Book Reviews by Mae Clair: The Perfect House by R.P. Bolton, Kittens and Kisses at the Cat Cafe by Kris Bock @RachintheFax @Kris_Bock #fictionreviews #bookish

Striped kitten lying on open book, eyeglasses resting on pages. Book and kitten on white blanket

Today I’m sharing two books I read toward the end of 2021 (yes, I’m still catching up). These are on opposite ends of the fiction spectrum, but both deserve a splash in the spotlight for keeping me entertained and flipping pages!


THE PERFECT HOUSE
by R.P. Bolton

Book cover with key on key ring with a house-shaped fob

Ellie and Tom move into what they believe will be the house of their dreams. It’s in a great neighborhood and the price can’t be beat. Sure, the property requires fixing up and the garden is overgrown, but as new parents of a beautiful baby girl, it’s the perfect place for them to raise Trinity and be a family. If only Tom’s job as a police officer weren’t so demanding, often leaving Ellie in isolation with the baby in an empty house. It isn’t long before Ellie learns the property has a history, one that has made it a pariah in the neighborhood.

Ellie starts experiencing strange happenings, hearing things and seeing things, all instances that escape Tom’s notice. Then she begins sleepwalking and begins to question her sanity—especially given she’s never made peace with a tragic incident in her past that left her suffering from PTSD ten years ago.

The book shifts chapters between “Then” and “Now” gradually unfolding the history of the house and the incident from Ellie’s past. If you enjoy a mystery with supernatural elements, this book delivers. It’s easy to read, moves at a fast clip and ties everything together neatly at the end. Ellie and Tom are both good characters and the history of 6 Moss Lane (the house they bought) makes for interesting backstory.

There were times I grew frustrated with Ellie for not speaking up, and some of the “happenings” felt repetitious after a time, but the mystery kept me flipping pages and reading late. An intriguing supernatural mystery.

AMAZON LINK


KITTENS AND KISSES AT THE CAT CAFE
by Kris Bock
#2 Furrever Friends

As someone who has always loved cats and kittens, I was drawn to this book the moment I saw it. Single mother, Marley, is a baker at a cat café—a coffee shop/eatery/bakery that also has a set-up allowing patrons to mingle with cats which are awaiting adoption (real cat cafes exist in a number of cities though I have never had the good fortune to visit one).

One morning, someone leaves a box with five, week-old kittens on the doorstep. Adam, who has carried a flame for Marley since his tween years, when he knew her as the older sister of his best friend, volunteers to take the kittens to the vet. When all is said and done, Adam becomes their caregiver. He recruits Marley, her nine-year-old son, Brian, and other friends to help him in nurturing the kittens. In the process, Adam finds opportunities to reveal his feelings to Marley, and she begins to see him in a new light.

Naturally, there are complications, as the path to true love is never smooth, but the reader knows an HEA awaits at the end. This is a sweet romance in which the kittens have almost as much page time as the characters. There are several secondary threads, involving a restaurant reviewer, a singing contest, and Adam’s passion for writing. The way in which Marley finally reveals her feelings to Adam is flirty and clever, guaranteed to leave the reader with a smile.

This is the second book in a series in which characters cross over, but each story is complete. I had no problem being grounded in this book despite not having read the first book. After finishing it, I immediately bought three more. I could do no less as someone who loves books and cats—a match made in Heaven!

AMAZON LINK

Book Reviews by Mae Clair: Pour it On by Staci Troilo, Jagged Feathers by Jan Sikes @stacitroilo @jansikes3 #romance

Striped kitten lying on open book, eyeglasses resting on pages. Book and kitten on white blanket

Happy post Hump Day! To off set your mid-week winter blahs (for those of you in the northern hemisphere), I have two romantic reads sure to perk you up. If you’re in the southern hemisphere, enjoying sunshine and warmth, these are perfect companions to take to the beach or pool. Both are new releases and both were penned by Story Empire colleagues. How cool is that? Naturally, I am super excited to share!

cover for Pour it On, by Staci Troilo shows silhouette of couple in foreground, wine glass in back ground

POUR IT ON
Keystone Couples #2
by Staci Troilo


One of my favorite types of stories are those built around misunderstandings, especially when it involves mistaken identity. Staci Troilo has penned a gem that dishes up—an appropriate pun for a tale centered in a restaurant—generous servings of humor and romance.

