Monday, January 11, 2021

Casindra Lost (Paradisi Lost Missions, #1) by Marti Ward

Casindra Lost (Paradisi Lost Missions Series #1)Casindra Lost by Marti Ward
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An exciting, hard-core sci-fi tale of the original Paradisi manned exploratory mission.

Commander Jerome Sideris, a renowned LETO pilot and engineer, is selected to make the first manned excursion through a wormhole to the Paradisi solar system in the Andromeda galaxy. It is a 3.5-year mission to survey the four planets there that the ten founding families plan to colonize or develop for resources when they leave a dying Earth behind.

Sideris is a loner, which works in his favor as he’s the only human aboard the LETO SS Casindra. His second-in-command is an advanced artificial intelligence (AI) that has dubbed itself AL. Since their mission includes preparing the way for those who will eventually colonize one of the planets, New Eden, the ship carries numerous species of Earth animals to transfer to its surface to acclimate and multiply.

The mission successfully proceeds much as planned, except when AL sends message drones back through the wormhole, they fail to be returned as per the preplanned and critically necessary schedule. The one or two that are returned by Solar Command give no explanation for the lack of response or the lack of promised supplies. With growing worry about what’s going on back on Earth and dwindling resources, Sideris and AL continue their mission as best they can with the assistance of an unusually perceptive ship’s cat named Simba.

Although not an easy read by any means, Casindra Lost transports the reader straight into the mystery of what happened to Captain Jerome Sideris on the first manned mission through a wormhole to the Paradisi solar system. I love the concept of the Paradisi universe of stories developed and expanded on by so many talented writers. This series seeks to fill in the blanks on the early space missions to prepare the way for the ten founders’ families to colonize the planet called New Eden. It can be on its own or after having already become acquainted with the previous works. If you haven’t read any of the earlier tales, though, be prepared to want to!

This story is exciting, but it builds slowly to a great cliffhanger ending. Thankfully (for me), the next book is already available, and I can continue forward to find out what happens next! This was a great story, but I want to be clear that this might not be for everyone. As I said, it is not an easy read as it is chockful of tech talk and (sometimes) too lengthy mission analyses and logistical discussions between Sideris and the AL, the Casindra’s artificial intelligence. Some of the back and forth, though, serves to show how the relationship between the two changes over the course of the mission and how AL himself evolves. There is an underlying theme of what makes an entity alive or a person or human that is thought-provoking but never approaches preachiness or claims conclusions.

Also included in the story are a pair of cats, Simba and Samba, and their offspring that give Sideris some much-needed companionship. Simba is a featured creature, so we’re party to her thoughts and actions, and this was a lot of fun. Later in the story, her actions and understanding of what’s going on around her become delightfully important.

I recommend Casindra Lost for hard-core sci-fi fans who love seeing science fact come alive in their science fiction.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from Reedsy Discovery.

See my original review on Reedsy Discovery!

Sunday, January 10, 2021

The New World (The New World, #1) by Chad Wannamaker

THE NEW WORLD: Series 1THE NEW WORLD: Series 1 by Chad Wannamaker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great beginning, an engaging story, but I was left wondering where's the rest of the book?

When the small spacecraft had crashed into the lake, Bob Mackey and his brother-in-law, Dan, had gone to see if there were survivors and if they could help. What they found was a dying alien mother protecting her child. With her last breaths, she entrusted the small, furry female to Bob's care, calling her Tammy. It isn't until 11 years later that humans will make contact with others of her race – the jZav'Etch, taller, humanoid cat-like beings.

Bob took the young creature home to his remote station and acreage in the wilderness of Juniper, the planet he called home. Tammy became a part of the family, just one of Bob and his wife, Deborah's, three children. Time passed. She grew up along with the others and is seen as one of the Mackey family, and one of them, by the close-knit community of people colonizing Juniper, a frontier planet outside of the Conglomerated Planets. She's started to notice boys, and they've begun to notice her as well.

One weekend, she and her friends are out beyond the family's station helping her older brother, Mike, build his own place, which he'll eventually move to and start his own business and family. They see another spacecraft go down in a wild, hard-to-reach location. The young people make their way to the crash site where they find a heavily-damaged ship and one critically injured survivor – a jZav'Etch like Tammy! When communications and other utilities are knocked out and shuttles coming to their assistance are shot down, they realize the planet is under attack by whoever was after the newcomer and who are now after them!

What to say about The New World? The writing is smooth and easy to read, but there just wasn't enough of it. The reader is left hanging at a waypoint in the story without a truly compelling reason to read further.

