Book Review: Truth or Dare by M.J. Arlidge @mjarlidge @orionbooks

Truth or Dare
A Helen Grace Thriller #10
M.J. Arlidge
The Orion Publishing Group Ltd., November 2021
An Hachette UK Company
ISBN 978-1-4091-8846-9
Trade Paperback  (CA)

Detective Inspector Helen Grace is back in another thrilling and hard to put down read. A rash of random crimes; an arson at the docks, a car jacking gone wrong, a murder in a park, all happening within days of each other are tying Inspector Grace and her team in knots. The powers that be are breathing down her neck, pushing for results, but little progress is being made.

Helen feels defensive and tries to reassure her bosses that her team are working hard…. but in truth she’s at a loss. On top of this Detective Sergeant Joseph Hudson, an officer with whom she had an affair when he first joined the team, seems to be determined to dole out some payback after she ends their relationship. He has been undermining and questioning her every move on her handling of the spate of puzzling crimes and intent on following an unsubstantiated lead of his own, ignoring her orders and creating tension within her team.

Helen has a strong feeling that the crimes are connected…in some bizarre way. But while acknowledging this as merely a hunch, and totally off the charts, she trusts her instincts.

Slowly but surely she starts to see a pattern emerging. However, Hudson goes behind her back to push his own investigation and suggests to the bosses that Helen is losing it and should be removed from the case.

Her confidence has taken a hit and her team continue to struggle, but it’s fascinating to watch as she deals with the ambitious and spiteful colleague intent on replacing her, while she also unearths solid facts to prove she is indeed on the right track.

The plot while rather bizarre is very believable with an ending that will leave you breathless! Yes, Detective Inspector Helen Grace is often unorthodox in her methods to uncover the truth… but she takes us on one heck of a ride.

Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, September 2021.

Book Review: Murder at St. Margaret by Lynn Morrison @NomadMomDiary @mktgchair @AnAudiobookworm

 

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Author: Lynn Morrison
Narrator: Pearl Hewitt
Length: 8 hours 16 minutes
Series: Oxford Key Mysteries, Book 1
Released: Sep. 27, 2021
Publisher: Marketing Chair Press
Genre: Cozy Mystery

 

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“Grief can change us… rewire our brains and shift the way we look at the world…”

A dead chef. A ruined gala. And the ghosts didn’t see a thing.

As Oxford’s new Head of Ceremonies, Natalie Payne’s first task is to organize St Margaret’s autumn gala. However, her plans are dashed when she finds their famed chef dead in the kitchen.

And then a centuries-old cat informs Nat she has her own magical legacy…and responsibilities. A murder in the halls is a sure sign that something has gone wrong with Oxford’s magical protections.

Now Nat has to solve the murder, find a new chef for the gala, and figure out why Oxford’s magical defenses are down. With the help of Oxford’s magical Eternals and some new friends, Nat has a chance.

But can she do it before St Margaret loses its connection to the magic of Oxford?

If you like cozy mysteries where ghosts walk the halls, paintings come to life, creatures play, and magic seems within reach, the Oxford Key Mysteries are sure to delight.

Buy on Audible

Lynn Morrison lives in Oxford, England along with her husband, two daughters and two cats. Born and raised in Mississippi, her wanderlust attitude has led her to live in California, Italy, France, and the Netherlands, in addition to the UK. It’s no surprise then that she loves to travel, with a never-ending wish list of destinations to visit.

She is as passionate about reading as she is writing, and can almost always be found with a book in hand. You can find out more about her on her website LynnMorrisonWriter.com.

If you want to chat with her directly, join her Facebook group – Lynn Morrison’s Not a Book Club – where she happily talks about books, life and anything else that crosses her mind.

Website

Narrator Bio

Originally from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in Northeast England, audiobook narrator Pearl Hewitt currently lives with her husband and two children in Houston, Texas. Over the years she has worked as a customer service rep, a teaching assistant, and a teacher, but deep down there was always a performer wanting to get out. In 2007 her twelve-year-old son told her that he believed she was so good at reading stories out loud that she should do that as a job. That was her defining, eureka moment, and she’s never looked back. Pearl immersed herself in training and pursued a career in general voice acting but in 2012 she decided to focus her attention to narrating audiobooks in a wide range of genres. It was then that her professional career blossomed. She regularly works directly with indie authors but also narrates for a number of major publishers and has gained lots of recognition in the process including IAAIS awards, a Voice Arts Award nomination and Audiofile Magazine reviews. Pearl’s is comfortable narrating both fiction and non-fiction titles and has been very successful reading British Regency romance, cozy murder mysteries, fantasy/science fiction, children’s literature, the classics, history, biographies and more.

