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: Bounty, Kaliya Sahni – Book #1

Author: Kristen Banet
Book Name: Bounty
Release Date: March 14, 2020
Series: Kaliya Sahni
Order: #1
Genre: Urban/Fantasy
Overall SPA: 4 Stars
4 Stars

 

 

Blurb: Kaliya Sahni.
Tribunal Executioner. Bounty hunter. The last nagini.

Her reputation is larger than the desert she lives in.

Dangerous. Irresponsible. Antagonistic.

When a friend asks her to look into a supernatural bounty on a human, Kaliya finds herself taking the first steps into a conspiracy that had been in the shadows for nearly a decade. Too intrigued to get out before it’s too late, she dives straight into the deep end, ready to discover the truth.

When the mysterious bounty takes a personal turn, she knows there’s no turning back, no putting the lid back on the box.

It’s all or nothing in her world and Kaliya doesn’t like to lose.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 4/5 Stars
Uniqueness Factor: 4/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 4/5 Stars

This is set in the same world as the Jacky Leon series but can be read on it’s own. Like that series, you get many of your typical fantasy types of beings, vampires, werewolves, witches and fae, but you also get a good dose of something not typical. In this case, Kaliya’s character is a Naga. I really like that this is somewhat typical, but also with that extra twist. Kaliya isn’t the only unusual character, either.

While the base story line of this gets a clean wrap up, it also brings in a lot of other pieces that don’t get wrapped up, clearly indicating that those will be ongoing pieces to this series. There wasn’t anything hanging so hard that I’d consider it a cliffhanger, but you don’t get the satisfaction of resolving everything in this book.

This will definitely be a series I’ll be watching for the next release on.

 

 

 

Book Review: The Queen’s Bargain, The Black Jewels- Book #10

Author: Anne Bishop
Book Name: The Queen’s Bargain
Release Date: March 10, 2020
Series: The Black Jewels
Order: #10
Genre: Dark Fantasy/Romance
Overall SPA: 4  Stars

4 Stars

 

 

 

Blurb: POWER HAS A PRICE. SO DOES LOVE.

Return to the dark, sensual, and powerful world of the Black Jewels in this long-awaited new story in the New York Times bestselling fantasy saga

After a youthful mistake, Lord Dillon’s reputation is in tatters,
leaving him vulnerable to aristo girls looking for a bit of fun. To
restore his reputation and honor, he needs a handfast—a one-year contract of marriage. He sets his sights on Jillian, a young Eyrien witch from Ebon Rih, who he believes has only a flimsy connection to the noble society that spurned him. Unfortunately for Dillon, he is unaware of Jillian’s true connections until he finds himself facing Lucivar Yaslana, the volatile Warlord Prince of Ebon Rih.

Meanwhile, Surreal SaDiablo’s marriage is crumbling. Daemon Sadi, the Warlord Prince of Dhemlan, recognizes there is something wrong between him and Surreal, but he doesn’t realize that his attempt to suppress his own nature in order to spare his wife is causing his mind to splinter. To save Daemon, and the Realm of Kaeleer if he breaks, help must be sought from someone who no longer exists in any of the Realms—the only
Queen powerful enough to control Daemon Sadi. The Queen known as Witch.

As Jillian rides the winds of first love with Dillon, Daemon and Surreal struggle to survive the wounds of a marriage turned stormy—and Lucivar has to find a way to keep everyone in his family safe…even from each other.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

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

When I first saw that Anne Bishop was going to be revisiting the Black Jewels world after nearly 9 years, I was ecstatic because this is one of my favorite series.

Then, when the blurb came out and I saw that it was going to build on the short story from Twilight’s Dawn about Surreal and Daemon, I was REALLY torn. That’s because, of all the books and stories set in this world, that one was my absolute least favorite because I just could not get on board with those two together.

For me, that relationship had so many problems and I just didn’t like that after everything that Daemon went through, after getting his dream and the epic love between him and Jaenelle, that he would end up in a relationship with Surreal. It just felt wrong. It felt like he was forced to end up with a consolation prize. Reading this, I still feel that way. If anything, I feel that even more because of how their relationship continues to play out. I really want Daemon’s character to get a chance at real happiness and I don’t feel like it works with Surreal.

