Posted in ARC, Audio, Mystery, Psychological Suspense, Thrillers

Stay Awake by Megan Goldin

Liv Reese wakes up to discover that strangers live in her apartment and there’s a bloody knife in her pocket. Her hands and arms are covered with strange messages like “stay awake”, “don’t sleep”, “don’t trust anyone”.

Each time Liv wakes up she’s living in a nightmare. She can’t remember the last two years of her life and each day is like starting all over. She writes messages on herself to try to prompt memories. Over and over, she discovers a large scar on her torso. She can’t remember how she got it.

When a man is found murdered in his bed, the clues lead the police to consider Liv the prime suspect. But how do you get enough evidence to prosecute a woman who can’t remember what she did yesterday?

Stay Awake is an anxiety inducing mystery-thriller. If you’ve ever woken up and briefly panicked, not knowing where you are, you’ll get an inkling of what Liv feels each and every waking moment of her life. In the beginning of the book, I was working right along with Liv to try to work through the murky mess that is her life. Eventually, other voices gave me clues as to what is going on, which greatly helped my agitation.

I listened to the audio version and have to confess it kept ME awake! But there were two reasons for that and I am going to rate the book accordingly. The author, Megan Goldin, gets five stars for a first-rate thriller.

The narration was much more jarring. The narrator created a voice for Liv that was extremely distracting. It was halting, and alternated between peevish, puzzled and angry. Puzzled, I can understand, but there was no “normal” base voice, just this constant barrage of over-the-top moods. About halfway through the book, this leveled out quite a bit, and the listening experience was a lot more enjoyable. The narrator for Liv’s voice also mispronounced several words.

Stay Awake is recommended for readers of Psychological Suspense and Thrillers, but I suggest reading the text version.

book cover, Stay Awake by Megan Goldin

My Ratings: Book — 5 Stars, Grade A
Narration — 3 Stars, Grade C

Posted in Africa, British Mystery, Cozy Mystery, historical mystery, Series

Love and Death Among the Cheetahs by Rhys Bowen

Her Royal Spyness Series #13

Georgie and Darcy are on their honeymoon at last. After Darcy announces their upcoming trip to Kenya in front of the queen, Georgie is stunned by this surprise. She quickly gains her composure when the queen pulls her aside and tells her that David is also on his way to Kenya. She asks Georgie to keep an eye on her son, who might just take the opportunity to elope with that Simpson woman.

After an exhausting whirlwind of travel by a variety of conveyances, the newlyweds arrive in Happy Valley. Georgie and Darcy met a few people along the way, particularly Freddie, the local government man. Upon arrival, they meet their hostess and neighbors. Their hostess is a lovely, independent woman named Diddy Ruocco. The rest of the residents of Happy Valley are less lovely. Georgie finds herself among leches, hedonists, liars, and a potential diamond thief. She begins to suspect that Darcy has arranged this honeymoon to be a bit of a busman’s holiday. After a prominent landowner is murdered, it is obvious that there is more than one criminal harboring secrets.

At the time Love and Death Among the Cheetahs takes place, this area of Africa was under British rule and was called the Colony and Protectorate of Kenya. The native peoples mentioned in the novel, the Maasai and Kikuyu, were forced into servitude. In her introduction, Rhys Bowen comments a bit on the history of the area and the treatment of the indigenous people. She realizes that today’s readers may find parts of the novel offensive. But, she is trying to be realistic in her portrayal of that time and place. The author also did extensive research and includes a bibliography of sources at the end of the book.

I like the way the author handled a tricky, serious, historical topic in a cozy mystery. While the majority of the Happy Valley residents are absolutely horrid to the native people, Georgie’s inner thoughts are the voice of dissent for the reader. Georgie’s reactions are completely in character. Despite her royal heritage, Georgie is always good-hearted, down to earth and not the least stuck-up.

After thirteen novels, I have come to love the characters. This is my go-to series when I just want to snuggle up with a book that feels like going home.

Book cover

My Rating: 5 Stars, Grade A

Posted in ARC, Audio, Contemporary Fiction, Crime Fiction, Japan, Mystery

The Kimono Tattoo by Rebecca Copeland

Ruth Bennett is a translator working in Kyoto, Japan. Tall, redheaded Ruth is immediately recognizable as a foreigner, but she speaks impeccable Japanese and thoroughly embraces Japanese culture. She was born and raised in Japan while her parents worked as missionaries, although not the stereotypical sort. Her father was an obstetrician in a Christian hospital. Tragedy struck the family when her father was embroiled in a baseless malpractice case and her younger brother mysteriously vanished. Ruth’s parents returned to America, but Japan was home for Ruth.

Ruth’s current translation job is rather boring. She has no relatives nearby, few friends, and she’s not currently in a relationship. When a stranger knocks on her door offering her a chance to translate a novel by an author everyone assumed was dead, she gladly accepts the challenge. But as she reads the manuscript, she finds inconsistencies in writing style and the subject matter is about a dead woman’s body found naked on a nearby path. The body is covered in stunningly artistic tattoos that strongly resemble kimono fabric. After a very similar story appears on the television news, she knows the woman has been murdered.

Ruth slowly discovers she is the target of a very dangerous and powerful person. As she works to solve the puzzle of the manuscript and the tattooed woman, she discovers that she also has allies, friends and support from unexpected places.

In The Kimono Tattoo, kimonos are mentioned and observed in great detail so frequently, the reader can’t miss them. But as someone who knows very little about kimonos, I found this fascinating. The author also described the setting near Ruth’s home so well that I could picture myself walking those paths.

The mystery is just as complex as the dead woman’s tattoos. I listened to the audio version of this book and I was so engrossed in the story that I had to keep reminding myself to turn it off and go to sleep!

I looked up the author’s webpage and biography. Rebecca Copeland draws her main character’s history from her own life experiences. She is also an illustrious Japanese translator and literary critic. This is her first work of fiction.

Thank you NetGalley and Brother Mockingbird publishers for the opportunity to listen to the audio version of this book. The Kimono Tattoo is now available at your favorite print or audio book retailers.

My Rating: 5 Stars, Grade A

Posted in Fantasy, Witches, Women's Fiction

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

Superficially, the story is as old as time. Three sisters are born in a rural area, living a fairly meager existence. Their mother dies, their father becomes cruel and only their wise grandmother gives them love. When grandmother dies, the two older sisters are shipped off, leaving the youngest to deal with her abusive father. They lose touch with each other and the youngest becomes feral and angry. She assumes she’s been abandoned by her sisters.

The three sisters learn words and charms from their grandmother. These are simple things, rhymes that make life just a little easier. When the three woman become adults, these charms are mostly forgotten. Then one day, evil comes to the town of New Salem and the women are pulled together by forces they barely knew existed. Soon, they are at the center of a revolution.

As the novel progresses, it becomes apparent that this is so much more than a story about three witches. This is a novel about the oppression of women by men (and sometimes other women). The Once and Future Witches is both fantasy and reality. Although the novel is set in a fictional past, it is thoroughly modern. Just substitute shirtwaist factories and suffrage with economic justice, reproductive rights and domestic violence.

The writing is very clever and often made think, look twice at what I just read or smile. The spells are drawn from fairy tales and childhood nursery rhymes, which were very relatable and simple. No need for eye of newt, cauldrons or memorizing complicated spells. These were so simple, any woman could do them. And that was just the point. ANY woman could rise above, be more, reach her full potential, could be a witch.

It took me a while to get into this book, but once I did, I was absolutely gobsmacked by the layers of meaning. This book won The Robert Holdstock Award for Best Fantasy Novel in 2021, given by the British Fantasy Society.

Rating: 5 Stars, Grade A+

Posted in British Mystery, Cozy Mystery, Historical Fiction, historical mystery, Historical Romance, Light Romance

Above the Bay of Angels by Rhys Bowen

Publication Info: Published February 11, 2020 by Lake Union Publishing. I listened to the audio edition through my Kindle Unlimited edition. Other editions available.

Summary: Raised in a genteel household, orphaned and impoverished Isabella Waverly finds herself with no skills to support herself and her younger sister after her parents die. She goes into service as a maid, but discovers she has a talent for cooking.

One day, a tragic bus accident critically injures another young woman who was on her way to interview for an apprentice cooking job at the palace. Isabella rushes to comfort the dying girl, who gives her an envelope. When Isabella opens it later, she realizes that fate has handed her an unique opportunity. The unfortunate woman was on her way to a job interview as a cook at the palace. Isabella, whose current employer is a cruel taskmaster, decides to take the other woman’s place. She becomes Helen Barton.

Helen’s cooking skills grow by leaps and bounds. Her pastries come to the attention of Queen Victoria. When the queen decides to move to a hotel in France for the summer, she takes a retinue of cooks and servants along with her. Helen’s ability to speak French gains her a place in the entourage and some additional status among her fellow chefs.

After a nobleman is murdered by poison, suspicion falls on Helen. She must use her knowledge of cooking and her wits to prove she is innocent.

Comments: I got hungry listening to this book! The descriptions of the French pastries and dinners were mouth watering. I loved the main character, who is a plucky, intelligent young woman. Isabella faces page-turning challenges and risks of exposure as she works to guard her secret. Rhys Bowen’s stand-alone novel, Above the Bay of Angels, is gentle and enthralling.

Highly recommended for readers of historical fiction, light romance and light mysteries, especially those set in the Victorian era.

My rating: 5 STARS

Posted in Fiction, Mystery, Private Investigator, Thrillers

Still Here by Amy Stuart

Publication Info: Expected Publication date Aug 11, 2020 by Gallery Books. I read the pre-pub Kindle edition courtesy of NetGalley. Other editions will be available at the time of publication.

Summary: Clare is on the run from her abusive ex-husband, while investigating the disappearance of her boss, Malcolm. Malcolm was working on several cases of women who vanished, including his own wife, when he stopped contacting Clare. Clare is also working with a policewoman who has an interest in one of the women whose whereabouts is unknown.

The book’s action takes place in a small, seaside town. Claire’s first action is to illegally enter her boss’s house and then have a tousle over a gun with the female occupant, who turns out to be Malcolm’s sister in law. The women hug and make up, after realizing they both want to find Malcolm and his missing wife, Zoe.

As Clare continues to seek information on Malcolm, Zoe and two other missing women, she stumbles about from one dangerous situation to another, all the while congratulating herself on how good she is at being a P.I. She doesn’t even have a license. Lots more gun waving ensues.

Comments: I signed up to read and review Still Here through NetGalley. I finished it only due to this obligation. I didn’t realize it was the third and final book in a series and I have a personal quirk about reading series books in order. But I didn’t enjoy this book enough to want to go read the first two.

Maybe I’m just too old for this one. I thought the characters were completely unlikable, inconsistent and flat. There was plenty of action, but it was repetitive with way too much gun waving. The level of writing skill was decent — and indeed showed some promise — but the plot needed tightening in several places.

This is one book I just can’t recommend to my readers. Genre: Mystery, Private Investigator, Thriller

My Rating 2.5, C-

Posted in General Fiction, Legal Fiction, Legal Mystery, Multi-Cultural Fiction, Murder Mystery, Mystery

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

Publication Info: Published April 16th 2019 by Sarah Crichton Books. I listened to the audio edition. Other editions available.

Summary: For several families, hope lies in a blue hyperbaric chamber. The owner of the device, Pak Yoo, brought his wife and teenage daughter from South Korea in search of a better life. He promotes the hyperbaric chamber as a treatment for a variety of conditions ranging from autism to impotence.

When a deliberately set fire kills two of the children, suspicion initially falls on a group of protestors. But the police arrest Elizabeth, the mother of one of the victims. As the novel progresses, it is clear that the case isn’t quite as simple as the prosecution portrays.

Comments: Miracle Creek is an astonishingly complex and insightful novel. The author employs omnicient narration to peer deeply into the lives and motivations of everyone involved with the hyperbaric chamber. While the story line is centered around Elizabeth’s trial, the author skillfully weaves in the various events that lead to the fire. The reader’s sympathies and emotions are pulled in various directions as evidence unfolds.

Because the author is also a Korean immigrant, she is able to write with deep understanding about the experience the Yoo family had in coming to America. I found this part of the story particularly enlightening.

Highly recommended for readers of general fiction, multicultural fiction, legal fiction and mysteries.

My rating: 5 STARS

Posted in Mystery, Private Investigator

Baltimore Blues by Laura Lippman (Tess Monaghan #1)

Publication Info: Initially published in 1997 by Avon Books. This paperback edition published January 20, 2015 by William Morrow paperbacks. Other editions available.

Summary: Tess Monaghan spends her days rowing rowing with her friend and coach, Rock, working at her aunt’s bookstore or doing odd jobs on the side for her uncle. She thinks of herself as a reporter, but she hasn’t done that job in two years. The newspaper business in Baltimore isn’t what it used to be, having collapsed from three dailies down to just one.

One morning, Rock approaches her with a short term job offer. He wants her to follow his girlfriend, Ava. Rock is blindly devoted to the woman, but her behavior has him concerned. Ava has been making a lot of excuses for not seeing him lately, despite continuing their relationship — and engagement.

While following Ava, Tess observes her committing petty larceny and possibly having an affair with a lawyer in the office where Ava works. When the lawyer turns up dead, Rock is the logical, and only, suspect. Tess then has to prove he didn’t do it, but the evidence increasingly stacks against her friend.

Comments: For a first novel, Baltimore Blues is astonishingly good. I read one other book in this series many years ago and didn’t like it. Looking back on that, I have no idea why. Perhaps it was mood of the moment, or perhaps I was a bit too close to the setting. In this case, I think distance makes the heart grow fonder.

I lived most of my life in a suburb of Baltimore, but never liked the city. However, I read the Baltimore Sun daily for years and watched the local news, so I absorbed a lot of information. I also knew people who were very much “Bal’moreans”, beehive hairdos, peculiar accents and all. I went to a few O’s games, hung out in Fells Point and wandered around like a tourist at the Inner Harbor.

Baltimore Blues felt like going home again, but more like the Hallmark movie version, with memories softened by time and distance. As I read, memories of places, streets and things unique to “Charm City” flooded through me.

I’m very much looking forward to reading the second book and more in this mystery series.

Recommended for mystery readers and anyone interested in Baltimore.

My Rating: 4 STARS

Posted in Amateur Sleuth, Cozy Mystery, Mystery, Paranormal Mystery, Supernatural

Suddenly Psychic by Elizabeth Hunter (Glimmer Lake #1)

Publication Info: Published February 18, 2020 by Recurve Press LLC. I read the Kindle edition through my Kindle Unlimited subscription. Kindle and paperback editions are available.

Summary: Three forty-something women, Robin, Val and Monica, are headed up a winding, dark road on their way to a restaurant to celebrate Monica’s birthday. Suddenly, a white deer appears in the roadway, which Robin swerves to avoid. Her car plunges off the hillside into the lake below. The women aren’t seriously injured, but they are trapped and sinking deeper and deeper into the chilly water. As they frantically search the car for something to break a window open, a mysterious man appears and smashes a window open with a rock.

The event is life changing in more ways than one. In addition to surviving a harrowing accident, the three women discover they have gained some unusual psychic talents. Because of their new skills, they find themselves in a position to solve a decades-old murder, as well as ridding a house of a very nasty ghost.

Comments: I love discovering a fun read by sheer serendipity. I found myself between required book reviews and nothing on my book shelf at home was calling to me. Frankly, during this COVID-19 pandemic, I am increasingly drawn toward escapist reading. Finding Suddenly Psychic on Kindle Unlimited was like having a wish granted!

The story revolves around 3 older women, something I can relate to. The women have psychic talents but still deal with normal life problems. The book is well written and the characters were people I would like to have as friends. There is real emotion, including a scene that even brought tears to my eyes.

The second in the series, Semi-Psychic Life, is also on Kindle Unlimited and I’ve already downloaded it. The third, Psychic Dreams, is due out in August. Yay!

My Rating: 4.5 STARS

Posted in Cozy Mystery, Mystery

Shades of Earl Grey by Laura Childs (A Tea Shop Mystery #3)

Publication Info: Published January 7, 2003 by Berkley Books. I read the paperback edition, purchased from the online bookstore Thriftbooks. Other editions available.

Summary: Charleston resident Camille Cantroux is looking forward to her engagement party. Although her wedding to Captain Corey Buchanan is to take place in Savannah, most of her friends live in Charleston and her aunt, Delaine Dish, worked hard to make her niece’s party a grand affair.

The party is barely under way at the lovely Lady Goodwood’s Inn when a huge crash is heard coming from the Garden Room. The guests discover that the glass ceiling has collapsed. At the center of the rubble is Captain Buchanan, dead from a glass shard embedded in his spine. The wedding is now most certainly off.

An investigation and search reveal that the heirloom wedding ring is missing. Theodosia Browning, amateur sleuth and owner of the town’s popular Indigo Tea Shop, thinks that a cat burglar came through the roof just to steal the ring. After other expensive items begin to disappear downtown, she is sure of it. She tries to convince the police of her theory but they don’t appear to take her seriously. Theodosia is determined to discover the identity of the cat burglar and bring the perpetrator to justice.

Comments: Shades of Earl Grey is the third in the smartly written cozy mystery from Laura Childs. I love the atmosphere and characters. I stayed in Charleston for a couple of nights many years ago and thoroughly enjoyed my time in this historical, charming city. With its fine teas and delicious sounding baked goods, I would live to have an Indigo Tea Shop near me! There are some recipes included at the back of the book for those who like to bake.

Recommended for readers of mysteries, especially cozy mysteries, and those who like books set in Charleston, South Carolina.

My rating: 4 Stars