White Water, Black Death by Shaun Ebelthite

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At first, I was convinced right along with the characters that there is a terrorist attack on the cruise ship, the Symphony. It opens with a janitor and it is obvious that he is unwell, especially when he vomits into his mop bucket and then continues cleaning. It’s very  curious, not to mention beyond disgusting, that anyone would do this. Right off the bat, I thought this was a bad omen.

Geneva Jones, a past journalist and current editor of CruiseCritique.com, is on board to get the biggest story of her life. Rachel Atkinson, CEO for the cruise line, is celebrating the birthday of the line, and her son, Aaron, is on board, as well. She has promised Geneva a private interview. Geneva is not a fan of the CEO, who she finds to be a little too cagey and her avoidance of questions leads Geneva to be suspicious of her motives. For now, Geneva is going to enjoy herself and make friends (I.E. usable acquaintances).

Aaron is in college and doesn’t know why his mother insists he be on this cruise. He is bored to tears and his high hopes of forming a closer relationship with her is not happening. Rachel has always been an at-arm’s-length type of mom, trying to do what is right while not getting too close. Aaron knows in Rachel’s eyes, the cruise line is always first. Happily, Aaron has met Sarah, who is near his age and has a baby. He likes babies, or at least Sarah’s, and he thinks he has made a friend.

There are lots of interesting characters in this book. The plot is complex, but very engrossing. I quickly became attached to the players, especially Geneva. Her greatest joy is searching for the weakness in Rachel’s armor. Geneva’s gung-ho attitude encourages her to risk the chance of discovery in several sneaky situations, and she seems to enjoy pulling Aaron along behind her, Sarah consequently following.

It looks like everyone in this story has something to hide. Rachel is resigning her position. Richard, her COO, is hoping to stab her in the back – metaphorically speaking – and steal her position with her company. Aaron wonders why Rachel adopted him from Uganda when he was ten. Even several of the employees have their hands full. Lots and lots of secrets.

Readers who enjoy mysteries will certainly enjoy this book. There is a lot of danger that leads to a lot of questions. This was a fast read, because I could hardly put it down.

The rating:

  • Genre and general reading age – I shove this book on the shelf of Mysteries and claim the reading age to be mostly adult, since it is quite a winding tale.
  • Level of sexuality – There are a couple of scenes where it is left pretty much to your imagination.
  • Is there graphic language? Not anything that bothered me.
  • Did I cry? No.
  • Did I laugh? No.
  • Is this part of a series? No.
  • Level of character development – Aaron was the only one I felt needed a little bit of maturing and I think he got that by the end of the story. The others couldn’t have gotten any better.

I award this book ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars.

Available here on Amazon

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In Broad Daylight – A Jess Harding Novel by Seth Harwood

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This is a fascinating story. Jessica Harding is a FBI agent hot on the trail of a serial killer. Five years ago, she was in Anchorage, Alaska, chasing this same nightmare. It was her first time leading an investigation that contained crime scene after crime scene, and too few clues. After months, the scent grew cold and she was re-assigned to California. Now, the killer is back and so is Agent Harding.

This time around she has enough experience to put on a strong front for the benefit of her male colleagues, showing that she knows exactly how she will move this investigation forward. She’s sure something important was missed the first time around and she wants to backtrack as she moves forward, but not everyone thinks that’s a good plan for success. As Jess enters each scene, looking for the slightest psychological whiff of her murderer, she is disturbed to feel him so close. Some scenes raise the hair on the back of her neck, as she recognizes his games. He enjoys throwing off the hunters with meaningless words, phrases, or sentences written with the victim’s blood. He begins to list the names of his victims at the scene and soon Jess finds her own name added to the list. She decides not to report this fact and, although it gives her chills, she is determined to bring this monster down. Once again, the crime scenes start to add up.

Jess is a great character with a lot of drive for her job. It’s the most fulfilling part of her life. I appreciate that she is quietly aggressive and careful to protect her position, hopefully without offending. Also, she has the ability to make a friend when it’s not easy for her and not at the top of her list of priorities. I enjoyed the suspense and the portrayal of Jess as only human, instead of Wonder Woman. Jess is the main player, but there are others in the story that are interesting, even when they only have a small part. There is plenty here to mull over as the story moves on, and the suspense is high. There are a couple of ‘eww’ murder scenes, but the book is well worth the time and anyone who loves catching the bad guy will appreciate this one.

