Friday, December 26, 2014

Review: Four to Score (Stephanie Plum #4) by Janet Evanovich


4.5 stars for Four to Score (Stephanie Plum book 4) by Janet Evanovich.

After having being frightened out of my wits by the previous Tradd Street series, it is certainly a very welcome change to the fourth book in the Plum series where there are fun-filled actions, happy-go-lucky characters and playful conversations amid an amusing background setting.

This time Stephanie engages herself in a case that on first glimpse seems very much like a domestic dispute where the girlfriend steals the boyfriend’s car, gets arrested, posts bond with Plum Agency where Stephanie works, and then fails to show for her court appearance, a FTA (Failed To Appear) in bounty-hunter terms. Only that in Stephanie's world, things are usually not that simple and she soon finds herself trying to untangle the web of lies to earn her keep.

Things get even more interesting when Stephanie finds out that her cousin boss, Vinnie has hired her long-time nemesis as one of his bond enforcement officers. Together, with help from Lula, Ranger, new character Sally and even grandma Mazur, Stephanie goes on her mission to divide and conquer, hopefully before her archenemy does it first.

I really like and enjoy the author's upbeat and lighthearted writing style. Just when I think Stephanie is hitting a roadblock where relationship is concerned, Evanovich delivers an unexpected turn of events which is not only refreshing but hilarious to no end.

Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1998 edition
Publication date: 1 Apr 2010

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Nabbing Maxine Nowicki, thief and extortionist, would be the answer to Stephanie’s prayers and monetary woes. The only trouble is that Maxine is no where to be found, and her friends have been mysteriously turning up dead. To make matters worse, Stephanie’s arch nemesis since grade school is also looking for Nowicki, hoping to cash in first.

Stephanie’s mentor and tormentor, Ranger, needs her. Vice cop Joe Morelli has invited her to move in… temporarily. And Stephanie’s Grandma Mazur, sidekick, Lula, and a six-foot-tall transvestite rock musician want to take Stephanie to Atlantic City. One thing is for certain, no good can come from any of it.

*Blurb from author's website*

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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Review: Return to Tradd Street (Tradd Street #4) by Karen White


4 stars for Return to Tradd Street (Tradd Street book 4) by Karen White.

I realise I have spent the bulk of December reading the Tradd Street series one after another in succession. It is actually a very pleasant and enjoyable experience since there is no need to acquaint myself with new characters that come with reading a standalone novel or start of a brand new series.

In this book 4, the author brings readers back to square one, aye to the house on 55 Tradd Street and its unfinished business yet again. The lifting of this historic house from its foundation for major repair works due to a crack in book 3 is the reason for this uncalled-for revisit as one thing leads to another and ultimately to the skeleton hidden in the closet. As is the norm, the ball is once again in our heroine, Melanie’s court, waiting for her to investigate, to right old wrongs and put to rest eternally the resentful presence of a grievously wronged soul.

In return to Tradd Street, the author focuses a lot on the emotional aspect of Melanie and her practically non-existent man woman relationship. Growing up with her father’s aversion to all things unexplainable has led to Melanie taking up the path to self-denial where she justifies herself that out of sight equates out of mind. However, she soon learns the hard way that where matters of the heart are concerned, it is no simple feat in comparison to feigning not seeing and having to deal with the haunt of an angry and vengeful spectre. Though I can understand where the author is coming from for putting Melanie in her existing predicament, I find it hard to stomach at times on the fix that Melanie entwines herself in when it is actually very simple and straightforward. Regardless of this behavioural shortfall, the story is still an enjoyable read on the whole.

A new character, detective Riley is introduced in this book. I can almost see the wheels turning in the author’s mind the moment Riley first makes his appearance and proclaim with certainty as I read on that this likeable personality is definitely someone who is here to stay, and highly possibly to steer the direction of subsequent instalments and influence how they will pan out in due course. The only indeterminate point is when book 5 will be available since it has taken a span of seven years for the series to come about, from inception of book 1 in 2008 to book 4 in 2014.

