Book Review: Smoke Screen by Terri Blackstock @TerriBlackstock @ThomasNelson @partnersincr1me

Smoke Screen
Terri Blackstock
Thomas Nelson, November 2019
ISBN 978-0-3103-3260-2
Hardcover

From the publisher—

One father was murdered. Another was convicted of his death. All because their children fell in love.

Nate Beckett has spent his life fighting wildfires instead of the lies and rumors that drove him from his Colorado hometown. His mother begs him to come back now that his father has been released from prison, but it isn’t until he’s sidelined by an injury that he’s forced to return and face his past. But that means facing Brenna too.

Fourteen years ago, Nate was in love with the preacher’s daughter. When Pastor Strickland discovered Brenna defied him to sneak out with Nate, the fight between Strickland and Nate’s drunken dad was loud—and very public. Strickland was found murdered later that night, and everyone accused Roy Beckett. When the church burned down not long after, people assumed Nate set the fire to get even for his father’s conviction. He let the rumors fly and left town without looking back.

Brenna is stunned to learn that the man convicted of murdering her father has been pardoned. The events of that night set her life on a bad course, and now she’s fighting a brutal custody battle with her ex and his new wife where he’s using lies and his family’s money to sway the judge. Brenna is barely hanging on, and she’s turned to alcohol to cope. Shame and fear consume her.

As Nate and Brenna deal with the present—including new information about that fateful night and a wildfire that’s threatening their town—the past keeps igniting. Nate is the steady force Brenna has so desperately needed. But she’ll have to learn to trust him again first.

Old wounds are ripped open when several different events converge. Nate returns to his hometown to recover from wildfire injuries; his father, incarcerated for killing his girlfriend’s father fourteen years ago, is pardoned; that girlfriend, Brenna, is deeply affected by a nasty custody battle and appalled by the release of her dad’s killer. Smoke Screen can be considered a multiple entendre since everyone is hidden by their own personal smoke screens. The big question is can all these people find redemption and learn that trust is still possible?

Brenna is probably the most embattled character and deserving of sympathy. She’s never really recovered from her father’s death and knowing that her relationship with Nate was the impetus for the murder. That emotional damage eventually led to a bad marriage and a custody battle and alcohol has become a crutch. Some will say that no “real” mother would let an addiction get in the way of caring for her children but that really isn’t true. ANY mother can be brought to her knees when life becomes nearly unendurable and perhaps only Nate can lift her up again. Nate, though, has his own battles to fight with the past while he and Brenna try to find the way back to each other.

I haven’t read anything by Ms. Blackstock before this one but I’m intrigued enough to want to try more. Now I just have to figure out where to begin 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2019.

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon // Indiebound

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An Excerpt from Smoke Screen

I woke up in a blinding bright room, my clothes off and something clamped to my face. I tried to reach it, but I couldn’t bend my right arm, and my hand stung. An IV was taped to my other hand, but I moved carefully and touched the thing over my face.

An oxygen mask. I tried to sit up. “What happened?”

T-bird came to my bedside, a sheen of smoky sweat still soiling his face. “Nate, lie back, man.”

“The fire,” I said. “Need to get back. My men.”

“They’re still there. Making progress. But you’re not going anywhere near a fire for a month or so.”

I took the mask off and coughed a little, but managed to catch my breath. “A month?”

“Yep. Second degree burns on 20 percent of your body. Some of the burns are deep.”

It came back to me, the event that had gotten me here.

“The family. Were they injured?”

“Not a scratch or burn. Turns out it was a U.S. Senator from Kansas. He says you’re a hero.”

“You know I had no choice. They were in the path—”

“Take the praise where you can get it, man. We don’t get that much.”

I looked at my right side. My right arm was bandaged, and so was my side and down my right leg to the point where my boots had stopped the flames. Second degree wasn’t so bad, I told myself. Third degree would have been brutal. I’d be able to leave the hospital soon. I’d heal.

“I won’t need a month,” I said.

“Yes, you will. They can’t let you go back. Doctor’s orders. You’re grounded until he releases you.”

I managed to sit up, but it was a bad idea. The burns pulling on my skin reminded me why I shouldn’t. “I can’t be grounded during fire season. Are you crazy? I need to be there. You don’t have enough men as it is.”

“Sorry, Nate. It is what it is. Why don’t you go home to Carlisle for a while? Take it easy.”

Go home? Pop had just been pardoned, and he and my mom were trying to navigate the reunion. Though she would love to have me home, I didn’t know if I was up to it. My father could be challenging, and fourteen years of prison hadn’t done him any favors.

