Coffee With Larry and An Unexpected Treasure

It’s a dark, dreary Monday here, so I’m hoping we get some desperately needed rain out of it. I normally write this post on Sunday, but we spent the day at a friend’s pool, and after we got home and showered it was time for Animal Kingdom. I’m writing it this morning, so it may feel a little rushed.

Last week I mentioned I was meeting up with my indie author friend Larry whose new release debuted at number fifteen on the Barnes & Noble bestseller chart. He promised to reveal his secrets for the price of a cup of coffee – which turned out to be hot chocolate since neither of us drink coffee. Larry was unaware his book made the list until a friend texted him that morning congratulating him. What makes this feat even more miraculous is that Larry isn’t on social media. At. All. But he did have a marketing plan that seems to have worked in this case. It started with sending out an email blast to everyone on his list alerting them about the new book release date. Being a Christian romance, he contacted a several bloggers who review that genre and sent them free copies. All of his family and friends knew about the release. It wasn’t available for preorder, so the best he can figure is that all the purchases happened within a short window of time. He is, however, having trouble with Amazon carrying the paperback version. He and his publisher have no idea what the problem is, and so far Amazon hasn’t offered any answers. If you’d like to check out the ebook, click HERE.

While cleaning out some things last week, I came across an unexpected treasure. An old camcorder still had a tape in it. I’d already had several converted years ago, but knew one was still missing. I have no idea how it got past me. I played back part of it and it’s of Son #2 playing soccer, him dressed as a zebra in a school performance, and a Christmas from over ten years ago. There’s more, so I’ll be anxious to see everything that’s on it once it’s converted to DVD. So glad I didn’t get rid of that camcorder before checking it!

Have a great week!

The Promise of Lost Things by Helene Dunbar #bookreview #YA #supernatural #paranormal

Three characters with their own agendas converge in a town filled with mediums, where most residents make their living speaking to the dead…and there’s no such thing as resting in peace.

Russ Griffin has always wanted to be a fantastic medium. Growing up in the town of St. Hilaire, where most residents make their living by speaking to the dead, means there’s a lot of competition, and he’s always held his own. But Russ knows the town he loves is corrupt, and he’s determined to save it before the sinister ruling body, The Guild, ruins all he’s ever wanted.

Willow Rodgers is St. Hilaire royalty. An orphan, raised by The Guild, she’s powerful and mysterious. But she has secrets that might change everyone’s fate. She’s done with St. Hilaire, done with helping desperate customers who think mediums work for them. She wants to end the cycle for good and rid the town of ghosts, even if that means destroying the only home she’s ever known.

Asher Mullen lost his sister, and his parents can’t get over her death. They sought answers in St. Hilaire and were left brokenhearted. Now they want to expose St. Hilaire as a fraud. Asher is tasked with infiltrating the town, and he does that by getting to know Russ. The only problem is, he might be falling for him, which will make betraying Russ that much harder.

Russ, Willow, and Asher all have their own agendas for St. Hilaire, but one thing’s for certain, no one will be resting in peace.

This book has the same setting and many of the same characters as Prelude for Lost Souls, but is more of a companion novel and can easily be read as a standalone. Still, I’d recommend reading Prelude first.

Russ was my favorite character in Prelude for Lost Souls, so I was thrilled to see him return. He’s feeling the stress in this story – trying to covertly take down The Guild, missing best friend Dec, dealing with his boyfriend/ghost Ian, and carrying the responsibilities of youth counsel leader. Abandoned by his mother a few years ago, Russ and his father are also struggling to make ends meet. Although he may not make the best choices sometimes, Russ’s intentions are pure, and he and Ian only want to save St. Hilaire from the corrupt Guild. When alive, Ian was a powerful medium who enjoyed being the center of attention and maybe flaunted his power occasionally. The Guild is still intent on using him to their advantage, and Russ is now the only person who can summon him.

