November Book Reviews (Part Two)

Wishing you all a wonderful winter as we head toward the solstice and the return of the light. I’m finishing off autumn with more books and reviews from November! I hope you find a few to enjoy over the holidays.

To all my blogger friends in the southern hemisphere… have a wonderful start to your summer, and I hope you find some beach reads!

November’s reviews (part two) include my 4 and 5-star reads of a romance/thriller mash-up, paranormal short stories, fantasy, and a children’s book.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Secrets, Lies & Alibis (Wounded Hearts, Book 8) by Jacquie Biggar

I can’t believe I’ve finished Book 8 of the Wounded Hearts romance/thriller series. Now that I’m caught up, I’m ready for Book 9 whenever it hits the press. Each of the books features one member of a Seal team that’s returned to civilian life. They’re a close-knit group and characters overlap as they need each other’s help.

In this book, the focus is Adam, who now works for the DEA, and his ex-boss/ex-lover Amanda, who took a demotion and transfer because she’s pregnant. She’s working behind the scenes to wrap up a big drug case, and the cartel would like to see her eliminated. Adam has a new perky partner and is following leads. As things heat up, they all end up in Texas where Adam will risk his life to close the case, and Amanda will have one big surprise to share with him.

The plot holds together well and the characters are distinct and consistent. Though the books can easily be read as stand-alones, I liked reading them in order, tracking the course of the over-arching investigation, and learning how the familiar characters’ lives are going. The book has plenty of romantic drama, but it’s evenly balanced with action and danger, which kept me flipping pages. I read this 2-hour story in one sitting. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy romance/action mash-ups and getting to know characters over a long series. (Kindle Unlimited.)

*****

The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-Jones

In this stand-alone fantasy, Mer is in hiding. She’s the last of the water diviners who once served the realm’s cruel prince. He used her skills to find the wells of his enemies, which he poisoned, killing hundreds of men, women, and children. On the verge of capture, she’s rescued by Renfrew, her handler while in the realm’s employ. No longer beholden to the prince, Renfrew enlists her in a daring heist of treasure that will guarantee her freedom and a comfortable life. How can she resist?

The heist requires assembling a team to destroy the wellspring that protects the prince’s land and where untold treasure is hidden. The journey and magical traps provide plenty of danger, but even more compelling were the secrets and hidden agendas of each character who joins the party.

I particularly liked Mer and Fane, the cursed fighter enlisted to kill the magical boar that protects the wellspring. Their distrust of each other is balanced by their tenuous loyalty. There are hints of a romance that can never be, and that possibility kept me rooting for them. Renfrew and Ifanna, a master thief, were the most distinct and interesting of the secondary characters.

The pace moves along, and there are twists and surprises throughout. The plot tracks well, and the magic was engaging. I’d definitely read more of this author’s work. Highly recommended to fantasy readers.

*****

The Christmas Bird by Robbie Cheadle

After the family dogs destroy a bird’s nest, Stella and her younger sisters discover a surviving Hoopoe chick that they take into their care and raise in a basket. As the bird grows, the sisters must come to grips with the nature of the bird to fly free and start a family of its own. What feels, at first, like a loss becomes a celebration.

Themes of kindness and honoring nature and wild creatures take the forefront of this gentle novelette. The pace moves well and the characters are endearing. In style, the story reminded me of Laura Ingalls’s Little House on the Prairie books. Under an hour’s read, it’s appropriate for young children and middle-grade readers. Highly recommended. (Kindle Unlimited.)

*****

The Raven Spell (Book 1) by Luanne G. Smith

I enjoyed the lyrical writing and wonderful world-building of Smith’s The Vine Witch and was delighted to discover Book One of a completed duology. It’s fantasy and magical realism, the story taking place in 19th century London, where witches and magic are an accepted part of society.

Edwina and her sister Mary are witches who scour the riverbanks for trinkets that they sell in their shop. Mary also collects “corpse lights” the vibrant, shining memories of the newly deceased. Her fetish takes her to hospitals and morgues, as well as to scenes of murder.

When she takes the memories of a private investigator (Ian) who ends up surviving his attack, Edwina attempts to restore them, setting off an investigation that entangles both sisters in a mysterious disappearance and a string of murders.

I enjoyed everything about this book – the solid plot, the quick pace, the twists and slow reveals. The magic is great fun and includes some comic relief provided by a small hairy hearth elf who’s aligned with Ian. There’s also danger and tragedy and a touch of romance. The characters had me rooting for them, particularly Edwina who has some difficult truths to face.

I’m eager to dive into Book Two. Highly recommended to readers of fantasy and magical realism who love beautiful writing. (Kindle Unlimited).

(Note: I did read Book 2, The Raven Song, but struggled with it. My review is here: Something to consider if you’re interested in Book 1.)

*****

The Last Sun Born by Kate Frantz

In a land where only those born beneath the moon are allowed to live, Lewel enters the world during the day. Her infant life is spared at great risk, for with the sun-born comes a dark force called the Absence, capable of destroying the kingdom. And only she can kill it, a battle that may very well demand her life.

Veigo, the king-in-waiting, and his advisor Marrlen, an old woman with the power to cast magic, know the truth of her birth and begin training Lewel to face the Absence. Veigo and Marrlen grow fond of her, and she of them, but intrigue and deception and hatred of her kind run rampant. As a reader, I didn’t know who to trust.

The world-building in this book shines, and I liked the concept of the Absence – the evil twin of the sun born. The characters were complex and nuanced. Lewel and Veigo had fully realized personalities, and their relationship felt genuine to me. I particularly appreciated the way Veigo struggled with his feelings toward Lewel and his duty to the kingdom.

The pace moves along, and the magical elements worked well with the plot. From the description, there’s no indication that there will be a second book, but this one ends on a huge cliffhanger with very few plot lines resolved, so I think it’s a good guess. I suspect it will be worth the read. (Kindle Unlimited.)

*****

Hildie: At the Ghost Shore by Paula Cappa

This 15-minute read includes two short stories: “Hildie” and “Abasteron House.” I thoroughly enjoyed both haunting stories and wanted more of this author’s work the moment I finished. The prose is beautiful and atmospheric, exactly the kind of writing I enjoy.

“Hildie” is a mesmerizing and magical tale with a folklore feel to it. Hildie is a young woman who reads runes, and one day an old man comes seeking information about his daughter. The end is a touching surprise.

“Abasteron House” is where Davida lives with her grandfather. Each day, he walks the dunes alone, his vision peopled with angels that she can’t see. When he dies, she takes over the house and meets his dream people, and they aren’t what she expected.

