ARC Review: Abiding Conviction

  • Publisher: Oceanview Publishing
  • Publication Date: July 5, 2022
  • Author: Stephen M. Murphy
  • Genre: Mystery & Thrillers
  • Page Count: 320

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Blurb

Lawyer Dutch Francis is hired to defend a judge who is accused of murdering his wife. As the trial commences, Dutch’s wife, a local TV personality, disappears and the kidnapper is sending bits of physical evidence as proof that she is alive—all in the middle of a high-profile trial. His heart says, “find your wife”; his profession says, “defend your client.” Can he do both?

My Thoughts & Opinions

After reading the book’s description, I was excited to start reading this novel. And naturally I had some high expectations. Too bad that the novel fell short of my lofty hopes.

Abiding Conviction is the third installment of the Dutch Francis Legal Thriller series. Although it is the third novel, it still can be read as a standalone.

While the novel started out well — laying the groundwork for the courtroom drama, it slowly devolved into a slow and unbelievable narrative. Maybe I’ve watched too many Law and Order and Blue Bloods episodes. So I probably have some strong opinions on the novel’s realism.

The characters are pretty shallow in most aspects. Perhaps they were developed in the earlier novels. But I don’t think that’s the case. What bothered me is that I couldn’t appreciate the “busybody” attitude of the main protagonist, Dutch Francis. Primarily because he kept inserting himself in police matters — taking matters into his own hand. Maybe even hindering the investigations.

The plot does not contain any unexpected twists or turns, and the finale was blasé at best. Abiding Conviction is still a decent read, but I probably won’t be delving further into the series. Two okay stars.

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


Book Review: Identicals

  • Publisher: BooksGoSocial
  • Publication Date: March 17, 2022
  • Author: William Brennan Knight
  • Genre: Horror
  • Page Count: 277

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Description and My Thoughts & Opinions

What if you had to re-live a nightmare in real life expecting to get different outcomes? And what if those outcomes only got worse with each remake? That is what Jack Clausen is forced to re-live again and again for reneging on a deal that brought his daughter and son back from the dead.

Identicals is like the horror version of Groundhog Day. It is nightmarishly scary and a bizarre page turner.

The characters in the novel are developed enough. Though I wished that the supernatural characters were creepier and scarier than they were. Nevertheless, the author still did an excellent job in the portrayal of the unearthly beings as well as the human beings.

The plot was a little slow at times, but it just added to the suspense of the narrative. It still retained that unputdownable vibe as I managed to finish the book in a day.

I’d say if you’re a horror aficionado, Identicals is a should read. Four scary stars.

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


ARC Review: Listen to Me (Rizzoli & Isles, #13)

  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • Publication Date: July 5, 2022
  • Author: Tess Gerritsen
  • Genre: General Fiction (Adult) | Mystery & Thrillers
  • Page Count: 336

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Description and My Thoughts & Opinions

After five long years, the team of Rizzoli & Isles are back! Listen to Me is the thirteenth novel in the Rizzoli & Isles series, and it is such a welcome comeback. Though Listen to Me is part of a series, it is possible to read it as a standalone.

Detective Jane Rizzoli along with Forensic Pathologist, Maura Isles are tasked with investigating the burtal murder of RN, Sofia Suarez. With very little clues to go by, except a stolen laptop and phone, Detective Rizzoli must piece together the various forensic evidence to solve the murder mystery.

The characters remain unchanged from prior novels. The exception is the addition of Jane’s mom, Angela, who adds an interesting dimension to the narrative. I didn’t particularly care for the Angela Rizzoli sideshow at first. But after a few Angela chapters, I took a liking to Angela’s busybody of the neighborhod antics. Angela added some much needed color to an otherwise sterile environment.

The plot is somewhat complex in that there are at least three different storylines involving a murder, an abduction, and a stalker. But they all connect very nicely at the end for a satisfying finale.

Listen to Me has everything that I love about the Rizzoli & Isles series. And I’m hoping that Gerritsen will continue to write more about Jane, Maura, and Angela. Five stars.

I received a digital ARC from Ballantine Books. The review herein is completely my own and contains my honest thoughts and opinions.


Out Now! — They Called Him Marvin

  • Publisher: Silver Star Publishing
  • Out Now: May 16 – 20, 2022
  • Author: Roger Stark
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Page Count: 392

Blurb

Duty called. He answered. She, with child, was left behind.

He did not come home. 

Sixty-seven of their love letters help tell their story. In the final pages of this tragedy, love does conquer all

Author Bio

I am, by my own admission, a reluctant writer. But some stories demand to be told. When we hear them, we must pick up our pen, lest we forget and the stories be lost.

Six years ago, in a quiet conversation with my friend Marvin, I learned the tragic story his father, a WW2 B-29 Airplane Commander, shot down over Nagoya, Japan just months before the end of the war.

My life has been profoundly touched in so many ways by being part of documenting this sacred story. I pray that we never forget, as a people, the depth of sacrifice that was made by ordinary people like Marvin and his father and mother on our behalf.

My career as an addiction counsellor (CDP) lead me to write “The Waterfall Concept; A Blueprint for Addiction Recovery,” and co-author “Reclaiming Your Addicted Brain.”

After my counselling retirement, I decided I wanted to learn more about the craft of writing and started attending classes at Portland Oregon’s Attic Institute. What I learned is that there are an amazing number of great writers in my area and they were willing to help others improve their skills. I am grateful to many of them.

My next project is already underway, a memoir of growing in SW Washington called “Life on a Sorta Farm.” My wife of 49 years, Susan and I still live in that area.

We raised seven children, and have eleven grandchildren. We love to travel and see the sites and cultures of the world. I still get on my bicycle whenever I can.


ARC Review: The House Sitter

  • Publisher: Bookouture
  • Publication Date: June 14, 2022
  • Author: Ellery Kane
  • Genre: Psychological Thriller
  • Page Count: 285

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Description and My Thoughts

Iris Duncan was getting on in years. Nearly 70 years old, Iris has difficulty in not only the managing of her posh three story home, but also managing her memory. Iris was slowly succumbing to dementia.

