“Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon


Book Cover - Outlander


The “Outlander” series, by Diana Gabaldon, has been a sensation in the historical fiction arena, blending time-travel, romance, and adventure into one terrific story. Why do we love “Outlander?” It’s well-written, crosses genres beautifully, and the broad sweep of the storyline is just plain fun.


Claire Randall is a former combat nurse, home from WW2 in 1945. She has been reunited with her husband, Frank, and they are enjoying a second honeymoon in the Scottish Highlands after a long, war-caused separation. On the lookout for interesting flowers and herbs, she wanders into a circle of ancient stones said to be the legendary Merlin stones, touches one of the stones and disappears. That is, disappears from 1945 and pops up in 1743 – right into the middle of the Jacobite rebellion, with Bonnie Prince Charlie attempting to take over the throne of England.


With her English and slightly alien accent, she is soon called Sassenach (an outlander) by the MacKenzie clan that rescues her from an assault by a British soldier (her husband’s ancestor) and is suspected by everyone of being a spy. But, for whom? Her rescuers, in part to use her as a bargaining chip, keep her hostage.


Her skill as a healer is discovered when she meets injured Jamie Fraser and that ensures her safety until her fate can be decided. “Outlander” reveals Gabaldon’s tremendous amount of research into the uses of botanicals for healing both in 1945 and two hundred years earlier. We are treated to descriptions of herbs, the drugs available in both centuries, the limits of medicine in the 1700s, the choices available, and even the handling of prisoners. The wisdom of the modern medical era is applied to herbal remedies of the 1700s, but often, Claire just has to make do.


Gabaldon has written the developing relationship between Claire and Jamie realistically within the constraints of the time travel strand. Claire can’t reveal when she is really from – nobody would understand it – and Jamie does not quite trust her since her circumstances don’t really ring true. Claire has a modern sense of humor and Jamie is puzzled by her references to John Wayne and her cursing. And, yet, they each feel an attraction as they are thrown together repeatedly during the action. The complexity of Scottish clan rivalry is explored, alliances for and against the British are created, and Claire occasionally uses her knowledge of history to protect the people in her immediate circle.


“Outlander” succeeds in part because of its intimate portrait of a marriage, with its moments of personal truths, physical intimacy, enduring love, and sometimes hilarious banter. Two strong-willed people are forced into a union of convenience in order to save their lives and the relationship is raw and wonderful. There are sometimes tender and sometimes rough, bedroom scenes between Jamie and Claire. There are graphic descriptions of an attempted rape as well as an actual rape with another character. Gabaldon does not mince words, so be forewarned that this is well-done adult reading.


The Jacobite rebellion and the surrounding political turmoil drive the tale, but it’s the characters that keep us spellbound until the last page. There are good guys and bad, some of whom are both in order to survive in a dangerous political climate, and one who is undeniably evil. We don’t always know whom to trust. The supporting characters are colorful, complex, as well as entertaining, and add depth and realism to the multi-layered plot.


The time travel is brilliantly handled. Claire tries on multiple occasions to return to the stones in order to get back to her own time, but as she falls more deeply in love with Jamie, she is torn between leaving him and her responsibility to the husband she left behind. Along the way, she discovers that she may not be the only person who has traveled through the stones.


I laughed during the engaging dialogue, cringed at the choices that needed to be made and cried during some desperate moments for more than one character. When the book ended, I was very happy that there were more titles in the series to be read.


The novel won the Romance Writers of America's RITA Award for Best Romance of 1991. The first seven books in the series sold over twenty million copies and landed on the NYT bestseller lists six times. The eighth book in the series was published in June, 2014. A TV series based on the first book, “Outlander,” debuted in the USA in August, 2014.


For more information about Diana Gabaldon and her work, please visit





“Dear Killer” by Linda Lovely


Book Cover - Dear Killer

Marley Clark is a recently widowed, bored, former Army intelligence officer who takes on a job as a security guard for a Dear Island community in order to stay busy.  The gig is mostly routine until one night, she discovers the naked body of a local resident, floating face down in a vegetable-crammed Jacuzzi. Nearby, a message is scratched into a palm tree pot: “STEWED.”


