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Julybrary – The Winston Brothers Series

⇒ “Everyone in Green Valley, Tennessee knows that the six bearded Winston brothers have been imbued with an unfair share of charm and charisma… and are prone to mischief.” – Penny Reid

A few years ago, I got a free Kindle download of Truth or Beard, Penny Reid’s first Winston Brothers book — a spin-off of her Knitting in the City series. I had every intention of reading the book right away – I was intrigued by the book cover and finding a cute, funny romance is always a bonus with free downloads.

However, as any reader with an overflowing TBR list can tell you, reading that book right away was a long-shot at best.

So here we are, many moons later, and I am just now getting around to experiencing Penny Reid’s Winston boys… er… men. And, man oh man, am I sorry that I waited so long!


If you are already familiar with Jethro, Billy, Cletus, Duane, Beau, Roscoe, and their sister, Ashley, then you are in good company with this large family from small-town Tennessee. And if you’ve never really thought about serving your romance up with an extra large dose of sexy beard and classic literary middle names, then you may end up being as surprised as I am now that this whole brotherhood has now made my Man Crush Monday list:

-Penny Reid

What makes a good romance for you? Is it all about the characters; how beautiful they are or how hot their chemistry is? Is it all about the circumstances of the story; their meet-cute or how they overcome obstacles? Or is it all about the boom-chicka-wow-wow for you? <wink, wink!>

Whatever it is, I am sure that you’ll find some element of everything you love about reading romance in this series by Penny Reid. The characters are quirky and comical, each in their own way. The story lines are well-thought out and connected, even though each book could be read as a standalone (but why would you want to do that?!?! You wouldn’t, so let’s just forget I ever said anything. Moving on…)

The thing I like best about this series is that it managed to actually make me laugh! Not just an acknowledgement like, “Yes, that was humorous, now on to the next paragraph.” Nope. This was a genuine stop-reading-for-a-moment-because-I-just-lost-my-place-in-the-book-because-I-was-laughing kind of humor (even though I was listening to it on audiobook, the general example still applies.)


Let’s look at each of these books in publishing order…

Duane

This is Duane’s story. He’s the serious twin. His brother Beau is the one everyone likes. Everyone, including Jessica James – who has had the hots for Beau Winston since childhood. And she has hated Duane. But, as we all know, there’s a thin line… well, you know.

Jethro

This eldest Winston brother hasn’t always been on the right side of the law and there used to be a time when he much preferred pushing the limits rather than toeing the line. But those days are behind him now. And he’s not looking for anyone to rock his boat – that is, until Sienna Diaz comes to town.

Cletus

Fan favorite, Cletus, is easily the brains of the brotherhood. He always has a trick up his sleeve and his personal motto should just be, “I’ll handle it.” (In actuality though, it’s more like, “Hold my sausage.”) So what could be more of a mismatch than Cletus and Jennifer Sylvester, the Banana Cake Queen?

Beau

This Winston brother is the one the whole town loves – especially all the ladies! He’s got a ladykiller reputation and the looks to back it up. Beau finds a way to spread his charm around everyone he meets – until he meets Shelly Sullivan.

Roscoe

You know how it is when your ex keeps popping up everywhere? Well, that’s where Roscoe is now. For years Simone Payton has been on his mind, and for those same number of years, Simone has been trying to forget about Roscoe Winston.

Scarlet St. Claire

OK, no, I am not trying to trick you. I know Scarlet isn’t technically one of the Winston brothers, BUT her story is pivotal to perhaps the most anticipated story of the whole lot. Scarlet St. Claire is Claire McClure and she and Billy Winston can’t stand to be in the same room with each other. But why…?

Billy

His name is William Shakespeare. Not joking. But nothing about Billy is a joke. He is serious. He doesn’t laugh, doesn’t even smile. He is moody and quiet, and stubborn. And he is heart-wrenchingly in love.


Intrigued? You should be. I am loving getting to know this family and experiencing all of their forays into love. I am starting book #5 now, which I want to read so fast, but then it’ll only put me that much closer to the end of the series and… noooooo! Just noooooo!

What will I do without these beards in my life? Thankfully I won’t have to find out for another 2 books, and then there are the Cletus cozy mystery spin-offs and the Knitting series, and… Penny Reid, you’ve got me hooked!

