July Book Reviews

Yes, it’s only the middle of July, but in a few days, I’m heading out to explore the Canadian Rockies. For a couple of glorious weeks, I’ll be hiking here:

And hopefully I’ll run into one of these (at a distance):

I already have a bunch of reviews to share and didn’t want the stack to grow too high.

And, of course, I’ll be taking a pile of books with me.

Below are reviews for this month’s 4 and 5-star reads including a western romance, military suspense, historical fiction, biographical fiction, a middle-grade fantasy, a coming of age paranormal fiction, a YA fantasy romance, and a short-story thriller. Phew!

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Montana Shootists by Sandra Cox

 What a great read! This is one of my favorites of Cox’s western time-travel romances. Abby Jennings is a US Marine who just lost the love of her life in a tragic fire. She travels home to her family’s Montana ranch to get her bearings and while riding in the mountains, she falls through a portal into the year 1882, right into the sights of gun-for-hire Jake Barrow.

One of the things I loved about the book is that Abby’s stint as a marine made her so confident and tough. She has a tender heart but isn’t intimidated by the roughest, rowdiest of cowboys. She knows how to handle a gun and insists on wearing pants. No helpless woman here. She isn’t going to get pushed around or try to fit into an antiquated feminine role. It was great to watch her stand up to the disrespectful and dangerous men. No wonder Jake was not only exasperated but awestruck.

Abby and Jake are well-drawn protagonists with full personalities, and I loved the strong friendship that formed the basis of their relationship before romantic feelings rose to the forefront. Jake is more of a mystery since Abby carries most of the POV, but his genuine respect and admiration come through loud and clear. I couldn’t help feeling this pair was made for each other.

The secondary characters are equally rich, and many have character arcs of their own. The pace is just right, and I enjoyed the clever and highly satisfying way the plot came together. Very Romantic at the end and just lovely. This would make a great movie. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy westerns, romance, time-travel, and plain old great stories. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

The Choice: the unexpected heroes by Gwen Plano

This is Book Two in the series and it follows two weeks on the heels of Book One, The Contract. The Contract ended with a foiled assassination attempt on the President of the USA from within the government. Global repercussions were avoided, but important lives were lost. The international plot has yet to be investigated and those accountable brought to justice. That’s the focus of this read.

Admiral Joseph Parker is joined by civilian Donna Tucker and Airforce Public Relations employee Jim Andersen at Begert Airforce Base to begin the investigation. A trustworthy team forms and most of the book focuses on tracking down clues and following leads. The investigation is complex but logical and easy to follow.

And it’s not all routine work as the guilty parties are still at large. As the investigation gets closer to discovering the depth and breadth of the conspiracy, anyone with information that might break open the case starts dying. A sense of urgency intensifies as the bodies stack up and the death threats zero in on the team. The third-person present tense POV adds to the sense of immediacy.

I liked all of the characters, particularly the team of protagonists. They’re smart, and they care deeply about what happened and about getting to the truth. Aside from the thrills, there are romantic subplots as well as a paranormal/spiritual element to the story. The book ends with a cliff-hanger, so readers should be prepared to read onward. Highly recommended to fans of military thrillers.

*****

Loving Lady Lazuli by Shehanne Moore

Ten years ago, Sapphire, the infamous London jewel thief, slipped the Wentworth emeralds into the pocket of an unsuspecting young lord. Caught with the jewels, Devorlane Hawley spent ten years serving in the military, which included getting shot. At the end of his service, he returns home to find a very familiar face at his welcoming party.

Cassidy Armstrong feigns innocence and concocts a series of lies that unravel as quickly as she can think them up. Retired from her years as Sapphire, she’s on a mission to prove that she’s the heir to the Armstrong estate, but in order to do that, she needs to scour a stack of paperwork entrusted to you-know-who… Devorlane. Bent on revenge, Devorlane agrees to let her search through the documents as long as she agrees to become his mistress for the duration of her search.

These characters dislike each other intensely (despite their attraction), and that conflicting dynamic plays out for most of the book as they attempt to irritate each other. Multiple POVs give glimpses into both characters’ thoughts and motivations as well as their ambivalence. As always with Moore’s romances, there is plenty of witty humor, and to me, the action/thoughts around sex were more entertaining than the act itself.

Secondary characters are colorful and distinct, adding complications and personality outside the main conflict. The pace is snappy, and I read the book in one sitting. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy witty characters, enemies to friends romances, and a wild plot.

*****

Knuckleheads by Dan Antion

I love stories about kids, especially when they include a blend of relatable antics, tough moments, and heart-warming friendships. Knuckleheads touches on all of those elements in a paranormal tale about two friends, Zach and Billy. Zach, the pov character, has lucid dreams in which he can physically travel, and Billy can see the future.

The tale of Zach and Billy’s friendship begins when they’re in elementary school and extends until they graduate from high school with set plans for the future. It’s a story within a story, told by an older Zach to his adult daughter Abbey over a morning’s breakfast. The frequent intervals of present moment conversation (shown in italics) feel perfectly natural and are as entertaining as the reminiscence.

The novel moves at a good pace, and the characterization is excellent across the board, from teachers to a psychiatrist to the friendly but shady characters in the real estate office next door to the bowling alley owned by Zach’s dad. His father was one of my favorite characters with his endless street-smart wisdom and support of Zach as he navigates childhood challenges and his unique ability.

The question as to why Billy didn’t attend Zach’s retirement party is the reason for the conversation between Zach and Abbey, and this remains a mystery at the close of the book. The story ends without a major climax and with a sense of more to come. If readers want the answers, I suspect they’ll have to wait for the second book. I highly recommend this novel to readers who enjoy coming-of-age stories with a bit of a paranormal twist.

*****

Circumstances of Childhood by John W. Howell

Greg and Keith have been best friends, as close as brothers, since their childhoods. They become college football stars and life is going great. Then a tragic accident kills Keith and changes their friendship forever. Though passed on, Keith never leaves Greg side and accompanies him on his journey into middle age, at which time Greg’s investment business comes under investigation and his life falls apart.

Until Keith dies, their lives are consumed with high school football where both excel. My husband and I listened to the book while painting our old deck chairs, and hubby (who played the game in high school and college) LOVED that part of the book, chuckling at the humor, the action, and how authentic it was.

