Monday, June 29, 2020

Home Sweet Witch (Lily Sweet Mysteries, #1) by Bettina M. Johnson

Home Sweet Witch (Lily Sweet Mysteries, Book 1)Home Sweet Witch by Bettina M. Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lily Sweet has lived a difficult life, always on the move from place to place because her mother was afraid “they” would find them. She never could get who “they” were out of her emotionally-distant mother and even broaching the subject would upset her. All alone now, her mother gone after a two year long battle with cancer, Lily is about to find out.

But upon her death, her mother left Lily a surprise legacy. After having done without, living from meager paycheck to paycheck, and hiding in the shadows of rural upstate New York for years, Lily is floored when an attorney approaches her at her mother’s memorial service with a box of mementos and cryptic instructions regarding a home, money, and the existence of family members somewhere in Georgia. All Lily has to do is sneak into the town without any of the relatives knowing she’s there, scope out the place, and find further instructions from her mother hidden somewhere in the house.

Thinking this is doable, Lily sets out in her ancient Ford pickup (named George) for Sweet Briar, Georgia. A budding sculptor, she’s delighted to learn that her destination is an artsy, crafty, tourist town, and has hopes that she can even find a studio to create ‘found art,’ and settle down. Things look even better when she hits the area and meets some of the local guys who are friendly, welcoming, and particularly good-looking. But when she is immediately caught making her first ‘secret’ visit to her new house and unearths the skeleton of a young woman under the front porch floorboards, things don’t feel quite so charming any longer. And when the cute guys try to convince her that they and she are actually witches, Lily wonders what kind of place she’s come home to.

What a fun, entertaining start to this new witchy mystery series! Lily is smart and snarky and funny. I especially liked her great-grandmother, Adriana, and their snappy exchanges. Lily and Adriana are very alike even though they are generations apart and have been separated for most of Lily’s life. I look forward to more interaction between the two in future books, especially as Lily begins to come to grips with her new-found witchy powers.

I liked that the romantic plotline is still at the beginning stages. Lily doesn’t just jump at the first pretty face. (There are choices!) And there is tension from her not knowing who she can trust and who has hidden motives or agendas. This was entertaining in this book, and I think it will be fun to see where this goes in future ones.

The town of Sweet Briar is full of surprises and engaging characters, and it is depicted as Small Town USA. Everyone knows everyone else, their background, and most of their secrets. And there are a lot of secrets to tease out in this story and exciting possibilities for love interests as well. All the mysteries that arise are not resolved in this book, leaving room for future novels in the series.

I recommend this book for cozy mystery readers that enjoy elements of magic, witches, and witchcraft in their stories.

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

See my original review on Reedsy Discovery!

Saturday, June 27, 2020

The Winter Tiger (Song of Star & Winter, #2) by L.A. Frederick

The Winter Tiger: A Space Opera Fantasy (Songs of Star & Winter Book 2)The Winter Tiger: A Space Opera Fantasy by L.A. Frederick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Since the true intentions of the Tiger race to conquer the universe were finally revealed at the Council of Worlds, General Winter Tiger, aboard his command ship, Darkchurch, has destroyed over 100 more home planets of innocent species. Other ships in his fleet have encircled the food planets preventing access to everyone but tigers.

Star Wolf, the young leader of the Wolves, has inspired a loose group of leaders and warriors from across the universe to join together and form the Band of Breeds and defeat their common enemy. Red Lion, the great warrior from the Apex War, takes on the task of preparing their fighters and helping the wolves defend their home planet, Lupus. The Night Badger, the Scarlett Fox, and Shadowfang the Leopard, call in their worlds’ fighters to supplement the ranks of the wolves.

Meanwhile, the Winter Tiger is putting his own preparations into action, and it’s not proving to be an easy task. The Elder Three, the leaders of Tigris, are demanding results and are insisting Winter secure his bloodline. (He must mate and produce cubs.) He’s also got his hands full with the old tiger guard, former warriors leftover from the Apex War, and still commanding troops, who question his strategies. Then there is the constant pressure from the up and coming, younger tigers below him, always on the lookout for a weakness, a chink in his armor, and an opportunity to overtake and replace him as second to the Elder Three. Frustrated by side issues and incompetence, Winter has a secret weapon. He’s got a traitor or two among the Band of Breeds.

