Tag Archives: mysteries & thrillers

A Death in Berlin (The Simon Sampson Mysteries Book Two) by David C. Dawson Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

In the 1930’s Berlin, a city that once stood for liberation is about to become the capital of one of the world’s largest waves of oppression, and one man must fight to save the lives of several gay men as the Nazi party rises in author David C. Dawson’s “A Death in Berlin”, the second book in The Simon Sampson Mysteries series.

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The Synopsis

Berlin 1933: When the parties stop…the dying begins

The city that’s been a beacon of liberation during the 1920s is about to become a city of deadly oppression. BBC foreign correspondent Simon Sampson risks his life in a bid to save thousands of gay men from the growing Nazi threat.

This is the second in the Simon Sampson mystery series. The first, A Death in Bloomsbury, was hailed as ‘a good old-fashioned John Buchan-esque mystery reworked for the twenty-first century’.

Simon moves to Berlin where he meets British author Christopher Isherwood and his lover Heinz. He’s also reunited with his banter-partner Florence Miles, better known to her friends as Bill. She’s recruited him into the British intelligence services and he’s got the task of hunting down communist spies.

But when Simon is ordered to spy on an old college friend, his loyalties are brought into question. Who are his real enemies? And how much can he trust his masters?

The Review

This was such a well-developed and engaging historical fiction meets mystery thriller. The atmosphere and intrigue the author was able to infuse into the story really elevated the historical time period the narrative took place in, and the gripping story kept me on the edge of my seat as the author’s balance of fast-paced action and slow-build character growth kept the novel moving at an even pace. The LGBTQ aspect of the narrative and the character growth felt refreshingly natural and insightful, as it played into the history itself quite well.

The rich character dynamics and the unique setting are what really made this story stand out. The chaos and sadness that became such a part of everyday life at the beginning of the Nazi occupation were felt strongly in this novel. The harmonious way the author was able to weave these emotions and facts from our world’s history into the actions and experiences of this cast of characters made this novel so gripping. It allowed the mystery itself felt elevated as the narrative dipped into the espionage spy genre with ease.

The Verdict

Entertaining, thought-provoking, and uniquely pertinent to many of the recurring struggles so many around the world face today, author David C. Dawson’s “A Death in Berlin” is a must-read historical fiction meets suspense thriller and a great addition to The Simon Sampson Mysteries series. With the adrenaline rush and mind-bending twists and turns, this narrative will resonate with readers who enjoy an almost pulpy noir-style storytelling with an LGBTQ-driven cast of characters and a heavy dose of historical research and accuracy. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today! 

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Men in love, men in jeopardy.

David C. Dawson is an award-winning writer of page-turner thrillers with a gay theme and the occasional romance.

His latest novel A Death in Bloomsbury was published in November 2021.

His debut novel, The Necessary Deaths, won bronze for Best Mystery & Suspense in the FAPA chairman’s award. It became the first in the Dominic Delingpole series. The other two books are The Deadly Lies and A Foreign Affair.

His first mystery romance For the Love of Luke was published in October 2018 followed by Heroes in Love.

David lives in London with his boyfriend and ageing motorbike.

You can read his blog here: http://bit.ly/DavidCDawsonblog

In his spare time, David tours Europe on his ageing Triumph motorbike and sings with the London Gay Men’s Chorus.

https://www.davidcdawson.co.uk/

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Hero Haters by Ken MacQueen Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

After becoming the prime suspect in the disappearance of the finalists for the nation’s highest medal of valor for civilians, one man must put himself on the line to find and save these heroes from the sinister web they’ve been ensnared within author Ken MacQueen’s “Hero Haters”.

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The Synopsis

Jake Ockham had a dream job, vetting nominees for the Sedgewick Medallion—the nation’s highest civilian award for heroism. His own scarred hands are an indelible reminder of the single mother he failed to pull from a raging house fire; her face haunts him still. Obligations drag him back to his hometown to edit the family newspaper but attempts to embrace small-town life, and the hot new doctor, are thwarted by unknown forces. The heroes Jake vetted go missing and he becomes the prime suspect in the disappearances. Aided by resourceful friends, Jake follows a twisted trail to the Dark Web, where a shadowy group is forcing the kidnapped medalists to perform deadly acts of valor to amuse twisted subscribers to its website. To save his heroes, Jake must swallow his fears and become one himself…or die in the attempt. 

The Review

This brand-new thriller from a brand new author and seasoned journalist was absolutely fantastic. The author immediately showcased the strength of finding the right balance between character growth and suspense building. The atmosphere and tension really elevated the narrative here, capturing the shocking nature of the crimes and the fight for survival that takes place. The focus on “heroes”, and how we treat our heroes in the world is a great central theme to play into this thriller and did a great job of showcasing the humanity within our heroes.

The brilliant character development and escalating suspense were so well delivered. The chemistry between Tina and Jake as the story develops adds a hint of romance into the narrative, but the complexity of the protagonist’s struggle with his brush with heroism and the blend of guilt for those that couldn’t be saved, as well as the human faults all heroes still have in their daily lives that are often ignored in the wake of their heroism, made their development so mesmerizing to read about.

