It’s the end of February, and due to a productive month of writing, I only have 4 books to share. But all are 5-star reads including a psychological thriller, a romance/thriller mash-up, a madcap time travel romance, and a cozy mystery.
I’ve started something new, and at the end of each review noting it a book is available on Kindle Unlimited.
Click on the covers for Amazon global links.
Means to Deceive by Alex Craigie
I’ve enjoyed Cragie’s other thrillers and snatched this one up as soon as I saw it. Gwen has moved back to her hometown to care for her grandmother who can no longer live alone. Granny’s advancing dementia leaves her irritable, and to Gwen, their relationship has always felt strained. But that’s the least of her problems as two men, for different reasons, have bones to pick with her. The harassment starts small and grows increasingly concerning. She doesn’t know who the culprit is and the police aren’t helpful. Her brother Gethin comes to help her despite his own problems at home, and Ben, a new neighbor, takes a romantic interest in her, but can she trust him?
The pace is a slow burn, a steady escalation of tension that doesn’t let up, and it kept me turning the pages. I found the characters completely authentic and their relationships and choices believable. I could relate well to Gwen’s interactions with her difficult grandmother and appreciated the realistic support system, which made sure Granny’s care was covered while the plot played out.
This read is full of red herrings, and I suspected a number of different characters at different times, sometimes two of them at once. I had no idea until the reveal who the main culprit was in the increasingly dangerous and disturbing harassment. A secondary plot regarding Gwen’s past resolves simultaneously and wraps up all elements of the story well. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy a tense psychological thriller. (Kindle Unlimited)
Twilight’s Encore by Jacquie Biggar
In Book 3 of the Tidal Falls series, the story switches to another set of characters connected to the retired seal team that binds the books together. Katy returns to her hometown to make sure her wedding plans are progressing well, and that includes the renovation of her family’s rundown theater. Her ex-boyfriend Ty and his construction company are doing the work, and the old flame between them ignites almost immediately. But this book (and series) isn’t limited to romance. Someone is sabotaging the theater, someone is stalking Katy, and that someone doesn’t care if people get hurt.
One of the fun things about the story is that it occurs in the same timeline as Book 2, so there are details connecting the two. To me, that added depth to everything that was going on. I had information unknown to the protagonists because I was there for the previous book in a different POV. Very clever.
Biggar’s characterization is always well-rounded and rich with emotion. There’s plenty of steamy romance in addition to danger and action. The plot moves quickly, and the last quarter of the read is pure thrills as the final showdown unfolds. I whipped through this book in two sittings and look forward to seeing what happens in Book 4. Highly recommend to fans of romance/thriller mash-ups. (Kindle Unlimited)
The Viking and the Courtesan by Shehanne Moore
Moore’s witty prose and exceptional characters pervade another delightful romance. In 19th century London, Malice is an independent woman whose profession is breaking up marriages. When her husband’s mistress unwittingly hires her, she intends to engage in the marriage-wrecking scandal herself. But her plans go awry as a kiss transports her over 900 years into the Viking past and into the clutches of Sin, a man in love with Snotra and wishing to make her jealous enough to marry him. Romance of any sort doesn’t seem to have a chance between the time travel complications and a madcap clash of cultures.
The narrative unfolds primarily through Malice’s point of view, though Sin (Sinaar) has some scenes of his own. One thing I love about Moore’s writing is the extremely tight POVs, the ever-present humor, and the fast pace. Malice is witty and snarky while being true to her era. She’s also clever and possesses a good heart despite her name and profession. Secondary characters are delightful, the Vikings reminiscent of pirates, and the nuns eager to be Sin’s bed slaves. The names are hysterical.
The book includes plenty of action in both time periods, particularly when Malice is trying to survive among the Vikings. The romance is fairly clean. Partly because, for Snotra’s sake, Malice and Sin are “pretending” romance for the first half of the book. When the true romance begins to bloom, the sex is primarily off stage. I enjoyed the evolution of the romantic relationship. It rings with authenticity and depth despite all the humor. This is a fun book that I recommend to romance readers who love witty characters and a madcap plot.
Alibaster Alibi by S. D. Brown
When her uncle Jasper is murdered, Allie inherits half-ownership of his rock shop in Sedona, Arizona. As a condition of the inheritance, she has to live on site and share ownership with Collin, a young playboy with questionable ethics and a temper. When Collin ends up dead, Allie’s the prime suspect.
This is a cozy mystery with a strong female protagonist who once worked in criminal justice and isn’t about to be bullied by the local sheriff. She wants to find the killer and starts chasing down clues. There are several red herrings as the backstory comes to light, and I didn’t know the identity of the killer until the action-packed end.
