Meaningful Monday

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Welcome to another fabulous week! Here is a quote to start off your day and week.

“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

Throwback Thursday

Welcome to the final week of November, 2019. These are the books that I finished during the week of 11/22 – 11/30. Click on the images for more information about each book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Page Count: 391

Description (Goodreads)

Dirk Pitt rides a tidal wave of intrigue in this classic Cussler. 

On an isolated Greek island, a World War I fighter plane attacks a modern U.S. Air Force base–a mysterious saboteur preys on an American scientific expedition–and Dirk Pitt plays a deadly game of hunter and hunted with the elusive head of an international smuggling ring.


Rating: 4 out of 5.

Description (Goodreads)

I’ve Loved You Since Forever is a celebratory and poetic testament to the timeless love felt between parent and child. This beautiful picture book is inspired by New York Times bestselling author and Today show co-host Hoda Kotb’s heartwarming adoption of her baby girl, Haley Joy.

With Kotb’s lyrical text and stunning pictures by Suzie Mason, young ones and parents will want to snuggle up and read the pages of this book together, over and over again.


Rating: 4 out of 5.
Page Count: 32

Description (Goodreads)

In this beloved classic for the whole family, Charlie Brown has to prepare an entire Thanksgiving meal before time runs out! Featuring the antics of Snoopy, Woodstock, Sally, Peppermint Patty, and the rest of the Peanuts® gang, this special collector’s Miniature Edition, based on the beloved holiday television special, is the perfect kickoff to the holiday season.


Rating: 4 out of 5.
Page Count: 224

Description (Goodreads)

Big Nate is going for broke in the fourth novel in the hilarious New York Times bestselling series by Lincoln Peirce!

This time, Nate and his friends are in the Ultimate Snowdowna wintry snow-sculpture competition against the bullies from Jefferson Middle School, who beat P.S. 38 at EVERYTHING!

But as the rivalry between P.S. 38 and Jefferson Middle School escalates, will Nate be able to save the day? And finally win against his biggest rivals?

This hilarious, comic-strip adventure is perfect for reluctant readers and fans of Jeff Kinney and Raina Telgemeier.


Rating: 4 out of 5.
Page Count: 32

Description (Goodreads)

Melvin throws fit after fit when he doesn’t get what he wants. He must learn how to deal with disappointment. After all, you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.


Rating: 4 out of 5.
Page Count: 96

Description (Goodreads)

Charles Schulz’s world-renowned comic strip, Peanuts, takes the stage as a graphic novel! Adapted from the animated special, Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown, this timeless retelling takes us back to the neighborhood and features Linus’ insecurities, Charlie Brown’s kite-flying woes, Lucy’s unrequited love for Schroeder, and everyone’s favorite beagle, Snoopy, in a lively and colorful spin through Charles Schulz’s imagination.


Rating: 4 out of 5.
Page Count 112

Description (Goodreads)

The latest collection of Garfield’s return to comic books sends the gang into some wacky adventures, as Odie makes a new friend, Pet Force takes on a scary team of Super-Villains, and Garfield faces his most fearsome foe, the Lasagna Monster! Mark Evanier, Gary Barker, Andy Hirsch and an amazing group of guest artists bring home even more fun with the Fat Cat.


Rating: 4 out of 5.
Page Count: 49

Description (Goodreads)

The fate of a lonely girl becomes part of a town’s shameful secret history in Thriller Award winner Jennifer McMahon’s terrifying story of guilt, retribution, and one tragic Halloween night.

Thirty-four years ago, on October 31, poor Hannah Talbott took part in a scavenger hunt gone violently wrong. The mean girls made sure of it. To this day, for a haunted local mother, the most unsettling Halloween costume of all is an urban legend they call Hannah-Beast. It’s a reminder of the past she can’t forget. Especially tonight when it’s come back, so close to home.


Rating: 4 out of 5.
Page Count: 96

Description (Goodreads)

The Peanuts gang touches down in Tokyo! Charlie Brown and Snoopy lead the charge as the gang’s team is selected to represent the United States in an international baseball game in Japan. Charlie Brown can’t believe his team was picked, but even with the addition of a sports star like Peppermint Patty, do they have any hope of winning? Between seeing the sights and taking in the best of Japanese culture, Snoopy, Charlie Brown, Peppermint Patty and the rest of everyone’s favorite characters still manage to be their incorrigible selves.


Rating: 4 out of 5.
Page Count: 49

Description (Goodreads)

The riveting true story of the crime, punishment, and transformation of a Seattle boy who came of age inside the adult prison system and who, once on the outside, rebuilt a new life as a man.

After twenty years of incarceration, little was familiar to newly released Willard Jimerson. His once-gritty city was a technology hub. An African American was president. And with a six-inch screen, he could access a vastly changed world. From Claudia Rowe, author of The Spider and the Fly, comes the story of the life Willard took and the life taken from Willard, the story of everything he had to regain and was yet to discover.


Rating: 4 out of 5.
Page Count: 36

Description (Goodreads)

In this darkly comic memoir, a young woman recounts the steps she took to rebuild her sense of self in the aftermath of two devastating strokes that robbed her of her ability to communicate.

Nina Mitchell was an accomplished Harvard graduate whose world changed forever when her facility with language—and much of her personality—disappeared. Lacking the tools to navigate her old life, Nina was forced to create another one. In After Words, she shares her remarkable journey as she slowly reclaims the power to converse, write, assert her identity, and to be herself—with words.


Rating: 4 out of 5.
Page Count: 96

Description (Goodreads)

Charlie Brown and the gang have got space on the brain and Snoopy leads the way as the World Famous Astronaut! While the kids play space, Snoopy has got troubles of his own with The Cat Next Door, who has taken Snoopy’s supper dish! Will our favorite beagle get his dish back in time for dinner or will he have to travel to the moon on an empty stomach? Fire the rockets and see what happens in this all-new original graphic novel featuring Charles M. Schulz’s PEANUTS!


Rating: 4 out of 5.
Page Count: 55

Description (Goodreads)

In this tantalizing true mystery of a stolen life, an acclaimed reporter and an identity theft investigator follow a series of incredible revelations about the actual identity of a wife, mother, and friend turned perfect stranger.

Days after Lori Ruff’s suicide, her family discovered her hidden strongbox containing stunning evidence that her entire life had been invented. Her real identity was buried so deep it would take five years to unearth. Who was Lori Ruff?


Rating: 3 out of 5.
Page Count: 36

Description (Goodreads)

More than two decades after Darrell Cannon was tortured into a false confession of murder, he was finally released from prison with hardly an apology. He wasn’t the only one with a story to tell.

Award-winning author Natalie Y. Moore reveals the fight for justice and reparations engineered by Chicago’s Black People Against Police Torture movement. More than one hundred African Americans were brutalized by Chicago Police Department Commander Jon Burge’s sadistic, state-sanctioned “interrogation” ring that operated within the department for decades. The racist CPD cover-up had no chance against the appalling evidence leveled by survivors. In this landmark hearing, “sorry” wasn’t going to cut it.


Rating: 3 out of 5.
Page Count: 20

Description (Goodreads)

After bringing Earth to ruin, the age of humans is over. It is a blessing for some in this tender and tragic cautionary fable from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Thousand Acres.

Now the Congress of Animals is in control, unforgiving, and debating the fate of the planet’s most reviled species. The popular ruling: exterminate humankind without exception. But a curious mare, coming of age, is making a case for a seemingly gentle person she longs to save—a wish for mercy that could once again unbalance the new and righteous nature of the world.


Rating: 3 out of 5.
Page Count: 38

Description (Goodreads)

When a middle-class kid from the suburbs was caught using Facebook to distribute firearms bought legally at Indiana gun shows to notorious gangsters across the border—was he a kingpin or a scapegoat?

David Lewisbey received perhaps the harshest sentence ever in a gun-trafficking trial. A college student from the suburban outskirts of Chicago, he allegedly embodied the enterprising swagger of his favorite rap lyrics, moving weapons for stacks of cash. John H. Richardson tours Chicago’s gun-soaked South Side with Lewisbey’s clientele and meets with the “Big Man” himself to unpack the truth.


Rating: 3 out of 5.
Page Count: 290

Description (Goodreads)

Frederick Frederickson has a food-chain theory about life. There are lions, like the school bully. Gazelles, like the bullied kids. There are meerkats, and the fleas that live on the butts of meerkats. Frederick’s a flea.

Fifth grade is off to a terrible start when Frederick is sent to a disciplinary camp for troublesome boys. His fellow troop mates—Nosebleed, Specs, The Professor, and little-yet-lethal Ant Bite—are terrifying. But in between trust-building exercises and midnight escape attempts, a tenuous friendship grows between them. Which is lucky, because a Category 5 hurricane is coming and everyone will have to work together—lions and fleas alike—to survive! 


Rating: 3 out of 5.
Page Count: 24

Description (Goodreads)

All Kitty wants to do is play her favorite video game. But Kitty has been playing her video game for FIVE hours. Now it’s time for Kitty to:

go outside,
draw a picture,
read a book,
do anything other than play video games.

Kitty doesn’t want to do any of these things. . . but eventually she does anyway, and discovers that some things are way more fun than video games.


Rating: 3 out of 5.
Page Count: 48

Description (Goodreads)

Big Nate, who is always notoriously unprepared for class, turns to divine intervention to spare him!
Aspiring cartoonist Nate Wright is the star of” Big Nate,” the daily and Sunday comic strip. As a popular middle-grade book character, Nate is 11 years old, four-and-a-half feet tall, and the all-time record holder for detentions in school history. He’s a self-described genius and sixth grade Renaissance Man. Nate, who lives with his dad and older sister, enjoys pestering his family and teachers with his sarcasm.


Rating: 3 out of 5.
Page Count: 20

Description (Goodreads)

In the modern retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘William Wilson‘ by the author of ‘The Old drift,’ a young black man’s paranoia escalates as he is followed, challenged, and terrorized by a doppelgänger bent on sabotaging his life.

Ever since high school, somebody’s been playing the echo game on Will Williams. A look-alike with the same tattoos and the same name has been following him. Starting by implicating Will in petty crimes, and escalating to offenses with serious prison terms, he’s undermined every attempt Will has made to get his life on track. Now, drifting from city to city, Will’s doing everything in his power to outrun his shadow.


Rating: 3 out of 5.
Page Count: 112

Description (Goodreads)

The latest collection of Garfield’s return to comic books sends the gang into some wacky adventures, as Odie makes a new friend, Pet Force takes on a scary team of Super-Villains, and Garfield faces his most fearsome foe, the Lasagna Monster! Mark Evanier, Gary Barker, Andy Hirsch and an amazing group of guest artists bring home even more fun with the Fat Cat.


Rating: 3 out of 5.
Page Count: 36

Description (Goodreads)

The condemned man stands on a bridge, his hands bound behind his back. A noose is tied around his neck. In a moment he will meet his fate: DEATH BY HANGING. There is no escape. Or is there? Find out in . . . An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.

This book was converted from its physical edition to the digital format by a community of volunteers. You may find it for free on the web. Purchase of the Kindle edition includes wireless delivery.


Rating: 3 out of 5.
Page Count: 18

Description (Goodreads)

Inspired by a true event, this powerful short story from the author of National Book Award finalist Pachinko explores the meaning of patriarchy and the cost of female silence through the eyes of a dutiful young girl.

An excellent student from a poor, traditional family in Seoul, the narrator has absorbed the same message her whole life: Only a boy can provide the family with dignity and wealth. Not her. Not her three sisters. Receiving approval only for uncomplaining sacrifice, she has resolved to take on her family’s troubles. She is a good girl. And she knows what good girls must do.


Rating: 3 out of 5.
Page Count: 31

Description (Goodreads)

Who would want to steal the identity of a minimum-wage employee at a children’s museum? In this harrowing real-life detective story, a woman searches for the truth, clue after startling clue.

Rachel hit the jackpot with her doting fiancé, Zach, who was starting a promising new political career at the Massachusetts State House. Then came money problems—Rachel’s was mysteriously disappearing, bank account by new bank account. She and Zach, her only lifeline, decided to play amateur sleuths. And they had to act fast. Because Rachel’s crippling paranoia was growing. She was losing more than money. She was starting to lose herself.


Rating: 3 out of 5.
Page Count: 49

Description (Goodreads)

Sleet in Mississippi? In March? A crazy ice storm lays waste to the South in a #1 New York Times bestselling author’s invigorating, touching story of one slippery night, an open bar, and total abandon.

