Book Beginnings on Friday and Book Blogger Hop – February 5, 2021

Book Beginnings on Fridays is hosted each week by Rose City Reader. It’s a chance to share the first sentence or so of the book you are reading this week.

This week I’m starting The Crowns of Croswald, a middle grade fantasy by D. E. Night.

The village, well, it had a lot of secrets. And its secrets need to be kept safe. So, the town’s name was like a key – those who knew the name could find the village. Let’s call it the Town.

I’m looking forward to this! A girl who comes into magical power she didn’t know she had. An evil queen. A hidden history. Tropes aplenty, and I can’t wait to see what D. E. Night does with them.

Check out others’ book beginnings here.

Book Blogger Hop

Book Blogger Hop is hosted by Coffee Addicted Writer. It starts each Friday and runs through the following Thursday. Each week, there’s a new prompt featuring a book-related question. It’s designed to give bloggers a chance to follow other blogs, learn about new books, make new blogging friends, and gain followers.

Oh, that’s easy. The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman would make an EXCELLENT Netflix series. It’s got Librarians, who travel to alternate universes to secure and protect various works of fiction. It’s got dragons. And fae. And magic. And chaos. And secret agents. And mysterious societies. It is GLORIOUS, and, if done properly, would be captivating on screen. Netflix, let’s make this happen!

Want to see what book series other folks would like to see adapted? Go find the #bookbloggerhop links here.

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Book Review: Pudge & Prejudice by A. K. Pittman | Lone Star Book Blog Tours

PUDGE AND PREJUDICE
by
A.K. PITTMAN
Categories: YA / Clean & Wholesome Romance / ’80s
Publisher: Wander (a division of Tyndale House)
Date of Publication: January 12, 2021
Number of Pages: 352 pages
Scroll down for Giveaway!

A Mixtape of Big ’80s Style, High School Angst, and a Classic Jane Austen Tale

It’s 1984 and after moving to Northenfield, Texas, with her family, Elyse Nebbit faces the challenge of finding her place in a new school, one dominated by social status and Friday night football. When Elyse’s effortlessly beautiful older sister Jayne starts dating golden boy Charlie Bingley, Elyse finds herself curious about Charlie’s popular and brooding best friend, Billy Fitz. Elyse’s body insecurities eventually complicate her relationship with Billy, leaving Jayne and Elyse’s exceedingly blunt friend, Lottie, to step in and help Elyse accept herself for who she is, pant size and all.

PRAISE FOR PUDGE AND PREJUDICE:

Written with wit and considerable insight into the highs and lows of first love, this coming-of-age twist on the Jane Austen classic had me laughing out loud, singing ‘80s lyrics in my head, and cheering on the brilliant, yet self-deprecating heroine. Pudge & Prejudice is a joy to read from beginning to end! Lorie Langdon author of Olivia Twist and the Disney Villains series

Allison Pittman will have readers laughing (and singing) on every page of this delightfully tenderhearted novel for all ages…[She] crafts a particularly savvy character who learns that beauty really is soul-deep…. Julie Cantrell, New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of Perennials

I can’t remember the last time I loved a book as much as I love this one. It’s an instant classic I will return to time after time. Bethany Turner, Award-Winning Author of The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck

CLICK TO PURCHASE!

I’ll let you in on a secret. I, an English major in college and lifelong avid reader, have never read Pride and Prejudice. But I didn’t let that stop me from jumping at the chance to review Pudge and Prejudice. Texas? High school? The 80s? Yes, please!

This book, y’all. Elyse was such a relatable character to me. I wanted to reach in the pages and hug her, like I wish I could go back and hug my high school self. I didn’t have the horde of siblings, but I, too, didn’t conform to societal norms of teenage beauty. I didn’t have the boys ringing my phone off the wall or clamoring to ask me out. They were more interested in copying my homework than going on a date. Elyse, she and I, we are kin. I felt her indecision about Billy Fitz. “I like him. Maybe he likes me? No, he could never like me. And I don’t really like him, not really. It’s better that way.” I understood when she convinced herself that really, there could never be anything there. And I CHEERED when she gave Katie Berg what for after nosy Katie tried to dictate Elyse’s social life according to Acceptable High School Standards. I wanted to jump in the book and give her a big ol’ high five and a hug.

A. K. Pittman has gloriously channeled small town Texas and high school angst and drama. Football is king, and the quarterback is the king of the team. Having some boyfriend is better than no boyfriend (looking at Lottie and Collin here, and Lottie’s very pragmatic view of social realities). And I laughed out loud at the description of Homecoming mums. I’m not a Texas girl by birth (shh, don’t tell anyone), and the first time I saw a mum was when I was in college. I was stunned by the confection of flowers and ribbons and stuffed animals and all kinds of doodads and baubles that girls actually wore. (This was in 1986. I think they’ve gotten more elaborate since then – I swear there are some that actually need their own flatbed trailer to carry them.)

The book is also faithful to life in the 80s. No cell phones. Kids had curfews and rules. Families shared a telephone and a television. Learning to drive and earning the use of the family car was a rite of passage. Parents could send their kids to the store unsupervised. The DJ dedication! Man, that took me way back. It made me nostalgic for my own youth.

Now, never having read the inspiration for Ms. Pittman’s work here, I can’t tell you if the characters were faithful to Jane Austen’s telling of the tale. What I can tell you is that this is an engaging story that made me laugh, and rage, and gave me all the happy tears at the end. It was well worth my time to read, and I would enthusiastically recommend it for readers from junior high on up who enjoy a clean romance, a trip back in time, and a wonderfully crafted story. I hope to read more of Ms. Pittman’s work, and she may have inspired me to pick up the original Pride and Prejudice.

