May Book Reviews

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

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

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The Russian Concubine by Kate Furnivall

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

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

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

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

*****

She Who Returns by Audrey Driscoll

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

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

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

*****

Pour it On by Staci Troilo

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

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

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

*****

Academic Curveball by James J. Cudney

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

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

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

*****

The Sheriff Meets His Match by Jacquie Biggar

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

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

*****

O’Roarke’s Destiny by Shehanne Moore

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

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

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

*****

Zoo of the Dead by Iseult Murphy

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

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

*****

Reaper: A Horror Novella by Jonathan Pongratz

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

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

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

*****

Linda’s Midlife Crisis by Toni Pike

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

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

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

*****

My Mom’s Shadow by Mariana Dynasty

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

Happy Reading!

December Book Reviews

Happy New Year!

I wish you much happiness, good health, and amazing books!

My Goodreads goal was 100 books in 2021 and I read 102, many of them yours! The covers are below my reviews. They bring back so many great memories. Enjoy!

December book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of magical realism, a romantic thriller, cozy mystery, western romance, romance novella, and climatic sci-fi.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The Art of Spirit Capture by Geoff Le Pard

Jason Hales loses his job and simultaneously learns that he and his brother Peter have inherited the estate of his Aunt Heather and Uncle Ben. His brother is in a medically induced coma after a traffic accident, and since Jason, as executor, has the time, he leaves London to handle the estate. What he doesn’t expect is to be caught up in the legacy of his deceased uncle, who crafted magical glass ornaments called captures. The art of spirit capture is a secret and everyone in town has an opinion about what Jason should do with the captures and his uncle’s old workshop.

There aren’t any bad guys in this story, but there is the mystery of the spirit captures, and the pages are full of wonderfully distinct characters. The story unfolds in Jason’s POV, and he’s an extremely likable person, trying to do his best. The supporting cast is just as compelling. It’s this lively and eclectic group that brings the story to life. I felt connected to most of them and cared about what happened to them. The mystery of the captures and how all the relationships are going to work out left me guessing right up until the end.

Magical realism is probably the best description of the genre, and the spirit captures are beautiful, visually as well as what they represent to the characters and the community. This is a long book at 500 pages, but it didn’t feel long, and I read it over about 4 days. A great read for anyone who loves kindness, mystery, a little magic, small towns where everyone is in everyone’s business, and a touch of romance. This story is pure heartwarming pleasure.

*****

From Fame to Ruin by Jina S. Bazzar

This book is a romance-thriller mash-up that starts with a kidnapping and leans heavily toward the action. Set in Brazil, Carol’s three-year-old son is kidnapped and held for $25 million in ransom. Warned not to go to the police, she approaches her old flame Ricardo for help. He can afford the payment, but they have a lot of bad blood between them that frequently boils over and scalds.

The chapters of the book alternate between Carol’s present desperation to save her son’s life, and four years earlier when Carol and Ricardo had a whirlwind romance after meeting in an airport. At first, I found the 4-year-old romance chapters less interesting (though extremely well-written). However, as the story progresses, the past starts clarifying the emotional damage in the present. The two timelines are expertly interwoven and make perfect sense as the story comes together.

Perhaps the best part of the story is the characterization. Except for the kidnapper who is sociopathic, every character is nuanced with a distinct personality. The children in the story are pure delight. Carol and Ricardo share the story’s pov (with a few exceptions), and they’re richly drawn with believable emotions and motivations. I found Ricardo and Carol likable and empathetic though both suffer from emotional wounds and are sizzling mad at each other, often to the point of being cruel.

I read the whole book in one airplane ride while everyone else snoozed around me. The pace steadily picks up until this page-turner comes to its explosive ending. Highly recommended to readers of thrillers who enjoy a well-crafted book with great characters and a touch of romance.

*****

Cold Dark Night by Joan Hall

Tami and Jason move to Madeira, NM, where Jason’s taken a job as the new police chief. They purchase an old Victorian home that belonged to the previous chief, a man murdered on the job. Tami starts on a project for the town’s historical society, researching the history of some of Madeira’s law enforcement professionals. She discovers the deaths of several police chiefs who all lived in her house, going back about 100 years. And someone doesn’t like her asking questions and digging into the details.

While Tami handles the main plot of this cozy mystery, several subplots throw around suspicion, and there are plenty of red herrings. I didn’t know who the murderer was until the reveal at the end, which includes the villain’s explanation of details going back in time. Secondary players are 3-dimensional with character arcs that kept me emotionally engaged.

