Audiobook Review: <i>Murder on the Orient Express</i>, Read by Kenneth Branagh Audiobook Review: Murder on the Orient Express, Read by Kenneth Branagh Danielle Prielipp Read Danielle Prielipp's review! Review: <i>Stealing Ghosts</i> by Lance Charnes Review: Stealing Ghosts by Lance Charnes David Cranmer Read David Cranmer's review! <i>Killin Pace</i>: Excerpt Killin Pace: Excerpt Douglas Schofield A high-octane, heart-pounding tale set in Everglades City, Florida, and Sicily, Italy. Review: <i>A Season to Lie</i> by Emily Littlejohn Review: A Season to Lie by Emily Littlejohn Amber Keller Read Amber Keller's review!
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Nov 17 2017 2:00pm

Audiobook Review: Murder on the Orient Express, Read by Kenneth Branagh

In addition to directing the new version of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, Kenneth Branagh expertly narrates a new audiobook recording of this classic Poirot mystery.

Before you read any further, I have a confession to make. While I like to think of myself as being fairly well-read, and Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express is one of the most widely read mysteries ever, this audiobook marks only my second foray into Christie’s work—the first of which took place mere months ago when I picked up And Then There Were None as a quick summer weekend read. That same weekend, I purchased a copy of Murder on the Orient Express at a local bookstore in hopes of tackling it before the latest film adaptation hit theaters in November. Fortunately, I never actually got around to reading that paperback, so I got to experience the story for the first time through the vocal talents of Kenneth Branagh.

[Read Danielle Prielipp's review of Kenneth Branagh's reading of Murder on the Orient Express...]

Nov 17 2017 1:00pm

Review: Stealing Ghosts by Lance Charnes

Stealing Ghosts by Lance Charnes is the second book in the DeWitt Agency Files series.

The DeWitt Agency opens for business again, and I, for one, appreciate the clever way that author Lance Charnes jumps into the plot with his protagonist Matt Friedrich eyeing an attractive lady.

The first thing you notice is her eyes.

Big, dark, luminous. She’s no blushing ingénue; those eyes grab you and pin you to the wall. Think you got what it takes? they say. Come find out.

If you don’t fall in, you see the face around those eyes. High cheekbones, a razor-sharp jaw, a long semi-Roman nose, full lips parted just a bit.

Mr. Charnes goes on to emphasize the woman’s creamy skin, and I thought, here we go: a male writer getting lost in the overboard and often cringy explanation of a female character. But then comes the kicker: “Her names Dorotea. She’s ninety-one years old. One look stole my heart. Now I’m stealing her.” Ha! 

[Read David Cranmer's review of Stealing Ghosts...]

Nov 16 2017 1:00pm

Review: A Season to Lie by Emily Littlejohn

A Season to Lie by Emily Littlejohn is the second Detective Gemma Monroe novel, where a twisted killer stalks his prey in the dead of winter.

Read Emily Littlejohn's guest post about using weather to enhance setting & learn how to win a copy of A Season to Lie!

It’s winter in the Rockies. Add in a brutal blizzard, hardly any daylight, and a bleak and terrible murder, and you’ve got the winning combo for an intriguing mystery.

The second novel by author Emily Littlejohn, A Season to Lie follows detective Gemma Monroe as she makes her way back from maternity leave and straight into a complex murder. It’s been three months since Gemma had her baby, and she is feeling a little rusty. But there’s a strange murder to solve involving a bestselling author, Delaware Fuente, who's been staying incognito in their peaceful town of Cedar Valley, Colorado. When the killer leaves behind a cryptic note in the dead man’s mouth that claims, “This is only the beginning,” the chase is on.

As Gemma puts it, “Death is coming, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.”

[Read Amber Keller's review of A Season to Lie...]

Nov 14 2017 3:00pm

Review: Blood Run by Jamie Freveletti

Blood Run by Jamie Freveletti is the fifth book in the Emma Caldridge series, where the biochemist and her team must stop the spread of a smallpox virus and avoid the ruthless government attempting to stop her.

