Amanda in Malta: The Sleeping Lady by Darlene Foster #bookreview #MG #mystery #TuesdayBookBlog

Amanda receives a postcard from her best friend, Leah, and is surprised to learn that she is in Malta with her aunt. Reading between the lines, she senses Leah is in trouble. Desperate to help her, Amanda travels to Malta with her classmate Caleb and his parents.

Amanda is intrigued by this exotic island in the middle of the Mediterranean, full of colourful history, sun-drenched limestone fortresses, stunning beaches and fascinating birds. But…who is killing the protected birds? Who stole a priceless artifact from the museum? And why is Leah acting so strange? She couldn’t possibly be involved in these illegal activities, or could she?

Join Amanda and her friends as they visit ancient temples, an exciting falconry and the enchanting Popeye Village, as they try to get to the bottom of the mystery of the Sleeping Lady.

I thoroughly enjoyed Amanda in Alberta when I read it last year not long after visiting Canada. When I saw Amanda’s newest adventure on NetGalley, I thought “Let’s go to Malta!”

The author’s descriptions are vivid and detailed making it easy for readers to visualize the local sights Amanda visits. I drooled over some of the food, especially the pastizzi (but definitely not the rabbit pizza). As an animal lover, I adored the Cat Cafe where locals leave food out for the homeless cats in the city. The Popeye Theme Park was a fun addition. I had no idea the Robin Williams movie was filmed in Malta. With historical details sprinkled throughout the story, I always come away from these books learning something new and feel as if I’ve visited the locations myself.

Amanda is one well-traveled young girl and often finds herself in the midst of troubling occurrences. Malta is no exception. With jellyfish stings, kidnappings, chases, and a trip to the hospital, she and her friends Caleb and Leah encounter both dangerous situations and people several times over the course of the story.

I’d highly recommend this delightful series to young readers and those young at heart who enjoy captivating adventures and mysteries that take them around the world. Who couldn’t use some armchair travel?

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

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir #bookreview #scifi #thriller #TuesdayBookBlog

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission–and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, he realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that’s been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it’s up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.

Part scientific mystery, part dazzling interstellar journey, Project Hail Mary is a tale of discovery, speculation, and survival to rival The Martian–while taking us to places it never dreamed of going. 

The Martian absolutely blew me away when it was released (I loved the movie, which can always be hit or miss with adaptations), so I immediately requested this book when I saw it on NetGalley.

This is a difficult review to write without revealing spoilers, but I’ll do what I can. The reader is just as clueless about what’s going on as Ryland is when he wakes after a long coma, and I liked that. You feel his frustration and surprise through flashbacks as his memory returns, and the story is revealed. And what an incredible story it is! So much tension, so many life-threatening situations – I literally couldn’t put the book down. I held it in one hand to read while stirring something on the stove with the other.

Some of the plot points are awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping, and thought-provoking. I experienced a gamut of emotions. Admittedly the math is so far out of my lane it’s incomprehensible, but the author explains it as much as possible. I wouldn’t say there are quite as many humorous moments as in The Martian, but it’s not without some comedic relief after some heavy situations.

At its core, Project Hail Mary is about sacrifices, friendship, acceptance, and self-realization. I enjoyed the hell out of this book and would highly recommend it to sci-fi fans. I’m really hoping for a movie out of this one – they’d better not screw it up.

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

Virtually Gone by Jacquie Biggar #bookreview #thriller #crimefiction

From USA Today Bestselling Author, Jacquie Biggar, comes a gripping techno-thriller, part of a multi-author series tied together by an interlocking cast of characters, all centered around the fantastic new promise of high technology and the endless possibilities for crime that technology offers, in a world where getting away with murder can be not only plausible, but easy…if you just know how.

Investigative reporter Julie Crenshaw stumbles upon the case of a lifetime–one that could cost her everything.

When Julie is called on to investigate a string of sexual abuse cases, she doesn’t expect to land in the crosshairs of a serial rapist. Soon she’s in a race to find the facts before a killer makes her the headline.

Detective Matthew Roy is frustrated with his inability to track a rapist terrorizing his city. Added to that, his partner’s reporter girlfriend is dogging his every step and won’t heed his warnings. Time is ticking with the perpetrator escalating his crime to murder. Matt needs to find the killer soon, or chance losing someone he cares for- the question is, how?

