In Sweet Cream Ladies, Ltd., two over-the-hill (in their late thirties!) and self-acknowledged overweight actresses decide life isn’t fair. Unfortunately, their self-help plan may get them arrested.
In New York City, Binnie and Bootsie are underemployed actresses, who need to find better paying jobs. They jokingly, drunkenly, and loudly state that they are starting a hit woman company called Sweet Cream Ladies, Ltd. in a crowded bar. They proceed to name who and how they will murder their first four victims to demonstrate their talents. Two are their cheap ex-husbands. One is the lady who swindled money from Bootsie. The fourth is the actress who got the role that Bootsie wanted by using a casting couch that she appeared to drag from job to job.
The (sorta) good news is that cards are appearing on the bar’s corkboard requesting the company’s services. The bad news is that the police pull the ladies in for questioning when Bootsie’s husband is killed in the exact way they described. The really good news is that the Detective in charge of the case is hot and seems to be flirting with Bootsie.
Sweet Cream Ladies, Ltd. is a humorous cozy mystery. Hopefully, it is the first in a series. Binnie and Bootsie are hilarious and frequently end up in some slapstick situations. Their characters and the friendship between them seem genuine. Comparisons with Stephanie Plum and Lula are true. I can see this series growing a similar bond between the two leads plus it’s laugh-out-loud funny too. This book is recommended to readers that like some humor with their cozy mysteries and/or are interested in the world of acting. 4 stars!
Thanks to Encircle Publications, Ltd. and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
It seems like the Ghost of Hollow House may have been Agatha Christie as this tale fits right in her wheelhouse.
In Victorian England, Mina uncovers fraudulent mediums. She also writes fictional mysteries that include spiritual elements. When she is asked to uncover the reason for the haunting of a newly married friend’s mansion, she is skeptical. But when she sees a mysterious lady in white in the window when first arriving at Hollow House, she becomes intrigued. Perhaps this haunting will bring her real evidence from the other side.
Mina is a great character. Her ability to press past her disabilities and the oppression of females prevalent in Victorian times is empowering.
The mystery was challenging as well. Though I didn’t figure out whodunit or why until after the intrepid Mina, I clearly saw the clues in hindsight.
Ghost of Hollow House did resemble Agatha Christie’s mysteries in both its complexity and portrayal of English village life. I would have liked slightly more backstory for the main characters. I’ll be looking for the previous three books in this series, as well as any future entries, when I feel like reading a jolly good mystery. 4 stars!
Thanks to Sapere Books and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Steph is Chief of Internal Affairs in the FBI’s Washington D.C. field office. But at nineteen, she was a summer intern for Senator Halliday when she was raped by him. Finding herself pregnant, she decides to keep her baby in Keep You Close.
Her now seventeen year old son, Zachary, is distant and uncommunicative. Steph blames her long hours and his age. However, when a colleague warns her that Zackary has been emailing a domestic terrorist group, she decides to investigate.
After speaking to Zachary, Steph is convinced of his innocence. She decides that someone from her past is getting to her through Zachary. Could it be Senator Halliday? A mob boss she took down years ago? Another disgruntled FBI agent who lost his job because of her?
For a FBI agent, Steph seems to be searching for phantoms for most of the book. Names and motives are thrown around but no real research or investigating is done. She doesn’t even do a background search on the gun she found that started it all. How could a trained agent not remember that she failed to set her alarm and/or not be concerned when the alarm is off when she returns home after work.
Keep You Close requires a suspension of disbelief that I just can’t get past. Worse, despite starting well it is boring throughout the middle. Steph needs a real psychiatrist—not just the one in her head that sounds like the most annoying parent ever.
I enjoyed the author’s last book, Need to Know, but this one is a disappointment. Hopefully, her next book will be better. 2 stars.
Thanks to Ballantine Books and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Thirty years apart, two women with obsessive-compulsive disorder track a serial killer in Some Choose Darkness.
In 1979, Angela is newly married to Thomas in suburban Chicago. She also has a photographic memory and ocd. When frightened by a stranger in the alley behind her house, she begins to suspect he is the notorious serial killer, the Thief. The Thief gets off by alternately choking his victims and himself in an elaborate rope and pulley contraption. He has been blamed for five deaths. Angela sees a pattern among the deaths.
In 2019, Rory works as a freelance forensic reconstructionist for the Chicago police. She also has ocd. The 2017 cold case she is working on has the same cause of death as those done by the Thief. But he is in prison. Is it a copycat twenty-eight years later?
The Thief tells his story from a prison cell. Finally granted parole in 2019, he is looking forward to giving payback to the woman who emprisoned him.