Allison Pittman is an award-winning author of thirteen novels, including the Christy-nominated Sister Wife series and the critically acclaimed The Seamstress. An enthusiast for all of the writing world, Allison holds active leadership in her local American Christian Fiction Writers chapter, and she heads up a thriving critique group in the San Antonio area. When not writing, Allison teaches middle school English, working as a conduit to introduce her students to new, fresh literature. You can follow her around on Instagram or Twitter and keep up with her writing news on her Allison Pittman Author Facebook page. Here you’ll learn what’s going on with new books, next books, and day-to-day life with Allison and her husband, Mikey. You’ll also get a peek at Snax, the world’s worst dog.

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GIVEAWAY! GIVEAWAY! GIVEAWAY!
THREE WINNERS
Each winner receives a SIGNED COPY of the book,
a hair scrunchie, and a $25 Visa Gift Card
Giveaway ends Midnight, CST, 2/13/2021
FOR DIRECT LINKS TO EACH POST ON THIS TOUR, UPDATED DAILY,
or visit the blogs directly:
2/3/21 Review The Page Unbound
2/3/21 Review Missus Gonzo
2/4/21 Review All the Ups and Downs
2/5/21 Review Carpe Diem Chronicles
2/5/21 Review That’s What She’s Reading
2/6/21 Review The Adventures of a Travelers Wife
2/7/21 Review Rebecca R. Cahill, Author
2/8/21 Review Nerd Narration
2/8/21 Review Rainy Days with Amanda
2/9/21 Review Story Schmoozing Book Reviews
2/10/21 Review StoreyBook Reviews
2/10/21 Review Momma on the Rocks
2/11/21 Review Book Fidelity
2/11/21 BONUS Promo Hall Ways Blog
2/12/21 Review Librariel Book Adventures
2/12/21 Review Jennifer Silverwood
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Can’t-Wait Wednesday: The Stone Eater by Carol Beth Anderson

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 Stone Eater

Author: Carol Beth Anderson

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Post-Apocalyptic

Publication Date: April 1, 2021

Publisher: Eliana Press

Synopsis:

The exhilarating, romantic conclusion to The Magic Eaters Trilogy, a dystopian YA fantasy series like no other.

Can Nora take her father’s crown…before his dark magic takes her life?

Ulmin Abrios, King of Cellerin, has gone mad. He’s invading and terrorizing his own cities.

Princess Nora, his estranged daughter, is determined to seize the crown and save her people. Along with her boyfriend Ovrun and her friends Krey and Sarza, she secretly returns to Cellerin.

As she plots to take down her father, Nora wrestles with her desire to find love. She knows how confining life in the palace will be. Could Ovrun—or any man—ever truly embrace the restrictive life of a king?

Touring her land on a dragon’s back, Nora builds a vast team of supporters. But Ulmin’s mind is decimated by forbidden magic, and he’ll use any weapon, from torture to mental slavery, to protect himself. Even against his daughter.

With both the crown and her heart at stake, Nora must give her all to defeat her father. Otherwise, his tyranny will overwhelm the land…giving Nora no escape but death.

My thoughts:

The Stone Eater is the final entry in Carol Beth Anderson’s Magic Eaters trilogy. You need to start with the first, The Frost Eater, and read all the way through. I promise, it will be well worth your time! Anderson does an excellent job of creating a world you want to get to know and characters you either love or love to hate. And there are dragons. Dragons make any book better, am I right? The magic system she’s created is also fascinating to me.

And y’all, look at the cover. Isn’t it just creepy and gorgeous?

This trilogy is one of my favorites, and I’m sad that this is the last book in it. Read the first two now, and then you’ll be ready to jump in on The Stone Eater when it releases in April! You can preorder it here (affiliate link).

Also, if you just want to read something really cool, check out The Curio Cabinet, Anderson’s collection of microfiction. Worlds and universes and stories aplenty, each in 150 words or less.

Posted in Book Memes, Can't-Wait Wednesday, Fantasy, Young Adult | Tagged , , , , , | 11 Comments

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Girl from the Channel Islands by Jenny LeCoat

THE GIRL FROM THE CHANNEL ISLANDS 

Author: Jenny Lecoat

ISBN: 9781525806414

Publication Date: February 2, 2021

Publisher: Graydon House Books

Book Summary:

An extraordinary story of human triumph against impossible odds

The year is 1940, and the world is torn apart by war. In June of that year, Hitler’s army captures the Channel Islands—the only part of Great Britain occupied by German forces. Abandoned by Mr. Churchill, forgotten by the Allies and cut off from all help, the Islands’ situation is increasingly desperate.

Hedy Bercu is a young Jewish girl who fled Vienna for the island of Jersey two years earlier during the Anschluss, only to find herself trapped by the Nazis once more—this time with no escape. Her only hope is to make herself invaluable to the Germans by working as a translator, hiding in plain sight with the help of her friends and community—and a sympathetic German officer. But as the war intensifies, rations dwindle and neighbors are increasingly suspicious of one another. Hedy’s life is in greater danger every day. It will take a definitive, daring act to save her from certain deportation to the concentration camps.

A sweeping tale of bravery and love under impossible circumstances, Hedy’s remarkable story reminds us that it’s often up to ordinary people to be quiet heroes in the face of injustice. 

My review:

It took me a bit to warm up to this book. Initially, I didn’t realize it was based on a true story. But once I picked up on that tidbit and did a little research into what happened, the story became much more engaging to me.

At the heart of the story is the unlikely friendship that develops between Hedwig Bercu (Hedy), an Austrian Jew who was working as a nanny on the island before the Germans invaded, and Dorothea Le Brocq Weber (Dory), a resident of the island who married an Austrian conscripted into the German army.