Publisher: NAL
Publication date: 7 Jan 2014

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Facing her future as a single mother, psychic Realtor Melanie Middleton is determined to be strong and leave her past with writer Jack Trenholm behind her. But history has a tendency of catching up with Melanie, whether she likes it or not.…

Melanie is only going through the motions of living since refusing Jack’s marriage proposal. She misses him desperately, but her broken heart is the least of her problems. Despite an insistence that she can raise their child alone, Melanie is completely unprepared for motherhood, and she struggles to complete renovations on her house on Tradd Street before the baby arrives.

When Melanie is roused one night by the sound of a ghostly infant crying, she chooses to ignore it. She simply does not have the energy to deal with one more crisis. That is, until the remains of a newborn buried in an old christening gown are found hidden in the foundation of her house.

As the hauntings on Tradd Street slowly become more violent, Melanie decides to find out what caused the baby’s untimely death, uncovering the love, loss, and betrayal that color the house’s history—and threaten her claim of ownership. But can she seek Jack’s help without risking her heart? For in revealing the secrets of the past, Melanie also awakens the malevolent presence that has tried to keep the truth hidden for decades.…

*Blurb from author's website*

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Review: The Strangers on Montagu Street (Tradd Street #3) by Karen White


4.5 stars for The Strangers on Montagu Street (Tradd Street book 3) by Karen White.

As alluded by title of this book 3 of the Tradd Street series, the story revolves around the residence on Montagu Street, an old spooky Victorian house with a large circular turret that claims one corner of the building and culminates in a mansard-style roof.

At first glance, there seems to be no reason for the strangers on Montagu Street to be connected in any way to our female protagonist and narrator, Melanie. Nevertheless, the author manages to weave a riveting tale with perfectly valid and logical motive for Melanie to probe and uncover the secrets embedded in the roots of this prominent family hidden behind the facade of their historic house in Charleston.

Once again, the author does a superb job of creeping me out with the supernatural and paranormal aspect of the unknowns in this story such that each and every trivial sound that permeates the air in my living room while I read the book late into the night makes me jump up in my couch with a thumping heart and surreptitiously turn my head around as if I am being watched by unseeing eyes.

Though some parts of the storyline in book 3 The Strangers on Montagu Street are more predictable than the earlier 2 books (book 1 The House on Tradd Street and book 2 The Girl on Legare Street), it still ticks all the right boxes on the account of mystery, romance, suspense and the paranormal. For those who love a good spine-tingling and hair-raising story, it is definitely a book not to be missed.

Publisher: NAL; 1 edition
Publication date: 1 Nov 2011

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With her relationship with Jack as shaky as the foundation of her family home, Melanie’s juggling a number of problems. Like restoring her Tradd Street house…and resisting her mother’s pressure to ‘go public’ with her talent—a sixth sense that unites them to the lost souls of the dead. But Melanie never anticipated her new problem.

Her name is Nola, Jack’s estranged young daughter who appears on their doorstep, damaged, lonely and defiantly immune to her father’s attempts to reconnect. Melanie understands the emotional chasm all too well. As a special, bonding gift Jack's mother buys Nola an antique dollhouse—a precious tableaux of a perfect Victorian family. Melanie hopes the gift will help thaw Nola's reserve and draw her into the family she’s never known.

At first, Nola is charmed, and Melanie is delighted—until night falls, and the most unnerving shadows are cast within its miniature rooms. By the time Melanie senses a malevolent presence she fears it may already be too late. A new family has accepted her unwitting invitation to move in—with their own secrets, their own personal demons, and a past that’s drawing Nola into their own inescapable darkness…

*Blurb from author's website*

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Review: The Girl On Legare Street (Tradd Street #2) by Karen White


5 stars for The Girl On Legare Street (Tradd Street book 2) by Karen White.

In this book 2 of the Tradd Street series, attention shifts from the house on 55 Tradd Street to the one on 33 Legare Street, a three-story Georgian double house where our protagonist, Melanie spends her early years in with her grandmother and mother before leaving to live with her father at the age of seven.

