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Book Review: Toxic Octopus – Interestingly Informative Novel Wrapped in Fun

Toxic Octopus

By Lisa Haneberg

Xena Cali is a private investigator. She also owns Paradise Lost Spy Shop on Galveston Island.  Conveniently, she employs Sparky and Dora, the other members of her team. When a member of a local privately funded non-profit organization BARL is murdered Xena and her team are called in after the police determine Fred, a male octopus killed Dr. Jane Moore. Ari, the manager of the cephalopod lab, is sure Fred is not guilty and Xena agrees with him, especially after meeting Fred.

So begins the bizarre investigation including spy cams, Segway Personal Transporters and more danger than Xena could imagine when she agreed to take the case. Soon there is an additional murder that is linked to the case. She will have to use every trick in the book and several of the items she sells in her Spy Shop to catch the real killer and keep herself from being the third victim.

Toxic Octopus is an interestingly informative novel wrapped in fun. I learned more about octopuses than I could have imagined. Yes, the plural of octopus is really octopuses. I also found out that sadly, after mating, the male octopus dies and after laying her eggs the female octopus dies. I also learned all about freerunning, which is also called parkour. Xena practices this art of efficient movement adding ninja like fun to some very dangerous situations.

The plot moves along quickly, building tension until the killer is revealed. One of vehicles carrying the book is the characters’ quick wit and humor. Haneberg made me laugh out loud more than once, especially when Xena gives everyone she meets a different reason for the fashion choice she wears to a gala. There are times when Xena talks directly to the reader, much like the characters in the TV series Scrubs, and it absolutely works.

If you are a fan of Christopher Moore, you will love Toxic Octopus. Haneberg’s style is fun and informative – perfectly balanced with a solid plot and intriguing whodunit. This is the first book in the Spy Shop Mystery Series. The second book, Dead Pelican is available now. I cannot wait to read it.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from  Reedsy Discovery in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Tin Badges – Fast Paced Page Turner

Tin Badges

By Lorenzo Carcaterra

New York City detectives Tank Rizzo and Pearl Monroe carried a gold badge up until the fateful day when both of them lost their jobs. But Pearl lost so much more. Now both of them hold a tin badge, one that has few privileges of their former life, but it does open some doors. The duo works cold cases that the NYPD doesn’t have time to investigate thanks to the Chief of Police that has a soft spot for both of them.

When the case involving a couple of young women, who are beaten and sexually abused is tossed their way, it is so cold they might need gloves to hold it. No one has worked it for a while because the ladies are most likely hookers and no one really seems to care. Tank and Pearl dig into the case with the help of their brilliant, yet ragtag group. They discover the assault is just the tip of the iceberg. One that is full of drugs, murders and gangs that the two with tin badges are determined to bring to justice.

As if Tank doesn’t have enough on his plate, the brother that he hasn’t spoken with in years dies in an icy car accident along with his wife. This leaves his now orphaned teenage nephew, Chris, living with him in his NY brownstone. Chris is smart, mad at the world and crushed that his parents are gone; leaving him with the only family he has but doesn’t know. Tank loved his brother and willingly takes in Chris. Now he has to keep his nephew safe while working the case, which isn’t going to be easy. Chris is a crime buff and wants to be part of the team that takes the bad guys down and the good news/bad news is he is an expert at finding information that Tank and his team needs.

This fasted paced novel has page-turning action and is filled with the passion the characters have for their jobs, families and friends. Tank is the perfect leading man in the group of brilliant but ragtag crime solvers. His connections to the NYPD and old mobsters create a cast that entertains readers from the first page to the last. His love of NY City is evident as the story unfolds and the secret he holds close to his heart kept me guessing throughout the story.

Carcaterra is a Native New Yorker. A writer for over twenty years, he is a NY Times number one bestselling author. The prolific author has written several books, one of which, Sleepers, was adapted as a film in 1996 of the same name. I can’t wait to read some of his other books. Hopefully there will be a sequel to Tin Badges or better yet, a series with these interesting, complex characters. If you are a fan of Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme or Patterson’s Alex Cross, you will love Tin Badges.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The Arrangement – Desperate Times Call for … Murder?

The Arrangement

By Robyn Harding

Small town girl Natalie is out of her element. It is her choice, but life is harder and more expensive in New York City than she could have imagined. Loving the freedom and following her dream of art school is the best part of her life. Unfortunately money is a big problem. She lives with two roommates but is way behind on her portion of the rent. She loses the job that is barely keeping her head above water and turning the alcohol isn’t helping.