The Verdict

Thought-provoking, atmospheric, and entertaining, author Ken MacQueen’s “Hero Haters” is a must-read suspense thriller of 2022. The gripping blend of haunting dark web crime and the balance of morality with heroism as a whole made this such a rich and dynamic story to dive head first into, and readers will be hard-pressed to put this novel down. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy or preorder by October 5th, 2022!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Before turning to fiction, Ken MacQueen spent 15 years as Vancouver bureau chief for Maclean’s, Canada’s newsmagazine, winning multiple National Magazine Awards and nominations. He travelled the world writing features and breaking news for the magazine, and previously for two national news agencies.

He has written extensively on crime, politics, disasters, both natural and man-made—and, being Canadian, on the shifting fortunes of Queen Elizabeth II and her clan. All of this is potential fodder for future fiction, though the Queen as action hero seems unlikely.

Hero Haters, set in the Pacific Northwest and rural Pennsylvania, is his debut thriller.

MacQueen covered nine Olympic Games and drew the athletic prowess of Jake Ockham, his protagonist, from tracking elite rowers in training and on podiums in Athens, Beijing and London.

He and his wife divide their time between North Vancouver and British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast.

kenmacqueen.com

Only Lies Remain (An Aoife Walsh Thriller Book 2) by Val Collins Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

The discovery of a body leads to old family secrets being unearthed, and a hunt for a killer who could very well be amongst Aoife Walsh’s family takes center stage in author Val Collins’s “Only Lies Remain”, the second book in the Aoife Walsh thriller series. 

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The Synopsis

Everyone thought Danny Walsh deserted his family when his sons were young. But when Danny’s body turns up fifteen years later and his wife, Maura, is implicated in his murder, accusations and old rumours surface.

Aoife rushes in to clear her mother-in-law’s name. But why is it that Maura’s story surrounding Danny’s disappearance doesn’t quite add up?

Aoife’s investigation uncovers old secrets, long-held jealousies, and lies upon lies. With every new revelation, Aoife realises she doesn’t know her family at all. Now her new boss is acting strangely, her best friend is more and more distant and her husband is no help at all.

With her support network crumbling and her family threatened, Aoife must race to keep one step ahead of danger before more innocent lives are lost. But how will she uncover the truth when only lies remain?

The Review

This was a captivating and thought-provoking thriller. As a newcomer to the series, I was immediately enthralled with the expansive cast of characters. Protagonist Aoife is such a brilliant presence in the narrative, providing both the determination and strength a thriller’s heroine is meant to have and yet infusing the vulnerability and emotional components that make her character feel well-rounded. The balance of everyday developments in her life, from her tumultuous relationship with her soon-to-be ex-husband and her desire to help her former mother-in-law, to her growing relationship with the lead investigator and the close friendship she has with Orla.

Yet it was the twisted narrative and haunting atmosphere the author built into this story that made the novel so captivating. The rich world-building and stark settings were brought to life brilliantly using powerful imagery and made it feel very cinematic in nature as if it could be turned into the newest BBC murder mystery and thriller series that takes the world by storm much like The Fall or Broadchurch. The chilling nature of the case and the personal connection the protagonist has to it allow the reader to feel the desperation and need to solve the case that drives this story forward.

The Verdict

Brilliantly written, complex yet inviting, and thoroughly entertaining, author Val Collins’s “Only Lies Remains” is a must-read murder mystery thriller. The twists and turns the narrative takes, as well as the shocking reveal of the killer and his or her motives, will have readers hanging off the edge of their seats, and the author’s skills and powerful command over the genre make her future in this industry something that cannot be ignored.  If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Val Collins is the author of the award-winning psychological thriller GIRL TARGETED and the No. 1 international bestsellers ONLY LIES REMAIN, THE SILENT SPEAK and WHERE LOYALTIES LIE. All four books are stand-alone thrillers and they can be read in any order.

Val has lived in Ireland her entire life, and graduated from University College Dublin. She enjoys chocolate, going for long walks in the countryside, seeing as much of the world as possible, meeting friends, writing, and reading. In fact, she devours books at the rate of one per week, and her favourite authors range from Philippa Gregory and Sophie Kinsella to Lee Child and Linwood Barclay.

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To Charm A Killer (A Hollystone Mystery Book One) by W.L. Hawkin Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

The High Priest of a powerful coven must search for a killer who is targeting witches as Hecate issues a dreadful prophecy he must race to prevent in author W.L. Hawkin’s “To Charm a Killer”, the first book in the Hollystone Mystery Series! 

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The Synopsis

When a third witch vanishes from Vancouver, the witches of Hollystone Coven spin a charm to catch the killer. But spells ripple with repercussions, and in the ensuing chaos, an innocent seventeen-year-old girl gets caught up in the charm. As obsessed with the killer as the killer is with him, High Priest Estrada vows to find the man and stop him. Then, at their Samhain ritual, Hecate speaks through their high priestess and shocks everyone with her prophecy:

As one of you has spun the charm, now none of you are safe from harm.

One who all felt they could trust, breeds deception cloaked in lust.