If Jamie Freveletti had arrived on the literary scene ahead of Raymond Chandler, the famous quote instead may have read, “When in doubt, come through the door with a grenade launcher.” In her latest novel, Blood Run, her biochemist protagonist, Emma Caldridge, is three hundred miles east of Dakar, Senegal, when the armored vehicle she and three others are riding in is ambushed.

The heavy car shuddered when a second grenade exploded near the roof, and another rain of bullets hit the driver's side window. It failed in a shower of tiny glass slivers and shrapnel. Emma watched in horror as a splash of red washed over the clear divider between the driver and the passenger area.

“The driver's been hit,” Emma said to the two others.

She pressed the button to lower the glass divider, like those found in limousines, to access the front seat. She was glad that it still moved. That meant that the car hadn't yet lost power. She knew that a car taking fire, even an armored car, had seconds to escape the first hit. A vehicle that didn't move while under attack would eventually be breached, no matter how extensive the armoring.

[Read David Cranmer's review of Blood Run...]

Nov 14 2017 2:00pm

Review: Seeds of Revenge by Wendy Tyson

Seeds of Revenge by Wendy Tyson is the third book in the Greenhouse Mystery series.

Wendy Tyson has a background in law and psychology, which lends itself nicely to her endeavors as a crime fiction novelist. Having formerly worked as a therapist, she now balances writing and her responsibilities as an attorney with her passion for organic gardening and sustainable living—another pursuit that informs her creative output. In addition to the four-book (and growing) Allison Campbell series and a standalone novel, The Seduction of Miriam Cross, she also pens the bestselling Greenhouse Mystery series featuring lawyer-turned-farmer (sound familiar?) protagonist, Megan Sawyer.

The third book in the Greenhouse series, Seeds of Revenge, finds Megan—who left her life as a lawyer in Chicago behind to care for her grandmother and oversee the family’s organic farm and its cozy store and restaurant in Winsome, Pennsylvania—trying to drum up year-round business with the onset of winter. It’s on a snowy drive home from Philadelphia—where she’d been pitching fresh produce to restaurateurs—that she encounters a young woman stranded by the side of the road. Megan offers her a ride and is happy to learn that her unexpected passenger, Rebecca (“Becca”) Fox, is the niece of aptly named Merry Chance, one of Winsome’s most well-known, civic-minded, and seasonally spirited residents—as evidenced by her house, which also reflects the radiance of her heart:

[Read John Valeri's review of Seeds of Revenge...]

Nov 14 2017 12:00pm

Review: The Eterna Solution by Leanna Renee Hieber

The Eterna Solution by Leanna Renee Hieber is the climactic third installment of The Eterna Files series, delivering a delightful Gaslamp fantasy set in 19th-century New York and Washington D.C. that is rich with detail and embroidered with a cast of captivating characters.

The coolest part about being a reviewer is getting to read books I love and being able to share that enthusiasm with the rest of the world. When a copy of Leanna Renee Hieber’s The Eterna Solution landed in my inbox, I could not have been happier. For a lot of the creatively minded people I know, this year has been a struggle in terms of producing art, and for me, even enjoying it felt like pulling teeth. The sheer joy of reading Hieber’s work reminded me of what I strive for as an artist and the power that love and friendship have in fighting against the darkness—which, incidentally, is the culmination of her Eterna Files series.

The Eterna Solution is the final book of the series, and it does not disappoint. Picking up where Eterna and Omega left off, our assemblage of Sensitives along with the lone resident skeptic return to America where the Society’s dark magic continues to scar New York. A new heir to evil has risen, and it’s up to the Eterna and Omega teams to derail her. And I mean this quite literally—where Moriel had taken to stealing souls, Lady Celeste harnesses the power of industry, drawing her brand of magic from Edison’s new electrical grid and dynamos as well as the rails and waystations.

[Read Meghan Harker's review of The Eterna Solution...]

Nov 13 2017 2:00pm

Review: Turn on the Heat by Erle Stanley Gardner

Turn on the Heat by Erle Stanley Gardner is considered one of the best Cool and Lam novels in the acclaimed series, now made available from Hard Case Crime.

