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Review & Giveaway: Crude Ambition by Patricia Hunt Holmes

CRUDE AMBITION
by
Patricia Hunt Holmes
Categories: Mystery / Thriller / Women’s Fiction
Publisher: River Grove Books (Greenleaf Book Group)
Date of Publication: June 8, 2021
Number of Pages: 326
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A Texas Reckoning

In the early morning hours after a law firm recruiting party at a beachside house on Galveston Island, a female summer intern is found lying on the floor, bruised, bleeding and unconscious. Four men and one young woman attorney who were staying at the house know something terrible happened.

The woman attorney takes her to a hospital but the next day the intern disappears. All of them decide to keep silent, doing nothing about the incident in order to further their own career ambitions while the events of that night haunt the two women. Time passes and then ten years later, crime and hubris bring the former intern back into their lives. Only this time she has the power and the truth is finally brought to light, uprooting everyone’s plans.

From the power centers of Houston law and oil to the fracking fields of South Texas to the Jersey Shore and Washington D.C., this story chronicles the struggles of two ambitious young women in their quest for legal success and justice.

PRAISE FOR CRUDE AMBITION:

“Crude Ambition is a great read. It is an authentic look at big law in Houston and the Texas oil business. Patricia Hunt Holmes weaves a story of ambition, greed, romance and revenge that kept me turning the pages until all the just desserts were served.”

Marc Grossberg, J.D., Author of The Best People: A Tale of Trials and Errors

“In Crude Ambition, Patricia Hunt Holmes shows she knows Texas in the way Grisham knows Mississippi—politics, environment, strong men and strong women, egos, oil, arrogance, influence and hunger for power. I don’t think anyone could have nailed it better.”

— Bill Sarpalius, Former U.S. Congressman, Author of The Grand Duke of Boys’ Ranch

Review

Crude Ambition by Patricia Hunt Holmes is the second book that I have read by this talented author. I have read many books where the writer has obviously done their research, and then there is this whole other level of writing that comes from a place of having lived what the story is about. While the acknowledgements section suggests that Holmes is of the research variety, my hunch is that she very much draws from her personal experience as well. There is an intimacy to her storytelling that can only come from knowing a city and a profession to the extent that the reader can truly immerse themselves in the story without confusion or disbelief clouding their experience.

Much like in Searching for Pilar, the city of Houston is a character that Holmes enjoys sharing secrets and tidbits about here and there. Despite my humble upbringing in a northern suburb of Houston, I am well aware of the fancy side of town and enjoy the references to places I have only glimpsed from the outside. Holmes flexes her knowledge of Texas terrain in this book a bit by also taking us to Galveston Island and the Hill Country. This tour of the land made me realize and appreciate just how multifaceted this great state is. Well, when it’s not crawling with corruption, I suppose.

I know that this is only the second book that I have read by Holmes, but I feel like she has already established a signature flair for writing about difficult social issues in a way that is equal parts cautionary and informative. In this particular story, there is this very thin line between ambition and greed. And it is fascinating to see how people from all different walks of life pick a path and, if they are fortunate enough, are allowed the opportunity to change course before it is too late.

If you enjoy a good legal drama, this book is definitely for you. If you like stories about second chances and rising above, this book is also for you. If you are anything like me and enjoy a well-written book that features your hometown, just pick up this book already. Trust me, this book has it all: intrigue, love, betrayal, you name it. You’re welcome.

Patricia Hunt Holmes spent 30 years as a public finance attorney with a large international law firm, specializing in nonprofit healthcare finance and rural electric cooperative finance. Consistently listed in Best Lawyers in America, Texas Super Lawyers, and Top Lawyers in Houston, she was a frequent speaker at national public finance and health care conferences. Patricia has also served on the faculty of the University of Missouri-Columbia, University of Tennessee, and University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. She has written and published in the fields of intellectual history and law.

In addition to her legal career, Patricia has been a member and board member of several social
service organizations throughout Houston, including the United Way of the Texas Gulf Coast Women’s Initiative, Dress for Success Houston, the University of Houston Women’s Studies Program, University of Houston Law Review Board of Directors, is a Trustee of the Houston Grand Opera, and Houston Justice for Our Neighbors.

Patricia grew up in Egg Harbor City, New Jersey but has lived in Houston for over 40 years. She has two daughters, Hillary and Ashley, who have successful careers as an attorney and a geologist, and three adorable grandsons. She is an avid golfer and traveler.

Patricia holds a BA in English and History, an MA in History, and a PhD in Russian and South Asian History with honors, all from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She received her J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center and was an editor on the Houston Law Review.


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Character Interview & Giveaway: The Chinese Murder of Edward Watts by Shelton L. Williams


THE CHINESE MURDER
OF EDWARD WATTS
Covey Jencks Mystery, #3
By Shelton L. Williams


Publish Date: December 8th, 2020
Pages: 233 pages
Categories: Mystery / Humor

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for Giveaway!

Covey and JayJay travel to China and then return home to deal with shady characters, spies, gangsters, and other tough customers. In an exciting last act, they solve a murder most foul.
PURCHASE LINKS:
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Character Interview

Maggie Mae interviews JayJay Qualls from

THE CHINESE MURDER OF EDWARD WATTS

by Shelton L. Williams

Maggie: JayJay, you had lots of questions for me in The Chinese Murder of Edward Watts I am glad you’re allowing me to ask you some.

