Book Review: The Wedding Crasher by Nikki Stern

The Wedding Crasher
A Sam Tate Mystery
Nikki Stern
Ruthenia Press, May 2019
ISBN 978-0-9995487-3-8
Trade Paperback

From the author—

A brunette in a bridal gown turns up in Pickett County, Tennessee, throat slit and ring finger missing. She’s the latest victim of the Wedding Crasher, a serial killer who murders women just weeks before their weddings.

Samantha Tate is Picket County’s yoga-loving, poker-playing new sheriff, a former Nashville homicide detective who struggles with her inner demons. To catch the meticulous murderer, Sam will have to follow her instincts and ignore her worst impulses. Can she stop the Wedding Crasher before another bride-to-be dies?

Nikki Stern ticks a lot of my boxes in The Wedding Crasher with a female lead who is in law enforcement, a non-urban police procedural, a Southern setting. Small wonder, then, that I enjoyed this book from beginning to end. Speaking of the beginning, this one is in your face as we meet Sam Tate at a gruesome crime scene, no footdragging leading up to it, and that’s another one of my boxes.

Sam has her own issues from the past but she focuses on this string of brutal crimes with the help of Abdi Issen, her lead detective, and FBI agent Terry Sloan who’s been working these cases for several years. The first four murders happened once a year in the spring but then the killer skipped a year. Why? Is there a connection with a trauma from Sam’s past?

That trauma comes out in dribs and drabs but it helps us see how Sam’s core has grown and changed over the years, making her who she is today. This sort of thing can dampen my enthusiasm for a character because it’s often overdone but Ms. Stern handles this part of the story with finesse.

All in all, this is an intriguing look at a serial killer investigation with a lot of twists and turns, always a plus in crime fiction, and I’m looking forward to Sam’s next story.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2019.

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An Excerpt from The Wedding Crasher

The dead woman lay in the clearing like a macabre version of Sleeping Beauty. She was dressed in a long-sleeved, high-necked ivory gown, set off by luminescent pearl drop earrings and a matching necklace that almost hid the dried blood around her throat. Her head rested on a satin pillow, her silky walnut hair spread behind her like a fan. The right hand held a bouquet of wilted flowers and rested on her chest underneath the left, absent the fourth finger. The ring finger.

Sheriff Sam Tate stood to one side of the grim tableau, arms folded, and took it all in: the victim; the tall white-haired man who knelt by the body; the deputy who walked the scene in throwaway boots, snapping pictures; the pale young man in running gear sitting on a rock, head almost to his knees; the uniformed officer who squatted beside him.

Sam had dressed in her standard uniform of pressed black slacks and a spotless white shirt. A shaft of early-morning sun bounced off the polished badge at her left breast pocket. On her right wrist, she wore a utilitarian watch. Three small studs twinkled along one earlobe, her single visible concession to a rebellious streak. She’d pulled her unruly dark locks into a tight braid. Ray-Bans shielded her green eyes, though not the line that formed between her brows.

One of the victim’s low-heeled white pumps had dropped off to reveal a slim ankle in hosiery. Stockings, not pantyhose, held up by an old-fashioned garter. Sam didn’t need to look.

He’s back, she thought, adding a curse for good measure.

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About the Author

Nikki Stern is the author of the inspirational HOPE IN SMALL DOSES, a 2015 Eric Hoffer Montaigne Medal finalist, and the thriller THE FORMER ASSASSIN, a 2018 Kindle Book Review category finalist. Her essays are included in three anthologies and she co-authored the interactive Café Noir murder mystery series, published by Samuel French. Eight of her short stories have been published in various online journals and she was a Mark Twain Royal Nonesuch finalist for her short story “Long Away and Far Ago.” Nikki is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America.

Catch Up With Nikki Stern On:
nikkistern.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Twitter, & Facebook!

