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

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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

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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.

Tuesday Book Reviews @JacqBiggar, @dlfinnauthor, @JanSikes3, @BalroopShado #shortstories #poetry

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Welcome to my first book review post of July. If you live in the United States, I hope you had an amazing 4th of July holiday weekend. Mine was on the quiet side, but involved a great cookout and time spent sunning (and reading) by the pool. Today, I have several indie book reviews to share that run from a novella to a 15-minute read, children’s fiction, and a collection of poetry.

Because I have so many (these are all short reads) I’m going to skip the blurbs and simply post my reviews. Click the Amazon link for full details. Let’s get started!

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Katy and Ty met as teens and were destined for an HEA until circumstance drove them apart. Katy moved with her mom out of state, putting Ty and small-town life in Tidal Falls behind her. Now, years later, she returns with the intent of getting married in her hometown. She has become a cardiac surgeon, engaged to a real estate developer who is the exact opposite of Ty. Her plan is to have her wedding in the old theater her family owned when she was a child, now being remodeled by Ty’s construction company.

As expected, sparks fly when Katy and Ty reconnect. Biggar takes her characters through a gamut of emotions from denial and regret to the longing of two hearts that have never truly separated. Danger lurks in incidents of sabotage at the theater and a shadowy stalker who has Katy in his sites.

This is book three of a series, and although it does help to have some understanding of the secondary characters and their relationships, the main story reads easily as a standalone. The characters feel like neighbors. I love the small-town setting and how so many lives intertwine. The author is a pro at writing feel-good romance. I loved the inclusion of an abandoned kitten for extra warm fuzzies and an ending that delivers a perfect HEA.

MY REVIEW

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is a whimsical story that enchants from beginning to end, weaving the lives of humans, trees, and fairies in an imaginative adventure that is part fanciful fun and part environmental teaching. The main character, Daniel, goes from child to adult over the course of the novel, plus the reader sees the progression of lives for several fairies and their families. Both human and fairy timelines intertwine in perfect symmetry.

I loved the magical feel of the story, the glitter and enchantment of disappearing into a forest where trees talk and impart wisdom, and fairies watch over animals. The reader learns about trees, fishers, owls, and martens as well as the danger environmental issues bring. There are bad guys and good guys and plenty of magic. Although the main audience for this book is middle grade and above, adults will find the beautiful descriptions and heart-warming story a bewitching journey.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This is a very short read, but it delivers both a message and a huge warm fuzzy. Told from the POV of Cinders, a wild stallion in love with Satin, a domestic mare, the story delivers a tale of longing, love, and having the confidence to reach for your dream. When Cinders braves the unknown to connect with the mare he has loved from afar in spirit, he and Satin find strength in their devotion to each other. The delivery is sweet and wraps with a lovely and strengthening message about pursuing your dreams, even when it involves stepping out of your comfort zone.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Although I am primarily a reader of fiction, I enjoy escaping into a book of poetry now and again, especially when the poet paints vivid images and deftly stirs emotions with words. Balroop Singh never disappoints with the way she weaves words in a beautiful and spellbinding tapestry. Slivers: Chiseled Poetry is a collection inspired by haiku, tanka, and acrostic poems. Subjects cover seasons, natural and abstract elements such as Clouds, Wind, Light, Love, and Change to name a few. I’m always drawn to poetry that plays off nature and those comprised my favorites. In a different vein “My Muse” really stood out for me, along with the soothing photographic images scattered throughout.

These are poems to ponder and absorb in quiet moments. The acrostic poems were different and interesting, but the tanka, and especially the haiku stole the show for me. As you read, take the time to digest these in the manner the author intended. They make a lovely escape from the frenzied rush of daily life.

Book Review Tuesday: The Ferryman and the Sea Witch by D. Wallace Peach #seaadventure #nauticalfantasy @dwallacepeach

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Welcome to another Book Review Tuesday. I’m delighted to share my review of D. Wallace Peach’s latest release, a gem of a novel that combines seafaring adventure with superb world-building and engaging characters. I love this author’s way with words, her prose both lyrical and gritty.

BOOK BLURB:

The merrow rule the sea. Slender creatures, fair of face, with silver scales and the graceful tails of angelfish. Caught in a Brid Clarion net, the daughter of the sea witch perishes in the sunlit air. Her fingers dangle above the swells.

The queen of the sea bares her sharp teeth and, in a fury of wind and waves, cleanses the brine of ships and men. But she spares a boy for his single act of kindness. Callum becomes the Ferryman, and until Brid Clarion pays its debt with royal blood, only his sails may cross the Deep.

