The Price Of Lemon Cake by Jennifer Ashley

The Price of Lemon Cake by Jennifer Ashley
Publisher: JA/AG Publishing
Genre: Historical, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

When Kat Holloway approaches Lady Bobby Perry and Judith Townsend to help her discover what a young aristo is getting up to in a gentleman’s club, Bobby quickly accepts, coaxing a promise of Mrs. Holloway’s stupendous lemon cake in return.

But the investigation quickly turns into more than a simple spy mission, forcing Judith to confront a painful part her past. Both Judith and Bobby must bring their own unique skills to help Kat solve the tricky and dangerous problem.

Kat Holloway turns to her two friends Lady Bobby Perry and Judith Townsend to help her. Bobby goes into a club incognito to discover if one young man is being led astray by his brother, but instead Bobby and Judith discover a few painful secrets Judith had thought was locked in her past. Will the price of Kay Holloway’s lemon cake be enough to cover this cost?

This is the second short story in this Upstairs/Downstairs series that I have read, and I must admit I enjoyed it. Set in the late 1880s I found the historical setting to be slightly romanticized but still quite believable. I also found the plot to be a lot of fun – but a small amount of disbelief really did need to be suspended. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the story.

Despite this story being billed as part of the Kat Holloway series I was surprised but pleased this really had a lot more to do with Kat’s two friends, Bobby and Judith. Obviously, the plot couldn’t be too convoluted due to the short nature of the story, but I was very pleased with the two interweaving storylines and the way they were neatly tied up at the end. I was also glad that readers didn’t need to be familiar with the main book series – I, personally, have not read any of the full-length novels in this series – to enjoy and fully comprehend what’s happening.

For a quick introduction to the world and some of the characters this is an excellent short story. I enjoyed it and am intrigued enough to give one of the main novels a try.

Hero In Waiting by Andrew Grey

Hero In Waiting by Andrew Grey
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, LGBTQ
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Fern

Wells Barnaby is in danger and he doesn’t even know it. After leaving the Marines, he came to live with his sister and is helping to care for his niece. When a threat from his past rears up, it puts them all in danger… and brings the one who got away back into his life.

Miller Washington served with Wells, and the two men shared an attraction that neither of them acknowledged. When Miller learns that an old enemy is on the loose and that he may come after Wells, he makes a beeline to help. But he doesn’t expect repressed desire to blaze back to life.

Between renewed attraction and an enemy who will stop at nothing to get even, Wells and Miller must navigate the heat of passion too strong for either of them to contain while not letting their guard down, in order to protect Wells’s family and their second chance.

Wells and Miller served together for many years together in the Marines. Now they’re both out and have gone their separate ways – Wells eventually back to his sister to help take care of his five-year-old niece, Giselle, and after travelling around aimlessly Miller ended up working in security. When an old enemy negotiates for his release, Miller tracks Wells down to warn him – they’re both on the same hit list now and Wells family in particular are in great danger. Can these two men finally find their way to acting on their mutual attraction?

I’m always a sucker for the returned veteran style of story and this book ticked every box for me. The chemistry between Wells and Miller sizzles right from the first page and I was really pleased that they didn’t just fall into insta-lust or jump right into bed there and then. There was plenty of friendship and trust between them from their years serving together and Miller in particular didn’t want to change that. I could also appreciate that while Wells clearly was attracted to and wanted more with Miller, with a killer lunatic hunting them down Wells’ focus was very much on his sister and niece’s protection.

I thought the author did a really good job to balance the steamy romance between the men and the main plotline. Both had a strong focus in the book, but I was pleased in particular the the plot didn’t feel shoved in there or just tacked on to make the book appear more rounded. A good amount of time and effort had gone into writing these sections of the book and that showed. This helped me really feel invested in the story as a whole and not just the sexy scenes between the two men. I cared about their relationship as a whole and the mini-family they were growing and building between them. The action and conflict with their mutual enemy added a good amount of tension and helped the story not feel too soppy or rose-tinted.

