The Incomplete Artist (Ashley Westgard, #2) by Philip Wyeth

Ash exchanges silver high heels for a silver detective’s shield when her date at an art auction turns into a baffling murder investigation.

Dressed to the nines, Homicide Detective Ashley Westgard of the Jacksonville Police Corps is off-duty and enjoying an elegant first date with her newest romantic interest, wealthy patron of the arts, Thomas Templeton. She had met Tommy the week before while attending a tedious but high-profile law enforcement charity event at the invitation of the JPC’s top brass. She had seemed to have found a kindred spirit among the city’s upper crust at the event’s open bar. When he hadn’t fallen at her feet in adoration and lust as most other men did, she was intrigued.

For this initial outing, Ash found herself once again on his turf, rubbing elbows with his friends and acquaintances at the exclusive Muir Gallery. The event, hosted by the Movement 24 artistic school, was to be an evening of cocktails and conversation, culminating in an art auction of works by M-24 members. Since the revolution of 2024, more and more human activities had been relinquished to robots, including art. Movement 24 supported art created solely by human hands without the use of robots, and, naturally, there were strong opinions on both sides of the argument.

When the auction begins, the bidding quickly becomes competitive and heated with winners and losers both in the audience and among the artists. Pieces go for an eye-popping number of credits, and even Ash’s date scores the win of a sculpture he’d admired that evening. But when M-24’s most celebrated artist and vocal proponents is found murdered, Ash must exchange her strappy silver high heels for her silver detective’s shield and take control of the crime scene: one with over a hundred potential suspects.

The Incomplete Artist is author Philip Wyeth’s 2nd novel in his Ashley Westgard futuristic police detective series that debuted in 2020. In this entry, Ash has been taken out of her comfort zone of knocking heads and taking names and dropped into the realm of this future world’s high-fliers and social scions of the burgeoning Jacksonville art scene. She’s also the hopeful pursuer in her current relationship rather than the pursued. All of which leads to some introspection on her part about what she really wants out of life.

She remains justifiably suspicious of the motives of the JPC administration after the successful resolution of the case in book one. Still, I was glad to see her relationship with her immediate boss, Chief of Detectives Gabriela Paraquez, strengthen and perhaps start to solidify into something she can trust. Paraquez steps back and allows Ash to manage the complicated crime scene on her own. I liked her interactions with her other coworkers, too, as she conducted her investigation.

The murder case is baffling, with a massive number of potential suspects and witnesses on the scene when the victim is discovered. I felt how insurmountable the task of just securing the crime scene would have been, considering the number of attendees and the complication of everyone being part of the perceived elite and those that left the event before the discovery was made.

This story is quite different from the previous one. While in that one, Ash’s introduction was virtually a “smash and grab” of the reader, the tone of this story is more cerebral and thought-provoking. Ash’s investigation is also a journey through the philosophy of art with characters discussing its history and motivations, its wants and needs, past, present, and future.

The hard-riding, hard-driving, hard-drinking, and hard-partying Ashley Westgard from the debut novel has been set down among the rich and richer and is clearly out of her element. She is somewhat dazzled and seduced by these unfamiliar surroundings, almost hooked and feeling uncertain and off-kilter. And Thomas Templeton seems to be the perfect foil for Ash: their banter is delicious. But the work itself has its own magic for Ash, and she kicks the glamour to the curb and gets back to business, which is where the book shines – a character-driven, police procedural in a futuristic society.

I recommend The Incomplete Artist to those who enjoyed Ash’s debut story in Hot Ash and the Oasis Defect, readers who would like a mystery set in the world of art or with a futuristic setting.

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

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Engage at Dawn: Seize and Destroy (Engaged at Dawn, #2) by Edward M. Hochsmann

Once, again the US Coast Guard Cutter Kauai and her crew is called upon to save the day, and perhaps this time, even the planet itself.

When the sentry-survey vessel observing the developing planet 331-3 (Earth) finally headed to the nearest Confed maintenance base for repairs, other observers with less honorable intentions schemed to take advantage of its absence to grab up now available resources that could easily be turned for a profit.