The change in focus by the author, from one house to another is done seamlessly as if uncovering mysteries and revisiting the antiquities of old houses is a natural thing to do. Correlating to this change is the corresponding switch in mantra from “It's a piece of history you can hold in your hands” in book 1 to “We are not as we seem” in book 2, which when reiterated during the course of narrating this unnerving story, send chills up my spine that cause the hair on the back of my neck to stand.

Faced with unfolding of bizarre events to which she has no control of, Melanie realises that she has no choice but to stand up to her past, confront head-on the malevolent forces at work, and put to rest once and for all, the manifestation of the inexplicable spectre from her line of ancestry.

Spooky and unsettling, The Girl on Legare Street is an exceptionally well written petrifying follow-up to The House on Tradd Street which is guaranteed to creep readers out. A must read for those who are already knee-deep in book 1.

Publisher: NAL; Original edition
Publication date: 3 Nov 2009

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There was a time when Melanie's dysfunctional family was out of sight and mind, and her only worries were her monthly sales figures, what shade of beige to paint her low-maintenance condo, and whether she was ready to make charming journalist Jack Trenholm a permanent fixture in her life. Those days are over.

After receiving a deadly premonition, Melanie's mother, who deserted her more than thirty years ago, suddenly returns to Charleston to protect her. But all Ginnette Prioleau Middleton does is remind Melanie of how little they have in common--except for their ability to communicate with ghosts...

And now Ginnette is moving into their ancestral home on Legare Street, and she needs Melanie's advice on restoring it and her sixth sense to talk to the dead that inhabit it. But Ginnette's return has awakened a dark spirit--whose strength has been growing for decades--and who is ready for revenge. With Jack's help, Melanie and her mother must find a way to work together to fight its malevolent presence and save what's left of their family...

*Blurb from author's website*

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Review: The House on Tradd Street (Tradd Street #1) by Karen White


4.5 stars for The House on Tradd Street (Tradd Street book 1) by Karen White.

As always I am cautious and kind of sceptical when starting off a new series penned by an author to whom I have not read any works previously. Thus it is with much trepidation as I make my pick on Tradd Street. However three chapters later, I find that my initial apprehension is unfounded what with a story layered within another that is exquisitely written with mysteries and hidden secrets waiting for me to unravel.

Tradd Street book 1 is truly a well-rounded work of fiction as the author does not limit the story to merely romance but taps on a deeper level involving kinship and friendship. Likewise, the paranormal factor embedded in the root of the story is so skilfully written that reading these uncanny episodes brings on sudden awareness that sends chills up my spine, and neither it nor the goose bumps sprouting on my arms were due to the mid-Dec cold wind breezing through the windows into my living room.

Indeed The House on Tradd Street, a book with a plain-Jane title, but nevertheless one that tells of touching stories filled with love and sadness of its inhabitants and their ancestors living on 55 Tradd Street in Charleston, a beautiful old city full of rich history and character, and architecturally significant buildings, is an enchantingly engaging read.

Publisher: NAL
Publication date: 4 Nov 2008

*** Favourite quote ***

I felt numb, as if my nerve endings had been scattered into the wind like a dandelion, leaving a bare stem of simple weariness.

~ The House on Tradd Street
Karen White

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Practical Melanie Middleton hates to admit she can see ghosts. But she’s going to have to accept it. An old man she recently met has died, leaving her his historic Tradd Street home, complete with housekeeper, dog—and a family of ghosts anxious to tell her their secrets.

Enter Jack Trenholm, a gorgeous writer obsessed with unsolved mysteries. He has reason to believe that diamonds from the Confederate Treasury are hidden in the house. So he turns the charm on with Melanie, only to discover he’s the smitten one...

It turns out Jack’s search has caught the attention of a malevolent ghost. Now, Jack and Melanie must unravel a mystery of passion, heartbreak—and even murder.

*Blurb from author's website*

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Review: Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell (with Patrick Robinson)


5 stars for Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell (with Patrick Robinson).