Highly recommended for dark fantasy and speculative fiction readers looking to fill a few minutes with beautifully written and riveting stories

*****

Between the Darkness and the Dawn by Paula Cappa

In this beautifully written short story, Edward Fane is an employee of the Institute of Perceptual Studies, and he’s traveled to Massachusetts with his instruments to measure ley lines that connect past and future realms. He books a tour of an old manse once inhabited by Nathanial Hawthorne but it’s what he feels as he gazes through the window on the Old North Bridge that captures his attention. On that bridge, he meets the past, and though Nathaniel warns him away from his pursuits, can he forget the lovely woman he meets there? Highly recommended to fans of short stories who enjoy atmospheric writing, and haunting tales.

*****

Happy Reading!

November Book Reviews (Part One)

The holiday season has started. It’s a great time to take breaks from the chaos and snuggle up with a book. And, of course, books make great gifts!

Somehow, I read 14 books this month. They just got away from me, and it’s too many for one post. So here are half of them!

November’s reviews (part one) include my 4 and 5-star reads of a poetry/flash fiction collection, a psychological thriller, a horror novelette, a paranormal thriller, a murder mystery, and two illustrated children’s books.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Variety is the Spice of Life by Sally Cronin

I’m a fan of Cronin’s syllabic poetry, flash fiction, and short stories, and this latest collection is an excellent example of why. The first half of the book is filled with 38 beautiful poems in a variety of structured forms.

Many of the poems are poignant reflections on love and loss, the wonder of life, and the beauty of nature found in her garden. Each includes a complementary image. One of my favorites:

Rejection (form: a butterfly cinquain)

silence
magnifies time
and distance between us
and your rejection leaves my heart
hollow.
the promises we made that day
are scattered in the wind
and dreams have turned
to dust.

The second half of the book is comprised of 8 short stories, most of them heartwarming tales of human kindness, forgiveness, and redemption. (With a tale of magical murder thrown in). Three of my favorites were Miss Lloyd’s Robin, The Green Hill, and The Home Help. I highly recommend this afternoon’s read to fans of syllabic poetry and short stories.

*****

The Bubble Reputation by Alex Craigie

Social media is a wonderful way to connect with family and friends, but most people know that it has a dark side as a vehicle for bullying, making threats, and spreading lies. Emmie is a highly successful children’s author, until a jealous coworker and a tabloid needing a tasty scoop decide she’d make a great target for a scandal. A lie and a doctored photograph start off a social media storm that picks up momentum with frightening speed. As the feeding frenzy intensifies, it nearly costs her everything. And I mean everything.

There are a whole lot of things that are frightening about this story. The plot is highly plausible, and though I could see the escalation coming, it was still horrifying to watch. The way ordinary citizens start going for blood is not only shocking but terrifyingly realistic. It’s a situation that not every character finds their way out of without a heavy toll.

This isn’t a long book, and I read it in one afternoon, glued to the story. The pace moves quickly and there are a wide variety of authentic characters—some heartless and calculating, some risk-avoidant, some bloodthirsty, and others highly supportive. There are a lot of takeaways from this read, particularly a chance to decide which type of character we want to be. Highly recommended. (Kindle Unlimited.)

*****

Dog Meat by Priscilla Bettis

This is one of the more unusual novelettes I’ve read in years, and I needed to spend a few days processing it before I could write a review.

According to the author, “30 million dogs die each year in the brutal trade that operates in nine countries.” In this story, Kalb Ward’s job is to kill the dogs that will be served to a restaurant’s wealthy diners.

Ward lives in a closed dystopian society where he has no choice in what kind of work he performs, and his one attempt to run away lands him in a reeducation camp for 18 months. Only threats to his mother’s life are powerful enough to return him to the job he can’t tolerate.

Ward sees himself as a killer, and his reactions to the endless violence move this book beyond the horror genre into one that explores the impact of intolerable guilt, brutality, and despair on a human life and soul. This is a society without empathy, where compassion and kindness can’t find a foothold.

The scenes are horrific, and anyone who loves dogs will be tested to the core. Like the author, I hope this story raises awareness and supports the end of this cruel industry. The writing quality is excellent, and Ward’s plight drew me deeply into this well-wrought world. Highly recommended, but with a big trigger warning about graphic violence against animals.

*****

The Valley Walker by T. W. Dittmer

This impressive book certainly captured my attention. Teri Altro is part of a government task force looking into a rash of drug deaths in Michigan. She’s competent, hard-shelled, and a bit of a rogue. She’s also the target of an attempted assassination. But as three men close in on her, someone gets in the way, and in a strange manipulation of reality, the three killers end up dead. That someone is John Walker Michaels, a Vietnam deserter who shouldn’t exist, and who possesses the mystical powers of the Hmong people that became his family. The Laotians call him the Valley Walker.

What follows is an investigation into the drug deaths that extends from the streets and governing halls of Michigan to the jungles of Laos, from the present time back to the dark days of the Viet Nam war. The scenes of war are eerily visceral, reminiscent of Apocalypse Now. The Laotian mysticism adds an otherworldly surrealism that connects the timelines.

Characterization is impressive with each member of the task force wonderfully unique. Peripheral characters are also fully realized and distinct. Though Michaels participates in the multiple POVs, he retains his mysterious aura, and it’s through his relationships with other characters and his dialog and action that I came to understand him.

The author served in Viet Nam and the authenticity he brought to the story was riveting. It also didn’t hurt that his writing is polished and well-paced with just the right amount of description. A complex plot comes together with little difficulty and several twists kept me on my toes. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy complex stories about war, power, and justice, topped with a metaphysical twist. (Kindle Unlimited.)

*****

Flower Power Trip (Braxton Campus Mysteries Book 3) by James J. Cudney

This is Book 3 in the Braxton Campus Mysteries, and for readers who’ve enjoyed the first two in the series, this one was just as fun. When a renowned biologist ends up dead at a masquerade ball at Braxton College, Professor Kellan Ayrwick is once again unofficially asking questions and trying to ferret out the murderer. Some of the people close to him are suspects, and there are plenty of secrets to untangle. And then there are the postcards he’s receiving from his dead wife.

As with previous books, Kellan’s relationship with Sheriff April Montague was delightfully snarky, and I just adored their growing respect for each other. Wise-cracking, take no nonsense, Nana D is also back, and she’s a hoot. There are a lot of characters in this series. Having read the previous two books, I had the advantage of knowing a number of them already. For this reason alone, I recommend starting the series at the beginning.

The pace moves quickly, and plenty of red herrings point in multiple directions. I couldn’t guess the identity of the killer and had to wait for the reveal for everything to sort out. Though the masquerade murder is fully solved, a cliffhanger is introduced at the very end as a hook for the next book. Readers will find a likable protagonist, some fully-realized and fun secondary characters, and plenty of twists and turns. Recommended to fans of cozy mystery series.

