Book Review and Blog Tour: Murder at an English Pub by Alice Castle

Book: Murder at an English Pub
Author: Alice Castle
Pub Day: July 3, 2024 
Buy Link: Amazon

Book Description:

When retired doctor Sarah Vane moves to Merstairs, she has no idea that the quaint seaside town isn’t quite as friendly it seems, and something sinister is bubbling under the picturesque surface…

Recently widowed and looking for a fresh start away from city life, Sarah Vane moves into a lovely little cottage by the sea. The rustic charm is everything she hoped it would be, but her new home doesn’t quite have enough space for her things. Her old friend Daphne offers to store Sarah’s boxes in her messy beach hut, but while clearing it out, they are shocked to find a heavy trunk… containing a dead body.

They immediately recognise the poor man as pub landlord Gus Trubshaw. Sarah concludes that he was suffocated, but who could have wanted jolly Gus dead? Unimpressed by the police’s lack of interest, Sarah realises she will have to solve the case herself.

Soon, Sarah discovers that not everyone loved Gus as much as she’d thought. Could the killer be scoutmaster Bill, who was recently banned from the pub? Or perhaps it was antique store owner, Charles, who owned the beach hut before Daphne? Or was it brewery director Mr. Grimes, who was livid with Gus for squeezing him on the purchase price of his delicious ale?

Just when the clues are starting to fall into place, the prime suspect is found strangled on the beach. And when Sarah discovers a deadly secret that links the two murders, she’s certain that a dangerous killer is roaming the streets of Merstairs. With the town in a panic, time is ticking for Sarah. Will she solve the mystery before it’s last orders for another victim?

Set off for the breezy English seaside and join Sarah on her adventures in quirky Merstairs, where nothing is quite as it seems! Fans of Agatha Christie, Betty Rowlands and Katie Gaylewill be instantly hooked by this deliciously gripping cozy mystery.

After her husband Peter passes away, Sarah Vane, now retired from her medical practice, moves to the seaside town of Merstairs with her dog, Hamish. Daphne, her friend since school days, lives there, and Sarah is looking forward to making a fresh start. But she soon wonders if Merstairs is the quiet little town she expected when a body is found stuffed in a trunk in a beach hut that Daphne only recently bought. The police don’t seem to care much about how pub owner Gus Trubshaw might have actually died, so Sarah puts her observational skills to work trying to sort matters out herself. Every time Sarah thinks she’s close to pinning someone down as the prime suspect, new information comes out that throws it all into question and she’s back to square one.

I found Sarah to be a very likable character, pretty even-keeled in contrast to her friend Daphne. Daphne honestly kind of made my head hurt. She’s a lot, in dress, mannerisms, everything. I suppose that’s what makes her such an interesting foil for Sarah and proves that opposites do attract! Hamish steals the show on a couple of occasions. I’m a sucker for a story with a good dog in it, and Hamish is the bestest of good boys.

Castle gives us some pretty good twists and turns with the mystery, and while I suspected who the killer might be, I wasn’t completely sure. As any good English village should, Merstairs hosts a colorful cast of characters, some with more reason to wish Gus harm than others. As their stories are revealed, Sarah puts the pieces together (and shares her information with Daphne’s daughter, who seems to be the only member of the Merstairs police force who cares about solving the crime). Does she figure it out before the killer does her in as well? This is the first in a series – of course she does!

This is a good start to a new cozy series, and I’m looking forward to reading more of Sarah’s adventures in Merstairs!

About the author:

Before turning to crime, Alice Castle was a UK newspaper journalist for The Daily Express, The Times and The Daily Telegraph. Her latest cozy mystery, set in fictional seaside town Merstairs, stars retired GP Sarah Vane. It will be published in July by Bookouture, who also publish Alice’s nine-book Beth Haldane Mysteries series set in south east London. Alice also writes psychological thrillers for HQDigital as A.M. Castle.

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Book Review: The Iris Code by Anita Dickason

  • Title: The Iris Code
  • Author: Anita Dickason
  • Where to buy: Amazon (affiliate link)
  • Genre: Thriller, Suspense, Medical Thriller
  • Would I recommend: Without question. If you want a story with relentless action, characters that are vividly imagined and well written, and a mystery that keeps you guessing, you need this book.

Synopsis:

A local reporter and photographer’s canine search and rescue training at an abandoned farm outside of Fredericksburg, Texas, takes a bizarre twist. Riley Phillips’ dog, Milo, alerts on the real deal—a corpse with a bullet hole in his head.

Riley’s nose for news is already twitching over the gruesome discovery. When the body turns up missing, her spider senses kick into overdrive. Who doesn’t want the man identified, and why? Are her crime scene photographs the only clue?

