Book Review Tuesday: The Resort by M. J. Hardy, The Safe Place by Anna Downes #psychologicalfiction #psychologicalsuspense

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Welcome to my last book review of the month. I have a number of other posts I want to share—everything from new Cabinet of Curiosities posts to writing updates—but time hasn’t been kind to me lately. I hope to be able to get back on track soon, but in the interim, I hope these reviews pique your curiosity.


Book cover shows four colorful roll suitcases sitting on dock overlooking ocean

THE RESORT
by M.J. Hardy

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is a quick read (I blew through it in two sittings), and as the title suggests, great escapist fiction. Three couples, a single man, and a single woman have the seemingly good fortunate of winning all-expense paid trips to a luxury resort on a tropical island.
This is luxury with a capital “L.”

The setting is exquisite—sun-soaked accommodations, turquoise pools, white sand beaches, gourmet meals, boating excursions, and opulent spa treatments. Just reading those passages put me in a tranquil frame of mind. But there’s also a creeping, steadily building sense of what’s coming—because all this pampering and too-good-to-be-true opulence has to lead somewhere, right?

The characters are an assortment of people who either take up lodging in your heart or leave you loathing them. I wasn’t sure where the book was headed, but found the ending a surprise, and also a delight. This is a popcorn read that would make a fantastic Lifetime movie. Definitely a fun, escapist read!

AMAZON LINK

Book cover shows unground swimming pool overlooking tropical ocean

THE SAFE PLACE
by Anna Downes

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Emily Proudman is a failed actress who loses her temp job and her apartment, only to have paradise fall into her lap. Her ex-boss, Scott, offers her a job as a housekeeper/companion to his wife and young daughter who live alone on an isolated French estate. Emily is flown, all expenses paid to the property, given her own car, a private house, and a credit card, but there are a few rules—the main being she is never to enter the “family house” where her boss’s wife, Nina, lives with their daughter, Aurelia.

Emily soon discovers Aurelia has a number of ailments, including sun sensitivity, and though she is capable of vocalizing (giggles, shrieks, screams), never speaks. The estate is luxurious and everything Emily hoped it would be. She enjoys plenty of poolside days sipping wine with Nina, who quickly becomes a friend. But there is something off kilter about the situation—about Nina and Scott themselves—and the more time Emily spends poking around the estate, the more she realizes Emily and Scott are hiding something. Scott is rarely there, and when he does arrive, Nina seems anxious.

While a bit slow at the beginning, the novel picks up speed once Emily arrives at the estate and is introduced to Nina and Aurelia. The setting is superb—sun-soaked, but remote. Empty rooms and an underlying odor of rot are used to create a sense of foreboding beneath the bliss.

Chapters alternate between Emily and Scott in third person POV, and an unnamed narrator in first person—though it quickly becomes apparent who that individual is. Through this narrator, the reader gradually sees the past unfold. By the time it connects with the present, the stage is set for all plot threads to tie together for the final reveal. Emily is a good protagonist, and for the most part the story is entertaining.

I was slightly disappointed by the twist—I was hoping for something less predictable—and I felt the ending could have been stronger with a tighter wrap to Emily’s story. Overall, however, I found this a diverting read and worthy of four stars.

AMAZON LINK

Book Review Tuesday: Jazz Baby by Beem Weeks, #historical fiction #comingofage, Outside by Ragnar Jonasson #internationalmystery #crimefiction @beemweeks

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It’s past the mid point of April and we had snow yesterday. Not anything that laid on the ground, but the fact that it was even tumbling from the sky seemed so wrong. I resisted the urge to sob, reminding myself we have warmer temperatures coming later this week. Hopefully, yesterday’s snow was winter’s last sneeze.

On a positive note, I have book reviews to share! The first is a gritty and vibrant piece of historical fiction. Sadly, the second fell short of what I expected, but since it’s a Net Galley selection, I felt the need to post my review.


book cover for Jazz Baby shows framed picture of barefoot young girl in sundress, sepia-tone finish

JAZZ BABY
by Beem Weeks

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Beem Weeks will take you back in time with this story of a young girl who dreams of becoming a jazz singer. Emily Ann “Baby” Teegarten is gifted with an amazing voice, but her life falls apart when her mother murders her father, and she is left orphaned at thirteen. Taken in by an aunt, she struggles to navigate her own way, singing in speak easies, getting caught up in a life of gangsters, drugs, and sex.

The setting is gritty and raw, perfectly rendered. This is a dark book—the character endures a lot at the hands of those who would use her for their own gain—but it also presents a realistic slice of life that brings the seedier side of the 1920s to vivid clarity. The writing is a mesmerizing combination of “plain-speak” and crude beauty. I don’t think I’ve ever read dialogue that felt so authentic or flowed so effortlessly. Characters are exquisitely drawn. Some, like Nessie, will steal your heart. Others, like Pig and Rydekker, will make your skin crawl. There is a side plot related to stolen money, and others involving infatuations and the first flush of love.