Keith functions as an omniscient narrator for about half of the book, able to describe Greg’s life, including his thoughts and feelings as well as those of the people around him. Though I usually don’t care for omniscient POVs, in this case I thought it fit the story and worked well. When Greg’s life hits a low point, the POV becomes his for the remainder of the book.

I enjoyed all the characters, especially Keith and Greg. Secondary characters were also fully formed and felt authentic to me. The plot unfolds like a memoir of a friendship until the POV switch when the investigation into Greg’s business heats up with dire risks and lots of intrigue, similar to a suspense novel. The pace picks up to match the action.

This is an unusual book (almost like two books in one). Both my husband and I enjoyed it, and we finished it while putting on the last coat of paint. It made the time fly by. Recommended to readers who enjoy stories about friendship with a taste for the paranormal and a big helping of suspense. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Following the Green Rabbit by Chris Hall

Young Bryony, her little sister Bethany, and their tutor, Mr. Eyre, follow a green rabbit into the woods beyond the orchard and end up two hundred years in the past. All is not well in old England. Lord Childecott has imposed a curfew and increased taxes, and he rules with an iron fist.

The trio of time travelers is taken in by the village residents, and while Bethany is kept safe and busy with a kitten, Mr. Eyre falls into Childecott’s hands with a number of other adults. That leaves Bryony and a group of local young people to see if they can save the day. What follows is lots of well-paced action with captures and escapes, chases and near misses.

This is a cute story with colorful characters, and though there are a lot of them, I was able to keep them straight. Bryony is a brave young lady who cares for her younger sister, and ultimately it’s her intelligence and resolve that leads to a solution. Mr. Eyre is delightful and his enthusiasm made him one of my favorites. Childecott and his henchman Smiler have a dastardly air similar to Captain Hook and Smee (Peter Pan).

Though Childecott issues plenty of threats, there’s minimal violence, and the cast of young protagonists makes this book appropriate for middle-grade readers, young teens, and the young at heart. Recommended to fans of adventure tales where children are the heroes. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

The One Chosen: A Diasodz Short Story by Yvette M. Calleiro

The One Chosen is a novelette that accompanies The Chronicle of the Diasodz series, and it was my first exposure to the characters and world. Set in the 1600s, young people with special talents (fighting, teleportation, healing) become the Diasodz, secret protectors of humans.

Valerie, chosen for the honor, enters a period of training as a warrior. She becomes infatuated with one of her trainers, Nolan, but he’s all business and keeps her at a distance. Then a training mission goes awry, thrusting Valerie and Nolan into a life or death situation that changes everything.

This is a YA fantasy romance complete with love triangles and long looks. It’s a short 90-minute read with a rapid pace that doesn’t leave much time for significant character development or plausible action beyond the romantic elements. I liked Valerie’s spunk and would have enjoyed learning more about her, Nolan, and Drake (the third point of the love triangle who disappears halfway through the read).

I’m tempted to recommend that readers enjoy this novelette later in the series when they already know the characters. It would make a nice romantic interlude or backstory. For readers who enjoy fantasy combined with YA romance, it’s likely the perfect fix.

*****

The Intruder: A Short Thriller by Marlena Smith

This dark story is a quick 15-minute read. Serenity lives alone in a small town and is startled to discover intimate photos of herself on her phone, ones she didn’t take. The police are kind and helpful, but nothing will stop her terrifying journey to the truth. An entertaining read that was over all too soon. Recommended for fans of dark short stories.

*****

See you in two weeks!

Happy Reading!

June Book Reviews (Part Two)

More book reviews for the month of June, as promised. I suspect July will be quieter (famous last words). I hope you find a great read for the beach or hammock, or for those readers in the thick of winter, a story to warm you by the fire.

Below are reviews for this month’s 4 and 5-star reads including fantasy, YA fantasy, women’s fiction, romance, historical fiction, and a 10-author collaborative suspense novel.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

Can I find the words to say how much I enjoyed this magical fantasy series? Probably not. This is Book 3 of the Winternight Trilogy, and it’s easy to see why it’s a best seller. The trilogy is a retelling of a Russian (Ukrainian) folk tale, and I loved the lore and mythology, the old-world beliefs in the unseen spirits of land and rivers, dooryards and kitchens.

The invisible world is alive, but fading in the face of Christianity. Vasya embraces her identity as a witch as well as her ability to cross into the mysterious and dangerous spirit world. As war looms, Vasya is determined to save the old gods, her family, and the country that tried to kill her. Her sacrifices and courage are gripping, and there are some terrifying and heart-wrenching scenes in this book. I found it almost impossible to put down.

On top of that, the writing is exquisite with beautiful metaphors and descriptions. For readers who love lyrical storytelling, the book is mesmerizing. Characters are deeply drawn, straight from lore and legend, and the relationships are fraught with loyalty, loathing, cruelty, and love. At its heart, this is a love story, but nothing is straightforward and simple in this series. Highly recommended to fantasy readers, especially those who enjoy fairytale retellings, magic, lore, mythology, stupendous characters, a gripping tale, and beautiful writing.

*****

Bits of Broken Glass by Martha Reynolds

A twenty-fifth high school reunion is being planned for six months in the future, and for four characters it becomes an opportunity to think back on how those important years shaped them. For Kellie and Joe it stirs up old trauma. For Cherry, it’s an opportunity to make amends, and for Scott it’s an opportunity missed.

The actual reunion takes place in the last chapter, so the book is really about the lead-up to that event. Each character has a separate POV narrative, which begins to intersect with other characters as the day draws near. I enjoyed the way the author slowly revealed each character’s memories as well as how their lives had progressed. The healing that takes place was cathartic and touching. To me, it seemed that karma was in play, and that kindness bred kindness, as well as the other way around.

The characters were beautifully crafted, their actions and choices realistic and their emotions full of depth. Secondary characters had the same three-dimensional feel. The story unfolds in third-person with a little first-person mixed in. The pace was excellent, and I read the book in two days since it caught me and wouldn’t let go. Recommended to readers who enjoy women’s fiction, and stories about personal growth and rising above old hurts. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Between the Vines by Staci Troilo

Elena is a wedding planner who doesn’t trust love. In fact, she’s downright cynical. Aaron, a local cop, has been cheated on in his past, and he’s sworn off love. But his sister’s wedding brings him face to face with Elena and neither of them know how to handle the attraction. Then Heather, Aaron’s cheating ex-girlfriend and a woman you love to hate, enters the scene and pins a target on Elena’s back.

