Saturday, December 18, 2021

Conceptus by Brian Herskowitz

ConceptusConceptus by Brian Herskowitz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A riveting police procedural with complex characters and a compelling storyline.

When Detective Laura Drummond was 14 years old, she was attacked by a man in a mask, raped, stabbed six times, and left for dead as she walked home from her first high school dance. Afterward, she was kept in a coma in the hospital for almost a year. Still, Laura eventually awoke, going on to finish school, join the Marines, becoming a successful homicide detective for the Columbus Police Department. However, her adult successes did not erase the impact her tragic childhood had on her.

Laura kept her past a closely-held secret, avoiding commitment and shared confidences with any and all, preferring casual one-night hookups in her private life; her best and only friend, Detective Tom Browning, her on-the-job partner.

But her latest case looks horrifically similar to what happened to her all those years ago. Only this time, the victim is not so lucky to survive. Laura can’t help wondering if HE is back.

Conceptus, the new mystery by Brian Herskowitz, introduces readers to Detective Laura Drummond, a homicide investigator with a tragic past. The horrific murder of a young co-ed has the detective’s long-suppressed past rearing up to stare her right in her face and make her question what really happened when she was a young, naïve 14-year-old. The author creates a complex, multilayered figure in Drummond (or “Law” as she often called), and as the story unfolds, we see how she became the person she is today. Supporting characters, in particular work partner Detective Tom Browning and potential love interest Sharon, round out the exciting story and smooth out some of Laura’s rough edges.

This complex female character is a damaged loner. She has kept herself from getting too involved with anyone up to this point in her life. Her best friend is her partner at work. She’s been keeping her past buried and living a very solitary existence since leaving her childhood home. There is casual sex in the story, but a wonderful love story is also developing. Laura’s reactions to Sharon and Sharon’s reactions to becoming involved with a homicide detective made for a fascinating subplot.

Reading what happened to Laura is not for the faint of heart; it is brutal. It kicks off a riveting plot that involves rape, abuse, bad parents, adoption, the Catholic Church, and kept me reading far into the night; it was that compelling a tale. As the police investigation proceeds, the plot twists and turns and takes the reader places they won’t see coming. I even appreciate that the setting is in Columbus, Ohio, and not L.A., Chicago, or New York City.

For me, Conceptus felt like a great beginning for a new mystery series, though there is no mention of a subsequent book. This may be very wishful thinking, but I hope to read more about Laura, Sharon, and Tom Browning. I recommend Conceptus to mystery readers looking for a harrowing and complex murder mystery story, those who enjoy a grittier police procedural, or LGBTQ+ main characters.

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

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Tuesday, December 14, 2021

The Old Boys by Mark Gillespie

The Old BoysThe Old Boys by Mark Gillespie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The past is about to catch up to The Lads, but whose past is it?

As the 25th reunion of Strathmore Academy’s Class of 1995 approaches, three estranged friends are thrust together under terrifying circumstances. In their youth, these men had been fast friends, a gang of three, bullies that had terrorized their classmates unmercifully. After school, they’d gone their separate ways: reinvented themselves, faded from the scene. But apparently, someone remembers “The Lads.”

After a traumatic experience as a drug dealer, Jay Green had cleaned up his act. He was now a successful businessman celebrating a recent promotion with a loving fiancée and anticipating the arrival of their first baby. Davie Muir, married with children, moved from Glasgow to London after surviving a horrific lorry accident that killed numerous people and left him paralyzed and in a wheelchair for life. However, Iain Lewis, the third member of The Lads, got left behind. As his two best-mates-forever dropped him and moved on, Iain remained mired in resentment, struggling to adapt to adult life.

But on the eve of the reunion weekend, an event none of The Lads planned to attend, forces outside their control put these men unexpectedly back together for the first time since leaving school. They find themselves trapped in an isolated cabin in the snowy Scottish Highlands, with only a cryptic note claiming one of the three is a killer who must confess before the sun goes down or they all will die.

The Old Boys quickly proved to be an exciting, unputdownable psychological thriller. What first seems to be about three schoolmates reconnecting in adulthood soon unfolds to reveal their unsavory pasts and becomes a twisty-turny revenge story. I was utterly taken in. The abductions were slick and each cleverly different from the others. The men’s discussions and revelations as they came back together after being apart for so long felt emotionally difficult and realistic. Their continuous struggle to make sense of their circumstances, figure out who was behind it all and find a way out made for a true page-turner.

I recommend THE BOYS for readers who enjoy psychological thrillers, tales where the past not only meets the future but collides with it, and stories of revenge and retribution.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy through Hidden Gems Books.

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Sunday, November 28, 2021

Kicker One: Going the Distance (The Frankie Scarmazino Trilogy, #1) by Cy Young

Kicker: Going the Distance (The Frankie Scarmazino Trilogy, #1)Kicker: Going the Distance by Cy Young
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An injured NFL kicker heads to the Ozarks to check out a teammate’s brother’s death, he discovers someone has taken justice into their own hands to fight domestic abuse.

The year is 1997, and when the NFL New York Giants kicker, Frankie “Scar” Scarmazino, is injured in a game against the Philadelphia Eagles, he must take time off to heal and recuperate. In his heart, Scar believes he’s lost his nerve to return to the game, but as he’s still in his early 30s knows he’s got to come up with a backup plan.

He confides to a good friend and teammate that he wants to be a private detective, and the friend tells him of the perfect place to start. The teammate’s brother had been murdered back home in his hometown, and the killer was never caught. So Frankie loads up his old Ford Pinto, Gilda, and heads to Jasper, Arkansas, to see if he can catch a murderer.

When Frankie rolls into Jasper, he inadvertently becomes embroiled in the shady goings-on of the small town. He witnesses a man, baseball bat in hand, chasing after a battered and bleeding woman, and jumps to intervene. The sheriff, a personal friend of the abuser, turns a blind eye to the crime, and Frankie finds himself the target of the abusive husband and his gang of similarly-minded wife-beating buddies.

But Frankie is on a mission and will not be run out of town. In the process of his investigation, he discovers that his teammate’s brother isn’t the only recent and unsolved murder. Someone is taking justice into their own hands when the sheriff fails to act and is murdering the men who are abusing their wives and girlfriends.

However, the sheriff is taking an interest in the murders of his buddies and has a local attorney working to help the victimized women in his sights. One meeting with Mira Strickland has Frankie’s senses reeling and his fervent hopes that the sheriff is wrong.

Kicker One: Going the Distance is a fast-paced, easy-to-read, and exciting story featuring a likable hero, dastardly villains, and some very smart and sexy women. Frankie Scarmazino is an interesting guy, a professional football player with some hidden characteristics. When he takes off for the Ozarks, he does so in his old 1971 Pinto and not some flashy, celebrity-worthy luxury vehicle. Beside him on the passenger seat is his most recent knitting project: a sweater he’s creating for his ex-wife as a gift.

In the story, Frankie’s nemeses include town bully Buddy Haymes, his backwoods buddies, and their close friend, Sheriff Bill Burrows. Happily, there’s not much to like about these guys, so it was easy to cheer for Frankie to beat them every step of the way.

The women of Jasper have their own hometown hero in attorney Mira Strickland. After having grown up in Jasper, she left town to pursue her law degree and, until recently, successfully practiced on the East Coast before returning home after having her own husband troubles. Frankie’s immediate attraction to her was fun and created tension and a significant conflict later when her actions and motives begin to look suspicious to him.

I recommend KICKER ONE: GOING THE DISTANCE to mystery readers looking for something light and easy-to-read for a fun and engaging diversion. The football theme was fresh, the setting in the Ozark region of Arkansas different, and despite the underlying crime, fun to read.

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Saturday, November 27, 2021

Murder in the Medina (Blake Sisters Travel Mystery, #1) by Carter Fielding

Murder in the Medina: A Blake Sisters Travel Mystery-- Book 1Murder in the Medina: A Blake Sisters Travel Mystery-- Book 1 by Carter Fielding
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Two engaging sister-sleuths and a “to DIE for” setting!

Finley Blake is an attorney-turned travel writer based out of Manhattan and her younger sister, Whitt, a banker living and working in Manila. Both travel for work and, when possible, try to arrange for their paths cross during their travels to enjoy some sister-time. When Finley gets an assignment in Morocco, the two arrange a meet-up in the gloriously exotic city of Tangier. Finley arrives first and the hotel the sisters have chosen is a charming haven of luxury yet there’s just something “off” about manager. But Finley settles in and heads up to the rooftop bar for some refreshments where she meets a number of the other hotel guests: a film crew shooting a movie in and around the city. They’re a mixed bunch with their own issues but they welcome Finley into their midst.

