Category Archives: Book Reviews

Under A Veiled Moon (Inspector Corravan Mystery, #2) by Karen Odden

Under a Veiled Moon (Inspector Corravan, #2)Under a Veiled Moon by Karen Odden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A dedicated and compassionate police inspector unravels a deadly politically-motivated case of historical terrorism.

By 1878, the Whitechapel district of London had long been home to the thousands of Irish immigrants fleeing the famine and seeking work. However, conditions started to deteriorate with the influx of another wave of displaced people from Russia and Poland seeking a new life. Not only were there clashes of culture, but the Irish gang that held sway over the area was being picked apart by a rival gang with a more radical agenda for Irish Home Rule. So far, two of James McCabe’s Cobbwallers had been found shot in the back of the head and left in the road to be found.

Meanwhile, a train derailment that claimed the lives of many passengers and injured even more was suspected of being the deliberate work of the Irish Republican Brotherhood or at least staged to look like it was. Similarly, when a tragic collision on the Thames between two vessels resulting in the loss of over 500 souls soon followed, the London papers were quick to print inflammatory headlines and questionably factual stories blaming the Irish as well, fomenting fear and unrest across the city.

Inspector Michael “Mickey” Corravan is charged with looking into the suspicious nature of the collision of the Princess Alice, a pleasure steamer, and the Bywell Castle, a large commercial vessel. But from the start, the incident looks like no accident but rather another deliberate act of destruction. No group claims responsibility, and pinpointing the actual perpetrator proves to be dangerous and a test of Corravan’s integrity and loyalty.

Under A Veiled Moon is the second book in author Karen Odden’s Inspector Corravan Mystery series, and it is a complex and compelling tale. Incorporating fascinating actual incidents from the time period, it is historical mystery fiction at its best and eerily reflects similarities in our current time and society.

The story unfolds from the viewpoint of Michael Corravan, now the acting superintendent of the Wapping River Police. Corravan, an Irishman, diligently sets aside his biases for his culture and people yet still must suffer through society’s prejudices, including those of his own supervisors and others working the same case. Thankfully, he has the support of his love interest, novelist Belinda Gale, and his former partner at Scotland Yard, Gorgon Stiles. He and Stiles remain a formidable pair working in tandem on the complicated case. While Belinda doesn’t feature heavily in this book, she still has a significant role, with her outsider’s perspective, in helping Corravan view his investigation through a different pair of eyes.

The author breathes life into the time period and the London setting, so much so that I could almost smell the odors wafting off the river. I got a fascinatingly distinct impression of what life must have been like for someone like Corravan and his adopted family, the Doyles, and some of it was downright horrifying. Brief glimpses into Belinda’s life accentuate the discrepancies in living conditions, treatment, and prospects for the future between the classes, especially for the immigrants.

The plot is complex and absorbing, especially when it appears to be headed in one direction only to veer off into another. Some surprising twists and turns really upped the tension and the feeling of urgency to solve the case. Besides the eye-opening political machinations that Corravan must untangle, there is an utterly personal aspect to this case for him that was heartbreaking and absolutely riveting.

With its dedicated and conflicted police investigator, vivid historical setting, and complex plot, I recommend UNDER A VEILED MOON to mystery readers who enjoy historical mystery fiction with a political basis and tense terroristic threats and readers who enjoyed the first book in the series.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Historical fiction, Historical mystery, Mystery

The Pepper Peach Murder by Meg Benjamin

The Pepper Peach Murder (A Luscious Delights Mystery Book 1)The Pepper Peach Murder by Meg Benjamin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When the toxic head chef of a local restaurant meets his end, Roxy Constantine becomes suspect number one!

After a disastrous encounter with the head chef at the trendy Denver restaurant where she worked, new chef Roxanne “Roxy” Constantine fled home to her family’s farm in Shavano, Colorado. Over time and with the help of her Uncle Mike, she pulled herself up and started on an alternate career journey, creating a line of premium jams and preserves.

Although Luscious Delights was a big hit with locals and tourists alike, it was destined to remain a small home business unless Roxy took on some help. She was a one-woman operation, barely able to make enough product each week to stock her booth at Saturday’s farmers’ market. When news that a successful cooking show was coming to Shavano to feature the restaurants, farmers’ market, and other foodie enterprises, Roxy knew she could be on the brink of something bigger. With Uncle Mike’s encouragement, she began to look ahead and what it would take to expand.