Emily Ann is feisty—daring but also naïve. There were many times I wanted to shake sense into her, and others where I cringed over the danger she found herself in—time and time again. This is a coming-of-age tale that doesn’t pull punches. I felt like I stepped back in time to an era when “speaks” and cathouses ruled the night and dreams of overcoming circumstance resulted in reckless choices. Bravo to the author for painting such a stark reality of hardscrabble living.

AMAZON LINK

Book cover shows set of footprints through heavy snow leading to small house at base of mountains, light shining from doorway of house

OUTSIDE
by Ragnar Jonasson

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Thank you to NetGalley and Minotaur Books for this ARC.

I love books set in winter climates, and the idea of this one being set in Iceland was extremely appealing. Add in four old college friends reuniting for a hunting trip, plus a snow storm, and it sounded like a fantastic set up for a great mystery.

Unfortunately, I found myself plodding through chapter after chapter of lengthy backstory and next to zero action. I couldn’t even connect with any of the characters. I normally don’t mind backstory (I love seething undercurrents) but this was just so dry and often repetitive that it took an effort to finish the book. Sadly, not at all what I expected. This one just wasn’t for me.

PRE-ORDER FROM AMAZON
(Release date is June 28, 2022)

Book Review Tuesday: The Marriage Secret by Carey Baldwin, Hues of Hope: Selected Poetry by Balroop Singh #PsychologicalFiction #Women’sFiction #poetry @CareyBaldwin @BalroopShado

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Hello and Happy April! Welcome to my first book review feature for the month. Today, I have two very different titles to share, both splendid. A shout-out to Harmony Kent for alerting me to The Marriage Secret with her own fabulous review. For my second book today, I can always count on this author to deliver when it comes to poetry. Let’s get started!


Book cover shows double bed made with white sheets and pillows, bouquet of red roses on bed with several loose petals

THE MARRIAGE SECRET
By Carey Baldwin

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I became an instant fan of Carey Baldwin when I read Her First Mistake. With The Marriage Secret, Baldwin has scored again with the twisty story of a woman trapped in a wretched marriage. Holly thought she had it all when she married Zach, a respected doctor. For a time, her life was perfect—even after Holly shared a horrid secret from her past on their marriage day. Still, Zach lavished her with attention and gifts, promising to love her forever. But on the day their baby, Jolene, is born, Zach reveals a side of himself that is only the beginning of a dark and downward spiral for Holly. Her once perfect husband becomes manipulative and controlling, orchestrating events to make her question her sanity.

Zach is a character who made my skin crawl from the moment he showed his true colors in chapter one.

The book starts with a hook and keeps the tension building as Holly struggles to extradite herself from her wreck of a marriage and possessive husband. Because the book is told in first person POV, it’s easy to connect with Holly. Uncertain of her footing at first, she gains strength as the story progresses, willing to do what is necessary to protect Jolene.

This is a book of mind games, not physical abuse. Zach and Holly dance around each other in a clever game of cat and mouse. Especially when Holly gets wind of a secret from Zach’s past and gains leverage to use against him. Then two of the med students he mentored are found dead and matters go from simmer to boil. When the end comes, it corkscrews in a series of impossible twists. I was thrilled to have a “lightbulb moment” before the author delivered the final reveal, but even so—wow!

This is a fantastic domestic thriller and one I would highly recommend to anyone who enjoys a slick and crafty read.

AMAZON LINK


HUES OF HOPE: SELECTED POETRY
by Balroop Singh

Book cover is an open window on night sky with crescent moon and dark sky above, fiery sunset sky below with small trees in silhouette, old vanished lantern in front of window

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I think of Balroop Singh’s poetry as immersive poetry because you’re able to sink so deeply into the words, the images they evoke, and the emotions they inspire. In this collection of poetry, themed around hope, you’ll find verses that celebrate nature, explore love, loss and death, as well as examine joy and resilience—all paving a path to the hope that inspires and raises us above circumstances.

Contents are broken into sections led by verse: Beyond the chaotic world; When each moment shimmers; Beams of Love; Clutching bizarre hope, and Reflections that retort. Each of these features its own gems where you’ll experience feelings inspired by the powerful brushstroke of the author’s words.

I’m a fan of nature poetry, so I was particularly drawn to those. Watch the Magic, which speaks to the changing seasons, is one of my favorites. You can see the magic unfold in verses such as

Deep shadows dance around me
Wind and breeze compete to win.
Far away, at the horizon, gray scrambles
To steal some golden kisses.

I thoroughly enjoyed all the poems in this collection, but of particular note, I was moved by Transient Waterfall, A Touch, Buried Dreams, My Muse, and Ode to Poetry. Topping the list, my very favorite is Do you Remember—a beautiful testament to memories and looking back on life with a loved one. I’ll share the opening verse here:

Do you remember the days?
When we played with clouds
Rolled in colors,
Wore them around
Drenched and smiled
When we splayed colors at each other.

This poem alone, I can read over and over, and find new glimmers of meaning and memory each time. Grab the book, experience Do You Remember, and all the jewels in this lovely collection!