One will gain their heart’s desire, while yet another pays with fire.

Before the dark of winter night, four souls pass over into light.

Once begun it cannot end, but circles round as circles bend.

To save the girl and catch the killer, Estrada journeys from the West Coast of Canada to Ireland and Beyond. Abduction, death, fire, and faeries. Who is the killer? Why is he killing witches? And how can he be stopped before Hecate’s prophecy comes true?

WL Hawkin weaves threads of Macbeth and ancient Irish myth with edgy romance in this mysterious urban fantasy. To Charm a Killer is the first in the Hollystone Mysteries series.

The Review

I have had the pleasure of reviewing quite a few books this past year from W.L. Hawkins. Her work always entertains and inspires me both as a reader and a writer, and the interesting thing about this series, in particular, is that I came into it starting with book 2 and then jumping around a bit. I’ve become quite invested in Estrada’s journey throughout this series, and getting to see the genesis of this character and the supporting cast was such a pleasure to read about.

The balance of action and mythos was so strong in this first novel. The way the author is able to integrate the supernatural and paranormal elements into the world so naturally was amazing to read. As someone who is fascinated with the real-world applications of magick, the paranormal, and the supernatural as a whole, it was great to see just how close the author was able to go through real-world practices and mythologies before integrating the more fantastic elements of the narrative.

Yet it was the mystery and suspense of the narrative that was truly great to read about. The shocking murders and the cat and mouse element of the plot between Estrada and the killer kept me hooked on the author’s narrative. Being able to keep the reader guessing the killer’s identity as the clues begin to unravel before them was such a fun aspect of the plot, and kept me on the edge of my seat.

The Verdict

Captivating, entertaining, and thought-provoking, author W.L. Hawkin’s “To Charm a Killer” is a must-read novel and a great first book in the Hollystone Mystery series! The twists and turns in the narrative and globe-spanning mystery blended well into the mythology and supernatural deep dive into witchcraft, magick, and the paranormal as a whole, making this a thrilling story. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

W. L. Hawkin writes myth, magic, and mayhem designed to inspire and entertain. Described as “intoxicating, lush, magically-edgy, page-turners,” her Hollystone Mysteries series features a coven of witches who solve murders using their wits and ritual magic with a little help from the gods. Wendy is also a published blogger, book reviewer, Indie publisher, and poet, with a background in Indigenous Studies and English literature. She loves myth and magic, so when she’s not writing, she’s studying Druidry, shamanism, and mediumship. Although she is an introvert, in each book, her characters go on a journey where she has traveled herself.

She defies genre by writing character-driven fast-paced mysteries and thrillers that involve fantastical characters. See her four book series: To Charm a Killer, To Sleep with Stones, To Render a Raven, and To Kill a King.

Her latest book, Lure, is set on a Chippewa Reservation in the American Midwest and tells the story of Jesse & Hawk.

Devil’s Chew Toy (Hayden & Friends Book One) by Rob Osler Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A gay relationship blogger teams up with a take-charge lesbian and a feisty bull terrier to find a missing go-go dancer and take down an international crime ring in author Rob Osler’s “Devil’s Chew Toy”, the first book in the Hayden & Friends LGBTQ+ Mystery Series! 

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The Synopsis

Perfect for fans of T.J. Klune, Becky Albertalli, and David Levithan, this hilarious, big-hearted LGBTQ+ mystery follows an unlucky in love—and life—gay relationship blogger who teams up with a take-charge lesbian and a fiesty bull terrier to find a missing go-go boy and bring down an international crime ring.

When Hayden McCall’s new crush suddenly disappears, the twenty-something gay ginger relationship blogger and middle-school teacher teams up with a take charge butch lesbian, a gentle giant, and a feisty bull terrier to find the missing guy. 

Driven by a belief that the police won’t take the crime seriously, the improbable crime fighters prove that friendship — fueled by a lot of caffeine — has the power to bring down a diabolic international crime ring.

The Review

I absolutely loved this book. The humorous and captivating story balanced out so well with the rich and diverse characters. The pacing and atmosphere that the author crafted within this narrative were so engaging for a reader to dive into, and each scene and character felt alive on the page as if you could just step right into it. The themes the author explores in this book, from police brutality to the struggle of being “illegal” while living in the United States and so much more made the heart of this narrative feel so important as well.

The thing that really stuck out to me as a reader was the LGBTQ-driven themes and how prominent the ammeter sleuth meets crime thriller and humorous cozy mystery genres were within the story itself. The dynamics between Hayden, Hollister, and Burley were great to see, and getting to see the evolution of their friendship was so fun to connect with. Yet the actual mystery aspect of the narrative kept me on the edge of my seat, constantly guessing the truth behind this young dancer’s disappearance. 

The Verdict

Captivating, thoughtful, and entertaining, author Rob Osler’s “Devil’s Chew Toy” is a must-read ammeter sleuth meets LGBTQ+ humor and crime thriller! The way these cozy mystery reads have gained more and more popularity, especially in the face of the hit Hulu original series Only Murders in the Building, has given bright and original stories like this the spotlight they deserve, and the author’s unique blend of humor, wit, and charm with important themes and heartfelt character growth will have readers eager for more of this engaging series. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today! 