I read this short romance in a couple of hours. The third of the Keystone Couples novellas, the book has fun cameos from the first two but can easily be read as a stand-alone. The pace moves along quickly with plenty of cross-communication, fiery ladies, and a cop who’s not sure how to handle any of it. There are also some very tender testaments to love, and a huge dollop of kindness. An entertaining quick read highly recommended to romance fans. (Kindle Unlimited)

*****

Jealousy of a Viking by V. M. Sang

This historical fiction takes place around the year 860 AD when Danes and Saxons were occupying Britain. Helgha is a young woman who falls in love with Erik, a man above her status. With marriage out of the question, Erik kills her father and sweeps Helgha away to become his bed slave. In love with him, Helgha complies and bears him two sons. And when Erik weds someone of his own class, Helgha begins a devious journey of sabotaging his wife’s pregnancies. Her actions set off a cascade of tragedies.

I’m happy to say that, though jealousy and wicked thoughts follow her for most of the book, Helgha has an arc that allows her to mature and find redemption. She’s a deeply drawn character, and when she finds her heart and inner strength, it’s refreshing. As she matured and became a kinder person, I connected more with her than I did in the beginning. I didn’t like either of the men she loved (due to their treatment of women), but they did feel realistic.

At the end of the book, the author shares some of her research regarding historical events, as well as some cultural details (both researched and speculated). The book focuses on the role of women as the bearers of sons. True to life at the time, the trials of pregnancy, birth, and miscarriage occur frequently within the read, but there’s also lots of action and danger that kept me flipping the pages.

A sub-plot of Helgha’s shifting religious beliefs is exceptionally done and felt quite authentic. The pace moved at a good clip, and I found excuses to keep reading. Recommended for readers who enjoy historical fiction, especially regarding Vikings in Britain.

*****

Altitudinis: Seekers, Sinners & Secrets: A Collaborative Novel

Altitudinis is a serum under development that promises exceptional endurance at high altitudes. It will benefit India’s military as well as its businesses whose employees work in the mountains. But it hasn’t been tested on humans, and unwitting adventurers are targeted for trials. And there are unscrupulous thieves who would like to steal the research and sell it as their own.

Those are only two plot threads that run through this suspense/romance/family drama written by ten authors. The complexity of such a writing collaboration intrigued me, and it may be one reason why there was so much going on in the book with the plots and subplots. Overall, it was surprisingly cohesive and consistent, as if written by one author. That’s quite a feat.

The pace moves quickly. One of the challenges with so much plot-related action, as well as the number of main characters, is that there wasn’t much time to get deeply into the characters’ psyches, emotions, or backstories. Nikhil and Nirali were the exceptions with some time given to their relationship and romance. Because I got to know them personally, they were my favorites.

With the addition of an omniscient POV, this book struck me as a broad versus deep story. Readers looking for a character-driven book may find themselves wanting more depth and focus, but readers who enjoy action-driven stories that don’t get bogged down in messy emotions, description, and backstory, may have found just the thing to fill an afternoon of reading. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Golden Healer by M. J. Mallon

I read the first book in this series years ago, but the story came back to me quickly. Amelina continues her journey to understand her magical abilities and the power of the crystals while at the same time she navigates her teen years with her friends and family. I definitely recommend that readers start with book one to orient themselves to this world and the characters.

This book isn’t an easy read, and it wasn’t surprising to me that each chapter is titled a “Puzzle.” The writing is beautiful and rich with description, but much of it takes place in the spirit world through visions and dreams. There are helpers and kind spirits as well as dark shadow demons. Shadows take shape in multiple forms, the primary one being Ryder, who manipulates the world in both real life and dream life.

The main conflict seems to be between the forces of good and evil as they meet in different situations. The author’s world-building is often dazzling, and occasionally I lost track of the plot in all the beautiful visuals and fascinating scenes. My attention remained rapt, but the result was a slow pace.

The primary narrator is Amelina, but her father and friends share the POV. The story unfolds in first person, third person, and omniscient. The action in the book is well described as are the intense emotions of the characters. Readers who enjoy vivid dreamlike worlds, metaphysical and new age spirituality, and coming-of-age stories may find just the thing within these magical pages.

*****

Happy Reading!

June Book Reviews (Part One)

It looks like June is going to be another successful month of reading, so breaking my monthly reviews into two posts seemed like a good idea. I have a bunch of great reads for you to browse, and more on the way.

Below are reviews for this month’s 4 and 5-star reads including a sci-fi thriller, three poetry collections, a paranormal suspense novel, and a romance/action mash-up.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The Insurgent by Teri Polen

I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series (Subject A36) and couldn’t wait to get into the second. It didn’t disappoint. Our hero, Asher, has surrendered to his bio-engineered personality (A36) and become a serious threat to his old team of insurgents. The insurgents are battling the Colony, a diabolical organization that harvests the genes of children (by killing them) so wealthy people can enhance their bodies.

The leader of the Colony, Silas, is a great antagonist because he’s so horrid! And sadly, Asher has become his killing machine. Declan rises to the top as the main protagonist in this book, and he has some relationships to repair after betraying his friends in the last one.

The author spends the first part of the story catching readers up on the characters and what happened during book one. Forward progress doesn’t really take off until about the 20% mark and then it’s non-stop action, twists and turns, deception, plotting, and battling right up until the end, which wraps up nicely.

Despite Asher’s months of murdering people, I still felt a lot of empathy for him from the first book (and recommend reading them both, in order). Declan was convincing, and I liked his sense of humor, but Brinn, and her unwavering trust in Asher’s love, was my favorite. This isn’t a long book and I had a hard time putting it down. Highly recommended for sci-fi readers and fans of fast-paced action. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Jagged Feathers by Jan Sikes

Van Noble lost his leg in Afghanistan, and he has a huge inferiority complex about being an incomplete man, but when he discovers Nakina Bird on the run from a Mexican cartel, he steps right up, determined to help her. Thus begins this exciting romance/thriller mashup.