What Riley’s camera captured puts the FBI Tracker Unit on high alert, and Riley in a killer’s crosshairs. Learning the identity of the mystery man takes on an ominous urgency.

Can FBI Tracker Cody Lightfoot and Riley find the answer in time to stop a deadly attack? Or will they be the next victims?

Anita Dickason is one of my favorite suspense authors, and she could probably write a grocery list and make it a compelling read. So I was excited when The Iris Code, the latest in her Tracker series, came out!

Riley Phillips is exasperated with her trainee search and rescue dog, Milo. He’s alerted on something, but that isn’t where she left the decoy he was supposed to find. Imagine Riley’s surprise when she finds Milo has identified an actual dead body. Riley, also a reporter and photographer for the local newspaper, documents the scene before law enforcement arrives. When the body goes missing and local law enforcement seems disinclined to find out what happened, Riley realizes her photos may be the only evidence that could identify the man. The case is soon brought to the attention of the Tracker team, and Agent Cody Lightfoot is sent to investigate. Weird things are happening. Dangerous things. Somebody clearly doesn’t want the dead man’s identity known, and Riley and Cody have to figure out what’s going on before one or both of them end up dead, too.

Things start off with a bang. Right away, Dickason had me wondering what was up with local law enforcement. The sheriff clearly has history with Riley, and it isn’t good. And when the dead body goes missing, his glib dismissal of the case as closed is positively criminal. (I know there are some bad/useless cops in the world, but the sheriff here seems to take that to a whole new level.) The deputies “working” the case aren’t much better. Billy Thatcher seems pleasant enough, almost apologetic for his fellow officers, but Mickey Bennett sure feels like a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Cody is a great addition to the Tracker team. He’s good at what he does, and I expect his unique abilities will prove incredibly useful. And while romance definitely isn’t the focal point of the story, the relationship growing between him and Riley has me hoping we see more of the two of them in future Tracker novels.

Dickason’s characters, as always, are well written, and the mystery is compelling. I didn’t see the big reveal coming until it smacked me upside the head. This is definitely a “keep you up past your bedtime” read, so I don’t recommend starting it on an evening where you have to be up early the next day!

The Iris Code is a fantastic read, and I’d suggest it for anyone who loves a good mystery, a story told by someone who really knows her stuff, and a book that will leave you thirsty for the next in the series.

About the author:

Award-winning author Anita Dickason is a twenty-two-year veteran of the Dallas Police Department. She served as a patrol officer, undercover narcotics detective, advanced accident investigator, SWAT tactical officer, and the team’s first female sniper.

Anita’s extensive law enforcement experience and knowledge provide the inspiration for her plots, and characters. She writes about what she knows, cops and crime.

Her works have received multiple awards from Book Viral Millennium Book Awards, Readers’ Favorite Book Awards, Literary Titan Book Awards, Independent Author Network Book Awards, and Speak Up Talk Radio Firebird Award.

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Book Review and Blog Tour: Made for You by Jenna Satterthwaite

MADE FOR YOU
Author: Jenna Satterthwaite
Publication Date: July 2, 2024
Publisher: MIRA Books

Buy links:
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Book Summary:

Hi. My name is Julia. I’m a Synth. And I’m here to find love…

Synthetic woman Julia Walden was designed for one reason: to compete on The Proposal and claim the heart of bachelor Josh LaSala. Her casting is controversial, but Julia seems to get her fairy-tale ending when Josh gets down on one knee.

Fast-forward fifteen months, and Julia and Josh are married and raising their baby in small-town Indiana. But with haters around every corner, Julia’s life is a far cry from the domestic bliss she imagined. Then her splintering world shatters: Josh goes missing, and she becomes the prime suspect in his murder.

With no one left she can trust, Julia takes the investigation into her own hands. But the explosive truths she uncovers will drive her to her breaking point—and isn’t that where a person’s true nature is revealed? That is…if Julia truly is a person.

Told via dual timelines, Jenna Satterthwaite’s twist-filled debut deftly explores the exhilarating point where artificial intelligence, reality TV, and bone-chilling murder mystery meet.

Starting off, this sounds like a romance with an AI twist. Julia Walden is Josh LaSala’s perfect woman. Why? She was created that way. She’s a Synth, one of three in the world. Her designer, Andy, made her specifically to win Josh’s heart on The Proposal, a reality TV show where women compete for a man’s affection. What Julia isn’t expecting is how hard she’ll fall for Josh. So when he proposes to her, she’s overjoyed.