Whitt arrives the next day and Finley takes her up to the bar to meet her new acquaintances. While they are mingling, the group hears a scream, and rushing back into the hotel, they discover one of the film’s crew is dead.

Murder in the Medina has two delightful main characters, an exotic and evocative setting, and a surprising and baffling mystery. Although the characters are different as night and day in interests and temperament, the author made me feel the love the sisters had for each other. In addition, both women are looking at new relationships with men in their lives and it was nice to be privy to each one’s inner dialogue as they sort out their thoughts and feelings about their futures with their guys. While Whitt feels the glow of a new relationship perhaps moving to another level, Finley encounters a past love. I enjoyed the easy-going, ready-for-anything, and Whitt’s love interest, David.

Besides the engaging characters, the story has a strong feeling of place. The plot takes the reader to several interesting locations in Tangier, Casablanca, and parts in between. The descriptions of the sights and sounds and smells made me feel I was there right beside the sisters as they explored so many fabled places.

There is more than one mystery in the story, and I liked that the sisters really left things up to the police to solve them. However, the reader will have enough clues to zero in on the right suspect yet still be surprised at the end. As far as the sisters, though, there isn’t a lot of bumbling around, getting in the way, or showing up the professionals. Sure, they question the police’s conclusions, but I felt they reacted just like a regular person would if they ran into the same circumstances.

There was a lot of action in the story once things started happening, and that’s pretty early on. There was always something going on! No one gets a breather until the end.

I recommend Murder in the Medina to cozy mystery readers who like a series that moves the characters from one location to another rather than a single setting. Even the fun prequel, Murder in Montauk, lets the reader armchair explore Long Island. Also, readers that enjoy a second-chance-romance storyline might want to take a look here as well.

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

View my original review on Reedsy Discovery!

Monday, November 22, 2021

Real Estate, Dating, and Death (A Vivianne Murphy Mystery, #2) by Ashley Addison

Real Estate, Dating, and Death (Vivianne Murphy #2)Real Estate, Dating, and Death by Ashley Addison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Intriguing mystery with laugh-out-loud banter between characters that makes this story shine!

Vivianne Murphy and Venice Martino, partners in Rainbow Realty, are beginning to see real success with their business, and life is starting to settle into a good place for them both.

Venice meets a nice man at the local supermarket and accepts his offer of dinner, and soon the two are seeing each other regularly even though Bryan has plans to permanently relocate in the coming summer to a condo in Phoenix.

Vivianne thinks something is off with Bryan but realizes what really has her worried is that her best friend might choose a future in Phoenix over their friendship and business. But then she also finds herself on a date when wealthy client John Berkman shows his interest.

To top things off, Viv’s sassy mother is getting ready for heart surgery back home in New York City. Viv plans to take time off to go back home to visit and help her stepfather, sister, and niece care for her while she recuperates.

But when Annie, Rainbow Realty’s receptionist, arrives to find a young woman in a wedding dress dead in their office’s backroom (which used to be a bridal shop), the two friends find themselves in the middle of a mystery. Detective Traynor from the local police department soon arrives and takes charge of the investigation, warning Viv to keep her nose out of things.

A year after the events of Real Estate, Murder, and Mayhem, the first book in the engaging Vivianne Murphy Mystery series, the lead characters, New York City transplants, Vivianne Murphy and Venice Martino, have settled down and made their real estate brokerage a success. The narrative of Real Estate, Dating, and Death is mostly from Viv’s point of view, but Venice picks up the story when necessary, and that worked well for me. Both are fun voices, but Viv is comedy gold. The banter between the two partners sparkles, and Viv’s conversations with her mother, sister, and niece also had me in stitches at times.

I liked that the story included these two 40-something women stepping out of their recent comfort zones and dipping their toes in the dating scene. They’re still young, no matter what Viv’s mother may say.

I enjoyed the setting in the Pacific Northwest with its vagaries of weather, and the houses in the woods across from each other sounded so fun. In this story, there are also scenes in Arizona that create an interesting contrast. I liked the fun mentions of actual locations in each of the states.

A significant thread in the story is the animals. Both Viv and Ven have dogs that they call and treat like their children. There is wildlife that makes appearances throughout the novel: raccoons and lizards and bears, oh my!

But we read for the mystery, right? At first, I felt the mystery was going to be very secondary to the evolving relationships in the series, but suddenly – WHAM! – it was front and center, and I was shocked and surprised by what unfolded. There were quite a few twists and turns and hidden connections! However, the clues to the mystery are sprinkled throughout the book for the reader to see how everything fits together. And bravo to the author for the “didn’t-see-that-coming” moment at the close of the book. Hopefully, book three is coming soon.

I recommend REAL ESTATE, DATING, AND DEATH to cozy mystery readers who enjoy a character-driven story, a Pacific Northwest or Southwest U.S. setting, or even have an interest in a sleuth involved in real estate.

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

See my original review on Reedsy Discovery!

Monday, November 15, 2021

Regardless of the Consequences (Lance Tallbear, #1) by L.D. Lauritzen

Regardless of the ConsequencesRegardless of the Consequences by L.D. Lauritzen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lance Tallbear, a Native American deputy sheriff, investigates a startling 70-year-old cold case that someone still wants to remain buried.

Wow! I've been hooked on mysteries featuring Native American investigators since the first time I read one of Tony Hillerman's Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee books. L.D. Lauritzen's debut Lance Tallbear mystery held the same magic for me. It is one of the most thrilling mystery tales I've read this year.

In Regardless of the Consequences, we are introduced to Lance Tallbear, a deputy sheriff in Gila County, Arizona: a rough and tumble sort when needs be but always with the goals of doing the right thing for THE PEOPLE and pursuing justice. He has an inner struggle with his desire to work in the white man's world (the Sheriff's Office) and wanting to please his elderly grandfather, Gray Eagle, who wants him to follow in his footsteps as the tribal shaman. After his father's death, his white mother had taken him to live with her during the school year, returning him to his grandfather and the reservation for the long summer break. During those summers, Gray Eagle had trained him extensively in the ways of the shaman. But when he grew up, he left that behind to go into the military and, later, law enforcement. Unfortunately, Gray Eagle viewed this as Lance turning his back on his heritage, as his father before him had done, and this is a continuing conflict between the two as well as in the young man's heart.

Tallbear is not the only character in the story struggling in life; a couple of supporting characters are also walking a troubled path. Young Tommy Hawk immediately engaged me with his hopes and dreams for a better future. Also high on my list of favorites is FBI Special Agent Brad Hanley. He's chasing his own demons, and I rooted for him to overcome them from the start, and I hope to see more of Irene Katz in his future. Officer Sally Yazzie, the captain's assistant, presented such a "Radar O'Reilly" vibe that I hope she returns, too. The author gives us a plethora of bad guys to 'boo .' There were a few unresolved issues regarding them by the story's end; I hope we can look forward to seeing them in sequels yet to come.

The plot is satisfyingly complex, involving a 70-year-old cold case, and it takes our heroes to some great locations on and off 'the rez,' including the Superstition Mountains, the Sonoran Desert, and downtown L.A. The non-stop action never allows the characters to take a breather, and the constant push forward and stress become a factor in the story. The characters battle their physical exhaustion, a harsh environment, and Mother Nature almost as much as the bad guys.

I can recommend Regardless of the Consequences for a variety of mystery readers such as those who enjoy books featuring a Native American sleuth as in Jean Hager's Mitch Bushyhead or Molly Bearpaw books, the southwestern region of the United States such as in the Leaphorn and Chee series by Tony Hillerman, or set where the natural environment is a factor in the plight of the characters as in the Joe Pickett series by C.J. Box or Dana Stabenow's Kate Shugak books. Readers that like cold case mysteries or those with a tie to World War II secrets and the Nazis may also find Regardless of the Consequences to be right down their alley.

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

See my original review on Reedsy Discovery!

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Katherine's Wish by Linda Lappin

Katherine's WishKatherine's Wish by Linda Lappin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A vividly immersive novel of Katherine Mansfield’s final years

Katherine’s Wish by Linda Lappin is the mesmerizing novel of Katherine Mansfield’s final years. Lappin researched the story for more than 20 years and developed the story from Mansfield’s own writings and those of people who knew her personally. Written from Katherine’s and her long-time companion, Ida Baker’s points of view, the story gives insight into Mansfield’s relationships, feelings, and thoughts of the world around her, especially her deteriorating health. Her efforts to seek a cure for her consumption during this timeframe, after the First World War, were eye-opening regarding the state of medical knowledge then. (A lot has changed in the last 100 years, however even today, there are still “cures” lurking out there for the desperately ill.)