Required text: Taken from “Smoke Screen” by Terri Blackstock. Copyright © 2019 by Terri Blackstock. Used by permission of http://www.thomasnelson.com/.

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About the Author

Terri Blackstock has sold over seven million books worldwide and is a New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author. She is the award-winning author of Intervention, Vicious Cycle, and Downfall, as well as such series as Cape Refuge, Newpointe 911, the SunCoast Chronicles, and the Restoration Series.

Catch Up With Terri Blackstock On:
Website // Goodreads // Twitter // BookBub // Facebook

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Book Reviews: The Pros of Cons by Alison Cherry, Lindsay Ribar & Michelle Schusterman and Trapped in Room 217 by Thomas Kingsley Troupe

The Pros of Cons
Alison Cherry, Lindsay Ribar & Michelle Schusterman
Point, March 2018
ISBN 978-1-338-15172-5
Hardcover

This quintessential Young Adult read is quirky, cubed. A mad mash-up of three (and a half) conventions under one roof results in a delightfully amusing tale that is not without substance. And it has a pretty great title, you know I love it when something can mean two things.

It isn’t Phoebe’s first time. She’s come before with her high-school percussion ensemble, to participate in the Indoor Percussion Association Convention. Perhaps there is a bit more pressure this time, though.

Vanessa is very excited to finally meet her girl-friend, face-to-face, for the first time. Sweetly naïve, she really does not know what to expect from the We Treasure Fandom con.

Callie came as her dad’s assistant for the World Taxidermy & Fish Carving Championship, but she’s only here hoping he will see her as his daughter, instead.

The story starts properly, with a literal bang. A collision in the lobby leads to a shuffling and unnoticed exchanges of carrying cases. From that point forward, nothing goes as planned.

Phoebe finds that her mallet bag is actually filled with tools for Buchannan Taxidermy, definitely not the mallets she needs. But, she’s only thrown for a second. Since she has the xylophone solo, she has to improvise. She uses the scalpels.

Vanessa is feeling confused and out-of-place. People are different in real-life than online and she’s just beginning to figure that out.

Callie is bummed that her dad continues to treat her like a disappointing assistant, but when she realizes his cold-shoulder is just the tip of the ice-berg; she plots sweet, public revenge.

I learned a lot from The Pros of Cons. I hadn’t heard of half of the percussion instruments played, nor did I know that “critical listening” is different from “analytical listening. “Fan-fic” and “cons” were familiar terms, but I had no inkling of the depth. Or that it gave way to its own language. By the way, I also know what sock-puppeting means now. Oddly, I did know a bit about taxidermy.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2018.

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Trapped in Room 217
Haunted States of America Series
Thomas Kingsley Troupe
Jolly Fish Press, September 2018
ISBN 978-1-63163-215-0
Hardcover

A father seldom has spare time when single-handedly raising a seventh-grade daughter and second-grade son. Jayla and Dion get that, and the late-night call did wake the whole house only hours ago. They won’t razz their dad, too much, just because the place they are staying during their impromptu Spring Break get-away doesn’t have a pool.

First sight of the historical hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, had them both second-guessing their generosity. Check-in was only slightly less than creepy. Jayla could not have imagined the murmurs when “Room 217” was spoken. But, The Stanley is beautiful and possibly interesting. Two bright and resourceful kids will find plenty to do. Although, assisting a spirit was not an item they would have imagined.

Seemingly strange occurrences compelled the siblings to research their current residence. After reviewing reading material spread throughout the common rooms, it was time to for a self-guided tour of the tantalizing tunnels below. There, Jayla and Dion may just be in over their heads.

I have always loved ghost-stories so, I was thrilled to hear about this historical-fiction series, The Haunted States of America by Thomas Kingsley Troupe. Trapped in Room 217 gave me exactly what I wanted. Cool characters (Dion packed his own suitcase, with books only, and he is my hero now) caught up in a mystery, moving at the perfect pace. Absolutely appropriate for younger readers, I will be introducing it to my favorite HS students because I believe they will dig it as much as I do.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2018.

Book Review: Burning Ridge by Margaret Mizushima

Burning Ridge
A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery #4
Margaret Mizushima
Crooked Lane Books, September 2018
ISBN 978-1-68331-778-4
Hardcover

Mattie Cobb is a Deputy Sheriff in Timber Creek, Colorado, with a special talent. She’s a highly accomplished K9 officer. With her faithful Shepherd, Robo, she’s trained and refined both her own and the dog’s capabilities to a very high level. The pair provides a rich vein of activity, characterization and plot movement. She’s of mixed ethnic heritage and though she spent early years in a troubled household, her grasp of right and wrong are strong. Timber Creek lies in the Redstone Ridge area, an immensely beautiful vista of rugged mountain, plains and streams, much of it covered with dense forest.

