Posted in reviews

Fire on the Island: A Romantic Thriller by Timothy Jay Smith Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A young Greek-American FBI agent finds himself searching for an arsonist, uncovering hidden secrets in a small island community in the Greek Islands and wrestling with a growing and passionate affair with someone who may very well be the prime suspect in the arson case in author Timothy Jay Smith’s “Fire on the Island: A Romantic Thriller”.

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The Synopsis

For lovers of crime fiction and the allure of the Greek islands, Fire on the Island is the perfect summer read. 

FIRE ON THE ISLAND is a playful, romantic thriller set in contemporary Greece, with a gay Greek-American FBI agent, who is undercover on the island to investigate a series of mysterious fires. Set against the very real refugee crisis on the beautiful, sun-drenched Greek islands, this novel paints a loving portrait of a community in crisis. As the island residents grapple with declining tourism, poverty, refugees, family feuds, and a perilously damaged church, an arsonist invades their midst.

Nick Damigos, the FBI agent, arrives on the island just in time to witness the latest fire and save a beloved truffle-sniffing dog. Hailed as a hero and embraced by the community, Nick finds himself drawn to Takis, a young bartender who becomes his primary suspect, which is a problem because they’re having an affair. Theirs is not the only complicated romance in the community and Takis isn’t the only suspicious character on the island. The priest is an art forger, a young Albanian waiter harbors a secret, the captain of the coast guard station seems to have his own agenda, and the village itself hides a violent history. Nick has to unravel the truth in time to prevent catastrophe, as he comes to terms with his own past trauma. In saving the village, he will go a long way toward saving himself.

A long time devotee of the Greek islands, Smith paints the setting with gorgeous color and empathy, ushering in a new romantic thriller with the charm of  Zorba the Greek while shedding bright light on the very real challenges of life in contemporary Greece.

The Review

A brilliant blend of action, dramatic tension, thrills and romantic humor and passion, author Timothy Jay Smith has created an engaging read that will keep readers invested in the cast of characters throughout the narrative. The novel does an excellent job of not only creating the tension of the thriller and the passion of the romance, but infuses into it the tone of the very real distrust, heartbreak and painful situation regarding refugees forced to flee and ending up in the Greek Islands. It demonstrates the division amongst the communities regarding accepting and helping these refugees and those who want to blame them for all of society’s woes. 

Amidst this important storytelling sits a beautiful work of character building that really fleshes out the cast of characters well in this novel. The setting comes alive on the pages of this book and really does a great job of making this community become its own character, giving the book’s plot more heft and importance as the story progresses. 

The Verdict

A must-read novel, “Fire on the Island” by Timothy Jay Smith is a fantastic read with a quick pace and engaging plot that will keep the readers on the edge of their seat both for the book’s thrilling plot and romantic character developments. Be sure to grab your own copy on July 7th, 2020. 

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Raised crisscrossing America pulling a small green trailer behind the family car, Timothy Jay Smith developed a ceaseless wanderlust that has taken him around the world many times. En route, he’s found the characters that people his work. Polish cops and Greek fishermen, mercenaries and arms dealers, child prostitutes and wannabe terrorists, Indian Chiefs and Indian tailors: he’s hung with them all in an unparalleled international career that’s seen him smuggle banned plays from behind the Iron Curtain, maneuver through Occupied Territories, represent the U.S. at the highest levels of foreign governments, and stowaway aboard a ‘devil’s barge’ for a three-day crossing from Cape Verde that landed him in an African jail.

Tim brings the same energy to his writing that he brought to a distinguished career, and as a result, he has won top honors for his novels, screenplays and stage plays in numerous prestigious competitions. Fire on the Island won the Gold Medal in the 2017 Faulkner-Wisdom Competition for the Novel. Another novel, The Fourth Courier, set in Poland, will be published in spring 2019 by Skyhorse Publishing. Previously, he won the Paris Prize for Fiction (now the Paris Literary Prize) for his novel, A Vision of Angels. Kirkus Reviews called Cooper’s Promise “literary dynamite” and selected it as one of the Best Books of 2012.

Tim was nominated for the 2017 Pushcart Prize. His stage play, How High the Moon, won the prestigious Stanley Drama Award, and his screenplays have won competitions sponsored by the American Screenwriters Association, WriteMovies, Houston WorldFest, Rhode Island International Film Festival, Fresh Voices, StoryPros, and the Hollywood Screenwriting Institute. He is the founder of the Smith Prize for Political Theater.

https://www.instagram.com/timothyjays…

www.facebook.com/TimothyJaySmith/

Posted in reviews

She Has A Broken Thing Where Her Heart Should Be by J.D. Barker Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A young boy meets a mysterious girl, and begins a lifelong journey of shadowy organizations, haunting deaths and strange happenings no one could possibly believe in author J.D. Barker’s “She Has A Broken Thing Where Her Heart Should Be”. 

The Synopsis

A haunting tale of suspense, rendered with the masterful skill only Barker could muster.