The plot isn’t complicated, but it’s cohesive and comes together well. That said, the characters were my favorite part of the read, especially Allie. She’s high energy, smart, determined, and worth rooting for. She speaks her mind but also has a kind heart. Secondary characters are well rounded, distinct, and memorable, which is good since there are a number of them with small roles. The pace whipped along and I easily read the book in two sittings.
Highly recommended to murder mystery readers who enjoy a snappy pace, great characters, and a strong female protagonist. (Kindle Unlimited)
I’m over at Marcia Meara’s sharing Ten Things You May Not Know About me. After nearly a decade of blogging, I had to dig deep for this one. There are a lot of things I haven’t done yet, like travel, but maybe a couple of these will surprise you.
If you have a minute, stop by for the quick read, and while you’re visiting, check out Marcia’s fun site and amazing books. Her Wake Robin series is utterly charming.
I had the pleasure of choosing the image for February’s Ekphrastic prompt, and then struggled mightily to write for it! This poem is a Crown Cinquain, five stanzas, each with syllable count of 2/4/6/8/2.
The weekly #TankaTuesday syllabic poetry challenge is the brainstorm of Colleen at Wordcraft Poetry. Think about joining in. It’s great fun.
I’m back with another installment of Crafting Rich Characters. In Part 1 of this series, we explored our characters’ physical appearance, mannerisms, and quirks. These are parts of a character we can visualize, but they aren’t the only ones.
With this post, we’re going to look at Attributes and Traits, Skills and Abilities, Occupations and Interests. These are the things the character brings to the table as part of their physical world. Then we’ll mix up everything we’ve covered so far and see what happens.
Attributes and Traits
For purposes of character-building, we’ll use attributes and traits to describe someone’s personality. They may be qualities acquired through experience, or aspects of personality a character is born with and finds difficult to change. In essence, these elements of personality reflect the way the character approaches and interacts with the world.
January flew by with lots of blogging and reading (and no writing). February should prove more productive, but the reading paid off. I have some great books to share with you.
January book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of a sci-fi time-loop thriller, a YA magical coming of age story, a horror novelette, lots of fantasy, a thriller, and several variations on romance. Something for everyone!
Click on the covers for Amazon global links.
The South Tower by Alex Canna
Phew, what a story! I wasn’t sure about reading this book after being traumatized by the actual events of September 11th. That was a horrifying day, and I was afraid the book would stir up a lot of feelings. Instead, the story is a sci-fi thriller and page-turner, and I read it in one sitting, totally enthralled.
The sci-fi element of the story is a time loop similar to Groundhog Day. Nick Sandini returns over and over again to the point the plane slams into the South Tower, and with each iteration, he learns something new in his effort to escape the building alive. Each time he has 59 minutes before the tower collapses. That time frame keeps the book’s pace ripping!
Nick, as the main character, is perfection, an ordinary guy who attempts the impossible. His even-keeled temperament and focus on logical steps keep the book from becoming too emotionally heavy. He recruits other people trapped in the tower, and we get to know them quite well as they repeatedly problem-solve during the 59 minutes they have to figure the whole thing out.
The story is told in a very tight third-person point of view, so close that it feels like first-person, and I loved that. It made me root for Nick as if my own life depended on it. The author did an amazing job tracking the details of each loop and keeping Nick’s growing knowledge organized chronologically. I didn’t find a single plot hole, and the editing is pristine.
Despite the link to the tragic day in US history, in the end, the feeling that the book evoked wasn’t misery, but gratefulness for the many ordinary people who went above and beyond that day to save others. Highly recommended.
Through the Cracks by Sheri J. Kennedy
Lydia is a teenager dealing with the aftermath and trauma of her father’s overdose death and her own suicide attempt. Her mom keeps a controlling eye on her as they both plod toward recovery. Then Lydia falls through the cracks – physically – of a door into the shop neighboring her mother’s store. There she meets and befriends Audrey, an older woman with experience and wisdom who sees the beautiful light inside Lydia and helps her see it as well.
The paranormal aspects of the story enhance and give visual affirmation to the healing power of connection. They also support the story’s pace by facilitating interactions that would happen more slowly in a world without “magic.” In essence, though, this is a story about love, healing, choices, trust, and the power of meaningful human connections. It suggests that caring for others is a way to find value, meaning, and light inside us.
I liked all the characters and connected with each of them, particularly Lydia and her mom who share the POV. There aren’t any villains in the story, but there are flawed people who make mistakes and struggle through the consequences. Their personal and interpersonal challenges resonated, and their story arcs were gratifying. A beautifully crafted story about growing up, healing wounds, and choosing love. Highly recommended.