The story has a nice balance of action and romance – the book is definitely both, and Sikes spends a lot of time on character development, which paid off. I connected with both Nakina and Van, and I liked how the action grounded their relationship. Nothing frivolous going on here as they have some serious goals to achieve.

For fans of paranormal fiction or new age mysticism, Nakina has psychic abilities that thread through the story and impact the plot. There are sex scenes and a great deal of sweetness with these characters, but the action ramps up the pace between the romantic lulls. I found both aspects of the story realistic and engaging. Characters from Book One play a secondary role in this story, and this book can be read as a stand-alone without any confusion. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy romance/action mashups.

*****

Life & Soul by Harmony Kent

I read the first book of poetry by this author and was happy to pick up the second. This little collection is full of gems and took me about two hours to read, spread over several days. The styles of poems vary, including both free form and multiple forms of syllabic poetry. Some of the poems run for several pages and some are very brief (but wonderfully powerful).

The book is divided into six sections that address different aspects of a soul’s journey or state of being. Part I, Lonely Soul expresses isolation and longing. Seeking Soul addresses disillusionment and pain. Brief Soul is full of short but impactful poetry, such as this:

Beneficent sage
This old willow
Bowing its crown

Part IV is titled Friendly Soul and explores the importance of friendships. Loving Soul extends into love relationships, and finally, Life of a Soul is a long poem that tells the story of the author’s life, one that I was familiar with from her first book.

There were a lot of poems that I enjoyed. Several of my favorites were Echoes, Life Goes On, Hope, Lost Property, Not Looking, and Unconditional. Okay, more than “several,” but all calling attention to the author’s talent. Highly recommended to fans of poetry looking for a touching read about a soul’s journey. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Quantum Wanderlust: A Short Story Anthology

I love time travel and all the ways it can manipulate reality. This book of thirteen time-travel short stories by thirteen authors offers a wide variety of twists on the topic. The genres vary from fantasy to horror to romance. Some stories are spooky, some are sinister, and others are wonderfully poignant.

The Butterfly effect enters into a number of stories but not all of them. Time travel is used to recover lost memories, and to deal with overpopulation in a dystopian future. It plays out in connecting families, getting revenge, and preventing tragedies.

I appreciated the variety of stories, and as with most anthologies, I enjoyed some more than others. There’s plenty of high-quality writing in here with compelling characters and satisfying conclusions. This is an excellent way to explore new authors, and after each story, there’s a short biography of the author with links to their other books and social media.

One thing was clear from reading this collection: Avoid traveling through time, because more often than not, something is going to go terribly wrong. Recommended to readers who enjoy short stories and speculative fiction, and who adore time travel twists. (Free on Kindle).

*****

A Voice in the Silence by D. L. Finn

Drea, a recent widow, lives alone in her home far from town. There’s a serial killer roaming the area and a winter storm on the way. But what initially finds its way into her home isn’t a murderer, but a trio of animals who’ve escaped from a lab—a dog, a cat, and a rat. And before she knows it, they’re doing things that no animals should be able to do. They talk.

Suspension of disbelief was a necessity for this book. In some ways, the fantastical abilities of the animals gave the story a whimsical, childlike innocence. But that quality is countered by the presence of a serial killer outside in the storm, and the suspense intensifies when Drea finds his footprints in the snow. With the help of her animal family, a ghost, and a caring police officer, she just might get through the storm alive.

Three major plot lines thread through the story, and each comes to its own satisfying climax rather than all resolving at the end. The main protagonists are well-rounded characters, and that includes the animals. My favorites were Drea, Adam, and Charlie the dog. The villains range from mentally ill to completely deranged.

The story unfolds primarily from Drea’s perspective though the overall POV is omniscient. The pace is good, and descriptions gave a clear picture of the action and setting. There’s a romantic undercurrent and some violence, including an off-stage suicide. Overall, I’d say this book is suitable for YA and adult audiences, and I recommend it to readers who enjoy paranormal stories and want to try something whimsical, suspenseful, and entirely different. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Summer Magic by Marcia Meara

I loved Meara’s Wake Robin Ridge series, and this short book of 18 poems is written by the main character Mackenzie Cole (not really, but you get the idea). The poems are lovely glimpses of childhood summers and growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. For this nature-loving reader who spent her summers exploring the woods of Vermont, it was like a trip down memory lane.

The book is divided into two parts: Mac at Ten (about his childhood), and Poems of Love & Life (told from the perspective of an adult). Some of my favorite poems were: The Rope Swing, Star-gazing, and Bruises.

One stanza from Bruises:

Badges.
Attesting to his bravery,
Marking his adventures,
And confirming in his mind
His place among Immortals.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author (ages ago) without any expectation of a review. I’m glad I finally read it. Highly recommended to poetry readers and grown-up kids who remember the magic of summer.

*****

Poetry Treasures 2: Relationships (WordCrafter Anthology)

I enjoyed the first Poetry Treasures anthology and decided to give this one a try as well. The anthology includes a selection of poems from twelve poets, and as the title suggests, the theme of relationships guided the work. Despite the unifying theme, the poems were quite varied in content and style, and I enjoyed the diversity of forms and voices.

In many anthologies, there’s a range of skill, and some pieces reflect more talent than others. I have to say that in this case, I found all of the poems well-crafted and a pleasure to read. Some of them I recognized from previously published anthologies, and it’s a good sign of their quality that they were so memorable.

That said, I did have some favorites—too many to list, of course. Here is a handful that I especially enjoyed: “The Red Petticoat” by Elizabeth Merry, “A Jar” by D. Avery, “She Lives and Yet She’s Dead” by Robbie Cheadle, and “Fat Belly Joy” by Marjorie Mallon. And so many more.

Prior to each set of poems there’s a short biography of the poet. Many of these poets have their own published collections for readers who didn’t get enough here. The book took me about an hour to read (approximately 36 poems in all) and it was an hour well spent. Highly recommended

*****

Happy Reading!

May Book Reviews

I read so many great books over my break that I decided to hold a couple book reviews until June. I have soooo many great reads for you to browse.