JayJay: Sure, but at the end, I have one more question for you. Deal?

Maggie: If I can answer, I will. Deal?

JayJay: Okay, fire away.

Maggie: Are you and Covey still sympatico? The FBI calls you the Love Birds, but you don’t ever seem to get jealous, and Covey calls you distant at one point in the book. Is there trouble in paradise?

JayJay: I don’t think of any relationship as paradise. I live in the moment and I am always ready to take care of myself. I have seen too many women fall into dependency on a man. That said, Covey and I very much a couple and I have made decisions to keep us a couple. Yes, we love each other.

Maggie: Can you tell us what decisions?

JayJay: Sure, Covey Jencks readers know that I did not move to Dallas or Ft. Worth to advance my acting career, and more than one old flame has tried to rekindle, especially now that I have got my own money. But I am stickin’ with Covey, at least for now.

Maggie: You like the detective business, don’t you?

JayJay: I do like it, but truth be told, I like solving mysteries with Covey. When we are working a case, we are equal partners. He includes me and listens to me. I push him to be bold and to think beyond the obvious. It’s pretty damned exciting. Besides, when he is working on oil and gas leases, you think he’s ever distant with me?

Maggie: That’s a good point. The books are more from his point of view and not yours even though you get your own chapters. After all, the series is called Covey Jencks Mysteries. Don’t you deserve your own book?

JayJay: My creative work occurs on the stage. I don’t need to sit alone at 6:00 a.m. trying to figure out what to say next before my real work starts. That sounds miserable. Maybe someday I’ll write my memoirs.

Maggie: You seemed to really be fascinated with Betty Williams and the Ghost of OHS story. Maybe you could write about that?

JayJay: Well, not long after the Chinese mystery ended, a book on the event called Washed in the Blood came out. Like many people out there, I have heard about the book but haven’t had time to read it. Maybe I will wait for the movie.

Maggie: What been your favorite adventure with Covey?

JayJay: By far, solving the mystery of the triple murder case on a college campus in Covey and JayJay Get Educated, but it was also fun to hook up with Covey to find out who killed Freddie in Covey Jencks.

Maggie: I have heard that lots of folks like Chinese Murder best. Comments?

JayJay: It’s a good story, for sure, but did I enjoy only being marginally involved and then — that ending. Who saw that coming? My role wasn’t exactly heroic, no?

Maggie: I hear ya, but I loved the book. I loved being the international woman of mystery in it.

JayJay: And you are a good one. West Texans would call you a sexy mama. I admit I was jealous of that first dress you wore in Odessa. I may go back to China to get me one of them. Time for my question.

Maggie: Okay, but I got that dress in New York. What’s your question?

JayJay: Will Covey and I ever see you again?

Maggie: I see what you are doing there. Sneaky. Will there be another Covey Jencks mystery?

Silence from JayJay. Maggie continues:

I think it depends on whether you guys stay stuck in West Texas or if you ever come back my way.

JayJay: To China?

Maggie: Hmm, no, the East Coast.

JayJay: Oh, that reminds me of my favorite part of The Chinese Murder of Edward Watts. The visit to Washington, D.C.  That was just as exciting for me as the mystery, and it was a stone cold turn-on as well. I’ll talk to the old man about that idea.

Shelton L. Williams (Shelly) is founder and president of the Osgood Center for International Studies in Washington, DC. He holds a PhD from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced
International Studies and he taught for nearly 40 years at Austin College in Sherman, Texas. He has served in the US Government on four occasions, and he has written books and articles on nuclear proliferation. In 2004 he began a new career of writing books on crime and society. Those books are 
Washed in the Blood, Summer of 66, and now the three books in the Covey Jencks series. All firmly prove that he is still a Texan at heart.


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Review & Giveaway: Alfie Carter by BJ Mayo

BNR Alfie Carter

ALFIE CARTER
by
BJ Mayo
 
Published by Skyhorse Publishing
Pages: 288
Published: January 19th, 2021
Categories: Southern Fiction / Rural Fiction / Mystery
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Cover Alfie Carter med res

The seemingly never-ending Cabinda War (1975—) has left multitudes dead in its wake and thousands of children homeless and orphaned.

Jackaleena N’denga, a young Angolan girl, has become the sole survivor of one specifically brutal village massacre carried out by a band of guerrilla boy-soldiers.

Jackaleena’s resilience leads her to an orphanage on the west coast of Africa, known as Benguela by the Sea, where she and other children are taken in and protected. Her brilliant mind and endless questions capture the heart of her mentor, Margaret, who ensures her that her survival thus far—especially being the survivor from her village—must mean she has big things ahead of her. When the opportunity arises, she must find her purpose.

Not without a plan, Jackaleena stows away on a mercy ship that has made its yearly visit to the orphanage and is now preparing to return to America. Her journey takes her across the ocean, into the arms of New York City’s customs officials, and finally into placement in a temporary foster home in Texas.

Enter Alfie Carter—a workaholic, small-town detective who is also battling memories of his past. His life is forever changed when he meets a young African girl looking for her higher purpose.

