Once Taken (A Riley Paige Mystery-Book 2) by Blake Pierce

Once Taken (A Riley Paige Mystery-Book 2) by Blake Pierce, 235 pages, February 14th 2016, Genre: Mystery/Thriller/Suspense. Warning: May Contain Spoilers.

Review by Leigh Holland.

Once Taken is a double story, both building on each other in a progressing character arc for FBI Special Agent Riley Paige. I was engaged from start to finish. When one plot resolved, the other had already captivated me. The heart of this book is its main character, Riley Paige, and the unfolding exploration of her darker side.

Riley is divorced from Ryan, a self-important big-time lawyer. She has a teenage, rebellious daughter named April. And she’s haunted by the idea that her serial killing tormentor and nemesis, Peterson, may have survived their last encounter. She has several years under her belt and when Lucy Vargas, the new kid on the block, is assigned to the next case alongside her, she worries it’ll compromise the investigation having a rookie on the case. Riley becomes particularly dedicated to the next case, as the victims are hung and posed after their deaths by throat slitting. This reminds her of Marie, a woman who took her own life by hanging in association with the Peterson case.

After a break-in, Riley makes it known she thinks it was Peterson. The FBI believes he’s dead and the other officers think Riley’s lost her mind. However, while she and Lucy are investigating the serial killings in Reedsport, New York, she gets an urgent text from April. Reluctantly, she returns home to discover Ryan lost track of April. April has been kidnapped and Riley is certain Peterson took her. Her best friend and former partner, Bill Jeffreys, returns to help her find April before it’s too late. Meanwhile, April is a chip off the block, doing whatever it takes to escape Peterson before he murders her. The climax of the first story leaves Riley questioning her motives and moral compass.

My favorite character is Riley. Riley is easy to relate to. She’s realistic, human, and flawed. She’d do anything to protect her daughter. She’s driven to do whatever it takes to bring down the killer, even if it skirts crossing the line. Riley tiptoes over the line more than once in this book. Will Riley be in danger of fully embracing her dark side? Will she one day turn into what she hates? I also enjoyed her discussions with Hatcher, an imprisoned criminal and killer with insights into the psychology of killing, particularly with chains. Hatcher possesses an uncanny ability to empathize with cops and killers alike. This allows him to play mind games with them if they’re not careful.

I enjoyed Once Taken and would recommend it to readers of crime thrillers.

There are ten books in this series at the present time. You can find them (in order) here:

Once Gone A free download with over 800  5 star reviews!

Once Taken

Once Craved

Once Lured

Once Hunted

Once Pined

Once Forsaken

Once Cold

Once Stalked

Once Lost

Book Synopsis

ONCE TAKEN is book #2 in the bestselling Riley Paige mystery series, which begins with ONCE GONE (Book #1)–a free download with over 800 five star reviews!

Women are being murdered in upstate New York, their bodies found mysteriously hanging in chains. With the FBI called in, given the bizarre nature of the murders—and the lack of any clues—there is only one agent they can turn to: Special Agent Riley Paige.

Riley, reeling from her last case, is reluctant to take on a new one, since she is still convinced a former serial killer is out there, stalking her. She knows, though, that her ability to enter a serial killer’s mind and her obsessive nature is what will be needed to crack this case, and she just can’t refuse—even if it will push her over the edge.

Riley’s search takes her deep into a killer’s deluded mind as it leads her to orphanages, mental hospitals, prisons, all in an effort to understand the depth of his psychosis. Realizing she is up against a true psychopath, she knows time is short before he strikes again. But with her own job on the line and her own family a target, and with her fragile psyche collapsing, it may all be too much for her—and too late.

A dark psychological thriller with heart-pounding suspense, ONCE TAKEN is book #2 in a riveting new series—with a beloved new character—that will leave you turning pages late into the night.

Book #3 in the Riley Paige series–ONCE CRAVED–is also available!

About the Author

Blake Pierce is author of the bestselling RILEY PAGE mystery series, which include the mystery suspense thrillers ONCE GONE (book #1), ONCE TAKEN (book #2), ONCE CRAVED (#3) and ONCE LURED (#4). Blake Pierce is also the author of the MACKENZIE WHITE mystery series and AVERY BLACK mystery series.

