Readers on the cusp of adolescence will find much to love in this middle grade novel from the author of the beloved MR. TERUPT series that follows three kids who come to realize that letting go of childhood means boldly taking risks to face the future while learning from the past.
Loretta and her twin brother, Waylon, are headed to middle school. Loretta has always been quick with her fists and her wits. Since Waylon is on the small side, Loretta doesn’t let anyone mess with him. But now she worries he won’t survive without her by his side. Her secret plan: bulk him up with muscle over the summer. Little does she know that Waylon has a plan of his own. He’ll show his sister he can take care of himself.
As each puts their strategy in motion, Loretta and Waylon spend the summer going into the woods behind their house, even sneaking there in the dead of night. That’s where they first encounter Louie, who is about their age but noticeably bigger. Louie is homeschooled, he explains when Loretta gives him the third degree. Loretta, Waylon, and Louie soon fall into a comfortable friendship and continue their nightly forest adventures. When they unearth a mysterious box, the past collides with the present, propelling the trio on a quest that will forever change their lives.
Rob Buyea’s spirited dual narrative drives this funny, touching brother-sister story, where even the best-laid plans sometimes backfire and feelings may get bruised, but family and friends always count. Letting go of childhood means boldly taking risks to face the future while learning from the past.
Even though THE DAREDEVILS is not a fantasy, it is still a magical story of summer and growing up.
Although not a fantasy, The Daredevils is a story filled with magic. Told from the dual points of view of Loretta and Waylon, readers are privy to the thoughts and feelings of these two precocious and adorable pre-teens. Loretta is a bright, savvy, strong, capable “older” sister who loves her brother and wants to do the best for him. Her chapters are witty while revealing she’s still young and vulnerable herself. Waylon is beyond smart and very creative, and he loves his sister. He’s quirky but not as helpless as his sister seems to want to think.
Their summer of adventure is one of achieving their personal goals and accomplishing their quest while avoiding people that make their lives difficult. The story is an entertaining and engaging one that both boys and girls will enjoy. Many smile-inducing moments and a couple of heart-wrenching turns of events will keep readers turning the pages to see what happens next.
With its likable and relatable characters and inventive storyline, THE DAREDEVILS is tremendous fun and a worthwhile chapter book for upper elementary and middle-grade readers. It would work well as a read-aloud book as well.
I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author or publisher through TBR and Beyond.
Rob Buyea is a former teacher and the author of the Mr. Terupt series, The Perfect Score series, and What Comes Next. As a young boy, he spent countless hours exploring the woods. He is a true country-music fan, as are his wife and children, though they won’t admit it.
Code of Silence tells the story of federal court employee Cathy McBroom, who had to flee her job as a case manager in Galveston, Texas, after enduring years of sexual harassment and assault by her boss-US District Judge Samuel Kent. Following a decade of firsthand reporting at the Houston Chronicle, investigative reporter Lise Olsen charts McBroom’s assault and the aftermath, when McBroom was thrust into the role of whistle-blower to denounce a federal judge.
What Olsen discovered by investigating McBroom’s story and other federal judicial misconduct matters nationwide was shocking. With the help of other federal judges, Kent was being protected by a secretive court system that has long tolerated or ignored complaints about corruption, sexism, and sexual misconduct-enabling him to remain in office for years. Other powerful judges accused of judicial misconduct were never investigated and remain in power or retired with full pay, such as US Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski and Kozinski’s mentee, Brett Kavanaugh
Winner of the 2022 Texas Institute of Letters’ Carr P. Collins Award for Best Book of Nonfiction.
“Another ‘true crime’ book is being published later this month. But Code of Silence by Lise Olsen is not like most books – or podcasts -of that popular genre. For starters, there is no murder. We know who dunnit from the beginning. And it is anything but insensitive toward the victims and their families, a common criticism of many true crime stories. The culprit this time wasn’t a marginal member of society. U.S. District Judge Samuel B. Kent was a federal judge, known for both his brilliance and his bullying.” —Rick Casey, San Antonio Report
“A gutting new #metoo book,” —Rose Cahalan, Texas Monthly
“A long overdue exposé on how the judicial system suppresses claims of sexual harassment against judges. In this new era of reckoning with sexual assault and harassment, Code of Silence is essential reading.” –Anita Hill
“Code of Silence is a beautifully written, disturbing as hell example of how the American experiment fails when it lets men set themselves up as kings.” –Houston Chronicle.