AMAZON LINK

Book Review Tuesday: Means to Deceive by Alex Craigie, Between the Vines by Staci Troilo #bookish #bookreviews @stacitroilo

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Hello, and Happy Tuesday! I’ve got two wonderful books to share today, both of which kept me flipping pages. One is a twisty slow-build suspense novel, the other a snappy, breezy romance novella with a villain you’ll love to hate. You can’t go wrong with either!


book cover for Means to Deceive shows a white daisy with part of the petals torn away

MEANS TO DECEIVE
BY ALEX CRAIGIE

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is an intricately plotted mystery/suspense book that builds from simmer to a slow boil. Gwen Meredith moves home to care for her elderly grandmother who suffers from dementia. Gwen has always viewed their relationship as strained, mostly due to a tragedy in Gwen’s past for which she harbors crushing guilt. The reader sees bits and pieces of that tragedy unfold a little at a time as Gwen periodically recalls the event, allowing layers to become exposed as though she is peeling a metaphorical onion. It is this past event, an episode that has shaped her life, that factors so brilliantly into the plot, particularly the ending.

Complicating matters, Gwen has crossed paths with two men who hold a grudge against her, each for different and alarming reasons. Her home life is disrupted when she becomes a target for harassment. The attacks grow in frequency and become frighteningly malicious. While the police are involved the culprit is never pinned down. Fortunately, Gwen has the benefit of an attentive older brother who moves in temporarily, and a new neighbor with whom she begins a tentative relationship. Gwen is a strong character, constantly standing up for herself to the chagrin of both brother and suitor, yet at the same time the past has burdened her with inner fragility she doesn’t allow to show.

Characters are realistically portrayed, reflecting all the ups and downs, doubts, and sacrifices that play out between them. Gwen’s relationship with her grandmother is thorny but a delight to read. I couldn’t help developing a soft spot in my heart for Granny. I also appreciated how Gwen’s relationship with Ben developed over time with plenty of hiccups along the way.

Red herrings and curve balls lead to a lot of second-guessing when it comes to the culprit. Although I did finger that person correctly (after waffling more than once) the motive left me dumbfounded. The ending was brilliant and wholly satisfying. A polished, well-written tale for fans of intelligent mysteries and slow-build suspense.

AMAZON LINK

Book cover of Between the Vines shows silhouette of couple embracing, large bunch of grapes with leaves and vine in the background

BETWEEN THE VINES
Keystone Couples #3
BY STACI TROILO

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Elena is a wedding planner who doesn’t believe in love thanks to the jerks who have been sniffing around her door since high school. Aaron is her cousin Rick’s longtime friend, a cop who’s recently been dumped by his fiancée, Heather.

Heather is now engaged to Jarod, a one-time friend of Rick, until he tried to take advantage of Elena. Sound like a romantic merry-go-round? Oh, just wait until the complications/fun begins!

From the start, the underlying attraction between Elena and Aaron is clear, but several obstacles stand in their way—foremost, Heather, who decides she was hasty in leaving Aaron once she sees him take down a robbery suspect. This woman is the pinnacle of self-centered and shallow. Troilo writes her in such a way that the moment she appears in a scene, you cringe. Heather is a character you love to hate.

But all Troilo’s characters are well developed. Elena is a walking bundle of doubt buried under a core of outer strength. Aaron seesaws between exasperation and attentiveness. Poor guy has his work cut out for him, but bring out the pom-poms because you’ll be cheering for him and Elena from their very first spark of chemistry.

This is a fun novella with snappy dialogue, perfectly paced scenes, and breezy writing. It leaves you with a warm feeling and a happily-ever-after smile. All three Keystone Couples stories are superb, but I think this clever gem might just be my favorite.

AMAZON LINK

BOOK REVIEW TUESDAY: Someone Knows by Lisa Scottoline, Lady Sunshine by Amy Mason Down

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Happy last week of September! How the heck did we get here so fast? Hubby and I just came off a week’s vacation at the beach. It was wonderful, and we couldn’t have asked for better weather. Check out below to see what happens when you eat too much seafood. Fortunately, I was able to walk it off the next day, thanks to a Goodyear tire, LOL!

I have two book reviews today, both 5-star novels, so I’m excited to share them. Here we go!

BOOK BLURB:

Allie Garvey is heading home to the funeral of a childhood friend. Allie is not only grief-stricken, she’s full of dread. Because going home means seeing the other two people with whom she shares an unbearable secret.

Twenty years earlier, a horrific incident shattered the lives of five teenagers, including Allie. Drinking and partying in the woods, they played a dangerous prank that went tragically wrong, turning deadly. The teenagers kept what happened a secret, believing that getting caught would be the worst thing that could happen. But time has taught Allie otherwise. Not getting caught was far worse.

Allie has been haunted for two decades by what she and the others did, and by the fact that she never told a soul. The dark secret has eaten away at her, distancing her from everyone she loves, including her husband. Because she wasn’t punished by the law, Allie has punished herself, and it’s a life sentence.

Now, Allie stands on the precipice of losing everything. She’s ready for a reckoning, determined to learn how the prank went so horribly wrong. She digs to unearth the truth, but reaches a shocking conclusion that she never saw coming–and neither will the reader.