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Prior to Devil’s Chew Toy, Rob Osler’s short story, Analogue, which was published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, won the Mystery Writers of America Robert L Fish Award as part of the 2022 Annual Edgar Awards. Rob lives in California with his long-time partner and a tall gray cat. 

Website: http://robosler.com

Facebook: http://facebook.com/roboslerwriter

Twitter: http://twitter.com/robosler

Instagram: http://instagram.com/roboslerwriter

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3pb3YYz

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57997935-devil-s-chew-toy

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Author Q&A

On writing:

How did you do research for your book?

As DEVIL’S CHEW TOY is a contemporary novel set in a city I’m extremely familiar with, there was not a heavy research task. Also, because the two main characters are VERY amateur sleuths, I could avoid needing to get a lot of police procedure right—though there is some police interaction. That said, it’s amazing how many little questions arise in every chapter that require a pause and some desk research. 

Which was the hardest character to write? The easiest?

The hardest character to write was Hollister—not that she was too challenging. I strove to be respectful of Hollister’s identity as a Black lesbian in America without going so deeply into her character that hers became a story that wasn’t mine to tell. 

The easiest character to write was Hayden McCall. Why? Because there’s a whole lot of me in him. We are both naturally shy and smaller of stature (though he’s shorter and slighter). I took Hayden on the type of adventure—with a bolder, stronger, and more courageous friend—that I would love to go on.

There are many cozy mysteries out there….What makes yours different?

My story features two extremely amateur sleuths, one mild-mannered gay ginger and one butch lesbian. I’ve heard from some reviewers and readers that while pairing a gay and a lesbian as the main protagonists is not unprecedented it is uncommon. Also, I intentionally wrote a story in which the queer characters are neither the villains nor the tragic victims. 

What advice would you give budding writers?

Understand that whatever amount of patience you have will be depleted and then some. Publishing moves in increments of months. It takes a long time—and a lot of collaborators—to bring a book to market.

Your book is set in Seattle. Have you ever been there?

I set the book in Seattle because it’s my “Spirit City.” I lived there for nearly twenty years and loved it. Given as much time as it takes to write a book, I wanted to return to Seattle and its neighborhoods and hills and waterways during the long writing process.

Do you have another profession besides writing?

I have been a marketing and branding strategist for many decades, both at agency/consultancies and at technology corporations. I think the general mind set of prioritizing activities that matter most has helped me with all aspects of writing and the navigating the publishing process.

How long have you been writing?

I actually started my professional career as advertising copywriter writing television commercials for Kellogg’s and Tropicana and Procter & Gamble. Fiction writing also uses words to communicate but that’s about the only commonality I’ve found! It’s the difference between landing one memorable message versus telling a compelling, captivating story over three hundred-plus pages. Trust me, a novel is way harder.

Do you ever get writer’s block? What helps you overcome it?

You know, I really never do. But then I’m not much of a procrastinator either—not that they’re the same thing. My biggest challenge is going off on a tangent with a character or a scene that needlessly complicates the story and “writes me into a corner.” I do a lot revisions.

What is your next project?

I have recently sold my second short story to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. It features a fifty-something cross-dressing whacky amateur sleuth named Perry Winkle who solves a murder at his Palm Springs condo community.

What genre do you write and why?

I write traditional mysteries because that has been the genre I have always most loved to read. And I feature LGBTQ+ main characters because I am gay and we need more books—of all genres—that represent the great and glorious rainbow of humanity. 

What is the last great book you’ve read?

Two spring to mind. The first: THE SAVAGE KIND by John Copenhaver, who also happens to be a very nice human being. This novel—no surprise—won the Lambda Literary Award for best mystery this year. The second: DEAD LETTERS FROM PARADISE by Ann McMan is sheer delight. Both books are truly terrific.

What is a favorite compliment you have received on your writing?

“I can’t wait to read the next one!”

How are you similar to or different from your lead character?

Both Hayden and I are gay, mild-mannered, quiet, but good for an occasionally humorous one-liner. We both play tennis and enjoy big personalities. As Hayden says, “we balance each other out.”

If your book were made into a movie, who would star in the leading roles?

The characters are so distinct in my head, I can’t picture a known movie star playing either Hayden, Hollister or Burley. However, I can see Della Rupert, the oddball proprietress of Barkingham Palace, played superbly by Melissa McCarthy.

If your book were made into a movie, what songs would be on the soundtrack?

Stanley Kellogg’s “Falling Hard,” of course! This song, which was made up along with the new country star himself, reoccurs throughout the story. Fun fact! After the book was published, a good friend, Ben Davis, and I completed the lyrics and Ben wrote the music and produced the track. It’s on my website. Check it out!

What were the biggest rewards with writing your book?

Hearing from readers that they enjoyed it. 

In one sentence, what was the road to publishing like?

Long.

What is one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring author?

Every time you are certain you’re done working on a book, know that you aren’t.

Which authors inspired you to write?

Agatha Christie and Armistead Maupin.

