Thursday, February 27, 2020

Snowflakes and Sleigh Bells (Avon Calling! Season 2, Episode 15) by Hayley Camille

Snowflakes and Sleigh Bells (Avon Calling! #15)Snowflakes and Sleigh Bells by Hayley Camille
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With the Pinzola trial in full swing and Christmas fast approaching, Betty and Jacob continue to follow any lead they have as to the identity of The Boudoir Butcher, finally, getting an angle on Tilly’s whereabouts. But on the home front, Betty is dealing with daughter, Nancy’s, growing restlessness while worrying that her long-distance relationship with husband, George, is deteriorating as his memory of what happened in the basement of the orphanage returns.

Although this is episode 15 in the Avon Calling! series by Hayley Camille, the author still has plenty of surprises in store. Her description of the time and place makes the WWII New York City-setting a character in itself. I am continually amazed at the little nuggets of history and culture that the author’s research has uncovered that she weaves into the story. I also like the fact that Betty is not just a flash-bang superhero; she’s got emotions and vulnerabilities that every mother and wife has.

Snowflakes and Sleigh Bells is not a standalone story. If you haven’t read the previous episodes in Betty’s story, start now, at the beginning. They are so worth it! For those readers that are already up-to-date, this latest entry feels like a long-overdue welcome back. As always, I can’t wait for the next installment.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving a free copy.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Microphones and Murder (A Podcasting Sisters Mystery, #1) by Erin Huss

Microphones and Murder (A Podcasting Sisters Mystery Book 1)Microphones and Murder by Erin Huss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Liv Olsen was working on the number one true-crime podcast program in the nation, Cold in America, when she learned about the 10-year-old missing person’s case of Amelia “Millie” Clark. Based on this case, she pitched the idea of a new podcast, Missing or Murdered, to her Cold in America boss who not only turned her down flat but added insult to injury by scoffing at the idea of Liv as the host. With hurt pride and feelings, Liv quits her job and goes all-in to bring her dream to fruition, taking her younger step-sister, Camry Lewis, along as her assistant.

Camry has relatives in Santa Maria, where Amelia Clark had lived, and she sets up a home base for their investigation and interviews at her Great Aunt Hazel’s home which eases the strain on Liv’s minuscule operating budget and delights Aunt Hazel. Her life had been quiet since her husband passed away and as she learns more about the girls’ project she enlists the help of her grandson, Oliver Lewis, who is a successful YouTuber with over 5 million subscribers to his channel.

Together, the four start looking into Amelia’s disappearance with their first step being to interview the original detective on the case. Now retired, he is anxious to see that his only open case is resolved. When one clue after another results in dead ends and Amelia’s father changes his mind about the podcast reinvigorating interest in his daughter’s disappearance, Liv worries that the podcast she has staked everything on is going down in flames.

Microphones and Murder is the first book in the new A Podcasting Sisters Mystery series by seasoned author Erin Huss. The premise of the true-crime podcast is timely and exciting, and her characters are engaging. The story is told in first-person, from Liv’s perspective, and her inner voice is witty, fun, and entertaining. I liked that Liv’s character, although competent and confident, also has a very real vulnerability as she second guesses her decision to go out on her own and follow her dream. Step-sister Camry is young, flirty, and sassy, with her own vulnerabilities as well. I felt the mystery was sound and Liv’s investigation made sense. I’ll definitely be reading more of this author’s work. I recommend this book to cozy mystery readers that like young, savvy, female protagonists.

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Friday, February 21, 2020

Lullabies for Suffering (Tales of Addiction Horror) – Mark Matthews, ed., Kealan Patrick Burke, Caroline Kepnes, Mark Matthews, John FD Taff, Gabino Iglesias, Mercedes M. Yardley

Lullabies for Suffering: Tales of Addiction HorrorLullabies for Suffering: Tales of Addiction Horror by Caroline Kepnes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lullabies for Suffering is a dynamite collection of six novellas or novelettes tied together by the central theme of addiction, more specifically, addiction horror. Some are drug addictions, another an addiction to pain, but each one is a deep, dark, maddeningly glittering gem of a tale.

Each entry is compelling reading; I couldn’t look away. Each is terrifying in what happens and is so very, very real. (I started hearing every creak and snap and pop of the house while I was reading Gabino Iglesias’ Beyond the Reef.) I don’t feel a 5-star rating for many books and never for a collection before (there’s always a weak sister or two) but this was a solid from the first word. I’m already looking for more from these authors, their backlists, which sounds a lot like the beginning of … an addiction.