Below are reviews for this month’s 4 and 5-star reads including a historical fiction, a thriller, three romances, a cozy mystery, a horror short story collection, a MG horror novella, a women’s lit novel, and a debut poetry anthology.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The Russian Concubine by Kate Furnivall

If you like Amy Tan, I think you’ll enjoy this beautiful, often gripping, often heart-wrenching, and tragically romantic historical fiction. The book opens toward the end of the Russian revolution and then shifts eight years into the future to an international settlement in China, another nation on the brink of communism. Lydia is sixteen, living with her Russian mother as refugees, and they’re barely scraping by.

The story unfolds primarily in Lydia’s third-person POV. She’s learned to take risks to support herself and her mother, and having grown up in China, in the midst of its culture and people, she lacks the biases of the older adults in her life. Her audacity and fearlessness thrust her into dangerous situations and into a relationship with a Chinese young man. Their story is filled with tenderness and wonder, and the sense of impending tragedy was enough to keep me up at night. This book in many ways is a love story (reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet), though I wouldn’t characterize it as a romance.

The characters are exceptional, so beautifully drawn, flawed, dangerous, and heroic. The descriptions are richly visual, and I could “see” this book as I read. One of the things that brought both characters and descriptions to life was the attention to the details of time and place, as well as how the western and Chinese cultures interacted and clashed. Everything in this book is nuanced, and I loved that.

One note that I feel compelled to share is that, to me, Lydia was neither a concubine nor a mistress as the title suggests. Instead, she’s a young woman caught up in the sweep of cultures and history and love. This is a fabulous book that I highly recommend to readers of historical fiction who enjoy Asian cultures and settings and who want both gripping action and a beautiful love story.

*****

She Who Returns by Audrey Driscoll

I enjoyed the first book in this series, “She Who Comes Forth,” which introduced France Leighton and her archeological initiation into ancient Egypt. In this sequel, France returns to Egypt two years after her last disastrous and mystifying experience. She’s accompanied by her newly discovered half-brothers and her friend Willa. All four of them travel for different reasons, France to seek answers to lingering questions about what happened to her and about her paranormal connection to an ancient tomb.

As in the first book, the author’s world-building and knowledge of Egyptian archeology are impressive, and I was immersed in the physical reality of the setting. The spiritual, mythological, and paranormal elements of the story combine with antiquities theft to create layers of danger for France and her companions.

The narrative unfolds in France’s first-person POV, and I found all of the characters authentic and compelling. Having read the first book, I had a better grasp of the complex relationships that continue to impact France and are key to understanding many of the story’s plot threads. I definitely recommend reading the books in order. A great tale for readers who enjoy paranormal stories, thrillers, and Egyptian mythology. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Pour it On by Staci Troilo

Romy Chandler owns a popular restaurant, and Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. With a big meet and greet event on the books (which also promises future business) she wants everything to go perfectly. But at the last minute, her wine sommelier quits. She’s desperate for a replacement, and the employment agency sends a fellow named Rick to cover the night.

Rick Santucci owns and operates a family vineyard and would like to provide Romy’s restaurant with wine. He drops by unannounced, and what ensues is a wild and very plausible case of mistaken identity.

This is a short romantic novella that I read in under an hour. It’s the second of the Keystone Couples series but stands alone without any difficulty. The characters are great fun and well-rounded. The mix-up is the major plotline and obstacle of the story, and it’s cleverly done. I highly recommend this entertaining, well-written, and light-hearted romance. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Academic Curveball by James J. Cudney

Kellan Ayrwick heads home to Braxton with two things to accomplish: one, to celebrate his father’s retirement from his job as president of Braxton College; and two, to interview professor Abby Monroe for his true crime television show. When Abby ends up dead, Kellan’s in the perfect position to conduct an investigation while trying not to step on the local sheriff’s toes.

The story is told from Kellan’s POV, and he’s a believable, three-dimensional character with complex relationships including a complicated one with his father. The cast of characters is extensive, but they’re distinctly drawn. Nana D was a hoot and my favorite aside from Kellan. Many of the characters are plausible suspects in the murder investigation, which meant this book was loaded with red herrings, and my early guess as to who was the murderer was wrong!

The pace moves along, following Kellan’s investigation. The narrative captures the feel of small towns and their quirky townspeople, and the limited violence in the book happens “off stage.” I enjoyed Kellan’s dogged amassing of clues and his navigation through the maze of lies and misdirection as he figured out what happened. This is the first book I read in the Braxton Campus Mysteries series, and I suspect it won’t be the last. Highly recommended to readers of cozy murder mysteries. (Kindle Free).

*****

The Sheriff Meets His Match by Jacquie Biggar

 In book 4 of the Tidal Falls series the focus shifts to Sheriff Jack Garrett. He finds his new secretary Laurel Doyle irresistible, and she thinks the hunky sheriff is pretty hot too. But she has a problematic past as a swindler that doesn’t want to stay in her past. Her uncle wants her to pull one more scam to help pay off a debt to his son-in-law, Joe. And Joe is out to make sure he gets paid.

The story is a novella-length romance that checks all the boxes with some danger and action thrown into the mix. Biggar’s characters are always engaging, and I like the way this tale refers back to characters I’ve already gotten to know in previous books. Though there’s an overarching storyline (that of Maggie) that remains unresolved, this book reads well as a standalone. I polished off the book in one sitting and look forward to the next in the series. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

O’Roarke’s Destiny by Shehanne Moore

In this historical romance, Destiny Rhodes has a problem—her drunk of a brother has lost her ancestral home, Doom Bar Hall, in a card game to the last person she ever wanted to see. Divers O’Roarke might be handsome, but long ago, he cursed her with ruin. All she has left is her home, and now he’s trying to kick her out. Fat chance she’s going to go. Thus begins this enemies-to-friends romance complete with smugglers, excisemen, unfounded accusations, mistaken assumptions, and lots of witty dialog.

Moore’s style shines through with a quick pace and lots of clever internal dialog mixed in with outrage and laugh-out-loud humor. As in the other books of hers that I’ve read, sex plays a secondary role to the push-pull of attraction and the complications offered by the plot, which in this case has quite a bit of action, twists, and danger.

The POV is shared by Destiny and Divers, and it was easy to see how their different perspectives fueled their conflict. Like many of Moore’s leading ladies, Destiny is a spitfire, very witty, full of exaggerations, and constantly jumping to conclusions and acting on them. Divers is a little more of a mystery, a man with a secret agenda, and a straight man against her outrageous personality. I liked the dynamic. Recommended to romance readers and readers who enjoy a fast-paced, tangled plot, and entertaining characters who will make you laugh.