The Hay Bale by Priscilla Bettis
A very creepy novelette for those readers who want to spend about 45 minutes holding their breath! After several miscarriages, Claire leaves the city to spend some time grieving and recovering in an old mansion in the countryside. Her husband has left her due to her obsession with having a baby, and she maintains an inner dialog with him as she settles into the run-down place. It isn’t long until she hears scratching in the walls and a child crying. And in the nearby field, she discovers a single, large hay bale with something dangerous growing inside it.
The story feels a lot like classic Stephen King horror. I don’t want to spoil the plot but will share that there are some strange people in these pages and some odd goings-on. Claire is a strong protagonist, fearless in her pursuit of answers as well as in doing what she thinks is right. The ending is unexpected and made me wonder about her as well as the small community of characters she interacts with. Highly recommended to horror fans looking for a quick read.
The Prince’s Heir by Deborah Jay
Book 4, the last in the Five Kingdom’s series, ends with a bang! The characters I’ve come to know and care about face some new challenges as well as those that have been brewing since the beginning. King Marten is in danger of losing his throne, and his wife and child are pawns in a dangerous game fueled by religious zealots. Rustum and Risada long for a quiet life, but Rustum is called on by the magical gem-eyes to battle an ice dragon, leaving Risada behind to deal with the conspiracy, murders, and kidnappings.
The duality of the twin gods, one benevolent, the other murderous, finally plays out in this installment of the tale. There are parallels to our world, both ancient and contemporary: the genuine conviction of some people that they know the will of the gods, and the rampant hypocrisy of others who preach godliness while amassing power and committing crimes.
The last 25% of the book is a gigantic confrontation with gripping action. It’s well-written and ultimately satisfying. Subplots regarding the use of magic and family conflicts also wrap up nicely. The pace moves along well.
Rustum’s foray to defeat the ice dragon and capture a mad gem-eye seemed like a bit of a tangent, but it does hone the skills that he’ll need in the final chapters. The characters were consistent throughout the four books. Lead characters, including the villains, were well-rounded, credible, and nuanced, with interesting arcs over the course of the story.
The books all form one story and should be read from start to finish in order. Highly recommended for fans of high fantasy and appropriate for YA readers as well as adults.
Blue Snow in the Moonlight by Mary J. McCoy-Dressel
During a cold snowy December, Elle returns home to North Dakota for a wedding. She rents a cottage from a rancher named Cullen. They’re both still getting over failed marriages, and Cullen, with cattle and kids filling his hours, isn’t ready for another relationship. He may never be. But the attraction is instantaneous, and it goes both ways. The question is… will they give it a try.
This book is pure 100-proof romance without a smidgeon of other genres sneaking in. Romance readers will love the slow burn as these two gradually find their courage to love again. The growing relationship is the focus of the tale and sex scenes occur “off-page.”
What’s unique about the book is the wonderful and dangerous winter setting, as well as the fast-paced chaotic life of a rancher with full custody of his kids. There’s never a dull moment, and if you’re like me, there’s nothing quite as attractive as a man who’s a loving parent. Cullen is so that.
Though Cullen stole the show for me, Elle is also a likable, well-rounded genuine character, as are the kids and Cullen’s sister Sierra. There aren’t any bad guys in the story. Cullen is his own nemesis and obstacle in the way of finding love. His kids, on the other hand, are all for it. Highly recommended for romance fans.
The Rebel’s Redemption by Jacquie Biggar
The Wounded Hearts series follows the post-war lives of a Seal Team as they transition to civilian life. So far, each book I’ve read features one of the team members, and as thriller-romance mash-ups, the action in their lives hasn’t quite fallen off as other opportunities arise.
This book focuses on Jared, the team’s electronics guy, and Annie, the woman he abandoned 8 years ago when he went to war. They have a stormy past, an intense attraction, and a surprise for him in the form of a seven-year-old son. When the boy is kidnapped, they can’t help but join forces, and the sparks fly.
A second plotline weaves through the book. This one involves the capture of Maggie, a DEA agent working undercover to investigate a sex-trafficking ring. Her partner, Adam, has no idea where she is. This plot thread doesn’t resolve by the end, and it makes a great case for reading on in the series.
Of course, there’s romance between Jared and Annie. I didn’t quite believe they would take time for romance with their child kidnapped and in mortal danger. They had their frantic moments, bouts of anger and tears, and opportunities to comfort each other, but for me, some of the romantic interludes robbed the story of a sense of desperation.
