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

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

Hello, 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

New Release: No Such Luck by Staci Troilo #sweetromance #holidayromance #novella

Happy Tuesday! Although I’m mostly offline this month to concentrate on NaNoWriMo, I’ve made several exceptions to host new releases on my blog. First up, is No Such Luck a sweet holiday romance from Staci Troilo.

Staci is a dear friend and one of the founding members of Story Empire. She’s also a super talented author who always delivers a phenomenal story. Her latest is no exception. Look for my five star review at the end of this post, but in the meantime, say hello to Staci!


I appreciate you inviting me here today, Mae. Hi, everyone. Thank you for chatting with me about my new release, No Such Luck. It’s a fast and fun clean romance perfect for the holiday season.

Piper Seidel’s life-long best friend is Jack Rhodes. He’s always been there for her, and even though she moved away right after high school—first for college, then for her career—he never stopped staying in touch with her. When he says, “I’ll always be there for you,” he means it. They have history, even if she can’t remember it. This brief excerpt shows how far back it goes.

Teaser Graphic for or No Suck Luck by Staci Troilo shows couple in silhouette with background of red carnation, teaser text over top

“Where’d you park?”

“At the lodge.”

“At the—How do you get the tree down there?”

“We drag it.”

“You and your father drag a tree down the side of a mountain?”

Piper nodded and smiled.

“It’s no wonder it takes you so long.”

She shrugged.

“Grab the top, Pea.” 

“Stop calling me that.”

“Never. You earned it.”

“Did not.”

“Did, too.”

“How?”

“Third grade.

“How?”

“Guess you don’t remember that one.” Jack shook his head and sighed. “Grab your end.” When she complied, he hefted the trunk, then started down the hill. He called over his shoulder, “Come on, Frank.” 

She worried about her Dad. He was still on the phone with Pam and didn’t look happy. 

The three of them made their way back to the lodge. 

While her father paid for the tree and got it loaded in the bed of his truck, she thanked Jack again. “I’m really sorry about Pam. You didn’t need to come here.”

Jack got a bottle of water and bandana from his center console, then turned to her. He dabbed at the cut on her head, cleaning the blood off her face. “I’ll always come for you if you need me, Pea. Always.”

“Stop calling me that.”

He smiled. “No.”

She shook her head, but he kept wiping at it. 

“There. That’s better.”

“What are you doing?”

“Taking care of you. The way you should be cared for.”

“I don’t know what to make of that.”

“Think about it. Think about third grade, too. You need a better good luck charm.”


I have to admit, I’ve sustained an injury or two Christmas tree shopping. But I never walked away with my forehead bleeding. Good thing Piper had help. 

I hope you enjoyed that quick sneak peek. No Such Luck, the first installment of the Keystone Couples series, is available now on Amazon.

Book cover for No Suck Luck by Staci Troilo shows couple in silhouette  with background of red carnation

Blurb:

Seeds of luck usually wither. The rare one grows and blooms.

Piper Seidel has one thing going for her—a red carnation given to her by Tommy Burnett in the tenth grade. It might have dried over the years, but it’s still her good luck charm. Losing it sets her life in a downward spiral, forcing her to return to her hometown where she comes face to face with her high school crush.

The years have been kind to Tommy, who looks better than ever. Unfortunately, Piper is at her worst, continually embarrassing herself whenever he’s around. The only plus? Her long-time friend, Jack Rhodes, still lives in town. Since she last saw him, his legs have grown longer, his biceps thicker, and his shoulders broader. He was always the brother she never had, but now she can’t help noticing him in an unsisterly way. Jack is every bit as caring as he’s ever been—until her bad luck drives him away, maybe forever.

Piper needs a new good luck charm, and fast, before she loses her final chance at happiness.

PURCHASE FROM AMAZON

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MY REVIEW

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is a sweet, breezy romance that instills a feel-good glow. Piper Seidel has lost her job as a journalist and ends up returning to her hometown for an extended winter vacation, uncertain of her future. Reconnecting with her past includes crossing paths with her old high school crush, Tommy Burnett, and her childhood best friend, Jack Rhodes. Both bring complications into her life and have her re-examining what matters most to her.

This is a short read, but one that is tightly written with a fully fleshed out plot. I loved the near-to-Christmas time frame (especially when Piper and her dad go searching for a Christmas tree) and the small-town feel. Piper grows over this story, learning truths that she was too blind to see previously, but I like to think the other characters (one in particular) experienced personal growth, too. Definitely a charmer!


Thanks for joining Staci and me today as we celebrate the release of No Suck Luck, Pop the virtual bubbly, and drop a comment to cheer on Staci with her newest book, the first in the Keystone Couple Series. I for one am definitely looking forward to more!