Pool Time and Reading

cocktail with pool water in the background
Image courtesy of Pixabay

Hi, friends. I just wanted to drop a quick note to say I will be scare this week. I am enjoying a staycation at my pool. I’ve got several days lined up with friends, a few lunches out, a visit to a winery, shopping, and plenty of books to keep me occupied. As a result, you probably won’t see me online very much.

I’m at Story Empire today but will likely be offline the rest of the week. I will catch up with everyone in August. Happy last week of July!

Book Spotlight: The Point of Vanishing by Maryka Biaggio #historicalfiction #literaryinterest @SunburyPress

An open book with rays and orbs of light shooting from the pages

It’s time for another Book Spotlight featuring a Sunbury Press author! If you’re new to my blog, Sunbury Press is a traditional publishing house located not far from where I live. I’ve been showcasing their authors who have releases fitting with the readership niche of my blog followers. It’s my goal to share books that I think might interest you, while helping fellow authors. Today, I’m welcoming Maryka Biaggio with The Point of Vanishing, a historical account of an author that has me intrigued. Take a look . . .

Book cover shows woman surrounded by ferns, blue tint over cover

Book Description:

Based on the true story of author Barbara Follett and her mysterious disappearance.

On a December night in 1939, famous author Barbara Follett fought with her husband and stormed out of their Boston home, never to be heard from again. Now novelist Maryka Biaggio provides a captivating account of Barbara’s enigmatic life—and disappearance.

Barbara had all the makings of promise and success. Early on, her parents recognized her shining intellect and schooled her at home. At age twelve, she published the novel The House Without Windows to much acclaim. When she was fourteen, her charming account of a sailing journey, The Voyage of the Norman D, was released. But when tragedy struck the family, Barbara floundered. Would she ever again find happiness or success–and at what price?

PURCHASE FROM:
SUNBURY PRESS | AMAZON

AUTHOR BIO:
Maryka Biaggio, Ph.D., is a former psychology professor turned novelist who specializes in historical fiction based on real people. She enjoys the challenge of starting with actual historical figures and dramatizing their lives—figuring out what motivated them to behave as they did, studying how the cultural and historical context may have influenced them, and recreating some sense of their emotional world through dialogue and action. Doubleday published her debut novel, PARLOR GAMES, in January 2013, and Milford House Press has published her two most recent novels Eden Waits & The Point of Vanishing. She lives in Portland, Oregon, that edgy green gem of the Pacific Northwest. You can visit her web page at marykabiaggio.com.


Intriguing, right? A child prodigy, an unexplained disappearance, historical setting and basis . . . it has aIl the makings of a winner. Please drop Maryka a comment with your thoughts then use the sharing buttons to spread the word about The Point of Vanishing. Thanks so much for visiting today!


Book Reviews by Mae Clair: The Perfect Guests by Emma Rous #psychologicalfiction Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid #literaryfiction #sagafiction

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

Hello, and Happy Wednesday! I’m sharing two books today, but because the blurb for the second is especially long, I’m skipping blurbs and going straight to my reviews. These are both worthy pool/beach reads. Both also employ alternating timelines, a technique I never tire of reading. I’ve been fortunate to have hit so many engrossing stories lately. If you’re a fan of the board game “Clue,” I think you’ll find the first one especially interesting.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is a twisty mystery that involves three different time periods, all of which converge for a spectacular finish. As a huge fan of the board game Clue, the present timeline immediately drew me.

Sadie is a bit actress looking for a break when she’s offered the chance to play “Miss Lamb” at an old mansion known as Raven Hall. Other guests also assume roles—Professor Owl, Colonel Otter, Miss Mouse, Lady Nightingale, and Mrs. Shrew. Each guest has been given individual cards about their characters’ actions and clothes in a single themed color. As Miss Lamb, Sadie dresses in white. Mrs. Shrew dresses in blue, etc. Sound familiar? I was in “Clue” heaven! The guests have been gathered to solve the murder of Lord Nightingale as a test-run for a new business that hosts murder mystery parties.