One of her friends at school offers Nat a solution to her situation. Ava has a posh apartment, stylish clothes, makeup and hair. When she reveals to Nat that she is a sugar baby, Ava tells Natalie that she dates men for money. Quickly explaining to Nat that sugar babies can just date older men, no sex has to be involved – unless it is her choice. At first Nat is repelled by the idea of dating men for money, but the amount of cash the sugar daddy pays for a dinner date could catch her up on the money she owes her roommates. After much deliberation, she decides that she will go on a date or two, get the cash and get out. The only problem is she really likes Gabe, her sugar daddy.

Falling for Gabe was easy for Nat; he is gorgeous, smart and rich. She starts to depend on the lifestyle and wants more than dinner and going to the theater. Things quickly begin to unravel. Soon she finds out he has secrets. Just how far will Nat go to have Gabe to herself? She is convinced they love each other and are destined to be together. But his family may not agree.

In the prologue of this fast paced novel, Natalie is calling her estranged father from the police station stating she has killed someone and needs his help. So the reader knows from the beginning that someone dies. It is a delicious bit of information that was always in the back of my mind. Who will die and why? While this isn’t a mystery, the element of the unknown is a fabulous addition to the complex plot.

The Arrangement is the perfect glimpse into a life most of us will never see – or want to ever be a part of. Ms. Harding explains in Acknowledgments the depth of research she did before writing The Arrangement. Doing her homework on the subject is what brought this book alive, and made the characters real. It is the first book I’ve read from this author and I highly recommend it.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The Body in the Gravel – Sexy Cozy Mystery

The Body in the Gravel

A Jazzi Zanders Mystery

By Judi Lynn

Cousins Jazzi and Jerod, along with Jazzi’s fiancé Ansel are house flippers. They do most of the work themselves. They depend on others for things that are not in their wheelhouse, such as delivery of gravel and concrete as well as furnace replacement. Luckily they have a close friend, Thane that happens to be living with Jazzi’s sister Olivia, who is a whiz when it comes to heating and AC. But when Thane and Darby, the cranky old buzzard that delivers their gravel meet up at the reno house, Ansel and Jazzi discover a long lasting feud between the two men. They didn’t know that Thane’s best friend, Walker is Darby’s son. Walker and his mother fled from the abusive Darby two years ago without a trace. Thane thinks Darby killed them.

When Darby ends up dead in a load of gravel dumped at the house Ansel and Jazzi are working on, Thane is at the top of the list. But soon the list of suspects is broadened to the guys that worked for him, family members and all of his friends – who are more like enemies due to Darby’s volatile nature. When another person connected to Darby is found dead, and a presumed dead person is found alive the case becomes even more complicated.

Jazzie is determined to help Detective Gaff find the murderer. He is more than willing to have her input, as they have worked several cases together in the past. But she has more than a murderer to worry about. She and Ansel are getting married in a few weeks and she doesn’t even have her wedding dress yet!

I love cozy mysteries. Of course they are not War and Peace, but no one wants them to be. They are fun, fast reads with interesting elements. The house flipping factor is fun, especially if you are a fan of HGTV like I am. Another element that I love is the delicious foods Jazzi and Ansel cook and bake. They are a couple of foodies, sharing their love of food with us. As a bonus to the readers, a few of their recipes are included.

The other element that was a bit different from most cozy mysteries is the romance between Jazzi and Ansel. Most cozies have the on again/off again boyfriends that never seem to be resolved. The sexy but never explicit interactions between the main characters was not frustrating or irritating to me like the traditional cozy plot lines of never committing in the relationship. Kudos to Ms. Lynn for having her characters have a happily ever after – with a side of murder.

This is the third book in the Jazzi Zanders cozy mystery series and the first one I have read. It works well as a stand-alone novel. The only time I was confused was the first few chapters as there are several characters that are introduced from the previous novels. But I soon knew who everyone was and the role they played in the plot.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review – Cut & Assemble Haunted House – Must Have for Halloween

Cut and Assemble Haunted House

By: Matt Bergstrom

Who wants a detailed three story Haunted House for Halloween this year? Matt Bergstrom and Dover have teamed up to create a paper masterpiece for your home. With scissors, glue and a craft knife, adults or teens can create an entire Victorian Mansion complete with furnishings, fences and a dinner table laden with food.

There are ghoulish guests and creepy cooks to add to the fun. Monsters and bats are sprinkled throughout to amuse and entertain everyone that creates it and enjoys the finished product. Be sure to read the detailed instructions to ensure the success of your project. Pay special attention to the “Avoid bloodshed” section – it outlines safety as well as gives tips on how to embellish your Haunted House with spooky extras like spider webs and dead plants.

