Thursday, September 29, 2022

Omega Morales and the Legend of La Lechuza by Laeken Zea Kemp

Omega Morales and the Legend of La LechuzaOmega Morales and the Legend of La Lechuza by Laekan Zea Kemp
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Exciting and pulse-pounding, this spooky tale set in a loving and lively Hispanic family setting would be a fun choice for those that enjoyed Encanto.

Omega Morales’s family has lived in Noche Buena since before there WAS a Noche Buena. Her ancestors owned the land the town sits on and much of the desert land around it. But Omega’s family is different from most others in town; they are empaths, have magical gifts of one kind or another, and the ghost of a young girl lives in their attic.

Their abilities are kept secret from the regular folks of the town; some people just wouldn’t understand. However, people know they are different, or at least odd, and lately, there has been ugly talk against the family fueled by ignorance and hate. Even Omega has not been spared from the hatred and has been subjected to bullying by certain classmates. When bizarre things happen around town, including the disappearance of several pet cats, fingers point at Omega and her family.

Omega Morales and the Legend of La Lechuza is a middle-grade novel that will stir the imagination of young readers, get their pulses racing, and entertain even more mature readers. There are a lot of Spanish words and phrases sprinkled throughout the story, the meaning of which can usually be determined by context. The story is an updated version of the Mexican folktale of La Lechuza, an old woman who could shapeshift into the form of a giant owl to take revenge on those who wronged her during her lifetime. This rendition makes La Lechuza very personal to the Morales family.

Omega and her cousin, Carlitos, are constant companions; their mothers are sisters. But as members of the same magical family, they understand the struggles that each one is going through dealing with their unique gifts. Carlitos gained his abilities before Omega and is a great support to her in dealing with understanding and controlling hers. The two are fun characters with an innocent mischievousness that boys and girls will love.

Omega and her former best friend, Abby, had a falling out the previous year, soon after the death of Abby’s mother. Abby now leads her new squad of mean girl pals in making life miserable for Omega. Middle-grade students will easily relate to this change in loyalty and alliances. Abby’s grief over the loss of her mother manifests itself in her bullying and hatred, and students should be able to see this cause and effect. In fact, grief and how different people handle it is the root cause of much of what is happening in the story.

There are genuine moments of horror in the story. Mainly this occurs as the appearance of spooky things outside windows or in the night sky. But inanimate objects also talk to Omega and her family, which lightens up the creepiness. While La Lechuza is a thing of nightmares, the story builds up to a hopeful ending.

I recommend OMEGA MORALES AND THE LEGEND OF LA LECHUZA to readers of middle-grade fiction who like spooky tales, stories set in a loving and lively Hispanic family setting, or enjoyed Encanto. This book would make an excellent choice for reading aloud.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author or publisher through NetGalley and TBR and Beyond Book Tours.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

The Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander

The Door of No ReturnThe Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A story that hits so many emotions and offers a wealth of opportunities for discussion and further reading.

Kofi Offin Mensah, a member of the Ashante people, is named after the river that runs next to his village in Upper Kwanta. Like others his age, he enjoys school and reading, has a best friend, Ebo, has begun to notice girls, and, most of all, excels at swimming in his namesake river. He has a loving family, father, mother, grandfather, brothers, and sisters, whom he loves in return. He looks forward to his upcoming initiation into manhood ceremony with equal amounts of anticipation and trepidation; he’s heard stories. He has a nemesis in the village: his own cousin, who’s only a little older than himself, but with whom he has a long-standing rivalry.

This year, his older brother, Kwasi, has been selected to represent their village in wrestling at the annual Kings Festival: a great honor. As Kwasi is a skilled fighter, Kofi and his friends are confident he will win it all for Upper Kwanta and bring home the winner’s prize. But when a terrible accident occurs during the match, life for everyone in Upper Kwanta is tragically affected.

In The Door of No Return, author Kwame Alexander tells the heartbreaking story of Kofi, a boy on the threshold of adulthood, and his close-knit and loving family. Readers get to know this curious and charming boy and will connect with his adolescent thoughts, feelings, and desires for the future. Young readers will undoubtedly be drawn in and quickly relate to him.

There is joy in the story as Kofi swims in the river and talks and learns from the older male members of his family: grandfather, father, and big brother, Kwasi. But tension arises quickly as he prepares to swim a race against his rival. But that tension is only a teaser for the trouble to come, something so unimaginable it will stay with the reader long after the last page is turned.

The story is conveyed in verse which may be unfamiliar to some young readers. However, this format creates perfect bite-sized pieces that will, in the end, keep the reader on the edge of their seats yet give them a much-needed pause from the mounting tension before continuing. These natural stops may work well for reluctant readers and those looking for a meaningful story for reading aloud.

Kofi’s story hits so many emotions and offers a wealth of material for discussion, examination, reflection, and further reading. Its gorgeous cover is sure to catch the eye of browsers as well. I recommend THE DOOR OF NO RETURN to middle-grade readers and older and those searching for an exciting opportunity for sharing and reading aloud.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author or publisher through NetGalley and TBR and Beyond Book Tours.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Virtual Book Tour: To Catch The Setting Sun by Richard I. Levine

To Catch The Setting Sun

by Richard I Levine

September 5 - September 30, 2022 Virtual Book Tour


There’s a killer loose on the island of Oahu. His targets? Young, native-Hawaiian women. But it also appears that he’s targeting and taunting Honolulu police detective Henry Benjamin who knew each victim and whose wife, Maya, had been the first name on that list. In addition to battling his personal demons, this New York transplant’s aggressive style didn’t sit well with his laid-back colleagues who viewed Henry’s uncharacteristic lack of progress in the investigation as evidence that fueled ongoing rumors that he could be the killer. Was he, or could it have been someone within the municipal hierarchy with a vendetta? As it was, after thirteen years on the job Henry had been disillusioned with paradise. His career choice long killed any fantasy of living in a grass hut on a wind-swept beach, being serenaded by the lazy sounds of the ocean and a slack key guitar. Instead, it had opened his eyes to a Hawaii that tourists will never see.

Praise for To Catch the Setting Sun:

"One of the best crime novels I have read in a long time!"

Jon Nakapalau, Goodreads Review

Book Details:

Genre: Suspense, Thriller
Published by: The Wild Rose Press
Publication Date: August 22nd 2022
Number of Pages: 320
ISBN: 1509243305 (ISBN13: 9781509243303)
Book Links: Amazon | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:


When the rock is lifted, the light pours in and
the vermin will scurry in panic.
They always do.
The ancestors still come to me in my dreams to caution that these parasites are as unrepentant and just as predictable
as they have always been.
Yet we must not become complacent. Vigilance is the key
or we fall victim to their treachery.
We are close, we are almost there.
Each new day peels away another layer of the façade. No different than me,
you too can feel the winds of change.
So, take my hand and walk this path with me. Open your eyes and see it as I do.
When we stand tall, strong, and together,
we will weather any storm.
I take comfort in knowing you also know
the day will be soon that the clouds will part,
and our hands will once again be free
to catch the setting sun.

The reflection from scattered tiki torches competed with the moonlight flickering off the rhythmic ripples rolling across the black velvet lagoon. Gentle trade winds, carrying the sweet peach-like scent of plumeria, teased the palm fronds as easily as they tickled the torch lights—clearly a welcomed reprieve from five straight days of stifling temperatures. A catamaran and a couple of small outrigger canoes, their artfully painted fiberglass hulls made to look like the wood of ancient Koa trees, were pulled up along the sandy shoreline. The heavy beat of drums reverberated off the tall palms and set the tempo for a half-dozen pair of grass-skirted hips dancing on the main stage while vacationers laughed, ogled, and stuffed their faces with shredded pork, scoops of lomi salmon, steaming flavored rice wrapped in Ti leaves, thick juicy slices of pineapple, papaya, mango, and freshly roasted macadamia nuts that were all artfully displayed on wide banana-leaf- covered centerpieces. They sat cross-legged in the sand, sipping mai tais from plastic cups made to look like hollowed-out coconut shells, lost in a tropical fantasy that came complete with a souvenir snapshot taken with an authentic hula girl—the perfect paradise as portrayed on the website. The noise from the music, chanting, and laughter drowned out the frantic noise of the nearby kitchen, and it drowned out the desperate pleas and painful cries of Makani Palahia from the far side of the beach at Auntie Lily’s Luau Cove and Hawaiian Barbecue.