Lappin’s writing is lovely, so smooth and evocative. I could feel the characters’ emotions as if I were there to share them. My heart ached for both Ida and Katherine. Having finished the novel, I am inspired to read more about Katherine, her work, and many notable friends and acquaintances.

I recommend Katherine’s Wish to readers of literary fiction, historical fiction, and biographies, especially those with an interest in Katherine Mansfield and her contemporaries or those curious about the state of Europe after WWI.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Red, White, and Blue (Lady Vigilante, #20) by Hayley Camille

Red, White and Blue (Lady Vigilante #20)Red, White and Blue by Hayley Camille
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Betty Jones pulls out all the stops!

Continuing where Episode 19 left off, Betty, Jacob, and Adina finally put the pieces together on how to find the Tin Man and the Boudoir Butcher, and plan to apprehend the vicious criminals and end their reign of terror among the gangs of New York. But when the showdown comes, who are the ones that end up in the trap?!

Wow! Author Hayley Camille has put Betty through the ringer before but her dynamite Avon Lady has never faced the odds she confronts in this, the final episode of the second Lady Vigilante season, Red, White, and Blue. Betty maintains a realistic view of her chances throughout, but resignedly and bravely faces them.

I was glad to see and satisfied with how this storyline was ultimately resolved. With some plotlines still in play, I look forward to Betty’s return and the continuation of this unique historical mystery series in Season Three.

I highly recommend this episode to readers following the exploits of this kick-ass Lady Vigilante and Avon Lady and the entire series to those that enjoy historical mystery/thrillers featuring a strong female protagonist. As indicated above, the books are episodic, and I recommend they be read from the beginning in chronological order.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author.

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Tuesday, November 09, 2021

Dragon by Midnight by Karen Kincy

Dragon by MidnightDragon by Midnight by Karen Kincy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fantastic and imaginative retelling of the Cinderella fairytale!

In Dragon by Midnight, Cinderella (real name: Ginevra Darlington) attends 'the ball' at the personal invitation of Prince Benedict Charming, but rather than seeking the handsome prince’s attention as a prospective bride; she goes seeking a boon. She needs help from the royal family in reclaiming her rightful inheritance – her home - from her horrid stepmother and stepsisters. It seems the manor house was a gift to Ginevra’s mother for a heroic service she performed for the queen, Benedict’s mother. It is a heroic service of such a delicate nature that it has remained a well-kept secret since before Cinderella’s birth.

Still, the attraction between Cinderella and the prince is there, but before she can attain the assistance she needs from him, the magic hour of midnight is upon them. However, instead of losing a glass slipper, this Cinderella suddenly and inexplicably turns into a giant, blue dragon…

From its stellar opening line, “Before she became a dragon, the night had been a dream,” Dragon by Midnight proves to be a wonderful retelling of the Cinderella fairy tale with a dark underlying storyline featuring magic, a jinni, an evil curse, and, naturally, a dragon.

Kincy’s story unfurls simultaneously in the two kingdoms of Viridia and Azurum, the home countries of her two protagonists: Cinderella and the sorcerer, Sikandar Zerian. Although great distances apart, both kingdoms are ruled by royal families with hidden agendas and dark secrets who are cruel and selfish. This is quite a difference from the traditional portrayal of the king and queen who parent Prince Charming in the familiar fairytale and scarily similar to our expectations for the demeanor of stepmother and stepsisters.

The story is told from alternating points of view, in the voices of the two main characters, Cinderella and Sikandar. They feel both genuine and representative of young adults 17 or 18 years of age, even under the extraordinarily fantastic circumstances of the plot. The two display the feelings and emotions one would expect: they get mad, feel an attraction to each other, and have aspirations and hopes that work well within their situations. Both must overcome the impact of being the black sheep, the disappointment, or the unwanted member of their families.

The excitement and non-stop action of Dragon by Midnight start on the first page and never lets up, and the ending, which left things open for a sequel, was still satisfying. I highly recommend DRAGON BY MIDNIGHT for readers who enjoy Young Adult fantasy, fairytale retellings, and dragon tales.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from TBR and Beyond Tours.

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Monday, September 13, 2021

Paradise on Fire by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Paradise on FireParadise on Fire by Jewell Parker Rhodes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Exciting and immediately absorbing; I loved it!

Six inner-city teens from the East Coast are flown to California to participate in a summer Wilderness Adventure. The main character, Addy, has never been out of the Bronx, and much like the other city kids, is anxious about the whole trip. Addy is an orphan; her parents died years earlier when she was a little girl, and her grandmother, Bibi, came from Nigeria to take care of her. Addy still has nightmares of losing her mother and father, of the fire, of needing to know how to escape. Bibi had signed her up for this summer Wilderness Adventure; Addy just wanted to stay home.

Arriving at the Wilderness camp, Addy and the others quickly fall into the routine for the summer program. From the very beginning, Addy realizes that the wilderness, the forest, the outdoors calls to her very soul, and Leo, the camp owner, instinctively sees her as a kindred spirit. Along with Ryder, Leo’s dog, the three bond as they begin to systematically explore and map their wild surroundings and record the environmental changes they find - changes to land and animals resulting from never-ending climate change. Leo teaches Addy about maps, topography, and other wilderness skills, and they talk about her returning to continue her studies and work there in the summers to come.

But with the end of summer, the Wilderness Adventure comes to a close, and the teens and their two college-age camp counselors head out for one final challenge, a 3-day hike with overnight tent camping. They’ve prepared well for this all summer long; however, nothing could prepare them for what they encounter on their first night out.

I loved this book! With interesting young leading characters, all with their own issues and fears, the story evolves, and the tension steadily increases until you find yourself smack in the middle of some honest-to-goodness pulse-pounding action. I almost thought I was breathing the fresh air and, later, choking on ash and embers. The characters were so very engaging that I was much affected as things unfolded. The story easily and totally absorbed me from start to finish.

In addition to the exciting story, the very serious themes of climate change, ecological degradation, and the need for environmental protection come through the action. These concepts with consequences are presented simply and straightforwardly so the youngest readers will understand, and older ones will not feel it's too preachy.

Paradise on Fire is an unforgettable adventure story that is perfect for middle grades, high school, and readers who enjoyed Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet.

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

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Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Ghost Agents (Ghost Agents Trilogy, #1) by Nita DeBorde

Ghost AgentsGhost Agents by Nita DeBorde
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fantastic paranormal-cozy mystery you’ll be tempted to read from start to finish in one sitting!

The Bureau for Historical Preservation is a secret organization that has operated in the shadows for centuries. Its mission is to keep tabs on the energized “projections” or ghosts, assisting them to cross over to the other side when they’re ready and keeping them safely in line until they do. However, not all ghosts deal with the Bureau. These rogues exist on their own terms outside the protection the Bureau offers.

By day, Claire Abelard works in a candy store and at night she’s a tour guide to the haunted places Galveston, Texas, is known for, both covers for her real work as a Bureau field agent. When she hears rumors from the ghostly community that rogues have been disappearing and the projections are afraid something terrible is happening to them, she tries to get the Bureau involved. But since the missing entities are rogues, Bureau leadership disregards her concerns. Against orders to leave it alone, she decides to investigate on her own not realizing that her entire world is about to be turned upside down.

Ghost Agents, the first book in the Ghost Agents Trilogy, was a fantastic story from start to finish. I loved everything about this book: the premise, the plot, the characters, and the (close-to-home-for-me) setting of Galveston, Texas.

The main character, Claire Abelard, is a determined young woman, dedicated to her job with The Bureau for Historical Preservation, to preserve and promote historically significant locations to keep their stories and local history alive, AND to monitor and assist the ghosts (known as “projections”) stay safe and on the straight and narrow. Unfortunately, such commitment doesn’t come without sacrifices; as a bureau agent, Claire is posted to cities wherever her Level 5 skills are needed most, which keeps her separated from her family in Boston most of the time. Her job doesn’t leave Claire with much time or energy for a social life, either. Not only does she maintain a day job in a candy store as a cover for her bureau activities, but she also has a night job leading ghost tours of some of Galveston’s leading haunted places. Then, after the evening tours are over, she may have to conduct additional bureau business. But she is consistent in her goal to preserve, promote, and protect the ghostly projections in her jurisdiction and those outside it that have gone “rogue.” She’s smart, independent, witty, and an all-around fun character.