Website

Q&A with Author Lynn Morrison

  • Was a possible audiobook recording something you were conscious of while writing?
    • I wish! Murder at St Margaret was the first cozy mystery I wrote, and at the time, my only thought was about writing a story which would hold together. I could not have imagined how many copies of the book would sell, or even begin to dream of making an audiobook. It wasn’t until the fourth book in the series came out, and I started to see a steady income, that I began to think about making audio versions.
    • Now that I am farther along in my career, I do keep the idea of audio in the back of my mind as I write. I try to cut down on the dialogue tags and introduce more motion and movements instead. But, I think some of that comes along as part of your natural progression as you get better over time.
  • How did you select your narrator?
    • I didn’t start thinking about producing an audio version of Murder at St Margaret until a year after it was released. By then, I had good information on what other books my readers liked. I looked up those titles on Audible and checked which narrators the authors had chosen. Pearl Hewitt’s name came up again and again. She has an incredible ability to effortlessly switch character voices as she reads, and really brings the story to life in a way only audio can. It was no surprise that listeners love her. I contacted her out of the blue via her website, and lo and behold, she said yes!
  • How closely did you work with your narrator before and during the recording process? Did you give them any pronunciation tips or special insight into the characters?
    • I put together character bios for each of the main characters, and prepared a 15 minute test script pulling out different excerpts from the book. I specifically chose scenes which were dialogue-heavy so I could hear how she would differentiate between the characters. There were a few smaller characters which I didn’t include in my advance preparation. After reading the book, Pearl came up with suggestions for how their voices should sound – and I have to say that she did a brilliant job of it. She recorded the 15 minute sample and I circulated it to a few fans for feedback. Pearl took on board all their comments and then took care of everything from there. I didn’t have to do anything else until the book was ready to approve in Audible.
  • Were there any real life inspirations behind your writing?
    • I pulled from both my own experiences of living in Oxford and being a professor’s wife, along with doing a ton of background research into the colleges themselves when writing this series. Oxford is such a unique city, and the university is full of quirks and traditions which are fascinating to outsiders. I wanted to bring my readers behind the closed doors of the colleges and let them see what life is really like. I haven’t seen any ghosts in Oxford, nor have any of the paintings come to life as I’ve walked past, but my imagination was more than happy to fill in the blanks when it came to dreaming up the magical elements.
  • How do you manage to avoid burn-out? What do you do to maintain your enthusiasm for writing?
    • Writers talk a lot about the importance of refilling your creative well, and I fully agree with that sentiment. I read a LOT of books each year – 150 or more on average. I need to lose myself in someone else’s story to remember why I write.
    • I also spend a long time thinking about a book idea before I sit down to start a project. I flesh it out in my mind until I am super excited to see the story come to life. I am usually thinking one or two books ahead of whatever project I’m currently doing. This helps me keep up my writing pace – each finish line marks the start of something I’m excited to tackle.
    • One of the funnest parts of being a writer (and one of the weirdest) is seeing your characters take on a life of their own as you write the story. I am a plotter. I write a synopsis and outline before I put the first word onto paper. But no matter how much I prep, there is always a moment where a character will suddenly veer in a new and interesting direction. Wherever that happens, I can only sit back in amazement and see where they lead me. It keeps me guessing, even though I’m the writer.
  • Is there a particular part of this story that you feel is more resonating in the audiobook performance than in the book format?
    • I wrote this series in first person, present tense because I wanted the reader to feel like they are experiencing everything at the same time as my main character is doing so in the story. When put into an audio format, this gives the story a real sense of immediacy. I think it allows the listener to sink deeper into the tale, and feel as though they are sitting in on the conversations and making each discovery along with Natalie and her friends.
  • What do you say to those who view listening to audiobooks as “cheating” or as inferior to “real reading”?
    • As an author, I want readers to enjoy my story in whatever format is most comfortable for them. That might be a paperback, or an ebook, or the audio version. Arguing over “which format is better” misses the point – the main focus should be on accessibility. The only person who gets a vote on the format is the reader.
    • On a personal note, my younger daughter is dyslexic, and for a long while she hated reading. She has, however, always loved listening to stories. Audiobooks were a natural fit for her.
  • How did you celebrate after finishing this novel?
    • We ate cake! I started a tradition of either baking or buying a cake whenever I finish a book. It gives me something to look forward to when I am elbow deep in edits, and it also reminds my family there is a reward for putting up with my book deadline stress. As I start to get close to the end, we all discuss which cake we want to eat when it comes time to celebrate.
  • What bits of advice would you give to aspiring authors?
    • Don’t stress over the quality of your first draft. I am a strong believer that anything can be fixed in edits – even if that means you have to do a major rewrite. Major rewrites aren’t that bad! The key thing is to get a first draft done so you can enjoy the satisfaction that comes from writing a book. It is an incredible accomplishment – and the warm feelings you get will support you through the editing process. I would also suggest that you start networking with other writers in your genre as soon as you can. Join author groups on Facebook or Discord, or post comments and replies to authors on other social media platforms. The writing community is filled with supportive people who are happy to cheer you on or lend a hand (or be a sympathetic ear). Writing can feel lonely at times, and knowing other writers can make a big difference on dark days.
  • What’s next for you?
    • I am hard at work on the next book! I jump from one project to another, and always have at least one book in progress. At the moment I’m working on two books – one is for the Oxford Key Mysteries and the other is for my Midlife in Raven series.

