Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Rome’s End (A Lucius Sestius Mystery, #1) by Fiona Forsyth

Rome's End (Lucius Sestius Mysteries Book 1)Rome's End by Fiona Forsyth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With its engaging characters, fascinating settings, and intriguing plot, this historical mystery is something special and not to be missed!

Lucius Sestius Quirinalis (Lucius) was only a child during the Catilinarian Conspiracy. His father was a significant figure in the campaign to put down the conspiracy, a strong supporter of Caesar, and a friend and ally of Cicero. Twenty years have passed, and Lucius has grown up to become a lawyer working career under the guidance of his father when an odd case comes their way as a request from that same old friend, Cicero.

Their new client, Gaius Sallust Crispus (Sallust), is the retired governor of Africa Nova, who just recently retired and returned to Rome. Through a friend, he has heard that someone is preparing to file charges against him for provincial corruption, an accusation that he finds both worrying and puzzling as he feels he’s done nothing to warrant such a claim and as a strong supporter and friend of Caesar, with few enemies. But he knows he will need a lawyer should the rumor prove accurate, and their mutual friend, Marcus Tullius Cicero, has recommended young Lucius.

Lucius takes on the case, and he and his father start investigating the existence of these potential charges. However, it soon becomes apparent that the trouble isn’t due to something Sallust had done as provincial governor. Sallust is writing a history of the Catalinarian Conspiracy, and someone very powerful is determined that he should drop it and find another hobby in his retirement.

Rome’s End was an intriguing, exciting, and very satisfying mystery set during the final months of Julius Caesar’s time as dictator of Rome. Author Fiona Forsyth has written an absorbing mystery using the figures of Rome’s leadership, actual historical figures, making them come to life as I’ve never experienced before. Some of the figures portrayed are bad people with dangerous levels of power at their fingertips.

Lucius is personable and very likable; in fact, his entire family is great. I particularly enjoyed his friendships with his future brother-in-law, Caecilius, and the informant/fixer, Cornelius Rufus. I was immediately invested in him finding out what was going on, frustrated when things didn’t go as he needed, and worried as he became trapped in the horrible situation that was not of his making.

As our main character is on the road for much of the story, numerous locations in the Ancient Roman Empire became settings for a lot of the action and investigation. You slowly realize that these places had been settled and populated, even at the time of events in the book, for an extraordinarily long time. Still, the author made them seem fresh and alive.

Forsyth’s use of this setting and historical time period was both wonderful and fascinating. The discussions of culture, politics, family, slavery, and the everyday lifestyle were a seamless part of the story. Interesting facts and tidbits were slipped in on every page with a quick explanation or naturally inserted in context and easily understood. I did look up one item early on because I thought, “Surely that’s not what I think it is.” It was. The author’s lifelong research was apparent, mind-boggling when considered, and, ultimately, inspirational, making this historic mystery special.

Forsyth’s writing style was vastly entertaining. I liked these characters, especially Lucius, and am ecstatic to see she has already written and published additional books in the series. I recommend ROME’S END to mystery readers who enjoy a historical setting featuring actual figures from the past.

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

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Sunrise Ranch (The Canyon, #2.75) by Carolyn Brown

Sunrise Ranch  (The Canyon #2.75)Sunrise Ranch by Carolyn Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A satisfying conclusion to Carolyn Brown’s The Canyon series set in the Texas Panhandle.P

Unbeknownst to the others, three half-sisters are summoned to the funeral of the father they never knew for the reading of his will. Ezra Malloy had wanted a son to follow in his footsteps, but after producing a daughter, the women he married were banished from the ranch and divorced. Never having gotten that son, he leaves the ranch to the three daughters with the stipulation that they only get their legacy after they’ve lasted an entire year on the property, keeping operations going successfully. If a daughter leaves the ranch, she’s out of the will and gets nothing.

Almost a year later, the only daughter still in residence is Bonnie, the other two having fallen in love and moved on to their own little piece of heaven on Earth, right there in Palo Duro Canyon. But Bonnie has no intention of remaining on the ranch even a day longer than necessary. After the year is up, she plans to sell up and return to the bright lights, fun, and excitement of the world she left behind: this time with the money to enjoy it.

One catch: Ranch foreman Rusty Dawson, who gets the ranch should all of the daughters pull up stakes, caught Bonnie’s eye from the first moment she met him, and he feels the same about her. However, neither one is willing to admit to the other the reality of their mutual and abiding attraction.

