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.

 

I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick #bookreview #YA #mystery #TuesdayBookBlog

This gripping thriller follows two teens whose lives become inextricably linked when one confesses to murder and the other becomes determined to uncover the real truth no matter the cost.

What happened to Zoe won’t stay buried…

When Anna Cicconi arrives to the small Hamptons village of Herron Mills for a summer nanny gig, she has high hopes for a fresh start. What she finds instead is a community on edge after the disappearance of Zoe Spanos, a local girl who has been missing since New Year’s Eve. Anna bears an eerie resemblance to Zoe, and her mere presence in town stirs up still-raw feelings about the unsolved case. As Anna delves deeper into the mystery, stepping further and further into Zoe’s life, she becomes increasingly convinced that she and Zoe are connected–and that she knows what happened to her.

Two months later, Zoe’s body is found in a nearby lake, and Anna is charged with manslaughter. But Anna’s confession is riddled with holes, and Martina Green, teen host of the Missing Zoe podcast, isn’t satisfied. Did Anna really kill Zoe? And if not, can Martina’s podcast uncover the truth?

If you’re looking for a compelling beach read, I got you covered.  I Killed Zoe Spanos will keep you in that beach chair for hours.

This is my first time reading this author, but it absolutely won’t be my last.  I was glued to this book from the beginning and conjured up tons of theories about what was happening during the course of the story.  Even then, only part of one of them turned out to be correct by the end.

Martina’s podcast is a clever way to introduce backstory – what happened with Zoe, who the suspects were, what the police did or didn’t do, etc., and it gives the reader a peek into her head since her POV is shared along with Anna’s.  The alternating chapters between past and present made me even more curious to learn how the characters got from point A to point B, and it’s one of my favorite storytelling techniques.  With such an intricate plot, I can just imagine the story boards the author must have created.

Although it works well with the story, I had to suspend my disbelief a tad with the way the investigators handled Zoe’s case.  Still, I devoured this book in two days.  Pay close attention near the end – things move fast and a lot of questions are answered.

With a heavy dose of red herrings and twists to keep you guessing, I Killed Zoe Spanos is a must read for mystery/thriller fans.

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

Far From You by Tess Sharpe #bookreview #YA #mystery #LGBT

Sophie Winters nearly died. Twice.

The first time, she’s fourteen, and escapes a near-fatal car accident with scars, a bum leg, and an addiction to Oxy that’ll take years to kick.

The second time, she’s seventeen, and it’s no accident. Sophie and her best friend Mina are confronted by a masked man in the woods. Sophie survives, but Mina is not so lucky. When the cops deem Mina’s murder a drug deal gone wrong, casting partial blame on Sophie, no one will believe the truth: Sophie has been clean for months, and it was Mina who led her into the woods that night for a meeting shrouded in mystery.

After a forced stint in rehab, Sophie returns home to a chilly new reality. Mina’s brother won’t speak to her, her parents fear she’ll relapse, old friends have become enemies, and Sophie has to learn how to live without her other half. To make matters worse, no one is looking in the right places and Sophie must search for Mina’s murderer on her own. But with every step, Sophie comes closer to revealing all: about herself, about Mina and about the secret they shared. 

I read this for my book club.  For that month’s selection, we had to read books recommended by other members – which is scary for me.  I’m always afraid I’ll wind up with a romance.  This one contains some romance, but it’s not the primary focus.  And I’m okay with that.

My heart went out to Sophie.  No one believes she’s still clean, and her parents force her back into rehab.  All the while, she’s grieving deeply for her nearly lifelong best friend and counting the days until she’s released so she can find the killer.  Her frustration is palpable, and she has few friends to lean on for help.

Most chapters rotate between the present and earlier in Sophie’s life, but it wasn’t difficult to keep up – and I listened to the audiobook (which is narrated by the author, who does a wonderful job).  The shifts allow the gradual reveal of backstory and secrets that bring to light multiple suspects.  I guessed who the culprit was, but there’s another component to the story that came as a suprise.

This isn’t my usual genre, but it’s a gripping read and emotional at times.  If you’re looking for a YA mystery, this is one I recommend.

Jackaby (Jackaby #1) by William Ritter #YA #historicalmystery

“Miss Rook, I am not an occultist,” Jackaby said. “I have a gift that allows me to see truth where others see the illusion–and there are many illusions. All the world’s a stage, as they say, and I seem to have the only seat in the house with a view behind the curtain.”

Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary–including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police–with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane–deny.

