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

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

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

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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

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

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

MY REVIEW

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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

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

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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

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

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

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

BOOK BLURB:

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

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

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

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

And the sea witch crafts dark bargains with all sides.

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

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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

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

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

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

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

Book Reviews by Mae Clair: The Edge of Fear by Maura Beth Brennan #domesticthriller @maurabeth2014

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

It’s pool weather, which means I’ve been doing a lot of reading. It won’t happen often, but, yes this is my third book review post this week. My husband and I are traveling this weekend, leaving Friday to attend a family wedding. I won’t be visible after tomorrow until some time next week, so decided to share this today.

I always love when I discover the work of an author I haven’t read before and it resonates strongly with me. Today, I have the pleasure of sharing my review for The Edge of Fear by Maura Beth Brennan. Not only is this a fabulous story, but the character relationships alone kept me flipping pages!

BOOK BLURB:

When you have everything you always wanted, you have everything to lose. 

After years of struggling to overcome her tragic childhood, Hattie has the life of her dreams—a husband, a baby daughter, a beautiful home, and more money than she ever dreamed possible. But lately, a feeling nags at her, a sense of something not-quite-right. Is this just her imagination? Hattie’s family, and her best friend, Celine, keep telling her that it is. 

Meanwhile, Frank, Hattie’s ex-husband, has not fared so well himself. He wants everything, but feels he ended up with nothing. A thought has taken hold in his mind—something that could involve Hattie. How can he make her good fortune pay off for himself? He comes up with a plan—one that will shatter Hattie’s life and bring about her worst nightmare. When the unthinkable happens, Hattie does everything the police advise her to do. But as time passes and her life crumbles around her, it seems everyone fails her—law enforcement, a private detective, even her husband. So Hattie decides to take matters into her own hands. Desperate but determined, and aided by her best friend, Celine, she sets out to take back what is hers.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Hattie is happily married to Eli with a beautiful three-year-old daughter, Lily. But fifteen years ago, she was the wife of Frank, an abusive thug with ties to the mob. Hattie has since fallen into a sizeable inheritance that makes her—and Lily—a target for Frank who needs a payday for a quick escape after crossing a lethal mob boss. Frank abducts Lily from her home in Maine hoping for a million-dollar pay out for her safe return, but circumstances take a turn that has him on the run with Lily, and a co-conspirator, Sharon.

Months past with police investigations going nowhere. Hattie undertakes to devise a plan to get her daughter back safely. With her friend, Celine, she sets out on Frank’s trail, determined to rescue her daughter.

Wow! This is the second book in a series, but it stands fine as a standalone. I didn’t read the first novel, but had no problem following the character relationships and the edge-of-the-seat plot in this one. Hattie is such a relatable character. Her love for Lily shines through in every risky move she undertakes. I also loved her friendship with Celine, and the willingness of both ladies to always be there for each other no matter the circumstance.

The first half of the book is set-up for Lily’s abduction, the second half a nail-biting race with Hattie, Celine, and others tracing Frank’s path with Lily. That course involves a cross-state manhunt, a venture into a remote New Jersey area which the Jersey Devil is said to haunt and underworld figures possibly tied to illegal adoptions or sex trafficking.

This is a clean but high suspense mystery with characters to cheer for. The danger, adventure, and the way puzzle pieces fall into place keep you flipping pages. Even secondary characters get moments to shine. I especially loved Sharon’s stepmother, Rhonda. The ending delivers everything I would hope for, and the writing is polished with an easy flow. Thank you to the author who provided me with a gift copy for an honest review. An easy five stars!

Fiction Book Reviews by Mae: A Cut Above by Judi Lynn @judypost, Lunar Boogie by C. S. Boyack @Virgilante #bookreviews

Cute striped kitten with open book and eyeglasses lying on white bed

Thanks for joining me for another day of book reviews. I have two fantastic indie releases to share, each part of a series. The first is the debut release for the Karnie Cleaver series, while the second is book number four in the popular Lizzie and the Hat adventures. Obviously Karnie can be read as a standalone, since the series is just starting, but the Hat can as well. Mystery and adventure can be found in both camps!

