How to Develop Your Career Path in a Post Pandemic World by Zail Dugal


How to Develop Your Career Path in a Post Pandemic World by Zail Dugal
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Non-Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

In the wake of the global pandemic, the professional landscape has undergone profound changes, challenging traditional notions of career advancement and stability. Recent graduates are having trouble finding their footing in the workplace after many other professionals have been laid off or furloughed. Some professionals have had gaps in their employment because of parental responsibilities, having their own health challenges, or caring for their aging parents. How to Develop Your Career Path in a Post Pandemic World is a comprehensive guide that navigates readers through this evolving terrain, offering practical insights, strategies, and actionable steps to thrive in the new normal.

Uncertainty can be a gift.

Not every job is the perfect fit for every worker. I nodded in agreement as I read about the importance of knowing one’s skills, strengths, and weaknesses before deciding which positions to apply for. Even something as simple as preferring background noise or preferring a quiet workplace should be considered, and I liked the fact that the author spent so much time talking about the many different factors that should be considered when looking into possible roles.

The thought that crossed my mind over and over again as I read this was that I wished the author had included more details about every step in the process. She covered a lot of important information about modern job hunting, but she didn’t have time to dive deeply into any one particular topic. It would have been especially helpful if she had talked more about how online job applications have altered the job search process, how to tailor a resume to a specific position, and what people who are disabled or part of other minority groups can do to increase their odds of success. She did discuss some of the unique challenges mothers and caregivers face in the workplace, so I would have been keen to see this section expanded by several chapters so that other perspectives could be included as well.

I appreciated the attention Ms. Dugal paid to the emotional aspects of job hunting, from feeling the sting of rejection to building resiliency and maintaining a hopeful outlook on life. It can be quite difficult to send out countless job applications that are never replied to or to interview for positions for companies that do not keep applicants updated on the process. There are a lot of things one cannot control while looking for work, so remaining upbeat about the things one does have an influence on makes a great deal of difference. If only this section had been longer! Honestly, I think it was the most important chapter of them all.

How to Develop Your Career Path in a Post Pandemic World was thought provoking.

The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch


The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch
Publisher: Gollancz
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Where the Marble Arch stands today in London was once the Tyburn gallows – also known as The Hanging Tree. The walk toward those gallows along Oxford Street and past the Mayfair mansions has a bloody and haunted history as the last trip of the condemned. Some things never change. For both blood and ghosts have returned to those mansions of the super-rich. And it’s up to Peter Grant – England’s last wizard and the Metropolitan Police’s reluctant investigator of all things supernatural – to get to the bottom of the sinister doings.

PC Peter Grant doesn’t usually get involved with any old suspicious death, not even when the young adult who died is extraordinarily wealthy and the apartment where the death occurred is inside one of the most exclusive apartment complexes in the rich section of London. But Lady Ty’s young daughter was at the party in question and Peter owes Lady Ty a big favour. And as seems to always happen with Peter, nothing is quite what it seems. And when it comes to asking difficult questions at inopportune times, Peter just can’t help himself.

This has been an exceptional series and I am really enjoying the blend of humour with a paranormal world and some really excellently plotted police procedural murder mysteries. Readers might want to have read one or two of the previous books in this series as a number of the characters aren’t given a whole lot of background in this book and so coming in blind might make it difficult to initially work out how everyone is connected, but this is such a great book and a fabulous series reading some – or all – of the previous books really shouldn’t be too hard.

I did enjoy that a number of the longer term plot arcs got a fair bit of traction – both with Lesley May and the other magical practitioners, as well as Peter gaining some momentum with his magical skills and training. The actual plot of the murdered young adult and the rich and famous party goers was also very interesting and well paced so I thoroughly enjoyed all aspects to this book.

A great blend of dry British wit, with a large dose of police procedural mystery and a lovely sense of the absurd I really enjoyed this book and can’t wait to read more in this series. Recommended.

Finding A Purple Unicorn by Sean Michael


Finding A Purple Unicorn by Sean Michael
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, LGBTQ
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Single dad and bookshop owner Dave Swan is ready to attend his first parent-teacher night with his twins, Maple and Willow. Maple is super-excited to introduce him to her new best friend Ellie. Everything is fine until he meets Ellie’s dad, who just happens to be the guy he had a wild fling with on a summer singles cruise.