*****

Sleepy Happy Capy Cuddles by Mike Allegra

The more I learn about capybaras, the more I want to cuddle with them. This book might come as close to the real thing as I get. A rainforest is a noisy place. So noisy that it’s hard to think and hard to sleep. But then along comes a Cuddly Capy, blowing burbly bubbles and fwippa fwipping its ears. Little by little the Happy Capy convinces the other animals to cuddle, and the rainforest grows quiet. But then who comes out of the swamp? A roaring crocodile! Can a capybara get a crocodile to cuddle? Of course.

A lovely book about the kindness of cuddles and inclusion, and how even the loudest roars and toughest skins can soften with a little loving care. The Happy Capy is single-minded in her love of cuddling and no one can resist. In addition to the fun story, beautiful animal illustrations fill this picture book from front to back. Highly recommended to cuddly preschool kids and their parents. (Hardcover only)

*****

Everybody’s Favorite Book by Mike Allegra

Everybody’s Favorite Book has to include everybody’s favorite stuff, right? Like spacemen, pirates, pink princesses, cool detective kids, giant guinea pigs, and tea parties. But so much stuff gets to be a little crazy. Everybody’s Favorite Book ends up being nobody’s favorite book… until you get to everybody’s favorite happy ending.

This is a wild, creative, wacky picture book for kids age 3-7 (my guess) and librarians and parents who love big words like gallimaufry and codswallop. This book has everything and, of course, chaos ensues. The illustrations are big, bold, and bright and add to the fun. Kids and the young at heart will enjoy the imaginative mayhem. Highly recommended.

Our local librarian gets two new acquisitions:

*****

Happy Reading!

October Book Reviews (Part Two)

Can you believe all the new releases this autumn? I feel like they’ve been coming out daily. My October reviews have included a lot of new and entertaining reads.

Thank you again to everyone who’s supported me on my book tour with your visits and comments. It’s been such a blast chatting with you. Five more tour stops to go, and I’m done. More time for Nanowrimo!

October’s (part two) reviews include my 4 and 5-star reads of prehistoric fiction, a coming-of-age novel, two romance/suspense/ contemporary western mash-ups (one with a paranormal bent), a poetry book about birds, and a children’s Halloween book.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

New Release:

Natural Selection (Dawn of Humanity, Book 3) by Jacqui Murray

The final book of the Dawn of Humanity series ends on a positive note though I suspect that Lucy’s story of survival in the prehistoric world will continue to be riddled with danger and challenges. As the title suggests, not all the branches of primitive mankind will survive and those who do will depend on their ability to develop new skills and think strategically.

The plot is straightforward with two main threads. The first is Lucy and her group’s continuing search for a sustainable homebase. The second is their plan to rescue past members of her tribe from Man-who-preys before they become so weak from hunger that they’re killed. Lucy is the main character, but not the only point of view, and other characters are frequently brought to the forefront. These include her two-legged group members as well as those with four.

Murray’s research continues to add depth and realism to the read, and I found it as fascinating as I did in the first book. Our ancestors had it tough, and their lives were intricately entwined with the world around them. I appreciated that Murray didn’t spare our modern sensibilities. Grooming bugs from each other’s skin, eating rotten meat, and “fear poop” aren’t very glamorous, but they added to the authenticity of the story. Her word choices—to describe the harsh environment, its rhythms and wild creatures, and the nature and skill of each member of her diverse group—bring life on Earth 1.8 million years ago into vivid relief.

For readers who enjoy a meticulously researched primitive world and the remarkable challenges faced by our evolutionary ancestors, I highly recommend this series. It’s fascinating. (Kindle Unlimited)

*****

New Release:

Letting Go (The Defiant Sisters, Book 1) by Jacquie Biggar

My favorite books from this author are the ones that dive into complex relationships, especially those between family members. This book checks all the boxes as a group of characters navigate the trauma, losses, and sacrifices they’ve made in their lives.

Renee fled her family after witnessing her father’s suicide. Her teenage sister Izzy, left behind with a family falling apart, had to hold it all together for their younger brother Benjamin. Simon, the boyfriend Renee abandoned without a goodbye is getting married, but he’s never forgotten her. Then Renee returns home when her mother dies, and all the difficult feelings bubble to the surface.

One major strength of the story is the way it had me rooting for every character. They’re richly drawn with authentic emotional lives, full of accomplishments as well as mistakes. There aren’t any villains beyond the unfairness of life, and it was easy to empathize with the protagonists’ anger, hurt, and love. Renee, Izzy, and Simon carry the three alternating POVs, all in first person.

The focus on human dynamics doesn’t slow down the story one bit. It moves at a good clip and I had a hard time putting it down. I read it in two sittings only because I needed to sleep in between. The action is compelling and toward the end, it’s riveting. It wrapped up well but with a sense of more to come in Book Two. It will be worth the wait. Highly Recommended! (Kindle Unlimited)

*****

New Release:

Saddled Hearts by Jan Sikes

What romance reader doesn’t love a cowboy who rescues and rehabilitates horses? That’s like, “You had me at hello.” When a stranger shows up at Colt Layne’s horse sanctuary, claiming that he won the ranch years ago in a card game with Colt’s deceased grandfather, Colt needs some answers. He visits long-time widow Sage Coventry, a medium with the ability to receive messages from the dead.

The attraction is immediate, but the couple takes their time getting to know each other, and there are problems worrying Colt. First a pasture fire, and then the stranger ends up dead and Colt is framed for murder. Cut fences and sick horses add to his suspicions that someone’s out to destroy him, and he needs to figure out who it is before he ends up in prison.

Romance and murder-mystery share the pages in equal proportion. There’s plenty of lusty attraction, including a steamy sex scene, and I think romance readers will find everything in here that they love about the genre.

The parallel mystery plot is also well done with some red herrings tossed into a mix of paranormal impressions, family secrets, old journals, and a mysterious key. There’s also an underlying theme dealing with choices, forgiveness, and redemption. Though this book can be read as a stand-alone, I highly recommend the entire series for fans of romance-paranormal-mystery mashups.

*****

Secrets in the Blood by Unity Hayes

(This book just got a new cover and pen name, so don’t be confused by the Amazon info. It’s the same book.)

Family secrets, murder, paranoia, romance, redemption. Cassidy Tanner works in a reproduction western town called The Watering Hole. It’s set up to give tourists a true old-time experience including gun fights and train robberies. Her grandfather owns the place and her brother-in-law Kenton is the sheriff. She’s in charge of hiring, and one day, Shane Weston comes looking for a job.