I enjoyed the prequel (short story) to this book, but it’s not required reading as Hall includes just enough backstory to cover the important details. There are other books planned in the Madeira series, but this one read perfectly fine as a stand-alone. Highly recommended to readers of cozy mysteries.

*****

No Such Luck by Staci Troilo

Piper loses her job, and while security packs up her desk, they inadvertently discard her dried-up good luck rose from her high school crush Tommy. She heads to her parents’ home early for Christmas and runs into Tommy as well as Jack, her best friend who she hasn’t seen in years. It’s clear from the start that one of the two men is a much better match for her than the other, but does she know which?

This novelette is a short hour-long read that takes off at a snappy pace and doesn’t let up. It’s a heartwarming romance with distinct characters and a wintery Christmas setting. No kissing and groping in this one, just pure heart with an emphasis on kindness and being there. Highly recommended to readers who want to dive into a quick story about the true test of love.

*****

Aerovoyant by P. L. Tavormina

Climate change is the central theme of this futuristic sci-fi read—the archaic carbon (fossil fuel) corporate interests versus those who grow food and require a healthy planet to survive. I’m always a little surprised that corporate execs believe they can survive on a dead planet – but there you go, that’s real life, as well as characteristic of the villains in this book.

The combustion industry of Turaset controls the political system and uses insidious incentives to convince farmers to become reliant on their polluting products. It’s also ruthless in eliminating anyone with a visual trait that enables them to see the chemical compositions in the air. I enjoyed the planetary science woven throughout the read, as well as the realistic corporate tactics to infiltrate their victims’ livelihoods.

The worldbuilding is comprehensive and the political machinations go into some depth. There are footnotes and appendices for readers who want more information on Turaset’s timeline, politics, conventions, and genetics. I didn’t read them and had no problem with comprehension.

The chapters alternate between two main characters. Alphonse can’t accept his mother’s plan to use him to further corporate goals and flees to the countryside, surrendering potential political power to labor with his hands. Myrta is a farm girl with the visual trait, which has put her at risk for her entire life. These two characters—all the characters, really—are beautifully 3-dimensional and their relationships are rich in emotion.

This is a character-driven novel, and readers looking for a riveting plot and snappy pace might be disappointed. The pace is quite slow, and the protagonists don’t cross paths until the 65% point (which is about 275 pages in). Up to that point, it’s mostly worldbuilding and character development. Goals and a plan of action don’t happen until the last 20% of the book.

Despite the long ramp up and slow simmer, the characters entranced me. The quality of the writing is beautiful, especially Alphonse’s metaphysical journeys back in time to Earth’s creation and through billions of years to the dawn of man.

The quality of this novel is excellent, and I highly recommend it to readers who aren’t bothered by a slow pace, and enjoy long, rich, character-driven reads. Especially if they enjoy climate-based sci-fi.

*****

Sundial by Sandra Cox

Sarah Miles is a contemporary woman who travels back in time and finds herself in the company of Jesse Adams at the battle of the Alamo. The two of them have a connection that transcends time, and the attraction is instant, though they don’t understand what’s happening. They end up in New Orleans where Sarah starts making a life for herself as a painter. Despite how much she loves Jesse, she knows eventually she’ll need to leave him and return to her own time… losing him once again.

This is a western romance and an easy read with accessible characters and a straightforward plot despite the time travel. Cox includes bits of American history, and she creates an accurate feel for the time without heavy descriptions.

A variety of kind and diabolical characters populate the story, including a voodoo practitioner, kidnappers, and an Arabian sheik intent on purchasing women. Needless to say, there’s plenty of action in the bayou. The third-person POV pops around a little between Sarah and Jesse with other characters making cameos as necessary. The pace is moderate overall with an extended wrap-up in the end.

There isn’t explicit sex or gratuitous violence, so this book is fine for YA readers. Sarah’s cat, Monet, time-travels with her and plays an entertaining part in the story. Though not particularly plausible, some readers will enjoy the cat’s persistent presence. I most liked the premise of relationships surviving multiple lives, as well as the adjustments the characters needed to make when living in unfamiliar eras. Recommended for readers of western time-travel romance.

*****

Books Read in 2021!

Happy Reading!

July Book Reviews

Another month of Awesome Reads!

Thanks so much for stopping by to browse some wonderful books by indie authors!