Restaurant owner, Romy Chandler, has lost her sommelier right before a huge meet-and-greet, and I do mean RIGHT before. Plus, Valentine’s Day is lingering around the corner. Rick Santucci is a vintner who needs to get his wine into the right establishments to grow his winery. Do you sense the stars aligning?

That’s all well and good, but Troilo, who has a deft touch with couples’ romance, isn’t about to let things proceed smoothly. I don’t want to give away spoilers, but let’s just say this short tale will warm your heart while tickling your funny bone. The dialogue is fast and flirty, the scenes stacking like dominos that tumble into a brilliant HEA ending.

Grab a glass of your favorite pinot or merlot, settle into a comfy seat, then Pour it On with this enchanting story that will leave you laughing on the sidelines and rooting for the characters. Troilo is a master of her craft who always delivers a polished tale. I can’t wait for the next Keystone Couples novella!

AMAZON LINK


JAGGED FEATHERS
The White Rune Series #2
By Jan Sikes

Book cover for Jagged Feathers by Jan Sikes shows a dream catcher with feathers, two large blue feathers in the center

Vann Noble is an ex-solider, suffering from PTSD, living off the grid in an isolated cabin. His companion is a stray dog nearly as damaged as he is, but with the same stalwart and loyal heart as Vann’s.

When Vann crosses paths with Nakina Bird—a woman clearly fleeing a dangerous situation—he’s determined to help her. Soon both are on the run, fleeing gunmen bent on retrieving a mysterious package Nakina was given by her former boss.

What stands out in this slick romance most is the time the author invested in her characters. It’s wonderful seeing how Vann and Nakina, both damaged in their own way, find themselves drawing closer together. Nakina also has a psychic gift and is tuned into the metaphysical. Symbols and signs are deftly woven into the plot, including a white rune stone that appeared in Ghostly Interference, book one in this series.

I liked seeing familiar characters return and meeting new ones. Champion, Vann’s dog, stole my heart with his devotion to Nakina. Most of all, the message of love over adversity and the commitment of two souls joining together shines through. The HEA is well-deserved and left me with a warm smile. I’m already looking forward to Colt’s story in the final book of the series. If you love romance woven with suspense and characters who will have you cheering, Jagged Feathers is an ideal read. Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention I love how the author wove the title into the story. A thoroughly enjoyable and romantic read.

AMAZON LINK

Book Reviews by Mae Clair: The Hay Bale, Sam, a Shaggy Dog Story, The Thing About Kevin @PriscillaBettis @sgc58 @BeemWeeks

Striped kitten lying on open book, eyeglasses resting on pages. Book and kitten on white blanket

Happy Groundhog Day! In Pennsylvania, where renowned weather forecaster, Punxsutawney Phil resides, temperatures have been frigid and winter has overstayed its welcome. I know those to the north of us (recently clobbered by Winter Storm Kenan, a nasty nor’easter) must be especially sick of the chilly/snowy/windy/icy season.

I just saw Phil has seen his shadow, predicting six more weeks of winter. May I just say: “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

Sigh.

On the plus side, if you are stuck inside due to winter’s wrath (or even if you’re not), I have three short reads certain to keep you entertained. My reviews are below, but be sure to click the Amazon links to read the blurbs. Eventually, when I catch up on reviews, I’ll start sharing blurbs again. In the meantime, may I recommend . . .