What a fantastic thrill ride! Some Choose Darkness has a complicated plot that pulls the reader first one way and then the other like a twisty rollercoaster. Any readers looking to play armchair detective, beware! There are several false trails within the storyline. However, despite being totally fooled myself, I highly recommend this thriller. 4.5 stars!
Thanks to Kensington Books and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Mahoney’s Camaro was a great auction deal. Only a grand for a cherry 1967 that had only been in the river for a few hours. As with every good deal, this one had a few strings. First, Heather had been handcuffed to the steering wheel and drowned after being shoved into the drink. Now, she was haunting the car. Second, the murderer was desperate to get the car back to destroy any evidence linking him to Heather’s murder.
It’s 1985 in Canada. Mahoney works for a scuzzy towing firm but his passion is cars. After losing his mechanic job under the shadow of theft, he can’t find reputable work. He is forced to work in an ethically questionable tow yard driving a tow truck during the midnight shift. Despite his bosses entreaties, he doesn’t deal drugs, pimp woman, or steal cars.
Mahoney looks into Heather’s death just to get her out of his ride. What he finds is the 1980s drug of choice, Crack, and a widespread criminal enterprise.
As a car fan, the descriptions of cherry rides and engine parts was a fun throwback to my youth of car clubs and cruise nights. I’m not sure everyone will be as entranced by pages of description of how to move the shell of one car onto another. The mystery was told from both the criminals and the detective Mahoney’s point of view—like Columbo the killer is known from the beginning—so this is not a good choice for armchair detectives. But if you like muscle cars, this is the perfect crime thriller. For everyone else, 3 stars.
Thanks to the author, ECW Press, and LibraryThing for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Riots I Have Known is a slice-of-prisoner-life novella. An unnamed prisoner, who is hiding alone in the prison’s Media Center during a riot, describes his two year journey within the prison walls and the riot that is occurring around him.
The narrator is the editor of the literary-lauded prison monthly magazine, The Holding Pen. The warden likes the prestige the magazine gives him and so throws money at the project. He also approves the poetry and stories within the magazine including “Mi Corazon en Fuego y Mi Plan de Fuga”. Unfortunately, neither the narrator nor the warden understands Spanish or that the poem details the poet’s escape plan. The escape, and by extension the poem, begin the riot.
The narrator casually mentions the horrors of prison life. He meets his companion McNairy by being violently raped by him. The narrator meets a long-time prisoner who has survived three famous prison riots. The narrator pays him a carton of cigarettes for three rules of surviving prison riots:
“Stay in your cell and lock yourself in.”
“Hide your cigarettes under the bed slab.”
“If you possess the fortitude to knock yourself unconscious, it’s a useful alibi for the exhausting post-riot investigations.”
Unfortunately, the narrator is too short of cigs to pay for the other nine rules…
While not for sensitive readers, I enjoyed Riots I Have Known. It is different from most mockumentary-type books. It is written with a literary voice. Rather than being laugh-out-loud funny, it requires some thought to see the humor, and irony, in the narrator’s situation. The book has an underlying theme that echoes One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Prison has its own culture that doesn’t work to “fix” law breakers. If anything, it encourages violence to prevent victimization by other inmates.
Whether you read it for the prison stories at a purely surface level or drill-down to the weightier themes, Riots I Have Known is an excellent short read. 4 stars!
Thanks to Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
In Waisted, Alice and Daphne are in a last ditch attempt to lose their excess weight at a private weight loss retreat.
Alice’s life before fat camp is meticulously recounted. However, I can do it in just one sentence. Alice blames all of her problems, some real and some imaginary, on her weight. I just saved future readers at least a half an hour of time. In the name of Alice, exercise in the extra time, or eat an entire cheesecake or, whatever.
Daphne is a professional makeup artist and owns a makeover store catering to woman with scars or other flaws. Unfortunately, she can’t heal, or hide, her own weight issues.
Both Alice and Daphne have people in their life that are over critical of their weight. Alice’s husband, Clancy, continually reminds her how beautiful she was when they met—only a few years earlier—with an unspoken, though heavily implied, “what happened to you now?” Daphne’s mother, Sunny, is a diet policeman, who has constantly undermined Daphne’s confidence since grade school.
As a larger woman who loves documentaries, I was so excited to read this book. A funny take on Biggest Loser-type shows? Sign me up! However, Waisted spent a lot of time belittling larger size woman even when it didn’t advance the plot. For example, here is the description of the ladies boarding the bus on the way to the weight loss camp, “After the last participant dragged her crazy-wide thighs up the stairs as though this ascension were an Olympic event”. This feeling is not linked to any characters—this appears to be the author talking. This type of emotion is displayed throughout the book. Worse, the book drags in the beginning. As I stated above, using 20% of the book to explain the stereotypical “fat woman” Alice is a waste of time and boring.
