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Book Review: The 9 Ghosts of Samen’s Bane – Fast Paced Fright

The 9 Ghosts of Samen’s Bane

By D. A. Schneider

Mild mannered Adrian Dillard decides to join a venture to revitalize passenger train travel at the suggestion of a good friend and entrepreneur. Everything seems to be going well until a tragically fateful night leaves over a hundred people dead and Adrian becomes a vessel for 9 young ghosts. The dead kids have a mission to complete, but need the help of a person who is still alive to carry it out. Adrian is hesitant and afraid, but he is more afraid of what the spirits that inhabit his body will do to his pregnant wife and young son if he does not do what they ask.

They come to him in dreams at first, but soon they manifest themselves to explain how they need Adrian to vanquish their evil enemy – Samen. Appalled at the thought that he has to play a part in an epic battle of good and evil, Adrian resists. He defends his reluctance by reminding the 9 that he is a mere mortal, unequipped for a showdown with the devil. They quickly assure him that they each have supernatural powers that they can teach him use to vanquish their enemy. Even though he is scared silly, he has to try. So begins his transformation from dad to demon hunter.

This is not your classic story of good and evil. First of all, kids are in charge of the plan to eliminate Samen. Granted they have super powers, but they are still unruly children at times. Adrian is the perfect choice to go from zero to hero because he has a lot at stake. Unfortunately, his reluctance and gentle nature make him an unlikely savior. The deeper he gets involved with the 9, the more questions he has. His intuition is telling him that they are hiding something from him. Little things begin to not add up, especially when he does a little investigating on his own. Will this get him killed? He doesn’t know, but what will happen to the world if he doesn’t at least try?

The 9 Ghosts of Samen’s Bane is fast-paced, unpredictable and an absolute hoot to read. Of course, there are dead people milling about, and there is a force that is trying to end mankind.  There is also humor in the juxtaposition of Adrian battling with dead people during the night and going Christmas shopping at the mall with his family.

If you are a fan of Christopher Moore, you will love this book. This is the first book I have read by Schneider, but will not be the last. Luckily, he is a prolific writer, so he has a list of books just waiting for me – and you – to discover.

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 © 2020 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Spent Identity – Solid Mystery with a Side of Romance

3.25.20Spent Identity

By Marlene M. Bell

Annalisse Drury needs the fresh air and open places that her brownstone in Manhattan cannot provide. Luckily, she has the perfect outlet, the family farm she grew up on in Goshen. As a small child her parents died, so she came to live with her beloved Aunt Kate. Unfortunately, when she lived with them, Kate’s now dead husband and two obnoxious children reminded her constantly that she would never be a part of their family, no matter how much Kate cared and loved her.

When she arrives at the farm for the weekend, Annalisse realizes that something is bothering Kate. Annalisse finds a letter from Kate’s son stating he is selling the family farm out from under his mother. Heartbroken and furious, Annalisse vows to stop him. Unfortunately, when a dead body is found in the barn by the hired hand, they all must leave the farm per the sheriff until the investigation is complete. They head over to Annalisse’s boyfriend’s estate, which is fairly close to the farm. Kate disappears right after she and Annalisse arrive. Annalisse and Alec, her boyfriend, are soon on the hunt to find her missing aunt. Luckily, Alec is wealthy. He calls in a private investigator to assist in the search. Annalisse and Alec soon realize they are also in danger. Will they live to find Kate? Who is behind the killing and kidnapping? Are the two crimes related?

This fast-paced mystery combined with the slow burn of romance features a solid plot and interesting characters. Revenge is served up with a side of tension, twists and turns making readers fear for the outcome, all the while trying to figure out what would happen next. Ms. Bell serves up a surprising and satisfying ending that mystery lovers will adore.