After the loss of his parents, young Jack Thatch first met Stella as a child–this cryptic little girl of eight with dark hair and darker eyes, sitting alone on a bench in the cemetery clutching her favorite book. Gone moments later, the brief encounter would spark an obsession. She’d creep into his thoughts, his every waking moment, until he finally finds her again exactly one year later, sitting upon the same bench, only to disappear again soon after.

The body of a man found in an alley, every inch of his flesh horribly burned, yet his clothing completely untouched. For Detective Faustino Brier, this wasn’t the first, and he knew it wouldn’t be the last. It was no different from the others. He’d find another just like it one year from today. August 9, to be exact.

Isolated and locked away from the world in a shadowy lab, a little boy known only as Subject “D” waits, grows, learns. He’s permitted to speak to no one. He has never known the touch of another. Harboring a power so horrific, those in control will never allow him beyond their walls.

All of them linked in ways unimaginable.

SHE HAS A BROKEN THING WHERE HER HEART SHOULD BE conjures thoughts of early King and Koontz. A heart-pounding ride that creeps under your skin and will have you turning pages long into the night. 

The Review

After the grim and compelling series 4MK, my expectations for J.D. Barker’s next novel were definitely high, and he definitely did not disappoint. While not as chilling in nature as 4MK, this novel creates not only engaging mythology and story but a wide cast of characters that elevate the story and create a wide range of emotions in the reader overall. 

The mystery of the young girl this boy meets and the journey he goes on as the years go by creating a truly mind-bending thriller that will keep readers on the edge of their seat. The genre combination of sci-fi, fantasy, thriller and crime with a hint of romance and suspense keeps the readers guessing at every turn, questioning the character’s motives and firmly invested in the story, especially that of the protagonist, Jack. 

The Verdict

One of 2020’s standout hits already, J.D. Barker wows readers everywhere once again with his novel “She Has A Broken Thing Where Her Heart Should Be”. The story is lengthy yet exciting as each chapter goes on, never leaving the reader unengaged and yet always exciting enough to have the reader wanting more. A thrilling novel that felt reminiscent of the early days of Stephen King, this is a must-read book for any fan of a good suspense, mystery and crime thriller. Be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

J.D. Barker is the international best-selling author of numerous novels, including DRACUL and THE FOURTH MONKEY. He is currently collaborating with James Patterson. His novels have been translated into two dozen languages and optioned for both film and television. Barker resides in coastal New Hampshire with his wife, Dayna, and their daughter, Ember.

A note from J.D.

As a child I was always told the dark could not hurt me, that the shadows creeping in the corners of my room were nothing more than just that, shadows. The sounds nothing more than the settling of our old home, creaking as it found comfort in the earth only to move again when it became restless, if ever so slightly. I would never sleep without closing the closet door, oh no; the door had to be shut tight. The darkness lurking inside needed to be held at bay, the whispers silenced. Rest would only come after I checked under the bed at least twice and quickly wrapped myself in the safety of the sheets (which no monster could penetrate), pulling them tight over my head.

I would never go down to the basement.

Never.

I had seen enough movies to know better, I had read enough stories to know what happens to little boys who wandered off into dark, dismal places alone. And there were stories, so many stories.

Reading was my sanctuary, a place where I could disappear for hours at a time, lost in the pages of a good book. It didn’t take long before I felt the urge to create my own.

I first began to write as a child, spinning tales of ghosts and gremlins, mystical places and people. For most of us, that’s where it begins—as children we have such wonderful imaginations, some of us have simply found it hard to grow up. I’ve spent countless hours trying to explain to friends and family why I enjoy it, why I would rather lock myself in a quiet little room and put pen to paper for hours at a time than throw around a baseball or simply watch television. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I want to do just that, sometimes I wish for it, but even then the need to write is always there in the back of my mind, the characters are impatiently tapping their feet, waiting their turn, wanting to be heard. I wake in the middle of the night and reach for the pad beside my bed, sometimes scrawling page after page of their words, their lives. Then they’re quiet, if only for a little while. To stop would mean madness, or even worse—the calm, numbing sanity I see in others as they slip through the day without purpose. They don’t know what it’s like, they don’t understand. Something as simple as a pencil can open the door to a new world, can create life or experience death. Writing can take you to places you’ve never been, introduce you to people you’ve never met, take you back to when you first saw those shadows in your room, when you first heard the sounds mumbling ever so softly from your closet, and it can show you what uttered them. It can scare the hell out of you, and that’s when you know it’s good.

jd

Posted in reviews

Man on Edge (A Rake Ozenna Thriller Book 2) by Humphrey Hawksley Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A young woman finds her only means of survival in an enemy state is her former fiancee as the clock races in author Humphrey Hawksley’s “Man on Edge (A Rake Ozenna Thriller Book 2)”. 

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The Synopsis

A tense and twisting espionage thriller involving state secrets, lethal assassins and the threat of a new Cold War.

Trauma surgeon Carrie Walker is taken aback when her estranged uncle makes contact out of the blue. Senior Russian naval officer Artyom Semenov claims to be in possession of an explosive piece of information which he is offering to share with the West. But can he be trusted?

