Friday, June 30, 2023

Dangerous Choices by Susan Hunter Book Review

About the Book:

Three children entered the woods; just two returned. And they are the only ones who know what happened to their friend. The secret they carry echoes down the years until it becomes too much for one of them to bear. But the attempt to set things right goes horribly wrong.

Exactly how wrong is what Leah Nash, a journalist with trust issues and a compulsion to find the truth, aims to discover. Leah is rocked by the seemingly senseless present-day murder of someone very close to her. Driven by her principles and fueled by personal grief, she follows a strange trail of clues that lead her to a dark past.

A past where the answer—and the killer—await.

My Review:

This is another good mystery and suspense from Hunter. I really like Leah as a heroine. I have read several of Hunter's novels featuring her and have seen her grow into her super investigative role. She finds information by talking to people, a somewhat informal technique. She and Detective Charlie Ross have often butted heads because of her activities, frequently getting facts the police miss. It was interesting to see Charlie's character mature in this novel to being almost gentle.

I liked that Hunter included a bit of irony with respect to characters. Leah, after successfully writing true crime books is trying her hand at fiction. The agent's critique centers on Leah's character not being emotionally engaging. The irony comes from Hunter's ability to make Leah as a character very emotionally engaging.

I like learning when I read fiction. Leah is part owner of a small town newspaper. Small town newspapers are difficult to keep profitable and it was interesting to read about an unusual way of keeping this one alive.

Hunter's writing style is a pleasure to read. I like her descriptions. She describes one person as with a cramped little soul, for example. The plot is good, relating current events to one forty years ago. And there is a suspenseful twist at the end. This is a good addition to the mystery novels featuring amateur sleuth Leah Nash. I'll be looking for the next one.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

About the Author:

Susan Hunter is a happy introvert who lives with her husband Gary, an extreme extrovert, in rural Michigan.

She spent some years as a reporter and then as the managing editor of a small daily newspaper. From there Susan went on to work at a university in publications and marketing where she honed her skills at appearing engaged in academic meetings, while internally composing her grocery list. She also taught a few classes as well—in English composition, that is, not in faking your way through meetings.

In addition to writing the Leah Nash series, Susan enjoys reading other people’s writing, watching classic films, occasional walks and snarky conversation with old friends and family, eating chocolate chip cookies, and answering emails from her readers.

Severn River Publishing, 333 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book through the author. My comments are an independent and honest review.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Far Out by Khaled Talib Blog Tour Book Review

Far Out

by Khaled Talib

June 5 - 30, 2023 Virtual Book Tour



Hollywood movie star Goldie Saint Helen comes out of a coma after a car accident with an altered identity. She now believes she is a hippie detective living in the Sixties, hired to find a missing teenage girl who is about to end up a guinea pig in a CIA drug experiment.

Goldie also thinks screenwriter Blake Deco, her husband, is an intern at her detective agency. For the time being, Blake plays along as advised by the hospital until she recovers her memory.

However, sinister plotters think it is better that Goldie does not wake up from her fantasy-and they have their reasons.

The couple finds themselves embroiled in a dangerous situation. Blake must use his past military skills as he races against the clock to save his wife before she loses her mind forever.

Praise for Far Out:

"Here is Hollywood in all its glam, seductive sleaze as a cast of greed-enabled sharks angle to glom on to a famous movie star’s megamillions. Lots of action plus insider gossip in a witty, entertaining thriller with a groovy 1960's vibe."
~ Ruth Harris, NYTimes & Amazon bestselling author

Far Out Trailer:

My Review:

The title of this novel is appropriate. It is the craziest novel I have read in some time. There is lots of action, most of it bizarre and unbelievable. It is so zany it was fun to read. The plot is a bit convoluted. At first I thought this would be a sort of Walter Mitty plot with Goldie being all super agent. But then there was a kidnapping and the action went in a totally different direction. The story kept twisting and turning with one odd event after another, culminating in an unusual and surprising ending.

In the end, I enjoyed this crazy novel with a twisty plot and unbelievable action. Perhaps it was the bigger than life characters that made it fun to read. Perhaps it was the clever dialogue here and there or the committed friendships. Maybe it was the humor. This novel has it all wrapped up in a complex plot with unbelievable, over the top action.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller
Published by: Running Wild Press
Publication Date: January 2024
Number of Pages: 325
ISBN: 978-1955062923

Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Read an excerpt:

Chapter One

As she lay on the verge along the Pacific Coast Highway under a starless April sky, a faint bleat caught Goldie’s lips. Her heart pounded irregularly as her breath whizzed in and out of her mouth. Blurry faces swam in her vision, and obfuscated voices floated through and lingered in her distorted senses. She heard maybe six; maybe more, maybe less. Her fading bleariness made it hard to tell.

Out of the corner of her eye, Goldie noticed the coils of steam spewing from the hood of an overturned Lexus underneath the mountain incline on the other side of the road. The red car had smashed into a barrier.

How did it happen?

She sucked in the salty breeze, struggling to refocus despite her discombobulation. As she writhed in pain, she felt her eyelids flicker, pulled down by her mortality.

Is it time to go?

Too soon to die.

