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!

February Book Reviews

It’s the end of February, and due to a productive month of writing, I only have 4 books to share. But all are 5-star reads including a psychological thriller, a romance/thriller mash-up, a madcap time travel romance, and a cozy mystery.

I’ve started something new, and at the end of each review noting it a book is available on Kindle Unlimited.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Means to Deceive by Alex Craigie

I’ve enjoyed Cragie’s other thrillers and snatched this one up as soon as I saw it. Gwen has moved back to her hometown to care for her grandmother who can no longer live alone. Granny’s advancing dementia leaves her irritable, and to Gwen, their relationship has always felt strained. But that’s the least of her problems as two men, for different reasons, have bones to pick with her. The harassment starts small and grows increasingly concerning. She doesn’t know who the culprit is and the police aren’t helpful. Her brother Gethin comes to help her despite his own problems at home, and Ben, a new neighbor, takes a romantic interest in her, but can she trust him?

The pace is a slow burn, a steady escalation of tension that doesn’t let up, and it kept me turning the pages. I found the characters completely authentic and their relationships and choices believable. I could relate well to Gwen’s interactions with her difficult grandmother and appreciated the realistic support system, which made sure Granny’s care was covered while the plot played out.

This read is full of red herrings, and I suspected a number of different characters at different times, sometimes two of them at once. I had no idea until the reveal who the main culprit was in the increasingly dangerous and disturbing harassment. A secondary plot regarding Gwen’s past resolves simultaneously and wraps up all elements of the story well. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy a tense psychological thriller. (Kindle Unlimited)

*****

Twilight’s Encore by Jacquie Biggar

In Book 3 of the Tidal Falls series, the story switches to another set of characters connected to the retired seal team that binds the books together. Katy returns to her hometown to make sure her wedding plans are progressing well, and that includes the renovation of her family’s rundown theater. Her ex-boyfriend Ty and his construction company are doing the work, and the old flame between them ignites almost immediately. But this book (and series) isn’t limited to romance. Someone is sabotaging the theater, someone is stalking Katy, and that someone doesn’t care if people get hurt.

One of the fun things about the story is that it occurs in the same timeline as Book 2, so there are details connecting the two. To me, that added depth to everything that was going on. I had information unknown to the protagonists because I was there for the previous book in a different POV. Very clever.

Biggar’s characterization is always well-rounded and rich with emotion. There’s plenty of steamy romance in addition to danger and action. The plot moves quickly, and the last quarter of the read is pure thrills as the final showdown unfolds. I whipped through this book in two sittings and look forward to seeing what happens in Book 4. Highly recommend to fans of romance/thriller mash-ups. (Kindle Unlimited)

*****

The Viking and the Courtesan by Shehanne Moore

Moore’s witty prose and exceptional characters pervade another delightful romance. In 19th century London, Malice is an independent woman whose profession is breaking up marriages. When her husband’s mistress unwittingly hires her, she intends to engage in the marriage-wrecking scandal herself. But her plans go awry as a kiss transports her over 900 years into the Viking past and into the clutches of Sin, a man in love with Snotra and wishing to make her jealous enough to marry him. Romance of any sort doesn’t seem to have a chance between the time travel complications and a madcap clash of cultures.

The narrative unfolds primarily through Malice’s point of view, though Sin (Sinaar) has some scenes of his own. One thing I love about Moore’s writing is the extremely tight POVs, the ever-present humor, and the fast pace. Malice is witty and snarky while being true to her era. She’s also clever and possesses a good heart despite her name and profession. Secondary characters are delightful, the Vikings reminiscent of pirates, and the nuns eager to be Sin’s bed slaves. The names are hysterical.

The book includes plenty of action in both time periods, particularly when Malice is trying to survive among the Vikings. The romance is fairly clean. Partly because, for Snotra’s sake, Malice and Sin are “pretending” romance for the first half of the book. When the true romance begins to bloom, the sex is primarily off stage. I enjoyed the evolution of the romantic relationship. It rings with authenticity and depth despite all the humor. This is a fun book that I recommend to romance readers who love witty characters and a madcap plot.

*****

Alibaster Alibi by S. D. Brown

When her uncle Jasper is murdered, Allie inherits half-ownership of his rock shop in Sedona, Arizona. As a condition of the inheritance, she has to live on site and share ownership with Collin, a young playboy with questionable ethics and a temper. When Collin ends up dead, Allie’s the prime suspect.