This novella is the first work I’ve read by Carolyn Brown, and it definitely won’t be the last. I loved it. It was included as an “extra” at the end of an unrelated novel, and while that book was great, I liked this one just as much! The sisters were fun characters, and there were enough hints about each of their stories, published previously, that I HAVE to track those down. But Bonnie is the last one standing. She committed herself to fulfilling that year on the ranch, which she accomplished with enthusiasm. She turned her hand at anything and became surprisingly well adapted to the life and skills needed for a ranching lifestyle. Rusty Dawson is the sweet and steady foreman who took care of the ranch and the previous owner, the girls’ crotchety excuse for a father, until his death, and is well-deserving of inheriting the place himself. How satisfying that maybe these two can come to a mutually beneficial agreement?

Sunrise Ranch was a great introduction to this prolific writer’s work, and I’m so looking forward to jumping into the rest of this series and her many others.

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Monday, March 28, 2022

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of PilgrimageColorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A satisfying coming-of-age story with an engaging main character pursuing a life-altering mystery.

Throughout high school, Tsukuru Tazaki and his four friends, two girls and two other boys, had been a close-knit group, almost a single unit. Tsukuru, though, had felt somewhat separated from his friends, different somehow, and was grateful for his inclusion in this circle of friends. A distinction they’d all commented on from early on in their friendship had to do with their names; the Japanese meaning of all the friends’ names included a color, except for Tazaki. It meant nothing, but somehow, this made Tsukuru feel “less than” the others.

At the end of high school, the other four planned to stay in their hometown of Nagoya for college, but Tsukuru, who had always had a passion for railroad stations, dreamed of going to a university in Tokyo to study engineering and eventually designing and building them. The others supported his decision, and when the time came, off he went, returning, when he could, to reunite with the group who had remained together even as they studied in different disciplines to pursue their own dreams.

But in their sophomore year, Tsukuru came home for a visit, and, oddly, none of his friends were available to take his calls or get together. His requests for return calls went unanswered. When he finally got one of the four on the phone, he was coldly told that they didn’t want anything to do with Tsukuru ever again, to stop calling and that all the others felt the same way. Completely blind-sided, hurt, and baffled, Tsukuru returned to Tokyo and his studies, clueless as to why he’d been banished from his circle so abruptly. Cut adrift, Tsukuru struggled to exist, totally in the dark about what had happened.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage was an absorbing coming-of-age story of a young man whose identity, based in part on being a member of this tight group of friends, dissolves when the circle rejects him without an explanation. I was completely drawn into his tale of being emotionally uprooted and felt his confusion especially considering the bizarre circumstances. The flow of the story is quiet and steady. It calmly traces Tsukuru’s path through his 20s and 30s. With the help of a girlfriend, he finally realizes that the continuing mystery of his inexplicable abandonment was affecting his ability to have a lasting and fulfilling relationship in his adult life. I thought it was quite courageous of Tsukuru to confront his past, returning to Nagoya after so many years and pursuing the answers he needed and deserved.

I listened to the audiobook as well as read a physical copy of the novel. The narrator of the audiobook edition, Bruce Locke, was excellent. His warm voice carried me along, and he expertly altered his voice to represent the different characters, men and women.

The book leaves the reader with questions still on the table and has an ending that leaves you wondering about Tsukuru’s future. But with the big mystery of the story solved, I was still satisfied with being left without all the answers.

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Saturday, March 26, 2022

Ellen Outside the Lines by A.J. Sass

Ellen Outside the LinesEllen Outside the Lines by A.J. Sass
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Understanding self-identity is beautifully incorporated into this astonishing coming-of-age story.

Ellen Katz and Laurel McKinley have been best friends forever. Now in high school, Laurel is interested in gymnastics, cheerleading, boys, makeup, and fitting in with the popular girls. Ellen, autistic and learning successful coping methods to deal with daily life, feels Laurel is drifting away from their friendship. Both girls are signed up for a school trip to Barcelona with their Spanish class, and Ellen is looking forward to the trip renewing their former close, comfortable relationship. She’s also glad to have her father along on the trip as one of the class’s parent chaperones.

A new student joins the group at the airport. Isa Martinez is a fresh face, not only because of coming from the Bronx or the purple hair but because Isa uses the pronouns “they/them” in their introduction to the class. She is a positive and bold spirit.