The crew of the sentry vessel had included in the incident report of their unscheduled stop on the planet that during their initial arrival, they had inadvertently destroyed the sea-going ship of a criminal organization involved in the smuggling of cocaine. That small mention is what had caught the eye of the unscrupulous Raviktos, the Chief Operating Executive of Kmaet’aqe, one of the largest corporations in the Confederation of the Six Systems. He could make a profit from cocaine, but it had to be done quickly and in just the right manner, for discovery by Confed could result in the ultimate of penalties.

Things go perfectly at first, but when a rival drug gang gets involved, they take the planetside alien representatives hostage along with some highly critical advanced technology. Raviktos’ illegal operations are revealed to those tasked with looking for just this type of thing. Once again, the crew of the USCG Cutter Kauai is called upon to save the day, perhaps even the planet.

Engage at Dawn: Seize and Destroy is the second full-length book in author Edward M. Hochsmann’s SciFi action-adventure series, Engage at Dawn. I was delighted to be ‘reunited’ with the Kauai’s crew, catch up with returning characters, and get to know some new favorites. One of the many things that this author does well is write great dialogue. I laughed out loud several times during exchanges between characters.

I liked that the author populated his story with a wide range and variety of crew members: male and female, married and single, differing ages, races, cultures, experiences, grades, and even branches of service! Like any working group or family, they don’t always see eye-to-eye and have their disputes and disagreements. But together, they work out their differences in the background to continue to perform as a highly professional and well-coordinated entity.

A new aspect to this series that appears in this book is the developing romantic relationship between the Kauai’s XO, Lieutenant Benjamin Wyporek and the Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, Dr. Victoria Carpenter. Their story provided some sweet, tender, and anxious moments.

The romance, however, is a subplot. The major focus of the story is the thrilling action and adventure of Kauai’s mission to take possession of the captured alien technology. Once the Kauai is underway, the action is non-stop, and things get intense! Hochsmann’s action sequences are superb, making Seize and Destroy downright great entertainment. Although this novel could easily be read and enjoyed as a standalone, it would be a shame for the reader to miss out on the excellent first book in the series, Engage at Dawn: First Contact. I recommend this book and series to readers that enjoy military SciFi action-adventure stories, military romances, or fictional stories featuring the United States Coast Guard.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author.

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Russian Brides (Sammy Greyfox Thriller, #1) by Hugh Macnab

Homicide detective Sammy Greyfox is having a bad day, correction, SEVERAL bad days. But that doesn’t stop her from getting the job done!

Sammy Greyfox is a Native American homicide detective working for the county sheriff’s department headquartered in Naples, Florida. On her way to work one morning, she witnesses the deliberate attempt of a hit-and-run of another young native woman as she leaves the local diner, knocking her out of the way at the very last minute.

Handing the incident off to the officer on the beat, Sammy continues to the office, where she catches the case of accidental death that the medical examiner believes to be a murder in disguise. In the early hours of the morning, the much younger wife of wealthy Jon Watson called 911 to report that she’d woken to find her husband lying unresponsive at the foot of the flight of stairs from the second down to the first floor in their lavish Gulf front home. The initial onsite determination of the cause of death was a broken neck due to the fall; however, after closer examination, the medical examiner can see fingerprints on the man’s neck, and the location of the break between the C3 and C4 vertebrae would be unlikely under the particular circumstances. Suspecting foul play and recalling similar accidental deaths, he discovers at least four other cases within the county over the past three years where the neck had been broken in the very same way and contacts Sammy.

As Sammy begins to investigate, a further similarity among the cases comes to light; all the questionable deaths were of older, wealthy men married to much younger women they met in Eastern European countries such as Russia or Ukraine. When Sammy starts asking questions, she finds herself the target of a hit-and-run driver, too. Someone wants Sammy to give up her investigation, but she’s determined to get to the truth, and the more she finds out, the bigger and more complicated the entire thing becomes.

Russian Brides was an interesting and enjoyable police procedural that introduces the reader to a new detective series featuring ‘Sun and Moon’ Greyfox, AKA Samantha Greyfox. I was hooked by her story from the opening page and would have read through to the very last in one sitting if I could have gotten away with it. The story was that absorbing, and the various mysteries are solid, some with surprising resolutions that I never saw coming.

