Book Review: Gifts by Laura Barnett

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, my lovely peeps!
Tis the season of sparkly trees and slinging presents at your loved ones.

So, for today’s post, I have a review for a NetGalley book that I’d finished earlier in the month, saved just for today. I had tried to make a full Christmasy/holiday TBR for December, but didn’t have much luck (mostly because I started looking late). But! I did have this lovely book and it was quite a heartwarming read, though sadder than I had anticipated.

Book Description

Title: Gifts
Author: Laura Barnett
Edition: NetGalley > eBook
Length: 308 Pages
Genre/s: Holiday, Short Stories, Fiction

Disclaimer: An eBook copy of this book was provided to me in exchange for a fair and honest review. This did not affect my review and all opinions are mine.

Blurb (Goodreads)


Maddy runs the bookshop on Market Square. She’s struggling to choose a gift (a watch? a wine subscription? a weekend bag? all too much?) for her old school friend Peter, who’s just moved back from London following a messy divorce.
Peter doesn’t have a clue what to get for his teenage daughter Chloe – furious with her mother, she’s decided to up sticks and move to Kent with him, but he worries that he really doesn’t know her at all.
Chloe wants to buy something special for her grandmother Irene, who lives alone on the other side of town.
Irene doesn’t get out much these days, but she’d really like to find the right gift for Alina, who’s so much more than a carer, really – always stops to chat for a bit, have a cup of tea, even if it makes her late.
And Alina, meanwhile, has her eye on something for…

From the no. 1 bestselling author of The Versions of Us comes a novel about how wonderful and sad and difficult and happy and strange Christmas can be. Stories to inspire, move and comfort.


When this book first started out, I thought that it was an alright book, leaning on dull. Even after the first two shorts, I thought it was an okay read, but once I finally settled into it, I actually quite loved the book. Twelve stories, in modern and more recent times (with mentions of the virus and post-lockdown world), revolving around the festive season. I picked this book up because I wanted something for Christmas, though the focus is more on the days before the holiday rather than during; the preparations, decorations, and the days where people start panic hunting for gifts.

I didn’t read the full blurb, having only glanced at the line Twelve People, Twelve Gifts, I had mistaken this for a Christmas short stories book and while each chapter is indeed a short (new narrator/character) the book actually flows in a linear chain; a character mentioned in a previous chapter stars the following chapter and then a character in that chapter will star in the next. Once I realized there was a pattern and feeling the small town vibes from the book (everyone knows everyone somehow) I really began to enjoy the read.

The best part about this is that the chain then proceeds to loop itself. Gifts begins with Maddy, a bookstore owner, looking to buy a gift for a childhood friend (Peter) who is returning home from London, after a nasty divorce. It ends with Fran’s chapter, Maddy’s good friend who is mentioned in the first/Maddy’s chapter, gifting something to Maddy. That small town feeling really hits you in that last chapter when many of the previous chapter’s stars and giftees are present at the holiday party, including some minor characters. The story flows a bit like this: Maddy shopping for Peter, Peter looking for a gift for his daughter, Chloe, who in turn is looking for a gift for her grandmother, Irene, who seeks a gift for her favorite carer, Alina. In Alina’s chapter she looks for something to give to both Irene and for her sister, Daniela and so on.

While I found the first two chapters (Maddy and Peter’s stories) to be somewhat boring, I found most of the rest to be amazing, touching, and heartwarming (heartbreaking too). My favorite story was Jake’s story. His background spanned two chapters (as some others do too), first in Eddy’s chapter, as he looks for a good gift to give his long, but distant friend, Jake and further explained in Jake’s own chapter that follows Eddy’s. As Eddy mentioned, Jake was meant to have been so much more but his father “didn’t give a sod” leaving the man to terribly mess his life up as a teen and adult. It’s heartbreakingly and tragic to see Eddy’s current life and how he’s barely hanging in there, only to find Eddy’s gift to him one morning.

Had I abandoned the book because the beginning was a little meh to me, would have been a tragedy on its own (especially being so early into the game). Had I given up, I wouldn’t have experienced the latter chapters. I’m so glad I stuck with the book because I ended up crying through some chapters (tears merit points all on its own!). Bittersweet, filled with loss and tragedy, but also of friendship and that there’s always someone out there thinking about, of, and for you. This was a lovely read that makes you appreciate the gifts that present themselves to you daily. It doesn’t have to be a physical present, it doesn’t have to be expensive, but actions could be gifts and even items that don’t cost much is enough if you’ve put a lot of thought into it.

A fantastic read that isn’t exactly cozy, with bitter tragedy aplenty, but great to read around the holidays.


Book Review: Woodrow on the Bench: Life Lessons from a Wise Old Dog by Jenna Blum

A dog is a good boy, best boy, and a soul with a pure heart. I’ve never owned one myself, but there was a brief, blessed, period in my life when my aunty and uncle had come to live with us and had brought over their four dogs. By the time they left, years later, I’ve watched them having grown from these tiny little pups to bigger…little pups. I was there to panic with everyone when the smallest of the, remaining, bunch managed to slip through a tiny hole in our fence and into the forest behind our house. I was there when they learned their first tricks. For their vet visits. For their first birthdays. I was there, with my aunty and uncle, when we put one of the four down due to a genetic defect that ended up causing complications. That trip home without our baby was very hard.

They’re gone now, my aunty and uncle living in a different house than we, but I still occasionally see them. The pups are no longer bigs and are so so much bigger now. So much older now too. They’re only at a mid-point in their lives, around 6 or 7, but there comes a day when you look at them and know that time with them is limited. As the author says, it’s almost guaranteed that most owners will out live their precious furbabies. Nobody looks forward to that day and everybody cherishes those last few years.

Book Description

Title: Woodrow on the Bench: Life Lessons from a Wise Old Dog
Author: Jenna Blum
Edition: Library (Libby/audiobook)
Length: 5 hours and 1 minute
Genre/s: Nonfiction, Memoir, Animals > Dogs, Biography

Blurb (Goodreads)

“Woodrow on the Bench is a touching tribute as well as a gripping story that will make you laugh and cry. It will also make you understand the majesty and wisdom imparted by the animals we are lucky to keep by our sides for as long as we can.”—New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Berg

The New York Times and internationally bestselling author of Those Who Save Us pays tribute to her beloved black Lab, Woodrow, in this beautiful memoir that recalls the last six months of his life and the ways in which he taught her to live. 

 “For anyone who’s ever loved an old dog.”

Since she adopted him as a puppy fifteen years earlier, Jenna Blum and Woodrow have been inseparable. Known to many as “the George Clooney of dogs” for his good looks and charm, Woodrow and his “Mommoo” are fixtures in their Boston neighborhood. 

But Woodrow is aging. As he begins to fail, the true nature of his extraordinary relationship with Jenna is revealed. Jenna may be the dog parent, but it is Woodrow, with his amazing personality and trusting nature, who has much to teach her. A divorcée who has experienced her share of sadness and loss, Jenna discovers, over the months she spends caring for her ailing dog, what it is to be present in the moment, and what it truly means to love.

Aided by an amazing group of friends and buoyed by the support of strangers, Jenna and Woodrow navigate these precious final days together with kindness, humor, and grace. Their unforgettable love story will reaffirm your belief in kindness, break your heart, and leave your spirit soaring.


Having lost her father previously, and then her mother recently to cancer, when Woodrow’s gagging sounds prompt a vet visit, she wasn’t expecting it to be congestive heart failure. It’s all too much and she prays, not now…not now…just a little longer, one more year.

“I wasn’t religious, but as on turbulent flights, there were no atheists in emergency rooms.”

Suddenly, Jenna finds herself the owner and fur-mama to a walking pharmacy. It gets hard, occasionally, having to find a way to bring her hundred pound dog down her apartment stairs for their daily walks to the bench across from their home, his health scares that constantly brings him back to the vet, his “yarks” that Woodrow lets out which could either mean he needs something (food, water, etc.) OR explosive diarrhea.

“I switched on the light and we peered over the loft balcony into my study below, where Woodrow was shuttling back and forth in a panic, trying desperately to escape the stream shooting from under his tail.

A police hose blast of poop. ‘Oh my god!’ I said, scrambling out of bed. We raced downstairs.