Virtually Gone is part of a multi-author series (this is number six of eight), but can easily be read as a standalone.

Although a quick read, the author provides just enough backstory to introduce the characters without bogging down the pace of the novel. I immediately cared about Julie, a widow who’s tentatively allowing herself to love again. There’s potential for conflict as she’s an ambitious journalist and her boyfriend is a detective – who’s also working the case she’s investigating. Detective Matthew Roy is frustrated a rapist is still running free, but not just from a professional standpoint. He also has a personal interest in the case.

The villain’s arrogance is maddening. He has a seriously skewed vision of himself as someone whose superior intelligence will prevent him from ever being caught. You just really want this guy to get what he deserves for all the despicable things he’s done. As a science geek, the DNA phenotyping used to help track him down fascinated me and was an element I especially enjoyed.

This is a tightly plotted, well-paced thriller that can easily be read in a couple hours and one I’d happily recommend to fans of the genre.

Academic Curveball (Braxton Campus Mysteries #1) by James J. Cudney #bookreview #cozymystery #TuesdayBookBlog

When Kellan Ayrwick returns home for his father’s retirement from Braxton College, he finds a dead body in Diamond Hall’s stairwell.

Unfortunately, Kellan has a connection to the victim, and so do several members of his family. Could one of them be guilty of murder? Soon after, the college’s athletic program receives mysterious donations, a nasty blog denounces his father and someone attempts to change students’ grades.

Someone is playing games on campus, but none of the facts add up. With the help of his eccentric and trouble-making nana, Kellan tries to stay out of the sheriff’s way. And if that wasn’t enough already, his own past comes spiraling back to change his life forever.

In the debut novel in the Braxton Campus Mysteries Series, you’ll discover a cozy, secluded Pennsylvania village full of quirky, sarcastic and nosy residents.

I have to be honest – I haven’t read many cozy mysteries, but a small town college setting, the adorable cover, and great reviews drew me to this book.

I immediately liked Kellan. He’s a fairly recent widower with an adorable young daughter who’s trying to do the single dad thing, while also keeping the peace with his in-laws. When he travels to his hometown for his father’s retirement party, it’s clear there’s also friction in his own family. The reader doesn’t have to wait long for the action to begin. A body is discovered at the party and what looks to be an accident is soon revealed to be a murder. In several mysteries I’ve read, it’s pretty obvious who the murderer is early in the story, but that’s not the case in this novel. Several characters have a motive (even some within Kellan’s family), and I was kept guessing until almost the end.

While investigating on his own (and finding himself in some interesting situations), Kellan reconnects with some old friends and a girlfriend. Learning his backstory gave me more insight to his character, and I liked him even more. He also ponders making some life changes in the best interests of his family. Speaking of his family, shout-out to Nana D, who gave me several laugh out loud moments. She’s a feisty, intelligent lady who speaks her mind – and also makes repeated attempts to fix up her grandson with questionable choices in women.

I’m so glad I picked up this cozy mystery – the author has a new fan of the series. I have to comment on that cliffhanger at the end – it was a doozy and completely out of left field. And I absolutely need to know what happens next!

Don’t Tell A Soul by Kirsten Miller #bookreview #YA #mystery

Stay up all night with this modern day Rebecca! Perfect for fans of Truly Devious—a haunting story about a new girl in an old town filled with dark secrets . . . that might just kill her.

People say the house is cursed.
It preys on the weakest, and young women are its favorite victims.
In Louth, they’re called the Dead Girls.

All Bram wanted was to disappear—from her old life, her family’s past, and from the scandal that continues to haunt her. The only place left to go is Louth, the tiny town on the Hudson River where her uncle, James, has been renovating an old mansion.

But James is haunted by his own ghosts. Months earlier, his beloved wife died in a fire that people say was set by her daughter. The tragedy left James a shell of the man Bram knew—and destroyed half the house he’d so lovingly restored.

The manor is creepy, and so are the locals. The people of Louth don’t want outsiders like Bram in their town, and with each passing day she’s discovering that the rumors they spread are just as disturbing as the secrets they hide. Most frightening of all are the legends they tell about the Dead Girls. Girls whose lives were cut short in the very house Bram now calls home.