A deeply emotional examination of family, marriage, and the true nature of justice, Someone Knows is Lisa Scottoline’s most powerful novel to date. Startling, page-turning, and with an ending that’s impossible to forget, this is a tour de force by a beloved author at the top of her game.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Allie returns to her hometown, twenty years after a calamity that altered her life. As fifteen-year-old, she and a group of friends played a prank that resulted in a tragic death. Crippled by grief, she has been going through the motions of living, not even able to tell her husband what happened that dreadful night.

When one of the friends who were with her dies unexpectedly, Allie returns home to attend the funeral. It forces her to come face to face with the others. She wants to dig for the truth of how the prank could have gone so horribly wrong, but not everyone feels the same, including someone who wants silence kept at all costs.

The book is divided into two sections, the first devoted to Allie’s past. When she makes a discovery in the woods, she becomes part of a small circle of teens whose lives will be altered by the find. There are multiple POVs, a good six to seven, which covers the teens and several adults. At the start, it can be a little daunting to keep track of the characters and how they relate to each other. Narration is third person, each chapter headed by the character sharing events. As someone who enjoys books with multiple narrators, I was able to settle in rather quickly.

The second half of the book is set in the present, twenty years after the tragedy. There are several characters I really felt for, especially Larry, Allie’s husband. Of special note, the scenes in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey were so vividly written, I felt like I was there, swallowed by pitch-black darkness and fleeing through the woods. The twists at the end were not any I saw coming. I thought I had the “who” figured out but was proven wrong.

If you enjoy a good domestic thriller that puts family and friendships under a microscope this story is perfect. Excellent character development, polished writing, and a supensful ending.

BOOK BLURB:

ONE ICONIC FAMILY. ONE SUMMER OF SECRETS. THE DAZZLING SPIRIT OF 1970S CALIFORNIA.

For Jackie Pierce, everything changed the summer of 1979, when she spent three months of infinite freedom at her bohemian uncle’s sprawling estate on the California coast. As musicians, artists, and free spirits gathered at The Sandcastle for the season in pursuit of inspiration and communal living, Jackie and her cousin Willa fell into a fast friendship, testing their limits along the rocky beach and in the wild woods… until the summer abruptly ended in tragedy, and Willa silently slipped away into the night.

Twenty years later, Jackie unexpectedly inherits The Sandcastle and returns to the iconic estate for a short visit to ready it for sale. But she reluctantly extends her stay when she learns that, before her death, her estranged aunt had promised an up-and-coming producer he could record a tribute album to her late uncle at the property’s studio. As her musical guests bring the place to life again with their sun-drenched beach days and late-night bonfires, Jackie begins to notice startling parallels to that summer long ago. And when a piece of the past resurfaces and sparks new questions about Willa’s disappearance, Jackie must discover if the dark secret she’s kept ever since is even the truth at all.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This is an enjoyable novel that explores families and friendships. Seventeen-year-old Jackie Pierce spends one magical summer at the bohemian estate of her uncle, a legendary folk singer. There, among the free-spirits, creative thinkers, and musicians who come and go, she meets her cousin Willa. Though opposites in many ways, the girls form a fast and deep friendship.

I loved scenes of them exploring beaches, collecting sea glass, or wandering nighttime woods. The author brings the magic of summer and teen years beautifully to life. The descriptions are so vivid it’s easy to get lost in them. But something happens at the end of that enchanted summer that causes Willa to disappear.

Twenty years later, Jackie inherits her uncle’s estate (called the Sandcastle) and returns to the property with the intent of preparing it for sale. Her plans take a detour when a music producer, his crew, and musicians show up to record a tribute album to her uncle.

The dual timelines of the novel are set in 1979 and 1999. I was more partial to the chapters set in the past—perhaps because of the hippie-like atmosphere of the Sandcastle and the assortment of colorful characters who populated it. There’s also the sense of nostalgia evoked by summer magic in a year I remember well.

This is a “quiet” book which moves at a slow pace. It isn’t even until the last quarter of the novel that events surrounding Willa’s disappearance gradually unfold. The strength of the story lies in its summer vibes and the amazing friendship between the girls. I was a little disappointed in the actual “mystery” but loved the ending. 4.5 stars rounded up to 5 for review purposes.

Book Review Tuesday: Solstice Retribution by Judi Lynn, The Dime Museum Murders by Daniel Stashower #muddyriver #harryhoudini

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Happy Tuesday, and happy September! If you reside in the U.S. or Canada, I hope you enjoyed your long Labor Day weekend. Today, I have two books to share. I’ve been a fan of Judy Lynn’s Muddy River series since book one–a cozy, sometimes not so cozy mystery series that combines supernatural elements with a cast of intriguing preternatural characters. I also discovered a new series starring a man who has long fascinated me–Harry Houdini. See below.

BOOK BLURB:

Hester’s close friend, Carlotta, has gone to a witches’ solstice festival with Jason, the young neighbor she took under her wing. When she learned that he had cancer, she sent him to Hester and Raven to be “changed.” He chose to become an owl shifter, but is still very new at being a supernatural, so she wants to introduce him to her witch friends. The festival is close to Muddy River, so Carlotta plans on stopping to visit Hester after the ceremonies are finished.