Travelling to Moscow undercover to meet with Semenov, Carrie finds herself stranded when the carefully-planned operation goes catastrophically awry. In grave danger, there’s only one person she can turn to for help: her former fiancé, Major Rake Ozenna of the Alaska National Guard.

Aware how vital it is that he reaches Carrie before others do, Rake knows he’s pitted against a powerful and lethal enemy. But is it a rogue agent – or the Russian state? As preparations gather pace for a high-profile NATO exercise off the Norwegian coast, Rake must act fast if he is to prevent a global catastrophe.

The Review

An action-packed thriller, author Humphrey Hawksley has created a thrill ride of a novel. While I haven’t read the first book in the series, the author does a great job of gleaning into the backstory and history established in the first novel enough to create a clear picture of the major players of the narrative and their roles. 

The buildup of suspense and heart-pounding action is equally matched to witty banter between characters and powerful character growth throughout the novel as well. Playing into the government agent versus the world theme, the author blends the shadowy government operations of a good thriller with the personal ups and downs of protagonist Rake and his on and off romance with Carrie. The backdrop of Russia and the surrounding areas felt relevant to the current political scene in the world, creating a deeper connection to the action of the novel’s plot overall. 

The Verdict

A one of a kind read author Humphrey Hawksley has created a tension-filled, action-packed narrative that is not to be missed. An evenly paced read with steady character arcs and a great flow overall, everyone should grab their copies of “Man on Edge”, the second book in the Rake Ozenna Thriller series, today! 

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Humphrey Hawksley’s brand-new international thriller series begins in paperback in October 2019 with MAN ON ICE a knuckle-whitening drama set on the remote and wild US-Russian border. In early, 2020 comes the nail-biting MAN ON EDGE set on the Norway-Russian border followed in 2021 by MAN ON FIRE whose location is yet to disclosed. Rake Ozenna, a native of Little Diomede island in Alaska is the series hero. Each thriller includes trauma surgeon, Dr Carrie Walker, American intelligence contractor, Harry Lucas, and his ex-wife, British businesswoman and diplomat, Stephanie Lucas.

Humphrey’s thrillers have been widely praised. Steve Berry describes ‘authentic settings, non-stop action’ from MAN ON ICE. Lee Child speaks of SECURITY BREACH as ‘high stakes, high octane’ and Alan Furst as a ‘hard-driving, a good taut thriller’ — right back to the first future history thriller DRAGON STRIKE: THE MILLENNIUM WAR which Steve Coonts hailed as ‘ominous and insightful.’

His recent non-fiction ASIAN WATERS: THE STRUGGLE OVER THE SOUTH CHINA SEA AND THE STRATEGY OF CHINESE EXPANSION has been acclaimed on every continent by those at the heart of global decision-making, such as Indian cabinet minister, Hardeep Puri; the last governor of Hong Kong Baron Lord Patten of Barnes; and Dr Wu Shicun, President of China’s National Institute for South China Sea Studies. China’s rise is a fast developing story, and Humphrey is currently working on an updated edition which is due out in June 2020.

Humphrey’s work as a BBC foreign correspondent has taken him all over the world with postings in Beijing, Hong Kong, Manila, Delhi and Colombo. He has contributed to ABC, National Public Radio and other networks in the United States and global publication of his work includes the Financial Times, New York Times, Yale Global, Nikkei Asian Review and others.

http://www.humphreyhawksley.com/

Posted in reviews

Four (Highwayman #2) by M.J. Preston Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

A killer returns with a vengeance in the haunting second book in the Highwayman series, “Four” by M.J. Preston. 

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The Synopsis

“The highwayman brought his hand up and ran his fingers through the beard. ‘Where do we go from here?’ he asked the Bundy-ish reflection. Sooner or later, the monster would have to be fed.”

Having abstained from killing for almost a year, the Highwayman is coming unglued.

Unsure if the FBI is watching, Lance Belanger spends his days and nights in a paranoid malaise, longing to kill again. Meanwhile, in Bucharest, Romania, an Interpol raid leads to clues and a witness who can identify the Highwayman. Armed with new evidence, newly promoted SAC FBI Agent, Dave Maxwell heads for Bucharest, as his team of investigators redeploys their investigation on their original suspect, Lance Belanger. It would appear, the net is closing.

But the Highwayman has other ideas.

Just after dusk, outside of Pittsburgh, four strangers exit a service van and perpetrate the mass murder of four families in their suburban homes. It doesn’t take long for the FBI to connect the killings to Highwayman, and when they raid Belanger’s properties, they are left a parting gift.

Another murder and a message for Maxwell from the Highwayman himself.

Come and find me!

The killing ramps up, Maxwell leads a posse of investigators across two states, north to Canada to try and thwart the Highwayman in his endgame, that involves kidnapping, mass murder, and betrayal.

The predator is now the prey.

But can they stop him before he disappears for good?