This second installment in the Sci-Fi series, Song of Star & Winter, by L.A. Frederick, drops the reader right back in the story where Star Wolf left off. It covers the war preparations and the inevitable journey to war with the Tigers and provides some very interesting background on the Winter Tiger character. However, tragic his story, the action proves this is one bad dude from a harsh culture. Our series’ main character, Star Wolf, is still finding his feet after his ascendency to Wolf leader and is realizing the impact leadership has on his personal relationships with his life-long friends, River and Sky. Although there is quite a bit of exposition, it is well done and delivered within the context of a lot of action.

I recommend this book to those that enjoyed Star Wolf, the first book in the series. It is not a standalone novel. THE WINTER TIGER is followed up by book three, THE NIGHT BADGER.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Adventures of an Air Force Medic by Dave Ives

The Adventures of an Air Force MedicThe Adventures of an Air Force Medic by Dave Ives
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Easy-to-read and holds your attention – this is a compelling glimpse into a different type of military service

After dropping out of the University of New Hampshire, aimless Sean Mitchell was finding it difficult to make ends meet (even while living at home with his parents) and developing a plan for his future. When his no-nonsense dad tells him he needs to take on more responsibility at home in addition to paying almost his entire meager salary in rent, he decides he can find something better. A coworker at the electronics firm where he works as ‘unskilled labor’ suggests he check out the opportunities available in the various military services. Sean follows that advice and soon enlists in the Air Force. Three months later, he leaves for basic training in San Antonio, Texas.

Near the end of basic training, Sean gets the life-changing news that he is colorblind, and many of the jobs he was hoping for are off-limits to him, leaving him with few options. And because he was in a hurry to leave home and enlisted without a ‘guaranteed’ job, he will be assigned to one of these according to the needs of the service—his final assignment: medical service specialist or medic – personally, his least desired job.

He completes Tech School at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas, (a location he finds colder than his hometown of Pelham, New Hampshire with the winter winds whipping down from the Great Plains.) He waits with trepidation to learn that his permanent duty station is to be far-from-home Mather Air Force Base Hospital outside Sacramento, California, where he lives in the hospital dorm with a roommate, eats in the chow hall, and adjusts to life as an Air Force medic.

"Adventures" is an engaging, fun, entertaining semi-memoir by author Dave Ives and how 'Sean' gains a hold on his life and his future. In his wildest imagination, he never planned on being a medic, but he had committed himself to stand by his word and to fulfill it without whining or complaining. And his dedication made him good at his job even while he put his heart and soul into studying to win one of the spots in the coveted Airman Education and Commissioning Program to be sent to college to become an engineer (like his father.)

The chapters are vignettes of incidents that occurred during his training and hospital assignment, his growing excellence, and his pursuit of the goal of becoming an engineer; I found them captivating. The author had me rooting for Sean Mitchell, and I enjoyed his story very much.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving a free copy.

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Thursday, June 18, 2020

Culture Shock (The Gunn Files, #1) by M.G. Herron

Culture Shock (The Gunn Files, #1)Culture Shock by M.G. Herron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Anderson Gunn is a bounty hunter in Austin, Texas. With an office down on East Sixth Street, he is smack in the middle of the “Keep Austin Weird” culture of the capital city, and it is his kind of place. However, a series of financial burdens, including paying off his mother’s final medical bills, are threatening his solvency and ability to keep his office open and his head above water. So when a long-time client, bail bondsman Alek Ludwig, sends some lucrative work his way, one of Ludwig’s clients has skipped a court date and is suspected of killing a coworker at the power company, Gunn is highly motivated to bring in his man.

