Sunday, May 31, 2020

Black Cats, Corpses, and The Pumpkin Pantry (Haunted House Flippers, #5) by Rachael Stapleton

Black Cats, Corpses and the Pumpkin Pantry: A Bohemian Lake Cozy Mystery (Haunted House Flippers Book 5)Black Cats, Corpses and the Pumpkin Pantry: A Bohemian Lake Cozy Mystery by Rachael Stapleton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Spirited Construction is engaged to renovate Sleepy Hollow Manor for Bronson Van Tassell in preparation for hosting the annual Bohemian Lake Halloween festivities, Junie and Jack Young look forward to sprucing up the historic 17th-century Dutch farmhouse. And, although the renovation proved simple enough, weird things begin to happen right away. Not only does Junie encounter an unusually strong female ghost at the manor, but also the spirit of a long-dead Hessian soldier from the American Revolutionary War still roams the grounds of the manor farm on his ghostly, black stallion in search of his missing head. It is rumored that catching sight of this frightening apparition foretells tragedy for the unlucky viewer. In addition, there is a mysterious feud going on between Bronson and two of his neighbors, all having to do with a past Halloween event when Bronson’s daughter had a terrible horseback riding accident, and a neighbor’s son disappeared.

When Bronson is startled into a mini-stroke by the appearance of the Headless Horseman and Junie is confronted by a burglar while alone at the manor, she takes matters into her own hands to figure out what’s going on and get it to stop.

Black Cats, Corpses, and The Pumpkin Pantry is book five and the final entry in the Haunted House Flippers storyline of the larger Bohemian Lake series, and author Rachael Stapleton really has Junie and Jack exiting center stage in grand style. Bohemian Lake is a well-developed little place, and the author states in the endnote, that Jack and Junie will still be around and make appearances in forthcoming series’ books, much like other characters from subplots appeared in this one: Eve Banter, Nelle Storey, Mallory Vianu, to name a few. Even the Mabels and the Victorian Ladies Club stopped in for a visit in this book.

This final episode starring the Youngs though, is full of action – continuous and non-stop. Maybe more than in any of the previous books, too, we get a good look into Jack and Junie’s life together, and it is good. They really have grown as a couple since their very first adventure.

And, like some of the other Bohemian Lake novels, this one looks into a classic story. It features the elements of Washington Irving’s famous tale, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (a particular pleasure for me as my hometown is named after Irving and celebrates his legacy with a variety of annual events.) The Bohemian Lake version of what happened to the characters of Sleepy Hollow fame is well done and complex. The mysteries are solid, and the resolution surprising but plausible. All in all, the combination of familiar characters, the riff on the old classic tale, and the Halloween setting make for an entertaining story.

I recommend that readers start with the first book in this series and continue reading in order of publication, but this one just might be able to stand on its own and still deliver the goods. However, if paranormal cozies are your thing, do yourself a favor and read the whole series from start to finish; they are certainly worth it.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving a free copy.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Demon’s Fate – Kyle Belote

The Demon's FateThe Demon's Fate by Kyle Belote
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An action-filled, space adventure with an amnesia-stricken crew!

I was immediately attracted to The Demon’s Fate because of its beautiful cover and unusual premise: the crew of a small spacecraft awakens not knowing who they are, where they are going, or why. The only information the ship’s artificial intelligence (AI), SAVI, can give them is general; all other information is classified and inaccessible without the ship commander’s (who has amnesia) passcode. Asking the right questions of the AI, the crew determines that they are fleeing the last planet they visited with a beautiful, alien artifact aboard, and one of their members was left behind.

There are five crew members on the small ship, and the author gives each one a distinct and well-defined personality. I could easily see each one in my mind as if I knew them. As the story goes on and the crew begins to remember things, the characters remain faithful to the personalities that they awoke with, although, some have hidden strengths that come forth when needed. I liked each of the characters, including the ship’s AI and the synth, Emma.

The action takes place both aboard ship, and later in the book, on the planet, Celestia 6. The ship itself is well described, and I had no trouble seeing the layout of things. It is a small craft, but that just made it feel homey, familiar, and comfortable. The author created a planet with a variety of terrain and populated it with alien peoples and some crazy, wild creatures. The world-building included giving readers a glimpse into the aliens’ past and current life as well. And the bad guys are evil, making some decisions that are made later in the story very difficult.

With so much happening action-wise, you wouldn’t think that the story would have room for moral dilemmas, but it does: several, in fact. Without giving away the plot, the ship’s commander must puzzle out problems regarding artificial intelligence and synthetic humans, getting information out of an enemy combatant, and weighing the pros and cons of risky actions.

The Demon’s Fate is one of those books that I think would make a great action film and would have been the great start of a series (I would totally get the next one.) There are some unanswered questions at the end of the story. I recommend this book to science fiction readers. There are sexual situations (and the subject of sexual assault is a major plot point, in case that is a reader’s aversion), so this is for a mature audience.