“Flight: Houston and Galveston, Texas, March 2007”
For nearly five years, McBroom had served US District Judge Samuel Bristow Kent. Kent was part of the powerful network of federal jurists whose lifetime appointments were guaranteed by the Constitution. Cathy McBroom was part of a vast national court bureaucracy of people who served at the pleasure of such judges. Initially, McBroom had raved about her “dream job,” which provided the financial stability she’d craved and a federal salary of more than $70,000 plus benefits. Later there had been trouble with the judge, though McBroom had explained to her mother that she, like all federal court employees, was bound by an oath to respect court confidentiality. She and other employees were subject to a strict code of conduct and generally never discussed the inner workings of the court or any judge’s behind-the-scenes behavior.
Whatever Kent had done, it had been bad, Schopp knew. Her eldest child had always been a steady, strong woman on whom Schopp herself had leaned when her first marriage fell apart and she’d divorced McBroom’s father. But this morning all of her daughter’s self-confidence and control appeared cracked, if not shattered.
McBroom kept repeating in a monotone that she couldn’t discuss anything.
“If you can’t talk about it, you’ve got to get it out,” Schopp insisted. “Go use the computer in my studio. Type down every little incident you can remember.”
Schopp wasn’t sure she should leave her anguished daughter behind, but birthday duty called. She drove off to fetch her grandson and ferried a carload of gangly adolescents with floppy hair and feet too big for the rest of their growing bodies to Clear Lake’s AMF Alpha Lanes, the bowling alley where the usual cake, Cokes, and souvenir ten-pin awaited. She invented excuses when her grandson asked about his missing mom.
Alone in the snug yellow-brick house, McBroom felt marginally safer surrounded by the comfortable clutter of her mother and stepfather’s blended lives, their cobbled-together furniture, aging housecats, and many memories of family gatherings and home-cooked meals. This was not McBroom’s childhood home, but it was a familiar place—her mother had purchased it more than twenty years before with Don, her mother’s second husband. McBroom had grown up in the industrialized Houston suburb of Channelview, where she had learned from her own dad, a tough chemical plant worker, to fight for herself as a girl, even when that meant using her fists to quiet a bully or walking away from the boyfriend who punched a hole in her parents’ garage wall. Today, though, she felt none of that strength.
McBroom shut herself up in the front bedroom that served as a combination office and a studio for her mother’s oil painting. Colorful canvases filled with hand-painted roses and chrysanthemums surrounded McBroom as she stared into the void of the computer screen, digging deep inside to find words. Beside her in frames and on the wall of the hallway just outside the small room were images from other stages of her life. McBroom as a chubby toddler with her hair pulled back in a ponytail; McBroom smiling in a crowded gathering at her grandmother’s ninetieth birthday; formal portraits of the two children, Evelyn, and Casey, whom she’d had after marrying her childhood sweetheart; and a party picture of McBroom in a glittery black dress and holding hands with her second husband, Rex, the father of her son Caleb, whose birthday party she was missing.
Mostly she’d been a good mother. Her children knew she had their backs. And she’d often acted as the fixer for her parents and her younger brother, too, providing the glue that held the family together or, when that proved impossible, providing comfort when things fell apart. Along the way, she’d built a solid career as an experienced assistant in the cutthroat legal profession in lawyers’ offices and later attained an important post in the federal district court clerk’s office, workplaces that in the 1990s and 2000s remained largely male-dominated worlds tinged with sexism. In her forties, she’d begun to run marathons and completed five races in one memorable year. She normally buzzed with energy. But she’d never faced anything as difficult as this self-appointed task.
McBroom had decided to denounce a powerful federal judge. And she would do this alone. She knew her written words, once shared, would make an enemy of a jurist who’d earned a national reputation among law professors as a bully, and who had repeatedly proved himself capable of humiliating, harassing, and harming the careers of anyone who crossed him. This man had both an extraordinarily domineering personality and the formidable power of the robe he wore.
