ARC Review: Marked Man

  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books
  • Publication Date: October 12, 2021 (Changed from September 28, 2021)
  • Author: Archer Mayor
  • Genre: Mystery & Thrillers
  • Page Count: 304

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Description and Review

It all started when a medical student preparing for his next laboratory assignment discovers that the cadaver he is working on didn’t die of natural causes. The student together with one of the teaching staff determine that the person died of strangulation. So begins the journey down the rabbit hole for Joe Gunther and his team at the Vermont Bureau of Investigation.

As Joe and his team conduct their investigation, they discover that the deceased was Nathan Lyon also known as, Nick Bianchi, a former crime boss who died a year earlier. Thus any evidence of foul play has since been lost. Now it’s up to Joe and the team to unearth the forensic files, conduct interrogations of Nathan’s friends and relatives. But as soon as the team gets close to uncovering clues, two more family members end up dead. Accidents or murders? Joe and the team need to solve the mystery before anymore bodies turn up.

Marked Man is the 32nd novel in the Joe Gunther series, but it is possible to read it as a standalone. However, I think that reading a few of the prior Gunther series would be beneficial in understanding the established characters. Especially since Marked Man has over a dozen different characters; and this reader had somewhat of a difficult time keeping track of who’s who without taking notes. I must say, however, that all the characters are well developed with unique personalities.

The storyline is somewhat complex in that there are several narratives occuring at the same time and it’s not until the end that they all converge into an unexpected ending.

Overall Marked Man is a remarkable read deserving of four stars.

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


ARC Review: Santa’s Lost Reindeer

  • Publisher: BooksGoSocial
  • Publication Date: October 1, 2021
  • Author: Rachel Hilz
  • Genre: Children’s Fiction
  • Page Count: 37

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Blurb

How can Christmas be saved? Santa’s in so much trouble.

With his best reindeer missing he needs help on the double!

The book was a passion project for author Rachel Hilz, mom of two special needs children. It was written and illustrated with her autistic kids in mind and has now become the source of much laughter and joy for them.


Thoughts and Opinions

What better way to start off the holiday season than reading Santa’s Lost Reindeer to the young ones? With delightfully colorful and funny illustrations, Santa’s Lost Reindeer is the perfect read for family time.

The story is cleverly written in rhyme and tells the tale of a frantic Santa in search of his lead reindeer. Santa’s Lost Reindeer is full of giggly moments and big smiles. Clearly, Santa’s Lost Reindeer has everything you would want in a children’s holiday book — delightful illustrations, and a cute story, all packaged within a sweet and lovable cover. Five adorable stars.

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


Weekly Recipe Wednesday: Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe

Welcome to another edition of Weekly Recipe Wednesday. I’ve been on hiatus with posting recipes, but I’m back! Today’s recipe is from a mention in the book, The Inn at Tansy Falls, which I’ve read and reviewed here on my blog. Many thanks for AllRecipes.com for having this recipe available. Please be sure to visit their website for more delicious items.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. spaghetti
  • 6 T. olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1.75 c. grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Directions

  1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook spaghetti in the boiling water, stirring occasionally until tender yet firm to the bite, about 10 minutes. Scoop out some of the cooking water and reserve. Drain spaghetti.
  2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and pepper; cook and stir until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add spaghetti and Pecorino Romano cheese. Ladle in 1/2 cup of reserved cooking water; stir until cheese is melted, about 1 minute. Add more cooking water until sauce coats spaghetti, about 1 minute more.

Blog Blitz Celebration: My Sweet Girl

  • Publisher: Berkley Publishing Group
  • Publication Date: September 14, 2021
  • Author: Amanda Jayatissa
  • Genre: Mystery & Thrillers
  • Page Count: 384

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Early Praise

“Like nothing else I’ve read. Set in San Francisco and Sri Lanka, this is a story about friendship, lies, and guilt. A stunning and original must-read?” — Samantha Downing, author of My Lovely Wife

“A delicious, twisty, fast-paced thriller with the perfect hint of ghost story.” — Michele Campbell, author of It’s Always the Husband

“Ridiculously good. Crazy good. Scary good.” — Hand Phillippi Ryan, USA Today bestselling author of The First to Lie

“Equal parts witty, chilling, and hypnotic, and it includes some of the creepiest lines and images I’ve ever read.” — Megan Collins, author of The Winter Sister


Description and Review

After being adopted by an American family, Paloma had it all — financially stable parents, good schools, and money. It was Paloma’s dream come true.

Now thirty years old, Paloma can no longer depend on funding from her parents. Living in an overpriced San Francisco apartment, Paloma desperately needed money to continue living the lifestyle that she carved out for herself. So, Paloma resorts to subletting her apartment to an undocumented Sri Lankan, Arun.

Everything as going seemingly well with Arun. Paloma felt good about the arrangement until Arun discovers a secret that Paloma has been hiding all these years. A secret that could destroy everything that Paloma has worked for. Knowing that Paloma would do anything to keep her secret hidden, Arun commences to blackmail Paloma, draining her bank accounts.

In a last-ditch effort to end the blackmails, Paloma resolves to negotiate a deal with Arun. But before anything is set in motion, Paloma discovers Arun’s lifeless body hunched over the kitchen table in a pool of blood. Police are called to the scene. But upon investigation, Arun’s body is nowhere to be found and the apartment is spotless. It’s as if Arun never existed. Is it possible that Paloma dreamt the whole thing up? What is the secret that Paloma is hiding?

