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

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


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

THE RESORT
by M.J. Hardy

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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

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

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

AMAZON LINK

Book cover shows unground swimming pool overlooking tropical ocean

THE SAFE PLACE
by Anna Downes

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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

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

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

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

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

AMAZON LINK

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

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

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


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

JAZZ BABY
by Beem Weeks

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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

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

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

AMAZON LINK

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

OUTSIDE
by Ragnar Jonasson

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Thank you to NetGalley and Minotaur Books for this ARC.

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

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

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

Book Reviews by Mae Clair: Carolina Moonset by Matt Goldman #mystery #suspense #southernfiction

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Happy Hump Day! For today’s book review, I must give a shout-out to Lady Tessa of Tessa Talks Books who first alerted me to this fantastic family drama and mystery. Carolina Moonset is definitely a winner!


Book cover shows old antebellum mansion on edge of marsh at twilight

CAROLINA MOONSET
by Matt Goldman

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Thank you to Net Galley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge for providing an ARC.

From the title, to the book cover, to the blurb, I couldn’t wait to disappear into the pages of this novel. I was so engrossed, I read 68% in one sitting, then finished it the next day, frustrated sleep had intervened.

Joey Green visits his parents in the small South Carolina town where his father grew up, focused on spending time with his dad, Marshall, a beloved local physician who is sinking into dementia. When Marshall starts talking about the past, holding conversations with people who aren’t there, Joey and his mother chalk his behavior up to a deteriorating mind. But it soon becomes apparent there are secrets hidden in his reminiscing, puzzle pieces that bind the past to the present. When one of the town’s most influential citizens is murdered, suspicions fall on Marshall, but Joey knows his father is innocent. Finding out who is responsible opens a door on an old tragedy and unresolved circumstances.

While I found the mystery from the past to be the more intriguing of the two, I was completely surprised by the identity of the killer in the present. Although this is more of a quiet story, it moves at a pace that makes it impossible to set the book down. The descriptions are phenomenal, the richly detailed setting easily transporting the reader to a place of salt marshes, shrimp boats, and antebellum homes.

Main and secondary characters are equally well-developed, and no one gets short shrift (I developed such a soft spot for Bubba). There is a subplot with a low-key romance, but it enhances rather than detracts from the overall tale. Beautifully written, this is a story that touches on relationships, sacrifice, heartache, and love. I thought the ending was perfect, and would recommend this to anyone who likes an intelligent and compelling mystery with memorable characters.

RELEASE DATE IS MAY 31, 2022
PRE-ORDER FROM AMAZON OR YOUR FAVORITE BOOK VENDOR

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

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


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

THE MARRIAGE SECRET
By Carey Baldwin

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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

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

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

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

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

AMAZON LINK


HUES OF HOPE: SELECTED POETRY
by Balroop Singh

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AMAZON LINK

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

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


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

MEANS TO DECEIVE
BY ALEX CRAIGIE

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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

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

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

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

AMAZON LINK

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

BETWEEN THE VINES
Keystone Couples #3
BY STACI TROILO

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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

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

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

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

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

AMAZON LINK

Book Reviews by Mae Clair: Diablo Mesa by Preston & Child, The Club by Ellery Lloyd

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Welcome to my book reviews for the week. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may have noticed I cut book reviews back from two days a week to one day with the launch of 2022. As a result, most times I’ll be featuring more than one book with each post. For that reason, I’ll be skipping blurbs, but you can always find them by following the Amazon links.

Today, I have two books to share—both mysteries, but with very different slants. Let’s get started!


Book cover for Diablo Mesa features watermark of skull over desert background, silhouette of woman in the "O" in "Diablo"

DIABLO MESA
BY PRESTON AND CHILD

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book started a little slow, but kicked in around the 30% mark and just kept getting better and better. Combining the Roswell Incident, the H-bomb, Cold War spies, UAPs, and a secret military organization, it’s a riveting adventure full of pulse-pounding moments and far-flung conspiracies.