*****

Zoo of the Dead by Iseult Murphy

I read this collection of nine horror short stories in one sitting late into the night, and was highly entertained by the variety! From zombies and selkies, to vampires, succubus, strange hotel rooms, and a date with Death, no two stories are alike and most end with an enjoyable twist.

The tales aren’t overly gruesome, but they are definitely creepy. After each story, the author provides a brief description of her inspiration. Three of my favorites were Death’s Girlfriend, Checking Out, and Dead Jimmy and the Selkie. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy horror short stories with lots of originality and variety. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Reaper: A Horror Novella by Jonathan Pongratz

When his parents go out for the evening on Halloween, they leave 13-yr-old Greg babysitting for Imogene, his younger sister. Things don’t go well, and before the night is over, Imogene has vanished. Something terrible happened in the basement of their home and no one believes Greg when he tells them what he saw. Greg learns that Immy isn’t the only child to go missing over the years, and he’s determined to find out what’s happening and put an end to it.

This horror novella is a quick read that I polished off in one sitting. The writing is straightforward, there’s lots of great suspense, and the horror isn’t gruesome, so the story seems appropriate for horror-loving middle-grade kids on up to adult readers.

Greg is a great character, a typical kid annoyed by his younger sibling, though his love comes through loud and clear, as well as his courage and persistence. Trent, another boy who lost a sibling, is also well-rounded and a complementary ally. There’s a lot of action, and the story ends on something of a cliff-hanger, setting the stage for Reaper II. A quick, entertaining story for readers who enjoy young protagonists, creepy adults, and scary monsters.

*****

Linda’s Midlife Crisis by Toni Pike

Linda is an overweight teacher, bullied by her students, ignored by the school’s administration, and unappreciated by her husband who has no problem humiliating her, at home and in public. When Linda has a breakdown and is ordered to rest, her husband, feeling burdened, leaves her. The sense of relief begins Linda’s journey into remaking her life.

Linda faces few obstacles in her path beyond her own self-doubt as she forges ahead with some eye-opening determination. She has wonderful support from family and friends, and though most opportunities fall easily into her lap, she also takes risks. I’d categorize the story as Women’s Lit and though it’s fictional, it offers some practical advice on how to remake one’s life, as well as messages of empowerment.

The pace is spot on for a book light on conflict, and I finished it in a day. I enjoyed the array of well-developed characters, especially Linda who carries the POV. This happily-ever-after story would make a fun beach read. Recommended to Women’s Lit readers who are looking for a light and entertaining way to spend a few hours. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

My Mom’s Shadow by Mariana Dynasty

Dynasty’s debut book of poetry is a short one, consisting of five poems encompassing some of the life lessons she’s learned growing up with a struggling mother and demanding stepfather. It’s less than a 15-minute read. The poems are heartfelt and raw, and from the start, they reminded me of spoken word poetry with its repetition, subtle rhyme, and play with words. The themes of struggle, identity, and overcoming hardship also lend themselves to this genre. For that reason, I read the book aloud and thoroughly enjoyed the power that “voice” added to the form. Recommended to poetry readers who want to explore the work of a new author, enjoy spoken word poetry, and are looking for a quick read. (Kindle Unlimited).

Happy Reading!

April Book Reviews

April was another month of intense editing, but that’s behind me as of yesterday. I’m looking forward to getting back to my usual reading indulgence. In the meantime, I’ve got some good books for you.

Below are reviews for this month’s 4 and 5-star reads including a sci-fi thriller, a western paranormal adventure , a fantasy, poetry anthology, and fantasy/folklore/mystery.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Hope by Terry Tyler

In the not-so-distant future when the world is run by mega conglomerates and the vast majority of people are just getting by, the solution to increasing homelessness is Hope Villages. But is there really any hope of escaping poverty in a world rife with unemployment and rigged for the rich, beautiful, and powerful? When Lita and her two roomies find themselves unemployed, the only solution is to enter Hope Village #37. And revealing the truth about what happens within its walls can get you killed.

One of the things that was so enthralling about this read is how realistic it is. I can definitely see these villages (warehouses) for the poor cropping up in the near future. There’s a sense of just-getting-by and that anyone, including the reader, could end up in one of these places. And how they’re run is entirely based on the political party in charge. Scary, scary, scary stuff.

The writing is flawless. The read starts with a fair amount of backstory as Lita, her friends, and the challenges they face are introduced. It builds to a simmer with an impending sense of doom as things start spiraling downward. Before you know it, they’re out of choices, a point at which I found the book difficult to put down. The characters are emotionally realistic, vulnerable, brave, and totally outgunned by the powerful machine controlling their lives. The realism extends right to the end – no happily-ever-after here, though there is hope. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy suspense, dystopian fiction, and “this could happen” thrillers. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Dreams Lie Beneath by Rebecca Ross

This fantasy has everything I love: intricate world-building, a twisted plot, great characters, and lyrical/atmospheric writing.

Long ago, a murder in the mountainous realm of Azenor resulted in a curse, and now nightmares come alive every month on the new moon. Clementine and her father are wardens, people gifted with magic who hunt the nightmares and find the keys to their undoing. But when two brothers beat them in a challenge, Clem and her family are forced to leave their village. Clem vows revenge, disguises herself with the help of an ancient troll, and becomes the nightmare-hunting partner of one of the brothers. She’s drawn into a century-old conflict of conspirators and secrets, and only by uniting with her rival will she survive the dangers lurking around every corner.

The magic is clever and layered, and the encounters with nightmares are full of danger. The story unfolds in Clem’s POV, which leaves a lot of mysteries for her and the reader to unravel, including whether she can trust the various players trying to guide, deceive, and manipulate her. Each character is deliciously distinct and many of them aren’t who they seem. Their motivations are questionable, and it’s hard to tell until the very end who the good guys and bad guys are and what role they play in resolving the curse.

The writing is beautiful, full of gorgeous metaphors, and if I read the book as a paperback, I would have employed a highlighter on every page. The story is strong with emotion, visual description, action, and intrigue, as well as flavored with romance. Highly recommended for fantasy readers who also enjoy the works of Katherine Arden and Margaret Rogerson.

