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.

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The Reckoning (Calliope, #3) by Scott Mari

The Reckoning (Calliope, #3)The Reckoning by Scott Mari
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Reckoning bridges the action from the previous Calliope books, and with some bombshell revelations, sets up the story for an exciting continuation.

Knowing the successful space battle against the aliens was not the last, Calliope Morrigan and her inner circle immediately begin preparing for the next onslaught. Humanity needs to unite and harness the knowledge, skills, and abilities of their best brightest engineers and scientists to develop defenses and offensive measures against their much more technologically advanced enemy. To this end, Calliope, Arn, Eylana, and Jared set off on a recruiting tour of what is left of Europe and the Soviet Union. For the most part, their requests for help fall on deaf ears, but they encounter some success by trading technology for technology. When Calliope must return to space, the rumor of a secret underground particle accelerator research facility takes Arn, Eylana, and two of her sisters to the desert near the dried-up Aral Sea. But Sirchan Li, thinking that Calliope is still with the group, has a surprise waiting for them.

Back on the Factory Asteroid, Jake has been trying to communicate with the alien "Greens" captured during the assault on Calliope's Cannon Asteroid and making very little headway. Behind the scenes, Calliope is working on a Mars terraforming project. She has Jared shuttling the new spaceships that Arn constructed on Earth to the Lunar Station and taking vast amounts of seawater and their accompanying macroinvertebrates from the White Sea in Mars' Mariner Valley when he comes.

Construction of Eylana's newly redesigned and upgraded stealth drones is approaching completion and are soon ready to be deployed around Jupiter, its moon, and the various asteroid belts in the sections of space the aliens are suspected to be hidden. The mission to place the drones to spy and give an early warning of an alien assault will require three experienced pilots. With Eylana and Jake seeding the moons and asteroid belts, Calliope takes on the most dangerous flight herself: placing the stealth drones right in the middle of the alien fleet.

The Reckoning is the third book in the excellent SciFi series, Calliope, by author Scott Mari. In this continuation of Calliope Morrigan's story and her fight against the aliens, the Larvaltics, an aggressive, lizard-like race of creatures that killed her parents and almost destroyed the Earth. The book's action picks up after the aliens' defeat on Calliope's Cannon Asteroid base near Jupiter, where the aliens were discovered building up their space fleet by the thousands. Returning to Earth and hailed as the savior of humankind, she and her circle of like-minded coworkers meet with the recovering countries' leaders, including the U.S., to solicit their assistance in preparing for the next alien assault.

The first third of the book details their meetings in Europe and Russia looking for support, and I found it slow-going, somewhat vague, and wandering. It felt like the characters really had no plan. However, the action really explodes when the quartet separates with Calliope returning to direct her numerous ongoing projects in space, Jared shuttling the new Earth-made spacecraft and their pilots to the Lunar Station, Eylana looking for her mother and sisters, and accompanying Arn Lasserman to chase down a secret underground particle accelerator laboratory rumored to be at the abandoned Baikonur Cosmodrome, the Soviet version of the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Scott Mari writes exciting action sequences like no other; they are dynamite, and there are plenty from this point forward.

Calliope's work on her Mars terraforming project holds some interest, as does the continuing work she and Parker are doing on the Lunar Station. Understandably, she's under a lot of pressure juggling so much, and her interactions with others such as Jake and Parker suffer. But as I mentioned, I felt it was understandable and explained. I wasn't a fan of her intimacy with Jake, though, even with the explanation. By this, the third book, I must be already too invested in her relationship with Jared for this to be my cup of tea.

I enjoyed that we get some of the story from the aliens' point-of-view in this volume. Things are not completely straightforward in their world, and the reader should be prepared for some BIG surprises to be revealed.

The Reckoning is a good bridge between the big action that occurred in book two, The Engines of War, and what is being set up for the next book in the series; it is not a standalone novel. Readers who enjoy character-driven SciFi action adventures should definitely give this series some attention, starting with book one, Calliope. I specifically recommend The Reckoning to readers who enjoyed the previous two Calliope novels.

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

See my original review on Reedsy Discovery!

Monday, April 05, 2021

Wreckers: A Denver Boyd NovelWreckers: A Denver Boyd Novel by George Ellis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wreckers is total entertainment! It is one of those books that you’ll want to keep reading through until the very end in one sitting. That’s right! Get ready to stay up late for this one.

At 19, Denver Boyd is the youngest captain of a wrecker spaceship (the 24th century’s version of a cosmic tow truck) in the verse. But don’t let his apparent youth fool you into thinking he isn’t experienced. Denver knows the score, and he’s one of the best mechanics around. Alone on his inherited vessel, the deceptively souped-up “Mustang 1,” except for his one-eyed cat, Pirate, and the snarky AI known as Gary, he takes calls for all kinds of repair services or tows from across the depths of known space, always barely on the positive side with credits, IPA beer, and delicious snack foods.

On his way to Jasper Station, he comes face-to-face with one of the last people he wants to encounter: the notorious Tracer captain, Desmond. Denver and Desmond had had a deal go sideways in the past, and that hadn’t endeared the boy to the ruthless pirate. Desmond demands a rendezvous and makes Denver an offer he can’t refuse. All he needs to do to get out of his bind with Desmond is sneak onboard one of the most elusive, outlaw space vessels known and steal an item that, apparently, everyone in the verse is willing to kill for. Through the course of events, Denver gains a couple of extra and unwanted crew members and earns an eye-popping bounty on his head courtesy of the universe’s peacekeeping agency: the Interstellar Federation Force.

Denver Boyd is such a likable guy. His interaction with the AI, Gary, is fun and humorous. Denver’s attachment to his cat was heartwarming and is sure to hit home with many readers. Each addition to the crew brought new issues, unique skills, and more enjoyment. I look forward to reading more about each one of these in future books. I really loved the big guy, Edgar.

Not only did the characters keep me engaged, but the story itself also grabbed from the first page and never let go. I can attest that the action was truly non-stop, even when dipping into the past for Denver’s backstory. The story is told in both a present and past timeframe: both clearly delineated and easy to follow. His relationships with his family, can we say, are complicated at best? I worried for the kid! The author gives him a history with this father and half-brother that would be quite a burden for any 19-year-old to handle. However, Denver is nothing if not resilient. I liked that he had an uncle that stepped in to take him under his wing when things went sideways with the father and brother. And it felt like all he’d been through with his father, brother, and his uncle prepared him to become pretty, pretty, pretty good at what he does.

For SciFi readers that enjoy the technical side of things, there’s a little sumpin’ sumpin’ for you here, too; it’s not all characters emoting and feelings and yadda yadda yadda. There are parts, processes, shoot ‘em ups, spacey stuff, and a lot of throwback to Star Trek (The Original Show, please!) But for those that skim the tech talk, there’s not so much that it will overwhelm this snappy dialogued, character-driven action-adventure at its heart.

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

Read my original review at Reedsy Discovery!