My Sweet Girl is a slow burn suspense novel. The pace is atmospheric with little nuggets of edginess. The storyline follows a first-person account that spans past and present between Sri Lanka and San Francisco. The novel contains an easy to follow narrative. However, it is somewhat of a tedious grind. But, if one is willing to invest the time and endure the hills and valleys of this novel, they will be rewarded with an unexpected ending. Four stars.

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


Read an Excerpt

MY SWEET GIRL by Amanda Jayatissa

Berkley Hardcover | On Sale September 14, 2021

Excerpt

Ratmalana, Sri Lanka

2002

The shadows from the torch Maya held under her chin made her smile look evil, like the devil mask hung in the assembly hall to ward off the evil eye.

We were all too excited to sleep, so Maya called all the girls to her bunk to tell us ghost stories. I didn’t really want to listen. I’m too old to believe in ghosts. But I didn’t want to be the only one in bed when everyone else was all the way on the other side of the dormitory.

Lihini grabbed my hand and squeezed it. I gave it a squeeze back. She loved ghost stories, which I didn’t really understand. Why would anyone want to be afraid on purpose?

“Relax, Paloma,” she mouthed. I usually got annoyed when people told me to relax. Like saying the words was enough to make me forget what was upsetting me in the first place. As though ghosts and demons would just go away if we simply relaxed. But Lihini was my best friend. I could never get angry with her. I scooted a little closer to her on the floor. There was no such thing as ghosts. It just made me feel safe to be near her.

Maya needed to hurry up. If we got caught out of our beds, we would definitely be scolded. Maybe even punished. They might even cancel the visit tomorrow.

I took a deep breath and shook my head. They would never do that. We hadn’t gotten many visitors to the orphanage in a few months now. Tomorrow was important. Everyone told us so-our headmaster Perera sir, Miss Chandra, even Miss Sarah, our English teacher. We were to be on our best behaviour and make sure we knew exactly what we were supposed to do or say. Miss Chandra supervised the rehearsal today. Everything had to be perfect, and we were so excited that none of us could sleep.

Of course Maya would decide this was the best time to make it all about her. Sometimes I wondered if she even wanted to be adopted. She needed to be more responsible than this. She was twelve now, same as me. It’s not like we were little children anymore.

“She walks slowly. Her feet are bare and dirty and covered in scratches. She wears a long, white dress.” Maya purposely made her voice into a throaty whisper so every one of us leaned forward, barely breathing.

I knew this story. Vana-Mohini, or Mohini, as we call it. We’ve all heard it a million times. We’ve all told it a million times. But I still held tight to Maya’s words.

“There’s blood under her nails, and they are long and sharp, like talons.” She made a sudden clawing motion, and Lihini leaped back, her hands over her mouth.

We all giggled nervously.

“And her long, black hair hangs over her face, like this.” The torch flickered as Maya messed her hair over her face so just her eyes glinted through in the dim yellow light.

“Mohini walks only in the night, revealing herself to people who are all by themselves. Help me. Help me, she begs.” Maya made her voice high and raspy now, like when the chalk slips when you’re writing on a blackboard.

“Some people say Mohini’s eyes are red. Red as blood. And when you look into them, you can see straight into hell. And if you stop to help her, she smiles, and before you know it-“

Maya dropped the torch and lunged forward, wrapping her hands around Lihini’s throat. Lihini couldn’t help it this time. Her small scream rang like an alarm through the dormitory.

I pulled Lihini away from Maya and put my arms around her. If I could have slapped Maya, I definitely would, but there wasn’t time.

“Haiyyo! Quickly, everyone, to bed before we get caught,” I hissed, getting Lihini to her feet and pushing her into her bunk.

Thankfully, the other girls followed.

We all lay very, very still for a few minutes. I could hear nervous panting echoing through the dormitory. Maya really did give everyone a shock. But thankfully none of the matrons came.

What on earth was she thinking? Getting us into trouble the night before Mr. and Mrs. Evans got here. Those were their names. Mr. and Mrs. Evans. Perera sir told us so we could memorise them. Evans-like when Miss Sarah told us about Mary Ann Evans, who went by George Eliot, who wrote The Mill on the Floss. I suppose I could understand why you would want to pretend to be someone else. But I could never, ever understand why someone wouldn’t want to go by the name Evans. It was beautiful.

I whispered it out loud.

Mr. and Mrs. Evans. I hoped they liked us. And me. I really hoped they liked me.

About the Author

Amanda Jayatissa grew up in Sri Lanka, completed her undergrad at Mills College, CA, and lived in the UK before moving mack to her sunny little island. She works as a corporate trainer, owns a chain of cookie store, and is a proud dog-mum to her two spoiled huskies.

ARC Review: Horseman

  • Berkley Publishing Group
  • Publication Date: September 28, 2021
  • Author: Christina Henry
  • Genre: Horror | Mystery & Thrillers
  • Page Count: 320

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Blurb

“Everyone in Sleepy Hollow knows about the Horseman, but no one really believes in him. Not even Ben Van Brunt’s grandfather, Brom Bones, who was there when it was said the Horseman chased the upstart Crane out of town. Brom says that’s just legend, the village gossips talking. 