An avid reader and lifelong fan of the mystery and thriller genres, Blake loves to hear from you, so please feel free to visit blakepierceauthor.com to learn more and stay in touch.

Check out other reviews at:

Once Taken at The Forensic Bibliophile

Once Taken at My Little Book Blog

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Killing Kate by Alex Lake

Killing Kate by Alex Lake, 417 pages, October 6th 2016, HarperCollins Publishers, Genre: Thriller and Suspense/Serial Killers/Crime. Warning: May Contain Spoilers.

Review by Leigh Holland.

Kate and her friends take a trip to Greece on vacation after Kate breaks up with her long time boyfriend, Phil. Phil didn’t take the break up well, not well at all. Phil believed they were ready for marriage, kids, and growing old together. Kate, on the other hand, had never been with anyone but Phil, had never experienced much in life on her own, and decided she needed to do so before she could commit. Phil can’t stop thinking about Kate. He’s obsessed with her. When he decides to date another woman, she not only looks like Kate, but she’s just intended to make Kate jealous. Phil can’t seem to move on.

On her vacation, Kate gets drunk and almost sleeps with a man named Mike she picks up in a bar. Mike, the perfect gentleman, doesn’t take advantage of her and lets her sleep it off in his bedroom. The next day, Kate decides she never wants to see Mike again. Upon her return to England, however, Kate finds Phil is faring no better. Phil texts, calls, and ‘unexpectedly checks in on’ her for a while. As women who look remarkably like Kate and live in the same town get murdered one after another, the tension rises. Kate realizes she could be a serial killer’s next target. Changing her hair and wearing colored contacts makes sense, until the killer switches to killing women who look like Kate after the changes.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. The writing style kept me engaged through to the end. I wasn’t surprised by the time the villain was revealed, but it did keep me guessing for much of the book. I didn’t like Kate very much. I liked the other characters in the novel. Kate is lucky to have such good friends; including, yes, the slightly stalkerish Phil. The climax of the story kept me on the edge of my seat with concern for everyone involved. I’d recommend this book to readers who enjoy suspense and thriller novels.

This book can be found at Killing Kate.

Book Description:

From the author of ebook No. 1 bestseller and Sunday Times top ten bestseller AFTER ANNA.

A serial killer is stalking your home town.

He has a type: all his victims look the same.

And they all look like you.

Kate returns from a post break-up holiday with her girlfriends to news of a serial killer in her hometown – and his victims all look like her.

It could, of course, be a simple coincidence.

Or maybe not.

She becomes convinced she is being watched, followed even. Is she next? And could her mild-mannered ex-boyfriend really be a deranged murderer?

Or is the truth something far more sinister?

About the Author:

Alex Lake is a British novelist who was born in the North West of England. After Anna, the author’s first novel written under this pseudonym, was a No.1 bestselling ebook sensation and a top ten Sunday Times bestseller. The author now lives in the North East of the US.

Check out some other reviews at:

Killing Kate at Always With a Book

ARC Book Review: Killing Kate

The Ultimatum by Karen Robards

Thief with a heart!

 

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The Ultimatum: An International Spy Thriller (The Guardian Book 1) by Karen Robards, MIRA, 336 pages, July 13th 2017, Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense/Organized Crime. Warning: May Contain Spoilers.

Review by Leigh Holland.

“What I’m doing is trying to save a little girl and her mother, and yes, that’s worth risking my life,” says Bianca St. Ives, an international thief with a heart of gold. In this intriguing dance of crooks, cops, and killers, Robards provides us with a harder-than-diamonds heroine who’s soft in all the right places. Although her father taught her ‘the rules’, a code that ensures her survival even at the expense of others, Bianca often finds herself making ‘exceptions’.