The terrifying reality is that the Dead Girls may have never left the manor. And if Bram looks too hard into the town’s haunted past, she might not either.

I’d recently watched the remake of Rebecca on Netflix when I read this book description. Ghosts, an old manor, a string of dead girls – what about this description doesn’t grab you?

I loved the setting of this story – a small town full of layers upon layers of secrets, an old mansion with disturbing rumors surrounding it, locals who don’t trust the newcomers and vice versa. It takes place during winter in the northeast, so the snowstorms and occasional loss of power just add to the atmosphere. The story unfolds slowly, and I had several questions concerning Bram – Why was she sent away? Why was she immediately on guard around males? Why was she so obsessed with Lark? All were eventually answered, and I feel the gradual reveal adds to the mystery. Between the manor and the town, Bram meets several people, all who seem to be telling her who she should trust. Suffice it to say, it’s all conflicting advice.

With so many deaths connected to the manor, I formed several theories and actually figured out one of the biggest twists early on. It seemed pretty obvious to me, so the final reveal didn’t come as a big surprise. Being a fan of the supernatural, I was excited for the paranormal aspects of the story, but things didn’t develop exactly as I’d hoped. It may not have been the story I’d expected, but I appreciated the underlying positive themes of overcoming adversity and reclaiming control.

This is an atmospheric story, and Bram is a plucky, determined MC who’s dealing with more than anyone her age should have to. A couple other reviewers mentioned the cover, and I agree it doesn’t seem to fit the book. Although there are a couple of plot holes (I read an ARC so this may change), the mysteries (there are several) may keep you guessing.

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

The Initial Insult (The Initial Insult #1) by Mindy McGinnis #bookreview #YA #thriller #TuesdayBookBlog

Welcome to Amontillado, Ohio, where your last name is worth more than money, and secrets can be kept… for a price.

Tress Montor knows that her family used to mean something—until she didn’t have a family anymore. When her parents disappeared seven years ago while driving her best friend home, Tress lost everything. She might still be a Montor, but the entire town shuns her now that she lives with her drunken, one-eyed grandfather at what locals refer to as the “White Trash Zoo,” – a wild animal attraction featuring a zebra, a chimpanzee, and a panther, among other things.

Felicity Turnado has it all – looks, money, and a secret that she’s kept hidden. She knows that one misstep could send her tumbling from the top of the social ladder, and she’s worked hard to make everyone forget that she was with the Montors the night they disappeared. Felicity has buried what she knows so deeply that she can’t even remember what it is… only that she can’t look at Tress without having a panic attack.

But she’ll have to.

Tress has a plan. A Halloween costume party at an abandoned house provides the ideal situation for Tress to pry the truth from Felicity – brick by brick – as she slowly seals her former best friend into a coal chute. With a drunken party above them, and a loose panther on the prowl, Tress will have her answers – or settle for revenge.

In the first book of this duology, award-winning author Mindy McGinnis draws inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe and masterfully delivers a dark, propulsive mystery in alternating points of view that unravels a friendship . . . forevermore. 

I’m such a fan of this author.  I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had to pull my chin off the floor after finishing one of her books.  She’s a master at shocking surprises.

At the heart of it, this story is about friendship – the sparkly highs, ugly lows, misunderstandings, backstabbing moments and all.  Your initial beliefs about what transpired between Tress and Felicity to get them to this point will be destroyed and reformed by the end.  Their alternating POVs and the varying timelines are perfect and crucial to the story.  It’s mentioned the author drew inspiration for this novel from Poe and it’s creatively interwoven with a certain darkness.

McGinnis does an incredible job at portraying realistic teens.  The topics of drugs, sex, drinking, and the downsides of social media are prevalent throughout the story and dealt with authentically.  Characterization is exceptional.

The girls’ fading friendship is gradually revealed layer by layer, but there’s also the big question – what happened to Tress’s parents?  I listened to NetGalley’s audiobook version of the novel, but feel like I might have missed some clues.  If I’d had a book ARC, I definitely would have been going back and double-checking some details.  While in a state of shock over the ending, I forgot this was a duology, then was so relieved I’d be able to see what becomes of these characters.