This is a cozy mystery with a strong female protagonist who once worked in criminal justice and isn’t about to be bullied by the local sheriff. She wants to find the killer and starts chasing down clues. There are several red herrings as the backstory comes to light, and I didn’t know the identity of the killer until the action-packed end.

The plot isn’t complicated, but it’s cohesive and comes together well. That said, the characters were my favorite part of the read, especially Allie. She’s high energy, smart, determined, and worth rooting for. She speaks her mind but also has a kind heart. Secondary characters are well rounded, distinct, and memorable, which is good since there are a number of them with small roles. The pace whipped along and I easily read the book in two sittings.

Highly recommended to murder mystery readers who enjoy a snappy pace, great characters, and a strong female protagonist. (Kindle Unlimited)

*****

Happy Reading!

January Book Reviews

January flew by with lots of blogging and reading (and no writing). February should prove more productive, but the reading paid off. I have some great books to share with you.

January book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of a sci-fi time-loop thriller, a YA magical coming of age story, a horror novelette, lots of fantasy, a thriller, and several variations on romance. Something for everyone!

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The South Tower by Alex Canna

Phew, what a story! I wasn’t sure about reading this book after being traumatized by the actual events of September 11th. That was a horrifying day, and I was afraid the book would stir up a lot of feelings. Instead, the story is a sci-fi thriller and page-turner, and I read it in one sitting, totally enthralled.

The sci-fi element of the story is a time loop similar to Groundhog Day. Nick Sandini returns over and over again to the point the plane slams into the South Tower, and with each iteration, he learns something new in his effort to escape the building alive. Each time he has 59 minutes before the tower collapses. That time frame keeps the book’s pace ripping!

Nick, as the main character, is perfection, an ordinary guy who attempts the impossible. His even-keeled temperament and focus on logical steps keep the book from becoming too emotionally heavy. He recruits other people trapped in the tower, and we get to know them quite well as they repeatedly problem-solve during the 59 minutes they have to figure the whole thing out.

The story is told in a very tight third-person point of view, so close that it feels like first-person, and I loved that. It made me root for Nick as if my own life depended on it. The author did an amazing job tracking the details of each loop and keeping Nick’s growing knowledge organized chronologically. I didn’t find a single plot hole, and the editing is pristine.

Despite the link to the tragic day in US history, in the end, the feeling that the book evoked wasn’t misery, but gratefulness for the many ordinary people who went above and beyond that day to save others. Highly recommended.

*****

Through the Cracks by Sheri J. Kennedy

Lydia is a teenager dealing with the aftermath and trauma of her father’s overdose death and her own suicide attempt. Her mom keeps a controlling eye on her as they both plod toward recovery. Then Lydia falls through the cracks – physically – of a door into the shop neighboring her mother’s store. There she meets and befriends Audrey, an older woman with experience and wisdom who sees the beautiful light inside Lydia and helps her see it as well.

The paranormal aspects of the story enhance and give visual affirmation to the healing power of connection. They also support the story’s pace by facilitating interactions that would happen more slowly in a world without “magic.” In essence, though, this is a story about love, healing, choices, trust, and the power of meaningful human connections. It suggests that caring for others is a way to find value, meaning, and light inside us.

I liked all the characters and connected with each of them, particularly Lydia and her mom who share the POV. There aren’t any villains in the story, but there are flawed people who make mistakes and struggle through the consequences. Their personal and interpersonal challenges resonated, and their story arcs were gratifying. A beautifully crafted story about growing up, healing wounds, and choosing love. Highly recommended.

*****

The Hay Bale by Priscilla Bettis

A very creepy novelette for those readers who want to spend about 45 minutes holding their breath! After several miscarriages, Claire leaves the city to spend some time grieving and recovering in an old mansion in the countryside. Her husband has left her due to her obsession with having a baby, and she maintains an inner dialog with him as she settles into the run-down place. It isn’t long until she hears scratching in the walls and a child crying. And in the nearby field, she discovers a single, large hay bale with something dangerous growing inside it.

The story feels a lot like classic Stephen King horror. I don’t want to spoil the plot but will share that there are some strange people in these pages and some odd goings-on. Claire is a strong protagonist, fearless in her pursuit of answers as well as in doing what she thinks is right. The ending is unexpected and made me wonder about her as well as the small community of characters she interacts with. Highly recommended to horror fans looking for a quick read.