Love old-school suspense yarns? Yes? Then you’ll love Erle Stanley Gardner’s (writing as A. A. Fair) California-set Turn on the Heat. This was originally supposed to be the second book in the Bertha Cool and Donald Lam series, but the publisher passed on the first, The Knife Slipped, which Hard Case Crime published last year. Gardner is the creator of Perry Mason, and he brings a talent for quick-fire dialogue and no-nonsense characters to this fun read.

Bertha Cool, head of the Cool Detective Agency—“profane, massive, belligerent, and bulldog”—is the amply built counterpart to her diminutive investigator Donald Lam. But what he lacks in stature, he more than makes up for in talent—when he’s not getting batted about by big toughs, that is. Bertha’s got a new job for Lam, and she wastes no time talking him up to her new client, Mr. Smith.

[Read Kristin Centorcelli's review of Turn on the Heat...]

Nov 13 2017 12:00pm

Review: The Savage by Frank Bill

The Savage by Frank Bill is an unnerving vision of a fractured America gone terribly wrong and a study of what happens when the last systems of morality and society collapse (available November 14, 2017).

Vladimir Nabokov’s Bend Sinister was published in 1947, three years after the allies defeated the axis of evil and two years prior to George Orwell’s more heralded 1984. Completing an essential 20th-century dystopian triumvirate is Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which arrived in 1986 during the waning years of the Cold War. All three books at the time of publication were viewed as masterpieces set in the near future. I can remember discussing 1984 in that titular year and my mother’s cautionary remark that it could still happen “a few years from now.”

Unlike the setting of a dreaded near future found in this esteemed trio, Frank Bill’s The Savage feels like the desperate now. It’s not just 21st-century geopolitical fears as two world leaders seem hellbent on taking us down a real Fury Road, it’s also families throughout the American landscape being gutted by the opioid crisis, facing anxieties over losing health care, and befalling the horror of psychotic cretins shooting up music concerts and halls of worship.

[Read David Cranmer's review of The Savage...]

Nov 9 2017 2:30pm

Review: City of Lies by Victoria Thompson

City of Lies by Victoria Thompson—author of the beloved Gaslight Mysteriesis the first in an exciting new series featuring Elizabeth Miles, a woman on the run during WWI and the women's suffrage movement.

Victoria Thompson’s first entry into the Counterfeit Lady novels brings us back to WWI and uses the women's suffrage movement as a backdrop for her fiery heroine to get tangled up in. Elizabeth Miles is a liar, a thief, and a grifter—it’s not an honest job, but it’s one she excels at. I’ve always loved a good story about thieves, and Elizabeth is an engaging character. The story opens as she and her brother Jake run a stock-market con on the unpleasant Mr. Thornton. Things are moving along well enough—until Thornton realizes something is amiss.

On a run for her life—her brother assumed dead—Elizabeth finds herself on Pennsylvania Avenue on a very special day. The suffragists are demonstrating, and the police are just looking for an excuse to arrest them. Elizabeth, desperate to escape Thornton, uses that to her advantage.

I admit, as we go along with Elizabeth’s arrest and sentencing, I was excited. I knew the players here. Lucy Burns and Alice Paul have a short presence on the page, but one I’m familiar with. Reading City of Lies, I was reminded of the first time I ever saw Iron Jawed Angels, which was my first look into the true suffering women went through to get the vote. However, being familiar with the time period and events, I anticipated them as they occurred, which did cause some issues with the pacing for me.

[Read Ash K. Alexander's review of City of Lies...]

Nov 9 2017 12:00pm

Review: Trading Down by Stephen Norman

Trading Down by Stephen Norman is a fast-paced cyberthriller set inside an investment bank under cyber-attack.

A novel on the banking infrastructure and what could happen if it was obliterated is certainly appropriate to modern times. Seems like a week doesn’t pass without news of another treacherous breach of everything from our financial systems straight up to the presidential election. Unfortunately, Trading Down has a shaky start at its foundation, trundles along, never reaching its full potential.