For three strangers whose paths will cross, the storm hasn’t even reached its peak. Two of them are the kind of climate scientists no one ever listens to in disaster movies. The third, against even icier opposition, has just moved to the Magnolia State to come out. Soon they’ll all be pushed closer to the edge, where the bracing winds of cataclysmic change can be so wildly liberating.


Rating: 3 out of 5.
Page Count: 37

Description (Goodreads)

He went on the road expecting the worst of America, but what if the worst of America was also in him? This is the unsettling story of a man in a midlife crisis and his unexpected awakening, by award-winning writer Emily Raboteau.

Poison-tongued film critic Reginald Wright is known for his creative insults and intolerance for the garbage culture, insufferable rudeness, and thoughtless racism of predictably common people. Now, against his better judgment, and with a marriage in crisis, he’s attempting a getaway in the Poconos that quickly fulfills his every low expectation. In fact, it’s becoming a nightmare. And that’s just what Reginald needs to wake up.


Rating: 2 out of 5.

Description (Goodreads)

An institute of Higher Learning… or Heinous Crimes?.
A cozy mystery from #1 Bestselling author Susan Harper

Woodville is a small college town in the Smokey Mountains. When a murder shocks the community, long time friends Tori and Jordan must put their heads together and find a killer. Can they keep their beloved college focused on higher learning or will it be overcome by heinous crimes?

Crimes on Campus is the first book in the College Town Cozy Mystery series. If you enjoy cozy mysteries with interesting characters, it’s time to go back to school to solve a mystery.


Rating: 2 out of 5.
Page Count: 29

Description (Goodreads)

He’s a man with a body under siege—and the willingness to proceed with a cure so miraculous all one can do is gasp—in this chilling story by New York Times bestselling author Adam Haslett.

After years of traditional treatments and therapies, Derrick still suffers from pain ineluctable enough that it has become his identity. Then he hears of an exclusive, very private New York clinic that promises relief. It comes highly recommended by a friend. The multisession remedy unfolds as a sensorial wonder that’s so illuminating it’s enough to bring tears to Derrick’s eyes. It’s all working so well. So unexpectedly well.


Rating: 2 out of 5.
Page Count: 18

Description (Goodreads)

Welcome back to America! For a man trapped in the Homeland Security machine, passing through customs becomes a nightmarish odyssey in this story by the author of Beasts of No Nation.

He’s a well-traveled consultant arriving home at a metropolitan airport. He’s also become accustomed to extra scrutiny for his brown skin and many-stamped passport. But when he’s whisked away, isolated, and chained in a stark white room without explanation, his reality crumbles. Because what he doesn’t know is the most damning evidence against him.


Page Count: 37

Description (Goodreads)

When three siblings return to their hometown for their estranged father’s funeral, burying the ghosts of the past proves to be impossible in this chilling story by the author of Mysterious Skin.

Forty years ago, triplets Miriam, Louise, and Edward were swept up in a case of rural mass hysteria. Coerced into fabricating unspeakable lies about their first-grade teacher and her adult son, they were complicit in destroying two lives. Ever since, they have believed they are being followed by a presence still seeking retribution for their childhood sins. Unless their guilty consciences are conjuring as many monsters as their innocent minds once did.


Rating: 2 out of 5.
Page Count: 33

Description (Goodreads)

All teenagers come of age. But in this spellbinding story by the bestselling author of Ill Will, one girl’s awakening requires something special. Something strange. Then it can all work like a charm.

Ever since they were orphaned, Tyler has kept close tabs on his sister, Shannon. He has to, considering her weird and risky obsessions. Now she has a new one: an inexplicable crush on an odd-looking stranger. And what Shannon wants from her unwitting “honey boy,” Tyler can’t begin to fathom. Not until he follows his sister into the darkest corners of her desires.


Rating: 2 out of 5.
Page Count: 146

Description (Goodreads)

The thrill of a sleepover becomes sheer terror as kids voice their greatest fears into existence in this cheeky, vividly cinematic tale by New York Times bestselling author Edgar Cantero. Lights out.

It’s bad enough that its venom-dripping chelicerae can slice through flesh like warm butter. Worse? It’s right there under the bunk. It’s a fact now. To make it through the night, the children must obey the rules: don’t get out of bed, stay out of the shadows, and don’t wake the beast. But as the threats multiply, so do the rules of survival. And with the safety of dawn still hours away, the fun is just beginning.


Weekly Recipe Wednesday: Beef Stifado

Welcome to another Weekly Recipe Wednesday. Last week I shared another recipe from the author, Claire Huston. This week, I’m mixing it up a bit by sharing a savory recipe. This recipe is an entree that I found interesting. The dish is referenced in the book, The Stranger In My Bed, which I reviewed here in my blog. You can also find this recipe and more from MyGreekDish.com

Author: Eli K. Giannopoulos Prep Time: 15 minutes Cook Time: 1 hour 45 minutes Total Time: 2 hours Yield: 5 1x Category: Main Method: Stew Cuisine: Greek

Description

The perfect traditional Greek beef stew (stifado) recipe. Find out how to prepare beef stifado the traditional Greek way for that melt- in-the-mouth texture you’ve been looking for.

Ingredients

1 kg good-quality stewing beef, cut into portions (35 ounces) 1.5 kg pearl onions, peeled (60 ounces)
1/4 of a cup olive oil
3/4 of a cup red wine

3 tbsps red wine vinegar
1/3 of a cup cognac (you can substitute brandy)
1 large, juicy ripe tomato, roughly chopped 1 tsp tomato pure
1 bay leaf
3–4 allspice berries
a pinch nutmeg
salt and freshly ground pepper

Instructions

  1.  To prepare this delicious Greek beef stifado recipe, heat the oil in a saucepan, add the meat (in batches) and sauté, until browned on all sides. Do not add all the meat in the sauce pan, rather sauté in batches, so that the temperature of the oil remains high and the meat is sealed. When done, remove with a slotted spoon, place on a platter, cover and set aside.
  2.  Carve the baby shallot onions crosswise, add in the same oil used to browned the meat, turn down to medium heat and sauté until the onions have softened, but not browned (about 10 minutes).
  3.  Pour in the cognac, the wine and red wine vinegar, cover and let it simmer for 3 minutes.
  4.  Pour the meat along with its juices to the saucepan, add the chopped tomato, tomato puree, bay leaf, allspice berries and nutmeg. Bring to a boil, turn the heat down and simmer the beef stifado for 1 1/2 hours or until the beef is tender and the sauce has thickened. While the beef stifado is simmering, check if it needs some water; you don’t want it to dry out. If it does, pour in half a cup of boiled water and stir. Towards the end of cooking time season well with salt and pepper to taste.

Stay tuned for next week’s recipe.


ARC Review: Big Kibble

  • Publication Date: December 1, 2020
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
  • Authors: Shawn Buckley, Dr. Oscar Chavez
  • Genre: Health, Mind & Body|Non Fiction (Adult)
  • Page Count: 320 pages

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Description (Goodreads)

What’s really going into commercial dog food? The answer is horrifying.

Big Kibble is big business: $75 billion globally. A handful of multi-national corporations dominate the industry and together own as many as 80% of all brands. This comes as a surprise to most people, but what’s even more shocking is how lax the regulations and guidelines are around these products. The guidelines–or lack thereof–for pet food allow producers to include ever-cheaper ingredients, and create ever-larger earnings. For example, “legal” ingredients in kibble include poultry feces, saw dust, expired food, and diseased meat, among other horrors. Many vets still don’t know that kibble is not the best food for dogs because Big Kibble funds the nutrition research. So far, these corporations have been able to cut corners and still market and promote feed-grade food as if it were healthful and beneficial–until now.


Review

And you thought you knew what goes into that bag of dog food. Think again. Sure, you’ve learned that the first ingredient listed on that bag of kibble is the “tell all” of its contents. But, what about the rest of the ingredients? Are you sure all the ingredients are safe?

In the book Big Kibble, the reader will learn about the historical background of how kibble came into being along with how corporate acquisitions and mergers played a major role in the manufacturing processes of dog feed. We already know about Big Pharma. Now you will learn about Big Kibble.

As a pet parent, I was appalled to read about some of the ingredients that gets added to kibble as well as those canned dog foods. If you think that the ingredients are human grade, you will be in for a surprise.

Although most of the book concentrates on the manufacturing processes, there are other interesting chapters that focuses on facts versus fiction in dog nutrition. And should you decide that you want to switch to a fresh food dietary program for your “fur baby,” there’s even a section dedicated to fresh, wholesome recipes.

I found Big Kibble to be very informative and it is certainly a book that every pet parent should read. Five stars. Kudos to the authors!

I received a digital ARC from St. Martin’s Press through NetGalley. The review herein is completely my own and contains my honest thoughts and opinions.


ARC Review: The Wicked Hour

  • Publication Date: December 1, 2020
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (Minotaur Books)
  • Author: Alice Blanchard
  • Genre: Mystery & Thrillers
  • Page Count: 304 Pages

Rating: 3 out of 5.
304 Pages

Description (NetGalley):

The day after Burning Lake’s notorious, debauched Halloween celebration, Detective Natalie Lockhart uncovers a heartbreaking scene—a young woman, dead and lying in a dumpster. There’s no clue to who she is, save for a mystifying tattoo on her arm, and a callus underneath her chin. She’s not from around here. No one knows who she is.

As Natalie retraces the young woman’s steps leading up to her death, she uncovers a deeper, darker horror—a string of murders and disappearances, seemingly unconnected, that may have ties to each other—and explain the abrupt disappearance of her best friend years ago.

As she digs deeper within the mind of the hunter, Natalie finds a darkness she could never have imagined. And as she draws closer to the truth, the killer is weaving a trap for her that may prove inescapable.


Review:

The Wicked Hour is a suspenseful police procedural novel. With a varied cast of characters, The Wicked Hour proved to be an interesting read. However, readers will probably enjoy this novel a lot more if they read the first novel, Trace of Evil.

Detective Natalie Lockhart is assigned to investigate the death of a budding violinist, Morgan Chambers. Morgan was found buried under a pile of garbage in a dumpster. Naked and without obvious signs of blunt force trauma or other signs of foul play, it’s up to Natalie and her team to conduct a full investigation into the who, what, when, and where of Morgan’s demise.

Without going into too much detail and spoiling the story, there were some aspects of the plot that didn’t quite fit logically. Perhaps certain aspects of the plot were overlooked as I probably spent too much time trying to figure out the background into Detective Lockhart’s depression and her relationship with her father and sisters. That being said, I probably missed out on a few key moments.

Overall, The Wicked Hour is a novel that will be appreciated by fans of the mystery & thriller genre. Three stars. I liked it.

I received a digital ARC from St. Martin’s Press through NetGalley. The review herein is completely my own and contains my honest thoughts and opinions.


Book Review: A Dog’s Perfect Christmas

  • Publication Date: October 20, 2020
  • Publisher: Tor/Forge
  • Author: W. Bruce Cameron
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Page Count: 288

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Description (Goodreads)

The problems fracturing the Goss family as Christmas approaches are hardly unique, though perhaps they are handling them a little differently than most people might. But then a true emergency arises, one with the potential to not only ruin Christmas, but everything holding the family together.

Is the arrival of a lost puppy yet another in the string of calamities facing them, or could the little canine be just what they all need?

A Dog’s Perfect Christmas is a beautiful, poignant, delightful tale of what can happen when family members open their hearts to new possibilities. You’ll find love and tears and laughter—the ideal holiday read.


Review

If you ever want a feel good story during Christmas or any other time, A Dog’s Perfect Christmas is the ideal novel.

Unlike Mr. Cameron’s other dog-centered novels, A Dog’s Perfect Christmas is focused on the family dynamic during the holiday season.

Stuck in a seemingly dead-end marriage and resigned to a life of mundane housewifery, Juliana Goss expresses her disappointment to her husband, Hunter. Shocked but undeterred, Hunter continues his corporate climb until a devastating illness befalls Juliana, upending the entire family.

As the family struggles with Juliana’s illness, a unifying bond forms among the family members, reinforcing the ties that bind them together.

A Dog’s Perfect Christmas is a heartwarming novel about family and friend relationships. With lovable characters and a story to match, A Dog’s Perfect Christmas is the perfect novel that will bring joy into your heart. Five stars. I loved it.