When the group arrives and settles into their hotel in Barcelona, the students are assigned to smaller groups with an adult chaperone. Ellen and Laurel discover they have been assigned to different teams. Ellen must step outside the comfort of her safe relationship with Laurel to work with her new team: Isa and two boys, Andy and Gibs, on the trip assignment – a scavenger hunt through Barcelona with clues to the locations they must find in Spanish. Ellen must reassess her understanding of friendship and how relationships can change over time while dealing with the sensory overload she experiences in the vibrant and busy tourist town. As her beliefs about friendship are tested, she is also awakened to the reality that not everyone fits neatly into the categories society has created to classify people.

Ellen Outside the Lines is a warm and wonderful story of an autistic teenager coming-of-age while on a summer school trip to Barcelona. The view inside Ellen’s thoughts and feelings had me enthralled from the first page as I witnessed how the world appeared to her. The support and understanding of her experiences by her closest classmates were astonishing to me, and I hope it is true-to-life because I didn’t expect that level of caring and compassion from schoolmates of that age. Of course, there were examples of those that weren’t so caring or compassionate. I ached for Ellen’s disappointments and missteps but cheered as she recognized where she went wrong or could have done better.

Besides her journey through her relationships with others, including her father, the story presented intriguing glimpses into her family’s life and religious observations of the Jewish faith. Her mother and her hobbies while husband and daughter were away provided fun little side surprises. I particularly liked the inclusion of the Hebrew language sprinkled throughout the dialogue between father and daughter.

The setting in Barcelona was exotic, vivid, and exciting. I loved the Spanish teacher’s device of the scavenger hunt to get his students out experiencing the city and expanding their vocabulary rather than just shopping and hanging out at the beach.

The characters are a wonderful yet cohesive mix of diverse individuals who were very relatable. I found the author’s use of language delightful and feel it will resonate exceptionally well with young readers.

I recommend ELLEN OUTSIDE THE LINES to YA and middle-grade audiences or adults wanting a better understanding of what it means to be autistic or neurodivergent.

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

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Friday, March 25, 2022

Troublemaker by John Cho

TroublemakerTroublemaker by John Cho
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Troublemaker is an absolute page-turner!

It is April 29, 1992, in Los Angeles, California, and Jordan Parks is about to have an extraordinary night. Sixth grade has been much harder than he’d ever expected, and to bring up flagging grades, he’s been cheating on his tests and gotten caught doing it several times. Now, he’s been suspended from school.

Thinking he’ll have a little time before his parents come home from working the family liquor store, Jordan is surprised and dismayed to find them already there when he arrives. But his Umma and Appa are wholly distracted by the day’s events unfolding in South Central, where their store is located. The verdict of acquittal in the trial of the four officers accused of beating unarmed Rodney King the previous year has been announced, and the South Central neighborhood is reacting with protests, demonstrations, and now, riots and looting. His parents closed the store early and came home to Glendale to wait things out. But when the news shows the demonstrations escalating into violence and destruction, Appa decides to return to the store and board up the windows as protection against vandalism. He promises to call home when he reaches the store, but the call never comes.

The whole family is worried, but none more so than Jordan. He and his father had recently had a huge blow-up, and Jordan had said some awful things to his father, which he immediately regretted. However, pride had kept him from apologizing, and with his father now in harm’s way, Jordan is worried he’ll never be able to tell his father he was sorry and what is really going on in his life.

When Jordan’s ne’er-do-well friend, Mike Rhee, phones to get him to hang out, Jordan sees a chance to help his father and prove to him that he’s not the big disappointment his father claimed him to be. Appa has a handgun in his bedroom closet, and Jordan plans to take the weapon to his father at the store for protection. Putting the gun in his backpack and sneaking out of the house to meet Mike is just the start of Jordan’s mission to reunite with his father and prove to him and himself that he’s not a complete failure.

Troublemaker is an exciting, tension-filled adventure set during the outrage, riots, and violence in South Central Los Angeles in the aftermath of the Rodney King verdict. The main character, Jordan Park, is twelve-years-old and he’s going through a tough time, as many children do when they transition from elementary school to sixth grade.

Jordan is the youngest and only son in an immigrant Korean family, which includes his parents, older sister, and grandfather. He knows his parents are struggling to make a success of their life in the U.S. He had heard them talking and arguing in the kitchen when they thought he couldn’t hear. But his parents don’t openly discuss their circumstances, only ever insisting that he not worry.

At the same time, Jordan keeps his struggles to himself with the same intention, not adding to his parents’ worries. He wants to fix things on his own, his own way. It’s just that his choices to do so have only made things worse. He also feels he’s being held to an impossible standard; his older sister, Sarah, is practically perfect!