The hardened steel of the polished blade sparkled when slowly turned a mere few degrees from left to right, back and forth, as if part of an ancient ritual. Makani’s teeth clinched against the foul-tasting cloth that had been forced into her mouth and tied tight behind her head, each time the knife circled back toward her face, each time passing closer, each time pausing for effect. When rested alongside her cheek, she arched as far as her restraints would allow—the plastic zip ties cutting deeper into her wrists. She let out a muffled cry, begging for the whole ordeal to stop. A sadistic laugh from the shadows made her pray to Jesus for the long-lost comfort of her mother—a comfort stolen by the alcohol and drugs that flowed through West Oahu as easily as the tides that washed away the sandcastles from its beaches. To watch her struggle not to gag as her eyes pleaded for freedom fueled an adrenaline rush that fed the flames of her assailant— strong and powerful now, like a sovereign over all that was to be ruled and judged. The blade was pulled from Makani’s golden-brown skin long enough for her back muscles and her bladder to relax, only to make her arch and plead again when it was returned to her tear-stained cheek.

“This is on you, Princess! Brought this on yourself, yeah? It’s a shame, too, because you’re so young and pretty. Of all the others, you’re the one who looks the most like royalty. The ancients would’ve been proud of you. But they’re not, are they? No, they’re not, and you know they’re not. You’ve disappointed all of us with so many of your sins. Are you ready to confess?”

She struggled to reply, but the rag pressed hard on her tongue.

“What’s that? You say something? You look like you got something to say.”

A faceless phantom-like figure stood tall above her, causing her to squint from the intermittent sparkle of what she thought was a pendant. Makani nodded while she strained to make out the image that seemed so familiar to her.

“I’ll loosen the bandana, but I warn you right now, if you scream...” She saw the knife dance again. “But let’s not think about that, okay? We calmly talk story a little, yeah?”

Again, she nodded, almost afraid to speak now that her lips could move freely. A rush of fresh air filled her mouth and intensified the pungent taste that covered her tongue. Her stomach muscles tightened as she gagged.

“P-please, let me go. I d-don’t know you. I don’t know what you want from me.”

“Let you go? I think, I think maybe after you confess. I think maybe I can let you go after we finish our business, yeah?”

“C-confess? What business? Who are you? What d-do you want from me? Why are you d-doing this to me?”

“Why am I doing? I didn’t pick you, Princess. You made that choice. You made that choice when you picked him and rejected our own.”

“P-picked who? Reject you? I d-don’t even know you. How did I...”

“You judged us!” A heavy hand landed across her mouth. “You judged me and our bruddahs and sistas when you chose an outsider. Judge not, lest ye be judged, and today is your judgment day.”


Reece Valentine had a hard time keeping his eyes off the third girl from the left—diverting his attention long enough to down another piña colada or attempt to calm the concerns of his fiancée that he wasn’t going to run off into the bush with a native girl. But that didn’t stop him from enjoying the fantasy. With constricted pupils locked onto toned abdominal muscles gyrating within grabbing distance of his imagination, he laughed at the memory of frat house Polynesian-style parties that never came close to the evening’s entertainment.

“Reece, stop staring. It’s embarrassing.”

“Come on, Jules, I’m trying to enjoy the show. We’re on vakay. Where’s your island spirit?”

“I’m trying to enjoy the show, but that’s your fifth drink since the luau started, and you’re beginning to put on a little show of your own. At least stop howling at those girls. People are starting to look at you.”

“Jules, please. I’m just having some fun. It’s not every day we get to enjoy something like this, is it? Seriously, when was the last time we saw a show like this back in Portland?”

“Look, I’m not trying be all salty, but when you ran up on stage to do the hula, did you have to grab that dancer’s waist? And the way you started rubbing on her...geez!”

“Okay, now you’re exaggerating.” He grabbed her and nuzzled her neck.


“It was part of the dance.”

“Okay, so when the male dancers come out and I go running up there, are you going to get mad when I start rubbing myself all over those well-oiled muscular bodies?” She smiled.

“Now you’re the one being silly. Have another drink and chill.”

“Chill? You want me to chill? I think I’ll go for a swim...a naked swim.” She got up and raced down the beach toward the far end of the lagoon.

After a brief moment, as well as a few envious looks from other revelers, Reece went after her.

“Jules! Julie, wait up!” he called, but the alcohol had hindered his ability to maintain a steady balance over the soft uneven contours of the sand. When he fell, he scraped his knee on a piece of coral buried just below the surface. “Damn it! Jules, wait up. I just...damn, I just cut myself.”

Halfway between the luau and the end of the lagoon, about thirty yards from a thicket of Kiawe bushes, she turned to see him sitting on the beach, nursing his knee, and quite possibly his ego. Julie Chow started to head back when she heard some rustling and what she thought was a grunting sound coming from the direction of the bushes. She stopped to listen, only to hear Reece call out again. She tried to listen once more but heard nothing.

“Jules! Come back.”

“Why don’t you come over here,” she said and took several steps toward the bushes. “It’s dark and deserted down this way.”

“I hurt myself. Come help me.”

With a few glances over her shoulder, she slowly made her way back.

“Serves you right. I think the ancient Hawaiian gods were punishing you just now because of your disrespectful thoughts about one of their daughters.”

“Stop it, will you? My knee is killing me.”

“Such a baby!” she teased. “I’m surprised you can feel anything with all that native juice in you.”

“Stop scolding and come help me,” he begged. She came close enough for him to grab her arm and pull her down to join him on the sand.

“You’re not hurt that bad, you faker!”

“I know, but I had to do something. I couldn’t catch up to you.” He laughed.

“Because you’re drunk, and when you get drunk, you’re horny as hell.”

“You can say that again.”

“I’m being serious.”

“Listen, I got carried away, and I’m sorry. But you’re right, Jules, I’m horny as hell, and you know I’m not interested in anyone other than you.” He leaned in for a kiss, but she pulled away at the last moment. “Hey!”

“There’s a lot of bushes down there.” She pointed. “Wanna go fool around?”

“What? Get naked here on the beach in the middle of a luau? There’s tons of people here.”

“It’s dark. There’s bushes. No one will see us. No one will hear us. Come on, you afraid?”

“They won’t see us, but they’ll definitely hear us.”

“You mean they’ll hear you. I’ll have you screaming so loud they’ll think you’re being murdered.” She jumped on top of him, and they passionately kissed in a long embrace.

“I’ve got a better idea.” He pushed back to catch his breath. “Let’s go back to the hotel, and I’ll show you what going native is all about.”

“And give up a chance to get my hands on all those sweaty, muscular Hawaiian men? Race you.” She took off back to the festivities with Reece in hot pursuit.


Makani gagged at the smell of the dirty hand that covered her face—removed only when the couple from the luau got far enough away from the thicket.

“That wouldn’t have ended well for those tourists. Too bad. Would’ve made the night a little more interesting. So, where were we? Oh yes, about your choice, Princess.”

“I d-don’t know what you’re talking about. What ch-choice did I make?”

“You are one very pretty wahine, a very pretty woman, you know that? Yeah, you know you so nani, so beautiful, don’t you? I’ll bet you tease men to get things you want, yeah?”

“If you’re g-going, if you’re going to rape me, then j-just do it already. Just do it and g-get it over with. I won’t tell anyone. Just do it and, and let me go. Please? Please, just let me go.”

Save for the low sadistic laugh she had heard before, there was no immediate reply. Her breathing, fast and shallow now, seemed to make the few stars that had been visible through the branches spin wildly and caused her hands, legs, and feet to feel cold—making the hand that inched its way down the outer portion of her thigh feel uncomfortably warm.

For her tormentor, however, there was pleasure in feeling the gentle contours of muscles toned from many hours of hula as rough callused fingers crept over her thigh, past the knee, and down to her ankle. A brief pause to take in the tremble that was felt moving like a wave through her body, watching her lips press together, and her eyes squeeze tight, elicited a child-like giddiness that had long been forgotten.

Makani tightened again from the sandpaper texture of a tongue across her cheek and a heavy breath in her ear. She realized the warm antiseptic scent now lingering on her face was the smell of whiskey. The hand with jagged fingernails carved a return path up the inside of her leg to her knee, then slowed while continuing up the inner portion of her thigh—teasing, threatening. She cried a little harder.

“Did that hurt, Princess? Take it from me, a true warrior princess doesn’t cry. She’s strong, very strong, and she likes it rough.”

“Please, don’t...”

“What, make love to you? You make me laugh. I’d never soil myself on a sinner.”

She felt the grip tighten around her upper thigh, and in equal response her athletic body tightened just as much.

“I like this. I like how your legs feel. So smooth, so soft. I like how they feel in my hands. It’s so...comforting. I bet the boys like touching them too, yeah? I bet you’d really like me to do more, don’t you? I can tell the thought excites you. I bet you didn’t expect my hands to be this strong and powerful, yeah? Do you feel how strong my hands are? It makes me feel so powerful to hold you like this.”