“West” is quiet and respectful, and he has secrets, including the scars crisscrossing his chest and back. He’s running from someone and looking for a safe place. Where better than the town where his brother Kenton lives? But is Kenton ready to accept the brother he’s always believed was paranoid? When people start dying, can West run and leave the woman he’s come to love?

This debut novel gripped my attention, and I read it in one day. Secrets added a lot of mystery, and at times, I questioned what was true and false. The characters were all richly developed. I connected with West and felt for his situation, but what was he hiding? I enjoyed Cassie’s no-nonsense strength, and though, most of the time, Kenton drove me nuts, he had good reason to question his brother’s stability.

The pace moved along quickly, full of action and suspense between interludes of romance. The town was cleverly realized, and the plot was intriguing with a few twists along the way. The story is told through multiple perspectives with some mid-scene POV changes that occasionally popped me out of the story. Even so, I highly recommend this novel to readers who enjoy mystery-thriller-romance mashups.

*****

Avian Friends: Encouraging Poems Inspired by Backyard Birds by Yvette Prior, Ph.D.

Avian friends starts with the author’s foreword on how the book came to be – the result of newly planted trees and journaling about the influx of winged visitors. The book is a collection of 45 free-form, lightly rhyming poems inspired by birds, and is appropriate for both adults and children.

The poetry is divided into five sections: Musings, Mixed Enjoyment, Life and Death, Seasons, and Faith. After each poem is a half-page “Behind the Poem,” which shares the author’s inspiration. I didn’t read all of the explanations, but for my favorite poems, it was delightful to get a glimpse into the avian happenings that inspired the verse.
A few favorite poems:
“Thought Whirls” – a peaceful and whimsical flight of the imagination.
“Connecting” – a lovely memory of the author’s grandmother leaving threads on her clothesline for birds to build their nests.
“New Life” – the sweetness of discovering a nest of baby birds.
“Fall Crunch” – a walk in the autumn leaves and spying a cardinal.

Fall Crunch (an excerpt)

Crunching leaves
beneath my feet
ice cracklin’ below
red, freezing nose
shivering
hoodie pulled close
waiting for the dog to get relief
looked up
what did I see?
bright red cardinal
looking at me –
(continued)

A lovely glimpse into the author’s thoughts as she observes the birds in her yard. Recommended to fans of birds and readers who enjoy free-form poetry with a light rhyme. Only available in paperback.

*****

New Release for Kids:

Haunted Halloween Holiday by Robbie and Michael Cheadle

Count Sugular and his family are going to a Haunted House Halloween Party that promises to be great fun. Why not turn it into a weekend getaway? This delightful children’s book introduces many of its spooky characters with limericks. There’s Baby Howler, Skelly the Skeleton, Jiggle Jelly the pet sea monster, and a pair of trolls, to name a few.

The book is illustrated with fondant (frosting) characters, and though they’re spooky, they are generally happy and kind and enjoy time with their friends and family. This is a lovely read for parents and their young children who are just starting to discover the spookiness of Halloween. Only available in paperback.

*****

Happy Reading!

October Book Reviews (Part One)

Somehow, while in the midst of my marathon book tour, I also managed to read some books, many of them new releases. What a busy autumn. I thought I’d better share some reviews now before they pile up.

Once again, I want to thank all those bloggers and readers who’ve supported me on my tour with your wonderful visits and comments. I’m sure you’re getting sick of me, but I’m on the home stretch now. I also hope you’ve enjoyed meeting other bloggers and learning about their books.

October’s (part one) reviews include my 4 and 5-star reads of a fiction anthology, two crime thrillers, two coming-of-age women’s lit novels, a western contemporary romance, and an urban fantasy.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Distant Flickers: Stories of Identity and Loss (An Anthology)

Usually, when I read an anthology, it’s easy to pick out my favorite stories. Those are the memorable ones that I acknowledge in a review—exquisitely written, emotionally stirring, and resonant as I recall them hours after closing the book. What am I to do when every story fits that description?

Each story in this anthology is unique, and yet they are built around the theme of identity and loss, often involving a pivotal decision, a step into the unknown, or acknowledging a hard truth. In some ways, they’re character studies, richly crafted glimpses into human lives and the circumstances that shape them.

Now I’ll do what I said I couldn’t do. There are a handful of stories that have stuck with me since I closed the book a couple of days ago: “Where Secrets Go to Hide” by Keith Madsen, “The Coveting” by Carol LaHines, “Diary Omissions” by Elizabeth Gauffreau, and “A Spoonful of Soup” by Rita Baker. This collection of ten tales by eight authors isn’t a long book, and I read it in a couple of hours. Highly recommended to readers who love character-driven and beautifully written human stories.

*****

Ghost of a Chance by Jaye Marie

David Snow fails his fitness test after getting shot with a crossbow. As a result, he loses the detective job he loved. But that’s not the only thing in his life falling apart. His wife, Jane, is having a torrid and dangerous affair, and his attempt to work as a private investigator is ticking off Alan, a rival who seems determined to make him suffer. The only good thing happening in his life is Laurie, a college student with a couple of mysteries to solve. She becomes his sidekick, affectionately known as Nancy Drew.

The story unfolds in four POVs (for the aforementioned characters). David tells his story in 1st person and the other three in 3rd person. The pace moves along quickly with plenty of action and just the right amount of reference to previous books in the series. I had no trouble following and polished off the book in a single day.

The characters were complex and multifaceted. Laurie is a ray of sunshine, and it was a toss-up as to whether I liked her or David the best. Jane and Alan are much more troubled and less likable, particularly Alan who falls deeply into a villainous role.

The read seems to work well as a stand-alone, but two major plot threads are left open for a future book: 1) a creepy paranormal/possession case that David is investigating. And 2) an unexpected murder that points in a few different directions. For readers who don’t mind a couple of loose ends, both are reasons to look forward to the next book. Highly recommended to fans of crime novels and thrillers who enjoy a paranormal twist.

*****

Just Before Sunrise by Carol Balawyder

Nadine has her sights on her wealthy husband Logan’s life insurance, and the quickest way to cash in is to murder the older man. An affair with Charlie, Logan’s stepson from a previous marriage, guarantees her an accomplice. When photos show up of the man’s drowning, Nadine and Charlie start planning a second murder, but this time, they need someone to take the fall. Enter Maya, a sixteen-year-old trying to get off the streets and turn her life around. Charlie plays Maya, entrances her, and Maya is completely taken in.

The pace of this suspenseful read moves along quickly right from the start. I held my breath as I could see Maya making one mistake after another and falling in love with a man who was manipulating her and setting her up. Fortunately, at age sixteen, she has some allies looking out for her, but the heart wants what the heart wants.