I also always liked Surreal’s character and felt that she fit so much better into that friend, almost sister role, with Daemon. To have her with Daemon feels like she is having to settle for someone that can never really love her the way she deserves. Again, I really, really want to see her get a shot at genuine happiness and it doesn’t feel like she gets it. It also felt like so much of what I loved about her as a character throughout this series is kind of neutered until the very end of this story. She looses that feeling of badassness that she is known for through how her relationship with Daemon is presented, at least until the very end.

If I could ignore that part of the storyline (and it is a decent size of the book), I adored getting back into this world and revisiting with these amazing characters. Even though I don’t like that relationship, it doesn’t take away from how much I still loved this book. Not much, anyway.

There is every indication that this won’t be the last dip back into the Black Jewels world. I won’t complain in the least that we are getting to do that, but I almost wish it would have taken a different path, maybe something along the lines of Shalador’s Lady, where the characters were entirely new and different.

I think this is a great example of being able to love and kind of hate a book at the same time.

 

Book Review: Oath Sworn, Jacky Leon – Book #1

Author: Kristen Banet
Book Name: Oath Sworn
Release Date: July 15, 2019
Series: Jacky Leon
Order: #1
Genre: Paranormal/Urban/Fantasy
Overall SPA: 4.5 Stars
4.5 Stars

 

 

Blurb: Jacky Leon isn’t someone who goes looking for trouble. She owns a bar, pays her taxes, and serves her drinks cold outside a small town in Texas. The fact that she’s a werecat is just something she’s had to live with. Alone in her territory, she’s lived a secretive life for six years: under the radar, avoiding her past and the baggage that comes with it.

Trouble finds Jacky, though, in the form of an eleven year old girl and a werewolf turf war just outside her borders. Forced to honor an ancient treaty and the Laws of the supernatural world, Jacky swears an oath to protect Carey Everson, the human daughter of a local werewolf Alpha from Dallas.

When his enemies come after Jacky and her charge, she’s going to have to embrace the more dangerous side of who and what she is. She’s going to have to challenge the very Laws that govern her kind.

And nothing is going to stop her from honoring her word.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 4.5/5 Stars
World Building: 4.5/5 Stars
Uniqueness Factor: 4.5/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 4.5/5 Stars

I already tend to be a sucker when kids or taking care of kids takes a big role in a book. Combine that with a fantasy book with shifters in it and I could not pass this one up.

The second that “get the kid” scenario popped up in the story, I was seriously hooked. I loved how the problem of this really out there premise is presented. For one, that is kind of right up my alley as far as a kid premise goes and I’m always fascinated to see how an author can pull that theme off, if they can actually do it in a way that makes a reader believe it. Because this was a fantasy, it was a cool and unique way of presenting the problem and the author sold it really well. And believe me, I was watching that closely as I know how hard it is to make that work, so I was thrilled to see it pulled off.

That whole premise and how it ties into the world that is created here helps to add to the uniqueness factor of what would otherwise be a normal shifter style book. You get the range of paranormal creatures often seen in UF, though the main focus are the werecats and werewolves, but the background and history of this world felt new and different.

The only reason this didn’t tip over into a full 5 star range for me is that once you hit that shift in the story (a little over the half way mark), the plot slows a bit and I lose a tiny bit of what I loved about the first part.

I really enjoyed this and already have the next in the series downloaded and ready to dig into.

 

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: I Not David, Finding Me – Book #1

Author: Kameo Monson
Book Name: I Not David
Release Date: November 20, 2019
Series: Finding Me
Order: #1
Genre: Women’s Fiction/Family Life
Overall SPA: 4.5 Stars
4.5 Stars

 

 

Blurb: When three-year-old Joey is diagnosed with autism, Kat’s heart sinks. With a single phone number and a few suggested therapies, she and her husband Derek are left to wade through the unknown abyss of ASD. Derek assures Kat their son will grow out of it, but she has done enough research. That never happens. Still, Joey can improve, and Kat vows to make his life better any way she can.