Purchase: Skyhorse Publishing

Review

Alfie Carter by BJ Mayo is a book that cannot be judged by its cover. Don’t get me wrong, the cover is quite beautiful, as is the heart of the story. But that does not begin to touch the darkness contained within its pages and the resilience of the characters to overcome it. If you were to pick this book up with the intent of reading a fluffy, inspirational novel, you would be rocked to your core.

The premise of the book is very interesting and, to be completely honest, had so much going on that I felt like this story should have been broken up into two, if not three, separate books. When we begin with the stoic Jackaleena breaking down over the brutal attack on a young girl, we know that we are about to hear a horrific story. For anyone who has kept up with the news in Africa, the crimes against humanity, especially women and young girls, is not a secret. Mayo’s ability to write from the perspective of this brave young girl is believable with its seemingly contradicting qualities of awareness and innocence. His treatment of the violence is handled with honesty and as much sensitivity as an author can use to describe such evil.

When we switch gears to follow around the Alfie character, you get to understand why the book is named after him. I imagine that the people in his town, and even his own wife, sometimes think that there’s not much complication to the man. But, thankfully, we the readers are privy to his innermost thoughts and feelings. A quick glance at Mayo’s biography has me thinking that Alfie most likely was not based on himself, but his familiarity with the character has me believe that he knows someone like Alfie in real life. The character is too complex and too visceral to not be based on a real person, even just a little bit.

I think the story could have hit even harder with some good editing, both on the line edit level and the overall shaping of the novel. Certain scenes just ran too long in my opinion, and the synopsis of the book misleads you into thinking that there is more interaction between Alfie and Jackaleena than we actually get to see. To be fair, it sounds like the sequel will definitely provide more of those details, but I was setup to believe that they would be revealed in this book, not the next. Also, with the amount of God and Christianity talk, I think that this book should have been labeled as a Christian novel.

I recommend this book to people who are interested in reading about a place very different from where most of us reside, but who are not squeamish about violence. This book makes you think about the things and the people you might take for granted. I look forward to reading more about these characters. Four stars for an uplifting story of hope and making new beginnings.

-v5gIwrg

author pic Mayo

BJ Mayo was born in an oil field town in Texas. He spent the first few years of his life living in a company field camp twenty-five miles from the closest town. His career in the energy industry took him to various points in Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Louisiana, Bangladesh, Australia, and Angola West Africa. He and his wife were high school sweethearts and have been married for forty-six years with two grown children. They live on a working farm near San Angelo, Texas.
Visit BJ Mayo at his website: https://bjmayo.com/

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Strong from the Heart by Jon Land

Strong from the Heart

(Caitlin Strong #11)

by
Jon Land
Genre: Mystery / Thriller / Suspense
Publisher: Forge Books
Date of Publication: July 28, 2020
Number of Pages: 368 pages
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Caitlin Strong wages her own personal war on drugs against the true power behind the illicit opioid trade in Strong from the Heart, the blistering and relentless 11th installment in Jon Land’s award-winning series.
The drug crisis hits home for fifth generation Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong when the son of her outlaw lover Cort Wesley Masters nearly dies from an opioid overdose. On top of that, she’s dealing with the inexplicable tragedy of a small Texas town where all the residents died in a single night.
When Caitlin realizes that these two pursuits are intrinsically connected, she finds herself following a trail that will take her to the truth behind the crisis that claimed 75,000 lives last year. Just in time, since the same force that has taken over the opiate trade has even more deadly intentions in mind, specifically the murder of tens of millions in pursuit of their even more nefarious goals.
The power base she’s up against―comprised of politicians and Big Pharma, along with corrupt doctors and drug distributors―has successfully beaten back all threats in the past. But they’ve never had to deal with the likes of Caitlin Strong before and have no idea what’s in store when the guns of Texas come calling.
At the root of the conspiracy lies a cabal nestled within the highest corridors of power that’s determined to destroy all threats posed to them. Caitlin and Cort Wesley may have finally met their match, finding themselves isolated and ostracized with nowhere to turn, even as they strive to remain strong from the heart.

PRAISE FOR STRONG FROM THE HEART:

“A time-jumping, savory Tex-Mex tale, seasoned with all the ingredients of a great thriller.”―Brad Meltzer, New York Times bestselling author

“A mind-blowing tale that takes a flamethrower to our psyches to warm the chill it leaves up our spines. Seething with energy and replete with wondrously staged set pieces, this is thriller writing that defies genre even as it reminds us why we love to read.”―NYK Daily

“Exceptional…. Snappy one-liners, plausible dialogue, and lots of nonstop action, Land delivers another riveting, believable thriller.”―Press-Republican

“Caitlin Strong is one of the strongest female characters ever to hit the page, and Jon Land is the king of the intelligent thriller, continually pushing his own writing to new levels.”―New York Journal of Books

Top Nine

JON LAND’S TOP 9 BEST DRUG-CENTRIC MOVIES AND TV SHOWS

STRONG FROM THE HEART follows Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong as she wages her own personal war on drugs and fights to bring down the true power behind the opioid crisis. With its pending publication in mind, I wanted to revisit some of the best, most noteworthy, and iconic treatments of the drug world across the spectrum of film, books and television. What I found in making this list was the overriding theme that you don’t have to be an addict to have your life dominated and destroyed by drugs. Guess it all comes down to the great line from the Glen Frey song “Smuggler’s Blues”: It’s the lure of easy money, It’s gotta very strong appeal.