Although this is the third Nora Kelly/Corrie Swanson adventure, you don’t need to be familiar with the previous books. Archaeologist Nora is recruited by an eccentric billionaire to excavate a dig at Roswell. When two bodies are unearthed, Corrie is called in from the FBI. This is when the train really starts rolling.

I loved the introduction of new character, adventurer/billionaire Lucas Tappan, and it was great to see the return of fast-draw sheriff, Homer Watts. Nora’s brother, Skip, gets several moments to shine, and who can resist having Mitty, the dog, tag along?

There’s plenty of danger, dollops of sci-fi, intrigue, duplicity, bad guys to “boo,” and two clever heroines to cheer for. I love the fact that neither Nora nor Corrie are written as “kick-butt” characters, but rather as smart, professional women willing to take risks.

Break out the popcorn and enjoy the ride. I can’t wait to see where this series heads next!

AMAZON LINK


Book cover for The Club shows part of pool underlit from below at night, silhouette of trees in background against dusky sky, book title in neon pink letters

THE CLUB
BY ELLERY LLOYD

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Thank you to NetGalley and Harper for an ARC of this book.

This is an unusual story with a bizarre assortment of characters which is what makes it so entertaining. Island Home is an exclusive resort for celebrities and A-Listers. Ultra-posh where every whim is catered to and overseen by head honcho Ned, his brother Adam, Ned’s PA, Nikki, and Annie, who handles memberships. The guests are ridiculously self-centered, pampered, egotistical, all with baggage and hidden secrets and issues. The same goes for those who run the show.

When Ned sets up a blackmail scheme, centered around several of his guests’ worst secrets, the situation implodes in ugly ways. Till all is said and done, there isn’t just one body that turns up, but several.

Told from multiple third person POVs, the book also uses clips from an article about what took place on the island. There is plenty of glitz, and the twists and turns in the plot are nicely executed. It’s a little slow to get off the ground, but worth sticking with, especially when everything starts to slot into place.

If I have one quibble the book is on the wordy side. I’m a reader who loves description, but I often felt like I was wading through passages of lengthy prose, many that seemed repetitious of what came before. That aside, I would recommend The Club to those who like locked room mysteries with an eclectic assortment of characters.

AMAZON LINK


In closing, I know readers are often hesitant to purchase a high-end Kindle book, especially if they’ve never tried the author before. I have certain auto-buy authors (like Preston & Child) I don’t mind shelling out $$$ for, but others will give me pause. In that case, I check LIBBY and will borrow the title from my local library using Amazon to read on my Kindle.

If you’re unfamiliar with Libby (a free service), see my post on Story Empire regarding how it works. You can find it HERE. Happy reading!

International Day of Awesomeness: Celebrating Sally Cronin @sgc58

A big company of colorful cats with top hats and flowers standing on the beautiful light green background
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Today is the International Day of Awesomeness! Who wouldn’t want to celebrate something so spectacular? I can think of plenty of things I consider awesome, and plenty of people. When you hang around in the blogosphere for any length of time, you get to know others.

One of the most generous and thoroughly supportive people I’ve “met” is Sally Cronin.

Author, Sally Cronin

My Story Empire colleagues and I thought today would be the perfect opportunity to shine a well-deserved spotlight on Sally. She is an amazing individual who gives of her time selflessly, constantly sharing promo pieces which showcase others.

Her blog, Smorgasboard Blog Magazine, is filled with author spotlights, book reviews, weekly roundups, profiles and more—all in support of her fellow authors and bloggers. I seriously don’t know how she does it, but I’m thankful to have been touched by her generous spirit.

For the Story Empire group, today is all about Sally! It isn’t just the International Day of Awesomeness—it’s Sally Cronin Day! To celebrate, I’m sharing a trio of my reviews for Sally’s books. She has plenty more in her catalog, covering everything from fiction and non-fiction to short stories, and poetry. I’ve found her work to run the gamut from heartfelt to humorous, introspective to slice-of-life. Be sure to check out Sally’s work on her AMAZON PAGE, and find the book or books that speak to you.