A low-pitched hiss, then a crackled voice momentarily interrupted. “Central to Detective eight- one.”

“You almost tricked me, Princess!” The anger was as sudden and sharp as the sting she felt from the three- inch welt created when those hands were quickly withdrawn. “You almost tricked me. You were trying to confuse me. Deceitful women like you do that all the time, but I know better.” Again, the blade came into view. “You tried to tempt me with your makeup. I bet you do it to make yourself look young and innocent. But we both know better, don’t we? You tried to deceive me, but you’re not innocent, not innocent at all. You do it special for him, don’t you? Yes, I think you did it to please him. You make me angry. You make the ancestors angry.”

“I d-don’t know what you’re t-talking about. I don’t have a boyfr—”

“Liar!” The voice rose, triggering a shooting glance through the branches, down the beach toward the festivities, afraid they might have been heard. “Don’t make me gag you.”

Again, a radio transmission crackled. “Central to Detective eight-one, do you copy?”

“Who are you?” she asked, again getting a glimpse of the pendant, focusing on the letters H O N O L U L U across its face. She realized it wasn’t a piece of jewelry, but a badge. She tried to narrow her focus— her tears making it difficult to read the number. The radio crackled again.

“Lieutenant Kim to central dispatch, be advised eight-one’s radio hasn’t been working properly. You can reach him on his cell.”

She strained to see the face hidden in the darkness, the voice now mocking the radio call.

“Central to Detective eight-one. Where are you, eight-one? Come save the day, eight-one.”

“Dispatch to Kim, copy that, Lieutenant,” came the static-filled reply.

“I d-don’t know you. I don’t know you at all. I don’t kn-know what you’re talking about. Are you HPD? What do you want from me?”

“You know me,” came the whisper, this time placing the sharp edge of the blade across her costume, cutting just enough material on her shoulder to expose her breasts. “Very pretty.”

“You said you were g-going to let me go. I should be d-dancing at the show. I should be there. They’re going to m-miss me. They’re g-going to come looking for me.”

“Nobody’s going to come looking for you, Princess, nobody.”

The blade methodically moved across her flesh— circling, teasing, drawing blood from a shallow incision across her shoulder. At first Makani felt the sting before the warmth of liquid snaked into the creases of her underarm. Her tears flowed freely now. Adding one more indignity to her suffering, the grass skirt she had always worn with pride was ripped aside, and one more time the knife came to rest across her cheek.

“You know who I am, and you know exactly why we’re here. We all must face judgment for our sins.”

“I don’t know....” She stopped mid-sentence—a dirty index finger pressed to her mouth. She gagged at the vile taste—a cross between a lack of hygiene and her own urine. The finger was forced farther into her mouth and pressed against her tongue. She reflexively bit down, drawing blood and a painful slap to her face. “I don’t know you,” she cried out. “Why are you doing this? P-please let me go! I won’t say anything. I won’t t-tell anyone, I promise!”

“Let you go?” came the angered reply. A vise-like grip squeezed her cheeks, preventing her from speaking. “Not now, damn you! Not after you bit me! Not after you refuse to confess your sins. Do you see how you’ve forced my hand? Now you have to be purified.” Again, her face was slapped.

“I’m sorry, I am. I didn’t mean to bite you. Please? I won’t tell anyone, I promise.” Her eyes, blurred from tears, tried to follow the figure as it moved about— finally catching a glimpse of a face lit by the glow of a freshly lit cigarette. “Oh my God!” She was repulsed at the sight, gagging as the bandana was forced back into her mouth—arching, straining, and kicking against the nylon cable ties when the cigarette was moved closer to the side of her face.

“I know you don’t understand. Nobody does anymore, and that’s the problem. In the old days the people needed to make their peace with the gods so they could be blessed and have a harvest, take fish from the sea, and be protected from evil, from the night marchers, from Pele. Those gods and the ancestors are deeply saddened how our way of life, our history, our culture, and our future have all been dishonored. You, and others like you, have dishonored all of us by mixing pure blood, and there’s only one way for you to be forgiven. You will serve as a message, a warning to others. And with your purification, with your sacrifice, the gods and the ancestors will grant you redemption.”

Makani’s heartbeat pounded in her chest and in her head, making the drums, the laughter, and the applause for the fire-eaters disappear. And just as another cold stinging slice was surgically carved across her throat, she thought she heard her killer recite an ancient prayer while she watched the flickering lights of the luau fade away.


Excerpt from To Catch the Setting Sun by Richard I Levine. Copyright 2022 by Richard I Levine. Reproduced with permission from Richard I Levine. All rights reserved.



4 stars!

To Catch The Setting Sun was a thrilling police procedural set on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Disgraced Honolulu Police Department detective Henry “Hank” Benjamin was hard to appreciate initially; he’s abrupt, acerbic, and drinks too much. But he’s just lost his wife, the first victim of a serial killer, right? So you cut him some slack, yeah? Kaelani Kanakina is a hard charger, too, but plays better with others. By the end of the book, I didn’t want to let either of these characters go. I would definitely grab up a sequel. 

The setting on the island is a treat, but it is the local community and the feeling of family that makes it so compelling. Everyone knows everyone else, and their secrets aren’t secrets from anyone but outsiders. I enjoyed the effortless incorporation of Hawaiian words and phrases throughout the story, making the dialogue seem genuine and authentic. 

There were times when I had difficulty following characters’ internal dialogues, and sometimes more extended exchanges between speakers were confusing as to who was talking when, so I had to re-read passages. There was also a bit of repetition at times, but I wasn’t sure this wasn’t intentional. Neither issue was overwhelming. However, I was left with questions at the end of the book: maybe points for launching a series? But overall, the book was good, exciting, and well worth getting your hands on. 

I recommend TO CATCH THE SETTING SUN to mystery readers who enjoy police procedurals, especially those featuring the disgraced detective teaming up with the young newcomer.

Author Bio:

Richard I Levine is a native New Yorker raised in the shadows of Yankee Stadium. After dabbling in several occupations and a one-year coast to coast wanderlust trip, this one-time volunteer fireman, bartender, and store manager returned to school to become a chiropractor. A twenty-one year cancer survivor, he’s a strong advocate for the natural healing arts. Levine has four Indy-published novels and his fifth work, To Catch The Setting Sun, has just been completed and he's anticipating a spring 2022 release. In 2006 he wrote, produced and was on-air personality of the Dr. Rich Levine show on Seattle’s KKNW 1150AM and after a twenty-five year practice in Bellevue, Washington, he closed up shop in 2017 and moved to Oahu to pursue a dream of acting and being on Hawaii 5-O. While briefly working as a ghostwriter/community liaison for a local Honolulu City Councilmember, he appeared as a background actor in over twenty-five 5-Os and Magnum P.Is. Richard can be seen in his first co-star role in the Magnum P.I. third season episode “Easy Money”. He presently resides in Hawaii.

Catch Up With Richard I Levine:
Richard I Levine on Amazon
BookBub - @rlevinedc
Instagram - @rlevinedc
Twitter - @Your_In8_Power
Facebook - @RichardLevineAuthor



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Monday, September 26, 2022

Book Tour: Intergalactic Exterminators, Inc by Ash Bishop

Intergalactic Exterminators Inc by Ash Bishop Banner

Intergalactic Exterminators Inc

by Ash Bishop

September 1-30, 2022 Virtual Book Tour


Finding work is easy. Staying alive is a little bit harder.

Intergalactic Exterminators Inc by Ash Bishop
When Russ Wesley finds an unusual artifact in his grandfather’s collection of rare antiquities, the last thing he expects is for it to draw the attention of a ferocious alien from a distant planet. Equally surprising is the adventurous team of intergalactic exterminators dispatched to deal with the alien threat. They’re a little wild, and a little reckless. Worse yet, they’re so impressed with Russ’s marksmanship that they insist he join their squad . . . whether he wants to or not.