BREAKING BAD: In addition to being the best scripted series in television history, watching Walter White go from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde right before our eyes was one of the greatest transformations on any size screen that becomes a metaphor for the dangerous allure of drugs in general. His rise to a crystal meth manufacturer alternately being controlled by, and controlling, forces of the Mexican cartels was a wonder to behold from its first episode to the very last. The fact that the focus was on character more than drugs made that plot point even more effective.

THE FRENCH CONNECTION: William Friedkin’s masterful treatment of Robin Moore’s book deservedly won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Gene Hackman’s portrayal of Popeye Doyle. Inspired by the very real exploits of two New York City narcotics detectives who follow a chance encounter to the biggest drug bust in the nation’s history at the time, the film is remembered most for a car chase that distracts from the gritty brilliance of Doyle’s dogged pursuit of a drug distribution network that spans the entire globe. But in the end, he fails to get his man as the kingpin behind it all escapes, focusing hard and fast on the fact that money is power.

TRAFFIC: Steven Soderbergh’s gritty, grainy pseudo-documentary tells a series of interconnected tales linked by drugs and brilliantly toplined by Michael Douglas as the nation’s drug czar who learns his own daughter is a heroin addict. Soderbergh presents us with the drug world from every conceivable angle, stressing the hopelessness and futility of the War on Drugs we’re still fighting, and losing, twenty years after its release. A sobering indictment of both the hypocrisy and glad-handing that continue to fuel the drug world, including the pharmaceutical companies whose opioid products have killed hundreds of thousands.

BETTER CALL SAUL: This television prequel to Breaking Bad sets Jimmy McGill (aka Saul Goodman) on the same road Walter White took in his descent to hell. It’s much more cartel-centric than its better realized cousin, setting the drug war against characters at war with themselves. The high-end dealers themselves—from the Mephistophelian Gus Fring, to Tuco, to Hector and Lalo Saltamanca—steal every scene that Jonathan Banks’ Mike Ehrmantraut isn’t in. Their charisma is exceeded only by their ruthlessness and relentless pursuit of the power drugs can bring them, even as everything’s for sale including their own souls.

SICARIO: The thriller takes us murderously over the Mexican border to follow a clandestine operation to take down the Mexican drug trade through any means necessary, which essentially means the good guys trading in their white hats for black ones. Emily Blunt as an idealistic FBI agent learning how the world really works becomes our eyes into a world we not only can’t understand, we don’t want to. But it’s Benicio Del Toro, playing a man horribly wronged by the cartel unleashed to extract revenge, who steals the show as the film’s immoral center which is what it takes to survive in an immoral world. Such moral ambiguity encapsulates the drug world at its very heart.

PINEAPPLE EXPRESS: The laugh-out-loud, screwball antics of Seth Rogen and James Franco aside, this is the film that introduced us to weed culture on a mass level well before legalization was in the cards. The scenes of a massive grow operation presaged business as usual in Colorado today and, perhaps, the entire country before much longer. While played for laughs, the film lays waste to the notion of marijuana as a harmless drug, at least in terms of the multi-billion-dollar industry it was long before states started collecting taxes on it. Even though played for laughs, this film became a harbinger for the gradual legalization of marijuana nationwide and the abdication of long-held policy in favor of profit.

BLOW: Johnny Depp was never better than in his role as George Jung who, along with Pablo Escobar, helped fuel the cocaine boom of the 70’s and 80’s. The 2001 film preceded Breaking Bad by seven years in setting a character down the path of his own personal self-destruction. But it also serves as a brilliant exploration into the incredible money and power that was behind the Colombian cartels who pushed coke into the willing noses of millions of Americans and made thousands of dealers, both small and large, rich. The best of the lot when it comes to establishing drugs as a business, before American pharmaceutical companies mastered that effort.

MIAMI VICE: A show that changed television, and pop culture, forever kept us glued to our televisions every Friday night at nine o’clock for years. Don Johnson and Phillip Michael Thomas play vice cops looking to snuff out drug-fueled crime in Miami, only to find more continually sprouting up like weeds. Centered around the glitz and glamour of an era fed by cocaine, the show was like a color-rich, psychedelic mind trip that created a lifestyle

of clothes and music perfect for the times and never to be repeated, pitting our stalwart undercover cops against master drug lords like Calderone and the Riviera brothers. Miami Vice taught us that in the drug wars you can just as easily win by losing, as lose by winning. And no matter how many drug dealers you put behind bars, there’s a long line waiting to replace them.

WHO’LL STOP THE RAIN: Based on Dog Soldiers, the late Robert Stone’s epic take on post-Vietnam America follows small-time drug dealers using tricks of the trade gleaned from Saigon in a world they’re clearly not ready for. Their business practices runs them afoul of major players in the drug world, metaphorically laying to rest the tangerine dreams of the hippy counter-culture. Made into the far less striking film Who’ll Stop the Rain starring Nick Nolte, Dog Soldiers introduced us to drugs as big business, putting an end to the Age of Aquarius forever. It was also one of the first treatments of the drug world that show the staggering costs it extracts on good people gone bad.