Book cover for Flights of Fancy by Sally Cronin shows colorful butterfly winging over landscape

FLIGHTS OF FANCY
by Sally Cronin

This is an entertaining collection of short stories and one novella. It takes a strong look at relationships, some flavored with reminiscing, others firmly rooted in the here and now. Each tale offers polished writing, unique characters, and engaging plot lines.

I enjoyed the cleverness of Getting Away with Murder and Psychic Parrot, and the emotional tug of The Other Side of Heaven and Curtains. Henry’s Story was a particular favorite of mine, having met Henry and Sam in one of the author’s other works. There’s nothing like a world-wise cat to share his story.

The title tale, Flights of Fancy is deftly executed and delivers a wonderful punch. The story of a woman (now much changed) encountering two people she knew during high school, left me grinning ear to ear.

Finally, closing out the book, The Sewing Circle, is a brilliant gem. In this novella, a group of senior ladies takes it upon themselves to right a horrible wrong. You can’t help cheering for these feisty women as they use grit, determination, and a few surprises to ensure justice is meted out. A great read all around!

AMAZON LINK


SAM, A SHAGGY DOG STORY
by Sally Cronin

Seriously. Who could resist that face?

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 Henry, 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


LIFE IS LIKE A BOWL OF CHERRIES: SOMETIMES BITTER, SOMETIMES SWEET
by Sally Cronin

a bowl of cherries on cream background with single cherry setting outside of bowl

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.

AMAZON LINK


Cheers and a cyber toast with a clink of champagne glasses to Sally!
I invite you to connect with her on her

Amazon Page | Blog | Twitter | Goodreads | BookBub

Thanks for joining the Story Empire gang for our
International Day of Awesomeness shout-out to Sally!

Collage of photos of the authors from Story Empire, with blog title in center with the tag line "Exploring the World of Fiction"

Book Reviews by Mae Clair: The Reunion by Kiersten Modglin, Among the Headstones, An anthology of Gothic Horror Stories edited by Rayne Hall @RayneHall

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

Book cover for The Reunion shows standing broken wine glass over red background

THE REUNION
by Kiersten Modgllin

I’m a fan reunion books, so it was a no brainer to scoop this one up. Cait DuBois, shunned by “the Populars” in her high school, is now a celebrated novelist with an amazing husband and lovely twins. Ten years after graduation she returns to her hometown and the hotel that hosted her senior prom—the scene of a tragedy that still haunts her. Returning to Hotel Lilith means encountering the girls that made her life miserable in the past, plus reconnecting with one of her oldest friends. Not long after arriving at Hotel Lilith, she meets a woman claiming to be a fan. Anna’s presence seems to be the catalyst for a series of mysterious events that grow increasingly threatening.

The story didn’t follow the path I expected, but it held my interest and kept me flipping pages. The plot moves at a crisp pace with chapters alternating between Cait’s high school years and the present. We get a group of bitchy girls both in past and present, replete with underlying pettiness and snark. There’s also relationship angst and a dark secret Cait has harbored since the night of the prom but has never shared.

I admit being frustrated with Cait’s behavior in the last quarter of the book but without giving away spoilers the reasons are hard to address. There’s also a plot hole at the end, but it’s relatively small and doesn’t distract from the climatic scenes. If you’re looking for a quick read that plays out like a Lifetime movie, The Reunion is a good fit.

AMAZON LINK


book cover for Among the Headstones shows illustration of old tombstones in a graveyard, black cat sitting atop one stone

AMONG THE HEADSTONES
Creepy Tales from the Graveyard: Gothic and Horror Stories
Edited by Rayne Hall


This fantastic collection of short stories, centered around graveyards and burials, is beautifully atmospheric. By turns spooky, dark, and lyrical—a few even tongue-in-cheek—the tales range from classic to contemporary, bringing together a variety of voices and styles. As someone who finds cemeteries equally restful and mysterious, imbued with the echoes of those who’ve lived before, I was enthralled.

Rayne Hall has done a stellar job with presentation. The entire work is professional and polished. I especially liked how each author is given a moment to share their thoughts at the end of their specific story regarding the inspiration behind it. Overall, it’s a rare anthology when almost every single work delivers.