Praise for Intergalactic Exterminators, Inc:

"This book is so much fun it ought to be illegal in all known galaxies. Ash Bishop has written a wildly imagined, deeply felt, swashbuckling page turner. I loved it."
Jesse Kellerman, New York Times bestselling author of The Burning

Book Details

Genre: Science Fiction Published by: Camcat Books Publication Date: September 6th 2022 Number of Pages: 416 ISBN: 0744305616 (ISBN13: 9780744305616) Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | IndieBound.Org | CamCat Books

Read an excerpt:

Chapter 1

Russ woke up lying flat on the ground, his mind foggy as hell. He could smell blood. When he reached forward as gingerly as possible, his muscles screamed at the movement. He was on his back. The forest trees waved down at him, blocking out the faint moonlight. He took a couple of deep breaths and reached forward again, groping around in the darkness. His hand came back slick with blood and fur and leaves. And then he heard voices. “. . . do you want to do this, then?” “I just wouldn’t call this tracking, is all. The blood trail’s three feet across. A tiny baby could follow this trail.” “Show me that baby.” “Shhh. Both of you, quiet. Something’s registering on the heat index.” The confusion and pain made it hard to think. Are these locals . . .? he thought. He fumbled in his pocket, looking for his flashlight but also testing for further damage. His hand found the light. It illuminated the small clearing. The deer’s corpse was just a few feet away, right where he’d shot it, but it wasn’t whole. Something had torn off its back legs, shearing straight through the muscle and bone. Russ took a deep breath but didn’t let his body or mind react to the sight of the carnage. Seconds later, the strangers’ flashlights found him. “He’s over here. To our left.” Russ heard three or four people hurrying through the brush. A woman in all black stepped into the clearing. Her brown hair was tied back in a bun, and she had a long steel shotgun in her hands. An odd earring twinkled in her ear. “You okay, son?” she asked, crouching down to place her hands on his chest. She stared into his eyes, examining him. “Looks like you’re going into shock. Just stay on your back and concentrate on breathing.” A man followed shortly after her. He glanced around, holding up a funny-looking flashlight to cast out the darkness. “He’s alone,” the man confirmed. “Are you from around here?” he asked Russ. “I’m from California,” Russ groaned. “I don’t know what that means,” the man said. “Just hold still,” the woman said. She pulled a gadget from her pack. The end telescoped out like an antenna. Russ watched as an aqua blue light shone down from the device, running across his entire body. He flinched as it reached his face, and even that small movement caused his lungs to burst with pain. “He’s got four broken ribs, a hairline fracture in the left wrist and a torn hamstring. Did you see what hit you?” the woman asked him. Russ tried to think. “No.” The word was as much a groan as anything else. “Tell us what you remember.” Russ rolled over onto his side. It hurt badly. Now that she’d pointed out the injuries, everything was localized. His ribs throbbed. His wrist felt hollow. His left leg was pierced with pain. “I was driving down Route Eighty-Nine, and a deer . . .” Russ pointed to the half deer corpse beside him. “. . . this deer dashed in front of my car. I knew I’d injured it by the sound it made when it hit the bumper, but I didn’t think I’d have to chase it this far into the woods to put it out of its misery.” Russ took a moment to swallow. “After I shot it, I—I was kneeling, jacking out the leftover rifle shells. But then . . . I was flipping through the air. I think I hit that tree right behind me.” The woman looked back at the tree. “It’s pretty splintered up.” “I was flying upside down. Backwards.” “Can you walk?” the man asked. Two more women, dressed in the same black combat gear, entered the clearing. They both had long rifles slung over their backs. Russ glanced at the newcomers, his eyes lingering on the guns. They weren’t locals. He could tell that much. “Who are you guys?” “Just local hunters,” one of the newcomers said. “Sure,” Russ said. “Tell me what hit you,” the first woman said firmly. “’I don’t know. A meteor? A buffalo? Maybe . . . a . . . rig?” The woman pulled a roll of pills from a MOLLE strap on her backpack. “Swallow two of these. They’re going to kill the pain.” Russ chewed the pills. Their chalky taste filled his mouth and crept up his nose. “They won’t cure any of the damage. You’re going to feel fine, but you’re not fine. Move carefully until you can get proper medical treatment. The road is two miles north. Can you reach it without help?” Russ nodded. Whatever she gave him was blazing through his bloodstream, kicking the fog and ache off every organ that it passed. “What’d I just eat?” “Two miles north. Don’t stop for any reason.” One of the newcomers, a well-muscled young woman with close-cropped brown hair, glanced at the half deer corpse lying next to Russ. Its blood had sprayed a pattern across the splintered tree. “Look at the animal, Kendren,” she said. The guy, Kendren, shone his flashlight over the deer corpse. “Whoa,” he said. “We definitely found what we’re looking for.” “You really chummed the water with this stag,” the short-haired woman told Russ. “Kendren, Starland, mouths shut,” the first woman said, making a slashing gesture. She pulled Russ to his feet. He gritted his teeth against the pain, but it was gone. Kendren and Starland stayed huddled around the deer, crouched low, inspecting where the hindquarters had been sheared off the bone. Kendren looked at the deer's head and saw where Russ had shot it. “You make this shot?” he asked Russ. “In the dark?” “Yeah.” “Was the deer already dead? Were you a foot away? Point blank?” “No. I was up on a ledge over by the river. Forty feet in that direction.” Russ pointed up the gradual incline. Kendren was still looking at the dead deer. “You shot it between the eyes, from forty feet, in the dark?” “Yeah. I guess.” “Head on back to the highway,” the woman said firmly. “You should start now. It might be dangerous to stay here.” The way she was looking at him, Russ kind of figured she meant that she was what was dangerous. If he didn’t do what she said. “I just need to find my grandpa’s rifle first,” Russ told her. She grabbed him by the arm. Her grip was incredibly strong. In the light from her flashlight her eyes seemed almost purple. “Start walking toward—” Before she could finish her sentence, the third woman, who’d melted back into the darkness, stepped forward again. “Cut the light,” she hissed. “It’s here.” Something came crashing through the brush, making a howling sound. It wasn’t a sound Russ had ever heard before. It was a deep rumbling growl, followed by a pitched screech that made the hair on his arms stand up. Branches were snapping, and he could hear claws scraping on rock. It was still thirty feet south, but it scared the hell out of him. “‘El Toreador.’ You’re up,” the woman hissed. The girl they called El Toreador had been on lookout. She was far enough into the darkness that Russ could barely see her, just a wisp of thick brown hair bobbing in the darkness—that is, until she pounded her chest with her fist. The vest lit up red, casting shadows across the trees. “My real name’s Atara,” she told Russ quickly. Then: “Don’t look so worried. We’re professionals.” “Starland, hit her with the hormone.” “The vest is enough,” Atara growled. Starland slipped back into the light. She was carrying some kind of tube that looked like a pool toy. She pushed hard against the end, blasting thick goo all over the other woman. “Hurry up. It’s almost here.” Russ was scrambling around in the brush, looking everywhere for his rifle when the creature burst through the perimeter glow of his tiny flashlight. Atara’s vest reflected off its face, bathing it in red light. It was all fangs and claws, huge, twice the size of a grizzly bear and full of rippling muscles stretched out in terrifying feline grace. It leaped at Atara, but midflight it caught the scent of the goo and reoriented to the left, bumping her off her feet but not harming her. The huge cat-thing landed softly, immediately turning toward the fallen woman, sniffing the air, growling, and bobbing its head. “It’s got the scent. The big kitty’s feeling amorous,” Kendren yelled. He, Starland, and the other woman all had their rifles raised. They were tracking the cat, ready to fire. Atara looked pissed, sprawled on the ground with her legs splayed. “Knock it down. We’re authorized for lethal. What are you waiting for?” she shouted. The creature was fully in the light now. It looked a lot like a tiger, but it was at least six times the size, with wavy, shaggy hair. “What the hell is it?” Russ shouted. The feline was practically straddling Atara. “I don’t like how it’s looking at me. Come on, shoot!” she demanded. The creature batted a paw, claws extended, and tore the glowing vest off her chest. It drew the vest up to its nose, sniffed, and started to growl again. Then the huge beast paused, slowly turning away from Atara. It sniffed the air, shoulders hunched, fur on the scruff of its neck rising. As it turned, its deep onyx eyes looked squarely at Russ. It growled and took a step toward him. Russ thought his heart had been beating hard before, but as the huge cat glided toward him, the thudding in his chest was so loud it drowned out every other sound. He didn’t even hear the discharge of Starland’s shotgun, two feet away from the monster. The wad of pellets sprayed against the creature’s flank and it howled, tearing away into the darkness so fast Russ didn’t even see it move. Atara scrambled to her feet and dropped her rifle. “Did you see that? A direct hit and no penetration. I told you Earth tech was garbage. What is this? The thirteenth century? I’m powering up.” The first woman—the one with the purple eyes—glanced at Russ. She was short, wiry, with the powerful shoulders of a linebacker. Russ realized she was the leader of . . . whoever these people were. “When are you going to learn to keep your mouth shut?” she barked at Atara. “You already used the CRC wand on him.” “Two hours of mandatory training videos. The second this is over.” “I’d rather be cat food than watch those again,” Atara said. “You skip the videos and I’ll send you back through CERT training.” Atara wasn’t really listening. She crashed off through the brush in the direction of the big cat. Nodding toward Russ, the woman shouted, “Kendren, you’ve got containment.” Then she disappeared into the darkness. Starland drew a pistol from her belt and followed. “Containment? More like babysitting,” Kendren grumbled. “I should be the one doing the good stuff.” He glanced in the direction they’d gone. Russ kind of agreed. Kendren was huge, at least six-five, and covered from head to toe with what Russ’s cousin had always called beach muscles. He had thick, wavy hair down to his shoulders. Out in the darkness, Russ could see the others’ flashlights bobbing up and down. They were headed up an incline, probably straight toward the bank of the river. “Was it my imagination, or was the cat more interested in you than the vest covered in mating hormone?” Kendren asked. At first, Russ didn’t answer. Finally, he said, “What would make it do that?” “No idea. It’s supposed to follow the hormone. What’s better than sex?” Kendren shook his head, seemingly unable to answer his own question. He frowned slightly. “The only thing I’ve seen them more interested in is an Obinz stone. You ever seen an Obinz stone? They’re about this big”—Kendren held his hands six inches apart—“usually green, with yellow veins running all along the edges? I don’t think they’re native to . . . this area.” Kendren looked around in distaste. “But I’ve seen these cats jump planets just to get near one if it’s in an unrefined state. An Obinz stone is basically intergalactic catnip.” “I’ve never seen one,” Russ told him. His voice wavered slightly, but Kendren didn’t seem to notice. “Then we better shut this vest down,” Kendren said. He stepped up onto a boulder and reached high into a tree, grabbing the vest from where the cat had tossed it. He folded the vest up and tucked it under his arm. “I’m not even sure how to turn it off,” he said. “That was a saber-toothed tiger, right? You guys cloning stuff? Is this Jurassic World or something?” Russ rubbed his temple. His questions were coming so fast, they were jumbled in his mouth. Kendren had just said intergalactic, and something about jumping planets, but here in the dark Wyoming forest, six miles from his grandmother’s house, he wasn’t yet ready to face those pieces of information. Kendren threw the vest on the ground and raised his rifle, pumping a slug into it. It kept glowing. “Damn. It’s pretty important I get this thing turned off.” Starland’s discarded rifle was just a few feet away. While Kendren kicked at the vest with his boot heel, Russ inched toward it. “Touch the weapon and I’ll shoot you in the face,” Kendren said. He stomped on the vest again. The flashlights were way north now, probably on the other side of the river. Russ could hear the distant voices arguing about which way the big cat went. The voices were so loud, neither Kendren nor Russ heard the cat until it was right in front of them, growling, hissing, and spitting. It stalked into the circumference of the faint red light from the vest. Kendren was still standing on the vest, his rifle slung over his shoulder. Beside him, the cat was enormous, twice as tall as a man. It crouched down, looking him straight in the eye. “I’m dead,” he said quietly. The creature coiled back on its powerful flanks and threw itself forward like a bullet. Its wicked claws stretched out, razored edges slashing at Kendren’s neck and chest. Russ kicked Starland’s gun off the ground, caught it, leveled it, and fired. The bullet split the cat’s eye socket, ripping through its optic nerve and straight into its brain. Momentum carried the dead body forward on its trajectory, smashing into Kendren and pinning him to the earth. A few moments later, the rest of the team returned, clambering through the thick brush. The leader approached the enormous beast and nudged it with her boot. “Is it dead, Bah’ren?” Atara asked, her gun still pointed at the fallen creature. “Sure is,” the leader, Bah’ren, responded. The wind was starting to pick up, blowing the branches of the trees, shaking off a few dead leaves. “How about Kendren?” “Negative,” Bah’ren said. “Get it off me,” Kendren demanded. “It’s gotta weigh nine hundred pounds.” “How many intergalactic laws do you think we’ve broken here?” Atara asked. She moved next to Bah’ren, looking down at Kendren with an expression that was half pity and half amusement. He had managed to sit up, but his legs were still wedged under the huge carcass. “Including the law about referencing intergalactic law on a tier-nine planet?” Bah’ren asked. “You guys are being a little careless,” Starland said. “Not our fault this thing was a hundred miles off course. The MUPmap promised there wouldn’t be any tier-nine bios in the vicinity.” “What are we supposed to do now?” Atara said, nodding toward Russ. “Oh, we’re conscripting him, for sure.” Bah’ren said. “Really?” Atara said. “We’re getting another human?” “Who? Who do you mean?” Russ asked. He glanced back in the direction of the highway. His eyes were starting to adjust to the dark again, and he could make out a thick copse of trees just a dozen or so yards away. “Get the huge beast off me,” Kendren insisted. Bah’ren moved to one side of the big cat and dug her powerful shoulders into it. Starland ran over to join her, wedging one arm against the creature’s flank, but putting her other arm around the waist of the woman giving the orders. “Atara, come on. You, new guy, we could use your help too. It’s heavy as hell.” Russ half ran over to them and dug his side into the creature. Its hairy skin sloshed around against the pressure, but the four of them eventually got it moving. “Roll it the other way!” Kendren demanded. “Its penis is right next to my face.” They kept rolling, and Kendren kept protesting, as the great shaggy cat slowly grinded over his shoulders and face. Gravity finally caught hold of its weight and the corpse flopped to the ground. The three in black all chuckled as Kendren spit out the taste of cat testicle. “Oh, that’s what you meant. Sorry about that,” Starland said, laughing. Kendren crawled onto his knees, still hacking and spitting. He stopped for a minute and looked at the cat’s face, poking a finger in the thing’s empty eye socket and wiggling it around. “Another hell of a shot.” “The debriefing wasn’t just wrong about location,” Atara said. “The creature’s fur is like steel mesh. Our bullets were doing jackshit.” Kendren rolled up onto his knees, both hands propped on his thighs. “You saved my life,” he told Russ. “No problem,” Russ said. It was the last thing Russ said before he dropped the rifle and sprinted full speed back toward the safety of the trees. He was running as fast as he could, pumping his arms, banging his shins on rocks, bumping past pines, carelessly plunging through the dark. He’d only gotten about twenty yards, running full speed, when something metal slapped around his ankle. It tipped him off balance and, for the second time that night, he could feel himself careening head over heels. He hit a tree, again, then slowly slipped out of consciousness. --- Excerpt from Intergalactic Exterminators Inc by Ash Bishop. Copyright © 2022 by Ash Bishop. Reproduced with permission from Ash Bishop. All rights reserved.