In the past, Beth, an orphan, is taken by her aunt to live at Raven Hall as a companion for Nina, the daughter of the owners. Both girls are fourteen. After some initial wariness, they form a close bond, going from friendship to the attachment of sisters.

The scenes in the past are every bit intriguing—if not more so—then those in the present. Beth is a likeable character, who just wants to feel part of a family. She constantly worries if she doesn’t do everything perfectly, she’ll be sent back to the orphanage.

But aside from Markus and Leonora (Nina’s parents) insisting Nina can never leave the property or go into town, Beth’s time at Raven Hall is filled with fun and the closeness she longs for—until she is talked into participating in a strange charade. One that will ultimately have far reaching consequences.

There is also a third timeline, not as in depth as the others. Told from the POV of young woman, it isn’t until the middle of the book that the reader discovers who is narrating those sections.

It may sound like there is a lot going on in this novel (and there is) but it isn’t difficult to follow. The chapters are fairly short, and the pacing is excellent. Mysteries build steadily in both the past and the present. I was impressed by the number of subtle clues the author plants that turn into timebombs at the end. The final chapters deliver staggering revelations, not one but several. Then when I thought there were no surprises left, and I could finally catch my breath, the author dropped a final twisty shock in the closing pages.

If you love a good mystery, this is one you don’t want to miss. A spectacular read and another candidate for my Favorites List this year!

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I have a weakness for stories that use parties as a central theme. Oodles of people thrown together, many faking a surface gloss while harboring resentments or grappling with hidden issues. Secrets pile up like kindling waiting for the match to result in a major conflagration. In this case the fire is real.

Nina Riva is holding a posh, highly anticipated house party in 1983. A model, and the daughter of legendary singer, Mick Riva, she and her three siblings attract attention merely by the association of their last name—despite the fact Mick hasn’t been part of their lives since they were small children.

Nina’s party, attended by actors, agents, models, sports pros, hanger-ons, wannabes, and Malibu’s elite begins on a summer night at 7PM. By 7AM the next morning, the house will be in flames. During the course of that twelve hours, secrets are spilled, relationships are made, others broken, lives altered—all during a night of luxury, drugs, excess, and revelations.

There are a lot of characters in this book but they’re surprisingly easy to keep track of—perhaps because of the author’s use of third person POV. Head hopping happens frequently, but is rarely distracting. That might be because the scenes are handled so skillfully or because the characters are fully fleshed out and unique. In addition to Nina, there is Jay, her brother and a champion surfer, Hud, another brother and professional photographer, and Kit, the youngest sister who is struggling to find her footing in life.

Chapters in the first half alternate between past and present with a look at Mick Riva, his rise from struggling singer to fame, and his relationship with June, the mother of Nina and her siblings.

This is a story of family dynamics. Of how people who love each other pull together, sacrifice for one another, and also sometimes hurt each other. How some obstacles can be overcome, and others are not so easily set aside. I found it intriguing from start to finish, the use of short chapters and the past/present story line well utilized to keep the plot moving forward. There are characters to admire, others to feel sorry for and still others to loathe. When it was all said and done, I thought the ending was perfect.

Book Review Tuesday: Second Chance Romance by Jill Weatherholt, Keeping Bailey by Dan Walsh #christianromance #christianfiction @JillWeatherholt

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Welcome to another Book Review Tuesday. I shared books from both of these author’s series the end of June. In that post (which you can find HERE ) I mentioned I enjoyed the stories so much, I purchased an additional title in each series. Today, I’m happy to report the new books I picked up are every bit as enchanting as the first. Take a look . . .