At the time of the German invasion of the Channel Islands, there were very few Jewish people remaining there. Most had already fled. But Hedy remained, and even though she was identified as a Jew, she was able to get a job as a translator, working for the Germans. Still, being a Jew during World War II was a precarious situation. Hedy’s ethnic identity becomes widely known when she is found to have been stealing fuel coupons, and the Germans are on the hunt for her. It is only through the valiant efforts of Dory and of Hedy’s German lover, Kurt, that she is able to survive.

I thought Hedy was needlessly callous toward Dory when they first met. Hedy and Anton were friends before Dory came into the picture, and Hedy appeared to make no bones about her dislike of Dory. Her attitude seemed a bit harsh, but I guess it’s not unexpected from someone who struggled to trust anyone. Still, it made Hedy something of an unlikeable character at first.

Ms. Lecoat has clearly done her research, and one thing that really drew me in about the book was the description of the absolute privation that comes in wartime. A fair bit of historical fiction touches on that topic, but doesn’t really go into detail. I could almost feel Hedy and Dory’s hunger pangs and exhaustion as they tried to find something, anything to eat.

Overall, I found this to be a story worth the read. It gets four stars from me.

Thanks to NetGalley and Graydon House Books for an advance reader copy. All opinions here are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books I don’t actually like.

About the author:

Author Jenny Lecoat

Jenny Lecoat was born in Jersey, Channel Islands, where her parents were raised under German Occupation and were involved in resistance activity. Lecoat moved to England at 18, where, after earning a drama degree, she spent a decade on the alternative comedy circuit as a feminist stand-up. She also wrote for newspapers and women’s magazines (Cosmopolitan, Observer), worked as a TV and radio presenter, before focusing on screenwriting from sitcom to sketch shows. A love of history and factual stories and a return to her island roots brought about her feature film Another Mother’s Son (2017). She is married to television writer Gary Lawson and now lives in East Sussex. The Girl from the Channel Islands is her first novel.

Buy Links: 

Harlequin 

Amazon

Barnes & Noble 

Books-A-Million

Powell’s

Social Links:

Author Website

Twitter: @JennyLecoat

Instagram: NA

Facebook: @JennyLecoat

Goodreads

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Book Review and Blog Tour: We Could Be Heroes by Mike Chen

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for We Could Be Heroes by Mike Chen! This is a fascinating story of two people who wake up remembering nothing of their prior lives or selves, and soon realize they have some new, unusual abilities.

We Could Be Heroes  

Mike Chen

On Sale Date: January 26, 2021

9780778331391

Hardcover

$27.99 USD, $34.99 CAD

336 pages

ABOUT THE BOOK:

An emotional adventure about two misfits who have extraordinary powers, but have forgotten who they were before. The vigilante and the villain must team up to stop a mad scientist who threatens the city, while trying to figure out who they really are.

Jamie woke up two years ago in an empty apartment with no memory and only a few clues to who he might be, and also with the power to read other people’s memories. In the meantime, he’s become the Mind Robber, holding up banks for quick cash. Similarly, Zoe is searching for her past, and using her new extraordinary abilities of speed and strength…to deliver fast food. And occasionally beat up bad guys, if she feels like it.

When the two meet in a memory-loss support group, they realize they are each other’s best chance at discovering what happened to them. The quest will take them deep into a medical conspiracy that is threatening to spill out and wreak havoc on their city, and maybe the country. As the two get past their respective barriers, they’ll realize that their friendship is the thing that gives them the greatest power.

EXCERPT:

Chapter 3

Jamie stopped, catching himself. He’d gone too far this time. Close eyes, deep breaths, count to five, and then open eyes to see the damage.

Damn it. He’d really done it. He looked at the grout brush, then the lines between the countertop’s tiles, then back at the brush. Yes, he’d gotten the coffee stain out, but he’d also scrubbed too hard, wearing away some of the grout.

Twenty minutes ago, he’d arrived home, throwing his cashfilled backpack on the futon cushion. It landed with a thump, startling Normal out of her cat tuffet next to the window. And though he stopped to give Normal a calming pet, his instincts took over, starting with a meticulous cleaning of the litter box, then a complete vacuum of the small apartment. Then organizing his stack of library books into a preferred reading order, putting away the neatly folded clothes in the laundry basket, cleaning the pour-over coffee carafe and kettle before brewing a fresh cup. As it settled, he noticed some drips of coffee had absorbed into the grout lines adjacent to his row of ceramic mugs, thus kicking off his quest for a completely clean and reset kitchen. All of the fear and concern and guilt from the day funneled into his end-to-end cleaning spree even though it wasn’t Sunday, the day he typically reserved for getting his home in order.

But this. Flecks of dried grout stuck to the brush bristles, and Jamie squinted, examining them as if he tried to break into the memory of the synthetic fibers. He blinked when Normal mewed at him, snapping him back into the present. He had to slow down. He had to regroup. He’d gone too far this time, and though the counter looked clean, a closer examination showed a tiny degradation in the grout.

Damn it. Jamie blew out a sigh and surveyed the room.

So neat. So organized. In fact, it was nearly identical to when he’d woken up here, standing in the middle of a barely furnished apartment two years ago. On that morning, he had blinked as he came to, his eyes adjusting from blurry to focused, taking in the sun shining through the cheap tan drapes onto the futon in the middle of the living space. Once he’d realized where he was, it had dawned on him that he didn’t know who he was. He’d walked methodically through the semifurnished apartment, looking for triggers. Coffee table, bread, water, sink, bed, toothbrush. He knew what those were, their purpose, but none offered clues about himself. Even the mirror produced zero recognition; he didn’t know what history lay behind those eyes, what the story was behind the scar on his palm.

