Book Review: In the Grip of It by Sheena Kamal

In the Grip of It
A Nora Watts Novella #1.5
Sheena Kamal
Witness Impulse, May 2018
ISBN 978-0-06-287932-5
Ebook

From the publisher—

On a surveillance assignment for a child custody case, PI-in-training Nora Watts finds herself ensconced in a small farming community on a beautiful hippie island in the Pacific Northwest, a place with a reputation for being welcoming to outsiders. But when she arrives there, she discovers her welcome quickly wears thin. Perhaps too quickly.

Salt Spring Island, with a history as a refuge for African Americans fleeing the bonds of slavery, is not a place of refuge for her—and, she suspects, may not be for the people who live there, either.

As she investigates, nothing about this remote community seems to add up. It gets personal as Nora confronts her own complicated feelings toward her estranged daughter and becomes increasingly concerned about the child she’s been tasked to surveil. She discovers that small, idyllic communities can hide very big secrets.

Abuse of all types is at the core of this story and people at the commune are not the only ones affected. Nora herself has dealt with her own kinds of abuse in the past and this missing child case also dredges up the disappearance of her own teenaged daughter as well as elements of her first book. As with many cult-ish communes, the power resides in the leader, Vikram Sharma, and Nora feels that power immediately upon meeting him. In fact, there is a distinct feeling of malevolence.

The denouement here is based on a very interesting time in the 60’s when the use of psychedelic drugs in treatment of mental illness was popular and Trevor’s father is proved to be right in his concern that his son is in a dangerous situation. Trevor is perhaps too smart for his own good, being a very observant little boy, but he’s worried that his mother doesn’t see what’s wrong. Before Nora can get to a clear understanding of Salt Spring Island, especially the Spring Love farm, its reputation as a place of refuge will be turned awry.

This is a pleasant read to while away an hour or so but I think perhaps it’s not the best introduction to the series. On the whole, there’s no real tension here and at no time did I really fear for anyone’s safety despite a few threats. However, In the Grip of It has encouraged me to find the first book in the series so I can get to know Nora better.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2018.

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

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An Excerpt from In the Grip of It

Last week a man came into our PI office, looked around the shabby interior, frowned, and said, “I must have gotten the address wrong.”

“Depends,” I replied. “What are you looking for?”

“An investigator.”

“Nope, you’re in the right place,” I said, looking at his nice suit, shiny shoes, and expensive watch.

“Are you sure? Maybe I should come back later.”

He was clearly trying to make a graceful exit. Before the man could leave, I got up from behind my desk and opened the door to Leo Krushnik’s office. “Leo, there’s someone here to see you.”

“Well,” said the man, who was hesitating behind me, “I’m not really sure that this is the right fit for me.” He was trying to be diplomatic about the condition of our office and what it might say about his own level of desperation that he was here, but we weren’t about to let a potential client go without a fight. His level of desperation was no match for ours.

Leo Krushnik, the head of our little operation, walked around his desk and beamed at the man. “We’re the right fit for anybody,” he said, grasping the man’s hand and giving it a firm shake. “We prefer to keep our overhead low so that we can offer competitive rates to people who need our services, regardless of their personal incomes. Please, have a seat.”

The man sat, a little overwhelmed by Leo’s charm, which is considerable. That day Leo was dressed in linen pants and a simple cotton shirt, as a nod to the heat wave the city was experiencing. He could pull off this look as easily as he pulled off the lie about our rates. We keep our overhead low because this dump on Hastings Street, in the derelict Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, is all we can afford, but clients didn’t need to know that. And even I could admit that the “competitive rates” line sounded good—even true—coming from Leo.

“How can I help you?” Leo asked.

“My name is Ken Barnes, and I’m concerned about my son, Trevor. My ex-wife Cheyenne moved to Salt Spring last year with Trevor and I think she’s gotten into some kind of trouble there. She won’t bring him back to Vancouver and visitation has been difficult.”