5 stars!

Intergalactic Exterminators, Inc was wildly imaginative and great fun. The dialogue sparkled with wit and snark and had me grinning like an idiot the entire time I was reading the book. I really wasn't prepared to like Russ, his footloose lifestyle and abnegation of responsibility Isn't my thing, but I quickly fell for him and his desire to do right by his grandmother and his friend, Nina. I felt he loved his grandmother and grandfather, and his regret of not being there for them during their time of need set him up to change his ways. Nina obviously loved her parents and was willing to do whatever she could to help them. Both have a compelling reason to get the job on board the Flashaway with its much-needed salary. But their mutual attraction and growing affection for each other create a heartfelt conflict for the characters and a dilemma for the reader over whom to root for. The crew members of the Flashaway were all characters to love. Each had an interesting and distinct personality, and some fun surprises were revealed in their relationships as the story developed. 

The author puts the crew through their paces in various exciting scenarios and extermination missions. The planet settings were diverse and well described, and the indigenous creatures were fantastic, shocking, and dangerous; some obviously so, and others, seemingly benign at first, reappeared later to cause problems. 

With still so much "territory" to explore, I was delighted with the book's ending because it left things wide open for a sequel. I recommend INTERGALACTIC EXTERMINATORS, INC to scifi readers who like imaginative and exciting character-driven stories without an overload of tech.

Author Bio:

Ash BishopAsh Bishop is a lifetime reader and a lifetime nerd, loving all things science fiction and fantasy. He has been a high school English teacher, and worked in the video game industry, as well as in educational app development. He even used to fetch coffee for Quentin Tarantino during the production of the film Jackie Brown. Bishop currently produces script coverage for a major Hollywood studio, but he spends his best days at home in Southern California with his wonderful wife and two wonderful children. He earned an MFA in Creative Writing from San Diego State University. This is his debut novel.

Find Our Ash Bishop Online: Goodreads BookBub - @Ashlbishop Instagram - @ashlbishop Twitter - @AshLBishop Facebook TikTok - @ashlbishop

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Saturday, September 24, 2022

The Killing Code by Ellie Marney

The Killing CodeThe Killing Code by Ellie Marney
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Engaging characters, an immersive 1940s wartime setting, and a suspenseful and baffling murder mystery!

Kathleen Hopper had been the companion, nurse, and maid to terminally-ill Katherine Sutherland, a wealthy young woman her age, for the past four years. The Sutherlands had plucked Kathleen out of grinding poverty, where she had scraped along with her coal miner father, mother, and five siblings to care for their sickly daughter through finishing school at Arlington Hall outside Washington, DC. Everyone, including Katherine, knew she was slowly dying, but rather than give up, she wanted to go out her own way, going to school, and learning, until she was no longer able.