Asher’s situation broke my heart, and I wanted to reach through the pages and just hug him. After losing his sister in a tragic accident, he’s still grieving and is all but ignored by his parents. With the family moving so often because of his parents’ jobs, he has no friends and is excited at the thought of making one after he meets Russ. Asher’s parents are the hosts of a Ghost Hunters-type show and intent on proving the town of mediums are frauds. Willow is an ambitious girl who has plans for her future and St. Hilaire, and her motives are always suspect.

POVs alternate between Russ, Asher, and Willow, and Ian also has his say in one very revealing chapter. Conflicting agendas, misunderstandings, and story lines converge at an unexpected and somewhat bittersweet ending, but it’s perfect and hopeful. If you’re a supernatural/paranormal fan, I’d recommend both books.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through Edelweiss.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

The Finalists by David Bell #bookreview #thriller #suspense

On a beautiful spring day, six college students with nothing in common besides a desperate inability to pay for school gather to compete for the prestigious Hyde Fellowship.

Milo–The front-runner.
Natalia–The brain.
James–The rule follower.
Sydney–The athlete.
Duffy–The cowboy.
Emily–The social justice warrior.


The six of them must surrender their devices when they enter Hyde House, an aging Victorian structure that sits in a secluded part of campus.

Once inside, the doors lock behind them. The students are not allowed to leave until they spend eight hours with a college administrator who will do almost anything to keep the school afloat and Nicholas Hyde, the privileged and notoriously irresponsible heir to the Hyde family fortune. If the students leave before time is up, they’ll be immediately disqualified.

But when one of the six finalists drops dead, the other students fear they’re being picked off one by one. With a violent protest raging outside and no way to escape, the survivors viciously turn on each other.

The Finalists is a chilling and profound look at the lengths both students and colleges will go to survive in a resource-starved academic world.

Locked room mysteries always grab my attention, and I’ve come across a few of them recently. I’m not a stranger to David Bell novels, so I was anxious to see what he did with this scenario.

A college administrator whose job (and possibly the future of the school) depends on bringing in a large donation, six students desperate to find a way to pay for their education, and a privileged heir who funds the highly desired fellowship and shows up half drunk on the morning of the event. That’s a lot of potential for conflict – and I didn’t even mention the group of protestors greeting the participants upon arrival. Once the phones are surrendered and the doors are locked from the outside, it’s not long before the first body drops. This seems like a highly unlikely situation that requires a gigantic suspension of disbelief, and I’m sure you’re asking some of the same questions I did – Why can’t they break a window? Why wouldn’t someone have an emergency phone? Why couldn’t they bust down a door or find another exit? Undoubtedly, most readers will also wonder how the participants can cover the bodies and continue with the competition. The author provides answers to all these questions, and the house becomes a nearly impenetrable escape room.

The coveted fellowship provides tuition, books, room and board, and a job after graduation – definitely a prize worth winning. All of these students have strong motives for killing off the competition, and I changed my mind about the identity of the culprit in nearly every chapter. And I still had it wrong until close to the end. It doesn’t take long before the students turn on each other, and there’s a lot of squabbling, suspicion, and shifting loyalties among them.

Issues of privilege, the difficulties of financing education, and the struggles schools undergo to obtain donations are all mentioned in the novel, and it’s a sad reality. With fairly short chapters, this is a quick read and one that will keep mystery and suspense fans guessing.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

This Vicious Grace (The Last Finestra #1) by Emily Thiede #bookreview #YA #fantasy #TuesdayBookBlog

Three weddings. Three funerals. Alessa’s gift from the gods is supposed to magnify a partner’s magic, not kill every suitor she touches.

Now, with only weeks left until a hungry swarm of demons devours everything on her island home, Alessa is running out of time to find a partner and stop the invasion. When a powerful priest convinces the faithful that killing Alessa is the island’s only hope, her own soldiers try to assassinate her.

Desperate to survive, Alessa hires Dante, a cynical outcast marked as a killer, to become her personal bodyguard. But as rebellion explodes outside the gates, Dante’s dark secrets may be the biggest betrayal. He holds the key to her survival and her heart, but is he the one person who can help her master her gift or destroy her once and for all?