The exciting and tense story of Jordan’s mission to get to his father makes Troublemaker an absolute page-turner! Danger lurks around every corner as he and his friend, Mike, race their way through Koreatown: danger not only from the unusual event unfolding nearby but also that as a result of the boys’ actions as well.

Troublemaker is a look inside a Korean American family, and the author includes Korean honorifics with just the right amount of context for the reader to quickly understand the meaning. The family dynamics are such that most readers will readily relate to young Jordan’s dilemmas. I found many scenes touching, and I became filled with emotion.

Another significant aspect of the story is the presentation of the events of April 29, 1992, and its effects on the people of South Central, in general, and the Korean community, in particular. The author’s notes describe this book as one result of Cho’s desire to explain to his own children current events occurring after the murder of George Floyd and also the rise and public awareness of discrimination and violence focused against Asian Americans. The similarities of events, 30 years apart, are eye-opening, disheartening, and should stand as a reminder to do better.

With its exciting plot and relatable characters, Troublemaker is a wonderful middle-grade novel that even reluctant readers will enjoy. The author’s writing style is easy to read and very engaging. Young and older readers alike will be caught up in the action and not only for the pure adventure but for the historical events portrayed.

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

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Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Black Gold (A Dr. Whyte Adventure, #1) by C.B. Samet

Black Gold (Dr. Whyte Thriller, #1)Black Gold by C.B. Samet
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Good characters and bad ones, all doing exciting things!

Emergency room physician, Dr. Lillian Whyte, is on the brink of burnout. Working 80 to 100 hours a week in a busy Atlanta ER, she’s doing all she can to patch up and stabilize patients and move them along to the specialists or surgeons they need. She does not suffer fools gladly, and her brusque, plain-spoken manner hits almost everyone the wrong way. But when her boss “suggests” she join a medical mission to Kenya to refresh and renew her outlook on medicine (and get her med school loans paid off), she accepts.

The small Red Cross clinic at a U.S. military camp in a rural area of Kenya does wonders for Lillian’s heart and soul. The people there need her skills, and the young interns that arrived soon after she did are genuinely benefiting from the experience and her teachings. There is also the intriguing and attractive Harvard-educated interpreter, Sean Perkins, who is on-site to assist her in communicating with her patients.

Sean Perkins, in actual fact, is Sean Jennings, an undercover CIA operative in Kenya searching for an international oil thief known as “Domino” who has eluded authorities for years. He and his organization have hijacked oil tanker truck convoys, even oil tankers on the high seas, stealing the oil and scuttling the ships with all hands still on deck. The only clues to his identity are a vague physical description that is all too easy to disguise and that he is sometimes referred to as “The Frenchman.” Sean is naturally suspicious when a wealthy French vineyard owner arrives at the military camp bearing much-needed medical supplies. But, on the surface, the guy seems legit, and there are thousands of French ex-pats in Africa.

One morning, Sean and Lillian return to the military camp from a medical trip to a native village to find the entire camp has been slaughtered. Sean knows his suspicions about the vineyard owner were correct, and he believes the camp was destroyed because “Domino” thought he’d been identified. Now Sean and Lillian must flee for their lives before they are silenced like the rest of the camp.

Black Gold was an entertaining mystery-thriller, and I would like to read more of Lillian Whyte’s adventures. I empathized with Dr. Whyte’s frustration with some of her patients not doing what they needed to do to maintain their health and just wanting to rely on some ‘miracle pill’ to magically cure what ailed them. She was direct and often rude, but in reality, some people need that. However, her manner extended to her young colleagues, and things were stressful without that attitude. Kudos to the author for setting up where Lillian was mentally and her effect on the people around her.

The novel had a lot of action that kept the plot moving forward. There was quite a bit of exposition at the beginning to set up Lillian’s life and the history of “Domino,” but once things got going, they didn’t let up. I liked that Lillian took things into her own hands to get out of danger, and I liked that she retained her suspicions about Sean and the CIA’s part in what was going down around her. I thought the use of horses was a unique device for this genre and enjoyed her helicopter ride. My only negative was the use of French words and phrases by the French vineyard owner. The author sprinkles them throughout his dialogue, and some are just wrong. I knew what the author was trying to say, and it was annoying when incorrect, but not enough to make me stop reading or enjoying the story.

I picked this book up for a reading challenge: “Read a book with two different colors in the title.” Well, challenge met, and now I have an exciting, new-to-me series to follow. I recommend BLACK GOLD to readers of mystery fiction or thrillers, especially those who like a medical theme in their stories.