Jumping feet first into the depths of therapies and developmental preschool, Kat gives it her all. Everything should get easier. But Derek still can’t handle Joey’s meltdowns, and now he only wants to spend time with her. What happens if his attitude doesn’t change?

As Kat’s world continues to crumble around her, she finds something in herself that she didn’t know was missing.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

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

This book ticked most of my boxes for what makes a really good, emotional book. It is a small snapshot of life as a mother learns to parent her autistic child and all the struggles that entails, including the strain it can put on a marriage.

The first couple of chapters felt a little choppy with a lot of events happening quickly and jumping to the next, but it smoothed out after a few chapters and I was able to sink into Kat’s story. As a mother that only ever barely brushed up against a tiny fragment of the issues presented in this book, it was easy for me to relate to and sympathize with her struggles from that mother’s perspective and to understand her willingness to do anything and everything to give her child every opportunity for a good life. The story touches on a lot of typical parental fears for their children and magnifies them through the lens of autism.

Having no background knowledge of autism, I wasn’t sure how accurate the experiences and scenarios regarding diagnosis and treatment were throughout the book, but they felt authentic. Something that stood out for me and had me questioning the reality a bit was the lack of support or suggestion of counseling for the parents or available resources to support them and help them learn to raise an autistic child. There is plenty addressed with regards to support and treatments for Joey, but there wasn’t any mention of any resources to help the parents with such a drastic change in the way they would need to parent him and how those changes could impact them as a family. There aren’t even mentions of support groups. After finishing the book and reading the author’s comments about the background of the story and her personal history, I’m a little floored that this is apparently reality, or was at the time of her experiences (at least not as something that is ever mentioned in the book).

This book only covers a small span of time and leaves several threads open at the end (most likely because this will be part of a series). There aren’t any cliffhangers, but there are some larger pieces that do not get resolved by the end.

Overall, I really enjoyed this story and the very real glimpse it gives you into life with a young, autistic child.

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

Book Review: A Madness of Sunshine – Nalini Singh

Author: Nalini Singh
Book Name: A Madness of Sunshine
Release Date: December 3, 2019
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Thriller/Suspense/Crime/Romance
Overall SPA: 4.5 Stars
4 Stars

 

 

Blurb: On the rugged West Coast of New Zealand, Golden Cove is more than just a town where people live. The adults are more than neighbors; the children, more than schoolmates.
 
That is until one fateful summer—and several vanished bodies—shatters the trust holding Golden Cove together. All that’s left are whispers behind closed doors, broken friendships, and a silent agreement not to look back. But they can’t run from the past forever.

Eight years later, a beautiful young woman disappears without a trace, and the residents of Golden Cove wonder if their home shelters something far more dangerous than an unforgiving landscape.

It’s not long before the dark past collides with the haunting present and deadly secrets come to light.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

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

This is a very different book for Nalini Singh with the genre, but still very much on the same level of quality, detail, and great story telling that her readers have come to expect. Stepping into a different genre for an author can be risky, so I really wasn’t certain how much I’d like it. I really shouldn’t have been worried as Ms. Singh has always done a great job at building her stories, no matter the genre. While this does have romantic elements to it, they are light in comparison to the rest of the story.

The only real dings this takes from me are in the couple of places (one in particular) where a little piece was dropped like a hint, but never picked up or addressed later in the story and in a couple of other very minor hits on believability. Otherwise, this was a great story that kept open so many different options for the outcome all the way through to the end, it really wraps up in unexpected ways. It isn’t often that an author can find that balance of keeping readers realistically guessing and giving it away with obvious clues. This one hit that perfect balance for me.

 

 

Book Review: Jon’s Downright Ridiculous Shooting Case, Jon’s Mysteries- Book #1

Author: AJ Sherwood
Book Name: Jon’s Downright Ridiculous Shooting Case
Release Date: March 22, 2019
Series: Jon’s Mysteries
Order: #1
Genre: Romance/LGBTQIA/Paranormal/Urban/Mystery
Overall SPA: 4 Stars
4 Stars

 

 

Blurb: A psychic without an anchor. A student in trouble. A shooter on the loose.

