Cranberry Lane by Lauren Lee

Cranberry Lane by Lauren Lee

Circumstance brought them together, fate will bond them forever.

Wayne Jacobs, a dedicated family man, makes his living murdering cheating spouses, out-of-control gamblers, and common wrongdoers. He’s a hitman with a perfect record—one he intends to keep.

Serenity Harris, a vivacious nineteen-year-old, deals drugs in between her shifts at the local record store. She’s a rebellious outcast with pink hair and an unforgettable attitude.

What do they have in common besides a life of crime? Both Wayne and Serenity grew up in the slums of Cranberry Lane.

When their paths randomly cross at a local dive bar, the attraction is instant. The couple’s lives quickly become intertwined, infatuation blinding them to the dangers lurking in the shadows.

Unexpectedly, Wayne and Serenity find themselves in over their heads with entities far more dangerous than could be imagined.

With their lives at stake, can they beat the odds? Or, will they succumb to the hand they were dealt and die, only to be known as former residents of Cranberry Lane?

I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the author in exhange for an honest review.

Cranberry Lane is not a place of hopes and dreams. People on the lane don’t expect to make a success of themselves, but do what they have to just to get by. It’s a place that many wouldn’t know existed, or if they did, they’d do their level best to avoid it at all costs. Those who cannot escape, much like Serenity do what they can to get by. A street smart girl, she’ll push drugs all night long to make as much money as she can in a desperate bid to break free. Some managed to escape, like Wayne. As soon as he was old enough he fled Cranberry Lane with guardianship for his younger brother Sammy, escaping alcoholic parents. Though he finds he cannot truly leave, Cranberry Lane draws him back through his role as a hitman.

Cranberry Lane by Lauren Lee

The novel follows these two protagonists as they attempt to navigate their lives and put more distance between themselves and Cranberry Lane until a fateful moment sees their paths cross irreversibly. The two find their paths intertwined taking them down a dangerous and deadly route in their respective bids to make a life beyond the dark street.

Cranberry Lane is written in a style I don’t see too often. The narrative follows Wayne and Serenity with alternating chapters moving between the two. I enjoyed the way we get to unravel the two storylines in parallel and then how they weave together, delivering a brilliant whole from the two strands. We get to live their respective ups and downs, trials and tribulations thanks to this brilliant style.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Cranberry Lane. I found it to be wonderfully paced and easy to read. The core characters were vibrant and interesting, the locations dark and grimy. Even throughout the happier moments there was a dark atmosphere lingering throughout the book. I’d love to discover further crime thrillers with the inherent vibe that Lauren Lee has injected throughout.

My rating:

Let Sleeping Pharmacists Lie by Janelle Soong

Let Sleeping Pharmacists Lie by Janelle Soong

What does a pharmacist really do? How much pill-counting is involved? Can I have a glass of wine with these antibiotics?”

Let Sleeping Pharmacists Lie is a collection of funny (and 100% true) anecdotes from Pharmacy school and musings on the healthcare sector. From Viagra lovers to paracetamol hagglers, Janelle tells all in this labour of love inspired by her personal encounters. Delve deep into the colourful – and at times, mystifying – world of Pharmacy.

I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the author in exhange for an honest review.

Let Sleeping Pharmacists Lie makes for a bit of a departure from the usual sort of books I read. I’ve read plenty of short story anthologies, but as opposed to offering short stories, this offers a series of anecdotes. Anecdotes about the inner workings of what it is to be a pharmacist, about what goes into becoming a pharmacist, and some of the amusing and occasionally bizarre encounters out in the world of work.

Let Sleeping Pharmacists Lie by Janelle Soong

Some anecdotes are educational, offering an insight into the world of being a pharmacist. Others about the process of pharmaceutical manufacture, and others offer an insight into the training that goes into becoming a pharmacist. Any technical jargon is defined, and industry specific elements are explained in a simplified way that even an outsider can understand and find informative.

Mixed in with the informative and educational are the downright absurd. Anecdotes of the more ridiculous moments encountered by a pharmacist in training. They add to the insight of what it is to be a pharmacist, while also colouring the book with humour. The brevity of the stories make for a quick and entertaining read for anyone curious about some of the inner workings of the world of pharmacy.

