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Friday, September 24, 2021

Review - Haunted Homicide

 This is a new series that I haven't heard much buzz about.  Which is a shame, because I was really captured by the concept and think it is worth more attention.  This is also fun with Halloween approaching since it has a ghost that I hope is a reoccurring character.  I will be reviewing the second in the book before the end of October as well.

Author: Lucy Ness

Copyright: Sept 2020 (Berkley) 299 pgs

Series: 1st in Haunted Mansion Mystery series

Sensuality: n/a

Mystery Sub-genre: Amateur Sleuth, Light Paranormal Cozy

Main Characters: Avery Morgan, New manager of a prestigious women's club 

Setting: Contemporary, Portage Path, Ohio, thirty miles south of Cleveland

Obtained Through: Library

Book Blurb:  "Avery Morgan has been hired to breathe new life into the Portage Path Women's Club, but first she'll have to deal with a dead body and a meddling ghost.

Avery Morgan has had a harrowing first week on the job as manager of the Portage Path Woman's Club. Not only is she in charge of a grand old home with a mountain of maintenance problems and scheduling nightmares--thanks to a recent fire in the Marigold meeting room--but she's also got Muriel Sadler to deal with. Muriel is the current president of the club, the one "nay" vote when the rest of the board voted "aye" to hiring Avery.

After a morning of dealing with another one of Muriel's snits and a meeting with the delicious and delightfully unsettling Ben Harkness, who will be handling renovations in the fire-damaged portions of the house, the last thing Avery needs is for one of the fuses to blow. Again.

She grabs her handy flashlight and heads into the basement, where she stumbles across Muriel's body. She also stumbles across an unexpected helper, Clemmie Bow, the ghost of a young woman who was accidentally killed in the building almost a hundred years ago.

Together Clemmie and Avery are determined to solve Muriel's murder before the killer sends Avery to join Clemmie on the other side."

Avery Morgan, running from her psychic aunt's influence in NY and seeking normalcy, gets a job in Ohio only to face her own psychic talent of seeing the dead.  Muriel Sadler, the victim, made Avery's first days at the Women's Club very difficult. She was mean-spirited. 

Patricia Fink, a Board member, definitely has a secret.  Gracie Grimm is the club's historian and Board member who didn't like Muriel.  Agnes Yarborough, another Board member, gets treated harshly by Muriel.  Then there is Clemie Bow, resident ghost from roaring 20s hanging around. Jack Harkness is the restorationist working on restoring a room and is maybe-not-quite a romantic interest who has his own secret.  Sergeant Alterman, known as Oz, is a romantic interest.  Quentin is the Club's chef and Geneva is the regular waitress.  These two are great and I really enjoy their characters as well as Clemie. 

The Women's Club's historic manner house is a great setting and most of the book takes place there.  It has a secret history of being an illegal speakeasy in the 1920s, which is when Clemmie died and has been hanging around the house ever since.

This debut novel in the series introduces us to mostly the Board and their backgrounds as the investigation is taking place. Muriel has a line-up of potential murderers that are uncovered as Avery asks around.  The story moved along at a steady clip and maintained my interest.

 The killer reveal was dramatic and had some thrilling moments that I thought were nicely done.  The wrap-up was short and sweet with just the right touches to leave a smile on my face.

This is a fun debut that I hope keeps up the vibe started.  It has interesting characters with a solid mystery and Avery is a good heroine I can relate to.  The ghostly touches are lighthearted and enjoyable.  Overall a well done first entry that I look forward to reading the next novel in the series.  

Rating:  Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list 

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Monday, September 20, 2021

Book Giveaway - Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders


One winner of a paperback copy of Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders by Tessa Arlen.  Click here for my review.

Book Blurb: "Summer 1942. The world has been at war for three long and desperate years. In the remote English village of Little Buffenden, Poppy Redfern’s family house and farmland has been requisitioned by the War Office as a new airfield for the American Air Force. As the village's Air Raid Warden, Poppy spends her nights patrolling the village as she tries to ease her neighbors’ fears about the “Friendly Invasion” and what it means to their quiet way of life.

