Book Review: Maxed Out by C.S. McDonald @CSMcDonald7 @iReadBookTours

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Title: Maxed Out
Series: The Owl’s Nest Mysteries #2
Author: C.S. McDonald
Publication Date: May 2, 2021
Genres: Mystery, Cozy

Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Amazon

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Maxed Out
The Owl’s Nest Mysteries #2
C.S. McDonald
McWriter Books, May 2021
ISBN 979-8745992988
Trade Paperback

From the author—

The Owl’s Nest Couturier Shoppe is a huge success! Business is booming and Alexa Owl’s love life is heating up. Yet much to the seamstress’s dismay, Detective Bobby Starr is suddenly back again! Bobby isn’t your everyday gumshoe. Rather, he’s an angel who’s trying to earn a place in Saint Peter’s Guardian Angel Squad. He’s required to solve murders he had left unsettled from when he walked the earth in order to be accepted into this prestigious group. Of course, they will need to return to the time period in which the murder took place, and again, Alexa is a reluctant time traveler. Oh, and there’s one more little problem—this time, Bobby’s brought along a friend, Maxi Krogen, and she’s no angel!

Bobby Starr was a good enough detective during his time as a living, breathing human back in the 1950’s but he’s an angel now and really wants to become a member of the elite Guardian Angel Squad. To do so, he has to solve three of his old cold cases assigned to him by St. Peter. Maxed Out is the tale of the second case and, once again, he’s recruited shopowner Alexa Owl to help.

When Bobby shows up in Alexa’s life again, he’s not alone; tagging along is Maxi Krogen who spent years in prison for murdering her husband but she’s not exactly angelic, at least not in the pleasant way you might expect. No, Maxi is rude, cranky, secretive and anything but a cooperative ghost.

Modern day Pittsburgh gives way to the city of the 1950’s as the trio goes back in time to look for clues. Before long, they find themselves running into the mob and an apparent takeover of a popular pizza parlor but will they be able to ferret out the real killer?

This is a fun story and the reader who wholeheartedly throws out any sense of disbelief will have a thoroughly good time with these appealing characters and an intriguing puzzle. Note to self: go read the first book PDQ 😀

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2021.

About the Author

For twenty-six years C.S. McDonald’s life whirled around a song and a dance. Classically trained at Pittsburgh Ballet Theater School, The Pittsburgh Dance Alloy, and many others, she became a professional dancer and choreographer. In 2011 she retired from her dance career to write. Under her real name, Cindy McDonald, she writes murder-suspense and romantic suspense novels. In 2014 she added the pen name, C.S. McDonald, to write children’s books for her grandchildren. In 2016 she added the Fiona Quinn Mysteries. Presently, the Fiona Quinn Mysteries has nine books.

Cindy’s newest venture is The Owl’s Nest Mysteries. Once again, she has set her cozy mystery in Pittsburgh. The Owl’s Next Mysteries has a little grit, a little time travel, a little romance, and a whole lot of cozy!

Cindy resides on her Thoroughbred farm known as Fly by Night Stables near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with her husband, Bill, and her poorly behaved Cocker Spaniel, Allister.

Connect with the author:  Website  ~  Twitter  ~  Facebook

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Giveaway

Autographed copy of MAXED OUT, plus
other gifts (USA only) (ends Jul 23)

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Book Review: House of Desire by Margaret Lucke @MargaretLucke @OakledgePress1

House of Desire
A Claire Scanlan Haunted House Mystery
Margaret Lucke
Oakledge Press, June  2020
ISBN: 978-1-939030-06-1
Trade Paperback

A haunted house story is always fun, and when it’s mixed with time-travel, murder, and ghosts, the whole spectrum is covered. In House of Desire, the precept is intriguing. A grand old Victorian mansion has passed into the hands of the present generation heirs. Though none want the house as a home, one wants to sell to a developer; one wants to sell to a museum that will preserve the house and its history; one doesn’t know what to do. Her heart votes for the museum, her head tells her she needs the most money. Meanwhile, the sales reps negotiating for the museum are hosting a big bash to raise funds for the preservation, which the developer also attends. And then a man is murdered. The odd thing is, no one seems to have a motive.

Claire Scanlon is one of the agents advocating for the museum, but she is more than that. A psychic (although I’m not sure she meets the exact criteria for that) when she meets a young woman on the mansion’s stairs, she soon realizes the girl, Roxane, is invisible to everyone but her. What is Roxane’s story? Why is she here? Why is she wearing the same necklace Claire has on? And why is she so afraid? Claire will have to travel into the past to discover the answers to these questions, and discover the present day murderer.

