Category Archives: Mystery

Aos Sí (Viking P.I., #4) by Tommy Ueland

Aos Sí: A Viking P.I. Mystery (Viking P.I., #4)Aos Sí: A Viking P.I. Mystery by Tommy Ueland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Viking PI is back for Book 4!

Tommy Ueland, as his alter-ego, is back with another case for the Viking P.I., and, once again, his girlfriend, Alvide, is the investigator busting his chops. This time, the murder victim seems to have left a clue to his killer by way of a bloody message scrawled near his body. With things pointing in Tommy’s direction, Alvide brings him in, and the police chief, disgruntled with Tommy from a previous encounter, takes advantage of the opportunity to flex his authority. With Alvide angry at him and the evidence supporting an easy resolution with Tommy as the murderer, tempting the police to call it a day, Tommy has no choice but to find the real killer himself.

Aos Sí (a Celtic woodland paranormal creature) is another short, exciting case from the Viking P.I.’s logbook. As always, the dialogue and Tommy’s delivery delights. New readers should start with Book 1, as this entry doesn’t have a lot of backstory to really understand and enjoy the character dynamics. But, even if it did, the previous books in the series are not to be missed. Alvide definitely doesn’t show her good side in this one.

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The Damned Lovely by Adam Frost

A modern mystery but spectacularly reminiscent of early crime and detective thrillers and film noir of the 40s and early 50s.

Sam Goss had been living a traditional life, a college grad, a girl who liked him and liked to cook, and an excellent job with an LA marketing firm, writing ad copy until suddenly he.just.couldn’t.anymore. He felt he needed more, so he quit the job and the girlfriend, eventually ending up sharing an apartment with Nick in Glendale and trying to make it as a writer.

His life mostly revolved around The Damned Lovely, a dive bar owned and bartended by Jiles, a retired cop who rented him a stuffy, dim, windowless box of an office space located in the back of the building. Sam looked up to and respected Jiles in place of his father, who disapproved of his career move. But things were not going great. He was existing month to month as an Uber driver, and he knew he was drinking way too much. However, a small glimmer of light was starting to shine in his life. There was a recent addition to the regular patrons of The Damned Lovely, a beauty in a black fedora who sat at the bar reading a book and sipping her Negroni, not engaging in any conversation other than to order her drink.

Sam was smitten and, as yet, had not gotten up the nerve to approach the young woman. However, when a man at the bar began to hassle her one night, Sam stepped in to stop him, ready for a fight. Unfortunately, when he regained consciousness later in his office, she was gone, leaving behind the bloodied denim shirt she’d used to cushion his head when he’d been laid out on the bar floor. Sam never saw her again…alive.

The Damned Lovely was a genuine page-turner of a book that kept me reading late to get to a good stopping point. The problem for me was the story was so good, with Sam’s ongoing investigation and constant drama, there just wasn’t one. I always wanted to see what was going to happen next.

Sam is a good guy, but he’s worked himself into a hole. His literary agent is a harpy, his roommate is an inconvenient convenience rather than a friend, and his friends are a bunch of barflies with their own troubles. I loved the collection of personalities and stories the author has conceived for The Damned Lovely’s regulars. Everyone has a story. The author has a knack for dialogue and a talent for putting the reader in the story.

The bar itself also has a personality, as does Goss’s Glendale. The moody descriptions set a tone and paint a vivid backdrop for the book’s action and events. I could clearly envision the bar, Goss’s home away from home.

But the plot is what kept me in my seat, or rather on the edge of it. The police investigation goes in a different direction than Sam’s, with twists and turns to follow and some entirely believable red herrings. The clues to uncovering the truth behind the murder are right there, one by one.

With the main character’s alcohol-infused decision-making and struggles, gritty action, sudden violence, moody setting, and overall feeling of impending doom, this modern mystery is spectacularly reminiscent of early crime and detective thrillers and movies. I recommend THE DAMNED LOVELY to readers of mystery fiction, especially those that enjoy the film noir genre of the 40s and early 50s.