*****

The Prince’s Heir by Deborah Jay

Book 4, the last in the Five Kingdom’s series, ends with a bang! The characters I’ve come to know and care about face some new challenges as well as those that have been brewing since the beginning. King Marten is in danger of losing his throne, and his wife and child are pawns in a dangerous game fueled by religious zealots. Rustum and Risada long for a quiet life, but Rustum is called on by the magical gem-eyes to battle an ice dragon, leaving Risada behind to deal with the conspiracy, murders, and kidnappings.

The duality of the twin gods, one benevolent, the other murderous, finally plays out in this installment of the tale. There are parallels to our world, both ancient and contemporary: the genuine conviction of some people that they know the will of the gods, and the rampant hypocrisy of others who preach godliness while amassing power and committing crimes.

The last 25% of the book is a gigantic confrontation with gripping action. It’s well-written and ultimately satisfying. Subplots regarding the use of magic and family conflicts also wrap up nicely. The pace moves along well.

Rustum’s foray to defeat the ice dragon and capture a mad gem-eye seemed like a bit of a tangent, but it does hone the skills that he’ll need in the final chapters. The characters were consistent throughout the four books. Lead characters, including the villains, were well-rounded, credible, and nuanced, with interesting arcs over the course of the story.

The books all form one story and should be read from start to finish in order. Highly recommended for fans of high fantasy and appropriate for YA readers as well as adults.

*****

Blue Snow in the Moonlight by Mary J. McCoy-Dressel

During a cold snowy December, Elle returns home to North Dakota for a wedding. She rents a cottage from a rancher named Cullen. They’re both still getting over failed marriages, and Cullen, with cattle and kids filling his hours, isn’t ready for another relationship. He may never be. But the attraction is instantaneous, and it goes both ways. The question is… will they give it a try.

This book is pure 100-proof romance without a smidgeon of other genres sneaking in. Romance readers will love the slow burn as these two gradually find their courage to love again. The growing relationship is the focus of the tale and sex scenes occur “off-page.”

What’s unique about the book is the wonderful and dangerous winter setting, as well as the fast-paced chaotic life of a rancher with full custody of his kids. There’s never a dull moment, and if you’re like me, there’s nothing quite as attractive as a man who’s a loving parent. Cullen is so that.

Though Cullen stole the show for me, Elle is also a likable, well-rounded genuine character, as are the kids and Cullen’s sister Sierra. There aren’t any bad guys in the story. Cullen is his own nemesis and obstacle in the way of finding love. His kids, on the other hand, are all for it. Highly recommended for romance fans.

*****

The Rebel’s Redemption by Jacquie Biggar

The Wounded Hearts series follows the post-war lives of a Seal Team as they transition to civilian life. So far, each book I’ve read features one of the team members, and as thriller-romance mash-ups, the action in their lives hasn’t quite fallen off as other opportunities arise.

This book focuses on Jared, the team’s electronics guy, and Annie, the woman he abandoned 8 years ago when he went to war. They have a stormy past, an intense attraction, and a surprise for him in the form of a seven-year-old son. When the boy is kidnapped, they can’t help but join forces, and the sparks fly.

A second plotline weaves through the book. This one involves the capture of Maggie, a DEA agent working undercover to investigate a sex-trafficking ring. Her partner, Adam, has no idea where she is. This plot thread doesn’t resolve by the end, and it makes a great case for reading on in the series.

Of course, there’s romance between Jared and Annie. I didn’t quite believe they would take time for romance with their child kidnapped and in mortal danger. They had their frantic moments, bouts of anger and tears, and opportunities to comfort each other, but for me, some of the romantic interludes robbed the story of a sense of desperation.

The thriller elements of the book are spot on. Characterization is excellent, the action fast-paced, and the stakes high. The story is told from third-person multiple viewpoints, and the perspectives worked well. I enjoyed that the narrative touched briefly on many of the characters I met in Book 1. And I appreciated the relationships among the group of men, especially their ongoing brotherhood and concern for each other.

I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in Book 3. Highly recommended for fans of romance/thriller mash-ups, and series readers who enjoy male friendships among a band of brothers. 