BOOK BLURB:

Jackson Daughtry’s jobs as a paramedic and part-owner of a local café keep him busy—but the single dad’s number one priority is raising his little girl with love and small-town values. And when his business partner’s hotshot lawyer niece comes to town planning to disrupt their lives by moving her aunt away, Jackson has to set Melanie Harper straight. When circumstances force them to work side by side in the coffee shop, Jackson slowly discovers what put the sadness in Melanie’s pretty brown eyes. Now it’ll take all his faith—and a hopeful five-year-old—to show the city gal that she’s already home.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is a delightful book with characters who quickly become friends. Jackson is a single dad, raising his five-year-old little girl, Rebecca. A paramedic, he’s also business partners with Phoebe in a local café called the Bean. When Phoebe encounters health problems, her niece, Melanie—a high-profile divorce attorney from Washington—shows up to take Phoebe back to D.C. But Phoebe has no intention of leaving the small town of Sweet Gum, and Jackson has no intention of allowing it to happen. Phoebe is family to him, which means Melanie has an adjustment in store.

One that is long overdue. Since losing her husband and children over a year ago, she has buried herself in work and the unfeeling isolation of urban life. Sweet Gum and the people who populate the town are friendly, sociable, and truly care about one another. What’s more, she finds herself falling for Jackson and becoming involved with Rebecca.

Weatherholt writes from the heart, delving into the emotions and tribulations of her characters. A Christian theme is beautifully woven into the story, especially in the character of Melanie who has lost her faith. I loved the relationship between Melanie and Rebecca almost, if not more, than the relationship between Melanie and Jackson. And Aunt Phoebe is a charmer!

But it’s not all smooth sailing. Especially when an unexpected character causes havoc in the last quarter of the book. I loved the HEA ending, and the small-town values. This is a well-written, feel good story that leaves the reader with a smile long after the final page is read. If you want a sweet escape… escape to Sweet Gum with this talented author!

BOOK BLURB:

Through no fault of her own and after spending her entire life with an owner she loves, Bailey’s life is turned upside down. She’s dropped off at the Humane Society where Kim Harper works as the Animal Behavior Manager. Alone and confused, Bailey shuts down completely. She won’t eat or even acknowledge anyone who reaches out to her. Kim knows older dogs are hard to re-home. If Bailey can’t come out of this, it will be impossible.

A retired widow named Rhonda Hawthorne volunteers at the shelter. Rhonda’s dog recently passed away after a long and full life. Rhonda can’t even think about getting another one but hopes doing this will give her a chance to be around dogs, make a small difference in their lives, but without making a permanent commitment. Soon she decides to do whatever she can to help Bailey, before it’s too late.

What life-changing difference will this decision create in her own life? Kim Harper is also wondering about something else…will Ned, the boyfriend she loves, ever get serious and pop the question? Bestselling Author Dan Walsh adds a fourth installment to his fan-favorite Forever Home Series (which begins with Rescuing Finley). Fans of this series and dog lovers everywhere will thoroughly enjoy this touching, emotional tale.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I read a lot of psychological fiction and domestic suspense, but sometimes I just want a simple feel-good story that I know is going to leave me with a warm fuzzy feeling. Keeping Bailey is the fourth book in Dan Walsh’s Forever Home Series. It’s the second book I’ve read in the series, caught up in the lives of a small set of people who populate a tiny town, particularly those centered around the local humane society. This book reads fine as a standalone (each novel is designed that way) but I appreciated it more, having an understanding of a few supporting characters from book three.

Rhonda, the MC in this novel is a widow who has made a decision to volunteer at the humane society. She starts out as a dog walker, then transitions to a foster parent when her path crosses with Bailey, an eleven-year-old dog who suddenly finds herself displaced after her elderly owner has to transition to a nursing home. Because of her age, and some behavioral issues (she doesn’t do well with other dogs or small children), Bailey’s chances of adoption are limited. When placed at the humane society, she shuts down, refusing to interact with others until Rhonda gradually wins her over.

Rhonda’s initial thought is to foster her and help her find a good home, but the more time she spends with Bailey, the more her thought process is altered. It takes a dangerous situation to open Rhonda’s eyes to how Bailey’s future should play out.

