March Madness definitely applies. This month was intense with editing and care-giving, but I also found time for some wonderful books.
Below are reviews for this month’s 4 and 5-star reads including a family drama/cozy mystery, a western romance, a story story anthology, a paranormal romance, and another installment of a fantasy serial.
Click on the covers for Amazon global links.
That Darkest Place by Marcia Meara
Meara continues to impress me with her characters, their emotional depth, the reality of their relationships, and how utterly genuine they feel. They’re like people I know—working, struggling, caring for each other, arguing, forgiving, doubting themselves, dealing with baggage from their pasts, and ultimately finding their way. This book, the final installment in the Riverbend trilogy has all that.
The story focuses on the Painter brothers. Their parents are deceased, and it’s only the three of them. When Jackson is severely injured in an auto accident, Forrest and Hunter are committed to seeing him pull through, not only physically, but emotionally. The hurdles are many, including Jackson’s guilt over the death of his passenger, the woman he intended to marry.
There’s an action-oriented subplot, as Jackson starts receiving death threats which escalate into violence. It keeps the tension up, but to be honest, it was the brothers’ relationships that kept me glued to the read. I loved their steadfast loyalty to one another, their good hearts, and pure determination in the face of challenges.
There’s also plenty of romance, but without a lot of superficial drama. The challenges faced by the characters are very real and relatable, and though there are hurdles to overcome, there’s a pervasive feeling of maturity, forgiveness, and commitment. So, if readers are interested in great characters with good hearts and a compelling story, I can highly recommend this series. The last book, this one, will stick with you for a long time. (Kindle Unlimited).
Silver Hills by Sandra Cox
Cox writes western romances, but this book is so much more than that. It’s full of action and adventure, and at times, it also feels like a family saga about a close-knit group of people and how they fare through their lifetimes. Aside from the bad guys, there’s kindness, forgiveness, healing, respect, friendship, and, of course, love. The romance is clean, so this read would be appropriate for teens as well as adults.
Alexandria is fleeing something terrible from her past, and dressed as a boy, she joins a cattle drive. Her skills get her noticed, but not quite as much as her outspoken attitude. And not everyone is fooled by her baggy clothes and low-slung hat. By the end of the drive, Alex’s secret is out, and she’s bewitched her boss, Brandon Wade, owner of the Silverhills Ranch. A stormy romance begins, but there’s a ranch to run, comancheros causing havoc, and that secret from her past is tracking her down.
I loved the characters. Alexandria is feisty and outspoken, and though she frequently requires rescue, she’s tough and skilled with a gun, which comes in handy. Brandon is also strong-willed, and though at times I felt he was pushy about marrying Alex, they were an excellent match. Secondary characters are rich with personality and many of them memorable. I appreciated that the bad guys were also nuanced, especially the comanchero leader, which increased my interest in the story.
The settings are well-described, and there’s plenty of detail about ranch life and raising cattle to give the story an air of authenticity. The plot doesn’t have a “one and done” crisis, which contributed to the feeling I was indulging in a family saga. Unlike many romances that end with a wedding, this story continues into old age, and that part brought a tear to this reader’s eye.
Highly recommended to readers of westerns who also enjoy romance, great characters, plenty of action, and stories about people who won the west. (Kindle Unlimited).
Strange Hwy: Short Stories by Beem Weeks
Strange Hwy is a book of 19 short stories, and though I wouldn’t characterize them as Strange, they certainly are well written and worth reading. Each story is very different from the others, and they range from heartwarming to horror, and from paranormal to family drama. I never knew what was coming next.
My favorite story in the book was the second, titled Constant as the Day. For me, this one was riveting, deeply emotional, and heartbreaking. I would have bought the book just to read this one brief story. One thing that also made it unique as well as impressive is that it’s written in second-person, an extremely challenging undertaking that Weeks pulled off beautifully. It drew me in and didn’t let go.
There are a lot of other stand-out stories including Alterations, Family Traditions, Sweetie Girl, Dodging the Bullet, and Looking for Lucy (and more). A highly recommended book for short story readers who enjoy variety and well-crafted tales.
Ghostly Interference by Jan Sikes
Jag Peters is a bit of a goodie-two-shoes nerd who grew up in an emotionally healthy family. He falls hard for biker/waitress Rena Jett, a woman with a troubled past who doesn’t trust anyone or believe that life will ever be kind. Though Jag’s attraction is immediate, it takes some time for Rena to warm up to him. Rena’s brother Sam, a soldier, died in Afghanistan, and his ghost makes it clear to Jag that he wants his sister to be happy.
Three-quarters of the book is romance with a capital R, focused on the growing relationship. There’s little conflict as the characters get to know and trust each other. Two aspects of Jag’s life get some extra text—his musical abilities and the music scene, and the “new age” spiritual beliefs he’s gained from his mother. There’s some graphic sex, but the majority of the read is Jag simply being thoughtful and nice. He’s almost too perfect, and for that reason, I found Rena a more compelling character.
The story takes a turn in the last quarter, flipping into some great action as Jag and Rena become involved in helping a friend in danger. Both of them shine as they risk their lives to save the day. This last part of the story zips by after the casual pace getting to this point. Recommended to readers who enjoy basking in romance and watching a relationship grow.
Dead of Winter: Journey 12: Goddesses by Teagan Riordain Geneviene
I continue to be impressed by the world-building and scope of this epic fantasy. This “journey” like many of the others is a two-hour read, easily devoured in one sitting. The story advances as the Deae Matres join with the Lost Library Guard in Pergesca. They get their first glimpse of the thousands-strong army of the dead as it spreads over the land.
Though late in the serial, the large cast of characters continues to expand. Two goddesses enter the story, and though one seems to be an ally, her role is yet unclear. Bits of backstory and world-building details make for a moderate pace, which I expect will ramp up as the battle begins. I’m eager for the final journeys and to see how everything comes together, particularly for Emlyn.