I received a printed copy of the book from Tor/Forge through Goodreads Giveaways. The review herein is completely my own and contains my honest thoughts and opinions.


Book Review: Just a Small Town

  • Publication Date: September 8, 2020
  • Publisher: Hookline Books
  • Author: Paul Linggood
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Page Count: 180

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Description (Goodreads)

A small town that could be anywhere: industry in decline, streets in decay, many have left, while those left behind take short-term joy in drugs.

Four young people are among the left behind.

Alex consumes heroin to escape his abusive father. Jim hides from guilt after the death of the friend he didn’t save. Chelsi’s brother killed a local boy, and ostracism pushes her towards a rival gang, prostitution and loneliness. Danny is a hustler but needs protection from the drug gang that supplies him.

Can any of them survive the addiction, gang life, isolation and manipulation?

Their small town could be anywhere. 


Review

Just a Small Town is a gut-wrenching novel about the tragedies of four people. The story unfolds as each character shares their point of view and outlines how the choices they made dictated how they lived.

From school bullying, drug addiction, drug dealing, and homelessness, the reader follows Jim’s, Alex’s, Chelsi’s, and Danny’s paths growing up in a small town.

At first blush, Just a Small Town seemed to be a quick and easy read. However, for me, I could not wrap my head around all the colloquialisms. So it took me a while to get through the book since I had to deduce the meaning of each term by inference.

Although I liked some of the outcomes after reading the book, I found it a little too depressing for my tastes. Further, I felt that a more developed plot line linking each of the characters together would lend itself for a smoother and better narrative.

Overall a satisfying read. Three stars. I liked it.

I received a digital copy of the book from Hookline Books. The review herein is completely my own and contains my honest thoughts and opinions.


ARC Review: Germania

  • Publication Date: December 1, 2020
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books
  • Author: Harald Gilbers
  • Genre: Historical Fiction|Mystery & Thrillers
  • Page Count: 352

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Description:

It’s 1944 in Berlin. A serial killer stalks the bombed-out capital of the Reich, preying on women and laying their mutilated bodies in front of war memorials. All of the victims can be linked to the Nazi party. However, according to one eyewitness account, the perpetrator is not an opponent of Hitler’s regime, but rather a loyal Nazi.

Jewish detective Richard Oppenheimer, once a successful investigator for the Berlin police, is reactivated by the Gestapo and forced onto the case. Oppenheimer is not just concerned with catching the killer and helping others survive, but also his own survival. Worst of all, solving this case is what will certainly put him in the most jeopardy. With no other choice but to further his investigation, he feverishly searches for answers, and a way out of this dangerous game. 


Review:

Germania is a novel published abroad which became an international bestseller. Now it will soon become available to the US and Canada.

Dragged out of the Jewish House by the SS in Nazi occupied Berlin, Jewish detective Richard Oppenheimer is asked to investigate the horrific murders of women left mutilated in front of war memorials — women with ties to the Nazi party. Does Richard even have a choice? Either way, Richard is probably in jeopardy.

Full of espionage, the reader follows Richard in his investigation process. In Richard’s quest to apprehend the perpetrator, and with the help of a good friend, Richard uncovers deep secrets and covert operations occurring within the Reich.

Germania can be somewhat of a slow read. There are a number of players with names that I could barely pronounce. But the development of those players were well executed. The plot itself had its ups and downs. It was those hair-raising moments that kept me engaged.

Overall, Germania is an enjoyable read and a nice fit for those fans of historical fiction|mystery & thrillers. Three stars. I liked it.

I received a digital ARC from St. Martin’s Press through NetGalley. The review herein is completely my own and contains my honest thoughts and opinions.


Throwback Thursday

Welcome to the third week of Throwback Thursday. For the week of 11/15 – 21, 2019, I finished the following books:

Rating: 3 out of 5.
Page Count: 240

Description (Goodreads)

“My name is Rylee, and I am a Tracker.”

When children go missing, and the Humans have no leads, I’m the one they call. I am their last hope in bringing home the lost ones. I salvage what they cannot.

Crossing into Ogre country is dangerous when you’re a polite, respectful gal. Which means I already know I’m in for a wild ride, despite the back up I’ve brought along.

Even when things start to go sideways, and enemies close on us from every side, I still believe we have the upper hand.

How very blind can one person be when it comes to a salvage?

I’m about to find out.


Rating: 5 out of 5.
Page Count: 40

Description (Goodreads)

Nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.

Like the Skin Horse, Margery Williams understood how toys—and people—become real through the wisdom and experience of love. This reissue of a favorite classic, with the original story and illustrations as they first appeared in 1922, will work its magic for all who read it. 


Rating: 4 out of 5.
Page Count: 86

Description (Goodreads)

When the town drunk ends up dead in a hit-and-run, FBI special agent Cate Wilde expects that solving the case will be cut and dried. But evidence quickly surfaces that the victim was involved with another crime. A crime that has gone cold for twenty years. A crime of personal importance to Cate.

Cate’s best friend, Samantha, went missing at fourteen, leaving behind nothing except a jacket and an island full of unanswered questions. Samantha’s disappearance has haunted Cate for more than half her life, and she might finally be able to find some closure.

But not everything is as it seems. As Cate unravels what happened on that fateful day, she’ll discover that the community of Widow’s Island is full of secrets. Betrayed by someone she thought she knew, Cate will need to piece together the truth…before someone else gets hurt.


Rating: 4 out of 5.
Page Count: 26

Description (Goodreads)

One dollar and eighty-seven cents is all the money Della has in the world to buy her beloved a Christmas present. She has nothing to sell except her only treasure–her long, beautiful brown hair. Set in New York at the turn of the twentieth century, this classic piece of American literature tells the story of a young couple and the sacrifices each must make to buy the other a gift. Beautiful, delicate watercolors by award-winning illustrator Lisbeth Zwerger add new poignancy and charm to this simple tale about the rewards of unselfish love.


Rating: 3 out of 5.
Page Count: 160

Description (Goodreads)

On 29th February 2000, John Price took out a restraining order against his girlfriend, Katherine Knight. Later that day, he told his co-workers that she had stabbed him and if he were ever to go missing, it was because Knight had killed him.

The next day, Price didn’t show up for work.

A co-worker was sent to check on him. They found a bloody handprint by the front door and they immediately contacted the police. The local police force was not prepared for the chilling scene they were about to encounter.

Price’s body was found in a chair, legs crossed, with a bottle of lemonade under his arm. He’d been decapitated and skinned. The “skin-suit” was hanging from a meat hook in the living room and his head was found in the kitchen, in a pot of vegetables that was still warm. There were two plates on the dining table, each had the name of one of Price’s children on it.

She was attempting to serve his body parts to his children.

Man-Eater is a dramatic and gripping account of the first women in Australia to be given a life sentence without parole and a special addendum ‘never to be released’. Ryan Green’s riveting narrative draws the reader into the real-live horror experienced by the victim and has all the elements of a classic thriller.

CAUTION: This book contains descriptive accounts of abuse and violence. If you are especially sensitive to this material, it might be advisable not to read any further.


Rating: 3 out of 5.
Page Count: 58

Description (Goodreads)

A self-styled artist is getting away with murder in Death Valley. If all goes well, so will Nameless. In part two of the Nameless series, the relentless avenger is haunted by nightmares of the past and visions of what’s to come.

Palmer Oxenwald’s hunting ground is the Mojave wasteland. His victims are random tourists and hikers. His trophies are cherished photographs of the damage he’s done. His greatest threat is Nameless. Two men with one thing in common: memories of the dead. For a psychopath like Palmer, they’re a clear rush in black and white. For Nameless, they’re visions of violence buried and erased. But for how long?


Rating: 2 out of 5.
Page Count: 55

Description (Goodreads)

Annie Proulx has written some of the most original and brilliant short stories in contemporary literature, and for many readers and reviewers, “Brokeback Mountain” is her masterpiece.

Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist, two ranch hands, come together when they’re working as sheepherder and camp tender one summer on a range above the tree line. At first, sharing an isolated tent, the attraction is casual, inevitable, but something deeper catches them that summer.

Both men work hard, marry, and have kids because that’s what cowboys do. But over the course of many years and frequent separations this relationship becomes the most important thing in their lives, and they do anything they can to preserve it.


Rating: 4 out of 5.
Page Count: 45

Description (Goodreads)

This is a book about a bad seedA baaaaaaaaaad seed. How bad? Do you really want to know?

He has a bad temper, bad manners, and a bad attitude. He’s been bad since he can remember! This seed cuts in line every time, stares at everybody and never listens. But what happens when one mischievous little seed changes his mind about himself, and decides that he wants to be—happy?

With Jory John’s charming and endearing text and bold expressive illustrations by Pete Oswald, here is The Bad Seed: a funny yet touching tale that reminds us of the remarkably transformative power of will, acceptance, and just being you. Perfect for readers young and old, The Bad Seed proves that positive change is possible for each and every one of us.


Rating: 3 out of 5.

Description (Goodreads)

“My name is Rylee, and I am a Tracker.”

When children go missing, and the Humans have no leads, I’m the one they call. I am their last hope in bringing home the lost ones. I salvage what they cannot.

A missing girl and a deadly item belonging to a power-mad demon need to be found before the killing begins. The problem? This is my first salvage.

And I have no idea what I’m doing.

These were the moments that began to define me, my skills, and my drive to face down the darkest side of the supernatural in order to bring children home.

This is where my journey began…


Rating: 3 out of 5.
Page Count: 62

Description (Goodreads)

A bloodthirsty sheriff is terrorizing a small Texas town where justice has been buried with his victims. Until Nameless arrives—a vigilante whose past is a mystery and whose future is written in blood.

Anyone who crosses Sheriff Russell Soakes is dead, missing, or warned. One of them is a single mother trying to protect her children but bracing herself for the worst. Nameless fears the outcome. He’s seen it in his visions. Now it’s time to teach the depraved Soakes a lesson in fear. But in turning predators into prey, will Nameless unearth a few secrets of his own?


Rating: 2 out of 5.
Page Count 64

Description (Goodreads)

Today, F. Scott Fitzgerald is known for his novels, but in his lifetime, his fame stemmed from his prolific achievement as one of America’s most gifted story writers. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” a witty and fantastical satire about aging, is one of his most memorable stories.

In 1860 Benjamin Button is born an old man and mysteriously begins aging backward. At the beginning of his life he is withered and worn, but as he continues to grow younger he embraces life — he goes to war, runs a business, falls in love, has children, goes to college and prep school, and, as his mind begins to devolve, he attends kindergarten and eventually returns to the care of his nurse.

This strange and haunting story embodies the sharp social insight that has made Fitzgerald one of the great voices in the history of American literature. 


Rating: 4 out of 5.
Page Count: 270

Description (Goodreads)

“My name is Rylee, and I am a Tracker.”

When children go missing, and the Humans have no leads, I’m the one they call. I am their last hope in bringing home the lost ones. I salvage what they cannot.

Bringing my allies together as war approaches is my number one concern. But that means I have to play nice with a vampire who is blackmailing me. If I don’t, I’m screwed and my family is dead.

But I don’t play nice. And I have a backup plan. Kinda.

Throw in some new weapons being developed that work around supernaturals and I have more problems than I can handle on my own.

Good thing I have a kick ass team.

Even if they are on the other side of the world from me.


Rating: 2 out of 5.
Page Count: 128

Description (Goodreads)

The winter isn’t ending. Nobody knows why.
And Odd has run away from home, even though he can barely walk and has to use a crutch.
Out in the forest he encounters a bear, a fox, and an eagle – three creatures with a strange story to tell.
Now Odd is faced with a stranger journey than he had ever imagined.
A journey to save Asgard, City of the Norse Gods, from the Frost Giants who have invaded it.
It’s going to take a very special kind of boy to defeat the most dangerous of all the Frost Giants and rescue the mighty Gods. Someone cheerful and infuriating and clever.
Someone just like Odd…


Rating: 4 out of 5.
Page Count: 61

Description (Goodreads)

A deadly black widow has eliminated three husbands and counting. But Nameless knows her one weakness. To bring truth and its consequences to her crimes, the vigilante must spin a web of his own in part three of the Nameless series.

Lucia—current last name, Rickenbah—has made a fortune by marrying rich men who tend to drop dead. But the superstitious blonde believes in more than money and murder. Nameless’s job is to scare a confession out of Lucia, and as the psychological warfare escalates, even he may be in for a shock.


Rating: 3 out of 5.

