The House Always Wins by Tom Minder #bookreview #thriller #TuesdayBookBlog

Someone is shooting up Dirty Sam’s.

Will the Long Harbor police get their man, or woman, before a casino heist, a slots player who disappears in a puff of smoke, a crossbow-toting florist, and an undercover agent who makes a mean goulash, complicate the investigation.

Oh, for the simpler days of illegal gambling.

The quirky character descriptions alone intrigued me before I even knew what this book was about.  A cross-bow toting florist?  I needed to know more about this person.

Long Harbor is filled with some unsavory characters, and it’s difficult to figure out who’s trustworthy – but that’s part of the charm of this book.  There’s no shortage of suspicious characters, and they’ll keep the reader guessing where their loyalties lie, and who did what.

Character development is a strength for this author, and I could easily envision each character, along with their good traits, flaws, and weaknesses.  I also snickered several times over things they did or said, and imagined an Ocean’s Eleven-type soundtrack playing in the background.

Although the author wrote another book set in Long Harbor with several of the same characters, both are considered standalones.  I struggled with the extensive character list – remembering who was who, but that could be because I didn’t read the first book.  I wouldn’t say reading it is a necessity, but it may help with the confusion.

If you enjoy quirky, well-written characters, a briskly paced plot, and a good heist story, I highly recommend The House Always Wins.  

I received an ARC from the author.

The Lying Woods by Ashley Elston #bookreview #YA #mystery

Owen Foster has never wanted for anything. Then his mother shows up at his elite New Orleans boarding school cradling a bombshell: his privileged life has been funded by stolen money. After using the family business, the single largest employer in his small Louisiana town, to embezzle millions and drain the employees’ retirement accounts, Owen’s father vanished without a trace, leaving Owen and his mother to deal with the fallout.

Owen returns to Lake Cane to finish his senior year, where people he can barely remember despise him for his father’s crimes. It’s bad enough dealing with muttered insults and glares, but when Owen and his mother receive increasingly frightening threats from someone out for revenge, he knows he must get to the bottom of what really happened at Louisiana Frac–and the cryptic note his father sent him at his boarding school days before disappearing.

Owen’s only refuge is the sprawling, isolated pecan orchard he works at after school, owned by a man named Gus who has his own secrets–and in some ways seems to know Owen better than he knows himself. As Owen uncovers a terrible injustice that looms over the same Preacher Woods he’s claimed as his own, he must face a shocking truth about his own past–and write a better future. 

After reading a couple of heavy sci-fi/fantasy books, I was in the mood for an intriguing mystery.  I’d never read anything else by this author, but rest assured, I plan on correcting that.

I finished this book in less than two days (while I was supposed to be working on several other projects), but just couldn’t put it down.  The dual narrative between Owen and Noah is done so well, and goes about revealing the layers of secrets at a perfect pace.  A small town setting and and secluded pecan farm only add to the years-old secrets.  With the shocking situation Owen and his mother find themselves in, being stripped of everything they own and having to endure horrible comments and treatment from both adults and teens affected by Owen’s father, it’s incredibly easy to relate to them.  Rather than wallowing in self-pity over everything he’s lost, I admired Owen’s determination to better his situation, help his mother, and find his father.

Upon reaching the end of the book, I had several theories, but the twist came as a surprise.  Warning:  Whatever you do, don’t flip to the end of this novel and spoil it for yourself!

If you’re looking for an absolutely un-put-downable mystery with deliciously surprising twists, this is your book.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

 

The Fox, the Dog, and the King (Cassie Tam Files #2) by Matt Doyle #bookreview #LBGT #thriller

New Hopeland City may have been built to be the centerpiece of the technological age, but some remnants of the old world still linger. The tools of the trade have changed, but the corruption remains the same, even in the criminal underworld …

When PI Cassie Tam and her girlfriend Lori try to make up for their recent busy schedules with a night out at the theatre to watch the Tech Shift performer Kitsune, the last thing they expected was for Cassie to get a job offer. But some people are never off the clock, and by the end of the evening, Cassie has been drawn into a mundane but highly paid missing pet case. Unfortunately, in New Hopeland City, even something as simple as little lost dog can lead you down some dark paths.

Until now, Cassie wasn’t aware that there even was a rabbit hole, let alone how far down it goes. 

I read the first book in this series earlier this year, and immediately became a fan of Cassie Tam.  She’s a confident, successful woman in her PI business, but when it comes to romantic relationships – that’s where she’s challenged.