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

See my original review on Reedsy Discovery!

Friday, May 22, 2020

Terra’s Fate (The Darkest Day, #3) by Danielle Forrest

Terra's Fate (The Darkest Day, #3)Terra's Fate by Danielle Forrest
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Terra Wilson, a long out-of-work clerical employee, is glad to finally receive an interview at NASA, but during her pre-employment physical, it is discovered that unknown to her, she is actually a shifter, a non-human, and shifters are outlawed. She is tossed into a shifter internment camp, shocked and hopeless, until she witnesses the tragic arrival of a shifter toddler named Annie who has been torn from her human family and dumped, alone, into the same camp. Taking Annie into her care, Terra now has a mission: protect Annie and get them both out of the camp!

Using her newly discovered shifter skills, Terra escapes one night with Annie in her arms and immediately runs into Shandor Jackson, himself a shifter, who takes them to the clandestine shifter caravan encampment where he lives. As Terra fitfully works out her thoughts and feelings about being a shifter, and Annie settles into the life of the caravan, Jackson finds himself becoming more and more enamored of the pair and the idea that they could become a family. All the while, the human world is gearing up for the fight for their very existence as the evil alien army approaches the planet intent on wiping out the human race and taking Earth for themselves.

I really enjoyed this 3rd addition to The Darkest Day series by author Danielle Forrest. Terra's Fate runs concurrently to the story chronicled in the series second book, Tristan's Choice, however the characters from the previous novels are only peripheral at first. New characters give the reader an insight into what is happening on Earth and what society in America is like during this time frame. The two stories dovetail and wrap up the storylines begun in both of the previous series books.

I highly recommend this entire series, and readers should start with Mila's Shift and continue reading in order of publication. Each book builds on what came before. For those that read and enjoyed the previous two in the series, this one will satisfy all your questions and entertain at the same time.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving a free copy.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Sweet Saboteur (The Cozy Café Mysteries, #1) by C.A. Phipps

Sweet Saboteur (The Cozy Cafe Mysteries #1)Sweet Saboteur by C.A. Phipps
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Solid cozy mystery that will also satisfy your sweet tooth!

When the Finch sisters’ mother, Lilac, passed away, she left the girls heartbroken, saddled with a mountain of debt, and the owners of the Cozy Café, her much-loved bakery in Cozy Hollow, Oregon. The eldest sister, Scarlett, was born to follow in her mother’s footsteps and loved the bakery, but the two younger girls, Violet and Ruby, felt trapped, tied to the café, and longed to hang up their aprons and follow their dreams. But the bakery was just barely breaking even, making little headway on overcoming their debt, and their tenure seemed to stretch out endlessly into the future.

Most of the residents of the small town had loved the girls’ mother, and they rallied around them, providing as much business as they could, but there were a few folks that for unknown reasons did everything in their power to make a tough situation worse. One of the most outspoken opponents was the town’s mayor, Arthur Tully. After the death of the Finch sisters' father, Arthur had pursued the new widow and been firmly refused. Also heading up the Finches’ detractors is Arthur’s political ally on the town council, Mabel Norris, the town’s librarian.

When things at the bakery begin to look dire, Scarlett goes to the library to ask Mabel to hire Ruby as her assistant. However, Scarlett discovers the librarian’s body on the floor of a backroom, dead with a cupcake from the Cozy Café at hand appearing to have poisoned the woman. Scarlett is cleared, but another poisoning attempt is made with a cupcake soon after, and the mayor is telling anyone and everyone that the Finch sisters must go!

Sweet Saboteur is the charming debut novel in a new series, The Cozy Café Mysteries, by successful author C.A. Phipps. The three sisters, Scarlett, Violet, and Ruby are all sweet, go-getters that I could really get behind. They’ve had a rough time of it, losing both parents as well as caring for their mother during her long illness leading up to her death. None has been able to spread their wings and fly free, and now, due to circumstances, they are tied to a life that only one of the sisters finds desirable. But, they have a strong love for each other and a reasonably good support system helping them hang in there in their Aunt Olivia and the townspeople who have known them all their lives.

The bad guy in all of this, the mayor, is an awful person. Every chance he gets, he’s there bad-mouthing the girls, and he is a character that is easy to boo and hiss. The local paramedic, Sam Drake, and Sheriff Nathaniel "Nate" Adams provide delightful, potential love interests for two of the sisters, and I can’t wait for the next book in the series to see how those relationships pan out and if a third eligible bachelor makes an appearance.

I recommend this book to cozy mystery readers, especially those that enjoy a culinary storyline. The author provides a number of recipes for some delicious sounding sweets at the end of the book.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving a free copy.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Scones and Scoundrels (Scheming Spires Mysteries, #1) by Charlotte Graham

Scones and ScoundrelsScones and Scoundrels by Charlotte Graham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There was just so much to be delighted by in Scones and Scoundrels that I think this will be a series I will look forward to each new installment.