After wrapping up my last book with a theme centered on Military and War, I undergo a reading hangover, one which is not too overwhelming but nevertheless a feeling I rather do without. In-between that and this, I actually try reading 2 other books, one written by an author who tops the international bestseller lists and the other by a New York Times bestselling author. Sadly, in both instances, my heart is not in my mind and I find myself unable to enjoy the stories and make myself finish reading. It is then that I realise I am still hang-up over my last Non-Fiction book titled Forward into Hell. It has affected me more than I fathom it to be and I actually crave for more of such a story. Not that I am a sadist who take pleasure in reading on tragedies of war, but that it is an eye opener to pore over the true account in black and white. With that, I decide to cure the aftereffect by reading yet another Non-Fiction on Military and War, Lone Survivor this time.

Lone Survivor is a candid first person account of the war fought in the high mountains of northeast Afghanistan in the summer of 2005. As connoted by title of the book, the writer is as a matter of fact, the last man standing to return from this bloody warfare. Penned by Marcus Luttrell, a petty officer first class and a team leader in the United States Navy SEALs, trained in weapons, demolition and tactics, reconnaissance techniques and unarmed combat, a sniper as well as the platoon medic, he shares the never-ending guilt he bornes as sole survivor in his engagement of the Operation Redwing, the much dreaded position he undertakes as essential bearer of the final bad news to families of his deceased teammates, and most essentially, his eyewitness account of events leading to the near wipe out of the 4-man SEALs team. Lone Survivor is a book written as a tribute to Luttrell’s comrades (SDV Team 1 and SEAL Team 10) who died in their line of duty, in their fight for their country and its belief; a book dedicated especially to his three American buddies who died fighting in valor in the face of adversity to protect Luttrell and the teammates.

The first 2 chapters (approx 18%) of the book feel very much like reading a story on modern-day history. Luttrell writes much about the history and geopolitical tension and warfare among the Middle East countries, about Taliban and their brutal, repressive and draconian ruling of Afghanistan, about Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda movement, about the US-led coalition attack against Afghanistan following the terrorist attack on U.S. World Trade Center on 9/11 in 2001. These events seem to have happened long ago, yet in actuality, have taken place only within the last 30 to 50 years. Not such a long time ago after all.

With History lessons done, Luttrell moves on to talk about himself, his family, his early childhood days, and factors leading to him becoming a Navy SEAL candidate. He shares extensively on the finer details of the SEAL's gruelling and rigorous training program, notably the Hell Week, and how he pushes on and overcomes all the hurdles thrown at him, be it physically or mentally, and finally emerges as a member of an elite force within the U.S. Navy -- a Navy SEAL (SEa - in the water, Air - on the water, Land - out of the water).

After the detailed explanation of what a Navy SEAL is and what it takes to be one, which in my opinion is essential to better understanding of the later events, Luttrell proceeds to tell his eyewitness account of the war fought in Afghanistan, in the very same mountains where the Taliban has sheltered the members of al Qaeda, shielded the followers of Osama bin Laden while they plotted the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Virginia on 9/11 in 2001. In-between, Luttrell also talks about the Rules of engagement (ROE) and what he thinks of these rules laid down by politicians: "in a global war on terror when you have rules, the opponents waste no time to use it against us. The terrorists will stop at nothing because they do not have rules of engagement". His stand is that the modern U.S. combat soldiers go into combat against the terrorists with unnecessary extra fear and danger: the fear of rules of their own nation's making judging against them, the fear of American media and their effect on American politicians. And precisely due to these ROE, Luttrell makes a non military decision, one which irrevocably leads to a lifetime of regrets.

Lone Survivor is an epic representation of the brutality, severity, and ruthlessness of war. It is powerfully and admirably well written by Marcus Luttrell with so much emotion involved: patriotism, pride, indignation, fury, grief, guilt, and regret, that I actually cry reading it. It is a book worth all the time set aside to slowly devour, digest and appreciate.

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition
Publication date: 12 Jun 2007

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On a clear night in late June 2005, four U.S. Navy SEALs left their base in northern Afghanistan for the mountainous Pakistani border. Their mission was to capture or kill a notorious al Qaeda leader known to be ensconced in a Taliban stronghold surrounded by a small but heavily armed force. Less then twenty-four hours later, only one of those Navy SEALs remained alive.