Review

I love a good mystery and then you throw in a magical cat AND a wyvern (who’s really the cat) AND a few ghosts AND a setting at Oxford…well. I ask you, how could I resist?? Needless to say, I didn’t, and I’m here to tell you this story is packed with charm and appealing characters and a good conundrum to be solved. Nat and her cohorts, Kate and Mathilde, find lots of clues leading to who killed the chef that are frequently red herrings and, of course, the bigger question is what is causing the magic to fail?

Well, actually, the biggest question might be how did Nat not know about her own connection to the magical world, not to mention where did this curmudgeonly cat called H (because he hates his name) come from? But I digress.

All in all, Ms. Morrison’s Murder at St. Margaret was a most satisfying blend of mystery and urban fantasy, enhanced in a delightful way by Ms. Hewitt’s audiobook narration. I really savored the latters intonations and pacing and I think these two ladies together present an awfully enchanting tale. Now, on to book #2, Burglary at Barnard.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2021.

I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Lynn Morrison. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.

View the full tour schedule here!

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Book Review: Skins and Bone by John Baird Rogers @Gotuit

Skins and Bone          
A Mayfield-Napolitani Thriller #2     
John Baird Rogers
GoTuit Publications, June 2021
ISBN 978-1-732262-5-8
Trade Paperback

Joe Mayfield and Louise Napolitani (Weezy) are in it again. In this excellent second adventure, the couple, now inextricably connected, battle an array of financial criminals. Mayfield is an adept accounting master and Weezy, his companion, is a genius-level computer whiz with far more than an elementary-level appreciation of life and culture. Together, living in the immediate future, the couple are beset by a manipulative criminal conspiracy reflective of a greedy time.

This crime novel is set in a future era, replete with video-phones, communication implants for employees and voice-controlled driverless transportation. But this is not Science Fiction nor is it the kind of speculative futuristic novel set in some distant space-time continuum. Therein lies part of the genius of this excellent crime novel. Every bit of it is easily recognizable as probable development, just around the next plausible bend in society’s road.

Widely ranging action carries the reader feasibly from a small creek-side trailer in Florida to upscale offices in New York, to Austria and Budapest and back to middle America. Characters are many and the author has paid careful attention to all of them, even those with short-lived roles in this tapestry of crime and retribution.

Criminal manipulation of murderous events and stock markets form the core of the story, along with an almost vengeful get-even mind-set. The pace steadily rises toward a multi-scene resolution that should satisfy the most calculating reader. The principal characters and the author’s style are addictive and well-worth following into the future.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2021.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Sins of Edom, Red Sky.