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

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Heroes Ever Die (Ken Allen Super Sleuth, #2) by J.A. Crawford

Heroes Ever Die,

Ken Allen Super Sleuth, #2

by

J.A. Crawford

Mystery / Super Heroes / PI
Published by: CamCat Books
Publication Date: August 16th 2022
Number of Pages: 304 pages
ISBN: 0744305926 (ISBN13: 9780744305920)

SYNOPSIS:

Ken Allen has upgraded a bit since his last case, now living in a nicer part of the city and officially hanging out his shingle as a private investigator. After two successful cases, one kept on the ultra-down-low because of the high-profile client, he’s ready to help when his old friend, Ray Ford, is suspected of negligence resulting in the death of two actors on the sets of two different superhero flicks. Ray is being framed, and Elaine, the daughter he’s been keeping under wraps for years, suspects who the real culprit is.

In the meantime, Ken’s own son, Dean, the recently revealed surprise result of a short-term liaison almost 20 years earlier, wants to get to know his dad, and he couldn’t have picked a worse time. With Ken becoming a target of the killer himself and needing to investigate and stop the murder spree, he’s had to put Dean off during this very delicate time in their relationship.

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REVIEW:

This second in series sparkles!

A fun and entertaining installment in the Ken Allen Super Sleuth series!

As a fan of the debut Ken Allen Super Sleuth mystery, Jove Brand is Near Death (see my review here), I was looking forward with much anticipation to Heroes Ever Die, and I was not disappointed. Ken Allen is a one-of-a-kind private investigator who, although talking about getting old, is still current, relevant, and completely on top of what’s hot and trending. The story is a seamless amalgam of pop culture as we follow him through his days that include an adherence to a keto diet, selfies, smoothies, and the main character literally fangirling over comic book royalty. The author also mixes in movie and television references that are fun surprises. Parallels and parodies of the James Bond franchise and the comic book cinematic universes are the baselines for the series and this book, in particular, and are vastly entertaining. The dialogue absolutely shone in the debut novel and is a high point in the second as well. It’s smart and witty and kept me laughing.

I liked that Ken has officially hung out his shingle (as a private investigator), although this case is still on behalf of a friend. I also liked that Ken’s son, Dean, is still in the picture, and he and his father are working on getting to know each other. Ken is such a likable guy. I enjoyed how he was able to charm the ladies who lunch to report back to him on what was going on in their neighborhood.

Ray Ford, a recurring character from the first book, continues to amaze with his special gadgets, and we discover he has a grown daughter. Elaine is an intelligent and charming addition to the “team.” She lives and works with her father, and her backstory, when revealed, pulled at my heartstrings for both of them. Investigator Stern is a mellower version of herself this go-round, and I like there’s more of a partnership developing between her and Ken.

With all the masks and costumes involved, no one in this story is really who they seem to be. However, we soon realize that this is even more the case with characters who aren’t even in disguise. The story is full of surprises, and I didn’t see the resolution coming. I enjoyed this book so much that I read it in one day.

I recommend HEROES EVER DIE to readers that enjoy up-to-the-minute mysteries, especially those involving the film industry, comic book franchises, and private investigators with martial arts skills.

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

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Lord of the Fly Fest by Goldy Moldavsky

LORD OF THE FLY FEST

by

GOLDY MOLDAVSKY

Young Adult Horror

Publisher: Henry Holt and Company Books for Young Readers

Pages: 320 pages

Publishing Date: August 30, 2022

SYNOPSIS:

One of Us Is Lying meets Lord of the Flies meets Fyre Fest in this wickedly addictive and funny YA thriller.

Rafi Francisco needs something really special to put her true crime podcast on the map. She sets her sights on River Stone, the hearthrob musician who rose to stardom after the mysterious disappearance of his girlfriend. Rafi lands herself a ticket to the exclusive Fly Fest, where River will be the headliner.

But when Rafi arrives on the Caribbean island location of Fly Fest with hundreds of other influencers and (very minor) celebrities, they quickly discover that the dream trip is more of a nightmare. And it’s not just confronting beauty gurus-gone-wild and spotty WiFi. Soon, Rafi goes from fighting for an interview to fighting for her life. And, as she gets closer to River, she discovers that he might be hiding even darker secrets than she suspected . . .