This book is tragic, dark, compelling, and such a well done thriller.  Some chapters are very short and may have just a sentence – but that one sentence is powerful and conveys so much.  Just another reason why McGinnis is an auto-buy author for me.

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

Amanda in Alberta: The Writing on the Stone by Darlene Foster #bookreview #TuesdayBookBlog #MG #mystery

Amanda is delighted to show Leah aaround Alberta during her visit from England. They take in the Calgary Stampede, go on a cattle drive, visit Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, spend time with the dinosaurs at the Royal Tyrrell Museum and explore the crazy Hoodoos.When Amanda finds a stone with a unique mark on it, she doesn’t think it’s important until everyone seems to want it – including a very ornery cowboy. Is this stone worth ruining Leah’s holiday and placing them both in danger? Spend time with Amanda as she explores her own country while attempting to decipher the mysterious writing on the stone and keep it from those determined to take it from her. 

This is my first time ‘meeting’ Amanda and while there are several books in the series, I chose this one because I traveled to Calgary earlier this year and visited some of the places mentioned in the description.

What a delightful story!  Amanda is excited to spend time with her friend, Leah, and show her around during her holiday with Amanda’s family.  I really enjoyed ‘re-visiting’ some of these places with them, while also learning new facts.  Being a dinosaur nerd (I love that great aunt Mary is a paleontologist), I wish we’d been able to visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum and see the World’s Biggest Dinosaur – maybe on our next visit.

Amanda is intelligent, feisty, and adventure-loving, and her inquisitive nature soon draws the girls into a mystery which results in some perilous situations.  They run into some pretty unsavory characters while trying to learn more about the markings on the stone.

The author does a wonderful job of blending educational facts with a mystery and adventure that will thrill young (and older!) readers.  These are quick reads I’d highly recommend, and I look forward to traveling with Amanda to more destinations.

Magic Dark and Strange by Kelly Powell #bookreview #YA #fantasy

The Bone Witch meets Sherlock Holmes in this thrilling historical fantasy about a girl with the ability to raise the dead who must delve into her city’s dangerous magical underworld to stop a series of murders.

Catherine Daly has an unusual talent. By day she works for a printer. But by night, she awakens the dead for a few precious moments with loved ones seeking a final goodbye. But this magic comes with a price: for every hour that a ghost is brought back, Catherine loses an hour from her own life.

When Catherine is given the unusual task of collecting a timepiece from an old grave, she is sure that the mysterious item must contain some kind of enchantment. So she enlists Guy Nolan, the watchmaker’s son, to help her dig it up. But instead of a timepiece, they find a surprise: the body of a teenage boy. And as they watch, he comes back to life—not as the pale imitation that Catherine can conjure, but as a living, breathing boy. A boy with no memory of his past.

This magic is more powerful than any Catherine has ever encountered, and revealing it brings dangerous enemies. Catherine and Guy must race to unravel the connection between the missing timepiece and the undead boy. For this mysterious magic could mean the difference between life and death—for all of them.

This cover immediately caught my attention, but it was the comp titles and a main character with the ability to raise the dead that made me request this book from NetGalley.

I especially enjoyed the time period and setting of this novel – it has the feel of a Victorian mystery.  The opening scene in the cemetery when Catherine awakens a dead women is absolutely gripping and had me excited to dive into the story.  Then I was disappointed that she never uses her magic again throughout the book.  The magic system isn’t explained, which left me with a lot of questions.  Although it’s mentioned several times in the description, it actually plays a small part in the overall story.

The characters are very charming, and the hints of romance between Catherine and Guy are sweet and accurate for the time period.  I liked how they became friends, bonded over the mystery, and helped Owen find his way.

At slightly over 200 pages, Magic Dark and Strange is a quick read and while I enjoyed this quiet mystery, I feel like a longer book could have offered more twists, higher stakes, and a deeper exploration of the magical system.

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

Teen Killer Club by Lily Sparks #bookreview #YA #thriller #TuesdayBookBlog

Framed for the murder of her best friend, a young girl joins a super-secret society of teenage assassins to avoid a lifetime behind bars–and discovers her own true self–in this mesmerizing debut novel.

