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Fans of Brenda Novak’s romantic suspense stories will not be disappointed by this her latest novel, White Heat.

This time the author takes the reader on an exciting, dangerous adventure in the town of Paradise, Arizona, where a fearsome, charismatic new leader named Ethan Wycliff has set up his own cult in the middle of the desert.

A young woman and former cult member has disappeared, and Department 6’s private security agents Rachel Jessop and Nate Ferrentino are called to the case. Rachel would rather, much rather go on her own. After all, not only does she find Nate distractingly attractive, but she also doesn’t want to be reminded each minute of her existence of the humiliating situation she experienced with him six months before. Nate, on the other hand, doesn’t think she should be assigned to the case. He believes it is too dangerous.

Posing as a young married couple, Rachel and Nate go undercover and try to infiltrate the group. Soon, the true nature of the cult begins to reveal itself: its primitive, patriarchal views and, especially, its shocking views about marriage and relationships. As danger escalates, and the number of missing members rises, the couple must put aside their personal feelings in order bring the crazy leader and his helpers to justice.

The story is told from two points of view: Rachel’s and Nate’s. Novak keeps the description to a minimum and focuses on dialogue and action scenes, making the novel move at a fast pace. As in other of Novak’s books, the characters are incredibly sympathetic in spite of their flaws—exhibited especially through the natural, entertaining dialogue. The constant bantering between the hero and heroine is fun and adds a touch of humor to the frightening scenes. Of course, the relationship between the protagonists is explosive, so fans of romance won’t be disappointed.

Novak has a gift for building compelling plots and creating characters the reader will identify with and care about. White Heat is pure entertainment from start to finish.

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In the small town of Stillwater, the citizens are still haunted by the disappearance of their highly respected reverend twenty years ago. Despite what other people think, beautiful journalist Madeline Barker, the reverend’s daughter, is sure the crime was not committed by her beloved stepbrother.

Now, new evidence has surfaced. The police have found the reverend’s car in the bottom of a lake, proving that he didn’t just drive away. But the worse thing is what they find inside the trunk… Tormented and frustrated by this new turn of events, Madeline decides to hire a private detective from LA, a decision that is not well received by the local police nor by her own family.

Who was, in fact, the reverend? Was he who he appeared to be? Is Madeline ready to face and handle the truth? Of course, if you have read the first books in the series, you already know what happened, so this is not your traditional whodunnit. In this sense, this is the story of Madeline and how she learns the truth, a truth that has been known all along yet kept secret by the other members of her family.

Having read the first two books in this series, I have to say this third installment was just as suspenseful. As always, Novak grabs the reader by the throat and doesn’t let go. I was left both physically and emotionally exhausted — the story was so engrossing I couldn’t put it down until late into the early morning hours.

The characters are real and their dilemmas so compelling the reader doesn’t have a choice but get emotionally involved. The hero is original and unconventional–picture a private PI with surfer looks and flip flops. The heroine is sympathetic, and although at times her denial against the obvious is hard to believe (if there is a small flaw with the novel, this would be it), she comes across as a down-to-earth, likable character whose dark childhood will pull mercilessly at your heart strings. I have to say, though, that for me the heroines in the first two books seemed better well drawn, probably because of the reason stated above.

Novak’s writing is tight and her sparkling dialogue makes you feel as if you were there in the same room with the characters. Even though we know all along who the culprit is, all thoroughout there is a feeling of dread and impending doom as the story evolves and we get closer to the resolution. Fans of romantic suspense won’t be disappointed by this heart-thudding, spine-tingling, roller-coaster ride of a novel. Beware, though, that the novel deals with particularly gruesome crimes against children and while this makes the story more compelling, it might prove revolting to some readers.

–The Dark Phantom

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