A Soupçon of Poison by Jennifer Ashley

A Soupçon of Poison by Jennifer Ashley
Publisher: Self-published, Amazon Kindle
Genre: Historical, Suspense/Mystery
Rating: 3 stars
Review by: Fern

London, 1880
Kat Holloway, highly sought-after young cook to the wealthy of London, finds herself embroiled in murder when she’s accused of poisoning her employer, the loathsome Sir Lionel Leigh-Bradbury. Her only help as she works to clear her name comes from the mysterious Daniel McAdam, a handsome man-of-all-work who seems to know everyone and always happens to be in the right place at the right time.

Kat and Daniel investigate the crime, but the mystery of Daniel’s background might be just as elusive and dangerous as the poisoner bent on framing Kat for murder. Prequel to the Kat Holloway Below Stairs Mysteries.

Kat Holloway might be young for her position as Chef of Sir Lionel Leigh-Bradbury’s household, but she knows her way around a kitchen and has spent years honing her skills. After strongly knocking back Sir Lionel’s amorous advances, she finds his requests for outlandish meals with only a few hours warning growing increasingly difficult – to the point where she turns to a little known friend – Daniel McAdams for help. At her wit’s end, Kat is determined to have it out with Sir Lionel and she is almost ready to leave, only to be woken in the middle of the night by the maid to find Sir Lionel has been murdered – and Kat is the prime suspect as murderess. Can Kat and Daniel uncover what really went on that fateful evening?

I picked up this short story on a whim and by the second chapter found myself engrossed in both the setting and characters. I enjoyed that Kat was a strong and fairly independent young woman and there was quite the mystery surrounding Daniel as well. There was clear chemistry between the two characters but I was also glad this didn’t turn into more of a romance novel but rather kept it’s main focus on the murder mystery and unraveling this aspect to the plot.

I do admit this was a fairly light book – readers looking for deep intrigue or a vastly complex plot might not find this fits the bill, but readers more interested in a light mystery with a strong historical context and a strong female lead character should enjoy this as much as I did. I was glad this book is definitely a stand alone style of novel. There is a whole series based around Kat and Daniel but that appears to be completely separate from this short story so readers should definitely feel able to just pick this up on a whim – as I did – and delve right in. I admit that I enjoyed it enough I plan to purchase the second short story – which appears in a similar vein as this one and to stand equally well alone – and I am also eyeing off the connected seven book series with these characters as the main protagonists as well.

This book ticks a number of boxes for me being a historical novel with strongly written characters as well as a good murder mystery at its heart and just a flutter of romantic chemistry, I feel it should appeal to a wider range of readers and I’m eager to try more by this author around these characters. Enjoyable.

Someone to Watch Over Me by Ace Atkins

Someone to Watch Over Me by Ace Atkins
Publisher: G. P. Putman’s Sons
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

In the latest thriller featuring the legendary Boston PI, Spenser and his young protégé Mattie Sullivan take on billionaire money manager running a network of underaged girls for his rich and powerful clients.

Ten years ago, Spenser helped a teenage girl named Mattie Sullivan find her mother’s killer and take down an infamous Southie crime boss. Now Mattie–a college student with a side job working for the tough but tender private eye–dreams of being an investigator herself. Her first big case involves a fifteen-year-old girl assaulted by a much older man at one of Boston’s most prestigious private clubs. The girl, Chloe Turner, only wants the safe return of her laptop and backpack. But like her mentor and boss, Mattie has a knack for asking the right questions of the wrong people.

Soon Spenser and Mattie find ties between the exploitation of dozens of other girls from working class families to an eccentric billionaire and his sadistic henchwoman with a mansion on Commonwealth Avenue. The mystery man’s wealth, power and connections extend well beyond Massachusetts – maybe even beyond the United States. Spenser and trusted ally Hawk must again watch out for Mattie as she unravels a massive sex-trafficking ring that will take them from Boston to Boca Raton to the Bahamas, crossing paths with local toughs, a highly-trained security company, and an old enemy of Spenser’s–the Gray Man–for a final epic showdown.

Mattie Sullivan is approached to help a teenaged friend to recover the backpack and laptop that she left when she fled a “massage” appointment that turned into more than the kid expected. After being escorted off the premises by security and realizing she was in over her head, Mattie turns to Spenser for a hand in recovering her friend’s property. What began as a creep hiring teenage girls to massage him quickly snowballs into sex trafficking and some real heavyweights putting pressure on Spenser, Mattie, and those whom they hold dear.