However, the assault and subsequent cover-up had taken its toll on her heart, and Roxy wondered if she’d ever be whole again. The few dates she’d attempted since always fizzled out when she realized she wasn’t ready for a more intimate relationship, that is, at least until she met Nate Robicheaux. a chef at a family-owned restaurant in town.

Unfortunately, there was a constant reminder of what happened in Denver in the form of Brett Holmes, the head chef at the upscale High Country Restaurant. Brett had worked at the same restaurant and gleefully believed the head chef’s fabricated version of what had occurred after Roxy had departed. Despite her explicit refusals, he regularly pushed himself her way and hounded her to sleep with him.

One Saturday at the farmers market, Brett corralled Roxy at her booth to blackmail her into sex, threatening to tell the television producers the lies the head chef had spread after his foiled attempted rape, and get her bumped from consideration for the show. Not one to succumb to such tactics, Roxy’s refuses and their discussion became heated, and Brett grabbed Roxy. The argument and her protests attracted the attention of vendors and shoppers, and Nate jumped in to intervene, causing Brett to stumble to his knees in front of the crowd. A week later, when Brett’s body was discovered in High Country’s kitchen, Roxy became the new police chief’s main suspect in his murder!

The Pepper Peach Murder is an entertaining debut to Meg Benjamin’s new cozy mystery series, Luscious Delights. While having all the fun hallmarks of the cozy mystery genre front and center, the story also explores a darker theme: sexual assault/harassment.

The protagonist, Roxy Constantine, is a great character. She’s had her life disrupted, and her dreams smashed but is slowly coming back to life and taking a new direction with her career. What happened to her was horrible and unforgivable, but she refuses to let the assault and the betrayal which followed define the rest of her life.

Nate Robicheaux, Roxy’s delectable love interest, is healing as well but doing so in the kitchen of his family’s restaurant, now run by his brother, Bobby, and they don’t quite see eye to eye on their business. I was glad there was a glimmer of them coming together by the book’s end.

Susa is Roxy’s “ride or die” best friend and is a competent and capable partner in crime-solving rather than the comic relief sidekick, which I thought was terrific. And perhaps, there’s a little spark between Susa and the new police chief to fan in future books?

The plot builds when Roxy feels Chief Fowler isn’t looking hard enough at other possible suspects for Brett’s murder. There is little information forthcoming from that sector, so Roxy and Susa must create their own line of questioning based on who and what they know about the people in Shavano. I liked how Susa developed an online method for the two women to record and share with each other the results of their separate inquiries, and laughed over Susa’s later discussion of the proper way to fill it out! With Brett’s reputation as a jerk and a womanizer, there are quite a few avenues to pursue.

Since this is the first book in the series, many townspeople were introduced, and although many did not appear to have anything to do with the current murder, they were still easy to keep track of or follow as needed. When all was revealed, I thought the resolution made sense, and the case was wrapped up without going down a bunch of unnecessary rabbit holes. I am already looking forward to more of this series.

I enjoyed hearing about all the various jam flavors and enough of the jam-making process to know it was something I wouldn’t want to tackle myself. I’ll stick to trying out some of those amazing-sounding concoctions when I run across them at local farmers’ markets and craft shows. Pepper Peach is absolutely on my shopping list, too.

I highly recommend THE PEPPER PEACH MURDER to cozy mystery readers who enjoy culinary-themed stories.

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

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Filed under Book Reviews, Contemporary fiction, Cozy Mystery, Culinary-themed, Fiction

Book Blog Tour: Sun Keep Rising by Kristen R. Lee

Sun Keep Rising

by

Kristen R. Lee

Young Adult Contemporary

Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers

Publishing Date: January 24, 2023

Page count: 240 pages

Suggested Reading Age: 14 – 17 years

ISBN-10: 0593309200 / ISBN-13: 978-0593309209

SYNOPSIS:

When rent increases put a teen mom at risk of losing her home, she resorts to a dangerous game to keep her family afloat. But all games have consequences, and this isn’t one she can afford to lose. A gripping story about race, income instability, and the strength it takes to survive from a critically acclaimed author.