My study was like a murder scene except with poop instead of blood. It was on Woodrow’s bed, on my bookshelves, on the rugs, on my desk, even on the walls!

Poor Woodrow was bug-eyed. Since day one of puppy training, at eight weeks, he had never, not once, had an accident in the house.”

But she doesn’t mind.
Because Jenna’s trying to cherish these last few years with Woodrow.
And she’s so scared.

This is a heartbreaking book with plenty of tears. I cried in the beginning. I cried in the end.

The book was so touching, moving, and makes me fear for my own pets and for the day my aunty and uncle rings me up to tell me the bad news. The relationship that forms between Woodrow and Jenna isn’t just special, it goes beyond that; into the stars where the bond will forever stay until Jenna reunites with him again. And ever the ladies man, it’s not just Jenna that loves them, but countless other people: neighbors, online fans, friends and family, and even Jenna’s ex-fiance, Jim, a prevalent person in this book.

This beautiful memoir starts with Jenna telling a brief story about Woodrow’s puppy days, but the rest of the book is of his last few years as a senior dog. There’s plenty of vet visits, stories of the different people that Jenna encounters during her daily bench-sits with Woodrow (who can no longer make it any further), friends who go above and beyond to help Woodrow get to swim again, strangers who stop by to help an elder dog who can no longer move from his spot in the snow, people who flock to the bench to celebrate the miracle of his 15th birthday, and so on.

A lovely and wonderful tribute to a dog with an immensely charming personality.

Book Review: Twilight: Losing Sight, Gaining Insight by Henry Grunwald

Book Description

Title: Twilight: Losing Sight, Gaining Insight
Author: Henry Grunwald
Edition: Library (Libby/audiobook)
Length: 2 hours and 57 minutes
Genre/s: Health, Nonfiction, Memoir

Blurb (Goodreads)

In 1992, when Henry Grunwald missed a glass into which he was pouring water, he assumed that he needed new eyeglasses, not that the incident was a harbinger of darker times. But in fact Grunwald was entering the early stages of macular degeneration — a gradual loss of sight that affects almost 15 million Americans yet remains poorly understood and is, so far, incurable. Now, in Twilight, Grunwald chronicles his experience of disability: the clouding of his sight, and the daily struggle to overcome its physical and psychological implications; the discovery of what medicine can and cannot do to restore sight; his compulsion to understand how the eye works, its evolution, and its symbolic meaning in culture and art.

Grunwald gives us an autobiography of the eye — his visual awakening as a child and young man, and again as an older man who, facing the loss of sight, feels a growing wonder at the most ordinary acts of seeing. This is a story not merely about seeing but about living; not merely about losing sight but about gaining insight. It is a remarkable meditation.


I had picked this book up, off the Libby app/local library’s selection of audiobooks, randomly out the blue; a three second glance at the title and blurb, and borrowed it. I realized that, for me, I concentrate better with nonfiction audiobooks than with fiction and it gives off a podcast kind of vibe.

This is a rather shorter book, a memoir written about a man facing vision loss, his journey through it, those that supported him, and how he copes. It opens up nicely:

In the primordial ocean, a tiny organism stirs. It is covered with a light-sensitive pigment, an eye-spot, that seeks the sun and turns the organism toward it. The act is not seeing, but the precursor of seeing. It is part of the fundamental impulse in all living things to reach for light, part of the indomitable will to see.

We come back to this fact at least once, later on in the book, and much of the writing is like this. Sometimes there’s facts and history followed by musing and applying that to the author, Henry Grunwald’s, current life. It’s a bit philosophical in sense and this means that occasionally, the book can be quite dry. In fact, a lot of the book is dry and sometimes drags a little bit.

Still, this book throws lots of fun information at you, such as the history of eye medicine, historical and famous people who have suffered eye disease, and how other’s cope with vision loss. in the past and now, in modern days. You learn about neat historical facts like: Napoleon’s European campaign and how almost half of the French troops contradicted serious and painful eye diseases, like fire and needles pushed into the balls of the eyes, and how it contributed to the campaign’s failure, resulting in a push for stronger eye research in Europe.

You get moments that leaves you thinking, pondering about your own thoughts and actions. There was a question in the book, what would you do if you had only a day left before blindness? Henry noted the two [main] types of actions one could take, that he was the latter of: Would you go to tour the world and see what you’ve never and may never see again or would you devour the small everyday details around you? How the clouds move at different speeds, the fluff of the squirrel moving in the wind, taking in the view of the flowers you pass by every morning, carving the shape of letters into your memory everytime you see a newspaper or book…

You don’t often think about things like “sight-bites” that impacts your life deeply, not until your vision begins to fail you at least: quick glance at a letter pile to see if it’s all junk or bills, eyeballing your cabinets for spices and medicine, guesstimating quantities in jars in seconds, eyes skirting magazine cover titles as you pass them in groceries and so on…

Much of this book was dry and at times, I found myself zoned out and I had to rewind back to listen again on parts I heard but didn’t listen to. There were moments where I wondered, “What is this chapter about again?” It’s a bit boring, but then you throw in some interesting facts like the Napoleon campaign at the end of the 18th century, things like pondering over “sight-bites”, thinking about how you take small things for granted, and questions to wonder about such as whether you would “see it all, or see the small things” one last time before blindness and it comes out to be a rather good book.

Book Review: Escape Clause by John Sandford

Book Description

Title: Escape Clause
Book # 9 Series: Virgil Flowers
Author: John Sandford
Edition: Ebook > Kindle | Library (Libby/ebook) | Library (Libby/audiobook)
Length: 505 pages | 9 hours 55 minutes
Genre/s: Mystery, Thriller, Crime, Suspense, Police

TW/CW: Blood & Gore, implied sexual activities, drug abuse, animal kidnapping, animal harm, animal death, murder, dismemberment, mutilation of bodies, guns

Book Blurb (GR)

Whenever you hear the sky rumble, that usually means a storm. In Virgil Flowers’ case, make that two. The exceptional new thriller from the writer whose books are “pure reading pleasure” (Booklist)

The first storm comes from, of all places, the Minnesota zoo. Two large, and very rare, Amur tigers have vanished from their cage, and authorities are worried sick that they’ve been stolen for their body parts. Traditional Chinese medicine prizes those parts for home remedies, and people will do extreme things to get what they need. Some of them are a great deal more extreme than others — as Virgil is about to find out.

Then there’s the homefront. Virgil’s relationship wi th his girlfriend Frankie has been getting kind of serious, but when Frankie’s sister Sparkle moves in for the summer, the situation gets a lot more complicated. For one thing, her research into migrant workers is about to bring her up against some very violent people who emphatically do not want to be researched. For another…she thinks Virgil’s kind of cute.

“You mess around with Sparkle,” Frankie told Virgil, “you could get yourself stabbed.”
“She carries a knife?”
“No, but I do.”

Forget a storm – this one’s a tornado.


It’s the ninth book in the Virgil Flowers series and ‘that fucking Flowers’ is back at it again. Having started off as a spin-off from the main, Prey/Lucas Davenport series, nine is a huge number. It means he’s got nine adventures to his name and not one has let me down so far. Having just recently come off a case where he investigated a corrupt school board, which happened to take place in the same area and town as a local dog-napping case, Virgil’s got himself a nice round up of achievements and quite the reputation. Having managed to track and save those missing dogs…?

Exactly the skill set we need, because we have a HUGE problem.

A pair of tigers have been tiger-napped from the zoo, two gorgeous and very rare Amur tigers. Best case scenario? Some animal-rights activists wanted to take the tigers and broadcast about saving them from the horrors of zoos. Worst case? The beautiful cats could end up slaughtered and turned into traditional medicine and the longer the cats are gone, the more bleak the outcome seems to be.

As with most of Sandford’s other books, the readers already know who the big bad are. Sometimes names are given, sometimes just initials, but in Escape Clause we all know, in the very first chapter, who they are, names included. It’s just a matter in waiting and seeing if Virgil can guess on who they are. It adds to a layer of the suspense because, knowing the exact moves of the antagonists at all times, we know which direction both parties are taking and the colder Virgil gets, in the case, the more panic starts to bubble in your stomach. If they get away with it, well…it won’t be the first case that Virgil lets a few criminals slip into a territory that he has no control over. So even though we know whodunit upfront, it doesn’t guarantee that Virgil will ever find them.

