Somehow, while in the midst of my marathon book tour, I also managed to read some books, many of them new releases. What a busy autumn. I thought I’d better share some reviews now before they pile up.
Once again, I want to thank all those bloggers and readers who’ve supported me on my tour with your wonderful visits and comments. I’m sure you’re getting sick of me, but I’m on the home stretch now. I also hope you’ve enjoyed meeting other bloggers and learning about their books.
October’s (part one) reviews include my 4 and 5-star reads of a fiction anthology, two crime thrillers, two coming-of-age women’s lit novels, a western contemporary romance, and an urban fantasy.
Click on the covers for Amazon global links.
Distant Flickers: Stories of Identity and Loss (An Anthology)
Usually, when I read an anthology, it’s easy to pick out my favorite stories. Those are the memorable ones that I acknowledge in a review—exquisitely written, emotionally stirring, and resonant as I recall them hours after closing the book. What am I to do when every story fits that description?
Each story in this anthology is unique, and yet they are built around the theme of identity and loss, often involving a pivotal decision, a step into the unknown, or acknowledging a hard truth. In some ways, they’re character studies, richly crafted glimpses into human lives and the circumstances that shape them.
Now I’ll do what I said I couldn’t do. There are a handful of stories that have stuck with me since I closed the book a couple of days ago: “Where Secrets Go to Hide” by Keith Madsen, “The Coveting” by Carol LaHines, “Diary Omissions” by Elizabeth Gauffreau, and “A Spoonful of Soup” by Rita Baker. This collection of ten tales by eight authors isn’t a long book, and I read it in a couple of hours. Highly recommended to readers who love character-driven and beautifully written human stories.
Ghost of a Chance by Jaye Marie
David Snow fails his fitness test after getting shot with a crossbow. As a result, he loses the detective job he loved. But that’s not the only thing in his life falling apart. His wife, Jane, is having a torrid and dangerous affair, and his attempt to work as a private investigator is ticking off Alan, a rival who seems determined to make him suffer. The only good thing happening in his life is Laurie, a college student with a couple of mysteries to solve. She becomes his sidekick, affectionately known as Nancy Drew.
The story unfolds in four POVs (for the aforementioned characters). David tells his story in 1st person and the other three in 3rd person. The pace moves along quickly with plenty of action and just the right amount of reference to previous books in the series. I had no trouble following and polished off the book in a single day.
The characters were complex and multifaceted. Laurie is a ray of sunshine, and it was a toss-up as to whether I liked her or David the best. Jane and Alan are much more troubled and less likable, particularly Alan who falls deeply into a villainous role.
The read seems to work well as a stand-alone, but two major plot threads are left open for a future book: 1) a creepy paranormal/possession case that David is investigating. And 2) an unexpected murder that points in a few different directions. For readers who don’t mind a couple of loose ends, both are reasons to look forward to the next book. Highly recommended to fans of crime novels and thrillers who enjoy a paranormal twist.
Just Before Sunrise by Carol Balawyder
Nadine has her sights on her wealthy husband Logan’s life insurance, and the quickest way to cash in is to murder the older man. An affair with Charlie, Logan’s stepson from a previous marriage, guarantees her an accomplice. When photos show up of the man’s drowning, Nadine and Charlie start planning a second murder, but this time, they need someone to take the fall. Enter Maya, a sixteen-year-old trying to get off the streets and turn her life around. Charlie plays Maya, entrances her, and Maya is completely taken in.
The pace of this suspenseful read moves along quickly right from the start. I held my breath as I could see Maya making one mistake after another and falling in love with a man who was manipulating her and setting her up. Fortunately, at age sixteen, she has some allies looking out for her, but the heart wants what the heart wants.
The story is free of graphic sex and violence. It unfolds in multiple POVs, all third person except for Maya, whose chapters are in first person. I liked Maya as a character. Despite her naivete, she’s a believable teen with a full backstory and range of emotions. Nadine and Charlie were utterly devious, and I enjoyed their scenes, eager for them to fail. A subplot between two secondary characters threads through the main story. A fast-paced, suspenseful read that I highly recommend to fans of coming-of-age thrillers.
Chocolate for Breakfast by Martha Reynolds
In 1979, Bernadette is on her way to spend her junior year abroad in Zurich. She plans to study and travel, but her initial goal is to lose her virginity. The future is wide open and life is still an adventure. She accomplishes her goal but also ends up pregnant. Her worries, her choices, and the outcome are covered in the first 75% of the read.
Even though the decision is hers, and she has wonderful support from those around her, the final outcome isn’t certain, and I was completely immersed in the story. Bernie’s every choice involves sacrifice, and the book made me think about the thousands of women faced with the same dilemma, many with fewer resources. Bernie is a well-rounded and thoroughly believable character as are all secondary characters from top to bottom.
The last 25% of the book jumps ahead twenty-three years to 2002. Bernie is 43 years old and still struggling with her past decision, her life in shambles. A death in her family opens a shocking door to understanding and forgiveness and another choice—whether to walk through. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it to readers of women’s lit, family sagas, and coming-of-age stories. (Kindle Unlimited>)
Secret Santa’s Rundown Sleigh by Mary J. McCoy-Dressel
Terra and her daughter Kylee are on their way to visit family for Christmas when their car breaks down. Stuck in a small town, with every hotel booked solid for the holiday and a winter storm on the way, Terra is desperate. A kindly waitress at the local diner offers them a place to stay – at her brother’s home.
Jude Overton, a widower with a young daughter Kylee’s age, isn’t happy about the unexpected visitors. As the storm sets in, Jude, the town’s Secret Santa, is stuck without “elves.” He needs Terra’s help delivering presents, and they pack the girls into his rundown sleigh. All does not go well … at first.
This hour-long read is a light-hearted romance with all the trimmings for the holiday. The characters are likable and genuine. Terra and Jude share the POV, the pace speeds along, and the plot is cute. I loved the two girls. They were delightful, funny, and heartwarming. A highly recommended Christmas romance for readers looking for a dose of good cheer. (Kindle Unlimited.)
The Midnight Rambler (The Hat series, #6) by C. C. Boyack
I’ve read a few of Boyack’s books from the Hat series. They’re wild paranormal adventures that move at a mind-boggling pace and are full of clever asides and fun banter. I read this one in a single sitting, the same day I purchased it.
Lizzie and the Hat have a new friend, Ray, who desperately needs a magical medicine to stay alive, and the witch who knows how to make it has disappeared. But that isn’t their only problem. The Midnight Rambler is back, a living scarecrow and old enemy of the Hat. With his pumpkinhead army, he’s hell-bent on killing the Hat and doesn’t care who gets in the way.
Between all the madcap violence and humor there are also moments of tenderness as Ray and Lizzie begin a relationship. Their intimacy and Ray’s impending death raise the stakes as does the Rambler’s killing spree. I enjoyed seeing this new side of Lizzie.
Characters from past books have cameos throughout this one, and there are references to previous stories. It isn’t necessary to have read the books in order, though I recommend it, simply as a way to become familiar with the colorful cast of characters as they enter the series. “The Hat” is definitely the place to start. I highly recommend this series to readers looking for an entertaining jaunt through Boyack’s imagination. (Kindle Unlimited.)
Three Years of Her Life by C. E. Robinson
At the opening of Robinson’s debut novel, Elizabeth is on her way to nursing school. It’s 1957, and she stops by to visit her stern grandmother, a woman of German descent, who gives her a locket that belonged to Elizabeth’s deceased grandfather. Inside the locket is the picture of a woman, and her grandmother wants Elizabeth to find out who the woman was.
But Elizabeth gets distracted with nursing school and a romance with Erik, a Jewish doctor and all-around great guy. When she eventually learns the truth of the locket’s portrait—that the woman is her true great-grandmother, and that she was Jewish—her extended family erupts with some hateful antisemitism.
Though her family’s reaction is painful, and Erik’s Jewish mother is resentful of Elizabeth’s relationship with her son, Elizabeth and Erik are generally secure in their relationship, and at its heart, this is a romance with some ups and downs, most of them brought on by Elizabeth’s childhood trauma at her grandmother’s hands.
Elizabeth’s love of music (something she inherited from her grandfather) plays a large role in the story, and her infatuation with her guitar teacher creates some relationship tension. Erik is a sweetheart throughout, and he was my favorite character, along with Marlene, Elizabeth’s no-nonsense friend.
The pace is moderate with a fair amount of exposition in the beginning, which gets Elizabeth through nursing school. Once she and Erik fall in love, there are numerous vignettes showing the development of their relationship as well as her growing musical talent. A significant change happens in the last 15% of the story when Erik travels to Germany as the Berlin Wall reshapes Europe, finishing up the love story with plenty of suspense. This is a lovely debut romance novel for readers who enjoy a bit of historical fiction, family saga, and suspense added into the mix.