At least let me say goodbye to…who?

Why can’t I remember anyone?

A hand repeatedly patted Goldie’s cheek, pulling her out of her stupor.

“Stay with me, okay? Don’t sleep. Help is on the way.” The soothing feminine voice kept Goldie in a state of equanimity. Her gaze strayed toward its owner, a young woman with long, dark hair bracketing a set of angelic eyes within a pale, long face etched with concern and worry.

Angel Eyes leered down at Goldie. “Do you feel pain anywhere? Blink once for yes, and twice for no.”

Goldie blinked once.

“Don’t move.” Angel Eyes gleamed with emotion. “An ambulance will be here shortly.”

“She sure looks like Goldie Saint Helen, the movie star,” came from another, astonished voice, this one belonging to a plump curly-haired girl with ringlets across her forehead. “Hey, wait a minute―it is her!”

Movie star? Who? Me?

“You sure?” Goldie heard another voice ask, this one from a man. Moments later, he inched forward, revealing himself: A blond with a surfer haircut.

“Remember Gun Kiss? We watched the movie last year,” said the curly-haired girl. “Goldie Saint Helen. She was kidnapped by a Mexican drug lord. Her husband saved her, and he wrote the original screenplay inspired by the incident.”

>Mexican drug lord? Husband? What’s my husband’s name?

A chilly breeze carrying the salty air swept over Goldie’s warm body, and she shivered involuntarily.

“Someone get her a blanket from the van,” Angel Eyes demanded.

The curly-haired girl stood up and scampered away. She returned momentarily with a blanket.

Goldie felt the thick blanket spread over her right up to her neck, rendering immediate warmth.

A smile blossomed across Angel Eyes’s face. “We’ll stay here with you until the ambulance arrives. You’ll be okay.”

A sting suppressed Goldie’s attempt to raise her lips into a smile. So, she blinked once to acknowledge Angel Eyes’s statement.

Car doors banged shut, and Goldie looked up as she heard someone approach.

“What happened here?” asked a woman wearing a jumper.

Goldie looked up at the woman, but the throbbing headache behind her eyes, which had spread across her cheek and down her ears, restrained her from prolonging her focusing. She dropped her eyes, subsiding the tension.

The woman doubled over, hands on her knees, her eyes fixed on Goldie; the look in them was somewhat curious, somewhat empathetic.

“We’re not sure,” the blond man replied. “ We pulled her out of her car,” he said, pointing to the burning car. Flames unfurled from the hood, but were being fought by men with handheld extinguishers containing the fire from spreading in the interior and trunk.

“Did you kids hit her?” a beefy man asked, to which he received a volley of antagonistic replies.

The blond man stood and cocked his head towards a white van parked up ahead, along the verge. “That’s our van over there. Go see if there’s any damage, then come and apologize to us.”

The beefy man raised both hands, palms up. “Take it easy, man. Just making sure.”

“Why don’t we let the police handle it?” said the curly-haired girl.

The beefy man balked, pulling along the woman in the jumper.

Goldie saw more cars blur by, some stopping. Onlookers approached and jostled for a good spot.

“Hey, isn’t she Goldie Saint Helen?” asked a man in a yellow polo T-shirt. He took his phone out of his pocket and took a few pictures of Goldie. The camera flashed repeatedly, briefly blinding her.

“Have you no shame, Mister? She’s a human being,” snapped the curly-haired girl, glowering at the opportunist.

The man in the yellow T-shirt retreated to his car.

“Asshole.” The curly-haired girl stood up and snapped at the other bystanders. “Well, what are you people waiting for? Go ahead and take some more pictures!”

“Take it easy, I can help,” said a bob-haired woman in a gray sweater and white athletic pants.

“Nothing much to be done here, unless you’re a doctor,” Angel Eyes replied to her.

“I’m a nurse,” the bob-haired woman said. “I just thought―”


Excerpt from Far Out by Khaled Talib. Copyright 2024 by Khaled Talib. Reproduced with permission from Khaled Talib. All rights reserved.


Author Bio:

Born and raised in Singapore, Khaled Talib’s books have received reviews in Publishers Weekly and international newspapers.

The author is also a member of the International Thriller Writers.

His books have received praise from New York Times bestselling thriller authors, Gayle Lynds, Ruth Harris, and USA Today bestselling authors, Jon Land, Jean Rabe and Fiona Quinn.

Before he started writing thrillers, Khaled was a magazine journalist and public relations consultant.

When he is not writing, Khaled spends most of his time reading, baking, traveling the world.

Catch Up With Khaled Talib:
BookBub - @KhaledTalib
Instagram - @khaled_talib_books
Twitter - @KhaledTalib
Facebook - @khaled.talib
YouTube - @KhaledTalib


Tour Participants:

Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaway entries!
Click here to view Far Out by Khaled Talib Tour Hosts.


Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Tours

I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Partners in Crime Tours. My comments are an independent and honest review. The rest of the copy of this post was provided by Partners in Crime Tours.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Say My Name by Joe Clifford Book Review

About the Book:

A true crime story about a crime that never happened — or did it?