Book cover for The Hay Bale by Priscilla Bettis shows close up of hay bale in farm field

THE HAY BALE
by Priscilla Bettis

Although this is a short read, it packs a punch. Compelling, descriptive, and unusual, it sucks the reader in from page one and doesn’t let go until the unsettling and unexpected climax. Microbiologist Claire is suffering after failing to qualify as an adoptive parent, and the desertion of her husband, when she takes a sabbatical to a backwoods rural town. She moves into an old manor home called “Smallclaw” (cue eerie music) and soon finds herself drawn into a bizarre agriculture celebration with the local community.

This is not a work of gory horror, but rather a story that creeps and slithers like a snake, eliciting goose bumps and building suspense with each scene. The author makes excellent use of imagery to convey broader ideas throughout, and the conclusion is one that sticks with the reader. Creepy and visual, I loved every moment of this peculiar gem.

AMAZON LINK


Book cover for Sam, A Shaggy Dog Story by Sally Cronin shows close up of adorable collie

SAM, A SHAGGY DOG STORY
by Sally Cronin

Just look at that face! Seriously, who could resist?

This is a fun, heart-warming book that tells the story of Sam—the author’s collie—from the time he is a puppy through adult life. What makes the tale especially unique is the delivery. The book is told entirely from Sam’s POV. We learn about his early life after adoption, including his friendship with Henri, a feral cat who becomes a precious friend ultimately responsible for teaching Sam to speak “cat.” Sam also has two young kittens who become special friends during their short life span (that part broke my heart).

Sam shares how he learns to “speak” a few human words, about his favorite treats, trips to the vet, adventures on walks and even relocating to a different country. For anyone who loves animals, this is an enchanting story that leaves the reader with a feel-good glow. The author clearly loves her canine companion, an attachment that shines through in each page of this winning story. Photographs of Sam from puppy to adult collie are sprinkled throughout. He is such a beautiful dog!

AMAZON LINK


Book cover for The Thing About Kevin by Beem Weeks shows three old photograph snapshots of family members on wooded background

THE THING ABOUT KEVIN
by Beem Weeks

What an amazing read!

It takes talent to pack fully fleshed out characters, tight backstory, and a masterful plot into a short tale. Beem Weeks has done just that in The Thing About Kevin, the story of Jacob, a man reconnecting with his past and his family when he returns home for his father’s funeral. His older brother Kevin is missing from the gathering, but Kevin has been estranged from the family for years. There’s as much mystery and speculation wrapped up in Kevin as there is about Jacob’s father and his rumored mob connections.

I’ve read Beem Weeks before, so I knew going into this book it would offer polished writing, a compelling plot, and believable dialogue. What I didn’t expect was to be picking my jaw up off the floor at the ending. This is a story that builds at a comfortable pace, meandering through Jacob’s reminiscing, and his connections to the people from his past, then drops a bomb that leaves you feeling like you’ve been shoved from a cliff. Trust me—that’s a good thing. A brilliant gem that deserves a standing ovation. Don’t miss out on this amazing read!

AMAZON LINK


That’s it from me for today, but I hope some of my reviews have sparked your interest. Thanks to all three of these authors for keeping me entertained during the cold, brisk days of winter. There’s nothing like a good story to hold the chill at bay!

Book Reviews by Mae Clair: The Body in the Buick, The Wreck of the Lanternfish, Searching for Home @judypost @Virgilante @JillWeatherholt

Striped kitten lying on open book, eyeglasses resting on pages. Book and kitten on white blanket

Hello, and thanks for joining me for my first book review post of 2022. It will take me a few posts to catch up with the books and novellas I’ve read this month. Today, I’ve got three five-star reads in a variety of genres. To prevent the post from being too long, I won’t be sharing blurbs, but I encourage you to click on the Amazon link to explore the blurb and other reviews. Happy
reading!


The Body in the Buick
by Judi Lynn
Jazzi Zanders #8

This is another great entry into an entertaining series. All the main characters are back, including the growing and extended roster of secondary characters and friends. Jazzi and Ansel are expecting a baby and Ansel moves into father-to-be protective mode when it comes to Jazzi. That doesn’t stop her from becoming involved in investigating another murder when the body of mechanic turns up in a Buick. At the same time, she and Ansel, along with their house-flipping partner, Jerod, are working on converting a barn to a residential property. And, of course, there are the usual big family dinners each Sunday, complete with a cast of characters I have grown to love.