Kristen R. Lee is a miraculous story weaver-Mahogany L. Browne, author of Vinyl Moon

B’onca always knew how to get by. And then her daughter is born. She wouldn’t trade Mia for anything, but there is never enough cash to go around. When their gentrifying Memphis neighborhood results in higher prices and then an eviction notice, B’onca’s already fragile world spirals. Desperate to make things right, B’onca forges a risky plan to help pay the bills. But one wrong move could cost B’onca–and her family–everything.

From the celebrated author of Required Reading for the Disenfranchised Freshman comes a compelling story about a teen mom navigating income disparity and racial inequality, and defying challenges to protect those she loves.

Content Warning: gentrification

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REVIEW:

5 stars!

The gripping story of a young teenage mother who’ll do anything to keep her small family together.

Sun Keep Rising is a riveting contemporary young adult novel about a teenage mother trying to keep body and soul, and family together. With its fresh and genuine voice, I was immediately drawn into B’onca’s life. As a mother, I could relate to many of her new mom problems, which, in her case, were exacerbated by her young age, limited resources and options.

The character of B’onca was so real, a typical teen. You could feel her vitality and personality, keeping her hopeful for the future but realistic no matter what came her way. Her story is a familiar one: a bullying boyfriend, a first sexual experience, and an unplanned pregnancy. Then there is the ultimate betrayal of him accusing her of sleeping around (he was the one doing that) and his cowardly abandonment. But worse by far was the subplot involving her mother. It was painful reading.

The story has so much going on, and the level of tension throughout the book is gripping! Not only is there the teen mother and her family storyline, but there is the subplot of the changes occurring in the neighborhood. The impact of gentrification is far-reaching. It doesn’t just affect the single property owner selling out to the new buyers. A snowball effect creates significant collateral damage to those remaining behind; local businesses are bought out or sold, employees lose their jobs and have to make ends meet in the lull before new businesses can open, and prices increase for everything. In addition, readers get a glimpse into the illegal businesses that flourish in the shadows of depressed areas of the city. However, all is not completely grim. There is a hopeful note in the story coming from the feeling of community and family running strong through the Ridgecrest neighborhood, where everyone knows everyone else’s name and has their back.

I recommend SUN KEEP RISING to readers of contemporary young adult fiction, especially those who may have read and appreciated the 70s novel, Go Ask Alice.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Kristen R. Lee is a native of Memphis Tennessee, whose love of books stems from her grandmother who was a school teacher. After graduating with a bachelor’s in communication from MTSU, she began to draft her first novel which focuses on systemic racism and Black culture. Growing up in Memphis, a majority Black city, writing stories that reflect her upbringing is what she strives to do. When she’s not writing, you can find her on twitter sharing memes about not writing.

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Vampires and Villains by Elizabeth Pantley

Vampires and Villains (Magical Mystery Book Club #2)Vampires and Villains by Elizabeth Pantley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s time for another meeting of the Magical Mystery Book Club!

After the first meeting of the Magical Mystery Book Club, the group was one member down. To remedy the problem, Judge Thornberry refers Maximilian Bettencourt III to fill the empty spot. Million, as he is known, is a former bookstore owner and came to the court’s attention for burning down his neighbor’s backyard garden shed. The group is somewhat leery of the newly proposed club member, what with their creative imaginations on overdrive. Yet, at the appointed time, the 82-year-old arsonist shows up on the doorstep of the Snapdragon Inn, potluck dish in hand, and they are all ready to go!

This time the group has the idea that it would be great to solve a mystery on a cruise ship, and after a search of the stacks in the magical basement library, a cozy with a Hawaiian setting is selected. Once on board the boat, when no one finds Frank the Siamese cat’s ability to talk alarming, they realize they have landed in a paranormal cozy mystery book. When a sad sack ship photographer is found dead in the casino with two small puncture wounds in his neck and drained of blood, the assignment is clear: the group is looking for a killer vampire!