My rating:

The Storm Hag by Adalind Hargrave

The Storm Hag by Adalind Hargrave

It has been almost a year since Anna moved to Chicago to stay with Blake, a medicine man and warlock who is not only her half-brother but also the key to saving her mother’s soul.

Blake has been diligent in volunteering work for her around the city, but extremely evasive when it comes to meeting with his own part of the deal. So far, Anna has had little leverage with her brother, but things change when Blake sets on his own quest.

Anna delivers a message to a patron of the bar Moonshine, Aidan Bishop. Though ordinary looking, Bishop is another of the supernatural beings that inhabit the city, a scryer capable of discovering even the best hidden objects.

Alas, she can’t help it but to create a ruckus. Because Anna is a hag – a creature with immense untapped power and some serious anger management issues.

But she is not the only magic and supernatural being in the city, and most don’t appreciate being observed too closely.

I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the author in exhange for an honest review.

Though this book has been updated by Adalind Hargrave and retitled The Storm Hag, I read its earlier form, Into the Darker Half. From the very beginning I really enjoyed this book. It follows Anna, a young hag – not entirely dissimilar to a witch – learning to deal with her powers. She lives with her half-brother, the warlock and healer Blake. The story takes Anna on a journey through the dark, grimy underbelly of Chicago, heading to locales not known to those not looking for them. Working for Blake, things twist and turn and come close to unravelling catastrophically for the young hag, and for the city at large.

The Storm Hag by Adalind Hargrave

The Storm Hag is a gritty, dark urban fantasy filled with menace and a distinct lack of hope. It’s a genre I have only dabbled with following my long sojourns into the fantasy realm of the incredible Discworld series, but if this is anything to go by, it’s a genre I want to delve into deeper. The location felt dark and grim, not too different from the dark, mean streets seen in the recent Joker film starring Joaquin Phoenix. It felt like there was a threat at every turn, waiting to strike.

Aside from the well-crafted locations, the characters that Adalind Hargrave has created are vibrant. I found myself feeling for Anna and her struggles, really disliking Blake and his aloofness. Even the side characters felt lively and well created. There were plenty of people to like and loath, to root for and against throughout this book. My only complaint is it was over as soon as it was. I want to learn more of Anna and her life managing the powers she has thrust upon her in life. Into the Darker Half delivered a dark story in an even dark location that made for fantastic reading.

My rating:

A Role to Kill For by H. Paul Doucette

A Role to Kill For by H. Paul Doucette

When the mutilated body of a young man is found in an alley in the early hours of a winter’s day, events would be set in motion that would lead Matt Murphy into the world of a young woman’s twisted desire to find a love that could never be had and the betrayal of a father. As the bodies pile up, he is drawn into the delusional mind of a serial killer who is obsessed with young, handsome actors working the Off Broadway circuit of the Village. Why these men? And, why the mutilations? As Murphy delves further into the case, he knows he is moving closer to a confrontation: a confrontation that will stay with him for the rest of his life.

I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the author in exhange for an honest review.

A Role to Kill For is another journey into historic fiction with H. Paul Doucette. This time out we head to the seedy side of 1960s New York. A series of grisly murders of young men in the trendy, free and easy Village part of town. Only one thing seems to connect the victims – they are all actors or script writers with a love of the performing arts.

A Role to Kill For by H. Paul Doucette

Private Investigator Matt Murphy is hired by the family of one of the victims to find out who killed him and why. He embarks on a case through the clubs and bars and neon lights and questionable substances of the beatnik hangouts of The Village. He works with his contacts in the NYPD and leverages less than scrupulous informants for help.

The case is an eye opener into a world Murph would never have imagined existed if he wasn’t used to seeing the worst of society. As the case unravels he uncovers dirty family secrets and illicit dealings with influence all the way to senior officials. Murph learns some distrubing things about those involved.

I’ve read a few books now by H. Paul Doucette and have to say this is probably my very favourite so far. Murph is a brilliant character and his relationships both personal and professional with characters such as his girlfriend Jane and his childhood friend and NYPD detective Abe Goldman are well crafted. Incidental characters such as hustler Crazy Pete and Gabriel the bar owner make for a brilliant, easy read. I would love to see more from Matt Murphy.