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Book Review: How It Happened by Michael Koryta

How It Happened
Michael Koryta
Little, Brown and Company, May 2018
ISBN: 978-0-316-29393-8
Hardcover

Inspired by an actual event in the author’s hometown, this novel recounts the ups and downs in the life of Rob Barrett, an FBI specialist in interrogations, who is sent to a little town in Maine years after the disappearance of a man and two women.  Barrett finally reaches a witness who confesses to having participated in the murder and disposal of the bodies of a man and a woman in a shallow lake. Unfortunately, when the lake is inspected, the bodies aren’t there.  Barrett insists he believes the confession, but the prevailing view is that it is unreliable because the confessor is a known liar and drug addict. Moreover, absence of the bodies where they’re said to be is further proof.

Barrett is sent to a remote FBI office in the Midwest in disgrace, but the confession still haunts him.  Eventually, he returns to Maine on his own nickel to find the truth, which, of course, is elusive. The story becomes more complex, as he investigates more deeply, and the scope widens.

Michael Koryta has written a gripping tale about a grisly murder and cover-ups and subterfuges to hide a variety of motivations as each layer of the story is unveiled.   It is a novel describing perseverance and investigative skill.  The novel has its origins in a murder investigation which the author covered for his hometown newspaper as a young reporter, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2018.

Book Review: First Contact by Kat Green

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Title: First Contact
Series: Haunts for Sale #1
Author: Kat Green
Narrator: Kate Tyler
Publication Date: November 9, 2017

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Purchase Links:

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First Contact
Haunts for Sale #1
Kat Green
Narrated by Kate Tyler
The Wild Rose Press, November 2017
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the publisher—

Sloane Osborne is a paranormal real estate agent in the business of selling haunted houses, but, in truth, she’s only searching for one ghost. And her time is running out.

It’s the 366th day after her fiancé’s death. Michael used to like putting things off for “a year and a day” – so tonight’s the night. Sloane will do anything to make contact with him before the clock strikes midnight. When she gets a call to check out a home in Waukesha, Wisconsin, it’s the last place she thinks Michael would contact her.

Sloane is dead wrong.

This is one of those books that you just have to throw disbelief and credulity to the wind and enjoy the story for what it is. The good thing is it’s well-told and fun enough to keep me going.

Yes, it’s sadly true that the protagonist, Sloane, is TSTL and also driven by an obsesssion to see her fiance one last time before he leaves this dimension for the next because, you see, he died a year ago. To be more specific, he died 365 days, 21 hours and 36 minutes ago so she only has 2 hours and some minutes before his “year and a day” is up. This was my first hint that I was going to have some trouble with this book as obsession of any kind is a red flag for me. Add to that the location; Michael and Sloane didn’t live and he didn’t die in Wisconsin so why would his ghostly presence be there?

Sloane also is blind to all sorts of hints and clues that maybe, just maybe, she shouldn’t do certain things but, hey, that’s what TSTL is all about, right? Anyway, she stumbles into what could be a very dangerous situation when she discovers a house overflowing with ghosts and, at last, her obsession takes second place to trying to help these ghosts escape this mortal plane, hopefully before she becomes one of them. Oh, and there’s a potential romance in her future if her and Michael’s best friend, Jonah, can find her before it’s too late.

Seriously, I did enjoy this story (although I didn’t care for the graphic and unnecessary sex scene) and I especially liked the narrator, Kate Tyler. Her tone and cadence are really pleasing and she does different voices, male and female, quite well. The next book in the series, Second Sight, isn’t out in audio yet but I’ll be looking for it.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2018.

About the Author

Kat Green is really the alias of authors KAT de Falla and Rachel GREEN.

Rachel Green has always believed in ghosts but saw her first full body apparition while working at an old movie theater in college. When she met Kat de Falla at a writer’s workshop, she knew she’d met a kindred spirit – one who was also sensitive to the hereafter. And after bonding on a few ghost adventures, Kat Green was born.

Kat lived in a haunted house for too long. When things really heated up, she had several paranormal teams investigate, but things only got worse. When her mother suggested they contact a shaman, she agreed to come, saying she had been waiting for Kat’s call. The home was cleansed and sold. When she paired up with Rachel Green, the idea of co-writing a book with a paranormal real estate agent seemed perfect.