BOOK BLURB:

Karnie works in her family’s butcher shop. When Donna Amick stalks to the meat display case and tries to pressure her to leave the family business to work for her, Karnie turns her down, flat. But Donna doesn’t like to take “no” for an answer. The next morning, Donna’s body is found behind A Cut Above with a meat cleaver embedded in the back of her head. Detective Carmichael’s top suspect is Sam Lessman, who trained at their shop and then went to work for Donna as a full time butcher. Karnie knows it can’t be him and decides to prove it. Unfortunately, that’s a lot harder to do in real life than it is in the mysteries she reads.

MY REVIEW:

I enjoyed this novel introducing the Karnie Cleaver mysteries by author Judi Lynn. She has a deft pen with cozies, as proven by her Jazzie Zanders series. Lynn scores again with Karnie and her family who own the A Cut Above butcher shop. Once again, Lynn populates her tale with plenty of interesting characters. Aside from Karnie and her family, the reader gets to know several of the customers (regulars) who visit the butcher shop. I love Mrs. Sprunger! Then there’s Matt, the owner of a nearby farm, who is divorced with two small children. It’s clear from the start Matt is set on turning Karnie’s head, but she’s not so easily convinced. As he tells her, she’s “prickly.”

She knows what she wants. She’s happy living alone, working the counter at the butcher shop and producing a video cooking show with tips on how to prepare various dishes using the meats her family sells. Her following is so popular the owner of a new, rival butcher shop tries to lure her away with a chunky salary. Not long after Karnie turns her down, Donna Amick ends up dead, a meat cleaver in the back of her head. Karnie is not a suspect but that doesn’t stop her from trying to discover who is responsible, especially given the woman’s body was dumped behind A Cut Above.

The sleuthing alternates with plenty of family scenes and an evolving relationship between Matt and Karnie. I love his kids, and their dog, Jolly. Isn’t that a great name for a dog?

On the murder end, there are several suspects with motive, plus a second murder to contend with. Then somebody attempts to break into Karnie’s house, and the stakes get higher. The murderer is revealed in a tense and suspenseful moment (some nail biting on my part), and the ending provides a perfect wrap while setting up the characters for more adventure. I for one will be following this delightful series. And as a bonus, the author includes several recipes at the back of the novel. A winner all the way around!

BOOK BLURB:

Lizzie and the hat are back in action, only this time they’re up against the most tragic monster of all, a werewolf.

This adventure is more like hunting an animal, and the werewolf is unlikely to come to any of their musical performances. This puts Lizzie out in the dark corners and wooded areas of the city. It may be more beneficial to get the monster to hunt Lizzie than to stalk him on his own turf. All she has to do is be quicker on the trigger than the wolf is on his feet.

At the same time, the police think they’re after a serial killer. Lizzie tries to keep them alive while also keeping them out of her way. As the body count rises, so do the pressures. It doesn’t help that people are blaming Lizzie and the hat for the killings. This involves an urban myth about them that the locals call Hellpox.

Pull on your boogie shoes and join the hunt. Designed as an afternoon read, this one is tons of supernatural fun.

MY REVIEW:

I’ve followed this series from the start, enjoying the unique blend of superhero antics, supernatural complications, and music a-plenty. Part buddy tale, party mystery, and part adventure, Lunar Boogie is my favorite entry to date for Lizzie and the Hat. This time they’re up against a werewolf on a killing spree, which leads local law enforcement to think they have a serial killer on their hands.

The addition of Joe Yoder, a police lieutenant who talks to his dead wife, brought a new dimension—both on the home front (he misses her terribly) and in crime solving. Normally, the reader witnesses Lizzie and the Hat tracking their quarry, but in this case, we see their progress along with the efforts of the police—and frustrations on both sides. I liked the police procedural element, plus the author’s unique take on werewolves being “the most tragic of all” monsters.