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Thursday, March 17, 2022

The Girls on the Shore (Two Rivers, #2.5) by Ann Cleeves

The Girls on the Shore (Two Rivers, #2.5)The Girls on the Shore by Ann Cleeves
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dark and moody, just the thing to tide us over until the next book!

Detective Inspector Matthew Venn is at home alone when he spies two young girls in the distance, alone on the beach. He is immediately concerned: the girls are school-age and should be in classes, not wandering around the deserted and lonely shore.

He talks them back to his house: the dunes are remote and can be a dangerous place. But he’s uncomfortable with children, in general, and Olivia and Imogen, in particular, so he calls his colleague, Detective Sergeant Jen Rafferty, an experienced investigator, and a mother, to come over and take things in hand.

As the afternoon wears on, Matthew and Jen work in tandem to determine what the two girls are up to. But soon, they realize there’s something dark going on in the two girls’ lives, not to mention their missing mother.

The Girls on the Shore is just a tidbit of a story, giving us a small glimpse into Venn’s character and psyche and a chance for Jen Rafferty to take a lead role. The length and nature of this work led me to feel it was a tease to keep readers on the hook, in a good way, until the next in the series is published and that worked for me! Besides, it has a gorgeous cover.

The product also contains chapters of the latest Vera Stanhope release.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2022

The Ruin (Cormac Reilly, #1) by Dervla McTiernan

The Ruin (Cormac Reilly, #1)The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With its engaging characters, intricate plot, and interesting not-so-often-used setting of Galway, The Ruin kept my attention and got my 5 stars!

At the height of a successful career with the Garda in Dublin, Detective Cormac Reilly relocates to Galway so his significant other, Emma, can pursue a once-in-a-lifetime research opportunity in her field. But his new colleagues and the Galway administrators are judgmental and suspicious of him, so he’s been assigned the task of reviewing cold cases, following up on evidence overlooked, questions left un-asked during the initial investigations. One of the cases is his own first death investigation that left two neglected children alone when their drug-addicted mother overdosed. There had been questions about the woman’s death at that time, but the subsequent investigation went nowhere, and it, too, had ended up in the cold case files.

Young Dr. Aisling Conroy is devastated when her boyfriend, Jack, is found drowned in the local river after he left their home to think through their future relationship. An anonymous phone call to the police claimed the caller saw Jack jump off the bridge into the water below, and his death is deemed a suicide. But Aisling doesn’t buy it, and neither does Jack’s older sister, Maude, who shows up out of the blue to stir things up down at police headquarters. When circumstances around Jack’s death intersect with Detective Reilly’s cold case, Cormac becomes involved in trying to find answers to both mysteries.

The Ruin was a thrilling police procedural set within the complex workings of the Garda Síochána, the national police service of Ireland. Cormac is a thoughtful and patient man and gets major points from me for being so supportive of his girlfriend, Emma, uprooting from a successful career to start over while giving her the chance to follow her dream. I absolutely wanted him to best those smug colleagues of his.

Aisling Conroy was, perhaps, my favorite character in the story, though. She’s got such a stressful job and has lost her love at the worst possible point in their relationship. Yet, she shows strength and courage that kept her upright and pushing for the truth of what happened to Jack.

The tidbits and details of life in Galway were tantalizing and made me feel like I was walking the streets right along with Cormac. The city became familiar to me, a place I’d never experienced in real life.

The mystery, though, is the thing, and this one had me riveted to the page. The investigation made sense, and I loved how everything from the past and present came together. I liked that there were resolutions to some of the old cold cases as well as the current ones.

With its engaging characters, intricate plot, and interesting not-so-often-used setting of Galway, I recommend THE RUIN to mystery readers who enjoy a police detective-led investigation, strong female protagonists, and Ireland set stories.

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Monday, March 14, 2022

Moonflower Murders (Susan Ryeland, #2) by Anthony Horowitz

Moonflower Murders (Susan Ryeland #2)Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wonderfully intriguing and so very clever … again!

Following the incidents of Magpie Murders and Alan Conway’s death, Susan Ryeland relocated to the island of Crete with her beloved Andreas. They invested all their savings in buying a hotel and had become innkeepers, Andreas’s dream. But Susan was restless, dissatisfied with the direction of her new life. She and Andreas had become engaged, but she had put off taking the next step blaming the chaos and constant demands of running the hotel. She also missed her past career in publishing much more than she’d imagined she would. So, when Lawrence and Pauline Trehearne showed up at their hotel looking to hire her to find their missing daughter, Cicely, she fairly jumped at the opportunity to return to England.