Penny Reid

Rich People Problems (Crazy Rich Asians, #3)

“The problem is that they all have too much money, and it’s come so easily to them that they think they’re bloody geniuses and so they are always right..” -Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan


Author: Kevin Kwan

(3.94 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Contemporary Romance / Women’s Lit

Format: Paperback

Publication Date: May 1, 2018, by Anchor Books

Pages: 541 (Paperback)

#RichPeopleProblems #KevinKwan


He knows he did absolutely nothing to deserve his fortune, and so the only thing he can do is disparage others who have the audacity to make their own money.

Spend just ten minutes on any mainstream social media site and you’ll see them… The Beautiful People.
I logged into Instagram this morning and saw Chrissy Teigen making glittery mermaid tail chocolates after taking selfies in her robe closet. Joanna Gaines is flawless in a beachy floral dress overlooking the ocean. And countless other celebrities are baking banana bread in designer kitchens or enjoying a “quaran-tini” next to their lavish backyard pools.

Why are we so obsessed with wealth and the people who have it? This is not rant, oh no! I love following celebrities on social media. I talk to them, sometimes they talk back. It makes them more real to me. And anything that puts me only a comment away from Jason Momoa is nothing I’m going to argue against!

But what is it about gawking at the riches of others that is so enticing? Oh, were you waiting on me to answer? Sorry to disappoint because I really haven’t got the foggiest clue, but everything about the staggeringly rich characters in Kevin Kwan’s Rich People Problems draws me into their decadent luxury and their bountiful misfortunes as well. Let’s look at the blurb…

Nicholas Young’s grandmother Su Yi is on her deathbed. While he rushes to be by her side he’s not the only one. The entire Shang-Young clan has convened from all corners of the globe to stake claim on the matriarch’s massive fortune. With all parties vying to inherit a trophy estate in the heart of Singapore, Nicholas’s childhood home turns into a hotbed of sabotage and scandal. Taking us from elegantly appointed mansions in Manila to secluded private islands in the Sulu Sea, Kevin Kwan’s final installment in this irresistible trilogy reveals the long-buried secrets of Asia’s most privileged families and their rich people problems.


Tourists should have to take a style exam before being allowed to set foot on the island!

If you’ve followed all these crazy-rich Asians up to this point (or is it crazy, rich Asians?), you probably already have picked out your favorites. Golden couple, Nick and Rachel, monopolized much of the ink in books 1 & 2, but the love gets spread around a lot more in the final installment of Kwan’s trilogy.

Su Yi (Nick’s overbearing grandmother) becomes a true character here, with more backstory and a more present… presence. Nick’s aunts also add to the family shenanigans – each with their own unique brand of crazy.
And if you thought you’d seen the last of the much put-upon Kitty Pong, well… surprise! Kitty’s making big moves in Book #3, and she is determined to conquer Singaporean society, one way or another.

Peel away the veneer of wealth and sophistication and you’ll find extremely provincial, narrow-minded people.

From servants to sultans, readers not only experience these audaciously colorful characters, but we also get to experience one of the most treasured tools in a writer’s arsenal: backstory!

No spoilers here, but I will say that Kwan’s treatment of his characters and their lives only makes them more beloved. So, if I loved it – and I did – why not rate it 5 stars?
You’ve heard me harp on this before in other reviews, and I’m not gonna let it go yet… denouement.

Yeah yeah, I know. It’s just a fancy word for how everything wraps up in a novel. Is it drawn out? Is it vague? Is it a tantalizing cliffhanger, or a predictable love match? Book endings are SO important! Especially so in a series where readers fall in love with characters, families, and all their quirky antics.

I spent 1,423 pages getting to know these people, so please don’t think that I’m going to be OK with you “summing up” how everyone’s drama resolves into one short epilogic chapter, Mr. Kwan. I am not!

So, minus one whole star for that. Other than that frustrating feature, Rich People Problems has a lot to offer: scandalous drama, touching reunions, salacious secrets, raucous humor, and (of course) a poop-ton of crazy rich Asians!


P.S.: In the CRA universe, the Tattler magazine is tops in gossip media. But guess what? It’s based on a real mag! Wait… did you know that already? Ugh, I’m so late! Let’s just pretend you didn’t already know and just indulge in this website with me where I spent almost 2 hours yesterday reading about people I’ll never meet! 🙂

Tatler


Kevin Kwan

Kevin Kwan is the author of “Crazy Rich Asians,” the international bestseller now being adapted as a major motion picture. The sequel, “China Rich Girlfriend,” will be released on June 16, 2015. Born and raised in Singapore, Kwan has called Manhattan home for the past two decades but still craves pineapple tarts and a decent plate of Hokkien mee. -Bio from Goodreads


Blog Tour | The Third to Die (Mobile Response Team, #1)

Blog Tour | “Psychopaths were born and bred, created from both nature and nurture. They would keep coming, and nothing she did could deter them from their destructive path.” – The Third to Die

**Many thanks to Harlequin/MIRA and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Author: Allison Brennan

(4.05 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Crime Fiction / Mystery / Thriller / Suspense

Format: Kindle

Publication Date: February 4, 2020, by Harlequin / MIRA

Pages: 464 (Kindle version)

#TheThirdtoDie #ThirdtoDie #3rdtoDie #AllisonBrennan #MIRABooks


Rage filled his veins, memories of the past, the light and the dark, the good and the very, very bad.