In this book, Cassie is struggling to find her footing with new girlfriend, Lori, and  balance their relationship with her workload.  She’s still charmingly awkward, and while she may not say exactly the right things, she honestly means well.  With encouragement from Lori, she’s also learning to be friends with her ex-girlfriend.

Upon realizing Cassie’s new case involves dog fighting, as an animal lover, I was a bit leery of how much detail would be given and wondered if I might have to skip some pages.  No worries – the fighting happens ‘off-screen’, and my heart was spared.

While the first book in this series focuses more on the fascinating tech and world-building, I felt like I got to know Cassie better in this new novel, and her snark is still one of my favorite qualities.  Action, mystery, twists, and a touch of romance make The Fox the Dog, and the King another intriguing addition to this light sci-fi series.  I wouldn’t saying reading the books in order is a necessity, but it would help with understanding more about the world-building and Cassie’s backstory.

I received a digital copy of this book from the author.

Cusp of Night (A Hode’s Hill Novel) by Mae Clair #bookreview #supernatural #mystery

The truth hides in dark places . . .
 
Recently settled in Hode’s Hill, Pennsylvania, Maya Sinclair is enthralled by the town’s folklore, especially the legend about a centuries-old monster. A devil-like creature with uncanny abilities responsible for several horrific murders, the Fiend has evolved into the stuff of urban myth. But the past lives again when Maya witnesses an assault during the annual “Fiend Fest.” The victim is developer Leland Hode, patriarch of the town’s most powerful family, and he was attacked by someone dressed like the Fiend.   
 
Compelled to discover who is behind the attack and why, Maya uncovers a shortlist of enemies of the Hode clan. The mystery deepens when she finds the journal of a late nineteenth-century spiritualist who once lived in Maya’s house—a woman whose ghost may still linger. Known as the Blue Lady of Hode’s Hill due to a genetic condition, Lucinda Glass vanished without a trace and was believed to be one of the Fiend’s tragic victims. The disappearance of a young couple, combined with more sightings of the monster, trigger Maya to join forces with Leland’s son Collin. But the closer she gets to the truth, the closer she comes to a hidden world of twisted secrets, insanity, and evil that refuses to die . . .

This story has everything that intrigues me – ghosts, mediums, seances, buried secrets.  And that cover!  I’ve read several other books by this author, and couldn’t wait to dive into this new series.

The timelines blend seamlessly in this intricately plotted supernatural mystery, and the gradual reveal of Lucinda’s life is both fascinating and heartbreaking.  Maya is also a compelling protagonist, and I enjoyed her reaction upon realizing she wasn’t the only resident in her house – entirely believable.  A well-drawn supporting cast rounds out the character list, but don’t go making assumptions while reading – not everything is what it appears on the surface, and characters may surprise you.

There are a few chilling moments in the novel that gave this horror lover warm fuzzies.  I also loved that one of the characters was reading Salem’s Lot (one of my fav King books) at 2 am in the morning while waiting for a supernatural event to occur or not occur.  I could totally be friends with this person.

If you’re a fan of supernatural mystery/suspense, you can’t go wrong with this series, and I’m excited to see what the next book brings.

Girl at the Grave by Teri Bailey Black #bookreview #YA #mystery #TuesdayBookBlog

Valentine has spent years trying to outrun her mother’s legacy. But small towns have long memories, and when a new string of murders occurs, all signs point to the daughter of a murderer. 

Only one person believes Valentine is innocent—Rowan Blackshaw, the son of the man her mother killed all those years ago. Valentine vows to find the real killer, but when she finally uncovers the horrifying truth, she must choose to face her own dark secrets, even if it means losing Rowan in the end.

Small towns seem to contain the most secrets, and this one had more than most.  Layers upon layers.  And that’s what prevented me from putting down this book.

This novel kept me guessing.  At certain points, I rolled my eyes, certain I knew which direction the plot was headed, and how similar this book was to so many others I’d read.  And I was very pleasantly proven wrong.  Twists and surprises are sprinkled throughout, with strong characterization of both the MC and supporting cast, and an enjoyable Victorian era setting.  The ending is something rarely seen in YA books with romantic angles – and it’s perfect for these characters.

One trope this novel does contain is a love triangle, something I’ve never been a fan of.  This triangle and the drama that accompanies it slows the plot about halfway through, and bogs down what is otherwise a captivating, fast-paced read.

I’d recommend this book to fans of mystery, suspense, and romance who enjoy unexpected twists and surprises.  Girl At The Grave is scheduled for publication August 7th, 2018.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the digital ARC.

