Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Dog Town by Debbie L. Richardson

Dog TownDog Town by Debbie L Richardson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Harry, a small brown dog of indeterminate breeding, lives in Little Rover, the small-dogs-only section of Dog Town, with his best friends, Junior, a beagle, and Fleabag, a Chihuahua. He’s a good boy that loves to run and, mostly, obeys the Dog Law. Mostly. Because each time Harry wins a race around Little Rover, he leads an excursion of small dogs into the forbidden territory of the large dogs, Big Rover.

One night on one such tour, Harry and his doggo tourists are surprised by the appearance of the leader of the large dogs, Grizzly, a Doberman pinscher, and his two hench-dogs, Chains and Diesel. The small dogs escape except for Harry who gets left behind, knocked unconscious, behind a large, blue dumpster. Unbeknownst to Grizzly and his pals, when Harry comes to, he realizes the big large dogs are searching for something, and it’s not him. As Harry creeps away, he discovers a hidden underground passage, a stormwater drainage pipe that leads him to a most amazing place: Cat World.

In Harry’s town, there are no cats; they have been extinct for as long as Harry can remember. It is only in dreams that Harry has ever seen a cat, or so he thought. But there in Cat World were all sorts of the creatures: playing, laughing, singing, even watching TV on a comfy sofa. Stealthily, Harry finds his out and back home to Little Rover where he now has a dilemma. If he tells the dogs of Dog Town about Cat World, Grizzly and his gang will destroy the place and harm the cats which Harry doesn’t want to happen. But the cats are hiding an awful secret. Inside their hidden world is a big, horrendous statue of a cat and it is made out of puppy teeth!

Author Debbie L. Richardson has created a fun world of dogs and cats long separated due to an argument among the best of friends – the worst kind of argument you can have! With fun, distinctive characters, readers young and old will enjoy watching them work out their differences. The races incorporated into the story are exciting and the big dogs and night-time settings provide the right amount of menace for thrills. There are doggy puns woven in every now and then that will have readers smiling as will the fun and appropriately doggo names of the streets in the town: Chew Toy Lane, Good Girl Avenue, Fat Belly Road, and the like.

I highly recommend this book, especially for middle-grade readers, and it would be perfect as a school or family read-aloud selection. The writing is so clear and descriptive you can easily see the action, colors, and characters in your mind’s eye. It would make a wonderful film!

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving a free copy.

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Monday, March 30, 2020

Hot Ash and the Oasis Defect by Philip Wyeth

Hot Ash and the Oasis DefectHot Ash and the Oasis Defect by Philip Wyeth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not at all what I expected: Hot Ash and the Oasis Defect by Philip Wyeth is also a good mystery.

The year is 2045, and it is almost two decades since society flipped on itself. The 2020s saw the rise of the empowerment of women, and in the elapsed time, the world has become a feminist-forward stronghold with men relegated to second-class status. Detective Ashley Westgard of the Jacksonville, Florida, Police Corps is at the apex of her physical prowess, her career is flourishing and on the rise.

After a night on the town with her gal pals, Ash is summoned to the scene of the annual Cheri Chat (being held this year in Jacksonville), a conference of the high-powered movers and shakers encompassing the female-led world of the day, where one of the original “Essential Planners” has been brutally murdered. As she and her partner, Detective Theodore “Ted” Gillard, one of the last men actively working in this field, gather evidence and launch an investigation, she is called to another crime scene – a nearby convenience store robbery-gone-bad where the store owner has shot and killed the would-be perpetrator. Talking with the deceased thief’s (Dayve’s) companions, two young male orphans known as “runts,” she hears that this act was completely out of character for Dayve, a shock and tragic surprise to his two friends. They believe his bizarre behavior is a direct result of his ingesting a new “tasty” he got that evening from his pill supplier.