The story begins in Dubai, 2007. A scene of horror as a woman douses herself with gasoline, making her sari “wet, almost see-through. It clings to her full breasts and buttocks.” A hapless guard is splashed with the fuel as she goes on to ignite the gas.

Halfway he falls over and lies writhing. He has made the mistake of breathing in. Pale blue and orange flames caress his face.

Behind him, the figure of the woman can be seen. She could be dancing in a nightclub. Her hands are together, above her head. The sari is gone, the hair ablaze, strangely floating upwards in the flames. One leg on the ground, the other lifted, every part of her is on fire.

[Read David Cranmer's review of Trading Down...]

Nov 8 2017 1:00pm

Review: Trespass by Anthony Quinn

Trespass by Anthony Quinn is the fourth book in the Inspector Celsius Daly series, catapulting Daly into the search for a missing boy that leads to an unsolved mystery from the era of The Troubles.

Inspector Celsius Daly’s neighbor is worried about him. He’s right off an explosive investigation that stretched all the way back to the '70s and encompassed his mother’s death. It’s taken a toll. He spends a lot of time walking the grounds of his remote farm, alone.

His hands were clenched by his sides, his tendons contracting, his eyes squinting as leaves and broken twigs blew around him. He seemed to be listening intently to the trees, which shifted in the wind with a rising chorus of injured, squeaking noises. What had so fixated his attention that he seemed oblivious to the weather and human company? She watched as his fists tightened and untightened, and his eyes swiveled back and forth, as if searching for some stimulus to release the tension in his body. For a few moments, she shared his lonely refuge, this space of cold air between churning trees. Part of her wanted to reach out and console him, even though it violated the rules of respect for a neighbor’s grief. It seemed to her that the man beside her wasn’t a detective, but a troubled only child who had yet to lead the life that had been promised him.

[Read Kristin Centorcelli's review of Trespass...]

Nov 7 2017 3:00pm

Review: The Midnight Line by Lee Child

The Midnight Line by Lee Child is the 22nd book in the Jack Reacher series.

I dip into the Jack Reacher novels every few years and have enjoyed these visits with the wandering, destructive, one-man tango. Lee Child's latest plot is a decent one. On a stop while traveling toward the Lake Superior region, Reacher spots a 2005 West Point graduation ring in a pawn shop window and contemplates why someone would have hocked such a prized accomplishment. He starts threading his way to an answer when his inquiry leads him to the anemic trope of a name, Jimmy Rat, and you guessed it, violence follows:

Jimmy Rat said nothing. Reacher watched the window with his left eye. With his right he saw Jimmy Rat nod. The reflection in the glass showed the guy behind winding up a big roundhouse right. Clearly the plan was to smack Reacher on the ear. Maybe topple him off the chair. At least soften him up a little.

Didn't work.

Reacher chose the path of least resistance. He ducked his head, and let the punch scythe through the empty air above it. Then he bounced back up, and launched from his feet, and twisted, and used his falling-backward momentum to jerk his elbow into the guy's kidney, which was rotating around into position just in time. It was a good solid hit. The guy went down hard. Reacher fell back in his chair and sat there like absolutely nothing had happened.

[Read David Cranmer's review of The Midnight Line...]

Nov 7 2017 1:00pm

Review: Every Breath You Take by Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke

Every Breath You Take by Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke follows television producer’s Laurie Moran investigation of the unsolved Met Gala murder—in which a wealthy widow was pushed to her death from the famous museum’s rooftop.

America’s “Queen of Suspense,” Mary Higgins Clark, has been a mainstay in reader’s hearts and on bestsellers lists since making her crime fiction debut with Where Are the Children? in 1975. Since then, she’s written 36 suspense novels, four collections of short stories, two children’s books, and a memoir. She also collaborated with her daughter, Carol Higgins Clark, on five holiday-themed capers. More recently, she’s teamed up with fellow New York Times bestselling author Alafair Burke for the Under Suspicion novels—the first of which, I’ve Got You Under My Skin (2014), was a solo effort from Clark before the series was officially launched; subsequent titles include The Cinderella Murder (2014), All Dressed in White (2015), and The Sleeping Beauty Killer (2016).