I like these books because not only does the author provide POV from the characters, but the reader also gets to experience what the dogs are feeling. I fell in love with Bailey immediately. Her situation tugged on my heart strings. I felt for all of the characters involved. From her previous owner, to Rhonda, to all those who are trying to do right by Bailey, I was invested from start to finish. The ending is beautiful, and brings closure not only for Bailey but for several human characters, too.

If you love animals, and well-deserved HEA’s, this story is for you. I like how characters continue book to book but each novel is complete as a stand-alone. Best of all, every single animal—including Bailey—finds their forever home.

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 Reviews by Mae Clair: Home Before Dark by Riley Sager #ghostficton #ghostsuspense @riley_Sager

Last week I reviewed Riley Sager’s Survive the Night, which released yesterday. Home Before Dark has been on my Kindle for some time, buried among the books I keep buying. When I realized I hadn’t read it yet, I set out to correct the oversight immediately. This one is another “Wow! Just Wow!”

BOOK BLURB:

In the latest thriller from New York Times bestseller Riley Sager, a woman returns to the house made famous by her father’s bestselling horror memoir. Is the place really haunted by evil forces, as her father claimed? Or are there more earthbound—and dangerous—secrets hidden within its walls?

What was it like? Living in that house.

Maggie Holt is used to such questions. Twenty-five years ago, she and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into Baneberry Hall, a rambling Victorian estate in the Vermont woods. They spent three weeks there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a nonfiction book called House of Horrors. His tale of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon, rivaling The Amityville Horror in popularity—and skepticism.

Today, Maggie is a restorer of old homes and too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father’s book. But she also doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist. When Maggie inherits Baneberry Hall after her father’s death, she returns to renovate the place to prepare it for sale. But her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the past, chronicled in House of Horrors, lurk in the shadows. And locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous thanks toMaggie’s father. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself—a place filled with relics from another era that hint at a history of dark deeds. As Maggie experiences strange occurrences straight out of her father’s book, she starts to believe that what he wrote was more fact than fiction.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I’ve come to realize the great thing about a Riley Sager book is that they’re all so different. This time around, he delivers a good old-fashioned ghost story. No gore or horror, just plenty of eerie happenings that deliver goose bumps, shivers and chills.

Maggie Holt has inherited Baneberry Hall, a house she and her parents fled in terror in the middle of the night when Maggie was five years old. She has no memory of the supernatural events that occurred in the house, but thanks to a best-selling nonfiction book her father wrote (think Amityville Horror) the whole world knows what took place during the twenty days her family lived there. Her life has been defined by “the Book” as she has come to think of it. Neither parent will talk about that time. Now, with the passing of her father, Baneberry Hall comes to her. The house has been uninhabited since the night her family fled, leaving all of their belongings behind. 

Maggie plans to renovate the house and sell it, but in the process, she is determined to discover what really happened during those twenty days and nights depicted in the Book. 

The story alternates chapters between Maggie’s POV in the present and chapters from the Book. The latter are told in her father’s POV and cover the supernatural happenings at Baneberry Hall.

Once again, Sager delivers a twisty page-turner. It’s difficult to say much about this one without giving away spoilers. I will mention that I loved the creepy ringing of room bells, the chandelier in the Indigo Room, and the session with the Ouija board. The ghosts—Mister Shadow and Miss Pennyface—are the definition of eerie, and the history of the families that occupied the house previously is played for massive goose bumps.

Numerous twists and turns near the end had me trying to pick up my jaw from the floor. As soon as I thought I was on firm footing, Sager yanked the proverbial rug out from under me again. This is mind-blowing storytelling at its best, especially if you are a fan of ghost stories that twist like a corkscrew and prickle your skin. Another stand out read from a stand out author!

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: Survive the Night by Riley Sager @riley_sager #thriller #suspense

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

You know when you read a book that blows you away, and you can’t stop thinking about it, talking about it, rehashing all the twisty bits in your mind? You loved it so much, you have to refrain from going back and reading it again? Well, I thoroughly plan to read Survive the Night again, just not right away. I’m still digesting the first go-round.