The novel is written with four different points of view, something that occasionally becomes a bit clunky. Although this book is evidently part of a series, I didn’t find Claire’s character especially strong as the heroine. And although I went back and reread parts, the answer to how Roxane and Claire had the same necklace was never answered. Since I read an ARC, perhaps that is addressed in the final version. I hope so. Loved the setting of a house of ill-repute and found its denizens excellent; the current characters not so much.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2020.
http://www.ckcrigger.com
Author of The Woman Who Built A Bridge (Spur Award Winner), Yester’s Ride,
Hometown Burning and Five Days, Five Dead: A China Bohannon Novel

Book Review: Malice by Pintip Dunn @pintipdunn @EntangledTeen @The_FFBC

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Title: Malice
Author: Pintip Dunn
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Publication date: February 4, 2020
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // iTunes // Google Books
Amazon // Book Depository // Indiebound

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Malice
Pintip Dunn
Entangled Teen, February 2020
ISBN 978-1-64063-412-1
Hardcover

From the publisher—

What I know: a boy in my class will one day wipe out two-thirds of the population with a virus.

What I don’t know: who he is.

In a race against the clock, I not only have to figure out his identity, but I’ll have to outwit a voice from the future telling me to kill him. Because I’m starting to realize no one is telling the truth. But how can I play chess with someone who already knows the outcome of my every move? Someone so filled with malice they’ve lost all hope in humanity? Well, I’ll just have to find a way—because now they’ve drawn a target on the only boy I’ve ever loved….

Pintip Dunn has a knack for coming up with young adult science fiction stories that are interesting and creative but are not hardcore science fiction so they appeal to a wider readership that prefer scifi-lite, so to speak. That doesn’t mean they’re weak, by any means, just more accessible and I appreciate that.

The beauty of time travel is that there’s so much you can do with it, so many ways to make it the core of an intriguing tale and that’s true here. By offering a look at certain characters during different stages of their lives that haven’t happened yet, the focus can be on those characters and not so much on the setting or worldbuilding.

Alice is a perfectly normal teen or, at least, as normal as possible for a girl whose mother disappeared years ago and whose father has been emotionally distant ever since. In fact, Alice is the steady one in this family, especially in looking after her older brother, Archie, a prodigy who definitely has a few screws loose and a deep distrust of people. These two and a boy named Bandit are all crucial to the plot and, although I pegged the future creator of the global virus early on, that certainly didn’t keep me from wanting to see how everything would pan out.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2020.

About the Author

Pintip Dunn is a New York Times bestselling author of young adult fiction. She graduated from Harvard University, magna cum laude, with an A.B., and received her J.D. at Yale Law School.

Her novel FORGET TOMORROW won the 2016 RWA RITA® for Best First Book, and SEIZE TODAY won the 2018 RITA for Best Young Adult Romance. Her books have been translated into four languages, and they have been nominated for the following awards: the Grand Prix del’Imaginaire; the Japanese Sakura Medal; the MASL Truman Award; the TomeSociety It list; and the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award.

Her other titles include REMEMBER YESTERDAY, THE DARKEST LIE, GIRL ON THE VERGE, STAR-CROSSED, and MALICE.

She lives with her husband and children in Maryland.

Website // Twitter // Facebook // Instagram // Goodreads

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Giveaway

Win (1) of (2) copies of MALICE by Pintip Dunn (US Only)

Starts: 4th February 2020  Ends: 18th February 2020

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Book Review: Crime Travel edited by Barb Goffman @BarbGoffman

Crime Travel
Edited by Barb Goffman
Wildside Press, December 2019
ISBN 978-1-4794-4838-8
Trade Paperback

A collection of fifteen short stories which feature crimes committed, prevented, or solved by time travel. The writing is uniformly excellent and the stories give way to flights of imagination, but always grounded in the reality of a crime. Some of the time travel is accomplished by time machine, some by supernatural methods, and some by original and surprising methods.

In Cathy Wiley’s “And Then There Were Paradoxes,” two detectives travel back in time to consult Agatha Christie on a puzzling locked room murder.

A boy discovers how his parents died in an accident ten years earlier, and wonders if there is any way to prevent their deaths in “Alex’s Choice,” by Barb Goffman.