The thriller elements of the book are spot on. Characterization is excellent, the action fast-paced, and the stakes high. The story is told from third-person multiple viewpoints, and the perspectives worked well. I enjoyed that the narrative touched briefly on many of the characters I met in Book 1. And I appreciated the relationships among the group of men, especially their ongoing brotherhood and concern for each other.
I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in Book 3. Highly recommended for fans of romance/thriller mash-ups, and series readers who enjoy male friendships among a band of brothers.
Rage by Sue Rovens
An interrupted suicide catapults Weston Cross into mental health counseling with Lindsey Yager. She’s a grossly incompetent therapist with a collapsing marriage and a serious drinking problem, and the combination adds up to disaster. When Lindsey refuses to listen to Weston’s dark thoughts, she awakens his rage. And when Weston’s kindly neighbor Jay suggests that Weston put his energy into making the world a better place, Weston has his own ideas about what that means.
This thriller unfolds with an omniscient POV, giving the reader a broad view of the situation as well as insight into each character’s thoughts, backstory, and motivations. As main characters, neither Lindsey nor Weston is likable. Secondary characters, however, shine in that department. Jay, the neighbor, and Jeremy, Lindsey’s soon-to-be ex-husband, were the ones I cared for and worried about.
Weston is a deftly written, well-rounded villain, and it was hard to pick just one area of his beat-upon life that compelled him to attempt suicide. After Lindsey’s terrible counseling, his pathology ends up manifesting sexually, so readers should be prepared for some explicit sexual behaviors.
The book is a page-turner with a snappy pace, and I read it in a day. I had no idea how things were going to resolve, and the surprise ending made perfect sense. Perhaps my only disappointment was that Lindsey wasn’t present in the final climactic scene to face the havoc. That said, this was an enjoyable read, and I’ll be picking up more books by this author. Recommended for fans of thrillers who love a quick read.
Dead of Winter: Journey 10 by Teagan Riordan Geneviene
After reviewing 9 Journeys in this epic fantasy adventure, it’s hard to say anything new about the complex and varied characters and engaging plot, the magical devices and mystical settings. This episode continues at the lost library and centers on a painting that serves as a portal to Pergesca, a city by the sea.
In this Journey, one character’s life comes to an end, a devastating experience for Emlyn. One of my favorite side characters, a dragon, makes a reappearance, and a bit of humor takes place as Emlyn visits her first “public house.” She continues to grow into her power as someone who can pass easily through portals into the realm of the dead and beyond. Once again, she, Zasha, and Osabide are separated from their group, and more than ever, the trio are becoming the reborn women on whose shoulders the world depends.
Readers who enjoy epic fantasy should start this serialized story with Journey 1. I’m looking forward to reading onward.
Dead of Winter: Journey 11 by Teagan Riordan Geneviene
I can tell now that the journeys are building to a climax. Gethin finds the sword of his ancestors and it seems he will play an important role in the coming battle as well as in protecting Emlyn. While most of the Deae Matres and their protectors are still in the Lost Library, Emlyn, Sasha, and Osabide continue their work in Pergesca where the government ignores their warnings of Arawn’s army of the dead.
This journey felt like an amassing of power with a couple of new characters and preparations on all sides for a showdown. While some critical pieces to the story are put into play, the journey is also rich with worldbuilding details, including descriptions of clothing and foods and a culture foreign to Emlyn. She’s becoming more confident in her power even as she disguises herself to play a part in a grand deception. I’m eager to begin Journey 12.
Thanks to everyone who took the time to write and read responses to the TBR story challenge. I’m delighted to share my offering. I hope you enjoy the story. Happy Reading!
Readers Anonymous: A 12-Step Program
I have a book problem. Check. First step done in my 12-step program.
Sucking in a breath, I push through the library’s wooden doors, ready to deal with my kindle addiction. The fluorescent lights shine on colorful shelves and comfy chairs, and I resist the temptation to browse. Some of the titles pop from the spines as if sprinkled with magic dust. The covers of fantasy books attract my eyes like lodestones. Down by my ankle, my Kindle tugs on my jeans and whispers, “Just read the blurb. Do it, do it, do it.”
I drop my gaze to the chubby little pest and shake my pant-leg loose of its grip. “No. We’re here to deal with your insatiable appetite. This has to stop.” My stubborn kindle digs his claws into my right boot, and I march to the meeting room in the back, dragging him across the worn carpet with every other step.
The room is almost bare of distractions. Someone with foresight covered the bookshelves with mismatched tablecloths. Four folding chairs form a circle, occupied by four women with a variety of e-book readers, every one of the devices glowering in defiance. The women look harried, and they scooch over to make room for one more chair.
They start introducing themselves.
Shelley smiles broadly and goes first. She’s in her twenties, a sales rep, who knew she had a problem when she started reading thrillers while stopped at traffic lights. Getting rear-ended propelled her into the group. She thinks she’ll be ready to move on after a few more meetings, but her e-reader squirms on her lap like a hungry toddler in a candy store, ready to raid the chocolate bars.
The woman to Shelley’s left rolls her eyes. She’s Mildred, a middle-aged reader of horror and a voracious fan of Clive Barker and Stephen King. She keeps her pudgy Kindle on a leash, which she’s tied to her chair. The growling beast has finished off a jar of red herrings, and Mildred ignores the thing as it shreds the corner of the carpet with its serrated teeth. “I keep him in a locked cage at home,” she says as if she’s kicked the habit.
“But, dear, you haven’t removed his internet access,” the next lady points out. “He’s sneaking anthologies.” Harriet is about ninety, sitting primly in a black coat and lace-up boots. The flattened hat on her gray head sports a flurry of raven feathers. She’s a life-long reader of Gothic romances.
When it’s Harriet’s time to fess up, she sighs dramatically. “My switch from hardcovers to paperbacks initiated an inevitable slide down the slippery slope into ebooks, and I’ve become addicted to having books at my fingertips.” Her kindle swoons into her leg and bats its eyelashes seductively. She frowns and locks the things between her heels.
“I like the instant gratification too,” I admit. “As soon as I finish a book, I like starting a new one.”
The next lady in the circle pats my knee and snaps her gum. “We all do, dear. I’m Greta. I’m a sci-fi binger.” She dresses like she’s going to a dance club the minute the meeting adjourns. She crosses her legs, and her spikey heel whacks her battered tablet flat onto its cover. She scoops up the pot-bellied blimp and sits it on her lap. “I put the thing on a diet. You know… buy one, read two.”
The other women nod knowingly, including me.
“Then, I’ll have one of those days. You know the kind.” Greta huffs. “We just fall off the wagon and start buying trilogies, and suddenly I’ve lost months of progress.”
Mildred rolls her eyes. “I told you not to sign up for Kindle Unlimited.”
“But it’s such a good deal,” Shelley pipes in. Her e-reader squirms from her lap and waddles to the door leading to the stacks. He collapses and starts wailing.
“And that’s what you end up with.” Mildred cants her head toward the tantrum.
“Try to ignore him,” Shelley whispers.
His misery is hard to overlook, but it’s my turn. “Well, I’m Diana, and I’ve noticed that my kindle is growing a paunch. I know there are people with nearly a thousand books, and I’m not that bad yet…” All four of them suddenly look everywhere but at my face. “But I have months’ worth of reading that I’ll never get to, and it’s only getting worse.” My greedy little Kindle grumbles and snivels until I stuff it in my bag and close the zipper. “It doesn’t stop. It’s insatiable.”
“They lack restraint,” Harriet says. “Too much passion and desire.”
“Never a dull moment though.” Mildred gives the leash a tug, and her kindle gnashes its teeth. “Save it for when we get home,” she mutters, and it plops down on its haunches and glowers.
Greta unwraps another piece of gum and pops it between her scarlet lips. “I’ll admit, I can’t remember the last time I was bored. I just finished the best book, my favorite this year. I’d definitely recommend it.”
“Oooh,” Shelly hurries to the door and grabs her e-reader. It quits hollering and gurgles at her. “What’s the title?”
“Shelly!” Mildred frowns. “No new books!”
Shelly stops short and pouts as she takes her seat. “But… it’s Greta’s favorite.”
“I read an excellent romance mash-up by an indie author.” Harriet’s face lights up. “It had the perfect blend of thrills and lust.”
“Gah!” Shelley looks stricken. Her e-reader drools on her hands.
I give her a commiserating smile. I want to hear about the books too. Just the sound of a great title makes me want to snuggle up with my roly-poly Kindle and read. I unzip my bag and let the poor starving porker out. It climbs onto my lap, looking morose. The group sits silently for a moment, both ladies and e-readers. The steam’s run out of our meeting.
“I don’t know if this group is the right fit for me,” I say.
Shelley tucks her hair behind her ear. “It is kind of depressing.”
“There’s a degree of hopelessness.” Harriet’s lips pinch as the brightness in her face dims.
Greta gazes down at her tablet. “I never liked book-diets. They’re just fads. They never work.”
Mildred draws in a resigned breath, and her gaze pins me to my chair. “Do you have any ideas as to how we can make our group function better?”
“Actually, I do.” I smile at the ladies. “How about we turn it into a book club?”