Content Warning: violence, missing persons, and bodily functions

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REVIEW:

Lord of the Fly Fest was a fun and clever story made even more delightful by the allusions and parallels to William Golding’s classic, Lord of the Flies. Rafi is surrounded by social media influencers and one of the few voices of reason on the island. She is a wonderful character, but the author also has a variety of fabulous secondary ones that parody the influencer communities of Instagram and Tiktok. I laughed until I about cried several times over the absurdities the situation created and the exaggerated but realistic portrayals of the various lifestyle influencers still trying to maintain their online habits. Throwing back to the classic foundation novel, one character lovingly calls his followers “piggies.” The author creates a remote island setting, frightening and surreal, reminiscent of the island from Golding’s work, and includes similar names and outcomes that echo the original. There is so much to love about this story, especially if you’re a fan of the Lord of the Flies novel or movies.

But parody aside, the plot is about Rafi exposing River Stone, a young man who has been very kind to her, as a murderer based on very little evidence. She initially feels she is above the shallowness of the rest of the stranded festival-goers (and yes, they are shallow and awful people) but comes to realize she’s not perfect either nor entitled to be so righteous. There is a nice revelation of truths, and mistakes are made, leading to her heartfelt offer and attempt to redeem herself. There is a great wrap-up that closes out the hanging subplots, too.

I recommend LORD OF THE FLY FEST to readers of young adult fiction, especially those who are fans of online social media or social media-related stories or have read Lord of the Flies.

#CaribbeanIsland #LiveYourBestLife #NoThreeHourCruise #WheresMyVilla #AreBananasGlutenFree #DoesThisPigDungMakeMyButtLookFat

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Goldy Moldavsky was born in Lima, Peru, and grew up in Brooklyn, where she still lives. Her novels include the New York Times bestseller, KILL THE BOY BAND, NO GOOD DEED (Scholastic), and THE MARY SHELLEY CLUB (Henry Holt). Her books have appeared on numerous Best-Books lists and have been translated to other languages. Her love of 80s movies, 90s boy bands, and horror flicks hugely influences her work. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram @goldywrites.

She is represented by Jenny Bent at the Bent Agency.

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All The Broken Girls by Linda Hurtado Bond

All the Broken GirlsAll the Broken Girls by Linda Hurtado Bond
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Murder and the ever-present threat of the evil eye create an atmospheric story of danger and dread.

Even with 11 Emmys to her credit, when a tip from a confidential informant leads to a lawsuit against the television station where she works, crime reporter Marisol ‘Mari’ Alvarez is put on probation, quickly becoming persona non grata. Her disgrace hits bottom when she returns to work, and the boss publicly pulls her from the crime beat, assigning her to cover fluff pieces and filler. But old habits die hard and on her way to her first feature assignment, a new baby sloth at Busch Gardens, Mari sidetracks to the scene of an unfolding murder investigation only blocks from her own home. If she gets on location before the police button down the crime scene, people are more willing to talk about what they know.

When she and her photographer, Orlando, arrive, they discover a woman had been gunned down at point blank range as she answered the door. Whoever committed the murder had placed a gold coin with a crown on it on one of the dead woman’s eyes, a possible sign that this was the work of the local gang, the West Tampa Kings. But for Mari, the murder becomes much more personal. The circumstances are eerily similar to those surrounding her own mother’s murder ten years earlier. Fearing the two crimes could be related, Mari worries that her mother’s unidentified killer has returned to their peaceful neighborhood.

All The Broken Girls was a fantastic thriller of a mystery! Mari, the disgraced reporter, had my complete and immediate sympathy. I admired how she kept her head up when all her coworkers were eyeing her, and her boss blamed her for the lawsuit when she knew she had the goods all along. I loved her relationship with her abuela and was fascinated by the inclusion of her practice of Santeria traditions, rituals, and belief system. I liked that Mari was clever and figured out the clues quicker than her police contacts. I felt her heartbreak as she identified with the two Rodriguez sisters and later discovered the betrayal of family members. I enjoyed the sprinkling of Spanish in her thoughts and dialogue throughout the story.

I also liked the police detective, Antonio ‘Tony’ Garcia, and the tension and eventual chemistry between the two main characters were fabulous. His family was delightful, especially his mother. I loved how she was so in charge of the family and her son. I liked how they and Mari’s family were such an integral part of their neighborhood.

The setting in West Tampa was unique, and I enjoyed the geographical mentions and the tantalizing inclusion of the market and other real places. The descriptions of the Cuban-American community were both colorful and comfortable. The subtle references to traditional foods and dishes teased me to find the nearest Cuban-influenced restaurant “quick, fast, and in a hurry.”