My rating:

Flow by Clare Littlemore

Flow by Clare Littlemore

A world in tatters. A society where rebellion is not tolerated. A girl desperate to discover the truth. 

Sixteen year old Quin lives in The Beck, a saviour society. Her community has risen from the ruins of a land shattered by Mother Nature. But Beck law is tough. Quin knows that the rules must be followed in order to sustain life in a place where flood waters constantly threaten existence. A single violation could land her in Clearance. 

But some laws are harder to follow than others. And as Quin discovers the horrifying truth, she knows she cannot stay silent forever.

I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the author in exhange for an honest review.

Flow is a dystopian novel set in a world affected seemingly by the climate. The Beck is a settlement with strict rules governing society. Rules are necessary to ensure the safety and security of the citizens. Everything is governed – live stock, food production, even the birth of future citizens. A vast wall surrounds The Beck protecting it from the flood waters that frequently threaten the community.

Flow by Clare Littlemore

Following Quinn, we learn about the difficulties of life in The Beck. Though it might be a sanctuary, life is difficult. Every member of the community must show they are contributing to society or be sent to Clearance. Everybody must follow the rules or risk being sent to Clearance. Everyone that serves no purpose is sent to Clearance and is never heard from again. Once a year citizens take part in a test, psychological evaluation and physical test that could see them promoted or moved to different sectors within the community. Quin finds herself leaving the Agricultural Sector to start a new chapter as part of Patrol – the division of citizens tasked with policing The Beck. But during the few short days she spends training with patrol it becomes clear that not everything in The Beck is quite as it seems.

Overall I enjoyed the dystopian world of The Beck with its draconian rules and dark mysteries. That said I did struggle with the core of the story only really coming to light right at the end of the book. I felt the story was progressing to a big reveal that came very late. That frustration, in large part, was of my own making, not entirely realising the book was the first in a series. With that in mind, I would really like to see now where things go for Quin and her compatriots as I did for the most part enjoy the story. All in all, Flow ticked the boxes for a dystopian novel – bleak world, little hope, rebellious elements – to make an enjoyable read.

My rating:

The Secret Sign of the Lizard People by Kevin E. Buckley

The Secret Sign of the Lizard People by Kevin E. Buckley

THEY ARE RIGHT HERE AMONG US…HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT

When partners in crime-reduction Jerry “Leafy” Green and Bill “Beefy” Goodness — two of the LAPD’s most skilled homicide detectives — investigate the bizarre killing of a fashion model at the Hollywood Sign it soon becomes clear that this murder is part of a much larger conspiracy that threatens not only the people of America, but the entire population of the planet. As the case progresses, they recruit the help of a Jesus-lookalike ufologist, a streetwise Goth graffiti artist, a world-renowned geneticist, a super-nerd cyber investigator, and a fire-and-brimstone inner city reverend. The detectives and their motley crew of improvised freedom fighters must work quickly to take down the tainted global elite and avert the merciless enslavement of humanity that looms large on the horizon.

I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the author in exhange for an honest review.

This book is an incredible romp of Hollywood proportions. It’s ludicrous and laugh out loud funny. At its core The Secret Sign of the Lizard People is a buddy cop style story with plenty of to and fro between the two leading men – Jerry “Leafy” Green and Bill “Beafy” Goodness. They make a formidable team that work well and complement each other. They know how to get a job done, but they equally know how to press one anothers’ buttons.

When a glamour shoot goes wrong atop the Hollywood sign, Leafy and Beefy find themselves wrapped up in a riddle. Model N. Emma Johnson seemingly has no enemies, so who would wan’t to kill her? The investigation points to a case of wrong place wrong time when footage shows a seemingly homeless man on the run.

The buddy cop vibe made this into a fun, easy read with the casual relationship between the pair. They dive into the investigation, working to unravel each thread of the mystery. From a random attempt on the life of a homeless man, the attack becomes an effort to silence an eminant expert in his chosen scientific field. A wild conspiracy theory becomes a reality nobody could ever imagine as the case becomes ever stranger with every turn.