I was surprised that one murder eventually led to three which broadened the list of suspects. The reason and motive were also a surprise. As always, the writing is breezy, and Jazzi and Ansel are a fun pair. I always enjoy their interactions and the relationship they have. It was fun seeing Ansel trying to come up with the perfect baby name. I’ve spent so much time with these characters over eight books, I feel like they are family. Judi Lynn really has something special going with this series and I highly recommend it to fans of cozies.

AMAZON LINK


The Wreck of the Lanternfish
by C. S. Boyack
Lanterfish #3


I’ve followed this series from the start, so the ending is somewhat bittersweet. I’m going to miss these characters. I’ve been through numerous sea battles with them, have been swept up in warring factions, confronted by exploding monks, and a bevy of creatures from dangerous to intriguing, each and every one a fantastical invention of the author’s creative mind.

This time around core characters are split, each group engaging in separate strategies while caught up in the war between the Hollish and the Prelonians. The Palumbo’s are still running cons (this time along with the help of an older woman posing as Camilla’s mother), Serang, now a general, is in the thick of the fighting, and James Cuttler risks everything to make Lanternfish seaworthy again. The action is non-stop, with all three plot arcs merging perfectly at the end. I grew particularly fond of the Palumbo’s during this third novel, and who knew I would develop such a soft spot for a snubhorn? (If you don’t know what a snubhorn is, you’re missing out on something special—and truly bizarre).

James is a clever, fair captain who rises to circumstance and finds himself in a surprising new role by the end of the book. Of all the characters, he remains my favorite. For fans of the series, the root monsters are back. I especially loved the section when a group in search of papers “and other crap” receive names—always a fun event.

Boyack deftly mixes dollops of humor into the story, to offset the political maneuvering and battle scenes. Underneath the bigger picture, this is also a tale about relationships. Of special note, I love the father/son relationship between James and Mule and how that wraps at the end. The title sits a little heavy on my heart, but the way in which Boyack addresses what becomes of each character (even the root monsters and Serang’s Fu dogs) left me thoroughly satisfied. Wreck of the Lanternfish is a fantastic conclusion for an engaging series. Bravo to the author!

AMAZON LINK


Searching for Home
by Jill Weatherholt
Love Inspired Inspirational Romance


What a heart-warming story! I fell in love with the characters immediately.

A physical therapist, Meg has inherited a B&B and become guardian to her two nieces and nephew—triplets of her sister who took off and left her children behind. The children’s father did the same, abandoning them before his wife did.

Meg and Luke were a couple back in high school, but then he took off to find fame in the rodeo circuit, believing he had to prove himself before he could ask her to marry him.

My heart broke for these kids, especially for Tucker, who felt he was somehow responsible. Enter “Cowboy Luke” who has returned to his hometown to heal from an injury, never realizing his PT is going to be Meg.

What follows is a mix of misunderstandings, plus a beautiful path about learning to forgive, and making family where you find it. Luke is such a strong father figure, and he has a heart of gold. Meg is selfless, constantly putting the kids before herself, all the while managing a plethora of potential problems and hurt.

I read this book in one day, I was so caught up in the story. There is heartache and joy, an adorable puppy, a fun rodeo experience, a scary venture at a river, and a wonderful HEA at the end that left me with a big ‘ole sloppy grin. I’ve read several of the author’s books, but this one is my favorite to date. I especially loved the epilogue, which shared an extra glimpse into how everything wrapped up for these charming characters. A true gem!

AMAZON LINK


Have you read any of these? Hopefully, I’ve tempted you to add to your TBR yet again. Starting today, I hope to return to one review post per week. I’m glad to roll out that commitment with these three wonderful authors.

Mae Clair’s Top 10 Reads of 2021: One Through Five

smart cat sits near a stack of books on a white background

Hello, and welcome to the final half of my Top 10 Reads for 2021. If you missed books six through ten, you can find them HERE.

