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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Wednesday, December 16, 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!

Monday, December 14, 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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Wednesday, November 04, 2020

A Very Marisol Christmas (Christmas Central, #7) by Caroline Mickelson

A Very Marisol Christmas (Christmas Central #7)A Very Marisol Christmas by Caroline Mickelson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A charming Christmas treat!

With his beloved wife gone, Marisol Jimenez’s grandfather, Timoteo, decides to fulfill his lifelong dream of living by the ocean, so he signs a ten-year-lease at a brand new senior living facility in Galveston, Texas. His selected apartment, Number 5, has a beautiful view of the Gulf of Mexico, and Marisol has the movers place her grandfather’s favorite chair and the one that had belonged to her grandmother, in the best spot in the apartment to enjoy the magnificent view.

Everything is perfect, well, until the wealthy and equally aged Olivia Grayson and her attorney, the single and handsome Declan Shaw, show up to claim the same apartment. Olivia, with no family left and no close friends, had also signed a ten-year-lease on apartment 5, sold her mansion and extraneous possessions, and had no intention of living anywhere else. As the leases were both signed on the same day and the management company is clueless as to who signed first, neither party is willing to compromise and accept a different apartment. So Olivia moves into the second bedroom, hoping to force Timoteo out eventually. To protect and support their respective senior citizen, Marisol and Declan both decide to camp out on couches in the apartment’s living area until a resolution is reached. Unfortunately, as it’s only nine days until Christmas, that resolution is not going to be happening any time soon.

What the couples do not know is that the temporary leasing agent that had double leased the apartment is none other than one of Santa’s elves, Rapz, who was trying to develop an off-season side hustle as a matchmaker. But fearing Rapz’s double leasing ploy isn’t having the desired effect of getting the two couples together, Santa sends him and a fellow elf named Jolly back down to Texas to clean up the mess.

A Very Marisol Christmas is the 7th entry in the holiday-themed Christmas Central series by author Caroline Mickelson. It is a fun and charming story that won’t disappoint when the time comes for a happily ever after in more ways than one. I recommend this book to romance readers looking for a quick and happy holiday pick-me-up.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Readers Copy from Hidden Gems Books.

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Casket Cache (Spencer Funeral Home Niagara Cozy Mystery, #1) by Janice J. Richardson

Casket Cache (Spencer Funeral Home Niagara Cozy Mystery, #1)Casket Cache by Janice J. Richardson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Jennifer Spencer’s beloved uncle, Bill, passes away, he bequeaths his funeral home business to her and her twin sister, Anne. Anne is a journalist, but Jennifer had taken after her uncle and earned her mortuary license and takes over the family business with Anne as a silent partner. The business is successful and steady, and soon after Jennifer takes over and moves into the apartment above, the funeral home is burglarized. When the police investigate, they find no one there, and nothing is missing. However, while the police are watching, Jennifer discovers a large amount of cash hidden in one of the caskets and suddenly finds herself under suspicion of some unknown criminal activity. While someone continues to get inside the funeral home, Jennifer juggles business and tries to discover where the money came from and who is breaking in to look for it.

Casket Cache is the first book in the Spencer Funeral Home Cozy Mystery series by Janice J. Richardson. Richardson, a veteran funeral director herself, gives us a fascinating look behind the scenes of the funeral industry as well as an engaging mystery to boot. I enjoyed the various characters, and Jennifer is especially personable and caring. In fact, the entire staff Jennifer inherits or recruits seem like very nice people, people you could really depend on during your time of need. The setting in the Niagara region of Canada is great, and I liked hearing about the area. With the undoubted opportunities for stories arising from the funeral business and the characters all beginning to settle in at Spencer’s, I look forward to many more books in the series.

I recommend CASKET CACHE to cozy mystery readers and readers that might like a peek inside the funeral business.

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Sunday, October 25, 2020

The Holy City Murders (A Duke Dempsey Mystery, #1) by Ron Plante, Jr.

The Holy City Murders (A Duke Dempsey Mystery, #1)The Holy City Murders by Ron Plante Jr.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Duke Dempsey, formerly a Charleston PD detective, is out on his own as a private investigator, and although business is looking good, he’s still adjusting to his inglorious ouster from public service and the hit he took to his self-esteem and reputation. He’s had success with some big cases but nothing as big as his latest, finding a missing relic for none other than the Pope! Tied up with his investigation is the double homicide his former partner, Johnny Stampkin, is dealing with down on the docks of the Charleston port. A local priest, Father Lorenzo, a favorite in the Holy City as Charleston is known, has been vicious stabbed, and his companion, an off-duty Charleston cop, has had his throat slashed. Father Lorenzo was supposed to have been the safeguard of the Church’s relic, and no one knows where it is. As Duke and Johnny’s cases entwine and the bodies continue to pile up, they desperately pool their resources to go after the killer and find the precious artifact.

The Holy City Murders is the debut novel in the Duke Dempsey Mystery series by author Ron Plante, Jr. I found the main characters – Duke, Johnny, Margo, and Mary – likable and engaging, and the time period of the events appealing. The city of Charleston, South Carolina, made for an appealing setting with its humid, laid-back charm, recognizable landmarks, and unique opportunities because of its diversity for this and future books in the series. I thought the story was very good with the simultaneous police and private investigations of the two former partners. However, I knew who the secret spy was pretty quickly, so the mystery was really how this person would be revealed and how the protagonists would figure things out.

There were a couple of drawbacks for me in the story, though. First, the dialogue seemed more suited to the streets of New York, Chicago, Boston, or Philly. I choose to believe this was done to emphasize the patter seen in traditional detective noir. But Duke is a southern boy, a Charlestonian native, he even brings this up a couple of times, and I don’t see it in the language. Having said this, I still enjoyed the patois.

The other beef I have, and I see that previous reviewers noted it as well, was the plethora of grammatical issues in the version of the story being read. I read an Advance Readers Copy I received from Book Sirens, and there were numerous problems of this nature. However, a quick look at the finished version currently available for purchase or download shows that many of these issues have been found and corrected. Based on that examination, I’m adding an additional star to my original rating.

With the look and feel of a noir detective story, there is so much to enjoy in Duke Dempsey and The Holy City Murders. The story doesn’t end here, and I look forward to reading more about Duke and his crowd as the series continues. I recommend this book to readers that enjoy a grittier mystery (than a cozy), noir detective stories, historical mysteries, or even a mystery that features Civil War elements.

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

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Friday, October 23, 2020

Water’s Edge (A Highlands & Islands Detective Thriller, #1) by GR Jordan

Water's Edge (Highlands & Islands Detective Book 1)Water's Edge by G.R. Jordan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Water’s Edge is moody and character-driven and a wonderful police procedural.

When the body of a local woman washes up on the rocky coastline of the Isle of Lewis in the Scottish Hebrides, the Glasgow team of Detective Inspector Seoras Macleod and Detective Constable Hope McGrath are sent to investigate. Macleod, an older, experienced detective, grew up on the island but left 20 years earlier when his beloved wife committed suicide by walking into the water and drowning herself. A wild young man, Macleod’s faith had saved him from the path he’d been on, but after his wife’s death, he began to have doubts about the nature of God. The tragedy has caused Macleod to let time and modern sensibilities pass him; he’s never quite moved on with his life. Now, he’s known somewhat as a misogynistic throwback, but lately, he’s been questioning his outdated thinking. He likes and approves of his female supervisor and has a growing acceptance of the rightness of women in police work. McGrath, with two years of experience in homicide, is assigned to work with Macleod on the case when his regular partner is laid up from a car accident. (More about her later.)

Dreading the return to Lewis, Macleod finds there have been changes since he left, but things are still familiar enough that they dredge up long-forgotten memories of his life there before things went tragically wrong for him. The victim, Sara Hewitt, is a young, local woman who recently opened a massage parlor on the main street of the town of Stornoway. The two detectives quickly interview her distraught boyfriend. He claims they were exclusive with each other and vehemently denies her business offered ‘services on the side’ as her ledger seems to indicate. However, the young man’s own mother, a councilwoman in town, reveals the ledger is accurate and that everyone but her son knew that Sara was doing a booming business in offering ‘extras’ to her clients, one of whom was the mother herself!

As the two detectives follow up on any lead they find, they discover that the very conservative population has a darker side. Should its secrets become known, it provides more than adequate motive for murder.

Water’s Edge is the first novel in the new Highlands & Island Detective Thriller series by author G. R. Jordan (Gary Ross-Jordan.) As the debut story, a bit of exposition is expected, and Jordan does a great job of setting things up without bogging the reader down.

I loved how the two detectives started out as very different from each other, from vastly different generations, and how they had to navigate the bumps along the way to meshing as an efficient, effective team (which they do.) She’s forthright and plainspoken in her opinions and speech. She’s smart and sassy and already an experienced investigator when the story opens. She’s no rookie. She holds her own even as a junior partner. I really liked watching as Macleod comes to appreciate and value her as his partner. As for Macleod, the reader is privy to his inner struggle with adapting to contemporary culture and coming to terms with his faith and the burgeoning awareness of McGrath as not only a good detective but a beautiful woman.

The moody setting of the Isle of Lewis informs the story at every step. The cloudy skies, remote locations, rocky cliffs and coastlines, and secretive landscapes give the piece a gothic feeling, and there’s a definite chill throughout as the detectives pursue their investigation.

The murder plotline is solid, and the investigation straightforward and logical. Procedures on the island are slightly different for the two detectives used to how things work in Glasgow. Still, they have competent local support in the character of the steady Detective Allinson, who is also dangled tantalizingly before readers as a possible love interest for Hope McGrath.

I highly recommend WATER’S EDGE to readers of mysteries and police procedurals and readers that enjoy stories set in the cold and damp moodiness of coastal Scotland. I anxiously look forward to reading more of this series.

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

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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Lost in Lavender (Bennett Sisters Mysteries, #13) by Lise McClendon

Lost in Lavender (Bennett Sisters Mysteries Book 13)Lost in Lavender by Lise McClendon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Elise, the youngest of the five Bennett sisters, has come to a crossroads in her life and books a 10-day farm stay in Provence to work, clear her mind, and develop a new plan. She hates being a lawyer, has quit her job at the law firm, broken up with her boyfriend, Scott, and once older sister, Merle, drops her off at the lavender farm, goes incommunicado with all her family and friends.

However, rather than finding a place to contemplate the future and regroup, she finds herself living and working with a group of students 20 or more years younger than herself and an unknown crisis simmering beneath the calm surface of life at the farm. With minimal French language skills at her disposal, she soon finds herself socially-isolated and feeling very much alone.

There are a couple of bright spots in the works, though. One other worker who appears to be about her age is an Englishman named Conor. Good looking and helpful, he is somewhat friendly and helps get a bat out of her room on her first night at the farm. He turns out to be related to the owners of the farm. Then, she encounters Ari, a local man that immediately shows his interest and admiration. But there seems to be some bad blood between Ari and Conor that causes Elise to be completely ostracized at the farm.

Deciding she’s had enough of the drama, Elise accepts Ari’s offer to spend the rest of her holiday at his home near Aix-en-Provence – no strings attached. In fact, there are so few strings attached that after getting settled in at his place and having dinner with each other the first night, Ari takes off telling Elise and his housekeeper that he’ll return soon. But days pass, and there is no further sign of the man until Conor shows up on the doorstep looking for Elise, and they discover his body in his car in the garage where he apparently has been the entire time.

Meanwhile, Merle Bennett, back home in Malcouziac in the Dordogne, is getting ready for company. Her niece, Willow, is expected soon, as is her son, Tristan: both on holiday before school starts up again in the states. She is also helping her boyfriend, Pascal, locate suitable living quarters near his new headquarters for the government’s wine fraud division in Bordeaux. She is thrilled when she comes across a nice townhouse in a lovely neighborhood that the elderly owner is willing to let at a price within their budget, and she and Pascal begin to settle in.

But when she returns to their home in Malcouziac to welcome Tristan and Willow, she is surprised to discover two additional guests: Elise’s ex-boyfriend, Scott, and his younger cousin, Teague. To add to the confusion, when Merle returns to the lavender farm on the appointed day to pick her sister up from her farm stay, Elise is nowhere to be found, and no one knows where she’s gone!

Lost in Lavender is the latest installment in the charming Bennett Sisters Mystery series by Lise McClendon. This story focuses on the youngest of the sisters and features the lovely countryside of Provence. However, with all the driving that Merle and Pascal do, readers get a glimpse of many other regions of France as well.

The story is a wonderful one of renewal and self-awareness as Elise struggles to break free of choices she made in the past and move on with a life she chooses for herself. And it is a struggle. There were a couple of times I wanted to shake her and tell her to snap out of it, shake out of her self-pity and let someone know where she was and how she was doing. Everyone but everyone was worried about the woman, and she knew it. However, she does finally come around and sets out on the road to love and a better future.

I recommend LOST IN LAVENDER to readers that have enjoyed this series in the past. However, it makes for an excellent standalone book for those that want a romance mystery/romance set in the lovely French countryside.

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

Lise McClendon

is back! on Tour October 20-November 2 with Lost in Lavender      

Lost In Lavender

(mystery/women’s fiction) Release date: October 15, 2020 at Thalia Press 254 pages


Facing a crossroads– both career and personal– the youngest of the five Bennett Sisters, Elise, does what she does best: she runs away to think. This time she runs to a farm in Provence that produces heaven-scented lavender for oils. The area is famous for the beautiful purple flower, the symbol of this southern region of France. Her sisters are stumped. Elise never seemed like the farming type, or even gardening, for that matter. But she’s signed up for a farm stay vacation, an idea she got from an unlikely source, the trophy wife of one of her law partners. When she arrives, courtesy her older sister Merle who drives her to the Luberon from the Dordogne, she discovers she is the only guest at the picturesque family farm who is not a college student. The rest are all doing a French language exchange program and are 20 years younger than Elise, leaving her feeling like an outsider and wondering about her life choices. Not only is her judgment in men and careers awful, but she can’t even plan a decent vacation. Meanwhile in the Dordogne, Merle’s niece, Willow, arrives for some R&R before she starts law school. But she brings a few surprises with her, a boyfriend plus Elise’s fiancé. Or is it ex-fiancé? It will take several sisters– and of course Pascal– to unravel the facts as all descend on southern France for July in the heat and lavender. Suspense, romance, intrigue, and humor as the summer heats up for the Bennett Sisters again. Another delicious adventure in international travel and cozy mystery as the Bennett Sisters fight their way to truth, justice, and a perhaps a summer fling, deep in Provence. A summer fling in France never hurt anyone, now did it?
Works fine as a stand-alone


Lost in Lavender LiseMcClendon
Lise McClendon is the author of thirteen books in the Bennett Sisters mystery series including A Bolt from the Blue, Blame it on Paris, and DEAD FLAT. She wrote two mystery series, the Alix Thorssen and Dorie Lennox mysteries set in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and World War II-era Kansas City (The Bluejay Shaman; One O’clock Jump). She also writes stand-alones as Rory Tate, including PLAN X, a thriller featuring a Bozeman, Montana policewoman. She edited the 2020 anthology, STOP THE WORLD: Snapshots from the Pandemic, bringing together 40 writers around the globe to discuss their experiences and emotions during this year, plus poetry and short fiction. Her short story, Forked Tongue, was included in the Anthony Award-winning anthology, The Obama Inheritance. As Thalia Filbert she wrote with four other well-seasoned crime writers the darkly comic culinary thriller, Beat Slay Love: One Chef’s Hunger for Delicious Revenge. Lise has served Mystery Writers of America in the past as a national board member and Montana representative. She lives in wilds of Montana near Yellowstone National Park.
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Saturday, October 17, 2020

Things To Do When You’d Rather Be Dead by Michael Guillebeau

Things to Do When You'd Rather be DeadThings to Do When You'd Rather be Dead by Michael Guillebeau
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you’re a mystery reader that enjoys a solid story with laugh-out-loud dialogue, then you really must read this!

Everyone believed Detective Joe Brosette had shot and killed the Angel of Mercy, the religious maniac who had been preying on the children of Birmingham, Alabama, for months. As Joe had closed in, the evil serial killer had murdered Joe’s own wife and daughter. But Joe was never completely convinced that Father Carson, his own parish priest, was the person behind the Angel of Mercy’s reign of terror.

Joe was gutted by his family’s deaths, and over the ensuing two years, he sank deeper and deeper into despair and self-recrimination, letting himself go and drinking heavily. Friends on the force covered for him until he was reassigned from Detectives to Community Service, where he was relegated to giving anti-drug presentations to school children and public groups, dressed as a clown cop with a fake gun. But deep in his heart, he kept looking for signs that the Angel of Mercy was still out there. Then one phone call lets Joe know he got the wrong man.

If you’re a mystery reader that enjoys entertaining and humorous dialogue, then you really must read this new book by author Michael Guillebeau. As you can tell from the book’s synopsis, the murders involved are horrible and tragic, and at the time of the story, two years in the past, they are not discussed in great detail. But I want to be clear that snappy dialogue aside, the subject is treated with the appropriate gravity and respect. The first-person point-of-view of the lead character, Joe Brosette, the broken but still kicking former detective, is self-deprecating one moment, poignant the next, and it pulled me straight into this mesmerizing narrative.

Joe is aware that he’s let himself go, but he’s also never given up. He’s made promises to bring the real Angel of Mercy to justice, and he intends to do just that – even if it kills him. His department has written this case and Joe off, but he gets renewed support from some unlikely sources. I adored his unexpected helper, Juliet Capulet. She’s smart and tough on the outside and tender on the inside and comes at the mystery with fresh eyes and a fierce spirit – a spirit that has also gotten battered around in the past. She and Joe work so well together, and their evolving partnership was great to watch. I hope this is the beginning of a series.

I liked that Joe had built up quite a reputation in his department, a legend as a detective and that there was still a lot of respect for him back on the job. This is personified by another new ally, the newly-minted Detective First Coltrane, who stands by Joe and helps despite the damage his affiliation could do to the future of his own career.

Kudos for the ‘deadbeats’ and ‘has-beens’ at Johnson’s Bar. I loved how the atmosphere and the tough crowd of ‘Lost Boys,’ and how they were still ready and willing to serve when one of their own needed them at their back.

The mystery itself comes together so very nicely. All the clues are there for the reader to find, and I was delightfully surprised to have overlooked them all. I never saw the resolution coming or how the killer was going to try to make their final big ‘score.’

I will be looking for more books by this author immediately. I recommend THINGS TO DO WHEN YOU’D RATHER BE DEAD to mystery readers that like a grittier story (than, say, a cozy) with witty banter and an endearing narrator.

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

See my original review on Reedsy Discovery!

Friday, October 09, 2020

Tusk Justice (Kenya Kanga Mystery, #2) by Victoria Tait

Tusk JusticeTusk Justice by Victoria Tait
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mama Rose returns!

When “Mama Rose” Hardie is asked by the manager of the exclusive Mount Kenya Resort and Spa to look into the outbreak of small thefts that have recently plagued the hotel, she accepts the challenge. Her husband, Craig, is due to attend a conservation conference there the coming Friday, and her new assignment includes deluxe accommodations at the resort. The conference is a big deal for the resort; it is a pre-event to the inaugural Giant’s Club Summit the resort is hosting. Four heads of state, including President Kenyatta from Kenya, are expected to attend to discuss a pan-African response to the upsurge in elephant poaching and illegal ivory harvesting.

One of the rising stars on the conservation scene, and with a new book launching at the conference, is the managing director of the local Gaia Conservancy, Davina Dijan. As she begins her first talk at the conference, the wrong presentation is mistakenly projected onto the screens for the audience, and she goes ballistic even though she’s the one that made the error. The correct program is shown, and her talk goes well, but she continues to be difficult and obnoxious to everyone around her. After spilling a drink at dinner and complaining that she’s tired, her husband escorts her up to their suite to turn in for the night.

Hours later, as Rose and Craig settle into their own beds, the resort manager bangs on their door. Davina Dijan has been found dead, and he needs Mama Rose to come help. But Davina is most definitely deceased, and very apparently murdered. As Police Commissioner Akida is out of town at an important meeting, he sends his best and brightest, Constable Judy Wachira, to investigate. They ask Mama Rose to stick around to lend her able support.

Tusk Justice is another exciting, multilayered mystery in the Kenya Kanga Mystery series featuring 60-something “Mama Rose” Hardie. This new story is as much a mystery as an exploration of family relationships in flux. Rose’s husband, Craig, is suffering the devastating effects of his having contracted polio when younger. Rose is struggling to maintain, as much as possible, his quality of life, the dynamics of their lifelong relationship, and their life together, as he slowly, inexorably deteriorates before her very eyes. Craig, for his part, tries to hide his pain and his fear for what is going to happen to Rose after he finally succumbs to his condition. These are circumstances of which many readers of the same age as the characters can relate.

The author weaves in other deep concerns impacting the Kenyan setting, such as the plight of Africa’s elephants, the population of which has drastically diminished because of poaching and the illegal ivory trade and widespread poverty due to the loss of traditional livelihood and farming. Even Rose and Craig struggle to make ends meet, depending on what she brings in as a paraprofessional veterinarian. But all is not grim; remedies are depicted as on the rise with tourism thriving and new government initiatives to promote conservation efforts and the health and welfare of the people.

I recommend TUSK JUSTICE to cozy mystery readers, especially those that enjoyed the previous entries in the Kenya Kanga Mystery series and those that like a mystery set in a new, exotic, still rural setting.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Dark Portal by Kyle Belote

The Dark PortalThe Dark Portal by Kyle Belote
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dark, atmospheric, and unsettling first-contact tale!

When Dr. Darrovan Weiv, an alien theorist, was unceremoniously dragged from his bed in the dead of night, he thought his life was over, another casualty of the secretive and oppressive government. Instead, he was taken to a secret research facility harboring an alien presence or “miasma,” with whom the project’s director wanted Darrovan to try and communicate. Surprisingly, Darrovan’s first attempt yields immediate results but perhaps not the results for which everyone was hoping.

The Dark Portal is an eerie and atmospheric tale of alien first-contact. The main character’s unease and fear oozed off the page and created a deliciously unsettling story. You just KNOW something’s not right, and things are not what they seem. Even the complex layout of the mysterious facility or “Dome” leaves you a little off-balance, and that creates some emotional havoc later during the height of the action.

I absolutely loved the slowly evolving and subtle depictions of Darrovan and his coworkers. Let’s just say there were no humans harmed in the making of this story. Additionally, there are enough sidebars and subplots mentioned in the story that, if explored, could expand this to a full-length novel. I recommend The Dark Portal to Sci-Fi readers that enjoy the theme of alien-first-contact, non-human characters, and plenty of dark, scary, fast-paced action.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving a copy from the author.

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Monday, September 14, 2020

Engage at Dawn: First Contact by Edward M. Hochsmann

Engage at Dawn: First ContactEngage at Dawn: First Contact by Edward Hochsmann
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When the Coast Guard cutter, Kauai, is dispatched to investigate a disabled sailing vessel off the Florida Keys, they find an abandoned, derelict cabin sloop, the High Dawn, deck awash, and kept afloat by the masses of water-tight packages of illegal drugs in the hold. There is no evidence of a collision or an explosion but the ship has been wrecked, the mast broken completely away and gone, and there is a days-old corpse floating in the flooded cabin. However, the starboard side is crushed in like it had slammed against a flat, brick wall, and with the massive amount of damage the High Dawn cannot be towed to shore without breaking apart. The Kauai is ordered to stand by and guard the wreck until the arrival of the buoy tender Poplar that is equipped to remove the wreck properly. In addition, a chopper has been sent to retrieve the deceased and deliver a top-secret VIP passenger.

Dr. Peter Simmons with the Defense Intelligence Agency, is an astrophysicist. Over the past three days, he and his team have been searching for the cause of a gravitational wave which they believe may be the arrival of an extraterrestrial spaceship. He inspects the condition of the High Dawn to determine if its wrecking may be related to this same event. The Kauai and her crew are to support Dr. Simmons in his investigation as soon as they are relieved from oversight of the High Dawn.

With dangerous drug smugglers hunting for them and their missing product and Dr. Simmons’ top-secret search for the location of a possible alien spacecraft, the cutter’s captain, Lieutenant Samuel Powell and his XO, Lieutenant Junior Grade Benjamin Wyporek valiantly strive to fulfill their varied missions while keeping the Kauai and her crew safe and sound. This exciting story unfolds in these two exciting, interwoven strands: the search for a possible extraterrestrial vehicle and drug smugglers trying to recover their ship full of product that was accidentally destroyed when the alien ship materialized near it in waters off Key West. As I had previously read the prequel to this book, Vis Major, I knew some of what to expect in the extraterrestrial plotline, and I almost squealed with delight when the "old beachcomber" and shack finally appeared. The drug smugglers' plot is also exciting and very intense. I realized I was holding my breath at several points along the way, such as when the crew was working with a bomb and while Frankle and Bell were watching the path to the escape boat at the terrorists' hideout awaiting the "GO" signal.

I loved the peek inside the Coast Guard's operations and appreciate the "civilianization" of some of the dialogue to make it easier to understand what was going on. There were so many new and interesting things mentioned along this line that I googled quite a few phrases or object names for more information. For example, the mention of the 'fouled anchor' incorporated in the Kauai's crest is a very familiar image, yet one that has its own story and tradition I'd never known. The author writes excellent banter and includes some fun yet cynical and slightly irreverent jesting regarding military nomenclature.

I also appreciated the depiction of the Kauai's crew as multidimensional individuals with lives and concerns outside their duty stations. The crew is comprised of both male and female members, and I thought the various working relationships were natural and true-to-life. I quickly connected with the characters and empathized with how they worried about balancing home life with their careers.

ENGAGE AT DAWN: FIRST CONTACT is very well written, which made this exciting and action-packed story easy-to-read and hard to put down. It can be read solo, but I highly recommend starting with the prequel, Vis Major, which is the flipside story (the aliens' point-of-view); it is excellent. I was delighted to see that there is a sneak preview of the next book in the series, Engage at Dawn: Seize and Destroy, included at the end of this volume. So, YAY! More to come! I recommend this book and series to readers that enjoy military adventure stories, Coast Guard-themed fiction, and first contact tales.

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

See my original review on Reedsy Discovery!

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Deathload: The Highway of Destruction by Cy Young

Deathload: The Highway of DestructionDeathload: The Highway of Destruction by Cy Young
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What everyone is saying is true: you'll only want to close this book when it's over, OR you need to catch your breath!

When Vincent Fazio's only son is killed during Desert Storm by friendly fire, he swears revenge on the military and the commander-in-chief for the horrific mistake. But as a former CIA operative and multimillionaire truck magnate, Vince is in the scary position to follow through on his threat. He envisions and hires a genius computer programmer to help him build two massive machines of destruction: two mammoth, self-driven 18-wheelers equipped with the capabilities to take out entire Air Force bases in seconds. And then he lets them loose from the desert in the desert outside Phoenix, Arizona, with a mission of death and destruction.

Phoenix Police Detective Manny Breen has just left work to take his sister to get a new car. In his rearview mirror, he watches as the two large, black trucks scream up behind him, but even though he's able to get out of their way, his sister ahead of him is boxed in the lane with nowhere to go. He watches in horror as the lead truck smashes her off the highway to roll and tumble and burst into flames. Grief-stricken, unable to rescue her from the burning vehicle, he sets off after the trucks already miles down the road. What follows is the story of his determined pursuit of these deadly instruments of terror.

The premise of the two unstoppable and seemingly indestructible 18-wheelers is a crazy concept, but it works, and I ended up loving every minute of it. Once they get rolling, it is pure entertainment of the action film variety. I've read books before that I would describe as having "non-stop action," but Deathload seriously holds the title. I read this book in one sitting because I literally didn't want to put it down.

Vincent Fazio, the villain behind the trucks, the multimillionaire with CIA connection, may seem a sympathetic figure at first. His son, a likable young man we meet at the start of the story, was tragically killed by mistake. However, you soon realize the father's revenge is based on what he feels is an insult to himself rather than any grief over the loss of his son. There are really no mitigating circumstances in what he is doing.

Two strong characters, Phoenix Police Detective Manny Breen and Helicopter Pilot Sharon Kramer, lead the story in trying to stop Fazio. He is a witness to the death of his beloved sister by the mammoth trucks. Sharon joins the hunt when she is dispatched to where he has wrecked out while following the massive machines. Together and separately, they are unrelenting in their pursuit of the deadly trucks.

The driver-less trucks tear up the southwestern United States as they attack Air Force bases located across the rugged, hot, and remote terrain. The destruction starts outside Phoenix, Arizona, and follows a path through New Mexico and Texas as they bear down on their ultimate destination: the White House. The villain's revenge is single-mindedly about death and destruction. As the story progresses, thousands upon thousands of military personnel, law enforcement officers, and civilians are killed. The story includes graphic depictions of some of the deaths.

I recommend DEATHLOAD to readers that enjoy action-adventure stories that never let up. I was thoroughly swept up by the book and carried along by the continuous and intense action. I could easily see this story kicking off a series featuring the two leads, Manny and Sharon. This was entertainment.

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

See my original review on Reedsy Discovery!

Monday, August 24, 2020

Penned In (Farm-to-Fork Mystery, #4.5) – Lynn Cahoon

Penned In (Farm-to-Fork Mystery #5)Penned In by Lynn Cahoon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A solid tie-in Farm-to-Fork Mystery novella with a spooky Halloween vibe!

For their quarterly out-of-the-office team-building meeting, Angie Turner, boyfriend Ian MacNeal, and the chefs and staff of The County Seat are participating in a special Halloween all-night lock-in at the Old Idaho Penitentiary in Boise. Now a museum and event center with tour guides dressed up as guards, the old building is known to house a ghost or two of former inmates. On this night, in particular, the spirit of Lyda Southard, a female inmate whose baby was taken from her at its birth never to be seen again, is rumored to appear.

The group gets the grand tour, but as they settle into their assigned cells for the night, one of the “guards” is found dead at the entrance to the prison library. With the master door key and the only cellphone in the place missing, no one can summon help. Although the doors will automatically unlock at 6 a.m., Angie, Ian, Dom, and the rest of The County Seat staff are locked in with a murderer.

PENNED IN is a short and fun Halloween-themed novella featuring the recurring characters from author Lynn Cahoon’s Farm-to-Fork Mystery series. With each glimpse, we learn a little bit more about these familiar faces while they're away from their work setting. The action is quick, and the mystery begins almost immediately with plenty of suspects to consider.

I recommend this to readers familiar with the series, but those that want a taste of what The County Seat’s cooking will like what Penned In offers.

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

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Sunday, August 23, 2020

Ascending (The Vardeshi Saga, #1) by Meg Pechenick

Ascending (The Vardeshi Saga, #1)Ascending by Meg Pechenick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I absolutely loved ASCENDING, a top-notch space adventure and series debut!

The Vardeshi, an advanced, human-like alien race, came to Earth 25 years ago, made a brief, peaceful visit and left, saying they’d return one day. Avery Alcott had grown up dreaming of that day and watching innumerable fictionalized television series and movies dramatizing that return.

Now a young woman, she is studying linguistics in graduate school when she is presented with the opportunity of a lifetime. Her major professor has been secretly developing a language training system for learning the Vardeshi language based on recordings made during their visit, and he wants Avery to test its capabilities. Avery is thrilled, adjusts her graduate course load, and jumps in. Finding the language far more challenging to learn than the Mandarin she’d previously mastered, Avery digs in and finally achieves proficiency based on the program. She has no way of knowing if what the professor has created and what she’s learned correctly corresponds to the aliens’ actual language.

Then the Vardeshi make contact again. They propose a cultural exchange: 100 of their people to come to Earth and 100 of humanity’s best and brightest to join the Vardeshi in space aboard the many spacecraft or space stations they have in service throughout the galaxy. One human is to go to the Vardeshi home planet itself.

With Avery’s language skill already in place, the Vardeshi select her as the one representative from Earth to travel to Vardesh Prime. She and the other 100 program candidates undergo a quick but intensive training course to prepare them for their upcoming assignments, and she soon finds herself in space aboard the Vardeshi spacecraft, Pinion. However, instead of going as a mere passenger, the captain of the ship offers Avery the unique opportunity to immerse herself in their language, culture, and daily shipboard life as a member of the crew. Avery agrees and is integrated into the small crew of 10 as one of two ‘novi,’ the lowest, introductory rank in the Vardeshi ship’s hierarchy.

The cultural immersion has its drawbacks: the constant thinking of how to act, finding the correct words, always having to be ‘on’ and ‘in the moment,’ but Avery mentally gathers her inner resources and pushes through. Zey, the other novi, serves as her trainer and soon becomes a friend and confidant. Saresh, the ship’s hadazi, the counselor and advisor to all onboard, is steadfast in his support. But not everyone likes having her there or this whole plan of exchange. Some crew members are blatantly mean and vocal about her and humanity’s inferiority, doing anything in their power to make things tough for her. Others are just dismissive and seem irritated by her presence. And on both Earth and Vardesh Prime, the populations are divided on whether the interplanetary interaction is a wise thing at all. But as Avery continues to gain proficiency in her language skills and duties as a member of the crew, someone else seems determined to make sure she fails and never makes it to Vardesh Prime, by any means possible.

Ascending was an engaging and immersive reading experience from the very first page. Avery is a kind, warm, and likable young woman who is presented with the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream, and she goes for it full-tilt. I thought the author did an outstanding job of describing all the mental issues that arise when someone is immersed in a culture and language so different from their own. In addition, there is a heart-wrenching subplot of being an outsider among your own kind.

The author gives us an Earth that has developed somewhat differently than our current reality, as well as the fascinating alien culture of the Vardeshi. The reader gets a tantalizing glimpse of the other crew members’ home planets (there’s more than one!) as they reminisce about going home during after-dinner musings one night. Hopefully, in future books in the series, readers will be treated to a visit to some of these exotic locations.

The relationships and characters aboard the Pinion are what make this story an exciting page-turner, though. I felt like I knew these individuals by the time the story was going full-on; however, the author never lets you or Avery forget that they are not human. And there is an awareness throughout the story that there could be collateral effects from these two foreign species interacting. They don’t even know if each other’s food could cause adverse and disastrous reactions.

ASCENDING is a top-notch space adventure and is an awesome debut for this new series. I loved it. I recommend this story to readers that like character-driven, soft Sci-Fi tales, with a ‘stranger in a strange land’ vibe. I look forward to reading the next book in the series, Bright Shards, as soon as I can.

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

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Monday, August 17, 2020

Vis Major by Edward M. Hochsmann

Vis MajorVis Major by Edward Hochsmann
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A spaceship and its crew in peril is an exciting prequel or side story to the full-length novel Engage the Dawn: First Contact!

While making routine repairs, an unexpected coronal mass ejection from a nearby star, causes a repair drone to collide with its survey ship, killing three crew members, destroying the communication system, and forcing the jettisoning of the ship's endangered core. The damage is extensive and enough to prevent the vessel from traveling to the Confed repair yard. The Ship's Master and crew make the far-from-optimal decision to land on the closest planet and gather the raw materials that will allow them to make temporary repairs and enable their safe journey back for the more permanent work needed.

The planet's population has barely advanced beyond the ability to space travel outside of its own orbit. It was Confed policy that the survey ship must not let the natives discover their advanced spacecraft or even confirm that there were sentient beings and civilization on other planets; the inhabitants were just not ready for that knowledge. So, with the help of some of their own people secretly embedded in the native population, the crew makes plans to settle in a shallow underwater area just off the coast of the Florida Keys.

Originally a subplot in the full-length, soft SciFi novel, Engage at Dawn: First Contact, the author felt this storyline was robust enough to become a standalone novelette. And, boy, was he right! Vis Major has engaging characters and an exciting plot that grabbed me from the opening line – "It was not just a routine solar flare."

The Master and the crew of the stricken survey ship that survive the initial damage from the massive coronal mass ejection from the nearby star are in peril from the get-go. I could feel the tension and concern as they struggle to get their wounded bird to the closest planet to effect the temporary repairs needed to return safely to the Confed shipyard. The author successfully walks that fine line between providing enough technical detail to entertain without sending the less tech-savvy reader scurrying for cover.

I appreciated that once on the planet, the Master and crew took elaborate pains to make sure they remained undetected by the native population, and regretted any harm or damage they inflicted during the process. The Master takes great care to preserve the dignity of two natives that are accidentally killed during their presence on the planet.

The author also nailed the content of the dialogue onboard the survey ship and descriptive passages to move the story forward and still surprise the reader with the slow reveal of what is going on and where the action takes place. I enjoyed the realization when it hit home.

This story can be read as a prequel to Engage at Dawn: First Contact, it certainly piqued my interest, or as a side story to it. The primary work approaches this story from a completely different point-of-view. I recommend Vis Major to readers that like their SciFi to have some tech talk along with emotional interaction between characters. This short novelette has both.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an ARC from Reedsy Discovery.

See my original review on Reedsy Discovery!

The Killing Trail (Timber Creek K-9 Mystery, #1) by Margaret Mizushima, Audible Audiobook narrated by Nancy Wu

Killing Trail (Timber Creek K-9 Mystery #1)Killing Trail by Margaret Mizushima
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Deputy Mattie Lu Cobb is back on the job at the Timber Creek County Sheriff's Department after 12 weeks of advanced training with her new K-9 partner, a German Shepherd named Robo. They are on their way to a meeting at the local high school when they receive a call to investigate "suspicious activity" at the remote cabin in the mountains of the nearby national forest. Arriving the scene, they are met by Sheriff Abraham McCoy himself and the forest ranger that requested their assistance. The suspicious activity is a good-sized pool of blood on the porch of the cabin, and she and Robo are directed to search for its source. Robo successfully follows the trail, and the two discover the body of a teenage girl, half-buried in a shallow grave in the forest. She is being watched over by a large Bernese Mountain Dog that, although shot and bleeding, is faithfully protecting the body.

As her fellow deputies continue to work the scene and wait for the arrival of the assigned homicide detective, Mattie is charged with getting the wounded dog to the nearest vet. Dr. Cole Walker recognizes the dog, Belle, immediately and identifies her owner as 16-year-old, Grace Hartman, the best friend on one of his daughters. Later that evening, Belle gets sick and passes several small balloons filled with a suspicious white powder. Cole contacts Mattie, who returns to the clinic to help with the dog. She also makes arrangements to have Detective Stella LoSasso visit with his daughter the next morning, to hopefully shine some light on why Grace may have been up at the remote cabin. During the subsequent interview, Angela points Mattie and Stella to Mike Chadron, a local dog trainer whom Grace had a crush on. He had been spotted recently at the cabin conducting training exercises with this dogs, however, neither he nor his dogs are anywhere to be found. Mattie continues to ask questions of those that knew Grace fearing that she and Belle had somehow gotten involved with the recent upswing in drug trafficking in the small community.

Mattie, Robo, and Sheriff McCoy finally make their visit with the high school principal to discuss introducing a K-9 inspection program in the upcoming school year. This is the same principal Mattie clashed with during her high school tenure there, and he's not enthusiastic nor supportive of the idea but agrees.

The case moves along little by little, but when Mattie discovers the body of the missing Mike Chadron set up to look like a suicide, the pressure escalates to find the murderer. With a suspicious-looking new health spa that moved into the area at the same time as the uptick in drug trafficking and clues that seem to point at one of Mattie's coworkers, she and Robo have got their hands full tracking down leads and protecting their community.

The Killing Trail is the first book in the Timber Creek K-9 Mysteryseries by Margaret Mizushima. I liked the main character, Deputy Mattie Cobb, and look forward to learning more about her and her past. She grew up in foster care, separated from a much older brother from whom she is estranged in the book, but seems to be nearing a reconciliation. I am hoping that the relationship with the vet progresses positively in subsequent books as well.

The author provides several possible suspects and scenarios throughout the story, which kept me guessing. Still, I got a sneaking suspicion about the real killer early on that had me patting myself on the back at the conclusion. That wasn't a deterrent from enjoying the rest of the story as Mattie follows her instincts and all the clues she uncovers.

The author includes some back story on Robo's training and details regarding how Mattie prepares him to work, such as conducting searches and other exercises. I enjoyed Robo's reactions and reading about K-9 work.

All said I think I would have liked this book much more had I been reading it in book form. The audiobook narrator was competent but quiet and low-key, not a lot of animation in her voice. She has a very polished, soothing voice, and I wouldn't avoid listening to her in the future, but I think this story may have required something perkier to show it to a better advantage. This story has everything for a good reading experience, but for whatever reason, it just seemed to drag on and on until the last hour, where it finally got exciting. Not enough for my husband, though. We were listening to this in the car when we arrived at our destination, with about 45 minutes left. I wanted to finish it inside, and he wasn't interested - he was done with it.

I recommend this book, with the reservation as mentioned above regarding format, to mystery readers, especially those that like animals in the cast of characters. However, Robo remains a dog throughout, and the reader is not privy to his thoughts, feelings, or ideas like in some other series.

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Thursday, August 13, 2020

E by Fraser Small

EE by Fraser Small
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A great new young adult post-apocalyptic story with a surprising twist!

Alexandria E. Monroe, “E” to her friends and family, woke up that morning expecting a school day like any other. But as she headed downstairs for breakfast, her mother wasn’t in the kitchen or anywhere in the house. Guessing she was making a quick trip to the shops, E settled down to a bowl of cereal and didn’t worry about it. However, as their regular time to leave for school came and still no sign of her mother, she felt the first little niggling of worry begin, especially when she found her mom’s cellphone left behind in the living room. Too far to walk to school, she was left to hang out at home and watch some television, but then the power went out. When her best friend never contacted her to find out why she wasn’t in school, she really began to wonder what was going on. No one had posted to social media since the day before. No one: the friend, the police, nor the fire department answered their phones. E fell asleep that night on the stairs watching the door and waiting for her mother to return.

When she couldn’t stand not knowing what was going on any longer, E ventured out of the house and headed down to the village. For the first time, she noticed how quiet it was. Everywhere. Not a car, a plane, no noise. That’s where she realized she was completely and utterly alone.