But Jason calls Hester to tell her that Carlotta has disappeared, so have two other witches, and Hester suspects foul play. She and Raven race to the isolated, wooded area, only to find a dead body near the parking area. Not Carlotta’s. Once they start seriously looking for Hester’s friend, they discover that someone has come to the ceremonies that honor Hecate with plans of revenge that date back to the witch trials at Salem. Hester’s family died there, and she thought she knew the truth. But she was wrong.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Another entertaining story in this wonderful collection that combines mystery with the supernatural. Hester is a powerful witch who heads her coven in Muddy River—a community of shapeshifters, vampires, witches, fae and other supernatural creatures and beings. Raven, her mate, is a fire-demon and the Enforcer for their town. In this tale, they travel to a nearby area where a solstice celebration among witches is taking place. Unfortunately, it also includes murder. Not one, but multiple victims.

As Hester and Raven dig deeper into motive and suspects, Hester’s own past during the Salem witch hunts come into play. For long-time fans of the series, we learn a bit more about her background, but this is easily read as a standalone. There are numerous potential suspects, a number of whom I loathed. The mystery is nicely contained until the end with the motive something I would never have suspected. Even Hester’s ocelot familiar, Claws, has moments to shine.

There are several new characters, some whom I suspect will settle in Muddy River. As an added bonus, there’s also a short Yuletide story at the end of the book that acts as an introduction to Jason, one of the secondary characters in the tale. All around, a thoroughly engaging story.

BOOK BLURB:

Harry Houdini and his brother, Dash, are called to solve the murder of a toy tycoon in this first locked room mystery starring the legendary real-life magicians
 
New York City, 1897: Young escapologist Harry Houdini is struggling to get the recognition he craves from the ruthless entertainment industry. But when toy tycoon Branford Wintour is found murdered in his Fifth Avenue mansion, detectives call upon Houdini to help solve this mysterious crime, ushering in a new era of Houdini’s career: amateur sleuth.
 
When Harry and his brother Dash reach the scene of the murder, they discover Wintour was found dead in a room that was locked from the inside out—the result of a cruel magic trick. Together, the brothers Houdini launch their first ever investigation, venturing into the bizarre world of rare curios and the collectors who will pay any price to own them.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The first book in the Harry Houdini mystery series, this certainly kept me entertained. Harry is still struggling for recognition as an escape artist, assisted in his act by his wife, Bess, and brother Dash. It’s Harry and Dash who become involved in solving the murder of a toy tycoon. The two brothers play off each other well, and the author portrays Houdini in a manner that rings true. I loved the 1897 setting and definitely plan on reading other books in this series.

Book Review Tuesday: The Haunting of Abram Mansion by Alexandria Clarke and Lullaby (Ellie Jordan Ghost Trapper #7) by J. L. Bryan #ghosts

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Today is a theme book review day. I have two novels that fall into the genre of ghost suspense. I’m seriously behind on the Ellie Jordan Ghost Trapper series, which I always enjoy.The other book is part of a haunted house series that is new to me. Take a look…

BOOK BLURB:

A riveting new haunted house mystery that will keep you guessing until the end!

When Peyton and Benjamin Fletcher inherit a dilapidated house in the quiet town of Falconwood, Connecticut from Peyton’s grandfather, all they want to do is get rid of it. Unfortunately, the will stipulates that the couple must live in the house for a minimum of six months before they sell it. As Peyton and Ben try to make the best of the situation, Peyton discovers the house is inhabited by ghosts, and they aren’t happy with the mansion’s new occupants.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Peyton and Ben are ready to sign their divorce papers when Peyton inherits the Abram Mansion from her maternal grandfather. His will stipulates they must live the mansion for six months before they can sell. It’s not an ideal situation, especially for Peyton who wants the divorce finalized as quickly as possible so she can move on with her life. What Peyton doesn’t expect is to encounter in the home are ghosts.

I loved the small town of Falconwood and the descriptions of the crumbling old mansion. The house comes with a murky history that includes the suicide of the last owner and the disappearance of his wife and child. Throughout the story we get hints of what might have taken place, but full disclosure doesn’t come until near the end.

I also really liked Peyton’s friendship with Theo, a young woman she meets in Falconwood, and Theo’s son Sammy. Della and Basil, an older couple, plus Mason, who runs the Black Cat Cafe were also excellent characters, and I really liked Ben. It did, however, take me a long time to warm up to Peyton. She came across as selfish at the beginning of the book, especially in her relationship with Ben.

This is not really a spooky haunted house story so much as a mystery set in a house with hauntings. The book held my interest but there were points that frustrated me. I felt the entire plot thread with Theo’s drug-addled ex could have been eliminated, and several things (especially regarding the home’s original owner, and Peyton’s grandfather) didn’t ring true. I also had issues with how the school responded to Sammy’s consent forms.