But it doesn’t take long before the bloom is off the rose, and the story takes a turn. They’ve moved to Josh’s small hometown in Indiana, and the reception Julia receives as a Synth is…well, not always neighborly. They now have an infant daughter (Julia is the first Synth with the ability to have children), and some cracks are starting to show in the marriage. Then Josh disappears, and Julia’s world is turned upside down. Things get even worse when she becomes the number one suspect in his murder. She doesn’t know who she can trust. Andy, her designer? Eve, the wonderful babysitter who lives nearby? Her creepy neighbor Bob? When the small-minded sheriff turns his focus on her, Julia goes on the run.

This book starts out as the reality TV romance and then turns into a murder mystery, and it’s a lot of fun! Julia is a fascinating character. Sure, she was knit together in a lab rather than her mother’s womb. But she has so many distinctly human characteristics. She may have been designed as Josh’s perfect woman, but like many of us, she has a lot of days where she feels less than perfect. Like so many women, she finds herself apologizing to Josh for things that aren’t her fault. She doubts herself. She questions what her purpose in life will be if she’s no longer married. She loves her daughter with every fiber of her being.

And so many characters in this story are not what they seem to be. Everyone has secrets – Andy, Eve, the lady in town who really, really does NOT like Synths, even creepy neighbor Bob. As the story unfolds, alternating between events on the TV show and events in the present day, each new revelation brought a shift in perspective and made Julia rethink things she thought she knew.

The final reveal of the killer’s identity wasn’t a big surprise, but how everything played out was fascinating and made for really compelling reading. The book has a little bit of everything – sci-fi, romance, mystery, thriller, all in one big, happy mash-up. And it hits on some pretty heavy topics – what makes a person a person, domestic violence, trust, discrimination. Makes you think.

If you’re looking for something that’s a cut above your average summer read, pick up Made for You.

Disclaimer: Thanks to Netgalley and Harlequin Trade Publishing for an advance copy of the book. I was not required to leave a review. All opinions here are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books I don’t actually like.

About the author:

Born in the Midwest, Jenna Satterthwaite grew up in Spain, lived briefly in France, and is now happily settled in Chicago with her husband and three kids. Jenna studied classical guitar, English Lit and French, and once upon a time was a singer-songwriter in folk band Thornfield. She loves sushi, reading in her natural habitat (aka her bed), and women taking back their power. Made For You is her debut novel.

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Book Review and Blog Tour: Murder in Mayfair (Lady Eleanor Swift #18) by Verity Bright

Woohoo! Happy book birthday to Verity Bright! The latest in their Lady Eleanor Swift series, Murder in Mayfair, is out today.

Book: Murder in Mayfair
Author: Verity Bright
Pub Day: June 27, 2024 
Buy Link: Amazon

Book description:

Tea and cake at The Ritz, a stolen pearl necklace and a missing dead body… Lady Swift is back on the case!

Lady Eleanor Swift has been eagerly awaiting her trip in a hot air balloon to take in London’s amazing sights. But what she witnesses instead is a murder! From way up high she sees a man in a dark coat shoot another man dead, but by the time she arrives back on the ground, Eleanor can find no trace of the body. Just the broken piece of a pearl necklace clasp, trodden into the dirt.

Back at The Ritz hotel, over afternoon tea, Eleanor’s old friend Lady Philomena Chadwick confides in her about a scandalous theft. Lady Chadwick is certain someone on her staff has stolen her priceless pink pearl necklace. Eleanor is immediately suspicious when the description matches the jewellery she spotted at the crime scene.

Much to her butler Clifford’s amusement, Eleanor goes undercover as a governess in the Chadwick’s sparkling Mayfair mansion. As she sets about questioning the disgruntled staff, she uncovers a treasure trove of gossip. But how do a secret love affair, a flirty footman with a fondness for spying, and a housemaid hiding a nightly visitor connect to the murder?

And when Eleanor’s beau, Detective Hugh Seldon, is brought in to investigate a string of further robberies in Park Lane, Eleanor is certain that Chadwick House is hiding the unlikeliest gang of jewel thieves below stairs…

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but will this necklace get Eleanor killed before she uncovers the hidden gem she needs to crack the case?

Murder in Mayfair is a totally gripping and twisty Golden Age whodunnit set in London, perfect for fans of T.E. Kinsey, Agatha Christie and Catherine Coles!

Y’all know I love me a Lady Eleanor Swift mystery. I do believe this is the best one yet! Here Eleanor, Clifford, and the ladies are in London to visit the British Empire Expedition. Eleanor is looking forward to a hot air balloon ride as part of the excursion. She gets more than she bargained for, thought, when she sees what appears to be a murder taking place in one of the exhibit areas as the balloon passes over it.