The action is constant, and I had trouble finding a good stopping point to put the book down. Consequently, I couldn’t leave the story alone for long; it was that absorbing and exciting. There was a sense of urgency to see what happened next. There was that feeling that whoever was behind the murders was watching the heroine, and something terrible would happen. With a creepy stalker dude hanging around somewhere just out of sight, mysterious and puzzling notes cropping up, and the ever-present threat of the evil eye, the story had a continuous atmosphere of danger and dread.

I recommend ALL THE BROKEN GIRLS to readers of mystery and thrillers who like strong female protagonists and those who would enjoy the Cuban-American flavor of its West Tampa setting.

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Immoral Origins (The Desire Card, #1) by Lee Matthew Goldberg

Immoral Origins (The Desire Card, #1)Immoral Origins by Lee Matthew Goldberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The author’s immersive writing drew me in from the start, and I flew through the story.

It’s 1978, and Jake Barnum, a young man in his 20s, already has a rap sheet of small-time, petty crimes. Out of a short stint in jail, he’s living with his parents and disabled brother in his childhood home in Hell’s Kitchen with no prospects to improve his situation. The younger brother, Emile, needs costly medical attention and future surgery to survive, so the entire family is living on the razor’s edge, trying to keep it together and makes ends meet. His father works two full-time jobs, his mother picks up occasional work as a legal secretary when she can get someone to watch Emile, who requires constant care, and Jake feels the guilt of failing his parents and not helping out enough. Jake hooks up with a petty criminal in town, stealing and reselling coats through his childhood friend, Maggs. However, it doesn’t net him much, and his father and mother are reluctant to accept what they know is dirty money.

But at the Halloween party dressed as Robin Hood, Jake catches the eye of a mysterious and intriguing woman dressed as Marilyn Monroe. They get to talking, and Jake is taken with her, even though she refuses to remove her “Marilyn” mask or give him her real name. She explains to him that she helps fulfill wishes for a living and wants to introduce Jake to her boss, thinking Jake would be a good asset for their company, The Desire Card. The company motto is “Any wish fulfilled for the right price.”

Impressed by the boss and the company concept, Jake accepts the job offer and is immediately sent on his first assignment: a simple delivery of a small box to a woman at an exclusive address in the city. An extremely generous fee payment follows, and Jake is hooked. But as the assignments edge closer to the illegal and immoral and jobs start hitting close to home, Jake is caught between wanting to maintain his new lifestyle and cash flow and getting away from The Desire Card before the company decides he’s a liability.

Immoral Origins is the first book in a thrilling new series, The Desire Card, by Lee Matthew Goldberg. With its very different sort of hero and plot that includes him successfully performing dirty deeds, I was hooked. I was glued to the story every step of the way, not wanting to put it down until the very last page.

The characters surprised me. I don’t believe there was a genuinely likable one in the bunch. Jake is pretty much a loser. Marilyn is a damaged young woman, and Gable, the boss, a power-mad sociopath (as are all of The Desire Card’s employees.) Thugs, hoods, and mobsters populate the story, showing their very worst sides. But through it all, I was compelled to root for Jake to overcome the odds and come out on top. I had much the same experience when reading The Godfather, heinous people doing horrible things that you still are compelled to get behind.

The Desire Card operation was fascinating. Everyone works incognito, wearing masks when doing a job, visiting the office, and even attending the annual office holiday parties. Their rich and famous clientele also wear masks at the client events hosted by the company, and everyone goes by the name of the person the mask depicts: Marilyn Monroe, Bette Davis, or Errol Flynn, to name a few.

The late 70s setting encompassed iconic people and places and the headlines and music of the time. It was so well done; I was immersed in that time and that place. Goldberg’s writing drew me in from the start, and I flew through the story, feeling Jake’s confusion, hopelessness, and fear as he tried to make sense of it all. The story was fascinating, with a heavy dose of bizarreness that had me turning those pages for more.

With its well-defined setting, laden with recognizable persons, places, and events, extraordinary characters, and fascinating plot, I recommend IMMORAL ORIGINS to readers of thrillers and mysteries, especially those who like stories set in New York or organized crimes and like a touch of the bizarre.