I’m Jonathan Bane, a licensed psychic who consults for the police. I routinely help the police put the bad guys away and, for that reason, the criminal world doesn’t like me much. People like to take a swing at me, or go stabbity, or try for a gun. It makes for interesting times. My psychic ability prevents me from handling anything electronic—and I do mean ANYTHING, I fry it in seconds—so calling for help isn’t always a possibility.

I need an anchor, a partner, but I’m resigned: it’s just wishful thinking.

At least, I thought so until he walked through the door.

Donovan Havili looks like a thug and has the soul of a superhero. He shines so bright in my vision it’s like watching a supernova. He definitely has the right mindset and skills for this crazy job. But asking anyone to take me on long-term is a bit much. And now we’ve got multiple cases to handle, a Chinese exchange student falsely accused who needs our help, and someone taking random shots at me. It’s a bit much for any new guy to handle and I’m half-afraid that my new partner will run for the door.

But in Donovan Havili, the criminal world has met its match. And maybe, just maybe, I have as well.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 4/5 Stars
Believability: 3.5/5 Stars
World Building: 4/5 Stars

Personal Opinion: 4/5 Stars

The title of this is such a mouthful, but so fun! It isn’t often that I find a book that attempts to blend small bits of the paranormal, in this case the psychic elements, with the normal world and actually pull it off. There are still places where it pushes hard on the believability boundaries, but the author does an amazing job of still making those pieces work.

You also get a fun blend of snarky sass, adorable sweetness and fun tossed in with the seriousness of the crimes addressed in this book. Yes, you also get some insta-love going on in here, but… again, I liked the way it was done and, while a bit of a stretch, it manages to still work.

If I were to point out any negatives at all, it would probably be some of the liberties taken in the police work aspects, which tends to be a peeve of mine. That said, there are some explanations for why those liberties can be taken, but I think I would have liked them to be a bit more solid and defined. It really wasn’t enough to impact my enjoyment of the story, though.

This was a fun, sweet read and I’ve already got the next book ready to slot in when I need another lighter read.

 

Book Review: Archangel’s War, Guild Hunter- Book #12

Author: Nalini Singh
Book Name: Archangel’s War
Release Date: September 24, 2019
Series: Guild Hunter
Order: #12
Genre: Fantasy/Urban/Romance
Overall SPA: 3.5 Stars
3.5 Stars

 

 

Blurb: Wings of silver. Wings of blue. Mortal heart. Broken dreams. Shatter. Shatter. Shatter. A sundering. A grave. I see the end. I see. . . .

The world is in chaos as the power surge of the Cascade rises to a devastating crescendo. In furiously resisting its attempts to turn Elena into a vessel for Raphael’s power, Elena and her archangel are irrevocably changed. . .far beyond the prophecy of a cursed Ancient.

At the same time, violent and eerie events around the world threaten to wipe out entire populations. And in the Archangel Lijuan’s former territory, an unnatural fog weaves through the land, leaving only a bone-chilling silence in its wake. Soon it becomes clear that even the archangels are not immune to this deadly evil. This time, even the combined power of the Cadre may not be enough. . . .

This war could end them all.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 3.5/5 Stars
Series Continuity/Expectations: 4/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 3.5/5 Stars

Was this entertaining? Did I enjoy it? Did this keep me invested in the story? Yes. Yes. And Yes. But… (there always seems to be a but) it also kind of felt a lot like reading a book I’ve already read.

From the Elena and Raphael perspective, we’ve already done this dance before. Sure some of the specific details are a little different, but the bigger picture is still the same. Scramble to understand the newest change thrown at them from a power perspective. Have a raging archangel battle over New York. These are big pieces that are seen in nearly every Guild Hunter book that features them and you see them all again in this book, so it really does feel like reading the same thing again.