Once she’s back on the ground, though, she finds the exhibit area closed and locked up. When she manages to get in, there’s no dead body, no sign that anything untoward occurred. But Ellie knows what she saw. When she runs into Lady Chadwick, an acquaintance, at teatime, she agrees to take a temporary role on Lady Chadwick’s household staff to investigate the apparent theft of a pearl necklace. She digs up lots of dirt, but what does any of it have to do with the necklace? And when Lady Chadwick’s butler is murdered, too, Ellie wonders if and how it connects to what she knows she saw at the exhibition.

There is so much to love in this book. As always, Ellie includes her ladies in the fun and shenanigans. They aren’t just staff to her, they’re family. The distinction between how she relates to her staff and how many others do is highlighted when Ellie goes undercover at the Chadwicks’. Clifford finds a way to stay involved when Ellie is working at the Chadwicks’, even getting Gladstone and Tomkins in on the fun. And of course we get to see Hugh in this one. Huzzah!

In fact, Hugh is the one who finds himself in danger in this one – not physical danger, but in harm’s way all the same. Against the direction of his higher-ups, Hugh helps Ellie and Clifford investigate the murder at the exhibition. And when the official heat comes down, Hugh is the one who takes it, to protect the others.

So why is Lady Chadwick being disingenuous with Ellie? How are the two deaths connected? Will Hugh lose his job? Verity Bright answers all these questions and more as the story unfolds. We also get to meet an apparent new member of the team, and I think he’ll be a fine addition. I hope we see more of him in future stories.

If you love a good cozy that doesn’t give away the ending too soon, that’s full of humor and camaraderie and enough tension to keep the pages turning, get to know Lady Eleanor and the gang. Perfect for summer reading, or anytime you’re in the mood for a delightful story!

Disclaimer: Thank you to Bookouture for a review copy of the book. All opinions here are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books I don’t actually like.

About the author:

Verity Bright is the pseudonym for a husband-and-wife writing partnership that has spanned a quarter of a century. Starting out writing high-end travel articles and books, they published everything from self-improvement to humour, before embarking on their first historical mystery. They are the authors of the fabulous Lady Eleanor Swift Mystery series, set in the 1920s.

Find them on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BrightVerity.

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Book Review and Giveaway: A Chocolate Is Announced by Amber Royer

A CHOCOLATE IS ANNOUNCED

Bean to Bar Mystery, #7

By Amber Royer

Cozy Mystery / Culinary Mystery / Women Sleuths

Publisher: Golden Tip Press

Pages: 277

Publication Date: June 25, 2024

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SYNOPSIS

Felicity Koerber is finally getting her life together.  She has a fiancé, her bean to bar chocolate shop on Galveston’s historic Strand has become a gathering spot for the community, and she is ready to embrace whatever the future holds.  She’s ready for another launch party – despite the disaster at her grand opening, when she’d first gotten involved with solving a murder.  And this time she’s embracing her status as a sleuth.  She’s hosting a murder mystery weekend to celebrate the new Mystery Flavor line of craft chocolate bars.  She’s held a contest to choose the attendees, who will all stay at her aunt’s flip hotel and enjoy the island.  It’s all supposed to be perfectly random – only, Felicity starts to uncover connections between her guests.  When one of them winds up murdered, Felicity has to keep her aunt from becoming the main suspect.

The killer is very clearly calling Felicity out, leaving clues that mean little to anyone other than her.  But that doesn’t narrow down the suspect pool.  Her guests are there because they love the true crime podcast she’s been featured on.  And she can’t decide whether the killer wants her to catch them – or just wants to taunt her.

Meanwhile, Felicity is also playing host to her future in-laws and discovers that her fiancé’s sister, who is also a cop, is very competitive.  Can Felicity hold her own and make a good impression, while keeping her business together and her aunt out of jail?  And can Felicity solve it in time to protect the people she cares about from becoming additional victims?   

Satchmo the retired police dog turned therapy dog returns to help her sniff out a few clues, and one of the guests brings along a ferret named Cheeseburger, who keeps showing up in the most unexpected places.

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Review Header

I love Amber Royer’s Bean to Bar Mysteries! (You can see my reviews of previous books here.) But I think A Chocolate Is Announced may be the best so far. Felicity is engaged to Logan, Greetings and Felicitations is doing well, and renovations are proceeding nicely on the hotel her aunt plans to flip. Logan is getting more involved in the chocolate-making side of the business, and they’re hosting a murder mystery weekend to introduce the bars he’s created.