It was 1942, Arlington Hall was closing for the end of term, and all the girls were returning home, except for Katherine and Kathleen; Katherine’s time was imminent. The government was taking over the property to house the signal intelligence operations and many staff living on site away from prying eyes and ears in DC. Their critical mission was to decrypt the intercepted messages of the enemy.

Katherine and Kathleen had become like sisters over their years together, so Katherine made provisions for her dear friend and companion for after her death. She knew it wouldn’t work for Kathleen to return to West Virginia when there was so much more she could do anywhere else. On her deathbed, she gifted Kathleen her trunks of expensive clothes, money she’d been setting aside just for this purpose, and her identity papers. She wanted Kathleen to live the life she never would and do it in her place and at her higher station in the society.

Katherine died that very night. School staff were heading out the door; the military was already moving in. Kathleen was left to make arrangements for Katherine, pack up her remaining effects, and go as quickly as possible. As she made her way down to the first floor, she was stopped by two young women, obviously government staff for the incoming operations. After some questioning, they asked if she would be interested in joining them in the signal intelligence group. With no place else to go, Kathleen accepted, and when asked her name, she answered with her new identity: “Kit” Sutherland.

The Killing Code was a tense and suspenseful story set during World War II, just outside Washington, DC, on the grounds of a former finishing school for young women. The tension came from several directions: Kit’s constant fear of being unmasked as an imposter, the stress and urgency of codebreaking and the war itself, and a string of gruesome murders perpetrated against young female government workers in DC. In addition, there is a romantic subplot involving two main characters.

The author obviously did a lot of amazing research in crafting the story. There are even quotes from historical figures involved in codebreaking and cryptography heading the chapters, including one from a distant cousin of mine (Colonel Parker Hitt.) I was particularly intrigued by the colossal about-face in the workforce at the time, with women fulfilling positions men had traditionally held. I had never heard about the all-black codebreaking unit working simultaneously with the white unit but segregated from them the entire time.

The main characters, the core group of women trying to track down the serial killer, come from different backgrounds and circumstances. But I felt the buildup of camaraderie and how they became a family. I liked how they used their knowledge and skills gained at work to profile the murderer and make sense of the information they gathered. They hit some snags along the way in their investigations and relationships, but their perseverance takes them through all roadblocks, much like tackling the Japanese coded messages.

The author doesn’t keep the women restricted to quarters either. I enjoyed that the investigations took them “off campus,” and we got to experience the world of Washington, DC, during 1940s wartime. Social settings, transportation, telephoning, and clothing are all mentioned, and I felt immersed in the place and time. However, with one of the main characters, a young black woman, the attitudes toward race during those days were also fully displayed.

With great characters that I could relate to and root for from the beginning, the immersive 1940s wartime setting, and the engrossing and baffling murder mystery, I was glued to this book to the very end. I recommend THE KILLING CODE to readers who enjoy historical mysteries, especially those set in World War II or including codebreaking.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author or publisher through NetGalley and TBR and Beyond Book Tours.

View all my reviews

Friday, September 23, 2022

Virtual Book Blog Tour & Giveaway: The Damned Lovely by Adam Frost

The Damned Lovely

by Adam Frost

August 29 - September 23, 2022 Virtual Book Tour


“She wasn’t pretty but she was ours…”

Sandwiched between seedy businesses in the scorching east LA suburb of Glendale, The Damned Lovely dive bar is as scarred as its regulars: ex-cops, misfits and loners. And for Sam Goss, it’s a refuge from the promising life he’s walked away from, a place to write and a hole to hide in.

But when a beautiful and mysterious new patron to the bar turns up murdered, Sam can’t stop himself from getting involved. Despite their fleeting interaction, or perhaps because of it, something about her ghost won’t let go…

Armed with the playbook from the burned-out ex-cops, Sam challenges the police’s theory on the killing, butting heads with hardened detectives and asking questions nobody wants to answer. As his obsession takes hold so does his sense of purpose—as if uncovering the truth about the killer might heal some part of his own broken life. But the chase sets him on a collision course with a crooked charity, violent fundamentalists, corrupt cops, brazen embezzlers and someone dangerously close to home—all who want to make sure the truth never comes out.

Praise for The Damned Lovely:

The Damned Lovely is the LA crime story born anew, an addictive mystery and a love letter to the careworn and forgotten places of Los Angeles—Los Angeles as it is right now. Adam Frost is a crime writer with a sharp new voice, telling a tale about the one thing everyone in Los Angeles has: desire. Desire for truth, for justice, for love, or maybe just a place to call home. Highly recommended.”

Jordan Harper, Edgar Award-winning author of She Rides Shotgun

“Frost’s crackling debut novel belongs on the shelf right next to Joseph Wambaugh and Michael Connelly. Crisp prose. An intricate plot worthy of Raymond Chandler, packed with scruffy, lovable, and lived-in characters that leap off the page. Frost brings a fresh voice and much-needed new blood to LA crime fiction.”

Will Beall, author of L.A. Rex and creator of CBS’s Training Day

“An unputdownable and suspenseful whodunnit: anchored in the quandary of manifesting destiny in grief and lost opportunity.”

Blake Howard, producer and host of the One Heat Minute podcast and Film Critic

“Every bourbon-soaked sentence in this endlessly entertaining first novel proves Joseph Wambaugh dipped Adam Frost by his ankle into the L.A. river. Roll over Michael Connelly, tell Raymond Chandler the news.”

Adam Novak, author of Rat Park and Take Fountain

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery, Crime
Published by: Down & Out Books
Publication Date:
Number of Pages:
ISBN: 1643962531 (ISBN-13: 978-1643962535)
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | The Down & Out Bookstore

Read an excerpt:

I took a sip and checked my phone. Waiting for the screen to siiiing. Praying. Hoping.

She held her ground and I lost the fight.

The empty telephone. Reminding me, I had no excuses. To be in a better place. To be successful.

I was an American.

I was white.

I grew up safe and surrounded by love.

There was money for birthday parties and proper schools.

I had a college degree in communications.

I’d traveled to Southeast Asia. Seen Europe. Touched down in South Africa. I had a sweet girl who liked to cook and wanted a ring. We had an apartment in West Hollywood with good light.

I’d found a marketing gig early and wrote ad copy for seven years. Logos. Corporate promos. Internet ribbons. Microcopy drawl. Quippy garbage that paid the rent and then some.

I was on the right track.

Until I broke. Crashed the cart and pulled the plug on my world of California lies.

Staring into those smiling faces across a Doheny dinner table one night.

The masquerade of happiness.

The Instagram sham.

There was no substance. No truth. No intent for anything more than gain.

I had sealed the truth for years. Locked and bottled that depression south, convinced I could kick it. Convinced the gnaw would pass.

Things are great, I kept saying. Things are great.

But something about those faces on that very Doheny night popped the cork and shattered the glass. I called it out. I let it rip ugly. These weren’t my friends. They were assets. Nothing more.

This wasn’t love. This was compliance on rails.

I needed something pure. Something with purpose and mine all mine. That I truly adored.

So I quit the girl who liked to cook. Lost the apartment with the light and moved to Glendale. Where it was cheaper. Where there was no good light.

And worst of all. I was compelled by a force inside my bones to write something real. Something long and from the heart. Something maybe even wise.

This, more and more it seemed, may have been a grave mistake.

It was in no way working out.

Still, I refused to believe in misery. An honest rut is all. It’ll turn around soon. It has to. Because when you’re going through hell in Glendale, keep going. Right?

So. Soldier on. Live with intent and drown those voices out.

Drown. Them. Out. Soldier!

Swish. Swish.

A red Trojan alpha bro was swipin’ right at the bar. Americana run off sipping a sea breezer with a skinny lime. Slice and I shared a healthy glare of disdain when Jewels crossed behind me and nodded to stool 9.

“She’s baaaack,” Jewels cooed.

And there she was. Hiding her green eyes under a black felt fedora and a worn-out paperback of To the Lighthouse. She had dark brown hair pinned low at the back. Wore a simple tight white V-neck tee exposing that soft skin around her collarbones. She sat straight. With her legs crossed in black jeans that pinched in at her waist and exposing a band of flawless smooth lower back. She kept her face down. Never spoke to a soul beyond ordering a drink. And never looked at her phone. Not once. Not once had I seen her look at her phone. Instead, she just buried her eyes in that book. Drowning out the world with a Negroni and Woolf’s words like some kinda mystery from a different era. She’d been in four times now by my count. And it was consistent. Early in the afternoon. Same drink. Same book. Alone. Like an oasis in this godforsaken Glendale desert.