I enjoyed the story, the characters, and the setting. I was most definitely and immediately engaged by what I read. In fact, I was quickly reminded of John Marsden's YA Tomorrow series, which is one of my favorites. But, frankly, the story needed to be fleshed out with a little more detail on the characters, the world-building, and the background situation. We don't know the reason for or the exact nature of the peril the characters and their world are in. I felt we only had a superficial acquaintance with most of the main characters and their lives when the book ended. The story seems to just stop – not in cliffhanger fashion but as if the book's last half was cut off.

I have also struggled to categorize this book. When the series is further along, I might have a better idea, but I think it will have a wide appeal – adults, YA, and middle-grades. It honestly has the feel of an epic middle-age series (except for the few swear words, drinking, and some frank mentions of sexual activity.) I can see this as a great read-aloud book. It also has a YA feel with the theme of searching for one's identity and because of the main characters' ages and life stages.

I recommend The New World, with reservations, to readers that enjoy a YA SciFi story without a lot of discussion of science and hardware. I would also recommend to friends that they wait until at least the next book in the series was available before giving it a read. Having said this, I will be following this author so that I can buy this next book to see what happens next.

See my original review on Reedsy Discovery!

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Loving Modigliani: The Afterlife of Jeanne Hébuterne by Linda Lappin

Loving Modigliani: The Afterlife of Jeanne HébuterneLoving Modigliani: The Afterlife of Jeanne Hébuterne by Linda Lappin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With twists and turns at every step, this is a don’t-miss-it historical mystery!

When her husband and mentor, renowned painter, Amedeo Modigliani, dies after a short but brutal illness, Jeanne, 21 and pregnant with their second child jumps out of a window of her parents’ Parisian flat two days later and also dies. As a spirit, she tries to reunite with Modi but eventually ends up returning to the apartment and studio they shared, where she watches people she knew remove her things, even discovering her one last secret artwork hidden in the wall space behind a large cupboard. The painting, one that Modigliani had begun, was of Jeanne and their child, but when he’d rejected his initial work, intending to destroy it and start over, she’d saved it and added his likeness to the family portrait. Dubbed a lost Modigliani, its existence had become a myth in the world of artists and art collectors. But now, she spends her time pacing the floor and practicing the violin, the one thing her ghostly self was allowed to grab and take with her into her afterlife.

Time passes to 1981, and an American art history student comes to Paris to research her thesis on Manuel Ortiz de Zárate, another of the famous Montparnasse artists who happened to live and work on the floor below Jeanne and Modi. But seemingly at every stage of her local research, she runs into persistent whispers of Modigliani, Jeanne, and the lost painting. When a dying woman entrusts her with more than just whispers, she is compelled to follow the story.

Loving Modigliani is a wonderfully imaginative and absorbing story that I honestly did not want to put down. The descriptions of Paris and Jeanne’s life were so vivid I felt I was there. I know I held my breath as I was introduced to the author’s vision of the ‘Other Paris’ – the Paris of the dead. The characters came to life for me as the story twists and turns both in Jeanne’s afterlife story and the art scholar’s search for the lost painting. Nothing is as it seems!

The amount of research that must have gone into developing this story had to have been tremendous – not only the life and times of the well-known characters but also the places and practices of the era, including health care, medicine, death, and dying, and burial. The story definitely benefitted from all the work; it was interesting and exciting throughout. I am delighted to learn about this artistic woman, talented in her own right, who has apparently been kept in the shadows all these years.

I recommend LOVING MODIGLIANI: THE AFTERLIFE OF JEANNE HÉBUTERNE to readers of historical mysteries, especially those that don’t want to get involved in a series, readers that enjoy stories set in Paris, and those that have an interest in the art world, the art scene of Montparnasse Quarter in the 1920s.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author.

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Monday, December 28, 2020

The Holy City Hustle (A Duke Dempsey Mystery, #2) by Ron Plante, Jr.

The Holy City Hustle (A Duke Dempsey Mystery, #2)The Holy City Hustle by Ron Plante Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This series just keeps getting better!

After Duke Dempsey’s success in stopping the seemingly random killings in Charleston during the past summer, the new mayor, Morris Swanson, decides to honor him with a key to the city during a showy, controversial ceremony on Marion Square. However, immediately after the presentation, Mayor Swanson is publicly murdered as he sits on the dais. But Duke and his former partner and mentor on the force, Detective Johnny Stampkin, nab the hitman before he can escape.

Later, Duke gets a visit from a new client, the beautiful and mysterious Isabella Diaz. She claims she holds the key to the mayor’s assassination, a secret ledger that not only names who the dirty cops are at Charleston PD but public officials “on the take” at every level of government in the port city. She will trust Duke and no one else with her information, and considering the evidence points to cops up and down the department’s hierarchy, Duke himself doesn’t know who he can trust either.