On the heels of a divorce, a mid-list mystery writer returns to his hometown in Central CT and is dragged back into a decades-old, unsolved case involving former missing classmates to expose the horrific secrets of a quaint, idyllic New England town.

Fusing the modern domestic psychological thriller with popular unsolved mysteries (Girl on the Train meets In Cold Blood), this meta blend of true crime and fiction plays with expectations and perspective before its mind-blowing conclusion. 

My Review:

I was fascinated with this novel. It reads like a true crime investigation. As others have commented and as the book is described, it is a novel. It is fiction but it does not read like it is. Reading this book was really an interesting and almost disconcerting experience.

I did have trouble liking the hero. I liked the idea of him trying to get a new start on life after so many things had recently happened to him. But he got drunk way too often and checked out of a conversation right when someone was telling him some important information. I am sure his character was deliberately crafted that way, considering the twist at the end. In a sense, this novel is a mystery but also a character study.

The plot was well crafted. It certainly could be predicted that digging into a decades old unsolved crime in a relatively small town would cause trouble. The villain was not expected, but the other people involved did not come as a surprise. There were suitable twists and red herrings that kept me reading as new facts were uncovered.

Perhaps we are left with a creepy question at the end. How much of our life do we create like an author writes a story? This is a good novel for readers who like an unusual spin on a cold case investigation.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

About the Author:

After spending the 1990s as a homeless heroin addict in San Francisco, Joe Clifford got off the streets and turned his life around. He earned his MFA from Florida International University in 2008, before returning to the Bay Area, where he currently lives with his wife and two sons. His memoir, 
Junkie Love, chronicles his battle with drugs and was first published in 2010 and re-released in 2018. He is the author of the award-winning Jay Porter Thriller Series, as well as several standalone including The One That Got Away, The Lakehouse, The Shadow People and Say My Name.

Square Tire Press, 303 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Swell Media. My comments are an independent and honest review.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Beneath a Peaceful Moon by Debby Lee Blog Tour Book Review

About the Book

Book: Beneath a Peaceful Moon

Author: Debby Lee

Genre: Christian Historical Fiction

Release date: June, 2023

Mary’s Language Skills Could Help End the War in the Pacific
Full of intrigue, adventure, and romance, this series celebrates the unsung heroes—the heroines of WWII.

Mary Wishram is desperate to hang on to her few loved ones, a brother fighting in the South Pacific and Japanese friends in a relocation camp. Determined to end the war by any means necessary, she is willing to use her language skills as Yakama tribe member to become a spy and face any danger to bring them all home safe.

John Painted Horse struggles with the loss of his father who died in WWI for a country that didn’t consider him a United States citizen, much less give him the right to vote. He is desperate to bring long overdue recognition and honor to his people, no matter the cost.

Can they heal from their past traumas and find a peace, love, and a deeper relationship with God, before it’s too late?

Click here to get your copy!

My Review

The first half of the book takes place at a California marine base. The characters get shipped to the South Pacific about midway in the novel. The latter half of the book is mostly set in the war zone. The earlier part gives readers a good idea of how Native Americans were treated, both prior to the war and then by others in the military, such as officers. We also see how women in the service were treated, this being long before women were respected by others for their military service.

We get glimpses of Americans in Japanese internment camps, rags on bony frames. We also see how civilians helped the American soldiers, such as native freedom fighters and missionary nuns. What we do not see is very much about how the Navajo code breakers really did their job. Also, there was no note at the end of the novel giving historical facts. Novels in this series are usually based on actual events and it would have been nice to know what they were.

Lee's writing style is good. There is a good balance of action and character interaction. The issue of why God allows terrible things to happen is explored and there is a good faith message included. It is an entertaining novel but I do wish their had been more historical information.

My rating: 4/5 stars.


About the Author

Debby Lee was raised in the cozy little town of Toledo, Washington. She has been writing since she was a small child, and has written several novels, but never forgets home. The Northwest Christian Writers Association and Romance Writers of America are two organizations that Debby enjoys being a part of. As a self professed nature lover, and an avid listener of 1960’s folk music, Debby can’t help but feel like a hippie child who wasn’t born soon enough to attend Woodstock. She wishes she could run barefoot all year long, but often does anyway in the grass and on the beaches in her hamlet that is the cold and rainy southwest Washington. During football season, Debby cheers on the Seattle Seahawks along with legions of other devoted fans. She’s also filled with wanderlust and dreams of visiting Denmark, Italy, and Morocco someday.  Debby loves connecting with her readers through her website at

More from Debby


It was a warm, sunny September morning on my uncle’s farm, where I used an entrenching tool to dig my foxhole. A gentle breeze blew as I dug, and cooled my sweat-streaked forehead. The little shovel, with a handle roughly three feet long, did a fair job of breaking the dirt beneath my feet. Scoopful by scoopful, I managed to dig a hole about two feet deep, six feet long, and three feet wide.

I stood over this gaping pit that looked more like a grave. This was where I intended to sleep when darkness fell. I wondered, asked myself, “Will I make it through the night?”