The plot was outstanding and while I was a little skeptical at first, Virgil included, this ended up being an amazing read. Here is, what seemed to be another animal-napping case (and Virgil hopes he won’t end up with a reputation where all animal cases ends up at his desk), but when the bodies start piling and stakes are starting to look very high, things start to pick up and snowball.

The antagonists here were written really well, especially as the plot begins to get moving. This time around, I especially loved one of the handful of antagonists, him being the mastermind and all. The man pops his Xanax pills like it’s a handful of candy and it was interesting to watch him go from a controlled calm to downright desperate. I’ve seen plenty of bad guys start losing their minds when anxiety gets to their head, but the downward spiral here was especially steep that it almost felt maddening. This time, both sides are having it rough and the anxiety and fear is just seeping through. The way Sandford wrote his declining mental stabilities (and abilities) was one of the heart-racing moments of the book.

Like with his other books (at least the Virgil Flowers ones) there’s a main plot and one or two side plots/cases happening at once. This time around, Virgil is reaaally feeling the effect of multiple cases (eyeballs on him, breaths down his neck, and such). He’s exhausted his energy from poor sleep and starting to exhaust his leads and ideas too. Besides the tiger case, he also has to sideline in tracking down a couple of people who had beaten his girlfriend, Frankie, up, having mistaken her for her sister, Sparkle. Sparkle was in town investigating a case on her own, for her thesis, and there are people who really don’t want her exposing things.

In this case, being personally connected to the victim, it’d be trouble if Virgil investigated himself and thus, comes a cross-over and returning character! One of my favorite characters from the small handful of Prey/Lucas Davenport books I’ve read, Catrin Mattson had helped Davenport on a case, her involvement and aid so impressive that she’d been recruited into the BCA. She’s BADASS and I was elated to see her show up here in Virgil Flowers.

Now speaking of returning characters, Shrake & Jenkins, the BCA’s “thugs” are back to help lend a hand anytime Virgil needs manpower or just a set of “mafia looking men” to help intimidate sometime into spitting out some clues or verbally squeezing truths out of people. I always love these three’s interactions because it’s somewhat amusing and funny; the perfect breather to nonstop action and emotional grime.

“As they drove away from the medical examiner’s office, Jenkins said to Virgil, “Better you than me.”
“Giving those guys your business card. They got nothing to contribute, but they’re gonna call you every fifteen minutes.”
“Don’t think so,” Virgil said.
“You saw them, how freaked out they are,” Jenkins said. “I got a hundred dollars that they’ll call you fifteen times a day. At least fifteen times a day.”
“You’re on,” Virgil said.
Jenkins examined him for a moment, then said, “You’re too confident.”
“Because I gave them one of Shrake’s business cards,” Virgil said.
Shrake, in the backseat said, “What? What?”
Jenkins snorted and said to Virgil, “You’re my new role model.”
“You really couldn’t do much better,” Virgil said.
Shrake’s phone rang and Jenkins started laughing.

One thing I particularly liked was that Virgil is finally getting serious with Frankie. Previously, I’d mentioned that I read the Prey books out of order and most of what I know about Davenport is when he was in his older, calmer, and settled stages in life (and so was pretty surprising and interesting to go back and read the first books where Davenport had been more…wild with women). Similarly, most of what I know about Virgil (as I at least read most of this series’ books in order) had been him hitting up nearly every chick in sight. It got to be somewhat annoying as time passed on, so to see him start turning down date invites because he’s now in a serious relationship? I like this new Virgil.

Final Thoughts

5 Stars
All in all, a great book. Started out somewhat slow with Virgil stuck, leaving him somewhat idle and able to investigate into Frankie/Sparkle’s case, but not participate due to connection with victim reasons. When things pick up, it really picks up and Virgil goes from sitting around to losing sleep as one thing happens after another. The climax and ending was one of the best parts because you’re pitting a man who’s so doped up with drugs, exhaustion, and desperation to save himself against a just as desperate [to solve the case] and exhausted man. If the beginning were small tea spoon sips, the climax and ending were giant gobbles.

[Book Review] Neo Cyberpunk: The Anthology

While I’ve been interested in sci-fi books a little more [and more] in the last few years, I decided to further dive into all three genres of sci-fi, cyberpunk, and dystopian, all of which are genres that I scarcely read (not because I avoid them but because they’re never genres I’ve actively sought out before). But thanks to games, specifically Cyberpunk 2077 and Astral Chain, I’ve been more and more interested in this bleak and dystopic future world full of technologically enhanced human beings. Cyberpunk felt like a world of despair, last chance survivals (for the human race), and where there is a valley between the rich and poor, rather than just a class gap. It feels like humanity going towards advancement and took the wrong turn somewhere, ending up in a remote and desolate location of nothing but sand and “no service.”

I’ve never been one for short stories (so I guess we can add that to the list of new things I tried and liked), but I thought that if I were to go into a brand genre, one of the best ways to do so is to grab an anthology of shorts, take a deep breath, and dive right in exploring every reef, critter, and bubble that you encounter in the depth of this new world.

There were a handful of other, more known, anthologies out there that I could have chosen, such as Burning Chrome, but I was attracted by the very blue cover (even more blue in real life) and of course the android on the front.

Book Description

Title: Neo Cyberpunk: The Anthology
Authors: Anna Mocikat, Matthew A. Goodwin, Marlin Seigman, Elias J. Hurst, Jon Richter, A.W. Wang, Matt Adcock, Nik Whittaker, Mark Everglade, Tanweer Dar, James L. Graetz, Patrick Tillett, Eric Malikyte, Benjamin Fisher-Merritt, and Luke Hancock
Edition: Physical > Paperback
Length: 369 Pages
Genre: Fiction, Science Fiction, Sci-fi > Cyberpunk, Sci-fi > Dystopian, Anthology

This was a pretty interesting book, a total of 15 short stories by different authors. The theme for all of theme is cyberpunk of course, but you get everything from jacking in, to gangs, to VR games, and…neurolinking to a crocodile. Some of the stories are lighter than the others, but there’s no real pretty light going on. Everything is bleak. At one point I stopped reading, stared at a wall, and went, “Man the future feels pretty sad.” There are some stories that felt a bit like fables, teaching a lesson somehow, and others that were downright intriguing to look back and think about. There are some interesting technological things happening and there are some stories that left you pondering and thinking.

Overall, I thought this was a lovely book and I had a great time with it! It’s a nice way to start exploring the genre too. I will eventually try to read Burning Chrome too, a recommendation that was provided to me during the Cyberpunk Day stream (by others in the chat) and I’m glad I ventured to try new things because it feels like the beginning of a new friendship to me.

“Defined in shorthand by the phrase, ‘high tech / low life,’ cyberpunk is so much more than rainy nights, neon lights, cybernetic enhancements, flying cars, digital worlds, and punks fighting an oppressive establishment.

It is a genre of philosophical questions about the nature of society, humankind’s relationship with technology, and what it means to be human. Growing out of a time where technology was becoming all the more omnipresent, laws governing corporations were slackening, and fashion was becoming about form over function, the questions raised by cyberpunk have only become more vital.”

Excerpt of Foreword by Matthew A Goodwin


A clone searching for her identity, an android out of control, a young man fleeing from killer-cyborgs, a synthwave DJ whose music slays, a deadly videogame – and a very hungry cyber-croc.

Welcome to the world of Neo Cyberpunk!

Fifteen of the hottest contemporary cyberpunk authors have joined forces to create a unique anthology. In this book readers will find the full spectrum of modern-day cyberpunk, full of action, mystery, technology and humanity.

Cyberpunk is Now!