Bianca St. Ives has been trained since childhood by her father to be a master of disguise, thief, con artist, security specialist, martial artist and part of his team. A huge heist goes horribly wrong in Bahrain, leading to an explosion that takes the life of her father. Bianca must pick up the pieces, returning to her ‘cover’ life in Savannah as the head of a her own security firm. Doc, the only surviving member of his team, returns with her and acts in the capacity of her internet and computer expert. While monitoring her father’s email, Doc and Bianca get an offer for a job directed to her dad. Bianca takes the job. When things go from bad to worse, she tries to get out of the job, to no avail, as the lives of others hang in the balance. Bianca’s journey leads her to discover more about her origins, true identity, and her family’s past. The cliffhanger ending readies the reader for the next installment in the series, leaving us wanting more.

For fans of Robards’ previous Romantic Suspense novels, this first installment may leave you feeling the romantic aspect is lacking. Bianca has steamy chemistry in her cat-and-mouse game with Mickey, but it never goes deeper. There is potential for fleshing out a deeper relationship in later books. A lot of questions about Bianca’s past remain unanswered. In this book, you’ll find a lot of descriptive spy activity, suspenseful action, and a couple of interesting twists.

I enjoyed reading this first installment and I’m anxiously looking forward to seeing where the series goes as well as finding out more about Bianca’s past. I’d recommend this book to readers who enjoy strong female protagonists and criminal/suspense novels.

Amazon link: The Ultimatum by Karen Robards

Website: http://www.karenrobards.com/

Biography:

Karen Robards is a bestselling novelist from Louisville, Kentucky. She has penned over 50 published novels since 1981 and had her work translated into 17 languages. Starting off as a historical romance writer, Robards switched to Romantic Suspense. Her most recent novel, The Ultimatum, is a Spy Thriller.

Her father was an orthodontist and when she visited his work, she read his copies of Reader’s Digest. In 1973, she sold her first short story to Reader’s Digest for $100. Her first book, “Island Flame”, was the result of a graduate level writing class assignment. Not realizing she’d have to read the work to the class, she chose to write the assignment in the historical romance genre. Her first book stayed on the shelves three weeks, which was standard in those days. She took a job at an orthodontist’s office and during her lunch break, worked on her second novel bit by bit. “To Love a Man” sold to new publisher and began selling quickly. She won a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award.

Check out other reviews at:

The Ultimatum at All About Romance

The Ultimatum at Publisher’s Weekly

The Good Daughter by Alexandra Burt

Suspenseful!

The Good Daughter by Alexandra Burt, 398 pages, Berkley, February 7th 2017, ISBN: 0451488113, Format: Paperback, Genre:Contemporary Women/Suspense. Warning: May Contain Spoilers.

Review by Leigh Holland.

Our mothers nurture us, feed us, clothe us, shelter us. These amazing women love us, teach us, and would do anything to protect us. Sure, we can all look back at certain instances where mother may not have done right, where she could’ve done better by us, or in some situations she may even have been wrong. But we forgive our mothers their faux pas. Somebody had to raise us and who’s to say anyone else would’ve done any better? Knowing our own flaws and inner teenage turmoil, could anyone else have done better? Even if deep down we think maybe someone else could’ve, nobody else did. We love her in return. We forgive her. We’re good daughters.

This is the story of a good daughter named Dahlia. All her life, she and her mother, Memphis, have lived off the grid, taking jobs for cash, homeschooling, and staying in motels or the car. Finally, when she was a bit older, her mother rented a house in Aurora and they settled down. Memphis took odd jobs for cash, like tending the elderly or cleaning homes of the affluent. Dahlia often wondered why she didn’t go to school until they settled in Aurora. Memphis told her it was because of ‘paperwork’. Once Dahlia grew up and wanted to go to college, she couldn’t apply for financial aid because Memphis refused to complete the paperwork. Memphis offered to pay cash for classes at the local community college instead. Dahlia left and lived the same sort of life her mom had- living and working off the grid, paying cash for everything and never acquiring credit. Finally, Dahlia decided she’d had enough and she wanted some answers. Why didn’t she have a social security number? Why had they moved around so much? Where’s her birth certificate? The deeper Dahlia digs, the darker the dirt she dredges up.

What makes someone a good mother? Can the protective urge be taken too far? Do mothers use ‘the good of the child’ as an excuse to act selfishly? What makes someone a good daughter? To whom does a good daughter owe her loyalty in the end? Are there things a mother can do that a daughter can’t forgive? These are some of the questions The Good Daughter brings to the fore. My favorite character was Dahlia. At one point, Memphis asks her “Have you ever been in the eye of a storm?” It’s sad that Memphis doesn’t see that Dahlia has always been at the eye of the storm and Memphis is the person who placed her there.

I enjoyed reading this novel. It had a series of suspenseful moments that kept me turning its pages. I felt there were easier ways for the character Quinn to get what she wanted most and I didn’t understand why she never considered those options. In the end, I would’ve made the same decision as Dahlia about her mother. I would’ve shared her ambivalent feelings. I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy complex relationships between female characters and a suspenseful sequence of events.

 This book can be found at The Good Daughter .

Blood Moon by John David Bethel

Horrifying Suspense!

Blood Moon by John David Bethel, 451 pages, Tell-Tale Publishing Group LLC, December 4th 2016, Genre: Thriller and Suspense. Warning: May Contain Spoilers.

Review by Leigh Holland.

This horrifying, violent, gritty thriller isn’t for the faint of heart. This gripping, suspenseful novel terrifies, reminding us of how fragile life is. Blood Moon is about justice delayed and justice denied; based on a real crime that happened in the 1990’s in Miami, Florida. The foreword was written by the survivor of these events and the investigator who helped him, driving home how easy it would be for others to do us harm. Justice does finally come- but not with any help from the Miami police.

Recidio Suarez is a good man, a good husband and father, and a hard-working example of the American Dream. He has survived the trials of life, some of them high risk situations, and has worked hard to build an affluent, comfortable life for his wife and kids. Imperfect as we all are, he nevertheless has always striven to do right by others and treat them fairly. That’s one of the reasons it’s so horrifying when his former protege Dario Pedrajo, a man he trusted, trained, and helped succeed in life, turns on him, getting involved in a plot to kidnap, torture, and extort everything the Suarez family has built. Pedrajo falls in with a bad crowd of criminals, headed by a strip club owner named Blaine Nesbit. With the aid of allies Bob Camarillo and Rector, they kidnap Suarez, holding him at a warehouse for weeks where they torture and maim him. They threaten to rape his wife Lina and torture his kids if he doesn’t sign over his bank accounts, businesses, house, and retirement funds to them. The torture he is subjected to is truly gruesome and a sign of how deeply wicked his kidnappers are. Suarez narrowly survives their clumsy attempt to murder him once they’d acquired his assets. The police chief dislikes Suarez’s attorney due to a past grudge and refuses to allow the case to be pursued. It’s only after the murderous crooks bite off more than they can chew and it can no longer be avoided that the police get involved.

The plot is straightforward with justice eventually dispensed in an unconventional but thoroughly satisfying manner. John David Bethel’s writing is excellent. The characters are relatable and believable. The lack of action and the blaming of the victim on the part of the police burns the reader with anger. The intense and at times unnecessary violence perpetrated by the criminals on their helpless prey horrifies and saddens. How can human beings commit such terrible acts against their fellow men? How can the forces we empower to protect us and obtain justice for us turn a blind eye?

I enjoyed Blood Moon and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys true crime stories, suspenseful thrillers, and gritty, hard-hitting tales.

This book is available at Blood Moon .

Killjoy by LeVar Ravel

Witty, cautionary

Killjoy by LeVar Ravel, 188 pages, January 14th, 2014, Genre: Fantasy/Mystery/Suspense. Warning: May Contain Spoilers.

Review by Leigh Holland

A ‘killjoy’ is a person who takes the fun out of any event they attend. The title is most fitting for the theme of this story. The moral of this tale is to live life to the fullest, with hope, honesty, exuberant feeling, and joy. It’s a lesson mankind always seems in need of as we, throughout our generations, conform and adhere to the ‘correct and proper’ lifestyle du jour.

The assassin, whose true name is never told, is delightful with his many accents, costume changes, and faux personalities. He clearly enjoys satirizing people as well as trying to better understand them and their emotions. He’s the perfect assassin, never leaving a trace, always affecting the appearance of suicide to his victims. Everyone wonders, “How does he do it?” His clients, mostly mobsters, are appreciative and consider him to be the best in his field. He’s made a niche for himself dealing with difficult victims, such as musicians, comedians, politicians- the famous, for whom there can be no hint of foul play.

My favorite character was Elizabeth “Gwen” Orangegrave, the wife of the pseudo-religious mobster Charles Edward Orangegrave. As a young girl, she knew joy and love. Due to hardship, she lost this desire for joy and traded it in for wealth, security, practicality, and success: the things society tells us we should want. The assassin takes a peculiar liking to her also. In the end, she sees what she chose against the backdrop of what she left behind and makes a different choice, a better choice.

I felt the politician Corbin Locke represented what I imagine most of them are really like behind their smiles and speeches. Charles was a bit two-dimensional, but of course, that was sort of the point- that he would contrast the life his wife once knew and represent her choices. Written in third person narrative, the writing was enjoyable and engaging. A novella, the book can be read in about three hours. I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys suspense with a hint of darkness.

This book is presently available at Amazon at Killjoy .

The Wolfe Experiment by R.W. Adams

Tragic and Terrifying

The Wolfe Experiment by R.W. Adams, 288 pages, March 23rd, 2017, Genre: Psychic/Suspense. Warning: May Contain Spoilers.

by Leigh Holland

The Wolfe Experiment by R.W. Adams is a suspenseful tale of survival and psychic ability. Written in third person omniscient point of view, we’re shown an aggressive, corrupt world in which only those who have the most destructive weapons matter and decent people are merely tools for those who govern them. This corruption is made possible by those among the masses who support it and those who are indifferent to it, as well as those who individually choose to join corrupt forces for their own ends.

The Wolfes, a married couple doing scientific research into pharmaceuticals to treat bipolar in children, slide down that slippery slope of doing some evil to effect a greater good. However, this is merely what they tell themselves to be able to sleep at night. In truth, they are obsessed with completing their research and will do anything to see it to its fruition. When they cannot acquire young enough subjects for their trials, they experiment on their own children; Ethan from age three and Tilly from birth. However, they no longer seek to treat bipolar kids. Instead, they stumbled on a far more miraculous effect of the drugs they created and seek to perfect them. Tilly falls asleep on a car ride during which Ethan is supposed to keep her awake. Her power activates in her sleep, causing massive damage and killing their parents in a car accident. The siblings are moved around to various homes in the social services system. At each one, an incident occurs due to their psychic abilities, and their worker Sarah must find a new home for them. After a particular incident, the military decides it wants its ‘weapons’ back, as they are a product of their funding of their deceased parents’ research. A cat and mouse race ensues as the kids are on the streets and on the run from the military and its researchers.

This story is tragic. The novel jumps between different scenes in their lives until it reaches its inevitable conclusion. I couldn’t help but feel sadness and sympathy for these children and root for them to find a place where they would find love, security, happiness, and peace. At the same time, I recognized that innocents were being harmed each step of the way as they were forced to survive alone or fight against the aggressors. I often wondered how differently things may have been for them if enough people had known, had cared, and had intervened.

The plot was straightforward but intriguing. Characters were believable, having their own personal or professional motivations. The book was well-written. I enjoyed the storytelling style, especially in regard to showing facets in the lives of the siblings in a more relevant order than strict chronology. I’d recommend this book to those who enjoy science fiction and suspense.

This book can be found at Amazon at The Wolfe Experiment.

Dating A Chance by Natalia Vereshchagina

Quirky, Innovative

Dating A Chance by Natalia Vereshchagina, 232 Pages, Natalia Vereshchagina, 1st Edition, June 9th 2016, Genre: Thriller/Mystery/Suspense. Warning: May Contain Spoilers.

by Leigh Holland

Dating A Chance is a compelling, quirky murder mystery unlike any I have ever read. Its author presents an original spin on the murder mystery genre. This book explores deeper ideas such as God, the nature of the universe, fate, choice, luck, and the human cycle within the context of the puzzle being solved.