My husband and I walked the perimeter of my uncle’s property. We noticed evidence of coyotes not more than one-hundred yards from my foxhole. Though my husband agreed to sleep in his truck not far from me, with a loaded pistol at the ready, we were still nervous about my sleeping arrangements. A few relatives laughed at my idea. I’m sure they thought I wouldn’t last more than a few hours out there that night.

I found a bucket old tin cans and a roll of string. I used my entrenching tool as a hammer and pounded holes in the cans and then strung a trip wire. Surely this would scare away any curious predators. I hoped.

My husband did tell me, “If you hear wolves or coyotes howling, get in the truck!”

By this time it was late in the evening and I was starving. In an attempt to stay in character, I reached for an MRE. That’s Meals Ready to Eat, today’s equivalent to K rations and C rations. I never thought I’d be hungry enough to suck cold mashed potatoes from a plastic pouch.

I went to bed that night clutching my entrenching tool, ready to fight off any critters who ventured too close. Sleep didn’t come easy that night. The ground was hard, uneven, and cold, bone-chilling cold. I shivered and shivered in a futile effort to keep warm.

The things that ran through my mind. I gazed at the inky, black sky and located the North Star. I thought of runaway slaves. How cold and terribly frightened they had to have been. And how brave and courageous, too.

Later, I realized my trip wire was enough to alert me to coyotes, but not snakes or rats. Was I strong enough, mentally, physically, to beat off a hoard of rats? A pack of hungry coyotes, if they broke through my tripwire?

Honestly, I was terrified. Not necessarily of falling to sleep, but falling to sleep and being jolted awake having to fight for my safety. I meditated on scriptures and continuously whispered, “If I can just make it until daylight.”

I don’t think I slept more than three hours that night, an hour here, another there. The sun lightened the gray sky. I climbed from my foxhole, my back and muscles were stiff and sore, but I was thankful to see the sun.

I was thankful for so much more. My night in a foxhole was ludicrously luxurious compared to those brave soldiers who fought during WWII and the wars since then. At least I didn’t have to contend with bombs or grenades raining down on me.

I can’t imagine going to bed night after night, wondering if bombs, grenades, or gunfire would pierce the air, wondering if my buddies and I would be shot or blown to bits, wondering if I’d live to see sunrise. My respect for soldiers grew a thousand-fold that night.

I’ve visited my uncle’s farm several times since then. I always gaze across the partially wooded forty acres and I remember that night. And remember the sacrifices our soldiers made for me, for democracy, and for freedom.

Blog Stops

Book Reviews From an Avid Reader, June 27

Debbie’s Dusty Deliberations, June 28

Books You Can Feel Good About, June 28

lakesidelivingsite, June 29

Cover Lover Book Review, June 29

Texas Book-aholic, June 30

For Him and My Family, June 30

Locks, Hooks and Books, July 1

Connie’s History Classroom, July 2

Happily Managing a Household of Boys, July 3

Mary Hake, July 3

Truth and Grace Homeschool Academy, July 4

Pause for Tales, July 5

Gina Holder, Author and Blogger, July 6 (Author Interview)

annette_reads_daily, July 6

Betti Mace, July 7

Labor Not in Vain, July 8

Blossoms and Blessings, July 8

A Good Book and Cup of Tea, July 9

Lights in a Dark World, July 10


To celebrate her tour, Debby is giving away the grand prize package of a print copy of the book and a $25 Amazon eGift Card!!

Be sure to comment on the blog stops for nine extra entries into the giveaway! Click the link below to enter.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Celebrate Lit. My comments are an independent and honest review.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Monday, June 26, 2023

Dead Man's Wake by Paul Doiron Book Review

About the Book:

On the evening of their engagement party, Maine Game Warden Investigator Mike Bowditch and Stacey Stevens witness what seems to be a hit-and-run speedboat crash on a darkened lake. When they arrive at the scene, their spotlight reveals a gruesome sight: a severed arm floating just beneath the surface. As day breaks, the warden dive team recovers not one but two naked corpses: a dismembered man and the married woman with whom he was having an affair. Mike begins to suspect the swimmers' deaths were not a senseless accident but a coldly calculated murder.

Meanwhile, the hunt is on for the mysterious boater. Suspects abound on the lake, nicknamed "Golden Pond,” including the violent biker husband of the murdered woman who may have taken vengeance on his wife and her paramour; a strange woman who claims to have witnessed the crash, but then changes her story; a very aggressive realtor and his wife who were determined to catch trespassers; and the lake’s earnest young constable whose eagerness to help may hide darker motives.

Alone among his fellow officers, Mike starts to sense the involvement of a trained marksman, smarter and more dangerous than any enemy he has ever faced before. As Mike and Stacey get closer to identifying the killer, their own lives are suddenly on the line as they confront a lethal killer who plans to silence them forever. The finale is a tour de force of drama and suspense.

My Review:

I enjoyed this mystery set on a pond in Maine. The hero is a Game Warden Investigator, a pleasant change in the law enforcement genre. The unique setting is well described by Doiron. The plot is well crafted with mystery upon mystery. Things are not as they seem and people are not always telling the truth. There are plenty of twists and turns as additional information is revealed. The characters are done well. My favorite was Charley, retired but sharp and insightful when it comes to seeing details. The novel contains a good balance of investigation and the characters' personal lives.