In many ways this reminds me of the much earlier Spenser novels. A seemingly straight forward case and an interesting set of characters looking to Spenser for some help. The case gets deeper and more complicated, but Spenser manages to rise above it all and keep plugging away. This is the heart of soul of the Spenser novels that I absolutely adore and thoroughly enjoy.

While I understand many readers lost a lot of the appeal when Ace Atkins took over, I have to admit this is one of my favourite Spenser novels – particularly out of the last half dozen or so. I admit quite a bit of reality needs to be suspended – Spenser first appeared around 1973 so he’d be seriously past his prime now in the mid 2020s, yet Spenser has not aged very much at all in the book world. Add on the fact he’s just got Pearl the third in puppy form – another factor in just how much time has progressed – yet Spenser seemingly hasn’t aged very much either with his physical stamina or with his mental sharpness. All this needs to be carefully overlooked and not thought about. But I have to admit with such an interesting plot and a really good pace I still found myself highly enjoying this book.

Readers who are new to this series don’t really need to read much – if any – of the previous books to my mind. While yes there are a number of recurring characters, I feel the author does a good job of highlighting the friendships and camaraderie between them and I feel the book can be thoroughly enjoyed just by itself and not in conjunction with any of the previous stories.

Readers looking for an American style hardboiled detective story with a fair bit of lighthearted banter and a solid plot should find this a good read.

November Book of the Month Poll Winner ~ Death Tango by Lachi

Death Tango by Lachi
Publisher: RIZE Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror
Rated: 5 stars
Reviewed by Poppy

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

In a Utopian twenty-third-century New York City, where corporations have replaced governments, AI dictates culture, and citizens are free to people-watch any other citizen they choose through an app, this horror-laden Sci-Fi Thriller follows four mis-matched coeds as they attempt to solve the murder of an eccentric parascientist. Only someone or something able to navigate outside the highest levels of croud-sourced surveillance could get away with murder in this town. If the team can’t work quickly to solve the case, New York City will be devoured by a dark plague the eccentric had been working on prior to his death, a plague which, overtime, appears to be developing sentience.


Hello Around the World by Sindhu Narasimhan

Hello Around the World by Sindhu Narasimhan
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Non-Fiction, Contemporary, Historical
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

“Hello Around the World: Learn to Say Hello in 20 Languages – A Practical Guide with Pronunciation, Flags, and Traditional Dress for Kids Across Cultures” offers an immersive learning experience for children aged 2-6. This paperback book is designed to open young minds to the richness of global cultures and the power of simple greetings.

Saying hello can be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

I appreciated the pronunciation guides for saying hello in all of these different languages. It made it easy to sound them out and practice this greeting with all of the characters I met in this picture book. I was surprised by how many syllables are required for this greeting in some languages as well as how similar some of the answers were depending on which parts of the world they came from and how closely related they were to similar tongues. What a fun discovery that was!

It would have been nice if the children’s names were given the same treatment. While I already knew how to pronounce some of them, others weren’t so familiar to me. Knowing someone’s name is such an important part of socializing and learning about other cultures, so I wish there had been some assistance here as well. I would have chosen a higher rating if this had been included.

This little book was the perfect length for toddlers or young preschoolers. Those aren’t always easy ages to write for by any means, so I commend the author for condensing his messages about kindness, inclusion, and learning small pieces of new languages down to something that can be read in a few short minutes and adapted to even the shortest attention spans. What a good job he did with that. I look forward to seeing what he might come up with next.

Hello Around the World made me smile.

If the Sun Spares Us by Brenda Marie Smith

If the Sun Spares Us by Brenda Marie Smith
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: post-apocalyptic thriller
Rated: 5 stars
Review by Rose

Two years ago, a solar pulse destroyed modern life. Bea Crenshaw organized her starving, suburban neighbors into a farming community. But now Bea’s gone, and her grandchildren must carry her legacy forward.

In the post-apocalyptic pressure cooker of Austin, Texas, 19-year-old Keno and his younger cousins struggle to ensure their community’s survival even as they’re forced to relocate to safer grounds. Northern Lights that don’t belong this far south grow increasingly intense, making Keno fear what harm the sun will cause next.