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: Ravenfall by Kalyn Josephson

Ravenfall

by

Kalyn Josephson

Middle-Grade Dark Fantasy

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Pages: 256 pages

Publishing Date: August 30, 2022

One magical inn, two kids with supernatural powers, and an ancient Celtic creature trying to destroy their world by Halloween night…

Halloweentown meets Supernatural in this spooky middle-grade series from the acclaimed author of the Storm Crow duology!

Thirteen-year-old Annabella Ballinkay has never been normal, even by her psychic family’s standards. Every generation uses their abilities to help run the Ravenfall Inn, a sprawling, magical B&B at the crossroads of the human world and the Otherworld. But it’s hard to contribute when your only power is foreseeing death.

So when fourteen-year-old Colin Pierce arrives at Ravenfall searching for his missing older brother and the supernatural creature who killed their parents, Anna jumps at the chance to help. But the mysteries tied to Colin go much deeper than either of them expects. . . .

As the two team up to find answers, they unearth Colin’s family’s secret past and discover that Colin has powers beyond his imagination. And now the supernatural creature, one with eerie origins in Celtic mythology, is coming after him. If Anna and Colin can’t stop the creature by Halloween night, the veil to the Otherworld could be ripped open—which would spell destruction for their world as they know it.

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5 stars!

Ravenfall by author Kaylin Josephson is an entertaining and exciting middle-grade novel full of unique supernatural creatures, magic, and mystery. It is also a coming-of-age story, though under extraordinary circumstances, told from the dual viewpoints of Anna and Colin. The cast of characters is broad, and young readers will find a diverse range of strong, good, and capable personalities. I enjoyed the wide array of magical abilities presented in the story and liked Anna’s remark about living with a sister whose special power was hearing other people’s thoughts. One that would surely come to mind for all of us if that ability was real.

“It’s hard not to think about something you don’t want Kara to hear, because by thinking about not thinking about it, you always end up thinking about it.”

I liked that both the lead characters, Anna and Colin, experienced similar feelings about their place in their families and the world. These are feelings that almost all of us can recall experiencing at one time or another growing up: not fitting in, not feeling valued, not belonging, or feeling like no one is listening or taking us seriously. Both are lonely kids, though in vastly different situations, revealing these feelings can occur under a variety of circumstances.

Both Anna’s and Colin’s families are loving ones with a lot going on at the moment, and in their different ways, they are just trying to keep their children safe. But both Anna and Colin are kept in the dark about certain family matters, with their parents not recognizing they are growing up faster than they thought.

The story is set in the charmingly described town of Wick. Surrounded by old woods with colorful cottages, shops, and a Faerie Garden, the magical and non-magical live side by side with one group none the wiser. I enjoyed the interesting and unique beings, some of which I’d never heard of before, mentioned throughout the book, such as cù-sìth, dybbukim, or merrow. The author borrowed from a wide range of cultures. Max the “cat” is mischievous, fun, and definitely, my favorite.

With its exciting and suspenseful plot, interesting characters, and dual viewpoints, RAVENFALL grabbed me from the beginning and kept me engaged and entertained until the very last page. I was delighted to read that there is a sequel in the works. I recommend this book to middle-grade readers who like a story with magic, magical creatures, and determined and capable young protagonists.

Kalyn Josephson currently works as a Technical Writer in the tech industry, which leaves room for too many bad puns about technically being a writer. Though she grew up in San Luis Obispo, California, she graduated from Santa Clara University with degrees in Biology and English (Creative Writing). Currently, she lives in the Bay Area with two black cats (who are more like a tiny dragon and an ever tinier owl). THE STORM CROW duology is out now.

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The Emperor’s Servant (Lucius Sestius Mysteries, #2) by Fiona Forsyth

The Emperor's Servant (Lucius Sestius Mysteries #2)The Emperor’s Servant by Fiona Forsyth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There is nothing like the secrets, subterfuge, and backroom machinations of Forsyth’s ancient Rome.

It has been 20 years since the Battle of Philippi when Octavian and Mark Antony defeated the Republic to claim leadership of the Roman Empire. The defeated noblemen were exiled, and among them was young Lucius Sestius Quirinalis. Years later, Augustus granted him and others pardons, and Lucius returned to his country home in Cosa to farm, tend his vineyard, and rebuild his family’s livelihood. The family had been stripped of much of their land and wealth as a consequence of choosing the wrong side in the Civil War. Dedicated to the Republican ideal, Lucius stayed away from Rome, out of politics, steadfast in tending to his family.