This series just keeps getting better and better. The action is non-stop, and there are twists and turns galore as the identities of friends and foes alike are revealed and change sides. Some heart-pounding and heart-breaking moments will keep you turning the pages as well as looking forward to the next entry in the series. Once again, Charleston, South Carolina, is an atmospheric and versatile location for the story, and the time period of 1938 adds its own flavor to the unique setting.

I highly recommend THE HOLY CITY HUSTLE to mystery readers, especially those that like a historical setting.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Readers Copy from Book Sirens.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Edge of Light (Edge of Light, #1) by Jay Antani

Edge of LightEdge of Light by Jay Antani
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Heart-stopping at times, heart-breaking at others, Edge of Light is a real action-adventure!

Dev Harrison and his two best friends, Abby and Conner, are in the bleachers watching the game when a meteor-like object suddenly streaks across the sky, impacting the Earth in the near distance. Everyone is stunned and disoriented when a bright light explodes around them and a massive BOOM! erupts. Dev and Abby become separated from Conner, but eventually, all three escape the ensuing chaos at the field and make it safely back to their respective homes. But this is just the beginning of the end of the world as they know it.

Soon strange, violent sick people begin showing up at the local hospital where Dev's mother works as a doctor keeping her working around the clock. Dev is desperately worried about his mother; it's been just the two of them since his physicist father mysteriously disappeared a decade earlier when Dev was only a child.

Now Dev is having confusingly realistic dreams of his father. In it, he shows Dev the location of a mysterious box hidden in the mountains near the vacation cabin they visited as a family before his disappearance.

On his own and unable to see or talk to his mother, Dev sets out with his two friends in his father's old Outback to see if there is any truth to the dream, hoping it holds the answers to what happened to his father all those years ago. But with the sickness spreading through Los Angeles and the populace beginning to panic, and strange alien-like creatures roaming the countryside, the three friends' trip to put Dev's dream to rest becomes a lot more than a simple buddy road trip.

What an adventure! From its exciting opening scene to the closing pages, I was hooked and stayed up way past bedtime to read as much and as long as I could.

The three friends, Dev Harrison, Abby Mendes, and Conner, play nicely off one another, and I was utterly invested in their quest to follow Dev's reoccurring dream about his father. Dev, the main character in the story's present time, is smart and a good kid with just the right amount of teenage insecurity and vulnerability that has you rooting for him throughout the book. Conner, the buddy, smart and cynical and sassy, doesn't ever succumb to being the third wheel to the Dev-Abby relationship, and that's nice. I especially liked that the author developed Abby to be an independent "force-to-be-reckoned-with" young woman. She's an able member of the trio, no Shrinking Violet, waiting to be saved. She was the one doing much of the saving in almost all instances. She adds positively to the story's advancement but that it felt natural and in character for her to do so.

I enjoyed that this story had several tropes that I love in apocalyptic/dystopian tales: the teenaged, strong yet vulnerable protagonists, alien influences, humans transformed into not-quite-humans, everyday people transformed into crazy, grasping maniacs, evil master corporations, and government corruption. Each element merges into and supports the others seamlessly to create a great action-filled reading experience. (And this is just book 1, there's more to come!)

The creatures or "crawlers" are a frightening element as they creep around the periphery of everything and everywhere Dev, Conner, and Abby go and do. They seem to always be just out of sight but waiting to jump out and attack, keeping tensions high and nerves taut. Scarier still, though, is their encounter with the fine folk of "Freetown." I held my breath as I quickly turned pages while they were there. I guess I thought I could "help" get them through town faster that way!

And if you're a reader that likes the hardcore science of a science fiction story, this book has you covered. Numerous topics are touched on, but this is done in such an understandable way that it will satisfy the nerd inside each of us without bogging down a great adventure or driving off a reader that likes a softer sci-fi feel.

I also highly recommend this book to readers that enjoy dystopian, post-apocalyptic tales featuring young adult protagonists. I can't wait for the next book in the series!

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from Reedsy Discovery.

See my original review on Reedsy Discovery!

Sunday, December 13, 2020

The U.S. Navy's On-the-Roof Gang: Volume Two – War in the Pacific by Matt Zullo

The US Navy's On-the-Roof Gang: Volume 2 - War in the PacificThe US Navy's On-the-Roof Gang: Volume 2 - War in the Pacific by Matt Zullo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The true story of the men of U.S. Navy’s secret radio intercept and cryptological program – the On-the-Roof Gang – after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

This second volume of Matt Zullo's work of historical fiction begins with the attack on Pearl Harbor and continues the stories of the founding members of the U.S. Navy's fledgling cryptoanalysis program known as "The On-the-Roof Gang." The attack brought home the overwhelming need for the United States to fully support these operations and activities. Their subsequent successes in alerting the Navy to Japanese war plans quickly validated their worth.