The Review

A chilling, heart-pounding and thrilling conclusion to the story of the Highwayman killer, author M.J. Preston has brought a fantastic story to life in the second Highwayman novel. Not only does the killer up the stakes and unleash chaos and fear on a much grander scale in the novel, but the criminal investigation is ramped up to the tenth power as the hunt flips the script, making the Highwayman the prey and the investigators the predators. 

The author does a great job of showcasing a notorious killer’s mind as the walls begin closing in around him. From his need to kill to the trickle effect that comes when one domino falls, unleashing enough clues to make Lance a prime suspect in the crimes he took so much time perfecting. The psychological and physical horror is ever-present in this tense thriller, making the author’s unique voice shine through brightly.

The Verdict

A one of a kind thriller with a truly scary serial killer and an action-fueled conclusion, Four by M.J. Preston is a must-read book. The novel does an excellent job of highlighting the author’s creative tone and expert handle on the genre and makes for one of the top horror reads of 2020 thus far. Be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

M.J. Preston’s debut novel: THE EQUINOX, published in 2012, was a quarter-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Awards and rated a solid straight horror novel by a reviewer at Publisher’s Weekly. His second novel: ACADIA EVENT, published in 2015, was inspired by his time running the world longest ice road, as an ice road trucker, in Canada’s Northwest Territories. His third novel: Highwayman, the first of a two-part thriller, is forecast to be published in 2018. He resides in Alberta, Canada with his wife, Stormy and pet beagles Milo and Jake. Visit him online: His website: http: //mjpreston.net

Posted in reviews

Highwayman (Highwayman #1) by M.J. Preston Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A brutal new serial killer seeks notoriety and a way to elevate his game, leaving the FBI investigator hunting him in a race against time in author M.J. Preston’s novel “Highwayman”. 

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The Synopsis 

The most terrifying monsters are real and walk among us every day.

Meet Lance Belanger, he has only one ambition, to be the most infamous killer of all time. After murdering a single mom and her toddler child, Lance indoctrinates himself into the world of serial murder. Before long, the bodies start turning up all over the country. Each victim is incapacitated by a puncture wound to the spine, then, while still alive, they are dismembered, their arms, legs, and head are severed from the torso.

FBI investigators call their killer “Highwayman.” But beyond the multi-state dumping of staged victims, the killer has left them little else to go on. With no DNA or forensic evidence, veteran FBI agent Lewis Ash is in a race against retirement as he tracks the elusive murderer.

Meanwhile, Lance has other plans that will up his game and increase his body count. In a web of murder that reaches from the United States to Bucharest, Romania, a diabolical plan is set into motion to attract the most dangerous predators the world has to offer.

Can the FBI stop this killer before he sets his plan into motion?

The Review

One of the more unique serial killer thrillers I’ve personally read in years, the author completely twists the common narrative by focusing on the killer himself, the Highwayman, as the protagonist. While the story focuses on both the killer and the investigators hounding him as his career rises, the focus remains on Lance, a young man who dreams of becoming more infamous than the likes of Ted Bundy or John Wayne Gacy. 

The author does a great job of upping the ante throughout the narrative, bringing readers along a chaotic and heart-pounding journey of a killer born and a killer on the rise. From the shocking opening pages of the killer’s first horrifying kills to the shocking accidental circumstances that gave him power and resources and beyond, the story truly delves into the fascination and abject horror that the mind of a serial killer often brings. 

The case gets complex as time goes on when the killer not only gains the attention of law enforcement everywhere but the attention of his own following as well, and soon the body count begins to rise more than he could have ever hoped for. It’s a chilling read as the story takes the reader on a spine-chilling and nail-bitter of an adventure. 

The Verdict

A brilliant, haunting and lengthy read, author M.J. Preston has created a gripping thriller that few readers will be able to put down. Not for the faint of heart, the story plays out like a cinematic tale that is waiting to be told and creates a modern-day killer that is sure to haunt the dreams of many a reader. Be sure to grab your copy of “Highwayman”, the first of the Highwayman series today! 

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

M.J. Preston’s debut novel: THE EQUINOX, published in 2012, was a quarter-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Awards and rated a solid straight horror novel by a reviewer at Publisher’s Weekly. His second novel: ACADIA EVENT, published in 2015, was inspired by his time running the world longest ice road, as an ice road trucker, in Canada’s Northwest Territories. His third novel: Highwayman, the first of a two-part thriller, is forecast to be published in 2018. He resides in Alberta, Canada with his wife, Stormy and pet beagles Milo and Jake. Visit him online: His website: http: //mjpreston.net

Posted in reviews

Unknown 9: Genesis (Genesis Trilogy #1) by Layton Green

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A young woman finds herself on the run and searching for answers as a broader conspiracy opens up in author Layton Green’s novel “Unknown 9: Genesis”, the first in the Genesis trilogy. 

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The Synopsis

To solve the enigma of her past, a brilliant but troubled young woman joins a deadly global treasure hunt.