More than thirty years after those storied events, the village is a quiet place. Fourteen-year-old Ben loves to play “Sleepy Hollow boys,” reenacting the events Brom once lived through. But then Ben and a friend stumble across the headless body of a child in the woods near the village, and the discovery makes Ben question everything the adults in Sleepy Hollow have ever said. Could the Horseman be real after all? Or does something even more sinister stalk the woods?”


Thoughts and Opinions

Horseman is the first novel that I’ve read from Christina Henry. Based on the blurb and the novel’s description, I was excited to start reading the book. The cover is creepy and mysterious enough to pique any reader’s interest. But like most things, you can’t judge a book by its cover. Not to say that I didn’t like the book. I did like it, but I didn’t jump out of my seat or had sleepless nights while reading it. I probably just expected a lot more than a bad dream kind of novel.

No doubt the characters are developed. But I’m not sure if a Dutch-based town was an appropriate setting for a novel as dark as Horseman. Perhaps my reluctance on having a Dutch town is partially due to my being unfamiliar with pronunciations and the daily vernacular (Oma, Opa, etc.)

The storyline flows nicely, with occasional surprises sprinkled throughout. But there weren’t enough surprises in my opinion to get that “unputdownable” vibe. Three likable stars.

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


About Christina Henry

Christina Henry is a horror and dark fantasy author whose works include Near the BoneThe Ghost Tree, Looking Glass, The Girl in Red, The Mermaid, Lost Boy, Alice, Red Queen and the seven-book urban fantasy Black Wings series.

She enjoys running long distances, reading anything she can get her hands on and watching movies with samurai, zombies and/or subtitles in her spare time. She lives in Chicago with her husband and son.


ARC Review: The New Kingdom

  • Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre
  • Publication Date: September 7, 2021
  • Author: Wilbur Smith
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Page Count: 402

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Blurb

“In the city of Lahun, Hui lives an enchanted life. The favored son of a doting father, and the ruler-in-waiting of the great city, his fate is set. But behind the beautiful facade a sinister evil is plotting Craving power and embittered by jealously, Hui’s stepmother, the great sorceress Isetnofret, and Hui’s own brother Qen, orchestrate the downfall of Hui’s father, condemning Hui and seizing power in the city.

Cast out and alone, Hui finds himself a captive of a skilled and powerful army of outlaws, the Hyksos. Determined to seek vengeance for the death of his father and rescue his sister, Ipwet, Hui swears his allegiance to these enemies of Egypt. Through them he discovers the art of war, learning how to fight and becoming an envied charioteer.

But soon Hui finds himself in an even greater battle — one for the very heart of Egypt itself. As the pieces fall into place and the gods themselves join the fray, Hui finds himself fighting alongside the Egyptian General Tanus and renowned Mage, Taita.”


Thoughts and Opinions

The New Kingdom is the author’s seventh novel in his The Egyptian Series. This being the case, some readers may want to defer reading this novel until the other six prior novels are read. However, I found that The New Kingdom could be read as a standalone, albeit there was a soft ending — not conclusive, but not open ended.

The characters are varied and many. There are more than a dozen actors in this novel. And for me, that was probably too many to fully grasp each player’s personality and their place in the narrative. Perhaps the character development started with Smith’s first novel, River God. And I probably need to read the first novel to fully appreciate the seventh novel in this series. However, there are a few characters that stood out for me. Hui, the main protagonist, Khyan who took Hui under his wing, and Fareed, a tracker that stood by Hui through thick and thin. Nevertheless, Hui by far stood out for his perseverance, bravery and courage.

The world-building was a little lax and this too probably has to do with not reading the first novel in the series. However, there is enough information to get a feel for the era, the cities, townships, and weaponry.

The New Kingdom is an enjoyable read. Especially if the reader enjoys ancient Egyptian history. I found The New Kingdom absorbing, but I wanted more excitement, and mystery. At 432 pages, it wasn’t a slog to read, but there were some dips in the pacing of the novel. Still a four adventurous star read.

I received a physical ARC from Bonnier Zaffre through the Bookish First Raffle. The review herein is completely my own and contains my honest thoughts and opinions.


Book Blitz: Siggy Loves Sausages

  • Publisher: Books Go Social
  • Publication Date: July 18, 2021
  • Author: Brian Frederick
  • Genre: Children’s Picture Book
  • Page Count: 31

Blurb

A little dachshund ensues on a chase of something sparkly floating through the

sky, vowing to return it to its rightful owner. Follow Siggy as he dashes through the

village, saying hello to his friends and neighbors, but staying focused on the task at

hand. Will Siggy be able to keep his promise?

Come along for a joyful, rollicking tale with vibrant illustrations, sharing in the

happiness and beauty of everyday life. Young children will enjoy the escapades of

sweet little Siggy while learning lessons about keeping promises and unexpected

rewards.


Author Bio

Children’s book author Brian Frederick knew he wanted to be a writer at a young age, having won prizes and praise for his early stories. When he writes, he finds himself entering a bubble and his mind wanders in an imaginary world, providing him with great creativity.


Buy Link

Amazon.UK

ARC Review: The Santa Suit

  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
  • Publication Date: September 28, 2021
  • Author: Mary Kay Andrews
  • Genre: Women’s Fiction
  • Page Count: 224

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Description and Review

Recently divorced Ivy Perkins wanted a fresh start far away from her present home in Atlanta. And in a little obscure town of Tarburton, she found the perfect place to call home — the Four Roses Farm. A quaint farmhouse complete with a barn on two lovely acres of land. But Ivy got more than she bargained for. After all, the house was over 100 years old and needed a lot of TLC.

