Book Review: Stranger in the Lake – Kimberly Belle

Author: Kimberly Belle
Book Name: Stranger in the Lake
Release Date: June 9, 2020
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Mystery/Suspense
Overall SPA: 4.5 Stars
4.5 Stars

 

 

Blurb: When Charlotte married the wealthy widower Paul, it caused a ripple of gossip in their small lakeside town. They have a charmed life together, despite the cruel whispers about her humble past and his first marriage. But everything starts to unravel when she discovers a young woman’s body floating in the exact same spot where Paul’s first wife tragically drowned.

At first, it seems like a horrific coincidence, but the stranger in the lake is no stranger. Charlotte saw Paul talking to her the day before, even though Paul tells the police he’s never met the woman. His lie exposes cracks in their fragile new marriage, cracks Charlotte is determined to keep from breaking them in two.

As Charlotte uncovers dark mysteries about the man she married, she doesn’t know what to trust—her heart, which knows Paul to be a good man, or her growing suspicion that there’s something he’s hiding in the water.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 4.5/5 Stars
Believability: 4/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 5/5 Stars

This was one twisty, bendy ride of a story. There are several layers to this, all weaving in and out of each other all the way through, making it really hard to pinpoint where it is going.

There are three distinct deaths that are the focus of this story. Sienna, Katherine, and Bobby. All years apart. All have questions surrounding them, but they aren’t all obviously connected, only Sienna’s and Katherine’s seem to be.

I loved how you are deep into the story before you are allowed to see if there are any real connections. Even when pieces come to light, you are still left wondering and questioning the whys behind each one and who, if anyone, was involved. There are a range of characters giving the reader lots of options to focus on without being overwhelmed with too many.

I often found myself thinking it was certainly headed one way, then I’m sent off in another direction, only to be brought back again or sent in an entirely new direction all together. It’s an aspect that I love about a good mystery when done well. A path that’s followed in a realistic, logical way, but one that still drags you all over the place.

This is something that Kimberly Belle is amazing at doing in most all of her books. She always keeps the reader engaged in what is happening on the page at all times.

And this one absolutely does that. All the way to the very end, just when you might think the story was in the wrap up and aftermath parts, you get another curve dropped in your path.

*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. Opinions stated are honest and my own.

**Featured in Envie! Magazine’s June 2020 edition.

Book Review: The Summer House – Lauren K. Denton

Author: Lauren K. Denton
Book Name: The Summer House
Release Date: June 2, 2020
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Overall SPA: 3.5 Stars
3.5 Stars

 

 

Blurb: Sometimes it takes losing everything to find yourself again.

Lily Bishop wakes up one morning to find a good-bye note and divorce papers from her husband on the kitchen counter. Having moved to Alabama for his job only weeks before, Lily is devastated, but a flyer at the grocery store for a hair stylist position in a local retirement community provides a refuge while she contemplates her next steps.

Rose Carrigan built the small retirement village of Safe Harbor years ago—just before her husband ran off with his assistant. Now she runs a tight ship, making sure the residents follow her strict rules. Rose keeps everyone at arm’s length, including her own family. But when Lily shows up asking for a job and a place to live, Rose’s cold exterior begins to thaw.

Lily and Rose form an unlikely friendship, and Lily’s salon soon becomes the place where residents share town gossip, as well as a few secrets. Lily soon finds herself drawn to Rose’s nephew, Rawlins—a single dad and shrimper who’s had some practice at starting over—and one of the residents may be carrying a torch for Rose as well.

Neither Lily nor Rose is where she expected to be, but the summer makes them both wonder if there’s more to life and love than what they’ve experienced so far. The Summer House weaves Lauren K. Denton’s inviting Southern charm around a woman’s journey to find herself.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 4/5 Stars
Believability: 3.5/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 3.5/5 Stars

The best way to describe this book is that it is a very warm, comfortable, laid back kind of read. Kind of like a walk on the beach on a generically beautiful day. That can be extremely refreshing, but at the same time, everything just sort of unfolds without much to propel it along. Both the emotions and the conflicts that are presented end up very mild, not leaving the reader much to really dig into.

If you are needing a lighter, easier read, then this is a great book. If you are looking for something with a bit more emotion or tension, you won’t find it here. I enjoyed this, but it probably won’t be something that sticks with me.

*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. Opinions stated are honest and my own.

 

Book Review: Killing Mind, D.I. Kim Stone- Book #12

Author: Angela Marsons
Book Name: Killing Mind
Release Date: May 13, 2020
Series: D.I. Kim Stone
Order: #12
Genre: Suspense/Mystery/Police/Crime
Overall SPA: 5 Stars
5 Stars

 

 

Blurb: It had seemed so simple. Get in, get the information, get out. But now they were getting inside her mind and she didn’t know how to stop them…

When Detective Kim Stone is called to the home of Samantha Brown, she finds the young woman lying in bed with her throat cut and a knife in her hand. With no sign of forced entry or struggle, Kim rules her death a tragic suicide.

But a visit to Samantha’s parents rings alarm bells for Kim – there’s something they’re not telling her. And, when she spots a clue in a photograph, Kim realises she’s made a huge mistake. Samantha didn’t take her own life, she was murdered.

Then a young man’s body is found in a local lake with his throat cut and Kim makes a link between the victim and Samantha. They both spent time at Unity Farm, a retreat for people seeking an alternative way of life.

Beneath the retreat’s cosy façade, Kim and her team uncover a sinister community preying on the emotionally vulnerable.

Sending one of her own undercover into Unity Farm is high risk but it’s Kim’s only hope if she is to catch a killer – someone Kim is convinced the victims knew and trusted.

With Bryant distracted by the emergence of a harrowing case close to his heart, and an undercover officer in way over her head, Kim’s neck is on the line like never before. Can she protect those closest to her before another life is taken?