It also makes it feel like they spend so much time scrambling to deal with those constant changes, that they don’t get the opportunity to really grow as characters. You would think that by book 12 they wouldn’t have to still be doing that scrambling to catch up. That there would have been some maturing to how they handled situations, but you see the same Rafael and Elena that I feel like you’ve seen in the last couple of books they were the focus characters.

I did still enjoy this, but it felt more like revisiting an old favorite rather than picking up a new release.

Book Review: The Missing Years – Lexie Elliot

Author: Lexie Elliot
Book Name: The Missing Years
Release Date: April 23, 2019
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Mystery/Suspense
Overall SPA: 4 Stars
4 Stars

 

 

Blurb: An eerie, old Scottish manor in the middle of nowhere that’s now hers.

Ailsa Calder has inherited half of a house. The other half belongs to a man who disappeared without a trace twenty-seven years ago—her father.

Leaving London behind to settle the inheritance from her mother’s estate, Ailsa returns to her childhood home, nestled amongst the craggy peaks of the Scottish Highlands, joined by the half-sister who’s almost a stranger to her.

Ailsa can’t escape the claustrophobic feeling that the house itself is watching her—as if her past hungers to consume her. She also can’t ignore how the neighbourhood animals refuse to set one foot within the gates of the garden.

When the first nighttime intruder shows up, Ailsa fears that the manor’s careless rugged beauty could cost her everything.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

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

This had a really nice balance between being suspenseful and creepy without being outright terrifying, making this a great choice for an October read.

It took me a little bit before I could get into this, but once I did, I sort of just sunk into it. I liked the fact that you aren’t certain which characters are bad guys, or if you even really have one, because no one is really overtly awful or in your face. They all seem to be mostly decent people, even if they each have interesting quirks.

I liked the fact that this rides a paranormal edge even though it really isn’t a paranormal book. The way that thread was woven through this made it fun to at least wonder about how far it would go in that direction.

The little bits about Ailsa’s father in between chapters were a bit confusing for a while, but they ended up being another interesting piece of the story.

The specifics of the ending left me with a “Dang! That is messed up!” kind of reaction, but it was done really well. Overall, I really enjoyed this.

 

Book Review: Things You Save In A Fire – Katherine Center

Author: Katherine Center
Book Name: Things You Save In A Fire
Release Date: August 13, 2019
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Romance/Family Life
Overall SPA: 4 Stars
4 Stars

 

 

Blurb: Cassie Hanwell was born for emergencies. As one of the only female firefighters in her Texas firehouse, she’s seen her fair share of them, and she’s a total pro at other people’s tragedies. But when her estranged and ailing mother asks her to give up her whole life and move to Boston, Cassie suddenly has an emergency of her own.

The tough, old-school Boston firehouse is as different from Cassie’s old job as it could possibly be. Hazing, a lack of funding, and poor facilities mean that the firemen aren’t exactly thrilled to have a “lady” on the crew—even one as competent and smart as Cassie. Except for the infatuation-inspiring rookie, who doesn’t seem to mind having Cassie around. But she can’t think about that. Because love is girly, and it’s not her thing. And don’t forget the advice her old captain gave her: Never date firefighters. Cassie can feel her resolve slipping…and it means risking it all—the only job she’s ever loved, and the hero she’s worked like hell to become.

Katherine Center’s Things You Save in a Fire is a heartfelt and healing tour-de-force about the strength of vulnerability, the nourishing magic of forgiveness, and the life-changing power of defining courage, at last, for yourself.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

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

I think I picked this one up at the perfect time for me, because it was exactly what I needed.

Cassie’s character is really interesting. There were times that I felt she was riding the edge of coming across as too perfect and too capable of pretty much anything, but that was balanced out by the places she was also far from either of those things.

The focus of this story for me seems to be more about Cassie’s personal emotional growth than the romance because most of that development happens off the page. What you do get on the page is sweet and warm.

Normally I struggle hard with books that have a heavy emphasis on betrayals and forgiveness, but I think this handled those issues pretty well for the most part and is a big part of why I did end up enjoying this.