The contestants are supposed to be randomly selected. But as they arrive and the contest begins, connections between the participants start to come to light. Ted seems to be the man everyone has a reason to hate. Felicity’s Aunt Naomi even has a past history with him. And when Ted ends up dead for real, Felicity has to do some investigating to keep her aunt from topping the list of suspects.

This is a locked room mystery twice! Ted’s body is discovered in his hotel room, no visible signs of anyone else having been in the room with him. And the hotel where everyone is staying is also locked down! The killer has made it a requirement that only four people are allowed to leave and return to the property, presumably so they can investigate. If anyone else leaves, the killer says more people will die. This makes for some tense moments and people getting sick of each other’s company in a hurry, as they all try to congregate in the main areas of the hotel as much as possible.

We get to meet Logan’s parents and sister under these less than ideal circumstances, and Felicity has some doubts about how well she’s going to fit in with the family. And once Logan tells her his parents want to buy them a house, she jumps to some conclusions that make her a little anxious about the security of their relationship. (Felicity, don’t jump to conclusions!) We also get to see Felicity and Arlo thrown together. You’d think it would be super awkward, working to solve a crime with the man you didn’t choose and his girlfriend on the premises, but surprisingly, they’re able to work together pretty well.

We don’t see much of Felicity’s beloved bunny Knightly in this story, but that’s because he’s out of the reach of the ferret, Cheeseburger, brought by one of the contestants. Felicity knows ferrets and rabbits generally don’t do well together, so she has Knightly in someone else’s care for the weekend. Cheeseburger’s shenanigans are engaging, though, and one wonders whether his owner was somehow involved with the murder.

And the mystery! Royer kept me guessing, with plenty of twists and turns and red herrings. There’s the tie-in t0 a classic novel, although this time it wasn’t a straight-up mystery novel. It was interesting to see how Royer connected the novel to the story and worked the mystery around it.

Another winner in the Bean to Bar series, and this one left us with lots of little details about what might come next! I’ll be waiting anxiously for the eighth book in the series.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Amber Royer writes the Chocoverse comic telenovela-style foodie-inspired space opera series, and the Bean to Bar Mysteries. She also teaches creative writing and is an author coach.

Amber and her husband live in the DFW Area, where you can often find them hiking or taking landscape, architecture, and wildlife photographs.

If you are very nice to Amber, she might make you cupcakes. Chocolate cupcakes, of course! Amber blogs
about creative writing technique and all things chocolate at www.amberroyer.com.

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2124: A Space Oddity | NYC Midnight 100-word microfiction competition 2024

A couple of months ago, I entered the NYC Midnight 100-word microfiction competition. You get a genre, an action to be included, and a word to be included, and then you have 24 hours to write a story of 100 words or less. I’ve dabbled in the microfiction competitions for about five years now. Usually I don’t make it past the first round. I did get honorable mention once, which was exciting.

But this year? I won sixth place in my group! Top ten in each group move on to the second round, so I’m off to the second round for the FIRST TIME EVER!!! I am unreasonably excited about this.

So, if anyone is interested, I’m sharing my little story here. Y’all be kind.

Genre: Sci-fi
Action: Answering a phone
Word: Stub

2124: A Space Oddity

Generational Colony Ship Warren T. Long

Day three of my two-year shift monitoring the bridge. Still 547 years from our destination. Ennui sets in. Smoke from my illicit cigarette drifts.

That noise. The jangle of . . . a telephone? What . . .? How . . .? Should I pick up? Of course I should. Quickly stubbing out my cig, I dash for the Old Earth relic on the wall. Grab the receiver on the third ring.

“Hello?”

I await a reply. 

Preposterous! I scream.

“No, I do not want to talk about my car’s extended warranty!”

Damn telemarketers. 

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Book Review and Giveaway: Sugar on the Bones by Joe Lansdale

SUGAR ON THE BONES

By Joe R. Lansdale

Private Investigator Mystery / Noir Crime / Hard-Boiled Mystery / Lawyers and Criminals Humor

Publisher: Mulholland Books

Pages: 317

Publication Date: July 16, 2024

SYNOPSIS

In this holy mess of a case for the “perpetual bad boy” (New York Times) sleuths in the beloved Hap and Leonard series, PI Duo Hap and Leonard investigate the untimely death of a woman whose family stood much to gain from her passing.