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 5/5 Stars
Believability: 5/5 Stars
Series Continuity/Expectations: 5/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 5/5 Stars

Another phenomenal addition to an already amazing series! I cannot say enough how much I still love the D.I. Kim Stone books.

As with most of the other books in this series (only a few exceptions), you can read this without having read all the other books first. There may be some smaller nuances that you’d miss if you haven’t, but you won’t be lost as all the important parts of the story are entirely new.

It amazes me that you can be 12 books deep into a series and still feel like the material you are reading is fresh and new, but that is exactly what you get with a Kim Stone book, be it book one or book twelve.

Most every book in this series seems to pick a different psychological or criminal element to highlight. For this one, you get to delve into the cult mindset and how they manage to draw people in. It was really interesting to take a deeper look into the how and why behind the types of people that can be attracted to those groups and how they operate.

As a US based reader, I have always really enjoyed being able to see the similarities between UK police practices and procedures and those of the US. For the first time I got a glimpse of what may be a very different approach between the two, at least when it comes to determining a suicide. I will note that I am by no means an expert on US practices and only have what I would consider common assumed knowledge gleaned from reading and other casual sources, so that difference may not be that broad. It was still really interesting to see it handled differently than what I would have expected from an investigation of similar circumstances in the US.

Like with so many of the other books in this series, you get to follow multiple different storylines, each one just as intriguing as the next and are given some surprising finishes.

*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. Opinions stated are honest and my own.

**This review was also published in Envie! Magazine’s May 2020 edition.

 

Book Review: Rules for Moving – Nancy Star

Author: Nancy Star
Book Name: Rules for Moving
Release Date: May 19, 2020
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Women’s Fiction/Family Life
Overall SPA: 3 Stars
3 Stars

 

 

Blurb: To the outside world, beloved advice columnist Lane Meckler has all the answers. What no one knows is that she also has a secret: her life is a disaster, and it’s just gotten worse. Her husband, whom she was planning to leave, has died in a freak accident. Her six-year-old son, Henry, has stopped speaking to everyone but her. Lane’s solution? Move. Growing up, that was what her family did best.

But when she and Henry pack up and leave, Lane realizes that their next home is no better, and she finally begins to ask herself some hard questions. What made her family move so often? Why has she always felt like an outsider? How can she get Henry to speak?

On a journey to help her son find his voice, Lane discovers that somewhere along the way she lost her own. If she wants to help him, she’ll need to find the courage to face the past and to speak the truth she’s been hiding from for years.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 3.5/5 Stars
Believability: 3/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 2.5/5 Stars

From a rather broad perspective, this is a pretty good story, but there were several things that bothered me and made it difficult for me to really like it. I kept hoping to see those things turn around or wrap up in a way that felt satisfying, but in the end, never really did.

One issue is the multiple layers of storylines going on through this. Normally, I really enjoy this level of complex storytelling, as long as all of those separate but intertwined pieces are fully fleshed out. Here you have the story of Lane and her husband and the background behind their marital problems, Lane’s relationship with her son who won’t speak to anyone but Lane, her relationship with her parents and sister which is deeply intertwined with whatever is going on with her uncle and his daughter and whatever history that shapes all of that, and finally the side story about her relationship with Nathan.

Of all of those different lines and pieces, you only get resolutions that are on the slightly murky side for nearly all of them. The only clear resolution you get is why Nathan chose not to speak. You never get any indication what so ever about why Lane’s family is so incredibly odd and dismissive. The situation with the uncle forces the reader to make some huge guesses and assumptions, but is never given any real understanding.

The bigger historical revelation kind of isn’t one and really doesn’t do much to address all the various different pieces in a way that is satisfying as a resolution and the wrap up with Lane’s husband fell completely flat with me. I felt like it was a “what was the point” kind of thing that did nothing for the rest of the story and definitely didn’t give any kind of clarity.

There were lots of parts of Lane’s character that grated on me, especially in her role as a mother. There were too many incidents with Henry where her reaction didn’t exactly mesh with the concept of being the deeply invested, mama bear type of parent. While I’m sure it was supposed to be due to whatever dysfunctional upbringing she went through and the scars that left, those two parts didn’t work well together for me.

Outside of Henry, I don’t think I really liked any of the other characters. Lane’s parents and sister were absolutely horrible and you never get any believable justification for why. The fact that they would behave the way they did, knowing what Lane thought about that historical reveal, is so unbelievable it was impossible to swallow.

Many of the overall concepts in this were intriguing, but I just wasn’t a fan of how they all played out and the number of unexplained threads left hanging by the end.

*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. Opinions stated are honest and my own.

 

 

 

Book Review: Badger To The Bone, Honey Badger Chronicles – Book #3

Author: Shelly Laurenston
Book Name: Badger to the Bone
Release Date: March 31, 2020
Series: Honey Badger Chronicles
Order: #3
Genre: Urban/Fantasy/Romance/Humor
Overall SPA: 4.5 Stars
4.5 Stars

 

 

Blurb: She’s the woman he’s been hired to kidnap. But ZeZé Vargas has other ideas . . . like getting them both out of this nightmare alive. Just one problem. She’s crazy. Certifiably. Because while he’s plotting their escape, the petite Asian beauty is plotting something much more deadly . . .

Max “Kill It Again” MacKilligan has no idea what one of her own is doing with all these criminal humans until she realizes that Zé has no idea who or what he is. Or exactly how much power he truly has.

But Max is more than happy to bring this handsome jaguar shifter into her world and show him everything he’s been missing out on. A move that might be the dumbest thing she’s ever done once she realizes how far her enemies will go to wipe her out. Too bad for them Zé is willing to do whatever it takes to keep her alive . . . and honey badgers are just so damn hard to kill!