What is something you had to cut from your book that you wish you could have kept?

There’s a line that 91-year-old Jerry delivers in reply to Hayden’s question: “How did you get to be so wise old man?” Over the whistle of the kettle, Jerry replies, “I managed to live a long damn time.”  That “damn” was an Eff-bomb until the final edit. It was the only strong swear word in the book. By removing it the book avoided an R rating, if you will. But I still love the idea of Jerry saying the line with more gusto!

On rituals:

Do you snack while writing? Favorite snack?

No snacking. But I do try to drink plenty of water.

Where do you write?

I have a home office. I’ve never been able to do the coffee shop thing. I am too easily distracted.

Do you write every day?

Not every day. But I do write most days. 

What is your writing schedule?

I usually write in two- to three-hour spurts. In a mystery, context and pacing is so important I am not skilled enough to dipping in and out.

Is there a specific ritualistic thing you do during your writing time?

Nope. I just plop my butt down and starting tap, tap, tapping. I will say I find it very difficult to stop writing before I finish a chapter, even in the roughest draft form.

In today’s tech savvy world, most writers use a computer or laptop. Have you ever written parts of your book on paper?

No. But I do use notebook paper to scribble plot ideas before I write.

Fun stuff:

If you could go back in time, where would you go?

The seventies. The music was awesome. Though I’m still wary of bell bottom pants.

Favorite travel spot?

Switzerland.

Favorite dessert?

Raspberry rhubarb pie

If you were stuck on a deserted island, which 3 books would you want with you? 

The Mouse and the Motorcycle

Tales of the City

All the Light We Cannot See

What’s the most courageous thing you’ve ever done?

I set off for Alaska to work on fish processing barge after my sophomore year at college. If fish were running, the shift was 16 hours, every day until all the fish were processed. I still don’t know why I did it, but I returned two more summers. 

Any hobbies? or Name a quirky thing you like to do.

I have been life-long tennis player and watcher. I can usually name the top twenty men players—and often in order!

If there is one thing you want readers to remember about you, what would it be?

Rob Osler writes traditional mysteries featuring LGBTQ+ main characters. 

What is something you’ve learned about yourself during the pandemic?

We are social creatures who need human interaction.

What TV series are you currently binge watching?

Inventing Anna by Shonda Rhimes on Netflix.

What is your theme song?

“Sultans of Swing” by Dire Straits. 

What song is currently playing on a loop in your head?

“The Seaside” by The Lazy Eyes

What is something that made you laugh recently?

Jinx Monsoon’s roast performance on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Hi-lar-ious.

What is your go-to breakfast item?

Toast and yogurt with berries.

What is the oldest item of clothing you own?

I have a green argyle sweater I bought in Seattle thrift store about forty years ago.

Tell us about your longest friendship.

Twin girls, Kelly and Shelly. I grew up with them. We went to elementary, middle school, high school and then to the same out-of-state college! Just a few months back, I did a book event at the wonderful Boise bookshop Rediscovered Books. Guess who was in the front row?

Who was your childhood celebrity crush?

Willy Ames who played the role of Tommy on Eight is Enough.

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Guest Post: Adding More Color To Cozies

Adding More Color to Cozies

Within the mystery genre are several sub-genres, including suspense, hard-boiled, noir, historical, amateur sleuth, police procedural, detective, and cozy. Perhaps the one in the list that is least familiar to most readers is the cozy. If the term is new to you, just think of Jessica Fletcher and Murder She Wrote or most of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple mysteries. The hallmarks of a cozy are the avoidance of gratuitous violence, graphic sex, and profanity. But being on the tamer end of the mystery spectrum doesn’t mean a cozy can’t deliver a terrifically entertaining read packed with engaging characters, adventure, intrigue, and loads of humor. 

Given the nature of cozies, they have tended to appeal to a more conservative audience, predominately featuring white and straight main characters in smaller towns populated with other white and straight residents. That said, there have been many truly great exceptions. To name drop just a few: Dean James Simon-Kirby Jones series that features a gay vampire (now that’s different!), Stephen E. Stanley’s Luke Littlefield series, Michael Craft’s Claire Gray series, Mystery Writers of America Grand Master, Ellen Hart’s Jane Lawless series, among others, and Kellye Garrett’s HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE. 

While diverse cozies are nothing new, it seems there are more coming than ever before. And that’s a very good thing.

Michael Craft is back with DESERT GETAWAY, a delightful new Dante (gay guy) and Jazz series (Black woman P.I.). Raquel Reyes’s MANGO, MAMBO, AND MURDER (A Caribbean Kitchen Mystery), Mia P. Manansala’s ARSENIC AND ABODO, Jennifer J. Chow’s DEATH BY BUBBLE TEA, Frank Anthony Polito’s RENOVATED TO DEATH (yes, gay 😊), and Zac Bissonnette’s A KILLING IN COSTUMES (also gay). And yes, my own debut novel, DEVIL’S CHEW TOY, features a gay, ginger middle-school teacher and gay dating blogger and his amateur sleuth partner, a Black butch lesbian.