With their combined paranormal “experiences”, they decided to combine their creative mojo. That’s when Sloane Osborne, Paranormal Real Estate agent, and the HAUNTS FOR SALE series was born.

Website // Twitter // Facebook

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About the Narrator

Kate Tyler is an audiobook narrator and producer with several published audiobooks available on Audible, iTunes and Amazon.  A background in drama and a successful career in voiceover, Kate lives with her family in San Diego and enjoys swimming, running, cycling and stand up paddleboard.

Website

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Book Review: Salem’s Cipher by Jess Lourey

Salem’s Cipher
A Salem’s Cipher Mystery #1
Jess Lourey
Midnight Ink, September 2016
ISBN 978-0-7387-4969-3
Trade Paperback

Here’s a beauty and a brawn novel with a twist⏤they’re both women. Best friends from childhood, Salem Wiley is a well-known genius at codebreaking, and Bel Odegaard is an FBI agent with special abilities. Bel is both the beauty and the brawn. Salem is an overweight woman of Persian heritage  who hardly ever leaves her house. Besides being best friends, the two have another bond. Their mothers belong to a secret society determined to bring down a worldwide conspiracy group known as “the Heritage,” one of whose main aims is to keep women always in secondary positions of power. Right now, the Heritage plans on assassinating presidential candidate Senator Gina Hayes, who, on the cusp of the election, is already considered the winner.

This is a convoluted story supposedly hundreds of years in the making, with an unbreakable code floating around that leads to a treasure of jewels and money and wonderful artifacts. The discovery would break the Heritage if found by outsiders. Alternatively, it would fill their coffers if they found it first. Salem provides the key.

The first scene depicts the murder of one of the young women’s mothers, and the capture of the other. Salem and Bel are the next targets. As Salem and Bel crisscross the country,they find some wonderful allies, some horrendous villains, and some who might be either.

The characters here are well-drawn and interesting. The dialogue is good and draws the story forward. The plot moves quickly from one catastrophe to another, and even though  at 460 pages it’s a fairly long book, you’re never going to be bored by repetition or a slowing of the action. An excellent thriller all around.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, October 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: A Welcome Murder by Robin Yocum

A Welcome Murder
Robin Yocum
Seventh Street Books, April 2017
ISBN: 978-1-63388-263-8
Trade Paperback

Steubenville, Ohio, residents come front and center in this engaging if somewhat rambling novel of drug dealing, infidelity, teen-aged pranks, civic wrong-doing and, of course, murder. Hence the title. While the title refers to a single death, several other characters would be cheerfully done away with by many readers.

That doesn’t take anything away from the delightful atmosphere created by the author with fine, accurate writing and an insouciance rarely found in crime fiction. Johnny Earl is a BMIT, a big man in town with a spectacular athletic career in high school and serious prospects for a pro career in baseball. A knee injury wipes that out and Earl returns to Steubenville where he fashions a new career selling cocaine and other illegal drugs.

Busted, he serves seven years. Now released, Earl returns to his home town intent on retrieving a large stash of cash he secreted in a bolt hole in case he had to leave town quickly, a plan interrupted by Earl’s arrest and imprisonment.

Several of his school classmates, a wandering wife or two and various law enforcement agencies tangle over his maneuverings and then, the man who nailed Earl is murdered. He is a most hated man and there are several suspects from the Sheriff, a classmate of Johnny, to the sheriff’s wife, Earl‘s lover, and two convicts Earl encountered while in prison.

Those two are neo-Nazis, planning to create a separate white male-dominated nation within the boundaries of the United States. They are after Johnny’s cash stash.

Eventually things get sorted, the FBI agents are sent packing, as are the nasty neo-Nazis, the killer is revealed, and….well, does Johnny get his cash? Read the book. I recommend it.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2017.
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: The Thirst by Jo Nesbo and A Game of Ghosts by John Connolly

The Thirst
A Harry Hole Novel #11
Jo Nesbo
Translated from the Norwegian by Neil Smith
Knopf, May 2017
ISBN 978-0-385-35216-1
Hardcover

Harry Hole, Norway’s most experienced serial murder detective, is content to no longer serve on the murder squad, instead lecturing at the police college and living happily after marrying Rakel three years ago.  Unfortunately, such bliss is interrupted when evidence of a possible murder too difficult to solve leads the police chief to blackmail Harry into joining the hunt.  And then he jumps in with both feet.