I highly recommend this to horror fans and even general fiction readers that enjoy the dark underside of the human experience.

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Saturday, February 15, 2020

The Murderous Macaron: A Provence Cozy Mystery (Julie Cavallo Investigates, #1) by Ana T. Drew

The Murderous Macaron (Julie Cavallo Investigates Book 1)The Murderous Macaron by Ana T. Drew
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Julie Cavallo returns to her hometown of Beldoc in the Provence region of France, to open her own patisserie, Julie’s Gluten-Free Delights, and get a fresh start after her recent, and sudden, divorce. Business has been slow to build up but Julie is optimistic that her planned marketing events will get the word out: free Wi-Fi, free samples during the upcoming lavender trade show, and a class on making macarons at the shop. However, when one of her students drops dead in the first macaron class, the effect on her business is anything but positive.

Then when a friend of the deceased comes to the shop, Julie gets a “vision” that Maurice was being poisoned rather than experiencing a heart attack, she asks the local officer handling the death to look deeper. When the gendarmerie goes ahead and closes the case anyway, she decides to investigate the murder herself and prove that the shop was is no way responsible.

This first in a new series by author Ana T. Drew is a solid mystery with great characters in a small town setting. It is set in France but other than a few French terms and phrases, it really could have been any small town, not a lot of flavor, but not a detractor at all.

Julie has three sisters and is a twin to one, Catherine. “Cat” is mentioned regularly but really doesn’t make much of an appearance; the girls are estranged over the existence of their psychic abilities. (Cat makes her living using her skill while Julie has hidden it from everyone her entire life, and Julie is uncomfortable with Cat’s making this ability public.) But other than the intermittent psychic “snapshots” she gets, Julie seems to be a pretty normal woman working through some past traumas. I liked her curiosity and willingness to go ask questions of anyone involved in the deceased man’s life and then doubting and re-thinking her choices. She’s confident enough to approach her hostile next door business neighbor, Magda, and to attempt to mend fences she doesn’t even know she broke.

Other characters of note include Julie’s grandmother, Rose Tassy, a youthful and sassy survivor of the 60s who teaches “doga” classes and knows everyone in town. Also, the local notary, Maître Serge Guichard, a nice older man who is attracted to Rose. And then there is the potential love interest for Julie, Capitaine Gabriel Adinian with the Beldoc gendarmerie.

On the other hand, there are a number of characters introduced in this first book that don’t get completely into this story but are perhaps being set up for the future such as Denis Noble, a former junior-high-level classmate of Julie’s that is trying really hard to interest her romantically. But even Julie doesn’t know much about Denis and we were both left wondering what his true motives are in showing up now. Another interesting character is Julie’s sous chef, Eric Dol. He’s funny, sweet, sometimes a little awkward, and has his own tragic past.

In all, I liked one enough to give it 3 stars out of 5 for a “Good” rating, and to put it on my list to look for more books in the series in the future. I would recommend this book to cozy mystery readers, especially those that enjoy culinary settings.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving a free copy.

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Thursday, February 13, 2020

Flask of the Drunken Master (Shinobi Mystery, #3) by Susan Spann

Flask of the Drunken Master (Shinobi Mystery, #3)Flask of the Drunken Master by Susan Spann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It is August of 1565, and the capital city of Kyoto is in the temporary “protection” of the feared samurai, Matsunaga Hisehide, since the seppuku of Ashikaga, the last official shogun. The city is under a veritable lockdown and everyone entering is viewed as a possible spy including Hattori Hiro and his charge, Jesuit priest, Father Mateo Ávila de Santos.

One morning in the city while purchasing noodles for breakfast, Hiro and Father Mateo see their friend, Ginjiro the brewer, being arrested and hauled off by the yoriki, for the murder of Chikao, a brewer from a poorer part of the city. The two had been heard arguing the night before, and the victim’s body was found outside Ginjiro’s home and place of business with the remnants of one of Ginjiro’s custom saké bottles at hand. The victim’s son apparently owed the accused a considerable amount of money and Ginjiro had refused to advance Chikao any further credit. Ginjiro asserts his innocence and his daughter, Tomiko, begs Hiro and Father Mateo to find the real killer and save her father from certain death at the hand of the executioner.