Vampires and Villains is another fun and fanciful entry in the Magical Mystery Book Club series by Elizabeth Pantley. All but one of the group from the previous book have returned and are joined by the wonderfully quirky Maximilian “Million” Bettencourt III. He is the perfect addition to the club and something of a nemesis to the feisty Zell. I loved how the group returns after a month apart but has made great strides toward becoming a “family.” Forrest, in particular, is becoming a more solid member of the club and brings teenage energy and attitude, current pop cultural knowledge, and solid computer and social media skills to the table.

The story is set on board a luxury cruise ship and the Hawaiian Islands when the group participates in excursions, and I loved how the Snapdragon Inn magically tagged along. The descriptions of the ship, activities, and trips ashore are vivid and put me on location with the characters. And even with a murder on board, it also put me in the mood to book my own cruise!

The investigation was so entertaining that I read this book in one sitting. With nine (counting Frank!) sleuths on the job, the group can check out a lot of leads in a short amount of time, which is a good thing because there are beaucoup suspects.

Starting out, there are almost 5,000 passengers and crew on board. However, after learning the manner of death, that is whittled down to the number of vampires on the ship. The story has twists and turns in it and I didn’t suspect the individual revealed as the murderer at all. I liked that each character regularly gets moments to contribute to the interaction and case.

With a magical library theme, a fun group of recurring characters, including a snarky, talking cat, and vampires, I recommend VAMPIRES AND VILLAINS to cozy mystery readers who enjoy paranormal elements in their stories.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours.

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Filed under Uncategorized, Book Reviews, Vampire, Cozy Mystery, Contemporary fiction, Fiction

The Accidental Spy by David Gardner

The Accidental SpyThe Accidental Spy by David Gardner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Accidental Spy is one of the most entertaining books I’ve read in forever!

When Middlebridge College closed its doors, 56-year-old history professor, Harvey Hudson, found himself out of the job he’d held for 24 years and struggling to find a position at another institution. Desperate to keep body and soul together and to keep secretly paying the mortgage on his widowed mother’s home, he took a series of part-time delivery gigs.

A chance meeting with his old high school sweetheart landed him in an entry-level technical writer position at the high-tech firm she co-owned with her ex-husband. However, the years he’d spent in his collegiate ivory tower had left him unprepared for the new job’s work assignments. He struggled to understand the programming for which he was to write the documentation.

Under fire from the CEO, Margo’s ex-husband, Harvey outsources his job to a subcontractor in India at a small percentage of his salary. The results are a stunning turnaround for him at work. He begins to have romantic thoughts about Amaya, the woman in India who is actually writing the documentation he is taking credit for. But just as things are looking up, Harvey gets a late-night pizza delivery request from two FBI agents who reveal that the contracting firm in India is a front for a Russian intelligence agency and Amaya, his dream girl, is a Russian spy.

I was hooked! At the start of the book, the main character Professor Harvey Hudson is trapped in the depression trifecta: he’s lost his job, wife, and self-respect. But wait! There’s more. He’s secretly paying the mortgage on his widowed mother’s home while living in a dump over a poultry butcher shop, and the job at his old girlfriend’s software company is kicking his butt. I could completely relate to Harvey’s job security woes and his discomfort with his much younger coworkers. The fact that he knows absolutely nothing about the work at T&M exacerbates the problem and his deepening loss of self-worth. All in all, Harvey is a decent and lovable guy. The premise that he outsources his job to India absolutely sold me on picking this book up, and I was wholly behind Harvey’s strategy proving to be a successful move. And it really did work like a charm until it didn’t.

I was also completely caught up in Amaya’s backstory and involvement in the Russian cyberattack plan. She’s gentle and a total lady but feisty when she feels she’s been wronged. I rooted for these two to click and find their HEA.

The author’s writing style was easy to read and deliciously witty. This was definitely a book I didn’t want to put down; it was a five-star read for me from the start. However, there was at least one sentence (if not more) where I wanted to round that up to “11.” (“Because I stole his wallet.”)

With its outstandingly clever plot, witty, laugh-out-loud dialogue, and sympathetic main characters, I highly recommend THE ACCIDENTAL SPY to readers who enjoy spy thrillers and would like a lighter, less-than-serious take on the genre.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours.