You know that feeling when you get in on the very beginning of something that hasn’t hit the mainstream yet, but you just know it’s gonna be huge? I had that feeling decades ago while listening to Jodeci’s demo tape (yes, I said tape!) at an artists exhibition, again when I signed up for Netflix in their first year of operation, and again when I saw Jason Momoa in his first episode of Stargate Atlantis. All three times, I was right – huge.

Any time an author begins a new series, so much rides on that very first book. Will be a hit or a miss? Either one will determine the fate of the series. However, Allison Brennan has nothing to worry about with this beginning to her Mobile Response Team series. Let’s check out the blurb:

Detective Kara Quinn is visiting her hometown of Liberty Lake, Washington, after being placed on administrative leave by the LAPD, when she comes upon the mutilated body of a young nurse during an early morning jog. The manner of death is clearly ritualistic; she calls it in. Meanwhile back in DC, special agent in charge Mattias Costa is meticulously staffing his newly-minted Mobile Response Team. One of his first recruits is the brilliant FBI forensic psychologist Catherine Jones. When word reaches Matt that the Washington state murder appears to be the work of the Triple Killer–it will be the first case for the MRT. Jones has done the only profile on this serial killer, but she is reluctant to join the unit, still shaken by the death of her sister a year ago under circumstances for which she holds herself responsible. But only she holds the key to understanding the killer’s obsessive pattern–three murder victims, three deep slashes a piece, each three days apart, each series beginning on a March 3rd–3/3, then a three-year hiatus before he strikes again.
This time they have a chance to stop him before he claims another victim strikes, but only if they can figure out who he is and where is is hiding.


She had certainly worked her fair share of cases and tended to think like a criminal. Maybe because she’d been raised by two criminals.

So what does The Third to Die have going for it that already has me buying into a whole series that hasn’t even been written yet? It’s that same type of feeling I get when I know something’s going to be successful.

The Third to Die has all the hallmarks that readers are looking for in great suspense thrillers: diabolical crimes, an elusive criminal with a deep-seated vendetta, and a custom-made team of detectives intent on keeping everyone alive.
Allison Brennan gives us characters who are almost instantly compelling with gritty backgrounds, lost loves, and personal flaws included. This is a series to watch/read for lovers of FBI crime dramas and procedurals or for those who love series featuring seriously twisted bad people.

The writing is taut and moves along steadily up until the end, when the pace quickens and readers are greedily swept along with the intense action. I was not bored one minute, and this story did not suffer as so many others do with a long, complicated explanation of motives and methods. In this one, everyone just does their thing – both good and bad – and the reader is along for the ride; just like I like it!

He needed to release these demons, this overwhelming craving to punish those who were weak. Pathetic. Losers.

As you know, sometimes new things stake a while to catch on. I told many people about Jason Momoa back in his Stargate Atlantis days and 99% of them said, “Who?” Now, after also bringing Conan, Khal Drogo, and Aquaman to the screen, he’s pretty big stuff. I’ll go ahead and pat myself on the back for calling that one. So, trust me when I say that you should check out The Third to Die by Allison Brennan and get ready to follow Kara, Matt, and Catherine into all of their worst nightmares.


The Third to Die will be available February 4, 2020 at any of the following retailers:


Allison Brennan

Allison Brennan is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling and award-winning author of three dozen thrillers and numerous short stories. Allison believes life is too short to be bored, so she had five kids. Allison and her family live in Arizona. Visit her at allisonbrennan.com


The Tenant

“Writing a murder mystery is like trying to braid a spiderweb, thousands of threads stick to your fingers and break if you don’t keep your focus.” -The Tenant

**Many thanks to NetGalley, Scout Press, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Author: Katrine Engberg

(3.67 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Crime Fiction / Mystery

Format: Kindle

Publication Date: January 14, 2020, by Scout Press

Pages: 368 (Kindle version)

#TheTenant #KatrineEngberg


Sound is equivalent to life, except when the sound is a doorbell bearing bad news, then sound is equivalent to death.

We’ve all heard the saying that art imitates life. Is it true, and is it equally true the other way around? I think a solid argument for either is demonstrated very well in The Tenant. Here’s the blurb…

When a young woman is discovered brutally murdered in her own apartment, with an intricate pattern of lines carved into her face, Copenhagen police detectives Jeppe Korner and Anette Werner are assigned to the case. In short order, they establish a link between the victim, Julie Stender, and her landlady, Esther de Laurenti, who’s a bit too fond of drink and the host of raucous dinner parties with her artist friends. Esther also turns out to be a budding novelist—and when Julie turns up as a murder victim in the still-unfinished mystery she’s writing, the link between fiction and real life grows both more urgent and more dangerous.
But Esther’s role in this twisted scenario is not quite as clear as it first seems. Is she the culprit—or just another victim, trapped in a twisted game of vengeance? Anette and Jeppe must dig more deeply into the two women’s pasts to discover the identity of the brutal puppet-master pulling the strings in this electrifying literary thriller.


A lack of evidence and divergent theories are not the optimum combination for solving a crime.

I started out loving this book. There’s just something about Scandinavian crime-fighters that piques my morbid interest. We’ve got Danish backdrops, imperfect main characters, a grisly murder, and a killer who is going off the rails. Can it get any better? The jury’s still out on that.

Although I do consider this a good series debut for Anette and Jeppe’s characters, somewhere in the middle the wheels fell off. Were there too many suspects? Too much internal conversation? Too much of not enough? I can’t precisely put my finger on it, but whatever it was, it made a good book just not quite click for me.

The second we die, we become someone’s job. In some ways a crime scene is reminiscent of a theater production. A web of silent agreement that, taken altogether, makes up a whole. On cue.

Ultimately, I gave this book a star and a half for captivating character development in Jeppe, a star for the excellent first few chapters, and a star for the future potential of this police procedural/detective series. I wouldn’t mind reading more about these characters as long as the plots stay original and the action doesn’t drag.

Oh, and let’s learn more about Anette’s backstory next time!


Katrine Engberg

A former dancer and choreographer with a background in television and theater, Katrine Engberg has launched a groundbreaking career as a novelist with the publication of The Tenant. She is now one of the most widely read and beloved crime authors in Denmark.


Waiting for Tom Hanks

⇒”… true love sometimes involved a little bit of light stalking and a lot of encouragement from Rosie O’Donnell.”⇐


My fourth #Julybrary book this month is Waiting for Tom Hanks. So far, my library picks have been excellent – well, three out of four ain’t bad. I hope my Julybrary challenge inspires other readers to use their public libraries more often. Using mine has certainly saved me both money and bookshelf space!


Author: Kerry Winfrey

(3.55 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Romance / Humor

Published June 11, 2019by Berkley

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

#WaitingforTomHanks #Julybrary


My Tom Hanks is out there, and I’m not going to settle until I find him.

Before I got old(-ish) and cynical and jaded (yes, all of those), I was a hope-ful romantic. I just knew that fairy tales do come true and that relationships actually could have happily ever afters. Then I had my first boyfriend and realized that boys are jerks. I tell you, fourth grade is very traumatic.

But before that, believing in romance was fun. It was not unlike believing in Santa or the tooth fairy – there’s a certain magic to it. Waiting for Tom Hanks revives that magic in a perfectly-paced love story (set in snow) where the characters are totally sold-out on love.

Blurb: Annie is twenty-seven years old, single, and obsessed with romantic comedies (she and her mother watched them religiously, before her mom died). Her dating life is limited by the expectations she’s formed from these movies. She is not as open to new experiences as she might be, because she’s waiting for her Tom Hanks–i.e., a guy she’ll find in the perfect, meet-cute romantic comedy way. When Annie does finally meet her perfect match, it’s not quite in the way she expected, and she’s forced to reckon with the walls she’s built around herself over the years.


There’s a part of me that needs to see a world where everything works out for the best, where people are together forever, or where Tom Hanks can destroy someone’s business but they fall in love anyway.

Waiting… made me happy in so many ways. 1. It’s the perfect summer read for a quiet weekend or a lazy morning in the beach. 2. Its characters are instantly familiar and funny. 3. It’s a love story that isn’t set in New York (imagine that!) And 4. It’s both devoted to romance and charmingly irreverent of it all at the same time.

My current jaded nature makes me appreciate that last point the most. Author Kerry Winfrey has penned an entirely clichéd romance novel, made fun of it, doubled down on it, and then made me love it. It’s perfect. You know what you’re going to get, but the way Winfrey delivers it is so satisfying and fun. It almost made me forget my misanthropic tendencies. Almost.


Read the first chapter of Waiting for Tom Hanks.


Kerry Winfrey

Kerry Winfrey is the author of Love and Other Alien Experiences and Things Jolie Needs to Do Before She Bites It. She’s written for many websites, including HelloGiggles. She lives with her husband, baby, and dog in the middle of Ohio.


The Bone Farm (and some series spotlights)

⇒This week I review Dean Koontz’s The Bone Farm and shine a spotlight on some of the other book series I’m addicted to.⇐


Author: Dean Koontz

(3.76 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Crime Fiction / Mystery / Thriller

Published April 25, 2018by Brilliance Audio

Format: Audiobook

Narrator: Elisabeth Rodgers

Pages: 100

#TheBoneFarm #JaneHawk


Let me say first that if you are looking for a series to get invested in, Dean Koontz has some wonderful, easy reads that will keep you on a series train for a nice, pleasant (tense, suspenseful, thrilling, sometimes scary) ride. The Bone Farm is book #0.5 (a case file that precedes the events of the Jane Hawk series), and is every bit as engaging as its older, bigger siblings. But if death-defying females aren’t your thing (hmm, who are you?), then you could try any of Koontz’s other appealing series: Odd Thomas, 9 books that will have you seeing death in a whole new light; Frankenstein, a new look at an old monster in 6 books; or Moonlight Bay, 3 books (2 pub & 1 on the way) that will test if you can survive the darkness of night. I’ve read all of Odd Thomas (love, love, love) and Moonlight Bay (well, not book 3 because it isn’t out yet (and may actually never happen). And I read Prodigal Son of his Frankenstein series last year (sooooo good). Dean Koontz has yet to disappoint me.

But let me back up a little and give you the Goodreads blurb on The Bone Farm:

Katherine Haskell, a young college co-ed is on her way back to school, but she never makes it there. Instead, she becomes the latest prey of the rapist and murderer dubbed by the tabloids the “Mother Hater.” He is a twisted soul who kidnaps young girls for pleasure then discards them. Katherine is missing, but she’s not yet dead. FBI agents Jane Hawk and her partner Gary Burkett must descend into the hell of this killer’s mind to solve the case before it is too late. The question is – will they both get out alive?

This novella is presented as a case file which only hypes me up that there will be more of these – oh book gods, please don’t fail us on this one. The bad guy is bat$&!# cuckoo, Jane is smart and ruthless, there’s a controlling mother, and an old creepy farm house – I’m here for ALL of it!!!! I almost wrote a spoiler right there because I got excited, but stopped myself right in time. Y’all lucked out. But just know, it gets twisty and good!

The Bone Farm is part of the Jane Hawk series, which includes 6 other books to date. The series features a strong heroine in an all-out battle against a new world order. The books are suspenseful, thrilling, and addictive. In a word, readthem. (I know, I know. Just do it.)


So since we’re talking about series, I thought I’d spotlight just a few of the other series that I have followed unfailingly over the years. Most of them are in my preferred genre of mystery/thrillers, but there are a few deviants in the bunch. And you might be surprised by what you won’t find on my list: namely, Harry Potter. (No shade! I just haven’t read them!)

Pendergast Series

One of my longest-standing series, I got hooked on Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child’s series featuring the enigmatic Aloysius X.L. Pendergast from the very first book, Relic (read the book, skip the movie) – even though he was only a supporting character way back then. The authors obviously saw something in him and took off running with his story, and it has been a favorite ever since.


Stephanie Plum Series

Many readers will own up to the fact that they have at least one numbered (or alphabetical) series on their reading list. Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series is mine. She just released book #25 last year and Twisted Twenty-Six is expected in November 2019. These books are cozy crime fiction with hilarious characters that become as familiar as your own family members. I don’t care if this series goes to 200, I am never not going to read a Stephanie Plum book. And oh, by the way, #teamRanger.


Jack Reacher Series

Please, please, please do me a favor and tell me that you did not watch the movies that were supposed to depict this character. And if you did, just forget all that you saw. This Jack Reacher – The REAL Jack Reacher (yes, he’s real to me) – is bigger than life and yet can disappear at a moment’s notice (just thought about that – Sasquatch tendencies? Hmmm…). He is such a fascinating personality with such an amazing skill set (think Taken, but with a brilliant, powerful, Matrix-like Army drifter). Reacher is BIG and BRAWNY, but he is not beautiful. He’s a brawler that doesn’t want to fight unless he has to. And then he’s deadly.


Crazy Rich Asians is a new series for me. I only started reading it because I saw that the movie was releasing soon and I happened to find the first book on the shelf at my neighborhood Goodwill store (where I buy most of my books). After I read it, I went back and found the other two there as well (I have some very generous, good-taste readers in my area, apparently)! I love the humor of this series, as well as the way they sneak social commentary into the text without being preachy or judgy. (It’s a word!)


OTHER SERIES I LOVE:

4MK Thriller series by J.D. Barker

(The 3rd book may release in 2019 – fingers crossed)

Illuminae Files series by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

(I’ve reviewed all of these and I wish it wasn’t over!)

Archie Seridan & Gretchen Lowell series by Chelsea Cain

(A sadistic female serial killer. Nuff said.)

Court series by Sarah J. Maas

(YA romance with faeries. Yep.)

Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

(Seriously, these are as good as – or even better than – the HBO show)

So if you’re a dedicated series reader, stick with it because series = goals! And if you haven’t found a series you love yet, keep looking – there’s a perfect succession of books out there just waiting to be discovered. Happy Reading!


The Hangman’s Secret (Victorian Mystery, #3)

**Many thanks to NetGalley, Crooked Lane Books, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

by Laura Joh Rowland

SmellRating4

(3.88 stars – Goodreads rating)

Expected Publication: January 8, 2019, by Crooked Lane Books

Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Historical Fiction

Format: Kindle Edition

Pages: 304

#TheHangmansSecret  #NetGalley

The Hangman's Secret (Victorian Mystery, #3)When we’re confronted with a mystery, we feel compelled to solve it, even if it’s none of our business.

Was there ever a kinder, gentler time? You would want to think so. I know I read a lot of fiction, but I’d like to believe that an age actually existed where people were more respectful, more polite, and they valued each other.

After reading this book, it made me doubt that such a time ever existed. So many bad guys (and gals), and all of them mean, nasty, and physically violent – especially against the main character, who is a woman! Those instances left a bad taste in my mouth. But that is not an overall reflection on this book, which I enjoyed reading and felt was a suspenseful, engaging mystery!

I’m interested to hear that a hangman has met the same end that he inflicted on others. It’s as if his past has caught up with him, and fate has exacted justice.

Harry Warbrick, a London hangman, is found hanged in his own pub – hanged and decapitated. Sarah Bain and her friends are called upon to photograph the scene for the Daily World newspaper, but is it a suicide or murder?

Soon it’s the paper vs. the police in a spiteful contest to see who can solve the case first. Sarah, Lord Hugh, and Mick have previously solved two other dangerous cases, but this could be the one that could finally do them in. Plus, Sarah’s relationship with officer Thomas Barrett is also on the line and Sarah isn’t sure if their love can outlast another case.

With a laundry list of possible suspects, Sarah & Co have their hands full solving the mystery of the hanged hangman while trying to stay alive while the murderer covers his/her tracks.

But I thrill at the prospect of a new crime to solve, and all my life I’ve been attracted to danger. Fear makes me feel alive. It’s a quirk of my nature.

The Hangman’s Secret is full of action and suspense. Its characters are loyal to each other, but I found them to be a bit cookie-cutter. I enjoyed the unique friendship between Sarah, Lord Hugh, and Mick, but the three of them had so many antagonists – perhaps a few too many for my taste. 

You know how you feel when the main character has a few too many enemies and not enough allies? That’s how I felt while reading this book. Enemies to the left and right; and not just regular “bad guys” either – disrespectful, vindictive, violent, spiteful buggers.

But the pacing was good and the setting of the mystery was enough to keep me entertained. There were also enough suspects and distractions to delay the actual culprit-reveal in a satisfying way. I do wish that Sarah was a bit more assertive. Maybe then she wouldn’t get pushed around (literally and figuratively) as much as she does.

Four stars for this Victorian historical mystery!


About the Author:

Laura Joh RowlandWebsite

Facebook

Laura Joh Rowland is a bestselling author of historical mystery novels. Her newest series stars Miss Sarah Bain, a photographer in Victorian London. The latest book is A Mortal Likeness. Laura’s previous series, which is set in medieval Japan and features samurai detective Sano Ichiro, has been published in 21 countries, been nominated for the Anthony Award and the Hammett Prize, won RT Magazine’s Reader’s Choice Award, and been included in The Wall Street Journal’s list of the five best historical mystery novels. Laura has also written a historical suspense series about Charlotte Bronte, the famous Victorian author.