The Secret Sign of the Lizard People has been one of my favourite reads this year to date, if not my absolute favourite. It’s mysterious, it’s well written without the endgame being obvious before Buckley reveals the true plot and it is genuinely funny at times. A well written crime novel littered with puns and groan aloud humour, I’d love to see more of Leafy and Beefy in the future.

My rating:

Sanctuary of Lies by Chad Bishop

Sanctuary of Lies by Chad Bishop

There are 4.7 billion searchable sites make up 10% of the web, the other 90% is dedicated to the “Dark web”. Within that environment there is a thriving economy where everything is for sale: Sex, Armies and Code for hire. Well-known companies buy and sell for governments and NGO’s (non-governmental organizations). They appear as a benign legal boutique companies and consultants, but their true purpose is to be the middlemen/cyber lynchpin for these illicit goods and services.​

ISABELLA NUNEZ owns a computer firm in Brooklyn with her lover JACOB COSTA. Accepting her infertility they have a blue nose pit bull called Justice as their “child” and live simple lives as techy nerds. Isabella’s idyllic life is shattered when several days after her lover’s ex-wife, SIMONE JOHNS, reported death, Simone sends Jacob an email to come save their child, he didn’t know they had.

I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the author in exhange for an honest review.

The opening of Sanctuary of Lies had me hooked. An act of terrorism with the potential to shut down the skies of the world. I had high hopes for an action packed cyber thriller from that part onwards. Sadly that’s not what I got. I struggled to keep going as the story limped from one thing to the next. The moments of tension were all too predictable, not nearly as tense as they should have been.

From that explosive opening, we hear little more about that subject. It seems to have been all but forgotten, or at least mentioned in different contexts. I struggled to invest myself in the characters. There was little to like or loathe about any of them – the good guys or the bad. They felt somewhat flat and insipid.

I struggled to engage with the plot. For all the tension ramped up at the beginning of the book, the story didn’t deliver. It seemed to meander all over too much. The tense moments weren’t as tense as they should be. Nothing occurred with the sense of urgency the situations merited. The worst part for me came at the end. The only real reference back to the climactic opening was a castaway one liner. It felt a real shame given the potential the book had in the opening.

My rating:

An Interview with Paul Mathews

An Interview with Paul Mathews

Today’s guest author is a “Quite Funny Guy” and has written not one but two comedy thriller / mystery series. The first, the We Have Lost series takes place in a near future United Kingdom and follows the trials and tribulations of government employee and wannabe secret agent Howie Pond. The second series takes place in the fictional British countryside town of Upper Goosing – European Murder Destination of 2015 – a town with an unsettlingly high murder rate that trades on its gory past. This series follows Detective Clinton Trump, an investigator with delusions of grandeur with ego of unimaginable proportions. You’ll find reviews for all of these books here on Books and Beyond Reviews. Today, please join me in welcoming Paul Mathews to the blog!

Books and Beyond Reviews: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Paul. I’ll start with some ice breaker questions to help us get to know the man behind the comedy. First up, if you could choose any two famous people to have dinner with who would they be?

Paul Mathews: As I write murder mysteries, I’ll choose one living and one dead person, if I may. In terms of the deceased, it would have to be my favourite author, Douglas Adams, because he was a unique talent with such a surreal sense of humour. Douglas also loved food which would mean that if he was throwing the dinner party, I’d be guaranteed an excellent meal, as well as a steady stream of after-dinner anecdotes. Someone who’s still able to eat dinner? Maybe Greta Thunberg, because nobody like her has come along before and made such an impact at a young age. She’s also very tiny, so if I was paying, the bill would be manageable!

BaBR: If you could hang out with any cartoon character, who would you choose and why?

PM: Dangermouse was one of my favourites when I was a kid. Along with his trusty sidekick, Penfold, there were a formidable crime-fighting team. And they were funny, but not always in a predictable ‘Tom and Jerry’ slapstick way. They could probably solve some of my murder-mysteries a lot quicker than Detective Clinton Trump!

BaBR: I was always fond of a bit of Dangermouse. Classic, comedic crime-fighting capers! If you could see one movie again for the first time, what would it be and why?