From the description, I knew I’d enjoy this book – I just wasn’t prepared for how much.

Poor Alessa. With the Divorando (a hungry swarm of demons bent on killing the citizens and destroying the island) countdown looming and everyone depending on her, she feels like a failure. Her power is so immense that it’s killed three partners, and few volunteers are in line to take their place. Much of the population have lost confidence in her, and several attempts have been made on her life – even from her own soldiers. She takes it upon herself to hire a bodyguard, someone who’s loyal only to her. Smart girl.

I loved Alessa and Dante, and their banter is one of my favorite things in this novel. She’s unsure of herself, desperately misses her family, and can’t trust anyone around her. He comes with a shrouded past and considers himself a bad person (he’s so not), and will defend Alessa to the death. He also stole my heart with his love of books. The supporting characters are nothing to sneeze at and add so much to the story – especially Kaleb and Kamaria. They start out bound by duty, but fear for their lives at the thought of being chosen as Alessa’s Fonte. By the end they become an exceptional, supportive found family.

This is an action-packed, compelling read, but the last 10% left me absolutely breathless. I couldn’t look away if I wanted. Seriously, there better not be a long wait for the next book. Life or death stakes, plenty of humor, slow burn romance, incredible action scenes, and clever banter make this an outstanding debut. Highly recommend to fantasy fans!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

#AmWatching and Coffee

Last Monday I mentioned hubby would be out of town all week, and I had a list of shows I wanted to watch while he was gone. Some I checked off the list, others I didn’t. The newest version of Father of the Bride with Andy Garcia missed the mark for me. I’m always a Garcia fan, but I still prefer the Steve Martin version. This new one just wasn’t as light-hearted as I’d hoped. The Bad Guys, an animated movie on Peacock, had some amusing moments and a pretty good heist story. I’d probably go three stars on it. I still have a couple episodes left with Castlevania, so that’s on the list for this week. I didn’t get to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, but I have a good reason.

Just to remind you, Son #2 moved back from TX and is staying with us until his lease starts in August. Monday night he tested positive for Covid. His symptoms were pretty minor – low grade temp, headache, low energy – so he was stuck in the house all week. I’d planned to watch Doctor Strange on Wednesday night, but he was in the mood for a horror movie (I totally raised him right), and while discussing our options I discovered he’d never seen The Haunting of Hill House series on Netflix. A travesty and one that needed to be immediately corrected! He was instantly hooked, and I watched it with him (my third time, but I still noticed things I’d missed before). Now he wants to continue with The Haunting of Bly Manor and Midnight Mass, so you know I’ll be viewing those again.

Son #2 is a foodie and discovered a gem of a show on Hulu – The Bear. It features Jeremy Allen White, who Shameless fans know as Lip Gallagher. If you’ve ever worked in the restaurant business or you’re just a fan of this actor, I promise you’ll enjoy it. It’s already been renewed for a second season, and Hubby and I watched all eight episodes over two evenings. Here’s a description: A young chef from the fine dining world comes home to Chicago to run his family sandwich shop after a heartbreaking death in his family. A world away from what he’s used to, Carmy must balance the soul-crushing realities of small business ownership, his strong-willed and recalcitrant kitchen staff and his strained familial relationships, all while grappling with the impact of his brother’s suicide. As Carmy fights to transform both the shop and himself, he works alongside a rough-around-the-edges kitchen crew that ultimately reveals itself as his chosen family.

This week I’m meeting with a local author friend for coffee (Diet Coke for me, not a coffee fan). His book debuted at #15 (I might have the number wrong, but it was in the teens) on Barnes and Noble best seller list a few weeks ago. Way to go, Larry! He promised to share his strategy for the price of a cup of coffee – a pretty good bargain if you ask me. I’ll update you next week.

Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert #bookreview #YA #urbanfantasy #witches

THE SUBURBS, RIGHT NOW . . .

