Book Review Tuesday: The Bad Sister by Kevin O’Brien, The Dinner Guest by B.P. Walter #domesticsuspense #psychologicalsuspense #bookreviews

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

I seem to be devouring a lot of psychological suspense and domestic thrillers these days. There is so much to choose from and so many good titles out there. Today’s reviews are a mix of an auto-buy author and a new-to-me author. Both earn five glowing stars!

BOOK BLURB:
TOO CLOSE
The site of the old campus bungalow where two girls were brutally slain is now a flower patch covered with chrysanthemums. It’s been fifty years since the Immaculate Conception Murders. Three more students and a teacher were killed in a sickening spree that many have forgotten. But there is one person who knows every twisted detail. . . .
 
TO SEE
Hannah O’Rourke and her volatile half-sister, Eden, have little in common except a parent. Yet they’ve ended up at the same small college outside Chicago, sharing a bungalow with another girl. Hannah isn’t thrilled—nor can she shake the feeling that she’s being watched. And her journalism professor, Ellie Goodwin, keeps delving into Hannah and Eden’s newsworthy past. . . .
 
THE DANGER
When Hannah and Eden’s arrival coincides with a spate of mysterious deaths, Ellie knows it’s more than a fluke. A copycat is recreating those long-ago murders. Neither the police nor the school will accept the horrific truth. And the more Ellie discovers, the more she’s convinced that she won’t live to be believed. . . .

MY REVIEW:
Kevin O’Brien is one of my auto-buy authors. I can always count on him to deliver a complex mystery with characters who are easy to relate to.

Hannah and Eden are sisters who only recently learned they’re related. Their relationship is rocky, but when they go away to Our Lady of the Cove college, they both end up sharing the same bungalow with a third girl. Rachel tells them about the Immaculate Conception Murders which occurred fifty years ago. It’s not long after Hannah and Eden arrive that a copycat killer strikes, staging his victims in the same manner as the original murderer.

The problem with mysteries is it’s hard to say a lot about them without giving away the plot, but O’Brien has a solid winner with The Bad Sister. He builds tension throughout, the clock ticking with each successive murder. Several characters sent up potential suspect flags for me, but in the end, I was completely off base.

In addition to the sisters and Rachel, other key players include a journalism teacher and one of her students—a thirtyish man who doesn’t fit with the rest of the student body. Each has a background that plays into the overall plot, subtle layers about their pasts revealed a bit at time. When everything comes together at the end, each twisty plot thread is wrapped with a satisfying conclusion. I always think of O’Brien’s mysteries as fat, juicy reads, and for that reason I buy his novels in paperback form—perfect beach reads no matter the time of year or place.

If you like a good whodunit with strong, relatable characters, I highly recommend The Bad Sister. And if you haven’t read O’Brien before, you’re missing out. My bookcase is filled with his novels!

5 STARS

BOOK BLURB:
Four people walked into the dining room that night. One would never leave.

Matthew: the perfect husband.

Titus: the perfect son.

Charlie: the perfect illusion.

Rachel: the perfect stranger.

Charlie didn’t want her at the book club. Matthew wouldn’t listen.

And that’s how Charlie finds himself slumped beside his husband’s body, their son sitting silently at the dinner table, while Rachel calls 999, the bloody knife still gripped in her hand.

Classic crime meets Donna Tartt in this nerve-shredding domestic noir thriller that weaves a sprawling web of secrets around an opulent West London world and the dinner that ends in death.

MY REVIEW:
This is a quick read that immediately sucks you into the story with subtlety. Matthew and Charlie are married, with an adopted teenage son, Titus. One day while shopping, they encounter Rachel, a newcomer who has moved nearby. After some chit-chat, Matthew invites her to his book club. Charlie is puzzled by the swiftness of Mathew’s actions and feels there is something off with Rachel, though he can’t put his finger on why. This is just the beginning of Rachel winding her way into their lives, the lives of their family, and friends. With each successive chapter, Rachels actions grow more and more questionable, but she is far from the only character keeping secrets.

The book shifts in time with scenes in the present—Matthew has been murdered—to scenes in the past leading up to the moment of his death. Gradually, the backstories of the four main characters—Matthew, Charlie, Titus and Rachel—unfold as past rushes to join present and we learn the identity of Matthew’s killer. There are multiple twists and turns along the way. Some I figured out beforehand, others caught me blindsided. The ending is different than most books of this type but altogether satisfying in its cleverness. 

This is slow build psychological/domestic suspense, but at the same time, a riveting page-turner. I finished it in two-sittings, and have no problem awarding it a well-earned five stars. I’ll look for more from this author. 

5 STARS


I had an entertaining week of reading, as you can see. I’m also excited that another of my auto-buy authors (Jennifer McMahon) has a new novel out. I pre-ordered The Drowning Kind, it’s now on my Kindle, and I can’t wait to get to it. But…TBR, you know? Hopefully, soon.

Happy Reading!

The Vanished Boy by Harmony Kent @harmony_kent #mystery #suspense #bookreview

Yes, I know it’s a Monday and not my normal day for posting reviews, but I already had my Tuesday Book review post formatted and ready to go (I hope you’ll come back tomorrow to check out the selections), when I devoured The Vanished Boy in two days. Rather than waiting another week to share my review, I thought I’d post it today. This one gets an easy five stars. Congrats to my Story Empire colleague, Harmony, on delivering such an excellent novel!