If you’re not familiar with Riley Sager, I recommend correcting the oversight pronto. He’s another of my auto-buy authors. I’ve read all of his releases with the exception of one, currently waiting on my Kindle. I’ll stop with the fan girl stuff now, and get to the book and my review so you can see why I’m over-the-top jazzed about this one. 🙂

BOOK BLURB:

One of New York Times Book Review‘s “summer reads guaranteed to make your heart thump and your skin crawl”; An Amazon Best of the Month Pick; Named a must-read summer book by The Washington PostVultureBuzzFeedForbesEntertainment Weekly, CNN, New York PostGood HousekeepingE!PopSugarCrimeReadsThrillist, and BookRiot

It’s November 1991. Nirvana’s in the tape deck, George H. W. Bush is in the White House, and movie-obsessed college student Charlie Jordan is in a car with a man who might be a serial killer.

Josh Baxter, the man behind the wheel, is a virtual stranger to Charlie. They met at the campus ride board, each looking to share the long drive home to Ohio. Both have good reasons for wanting to get away. For Charlie, it’s guilt and grief over the shocking murder of her best friend, who became the third victim of the man known as the Campus Killer. For Josh, it’s to help care for his sick father—or so he says. 

The longer she sits in the passenger seat, the more Charlie notices there’s something suspicious about Josh, from the holes in his story about his father to how he doesn’t want her to see inside the trunk. As they travel an empty, twisty highway in the dead of night, an increasingly anxious Charlie begins to think she’s sharing a car with the Campus Killer. Is Josh truly dangerous? Or is Charlie’s jittery mistrust merely a figment of her movie-fueled imagination?

One thing is certain—Charlie has nowhere to run and no way to call for help. Trapped in a terrifying game of cat and mouse played out on pitch-black roads and in neon-lit parking lots, Charlie knows the only way to win is to survive the night.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Thank you Penguin Group, Dutton Books, and NetGalley for my ARC.

Wow. Just wow! I devour books by Riley Sager, so it was a no-brainer to request Survive the Night from NetGalley. I never know what to expect when I’m reading a Sager book. Each is so different, yet all are gripping and engrossing. Strangely, I had reservations about Survive the Night. I’m not a big fan of serial killer fiction, but, hey—it was Sager, one of my auto-buy authors—so I was more than willing to take a chance. I should have known he’d knock it into the stratosphere.

Charlie needs a ride from college to her hometown. She’s desperate to put the past behind her after her best friend becomes the third victim of a serial murderer known as the Campus Killer. She meets Josh, also headed to her home state of Ohio, and agrees to ride with him, sharing expenses along the way. But during the long, dark night over deserted back roads, Charlie begins to suspect Josh isn’t who he claims to be. Too much of what he says doesn’t add up, each successive hiccup making her think she may be sharing the car with the Campus Killer, a man who has reason to want her dead. She caught a glimpse of him in the shadows before he killed her friend.

Although this is a book about a serial killer, there is nothing gory or graphic about it. The operational word here is TENSION—with a freaking capital T!!

The story plays out over the course of several nail-biting hours during which the author had me second-guessing myself multiple times. I waffled between frustration, fear, and irritation over Charlie’s actions. Sometimes I was cheering for her, other times I wanted to shake sense into her. It wasn’t until the end when everything falls into place that I realized how deftly I’d been played.

I also loved the use of old movies in the story (Charlie is a film student) and Charlie’s penchant of separating from reality for brief spans for “movies in her mind.” I did spot one of the “reveals” before the last act, but by then, I believe it was expected. And it was so deliciously perfect, those pieces dropping into place were wholly satisfying.

Survive the Night reinforces why I devour books by Sager. He’s a master of suspense who crosses T’s and dots I’s with such subtlety the reader doesn’t even realize how skillfully he orchestrats threads in the background—until they explode in your face.

Definitely among my favorite reads of the year. If you enjoy cat-and-mouse suspense and well-plotted fiction, don’t miss this slick, edge-of-your seat thrill ride!