Seventeen-year-old Ivy’s summer break kicks off with an accident, a punishment, and a mystery: a stranger whose appearance in the middle of the road, in the middle of the night, heralds a string of increasingly unsettling events. As the days pass, Ivy grapples with eerie offerings, corroded memories, and a secret she’s always known—that there’s more to her mother than meets the eye.

THE CITY, BACK THEN . . .

Dana has always been perceptive. And the summer she turns sixteen, with the help of her best friend and an ambitious older girl, her gifts bloom into a heady fling with the supernatural, set in a city of magical possibilities and secret mystics. As the trio’s aspirations darken, they find themselves speeding toward a violent breaking point.

Years after it began, Ivy and Dana’s shared story will come down to a reckoning among a daughter, a mother, and the dark forces they never should’ve messed with. 

This story sounded deliciously dark, and the description of “a heady fling with the supernatural” made it irresistible.

The story is told in dual timeline POVs by Ivy in present day and her mother, Dana, about twenty years earlier. Weird things are happening in Ivy’s life. She and her boyfriend (soon to be ex) nearly run over a strange girl in the middle of the road. Then she finds a dead rabbit in her driveway the next day. Some of her memories don’t seem to align with those of other people around her. Even worse, it looks like her mother may be involved.

Already possessing magical talent, a teenage Dana and a couple friends begin experimenting with dark magic – which never comes without consequences. She never dreamed her actions would have an effect on her daughter years later.

At the heart of this dark story is a mother-daughter relationship and all the highs, lows, and complications that come with it. Do parents always know what’s best for their children? Maybe, maybe not. Will a parent’s actions taint the way their child sees them? It’s very possible.

I listened to the audiobook from NetGalley, and the different narrators did an admirable job. I always knew whose POV and time we were in. This is a slow-burn tale with a gradual reveal involving blood magic, and there are animal sacrifices (rabbits) that may disturb some readers. I even fast forwarded through a couple parts. Keeping that in mind, if you’re a fan of dark paranormal stories, this is one that would also appeal to adults.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

WWW Wednesday: What Am I Reading? #amreading

WWW Wednesday is a meme from Sam at Taking On A World Of Words

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

It’s a big batch of sci-fi this week, but they’re vastly different – the final book in a humorous superhero series, a genetic techno-thriller, and an exciting blend of history and sci-fi.

I’m currently reading Heat Wave, the third and final book in a series by one of my favorite authors, T.J. Klune. I can’t put into words how much I’ve enjoyed all three novels. These characters feel like friends and family now, and I’ll be sad to see them go.

Heat Wave is the explosive finale to the thrilling Extraordinaries trilogy by New York Times and USA Today bestselling author TJ Klune!

Nick, Seth, Gibby, and Jazz are back in action bringing justice, protection, and disaster energy to the people of Nova City.

An unexpected hero returns to Nova City and crash lands into Nick’s home, upturning his life, his family, and his understanding of what it means to be a hero in the explosive finale of the thrilling and hilarious Extraordinaries trilogy by New York Times bestselling author TJ Klune.

Over the weekend I finished Upgrade. Blake Crouch never fails to take my mind to unexpected places. This novel is captivating, exceptionally thought-provoking, and kind of scary.

“You are the next step in human evolution.”

At first, Logan Ramsay isn’t sure if anything’s different. He just feels a little . . . sharper. Better able to concentrate. Better at multitasking. Reading a bit faster, memorizing better, needing less sleep.
But before long, he can’t deny it: Something’s happening to his brain. To his body. He’s starting to see the world, and those around him—even those he loves most—in whole new ways.

The truth is, Logan’s genome has been hacked. And there’s a reason he’s been targeted for this upgrade. A reason that goes back decades to the darkest part of his past, and a horrific family legacy. Worse still, what’s happening to him is just the first step in a much larger plan, one that will inflict the same changes on humanity at large—at a terrifying cost.

Because of his new abilities, Logan’s the one person in the world capable of stopping what’s been set in motion. But to have a chance at winning this war, he’ll have to become something other than himself. Maybe even something other than human.

And even as he’s fighting, he can’t help wondering: what if humanity’s only hope for a future really does lie in engineering our own evolution?