Author Susan Spann has again crafted a compelling murder mystery against the complex background of 16th century Kyoto, Japan. It is a very robust historical tale as, along with the murder investigation, there is the continuing story of the fall of the Ashikaga clan, the impending approach of the fierce warlord, Oda Nobunaga, and the arrival of the Portuguese and Jesuits in Japan. The relationship between Hiro and Father Mateo is great fun to observe as their two cultures and basic natures try to work together and get along as is the side story of Akechi Yoshiko, the female samurai who may have her eye on Hiro for romantic reasons. Additionally, another fun and interesting side story involves Hiro’s pet cat, Gato. The story explains that cats were not considered pets by the Japanese at this time in the past so having a cat in the house is a new experience for the tough, manly Hiro.

This is the third entry in the Shinobi Mystery series which currently numbers at seven total. Flask of the Drunken Master could be read alone but I highly recommend starting at the first in the series because they are just that good and worth looking for. I recommend this series to historical mystery fans especially those with an affinity for stories set in old Japan.

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Minor Mage, a novella by T. Kingfisher

Minor MageMinor Mage by T. Kingfisher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Up until now, 12-year-old Oliver has lived a fairly peaceful, if not exactly normal, life with his mother, a retired mercenary, in the quaint village of Loosestrife. But as the village’s wizard when Loosestrife experiences a prolonged drought, the villagers expect him to do something about it. However, even though he is the village mage, he is still very young and still trying to figure out magic spells. He had been apprenticed to the village’s previous wizard and although the man was very kind, he was also very old and passed away before fully completing Oliver’s training.

With his mother away visiting his older sister and new baby and armed with the three spells he’s mastered, Oliver and his faithful familiar, an armadillo named Eglamarck, set out for the distant Rainblade Mountains to find the rumored keepers of rain, the mysterious Cloud Herders, and to save his village.

Minor Mage is a great story with genuinely likeable characters, witty dialogue, lots of action, exciting obstacles to overcome, and bad guys to foil. I read this one is one sitting and loved it. The story is suitable for both adult and juvenile audiences, and may be one that would keep even the most reluctant reader coming back and turning pages. (There are short, easily completed chapters, too.) I highly recommend this book for readers that enjoy fantasy quest stories and tales of magic-infused journeys, child or adult.

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Saturday, February 08, 2020

The Key of Atrea by Nicholas Marson

The Key of AstreaThe Key of Astrea by Nicholas Marson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jenny Tripper is barely keeping it together: an outsider at school, a ghost only she can see a constant companion, her 17th birthday coming up, and her mother, at the end stages of cancer, has come home for her final days. Living with her Aunt Bea, her mom’s sister, Jenny helps with expenses by reading tarot cards in her aunt’s shop, with the bleak expectation that she will take over the meager living when her aunt passes away. On her birthday, she receives a strange and mysterious puzzle box from her only friend, Michael, but before she can realize its solution her mother dies and she puts it away. Returning to it days later, she finds herself in a parallel universe where the mental anomalies she’d experienced back home were now revealed to be gifts: special powers she needs to learn to understand and control in order to save the Selkans, an alien race being hunted and enslaved by the current galactic rulers, the Tyr.

Jack Spriggan is also just barely scraping by. Previously, in his home star system of Balt, Jack had been an accomplished space fighter pilot but when the First Galactic War was over Balt had been required to dismantle their space fleet, and Jack found himself without his career. Now, in his small workshop on Lan Station, he keeps a roof over his head and food on the table by repairing anything mechanical that come his way. When his friend, Hocco, approaches him to make some REAL money piloting his restored Harbinger spacecraft, the Celestial Strider, he is reluctant at best. Jack is committed to staying on the right side of the law and away from the rebels hiding and running from the Tyr, the peacekeepers and victors of the First Galactic War. But the temptation proves too much and off he goes, not realizing that Hocco’s body has actually been possessed by one of the worst of the Tyr, Admiral Vae Victus himself, and the admiral is hot on the trail of the escaped Selkans.

With elements of fantasy and science fiction, adventure and romance, The Key of Astrea is one of the most entertaining stories I’ve read in a long time, keeping me reading way late into the evening. The story is fast-paced covering a lot of ground, literally planets and parallel universes, in a short span of time. A number of great characters populate its pages. Besides Jenny and Jack, there are a host of good guys, bad guys, and those we’re not quite sure of at times, well defined, and used to build a really good, satisfying story.

Besides the excitement, this is also a coming-of-age story for Jenny and some of her fellow recruits at Cabin, Inc., as they come to terms with their special gifts which, back home, had all been seen as handicaps, and as she deals with the loss of her mother and the discovery of a sister she never knew about. There is a teaser or two at the end that, hopefully, open up the possibility for a sequel. I give this one four of five stars and recommend it to readers who enjoy young adult science fiction/fantasy stories.

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

See my original review on Reedsy Discovery!