At the scene of the coworker’s murder, Gunn runs into an old friend who is also interested in the missing man, Detective Sheila Gonzalez. She doesn’t want Gunn meddling in her case but still confirms some of the information he needs to continue his search. While at the site, Gunn catches a glimpse of two other detective types, but when he goes for a better look, they’ve disappeared. As Gunn investigates the skip’s whereabouts, he realizes he’s being tailed by the two odd detectives. When they show up at his office, he discovers that Austin is legitimately more weird than anyone ever imagined. The two are alien peacekeepers posing as humans as are hundreds of others in the city where they’ve come to vacation or live, hiding in plain sight, and they are after the alien that has taken over the body/skin of the man Gunn is pursuing.

Part detective novel, part Men-In-Black-style sci-fi story, Culture Shock was a fun page-turner of a book. The Austin setting is perfect, and the characters that populate the city bring the feel of the place right to the page. They were charming “people,” and I quickly began to care about what was going to happen to them. This book was so good I immediately picked up the next in the series.

I recommend this book for readers that like fun sci-fi and those that would enjoy an alien element in their mystery.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Star Wolf (Songs of Star & Winter, #1) by L.A. Frederick

Star Wolf: A Space Opera Fantasy (Songs of Star & Winter Book 1)Star Wolf: A Space Opera Fantasy by L.A. Frederick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In Frederick’s universe, Earth is basically a prison planet: a place where all the other animal planets send their miscreants after stripping them of their sentience, their ability to walk upright and talk. When man outgrows its one world, he also outgrows his usefulness, and the Council of Worlds votes to have General Winter Tiger from the planet, Tigris, destroy Earth and all its inhabitants: clueless humans and animals alike.

Unknown to the Council, Winter Tiger and his followers have already implemented a number of plans furthering their final goal of universal dominance. Rather than destroy Earth in the manner he’d been commanded, Winter Tiger secretly brings his planet’s most magnificent spacecraft, Darkchurch, out of hiding and vaporizes the Earth using an AWB – Atomic World Bomb – both of which had supposedly been outlawed and collected after the end of the Apex War 20 years prior. But then other planets begin to disappear, destroyed without a trace.

Back at the Council of Worlds, Star Wolf, first-in-line to the throne of his father and the Wolf planet, Lupus, disbelieves the report presented by Winter Tiger that the five planets were destroyed by a Space Kraken. But when the head of the mythical beast is examined and certified as real by council members, Star and all of Lupus are banished from council membership and protection. Shamed by his father’s disgust of his actions, Star Wolf and his close friends, Sky and River, and his older advisor, Ash Wolf, set out to assemble a team of the greatest warriors alive to prove Winter Tiger’s deception and foil his plans to take over the universe.

Star Wolf is the first book in the new science fiction series, Song of Star & Winter, by author L.A. Frederick. Not only did I enjoy the story itself but also the author’s characters following the traits we think of associated with the different species, such as the wolves’ rigid, pack society and behavior, the brash and bold bear, Kodiak, and the wily and wise Night Badger. Readers are treated to a close-up view of several animal societies and their planets during the course of the story – not just predators and not only young animals like Star Wolf but a variety of different aged creatures.

There is quite a bit of drama and excitement as Star Wolf and Winter Tiger clash and some heartbreak in the father-son relationship of Sun Wolf and his son, Star. There is constant action and even a hint of romance.

I recommend this book for SciFi readers that like series stories and don’t mind resolutions that take more than one book for completion. I’ll definitely be looking for the next book, Winter Tiger, coming out later this month (June 2020.)

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Friday, June 12, 2020

Beating About the Bush (Agatha Raisin, #30) by M.C. Beaton

Beating About the Bush (Agatha Raisin, #30)Beating About the Bush by M.C. Beaton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Raisin Investigations has been called in by Morrison’s, a local engineering company, to look into the possibility of industrial espionage at their plant. The R&D division had recently experienced a fire of a suspicious nature that gutted their building and hampered their ability to move forward on developing a revolutionary new automobile battery.