BLURB:
It’s so remote out here. Anything could happen …

A missed phone call in the night is all it takes.

When Carole’s 18-year-old son goes missing, she breaks into Jayden’s laptop to try to understand his life.

All too soon, Carole discovers just how little she knew her boy.

And when one lead after another dead-ends, the distraught mother has to face the unthinkable.

Sucked into a sticky web of deceit and lies, nothing is as it seems.

When your life turns inside out and upside down, who would you trust?


MY REVIEW:
Harmony Kent delivers a powerhouse novel about a teen’s disappearance. Carole is a widow with an eighteen-year-old son. When Jayden fails to return home one evening, she discovers she missed a cryptic text he sent. Two words only: “I’m stuck.”  Those words propel her into a frantic search that begins with her delving into his life online. The police insist Jayden is an adult, and there’s not much they can do—at least not until time has passed. But Carole reacts with the anguish of a mother for her only child.  

As she begins to piece together Jayden’s life through online activity, she learns there is a side to her son she didn’t know about. A side that has led him into a dangerous situation. The more she delves, the more the tension mounts, clues unravelling a bit at a time, for a staggering revelation at the end. 

I had read this book in two days, flipping pages well into the night. The story is well-plotted with a thoroughly satisfying wrap. If you enjoy psychological fiction and domestic suspense, this is engrossing story with a plot highly relevant to current times. 

5 STARS

I’ve read several of Harmony’s books. She always delivers an exceptional tale, but she really scored a home run with this one. If you’re a non U.S. reader, you can find The Vanished Boy at this LINK.

That’s it for me today, but please come back tomorrow when I’ve got two more excellent novels to share. I’ve also got a Book Spotlight coming up on Wednesday, and a guest author on Thursday, so it is going to be a busy week on The Pen of Mae Clair. 🙂

Book Review Tuesday: House of Sorrow by Joan Hall @JoanHallWrites, The Street Party by Claire Seeber @claireseeber @bookouture #psychologicalfiction

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

Thank you for joining me for another Book Review Tuesday. Today, I have a short story from friend and Story Empire colleague, Joan Hall. House of Sorrows serves as an introduction to Joan’s upcoming release Cold Dark Night, the first in her Legends of Madiera series. The second novel, The Street Party by Claire Seeber is the first of many NetGalley ARCs I hope to review in the weeks and months ahead. Both of these excellent novels fall into the category of psychological suspense.


BOOK BLURB:
Dream home or damned home?

Ruth Hazelton is over the moon when her husband Lee agrees the nineteenth-century Victorian in Madeira, New Mexico, is the perfect home for them. While he starts his new job as police chief, she sets about unpacking and decorating.

But it’s not long before Ruth needs more. She becomes a fixture in the community, making time for everyone, volunteering, hosting events—she’s every bit the social butterfly her husband is not. Through her friendships, she learns several former residents of her home met with untimely deaths. If she were superstitious, she might fear a curse, but such nonsense doesn’t faze her.

Until the unthinkable happens.

Now, as the end of Ruth’s life draws near, she must find a way to convey her message and stop the cycle to prevent anyone else from suffering in the house of sorrow.

MY REVIEW:

This short read is set mostly in the 1960s and serves as an introduction to the author’s upcoming Madeira series. Ruth Hazelton and her husband, Lee, have just moved into a beautiful old Victorian home. Lee has accepted a job as Madeira’s new police chief and the world is looking up for them.

Ruth is a wonderful character. Social and outgoing, someone who quickly establishes herself as a friendly face in her neighborhood and community. I particularly liked her friendship with her neighbor Sam. He’s a bit of a curmudgeon, opinionated, but highly likeable at the same time. He also believes in curses. It’s through Sam that Ruth learns several of her new home’s former residents died unexpectedly. The history of the house is a mystery that serves to open the door for Hall’s series.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the way the author wove events from the 1960s into the story. Some are delivered via journal entries from Ruth, others through narrative and dialogue. As someone who has long been fascinated by that time period, those references were highlights for me.

I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing how this series unfolds, and can’t wait for the release of the first full-length novel which will be set in present day. I have a passion for books that combine historical elements, old legends, and contemporary settings. Legends of Madeira promises to deliver all three!

5 STARS


BOOK BLURB:

The party was supposed to be the highlight of the summer. If only I’d known that night would destroy our lives…

All the neighbours were laughing, drinking out of plastic glasses and getting along. I almost felt happy. Almost forgot about the terrible argument earlier and the sinister messages I’d been receiving from a strange address all week, threatening to expose the lies behind my perfect life.

As we finished with the red and gold fireworks and welcomed everyone back to our house, I believed that everything would be okay.

But I didn’t know who I was inviting in.

I never could have imagined what would happen here, in our home, after I’d gone up to bed.

Everyone saw something different.

It’s my daughter’s word against the story the boy from down the road is telling. But how can I find out what really happened that night without everyone finding out the truth about me?

An absolutely gripping story of the secrets you would do anything to keep hidden, with a twist you just won’t see coming. Perfect for fans of Gone Girl, Big Little Lies and The Girl on the Train.

