Cozy Series Review

As I am still a book reviewer at heart, I thought I would share my thoughts on a series I have been reading. The Crime with Classics series by Katherine Bolger Hyde is only 4 books long (so far), but they are fast reads and entertaining. There is a little bit of escapism in them, especially for lovers of classic literature. With titles like <I>Arsenic with Austen</I> and <I>Death with Dostoevsky</I>, how can they not draw in mystery fans who love older books.

Emily Cavanaugh is a mid-fifties widow who has taken sabbatical from her professorship in Portland, Oregon, to settle her aunt’s estate. As the main beneficiary, Emily inherits a mansion (complete with amazing library) and a lot of money. She takes advantage of her position and moves, at least temporarily, to a small Oregon coast town to figure out what she wants to do with her life post-teaching, and after the death of her husband.

Unfortunately, this does not go over smoothly. She encounters several murders in and around her home. With the help of the police chief, her once and current love interest, she sets out to solve the crimes. Many of these crimes have a clue that reminds her of a book she has read. As a book-lover, I can relate to that. How many times in a week can I say, “Oh, that reminds me of that book I read”?

With money being no object, a fun cast of recurring characters and a charming protagonist, this is a cozy mystery series I hope the author manages to continue.

Beta Reading

Several weeks ago, before the world turned topsy turvy, I offered up my services as a beta reader to several authors. My timing could not have been worse! I did some research, put together some feedback worksheets and put myself out there for clients. Then, the world changed. My world was not spared this change, and I have found myself reading more about what is happening in the great wide “out there” and focusing less on these amazing manuscripts I have been given.

After a few scary weeks, filled with the unknown and people (family) around all the time, my new normal has begun. I am satisfied with my altered life and am excited about getting back to my beta reading; both finishing up my previously accepted manuscripts and taking on a few more.

What is beta reading? one may ask. In the simplest form, it is reading a manuscript before it is sent to agents or publishers (or self-published) to look for plot holes, character issues, glaring grammatical errors and the likes. The hope is to further polish a novel before it gets into the hands of readers and reviewers who will either love it or hate it.

I had a spate of poorly edited advanced reader copies at the end of last year into the beginning of this year, and thought that perhaps if there were a few more people offering beta reading services (for free or a nominal fee), then maybe more new authors would use them. So far, I have not been disappointed. I have gotten a number of requests and the several manuscripts I have read have been more polished than some of the published works I have encountered.

So, while I may not have picked the best time to start a new endeavor, the idea of starting something new when life has taken on a new normal is exciting. And now that my life for the foreseeable future is somewhat more predictable, I am thrilled to be embarking on this experience.

Pandemic Traveling

So, 2020 has been a crazy year! I was pleased to wake up this morning and realize May has arrived. The weather is getting warmer, the flowers are blooming and the birds are singing. Through much of March, and all of April, I did not physically travel any further than my neighborhood. My dog and I enjoy our daily walks, but in our current situation, we have not ventured as far as we did in the Fall. Thank goodness I am a reader. Through my books, I have (vicariously) been all over the world. I have read about places I have been, and places I have not been. I have read about times I remember, and times before I was born, and times not yet reached yet. I am grateful that I am a reader and have no need to feel limited or isolated during my lockdown experience.

Some books are character driven, some are plot driven, but occasionally, I will find a book where the setting becomes so alive, it transports me there. Whether it’s a fast-paced thriller, or a study of character, a book with a strong sense of place transforms the way I feel about my experience. One of the best examples I have read recently is <u>The Dry</u> by Jane Harper. Maybe traveling to the Australian desert in the middle of a drought would not top my vacation wish list, but this gripping mystery took me there and added atmosphere to the small-town mystery.

I have read a handful of other books that allowed me to experience upper Michigan, Siberia, the Old West and present day Cleveland, Ohio. Not every book with an interesting setting inspires the sense of place, but I enjoy the ones which do. I will be keeping my eyes open for more atmospheric titles as I move through my spring and summer reading. At the moment, I think I am about ready for a Caribbean trip, maybe that will help me choose a fresh book for my weekend reading.

Have you read any good books recently which evoke a strong sense of place?