Luckily for Ivy, the townsfolk of Tarburton were a friendly and helpful lot. Especially Ezra Wheeler, her real estate agent. Ezra was fairly new to Tarburton as well, but he developed a lot of business connections that made it easier for Ivy to navigate her way through the cleanup and move in process.

Determined to start her life with a clean slate, Ivy commences to clear out the abandoned furnishing and wardrobes. In the process of clearing out the many boxes and chests, Ivy finds a Santa suit. It was a beautifully preserved suit made with real velvet and real white fur trim.

Upon inspection of the gorgeous suit, Ivy finds a note hidden in the jacket pocket. The note was from a little girl named Carlette asking that Santa bring her daddy home from the war. Filled with emotion upon reading the note, Ivy resolves to find Carlette and learn the outcome of Carlette and her family.

The Santa Suit is an easy, fast read. The book, considered a novella, still contains all the elements of a full novel. The characters are well fleshed out, and the storyline flows nicely with the exception of an abrupt romantic interlude.

Overall, The Santa Suit is an enjoyable novella that is sure to stir up family and Christmas memories. Five heartfelt 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.


ARC Review: Under the Sun, Moon, and Stars

  • Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group Press
  • Publication Date: September 17, 2021
  • Author: Laura Kosann
  • Illustrator: Danielle Kosann
  • Genre: Children’s Fiction
  • Page Count: 24

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Description and Review

Once upon a time, there was this little girl that had big dreams. She dreamt of great adventures, traveling the world, and becoming an inventor. But all her schoolmates told her that she was too small, too insignificant to do anything. Sadly, the little girl believed her schoolmates.

One night, however, a fairy appeared and told the little girl that she had the power to be whatever she wanted to be. And after receiving advice from several other inhabitants, the little girl realized that she needed to follow her dreams. She could become whatever she wanted to be. She could do things she dreamt of doing; and she also had the power to be anything she wanted.

Under the Sun, Moon and Stars is a wonderfully illustrated picture book with sage advice written in the form of a fairytale. The characters are cute as well as colorful. The storyline is simple and easy to follow. Under the Sun, Moon, and Stars is the perfect addition of any little girl’s library. Too bad there isn’t a little boys version of the story (yet?) Four and a half cute stars.

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


Book Review: The Woods Are Always Watching

  • Publisher: Dutton Books
  • Publication Date: August 31, 2021
  • Author: Stephanie Perkins
  • Genre: Young Adult
  • Page Count: 221 (My Finished Copy Page Count)

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Description and Review

Neena Chandrasekhar and Josie Gordon wanted to accomplish something big before each of them left for college. So they concocted a plan to hike and camp in the Appalachian mountains. With Josie’s brother, Win, training and coaching them for roughing it in the wilderness, it was sure to be an epic adventure.

And epic it was when everything that could go wrong did. And when things started going “bump” in the night, it would be an unforgettable three nights roughing it in the boonies.

The Woods Are Always Watching is a very slow read as the pace doesn’t make an uptick until the reader is at least forty percent invested into the story. Way too long for this reader’s taste.

The characters are shallow and not much can be said about them, except that the main characters just seemed so self centered until their own lives are at stake.

The storyline is easy to follow and it is written in Josie’s and Neena’s point of view. The plot is simple — the girls go hiking and camping and encounter dangerous obstacles in their adventure. But as far as believability, it was just a little too beyond believable. And the story was left open ended, leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions — not an ending that this particular reader appreciated.

Overall, a decent read and probably young adult readers will appreciate the given suspense and thrills better than me. An okay 1.5 star read for me.

I received an early finished hard copy of the book from Dutton Books through the Bookish First Raffle. The review herein is completely my own and contains my honest thoughts and opinions.


ARC Review: One Night Only

  • Publisher: Bookouture
  • Publication Date: July 30, 2021
  • Author: Catherine Walsh
  • Genre: Romantic Comedy
  • Page Count: 314

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Description and Review

After a devastating break up, Sarah Anderson made it a point not to get too involved or committed in relationships with men. Sarah just didn’t want to get hurt again. So, her coping mechanism was the occasional one night stand. Sarah didn’t have to commit and she still could enjoy the company with a member of the opposite sex.

But when Sarah wakes up to Declan Murphy next to her one morning, she vowed that she didn’t expect to see or bump into him again. So she does what any woman in her situation would do. She literally shoves him out the door. After all, Sarah needs to get ready for her vacation and best friend’s wedding in Ireland. Sarah couldn’t be bothered with the extra baggage that came with an intimate moment.

Excited and eager at being the maid of honor in the wedding party, Sarah is delighted to be in Ireland meeting the groom’s family and friends. But that delight soon turns into mortification when Sarah sees and learns who the groom’s brother is. It’s none other than her one night stand, Declan Murphy. And that’s when the fun begins.

One Night Only is a very entertaining romantic comedy with characters that we can relate to, laugh at, and cry with. The author has deftly developed the storyline, incorporating witty humor and comical scenarios. One Night Only is the perfect read for fans of romantic comedies and those fans of Marina Adair’s writing style. Five glowing stars.