PM: I saw the original Terminator movie on a VHS recorder when my brother’s friend brought it round during some exam revision (I think that’s what happened – we’re talking more than 30 years ago). Initially, I was only half-watching it – it was during the day and my parents were at work, so it was on in the background. But I started to become fascinated by the Terminator character. There was just so much tension, it was amazing. And it has that whole ‘Can mankind make it?’ thing going on. Very appropriate, given the world’s current predicaments.

BaBR: Would you rather travel back in time to meet your ancestors or to the future to meet your descendants?

PM: As I don’t have any direct descendants (I only have a cat and dog and they’ve both been neutered!), I guess it will have to be time travel to the past. I’d be interested in visiting a brewery that my father’s grandfather and great-grandfather ran in Surrey in the mid-19th-century – purely because I’d get free beer!

BaBR: And now, the final question before I move on to talk about your books. Who is your favourite author?

PM: I’ve already mentioned Douglas Adams so I suppose my next favourite author is me..! As I never tire of saying, I’ve read all my novels at least ten times and thoroughly enjoyed them all. It may sound odd but I still laugh at all my jokes. I do forget some of what I’ve written and they are the best laughs. It’s a bit like going back in time to when you wrote them. Your past self can really surprise your future self

BaBR: When you set out to start writing, did you always know that it would be comedy thriller / mystery novels, or did you eventually arrive at the genre?

PM: I wrote some short murder-mystery plays for amateur groups before I started on novels, as well as two full-length comedy plays, so comedy mystery / thrillers seemed the most natural genre for my books. I’ve always been interested in comedy writing since I was at school. Sadly, back then, there were zero opportunities for people like me. But self-publishing via Amazon opened up the world of novel-writing to me. It was a natural progression from playwriting and that previous experience means snappy dialogue is one of my strong points.

BaBR: Of Clinton Trump and Howie Pond, which do you identify with the most?

PM: The character of Howie Pond is definitely who I identify with the most. He has elements of my personality (I was always fond of popping to the pub at lunchtime for a Guinness!) and I worked as a UK Government press officer for 16 years, so a lot of what Howie Pond has to suffer in the ‘We Have Lost’ series as a presidential spokesman is loosely based on those experiences. I probably share Clinton’s general lack of patience with the world. I think we all think of ourselves as undiscovered geniuses, so maybe that as well!

BaBR: With two series under your belt, will your next book be something different, or do you have plans to carry on the tales of Clinton or Howie?

PM: I’ve decided to write a completely different comedy novel for my next effort. Entitled ‘An Accidental Royal Kidnap’, it will be a mystery of sorts but it’s more of a modern comedy adventure. It will follow a week in the life of recently-dumped London schoolteacher George Nearly after he finds a real-life princess face down on his living-room rug the morning after his 39th birthday party. You will see everything from George’s point of view and won’t know what anyone else is thinking or feeling – other than what George perceives that to be – which adds to the general sense of confusion about what is going on. It will include all the usual pondering on life, the universe and everything that my other novels include but this time it will be firmly based in modern-day reality. Well, not completely – there won’t be a global pandemic for George to contend with but apart from that, it will be the real world.

BaBR: Do you envisage any future books breaking away from the comedy thriller / mystery genre, and if so, what other genre would you be keen to try your hand at?

PM: As a Douglas Adams fan, comedy science-fiction would be the natural choice. I did a lot of planning for one, a couple of years ago, but dropped it eventually because I just couldn’t generate enough enthusiasm to write it. I think, once you’re established as a writer in a particular genre, it’s best not to travel too far from your literary home. And outer space is probably a little too far for me.

BaBR: Have you drawn events in either book series from anything in particular from your life or things you have heard, or have they all been entirely thought up?

 PM: I drew on my experiences of working in government, where there are lots of self-important people who often border on incompetence, while the smarter people tend to pick up the pieces. A small number of characters are also based on people I worked with in that environment. But the storylines are all completely original. ‘We Have Lost The President’ was a good choice of title for a first novel and after the election of Donald Trump as US president I think it’s the kind of scenario – a president going missing – many people would like to see happen in the real world!