A year after the death of her husband of 30 years, Georgina Strange follows her dream of attending Oxford to read English. But after only a few days on campus, she becomes embroiled in a murder investigation – one in which SHE is the prime suspect. After an early morning walk through campus, Georgina finds the body of an obnoxious, fellow student, Dexter Ellis, in the quad courtyard with one of her homemade scones from a campus bake sale stuffed in his mouth. Unfortunately, only the day before she had been overheard telling the man she didn’t care if he choked on it! When all other suspects are able to come up with solid alibis for their whereabouts at Dexter’s time of death and the chief inspector on the case zeroes in on her, she takes matters in her own hands to prove her innocence.

I enjoyed that the protagonist, Georgina Strange, is an older woman, a recent widow, setting out on a new phase of her life – a life without her beloved husband, Simon, and a life at university. The friends she makes are a diverse group of people all older (some just a bit) than the traditional student. She’s excited and optimistic about this new chapter of her life yet a little intimidated by the university experience as a whole. (I groaned just thinking about how I’d feel about returning to school and hitting the books again at my age.) She has guts and nerve! I particularly liked the character Lucy Saunders, her free-spirited flatmate, and new best friend.

The question of who murdered Dexter Ellis is a solid mystery, and it was easy to follow Georgina’s thinking and actions to try and clear her name. I wasn’t crazy that the chief inspector seemed utterly convinced that Georgina was the only real suspect and didn’t seem to investigate anyone else on his own initiative. He does redeem himself some as time goes on, and his character developed a little bit more. However, the murder wasn’t the only mystery involved in the book. Many other things were going on besides, and thankfully, these are wrapped up by the end of the book, so no unsolved cliffhangers.

Besides the murder, Georgina also confronts her first year of study, and I enjoyed the story of her going to tutorials, writing her essays, and becoming part of university life. An interesting subplot is Georgina’s awareness that as a mature woman, she had to face down some stereotypes from others while realizing she, too, has been guilty of stereotyping some of her fellow students herself. Also, she is still feeling her way through life after a year of widowhood. In this unfamiliar location, she is introduced to new people, including men, who do not know her as Simon’s widow but as an attractive woman. She is unsure about dating at this point but does consider the possibility, and there is a candidate or two provided in the story for her future consideration.

The author included nice details of the Oxford setting, making it feel more and more familiar as the book went along. The little mentions of the fall leaves, and the rain made it even more vivid in my mind.

This is the first book in the series, Scheming Spires Mysteries, and I hope to see many more like this one. I recommend this book for cozy mystery readers, especially those that enjoy a more mature amateur sleuth.

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

See my original review on Reedsy Discovery!

Friday, May 08, 2020

Melkor & Purity 2 (Melkor & Purity, #2) by Kim Faulks

Melkor & Purity: Book TwoMelkor & Purity: Book Two by Kim Faulks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Picking up where the first book left off, we get a taste of the training the hunter, Alma, is giving to Purity. Both are working long and hard, but Purity is struggling somewhat with using the portals until suddenly it just clicks for her. She and Melkor are teamed up and introduced to Redemption, an Unseelie warrior, and their first order of business is to help find the mother of one of Purity’s fellow students from her high school.

Jesse is one of the high school bullies from book one, and he begs Purity and Melkor for help in rescuing his mother, who had been taken by one of the Soulless, an action that none of the hunters had ever heard of them doing before; they grab and kill only. In tracing the mother’s movements on the day of her disappearance, Purity and Melkor discover she is peripherally involved in the theft of the keys of Hell.

This story just keeps getting better and better. Purity, on her own, is beginning to show some depths to her character that just weren’t visible when with her family. She and Melkor are both growing into a more mature relationship with each other as well, and this developing storyline provides much of the entertainment, the smiles and laughs I had while reading. I enjoyed how each experienced some nervous anxiety over their close proximity to each other, the worry over there only being one bed in the apartment, Melkor’s fumbling with how to approach Purity during their brief hiatus before going out to find Jesse’s mother and the keys. And yet, they still had some less than adult moments as in the car race with Jesse back to the apartment. The voice of the unknown Unseelie in Purity’s mind and the appearance of Unblessed were unsettling and an excellent addition to the story.

I listened to the Audible audio edition of this book read by Heather Murdoch for HotGhost Productions so much that I will be looking for more books she has narrated. She has a great voice and a range and talent to distinguish a wide range of characters, both male and female.

I highly recommend this series as a whole. Book 2 does not stand alone. I think young adult readers and readers that like paranormal romance with younger protagonists would enjoy these the most.

I look forward to the upcoming publication of Book 3.

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