Minnie Polson is dead. Burned to a crisp in a fire so big and bad it had to be deliberate. The only thing worse is that Hap and Leonard could have prevented it. Maybe. Minnie had a feeling she was being targeted, shaken down by some shadowy force. However, when she’d solicited Hap & Leonard, all it took was one off color joke to turn her sour and she’d called them off the investigation. Wracked with a guilty conscience, the two PIs—along with Hap’s fleet-footed wife, Brett—tuck in to the case. As they look closer, they dredge up troublesome facts: for one, Minnie’s daughter, Alice, has recently vanished. She’d been hard up after her pet grooming business went under and was in line to collect a whopping insurance sum should anything happen to her mother. The same was due to Minnie’s estranged husband, Al, whose kryptonite (beautiful, money-grubbing women) had left him with only a run-down mobile home. But did Minnie’s foolish, cash-strapped family really have it in them to commit a crime this grisly? Or is there a larger, far more sinister scheme at work?

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This was my first time to read one of Joe Lansdale’s books. Sugar on the Bones is #13 in Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard series, and while I was able to follow along pretty well, I’m sure I missed a lot of backstory in those first twelve books. I’d suggest starting at the beginning.

Hap and Leonard could have taken a job for Minnie Polson. But she apparently didn’t like their style, so she declined to retain their services. Next thing they hear, she’s dead. Burned to a crisp in a fire set with a purpose. Even though Minnie was never their client and was no longer alive to pay them even if she had been, they feel some kind of obligation to follow through on the case. The trail leads them to Minnie’s hard-done-by ex, Al, and a whole mess of trouble.

I’m not quite sure how to categorize this book. A little bit noir, a little bit off-beat humor, a lot of sarcasm, plenty of Texas color, and enough fart jokes to satisfy almost any 12-year-old boy, it’s not your normal detective fiction! Hap and Leonard may seem like an unlikely duo – Hap, a white East Texas boy who’s done some time, and Leonard, a gay Black Vietnam vet. They’re friends. They poke fun at each other, but you know they’ve got each other’s backs, and neither will let the other go alone into danger.

The characters were colorfully drawn, from our heroes to Hap’s wife Brett (who’s really the brains of their marriage – I liked Brett!) to Minnie’s ex Al, who seems like his lack of funds might give him a genuine motive to have done Minnie in. But come on – a guy who lives in an absolute dump of a trailer and is as upfront and genuine about the sad state of his affairs as anyone could be isn’t likely to be hiding a criminal side, is he? I was particularly entertained by the relationship Al had with the mice living in his couch. There’s Vanilla, a gorgeous woman who’s also a stone-cold assassin and an almost comically good shot, and Veil, whose relationship with Hap isn’t clearly defined but is clearly one that has them on good terms.

Hap and Leonard and their associates often find themselves in situations calling for violence, and Lansdale doesn’t shy away from describing the action in detail that sometimes left me a little queasy. The older I get, the less I seem to like vividly brutal fight scenes. If you share my sentiment, you may turn those pages a little faster, too.

Overall, the story was a lot of fun. Hap and Leonard are a crime-solving duo that’s easy to cheer for, and Brett does her best to keep them on an even keel. I have boys, so I’m in favor of fart jokes. If I skip past the violent bits, I enjoy the rest of the story just fine – enough that I plan to read the series to get Hap and Leonard’s history. Sugar on the Bones may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but if it sounds like it could be your shot of whiskey, give it a read!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joe R. Lansdale is the author of nearly four dozen novels, including Rusty Puppy, the Edgar-award winning The Bottoms, Sunset and Sawdust, and Leather Maiden. He has received nine Bram Stoker Awards, the American Mystery Award, the British Fantasy Award, and the Grinzane Cavour Prize for Literature. He lives with his family in Nacogdoches, Texas.

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Book Review and Giveaway: This Time Around by Kimberly Packard

THIS TIME AROUND

by

Kimberly Packard

Time Travel Romance / Contemporary Women’s Fiction / Romantic Comedy

Publisher: Abalos Publishing

Date of Publication: June 11, 2024

Number of Pages: 286 pages 

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SYNOPSIS

Most of us would jump at a chance for a do-over of our teenage years…but what if our worst mistakes lead to our happily-ever-after?

Josie Gardner’s life revolves around her amazing children and her career. But, when her husband threatens to take her kids in their divorce, and the business she’s put most of her passion, time and money into building is at risk of failing, a panic attack shatters her grip on reality… and the present.

Josie wakes up in her teenage bedroom, thirty years in the past. She’s forced to relive her emotionally devastating senior year of high school — the year she cut her father out of her life, caused one of her best friends to sever ties, and turned away the boy she loved.

Determined to get back to her children in her own time, Josie tries to fix the mistakes she made, in the hope that righting wrongs will send her back to the present. But when tempted by her high school crush Josie faces the real possibility of losing her future for good.

Would you take a second chance for love…even if it meant losing everything?