Even though the thermometer is 90 in the Midwest, all too soon it will be time for sweatshirts, crunching through autumn leaves and trick or treaters. According to www.statista.com/, Americans spent just over 9 billion dollars on Halloween in 2018 and 2.9 billion of those dollars were on decorations. My advice is to pick up your very reasonably priced copy of Cut and Assemble Haunted House now so that you have time to get yours ready in time for the festivities. I can almost hear the oohs and ahhs from all of your friends and trick or treaters now!

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy from Dover Publications in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe – What Will Your Legacy Be?

Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe

By Heather Webber

Anna Kate arrives in her tiny hometown of Wicklow, Alabama for the first time since she was a child. She is there to lay her beloved grandmother, Zee, to rest. She has to stay for a couple of months according to her grandma’s will. Anna Kate has to run her grandma’s Blackbird Café and then sell it before she can begin medical school in the fall.

She hasn’t been back to Wicklow since she was a child. At her grandmother’s knee she learned to make the famous pies for the Blackbird Café. It is rumored that if you ate a piece of the pie, your deceased relatives would send you messages at night. No one could or wanted to explain it, but most everyone in town believed it.

At Zee’s funeral, not only were the townspeople in attendance, the blackbirds were also there, which is unusual since the townspeople know they only come out at midnight, sing for an hour then leave. When word got out about the blackbirds unusual behavior, bird lovers began to flock to Wicklow.

Anna Kate is determined to leave, but every passing day she falls more in love with the town and it’s residents. Her heart is opening up to the people and the blackbirds. What will happen if she leaves now? The only people she wants to get away from are her father’s family. She blames them for pushing her mother out of the town and their lives. They blame her mother for her father’s death.

From the very first pages the characters jump off the pages into the reader’s heart. Anna Kate is torn between her feelings and a promise she made to her dying mother. She has to choose between what her heart says is right and her responsibility. But each passing day she begins to see more clearly what and who the results of her decision will affect. What will her legacy be?

So many of the townspeople are memorable, it is hard to pick one or two to highlight, but I’ll give it my best shot. The head birder is a hoot. The town busybody made me chuckle. Natalie, Anna Kate’s aunt (who she first meets at the café) is a broken woman after her young husband’s death but is determined to be a great mom to her adorable daughter Ollie. Mr. Cat seems to know things no one else does and has a great sense of direction.

Heather Webber (also writes as Heather Blake) is a prolific writer of over twenty-five novels. I have read and enjoyed several of her cozy mysteries. Midnight at the Blackbird Café has an element of mystery about Anna Kate’s parents, but it is an absolutely fabulous work of women’s fiction. I could not put it down and now that I finished it, I keep thinking of the town that has something special for the residents as well as the readers. Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe needs to be on your summer reading list.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Bookish First in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Shirtless Men Drink Free – Hidden Agendas Are Ugly Bedfellows

Shirtless Men Drink Free

By Dwaine Rieves

Jackson Beekman is a rising star in his home state of Georgia. Currently the attorney general, his sights are set on the Governor’s office. But nothing is free in this world, least of all politics. Jackson needs to hedge his bets, so he begins building his campaign team.

Dr. Jane Beekman, Jackson’s sister-in-law, is one of the handpicked circle he chooses for his team.  She brings a personal agenda to the table. Politics are known for quid pro quo, and Jane is no exception. Her mother recently died a painful death due to her lifelong addiction to tobacco. She agrees to work for Jackson, and he agrees to push her agenda of raising the tax on tobacco as soon as he gets in office.

Jackson, like any human, has baggage. The problem with his is it is deep seated and hidden from almost everyone. His brother Price shares the sorrows and secrets of Jackson’s past. Price will keep the family secrets, but unbeknownst to the candidate, someone else from their past may come back to haunt Jackson.

The emotional roller coaster that the main characters ride is lightning fast. Jackson, Price and Jane are complex and complicated, their individual personalities jump from the pages and into the reader’s head.

The depth of this novel is coupled with an easy style that flows beautifully for the reader. It is hard to put this book in a box. It is fiction laced with facts, politics, social issues and human fallibility. The closest I can come to placing a label on Shirtless Men Drink Free is contemporary literary fiction. Contemporary due to the recurring theme of tobacco legislations and known health problems associated with it as well as social issues of today. I add the label “Literary” because Rieves’ beautiful use of the English language is evident throughout the book, but never pretentious.

If you only read one book this year that is not in your usual genre, I highly recommend this brilliant debut novel by Dwaine Rieves, Shirtless Men Drink Free. Read it for the human side of volatile issues that are hot topics in today’s headlines.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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