Seventeen-year-old Signal Deere has raised eyebrows for years as an unhappy Goth misfit from the trailer park. When she’s convicted of her best friend Rose’s brutal murder, she’s designated a Class A–the most dangerous and manipulative criminal profile. To avoid prison, Signal signs on for a secret program for 18-and-under Class As and is whisked off to an abandoned sleep-away camp, where she and seven bunkmates will train as assassins. Yet even in the Teen Killers Club, Signal doesn’t fit in. She’s squeamish around blood. She’s kind and empathetic. And her optimistic attitude is threatening to turn a group of ragtag maniacs into a team of close-knit friends. Maybe that’s because Signal’s not really a killer. She was framed for Rose’s murder and only joined the program to escape, track down Rose’s real killer, and clear her name. But Signal never planned on the sinister technologies that keep the campers confined. She never planned on the mysterious man in the woods determined to pick them off one by one. And she certainly never planned on falling in love. Signal’s strategy is coming apart at the seams as the true killer prepares to strike again in Teen Killers Club.

I’m not sure what this says about me, but a camp that trains teens to be assassins had me requesting this before even reading the whole description.

The action begins almost immediately as Signal and another teen are introduced to the other campers.  For convicted murderers who have the most dangerous and manipulative criminal profiles, most of them seem so…nice.  Having been framed for a murder and lacking even a hint of a killer instinct, Signal is absolutely a fish out of water and is pretty helpless with the assigned tasks.  Speaking of tasks, the first one is how to dispose of a body without it being detected – and that’s when I was all in.  Bizarre?  Absolutely.  But a practical skill for assassins.

I’d expected the teens to be sent out on missions pretty early in the story, but they don’t happen until the last part of the book.  The rest of the time is spent on training, trying to recover Signal’s sketchy memories of the murder she was accused of, strange happenings around camp, and a prominent love triangle.  I’m generally not a fan of this trope and honestly didn’t see the need for it, but that’s just me and a personal preference.  Other reviewers seemed to enjoy it.

With an action-packed, brisk ending, don’t look away or you’ll miss some things.  I suspended my disbelief with the big reveal as some of it seemed to come out of left field, but I was also frustrated because many questions are left unanswered, particularly one central character’s backstory.  It’s set up perfectly for a sequel, but nothing in the title indicates one is in the works.

Dark, cultish, action-packed, and morally gray, Teen Killers Club is an engrossing read – just maybe not the best selection for more squeamish readers.

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

LV48 (Cassie Tam Files #3) by Matt Doyle #bookreview #scifi #LGBT

New Hopeland City may be the birthplace of Tech Shifter gear, but it isn’t the only place that likes to blend technology with folklore. Now, a new nightmare is stalking the streets…

When PI Cassie Tam is attacked on the way home one night, she expects the police to get involved. What she doesn’t expect is to be forced into acting as bait to lure out a lunatic in a tech-suit that’s literally out for blood. But past actions have consequences, and doing so may be the only way she can get a clean slate from the city’s law makers.

If only that didn’t mean having to face down a wannabe vampire.

This is my third Cassie Tam book, and the author’s imagination continues to amaze me.

Although each novel introduces new futuristic technology, the descriptions are detailed and so well done that it’s easy to visualize.  The drawings near the end of the book help explain the tech even more.  This time around Cassie faces a “light vampire” – which explains the title.  I love me some vamps, but these aren’t the traditional vampires seen in most novels and and movies – no spoilers here.  Cassie is wrangled into working with the police department on the case and, although not crazy about the idea, she makes the best of it and and dives in head first – which is a trait I admire.  That and her snark – I always appreciate witty snark.

Bert, her gargoyle familiar, has to be one of my favorite characters.  He’s protective and kind of moody, but you gotta love him.  Cassie and Lori also have some nice scenes together in their new-ish relationship, but I wouldn’t have minded more.  Some new characters are also introduced, and I hope to see more of them in future books.

While there are action-filled scenes, the pacing waned a bit for me in the middle.  I guessed who the villain was early on, but it took longer for it to click with Cassie and friends than expected.  Still, I’m a fan of this thrilling sci-fi series, and it didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of the novel.

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