Description (Goodreads)

In this masterful account of the 1995 Ebola outbreak in Zaire, Garrett, now the Senior Fellow for Global Health at the Council on Foreign Relations, shows how superstition and fear, compounded by a lack of resources, education, and clearheaded government planning have plagued our response to Ebola. In an extensive new introduction, Garrett forcefully argues that learning from past outbreaks is the key to solving the Ebola crisis of 2014.

In her account of the 1995 Zaire outbreak, first published in her bestselling book Betrayal of Trust, Garrett takes readers through the epidemic’s course-beginning with the Kikwit villager who first contracted it from an animal encounter while chopping wood for charcoal deep in the forest. As she documents the outbreak in riveting detail, Garrett shows why our trust in world governments to protect people’s health has been irrevocably broken. She details the international community’s engagement in the epidemic’s aftermath: a pattern of response and abandonment, urgency that devolves into amnesia.

Ebola: Story of an Outbreak is essential reading for anyone who wants to comprehend Ebola, one of mankind’s most mysterious, malicious scourges. Garrett has issued a powerful call for governments, citizens, and the disease-fighting agencies of the wealthy world to take action.


Rating: 3 out of 5.
Page Count: 50

Description (Goodreads)

In a town where the corrupt are protected, a bereaved mother seeks retribution for an arsonist’s deadly crimes. Only Nameless can help ease the burden of her grief—and satisfy her rage—in part four of this thrilling series.

After a suspicious house fire, Regina Belmont lost her two children, was left disfigured, and was abandoned by her gutless husband. Brokenhearted and bullied into silence by corrupt officials, Regina’s only recourse for truth and justice is Nameless. There’s something about this case that’s breaking Nameless’s heart as well. But can he bear to remember why?


Rating: 2 out of 5.
Page Count: 61

Description (Goodreads)

A series of suspicious deaths in a retirement home draws Nameless into the confidence of a terrified former resident—and into the dark heart of a shocking conspiracy. In part five of the Nameless series, it’s time to hunt.

Oakshore Park is Michigan’s most exclusive assisted-living community. Presided over by two killer angels of mercy, it’s also the go-to facility in assisted dying. For a cut, they make impatient heirs happy. Nameless must concoct a scheme just as cunning. But righteous retribution stirs disquiet in the avenger as light starts to shine on the black hole of his past. Should he welcome it or keep running?


Rating: 5 out of 5.
Page Count: 870

Description (Goodreads)

There is a door at the end of a silent corridor. And it’s haunting Harry Pottter’s dreams. Why else would he be waking in the middle of the night, screaming in terror?

Harry has a lot on his mind for this, his fifth year at Hogwarts: a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher with a personality like poisoned honey; a big surprise on the Gryffindor Quidditch team; and the looming terror of the Ordinary Wizarding Level exams. But all these things pale next to the growing threat of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named – a threat that neither the magical government nor the authorities at Hogwarts can stop.

As the grasp of darkness tightens, Harry must discover the true depth and strength of his friends, the importance of boundless loyalty, and the shocking price of unbearable sacrifice.

His fate depends on them all.


Weekly Recipe Wednesday: Raspberry Ripple Sponge Cake

Many thanks go out to author Claire Huston for allowing me to share her cake recipes. The cakes are featured in her romance novel, Art & Soul.

Ingredients:

  • 250g / 8.8 oz butter or margarine
  • 250g / 8.8 oz caster sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 250g / 8.8. oz self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 175g / 6.2 oz fresh raspberries

Method:

  • Make your raspberry purée. I pushed the raspberries through a sieve using the back of a spoon, letting the juice drip into a bowl below, but you could whiz the raspberries in a blender and then sieve afterwards. Set to one side.
  • Now make your sponge cakes. Grease and line two 8-inch (20 cm), round cake tins. Pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees C (140 degrees C fan), 320 degrees F or Gas Mark 3.
  • Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, beating your mixture after adding each egg. Then add the vanilla extract and flour and stir until you have a smooth mixture.
  • Divide your mixture in two and spoon into the cake tins. Using the back of a spoon, make a number of wells in each tin but don’t go right to the bottom of the tin. Spoon your raspberry purée into these wells, as shown in the photos below. BUT make sure you keep 2 tablespoonfuls of purée to flavour the buttercream filling later.

Then use a knife or skewer to swirl the purée through the mixture. Like this:

  • Bake your cakes for about 30 minutes or until a knife or skewer inserted into the middle of a cake comes out clean.
  • Leave to cool in the tins before turning out onto a wire rack to finish cooling.

For the filling I made a standard buttercream, making far too much as usual. 75 g (2.6 oz) of butter/marg and 150g (5.3 oz) icing sugar will be more than enough. Add two tablespoons of raspberry purée to your buttercream. If adding the liquid makes the buttercream too sloppy, add some extra icing sugar or put in the fridge to harden up.

You could cover your cakes with the buttercream if you want, but I think the top is too pretty to hide. I piped the buttercream between the laters.

ARC Review: The Princess Knight

  • Publication Date: November 24, 2020
  • Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corp.
  • Author: G. A. Aiken
  • Genre: Sci-Fi & Fantasy
  • Page Count: 354

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Description (Goodreads):

Gemma Smythe dedicated her life to the glory of battle. With her fellow War Monks, she worshipped the war gods, rained destruction on her enemies, and raised the dead when the fancy took her. Until her sister Keeley became the prophesied Blacksmith Queen, and Gemma broke faith with her order to journey to the Amichai Mountain and fight by Keeley’s side.

The Amichai warriors are an unruly, never-to-be-tamed lot, especially their leader-in-waiting, Quinn. But when the War Monks declare support for Gemma’s ruthless younger sister Beatrix, the immaturity of her key ally is the least of Gemma’s problems. She has to get to the grand masters, dispel their grudge against her, and persuade them to fight for Keeley and justice. If her conviction can’t sway them, perhaps Quinn’s irritating, irreverent, clearly unhinged, ferocity will win the day…


Review:

The Princess Knight is the second installment of the Scarred Earth Saga. In this second installment, the focus is centered on Gemma Smythe, the Blacksmith Queen’s (Keeley Smythe’s) sister. Gemma is a war monk, which means that there will always be blood and death involved in what she does.

Gemma is tasked with recruiting as many sects and factions to build an army that could potentially defeat the evil Queen Beatrix (Gemma and Keeley’s sister.) Along the way, Gemma and her war cohorts encounter several enemies and in epic battle style, manage to defeat them. Yet, not all are defeated. There are still other enemies lurking in the land.

The Princess Knight, though full of action, didn’t quite impress me as much as it’s predecessor — The Blacksmith Queen. Perhaps it is because I could relate more to Keeley Smythe’s style and snarky humor. Gemma Smythe, on the other hand, is the diametric opposite of Keeley. Dark and angry. Nevertheless, The Princess Knight did not disappoint. I had a smashing good time with this novel. The humor made me laugh out loud and quelled the gory detail of the battles. It was a very enjoyable read and perfect for fans of fantasy.

I rated it four stars. I really liked it and look forward to the future installments of the Saga.

I claimed a print copy ARC from Kensington Books through the Bookish First Raffle. The review herein is completely my own and contains my honest thoughts and opinions.


About the Author (From Bookish First):

G.A. Aiken is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Dragon Kin Series and The Scarred Earth Saga. When she’s not writing about sexy dragons and feminist blacksmiths, she’s writing about hot wolf, lion, tiger, and other fang-filled predators as Shelly Laurenston, the acclaimed and bestselling author of the Pride series, the Call of Crows and the Honey Badger Chronicles. Originally from Long Island, she now lives on the West Coast and spends most of her time writing and making sure her rescued Pitbull doesn’t love everyone into a coma.


Book Review: Second Chance on Cypress Lane

  • Publisher: Forever (Grand Central Publishing)
  • Release Date: December 1, 2020
  • Author: Reese Ryan
  • Genre: Contemporary Romance
  • Page Count: 413 (Includes Bonus Novella)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Description (Goodreads)

When a romance gone wrong lands reporter Dakota Jones in the pages of the tabloids, her rising star crashes and burns. Instead of getting the weekend anchor job she’d been promised, she’s promptly shown the door. Which leaves her one option: return home to lick her wounds, eat lemon meringue pie, and plot her comeback while actively avoiding the man who once broke her heart.

Dexter Roberts made a huge mistake when he walked away from Dakota, and he’s regretted it ever since. So when Dakota returns to Holly Grove Island to regroup and decide what’s next, Dex can’t pass up the opportunity to win back the love of his life. Now he just needs to convince Dakota to give him a second chance.


Review

Dakota Jones, considered one of the elite investigative reporters is on her way to becoming a lead news anchor in New York. But then a foolish mistake — an affair with a married Italian director causes a huge scandal. The scandal headlining all of the tabloid papers and media, causes Dakota to be ultimately fired and blacklisted.

Dejected and with no other avenues of job prospects in New York, Dakota heads back home to Holly Grove Island, North Carolina. There in Holly Grove, she has to face her biggest heartbreak, Dexter Roberts. Dexter has always regretted the breakup with Dakota. And now that Dakota is back, perhaps it’s time for a second chance.

Second Chance on Cypress Lane is a wonderfully crafted contemporary romance novel. The cast of characters play well into the story and its splendid North Carolina backdrop. You’ll fall in love with Dexter (Dex) and develop a warm and personal attachment to some of the minor players in the story.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel with the exception that I felt it was too drawn-out as far as the Dexter-Dakota relationship goes. Nevertheless, Second Chance on Cypress Lane is still a great read and perfect for contemporary romance aficionados. Four stars. I really liked it.

I received a paperback copy of the book from Forever (Grand Central Publishing.) The review herein is completely my own and contains my honest thoughts and opinions.


Book Review: The Next Step

  • Publication Date: October 4, 2020
  • Publisher: Self
  • Author: Adrian Siska
  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Page Count: 241

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Description (Goodreads)

The story revolves around Adam Moore, the son of groundbreaking innovators and founders of the leading company in the android industry based in San Francisco. It’s the second half of the 21st century and androids have become a part of the every day’s routine in all aspects of life.

Take on an epic journey throughout Adam’s life from his childhood to his adult years to find out what will be the next step in the evolution of androids. You will witness a fascinating story about love and the ultimate fight for happiness.


Review

Adam Moore is a STEM child prodigy of Peter and Christine Moore, tech giants in the android industry.

After a tragic accident costing the lives of Peter and Christine, Adam is forced to live with his uncle Gabriel who is now the new CEO of Moore Technologies.

What follows is the unfolding of Adam’s life as a young boy to the scientific genius of an adult. Full of action, adventure, and with a hint of romance, the reader will be taken on a wonderful journey in the life of Adam.

The Next Step is a brilliant sci-fi novel. With excellent plot execution, and an engaging cast of characters, The Next Step will not disappoint. Five stars. I loved this novel.

I received a digital copy of the book from the author, Adrian Siska. The review herein is completely my own and contains my honest thoughts and opinions.


About the Author (Goodreads)

Adrian is one of those people who probably spend more time in their own imagination than in the real world. He had always found reality somewhat boring and had been escaping to these awe-inspiring imaginative worlds full of fascinating stories just to avoid every day’s boredom since he was a child. He was born and lives in Slovakia, the little heart of Europe.

He was always very good with numbers and analyzing everything, or maybe over-analyzing would be a better term. His analyzing part was especially annoying to a lot of people, even to some members of his family. He was a very smart kid and he never let anyone get away with any sort of bullshit, so he was never exactly a popular person among social groups.

Although his major at university was economics and management, his favorite subject during university studies was psychology. “It’s amazing what you can learn about yourself and others thanks to simple understanding of how the human mind works” he says, “It’s like a beautiful puzzle.”

He worked five years as a freelance translator and during this time he started to write all his works in English. Then he made a radical change in his career and worked for almost four years as an accountant for a big corporation. Yes, you read that right. Although it was very demanding and sucked out all of his creative energy from him for a couple of years, he met a lot of good people and gained a lot of inspiration along the way throughout this experience.

More as a hobby than a career, he was pursuing filmmaking and writing screenplays for some time and for a very brief moment he was trying to grasp knowledge of programming and creating video games, which he realized is incredibly time-consuming and maybe a little bit above his skills, so he knocked it on the head, “at least for now” he says. And ultimately he decided to transform his stories and ideas into books. What the future holds for him now remains to be seen.