While at a nearby café, Iris is waited on by a frail looking girl. Iris immediately took a liking to her and after some chit chat, Iris learned that her waitress’ name was Lydia. Lydia was like a fish out of water at that café, and it didn’t go unnoticed by Iris. Being that Iris needed help with her domestic chores and memory issues, Iris offered Lydia a position as caregiver and/or house sitter if Lydia ever wanted or needed a change. A few days later and to Iris’ surprise, Lydia accepted the position at a very lucrative wage. Just one catch. Lydia wanted Seth McKay to be included in the deal, which would be the beginning of Iris’ downfall.

The House Sitter is the second book that I’ve read from Ellery Kane and it is a page turner! I was hooked from the beginning.

The characters are superbly developed, especially the main character of Iris. Kane has deftly fleshed out the main players in her novel. So much so that I began to despise a few of them.

Plotwise, the suspense is intense. There are a number of twists and turns that left me guessing as to what would happen next. The only issue I had was the ending as I expected something more intense for that “wow” factor. Other than that, The House Sitter lives up to its promise of being an unputdownable novel. Four rousing stars.

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


Book Review: No Ordinary Christmas

  • Publisher: Forever (GCP)
  • Publication Date: September 23, 2021
  • Author: Belle Calhoun
  • Genre: Romance
  • Page Count: 318

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Description and My Thoughts

No Ordinary Christmas is the first novel in the Mistletoe, Maine series. And it is a lovely second chance romance novel set during the most wonderful time of the year — Christmas.

Lucy Marshall was finally getting over heartbreak. Her high school sweetheart, Dante West, left Mistletow abruptly, leaving Lucy in a lurch. Just when she thought that they would be together forever, Dante was gone. Lucy had been ghosted.

Several years passed and Dante is back in Mistletoe. He has become a famous actor-director and is in Mistletoe to produce and film a movie. Although a blessing for the town, Lucy still can’t help but feel a little loathing at the idea that Dante was behind all the planning and production. Behind all the loathing, however, Lucy still had a heart and it still ached for Dante. Just as it ached in the past. Can Lucy forgive Dante? And can Dante ever make it up to Lucy?

No Ordinary Christmas is a feel good holiday romance novel. As such, family dynamics play a major role in the narrative. And unlike most second chance romance novels, No Ordinary Christmas does not have all of the agonizing back and forth, or the push-pull of love-hate.

The characters are wonderfully developed. But for the most part, and with the exception of Lucy and Dante, they were primarily window dressing to move the romance narrative forward.

Fabulously written, No Ordinary Christmas is a must read novel, perfect for the holidays. Five dazzling stars.

I received a finished paperback from Forever (GCP.) The review herein is completely my own and contains my honest thoughts and opinions.


Book Review: True Crime Stories You Won’t Believe

  • Publisher: Books Go Social
  • Publication Date: April 4, 2022
  • Author: Romeo Vitelli
  • Genre: True Crime
  • Page Count: 185

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Blurb

Here is a collection of true crime stories from different countries and time periods that defy simple description. They include:
• The strange tale of a psychotic geisha who severed her lover’s genitals to carry as a token of her love and who inspired a cult following
• How a small-town murderer helped inspire the movie Psycho and left his hometown with a reputation they never lived down
• A father who sacrificed his daughter to prove his faith in God and his followers who fully expected her to be raised on the third day (she wasn’t)
• A Sorbonne graduate student who killed and cannibalized the woman he loved and went on to become a bizarre media celebrity
• A 19th century serial killer who earned the title of “the worst women in the world” by killing a series of husbands for profit
• The assassination attempt on John F. Kennedy you never heard about but which very nearly succeeded.
• George Stinney, the fourteen-year-old child who died in the electric chair for a crime he didn’t commit.
• Joseph Vacher, the “French Ripper” whose crimes shocked France but tried to blame it all on the rabid dog that bit him.
• How mob boss Vincent Gigante earned himself the nickname of “the Oddfather”
• Leonarda Cianciulli, the Corregio “Soapmaker” who killed three women as a sacrifice to protect her own children.
These stories, and more, are all featured here making this book a must for any connoisseur of true crime and bizarre justice.


My Thoughts & Opinions

True Crime Stories You Won’t Believe is the first book in a series of planned short story collections. This book contains a collection of 32 short true crime stories dating back to the late 1800’s. Most of the stories are pretty obscure and the only one that was familiar to me was the story of Ed Gein.

While I enjoyed most of the stories in the book, I would have preferred more stories from modern times. But it still was an interesting read, nonetheless.

Some readers may find the stories disturbing. I didn’t think they were and I actually wanted more graphic details. In comparison to other true crime novels, True Crime Stories is not at all gruesome and in my opinion, very mild in grisly elements.

Overall, True Crime Stories is a noteworthy read for true crime aficionados. Four stars.

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


ARC Review: His Other Woman

  • Publisher: Bloodhound Books
  • Publication Date: May 19, 2022
  • Author: Sarah Edghill
  • Genre: Women’s Fiction | General Fiction (Adult)
  • Page Count: 302

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Blurb

Her husband is with another woman—but it’s not who she thinks it is, and the results may be more devastating than an affair . . .

Lucy’s husband has been missing for days while she tries to pretend to those around her, including her distracted teenagers, that everything is normal. In desperation she uses a phone app to track him—and discovers he’s with another woman.

As her life falls apart, Lucy realises nothing is as it seems. There is another woman in her husband’s life, but it’s someone she has known—and hated—for twenty years.

As the story unfolds, including in the national press, the family must pull together before lives are destroyed . . .


My Thoughts & Opinions

The first few chapters had me. But after the reveal, it was downhill from there till the end. I still managed to finish the novel but I was left so unsatisfied at the end.

The story isn’t character driven so it didn’t matter to me whether the characters were fully developed or not. However, there was enough substance to get a feel for each character’s personality and form an image for each.