MY REVIEW:
Thank you NetGalley and Bookouture for the ARC!

I was initially drawn to this story by the cover of the book, then I read the blurb which sounded delicious. The Street Party is told from the first person POVs of three different women—Ruby, Melissa, and Nella. Ruby and Melissa are good friends, while uber-rich Nella is a client of Melissa’s (who teaches yoga). When a street party is planned as a community fund-raiser, all three become involved, along with their teenage children.

The novel is written by a British author, so there was a slight adjustment for me with various references and slang. After a while I settled right in, especially as it became clear not everyone was as they appeared. There are enough crackling undercurrents and hidden motives to start a fire. As the lives of the three women and their families unfolded, I had specific opinions about each, but several of those changed over the course of the story.   

The first half of the book is pre-party, with the last half post-party. There is plenty of set-up and several seemingly random events which later come into play. When Nella’s daughter accuses Ruby’s son of inappropriate behavior toward Melissa’s stepdaughter (got that?) it sets off a chain of events that will alter the lives of all three women. The book takes a while to get off the ground, but keeps you flipping pages to discover how it all plays out.

This is a story that looks at what some people are willing to do to fit in, the sacrifices others make without even realizing the hole they’ve fallen into, and the fragility—and strengths—of family and friendships. Several of the plot threads surprised me. There is a large cast of characters but they’re easy to keep track of. By the end of the novel the various threads (and there are many) have all been woven into a neat bow. I wouldn’t term this a thriller as much as slow-build suspense with layers of mystery. Ruby is a strong, likable character. I was really cheering for her and Melissa throughout, but even the less than savory characters are presented in a way to make you understand their actions. Some of the men (and women) are positively wretched but their story arcs are well done. The writing is casual, which makes it easy to say “just one more chapter” which I did on several nights. I would read this author again.

4 STARS


And that’s another wrap for this week on reviews. I hope you’ll come back tomorrow for a Book Spotlight, and on Thursday for a Guest Author post. Both feature new releases from authors I admire and have read before. I can’t wait to share their latest with you! In the meantime, I hope one of the above novels have snagged your attention, or you’re currently immersed in a book that won’t let you rest until you finish it. Aren’t they the best kind?

Happy reading!

Book Review Tuesday: The Body in the Trench by Judi Lynn #cozymystery, Gods of Howl Mountain by Taylor Brown #southernfiction

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 my first book review post of April! Today, I have a cozy mystery, part of an ongoing series, and a novel by an author I’ve never read before. I’m pleased to say both were five star reads. Let’s get started!

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

BLURB:
This time, Jazzi isn’t called to solve murder. Ansel is. His uncle Len, who promised him a job when he came to River Bluffs and then let his sons drive him away, calls to ask for help. One of the workers on his construction site is buried when a retaining wall gives and dirt pours into the trench where Xavier is laying pipe. But is Xavier’s death an accident? Or did someone purposely sabotage the retaining wall?

MY REVIEW:
Loved this latest Jazzi mystery! Murder hits close to home when a worker at Ansel’s uncle’s construction site meets with an untimely death. Add in a second mystery involving workers at a country club, plus a new—and more difficult house—for Jazzi, Ansel and Jerod to flip, and there is plenty to keep readers glued to the pages. Once again, Jazzi and Ansel’s extended family make appearances (I love their Sunday get-togethers and Gram’s predictions), and there are a handful of new characters who add interest and suspicion.

The backstory involving Ansel, his Uncle Len, and Len’s sons worked well in crafting a balance between the murder mystery and family dynamics. There are several characters in this book I wanted to “take to task,” for their attitudes, but that was exactly what the author intended. Another character, I loved the moment she appeared on the page, and was happy to see how her story arc progressed. It’s the mark of a good author who can make you care for her secondary players as much as her MCs.

If you enjoy cozy mysteries with characters who lodge in your heart, this is an excellent series to escape with. I do recommend starting at the beginning for maximum enjoyment and appreciating how all of the characters connect. A highly entertaining read!

5 STARS

BLURB:
In Gods of Howl Mountain, award-winning author Taylor Brown explores a world of folk healers, whiskey-runners, and dark family secrets in the high country of 1950s North Carolina.

Bootlegger Rory Docherty has returned home to the fabled mountain of his childhood – a misty wilderness that holds its secrets close and keeps the outside world at gunpoint. Slowed by a wooden leg and haunted by memories of the Korean War, Rory runs bootleg whiskey for a powerful mountain clan in a retro-fitted ’40 Ford coupe. Between deliveries to roadhouses, brothels, and private clients, he lives with his formidable grandmother, evades federal agents, and stokes the wrath of a rival runner.

In the mill town at the foot of the mountains – a hotbed of violence, moonshine, and the burgeoning sport of stock-car racing – Rory is bewitched by the mysterious daughter of a snake-handling preacher. His grandmother, Maybelline “Granny May” Docherty, opposes this match for her own reasons, believing that “some things are best left buried.” A folk healer whose powers are rumored to rival those of a wood witch, she concocts potions and cures for the people of the mountains while harboring an explosive secret about Rory’s mother – the truth behind her long confinement in a mental hospital, during which time she has not spoken one word. When Rory’s life is threatened, Granny must decide whether to reveal what she knows…or protect her only grandson from the past.