McBroom had never known any woman personally who had taken on a federal jurist for sexual misconduct except what she’d read and seen about Anita Hill. Back in 1991, McBroom and many other American women had been outraged and inspired as they watched the University of Oklahoma law professor testify before an all-male US Senate Judicial Committee about how Clarence Thomas, then a federal judge and US Supreme Court nominee, had sexually harassed her in his years as her boss in two different federal government jobs. Hill had worked for Thomas both in the Office of Civil Rights at the US Department of Education and again when he became chair of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency that supposedly specializes in helping people who struggle with on-the-job harassment and discrimination. The experience hadn’t turned out so well for Hill, McBroom knew. Thomas had won a seat on the Supreme Court anyway. Hill had been branded as a liar by conservative commentators and ridiculed for testifying about how Thomas asked her about pubic hair on a Coke can and described scenes in porn films featuring large-breasted women having sex with men and animals.
McBroom still felt physically sick when she recalled what had happened to her that Friday inside Kent’s wood-paneled chambers—a formal yet intimate space that smelled of the judge’s illicit cigar breaks, his collection of law books, and his bulldogs. She feared that her decision to flee meant that he would seek revenge and ruin her career.
Lise Olsen is a Texas-based investigative reporter and author who has uncovered many twisted tales, including crooked judges, an unjust execution, massive environmental disasters, myriad cases of corruption, and unsolved serial killings. Her reporting has contributed to the prosecutions of a former congressman and a federal judge, inspired laws and reforms, helped solve cold cases, restored names to unidentified murder victims, and freed dozens of wrongfully-held prisoners. Her work is featured in CNN’s “The Wrong Man” (2015) about the innocence claims of executed offender Ruben Cantu and the six-part A&E series on the victims of a 1970s serial killer, The Eleven, (2017). CODE OF SILENCE is her first book – the paperback from BEACON PRESS is out this month. She is at work on a second book: the SCIENTIST AND THE SERIAL KILLER.
GIVEAWAY! GIVEAWAY! GIVEAWAY!
THREE WINNERS: Autographed copies of Code of Silence.
Delightful setting and characters with a keep-you-guessing mystery!
Back in her hometown of Sherburne, Michigan, after an 18-year absence, Bay Bishop is the head chef and co-owner with her husband, Derrick Anderson, of the Sherburne Bistro, a successful and much-needed upscale restaurant in the popular tourist destination. She was in the kitchen the day Derrick stepped out the backdoor for a smoke break and was struck down and killed by an unknown assailant on a motorcycle. Bay is devastated by the loss of her partner of 10 years, and when his death is deemed a homicide, she is naturally the chief suspect!
To make matters worse, one of the detectives on the case is her old high school boyfriend, Greg Musgrave, the boy who broke her heart and drove her to leave Sherburne in the first place. The investigation quickly discovers Derrick was keeping a lot of secrets from his wife, including not paying the mortgages on the restaurant or home, insurance, or the bills, and Bay has been left destitute, with the bank taking everything.
She must turn to her family, with which she has a complicated and uncomfortable relationship. And in a place she should have found refuge, she encounters even more secrets, and her parents are absolutely not forthcoming with the answers she desperately needs. Instead, she finds herself drawn back to Greg and discovers her feelings for him are as strong as ever.
Dead in the Alley was an entertaining mystery with a lovely second-chance romance with a plucky, deserving heroine in Bay Bishop. The setting is small-town Michigan, and the story has a culinary-themed foundation. The story is told from two points of view, that of Bay and Greg. However, the greater focus is on Bay, as she takes a lead role in solving the mystery and clearing her name. Deaths occur out of sight, and details are general, placing Dead in the Alley in the cozy mystery category. I loved the characters, the setting, and the whole vibe of the story, and with both main characters still having several irons in the fire, I hope the author is using the book as a jumping-off point for a new series.