It turns out that the villain in a previous novel in the series, Police, may be the sought-after culprit, especially when Harry recognizes the killer’s MO.  As the frustrating hunt continues, we learn more about vampirism than, perhaps, we’d like.  It appears that the murderer has a taste for drinking the victim’s blood.  And Nesbo delves into the subject deeply and often.

In this, the 11th Harry Hole novel, the author once again demonstrates why the series is so popular:  a plot so well-developed that the reader hardly notices the length of the book.  And the twist that draws the tale to an end certainly is an added fillip.  The Thirst demonstrates to what lengths Harry Hole will go to solve a case.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2017.

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A Game of Ghosts
A Charlie Parker Thriller #15
John Connolly
Emily Bestler Books/Atria, July 2017
ISBN 978-1-5011-7189-5
Hardcover

This is Book #15 in the Charlie Parker series.  In it, Charlie has made a deal with Special Agent Ross and is on retainer to the FBI, and he is asked to find a private investigator, Jacob Eklund, also working for Ross, who apparently has disappeared.  With few facts, especially what the PI was doing for Ross, Parker begins his investigation.  And it leads him into the weirdest of investigations. It seems Eklund, on his own, was involved in tracking down a series of homicides and disappearances, each linked to extraordinary events or sightings.

Meanwhile, Parker is also facing pressure from Rachel, his onetime girlfriend and mother of his daughter, Sam; she is convinced Sam’s exposure to Parker places her in jeopardy.  This belief, reinforced by Sam’s abduction in a previous novel and possible harm, leads Rachel to seek judicial relief preventing direct contact between Parker and his daughter without direct supervision.

As the author acknowledges: “This odd book—if mine are not all odd books—is as much a product of a lifetime of reading ghost stories…”  And it is odd.  And it is filled with ghost stories.  It is an intriguing tale of the supernatural, together with a basic crime story.  It is one fascinating account and well-plotted, bringing together what amounts to a detective story and a ghost story, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2017.

Book Review: Lucky Penny by Ellie Ashe

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Title: Lucky Penny
Series: The Miranda Vaughn Mysteries #3

Author: Ellie Ashe
Narrator: Teri Schnaubelt
Publication Date: April 7, 2017

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Purchase Links:

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Lucky Penny
The Miranda Vaughn Mysteries #3
Ellie Ashe
Ellie Ashe, April 2017
Narrated by Teri Schnaubelt
Downloaded Unabridged Audio Book

From the author—

A year after her acquittal on fraud charges, former financial analyst Miranda Vaughn is finally getting her life back. Not only does she have a chance for romance with her sexy neighbor, FBI Agent Jake Barnes, but she’s also got a new job…one that’s taking her to a vacation paradise!

Perched above the crystal blue waters of Lake Tahoe, the Whispering Pines Resort & Spa is a local landmark and a popular destination for the rich and famous who are stressed out from being rich and famous. And down on the water’s edge is the Lucky Penny Casino – an abandoned shell of a once-stylish casino. Max Emmerson, the owner of the Whispering Pines Resort, used to own the Lucky Penny, and he wants it back. Miranda’s job is to get Max’s finances in order so he can borrow the money to buy the casino, and make sure nothing jeopardizes his gaming license. Easy, right?

But the nice boring accounting job spirals out of control with the addition of a Hollywood film crew, an underground gambling ring, and Jake going undercover at the resort as a newlywed – with another woman. As Miranda and Jake each dive into their investigations, they can’t deny their growing feelings for each other. But it’s more important than ever that they keep their attraction hidden. Especially since someone at the resort is watching them very closely, and is willing to do just about anything to keep them from uncovering the truth.