Free Book Sites

I have been an avid reader most of my life. I enjoy immersing myself in stories that are bigger than myself. For a number of years, I liked reading about the past, stories about people who lived in a world without my modern conveniences as they tried to find their way through the world. Later, I found myself drawn to stories set in foreign places. Reading about different cultures and sceneries expanded my world view. Recently, I have found myself reading for so many different reasons, that I have happily acquainted myself with a variety of authors and stories. That being said, a book a day habit can get expensive. So, I have been exploring several sources for free (or ‘free-ish’) books. The ones I use most frequently are my local library, BookBub, NetGalley, Kindle Unlimited, and BookSirens.

I love using the library! In the past year, I have moved, so I have a new library system, but the basics remain the same: I walk into a library and I have thousands of titles and covers enticing me with the promise of a new adventure. I have not availed myself of additional services in the physical library, but I do enjoy seeing the variety of authors holding events and social opportunities offered. Many Sundays when I visit, I can hear live local music playing in an anteroom and it makes my husband and I smile. I like to go into the library with a list of books I want to locate, but often find myself wandering the stacks looking for anything that may catch my attention. When I am in need of a new book, I will often utilize my library’s online services. I have access to Overdrive, Libby, and Hoopla through my library system, and find I can access an appropriate title almost anytime.

Bookbub has offered me access to more free e-books and inexpensive bestsellers. I like the curated list of 10-12 titles that I can peruse everyday, add to my list, and then read when the mood strikes. I have not found the perfect way to maintain my list from this site and find a lot of duplicates, but I have increased my Kindle library in a big way!

NetGalley and BookSirens each offer free advanced reader copies of not-yet-published and soon-to-be-published books in exchange for an honest review. I have started using these services as a reader, but have not perfected my use of either of them. My favorite things about belonging to these two sites are reading books I may have to wait for at the library and being contacted about titles I may enjoy. Spending more time with these sites may increase my enjoyment.

Kindle Unlimited is not free, but it feels like a paid library to me. I read several books a month offered through KU, and feel I get my money’s worth. This is especially true if I am participating in certain reading challenges. KU offers a mixed bag of established authors and newbie authors, both highly polished and unedited. I will continue to use KU, but I find myself more and more using other resources.

How about you? What sites do you use to get free-ish books? Do you have a favorite ARC for review site? Are you lucky enough to have a used bookstore in your area that still accepts books for credit?

Engrossing Mystery

Let Justice Descend by Lisa Black

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From the publisher:<I> “Three days before a key election, U.S. Senator Diane Cragin is electrocuted on her own doorstep—a shocking twist in an already brutal political race. Cragin’s chief of staff is quick to blame rival Joey Green, a city development director who’s had his hand in every till in town for over twenty years.
Maggie and Jack have their own theories, especially after discovering a fortune in cash in the senator’s safe. But as they follow the money through the treacherous landscape of Cleveland politics, they find many more millions in play—and more suspects.
As Jack says, “Anyone can be dangerous, when they have what they think is a good reason.” He should know. Now a Herald reporter is perilously close to discovering the truth about Jack’s penchant for acting as both detective and executioner. With each passing hour, the stresses of the impending election expose new fractures and corruption at the city’s highest levels. And as one murder leads to another, and another, Maggie and Jack’s only hope of stopping a killer is an alliance that’s growing ever more fragile.”</I>

After reading several less-polished novels, I decided I wanted to read a book from a more experienced writer; this book fit the bill.

As the fifth book in a series, by an author who has multiple series, I was confident I was choosing a better edited book. I was, however, also a little worried about jumping in to a new series. Once I started reading though, I did not want to stop. With a less well known (or at least depicted in fiction) setting, a clever murder, and a cast of characters involved in local politics, this book was entertaining from start to finish.

I was hesitant to choose this title, it’s the fifth in an established series, but it hit several other boxes when I was seeking a new title. I was pleased to see I did not miss much by jumping in late to this series. I will look for the earlier books, as the events hinted at in the fictional past are intriguing.

I haven’t read many books set in Cleveland. One branch of my family spent 20 years in Akron, outside of Cleveland, so I did find it fun to revisit the area. It’s been a number of years since I was there, but I could get a glimpse at the city I remember visiting many years ago.

Much of what interested me about this book was the political intrigue. The players in the election and on-going projects shed an unflattering, but believable look at the interplay between government and business. The politics may have overshadowed the characterization of those involved, but I did not find myself confused about who was who, just, sometimes who was playing for which team.