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 4/5 Stars
Series Continuity/Expectations: 5/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 4.5/5 Stars

I’m not even a little bit surprised that this was another win for me. I’ve really loved all the books from this world (this series and a couple of other interconnected series with some character overlaps) and this one is no exception. I’m just really glad that I wasn’t reading this when anyone was around or I probably would’ve had them convinced I was certifiable with all the snorts and outright belly laughs that burst out of me at random times.

The only real ding this gets from me is that the romantic line of this story isn’t quite a prominent as it is in most of the other books in this world. I would have really enjoyed more time with Max and Zé interacting, but their parts together are almost an afterthought to everything else that was going on.

It is because there is a whole lot of other stuff going on that this still manages to be an excellent book. This is an absolute recommend (along with pretty much every single other book in this world) for anyone that loves irreverent, snarky humor with a small side of steam.

*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. Opinions stated are honest and my own.

 

Book Review: Last Memoria – Rachel Emma Shaw

Author: Rachel Emma Shaw
Book Name: Last Memoria
Release Date: May 10, 2020
Series: *
Order:*
Genre: Fantasy
Overall SPA: 3 Stars

3 Stars

 

 

 

Blurb: Sarilla has learnt one thing from stealing memories.
Everybody lies.

There’s nothing Sarilla hates more than stealing memories. It robs people of their lives as surely as if she killed them, leaving behind only the husk of who they once were. Since Sarilla is one of the few with the ability to transfer memories, she’s highly prized by the king. He makes her take them from his people to keep them in line. All Sarilla wants is to escape to where nobody knows what she is or what she can do, but her plans go awry when she runs into Falon. He hopes to use Sarilla to help get his stolen memories back, whether she wants to or not.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 2.5/5 Stars
Uniqueness Factor: 4/5 Stars
World Building: 4/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 2/5 Stars

I always struggle with writing a review when my personal opinion and preferences conflict with the quality of a book. This book pulls me in all directions because I’ve hit that kind of conflict as you can see by the disparity in my above area ratings.

I’ll be upfront and say that this isn’t the kind of book I enjoy. It has a heavy, depressing theme throughout that never really lets up. I struggled to like or sympathize with the characters because their thoughts and actions tend to heavily reflect that theme. If I had understood that ahead of time, I probably wouldn’t have read this. If I hadn’t been reading specifically for a review, I might not have finished at close to the half way point for that same reason. But those are my personal preferences, so take it with a grain of salt.

That said, this was definitely a well written, unique storyline with a nicely developed and interesting world. Anyone that likes the darker tones in their stories with deeply, humanly flawed characters would probably really enjoy this.

*I received a copy of this book from the author. Opinions stated are honest and my own.

 

Book Review: An Everyday Hero, A Heart of a Hero- Book #2

Author: Laura Trentham
Book Name: An Everyday Hero
Release Date: February 4, 2020
Series: A Heart of a Hero
Order: #2
Genre: Romance
Overall SPA: 4 Stars
4 Stars

 

 

Blurb: At thirty, Greer Hadley never expected to be forced home to Madison, Tennessee with her life and dreams of being a songwriter up in flames. To make matters worse, a series of bad decisions and even crappier luck lands her community service hours at a nonprofit organization that aids veterans and their families. Greer cannot fathom how she’s supposed to use music to help anyone deal with their trauma and loss when the one thing that brought her joy has failed her.

When Greer meets fifteen-year-old Ally Martinez, her plans to stay detached and do as little as possible get thrown away. New to town and dealing with the death of her father in action, she hides her emotions behind a mask of bitterness and sarcasm, but Greer is able to see past it and recognizes pieces of who she once was in Ally. The raw and obvious talent she possesses could take her to the top and Greer vows to make sure life’s negativities don’t derail Ally’s potential.

After Greer is assigned a veteran to help, she’s not surprised Emmett Lawson, the town’s golden boy, followed his family’s legacy. What leaves her shocked is the shell of a man who believes he doesn’t deserve anyone’s help. A breakthrough with Ally reminds Greer that no one is worth giving up on. So she shows up one day with his old guitar, and meets Emmett’s rage head on with her stubbornness. When a situation with Ally becomes dire, the two of them must become a team to save her—and along the way they might just save themselves too.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 4/5 Stars
Believability: 4/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 4/5 Stars

This was a sweet, funny, and heartwarming story, a definite feel good kind of read. I really enjoyed all the different pieces and characters in this. I would highly recommend this to anyone looking for a warm story about overcoming and characters finding themselves with a small side of low steam romance.

For me, it ran just a touch to far to the “everything is perfectly wrapped up” side of things and a little light on the romance side, though it was still a really good story overall.

*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. Opinions stated are honest and my own.

 

 

Cast in Wisdom: Chronicles of Elantra, Book 15

Author: Michelle Sagara
Book Name: Cast in Wisdom
Release Date: January 28, 2019
Series: PChronicles of Elantra
Order: #15
Genre: Fantasy
Overall SPA: 4 Stars
4 Stars

 

 

Blurb: SOMETHING IS WAKING

The fiefs that exist at the heart of the city of Elantra are home to sentient Towers that guard the world against the incursion of Shadow. But between the fiefs exists the gray world of the border zone. In it, geography changes between one passage across a border and the next. The rules of magic are different there—and yet somehow familiar to Kaylin Neya.

When a Shadow escapes, Kaylin must find out how…and why. If Shadows can breach the barrier erected by the Towers, the whole of Elantra will be devoured. It’s happened on other worlds. Bellusdeo, Kaylin’s Dragon companion, absolutely believes it can happen on theirs.

The border zone holds secrets and ancient histories, and people are gathering there in search of its power. Without even understanding what that power is, or why it exists, Kaylin is in a desperate race against time to find those secrets first. She doesn’t know who her enemies are. She doesn’t know how many she’ll face. But she won’t face them alone.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

World Building: 5/5 Stars
Series Continuity/Expectations: 3/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 4/5 Stars

I am yet again struggling to review a book in this series that I love. I could almost copy and past my review from the last book as the issues I had with that one are still very much present in this one.