Intimate in scale yet epic in scope, Upgrade is an intricately plotted, lightning-fast tale that charts one man’s thrilling transformation, even as it asks us to ponder the limits of our humanity—and our boundless potential. 

I’ve been so anxious to read Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and Mexican Gothic has been waiting on my Kindle for way too long. I love the time period of this novel, and a retelling of The Island of Doctor Moreau? Irresistible.

From the New York Times bestselling author of Mexican Gothic and Velvet Was the Night comes a dreamy reimagining of The Island of Doctor Moreau set against the backdrop of nineteenth-century Mexico.

Carlota Moreau: a young woman, growing up in a distant and luxuriant estate, safe from the conflict and strife of the Yucatán peninsula. The only daughter of either a genius, or a madman.

Montgomery Laughton: a melancholic overseer with a tragic past and a propensity for alcohol. An outcast who assists Dr. Moreau with his scientific experiments, which are financed by the Lizaldes, owners of magnificent haciendas and plentiful coffers.

The hybrids: the fruits of the Doctor’s labor, destined to blindly obey their creator and remain in the shadows. A motley group of part human, part animal monstrosities.

All of them living in a perfectly balanced and static world, which is jolted by the abrupt arrival of Eduardo Lizalde, the charming and careless son of Doctor Moreau’s patron, who will unwittingly begin a dangerous chain reaction.

For Moreau keeps secrets, Carlota has questions, and in the sweltering heat of the jungle, passions may ignite.

THE DAUGHTER OF DOCTOR MOREAU is both a dazzling historical novel and a daring science fiction journey.

The Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi #bookreview #fantasy #LGBTQ #TuesdayBookBlog

Red is the blood of the elite, of magic, of control.
Blue is the blood of the poor, of workers, of the resistance.
Clear is the blood of the slaves, of the crushed, of the invisible.

Sylah dreams of days growing up in the resistance, being told she would spark a revolution that would free the empire from the red-blooded ruling classes’ tyranny. That spark was extinguished the day she watched her family murdered before her eyes.

Anoor has been told she’s nothing, no one, a disappointment, by the only person who matters: her mother, the most powerful ruler in the empire. But when Sylah and Anoor meet, a fire burns between them that could consume the kingdom—and their hearts.

Hassa moves through the world unseen by upper classes, so she knows what it means to be invisible. But invisibility has its uses: It can hide the most dangerous of secrets, secrets that can reignite a revolution. And when she joins forces with Sylah and Anoor, together these grains of sand will become a storm.

As the empire begins a set of trials of combat and skill designed to find its new leaders, the stage is set for blood to flow, power to shift, and cities to burn.

There’s a reason this novel was named One of the Most Anticipated Books of 2022 by Book Riot. What an incredible debut!

Such exceptional, detailed world-building. This world is a caste system based on the color of your blood. At the top of the food chain are Embers with their red blood, Dusters are blue-blooded, and Ghostings (whose hands and tongue are removed due to centuries old transgressions by their ancestors) translucent blood. The empire is govered by four wardens of strength, truth, knowledge, and duty. The Aktibar (a several months long competition) is held every ten years to choose a disciple who will become the next warden in these categories. Only Embers may be wardens, of course, and everyone must bow to them.

The three main characters are vastly different from each other. After watching her family be murdered, Sylah is now a drug addict (joba seeds) and a thief who fights in the ring for money. She’s abrasive, selfish, and difficult to like. Anoor is the daughter of a warden who deserves an award for the worst mother of the century. She belittles Anoor at every turn, which has left her with little self-esteem. Hassa may be my favorite character. As a Ghosting, she’s unseen by upper classes – but the girl is full of surprises. Don’t underestimate her.

As much as I didn’t initially care for Sylah, she and Anoor have magnificent character arcs (especially Anoor), and they grew on me by the end of the book. It’s pretty clear from the description this story includes an enemies to lovers trope, and it’s a humorous one at times that gave me some laughs. There’s a lot going on – rebellion, political intrigue, betrayal, loads of secrets, discrimination, and brutality. Then there’s the Aktibar competition with some deadly, harrowing trials included. At over 600 pages, this isn’t a light read. Maybe some content could have been cut, but honestly, not much.