Stained glass artist Daniel Eramos loves his life. He has a great job, an eclectic house, and the best daughter ever. But he’s pretty shocked when Ellie introduces him to Maple, and to Maple’s dad, who rocked his world not so long ago.

When the two men discover they have more in common than a crazy vacation, and that their kids are becoming besties, they know they’ve got something good going on. But when they have to negotiate living arrangements, adult time, and Dave’s ex, it might overwhelm them before they can ever figure out what they want from each other.

Dave is a single father to twins, Maple and Willow. Having heard about Maple’s BFF, Ellie for a while now, he’s surprised when he discovers Ellie’s father is Daniel, who rocked Dave’s world a short time ago when they both hooked up on a gay cruise. Neither man had expected anything to come from the short fling, but now they discover they’re going to be a lot more solidly in each others lives with their daughters inseparable. The two men slowly realise they have a lot more in common than they originally expected.

I really enjoyed this heartwarming and emotional full length novel. While it’s listed as the third in a series by this author – I found this really was a completely stand alone novel, with virtually no connection to any other book and can definitely be read very comfortably by itself. Readers who enjoy M/M erotic romances with single dads and young children as the main plotline should find this an enjoyable and emotional read. I found Dave and Daniel’s characters to be relatable and believable and while there is an understandable amount of glossing over the reality of full time caring of young kids, the whole setup was believable and a pleasure to read.

I was pleased the story wasn’t too rosy-tinted and the main focus was on the blending of the two families and the beginnings of the men’s romantic relationship. While I admit there was nothing earth-shakingly new or unique to this story, I still found it was thoroughly enjoyable and a real pleasure to just relax and enjoy. Readers should be aware there is some mild BDSM between Dave and Daniel that is explicit but kept away from the children and is private between the two men. There is also some conflict between Dave and his ex-partner which I felt was very well handled. The characters of the three children were fun and sharp, the chemistry between the two men was steamy and intense and I found the building of their blended family was believable and well paced.

Readers looking for an enjoyable and comfortable story, with interesting characters and a strongly written plot should find this to be a lovely read. I particularly liked the emotional depth I found in the characters and I know I’ll reread this story in the future again.

Research Can Be Murder by Caryl Janis


Research Can Be Murder by Caryl Janis
Publisher: Wild Rose Press
Genre: Cozy Mystery, Contemporary
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Snowdrop

Emma Streyt hated to admit she was bored. But her newly retired brother puts an end to that by dropping a stash of old family memorabilia on her doorstep. Cheered on by her best friend, Emma enthusiastically dives into these boxes of antique treasures. But some faded diary pages convince her that century-old jewel thefts— and maybe something worse—are tied in with their past.

Eager to dig deeper into this mysterious puzzle by doing some serious research, she settles into a neglected New York City archive with an eccentric cast of characters. But more sinister matters than history soon unfold there when a fellow researcher is murdered. And Emma’s determination to solve the case makes her a dead-center target for the killer.

This book drew me in from the first few pages. It’s true half of my career was in libraries, but somehow it is the picture of this wonderful old home made into a research study with archival materials that made me so comfortable and want to read on. The author’s description of each studious researcher had me smiling while picturing the coziness of such an institution. Heck, I wanted to go and study there.

Emma, our main character, is at loose ends and while sorting through family papers decides to research a few interesting pieces she finds. It is in this research archive and with these highly motivated bookish people that the real story begins.

My first thought of this story was that there was too much discussion of each scholar’s research, a situation that would surely make for slower reading. Somehow that wasn’t the case. My interest never wavered. It does take the author a long time to mete out the clues. I can’t quite complain about this, because I sure had no idea who the evildoer was until the last couple of chapters.

In summary, an easy read with an author excellent at crafting oddball and occasionally quirky characters combined in a good cozy mystery.

Next In Line by Marion Todd


Next In Line by Marion Todd
Publisher: Canelo Crime
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

A murder victim with celebrity connections spells trouble for DI Clare Mackay…
Gaby Fox is known to many due to her successful TV career, so when her brother and his pals hire the salubrious Lamond Lodge for his birthday celebrations, it is noted by the St Andrews locals. A ripple of shock goes round the town when Russell Fox is gunned down on the premises.

DI Clare Mackay is attending a wedding when she sees Gabrielle receive a phone call then flee. Soon after, Clare learns why when the news of the shooting reaches her. Instead of trying to enjoy the day – not easy when the groom is her ex-boyfriend – Clare is preoccupied.

