Category Archives: Book Reviews

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 📚📚📚

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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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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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The Gargoyle’s Secret (Stonehaven Mysteries, #1) by Linn Chapel

The Gargoyle’s Secret is a solid cozy mystery with a unique paranormal angle to it.

When her famed photojournalist father had to go into the hospital, Laurel Bachmann, a rising star who apprenticed at her father’s feet, steps in to fulfill his latest assignment to interview the renowned stonemason, Marc Chevalier, and photograph his historic estate, Stonehaven, a mystery-shrouded manor house perched on a rocky outcrop near Bar Harbour on the coast of Maine. She is informed immediately upon arrival that the piece she’s to do was encouraged by Marc’s mother, Serena, and he wants no part of it. But with her father’s imminent retirement on the line and his editor clamoring for a juicy human interest angle to the story, Laurel decides to tough it out with the secretive Mr. Chevalier, hoping to develop something suitable without indulging in rumors, gossip, or scandal, a practice she’s avoided her entire career. However, the manor and Marc’s family both have a mysterious past. Over 100 years ago, a visiting millionaire art collector had disappeared from Stonehaven, never to be seen again, and when Laurel stumbles across evidence that the man never left the island alive, her story and stay at the estate take a dark turn.

The Gargoyle’s Secret is the entertaining first book in a new paranormal, cozy mystery series, the Stonehaven Mysteries, by author Linn Chapel. The protagonist, Laurel Bachmann, is genuinely likable, smart, and a talented artist. She felt like a real person. Her foil, Marc Chevalier, is too handsome for Laurel’s own good. In addition, he’s mysterious and paranormally-talented besides being a successful stonemason with a burgeoning business restoring old and valuable pieces of sculpture and statuary. The mystery is pretty straightforward, a person unknown is digging around and searching for something at the manor, and with few people on the remote estate, suspects are limited. The reader can easily keep the players straight and try to figure out who the culprit is.

There is some confusion toward the end of Laurel’s stay as to continuity: in one chapter, we go from morning to afternoon, but then it’s morning still, and there’s seems to be one too many nights occurring in the timeline. I was also confused over what happened to the missing millionaire. I won’t say more because it would reveal too much for a potential reader. But overlooking these details, it was still a good, entertaining reading experience.

I recommend THE GARGOYLE’S SECRET to readers that enjoy a cozy mystery with a paranormal overlay. It is suitable for readers of all ages.

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

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Opposable (The Halteres Chronicles, Book One) by Kirk E. Hammond

If you’re down for a SciFi story that is totally and completely different, then Opposable is the book for you.

Renowned author of the popular SciFi novel, Halteres, Dr. Stanley Ivan Vanderbilt discovers that the inspiration for his bestseller did not come from within his imagination but was the result of thoughts (known as “Sparks”) sent to him by an alien lifeform, the Arca Trochia, from the real-life planet of Halteres, over two billion light-years away. The Sparks with descriptions of the planet, its leaders, and people – good and bad, are the Arca Trochia’s first foothold in the consciousness of humankind and spread additional thoughts in the receptive minds they found, resulting in the building of “Spires” (portals between Halteres and Earth). The Spires, once activated, would serve as a gateway to launch the invasion and conquest of Earth. Aided by his pet cyborg cats, Patton and Herbert, his best friend, Xeno – a mohawked connoisseur of illicit drugs, a sexy, kick-ass-and-I-don’t-care-WHAT-your-name-is merc named Ashleigh, and one of the novel’s characters-come-to-life, the fire-shooting fingertipped Sho, the heroes take off on a road trip across the southwestern US to stop the alien invasion.

The premise is bizarre. There is violence and gore. Adult situations and drug use. The first scene is positively crazy, and I kept asking myself, “What the heck is going on?!” And it is probably one of the most original, interesting, and entertaining books I’ve read this year. In fact, this book was perfect to close out this trainwreck known as 2020.

The prose is adrenaline-fueled until the drugs kick in. The dialogue is unrelentingly fresh and funny, and I laughed and squirmed at times, but I had to keep reading. This is a road trip tale on acid. I enjoyed so many of the characters, and I don’t know if I can even pick my favorite: Dr. Vanderbilt/Pops/Father – the narrator is great. His best friend, Xeno, is delightful. Patton, the large cyborg cat with thumbs, is awesome. Ashleigh and Sho are total rock stars. I even loved the CAR!

But all fangirling aside, this is a fantasy of a road trip story with the end goal of saving the Earth from an alien invasion. It takes a little getting into because the reader is dumped smack into the middle of the action (there are at least ten years of prior story you’re not immediately privy to). You’re going to have questions, but part of the fun of the story is the answering of these questions as the story goes along. And you never know what’s going to happen next! I think it is this author’s writing style and use of language that really sells this story. I will be looking for more by him, and most definitely if, as I understand, this is the start of a series.

I recommend this to SciFi fans who like alien contact books and are willing to let the tale just flow around them and trust the author to get you successfully to the end and rewarded with a good story.