The story is free of graphic sex and violence. It unfolds in multiple POVs, all third person except for Maya, whose chapters are in first person. I liked Maya as a character. Despite her naivete, she’s a believable teen with a full backstory and range of emotions. Nadine and Charlie were utterly devious, and I enjoyed their scenes, eager for them to fail. A subplot between two secondary characters threads through the main story. A fast-paced, suspenseful read that I highly recommend to fans of coming-of-age thrillers.

*****

Chocolate for Breakfast by Martha Reynolds

In 1979, Bernadette is on her way to spend her junior year abroad in Zurich. She plans to study and travel, but her initial goal is to lose her virginity. The future is wide open and life is still an adventure. She accomplishes her goal but also ends up pregnant. Her worries, her choices, and the outcome are covered in the first 75% of the read.

Even though the decision is hers, and she has wonderful support from those around her, the final outcome isn’t certain, and I was completely immersed in the story. Bernie’s every choice involves sacrifice, and the book made me think about the thousands of women faced with the same dilemma, many with fewer resources. Bernie is a well-rounded and thoroughly believable character as are all secondary characters from top to bottom.

The last 25% of the book jumps ahead twenty-three years to 2002. Bernie is 43 years old and still struggling with her past decision, her life in shambles. A death in her family opens a shocking door to understanding and forgiveness and another choice—whether to walk through. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it to readers of women’s lit, family sagas, and coming-of-age stories. (Kindle Unlimited>)

*****

Secret Santa’s Rundown Sleigh by Mary J. McCoy-Dressel

Terra and her daughter Kylee are on their way to visit family for Christmas when their car breaks down. Stuck in a small town, with every hotel booked solid for the holiday and a winter storm on the way, Terra is desperate. A kindly waitress at the local diner offers them a place to stay – at her brother’s home.

Jude Overton, a widower with a young daughter Kylee’s age, isn’t happy about the unexpected visitors. As the storm sets in, Jude, the town’s Secret Santa, is stuck without “elves.” He needs Terra’s help delivering presents, and they pack the girls into his rundown sleigh. All does not go well … at first.

This hour-long read is a light-hearted romance with all the trimmings for the holiday. The characters are likable and genuine. Terra and Jude share the POV, the pace speeds along, and the plot is cute. I loved the two girls. They were delightful, funny, and heartwarming. A highly recommended Christmas romance for readers looking for a dose of good cheer. (Kindle Unlimited.)

*****

The Midnight Rambler (The Hat series, #6) by C. C. Boyack

I’ve read a few of Boyack’s books from the Hat series. They’re wild paranormal adventures that move at a mind-boggling pace and are full of clever asides and fun banter. I read this one in a single sitting, the same day I purchased it.

Lizzie and the Hat have a new friend, Ray, who desperately needs a magical medicine to stay alive, and the witch who knows how to make it has disappeared. But that isn’t their only problem. The Midnight Rambler is back, a living scarecrow and old enemy of the Hat. With his pumpkinhead army, he’s hell-bent on killing the Hat and doesn’t care who gets in the way.

Between all the madcap violence and humor there are also moments of tenderness as Ray and Lizzie begin a relationship. Their intimacy and Ray’s impending death raise the stakes as does the Rambler’s killing spree. I enjoyed seeing this new side of Lizzie.

Characters from past books have cameos throughout this one, and there are references to previous stories. It isn’t necessary to have read the books in order, though I recommend it, simply as a way to become familiar with the colorful cast of characters as they enter the series. “The Hat” is definitely the place to start. I highly recommend this series to readers looking for an entertaining jaunt through Boyack’s imagination. (Kindle Unlimited.)

*****

Three Years of Her Life by C. E. Robinson

At the opening of Robinson’s debut novel, Elizabeth is on her way to nursing school. It’s 1957, and she stops by to visit her stern grandmother, a woman of German descent, who gives her a locket that belonged to Elizabeth’s deceased grandfather. Inside the locket is the picture of a woman, and her grandmother wants Elizabeth to find out who the woman was.

But Elizabeth gets distracted with nursing school and a romance with Erik, a Jewish doctor and all-around great guy. When she eventually learns the truth of the locket’s portrait—that the woman is her true great-grandmother, and that she was Jewish—her extended family erupts with some hateful antisemitism.

Though her family’s reaction is painful, and Erik’s Jewish mother is resentful of Elizabeth’s relationship with her son, Elizabeth and Erik are generally secure in their relationship, and at its heart, this is a romance with some ups and downs, most of them brought on by Elizabeth’s childhood trauma at her grandmother’s hands.

Elizabeth’s love of music (something she inherited from her grandfather) plays a large role in the story, and her infatuation with her guitar teacher creates some relationship tension. Erik is a sweetheart throughout, and he was my favorite character, along with Marlene, Elizabeth’s no-nonsense friend.

The pace is moderate with a fair amount of exposition in the beginning, which gets Elizabeth through nursing school. Once she and Erik fall in love, there are numerous vignettes showing the development of their relationship as well as her growing musical talent. A significant change happens in the last 15% of the story when Erik travels to Germany as the Berlin Wall reshapes Europe, finishing up the love story with plenty of suspense. This is a lovely debut romance novel for readers who enjoy a bit of historical fiction, family saga, and suspense added into the mix.

*****

Happy Reading!

September Book Reviews

Autumn has arrived in Oregon with some welcome rain. I’m sure you haven’t missed that I’m in the midst of a book tour. Huge thanks to everyone who’s stopped by, commented on posts, and checked out my talented hosts’ books!

Some of you may know that my husband has been navigating the emotional road of a cancer diagnosis. It’s not something I shared widely, but I wanted to thank those who knew for their kind words of support. He had successful surgery about a month ago and his cancer is officially gone! Yay! That journey is over. ❤

Today was supposed to be a tour day with the lovely author Chris Hall. She’s recovering from a bout of ill health and had to step away from her blog for a while, but I’m so grateful for her willingness. I’ve included last year’s review of her book Spirit of the Shell Man in the reviews below in appreciation for her kindness.

September’s reviews include my 4 and 5-star reads of two paranormal cozy mysteries, a touching memoir, a western-paranormal-romance mash-up, and a YA fantasy.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

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 sleep). 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.

*****

The Haunting of Chatham Hollow by Mae Clair and Staci Troilo

Co-authored books intrigue me. How do the writers blend their pieces of a story so well that I don’t notice differences in pace, detail, or skill? This cozy mystery/paranormal ghost story takes place in two time periods – 1888 and 2022. The authors split the task by time frame, and the differences in their styles played perfectly into voice and tone.