Clare gets to work on uncovering the facts surrounding Russell Fox’s death. The guests at the lodge have secrets to hide, but even when Clare begins to unravel the deceit, it doesn’t bring the answers. The detective can’t help but wonder why no one who knew Russell seems capable of telling the truth, and whether there is more than one person with a reason to want him dead…

DI Clare Mackay and her team are brought in to investigate when the brother of a popular tv show presenter is shot dead during a quiet birthday weekend at the exclusive Lamond Lodge. With the press immediately covering every move the team make, pressure begins early. But Clare and her team quickly uncover more and more lies surrounding nearly every aspect to the case and the whole situation becomes ever more murky. Can they work out what was really happening that weekend?

I’ve been enjoying this Scottish police procedural series and in particular the strong female lead detective. I feel that much of the mystery aspect to this plot stands very well alone, but I was happily surprised to find quite a bit of forward motion happens in this book with Clare and her personal life. While the mystery can certainly stand well in this book alone, I do feel that readers will understand and better enjoy the personal aspects to this story having read the last previous few books in this series. I think the author did a good job of explaining what was happening and why this movement was important – but I personally felt the emotional connection more deeply because I’ve read the previous installments.

The mystery itself is certainly front and center throughout the entire book – though I will admit the personal aspects is a lot more forward in this book than I’ve found in the previous ones. I thought the plot was well balanced and there were plenty of dead ends and red herrings. I was also pretty interested that a few of the peripheral characters linked to the various layers in this crime linked back to previous books and crimes as well. While I can understand readers might not enjoy the connections to past books, I felt it helped give me a better sense of the world and community within this story and setting of St. Andrews and in a sense, it was incredibly logical. Petty crime and similar social circles and movements would totally overlap. There isn’t an endless supply of people in a community like St. Andrews so it makes sense sometimes a person would be revisited in the future who had been a part of a previous case.

Logical and realistic, I am definitely happy with this series and plan to continue to read it.

The Shroud Maker by Kate Ellis


The Shroud Maker by Kate Ellis
Publisher: Piatkus Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

A year on from the mysterious disappearance of Jenny Bercival, DI Wesley Peterson is called in when the body of a strangled woman is found floating out to sea in South Devon.

The discovery mars the festivities of the Palkin Festival, held each year to celebrate the life of John Palkin, a fourteenth-century Mayor of Tradmouth who made his fortune from trade and piracy. It seems like death and mystery have returned to haunt the town.

When archaeologist Neil Watson makes a grim discovery on the site of Palkin’s warehouse, it looks as if history might have inspired a killer. It is only by delving into the past that Wesley can come close to uncovering the truth . . .

One year after Jenny Bercival disappeared, a young woman is found strangled and floating out to sea in South Devon. Young and beautiful, the woman was dressed in mediaeval dress like so many others celebrating the Palkin Festival – an annual event held at this time. There are many similarities between Jenny and this young dead woman and Wesley, and his team can’t help but wonder if this had been Jenny’s fate the previous year – only her body had been taken out to sea for good. Can Wesley sort out what’s going on?

Yet another good addition to this series, I was pleased that the historical and archaeology of this book was very well woven into the main plotline of the mediaeval festival going on while the killings occurred. Quite a few plots and sub-plots wove around together, including a number of the usual cast of secondary characters. I enjoyed there being some forward motion with the DCI and his grown children, as well as DS Rachel and her planned nuptials. And as always, I enjoyed Wesley and Neil working back and forth together, each finding small nuggets that the other could use to further their own investigations.

This book is well contained and while I feel readers who pick this up not knowing any of the characters might have to catch up a little on how everyone is linked together the actual plots are very well encapsulated within this story and should be very easy to follow. I do admit to getting a bit annoyed with Rachel’s character – she’s had a low-key crush on Wesley pretty much since the first book and it’s no secret to anyone who has read almost any of this series, but for quite some time now it’s been virtually non-existent and I felt it a bit annoying that the author flared it back to life somewhat after such a long dormancy, especially considering how close to her own wedding Rachel is right now. It felt a little cliched to me and a little bit like a low blow. This part was extremely brief and minor – but I couldn’t help but cringe a little when it did happen.

That said I was fairly pleased both with the unique twist to the main murder plotline that happened right at the end – that did take me by surprise, and I found it quite refreshing – and I was also pleased the murders weren’t as clear-cut and simple as I had expected them to be either. So, the murder plots themselves were exceptionally well handled I thought and this more than made up for the cliched “getting cold feet” and boozy embarrassing moment that occurred with Rachel.