The Final Strife is categorized as YA, but is easily a crossover. It’s one of my favorite reads this year, and I’ll absolutely continue with this series. A must read for fantasy fans.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

The Ghost Frequency and #AmWatching

Last week I was watching an episode of Evil on Paramount+ and learned about the significance of 18.9 Hz frequency, also known as the ghost frequency. What???? you may be asking. Humans can generally hear in the range of 20 Hz to 20 kHz. If a sound falls outside that range, the infrasound range, it’s possible to still perceive it in other ways, sometimes in your chest, teeth, or skull. It can provoke feelings of fear or paranoia. In places rumored to be haunted where people report sensing something or someone in the room, it’s theorized these acoustic waves could be responsible. Some horror movies (Paranormal Activity is one) have even used infrasound to create those feelings in audience members. I found this fascinating, and you can bet it will be worked into the plot of future WIPs.

Hubby is out of town on business this week, so you know what that means – I refer to my list of movies and TV shows waiting in the wings. These are things he’s not interested in, and with him being so hard to please when it comes to his viewing, I’ve got a pretty extensive queue. On deck for this week is Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, The Bad Guys (animated movie on Peacock – the trailer looks hilarious), the new Father of the Bride with Andy Garcia (watching with a couple of friends), and finishing the last season of Castlevania on Netflix. I’m also excited about the new season of What We Do in the Shadows returning on Tuesday. I just love those crazy vampires.

Have a great week!

This Wicked Fate (This Poison Heart #2) by Kalynn Bayron #bookreview #YA #urbanfantasy

How much would you risk to save the ones you love? Would you tempt even the most dangerous fate?

Briseis has one chance to save her mother, but she’ll need to do the impossible: find the last fragment of the deadly Absyrtus Heart. If she is to locate the missing piece, she must turn to the blood relatives she’s never known, learn about their secret powers, and take her place in their ancient lineage. Briseis is not the only one who wants the Heart, and her enemies will stop at nothing to fulfill their own ruthless plans. The fates tell of a truly dangerous journey, one that could end in more heartache, more death. Bolstered by the sisterhood of ancient magic, can Briseis harness her power to save the people she loves most?

The cliffhanger at the end of This Poison Heart absolutely gutted me, so this sequel was high on my list of anticipated books this year. And Briseis’s moms stole nearly every scene in that book, so I couldn’t wait to see what happened with them.

Briseis and her friends are given one cycle of the moon – twenty-eight days – to save her mother, and the clock starts from page one. That length of time may sound like a lot, but they’re charged with finding the last piece of the Absyrtus Heart – something no one has been able to locate in centuries. Joining in the search is Briseis’s biological aunt, Circe, and seeing their relationship develop, as well as Circe’s relationship with Briseis’s adoptive moms, is one of my favorite parts of the novel. Whether romantic, platonic, or familial, all the relationships in this duology are heartwarming and written so well. As an added challenge, adversaries are racing against Briseis and friends to locate the heart fragment.

As with the first book, it’s clear the author did extensive research in botany, and she explains the benefits of plants and their medicinal uses. And also how certain types are poisonous and fatal. She incorporates vivid descriptions of them to set beautiful backgrounds for these characters. Plants are drawn to Briseis, and she still controls them, but newfound abilities also help in her quest. As a fan of Greek mythology, I’ve really enjoyed how it’s been woven into this duology. Parts of it were kind of a refresher course from middle school.

I get that arrangements had to be made, but with a limited amount of time to save Briseis’s mom, I expected the pacing to be a little faster. It could just be me – patience isn’t one of my strengths. Once things started moving though, it was a brisk pace until the end.

I thoroughly enjoyed this duology and highly recommend it to fans of urban fantasy blended with mythology and magic. I’ll be looking for future releases by this author.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.