This book is down the line in a long series. It took a while for me to get settled in with the characters, not having read the previous books in the series. That did not detract too much from the mystery, however. This is a good mystery for readers who like an aggressive investigator and a more remote setting.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

About the Author:

A native of Maine, bestselling author PAUL DOIRON attended Yale University, where he graduated with a degree in English. 
The Poacher’s Son, the first book in the Mike Bowditch series, won the Barry award, the Strand award for best first novel, and has been nominated for the Edgar, Anthony, and Macavity awards in the same category. He is a Registered Maine Guide specializing in fly fishing and lives on a trout stream in coastal Maine with his wife, Kristen Lindquist. Photo credit: Kristen Lindquist

Minotaur Books, 320 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Sunday, June 25, 2023

The One by Audrey J Cole Book Review

About the Book:

To save their marriage, Sloane must forgive her husband's affair. Instead, she tries a more tempting option-settling the score. But will it prove to be a deadly mistake?

ER doctor Sloane Marks is shattered when she learns her husband Ethan slept with his partner at Seattle Homicide. She considers leaving him and joining The One, having gone to college with the popular dating app's billionaire founder, Brody Carr. But at forty-two, Sloane feels she has no choice but to forgive Ethan if she wants a chance at creating the family she never had.

Months later, Sloane bumps into Brody, who's recently returned to Seattle. In due time, Ethan worries she's cheating. His suspicions are confirmed when he learns the rich app founder took Sloane on a freediving excursion in the San Juan Islands. Soon after, Brody's famous wife dies in an accident. Ethan becomes the lead investigator in her death, which he suspects wasn't at accident at all.

Caught between a distrusting husband and a powerful billionaire who protects his secrets at all costs, Sloane is in a fight for her life. And the only way out is to take matters into her own hands.

My Review:

Cole does well in crafting complex plots that are engaging. While this novel seemed to get off to a slow start, the second half was compelling. It certainly brought out the entanglement when one strays outside the bonds of marriage. I initially had compassion for Sloane. It seemed like she was getting the bad end of the marriage. But when she tries to equal the score, my goodness, events cascade into darkness. I was shocked at her actions towards the end of the book.

Cole has designed the plot so that at the end, there is new revelation that surprised me. I had been deceived into believing one thing when the truth was really something different. The best part of the book for me was the last chapter. It was so ironic yet made me smile too.

This is a good novel for readers who like to read about people solving their own problems, no matter the harm to others. You'll get to learn a bit about free diving too. I have read all of Cole's novels and have liked them. Each is a stand alone thriller.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

About the Author:

Audrey J. Cole
is a USA TODAY bestselling thriller author. She resides in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two children. Before writing full time, she worked as a neonatal intensive care nurse for eleven years. She’s also a pilot's daughter. You can find out more at

Rainier Publishing, 306 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Malibu Burning by Lee Goldberg Book Review

About the Book:

Hell comes to Southern California every October. It rides in on searing Santa Ana winds that blast at near hurricane force, igniting voracious wildfires. Master thief Danny Cole longs for the flames. A tsunami of fire is exactly what he needs to pull off a daring crime and avenge a fallen friend.

As the most devastating firestorms in Los Angeles’ history scorch the hills of Malibu, relentless arson investigator Walter Sharpe and his wild card of a new partner, Andrew Walker, a former US marshal, suspect that someone set the massive blazes intentionally, a terrifying means to an unknown end.

While the flames rage out of control, Danny pursues his brilliant scheme, unaware that Sharpe and Walker are closing in. But when they all collide in a canyon of fire, everything changes, pitting them against an unexpected enemy within an inescapable inferno.

My Review:

I enjoyed this novel highlighting the activities of wildfire fighters and fire investigators. The heroes are two fellows who compliment each other well. Their interaction is entertaining, their dialogue is fun and they have skills that, working together, allow them to go after the bad guys. The villain is an interesting character, a con with a heart.

This is a great novel to read during the fire season. I always like to learn something when I read fiction and here I learned a great deal about wildfires, such as how they move and how the weather factors in. I also learned about arson, some techniques and about motives. After a prologue, the narrative jumps around a bit, from present to previous events. The back flashes help set up the current action but the style is a bit awkward.

Goldberg's writing style is good, however. There is plenty of action balancing insights into characters' lives. This book releases September 1, 2023. That will be at the time when the fire season ramps up with the dry winds increasing. It is an entertaining and informative novel.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

About the Author:

Lee Goldberg writes books and television shows.

His mother wanted him to be a doctor, and his grandfather wanted him to go into the family furniture business. Instead, he put himself through UCLA as a freelance journalist, writing for such publications as American FilmStarlogNewsweekThe Los Angeles Times SyndicateThe Washington Post and The San Francisco Chronicle.

Goldberg broke into television with a freelance script sale to Spenser: For Hire. Since then, his TV writing & producing credits have covered a wide variety of genres, including sci-fi (seaQuest), cop shows (Hunter, The Glades), martial arts (Martial Law), whodunits (Diagnosis Murder, Nero Wolfe), the occult (She-Wolf of London), kid’s shows (R.L. Stine’s The Nightmare Room), T&A (BaywatchShe Spies), comedy (Monk) clip shows (The Best TV Shows That Never Were) and total crap (The HighwaymanThe New Adventures of Flipper).