Jon Land is the USA Today bestselling author of more than fifty books, eleven of which feature Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong. The critically acclaimed series has won more than a dozen awards, including the 2019 International Book Award for Best Thriller for Strong as Steel and the 2020 American Fiction Award for Best Thriller. He has also authored six books in the MURDER, SHE WROTE series and has recently taken over writing Margaret Truman’s CAPITAL CRIMES series. A 1979 graduate of Brown University, Land lives in Providence, Rhode Island and received the 2019 Rhode Island Authors Legacy Award for his lifetime of literary achievements.

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Review & Giveaway: Spent Identity by Marlene M. Bell

SPENT IDENTITY
Annalisse Series, Book 2
by
Marlene M. Bell
Genre: Mystery / Suspense / Light Romance
Publisher: Ewephoric Publishing
Date of Publication: December 11, 2019
Number of Pages: 378

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A body, a disappearance, just another hot summer in upstate New York.

It’s July when antiquities appraiser Annalisse Drury reaches her family’s small-town farm to consult with the trusted aunt who raised her. She learns that her beloved homestead—the one she expects to inherit—is for sale. While Annalisse reels at the betrayal and her shattered dreams, the Walker Farm ranch manager discovers a corpse in the barn. Officials close the suspected murder scene, and Annalisse seeks refuge with her aunt at Alec Zavos’s rural estate in New York’s Catskill Mountains.

Then Aunt Kate vanishes.

Annalisse solicits the help of Greek tycoon, Alec Zavos, even though their rocky romance has dissolved into routine separation. What began as hope on Crete nine months ago has eaten away at Annalisse’s hope for a future with him.

In Spent Identity, Annalisse and Alec come together for the second time and find themselves in the center of not one mystery, but several. Where is Kate, and why sell her farm now? Is the dead man a coincidence or a clue to the aunt’s disappearance? John Doe’s identity may hold needed answers to solve the puzzle before Kate’s unstable health issues make her rescue impossible. The clock ticks, and a vengeful murderer is in charge…

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My first thoughts on the cover of Spent Identity by Marlene M. Bell were how beautiful and eerie it was at the same time. There’s something classy about the red roses in the vase and the envelope with the calligraphy ‘A’ on it, but the wilt to the roses and the shattered and crooked title stamped on top of them clues the reader to the sinister story within.

As much as I liked the irony of the farmhand reading a crime novel while stumbling across a crime scene, I thought that the tone of the prologue didn’t quite match the rest of the book. I’m having trouble explaining this – I have typed and deleted my thoughts three times now – but here goes. Ethan is from New Zealand and he is the first character we meet. Although the narration is from a third person perspective, the tone has an across the pond feel, probably because Ethan’s thoughts are on the page as well. I probably didn’t explain that very well but it obviously stuck with me and I wanted to address it.

In the first chapter, the tone changes with the introduction of our protagonist, the lovely Annalisse. It isn’t until she interacts with the opposite sex that you realize how her beauty outshines her pretty name. I liked the contrast of her being this take charge, independent woman who still needs reassurances and shared confidences with her closest relative, Aunt Kate. Kate is also the picture of strength, even at her advanced age and ailment. She amused me most when she moons over Annalisse’s boyfriend, Alec, one minute and then pragmatically dismisses the thought of him the next.

From the moment that Ethan, Annalisse, and Kate try to identify a dead man in the barn, confusion set in on me and I couldn’t shake it for most of the book. There were so many male characters mentioned or in motion (two dead and at least six others interacting with Annalisse), that I felt like I couldn’t keep everyone straight. The name found on the dead man was significant to Kate, but the deceased was not that person. Alec was easy enough to keep straight, but between his security detail/friends that show up to try to solve the mystery, I got a little lost. And it made me a little squirmy that even Alec’s friends seemed to kinda have the hots for Annalisse too.

But character confusion aside, I was truly riveted with the twists and turns. I had two or three theories in my brain and not one of them were even close to the ending. But even more fantastic than the big reveal at the end, I appreciated Bell’s use of exposition throughout to prepare us for what a bad ass Annalisse is. I had not read Stolen Obsession, so I would have been confused with Annalisse’s cool head in the midst of crisis and experience with weapons had there not been snippets of details from book one of the series. I also really enjoyed the thought process that the “team” let the reader in on so that we could try to solve the mystery alongside them. And don’t get me started on the messages from the unknown person/killer. The creativity and the danger behind each “gift” sent a tingle down my spine.

Since I plan on going back to read the first book, I recommend you do the same if you have not already read it. I think that seeing how Annalisse and Alec first meet and the trials that they go through together will make you more invested in seeing them through a difficult time in their relationship. I’m looking forward to book three.

Marlene M. Bell is an acclaimed artist and photographer as well as a writer. Her sheep landscapes grace the covers of publications such as, Sheep!, The Shepherd, Ranch & Rural Living, and Sheep Industry News. Ewephoric, her mail order venture, began in 1985 out of a desire for realistic sheep stationery. A color catalog of non-fiction books and sheep-related gifts may be requested on her website or www.texassheep.com.Marlene and her husband, Gregg reside on a wooded ranch in beautiful East Texas with their dreadfully spoiled horned Dorset sheep, a large and lovable Maremma guard dog named Tia, and Hollywood, Leo, and Squeaks, the cats who believe they rule the household — and do.