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Book Tour: Spice Road (The Spice Road Trilogy #1) by Maiya Ibrahim

Spice Road

The Spice Road Trilogy

Book 1

by

Maiya Ibrahim

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Publishing Date: January 24, 2023

Page count: 464 pages

Reading age: 14 – 17 years

ISBN-10: 0593126963 / ISBN-13: 978-0593126967


SYNOPSIS:

The first book in an epic fantasy series for fans of Sabaa Tahir, Hafsah Faizal and Elizabeth Lim, set in an Arabian-inspired land. Raised to protect her nation from the monsters lurking in the sands, seventeen-year-old Imani must fight to find her brother whose betrayal is now their greatest threat.

In the hidden desert city of Qalia, secret spice magic awakens affinities in those who drink the misra tea. With an affinity for iron, seventeen-year-old Imani wields a dagger like no other warrior, garnering her the reputation as the next greatest Shield for battling the dangerous djinn, ghouls, and other monsters that lurk in the sands beyond city limits.

Her reputation has been overshadowed, however, by her brother who tarnished the family name after he was discovered stealing their nation’s coveted spice – a tell-tale sign of magical obsession. He disappeared soon after, believed to have died beyond the Forbidden Wastes, and leaving Imani reeling with both betrayal and grief.

But when Imani uncovers evidence her brother may be alive and spreading their nation’s magic beyond the desert, she strikes a deal with the Council to find him and bring him back to Qalia before he can reveal the city’s location. Accompanied by Qayn, a roguish but handsome djinni, and Taha, a powerful beastseer whose magical talents are matched only by his arrogance, they set out on their mission.

Imani will soon discover there are many secrets that lie beyond the Forbidden Wastes – and in her own heart – but will she find her brother before his betrayals endanger the fate of all of Qalia?

In this epic and action-packed fantasy, one young heroine navigates the treacherous road between protecting the ones you love and staying loyal to the place you call home.

Content Warning: politics, colonialism

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REVIEW:

5 stars!

A traditional quest story in a unique and fascinating new world!

Spice Road is the first book in the trilogy of the same name by author Maiya Ibrahim, and it is a stellar beginning. I was captivated by the author’s world-building, fascinated by the mythology and the slowly unfolding history of the land of Sahir and the Kingdom of Aqibah. The main characters are worthy fighters and magic users but also have hidden sides. I rooted for the small group of rescuers and scouts even when their loyalties conflicted. Throw in a compelling storyline, and you have an absorbing and entertaining reading experience.

From the city of Qalia in the Sahir to the nightmarish ruins and desert of the Forbidden Wastes, the First City, and the Kingdom of Aqibah, I was impressed by the descriptions of the locations. I felt like they put me right in the story and the action. Along the way, descriptions of panoramic vistas reminded me of scenes from a historical Kdrama.

There was some phenomenal world-building which included the characters drinking tea made from the bark of a Misra tree, at times in a formal tea ceremony, to draw out the strength of their magic or affinity. A person’s affinity was individual to them and varied from person to person, such as being able to manipulate the earth or fire or, in the case of Taha, exert control over animals.

The land of Sahir is unknown and unseen by the rest of the world, and the people in Sahir have been led to believe everything outside their borders is dangerous wastelands. It was interesting to watch Imani learn of the discrepancies in what she’d been taught about the world outside.

The main characters start out enemies, but as they travel together, they slowly change their attitudes toward one another. I was drawn to Imani from the start, and she matures quite a bit over the course of the story as she sees things outside her usual routine. Things were easier and beautiful in her world, but not for everyone else. I liked that she had discovered her calling to be a Shield at an early age and had trained hard with her older brother to excel at this when the time came. The fight and sparring scenes were well-drawn and easy to follow. Her relationship with Taha is a real rollercoaster, and Qayn offers an enjoyable third party.

The high fantasy plot includes a quest to save Imani’s brother, Atheer, who has gotten involved in a rebellion in the Kingdom of Aqibah. Tension mounts as it is revealed that the members of the travel party have conflicting orders or goals related to Atheer’s “rescue.” Secrets and betrayals are lurking along the way, along with an enemies-to-lovers subplot, and some terrifying monsters to escape. I am already looking forward to the next book in the trilogy.