This is now the at least the third book in a row where you see little to no character growth from Kaylin. You see little to no page time from some of the original favorite characters like Marcus, the Hawklord or Sanabalis.

Though we do get more time with Nightshade, that interaction is done almost entirely through his mental link with Kaylin and no actual interaction. There is a great deal of Kaylin’s interactions in this book that are handled in this manner. This is frustrating because it seems that somewhere along the way the deep tensions between Kaylin and Nightshade and Kaylin and Severn have been lost. Whatever tension existed between them has vanished. Severn’s place has turned more into a less personal bodyguard kind of a role while Nightshade has been relegated to more of an advisor/information bank.

I did love that we got to spend more time with the Arkon. This really was more about his story than anything and I was glad to see the focus shift from the cohort. You still get a good dose of them in this book, but they aren’t the focal point. It was also nice to see that Kaylin didn’t collect anyone or anything new in this book.

Another piece that was different in this one from many previous books is that Kaylin seems like more of an observer. She participates and has a few points where her abilities are key, but it isn’t her actions that are the most important. In a way, it is nice to see her not always being the one to come in and save the day, but she is the basis for the series. I would have really liked to see this be a book that helped her character grow in some way.

As far as series expectations go, this is where I tend to get tangled up. If you look at the last several books in this series, this is absolutely right in line with those books. But if you look at the earliest books in the series, this doesn’t have quite the same characteristics and feel. It does have more going on and brings about some drastic changes to the world than the last couple of books, so I’d say it falls in between the early books and the last couple as far as those expectations go.

As I mentioned in my review of Cast in Oblivion, I still love this series and these books, but characters need to grow. There are also things about characters that readers fall in love with and if you leave those things behind, you may end up leaving the readers behind as well. This one did a better job of bringing some of those things along than the last few, but not quite as much as I would have liked.

*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. Opinions stated are honest and my own.

 

Book Review: The Other Daughter – Shalini Boland

Author: Shalini Boland
Book Name: The Other Daughter
Release Date: November 5, 2019
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Suspense/Mystery
Overall SPA: 3 Stars
3 Stars

 

 

Blurb: Nine years ago her daughter was taken. And now she’s back.

Two-and-a-half-year-old Holly is playing happily in a pink plastic playhouse, while her mother Rachel sips coffee and chats with a friend nearby. It should be an ordinary day for all of them. But, in the blink of an eye, it turns into every family’s worst nightmare.

Holly is taken by a stranger and never found.

Nine years later, Rachel is living a quiet life in Dorset. She’s tried to keep things together since the traumatic day when she lost her eldest daughter. She has a new family, a loving partner and her secrets are locked away in her painful past.

Until one afternoon when Rachel meets a new school parent Kate and her teenage daughter Bella. Rachel’s world is instantly turned upside down – she’s seen Bella before. She’d recognise that face anywhere – it’s her missing child.

And she will stop at nothing to get her back…

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 3/5 Stars
Believability: 3/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 3/5 Stars

Even with my category breakdowns, I’m having a hard time rating this. Please note that the little bit I mention may be considered a mild spoiler, though I’m trying to be as vague as possible.

I struggled through the bulk of this book with the main character’s actions and choices in the circumstances as they were presented. So much of it just never rang true or as believable or realistic to me. If I had to rate this as it stood before the plot wraps up at the end of the book, this would have been incredibly low because of those issues.

The ending turned it all around. Things finally begin to work as you get to understand why those were issues, but I didn’t get genuinely invested until that point. It was difficult to keep wanting to read that far without just giving up on the story as being on the ridiculous side. I could almost give category ratings to the beginning of the book and the end of the book because of how I felt about the different parts.

I am glad I stuck with it because, in the end the story was interesting. It was frustrating to get there, but it was good.

*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. Opinions stated are honest and my own.

 

 

Book Review: The Empty Nest – Sue Watson

Author: Sue Watson
Book Name: The Empty Nest
Release Date: November 1, 2019
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Psychological Thriller/Suspense/Mystery
Overall SPA: 2 Stars
2 Stars

 

 

Blurb: Kat remembers the days when her only daughter Amy wouldn’t leave her side. Amy was the baby who cried when you walked out of the room, the toddler who was too shy to speak to strangers, the small child who clung to Kat’s legs in the school playground.

But now Amy is grown up, and Amy is gone – to university in a town several hours away. Kat’s house – which once felt too full, too noisy, too busy – is deathly quiet, and Kat awaits the daily phone call to tell her that her beloved daughter is thriving and happy.

Until the day Amy doesn’t call, sending Kat into a panic. Her husband and friends say she’s being paranoid – surely Amy is just out, having fun? But Kat feels sure something is very wrong – she knows her daughter, and she would never just disappear.

As the hours turn into days, her fears are confirmed: Amy is missing. But there are secrets about her daughter that Kat doesn’t know about yet. And the truth about Amy’s whereabouts may be closer to home than Kat could ever imagine…

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 2.5/5 Stars
Believability: 2/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 2/5 Stars

I really wasn’t a fan of this one. You spend the bulk of the book inside Kat’s head with very little actually going on. The emotions she expresses go from one extreme to another, from one sentence to the next, enough to give the reader whiplash. This is basically a story about extremely unhealthy relationships, relationships between mother and daughter, between friends, and even between husband and wife.

I couldn’t find anything in any of the characters that made me feel much sympathy towards what they were going though because they all had some pretty horrible traits. I did feel something towards Amy, but that kind of gets killed when you get a good glimpse into her personality as well.

The specifics of the plot just felt really overblown and extreme from all aspects. The struggle with believability along with the lack of connection to  the characters made this not a good book for me.

*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. Opinions stated are honest and my own.