Besides the intriguing murder investigation, Sammy is experiencing personal upheavals as well, and all require some truly life-altering decisions. This woman is definitely having a BAD DAY: several bad days, in fact. However, she is strong, persistent, and smart, and she does have some good friends among her coworkers on whom she can lean when she needs a sounding board or a shoulder or a strong helping hand. And I wholeheartedly went on that ride with her as she tried to work through her various dilemmas. Readers are privy to Sammy’s internal dialogue, and it is, as appropriate, delightful, funny, entertaining, and poignant. The author has some other fun, quirky aspects worked in throughout the story that made me smile, such as her Alexa playlist used as her wake-up alarm, her relationship with her cars, and Bossy-boots.

However, my enjoyment of the book was absolutely and negatively impacted by the execution of the work and is the reason for my mid-scale rating. The story is rife with typos, changes in tense, incorrect choices between homophones (there, they’re, their, to, too), and incorrect use of apostrophes. Characters change first names or surnames: Marlene became Mellissa, Pinho became Pino. (And I wondered the entire book if the character from Brazil, Hosé, was supposed to be spelled José, the most popular boys’ name in that country.) These are all things that an editor would catch, identify, and have corrected before publication, and I am hoping that I was working from an unedited copy.

Despite the issues I had with this book, I am looking forward with great anticipation to the promised sequels, and if a reader is not bothered by these types of problems, then I say grab this book and enjoy. But I recommend this book, with reservations, for those who would enjoy a police procedural with an exceptionally engaging lead detective. This story was well worth reading.

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

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The Elephant Cage by Brooks Powell

With its mid-1970s setting in Turkey, there is a really good story here, but I felt like I only got glimpses of it.

It’s 1973, and Airman George Pearson reports to his new assignment after completing the USAF School of Cryptologic Sciences: Karamursel Air Base, Turkey. Located a couple of hours outside of Istanbul on the coast of the Maramara Sea, Karamursel is an air base without planes or a runway. It is the location of “The Elephant Cage,” one of the largest and most sophisticated listening stations operated by the United States. To George Pearson, it will be “home” for the next 18 months, and it is strange and dirty and hot.

George’s work assignment is to listen in on radio traffic from the Soviet Union to collect and record military intel. It comes with a demanding, exhaustive work schedule, secret clearance, and a lot of stress. Many airmen relieve their stress with sex, drugs, or loud rock and roll; George indulges in all three. George is especially known for being a ladies’ man, but only a week before arriving at his new duty station, George married his high school prom date, Natalie, and she will be coming to join him in-country in a few months.

With the drugs and their effect on his work habits and attitude, things quickly go sideways when his new wife arrives. To compound his problems, he gets on his commanding officer’s bad side despite being one of the best at his job (but not his military appearance and hygiene). But when one of his circle of friends gets arrested by the Turkish police for possession of a large quantity of hashish, things really go south. In Turkey, possession and participation in drug trafficking draw the worst consequences, and now, instead of a possible court-martial, George and his friends could end up facing a death sentence.

The Elephant Cage is a short historical fiction novel by debut author Brooks Powell. The mid-1970s time period and its Turkish setting were interesting, fresh, and immediately drew me in. I liked the mix of the fictional George’s story with the events that were going on in Turkey, Cyprus, and the U.S. political scene at that time. I just couldn’t connect with George, though. For one thing, his frequent references to his penis and the current state of its arousal were off-putting to me. He and the other characters work in an intriguing setting, and it felt like very little time was spent on this aspect of the plot. However, I thought that the commanding officer’s resolution for the drug arrest was exciting and one of the book’s best parts.

The author provides a lengthy timeline at the end of the book that contains the historical background to the events current to the story’s time. However, it (and consequently its readers) would benefit from some pruning and clean-up to remove many repetitive entries, especially those that are exact duplicates of others. Even if the author just paraphrased the relevant bits, this would prove more useful and interesting (because it is interesting!)

I recommend The Elephant Cage, but with reservations. There is a really good story here, but I feel like I only got glimpses of it. I urge the author to dive back in on this one, expand the story, and give us more of the good stuff.

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

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Madeleine: Last French Casquette Bride in New Orleans by Wanda Maureen Miller

The satisfying story of Madeleine, one of the filles a la casquette and a forgotten French policy to colonize the wilderness known as Louisiana.