*****

Rage by Sue Rovens

An interrupted suicide catapults Weston Cross into mental health counseling with Lindsey Yager. She’s a grossly incompetent therapist with a collapsing marriage and a serious drinking problem, and the combination adds up to disaster. When Lindsey refuses to listen to Weston’s dark thoughts, she awakens his rage. And when Weston’s kindly neighbor Jay suggests that Weston put his energy into making the world a better place, Weston has his own ideas about what that means.

This thriller unfolds with an omniscient POV, giving the reader a broad view of the situation as well as insight into each character’s thoughts, backstory, and motivations. As main characters, neither Lindsey nor Weston is likable. Secondary characters, however, shine in that department. Jay, the neighbor, and Jeremy, Lindsey’s soon-to-be ex-husband, were the ones I cared for and worried about.

Weston is a deftly written, well-rounded villain, and it was hard to pick just one area of his beat-upon life that compelled him to attempt suicide. After Lindsey’s terrible counseling, his pathology ends up manifesting sexually, so readers should be prepared for some explicit sexual behaviors.

The book is a page-turner with a snappy pace, and I read it in a day. I had no idea how things were going to resolve, and the surprise ending made perfect sense. Perhaps my only disappointment was that Lindsey wasn’t present in the final climactic scene to face the havoc. That said, this was an enjoyable read, and I’ll be picking up more books by this author. Recommended for fans of thrillers who love a quick read.

*****

Dead of Winter: Journey 10 by Teagan Riordan Geneviene

After reviewing 9 Journeys in this epic fantasy adventure, it’s hard to say anything new about the complex and varied characters and engaging plot, the magical devices and mystical settings. This episode continues at the lost library and centers on a painting that serves as a portal to Pergesca, a city by the sea.

In this Journey, one character’s life comes to an end, a devastating experience for Emlyn. One of my favorite side characters, a dragon, makes a reappearance, and a bit of humor takes place as Emlyn visits her first “public house.” She continues to grow into her power as someone who can pass easily through portals into the realm of the dead and beyond. Once again, she, Zasha, and Osabide are separated from their group, and more than ever, the trio are becoming the reborn women on whose shoulders the world depends.

Readers who enjoy epic fantasy should start this serialized story with Journey 1. I’m looking forward to reading onward.

*****

Dead of Winter: Journey 11 by Teagan Riordan Geneviene

I can tell now that the journeys are building to a climax. Gethin finds the sword of his ancestors and it seems he will play an important role in the coming battle as well as in protecting Emlyn. While most of the Deae Matres and their protectors are still in the Lost Library, Emlyn, Sasha, and Osabide continue their work in Pergesca where the government ignores their warnings of Arawn’s army of the dead.

This journey felt like an amassing of power with a couple of new characters and preparations on all sides for a showdown. While some critical pieces to the story are put into play, the journey is also rich with worldbuilding details, including descriptions of clothing and foods and a culture foreign to Emlyn. She’s becoming more confident in her power even as she disguises herself to play a part in a grand deception. I’m eager to begin Journey 12.

*****

Happy Reading!

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!

November Book Reviews

My reading is way off this month due to NaNoWriMo, but I finished the first draft of my WIP, and I’m happy about that.

I still have four wonderful books for you!

November book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of 19th century romance, Christmas romance, a Christmas novellette about family love. And for a little variety… a book with werewolves!

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The Unraveling of Lady Fury by Shehanne Moore

This book was a hoot. Imagine a romance where the characters are blackmailing each other and yet contractually agree to produce an heir.

Lady Fury needs an heir if she hopes to keep the estate of her dead husband, who, by the way, is in a box in the cellar and starting to stink. Captain Flint Blackmoore is an old flame from years past, a privateer who dumped Fury on the docks and later lost his ship. He knows about the body in the cellar, and she knows his real identity. They’re stuck with each other.

The numerous clinical “rules” Fury imposes on Flint regarding the act of reproduction generate some one-upmanship, negotiation, and plenty of outrage. How exactly does one have sex without touching or removing one’s clothes? For the characters the act of sex becomes an act of war. For the reader, it’s hysterical. And heaven forbid they fall in love.

Time is of the essence because of the decomposing body, and Fury demands repeat performances for as long as it takes. With all the wrangling and finagling, the initial installment of the contract takes the first 25% of the book, and it’s all entertaining as heck.