So neat. So organized. In fact, it was nearly identical to when he’d woken up here, standing in the middle of a barely furnished apartment two years ago. On that morning, he had blinked as he came to, his eyes adjusting from blurry to focused, taking in the sun shining through the cheap tan drapes onto the futon in the middle of the living space. Once he’d realized where he was, it had dawned on him that he didn’t know who he was. He’d walked methodically through the semifurnished apartment, looking for triggers. Coffee table, bread, water, sink, bed, toothbrush. He knew what those were, their purpose, but none offered clues about himself. Even the mirror produced zero recognition; he didn’t know what history lay behind those eyes, what the story was behind the scar on his palm.

And now? What he wouldn’t give for that blissful ignorance, free from knowing that the injured woman from today was all his fault.

How could he have been so stupid, so reckless?

As with each of his bank robberies, he’d taken his time, planned a strategy, even wrote out his script beforehand and memorized it. He still lacked in execution, but that was why he had checked out some acting books from the library. The whole goal, the entire focus was to get in and out as quickly, as cleanly as possible. That meant brain-stunning the people in the building in a very specific order under a very specific time frame, all while cackling like a cartoon character and reciting over-the-top lines in a not-quite-there American accent.

If he controlled the entire situation, then no one got hurt and he did his job.

Except when one of them had a medical condition.

Jamie cursed at himself, cursed his fake-it-till-you-make-it attitude, cursed the whole damn situation. Not once, not a single time had he ever considered the possibility of a medical issue.

He finally broke, forcing himself to move. A click on the remote control brought his small TV to life, flashing a news report about electrical surges throughout the city before turning to the bank heist. His fingers fumbled to hit the power button again, taking several tries before the screen thankfully went to black, leaving only the sounds of a hungry cat meowing to remind him that he hadn’t given her dinner or her nightly treat of coconut water yet. Jamie set the grout brush in the sink, and obliged the demanding cat.

Seconds later, the room filled with a content rumbling of purrs.

But even Normal’s happy noises failed to remove the trauma of the day. The sound of the woman’s head hitting the tile. The sight of the blood pooling. The desperate cries of her coworker.

Don’t think about it don’t think about it don’t think about it.

Onward. Next task: the money. He grabbed the backpack and headed to the bedroom. The backpack’s large top zipper got caught as he tugged on it, and the stress of the day gnawed at his patience, skipping past his normal mode of meticulously fixing it and jumping right to forcing it free. On the underside of the zipper, the corner of a hundred-dollar bill clung in between the metal clasps.

Jamie sighed, a sound soon mimicked by Normal yawning at his feet. “You have no idea,” he told the cat before reaching in and starting his post-robbery sorting process for cash.

A buzzing sound rattled the room, causing a handful of loose coins on the end table to dance; it broke his focus, jolting his shoulders and neck in surprise. From the hallway, he heard Normal’s claws catch in the thin carpeting before dashing off to find a hiding spot from the abrupt noise.

He picked up the phone, heart pounding that it might be someone on his trail. But a glance at his screen caused a sigh of relief. Reminder: Support Group. San Delgado East Side YMCA. Six o’clock.

Right. The weekly support group—more specifically, San Delgado Memory Loss & Dementia Support Group.

Not that Jamie cared about the giant gap in his personal life, the big cloud of nothing stemming from the moment he awoke in this apartment all the way back to, well, his birth. Something pulled him away from those thoughts whenever he even approached the matter, like staring into a bright beam of light until the intensity forced his eyes away. Every time. That avoidance happened so frequently it felt instinctive at this point, skirting whatever that was and whoever truly stood behind the impenetrable fog.

It didn’t matter. No, the support group was for learning more about memory loss in general, to guard himself from any further memories vanishing.

The irony of the Mind Robber dealing with all that didn’t escape him.

He resumed unloading the cash, first putting the stacks by denomination from left to right, then counting and rubber-banding any loose ones complete with a Post-it note with the total on each makeshift bundle. In the closet sat a safe—something that had been absolutely terrible to get into his apartment. He pulled off the blanket hiding it and turned the dial. Left with click click clicks. Then right. Then left again.

It opened up, revealing a larger version of the stacks assembled on his bed. Jamie took new bundles, two at a time, and neatly set them in the appropriate spots, making each tower of cash grow until the backpack and the bed were clear of evidence. A notebook leaned on the cash; Jamie pulled it out and opened it to the ledger he’d crafted, filling out the columns with the latest tally of earnings, anticipated expenses, safety-net cash and overall savings.

At the top of that column was a little drawing he’d made of a palm tree and a beach. Based on today’s earnings, he was nearly 80 percent to his goal. Depending on the size of each haul, a few more robberies—especially if he remembered to ask for the stacks of hundreds specifically—would provide enough financial comfort to retire on a tropical beach at a much lower cost of living. He’d read that the coffee in the Caribbean was excellent.

A comfortable permanence, as long as the Throwing Star didn’t track him down. That further complicated things, and Jamie wondered if he’d jinxed it all by invoking her during his bank performance. He gritted his teeth.

So close to a fresh start. For him and Normal, and he wouldn’t let the Throwing Star jeopardize that.

Normal gave an urgent meow, which translated in cat speak to “Where is my bed?” Jamie folded the blanket exactly and draped it over the safe, then put a small cat tuffet back on top of it. A gray-and-orange blur zipped by, and in one leap, landed on the tuffet, turning his trail of crime and/or source of income into the world’s most valuable cat bed.

Jamie exhaled, and his mattress bounced as he flopped on his back, eyes glued to the ceiling but brain refusing to shut off. One blink and he saw the woman fall again. Every time he closed his eyes, the image reappeared, except each instance seemed to intensify in its color and sound, the sheer vibrancy of his mind seemingly taunting him.

He could lift the memory out. He’d done it before as an experiment, including writing a note with steps and details as proof that he’d removed his immediate recall of the moment. It left him with what he presumed to be the same nausea that his victims experienced, and other than a few follow-up trials, he hadn’t done it for any practical purpose.

A small price to pay to be relieved of the guilt.