When she and a close friend find a partially burned body with signs of restraint and possible torture, Mattie begins a search that develops into a strange journey for her involving family, her law enforcement community and her future emotional life. The plot is intricate, the setting excellent and the tension rises on a continuum that almost compels readers to continue turning pages, exactly what every thriller author strives to accomplish.

As the story progresses, more and more intriguing, carefully delineated, characters are introduced. And, as Mattie and Robo draw ever closer to the answers she finds her family somehow entangled, as well. There are several violent scenes and a forest fire, all of which serves the story well. If there is any flaw here it is in the unwinding of some of the puzzling aspects of the plot. That takes somewhat more time than one would like but it is a small price to pay for an enthralling thriller of a crime novel peopled with varied and interesting characters.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2018.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: A Dying Note by Ann Parker

A Dying Note
A Silver Rush Mystery #6
Ann Parker
Poisoned Pen Press, April 2018
ISBN 978-1-4642-0979-6
Hardcover

This book finds former Leadville, Colorado, saloon owner Inez Stannert moved to San Francisco where she, with her ward, Antonia Gizzi, intend to start over and make a new life. Inez tows the mark, guarding her reputation as a widowed lady. But that is not true. She is a divorcee, which is almost a crime in 1881.

Inez, who plays piano with concert quality, is working her way to a partnership in a music store, where she keeps the books, makes sales, and teaches piano. The store’s owner concentrates on building his reputation as a musician, playing for the upper echelon of SF. A good many musicians gather the in the store, and there is talk of forming a union.

And then a young violinist is murdered down on the San Francisco docks.

Meanwhile, an old business friend from Leadville, high class bordello owner Frisco Flo Sweet shows up. She’s with another acquaintance from Colorado, who is looking for his son who seems to have jilted a fiancee and disappeared. Harry Gallagher wants Inez to find him, threatening her with exposure if she doesn’t come through.

To this end, Inez is forced to work with Wolter Roeland de Bruijn, but it becomes an unholy mess when it’s discovered the murdered violinist and Robert Gallagher are one and the same. Revealing the murderer puts all the searchers at risk, especially Inez and Antonia.

As always, author Ann Parker has written a tightly plotted mystery filled with excellent characters, and spiced the story with lots of history. Authors often describe women’s clothing of the period, but this time readers will be delighted to learn what gentlemen of the era were wearing in old San Francisco. Recommended.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2018.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.

Book Reviews: A Measure of Murder by Leslie Karst and Mile High Murder by Marcia Talley

A Measure of Murder
A Sally Solari Mystery #2
Leslie Karst
Crooked Lane Books, February 2018
ISBN 978-1-68331-493-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Sally Solari is busy juggling work at her family’s Italian restaurant, Solari’s, and helping Javier plan the autumn menu for the restaurant she’s just inherited, Gauguin. Complicating this already hectic schedule, Sally joins her ex-boyfriend Eric’s chorus, which is performing a newly discovered version of her favorite composition: the Mozart Requiem. But then, at the first rehearsal, a tenor falls to his death on the church courtyard–and his soprano girlfriend is sure it wasn’t an accident.

Now Sally’s back on another murder case mixed in with a dash of revenge, a pinch of peril, and a suspicious stack of sheet music. And while tensions in the chorus heat up, so does the kitchen at Gauguin–set aflame right as Sally starts getting too close to the truth. Can Sally catch the killer before she’s burnt to a crisp, or will the case grow as cold as yesterday’s leftovers?

Good food and good music go together beautifully but not so much when death—most likely murder—is in the mix. Sally Solari had looked forward to singing in the chorus performing this special piece but gets drawn into the peculiarities surrounding Kyle’s death. She has very little spare time in her life for this, though, because she’s working at both her family’s restaurant and the one she recently inherited from her aunt but Sally is a Type-A Energizer Bunny who can be downright exhausting. In fact, the one weakness (in my mind) was that, because Sally is often off chasing leads, we don’t get to spend as much time as I would like in the restaurants but then I’m an unofficial foodie 😉

Nobody wishes death on people but Kyle was not a pleasant person and, quite frankly, he won’t be missed by many other than his girlfriend, Jill. It isn’t long before possible motives seem to pile up and Sally becomes suspicious about several possible killers but I have to say it took me a while to settle on one. Before Sally can bring the perpetrator to justice, she becomes a target herself.