He’s written and produced TV shows in Canada (Murphy’s Law, CobraMissing), England (Stick With Me Kid, She Wolf of London) and Germany (Fast Track: No Limits). His mystery writing for television has earned him two Edgar Award nominations from the Mystery Writers of America.

His two careers, novelist and TV writer, merged when he wrote the eight books in the Diagnosis Murder series of original novels, based on the hit CBS TV mystery that he also wrote and produced. He followed that up by writing fifteen bestselling novels based on Monk, another TV show that he worked on. His Monk novels have been translated and published in Germany, Poland, Thailand, Japan, Turkey, and many other countries.

Goldberg lives in Los Angeles with his wife and his daughter. You can find out more at

Thomas and Mercer, 304 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Friday, June 23, 2023

The Empty Kayak by Jode Millman Blog Tour Book Review

The Empty Kayak

by Jodé Millman

June 5-30, 2023 Virtual Book Tour


For Detective Ebony Jones, crime is always personal. But this time, it strikes too close to home.

A pop-up thunderstorm marched its way across the Hudson River, ambushing a young couple’s kayaking trip. The woman miraculously made it back to shore, but her fiancé remains missing. Ebony and her partner are the first responders who rush to the river to assist in rescuing the capsized boater.

The victim’s identity shocks Ebony to the core. Kyle Emory, the ex-boyfriend of her estranged best friend, attorney Jessie Martin, is the man who never made it out of the water. The accident ignites a firestorm between the two friends, pitting them against each other in a race to discover whether Kyle survived or whether he met his untimely demise. Under pressure from the chief and the DA, Ebony needs to solve the mystery, while Jessie seeks justice for the sake of the daughter she shares with Kyle.

The investigation leads them through the dark worlds of social media, online sports betting, and extreme sports. Along the way, they uncover lies and betrayals, and gather a list of dangerous suspects who are all linked to the accident survivor, Kyle’s mysterious fiancée. Even more, the discovery that Kyle possessed his own life-shattering secrets has trapped Ebony between her career and her lifelong friendship with Jessie. Yet neither Ebony nor Jessie will stop until they unearth the truth. Even if it destroys their friendship and their lives.

But the evidence is as murky as the secretive Hudson River. Only the river knows whether Kyle’s untimely death was an accident, a suicide, or murder.

Praise for The Empty Kayak:

"Three strong women follow their own inexorable paths to justice in THE EMPTY KAYAK, and it's a pleasure to cheer them on. THE EMPTY KAYAK is not only a compelling and believable mystery, but a sharply drawn portrait of women's friendships"
Joseph Finder, New York Times bestselling author of House on Fire

"Twisty personal relationships build to a satisfying, stunner finale in The Empty Kayak."
~ Lisa Black, NYT/ bestselling author of the Locard Institute series

My Review:

This is not the first book in this series. While there are many references to events found in previous novels, it reads well on its own. The plot centers around answering the questions of whether the death was accidental or deliberate and, if deliberate, the identity of the villain. Millman did a good job of planting doubts so we cannot draw a conclusion early.

The characters are adequately developed. Jessie's intense feelings for her ex-boyfriend did not seem realistic, however. While he was the father of her daughter, Jessie says he betrayed and lied to her and was an ultimate scumbag. (807, 983/4899) He had been financially and parentally irresponsible. (443/4899)

There is more in the novel about personal lives than about the police investigative procedure. The police work was somewhat ineffective. That allowed Jessie to uncover facts the police seemed to overlook. She got phone records and uncovered other important documents before the police did. The evidence that ultimately solved the dilemma was mentioned early on and I kept wondering why the police had done nothing to pursue it.

The novel touches on several issues, from social media popularity to complicated marital and family relationships. The setting descriptions were done well. Millman's writing style is good and I will be looking for more from her.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Book Details:

Genre: Crime Fiction, Mystery, Suspense
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: May 2023
Number of Pages: 400
ISBN: 9781685122874 (ISBN10: 1685122876)
Series: Queen City Crimes Series, Book 3
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Chapter One

Detective Ebony Jones felt as though she was toting around a thousand-pound weight, which grew heavier and more torturous with each step. Her cargo, a petite one-year-old, nestled her dark curly head against Ebony’s shoulder and wriggled on Ebony’s bum left hip, the one with the .38 caliber bullet fragments lodged in it. Even the slightest pressure from the child’s body sent relentless jolts of electricity sizzling down her leg. Between the squirmy kid and the merciless pain, Ebony’s trek up the sidewalk was a living hell. And the situation was about to get worse. Much, much worse.

The toddler’s green eyes locked onto Ebony’s, so trusting and innocent that they tugged at her jaded cop’s heartstrings. Lily Martin’s face was muddy, her fuzzy pink hoodie was soaked from the sudden rainstorm, and she was missing one sneaker. But it wasn’t Lily’s bedraggled condition that made their journey up the front walk so unbearable; it was the heartbreak that would follow after Ebony rang the doorbell. And Lily’s mother answered.