Two warring nations, separated by the merrow’s trench, trade infant hostages in a commitment to peace. Now, the time has come for the heirs to return home. The Ferryman alone can undertake the exchange.

Yet, animosities are far from assuaged. While Brid Clarion’s islands bask in prosperity, Haf Killick, a floating city of derelict ships, rots and rusts and sinks into the reefs. Its ruler has other designs.

And the sea witch crafts dark bargains with all sides.

Callum is caught in the breach, with a long-held bargain of his own which, once discovered, will shatter this life.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Yes, this novel is classified as fantasy, but it reads like a nautical adventure wrapped in folklore and myth. Merrows control the sea between Brid Clarion and Haf Killick. After losing her daughter to the nets of Brid Clarion, the Sea Witch, queen of the Merrows, allows none but the ferryman to cross the water between the two kingdoms—one prosperous, the other sinking into ruin. Even then, such crossings of the deep require payment in blood by human sacrifice.

While Callum’s life is tied to the merrows and both kingdoms, the rulers of Brid Clarion and Haf Killick are wary of each other. This sets the stage for political intrigue, plotting and counter-plotting that grows ever more intricate as the story progress. The twists and turns are as slippery as nets cast into the sea. Just when I thought the course steady (and I could catch my breath), another plot thread veered in a direction I didn’t expect.

Characters are skillfully drawn, so that even while despising the actions of the villains, I understood the motives. As with any book by this author, the world is visually and exquisitely depicted. I felt as though I was on the open sea, could taste the salty brine of the deep and feel the roll of Callum’s ship. The writing is both lyrical and gritty—not an easy combination to pull off—bringing every scene to vibrant life.

I was especially fascinated by the merrows. From the Panmar, the Sea Witch, to her fickle, playful, and cunning subjects who craft bargains with men, these are creatures beautiful and deadly. Once again, the author pens descriptions like liquid silver. There were passages I paused to read over for the sheer beauty of the words (sometimes darkly picturesque, sometimes resplendent and dazzling).

Callum’s character and those closest to him each stole my heart (even one that had me waffling on if I should like him or despise him). And when everything came together in the concluding pages, I couldn’t ask for a better ending. Once again, D. Wallace Peach proves her mastery with conflicted characters and fantastical realms. Highly recommended!

Book Review Tuesday: A Mother for His Twins by Jill Weatherholt, Saving Parker by Dan Walsh @JillWeatherholt #christianromance #smalltownfiction

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Happy Tuesday! I have two books to share today, both in a similar heart-warming vein. Both of these authors were new to me, but you can bet I’ll be reading their work again. I’ve already snatched up more books from both. If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know I devour psychological suspense and thrillers, but every now and then, I want to lose myself in the pages of small town life with a fat HEA at the end. Both of these did the trick and then some!

BOOK BLURB:

She’d given up on having a family…until he made her feel right at home.

First-grade teacher Joy Kelliher has two new students—twin boys who belong to her high school sweetheart. If teaching Nick Capello’s sons wasn’t difficult enough, the widower’s also her neighbor…and competing for the principal job she wants. Now with little matchmakers drawing Joy and Nick together, can they overcome a painful past to build the family Joy’s always wanted?

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A heartwarming story about second chance romance, A Mother for His Twins ticks all the right boxes for anyone looking for a feel-good novel with a lovely HEA. Joy and Nick grew up together, falling in love in their teen years. They always knew they would be together until Nick’s family moved abruptly and Joy was cut out of his life.

Fast forward years later. Nick returns to his hometown, a widower with twin boys. The boys join Jill’s grade school class, quickly stealing her heart (and the heart of the reader). Meanwhile, Jill is vying for the position of principal at the school where she works, the only other applicant, Nick.

I don’t read a lot of romance, but I don’t really consider this story romance at the heart, so much as a tale of people finding their way back to each other. That journey is helped along by Nick’s boys, Joy’s sister and her niece, and the guiding touch of God. The story has a light Christian theme, twined with Hallmark-esque moments that will melt your heart. The characters suffer ups and downs, which make the eventual HEA all the sweeter. Both Nick and Joy have burdens in their past, secrets that present hurdles they need to overcome if they’re to recapture the love they once had. Factor in they’re both applicants for the same job, and the stakes rachet higher.