Book Review: Striking Range by Margaret Mizushima @margmizu @crookedlanebks

Striking Range
A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery #7
Margaret Mizushima
Crooked Lane Books, September 2021
ISBN: 978-64385-746-6
Hardcover

Margaret Mizushima’s Timber Creek K-9 mystery series is one of my favorites and always on my MUST READ list. I wish we could get more than one a year! Striking Range is #7, and the stories just keep getting better, with more character development and expansive plots.

Mattie Cobb, Timber Creek K-9 Deputy, has been investigating her own sad background, and after almost being murdered believes she can finally get some answers. Her dog, Robo, trained in drug detection, tracking, and smart enough to do almost anything, is her crime-fighting, always-got-your-back partner.

Mattie is about to enter the Colorado state prison to question a prisoner when the place goes on lock-down and the man she was to meet is murdered. Her last chance at finding answers appears gone unless she can find another lead.

Saddened, she returns home where Cole Walker, who is the local veterinarian and Mattie’s special guy, is about to deliver a female who is bearing Robo’s first litter of puppies. A young, very pregnant woman brings in her dog. A few days later the woman is found dead, murdered, but there is no trace of the missing newborn.

What follows is a race to find the baby and catch the mother’s murderer.

Excellent action, realistic characters, and a fine blending of the lives of a veterinarian and a K-9 cop will keep you reading. In every book the reader learns something that pertains to the work involved in each profession. Fascinating reading. And while I guessed who the bad guy was right off the bat, it didn’t detract in the slightest from my enjoyment of the story and reading about Mattie, Robo, Cole, and the rest of the gang.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, November 2021.
http://www.ckcrigger.com
Author of The Woman Who Built A Bridge (Spur Award Winner), Yester’s Ride,
Hometown Burning and Six Dancing Damsels: A China Bohannon Mystery

Book Review: One of Us by Lorie Lewis Ham @mysteryrat

One of Us
A Tower District Mystery #1
Lorie Lewis Ham
Mystery Rat’s Books, July 2021
ISBN 979-8544783145
Trade Paperback

From the author—

At 35, children’s book author Roxi Carlucci finds herself starting over again after her publisher drops her book series. With no income, she has to pack up her life on the California Coast, along with her pet rat Merlin, and move in with her cousin, P.I. Stephen Carlucci, who lives in Fresno, CA. The one redeeming factor is that Stephen lives in the Tower District—the cultural oasis of Fresno.

Stephen talks Roxi into helping out with a community theatre production, which is also a fundraiser for a local animal rescue. Little did she know that someone would be murdered during a rehearsal, and that she and Stephen would be hired to find the killer. The killer has to be one of Roxi’s new acquaintances since the theatre was locked at the time of the murder, but no one seems to have a motive. How can they solve a murder without a motive? Could the local gossip website hold any clues? Can they stop the killer before they strike again?

More years ago than I care to think about, I first “met” Lorie Lewis Ham and her Alexandra Walters mystery series featuring a gospel singer. The last volume came out in 2010 and I’ve frequently thought about those books, wishing there were more, but that wasn’t to be.

Then, one day earlier this year, Lorie let me know that she was starting a new series and I could not have been happier with the news. One of Us is very different and Roxi Carlucci is not Alexandra Walters but Lorie‘s touch is still there, very evident in her character building and her creation of a cracking good mystery.

Roxi experiences what too many authors do in having her publisher drop her and it only adds insult to injury when other circumstances pile on and force her to give up her home. Luckily, Roxi’s cousin, private investigator Stephen Carlucci, offers her a new place to live and so Roxi’s reinvented life begins. She could not have known that getting involved with a theater production would lead to her setting out on a new career as a private detective alongside her cousin but that sort of thing tends to happen when (1) you find a murder victim and (2) you have a naturally sleuth-y mind.

I’m so glad that Ms. Ham is publishing again and to find that she still has a fine hand with crime fiction, keeping the tension high and offering all sorts of red herrings and nuggets of potential leads. I also enjoyed meeting Roxi and Stephen again since they were both characters in the prior series. One of Us is a terrific start to this new venture and I can’t wait to see what will happen next in Roxi’s life…and to see more of a charming little pet rat named Merlin😄.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2021.