Agatha Raisin and her business partner, Toni Gilmour, take on the case and immediately get the feeling that something is just not right at the place. Their primary contact, Mrs. Dunwiddy, Mr. Morrison’s right hand, is knowledgeable and helpful but is oddly afraid of the plant security detail. And when leaving the facility one afternoon, Agatha and Toni discover a severed leg, wearing a stocking and shoe similar to the ones worn by Mrs. Dunwiddy, tossed into the brushy undergrowth on the side of the road. Although the leg turns out to be a fake, the true meaning behind its being left for Agatha to find is clear: someone wants to discredit Raisin Investigations and frighten Mrs. Dunwiddy. But, rather than scaring anyone away, the incident only spurs Agatha on to greater effort.

Then one evening at the plant’s welcome back reception for the owner’s wife (she’d been at a facility to break an alcohol problem), Agatha finds Mrs. Dunwiddy’s body in the stable yard, apparently bashed in the head by the wife’s pet donkey. But Agatha, charmed by the frightened animal, realizes it didn’t trample the woman, and this is a case of murder.

Well, I put off reading this book because there aren’t going to be any (or many) more, and I am just not ready for the series to be done. I admit that my reading experience is probably colored by the reality that M.C. Beaton is forever gone. This author, in all her pen names, has been my all-time favorite from the first book I picked up by her (a Regency romance, no doubt). But of all her characters, Agatha Raisin became my best “book” friend over time, and I cry to think she, too, will not be having any further adventures or misadventures. However, I see that there is at least one more Agatha book in the making with an expected publication date of December 25, 2020. (Happy Christmas.)

However, Agatha is on her game in this adventure. She has all her quirks, but there’s a bit more reflection in her dealings with Toni (who shares many of Agatha’s traits) and Sir Charles Fraith. James Lacey is mentioned a few times, but it felt like Agatha has really come to terms with the real James and not the dream man she’s kept on a pedestal all these years. In addition, there are appearances by other well-known faces such as Mrs. Bloxby, Bill Wong, and Roy, and the introduction of a new nemesis and a new romantic interest as well.

The story is a solid what-the-heck-is-going-on one, and as usual, Agatha susses out some of the details and blunders into the others, making for a delightful book from start to finish. The things that happen to this woman go from funny to harrowing but never stray from being plausible. This is one of Agatha’s better cases. I recommend this series and this installment, and I especially enjoyed the Audible Audio narrated by Penelope Keith. (She’s terrific.)

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Jezebel’s Lament: A Defense of Reputation, A Denouncement of the Prophets Elijah and Elisha by Abdiel LeRoy

Jezebel's Lament: A Defense of Reputation, a Denouncement of the Prophets Elijah and Elisha (The Epics Book 3)Jezebel's Lament: A Defense of Reputation, a Denouncement of the Prophets Elijah and Elisha by Abdiel LeRoy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jezebel’s Lament is the 3rd of the Epics series by Abdiel LeRoy, all of which have been different and entertaining.

To begin with, this is the flipside of the biblical story of Elijah – Jezebel’s version of what was going on in her world when the prophet made his appearance in King Ahab’s Israel around 900 B.C. She is telling her side of the story because she feels that she doesn’t deserve the reputation that history gave her. There are two sides to every story.

I listened to this via an Audible Audio edition, read by the author himself, and right off the bat; he made me laugh out loud. Truly, Abdiel is a talented writer, and secondly, he sounds great. Not familiar with the specifics of Jezebel’s story? This telling was exciting and eye-opening. The author’s done a lot of research, and if this short reading piques your interest, he tells you some of the sources he used and recommends.

This story is for a mature audience and would be especially useful for when you have a brief period of time to sit and enjoy the whole from start to finish.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving a free copy.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Lying Beneath (The AURA Operation, #1) by Kevin Moran

Lying Beneath (The AURA Operation, #1)Lying Beneath by Kevin Moran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After the death of her mother, Ayla was in an emotionally dark place, sinking deeper and deeper into a hopeless depression, without a light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. Her life had become an endless loop of working two low-paying jobs, a crummy, dinky apartment with old, second-hand furnishings she shared with her long-standing boyfriend, Derek, and looking out for her younger brother, Jake. Not much of a life and little hope for a better future. Except for her growing interest in exploring and photographing old, abandoned, and forgotten buildings.