All of the books I’m sharing are five-star reads. Each is linked to Amazon where you can read the blurb and explore reviews. I’ve included a few brief thoughts on each. 

Fun Fact 1:
I read book two on this list in January of 2021. It held the top spot as my favorite until December when a late-in-the year-read bumped it to number two. That’s a long time to be numero uno, especially given I’d read over 100 books by then!

Fun Fact 2:
I enjoyed all of these books so much, I purchased each in hardback or trade paperback, despite having read ebook copies of most.



5. IN THE SHADOW OF JEZEBEL by Mesu Andrews
A riveting journey of faith following Jehosheba, the granddaughter of Jezebel, who has been groomed to become a high priestess of Baal. Through an arranged marriage, she weds the high priest of God’s holy temple. The story presents a mix of warring kingdoms, political maneuvering, betrayals, and the rise and fall of rulers, all the while remaining truthful to the Old Testament and historic events.

4. FALLING by T.J. Newman
A pulse-pounding thrill ride about an airline pilot forced to decide between crashing his plane full of passengers or saving his wife and children who have been taken hostage by terrorists. I can’t say enough about the frantic pace in which the last half plays out. Falling is already slated for the big screen.

3. CHASING THE BOGEYMAN by Richard Chizmar
It’s the summer of 1988 and a serial killer haunts a small town. I can be squeamish about books with serial killers, but there is nothing overly graphic in this novel. Chills, goose bumps, suspense, and tension abound. In Chizmer’s skillful hands, the book becomes mystery, thriller, and a haunting tale of small-town life that lingers long after finishing. 

2. LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND by Rumaan Alam
Most reviewers either loved or hated this book with little room for middle ground. It’s a curious, sometimes annoying, but fully engrossing story about two couples (one white, one black, strangers to each other) who end up stranded together after an unknown event has knocked out phones, internet, and power. All the reader knows is that something terrible has happened. Something big. By turns eerie, mesmerizing, and crass, the atmosphere is what makes this book so outstanding—and disturbing.

MY TOP PICK FOR 2021 WITH FULL REVIEW

ISAIAH’S DAUGHTER
by Mesu Andrews

When it comes to historical novels, there are two time periods I love best—Victorian England and Old Testament times.

Starting in mid-November through the end of 2021, I devoured fourteen novels based on the lives of people who populated the Old Testament. Of them all, Isaiah’s Daughter moved me enough to claim top honors as my favorite read of the year. Maybe it’s because I’m so drawn to the story of King Hezekiah.

From his frightening childhood, as son to a father/king who worshiped idols and sacrificed children to the pagan god Molek by tossing them into fire, to the difficulties he faced during his own reign—especially against the Assyrian army—Hezekiah placed his faith in God for deliverance. At his side, supporting him with steadfast love, his wife, Hephzibah, was every bit as faithful. 

The story of Isaiah’s Daughter follows both from the time they are children—in a world of constant upheaval and danger—to their eventual marriage and adult years. The challenges each faces is staggering. The Bible tells us that because of his great faith, Hezekiah “was successful in whatever he undertook” and that “there was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him.”

What astounds me most is the way in which the author has brought these people to life in a very personal sense. There is nothing stuffy, stilted, or draggy about this book. Both “Hezi” and “Zibah” are given vibrant life, along with many other historical figures and several fictional characters. The insight to Isaiah’s life as a prophet is particularly compelling, especially when balanced against his home life as a husband and father. The result is mesmerizing while delivering a message about the everyday struggles of faith we face. 

Certain parts had me as tense as a bowstring and I couldn’t read fast enough. Others made me laugh or warmed my heart to overflowing, and still others left me saddened by circumstance. Most of all, I was inspired and uplifted. I found it hard to put this book down and can’t recommend it highly enough. I would give it ten stars if I could! 