Microreviews [for each story]

  1. Vice Grip by Matthew A Goodwin ⭐⭐⭐⭐ I liked it. Writing and story kind of like a fable. Teaches a lesson somehow.
  2. We Are the Good Guys by Anna Mocikat ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Damn life sure sucks for MC. Nothing is ever so easy in life, especially if you live in a corporate future.
  3. Collateral by Marlin Seigman ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5 So interesting that this was written in a kind of deadpan tone. Really mimics the emotionally repressed MC that tells the story.
  4. Cleaners by Jon Richter ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ This was absolutely outstanding and brilliant story with a fantastic twist at the end. Great prose too!
  5. The Volunteer by A.W. Wang ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ VR setting like sword art online with lots to lose! Another fantastic one. I loved the MC’s character portrayal of a jaded and tired man with no more hope or shits left to give. Nothing but survival and one foot in front of the other left for MC. Poor guy.
  6. Requiem by Nik Whittaker ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Interesting, kind of cool, kind of creepy.
  7. The Woman In White by Elias J. Hurst ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Interesting and exciting! I liked how this one played through and ended.
  8. Buzz Kill 2.0 by Matt Adcock ⭐⭐⭐ Not for me, my worst nightmare come true. Bugs but extra deadly. Concept is pretty neat though.
  9. Pay-To-Play by Mark Everglade ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Prose is choppy choppy! Somewhere between or maybe a mix of street slang and poetry, but falls short of purple. Descriptive. Chaotic and exciting, just like the story. Makes for an interesting read. Cool world and thought that the writing during the drunk scene was pretty spot on!
  10. The Demonstration by Tanweer Dar ⭐⭐⭐⭐ AI’d androids are never good news. Their growing intelligence is terrifying, especially when paired with their capabilities.
  11. Crushed (A Neo Rackham Short) by Eric Malikyte ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Crushed is right! Crushed my heart! This was a depressing read with a depressing ending…
  12. Cybercroc by James L. Graetz ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5 Always intrigued about human to beat soul/mind links and connections. Kind of neat and quite cool. Honestly, what a wild short and concept.
  13. The Thirst of the Machine by Benjamin Fisher-Hermitt ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Loved all the ads every few seconds! Truly living the future world of corporations. It’s like the algorithm ads that pop up no except taken to a crazy level! Enjoyed the mystery and didn’t see that ending coming!
  14. Breakneck by Luke Hancock ⭐⭐⭐.5 Interesting to think about a world of people addicted to games as they would drugs, nicotine, or alcohol. Sure, we have gaming addicts now, but these people are willing to DIE for this.
  15. The Modern Panoptes by Patrick Tillett ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Wow! One hell of a way to end a cyberpunk anthology! Really left me thinking! The adrenaline, the speed, the world that left the poor in the dust of the rich. Amazing time through and through with a great ending.

Book Review: Murder in the Village by Lisa Cutts

Book Description

Title: Murder in the Village
Author: Lisa Cutts
Narrator: Lucy Paterson
Edition: Audiobook (NetGalley)
Length: 7 Hours, 31 Minutes
Genre: Mystery, Mystery > Cozy Mystery, Contemporary, Fiction, Mystery > Crime

Disclaimer: A huge thank you to the author, publisher, and to NetGalley. An audiobook copy was provided to me in exchange for a fair and honest review. This does not affect my review in any way and all opinions are my own.


Blurb (Goodreads)

Nothing ever happens in Little Challham… until the local pub owner is drowned in his own ale. Belinda Penshurst, owner of Challham Castle, is on the case!

Belinda Penshurst loves her home village Little Challham, with its shady lanes, two pubs and weekly market, and she’s determined to keep it peaceful. She may live in Challham Castle but she knows almost everything that goes on under her nose. So when irritable pub landlord Tipper is found dead in his cellar, she’s perfectly placed to investigate.

Retired detective Harry Powell moved to Little Challham for a quiet life. He didn’t expect to be dragged into a murder investigation. But the police don’t seem half as enthusiastic as Belinda about the case, and there are strange things happening in the village. Particularly the number of dogs that have disappeared lately…

Is there a dognapper snaffling schnauzers and luring away Labradors? Is Belinda barking mad to be worried that her brother Marcus was arguing with Tipper on the day he died? Belinda and Harry track down the suspects: the rival landlord, the outraged barmaid, the mysterious man in the black car following dogwalkers around. But are the dogged detectives running out of time to sniff out the killer, before he starts hounding them?


I rarely read cozy mysteries, preferring the adrenaline rush of thrillers, but I decided to give a couple a try and Murder in the Village by Lisa Cutts happened to be one of them. The story takes place in a the small village of Little Challham where everybody seems to know everybody on a first name basis. Everything’s peaceful and the Belinda Penshurt intends to keep it that way…Unfortunately for her, a local pub landlord named Tipper is found dead, floating, in his cellar and Belinda decides that she must get to the bottom of this.

On the other hand, retired detective Harry Powell has left his old life of murder investigations behind to settle down and move to this peaceful Little Challham. Restless and itchy for just one last case, who knew it was going to be a murder that answers his wish! Suddenly he finds himself dragged into that case, and another, case involving dog-napping!

I thought the story was alright. There were tiny twists and to my surprise, it was even slightly thrilling (not on a full blown thriller level of course, but the tiny sparks of raised brows and molecules of adrenaline are there!). One after another, the tiny peaceful village of Little Challham goes from peace and quiet to a string of murders!

The pacing was alright, though a bit slow in a few places but overall, the story was pretty good. I thought it was interesting and I suspected just about everyone in town except for the two protagonists (because how could I, the series is named after one of them so they can’t be part of book two if they’re in jail right?). My favorite part about mysteries? I’m always wrong and I’m always surprised.

The relationship between Belinda and Harry was pretty interesting and it’s a slow burn for sure, both having been hurt by previous relationships to want to jump into a new one, at least not for the time being. They like to throw little bites at each other but otherwise work well as a team and the two of them were able to uncover more than the police could ever do! Their relationship was based around humor and trust and I kind of enjoy bits of it.

Belinda herself I wasn’t too keen on. I’m not sure how most cozy mysteries and amateur sleuths go, so maybe this is the norm with these kinds of books, but I found her to be a bit annoying, snoopy, and I just didn’t enjoy her character much. Of course, I appreciated her snoops because, again, her poking her nose nearly everywhere ended up with her sniffing out the best of clues and help solve the crime when even the police didn’t seem to make much headway in either cases.

My main problem with her was that she was quick to accuse people, especially those she disliked so maybe that’s why I didn’t like her being nosy. A bit of clues and suddenly it was “Ah ha! I remember so and so wearing this color fabric! They’re involved!” She did grow on me by the end, but for most of the book I’d much rather listen to the parts about Harry finding a lead than Belinda.

Overall a pretty good book to keep me company. I enjoyed listening to the narrator and the plotline and story was simple but nice. Two people snooping around places they shouldn’t until they hit the jackpot and crack open a case even the local police couldn’t. There is a good and humorous relationship between Harry and Belinda and I enjoyed their little bantering moments. Together, they make for an awesome team!

Book Review: Dragon Mage by M.L. Spencer

((Did you know that piano music could be so…cute? It’s what I’m listening to while writing this and
I think it’s adorable 🥰))

Ever get told that you shouldn’t take firework videos and to “just live in the moment?” No video can ever capture the true joy and experience of the firework. The colors that splash across other people’s faces, the power of the blasts that ripples through your chest with every blow…a video simply isn’t the same.

My review won’t show you how many tears I shed or how many times my heart was shredded to pieces.
The leaps of joy, the excitement and sheer thrill of reading Aram’s first flight on a dragon, the helpless heartbreak of watching someone die and not being able to do anything because you’re on the other side of the page. All of that.

Book Description

Title: Dragon Mage
Author: M.L. Spencer
Publisher: Stoneguard Publications
Edition: Physical Hardcover Copy
Pages: 818 Pages (Hardcover)
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy > Dragon, Fantasy > High Fantasy, Fantasy > Magic, Adult

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book as part of a giveaway hosted by Storytellers On Tour. This doesn’t affect my review in any way and all opinions are my own.

Thank you so much to both SOT and the author for sending me with a copy of the book!


Aram Raythe has the power to challenge the gods. He just doesn’t know it yet.

Aram thinks he’s nothing but a misfit from a small fishing village in a dark corner of the world. As far as Aram knows, he has nothing, with hardly a possession to his name other than a desire to make friends and be accepted by those around him, which is something he’s never known.

But Aram is more. Much, much more.

Unknown to him, Aram bears within him a gift so old and rare that many people would kill him for it, and there are others who would twist him to use for their own sinister purposes. These magics are so potent that Aram earns a place at an academy for warrior mages training to earn for themselves the greatest place of honor among the armies of men: dragon riders.