The Trehearnes own and operate a hotel themselves: Farlingaye Halle, in Suffolk. Seven years previously, on the day of Cecily’s wedding on the grounds, one of their guests had been discovered murdered in his room, brutally bludgeoned to death with a hammer. The police identified the hotel handyman, a Romanian immigrant with a criminal history, as the perpetrator, and he was subsequently sent to prison for the crime. However, Cecily always and steadfastly believed that Stefan was an innocent man.

Weeks after the trial, author Alan Conway, Susan’s former client, visited the hotel, talking to staff and other witnesses about the crime. But when Alan had returned home from his research trip to Suffolk, he had confided to his partner, James, that he knew the police had got the wrong man. Still, he never shared what he’d discovered that caused him to make this claim with anyone, including the police. The result was his next bestselling mystery, Atticus Pund Takes the Case, based on the events of the murder and the people involved.

Now, years later, Cecily had finally read Conway’s book and something in it clicked, making her realize who the real killer was. She telephoned her parents, who were away on holiday, asking them to return home immediately so she could share her revelation with them before taking further action. But that was the last time they ever spoke with their daughter; the following day, Cecily disappeared while walking the dog, leaving behind her husband and small child. The Trehearnes turned to Susan because she had worked so closely with Alan Conway on the book, and they felt she might be able to figure out what Cecily saw in the book and find out where she had gone.

Moonflower Murders is the second book in Anthony Horowitz’s Susan Ryeland series and is again an intriguing book within a book with a murder to solve in each separate plotline. Susan is an intrepid investigator as she retraces Alan’s footsteps, steadily recreating the picture he must have seen seven years earlier. People are not happy to help her either. Without the authority of a police badge backing her up, she has a tough time as she questions those involved, and she ends up talking to a LOT of unpleasant people. On top of that, she’s trying to sort out her personal feelings about her relationship and future with Andreas as well as testing the waters of the current state of the publishing industry by contacting old colleagues from her working past should she decide to stay in England.

As in the previous book, the Atticus Pund mystery is embedded within the current investigation, so two for one. It is a clever mélange of elements similar to an Agatha Christie-style story. I also enjoyed the little hidden “Easter eggs” found throughout the Pund book, kindly pointed out for those of us that weren’t paying attention at the time.

Readers get a wonderfully-plotted mystery and a deep look inside our heroine’s heart and soul in this second adventure. I can tell you I was rooting for Susan Ryeland every step of the way. I recommend MOONFLOWER MURDERS for mystery readers who like a longer, more intricate story (it clocks in at over 600 pages or 15 discs or 18-plus hours of listening) with the look and feel of one of the classics from the Golden Age of Mysteries.

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Sunday, March 13, 2022

Road Kill (Sidney Reed Mystery, #2) by R.J. Norgard

Road Kill (Sidney Reed Mystery Series, #2)Road Kill by R.J. Norgard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With its intriguing plot, non-stop action, and great characters, Road Kill is a stellar follow-up to the author's debut novel, Trophy Kill!

Road Kill, the second book in R.J. Norgard’s stunning new Sidney Reed Mystery series, is full of action and suspense. Once again, Sidney conducts a realistic investigation, going step-by-step through the information the defense team has on hand. And even though it initially looks straightforward and routine, I enjoyed how things suddenly went from 0 to 60 due to a simple, innocuous notice in the local newspaper.

Norgard’s dialogue consistently shines. Sidney is a wisecracker and his deadpan delivery had me laughing. However, some of his inner commentaries cracked me up just as much. Yet, the witty banter doesn’t all fall to Sidney; even the bad guys get some truly stellar lines. Speaking as a father, Rance Cooley pulls no punches about one of his good-for-nothing sons, Ray, and his observation is hilarious.

Still, Sidney is hanging in there. He’s a vulnerable and tortured man still trying to get his life back on track after the suicide of his wife earlier in the year. You can’t help but feel for the man as he works his way through his pain and sadness. I was glad to see he's starting to direct some of his anguish toward a different direction rather than self-recrimination, and that he's questioning the suicide.

I was happy that we got better acquainted with the Anchorage newspaper reporter, Maria Maldonado; my inner matchmaker appreciates the possibilities there. But I’m even more satisfied that she is portrayed as an independent, strong, capable person and not just a convenient love interest.

Even more so than the first book in the series, the Alaskan setting plays an essential role as Sidney’s case progresses. The glimpses of Anchorage, its history, and actual locations, even the mentions of streets and the views of the Alaskan terrain, gave the story something extra, and I so enjoyed it.