Although I enjoyed this collection cover to cover, the following stood out as my personal favorites: Dead Person Collection, The Story of Salome, The New Catacomb, Lucretia’s Hum, Another Oldie but Goodie, The Shortcut, and Behind Him.

Take a walk among the headstones—you won’t regret it!

AMAZON LINK

Book Reviews by Mae Clair: The Prince and the Prodigal by Jill Eileen Smith @JillEileenSmith #Biblicalfiction #OldTestamentFiction #HistoricalFiction

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

I have a number of book reviews to catch up on, but I so enjoyed my most recent read, I couldn’t resist bumping it to the top of the list. The Biblical account of Joseph’s life has always ranked among my favorite of the Old Testament (David is a close second), but strangely, there are few offerings. I pre-ordered this book the moment I saw it, and hated for it to end. One of those books where you want to reach the end, but you don’t because then the story is finished. You know what I mean, right?


Book cover for The Prince and the Prodigal shows profile of young man in Egyptian dress from shoulders up, sunset and pyramid in background

THE PRINCE AND THE PRODIGAL
BY Jill Eileen Smith


BLURB:
Joseph is the pampered favorite son of the patriarch Jacob. His older brothers, deeply resentful of his status in the family, take advantage of the chance to get rid of him, selling him to slave traders and deceiving their father about his fate. It seems like their troubles are over. But for Joseph and older brother Judah, they are just beginning.

While Joseph is accused of rape and imprisoned, Judah attempts to flee the memory of his complicity in the betrayal of his younger brother. After decades apart, the brothers will come face-to-face in a stunning role reversal that sees Joseph in a position of great power while Judah begs for mercy. Will forgiveness or vengeance win the day?

Bestselling and award-winning author Jill Eileen Smith brings her considerable research and imaginative skills to bear in this vivid retelling of one of the most popular stories found in Scripture–a story of jealousy, betrayal, and a reconciliation that only God could bring about.


Rating: 5 out of 5.

MY REVIEW:
For a long time, I’ve looked for a novel about Joseph, my favorite person from the Old Testament, but there are few to be found. I was therefore ecstatic when I learned about the release of The Prince and the Prodigal, and immediately placed it on pre-order. The book is everything I’d hoped it would be and more.

Anyone familiar with the Old Testament knows the animosity Joseph’s eleven brothers felt for him as the first son of Rachel and the favored firstborn of Jacob. Not everyone, however, may realize the role Judah played in Joseph’s being sold into slavery, or the guilt Leah’s fourth-born surely carried afterward for years. Smith uses this as the basis for his splitting off to start his own tribe.

Joseph’s story is shown side-by-side with Judah’s, revealing the tribulations and growth of both men—as Joseph goes from slave to ruler of all Egypt, second only to Pharaoh, and Judah learns to return to God only after years of strife within his own family. The story of Tamar and Judah is covered in detail (Tamar is one of only four women mentioned in the lineage of Jesus according to the Gospel of Matthew).

While Dinah’s backstory with Shechem is hinted at, the events are set before The Prince and the Prodigal takes place, but Dinah (Jacob’s only daughter) is also a POV character.

From the dusty tents of Jacob to the confinement of Pharaoh’s prison and the lavish palaces and gardens of Egypt, scenes are painted with vivid detail. Chapters are short and keep the action moving forward at a brisk but engaging pace. The people who populate the narrative (both historical and fictional) are given depth that draws the reader into the struggles they face, both spiritual and physical. I loved the way Joseph and Judah are portrayed, and as the two female POV characters, Dinah and Tamar are equally well defined.

This is a story of family. Of brotherhood, forgiveness, and redemption. Strength in the face of adversity, healing, and most of all, the belief that God is ever faithful and will deliver. Old Testament fiction is one of my favorite genres. I rank this book as a favorite, not only in the genre, but among my favorite reads of all time. I will certainly go back and read this again. A superb retelling of Joseph’s story and one I highly recommended.

PURCHASE FROM AMAZON

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!