Aram will have to fight for respect by becoming not just a dragon rider, but a Champion, the caliber of mage that hasn’t existed in the world for hundreds of years. And the land needs a Champion. Because when a dark god out of ancient myth arises to threaten the world of magic, it is Aram the world will turn to in its hour of need.


I have never read anything by M.L. Spencer before Dragon Mage and now that I’ve gone and finished the book, I know I have to take a look at the rest of her series. Spanning nearly a thousand pages, every page that I read felt a countdown towards the inevitable end. Savoring the words didn’t help and by the time I was halfway there, it didn’t feel at all like I’d just thrown down 400 pages. It was a long read that didn’t feel long. In fact, it left me feeling like there could be more and I wouldn’t have minded. My remaining few days with the book were inhaled in a single evening, the last few chapters too good for me to put the book down. I sacrificed sleep to finish this book and while it wasn’t a good idea to do so, it was totally worth it! By the time I’d closed it, I was in a drunken stupor, unable to process anything that was happening around me.

It was good. It was good good.

Storyline and Plot

The story revolves around Aramon Raythe (Aram), a young misfit boy from a small fishing village. All his life, Aram has known that he was a little different. No matter how he’d try to change himself to fit in, none of the others wanted to play with him. He doesn’t know why or how he’s different, but he knows he is. He’s different because he can see in color, beautiful colors that surround everyone, giving away their true nature; whether they were warm and friendly, spiteful and mean, or downright dangerous. However, he’s not just different in that sense. The ability to see colors is a sign of a deeper power within him, a power that’s strong enough to contest with the gods. But, he must keep his powers hidden for there are people who would love to twist and wring that very power from him for their own good by means of agonizing extractions ending in death after years and years of torture.

There’s so much to this story. No matter what genre, I tend to avoid standalones because I’m always left craving for more and there’s never enough. I left satisfied at the end, but it’s the satisfied that just barely keeps me going. Like hunger, it’ll die down and soon I’ll be aching for the next book again.

This book was labelled as a coming of age book [on Goodreads]. You follow the story of a boy, and his best friend Markus, from their youth to their adulthood. Aram starts off as a 12 year old boy and Markus is two years his senior in the beginning of the book. By the end Aram is 18 and we watch him grow and learn through the years. In the beginning, Aram is still pretty young, though at a ready age to be apprenticed to others. Later on, there’s a handful of chapters where Aram tries and struggles to fit into a new life as he begins the next stage in a school (designed to train Wardens and Sorcerers). There’s progress and a couple of time skips in between as well. Through all of it, he finds himself as student under multiple people some who means well for him and others not so much.

For a better part of the beginning, it felt like there was this constant pressure of mistrust and maybe even of doom. It’s this lingering loneliness that follows Aram and Markus as they go about not knowing who could be trusted only to realize that they probably couldn’t trust a single soul around them other than each other. There’s this haunting and hunted feeling to every chapter and almost feels like wolves forcing a couple of sheep to live with them, swearing they won’t hurt the sheep. Say no and you die but say yes and you live every day feeling like today’s the day they finally eat me.

There’s no room to breath and this sense of doom and danger follows the two through most of the book. From the very beginning, there is plenty of death and nobody dies a merciful death here. Some of the killings are downright disgusting and sadistic. The worst part is, unlike a movie, you can’t turn away from it! The enemy does not discriminate on who they kill, just that they do.

Relationships and Bonds

One of my favorite things in this book are the relationships. I found it to be an outstanding part of the book that made it a special read. All of the bonds throughout gave me such a fantastically warm feeling because there is probably no love greater than the love that was displayed here. It was a soothing feeling considering how terrifying everything else in the story was. You know…no matter how bad it gets, at least you have your friends, mentors, and your dragon who will kill anyone who tries to harm you.

The most important bond was between Aram and Markus, the Champion and his Warden. I felt like the relationship and bond between Aram and Markus was deeper than any other bond in the entire book and the story focused heavily on it from both of their POVs. Markus knew Aram way before any of the other characters did. They’re from the same fishing village and two years Aram’s senior, Markus already had this feeling that he was responsible in making sure Aram was safe (and now that I’m looking back, I feel like I know why he felt that tug). In the very beginning, he’d saved Aram from a beating as the boy had been ambushed by a group of village bullies, mocking him for his strangeness. And this protectiveness from Markus to Aram extends through the entire book. Their friendship was so amazingly strong that it was inspiring!

“He didn’t know how much longer he could stand it, but he knew that, if he fell, then Aram would die. And he was convinced that if Aram died, a small but wonderous part of the world would die with him.
So he stood in defiance of the flames as they ravaged the air around him, until he felt his skin start to scorch. And even then, he did not cower or falter.
Even in the face of death, he stood.”

The other bonds, in the book, were very important and just as fascinating too. I’m not familiar with dragon books, lore, stories, movies, or anything else related to dragons. I have only ever come across ONE dragon book, in my life, and it’s sitting in the deepest part of my shelf unread save for a happy few pages when I’d gone and skimmed it. The dragon and riders here are soul-bound. When one goes, so will the other. Their bond is so immensely deep that nothing can sever this, not even death. They can communicate without words and they can feel each other’s pain. Between a dragon and its rider, it’s almost like one soul in two bodies and one would not survive the tragic death of the other.

“There’s two bodies here: the dragon and its rider.” In answer to Aram’s confused look, she explained, “If a rider dies before their dragon, the dragon carries their body off somewhere, usually to a beautiful place, and wraps around them just like this. Then the dragon dies and becomes stone. That way, they’re together forever.”

The Action Scenes and Magic System

I found the magic system to be intriguing, amusing, creative, and fascinating. The world that Aram sees are full of colors and strands of aether. The magic system in this world works in that Aram, and other Savants, can manipulate these strands of energy into different knots and there are an amazing amount of different knots for different uses. Knots are important to both those who use it to fight and significant to even those whom are not fighters themselves (fishing villages and their nets, the knots used to tie necklaces for their loved ones, and as Aram explained, even our clothes are essentially giant fabrics made up of tiny knots).

Strands can be read and those who can see them are able to gather information about events that happen from a long distance away and that news lingers for a long time. In combat, strands can be manipulated into all sorts of things such as hardening them into a shield, using it to draw out heat from fire, weaving (and that’s the term they often use here) blankets and cocoons of them for protection, turning it into spears, whips, and even a web that collapses into a boulder. Thinking of it as art and art being endless imagination, by using strands, the possibilities are nearly infinite and it’s the creativity that grabbed my attention the most. Personally, if you gave me a bunch of string and told me that I can manipulate it in any way I want, that it’s my “weapon”, I wouldn’t have even thought of hardening strings of energy into a shield!

The action and fight scenes themselves are plentiful and very unforgiving, but outstanding and terrifying. With the combination of magic and weapons, you’ll find yourself at the center of chaotic scenes where a moment’s hesitation would be the end of you. There’s no endless rallies against each other and some of the fighting is relatively quick because it’s meant to be so. Nobody has endless stamina after all.

Contrary to what most people think, a swordfight is not a dance. It should be brief, and it should be brutal.”

Then there are the Shields and Warden, people who are impervious to magic. No magic works on them because they’re essentially magic proof, with Wardens and the Truly Impervious being more powerful than the average Shields. They’re purpose is to guard their sorcerers or Champion from magical harm while working together as if they were one person.

So, when it comes to fighting you get this mixture of shields and magically resistant people and then you get people flinging both magic and weapons at each other. The battlefield, I imagine, becomes this spectacular gallery of colors with fire and lightning bolts, literally a rainbow of dragons, a sky of riders piercing through and then mixed in with apparently what is essentially zombies of their own mixture of colors. Throw in auras and strands and I can only imagine what Aram must see in the world.

And when you include characters that you love, with death not caring who you love best, each fight and each battle is a dance that is engrossing to watch, gripping and sometimes unbearably long even if it’s only a mere few pages.


There are multiple amazing characters. I absolutely loved Aram and found it hard to hate him or find any flaws in him. He lacks in confidence and I just wanted to give the poor kid a hug. A lifetime of being shunned and a misfit, no matter how much effort he puts in to try to fit in, doesn’t just poke holes in your confidence, it takes off the entire bottom of the pail and lets the water run free away! He works on his confidence and there are moments where he allows himself to feel a bit of pride, but no matter what, he always finds a way to humble himself back down, seeing no way in accepting a praise without it feeling like gloating. I found him to be such an endearing character and I honestly haven’t loved a character so much in so long.