Leo frowned. “Because they’re on an island?” Salt Spring wouldn’t be easy to ferry to and from on a regular basis.

“Yes, but that’s not the only reason. She keeps putting off my visits and it’s been difficult to arrange for Trevor to come into Vancouver. I think . . . I think she’s in some kind of cult, to be honest. They call it a commune, but you know those stories about Bountiful?”

“Yes,” said Leo. Everyone knew the stories about Bountiful, British Columbia, where fundamentalist polygamous communities live and proliferate seemingly freely.

“Well, I think it’s something like that. Cheyenne wants to be in some kind of crazy sex cult, sure. She’s not my wife anymore and I really don’t care what she does. But I’m fighting for custody of Trevor. I want him out of there.”

“And you need some ammo.” Leo looks up from his pad, where he’s been taking notes. “You’ve come to the right place, Ken. We’ve done surveillance work for many child-custody cases.” Another lie, but Ken didn’t notice. We’d only done a handful of those, but “many” is relative. “You understand that this won’t be cheap? We’ll have to get out to the island and spend some time gathering information.”

“That’s fine. There’s nothing I won’t pay to get my son out of there. Cheyenne, she . . . well, she struggled with depression and anxiety for years and she let a lot of toxic people into her life who fed on her struggles. It was like a sick downward spiral. When she started doing yoga and got certified as a teacher, I thought she’d changed. But I’m not sure anymore. I know this sounds terrible—I know it does—but I don’t trust her judgment about the people she lets into her life. Especially men.”

“She married you,” Leo said.

“I know, but this is the thing: it’s not about me and her anymore. We’re done. This is about Trevor—and me doing my part as a father, making sure he’s safe. That he has a good life. I just want results.”

“We can’t guarantee results.” This is the first time I’d spoken since the initial exchange. Ken Barnes’s startled gaze meets mine. He’d clearly forgotten I was there, which was not unusual. “Maybe it is a sex cult, maybe it isn’t. All we can do is take a look and document what we find.”

“I know that nothing is certain, but I know my son deserves a healthy, normal life. Whatever they’re doing on that island is not normal. It just isn’t. It’s one step away from homeschooling, and who’s to say they’re not making him do hard labor?”

What is normal, anyway? I didn’t ask Barnes for clarification. I just kept silent as Leo agreed to take his money in exchange for the work. Before he let Barnes go, he pulled him aside. “Nora’s right, Ken, about any sort of guarantee. But what I can say is that if there’s something to find, chances are we will get a sense of it.”

In the next few days, I started the file on Cheyenne Barnes and looked through the information Ken had provided us. “Cheyenne scrubbed her social-media profiles last year,” he explained to me, over the phone. “I thought she was punishing me by erasing the memories and keeping me away from what’s happening with my son, but now that I think about it, there’s something fishy about this whole thing.” So he kept saying.

Cheyenne is smiling in all the photos, and in every single one there is something wistful about her, a faraway look in her eyes. Something that suggests a romantic nature. She’s an instructor for hot yoga, which I thought was stretching for attractive people but later discovered is actually sweaty stretching. Who knew. She’d gone to Salt Spring Island two years ago to work at a yoga retreat and, according to Ken, never came back. She met a man there, a fellow yoga enthusiast, and rebuffed all of Ken’s attempts at reconciliation.

There is very little to be found on Cheyenne Barnes’s new man. He has no social-media profiles of his own, but I did find a picture of him on the Spring Love website. Some people are so attractive it’s almost surreal, and Vikram Sharma is one of them.

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Excerpt from In the Grip Of It by Sheena Kamal. Copyright © 2018 by Sheena Kamal. Reproduced with permission from Witness Impulse. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

SHEENA KAMAL holds an HBA in Political Science from the University of Toronto, and was awarded a TD Canada Trust scholarship for community leadership and activism around the issue of homelessness. Her debut novel, The Lost Ones, was inspired by this and by Kamal’s most recent work as a researcher into crime and investigative journalism for the film and television industry.

Catch Up With Our Author On: sheenakamal.com, Goodreads, & Facebook!

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Book Review: Spell Book & Scandal by Jen McConnel

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Book Review: Regeneration by Stacey Berg

Regeneration
An Echo Hunter 367 Novel #2
Stacey Berg
Harper Voyager Impulse, March 2017
ISBN 978-0-06-246614-3
Ebook
Mass Market Paperback coming in April 2017

From the publisher—

The Church has stood for hundreds of years, preserving the sole surviving city in a desert wasteland. When Echo Hunter 367 is sent out past the Church’s farthest outposts, she’s sure it’s a suicide mission. But just when she’s about to give up hope, she finds the impossible – another thriving community, lush and green, with a counsel of leaders who take her in.

Wary of this new society, with ways so different from the only life she’s ever known, Echo is determined to complete her mission and bring hope back to the Church. She’s unsure who she can trust, and must be strong and not be seduced by their clean, fresh water, and plentiful energy sources. If she plays her cards right, she may even still have a chance to save the woman she loves.

Regeneration is one of those books that leave me in the dust a bit because there is so much going on and so many characters to keep straight. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but it does mean I struggled some but, all in all, I liked it for the most part. I will say I think I should have read the first book, Dissension, before tackling this one.

When we first see Echo, she is on the point of death but rescue comes just in time and she wakes in a strange place surrounded by people she doesn’t know. This is initially the most important facet of the story, the need to try to adapt to and work with strangers, people whose lives have been so different.

The other core aspect of Echo’s tale is the need to make choices or, indeed, to NOT make choices. At nearly every turn, Echo is faced with options and they are rarely simple; some, in fact, can lead to major upheavals in her life and in the world she lives in. She’s not the only one facing these dilemmas, though. As two societies learn they are not alone, they must either agree to disagree, if you will, or find ways to coexist and Echo is right at the center of what will be a turning point for these people who have survived the end of civilization as we know it.

Including a love story that nearly consumes Echo, Regeneration is an intense look at human nature when faced with the unknown and I felt compelled to turn the pages to find out what would happen next. I was certainly not prepared for the ending but I think it was almost pre-ordained and was, indeed, fitting.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

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Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon

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An Excerpt from Regeneration

Echo Hunter 367 studied the dying woman in the desert with grudging admiration. The woman had walked long past what might reasonably be expected, if that lurching stagger could be called a walk. When she couldn’t walk any more she had crawled, and after that she had dragged herself along, fingers clawing through sand until they clutched some purchase, body scraping over rocks and debris, heedless of the damage. Now and then she made a noise, a purely animal grunt of effort or pain, but she forced herself onward, all the way until the end.

I smell the water.

Desperate as the woman was, she had still been cautious. Though an incalculable distance from any familiar place, she still recognized danger: the wind-borne sand that scoured exposed skin clean to the bone, the predators that stalked patiently in the shadows for prey too weak to flee. The cliff edge that a careless girl could slip over, body suspended in space for the briefest moment before her hands tore through the thornbush, then the long hard fall.

Echo jerked back from that imagined edge. It was her last purposeful movement.  From some great height, she watched herself collapse in the sand. One grasping hand, nails torn, knuckles bloody, landed only a few meters from the spring’s cool water, but she never knew it. For a little while her body twitched in irregular spasms, then those too stilled. Only her lips moved, cracking into a bloody smile. “Lia,” she whispered. “Lia.” Then she fell into the dark.

For a long time there was no sound except water trickling in a death rattle over stones.

Then the high whine of engines scattered the circling predators. Pain returned first, of course. Every inch of skin burned, blistered by sun or rubbed raw by the sand that had worked its way inside the desert-proof clothing. Her muscles ached from too long an effort with no fuel and insufficient water, and her head pounded without mercy. Even the movement of air in and out of her lungs hurt, as if she had inhaled fire. But that pain meant she was breathing, and if she was breathing she still had to fight. With enormous effort she dragged open her eyes, only to meet a blinding brightness. She made a sound, and tasted hot salt as her lips cracked open again. “Shhh,” a soft voice said. “Shhh.” Something cool, smelling of resin and water, settled over her eyes, shielding them from the glare. A cloth dabbed at her mouth, then a finger smoothed ointment over her lips, softening them so they wouldn’t split further when she was finally able to speak. Lia, she thought, letting herself rest in that gentle strength until the pain subsided into manageable inputs. Then she began to take stock.

She lay on something soft, not the rock that had made her bed for so many weeks, although her abused flesh still ached at every pressure point. The air felt cool but still, unlike the probing desert wind, and it carried, beyond the herbal tang, a scent rich and round, unlike the silica sharpness of sand she’d grown so accustomed to. Filtered through the cloth over her eyes, the light seemed diffuse, too dim for the sun. Indoors, then, and not a temporary shelter, but a place with thick walls, and a bed, and someone with sufficient resources to retrieve a dying woman from the desert, and a reason to do so. But what that reason might be eluded her. The Church would never rescue a failure.

Unless the Saint commanded it.

She mustered all her strength and dragged the cloth from her eyes. She blinked away grit until the blurred oval hovering above her took on distinct features, the soft line of the cheek, the gently curving lips. Lia, she thought again, and in her weakness tears washed the vision away. She wiped her eyes with a trembling hand.

And stared into the face of an utter stranger.

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About the Author

Stacey Berg is a medical researcher who writes speculative fiction. Her work as a physician-scientist provides the inspiration for many of her stories. She lives with her wife in Houston and is a member of the Writers’ League of Texas. When she’s not writing, she practices kung fu and runs half marathons.

Visit Stacey Berg on her Website, Goodreads Page, and on Twitter!

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3/29 Guest post @ Books Direct
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3/30 Review @ JBronder Book Reviews
3/31 Showcase @ Books, Dreams, Life
4/01 Review/showcase @ Kara the Redhead

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Short Story Review: Wildcat by Sara Paretsky—and a Giveaway!

Wildcat
V. I. Warshawski’s First Case
Sara Paretsky
Witness Impulse, March 2017
ISBN 9780062689504
Ebook Single

From the publisher—

Sara Paretsky, one of the most legendary crime writers of all time, presents an exclusive and thrilling short story featuring beloved investigator V.I. Warshawski as a ten-year-old girl on her first investigation.


V.I. Warshawski developed her strength and sense of justice at a very early age. It’s 1966 and on the south side of Chicago racial tensions are at an all-time high. Dr. Martin Luther King is leading marches at Marquette Park and many in the neighborhood are very angry.

With nothing but a bicycle, eighty-two cents in her pocket, and her Brownie camera hanging from her wrist, Victoria sneaks off to Marquette Park alone to protect her father Tony, a police officer who is patrolling the crowds.

What begins as a small adventure and a quest to find her father and make sure he is safe turns into something far more dangerous. As the day goes on and the conflict at the park reaches a fever pitch Victoria realizes she must use her courage and ingenuity if she wants to keep herself and her family members out of harm’s way.

I don’t know if it’s actually true but, for years, I’ve thought that Sara Paretsky and V. I. Warshawski have one thing very much in common—they’re both total badasses. Now, I know that V. I. was that way even as a child and I couldn’t be more delighted.

I’m not going to say much about the plot of this story—it’s so short the description given above by the publisher is almost longer. Just kidding, of course, but this IS a very short short story. Still, Ms. Paretsky packs a lot into these few pages and it serves its purposes, to entertain and to give us a little insight into what makes V. I. Warshawski aka Victoria tick.

Chicago in 1966 was deep in the civil rights era and even a 10-year-old felt the tension so, when Victoria believes her dad is at risk, her first reaction is to rush off on her bicycle to his aid. As young as she is, Victoria has been raised by her Holocaust survivor mother to be aware of the evil that can begin with words of hatred. In fact, it’s this sense of right and wrong that’s at Victoria’s core, that will in later life lead her to work for justice whenever she can. Her venture this time is also her own personal introduction to police corruption, the Mafia, extreme prejudice and violence.

And a private investigator is born.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

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Purchase Links:

               

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About the Author

Hailed by P.D. James as “the most remarkable” of modern crime writers, SARA PARETSKY is the New York Times-bestselling author of nineteen previous novels, including the renowned V.I. Warshawski series. She is one of only four living writers – alongside John Le Carré, Sue Grafton, and Lawrence Block – to have received both the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America and the Cartier Diamond Dagger from the Crime Writers’ Association of Great Britain. She lives in Chicago with her husband.

Before there was Lisbeth Salander, before there was Stephanie Plum, there was V.I. WARSHAWSKI. She took the mystery world by storm in 1982 with her first appearance in Indemnity Only. A gifted private eye with the grit and smarts to tackle the mean streets, V.I. transformed a genre in which women were typically either vamps or victims. As a “courageous, sexually liberated female investigator,” she “has a humility, a humanity, and a need for human relationships which the male hard-boilers lack” (P.D. James). She lives in Chicago with her dog.

Catch Up With Our Author On:

             

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To enter the drawing for an ebook
copy of Wildcat, leave a comment
below. The winning name will be drawn
Thursday evening, March 16th and the
ebook will be sent out after the tour ends.
Open to residents of the US and Canada.

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Book Review: As You Lay Sleeping by Katlyn Duncan

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Book Reviews: Secret Sisters by Jayne Ann Krentz and Focused on Murder by Linda Townsdin

Secret SistersSecret Sisters
Jayne Ann Krentz
Berkley, December 2015
ISBN 978-0-399-17448-3
Hardcover

I’m a JAK/AQ/JC fan so I pre-ordered this book at my local independent bookstore and, yay, got it early. Read it, read it again. As in all her books, the mystery is well plotted, the characters are fun to be with and the settings–this one an island off the coast of Washington state, are beautifully described. Yes, I am a fan. But only because she is so good.

Almost two decades after a terrible crime, hotel owner Madeline returns to its scene, the derelict hotel in which she grew up. There she finds Tim, the old friend who summoned her, dying on the lobby floor, his head bashed in. Madeline barely escapes the killer. Frightened and angry, determined to find answers, she calls Jack, her hotel chain’s head of security, and Daphne, her secret sister who saved her life long ago, to help.

The old crime, which seemed over and done, turns out to be connected to the new crime and to several influential people in the island community. Madeline and Daphne know only part of their own story. The two who knew the whole, Madeline’s grandmother and Tim, are dead. A mysterious briefcase is missing. Are the answers buried so deeply that no one can find them? If so, why is someone trying to kill Madeline and her friends?

I know I’ll read this book again, happy to keep company with the characters and explore the island and its complex secrets.

Reviewed by Marilyn Nulman, December 2015.

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Focused on MurderFocused on Murder
A Spirit Lake Mystery #1
Linda Townsdin
CreateSpace, February 2014
ISBN 978-1495403088
Trade Paperback

Britt Johanssen has moved home to Spirit Lake after a disastrous sojourn on the west coast where she fell in love, was abused cheated on, and divorced her husband and became an alcoholic. Now she’s home again in tiny Spirit Lake, a little resentful and still a sharp reporter photographer. Skiing in Northern Minnesota, she stumbles across the body of a local woman named Isabel Maelstrom, daughter of a local big-wig resort owner.

Britt, now employed at the small local news bureau, seizes on the murder as a way to get wider attention for the bureau and her skill. But the more she delves into the murky relationships of the aptly named Maelstrom family and resort, the more dark undercurrents and questions appear. Meanwhile the sheriff, Dave Wilcox,seems to be moving the case at a glacial rate. Temperatures fall and the snow piles up as Britt pursues leads that inevitably trap her in ever broadening danger.

The story broadens and broadens into a very nasty world-encompassing plot that gradually touches nearly everybody in Britt’s Spirit Lake family. Well-written in a straight-forward style, this novel will satisfy suspense thriller readers of a wide range of interests.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, February 2016.
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: Death in A Major by Sarah Fox

Death in A MajorDeath in A Major
A Music Lover’s Mystery #2
Sarah Fox
Witness Impulse, January 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-241301-7
Ebook

From the publisher—

The new season for the Point Grey Philharmonic starts off on a sour note when one of the symphony’s wealthy benefactors drops dead in the second Music Lover’s Mystery from author Sarah Fox.

When Archibald Major, local big wig and nasty tyrant, drops dead at a post-concert reception, violinist Midori Bishop soon suspects foul play. Although Midori has no intention of getting involved in another murder investigation, that all changes when Jordan – her violin student and the victim’s grandson – seeks her help convincing the police that the real killer is his uncle, a low-level criminal.

As Midori digs into the victim’s life, she discovers that he was a man who created discord at every turn, even within his own family, and there is no shortage of potential suspects. When someone close to Midori unexpectedly confesses to the crime, Midori must race to discover the identity of the true killer before an innocent person goes to jail for a crime they didn’t commit… and before Midori herself becomes a victim in the killer’s deadly encore.

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There are times when lighter reading fare is just what I need and a cozy like Death in A Major can fill the bill nicely. I haven’t read the first book in this series but I can safely say that didn’t cause any real hardship. This one even has a detective who is friendly and welcoming to our snoop, unlike so many cozies in which there’s a distinctly adversarial relationship.

I did wonder why Midori would insert herself into the investigation before she even was aware an investigation was needed but that’s one of the hallmarks of a cozy, isn’t it, unwarranted nosiness? I wonder sometimes if we—I—like cozies because they let us indulge our own nosiness vicariously.

Setting an amateur sleuth mystery in the midst of an orchestra certainly allows for plenty of potential suspects but, in this case, I think that’s not altogether a good thing as there are so very many people. With each name, I had to stop for a few seconds to remember who this person was and then had to try to remember them for snooping purposes and it was just too many for comfort. A cast of characters and even a map of where certain instruments are found within a symphony’s performance would have worked wonders for me in cementing who all these people are.

I do think Midori’s involvement is less credible than many other amateur sleuths and there’s an entirely unrealistic escape scene (shades of Wonder Woman) but, on the whole, Ms. Fox offers a well-written, engaging mystery and cozy fans will find it appealing.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2016.

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About the Author

Sarah FoxSarah Fox was born and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia, where she developed a love for mysteries at a young age. When not writing novels or working as a legal writer she is often reading her way through a stack of books or spending time outdoors with her English Springer Spaniel.

Connect with Sarah Fox
Website – http://www.authorsarahfox.com/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/thewritefox
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/authorsarahfox
Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4027516.Sarah_Fox

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Praise for Music Lover’s Mystery #1, Dead Ringer

“Readers are kept in suspense as each spinetingling event
moves them towards an unforgettable ending. Sarah Fox
delivers murder mystery with believable characters
and earns a thumbs up.”

— Authors on the Air Global Radio Network on DEAD RINGER

“While Midori may be clueless in love, she is good at asking
questions. It is easy to understand how difficult it is for
her to leave the investigating to the police, particularly
once she has begun. Her actions are believable, if at times
rash. Dead Ringer is an entertaining cozy with just the
right amount of suspense. It is a great choice
for reading on a lazy summer afternoon.”

— Mutt Cafe on DEAD RINGER

“Readers are in for a treat with Sarah Fox’s new cozy…out
of love, Midori sticks her nose in every place she can, which
makes her a perfect heroine for lovers of mysteries. Readers
will be pleased with the sheer entertainment of Fox’s plot.”

— Suspense Magazine on DEAD RINGER