May Book Reviews, Part 1

Hello, and welcome to another round of book reviews. I’m splitting them up this month, sharing half now and the remainder in another post at the end of the month. As always, click on the Amazon link for the book blurb or to learn more about the individual title. First up is a book I read in April but forgot to post. Oops!

Book over for Esther by Angela HuntEsther
By Angela Hunt

I love stories based on those who populate the Old Testament and found this an enjoyable read. It moved a bit slowly in some spots, but overall the story kept me riveted and flipping pages.

King Xerxes of Persia orders all young women who are comely in appearance to be brought to his court to serve as concubines. One will be chosen as his new queen. Esther, a Jewish girl is abducted and taken to the palace. Although she eventually wins the pagan king’s heart and becomes his queen, she must hide her faith for fear of reprisal. But when a man who gains the King’s ear wants to exterminate all Jews, Esther must boldly take a stand—for herself, her people, and her God.

Esther doesn’t get much coverage in the Bible, but the author did an excellent job of staying true to her story. Anything that was fictionalized fell logically into place and the historical and religious elements were brought vividly to life. I fully intend to look for more books by this author. 4 Stars!

Amazon Link
Genre: Ancient World Historical Romance


Book cover for the Moses Chronicles: Exodus by H. B. MooreaThe Moses Chronicles #3: Exodus
By H.B. Moore

This is the final book in a trilogy about Moses. Books one and two take the reader from his birth to his time as an honored son in the Egyptian court, his exile, marriage, and discovery of the burning bush on Mount Horeb. In book three, Moses returns to Egypt to confront Pharaoh with God’s order to set His people free.

I didn’t read the first two books, which could be why the story slowed for me in some places. There are references to previous events and relationships between the characters. That was all interesting to a degree, but what I was most interested in was the test of wills between Ramses and Moses, and—most especially—the many plagues the Lord sent to Egypt. When the author concentrated on those, the book soared.

Told in third-person POV, the chapters shift between the perspectives of Moses, Aaron, Miriam, and Moses’ Egyptian mother, Bithiah. I found the chapters from Moses’ POV and Bithiah’s the most riveting. And, yes, the author handled the parting of the Red Sea. This made me want to watch my DVD of The Ten Commandments again!  4.5 stars!

Amazon Link
Genre: Christian Historical Fiction > Religious Historical Fiction


Book cover for The Invited by Jennifer McMahonThe Invited
By Jennifer McMahon

Jennifer McMahon is one of my auto-buy authors, and I get excited whenever I see a new release from her. The Invited is a ghost story with threads of witchcraft and spiritualism that serves up a generous dollop of greed, tragedy, and twisted genealogy. This book creeps along—a bit slow at the beginning—as characters are introduced and an old legend gradually unfolds.

Like a ticking time bomb, the book builds to an explosive conclusion, sucking the reader deeper and deeper with each successive chapter into the grim history of a small New England town. This isn’t a hide-under-the-covers type of book, but one that delivers shivers and goose bumps, while examining the darker side of human nature.

In the early 1900s, Hattie Breckenridge was hung as a witch, her body discarded in the bog where she made her home. Enter Helen and Nate, a married couple who purchase the land where Hattie lived. In a desire to escape the bustle of suburbia, they begin constructing a home, hoping for a quiet life.

It isn’t long before odd occurrences start. Things go missing, the sound of screaming rises from the bog at night, Nate sees a mysterious white doe. As he becomes fixated on the doe, Helen delves into Hattie’s family tree, learning Hattie wasn’t the only one who met a terrible fate. With the help of an odd young girl named Olive, and a new friend, Helen is soon immersed in digging deeper into Hattie’s past, trying to discover what became of her descendants. Helen grows certain Hattie is trying to communicate with her, warning her of an ugly tragedy to come.