When the master of the de Mandeville chateau began to take an inappropriate interest in his wife’s ladies’ maid, 17-year-old Madeleine Boucher finds herself enrolled in the French government’s program to provide suitable females as potential brides for their pioneering countrymen in their Louisiana colony. Madeleine is accepting of this fate; it is a chance for her to have a future in a new world far from the shadow of poverty and her early life as the daughter of a serf on the de Mandeville estate, a chance to be her own person and no one’s servant ever again. Along with 59 other filles a la casquette, she’s provided with a trunk (casquette) of household basics with which to start her married life with whomever she chooses as her husband.  The girls with their chaperones, Ursuline nuns traveling to their convent in New Orleans, board Les Belles Soeurs, the ship which is to be their home for the next 3 – 4 months as they make the long journey by sea from France to the Port of New Orleans. They endure cold, heat, storms, sickness, diminishing food supplies, and the constant threat of pirates along the way.

Through no fault of her own, the lovely Madeleine is mistakenly identified on the ship’s roster as a member of the de Mandeville family rather than from the de Mandeville chateau. However, she doesn’t correct the error, hoping to prevent others from treating her like a mere servant. But rather than acting like a fragile flower from an aristocratic family, Madeleine pitches in to pull her own weight and help out any way possible, all the while keeping a cool head under the considerable stress of the ocean crossing. She catches the eye of the ship’s captain, Jean Paul Beauchamp, and although there is an immediate and mutual attraction between the two, they manage to maintain the utmost decorum and respect for each other. On their last night aboard ship before debarking for the final journey upriver to New Orleans, Captain Beauchamp admits to Madeleine that despite his deep regard, his life will always be the sea.

When the girls finally arrive safe and sound in New Orleans, they are dismayed by the rough, crude conditions. Still, the warm and friendly welcome from the colonists lifts their spirits and soothes their disillusionment. They are soon showered with marriage proposals from men of all manner of background, circumstance, and situation. Madeleine is attracted to a young French army lieutenant, Jacques Bouligny, the younger son of an aristocratic family back in France. Jacques, in turn, is just as enamored of her but is away from New Orleans more than not quelling the rising turmoil among the Indian tribes inhabiting the Louisiana territory.

One by one, all the casquette girls except Madeleine make their selection of a husband and leave to start their new lives. She chooses to stay with the Ursuline sisters, assisting in their hospital and school for girls as she waits for Jacques to declare himself or Captain Beauchamp to return, having changed his mind.

I thoroughly enjoyed this new story of Madeleine and the filles a la casquette, set in the early 1700s in the wilds of southern Louisiana. It was an interesting and adventurous historical fiction novel laced with an irresistible romance. The heroine brought to mind Barbara Taylor Bradford’s Emma Harte from A Woman of Substance or Margaret Mitchell’s Scarlett O’Hara (without the negative personality traits.) I read with anticipation of the resolution of Madeleine’s romantic relationships. Would things work out for her and Jacques, or would Jean Paul come back into the picture? I thought the plotline involving the Natchez exciting yet troubling. The tension of this situation was always hovering in the background. The same can be said regarding the reality of slavery.  The characters of Moses, Rima, Lying Boy, Laff, and Lame Doe were some of my favorites, and I enjoyed their presence in the story. I hope to see more of them in the next book.

As the story covers almost 25 years, there is plenty of action during that time frame; there was never a dull moment in the book. This one kept me up reading way past a decent bedtime.

I recommend MADELEINE: LAST FRENCH CASQUETTE BRIDE IN NEW ORLEANS to readers that enjoy historical fiction with a romantic storyline or those that would like a story about a forgotten French policy (filles a la casquette) in the history of Louisiana and New Orleans. This story contains details related to sexual relations and is better suited to a more mature audience. I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through France Book Tours.

Wanda Maureen Miller

on Tour April 12-16 with Madeleine Last French Casquette Bride in New Orleans    

Madeleine: Last French Casquette Bride In New Orleans

(historical fiction/romance) Release date: April 1st, 2021 at Atmosphere Press 272 pages Goodreads 📚📚📚