Besides the highly likable main characters, there are quite a few secondary characters that really shone. In particular, I liked the two “wingmen” of the story: Terrie Sullivan and Danny Tellman. Their appearances in the story and subplot were usually fun, sometimes snarky, but always delightful. Dog lovers will enjoy Greg’s Portuguese Water Dog, Ace.
The mystery behind Bay’s husband’s murder had several good suspects. The author had me suspecting some characters that were eventually shown to have no part in the events at all: subtle and tricky.
With an attractive and tantalizing Fall setting in beautiful and comfortable small-town Michigan, likable and genuine characters, and a solid, kept-me-wondering mystery, I recommend DEAD IN THE ALLEY to cozy mystery readers especially those who enjoy a culinary-themed story.
I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through Partners in Crime Tours.
Take a deep breath before you start because Bravely and Faithfully goes from 0 to 60 right from the start!
The crew of the USCG Cutter Kauai is back on duty and, this time, picks up the distress call of a small family stranded in the path of a major hurricane. It’s a close call for all and so exhilarating as everyone makes it to safety.
Sam Powell, who’s been the CO for the past two years, receives news of a well-deserved promotion. But, of course, Sam’s good fortune will mean he must leave the Kauai and the crew that is so much like family. His replacement, Lieutenant Haley Reardon, is excited to have her first command and immediately realizes she has big shoes to fill. Her new crew is a tight-knit and loyal group, in addition to being highly capable at their jobs, but she is up to the challenge of taking over from their well-regarded former captain.
Back as XO is Lieutenant Junior Grade Benjamin Wyporek. After the last mission left him at death’s door, he’s made a remarkable recovery, but a couple of brutal patrols have him worried about how it may affect his career future. However, as he and his lovely girlfriend, Victoria, approach the six-month mark of sharing an apartment, he’s beginning to think it may be time to level up the relationship. He’s unsure what to expect in the new captain, but he’s one to give everyone a fair shake. He knows and understands that the rest of the crew will take their cues from him and how he reacts.
But before Reardon and the crew can complete a quiet first patrol together, they are called to assist in a dangerous mission involving the shadowy Defense Intelligence Agency. Haley, Ben, and the rest of the Kauai crew will perform bravely and faithfully, but at what cost this time around?
Take a deep breath before you start because Bravely and Faithfully goes from 0 to 60 right from the start. The danger and excitement of the rescue during a hurricane literally had me holding my breath. Afterward, there is little respite for the Kauai (or the reader) as they are drawn right back into the thick of things before you can catch your breath.
The plot of this third adventure delves into exciting areas. Really, Hochmann’s stories always seem to probe unexplored territory. They are never dull or run-of-the-mill, and this one was no different. I enjoyed the political shenanigans which severely handicapped the captain’s and the crew’s abilities to accomplish their assigned mission in a way they felt was right. Orders and circumstances left the new CO with tougher than usual decisions to make on “a helluva break-in patrol.”
This small crew of men and women has just so much heart. When Sam was promoted with the subsequent change in command, I was worried about bringing in such a critical unknown to the series, and frankly, it took me some time to warm up to Haley. She seemed so cold and, unnecessarily, by the book at first. But I liked how she eventually works out the transition and preserves what is so good about this crew, especially with Ben and Hoppy. Speaking of Ben, he’s come back from his pretty catastrophic injury in the previous book, ready to get on with life. Ben just has what it takes. I liked what the author has done with Ben’s always delightful relationship with Victoria.
I really like this author’s writing style. He puts you on the scene and in the moment. Each scene is presented in such a way that you are there with the characters. Dialogue is well written, even when technical language is needed. I never felt confused by jargon, and I felt even more caught up in the action with the use. The unfolding scenes felt realistic and genuine.
From witty banter to a marriage proposal that doesn’t quite go as planned, there are some good laughs to level out the danger and tragedy. There are many emotionally-charged moments in this adventure; along with the excitement and joy, there is great sadness and shock. There are also some tough topics and situations described. I laughed and cried with the characters, and I so look forward to their continued future. They’ve almost become friends and family.
I recommend Bravely and Faithfully and the entire USCG Cutter Kauai Sea Adventures series to readers who enjoy character-driven military action-adventure stories. Although, Bravely and Faithfully is the third book in the series and could be read as a standalone, for the best reading experience, start at the beginning. You won’t be sorry.
I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from Reedsy Discovery.
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Everyone knew that Roanne never got angry—until the night she killed her ex-husband and herself.
Roanne, a nice, suburban lady in her sixties who works at a Hallmark shop and volunteers at the Food Bank in Round Rock, Texas, calls her lifelong friend, Connie, confesses to murder, then puts the gun to her own head. Connie, spurred by Roanne’s last words about a lifetime of unspoken rage, sets aside her work as a cozy mystery writer and cupcake shop owner to confront the men who have stolen her dignity while she remained silent, including a bully brother, a rapist, and an ex-spouse. On a journey to reclaim her inner power and to make peace with the loss of her treasured friend, Connie’s mission is to avoid the same tragic path as Roanne, but she takes along a gun, just in case.
With pathos and humor, Paper Targets, by Patricia Watts, calls us to speak our own narratives, even when it is uncomfortable or risky, and shows us the magnificence of a friendship that transcends time.
Patricia Watts worked as a journalist for more than 20 years for newspapers in Texas, Hawaii, and Alaska. Following her news career, she tried her skill as a paralegal and then spent ten years investigating discrimination cases for the Alaska Human Rights Commission. Her novels include: Ghost Light and The Big Empty, crime mysteries co-written with Alaska author Stan Jones; The Frayer, suspense noir; and Watchdogs, a steamy thriller. Her home base is San Diego. She earned her B.A. in journalism at Humboldt State in California. She is the mother of a son and daughter and has eight grandchildren.
A fresh reimagining of the story behind one of the most renowned couples in literature.
Author Tasha Suri takes the literary classic, Wuthering Heights, and reimagines the backstory of Heathcliff, Catherine, and her family, breathing new life into this polarizing tale of gothic trauma. The story is set when Heathcliff has fled The Heights, and Cathy has been left behind to agonize over where he’s gone and what’s happened to him. Events from the original tale are recounted and take on new life and meaning with the telling. Suri’s story is presented from Catherine’s and Heathcliff’s points of view, giving an understandable heft to the reasons for their sometimes-murky relationship in the original. If you were left wanting after reading Brontë’s story, this envisioning might give you some satisfaction.
Suri explores the shadowy details of the period Heathcliff is absent from The Heights, later revealed in the original story to be when he is amassing his fortune. The story follows him to Liverpool and into the seamy underbelly of the port city, where poverty and press gangs are all-encompassing. The author weaves the results of Britain’s colonial history in India on its people into the story as Heathcliff comes to understand who he is. At the same time, Catherine also comes to realize her own hidden heritage as she and her brother, Hindley, attempt to lay the ghosts of their father’s past wrongdoings.
The audiobook version is voiced by Becca Hirani as Catherine and Alex Williams as Heathcliff. They breathe life into these characters, imbuing each with a personality that gives the listener a fresh new perspective on what’s driving their actions. The audiobook’s cover is beautifully moody but depicts these two as older than they are during the story’s events. As the story ends on a more hopeful note than the source materials, is this an additional nudge in the direction that things work out differently for them?
Touted as one of the greatest, most legendary love stories of all time, Wuthering Heights often eludes and disappoints modern young adult readers. Like many classic works, it has both its fans and foes. Depending on the reason for their dissatisfaction, Suri’s version may very well ease some of the latter group into the former, with its updated dialogue and delivery, more revealing first-person points of view, and its fresh underpinning based on the main characters’ secret, hidden ancestries.
I recommend What Souls Are Made Of to readers who enjoyed Wuthering Heights or wanted to but were left disappointed and those who enjoy YA historical fiction, especially that featuring a portrayal of the immigrant experience in 18th-century Britain.
I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the publisher through NetGalley.
When Tori Winters becomes the star witness in a murder trial, someone tries to kill her. Terrified, she’s not giving the killer a second chance. With all her worldly possessions packed in her car, Tori is on the run. A mysterious phone call about an inheritance leads her to Granbury. After all, who would look for her in a small, quaint Texas town?