As a mystery, I appreciated the number of plausible suspects and the myriad of motives. As a suspense novel, I did not feel a lot of tension until the end, but it was certainly there as well. As a romance novel (not my favorite), there were some romantic elements, but nothing overly distracting from the story.

I am looking forward to reading more of this series, especially working from the beginning to get to know Maggie and Jack.

This book should be available now.

I received an advanced review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily. Thank you to Book Sirens!

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Debut Thriller

The Mulholland Files

The Mulholland Files by Sandy Jones

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Synopsis: <I>”Edward is enjoying his semi-retirement, but when a mysterious photograph lands on his doormat, he knows it spells trouble. Pulled back into a world he thought he’d left behind for good, his new relationship with Abby is put to the test and both of their lives are in danger…

The mystery deepens and Edward’s choices are limited. Who are the people in the shadows and just who should he trust? Why did this woman contact him and what does she know?

As Edward’s comfortable life is blown apart by the revelations that unfold, he desperately searches for the truth and struggles to keep one step ahead of his pursuers. Will he recognise the danger confronting him before it’s too late?”</I>

Another fun story found on NetGalley.

I enjoyed my experience with Edward and Abby, I don’t feel like I have gotten to know either of them very well, but they entertained me for our few hours together. This was a fast-paced thriller. There was quite a bit of intrigue and I was never sure who (if anyone) I should trust.

Being unfamiliar with British Intelligence and the general geography in this book, I may not have gotten as much out of this read as another reader. However, I did find myself wrapped up in the intrigue as Edward and Abby moved through their region and investigated the super secret plans of some in the espionage world.

I would have liked to see the characters more fully explored. I felt I couldn’t keep all of Edward’s former colleagues straight and never trusted any of them. But for a debut novel, that may have been part of keeping the reader guessing.

There were some convenient coincidences to make Edward and Abby’s experiences more comfortable. Anyone have a couple of spare houses and cars just laying around? It is a different life than mine, but I found it a bit unlikely at times.

Still, this was an interesting adventure into a conspiracy that was tightly drawn. I would recommend this story to others and would happily get better acquainted with the main pair and their future exploits.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for my review copy. I leave this review voluntarily.

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Starting a new month, and a new year, and maybe a new decade, can offer an opportunity to set out new goals for anybody. I am not prone to New Year’s Resolutions; but I do like setting goals, and this feels like as good a time as any to set up some new reading goals for myself.

In 2019, I liked to read and share my reading of mystery stories. This was a little stifling and I did not share as much as I would like. So, I am going to not read and review only mysteries in 2020. I do like to read deeply within genres, comparing and contrasting styles techniques and especially changes over time. I expect to spend a month to six weeks on a few genres throughout the year. These will pop up, but not be continuous.

I also limited myself mostly to new and soon-to-be-released titles through much of 2019. I want to continue sharing new titles I find on NetGalley and BookSirens, but I am going to spend some more time with the classics and titles I have missed and post more of my thoughts about such titles.

One of the ways I choose books is by participating in reading challenges. These challenges set out a list of criteria, and encourage me to seek out titles I may or may not have had on my radar. I am looking forward to sharing more of my responses to various challenges I follow in 2020.

In general, I want my 2020 to be filled with interesting reads, and hope to share more of my thoughts and responses to the things I read! Once I have my lists organized, I will post some links to the challenges and my reading plans for you to peruse.

Good Bye 2019!

It’s the last day of the year, again! Unbelievable. The end of the year is a great time to look back at all we have for which we can be grateful and the joys we were offered. For me, I know it was a spectacular year. My husband and I bought a house in a new town which we love. We adopted a very special dog who has brought much happiness to our home. We have watched our nephew play football with a team he has always followed, our nieces have started kindergarten and third grade and we are getting ready to welcome a new niece early in 2020.

Through the year, I have been blessed to find good books, be recommended good books and to revisit good books. I have read some not so great books, but it’s the good ones that tend to stick with me. I am hoping 2020 will continue to be filled with enjoyable and thought-provoking reads.

My hope is that all who read this also have much for which they can be grateful and are looking forward to exciting new things in 2020! Happy New Year to all.