Heidi Hunter’s story, “No Honor Among Thieves,” features a crook who gets an assist from time travel to thwart her partner, and to avoid sharing the spoils of their treasure hunt.

In “Living on Borrowed Time,” Melissa H. Blaine’s protagonist discovers a couple of teenage time travelers who are visiting all the crime sites of the infamous Fifty-State Stabber, and she realizes she will become one of the victims. Is there a way to foil her fate?

Fans of mystery short stories will find this an enjoyable collection of unusual and thought-provoking time travel tales.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, December 2019.

Book Reviews: Overturned by Lamar Giles and The Histronauts: An Egyptian Adventure by Frances Durkin and Grace Cooke @LRGiles @Scholastic @HistoriaFrankie @JollyFishPress

Overturned
Lamar Giles
Scholastic Press, April 2017
ISBN 978-0-545-81250-4
Hardcover

I am always seeking books that will immediately intrigue ‘my’ students. Many times, I’ve been sucked into a suspense-filled, action-packed, heart-pumping mystery…surrounding a subject they could not care less about. Aptly, of course, young adults are not the intended audience—I am.

But.

Young adult readers deserve thrilling books.

Mr. Giles seems pleased to provide. And now, I may be the only person looking forward to school starting. I cannot wait to share Overturned.

The setting: the very casino where 16-year-old Nikki Tate works…as well as resides, stimulates the reader’s senses. At a blush, that life-style—for a high-school student—sounds kinda fabulous. And it was. Once.

Without her dad around to run things, the responsibility falls straight through her mother’s trembling fingers into Nikki’s own hands. She can handle it. Has to. Knowing, with her whole heart, that her father is not capable of murder doesn’t keep him off death row. Someone has to support the family—not just the three of them; the trusted and treasured employees of Cosmos matter, too.

Otherwise, she would never consider running her own after-hours, under-the-table card games. Which were not really a big deal. There’s only one human better at poker than Nikki and he’s not here right now. Gavin may still be in his teens, but his bulk makes him the perfect bouncer. Maybe he has a few butterflies when her invitations are extended to some shady characters, but Nikki knows she’s got this.

Until something even odder than the initial arrest and murder charge. New evidence, and an attorney more than pleased to represent Mr. Tate, appears. Conviction overturned and Mr. Tate is head of his casino once again.

Nikki’s delight with his return was fleeting. She once believed he was always there when she needed him. Now, his presence is so far past smothering, she seethes when they share the same space. Determined to make up for the lost time, and hoping to find the sweet, happy Babygirl he remembers; her dad dives deeper into her life.

Although Nikki doesn’t see it at first, Mr. Tate is not as angry as he is horrified and frightened by what he finds. As dad works diligently to get his daughter out of the quick-sand she doesn’t know she’s standing in, Nikki consistently (albeit unintentionally) blocks his way with a combination of teen-age infatuation and obligatory rebellion.

Overturned by Mr. Giles is absolutely every single thing I wish for when I want to wow ‘my’ students with a Book Talk.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2019.

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The Histronauts: An Egyptian Adventure
Frances Durkin and Grace Cooke
Jolly Fish Press, January 2019
ISBN 978-1-63163-239-6
Hardcover

I don’t know if Ms. Durkin and Ms. Cooke colluded to create a tiny tome that would call to all; from the self-dubbed non-reader to the basic bookworm, but that’s exactly what this groovy graphic-novel does.

Filled with fascinating facts, in the same way a teeny car contains a multitude of clowns, this was a particularly pleasing read for me. An at-a-glance timeline from 5,000 BC through 30 BC took up only a tiny portion of a page, but was packed with information. I had no idea that Egypt was divided and reunited so many times! Nor could I have fathomed the complicated process of turning papyrus into paper.

The “novel” is in the narration. The Histronauts, a quirky crew, complete with a cat, needed an indoor activity on a rainy day. Their museum visit morphs into an adventurous Egyptian exploration. As the kids take in the sights and ask amazing questions, I am completely captivated, learning about ancient Egyptians and their way of life. And if all of that isn’t enough, there are even activities through-out. From making jewelry to flatbread or simply solving puzzles, these were engaging additions.

I believe that reluctant readers will enjoy this because of the tantalizing trivia and the graphic-novel-format seems to be more appealing for shorter attention spans. I think avid readers will be reeling from the intriguing information. I was totally into it. And truly, who knew there more than 2,000 ancient Egyptian gods? Or that music was such an imperative part of their lives?