 When two young, popular women who were dating American servicemen are found strangled, Poppy quickly realizes that her little town has been divided by murder. The mistrust and suspicion of their new American partners in war threatens to tear Little Buffenden apart. Poppy decides to start her own investigation with the help of a charismatic American pilot and she soon unearths some chilling secrets and long-held grudges. Poppy will have no choice but to lay a trap for a killer so perilously close to home, she might very well become the next victim...."

Entry for giveaway lasts until Friday October 1st 6:00 p.m. (MST).  U.S. entries only please.  
I will be shipping the book to the winners.

How to enter:

*** First, you must be an email subscriber to this blog***

All entries are to be in the comments for this post.  ALL ENTRIES WITHOUT AN EMAIL ADDRESS ARE DISQUALIFIED.

I will accept entries for this giveaway until 6:00 p.m (MST) on  Oct 1, 2021.  I shall notify the winner via the email address you provided to get your physical mailing address and have the prize sent directly to you.  If I don't hear from you in 3 days, I will select another winner and notify them.

**IF you are an email subscriber of this blog, you only need to leave a comment with your correct email.

**BECOME an email subscriber of this blog if you aren't already and enjoy the celebration of all things mystery and suspense.

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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Review - Murder at the Royal Botanic Gardens

I loved Andrea Penrose's Lady Arianna Regency mystery series and I jumped on board this series of hers with the first book.  It continues to be one on my go-to series.  

1)  Murder on Swan Lake (review here
2)  Murder at Halfmoon Gate (review here
3)  Murder at Kensington Palace (review here
4)  Murder at Queen's Landing (review here
Author interview (click here

A thrilling new mystery novel from the acclaimed author of Murder at Queen’s Landing, perfect for fans of Deanna Raybourn and Anne Perry! The wedding of the Earl of Wrexford and Lady Charlotte Sloane is not-to-be-missed, but the murder of a brilliant American scientist threatens their plans—and their lives…

Andrea Penrose

Copyright: Sept 2021 (Kensington Books) 250 pgs

Series: 5th in Wrexford & Sloan Mystery series

Sensuality: mild

Mystery Sub-genre: historical Suspense, hsitorical amateur Sleuth

Main Character: Widowed Charlotte Sloane, a satirical cartoonist under the name A.J. Quill, estranged from her family

Setting: Regency Era, London England

Obtained Through: Netgalley

Book Blurb: "One advantage of being caught up in a whirl of dress fittings and decisions about flower arrangements and breakfast menus is that Charlotte Sloane has little time for any pre-wedding qualms. Her love for Wrexford isn’t in question. But will being a wife—and a Countess—make it difficult for her to maintain her independence—not to mention, her secret identity as famed satirical artist A.J. Quill?
Despite those concerns, there are soon even more urgent matters to attend to during Charlotte and Wrexford’s first public outing as an engaged couple. At a symposium at the Royal Botanic Gardens, a visiting botanist suffers a fatal collapse. The traces of white powder near his mouth reveal the dark truth—he was murdered. Drawn into the investigation, Charlotte and the Earl learn of the victim’s involvement in a momentous medical discovery. With fame and immense fortune at stake, there’s no shortage of suspects, including some whose ruthlessness is already known. But neither Charlotte nor her husband-to-be can realize how close the danger is about to get—or to what lengths this villain is prepared to go."

Lady Charlotte is approaching her marriage to Wrex, which is a major change in her life: giving up her autonomy. She feels compelled to look into the murder for justice's sake.  She also has a reunion with her remaining sibling and is a ball of nerves over it. Great Aunt Alison is a stellar character and continues to be a stalwart supporter of Charlotte. Raven and Hawk, the two street orphans she had taken in years before are becoming shrewd young men who still have enough "hood" in them to help investigate. They seem to realize more and more how much Charlotte means to them as she tries to protect them in this book.  The Earl of Wrexford, Wrex for short, is determined to ensure the safety of Charlotte and the boys as they approach the wedding. I love how he accepts her independence and won't make dictates to her, just expresses his concerns. 

Kit Sheffield is Wrex's best friend who is trying to be more responsible and has invested in starting a shipping company. Kit is head-over-heels for his business partner but feels unworthy.  Lady Cordelia, is the boy's math tutor and Kit's business partner in the shipping business. 