Strange hallucinations have plagued PhD student Andie Robertson throughout her life. After years of consulting doctors, she decided the visions were a glitch in her own mind until her mentor, the famous physicist Dr. James Corwin, is murdered in Italy, and Andie finds a stack of ink drawings in his office that bear a remarkable resemblance to her hallucinations.

Shocked, Andie digs deeper and learns that Dr. Corwin developed a device that might shed light on the very nature of reality. She is even more stunned to discover that her mother, an academic who disappeared when Andie was a young girl, might also be involved.

Determined to find answers, Andie follows a trail of clues placed by Dr. Corwin, for reasons unknown, in museums and cultural sites around the world, highlighting human achievement as well as a tapestry of secret knowledge woven into the threads of history.

Yet Andie is not the only one searching. Powerful forces know of her mentor’s invention, including a mysterious elite society that spans borders and will stop at nothing to find the device. Now a target herself, Andie and a disgraced journalist embark on a perilous journey that might hold the key to a new frontier of knowledge-and which also promises to unlock the doors of her past.

From the author of the bestselling Dominic Grey novels, Genesis is a mind-bending thriller about how far two people will go for answers, and to save the ones they love.

The Review

A brilliant novel, the story unfolds as part of Assassin’s Creed, part X-Files, and phenomenal new mythology that readers will instantly fall in love with. The way the story shifts between the past and present make for a fascinating character study of both Ettore and Andie and Andie’s ally in the search for the truth creates a pairing reminiscent of Mulder and Scully on The X-Files, making this story feel much more cinematic in its approach. 

The author has brilliantly set up an ongoing storyline that will reach across multiple mediums in the entertainment world. From the incredible trilogy of novels laid out by Layton Green with this first book to video games, podcasts, comic books and more, this book is the launching point for a much larger narrative that is sure to unlock one of the modern ages best new mythologies. 

The Verdict

Strong character development, bold new mythology and an evenly paced read make Unknown 9: Genesis by Layton Green a must-read in 2020, and one of our contenders for the best read of 2020 thus far. Action-packed, historical and scientific themes make the story pop out in a truly fresh way and will leave readers on the edge of their seat as revelations lead to more questions as the universe unravels before them. Grab your copy of the first book in the Genesis trilogy by Layton Green today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Layton Green writes in multiple genres and is the author of the upcoming Genesis Trilogy, the Dominic Grey series, the Blackwood Saga, and other works of fiction. Layton’s work has been nominated for multiple awards (including a two-time finalist for an International Thriller Writers award), optioned for film, and has reached #1 on numerous genre lists in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany. The Shadow Cartel was a #2 overall bestseller on Amazon UK.

In addition to writing, Layton attended law school in New Orleans and was a practicing attorney for ten very long years. He has also been an intern for the United Nations, an ESL teacher in Central America, a bartender in London, a seller of cheap knives on the streets of Brixton, a door to door phone book deliverer in Florida, and the list goes downhill from there.

Layton lives with his family in North Carolina. You can visit him on Facebook, Goodreads, or on his website (www.laytongreen.com).

Posted in book launch, Book Promotion, Personal Blog Posts

Special Announcement: Identity by Anthony Avina

Hello everyone! It’s once again World Book Day (UK & Ireland), and to celebrate that in 2020, I thought it only appropriate to announce to you all that as of today, my novel Identity is now available to own! That’s right, Identity is now published online and available in both print and eBook formats. 

Published through Sirens Call Publications, this is my first ever novel published with a publisher. It is a dream come true and I am so thrilled my first officially published novel is now live. I am so proud of this book, as it’s been a story that I’ve worked on with the Sirens Call Publications team for years. 

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The story challenges the concept of identity, both the identities society places on certain individuals and the identities we must fight to discover for ourselves. Set against a noir thriller/serial killer horror story, the novel focuses on a young man who finds himself the latest victim of a shocking killer; a private investigator who is desperate to save the life of a close friend’s son, and a rising celebrity with a dark secret of her own. 

The book challenges the classic roles given to people in a horror and thriller setting, twisting and turning the narrative as time goes on until readers are left on the edge of their seat wanting more. 

I hope you all will enjoy this book as much as I did writing it. I want to thank everyone at Sirens Call Publications for their support on making this project a reality. As I continue my pursuit of my writing career, I will always hold Identity in high regard as the book that made me believe my dream could be a reality, and I have to thank the team at Sirens Call for making that happen. 

Thank you to everyone who has supported me and my journey thus far, and I welcome everyone who takes a chance on me and my novel and grabs their own copies. If you sign up for my free newsletter on my site you can also get a free short story from me as well when you sign up, and if you do purchase your own copy be sure to take a photo of either your paperback copy or your e-Reader with the eBook and tag me on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, and I’ll be sure to share it on my page. 

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Thank you everyone for taking the time to read this. I hope you have an amazing rest of your World Book Day. I will be announcing blog tours, sharing excerpts from the novel and more as time goes on, but for now I hope you enjoy finding out for yourself what truly defines a person’s…Identity. 

Posted in Blog Tours, reviews

First Cut by Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A medical examiner new to the San Francisco area finds herself embroiled in a harrowing case involving a murder to cover up the actions of a ruthless drug lord in authors Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell’s “First Cut”. 