Other fun characters include the projections, including Claire’s three “roommates:” Sarah Meriwether, the motherly former owner of their shared home, April Parish, the tragic victim of spousal abuse, and Thelma Gates, a party girl from the 1920s. The author incorporates actual historical figures whose spirits are thought to haunt real venues located in Galveston (one of the most haunted cities in the U.S.) among Claire’s contacts. Some of Galveston’s long history is woven into the storyline as well.

Along with the city’s exciting history, the author does a fabulous job creating the secret world of “The Bureau” and the story and nature of the projections. The background exposition is cleverly delivered in both dialogue and excerpts from the Bureau’s history textbook that its agents-in-training are issued and expected to know.

With its fresh plot, burgeoning romance and sibling estrangement subplots, superb setting, and wonderful characters, Ghost Agents is a great cozy mystery that is sure to grab a reader’s attention and take it on an action-filled adventure. I highly recommend this book to any cozy mystery reader who enjoys a paranormal storyline.

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

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Thursday, July 22, 2021

Fools Rush In (Lady Vigilante Crime Series, #19) by Hayley Camille

Fools Rush In (Lady Vigilante #19)Fools Rush In by Hayley Camille
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fools Rush In is the exciting continuation of the search for the villains behind the Boudoir Butcher murders.

With a new understanding between mother and daughter after an almost tragic kidnapping, Betty begins training Nancy in earnest to be more fully prepared for the future ahead of her. Undoubtedly, Nancy will be in the thick of things from here on out, and her mother wants her to perfect her skills as soon as possible.

Adina realizes that Betty is not what stands in her way for a future with Jacob Lawrence; it is her own feelings. She is no longer in love with him, and she believes the feeling is mutual. She is ready to accept Betty’s help to keep little Teddy hidden from his birth mother, Violet Mills. But just as things are looking really good on the home front, the Boudoir Butcher rears his ugly mug again.

Fools Rush In continues the search for the villains behind the Boudoir Butcher murders. This is the 19th installment in the episodic Lady Vigilante Crime Series. I loved that this episode shows healing in the Jones’ family relationships as well as those with some of Betty’s friends, such as Adina and Jacob. Amid crisis, Betty establishes some new ties with the ladies downtown but, sadly, must engage unnecessarily with an old adversary.

As usual, the author does an admirable job recreating “the look and feel” of early 1940s New York City, incorporating the fashion, language, and music of the time. A battle between Betty and the Ghost Warriors’ Enforcer, Chén Qiáng, is one of the best fight scenes of the series, and there have been many memorable ones.

Fools Rush In is not a standalone novelette, and readers should start reading the series from the very beginning to enjoy Betty’s adventures. I recommend the Lady Vigilante Crime Series to readers of cozy mysteries, historic cozies, those who like stories set in New York City or set during World War II.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author.

This latest episode in the series will be published on on August 4, 2021.

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Monday, July 05, 2021

A Tale of Two Sisters (The Fortune-Telling Twins Mysteries, #1) by Bettina M. Johnson

A Tale of Two Sisters (The Fortune-Telling Twins Novella #1)A Tale of Two Sisters by Bettina M. Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Tale of Two Sisters is a light and fun cozy paranormal mystery, and the journey to its resolution is both exciting and entertaining.

Maggie Fortune leads a secret ten-member team of monster-hunters who move about the country undercover as part of a traveling caravan of antique appraisers. Like the more well-known “Antiques Roadshow,” the caravan stops in various towns along its way to let people bring them their prized possessions in hopes of discovering hidden riches. However, individuals of the paranormal variety bring in items having a different goal. They want these experts to determine if their possessions are cursed, bewitched, or masking and hiding a supernatural evil, and if they are, they want the items cleansed of the danger or released from the spell. Maggie’s team is comprised of a mix of extraordinarily talented individuals: Maggie and her sister, Ellie, are both witches but others are vampires, shifters, elementals, druids, succubi, and even a ghost.

At their most recent stop, Maggie is approached by the elderly Birch sisters, Esther and Louise, with a lamp. They insist the lamp is actually hiding the spirit of their younger step-sister, Millicent, who passed only days earlier. Not wishing to be buried, they believe Millicent has somehow used the island magic of her people back on St. Lucia to hide her mortal remains from them. They want Maggie to expel Millicent from the lamp and find her body for them so they can give her a proper burial.

Things just sound wrong to Maggie, but she agrees to take on their case. Able to tell special things about an item, such as its history from a touch, Maggie picks up the lamp and finds herself transported to the sisters’ old Victorian home, where she encounters a woman who looks like Millicent. However, when she turns to face Maggie, the woman begins to shriek, and her face is completely blank and without features. Frightened, Maggie breaks the connection, realizing there’s way more to the story than what the sisters have told her. She is determined to have her team get to the bottom of things.

A Tale of Two Sisters is a delightful story chockful of witches and a myriad of paranormal beings, some a familiar variety such as vampires and shifters but also some of the less well-known types like succubi, druids, or elementals. The monster-hunting team is a collection of these various beings, all using their special talents and skills to save the human world from the evils of the unknown. They travel from place to place under the guise of a major antique appraisal business owned and operated by Maggie and Ellie’s family, but even Maggie’s father doesn’t know about the team’s true mission.

Maggie herself is a witch and is the heart and soul of the book. She’s bright, funny, and good-hearted, a character to get behind and root for from the very start. She’s got a lot of responsibility on her shoulders, which she handles well. But when provoked, Maggie shows what a tough cookie she really is. She was so engaging and fun, someone I’d enjoy knowing in real life.

In addition to solving the case of the missing Millicent, the story has what looks to be an ongoing mystery, one that will continue through to the next book in the series, at least, regarding Maggie’s twin sister. Ellie is a ghost, sort of. She’s not quite dead (her body is enclosed in a glass coffin back at the Fortune family’s home, never decomposing), but she’s most certainly not alive either. The members of the team can see her, but only Maggie can hear her speak. So far, she seems free to come and go as she pleases and can touch and move items. The only clue to who is responsible for her current condition is a small statue of a wolf.

I liked that there is a tie to the author’s Lily Sweet series. Lily is a young artist living in Sweet Briar, Georgia, who only recently discovered she was descended from a family of witches and is herself a dark witch. The family in Georgia are cousins to the Fortune family.

This is also a story about sisters and features three different sister groupings: the twins, Maggie and Ellie, the elderly Birch sisters, twins Esther and Louise, and Millicent, and there’s even the succubi sisters, Serena and Sydney. It was interesting to note the different relationships that existed among all the sisters.

Coming in at under 120 pages, this first tale in the Fortune-Telling Twins Mysteries is a smart and fun novella that is easy to enjoy and well worth the time spent reading it. A Tale of Two Sisters is a solid, interesting mystery and the journey to its resolution is both exciting and entertaining. It is a great introduction to this new series. I recommend it to readers who enjoyed the author’s other series, like cozy mysteries featuring the paranormal, especially witches, and even readers who would enjoy a light, fun mystery featuring sisters and antiques.

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

View my original review on Reedsy Discovery!

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

The Rise of Alpha (Savage Dawn, #2) by Robert Cole

The Rise of Alpha (Savage Dawn Book 2)The Rise of Alpha by Robert Cole
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A nuclear war had destroyed society on Earth and left pockets of survivors scattered across its surface, fighting for every aspect of life. However, below the surface near the former village of Box in Wiltshire, there existed one final remnant of the world from before the holocaust, the advanced, secret city of Genesis. Built and populated by the military and scientific community in case such a catastrophic event as this happened, Genesis had continued to thrive deep inside the Earth as the desperate survivors on the surface suffered nuclear winter and the collapse of the world completely unaware of its existence. But the leaders of Genesis knew what was going on above them and plotted to remove the sick and savage surface survivors. Their goal was to clear the way so when the Earth recovered, the people of Genesis could return to the land and restart society. The surface survivors, however, had other plans.

Three months ago, Alex Carhill and other survivors from rough cobbled-together communities in Wales and Scotland had discovered Genesis and their plans. En masse, they had breached the defenses of the underground city, and now he and leaders from both the surface and city were working hard to meld the two communities into one even though both held deep-seated resentment against the other. But then the rumors of survivors from the European continent flooding their island home’s shores began to surface. This wave of humanity was trying to escape a deadly new plague that had decimated survivor communities throughout France and Spain, and many of the new arrivals were infected, sick, and dying.