Plotwise, I felt that there could have been more suspense, drama, and perhaps more plot twists. I won’t go into detail since that would reveal more than intended. But I will say that the current storyline isn’t as suspenseful as I expected.

Overall, a satisfactory okay read. Two stars.

I received a digital ARC from author, Sarah Edghill. The review herein is completely my own and contains my honest thoughts and opinions.


Book Review: Young Again

  • Publisher: Golden Antelope Press
  • Publication Date: August 16, 2021
  • Author: Gretchen Johnson
  • Genre: General Fiction (Adult)
  • Page Count: 282

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Blurb

What would it feel like to find your middle-aged self suddenly living back in a college dorm room? Four faculty members at Prairie State College in Minnesota are about to find out after their administration comes up with a bizarre strategy to improve graduation rates — The Faculty Dorm Dweller Program.

While the idea seems promising to the administration, it doesn’t take long for problems to arise–problems which readers will find appallingly funny, situations they’ll find stimulate both empathy and snark. As Johnson says, “It’s not so much a fish-out-of-water scenario as it is an older fish returning to a pond she’d lived in years ago.”

So Juanita Jane Ruckler, a fiftyish English professor, proves that she’s not old by having an affair with a nineteen-year-old student. Lyla Benson, recently divorced and thirty-eight, runs into her old college flame and finds herself searching: is there something more than ashes left in that relationship? Bert Rojas, a math professor, is using the program to escape a boring home life with a nagging wife–the woman he’s married right after college, back when youth had seemed eternal. As the FDD crew gets to know one another, they provide balance, experience, and understanding to one another. Even fresh-faced and naive young Joy McPherson, assistant professor in Political Science, can sometimes teach her older colleagues–though her own choices seem inexorably wrong. And the students? They’re teachers too, in their own inimitable ways.


My Thoughts & Opinions

When I was approached by the author to read and review her novel, I thought “okay, it sounds interesting.” But it was so much more. Young Again was a humorous and highly entertaining read. I enjoyed the plot which follows four professors re-living dormitory life and how each of them cope with the transition from regular home life to living in a small room, giving up privacy and sharing a bathroom with other residents. It made me reminisce about my days in college. But it also made me realize that I could never go back to dormitory living.

The characters were an eclectic personality mix of colorful, dull, and peculiar. My favorite character was Juanita Jane for her snark and “tell it like it is” attitude. Juanita was the lifeblood of the novel and without her, the narrative would be in my opinion, boring. My least favorite character was Joy because she had the most peculiar obsession of marrying a man she hardly knew (crazy.) The other two characters in the story didn’t appeal to me. They were “window dressing” in my opinion. Bert and Lyla seemed to be going through their mid-life crisis and the Faculty Dorm Dweller Program was just the escape they needed during a tumultuous period in their respective lives.

Though I thoroughly enjoyed Young Again, I felt that either something was missing or the story just dragged on longer than it should. Still, it was a fine read worthy of four smashing stars.

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


ARC Review: Can’t Look Away

  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
  • Publication Date: June 14, 2022
  • Author: Carola Lovering
  • Genre: General Fiction (Adult) | Women’s Fiction
  • Page Count: 320

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Description and My Thoughts

They met at a concert. Their eyes locked in over the maddening crowd. Danner Lane was the act for the evening and Jake Danner was the lead singer/musician. Molly Diamond, an aspiring novelist, didn’t want to go to the concert, but she couldn’t say no to her best friend, Nina. Through the music emanating from the band and the clamoring from concertgoers, Jake and Molly made a connection.

That was ten years ago. Molly Diamond is now Molly O’Neil and not Molly Danner. Molly gave up her aspirations of becoming a novelist. Instead, she now teaches yoga and is raising their daughter with her husband Hunter. Everything is seemingly perfect. And just when life couldn’t get any better, Molly is befriended by Sabrina – a student from one of Molly’s yoga classes. Little does Molly know that behind Sabrina’s friendship lies an alterior motive. A motive that could undermine everything that Molly has worked for.

Can’t Look Away is an interesting read. Not fully absorbing but there is enough substance that kept me engaged till the end.

I wasn’t too particularly fond of the characters since most of them were too shallow personality-wise for my tastes. That being said, the author did a fine job of fleshing out the characters to capture their personalities and subtle nuances.

The story unfolds from three points of view — Molly, Jake, and Sabrina. However, each view is from a third person perspective. This method of storytelling did take a little getting used to, but eventually the narrative begins to flow nicely.

I wouldn’t say that there weren’t any hitches to the storyline because to me there were at least a few. I won’t mention them there since that would give away the plot. I will say that there were some “Seriously?” and “Are you kidding me?” moments.

Overall, Can’t Look Away is an acceptable read. A solid three stars.

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: Hotel Magnifique

  • Publisher: Razorbill
  • Publication Date: April 5, 2022
  • Author: Emily J. Taylor
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Page Count: 400

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Blurb

All her life, Jani has dreamed of Elsewhere. Just barely scraping by with her job at a tannery, she’s resigned to a dreary life in the port town of Durc, caring for her younger sister Zosa. That is, until the Hotel Magnifique comes to town.

The hotel is legendary not only for its whimsical enchantments, but also for its ability to travel—appearing in a different destination every morning. While Jani and Zosa can’t afford the exorbitant costs of a guest’s stay, they can interview to join the staff, and are soon whisked away on the greatest adventure of their lives. But once inside, Jani quickly discovers their contracts are unbreakable and that beneath the marvelous glamour, the hotel is hiding dangerous secrets.

With the vexingly handsome doorman Bel as her only ally, Jani embarks on a mission to unravel the mystery of the magic at the heart of the hotel and free Zosa—and the other staff—from the cruelty of the ruthless maître d’hôtel. To succeed, she’ll have to risk everything she loves, but failure would mean a fate far worse than never returning home.


