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.

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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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