For long time fans of the series, Kevin, the vampire with a lisp, returns for a few scenes and we get more Night Bump Radio (“what goes bump in your night?”). As noted before, Boyack has a vivid and clever imagination. It’s on display here, along with the hat’s trademark snarky dialogue. The banter between Lizzie and her alien sidekick (who has to assume the guise of a hat) is highly entertaining. If you like the supernatural, superheroes, and super snark, grab a copy of Lunar Boogie. You can jump right in without needing to read the previous stories. The author designed it that way. Although the whole series is entertaining, Boyack hit new highs with this one!


5 Stars to Both of These Fun and Adventurous Reads!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

5 STARS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 STARS

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And, now in a completely different vein:

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

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

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

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

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

4 STARS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wings and Fire
Various Authors

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

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

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

5 STARS
AMAZON LINK
Genre: Horror Anthology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Stars

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

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

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

Book Review Tuesday: The Forgotten by D.L. Cross, The Culmination by Gwen Plano @stacitroilo @gmplano

Warm and cozy window seat with cushions and a opened book, light through vintage shutters, rustic style home decor. Small cat on window seat, along with coffee cup by pillow, Words Book Review Tuesday superimposed over image

Thank you for joining me for another Book Review Tuesday. Today, I am featuring titles from two of my Story Empire colleagues–Staci Troilo (D.L.Cross) and Gwen Plano.

From aliens to military coverups and political intrigue, these novels will keep you flipping the pages and scrambling to reach their exciting conclusions!

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The Forgotten
by D. L. Cross

Book cover for The Forgotten shows large space ship on angry sky hovering over Grecian-inspired building

If you’re unfamiliar with the Astral Conspiracy series, The Forgotten is a great introduction. If you’re already a fan of Astral, this story is a treat—icing on the cake, so to speak. As with the series itself, the action is fast paced, an adrenaline rush of danger and intrigue. Cross delivers excellent characters in Colonel Jack Morley and CORE director Victor Cannon.

A clever prequel, The Forgotten delivers all the elements that makes Astral so mind-blowing—Titans, Reptars, Reclaimants and Separated to name a few. Whether you’re new to the series or not, there are several surprises in store. Of special note, I have to mention the plot thread involving Cannon and Tiny. It kept me glued to the pages! The Forgotten is another great entry in a spectacular series, but it reads as either introduction or standalone. I positively loved the ending!

5 Stars

AMAZON LINK NOTE: This novel is FREE, so scarf it up!
Genre: Alien Invasion Science Fiction > Colonization Science Fiction

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Book cover of The Culmination shows silhouette of couple holding hands with young girl in pigtails, war tanks in background

The Culmination
by Gwen Plano


Book three in a series, The Culmination reads easily as a standalone novel. A political thriller, that addresses denuclearization, tensions in the Middle East, and the fate of refugees, much of the story echoes current headlines. The plot is complex involving multiple heads of state, along with the strategical give and take of political maneuvering on a global level. The author clearly put an extensive amount of research into this book, and it shows. Adrenalin-fueled scenes alter with more cerebral moments, and even a few romantic interludes.

I especially loved the evolution of the relationship between the two central characters, Margaret Adler, VP of the United States and Ivan Smirnov, acting President of Russia. During the course of the novel those titles change, and we learn more about each, including richly developed backgrounds. I was thoroughly invested in the difficulties Margaret and Ivan faced, both on personal and political levels. Their scenes together were among my favorites of the book. There’s also a young refugee child who factors into the story and who stole my heart.

5 STARS

AMAZON LINK
Genre: Military Thriller > War Fiction

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I want to send a huge round of applause to Staci and Gwen for keeping me entertained with such adrenaline and emotion filled reads. These are definitely two books you want to add to your TBR!

Book Review Tuesday: Liars and Thieves, Allies and Spies, Lord of Chaos #UnravelingtheVeil @Dwallacepeach

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 imageToday, I have the pleasure of reviewing an entire series, written by a stellar author.
D. Wallace Peach is a gifted story-teller. She not only delivers riveting fiction time after time, but does so using beautiful prose, vivid imagery, and complex world-building. It’s my pleasure to share my five star reviews for all three novels in her Unraveling the Veil series.