This is the story of fire team leader Marcus Luttrell, the sole survivor of Operation Redwing, and the desperate battle in the mountains that led, ultimately, to the largest loss of life in Navy SEAL history. But it is also, more than anything, the story of his teammates, who fought ferociously beside him until he was the last one left-blasted unconscious by a rocket grenade, blown over a cliff, but still armed and still breathing. Over the next four days, badly injured and presumed dead, Luttrell fought off six al Qaeda assassins who were sent to finish him, then crawled for seven miles through the mountains before he was taken in by a Pashtun tribe, who risked everything to protect him from the encircling Taliban killers.

A six-foot-five-inch Texan, Leading Petty Officer Luttrell takes us, blow-by-blow, through the brutal training of America's warrior elite and the relentless rites of passage required by the Navy SEALs. He transports us to a monstrous battle fought in the desolate peaks of Afghanistan, where the beleaguered American team plummeted headlong a thousand feet down a mountain as they fought back through flying shale and rocks. In this rich , moving chronicle of courage, honor, and patriotism, Marcus Luttrell delivers one of the most powerful narratives ever written about modern warfare-and a tribute to his teammates, who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

*Blurb from Goodreads*

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Review: Forward into Hell by Vince Bramley


5 stars for Forward into Hell by Vince Bramley.

Forward Into Hell is a candid first person account written by Vince Bramley, an English soldier from the ranks, one who cheats death not once, not twice but more than thrice during the Falklands War in 1982, and lives to tell this gripping and unnerving account of the bloody battle fought in Mount Langdon.

It has been donkey years since I read a Non-Fiction. If my memory serves me right, my last read Non-Fiction was in 2002, “It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life” written by the now infamous Lance Armstrong long before he has fallen from grace with the doping revelations. As much as Armstrong’s book is inspirational (at that time), I did not manage to complete my reading as the writing and thought process are all jumbled up and too disorganised for my liking. It is understandably so since most writers of Non-Fiction books are not cut out to be author material but merely present their life stories based on facts and information as and when they see fit. Thus, I am deeply impressed by Vince Bramley in his well-structured and methodical writing of his true-life account of the Falklands war.

Vince Bramley mentions in his foreword that he has always been saddened when history dies with a soldier. I agree with him in a way. My maternal grandfather survived both World War I and II to live to a ripe old age of 94 before crossing over to the rainbow beyond in 2005. Though he had seen and lived through the worst of World War II during the invasion, he had never shared with me any part whatsoever of those days of darkness he was subjected to. It is with great regret as I look back on how much is lost forever with his passing.

Therefore, I feel it worthy to document down the events and experiences of one who has survived war and its aftermath. A re-telling of the war account may serve several purposes: ease the narrator’s pent-up burden, provide the well-deserved recognition for the troops especially those unheeded junior ranks who form the backbone of the war machine with their close range combat, and function as an invaluable lesson to be learnt by future generations.

In this book, readers gain access to insights based on the first-hand experiences, thoughts and feelings of Bramley, an ordinary soldier: how the war affects and changes him and his attitude to life, what dominates the forefront of his mind in battle and why faces of his dead comrades continue to haunt him long after the war. One that strikes a chord with me is Bramley’s indifferent depiction of the nothingness he undergoes after having killed (Had we killed? We must have) using a spray of machine-gun bullets in the cover of the night. Because he has neither seen the enemies nor killed at the end of a bayonet, it feels surreal to Bramley that the enemies even exist at all. This mentality is somewhat similar to the thinking that death will not happen to one’s own self but only to other persons. In truth, the reality of facing death head-on and having to kill is one such petrifying belief that most, if not all soldiers simply switch off from the sights, choosing to go numb over going nuts.

In a battle between life-and-death, decisions are made on the spot, questions asked afterwards. Indeed, the rights and wrongs of war can never be argued from the comfy chair, and there are always causes and reasons to contend with. It is clear that while Bramley disagrees with war, he will not hesitate to fight again for his country and its beliefs. Perhaps that is something only soldiers, especially those on the frontline can fully understand and identify with.