With gritty and atmospheric prose, Taylor Brown brings to life a perilous mountain and the family who rules it.

MY REVIEW:
I won’t reiterate what the story is about. The book blurb does a great job of covering that. What initially drew me to this novel was the backwoods North Carolina mountain setting. Taylor Brown brings it vividly to life, along with characters like Granny May, a woman who creates folk remedies and keeps a “spirit tree” strung with glass bottles in her front yard. Add moonshiners, revenue men, a church of snake-handlers, and a decades-old secret and readers are treated to a wonderfully multi-layered story. Even the setting becomes a character.

Example: “The road spilled down out of the mountains before him like a moonlit creek. He knew it well, as he knew the lesser roads that branched along the ridges and forked down into the hollers, that swung along the great walls of blasted stone and through tunnels of black oak and hickory.”

The writing is exquisite, richly detailed without being overwrought.

Another example: “Most of all it was talk, Rory knew, the lies of gummy old men in their rockers, on their nail kegs in front of the feed store. Stories punctuated by black bullets of tobacco juice spat quivering in the dust, attended by ageless hounds that lay tongue-out in the shade like something dead.”

The story is alternately gritty and lyrical. I was surprised by the ending—didn’t see the twists coming—but loved how everything played out, especially as related to an incident in the past. This was my first time reading Taylor Brown, but it won’t be my last!

5 STARS
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

In other news, I’ve signed up properly with NetGalley and have downloaded my first yet-to-be-published ARC. With as much as I read and review, it only makes sense to start taking advantage of upcoming releases. So, going forward, my reviews will be a mix of books I’ve purchased and soon-to-be-released ARCs. I’m excited to be diving in. As always, happy reading!

Book Review Tuesday: The Guest List by Lucy Foley, Whisper Island by Carissa Ann Lynch #psychologicalthrillers #domesticthrillers

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

Happy Tuesday! I have two books to share today, both in a similar vein—a group of people on a secluded island cut off from the mainland, a murderer among them. One of these books rocked my world and the other didn’t quite live up to the hype. Both, however, kept me entertained for hours. If you enjoy murder mysteries and psychological thrillers, you’ll want to check these out.

_________________________________________________________________________________

BLURB:

A wedding celebration turns dark and deadly in this deliciously wicked and atmospheric thriller reminiscent of Agatha Christie from the New York Times bestselling author of The Hunting Party.

The bride – The plus one – The best man – The wedding planner  – The bridesmaid – The body

On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom: handsome and charming, a rising television star. The bride: smart and ambitious, a magazine publisher. It’s a wedding for a magazine, or for a celebrity: the designer dress, the remote location, the luxe party favors, the boutique whiskey. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed.

But perfection is for plans, and people are all too human. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. The groomsmen begin the drinking game from their school days. The bridesmaid not-so-accidentally ruins her dress. The bride’s oldest (male) friend gives an uncomfortably caring toast.

And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why?

MY REVIEW:

Lucy Foley has done it again! Keeping in vein with her novel, The Hunting Party, she serves up a similar whodunit. The prime ingredients in both books are an isolated location, treacherous weather, and a group of characters with plenty of skeletons rattling in proverbial closets.

For The Guest List, Foley presents the marriage of two pseudo celebrities. Jules is the publisher of a trendy magazine and Will is the star of a reality TV series. Together these two make the perfect couple—attractive, glamorous, and wealthy. For their wedding, they invite guests to a remote island off the coast of Ireland. Think rugged cliffs, crashing waves, the ruins of a stone chapel, and a cemetery dotted with Celtic crosses. The setting is exquisite, wonderfully played for mood that is both over the top glamorous, yet darkly sinister. I loved how a cave along the shoreline and the sightings of cormorants added creepy atmosphere.

The story is told in multiple first person POV (I had no problem keeping track of whose head I was in), along with scattered chapters of omniscient. It’s a little slow to get off the ground, but after a few chapters—WOW! Trust me, you’ll want to stick with it.

The cast of characters is an intriguing mix—the bride, her younger sister, the groom with his frat buddies and polar-opposite best man, the caterer and her husband who are just launching their business, the plus-one and her husband…who just happens to be the bride’s best friend.

When a body turns up, Foley keeps the identity of the victim wrapped tightly until the end. Throughout, tensions simmer, tempers flare, and petty jealousies erupt. And erupt again. Entangling more and more people in the web. By the time the identity of the body is revealed, most everyone has a motive.

All of this undercutting and sniping is played against the backdrop of an impending storm and the extravagance of the wedding. I’m usually pretty good at fingering the culprit, and although I had suspicions that eventually proved correct, the whys and wherefores completely blindsided me. The plot threads are deftly woven, for a wholly satisfying and stunning conclusion.

If you like a combination of psychological thriller and whodunit murder mystery, this is a fabulous five-star read!

5 STARS

BLURB:

It was the perfect escape

Until one by one they vanished…

For friends Riley, Sam, Mia and Scarlett, their trip to Whisper Island, Alaska, was meant to be a once in a lifetime adventure – just four young women, with everything to live for…

But as soon as they arrive things start to go wrong.  First there is the unexpected arrival of Sammy’s drug addict brother and his girlfriend Opal – why are they here? 

And then the deaths begin. 