Book Review: Dear Justyce by Nic Stone @getnicced @CrownPublishing

Dear Justyce
Nic Stone
Crown Books for Young Readers, September 2020
ISBN ‎ 978-1-9848-2966-5
Hardcover

Dear Justyce by Nic Stone is the Young Adult, Realistic Fiction companion to Dear Martin. But, please do not pass it by if you’ve not yet met these characters. Dear Justyce does just fine on its own.

Quan is, once again, in Juvenile Detention. The difference: this time…he actually may not have committed the crime for which he is accused. Yeah, he panicked when the very officer that killed Manny swung his weapon toward Quan and his crew. He even pulled his nasty little .22. And brilliantly, he left it behind. Along with the cop’s body.

Hell, he even confessed…sort of.

Quan knew his rights and stated that he chose to remain silent. Several times. But the police had kept talking. And moving Quan from his holding cell to the tiny room with two-way mirror. And back.

Meanwhile, his friend from play-ground-days, Justyce, is working through his first year at Yale. They’re too tight for Quan to feel (much) bitterness. Plus, Justyce had given Quan his notebook filled with the letters he wrote to the late Dr. King, in lieu of a diary. The letters revealed issues that Quan hadn’t known his friend struggled with. Quan takes to writing to Justyce.

Turns out, the writing is therapeutic for Quan and intriguing to Justyce. He senses issues and injustices in Quan’s arrest and processing. The more he listens, the more Justyce believes that Quan’s case is not being taken seriously. Justyce makes it his personal goal to right this wrong.

While the story is as hopeful as it is heart-breaking, the hard truths are going to haunt me. I am so appreciative that Ms. Stone told Quan’s story and I’m pleased that I pre-ordered several copies. Now I can keep one for myself and still add this gem to some of my favorite high-school classroom libraries.

Reviewed by jv poore, December 2020.

Book Review: Two Many Sleuths by M K Scott @morgankwyatt @SDSXXTours

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Title: Two Many Sleuths
Series: The Painted Lady Inn Mysteries Book 12
Author: M K Scott
Publication Date: October 1, 2021

Goodreads // Indiebound // Amazon

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Two Many Sleuths
The Painted Lady Inn Mysteries, Book 12
M K Scott
Sleeping Dragon Press, October 2021
ISBN 978-1944712747
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Can the Brits and Yanks team up to solve a murder?

What should have been an easy week for small town detective Mark Taber and his amateur sleuth and innkeeper wife, Donna Tolllhouse Taber goes awry when a local garden club member is shot. One of the inn guests, a Scotland Yard detective’s insistence on helping could actually make things worse. Can ruffled feathers be smoothed before the killer strikes again?

Plenty of red herrings and potential suspects, not to mention appealing characters including the visiting Howard and Elizabeth, plus a humorous tone, made Two Many Sleuths a fun introduction to this very cozy series. Innkeeper Donna, unlike her police detective husband, Mark, is sure her Scotland Yard detective guest is going to be a treasure trove of crime-solving tips but things don’t quite go that way when a local garden club member is murdered. Will the two real detectives solve the case or will their wives prove they have their own investigating skills?

In a review of another book by M K Scott, I mentioned that I thought the writing was a little stilted and I had the same reaction to Two Many Sleuths. Now, I’ve come to believe that’s just Scott’s style and it certainly didn’t keep me from enjoying the story.

I might also have encountered some difficulty because I haven’t read any of the eleven previous books in the series but the authors presented enough backstory to make me quite comfortable with the characters and setting. Also, readers who are not very familiar with “Brit-speak” will appreciate the included glossary of British lingo.

All said, this was a fun read and I think cozy fans will enjoy it.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2021.

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About the Author

M. K. Scott is the husband and wife writing team behind The Painted Lady Inn Mysteries. Morgan K Wyatt is the general wordsmith, while her husband, Scott, is the grammar hammer and physics specialist. He uses his engineering skills to explain how fast a body falls when pushed over a cliff and various other felonious activities. The Internet and experts in the field provide forensic information, while the recipes and B and B details require a more hands on approach. Morgan’s daughter, who manages a hotel, provides guest horror stories to fuel the plot lines. The couple’s dog, Chance, is the inspiration behind Jasper, Donna’s dog.

Website // Blog // Facebook // Twitter
Instagram // Bookbub // Amazon // Goodreads

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