A solid British police procedural murder mystery with a good amount of historical archaeology.

Seven Times Unto Eternity by J.S. Frankel


Seven Times Unto Eternity by J.S. Frankel
Publisher: Extasy Books
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Romance, LGBTQ, Contemporary, Historical
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Being reincarnated over and over is one thing. Becoming the opposite sex is another. But saving the world is an entirely different story—and it’s also a lot stranger.

You get only one go-around in life, or so the experts say. Paige DeMaster, almost nineteen years of age, formerly Callisto Merriwether, formerly five other lives, has seven chances to right a major wrong. She has seven chances to save the world as well as save herself—and now she’s down to her last chance.

Saving the world is much more difficult than it looks!

I enjoyed the casual and friendly dialogue in this book. It sounded just like the sort of conversations one might accidentally overhear in public places or share with friends and family. This also made it easy to get to know the characters and figure out what their personalities were like as the way they spoke always felt natural to me. It’s certainly not easy to write these things out in such a realistic manner, so I must tip my cap to Mr. Frankel for pulling it off!

Some of my favorite scenes were the ones that explored Paige’s romantic relationship. They fit in so seamlessly to everything else that was going on in the storyline and showed me aspects of her personality that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise taken note of. I thought she and her partner were a lovely match and hoped for a happy ending for them as soon as they became an item.

The world building was strong and consistent from beginning to end. I especially liked the flashbacks to Paige’s previous lives that showed what she learned from them and how she adjusted every time she woke up again in a new era. Of course it would be disorienting at first to speak a new language, worship different gods, and eventually even figure out how the Internet works! Seeing how the main character interacted with the various people she met from one lifetime to the next as she tried again and again to save the world made me yearn for more.

Seven Times Unto Eternity was lovely.

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith


Lethal White by Robert Galbraith
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

When a troubled young man named Billy asks Cormoran Strike to help him investigate a crime he witnessed as a child, the private eye is left deeply troubled. While Billy is obviously mentally distressed and cannot remember many concrete details, there is something sincere about him and his story. But before Strike can question him further, Billy bolts from his office in a panic.

Trying to get to the bottom of Billy’s story, Strike and Robin Ellacott — once his assistant, now a partner in the agency — set off on a twisting trail that leads them through the backstreets of London, into a secretive inner sanctum within Parliament, and to a beautiful but sinister manor house deep in the countryside. And during this labyrinthine investigation, Strike’s own life is far from straightforward. His newfound fame as a private eye means he can no longer operate behind the scenes as he once did. Plus, his relationship with his former assistant is more fraught than it ever has been; Robin is now invaluable to Strike in the business, but their personal relationship is much, much trickier than that.

It’s a year after Cormoran Strike and his detective partner Robin were splashed all over the papers having successfully captured a famous serial killer. Life has settled somewhat into a routine for them both, though the delicate balance they each hold is smashed when Billy, a troubled young man, crashes into Cormoran’s office, insisting the detective help him solve the puzzle of his having witnessed the strangling murder of a young child many years ago. Both Cormoran and Robin are drawn into the investigation – even while they query whether Billy really witnessed what he insists he did. And neither of them could have guessed where their investigation would lead.

This enormous book (very nearly 800 pages in paperback) is a really good read and well worth the investment. While it can be read by itself, I would strongly recommend at least reading the third in the series (the book directly before this one) as the opening few chapters here carry on mere minutes after the conclusion of Career Of Evil. While it is all very clear and well explained – these opening chapters will mean a lot more to readers who are desperate for a better conclusion to the previous book. After these opening scenes though, the book jumps forward a year in time and while Cormoran and Robin still have quite the history in the previous books, I feel any reader could pick the book up from this time jump and be quite comfortable.

I also mainly enjoyed the fact the very long length of the book meant there were quite a few plots all circling around. While I do admit the book could have been more harshly edited and quite a bit of the 800 odd pages could have been cut, I didn’t feel the book really was as bloated as I was expecting. The author spent a good amount of time raising and knitting together a number of plots and threads. For much of the book I really couldn’t grasp what was red herrings and what was actually relevant. This annoyed me to a degree, but then I realised the fact I was questioning this and genuinely unsure what was relevant and what was smoke and mirrors meant the author had blended everything together very successfully.