 

 

Book Review: Traces Of Her – Amanda Brittany

Author: Amanda Brittany
Book Name: Traces of Her
Release Date: October 25, 2019
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Mystery/Suspense
Overall SPA: 3 Stars
3 Stars

 

 

Blurb: An unsolved murder.

Rose isn’t surprised anymore when her free-spirited step-sister, Willow, decides to disappear off somewhere without notice. But something feels different this time. When Willow sends her a mysterious package containing photographs of suspects in a cold case she is obsessed with solving, Rose realises she needs to find her sister before things get out of hand.

A missing girl.

With no sign of Willow to be found, Rose takes up the search for answers about the deaths that shook a small Cornish village eighteen years before. But what is the connection between Willow and the two sisters marked by tragedy?

Time is running out.

Someone knows where Willow is and what happened all those years ago. And they will do anything to stop the truth from coming out.

Can Rose find Willow and the answers she needs, before it’s too late?

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 3/5 Stars
Believability: 2.5/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 3/5 Stars

If I could separate the events in this book between the current time’s events and the events that happened in the past and put them into two different books, I would have loved the book that focused on the past and probably would have DNF’d the book that focused on the present.

All of the events that focused on the past and Ava’s character, were great. That whole storyline was interesting and I was really invested in seeing how it all played out. Unfortunately there wasn’t nearly enough events from the past to balance out the fact that I had to do an awful lot of ignoring the events from the present to keep momentum going.

I struggled with how much I disliked Rose and her daughter, Becky, because they both fall solidly into that Too Stupid To Live category. Besides that fact, there is this really weird back and forth as to which one of the characters is the more mature one of the two. Considering Becky is in her mid-teens, that isn’t a good thing.

There were so many times where I got frustrated by how much Rose let Becky get away with, at her age, especially under the circumstances they were in. Becky even being there in the first place made absolutely zero sense from a parental standpoint and bothered me the entire way through the story. I cannot think of a single, decent parent that would think it was okay to drag their mid-teen daughter 5 hours from home to help look for a potential killer. Everything about that whole part of the plot kept yanking me out of the story because it seemed so ridiculous.

When you finally get to weave the past events together with the present events, things get a little crazy and over the top with how it all plays out. On the one hand, I didn’t entirely see it coming, though there were hints. On the other, it breaks a lot of believability barriers. When you combine that with how little I enjoyed the present events because of the characters, this falls down into the okay range for me.

*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. Opinions stated are honest and my own.

 

 

Book Review: If Only I Could Tell You – Hannah Beckerman

Author: Hannah Beckerman
Book Name: If Only I Could Tell You
Release Date: October 15, 2019
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Women’s Fiction/Family Life
Overall SPA: 2.5
2.5 Stars

 

 

Blurb: Audrey knows that life is filled with ups and downs, but she can’t help feeling like she’s been dealt more than her fair share as she’s watched her family come undone over the years. Her dream as a mother had been for her daughters, Jess and Lily, to be as close as only sisters can be. But now as adults, they no longer speak to each other, and Audrey’s two teenage granddaughters have never met. Even more upsetting is the fact that Audrey has no idea how to fix her family as she wonders if they will ever be whole again.

If only Audrey had known three decades ago that a secret could have the power to split her family in two, but ironically, also keep them linked. And when hostilities threaten to spiral out of control, a devastating choice that was made so many years ago is about to be revealed, testing once and for all Audrey and those she loves.

Is it too late for one broken family to heal and find their way back to each other…?

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 2.5/5 Stars
Believability: 3/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 2.5/5 Stars

This was a pretty heavy read. I wasn’t a huge fan of how heavy and how much focus was spent on the more negative aspects of how people can break apart when faced with grief. While plausible from the perspective that everyone deals with grief differently, I’m struck that I’ve found yet another book in which none of the characters deal with that grief in even remotely healthy ways. I struggled to care about the characters because of that. There is very little in the way of uplifting through this because of that focus.

The story is very well written and can wrench some strong emotions from a reader with some of the subject matter that gets presented here. It just leans too heavily on the negative side of the emotional spectrum for me.

 

*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. Opinions stated are honest and my own.

 

Book Review: Good Girls, Amanda Brookfield

Author: Amanda Brookfield
Book Name: Good Girls
Release Date: October 8, 2019
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Overall SPA: 2 Stars
2 Stars

 

 

Blurb: Everyone that meets Kat Keating is mesmerised. Beautiful, smart and charming, she is everything a good girl should be.

Her sister Eleanor, on the other hand, knows she can’t compete with Kat. On the awkward side of tall, clever enough to be bullied, and full of the responsibilities only an older sibling can understand, Eleanor grows up knowing she’s not a good girl.

This is the story of the Keating sisters – through a childhood fraught with secrets, adolescent rivalries, and on into adulthood with all its complexities and misunderstandings.  Until a terrible truth brings the sisters crashing together and finally Eleanor begins to uncover just how good Kat really was.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 2/5 Stars
Blurb: 2/5 Stars

Believability: 3/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 2/5 Stars

I struggled to get through this one. The blurb on this simply does not match the story at all, giving you the sense at least that Kat is something of a perfect favorite and there would end up being some sort of intrigue or suspense surrounding that. It isn’t.

Instead you get an incredibly slow and drawn out story about a variety of people living miserable lives and being kind of horrible to each other while they do it. There wasn’t a character in the entire book that was appealing to me. For the most part I was either bored or trudging through some rather depressing material with no real sense of things improving. I spent most of the book waiting for something interesting to happen or for the overall mood of the book to lift and it never really did, unless you consider the last maybe 10% of the book as a lift. I didn’t, so I really was not a fan of this one.

*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. Opinions stated are honest and my own.