The rating:

  • Genre and general reading age – This is suspense for adults. I don’t know if a teenager would have the patience to wait out an investigation.
  • Level of sexuality – There is some sex. Overall, it definitely is not what drives the story.
  • Is there graphic language? The author conveys the character’s thoughts and actions with very little graphic language. Thank you.
  • Did I laugh? No.
  • Did I cry? No. I felt some sadness and anger for the victims. Their deaths were violent and meaningless.
  • Is this part of a series? Not that I can tell.
  • Level of character development – The characters were great. I didn’t at any time think someone needed adjustment to make this storyline work any smoother.

I give this book ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars.

Available here on Amazon

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Jackaby by William Ritter

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It is winter 1892. Abigail Rook has just landed at New Fiddleham in New England. Although a proper young English woman, she has absconded with her school tuition money to go adventuring and heads straight to America. There, she’s penniless, wearing a scrubby dress, and looking for employment. Fortunately, she stops at an inn where the landlord lets her stay the night in exchange for kitchen labor.

The next day, after many inquiries, she finds questionable work with Detective Jackaby, who speaks of mystical creatures that abound in the everyday world. Since she needs this job, Detective Jackaby can say whatever he wants. Her job is to assist him in whatever investigative endeavors he is involved in, and she plans on being irreplaceable. Their first challenge is a murder scene. Abigail is quick to get started and begins asking questions and searching for clues. Jackaby discovers she is quite handy at drawing attention to herself, with a feminine swoon, as he accomplishes sneaky business to avoid the police.

Abigail has found her niche and nothing is going to take it away. She is a stubborn young lady, who has always yearned for adventure and has certainly found it with Jackaby. Although the book is not a cliffhanger, I was ready to go to the next one immediately. Myth and mystery collide nicely in the story, and as Abigail got comfortable, so did I. It would have been disappointing if the two had not been a large part of this story. The reader is introduced to a rather possessive ghost, a duck with a pond on the third floor, and a frog with amazingly noxious fumes.

This story is entertaining and full of strange and interesting happenings. It runs full tilt to the very end, no confusion, even though there is a lot of action. There are a few other interesting characters that are the meat, while a frog, a duck, and a ghost are the potatoes.

I love a book that doesn’t disappoint, so be prepared to like this one, as I recommend it for those with inquiring minds looking for entertainment.

The rating:

  • Genre and general reading ages – I’m going to mix two genres by saying this is mystery/fantasy. I think adults and older teens will enjoy this.
  • Level of sexuality – None or very low, depending on what you consider sexual.
  • Is there graphic language? None.
  • Did I cry? No.
  • Did I laugh? No, but I smiled a few times.
  • Is this part of a series? Yes, thankfully, this is book one of the Jackaby series.
  • Level of character development – What you see is what you get. Jackaby is a strange and interesting man, and Abigail insists on adventure in her life and receives it. She shows a lot of maturity just by doggedly chasing her dream.

I give this book ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars.

Available here on Amazon

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Ashes to Ashes by Valerie Thomas

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Natalie and her brother, Ben, are new students and want to make friends fast. When they attend the high school bonfire, they become the entertainment instead, when Ben gets into a fist fight with Zack. Not knowing what to do, Natalie grabs onto the sleeve of the boy next to her, hoping he’ll step in and put a stop to it. Surprisingly, a girl comes forward and takes charge. Hoping to make a friend, Natalie introduces herself. Love Chapman is definitely not your average student. She tells Natalie to take her brother home and keep Ben away from Zack at all costs. A strange first encounter and not a particularly friendly one.

Natalie tries to pursue friendship with Love, who rebuffs her. Disappointed, Natalie finds friends in Jennie and Evan. Unfortunately, while she is busy making friends, so is Ben. To her dismay she discovers his new pal is Zack, a loner whose usual expression is a smirk or one with a stone-cold gaze. Either way, he gives Natalie the creeps.