Jamie raised his hand, this time pointed at himself, and he closed his eyes, digging deep to flip through his own memories. Bright and fresh, full volume and movement, no haziness or missing pockets of moments. One wipe and it’d be gone.

But what would that make him? A possible murderer without a conscience? He treated his villain persona and robberies as a job, an income. Not to hurt people, not with malevolence or sociopathic apathy.

No.

This memory had to stay.

Jamie lowered his hand.

There was a knock at the door, jolting him to his feet.

He closed his eyes and stretched out with his mind, sensing the ghostly silhouette of a single form at his door.

No one ever came to his door.

“San Delgado police. Is anyone home?”

The very idea of having law enforcement at his door caused Jamie’s hands to tremble and a thin layer of sweat to form on his forehead. He could brain-stun the officer and run. He could dive into the officer’s memories, see what happened, why he was here—maybe it was just a fundraiser for the Police Athletic League.

Another knock rattled the door.

If he brain-stunned the officer, that wouldn’t exactly be inconspicuous. You couldn’t just leave gawking, unresponsive police on your doorstep. And the officer’s location was probably tracked by SDPD, which meant that lifting memories and sending him on his way would only lead to more trouble.

No, the only way out of this was through it.

Jamie took a deep breath, put on a baseball cap with a logo of the local San Delgado Barons hockey team, then marched to the door. He opened it halfway to find the very serious, very professional face of a plainclothes officer. Despite the fact that he stood shorter than Jamie, his sturdy build made him far more intimidating.

“May I help you?” Jamie held the door ajar. “Sorry,” he said, native English accent in full display, “I have a cat that tries to get out if I open the door all the way.” As if on cue, mews came from behind him and Jamie scooped up the pudgy feline. Mental note: she deserved extra coconut water tonight. “Be nice, Normal.”

The detective tilted his head at the name, then chuckled, sunlight gleaming off the light brown skin of his shaven bald dome. “No problem. Sorry to bother you this evening. Detective Patrick Chesterton. I’m the lead on the Mind Robber case.”

No reaction rippled through Jamie. Which was probably a reaction in itself. He waited, seconds stretching into vast chunks of time, and though he somehow managed to keep a polite expression on his face, the pounding in his chest might have given him away.

“We get anonymous tips all the time about the Mind Robber. Some people even claim to be him. But this one was very specific. And since we know he left on a train heading eastbound about ninety minutes ago, I thought I’d check it out.” He glanced over his shoulder, eyes tracking past the courtyard and toward the parking lot. “Traffic is going to be hell getting back to the station.”

Jamie told himself to laugh, though in a completely different way from the forced maniacal display of the Mind Robber. Calm, quiet, a little nervous—the natural kind of nervous anyone got when questioned by law enforcement. Normal must have agreed, as she continued mewing in his arms.

“Well, aren’t you a nice cat?” the detective said, his voice softening. He reached up to pet Normal’s round head, but the cat replied with a hiss. Before Jamie could stop her, she swatted at Chesterton. The cat kicked out of his arms, and Jamie turned to see a streak of pudgy fur dashing for the bedroom.

“Oh, I’m so—” Jamie stopped himself at the realization that the detective nursed a fresh scratch across the knuckles.

If they weren’t going to get him for being the Mind Robber, what about assault via cat scratch?

“I’m so, so sorry. Normal usually loves strangers.” That was a lie, or it might have been a lie. Normal never met anyone, regular or stranger, so the sample size on that remained small. “But she gets weird occasionally.” That part was true. Jamie held up his hand, palm out. “See this scar across my palm? Normal got me good one time.”

Flat-out lie: Jamie had no idea where that scar came from, though whenever he focused on it for too long, a strange mix of nausea and embarrassment would flood over him.

“It’s okay,” Chesterton said. “I had a cat growing up. They can be temperamental. I should know better than to do that. Anyway, the tip said that someone who fit the build and look of the Mind Robber was in this area. This block, actually.” He looked Jamie up and down. If Jamie decided to risk it, he probably could have poked into the detective’s memories and seen specifically what he was thinking, even the source of the tip. “Have you seen anyone who fits that profile?”

In the courtyard, Jamie caught sight of the old couple across the way trying to get their mini schnauzer puppy to obey commands. They looked over at Chesterton, then Jamie, and Jamie offered a reassuring wave. Despite being a theoretical villain, he still wanted to be a good neighbor. “I, um, actually don’t watch the news much. I find it triggering.”

“Ah, got it. He’s Caucasian. Around six feet tall. Thin build. Strong chin. That’s about it, really, though. His hood and mask obscure everything else.”

“Well,” Jamie said. A response came to mind, and he debated whether or not he was being too clever. His arms extended and a wry smile came over his face a little too easily. Maybe learning to play a villain had turned the gesture into muscle memory. “That sounds like me.” The words came out smooth, just enough of a joking lilt that they threaded the needle between bullshit and levity. It came naturally, almost uncannily so.

For a moment, nothing happened. Neither man blinked, and even Normal stayed quiet. The only noise came from squeaking brakes as a car pulled into the adjacent parking lot.

Then the detective burst out laughing. “I like you,” he said, before reaching into his back pocket. Jamie’s hand moved into position, a subtle gesture that only he could detect should he need to brain-stun. His fingers raised ever so slightly in preparation when a buzz in his back pocket caused both men to stand at attention.

“Sorry, just my reminder,” Jamie said after pulling out his phone. The device’s blinking screen gave him an idea. “My weekly support group. I, uh, need to get going.”