As the dream trip quickly turns into a nightmare, suspicion is high.  Are they really alone on the island?  Or is there a killer hiding in the shadows? 

And as each of the girls reveals a dark secret of their own, perhaps the truth is the killer is closer than they think…just a whisper away…

MY REVIEW:
This is an okay quick read. Four college friends, all artists, decide to vacation on a secluded Alaskan island for the summer to concentrate on their art. When they arrive, they discover the “mansion” where they thought they would be staying is a run-down relic. Other than a few outbuildings, it’s the only property on the island. Also unexpected—one of the girls’ drug-addicted brother is there, along with his latest girlfriend.

The story is told from alternating viewpoints of these six characters, all in first person. As the book progresses, the reader learns each of the characters has secrets tucked in their backgrounds. When murders start taking place, I settled in for an “And Then There Were None” Agatha Christie type story. Was there a killer on the island, or could the killer possibly be among them?

The book definitely held my interest and kept me flipping pages–despite an overabundance of internal (italicized). POV. That grew a little distracting. I enjoyed the story right up until the big reveal of the killer. Part of a mystery is trying to solve the puzzle yourself, but there weren’t enough clues peppered throughout for the ending to make sense. So, the “twist” really wasn’t a twist for lack of set up.

That aside, this is an easy read, a nice diversion if you want something quick. The author does an excellent job of crafting the spooky atmosphere of the island, and the last line of the book brought appreciation. I just wish there had been more set-up and backstory to make the identity of the killer belieavable.

3 STARS

_________________________________________________________________________________

That’s it from me for today. I hope one of these books snagged your attention. I guess it’s pretty obvious which one I enjoyed better, but that’s the great thing about books–there is always something for everyone. As always, happy reading!

Book Review Tuesday: The Body in the Beauty Parlor by Judi Lynn #cozymystery, Vampire on the Orient Express by Shane Carrow #vampirehorror

It’s Tuesday, and that means it’s time for more book reviews. I’ve followed the Jazzi Zanders series from book one, and have loved seeing the growth of the characters plus the creative plots Judi Lynn weaves for her heroine. There’s always a murder to solve when Jazzi and her hunky husband Ansel (her “norseman” or “viking”) are around. If you enjoy cozy mysteries, I highly recommend this series.

BLURB:
In their hair salon, Jazzi’s sister Olivia and mother are savvy businesswomen whose creativity brings fashion and flair to the folks of Rivers Bluff, Indiana. So when their newest hairstylist Misty is caught scamming clients’ debit cards and selling beauty products during off hours to pocket the profits, Olivia fires her. But Misty retaliates by hitting back with a defamation lawsuit—which she is more than happy to drop if Olivia pays her ten grand.
 
But neither blackmail nor courtroom fees are accrued after Misty’s body is discovered in the salon with Olivia’s scissors stuck in her chest. Olivia may be the number one suspect, but her murdered employee had a reputation for making enemies.
 
Then Jazzi’s ex Chad appears, asking for help with his marital strife. This already awkward situation worsens when Chad’s wife vanishes and the police investigate him. Now, it’s up to Jazzi to clear both her sister’s and ex’s names while the killer—or killers—could be a mere hair breadth’s away . . .

MY REVIEW:
I thoroughly enjoyed this sixth outing for Jazzi, her husband, Ansel, their extended family, and group of friends. As always, Jazzi and Ansel are at the heart of the book with Jazzi playing amateur sleuth. In this case, there are two mysteries, both which hit close to home. Her sister, Olivia’s, newest employee is found dead in Olivia’s hair salon, and Jazzi’s ex-fiancé’s wife disappears under highly questionable circumstances. Of course, Jazzi, Ansel, and Jazzi’s cousin, Jerod, also have a house to remodel and flip. Add in a large family, a looming Easter celebration, and Jazzi has her hands full.

As with all the Jazzi mysteries, this is a pleasurable read. The action is split behind sleuthing and Jazzi’s family life. Lynn’s writing style is breezy and easy to read. Characters feel like old friends and the two mysteries are deftly handled. Even Jazzi and Ansel’s pets—Geroge the pug, and cats, Inky and Marmalade—get moments to shine. If you enjoy cozies, this is one series and group of characters who will win your heart. Satisfying from start to finish!

5 STARS

________________________________________________________________________________

And, now in a completely different vein:

BLURB:
Paris, 1914. American adventurer Sam Carter boards the Orient Express, departing France in style after an impulsive decision to desert the Foreign Legion. British diplomat Lucas Avery is already nursing a drink in the smoking car, resenting his assignment to the distant Ottoman Empire. Neither man expects anything more from the next three days and three thousand miles than rich food, expensive champagne and fine cigars.

But something dangerous is lurking aboard the train, hiding in plain sight among French aristocrats and German businessmen. Through fire and darkness, through blood and ice, the Orient Express is bearing an ancient evil across the continent – and not all its passengers will live to see Constantinople…

MY REVIEW:
The cover and the setting of this book sucked me in as soon as I saw it. Murder mystery, the Orient Express, and vampires all couched in the year 1914. What a combination! The author didn’t disappoint and delivered an intriguing plot. The main characters—Sam Carter, an American ex-Foreign Legion soldier, and Lucas Avery, a British diplomat—are set up to be polar opposites. Descriptions are good and the secondary characters provide excellent support for the two MCs. My only quibble is that I would have liked more character development for the leads. I couldn’t really connect with them, but I seem to be in the minority on that.