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The Synopsis

Wife and husband duo Dr. Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell first enthralled the book world with their runaway bestselling memoir Working Stiff—a fearless account of a young forensic pathologist’s “rookie season” as a NYC medical examiner. This winter, Dr. Melinek, now a prominent forensic pathologist in the Bay Area, once again joins forces with writer T.J. Mitchell to take their first stab at fiction. 

The result: FIRST CUT (Hanover Square Press; Hardcover; January 7, 2020; $26.99)—a gritty and compelling crime debut about a hard-nosed San Francisco medical examiner who uncovers a dangerous conspiracy connecting the seedy underbelly of the city’s nefarious opioid traffickers and its ever-shifting terrain of tech startups.

Dr. Jessie Teska has made a chilling discovery. A suspected overdose case contains hints of something more sinister: a drug lord’s attempt at a murderous cover up. As more bodies land on her autopsy table, Jessie uncovers a constellation of deaths that point to an elaborate network of powerful criminals—on both sides of the law—that will do anything to keep things buried. But autopsy means “see for yourself,” and Jessie Teska won’t stop until she’s seen it all—even if it means the next corpse on the slab could be her own.

The Review

A brilliant read, this novel perfectly blends the expertise and gritty reality of forensic work and the work of the medical examiners office with the harrowing and heart-pounding action that comes with a good thriller. 

The story cuts into the complex web of lies uncovered by Jessie Teska, from drug kingpins and dirty lawyers to collegues she thought she could trust and beyond. Haunted by a painful past, Jessie finds herself fighting to uncover the truth behind a horrific crime, with only her brilliant mind and determination to aid her in her fight against politics, criminal empires and more. 

The Verdict

A fantastic thriller for anyone who enjoys a heavy mix of medical forensics and suspense, authors Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell have created a masterful story that will give readers a protagonist to root for, a story to engage with and a brilliant race to the finish that will keep readers on the edge of their seat. If you haven’t yet, grab your copy of Final Cut today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Authors

Judy Melinek was an assistant medical examiner in San Francisco for nine years, and today works as a forensic pathologist in Oakland and as CEO of PathologyExpert Inc. She and T.J. Mitchell met as undergraduates at Harvard, after which she studied medicine and practiced pathology at UCLA. Her training in forensics at the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner is the subject of their first book, the memoir Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner.
T.J. Mitchell is a writer with an English degree from Harvard, and worked in the film industry before becoming a full-time stay-at-home dad. He is the New York Times bestselling co-author of Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner with his wife, Judy Melinek.

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EXCERPT

PROLOGUE

Los Angeles
May

The dead woman on my table had pale blue eyes, long lashes, no mascara. She wore a thin rim of black liner on her lower lids but none on the upper. I inserted the twelve gauge needle just far enough that I could see its beveled tip through the pupil, then pulled the syringe plunger to aspirate a sample of vitreous fluid. That was the first intrusion I made on her corpse during Mary Catherine Walsh’s perfectly ordinary autopsy.

The external examination had been unremarkable. The decedent appeared to be in her midthirties, blond hair with dun roots, five foot four, 144 pounds. After checking her over and noting identifying marks (monochromatic professional tattoo of a Celtic knot on lower left flank, appendectomy scar on abdomen, well-healed stellate scar on right knee), I picked up a scalpel and sliced from each shoulder to the breastbone, and then all the way down her belly. I peeled back the layers of skin and fat on her torso—an ordinary amount, maybe a little on the chubby side—and opened the woman’s chest like a book.

I had made similar Y-incisions on 256 other bodies during my ten months as a forensic pathologist at the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office, and this one was easy. No sign of trauma. Normal liver. Healthy lungs. There was nothing wrong with her heart. The only significant finding was the white, granular material of the gastric contents. In her stomach was a mass of semidigested pills.

When I opened her uterus, I found she’d been pregnant. I measured the fetus’s foot length and estimated its age at twelve weeks. The fetus appeared to have been viable. It was too young to determine sex.

I deposited the organs one by one at the end of the stainless-steel table. I had just cut into her scalp to start on the skull when Matt, the forensic investigator who had collected the body the day before, came in.

“Clean scene,” he reported, depositing the paperwork on my station. “Suicide.”

I asked him where he was going for lunch. Yogurt and a damn salad at his desk, he told me: bad cholesterol and a worried wife. I extended my condolences as he headed back out of the autopsy suite.

I scanned through Matt’s handwriting on the intake sheet and learned that the body had been found, stiff and cold, in a locked and secure room at the Los Angeles Omni hotel. The cleaning staff called the police. The ID came from the name on the credit card used to pay for the room, and was confirmed by fingerprint comparison with her driver’s license thumbprint. A handwritten note lay on the bed stand, a pill bottle in the trash. Nothing else. Matt was right: There was no mystery to the way Mary Walsh had died.