Representation is important. While I hope the murders and other crimes that anchor even cozy mysteries don’t befall readers, it’s important to have book options that put diverse characters at the center. True inclusion isn’t relegated to the periphery. I, for one, enjoy reading stories I can relate to because of a shared experience with a character and characters that introduce me to new cultures and experiences. That’s an adventure. That’s transportive and escapist. Isn’t that why we read fiction? 

And here’s the best part: a good book is a good book. So even straight readers can enjoy a great mystery with diverse main characters. 

So hooray for the new wave of diverse cozies. They promise any mystery lover a delightfully colorful read.

Firefly Lies by Morgan Matthews Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A young woman hoping to put her past behind her is forced to confront her trauma and even her sanity as dark events and a persistent enemy to her family seek to destroy their family estate in author Morgan Matthews’s “Firefly Lies”.

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The Synopsis

A stately manor, one peculiar groundskeeper, and untimely death set the stage for this thrilling and unexpected tale. As a twenty-nine year old married mother of two, Greer Tipton has spent nearly half her life trying to leave the past behind her. Yet she finds herself faced with reexamining her teenage years after agreeing to be interviewed by a biographer.

Greer’s recollection of events is equally as dark as it is compelling. Her harrowing story is fraught with lies, heartbreaking revelations, and an unknown enemy terrorizing her family’s beloved home – Langley Estates. Young Greer must find the answers she so desperately seeks, while also navigating the emotions of first love, loss, and an inherent mistrust of her own sanity.

The reader will be left wondering who, if anyone, can be trusted. Can we as human beings even trust ourselves?

The Review

This was such an engaging and inviting read. The mystery and suspense of the narrative felt vibrant and alive and delved into themes that felt very relatable and relevant to modern-day true crimes. The twists and turns in the story kept me invested in this narrative, as the author’s writing style kept this mystery feeling very mature yet in a genre that many readers would classify as “clean” mysteries. In that regard, the author crafts a narrative that focuses solely on the mystery and not on any elements of more adult narratives that would make this a heated and passionate read instead. 

Yet what drew me into the narrative was the characters, especially when it came to the storytelling perspective. The author’s choice to not only jump back and forth between the past and the present but from the POV of both the biographer and the protagonist of this mystery was so heartfelt and honest in a way. The way biographer was able to bring an outside perspective to the story while also connecting with their “subject”. At the same time, the protagonist kept readers in suspense and brought an emotional depth to the narrative, making this story such a unique reading experience.

The Verdict

Captivating, thoughtful, and exhilarating, author Morgan Matthews’s “Firefly Lies” is a must-read mystery and suspense read of 2022. The drama, twists, and rich character development will keep readers on the edge of their seats. The final revelations about what happened to this family and the true villain of this tale will shock many readers, while also keeping readers emotionally invested in these characters. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Morgan Matthews is a wife, mother, photographer, lifestyle blogger, and fiction writer. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in psychology, as well as a Master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling.

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goodreads.com/author/show/20916893.Morgan_Matthews

Ice Islands (Rake Ozenna Thriller Book 4) by Humphrey Hawksley Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

What begins as an attempt to infiltrate a large Japanese crime organization turns into an international nightmare as one man must protect his target and prevent a deadly plot from unfolding in author Humphrey Hawksley’s “Ice Islands”, the fourth book in the Rake Ozenna Thriller series. 

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The Synopsis

Major Rake Ozenna faces dangerous choices and deadly consequences in this rip-roaring political thriller that takes you from the ice islands of Finland to the bustling streets of Tokyo via Russia and the White House . . . Buckle up, this is a thrilling ride!

Major Rake Ozenna’s mission is simple: gain access to the Kato family – Japan’s most dangerous crime empire – and stop the threat to America. But when the secret son of the Russian leader is executed and Rake’s target, Sara Kato, is implicated in the murder, a political crisis between Russia, Japan and the US is set in motion.

It’s a race to protect Sara and earn her trust whilst escaping the inhospitable terrain of the icy Aland island. Meanwhile, Russia wants revenge for the murder, a catastrophic move when it is revealed Japan have been stockpiling nuclear weapons.

As Rake learns the true extent of their deadly plans, he must draw on every ounce of his training to succeed. Because if he fails, it won’t just be his life that will be lost . . . the consequences will be global! 

The Review

This was such a cinematic and captivating international thriller! The author ramps up the narrative of this series greatly by honing in on a mixture of global high-stakes action and intimate and more personal character-driven mysteries. The globe-trotting settings really made this feel like a modern-day Netflix action thriller movie, while the tension and balance of politics with organized crime in the narrative added such depth to the story itself.

Yet it was the rich character growth that the author utilized in this narrative that really made the action and setting pop on the page. The mystery surrounding this Russian President’s son’s murder and the daughter of a Japanese criminal all felt both engaging and yet realistic to the current political and criminal climates our world is facing. However, it was the protagonist’s story that really drew me in as a reader, showcasing his heroism and yet also showing his struggle with learning more about his family’s past and trying to separate himself from any feelings involving his target, making this such a rich and dynamic story to read.