The writing is polished, the characters (even the secondary ones), beautifully defined. I breezed through the pages, enchanted by the author’s casual flair with handling the day-to-day challenges of her MCs. This is book 3 in a series, but it reads fine as a standalone. I enjoyed it so much, I immediately bought another after finishing. I’m smitten!

BOOK BLURB:

After years of abuse and neglect, Parker is found chained in a junk-filled backyard after a drug bust. The little guy’s terrified of people. Officer Ned Barringer brings him to a nearby shelter for medical care. When Ned learns how hard it is for dogs like Parker to get adopted, he must do more. He’s also instantly taken with Kim Harper, one of the shelter managers. She offers to train Parker for free. Ned instantly accepts. That same day, he meets his next-door neighbor, a ten-year-old boy named Russell. Russell is hiding a black-eye, compliments of two bullies at school. This angers Ned. He suffered the same fate as a child. It’s the main reason he became a cop. But what can he do? When a near-death tragedy occurs, what role might Parker play in bringing these three lives together?

Dan Walsh is known for page-turning, character driven novels. Fans of Dan’s other novels, as well as dog-lovers everywhere will especially enjoy Saving Parker (and if they do, 3 more books are available in the Forever Home series, including Book 4, Keeping Bailey, the sequel to Saving Parker).

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This is a heartwarming story built around Parker, a dog who gets a second chance at a forever home. Abused by his former owner, a drug dealer, Parker is rescued by Ned, a police officer. If you’re worried about animal abuse, don’t be. The neglect Parker endures happens before the story starts, which makes this about his learning to trust people again, and his journey to recovery.

Ned is a great character, strong, and l likeable. He decides to take a chance on fostering/adopting Parker, and through that decision connects with Kim, who works at an animal shelter. He also has new neighbors—a single mom and her sixth-grade son, Russell, who becomes a target for bullies at school.

The story shifts between Parker’s recuperation, Ned and Kim juggling emerging romantic feelings, and Ned helping Russell find a way to stand up to the bullies. There is nothing earth-shattering in the plot, just clean, wholesome feel-good entertainment. Think Hallmark with a light Christian theme. Although this is the third book in a series, it reads fine as a standalone. I got the impression some of the characters cross over from book to book, but I had zero difficulty following the story. If I hadn’t been aware beforehand, I wouldn’t even realize Saving Parker is book three in a series.

I enjoyed the humbleness and simplicity of the tale, to the extent that I plan to seek out other titles in this series. If you enjoy reading books about dogs, and a story that leaves you with a warm, fuzzy feeling, you’ll find Saving Parker enchanting.

Book Review Tuesday: Hairpin Bridge by Taylor Adams #psychologicalthriller

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I’m back! Hubby and I spent a long weekend in Virginia for a family wedding—a wonderful event that left us with many great memories. I’m so happy for my niece and her new husband, who are now enjoying a long, leisurely honeymoon.

For myself, I’m settling back into my regular routine which includes blog posts and visits. To start, I’m kicking off the week with a NetGalley review on a book that releases today. Taylor Adams blew me away with No Exit, his debut novel. To this day it remains one of my favorite reads, and a book I easily see myself devouring again. Requesting an ARC of Hairpin Bridge, his latest was a no-brainer. Surprisingly, I found this one difficult to review. You’ll see why below.

BLURB:

From the author of the “full-throttle thriller” (A. J. Finn) No Exit—a riveting new psychological page-turner featuring a fierce and unforgettable heroine.

Three months ago, Lena Nguyen’s estranged twin sister, Cambry, drove to a remote bridge sixty miles outside of Missoula, Montana, and jumped two hundred feet to her death. At least, that is the official police version. 

But Lena isn’t buying it.

Now she’s come to that very bridge, driving her dead twin’s car and armed with a cassette recorder, determined to find out what really happened by interviewing the highway patrolman who allegedly discovered her sister’s body.

Corporal Raymond Raycevic has agreed to meet Lena at the scene. He is sympathetic, forthright, and professional. But his story doesn’t seem to add up. For one thing, he stopped Cambry for speeding a full hour before she supposedly leapt to her death. Then there are the sixteen attempted 911 calls from her cell phone, made in what was unfortunately a dead zone.

But perhaps most troubling of all, the state trooper is referred to by name in Cambry’s final enigmatic text to her sister: Please Forgive Me. I couldn’t live with it. Hopefully you can, Officer Raycevic.

