July Book Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Montana Shootists by Sandra Cox

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

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

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

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

*****

The Choice: the unexpected heroes by Gwen Plano

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

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

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

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

*****

Loving Lady Lazuli by Shehanne Moore

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

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

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

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

*****

Knuckleheads by Dan Antion

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

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

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

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

*****

Circumstances of Childhood by John W. Howell

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

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

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

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

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

*****

Following the Green Rabbit by Chris Hall

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

*****

The Intruder: A Short Thriller by Marlena Smith

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

*****

See you in two weeks!

Happy Reading!