E is a great new young adult post-apocalyptic story with a surprising twist. It follows the main character, E, over a three year period starting when she’s a young 13-year-old to just after her 16th birthday. I thought the author did a great job portraying her as a typical but sheltered teen as she goes through so many stages of loss, grief, and other emotions all on her own. Of course, she changes over the course of the book under the weight of this loss and apocalyptic event, and she uses what talents she has to survive when everyone she knows and loves goes missing. I liked how she went to the local library to research how to do whatever she needed to have done. I liked that the author chose for her to have a hearing impairment, which emphasized how London’s ambient sounds changed so drastically with the removal of human activity.

The action is set in London and the surrounding areas, and I enjoyed the incorporation of recognizable places and things in the story. Even small things like the inclusion of the Oyster card for the turnstiles made this more realistic. Seeing what happens to these known places has its own poignancy.

Because there are no people for E to interact with, the author relies on flashbacks and a series of notes from her fun-loving Uncle Robert to skillfully move the story forward. Animals take on a significant role in E’s new reality. As I read, I couldn’t help but compare what was going on with E emotionally to how people are reacting to the current COVID-19 safeguards, many of whom have found themselves in isolated circumstances, or at least with much-reduced contact with friends, family, or coworkers. As E mentions in the book, her ability to deal with her total lack of others may have been her strength, she was singularly prepared to survive this better than anyone she knew due to her isolation from schoolmates as a child with a disability.

I highly recommend E by Fraser Small to readers of young adult post-apocalyptic fiction. It is well-written, easy-to-read, and held my attention until the very last page. Although I didn’t agree with every choice the main character makes, I certainly understood and rooted for her every exciting step of the way. There is a twist to the story, unlike similar stories I’ve read, and it adds to the enormity of the story’s vast unknown.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an ARC from Reedsy Discovery.

See my original review on Reedsy Discovery!

Monday, August 10, 2020

The U.S. Navy’s On-the-Roof Gang: Volume One – Prelude to War by Matt Zullo

The US Navy's On-the-Roof Gang: Volume I - Prelude to WarThe US Navy's On-the-Roof Gang: Volume I - Prelude to War by Matt Zullo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fascinating look at the beginnings of the U.S. Navy’s radio intercept and cryptological program, and the men that made it happen.

The U.S. Navy’s On-the-Roof Gang: Volume One – Prelude to War, is the fictionalized account of the creation and development of naval radio intercept and cryptoanalysis beginning soon after the close of World War I up until the attack on Pearl Harbor. It is an awesomely told story of the actual people, places, and events; the fiction is the recreated dialogue.

The story begins in 1921 with a break-in at the Japanese embassy in New York City and the copying of secret diplomatic documents in an effort to find out what the Imperial Japanese Navy is building up toward in the Pacific. They had already instigated aggressive actions against Chinese on the China mainland, and this was of grave concern to the U.S. The FBI and agents of the U.S. Navy had been able to retrieve the code to decrypt Japanese radio transmissions in this fashion.

Meanwhile, navy radiomen had been picking up radio traffic from unknown sources that did not adhere to International Morse Code. Skilled operators, such as Petty Officer Harry Kidder stationed in the Philippines, were able to copy the “dits” and “dahs” from these unknown sources in between monitoring scheduled navy transmissions. Eventually, these reports and Kidder ended up in Washington, DC, as part of the Navy’s Code and Signal Section – “the Research Desk.”

Recognizing how critical the ability to listen in on the Japanese would be in the war that many felt was brewing, the Navy created a training facility on the roof of the Main Navy Building in the nation’s capital. Led by new instructor now-Chief Harry Kidder, eight Navy and Marine radiomen at a time were put through the school to learn to intercept the katakana code from the Japanese.

This new book by Matt Zullo was a fascinating and well-told story. The characters and events absolutely came alive – no dry-as-dust history lesson here. He skillfully wove together history with anecdotal recollections from the people that lived it and created an engaging and immersive reading experience. In fact, I was immediately ready to jump into the rest of the story in Volume Two!

I found it exciting seeing the creation of this secret, new unit with the mission of intercepting and analyzing the contents of the Japanese messages. I was amazed at the feat these guys accomplished just in being able to copy, report, and then convert to usable information the code they heard over great distances and under pretty rough conditions (both physically and atmospherically.) They were taking the ‘dits and dahs’ of encrypted Japanese and eventually translating it into English. Their personal stories made me feel a real connection to these men. I wanted them to succeed, and they did. But some of the things that happened along the way to a couple of them were heartbreaking.

I felt the frustration of these men as they struggled to gain support from those in Washington, DC and, sometimes, even at the various places they had established listening stations. I was shocked when Henry Stimson, Secretary of State under President Hoover, shut down the joint code-breaking operation of the U.S. Army and the State Department (leaving only the Navy’s group to carry on) saying “Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.”

One thing that made the events and history so much more interesting to me were the details that kept anchoring this story to what the world was like during this time. For example, at this time (the 1920s and 30s), telephones were not in every home or office. Households were still using gaslights as not everyone had been able to afford the transition to electric lights as yet. Aircraft carriers were relatively new ships in the fleet. And Hawaii was a territory, not yet a state.

I appreciated the look inside day-to-day naval operations as well. The author provides a helpful key to abbreviations at the end of the book, but there were also little tidbits of information regarding rank, duties, and duty stations worked into the story, too. I learned that there is a universal compartment-marking scheme, a letter-number designation which will tell you where a particular location is on board ship. Also, a major stumbling block to getting candidates for the intercept school and position had to do with the promotion process. Many of the radiomen did not want to train to intercept the Japanese katakana because it would degrade their abilities and speeds in Morse Code, which was a significant factor in getting promoted. And then, as I progressed through the book, I realized what a logistical nightmare and considerations involved in setting up new intercept or direction-finding stations all around the world could be.

I highly recommend this book to readers of non-fiction, historical fiction, World War II buffs, and ham radio enthusiasts. It was engaging, easy-to-read, and totally engrossing. I loved it!

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

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Friday, August 07, 2020

Night of the Living Well-Read (Bookish Adventures in Witch-Lit, #4) by Rachael Stapleton

Night of the Living Well-Read: A Bohemian Lake Cozy Mystery (Bookish Adventures in Witch-Lit Book 4)Night of the Living Well-Read: A Bohemian Lake Cozy Mystery by Rachael Stapleton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The witchy book club from Bohemian Lake is off again on its next Gas Lamp Literary Tour, and they find themselves ensconced in a castle in the mountains of Romania. The book they’re reading? Bram Stoker's Dracula, of course! The remaining members of the book club are all back with Nelle Story leading the troop and Sera Popescu, her assistant, providing the on-the-ground support as usual. This trip, however, Sera is not wholly on her own. Her relationship with hunky ghost whisperer, Daemon Wraith, has progressed nicely since the trip to Europe, and he is along as back up.

The castle and its owner, Vladimir Elder, are all the group could ask for as far as atmosphere and hospitality. Nelle’s niece, Gabriela (Rhiannon’s sister), who lives on-site, has made arrangements with the resident Sanguinarine nest (a group of humans who crave and consume blood) for the group to observe one of their initiation ceremonies. But when someone tries to kill Vlad, the head of the nest, during the service, Sera begins her search for answers.