Throwback Thursday

Welcome to week two of Throwback Thursday. In 2019, during the second week of November, I read 19 books. A majority of them were novellas; but I did have one particular novel that I really loved — The Queen of the South aka La Reina del Sur. So without further adieu:

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Page Count: 644

Description (Goodreads)

Guero Davila is a pilot engaged in drug-smuggling for the local cartels. Teresa Mendoza is his girlfriend, a typical narco’s morra– quiet, doting, submissive. But then Guero’s caught playing both sides, and in Sinaloa, that means death. Teresa finds herself alone, terrified, friendless and running to save her life, carrying nothing but a gym bag containing a pistol and a notebook that she has been forbidden to read. Forced to leave Mexico, she flees to the Spanish city of Melilla, where she meets Santiago Fisterra, a Galician involved in trafficking hashish across the Strait of Gibraltar. When Santiago’s partner is captured, it is Teresa who steps in to take his place. Now Teresa has plunged into the dark and ugly world that once claimed Guero’s life– and she’s about to get in deeper…


Rating: 5 out of 5.
Page Count: 44

Description (Goodreads)

In this page-turning short story from international bestselling author Jeffery Deaver, senior detective Jon Avery inherits a deeply troubling case. At an off-campus party, university professor Rose Taylor is drugged, undressed, and photographed on a burner phone. In seconds her humiliation is uploaded, and millions of JPEGs are zipping like immortal wasps through the internet. But why would someone target her? She has no vengeful exes or rival academics, no stalkers or unhinged students. Jon Avery, the sharpest, most experienced investigator in the sheriff’s office, is determined to find out who’s behind this horrific invasion of privacy. But soon he runs into a wall of silence at Preston College—an academic mecca whose reputation one doesn’t dare tarnish. The message is clear: if he pursues the case, he’ll pay for it.


Rating: 5 out of 5.
Page Count: 75

Description (Goodreads)

A video game developer becomes obsessed with a willful character in her new project, in a mind-bending exploration of what it means to be human by the New York Times bestselling author of Recursion.

Maxine was made to do one thing: die. Except the minor non-player character in the world Riley is building makes her own impossible decision—veering wildly off course and exploring the boundaries of the map. When the curious Riley extracts her code for closer examination, an emotional relationship develops between them. Soon Riley has all new plans for her spontaneous AI, including bringing Max into the real world. But what if Max has real-world plans of her own?


Rating: 4 out of 5.
Page Count: 242

Description (Goodreads)

Underestimating demons is a bad idea, and it’s a mistake that may cost me not only my own life, but the life of a missing child.

If I can swallow my pride, and allow Agent O’Shea to help me find a way to deal with the demon, we might be able to save the child.

With this salvage, it’s a race against time, a test of trust, and a temptation that I’m doing my damnedest to ignore.

If only swallowing my pride was that easy.


Rating: 4 out of 5.
Page Count: 94

Description (Goodreads)

FBI Special Agent Cate Wilde is back home on a remote Pacific Northwest island when she gets the call: a teenager’s skeletal remains have been found on a nearby island.

Together with Tessa Black, a childhood friend turned local deputy, Cate confronts dreary weather and bleak leads to make sense of the death. The complications pile up as Cate is distracted by the coroner on the case—and by nagging memories that draw her twenty years into the past. The remains suggest eerie similarities between this victim, and Cate and Tessa’s friend Samantha, who disappeared when she was fourteen.

Cate finds herself up against closemouthed locals, buried town secrets, and even her own heart. As the case unravels, will she be able to cut through the fog and find justice for the missing and the dead.


Rating: 4 out of 5.
Page Count: 301

Description (Goodreads)

All work and no play makes Jack extremely bored. And when Jack gets bored, he makes mischief. It’s not that he’s bad; he just longs for adventure—and there’s nothing adventurous about toiling day and night to grow yucky green stuff.
      Adventure finally arrives one day in the form of giants, and soon Jack is chasing them to a land beyond the clouds, with his little sister, Annabella, in tow. The kingdom of giants is full of slugs the size of sheep, venomous pixies as tall as grown men, and a chatty cook with the biggest mouth Jack has ever seen. There’s giant fun to be had, too: puddings to swim in, spoons to use as catapults, monster toads to carry off pesky little sisters. . . .
      But Jack and Annabella are on a mission. The king of the giants has taken something that belongs to them, and they’ll do anything—even dive into a smelly tureen of green bean soup—to get it back.


Rating: 4 out of 5.
Page Count: 56

Description (Goodreads)

What’s more frightening: Not knowing who you are? Or finding out? A Bram Stoker Award–winning author explores the answer in a chilling story about identity and human consciousness.

Imagine you’ve woken up in an unfamiliar room with no memory of who you are, how you got there, or where you were before. All you have is the disconnected voice of an attentive caretaker. Dr. Kuhn is there to help you—physically, emotionally, and psychologically. She’ll help you remember everything. She’ll make sure you reclaim your lost identity. Now answer one question: Are you sure you want to?


Rating: 4 out of 5.
Page Count: 270

Description (Goodreads)

O’Shea is AWOL, and Tracking him is proving to be harder than I expected.

Not to mention the small fact that I have the Beast of Bodmin Moor chasing me across Europe, in a race against the odds, and my life as the prize.

But those things are minor compared to the secrets that finally come to light.

Secrets I wish had stayed hidden in the darkness . . . 


Rating: 4 out of 5.
Page Count: 55

Description (Goodreads)

“My name is Rylee, and I am a Tracker.”

But this isn’t Rylee’s story.

It’s mine. Before I lost my ability to think like an adult. Before my body became stuck between wolf and human.

Before I knew the supernatural and Rylee even existed. This is the last of what I remember before becoming a werewolf. . . .this is the last of what’s important to me.

And the moments I fought so hard to hang on to.

My name is Alex, and this is my story.


Rating: 3 out of 5.
Page Count: 44

Description (Goodreads)

The number one priority for Bradley Reynolds of Maryland’s Organized Crime Taskforce is Andre Hector Federico. The mob boss is old school—a devoted family man, treacherous as hell, and paranoid enough to have escaped Reynolds’s sting. Now Reynolds has a new plan: enlist prize-winning crime novelist Alan Seybold to concoct a foolproof chapter-by-chapter scenario on how to lure Federico out of his safe zone and collar him. There’s just one condition: Seybold has to play by the rules of real life. Beyond that, the king of bestselling page-turners can have all the fun he wants. But as skilled as Seybold is, even he can’t foresee where this thriller is headed—or just how dangerous its plot twists can be.


Rating: 3 out of 5.
Page Count: 198

Description (Goodreads)

Young brothers Sam and Derek have a knack for uncovering mystery and adventure. When they visit Richmond’s St. John’s Church for a reenactment of Patrick Henry’s famous liberty speech, they stumble upon a hidden piece of history. As the boys and their friends dig deeper, they find clues from America’s founding fathers and a secret plot to steal a treasure from our nation’s past. Join in the mystery as the search races from the cemeteries of Richmond to the streets of Colonial Williamsburg.


Rating: 3 out of 5.
Page Count: 112

Description (Goodreads)

In a Jewish ghetto, Max Rosen and his sister Zena struggle to live after their father is taken away by the Nazis. With barely enough food to survive, the siblings make a daring escape from Nazi soldiers into the nearby forest.

Max and Zena are brought to a safe camp by Jewish resistance fighters. But soon, bombs are falling all around them. Can Max and Zena survive the fallout of the Nazi invasion? 


Rating: 3 out of 5.
Page Count: 266

Description (Goodreads)

The FBI wants me on their team. Bad enough that they are dangling bait they KNOW I can’t resist.

The catch? It’s on the other side of the ocean.

And if I want what they’re offering, I have to help them with a salvage gone terribly, terribly wrong.

But this time, I have no back up. I have no Plan B.

And I have no O’Shea.


Rating: 3 out of 5.
Page Count: 33

Description (Goodreads)

What will become of our self-destructed planet? The answer shatters all expectations in this subversive speculation from the Hugo Award–winning author of the Broken Earth trilogy.

An explorer returns to gather information from a climate-ravaged Earth that his ancestors, and others among the planet’s finest, fled centuries ago. The mission comes with a warning: a graveyard world awaits him. But so do those left behind—hopeless and unbeautiful wastes of humanity who should have died out eons ago. After all this time, there’s no telling how they’ve devolved. Steel yourself, soldier. Get in. Get out. And try not to stare.


Rating: 3 out of 5.
Page Count: 39

Description (Goodreads)

On the eve of Earth’s destruction, a young scientist discovers something too precious to lose, in a story of cataclysm and hope by the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Divergent trilogy.

It’s only two weeks before an asteroid turns home to dust. Though most of Earth has already been evacuated, it’s Samantha’s job to catalog plant samples for the survivors’ unknowable journey beyond.

Preparing to stay behind and watch the world end, she makes a final human connection.

As certain doom hurtles nearer, the unexpected and beautiful potential for the future begins to flower.


Rating: 2 out of 5.
Page Count: 28

Description (Goodreads)

In the near future, if Vegas games are ingeniously scam-proof, then the heists have to be too, in this imaginative and whip-smart story by the New York Times bestselling author of The Martian.

An IT whiz at the Babylon Casino is enlisted to upgrade security for the game of keno and its random-number generator. The new quantum computer system is foolproof. But someone on the inside is no fool. For once the odds may not favor the house—unless human ingenuity isn’t entirely a thing of the past.


Rating: 2 out of 5.
Page Count: 101

Description (Goodreads)

Deputy Tessa Black gave up her career as a detective with the Seattle PD and returned to the Pacific Northwest island she calls home to care for her ailing mother. Tessa thinks her mother’s illness is the worst thing she’ll face—until she responds to a routine call in the state park and discovers a local man harpooned to a sign.

As the murder investigation unfolds, it becomes clear that the victim harbored secrets. Together with her FBI agent best friend, Cate, and park ranger Logan Wilde, Tessa must connect the pieces before the murderer strikes again. But the closer she gets to the truth, the more she finds herself—and the ones she loves—in harm’s way.

Pressure mounts as Tessa attempts to juggle the current case with her search for the truth behind her childhood friend Samantha’s disappearance twenty years ago. Can Tessa find the murderer and uncover answers about Samantha without jeopardizing everything she holds dear? 


Rating: 2 out of 5.
Page Count: 97

Description (Goodreads)

When a body washes up on the state park beach, Deputy Tessa Black’s experience as a former Seattle detective tells her that the death was not an accident. All evidence points to another murder on the remote island.

The victim is a local contractor with a shockingly long list of enemies. The more locals Tessa interviews, the more people she suspects—from the bitter ex-wife and estranged current wife to disgruntled former clients and employees. They all have different reasons to want him dead.

As Tessa’s investigation heats up, arson and a vicious assault convince her the killer is desperate to hide his crime—and that she’d better solve the case before he claims another victim.


Rating: 1 out of 5.
Page Count: 29

Description (Goodreads)

Things started out so sweet. Everyone was going to be rich. All because of Trunk Man. He was the guy Papa and his meatheads stuffed in the back of a stolen Nissan and drove to a forest preserve outside Detroit. He owed Papa big-time. To save his own sorry neck, Trunk Man made an offer: a million dollars in bonds tucked away in a safe. Boost it, split it, and toss Trunk Man from a roof. Easy.

They hadn’t counted on a few things: like a broken axle, or the witness…or all that blood. Before this scheme is over, the road to a seven-figure heaven is going to feel a little more like hell.


Blog Tour: Tsarina

Welcome to the November 12th stop of the Blog Tour for Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten, organized by Maria Vitale of St. Martin’s Press. Be sure to follow the rest of the tour for other reviews and exclusive author interviews.


About the Book


  • Author: Ellen Alpsten
  • Release Date: November 10, 2020
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Page Count: 496

Description

“Makes Game of Thrones look like a nursery rhyme.” Daisy Goodwin, New York Times bestselling author of The Fortune Hunter

“[Alpsten] recounts this remarkable woman’s colourful life and times.”
 —Count Nikolai Tolstoy, historian and author 

Before there was Catherine the Great, there was Catherine Alexeyevna: the first woman to rule Russia in her own right. Ellen Alpsten’s rich, sweeping debut novel is the story of her rise to power.


St. Petersburg, 1725. Peter the Great lies dying in his magnificent Winter Palace. The weakness and treachery of his only son has driven his father to an appalling act of cruelty and left the empire without an heir. Russia risks falling into chaos. Into the void steps the woman who has been by his side for decades: his second wife, Catherine Alexeyevna, as ambitious, ruthless and passionate as Peter himself.