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


ARC Review: Never Saw You Coming

  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, Wednesday Books
  • Publication Date: September 7, 2021
  • Author: Erin Hahn
  • Genre: Teens & Young Adult
  • Page Count: 320

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Description and Review

After learning that her real Dad died before she was born, and that her Mom had her out of wedlock, Meg Hennessey decides to take a one year hiatus before enrolling in college. Decidedly, Meg escapes to her Great Grandmother’s hometown to meet her real Dad’s family and to find herself.

While soul searching, Meg runs into Micah Allen, a conflicted young man struggling with his own demons and faith. Drawn together by their similar miseries, Meg and Micah develop a friendship that eventually evolves into something more than what they bargained for.

Never Saw You Coming is a faith based novel that explores the conflicts that Meg and Micah have to face as they navigate their way through adulthood. Written in multiple points of view, readers get to see Meg’s and Micah’s perspective of the world around them and how each of them deals with conflict and how they resolve them.

With frequent religious references, some readers may be deterred. However, Never Saw You Coming is a very wholesome read with a wholesome and relevant storyline.

Likable characters add to the story’s landscape and with a sweet and charming plot, what’s not to love about a novel that you’ll feel good about at the end? Five endearing stars.

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


ARC Review: How to Forage for Mushrooms Without Dying

  • Publisher: Storey Publishing
  • Publication Date: October 12, 2021
  • Author: Frank Hyman
  • Genre: Cooking, Food & Wine | Home & Garden | Outdoors & Nature
  • Page Count: 256

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Description and Review

Who would think that there’s so much to learn about mushrooms? And how do people even get comfortable and adept at identification of those “safe” mushrooms? The book, How to Forage for Mushrooms Without Dying is just one of those books that can aid the novice forager in the safe gathering, storage and identification of at least 29 wild and delectable fungi.

How to Forage for Mushrooms Without Dying is an excellent resource for determining whether the mushroom in question has all the attributes of a safe and edible shroom. It also contains information on the basics of mushroom structure (i.e. parts,) tools of the trade, and a comprehensive list of other resources to reference.

Overall, How to Forage for Mushrooms Without Dying is an excellent tool that contains all of the information that a beginner needs to start their journey into gathering mushrooms. Five delectable stars.

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


ARC Review: The Secret Staircase

  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
  • Publication Date: August 24, 2021
  • Author: Sheila Connolly
  • Genre: Mystery & Thrillers
  • Page Count: 304

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Description and Review

Kate Hamilton is tasked with restoring the town of Ashboro, MD to its original splendor. To achieve this goal, Kate recruits the help of her friend Carroll Peterson. Carroll is focusing on library studies so researching nineteenth-century documents would be the perfect fit for the restoration project.

The first undertaking of the restoration project is the Barton mansion. The mansion had been a simple farmhouse in the beginning, but Henry Barton turned it into an impressive and splendid mansion with money he earned.

With funding secured. Kate begins vetting potential contractors and finds and interested party, Morgan Wheeler. Excited with this news, Kate shows Morgan the layout of the building — particularly the kitchen. To both Kate’s and Morgan’s surprise, Morgan discovers a secret staircase and even a bigger surprise is the discovery of a dead body in that staircase. That dead body turns out to be a man who died in 1880, but not of natural causes. Now its up to Kate and Carroll to unearth the secrets and mysteries of the Barton family. And when a present day dead body is found, the search for secrets and answers become urgent and pressing.

The Secret Staircase is a very slow read. Slow primarily because there was a lot of background data on how the restoration project came to be and the obstacles that the project faced. There were “breadcrumbs” here and there to keep the story moving, but I would have preferred more suspense and thrills.

Being that The Secret Staircase is the third installment of the Victorian Village series, I probably missed a lot of the character development. Needless to say, however, I did get a feel for the major players in the novel.

The plot is straightforward without much twists and turns. It’s a simple discovery and piecing of information to determine the who, what, when, where, and why. Three pleasing 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.


ARC Review: No Witness

  • Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
  • Publication Date: August 17, 2021
  • Author: Warren C. Easley
  • Genre: Mystery & Thrillers
  • Page Count: 352

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Description and Review

No Witness is the eighth installment of the Cal Claxton series. Although No Witness is book number eight, this reader had no problem with reading it as a standalone.

Cal Claxton is a retired L.A. prosecutor that has re-settled in Oregon with his one-man law practice. Cal is content with his existence even if at times his finances are a little strained. Being the sentimentalist that he is, Cal is drawn to hire a Dreamer and aspiring lawyer, Timoteo Fuentes as a clerk to help around the office. Timoteo turns out to be a very needed addition for research, filing and general office keeping. Little did Claxton know that he would eventually be plunged into a murder investigation of Timoteo’s sister, Olivia. And that the investigation into Olivia’s murder would be shrouded in secrecy, and silence among the undocumented witnesses.

Like the author’s other novels, No Witness is written in first person form and it bodes well with the author’s writing style. The characters contain the mainstays of Nando, the private investigator; and Gertie, his accountant. With each succeeding novel, new characters are added to the mix, which really builds the story.

The plot is a simple whodunnit, but it’s not as straightforward as one may think. The mix of characters and multiple storylines will keep the reader guessing until the end. No Witness is an immersive and engaging mystery that will surely please whodunnit fans. Five toothsome stars.