The Tudor-style City of Poughkeepsie home belonged to Jessie Martin, Lily’s mom, and Ebony’s on-again, off-again best friend. Since kindergarten, over twenty-five years ago, the two women had been BFFs, but once they pursued conflicting careers in the law, Ebony as a cop and Jessie as a criminal defense attorney, their relationship had deteriorated. Around every corner, clients, cases, and the legal system had thrust obstacles in their path, testing their friendship. Sometimes, Ebony wanted to pack it in and move on, but deep in her heart, she yearned to reconcile with Jessie. The present catastrophe wasn’t going to help that cause.

* * *

On her trip to Jessie’s, Ebony had stewed over the appropriate way to tell Jessie that her ex, Lily’s father, Kyle, was missing? There would be so many questions—how, when, where, why. How could Ebony explain the outcome of Kyle’s disappearance when she didn’t know for sure whether he’d survived the freak accident?

Ebony limped up Jessie’s bluestone path, laden with a cauldron of emotions. Sorrow. Guilt. Anger. Disbelief. Fear. And reluctance, to name a few. She still couldn’t swallow the reality. Kyle Emory was missing and if she was honest, presumed dead.

Midway down the walk, Ebony glanced over her shoulder at Zander, who had remained curbside with their unmarked black Explorer. He was tall and slender, and leaned against the hood of the car. Zander’s brows were drawn together, and he watched her with hawk-like precision. As partners, they were supposed to deliver death notifications in pairs, but he’d made no move to join her on the threshold.

Chicken, she thought. Or was he being uncharacteristically empathetic, given her close relationship with the victim’s former partner?

Delivering the news of a loved one’s death—or possible death—was the most onerous part of her job, and fortunately, she’d never discharged this duty before. Why did the first time have to be Jessie? This was going to be a day, a moment, that would be branded into Jessie’s heart and mind forever.

The need to perform the death notification properly, professionally, prompted Ebony to ask herself how she’d prefer this horrific news disclosed to her.

It wasn’t as if she was notifying a stranger. She knew Jessie as intimately as she knew her own kid sister, Carly. And similar to her arguments with Carly, they’d always forgiven each other eventually. Ebony only hoped being the messenger of a suspected death didn’t permanently sever their already fragile bond.

But Jessie was a lawyer; a smart, strong, and fierce criminal defense attorney. She’d understand. She’d want honesty. No bullshit.

Straight but gentle, Ebony reminded herself as she scaled the porch stairs, clasping Lily to her side. Upon reaching the landing, she exhaled a deep breath, pressed the doorbell, and waited.

An eternity passed before Jessie answered the door. Jessie’s eyes flitted from Ebony to Lily. Jessie’s broad smile vanished as a ripple of worry lines surfaced on her forehead, and her ears flushed pink. Hal Samuels, Jessie’s fiancé, stood behind her, looking equally surprised. They were dressed for early autumn hiking with scuffed tan boots, plaid flannel shirts, and faded jeans. They radiated happiness. Every time Ebony saw Hal and Jessie together, she was reminded that a homicide investigation had reunited them and that new beginnings could grow from despair.

“Eb, what are you doing here? How did you get Lily? Is she okay?” Jessie craned her neck to peek past Ebony’s shoulder toward the street. “What’s going on? Where’s Kyle?”

Ebony cleared her throat. “Jessie, we have a situation.”

Hal dipped his head in recognition. The former District Attorney, and now Dutchess County Court Judge, seemed to acknowledge her gravitas and cupped his hands on Jessie’s shoulders as if propping her up in anticipation of an imminent disaster.

Jessie’s mossy green eyes burned into hers, and she snatched Lily away from Ebony as though protecting her child from a mistress of evil.

“What do you mean? A situation? Tell me what happened to Lily. Is she hurt?” Jessie peeled off Lily’s wet hoodie, socks, and muddy sneaker, and ran her trembling hands over her daughter’s plump body, checking for bumps, bruises, and cuts. Finding none, she continued, “Has Kyle been in a car accident? Where is he? Is he okay?” As expected, the questions tumbled out, heavy with worry.

Despite the pain in her leg, there had been something comforting about having the baby’s legs locked around her waist and the soft body cuddled against her. The warmth. The maternal stirrings. The irresistible scent of baby shampoo. The sudden emptiness in Ebony’s arms only exacerbated the burden of her visit and reminded her that the worst was yet to come.

Ebony’s entire vocabulary lodged in the back of her throat like a fishbone. Her mind analyzed the techniques for being sensitive, caring, and supportive, as protocol and friendship required. She stood frozen in time and space, cognizant that the truth would make the tragedy real for the both of them.

“Ebony, please come in,” Hal said, guiding Jessie across the foyer. “Take a seat in the living room.”

She followed them into the living room, where vibrant flowered sheets blanketed the sofa and chairs, protecting them from tiny, sticky hands. Ebony recalled that almost four months ago, she and Zander had barged into this room, attempting to pressure Jessie’s client into testifying in what had proven to be a landmark serial killer case. But Jessie had obstructed them, her customary modus operandi when dealing with the police.