Markus is two years older and he’s been Aram’s longest, and for the most of Aram’s life, his only friend. He was there to protect the boy when he was getting a beat down from bullies at the beginning of the book and the two are inseparable. He would die for Aram (and Aram for him) and is always there to lend a shoulder, especially seeing that Aram can be a bit of a trouble magnet. Because you know…being a chosen one means you’re always going to be a bad luck and trouble magnet.

There are an amazing amount of strong female characters in the book as well such as Wingmaster Vandra, built like a mountain, who is like a mentor to Aram, one of many. She was one of the first to believe in Aram when the other [adults] and even Aram himself, didn’t. There’s also Calise who’s magic differs from Aram’s ability to see and manipulate strands. A healer, her magic comes from within and is the second person Aram calls a friend.

There is also the Council members, the dragons who all have their own personalities, words not needed, and of course Aram’s gaggle of fellow students who later on becomes his friends. Every time the bunch of them hang out, it’s trouble because that’s what friends do. They joke and fool around and get into trouble. I quite enjoyed them around because there were enough of them that made the scenes feel rowdy…but happy and warm! Seeing that Aram struggled so hard to make friends growing up, their willingness to be his group of buddies make them even more special.


I think it’s been years since I felt so invigorated after finishing a book, and years since I loved a book as much as I did. The worldbuilding was amazing, the characters were vibrant and wonderfully done, the fighting scenes were brutal and deaths are very unforgivingly awful. Some are so vivid I can still see them in my head… The writing, language, and storytelling was brilliant, smooth, and perfect. There is a steady character development and growth, beautiful bonds between friends, mentors and students, and dragons.

It’s a delightful read, one that I sorely missed. The book went down in a hungry way like I haven’t done since maybe middle school and all 800+ pages of it was gobbled up in a few days. There is a beautiful magic system full of creativity and with the combination of people who are null to magic, and warriors who fight with weapons, the fighting scenes are completely absorbing to read through and full of surprises, never a dull moment.

It’s fast paced, never a moment to stop and breath. There was a constant feeling of looming threat from the beginning and even when the duo were relatively safe, tiny bits of this danger and doom feeling still made it’s way into the warmest of chapters like miasma that just wouldn’t leave. There’s often plenty of devastating news to witness and very early on, M. L. Spencer is already not kind to her characters. Death is plenty, undiscriminating, and brutal. You’ll want to grab your heart now before the book takes it from you and rips it up (don’t worry, it’ll offer to stitch it back up for you later, sort of).

An utterly fantastic read that left me speechless and with a massive book hangover. I cannot wait for the adventure to continue in book 2.


5 Stars
5 Cups of Joe
Because an infinite rating would be a caffeine overdose and I can’t die before book two comes out.

Book Review: Shadow Prey by John Sandford

I’m a huge fan of John Sandford’s Virgil Flowers series and if you’d seen a few of my other posts or have followed me on my social media, you’d know that I simply NEEDED to have Sandford’s latest book Ocean Prey because it is one of the few (maybe first) books where Virgil Flowers and Lucas Davenport worked together on a case.

I initially wanted to get through my current TBR for the Prey and Virgil Flowers series before reading Ocean Prey, but now that I’m done with Shadow Prey (Book 2 of the Prey series) and Deadline (Book 8 of the Virgil Flowers series) I thought, I might as well get caught up with (at least) the rest of the VF books before starting on Ocean Prey. In the meantime, I wanted to get as close as I can with the Prey books as well.

Book Description

Title: Shadow Prey (Book 2 of Lucas Davenport/Prey series)
Author: John Sandford
Edition: Paperback
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Pages: 449
Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller, Mystery > Crime, Mystery > Police Procedural, Suspense

TW/CW: Violence and gore, graphic violence, blood, language, rape, rape of minor, child exploitations

Blurb (Goodreads)

A slumlord butchered in Minneapolis…A rising political star executed in Manhattan…A judge slashed to death in Oklahoma City…

Each victim has a history of bad behavior, but the only thing the killings have in common is the murder weapon—a Native American ceremonial knife—and a trail of blood that leads to an embodiment of evil known only as Shadow Love. Recruited to be the lethal hand of a terrorist campaign, Shadow Love has his own bloody agenda, one he will do anything to achieve.

Enlisted to find him are Minneapolis police lieutenant Lucas Davenport and New York City police officer Lily Rothenburg. But despite the countrywide carnage they needn’t look far. Because Shadow Love is right behind them.


General Review / Storyline

I didn’t know what to expect going into the Prey series. By now, I’ve read about 9 out of 13 Virgil Flowers books so I have a rough guess of how Virgil will act in most of them. But, my experience with Davenport has been limited to his introduction in book 1 and the only other Prey book I’ve read so far, Field of Prey, way out in book 24. Other than these two, Davenport’s only other appearances are quick (usually over the phone) cameos in the Virgil Flowers books. In VF, he’s a relatively calmer person and generally mostly pissed about Virgil’s forgetting to carry his gun, “better not be on that boat” (Virgil likes to fish and yes, tends to bring his boat around to cases), and “wtf bro it’s 4am, what’s SO urgent at 4am” grumpiness.

So in short, I know Davenport as an older and highly experience veteran at his job, the mentor and supervisor to Virgil. By the time I’m seeing him around in Virgil’s books, he’s generally settled down (personality and life).

It’s pretty interesting to get to know Davenport backwards. It’s a younger and more wild side of Davenport that I’ve not seen before. But, even if we’re reading chronically, there’s still something different in book two’s Davenport versus book one. I can’t figure it out, but he does feel even more wild in this book, but it may be due to his experience in the first book with maddog. What happened in the end with Shadow Love and Jennifer sent chills up my spine because he’s a cold cold man.

This whole book is disgusting and I’m practically cheering the antagonists on the entire way through. The story opens up to a prologue of a very young girl being raped by cops and the length that the government and higher ups take to cover up the incident is just awful. One of the cops even gets away with it and by the time we return to present day (chapter one), he’s well on his way to an office position.

The killings are planned by two older Native American men who are known as the Crows to the community. They’ve orchestrated for the deaths of multiple people, all of whom have wrong the Native American communities in their own way, with their final killing aimed at someone very high up. There’s also multiple people who help act on the plan which is where the first killing happens and Davenport is called in to investigate.

I thought that the plot was already fast to begin with. We literally have killing after killings and there’re not even all in Minnesota. There is one that took place in New York, same method, same weapon, which brings us Lily Rothenburg who is here to help investigate as the case is now crossing state lines. The body count couldn’t go up any faster and there’s nothing that Davenport can do. This time, he can just barely manage to get the help of his usual connections on the streets. After all, the killings were aimed at some awful people who have been exploiting and harming the Native American community. I didn’t feel sorry for any of those that died.

The beginning is already fast and relentless, unforgiving, but by the time the middle rolls around it becomes intense. Things pick up even faster than they already were and there are multiple scenes that had me going “OMG”.


Our police-on-a-loan who came to help investigate the case, all the way from New York, is Lily Rothenburg. She’s an interesting character who is very loyal to her husband, but eventually we learn that things might not appear as they seem and Lucas spends a good deal of the book chasing after her. I thought that they were a fantastic pair. They were competent and piggy backed ideas and plans off each other. They watched each other’s back and were easy to bond with as their relationship builds off a sort of rivalry between each other. Only, they’re both already taken. Lily has David, who is an intelligent professor and a great husband to Lily. Davenport is with Jennifer, who he has a kid with but isn’t married to, as Davenport makes for a great father but a shitty partner. Davenport knows that chasing after Lily will bring nothing but heartache (no exceptions). Lily knows that accepting this fling with Davenport will bring nothing but pain and guilt. There’s no winning.

The antagonists are the Crows, their son Shadow Love (they both slept with his mother around the same time and so nobody really knows who is the real father), along with a group of other Native Americans who are there to help carry out the plan to it’s full potential. Most of them are very set on their goals and so his Shadow Love, who is intent on helping, but he’s a little different. Shadow Love is very nearly psychopathic and hard to control. Even the Crows are a little weary, scared even, of him.