This takes some dings in a couple of areas, though. Almost all of those are towards the end and the wrap up because it pushes this just over the line into the too perfect and everything gets wrapped up in a pretty bow range. It narrowly escaped falling off the believability cliff in one area (not saying which to avoid spoiling anything), but it flirted heavily with it for a while.

Overall, this is a warm, sweet, feel good kind of read.

 

Book Review: Brave The Tempest, Cassandra Palmer – Book #9

Author: Karen Chance
Book Name: Brave The Tempest
Release Date: July 30, 2019
Series: Cassandra Palmer
Order: #9
Genre: Fantasy/Urban/Romance
Overall SPA: 4 Stars
4 Stars

 

 

Blurb: Cassie Palmer has been chief seer of the supernatural world for a little over four months. In that time, she’s battled two gods, fallen in love with two men, and confronted the two sides of her own nature, both god and human. So it’s not surprising that she currently finds herself facing two adversaries, although they have a single purpose: to wipe out the supernatural community’s newest fighting force, leaving it vulnerable to enemies in this world and beyond.

To prevent catastrophe, the vamps, mages, and demons will have to do the one thing they’ve never managed before and come together as allies. Cassie has the difficult task of keeping the uneasy coalition intact, and of persuading her own two opposing forces, a powerful mage with a secret and a master vampire with a growing obsession, to fight at her side. She just hopes they can do it without tearing each other apart

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 4.5/5 Stars
Series Continuity/Expectations: 4/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 3.5/5 Stars

This book showed me that I still love this world. There is so much to enjoy about it and it is incredibly well built. The common theme seen in previous books, the one where Cassie is constantly knocked down and isn’t even back on her feet to take a breath before she gets knocked right back down again, is, thankfully, not as prevalent throughout this book.

Sadly, in it’s place is a massive amount of rehashing the events in all the previous books. It isn’t all at once, more sprinkled throughout the book, but it is way more than was probably needed for the majority of readers since you simply cannot read these as standalone and not be utterly lost. Mentioning a previous event in another book is one thing, going into a lot of those details made this feel bloated.

For the first half of this book (maybe a little less), you spend a lot of time with Cassie either “remembering” some of those events or doing an awful lot of navel gazing. On one hand, this is a bit refreshing because the reader isn’t being constantly batted around by the events, but at the same time, it doesn’t feel like you are actually getting anywhere.

If you look back at Cassie from the first books in the series and compare them to the Cassie in this book and you don’t see much growth or change. Granted, all 9 of these books happen over an incredibly short period of time, but SO MUCH has happened, you think that how she reacts to all the stuff thrown at her would have progressed at least a little. That lack of growth has become really frustrating for me.

There is a point, later in this book, where you think this is finally getting addressed and you are going to get to see some progress with it. Then, in classic Cassie Palmer style, things start to get knock down, attempt to stand, but get knocked down again before you can get your balance and you lose that forward progress.

As I mentioned before, I still really love this world. I enjoy most of the characters, but the overall progress in the last few books feels like running in place a bit and it is frustrating. Yes, there is some change, but it feels sort of like a lateral move rather than a forward one.

 

Other areas of note (not included in the SPA rating):

Cover: 2/5 Stars

Why does it feel like the covers for these books have regressed the age of Cassie with each new release? I get that she might be on the young side (mid 20’s maybe?), but she isn’t a teenager. Please don’t make her look like one. This one seems to be the least fitting cover in the series.

 

Book Review: Hellion, 415 Ink- Book #3

Author: Rhys Ford
Book Name: Hellion
Release Date: September 17, 2019
Series: 415 Ink
Order: #3
Genre: Romance/LGBTQIA
Overall SPA: 4 Stars
4 Stars

 

 

Blurb: From the moment SFPD Detective Ruan Nicholls meets Ivo Rogers, he knew the tattoo artist was going to bring chaos to his neat orderly life. A hellion down to the bone, Ivo is someone Ruan not only doesn’t understand but isn’t even sure he needs to. Everything about Ivo is vibrant, brash, cocky and arrogant and Ruan wants no part of him.

Or at least that’s the lie he tells himself when he damps down his desire for the social wild child life tosses into his path.