Uncharacteristically for Ash, she immediately takes a very personal interest in one of the friends, a runt gamer named Vernon, and they end up spending a surprisingly satisfying night together. More amazing to her is the fact that she begins to have feelings about Vernon that are quite unlike those she’s experienced in her past relationships. Together, these two unlikely people team up to get to the bottom of Dayve’s actions and how it is related to the murders of some of the most prominent feminist thinkers of their time.

Although categorized as a Sci-Fi tale and reminiscent of those men’s action-adventure stories from an earlier time, Hot Ash and the Oasis Defect is also a good mystery.

The main character, Ash, begins as a pretty shallow, arrogant creature out for what she wants, no matter who she uses to get it. She’s even quite insensitive and rude with her police partner, Ted, frequently poking at him over his physical limitations (he’s got an artificial leg) and haranguing him about when he’s going to retire. Sooo not a buddy partnership.

Her thoughts and thought patterns are not like any woman’s I’ve ever known BUT the author is depicting an alternate future where women are the power gender (and have been, at the time of the story, for a couple of decades) so who knows for certain what this altered environment might produce in the population. I don’t think any men I’ve known, in real life, thought this way either but what do I know. I felt the author was trying to create an extreme on purpose, a vast contrast, maybe to provide for a greater change in attitude for the character to have later in the story.

There is a lot of “horn-dogging” on her part and that of her friends at the beginning of the book. There is a meaninglessness to Ash’s sexual relationships, past and present, but as the book progresses she is cognizant of her dissatisfaction and knows that something inside her is changing. She realizes she’s living recklessly, without meaning, drinking too much, doing pills, and going through sexual partners like issues. The focus of the book eventually narrows to solving the murders though and Ash experiences some surprising changes (to her) in her thoughts and behavior, especially toward the witness and a male gamer, Vernon.

The book is well-written making it easy and enjoyable to read. It’s a real page-turner with a future society that seemed plausible with an increase in the use of advanced AIs and things called Worker-Factory-Mechanics which have eerily embedded themselves into every aspect of life and that may pose a problem in future stories.

Although I was initially turned off by the character, Ash, I wanted to see her solve the murders and be absolutely right about her theories by the end of the book. (We really don’t find out about her theories though leaving room for sequels, I hope.) I really liked "the runts," Vernon, in particular, and her partner, Detective Gillard, and wanted a better situation to come about for all of them. Just another reason to hope there are more books in the future continuing this story.

I recommend this book for readers that like a futuristic mystery in a society that is very different from our present. There are sexual themes and scenes (male-female, female-female) throughout so this is not a book for some readers or younger ones. I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from Reedsy Discovery.

See my original review on Reedsy Discovery!

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Murder in the Catacombs (A Bohemian Lake Cozy Mystery, #15, Penning Trouble, #4) by Rachael Stapleton and DeAnn Howe

Murder in the Catacombs (A Penning Trouble Mystery, #4)Murder in the Catacombs by Rachael Stapleton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Penny Trubble wins an all-expenses-paid trip to Paris for herself and a group of friends, the gang from Bohemian Lake packs up and sets off on a private jet to be wined and dined in luxury. Naturally, all is not what it seems, and soon after arriving in the City of Lights, Penny is separated from the rest of her group while sightseeing, abducted, and dragged down into the Paris underground: the catacombs.

There she meets the wealthy Simone Lantz, the person behind the trip, who wants to retain Penny’s investigative services to locate her missing granddaughter. Simone fears that Michaela is being held against her will until her grandmother agrees to bankroll her son-in-law’s local occultist group trying to find their way to the lost city of Agartha, supposedly located deep within the core of the Earth. Reluctantly, Penny agrees to help because one of the people involved in this ‘Hollow Earth’ group is none other than the man that stole a valuable coin and family heirloom from the Vianus back in Bohemian Lake, Jocelyn Godwin.