With interesting and realistic characters that I felt quite invested in and a solid plot that I felt was very well handled this was a good book. I am eagerly waiting for the next to come along.

Scars by G.A. Bassier

Scars by G.A. Bassier
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Romance, Paranormal, Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

They say love can heal all wounds…but some scars may run too deep.

Eight months ago, while in a werewolf rage, Lily escaped her cage and killed an innocent person. Every moment since then, Lily’s guilt has grown heavier and more suffocating. Just as it threatens to engulf her, she meets a kind stranger who is struggling through his own turmoil after losing his beloved wife.

Sitting in a coffee shop with Jack, Lily smiles for the first time in eight long, dark months. She and Jack love all the same things: Star Wars, banana bread, even cheesy eighties movies. In spite of her lingering guilt, Lily starts to fall for him. Jack makes it easy. He trusts her. He worries about her. He never compares her to his lost love. Jack makes Lily want to live again–and she does the same for him.

There’s just one problem:

The innocent person Lily killed was Jack’s wife.

It’s never too late to turn things around and try again.

The premise of this novella grabbed my attention immediately, and I thought the author handled the dilemma of a werewolf falling in love with the widower of the woman she accidentally killed in a sensitive and beautiful manner. The tension between their developing relationship and Lily’s terrible secret made it impossible for me to stop reading. Of course, she would have no idea how to bring this topic up to Jack and would struggle to figure out what to do!

Given the tragedy that brought them together, it made total sense for things to develop slowly and unevenly between Jack and Lily. This was exactly what needed to happen in order for me as a reader to want them to live happily ever after, and their chemistry was perfect. What made it even more impressive was the fact that the characters evolved from meeting each other, to falling in love, to discovering the truth, to reaching the climax of this tale within such a short time period. Many authors would need a few hundred pages to reach the same conclusions, so getting it done in about forty pages instead was impressive.

I was blown away how many layers of detail and meaning the author was able to include as well. Yes, the main plotline was romantic, but the writing also included thoughtful messages about the meaning of life and how one can begin to heal from something that may feel insurmountable. This is the sort of story I’d especially recommend to readers who might not normally like the romance genre but who are willing to try the cream of the crop of it.

Scars couldn’t have been better. Bravo!

Operation Congo by William Meikle

Operation Congo by William Meikle
Publisher: Severed Press
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Action/Adventure
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

A mission to the Congo starts badly for S-Squad and gets worse fast as they trace a team of captured WHO medics to a lost world in the interior.

The Squad are isolated, split up, and face terrors long since thought extinct.

Mokele-mbembe walks this jungle.

And he is not alone.

The S-Squad has been sent deep into the jungles of Congo, far from where even a satellite phone can call for help. A WHO team of medics have been captured and more than just the natives are restless. As usual things quickly move from bad to worse as the team is split up and the monsters start coming from all directions. Can the team and their targets return back to safety?

I absolutely love this series and I was thrilled the Scottish lads finally managed to get a ticket to somewhere warm. I also really enjoyed how a few of the squaddies had some profound growth in their character arcs and this was a true joy to read – along with the big beasties and everyone needing to steer clear of being a tasty snack for the monsters.

If you’ve read even one of the previous books (and I can’t recommend strongly enough you give them all a whirl – this is the best series) you’ll know roughly what to expect. Our team of Scottish heroes are sent into the back of beyond to rescue a group of civilians. Things are nothing like what they appeared to be at first glance and soon monsters are trying to eat everyone in sight.

With loads of bullets flying and more than a few wise cracks from our squaddies this is yet another delightful romp of a book. I was particularly impressed with both the high number (and decent quality and placement) of the quotes managed by the squaddies referencing the movie, Aliens. A few scattered quotes are normal for this series, but in this book the author really outdid himself.