Time, though, was not kind to the winner. Octavian, now Emperor Augustus Caesar, was ill. Concerns for the continuation of the Empire in the event of his sudden death have been under much discussion. Trying to lessen his day-to-day burden, he sends his representative, Gaius Maecenas, to Lucius to have him return to Rome to take on the role of consul, just until the end of the year.

Although not enamored of the idea, the positive impacts that having served as consul would have on his children’s futures tip the scale in favor of accepting, and he does so with trepidation. But, in truth, what choice does he have?

Of course, immediately after starting this book, I began to wish I was more familiar with the history of Rome. Well-known historical figures feature prominently, and I know I missed getting some of the implications of certain conversations that I wouldn’t have had a more intimate understanding of that time and place. However, this didn’t detract from my pure enjoyment and satisfaction with the story. There is nothing like the secrets, subterfuge, and backroom machinations of Forsyth’s ancient Rome. The Emperor’s Servant vividly conveys all the complexities and totality of the scope and reach of these definitive puppet masters.

The book’s main character is Lucius Sestius Quirinalis, and he has been a favorite of mine since his introduction in Rome’s End. He seems like a regular guy, trying to do the right thing. He is always polite and conscientious of his family, retainers, and the people of Rome. I was sad that he had come to depend on wine to cope with his life, though he’s been through plenty to need a drink. He is relatable, too. The scene of him weeping in relief after his election as consul made him seem even more real. A number of years have passed since the conclusion of book one, and at first, I thought Lucius was no longer the innocent he was then. However, even after all he’s been through, he still has a natural innocence, which causes him to be surprised by what others around him do.

The looming disaster, the insidious intrigue lurks, and you know that disaster is only a page away at any moment. I was so engrossed in the story that I felt myself holding my breath at times, the muscles in my shoulders tightening as the story’s tension built. When the shoe finally dropped, I was stunned. I had become emotionally engaged with this man and his family and wondered how anyone could come back from that. But people do. All the time. The story concludes on a hopeful note, and I hope there are further adventures for Lucius in the future.

I want to note that the author’s writing flowed so smoothly that I was immediately drawn in and immersed in Lucius’s life. Small, everyday details enhanced that you-are-there feeling. Forsyth is incredibly skillful at weaving in little tidbits of information and history that had me itching to read about further. For example, Lucius remarks about the Greek physicians who never ceased attending Rome’s citizens during a terrible pestilence that their devotion to their work all came down “to an oath that they have sworn” – the Hippocratic Oath.

I recommend THE EMPEROR’S SERVANT to readers who enjoy historical fiction, especially those that like political intrigue and suspense-laden stories.

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

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Jove Brand is Near Death (Ken Allen Super Sleuth, #1) by J.A. Crawford

Jove Brand Is Near DeathJove Brand Is Near Death by A. Crawford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Pure entertainment from start to finish!

Ken Allen is a former competitive martial artist with one IMDB credit to his name. Eighteen years earlier, he had portrayed the fictional super spy, Jove Brand, of the wildly successful film franchise of the same name in one awful movie that was only released overseas. When the movie was eventually leaked to the US market, Near Death and its star attained a cult following. Now, Ken ekes out a living as “Sensei to the Stars,” providing personal training to an exclusive list of BIG NAMES in town, working the fandom convention circuit, and doing the occasional cameo as Jove Brand on television.

His most recent TV appearance on Good Morning, Burbank, was going better than usual. The popular actor, Sir Collin Prestor, the current Jove Brand and star of the last six blockbusters in the series, was retiring. He was hosting the popular morning show to “officially” turn over the reins to Jove Brand to the new young actor chosen to continue the role. However, the understated Prestor wasn’t wowing the audience. Enter Ken Allen with his display of martial arts kicks and jumps and his comedic portrayal of the character, and the audience responds enthusiastically, saving the bit. But only a short while later, one of the evening’s co-stars is found dead, murdered in the same over-the-top manner that Ken’s nemesis in Near Death met his end; Ken becomes the police’s number one suspect.