“Oh, of course. Good for you,” he said. “It takes a strong person to seek out help.” Jamie’s head bobbed at the compliment, and the detective finished reaching in his back pocket. He held up a business card. “Do me a favor and call if you see or hear anything that strikes you as suspicious. About him or the Throwing Star. We’re no fan of vigilantes, extraordinary or not. You can’t just run around in a suit beating up people. I don’t care if they’re good or bad. You know, if either of them just called us first and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got these abilities,’ you can bet we’d have found a job for them.” Chesterton glanced at the cat scratch on his hand before letting out a short laugh. “I heard she tripped in the Metro station and let the Mind Robber get away,” he said with a headshake. “I guess ‘extraordinary’ comes in many forms.”

All forms. That skepticism, if not admirable, at least provided some cover. “Right,” Jamie said, taking the card. “I’ll keep an eye out.”

“Even if you hear anything about weird crimes in Hartnell City. Their PD asked us about the Mind Robber. Guess they’re seeing some strange activity too.”

“Of course, Detective.”

Jamie’s exhale was nearly as loud as the slamming of the door. He’d never been that close to getting caught before.

Who could have possibly tipped the police? He’d wiped the memories of any OmegaCars driver that took him close by, and even then, he’d always walked the last few blocks, taking different routes each time. Could the Throwing Star have tracked him? Possibly, but she seemed more like the “punch in the teeth” than “call the cops” type.

Questions circled as Jamie heard the roar of the detective’s car coming to life. Through the blinds, Jamie watched a dark blue sedan pull halfway across the parking lot before pausing for a handful of seconds and then finally rolling away. Chesterton was gone for now, but if he suspected anything, the best course of action would be for Jamie to act as any normal civilian would. In this case, it meant going exactly where the detective expected him to be.

Normal meowed a farewell as Jamie grabbed a jacket—not his black hoodie—and locked the door behind him.

It was almost time for the support group. Even if he didn’t want to go.

Excerpted from We Could Be Heroes by Mike Chen, Copyright © 2021 by Mike Chen. Published by MIRA Books. 

My review:

This is a different twist on the superhero genre. Jamie and Zoe both wake up in bland apartments with no memory of who they are, where they are. Jamie becomes the Mind Robber, a supposed villain who uses his powers to rob banks but doesn’t really want to hurt anyone. Zoe becomes the Throwing Star, a supposed vigilante using her powers to fight crime when she isn’t using her super speed to excel at her job making food deliveries.

Both Jamie and Zoe want to know who they are, where they came from, who they were before their memories were taken. They both go to the same memory loss support group, and events unfold in such a way that they learn the other’s identity. Then they face a choice. Zoe is supposed to be a crime fighter. Does she turn the Mind Robber in? What about Jamie? Does he mind-stun Zoe and flee before she takes him down? No. Instead, they choose to work together to try to find out the truth of who they are, how they came to have these powers and lose the lives they had before.

This was a really good, wholesome, enjoyable book! Sure, you’ve got two people with superpowers, “good” versus “evil.” But that isn’t the heart of the story. The heart is the relationship that develops between Jamie and Zoe. It’s nice to see two characters who become friends, no underlying sexual tension, no budding romance. Sometimes that romance thing can really get in the way of a good story.

I think Jamie was my favorite. He’s just so quirky and endearing, and he’s got a cat named Normal who’s really not. He justifies his bank robbing as a means to an end. He just wants to get away from it all and live somewhere that he can relax on the beach, and he’s not really a bad guy…is he? (Spoiler: He isn’t.)

I recommend this book if you like a good superhero story, or just a good “enemies to friends” story that doesn’t have a romantic undertone.

Thanks to NetGalley and Harlequin/MIRA for an advance reader copy. All opinions here are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books I don’t actually like.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mike Chen is a lifelong writer, from crafting fan fiction as a child to somehow getting paid for words as an adult. He has contributed to major geek websites (The Mary Sue, The Portalist, Tor) and covered the NHL for mainstream media outlets. A member of SFWA and Codex Writers, Mike lives in the Bay Area, where he can be found playing video games and watching Doctor Who with his wife, daughter, and rescue animals. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @mikechenwriter

SOCIAL LINKS:

Author website: https://www.mikechenbooks.com/ 

Twitter: @mikechenwriter

Instagram: @mikechenwriter

BUY LINKS:

Bookshop.org

Barnes & Noble 

Amazon

IndieBound

Google Books

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Book Beginnings on Friday and Book Blogger Hop – January 29, 2021

Book Beginnings on Fridays is hosted each week by Rose City Reader. It’s a chance to share the first sentence or so of the book you are reading this week.

This week’s read: Dear God: Honest Prayers to a God Who Listens by Bunmi Laditan. If you sometimes struggle with whether it’s okay to be completely honest with God, you need to read this book. Bunmi Laditan pours her heart out to God, pulling no punches as she tells him how she really feels. And that’s okay, because God is big enough to handle our emotions and love us just the same.

Dear God,

I was making a list of things I know for sure, but when I went to write “God loves me,” I couldn’t – it felt like a lie. I believe you love me, but I don’t know it. I think you do. Your book says you do, but I guess in the back of my mind I see you as a giant Zeus – a despot in the sky. You knew Eve would eat the fruit. You created the tree. You allowed the Holocaust. Have you heard the phrase, “With friends like you, who needs enemies?” I suppose that’s why I find trusting you so hard.

I know I’ve had my own moments where I wanted to scream at God that I didn’t understand, and how could he possibly let things take this turn, and right that minute, I sure didn’t like him very much. I think this book will be a comfort to any of us who’ve ever felt that way – so yeah, all of us.

Might this book be one you’ll pick up?

Check out others’ book beginnings here.

Book Blogger Hop

Book Blogger Hop is hosted by Coffee Addicted Writer. It starts each Friday and runs through the following Thursday. Each week, there’s a new prompt featuring a book-related question. It’s designed to give bloggers a chance to follow other blogs, learn about new books, make new blogging friends, and gain followers.

If I’ve read a book and I don’t see it as an addition to the permanent collection, I’ll happily pass it along to someone who might be interested. But I don’t lend out books that I want to keep.