I do feel that my patience for the will they/won’t they between Cormoran and Robin is wearing thin. I understand many readers demand conflict and tension in their stories, that chemistry and suspense is critical – but after four books and having both characters still frequently miscommunicate and just assume stuff about each other is starting to grate on me. So too is the fact both flatly refuse to acknowledge – or even try to attempt to do anything – about their feelings or try for some sort of resolution or discussion. After four books it’s beginning to get old for me and I’m feeling like they’re both being a bit immature about the whole situation. I’m not ready to give up but I can definitely see my interest with the non-professional side to Cormoran and Robin’s relationship is turning to annoyance, not enjoyment.

Readers looking for an interesting and many layered mystery should find this a good – albeit very long – book. I feel that readers wanting something action orientated or with a romantic resolution won’t find that here, but I did really enjoy the mystery and I found the story very well woven together and kept my interest all the way to the end. I will definitely be reading the next book – but I will admit to hoping a few things might progress or change.

Runaway Home by Camille Anthony


Runaway Home by Camille Anthony
Publisher: Changeling Press
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, Paranormal
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Fleeing the shame of being rejected in favor of an Omega, Jackson Southerly, alpha wolf, has run away to one of his family’s ski resorts.

Fleeing the shame of being left at the altar, Sioux Brown has traded in her tickets to the Bahamas and run away to the snowy slopes of Colorado, where she plans to lick her wounds in solitude.

The snow in their hearts melts as they share the deserted lobby in the dark of night, but will their growing attraction survive the light of day?

After being rejected for an Omega, Jackson Southerly decides to run away to his family’s ski resort. Sioux Brown has also fled after being literally left at the alter. Going to polar opposite of her longed for honeymoon in the Bahamas, Sioux finds herself knee deep in the snow alongside Jackson. Even though their attraction is instant, they are both at rock bottom. Will their tenuous attraction survive the long haul?

While I do admit the general concept of this story is not very unique – I did enjoy how the author managed to squeeze in quite a few twists within the first chapter to have this very short story feeling fresh and different to me. I thoroughly enjoyed the fast pace and feel readers who are wanting just a quick and tasty spicy read should find this highly enjoyable.

Disconnect your brain, sit back with a delectable drink and just enjoy the ride. I laughed in quite a few places – so don’t expect to find a complicated plot or anything too deeply serious in this lovely short story. Just enjoy the steamy shenanigans and relatable characters.

A fun and super quick read – this was a good story I enjoyed.

Out of Body by Lina Hansen


Out of Body by Lina Hansen
A Magical Misfits Mystery Book 3
Publisher: Literary Wanderlust
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Paranormal, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A skeleton unearthed, a coven in peril, and meddling villagers with a penchant for mayhem—Myrtle Coldron’s life is about to get wicked.

Myrtle Coldron, owner of the Witch’s Retreat B&B and leader of the Magical Misfits, enjoys a hike and stumbles upon a skeleton. The unwelcome discovery unleashes a series of bizarre events that shake the quaint village of Avebury to the core. And to top it off, she has scary dreams haunting her nights.

With the help of her loyal partner Chris and her quirky friends and familiars, Myrtle must navigate the tangled web of suspects to flush out a killer holding the keys to a secret from the coven’s past.

Should she fail, the Magical Misfits will be history….

Being a witch isn’t easy, but it sure is worth it.

I enjoyed the descriptions of magic, especially when it came to all of the research and prep work that Myrtle and her fellow witches had to do ahead of time before casting group spells. Those scenes were so vivid and exciting. Of course such things would take plenty of effort in order to work properly! If everyone could do it, casting spells and performing magic wouldn’t be half as special as they are in stories.

It was tricky to keep track of the large cast of characters, especially since most of them had brief introductions that did not provide many details about their personalities, interests, or physical appearances. It’s easier for me to keep track of characters who have something unique about themselves that will trigger my memory once I encounter them again, and I wished I had more of those clues here.

The plot twists kept me guessing. I especially liked the way the identity of the skeleton Myrtle discovered while out on a hike was revealed. It wasn’t what I was expecting, and it made me wonder what other surprises the author had in store for me. Luckily, this pattern repeated itself as I continued on, so I had several other chances to once again be surprised.

I would recommend reading this series in order for character and plot development reasons. There was a lot of material from the previous instalments that was only briefly mentioned. Knowing about it in advance makes understanding what was happening much easier.

Out of Body was an interesting read.