For Ivo Rogers, his life revolves around two things; his family and 415 Ink, the tattoo shop he co-owns with his four brothers. His family might be stitched together by their battle scars from growing up in foster care but their brotherhood was tight—and strong enough to hold Ivo together during the times when he fell apart.

Now Ivo faces a new challenge when he falls for a cop with an old-school mentality on what a man looks and acts like. Ruan is the promise of a life Ivo thought he’d never have but their thunderous clashes threaten any chance of a relationship. Being the family’s hellion makes it easy to be misunderstood yet Ivo has faith Ruan will not only embrace who he is but love him as well.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

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

From the beginning of this series, I have thought that Ivo was going to be the most interesting character to read about. Now that I’ve read this, I still think he is probably my favorite (at least so far), but he is still very much on par with all the other great characters in this series so that is only by a narrow margin.

Ivo broke my heart in a couple of places through this. I counted probably a half dozen lines that poked really hard at some of my soft, raw spots. Especially the concept of feeling as though it was so easy to be thrown away.

Even with all that, I don’t think this was my favorite of the series because I think I expected or wanted something a bit more from his book. It’s probably just that I wanted more overall and I’m not quite ready to see less of Ivo yet.

Book Review: Single, Single Dads- Book #1

Author: RJ Scott
Book Name: Single
Release Date: June 12, 2019
Series: Single Dads
Order: #1
Genre: Romance/LGBTQIA
Overall SPA: 4 Stars
4 Stars

 

 

Blurb: Ash wants a family, and is determined to continue with a surrogacy he’d begun with his ex. Bringing baby Mia home, he vows that he will be the best father he can be. Nothing in this world matters more to him than caring for his daughter, not even accidentally falling in lust with the doctor next door. Challenged by his growing attraction to Sean, and confronted by painful memories of his family, Ash has to learn that love is all that matters.

When ER doctor Sean moves in with his friends next door to sexy single father Ash, he falls so quickly it takes his breath away. The sex they have is hot, but Ash is adamant his heart is too full with love for his daughter to let anyone else in. Why is Sean the only one who sees how scared Ash is, and how can he prove to his new lover that he desperately wants the three of them to become a family?

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 3.5/5 Stars
Believability: 4.5/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 4/5 Stars

This was a really great blend of incredibly sweet and slightly steamy, without going too far over in either direction. I will always be a sucker for stories with kids and babies, especially when you throw in the struggling, but loving single dad.

If I have much of anything to say beyond that, it is that I really would have liked just a little bit more. A little bit more time with both Sean and Ash to get a better feel for them and their connection. It is absolutely there and I loved it, but it was kind of this soft touch of them and then their story ends a little too quickly.

In all, though, I really liked this and it was exactly what I needed to lighten my reading for a bit.

 

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: Beautiful Sky Beautiful Sky – Stephen Parolini

Author: Stephen Parolini
Book Name: Beautiful Sky Beautiful Sky
Release Date: September 3, 2019
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Family Life/Coming of Age/Historical
Overall SPA: 4 Stars
4 Stars

 

 

Blurb: High school senior David Tinker is a failed former second-string linebacker, a wannabe rock star, a pothead, a writer, and a bit of a jerk. It’s his final semester at North High and he’s beyond ready to be done with school. Wendy, his once-compliant girlfriend, expects too much of him. His ever-shrinking circle of friends is testing his patience. And his insult-slinging father is increasingly impossible to endure. And then there’s the choir director, Mr. Halston, who wields the power of graduation and isn’t above a little blackmail. When David’s world suddenly spins out of control, he finds himself searching for the one thing he didn’t know he was missing: hope.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 3.5/5 Stars
Believability: 4.5/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 4/5 Stars

This is the kind of story that is heavily layered, the kind that takes a little time for those layers to start building and before they become visible.

There were pieces here and there early on that I found running along some really offensive lines, but I had to stop and take in the fact that this is very much an honestly representative piece for the time it was set in. As someone that grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, sometimes it isn’t pleasant to confront the ideas and attitudes and prejudices of that time and how easily they slipped off the tongue or into the mind back then. There are many times where you come face to face with those less than stellar aspects of that era in this book. It is an incredible look from that aspect of things to see how far we have come as a society and how far we have yet to go. As a child of that time, it makes me look at myself and how I’ve managed to grow since then.