You can check out this week’s other #bookbloggerhop posts here.

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Cover Reveal: Before Time Runs Out by Amy Matayo


Check out the cover for the latest from Amy Matayo, coming March 9! Isn’t it stunning? If you love a good time travel romance, you’ll want to grab a copy of BEFORE TIME RUNS OUT. Pre-order now: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08V86DCBW 


SYNOPSIS:

Graduate student Bree Sanders is failing the one class she needs to get her degree. So when her professor gives her an ultimatum—ace her dissertation or risk having to repeat her final semester—she knows she has to pull out all the stops. After scrambling for an idea, she decides to create her own Ghost Club, a club that blames ghosts for unsolved crimes, the same type of club originally founded two centuries ago by Charles Dickens. 

What she doesn’t expect is to find an original copy of one of Dickens’ early works, or to be transplanted into Dickens’ actual ghost club meeting, circa 1870, the instant she picks it up.

When Bree shows up in nineteenth-century England wearing cut-offs and an old t-shirt, her only option is to hide. The Cambridge of 1870 won’t look kindly on a woman dressed like her. So, when Theodore Keyes finds her tucked behind a bookcase at the Trinity College library and immediately demands to know where she came from, she knows he doesn’t belong here either. Turns out she’s right; the same book caused him to time-travel from 1947 almost three months ago and he’s been stuck in England since.

Together, the two vow to work side-by-side in their search for the lost book that will take them home. But as their feelings for one another deepen, Theo and Bree are caught between a desire to return to the lives they each left behind, and the knowledge that if they find the book, they won’t be able to leave together. 

In the end, they each must decide which sacrifice is worth making—the one that will cost them their hearts, or the one that could cost them their very existence.  

#beforetimerunsout #acharlesandcompanyromance #amymatayo #comingsoon #March9 #timetravel #romance #cantwaittoread #mustread #coverreveal #coverlove

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Can’t-Wait Wednesday: The Last Tiara by M. J. Rose

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 Last Tiara

Author: M. J. Rose

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publication Date: February 2, 2021

Publisher: Blue Box Press

Synopsis:

Sophia Moon had always been reticent about her life in Russia and when she dies, suspiciously, on a wintry New York evening, Isobelle despairs that her mother’s secrets have died with her. But while renovating the apartment they shared, Isobelle discovers something among her mother’s effects—a stunning silver tiara, stripped of its jewels.

Isobelle’s research into the tiara’s provenance draws her closer to her mother’s past—including the story of what became of her father back in Russia, a man she has never known. The facts elude her until she meets a young jeweler, who wants to help her but is conflicted by his loyalty to the Midas Society, a covert international organization whose mission is to return lost and stolen antiques, jewels, and artwork to their original owners.

Told in alternating points of view, the stories of the two young women unfurl as each struggles to find their way during two separate wars. In 1915, young Sofiya Petrovitch, favorite of the royal household and best friend of Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna, tends to wounded soldiers in a makeshift hospital within the grounds of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg and finds the love of her life. In 1948 New York, Isobelle Moon works to break through the rampant sexism of the age as one of very few women working in a male-dominated profession and discovers far more about love and family than she ever hoped for.

In M.J. Rose’s deftly constructed narrative, the secrets of Sofiya’s early life are revealed incrementally, even as Isobelle herself works to solve the mystery of the historic Romanov tiara (which is based on an actual Romanov artifact that is, to this day, still missing)—and how it is that her mother came to possess it. The two strands play off each other in finely-tuned counterpoint, building to a series of surprising and deeply satisfying revelations.

My thoughts:

Oooh, I am a sucker for a good Romanov story! And it’s a dual timeline to boot. This sounds like one that I will enjoy the heck out of.

What say you? Will you be adding this one to your TBR pile?

It’s coming out February 2. You can pre-order here (affiliate link).

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Book Review: Ink and Shadows (Secret, Book, and Scone Society #4) by Ellery Adams

  • Title: Ink and Shadows
  • Series: Secret, Book, and Scone Society #4
  • Author: Ellery Adams
  • Genre: Cozy Mystery
  • Where to buy: Amazon
  • Would I recommend: A thousand times, yes!

From Goodreads:

Controversy erupts in Miracle Springs, North Carolina, when the owner of the local bookstore tries to play peacekeeper—but winds up playing detective instead…

Nora Pennington is known for her window displays, and as Halloween approaches, she decides to showcase fictional heroines like Roald Dahl’s Matilda and Madeline Miller’s Circe. A family-values group disapproves of the magical themes, though, and wastes no time launching a modern-day witch hunt. Suddenly, former friends and customers are targeting not only Nora and Miracle Books, but a new shopkeeper, Celeste, who’s been selling CBD oil products.

Nora and her friends in the Secret, Book, and Scone Society are doing their best to put an end to the strife—but then someone puts an end to a life. Though the death is declared an accident, the ruling can’t explain the old book page covered with strange symbols and disturbing drawings left under Nora’s doormat, a postcard from an anonymous stalker, or multiple cases of vandalism.

The only hope is that Nora can be a heroine herself and lead the Secret, Book, and Scone Society in a successful investigation—before more bodies turn up and the secrets from Celeste’s past come back to haunt them all . . . 

My review:

All hail Queen Ellery! After reading the fourth entry in her Secret, Book, and Scone Society series, I can say that it remains one of my favorite mystery series ever. Can I give this book ten stars? So, so good.

Ink and Shadows finds Nora and her friends welcoming a newcomer to Miracle Springs. Celeste and her daughter, Bren, open a new store selling CBD products and Bren’s handcrafted jewelry. Trouble starts when Nora’s Halloween window display featuring strong female characters draws the ire of a local conservative values group. The group targets shops they find disreputable, including Miracle Books and Celeste’s shop, Soothe.