Excerpt from The Damned Lovely by Adam Frost. Copyright 2022 by Adam Frost. Reproduced with permission from Adam Frost. All rights reserved.


5 stars!

The Damned Lovely was a genuine page-turner of a book that kept me reading late to get to a good stopping point. The problem for me was the story was so good, with Sam's ongoing investigation and constant drama, there just wasn't one. I always wanted to see what was going to happen next. 

Sam is a good guy, but he's worked himself into a hole. His literary agent is a harpy, his roommate is an inconvenient convenience rather than a friend, and his friends are a bunch of barflies with their own troubles. I loved the collection of personalities and stories the author has conceived for The Damned Lovely's regulars. Everyone has a story. The author has a knack for dialogue and a talent for putting the reader in the story. 

The bar itself also has a personality, as does Goss's Glendale. The moody descriptions set a tone and paint a vivid backdrop for the book's action and events. I could clearly envision the bar, Goss's home away from home. 

But the plot is what kept me in my seat, or rather on the edge of it. The police investigation goes in a different direction than Sam's, with twists and turns to follow and some entirely believable red herrings. The clues to uncovering the truth behind the murder are right there, one by one. 

With the main character's alcohol-infused decision-making and struggles, gritty action, sudden violence, moody setting, and overall feeling of impending doom, this modern mystery is spectacularly reminiscent of early crime and detective thrillers and movies. I recommend THE DAMNED LOVELY to readers of mystery fiction, especially those that enjoy the film noir genre of the 40s and early 50s.

Author Bio:

ADAM FROST was born and raised in Vancouver. He began as an actor, and now works as a television writer and producer, best known for the crime shows Tribal and Castle. He lives on the east side of Los Angeles. He’s also one helluva T-ball coach.

Catch Up With Adam Frost:
Instagram - @thedamnedlovely
Twitter - @Afrostbite23
Facebook - @adam.frost.9655



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Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Lord of the Fly Fest by Goldy Moldavsky

Lord of the Fly FestLord of the Fly Fest by Goldy Moldavsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You don’t have to love Lord of the Flies to love this book!

Like many others, Rafaela "Rafi" Francisco had ponied up all her savings to attend Fly Fest, the ultimate music festival and hottest party in the Caribbean. However, Rafi had an agenda for attending. It's not that she wasn't a music lover or wanted to party with the rich and famous, but rock superstar River Stone was a headliner, and Rafi was going to get an interview with him at all costs. Rafi was a fledgling podcaster, and after a mildly successful debut year, her show Musical Mysteries needed a spectacular second season to draw in sponsorships and more listeners.

Australian River Stone had burst on the music scene a couple of years earlier with a tragic tale of love and loss that shot him to the top of the charts and into the hearts of millions of loyal fans. Before he'd come to the music world's attention, River, a struggling singer-songwriter, and his girlfriend had headed outback for a camping trip. While River napped, his girlfriend had written him a "Dear John" letter, taken his car, and disappeared, leaving him stranded miles away from help. The girlfriend was never heard from again. The police investigated and backed up River's story, but his explanation always sounded suspicious to Rafi. Now, after a bit of research and a whole lot of speculation, she intended to garner an interview with the superstar and ask the tough question everyone else seemed to give him pass on: "What really happened to Tracy?" She fully intended to interrogate him into confessing he was a murderer.

But that was the plan before she and the other Fly Fest attendees, most of whom were social media influencers, were dropped off on the tiny Caribbean island for the festival. When Rafi and the others arrived on the island, there was no sign of any festival: no greeters or transportation. There was no evidence of the promised private villas or gourmet chefs. In fact, there was no food or water available except for what was growing or raining from the sky. Worse yet, there was no cell service for the Instagram and TikTok movers and shakers. The festival was a scam, and the promoters had left the hapless attendees to fend for themselves for the next seven days.

Apparently, rumors that something was off about Fly Fest had floated about during the week leading up to the event, and at the last minute, all the musical guests, save one, River Stone, had canceled. His current girlfriend, Hella Badid, the supermodel spokesperson for the event, was supposed to have met him there, but she had missed her flight and was a "no show." With her quarry in sight, though, Rafi intended to make the best of the situation and get her story. But when a famous social media influencer goes missing, and the last person she was seen with was River Stone, Rafi realizes that maybe cornering a serial killer on a remote tropical island wasn't her best plan.

Lord of the Fly Fest was a fun and clever story made even more delightful by the allusions and parallels to William Golding's classic, Lord of the Flies. Rafi is surrounded by social media influencers and one of the few voices of reason on the island. She is a wonderful character, but the author also has a variety of fabulous secondary ones that parody the influencer communities of Instagram and Tiktok. I laughed until I about cried several times over the absurdities the situation created and the exaggerated but realistic portrayals of the various lifestyle influencers still trying to maintain their online habits. Throwing back to the classic foundation novel, one character lovingly calls his followers "piggies." The author creates a remote island setting, frightening and surreal, reminiscent of the island from Golding's work, and includes similar names and outcomes that echo the original. There is so much to love about this story, especially if you're a fan of the Lord of the Flies novel or movies.

But parody aside, the plot is about Rafi exposing River Stone, a young man who has been very kind to her, as a murderer based on very little evidence. She initially feels she is above the shallowness of the rest of the stranded festival-goers (and yes, they are shallow and awful people) but comes to realize she's not perfect either nor entitled to be so righteous. There is a nice revelation of truths, and mistakes are made, leading to her heartfelt offer and attempt to redeem herself. There is a great wrap-up that closes out the hanging subplots, too.

I recommend LORD OF THE FLY FEST to readers of young adult fiction, especially those who are fans of online social media or social media-related stories or have read Lord of the Flies.

#CaribbeanIsland #LiveYourBestLife #NoThreeHourCruise #WheresMyVilla #DoesThisPigDungMakeMyButtLookFat #AreBananasGlutenFree

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author or publisher through NetGalley and TBR and Beyond Book Tours.

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Monday, September 19, 2022

Aos Sí (Viking P.I., #4) by Tommy Ueland

Aos Sí: A Viking P.I. Mystery (Viking P.I., #4)Aos Sí: A Viking P.I. Mystery by Tommy Ueland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Viking PI is back for Book 4!

Tommy Ueland, as his alter-ego, is back with another case for the Viking P.I., and, once again, his girlfriend, Alvide, is the investigator busting his chops. This time, the murder victim seems to have left a clue to his killer by way of a bloody message scrawled near his body. With things pointing in Tommy’s direction, Alvide brings him in, and the police chief, disgruntled with Tommy from a previous encounter, takes advantage of the opportunity to flex his authority. With Alvide angry at him and the evidence supporting an easy resolution with Tommy as the murderer, tempting the police to call it a day, Tommy has no choice but to find the real killer himself.

Aos Sí (a Celtic woodland paranormal creature) is another short, exciting case from the Viking P.I.’s logbook. As always, the dialogue and Tommy’s delivery delights. New readers should start with Book 1, as this entry doesn’t have a lot of backstory to really understand and enjoy the character dynamics. But, even if it did, the previous books in the series are not to be missed. Alvide definitely doesn’t show her good side in this one.

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Sunday, September 18, 2022

The Epic Story of Every Living Thing by Deb Caletti

The Epic Story of Every Living ThingThe Epic Story of Every Living Thing by Deb Caletti
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A thoroughly satisfying, modern coming-of-age tale, full of the discovery of self and wonder of the real world around us.

Harper Proulx is a social media star with a secret. She's popular, pretty, smart, and has the hottest boyfriend, Ezra, to take her places and document her every move. Her thousands of followers "Like" or comment on her posts as she curates her carefully staged pics to reveal only what is in sync with her brand. But her dedication to engaging with her audience and creating an image compensates for what she secretly wants: to know who she really is. She wants to know who her father is.

Harper's mother, Melissa, the daughter of a renowned economist and herself a respected professor of economy at the local university, conceived Harper via artificial insemination: had chosen the anonymous sperm donor from a catalog of desirable traits, such as the combination of vibrant auburn hair and vivid blue eyes. However, her mother could give her no information other than his medical history: not his name or address or likes or dislikes; their state did not allow for this disclosure, she said. But one day, a follower posted on one of Harper's pictures that Harper looked just like someone else she knew, Simone, another online influencer with an intimidatingly massive social media following. With only a tiny bit of research, Harper agreed. Looking at Simone was like looking at herself in a mirror: eerily familiar. Could she be an older half-sister? Later, there was a similar post. There were more out there like her!