Buy It Here

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SYNOPSIS

In 1728, beautiful, resourceful Madeleine Boucher is one of the last in a group of poor young girls given modest dowries in trunks, or casquettes, by the French government—then shipped off to America, where they are intended as wives for the French settlers in the Louisiana Territory. Despite a series of romantic travails, Madeleine remains dedicated to finding passion and securing the promise of her new adopted land, free from prejudices of the past.
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Madeleine Last French Casquette Bride in New Orleans_Wanda Maureen MillerWanda Maureen Miller (or Mo) grew up on an Arkansas farm in the 1940s and 1950s, got educated, moved to California, and taught college English. She has published six books —a historical romance, The French (1983); three textbooks, Reading Faster and Understanding More, Books 1, 2, and 3 (5 editions, 1976 to 2001); her slightly fictionalized memoir, Last Trip Home (2018); and now Book 1: Madeleine, Last French Casquette Bride in New Orleans. Retired, she plays pickle-ball and is working on Book 2: Solange, Daughter of Last French Casquette Bride in New Orleans. To find our more, please visit her website, and follow her on Facebook Visit the publisher, and follow them on Facebook and Twitter
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The Reckoning (Calliope, #3) by Scott Mari

The Reckoning bridges the action from the previous Calliope books, and with some bombshell revelations, sets up the story for an exciting continuation.

Knowing the successful space battle against the aliens was not the last, Calliope Morrigan and her inner circle immediately begin preparing for the next onslaught. Humanity needs to unite and harness the knowledge, skills, and abilities of their best brightest engineers and scientists to develop defenses and offensive measures against their much more technologically advanced enemy. To this end, Calliope, Arn, Eylana, and Jared set off on a recruiting tour of what is left of Europe and the Soviet Union. For the most part, their requests for help fall on deaf ears, but they encounter some success by trading technology for technology. When Calliope must return to space, the rumor of a secret underground particle accelerator research facility takes Arn, Eylana, and two of her sisters to the desert near the dried-up Aral Sea. But Sirchan Li, thinking that Calliope is still with the group, has a surprise waiting for them.

Back on the Factory Asteroid, Jake has been trying to communicate with the alien “Greens” captured during the assault on Calliope’s Cannon Asteroid and making very little headway. Behind the scenes, Calliope is working on a Mars terraforming project. She has Jared shuttling the new spaceships that Arn constructed on Earth to the Lunar Station and taking vast amounts of seawater and their accompanying macroinvertebrates from the White Sea in Mars’ Mariner Valley when he comes.

Construction of Eylana’s newly redesigned and upgraded stealth drones is approaching completion and are soon ready to be deployed around Jupiter, its moon, and the various asteroid belts in the sections of space the aliens are suspected to be hidden. The mission to place the drones to spy and give an early warning of an alien assault will require three experienced pilots. With Eylana and Jake seeding the moons and asteroid belts, Calliope takes on the most dangerous flight herself: placing the stealth drones right in the middle of the alien fleet.

The Reckoning is the third book in the excellent SciFi series, Calliope, by author Scott Mari. In this continuation of Calliope Morrigan’s story and her fight against the aliens, the Larvaltics, an aggressive, lizard-like race of creatures that killed her parents and almost destroyed the Earth. The book’s action picks up after the aliens’ defeat on Calliope’s Cannon Asteroid base near Jupiter, where the aliens were discovered building up their space fleet by the thousands. Returning to Earth and hailed as the savior of humankind, she and her circle of like-minded coworkers meet with the recovering countries’ leaders, including the U.S., to solicit their assistance in preparing for the next alien assault.

The first third of the book details their meetings in Europe and Russia looking for support, and I found it slow-going, somewhat vague, and wandering. It felt like the characters really had no plan. However, the action really explodes when the quartet separates with Calliope returning to direct her numerous ongoing projects in space, Jared shuttling the new Earth-made spacecraft and their pilots to the Lunar Station, Eylana looking for her mother and sisters, and accompanying Arn Lasserman to chase down a secret underground particle accelerator laboratory rumored to be at the abandoned Baikonur Cosmodrome, the Soviet version of the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Scott Mari writes exciting action sequences like no other; they are dynamite, and there are plenty from this point forward.

Calliope’s work on her Mars terraforming project holds some interest, as does the continuing work she and Parker are doing on the Lunar Station. Understandably, she’s under a lot of pressure juggling so much, and her interactions with others such as Jake and Parker suffer. But as I mentioned, I felt it was understandable and explained. I wasn’t a fan of her intimacy with Jake, though, even with the explanation. By this, the third book, I must be already too invested in her relationship with Jared for this to be my cup of tea.