More trouble follows when Celeste’s daughter, Bren, winds up dead behind Nora’s house. Before she died, she left a seemingly old paper filled with esoteric drawings and symbols under Nora’s doormat. Bren’s death is declared an accident, but Nora knows there has to be more to it than that. Celeste has mentioned secrets. Her own? Bren’s? What does that mysterious paper have to do with anything? Did those secrets lead to Bren’s death? Can they be unraveled before more harm is done?

Ms. Adams’ writing is so engaging! She pulls you into the story, makes you feel like you’re there. She does an excellent job of writing characters that you’d want to get to know. I love Nora, and June, and Estella, and Hester. I want to hug them all. I want to have dinner and talk books with them. They reach out to Celeste when she’s hurting, when other women in the town have targeted her in the name of “family values.” They circle the wagons when one of their own needs it. I want friends like that.

This story touched on some fascinating topics, and one of them, rare books, introduces us to a friend from Nora’s past. Roberta Rabinowitz – Bobbie – was Nora’s college roommate. When Sheriff McCabe needs help learning more about the page that Bren left under Nora’s doormat, Nora directs him to Bobbie. Bobbie doesn’t just provide useful information – she shows up in Miracle Springs. I love that we get to meet her, and I hope we see more of her in future books.

I want to give a special shout-out to June. She is a take no prisoners and take no sass kind of woman. When she sees ways she can address the targeting of Miracle Books, she doesn’t hesitate to speak up. She doesn’t beat around the bush about anything. I approve!

I was a little disappointed that we didn’t see Nora and Sheriff McCabe – Grant – move toward something more than friendship. The potential is there. When we see an uglier side of Jed’s personality (under stress, to be sure, but still, ugly), I thought maybe…? But no. Not this time. In a future book, perhaps. A girl can hope.

I will be anxiously awaiting my next visit to Miracle Springs! When it’s available, I will grab book number five in the series, no questions asked.

Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for an advance reader copy. All opinions here are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books I don’t actually like.

Posted in ARC Reads, Book Reviews, Cozy Mystery, Mystery, NetGalley | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: A Curious Incident (Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery #6) by Vicki Delany

  • Title: A Curious Incident
  • Series: Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery #6
  • Author: Vicki Delany
  • Genre: Cozy Mystery
  • Where to buy: Amazon (affiliate link)
  • Would I recommend: Yes!

From Goodreads:

It’s up to Gemma and Jayne to root out the killer in national bestselling author Vicki Delany’s sixth Sherlock Holmes Bookshop mystery when the winner of a garden tour trophy is left pushing up daisies.

“I am not a Consulting Detective,” Gemma Doyle reluctantly tells 10-year-old Lauren Tierney, when the little girl comes to the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium to beg Gemma to find her missing cat, Snowball. Gemma might not be able to follow the clues to find the cat, but her dog Violet follows her nose to locate the missing kitten in a neighbor’s garden shed.

Gemma and Violet proudly return Snowball to her grateful owner, and Gemma basks in praise for a job well done. But a few days later Lauren is back with ten dollars in hand, wanting to once again hire a consulting detective, and this time for a far bigger job: Her mother has been accused of murdering her garden club rival.

Sheila Tierney’s garden, which everyone said was the one to beat for the West London Garden Club trophy, had been vandalized the night before the club’s early summer tour. Sheila confronted her former friend and gardening partner Anna Wentworth in a towering rage, and the women nearly came to blows. Later that night, after having won the trophy for best garden, Anna is found murdered and Sheila Tierney is the police’s prime suspect.

Despite herself, and despite the disapproval of her police detective boyfriend Ryan Ashburton, the game is once again afoot, and Gemma finds herself and Jayne Wilson using their powers of deduction to ponder yet another curious incident

My review:

This was my first venture into Vicky Delany’s Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery series, and it won’t be the last. Very satisfactory reading!

The story opens with Gemma Doyle explaining to Lauren Tierney that no, she is not a consulting detective, and she can’t help Lauren find her cat. One things leads to another, Gemma does find Lauren’s cat, and Lauren thinks Gemma is the best thing since sliced bread. Shortly thereafter, Lauren is again asking Gemma for help – this time, in proving her mother innocent of murder.

I simply adore Gemma! For starters, she owns a bookstore. That right there makes her my kind of people. Also, she calls it like she sees it. I imagine she’s seen as somewhat abrupt by people who don’t know her well (and maybe sometimes by those who do). But her slightly prickly exterior hides a genuinely caring heart. She tries her best not to get involved here, either in finding Lauren’s cat or in clearing her mother, Sheila, of murder. But events seem to conspire to pull her in, and so she investigates to the best of her ability.

I haven’t read the entirety of the series, so maybe I’m missing some backstory on Gemma and Ryan. I can see where he might want her to keep clear of investigations so he can do his job, but sometimes he seemed more callous toward her than the situation would warrant. That rubbed me the wrong way. Gemma can do better. And Estrada is just plain ugly to Gemma, even when Gemma is trying to be kind. I don’t really care for mean girls, and Estrada is one. She gets my dander up every time I read her name on a page.

It was fun seeing Gemma’s relationship with Lauren start to grow. Should the storyline ever allow for Gemma having children of her own, after seeing her with Lauren, I think she’d be a good mom. And it was fun getting to know Mrs. Ramsbatten. It would be a treat to live next door to her.

I’d love to see more of Gemma’s Uncle Arthur. He sounds like quite a character. I’ll have to start at the beginning and see if we get to know him other than knowing that he’s off traveling someplace exciting. And I hope we get to see more of Jayne and Andy and their budding relationship. They are so cute!

This was a delightful read, with enough twists and turns to keep me guessing just about until the big reveal. Four stars!

Thanks to NetGalley and Crooked Lane Books for an advance reader copy. All opinions here are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books that I don’t actually like.

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