RELEASE DATE IS JUNE 29 | PRE-ORDER FROM AMAZON

Book Review Tuesday: A Mother for His Twins by Jill Weatherholt, Saving Parker by Dan Walsh @JillWeatherholt #christianromance #smalltownfiction

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Happy Tuesday! I have two books to share today, both in a similar heart-warming vein. Both of these authors were new to me, but you can bet I’ll be reading their work again. I’ve already snatched up more books from both. If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know I devour psychological suspense and thrillers, but every now and then, I want to lose myself in the pages of small town life with a fat HEA at the end. Both of these did the trick and then some!

BOOK BLURB:

She’d given up on having a family…until he made her feel right at home.

First-grade teacher Joy Kelliher has two new students—twin boys who belong to her high school sweetheart. If teaching Nick Capello’s sons wasn’t difficult enough, the widower’s also her neighbor…and competing for the principal job she wants. Now with little matchmakers drawing Joy and Nick together, can they overcome a painful past to build the family Joy’s always wanted?

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A heartwarming story about second chance romance, A Mother for His Twins ticks all the right boxes for anyone looking for a feel-good novel with a lovely HEA. Joy and Nick grew up together, falling in love in their teen years. They always knew they would be together until Nick’s family moved abruptly and Joy was cut out of his life.

Fast forward years later. Nick returns to his hometown, a widower with twin boys. The boys join Jill’s grade school class, quickly stealing her heart (and the heart of the reader). Meanwhile, Jill is vying for the position of principal at the school where she works, the only other applicant, Nick.

I don’t read a lot of romance, but I don’t really consider this story romance at the heart, so much as a tale of people finding their way back to each other. That journey is helped along by Nick’s boys, Joy’s sister and her niece, and the guiding touch of God. The story has a light Christian theme, twined with Hallmark-esque moments that will melt your heart. The characters suffer ups and downs, which make the eventual HEA all the sweeter. Both Nick and Joy have burdens in their past, secrets that present hurdles they need to overcome if they’re to recapture the love they once had. Factor in they’re both applicants for the same job, and the stakes rachet higher.

The writing is polished, the characters (even the secondary ones), beautifully defined. I breezed through the pages, enchanted by the author’s casual flair with handling the day-to-day challenges of her MCs. This is book 3 in a series, but it reads fine as a standalone. I enjoyed it so much, I immediately bought another after finishing. I’m smitten!

BOOK BLURB:

After years of abuse and neglect, Parker is found chained in a junk-filled backyard after a drug bust. The little guy’s terrified of people. Officer Ned Barringer brings him to a nearby shelter for medical care. When Ned learns how hard it is for dogs like Parker to get adopted, he must do more. He’s also instantly taken with Kim Harper, one of the shelter managers. She offers to train Parker for free. Ned instantly accepts. That same day, he meets his next-door neighbor, a ten-year-old boy named Russell. Russell is hiding a black-eye, compliments of two bullies at school. This angers Ned. He suffered the same fate as a child. It’s the main reason he became a cop. But what can he do? When a near-death tragedy occurs, what role might Parker play in bringing these three lives together?

Dan Walsh is known for page-turning, character driven novels. Fans of Dan’s other novels, as well as dog-lovers everywhere will especially enjoy Saving Parker (and if they do, 3 more books are available in the Forever Home series, including Book 4, Keeping Bailey, the sequel to Saving Parker).

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This is a heartwarming story built around Parker, a dog who gets a second chance at a forever home. Abused by his former owner, a drug dealer, Parker is rescued by Ned, a police officer. If you’re worried about animal abuse, don’t be. The neglect Parker endures happens before the story starts, which makes this about his learning to trust people again, and his journey to recovery.

Ned is a great character, strong, and l likeable. He decides to take a chance on fostering/adopting Parker, and through that decision connects with Kim, who works at an animal shelter. He also has new neighbors—a single mom and her sixth-grade son, Russell, who becomes a target for bullies at school.