The setting is partially the large and impressive Royal Botanic Gardens (Kew Gardens) and the rough and dangerous shipping docks.  Both the gardens and the docks are meticulously recreated on the page so you are immersed.

The plot is two-fold: Find the murderer and thereby hopefully save the medical discovery that the visiting botanist intended to be free to save lives.  The suspects bring about many twists in the story and keep the pacing moving along.
The killer confrontation/reveal is an exciting race with danger and a daring attempt to catch the killer.  The climax is well written and quite tense and lives up to the established high bar set by previous books in the series.  The wrapup is the wedding and is delightful.

There are so many aspects to this book that the pages fly by.  The mystery is an exciting race to bring justice as well as save lives with recovering the medical discovery. The killer was a surprise as there were many twists surrounding the suspects.  Wrex and Charlotte are realistic in their approaching joining their lives.  Their balanced relationship is touching and heartwarming.  Raven and Hawk being accepted by Wrex and his including them in his life is equally touching.    The wedding at the end isn't to be missed for fans.

Rating: Near Perfect - Buy two copies: one for you and one for a friend.

Here is a video on the gardens and their importance.

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Monday, September 13, 2021

Mystery Movie Review - Murder on the Orient Express 1974 vs 2017

Which is the best movie adaptation:
Murder on the Orient Express 1974 vs 2017

In December 1935, when the luxury train with detective Hercules Poirot aboard is stopped by avalanche (blocking the tracks or derailing train, depending on the version), he is called on to solve a murder that occurred in his car the night before. 

This is a great book and I will try to compare these two movie adaptations without any serious spoilers (a tough trick, but I'll give it a whirl!)

1974 Adaptation
Rotten Tomatoes 90%
6 Oscar Nominations/1 Oscar win
The 1974 movie is considered closer to the book.

Starred:  Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, Jacqueline Bisset, Michael York, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, John Gielgud, and Richard Widmark.

Opens with the kidnapping of Daisy Armstrong and news coverage which sets the stage for what follows.

1974 thoughts:
  • The cinematography is stylish and atmospheric.
  • The costumes I felt were better because they gave more contrast between characters and the the styles for the wealthy reflected the opulence of the era.  
  • Music is period specific and lavish.
  • Poirot is fastidious and true to the books.
  • Better written characters in this screenplay. 
  • Richard Widmark as Samuel Ratchett is more a businessman and not an obvious bad man as the 2017 screenplay portrays him.
  • Ingrid Bergman is superb as a missionary-Won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for this role!
  • Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of the victim's personal secretary, Mr. McQueen, was far better.
  • Jacqueline Bisset is the best Countess Andrenyi and Michael York is a suave Count and more believable than the 2017 Count.
  • John Gielgud is the penultimate butler, although I know Derek Jacobi (2017) is a stellar actor but it wasn't the role for him to show his abilities.
  • Lauren Bacall was brilliant throughout as Mrs. Hubbard where Michelle Pfeiffer (2017) didn't have her moment until Poirot reveals the solution.
  • An 84 year-old Agatha Christie attended the movie premiere in November 1974. It was the only film adaptation in her lifetime that she was completely satisfied with. In particular, she felt that Albert Finney‘s performance came closest to her idea of Poirot.

2017 Rotten Tomatoes 60%  

Starred: Kenneth Branagh, William Dafoe, Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Penélope Cruz, Leslie Odam Jr., Johnny Depp

Opens with Poirot uncovering police corruption.