What an amazing and satisfying coming of age and facing your fears story! The plot follows the main character, Harper Proulx, as she determinedly creates and maintains a "nature girl in symmetry with her environment" persona. It's an elaborate masquerade, though, as Harper is terrified of everything, thanks to her overwhelming exposure to "the sky is falling" content on social media. The stress of maintaining her brand and FOMO is compounded by her helicopter mom's relentless push for safety and academic perfection.

This never-ending cycle of "keeping up" doesn't allow Harper to share her real insecurities, her inner self, or her secret need to find out about her father or her discovery that she's got half-siblings with her faithful boyfriend, Ezra. This unknown conflicts with her perception of her perfect persona. I loved that her need to know trumps her need for safety and leads to adventure and a quirky "found" family. I loved all of the siblings' reawakening to the wonders of life, and the setting in Maui is irresistible, full of mystery and beauty.

Told from Harper's point of view, readers are privy to her thoughts and motivations. I was subtly absorbed into her preoccupation with her social media presence; honestly, it felt normal; she was so effortlessly good at it. In fact, I initially felt Ezra was being overly sensitive. It didn't feel so all-encompassing until it was missing. I had been sucked into Harper's life that completely. But the story changes focus to the real people around Harper, and so does she. It is mind-boggling how easily one can shut out what's right before your eyes and become distracted and absorbed by the allure and massive volume of a "created" online world.

I truly enjoyed the main characters: Harper, Ezra, Dario, Wyatt, Simone, and their new "found" family, including Beau and Greer. I loved that more siblings were occasionally revealed as the story went on. I think it must be a universal desire or need to discover such connections with the many anonymous others out there, hence, the popularity of genetic matching services. And frankly, I could relate to Melissa Proulx, her fears and desires for her child. I can't believe she wouldn't hop on a plane to Maui during all this, though.

Author Deb Caletti has crafted a thoroughly modern tale of discovery: discovering self, identity, and wonder. She captures perfectly that blasé feeling, that sense of inurement to what's going on in the world because of the constant bombardment of news, information overload, and the overwhelming number of calls to action. Her reigniting of wonder felt so pure and simple and joyful.

I recommend THE EPIC STORY OF EVERY LIVING THING to readers of young adult fiction, especially those who enjoy the phenomenon of online life and influencers, the idea of the hunt for DNA relatives, scuba diving, and the around-the-world travels of clipper ships during the mid-1800s.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author or publisher through NetGalley and TBR and Beyond Book Tours.

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Saturday, September 17, 2022

Creatrix Rising: Unlocking the Power of Midlife Women by Stephanie Raffelock

Creatrix Rising: Unlocking the Power of Midlife WomenCreatrix Rising: Unlocking the Power of Midlife Women by Stephanie Raffelock
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Part memoir, part self-help, completely inspiring!

In Creatrix Rising, author Stephanie Raffelock introduces and discusses society’s, including women’s, beliefs about a woman’s place in the world once reaching menopause. Early women’s studies have classified a woman’s life into three ordered stages or archetypes: maiden, mother, and crone. It seems that we as a society have an ingrained sense that a woman’s entire worth culminates during the mother phase, on one’s ability to produce children. Once that is no longer an option, a woman moves into the crone phase, one of less or no value.

As I’ve aged, and as my friends and family have also done so, I have heard that wistfulness in the tone of voice when we talked about entering menopause. It is a change to one’s identity, much like when one retires. (But as I liked to think when I retired, I’m just retiring from HERE (that job), I’m not retiring from life. Frankly, I’ve got stuff to do, places to go, and people to see.) But even before retiring from a job, menopause happens, and the insidious labeling of irrelevance can start to invade. Raffelock proposes we jettison the image of the crone as no longer relevant and replace it with the more accurate archetype of Creatrix: a woman who is comfortable and free to be true to herself and embrace the creativity she has within. The book fleshes out the nature of the Creatrix and how it manifests under current circumstances much better than I can.

The author narrates the audiobook edition of the book herself, and she is captivating. I can absolutely understand why she would be in demand as a speaker (which makes one of her life vignettes regarding her speaking to groups particularly poignant.) Raffelock puts her life on view for the reader, warts and all, describing her personal experiences and revelations on her way to where she is today. Like everyone, she made some mistakes in her life, and she is very candid about hers. This book is inspirational and illustrative rather than simply biographical, but I imagine her complete life story would make for fascinating reading. This book was absorbing, and found it difficult to pause my listening to the audiobook.

Each chapter concludes with a set of outstanding questions for personal reflection and journaling to assist the reader in recognizing the Creatrix in themselves and promote thoughtful consideration. Sometimes the questions were difficult for me to find a starting point to form a response to; others served as an open door. Many made me wish I was listening to the audiobook with friends and family because I wanted the discussion that was sure to follow after.

I will recommend Creatrix Rising to those friends and family and women approaching this pivotal point in their physical life and psyche.

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Thursday, September 15, 2022

As Long As the Lemon Trees Grow by Zoulfa Katouh

As Long as the Lemon Trees GrowAs Long as the Lemon Trees Grow by Zoulfa Katouh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Simply an amazing debut novel based on the ongoing conflict and atrocities in Syria!

Salama Kassab lives in Homs, Syria, an area held by the revolutionary Free Syrian Army as the dictatorship's militia slowly but surely beats them down. At 18 years old, she had completed one year of pharmacy school at the university when she lost her family. One day, her father and older brother, Hamza, were arrested and imprisoned for participating in a protest against the government. The following week, her mother was killed when their home was destroyed in a bombing raid. Salama had been blown free, barely surviving the blast. She now lives with her pregnant sister-in-law, Layla, while volunteering at the local hospital.

The dire circumstances in Homs, this last holdout of the FSA, necessitated that Dr. Ziad, the lead surgeon at the hospital, recruit and train Salama in surgery and emergency care – something she never imagined she would ever have to do. But without much other medical staff, she does what needs doing. Casualties are constant, day in and day out, as the dictator's army rains death and destruction down on the civilians in residential areas and schools. Snipers target children, pregnant women, and the elderly. Without a secure food or water supply, Salama and the surviving population of Homs are slowly starving to death. It's just a matter of time before the FSA retreats entirely, and the city is taken.

Salama had promised Hamza that should anything happen to him, she would get Layla to safety, and Layla wanted them both to escape to Germany. However, despite suffering from PTSD, exhaustion, and starvation, Salama is reluctant to abandon her duties and people. But as things continue down their desperate path, fate reconnects her with a young man from her past.

Kenan has also lost his parents to the fallout of his country's revolution. He is the sole caretaker of his younger brother, Yusuf, and younger sister, Lama. When Lama is struck by shrapnel during an attack on their neighborhood, he rushes her to the hospital for emergency care. Complications after Lama's surgery bring Salama to their home, where they discover their past connection. Like Salama, Kenan loves his country and does his part for the revolution by recording the protests and conditions in Homs and posting his videos online, revealing what is truly happening in Syria to the outside world. He wants to remain in Homs to fight, but he agonizes over the danger to his younger siblings as the FSA quickly loses its hold on the city and its residents face certain death.

As Long As the Lemon Trees Grow is the amazing debut novel by Syrian author Zoulfa Katouh. It is a gripping tale from start to finish and exudes the ever-present fear of the main characters and their neighbors. The story is absolutely heart-wrenching and made even more so with the understanding that it is based on actual events and ongoing conditions in Syria. The tension was constant from the beginning but continued to build as the story unfolded. The author doesn't pull any punches. There is no softening of the blows of the revolution's impact on the characters or the reader. There is death and danger at every turn of the page. I had to step away from the story to recover before going on. I can't imagine the reality of those that cannot.

The story is told in first-person from Salama's point of view, so we are privy to her thoughts and feelings. The effects of her PTSD manifest themselves in Khawf, who shows up at all hours of the day or night to harangue and taunt her. But Salama is an extraordinary and extremely likable young woman, a real underdog everyone will want to succeed. Amid her desperate daily life, romance finds its way to her, and it is accomplished in a most natural way and satisfying way.

The story isn't all heartbreak; there are moments of joy and recollections of good times. There are descriptions of life in pre-revolution Syria, college memories, friends and family, food and drink, and mentions of the glories of Syria's past. Layla and Salama have been best friends since childhood, and they still have some BFF moments, sharing secrets and giggling together when they can, although, under the circumstances, this is infrequent. (This book also presents one of the biggest and most shockingly blindsiding twists I have ever encountered in a plot. All I will say is I totally did not see that coming.)

With its engaging heroine and other main characters and tense, desperate plot, I highly recommend AS LONG AS THE LEMON TREES GROW to readers of young adult fiction and suspense, especially those who enjoy stories based on actual events. Please note that the subject matter is tough and comes with a list of content or trigger warnings.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author or publisher through NetGalley and TBR and Beyond Book Tours.

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