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


ARC Review: Bloodless

  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication Date: August 17, 2021
  • Authors: Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
  • Genre: Mystery | Thrillers
  • Page Count: 400

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Description and Review

Bloodless is Preston and Child’s twentieth installment of the Pendergast series. Although it is possible that the novel can be read as a standalone, this reader would say otherwise due in part to the character builds.

Aloyisius X. L. Pendergast is back with his new partner, Armstrong Coldmoon. Together, they must solve the mysterious murders of several townsfolk in Savannah, Georgia. Those murders were vampire-like in that the blood of the victims were peculiarly drained or extracted from their bodies via a trocar-like instrument. Could it be a sinister person acting like a vampire to suck out the life blood of the living for their own personal gain? Or could it be a creature from the past or future that requires the blood of its victims to stay alive?

Without giving away too much of the story, Bloodless was a bit too surreal for me. The plot flowed nicely like the authors’ other novels, and the characters maintained their quirkiness and eccentricities. However, the entire premise of the possibility of a parallel universe was a little too bizarre.

Bloodless is not Preston and Child’s best novel and unlike their other novels, this one dipped its toes into unknown territory. Three stars. Still a positive review in that I liked it, but I wasn’t head over heels with it.

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


Book Review: D. M. Mullan’s Curious Tales – Hector

  • Publisher: Tiny Tree Children’s Books
  • Publication Year: 2021
  • Author: D. M. Mullan
  • Illustrator: Kirsteen Harris-Jones
  • Genre: Children’s Fiction
  • Page Count: 32

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Description/Review

Hector Van Groat is a genius, but crazy inventor that lives in an upside down boat on top of Mount High. Hector is a strange little guy without any friends, and he doesn’t want any. After all, who needs friends when you are an inventor. That soon changes when he engages in a snowball fight with the boys and girls from town. Hector then realizes that he has been missing people and friends in his life…people to play with and people to talk to.

Hector is a cute and curious tale of friendship and engagement. Written in rhyme, the story cleverly unfolds to tell the tale of Hector and how he is befriended by the town’s boys and girls.

The illustrations were a little strange, and the character Hector may frighten some youngsters with his big eyes, wild hair, and rantings.

Overall, however, Hector is a cute and fun story that is sure to please both children and their parents. Five adorable stars.

I received a digital copy of the book from Tiny Tree Children’s Books through Love Books Tours. The review herein is completely my own and contains my honest thoughts and opinions.


About the Author

D.M. Mullan is a world-travelled author from County Derry, Northern Ireland. Now living in Belfast with her family, the author will launch the ‘D.M. Mullan’s Curious Tales’ series in 2021; her first work for children.

About the illustrator

Kirsteen Harris-Jones is an illustrator with a colourful past. She’s worked at a variety of creative, graphic and animation studios since 1990. Her work has been published by Random House, Egmont, Bloomsbury, Little Tiger, and more.


ARC Review: She Wouldn’t Change a Thing

  • Publisher: Tor/Forge
  • Publication Date: August 10, 2021
  • Author: Sarah Adlakha
  • Genre: Adult Fiction
  • Page Count: 294

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Description and Review

Dr. Maria Forssmann had a comfortable life. She had a successful psychiatric practice, a loving husband, two beautiful daughters, and a soon to be born son. Life couldn’t be any better.

Then one day everything that Maria has ever known gets upended when she finds herself thrown back in time and in her 17 year old body.

As Maria struggles to get back home to her husband and children, Maria learns the everyone has a purpose in life and for reasons unknown, she was sent back in time to accomplish something that would ultimately change the course of not only her life, but the lives of others.

She Wouldn’t Change a Thing is a mind blowing tale centering on destiny, purpose and choices. It is a stark reminder that no purpose is insignificant and that the choices we make ultimately lead to the lives that we lead. Would you change your destiny if given the chance and at what cost? An amazing five star read!

I received a physical ARC from Tor/Forge through the Bookish First Raffle. The review herein is completely my own and contains my honest thoughts and opinions.


ARC Review: We Are the Brennans

  • Publisher: Celadon Books
  • Publication Date: August 3, 2021
  • Author: Tracey Lange
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Page Count: 274

Description/Review

Five years before, Sunday Brennan left New York and headed for California to start fresh. It was an unexpected move and startled everyone, including her then fiancé, Kale Collins. But Sunday was determined to leave, even if it meant that hearts would be broken, including her own.

Sunday didn’t have a glamorous life in California and was living on a meager existence, attempting to make it as a writer. She had a few friends and after a binge drinking night out, Sunday found herself in a Los Angeles hospital, lucky to be alive after her drunk driving accident.

After learning of Sunday’s near death experience, her brother, Denny convinces Sunday to return to New York to help with his restaurant/pub business. But going back to her roots just might stir up old family secrets and inflict new ones.

We Are the Brennans is basically an Irish family drama. There are many characters but the focus centers primarily on the immediate family members.

The storyline is easily navigable since each chapter is a different family member’s point of view. I really liked how the story evolved from each character’s perspective.

What I didn’t like was that there weren’t too many family dramas to keep the story going. I actually would have preferred a more “soap opera-like” storyline with multiple scenes and outcomes that would ultimately converge at the end.

Overall, a satisfactory read. Three stars.