 

Book Review: The Secrets of Lost Stones – Melissa Payne

Author: Melissa Payne
Book Name: The Secrets of Lost Stones
Release Date: September 1, 2019
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Women’s Fiction/Suspense/Paranormal
Overall SPA: 4 Stars
4 Stars

 

 

Blurb: Thirty-two-year-old Jess Abbot has lost everything: her job, her apartment, and—most heart-wrenching—her eight-year-old son, Chance, to a tragic accident. Haunted by memories and grief, Jess packs what’s left and heads for the small mountain town of Pine Lake, where she takes a position as caregiver to an eccentric old woman.

A rumored clairvoyant, Lucy is strange but welcoming and immediately intuits Jess as a “loose end” in need of closure. But Jess isn’t the only guest in Lucy’s large Victorian home. There’s also Star, a teenage runaway with a secret too painful to share. And the little boy with heart-shaped stones, who comes with a hope for reconciliation—and a warning.

Soon Jess learns that she’s not the only lost soul running from the ghosts of the past. She and Star have been brought together for a reason: to be saved by the very thing that destroyed them.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 4/5 Stars
Believability: 3.5/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 4/5 Stars

This is a book with a lot of real life issues and emotions, but it is also threaded through with this sense of paranormal. I really enjoyed that balance between the two. At one point, I was a little worried that this was going to have a much darker ending than I prefer, but I was pleasantly surprised it didn’t go that direction.

I was surprised that I liked the majority of the characters in this book, because that is kind of rare for me. They were all really well written and well balanced with the layers they were supposed to have. I loved Lucy’s character and I would have loved to have gotten more of her history because she is so interesting.

This is just a really good, solid story all the way through. Because of the ghostly paranormal vibe, this would be a great book for a fall/Halloween read without being over the top scary.

*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. Opinions stated are honest and my own.

 

Book Review: The Forgotten Child, D.E. White

Author: D.E. White
Book Name: The Forgotten Child
Release Date: September 27, 2019
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Mystery/Suspense
Overall SPA: 2.5 Stars
2.5 Stars

 

 

Blurb: Lights blinded her in an eerie white flash. She yanked the wheel as she felt the impact from the car behind her. There was a sharp pain, and then a bang in front of her, and after that nothing but darkness.

Holly Kendal is trying to put her painful past and broken marriage behind her and focus on her beloved son, Milo. But while driving him home on a dark February night, Holly loses control on the rain-slicked tarmac, and her car spirals off the road.

When Holly regains consciousness, everything is silent and in the dark, she can’t see Milo. Desperately, she claws her way out of the car and forces the back door open.

To her relief, Milo is where she left him, injured but breathing – but then she sees something that makes her heart stop.

Milo isn’t the only child in the car. Next to him is another little boy, unharmed but unconscious.

And Holly has absolutely no idea who he is.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 3/5 Stars
Believability: 3/5 Stars
Blurb: 2/5 Stars

Personal Opinion: 2/5 Stars

When I read the blurb for this book, I was really intrigued and excited to read it. I loved this really unique situation that left me questioning how it could play out. There were so many directions this could go.

The way this started, made me think that it was going to be this really intense read, but it didn’t take long at all before I realized this book’s focus wasn’t about what you get in the blurb at all and I quickly became disappointed. The piece of the story that makes the blurb so intense and intriguing is only a very small thread through a very different story. This isn’t to say that the book itself wasn’t well written or interesting, because it was. It just wasn’t what I was expecting at all and ended up not being to my tastes.

There is a heavy thread through this that deals with criminal activities, organizations and the families that make those up. Those aspects were treated in such a blasé way, I wasn’t a fan. When combined with the difference in my expectations of what this was about, it made it difficult for me to enjoy the story.

*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. Opinions stated are honest and my own.

 

On My TBR – September 2019 Edition

When I did the first one of these a few months ago, I thought for sure I wouldn’t end up being a fan and dropping it. Mostly because I am very much a mood reader and I didn’t think I’d ever really get through all the books on a TBR list. Oh, I’d read that number of books and then some, but not necessarily those specific books.

Now that I’m getting ARCs and requests from indie authors, this has actually been kind of helpful in keeping me focused a bit to ensure I meet my obligations. That and it has been kind of fun. So, I’m sticking with it.

There was only one book on last month’s TBR that I didn’t end up reading beyond the first couple of pages (really was not a fan of the writing and dropped it), otherwise, I had no problem getting to them all. I also only really put the books on this list that I currently have available to read or I’m expecting to release and pick up in that month, so it isn’t an excessively long list.

 

Anna
Anna

Anna
Genre: Women’s Fiction, Family Life

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evvie Drake Starts Over
Evvie Drake Starts Over

Evvie Drake Starts Over
Genre: Romance

 

 

 

 

 

 

September’s Anxiously Awaiting Release:

Archangel's War
Archangel’s War

Archangel’s War – Guild Hunter Book #12
Genre: Romance, Urban, Fantasy
Release Date: September 24, 2019

 

 

 

 

 

On Hold At The Library (should be in for this month’s TBR):

Brave the Tempest
Brave the Tempest

Brave the Tempest – Cassandra Palmer Book #9
Genre: Urban, Fantasy

 

 

 

 

 

 

NetGalley ARCs:

Good Girls
Good Girls

Good Girls
Genre: Women’s Fiction, Family Life
Release Date: October 8, 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

Traces of Her
Traces of Her

Traces of Her
Genre: Mystery, Suspense
Release Date: October 25, 2019
*Putting this on the list because I have it approved, but may wait until closer to the release date to actually read.

Book Review: No Time To Say Goodbye, Kate Hewitt

Author: Kate Hewitt
Book Name: No Time To Say Goodbye
Release Date: September 27,02019
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Women’s Fiction/Family Life
Overall SPA: 3 Stars
3 Stars

 

 

Blurb: Nathan West loved his wife Laura with all his heart. But now she’s gone, taken from him in a seemingly random act of violence. Laura was the glue that held their family together. And for Nathan, life without her feels almost meaningless.