One night during one of their urban forays, she and Derek stumble onto an old, decrepit, and long-deserted warehouse, the outside inexplicably patrolled by a well-armed security guard. Hiding from the guard just inside the loading dock’s doors, they find a mysterious three-ringed symbol and the word “AURA” on the floor marking the location of a trapdoor. Wary of the guard’s return, they leave its further examination for another visit.

Against Derek’s better judgment, Ayla returns one night without him to continue her exploration and ends up below ground-level in what appears to be an underground research facility. She’s injured when she blunders into the middle of an ongoing experiment and winds up in the facility’s hospital, recuperating but now under lock and key and questioned endlessly about where she came from and why she’s there.

I liked the premise of this story very much – a secret underground facility housing hundreds of people and in existence for over 100 years! I initially thought Ayla was pretty immature, frankly, and treated her boyfriend quite disrespectfully. He seemed like a decent guy going on these expeditions around the city at night when it was apparent he didn’t share in her enjoyment of the trips but only went because she liked them. However, as the story progressed, the reasons for her behavior came out, and she does reflect on her treatment of Derek and tries to do right by him.

Readers are introduced to the leaders of the underground community and a few residents. Still, we really only get to know Katherine, the facility’s lead doctor, and Ellen, the head of research before the cliffhanger ending suddenly arrives. But as this is the first book in a series, I look forward to more about each of the players.

The story is quick-paced and relatively short, but it grabbed my attention from the start with Ayla and Derek hiding from the mysterious and menacing armed guard and held it throughout Ayla’s struggle to escape the underground facility and get back to Derek. As mentioned, there is a cliffhanger ending, and we are left with ALL the questions!

I recommend this book to fans of the Book of Ember series by Jeanne DuPrau, although there is some violence that may be too much for very young readers.

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

See my original review on Reedsy Discovery!

Monday, June 08, 2020

The Quarantine Cookbook by Beth Carter

The Quarantine CookbookThe Quarantine Cookbook by Beth Carter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Developed while sheltering-at-home during the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020, award-winning, romance author Beth Carter has compiled a collection of approximately 200 easy and delicious comfort-food recipes that use pantry staples and readily available ingredients.

The recipes sound attractive enough that even the most inexperienced cooks will be inspired to try them and have quick successes as well as a great dish. In fact, there are anecdotes accompanying some of the recipes related to Carter making some of these dishes with friends while in college. Others, she noted, were successful potluck dishes or family favorites.

Bottom line – they all sound like good food using regular ingredients, no unusual, hard-to-find, or expensive items to buy.

Proceeds from the sale of the book support an awesome cause helping the frontline health care workers and their families.

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Friday, June 05, 2020

Splatter by E. Stuart Marlowe

SplatterSplatter by E. Stuart Marlowe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

British ex-pat, Jonathon Gale, has made a career in Hollywood as an envelope-pushing horror film director, and his current project, Incendiary, promises to be as on-the-edge as its predecessors. But before the first scene is even committed to film, weird things and tragic accidents begin to plague the production, and soon the rumor of the “curse” of Incendiary is born. With financial backers fading from the picture and accidents continuing to plague the cast, Jonathon realizes that he keeps running into this one particularly bitter and malevolent actress he had never chosen to cast in his films, at odd, random times and locations. Wondering if she may somehow be responsible for the troubles on and off the set, he decides to track her down for a confrontation. Pushing ahead with the wrap of the film within reach, the “curse” really starts to amp up.

Splatter was a roller coaster of a read for me; I couldn’t put it down! Even though I started out disliking the main character, I changed my mind as the story flew by. His partners, cast, and crew were interesting individuals, all with their quirks and well-written personalities. The simple mentions of places in Hollywood and LA were fun, and I loved the horror film standards used, such as the cabin in the woods for the story's climax and film’s resolution. The author and the “curse” throws everything at you!

I recommend this book as a fun take on the horror film genre, and I understand that there is a lot of realism in the depiction of the film industry for those interested in that. There is blood, gore, and adult situations, so this one is not for the kiddies.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving a free copy.

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