Returned to her friends, the first stop that evening is a fashion show being held by Blanche and Sascha Saunier, Michaela's mother and father, and Penny plans to do a little snooping. However, she spots Godwin and before she can formulate a plan to figure out why he’s involved, Simone is shot and Eve is the most likely suspect. They hotfoot Eve away from the show and return to their hotel only to find that their rooms have been searched. The friends pack up their belongings at the hotel, just steps ahead of the police, and Maurice, Simone’s assistant, relocates them to a safer, guest house that Simone owns.

Compounding things, Sera Popescu and her coworker, Hans Dressler, who are supposed to be in Paris as well have gone missing. Now Penny and the group must not only find Michaela, but rescue Sera and Hans, and now Simone has disappeared, too.

Murder in the Catacombs follows closely on the heels of the previously published book in the series, Hyde & Seek, and nicely wraps up some of the details of the adventures begun in the Bookish Adventures in Witch-Lit thread. As with all the Bohemian Lake Cozy Mystery books, the action is non-stop and the dialogue is snappy. Many of the characters that give the series its unique charm are featured in this one and we get to see a little more of the various couples’ relationships: Penny and Cody, Mallory and Kaden, and last but not least, Eve Banter and Ren Trubble (Penny’s father.) Although this is Penny Trubble’s story, Eve Banter plays a major role and her current beau, Ren, is a delightful foil to her craziness. This book wraps up one of the mysteries from the Bohemian Murder Manor storyline and is the final Penning Trouble book.

Because the storylines are heavily entwined, the Bohemian Lake Cozy Mysteries are not standalone books and should be read in order beginning with the first book. However, they are quick, easy reads, each interesting and fun and well worth the time to catch up.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving a free copy.

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Thursday, March 26, 2020

Time Rep by Peter Ward

Time RepTime Rep by Peter Ward
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When out of work paperboy and slacker, Geoffrey Stamp, is hired as a holiday rep for a tour company, he expected exotic locations. What he got was the time of his life … literally.

When Geoffrey Stamp lost his job as a paper boy (the only job he’s ever held), one of the customers on his route offered him a place to stay and that’s where he’s been ever since – playing computer games and just vegging out. The roommate, Tim, never got all up in his business, never seemed to get too worked up over the cleaning up or Geoff’s failure to pay rent in the past two years, his lack of ambition or personal hygiene. Geoff had the total slacker life, and he was content to let time go by, occasionally wishing he had the nerve to ask out Zoë the mail carrier, but for the most part, just chillin’ on the couch in Tim’s front room.

One day, Tim talked Geoff into applying for a job he’d seen advertised in the newspaper as a “holiday rep” for a tour company, and Geoff’s ideal life took a decided left turn. Hired on the spot, Geoff finds out that the holidays he would be arranging were for tourists from the future who were time-traveling to visit the twenty-first century, and the reason that Geoff, with no prior experience or desire to accept the job, was snapped up is because his existence, in the grand scheme of life and the future, was totally insignificant. Apparently, Geoff’s existence was so insignificant that having him take on the job and interacting with people from the future would not impact and change the future in any way.

Well, except for that one seagull at the end of time that ends up looking right instead of left …

I was absolutely charmed by the book, Time Rep, by Peter Ward. It is reminiscent of the Douglas Adams Hitchhiker’s Guide series, but updated. The lead character, Geoffrey Stamp, is the epitome of a modern-day slacker but, eventually, we discover there are hidden depths. His inner dialogues are continuous and funny, and helped to reveal his growth from slacker to capable hero material. Roommate Tim, who turns out to be a recruiter for Time Tour, Inc., the time-travel travel company, is a wonderful straight man throughout. I found myself rooting for both his safety and his sanity.

Along with the “smack-in-the-face-you’re-totally-insignificant” storyline, the major plot of the book involves someone in the tour company working to change the past so an alien race hiding in plain sight on Earth can destroy the human race. There are a number of suitable candidates in the company to choose from which makes for a good mystery as our heroes struggle to stop the traitor. (I so didn’t want for it to be Tim!)