The wartime activities and memories of the actual men who lived these events are exciting and exhilarating, but tragic and heart-breaking when relating the group's losses during action in the Pacific and as prisoners of war of the Japanese. Poignant and awe-inspiring, these men kept their involvement in these classified activities a secret, even from their own families, until long after the war was over.

Before even starting page one, the reader knows the history, the big picture of World War II, the War in the Pacific, and, most specifically, about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Some may even be familiar with the stories of American prisoners of war by the Japanese. Others may have gleaned their understanding of these events from Hollywood films. Others may have heard stories from elderly family members that served during that time and experienced it firsthand. But for most, that knowledge is a leftover from a history class or two and, unless you were very, very lucky, those classes were about as interesting as watching paint dry. Author Matt Zullo has crafted a remarkable fictionalized history based on extensive academic research as well as detailed information straight from the mouths of the men that lived it. This story literally came alive.

After reading the superb first volume, The U.S. Navy’s On-the-Roof Gang: Volume One – Prelude to War, I felt like I already knew many of the individuals portrayed in this continuation of the story. And even though I knew what was coming, historically-speaking, it was still an absorbing experience reading about how known events happened and how these men stepped up and played their part in the action. Many of the events were achingly tragic or shocking, and I was utterly invested in their outcome, and in what happened to the men I’d come to know. It was sobering to realize that these men were never able to tell their families what they did during the war because it was all classified and remained classified for decades afterward.

One of the things that surprised me in this and the previous volume was how vast the naval radio operations were at that time and how much broader they had yet to become by the end of the book. There is a helpful list in an appendix showing where all the stations were located and their operational dates. Some are, of course, in very exotic locations, but I was surprised to find there was one in my own state of Texas, in a place I’ve even visited (and now will again with a different goal.)

The role of the On-The-Roof Gang was shrouded in secrecy for so long, and I am grateful to this author for writing this book about them and their accomplishments. I am honestly amazed that he could do so in such an easy-to-read but page-turner of a book.

Start with Volume One to get the background information, and then jump on Volume Two as soon as you can after that! If you’re a World War II history buff or have an interest in the history of the war in the Pacific, or are a ham radio/radio enthusiast, this book and its preceding volume are MUST READS.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from Reedsy Discovery.

See my original review on Reedsy Discovery!

Friday, December 11, 2020

The Bowery Flophouse (Avon Calling!, Season 2, Episode #17) by Hayley Camille

The Bowery Flophouse (Avon Calling! #17)The Bowery Flophouse by Hayley Camille
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Non-stop action in this latest installment in this spot-on historical mystery series!

With the collapse of the Pinzolo crime organization, the criminal underworld in New York City is in a frantic state of flux with each gang trying to take over the number one spot. Adding to the havoc, the Boudoir Butcher is still at large, and no one but Mrs. Betty Jones has an inkling of what's really going on. Betty tries to get the word on the street, starting with 'Hell Cat Harry' Flynn and the Drowned Rats that the person behind the Butcher is Vladimir Malinov AKA The Tin Man and not a rival gang at all, but it is a slow, hard sell. The Tin Man plans to divide and conquer the gangs through suspicion and violence calculated to keep them at each others' throats while he takes over.

Betty continues her search for the elusive Tin Man following a lead from Adina Sonberg at the local Boeing sub-assembly manufacturer. Among the thousands of women working shifts at the plant is a group of Russian girls who are believed to know Malinov's history and whereabouts.

The gangs still clash, and a bloody and violent riot on the streets of the Bowery breaks out, drawing in the New York Police Department, including Betty's lifelong friend, Jacob Lawrence. During the chaos, Betty saves Jacob from a burning flophouse when he becomes trapped under a fallen ceiling joist; however, she is seen using her super-human skills by Officer Malcolm Parker, finally confirming his suspicions about her.

In the meantime, FBI Special Agent Ratliff is looking to test Betty's physical capabilities and lures her to an empty building at the World's Fair's former site. Finding herself surrounded by half a dozen of the FBI's biggest guys, Betty must employ her unique skills to avoid being beaten. When Betty wins out, Ratliff threatens her family's safety to attempt to get her under his thumb.

The Bowery Flophouse is the 17th episode in the wonderful Avon Calling! historical mystery series by Hayley Camille. As is true with the previous entries, the period's tone is perfectly replicated, spot-on, and interesting tidbits from Camille's extensive research into the time frame and place are incorporated to make for a delightful and robust story. The action is non-stop as Betty pursues the Tin Man and tries to keep her loved ones safe. Husband George's letters home are poignant, and I find myself looking forward to them almost as much as Betty. The excitement of the investigation and the gang wars are not all this episode has to offer. Readers can look forward to some unexpected personal revelations for a couple of characters as well.

I highly recommend this entire series but especially this latest installment in Betty's story. Readers should start at the beginning for the best experience.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving a free copy.

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