If you like atmospheric reads, small town settings, and things that-go-bump in the night, you’re certain to love this spooky novel. It’s all here—broken families, spirit circles, small town gossip, haunted objects—there’s even whispers of buried treasure. Brilliantly packaged and delivered as only McMahon can do, she once again proves her skill as a gifted storyteller. Now, how long until her next book? 5 Stars!

Amazon Link
Genre:  Ghost Fiction > Witch and Wizard Mysteries


Book cover for The Gate by D. L. CrossThe Gate
by D. L. Cross

In this fast-paced story, author D.L. Cross creates a melting pot of conspiracies, government coverups, and ancient civilizations. Professor Landon Thorne is an expert on alien theories. Unfortunately, most of his speculations have left him labeled a crackpot—until alien spacecraft are detected hurtling toward Earth.

Suddenly, Thorne is the man everyone needs—from secret government operatives to mercenaries for hire. Worse, the woman Thorne thought he loved turns out to be an operative who was assigned as his handler. In the matter of a single day his world goes from routine college campus to hidden government facility, to the wilds of Peru.

Cross sets a breathless pace, juggling a diverse cast of characters, most with their own agendas. There are alliances, crosses and double-crosses, betrayals and perceived betrayals. Tension is kept high with the impending arrival of potentially hostile aliens.

A good deal of research clearly went into this novel, as the author addresses the Roswell Incident, Incas, the Serpent Mound, and a web of other threads that leaves the reader constantly guessing where the next curveball is coming from. Cross throws plenty of them and sets her chapters for hooks that makes it impossible not to keep swiping pages. The writing is tight, the dialogue exchanges, rapid-fire. I found the Roswell thread particularly intriguing. This is the first book in what promises to be a riveting series. If you’re a fan of ancient alien theories mixed with fast-paced intrigue, and characters who command the pages, you don’t want to miss this one! 5 Stars!

Amazon Link
Genre:  Alien Invasion Science Fiction > Colonization Science Fiction


book cover for Whatever it Takes by S. BurkeWhatever It Takes
By S. Burke

I was sucked into this story from the get-go. The idea of a celebrity character and a Hollywood setting brought unique appeal to the story. Toss a serial killer into the mix and I knew I was in for a good read. The author crafted a complex plot with realistic characters. Kudos for a strong female lead who didn’t come off over-the-top, something I trip over frequently in popular fiction. Andi O’Connor is competent and convincing while harboring emotions and flaws that make her believable. Her relationship with James grows through the story—at a realistic pace—as the investigation draws them together.

This is a well-crafted mystery that takes an up close look at investigative work. I felt like I was putting pieces of the puzzle together along with Andi even as the danger level ramped higher. The procedural aspects of the book are exceptionally well done, the characters thoroughly developed. One of the secondary characters in particular was a surprise, sadly flawed and utterly human.

The plot ensures the reader is sent through twisted paths before delivering a satisfying conclusion. I could see this book unfolding as a movie. It has a dark underbelly, seasoned with gritty aspects of life. From the glitz of James’s Hollywood career, to the killer’s cold and abhorrent deeds, it examines two sides of life. I would love to see the character of Andi O’Connor return in a sequel. She definitely has the strength and appeal to carry a series. 5 Stars!

Amazon Link
Genre:  Suspense > Suspense Thrillers


Look for more reviews from me the end of the month. In the meantime, hopefully something I’ve shared appeals to your reader radar. There’s always room on the TBR for a few more! 🙂 

Mythical Monday: The Brown Mountain Lights by Mae Clair

Brown Mountain is a low lying ridge tucked into the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. For hundreds of years (some say longer) a phenomenon known as the Brown Mountain Lights has been observed by countless witnesses. The illumination, which appears as multi-colored balls floating above the mountain, has even resulted in two surveys conducted by the U.S. Geological Society–one in 1913, the other in 1922. Many believe the Cherokee Indians observed the lights as far back as the 13th Century.

According to eye witnesses, the lights usually begin as a red ball which transitions to white before vanishing altogether. Sometimes a single orb will divide into several before reforming. Witnesses have also reported seeing blue, green, yellow and orange orbs, most lasting only a handful of seconds before fading or winking from sight.