Instead, Tori’s life is about to spin into an existence where nothing is as it seems. The historic house she inherits is steeped in secrets from the past. Secrets that may prove deadly. A stranger in a strange town, who can she trust? There is the disinherited step-grandson and the lawyer and his son. What are they hiding?
Tori’s inheritance may not be a blessing when a killer strikes again. It could be her death warrant.
Deadly Keepsakes is a modern recreation of the Gothic romantic suspense novel in the vein of such great authors as Phyllis A. Whitney or Daphne du Maurier. Rather than the setting of the big house on the dark, remote, craggy-cliffed island, author Anita Dickason has reimagined the genre by placing the story smack in the middle of hot and sunny, small-town Texas.
Dickason amps up the suspense from the very start with Tori fleeing her home in Springfield, only months after her mother’s death, to escape the intimidation and revenge of the Russell family. But thankfully, Tori is a bright, capable, and determined heroine (unlike some of the fragile, helpless females of old), and she takes matters into her own hands to keep herself safe.
When she reaches her new town in Texas, she is immediately surrounded by the influential, successful people at the core of Granbury society: men who seem to feel they know more about what’s in her best interests than she does. I was so glad to see her set them straight quick, fast, and in a hurry. Two handsome men are also personally interested in the new heiress, and both are deliciously suspicious. But our girl keeps a wary eye on them both, though. Even as she feels attracted to one, she doesn’t let this blind her to his possible participation in the strange goings on. She keeps them both at arm’s length as she figures things out.
Deviating from the Gothic romantic suspense formula, though, is the presence of Mia O’Brien and her posse of friends/employees. I enjoyed this group of young women so much with their camaraderie, witty banter, and we-got-your-back attitude. I loved how Mia knew everyone in town and all their business and background. She always “knew a guy” who could do whatever needed doing. She and the other women were a fun and entertaining support network and just what Tori needed.
I especially enjoyed the secrets the house held and Grandmother Elly’s backstory with her family history of gambling, gunrunning, and liquor. Readers should be sure to read the author’s notes at the end of the book giving the story behind the fiction and its roots in the life and times of a real, local gangster from the area. I also felt the sadness of the tragic reasons Tori and her grandmother never met. In the end, Elly had everything but what she wanted most: her family.
With its fresh setting, strong heroine, excellent support characters, and solid, relentlessly evolving mystery, I recommend DEADLY KEEPSAKES to mystery readers, especially those who enjoy their stories with a lot of suspense and a touch of romantic suspense as well.
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.
A SHOT IN THE 80% DARK Bean to Bar Mysteries, Book 4
Cozy Mystery / Culinary Mystery / Woman Sleuth
Publisher: Golden Tip Press
Date of Publication: July 15, 2022
Number of Pages: 285 pages
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Felicity Koerber’s bean to bar chocolate shop is thriving. Despite everything she’s been through with the murders she’s helped solve, Felicity is ready to take on new challenges. So when a local museum offers her a contract to create a chocolate replica of a gigantic sailing ship sculpture for a gala celebrating Galveston’s history, she jumps at the chance to combine chocolate-crafting with art.
The project is fun – right up until there’s not just one but two dead artists on the scene, and Felicity has to change gears back to detective. Logan, Felicity’s business partner and previous bodyguard, and Arlo, Felicity’s ex who is now the cop investigating the case, are split on which victim they think was actually the intended one. Felicity may have to take some chances, both emotionally and in luring out a killer, to determine the truth.
Can she find out how Galveston’s history relates to the murders, unmask a killer, and prepare 2,000 chocolate desserts for the gala all at the same time?
A well-plotted, crave-inducing addition to the Bean to Bar Mysteries series!