While I didn’t like the book at all, it may just be me so I’ll rate it 2.5 stars.
Thanks to Atria Books and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
The private investigative team of Sarah Booth and Tinkie are investigating a murder by exsanguination during an archaeological dig in Game of Bones.
Two competing archaeology professors set up an excavation on a Native American burial mound. To stop the work, a local Native American attorney files an injunction. When one professor is killed ritualistically, the other becomes the number one suspect though the attorney is also under suspicion. Professor Haynes hires Sarah Booth and Tinkie to clear his name. Despite warnings from a ghost and a psychic, Sarah Booth is determined to solve the case.
Game of Bones is one of the best books in this excellent cozy mystery series. There is just enough paranormal activity to keep it interesting without overwhelming the dynamics between the living characters. The mystery was full of convincing red herrings making this tale a good choice for armchair detectives. 4.5 stars!
Thanks to Minotaur Books and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Absolutely beautiful artwork and an intriguing plot enliven Lady Mechanika Vol 5.
Lady Mechanika is again trying to discover who mechanized her when she is interrupted by a new issue. Mr. Lewis, her sidekick, is pulled out of his depression by a new lady love. But is her love for him true? In the meantime, Lady Mechanika runs into a professional hit woman, Mistress Grimm.
I love the new villainess. Her metal mask is truly scary. It will be nice if Mr. Lewis pulls out of his funk and man’s up as Robin to Lady Mechanika’s Batman.
Seriously, the awesome steampunk art here will, I’m sure, inspire amateur seamstresses/metalworkers out there to create some fine clothing. I also like the overt and subtle female empowerment within the plot. Lady Mechanika is obviously an independent woman as well as a take-no prisoners kick-a$$. However, it’s not just the Lady, both young girls in the story are shown in pants and not intimidated by anyone.
Lady Mechanika Vol 5 is a fantastic merging of steampunk and fantasy with a mystery. This series just keeps getting better. 5 stars!
Thanks to Benitez Productions and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Tears of the Trufflepig is a surrealistic deep dive into where our current cultural road may lead. Tense US/Mexico border relations, genetically modified food, and a further divide between the haves and the have nots are all here.
In the future, worldwide food shortages have decimated the world’s population. Scientists have found a method of generating synthetic food. Drugs are legal in the US so Mexican cartels sell filtered animals to the rich. Filtered animals are genetically modified reincarnations of extinct species. Estaban Bellacosa works as an expeditor for a cartel. Paco is an investigative reporter looking into the filtering trade. When they meet during a dinner of filtered animals, the cartel’s troubles begin.
Tears of the Trufflepig is a hallucinogenic, but believable, trip to a troubled future. The tale reminds me of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, where a certain suspension of belief is required to enjoy the plot. For readers that are looking for something different and are okay with a non-linear plot, this is a good choice. There is one caveat. There are many phrases in Spanish within the text that might be confusing for non-Spanish speakers. 3.5 stars!
Thanks to Farrar, Strauss & Giroux and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
In the Never Game, Colter Shaw finds people for a living. Not for honor. Not for glory. For the reward money.
Taught rules for hunting by his survivalist father from a young age, Colter uses his skills to find missing people.
When Sophie doesn’t return home, her father is convinced that she wouldn’t leave without her beloved poodle. The local police are not convinced and assume the nineteen year old is just a runaway rather than a victim. Desperate, the father advertises a $10,000 reward for information leading to her return. Enter Colter.
Never Game begins a new series for Mr. Deaver. The twisty thrill ride of a plot keeps the reader engaged. The premise of a modern day bounty hunter is unique. Colter is a intriguing hero. His own history was the best mystery in this book so I’m looking forward to the next entry in the series.
This book is highly recommended to fans of CJ Box’ Joe Pickett and Dean Koontz’ Jane Hawk series. All three heroes are willing to work occasionally on the shady side of the law in pursuit of a greater good. Plus all three of the series provide a pulse-pounding ride. 4.5 stars!
Thanks to G.P. Putnam’s Sons and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
No Saving Throw is a cozy mystery set in the nerdy world of Dungeons & Dragons. If the D&D term “No Saving Throw” is unfamiliar, it means you can’t roll the dice to prevent or mitigate the awful thing that just occurred. Also, it means this book may not be a good choice for you.
Autumn is the owner of a gaming store especially role-playing ones like Dungeons & Dragons. When a gamer dies, Autumn decides to protect her gaming friends, and her store’s reputation, by finding the murderer herself.