I recommend SPICE ROAD to readers who enjoy young adult fantasy or quest stories.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Maiya Ibrahim is the debut author of SPICE ROAD, publishing January 24, 2023, from Delacorte Press and Hodder & Stoughton. She graduated with a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Technology Sydney. When she isn’t writing, reading, or spending time with her family, she enjoys video games, gardening, and expanding her collection of rare trading cards. She lives in Sydney, Australia.

She is represented by Peter Knapp of Park & Fine Literary and Media, Claire Wilson of RCW Literary, and Mary Pender-Coplan of United Talent Agency.

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Doc Showmance by Zoe Forward

Doc ShowmanceDoc Showmance by Zoe Forward
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to see what happened next!

Veterinarian Dr. Amber Hardin was in her final year of residency at a San Diego emergency hospital for animals that was also the location of a successful reality TV show. During her time there, she learned so much and her skills blossomed, and the television audience responded to her tough, no-nonsense approach to animal care, her clients, and their human companions.

Dr. Ian Todd had disappointed his mega-wealthy San Francisco family by following his heart into veterinary science but had found his own success as the host of Vet in the Wild, a popular exotic animal series that had him traveling around the world. Ian was chiseled and buff, and the camera loved him, as did the show’s many female viewers. But an off-camera incident in Columbia had the show’s producers reconsidering the future of the show and had put it on hiatus while decisions were made. The showrunners, needing something to fill the gap and re-ignite the producers’ passion for the project, decided a crossover season with Ian working at a certain San Diego pet ER reality show, including a romantic interlude with the rising star Dr. Hardin, would do the trick.

What the showrunners didn’t know was Amber and Ian had been highly competitive classmates in vet school, and they hated each other’s guts.

Doc Showmance was a fun and sexy enemies-to-lovers contemporary romance, and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough! Told from the point of view of both Amber and Ian, the story explores the realities of life making a reality TV show with all the humor and drama, laughter and tears, as the two main characters work out their pasts with each other and slowly to come to the realization that they may want a future together.

Amber is a spitfire with her heart focused on her animal clients and her human family of foster brothers and sister. She’s so vulnerable when it comes to Ian; it was almost painful to read about her having to get involved in the show with him. Ian regrets his past actions, embarrassed by the prank he’d been a party to, but craves Amber’s forgiveness for the entire story. They are surrounded by some great supporting characters, such as her foster siblings, as well as some truly awful individuals, his entire family, and their co-worker, Dr. Kovac.

I thought the reality TV show plot was fascinating as it gets the two former classmates together but adds to their confusion about what is real and what is artificial or for the camera. The story moves quickly while maintaining an incredible level of tension between the two. I enjoyed the enemies-to-lovers plotline, but this one is also a second-chance romance when the entire backstory is revealed. For those that need to know: this story contains adult language, explicit sexual situations, violence, and animals requiring emergency medical intervention.

There is a bit of a continuity issue regarding a confrontation with Ian’s brother, though. When it comes up later in the story, the individual responsible for what occurred switches from Ian to Amber and then back again. Also, I felt the ending was a bit drawn out, and although well written, it felt somewhat like it was just an opportunity to insert another, albeit great, sex scene.

I recommend DOC SHOWMANCE to readers who enjoy contemporary romances featuring enemies-to-lovers, second-chance romance plots, stories with pets, or a veterinary hospital setting.

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

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Filed under Adult, Book Reviews, Contemporary fiction, Romance

Book Tour: Cookie Monsters by Erika J. Kendrick

COOKIE MONSTERS

by

ERIKA J. KENDRICK

Middle-Grade Contemporary / Growing Up /

Facts of Life / Coming of Age

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: January 17, 2023

Page count: 320 pages

ISBN-10: 0316281484 / ISBN-13: 978-0316281485

SYNOPSIS:

A fun, fast-paced novel about friendship, family, fighting for what’s right, and standing out from the crowd while standing up for yourself. 

Twelve-year-old Brooklyn Ace is ready to take the Valentine World Scouts by storm and build her own cookie empire. She nearly won the top cookie selling spot last year and is determined to make her mom—who recently passed away—proud by coming in first this time around. With her fabulous best friends by her side, Brooklyn knows she’ll become Santa Monica’s District Cookie Queen. The crown is practically in the bag. 

Then Piper Parker arrives. 