My Thoughts & Opinions

I’ve read a number of mixed reviews for Hotel Magnifique. Especially from those that have read Caraval and The Night Circus. Since I have not read any of the aforementioned novels, I probably didn’t have as much of a bias. Not having any preconceived notions or expectations of the book, allowed me to thoroughly enjoy the journey and wonderment of the narrative.

The characters are well developed and consists of a nice blend of mysteriousness, eeriness, innocence and elegance. Like any good novel, there are the good actors and the bad actors. And Hotel Magnifique has a nice balance of good and bad.

The pace of the novel is just right. It flows slowly at the beginning since there is quite a bit of world building. The pace then takes off with magic and mystery. I was amazed at the imaginative plot — combining a belle-epoque fantasy world filled with magicians and magical artifacts. Author, Emily J. Taylor has crafted a stunning masterpiece that is not to be missed. Five outstanding stars.


ARC Review: As Seen on TV

  • Publisher: Forever (GCP)
  • Publication Date: June 7, 2022
  • Author: Meredith Schorr
  • Genre: Romance
  • Page Count: 352

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Description and My Thoughts

Adina (Adi) Geller is a struggling journalist trying to land a full time position writing lifestyle stories for Tea, an online magazine. But for the time being, Adi is strapped with juggling three jobs. One as spin instructor, the other a barista at a nearby coffee house, and lastly a freelance writer which just didn’t cut the mustard.

Adi was fortunate to live rent free with her mother. But with an imminent rent increase looming in the horizon, Adi desperately needed something more substantial. So, a position at Tea would be her ticket to independence. All Adi had to do was come up with the perfect pitch to the editor of Tea. Little did Adi know that the perfect pitch would lead to an extended stay in a small town and a bit of an unexpected romance.

As Seen on TV is a semi steamy romance that will have you turning the pages for more and not wanting the story to end. But the story does end and in an “aww shucks” kind of way.

The characters are lovable and I found them all to be somewhat like the characters from the Hallmark Movie Channel. They all seemed so real.

The plot is a friends to lovers trope. And as friend relationships go, there are the ups and downs of life. But added to the friend relationship, there’s the added complexity of familial ties. Family drama that tarnishes the best of relationships. But with strength, patience, and perseverance, that tarnish can be polished away.

As Seen on TV is a wonderful romance novel that will surely please those die hard romance fans. The author, Meredith Schorr is an excellent storyteller and I’ll be adding her to my favorite authors list. You should too. Five outstanding stars.

I received a digital ARC from Forever (GCP.) The review herein is completely my own and contains my honest thoughts and opinions.


Book Review: The Queen of Second Chances

  • Publisher: Champagne Book Group
  • Publication Date: June 7, 2021
  • Author: D. M. Barr
  • Genre: Romance
  • Page Count: 204

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Description & Review

Carraway (Carra) Quinn, a recent graduate with an English major, is struggling to secure a stable editorial position in a tight job market. Unfortunately for Carra, the job market for English majors are slim to none. And to top it off, her first novel still needs to be revised in order to get published — a feat next to impossible when the ominous “writers’ block” has strangled her chances. Carra desperately needs to get her finances together or else face the pink slip of eviction.

Carra’s stepmother, Bea, sees Carra’s struggles as an opportunity to advance her realtor career. Bea convinces Carra to get her real estate license and sign on as an agent with her. The catch — Carra is to infiltrate a senior center, gain the member’s trust, and convince each member to sell their homes under the guise of downsizing.. But can Carra in good concious do that to the men and women living on fixed incomes?

The Queen of Second Chances is such an entertaining read. It’s a lighthearted romantic comedy with well developed characters that color the pages with wit, humor, and a bit of snakiness. I liked the dual points of view — first person Carra and Jay via third person. But it was a bit rough in the beginning until that flow gets established. This first and third person points of view didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the novel since the rythm is easily navigable.

I really loved the storyline with a backdrop of a senior center. It really brought forth how seniors can stagnate under a controlling and budgeted, constrained system that dooms them to oblivion. It is also about how innovative and forward thinking people can transform a mundane existence into a vibrant one. The romance aspect is just window dressing in my opinion. But it is a nice touch to an already engaging novel. Five adoring stars.

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


ARC Review: Together We Burn

  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, Wednesday Books
  • Publication Date: May 31, 2022
  • Author: Isabel Ibañez
  • Genre: SciFi & Fantasy | Teens & YA
  • Page Count: 368

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Description and My Thoughts

Magic, light romance, dragons, and espionage. What more can one ask for?

In the footsteps of her late mother, Zarela Zalvidar is a performer. She along with her father regale their audience with flamenco and dragonfighting. It is a tradition steeped in history that has spanned at least 500 years. But that tradition is threatened when a terrible tragedy strikes, leaving the Zalidars on the brink of losing everything they’ve worked for.

In order to save the estate and their reputation, Zarela is forced to learn the art of dragonfighting — becoming a dragonador. But that task may be more difficult than Zarela realizes.

Together We Burn combines all of the wonderful elements of fantasy, historical fiction, and romance in a perfectly executed novel. Dragons, magic, action, and romance are deftly blended together to form a magnificent retelling of the toreadors and the flamenco dancers of old.

With a generous sprinkling of Spanish words and phrases, Together We Burn is rich in atmosphere with colorful characters to match.

The story is full of adventure and intrigue. It is a page-turner that will have you wanting more, and never wanting it to end. Together We Burn is definitely a novel that should be on everyone’s TBR. I can’t wait to read more novels from this superb author, Isabel Ibañez — a name to be remembered. Five outstanding stars.

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 Magic Steeped in Poison

  • Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, Feiwel & Friends
  • Publication Date: March 29, 2022
  • Author: Judy Lin
  • Genre: Teens & YA
  • Page Count: 384

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Blurb

I used to look at my hands with pride. Now all I can think is, “These are the hands that buried my mother.”

For Ning, the only thing worse than losing her mother is knowing that it’s her own fault. She was the one who unknowingly brewed the poison tea that killed her—the poison tea that now threatens to also take her sister, Shu.