Although the writing was good, there were editing problems throughout—words and typos—but not enough to ruin the story. The book could have used a better edit. Finally, the author had a weird habit of summarizing parts of the story every now and then, as if a new reader had just stepped into the story and needed to be told what happened previously. It made me wonder if the novel had been stitched together from a serialized work.

The Haunting of Abram Mansion is part of the “Riveting Haunted House Mystery Series” books written by different authors. This novel, despite the issues I mentioned, was certainly enjoyable enough for me to try others in the series.

BOOK BLURB:

Life is more difficult than ever at Savannah’s only ghost-hunting detective agency. While Ellie copes with her mentor’s departure and other unwelcome developments, she also worries about the supernatural injuries keeping her boyfriend caught in an endless slumber.

At the same time, Ellie and Stacey are called in to investigate an eerie entity haunting a baby’s nursery room. The ghost appears late at night, its face barely visible on the baby monitor, and sings a chilling song.

Soon, Ellie learns there are more ghosts in the house, and at least one of them is a dangerous, child-hunting monster who must be stopped before it kills again.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’m behind on this series, but I always enjoy the stories, especially the mysteries related to the spirits Ellie, Stacey, and Jacob encounter. This time, their investigation involves several ghosts in a house that is undergoing renovations, one of the spirits particularly violent. There’s also an eerie lullaby that no one can distinguish words to when they hear it, and a very creepy scene involving a toy baby doll.

While I LOVED the ghost(s) plot thread, I’m not overly thrilled with Eckert Investigations being purchased by a larger, high-tech company with two spiritual gurus as the head honchos. Support/tech guy, Hayden (“the Hoff”) is a fun character, but I could do without Nicholas and Kara, especially Kara. I’ll wait to see how their characters play out in successive books. Right now, I wish the stories hadn’t taken that turn.

Ellie is excellent. She’s a tough cookie who stands up to hair-raising encounters. She’s also great with a comeback, a bit like a female Harry Dresden minus the magic. I look forward to catching up with more ghost-hunting with Ellie and crew (hopefully without Kara involved!).

Book Review Tuesday: The Family Across the Street by Nicole Trope @nicoletrope, Missing Molly by Natalie Barelli #suspense

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Hello! I am back from vacation and excited to dive into August. I had a wonderful time relaxing with plenty of pool days and also a fantastic time out with hubby and friends. Oh, and did I mention shopping, my favorite sport? I also had the luxury of enjoying several books, two of which I’m delighted to share today. Both of these fall into the suspense genre, and both kept me intrigued for different reasons. Take a look and see what you think. . .

BOOK BLURB:

Sometimes, the most perfect families are hiding the most terrible secrets. How well do you know the people next door…?

Everybody wants to live on Hogarth Street, the pretty, tree-lined avenue with its white houses. The new family, The Wests, are a perfect fit. Katherine and Josh seem so in love and their gorgeous five-year-old twins race screeching around their beautiful emerald-green lawn.

But soon people start to notice: why don’t they join backyard barbecues? Why do they brush away offers to babysit? Why, when you knock at the door, do they shut you out, rather than inviting you in?

Every family has secrets, and on the hottest day of the year, the truth is about to come out. As a tragedy unfolds behind closed doors, the dawn chorus is split by the wail of sirens. And one by one the families who tried so hard to welcome the Wests begin to realise: Hogarth Street will never be the same again.

A completely gripping, twist-packed psychological thriller, perfect for fans of Liane Moriarty, Sally Hepworth and Lisa Jew

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

MY REVIEW:

Thank you Bookouture and NetGalley for my ARC!

This book isn’t at all what I anticipated from the blurb. I was expecting a gradual unraveling of secrets related to a family on a suburban street. Instead, I got a heinous situation pretty much right off the bat, and one that escalated as the book progressed. The entire storyline plays out during the course of a single day, the scenes conjuring a heightened sense of claustrophobia along with escalating danger.

There are a number of characters who surprise you. When the book started, I wasn’t sure how I felt about and delivery driver, Logan, or neighbor, Gladys, but both become standout characters and steal the show. I’m not sure what it says about me that I was more invested in them than Katherine, the woman in danger.

I don’t want to say much about this novel for fear of giving the plot away. There are scenes that made me uncomfortable that touched on domestic abuse (I usually avoid such books but didn’t realize the theme before downloading it). That said, as intense as some scenes were, they didn’t turn me off from the story. I found it engrossing and was completely caught off guard by the twist at the end. This was a well-executed story, but I felt the blurb was misleading, thus the story was not what I expected. 3.5 stars rounded up to 4 for review purposes.

BOOK BLURB:

Everyone has secrets, and Rachel Holloway is no exception. She’s worked hard to keep the past where it belongs: dead and buried. And so far, she’s been very successful. 

But now the small newspaper where she works wants to produce a podcast on a cold case:  the disappearance twelve years ago of young Molly Forster.

Some secrets should never see the light of day, and as far as Rachel is concerned, whatever happened to little Molly is one of them. Rachel has a life now, a boyfriend she loves and a three-year-old daughter she adores, and she will do anything to protect them.

But to do that, no one can ever know that she is Molly Forster.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I’m a fan of Natalie Barelli. This is the third book of hers I’ve read. I positively LOVED The Accident and The House Keeper. Missing Molly was an enjoyable read but not quite on par with the other two.

Molly Forster was the sole survivor the night her older sister and her parents were murdered. Only twelve at the time, she witnessed the killings and immediately went into hiding. Since then, she has lived under the radar through false identities. Now, her past has caught up with her in the form of a new podcast “Missing Molly,” which vows to discover what really happened to “little Molly.”

Sounds like a great set-up, right? Especially given Molly (now going by the name of Rachel) works for the newspaper that is producing the podcast. She ends up in a hands-on position, searching for answers, while trying to discourage interest in the podcast. Unable to do that, she tries to steer the focus away from finding Molly to what really happened the night of the killings—all the while trying to conceal her identity.

The first half of the book was exceptional. Molly’s panic has her acting erratically and making bad decisions. Her boyfriend (they have a young daughter together) and her closest friend fear she’s having psychotic episodes. The fast pace and drama kept me flipping pages. I really felt for Molly. Once she and a co-worker begin digging into the Forster family, mystery and investigative angles come into play. It’s clear the wrong person was convicted of the murders, and the true killer is still out there, getting closer to Molly so he can finish the job he started all those years ago.

Tension builds at the end, but I was disappointed in the overall revelation of the killer and the cover-up that took place. His appearance in Molly’s life happened too quickly, as did the wrap at the end. I did think the scenes that take place on a bridge were exceptionally good, and I was happy with the final ending. Overall, this is a diverting book and one that will certainly keep readers entertained. A solid read, just not on the level of some of Barelli’s other work. Either way, I remain a dedicated fan and look forward to other releases from this author. 3.5 stars rounded to 4 for review purposes.

Book Review Tuesday: Falling by T.J. Newman #thriller #suspense @T_J_Newman

Warm and cozy window seat with cushions and a opened book, light through vintage shutters, rustic style home decor. Small cat on window seat, along with coffee cup by pillow, Words Book Review Tuesday superimposed over image

Hoo-boy, hoo-boy! I just finished a book that has to be the BEACH READ OF THE SUMMER! It has “blockbuster movie” written all over it, and I have no doubt Hollywood is already knocking at the author’s door. Falling is definitely one of my top reads of 2021. The hard copy was just a few dollars more than the Kindle version, and with a cover like this, I couldn’t resist indulging. I’m pleased to say the story lives up to the amazing cover and the hype. I’ve been seeing this one all over the place and couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. What a thrill ride!

BOOK BLURB:

#1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER

“T. J. Newman has written the perfect thriller! A must-read.” —Gillian Flynn
“Stunning and relentless. This is Jaws at 35,000 feet.” —Don Winslow
Falling is the best kind of thriller…Nonstop, totally authentic suspense.” —James Patterson
“Amazing…Intense suspense, shocks, and scares…Chilling.” —Lee Child

You just boarded a flight to New York.

There are one hundred and forty-three other passengers onboard.

What you don’t know is that thirty minutes before the flight your pilot’s family was kidnapped.

For his family to live, everyone on your plane must die.

The only way the family will survive is if the pilot follows his orders and crashes the plane.

Enjoy the flight.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Beach Read of the summer!

I’m already anticipating the blockbuster movie. This is a story that keeps you enthralled from page one, but continually ups the stakes with each successive chapter. During the last half, I couldn’t flip pages fast enough, annoyed by the slightest distraction that threatened to pull me from the book.

Captain Bill Hoffman has taken a last minute flight from LA to NY, much to the chagrin of his wife, Carrie. She was counting on his presence at their son’s Little League game but Bill’s decision quickly spirals into a nightmare for both of them–and countless others.

Targeted by terrorists, Carrie frantically tries to keep her family alive on the ground while Bill faces impossible decisions in the air, every choice impacting the lives of the passengers aboard his flight.

This is an adrenaline-fueled, emotional roller coaster. Be prepared to gnaw your fingernails and teeter on a seesaw of right vs. wrong. Many lives comes into play–not just Bill, Carrie, and their children, but Bill’s flight crew, FBI personnel, and those on board. I especially loved senior flight attendant, Jo and her courage in the face of impossible circumstances.

Some reviewers have called a few specific scenes corny, but I loved them. I saw them playing out on the “big screen” complete with gasps and cheers from a movie-going audience, myself included.

The author said she had forty-one rejections before finding an agent to take a chance on her manuscript. His vision is our gain. Newman, a former flight attendant, wrote this book on red-eye flights over a ten year period. I’m thankful she stuck with the manuscript. The finished novel ranks among those books I consider my top reads of the year. I can’t say enough about the frantic pace in which the last half plays out. I have no doubt that Hollywood will scoop this one up quickly.

Book Review Tuesday: Second Chance Romance by Jill Weatherholt, Keeping Bailey by Dan Walsh #christianromance #christianfiction @JillWeatherholt

Warm and cozy window seat with cushions and a opened book, light through vintage shutters, rustic style home decor. Small cat on window seat, along with coffee cup by pillow, Words Book Review Tuesday superimposed over image

Welcome to another Book Review Tuesday. I shared books from both of these author’s series the end of June. In that post (which you can find HERE ) I mentioned I enjoyed the stories so much, I purchased an additional title in each series. Today, I’m happy to report the new books I picked up are every bit as enchanting as the first. Take a look . . .

BOOK BLURB:

Jackson Daughtry’s jobs as a paramedic and part-owner of a local café keep him busy—but the single dad’s number one priority is raising his little girl with love and small-town values. And when his business partner’s hotshot lawyer niece comes to town planning to disrupt their lives by moving her aunt away, Jackson has to set Melanie Harper straight. When circumstances force them to work side by side in the coffee shop, Jackson slowly discovers what put the sadness in Melanie’s pretty brown eyes. Now it’ll take all his faith—and a hopeful five-year-old—to show the city gal that she’s already home.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is a delightful book with characters who quickly become friends. Jackson is a single dad, raising his five-year-old little girl, Rebecca. A paramedic, he’s also business partners with Phoebe in a local café called the Bean. When Phoebe encounters health problems, her niece, Melanie—a high-profile divorce attorney from Washington—shows up to take Phoebe back to D.C. But Phoebe has no intention of leaving the small town of Sweet Gum, and Jackson has no intention of allowing it to happen. Phoebe is family to him, which means Melanie has an adjustment in store.

One that is long overdue. Since losing her husband and children over a year ago, she has buried herself in work and the unfeeling isolation of urban life. Sweet Gum and the people who populate the town are friendly, sociable, and truly care about one another. What’s more, she finds herself falling for Jackson and becoming involved with Rebecca.

Weatherholt writes from the heart, delving into the emotions and tribulations of her characters. A Christian theme is beautifully woven into the story, especially in the character of Melanie who has lost her faith. I loved the relationship between Melanie and Rebecca almost, if not more, than the relationship between Melanie and Jackson. And Aunt Phoebe is a charmer!

But it’s not all smooth sailing. Especially when an unexpected character causes havoc in the last quarter of the book. I loved the HEA ending, and the small-town values. This is a well-written, feel good story that leaves the reader with a smile long after the final page is read. If you want a sweet escape… escape to Sweet Gum with this talented author!

BOOK BLURB:

Through no fault of her own and after spending her entire life with an owner she loves, Bailey’s life is turned upside down. She’s dropped off at the Humane Society where Kim Harper works as the Animal Behavior Manager. Alone and confused, Bailey shuts down completely. She won’t eat or even acknowledge anyone who reaches out to her. Kim knows older dogs are hard to re-home. If Bailey can’t come out of this, it will be impossible.

A retired widow named Rhonda Hawthorne volunteers at the shelter. Rhonda’s dog recently passed away after a long and full life. Rhonda can’t even think about getting another one but hopes doing this will give her a chance to be around dogs, make a small difference in their lives, but without making a permanent commitment. Soon she decides to do whatever she can to help Bailey, before it’s too late.

What life-changing difference will this decision create in her own life? Kim Harper is also wondering about something else…will Ned, the boyfriend she loves, ever get serious and pop the question? Bestselling Author Dan Walsh adds a fourth installment to his fan-favorite Forever Home Series (which begins with Rescuing Finley). Fans of this series and dog lovers everywhere will thoroughly enjoy this touching, emotional tale.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I read a lot of psychological fiction and domestic suspense, but sometimes I just want a simple feel-good story that I know is going to leave me with a warm fuzzy feeling. Keeping Bailey is the fourth book in Dan Walsh’s Forever Home Series. It’s the second book I’ve read in the series, caught up in the lives of a small set of people who populate a tiny town, particularly those centered around the local humane society. This book reads fine as a standalone (each novel is designed that way) but I appreciated it more, having an understanding of a few supporting characters from book three.

Rhonda, the MC in this novel is a widow who has made a decision to volunteer at the humane society. She starts out as a dog walker, then transitions to a foster parent when her path crosses with Bailey, an eleven-year-old dog who suddenly finds herself displaced after her elderly owner has to transition to a nursing home. Because of her age, and some behavioral issues (she doesn’t do well with other dogs or small children), Bailey’s chances of adoption are limited. When placed at the humane society, she shuts down, refusing to interact with others until Rhonda gradually wins her over.

Rhonda’s initial thought is to foster her and help her find a good home, but the more time she spends with Bailey, the more her thought process is altered. It takes a dangerous situation to open Rhonda’s eyes to how Bailey’s future should play out.

I like these books because not only does the author provide POV from the characters, but the reader also gets to experience what the dogs are feeling. I fell in love with Bailey immediately. Her situation tugged on my heart strings. I felt for all of the characters involved. From her previous owner, to Rhonda, to all those who are trying to do right by Bailey, I was invested from start to finish. The ending is beautiful, and brings closure not only for Bailey but for several human characters, too.

If you love animals, and well-deserved HEA’s, this story is for you. I like how characters continue book to book but each novel is complete as a stand-alone. Best of all, every single animal—including Bailey—finds their forever home.