Spent Identity is the second book in this series, but the first one I’ve read. In the first few chapters, the author summarizes the background needed to make sense of the relationships between the main characters. It works well as a stand-alone novel, I was not confused or lost. I recommend Spent Identity to everyone that loves mysteries, thrillers and a bit of romance.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Reedsy Discovery (https://reedsy.com/discovery/book/spent-identity-marlene-bell) in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2020 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The Off-Beat Cinder Ella Who Wants Her Shoe Back…Without the Prince

The Off-Beat Cinder Ella Who Wants Her Shoe Back…Without the Prince

By Anne Murray

This modern-day fairy tale is all about Cinder Ella AKA Cheyenne and her mean stepmother and stepsisters. She has the same troubles as the old version of the story, has to clean up after the awful new wife and new siblings her father brings into the house, there is a dance, a shoe and a prince-ish guy that comes looking for her. She also seems to have figured life out by the end and will live happily ever after without the prince.

Moving through the story at breakneck speed, Cheyenne/Cinder Ella is much more mature than the suggested age group. It is written for 7 to 12-year-olds and is more suited for the older end of this age group due to the vocabulary. Let me make it perfectly clear that there is nothing inappropriate at all, but the maturity level to understand words such as obligatory, endorsed, drudgery and taffeta would be lost on most 7-year-olds.

The illustrations are enchantingly beautiful, bringing the characters to life. It isn’t a graphic novel, nor is it a picture book. The 7 and 8-year-olds would love the illustrations, but most 12-year-olds don’t need illustrated books.

The conclusion of The Off-Bead Cinder Ella Who Wants Her Shoe Back…Without the Prince is my favorite part of this book. She lives happily ever after on her terms, which is the best way for anyone to be truly happy.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Reedsy Discovery (https://reedsy.com/discovery/book/the-off-beat-cinder-ella-who-wants-her-shoe-back-without-the-prince-anne-murray) in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2020 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Between a Rock and a Deadly Place – Debut Cozy Series a Must Read

Between a Rock and a Deadly Place

Cedar Fish Campground Series: Book One

By Zoey Chase

Thea Pagoni’s decision to leave her law practice and take over her grandparent’s campground surprised the locals and maybe even Thea herself. She needs a change after the ugly divorce from her husband. So, after the death of her beloved grandmother, the fond memories of Cedar Fish Campground from her childhood brought her back for that fresh start. What she didn’t count on was the poor condition of the campground, the lack of competent help and the murder that happened within days of her arrival.

The police don’t seem to care about finding the murderer. The locals are full of gossip about the dead woman, which leads to bad publicity for Cedar Fish Campground. Thea and Hennie, who seems to be a fixture at the campground, decide to do a bit of investigating on their own. Lucky for them, Nolan Cade. the newly hired handyman/security guard is a former cop as well as former military. The fact that he is drop dead gorgeous was not missed by either of the women.

The plot thickens when Thea receives a threat to stop sticking her nose in where it doesn’t belong. She is close to finding the murderer, and is determined to find him or her. She has to do this in order to carry on her family’s legacy, but will she live to bring the campground to its former glory?

Between a Rock and a Deadly Place is a fast-paced cozy mystery with a cast of interesting characters. There are secrets in Thea’s past that haunt her, but she is doing her best to work through them. Hennie is a hoot – she has many surprising characteristics that amused me as I got to know her. Nolan, like Thea, has a history he is trying to get past. Don’t overlook his brilliant mind because beneath the good looks is a smart, caring man.

There is humor laced throughout the book. Small towns are often known for their quirkiness and Outer Branson is no exception. Ricky, the baby racoon, is adorably naughty adding to the comedic side of the solid story.

his is Zoey Chase’s first book. I assumed she was a seasoned cozy author with dozens of books  penned because Between a Rock and a Deadly Place is the perfect mix of mystery, romance, quirky characters and an interesting setting. I can’t wait for the next book in her series as well as many more to follow.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Reedsy Discovery (https://reedsy.com/discovery/book/between-a-rock-and-a-deadly-place-zoey-chase) in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2020 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The House on Maple Street – Spectacular New Author

The House on Maple Street

By Heidi Slowinski

Student Hillary Altman procrastinated until two weeks before school started to find housing. Fueled by waning options and a tight budget, she was excited to see two signs as she cruised around the small town. “Maple Street Boarding House” read the sign by the curb and a hastily written “room for rent” in the window made her stop. The creepy landlord almost made her change her mind, but the charm of the home overrode her anxiety.