Born into devastating poverty, Catherine used her extraordinary beauty and shrewd intelligence to ingratiate herself with Peter’s powerful generals, finally seducing the Tsar himself. But even amongst the splendor and opulence of her new life—the lavish feasts, glittering jewels, and candle-lit hours in Peter’s bedchamber—she knows the peril of her position. Peter’s attentions are fickle and his rages powerful; his first wife is condemned to a prison cell, her lover impaled alive in Red Square. And now Catherine faces the ultimate test: can she keep the Tsar’s death a secret as she plays a lethal game to destroy her enemies and take the Crown for herself?

From the sensuous pleasures of a decadent aristocracy, to the incense-filled rites of the Orthodox Church and the terror of Peter’s torture chambers, the intoxicating and dangerous world of Imperial Russia is brought to vivid life. Tsarina is the story of one remarkable woman whose bid for power would transform the Russian Empire.


My Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Tsarina is a captivating tale about the life of the washerwoman Marta who rose to the royal position of Catherine I, Empress of Russia and second wife to Peter the Great. Marta’s earlier life was filled with hardship and strife. As a washerwoman, Marta was looked down upon and suffered the shame of being a lowly serf. Later in life as the Empress Catherine, it is not much easier. Catherine had to endure years of Peter’s infidelity, the loss of ten of her twelve children, and the rantings of her disease stricken husband, Peter.

An engaging novel, Tsarina will surely please historical fiction readers. I found it to be fascinating read. The author, Ellen Alpsten, did a significant amount of research into the life of Catherine I. Ms. Alpsten’s depictions really take you back in time so that you get immersed in the backdrop of that era. I loved how Ms. Alpsten describes the wardrobe. You can just visualize the majesty and elegance.

Although I really enjoyed Tsarina, I did have some difficulty with all of the characters. There were just so many and with the interchange of names, it got a little tedious and a little confusing. Still, that did not take away any overall enjoyment of the novel.

Overall, a solid four stars. I really liked it.

I received a digital ARC from St. Martin’s Press through NetGalley. The review herein is completely my own and contains my honest thoughts and opinions.


Interview with the Author

The setting for Tsarina is St. Petersburg, Russia. Did you visit that country to get inspiration and do some fact finding?

A visit to St. Petersburg was the nicest Christmas Present I ever got – my husband and I went AFTER I had written the novel, crazily enough. My family has an ambivalent relationship to Russia – my dad grew up in the GDR under the soviet controlled government, and fled on his own through a night forest when aged 16 with just a little backpack; my cousin’s Berlin-based publishing house on the other hand exclusively works with latter-day Russian intellectuals. Our trip was a shoestring operation: We took the public bus from the airport and on the Subway struggled with the Cyrillic letters, so people pushed us out where THEY thought we should be going. Our small hostel was on Stary Nevsky, the old part of the glamorous, world-famous avenue. We had breakfast in local bakeries (where people bought their vodka at 8am) and moved about on foot, by bus, underground, or simply flagging down a car – any car – on the road. The driver was so pleased with having us that he set his sound system to full blast – I still bounce about at the sheer memory of that bass! Little is left from Peter & Catherine’s days – his cabin (Peter the Great was a man of simple tastes), the buttercup splendor of the Summer Palace and, outside town, Peterhof: snow lay on the palace’s terraces and there were no other visitors, so we had a snowball fight with the actors who hung about, bored, and dressed up as Peter & Catherine. A special memory is seeing the Kirov ballet; and we LOVED the food everywhere. The Russian women are STUNNINGLY beautiful and very stylish, while I had packed wrongly and trudged about, wearing my husband’s socks in my sandals and his sweaters over my dress 😊. Everybody thought I had got lucky hitting on a Westerner…

What was your inspiration to write about Catherine I?

The fascinating story of Catherine I. of Russia had never left me, ever since I had first read about her when aged 13. In my parent’s library I had come across a book called ‘Germans and Russians’, charting the millennial history of those two people. Despite terrible tragedies and two horrendous wars, there is a deep fascination for each other. Two people that can toil and function to terrible ends, but who are equally endowed with an incredible soulfulness and depth, an innate understanding of beauty and life, of tragedy and fate. One chapter in ‘Germans and Russians’ was devoted to Catharine I: I think she is ‘my’ Tut-Ankh-Amun, as she was always there but had slid into the shadows of history. I was destined to find her, as when I had matured enough to write, I realized that amazingly enough, there was no book about her: no thesis, no biography, no novel, no nothing. Luckily, there were sources galore, and infinitely fascinating ones: early travel descriptions, such as the German merchant Adam Olearius visiting Tsar Mikhail Romanov (Peter the Great’s grandfather), letters of foreigners at the Russian Court such as Mrs Rondeau, watching Nureyev and Baryshnikov dance as well as the Dogma movie ‘The Ark’ and, last but not least, Prof. Lindsey Hughes unrivalled tome ‘Russia in the time of Peter the Great’. I slid deeper and deeper into the strange, shocking, sensuous world that is the Russian Baroque, and the Russian soul. Seemingly insurmountable contrasts are casually combined and lived out without any qualms. This absoluteness is fascinating. I read for almost a year before writing my first word, immersing myself completely into her life and rise. I even watched read Russian myths and fairy tales, which tell you everything about the mindset and the imaginary of a people – an invaluable help. I love Baba Yaga’s house and certain turns of phrases – e.g. how the storyteller mostly eats honey in the end 😊. The book is stuffed to the brim with soul, detail, and truth – and an attempted answer to the question: So, what was her life really like? What makes the story extra special is the fact that she is a foreigner, as she was born a Baltic German. Thus, she observes the Russians with her own eyes – the reader is as fascinated by the opulence of the then Russian ruling class as much as they are appalled by the deprivation and helplessness of the Russian people. The writing was on the wall since long before the revolution and changes of the 20th century!

How long did it take you to write Tsarina? 

I read for one year before daring to write the opening sentence – and while writing I had always at least 5 books open, all annotated and marked with post-its. One big challenge was to make this her book and not another oeuvre about Peter the Great, who tried to usurp the narrative with his larger than life character wherever possible – men!! Yet the writing itself was an all-encompassing endeavor – I did so whilst working nightshifts as a presenter on live breakfast TV. Normally I got up at 2am and left the house at 2.30 (my neighbor in the flat beneath thought I worked as an escort, as I cantered down the stairs at any ungodly hour!) came home at 12.00 noon, slept 3 hours, went running in the park, wrote. Repeat, for 1.5 years. In the end I suffered anxiety and depression from sleep deprivation. I really gave this book my all! From that original version 300 pages have since been edited out…

What are some of your favorite hobbies?

I have a busy life as I also work as culture & lifestyle journalist for a number of international publications – I have always LOVED travelling and our honeymoon was spent backpacking round the world. As I have three sons, I bake and cook a lot and enjoy discovering new recipes; when my hands are engaged otherwise than writing, I have the best ideas! Other than that, I LOVE my garden – I have planted a maze & tiled a giant chess board in it, and nothing gives me more joy than see a humble seed blossom into a huge bush. Experimenting with interiors is a close second. I’d love to say painting, but I have not touched a canvas and brush for years…

What is it that you enjoy about writing historical fiction?

The answer is a bit of a paradox – people long for more distance and mystery, as well as for more proximity and cohesion. The past, in which these rulers lived, seems to offer both. It is glossed over by the beautiful portraits showing us people covered in jewels, lace, velvet, and fur, forever frozen in their splendor, a remote, shining example of duty and virtue. People did not know about their affairs, sufferings, and illnesses. On the other hand, sociologically, reading today about their rise and fall, their fate and misfortune has a great cathartic effect: people, who are given so much still suffer as anybody else. Just think of both Peter the Great and the last Tsar Nicolas II – both so desperately longing for a male heir, both so stricken by destiny. The first murdered a healthy son with his own hands, only to be unable to ever replace him, the latter finally got his Tsarevich who was doomed by hemophilia and a monstrous, mollycoddled child. The olden societies seem to offer a proximity that gave solace, with close family structures such as multigenerational living, and a strict Religion. We are in want for that – friendship is preached as the new family, people turn to new age cults or seek solace in Asian religions, as Christendom fails to cater for these needs. 

If reading an historic novel such as ‘Tsarina’ closes the gap of the paradox, I feel blessed.

Can you talk about the clothing and customs of Tsarina’s time period?

The reforms of Peter the Great concerning the traditional Russian clothing are amongst his most famous: He issued 17 decrees linked to clothing, and physical appearance. Neither the enormous extent of Russia, nor the diversity of the raw materials or the conditions of life favoured a single national costume in Russia. Clothes and headdresses differed from region to region, and even from village to village. Religious modesty – both a trademark of the Russian Orthodox Church and the heritage of a long, Muslim domination under the Tatars – as well as the often-icy temperatures were mostly responsible for the style of traditional Russian dress. 

From the 14th century onwards the sarafan, a long, sleeveless garment, was the national costume of the Russian woman: think a long, colourful and often quilted (because of the icy temperatures) and embroidered (the floral patterns used were like a secret language and the women of each family had their very own) apron-gown.  It was worn over the rubakha (shirt), whose sleeves could be adjusted in length by ribbons inside the seams. The sarafans of rich city women were made of silk and velvet, whereas those of peasant women were made of painted domestic linen. The cut of the sarafan differed greatly, straight or composed of oblique wedges. Over the sarafan was worn the dushegreia (a short, wide jacket). 

Peter the Great’s reforms changed the dress slowly but surely: The first to adopt the new fashion were the Imperial family and the court. For the common folk change radiated from the growing cities to the villages, where clothes still combined traditional and fashionable elements, not easily parting with earlier ideas of dignity. Merchants’ wives might wear fashionable low-necked dresses yet covered their heads with shawls well until the middle of the nineteenth century. Interestingly enough, the furniture and the configuration of home interiors changed under the influence of European fashion, e.g. skirts worn on frames made it necessary to replace traditional benches with chairs. In all things the new dress contradicted the traditional clothing and the formative element of the European female dress – the corset – contradicted the Russian ideal of beauty. At least the new headdress -the lacey French fontange – supplanted at least partially the traditional headdress of the married woman, who covered their hair fully. 

Once the Petrine period introduced the notion of “fashionable” and “unfashionable”, the reforms had fully borne their fruit.


About the Author

ELLEN ALPSTEN was born and raised in the Kenyan highlands. Upon graduating from L’Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris, she worked as a news anchor for Bloomberg TV London. Whilst working gruesome night shifts on breakfast TV, she started to write in earnest, every day, after work and a nap. Today, Ellen works as an author and as a journalist for international publications such as VogueStandpoint and CN Traveller. She lives in London with her husband, three sons and a moody fox red Labrador. Tsarina is her debut novel.


Read the Excerpt

Prologue

In the Winter Palace, 1725 

He is dead. My beloved husband, the mighty tsar of all the Russias, has died—and just in time.

Moments before death came for him, Peter called for a quill and paper to be brought to him in his bedchamber in the Winter Palace. My heart almost stalled. He had not forgotten, but was going to drag me down with him. When he lost consciousness for the last time and the darkness drew him closer to its heart, the quill slipped from his fingers. Black ink spattered the soiled sheets; time held its breath. What had the tsar wanted to settle with that last effort of his tremendous spirit?

I knew the answer.

The candles in the tall candelabra filled the room with a heavy scent and an unsteady light; their glow made shadows reel in corners and brought the woven figurines on the Flemish tapestries to life, their coarse faces showing pain and disbelief. Outside the door, the voices of the people who’d stood there all night were drowned out by the Febru- ary wind rattling furiously at the shutters. Time spread slowly, like oil on water.  Peter had pressed himself into our souls like his signet ring  in hot wax. It seemed impossible that the world hadn’t careened to a halt at his passing. My husband, the greatest will ever to impose itself on Russia, had been more than our ruler. He had been our fate. He was still mine.

The doctors—Blumentrost, Paulsen, and Horn—stood silently around Peter’s bed, staring at him, browbeaten. Five kopecks’ worth of

medicine, given early enough, could have saved him. Thank God for the quacks’ lack of good sense.

Without looking, I could feel Feofan Prokopovich, the archbishop of Novgorod, watching me, along with Alexander Menshikov. Pro- kopovich had made the tsar’s will eternal and Peter had much to thank him for. Menshikov, on the other hand, owed his fortune and influence to Peter. What was it Peter had said when someone tried to blacken Alexander Danilovich’s name to him by referring to his murky business dealings? “Menshikov is always Menshikov, in all that he does!” That had put an end to that.