When Ning hears of a competition to find the kingdom’s greatest shennong-shi—masters of the ancient and magical art of tea-making—she travels to the imperial city to compete. The winner will receive a favor from the princess, which may be Ning’s only chance to save her sister’s life. 

But between the backstabbing competitors, bloody court politics, and a mysterious (and handsome) boy with a shocking secret, Ning might actually be the one in more danger.


My Thoughts & Opinions

A Magic Steeped in Poison is author, Judy Lin’s first book in The Book of Tea duology. It is everything that a teen and YA fantasy should have — action, adventure, magic, light romance, and mystery.

There are quite a number of characters and Lin deftly fleshed out and developed the entire cast. Some characters I liked. There were other characters that I didn’t like and a few of them were just suspicious and conniving.

I enjoyed the Chinese theme, and the historical atmosphere. It made for a fascinating read. However, the Chinese words used throughout the book were a bit distracting. But, it did add authenticity to the story.

The plot starts out simple enough, but it gets complex with twists and cliffhangers after each chapter. It is suspensful and yet entertaining at the same time.

While I didn’t appreciate stumbling over the Chinese words interespersed within the novel, I eventually realized that their inclusion added so much depth to the narrative. Especially since there is a glossary at the end of the book.

Overall, A Magic Steeped in Poison is deserving of five stars. I can’t wait for the final installment of this duology, which is estimated to be release in August, 2022.

I received a finished copy of the book from Bookish First. The review herein is completely my own and contains my honest thoughts and opinions.


ARC Review: Dead Wind

  • Publisher: Severn House
  • Publication Date: April 5, 2022
  • Author: Tessa Wegert
  • Genre: Mystery & Thrillers
  • Page Count: 240

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Blurb

The body is discovered on Wolfe Island, under the shadow of an enormous wind turbine. Senior Investigator Shana Merchant, arriving on the scene with fellow investigator Tim Wellington, can’t shake the feeling that she knows the victim – and the subsequent identification sends shockwaves through their community in the Thousand Islands of Upstate New York.

Politics, power, passion . . . there are dark undercurrents in Shana’s new home, and finding the killer means dredging up her new friends and neighbours’ old grudges and long-kept secrets.

That is, if the killer is from the community at all. For Shana’s keeping a terrible secret from almost everyone around her: eighteen months ago she escaped from serial killer Blake Bram’s clutches. But has he followed her, to kill again? 


My Thoughts & Opinions

Dead Wind is the third book of the Shana Merchant series. That being said, I highly recommend that the first two books be read beforehand. Though I managed to get the gist of Shana’s background and history, I still felt that several pieces of the puzzle were missing.

The characters of likeable enough but I felt that they could have been fleshed out more. Perhaps they were developed in the prior novels. But I wouldn’t know that. In any event, I really didn’t care too much for any of the characters, except maybe Tim.

Insofar as the storyline is concerned, the narrative and outcome is predictable. I didn’t think there were any notable plot twists that made me want to stay up all night to finish the book. Truthfully speaking, it is a slow read and at times boring. I ended up skipping and skimming the latter part of the book to get to the finish line.

I’m not new to police procedurals and some of the narrative in Dead Wind just didn’t make sense to me. I think that the logic and sleuthing aspects could be improved upon — taking clues from authors like Tess Gerritsen, Preston & Child, and maybe even clues from true crime authors like Paul Holes.

Overall, Dead Wind is a decent read. Two satisfactory stars.

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


ARC Review: Omen’s Bite

  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press | Wednesday Books
  • Publication Date: April 5, 2022
  • Authors: P. C. Cast | Kristen Cast
  • Genre: Sci-Fi & Fantasy | Teens & YA
  • Page Count: 320

Blurb

Twin sisters, Mercy and Hunter are witches, descendants of the Goode family of witches. After the murder of their mother at the hands of a foul demon, they have become the protectors of the Gates to different underworlds–ancient portals between their world and realms where mythology rules and the darkest of creatures exist. 

The problem is that the Goode sisters have split from each other. Grief and anger have torn them apart, driving Mercy to save the cursed Gates on her own and Hunter into the arms of a dangerous goddess. And when Mercy shifts her focus to the Egyptian Gate and Khenti, the guardian of its Underworld, little does she know that her connection to him will land her in the kind of trouble that only Hunter can save her from.

When it comes to breaking the curse, Mercy and Hunter’s bonds are put to the ultimate test.


My Thoughts & Opinions

Seriously? I guess this novel wasn’t what I expected. It’s the second book in the Sisters of Salem series, which I didn’t realize until after I received my digital copy. To really get the gist of the story, I highly recommend that the first book, Spells Trouble, gets read before this one. I believe I missed out on some of the finer details by not reading the first book. However, I don’t think my opinion would have changed even if I did read the first novel.

The two main characters — Mercy and Hunter Goode aren’t that likeable as they come across as spoiled, entitled teens without discipline. The other characters in the story are just okay. Maybe I would have appreciated them more if I knew of their backgrounds.

The plot is pretty linear without much twists and turns. This novel actually reads like a middle grade book in my opinion. Prose-wise, it is very simple without much flair. I didn’t really feel engaged and often felt like I was reading a children’s fiction book.

Needless to say, I probably won’t be reading anymore books from the authors. Two stars — it was okay if I managed to finish the book.

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


Book Tour: The Tsarina’s Daughter

  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
  • Publication Date: March 15, 2022
  • Author: Ellen Alpsten
  • Genre: Historical Fiction | Women’s Fiction
  • Page Count: 512

Welcome to the March 15th stop on the Book Tour. Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press for the Advance Reader Copy of the book and for the media assets.

Blurb

Born into the House of Romanov to the all-powerful Peter the Great and his wife, Catherine, a former serf, beautiful Tsarevna Elizabeth is the envy of the Russian empire. She is insulated by luxury and spoiled by her father, who dreams for her to marry King Louis XV of France and rule in Versailles. But when a woodland creature gives her a Delphic prophecy, her life is turned upside down. Her volatile father suddenly dies, her only brother has been executed and her mother takes the throne of Russia.