Book cover for Liars and Thieves gives appearance of old medieval tome Liars and Thieves
by D. Wallace Peach

In any D. Wallace Peach novel, you can count on a diverse cast of characters and an exceptionally detailed fantasy world. With Liars and Thieves, Peach delivers both, mesmerizing the reader from the first chapter. Goblins, elves, and changelings maintain tenuous relationships, one step away from erupting into war. At the center are Savan crystals, mined by the goblins, but necessary for the survival of all three races.

The trio of main characters—a temperamental elfin solider, a sly and cunning changeling, and a half-breed goblin—are inexplicably thrown together among a backdrop of political machinations and festering hostilities. All three have reasons to distrust, even loathe the others. As a reader, it takes a while to warm up to Alue, Talin and Naj, as none come off as the typically crafted fantasy characters, but all are equally compelling. Glimpses into their backstories are doled out morsels at a time, deftly reeling in the reader.

I can’t applaud the author enough for her brilliant use of description, gift for imagery, and—most especially—her complex worldbuilding, all of which held me spellbound. If you enjoy flawed characters, a plot that moves like a chess game with moves and countermoves, plus exquisite writing, don’t miss Liars and Thieves. I am ready and eager to dive into book two!

5 Stars

Amazon Link
Genre: Dark Fantasy Horror > Sword and Sorcery Fantasy


Book cover for Allies and Spies gives appearance of old medieval tomeAllies and Spies
by D. Wallace Peach

The danger ramps up in the second installment of this series. Alue, Naj, and Talin, tenuous allies forced to work together at the end of book one, now find themselves dependent on one another as the mysterious earthquakes and disappearances responsible for bringing them together increase in frequency. The richly detailed world Peach crafted in the first novel of this engaging trilogy is more closely examined as the reader learns more about the three races at its core—elves, goblins, and changelings. The power of shifting is key to how things play out. Peril is constant, scenes hurtling into each other as Alue, Naj, and Talin are thrust from one dangerous situation into the next.

But it isn’t just the constant menace that elevates this book in its genre. Character development is given equal attention. I loved seeing the roller coaster range of emotions in the three main characters as they shuffle through various degrees of skepticism, mistrust, forced reliance, and slowly-gained but often questionable loyalty. There are several surprises, including one mind-blowing revelation regarding one of the three leads that left me slack-jawed and stunned.

Descriptions are engrossing, immersing the reader in Peach’s vividly imagined world. The writing is polished and professional, making this middle book a pleasure to read, as it sets the stage for what I’m sure will be an exceptional conclusion. Now, thoroughly invested in the lives of the three leads, and the squabbling races that comprise this world, I’m poised to launch into book three. When you want epic fantasy at its best, you can always count on D. Wallace Peach to deliver!

5 Stars

Amazon Link
Genre: Dark Fantasy Horror > Sword and Sorcery Fantasy


Book cover for Lord of Chaos gives appearance of old medieval tomeLord of Chaos
by D. Wallace Peach

In the concluding novel of this outstanding trilogy, the alliance between the three lead characters¬—Alue, Talin, and Naj—fray, even as tenuous relationships between their respective races—elf, changeling, and goblin—completely break down. War looms and battles erupt. With changelings able to assume the guise of others, including those in positions of authority, deception abounds. The action is constant, barely giving the reader a moment to catch their breath. There are also multiple scenes, especially those that take place in the Authority, that had me squirming as I awaited the outcome.

As in the other books, the plot threads are tightly woven and complex, with surprises along the way. The writing is polished and professional, scenes intensively vivid. This is one writer who knows how to craft a riveting tale while delivering a subtle message. A superb conclusion to a phenomenal series. I will miss these characters.

5 Stars

Amazon Link
Genre: Dark Fantasy Horror > Sword and Sorcery Fantasy


I recommend this series to anyone who enjoys high fantasy or books with complex and exquisite world building. If fantasy is not your normal genre of reading, I expect you will be enthralled regardless, given this author’s superb talent. Happy reading!