The plot of his novel is complex, and at 500 pages, it’s not a quick read. The pace moves steadily and the tension continually ramps up. Each timeline climaxes with an ill-fated séance in the Chatham Manor, the events conducted by spiritualists and attended by both citizens and ghosts. Hidden gold, betrayals, mistakes, revenge, and curses weave together in this tale with a dangerous subplot and some big red herrings. There’s also love, loyalty, and a goofy sheepdog.

In the 19th-century plot line, I enjoyed all the characters, especially Victor whose gentility, restraint, and sentiments were wonderfully written. The authentic belief in spiritualism at the time was fascinating. In the present timeline, my favorite parts were sections of banter embedded in the excellent dialog. The main character Aiden is verbally outgunned by a number of women including his grandmother, and he doesn’t stand a chance.

This story has great characters, exciting action, and a multi-layered plot. I highly recommend it to readers who enjoy cozy mysteries with a paranormal twist. (Kindle Unlimited.)

*****

The Winding Road: A Journey of Survival by Miriam Hurdle

I read this short book in an afternoon, the same day I picked up my husband after his cancer surgery. It struck a chord, and the author’s journey, though intensely personal, resonated.

Hurdle kept a diary from the time of her hysterectomy and the discovery of cancer, through her treatment, and onward to her recovery. Her cancer wasn’t only extremely rare, but her prognosis was bleak. She relates the events of her journey with a great deal of honesty and courage.

One of the important lessons I noted from reading her story is the need for patients (and their families) to advocate for themselves and their loved ones. For example, Hurdle describes long waits for information and finally driving to her physician’s office and refusing to leave the waiting room until she received the help she needed.

She also shares the kindness and competence of her treatment team, as well as the huge difference her church and community made in supporting her with rides, meals, and prayers. The love of her family and friends and her strong faith were important contributors to her emotional strength when her physical body was being devastated by the disease and the treatment (intense chemo, radiation, and multiple surgeries).

This book is a worthwhile read for anyone supporting a cancer patient. And I highly recommend it to those brave souls who are facing their own diagnoses and are seeking strength and wisdom through another survivor’s story. (Kindle Unlimited.)

*****

Geller’s Find by Sandra Cox

Luke Geller is a college professor planning to enjoy the last few weeks of his summer digging for potsherds in Nevada. In Cox’s western-romance-paranormal mash-ups, I just knew Luke was in for an unexpected ride through time. He finds himself in 1882, oddly dressed and, for all intents and purposes, homeless. He also finds himself in the company of Lily, the young owner of a ranch who’s struggling to hold onto her place. Stryker, a man of questionable character, wants to buy her out, and Luke is curious as to why. And then there’s the shooter who’s taking aim at Lily and her household.

I’ve come to expect great characters from Cox—independent women, handsome and endearing men, and strong-willed antagonists. Luke, Lily, and Stryker fit the bill, but there are some great secondary characters in this book as well, particularly the flirtatious Saffron, shy and vision-impaired Taffy, and Luke’s mom, a character that had me laughing out loud toward the end.

The plot holds together well with some red herrings tossed in, and I liked the two-way time travel in this book, which added a fun twist. The romance isn’t steamy or gushy, which I really appreciated. And the pace is lickety-split. I polished off the book in half a day. Highly recommended to fans of western romance with a bit of time travel and a lot of great characters. (Kindle Unlimited.)

*****

Library Lost by Laurie Graves (The Great Library book #2)

Book Two in The Great Library series picks up where Book One concluded. The Great Library is in danger, and the villains’ plot to gain control of the Books of Everything and control the vastness of knowledge puts more than one planet at risk. Teenage Maya and her young friend Viola use the magical books to travel through time and space, not only to thwart the villains, but to rescue those in jeopardy.

The settings are immersive, and each planet they visit is unique, from the medieval, magical forest of Ilyria to Cinnial’s oppressive, technological world. The pace moves along well, and in this complex plot, there are a lot of threads happening simultaneously. Multiple worlds and storylines generated a large number of secondary and ancillary characters, which required some focus to keep straight.

The main protagonists are distinct and fully developed, while the villains are thoroughly ruthless with few redeemable qualities. Maya is a formidable heroine, but what I enjoyed most were the magical books, which possessed an ability to talk. The books have varied personalities from devious to crabby to kind and full of wisdom.

The omniscient POV provides some distance for the reader, which softens some of the violence. That and the age of the protagonists make the story appropriate for precocious middle-grade readers and up. The books don’t stand alone, and this one ends without much resolution as the story continues, so be prepared to read onward. Recommended for young fantasy readers who love an epic magical tale. (Kindle Unlimited.)

*****

Happy Reading!

More August Book Reviews

The end of summer has arrived, and it’s time to wrap up August’s reads before the start of The Necromancer’s Daughter book tour.

But don’t worry, there won’t be a lack of book recommendations. For the next 2 months, I’ll be sharing my favorite books written by my tour hosts, a bunch of marvelously talented folks.

This bunch of August reviews are for 4 and 5-star reads including a cozy mystery, a horror anthology, and lots of main-stream fantasy, including a complete trilogy.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

I’d heard so many good things about this book that I decided to pick it up for a long long car ride. I ended up reading the whole thing in one sitting. Linus Baker is a rule follower, and he’s sent by the Department of Magical Youth to provide an objective evaluation of an orphanage on an island at the end of the train line. This orphanage is home to six children with extreme magical abilities, and if Linus finds the orphanage unsuitable, he will objectively recommend shutting it down, despite what that means for the children. What Linus discovers on the island is frightening, imaginative, eye-opening, and heart-warming, and it will change him in profound ways.

This is a delightfully creative book, full of childhood imagination. Linus is so stiff in the beginning that he’s almost scary, and the kids are so “atypical” that they’re almost unrelatable. But during the course of the book, this group of children, their fiercely protective caregivers, and Linus grew on me, and by the end, I was enamored with the whole lot of them. I wanted to cheer them all on. Secondary characters are wonderfully distinct as well.

The book is full of humor and fun (it’s about children after all), and there were times I laughed out loud. It also has many incredibly tender moments that made me want to jump into the book and hug the characters. The message of accepting and protecting those different from us, especially children, may seem a little heavy-handed at times, but it’s a message the world needs to hear over and over again. I highly recommend this engaging, disarming, funny, big-hearted book to readers who love children, love the antics of childhood, enjoy a fantastical twist, and want to close the last page with a giant smile.

*****

Broken Heart Attack by James J. Cudney

I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in the Braxton Campus Mysteries series and had a great time with book two. When elderly Gwendolyn Paddington dies from an overdose of cocaine in the middle of a King Lear performance, Kellan determines to find out why. Gwendolyn’s sister-in-law, Eustacia, is behind the unofficial investigation, and the rest of the wealthy family become suspects from top to bottom. Kellan’s search for the truth isn’t easy. There’s a missing will and he has to be careful of stepping on the touchy sheriff’s toes.