Lena will do anything to uncover the truth. But as her twin’s final hours come into focus, Lena’s search turns into a harrowing, tooth-and-nail fight for her own survival—one that will test everything she thought she knew about her sister and herself…

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I loved Taylor Adam’s No Exit and counted it among one of my favorite reads when it was released, so it was a no brainer to request an ARC of Hairpin Bridge. Thank you NetGalley and Joffe Books for my ARC. I was so excited and couldn’t wait to devour it. Unfortunately, unlike No Exit, this wasn’t a homerun. 

Lena Nguyen’s estranged twin sister, Cambry, has committed suicide by jumping from Hairpin Bridge, an old suspension bridge located on a remote section of highway in Montana. Unconvinced her sister truly killed herself, Lena asks the cop who found her body—Ray Raycevic—to meet her and answer questions. The two eventually end up on the bridge where the bulk of the story takes place. 

The narrative alternates between the present, flashback sequences from Cambry, and blog entries and thoughts about Cambry from Lena. Had the story stuck with flashbacks and action in the present, it wouldn’t have floundered. I found the blog entries and Lena’s thoughts about her sister draggy and, at times, confusing. 

The book takes a while to get off the ground. There’s a lot of talking back and forth between Lena and Raycevic with nothing happening. And the near-constant use of first names between two people who had never met grated on my nerves. There was even a point I found myself skimming. 

And then . . .

The Taylor Adams novel I expected kicked in. From the moment a third party is introduced into the story, it’s a freight-train ride until the end. The second half is an anxiety-fueled rollercoaster brimming with twists, turns, and nail-biting action. I encountered things that repulsed me and things that had me on the edge of my seat. Part cat-and-mouse, part explosive confrontation, the conflict kept me glued.

As with No Exit, this book would make an exceptional movie (fingers crossed and hoping). The ending was stellar, tying up multiple threads along with a surprise I didn’t expect. Were it not for the slow start and the intrusive blog entries I’d give Hairpin Bridge 5 stars. As it stands, I’m going with 3.5 rounded up to 4 for review purposes. 

To read or not to read: READ!!! The last half makes the whole thing worthwhile. 

Release Date is Today | Purchase from Amazon

Book Review Tuesday: Cold Dark Night by Joan Hall #mystery #suspense @JoanHallWrites

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Welcome to another Book Review Tuesday. Cold Dark Night is the first novel in Joan Hall’s Legend of Madeira series. It follows her recent novella prequel, House of Sorrow, but you needn’t have read that to enjoy her latest release. Cold Dark Night serves perfectly as a stand alone. For those who read House of Sorrow, you’ll be richly rewarded by how everything fits together in this enjoyable mystery that weaves past and present with author finesse.

BOOK BLURB:

New husband, new house, new town… and a new mystery to solve.

Tami Montgomery thought her police chief husband was going to be the only investigator in the family when she gave up her journalism career and moved with him to Madeira, New Mexico.

But after the historical society asks her to write stories for a book celebrating the town’s one-hundred fiftieth year, she becomes embroiled in a new mystery. If she can’t solve this one, she could lose everything. Her research uncovers a spate of untimely deaths of local law enforcement officials. Further digging reveals a common link—they all lived in the house she and Jason now share.

Tami isn’t a superstitious person, but the circumstances are too similar for coincidence. Then she unearths an even more disturbing pattern. And if history repeats itself, Jason will be the next to die.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Tami Montgomery and her husband, Jason, have just moved to Madeira, New Mexico where Jason has accepted the job as Madeira’s new police chief. They settle into an old Victorian home, which Tami soon learns has an interesting, disturbing history. Several of Madeira’s former police chiefs lived in the house and met with untimely deaths, more than one of them murdered.

As Tami delves deeper into trying to uncover the link between the deaths and her home, Jason has his hands full dealing with a rebellious officer, a string of burglaries, an officer-involved shooting, and the mayor’s interfering wife. There’s also the unexpected arrival of Jason’s estranged father, and the frightening dream visions of danger from Tami’s new friend, Abbey.

I loved the small-town setting of this novel. Hall does a great job of bringing Madeira vividly to life, not only in the present but the past as well. There are several chapters that give readers glimpses into characters from the 1800s, and how their lives will eventually impact what takes place in the present. The author weaves a tale of more than one unsolved murder, doling out clues like breadcrumbs. Another plot thread incorporates lunar folklore and how it may or may not factor into the murders. I especially enjoyed how Hall incorporated those threads into the story, tying everything together for a thoroughly satisfying conclusion.

Bottom line: Cold Dark Night is an intriguing mystery that includes all the elements that make for a page-turning read—wonderful characters, a multi-layered plot, historical elements, and folklore. And easy five stars!