I hit the dictaphone’s toe trigger and pointed my mouth toward the microphone dangling over the table. “The body is identified by a Los Angeles County Medical Examiner’s tag attached to the right great toe, inscribed LACD-03226, Walsh, Mary Catherine…”

I broke the seal on the plastic evidence bag and pulled out the pill bottle. It was labeled OxyContin, a powerful painkiller, and it was empty.

“Accompanying the body is a sealed plastic bag with an empty prescription medication bottle. The name on the prescription label…”

I read the name but didn’t speak it. The hair started standing up on my neck. I looked down at my morning’s work—the splayed body, flecked with gore, the dissected womb tossed on a heap of other organs.

That can’t be, I told myself. It can’t.

On the clipboard underneath the case intake sheet I found a piece of hotel stationery sealed in another evidence bag. It was the suicide note, written in blue ink with a steady feminine hand. I skimmed it—then stopped, and went back.

I read it again.

I heard the clipboard land at my feet. I gripped the raised lip of my autopsy table. I held tight while the floor fell away.


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Q&A with Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell

Q: Do you plan your books in advance or let them develop as you write?

A:The idea for First Cut was prompted by some of Judy’s actual cases when she worked as a San Francisco medical examiner. She has real experience performing autopsy death investigation, and she also has the imagination to apply that experience to a fictional framework for our forensic detective, Dr. Jessie Teska. Judy invented the story, and together we worked it up as an outline. Then T.J. sat in a room wrestling with words all day—which he loves to do—to produce the first complete manuscript. That’s our inspiration plus perspiration dynamic as co-authors.

Q: What does the act of writing mean to you?

A: It is, and has always been, something we can do together, an important part of our marriage. We’ve collaborated as a creative team since we were in college together many years ago, producing and directing student theater. We’ve also spent twenty years raising our four children, and have always approached parenting as a partnership. We find it easy to work together because we write like we parent: relying on one another, each of us playing to our strengths. It helps that, in our writing process, we have no overlapping skill set!

 Q: Have you ever had a character take over a story, and if so, who was it and why?

A: Oh, yes! That’s our heroine, Dr. Jessie Teska. She has elements of Judy in her, and elements of T.J., but Jessie is a distinct individual and a strong-willed one. We’re often surprised and even shocked by the ways she reacts to the situations we put her in. There are times we’ll be writing what we thought was a carefully laid-out scene, and Jessie will take us sideways. She’s coming off T.J.’s fingertips on the the keyboard, both of us watching with mouths agape, saying, “What the hell is she up to?”

Q: Which one of First Cut’s characters was the hardest to write and why?

A: Tommy Teska, Jessie’s brother. He’s a minor character to the book’s plot, but the most important person in Jessie’s life, and he’s a reticent man, downright miserly with his dialogue. Tommy carries such great emotional weight, but it was hard to draw it out of him, especially because so much of his bond to our heroine is in the backstory of First Cut, not in the immediate narrative that lands on the page. We’re now working on the sequel, Cross Cut, and finding that Tommy has more occasion to open up in that story.

Q: Which character in any of your books (First Cut or otherwise) is dearest to you and why?

A: The late Dr. Charles Sidney Hirsch, from our first book, the memoir Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner. Dr. Hirsch is not just a character: He was a real person, Judy’s mentor and a towering figure in the world of forensic pathology. Dr. Hirsch trained Dr. Melinek in her specific field of medicine and imbued in her his passion for it. He was a remarkable man, a great teacher and physician and public servant—a person of uncompromising integrity coupled with great emotional intelligence.

Q: What did you want to be as a child? Was it an author?

A: Judy’s father was a physician, and though she never wanted to follow in his immediate footsteps—he was a psychiatrist—she has always wanted to be another Dr. Melinek. T.J. has always been a writer, but also has theater training and worked in the film industry. As much as we enjoyed authoring the memoir Working Stiff, and as happy as we have been with its success, we are even more thrilled to be detective novelists.

Q: What does a day in the life of Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell look like?

A: Judy is a morning person and T.J.’s a night owl, so we split parenting responsibilities. Judy gets the kids off to school and then heads to the morgue, where she performs autopsies in the morning and works with police, district attorneys, and defense lawyers in the afternoon. T.J. takes care of the household and after-school duties. If we work together during the day, it’s usually by email in the late afternoon. T.J. cooks dinner, Judy goes to bed early, and he’s up late—at his most productive writing from nine to midnight or later.

Q: What do you use to inspire you when you get Writer’s Block?

A: We go for a long walk together. Our far corner of San Francisco overlooks the Pacific Ocean, bracketed by cypress trees and blown over with fog, and serves as an inspiring landscape. We explore the edge of the continent and talk out where our characters have been and where they need to get, tossing ideas back and forth until a solution, what to do next on the page, emerges. Getting away for a stroll with our imaginary friends is always a fruitful exercise!

Q: What book would you take with you to a desert island?

A: T.J. would take the Riverside Shakespeare, and Judy would take Poisonous Plants: A Handbook for Doctors, Pharmacists, Toxicologists, Biologists and Veterinarians, Illustrated.