No Saving Throw’s setting in high school makes the book seem very young adult. Descriptions of scenes are scant and similar to Adventure games like you enter a dark room. For old school nerds like me, it was fun to spot the old television, movie and game Easter eggs. The mystery was easy to solve—but not Scooby Doo level easy. I wanted to understand the core group’s motivations, which were only here almost as an afterthought. Since this is only book one of a planned series, I hope that issue will be addressed in the next book. If you are into gaming or just can’t stomach another knitting or bookstore cozy, this book will be a pleasant read. 3 stars!
Thanks to Diversion Books and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Follow the tour HERE
for exclusive content and a giveaway!
It’s time for Jane Hawk to finally get some payback for her husband’s death and so much more in Night Window.
The Techno-Arcadians have chased former FBI Agent Jane Hawk through four books already. Jane is trying to bring to light a massive conspiracy of billionaires. The Arcadians inserted a nanobot into Jane’s husband’s brain. When activated, he was forced to kill himself. In previous books, the nanobots were used to create both assassins and sex slaves.
Protecting her young son Travis is Jane’s highest priority as well proving her husband’s innocence. However, Jane’s ultimate goal is to expose the Arcadian’s evil plan to the public. This time she has some help from a former colleague, computer hacker Vikram.
I have been lucky enough to acquire the entire Jane Hawk series as Advanced Reader Copies. While Night Window can be read as a standalone, it is rather like reading the last chapter in a book. You would be cheating yourself out of a suspenseful ride. The conclusion is definitely worth the wait.
The author’s writing style is not for everyone. Mr. Koontz has never met an adjective he didn’t like. While effective in horror, it feels rather out of place in a thriller. It does rather slow down the pace. However, the use of such detailed imagery intensifies the atmosphere and allows a closer connection with the series’ characters. The plot, over the entire series, is engaging enough to compel the reader through each book.
Overall, an excellent conclusion to an outstanding series. 5 stars! Now, please Mr. Koontz, write another excellent paranormal thriller like Watchers.
Thanks to Ballantine Books and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
The less you know about the plot, the better the surprises will be in The Night Before.
Rosie forces her sister, Laura, to go on a date arranged on a dating website. When Laura doesn’t return that night or the next morning, Rosie investigates what happened.
The Night Before is a compulsively readable thriller where nothing, and no one, is what they appear. The twists, especially at the end, were intense. It is highly recommended for suspense fans. 4 stars!
Thanks to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
The next time you upgrade a perfectly good phone because of a rebate that is denied two months later, don’t feel bad. Humans: A Brief History of How We F*cked It All Up will introduce you to much worse human errors in judgment.
We celebrated when our hunter-gatherer ancestors started farming. Wrong! That practice started class divisiveness and wars over land.
We romanticized the middle-class Shakespeare fan who brought Henry IV’s starlings to New York City. Wrong! The starlings ate our crops and spread disease like salmonella coast to coast. The starlings’ kinsfolk also killed 62 air travelers in 1960 while forcing a plane to crash land.
There are many more examples of unintended consequences here. If you enjoy irony, Humans: A Brief History of How We F*cked It All Up is a gem. It also explains history with an eye to the human factor. Disneyland’s Cinderella’s castle is based on a Bavarian castle created by theatrical set designers at Mad King (really just homosexual) Ludwig’s behest as a tourist attraction. It is ironic that it worked for current and olden day Bavarian sightseers but also for copycat Disney. Killing Ludwig after he had built only three castles was the gaffe here.
Other reviewers characterize this book as funny and depressing. However, I think it is empowering knowing that everyone makes mistakes. 4 stars!
Thanks to Hanover Square Press and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Secret Agent Brainteasers contains over 100 puzzles in a variety of types from logic and wordplay to algebra and geometry. The chapter introductions link the puzzles to skills needed by secret agents as illustrated with true stories from the British intelligence community from Victorian times through today.
I enjoyed the chapter introductions and could see the relevance of the puzzles to actual secret agent skills. The puzzles were great fun or deeply frustrating depending on their difficulty.
There are a couple of warnings. Since many puzzle answers involve words, the use of British spelling (i.e., armour vs. armor) may confuse non-Britons. Some of the puzzles involve a map or board and so are difficult to play on a kindle or tablet. An actual physical book (remember those?) will allow for working out the answers with a pencil (and probably an eraser) more easily.
Overall, Secret Agent Brainteasers will provide many hours of fun where you can avoid social media and the intrusive light of mobile devices. 4 stars!
Thanks to Quercus and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.