July book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of historical fiction, poetry, a cozy mystery, western romance, family romance, two episodes of a fantasy serial, a sci-fi adventure, and prehistoric fiction. Phew! Something for everyone! I hope you enjoy the reads.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The Art of War by Angela Panayotopulos

This is an exquisitely written book with beautiful imagery, a vivid sense of place and culture, and rich characters. It’s one of those stories that sneaks up on you, and before you realize it, you’re holding your breath.

The first quarter of the omniscient narrative introduces twins Kallypso and Gavril from age ten through twenty, before WWII comes to their island home in Greece. At first, I wondered about the purpose of this tour through their innocent and mischievous childhoods, but I realized by the time the war stealthily encroaches on their lives that I was fully invested in these characters and their community. The tension was palpable, the sense of doom throttling.

War comes, and like any war, it savages the characters caught up in the struggle as well as those on the periphery. Gabe, a fisherman, joins the freedom fighters and heads to the mainland. Kalli, an artist who paints religious scenes on the church walls, is left in the village with the women, children, and old men. First the Italians occupy the island. Then the Nazis.

The lives of both characters are decimated. Dreams are lost. Innocence is replaced with horror, starvation, and death. The omniscient pov allows some storytelling distance or the brutality would be almost too hard to take. The tragedies are heart-breaking partly because they’re so senseless.

But there’s also kindness and love, courage and conscience, loyalty and resilience. It doesn’t show up for a while, but there’s hope too.

Did I mention that this is an exquisitely written book? The quality of the prose and storytelling swept me away. It’s one of the best novels I’ve read this year. Highly recommended for fans of war stories, love stories, and literary fiction that grips you by the throat and doesn’t let go.

*****

Slivers: Chiseled Poetry by Balroop Singh

Singh’s poetry becomes more beautiful to me with every publication. This generous collection of micro-poetry was inspired by the Japanese syllabic forms haiku and tanka, as well as acrostic poetry where the first letter of each line, when read vertically, spells a word. Each poem is an exquisite glimpse into the author’s reflections on nature, emotions, and life. Photographs complement a number of the poems from each section.

The haiku is grouped by the source of Singh’s inspiration. Below is a lovely example from Clouds:

soft waves whisper
a thousand secrets of clouds
solemn soliloquy

An example of Singh’s tanka:

When the stream freezes
all sounds sink in the snow.
Trees stand bare and mute
gaping at the periwinkle sky
As he meets the morning sun.

An example of Singh’s acrostic entitled Dusk:

Dwindling hues of orange light
Usher in the stars
Shadows recede into darkness
Kissing the waning light

This lovely collection deserves to be read in quiet moments, contemplated, and savored, and I suspect that I’ll return to it in the days to come. Highly recommended to readers of haiku, tanka, and short poetry in general.

*****

Myth and Magic by Mae Clair

A wonderful romance/cozy mystery mash-up by one of my go-to authors. Veronica is the manager of the Stone Willow Lodge, owned by the wealthy Breckwood family. Ghost-sightings and other more gruesome events are disturbing the guests and making hay for the local newspaper whose goal seems to be driving the inn out of business. To find out what’s going on, the Breckwoods hire a private investigator who happens to be the black sheep of the family.

Caith unwillingly returns to his childhood town, pressured by his young son who wants to see his cousins and grandfather. Caith brings along a ton of psychological baggage based on old trauma that he’s unable to deal with. He and Veronica have their own issues to clear, but the attraction is as strong as ever (when she isn’t furious with him).

The romance part of the story is stormy and satisfying. The mystery part is much more… well, mysterious. The tension amps up as gruesome events at the lodge escalate and Caith runs into family resistance. The author slowly reveals Caith’s past, and I couldn’t help but worry that the tragedy of his history would repeat itself. There are red herrings and lots of potential suspects.

The plot is well done, with appropriate foreshadowing, and I didn’t know who the culprits were until the reveal. I have to say though that Caith and his three brothers stole the show. The relationships were complicated, but there were moments of pure joy too. A highly recommended standalone read for fans of deftly entwined romances and cozy mysteries.

*****

Keeper Tyree by Sandra Cox

Keeper is a bounty hunter and hired gun, past his prime and suffering from arthritis. The widow Cathleen O’Donnell hires him to kill the bandit that shot her son. He agrees, never expecting that Cathleen will show up at his campfire in trousers, determined to go along.

They don’t get far before they run into (and aid) a stuck wagon full of ladies of the night, and a crushed wagon carrying a fledgling attorney and his young son. Tyree and Cathleen see them all to their destination, and despite Tyree’s determination not to get involved with women, Cathleen’s smile is having an impact. Clearly there’s a romance in the making.