Settling in with the other boarders came easily, but she avoided Keith, the landlord. Evelyn, an older woman that actually worked at the college Hillary was to attend, is diving into the layers of the history of the Maple Street home and shares the fascinating facts with the other boarders. Dr. Immerman also works at the college as head of the history department. Then there was Robert. Hillary met him on the day she moved in and became infatuated with the handsome man who seemed rather shy. He doesn’t join them for dinner in the evening and, as a matter of fact, none of the other tenants have seen or talked to him. In addition to the boarders, Beatrice takes care of the home. She cooks and cleans for them and is related to Keith, the landlord.

Shortly after moving in, Hillary encounters a woman and her young son in the home. Apparently, Keith has a family. Sadly, Hillary overhears the fights and sounds of abuse from Keith’s rooms. No one else seems to know anything about it but she is determined to help, even if it puts her in danger.

The House on Maple Street on the surface is a well-done mystery. As the pages unfold, the reader is pulled into a story that is multi-layered with a delightfully surprising ending. Just when I thought I had it all figured out, I was surprised to find out I was totally wrong even though all the clues were there for me to see. Kudos to Ms. Slowinski for creating an unexpectedly spectacular twist in the final chapter.

This is the first book written by Ms. Slowinski. It is exciting to find a new author that jumps out of the gate to lead the pack. I highly recommend The House on Maple Street. This fast-paced book engages the reader immediately and is  must read for anyone who loves a mystery.

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. https://reedsy.com/discovery  Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The Courier – Heart Pounding Thriller

The Courier

By Gordon J. Campbell

To say Gregg Westwood is having a bad day is an understatement. His secure job as a medical supply rep in Japan has been abruptly terminated.  After the bad news, he stops at one of his favorite watering holes, the Officer’s Club on the United States Airforce base in Tokyo. Gregg joins a couple of acquaintances for a drink. This decision will change his life.

These two men purportedly working for the US government’s finance and accounting group are actually members of a US intelligence agency. Over lunch the next day they offer Gregg a job as a courier. It is fast and easy money for what they describe as a mini vacation, traveling to other countries business class, delivering parcels than returning home to his family.

Gregg accepts the offer and is soon off to deliver the package. What he hasn’t bargained for are the assassins on his tail. He has unwittingly become a huge part of stopping an international drug ring, having street thugs attempting to kill him and will be called on to rescue someone he dearly loves before his job is complete. Before the last pages, Gregg will transition from courier to mercenary out of necessity and self-preservation. This is the beginning of his new life.

To say The Courier is a fast-paced thriller does not do it justice. The action never ends and it perfectly compliments the plot. Just when you think Gregg is going to be captured or killed, he lives to fight another day like a modern-day James Bond.

The characters are diverse and engaging. Some of them are decidedly creepy and determined to get a literal boatload of illegal opioids into the US. Adding reality to the character’s profiles brings them to life on the pages.

The Courier is destined to become a best-seller and I envision a blockbuster movie in the future. As we all know the book is always better than then film, so enjoy the masterful story before it hits the big screen. This is the first book I’ve read by Campbell and the first book in a series. I cannot wait to read the next Gregg Westwood boo

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. See it here: https://reedsy.com/discovery/book/the-courier-gordon-campbell

Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: There is a Fighter in My Room – Perfect Bedtime Picture Book

There is a Fighter in My Room

By Megan Kjarbo

Illustrations by Penny Weber

Matthew is afraid to go to sleep because there is a fighter in his room. First, he asks his big brother to help him, but he cannot help because he says he is too small. Then his father cannot help him because he has to take out the garbage. Hopefully his mother can help him, she is the only one left to come to his rescue.

This is a cute bedtime story. The fear of a “monster” in the bedroom is real for some children. By reading about it, children may be comforted in the fact that someone they love can help them if they are afraid. There is a Fighter in My Room has a surprise ending that younger children will enjoy.

This is definitely “a read to me” story for preschoolers.  Some of the words are too difficult for early readers to read themselves, such as “approached” and “cautiously”. But that being said, it is a great way to introduce words to expand their vocabulary.

The illustrations are delightfully adorable, they bring the words alive for children and the adults that read to them. I recommend this book for young children. Especially those that have trouble going to sleep at night.