The Verdict

Entertaining, thrilling, and brilliantly written, author Humphrey Hawksley’s “Ice Islands” is a must-read novel and a great addition to the Rake Ozenna series. The mystery and suspense the narrative picks up and the rich character development create a narrative that plays out greatly in the reader’s imagination through imagery and tone that captivates the audience immediately. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Humphrey is an award-winning author and foreign correspondent whose assignments with the BBC have taken him to crises all over the world. His Rake Ozenna series originated when reporting from the US-Russian border during heightened tension

He has been guest lecturer at universities and think tanks such as the RAND Corporation, The Center for Strategic and International Studies and MENSA Cambridge. He moderates the monthly Democracy Forum debates on international issues and is a host on the weekly Goldster Book Club where he discusses books and talks to authors.

The third in Humphrey’s political espionage Rake Ozenna series MAN ON FIRE came out in July 2021. The fourth, ICE ISLANDS, will be published in August 2022.

Rake Ozenna, a native Alaskan from Little Diomede on the Russian border, is fast making his mark as a hard-driving unusual character in thriller Fiction. Tthe great NELSON DE MILLE described Rake as ‘smart and tough, and we’re glad to have him on our side”

In MAN ON FIRE, a tense firefight on the Russian-American border heralds the start of a terrifying high-stakes mission for special forces agent Major Rake Ozenna in this gripping espionage thriller. Instructed to guide in a speed boat crossing from Russia in the Bering Strait, special forces Major Rake Ozenna watches in horror as the operation culminates in a fatal firefight – and the loss of vital intelligence of a deadly new weapon. A weapon of unimaginable power. A weapon that, if it were unleashed, would cripple civilization as we know it. But who sabotaged the mission? Who possesses the weapon – and what is their ultimate goal?

Rake’s search takes him to the remote outpost of Uelen on the Russian coast – and the discovery that he is up against a formidable enemy from his past. As world leaders gather in Bonn for the signing of the new European security treaty, Rake enters a desperate race against time to prevent a catastrophe beyond imagining. This fast-paced, impeccably researched, highly topical thriller is perfect for rreaders of CLIVE CUSSLER, LEE CHILD and ROBERT

LUDLUM.

Humphrey’s Rake Ozenna thrillers have been widely praised.

Library Journal on MAN ON EDGE — ‘A hard-as-nails hero, an out-of-the-ordinary location, and oodles of high-action encounters – everything readers want in a political thriller’

Booklist on MAN ON ICE — ‘Knuckle-whitening suspense, bloody violence, dirty tricks, and plenty of surprising twists make this a gripping, can’t-put-it-down read’ –

‘Authentic settings, non-stop action’, Steve Berry on Man on Ice

An up-to-the-minute, page-turning spy thriller with the atmosphere of a Cold War classic’ – Charles Cumming on Man on Edge

https://www.humphreyhawksley.com/

Traitor by Steve Malik Swayne Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

A man who lost years of his life in prison for a crime he didn’t commit seeks revenge against the one man he considered a friend, who rejected his pleas for help during his trial, in author Steve Malik Swayne’s “Traitor”.

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The Synopsis

Traitor is an intensely deranged mental excursion, full of poetically expressed vengeance and a mischievous plot for revenge.

The main character, Xavier Ruffin, has just been released from prison after serving a 12-year sentence for a murder he did not commit. He is hell-bent on getting back at his former friend, Tyson Carter – who is now employed by the state – for rejecting his impassioned plea for help during the preliminary stages of his case.

Taunted by an inner demon, Xavier vows to make Tyson pay for every moment of freedom that he feels was stripped away from him, considering Tyson a traitor.

The Review

This was definitely a gritty and hard-hitting story of vengeance. A much more modern take on classic revenge stories like The Count of Monte Cristo or True Grit, the reader is instantly brought into a heartbreaking yet brilliant narrative that highlights the injustice that exists within our modern justice system and the impact of the prison system can have on a person. The imagery and atmosphere the author brings to life in this novel elevates the narrative and brings a vivid image of these characters in an almost cinematic way. 

What really drove the narrative was the incredible character development that the author built. The resentment, determination, and heart that protagonist Xavier brought to the story and the shocking development that Tyson has early on made this story instantly click for readers. The tension that was built as the protagonist’s mission for vengeance built and grew over the course of the narrative kept me as a reader hanging off of the author’s every word.

The Verdict

Captivating, entertaining, and thought-provoking, author Steve Malik Swayne’s “Traitor” is a must-read modern-day revenge tale like no other. The heart and passion that the author writes with perfectly mirrors the gritty setting and engaging twists and turns that the story takes as this protagonist dives further and further into his need for revenge. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

What’s up everybody! I am Steve Malik Swayne. I was born in Ogden, Utah and raised in Salt Lake City / Las Vegas, NV. I became fascinated with words in elementary school where I began writing short stories and poems which eventually led to me writing music. After years of pursing a music career, I began running the streets, headed down the wrong path eventually leading to my incarceration. While incarcerated, (a father of three) I decided I wouldn’t become a statistic. I enrolled in college classes where I obtained two associate degrees, one in Liberal Arts and the other in General Business Administration. Still passionate about writing, I began writing fictional novels, calling home to my wife, where she would record my writings, then take the hours of recordings and type them into her laptop. From there, we pursued publication and now those publications are being introduced to the world.