Doctor Who meets Sherlock in William Ritter’s debut novel, which features a detective of the paranormal as seen through the eyes of his adventurous and intelligent assistant in a tale brimming with cheeky humor and a dose of the macabre.

I’ve had this in my TBR for a while and listened to the audiobook during a road trip last fall.

While the narrator’s voice for Abigail is perfect, it didn’t work for me with Jackaby’s voice, but that’s a personal issue.  I appreciated Jackaby’s straightforward manner and the way he approaches the case.  His interactions with some characters are prickly at best, but also amusing.  Abigail is an adventurous soul and determined to live her own life and not abide by the expectations of others.

This was an entertaining enough read while driving, but I identified the killer very early in the book.   I hoped for red herrings to steer me in the wrong direction or an unexpected twist – but neither happened.

With several books in the series, it’s popular with readers, so I’m probably in the minority on my opinions.  I’d recommend it if you’re looking for a quick, supernatural suspense read.

 

End of Day (Hode’s Hill #2) by Mae Clair #bookreview #supernatural #suspense

The past is never truly buried…  

Generations of Jillian Cley’s family have been tasked with a strange duty—tending the burial plot of Gabriel Vane, whose body was the first to be interred in the Hode’s Hill cemetery. Jillian faithfully continues the long-standing tradition—until one October night, Vane’s body is stolen from its resting place. Is it a Halloween prank? Or something more sinister?  

As the descendants of those buried in the church yard begin to experience bizarre “accidents,” Jillian tries to uncover the cause. Deeply empathic, she does not make friends easily, or lightly. But to fend off the terror taking over her town, she must join forces with artist Dante DeLuca, whose sensitivity to the spirit world has been both a blessing and a curse. The two soon realize Jillian’s murky family history is entwined with a tragic legacy tracing back to the founding of Hode’s Hill. To set matters right, an ancient wrong must be avenged…or Jillian, Dante, and everyone in town will forever be at the mercy of a vengeful spirit.

This review was meant to be posted months ago, so I have no idea why it was still in my review draft folder.  Maybe it’s fortuitous, because the first book in this series, Cusp of Night, is free, and this book and the last, Eventide, are $0.99 through February 25th.  Take advantage of this deal now – you won’t regret it!

I loved the first book in this series and was so excited to read End of Day, I made it my choice for book club.

This is the perfect book to curl up with on a cold, dreary night.  Some scenes will send chills up your spine and have you glancing over your shoulder to make sure no one’s there.  With book club members, it spawned spirited conversations ranging from genetics (an odd choice, I know) to our beliefs in ghosts and mediums.  For this horror fan, it was a highly enjoyable meeting.

As with the first book in the series, I especially enjoyed the alternating timelines and how Gabriel’s fate was gradually explained.  I remembered Dante from the previous book and looked forward to learning more about him.  He’s now one of my favorite characters in the series, and his scenes with Elliott in the role of a substitute father figure warmed my heart.  Jillian’s tragic circumstances immediately pulled me in, and I count her therapy dog, Blizzard, as one of the best bookish furry friends I’ve read.

End of Day is a compelling blend of paranormal, thriller, and mystery, and although part of a series, can easily be read as a standalone.  I  highly recommend this well-written, atmospheric read.

#BadMoonRising: Flicker by Len Boswell #paranormal #mystery

A story about a haunted diner with strange goings-on?  Ghosts with murderous intentions?  I’d totally read that.  And it’s what today’s author is here to share with us.  That and the X-Files script he wrote and sent in.  Welcome Len Boswell!

Would you rather be abducted by aliens or a serial killer?

Being abducted by aliens sounds like the best choice. A little travel, a little probing, maybe a meal or a snack, with the bonus of missing time and maybe a strange tattoo. A serial killer? Sounds too stressful and final. At least with aliens there might be a chance.

Would you rather be locked in a haunted insane asylum or lost in the woods with a killer on the loose?

I’ve been to a haunted insane asylum in West Virginia, and as creepy as it was, the alternative sounds much scarier and much more deadly.

Would you rather be part of the X-Files team or Ghostbusters?

I’m totally in the tank for Scully, so definitely X-Files. Again, aliens sound more interesting than ghosts. And I once wrote an episode of X-Files and sent it in for consideration. I’d been commuting over a bridge that had an accident almost every day. I thought, maybe the bridge is occupied by a troll, so the episode had Scully and Mulder in a battle of wits and traffic jams with a troll. Unfortunately, I sent in my episode just as the show was being cancelled. The tyranny of timing.