And, while he is ready to aid his fathers in their goal of essentially declaring war, he’s uncontrollable. A lot of Shadow Love’s actions and killings comes from rage, emotions, anger, and revenge which, as the Crows note multiple times, is ruining both of his fathers and their plans. Still, he’s not completely insane as there’s reason to a lot of Shadow Love’s killings including betrayal or how those people were either aiding the police or picking their plans apart from the inside. I honestly found Shadow Love to be the most interesting character in the book.

John Sandford always writes not only fantastic plots, but very well built characters who have a lot of depth of them. They’ve a solid background and motives. There’s a lot of POVs going on. There is Davenport’s, Lily’s, Shadow Love’s, the Crows, and the others that help carry out the plans all get their own individual POV chapters (or at least sections) as well.

No matter if it’s a Virgil Flowers or Prey book that I’m reading, I can always count on a set of amazing characters both in the protagonists and antagonists.


Overall, I thought that this was a good book and I was thinking about going between four and five. The killings from the beginning to end do not stop. The book starts fast and not only does it not slow down or pause, but the pace actually picks up, becomes much more intense, and is unbearably terrifying by the end.

The closing chapter scenes gave the same feeling of a trapped rat, was sheer adrenaline, and the how Davenport reacted in the end was cold; it sent chills up my spine (and I’m sure of those that witnessed the event too). The characters were pretty good and it’s neat to get to know young and wild Davenport as my only experiences of him had been of him in his older years. The writing, storyline, and characters were well-written, solid even. I liked Lily and thought that she was one bad-ass character with her own set of flaws. The antagonists were also very complicated and complex characters, their plans and goals morally grey and you can’t even fully hate them for their killings. The victims all had what was coming to them years ago.

This book was alright for half of it (and that’s an alright in the best sense too), but once things really picked up, it was extremely hard to put back down. Another fantastic Sandfords read, I can’t wait to dig into the third Prey book, Eyes of Prey!

Book Review: Dome City Blues by Jeff Edwards

Prior to this book, I’ve probably picked up only one book that had been labeled as Cyberpunk. It was a good read and afterwards, having been genre hopping at the time, I hadn’t thought about reapproaching Cyberpunk again. What stirred my interest in the subgenre again was having played Astral Chain and watching playthroughs of Cyberpunk 2077 back when it had released in December of last year. After that, my interest in Cyberpunk, and sci-fi in general, only continued to grow. By the time I made my September TBR I was so ready to dig into Dome City Blues that I was vibrating with excitement at the anticipation of reaching the book.

The other reason that I was so excited in getting to this book was because it was long overdue for a review. I had received this book a while back (many years!!) as a Goodreads giveaway book, and when I had gotten around to it, it was in the middle of moving homes (and I’ve moved a lot in life). During one of the many moves, I’d gone and lost my copy (along with a couple others). In yet another move, I’d unearthed it. You should have seen the joy on my face! It was like Christmas from clumsy past me!

Book Description

Title: Dome City Blues
Author: Jeff Edwards
Publisher: Stealth Books (2011)
Length: 300 Pages (Paperback)
My edition was a Goodreads Giveaway First Reads and may be slightly different as GR has it down as 318 pages, but I only have 300.
Genres: Science Fiction > Cyberpunk, Science Fiction > Dystopia, Mystery > Crime, Mystery > Noir, Thriller

Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided to me, via a Goodreads Giveaway, in exchange for a fair and honest review. This does not affect my review in any way and all opinions are my own.

TW/CW: Violence and Blood, Graphic violence, Language, Death, Loss of love one, manipulation of a memory of lost one, PTSD, graphic scenes of suicide, home invasion, sexual scenes (mostly fade to black), prostitutions, sexual exploitation of minors (not on screen, but in ch. 11, David investigates a lead that brings him to a club where some of the girls are extremely young).


The book sets in ruins of LA; a future world where a decent life is manageable only for those that live under the Domes. Outside? The air is thick with pollution and radiation that stings the skin. Without adequate preparations, it’d be hard to wander outside unless you were running from the law or something.

Our protagonist is David Stalin (Sarge by his best friend, and Joe by his childhood friends; an inside joke referring to his last name). A sculptor now, David is actually an ex-PI, having quit after what should have been an easy case left his partner and wife dead. At the start of the book, he encounters a woman named Sonja Winter who begs for him to take a look at an old and closed file. But, having been retired and traumatized over his final moments as a PI, David refuses to accept the job and sends her on her way only to find her at the door of his home trying to get him to accept if he would only listen to her story. Eventually he reluctantly agrees to at least take a look for her, but that’s about it, just a look.

But the more he investigates this case, the deeper in he’s dragged until there’s no turning back. He knows too much…to live. 

The storyline was pretty good and there are good handful of moments where our hero finds himself in a scuffle. After a solid few hits made on him, he knows that he’s poking his nose in the wrong (or rather right) places and the recipient isn’t too happy about that. Dead cases ought to stay dead and he needs to mind his own business.

The ending was completely unexpected. I wasn’t expecting the perpetrator to be who they were. There was a fraction of a second where I had suspicions of a certain person but I didn’t follow through with it. The final few scenes were interesting, the climax was a bit heartbreaking, and the actual ending had me cheering. 

I thought it was a compelling read and found myself easily eating through the book, but there weren’t too many scenes that actually had me gripping the book. There’s a couple of hooks, but for some odd reason, I didn’t find myself particularly drawn towards the story. 

I did like the story for some of the trapped moments. Here, David starts out as the investigator to a closed case. He’s prepared for scenarios and he’s the one leading the hunt against the criminal. That is…until the first hit is made on the man and suddenly the tides are turned. The hunter turns prey and David eventually is backed to a corner, so deeply in that corner that the case becomes a personal matter. He’s invested too much into this, blood included.


The worldbuilding, however, I loved. There was a fantastic amount and level of imagery and I was able to picture most scenes. I love the descriptions of everything from the laser styled weapons to the lev, the neon signs, the robotic and cybernetic humans, holograms, and even Turing Scions.

And speaking of the Turing Scions, I found that fascinating. Here we have a way to essentially immortalize a human being via data uploading their personality into a machine where they will remain forever. Miss your significant other? Just plug the machine in and you’ll find an exact copy of your best friend, down to the personality; a machine, someone who isn’t alive but believes they are.

But Turing Scions are for the world. There’s still no true way to achieve self-immortality. If a person dies, they still die, it’s just this data copy that’s left of you. The Scions are there for others, maybe someone who is still grieving the loss or a scientist who needs to ask a deceased expert a question. Even bringing them back won’t make the Scions who they really were anymore.

Cancer is no longer a thing here. There’s even cancer immunizations. Now there’s other diseases to think about like AIDS II! 

There’s also a home AI. Your average Joe seems to have one in their home. Essentially your entire house is an AI and (at least David’s houses had these, not too sure if this is normal for all houses) physical actions are done by the AI’s drone extensions that fly around and deal with things like the dishes. It’s like Alexa on crack and built into the very walls of the house. Want ambient music? Just tell your AI. What them to set your shower up with a particular program? Run the security systems and camera? Have them grab the dishes? Just tell the AI. David affectionately calls his, “House.” The SUPER cool thing? David was able to turn his ENTIRE WALL into a security monitor!!

The funniest thing about this was that, at the end of the book, the author has an authors note that explains how this book’s first draft was back in 1992. When he finally released Dome City Blues maybe 20 years later, he had to debate on whether he needed to majorly edit his book. Afterall, what was “futuristic technology then” might already exist now. Technology evolves so fearsomely quick after all.

Jeff kept it. I thought it was a good idea. In keeping the original level of technology, the reader gets this funny mixture of technology that is supposed to be futuristic but currently already exists, what is now obsolete and gone in our world, and what still doesn’t exist. I made this note because, while I thought it was extremely cool at first, now that I’m writing the review…a house AI sounds a lot like some of the technology that already exists now. 

Sure, it’s not to the level that the house AIs in the book have it (drones to control what needs physical assisting), but we’re pretty darn close. Alexa and Google CAN connect to your home security systems (just not your whole damn wall), can turn to a specific music program, and can set the lighting in your home! Heck, Alexa can even beatbox!