I enjoyed that we get some of the story from the aliens’ point-of-view in this volume. Things are not completely straightforward in their world, and the reader should be prepared for some BIG surprises to be revealed.

The Reckoning is a good bridge between the big action that occurred in book two, The Engines of War, and what is being set up for the next book in the series; it is not a standalone novel. Readers who enjoy character-driven SciFi action adventures should definitely give this series some attention, starting with book one, Calliope. I specifically recommend The Reckoning to readers who enjoyed the previous two Calliope novels.

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

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Wreckers: A Denver Boyd Novel by George Ellis

Wreckers is a delightful mix of SciFi, action, adventure, and late 20th – early 21st-century film and TV pop culture. Cool, cool, cool!

At 19, Denver Boyd is the youngest captain of a wrecker spaceship (the 24th century’s version of a cosmic tow truck) in the verse. But don’t let his apparent youth fool you into thinking he isn’t experienced. Denver knows the score, and he’s one of the best mechanics around. Alone on his inherited vessel, the deceptively souped-up “Mustang 1,” except for his one-eyed cat, Pirate, and the snarky AI known as Gary, he takes calls for all kinds of repair services or tows from across the depths of known space, always barely on the positive side with credits, IPA beer, and delicious snack foods.

On his way to Jasper Station, he comes face-to-face with one of the last people he wants to encounter: the notorious Tracer captain, Desmond. Denver and Desmond had had a deal go sideways in the past, and that hadn’t endeared the boy to the ruthless pirate. Desmond demands a rendezvous and makes Denver an offer he can’t refuse. All he needs to do to get out of his bind with Desmond is sneak onboard one of the most elusive, outlaw space vessels known and steal an item that, apparently, everyone in the verse is willing to kill for. Through the course of events, Denver gains a couple of extra and unwanted crew members and earns an eye-popping bounty on his head courtesy of the universe’s peacekeeping agency: the Interstellar Federation Force.

Wreckers is total entertainment! It is one of those books that you’ll want to keep reading through until the very end in one sitting. That’s right! Get ready to stay up late for this one.

Denver Boyd is such a likable guy. His interaction with the AI, Gary, is fun and humorous. Denver’s attachment to his cat was heartwarming and is sure to hit home with many readers. Each addition to the crew brought new issues, unique skills, and more enjoyment. I look forward to reading more about each one of these in future books. I really loved the big guy, Edgar.

Not only did the characters keep me engaged, but the story itself also grabbed from the first page and never let go. I can attest that the action was truly non-stop, even when dipping into the past for Denver’s backstory. The story is told in both a present and past timeframe: both clearly delineated and easy to follow. His relationships with his family, can we say, are complicated at best? I worried for the kid! The author gives him a history with this father and half-brother that would be quite a burden for any 19-year-old to handle. However, Denver is nothing if not resilient. I liked that he had an uncle that stepped in to take him under his wing when things went sideways with the father and brother. And it felt like all he’d been through with his father, brother, and his uncle prepared him to become pretty, pretty, pretty good at what he does.

For SciFi readers that enjoy the technical side of things, there’s a little sumpin’ sumpin’ for you here, too; it’s not all characters emoting and feelings and yadda yadda yadda. There are parts, processes, shoot ‘em ups, spacey stuff, and a lot of throwback to Star Trek (The Original Show, please!) But for those that skim the tech talk, there’s not so much that it will overwhelm this snappy dialogued, character-driven action-adventure at its heart.

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

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2240: Return to Planet Earth by Daniela R. Morassutti

2240: RETURN TO PLANET EARTH proved to be a truly rousing action-adventure story set on a post-apocalyptic Earth!

A shipboard emergency forces Pilot Mia Bennet and three coworkers into an escape pod which is jettisoned away from their spaceship immediately before it explodes. The four passengers travel in cryosleep while the AI-monitored pod begins its journey to the Space Station orbiting Earth. But, the pod is drawn off course, and the sleeping astronauts don’t arrive at their destination until almost 25 years later, shocked to find out that they’ve been written off as lost. However, Mia and her friends are not the only ones lost. It seems that during their time in cryosleep, the Earth experienced an apocalyptic event where invisible radiation of an unknown source decimated the human race. Devastated that their families and friends have all been killed, they descend to Earth’s surface and their former base to find out what happened and if there are any survivors anywhere.