The same floral sheets billowed as Ebony occupied an armchair that faced Jessie, who had Lily nestled in her lap upon the couch. Hal settled in beside them and leaned forward with his hands clasped and his elbows resting on his knees.

Ebony coughed at the dust motes floating in the air and cleared her throat. Straight but gentle. “Jessie, I have some bad news.” She sucked in a long breath and exhaled slowly to prepare herself. “We believe Kyle may have drowned in a kayaking accident this morning on the Hudson River. We haven’t found him, but we’re out looking for him. I’m so sorry.”

Jessie’s eyebrows shot up as she absorbed the words. What? Her dilated pupils seemed to demand.

“Jessie, did you hear me? Kyle disappeared this morning.”

“What do you mean, you believe he’s missing? Don’t you know if he’s dead or alive?” Jessie’s face flushed and her grip on Lily tightened. “Kyle had Lily with him. How could he have been kayaking? Who was watching Lily?” Jessie’s voice increased in pitch until it was a squeak.

Hal slid close to Jessie and slipped his arm around her shoulders, shoring her up against the blow. “Let’s take it step by step, Jess. You must be in shock. Ebony, can you please start at the beginning? I’m sure that will answer some of our questions.”

“Before I get into the details, do you want me to call your mom and dad? They can help with Lily while I fill you in. I can send Zander over to retrieve them.”

Jessie balked at the suggestion and clutched the fidgety baby tightly to her breast. Hal tilted his head backward and jutted his chin toward the door, signaling his consent.

Taking the hint, Ebony shot off a text to Zander. Please pick up Ed and Lena Martin and bring them here. She gave him their address, and he texted back. 10-4. On the way.

Although she owed Jessie an explanation, she wanted to delay getting into the details until Ed and Lena arrived to take care of Lily. The poor tot had been through enough at the scene.

“When did you last see Kyle?” Ebony asked.

“This morning. He came by around nine to pick up Lily. It was his Saturday with her.”

“Did he mention where he was headed?”

“No. I didn’t ask. We’re supposed to sign the custody papers this week, and since we were getting along, I figured I’d cut him some slack.” Jessie paused. “I’m working on my trust issues with him.”

“So, he didn’t tell you he was going kayaking at Kaal Rock?”

“No. He was there by himself? He had Lily with him?” A sense of disbelief colored her voice.

“Did he indicate he was meeting... friends?” Ebony asked. She needed to proceed step-by-step. Straight but gentle.

“No, what friends?”

“Does the name Olivia Vargas mean anything to you?” Ebony kept her tone calm, although her stomach clenched into a knot.

“Ebony, you’re scaring me. Who is this person, and what is happening?”

“Apparently, Kyle was engaged to Olivia. They became engaged three weeks ago on Labor Day. They were supposed to be getting married on Valentine’s Day next year.”

“What the hell? You’re telling me Kyle’s missing, and he was engaged?” Jessie shouted. Lily startled and bawled as though she understood the significance of Ebony’s announcement. Jessie rose and paced across the living room carpet, shushing her daughter and planting kisses on her curly head. “It’s okay, Lilybean. Hush, hush.”

Hal narrowed his eyes and made a time-out sign. “You’re asking a lot of questions and not revealing any facts about what happened to Emory.” He paused. “Stop beating around the bush and start at the beginning like I asked.” Hal’s demeanor had pivoted from being a supportive partner into a cool and controlled prosecutor ready to cross-examine an adverse witness. “What does this Vargas woman have to do with the kayak? And Kyle’s disappearance?”

“I’ll explain after the Martin’s arrive,” Ebony said.

As they waited, an uncomfortable silence filled the room. Ebony shifted in her chair as the hinge of the front door squeaked, followed by the shuffling of feet. Jessie’s parents, Lena and Ed Martin, accompanied Zander into the living room, and Jessie’s anxious expression greeted them. Then, in one swift movement, Hal gently pried Lily from Jessie’s embrace and deposited the toddler into her grandmother’s waiting arms. Ed opened his mouth to speak, but Hal interrupted him by whispering into his ear. Ed sighed and disappeared with Lena and their granddaughter in tow.

With the arrival of Jessie’s parents, Ebony could quit procrastinating and get down to business.

Zander perched on the arm of Ebony’s chair and crossed his arms over his chest.

“Okay. Here’s what we know,” Ebony said.


Excerpt from The Empty Kayak by Jodé Millman. Copyright 2023 by Jodé Millman. Reproduced with permission from Jodé Millman. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Jodé Millman is the acclaimed author of HOOKER AVENUE and THE MIDNIGHT CALL, which won the Independent Press, American Fiction, and Independent Publisher Bronze IPPY Awards for Legal Thriller. She’s an attorney, a reviewer for, the host/producer of The Backstage with the Bardavon podcast, and creator of The Writer’s Law. Jodé lives with her family in the Hudson Valley, where she is at work on the next installment of her “Queen City Crimes” series —novels inspired by true crimes in the region she calls home.

Catch Up With Jodé Millman:
BookBub - @JodeMillmanAuthor
Instagram - @jodewrites
Twitter - @worldseats


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