And that wraps up my top picks for 2021. I’m looking forward to discovering many new stories in the coming year and passing along my reviews. The great thing about books is the extraordinary variety which helps all of us find our own “goodreads.” I hope you’ve enjoyed exploring some of mine.

Mae Clair’s Top 10 Reads of 2021: Six Through Ten

Soft cuddly tabby cat lying in its owner's lap enjoying and purring while the owner is reading a book

Hello! It’s time to select my Top 10 reads from last year. If you’re someone who loves to devour books, you know how dreadfully hard this is. In my case, the first five were easy, but six through ten were tougher to decide. I was going to list all ten books in a single post, but they’re all so good I decided to spotlight them in two separate posts.

Each book is linked to Amazon where you can read the blurb and explore reviews. I gave every one of these fives stars and have included a few thoughts on each. Before I get to the results, I have a few cool stats to share.

I read 115 books in 2021. My original goal for the Goodreads challenge was 60, so I almost doubled that. Consider me jazzed. Or chuffed (shout-out to Fraggle and Harmony!)

The shortest book was 11 pages, the longest 530, with the average 245 pages.

January and July were my two top reading months with 12 books each. September saw the fewest with six.

Here’s a look, counting down from number six through ten, on my top list!

10. THE PERFECT GUESTS by Emma Rous
A twisty mystery that involves three different time periods, all of which converge for a spectacular finish. The present timeline plays off the board game Clue with guests gathering in an old mansion as test-run for a new business that hosts murder mystery parties.

9. THE GUEST LIST by Lucy Foley
An isolated location, treacherous weather, and a group of characters with plenty of skeletons rattling in proverbial closets. 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.

8. BLOODLESS by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Combining the mystery of D. B. Cooper with a series of odd murders in which the victims are drained of blood? Only Preston & Child could pull off a plot like that, and they do it exceptionally well in this latest outing for FBI Special Agent Aloysius X. L. Pendergast (whose cases always flirt with the supernatural or bizarre). I’m a diehard fan!!

7. SURVIVE THE NIGHT by Riley Sager
Cat-and-mouse suspense combines with well-plotted fiction in this slick, edge-of-your seat thrill ride. The operational word here is TENSION—with a capital T. It wasn’t until the end when everything falls into place that I realized how deftly I’d been played.

6. HOME BEFORE DARK by Riley Sager
A good old-fashioned ghost story. No gore or horror, just plenty of eerie happenings that deliver goose bumps, shivers and chills. Numerous twists and turns near the end had me trying to pick up my jaw from the floor. This is mind-blowing storytelling at its best, especially if you are a fan of ghost stories that twist like a corkscrew and prickle your skin. 


I’d love to hear if you’ve read any of these and what your thoughts are. Tomorrow, I’ll be counting down books five through one, but in the meantime, let’s chat about these titles. Do any of them appeal to you?

Book Reviews by Mae Clair: Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney #domensticthriller

Striped kitten lying on open book, eyeglasses resting on pages. Book and kitten on white blanket

This book was on my NetGalley radar, but despite submitting a request, I wasn’t approved for an ARC. The blurb sucked me in the first time I read it, so it was a no brainer to purchase the book when I didn’t get approved for an ARC. Hey, it happens. Rejection aside, I’m thoroughly jazzed I followed through on this one. Below is my five-star review.

BOOK BLURB:

Things have been wrong with Mr and Mrs Wright for a long time. When Adam and Amelia win a weekend away to Scotland, it might be just what their marriage needs. Self-confessed workaholic and screenwriter Adam Wright has lived with face blindness his whole life. He can’t recognize friends or family, or even his own wife.  

Every anniversary the couple exchange traditional gifts–paper, cotton, pottery, tin–and each year Adam’s wife writes him a letter that she never lets him read. Until now. They both know this weekend will make or break their marriage, but they didn’t randomly win this trip. One of them is lying, and someone doesn’t want them to live happily ever after.

Ten years of marriage. Ten years of secrets. And an anniversary they will never forget.