2240: RETURN TO PLANET EARTH proved to be a truly rousing action-adventure of a SciFi story set on a post-apocalyptic Earth. I quite enjoyed the plot featuring four Space Force astronauts who are rushed into cryosleep and ejected into deep space in an escape pod after an accident destroys their spaceship and kills the rest of their crew. When the pod is delayed for 25 years in its AI-monitored return to Earth’s space station, the four sleeping survivors miss the apocalyptic event, which results in the elimination of  most of humanity back on the home planet. That alone sold me on this book.

The main characters are all young, 20-somethings, and fairly new to their professions at the book’s start. Successful completion of missions before the current action has advanced them to positions of authority and skill, presenting good role models for younger readers. And since the story unfolds from two points-of-view, Mia’s and Blake’s, there is both a male and female perspective to the storytelling, which is nice. The author has included a variety of characters who are confronted with big decisions to make and must then deal with the consequences of those decisions. Each character is revealed to have experienced tragedy in their lives with the loss of family members and friends during the invisible radiation event, which has wiped out 99.99% of the human population. The friends and coworkers display both personal flaws and strengths but stick together to help each other overcome adversity.

I enjoyed the combinations of settings for the action in the book. The story begins in the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars, goes to the Space Station, returns to Earth, and the emptiness of post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, a high-rise smart building, and the surprisingly fresh destination of Venezuela.

Yet, with all its good points, this book still needs a lot of work on language, grammar, and continuity. These three issues were numerous enough to inhibit the story’s flow, and I had to constantly stop and re-read sentences to understand what the author was trying to say (i.e., missing words, the wrong words used, words used improperly, and typos.) Phrases were often repeated over and over again. Action described in one paragraph would be duplicated two paragraphs later. These things took away from what would have been a very good reading experience. However, all of the problems mentioned above are things that an editor could help resolve.

Without a lot of hardcore SciFi tech-talk and featuring a cadre of quite young protagonists, the target audience seems to lean toward YA, teen, and perhaps even upper middle-grades (once the grammar and language issues are corrected.) I urge the author to have this book looked over; I think the end result would be golden. Until that time, I recommend this book with reservations.

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

See my original review on Reedsy Discovery!

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Alina: A Song for the Telling by Malve von Hassell

Alina: A Song for the Telling is a wonderfully told story set in the Christian court of Jerusalem during the Crusades.

During his lifetime, Alina and Milos de Florac’s father, Guy, had been far more interested in his family and music than estate management, and the holdings, as well as the retainers that depended on its success, had all suffered due to its neglect. And when his beloved wife, Beatriou, and eldest daughter, Maria, tragically succumbed to the sweating sickness, he sank into immovable despair, and things only got worse. Not long after, he was found drowned, a suspected suicide, and his brother, Garsanc, and his wife, Marci, arrived, determined to set things right and repair the damage to the family name.

The brother and sister felt increasingly stifled, trapped under their new guardianship. Milos was constantly in trouble for one scrape or another. He was young and undisciplined; their father had been lax with the boy’s education in estate management much as he had been. Nor were there the funds to send Milos as a page to the household of a knight where he could learn and trained as a squire before returning home to take up his duties when the time came.

Although bright and musically-talented like her father, Alina was not considered a great beauty, and lacking an attractive dowry, her prospects for an advantageous marriage were dim. She dreamed of becoming a trobairitz, a female troubadour, traveling the country, perhaps the world, playing her lute, and singing songs of her own devising.  She became alarmed by the parade of unsuitable men her aunt keeps thrusting in her path, and the threat of the convent starts to look more desirable.

As the tension at home mounted, the siblings formed an escape plan: they would join one of the parties of knights, merchants, and pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land on the pretense of praying for their father’s endangered soul. Aunt Marci and Uncle Garsanc agree, glad to have the pair out of sight for a while as they continue to mend the damage to the estate all the years of neglect had wrought. Uncle Garsanc knows of a group preparing to depart soon and led by a reputable knight from right there in Provence, Baltazar de Aurignac. With money from Uncle Garsanc in their pockets and Alina’s lute carefully wrapped for the journey, the young brother and sister set off for Lyon to join their new companions and head off on the trip of a lifetime.