Days of Rock and Roll-Book Review

Days of Rock & RollDays of Rock & Roll by Kelly Holm
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book Synopsis: “Ariana is a very talented photographer who agrees to photograph her ex-boyfriend Zak’s band, Dark Horses, for Sound Trip magazine. Zak is thrilled and plans to use the occasion to win her back. However, when Ariana arrives, she catches Zak in a very compromising situation with Hollywood starlet Josie Winters, who wants Zak for herself.
Before Zak can explain to Ariana that what saw was a complete misunderstanding, Ariana mysteriously disappears in the middle of the night, and Zak is filled with guilt and wonder. When he realizes that she has been kidnapped, he’ll stop at nothing to find her. Will Zak find Ariana before it’s too late?
Days of Rock & Roll is a compelling tale of suspense, intrigue, and humor that will keep you reading until the last page.

This book started out interesting. We have two characters with fascinating lives: a travel photographer and a rock star. They have a lot of history and are now becoming reacquainted after almost a decade. The first half of the book almost worked. There were some annoying style choice (Ya instead of Yeah, and also using ya for you; tuff instead of tough, etc), but overall, I was rolling with the story and wondering how things may work out between these two.

And then, the book went a bit off the rails for me. Rick, the crazy ex-boyfriend, kidnaps both sisters (not at the same time) and suddenly the story becomes a very different experience.

I had some personal problems with the early sections, like, if your brother had a heroin problem, why are you comfortable casually snorting coke? Drug use may be a stereotypical rock star issue, but it was treated somewhat cavalierly throughout this story.

This was an OK book, not necessarily for me and I am not sure I will recommend this without reservation, but it was OK for an afternoon of reading.

Thank you to BookSirens for my review e-copy. This review is my own and has been left voluntarily.

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A New Thriller Series

The River Girls (Mercy Harbor Thriller, #1)The River Girls by Melinda Woodhall
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book Synopis: “When the body of a missing girl washes up on the banks of the Willow River, the killing is linked to two cold case murders, and the investigation must uncover the twisted motive of a serial killer before he kills again.

Still reeling after her sister’s brutal murder, grief-stricken Eden Winthrop has returned to Willow Bay, where she runs the Mercy Harbor Foundation, a safe haven for victims of violence.

When a teenage trafficking victim disappears from a shelter run by her foundation, Eden is drawn into the search for the sadistic killer. The hunt becomes personal when Eden’s niece is abducted just as the body of yet another victim is discovered in a local river.

In a desperate effort to save her niece, Eden must partner with the small-town police force that had failed to save her sister. And to catch the killer, she realizes she must trust the one man she vowed to never forgive and summon the strength to face her deepest fears.”

I appear to be an anomaly on this title. While I thought it was OK, I had more qualms with it than positives. Some of my problems could have been solved with a better editor. Others were more fundamental in the execution and character development throughout the story.

First, I am not an English teacher, but sometimes, I do feel like a grammar snob. Verb tenses should be consistent and need to match their subject. This was a topic I messed up a lot in high school, but mostly corrected in college. I still struggle with this from time to time in my own writing, but would hope for a published novel, an editor would help get it right.

While on the subject of an editor, they also may help make sure you don’t accidently change the name of your main character to the name of her late sister in the middle of the book. Granted, it may have only been in one or two places, but it still takes a reader out of the situation to correct the error.

As for the main character, Eden, she read like a victim. I am good with a flawed hero, but I have to be able to believe they are a hero with flaws. Eden was not a real person to me, her multiple parts didn’t create a truth. She has had some trauma in her life and struggles with panic disorder (as a result of this?), but somehow manages to run a foundation for battered women. When a man on the street gets angry and loud, she hyperventilates and needs a calmer man to help her collect herself. Not very believable to me.

Like many of the mysteries and thrillers I have read this year, this book touches on several ills plaguing society: drug abuse, prostitution, mental health, human trafficking, failures in the legal system, domestic abuse, and police corruption. These are all important issues which need to be addressed. While these issues are not entertaining, using novels to highlight the problems allows us a common language to discuss them. In this case, I would have liked to see the book better executed to give us that shared language.

I did appreciate Leo and his backstory. It may have been shared in an overly forced way, but I did think it was interesting and made his character stronger.

I am not sure where the author plans to take the series (if she does continue the Mercy Harbor Thrillers), but I would probably be willing to give the next book a try.

My thanks to BookSirens for my advanced digital copy, this review is entirely mine and is left voluntarily.

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