Piper has a rich dad, a fancy hotel, and a drive to steal the cookie crown right off Brooklyn’s head. Before long, most of the seventh grade is under Piper’s spell. But Brooklyn is in it to win the biggest cookie war the school has ever seen. With the help of her cookie squad, her rockstar grandmother, her super cool therapist, and a lot of self-love and inner growth, maybe—just maybe—Brooklyn can end up a winner after all.

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REVIEW:

5 stars!

Within its exciting cookie sales campaign plot, Cookie Monsters also delivers a warm and wonderful story of recovery after the loss of a loved one.

Cookie Monsters is a warm and poignant story about a twelve-year-old’s struggle with grief and its toll on her mental well-being, as well as an exciting and tense battle to sell the most cookies. Brooklyn is cool, popular, wholesome, and very much a regular pre-teen. From the outside, she appears to be coping well with her mother’s death but inside, she is drowning in pent-up emotions. She is surrounded by a supportive circle of girlfriends and has a loving father and grandmother at home, who are also dealing with their own grief. But as the results of Brooklyn’s loss visibly begin to affect her ability to function, she reaches out and accepts professional help and makes progress on dealing with her feelings. The story also reveals that her friends are dealing with their own difficulties, and Brooklyn is able to share her experiences and help get them on a path to communicating their needs with their own families.

The story is also about a very competitive race to sell the most cookies. Brooklyn’s nemesis, Piper Parker, pulls a couple of rabbits out of her hat, using her father’s business resources and wealth and promising incentives (bribes) to their fellow students to buy her cookies rather than Brooklyn’s. Although Brooklyn cries foul at all of Piper’s strategies, and some were definitely shady moves, frankly, Piper just had a better sales plan and executed it better than Brooklyn did (which Brooklyn slowly comes to recognize.)

Brooklyn’s scout squad is a wonderful mix of different personalities, each with their own strengths that they bring to their friendship and the campaign. Young readers will surely relate to one or more of these great characters and the individual issues they are facing in their lives. I enjoyed this group of girls so much.

The writing and pace of the story are absolutely flawless. I was completely drawn into the story and emotionally invested; I teared up a couple of times while reading, especially when she was making a breakthrough with her therapist. I know I’ll be thinking about Brooklyn’s tale for quite a while; I was that affected. Cookie Monsters would make an excellent read-aloud selection.

With its important messages nestled within an exciting cookie campaign plot, I recommend COOKIE MONSTERS to young readers who have experienced their own loss of someone close to them.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Erika J. Kendrick is an acclaimed writer, a national speaker, and a mental fitness expert. She earned a psychology degree from Stanford University and an MBA from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Erika was an NBA cheerleader for the Chicago Bulls before writing her novels, Confessions of a Rookie Cheerleader (Random House) and Appetite (Random House). She is currently touring her debut middle grade novel, Squad Goals, with Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. The spinoff, Cookie Monsters, is set for a summer 2022 release.

After battling her brain pain, Erika founded Mental Fitness For Life where she launched her latest Mental Fitness book tour, “Who Moved My Happy?” While talking to audiences of all backgrounds and ages, Erika shares her story of brain pain and inspires hope by creating safe spaces for life-saving conversations. She has presented and guest lectured at colleges and universities as well as the US Army and US Air Force, national sororities and fraternities, middle and high schools, conferences, retreats, and national organizations, large and small. Erika has toured with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and is a speaker with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) where she has been inducted into their Hall of Fame.

Erika is a recipient of several “Who’s Who” honors, a Rising Icon honor, and several Awards of Excellence. Erika has taken the stage for TEDx, appeared on Good Morning America – The Third Hour (GMA3), NBC News, CBS News, The Wendy Williams Experience, national television and radio segments, and a host of other media outlets. She has been featured in several publications, including Page Six of The New York Post, The Huffington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and various other magazines and digital media.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Contemporary fiction, Fiction, Middle-Grades

Snuffed Out (A Magical Candle Shop Mystery, #1) by Valona Jones

Snuffed Out (Magic Candle Shop #1)Snuffed Out by Valona Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When a good friend is wrongly accused of murder, the Winslow sisters desperately search for the real killer.