Dr. Paulsen had closed the tsar’s eyes and crossed his hands on his breast, but he hadn’t removed the scroll, Peter’s last will and testament, from his grasp. Those hands, which were always too dainty for the tall, powerful body, had grown still, helpless. Just two weeks earlier he had plunged those very hands into my hair, winding it round his fingers, inhaling the scent of rosewater and sandalwood.

“My Catherine,” he’d said, calling me by the name he himself had given me, and he’d smiled at me. “You’re still a beauty. But what will you look like in a convent, shorn, and bald? The cold there will break you, your spirit, even though you’re strong as a horse. Do you know that Evdokia still writes to me begging for a second fur, poor thing! What a good job you can’t write!” he’d said, laughing.

It had been thirty years since Evdokia had been banished to the convent. I’d met her once. Her eyes shone with madness, her shaven head was covered in boils and scabs from the cold and the filth, and  her only company was a hunchbacked dwarf to serve her in her cell. Peter had ordered the poor creature have her tongue cut out, so in response to Evdokia’s moaning and laments, all she was able to do was burble. He’d been right to believe that seeing Evdokia would fill me  with lifelong dread.

I knelt at Peter’s bedside and the three doctors retreated to the twi- light at the edge of the room, like crows driven from a field: the birds Pe- ter had been so terrified of in the last years of his life. The tsar had called open season on the hapless birds all over his empire. Farmers caught, killed, plucked, and roasted them for reward. None of this helped Pe- ter: silently, at night, the bird would slip through the padded walls and locked doors of his bedchamber. Its ebony wings blotted the light and in

their cool shadow, the blood on the tsar’s hands never dried. His fingers were not yet those of a corpse, but soft, and still warm. For a moment, the fear and anger of these past few months slipped from my heart like  a thief in the night. I kissed his hands and breathed in his familiar scent of tobacco, ink, leather, and the perfume tincture that was blended for his sole use in Grasse.

I took the scroll from his hand—it was easy enough to slide it out, although my blood thickened with fear and my veins were coated with frost and rime like branches in our Baltic winter. It was important to show everyone that I alone was entitled to do this—I, his wife, and the mother of his children. Twelve times I had given birth.

The paper rustled as I unrolled it. Not for the first time, I was ashamed of my inability to read, and I handed his last will to Feofan Prokopovich. At least Menshikov was as ignorant as I. Ever since the days when Peter first drew us into his orbit and cast his spell upon us, we had been like two children squabbling over their father’s love and attention. Batjushka tsar, his people called him. Our little father tsar.

Prokopovich must have known what Peter had in mind for me. He was an old fox with a sharp wit, as comfortable in heavenly and earthly realms. Daria had once sworn that he had three thousand books in     his library. What, if you please, can one man do with three thousand books? The scroll sat lightly in his liver-spotted hands now. After all, he himself had helped Peter draft the decree that shocked us all. The tsar had set aside every custom, every law: he wanted to appoint his own successor and would rather leave his empire to a worthy stranger than his own, unworthy child.

How timid Alexey had been when we first met, the spitting image of his mother, Evdokia, with his veiled gaze and high, domed forehead. He couldn’t sit up straight, because Menshikov had thrashed his back and buttocks bloody and sore. Only when it was too late did Alexey grasp his fate: in his quest for a new Russia, the tsar would spare no one, neither himself, nor his only son. You were no blood of my blood, Alexey, no flesh of my flesh, and so I was able to sleep soundly. Peter, though, had been haunted by nightmares from that day on.

My heart pounded against my lightly laced bodice—I was surprised it didn’t echo from the walls—but I met Prokopovich’s gaze as calmly as I could. I wriggled my toes in my slippers, as I could not afford to faint.

Prokopovich’s smile was as thin as one of the wafers he would offer in church. He knew the secrets of the human heart; especially mine.

“Read, Feofan,” I said quietly.

“Give everything to . . .” He paused, looked up, and repeated: “To . . .” Menshikov’s temper flared; he reared as if someone had struck him with a whip, like in the good old days. “To whom?” he snarled at Pro-

kopovich. “Pray tell, Feofan, to whom?”

I could hardly breathe. The fur was suddenly much too hot against my skin.

From Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten. Copyright © 2020 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Publishing Group.


Weekly Recipe Wednesday: Simple School Sponge Cake

The primary reason for this blog is to share reviews of books. But along the way, I noticed that quite a number of the books that I’ve read and reviewed always mention and entree’, dessert, or appetizer within the story. So, that is why I’ve come up with Weekly Recipe Wednesday. I scour the internet looking for that perfect recipe and sometimes, an author will share the recipes that appears in their novel. So here it is. This is the inaugural launch of Weekly Recipe Wednesday. Today’s recipe is from author, Claire Huston. I consider her an accomplished baker since I’m such a slog at it. The recipe here is from a reference to a sponge cake in her novel, Art & Soul. Since most of my followers are dessert lovers, I’ll probably share all of Claire Huston’s cake recipes over the next several weeks interspersing some savory recipes.


Simple School Sponge Cake with White Icing and Multi-colored Sprinkles


Ingredients

  • 200 g butter/margarine (7 oz or approx. 7/8 of a cup)
  • 175 g caster sugar (6 oz or approx. 3/4 of a cup)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (5 ml) or vanilla essence
  • 3 eggs (medium or large is fine)
  • 200 g self raising flour (7 oz or approx. 1+3/4 cups)

For the decoration

  • 225g icing sugar (8oz or approx. 1+3/4 cups), preferably sieved
  • 2-3 tbsp water (start with 1 and build up gradually so your icing isn’t too thin)
  • Coloured sugar sprinkles/ sugar strands of your choice
  • Optional food colouring if you’d like colourful icing

Method

This school sponge cake is made is a rectangular tray and ideally is should rise only a little and evenly to give you a flat surface to ice.

Grease your tray and line with baking paper. My rectangular tin measures 32 x 19 cm and 3 cm deep. In inches that’s 12.5 x 7.5 and just over an inch deep. You can use any shape baking tin for this recipe as long as it has a similar volume to the one I used.

Pre-heat your oven to 160 degrees C (140 if using a fan oven)/ 325 degrees F (275F fan) or Gas Mark 3.

If making the old school sponge cake by hand (or if you don’t mind spending a little more time on the steps), I’d suggest creaming together the butter and sugar first, until light and fluffy. This can take several minutes of mixing, even if using electric beaters. Add the eggs, beating the cake mixture after each egg. And the vanilla, then stir the flour in gently until all the ingredients have combined into a smooth mixture. Watch out for hidden pockets of flour lurking at the bottom of the bowl! If you’re using an electric stand mixer to make the cake, you can put all the ingredients in it and combine in one go.

Pour your sponge cake mixture into your prepared baking tray and bake for 25-35 minutes. Keep an eye on your cake. When it goes a golden brown it’s time to take it out. If in doubt, stick a knife into the middle of the cake. If it comes out clean, your sponge cake is done.

I left mine in the tin for about 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to finish cooling.

When your cake has cooled you can get to the fun part – the icing!

I used ordinary icing sugar and added a little water until I got the consistency I wanted (not too runny or it will all slide off the cake leaving only a translucent layer). I would recommend starting with 225 g / 8 oz icing sugar (preferably sieved) and adding 1 tablespoon of water to the sugar as a start. Stir the water into the sugar, then add another spoonful of water, mix thoroughly again, and keep going in this way until you get the thickess of icing you want (it should coat the back of the spoon you’re using to mix the icing and run off slowly). Don’t panic if your icing goes too thin: you can “rescue” it by adding a little more icing sugar to thicken it up again. Of course, if you’d like pink icing, or any other colour, you only need to add a few drops of food colouring to your basic white icing mix.

Pour the icing all over the top of your cake. Once your school sponge cake is covered in the icing, sprinkle over your hundreds and thousands, coloured sugar strands, sprinkles or any other decorations you fancy.


Stay tuned for next week’s Weekly Recipe Wednesday. You may be surprised at what I have in store.

Hugs!

ARC Review: What My Husband Did

  • Publisher: Bookouture
  • Publication Date: November 17, 2020
  • Author: Kerry Wilkinson
  • Genre: Mystery & Thrillers

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Brief Description (Goodreads):

‘I can give you a lift home,’ the man says. Little Alice tightens the zip of her big red coat. She’s unsure, but the walk will be cold and dark. ‘I’m not supposed to get in a stranger’s car.’ He forces a smile. ‘I’m not a proper stranger, am I?’

I return home to our beautiful house on a chilly winter evening expecting to find my handsome husband Richard waiting for me by the fire. We’re still so in love, and he always takes care of me: buying us this home in the little village where he grew up, making sure I settled in and made friends, and treating my teenage daughter like his own. There’s a bit of gossip about our age gap, but the death of his first wife years ago was so tragic that he still gets sympathetic looks. Everyone loves Richard.

He usually comes straight back from work. But tonight, our antique clock ticks on through the dark evening, with no sign of him. Then a knock at the door shatters my perfect life. A 12-year-old-girl, Alice from the village, has been found unconscious in the field behind our house. They say she was last seen getting into Richard’s car.

Now rumours are flying. As Alice fights for her life in hospital, nobody will speak to me: and when they do it’s to ask if he didn’t hurt Alice, why hasn’t Richard come home?


Review:

In the village of Leavensfield, everything is as picture perfect as any town could be. With cozy cottages and a population to match, it’s an ideal setting for Richard and Maddy to settle down in. Both Richard and Maddy lead pretty much mundane lives until one day 12 year old Alice is found beaten and lying face down in a ditch; and Richard has gone missing… Coincidence?

What My Husband Did is a very engaging novel. Written with a series of flashbacks between past and present, the reader gets to unravel the mystery behind Alice’s brutal beating and the mysterious disappearance of Richard.

I wouldn’t call this novel a psychological thriller, but it is a suspenseful read that will be sure to please fans of the Mystery & Thriller genre. Four stars. I really liked it.

I received a digital ARC from Bookouture through NetGalley. The review herein is completely my own and contains my honest thoughts and opinions.


About the Author (Goodreads):

Kerry Wilkinson has had No.1 crime bestsellers in the UK, Australia, Canada, South Africa and Singapore. He has also written two top-20 thrillers in the United States. His book, Ten Birthdays, won the RNA award for Young Adult Novel of the Year in 2018 and Close To You won the International Thriller Award for best ebook in 2020.

As well as his million-selling Jessica Daniel series, Kerry has written the Silver Blackthorn trilogy – a fantasy-adventure serial for young adults – a second crime series featuring private investigator Andrew Hunter, plus numerous standalone novels. He has been published around the world in more than a dozen languages.

Originally from the county of Somerset, Kerry spent way too long living in the north of England, picking up words like ‘barm’ and ‘ginnel’.

When he’s short of ideas, he rides his bike, hikes up something, or bakes cakes. When he’s not, he writes it all down.


Meaningful Monday

Happy Monday! Today’s inspiration comes from Steve Maraboli. He has some pretty good quotes. Hope this quote will start your week off on the right foot.


Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

“How would your life be different if…You stopped making negative judgmental assumptions about people you encounter? Let today be the day…You look for the good in everyone you meet and respect their journey.”
― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free


ARC Review: The Stranger in My Bed

  • Publisher: Bookouture
  • Publication Date: November 23, 2020
  • Author: Karen King
  • Genre: Mysteries & Thrillers

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Brief Description (Goodreads):

When Freya first met Phil, she thought he was the man of her dreams. He bought her roses every week, booked surprise trips to sun-soaked destinations, and showed her affection like she’d never experienced before. But over time the dream had become a violent nightmare. And now Freya is packing her bags, knowing it’s time she escaped their increasingly broken marriage.

But then Freya gets a visit from the police. Phil’s been in a horrific car crash and – as he comes around – it becomes clear that remembers nothing since their blissful honeymoon two years before, back when their relationship was perfect. All he wants is to be happily married again.

Freya knows giving him another chance could be dangerous. But now he’s the one who needs her, it’s a chance to turn the tables, and to change the outcome of their relationship once and for all. After all, he will only know what she chooses to tell him…

But what really happened during those two years of marriage? And as they start over again, who is safe? And whose life is in danger?


Review

Appearances are not always what they seem. Phil and Freya Keegan are the idyllic married couple. They have a nice house with a charming yard befitting Phil’s handsome looks and Freya’s stunning figure. From all appearances, they have the perfect marriage. But when Phil is involved in an “supposed” accident that nearly costs him his life, we find that their idyllic marriage isn’t that idyllic after all; and that perhaps Phill wasn’t the best person to be married to.

The Stranger in My Bed is a gripping read with a well developed small cast of characters. The narrative is well executed with plot twists that will keep you on your toes. A must read for fans of psychological thrillers. Four stars. I really liked it.

I received a digital ARC from Bookouture through NetGalley. The review herein is completely my own and contains my honest thoughts and opinions.

More about the book: The Stranger in My Bed

More about the author: Karen King

Book Review: An American Mouse Goes to Italy

  • Publication Date: September 25, 2020
  • Publisher: Concierge Marketing, Inc.
  • Authors: Gina Lypaczewski, Claire Mariucci
  • Illustrator: Paula S. Wallace
  • Genre: Children’s Fiction

Rating: 5 out of 5.
32 Pages

Description (NetGalley):

Mooch is a mouse. He lives in a quiet Midwestern town in America. Like every mouse, Mooch loves cheese!

One day, he finds himself in Italy! He discovers all the delicious cheeses, and beautiful sights of Italy. He learns some new words while he’s there!


Review:

Mooch is a house mouse living with Miss Maria Francesca. Mooch loves to explore and just LOVES cheese. Alas, however, Miss Maria doesn’t have any cheese in her household.

Feeling dejected, Mooch decides to take a nap in a pair of Miss Maria’s warn and fuzzy mouse slippers. Unbeknownst to Mooch, Miss Maria has planned a trip to Italy to visit her grandparents. So little Mooch gets packed away and wakes up to a charming house in Italy. There in the house, Mooch is just overjoyed to find all the cheese his heart desires. From asiago to parmesan, Mooch is in heaven.

An American Mouse Goes to Italy is such a charming children’s fiction. The book contains adorable illustrations to match the cute story. I just loved how Mooch got to sample the various cheeses left about. To top it off, the reader gets to learn a little Italian while enjoying the book. There’s even a glossary of terms in the back of the book. Excellent! Five stars. I loved it.

I received a digital copy of the book from Concierge Marketing, Inc. through NetGalley. The review herein is completely my own and contains my honest thoughts and opinions.


Book Review: The Adventures of Goggle Man

  • Publication Date: October 20, 2020
  • Publisher: Concierge Marketing, Inc.
  • Author: April Kelly
  • Illustrator: Tanya Maneki
  • Genre: Children’s Fiction

Rating: 4 out of 5.
32 Pages

Description (NetGalley):

Goggle Man and his trusty sidekick, Banjo, spend their days doing good deeds and fighting crime at home and in their neighborhood. Come along on their adventures — fighting villains and helping others.


Review:

Meet your next super hero. It’s Goggle Man!

Collin and his dog Banjo are the next dynamic duo of Goggle Man and his side kick Banjo. Together, Goggle Man and Banjo fight the evil nasties with a magical bat — saving the day.

Written in rhyme and with adorable illustrations, The Adventures of Goggle Man just made me grin from ear to ear. The story is cute and it conveys some life lessons — be helpful to others, pick up after yourself, and to control and take care of your surroundings.

A wonderful book for the preschooler in your life. Four stars. I really liked it.

I received a digital copy of the book from Concierge Marketing through NetGalley. The review herein is completely my own and contains my honest thoughts and opinions.


Throwback Thursday

Wow! It’s the first week of November already. On Throwback Thursday, I showcase the books that I’ve read each week of the month in 2019. For the first week of November, here are the books that I read:

Rating: 4 out of 5.
356 Pages

Description (Goodreads):

At twelve, Gideon Crew witnessed his father, a world-class mathematician, accused of treason and gunned down.

At twenty-four, summoned to his dying mother’s bedside, Gideon learned the truth: His father was framed and deliberately slaughtered. With her last breath, she begged her son to avenge him.

Now, with a new purpose in his life, Gideon crafts a one-time mission of vengeance, aimed at the perpetrator of his father’s destruction. His plan is meticulous, spectacular, and successful.

But from the shadows, someone is watching. A very powerful someone, who is impressed by Gideon’s special skills. Someone who has need of just such a renegade.

For Gideon, this operation may be only the beginning . . .


Rating: 3 out of 5.
87 Pages

Description (Goodreads):

In 1946 a ten-year-old girl tries to understand and overcome her stern father’s objections to having a Christmas tree in the house.


Rating: 5 out of 5.
209 Pages

Description (Goodreads):

Ellie is a very special dog with a very important purpose. From puppyhood, Ellie has been trained as a search-and-rescue dog. She can track down a lost child in a forest or an injured victim under a fallen building. She finds people. She saves them. It’s what she was meant to do.

But Ellie must do more. Her handlers–widowed Jakob, lonely Maya–need her too. People can be lost in many ways, and to do the job she was born to do, Ellie needs to find a way to save the people she loves best.

Ellie’s Story is an inspiring tale for young animal lovers. Adorable black-and-white illustrations by Richard Cowdrey bring Ellie and her world to life. A discussion and activity guide at the end of the book will help promote family and classroom discussions about Ellie’s Story and the insights it provides about humankind’s best friends.


Rating: 3 out of 5.
112 Pages

Description (Goodreads):

Ten-year-old Leo loves being a newsboy in San Francisco — not only does he get to make some money to help his family, he’s free to explore the amazing, hilly city as it changes and grows with the new century. Horse-drawn carriages share the streets with shiny new automobiles, new businesses and families move in every day from everywhere, and anything seems possible.

But early one spring morning, everything changes. Leo’s world is shaken — literally — and he finds himself stranded in the middle of San Francisco as it crumbles and burns to the ground. Does Leo have what it takes to survive this devastating disaster?


Rating: 4 out of 5.
518 Pages

Description (Goodreads):

Mount Dragon: an enigmatic research complex hidden in the vast desert of New Mexico. Guy Carson and Susana Cabeza de Vaca have come to Mount Dragon to work shoulder to shoulder with some of the greatest scientific minds on the planet. Led by visionary genius Brent Scopes, their secret goal is a medical breakthrough that promises to bring incalculable benefits to the human race. But while Scopes believes he is leading the way to a new world order, he may in fact be opening the door to mass human extinction. And when Guy and Susana attempt to stop him they find themselves locked in a frightening battle with Scopes, his henchmen, and the apocalyptic nightmare that science has unleashed .


Rating: 2 out of 5.
112 Pages

Description (Goodreads):

The most terrifying events in history are brought vividly to life in this new fictional series! In book 1, ten-year-old George is trapped on the Titanic — how will he survive?

Ten-year-old George Calder can’t believe his luck — he and his little sister, Phoebe, are on the famous Titanic, crossing the ocean with their Aunt Daisy. The ship is full of exciting places to explore, but when George ventures into the first class storage cabin, a terrible boom shakes the entire boat. Suddenly, water is everywhere, and George’s life changes forever.


Rating: 3 out of 5.
192 Pages

Description (Goodreads):

Toby is a beagle who doesn’t seem to have a purpose. While all of his littermates are adopted right away, Toby is left behind because he’s not as energetic as they are. But because he is so quiet, he is adopted by a girl named Mona and her mother, who works at a nursing home. As Toby comforts the residents of the home, he discovers that his purpose may be the most important of all!


Rating: 4 out of 5.
268 Pages

Description (Goodreads):

I’m on the FBI’s wanted list.

I have a werewolf for a pet, a Witch of a best friend, and have no need for anyone else in my life.

But when a salvage starts to spin out of control, help comes from a most unexpected direction. One that is dangerously dark, brooding, and doesn’t know a thing about the supernatural.

One whose kisses set me on fire.


Rating: 5 out of 5.
70 Pages

Description (Goodreads):

In this explosive short story, international bestselling author Jeffery Deaver brings readers a classic tale of star-crossed lovers who defy the boundaries of enemy territory. When an underworld kingpin gets taken out, his prime turf is up for grabs. For Irish crime lord Brendon Nagle and archrival John Yung, head of a forty-man tong, it’s war. For Nagle’s son, Andrew, and Yung’s daughter, Loi, it’s love at first sight. But others are watching as their secret love unfolds. Surveilled, suspected of betrayal, and targets of their fathers’ ruthless greed, Andrew and Loi know this story well. They’re doomed. But they have plans of their own. Challenging the violent rules of the mob, they’re rushing headlong toward a fate that few can see coming.


Rating: 2 out of 5.
117 Pages

Description (Goodreads):

The disaster felt around the world . . .

Visiting his dad’s hometown in Japan four months after his father’s death would be hard enough for Ben. But one morning the pain turns to fear: first, a massive earthquake rocks the quiet coastal village, nearly toppling his uncle’s house. Then the ocean waters rise and Ben and his family are swept away-and pulled apart-by a terrible tsunami.

Now Ben is alone, stranded in a strange country a million miles from home. Can he fight hard enough to survive one of the most epic disasters of all time?


Rating: 3 out of 5.
52 Pages

Description (Goodreads):

In this electrifying short story by New York Times bestselling suspense master Jeffery Deaver, the destinies of seven strangers intersect in ways no one sees coming. It looks like just another gray March morning in the tough urban district nicknamed Nowhere when seven lives converge: a young man intent on buying a gun; the gangbanger who cuts him a deal; a by-the-book police officer on a last patrol; an advertising executive keeping secrets from her husband; a veteran haunted by a combat death; a single dad in a bitter custody battle; and a sharp-looking businessman en route to a new job he desperately needs. Any one of them could have a dark motive. Any one of them could be walking into a trap. When the fog lifts, it will all be much clearer—that a single, shattering act of violence has marked each of them forever.


Rating: 5 out of 5.
734 Pages

Description (Goodreads):

Harry Potter is midway through his training as a wizard and his coming of age. Harry wants to get away from the pernicious Dursleys and go to the International Quidditch Cup with Hermione, Ron, and the Weasleys. He wants to dream about Cho Chang, his crush (and maybe do more than dream). He wants to find out about the mysterious event that’s supposed to take place at Hogwarts this year, an event involving two other rival schools of magic, and a competition that hasn’t happened for hundreds of years. He wants to be a normal, fourteen-year-old wizard. But unfortunately for Harry Potter, he’s not normal – even by wizarding standards.

And in his case, different can be deadly. 


Rating: 3 out of 5.
177 Pages

Description (Goodreads):

Timber wolves, a Rocky Mountain blizzard, and a mine cave-in are only a few of the perils Frank and Joe Hardy encounter during their search for the principal members of a notorious gang responsible for a payroll robbery. In the old Montana mining camp of Lucky Lode, the young detectives puzzle over a series of mysterious events. A piano-playing ghost haunts the long-abandoned dance hall. Eerie blue lights flash from the hilltop cemetery in the dark of night. Strange men arrange a meeting at Shadow the Bear. A suspect disappears through a curtain of frozen ice. How are these events related to the men who kidnapped the boys in Chicago? Who booby-trapped the helicopter which flew the young detectives to the ghost town? And what ever happened to Bart Dawson who seemingly deserted his gold-mining partners twenty-five years ago? Clue by clue, Frank and Joe cleverly fit into place the scattered pieces of this dangerous puzzle and come up with the astonishing solution. 


Rating: 3 out of 5.
157 Pages

Description (Goodreads):

When ten-year-old Derek and eight-year-old Sam move with their family to Virginia, they have no idea what adventures the summer will bring. As the brothers explore their creaky old house and the deep surrounding woods, they uncover a sixty-year-old mystery of a valuable coin collection stolen from the local museum. Join the boys as they spend their summer running from danger and searching the woods, secret caves, rushing waters, and hidden passageways for treasure and the rare 1877 Indian Head cent coin!


Rating: 2 out of 5.
126 Pages

Description (Goodreads):

The Earth colony of Landin has been stranded on Werel for ten years–& ten of Werel’s years are over 600 terrestrial years. The lonely & dwindling human settlement is beginning to feel the strain. Every winter–a season that lasts for 15 years–the Earthmen have neighbors: the humanoid hilfs, a nomadic people who only settle down for the cruel cold spell. The hilfs fear the Earthmen, whom they think of as witches & call the farborns. But hilfs & farborns have common enemies: the hordes of ravaging barbarians called gaals & eerie preying snow ghouls. Will they join forces or be annihilated?