BaBR: Thank you for taking the time to answer my weird and wonderful questions and I look forward to whatever your next book may be!

To Kill a Shocking Bard by Paul Mathews

To Kill a Shocking Bard by Paul Mathews

When Upper Goosing’s premier poet, Percy Bishe, expires after scoffing a jumbo cream horn in the Tourist Trap café, foul puff-pastry play is immediately suspected. However, there’s a not-so-sweet surprise in store for Detective Inspector Clinton Trump, when his newly promoted deputy, Sergeant Dinkel, is handed the case and Clinton is left on the side-lines like a piece of stale shortbread. Will our detective genius manage to muscle his way into the investigation? Is Sergeant Dinkel up to the task of tracking down the bard’s killer? And will the murderer get his just deserts? Find out, in this final, lip-smacking Clinton Trump Detective Genius adventure!

I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the author.

To Kill a Shocking Bard brings the Clinton Trump detective trilogy to a close in spectacular style. Local poet Percy Bishe dies in mysterious circumstances, chowing down on his last ever jumbo cream horn during a poetry night in the Tourist Trap Cafe. Fingers are pointed in every direction. Is the baker guilty? The proprietress of the cafe losing customers whenever the poetry group meets? Was it rival poet Byron Lourdes? Or could the culprit be any one of a number of possible suspects with the slightest of reasons to kill him off?To Kill a Shocking Bard Paul MathewsSergeant Dinkel takes charge of the heinous murder much to the disgust of Detective Inspector Clinton Trump, Sout East England’s greatest investigator. While Dinkel heads out to investigate Upper Goosing’s latest murder, the bumbling detective stumbles his way through his own efforts to grab the glory all for himself. As the two cases converge through mishap and fluke another deadly situation befalls the investigative partners.

The third and final book in the trilogy rounds things off nicely. It’s full of comedic events and black humour as per the first two books in the series. The bumbling investigators and the outrages twists make this an entertaining read. There are plenty of little references to Paul Mathews’ We Have Lost series of books, and to himself, always in a humorous and self deprecating manner.

Though vastly different to the We Have Lost series, the Clinton Trump trilogy have been entertaining, silly, dark and enjoyable in equal measure. With Mathews moving on to a new series with new characters, I look forward to seeing what he produces next.

 

My rating:
goodread

The Last Straw by Ed Duncan

The Last Straw by Ed Duncan

When a teenage girl witnesses a carjacking gone bad, she is marked for death by a crime boss with no apparent motive. A black lawyer and a white enforcer with an unlikely history forge an uneasy alliance to protect the girl from a hit man with an agenda of his own.

After they find out that the crime boss is the father of the black teenage carjacker, Paul Elliott – lawyer and close friend of the witness’s family – begins counseling them.

As the long-simmering feud between Rico and John D’Angelo reaches boiling point, bodies start to pile up in rapid succession… and old scores will be settled.

I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher.

The Last Straw sees the return of hitman-for-hire Rico. He finds himself caught up in a mess he hoped to avoid. When asked to carry out a hit, he refuses. Somewhere deep down he has a moral compass, that firmly stops him from taking up a hit on a child. Even less so an innocent child whose only wrongdoing was to have witnessed a carjacking that ended in murder. Events conspire to throw a figure from his past into the mix making for a perfect storm Rico would much prefer to have avoided.
The Last Straw Ed DuncanPicking up where Pigeon-Blood Red finished, Ed Duncan transports the reader back into the murky criminal underworld, this time in Chicago. Rico cannot help but wade into the fray and uncover the mysteries that link the seemingly unconnected threads together. 

Duncan manages to thread multiple story lines together masterfully. The energy and pace is present throughout. Rico gains layers of depth throughout the course of this second book, making him a more enjoyable and engaging character. Though bringing back additional characters from the first book, they did not feel to have been shoehorned in.

I found The Last Straw to be a fast paced novel with plenty to keep the reader engaged. Ed Duncan hides very little from the reader in terms of plotline, but the way the book is written grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and pulled me along for a ride filled with twists. With a third outing to come for Rico, I look forward to seeing what scrapes he finds himself in.

 

My rating:
goodread