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Audio Book Review & Giveaway: Covey Jencks by Shelton L. Williams

COVEY JENCKS
by
SHELTON L. WILLIAMS
Narrated by Kathy James
Genre: Mystery / Social Thriller
Publisher: Southern Owl Publications, LLC
Publication Date: February 10, 2018
Number of Pages: 229 pages
Audio Book Length: 6 hours, 38 minutesSCROLL DOWN FOR THE GIVEAWAY! 

Covey Jencks is a murder mystery with a social conscience. Set in West Texas with a cast of colorful and humorous characters, it follows a young lawyer from Washington, DC back to his hometown of Odessa, Texas. He wants and needs to solve a murder case from 1979 in 1993. The problem is that the Odessa Police Department has already found its man, and no one wants to re-visit the case of a black prostitute whose life was seemingly of no consequence to anyone. But Freddie Mae Johnson’s death matters to Covey, and eventually he discovers an old flame, JayJay Qualls, who also knew and loved Freddie. Together they undertake an investigation that uncovers not only the truth about Freddie but also the secrets of Odessa’s south side, Mexican gangs, a Boston mobster, and the fallacy of unexamined assumptions. Finding out who killed Freddie is one thing, but preventing their own demise is quite another! 
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PRAISE FOR COVEY JENCKS:
 
Williams seamlessly braids a murder mystery with a love story and a drama about the pervasiveness of racism in the South… The author’s prose is buoyantly eccentric, both insightful and self-effacingly humorous. And the clues Covey and JayJay track down are meted out to readers with impressive judiciousness: The author never prematurely surrenders so much information that the conclusion is rendered foregone while the tale’s swift pace prevents it from becoming tedious. An engrossing crime drama that’s both entertaining and provocative. — Kirkus Indie

review

Welcome to my first ever audio book review! I’m really excited to share my thoughts on Covey Jencks. Within the first few seconds, I was laughing because I was pronouncing Covey with a long “O” sound. So you can see that I am someone who could definitely benefit from listening to audio books more often.

One thing I noticed several minutes into this audio book is that all the normal front of the book stuff (title page, publishing information, foreword, etc.) was treated as individual chapters. So when you looked at your listening device, chapter 7 was when chapter 1 of the book actually began. I wish the company that put together the audio book could or would have used some other naming convention so that the chapter numbers actually matched up.

Narrator: At first I was a little confused with the choice of Kathy James as narrator, but I feel like it might have had to do with what was discussed in the foreword. This book contains all types of characters and the diversity extends beyond the normal racial categories to include cisgender individuals as well. So I think that Williams wanted to liberate us of our assumption as to what Covey Jencks would sound like. James was a good choice for keeping us on neutral footing. She has a very soothing voice with very precise diction, sort of like Siri. It takes her about a chapter or two to hit her stride, but it feels satisfying to hear her personality shine through. And though I tried to break the confines of my bias on gender roles, I couldn’t help but smile every time that pretty voice cursed or talked about lewd behavior. Side note: I truly hope that Ms. James narrates some of those children’s books intended for adult audiences in the future. Lastly, kudos to anyone who can read AIM messages without me fast forwarding.

Story: I can’t praise this story enough. I was able to invest myself into every character, especially when it came to Covey and Freddie. I liked hearing about Covey’s upbringing and just appreciated his sense of humor all around. I have a feeling that Williams has a bit of Covey in him because that character just felt so natural. I liked the many layers of Ms. Freddie as well and was glad to get to know her through the various flashbacks. Odessa was sort of its own character for me also because who knew about the seedy underground during that time period? I have never been to Odessa but I had imagined a sleepy town where there’s one bar and one police officer to break up the occasional drunken brawl. But I guess that there would have to be more to a place for Covey to come back from a high power attorney position in Washington, D.C.

I had a good time listening to this book. It’s a good mystery that takes you on a wild ride that is very different from your typical whodunit. You can’t go wrong getting this in audio or print format.

Shelton L. Williams (Shelly) is founder and president of the Osgood Center for International Studies in Washington, DC. He holds a PhD from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and he taught for nearly 40 years at Austin College in Sherman, Texas. He has served in the US Government on 4 occasions and he has written books and articles on nuclear proliferation. In 2004 he began a new career of writing books on crime and society. Those books are Washed in the Blood, Summer of 66, and now Covey Jencks. All firmly prove that he is still a Texan at heart.

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My first part time job while I was in high school was announcing at the local radio station, and I had fun being “on the air” and using my sarcastic sense of humor.  I worked in the radio business for more than twenty years. My favorite pastimes are teaching figure skating, getting lost in a great book, and watching movies.  I narrate and produce audio books in my home studio, and I truly enjoy bringing an author’s characters to life with an audio book. I currently reside in Minnesota with my slightly overweight cat and two childlike golden retrievers.  
 