2017 Version thoughts:

  • Poirot is particular, friendly, and far more warm and humorous than the book. 
  • He uses his cane for utility more than walking or style.  
  • Characters aren't true to the book and aren't distinctly different, they rather melded together.
  • Count is overly prone to violence and over the top silent brooding.
  • Judi Dench is a much younger Princess Dragomiroff, but gives a superb performance and she is better than the 1974 version.
  • Johnny Depp is more of a mobster portrayal of victim Samuel Ratchett and openly does business with mobsters giving away he is a criminal early. I think having him as a demanding businessman was better.
  • Derek Jacobi, who is a phenomenal actor, was under-cast as the butler/valet.
  • Trainline owner is a ridiculous playboy rather than a businessman.
  • The character of the English Colonel John Arbuthnot, played by Sean Connery in 1974, is incorporated into the Doctor for 2017 adaptation. Both Sean Connery and Leslie Odam Jr. do a great job.  The 1974 being closer to the book though.
  • The train is derailed rather than tracks blocked from an avalanche, which makes isolation more pronounced.
  • Excellent cinematography, camera angles, exterior shots -- Modern, slick - all the benefits of modern film making.
  • The luxury of the train is optimized.
  • Chase scenes and some gun play are added which was forced into the story and didn't really make sense. 
  • The killer reveal was more emotional and in one instance too melodramatic.
  • The ending was more philosophical with murder portrayed as causing a fracture of the human soul and resulting in so many broken lives. 

Albert Finney vs Kenneth Branagh

1974's Finney is more true to Christie's vision, although the mustache wasn't big enough. This Poirot is fastidious like in the books and you follow his thought process as he comes to his conclusions.  There are only a couple of scenes where you get much of a sense of the man Poirot is.  But that was like the books. 

2017's Branagh: Poirot surprisingly gets a romantic backstory of some lost love that is never explained, he displays a sense of humor, his mustache may be even bigger than Christie had in mind, and ultimately he wrestles with the imbalance of justice in this case.  Branagh's portrayal on the one hand makes Poirot more warm and human but on the other hand his leaps of logic seem more fantastical than elementary.

There are excellent aspects to both movies but here is my breakdown.

I love the 1974 movie for a true Christie portrayal and the superior acting.  There's a reason why it had 6 Oscar nominations (Best Actor in a Leading Role: Albert Finney, Best Writing-Screenplay Adapted From Other Material, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, and Best Music-Original Dramatic Score) and Ingrid Bergman won for Best Supporting Actress.  The cast was fantastic together.  They did a great job for 1974 with the cinematography and created an atmospheric feel and suspicious mood.  Costuming was superior and reflected the golden era of Hollywood.  This movie wins, absolutely.

Although I enjoy the modern camerawork of the 2017 adaptation with unusual angles and how it addresses some modern issues and sensibilities, I honestly found the acting only barely grabbing me in a few rare scenes and not for long.  The addition of a chase scene and a shooting scene was out of character and didn't fit (IMHO).  Changing Poirot to provide some sort of romantic backstory seemed like trying to make him more likeable or make the movie very different from the original, but it is nothing like Christie's Poirot and didn't provide the payoff.  It came off all wrong and even awkward.  Poirot was also uncharacteristic in that he had such doubts that he could solve the murder after a while, which Christie's Poirot never has such self-doubts.  The screenplay left some characters poorly written (The Count and trainline owner were terrible).  There were some scenes that actually made no sense as well. I can't go into them without spoilers. 

1974 version is my favorite, hands down.  But don't take my word for it.  Watch both and see what you think of them.  If you've seen both, leave a comment on how they measured up for you.

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Thursday, September 9, 2021

Review - A Rogue's Company

I have been a fan of this series since its debut.  I enjoy historical mysteries and this is one of my go to series.  Check out my reviews of the prior books and an author post:
#1 The Right Sort of Man (Review here)
#2 A Royal Affair (Review here)
Author Guest Post (Click here)

In Allison Montclair's A Rogue's Company, business becomes personal for the Right Sort Marriage Bureau when a new client, a brutal murder, two kidnappings, and the recently returned from Africa Lord Bainbridge threatens everything that one of the principals holds dear.  Find out how the third book in the series holds up.

Allison Montclair

Copyright: June 2021 (Minotaur Books) 342 pgs

Series: 3rd in Sparks & Bainbridge Mystery series

Sensuality: adult themes

Mystery Sub-genre: historical Suspense, amateur Sleuth

Main Characters: Miss Iris Sparks and Mrs. Gwendolyn Bainbridge of the Right Sort Marriage Bureau 

Setting: 1946 London 

Obtained Through: Netgalley

Blurb: "In London, 1946, the Right Sort Marriage Bureau is getting on its feet and expanding. Miss Iris Sparks and Mrs. Gwendolyn Bainbridge are making a go of it. That is until Lord Bainbridge—the widowed Gwen's father-in-law and legal guardian—returns from a business trip to Africa and threatens to undo everything important to her, even sending her six-year-old son away to a boarding school.

But there's more going on than that. A new client shows up at the agency, one whom Sparks and Bainbridge begin to suspect really has a secret agenda, somehow involving the Bainbridge family. A murder and a subsequent kidnapping sends Sparks to seek help from a dangerous quarter—and now their very survival is at stake."

Iris Sparks who worked for the secret service during the war is still figuring out her complicated love life. Gwen Bainbridge has been fighting to get custody of her son and autonomy over her life since her husband died. That aspect comes to a head when Lord Bainbridge returns home and goes out of his way to make Gwen's life hell on earth.  Lord Bainbridge is a self-centered privileged jerk who proves himself worse than ever.  Lady Carolyne Bainbridge is just as tormented by her husband's terrible temper and foul mood and becomes a semi-ally of Gwen's. Gwen's son Ronnie gets more page time in this outing and he is adorable. Sally, short for Salvatore, is a good friend of Iris from college and through the war. He is a hulk of a big guy and does surveillance and body guard jobs. Even his character is developed more and we understand why he continues to help out the Marriage Bureau.

First there is the murder behind the stuffy entitled gentleman's club where Lord Bainbridge has been spending most of his days and nights, then there is the new client of the Marriage Bureau seeming to keep a watch on Gwen's house, then there is a kidnapping and the danger comes too close to both Gwen and Iris.  I flew through the pages.  The mystery wasn't as defined from the start but as the story developed the mystery invades Gwen's life and Iris won't let Gwen face it alone.  the pages flew by in this character driven story.
I didn't see the major reveal coming, so that was excellent and it had some great twists as the climax unfolded. I was thoroughly entertained. The wrap-up was also well done providing some resolutions to a few of the personal issues for Iris and Gwen.

I loved this addition to the series. The personal lives of Iris and Gwendolyn intertwining in the mystery is very believably done. There is more emphasis on the characters than the mystery, but the last third of the book is thrilling and nail biting with plenty of action and danger.  The series has become known for its witty dialog and that is still the case.  As always I love the support Iris and Gwen give each other through their personal issues. It is so refreshing to see.

Rating:  Excellent - Loved it! Page turner, but best to start with book 1

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Monday, September 6, 2021

Movie Review - Enola Holmes

Movie Blurb: "When Enola Holmes—Sherlock’s teen sister—discovers her mother missing, she sets off to find her, becoming a super-sleuth in her own right as she outwits her famous brother Sherlock and unravels a dangerous conspiracy around a mysterious young Lord. Starring Millie Bobby Brown,  Henry Cavill (Superman), and Helena Bonham-Carter (Harry Potter and  King's Speech)."

What's it About?:  Enola Homes is based on the first book in the young-adult fiction series by Nancy Springer. The story is about the teenage sister of the already-famous Sherlock Holmes, who travels to London to find her missing mother but ends up on a thrilling adventure, pairing up with a runaway lord as they attempt to solve a mystery that threatens the entire country.  

Enola's mother, and therefore Sherlock's mother, raised her in seclusion to be smart and capable of defending herself.  It becomes clear that the Holmes matriarch had something planned or was hiding from somebody.  This adds to the overall mystery.

A Change Of Plans:  The movie was originally planned to be release by Warner Bros. Pictures in movie theaters, but then Covid hit.  The distribution rights for the film were then picked up by Netflix and the release was solely on the paid subscription site on September 23, 2020. 

Reviews:  It received overall positive reviews from critics (91% Rotten Tomatoes and praised Brown's performance). It was one of the most-watched original Netflix films with an estimated 76 million households watching the film in the first four weeks of release.  

Peter Debruge of Variety called the film an "entertaining franchise starter" and praised Brown's performance and found the film "more tasteful in its high-energy storytelling than Guy Ritchie's recent Sherlock Holmes.

Legal Troubles: However, the Conan Doyle Estate filed a lawsuit against Netflix over the film.  The estate claims the movie violates copyright by depicting Sherlock Holmes as having emotions.  It seems that the few stories in the Sherlock canon that were written with Sherlock displaying any emotions (in 1923 and 1927) haven't reached the 100 year copywrite expiration.  Henry Cavill said that his portrayal of Sherlock was "a lot more emotional to begin with, so we pared it back, and we said, 'alright, let's not make it too emotional'."  My thoughts on the lawsuit is that an actor does have some artistic license to portray a character and make it his.  That is what acting is all about.

My thoughts:

I love the idea of Sherlock having a sister and Enola seems perfect.  She is unexpected, smart but is still honing her deductive skills, impetuous, wily, and yet still a touch naïve and trusting.  I adore Henry Cavill's portrayal of Sherlock and how he would feel towards a younger sister.  I grant you the movie is more of an intrigue tale than a sleuthing story, but I also think it needed to wow audiences to ensure a follow up movie.  The good news is that there will be a second movie and it should start filming this fall.

Overall, it is an entertaining movie with excellent acting and the story keeps moving.  I enjoyed this far more than the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock franchise - by far!  I loved it and highly recommend.  If you haven't seen it yet, treat yourself.

Movie trailer:

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Saturday, September 4, 2021

Review - The Accidental Alchemist

From the author of Jaya Jones series (book 1 Artifact review-click here) comes a new paranormal cozy series described as Agatha Christie meets Stranger Things.  I just discovered this series and jumped at the chance to review it.

Author: Gigi Pandian

Copyright: October 2020 (Gargoyle Girl Productions) 362 pgs

Series: 1st in An Accidental Alchemist Mystery series

Sensuality: mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Paranormal cozy, amateur Sleuth

Main Characters: 345 year old Zoe Faust, alchemist 

Setting: Contemporary era, Portland Oregan

Obtained Through: Library

Book Blurb: "A chance for a new beginning in Portland, Oregon. A stowaway from Paris who’s slowly turning to stone. And an alchemical mystery neither can refuse.

Unpacking her belongings in her new fixer-upper house, alchemist Zoe Faust discovers a stowaway. Dorian is a living, breathing gargoyle―not to mention a master of French cuisine―and he needs Zoe's expertise to unlock the secrets of a centuries-old text that may save his life.

Zoe is trying to put her old life behind her, but how can she say no to her new friend who’s turning to stone?  [The problem is, the alchemical book that can save Dorian from remaining alive yet trapped in stone has been stolen and a man left murdered on Zoe's doorstep.]"

The main character is Zoe Faust, a very reluctant alchemist who has 345 years worth of emotional baggage from the Salem witch trials to the tragic death of loved ones, and is a die-hard vegan.  Dorian is an actual live gargoyle from Paris who is a gourmet cook, has the ability to hide in plain sight by turning back to stone, has extraordinary night vision, and is the side kick who runs off without thinking through consequences.  Detective Max Liu is potentially a romantic interest in future books. Brixton is a fourteen year old who broke into Zoe's house (the neighborhood haunted house) on a dare and is a troubled kid who sees Dorian and wants to tell his friends. Zoe somehow befriends him in spite of his resistance.

The plot is three fold.  Find the missing book and save Dorian by investigating who murdered the would-be handyman.  But even if Zoe gets the book back, she has ignored alchemy for so long she also needs to flex her alchemical muscles and get her mojo back.  I will admit that at times the momentum slowed in the storyline. Where many cozy mysteries often bring up food, this goes into Dorian making vegan gourmet meals.  I know some find that tedious.  But that didn't seem to dampen my interest in the story.

 The killer reveal had a little danger and excitement and was appropriate in the storyline, but I like them more thrilling. Just a personal preference and not a reflection on the story.  The wrap-up dealt with Dorian's situation and sets up for the next book.

I particularly liked the alchemy lore and history. It is fascinating and far better presented than in other stories that had alchemy in them.  great job there.  I also enjoyed the use of the tunnel network under Portland in the story. I understand that some people felt the vegan element was overdone, but I didn't feel it was too much. But please take that into consideration.  

Rating: Good - entertaining story with fun paranormal touches

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