Given this the first book of a series, I expect the author will provide additional character growth over time. In many ways the tale reminded me of an early horror film, offering an old-fashioned vampire story wrapped in superstition, folklore, and slowly creeping chills.

The story does have a complete wrap at the end but sets the stage for Carter and Avery to continue working together.

4 STARS

______________________________________________________________________________

From cozy mystery to vampire horror, I had several days of diverse reading. I love how books can transport us anywhere–from house renovation and murder in a small town, to a lavish train barreling through Europe in the early days of the twentieth century. As always, I wish you happy reading!

Book Review Tuesday: Confesions on the 7:45 by Lisa Unger @lisaunger #domesticthriller

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

Happy Tuesday! I’m finally getting caught up with my book reviews, so I’m changing up the format a bit. I normally don’t provide the blurb when I review, but since I’m planning on doing only one book per week, I thought I’d start adding in the blurbs. I still have several back burner reviews, but I may not end up sharing them all. For today, here’s a fabulous domestic thriller.

BLURB:
Selena Murphy is commuting home on the train when she strikes up a conversation with a beautiful stranger in the next seat. The woman introduces herself as Martha and soon confesses that she’s been stuck in an affair with her boss. Selena, in turn, confesses that she suspects her husband is sleeping with the nanny. When the train arrives at Selena’s station, the two women part ways, presumably never to meet again.

Then the nanny disappears.

As Selena is pulled into the mystery of what happened, and as the fractures in her marriage grow deeper, she begins to wonder, who was Martha really? But she is hardly prepared for what she’ll discover…

________________________________________________________________________________

MY REVIEW:
The plot of this novel sucked me as soon as I read it. Selena, a mother of two, is coming home on the train after a day at her office when the woman beside her strikes up a conversation. Martha confesses to sleeping with her boss, and in a moment of uncharacteristic openness, Selena confesses she believes her husband is sleeping with her nanny, Geneva. When the train reaches its destination, the two part ways. Not long afterward, Geneva goes missing.

As the police launch an investigation, Selena’s marriage and her whole world implodes. Who was the woman on the train, and why is Selena suddenly receiving text messages from her?

I found this book a bit slow getting off the ground, especially when a third character outside of the main thread (Pearl) was introduced. Although I liked Pearl—a lot—there were a few hiccups in following what was happening and when. By the middle of the book, however, I was hooked and couldn’t read fast enough to see how everything played out.

The twists and turns, much like left and right jabs, kept flying out of nowhere. A few elements stretch the imagination, but for sheer entertainment value, this is a delicious psychological thriller with a superbly satisfying ending. Another book I would love to see made into a movie. I will definitely seek out more by this author.

5 STARS

________________________________________________________________________________

I’m glad I stuck with this one despite the slow start. The payoff was entirely worth it and I made another dent in the TBR!

As always, whatever tale you’re presently enjoying, I wish you happy reading!

Book Review Tuesday: The Vampire Connoisseur, Wings and Fire #horroranthologies #horrorfiction #shortstories

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

It’s Book Review Tuesday time, and today I have two collections of short stories for you. Both of these anthologies are in a similar vein, with the focus on horror and dark fantasy. Anthologies are a great way to discover new authors, plus glean treats from authors you already enjoy. If you enjoy fiction with elements of the supernatural, dark fantasy, or horror, you’re sure to like these.
________________________________________________________________________________

Todd Sullivan Presents: The Vampire Connoisseur
Various Authors

Every now and then I love to disappear between the pages of an anthology, especially when it’s delivered with a central theme. I don’t read a lot of horror, but I do enjoy it now and then, and I liked the idea of The Vampire Connoisseur being themed around, well…vampires. Don’t expect stakes, crosses, and garlic.

What made this collection so intriguing is the diversity in the plots the authors delivered–all so unique with distinctive voices. Some stories deliver subtle goosebumps and chills while others carry more than a slant of gore. As in any anthology, readers are bound to savor a few stories over others. For me, I especially enjoyed The Red Angel by Lisa Hario, The Sun Sets Nonetheless by Priscilla Bettis, Splinters by Keawe Melina Patrick, Parasites: A tale of Route 66 by B.J. Thrower and Take Me Home Tonight by Troy Diffenderfer. Of special note, I loved the mentions of Woody Guthrie in the Route 66 tale.

Read a few stories at a time or read them all at once. However you choose, this is an enjoyable collection for vampire lovers and lovers of horror.

4 STARS
AMAZON LINK
Genre: Vampire Horror . Dark Fantasy Horror

________________________________________________________________________________

Wings and Fire
Various Authors

Normally, in an anthology, there are a few stories that don’t quite deliver the punch of the others. Not so with Wings and Fire. This is one of the best collections of stories I’ve read, all of the tales polished with slick writing and clever delivery. I was riveted from start to finish.

A few of the many gems that stood out for me are the stories by Roberta Eaton Cheadle and Jessica Bakkers, especially An Unsolvable Problem or Not by Cheadle and Tasmanian Devil by Bakkers. Other stories (among many) that struck a chord were Wings of Prosperity by Heather Kindt, Dark Obsession by Susan Lamb, Mary by Adele Marie Park, and The Great Potto by M.J. Mallon. Creepy, eerie, and mesmerizing!

