with it.”

“The hell you do,” he said. “New normal, my ass. I’ll tell you what’s normal. When I find that bottom-feeding son of a bitch and grind him into paste.”

Ava gave him that narrow, nervous look, which by now he recognized. It was a signal that he wasn’t behaving professionally. He was too intense. Making it personal.

In a word, scaring her.

“Ah, wow, Zack,” she murmured. “I’m surprised at your reaction.”

“Why? This situation is a disgrace. Why should you be surprised that I’m horrified?”

Her eyes slid away. “Well, I don’t know. It’s just that you’ve never taken me seriously before, so why would you suddenly take me seriously now?”

“I’m sorry I gave you that impression,” he said stiffly. “It wasn’t intentional.”

“Oh, don’t be that way.” Her tone was light. “I’m  used to it. I rub a lot of people the wrong way. I’m just too much for people sometimes. Drew’s always on my case about it, telling me to tone it down. And I try, I really do. But it never works. Boom, out it comes. The real Ava, right in your face.”

“He shouldn’t do that,” Zack said forcefully.

“Shouldn’t what? Sorry, but I’m not following you.”

“Drew. He shouldn’t be on your case. He shouldn’t tell you to tone it down.”

Her eyes were big. “Ah… I didn’t mean to get you all wound up.”

Amazon:https://www.amazon.com/Tall-Dark-Limits-Maddox-Hill-ebook/dp/B0974TCK7N/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=TALL%2C+DARK+AND+OFF+LIMITS+by+Shannon+McKenna&qid=1637071256&qsid=133-7575147-1798556&sr=8-1&sres=B0974TCK7N&srpt=ABIS_EBOOKS 

Barnes & Noble:https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/tall-dark-and-off-limits-shannon-mckenna/1139674789?ean=9781335735393

Harlequin.com: https://www.harlequin.com/shop/books/9781335735393_tall-dark-and-off-limits.html 

~Cassie

WWW Wednesday 1.12.22

This weekly meme is hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words.

What are you currently reading?

I’ve read the first part of Appointment with Death and so far it is more of a psychological study of a woman who has completely tyrannized her children. This is my least favorite Christie that I have read and I don’t particularly like any of the characters. I’m still hoping that the book will get better once Poirot gets involved in solving the crime.

I haven’t picked up House of Earth and Blood since I last read it but I am looking forward to reading some more tonight or tomorrow after I finish up the review book that I’m reading.

Last night I finished section three of A Brief History of Seven Killings and the more I read the more I’m blown away by Marlon James. His writing and his attention to detail is astounding. I also really love when authors play around with the way they tell a story which James has done masterfully.

I’m reading Tall, Dark, and Off Limits for a blog tour post tomorrow. I always enjoy the Harlequin category romances and the Desire ones are some of my favorites. The dynamic between the hero and heroine, Zack and Ava, is deliciously good and I can’t wait to see how Shannon McKenna wraps it all up. This book fills the She Mantis (book featuring a siren) prompt for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer edition of the PopCulture Readathon.

What have you recently finished reading?

The Sorority Murder by Allison Brennan

My Darling Husband by Kimberly Belle

What do you think you will read next?

This is a book that I added on to my TBR to join an informal book club and it has been on my mind the last few days so I think I will try to pick this up this weekend.

Synopsis:

How far would you go for happily ever after?

For as long as she can remember, Evangeline Fox has believed in true love and happy endings…until she learns that the love of her life will marry another.

Desperate to stop the wedding and to heal her wounded heart, Evangeline strikes a deal with the charismatic but wicked Prince of Hearts. In exchange for his help, he asks for three kisses, to be given at the time and place of his choosing. 

But after Evangeline’s first promised kiss, she learns that bargaining with an immortal is a dangerous game—and that the Prince of Hearts wants far more from her than she’d pledged. He has plans for Evangeline, plans that will either end in the greatest happily ever after or the most exquisite tragedy….

~Cassie

Blog Tour: The Sorority Murder by Allison Brennan

Thank you to Harlequin Trade Publishing for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. They also provided all info and graphics.