The locals are not equipped to handle one murder, let alone the others that follow in rapid succession in "Dear Killer." A deputy arrives from the mainland to help out with the sleuthing. Who would want these people dead? Why stage the crime scenes in such bizarre fashion? And what ties them all together? Clark, the deputy, and friends work together to stop the mayhem, despite repeated threats and close calls.


As romantic suspense dictates, the deputy becomes Clark’s boyfriend. A boyfriend who is hot, younger and might not be interested in a one-night stand. And, because this is adult romantic suspense, Clark has some vivid fantasies that eventually lead to actual sexual interludes and some self-doubt about whether she can move on after a year in mourning.


In her debut novel, Linda Lovely was on a campaign to let readers know that the over 50 year old crowd is alive and well, sexually active, vital to the community, and lovin’ it. Lovely succeeded in "Dear Killer" and had great fun with her lead character along the way. Clark’s best pal is a snarky, free-spirited gal with a sailor’s vocabulary. This is not your grandmother’s cozy read. The bad guys are sleazy, the murders grisly, the similes and adjectives fly, and the clues are pun-filled.


Lovely has penned a novel set in the Low Country of South Carolina. Dear Island itself may be fictional, but descriptions of the area’s history, food, lifestyle and geographical character are authentic. Other readers who live in that section of South Carolina say it’s all spot-on.


Go to for more information about Linda Lovely, her dedicated work in the writing community, and her recent books.



“Palmetto Poison” by C. Hope Clark


Book Cover - Palmetto Poison


Carolina Slade is back in “Palmetto Poison” and feistier than ever, as a Special Projects Investigator for the South Carolina Department of Agriculture. Sounds like a dull job with a lot of pencil pushing, right? HA! Slade is anything but dull and in her job, she’s more likely to push the envelope than a pencil on any given day. She’s been promoted because of her death dodging, investigative work in an earlier case, and she has the scars to prove it.


Slade’s promotion sends her to Columbia, SC where she has built a house on a lake with her crooked dead husband’s insurance money. She still has a thing going with Wayne Largo, a Special Agent for the Office of the Inspector General. That off again, on again relationship has potential, but each of them has trust issues, more fully explored in “Palmetto Poison.”


Slade’s old job focused on chasing down “bad farm loans and crooked farmers,” but her new boss gets Slade involved in State House politics, big money, drug thefts, and old romantic scandals intertwined with possible deadly peanut mold toxins. An overlapping case (that pulls in Largo) centers on a notorious drug dealer, a witness who refuses to testify, and the obsessive behavior of a tenacious federal agent. It seems as if everybody is using Slade for his or her own benefit – she is a crack investigator after all – but trying to question everyone may get her fired…or dead.


Her flighty sister, Allegra Jo arrives, having been thrown out by their mother who needed a break from her continuing free-wheeling attitude. Slade doesn’t know whether to give her a ‘Best Aunt of the Year Award,’ strangle her, or throw Ally out for being more popular than she is with her own kids.


Yup, Slade has a problem with jealousy and not just over family matters. Largo’s ex-wife Pam, a DEA agent, is in town and working on a case that of course, must involve them both. Arghhhh…why does she have to be so cute…and capable? Slade is turning greener than the lush Carolina countryside and can’t keep her mouth shut.


A multi-layered “Palmetto Poison” subplot focuses on family issues and the complexities of those relationships. What happens when the normal day-to-day routines are disrupted and impacted by a parent’s demanding work schedule? Can the job be too dangerous if it places the family in harm’s way, even accidentally? Clark gives us an insight into teenaged dumb choices and adult sibling responsibility, and you’ll be reminded of why you love (or hate) your assorted wacky in-laws and why you probably would not trade them (as infuriating as they are) for anything. Even if they do test the boundaries of your commitment to your spouse.


In “Palmetto Poison,” Clark has delivered realistic chase scenes and shootouts, smart dialogue, a nudist resort, convincing family drama, romance, and juicy politics, all against the backdrop of steamy South Carolina. Clark keeps getting better and her fans will love this third title in the series.