The combined Genesis leadership argued fiercely over what to do to stop the steady advancement of the new disease. Some proposed turning the wretched survivors back or killing them all as they arrived to prevent the disease from getting a foothold in England. But others successfully argued to launch a medical expedition to collect samples of the disease from the stricken and work to develop methods to treat, prevent, and cure it. Alex is tapped to lead the medical mission of mercy, but the convoy is not far along in their trek when they discover the new plague isn’t the greatest danger that has landed on their shores.

The Rise of Alpha is the second novel in the Savage Dawn series by Robert Cole. An exciting adventure story of survival, betrayal, and overcoming impossible odds, there seemed to be something surprising happening with every turn of the page. It was an easy-to-read and very enjoyable tale.

Alex Carhill, our hero, returns from book one along with his girlfriend, Elaine, and many others who will be familiar to the series’ readers. However, the cast of characters does not remain stagnant as tragedy strikes, and the author’s excellent world-building provides many new faces to love or hate.

It was great to see new threats evolve as well as new champions emerge as the story progressed. There are some great characters, and the Alpha society is pretty amazing and very well-developed. I found it easy to get behind the idea of the Alphas being the next step in human evolution and liked the extrasensory aspects of their development a lot. I liked that the author created something new, and we didn’t have the same old marauding bands of evil scavengers or zombies. Though I enjoy both of those staples in post-apocalyptic stories, it was awesome to face different and fresh evils.

Two horrifying threats, other than the plague, of course, gave me the willies. One was the subplot of how the city of Genesis attempted to wipe out the surface survivors before they discovered their underground hideaway. This storyline was shocking, and I was quite disturbed by what they had tried to do. The other threat was created when everyone’s pets were left to fend for themselves after the missile blasts. I love my dogs, but I did catch myself giving them the side-eye as I read late at night.

Another thing I enjoyed about this story was the setting. The author references actual towns and villages, and roadways which ground the action to the real world. Most people enjoy being able to visualize a book’s setting, especially if it is a familiar one. A map is conveniently provided to help set the location even more quickly.

I recommend The Rise of Alpha to readers of post-apocalyptic fiction, especially if they happen to be from the areas where most of the action takes place. For the best enjoyment, Nuclear Midnight, the first book in the series, should be read beforehand. Readers may be able to figure out references to events in the past and still have a good story, but really, Nuclear Midnight was an entertaining tale on its own. Both are quick, interesting, and fun selections in this genre.

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

See my original review on Reedsy Discovery!

Monday, June 21, 2021

Nuclear Midnight (Savage Dawn, #1) by Robert Cole

Nuclear Midnight (Savage Dawn Book 1)Nuclear Midnight by Robert Cole
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A well-done post-apocalyptic tale set in Wales featuring young adult protagonists.

Brothers Alex and Jason Carhill were several months into a planned year-long world tour traveling from their native Australia when troubles between the US and Russia suddenly erupted. Due to the volatility of the political situation, they decided to cut their trip short when they arrived in London, both to let things settle down and to see the city sights while they waited it out. The boys had lived in London when they were small and were ready to discover the places of their childhoods. However, neither the US nor Russia were backing down from hardline ultimatums, and the world’s citizens were holding their collective breaths as the two angry superpowers appeared headed toward a final showdown.

The London population began to panic, prepared for the worse, hoarding supplies and clogging all roads out of the city. But just as suddenly, the crisis appeared to have been averted, and the boys decided to hire a car and drive west to tour Devon and Cornwall. After several days on the road, a single emergency warning came that Russia had launched a large number of missiles, some of which were headed to Great Britain. But before the brothers could even seek shelter, the world around them exploded with brilliant white light and searing heat.

When Alex came to, he was in an underground shelter, and Jason was missing, taken to a nearby hospital to treat the injuries he’d received when the car they’d been in had been destroyed. The world was dark, the wind was howling, and a nuclear winter was upon them. Radiation fall-out made leaving to search for his brother impossible. He was alone with random strangers, many of whom were already showing the signs of radiation poisoning but safe, at least for the moment.

As soon as radiation levels dropped enough, Alex and others from the shelter (an old church basement) were sent out to search for additional survivors, supplies, government assistance, and Alex’s brother. But when they found instead was sheer chaos and a world quickly returning to savagery.

Nuclear Midnight is the first book in author Robert Cole’s post-apocalyptic series, Savage Dawn. The story follows the survival journey of young Alex Carhill and the comrades he acquires as he searches for safety, food, and a community of survivors looking to rebuild their world. It is an exciting and action-filled story with, literally, never a dull moment. The danger felt plausible and real, and because I quickly became engaged in Alex’s survival, I never wanted to put the book down. The setting in Wales was a new one for me, so I found that extra interesting and fresh. The storyline includes some great battle sequences that, although conveying the panic and confusion inherent in war, were still easy to follow and understand. These scenes were exceeding well done. If I had a complaint, it would be that the story had a somewhat abrupt ending. However, with the next book in the series on the Savage Dawn horizon, the wait to find out what happened next isn’t too long.

I recommend Nuclear Midnight to readers that enjoy post-apocalyptic tales featuring young adult protagonists, especially those set in Great Britain.

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

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Sunday, June 13, 2021

Skid Kids by Michael Franz

Skid KidsSkid Kids by Michael Franz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Skid Kids is the exciting story of young mutants who must battle it out in a cut-throat roller-derby-style competition for the pleasure and entertainment of the humans and a chance at freedom.

Skid Kids is an exciting young adult story of the dystopian world of the mutants’ Wastelands and Westport, where the remainder of humanity is gathered. The enclosed city of Westport, or ‘The Station’ as the mutants call it, is governed by the powerful ‘National Freedom Party,’ their leaders entrenched in maintaining the status quo and apt to do anything to keep it so. But not all humans believe that mutants are less than animals, dangerous, and require extermination; they remember they used to be humans, too. The mutants were created when they were caught in “The Cleanse,” the Station’s attempt to purify the contaminated air trapped inside the city of Westport. As the latest season of the Skid Track League approaches, the citizens of Westport sympathetic to the plight of the mutants are finally prepared to act on their beliefs. To the young mutants, the start of the Skid Track League represents hope, and it’s their only hope. The Skid Track team of mutants that comes in first at the end of the season is awarded their freedom.

Author Michael Franz has created a vivid world of opposites in the Wastelands and mutants and Westport and its people. His descriptions of the circumstances of the mutant population are almost tangible and desperate. The opulence and insulation of Westport, the city of the hope of the mutant rollers, is not what it seems. The cracks in the myth of freedom are slowly revealed as Zander and his young sister, Kensy, get drawn into the political machinations going on in Westport.

And speaking of Zander and Kensy, the brother and sister duo are the main characters of the story and are surrounded by a variety of interesting and sympathetic supporting friends. You can’t help but root for the mutants (on most all of the competing teams). They are that likable and relatable. Yes, there’s a bad apple or two (both mutant and human), but what would the plot be without them? It took a little longer for me to get on board with the Westport folks, but eventually, I did as the two stories entwined.

Although Skid Kids features mostly young adult characters (mutants don’t live long), I think readers of all ages will enjoy it. I found it an absorbing story and whipped through the over 400-page-long tale, feeling quite annoyed when I had to put it down to return to necessary tasks like sleep.

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

View my original review at Reedsy Discovery!

Thursday, June 10, 2021

The Church of Tango: A Memoir by Cherie Magnus

The Church of Tango: A MemoirThe Church of Tango: A Memoir by Cherie Magnus
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I became a believer.

When her beloved husband, Jack, died from cancer, Cherie Magnus was set adrift. Cherie and Jack had planned their later lives as a couple. They had even invested in a second home in one of their favorite locations in France, near the Swiss border. But, instead, she found herself living alone in the family home in Los Angeles, her adult sons busy with their own lives. Cherie continued to work as a librarian, and soon the first holidays without Jack came and went. Some of their life-long “couple” friends melted away with Jack’s death. Others turned out to be snakes in the grass, not above taking terrible advantage of Cherie’s sudden widowhood.

But her passion for everything French remained, and Cherie decided to take her vacation alone in Paris, registering for a two-week intensive French language course. It is there that she first met and fell for Olivier, the class instructor and a married man. She returns to LA, but the long-distance relationship is far from over.