As friends turn to foe in the dangerous atmosphere of the Court, the princess must fear for her freedom and her life. Fate deals her blow after blow, and even loving her becomes a crime that warrants cruel torture and capital punishment: Elizabeth matures from suffering victim to strong and savvy survivor. But only her true love and their burning passion finally help her become who she is. When the Imperial Crown is left to an infant Tsarevich, Elizabeth finds herself in mortal danger and must confront a terrible dilemma – seize the reins of power and harm an innocent child, or find herself following in the footsteps of her murdered brother.

Hidden behind a gorgeous, wildly decadent façade, the Russian Imperial Court is a viper’s den of intrigue and ambition. Only a woman possessed of boundless courage and cunning can prove herself worthy to sit on the throne of Peter the Great.


My Thoughts & Opinions

The Tsarina’s Daughter is the sequel to Tsarina. Although is is the second novel, it can be read as a standalone without any problems. However, to get the full flavor of this historical fiction, I do recommend that one reads the first book before reading this one.

There are numerous characters and luckily, there is a cast of characters listing that outlines the who is who in the story. Truthfully, it was a blessing to have this as it helped me navigate the narrative a lot better. Especially since different names were used interchangably throughout the novel. Each of the characters were well developed. I didn’t particularly care for any of them until later in the story when many of them have matured or grown old.

Insofar as the storyline goes, it is a little longwinded. But it is probably because a certain atmosphere needed to be established — bejeweled monarchs, impoverished villages, and extravagant palaces.

For the most part, The Tsarina’s Daughter is an enjoyable read. However, I didn’t quite appreciate the sprinkle of fantasy when the forest spirit prophesized the fates of Lizenka and Anoushka. To me, fantasy no matter how minute it is to the novel’s entirety has no place is an otherwise great historical fiction. Overall, four satisfying stars.

I received a physical ARC from St. Martin’s Press for this book tour. The review herein is completely my own and contains my honest thoughts and opinions.


Read an Excerpt

Prologue

In the Winter Palace, St. Nicholas Day, 6th December 1741

Ivan is innocent – my little nephew is a baby, and as pure as only a one-year-old can be. But

tonight, at my order, the infant Tsar will be guilty as charged.

I fight the urge to pick him up and kiss him; it would only make things worse. Beyond

his nursery door, there is a low buzzing sound, like of angry bees ready to swarm the Winter

Palace. Soldier’s boots scrape and shuffle. Spurs clink like stubby vodka glasses and bayonets

are being fixed to muskets. These are the sounds of things to come. The thought spikes my

heart with dread.

There is no other choice. It is Ivan, or me. Only one of us can rule Russia, the other

one condemned to a living death. Reigning Russia is a right that has to be earned as much as

inherited: he and my cousin, the Regent, doom the country to an eternity under a foreign

yoke. The realm will be lost; the invisible holy bond between Tsar and people irretrievably

torn.

I, Elizabeth, am the only surviving child of Peter the Great’s fifteen sons and

daughters. Tonight, if I hesitate too long, I might become the last of my siblings to die.

Curse the Romanovs! I in vain try to bar the prophecy, which has blighted my life,

from my thoughts. Puddles form on the parquet floor as slush drips from my boots; their

worn, thigh-high leather soaked from my dash across St. Petersburg. Despite my being an

Imperial Princess – the Tsarevna Elizabeth Petrovna Romanova – no footman had hooked a

bear skin across my lap to protect me against the icy wind and driving snow while I sat snug

in a sled; I had no muff to raise to my face in that special graceful gesture of the St.

Petersburg ladies, the damy. My dash towards my date with destiny had been clandestine:

snowfall veiled the flickering lights of the lanterns and shrouded the city. Mortal fear drove

me on, hurrying over bridges, dodging patrolled barriers – the shlagbaumy – and furtively

crossing the empty prospects, where my hasty passage left a momentary trace of warmth in

the frosty air.

This was a night of momentous decisions that I would have to live with, forever. An

anointed and crowned Tsar may not be killed, even once he is deposed, as it sets a dangerous

precedent. Yet he may not live either – at least not in the mind of the Russian people or

according to the diplomatic dispatches sent all over Europe.

What then is to become of Ivan?

I feel for his limp little hand. I simply cannot resist – never could – nuzzling his

chubby, rosy fingers, which are still too small to bear the Imperial seal. We call this game a

butterfly’s kiss; it makes him giggle and squeal, and me dissolve with tenderness. I suck in

his scent of the talcum powder blended for his sole use in Grasse – vanilla and bergamot, the

Tsar’s perfume – taking stock for a lifetime. The men outside fall quiet. They are waiting for

my decision that will both save and damn me. The thought sears my soul.

In Ivan’s nursery, the lined French damask drapes are drawn. Thick, potbellied clouds

hide the December new moon and stars, giving this hour a dense and dreadful darkness.

During the day, the seagulls’ cries freeze on their beaks, the chill of night grates skin raw.

Any light is as scarce and dear as everything else in St. Petersburg. The candle sellers’ shops,

which smell of bees’ wax, flax, and sulphur, do brisk business with both Yuletide and

Epiphany approaching. On the opposite quay, the shutters on the flat fa ades of the city’s

palaces and houses are closed, the windows behind them dark. They are swathed in the same

brooding silence as the Winter Palace. I am in my father’s house, but this does not mean that I

am safe. Far from it – it means quite the opposite. The Winter Palace’s myriad corridors,

hundreds of rooms and dozens of staircases can be as welcoming as a lover’s embrace or as

dangerous as a snake pit.

It is Ivan or me: fate has mercilessly driven us towards this moment. The courtiers

shun me: no-one would bet a Kopeck on my future. Will I be sent to a remote convent, even

though I do not have an ounce of nun’s flesh about me, as the Spanish envoy, the Duke of

Liria, so memorably described it? I had once been forced to see such an unfortunate woman

in her cell; as intended, the sight instilled a terror that would last me a lifetime. Her shorn

head was covered in chilblains and her eyes shone with madness. A hunchbacked dwarf,

whose tongue had been torn out, was her sole companion, both of them shuffling about in

rotten straw like pigs in their sties. Or perhaps there is a sled waiting for me, destination

Siberia? I know about this voyage of no return; I have heard the cries, seen the dread and

smelled the fear of the banished culprits, be they simple peasants or a Prince of Russia. By

the first anniversary of their sentence, all had succumbed to the harsh conditions of the East.

Maybe a dark cell in the Trubetzkoy Bastion, the place nobody ever leaves in one piece, will

swallow me; or things will be simpler, and I am fated to end up face down in the Neva,

drifting between the thick floes of ice, my body being crushed and shredded by their sheer

force.

The soldiers’ impatience is palpable. Just one more breath! Ivan’s wet-nurse is asleep,

slumped on her stool, resting amidst his toys: the scattered pieces of a Matryoshka doll,

wooden boats, a mechanical silver bear that opens its jaws and raises its paws when wound

up, and a globe inlaid with Indian ivory and Belgian  maille. One of the nurse’s pale breasts

is still bare from the last feed; she was chosen for her ample alabaster bosom in Moscow’s

raucous German quarter. Ivan is well cared for: Romanov men are of weaker stock than

Romanov women, even if no one ever dares to say so. I celebrated his first year as a time of

wonder, offering my little nephew a cross studded with rubies and emeralds for his

christening, a gift fit for a Tsar, and put myself in debt to raise an ebony colt in my stables as

his Yuletide present.

Ivan’s breathing is growing heavier. The regiment outside his door weighs on his

dreams. As I touch both his sides, his warmth sends a jolt through my fingers, hitting a Gold

in my heart. Oh, to hold him one more time and feel his delightful weight in my arms. I pull

my hands back, folding them, though the time for prayers has passed. No pilgrimage can ever

absolve me from this sin, even if I slide across the whole of Russia on my knees. Ivan’s

lashes flutter, his chin wobbles, he smacks his pink and shiny lips. I cannot bear to see him

cry, despite the saying of Russian serfs: ‘Another man’s tears are only water.’

The lightest load will be your greatest burden. The last prophecy is coming to pass.

Spare me, I plea – but I know this is my path, and I will have to walk it to the end, over the

pieces of my broken heart. Ivan slides back into slumber, long, dark lashes cast shadows on

his round cheeks and his tiny fists open, showing pink, unlined palms. The sight stabs me.

Not even the most adept fortune-teller could imagine what the future has in store for Ivan. It

is a thought that I refrain from thinking to its end.

Beyond the door utter silence reigns. Is this the calm before the storm my father

taught me to fear when we sailed the slate-coloured waters of the Bay of Finland? His fleet

had been rolling at anchor in the far distance, masts rising like a marine forest. ‘This is

forever Russia,’ he had proudly announced. ‘No Romanov must ever surrender what has been

gained by spilling Russian blood.’ In order to strengthen Russia, Father had spared no-one.

My elder half-brother Alexey, his son and heir, had paid the ultimate price for doubting

Russia’s path to progress.

Steps approach. My time with Ivan, and life as we know it, is over. I wish this were

not necessary. There is a knock on the nursery door, a token rasp of knuckles; so light, it

belies its true purpose. It is time to act. Russia will take no more excuses. The soldiers’

nerves are as taut as the springs in a bear trap. I have promised them the world: in a night like

this, destinies are forged, fortunes made and lost.

‘Elizabeth Petrovna Romanova?’ I hear the captain of the Imperial Preobrazhensky

Regiment addressing me. His son is my godchild, but can I trust him completely for that?

Suddenly, I feel like drowning and shield Ivan’s cradle with my body. In the gilt-framed

mirrors I see my face floating ghostly pale above my dark green uniform jacket; my

ash-blonde curly hair has slid down from beneath a fur cap. On a simple leather thong around

my neck hangs the diamond-studded icon of St Nicholas that is priceless to me. They will

have to prise it from my dead body to get it.

I am almost thirty-one years old. Tonight, I shall not betray my blood.

‘I am ready,’ I say, my voice trembling, bracing myself, as the door bursts open and

the soldiers swarm in.

Everything comes at a price.


ARC Review: The Younger Wife

  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
  • Publication Date: April 5, 2022
  • Author: Sally Hepworth
  • Genre: Mystery & Thrillers | Women’s Fiction
  • Page Count: 352

Blurb

THE HUSBAND
A heart surgeon at the top of his field, Stephen Aston is getting married again. But first he must divorce his current wife, even though she can no longer speak for herself.

THE DAUGHTERS
Tully and Rachel Aston look upon their father’s fiancée, Heather, as nothing but an interloper. Heather is younger than both of them. Clearly, she’s after their father’s money.

THE FORMER WIFE
With their mother in a precarious position, Tully and Rachel are determined to get to the
truth about their family’s secrets, the new wife closing in, and who their father really is.

THE YOUNGER WIFE
Heather has secrets of her own. Will getting to the truth unleash the most dangerous impulses
in all of them?


My Thoughts and Opinions

The Younger Wife is the second book that I’ve read from Sally Hepworth. It certainly won’t be the last as Hepworth has the remarkable ability to craft suspenseful stories that hooks you at the beginning and reels you in for the landing.

I can’t say much about the story without giving away the whole kit and caboodle. But the blurb does provide enough mysteriousness to get your attention.

The story unfolds from multiple points of view — from Tully, Rachel and Heather. I loved that it was written this way. Especially since I got to learn the background of each character. There is an unknown third party observer in the narrative who isn’t revealed. But with the powers of deduction, one will be able to determine who that mysterious observer is. A very nice touch to an already engaging story.

The plot is absorbing from the prologue to the epilogue. And everything in between is sprinkled with twists that will keep you wanting to read the next chapter and the next.

As much as I thoroughly enjoyed The Younger Wife, I didn’t care too much for the ending. Not sure if was purposely written this way or not. And I’m still questioning whether I missed something. Maybe that “aha” moment will come sometime later. Until that time, The Younger Wife is a superb four star read for me.

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


Book Review: Would I Lie to You

  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication Date: February 22, 2022
  • Author: Aliya Ali-Afzal
  • Genre: Women’s Fiction
  • Page Count: 483

Description and Review

“Oh what a tangled web we weave. When first we practice to deceive.” Sir Walter Scott

Faiza and Tom appeared to have the perfect marriage and family. They lived in an affluent area, had a beautiful home and could afford to send their three children to private schools. And Faiza didn’t have to work. Instead, Faiza spent her days volunteering at exclusive charities, transporting her children, dining and shopping at high end restaurants and boutiques. And Faiza could indulge in the regular spa treatments with friends in those elite social circles that most other women of modest means would envy.

Being a person of color, Faiza desperately wanted to fit in with the other ladies of social status. After all, social status is what made you noticed, right? So Faiza would secretly withdraw money from her and Tom’s emergency fund for what most people would call extravagant purchases. But Faiza told herself that she would eventually replenish the fund. After all, her husband Tom had a well paying job. Until that one day he didn’t… No problem, Faiza thought. They had enough to tide them over until Tom found another job. But when Faiza went to check their account balance, they had nothing. Faiza had spent all of their emergency fund money. Faiza was shocked and did not dare want to tell Tom what she had done for fear of him leaving. Faiza feared for her marriage, and she had six weeks to make things right before Tom’s severance ran out.

Would I Lie to You is Aliya Ali-Afzal’s debut novel. Hard to believe because her writing style is so captivating.

The characters are well developed and I enjoyed how Ali-Afzal captured the trials and tribulations of an interracial marriage along with the stigma of being a person of color in a caucasian dominant environment. It’s a sensitive topic but being a person of color myself, I could relate to the feelings of Faiza and how she tried to fit in.

The plot is intriguing and it takes the reader down a rabbit hole of desperation. What would be the cost of rectifiying all the wrongs? Family? Marriage? Social Status? All of the above?

Would I Lie to You is an outstanding novel that is sure to resonate with a wide range of readers. Five masterful stars.

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


February Roundup

Can’t believe that February has ended. It was a little stressful trying to squeeze in 30 – 31 days of reading into 28 days, but I think I managed okay. Lots going on with Bookish Bingo and tackling some backlisted books. So here are pics of what I read in February:

ARC Review: In a New York Minute

  • Publisher: Forever (GCP)
  • Publication Date: March 15, 2022
  • Author: Kate Spencer
  • Genre: Romance
  • Page Count: 320

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Blurb

Franny Doyle is having the worst day. She’s been laid off from her (admittedly mediocre) job, the subway doors ripped her favorite silk dress to ruins, and now she’s flashed her unmentionables to half of lower Manhattan. On the plus side, a dashing stranger came to her rescue with his (Gucci!) suit jacket. On the not-so-plus side, he can’t get away from her fast enough.

Worse yet? Someone posted their (entirely not) meet-cute online. Suddenly Franny and her knight-in-couture, Hayes Montgomery III, are the newest social media sensation, and all of New York is shipping #SubwayQTs.

Only Franny and Hayes couldn’t be a more disastrous match. She’s fanciful, talkative, and creative. He’s serious, shy, and all about numbers. Luckily, in a city of eight million people, they never have to meet again. Yet somehow, Hayes and Franny keep running into each other—and much to their surprise, they enjoy each other’s company. A lot. But when Franny’s whole world is turned upside down (again!), can she find the courage to trust in herself and finally have the life—and love—she’s always wanted?


My Thoughts and Opinions

Shut the door! In a New York Minute is simply laugh out loud funny! It has all the elements that a romantic comedy should have — fun characters and funny moments. The characters of Franny, Hayes and the rest of the players are witty and entertaining — with just enough snarkiness to make you smile.

The story unfolds from Franny and Hayes’ points of view. It’s an inventive technique to incorporate a male’s perspective as I got to read about the budding romance from not only Franny’s view but Hayes’ view as well.

The narrative is smooth and transitions nicely between Franny and Hayes. The pace is casual with a few “oh no!” or “this can’t be happening!” moments.

Overall, In a New York Minute is a rom-com not to be missed. It is clearly the best rom-com that I’ve read so far. Five outstanding stars.

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


ARC Review: The Book of Souls

  • Publisher: Books Fluent
  • Publication Date: March 8, 2022
  • Author: Kevin Moore
  • Genre: Horror
  • Page Count: 345

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Description and My Thoughts/Opinions

Jack Kelly was happily married to his wife, Katherine. He and Katherine had three beautiful children — Stevie, Lily and Mike. They were the perfect family. But their idyllic family is upended when Stevie falls ill with a strange sickness that had doctors befuddled. It is Stevie’s illness that would be the turning point of Jack’s life as he knew it.

On that fateful day in Jack’s life, Jack is besieged by shadows and is knocked unconscious. When Jack wakes, he is no longer the man and husband, but a mere teenager. A man trapped in a 13 year old body. Along with that, Jack now has the uncanny ability to see, hear, and feel otherworldly connections. And those connections would be the start of Jack’s new purpose in life.

The Book of Souls is the first book in the horror duology. It is mildly terrifying but not enough to keep you awake all night.

The characters are developed enough. And for their part in a horror genre, they don’t need to be fleshed out as much as if they were in a historical fiction novel. The character of Jack was the most interesting because here you have a grown man in a boy’s body. And Jack’s stature belies his vast knowledge, intelligence and maturity.

As for the story, it is a satisfying read if you are a fan of horror. However, the transitions were a little rough, and the narrative seemed a bit disjointed throughout.

Overall, The Book of Souls is an average and decent read. I’m probably the minority of opinion with a three star rating. The story will conclude with author Kevin Moore’s upcoming novel, The Book of Demons. But I probably won’t be in line for that one anytime soon.

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