Even worse, a marauding militia called the Raiders is closing in, led by a deranged woman who preys on teenage boys. Despite Keno’s debilitating flashbacks from a firefight, he and his wife have a new baby to protect. Though Bea is dead, her spirit desperately searches for ways to shield her grandkids. When Raiders target two neighborhood members, the only hope lies in the community’s strength, Keno’s ingenuity, and the family’s fierce love for one another.

This is the third book in the Braving the Light series and picks up after the death of Bea, the family’s grandmother and matriarch who so ably prepared her family for an apocalypse she is sure is coming, even though she does not know how or when. You can read our five-star review of the second book here.

This third, and final, book of the trilogy does not disappoint. Once again, Ms. Smith presents us with a multi-generational story, told from the POVs of Keno, Milo, Mazie, and Bea. They are trying to relocate to a safer location, a move which causes dissension in the original camp. Add to that, they run into a paramilitary group which calls itself Raiders and is run by a deranged woman with a special affinity for luring in teenage boys.

Once again, it’s the characters and their relationships that really make this book. The characters come across as real people, with all their faults and foibles. They are mostly people who would want to sit down and have a cup of tea with.

The situations, also, ring true and is a future I could see all too well coming our way. The whole range of human emotions and human reactions are seen in the books, both good and bad.

I really recommend this series.

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All the Little Truths by Debra Webb

All the Little Truths by Debra Webb
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Ginger

Legal investigator Finley O’Sullivan has dealt with her share of shady characters, but the firm’s latest client has an even darker past than most. In fact, Nashville Metro Police seems to think he’s a murderer.

Finley isn’t so sure. Her investigation into Ray Johnson’s history focuses on the unsolved murder of a teenager who died thirteen years earlier. The case went cold, but questions remain. After the girl’s death, people close to her started disappearing—Ray’s brother first, then the girl’s mother. But why?

As Finley races to solve a decade-old murder, she uncovers new clues and long-buried secrets that could blow the case wide open. But whoever killed the girl all those years ago may still be a threat—and now the chase is on.

Secrets can be dangerous and even the smallest truths might make a difference if they are revealed.

This book had me engrossed from the first page. “All the Little Truths” follows Finley O’Sullivan with her unusual skill set for finding out the truth; it does not matter if her client’s innocence or guilt is discovered in the outcome. This is book three of the Finley O’Sullivan series and Finley is tasked with solving a high-profile cold case murder that happened thirteen years ago.

The book is part of a series however I was able to follow along and understand the events that took place in the previous book. How thoughtful of the author to give a refreshing overview of what happened in the series previously to those that read the earlier books. I am sure new readers will appreciate the recap as I did, it helped to give some insight into what happened to Finley previously. The tide bits about what happened to Finley’s husband piqued my interest, and now I want to go back to read the previous books in the series.

The author’s writing is always enjoyable to read and easy to follow. The plot is suspenseful although I did figure out early on who the killer was, finding out how all the other parts fit into the story kept me reading. The story did not lag at any point, however there were times when I felt the story was taking too long to get to its full truth. There was not a dull moment in this book, the multilayered plot made sure of that. Not only is Finley working on solving the Lucy Cagle murder, she is working to find out what happened to Ian Johnson, Finley is also mentally dealing with the aftermath of what happened to her and her husband. She discovered her neighbor Helen Roberts passed out in the backyard and takes the time to visit her in the hospital, and she makes the decision to run for District Attorney all the while a stalker is following her. See what I mean? A lot happening, but the author did not miss a beat in keeping each plot point moving with sufficient details and making sure all had closure. I could not even think of one question. Skillful writing and editing make for wonderful reading pleasure.

Finley’s drive and determination is evident, she holds true to only caring about finding out the truth even when it looks like her father may have some involvement in what happened to Lucy. Finley is juggling a lot, but she does it well. She is a character to be admired and one I want to read more about.

The novel’s end was very unexpected for me, this astonishing twist was unsettling and unusual. The author’s craft in mystery writing is intense and descriptive and it is evident that her goal is to keep the readers interested. That goal was achieved. The places and details mentioned show that she does her research into the structure of her novels. This is characteristic for a Debra Webb book, and her well-structured suspenseful plot will surely ignite enough curiosity to keep readers reading in one session. Recommended.