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


ARC Review: Second Chance at Sunflower Ranch

  • Publisher: Forever (Grand Central Publishing)
  • Publication Date: July 27, 2021
  • Author: Carolyn Brown
  • Genre: Romance
  • Page Count: 375

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Description and Review

Just after high school graduation, Jesse Ryan was to serve in the Air Force leaving his best friend Addison (Addy) Hall behind. On Jesse’s last night in Honey Grove, Texas, Jesse and Addy crossed the platonic relationship barrier for a night of passion.

Twenty years later, Jesse, now a retired combat medic, returns home to assist with his aging foster parents’ ranch. Unbeknownst to Jesse, Addy is now a live-in nurse and farmhand at his parents’ ranch Further, Addy is now a mother to a 19 year old girl Mia — his daughter.

What starts out as an awkward re-introduction between Jesse and Addy, soon blossoms into something deeper. But with a rebellious Mia to contend with, the family and romance dynamic gets complicated.

Second Chance at Sunflower Ranch is a cute cowboy romance with down-to-earth and family oriented characters, which the author deftly developed — especially Mia who you would love to hate.

The plot is easy to follow, wholesome and believable. The only drawback is the length at which the whole story took to evolve. Not the author’s best work, but certainly not her worst. Three likeable stars.

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


ARC Review: Where It All Lands

  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press | Wednesday Books
  • Publication Date: July 6, 2021
  • Author: Jennie Wexler
  • Genre: Teens & Young Adult
  • Page Count: 352

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Description and Review

It’s been a while since I’ve read a novel that made me cry, laugh and reminisce about my high school years. Where It All Lands is just that novel that will evoke all of the emotions of the teen years and then some.

Stevie Rosenstein has for the umpteenth time relocated to another state and a new high school. She barely has time to make any true friends and then she has to move to another state and start the acclimation process over again. Her dad is a renowned football coach so his occupation lends itself to multiple relocations. Unsettling as it may be, Stevie has learned to shield herself in a cocoon, thereby eliminating any chance for close friendships that may cause herself hurt and emotional pain. That was until she is befriended by Drew Mason and Shane Murphy, both of whom are fellow classmates at the local high school.

Unbeknownst to Stevie, Shane and Drew share a secret. A secret that they have kept since their grade school years. This secret has allowed Shane and Drew to avoid conflict and solidified their friendship. It is a simple coin toss of heads or tails. But, what starts out as a simple coin toss has lead to consequences beyond anything imaginable.

Where It All Lands is a superbly crafted Young Adult | Teen novel. The plot follows a timeline of events and the story unfolds in several points of view — that of Stevie, Drew, and Shane.

The characters are wholesome and developed in such as way that the reader will be able to draw a vivid picture of each player in his/her mind’s eye.

The story is solid. However, I found the Epilogue disappointing. Others may disagree but to me it was a letdown to an almost perfect narrative. Four 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 Tour: Dreams of a Little Cornish Cottage

  • Publisher: Area & Head of Zeus
  • Publication Date: July 1, 2021
  • Author: Nancy Barone
  • Genre: Romance | Women’s Fiction
  • Page Count: 320

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Welcome to the July 1st stop of the Dreams of a Little Cornish Cottage book tour. Many thanks to Victoria Joss of Aria & Head of Zeus for organizing this tour.

About the book

Will Natalia Amore get the new start she truly desires? Or will fate step in the way?

In her huge mansion overlooking Wyllow Cove, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Natalia Amore had everything she could possibly want. But having kicked out her adulterous ex-husband, her house is filled with nothing but echoes and Nat yearns for the cosiness and bustle of seaside living. In particular, the rundown Lavender Cottage that has gone up for sale.

But when her mother has a fall, Nat’s dream of a quiet new life crumbles as she instantly brings her into her home to care for her. With her two energetic nieces then dumped on her doorstep and her recently heartbroken daughter moving back into the nest, Nat can’t possibly abandon her family… Lavender cottage will just have to wait.

That is until Irishman Connor enters Nat’s life and makes her realise that it’s okay to put herself first, and she’s allowed to wish for more.

A heartwarming and uplifting cosy romance novel, perfect for fans of Holly Martin and Tilly Tennant.


My Review

Dreams of a Little Cornish Cottage is a first person romance novel set in the small town of Wyllow Cove in the UK. It tells the tale from Natalia Amore’s point of view. Natalia, recently divorced, is attempting a second chance at life. Nearing the dreaded mid-life crisis stage, and a little strapped financially, Natalia is forced to take on a boarder. That boarder just happens to be a handsome hunk of a man named Connor Wright.

As one may guess, taking on Connor as a live-in can lead to some complications. Especially since Connor is also a recent divorcee and several years younger. Add in Natalia’s sister Yolanda’s twin girls and her mother Beryl to the mix and you have a complex family drama with a bit of romance.

To me, Dreams of a Little Cornish Cottage is more Women’s Fiction than a Romance novel. The focus of the novel is primarily on Natalia’s family life and how she evolves into an independent woman on the verge of hitting the “Big 4-0.”

The characters in the novel are well developed as I found myself really disliking Yolanda with her cavalier attitude, and at the same time admiring Natalia for her perseverance.

The plot is simple yet there are some suspenseful moments that made for a bit of page turning “can’t put it down yet” phases. Twists are sprinkled here and there, which kept me engaged till the end. However, as a US based reader, I did find some of the UK vernacular a little strange and distracting. But it really didn’t spoil the story.