As he tries to find hope in the darkness, his three young daughters express their grief in different and challenging ways – with one set on a path of self-destruction that could devastate their family all over again. Desperate to understand his own heartbreak better, he reaches out to others who had known Laura. Including her new friend Maria, whose light and warmth are exactly what their grieving family needs, and who is soon helping out and providing emotional support for them all.

But the picture Maria paints of Laura is unfamiliar to Nathan – of a wife who felt ignored, a mother who felt she couldn’t do enough – and he struggles to reconcile it with his own memories of the woman he loved. Is it possible he didn’t know his wife after all? And can he trust Maria? He can’t escape the feeling that she’s keeping something from him.

Maria is hiding a secret with the power to rock Nathan’s family to its core. Because it is about what happened the day that Laura died…

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 3/5 Stars
Believability: 3/5 Stars
Peeve Factor: 3/5 Stars

Personal Opinion: 3/5 Stars

This was an emotionally impactful story in the sense that you really get a feel for the loss and the grief this family is suffering and the steps they have to take to move forward after that loss. Unfortunately, the blurb really leads you to believe this is going to be a story about much more than just that and it mostly isn’t. There really isn’t that sense of suspense you might expect from the blurb other than waiting for something suspenseful to happen. Maria’s setup in the blurb just doesn’t quite match up to the actual story either (which is a peeve of mine). These points took a bit away from the emotional context of the story for me because I was constantly looking for something that didn’t end up being there.

I also struggled a bit with feeling the ages of the girls. Both Alexis and Ruby felt a lot older than their stated ages. Ruby especially with her actions and words. Ella at times felt much younger and others much older, feeling as though her age wasn’t solidly established. While these are on the minor side for me, it made it difficult to connect with their level of grief or their behaviors at different times. If these had been my only issues and this had been presented in the blurb as just a dramatic story about family, then I’d have rated this higher as it is a good family drama. The expectation that there was going to be a suspenseful line threaded through this that I didn’t get left me a little disappointed that the only bit of that you get is at the very tail end of the story.

*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. Opinions stated are honest and my own.

Book Review: The Blacksmith Queen, The Scarred Earth Saga – Book #1

Author: G.A. Aiken
Book Name: The Blacksmith Queen
Release Date: August 27, 2019
Series: The Scarred Earth Saga
Order: #1
Genre: Fantasy/Romance/Humor
Overall SPA: 5 Stars
5 Stars

 

 

Blurb:  The Old King Is Dead
 
With the demise of the Old King, there’s a prophesy that a queen will ascend to the throne of the Black Hills. Bad news for the king’s sons, who are prepared to defend their birthright against all comers. But for blacksmith Keeley Smythe, war is great for business. Until it looks like the chosen queen will be Beatrix, her younger sister. Now it’s all Keeley can do to protect her family from the enraged royals.

Luckily, Keeley doesn’t have to fight alone. Because thundering to her aid comes a clan of kilt-wearing mountain warriors called the Amichai. Not the most socially adept group, but soldiers have never bothered Keeley, and rough, gruff Caid, actually seems to respect her. A good thing because the fierce warrior will be by her side for a much longer ride than any prophesy ever envisioned …

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 5/5 Stars
Believability: 5/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 5/5 Stars

When I first saw this book was the start of a new series, I was a tiny bit concerned it wouldn’t follow what I’ve come to know and love about G.A. Aiken’s style. You never really know for sure what you’re getting into with a new series and the blurb doesn’t quite do this justice, falling on the more serious side. Fans of the Dragon Kin series will be happy to know this series is set in that same world. Though there isn’t any kind of crossover just yet, the potential is there for future books.

Everything I’ve always loved about a G.A. Aiken novel is in this one. All the over the top, effortlessly badass female characters. The phenomenal, irreverent snark and humor layered into those intensely grotesque battle scenes. I don’t know another author that can make me laugh so hard about someone getting their head smashed to a pulp. Those things really shouldn’t ever be funny, but because of the way she writes, I cannot read and drink anything at the same time.

I was really surprised this went the direction it did with Keeley’s and Beatrix’s relationship. At first, I wasn’t sure I was going to like it, but I really did. It felt different for this author (unless I’ve forgotten something or missed a book in the past) to go that route.

Even though this is the same world as the Dragon Kin series and you get to see similar beings (dragons, centaurs), they are still unique to the part of the world this book is founded in. So, while similar in setting and general feel, it still has the sense of newness that I thoroughly enjoyed. The next book in this series cannot come soon enough.

For those new to G.A. Aiken, no need to worry. You won’t feel lost. If you love a little magic, a wide range of interesting types of characters, battle scenes and lots of humor (the kind that gets everyone looking at you funny when you snort, choke or belt out your most embarrassing laugh), you absolutely should be putting this one on your TBR.

*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Book Review: His Secret Family, Ali Mercer

Author: Ali Mercer
Book Name: His Secret Family
Release Date: September 11, 2019 (ARC)
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Women’s Fiction/Family Life/Mystery
Overall SPA: 2.5 Stars
2.5 Stars

 

 

Blurb: It’s a beautiful day for a wedding. White roses scent the air and the summer sunlight streams in. A spoon chimes against a champagne flute and the room falls silent. And there he is – my husband – getting to his feet to propose a toast. He’s still handsome. His new wife is next to him, gazing upwards, oblivious.

I’m not supposed to be here. All these years in the same town and I had no idea until I saw his name on the seating plan. He lived with me, once. Loved me. Small-town memories are long, but the people in this room don’t want to remember.

They say the healing is in letting go, but after what he did, he needs to know we haven’t gone away just because he’s shut his eyes.