 
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Review & Giveaway: Burden of Proof by DiAnn Mills

BURDEN OF PROOF
FBI Rapid Response, #1
by
DiANN MILLS
Genre: Inspirational /Mystery / Suspense / Romance
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
Date of Publication: October 9, 2018
Number of Pages: 416

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Reeling from a negotiation gone wrong, FBI Special Agent April Ramos is caught off guard when a frazzled young woman shoves a crying baby into her arms, then disappears. Worry for the child’s safety quickly turns to fear when a man claiming to be the girl’s father abducts them at gunpoint. April puts her hostage negotiation skills to use to learn more about who she’s dealing with: Jason Snyder, a fugitive accused of murder. 
As Jason spins a tall tale about being framed for the killing of his business partner, April must sort through his claims to find the truth. A truth that becomes all the more evident after April overhears a conversation between Jason and the local sheriff and realizes something more sinister may be happening in their small town of Sweet Briar, Texas. But aligning herself with a known fugitive to uncover the burden of proof could cost April her job . . . or worse, her life and the lives of other innocent people.
PRAISE FOR DiANN MILLS:
“The tension level rises as layers of lies are peeled away in multiple plot twists.” —Library Journal

“DiAnn Mills is a master of fast-paced and intricately plotted romantic suspense.” —Colleen Coble, Bestselling author

“[A] fast-moving, intricately plotted thriller.” —Publishers Weekly
CHECK OUT THE BOOK TRAILER! 

review
I was excited to get a copy of DiAnn Mills’ latest book because she never fails to capture my undivided attention. I get a little breathless when gripped with suspense or excitement, and this book is filled with so many moments that make your heart skip a beat. Mills is especially skilled when it comes to writing dialogue. Each characters’ speech sounds natural and flows just as well as the non-dialogue text. When Mills switches the point of view, there is no confusion because the character’s voice shines through very clearly and the writing style is concise.
I can say with all honesty that Mills’ books are all very unique. Although I’ve read several FBI-mystery-romance books by her, they are all very different from each other, as well as books by other authors in the same genre. You would think that there are only so many meet-cute scenarios that can happen between an FBI agent and a paramour, but Mills will raise you another. In fact, she will keep them coming since this is the first book of a new series.
I’m Filipino, so I’m excited to see a Filipino protagonist whose ethnicity is not central to the plot. Sure, Mills throws in an Adobo reference – you should try this dish if you haven’t yet (it’s not the same as the Hispanic Adobo dish) – but April could be any ethnicity really. But since she’s not just any ethnicity, I’m going to nitpick a little. April is uncomfortable during long prayers, but most Filipinos are (or were at one time in their life) Catholic, so super long prayers – Hail Mary, anyone? – should be no biggie. April’s parents would prefer that she was a university professor rather than an FBI agent. Are you kidding? Filipinos love to brag and most of them love guns as well. And they live in Texas? Game over. They have guns of all shapes and sizes. And they would bring all those guns to the range to show their friends while they proudly talked about their FBI agent daughter.
But overall, I’m really amazed at how Mills’ characters spring to life in every book, this one especially. I think she is very successful with her portrayal of April’s struggle to do the right thing because I was constantly second guessing myself on what was the “right” or best thing to do in that situation too. I feel lucky to not have to make decisions that place my family on one side of the scale and the community on the other. I suppose most normal Joes like myself don’t have to.
I look forward to reading the next book. While you wait for the next installment, I suggest you pick up one of her FBI Task Force novels.

DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She combines unforgettable characters with unpredictable plots to create action-packed, suspense-filled novels.
Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne du Maurier, Inspirational Reader’s Choice, and Carol Award contests. Firewall, the first book in her Houston: FBI series, was listed by Library Journal as one of the best Christian fiction books of 2014.
DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. She is co-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, where she continues her passion of helping other writers be successful. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country. 
DiAnn has been termed a coffee snob and roasts her own coffee beans. She’s an avid reader, loves to cook, and believes her grandchildren are the smartest kids in the universe. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas. DiAnn is very active online and would love to connect with readers.
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Notable Quotable & Giveaway: The Widow’s Watcher by Eliza Maxwell

 
THE WIDOW’S WATCHER
by
ELIZA MAXWELL
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union Press
Date of Publication: March 29, 2018
Number of Pages: 286Scroll down for the giveaway!

From Eliza Maxwell, the bestselling author of The Unremembered Girl, comes a gripping novel about the mysteries that haunt us and the twists of fate that can unravel them…
Living in the shadow of a decades-old crime that stole his children from him, reclusive Lars Jorgensen is an unlikely savior. But when a stranger walks onto the ice of a frozen Minnesota lake, her intentions are brutally clear, and the old man isn’t about to let her follow through.
Jenna Shaw didn’t ask for Lars’s help, nor does she want it. After he pulls her from the brink, however, Jenna finds her desire to give up challenged by their unlikely friendship. In Jenna, Lars recognizes his last chance for redemption. And in her quest to solve the mysteries of Lars’s past and bring him closure, Jenna may find the way out of her own darkness. 
But the truth that waits threatens to shatter it all. When secrets are surrendered and lies are laid bare, Jenna and Lars may find that accepting the past isn’t their greatest challenge. Can they afford the heartbreaking price of forgiveness?
PRAISE FOR THE WIDOW’S WATCHER:
“There was a moment I had to tell myself that this is just a book…”
Goodreads reviewer
“A well-paced story of healing, forgiveness and tragedy, with enough unexpected twists to keep readers guessing.”
— Amber Cowie, author of Rapid Falls