I loved the tight POV that allowed me to experience Fury’s running commentary up close and personal. Both she and Flint are sympathetic characters even when driving each other nearly insane with frustration. The pace whips along, the characters motivated, the flush of emotions rampant. Highly recommended to readers of romance, and readers who enjoy the fireworks when great characters are thrown together in a madcap plot.

*****

Mountain Laurel Christmas by Jan Sikes

This is one of my favorite novelettes from Jan Sikes. And that’s high praise coming from a Christmas Grinch. I read this sweet story of family love and redemption in about an hour and actually choked up at one point.

Cole is a famous musician out of Nashville whose lost his zest for life. Then he visits the mountain shack where he and his siblings grew up. He loved his family, but by the time he turned fifteen, he was an orphan and, in the years since, lost track of his little brother. He finds an old letter that changes everything.

Sikes includes rich details that bring the settings to life, and even the minor characters are multi-dimensional. Cole’s arc is believable as well as touching, and his younger brother Timmy is an absolute delight. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy short stories, heartwarming tales about family, and a bit of Christmas cheer.

*****

Love, Me: A Christmas Wish Novel by Jacquie Biggar

If you love Christmas romances with adorable kids, puppies, and sleigh rides, this short 2+ hour read will warm the cockles of your heart. Grace has moved with her young daughter Cassie to a new home where Cassie can participate in a promising trial for the treatment of leukemia. Robert is the principal at Cassie’s new school, and he has a daughter, Avery. The kids hit it off immediately. And though the parents have some instant attraction, life has thrown some hardballs their way that just might strike them out.

There aren’t any villains in this story to speak of. The barriers to love are real problems that real families deal with. Grace’s dedication to her daughter’s health and treatment is absolute. Robert has ideas for his under-funded school and plans that teeter on the brink of failure. I enjoyed how grounded the adults were when it came to their children, and how hopeful the children were when it came to the adults.

The plot moves along well. Grace, Robert, and Cassie share the POV, though Avery is also a star. This is a heartwarming Christmas romance with sweet characters, lots of sparks, mischievous little kids, giggles, and yes, puppies.

*****

Lunar Boogie (The Hat #4) by C. S. Boyak

Lunar Boogie is the 4th book in The Hat series, but if a reader has read the first book (The Hat) and gotten to know Lizzie and her hilarious talking headgear, I don’t think the order of the rest matters much. In this adventure, Lizzie and the Hat are playing gigs with their cover band, The Pythons. That’s her official job.

The unofficial job? That’s hunting paranormal creatures. In this case a werewolf that’s leaving large bloody messes but few body parts (after eating his fill). What’s concerning Lizzie and the Hat is the murders seem to be following the band. There’s a fair amount of stalking scary places after dark and chasing red herrings. Joe Yoder, a cop who talks to the ghost of his dead wife, is also on the werewolf’s trail. I liked the emotional depth he brought to an otherwise plot-driven read.

One of my favorite aspects of this book (and the other Hat books) is the clever and often dry banter between Lizzie and the Hat. They have a great relationship that’s most evident in the prevalent dialog. Boyak’s quirky storytelling style is all over this book. A fun read for Hat fans and readers of paranormal fiction. Highly recommended.

.

*****

Happy Reading!

The Necromancer’s Daughter, and initial thoughts about Vella

I decided to give Vella a try.

In a nutshell, Amazon’s latest program (beta in the US for now) allows authors to publish new stories in serial episodes that readers can access though tokens. (The first three episodes of every serial are free — no fiddling with the tokens required). Readers can “thumbs up” episodes they enjoy and thereby push them up in visibility.

For authors who have published their episodic writing on programs like Wattpad, this is a great way to leverage their fanbase and earn revenue. Over a thousand fantasy stories showed up on Vella on the first day, and one had over a thousand “thumbs up.”

It wasn’t mine. Lol.

The Necromancer’s Daughter Blurb

The mechanics of setting up a Vella story, posting episodes, and editing them is easy… because there aren’t a lot of options. I don’t mind that, though some authors seem to want more formatting flexibility.

The cost per episode to the reader (after the first free ones) is pennies, and as far as I can tell, the author’s accumulated revenue after 80k words, is about the same as a kindle sale.

I’m undecided about whether Vella and I are a good fit, but I’m committed. Writing and publishing in episodes is nerve-wracking and instantly gratifying for those adrenaline junkies who enjoy hitting the Publish button with every “chapter.”

And when the serial story is finished, authors can always delete it and republish it as a book. In that regard, no effort is wasted. And who knows, we might pick up a few new readers along the way.

If you have the time and want to see what this is all about… (Update 9/17/21. I deleted the story! For reasons my check out my post: Why I deleted my Vella story. )

You can also check out the Serial-Pro Teagan Geneviene’s story: Pride and Flowers, Prejudice and Dirigibles.

Have you considered Vella as an author or reader? Any first impressions?

If you have a Vella story in the works, feel free to share the link.

At the Mirror: Incredible Eyes

Basilike Pappa of Silent Hour writes wondrous poetry and prose. She also shares some exquisitely written artwork by others. This flash story of hers struck my fancy. Suspense, romance, mystery, fantasy, and humor all wrapped into one. Enjoy.

Incredible Eyes

by Vassiliki Pappa

It was a night like many others. It involved me and an old book of fairytales I wanted to be alone with. The book wanted to be with me too; its leather-clad spine fit perfectly in my hand. I curled with it on the sofa and soon forgot everything else in the world.

After a couple of hours, I looked up and out of the balcony. I only wanted to give my eyes some rest and to get a glimpse of the night outside. The moon looked back at me and I smiled. It was actually a streetlamp, but I liked to think of it as a full moon.

And then I saw him: a midnight-black rooster, with blood-red comb and wattles, and eyes fixed on me. He was standing still in the middle of my balcony, with something of the dandy in his stance. He obviously has a way with hens, I thought. Indeed, the more I looked at him, the more I knew that, had I been a hen, I would love to have him jump on me and peck on my neck. Our chicks would be midnight-black, with blood-red comb and wattles. But I would like them to have my eyes…

(Continue reading: Incredible Eyes)

Colleen’s 2018 #Book #Reviews – “Myths of the Mirror, Dragon Soul Book 1” by D. Wallace Peach

Colleen Chesebro (aka the Fairy Whisperer) has been making quick work of a few of my books and has penned some wonderfully heartfelt reviews. Myths of the Mirror was my first born, and I couldn’t be more delighted that she found my baby beautiful. Ha ha. Here’s her review. ❤

Word Craft Poetry

book reviewsTitle: Myths of the Mirror, Dragon Soul Quartet #1

Amazon Author Page: D. Wallace Peach

Publication Date: 2nd edition, August 19, 2016

Formats: Paperback & Kindle

Genres: Science Fiction & Fantasy, New Adult & College, Coming of Age, Fantasy

Goodreads

IN THE AUTHOR’S WORDS:

“In the distant mountains of the Mirror, exiled skyriders fly dragons in the old Way, merged in flesh, blood, and bone. Twenty years past, they fought for the freedom of the valley’s dragons … and lost.

Imprisoned in the stone lair, the captive dragons beat their webbed wings and thrash serpentine tails. They tear their flesh and batter their bodies against the black bars of their cells, iron grating against iron. The once peaceful creatures howl, tormented by spine and spur, their fury matched only by their despair.

Treasa, the daughter of exiles, seeks the secrets of a hidden past and a father she never…

View original post 1,129 more words

Writers and their Characters by Pam Wight: Guest Post

I’m slowly whittling away at my TBR pile, and recently finished Pamela Wight’s book The Right Wrong Man, a 5-star read. My review is below, but before we head there I thought it would be fun to pick Pam’s brain about her main character: Meredith.

Meredith is bright, sarcastic, and strong-willed. She’s also confused about relationships, recklessly brave, and tender-hearted. She was so authentic to me that I got thinking: Where did this character come from? Is she pure imagination? Is she a version of the author? What was it like to write such a dynamic personality? I posed these questions to Pam, and here’s her reply:

***

Where did Meredith come from? Is she me? Oh, how I wish that was the case. But I’m a quiet introverted writer – except when I’m dancing in the middle of the grocery checkout lane or chortling when I beat my grandson in a 3-hour game of Monopoly.

Well, except I haven’t beaten him yet. But if I ever do, I’ll chortle, for sure.

Virginia Woolf claims that “Every secret of a writers’ soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.” Yes, I totally agree. Our “insides” come outside to play when we write. That doesn’t make us our character, but it certainly helps us create our character.

In The Right Wrong Man, Meredith is a medical editor for a Boston publishing company.

I was once a medical editor.

Meredith runs on the paths of a magnificent wildlife refuge in New England.

I walk that same path, marveling at the flying geese, the honking frogs, the slivering eels as they escape into the murky marsh.

Meredith struggles with motion sickness on a rollicking yacht as she works with an arrogant, brilliant author.

Yes, I once met an author on her yacht off of St. Thomas, losing the battle against motion sickness in a most humiliating manner.

But am I Meredith?

Not in a million years.

Characters come from some deep well of understanding within us, a well that perhaps is born from our own experiences, from our secret soul, but each character is his or her own being.

I’ve never met Meredith “in the flesh.” She’s no one I know in this world: not a friend, or a relative, not even an acquaintance from work, or the bank, or the yoga studio. Meredith arrived, whole and feisty and fun, entirely on her own, with a little help from my writing pen and my ability to let go and let her show me the way.

This is why I find writing so mystical. Magical, if you will. Meredith’s humor and cheekiness made me laugh out loud at times as my pen flowed; I could never be that brave or funny. I clenched my teeth as Meredith flirted with Carlos. She was playing with fire, so to speak, and could get seriously burned. Stop!

But Meredith didn’t listen to me. I was only the conduit for her story. She played me as well as she played Parker, even turning her back on me at times if I tried to tell her what to do.

So I let her have control, and I just came along for the ride.

That’s what imagination does for us. If we allow it to roam and float and fly freely, imagination offers characters who write the stories for us.

In this case, Meredith took me on a twisty curvy ride that was the journey of a lifetime.

Diana’s 5-Star Review:

This is one great read, that I had a hard time putting it down. I even took it jogging, if you can picture that. The story is brimming with action as Meredith Powers, a 32-year old woman with a demanding job and quirky family, gets caught up in a good-guy/bad-guy mess where it’s hard to tell who’s on what side. The mess is related to her ex-boyfriend Parker and his job, which required frequent mysterious disappearances. Theirs was a doomed relationship that she’d successfully put out of her mind… until he shows up out of the blue and everything goes haywire.

The rip-roaring plot, full of twists and turns and lots of guessing on this reader’s part, was highly entertaining. But what I enjoyed most was Meredith as a character. She’s bright, sarcastic, outspoken, and strong-willed. She’s also confused, recklessly brave, and tender-hearted. If she was a real person, I’d be torn between bopping her on the head and hugging her. The story is told in first-person from Meredith’s point of view. This allows for some fabulous commentary as part of her inner dialog. Her voice is strong, consistent, and thoroughly engaging.

Parker is an interesting character even though he’s actually absent from most of the book. The reader learns about him through Meredith, and the mystery surrounding his character is immensely appealing. All of the characters, even those with bit parts, are distinct with their own voices and personalities.

The pace is speedy, and the story is superbly edited. In my opinion, The Right Wrong Man will appeal to a broad audience with a little of something for everyone – action, mystery, suspense, and a pinch of romance. I want a sequel!

An additional note: Yes! I got the scoop…
a sequel is in the works!

Interested in sharing Meredith’s adventure? Here’s a global link to
The Right Wrong Man.

Link to Pam’s lovely blog: Roughwighting.

The Seamaid

pixabay image modified

The Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Rodeo turns to Twitter. I gave it a go…

The Challenge #5: #Twitterflash. In this challenge, you are tasked with writing a complete 99-word story using Twitter. The story can be on any topic and in any genre, as long as it is exactly 99 words. Easy peasy, right? Not so fast…
-Every story must be made up of 11 sentences of exactly 9 words each.
-Each individual sentence should be tweeted, one at a time, for a total of 11 tweets
-Individual sentences are tweet-worthy and contribute to the story as a whole in a meaningful way.

The Seamaid

A mermaid’s sequined tail lures me to the sea
Gulls shrill a warning, I’m headed to a drowning
Lulled by a siren’s song, footprints forsake the sand
Wash away my castles when love sings me home
She is my nixie, nymph of an airless death
Bare toes sink, swallowed by the sea’s lapping tongue
Fingers caress my ankles, beckoning me farther from shore
Entangled am I in floating whorls of unbound hair
Her silver arms are the surge embracing my surrender
A life forlorn abandoned for her wild blue beauty
Yielding to the tides, breathless in my seamaid’s kiss

***

To read D. Avery’s winning Twitterflash, click here: Carrot Ranch