Overall, Dreams of a Little Cornish Cottage is an excellent novel worthy of four glowing stars.

I received a digital ARC from Aria & Head of Zeus through NetGalley. The review herein is completely my own and contains my honest thoughts and opinions.


About the author

Nancy Barone is an author of Romcom/ Humorous Women’s Fiction. Her very first novel, The Husband Diet, published by Bookouture, reached no. 7 on Amazon’s top 100 bestsellers. With Aria Fiction, an imprint of Head Of Zeus, she has published New Hope for the Little Cornish Farmhouse (which reached #23 on the Amazon Best-Seller charts) and No Room at the Little Cornish Inn. Her next novel, Dreams of a Little Cornish Cottage, will be released on July 1st.

Nancy has a degree in English and French Literature from the University of Pisa, Tuscany. A former Torontonian, Nancy has also lived in Tuscany and England. She now lives in the Sicilian countryside near the sea with her husband and their two dogs.


Follow Nancy:

Facebook: @AuthorNancyBarone

Twitter: @NancyNBW

Website: www.nancybarone.com


Buy Links

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3v2YUWK

Kobo: https://bit.ly/3ppHkes

Google Play: https://bit.ly/3uYiBio

Apple: https://apple.co/34WNSrn


Follow Aria 

Website: www.ariafiction.com

Twitter: @aria_fiction

Facebook: @ariafiction

Instagram: @ariafiction


ARC Review: The Keepers

  • Publishers: Minotaur Books
  • Publication Date: June 29, 2021
  • Author: Jeffrey B. Burton
  • Genre: Mystery & Thrillers
  • Page Count: 288

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Description and My Review

Mason (Mace) Reid is back again with his team of Human Remains Detection (HRD) dogs. This time, Mace and his partner, Kippy Gimm must prove that there is police and government corruption at the highest level. But can they do it? They are being framed for several murders and are on the run.

One thing going for Mace and Kippy is Vira’s special ability to sniff out DNA and determine the culprits. At least Mace and Kippy know the “who” in the “whodunnit.” But now they must connect all the dots and prove beyond a reasonable doubt that government officials, the police department, and the mob are all in cahoots and that they are the real perpetrators in the ghastly murders

The Keepers is the second installment of the Mace Reid series and it did not disappoint. Although the plot didn’t really involve human remains detection, it was still an interesting read with some twists.

The characters are mostly carryovers from Burton’s first installment, The Finders. So in order to get the full flavor of the main actors, it is best that the reader start with the first novel in the series.

Although I liked the government corruption angle of the story, I would have preferred that the plot involve more of the dogs’ abilities and human remains detection to determine the perpetrators.

Overall, a pretty exciting novel but I didn’t find it as good as Burton’s first — The Finders. Four rousing stars.

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


Book Tour: Just Being Ted

  • Publisher: Buster Books
  • Publication Date: May 13, 2021
  • Author: Lisa Sheehan
  • Genre: Children’s Fiction
  • Page Count: 32

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Welcome to the June 6th stop which is the final stop on this book tour. Please be sure to visit the other tours that are occurring today to get the full flavor of this book. Many thanks to Kelly Lacy of LoveBooksTours for organizing the tour.

Blurb 

Ted the dragon lives all alone in a big house, deep in the woods. He LOVES making things, spending his days baking cakes, painting pictures and creating costumes. There’s just one problem: he doesn’t have anyone to share his amazing creations with. Ted tries so hard to make friends with the other animals, but there’s something about his fiery breath and fearsome-looking claws that keeps putting them off. One day Ted notices a sign for a summer picnic party in the forest. The only trouble is that it’s for BEARS ONLY. Perhaps if he dresses up as a bear for the day they’ll let him in and he’ll make lots of new friends. What could possibly go wrong? Just Being Ted is a sweet, heart-warming story about the importance of being yourself and being accepted for who you are.


Review

Ted is an artistic dragon that loves to create things — from cakes, to painting pictures, and designing costumes. But Ted is lonely because he doesn’t have any friends to share things with. Ted tries his best to make friends, but all the other forest animals are afraid of him. That’s because Ted is different.

Maybe if Ted were like the other forest animals, he would have lots of friends. And so Ted designs a bear costume to wear to a “bears only” party in the hopes that he’ll be accepted and befriended by everyone at the party. But will that be the case? Why can’t everyone accept him for who he is?

Just Being Ted is a wonderful tale that also has a few life lessons for the young ones. Lessons that stress the importance of accepting those that are different and that one should treat others the same as how they would want to be treated.

With adorable illustrations, Just Being Ted is the perfect family-time read for pre-schoolers and kindergarteners.

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


About the Author

Lisa Sheehan is an illustrator, graphic designer and all-round image maker. Graduating from Kingston University with a degree in graphic design, Lisa went on to become an art director for the Financial Times, before embarking on the MA in Children’s Book Illustration at the Cambridge School of Art. Since graduating she has illustrated two picture books: The Find It Book by Margaret Wise Brown, which was shortlisted for the AOI awards, and Lionel and the Lion’s Share with Lou Peacock. Just Being Ted is the first title Lisa has both written and illustrated. The idea came from a teddy bears’ picnic at her daughter’s school, at which only teddy bears were allowed. Lisa thought this was very unfair on any other stuffed animals that wanted to attend, too, and the idea for Ted was born.


Get the book here