If you had the opportunity to live anywhere in the world for a year while writing a book that took place in the same setting, where would you choose?

New Zealand speaks to me, cries out to me. I can’t imagine a better setting for a thriller, mystery, or fantasy.

As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?

A rat terrier, because my own rat terrier, Cinder, sits behind me on my office chair, performing duties as muse each morning as I write.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a memoir of my father called Unboxing Raymond. When my sister died a couple of months ago, my nieces came upon a box marked “Ray Boswell’s treasure box.” There was more than a hundred items in the box, many of which immediately evoked memories of my father and the events of his and our family’s lives. Each chapter involves pulling an item out of the treasure box and writing about its meaning. I’m hoping to finish the manuscript in October.

Flicker is a modern-day ghost story set in a haunted diner. When Charlie Brace buys, refurbishes, and opens a diner that’s been up on blocks for many years, he gets much more than he bargained for, from neon signs that flicker insanely, to a quirky staff, to odd customers, to an even stranger hobo-philosopher who picks through his dumpster while lecturing him on the moon and mythology, to the amorous advances of the previous owner’s widow, to a mysterious mother and child who appear at the diner one morning carrying steaming baskets of pies that are, in a word, charmed, to the appearance of ghosts with murderous intentions.

Are the mother and child ghosts or do they just bake great pies? What about Charlie’s head waitress, who dresses like a woman from the 1950s and spouts diner lingo no one has used in years? What about the man in the dumpster? What about the widow, who seems to be holding back about her husband’s death? And what about the customers, who grow anxious and impatient whenever the pie runs out? Who exactly are the ghosts, why are they haunting the diner, and why do they want to kill Charlie?

“One part Kurt Vonnegut, another part Carl Hiaasen . . . Len Boswell is a quirky, off-kilter, and very talented novelist.” — Michael P. Hartnett, author, The Blue Rat

Purchase Link

Amazon

Author Bio

Len Boswell is the author of nine books, including Flicker: A Paranormal Mystery, Skeleton: A Bare Bones Mystery, Stick Figures, Santa Takes a Tumble, The Leadership Secrets of Squirrels, Barnum’s Angel (2020), and his ongoing Simon Grave mystery series: A Grave Misunderstanding, Simon Grave and the Curious Incident of the Cat in the Daytime, and Simon Grave and the Drone of the Basque Orvilles (2020). He lives in the mountains of West Virginia with his wife, Ruth, and their two dogs, Shadow and Cinder.

Social Media

Twitter: @simonsilverback
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/len.boswell.3
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/simonsilverback/
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/simon-silverback

Five Midnights by Ann Davila Cardinal #bookreview #YA #mystery #TuesdayBookBlog

Five friends cursed. Five deadly fates. Five nights of retribución.

If Lupe Dávila and Javier Utierre can survive each other’s company, together they can solve a series of grisly murders sweeping though Puerto Rico. But the clues lead them out of the real world and into the realm of myths and legends. And if they want to catch the killer, they’ll have to step into the shadows to see what’s lurking there—murderer, or monster?

 

I’ve never been to Puerto Rico, but the author provides such vivid, immersive descriptions, I feel like I have.  And the food!  I drooled over several pages.

The author gives a balanced picture of Puerto Rico.  While showing the horrors of drugs and addiction, and impoverished neighborhoods, she also demonstrates the deep love of culture and community, and supportive, loyal families and friends willing to do anything to protect their loved ones.  And can I mention the food again?

One of my favorite things about this book is the relationships.  With little parental support at home, Lupe’s relationship with her aunt and uncle is a positive influence, and portrayed so well.  Javier hasn’t made good choices in his past, and battles his addiction every day with the help of Father Sebastian.  Javier’s relationship with childhood friend Carlos is more of brother than friend, even though Carlos’s music career has made him an international sensation.

Mention urban legends in a book description, and I’ll show up, and El Cuco is the stuff of children’s nightmares.  The opening scene is a perfect way to set up the supernatural suspense.  When Javier makes the connection and realizes he’s living on borrowed time, I couldn’t read fast enough.

As a main character, Lupe is feisty, loyal, and determined – all good things.  But her default mode is set to combative, and I felt it got in the way of the story.  The final showdown is tense and exciting, but because it’s seen through several POVs, it stretches on for pages, when it actually lasts the length of a song.

Five Midnights is a briskly paced, dark, YA supernatural mystery that I enjoyed from the first page, and would recommend to fans of urban legends who enjoy a touch of the paranormal.

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