Sadly, Night of the Living Well-Read is the final book in the Bohemian Lake spin-off series, Bookish Adventures in Witch-Lit, but it proved to be an exciting and spectacular send-off! There have been so many secrets kept and uncovered during this entire storyline, but I believe author Rachael Stapleton has tied up all the loose ends in grand style. If you’ve enjoyed this spin-off series or the Bohemian Lake series in general. This is a MUST-READ for all the reveals!

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving a free copy.

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Thursday, August 06, 2020

Better the Devil You Know (Avon Calling!, #16) by Hayley Camille

Better the Devil You Know (Avon Calling! #16)Better the Devil You Know by Hayley Camille
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With husband George only home for a short leave and his memories of the night in the basement of the orphanage slowly returning, Betty must decide whether or not to tell him the truth about herself and what really happened that night. But will the truth destroy her marriage? Then, she receives the word that The Tin Man, the shadowy figure behind The Boudoir Butcher, is looking for a new girl for his next assassination. She and her old friend, NYPD Sergeant Jacob Lawrence, head out to finally meet this deadly killer and take him down.

Everyone's favorite Avon Lady, Mrs. Betty Jones, is back, and this episode draws together a couple of plots from the previous stories. Betty is caught between a rock and a hard place on several fronts, and this story is particularly gripping because of the various moral dilemmas coming to a head: what to tell George, what to do about daughter Nancy and her growing rebelliousness and desire to expand her burgeoning skills, and whether or not to play ball with Donald Pinzolo. The author maintains a firm grip on the continuity of this long-running series, and the sights and sounds of WWII New York still come on strong. Peppered throughout, as in previous episodes, are little tidbits of the culture and cant of the time that makes this series so vivid and unique.

I highly recommend this latest installment in the Avon Calling! series to those keeping pace with the story. To readers not familiar with the series, I recommend it in its entirety starting at the beginning. You won’t be sorry.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving a free copy.

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Monday, July 27, 2020

Hero Bear: Small Town Romance (Fate Valley Mysteries, #1) by Scarlett Grove

Hero Bear (Fate Valley Mysteries, #1)Hero Bear by Scarlett Grove
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Grizzly bear shifter Sunshine Blackthorn arrived in Fate Valley, Missouri, before Christmas to be the maid of honor at the wedding of her good friend from school, Melody Banks. Like Sunshine, Melody is also a shifter, a cougar, and she had discovered her fated mate, a rare shifter-human match, through the matching program, The first order of business is for a memorable bachelorette party, and after a fun night of dancing and not a few drinks, Melody and the other bridesmaids talk Sunshine into signing up on the site to find her own match.

Former Marine, Harrison Cole, came to Fate Valley after his enlistment was complete to work as a firefighter. But after a close call at a fire, he begins to think that maybe there should be more to his life than just service to the community. Also a grizzly bear shifter, he, too, signs up to see if can give him a hand in finding his fated mate.

The day of the wedding is gorgeous, but during the ceremony, a fire suspiciously breaks out in the Fate Rock Chapel. Rather than letting it ruin the whole event, though, the wedding is quickly moved to the wine cellar adjacent to the chapel where the reception was to be held. Harrison is one of the responding firefighters, and he and Sunshine are drawn to each other by their grizzly bear instincts over the surrounding chaos. Their realization that they are fated mates in seconded when the program matches them up as well. They immediately work to getting to know each other better while they search for the chapel arsonist among the wedding guests, not all of whom are precisely ecstatic about the human groom wedding the shifter bride.

Hero Bear has a nice mystery and investigation going on, but the focus of the story is really the romance of the two grizzly shifters getting together. This is apparently a spin-off story from an earlier series, and although it can be read on its own, I have the feeling it would have been more enjoyable if I’d read the previous series beforehand. There were a few references and cameo appearances from characters from these books. Alert: the book does contain explicit sex scenes.

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Friday, July 24, 2020

From Beer to Eternity (Chloe Jackson, Sea Glass Saloon Mystery, #1) by Sherry Harris

From Beer to Eternity (Chloe Jackson, Sea Glass Saloon Mystery #1)From Beer to Eternity by Sherry Harris
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A smart children’s librarian solves this cozy mystery set in paradise!

Before Chloe Jackson’s best friend, Boone, deployed to Afghanistan, he had her promise him that should anything happen to him; she would take care of his grandmother, Vivi. He added the stipulation that she couldn’t tell his grandmother that this was his final wish. So when a sniper’s bullet took his life, Chloe took a leave of absence from her job as a children’s librarian in Chicago, loaded up a few things in her hand-me-down VW beetle, and headed to Emerald Cove, Florida, to keep her promise.

Chloe’s expectation of caring for a sweet, little, gray-haired lady quickly evaporated when she met the actual Vivi who turned out to be the vibrant, independent, feisty, 70-something-year-old, hell-on-heels owner of the Sea Glass Saloon right there on the beach of the Gulf of Mexico. Grandma Vivi certainly didn’t seem to need, and definitely didn’t want any help from Chloe, and in fact, appeared to dislike her on sight! But Chloe persevered and starts waitressing at the bar to help Vivi and her one employee, Joaquin, out, all the while sleeping in her car or aboard Boone’s tiny boat moored at the nearby marina and hunting for a needle in a haystack: an affordable rental at the height of tourist season.

Just as Chloe is getting this waitressing thing down, she discovers the body of one of their regular patrons out back by the dumpster with one of the bar knives stuck in his throat. And when suspicion falls immediately on Vivi and, seemingly, no one else, Chloe begins to question all the suspects that the police are overlooking. She knows she’s on to something when she’s almost run off a bridge one night, and then someone tries to set fire to Boone’s cottage where she ends up staying. But, even though she wants to pack up and return to Chicago, she believes a promise is a promise and becomes more determined than ever to clear Vivi’s name and find the real killer.

From Beer to Eternity is the first book in the new series, Chloe Jackson, Sea Glass Saloon, by author Sherry Harris. While dealing with issues of grief and loss, it is still a fun and exciting start to the series. Chloe is so likable! She’s smart and kind and is quite a sympathetic character as she goes through quite a lot making good on her promise to her best friend (and that’s before she finds the dead body!) I enjoyed the ways she used her skills as a children’s librarian to gain her footing in the unfamiliar bar setting and her comparison of toddlers at the library and the bar patrons. I was ready to sign up for either a course in library science or bartending!

Because she was a total stranger to the community (like a reader is), her investigations really begin at ground zero, and I liked that. We were both discovering clues at the same pace. She had to ferret out all the hidden history in Emerald Cove herself. And speaking of Emerald Cove, I wanted to make a reservation for a vacation there; it sounds ideal.

All in all, the mystery was logical and plausible with bad guys we immediately knew were up to no good and secret villain lurking behind the scenes and a façade of gracious kindness and a smile for Chloe to uncover in the nick of time. I highly recommend this book to cozy mystery readers and those that like the beachy-bar setting in a paradise of a vacation spot, and those that enjoy a smart librarian as the protagonist.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving a free copy. #FromBeertoEternity #NetGalley

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