*****

Mateo’s Blood Brother by Sandra Cox

I thought the first book in this series was great and couldn’t wait to get my hands on the second. It didn’t disappoint. Mateo, the wolf-shifter sheriff of Grizzly is still a major part of the story but the focus is now on Jessie, his fully human blood brother. After a long period of estrangement, they’re working on their friendship, and they haven’t much choice about sticking together since the shifter-she-wolf they’d thought was dead is back for revenge. She’s targeting them and everyone they hold dear.

I enjoyed the characters the first time around and did so again. Jessie and Mateo share the story’s POV. They’re believable, emotionally authentic, and distinct. I can easily say the same about the secondary characters, even those with small parts. The shifters, including a new and mysterious brown wolf, are appealing with their deep connections to the natural world. I enjoyed experiencing the action through Mateo’s animal senses as well as his human ones and was especially intrigued by his father.

The author is well known for her western romances, but in this series, romance is secondary to the other elements of the plot. I’d characterize the book as contemporary western, paranormal fiction, and there’s plenty of action to keep the pace moving along. I read the book in two sittings while ignoring everything else I had to do. I hope the author will write more for this series. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy paranormal fiction with great characters, a touch of romance, and a quick pace. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Hues of Hope, Selected Poetry by Balroop Singh

Singh’s latest collection of free form poetry includes about 100 poems on the subject of hope. They cover a wide range of perspectives, emotions, and sources of hope, found within us as well as out in the world. The hope found in nature, in memories, and in love are prevalent in the first three sections of the book. And in the second half of the collection, hope becomes more complex and entangled with pain, disappointment, and longing, among other less cheery emotions and experiences. It was within these more nuanced explorations that I found some of my favorite poems.

A few memorable poems were “I Have Understood”, “I Know You!” and “Now I Understand You!” Below are the first three stanzas of “Who Are You” from the section Beams of Love:

Who Are You?

Once again dusk descended
Alone she sat in deep thought
One more gorge
That seemed to devour her.

Love entered from the back door
Sat by her side and smiled
She couldn’t recognize the stranger
So she asked: “Who are you?”

“You knew me at birth
You stretched your arms
For me, you cried
When I didn’t embrace you… (con’t)

Highly recommended to readers who enjoy free-form poetry around a complex theme, including the light and whimsical as well as the poignant and painful. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Spirit of the Shell Man by Chris Hall

This is Book 2 in the series, and I enjoyed getting together with the same quirky and delightful characters from Book 1: Song of the Sea Goddess. The series isn’t named, and the books may not need to be read in order, but I’m glad I did since there are a number of details that happen chronologically.

As with the first book, the characters were my favorite part of the read. They’re quirky and good-hearted, and thoroughly believable with distinct voices and personalities. There aren’t any dastardly bad guys, and though a few greedy interlopers are creating problems in the South African seaside village, it’s the group of main characters, their kind relationships, and the multiple mysteries that carry the story.

The pace is quite fast, and I read the book in two sittings. The action scenes were well written, especially the time spent in the underground tunnels (which accounted for my decision to finish the book rather than put it down). Similar to the first book, the loose plot is light and whimsical with all kinds of strange and supernatural elements, mysterious notebooks and puzzle boxes, underground tunnels, spirits, magical creatures, and ordinary creatures acting magically. The story has an African “myths and legends” feel to it which I really liked. Recommended for fantasy readers who enjoy great characters and a whimsical adventure.

*****

Happy Reading!

March Book Reviews

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.

*****

Happy Reading!

My 5-star reviews of books by Sally Cronin, blogger and writer extraordinaire

Today is the International Day of Awesomeness and the authors at Story Empire decided to honor an awesome blogger, author, and supporter of the indie community: Sally Cronin.

Since I’m out and about today, this is a repost of my book reviews for Sally’s awesome books. Enjoy the browse and, of course, have an AWESOME day!

***

Sally and her blog Smorgasbord Invitation is a household name around WordPress. She’s one of the most generous bloggers this side of Sunday, and how she manages to keep up her wide range of posts continues to amaze me. I think she has a workshop of elves in the attic.

If you’re not already a fan, check out her blog for book and author promotions, reviews, music, humor, food and health tips, short stories, and poetry. All that, and….

she’s an exquisite writer.

I couldn’t think of a better way to thank Sally for her kindness than to share my reviews of some of her books. You can’t go wrong with any of these.

5-Star reads by author Sally Cronin

(In no particular order)

(click on cover for global link to Amazon)

Life is like a Mosaic: Random Fragments in Harmony

This collection of poetry kept me up late. I’m a fan of syllabic forms and like it best when the structure fades into the background, transitions are seamless, and the meaning and emotion of a piece rises to the forefront. Cronin’s poetry does that effortlessly. All poems within this collection are complemented by an evocative image that adds another layer of meaning to the words.

The book begins with a variety of syllabic poems focused on nature and the author’s reflections on daily life, including love, peace, aging, dreams, and loss. Some of my favorites were: The Day After, Birthdays, The Future?, Immortality-Writers, Spices, and …

A Toast to Life

Bottles
once filled with wine
have now been re-purposed
as decorative reminders
of fun.
A time
when friends raised high their glasses
in an affirming toast
to the richness
of life.

The latter part of the book changes to longer, rhyming poems about the author’s life, with a delightful focus on childhood, the teen years, travel, and friendship. My favorites in this section were Childhood Memories, Rebellion in Frome, The Lure of the Waltzer, and Farewell to Colorful Friends. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy syllabic poetry and reflections on life

***

Life is like a Bowl of Cherries: Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet

I love Cronin’s short stories and snagged this anthology the day it came out. The author describes it as a collection of short tales that reflect “the complexities of life, love, and loss.” That’s a fit description. There are stories of kindness, family, grief, courage, and second chances. The characters are ordinary and relatable, but they’re also extraordinary in those moments that define who they are as people.

The first story in the anthology, The Weekly Shopping, is hilarious if not a little ominous, but the rest of the selections are touching. Many are heartwarming, and I wanted to hug the characters. I enjoyed the whole collection but my favorites were: The Scratch Card, The Charity Shop, The Date, and The Gardening Assistant. Between the stories are selections of syllabic poetry. A crown cinquain entitled The Birds was just beautiful. I highly recommend this anthology to anyone who loves well-written short stories about life.