THE CHURCH OF TANGO is Cherie Magnus’s no-holds-barred memoir of her renewed search for life after the loss of her much-loved husband. She tells all: her loves, adventures, mistakes, and discoveries. Her story made me go through so many emotions! There she was, poised on the brink of being able to restart her life with her husband as an empty-nester when he was diagnosed with cancer. Later, she, too, received a cancer diagnosis (twice!). So she traveled to strange and exotic places to live and dance and love again.

I was so comfortable with the author’s writing style. Her words flowed, and I willingly followed. I admired her gutsy approach to following her heart to experience new things, hone her skills in the world of dance, and live life to the fullest. Several times I paused to seek out YouTube examples of the dance styles she was exploring or research more about a new-to-me term or look on a map to find the exotic location she was visiting. It was chockful of interesting tidbits and facts along with her absorbing story. The descriptions of the culture of the places she was living and especially that of the tango dance clubs were fascinating. I was delighted to see the author has additional books (just waiting for me!) about other times of her exciting life. I highly recommend THE CHURCH OF TANGO for readers that enjoy women’s memoirs (this is a must-read!), memoirs related to dance, and true stories of living life to its best advantage.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through France Book Tours.

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Sunday, June 06, 2021

Behind the Wall (Shades of Secrets, #1) by Harris Kloe

Behind the Wall(Shades of Secrets: Book 1):Crime fiction/Suspense/Mystery short story seriesBehind the Wall(Shades of Secrets: Book 1):Crime fiction/Suspense/Mystery short story series by Harris Kloe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Atmospheric with its bite-sized Twilight Zone delivery and smidge of Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart!

There’s something ‘off’ about the check-in at the Hill View Hotel from the very start. And when the clerk is reluctant to give him the pricey and unreserved penthouse suite, saying he thought he might prefer something a little more budget-minded, Henry is on the alert. But the beautiful room is perfect for a restful night until it wasn’t. Author Harris Kloe does a great job building the reader up for the surprising reveal. With its compact length of 15 or so pages, Behind the Wall is a quick and entertaining short story. Perfect for a little bedtime reading?

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author.

Behind the Wall is the first story in the Shades of Secrets series, a collection of five different stories with a similar theme. It is included in the Kindle Unlimited program and will be available for purchase at a reduced price of 99 cents. However, if you hurry, I noticed that it is offered FREE of charge today!

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Wednesday, June 02, 2021

Monet & Oscar: The Essence of Light by Joe Byrd

Monet & OscarMonet & Oscar by Joe Byrd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From the charm of the 1920s to the wonderful characters, fictional and fictionalized, this book shines!

After the end of the first World War, American soldier Oscar Bonhomme awakens in a military hospital. He was being treated for multiple injuries he’d received in action on the battlefields of Meuse-Argonne. His return to consciousness was greeted with the news that his mother had passed away back home in San Francisco. She had been his only parent, a free spirit, who’d rubbed elbows in France in her younger days with those who would later be known as the core artists of the Impressionist movement. She’d returned to San Francisco and supported herself and her son as a successful landscape designer but had never been able to tell Oscar who his father was, just that he was one of the artists.

With no one else waiting for him there, he decides to remain in France to recuperate further. Through the intervention of a friend he’d made in the hospital, the famous Impressionist painter, Claude Monet, hires him to care for his gardens and assist with setting up his equipment when he paints and then as a traveling companion. With a career in landscape design like his mother in his sights, Oscar jumps at the chance to see and learn about the famous gardens and learn from Monet about his fellow painters and discover which one is his father.

A mix of actual and fictional characters, Monet & Oscar by author, Joe Byrd, is a satisfying page-turner of a story. The easy-to-read writing style allowed the story to flow, and I was immediately caught up in its current. I could feel the sun as it shone on the pond in Monet’s garden at the various times of the day with the wonderful descriptions that added so much without ever bogging things down.

In addition to the comfort and immersion in the settings, I loved the characters. Most specifically, I was charmed by the main character, Oscar, he was so earnest and well-meaning, and he had this little touch of naiveté that really made me like him. The author did a great job creating the character of Isabelle. She was fun and feminine and evocative of the roaring 20s. Their romance is absorbing and nail-biting. Also, Monet’s large, close-knit family was great. I enjoyed ‘meeting’ them and experiencing their interactions with the elder Monet as his eyesight is going and his physical strength is starting to fail, with Oscar, who they immediately seem to make one of their own (without knowing about his search for his father), and Isabelle, too, when she enters the picture.

MONET & OSCAR is a wonderful historical fiction novel with mystery, romance, and adventure. There were twists and surprises throughout that kept the story moving and me turning the pages. I recommend this book for readers of historical fiction, those who would enjoy a satisfying tale featuring one of the greatest Impressionist artists, and even someone who would love to experience this time and place in France without leaving home to do so.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through France Book Tours.

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Sunday, May 30, 2021

Island on Fire by Sophie Schiller

Island on FireIsland on Fire by Sophie Schiller
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Island on Fire is an historical reimagining that is both fascinating and suspenseful!

It is the end of April 1902, and Emilie Dujon, the daughter of a coffee and cocoa planter on the island of Martinique, has her whole life planned out. She's happily engaged to marry a successful sugar plantation owner, Lucien Montplaisir, and the wedding invitations have all been sent out. It is hoped the marriage will pump much-needed money into her family's plantation, just in the nick of time. All in looking up for the Dujons until Mont Pelée, the long-dormant volcano looming nearby, begins to smoke and spew ash, rock, and sulfurous gases down over the region.

At this same time, an important and hotly contested election is underway in the closest city, Saint-Pierre, a beautiful port town known as 'the Paris of the West Indies.' The governor and his supporters are determined to get the voters to the polls and secure the status quo. But to do so, the populace must remain calm and remain in the city. To assuage their fears that Mount Pelée is about to erupt, he forms a scientific committee to travel to Pelée's summit, study the conditions there, and return with their recommendations. What he actually wants is for the committee to back up his opinion that all is well.

On an evening at the theatre with Lucien, Emilie inadvertently discovers he is cheating on her. She had recently begun to doubt the wisdom of her engagement to him, and this only cements her desire to break the engagement. But when she approaches her parents with her decision, they will hear none of it. Her confrontation with Lucien only angers him and confirms that he means to take her family's plantation for his own once they are wed.

When the scientific committee stops at the plantation seeking a guide up the mountain's slope, she decides to get away from her troubles for a while and feed her curiosity about the wakening volcano by joining their party. One member of the committee is the newly-arrived French lieutenant, Denis Rémy. He and aide-de-camp lightheartedly pass the time as they travel up the mountain vying for Emilie's attention. But when he saves her from a deadly snake, it is Rémy that earns her gratitude and admiration.

When the committee sees the volcano is likely to erupt at any moment, they rush back to confer with the governor. Despite their observations and warnings, he still maintains there is no imminent danger. As conditions worsen, the residents of the villages closest to the volcano's blasts of heat, rock, and ash begin to pack Saint-Pierre's streets.

Emilie's situation grows even direr when Lucien discovers her having dinner with Rémy in a town restaurant, a discovery that ignites into a very public fight between the two men. Emilie, desperate to escape Lucien's grasp, impulsively consults a powerful island herbalist, one known to be knowledgeable in the ways of voodoo. But once she's indebted to the evil man, things really take a turn for the worse.

As the tremors, ash, and rock spewing from Mount Pelée increase, the governor locks the city down. He forbids anyone to leave and requires all public servants to remain at their posts as if nothing were wrong. With food becoming scarce and water despoiling, the city edges closer and closer to boiling over into mass panic and chaos.

ISLAND ON FIRE is a historical fiction novel based on the 1902 eruption of Martinique's Mount Pelée, the most deadly volcanic eruption of the 20th century. The heat, ash, and flying debris destroyed the port city of Saint-Pierre and took the lives of approximately 30,000 individuals in only minutes. The story is a fascinating reimagining that is both suspenseful and absorbing. The romantic side plot of Emilie, Lucien, and Denis Rémy was well incorporated, well-told, and ultimately, very satisfying. The voodoo subplot was thrilling and horrifying; I couldn't stop reading. By the end, I was thoroughly entertained, had learned a lot about Martinique's history, culture, and geography, and found myself checking out travel options to the interesting island. I recommend ISLAND ON FIRE to readers of historical fiction, those interested in tales set in the West Indies, and armchair travelers to the French Antilles.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving a copy of the work from the author through France Book Tours.