A Shot in the 80% Dark is a fine, well-plotted mystery that kept me entertained, guessing, and turning pages until the very end. Felicity, the main character, works hard and is serious about discovering who committed the precisely timed and very public murder. She goes to suitable sources, asks the right questions, and keeps her boyfriend, the lead detective on the murder case, informed and up-to-date on what’s she doing. Only little slip-ups put her in danger, and those felt like they were honest missteps. The ‘rookie mistake’ is actually claimed by Arlo himself! There are many viable suspects, and they are logically ruled out one by one. However, I didn’t know who was going to be the last suspect standing at any point until the killer was finally revealed, and I liked that the truth felt plausible because of the circumstances of the situation.
As the series continues, Felicity’s circle of friends expands and incorporates suspects from previous murders, old acquaintances, and frenemies. The author has done a great job with character development over the series, and I did feel the need to catch up with some of these folks. I like that there are so many recurring characters, even if they only get a mention or brief appearance in a story.
The story is naturally ‘choc’ full of chocolate-craft. Royer sprinkled in little tidbits of chocolate fact and fun throughout, and the result is a confection in and of itself. The story also has an extraordinary amount of pastry and other food discussions that had me craving a trip to Galveston. I learned so much (and had to google for more) and wanted to try all of the fictional delights the characters described.
The Galveston setting is fun and feels so familiar and comfortable. I loved hearing about different locations and sights, even just which end of the island the characters were on as they investigated. I enjoyed imagining all the small shops and businesses Felicity mentions or encounters during her day. The reminders of the damage from Hurricane Ike still having such an impact so many years later were quite sobering.
A wonderful part of this cozy mystery is the love triangle between the main characters. I could empathize with Felicity’s hesitancy to start another relationship yet. Her emotional struggle feeling the need to choose between two good men feels deep and genuine. Both men seem equally desirable, and it is no wonder she’d have a tough time making a choice, even if she wasn’t still grieving for her lost love. I felt the same genuineness in Logan’s and Arlo’s struggles with Felicity’s continued indecision. Still, both exude their concern and understanding that their need to be chosen as “the one” exerts a lot of pressure on her that she’s just not ready to handle.
A Shot in the 80% Dark is the fourth book in the Bean to Bar Mysteries, but the author provides enough backstory throughout for a reader who hasn’t read the previous books to have a great, entertaining reading experience. However, be warned that starting with this book will have the reader looking for the earlier stories; they are not to be missed.
I recommend A SHOT IN THE 80% DARK to readers who enjoy culinary-themed cozy mysteries, Texas-based cozies, Galveston, or chocolate…and who doesn’t like chocolate?
Amber Royer writes the Chocoverse comic telenovela-style foodie-inspired space opera series and the Bean to Bar Mysteries. She is also the author of Story Like a Journalist: A Workbook for Novelists, which boils down her writing knowledge into an actionable plan involving over 100 worksheets to build a comprehensive story plan for your novel. 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/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.
Young Adult / Historical Fiction / Western / Action & Adventure
Publisher: Wise Wolf Books
Page Count: 278 pages
Publication Date: February 23, 2022
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Thrust to the mercy of the Mississippi river, thirteen-year-old Rowdy floats safely away as he watches the smoke rise from his burning farmhouse. Now alone in the world, his perilous journey of survival begins, challenging and shaping him into the young man his father would want him to become.
Pulled from the waters, he is given a chance by a lone river Captain and his mate. Rowdy has grown strong working the river but must use his wit as well as his strength to confront a bullying crewman and survive a surprise attack by river pirates.
Growing up on the Mississippi river was a start for Rowdy, but Dodge City, Kansas proves it has its own challenges. He was warned not to get entangled with Patrick Byrne, Dodge City’s most powerful rancher. Unknowingly crossing Byrne, he faces life and death decisions. Rowdy’s only option is to run.
Survival is what he has come to know all too well. His escape across the plains nearly claims his life. Through a stranger’s help, Rowdy recovers and finally discovers Lincoln, New Mexico, and acquires a new friend along the way. Rowdy is settling in when hired guns sent by Patrick Byrne find and confront him. Blood, bullets, and tears bring Rowdy’s world to a showdown. Fighting for what was right is his code, living life for others becomes his way, and staring danger in the face is what he must do if he can truly be Wild and Mean, Sharp and Keen.