I really enjoyed the depiction of London and life in the future, and the concept of the time-travel tour company with Time Reps (tour guides from the actual period being visited.) There was quite a bit of silliness with that.

The book was entertaining from start to finish (and I was delighted to see that it is the first book in a trilogy!) I literally laughed out loud over dialogue. The book is fast-paced and the action is constant. There are unexpected “left turns” all along the way to the final page. And Ward’s handling of the problems of the past changing the future was fun. I look forward to reading more.

I highly recommend this book to readers that enjoy humorous SciFi/Fantasy, tales of time travel, and the aforementioned Hitchhiker’s Guide. I stayed up reading this way later than advisable; it was that entertaining.

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

See my original review on Reedsy Discovery!

Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Last Alive – H. L. Wampler

The Last AliveThe Last Alive by H.L. Wampler
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A young woman’s twin sister is infected with a mysterious and virulent virus from either a needle-stick at her job as a research lab associate or a bug bite while on a family camping trip. She dies in a hospital within 48 hours, in agony, but almost immediately reanimates as a mindless, flesh-eating zombie. She bites her nurse who quickly dies and comes back biting and infecting everyone in the hospital ER setting off an epic a chain-reaction. The healthy twin, a local police detective, along with one of the ER docs escapes the hospital but it is too late to contain the virus.

Jump ahead either four or five years and the world has been devastated by the virus. The few survivors cluster together in fortified cities reachable only by river routes as the land is overrun with the undead and marauding bands of outlaws that kill and destroy those from the cities. Our heroine, Emma, and her doctor friend, Nathan, have gathered up her family and friends and they all get by in the fortified city that once was Pittsburgh. When Nathan suddenly goes missing, Emma, who is now the police chief, figures out he’s returned to the hospital to re-stock his medical supplies. So Emma, her best friend, Meaghan, and the city’s Rescue & Search Team go outside the city fortifications to retrieve his irresponsible self.

What do I say about this book? I really enjoy post-apocalyptic stories, zombie stories in particular, and I did enjoy this one. HOWEVER, this was one of the toughest reading experiences I’ve had in a long time because of a lack of decent editing. It appears the author must have reconsidered the plot between draft and final edition but didn’t get catch all the mentions of the earlier premise and make the change. The book begins with a needle-stick being the cause of the virus but only pages in the origin becomes a bug bite. In one scenario, Emma and her sister, Becca, are 25 years old twins but later in the book they were only 20 years old when Becca dies and becomes a zombie. Chapters alternate between present time and the time of the outbreak, sometimes it is five years earlier, other times only four. Often it is unclear who dialogue is attributed to, and it may have changed which characters were delivering a segment of dialogue over time because there are references to male characters as her or she and female characters as him or he.

Grammar issues abound.

Logic issues pop up often. Yeah, this is a zombie story so you may wonder “What logic? It’s fiction!” But I’m talking about basic issues with the way things actually work that don’t make sense.

In short, this book is a mess BUT it still has a ton of potential as a really fun, exciting read! The author needs to pull it back out and do the grunt work of re-reading and editing. Maybe hire a professional editor or proofreader at the very least. It is all fixable and this story is so worth the effort! But, until it is, I cannot recommend this book to anyone.

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Hyde & Seek: A Bohemian Lake Cozy Mystery (Bookish Adventures in Witch-Lit, #2) by Rachael Stapleton and DeAnn Howe

Hyde & Seek (Bohemian Lake Cozy Mystery / Bookish Adventures in Witch-Lit Book 2)Hyde & Seek by Rachael Stapleton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

On their second Gas Lamp Literary Tour, Sera Popescu and the rest of the Bohemian Lake book club members are touring Edinburgh, Scotland, and learning about Robert Lewis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. With tour director, Nelle Story, in London preparing the way for part two of the tour, Sera and her fellow bookstore staffer, Hansen Dressler, accompany the group to the various relevant sites (i.e., museums, spooky after-hours haunted cemeteries.) However, when one of the participants, Daniel Brodey, is discovered hanging from a tree during one of the cemetery tours, an apparent suicide, and another goes missing, Sera begins to suspect the witch hunter organization that plagued them during their previous tour is back. When the attacks against the group continue in London, Dr. Gretchen Dressler (Hansen’s sister) begins to act more erratically than ever, and Nelle Story seems to have secrets of her own to hide as well, Sera starts to look at the project materials Nelle has regarding her investigation of the Jack the Ripper case for possible connections.