With its intriguing who-done-it mystery, heart-pounding action, and great characters, I recommend ROAD KILL (and this series) to mystery readers who enjoy private-eye-led cases and stories set in Alaska. I'm already looking forward to the next book, Winter Kill, which was teased at the end of this one.

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

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Monday, March 07, 2022

Trophy Kill (A Sidney Reed Mystery, #1) by R.J. Norgard

TROPHY KILL (Sidney Reed Mystery Series Book 1)TROPHY KILL by R.J. Norgard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With a great plot, great characters, and an attractive setting, I read it from start to finish in one go!

Since his wife's unexpected and sudden death a year earlier, private investigator Sidney Reed has holed up inside a small apartment with only his cat, Priscilla, and a steady stream of Corona as his only company. But when a new client, Elizabeth Landers, shows up at his door with what seems like an easy, straightforward surveillance job, he decides to take a step back toward living, and the money she offers is enough to take care of his past due rent. However, it's the simple cases that never seem to work out as they should, and suddenly Sidney finds himself investigating a suicide and a two-year-old possible murder.

Trophy Kill was such a good story with great characters and an interesting Anchorage, Alaska setting that I read it from start to finish in one go. Sidney Reed is just a nice guy still dealing with a load of hurt from Molly's death. He's never gotten the answers to his questions of why she killed herself and carries a ton of guilt that he should have been able to prevent it. He's been self-medicating with Corona and isolated himself from everyone he knows as he avoids coming to terms with her death. Like the original job, Sidney's investigation is straightforward, focusing directly on what is known about the cases.

Sidney gets help from several friends from his past and meets a local newspaper reporter, Maria Maldonado, who is also tracking down leads for the story about the same cases. I liked Maria almost from the start. She is young, energetic, creative, smart, and on Sidney's side. Initially, I thought she would be a thorn in his side, but that role (of being a thorn in Sidney's side) is fulfilled by Barney Pendleton, chief investigator with the Alaska State Troopers. Barney is a real jerk with a long-held grudge against Sidney. I look forward to more clashes between those two and perhaps, a real romance between Sidney and Maria.

The story combines good old-fashioned detective work and action with superior and witty dialogue. I recommend TROPHY KILL to mystery fiction readers, especially those who enjoy an excellent private eye tale.

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Saturday, March 05, 2022

Atalan Adventures: Planetary Pursuit (Atalan Adventures, #3) by R.M. Hamrick

Planetary Pursuit (Atalan Adventures, #3)Planetary Pursuit by R.M. Hamrick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The plot is fast and fun, making this book a definite page-turner.

The crew of the Atalanta Empress has scored a bona fide paying gig to escort the Microlutions’
representative to the Psi Imagen system where the planet, Hephaestus, is up for auction. Yes, they secured the booking under false pretenses, guile, and subterfuge, but it was necessary to get the fuel and provisions to save the triplets’ sister, Etav, who needs their help in the same solar system. However, once on Hephaestus, the crew discovers Microlutions has ulterior motives and must work together to foil their plans.

This third episode of the Atalan Adventures has the crew meshing as a team better than ever, and they’re doing it for the good of an innocent planet as well as themselves. The plot is fast and fun, making this book a definite page-turner. The banter among crewmates is witty and wonderful. Even Leebnez turns out to be an enjoyable character. I was relievedly happy to see the culprits of the fertisrat plotline get their just desserts. I’m already looking forward to the next adventure.

I recommend Planetary Pursuit and the entire Atalan Adventures series to readers who would enjoy a quirky, light, and funny Sci-Fi story – a “cozy” Sci-Fi Opera?

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Friday, March 04, 2022

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



Categories: Science Fiction / Cozy Mystery / Paranormal / Texas History 
Series: The Ghost Agents Trilogy
Publisher: Mabelonia Press
Date of Publication: July 31, 2021
Number of Pages: 309 pages 

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An organization that has operated in secret for centuries... a mystery that threatens to burn it all to the ground… and she’s the only agent who can stop it…

To the residents and tourists of Galveston Island, Claire Abelard is the friendly young woman who works at the local candy store by day and leads ghost tours of the island’s haunted locations by night. They don’t realize this persona is a cover for Claire’s real job as an agent of the Bureau for Historical Preservation, a clandestine organization that monitors and assists energy projections, or the entities more commonly known as “ghosts.”

When projections begin disappearing from around the island, Claire worries that history may be repeating itself. She launches a dangerous investigation and uncovers a sinister, arcane organization whose agenda threatens not only Galveston’s ghosts, but everything she has worked her whole life to protect.