There are a lot of red herrings in the story as Gwendolyn’s extended family is full of morally flawed potential murderers. Few of them are likable, but they’re entertaining and have distinct personalities. A feisty favorite from book one, Nana D is back. She’s meddling (as usual), and running for mayor, and she provides some wonderful humor and banter to the read. Her relationship with Kellan is a delight.

The pace moves along quickly, and I didn’t know until the end who the murderer was. This book can easily be read as a stand-alone, and I recommend it to fans of cozy murder mysteries. I look forward to the next in the series.

*****

Dead Stars and Stone Arches: A Collection of Utah Horror

I love the cover of this horror anthology and was eager to dive into this generous collection of short stories and poetry set in Utah, a state I’ve visited several times. The book contains 37 short stories and poems, written by 30 different Utah authors.

The stories are broad in subject and range from short flash fiction to longer pieces with an informal chapter-like format. Some take place in the past, some in the future with a sci-fi flavor. All are creepy. I enjoyed the variety and found the writing quality very good across the board. A few stand-outs for me were Tick Way, Guardian, Derelict, and Flesh and Feathers.

Poems make up about a third of the offerings. The poetry is superb and thoroughly bone-chilling. I can’t pick a favorite because I enjoyed every single one of them. Recommended to fans of horror short stories and poetry who don’t mind having nightmares. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Dark Shores by Danielle L. Jensen

This is a non-stop YA action fantasy with some comprehensive world-building, great characters, and underlying romance. When the Empire of Celindar learns of a secret land, the Dark Shores, across the Endless Sea, their first thought is of conquest. But they need a guide, and the magic-wielding Maarin seafarers are the only ones who know how to get there. Seventeen-year-old Teriana is forced into the role, the lives of her people riding on her cooperation and success.

Marcus, the skilled leader of a Roman-style legion, heads up the mission. His relationship with Teriana is stormy, to say the least. These characters share the 3rd person POV, and both are rich with backstory and personality. The tension between them is understandable and entertaining. Many of the secondary characters are also compelling, and I found myself caring about what happened to them. (I’m glad this is a trilogy so I will get more of them in future books).

The pace moves along well, and though Book One ends with a few plot points resolved, it also leaves lots of open questions, including secrets, bad guys to be dealt with, an unknown traitor, and a romance that I already know is heading into trouble. The end was satisfying, but it’s clear that there’s more to come and this book is just the opening. Highly recommended to fantasy trilogy readers who enjoy strong characters, fast-paced action, and enemies-to-lovers romance.

*****

Seafire (Seafire Book 1) by Natalie C. Parker

In the first book of this steampunk trilogy, young Caledonia Styx captains the Mors Navis, a ship with a crew of tough young women, each of them survivors in a world terrorized by the Bullets, a brutal sea-faring organization that killed Caledonia’s family. When a Bullet crewman defects and wants to join her crew, she won’t even consider it. She’s about to throw him overboard, but he shares valuable information – her brother is still alive, and he can help her rescue him.

The book takes place in a dystopian world, and the steampunk elements are deftly woven into the story, often critical to the sea adventure. Fast-paced with lots of action, this book is primarily an account of the Mors Navis’s travels from one tough encounter and escape to another while on their way to the Bullet ship, and readers should be prepared for a cliffhanger ending with minimal resolution.

Between all the action, the main and secondary characters shine, their personalities distinct, their relationships nuanced and complex. The story unfolds in Caledonia’s third-person pov. Trust is hard for her, and in many ways, she’s a tortured soul as she takes responsibility for what happened to her family and worries about keeping her crew alive. I look forward to reading the next book in the series. Recommended to YA fantasy readers who don’t mind cliffhangers and who enjoy a fast-paced, woman-power adventure.

*****

Steel Tide (Seafire Book 2) by Natalie C. Parker

The second book in this steampunk trilogy picks up directly where the first left off. Caledonia survives to fight another day. She finds more allies, goes on daring rescues, gets trapped by the brutal Bullets who rule the sea, and finds her way out of messes. Sea battles and fights abound as she seeks her brother in this detailed fantasy world.

The action feels non-stop despite occasional breathers. I like it when world-building is essential to the plot, and that is definitely true of the steampunk elements of this story. Issues of trust plague the different sea-faring crews, and Caledonia continues to weigh the need for violence against her hope for a peaceful future.

The cast of characters expands as new groups join Caledonia’s fleet, but they’re distinctly drawn and memorable with understandable motivations and hurdles to overcome. Some definitely grew on me. Book Two doesn’t end with quite as much of a cliffhanger. A new leader has taken control of the Bullet fleet, and he and Caledonia have history, raising the stakes. Recommended to fantasy readers who love a good adventure. I’m reading onward.

*****

Stormbreak (Seafire Book 3) by Natalie C. Parker

In the final book of the Seafire Trilogy, all elements of the story escalate: the fleet grows, more characters join Caledonia’s command team, the violence intensifies, and the stakes rise. Sea battles continue to dominate the text, and she makes an unsavory alliance out of necessity. There is a sense of a final strategy coming together and a showdown ahead as the Bullet’s new leader takes the offensive.

As the book sails toward the conclusion, there are moments of celebration for victories, as well as despair and doubt as important characters are lost to the war. There’s a touch of romance as well that continually gets put on hold, dependent on an uncertain future. Themes of trust, sacrifice, and choice take center stage.

The ending was satisfying as all the elements set up throughout the trilogy come together and play a role in the final chapters. There’s no happily ever after here, but a sense of peace does win out. To avoid spoilers, I’ll leave it with a thumbs up for steampunk readers who enjoy a swashbuckling sea adventure with lots of battles, intricate world-building, and relentlessly powerful female protagonists.

*****

Happy Reading!

More July and a few August Book Reviews

Yes, it’s only the middle of August, but travels have messed up my schedule. Fortunately, my reading hasn’t suffered, and I have some great books for you, all read between tromping up the trails.

I need to share the reviews before they pile up any higher.

This bunch of reviews is for 4 and 5-star reads including a personal growth book, an ageless illustrated book about love, an uplifting holiday novelette, two books from a series of thriller romances, two installments of a fantasy serial, and last but not least, a horror short story. Phew!

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Alternate Reality by Erik Tyler

I’ve read Tyler’s other books and was eager to dive into his latest. Like his previous works, I’d categorize this one as a guide for personal growth, full of practical advice for living a happier and more conscious life as we navigate this complex world. Can’t go wrong with that at a time when politics, biases, and life’s challenges drive wedges between people and create so much hardship and stress.