2024… Your Year of More by Noah William Smith

strong>2024… Your Year of More by Noah William Smith
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Non-Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe


2024… Your Year of More is your go-to book to set goals and mindfully invest your efforts. It appeals to adults of all ages, nationalities, and backgrounds who wish to improve their lives. Its pages are packed with something special for everyone.

The pages contain practical ideas from A to Z, thought-provoking questions, and self-reflective exercises that inspire you to live your best life.

The book is an ideal companion during your moments of solitude. You can read it in the early morning before the rest of the world wakes up or during the evenings after a long day. You may also find it enjoyable while writing in your journal or taking a lunch break.

Enthusiastic indie author Noah William Smith knows the blessings and challenges of intelligence, creativity, high sensitivity and being a minority, underdog and outsider. While his books are based on his experiences, they offer valuable insights without being prescriptive or offering advice.

The book’s authenticity and invaluable insights make it a compelling read that will remain relevant for many years!

Are you considering investing in yourself or searching for the perfect gift for someone special? 2024… Your Year of More is a life-changing book that you cannot afford to miss!

The new year is a fabulous time to turn over a new leaf.

This was a gentle look at self-improvement that included plenty of tips for self-care and for determining if the things you might have wanted in 2023 (or 2013 or 2003!) still resonate with you today. Incremental changes over time are often the most effective way to begin any sort of new habit or lifestyle change, so it was nice to be reminded regularly to be kind to myself and to focus on small steps one at a time instead of trying to drastically change everything at once.

The repetition made it difficult for me to remain interested in reading this at times. Every section began with an anecdote or two from the author’s life before diving into the same series of questions about goals the reader might want to set in three-month increments in 2024. I must admit that due to this I felt the urge to skip ahead to sections that appealed to me more, although I did read the entire thing in order.

One of the things I appreciated most about this book was how much it could be customized. It made few if any assumptions about the ages, backgrounds, or values of the people who will read it. This meant that nearly ever section could apply to anyone in any stage of life from being a student to being retired. The few that were more specific could still easily be altered for people who are disabled, stay-at-home parents, otherwise out of the workforce, working multiple jobs or long hours, or who feel out of step with most other adults for any other reason. There is definitely something to be said for making goal setting so accessible to anyone who wants to change a few things in their lives next year!

2024… Your Year of More was a thought-provoking look at how to make goal setting easier for everyone.

Hardback Homicide by S. E. Babin

Hardback Homicide by S. E. Babin
Publisher: S.E. Babin, Amazon Digital Services
Genre: Cozy Mystery, Contemporary
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Snowdrop

When a rare book order leads me right to a homicide, somehow I’m the one investigating…

I’m Dakota Adair, owner of Tattered Pages, a bookstore specializing in cool and quirky books. I inherited a grumpy Persian cat named Poppy who loves to make her displeasure known around the store … loudly. Things are good until I deliver a special order only to stumble over a body. Suddenly all eyes are on me. Now I have a handsome detective and an annoying reporter on my tail, hounding me about the case.

All I want to do is crack open my favorite paperback, grab a cup of coffee, and chill, but with a murderer out there and suspicion falling on me, I have to do a lot more than read. I have to find out whodunnit and quick before I become the next subject of a murder mystery…

Hardback Homicide is the 1st book in a series titled “Shelf Indulgence”. This was fun reading. Even the series name is fun. It had what I call all the “elements” of a cozy, a cute town name (Dewdrop Springs), an amateur sleuth, a handsome cop, a bookshop, books, a cat, and of course, a dead body.

I enjoyed this story, but the quirky characters of the town might be what clinched it. Dakota, the bookshop owner, and her assistant, Harper, sell books for all ages, but they also deal in rare books. This is where greed sets in, and it becomes awfully hard to tell who has their hands on the infamous book.

Lots of fun, easy reading, and good characters. What more can I say? I can say this series has 5 books so far, and I intend to read them all.

Sacrifice by Tim Svart

Sacrifice by Tim Svart
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

A hidden scheme. Suspiciously pat answers. Can one untested leader navigate the thin line between professional and personal justice?
Essen, Germany. Chief Inspector “Karre” Karrenberg has no appetite for overseeing a homicide squad. Still grieving over his ex-wife’s fatal car crash that left his daughter in a coma, the veteran detective’s gut tells him to ignore all the evidence that it was an accident. But he’s forced to put his own needs aside when a poor young woman’s lakeside adventure transforms her into an unidentified body.