If you’re looking for a complicated plotline or an intricately woven story this won’t suit what you’re after. But if you love a bunch of wise-ass soldiers being brave, fighting the monsters and rollicking along then this is definitely the book for you. I love this series and can strongly recommend them all – especially this addition.

The Jackal Man by Kate Ellis

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

A teenage girl is strangled and left for dead on a lonely country lane in Devon. The police are baffled when she describes her attacker as having the head of a dog, but when the body of a woman is found mutilated and wrapped in a sheet, DI Wesley Peterson suspects the killer may be performing an ancient ritual linked to the jackal-headed Egyptian god, Anubis.

Meanwhile, archaeologist Neil Watson has been called to Varley Castle to catalogue the collection of an Edwardian amateur Egyptologist. Neil discovers through his research that Wesley’s strange case bears sinister similarities to four murders that took place near Varley Castle in 1903.

As the Jackal Man’s identity remains a frustrating enigma, it seems the killer has yet another victim in his sights. Someone close to Wesley himself . . .

When a local teenage girl is strangled and only a passing car interrupts what might have been an even more serious crime, DI Wesley Peterson and his team are called in to investigate. Unsure whether this links up to a similar – but less sinister attempted assault on another young woman a few weeks earlier, Wesley and his team flounder at first. When the next victim isn’t so lucky they realise their quarry is linking himself to the jackal-headed Egyptian god Anubis. Wesley’s archaeological friend, Dr Neil Watson is helping catalogue the collection of an amateur Egyptologist and Neil points out that these present cases bear a striking similarity to four murders that took place in 1903 and those were directly linked to this collection’s family. Can Neil and Wesley sort out exactly what’s going on before another young woman is murdered?

I have been greatly enjoying this British police procedural series and this book was a lovely addition. While there is plenty going on around these characters and the team members, I feel readers should certainly be able to pick this book up and enjoy it on its own merits. Aside from the fact the characters know each other and work well together, the actual plot and relationships are all very well explained within this book.

I was pleased that there was fairly clearly a strong connection immediately between the cataloguing work Neil was performing at a local castle with an Egyptian collection and Wesley’s offender who wore a cloak and a “dog mask”. I was also very intrigued that Wesely’s old boss from his days at the Met in their Art Fraud section was in town looking for some Egyptian antiquities and someone calling themselves Ra. It was all clearly linked but I enjoyed the twists and slow unveiling of what was really going on. I thought this book had a very good pace and unlike some of the others in this series I enjoyed the fact both plots were clearly woven together and were gathering speed roughly together.

Readers who enjoy some history and archaeology mixed in with their murder mysteries should find this a really enjoyable book. I enjoyed this story, and it was a lovely and comfortable weekend read.

Book of the Month Poll Winner ~ Happy Harry by Barbara Lampert

*Happy Harry by Barbara Lampert
Publisher: Golden Wolf books
Genre: Non-Fiction, Animal Essays
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Larkspur

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

“Nobody who loves dogs will be able to resist your book! A magnificent love story!” – Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, international bestselling author of Dogs Never Lie About Love and When Elephants Weep.

In her dog memoir “Happy Harry: A Magical Golden”, psychotherapist Barbara Lampert, a lifelong dog lover, tells the story of her beloved Golden Retriever, Harry. Like her first dog memoir, Harry’s story comes from her mostly uncensored daily journal and takes place in Malibu, California.

Harry was a genuinely free spirit – wild, and very wolf-like. Did all this contribute to his being exceptionally happy? Perhaps.

Harry was not only the happiest being Barbara’s ever known, happy to the very core of him, but also the bravest. More than once in his life, Harry had to face true adversity, and each time, Barbara would look at him in wonder, not fully understanding how a being could be so brave and at the same time continue to be so happy.

Harry literally pranced through life, with a joyous attitude that made being around him like magic. Barbara fell in love with Harry. And as you immerse yourself in Harry’s story, it’s likely you will too! Happy Harry is unforgettable!