For more information about C. Hope Clark’s award winning writing and her highly respected site,, please visit


To read my review of the first book in the Carolina Slade series, “Lowcountry Bribe,” go here.



“The Book of Lost Fragrances” by M.J. Rose


Book Cover - Book of Lost Fragrances

MJ Rose delivers another suspenseful tale with The Book of Lost Fragrances.


A brother and sister have inherited the House of L'Etoile, and then discover the perfume company is in serious financial difficulty. They need a hit fragrance to save the corporation or else parts of it will have to be sold off, something Robbie does not want to do. Robbie feels that delving into the 250 year old family business history will uncover an ancient perfume formula that will save the day. He has the professional talent, but not the nose to sort through formulas that he knows the family possesses, somewhere hidden. His sister, Jac, has the nose, but not the interest in investigating something that she considers a fantasy. She is more pragmatic and wants to sell off bits to save the whole. Neither of them suspects at first that the lost fragrance could save more than just the business.


During the years since her mother’s death, Jac has suffered with unsettling dreams she does not understand. For a long time she (and others) thought she was mentally unbalanced and she never believed that she might be reliving the distant past. Her struggle with her own past, her trust issues, and her conversations with family ghosts – create a multi-layered, vulnerable lead character. We want her to make the right decisions, to be happy, trust, and find love again.


M.J. Rose believes that who we were influences who we are today, and her four books in the Reincarnation series apply that concept across the centuries. The Book of Lost Fragrances deals with the power of a love that endures from the time of Cleopatra. Fragrance is employed in the book as a memory tool to not only attempt to bring reincarnated lovers back together, but also as an aid in returning to a difficult time when one can undo mistakes and therefore ease the pain of the future. If it’s true that a memory tool exists and has that kind of influence, it would change the world as we know it. In The Book of Lost Fragrances, governments and religious institutions race to find this tool before it falls into the wrong hands.


The brother and sister have an interesting dynamic and as we learn the business and history of perfumery from the inside out, their desperate interaction rings true on every level, even after a murder is committed and Robbie is suspected. A former lover, who knows them both, adds tension and intrigue to the mystery. Dr. Malachi Samuels, a scientist working to prove that reincarnation exists, is a recurring character in the four books, continuing his search for ancient memory tools, sometimes involving others in dangerous schemes to achieve his own goals, always under scrutiny by the FBI.


Supporting characters are well written in this enthralling tale that addresses issues in Tibet and China, the Dali Lama, the French Revolution, lost and found again lovers, Cleopatra’s priceless perfume formula book, and more. Students of archeology will be drawn to the importance of ancient Egyptian pottery shards in the storyline.


Rose is a master at writing sensual descriptions and I found myself emotionally enveloped in the aromas of the flowers and herbs described. I was transported to memories of my own experiences with these same blossoms. The peonies in my own yard beckoned me, even though blooming season had long been over. 


Rose always does impeccable research in order to build the historical foundation for the ‘Reincarnation’ books. Each title spans several centuries and countries and she has openly admitted loving this part of her process. While working on The Book of Lost Fragrances, Rose sent the manuscript to a perfumer in France, who designed a fragrance (Ames Soeurs) inspired by the book. She subsequently showed the fragrance in NYC when the book was being launched. 


The Book of Lost Fragrances was on the ‘Indie Next List’ in 2012 and was named one of the Top Ten Mystery/Thrillers for 2012 by Publishers Weekly. While it is part of a series, it is a solid stand-alone title. Just don’t let it be.


For more information about M.J.Rose, the Reincarnation series, her other books, as well as her AuthorBuzz work, please visit

To read my review of "The Reincarnationist," go here.




“The Stephanie Plum Series” by Janet Evanovich


Book Cover - Sizzling Sixteen

Janet Evanovich and her bounty hunter heroine, Stephanie Plum, have been linked for all time since the first Plum treat, “One for the Money,” was published twenty books ago.


Fans can’t get enough of the odd-ball characters, wacky adult plotlines and fab romantic triangle that inhabit every book. Ranger is a bounty hunter extraordinaire (among other talents) is always dressed in black, has a fleet of black cars and a small army of elite back-up guys at his disposal, and makes it his business to follow and protect Stephanie wherever she goes. Joe Morelli, Stephanie’s hunky former high school flame, is a Trenton detective who frequently works the other side of the law from Ranger. And Stephanie likes them both. A lot.