The story shifts between Parker’s recuperation, Ned and Kim juggling emerging romantic feelings, and Ned helping Russell find a way to stand up to the bullies. There is nothing earth-shattering in the plot, just clean, wholesome feel-good entertainment. Think Hallmark with a light Christian theme. Although this is the third book in a series, it reads fine as a standalone. I got the impression some of the characters cross over from book to book, but I had zero difficulty following the story. If I hadn’t been aware beforehand, I wouldn’t even realize Saving Parker is book three in a series.

I enjoyed the humbleness and simplicity of the tale, to the extent that I plan to seek out other titles in this series. If you enjoy reading books about dogs, and a story that leaves you with a warm, fuzzy feeling, you’ll find Saving Parker enchanting.

Book Reviews by Mae Clair: The Garden Party by Grace Dane Mazur #literarysatirefiction

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

Recently, a new book store opened up in my area—always a cause for celebration. They’re a discount seller, so they don’t have a huge selection per genre, but what they do have is very affordably priced and they have a nice variety. On my first visit, I picked up several novels in hardback, including The Garden Party. I seem to be hitting on a lot of unusual reads this year, and this one certainly qualifies!

BOOK BLURB:

A rehearsal dinner brings together two disparate families in a sparkling social satire set over the course of a single day.

This enchanting novel takes place in Brookline, Massachusetts, where dinner in the garden is bringing together two families on the night before the wedding that should unite them. The families are not unfriendly but they are shy and leery of each other. The Barlows are a Wall Street Journal-reading family of lawyers steeped in trusts and copyrights, corporations and war crimes, golf and tennis. The Cohens are wildly impractical intellectuals, including a biologist who has studied why scorpions glow in the dark; a social activist who always needs rescuing; and a historian of the cooking of ancient Babylonian who is trying, while hosting the dinner party, to figure out whether Time is really shaped like baklava.

The novel begins with the Cohens brewing morning coffee and considering the work they will have to do to prepare their house and gardens for the dinner, and it ends, late that very night, after a complicated series of fiascoes and miracles. Over the course of the day, it becomes clear that neither family is more eccentric than the other.

Featuring an ensemble cast of exceptionally vivid characters ranging in age from three to the early nineties, Grace Dane Mazur’s wonderfully lyrical novel is an irresistible portrayal of miscommunication, secrets, and the power of love.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I initially picked up this book because I was drawn by the gorgeous cover. Once I read the blurb, I was hooked and ready to crack the cover. I loved the idea of the story playing out over a summer evening with so many differing characters as players. Therein lies the charm and the problem. There are twenty-four people at the garden party, plus a cook and a butler. The author manages to juggle all of these personalities with skill. But although we get glimpses beneath the surface of each, the reader never experiences a deeper connection. Some appear as nothing more than sketches. Each, however—including the children—have a quirk or two that makes for a gathering of eccentrics.

Written in omniscient point-of-view, the book is divided into sections (Arrivals, Drinks, Dinner in the Garden, etc), rather than chapters. I was halfway through the second part before taking note of the structure as the story sucked me under from page one. It’s not a long book, just over 200 pages. Most of the scenes move rapidly but others are dense. I found much of the writing exquisite, appreciating the lyricism of descriptions and unique turns of phrase. Note this example:

Pindar had always felt that there was something fleeting about his daughter, even at twenty-four, as though she were a delicate contraption made of feathers and rubber bands and sails.

And this:

The stairs in the front hall creak as oaken floorboards talk to nails. Walls shift as the day’s warmth rushes out and coolness from the garden flows in to take its place. Couches exhale. In the attic, objects made of suede and velvet stir.

I finished the book in two days, finding myself reluctant to set it aside when other matters called. Were it not for the closing section/chapter this would be a five-star read for me. But all the build-up, all the shuffling of players and personalities, lives knitted together, and others undone toppled into “WTH?” in the final section. I’m not sure why the author chose to end the book as she did. Without a doubt this is a novel to generate book club discussions. I’m not sorry I spent time with the story, only sorry the ending fell flat.