#CoverReveal and Interview: Tom Minder #mystery #blackrosewriting #TuesdayBookBlog

Welcome Tom Minder!  Tom has previously visited this blog, and today he’s here with his new book, which looks to contain an unusual cast of characters.  Release date is October 11, 2018.  Preorder it at Black Rose Writing or Amazon!

What’s your writing background?

I had the basic plot for my first novel, The Long Harbor Testament, rambling in my head for most of my adult life. I started to get serious in late 2011, and began the outline. Two years later, I had a completed and edited draft. Three years of querying agents and small presses, and the subsequent time gaps without hearing back, gave me a chance to write and publish short stories in various literary journals, and eventually compile an anthology, Chronicles of Sam.

The Long Harbor Testament was accepted by Black Rose Writing in August 2016, and published in January 2017. Chronicles of Sam followed in December 2017.

What gave you the idea for The House Always Wins?

I wanted to continue the Long Harbor story of gambling, drinking, and fast food, but needed to update to a more current locale for these pleasures. Casinos, with their easy money, non-stop activity, and look-the-other-way approach to entertainment, fit my desire to tell a story of crime and its consequences to the community. Mix in troll-carrying slot players, an amateur magician, a hairy giant who resembles the Jersey Devil, and a crossbow-toting florist, and no one is safe.

Which characters were the most and least difficult to write and why?

One of the main female characters, a casino manager, is an ambitious, double-dealing opportunist. I had to be careful to not stereotype her from a male perspective, but rather give her a chance to breathe and plot for herself. Ironically, a female security guard, who also figures prominently in the story, had to be energized into a character who was willing to plot her own future. I had to make sure that these characters were realistic, and just not male perceptions of how they would act.

The male lead, a seven foot hairy giant, was easiest to write. He has all of my bad habits, desires, and hungers, while displaying just enough charm and humanity to have people overlook his flaws.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Having the patience to outline before plunging into the story. I actually ended up doing an iterative outline: sketch out enough detail to start writing, and then updating the outline and story as the characters let me in on what they were thinking.

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

One character, the crossbow-toting florist, keeps appearing at odd times in the story, leading the reader to wonder if she’s as innocent as she seems. The presence of red dahlias throughout the story clues the reader to pending danger.

Tell us 5 random facts about yourself.

I’m left-handed, but bat, golf, and perform normal activities right-handed.

I’ve traveled internationally for my various jobs, and ended up in a police van at midnight in a Munich back alley. I played dumb and convinced my hosts that I was harmless.

I’ve managed to keep my wife for forty-four years. I think, like above, I played dumb and convinced her I was harmless.

I frequent the casinos, convinced I’ll win a fortune, but leave lighter in the wallet, but still hopeful and convinced of later fortune.

I have an adorable granddaughter who loves playing with me because I’m just a big kid at heart.

Where can fans find you?

Facebook: Tom Minder_Author

Twitter: @tom_minder

Web: https://tomminder.weebly.com/

 

Scream Site by Justina Ireland #bookreview #TuesdayBookBlog #YA

Sabrina Sebastian’s goal in life is to be an investigative reporter. For her first big story, she researches a popular website called Scream Site, where people post scary videos and compete for the most “screams.” While Sabrina’s friends and her sister, Faith, talk nonstop about the creepy viral videos, Sabrina just hopes that covering this trend will get her the internship she’s wishing for. But as she digs into the truth behind the website, she begins to suspect that these aren’t only aspiring actors and videographers at work. Some clips seem a little too real. And when Faith goes missing, Sabrina must race against time to save her sister from becoming the next video “star.” 

This is categorized as a YA novel on NetGalley, but I have to wonder if that was a mistake, because it reads very much like a middle grade book.  Fourteen-year-old protagonist Sabrina is a likable main character.  She’s very goal-oriented, and her tenacity and love of her family are admirable.  Best friend Evelyn is a hoot, and steals nearly every scene.

The mystery is intriguing, but requires a massive suspension of disbelief from the reader.  The details overlooked by investigating detectives and the reactions from Sabrina’s family members over certain events are just a bit too unbelievable, and the wrap-up comes about quickly and has distinct ‘Scooby-Doo’ overtones.  All of this makes me feel like Scream Site is geared more toward middle grade, or at least the lower end of the YA spectrum.

I felt like this book did an excellent job with warning teens not to trust everything they read on the internet, never giving out personal information to strangers, and the dangers of people misrepresenting themselves online.  You can never be sure who you’re talking to.

I’d recommend this book for middle grade or lower age range YA readers, but doubt it would hold much appeal for the older YA crowd.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.