As the title suggests, the book focuses on our perceptions of reality, and that by challenging our preconceived beliefs about people and situations, we might learn something new, let go of erroneous first impressions, form healthy boundaries, or make new friends. Or all of the above. Choice plays a huge role, with reminders that we may not be able to control what happens to us, but we can always choose how we respond.

Tyler relies heavily on personal anecdotes, which makes for a highly relatable and often humorous read. He illustrates the situation, his initial thinking, how the challenge resolved, and what he learned through perceiving things in a fresh way. Invariably, the change in outlook is insightful, empathetic, and positive.

Each chapter ends with a few questions for reflection that readers can use to personalize his experience and advice. Though I browsed the questions alone on a long plane ride, they would work wonderfully in an informal or formal group setting. Highly recommended to humans who want to reduce stress and live a kinder, happier, and more conscious life. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

The Boy, the mole, the fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy

This is a beautiful book of gentle wisdom that reminded me of Pooh’s insights as he navigates the Hundred Acre Woods with his friends. But in this case, the conversations about life and love occur between a boy, a mole, a fox, and a horse.

“Asking for help isn’t giving up,” said the horse. “It’s refusing to give up.”

The “print” of the book is hand-inked, giving it a whimsical and natural look similar to a journal. Simple, elegant, and beautiful illustrations appear on every page. The book is a short one that can be read in about 30 minutes, but it’s definitely worth savoring, especially if reading to a child.

“I’ve realized why we are here,” whispered the boy.
“For cake?” asked the mole.
“To love,” said the boy.
“And be loved,” said the horse.

A stunning, magical read that I love having on my shelf and plan to give away as gifts during the coming year. Highly recommended.

(My note: The kindle version of this one is more expensive than the hardcover, so I recommend the hardcover).

*****

A Long Walk Home by D. L. Finn

It’s Christmas Eve, and Kenzie is in a horrible mood. She was supposed to get married on Christmas Day, but her fiancé decided to marry her best friend, Joy. On her long walk home, Kenzie growls at shoppers, almost gets hit by a car, and tells off her ex-friend. Then she finds a homeless cat with kittens and things begin to change. Not without a nudge from a pair of kindly angels.

This Christmas novelette is less than an hour’s read. I enjoy stories that show how loving others ultimately opens the door to love in one’s life. There’s a sense of karmic peace in that. And perhaps there’s a bit of karmic comeuppance for the fiancé too. A quick, enjoyable holiday story that I happily recommend.

*****

Summer Lovin’ by Jacquie Biggar

Five years ago, caught up in the moment, Rebecca and Mitch tied the knot in Vegas, and the next day, Mitch received the paperwork for a separation. Fast forward to the present, and somehow the divorce still hasn’t happened. Both of them live in the small town of Tidal Falls and though they try to avoid each other, their attraction is as strong as ever. Then Rebecca befriends a pair of abused children and makes herself a target of the abuser. No way is Mitch going to let anything happen to any of them.

The pace never lets up. The stakes are sky-high right from page one with the two young brothers in jeopardy, and the danger they’re in makes this a page-turner right up until the end. The characters were distinct and authentic, and I connected with them all (except the bad guys—a pair of creeps I loved to hate).

This 90-minute story can be read as a stand-alone, though it was fun to know the secondary characters’ backstories from previous books. I finished it in one sitting, and I count it as one of my favorites of the series. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy an action-packed thriller with a lovely romance tying it all together. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Maggie’s Revenge by Jacquie Biggar

In Book 6, the series comes around to Maggie’s escape from the Mexican drug and human trafficker Chenglei, a story that’s been hovering in the background for several books. This installment of the series is full of action and danger as Maggie leads a number of enslaved women into the Mexican desert with the bad guys in hot pursuit. They want information from Maggie, a DEA agent, and they want to make an example of them all.

Running parallel to Maggie’s struggle to keep “her girls” alive is Adam and Frank’s race against time to find her and bring her home. Here’s where the romance elements of this thriller/romance mash-up share the narrative. Adam, Maggie’s DEA partner, had a relationship with her, and though now’s not the time to be thinking about other women, he’s fallen for his boss Amanda. Frank is in love with Maggie but doesn’t want to step on Adam’s toes.

The pace is snappy as the goal to recover Maggie drives the story. The characters stay focused, even with Adam’s daydreaming about sex, and all the characters were believable to me. Maggie steals the show with her toughness and single-minded determination, and she carries the story right up until the end. This book can be read as a stand-alone or as part of the whole series. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy romance/thriller mash-ups with lots of action. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Dead of Winter, Journey 13 by Teagan Riordain Geneviene

In this penultimate book to the Dead of Winter serial, signs are evident that the action is wrapping up. The battle between Arawn’s army of the dead and the Deae Matres’s force of sisters, returned spirits, and fickle goddesses has begun. The water goddess Coventina aids the Deae Matres in a sea battle with some wonderful action.

Most of this Journey is in Emlyn’s POV. She becomes the youngest member of the society, and though the other women wish to protect her, she’s embracing her pivotal role as one of the three who will repair the veil separating the dead from the living. It’s clear that she’s matured during the course of the story and, no longer a helpless child, she’s coming into her power.

The pace moves along well with a focus on the concluding action. Emlyn doesn’t participate in the battle, but views it through a mirror, giving the reader a high-level overview. The number of characters requires paying attention, but the author includes a handy glossary at the end to forestall any confusion. I’m looking forward to the final book in the series, which I’m going to start right Now!

*****

Dead of Winter, Journey 14 by Teagan Riordain Geneviene

The final installment in the Dead of Winter serial! The battle with Arawn is over, yet the dead are still loose in the world of the living. The group of protagonists continue to encounter the dead and mop up the world in some excellent fighting scenes, and Emlyn has some tough choices to make. The magical staffs, gems, weapons, and spells all come together, wrapping up a number of threads from the story.

The action ends at about the halfway point of this journey and the denouement begins. For a long and complex story, the extended conclusion makes sense as the author touches on the main characters’ relationships and plans for the future. I was delighted with several of the results. A highly recommended serial to readers who love long epic fantasies and enjoy getting immersed in extensive and continually evolving world-building.

*****

The BEK Curse by Jonathan Pongratz

BEK refers to Black-Eyed Kids, creepy children with solid black eyes that terrorize rural areas. In this short story, Richard and Maria are starting a new life on a farm when they have an encounter with black-eyed kids that goes very wrong. The narrative is fairly straightforward and reminded me of Twilight Zone episodes I used to watch as a kid. A creepy tale with a bit of a twist. Recommended to readers who enjoy quick horror reads. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Happy Reading!

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!