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Wednesday, May 05, 2021

The Incomplete Artist (Ashley Westgard, #2) by Philip Wyeth

The Incomplete Artist (Ashley Westgard, #2)The Incomplete Artist by Philip Wyeth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ash’s elegant first date at an art auction with her new crush turns into a baffling murder investigation.

Dressed to the nines, Homicide Detective Ashley Westgard of the Jacksonville Police Corps is off-duty and enjoying an elegant first date with her newest romantic interest, wealthy patron of the arts, Thomas Templeton. She had met Tommy the week before while attending a tedious but high-profile law enforcement charity event at the invitation of the JPC’s top brass. She had seemed to have found a kindred spirit among the city’s upper crust at the event’s open bar. When he hadn’t fallen at her feet in adoration and lust as most other men did, she was intrigued.

For this initial outing, Ash found herself once again on his turf, rubbing elbows with his friends and acquaintances at the exclusive Muir Gallery. The event, hosted by the Movement 24 artistic school, was to be an evening of cocktails and conversation, culminating in an art auction of works by M-24 members. Since the revolution of 2024, more and more human activities had been relinquished to robots, including art. Movement 24 supported art created solely by human hands without the use of robots, and, naturally, there were strong opinions on both sides of the argument.

When the auction begins, the bidding quickly becomes competitive and heated with winners and losers both in the audience and among the artists. Pieces go for an eye-popping number of credits, and even Ash’s date scores the win of a sculpture he’d admired that evening. But when M-24’s most celebrated artist and vocal proponents is found murdered, Ash must exchange her strappy silver high heels for her silver detective’s shield and take control of the crime scene: one with over a hundred potential suspects.

The Incomplete Artist is author Philip Wyeth’s 2nd novel in his Ashley Westgard futuristic police detective series that debuted in 2020. In this entry, Ash has been taken out of her comfort zone of knocking heads and taking names and dropped into the realm of this future world’s high-fliers and social scions of the burgeoning Jacksonville art scene. She’s also the hopeful pursuer in her current relationship rather than the pursued. All of which leads to some introspection on her part about what she really wants out of life.

She remains justifiably suspicious of the motives of the JPC administration after the successful resolution of the case in book one. Still, I was glad to see her relationship with her immediate boss, Chief of Detectives Gabriela Paraquez, strengthen and perhaps start to solidify into something she can trust. Paraquez steps back and allows Ash to manage the complicated crime scene on her own. I liked her interactions with her other coworkers, too, as she conducted her investigation.

The murder case is baffling, with a massive number of potential suspects and witnesses on the scene when the victim is discovered. I felt how insurmountable the task of just securing the crime scene would have been, considering the number of attendees and the complication of everyone being part of the perceived elite and those that left the event before the discovery was made.

This story is quite different from the previous one. While in that one, Ash’s introduction was virtually a “smash and grab” of the reader, the tone of this story is more cerebral and thought-provoking. Ash’s investigation is also a journey through the philosophy of art with characters discussing its history and motivations, its wants and needs, past, present, and future.

The hard-riding, hard-driving, hard-drinking, and hard-partying Ashley Westgard from the debut novel has been set down among the rich and richer and is clearly out of her element. She is somewhat dazzled and seduced by these unfamiliar surroundings, almost hooked and feeling uncertain and off-kilter. And Thomas Templeton seems to be the perfect foil for Ash: their banter is delicious. But the work itself has its own magic for Ash, and she kicks the glamour to the curb and gets back to business, which is where the book shines – a character-driven, police procedural in a futuristic society.

I recommend The Incomplete Artist to those who enjoyed Ash’s debut story in Hot Ash and the Oasis Defect, readers who would like a mystery set in the world of art or with a futuristic setting.

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

Read my original review on Reedsy Discovery!

Monday, May 03, 2021

Engage at Dawn: Seize and Destroy (Engage at Dawn, #2) by Edward M. Hochsmann

Engage at Dawn: Seize and DestroyEngage at Dawn: Seize and Destroy by Edward Hochsmann
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Once, again the US Coast Guard Cutter Kauai and her crew is called upon to save the day, and perhaps this time, even the planet itself.

When the sentry-survey vessel observing the developing planet 331-3 (Earth) finally headed to the nearest Confed maintenance base for repairs, other observers with less honorable intentions schemed to take advantage of its absence to grab up now available resources that could easily be turned for a profit.

The crew of the sentry vessel had included in the incident report of their unscheduled stop on the planet that during their initial arrival, they had inadvertently destroyed the sea-going ship of a criminal organization involved in the smuggling of cocaine. That small mention is what had caught the eye of the unscrupulous Raviktos, the Chief Operating Executive of Kmaet'aqe, one of the largest corporations in the Confederation of the Six Systems. He could make a profit from cocaine, but it had to be done quickly and in just the right manner, for discovery by Confed could result in the ultimate of penalties.

Things go perfectly at first, but when a rival drug gang gets involved, they take the planetside alien representatives hostage along with some highly critical advanced technology. Raviktos' illegal operations are revealed to those tasked with looking for just this type of thing. Once again, the crew of the USCG Cutter Kauai is called upon to save the day, perhaps even the planet.

Engage at Dawn: Seize and Destroy is the second full-length book in author Edward M. Hochsmann's thrilling SciFi action-adventure series, Engage at Dawn. I was delighted to be 'reunited' with the Kauai's crew, catch up with returning characters, and get to know some new favorites. One of the many things that this author does well is write great dialogue. I laughed out loud several times during exchanges between characters.

I liked that the author populated his story with a wide range and variety of crew members: male and female, married and single, differing ages, races, cultures, experiences, grades, and even branches of service! Like any working group or family, they don't always see eye-to-eye and have their disputes and disagreements. But together, they work out their differences in the background to continue to perform as a highly professional and well-coordinated entity. (And I always learn something new when reading the adventures of these crew members.)

A new aspect to this series that appears in this book is the developing romantic relationship between the Kauai's XO, Lieutenant Benjamin Wyporek and the Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, Dr. Victoria Carpenter. Their story provided some sweet, tender, and anxious moments.

The romance, however, is a subplot. The major focus of the story is the thrilling action and adventure of Kauai's mission to take possession of the captured alien technology. Once the Kauai is underway, the action is non-stop, and things get intense! Operations on board the Kauai ring true to life and made my engagement in the story that much stronger. This was hold-your-breath, edge-of-your-seat stuff! Hochsmann's action sequences are superb, making Seize and Destroy downright great entertainment.

Although this novel could easily be read and enjoyed as a standalone, it would be a shame for the reader to miss out on the excellent first book in the series, Engage at Dawn: First Contact. I recommend this book and series to readers that enjoy military SciFi action-adventure stories, military romances, or fictional stories featuring the United States Coast Guard.

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

See my original Reedsy Discovery review!

Friday, April 30, 2021

Russian Brides (Sammy Greyfox Thriller, #1) by Hugh Macnab

Russian Brides (Sammy Greyfox Thrillers 1)Russian Brides by Hugh Macnab
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Homicide detective Sammy Greyfox is having a bad day, correction, SEVERAL bad days. But that doesn’t stop her from getting the job done!

Sammy Greyfox is a Native American homicide detective working for the county sheriff’s department headquartered in Naples, Florida. On her way to work one morning, she witnesses the deliberate attempt of a hit-and-run of another young native woman as she leaves the local diner, knocking her out of the way at the very last minute.

Handing the incident off to the officer on the beat, Sammy continues to the office, where she catches the case of accidental death that the medical examiner believes to be a murder in disguise. In the early hours of the morning, the much younger wife of wealthy Jon Watson called 911 to report that she’d woken to find her husband lying unresponsive at the foot of the flight of stairs from the second down to the first floor in their lavish Gulf front home. The initial onsite determination of the cause of death was a broken neck due to the fall; however, after closer examination, the medical examiner can see fingerprints on the man’s neck, and the location of the break between the C3 and C4 vertebrae would be unlikely under the particular circumstances. Suspecting foul play and recalling similar accidental deaths, he discovers at least four other cases within the county over the past three years where the neck had been broken in the very same way and contacts Sammy.

As Sammy begins to investigate, a further similarity among the cases comes to light; all the questionable deaths were of older, wealthy men married to much younger women they met in Eastern European countries such as Russia or Ukraine. When Sammy starts asking questions, she finds herself the target of a hit-and-run driver, too. Someone wants Sammy to give up her investigation, but she’s determined to get to the truth, and the more she finds out, the bigger and more complicated the entire thing becomes.