Q: Do you have stories on the back burner that are just waiting to be written?

A: Always! We are inspired by Dr. Melinek’s real-life work, both in the morgue and at crime scenes, in police interrogation rooms, and in courtrooms. Our stories are fiction—genre fiction structured in the noir-detective tradition—but the forensic methods our detective employs and the scientific findings she comes to are drawn from real death investigations.

Q: What has been the hardest thing about publishing? What has been the most fun?

A: The hardest thing is juggling our work schedules to find uninterrupted time together to write. The most fun is meeting and talking to our readers at book events, especially those who have been inspired to go into the field of forensic pathology after reading our work.

Q: What advice would you give budding authors about publishing?

A: It’s all about connectivity. Linking up with other writers, readers, editors, and research experts is a crucial way to get your work accomplished, and to get it out to your audience. Yes, ultimately it’s just you and the keyboard, but in the course of writing your story, you can and should tap into the hive mind, online and in person, for inspiration and help.

Q: What was the last thing you read?

A: Judy last read The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington, and T.J. last read The Witch Elm by Tana French.

Q: Your top five authors?

A: Judy’s are Atul Gawande, Henry James, Kathy Reichs, Mary Roach, and Oliver Sacks. T.J.’s are Margaret Atwood, Joseph Heller, Ed McBain, Ross Macdonald, and Kurt Vonnegut.

Q: Book you’ve bought just for the cover?

A: T.J.: Canary by Duane Swierczynski. Judy: Mütter Museum Historical Medical Photographs.

Q: Tell us about what you’re working on now.

A: First Cut is the debut novel in a detective series, and we’ve recently finished the rough draft of Cross Cut, its sequel. We are in the revision phase now, killing our darlings and tightening our tale, working to get the further adventures of Dr. Jessie Teska onto bookshelves next year!

Posted in reviews

I know When You’re Going To Die by Michael J. Bowler Review

 I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A young man living life as the social outcast finds himself fighting to save his best friend after he is given a haunting power in author Michael J. Bowler’s “I Know When You’re Going To Die”. 

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The Synopsis

Leonardo Cantrell is a painfully shy sixteen-year-old who cannot look people in the eye. One night while he’s volunteering at a homeless shelter, an old man forces eye contact and gives Leo the power to see Death.

His best, and only, friend—J.C. Rivera—thinks this new power is cool until Leo accidentally looks into J.C.’s eyes and “sees” his murder, a murder that will occur in less than two weeks. Stunned and shaken, the two boys sift through clues in Leo’s “vision” in a desperate effort to find the killer and stop him before he can strike.

Aided by feisty new-girl-at-school, Laura, the boys uncover evidence suggesting the identity of the murderer. However, their plan to trap the would-be killer goes horribly awry and reveals a truth that could kill them all.

The Review

A brilliant read, the author does an amazing job of capturing the raw nature of fear that grips us all when staring into the face of death while also delving into the hardships and struggles modern day teens face from peers and adults alike. 

The story weaves together a tale of suspense and horror into a modern day high school drama setting, bringing together the problems teens face all too often, including the process of finding one’s place in the world. As protagonist Leo sets out to save his friend, secrets and relationships are revealed, and highlight the heartbreaking process many teens face when forced to conceal their true selves in the face of cruelty from both students and teachers alike. 

The Verdict

An amazing read, I Know When You’re Going To Die by Michael J. Bowler is a must read. A story many can relate to while telling a gripping tale of suspense and thrills, this novel really weaves together multiple genres well, and will leave readers on the edge of their seats. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy of this novel by either pre-ordering your copy today or getting your copy when it releases on February 25th, 2020!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Michael J. Bowler is an award-winning author who grew up in Northern California. He majored in English/Theatre at Santa Clara University, earned a master’s in film production from Loyola Marymount University, a teaching credential in English from LMU, and a master’s in Special Education from Cal State University Dominguez Hills. Michael taught high school in Hawthorne, California for many years, both in general education and students with disabilities. When Michael is not writing you can find him volunteering as a youth mentor with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, volunteering within the juvenile justice system in Los Angeles, or caring for his newly adopted son. He is a passionate advocate for the fair treatment of children and teens in California, and hopes his books can show young people they are not alone in their struggles.

You can find Michael at:

Website: www.michaeljbowler.com

Amazon: www.amazon.com/Michael-J.-Bowler/e/B0…

Facebook: www.facebook.com/michaeljbowlerauthor

Twitter: twitter.com/BradleyWallaceM

tumblr: michaeljbowler.tumblr.com

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/michaelbowler

Instagram: www.instagram.com/stuntshark

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2NX.

Buy Links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07Z48BHH4?ref_=pe_3052080_276849420

Apple: https://books.apple.com/us/book/id1484221699

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/i-know-when-you-re-going-to-die

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/i-know-when-youre-going-to-die-michael-j-bowler/1134221152;jsessionid=ACEF0B8A8DBF47B8C52210F233FF2F1F.prodny_store01-atgap15?ean=2940163679256