Thursday, April 30, 2020

Melkor & Purity (Melkor & Purity, #1) by Kim Faulks

Melkor & PurityMelkor & Purity by Kim Faulks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One year, Purity Jane Anderson sent her Christmas wish letter to Satan. She wanted a puppy. Lucifer gave her a hellhound.

I found this the first book in the Melkor & Purity series to be very entertaining, smart, and creative. Although presenting a vision of Hell similar to that described by Dante, we meet a Lucifer he certainly never envisioned – he almost seems like a pretty decent guy. In fact, the story really begins when he tries to fulfill Purity Jane Anderson’s Christmas wish for a puppy but, as he sees something intriguing in the young girl, he hooks her up with a hellhound of approximately the same age level.

Purity and Melkor grow up together as friends with frequent play dates and I thought the characterizations of the two leads when children very amusing. Purity is a lively, mischievous child, a real handful for her very traditional parents, and Eric is the bratty little brother we all grew up with.

I liked how the author developed their characters as they aged. They expressed the same kind of moodiness, angst, and withdrawal from their families to become independent units pretty much the same as most teens display. Bullied at school for being overweight, Purity has lost some of her earlier sass and is burdened with low self-esteem. And when high school graduation arrives and their friendship has grown to more, both struggle with communicating their desire to leap friendship to love.

But there is more to their story, Purity is fated to become a hunter and Melkor is a hellhound and both are meant to protect, to stand between the horrors of Hell and this world. I look forward to reading more about Purity’s training to take up her destiny and Melkor taking his place in Lucifer’s hierarchy in the next books.

The narrator for the Audible edition of this book is Heather Murdoch with HotGhost Productions and I thought she did a competent job giving voices to the various characters in the story with only a few mispronunciations. I recommend this book to readers that enjoy paranormal, coming-of-age stories.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving a free copy.

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The Piano Teacher (A Magnus Markusson Crime Novel, #1) by Karl Viklund

The Piano Teacher: A Gripping Slow Burning Swedish Crime Novel (Magnus Markusson Series Book 1)The Piano Teacher: A Gripping Slow Burning Swedish Crime Novel by Karl Viklund
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A slow-building, surprise-laden Scandinavian mystery with the smart and quirky Magnus Markusson and his squad of detectives.

Magnus Markusson is the chief superintendent over a good investigative squad in the Varsberg (Sweden) Police Department. He has a horrid, NO experience police commissioner boss breathing down his neck after the body of a local piano teacher is found hanging in the woods. Set up to look like a suicide, forensic evidence and good, common sense shows that Sven Julin, a sweet man apparently loved by all, was murdered; this was no suicide. With few leads to work, the investigation stalls until a year-old cold case with similar circumstances comes to light in another city.

Written in more of a narrative style, it took me a little reading to get in sync with this story, however, once I did, I can easily say this was one of the most entertaining murder mysteries I’ve read in a long while. I did not want to put it down. The author does a fabulous job developing the characters that comprise the members of Magnus’s detective squad. Each, including Magnus himself, has their own interesting backstory that builds throughout the book.

Magnus, clearly on the brink of retirement, still keeps his hand in the active cases but, unlike most detectives you commonly read about, he takes time out of his day for a nap or a book break or an afternoon here and there for gambling or tennis with one of his buddies. It does seem to rejuvenate him and allow him to tackle the big questions in cases, and he is known for getting results. He has a lovely relationship with his wife, Lena, which is (and this is pointed out), unusual in his line of work (and in this genre.) And he loves dogs … adding to his pack at home as he finds a pooch in need. He has a non-existent relationship with his one and only son, Sebastian, which is an underlying heartbreak for him and his wife.

Like Magnus, the complex identities of his squad members, victims, and witnesses slowly unfold, demonstrating perhaps one of the themes of the book that “we all have our problems and by always pushing forwards, we can overcome them.” The squad members all deal together quite well and advance the investigation with good, solid police work.I enjoyed the setting of Varsberg, and reading the little tidbits of regular life that the author slips in: shopping, new-to-me products, and organizations, “Taco Friday” which is apparently a thing in Sweden.