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

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A Jar of Pickles (Lady Vigilante, #18) by Hayley Camille

Super action-filled entry in the continuing story of Betty Jones, Avon Lady extraordinaire!

Episode 18, “A Jar of Pickles,” opens in the middle of a maelstrom! Betty’s daughter, Nancy, has unwittingly discovered and revealed that the man she’s always known as her father is not her biological parent. The shock of her uncovering this secret not only has Nancy reeling but Jacob Lawrence and Adina Sonberg as well, and it leads to a bitter, perhaps relationship-ending, argument between the two.

Hurt and feeling betrayed by the revelation, Adina still heads into work at St. Augustine’s to prepare a big library program for the boys and to spend some time with her favorite orphan, Teddy. Her emotional rollercoaster continues when a woman arrives looking for her son, who had been taken from her at birth and sent to an unknown orphanage. Shocked, Adina covers up the possibility that the child the woman is seeking may actually be Teddy.

Meanwhile, Betty and Jacob follow up on a new lead to the whereabouts of “The Tin Man,” which takes them to the home of Jacob’s mother and father. They believe that his father may hold the key to “The Tin Man’s” background from the time when he was the police commissioner.

Still hurting about her discovery, Nancy is supposed to be babysitting Georgie while her mother is making her Avon appointments. Since Adina had brought Teddy to her home next door to hide him from his birth mother, he and Georgie are happily playing together in the yard, so Nancy leaves them on their own and heads to the neighborhood park to sulk and brood. There she is approached by a sympathetic stranger, a woman, to whom she confides all her woes. But the woman is not just some helpful neighbor, she’s the diabolical mind behind “The Boudoir Butcher” murders, and Nancy has just played into her evil hands.

“A Jar of Pickles” is another super episode in the ongoing Betty Jones series, and it is bigger and more action-packed than ever. Betty’s and Jacob’s pasts are unfolding, and their joint investigation into “The Boudoir Butcher” killings is finally gaining ground.  Emotions run high throughout, and Betty pulls out all the stops to save her daughter. Once again, the fight scenes are fabulous, and the WWII-New York setting remains a winner.

I highly recommend this episode to readers following the exploits of this kick-ass Avon Lady and the entire series to those that enjoy historical mystery/thrillers featuring a strong female protagonist. The books are episodic, and I recommend they be read from the beginning in chronological order.

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

(The Lady Vigilante series was formerly titled Avon Calling!.)

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Shifting Sides (A Shift in Space, #0) by Danielle Forrest

Whether you like romance in your SciFi or SciFi in your romance, Shifting Sides is the book for you!

Emma, the USS Endeavour’s pilot, was transporting a team of scientists and their families on a mission to study planet HD85512b’s suitability as a human colony. The plan was she and the crew would live and work on the planet, gathering all the data they could, and return to Earth after a couple of years. What they didn’t figure on was HD85512b, also known as Ara, was already inhabited by the Danaus.

Beeyun watched as the Endeavour landed in a field literally in the backyard of his property on Ara debarking dozens of aliens who began to set up buildings and disrupting the natural setting he was sworn to protect and preserve. Each night, attempting to drive the interlopers off, he would wait for them to return to their ship and then tear down everything they’d done that day. But every morning, they would start over again and re-build. One hard-working and persistent alien caught his attention right off. As much as he disliked the aliens wreaking havoc on this property, he admired the feisty female who worked long after the others stopped and bravely ran toward danger when it appeared.

Emma knew the crew of scientists did not like her and felt she was beneath them, a necessary evil, so to speak, as none of them could pilot their ship. It had been a long, lonely, and tiresome journey to HD85512b for her. But still, she tried to fit in and help make the temporary colony a success in any way she could. But rather than things improving as she worked her heart out for them, the crew became more and more unstable, aggressive toward her as well as each other. Then, one afternoon, they grabbed her and tied her to a post in the middle of the field as a ‘sacrifice’ to The Beast that came unseen in the night to destroy their work. But then The Beast came…

Although a prequel in the new A Shift in Space series by Danielle Forrest, SHIFTING SIDES is a fully developed and full-length novel of science-fiction-romance. I thought it was dynamite! The plot is intriguing from the very start, and there is never a dull moment. There were new and interesting things occurring all along the way as the very exciting story unfolded.

I loved the main characters of Emma and Beeyun and rooted for them the entire time. Emma is a loner and a take-charge kind of gal without a lot of the strange hang-ups or inadequacies that seem to accompany many kick-ass heroines; she appears to be a well-rounded and fully-competent young adult. Sure she’s got some conflicts in her past and present life, but they are pretty normal at the outset. Our alien hero, Beeyun, is smart, compassionate, and, although purple, still one sexy guy. I liked the path their relationship took: not too fast, not too slow. Supporting characters offered a variety of interactions and chances for conflict and helped round out a great plot. I really liked the young family of Lacy, Rickelle, and their daughter, Jacie.

I recommend SHIFTING SIDES to science fiction readers who enjoy their stories with a romantic plotline or romance readers who like their love stories to “take them to the stars.” I’m so looking forward to the next book in this series.

I received a free copy of this book via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Romance, Sci-Fi