As a former attorney, Sally is probably more qualified than most amateurs to investigate a crime and that lends her snooping a certain credibility other amateurs don’t have but her rationale still doesn’t hold much water. That’s okay, however, because (1) this is a cozy and sleuths in cozies don’t need a lot of justification and (2) I enjoyed this mystery as much as the first in the series. Let’s face it, Sally and her family and friends are fun to be around—I especially enjoyed re-connecting with Javier and Eric—and we’re rewarded at the end with a handful of recipes that just might entice you to try them out. I’m feeling the munchies for the grilled cheese sandwich right now 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

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Mile High Murder
A Hannah Ives Mystery #16
Marcia Talley
Severn House, April 2018
ISBN 978-0-7278-8768-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Hannah Ives embarks on a trip to the Mile High City on a fact-finding mission. But is she about to get ‘high’ on murder?

It’s a well-known fact that some of the Reach for Recovery cancer support group survivors Hannah Ives works with take marijuana. Recreational use of the drug may be illegal, but a few, like Maryland State Senator Claire Thompson, are prescribed it on medical grounds.

Claire has co-sponsored a Cannabis Legalisation Bill and wants Hannah to be part of a fact-finding task force that testifies before the Maryland State Senate.

Before long, Hannah is in Denver, Colorado – the Mile High City – staying at a B&B with a group of pot pilgrims and medical refugees – some of whom, like her, are on a mission for information. But when one of the group is found dead, and a closer inspection of the body reveals they may not be who they seem, Hannah is plunged into a dangerous cocktail of drugs and death.

Hannah Ives has been a comfortable fictional friend for a long time now and I’m always happy to see a new book come out. This time she gets involved in “research” to bolster State Senator Claire Thompson’s hopes to get a marijuana bill passed in Maryland, one to broaden and organize the specifics of already passed legislation that legalized the drug for medical use. To do this, they have to go to a state where recreational pot use is already lawful so they head out to Colorado, Denver to be specific. As a long-term cancer survivor, Hannah doesn’t need medical marijuana but Claire has a prescription and is inclined to use it even if she’s at risk of being caught breaking the law.

Hannah decides to go, mainly because she’ll have a chance to testify before the senate, a taste of the old days when she dealt with bureaucrats on a regular basis. This seems like a fairly simple task but Hannah did try to tell Claire that Hannah seems to attract dead bodies, a lengthy list of them, in fact. Still, they didn’t expect to find themselves so completely surrounded by hippie types and a million different ways to indulge at their “bud-and-breakfast”, Bell House…nor did they expect a fellow guest to be a victim of foul play.

I think the mystery here is a little less suspenseful than in Hannah’s previous adventures but I still had a good time learning all the ins and outs of legalized marijuana and watching Hannah do what she does so well, identify a murderer. Fans will be happy to see her again (and, Paul, her lovely Navy professor husband) but new readers might want to start with at least the first book to have a better idea of who Hannah is.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

Book Review: Windswept Danger by Terry Odell

Windswept DangerWindswept Danger
Blackthorne, Inc. #6
Terry Odell
T. Odell, 2014
ISBN: 9781502449009
Trade Paperback

Author Terry Odell isn’t new to the thriller/adventure genre, this being her sixth outing in the excellent Blackthorne series. Not only is the novel exceedingly well-plotted, it is carefully constructed so that readers new to the series will have a completely enjoyable experience.

The Blackstone agency is a dark, highly specialized security and spy agency that operates for the good of its clients with a high degree of ethical conduct. Two of its clandestine operatives are engaged in this enterprise, penetration of a mysterious posh resort in the mountains. Olivia Fairbanks works part-time for Blackstone and because of her intellectual attributes and undeniable beauty is tasked for a unique under-cover operation. Her partner is a recovering medic and real he-man macho type, Glenn McCade. He’s a veteran of many dangerous Blackthorne contracts and he’s sure this lovely, desirable but inexperienced woman will not help him carry out the assignment.

That’s the setup. Needless to say sparks between the agents as well as the pressures of their assignment lead to all kinds of adventure and complications. The novel is very-well written, the principal characters are authentic, from their physical limitations to their emotional and intellectual collaborations and the plot moves smartly ahead to its logical and satisfactory conclusion. This is a well-done crime novel of high order and I do recommend it.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2015.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Reviews: Can’t Look Away by Donna Cooner, Phantom Limb by Dennis Palumbo, and The Bones Beneath by Mark Billingham

Can't Look AwayCan’t Look Away
Donna Cooner
Point, August 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-42765-4
Hardcover

From an outside perspective, Torrey Grey is your typical 16 year old in today’s age. She thrives to be popular, focuses her time on fashion and makeup, and social media are her go-to’s. But when her sister is killed by a drunk driver while filming her latest video blog – and the worlds finds out – she discovers celebrity status on the internet can make you or break you.