The action moves forward at an understandable pace with some quite detailed detective work going on, some fruitful, some not, really showing the highs and lows of a complex case. I wanted to keep reading and not put the story down but it does come to an exciting conclusion with some clear surprises. With a teaser ending, I will definitely be watching out for the next book in the series. I recommend this book to mystery readers that enjoy this type of slow-burner or mysteries with Scandinavian settings or those that enjoy a particularly well-rounded cast of quirky characters. I am so glad to have run across this author and book.

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

See my review on Reedsy Discovery!

Degrade (Tesla Expansion, #1) by Mark Lingane

DegradeDegrade by Mark Lingane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An awesome dystopian tale of power-grabbing and political intrigue set in Western Australia based on the Tesla Evolution series.

Arid Geiger, a teenage ‘diviner’ on his own, is minding his own business developing data on a possibly viable aquifer when he gets caught in the middle of a battle between the two megaRigs, the Lady Moonshine and the Rankin. With one swing of the Rankin’s mighty attack beam, his small dowser is destroyed and he’s dumped onto the burning sands surrounded by deadly stick crawlers. Saved at the last moment by Ella, a girl on the Moonshine, Arid meets the Moonshine’s commander, Queen Bea, Ella’s mother, who promises to have his dowser repaired so he can get back in business. But as they speak, Bea sees the pendant around Arid’s neck and realizes he’s the son of some old friends that she’d once been close to and that Arid holds the key to controlling their harsh society and a peace they’ve not seen in many years.

This is a spin-off from the original Tesla Evolution series also by author Mark Lingane, and to fully enjoy this new story, readers should probably begin there. However, there was more than enough for me to love right here in Degrade! (Disclaimer: I may love this way more than some because I was a water quality/water conservation educator for several decades.)

Lingane has developed an awesome dystopian world set in Western Australia where water is limited and ‘diviners’ make a living by locating viable aquifers deep beneath the surface of the Earth and selling the data of what they find to the megaRigs: huge, metal, moving cities, remnants of past mining operations that survived an apocalyptic tsunami many years before the current action.

One of these ‘diviners’ is the orphaned teenager, Arid Geiger, an absolutely engaging character. (And is that not the most awesome name in a water-scarce world?) As a teenage character and one that has spent much of his life isolated from other people, it was amusing and endearing, to see his reactions to meeting Ella and Frey, the daughters of Queen Bea, one he was instantly attracted to, the other not so much.

In addition, the harsh environment is almost a character unto itself and Lingane’s descriptions and use of the setting let me feel the heat, the grit, the fear, and the desperation of it. There are deadly creatures that inhabit the sands (of course, this is Australia!) and they do not disappoint for anxiety-inducing situations and reading. Once again, when the stick crawlers attacked, I could imagine the terror, and this added just that little bit more oomph to the threat to characters that left the shelter of the megaRigs.

The plot is constantly moving forward with multiple characters and subplots in action. I liked the complexity and the stories within the story, the multiple points-of-view. Because this was my introduction to this world, there were many unfamiliar aspects so I had to pay attention to keep things straight. And not knowing the past history, I felt I was in a similar state of mind as the main character, Arid himself. It was all fast-moving, no dull moments, many surprises, so I’d call this one a definite page-turner.

I certainly recommend this book but those that are familiar with the Tesla Evolution will derive the most enjoyment. The language is clean and this may be suitable for younger readers that parents feel can handle the monsters in the desert and some of the more intense scenes.

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

See my original review on Reedsy Discovery!

Monday, April 20, 2020

Special Agent Maximilian (Undercover FBI, #3) by Mimi Barbour

Special Agent Maximilian (Undercover FBI, #3)Special Agent Maximilian by Mimi Barbour
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Navy Seal Lieutenant Commander Nik Baudin is in New Orleans for a little medical R&R when he comes face-to-face with the twin brother he never knew he had and the mother he’d been told had died when he was just a toddler. His new-found brother, Max, is equally surprised as his mother, believing her youngest son had been killed by her abusive ex-husband, had kept that heartache to herself for all these years.