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  https://reedsy.com/discovery/book/there-s-a-fighter-in-my-room-megan-kjarbo

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Book Review: My Life with John Steinbeck – An Intriguing Look Into An American Icon’s Life

My Life with John Steinbeck

By Gwyn Steinbeck

Famous American author John Steinbeck was brilliant but troubled. It is well documented that he was a hard-drinking man. My Life With John Steinbeck gives readers an inside look into the man behind the legend. His second wife, Gwyn Steinbeck, professes her lifetime love of John, yet doesn’t pull any punches about his infidelities, drunken rages and controlling behavior. She knew him intimately, but freely admits her book is “but a fragment of John’s life”.

Gwyn was introduced to him in 1938. One of her longtime friends asked her to bring chicken soup to an ailing friend, who ended up being John. Becoming infatuated with Gwyn, he walked into the club she was singing in a few days later. Their life became intertwined over cigarettes and booze, growing into love, marriage and ultimately divorce.

Life with John wasn’t easy. Traveling to Mexico or Paris on a whim was not uncommon. It didn’t matter if Gwyn was pregnant or sick, if John wanted to take a road trip, they got in the car with their Old English Sheepdog and hit the road. Gwen rarely stood up to John. By her writings, he could not tolerate any sickness or disruptions in his life that others might bring. He was not the best father, in fact, Gwyn states more than once how he basically ignored his second son. She tolerated John’s moods and quirks until 1948 when she told him she would always love him but wanted a divorce.

Gwyn gives us a peek behind the scenes of one of the most famous American authors, living or dead. The little-known facts, such as which films made from his books that he loved and which ones he hated. His friends included many A-List stars and authors. It was intriguing to read about his war correspondent years as well as his writing process. I have not read all of his books, but Grapes of Wrath will always be one of my all-time favorite books.

My Life with John Steinbeck is a very interesting biography that reads like a novel. Of course, it is written from one person’s perspective, but the intimacy of Gwyn and John’s life brings depth to the story like no one else could. It is entertaining and enlightening. It has inspired me to read more of his books and perhaps catch one or two is his movies.

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. https://reedsy.com/discovery/ Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Dark Oceans – Modern Day Search for an Ancient Relic

Dark Oceans

Or The Geometry of Chance

By Mark Macrossan

Thrust into the world of espionage, murder and mayhem, the spectrum of characters in Dark Oceans are all linked together, albeit tenuously. The common denominator is an ancient artifact, the Isfahan Decagon. It is famed to be the only one of its kind. The Decagon has perfect tiling with a perfect golden ratio. Not only that, the Decagon is said to have an infinite non-repeating pattern that surpasses anything created today, therefore making it the Holy Grail of collectors and museums around the world. It has been missing since at least the 1800’s. It may have been in a ship wreck, but has ties to Portugal, Western Australia as well as the English.

So begins the quest to find it. Dark Oceans takes the reader around the world in the search. The race to find the Decagon includes characters on land, sea and air, doing anything within their power to be the first to grab the prize.

Among the characters that are searching for the Decagon, are thieves, murders, organized crime minions and a few in law enforcement. It is difficult to tell who is good and who is bad until the end when all is revealed to the reader. My favorite characters are Jon and Alistair. Jon is a barrister who has had a windfall of a massive amount of cash. It appeared in his account without reason. He slowly begins to spend the money, but soon finds himself to be very unlucky. Or someone is trying to kill him. He is rescued by his quirky neighbor, Alistair and his cat. But they can’t keep Jon safe if he doesn’t stop jumping into dangerous situations far out of his league.

This fast paced thriller has more twists and turns and characters coming and going than summertime crowds at an amusement park. That is if the attendees of said amusement park allowed fire arms, garrotes and objects to bludgeon anyone that hops in line in front of them. At times it was confusing due to the sheer number of characters – most of them evil – that are weaving in and out of the story.

It is the first book by Macrossan that I have read. He is a playwright, short story and poetry writer. Formerly a barrister as well as a theater producer and film extra, he has traveled the world to gather fodder for his novel. Dark Oceans is his first.

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: 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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