The hunt for the killer Pardee takes them into the Badlands. More characters enter the story (including a few “characters”) and the action continues to build with no shortage of face-offs and gunfire. I liked Cathleen’s determination to take down her son’s killer and Keeper’s attempts to ignore his feelings. A fun and adventurous story I highly recommend to fans who enjoy fast-paced westerns and an engaging romance.

*****

A Dream of Family by Jill Weatherholt

Weatherholt delivers another sweet romance of second chances and family. Molly owns her dream bookstore, but it’s going under as a new chain store gobbles up her customers. She has her heart set on adopting a little girl Grace, but if she’s struggling financially, she may lose that dream as well.

Enter Derek, handsome and successful with the business savvy she needs. If he can help her bookstore turn a profit, it helps him with some future business plans of his own. But Molly blames Derek for warning off her fiancé on her wedding day, an experience that magnified childhood insecurities from foster care. And Derek has some old family baggage of his own.

Despite the conflicts and misunderstandings, the tone of the book is genial and heartwarming with a strong emphasis on kindness, forgiveness, and family. The read is tagged as a Christian romance and faith in God plays a role in the characters’ healing. But it comes with a light touch, focusing on values that most humans can relate to regardless of faith. The characters are wholesome and likeable. Who can resist a six-year-old kid and a goofy puppy named Duke?

As a bonus, the book has lots of ideas for setting up a successful bookstore (or really any kind of customer-friendly business). That aspect added a lot of credibility to Derek’s character and it was fun to see the transformation of Molly’s shop as her life also transforms.

A sweet read for anyone who enjoys gentle romances and stories of family

*****

Dead of Winter, Journey 6: The Fluting Fell by Teagan Geneviene

Another installment of the epic adventure, this one starts off with one frightening dream! Emlyn’s dreams are vivid and convey a lot of information, but this one isn’t hers. She dreams a nightmare from Boabhan’s past as if it happened to her. The villain Arawn and the danger he presents becomes a lot clearer.

In the second half of this journey, Emlyn’s ability to see the dead comes to the forefront when the group of Deae Matras stop at an abandoned mansion. Her encounters with the dead, including the pale man and the white wolf, continue to be my favorite scenes. I think I know who he is… and look forward to Journey 7.

*****

Dead of Winter, Journey 7: Revenant Pass by Teagan Geneviene

After seven installments I’m becoming used to the modest pace and omniscient feel of the narrative. The backstory repeats now and then, likely catching readers up who are exploring the epic world at a casual pace. As always, the level of detail in the world-building is meticulous.

Like many of the journeys in this story, this episode has two “parts.” Journey 7 begins with Emlyn and her party of Deae Matres stuck beyond the veil in the Realm of the Dead without a clue as to how to get back. The setting is creepy and the resolution full of danger. In the second half of the journey, they search for the Lost Library, which appears to be nothing but ruins… only it isn’t. As is the case with several of the episodes, it ends on a cliffhanger. Dead of Winter continues to be an engaging read for fans of epic fantasy.

*****

Templum Veneris by Jeremy L. Jones

It’s not often that a second book in a series outshines the first, but I think it did in this case. This was a great sci-fi read full of action, intrigue, and engaging characters. I enjoyed meeting up with the team members from the first book as they embarked on another mission to reconnect with human colonies lost in the solar system – this time on the planet Venus.

What they encounter is a strong ruler and militaristic society of loyal subjects. Citizens are divided into warriors and workers, and all seems to function well, despite the feeling among the team that something is very off. This uneasiness adds a lot of tension as little by little the ugly underbelly of the Venusian culture is revealed.

The action is great and the pace zooms along. I read the story in two sittings, though it’s not a short book. What I enjoyed most of all was the characters. Each member of the team is well-rounded and highly distinct in their personalities and quirks. Motivations are clear and choices are logical and made complete sense to me. Where the first book in the series seemed more plot driven, in this one the characters shine, and I definitely was drawn in. Once again Viekko was my favorite.

This worked well as a standalone, but I recommend starting with the first book, Saturnius Mons. A great read for sci-fi fans who enjoy a rollicking adventure and great characters.