Before the two brothers can really get to know each other, Max, who is an FBI Special Agent, goes to meet with his confidential informer and gets the goods on a sex trafficking ring when he is attacked by the gang and left for dead on a rural back-country road. Before completely losing consciousness, he is able to phone Nik who finds him and takes him to a safe hiding place to heal and recuperate. Because the timing on this case is critical, Nik takes Max’s place to try and get back the vital incriminating evidence that was stolen. But there is a big complication in the way of Nik being able to successfully pull off his masquerade: Max has a partner, and she’s a by-the-book, no-nonsense woman that is not going to be easy to fool.

This is the 3rd in Mimi Barbour’s Undercover FBI series and the second that I’ve read. Once again, the author has developed a compelling story with mystery and romance to boot. Main characters, Nik Baudin and Special Agent Maya Barnes are both functioning adults, one carrying the burden of an unhappy and abusive childhood, the other saddled with memories of an unstable mother and early life, each suffering from the deep-seated, hidden damage. In addition to the two flawed leads, there are a variety of other interesting characters supporting the story: the twins’ mother, the surprising and entertaining Julian Freed, and a whole host of dastardly bad guys to overcome. As with the previous book in the series that I read, the city setting proves to bring another enjoyable aspect to the story. The plot is fast-paced with little downtime for the two main characters to talk themselves out of their attraction for one another. (No dithering about or on-again/off-again relationship.)

I recommend this book to readers that like romantic suspense or those that like mysteries with a sexy romantic storyline.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving a free copy.

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Posies and Poisons (Sweetfern Harbor, #1) by Wendy Meadows

Posies and Poison (Sweetfern Harbor #1)Posies and Poison by Wendy Meadows
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Brenda Sheffield inherits a bed and breakfast from her uncle, she packs up her life as an assistant to a private investigator in Michigan and relocates to the charming small town of Sweetfern Harbor. As is the way, the residents there know everyone and everyone’s business but, for the most part, all get along very well. There is an exception though, and in this case, it is the local grande dame and largest property owner, Priscilla Pendleton. Soon after Brenda arrives, the town gets into an uproar because “Lady” Pendleton has announced another rent increase and is really putting the squeeze on the small, local business owners. When Lady Pendleton suddenly ends up dead and everyone in town has a motive to get rid of her, the local police detective asks Brenda to help him work through the long list of suspects.

Posies and Poisons is a short and quick introduction to the Sweetfern Harbor cozy mystery series by Wendy Meadows. The author has created a quaint setting in the small seaside town, one every reader will want to visit, if it were possible, with a variety of interesting characters to populate it. The main character Brenda Sheffield is calm and canny and very observant of her fellow residents. This amateur sleuth did not do anything out of the ordinary or put herself in harm’s way as most do, and that was a nice change. She was smart, sensible, capable, and likable. The police detective on the case, Mac Rivers, seemed less so. Likable, yes, and definitely a candidate as a romantic interest for Brenda but he seemed to jump from suspect to suspect too quickly.

The Audible edition of the book was easy listening and didn’t require strict attention to detail. It was fun. The narrator, in this case, had a pleasant enough voice however her delivery was rife with odd pauses which were very distracting from the story itself. I slipped into my Kindle edition of this book and found it a much better reading experience than this audio version.

I recommend this book for cozy mystery readers especially those that like those small-town stories.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving a free copy.

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Monday, April 13, 2020

Coven of Secrets (The Bayshore Witch Legacy, #1) by C.J. Beaumont

Coven of Secrets (The Bayshore Witch Legacy #1)Coven of Secrets by C.J. Beaumont
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At 17, Roxanne Cole had been a very troubled, young witch headed down a path of darkness and destruction when her beloved Granny had pulled her back from the brink of death at her own hands. Seven years later, she is still recovering but has, pretty much, been getting her life together, making a living as a legal transcriptionist, when Granny passes away. Granny had been the high priestess of the Bayshore Witches Coven and by rights and responsibility, Roxanne should have stepped up to replace her. However, because of her earlier experiences, Roxanne had completely renounced magic and her place in the Coven, and Olivia, a distant relation from another bloodline, had taken on the role. Roxanne is the guardian of her younger sister, Kathryn, a teenager who is also grieving the loss of their grandmother and, as a result, has become quite difficult to manage.