Under Pressure by Robert Pobi

Under Pressure by Robert Pobi
Publisher: Hachette UK
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

On a beautiful October evening, New York City’s iconic Guggenheim Museum is closed for a tech company’s private gala. Until an explosion rocks the night, instantly killing 702 people, including every single attendee—yet the damage to the building itself was minimal.

An explosion of that precision was no accident and, in response, the FBI mobilizes its entire team — but the sheer number of victims strains their resources. Were all 702 victims in the wrong place at the wrong time, or was there only one target and 701 unlucky bystanders? That many victim files is a staggering amount of data to sort through and Brett Kehoe, Special Agent in Charge of Manhattan, decides that he can’t do this without more computational power.

Dr. Lucas Page, astrophysicist, university professor, and former FBI agent, is uniquely gifted for the task at hand—he can visualize a crime scene as if he was a bystander and can break down any set of data at a glance. Even though Page wants nothing to do with the FBI, with his city under attack and his family at risk, he steps in to find a killer in a haystack before they strike again.

Dr. Lucas Page is enjoying life with his family. An astrophysicists and father of five adopted children, he and his wife live in a happy state of constant chaos. The events of the previous winter are only a memory, until Page’s contacts at the FBI turn up once again when a bomb goes off at a super-rich event at the Guggenheim Museum. The city once more is thrown into fear and chaos and the FBI are willing to use their every tool, including Page and his extraordinary perceptions. Can Lucas return once again both to balancing the fieldwork he used to love and the family he adores?

This is the second book in the Dr Page series and while I do feel this can be read and enjoyed by itself, I also feel there are enough tendrils linking this second book back to the first that readers who usually want to keep things in order might want to begin at the first book before cracking this one open. That said the plot is entirely contained in this story and even though there are clear links between Lucas and the various FBI characters they are quite clearly explained, and most readers shouldn’t have a problem with this or following along and greatly enjoying the ride.

I was also really relieved that Page’s wife, Erin, is a lot more in the background for this novel. While I completely understand it’s a great part of conflict in the plot to have the wife unhappy with her husband being carted off for days on end to help the government and spoil their happy family times, I do feel it gets old and repetitive after a while. It’s a realistic and logical consequence of the assistance and danger Lucas is put in, but we don’t need to hear about it over and over throughout the book. I was very pleased that this took a lot more of a back seat this time around.

I also found the plot to be really fresh and, in many ways, unique. I loved that there was quite a bit of complexity layering everything together and I strongly feel that Pobi has added a few new elements into this type of story with the very different perspective Page adds into the story. It made a lot of the story feel fresh and different to me and I admit I struggled to put the book down to get on with my regular life. I found the story as a whole was quite addictive and I just kept wanting to read more and more. I ended up having a few late nights with the “just another chapter or two” mentality and that’s always the hallmark for me of an exceptional book.

With interesting characters, a really solid plot and some new twists on the old story of “bomber blows up the city” this was a good read and one I really enjoyed.

Dick’s Joke by Clint Mannschaft

Dick’s Joke by Clint Mannschaft
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Pain. Hate. Fear. Death. Stand-Up Comedy. A Novella.

The dark underbelly of stand-up comedy is something worth examining in greater detail.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t find most of the characters in this tale to be likeable people, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to figure them out. Some of them were sexist, while others were so absorbed in their own quirky hobbies that it was tricky for them to see the world from other perspectives or consider the feelings of those around them. My opinions of them often shifted in a positive direction as I got to know them better, though. How someone acknowledges, or sometimes chooses to remain willfully obtuse about, their flaws can say so much about them as an individual. Characters don’t have to be morally upstanding citizens in order to teach readers about the world by any means, and I felt I learned a lot from these characters even if I often disagreed with their behavior.

There were pacing issues that interfered with my interest levels. Some scenes moved much more quickly than other ones did. When combined with the large differences between how many pages different scenes lasted, I never knew what to expect next. The middle portions, particularly the monologue, seemed to slow down which made it harder for me to want to keep reading.