The dynamic duo returns with Every Breath You Take. Once again, readers find television producer Laurie Moran on the hunt for a cold case fitting of her hit show’s intriguing premise: to revisit unsolved crimes on camera by reuniting those who fall under the umbrella of suspicion. Much to her annoyance, the program’s new host, Ryan Nichols, pitches an idea that catches their boss’s attention: the death of a wealthy widow, Virginia Wakeling, who may have been pushed from the roof of New York City’s famed Metropolitan Museum of Art during their annual Met Gala three years ago.

[Read John Valeri's review of Every Breath You Take...]

Nov 7 2017 12:00pm

Review: Dark Asylum by E. S. Thomson

Dark Asylum by E. S. Thomson is the second book in the Jem Flockhart series, which is set in a crumbling Victorian asylum where a gruesome murder is committed and explores the early science of brain study while giving a chilling insight into an asylum's workings.

Last year, we were introduced to Jem Flockhart and Will Quartermain in E. S. Thomson’s debut, Beloved Poison, and now our beloved cross-dressing apothecary detective is back in another character-driven historical mystery that’s so gritty, you’ll have to brush the soot off your stovepipe hat when you’re done. Dark Asylum proves that this series is a winner, and with characters like Jem and Will, readers are sure to keep coming back for more.

While you don’t have to read the first book in this series to follow the mystery here, I highly recommend you do so just to see the beautiful character development of Jem and the relationships she cultivates around her while attempting to disguise the truth of her sex. She passes as a male in order to freely navigate Victorian London and carry out her duties as the local apothecary, but once again, she and Will have become embroiled in a murder mystery—this time at Angel Meadow Asylum.

[Read Ardi Alspach's review of Dark Asylum...]

Nov 6 2017 12:00pm

Review: Dead of Winter by Wendy Corsi Staub

Dead of Winter by Wendy Corsi Staub is the third book in the Lily Dale Mysteries series (available November 7, 2017).

New York Times bestseller Wendy Corsi Staub is a veritable powerhouse. With more than 80 novels to her name (and a few aliases), she has proved reliable among genres including psychological suspense, young adult, chick lit, romance, horror, and media tie-in. One of her most recent endeavors is a cozy mystery series set in the real-life spiritual community of Lily Dale, New York; she previously mined this territory for a four-book YA saga as well as an adult novel, In the Blink of an Eye (2002). Her newest, Dead of Winter, follows Nine Lives (2015) and Something Buried, Something Blue (2016).

Mid-December: Recent widow Bella Jordan has her hands full. In addition to being a single parent to her six-year-old son, Max, she’s responsible for overseeing Valley View Manor—the inn that became their unlikely sanctuary following a fated encounter with a pregnant tabby, Chance the Cat, that led them to Lily Dale. With Christmas looming and finances tight, she’s taken on additional projects around the home to earn some extra money in hopes of giving Max a memorable holiday. It’s while caulking the new kitchen backsplash that Bella hears a chilling scream from the area Cassadaga Lake; looking out the window to investigate, she sees something—somebody—on the water. Little does Bella know that she, too, has been seen.

[Read John Valeri's review of Dead of Winter...]

Nov 6 2017 11:00am

Review: Bonfire by Krysten Ritter

Bonfire by Krysten Ritter is a gripping, tightly wound suspense novel about a woman forced to confront her past in the wake of small-town corruption (available November 7, 2017).

Krysten Ritter is an accomplished actress known for her roles in Breaking Bad, Don’t Trust the B—— in Apartment 23, and most recently, Jessica Jones and The Defenders. With these kinds of acting credentials under her belt, it should come as no surprise that Ritter can handle the portrayal of complex characters and translate that skill into novel writing. Bonfire, Ritter’s debut novel, is a character-driven mystery set in a small Indiana town complete with big corporate conspiracy, painfully awkward high school reunions, and a heroine who’s battling against one of the most common problems women face: not being believed.

Abby Williams is an environmental lawyer working in Chicago when a compelling case crosses her desk and sends her back to her hometown of Barrens, Indiana. Painful memories of her past begin to resurface as she runs into some familiar faces and checks out old haunts.