One day, Roxy catches the local television news and is shocked to see Kat being interviewed as the planner and organizer of Bayshore’s first-ever Witch Festival. Kat (who’s skipped school) and several other young witches, too young to be initiated into the Coven, have outed the Coven and announced to the world that witches and witchcraft really exist. As she waits for Kat to get home and explain herself, Roxy discovers that her younger sister may be going down the same dark path she had traveled so many years before.

The sisters’ confrontation goes off the rails right away. Kat is an angry, young woman and has been rebelling against the old ways and the Coven on social media and is disgusted with Roxy’s decision to leave magic behind. Soon Olivia arrives and to de-escalate the tension between the two sisters, convinces Roxy to let Kat come and stay with her and her daughter, Darlene’s, family. (Darlene’s daughter, Sylvia, is Kat’s best friend.) Roxy reluctantly agrees and the following morning she receives a call from Darlene that Kat disappeared during the night leaving behind her cellphone and other possessions.

Frantically, Roxy searches for the missing teenager, and when she gets nowhere on her own, she has no choice but to accept the help of Ray Hammond, an old nemesis from high school. A former high school athletic stand out, pretty boy, and one of the “cool kids,” back in the day his buddies and their girlfriends had unmercifully bullied Roxy and been the source of much of her younger self’s anguish. But Ray was now a successful private investigator in town and may be able to get information and cooperation out of the Coven members that they have denied Roxy who they feel betrayed and turned her back on them.

But the case does not come to a swift conclusion as Kat’s whereabouts and well-being remains unknown and more witches, including the high priestess, Olivia, disappear. And when some of the missing witches are found murdered, Ray and Roxy know Kat isn’t just a disgruntled runaway but in the worst kind of danger.

Coven of Secrets is tension-filled from the first sentence, and warning, it starts out with a suicide attempt. I was drawn into Roxy’s world immediately and wanted her to be alright, succeed, and overcome the problems she was facing. Her younger sister seemed to be reacting pretty much as teens do but she is a mystery yet to be revealed. The chemistry between Roxy and Ray, although immediately apparent to the reader, evolves slowly as the two work through the search for the missing witches.

The author has created a great hometown in Bayshore and a good backstory creating the existing conflict between Ray and Roxy which plays into her mindset from the very beginning of the book. The history and hierarchy of the Coven are solid, easy to understand, and interesting. I anxiously await the next book in this new series. I recommend this book for readers that enjoy stories featuring modern-day witches and thrilling mysteries involving paranormal themes.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving a free copy.

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Sunday, April 12, 2020

Gypsies, Traps, and Missing Thieves (Bohemian Murder Manor, #1, Bohemian Lake Cozy Mystery, #5) by Rachael Stapleton

Gypsies, Traps & Missing Thieves (Bohemian Lake Book 5)Gypsies, Traps & Missing Thieves by Rachael Stapleton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mallory Vianu manages her family’s Gypsy Caravan Manor Resort along with her Nana and adopted sister, Danior. The ladies capitalize on its beautiful, yet haunting, Victorian architecture and reputation for harboring an actual ghost or two, by hosting paranormal-themed events. This weekend they are trying out a new feature: a murder mystery weekend where the manor guests work to solve a “murder” during their stay. Presenting the event is an old friend of the family, Joelle Mackay, who recently started this new enterprise in an effort to revive her struggling business, so Mallory, Danior, and Nana are free to play along for a firsthand experience. If the event is successful, the Vianu ladies hope to incorporate it into their resort’s corporate event offerings.

With an unexpected spring blizzard headed their way and the guests beginning to arrive, Mallory is under the gun to ensure things still go off without a hitch. But, to add to the stress, she finds out that Nana has invited a special guest, a blind date for her granddaughter!

As the weather moves in, close friend Penny Trubble, headed to the airport to meet her significant other on vacation, and her driver, Police Detective Kaden Bones drop off a guest from town, Mal’s best friend, Rebel Rouse, and become stranded there themselves when all flights are canceled and the roads become impassable. The two new arrivals are added to the game and the evening’s activities start off smoothly enough, with the exception of two missing guests at the opening scenario. But when the body of one of the missing guests is found at the bottom of a secret, hidden staircase, and it’s not part of the script; Mallory knows one of the players is a murderer!