Gradually, it is noticed that the school is plagued with tragedy. A student commits suicide after being seen talking to Love. Evan’s best friend is nearly killed in a car accident while Love just happens to be with him. Even Ben is not free of the bad luck Love seems to bring. While doing community service at a construction site he is injured in her presence. As Natalie’s suspicions of Love grow, so does her fear. This is not even the tip of the iceberg in this tale.

I am surprised that this story held my attention. I’ve read several YA books and there are some great ones out there, but it is usually a challenge for them to keep me glued to the pages. There are a lot of unanswered questions until the very end and I spent a lot of time pondering where the author was taking me. I think anyone who enjoys YA and mystery will enjoy this. It has a phenomenal ending that I never saw coming. Thank you Ms. Thomas. This is a completely engrossing and entertaining read.

The grading:

  • Genre and general reading age – Young adult for teens and adults who appreciate some good YA.
  • Level of sexuality – These kids are too wrapped up in the drama to dwell on anything sexual.
  • Is there graphic language? I don’t recall any language that would scorch the reader’s eyes.
  • Did I cry? No.
  • Did I laugh? No.
  • Is this part of a series? There is a sequel coming.
  • Level of character development – The characters really didn’t change. They started with almost an adult persona and stayed that way. Other than Natalie cowing up with some wild idea that no one could talk her out of, most were rather sedate.

I’m more than happy to award this book ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars.

Available here on Amazon

The Assassin Game by Kirsty McKay

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This is one of those books that has an intriguing premise, but just doesn’t quite follow through. I picked it up expecting something similar to the classic YA horror of the R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike books that I read as a teenager. It was a good attempt that fell short for me.

The story starts with a remote island that is home to a boarding school for the elite and talented. Unfortunately, our heroine is not in attendance for her academic, artistic, or athletic abilities. Unlike the other students, she is there because her parents happen to own the island. That is part of the reason she is surprised when she is chosen to become a member of the Guild, a not-so secret society of the coolest kids. It begins with her initiation, which is disgusting, but promising. It quickly went downhill from there, though.

The Kill game is a yearly ritual for the Guild. One person is the killer and they must come up with elaborate ways to “kill” the other members, until someone correctly guesses who the killer is. The book spends a good deal of time building doubt about several of the characters, but they do not actually have much interaction with Cate, our heroine. The other major character, Vaughn, is her childhood friend and is the most entertaining element of the book. Alex is the nasty leader, who is obsessed with the game. The rest blur into the background.

The back cover of the book promised danger, but there isn’t much and it is unimpressive. One girl has a robotic spider tossed at her with peanut oil on it, a dangerous attempt due to her allergy. It was supposed to be exciting, but it came across as silly. It wasn’t until the last tenth of the book that it actually picked up its pace. Finally, someone almost dies. It took far too long to get to that point. The ending is ridiculous and it is easy to guess the who, but the why is an utter disappointment.

I found that all of the characters were annoying, even Vaughn, my favorite. This is a YA novel, but the teen aspect was overwhelming and I could not connect with any of the shallow characters. It’s not a small book and I had to force myself to finish it. It turned out to be nothing like the gory, heart-pounding books of my own youth. Sadly, I cannot recommend this to readers, unless they are prepared for a slow, anti-climactic read. The author’s style is appealing. It is all the other parts of a story that are lacking.

Now, for the rating:

  • Genre and general reading age – Young adult and definitely for young adults. I enjoy YA, but this was a little too young.
  • Level of sexuality – There is a tad bit of kissing, but that is all.
  • Is there graphic language? No.
  • Did I cry? Not a tear.
  • Did I laugh? Nope.
  • Is this part of a series? No.
  • Level of character development – Basically non-existent.

I wish I had better news about this book. It is obvious that a lot of hard work went into this story, but the characters were flat and not particularly interesting. There was too much time spent running around in caves or on the beach and not enough actual danger. I am sorry to give it ⭐️⭐️ stars. I had hoped to find a new, exciting author, but I will probably pass on her work in the future.

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