J-L, a top rated physicist working in a CERN-esque environment, has been working on his theory that particles can be manipulated at the quantum level in order to attract positive events and people into one’s life, if one but knows how. His theory is basically “the Secret” for scientists. J-L is excited as he believes he has successfully cracked the code for mankind to finally be able to draw positivity into their individual lives. Then killer bees attack him and there goes that prospect.

J-L is survived by his shrew of a wife Sylvia and his pregnant girlfriend/secretary Irene. Sylvia wants Irene out of the cottage Irene shared with J-L, but Irene believes she has rights to it as she is going to be the mother of J-L’s child. J-L’s physicist co-workers Andy, William, and Steve come by to check on Irene. When William and Steve come by after work, they discover Irene’s deceased body, apparently a victim of accidental self-poisoning. As the corpses begin to pile up, William and Steve, both obsessed men of science, must work to discover the truth. Are people being murdered and the deaths being made to appear as accidents? Or did J-L unlock the ultimate secret, only to unleash a curse that skips to those he knew in life? Are they next on the list?

I loved the idea behind this book. It’s fresh and unique. The plot was intriguing. The characters came across as educated, proper gentlemen physicists, as obsessed with solving the puzzling deaths as they were with unlocking secrets of the universe. The author’s voice is unique. While sentence constructions were at times lengthy, I often enjoyed the manner in which Vereshchagina put words together. However, I felt that this book could have benefited from further editing. If you like unconventional, innovative angles on murder mysteries, you’ll probably enjoy Dating A Chance.

It is available at Amazon at Dating A Chance by Natalia Vereshchagina .

The Itching Scars by Mohy Omar

The Itching Scars (The Scars Book 1) by Mohy Omar, May 9th, 2017, Genre: Anthologies/Psychological/Suspense. Warning: May Contain Spoilers.

by Leigh Holland

The Itching Scars is the first anthology of short stories released by Mohy Omar. It contains three short stories. The anthology currently sells for $2.99 at Amazon and is available through Kindle Unlimited for free reading at the time of this posting. The Itching Scars is a collection of stories tied together by a central theme, namely, that being human is hard and we all carry the scars of our failures and defeats. We can hide the scars, but even so, we know they’re there. They “itch”, affect our choices and behavior, and shape who we are as human beings. Omar excellently weaves this theme throughout three different genres in turn.

The first tale is “To Court Death”. In this story, the narrator reflects on those he has known who have passed into the great unknown. Gritty and dark, our narrator takes us on a journey into the past of these acquaintances and lovers, causing us to wonder where the tale is taking us. What lies at the end is horrifying, and it is only at the end that we see how these deaths linked together in the narrator’s mind.

The second story is “The Space Above, The Space Within”. We’re abruptly thrust into a dystopian future long after the Hate War ended. The authorities are taking Votum’s father to be slain for believing in God; in fact, they are executing him for opposing the ‘truth’ of the regime. Votum wants his father to live, wants to save him, as would anyone. Omar once more builds to a horrifying conclusion.

The final tale is “Under the Rust”. Told in a first-person perspective, this story focuses on a grim conversation between the narrator and a summoned demon. He confesses his sins to the demon. The demon is anxious to get to the root of his worst sin, to remove it from him and take his soul in the process. He wants desperately to unburden himself, but has difficulty admitting to his true crime. The ending is interesting and unexpected.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this anthology.  Much of the narrative style reminded me of the narration from “Sin City”; particularly in “To Court Death”. The most horrifying situations not only chilled me, but made me think about what I might do if I were in that character’s shoes. As the author writes, “They never said being human could be this hard.” As a fan of gritty, grim tales, I was left wanting more. My only complaint was that there were only these three tales in this anthology. I read the collection in forty minutes. I’d recommend this anthology to readers of short stories who love dark tales that examine the underbelly of humanity.

This book can be found at The Itching Scars.