If you’ve been following the unfolding Bohemian Lake Cozy Mystery series, you’ll recognize many of the characters in this first novel of off-shoot series, the Bohemian Murder Manor Mysteries. This storyline features the mysterious ladies of the Vianu family that operate the Gypsy Caravan Manor Resort on the lakeshore across from the town of Bohemian Lake.

And the ladies ARE mysterious. Matriarch Nana Vianu is known for her uncanny skills as a gypsy fortune teller. Mallory, her granddaughter, can see auras and talk to the spirit world. Danior was found as an infant and adopted into the family; who she is and where she came from is a complete mystery. And then there is the unexplained disappearance of Mallory’s mother, Jili, and her father’s death, both a decade earlier.

With the Victorian manor house setting the tone for spooky goings-on, this first story has it all: odd guests who are not who they say they are, ghostly apparitions, numerous bumps in the night, murder, tension, and suspicion all around. It is a complex tale but entertaining to watch as the players work their way through the mysteries: those of the game and those that are real.

I recommend this book to readers that enjoy cozy mysteries with a touch of the paranormal and that have read the previous books in the Bohemian Lake Cozy Mystery series. This is definitely a mid-point in a series and would be difficult to follow and enjoy as a standalone story.

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Monday, April 06, 2020

Sweet Dreams at the Goodnight Motel: A Valentine novel (Valentine, #6) by Curtiss Ann Matlock

Sweet Dreams at the Goodnight Motel (A Valentine Novel)Sweet Dreams at the Goodnight Motel by Curtiss Ann Matlock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Claire Wilder reads the mysterious yet hopeful message about searching for ‘real life’ on the wall of the truck stop women’s room, she is inspired to kick off the trappings of her divorce-afterlife and hit the road herself. She quits her job, cuts her hair, packs her car and heads to … Valentine, Oklahoma. It was supposed to be just for one night: time enough to get an impression of the place she was born but never really lived. She just wanted to see where her father’s people – a father she’d never known - had lived and, eventually, passed away. And in her heart of hearts, she wanted a clue to why her father had never tried to contact her.

Claire has a lot to wonder about. On her way out of town, she’d run into her ex-husband, Andrew, who had had second thoughts about his impending marriage to his much-younger fiancĂ©e, and now wanted to try for a reconciliation with Claire (something Claire had been wishing for since the divorce two years earlier.) But having made her mind up about this solo trip, Claire surprises even herself by putting Andrew off and wanting to think about it.

Settled in at Valentine’s only lodgings, the Goodnight Motel, Claire begins her search for answers, starting with some of the locals who might have actually known her father or his family. With the help of the charming and gentlemanly, Winston Valentine, she successfully locates her grandparents’ final resting spot. However, the next morning she awakes to find her car and all her belongings have been stolen, and the thief has left behind his frightened and very vulnerable, pregnant girlfriend, Sherrilyn. As Claire tries to help the girl, she becomes more and more a part of the small rural community and her search for her father and his people becomes more and more a search for her real self and a real life.

This sixth book in the author’s Valentine series is a solid, satisfying story of not just one woman’s search for herself but two. Claire has been drifting through life reacting and not actively living, passively adapting around and to the actions of others, relying on others to make her a life, waiting for her father to return to her and her mother, to rescue them. It is good to watch as she finally takes the steps to lead her own life as she desires, overcomes her lethargy, and takes charge. The lost soul, Sherrilyn, is a beaten down thing but her pregnancy has given her a goal and the beginnings of some strength to protect herself and her unborn child. She stands firm when she doesn’t want to have an abortion against the abusive Denny, and refuses to agree to give up the baby for adoption. The characters that populate the pages of the book seem so very real, not unlike those that populate your own community.

I recommend this book for readers that like a story of overcoming the odds and taking charge of one’s life. There is romance and a strong sense of accomplishment throughout the book for many characters.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving a free copy.

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