[Read Ardi Alspach's review of Bonfire...]

Nov 3 2017 2:00pm

Review: Joe Ledger: Unstoppable, Edited by Jonathan Maberry & Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Joe Ledger: Unstoppable, edited by Jonathan Maberry and Bryan Thomas Schmidt, is an original collection of stories in the Joe Ledger universe.

I’m an unabashed fangirl when it comes to Jonathan Maberry, and Joe Ledger is one of my absolute favorite characters. The Joe Ledger books (Patient Zero, The Dragon Factory, The King of Plagues, etc.) take everything that’s good about spec-fic and thrillers, throw ‘em in a blender, and spit out a concoction that is like being hit by a bolt of lightning. Joe is part of the Department of Military Sciences (DMS), a shadow agency which tackles big threats—the weirder, the better. It’s heady, exciting stuff, so when I found out there was going to be an anthology of everything Joe, with contributions by some of the best names in the biz (with a story by Maberry himself, to boot), I was there. There are 22 stories in this anthology, so I’m going to touch on a few of my favorites.

“Strange Harvest” by Jon McGoran pairs his Philly detective Doyle Carrick (another fave of mine) with Joe when two of their friends go missing. Their search leads them to a company called Xenexgen that’s headed up by a very strange guy.

[Read Kristin Centorcelli's review of Joe Ledger: Unstoppable...]

Nov 3 2017 12:00pm

The Poe Myth Still Buried: Reviewing PBS’s Buried Alive

This week, PBS aired a documentary on Poe titled, Buried Alive. It should have been, Buried Anew.

It was too much to hope that the film would actually set the record straight about Poe. Yet the advance write-up on the PBS website said all the right things. The film would sweep away the “misrepresentations” of Poe and replace the “caricature” of Poe as a “madman akin to the narrators of his horror stories” with the “real story.”

Au contraire, the finished product cements the misperception of Poe and his work. Feasts on it, in fact.

[Read Susan Amper's review of Buried Alive...]

Nov 1 2017 12:00pm

Review: The Extraditionist by Todd Merer

The Extraditionist by Todd Merer is the first book in the Benn Bluestone Thriller series. 

Drug lawyer Benn Bluestone is kind of a jerk. He likes the ladies a little too much, he loves money, and the criminals he defends are the worst of the worst: powerful cartel members that don’t think twice about killing anyone that gets in their way. Benn justifies this a bit by explaining that the people he defends help put the bigger cartel fish away, which while sometimes true, still isn’t much of a defense. 

He explains thusly:

We settled on a day, and I clicked off. I’d juggle and manage. You learn to in a business that’s totally unpredictable—months without a peep of new work, then two cases in two minutes. The work itself, however, was totally predictable: same old, same old, researching and developing deep-throat information Uncle Sam deemed significant—drugs by the ton and seizures in the multimillion of dollars—then horse trading it for minimal jail time my clients could do standing on their heads.

Being the keeper of such secrets entailed great responsibility—and, if one were careless, a fair amount of risk. I reduced that hazard by maintaining constant vigilance and trusting no one.

[Read Kristin Centorcelli's review of The Extraditionist...]

Nov 1 2017 10:00am

Review: World Enough by Clea Simon

World Enough is an intriguing, hard-hitting, intricately-plotted mystery set in Boston’s clubland and marks an exciting new departure for cozy author Clea Simon.

It's only rock 'n roll, but I like it.

Clea Simon brings us back to the '80s Boston rock club scene with her newest mystery, World Enough. A journalist by trade, she calls on her own experiences and tells a story unfettered by nostalgia, spinning a twisted tale of rockers, critics, fans, bouncers, club owners, and groupies—warts and all.

Tara Winton has left the rock zine life for that of a corporate office, surrounded by touchy people who consider her the “edgy” one. Her ex Peter got her the job, possibly to kill her dreams of greater things as a journalist, and he lingers in her life like a bad smell—who she sometimes returns to because it's a comfy bad smell.

[Read Thomas Pluck's review of World Enough...]