Tales vary between spooky, sinister, and edge-of-your-seat suspenseful, but all are brilliant,
delivering the gut punch stories of this nature should. There is one story I skimmed, the content darker than the others, but overall, highly recommended! I thoroughly enjoyed this gem.

5 STARS
AMAZON LINK
Genre: Horror Anthology

________________________________________________________________________________

Are you a fan of anthologies? As an author, I’ve contributed to several in the past and have always enjoyed the experience. As a reader, collections like these make for nice “snacks” between longer works. Whatever title is currently on your eReader or keeping you enthralled in paperback form, I wish you happy reading! 🙂

Book Review Tuesday: Ghostly Interference @JanSikes3, Perfectly Imperfect @JacqBiggar, Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries @sgc58, P.S., I Love You More Than Tuna @SarahChauncey

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

Hello! Wherever you are today, I hope the weather is warm(er) and pleasant. We can all use a break from winter weather, especially our friends in Texas. In my portion of Pennsylvania, we had a day and a half of snow which amounted to my office (on the day job), closing one full day and delaying until noon on the second. I squeezed in a lot of reading last week, although the reviews I’m sharing today are of books I read earlier in the month. I’m still playing catch up with my reviews, so let’s get started!
________________________________________________________________________________
Ghostly Interference
by Jan Sikes

Book cover for Ghostly Interference shows ghost image of kneeling GI in background, motorcycle and road in foreground

If you like your romantic reads with multiple layers, you’re sure to enjoy Ghostly Interference. Jan Sikes delivers the story of Jag and Rena who at first glance are polar opposites. He comes from a comfortable background and works in the computer industry, while Rena has been through a rough-and-tumble existence that included foster care. They say opposites attract, and in this case, the adage rings true. Both Rena and Jag have multiple hurdles to navigate on their road to a happily-ever-after. Sikes goes well beyond the trope of boy-meets-girl, delivering a plot that involves the spirit of Rena’s deceased brother, a magical rune, complex family dynamics, and the chance for her characters to embrace missed opportunities.

I particularly enjoyed the story line that took Jag from computer geek to musician and the inclusion of Damien. There’s a strong musical influence in this book. Not surprising given the author’s passion for, and inside knowledge of, the music industry. I also loved Rena finding Riley and her initial reaction to Jag digging into her past. The love of these two characters really shines through, especially during the closing climatic chapters.

Sikes delivers a polished read with excellent writing, characters who resonate with heart, and a plot that will leave you satisfied and happy.

5 STARS
AMAZON LINK
Genre: Romance > Ghost Fiction > Fantasy Romance

________________________________________________________________________________

Perfectly Imperfect
by Jacquie Biggar

If you enjoy breezy romantic reads, you’ll fall in love with this novella worthy of the Hallmark Channel. Georgina life’s dream revolves around her small start-up company, but financial setbacks force her to partner with CLO for backing. Little does she know CLO’s representative, Rhys Turner, arrives with the intent of selling her company out from under her at the insistence of his father.

From Georgina’s and Rhys first disastrous meeting—she spills coffee over his expensive suit—sparks fly between these two. This is a boy-meets-girl romance with all the squabbling and tug-of-wars you’d expect before the HEA at the end, but as always, what sets Biggar’s books apart is her gift for witty banter, clever POV, deft writing, and spot-on characterizations. Toss in an adorable puppy and some son/father issues between Rhys and his dad, and you’ve got a feel-good story guaranteed to leave you with a smile. A pleasure to read by an author who is a master at her craft!

5 STARS
AMAZON LINK
Genre:
Romance > Romantic Comedy

________________________________________________________________________________

Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries: Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet
by Sally Cronin

This is an entertaining collection of short stories with several poems scattered throughout. The book is grouped into topics such as Technology, Animal Magic, and Connections (to name a few) with stories and poems related to their header topics appearing underneath. It’s cleverly presented and cleverly written. All of the stories are winners but there were some that really stood out for me, including The Weekly Shopping, The Nanny, The Scratch Card, and The Night Shift.

In The Weekly Shopping we get a taste of what ordering groceries might be like with when we come to rely too much on technology. It’s both hilariously funny and worrisome at the same time. I loved the argument related to the cat!

In The Nanny, a young couple discover who is watching over their baby at night. The Scratch Card left me with a lump in my throat at the generosity of others, and The Night Shift made me appreciate the special love pets have for their owners and the kindness of those who appreciate that bond.

These stories are heartwarming and touching, with scattered poetry further enriching the sections. A lovely collection and a quick read, the stories will lodge in your heart and linger.

5 STARS
AMAZON LINK
Genre: Two-Hour Short Reads > Short Stories and Poetry

________________________________________________________________________________

close up illustration of black cat, being held , paw around person's shoulder

P.S. I Love You More Than Tuna
by Sarah Chauncey


Beautifully illustrated and written, this short picture book will touch the heart of any cat lover, but it is geared toward those grieving the loss of a feline companion. I’ve lost several over the years, and thus felt compelled to pick this up even though my current rescue kitty is healthy and well.