I appreciated how much effort Mr. Mannschaft put into experimenting with how a story should be told. There is definitely something to be said with playing around with a genre and seeing which tropes from it are actually necessary to keep readers’ attention versus which one can be safely sidestepped. This was creative.

Dick’s Joke pushed the boundaries of storytelling and came up with some interesting conclusions.

Cryptid Bits by Jess Simms

Cryptid Bits by Jess Simms
Publisher: Last-Picked Books
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Cryptids. At the movies and at the bar, cryptids. In china shops and running for office, cryptids. Cryptids, cryptids everywhere.

Mythical beings need to earn a living, too!

The world building was incredible. Getting glimpses of so many different residents, notable spots, and moments in time in this neighborhood gave me a well-rounded understanding of what it would be like to visit The Fairy District if it were a real place. If the author ever decides to write a sequel, I’d love to dive even more deeply into the many different species that call this area home and how they are being affected by human gentrification.

I would have loved to see more character development. Meeting the characters was a memorable experience, but there was never a lot of time to get to know most of them better due to how brief each section was and how many different folks there were to meet. Louise, a local mortician, was one such creature that I wish I could have had more time with as she seemed to have a fascinating life as an undertaker. This pattern was the only thing holding me back from choosing a full five-star review.

Some of this flash fiction was written in the style of online news articles or reviews of different businesses. What made these pieces even more unique were the comments included by various members of the community and visitors who had strong opinions about the event, business, or topic being discussed. I loved the originality of these sections, especially when it came to the many types of feedback that can be shared in such places. A kind commenter might be immediately followed by someone who had a harsher perspective, but the variety of it all made it feel incredibly realistic.

Cryptid Bits was delightfully creative. I can’t wait to read more from this author.

The Dead Man Of Storr by JM Dalgliesh

The Dead Man Of Storr by JM Dalgliesh
Publisher: Hamilton Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Fern

Your past will find you… and it will kill you…
When the owner of a Portree gallery is found dead, lying in the snow at the foot of the Storr, D.I. Duncan McAdam and his small team must piece together what took him there… and who had a reason to kill him.

A man with a flirtatious eye and no lack of ambition, there is no shortage of people who would turn a blind eye if something happened to him… and many who would willingly kill him themselves.

As Duncan reveals the long-held secrets of the man’s life, he finds the ghosts of his own past coming back to haunt him. The course of the investigation will not only bring others into danger, but Duncan himself will have to face his own past… whether he likes it or not…

The owner of the local art gallery is found dead on the hiking path at the foot of Storr, and at first glance it appears like a tragic slip and fall in the untrustworthy weather. But DI McAdam and his team quickly realise that this was not an accident, but a very well thought out crime. As the look deeper into the owner and discover there are more than just a few people who wish him harm. Can McAdam and his team discover what really happened?

This is the second book in this Scottish police procedural series and I felt it was a solid and well written book. I must admit there were a few other strong sub-plots lurking around the edges of the main murder mystery and at a few points I wondered if they would over-shadow the police procedural and mystery element. While I do feel the author managed this balance very well, I have to admit I’m a little more interested in these subplots revolving around Duncan’s friends and past than this particular murder. I am very interested to see where the author takes this though so that’s proof that the writing and plotlines have certainly snared me.

I also really enjoy the setting of the Isle of Skye. It’s an interesting blend between small-town living and rural Scotland and I find it fascinating. It also adds an excellent atmosphere I feel and I’m very eager for more of this.

Readers who enjoy solidly written British (or Scottish in this case) police procedural stories should find this an excellent book and a good series to start. I also think readers who enjoy small-town mysteries or cozy mysteries should also find this book appeals. I didn’t think it was particularly gritty or dark (which a lot of British police procedurals can be sometimes) and so I do feel this book can cross over a few of the various mystery type genres. A really good book.