Stephanie works for her slimy cousin Vinnie, a bail bondsman with questionable associations. The plus side? He can't fire her, no matter how bad she is at her job. They're family.


Over the years, Stephanie has become a little more skilled at taking down the skips (meaning she sometimes actually takes her not-always-loaded gun along) but she still needs help from Lula and Ranger to get the job done. With a side-kick like Lula (gun-happy and indulging in the worst diets on the planet) Stephanie faces down pimps and killers, armed with her need to pay the bills. She gets shot at, loses more cars than any insurance company would tolerate, and never seems to catch the perps on the first try. Steph still can’t commit in her relationships, but if she ever did, we might lose the duo of smoldering men.


Our gal Stephanie has the nuttiest family ever to sit down to 6:00 dinner. Grandma Mazur has been known to shoot at the dinner (with a gun, not a camera) and never misses a viewing at a funeral home. Dad keeps his fork buried in the roast beef and mashed potatoes and mumbles to get through the meals. Mom is the best cook in the Burg, but nips a little (okay – a lot) in the kitchen to help her cope with Stephanie’s still unmarried status and embarrassing occupation.  


“Sizzling Sixteen” was quick, funny and raunchy as always, with Stephanie, Lula and Connie (Vinnie's secretary) out to raise a million dollars to save Vinnie from the bookies who want to blow up the bail bonds office. This time, the most inept bounty hunters in the business have a lucky bottle to help them. Let’s face it, the fans don’t read the Plum books for the deep, insightful plots. We’re looking for quirky and we want to know what’s going to happen with Stephanie and the two handsome guys. Stephanie and Joe have broken up (or have they?) and she daydreams (and more) about Ranger. I wonder if sales of Bulgari Green have risen since the series began…


In “Smokin’ Seventeen,” Stephanie Plum still can’t decide who grabs her heart…Ranger or Joe. If you want to declare your choice publicly to the world, stickers you can attach to your clothing are included in the book. The bounty hunting part of this seventeenth installment in the series includes vampires (you have to read this one to believe it), dancing bears and guys trying to kill our cash challenged heroine. And this time Ranger’s crew has a pool to see how long it takes for Stephanie to blow up one of his sleek black cars. As always, a fun read for Evanovich fans. 

Book Cover - Takedown Twenty



I haven’t read my copy of “Takedown Twenty” yet, but once I start, phones, computer and all communication with the outside world will stop until I finish the last hilarious page. I hear that a giraffe named Kevin is running around the streets of Trenton, a mob boss is on the loose and Stephanie is playing Bingo at a senior center with Grandma Mazur in order to solve a murder. What could go wrong?

Please visit to see the latest news about her books, read about her recent collaboration with Lee Goldberg, and look at all the Ranger/Morelli/Plum goodies available.




“Lowcountry Bribe” by C. Hope Clark


Book Cover - LowCountry Bribe


Seeing blood splattered all over the office is not the way I’d like to start the business day, but that’s exactly what Carolina Slade, Federal Agent for the Department of Agriculture near Charleston, South Carolina, encounters one morning. A co-worker, Lucas Sherwood, has committed suicide and Slade’s life is about to take a drastic turn for the worse as well.


Just when the business of giving loans to the local farmers seems to fall back into the normal routine, a hog farmer, Jesse Rawlings, arrives with a truckload of smelly, dead hogs, and attempts to bribe Ms. Slade into helping him get title to a farm in the area. In exchange for $10,000 and maybe a little action on the side. She’s not interested in either and it doesn’t take too long for her to report the attempted bribe to her boss. Her husband disagrees with her decision, is anything but supportive and constantly demonstrates why their marriage is on the rocks.


Enter Wayne Largo, Senior Special Agent, who arrives to investigate the incident. Mr. Largo and his partner, Eddie, feel that Slade needs to go undercover in order to nail Jesse for what he has done.


Slade never hesitates about reporting the bribe, but is surprised by the fallout. She is implicated as complicit in the very charges she has reported, and nobody is happy about the charges except the investigators. Even they seem to stop believing her version of the events. And the hog farmer knows where she lives.


C. Hope Clark delivers a story that includes corruption and greed, a scheme much broader in scope than a mere bribery attempt, kidnapping, tacky affairs, real estate fraud, and renewed interest in the case of Mickey Wilder, another co-worker who had disappeared the year before. Supposed friends turn out to be foes and the office is a hostile environment. Yup, Ms. Slade’s life is rapidly unraveling.


Slade’s bad marriage plays a twisty role in the story, not just as background for the character, but along the way brings a serious ring of truth to her inner thoughts. We see Slade shift realistically between hate, anger, disappointment, and frustration over the love that faded long before. We feel her pain at having/needing to end the marriage in order to move into happier/healthier direction. In one of the many moments of clarity about divorce she says, “Nobody wins.”


Carolina Slade is a bright, feisty, strong character who is up to everything thrown at her, and C. Hope Clark has wisely written Slade with a bit of vulnerability to soften the snarky retorts that slip out. At one point, her car is rear-ended twice by someone, but she has no proof, did not see the license and she dismisses the federal agents concern with, “Murder? We shared paint. Cut the dramatics.” And yet, her hand is shaking when she tries to use her key.


There are several great supporting characters. The bad guys are slimy, nasty and cold to the bone, but we also know that her dad and her best friend will always be there for her. The relationship that develops between Slade and Largo is an interesting one and fun to read as the two people grapple with their emotions.


The area of South Carolina in “Lowcountry Bribe” appears desolate, maybe even a bit creepy, at times. What came to mind was how easily somebody could get lost forever, without ever a possibility of being found. Terrific setting for this story.


The book is based in part on an actual bribery case in the author’s personal experience, although Ms. Clark has insisted the murders in the novel are fictional.


“Lowcountry Bribe” won the Silver Falchion Award at Killer Nashville in 2012 as well as the EPIC award for best mystery.

To read my review of the third book in the Carolina Slade series, "Palmetto Poison," go here.

For more information about C. Hope Clark, her books, and her marvelous Funds for Writers, please visit


“The Alibi Man” by Tami Hoag

Book Cover - The Alibi Man


Bestselling suspense author, Tami Hoag, began her professional writing career in the romance genre, but stretched that framework to include everything from comedy to suspense. Her strong female characters were savvy, contemporary types and readers connected.


As Hoag’s work shifted into the thriller/suspense realm, it reflected the rising audience interest in forensics and began to include more of the graphic details of the crime scenes and the violence visited upon the victims. Today, her bad guys are darker, more depraved, and her heroines more likely to engage in the kind of retribution that would raise the eyebrows of the faint-hearted. 


“The Alibi Man” returns former undercover cop, Elena Estes, to the hard, fast world of Palm Beach society and the nasty secrets lying beneath the surface. When a fellow horse groom and marginal friend is found murdered, Elena is drawn back into the life she’d like to forget and must deal with buried emotions she thought she had hidden from the world. Elena is grippingly portrayed as a deeply tortured soul, and we feel her pain as her personal life is laid before us chapter, by aching chapter.


The action in “The Alibi Man” is fast-paced, filling the pages with cold-blooded crime figures snipping off body parts, drug/sex parties, handsome polo stars, and a cop boyfriend.


The plot weaving the colorful characters together is less successful, only because I don’t quite buy that the rich and powerful would be dumb enough to get themselves into such stupid personal messes. One at a time, yes, but collectively? However, the name of the book may tell it all. Supreme arrogance probably dictates the need for an Alibi Man. Great read for Hoag fans, with graphic language and adult situations.


Written in 2007, “The Alibi Man” was followed by “Deeper than the Dead,” “Secrets of the Grave,” and “Down the Darkest Road.” “The 9th Girl” will be published in June, 2013. Hoag has written over thirty books, with fifteen consecutive titles hitting the NYT bestseller lists. “Night Sins” was made into a memorably chilling TV movie in the late 90s and is still shown in re-runs.


For more information about Tami Hoag and her books, visit



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