Willing to make risky trades for more information, Karre discovers the mysterious female was a high-class escort. But his attempts to find the dead girl’s client are stonewalled by tight-lipped suspects, iron-clad alibis… and a growing number of bodies.

Will Karre’s private tragedies blind him to clues that could prevent another murder?

Chief Inspector Karre Karrenberg is reluctant to be the acting head of his murder investigations team. With the recent tragic car accident killing his ex-wife and leaving his teenage daughter in a precarious coma, Karre has plenty on his mind already. But when an unidentified woman’s body is found near the lakeside, clearly murdered and there’s no one talking and everyone seeming to have a strong alibi Karre realizes he needs all his effort to try and find justice for this lady – as well as his own family.

I mainly purchased this book because I don’t believe I have ever read a police murder mystery based in Germany. I was strongly intrigued and am very pleased with this book. With a complex mystery that circles around nicely and has plenty of depth and questions, I was also easily dragged in by the small number of very strong secondary characters. Karre’s team-mates as well as a few key forensic characters made an excellent group and they all retained my attention. The fact this plot also clearly linked somehow to the car accident that recently killed Karre’s ex-wife and put his teen daughter into a coma also intrigued me – because at a first glance I assumed the two scenarios were not linked at all.

I have read a number of British police procedural mysteries, as well as a few Scandinavian police mysteries and I would place the tone and voice of this German offering somewhere in between the two. I felt this wasn’t as cosy or rural as I find British police procedural books tend to be. This definitely had more of a city feel to it with a somewhat darker or gritter turn than many British mystery’s feel to me. That said I didn’t feel this was as bleak or dark as many Scandinavian mysteries appear to me. There was still a fair bit of emotion and hope to this book – whereas I often find the Scandi crime novels to be quite terse and often bleak.

I very much enjoyed both the setting, pace and tone of this book. I was easily hooked on the characters and found the mystery complex enough to retain my attention all through the book and I am definitely interested in purchasing the second book in this series. A good first novel and a set of characters I hope to explore further as I work my way through the series.

The Scarred Santa by Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy

The Scarred Santa by Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Romance, Inspirational, Holiday, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Once handsome Rafe Sullivan is left scarred, injured, and with PTSD from his Marine Corps service in Afghanistan, returning to civilian life is far from smooth, and the burn scars on his right side are extensive. Although he lives close to family, he lives a solitary life and changes jobs more often than most people change their socks. A temporary job as Santa at the mall is presented, but Rafe first rebels, then relents. His Santa gig affects his PTSD. Then he meets Sheena Dunmore. When she doesn’t run from his scars or issues, she intrigues him. An unmasking by some rowdy children is a test of his stamina and spirit. His greatest fear is fire. Will Rafe conquer the fear so he can move forward into the new life he desires?

Kindness is for everyone.

Some of the most interesting scenes were the ones that showed how difficult the Christmas season can be for certain people. There are many reasons why someone might avoid crowds, be wary of celebrations, or not want to spend time with anyone. It made me happy to see how often the people around Rafe understood his limitations and encouraged him to do whatever he was able to do without pressuring him to do things that were too painful for him physically or emotionally. Their empathy for him was lovely and really embodied what Christmas should be all about.

There were a few plot holes in this novella that were never explained. For example, Rafe explored the idea of becoming a police officer but never fully answered the question of whether or not his PTSD and permanent leg injury would prevent him from pursuing that line of work. There was also a scene at the end involving another character being in terrible danger. It appeared to me that this person could have walked or crawled away from the threat, so I was confused by the fact that they stayed put. I wish these things had been explained better!

With that being said, I did appreciate the author’s realistic descriptions of what daily life as a civilian would be like for someone with Rafe’s extensive injuries. He struggled to do things as ordinary as go to the mall or have dinner at the homes of his relatives due to his many triggers and deep shame about his scars and missing ear. I never stopped rooting for him and hoping that he’d find a way to heal. If the author ever decides to write a sequel, I’d like to know what this character’s life was like five or ten years after the events of this tale.

The Scarred Santa was a heartwarming read.