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Have you ever wished you could go back to high school? Maybe things would be different, better, if you could take the knowledge and wisdom you’d gained over the years and relive those awkward teen moments. Josie Gardner doesn’t necessarily wish she could go back, but she’s going through a divorce, and as her marriage is ending, she often thinks about Daniel. The one she let walk away. She’s tried to find him over the years, but he’s not easy to track down. But she’s got her business, and she’s got two of the best kids a woman could ever ask for.

When Josie learns that a store her business was about to close a significant deal with is filing bankruptcy, she has a bit of a panic attack. And when she wakes up, she’s thirty years in the past – her senior year of high school. Before her parents’ divorce. Before whatever falling out removes someone from their friend group. Before she breaks Daniel’s heart. At first she thinks she must be in a coma, and this is all some product of her addled brain. But as near as she can tell, she has actually traveled back in time. What will she do differently? And if she makes different choices now, how will that affect the future she already knows?

I can’t exactly relate to Josie. I didn’t have “the one who got away” in high school. I have been asked if I would have married my first husband knowing it would end in divorce. My answer is always “of course,” because if I hadn’t married him, I wouldn’t have my fabulous, funny firstborn son. And I can’t imagine making a choice that would take him out of existence! Josie wrestles similarly with the idea of choosing differently and never seeing HER kids, the ones she already knows and is frantic to get back to, come into being.

It’s pretty entertaining watching Josie navigate high school with the mind of a forty-something mom in a teenager’s body (oh, yeah, I’d take my teenage knees back – they didn’t creak and hurt!). She’s trying to figure out a way to unravel her predicament without letting people know what’s really going on, and she stumbles into the assistance of three of the nerdiest boys in her class (she gives them a couple of useful tips that serve them well and become important later in the book!) Armed with a list of wrongs she can right that will hopefully send her back to her own time, Josie moves through her senior year fully aware of what will be coming, and also aware that if she says yes to Daniel this time, she’s saying no to her beautiful, wonderful children.

The characters are all wonderfully written, from Ian, the class jerk Josie saves from drowning, to her parents, whose divorce Josie handles with much more grace and dignity this time, to Daniel. Will Josie ultimately choose him, or will she choose her future and the knowns and unknowns it holds? Read the book and find out.

This is a fun spin on the time-slip trope, and the story makes you think: really, how WOULD you do things differently if you knew doing certain things differently would change the entirety of your future? I understand the author is writing a book about Em’s story, and hopefully we’ll learn more in that book about how Josie’s life played out after she made it back to her own time.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kimberly Packard is an award-winning author of women’s fiction.

When she isn’t writing, she can be found planning her next trip, asking her dog what’s in his mouth or curled up with a book. She resides in Texas with her husband Colby, a clever cat named Oliver and a precocious black lab named Tully. 

Her debut novel, Phoenix, was awarded as Best General Fiction of 2013 by the Texas Association of Authors. She is also the author of a Christmas novella, The Crazy Yates, and the sequels to Phoenix, Pardon Falls and Prospera Pass, and her stand-alone titles Vortex, Dire’s Club and This Time Around. She was honored as one of the Top 10 Haute Young Authors by Southern Methodist University in 2019. Vortex was the 2019 winner of the Pencraft award in Women’s Fiction, and Dire’s Club, was awarded the 2021 General Fiction of the Year by the North Texas Book Festival.

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06/11/24Ames for the StarsReview
06/12/24LSBBT BlogReview
06/13/24Book FidelityReview
06/14/24StoreyBook ReviewsReview
06/15/24Jennie ReadsReview
06/16/24Boys’ Mom ReadsReview
06/17/24The Plain-Spoken PenReview
06/17/24The Real World According to SamReview
06/18/24Carpe Diem ChroniclesReview
06/18/24It’s Not All GravyReview
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06/19/24BiblioticaReview
06/20/24Rox Burkey BlogReview

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Posted in Blog Tours, Book Reviews, Lone Star Book Blog Tours, Lone Star Literary Life, Time Travel, Women's Fiction | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Can’t-Wait Wednesday: The Iris Code by Anita Dickason

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme that highlights books soon to be released, the ones we’re excited about but haven’t read yet. It’s hosted by Wishful Endings, and was formerly hosted by Breaking the Spine. Y’all can check out all of this week’s Can’t-Wait Wednesday posts here.

Title: The Iris Code

Series: Trackers

Author: Anita Dickason

Genre: Thriller, Suspense, Crime Fiction

Publication Date: June 17, 2024

Publisher: Mystic Circle Books

Synopsis:

A local reporter and photographer’s canine search and rescue training at an abandoned farm outside of Fredericksburg, Texas, takes a bizarre twist. Riley Phillips’ dog, Milo, alerts on the real deal—a corpse with a bullet hole in his head.