Fair warning to readers new to the series: I had no trouble jumping into it with the third book but those who are chronologically-driven probably would prefer to read in order. I’m just sayin’  😉

Technically speaking, Lucky Penny is a cozy that doesn’t quite meet the so-called requirements because it doesn’t take place in a small town, most of the characters don’t start out as bosom buddies and the protagonist isn’t a cook, crafter, organic farmer, bookseller, yogi, petsitter, etc., etc., etc. So, let’s just call it a cozy chick-lit caper, OK?

Miranda is a very likeable character who got in some legal trouble a while back and, although she was acquitted, her career is in shambles so she takes on a freelance job at a casino, one that she might not have been offered in the past but it could be a real boon for her. Naturally, what seemed to be a pretty simple task, not to mention a free luxury vacation, turns out to be much, much more. Before she knows what’s happening, Miranda is in the midst of financial shenanigans, an illegal gambling investigation, the filming of a movie and a couple of twisty turny romantic developments.

I could do without the woman-has-to-choose-between-two-guys routine but the romantic elements weren’t too intrusive and the various mysteries were entertaining enough plus the main players are appealing. Bottomline, I liked the story and the narration of the audio edition was a big plus. Ms. Schnaubelt is a very good reader with an easy tone and excellent pacing, clear diction and she does different voices quite well. Her interpretation of Miranda is especially good, exactly the right touch to pull me into Miranda’s world. Both Ellie Ashe and Teri Schnaubelt bring Miranda and crew to life.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2017.

About the Author

USA Today best-selling author Ellie Ashe has always been drawn to jobs where she can tell stories—journalist, lawyer, and now writer. Writing quirky romantic mysteries is how she gets the “happily ever after” that so often is lacking in her day job.

When not writing, you can find her with her nose in a good book, watching far too much TV, or trying out new recipes on unsuspecting friends and family. She lives in Northern California with her husband and three cats, all of whom worry when she starts browsing the puppy listings on petfinder.com.

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About the Narrator

Teri Schnaubelt is a Chicago-based actor, voice actor and audiobook narrator with over 100 titles, including NY Times Bestsellers.

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Chasing the Dollar (Book 1)

Apr. 16: CGB Blog Tours (Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

Apr. 17: Dab of Darkness (Review)

Apr. 18: Guilty Indulgence Book Club (Review, Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

Apr. 19: Desert Rose Reviews (Review, Spotlight, Audio Excerpt & Giveaway)

The Book Junkie (Spotlight & Interview)

Apr. 20: Lomeraniel (Review, Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

Apr. 21: The Book Junkie (Review)

Apr. 22: Bound 4 Escape (Review)

Between the Coverz (Review, Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

Dropping the Dime (Book 2)

Apr. 23: CGB Blog Tours (Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

Apr. 24: Dab of Darkness (Review)

Apr. 25: The Book Junkie (Spotlight)

Apr. 26: Desert Rose Reviews (Review, Spotlight, Audio Excerpt & Giveaway)

Apr. 27: Guilty Indulgence Book Club (Review, Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

The Book Junkie (Review)

Apr. 28: Lomeraniel (Review, Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

Apr. 29: Bound 4 Escape (Review)

Between the Coverz (Review, Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

Lucky Penny (Book 3)

Apr. 30: CGB Blog Tours (Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

May 1: Dab of Darkness (Review)

May 2: Read Day and Night (Review)

The Book Junkie (Spotlight)

May 3: Spunky-n-Sassy (Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

May 4: Desert Rose Reviews (Review, Spotlight, Audio Excerpt & Giveaway)

May 5: The Book Junkie (Review)

May 6: Between the Coverz (Review, Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

May 7: Buried Under Books (Review)

May 8: Lomeraniel (Review, Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

May 9: The Book Addict’s Reviews (Review)

May 10: Guilty Indulgence Book Club (Review, Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

May 11: terriluvsbooks (Review, Author Interview & Giveaway)

May 12: Bound 4 Escape (Review)

May 13: Celtic Lady’s Reviews (Spotlight, Audio Excerpt & Giveaway)

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