This second outing for Sera, Hansen, and the book club from Bohemian Lake was every bit as dark as the previous one with quite a few deaths and some adult themes as well. It still tracks a well-known literary tale: this time a double dose. The authors did a good job of matching up aspects of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde theme and creating a very interesting plotline dealing with Nelle’s ongoing research in the mystery of Jack the Ripper. We have another trip with characters from book one and learn more about them all. We also get a fun, virtual tour through Edinburgh and London, courtesy of Gas Lamp Literary Tours, which really sets the scene in both history-laden cities.

I recommend this book to cozy mystery readers that don’t mind a little witchy magic in their stores and those that like a literary link. It is best to read the first book in this trilogy before jumping in here on book two, if not the entire Bohemian Lake series. They are very good, each one, and I highly recommend those as well.

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Friday, March 06, 2020

Landing by Moonlight (Spy Sisters, #1) by Ciji Ware

Landing by Moonlight: A Novel of WW IILanding by Moonlight: A Novel of WW II by Ciji Ware
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the early days of WWII, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Washington, D.C. mining heiress, Catherine Farnsworth Cahill Thornton, is in a loveless marriage to a British diplomat posted far out of sight to the embassy in Chile. She joins the US war effort supporting our Allies in Europe by successfully stealing, copying, and returning undetected the French naval codebooks from the embassy of the Nazi-puppet Vichy French government. Assisting her is French diplomat Henri Charles Leblanc, the press attaché at the embassy.

When the French delegation is ultimately ordered out of the country, Catherine and Henri are both recruited for Churchill’s newly-formed spy operation, the SOE, the British Special Operations Executive. Separated, they are trained in spy craft at various secret schools established in the English countryside and eventually sent to secret undercover positions in Nazi-occupied France.

Inserted into hidden networks supporting the French Resistance, Henri in Paris and Catherine on the Mediterranean coast, the Cote d’Azur, both work to disrupt Nazi war operations, provide the members of the resistance with weapons, information, and other supplies, and help to spirit out downed aviators and their fellow secret agents as needed. With D-Day approaching, all this is accomplished under the very noses of the Nazis and the dreaded SS.

Author Ciji Ware has crafted a well-researched and thrilling historical fiction novel of WWII. Landing by Moonlight has the kind of characters that grow on you and become people that you worry about chapter after chapter. And worry I did! This story focuses on a piece of WWII history not really familiar to me. I’ve read some about the undercover men and women working right under the noses of the Nazis but they were always secondary characters to the hero or heroine. Here, they are front and center.

This story immerses you in the constant danger they had to have been under at all times and made for a tense, and exhilarating, reading experience. The mantra, “Trust no one,” was really brought home for me. Not even knowing who among your old friends and acquaintances were working for the Nazis, maybe just to get food for their children, was terrifying.

Besides the constant threat of exposure, the characters are out in the field accomplishing the big tasks that helped turn the tide of war in favor of the Allies – tasks that someone really had to do – exhilarating when successful and exhilarating when it was over. Characters need to blow off a little steam and relieve the pent-up tension so there are sexual relationships and well-written scenes of a sexual nature.

Another aspect of this book I enjoyed were the various settings. The characters move around from location to location and each time this author made me see and feel the time and the place. My favorite had to be the setting in the south of France. I could almost feel the sun, see the old boats, and taste the ‘new’ red wines.

I recommend this book to historical fiction readers, especially those that want a pretty immersive tale. This one so very well done.

I received a copy of the title from the publisher for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.

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