Riley’s nose for news is already twitching over the gruesome discovery. When the body turns up missing, her spider senses kick into overdrive.

Who doesn’t want the man identified, and why? Are her crime scene photographs the only clue?

What Riley’s camera captured puts the FBI Tracker Unit on high alert, and Riley in a killer’s crosshairs. Learning the identity of the mystery man takes on an ominous urgency.

Can FBI Tracker Cody Lightfoot and Riley find the answer in time to stop a deadly attack? Or will they be the next victims?

My thoughts:

I love Anita Dickason’s books. See my reviews of a few of them here. So when I learned she was writing a new book in her Trackers series, I knew I had to share it!

As her website says, “Anita Dickason is a retired police officer with a total of twenty-seven years of law enforcement experience, twenty-two with Dallas PD. She served as a patrol officer, undercover narcotics officer, advanced accident investigator, tactical officer and first female sniper on the Dallas SWAT team.” Her life experience allows her to write fantastic stories about police investigations and all things crime-related. She writes what she knows, and she does it smashingly.

If you love a well-crafted thriller that will keep you guessing and keep you up late reading, you gotta get your hands on The Iris Code. You don’t have to read all the Tracker novels in order to enjoy any of them. You’d get all the good backstory if you did, but it isn’t essential. (Read one, and you’ll want to read them all.)

It’s coming out June 17, so you don’t have long to wait! And if you want it in your hands on release day, you can pre-order here (this is an affiliate link, so if you order through it, I’ll get a few pennies and say thank ya kindly!).

Posted in Book Memes, Can't-Wait Wednesday | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Book Review: Nemesis and the Vault of Lost Time

  • Title: Nemesis and the Vault of Lost Time
  • Author: PJ Davis
  • Where to buy: Amazon (affiliate link)
  • Genre: YA Fantasy
  • Would I recommend: Yes. Entertaining for middle-grade to middle-aged!

Synopsis:

Thirteen-year-old Max is a daydreamer. It gets him into trouble at school, but his restless curiosity really turns problematic when he runs into a mysterious professor at his uncle’s bookstore. The old man informs Max that time is being sucked out of the planet by invisible bandits, stolen from unsuspecting people one breath and one sneeze at a time, and is being stored in a central vault. Once full, the vault will fuel a hungry horde of invaders looking to cross into earth, and cross out all its people. What’s more, the professor claims he knew Max’s missing scientist father. With the help of his best friends, Derek and Samantha, Max must harness his compulsive curiosity and find passage to this place called Nemesis to stop the sticky-fingered time thieves and halt their planned invasion. But when the professor goes missing and the clock starts ticking, Max discovers far more than he imagined. Just how much Max is willing to sacrifice hinges on the realization of just who or what he is beyond the bounds of time.

Max Kellerman seems like a pretty typical 13-year-old boy – two best friends, a mom, a dad who’s gone missing. (Wait, what?) His inquisitive mind tends to go off wandering during school, and that gets him into trouble. But he has no idea how far his curiosity is about to take him when he meets someone at his uncle’s bookstore who tells him a pretty crazy story about a vault full of time that’s being stolen, with a passel of creatures intent on destroying the world as Max knows it just as soon as they’ve stolen enough time. But what really grabs Max’s attention is the mention of his father. You know, the one missing and presumed dead? According to this professor, Max’s dad is alive and imprisoned in this alternate dimension. Max agrees to break into the other world, Nemesis, where this vault of missing time is and try to get it back. But his real motivation for going is to find out if his father is still alive.

PJ Davis gives us a rollicking good adventure! I love the mechanism he created for the otherworldly bad guys to steal time from humans. Let’s just say Max’s tendency to sneeze in bright sunlight comes in handy.

Derek and Samantha (Sam) are wonderful as Max’s best friends and companions in adventure. They ring true to the middle-grade kids I know – the boys sometimes rush into situations where common sense might tell them otherwise, and the girl has a little more maturity and ability to stop and think. Sam’s logical reasoning gets the trio out of a jam, or keeps them out of one, more than once.

There are allies in unexpected places, tight spots that you aren’t sure how our heroes will get past, and plenty of action to engage even the most reluctant reader. My younger son in particular would have loved this book a few years ago! (His tastes have changed and he’s more into manga now. Five years ago, he would have been all about this.)

And does Max find his father? Do the kids save the day and the world? I’m not telling. Grab a copy of the book and find out! Highly recommended for middle grades and up (and advanced upper elementary readers would probably be fine, too).

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author. All opinions here are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books I don’t actually like.

Posted in Book Reviews, Fantasy, Middle Grade Fiction | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment