Donna’s favorite reads in 2015

The December column is always my favorite because I get to look back at my favorite reads from the year.

Duke City Desperado2015 saw the third book in the Duke City series by Max Austin released in June. DUKE CITY DESPERADO was a fun frolic through the misadventures of Dylan James and his buddy Doc who tried to rob a bank through the drive-up window.

Yeah, most of us would see the folly in this right from theDuke City Hit start but Doc, well, his perspective was skewed. It comes as no surprse that Doc was immediately captured but Dylan manages to stay about a half-step away from the law through a crazy set of circumstances that only Max Austin can deliver.

517UBdb43dL._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_Each book in the series stands alone with one common element: Alburburque, New Mexico. If you like crime from a slightly tweeked angle you’ve got to give the Duke City series a go.



The Jamie Sinclair series by Nichole Christoff is a hit for me. The debut 51U7daFZDcL._AC_UL320_SR242,320_was THE KILL LIST where Jamie and the baggage she calls “ex-husband” try to rescue his three-year-old daughter from kidnappers. In the course of her investigation she meets her love interest Adam Barrett who feeds stray dogs. Ladies, can I get a collective *sigh* on this?

51JHDkkSCwL._AC_UL320_SR240,320_THE KILL SHOT  goes international as Jamie tries to understand what send Adam rogue.

THE KILL BOX dives into Adam’s past when he returns 515VW7PtWhL._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_home unexpectedly and Jamie is hired by his grandmother to investigate his bizarre behavior.

Tightly written, with great insight to military life, Christoff delivers a fast-paced series for the romantic suspense crowd. I definitely recommend you grab all three.

41nV2oVnGZL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_Another series that grabbed me was the urban fantasy series HIDDEN by Colleen Vanderlinden. I stumbled onto the books from a free give-away on FB and didn’t stop reading until the last book.

The first book, LOST GIRL, introduces us to Molly Brooks, a telepathic vigilante with a passion for finding lost girls. 519utj1FxaL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_Fast paced, funny and heartwrenching this series delivers a host of fascinating supernatural characters in a highly imaginative world.

From the first page to the last this series is gold. I haven’t delved into Ms. Vanderlinden’s other series but they are certainly on my TBR pile.


Up From the GraveUP FROM THE GRAVE was the exit in the Night Huntress series by Jeaniene Frost. I enjoyed the strong willed vampire killing Kat and her teacher/husband Bones escapades and all the characters from that world, many have found series of their own.

While this wasn’t the best book in the series it is still a must read once you’ve dived into the tale and I do recommend that you enter their world.


Bronze FoxThe paranormal adventure BRONZE FOX by Diana Green was a delight. Tobias is a fox-shifter and Etty a street-wise ball of fire are teamed up in an adventure that is part Stargate, part steampunk and all adventure. Author of the Dragon Clan series, Ms. Green has written a wonderful tale. The only complaint I had was that I would have like the romance to take a little longer, I was enjoying the dance. BTW, Ms. Green also designed the gorgeous cover.

51CRFtWro3L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_This year saw the final installment in the Unknown Assassin series by Allen Zadoff. The first book I AM THE WEAPON introduced us to Boy Nobody. Taken at an early age and transformed into a teenage assassin, Boy Nobody was always the new kid in school, becoming who ever he needed to in order to get the job done. All went well until he started asking questions.

I loved the series and the final book, I AM THE TRAITOR gave a satisfying I am the Traitorending to these fast paced and intriguing books. This award winning series has been translated into over a dozen languages and has been optioned by Sony Pictures. Great for teens and adults.


An Untamed StateRoxane Gay delivers the powerful tale of Mireille Duval Jameson in AN UNTAMED STATE. While visiting family in Haiti Mireille was ripped from her fairy tale life and held for ransom. Knowing her father would never pay, this strong-willed woman fought to survive the horrific abuses inflicted on her by her captors.

The true power of this story comes in the second half of the book, after Mireille has been released by the kidnappers. Her journey back from the trauma was something I could not stop reading.


51HRGdMz39L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_I requested a review copy of this book because Barney Teegarden just seemed like the kind of guy whose company I would enjoy. I was right. COMING BACK by John Inman was a wonderful tale of people who look out for each other with tenderness and humor. I look forward to grabbing the first two books in this series.


51sUwrukhPL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_This last book in my list of 2015 favorites is THE SOUND OF GLASS by New York bestselling author Karen White.

The generational effects of domestic violence are at the heart of this story. The story opens with a tragic plane crash in 1955 near the home of Edith Heyward in Beauford, South Carolina that deposits a suitcase in Edith’s yard and leaves the reader with a mystery.

Fast forward to 2014, Merritt Heyward loses her firefighter husband but inherits his family home in Beaufort where she meets the brother-in-law she didn’t know she had. Arriving in Beaufort on Merritt’s heel is her too-young stepmother, Loralee, and her half brother, Owen.

White brilliantly guides us through the awkward interactions of four people who seemingly have little in common as they grow to become a family. Rich details, compelling characters and numerous secrets keep you engaged until the last page. I loved this book.

Donna writes the review column The Eclectic Express for the Book Breeze.

Review, interview, excerpt of DUKE CITY DESPERADO

I am very excited to be a part of the blog tour for Max Austin’s DUKE CITY DESPERADO.

REVIEW: Duke City Desperado

DUKE CITY DESPERADO By Max Austin Random House Publishing Group-Alibi (June 9, 2015) Mystery/Thriller

Max Austin has done it again! This is the third in the series and I’ve enjoyed every book. Each book stands alone with Albuquerque and crime as the common element.

DUKE CITY DESPERADO starts out with Doc, on a three-day high, and Dylan driving around until Doc decides he’s going to rob a bank through the drive-thru. As you can imagine, it didn’t go well. Doc is captured and Dylan in on the run.

Austin is a master at storytelling. His pacing is flawless as he takes the reader down alleys and over rooftops with  Dylan as he desperately tries to stay ahead of two FBI Agents and one crazed Mafia prince. In the midst of the mayhem is a Goth girl who becomes Dylan’s fan girl and his ex-girlfriend’s sister who rally’s her girlfriends to deliver a message to the guy who hit her sister. One of Austin’s strengths are his characters. Dylan is no mastermind, he’s more of a master at bad decisions but the kind-hearted kid has dumb luck on his side and you can’t help but root for him. Doc is self-serving but still you like him just a bit. The Chicano ladies justice league is a hoot.

This is a fun, fast read with plenty of surprises. Don’t just read the book – read the series.

Interview with Max Austin:

Your latest releases is DUKE CITY DESPERADO, book 3 in the Lawbreakers series, a series that has two things in common – crime and Albuquerque.  Why  choose Albuquerque for a setting?

I live in Albuquerque, so the research is easy to do. Albuquerque is a wonderful town for crime. We have a real mix of cultures, and that often puts people on collision courses. We have our share of crooks, like most cities of half a million, and they often do dumb stuff that makes fun stories. Plus, it’s a beautiful setting, with the mountains and the sunsets and the Rio Grande valley. Lots of different landscapes to work into the plot.

Is Dylan’s character in DUKE CITY DESPERADO fashioned after anyone you know?

No one specifically, though my two sons are around Dylan’s age, and we used to joke that all of their friends were named Dylan. Also, I teach undergrads in the Honors College at the University of New Mexico, so I spend a lot of time around young people.

What is the one question you wish an interviewer would ask you?

At a recent event here in Albuquerque, somebody asked how I knew so much about guns and shooting. First time I’d ever been asked that. The answer: I get it all from the Internet. I haven’t fired a gun in 40 years.

What is the one book you wish you’d written?

The Maltese Falcon

What’s next for you?

I just finished work on a new crime novel set in Albuquerque. A woman hijacks the wrong semi from the truck stop in the center of town. Soon, the bullets are flying ….


“Attempted bank robbery is a federal crime,” she said. “We take such crimes very seriously, no matter how ridiculous the attempt.”

Doc felt his face go warm.

“Also,” Aragon piped up, “threatening people with a bomb is an act of terrorism. And you know how seriously we take terrorism.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Doc said. “Did somebody find a bomb?”

“No,” Agent Willis said, “but even pretending to have a bomb can be a crime. Particularly if that pretense is used to rob a federally insured bank.”

“Again, I don’t know what you mean. I was in an accident. You can see from my face that I’ve been injured. I probably have a concussion or a hematoma or something. I don’t really remember what happened before the car wreck.”

The agents exchanged a smile. That made Doc feel worse.

“Let me refresh your memory,” Aragon said. He tapped the iPad a few times, then tipped it up so Doc could see the screen from across the table. “This is security video from the bank. We’ve got tons of video from the scene, but I snipped this little bit especially for you.”

The screen went fuzzy for a second, then leaped into focus. The driver’s-side window of the white van filled the screen, Doc right there in living color. No disguise, not even wearing his sunglasses. A bald-faced bank robber.

In the video, he held up the gray garage-door opener—and clearly that’s what it was; how had he ever thought anybody would believe differently?—and shouted, “This is a holdup! I’ve got a bomb! Hand over the money or I’ll push this button and blow us all to kingdom come.”

Aragon tapped the tablet to pause the video. Doc’s face froze on the screen, eyes wild, mouth open in a snarl.

“Do we need to go on?” Aragon asked. “I’ve got another clip you’d enjoy. It shows the moment of impact when the van hits that light pole. It’s like slow motion until the air bag pops you in the face. The boys were talking about setting that one to music, putting it on YouTube.”

Doc stared at his cuffed hands on the tabletop. If the feds were trying to shame him, it was working.

“We’ve got you on every camera outside that bank.” Willis leaned toward him, tapping her finger on the tabletop for emphasis. “Plus, we’ve got eyewitnesses, we’ve got your stolen vehicle, we’ve got your fingerprints on the ‘detonator’ you threw from the van.”

Doc watched his thumbs work against each other, fiddling with his ragged nails.

“We’ve got you,” she concluded. “The only question now is how many years you get to spend in a federal penitentiary.”

He winced, which made his puffy face hurt.

“You know what we don’t have?” she said, and Doc felt the faintest flicker of hope. “We don’t have your partner.”

“My partner?”

“The passenger in the van. The one who bailed on you.”

Aragon tapped the screen, and the video of Doc vanished from the screen, replaced by a view of the front end of the Ford van as it pulled up to the teller window. The van was partly under an awning, but there still was enough glare on the windshield that you couldn’t really see who was inside. Then the passenger door flung open and Dylan jumped out, running before his feet hit the ground. Aragon paused the video, catching Dylan in mid-stride, his arms pumping, the hood of his gray sweatshirt cloaking his head.

“You can’t see his face,” Doc said. “Is it that way in all the pictures?”

“We’re asking the questions here.”

Doc smiled, though it hurt to do so.

“You don’t know who that is,” he said. “You can’t find him unless I help you.”

Agent Willis tilted her head to the side, looking him over, as if deciding how to carve him up.

“We’ll find him,” she said. “Tell us a name, where to start looking, this whole thing could be over a lot quicker.”

“I don’t care about quick. What I want is a deal. I give you his name, and I walk away.”

“Never happen,” she said.

“Then I get a reduced sentence, some probation or community service or something. I wasn’t in my right mind anyway—that much is clear. Nobody in his right mind would try to rob a drive-through bank. It’s just not feasible.”

The agents gave him stoic stares.

“I had ‘diminished capacity,’” Doc said, suddenly remembering that term from who-knows-where. “Because of drug abuse. I was diminished.”

Their expressions didn’t change.

“So this kid,” Doc said, “he, uh, takes advantage of my condition. He tells me we ought to rob the bank. Tells me to drive up to the window.”

“It was his idea?” she asked.

“Yeah! This is not the sort of thing I would’ve ever done on my own. I mean, check my record. I’ve been convicted a few times, sure, but it’s always been penny-ante stuff related to my drug abuse problem. I’ve never touched a bank.”

Aragon frowned. “So he suggested you rob a bank, just drive up like you were picking up some tacos, and they’d hand over the money. And you were so far gone on crank, you bought that?”

“I didn’t have any choice!” Doc heard a chunking noise inside his head, the sound of a shovel digging him in deeper. “The kid had a gun. He made me do it!”

The agents leaned back in their plastic chairs, making faces, as if Doc had unleashed a bad smell rather than an implausible lie.

“The teller saw no gun,” Willis said.

“It was all his idea,” Doc insisted. “Catch him and ask him yourself. You’ll see. I was a victim here.”

She shot her partner a look, then said, “If it was the kid’s idea, then why did he run away?”

“I don’t know. I guess he chickened out once things were under way.”

“This kid,” she said, “this armed desperado who made you do terrible things. Does he have a name?”

“Do we have a deal?”

Aragon said, “Do we need to watch some more videos?”

Doc sighed.

“Dylan James,” he said. “His name is Dylan James. He’s twenty-four years old. And I don’t have the faintest fucking idea where he’s gone.”