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Eliza Maxwell lives in Texas with her ever-patient husband and two kids. She’s an artist and writer, an introvert and a British cop drama addict. She loves nothing more than to hear from readers.
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Covey Jencks by Shelton L. Williams

 
COVEY JENCKS
by
Shelton L. Williams
Genre: Mystery / Social Thriller
Publisher: Southern Owl Publications, LLC
Publication Date: February 10, 2018
Number of Pages: 229 pages
Covey Jencks is a murder mystery with a social conscience. Set in West Texas with a cast of colorful and humorous characters, it follows a young lawyer from Washington, DC back to his hometown of Odessa, Texas. He wants and needs to solve a murder case from 1979 in 1993. The problem is that the Odessa Police Department has already found its man, and no one wants to re-visit the case of a black prostitute whose life was seemingly of no consequence to anyone. But Freddie Mae Johnson’s death matters to Covey and eventually he discovers an old flame, JayJay Qualls, who also knew and loved Freddie. Together they undertake an investigation that uncovers not only the truth about Freddie but also the secrets of Odessa’s south side, Mexican gangs, a Boston mobster, and the fallacy of unexamined assumptions. Finding out who killed Freddie is one thing, but preventing their own demise is quite another! 
scrapbook page
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PRAISE FOR COVEY JENCKS: 
I just love Covey Jencks and JayJay Qualls! They are a modern couple who remind me of Nick and Nora in West Texas. Characters, crimes, and social commentary leap off the page. Shelly can tell a story! Deborah Crombie, author of the award-winning mysteries of Gemma James/Duncan Kincaid

I loved the story, the writing, and the prospects for future Covey Jencks adventures, but what I love the most, as an African- American author and documenter of human experience, is the proof that this work presents of the inextricability of Black and White lives in America. Sharon T. Freeman, CEO of Gems of Wisdom Consulting, author of 24 books, and global development expert

A dead body and a miscarriage of justice? What is a West Texas boy to do? Well, Covey Jencks, an Odessa native who knows some secrets, spurns his job with a Washington, DC law firm, and heads back to his hometown to solve the crime. Prudence Mackintosh, Contributing Editor, Texas Monthly, author of Thundering Sneakers and more

“I have unfinished business in Odessa, by God, Texas.” And with that, we are off on a wild ride with Covey Jencks as he tries to find out who killed Freddie Mae Johnson, a black prostitute, when Covey was a junior in high school. If you like your detectives to be misfits who chafe at the social rules, idealists who try to find the order behind apparent chaos, attractors of a cast of characters as contradictory as the detective is, you will grab hold of Covey and hang on until the end of the ride. When you get there, you’ll know for sure that you’ve been somewhere. Carol Daeley, Professor Emerita of English, Austin College.

Shelton L. Williams (Shelly) is founder and president of the Osgood Center for International Studies in Washington, DC. He holds a PhD from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and he taught for nearly 40 years at Austin College in Sherman, Texas. He has served in the US Government on 4 occasions and he has written books and articles on nuclear proliferation. In 2004 he began a new career of writing books on crime and society. Those books are Washed in the Blood, Summer of 66, and now Covey Jencks. All firmly prove that he is still a Texan at heart.

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Author Video & Giveaway: High Treason by DiAnn Mills

HIGH TREASON
An FBI Task Force Novel, #3
by
DiANN MILLS
  
Genre: Inspirational /Mystery / Suspense / Romance
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
Date of Publication: February 6, 2018
Number of Pages: 416

Scroll down for the giveaway!

When Saudi Prince Omar bin Talal visits Houston to seek cancer treatment for his mother, an attempt on his life puts all agencies on high alert. FBI Special Agent Kord Davidson is the lead on the prince’s protective detail because of their long-standing friendship, but he’s surprised—and none too happy—when the CIA brings one of their operatives, Monica Alden, in on the task force after the assassination attempt.
Kord and Monica must quickly put aside interagency squabbles, however, when they learn the prince has additional motives for his visit—plans to promote stronger ties with the US and encourage economic growth and westernization in his own country. Plans that could easily incite a number of suspects both in the US and in countries hostile to Saudi Arabia. Worse yet, the would-be assassin always seems to be one step ahead of them, implicating someone close to the prince—or the investigation. But who would be willing to commit high treason, and can Kord and Monica stop them in time?  

“Compelling characters and a riveting plot that fits seamlessly with current events make this novel impossible to put down. Readers can count on being glued to the pages late into the night – as “just one more chapter” turns into “can’t stop now.”” – RT Book Reviews


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Who is DiAnn Mills?
CHECK OUT THE BOOK TRAILER! 

DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She combines unforgettable characters with unpredictable plots to create action-packed, suspense-filled novels. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne du Maurier, Inspirational Reader’s Choice, and Carol Award contests. Library Journal presented her with a Best Books 2014: Genre Fiction award in the Christian fiction category for Firewall.
DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, International Thriller Writers, and the Faith, Hope, and Love chapter of Romance Writers of America. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas. DiAnn is very active online and would love to connect with readers on any of the social media platforms listed.

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