The Histronauts also embark on a Roman adventure and I am already looking forward to joining them.

Reviewed by jv poore, December 2018.

Book Review: End of an Era by Robert J. Sawyer

Continue reading

Book Reviews: A Strange Scottish Shore by Juliana Gray and The Gardener’s Secret by Jamie Cortland

A Strange Scottish Shore
Emmeline Truelove #2
Juliana Gray
Berkley, September 2017
ISBN 978-0-425-277089
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Scotland, 1906. A mysterious object discovered inside an ancient castle calls Maximilian Haywood, the new Duke of Olympia, and his fellow researcher Emmeline Truelove north to the remote Orkney Islands. No stranger to the study of anachronisms in archeological digs, Haywood is nevertheless puzzled by the artifact: a suit of clothing that, according to family legend, once belonged to a selkie who rose from the sea and married the castle’s first laird.
 
But Haywood and Truelove soon realize they’re not the only ones interested in the selkie’s strange hide. When their mutual friend Lord Silverton vanishes in the night from an Edinburgh street, their quest takes a dangerous turn through time, which puts Haywood’s extraordinary talents—and Truelove’s courage—to their most breathtaking test yet.

After Miss Emmeline Truelove sets off by train to Scotland to join her employer and colleague, Max Haywood, the late Queen Victoria appears, not an unusual occurrence, to warn her that she’s being followed, no surprise to Emmeline. Then, her friend and would-be suitor, Marquess Frederick Silverton, boards the same train and chases after the stranger who jumps off. Clearly, we’re off on an adventure.

An odd man named Hunter Spillane later disappears after attacking Emmeline and Max at a house party in Scotland. When James Magnusson, Earl of Thurso, shows them a box found in a castle’s ruins, the mystery deepens and yet holds a hint of their own recent past. Affairs of the heart and Emmeline’s visions of her deceased father and the late Queen add to the mystery they must solve without undue attention from others.

In a blend of mystery and fantasy, people literally come and go through centuries in a time-traveling kind of vortex as the puzzle begins to come clear and a beautiful woman named Helen tells an incredible tale. The story itself is highly entertaining but it’s the various characters who really engaged me and kept me turning pages. Now, I need to find the first book and do some catching up.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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The Gardener’s Secret
Jamie Cortland
World Castle Publishing, June 2017
ISBN 978-1629897318
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

When Vince Giardini is believed to have perished in a plane crash over the Rockies, his beautiful wife, Dannie, becomes the target of handsome and charismatic, Eddie Haywood who is a psychopath with a borderline personality disorder. After discovering she needs a gardener and a handyman to care for her mansion on AIA, he applies for the position.

As his fascination with her intensifies, he vows to make her his one way or another and he begins to stalk her. Danni knows she is being stalked, especially after the break-in. Alone, without Vince, she has no one to save her from Eddie’s devious plans except her friends, Sal Catalano, her husband’s partner and Peter Langley.

A plane crash sets the tone for this tale that drips menace on the page, particularly when Eddie Haywood sets his sights on Danni Giardini. Eddie is the kind of man who makes women shudder, not only because we know what he is but also because of his public persona that keeps his nature hidden. It’s the kind of facade that we fear because it’s so easy to not really see the monster beneath.

Occasional inconsistencies pulled me out of the story such as the time when Danni rushes to meet her friend, Lainey, because she’s late for their lunch date but she stops at a coffee shop and reads part of the newspaper. Also, Danni can be annoying, with a sense of entitlement that comes from being rich and bored. Another example is when Sal, Vince’s partner, flies from Denver to Palm Beach hoping to give the bad news to Danni before the airline does. Why on earth would anyone do that, knowing a telephone call is almost certainly going to reach her first? As it turns out, there was no help for it since she was away from her home and her phone but he didn’t know that. There’s also a scene in which a pregnant woman drinks wine and there’s no indication from her or the man with her that this is just a once a week thing.

Despite content and editing flaws of this sort, the tale moves along, building suspense about the missing man, the one who wants to do harm and, eventually, a murdered woman. Tension rachets up a few chapters in and, for the rest of the book, the main thing that threw me off was something that I expect might be more common in romance books than in the genres I’m used to. I can’t say what it is without spoiling but it had to do with the interactions of certain characters and, since I rarely read romance per se, I’m not holding it against The Gardener’s Secret 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.