Publisher: John Blake; Reprint edition
Publication date: 6 Jun 2011

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Written by a soldier from the ranks, this book is a candid account of the bloody battle for Mount Langdon during the Falklands War. Vincent Bramley describes in shocking detail the 12 hours of brutal man-to-man combat that it took before the Third Battalion Parachute Regiment were able to take the mountain from the Argentine forces. He exposes the effects that the fear of dying and the reality of killing have on the ordinary soldier during the heat of battle. He tells how some men went AWOL, how others faced their fears and confronted the enemy, and how some went on a vicious killing spree. Bramley's underlying message is that war should be avoided at all costs. But, while wars continue to be fought around the globe, the grim reality of life on the frontline will be fully comprehended by all who read this book.

*Blurb from Goodreads*

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Saturday, November 8, 2014

Review: Payoff (Mindspace Investigation #1.5) by Alex Hughes


5 stars for Payoff (Mindspace Investigation book 1.5) by Alex Hughes.

Payoff is a novella aptly titled to suit the story and lead character vis-à-vis his payment due in kind to someone who holds tremendous power and voice in the eyes of law.

Our hero, a Level Eight telepath, is facing off one of his worst nightmares. Life without telepathy is unthinkable -- alone, empty and under tremendous pressure -- the absence of mind reading is changing the whole ball game of how our male lead goes about solving and interacting with the people implicated in cases under his charge.

Well penned and smooth flowing, the author delivers an unexpected punch to this 74-page short novel with an atypical ending which reminds me of the culmination we sometimes see in some movie productions.

Mindspace Investigation is seriously a remarkably well written series such that the books can be read in any order. But still, I will recommend to read in this order: book 1 Clean, book 0.5 Rabbit Trick, book 1.5 Payoff, book 2 Sharp.

Publisher: Roc
Publication date: 5 Mar 2013

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Being a telepath, I should have seen the hell I was getting myself into…

I used to be one of the most powerful telepaths in the guild. That was before my drug addiction and before they kicked me out. But I’m not a bad guy. Now I help the Atlanta PD solve murders. And even though there are only a few people I call friends, I’d do most anything to keep their trust.

So when a judge asks me to help investigate a missing college kid, I’m down for it. No questions asked. No problem. But in this dark world, things are never easy and a favor is never just a favor. Turns out, politicians don’t like being murder suspects. And it’s bad to anger someone with more power than you. I thought I had nothing to lose… I was wrong.

*Blurb from author's website*

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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Review: Rabbit Trick (Mindspace Investigation #0.5) by Alex Hughes


5 stars for Rabbit Trick (Mindspace Investigation book 0.5) by Alex Hughes.

Rabbit Trick is a short story that takes place before the events of Book 1 Clean.

I am glad to have taken on this prequel only after having read book 1 Clean and book 2 Sharp. Since I am already familiar with the two central characters and their background, I can plunge head on to fully appreciate this short story of 45 pages and enjoy it immensely.

There are a few things I really like about this introductory book to the Mindspace Investigation series. First is the book title. The author has chosen a spot-on name to start off the series with. None other name than Rabbit Trick will do justice to our telepathic hero and his subsequent narratives. Next is the pleasure of reading a short story and not feeling short-changed. Though the account is short, the author starts off with a good beginning and wraps up with an equally appropriate ending. Finally, I love it that the story concludes with an ending but yet, not an ending.

For those who have not yet started on this series but planning to, I will recommend to read book 1 Clean first, follow by this prequel Rabbit Trick, and then move on to whichever next.

Publisher: Alex Hughes
Publication date: 4 Mar 2014

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When the cops call me in the middle of the night, I know it’s bad. One of their own is dead, strangled in her car by a professional killer, and it’s up to me, telepath consultant extraordinaire, to pull the rabbit out of my hat and solve the case. Only this time I’m not so sure I can.

Homicide Detective Isabella Cherabino is breathing down my neck. The dead cop’s partner is too. And now, the worst—there was a five-year-old kid in the car, a kid no one can find.

*Blurb from author's website*

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