Now, what I really need is that shower system. With a shout to House, David was able to find himself showering in the the middle of the forest, the spray of his shower turned to mimic what a rain shower would feel like!


I thought that the characters were alright. Nobody really drew my attention or kept it, but they were interesting enough. David is a man who is traumatized over what happened to his wife in a past case. She’s gone and he lives with the scars from it. He’s a sculptor now and refuses to return to his old life, but when he needs to, you can see he hasn’t lost his edge. Much of his skills and knowledge on the field might need a bit of brushing up, but it’s there even if it’s under a light coat of dust. 

I thought some of the other characters were pretty interesting. I didn’t care for the love interest or for David’s best friend, but they were vibrant people with distinct personalities. 

I was particularly interested in some of the people that David encountered, his street help. In fact, I think I found nearly all of them interesting, especially the ones he encounters later on in the book. There are pieces of evidence, mostly “insane people” and graffiti that points towards a group of people that later on helps David, but mostly as a part of something much bigger. I can expect to see them in the next book.

The antagonists had me slightly in shock and their motives and history was even better than I had expected. I had said that the story wasn’t particularly drawing, but there were still small moments that had me sitting there in disbelief. I thought that revelation chapter was amazing!

Overall Thoughts

The story wasn’t particularly drawing but there were still moments where I sat there gasping or even gapping. There were some characters I wasn’t too interested in and some that I was fascinated with. However, for me, what drew me in the most (and kept me around) was the worldbuilding. The imagery fascinated me. With the draft starting over 2 decades ago, I thought it was amusing to note the mixture of old, new, and current technology to compare to our worlds to. 

The story’s climax, revelation, and conflict were all pretty good. I was shocked with who the antagonist turned out to be, but the story behind them and their motivation was fantastic. 

Book Review: Tier One by Brian Andrews & Jeffrey Wilson

I picked this book up, not only because I loved the other books/series by the authors, Sons of Valor, but because I had jumped on Reddit for a quick second, requesting for any suggested military thriller reads, and this was one of the answers.

I think I enjoyed Sons of Valor a little more (more big booms and suspense), but even so…as soon as I finished book 1, I went right back to Amazon for book 2. I think I found myself a new pair of auto-buy authors 🥺

Book Description

Title: Tier One
Series: Tier One [Book #1]
Author: Brian Andrews & Jeffrey Wilson
Narrator: Ray Porter
Publisher: Brilliance Audio (Audiobook; 1 Sept 2016)
Thomas & Mercer (Kindle; 1 Sept 2016)
Length: 11hours 39minutes ; 401 pages (Kindle)
Genres: Fiction, Thriller > Military Thriller, War > Military Fiction, Action, Spy Thriller > Espionage

TW/CW: Blood, Violence, Guns, War, Graphic injuries, Bombs, Injuries Related To Bombs, Language/Swearing

Book Blurb (Goodreads)

In a world violated by terror, the old lines have blurred. Meet the next generation of covert ops.

John Dempsey’s life—as an elite Tier One Navy SEAL named Jack Kemper—is over. A devastating terrorist action catapults him from a world of moral certainty and decisive orders into the shadowy realm of espionage, where ambiguity is the only rule. His new mission: hunt down those responsible for the greatest tragedy in the history of the US Special Ops and bring them to justice.

But how does a man torn between duty and revenge walk the line and preserve his soul?

As Dempsey struggles with the games of spies, the case propels him across the globe in a desperate effort to prevent a new, horrifying attack on American soil.

Once, John Dempsey followed orders blindly. Now he sees behind the curtain, and the security of the civilized world rests on one question: Can a Tier One Navy SEAL adapt and become the world’s most lethal spy?


Jack Kemper’s days as a door kicking elite Tier One Navy SEAL days are over after a catastrophic incident that devastates both the team and him. Suddenly, barely recovered from the injuries he’d sustained in another, follow up, event, he finds himself recruited, invited, to a whole new world. Gone are the days of fighting out in the field with big guns, gone are all his previous relationships (save for his boss), and gone is his name. Now Jack Kemper is to throw away his old life for a new world of espionage under the name, John Dempsey, working with a thrown together team, known as Ember.

“‘Everyone,’ said Smith, giving Kemper’s shoulder a squeeze, ‘this is John Dempsey. Dempsey is a former Tier One Navy SEAL, and like the famous boxer he shares a last name with, he’s an all-round badass. We’re fortunate to have him on the team.'”

I thought that this was a pretty good book, albeit, not as many twists and turns as I liked (but that’s personal preference). In both Sons of Valor and Tier One, Andrews and Wilson did a great job in terms of writing out the protagonist as well as the antagonists. Their characters have a lot of depth, potential to learn, and lots of development and history to them. Just as in SoV where we get to see the enemies POV, in Tier One we get to know more about Mamoud, an Iranian Jihadist who is seeking revenge on the Americans who had killed his son. We learn about his story, motivations, and thoughts as the story focuses on multiple different perspectives and POVs, Mamoud’s being one of them.

As for favorite characters, though, I’m struggling between either Elizabeth Grimes and Shane Smith, both being fellow Ember operators that have very different personalities and what they bring to the team. Grimes starts off pretty cold (nicknamed “Her Highness, Lady Grimes) and new to the job and Smith, who is pretty amicable, is a veteran in the game. Neither are short of whip smart, calculative, and deadly and both just as secretive as the next. My favorite though, is that in both Tier One and Sons of Valor, it’s the ladies, Elizabeth in Tier One and Whitney Watts in SoV, that manage to see something, that half a second glimpse of a hint, and think outside the box to catapults the team in the right direction and putting a stop of a massive failure.

The story was enjoyable and at times, engrossing. I half read and half listened to this book and during the times that I’d listen and hit any crazy moments, I’d gasp and stop whatever I was doing to give the audiobook my full undivided attention because omgshitsgoingdown. The story and plot doesn’t have a lot of shock value in it and runs straight, but don’t get me wrong…there are still moments where you’d hold your breath and there are definitely still moments where you’d end up slightly surprised. I like that the story is not quite over by the end and while things are taken cared of, for now, it alludes to a bigger plot in the near future. Tier One didn’t exactly leave on a cliffhanger, but it still leaves you at the semi-edge of your seat, anticipating the next book.

Again, the characters are fun to read and, even as spies, whose fellow Ember operatives don’t know each other’s real names, there is a lot of team bonding and trust that is needed. I quite loved how the protagonists and the team communicate and go from polite coldness to trust. I rarely ever read spy books and prefer the actual kicking the door down, SEAL team that I’d experienced in Sons of Valor, and had always assumed that spies acted alone and that it’d be a lonely experience. But no! Sure, there’s no more guns blazing in the field on a shootout match here, but our operatives still act as a team with mics to base, a tech team, and fellow members on the field with you. It’s just done a little more…subtle and less…loud.

“He returned a minute later with two tiny pistols that Dempsey wouldn’t even consider for paperweights. ‘For this mission, you might want to reconsider your hardware selection.’ He handed one baby Sig to Dempsey and the other to Grimes, along with a threaded suppressor for each.”

I was also concerned about the language, just as I was in SoV. To my surprise (a tad late, because I was mostly listening to this as an audiobook and didn’t check the back pages) there was a glossary in the back to help with the BOAT load of acronyms thrown my way. One of my favorite conversations were from two of the wives of Jack/John’s old team members:

“‘You should hear our dinner conversations,” said April. “I’ll ask Mike about his day, and he’ll say something like: ‘Well, the CSO told my LCPO that an NCDU deployed with the JTF got a BZ from JSOC, blah, blah, blah…”

‘All you do is fight fire with fire,’ Diane said. ‘As soon as Gabe goes into Team Speak Mode, I immediately switch into Text Message Mode. He says JSOC SCIF, I respond with OMG RUS—it works every time.'”

Kemper looked at Gabe. ‘What did your wife just say?’

Everyone at the table burst into laughter.”

However, just like in SoV, I didn’t have much trouble with any of the terms. A lot of it is either quickly explained, early on, or if not, the acronym is in the back glossary. And, if neither are there, it doesn’t inhibit my enjoyability of the book or my understandability of the plot. Even just glossing over some of the terms won’t trip you up and I like that.

Overall, this was a pretty good book and with where it left off, I am very much looking forward to the next book in the series.

Rating: 4 cups of Joe!