Interview with Author John May

Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?

Fame and fortune haha. In my spare time, I started writing stories and creating comic strips around the age of ten or eleven. When life wasn’t fun, creative writing was my escape as a child. It was a great outlet for my imagination and a way to express myself untethered from the restriction of my English teachers because not only did I come up with some wild stories, I was also a very creative speller which drove them crazy.

As a teen, I became an avid reader. Believe it or not, I read all of Charles Dickens’s works while riding on a bus to my after-school/weekend job in a restaurant kitchen. But I think it was Hemmingway’s books that really inspired me to write longer stories. I wanted to be that storyteller. It wasn’t however, until the author of the series of books that I was reading to my children died that I began writing. The kids were upset there would be no more books, so I took it upon myself to write something similar for them as a Christmas present. The only problem was that the short story turned into a novel and with my busy schedule as a doctor, it took two years to complete. By then, my older son was “too old” for it. I decided after my youngest grew up, that although I enjoyed writing my children, I really wanted to write for adults.

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What inspired you to write your book?

My family and I experienced the panic and chaos created by the enormous North East blackout of 2003. We were sitting by a campfire completely oblivious until a neighbor approached carrying a shotgun telling us that most of North America was dark. He said it was a Russian cyberattack. My twelve-year-old son couldn’t sleep that night as he was frightened that we were under attack and that enemy soldiers were breaking into the house. That feeling of being in the dark, not knowing the truth was truly terrifying. For the next five days, our part of the world was not functioning – no credit cards – no cash – no ATMs working – the gas pump wouldn’t pump – store shelves were empty – the experience still haunts me and played a large part in motivating me to write Lethal Keystrokes.

In addition, I have always had an interest in technology and computers. In fact, before medical school, I worked as a programmer for IBM. As a physician, I became concerned about the impact of technology on children i.e., too much screen time. But with the intrusion of social media and the ‘internet of everything,’ I feel there is too much connectiveness without true human contact. My biggest concern outside the medical/social sphere is our security – individually and collectively as a nation. There are too many electronic eyes and ears out there. Are they helping and protecting us or making us vulnerable to those who wish harm upon us?

What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?

I hope that this book causes people, companies, and governments to think about their digital security. We also need to be aware that the voids, created by Western nations in places like Somalia, where there was intervention and then complete withdrawal, are filled by groups that could become terrorist organizations.

What drew you into this particular genre?

To be honest, I was attempting to write a very emotionally charged true-life novel about some of my experiences in cancer and palliative care. It was tough. I needed to step back and ‘reset’. Previously, out of a more academic interest I had researched some of the key political and technological issues key to Lethal Keystrokes. I took that information and started writing something that was pure entertainment, so fast-paced and exciting that you can’t put it down and a total escape from the trials of day-to-day life. Writing it worked wonders for me and I hope that everyone that reads Lethal Keystrokes enjoys immersing themselves in the action. 

If you could sit down with any character in your book, what would you ask them and why?

That is an interesting question. I’m somewhat surprised by my answer. It is not the main antagonist but his sister that I found the most fascinating and challenging character to write, and from the reaction of a few earlier readers, they agree with this choice. She starts out with the same vitriol as her older brother but as she spends more time in Western society, she stops focusing on all its flaws and begins to appreciate the positives, including the opportunities for women. She has to battle through the conflicts between her traditional role that involves support for her brother and her own journey to personal freedom. How does she bridge the chiasm between Islamic culture and her growing acceptance of America’s ideals?

What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?

Marketing has changed so much. If you aren’t good with social media, you’re doomed so I embraced it despite my misgivings about technology. I do not profess to be an expert but Instagram has been quite useful as well as Twitter. Still, I really don’t like the feeling of anarchy – everyone has their own truth – that exists out there in the digital world. Bottom line:  technology is a tool, not a lifestyle.

What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?

Write a one-page, beginning-to-end, synopsis of your plot. Stream of consciousness writing is unlikely to be successful. Writing toward a known conclusion ends up moving you farther, faster and easier than just sitting down and pecking away, hoping that it will all fall into place. If you can’t come up with the ending you don’t have an idea worthy of your time and energy. And work it is. A novel is much harder than a short story. Keeping an audience engaged for 300 pages is no easy task. So have a complete idea and be disciplined by writing something every day when possible. 

What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?

I’m still writing the book about my medical experiences.  I have also started a second book featuring the heroes from ‘Lethal Keystrokes’ as they combat a threat to America of a different nature. Hint: It will use more of my medical knowledge.

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About the Author

John D. May was born in London, Ontario. He has balanced multiple passions over his life, including his work as a biologist, his career as a physician, his volunteer service at medical outreach clinics in Guatemala, singer-songwriting, and storytelling. He has written several songs for well-known Canadian artists and released two CDs, available on iTunes and Spotify under the name Johnny May. His time is divided between his rural farm property near Toronto and the south of France.

https://linktr.ee/JohnnyMay