When I first started reading Donna Cooner‘s book, I was apprehensive about reading a modern day take on a teenager’s life. But as I continued, there are so many themes that Cooner covers. Sisterhood is a main theme, as Torrey is trying to hold on to the memories of her sister, Miranda. By combining in the celebration of the Spanish holiday el Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead), Cooner shows that grief and acceptance of the loss of a close family member as Torrey’s family try to pick up the pieces of their life after moving from Colorado to Texas. One of Cooner‘s bigger themes is the presence of bullying and cyberbullying, from students making fun and commenting on a student who may be seen as different to the norm of society, to strangers blaming Torrey for the death of her sister when a video leaks of the moments before the accident. Torrey deals with all of these themes as she struggles to decide if popularity and being seen with the right cliques are really the most important things in her life anymore.

While some of the characters seem “too-good-to-be-true,” Cooner manages to keep her main themes alive throughout the novel and presents a solid take on a teenager living in today’s world. I enjoyed the book more than I expected to, and was glad to see somebody take on these heavy themes and relate them to issues many teenagers may be going through today.

 

Reviewed by Kristina Akers, September 2014.

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Phantom LimbPhantom Limb  
A Daniel Rinaldi Mystery
Dennis Palumbo
Poisoned Pen Press, 2014
ISBN 978-1-4642-0254-4
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback

Author Dennis Palumbo is an experienced writer of screen plays, short stories and crime novels. It shows in this episodic story that features his protagonist, Dr. Daniel Rinaldi, a licensed psychologist and consultant to the Pittsburgh, PA police department. This fourth adventure pits the good doctor against a macho cabal of former military who formed up in Afghanistan and took many of their less savory skills into the criminal culture of Western Pennsylvania.

Dr. Rinaldi has an initial session with the younger wife of a local extremely prominent businessman. She professes a need and a decision to commit suicide that very evening. Dr. Rinaldi, in attempting to dissuade the woman, is drawn instantly into a convoluted interesting plot to extract millions of dollars from her wealthy husband. Inevitably, Rinaldi is required to deliver the ransom and things go seriously awry.

There are some stalwart continuing characters who return from earlier books in this novel. There are some predictable scenes. Overall the novel is very well written and there are several scenes of excruciating high tension and exciting action. There are clever lines and some well-thought-out twists, and, unfortunately for this reviewer, just a little too much predictability in the structure of the plot. I really like Daniel Rinaldi. I like his style, his attitudes and the moral strengths displayed in this novel. And I like the books of his creator.

 

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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The Bones BeneathThe Bones Beneath
A Tom Thorne Novel
Mark Billingham
Atlantic Monthly Press, June 2014
ISBN: 978-1-8021-2248-3
Hardcover

Tom Thorne returns in the twelfth novel in this series.  Most of the action takes place over a period of three days, set in a remote, isolated and nearly inaccessible island off the Welsh coast, said to be the resting place of 20,000 saints (in addition, that is, to King Arthur).  (This appears to be a very real location, one ‘steeped in myth and legend,’ and is a very real presence in the novel.)  Tom is brought here as part of a very ‘un-spiritual pursuit of long-dead murder victims,” a prisoner escort operation.

Many years ago, and only briefly, the island was the site of a home for young offenders.  Two of these were 17-year-old Stuart Nicklin, and one Simon Milner, the latter of whom never left the island alive. His murder was never solved, and only now Nicklin has claimed to have killed him, and offered to lead the police to the place where Simon’s bones were buried so long ago.  The condition being that the man who had arrested him ten years earlier, Tom Thorne, be the one to take him there to identify the site. Nicklin is thought to be one of the “most dangerous and manipulative psychopaths” the police had ever encountered.  The suspense inherent in the situation leaves the reader waiting for the other shoe to drop.  And waiting.  And waiting.

Somewhat jarringly at first, there are flashbacks to the time, twenty-five years earlier, when the seeds of the current action were laid, and when the boy whose bones were at the core of their search was killed.  And there are also scenes, at the outset in a Prologue and then every hundred pages or so, that appear to be contemporaneous, their connection to the main plot difficult to discern.

It may be obvious that I felt that the book could have benefited from some tightening, but in retrospect perhaps I should have had more confidence in the author, because the conclusion was very exciting and unexpected.  It may be that the bar being set so high by this author in the preceding books made it a tough act to follow.  My current reservations aside, I will certainly look forward to the next Tom Thorne book.

 

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, June 2014.