Tabby Winslow and her twin sister, Sage, work hard to keep their family business, The Book and Candle Shop, afloat. While Tabby created the signature candles they sold, Sage did all the purchasing and bookkeeping. With their one employee, super salesman Gerard Smith, they were just managing. But when a disagreeable customer Gerard had a confrontation with only days earlier is found murdered, the police take an unhealthy interest in him as their prime suspect.

Snuffed Out is a fun and unique new cozy mystery by Valona Jones and kicks off her new series, the Magic Candle Shop Mysteries. The magical element is provided by the two sisters, who are “energetics” and have the ability to absorb and manipulate energy. One twin, Sage, is comfortable and confident in her skills. However, due to a traumatic event in her past, Tabby is not. She blocks her abilities and refuses to tap into her special gift, and this causes some tension between the two sisters.

The story is told from Tabby’s point of view. Her hesitancy to accept her energetic talents stems from an incident several years earlier, which almost resulted in her killing someone with her power. That incident is never fully explained; only bits and pieces are revealed as the current story unfolds. In fact, there are a couple of backstories hinted at but left unexplained, which had me feeling so strongly that I had missed a previous book that I quit reading to research whether that was true or not. Perhaps, these stories will come to light in future books.

Sage Winslow is a complicated character with hidden secrets or worries left untold at the end of the book. Early on, she’s very moody: one minute, a loving sister, and the next, an almost evil thing. She and their store clerk, Gerard, have a romantic history that continues to cause her some heartache.

The murder investigation was compelling, with many friends and acquaintances of the Winslow sisters involved. There is even a missing chihuahua to consider. I enjoyed the candle shop business, the descriptions of candlemaking, and the various other items the girls stocked in the store. The story also focuses on the subplots of the sisters’ budding romances, both with young men they have known since childhood. There are adult situations with discussions about their hookups, but it was still sweet watching Tabby navigate the change in her relationship with Quig from childhood friend to grown-up man and friend with benefits.

Central to this story is the lovely and historic Savannah setting. The Book and Candle Shop is in the heart of downtown’s historic district, a great draw for tourists. I like the mention of the various other businesses with their living spaces above that are neighbors to the Winslow’s shop.

With its unlikable murder victim and tense push-pull sibling relationship, I recommend SNUFFED OUT to cozy mystery readers who like candle or bookshop-related settings or stories set in the southern US, specifically Savannah, Georgia.

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

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Pretty Evil by Zoe Rosi

Pretty EvilPretty Evil by Zoe Rosi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The story is riveting, and I was compelled to keep reading; it was that good!

During the work week, Camilla Black (not her real name, by the way) is the cool, collected, and laser-focused editor of the successful fashion magazine, Couture. But away from the office, she is the secret avenger of abused women and children, seeking out the predators who take advantage of those weaker than themselves and meting out justice. But one night, when she herself is almost a victim of date rape, she lets her rage and need for vengeance carry her away. Her impulsive actions that night sidestep her usually meticulous planning and attention to detail, and now the police have her on their radar.
Pretty Evil is a gritty and dark thriller of a novel: tense, twisted, and full of surprises. The story unfolds through the eyes of a murderer, Camilla herself, so readers are privy to her thoughts and feelings and firsthand narrative. Camilla is chameleon-like, and I wondered throughout the tale whether she was a reliable narrator at all. Her backstory is fascinating and horrible; she was an abused child whom no one believed.

Camilla functions in London’s world of high fashion and the ultra-wealthy: but that’s her “day job.” We are also treated to a variety of London’s less sparkling neighborhoods and suburbs as she researches and tracks down her next project. There are vivid descriptions of the murders that are committed and a good handful of explicit sexual encounters, making this book one for mature audiences only.

The action begins immediately and never lets up. The plot is tightly constructed with Camilla enacting her vengeance, seeking to blow off steam with her lovers, taking evasive maneuvers to throw off the police, and going on to track down her next victim. The story is riveting, and I completed the book in only two reading sessions; it was that good!

With its fascinating secret assassin as a protagonist and an exciting and compelling storyline, I highly recommend PRETTY EVIL to readers who enjoyed the series, Dexter, how-done-its, thrillers, and gripping tales set in London.

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

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Filed under Adult, Book Reviews, Thriller