So I take Daisy by the hand and step forward from the shadows. He notices us and his eyes widen. The champagne glass falls from his hand and smashes. Then he sags forward, making a terrible sound – a sort of strangled scream…

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 2.5/5 Stars
Blurb: 2.5/5 Stars

Peeve Factor: 3/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 2/5 Stars

*Potential Spoilers*

Looking at the name of this book. Reading the blurb and the first piece in the book (noted as the foreword in my copy) and you get the impression that you are going to get a pretty intense and potentially emotional book. I was really excited about this when I read the blurb. Getting it and reading that first section, which is sort of an expansion on the blurb, made me feel like I’d made a really good choice.

Once you get into the book, you get chapters that cycle through 4 different character perspectives. Ellie, Ava, Jenny, and Paula. None of which are the one name that was noted in that first piece that drew you in. I can see how this may create a deep sense of mystery for some readers, but for me, it was more frustrating trying to understand what that first bit had to do with anything at all as it seems completely unconnected to what is going on immediately after that.

I don’t mind the alternating character perspectives. That is something I normally enjoy, but with the 4 you get in this book it felt a bit too much. Ellie, Ava and Jenny’s timelines all run mostly concurrently with tiny bits of overlap in events here and there. Paula’s is more fluid and doesn’t run in line with the others, creating an additional level of confusion for the reader when attempting to make connections because you don’t know that her timeline isn’t running the same as the other characters. It takes a very long time before you see that and any of the pieces begin to fall in place.

There is this small thread through the story that runs more along the lines of paranormal. I really enjoy paranormal stories, but that isn’t what this story is about and it feels out of place.

Ellie and Paula’s characters were probably the most well rounded and interesting. Their perspectives were the pieces I liked the most throughout the story. I did not like Mark at all as he was a self-absorbed narcissist to the core and I have issues with characters like this (yes, they are realistic and human, but this is a personal thing for me). I didn’t see him as redeemable in any way. Getting his perspective for the final chapter bumped into one of my peeves as I’m not a fan of that kind of perspective inconsistency in a book. When you already have 4, you really, really don’t need one more at the very end. Ava wasn’t too far behind Mark in being the self-absorbed, often bratty teenager. The teenager thing being the only reason I was willing to overlook some of her personality, but she seemed to get worse as the book went along. Jenny was a character that I just couldn’t find much of interest in. While she wasn’t entirely selfish, she did seem to be the type that was easily blinded by materialistic things.

Overall, I didn’t feel like the book really lived up to the dramatic, intense blurb or the title. I love situational drama. I love emotional drama. I do not love manufactured drama and that is where most of the drama is derived from in this book, through those differing timelines and the dragging out of events followed by a 10 year time jump towards the end. The actual events weren’t that dramatic. The big secret isn’t really a secret, either to the reader or to the characters. What little bit you do get at the end feels anticlimactic because, as the reader, you see it all unfold. The character reactions to it compound that feeling as it ends up not being any kind of an issue for them either. The pieces of this story that should have been sort of emotional volcanoes for me, just weren’t. I don’t know if it was because of a lack of connection to the characters or if it was the way those pieces were written, but it sort of felt like even the characters were experiencing the events they were going through from a distance rather than directly.

I do think it should be noted that some readers may find they have problems with how some issues were presented and dealt with in this book. If you have problems with cheating, you may have issues with this book. If you have problems with how people on the Autism spectrum are sometimes viewed and treated, you may have issues with this book. If you have problems with how mental illness is sometimes viewed by some people or some of the ways it was treated historically, you may have issues with this book. These aren’t normally things that stick out for me, but I found I really disliked many of the situations surrounding these issues and how they were presented in this book.

*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

Book Review: A Stranger on the Beach – Michele Campbell

Author: Michele Campbell
Book Name: A Stranger on the Beach
Release Date: July 23, 2019
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Suspense/Mystery/Thriller
Overall SPA: 3 Stars
3 Stars

 

 

Blurb: There is a stranger outside Caroline’s house.

Her spectacular new beach house, built for hosting expensive parties and vacationing with the family she thought she’d have. But her husband is lying to her and everything in her life is upside down, so when the stranger, Aiden, shows up as a bartender at the same party where Caroline and her husband have a very public fight, it doesn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary.

As her marriage collapses around her and the lavish lifestyle she’s built for herself starts to crumble, Caroline turns to Aiden for comfort…and revenge. After a brief and desperate fling that means nothing to Caroline and everything to him, Aiden’s obsession with Caroline, her family, and her house grows more and more disturbing. And when Caroline’s husband goes missing, her life descends into a nightmare that leaves her accused of her own husband’s murder.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 3/5 Stars
Believability: 3/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 3/5 Stars

Based on feedback from other bloggers raving about this book, I was really excited to pick this one up. I don’t think I got the same things out of this that they did, so I’m definitely in the minority on my reaction.

I found myself, really early on, not liking characters I was probably supposed to and liking ones I wasn’t. I’m the kind of reader that needs some form of connection with characters, or to feel a certain sense of relatability and those early impressions made that difficult.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the whole “If I’d known” lines that get dropped all through the beginning of the book that seemed to give away what was going to happen later. They were like glowing neon signs screaming “Look HERE!” I understand the purpose, but they bugged me.

The dual perspective through the majority of the book, giving you vastly different versions of what is going on throughout the story, kind of fell in the middle of like and dislike for me. On one hand, it was interesting seeing the way this was presented, but it took me a little too long to not have those different versions be jarring. When I finally get used to those disparities and come to expect them, a new character’s perspective gets tossed into the mix.

While there were a lot of things going on, it took way longer than it should have to actually settle in and get somewhat invested in how the story played out.

If you are the kind of reader that picks up on small details, the ending won’t be a shock to you. There are definitely a range of possibilities by that point, but, for me, this story could have gone in any of those directions and I wouldn’t have been surprised, though the path to get to any of them is a bit over the top and twisted along the way. In all this was a decent read, but I didn’t love it either.

*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.