While Wild & Mean, Sharp & Keen starts out quietly enough: an older Rowdy is preparing for a hunting trip with his old friend, Roberson, it doesn’t take long for this story to really let loose! As the two friends settle in for their first night’s sleep, memories of Rowdy’s past take hold of his dreams. Those memories gripped me, too, as immediately there were boots on the ground and non-stop action and excitement from then on.
The success of this story rests on the shoulders of young Rowdy. He is a likable and sympathetic character, and after everything he’s gone through in his early life, he’s also careful, wise, and deliberate in his actions. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have his moments of doubt. He’s got tough decisions to make, and I agonized right along with him as he reasoned his way to what was right and just. The story has thoughtful moments with brave decisions and deeds. Rowdy is supported by some good men, but the bad guys are truly bad, with no redeeming qualities. I also liked that his horse, Delilah, and dog, appropriately named Dog, feature prominently in the tale.
The author uses quotes and song lyrics as touchstones for Rowdy as he matures. Each one is important at different points in his life and acts as guidance in the absence of an adult mentor. Though, at times, he encounters a couple of good men that serve that role for him. But most of the time, Rowdy is alone, trying to make his own way, which makes for a good and satisfying coming-of-age story as well as a pulse-pounding western adventure.
I recommend ROWDY: WILD & MEAN, SHARP & KEEN to readers of all ages who enjoy western, coming-of-age adventure stories.
Chris Mullen is an author from Richmond, Texas. He graduated from Texas A&M University in 1997 and began his teaching career. Chris was awarded the 2019 Connie Wootton Excellence in Teaching Award presented by the Southwest Association of Episcopal Schools. In 2021, Chris signed with Wise Wolf Books, a YA Imprint of Wolf Pack Publishing, and re-released his debut novel ROWDY: Wild and Mean, Sharp and Keen on February 24, 2022. On March 31, 2022, he released ROWDY: Redemption, followed by an April 21, 2022, release of ROWDY: Dead or Alive. Chris currently writes for Wise Wolf Books and is working on the next ROWDY installment.
His novel, ROWDY: Wild and Mean, Sharp and Keen was named WINNER in the 2020 American Fiction Awards, a 2020 Best Book Finalist, and 3rd Place WINNER in the 2021 Selah Awards, all in the western category. His YA Western series, ROWDY, continues to grow and attract readers of all ages.
An intriguing and solid mystery rich with culture and a sense of place.
Ruth Bennett is flattered and surprised when the assistant to a well-known Japanese novelist approaches her to do the English translation of his latest novel. She’s pleased because she’s been mired in months of tedious and mundane translation work, and she yearns to do something more interesting and substantial. However, she’s also very surprised because the author was declared dead years ago! Her surprise quickly turns to shock when the dark events of the novel eerily echo those happening in real life – events involving the remaining members of the author’s estranged family in Kyoto.The Kimono Tattoo was an excellent puzzler, rich with the sense of Japanese culture and the moody, atmospheric setting of Kyoto. I was fascinated by the discussion of kimonos integral to the plot.
Ruth Bennett is a likable protagonist. The author developed an intriguing backstory for her, and I was immediately drawn to her. She melded so well into her life in Japan – more comfortable in Japan than in the U.S. I liked how Ruth pointed out the differences in customs and personal interactions between her native country and Japan.She has a variety of friends, acquaintances, and coworkers who are introduced and pulled into her search for answers. I loved how they came from such different areas of Kyoto life, but all formed a wonderful group as the story progressed.
The story is not all peace and beauty and kimonos, though. The Kimono Tattoo is a pretty dark murder mystery, and the author shows what’s lurking in the shadow. Some of the findings are grim and deal with tough subjects. Ruth gets in some situations that put me on the edge of my seat.I listened to the audiobook edition of the book and enjoyed the narrator’s performance immensely. Theresa Bakken’s pace, pronunciation, and inflections were just right, and her variations in voice to represent different characters were subtle yet very effective. I found myself looking for errands to run (to listen in the car) despite the price of gas at the moment.
I recommend THE KIMONO TATTOO to readers who would enjoy a good, solid, exciting mystery set in modern-day Japan.I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the publisher through NetGalley.