The Sorority Murder : A Novel 

Allison Brennan

On Sale Date: December 28, 2021

9780778311683

Mass Market

$9.99 USD, $12.99 CAD

448 pages

ABOUT THE BOOK:

New York Times bestselling author Allison Brennan’s suspenseful new mass market original about a college senior’s podcast that delves into an unsolved campus murder of a sorority girl three years earlier, as individual callers explode every fact previously thought to be true.

Lucas Vega is obsessed with the death of Candace Swain, who left a sorority party one night and never came back. Her body was found two weeks later, and the case has grown cold. Three years later while interning at the Medical Examiner’s, Lucas discovers new information, but the police are not interested.

Lucas knows he has several credible pieces of the puzzle, he just isn’t sure how they fit together. So he creates a podcast to revisit Candace’s last hours. He asks listeners to crowdsource what they remember and invites guest lecturer, former US Marshal Regan Merritt, to come on and share her expertise.

New tips come in that convince Lucas and Regan they are onto something. Then shockingly one of the podcast callers turns up dead. Another hints at Candace’s secret life…a much darker picture than Lucas imagined—and one that implicates other sorority sisters. Regan uses her own resources to bolster their theory and learns that Lucas is hiding his own dark secret. The pressure is to solve the murder, but first Lucas must come clean about his real motives in pursuing this podcast – before the killer silences him forever.

Review

This is an interesting mystery that I largely enjoyed but did find that it got bogged down in minutiae that didn’t matter. The cold case of who killed Candace and what she was doing the week before she was killed was engaging and compelling. I really enjoyed seeing all the pieces slowly unravel and the brief flashbacks that we got of Candace during the lead up to her murder were some of my favorite moments. The big selling point for me was the podcast element of this story and I think that was also a high point of the story. The podcast helped the pacing of the story stay consistent since our protagonists, Regan and Lucas, are working off of what they just learned from people calling in during the episode . It helped to break up the many aspects to Candace’s murder and each reveal that happened was compelling and satisfying.

However, the weakest parts of this story were the characters. There was just way too much detail about their lives that I found irrelevant. This is a pretty substantial book at almost 450 pages and I don’t think all of it was necessary to tell the story. I went into this book thinking it was a standalone and while reading it I became convinced that it is the first book in the series. I have tried to look it up to see if it is but I can’t find anything which is confusing. There is so much backstory give to our heroine, Regan, that it seems pointless to keep bringing aspects of it up if it’s not going to lead to anything. It got to the point where when the characters weren’t focusing on solving the case that I found myself wanting to skip through. Which is a personal thing and is probably due to me connecting more with Candace then either Lucas or Regan.

I don’t know how many casual readers of the mystery genre would appreciate this book since it doesn’t completely focus on the mystery. If you are like me and love the slow unraveling of an engaging mystery than I do recommend this. I also think it takes a talented writer for me to mourn a character that I know going into the story is not alive. But in the small pieces of Candace that we got to see she was hands down my favorite character and for that reason I think this book will stick with me for a long while.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

ALLISON BRENNAN is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of over thirty novels. She has been nominated for Best Paperback Original Thriller by International Thriller Writers and the Daphne du Maurier Award. A former consultant in the California State Legislature, Allison lives in Arizona with her husband, five kids and assorted pets. The Sorority Murder is the first of a new mass market series,

Social Links:

Author website: https://www.allisonbrennan.com/

Facebook: @AllisonBrennan

Twitter: @Allison_Brennan

Instagram: @abwrites

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/52527.Allison_Brennan

Excerpt

One

Three Years Ago

Friday, April 10

 Candace Swain forced a smile as she walked out of her dorm room.

Smiling was the last thing she wanted to do, but Candace had an image to uphold.

She was going to be late for the Sigma Rho Spring Fling—the last big party before the end-of-year crunch. Studying for finals, capstones and senior projects, stress and more stress, and—for some of them—graduation.

The mild April weather was perfect for an outdoor gathering. Candace had led the sorority’s social-events committee with setup, and they’d included heat lamps along the perimeter. The Mountain View dorm—which housed all campus sororities, each with their own wing—was on the northeast corner of campus, adjacent to the football field. The Spring Fling was held on the large lawn that framed the north entrance, where they had the most room. It was open to all students for a five-dollar admission, and was one of the biggest moneymakers for the sorority, more than charities. Candace had fought for—and won—giving the profits to a rescue mission that helped people get back on their feet. She volunteered weekly for Sunrise Center, and it had changed how she viewed herself and her future. She now planned to be a nurse in the inner city, working for a clinic or public hospital, where people deserved quality health care, even if they were struggling. She even considered specializing in drug and alcohol issues, which were unfortunately prevalent among the homeless community.

She used to think of her volunteerism as penance for her failings. She wasn’t religious but had had enough preaching from her devout grandmother to have absorbed things like guilt, penance, sacrifice. Now, she looked forward to Tuesdays when she gave six hours of her time to those who were far worse off than she. It reminded her to be grateful for what she had, that things could be worse.

Candace exited through the north doors and stood at the top of the short flight of stairs that led to the main lawn. Though still early in the evening, the party was already hopping. Music played from all corners of the yard, the din of voices and laughter mingling with a popular song. In the dusk, the towering mountains to the north were etched in fading light. She breathed deeply. She loved everything about Flagstaff. The green mountains filled with pine and juniper. The crisp, fresh air. The sense of community and belonging felt so natural here, something she’d never had growing up in Colorado Springs. With graduation on the horizon, she had been feeling a sense of loss, knowing she was going to miss this special place.

She wasn’t close to her parents, who divorced right before she started high school and still fought as much as they did when they were married. She desperately missed her younger sister, Chrissy, a freshman at the University of South Carolina. She’d wanted Chrissy to come here for college, but Chrissy was a champion swimmer and had received a full scholarship to study practically a world away. Candace had no plans to return to Colorado Springs, but she didn’t know if she wanted to follow her sister to the East Coast or head down to Phoenix where they had some of the best job opportunities for what she wanted to do.

Vicky Ryan, a first year student who had aspirations of leadership, ran up to her.

“That weirdo is back,” Vicky said quietly. “Near the west steps. Just loitering there, freaking people out. Should I call campus police?”

Candace frowned. The man Vicky was referring to was Joseph, and he wasn’t really a weirdo. He was an alcoholic, and mostly homeless, who sometimes wandered onto campus and wouldn’t accept the help he had been repeatedly offered. He wasn’t violent, just confused, and sometimes got lost in his own head, largely from how alcohol had messed with his mind and body. But his problems understandably made her sorority sisters uncomfortable. He’d twice been caught urinating against the wall outside their dorm; both times, he’d been cited by campus police. He wasn’t supposed to be on campus at all anymore, and Candace knew they’d arrest him if he was caught.

“I’ll take care of it,” Candace said and made her way around the edge of the party.

She found Joseph on the narrow grassy knoll that separated the football field from the dorms. A small group of students approached her, but one in their group turned toward the grass, likely to confront Joseph.

Candace walked faster, caught up with the student, and smiled brightly. “I got this.”

“It’s okay,” he said. “I’ll handle him.”

“I said I will take care of this. I know him. But thank you anyway.”

Mr. Macho didn’t want to walk away, yet Candace stood firm. She didn’t want anyone to harass Joseph, and she knew he would listen to her. While he wasn’t violent, he could be belligerent, and being confronted by a jerk wanting to impress his girlfriend was a surefire way to trigger Joseph and have him dig in his heels. It would only lead to an arrest, and that wasn’t going to help him in the long run.

The group walked off, grumbling; Candace ignored them. She approached Joseph cautiously, so as not to startle him. “Joseph, it’s Candace,” she said. “Remember me? From Sunrise Center?”

He turned slowly at the sound of her voice. A tall man, nearly six foot four, he could intimidate people. But he was also skinny and hunched over from years of walking the streets and looking down, rummaging through garbage, with his hangdog face, ragged salt-and-pepper beard, and watery blue eyes. He was the kind of guy her grandmother would have called a bum—dressed in multiple layers of dirty, mismatched clothes, and smelling of dirt and stale beer. He looked about sixty, but she knew that he was only in his early forties. She’d heard he’d been living along Route 66 for the better part of ten years. The people who ran Sunrise Center didn’t know much about his personal life, only that when he was sober (which was rare), he would talk about home being east, at the “end of the line.” But no one knew if that meant Chicago or any of the stops in between.

Candace wanted to know more about his story, how he came to be in these circumstances, why he wouldn’t—or couldn’t—accept help. Many of the homeless who came to Sunrise for shelter or food would talk to her freely. But not Joseph. When she’d pried once, he disappeared for a while, so she stopped asking. She would rather him be safe than riding the rails, which was dangerous.

“Candace,” he said slowly after several moments.

“You can’t be here, Joseph. The campus police told you that. Don’t you remember?”

He didn’t say anything or acknowledge that he understood what she said.

“Would you like me to take you over to Sunrise Center? You can get a hot meal there, maybe a cot for the night.”

Again, silence. He turned away from her but didn’t leave.

She really didn’t want to call campus police, but if she didn’t do something, someone else would.

“Is there a reason you are here?” she asked.

“Leave me alone,” he said.

“I will, but you have to leave. Otherwise someone is going to call the police.” If they haven’t already.

He abruptly turned toward her, staggered on the slope of the lawn. His sudden movement startled her; she stepped back.

“No cops!” he shouted.

“You have to leave, Joseph,” she said, emphatic. Her heart pounded in her chest, not so much from fear but uncertainty. “Please go.”

Again, he turned abruptly, this time staggering down the short slope toward the stadium fence. She held her breath, watching him. He almost ran into the fence, put his arms out to stop himself, then just stood there. A minute later, he shuffled along the field perimeter, shoulders hunched, without looking back.

She breathed easier, relieved that he was heading off campus. She would talk to the director of Sunrise on Tuesday, when she went in to volunteer. Joseph couldn’t keep coming here, but she didn’t really want to call the authorities on him. He needed help, not more trouble, and definitely not incarceration.

Candace was about to return to the party when she heard someone call her name. She turned and saw one of her former tutoring students, Lucas Vega, running toward her. She didn’t want to talk to Lucas tonight. How many times did she have to tell him to leave her alone?

She stopped anyway and waited.

“Candace,” he said, catching his breath. “Thanks.”

“What do you want?” she snapped, crossing her arms over her chest.

“I’m sorry.”

“Sorry,” she said bluntly.

“I didn’t mean to upset you the other day. I am sorry about that.”

She blinked. He sounded so sincere. And truth be told, something he’d said to her a few days earlier made her think long and hard about herself, her life, and the time she’d spent as a student at Northern Arizona University.

A lie for a good reason is still a lie.

Lucas and his wide-eyed, good-natured innocence, his innocuous questions had her feeling guilty for no reason. He had picked up on that. And pushed.

No reason? Ha. Plenty of reasons. All these doubts and worries she’d been having this semester, the sleepless nights, all came from something she’d done as a freshman that she now had good reason to regret. But what could she do about it? What would come of the truth now?

Maybe there was no good reason to lie.

“All right,” she said. “Thank you.” It was easier to forgive Lucas than to hold on to this anger. None of what happened was Lucas’s fault.

“So will you tutor me again, for finals?”

“No. Afraid not.” She could forgive him for prying, but she really needed first to forgive herself. And she didn’t know if she could do that with Lucas around, reminding her of her failures and mistakes. He didn’t even know what she’d done, but seeing him now was like reliving the past, and her chest tightened. “I’m sorry, but I have too much studying of my own, too many tests. And I’m not working at the writing lab anymore.”

Because of you.

Was that even fair? Was it because of Lucas…or because of her own guilt?

He was disappointed, but that wasn’t her problem.

“Okay, I understand,” he said.

“Besides, you’re smart. You’ll be fine.”

He shrugged. “Thanks.”

“Uh, you want to come to the party?” She gestured over her shoulder. They could hear the music from where they stood. “I’ll get you a pass. Won’t even cost you the five bucks.”

He shook his head. “I’m fine. I’m not really one for parties. But thanks anyway.”

He turned to leave.

“Lucas,” she said. He looked at her over his shoulder. “I’m really sorry.”

Then she left him there, waiting for something she couldn’t give him.

It took Candace several minutes before she could work up the courage to return to the party. An idea she’d been thinking about for the last few months was now fully developed, as if something inside clicked after her brief conversation with Lucas. Everything shifted into place, and she knew what she needed to do; it was the only thing she could do.

No one was going to like her decision.

When she realized she no longer cared what anyone thought, a burden lifted from her heart. She was certain then that she was doing the right thing.

Everyone at the party was asking for Candace, and Vicky had become worried when her friend and mentor hadn’t returned after thirty minutes. She sought out Taylor James, the Sigma Rho president, and told her about the homeless guy. “I don’t know where Candace is,” she said. “I should have just called campus police.”

“Candace says he’s harmless,” Taylor said, frowning. “Sometimes she’s so naive. I’ll go look for her.”

“Thanks. The party is great by the way. Everyone seems to be having fun. How does it compare to previous years?” This was the first party Vicky had helped put together for the sorority, so she was eager to know how well she’d done.

“As good or better,” Taylor said with a wide smile.

Vicky tried not to gloat as she practically floated over to her friends chatting near one of the heat lamps. It wasn’t cold, but the warmth of the heat lamp and the glow from the string lights added terrific ambience to the place.

“Oh my God, Vicky, this is a blast,” her roommate, Nicole Bergamo, said. Nicole was a half-Black, half-Italian math major who could have easily been a model she was so tall and stunning. “Everyone is talking about how great it is.”

Vicky smiled, talked for a bit, then moved around, being social, doing all the things that she’d seen Sigma Rho board members do. Hundreds of people were dancing, talking, mingling, eating, drinking, playing games. Mostly, they were having fun, which was the whole purpose. When the new Sigma Rho advisor, Rachel Wagner, told her it was the best Sigma Rho party she’d been to ever, Vicky thought she’d never come down from cloud nine.

“I agree,” said the gorgeous woman who was with Rachel. “I’m Kimberly Foster, by the way,” she introduced herself. “I’m a sorority alum, and I’m so happy I came up this weekend. You’ve done a fantastic job. Rachel said you’re part of the social-events committee. Isn’t Candace leading the committee? I haven’t seen her yet.”

“Yes, she’s around,” Vicky said. “This is all her vision. We just implemented it.”

“I love Candace. Oh! I see her over there.”

Vicky looked to where Kimberly was gesturing. Candace was talking in a small group.

“I’m going to catch up with her,” Kimberly said. “Nice to meet you, Vicky.”

The two women walked away, and Vicky continued her rounds. She was having a blast as her worries that the party might flop were replaced with pride and satisfaction over its success.

Hours later it was midnight, and per city ordinance—because their dorm bordered a public street—they had to cut off the music. That put a damper on things, but it was fine with Vicky—she was exhausted after working all day prepping and all night making sure everything was running smoothly. She was a little miffed that Candace was hardly there: Vicky had only caught a glimpse of her twice. But whatever, she’d seemed preoccupied, and that would have been a party downer.

Vicky ran into the dorm to get extra trash bags—they had to clean up tonight so wild animals wouldn’t get into the garbage and create a bigger mess in the morning. She came back out and heard voices arguing near where the DJ had been set up. He’d already packed up and left. She couldn’t hear exactly what was being said. It seemed like a quiet, intense exchange between Taylor and Candace though Rachel and her guest Kimberly were there, too. Everyone, especially Taylor, seemed angry.

About sixty people were still milling around, mostly Sigma Rho sisters helping with the cleanup. Nicole came up to Vicky and said, “What are Candace and Taylor fighting about?”

“I don’t know. It’s probably nothing.”

“It’s not nothing,” Nicole said. “I heard Taylor call Candace a selfish bitch.”

“Ouch. Well, Rachel is there. She’ll mediate.”

But Rachel looked angry as well; it seemed that Candace was on one side, and the other three women were yelling at her.

“You’re wrong!” Candace screamed, and Vicky jumped. She glanced at Nicole, who looked perplexed as well. Vicky handed her a garbage bag, and they both started picking up trash. She didn’t want anyone to think she was eavesdropping.

But she was. As she inched closer to the group, she heard Kimberly say, “Let’s talk about this tomorrow, okay? When everyone has had a good night’s sleep and we can all think more clearly.”

“I am thinking clearly,” Candace said. “I’m done. Just…done.”

She left, walked right past Vicky without even seeing her. There were tears in Candace’s eyes, and Vicky didn’t know if she was angry or upset, but probably both. Vicky thought about going after her to make sure she was okay, then felt a hand on her shoulder.

She jumped, then laughed nervously when she saw Rachel. Taylor and Kim had walked away in the other direction.

“Sorry. You startled me.”

“I’m sorry you had to witness that,” Rachel said.

“I didn’t, really. Just saw that Taylor and Candace were arguing about something. I didn’t want to intrude.”

“It’s going to be fine. Just a little disagreement that Candace took personally.”

“About the party?” Vicky asked, her insecurities rising that she’d messed up something.

“Oh, no, the party was perfect. Don’t worry about that.”

Relieved, she said, “Maybe I should go talk to Candace.”

“No, let her be. I’ve known her since she was a freshman and took my Intro to Bio class. She has a big heart, and sometimes you can’t help everyone.”

Now Vicky understood, or thought she did. Taylor had been the most vocal about the creepy homeless guy hanging around the dorms, and she’d been the one who’d called campus police last time, after Candace said not to.

“Let me help,” Rachel said and took a garbage bag from Vicky’s stash.

Rachel chatted with Vicky, who felt lucky to be able to spend so much one-on-one time with her sorority advisor. Rachel was so smart, an associate professor at just thirty-two, an alum of the University of Arizona Sigma Rho chapter. Plus she had such interesting stories to share. By the time they were done with the cleanup—it didn’t take long with so many people working together—Vicky had forgotten all about the argument between Candace and Taylor.

It was the last time anyone saw Candace alive.

Excerpted from The Sorority Murder by Allison Brennan, Copyright © 2021 by Allison Brennan. Published by MIRA Books.

Buy Links:

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~Cassie

The Dark by Emma Haughton

Thank you to the Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest review.

Publication Date: August 19, 2021

Publisher: Hodder and Staughton

Pages: 384

Genre: Mystery; locked room

Rating: 4/5

The Dark is an atmospheric, slow burn, closed circle murder mystery. Closed circle is basically a locked room mystery but the environment is larger. In this case, our protagonist, Kate North, has just joined a United Nations research station based in Antarctica where in the winter they are completely cut off from not only the larger world but also the other research stations that are spread around Antarctica. Kate is a late addition to the crew of people who are already living and working there after the doctor that was stationed there had an accident (or was it?) and they are in desperate need of a doctor before winter hits. This isolated and secluded setting is perfect for Kate since she is needing a major life change after a recent traumatic event in her life.

The first half of this book is just getting the reader well aquatinted with all the people who are living at the research station and also the realities of living in Antarctica. Haughton does an incredible job of fully immersing us in her world and I fully felt the cold and could see myself tagging along with these characters. We also got an intimate look into what Kate’s job entails and how she is dealing with the event of her past. She also starts to have some suspicions about the death of the previous doctor and this slowly starts to build to the dramatic events of the second half. The first half also offers us a detailed look at how the relationship dynamics work within the small group that are living at the station. All of this world building helps Haughton deliver a fast paced latter half since we are firmly entrenched in the world.

The last half of this book is where the majority of the intrigue resides because there are a few questionable things that happen but out of the blue there is a murder and things quickly snowball from there. The pace of the second half more than makes up for the careful plodding along that the makes up the first half. Despite my constant mentioning of the slower pace of the beginning I still read this book quite quickly but the end of the book was almost impossible to put down. I found the majority of the characters to be well fleshed out and I think Haughton’s choice of letting us get to know the characters so well before the murder happens only helped the story. Not only are we questioning everyone but we are also mourning the deceased.

My only critique of this story is that because of the terrible event Kate has been through she has become addicted to painkillers and there is a significant amount of the story spent on it. I do understand the value it brought to the story and how it played out but I do wish some of her inner monologue about it had been cut down because it is the only thing that really lagged for me.

I throughly enjoyed this murder mystery featuring my favorite trope. The evocative setting was superbly done and added so much to the classic mystery trope. I spent a lot of time mentioning the slowness of the first half because I think it is important going into this story that you know that the events mentioned in the synopsis of the book don’t happen right away. However, I really enjoyed the journey it took to get there and I have to again credit that to the setting and my attachment to our protagonist, Kate. This is a closed circle mystery that is worth the wait and I hope that I have intrigued you enough to give this book a shot.

~Cassie