Russian Brides was an interesting and enjoyable police procedural that introduces the reader to a new detective series featuring ‘Sun and Moon’ Greyfox, AKA Samantha Greyfox. I was hooked by her story from the opening page and would have read through to the very last in one sitting if I could have gotten away with it. The story was that absorbing, and the various mysteries are solid, some with surprising resolutions that I never saw coming.

Besides the intriguing murder investigation, Sammy is experiencing personal upheavals as well, and all require some truly life-altering decisions. This woman is definitely having a BAD DAY: several bad days, in fact. However, she is strong, persistent, and smart, and she does have some good friends among her coworkers on whom she can lean when she needs a sounding board or a shoulder or a strong helping hand. And I wholeheartedly went on that ride with her as she tried to work through her various dilemmas. Readers are privy to Sammy’s internal dialogue, and it is, as appropriate, delightful, funny, entertaining, and poignant. The author has some other fun, quirky aspects worked in throughout the story that made me smile, such as her Alexa playlist used as her wake-up alarm, her relationship with her cars, and Bossy-boots.

However, my enjoyment of the book was absolutely and negatively impacted by the execution of the work and is the reason for my mid-scale rating. The story is rife with typos, changes in tense, incorrect choices between homophones (there, they’re, their, to, too), and incorrect use of apostrophes. Characters change first names or surnames: Marlene became Mellissa, Pinho became Pino. (And I wondered the entire book if the character from Brazil, Hosé, was supposed to be spelled José, the most popular boys’ name in that country.) These are all things that an editor would catch, identify, and have corrected before publication, and I am hoping that I was working from an unedited copy.

Despite the issues I had with this book, I am looking forward with great anticipation to the promised sequels, and if a reader is not bothered by these types of problems, then I say grab this book and enjoy. But I recommend this book, with reservations, for those who would enjoy a police procedural with an exceptionally engaging lead detective. This story was well worth reading.

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

See my original review at Reedsy Discovery!

Monday, April 19, 2021

The Elephant Cage by Brooks Powell

The Elephant CageThe Elephant Cage by Brooks Powell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

With the mid-1970s setting in Turkey, there is a really good story here, but I felt like I only got glimpses of it.

It's 1973, and Airman George Pearson reports to his new assignment after completing the USAF School of Cryptologic Sciences: Karamursel Air Base, Turkey. Located a couple of hours outside of Istanbul on the coast of the Maramara Sea, Karamursel is an air base without planes or a runway. It is the location of "The Elephant Cage," one of the largest and most sophisticated listening stations operated by the United States. To George Pearson, it will be "home" for the next 18 months, and it is strange and dirty and hot.

George's work assignment is to listen in on radio traffic from the Soviet Union to collect and record military intel. It comes with a demanding, exhaustive work schedule, secret clearance, and a lot of stress. Many airmen relieve their stress with sex, drugs, or loud rock and roll; George indulges in all three. George is especially known for being a ladies' man, but only a week before arriving at his new duty station, George married his high school prom date, Natalie, and she will be coming to join him in-country in a few months.

With the drugs and their effect on his work habits and attitude, things quickly go sideways when his new wife arrives. To compound his problems, he gets on his commanding officer's bad side despite being one of the best at his job (but not his military appearance and hygiene). But when one of his circle of friends gets arrested by the Turkish police for possession of a large quantity of hashish, things really go south. In Turkey, possession and participation in drug trafficking draw the worst consequences, and now, instead of a possible court-martial, George and his friends could end up facing a death sentence.

The Elephant Cage is a short historical fiction novel by debut author Brooks Powell. The mid-1970s time period and its Turkish setting were interesting, fresh, and immediately drew me in. I liked the mix of the fictional George's story with the events that were going on in Turkey, Cyprus, and the U.S. political scene at that time. I just couldn't connect with George, though. For one thing, his frequent references to his penis and the current state of its arousal were off-putting to me. He and the other characters work in an intriguing setting, and it felt like very little time was spent on this aspect of the plot. However, I thought that the commanding officer's resolution for the drug arrest was exciting and one of the book's best parts.

The author provides a lengthy timeline at the end of the book that contains the historical background to the events current to the story's time. However, it (and consequently its readers) would benefit from some pruning and clean-up to remove many repetitive entries, especially those that are exact duplicates of others. Even if the author just paraphrased the relevant bits, this would prove more useful and interesting (because it is interesting!)

I recommend The Elephant Cage, but with reservations. There is a really good story here, but I feel like I only got glimpses of it. I urge the author to dive back in on this one, expand the story, and give us more of the good stuff.

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

Read my original review on Reedsy Discovery!

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Madeleine: Last French Casquette Bride in New Orleans by Wanda Maureen Miller

Madeleine: Last French Casquette Bride in New OrleansMadeleine: Last French Casquette Bride in New Orleans by Wanda Maureen Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The satisfying story of Madeleine, one of the filles a la casquette and a forgotten French policy to colonize the wilderness known as Louisiana.

When the master of the de Mandeville chateau began to take an inappropriate interest in his wife's ladies' maid, 17-year-old Madeleine Boucher finds herself enrolled in the French government's program to provide suitable females as potential brides for their pioneering countrymen in their Louisiana colony. Madeleine is accepting of this fate; it is a chance for her to have a future in a new world far from the shadow of poverty and her early life as the daughter of a serf on the de Mandeville estate, a chance to be her own person and no one's servant ever again. Along with 59 other filles a la casquette, she's provided with a trunk (casquette) of household basics with which to start her married life with whomever she chooses as her husband. The girls with their chaperones, Ursuline nuns traveling to their convent in New Orleans, board Les Belles Soeurs, the ship which is to be their home for the next 3 – 4 months as they make the long journey by sea from France to the Port of New Orleans. They endure cold, heat, storms, sickness, diminishing food supplies, and the constant threat of pirates along the way.

Through no fault of her own, the lovely Madeleine is mistakenly identified on the ship's roster as a member of the de Mandeville family rather than from the de Mandeville chateau. However, she doesn't correct the error, hoping to prevent others from treating her like a mere servant. But rather than acting like a fragile flower from an aristocratic family, Madeleine pitches in to pull her own weight and help out any way possible, all the while keeping a cool head under the considerable stress of the ocean crossing. She catches the eye of the ship's captain, Jean Paul Beauchamp, and although there is an immediate and mutual attraction between the two, they manage to maintain the utmost decorum and respect for each other. On their last night aboard ship before debarking for the final journey upriver to New Orleans, Captain Beauchamp admits to Madeleine that despite his deep regard, his life will always be the sea.

When the girls finally arrive safe and sound in New Orleans, they are dismayed by the rough, crude conditions. Still, the warm and friendly welcome from the colonists lifts their spirits and soothes their disillusionment. They are soon showered with marriage proposals from men of all manner of background, circumstance, and situation. Madeleine is attracted to a young French army lieutenant, Jacques Bouligny, the younger son of an aristocratic family back in France. Jacques, in turn, is just as enamored of her but is away from New Orleans more than not quelling the rising turmoil among the Indian tribes inhabiting the Louisiana territory.

One by one, all the casquette girls except Madeleine make their selection of a husband and leave to start their new lives. She chooses to stay with the Ursuline sisters, assisting in their hospital and school for girls as she waits for Jacques to declare himself or Captain Beauchamp to return, having changed his mind.

I thoroughly enjoyed this new story of Madeleine and the filles a la casquette, set in the early 1700s in the wilds of southern Louisiana. It was an interesting and adventurous historical fiction novel laced with an irresistible romance. The heroine brought to mind Barbara Taylor Bradford's Emma Harte from A Woman of Substance or Margaret Mitchell's Scarlett O'Hara (without the negative personality traits.) I read with anticipation of the resolution of Madeleine's romantic relationships. Would things work out for her and Jacques, or would Jean Paul come back into the picture? I thought the plotline involving the Natchez exciting yet troubling. The tension of this situation was always hovering in the background. The same can be said regarding the reality of slavery. The characters of Moses, Rima, Lying Boy, Laff, and Lame Doe were some of my favorites, and I enjoyed their presence in the story. I hope to see more of them in the next book.

As the story covers almost 25 years, there is plenty of action during that time frame; there was never a dull moment in the book. This one kept me up reading way past a decent bedtime.

I recommend MADELEINE: LAST FRENCH CASQUETTE BRIDE IN NEW ORLEANS to readers that enjoy historical fiction with a romantic storyline or those that would like a story about a forgotten French policy (filles a la casquette) in the history of Louisiana and New Orleans. This story contains details related to sexual relations and is better suited to a more mature audience.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through France Book Tours.

View all my reviews