***

Just an Odd Job Girl

Click on cover to order

One of the books that flew west with me was Sally Cronin’s Just an Odd Job Girl. In more ways than one, it’s a great summer story.

I picked up this book while on vacation and thoroughly enjoyed it. A quick read at 156 pages, the book begins with an older Imogen. At 50, she’s on her own, traded-in by her husband for a younger “fast-tracker.” After 25 years of raising children and keeping house, she feels frumpy and bored, and decides to find a job.

The temp agency asks for a resume of her work experience, and all she has is a long list of pre-marriage odd jobs, starting with a summer stint as a teenager at a seaside gift kiosk and rambling through temporary positions with a dental office, department store, bar, funeral parlor, boys school, and country inn.

As the reader joins Imogene on a reflective journey through her odd jobs, it’s impossible not to laugh at her antics, the colorful characters she meets along the way, and the predicaments she gets herself into and out of. What I enjoyed most, was young Imogene’s humanity. She’s a wonderful combination of funny, compassionate, resourceful, and fearless. I couldn’t wait to see the fix she got into next.

In addition to laughs, Just an Odd Job Girl has a lovely message for young adults as well as those of us getting on in age: that life is full of opportunities, that wonderful people are everywhere, and that you are never to old to grow. Get your copy for the beach or backyard hammock. You won’t be disappointed.

***

Life’s Rich Tapestries: Woven in Words

Cronin is a master storyteller and this collection of poems, flash fiction, and short stories makes for a delightful afternoon. The first part of the book is comprised of syllabic poetry with themes based on nature, the human experience, a love of animals, and a bit of magic. Following her poetry, Cronin offers a number of 99-word flash fiction stories, and then dives into her short stories for the bulk of the read.

The short stories were my favorite part of the book as the author writes with a great deal of heart, which comes through beautifully in her plots and characters. Most of her work is positive in nature with a focus on the goodness found in life. Like her poetry, Cronin’s short stories are arranged around themes: dogs, cats, and speculative fiction (which includes a broad range of tales). My favorites were Great Aunt Georgina, and The ‘1812 Overture’ but there are many others that I thoroughly enjoyed. A highly recommended book for all ages.

***

What’s in a Name? (Volume 1)

What’s in a Name is a delightful collection of 20 short stories organized alphabetically by the names of the main characters. A few stories are dark, some are magical or humorous, and many close with a sense of poignancy. Cronin is a marvelous storyteller, and for a reader, spending an afternoon immersed in the lives of the people behind the names is time well-spent. For me, the last story in the collection “Jack” was the icing on the cake, but all the stories are unique and well worth the read. Highly recommended for any reader who enjoys short stories about the human journey.

***

What’s in a Name? (Volume 2)

I read the first volume of What’s in a Name and was eager to give the second a try. Volume 2 is a collection of short stories that picks up when the first ended, covering names starting with K through Z (Kenneth through Zoe). Cronin includes a bonus short story for a collection coming out later in 2018.

This is a quick read that I breezed through in a few hours, sitting outside in the spring sunshine. Many of the stories have older characters, covering a range of topics from heartwarming reunions, grief and loss, recovered dignity, and romantic love beyond the grave. There’s also a bit of happily ever after and match-making, as well as some swindling, and a taste of well-deserved murder! The variety is highly entertaining and kept me engaged throughout.

Cronin is a master storyteller and I recommend this collection (both volumes) to readers of all ages.

***

Sam, A Shaggy Dog’s Story

This read is a little more than an hour, but it’s an hour of cuteness and laughs. I’ve lived with dogs for most of my life, and the attitudes and antics of Sam, a Collie, were delightfully familiar. This tribute to a dog’s life is narrated by Sam himself, starting when he was a newborn and stretching into his old age. I rarely laugh out loud while reading, and this book was an exception.

Sam has a very funny (as well as adorable) perspective on life with accounts of his cat friend Henry, his love of chicken and sausages, his dislike of veterinarians, his job as a paper shredder, and his occasional encounters with “that Bloody Danny,” a little canine with poor manners. He relays his experiences with “cat speak” as well as his acquisition of several human words which are strategically employed to earn pieces of cheese.

The book is organized into short chapters by topic. This is a lighthearted and endearing read for anyone who loves dogs.

***

Flights of Fancy

I’ve read several of Cronin’s books of short stories, and this collection of eleven tales is as enjoyable as the others. I read it in a single afternoon, completely immersed. As usual, the author includes a wonderful variety of tales from touching stories of eternal love in The Other Side of Heaven and Curtains, to adorable cuteness in Henry’s Story, and humor in Psychic Parrot. Highly recommended for anyone who loves short stories and well-told tales.

***

About Sally

Sally Cronin is the author of fourteen books including her memoir Size Matters: Especially when you weigh 330lb first published in 2001. This has been followed by another thirteen books both fiction and non-fiction including multi-genre collections of short stories and poetry. Her latest collection, Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries: Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet, reflects on the absurdities and sometimes tragedies that drop into our lives.

As an author she understands how important it is to have support in marketing books and offers a number of FREE promotional opportunities in the Café and Bookstore on her blog and across her social media.

After leading a nomadic existence exploring the world, she now lives with her husband on the coast of Southern Ireland enjoying the seasonal fluctuations in the temperature of the rain.

Thank you, Sally, for all your wonderful support of this blogging/writing/reading community.

Happy Reading!

February Book Reviews

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)

*****

Happy Reading!

A Creative Review or what!

One of Resa’s drawing of Madlyn

Resa McConaghy is a street-art explorer and photographer as well as a costume designer for film and television. She’s the creator of astonishingly beautiful Art Gowns.

She’s also a reader who brings her love of art to her reviews, weaving together images of murals, interview questions, and her original drawings of characters. Her reviews are works of art.

She recently read my book The Sorcerer’s Garden, and created such a review.

No one has ever taken the time to draw one of my characters, and I’m bowled over by her kindness.

I’m over at Resa’s if you want to stop by and check out her unique approach.

And don’t forget to browse the artwork on her sites. You won’t be disappointed.

Graffiti Lux Art & More (the blog with the Review)

Art Gowns (I linked to her slide show, wow)

Thank you, Resa.

January Book Reviews

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.

*****

Happy Reading!