A stony overlook extending into a treed gorge in

Overlook at Wiseman’s View in Linville Gorge, NC, one of the best vantage points for viewing the Brown Mountain Lights.
Photo of Wisemen’s View by Ken Thomas (KenThomas.us (personal website of photographer)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The phenomenon is so consistent there are specific mile markers within the Blue Ridge Parkway overlook designating from where they are best viewed.

Usually “spooklights” of this sort occur in swampy areas where decaying plant matter produces methane gas. This in turn spontaneously ignites, causing mysterious light manifestations. There are, however, no swampy areas where the Brown Mountain lights materialize, and unlike gaseous orbs, those of Brown Mountain appear concentrated with the ability to maneuver about the mountain.

Naturally, theories have developed. Many involve ghosts, energy beings, UFOs and even aliens. Older folklore relies on stories passed through generations. One tale dates back to the year 1200, when a bloody clash took place on the ridge. According to that legend, a fierce battle between the Cherokee and Catawba Indians claimed the lives of many braves. That night, grieving for their fallen warriors, Indian maidens scoured the mountain by torchlight, searching for bodies. To this day, that eerie torchlight can still be seen flickering on the ridge as they continue their endless hunt for the fallen.

Another tale speaks of a cruel man who butchered his wife and child then buried the bodies on Brown Mountain where he thought no one would find them. Not long after he completed the grisly deed, lights began to appear and hover over the graves. The mysterious illumination drew others to the site, enabling them to discover the murder victims. The killer fled before he could be punished for his crime, and was never seen again. Perhaps the forest enacted its own fatal justice.

Whatever the source of the Brown Mountain Lights, they have been captured on film and video and witnessed from miles away.  As for the surveys conducted by the US Geological Society, investigators concluded witnesses mistakenly reported the oncoming headlights from trains and autos as something more mystifying.

In direct counterpoint, locals reported seeing the lights before autos and trains descended on the area. Additionally, in 1916, a flood wiped out area transportation routes for a full week. During that time the lights were still active and observed.

Fast forward to 1982, when a man named Tommy Hunter claimed to have touched one of the lights. Supposedly it bobbed up to the ridge where he was standing and hovered several feet off the ground. A few times larger than a basketball, it appeared yellowish in color, and gave him an electrical shock when he extended his hand. The light dimmed slightly at the contact, then floated off into the woods.

If you would like to know more about this puzzling phenomenon, check out Joshua P. Warren’s free booklet, The Brown Mountain Lights:Viewing Guide available for download in PDF.  As someone who has always been fascinated by spooklights, I found it mesmerizing reading!

Mythical Monday: The Cold Ghost of Gilsland Castle by Mae Clair

I’m closing out my ghostly Mythical Monday posts for the month of October with the tale of an unfortunate boy who met his demise in Gilsland Castle, a forbidding stronghold located in northern England. What the poor lad did to deserve punishment has long been forgotten, but as a lesson for some misdeed, he was locked away in an empty upstairs room. Perhaps the austere atmosphere of the fortress itself was to blame, as you have to wonder about the type of parent or disciplinarian who would forget a child.

Sadly, the boy was kept in that frigid place too long, and froze to death.Castle Steps

For centuries afterward people have told of seeing a small nightgowned figure who roams the hallways, stopping at each chamber and seeking entrance. Still freezing, his teeth chattering and body trembling, the boy endlessly searches for an open door. When he finds one, he has been known to hover at the bedside of the occupant, whimpering softly as they sleep.

Should the person be ill, he is quick to end their suffering. Placing a small cold hand upon their flesh, he whispers “Cold, cold, forever cold. You shall be cold forever more.”  With these words, and the ghostly touch of the child, the sufferer peacefully surrenders, eased from pain by the Ghost of Gilsland Castle.

Perhaps he worries they have been forgotten and neglected too…