Rock Paper Scissors is the latest exciting domestic thriller from the queen of the killer twist, New York Times bestselling author Alice Feeney.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

What a twisty, atmospheric, and haunting read! Amelia and Adam are a married couple who take a trip to a converted old chapel in a remote area of Scotland. Right from the start, the reader knows their marriage is in trouble, hanging by a thread. Adam is a workaholic screenwriter who suffers from facial blindness—he can’t see or remember people’s faces, including that of his wife. I won’t reiterate the rest of the blurb but will say this book twists and turns in ways I never saw coming. The chapel is wonderfully eerie with an old supernatural history, locked doors, a creepy wine cellar, unheated rooms, and a crumbling bell tower. The remote location is made even more ominous for its winter setting and raging snowstorm.

Chapters alternate between Amelia and Adam, and another woman, Robin, a recluse in a small cottage nearby. There are also letters that Adam’s wife writes to him every year on their anniversary, and a unique spin on the game of rock, paper, scissors. This is one of those books where it’s difficult to say much without giving away spoilers. I will say that I was mesmerized from start to finish, gobsmacked by the twists, and enamored of the creepy, snowbound setting. I read late into the night to finish it, then found it disturbing, haunting, and utterly satisfying. What a winner!

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

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

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

BOOK BLURB:

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

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

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

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

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

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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

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

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

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

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

BOOK BLURB:

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

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

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

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

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

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

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

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

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

Book Reviews by Mae Clair: The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling #gothicfiction #historicalfantasy

Striped kitten lying on open book, eyeglasses resting on pages. Book and kitten on white blanket

Happy hump day! Today, I have a difficult three-star review to share. I often think these are the hardest to write, because the book had good points and those that came up short. Half of this story held me mesmerized. The other half… not so much. See what you think.

BOOK BLURB:

From the Bram Stoker-nominated author of The Luminous Dead comes a gothic fantasy horror–The Death of Jane Lawrence.

“Intense and amazing! It’s like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell meets Mexican Gothic meets Crimson Peak.” —BookRiot

Practical, unassuming Jane Shoringfield has done the calculations, and decided that the most secure path forward is this: a husband, in a marriage of convenience, who will allow her to remain independent and occupied with meaningful work. Her first choice, the dashing but reclusive doctor Augustine Lawrence, agrees to her proposal with only one condition: that she must never visit Lindridge Hall, his crumbling family manor outside of town. 

Yet on their wedding night, an accident strands her at his door in a pitch-black rainstorm, and she finds him changed. Gone is the bold, courageous surgeon, and in his place is a terrified, paranoid man—one who cannot tell reality from nightmare, and fears Jane is an apparition, come to haunt him. By morning, Augustine is himself again, but Jane knows something is deeply wrong at Lindridge Hall, and with the man she has so hastily bound her safety to. 

Set in a dark-mirror version of post-war England, Caitlin Starling crafts a new kind of gothic horror from the bones of the beloved canon. This Crimson Peak-inspired story assembles, then upends, every expectation set in place by Shirley Jackson and Rebecca, and will leave readers shaken, desperate to begin again as soon as they are finished.

“Don’t read this one alone at night; Caitlin Starling has done it again. Unsettling, atmospheric, and downright brutal at times, The Death of Jane Lawrence will continue to haunt you long after you leave Lindridge Hall…if the house lets you leave, that is.” —Genevieve Gornichec, author of The Witch’s Heart

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for my ARC.

I loved the first quarter of this book. Jane is an intelligent, sensible woman who proposes a marriage of convenience to Dr. Augustine Lawrence. Although he declines at first, the two soon come to a business arrangement of how the marriage will be conducted. He has certain ground rules involving his family estate, Lindridge Hall, and Jane agrees to his terms.

What starts out as a beautifully Gothic and atmospheric read morphs into a convoluted plot of dark spirits, superstition, and ritual magic.

All of those would normally result in a stellar read for me, but the execution and underlying threads fizzled. On the plus side, the characters of Jane and Augustine are well developed and the awkwardness of their relationship, especially at the beginning, held me enthralled.