The truth behind the disappearances rocks Claire’s world to its core and shows her that ghosts aren’t the only things that can come back to haunt you.

Nita DeBorde is a published author and teacher from Houston, TX. Writing and teaching are her two major passions, though traveling and being dog-mom to a crazy Staffordshire-Boxer mix named Mabel are high on the list as well.

Nita has taught high school French for more than 20 years and absolutely loves her "day job" job (about 95% of the time). She loves to travel, and not surprisingly, France is her favorite destination, though her home state of Texas runs a close second.

She is also a huge history buff, which comes through in her fiction writing, and particularly in her latest novel, Ghost Agents, a genre-defying, cozy paranormal mystery with a little sci-fi and romance thrown into the mix. Ghost Agents: Revelations, the second book in the Ghost Agents Trilogy, is slated for release in March 2022.

Nita’s first novel, Project Lachesis, is currently available in both Kindle and hardcopy format from

Her first published work, a Christian allegory titled Lessons from the Meadow, was published in December of 2013 under the pen name A.M. Ward. Stay tuned for more titles by A.M. Ward in the Christian fiction genre.


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Thursday, March 03, 2022

Atalan Adventures: Return to Sender (Atalan Adventures, #2) by R.M. Hamrick

Atalan Adventures: Return to Sender (Atalan Adventures, #2)Atalan Adventures: Return to Sender by R.M. Hamrick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fun, not-too-serious space opera-ish adventures of the crew of the Atalanta Empress.

Stranded in subspace for what seems like months, the crew of the Atalanta Empress encounters drifting shipping containers with blinking red lights stamped “Undeliverable.” The crates are missing deliveries from Instant Transport (AKA “IT”), the company that effectively put the Atalanta Empress out of courier and cargo business. But when an unidentified vessel arrives on the scene, sweeping up the lost packages, Frankie goes against her crew’s wishes to hail it and ask for help to get back into real space. Frankie is worried that the newest crew member, Quaja, whom they’ve all come to like and respect, will be taken into custody for her past criminal activities.

In the meantime, the two triplets, Lorav and Patav, discover their sister, Etav, is in trouble in another star system and needs their help ASAP. The ship itself is infested with fertisrats, a species that can literally eat them out of house and home. A captain’s work is never done.

Return to Sender is the second book in R.M. Hamrick’s Atalan Adventures, and it is as fun and entertaining as the series starter, Rats and Bolts. Readers learn a little bit more about the individual crew members; there’s even a dinner party customized for each of them that highlights their different species. The plot never lets up, there’s never a lull in the action, and the scrapes and situations they encounter are exciting and imaginative. I’ve already gotten book three lined up; I enjoyed this one so much.

I recommend Atalan Adventures: Return to Sender to readers that enjoy a not-too-serious send-up of the space opera genre, strong female characters of various species, and don’t agonize over cliffhanger-y endings.

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Tuesday, March 01, 2022

Viking Private Investigation: Season Three (Viking P.I., #3) by Tommy Ueland

Viking Private Investigations - Season Three (Viking PI, #3)Viking Private Investigations - Season Three by Tommy Ueland
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Viking P.I. is back with exciting new cases!

Viking P.I. Tommy Ueland is back, and this time he’s got five new cases (six if you count the longer two-parter separately) for the reader’s perusal. Additionally, a couple of my favorite characters from previous investigations make a reappearance!

In Season Two, Tommy met and managed to ask out Alvide Andersen, a detective with KRIPOS, the Norwegian Criminal Investigation Service. More comfortable with their relationship, Tommy strives to improve his skills and impress his lady. However, he hits a snag when a prior friendship with a famous porn star comes to light during a new case.

Tommy has a good heart. You can feel he’s a nice guy without a lot of stereotypical hang-ups. Sure, there is the occasional whiskey, but he seems to be vigilant of how much he’s drinking and tries to make sure it remains casual. These cases pay his bills, but he also takes on the deserving pro bono investigation, genuinely wanting to help.

In this collection of cases, Tommy relies on a young computer hacker who made his first appearance in Season One. Their mutual friend, Jannick Jørgensen, is in some real trouble, and Tommy and Sondre must work together to help her. Another interesting case sends Tommy on a journey to Svalbard, across snow and ice, for some sentimental answers.

I recommend Viking Private Investigation: Season Three (and the entire series) to readers of detective fiction who would enjoy a smart but regular guy as their star P.I.

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