Jove Brand is Near Death is fun and quirky, and immensely entertaining. I was hooked from the start. Parodying such successful movie franchises as James Bond, Marvel, and DC Comics, I laughed out loud in delight at the fun parallels (and remembering my own experiences going to the cons; the descriptions are spot on!) The throwbacks to the past are fabulous, but there are also up-to-the-minute cultural references, making the whole story fresh and funny. Ken’s devotion to his diet and the frequent inclusion of trendy food choices had me smiling. The writing is easy to read, and the dialogue sparkles as Ken investigates the murder.

Ken is a genuinely nice guy, and he’s got a solid circle of friends who have his back. I particularly enjoyed Yuen Hung, his former Near Death co-star and convention partner. I hope he returns in future books. The effects master, Ray Ford, provides awesome working props that he engineers to Ken’s needs. I loved his whole persona and vibe.

The plot is a solid mystery with constant action as Ken follows his instincts and chases down possible leads. The story is more complex than I expected and kept me guessing.

Tim Campbell narrates the audiobook edition, and I thought he was perfect as Ken Allen. He has a wonderful voice and delivery and uses it to get perfect results. He is my Ken Allen now. I will also be looking for more audiobooks that he’s voiced.

I recommend JOVE BRAND IS NEAR DEATH to mystery readers, especially those with a fun interest in spy movie thrillers and comic book-themed film series. However, no knowledge of either would keep a reader from enjoying this delightful book.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

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The Potrero Complex by Amy L. Berstein

Mystery / Thriller
Published by: Regal House Publishing
Publication Date: August 2nd 2022
Number of Pages: 270
ISBN: 1646032500 (ISBN13: 9781646032501)

SYNOPSIS:

The year is 2030, a couple of years after “The Big One,” a major viral pandemic that had practically gutted the United States. Journalist Polly “Rags” Goldner and her lover, Flint Sten, a genius computer systems developer, have decided to leave the city, exhausted after five years of pandemic life and the resulting governmental oversight of rules meant to keep the “Luckies” safe. With no new cases of the virus or a variant reported for quite a while, the rules have relaxed; however, the city is no longer safe, as too many survivors are desperate for the basic necessities and aren’t particular about how they obtain them.

Rags had been at the frontline of reporting on the pandemic: its causes, progress, and fallout. Her newspaper and other news outlets had lapped up everything she and her colleagues had produced. She’d seen and written about things she would never forget and was on the verge of burnout, needing to get away from the epicenter to the, hopefully, calmer outskirts. The answer came as a job offer to be the editor of the Canary Courant in small-town Maryland. With private clients and his personal mission to improve machine learning, Flint was portable; he could work from anywhere.

But Canary wasn’t quite the sleepy little burg they’d anticipated. The moment they hit town, they were hit with the news that a local cheerleader, Effie Rutter, was missing and had been missing for months. The girl was gone without a trace, with zero clues for the town’s peacekeeper to go on. However, the newspaper had continued to print a repeat of what little information there was in each paper since Effie had disappeared and only dissembled about the fact that no progress had been made.

Rags’ efforts to divert coverage to new problems were met with resistance, and Merry, the paper’s only full-time employee, was unfriendly, unhelpful, and outright antagonistic toward the new boss. However, before Rags could get a firm grip on the paper and the town, another teenager is reported missing under similar circumstances as the first.


REVIEW:

With its compelling plot, vivid setting, and likable characters, this story would make a great film.

The Potrero Complex was a puzzling and compelling mystery set only a few years into the future after a viral pandemic had decimated the country’s population, economy, and way of life. The randomness and the magnitude of the virus, for which no vaccine or cure was ever found, combined with real-life current events, made for a very dark, frightening, and realistic plot and setting.

I liked and was readily engaged by the main characters, Rags and Flint. They came to town relieved for a fresh start, and as events unfold, both they and their relationship undergo some very realistic changes. Each takes different and exciting paths to deal with what’s happening in Canary.

The truth behind the mystery of the missing teenagers is revealed from Effie Rutter’s point of view, and there was a twist I never anticipated. However, questions remained unanswered at the story’s end and may set up a series featuring Rags, Flint, and the aftermath of the events in Canary. I would most assuredly stand in line for more.

With its compelling plot, vivid setting, and likable characters, I could easily visualize this story, and I think it would make a great film. I recommend THE POTRERO COMPLEX for speculative fiction, dystopian, and mystery readers.

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, Dystopian/Post-apocalyptic, Mystery, Thriller