Secrets abound, especially as related to Lindridge Hall, a locked cellar door, rituals, and Augustine’s past. The writing is descriptive and dense, beautiful language that needs to be savored. After Jane is introduced to Augustine’s colleagues, who form a magical cult, the plot gets messy.

There are moments of surgical gore, plenty of metaphysical posturing, and a chapter near the end that borders on the abstract. The final conclusion was fantastic, but the path to reach that point was muddled and overly long. I’m sure many readers will enjoy this book for its dark imagery, odd alternate reality, and Gothic feel. This is one that comes down to a matter of preference.

Book Review Tuesday: If the Light Escapes by Brenda Marie Smith #dystopian #postapocalyptic

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

Last week it was my pleasure to host Brenda Marie Smith, the author of If the Light Escapes, with a riveting look at her life living off the grid in a hippie commune. If you missed that post, you can find it HERE. After reading it, you’ll understand why she has the perfect background to write a post apocalyptic novel. Today, I’m pleased to present my five star review. On a side note, I was honored to be asked to provide a cover blurb for the book. Isn’t that cover striking?

BOOK BLURB:

“Gritty and powerful… takes the reader on an emotionally charged and adrenaline-fueled journey that lingers long after the last page is read.”
—Mae Clair, author of the Point Pleasant series and the Hode’s Hill series

The standalone sequel to IF DARKNESS TAKES US

A solar electromagnetic pulse has fried the US grid. Now, northern lights are in Texas—three thousand miles farther south than where they belong. The universe won’t stop screwing with eighteen-year-old Keno Simms. All that’s left for him and his broken family is farming their Austin subdivision, trying to eke out a living on poor soil in the scorching heat. Keno’s one solace is his love for Alma, who has her own secret sorrows. When he gets her pregnant, he vows to keep her alive no matter what. Yet armed marauders and nature itself collude against him, forcing him to make choices that rip at his conscience. If the Light Escapes is post-apocalyptic science fiction set in a near-future reality, a coming-of-age story told in the voice of a heroic teen who’s forced into manhood too soon.

“Brenda Marie Smith stuns a gain with the breathtaking sequel to her debut. With her skill for detail and character, Smith captivates us with Keno’s kindness and humanity while also exploring the capacity for violence that lurks within all of us.”
—Aden Polydoros, author of THE CITY BEAUTIFUL

“IF THE LIGHT ESCAPES is a rich coming-of-age story about the legacy of family, infused with hopefulness and humanity.”
—Laura Creedle, author of THE LOVE LETTERS OF ABELARD AND LILY

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Picking up where book one left off, If the Light Escapes is a powerful and emotional read. With Bea, the central character from book one no longer able to lead her family and their neighborhood, Keno, her eighteen-year-old grandson finds himself shouldering most of the burden. Time has passed since the sun sent an enormous pulsar flare to Earth, knocking out power and throwing humanity back decades, if not centuries. Creature comforts are gone, medicine comes down to home remedies, food amounts to what can be grown or hunted, and the greatest danger comes from human predators.

This is not a typical apocalyptic read. The story takes place in a single small neighborhood and close vicinity. The author tells a gritty and emotional tale, brutal yet gilded with hope. The emotions the characters experience are heart-wrenching. Particularly Keno who’s forced to make tough decisions, including judgements about members of his own family. What he faces and experiences forever change boy to man.

The last half of the book left me wrung out, both emotionally, and from the adrenaline-fueled closing. The story is grim in many ways, but it speaks to the souls of the characters. A break-down, and at the same time, a reinforcement of humanity. There is no gloss on how people react. When called for, the author shows us all the ugliness inherent with the need to protect loved ones. Also of note are the descriptions. From living in a time when you shower in the rain, plant, tend gardens and ration supplies, the experiences are brought to life with vivid and forceful prose.

A thoroughly engaging novel that will make you appreciate the many comforts of home—including being able to curl up with your Kindle to read this compelling story!

Trigger warnings: Language