*****

Laws of Nature (Dawn of Humanity Book 2) by Jacqui Murray

I read the first book in this series a while ago, and it was great to travel back in time again (1.8 million years to be exact). I couldn’t wait to catch up with Lucy and her group of primitive humans. This book starts where the last left off, so I’d recommend beginning the series with book one, Born in a Treacherous Time, which blew me away, btw.

(Click here for the rest of the “book blast” review.)

*****

Happy Reading!

Two More Summer Reads: Blogger book reviews

I usually read in bed at night and pass out after one or two chapters. One book can easily take a whole month to read. Not so while on vacation. Here are two more reviews of blogger books that I read during my trip to Colorado. Enjoy.

Eclipse Lake

by Mae Clair

A blend of mystery and romance with strong characters.

Eclipse Lake is one part cozy mystery and one part romance. The story focuses on Dane Carlisle, a teenage lost-cause who grew up and turned his life around to become a multi-millionaire. He returns to his hometown with his adopted son, hoping to make amends with his older brother. But memories of the teenage Dane persist, and the discovery of an old skull raises more suspicions about his past. Set against Dane’s dark history and the current turmoil is his fairytale romance with a spunky photo-journalist who’s in town shooting pictures of the scenic lake.

The conflict between the three male characters – Dane, his teenage son, and his older brother – was what hooked me on the book. All well-rounded characters, they were emotionally genuine and likable, but also flawed. The relationships were convincingly volatile, and the emotional arcs felt authentic. Clair did a nice job with the cast of secondary characters and the quaint setting – a small mountain town where everyone knows everyone’s business. The story moves speedily along during the action and conflict scenes, and slows to a leisurely pace during romantic interludes.

Eclipse Lake is a well-constructed story with clean writing and some unexpected twists. Readers who enjoy mysteries, family secrets, and a strong romantic thread will love this book.

What’s in a Name

My Sally G. Cronin

Twenty stories by a master storyteller

What’s in a Name is a delightful collection of 20 short stories organized alphabetically by the names of the main characters. A few stories are dark, some are magical or humorous, and many close with a sense of poignancy.

Cronin is a marvelous storyteller, and for a reader, spending an afternoon immersed in the lives of the people behind the names is time well-spent. For me, the last story in the collection “Jack” was the icing on the cake, but all the stories are unique and well worth the read. Highly recommended for any reader who enjoys short stories about the human journey.

Happy Reading!

Summer Reading – 2 Reviews

Nap or read?

It was the main decision I had to make while visiting my parents in Colorado. Poor me, right? Well, reading won out!

Fortunately, my ipad was (is) crammed with books, and I had a pile to choose from. I’m happy to kick off a couple of reviews of fellow bloggers’ books.

A Thousand Rooms

by Helen Jones

My review:

Keep a box of tissues at your elbow for this one! A Thousand Rooms had me red-eyed and snuffling. This is a character-driven book with a simple plot: Katie, newly dead and unfortunately overlooked in her transition from life, goes on a quest to find “her heaven” and travels through a series of manifestations (rooms) before she finds her own.

Jones draws on a variety of mystical traditions and beliefs to design the experience of being dead and the concepts of heaven, soul mates, and reincarnation. These were interesting, but what I loved, loved, loved about his book was the incredibly touching and heartfelt expressions of human emotions, particularly grief and sorrow and, ultimately, of pure love.

Jones writes beautifully. Descriptions are rich, and the characters, even those on the periphery, are wonderfully developed. As the main character, Katie is thoroughly relatable with a wide range of emotions including some delightful sarcasm. I found her personal evolution compelling as her earthly concerns slip away and she discovers the essence of who she is and the point of her journey. Katie’s realization of what it means to live a blessed life is uplifting and full of hope. Highly recommended for readers who love character-driven books and want to feel inspired.

Death by Pumpkin

by Noelle Granger

My review:

Death by Pumpkin was my second read in Granger’s Rhe Brewster series and a pure joy ride. Rhe is a single mom, ER nurse, and police department consultant in the small Maine town of Pequod. She, once again, takes an active role in a police department investigation when the pumpkin-drop at a local festival reveals a murder. She rapidly goes from investigator to target as an old nemesis is determined to make her and those she cares for suffer.

The book is fast-paced and well-researched. The scene in the small plane was particularly riveting and highlighted Granger’s attention to detail. Other than the villain, the characters are all beautifully three-dimensional and full of quirky personality. I thoroughly enjoyed the interplay in the authentic relationships. In addition to the murder investigation, romantic and political subplots add interest and tension. A perfect read for anyone who enjoys cozy mysteries with plenty of thrills.

More to come!