P.S., I Love You More Than Tuna clearly depicts how kittens and cats enrich our lives, cover our hearts with paw prints, and never let go. It portrays all the joy, whimsy, and beautiful moments of sharing life with our special companions. I was in tears by the time I reached the final pages.

I am so glad I purchased this book, and can’t recommend it highly enough. I know I will go through the pages over and over again. It makes me cherish my cat, Raven, even more. For anyone who has ever loved and lost a cat, this book is a must!

Note: I bought the hardback copy. The illustrations are a treasure, and I was worried how they’d show on a Kindle. Considering the hardcopy isn’t even a dollar more, the decision was a no-brainer. 🙂

5 STARS
AMAZON LINK
Genre: Pet Loss Grief

________________________________________________________________________________

Thanks for joining me for another round of Tuesday Book Reviews. Just another week or two of playing catch-up with my reviews, and I can actually start sharing them as I finish the books.

I hope something today has caught your eye and is a candidate for your TBR. Thanks to all of these excellent authors for keeping me entertained. As always, I wish everyone happy reading!

Book Review Tuesday: The Prince’s Man, The Prince’s Son #epicfantasy #fantasyromance @DeborahJay2

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

Happy Book Review Tuesday. I hope the weather is tolerable in your part of the world. February has been most unkind to the northeast, bringing non-stop snow, snow squalls, and freezing rain and sleet. Needless to say I’ve hunkered down indoors whenever possible–a great time for reading. Today I have two novels in a wonderful fantasy series to share. As the log line for these books say . . . “Think James Bond meets Lord of the Rings.”

________________________________________________________________________________

Book cover for The Prince's Man shows image of long-haired handsome young man in cloak on horseback

The Prince’s Man
Five Kingdom’s Book 1
by Deborah Jay

One of the best fantasy novels I have read in ages, The Prince’s Man combines court intrigue, nefarious plots, and dazzling realms. Rustam (Rusty) Chalice is a debonair dance master who lives a double life as a spy in the service of his prince, while also frequenting the beds of highborn ladies.

His life takes a turn when he is forced to team with Dart, the court’s royal assassin—a woman—with the goal of transporting a sickly elf across hostile, mountainous territory. Through the arduous journey, all three characters undergo brutal transformations and evolve as they are tested time and again, forced to rely on one another. At the same time, threats to the throne involve a traitorous noble, an illegitimate heir, and a diabolical torturer. There are layers upon layers of plot, all woven neatly together for a satisfying conclusion in this first book of what promises to be a stellar series.

I was smitten with all three of the lead characters, especially Rustam who undergoes the most compelling transformation of all. You can’t read this book and not be caught up in the lives of Jay’s rakish spy, Risada, Elwaes, and so many others. Even the secondary characters are fleshed out and vibrantly written. We meet so many along the journey, yet each leaves a distinctive mark.

The writing is exquisite, layered with beautifully detailed descriptions of enthralling realms, fantastical creatures, and breathless adventure. Every bit as riveting are the cloak-and-dagger machinations of several royal houses and the cruel manipulations of power-hungry men who seek the throne. From the moment I opened the first pages, I was sucked into the author’s expertly crafted world of intrigue and danger. A truly engaging story. Although book one delivers a wrap to the story as presented, I look forward to continuing for the full scope in books two and three. Highly recommended!

5 Stars

AMAZON LINK
Genre: Epic Fantasy > Fantasy Adventure > Fantasy Romance

________________________________________________________________________________

The Prince’s Son
Five Kingdoms Book 2
by Deborah Jay

Book cover for The Prince's Son shows image of long-haired handsome young man in cloak on horseback

The second book in a series, The Prince’s Son picks up where the first book left off. Rustam Chalice is once again in the thick of things as he leads a bridal caravan delivering the older of twins to her intended. Nessa, the younger twin, joins her sister for the journey, along with their maid and friend, Enya. What starts off as a simple journey soon twists into nightmarish proportions, especially for the girls when they are abducted by a vile clan chief.

As in the first novel, I was enthralled by the deftness of the author’s writing, her ability to weave scenes that kept me on pins and needles, and a plot that leaves the reader eagerly flipping the pages.

Whether Jay is writing a beautiful descriptive passage or one rife with danger and raw brutality, her talent places the reader in the heart of the scene. She did an excellent job of wringing emotion from me. I alternately cheered, recoiled, wept, and felt the same broken, joyous, or determined fortitude of the characters. Some are truly abhorrent, and the author didn’t shy from showing that side of them. Others, heroic, complex, resilient.

The relationship between Rustam and Lady Risada will always be the heart of the story for me, but there are layers upon layers of plot threads in this deftly built world. There are several surprises in store, plus a wonderful “comeuppance” for one of the more loathsome characters. I’m looking forward to continuing the journey in book three!

5 Stars

AMAZON LINK
Genre: Epic Fantasy > Fantasy Adventure > Fantasy Romance

________________________________________________________________________________

Aren’t the covers for these novels positively gorgeous? I’m thoroughly smitten with Rustam and Lady Risada and look forward to reading more of their story in book three. Rumor has it Deborah has a fourth (and final?) novel in the works for this series. I’ll be grabbing it on pre-order as soon as it’s available. Book three, The Prince’s Protege is already waiting on my Kindle.

Thanks for joining me for another Book Review Tuesday. Wherever you are, stay warm, and happy reading!