Author Malve von Hassell has written a wonderfully immersive tale set in 12th century France and Jerusalem. Set during the time of the Crusades, the long journey by horseback is interesting and exciting and so descriptive that I felt I was right there with Alina and Milos. The arrival in Jerusalem was full of sights and smells, dust and heat, color and antiquity. There are mystery and political intrigue galore that kept me turning the pages as I soaked up the atmosphere the author so skillfully and effortlessly crafted. ALINA is historical fiction, so real people and events are included in the story, and fact and fiction fit together flawlessly. It is amazing to me thinking about the massive amount of research this author did in completing this wonderful story. This realization only came to me later after putting the book down because I never felt like I was reading history; the story was so lively and entertaining.

I enjoyed that the book was told from Alina’s point of view, and the thoughts and feelings of the young teenager felt true and natural. I also liked that she’d learned how to behave properly from her mother and had enough self-discipline to control her emotions and reactions to how she was treated at the court in Jerusalem. I felt this enabled her in her role as an onlooker of the various political schemes and drama. Well-behaved and a proper lady, she was useful yet overlooked and dismissed at times, allowing her the freedom to move about without being missed.

I recommend ALINA: A SONG FOR THE TELLING for readers of historical fiction, especially those that would enjoy the 12th century setting of the Crusades, France, and the history of the Christian court in Jerusalem. The book is suitable for YA and adult readers, and I could see this as a read-aloud book for middle grades and younger and something the entire family would enjoy.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through France Book Tours.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Historical fiction, Middle-Grades, Young adult

Beneath the Waves (The Kira Hunter Novella, Book 1) by Nora Cabot

When a private investigator returns to her childhood home to make peace with her past, someone in town tries to prevent that from happening.

Kira Hunter was the sole survivor when the old boat that she and her classmates were holding their graduation party on overturned and sank in a sudden storm. She and her mother had fled the town to avoid the constant reminders immediately after and had never gone back until now, 20 years later. When an aunt left her the manor house just out of the town, Kira felt the time was right to return to Wayhill and face her memories and, perhaps, make some sense of what happened that tragic night when everyone, including her best friend, Zen, died. However, from the minute she hit town, she had the constant feeling that she was being watched, and then the notes started showing up.

The first note, left in plain sight on her bed at the manor when no one else was in the house, was a personal message written in Zen’s handwriting. Others followed and revealed details only Zen would know. Then there was the mysterious figure in black that she kept getting a glimpse of – was it just the handyman from next door? One thing was certain; someone didn’t like that she was back in town and meant to do something about it.

Beneath the Waves is the thrilling first book in a new series by author Nora Cabot. The main character, Akira ‘Kira’ Glory Hunter, a high school senior at the time of the accident, is now a grown woman with ten years’ experience as a private investigator under her belt. But with all the strange goings-on as she tries to get settled into her new home, her investigation into what happened at the graduation party gets sidelined. Kira returns home with a load of survivor’s guilt, and the shocking appearance of the messages, seeming to come from her deceased friend, really keep her off-balance for most of the story. However, when she finally shakes herself off and gets her mind set to find out who is doing this and why she settles down and acts like the successful investigator she is.

Supporting characters that added a lot to the story include Noah Price, the handyman from next door who is trying to escape his own past burdens. I enjoyed the interplay between the two and liked the resulting chemistry, slow-building and tantalizing. Although I didn’t care for Sheriff Matthews initially, he’s growing on me, and I liked how he seemed to appear to be more complex and competent as the book went on. Kira’s mother didn’t have a lot of ‘screen time,’ but what there was proved fun and, later, almost disastrous. I look forward to seeing more of all three of these characters in future ‘Kira’ books.

I thought the notes and insider messages were frightening, and the constant feeling that Kira was being watched, even in her own home, highly effective and sinister touches. The murder was as shocking as it was unexpected and really amped up the feeling of dread. There were clues to follow, and Kira unerringly starts with the most likely suspects to know what’s really going on in the small town. I thought the resolution was simple but made sense. The story leaves the reader with questions and unfinished business, which creates a “need to know what will happen next” and provides a good jumping-off point for the next book in the series.

I recommend BENEATH THE WAVES to readers that enjoy a mystery with a strong female protagonist, a PI mystery, and a story a bit darker than what a cozy would provide.

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

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Filed under Book Reviews, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller