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Archive for July, 2023

Mystery Monday Review – Twenty Years Later

Monday, July 31st, 2023

Twenty Years Later by Charlie Donlea

Review by Pat D. (pat0814)


This is intriguing until the end. Walt Jenkins is a retired FBI agent with a painful past when he is assigned to a case in New York involving a missing man who spearheaded a sophisticated Ponzi scheme involving billions of dollars that financed his lavish lifestyle. Avery Mason is a successful investigative journalist, a well known television personality and the daughter of the missing man. She is in New York to examine the details of the murder of a prosperous author for her television program, while surreptitiously obtaining an illegal passport. Since Walt was the agent in charge of the author’s murder, their paths cross with unexpected consequences. Adding to the mystery, the suspected murderer facing indictment is Victoria Ford, who was identified as a victim of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

There are numerous surprises in this book. The ending is particularly riveting. This is my first novel by Charlie Donlea, and I look forward to reading more by this accomplished author.




Horror Review – The Children on the Hill

Sunday, July 30th, 2023

The Children on the Hill by Jennifer McMahon

Review by Melissa B. (dragoneyes)

Vi, a 13 year old girl, lives a wonderful life with her brother, Eric, 9 years old, and her grandmother, Gram. Vi loves to explore and Eric loves to spend time with animals. Together they are the Monster Club. A union that they created to track and hunt monsters. They work on their monster hunting book in which Vi writes and Eric draws. Gram, spends her days at The Inn, a treatment center for the mentally ill. She is a famous psychiatrist who is known for her methods for treating her patients. When she is at home, she is a gin drinking grandmother who dotes on her grandchildren and also home-schools them.
One day, Gram brings home a young patient named Iris. She leaves Vi in charge of befriending her and keeping tabs to let grandmother know how she is doing. Iris starts of as mute but slowly starts to regain her voice. She also cannot remember anything from her past.  As the girls hang out together they start to form a bond. This leaves Vi to feel the need to find out more information on Iris to help her understand who she is and where she is from. Turns out that some things are best hidden.
This book flips from 1978 when we get Vi’s story to 2019 when we get the story of Lizzie, a real life monster hunter who is headed to find out why girls are going missing. Together the story collides and craziness creeps in. Quite an interesting and different story. Loved the characters and really related to their childhoods. The ending wasn’t what I expected. While it was good, I was expecting more.

Sci-Fi Review – The Spare Man

Saturday, July 29th, 2023

The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal

Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)


THE SPARE MAN is a fun SF mystery, set on a spaceship heading for Mars.  This had to have been inspired by “The Thin Man” movies, and while I know just enough to catch the reference (retired detective, rich wife, little dog, they drink a lot) that’s about it. Possibly it’s funnier if you’re familiar with the movie, but I thought it was amusing enough as is.

Ultra rich and famous Tesla Crane and her retired famous PI husband Shal are on their honeymoon when a person is murdered in the hallway right outside their stateroom. First on the scene, Tesla stays to give comfort to the victim while her husband Shal goes chasing after a fleetingly glimpsed figure.

When security arrives on the scene, they leap to the obvious conclusion and arrest Shal.  Tesla, who is so rich that money is never an object, immediately calls her lawyer on Earth. The interactions with the lawyer are one of the funnier bits throughout the book, as the time lag between Earth and the ship increases, so does the delay in conversation. Which means of course that the lawyer is always several minutes behind what’s actually happening on the scene.

It all goes from bad to worse when a body is discovered in the recycling tanks but there is no missing passenger. Then more murders happen, and all of them seemingly point to either Shal or Tesla.  The victims all know another very rich passenger, who just happens to own the company that owns the company that owns the spaceship.  But what’s the motive? And who is the spare man? The mystery plot gets pretty convoluted; there are a lot of connections to be explored and some red herrings along the way. I didn’t  guess the villain, but it was a decent motive, just not an “oh wow” moment.

It’s told from Tesla’s first-person POV, and I felt we don’t get much about the other characters, not even the husband.  But the dog is very cute. The security staff are stereotypes (but I did laugh to learn about Bob).

I liked Tesla. She’s intellectually smart, but occasionally lacks common sense. She’s got chronic pain issues from an accident, managed with a brain implant that can scale back pain signals, but supposedly she will have to deal with the aftereffects later.  It was interesting and very convenient, but considering all she did there weren’t enough physical consequences later. She’s got a service dog, which was good, but I thought Kowal allowed it to be too much pet and not enough service.  And then there’s Tesla’s money.  Her wealth and fame basically saved her and Shal, which Kowal has her talk about more than once.

I enjoyed it, although it isn’t going to make my yearly top ten. But there are some things in it (you’ll figure them out) that I think are going to place this book firmly in a time period. It will be interesting to read this in about 10 years and see what holds up.




Mystery Monday Review – The Angel Maker

Monday, July 24th, 2023

The Angel Maker by Alex North

Review by Melissa B. (dragoneyes)


A suspenseful book that kept me entertained right up to the end. I even had a bunch of the mystery figured out before it ended and yet enjoyed staying with it. Good characters that interacted well and an interesting plot that kept a steady pace.


We start out with Katie Shaw in her teen years, in love and happy. Tragedy strikes and sends her and her family down a much different path than she could ever have anticipated. Fast forward into the future and Katie is married with an adorable daughter. Her once close brother is now estranged. Things still move on in a, somewhat, normal manner until her life takes another twist. The past is pushed forward and secrets start to leak out. Along with those secrets come danger. Danger for Katie, her brother and everyone else she loves.


Another good book by North. The Whisper Man still holds as my favorite but this one is definitely comparable.


Literary Fiction Review – Hello Beautiful

Sunday, July 23rd, 2023

Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano

Review by Pat D. (pat0814)

The Padavano family is a close-knit Italian family living in Chicago.  It is comprised of the matriarch Rose, Charlie, her husband, the dreamer, and four daughters: Julia, Sylvie and the twins, Emmeline and Cecilia.  The four daughters are especially close under the watchful eye of Rose and their caring father, who greets each of the girls with “Hello, beautiful” when they enter a room.

Each of the girls has strengths that contribute to their essential well-being.  They compare themselves to the characters in Little Women.  When Julia marries William, their lives are momentarily upended.  William is the child of a loveless home and is swept up into belonging to acceptance by this family. What follows is a demonstration that the sisters maintain their tight bond.  Rose is shattered when divorce, a pregnancy out of wedlock, and homosexuality intrude into what she wanted the world to perceive as her perfect family.  An unexpected marriage by one of the sisters leaves her devastated from her new home in Florida and a rift in this family.  Throughout their sometimes-turbulent lives, they are strengthened by the memories of Charlie’s unconditional love.

Ann Napolitano continues the tradition she began with Dear Edward in these in-depth character and family studies.  This is a profoundly insightful novel into the deep love and losses of these people.
5 stars.







Historical Fiction Review – Hold Fast

Friday, July 21st, 2023

Hold Fast by J.H. Gelernter

Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)

The year is 1803 and Great Britain is fighting Napoleon. Thomas Grey was the head of the British spy network in Malta, until his wife was killed.  He blames himself for allowing  her on the ship that ended up in a battle with a French warship. Now he can’t bring himself to remain on the job, so he resigns intending to head for distant Boston, where he has relatives.

However, hostilities with the French are not over, and after participating in another sea battle, he ends up in Portugal looking for a ship heading for the Americas.  It’s a tricky spot and he is not going to advertise his former career, although identifying himself as former military will have advantages. But he runs into a disaffected Irishman, part of a network working for France. This man thinks Grey might be brought around to give vital military information to the French.

As soon as Grey hears this, the possibility of revenge for his wife’s death blooms huge. He’s all in, and it’s just a matter of convincing the enemy he has what they want.

Thus begins an exciting, tension-filled adventure with Grey against d’Aumont, the captain of the ship which killed his wife.  Lots of historical detail, but it doesn’t take over the story. Grey is sort of like a James Bond figure, with exceptional skills in sword-fighting, gambling, and even casual hook-ups. His adversary has a few redeeming qualities.  Most of the other characters are thin, although we meet his wife in some flashbacks. There are a number of very convenient events to help the plot along, but there’s enough momentum to let them whip past you.  Sea battles, duelling, antique firearms, torture, escape…it’s all there.

As I write this there are three in the series. This first book,  is a complete story, no cliffhangers, but the ending makes it obvious that Grey’s adventures are just beginning.  The cover blurbs reference Patrick O’Brian, but while it’s set in the same period you won’t find that same richness. That’s fine. It’s a good thriller with a tough competent hero and an evil villain, set in a very turbulent period so plenty of room for major plot action, and has some interesting bits of history both large and small.




Thriller Review – Wrong Place, Wrong Time

Tuesday, July 18th, 2023

Wrong Place, Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister
Review by Melissa B. (dragoneyes)


Mystery, thriller, family life and time travel all rolled into one. This story sets off with a bang and keeps on going. With twists and turns galore, it will keep you guessing until the end.

Jen is a night owl but on this particular night, she is waiting for her teenage son, Todd, to get home. When he finally arrives she watches as he makes his way to the house. In matter of seconds, her son is approached by a man. She sees her son pull out a knife and stab the stranger. She screams for her husband and they both run out to find the man on the ground, possibly dead, and her son standing there. The police show up and arrest Todd. Jen and her husband, Kelly, follow them to the station. Trying to get answers, the only thing the parents get is the knowledge that their son doesn’t want a lawyer. Finally, after a long night, they head home to get some sleep. When Jen wakes up, she immediately starts to worry about what they can do for their son.  When she sees her son in the house, she starts to question him. Through many deductions, she realizes that it is the night before the murder and she is the only one who knows what is about to happen. Then, she finds, that each time she falls asleep, she goes back in time more. Sometimes it is a day and sometimes it is longer. With each day, she tries to find reasons for Todd’s actions and ends up finding more than she bargained for.

It was a crazy ride that journeyed around a wonderful family that you just couldn’t help root for. As that journey continues, you start wondering if they are so wonderful after all. I really enjoyed the way the book was set up. Found it entertaining. You could see why she went back on certain days. It all came together in the end. I really enjoyed the characters as well. From the family to the co-workers to the bad guys, each were drawn out quite nicely. Looking forward to more books by this author.