Laura holds a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Public Health degree from the University of Michigan. She is a former aerospace scientist, a painter, and a cartoonist. She lives in New York City with her husband Marty.



 

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The Fifth to Die, (4MK Thriller #2)

**Many thanks to NetGalley, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, and the author for the opportunity to read and review a free ARC of this book.

by J.D. Barker
SmellRating4.5
(4.48 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published July 10, 2018, by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing

Genre: Crime Fiction / Thriller / Mystery

Format: Kindle Edition

Page Count: 416 pages

#TheFifthToDie  #NetGalley

The Fifth To Die (4MK Thriller, #2)A girl can’t just disappear in today’s world, not with cameras and the Internet everywhere. A girl disappears completely, and you gotta know something bad happened.

I didn’t think I was that person. Those people are hilarious to me. They lack any self-control and it’s utterly ridiculous what they do. You know the ones: The ones who talk to their books.

I have been that person in the past, but I thought it was just a fluke – a one-off. After The Fifth to Die, though, I know now that I am that person. I talked to this book. I yelled at this book. I urged the characters, “Don’t go in there!”, “Don’t do that!”, and to “Run you fool!” It’s amazing that no one committed me.

OK, so if you aren’t familiar with this series, it all started with The Fourth Monkey – and no, it has nothing to do with viral contagions or pandemics. (See my 5-star review of the series’ debut novel by clicking the link above.) Detective Sam Porter and his Chicago PD Homicide team initially think that, after five long years, the Four Monkey Killer (4MK) has finally been stopped. By a bus. But there’s one victim that may still be alive that needs to be found. That’s when the twists begin and they don’t stop, even as Porter tries to settle his own tragic personal issues.

So – because this is the sequel – obviously the serial killer, Anson Bishop (that’s technically not a spoiler, so don’t yell at me!), is still wreaking havoc in the Windy City.  Maybe. Girls are disappearing, families are being threatened, and none of the clues are adding up. On top of that, more than one person on the team is concerned that Porter may be too personally involved with the 4MK case that has now been turned over to the FBI.

This thriller is perfectly-paced, entirely unpredictable, and maddeningly mysterious. We also get some well-earned backstory on Detective Sam Porter, which only enriches his character even more. And then there is Anson Bishop. While he certainly adds color to this procedural, he is definitely the villain you love to hate. But is there a little molecule of sympathy you feel for him after some of Bishop’s backstory is revealed too? I’ll let you decide.

I prefer not to collect my psychological and spiritual guidance from psychopaths.

Initially, I deducted a full star from my rating because, at certain points in the book, Bishop is just a little too smart. He is good at everything: tech, surgery, espionage, blackmailing, and torturous murder. He’s always a full three or four steps ahead of everyone else. And he’s dong all this right under the nose of countless witnesses including neighbors, hospital employees, prison guards, and the police themselves. Really? I don’t like it when anyone – hero or villain – is invincible.

However, I had to restore half a star because of Barker’s stealthy allusions to Lee Child’s Jack Reacher character (more than once) and the fact that he makes The Princess Bride (my all-time favorite movie) the reason that Porter married his beloved wife. Swoon!

So if you find yourself talking to, yelling at, or crying with your books, you’ll feel right at home reading this one. If you’re already a fan of The Fourth Monkey, action-heavy police procedurals, or mysteries that aren’t easily solved, you’ll like this book. And if you’re a fan of twisty cliffhangers, grab a parachute and dive in because you WILL like this book.

Bravo, J.D. Barker, you’ve done it again. Looking forward to Book #3!

*Also, do yourself a favor and check out another J.D. Barker book, Dracul, that he co-authored with Dacre Stoker (Yes! Bram Stoker’s great-grandnephew). It’s a prequel to the classic Dracula story and it was so good it kept me up at night!


About the Author

Related imageJ.D. Barker

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J.D. Barker (Jonathan Dylan Barker) is an international bestselling American author whose work has been broadly described as suspense thrillers, often incorporating elements of horror, crime, mystery, science fiction, and the supernatural.

(Bio courtesy of jdbarker.com)


 

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Ace of Shades

by Amanda Foody
SmellRating3
(3.87 stars – Goodreads rating)

Published April 10, 2018, by Harlequin Teen (Owlcrate Exclusive Edition)

Genre: Fiction / YA / Fantasy

Format: Hardcover

Page Count: 408 pages

Triggers: Drug use, mild sexual references, altered profanity, pedophilia, and violence

#Ace of Shades  #Owlcrate

Ace of Shades (The Shadow Game #1)Some say the City of Sin is a game, so before you arrive – ask yourself, dear reader, how much are you prepared to lose?

-The City of Sin, a Guidebook:
Where to Go and Where Not To

Tropps is the game of choice in New Reynes, otherwise known as the City of Sin. The players begin with 3 cards. Here are yours: A gangster, a schoolgirl, and a mystery? That’s a questionable hand, for sure. If this were a typical round of Tropps, I’d advise you to fold. However, the game you are playing is far grander and deadlier than your standard casino offerings. To win is to become a legend. To lose is to die.  -Amanda Foody

Ace of Shades is the story of Enne Salta, a proper, disciplined young school-girl whose virtue is tested in New Reynes, the City of Sin when her mother, Lourdes, goes missing for months. Enne meets Levi Glaisyer, one of New Reynes’ resident gang leaders, and together they try to solve the mystery of Lourdes’ disappearance.

Image result for ace of spadesTo be frank, reader, you’d be better off not visiting the city at all.

Hey, nice quote. Maybe that was good advice because Ace of Shades did not wow me. Sorry! (Not sorry.)

New Reynes is a bad place. It’s deceitful, dangerous, and everyone inside of it is evil. We are reminded of this over and over again. Maybe if we had been introduced to a kinder, gentler city first – like Bellamy, Enne’s hometown – for contrast, we’d be able to tell the difference for ourselves instead of being reminded of it over and over again.

Enne only enters New Reynes to find her missing mother, Lourdes. She does not intend to stay because she needs to return to Bellamy in order to graduate and finally become a true and proper lady. But once New Reynes has its grip on you, corruption is inevitable (or so we keep getting told).

Image result for ace of spadesIn the City of Sin, secrets are their own sort of currency, and reputation holds more power than fortune.

This is going to read like a non-sequitur, but you know what I like best about Star Wars and The Hunger Games? You win the hand if you said, “Not the politics!

Although politics is central to each story, keeping track of affairs of state becomes tedious in the middle of an otherwise great action tale. However, just like in those blockbusters, politics is an essential part of this story too and it’s part of the world-building strategy Amanda Foody uses to furnish all the characters with motivations for surviving in the City of Sin. With several different street gangs, Mafia families, and blood-thirsty ruling governments – each with their own powerful leader, there are a lot of moving parts in this story and you’re not sure who Enne and Levi should fear the most.

The inclusion of politics did, however, give AoS the perfect vehicle to introduce some pretty important themes: The Dangers of Classism, How Power Corrupts, and The Individual vs. Society. Important? Yes. Interesting? Marginally.

Avarice, pride and lust — these are all modest desires. What the City of Sin truly Image result for ace of spadescraves is destruction.

Foody drops us into the City of Sin in this dual-perspective (Enne’s and Levi’s) YA fantasy laced with gang wars, dark magic, and a deadly card game that won’t be denied a soul or two. 

There’s a lot of backstory vital to Enne’s self-discovery that doesn’t become clear. Ever. (Like, what made Lourdes leave Bellamy in the first place? What made the Mizers so hated? How did Enne escape the House of Shadows as a baby? Etc.) And while there is a good amount of world-building, a lot of it feels initially like a big info-dump with several strings that are left hanging even after the epilogue’s last period.

Three stars because the book wasn’t un-enjoyable, but I was left with questions that shouldn’t require a series to resolve.

But for people that rated this one higher than I did, the epilogue was good enough to yank them right into the next book of the series, King of Fools, due April 30, 2019.

Not sure if I will be interested in traveling back to the City of Sin. Ask me again in April next year (if my TBR hasn’t stretched into infinity by then!)

Check out the first chapter of Ace of Shades for yourself courtesy of Amanda Foody HERE.


About the Author

Amanda FoodyWebsite

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Amanda Foody has always considered imagination to be our best attempt at magic. After spending her childhood longing to attend Hogwarts, she now loves to write about immersive settings and characters grappling with insurmountable destinies. She holds a Masters in Accountancy from Villanova University and a Bachelors of Arts in English Literature from the College of William and Mary. Currently, she works as a tax accountant in Philadelphia, PA, surrounded by her many siblings and many books.

ACE OF SHADES is the first novel of THE SHADOW GAME series. Her debut, DAUGHTER OF THE BURNING CITY, released in July 2017.


 

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