Because this is set in 1980, you also get this amazing flood of music and cultural references to balance out some of the ugly. It is kind of this trip down memory lane for the senses of your mind in that respect. I’m not often tempted to listen to music while reading, but I almost wish this had a playlist at the beginning just so I could do that along the way. All of the songs referenced do this amazing job of setting the tone for many different scenes in the book and plays a huge part to the overall story. Because music tends to be so tied into emotions, it was a bit of a minefield for me, but I loved it.

One scene in particular sort of reached inside and ripped me apart because it could have been written based on my own personal history. Having already been primed with the setting and all the musical and cultural references, it was like hearing the words for myself all over again. This was an incredibly hard bit to read, but it was so much a product of this time period and attitudes, especially towards girls and women. So, yes, I absolutely connected with a certain character in particular.

If I had to pick an overall tone for this story, I’d say it is very heavy. The overall subject matter throughout is on the harsh, ugly side of things, but it has that tiny thread running through it to give it a little light. It is layered and complex. I can easily see this being the kind of book that people spend lots of time talking about and picking apart to analyze on a deeper level. I don’t often enjoy books like that, but this one is definitely going to be one that sticks with me for a long while.

I will note that there are some potentially sensitive subjects dealt with and discussed in this book, many only a mention, but they are still there. Things like racial stereotypes, homophobia, depression, suicide, drug use and sexual assault.

 

 

Book Review: The Unkindest Tide, October Daye- Book #13

Author: Seanan McGuire
Book Name: The Unkindest Tide
Release Date: September 3, 2019
Series: October Daye
Order: #13
Genre: Fantasy/Urban
Overall SPA: 4.5 Stars
4.5 Stars

 

 

Blurb: Hundreds of years ago, the Selkies made a deal with the sea witch: they would have the sea for as long as she allowed it, and when the time came, she would call in all their debts at once. Many people assumed that day would never come. Those people were wrong.

When the Luidaeg—October “Toby” Daye’s oldest and most dangerous ally—tells her the time has come for the Selkies to fulfill their side of the bargain, and that Toby must be a part of the process, Toby can’t refuse. Literally. The Selkies aren’t the only ones in debt to the Luidaeg, and Toby has to pay what she owes like anyone else. They will travel to the fabled Duchy of Ships and call a convocation of the Selkies, telling them to come and meet the Luidaeg’s price…or face the consequences.

Of course, nothing is that simple. When Dianda Lorden’s brother appears to arrest Dianda for treason against the Undersea, when a Selkie woman is stripped of her skin and then murdered, when everything is falling apart, that’s when Toby will have to answer the real question of the hour.

Is she going to sink? Or is she going to swim?

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

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

Pretty sure I say this most every time I review a book this deep in a series that I like. It is incredibly HARD to write a review. I can’t say anything helpful to new readers really except, start at book 1 or you’re going to be lost. We are on book 13. Catch up, because you should be reading this now!

I can’t say anything to other readers of this series that they don’t already know. This is just as great as all the others in the series. Toby is still awesome. You get a good dose of Tybalt and the Luidaeg (always awesome). You get another great story. You should be reading this now!

So basically, you should be reading this now if you aren’t already.

 

Book Review: Delayed Diagnosis, Rhea Lynch, M.D. – Book #1

Author: Gwen Hunter
Book Name: Delayed Diagnosis
Release Date: March 13, 2012 (first published 2001)
Series: Rhea Lynch, M.D.
Order: #1
Genre: Medical/Mystery/Suspense
Overall SPA: 4 Stars
4 Stars

 

 

Blurb: Dr.Rhea Lynch left a suffocating life in Charleston to practice medicine in the ER of a small South Carolina hospital. Now Dawkins County is her home, a place that holds the only real family she’s ever known.
But when she returns from vacation, Rhea is shocked to discover her best friend, Marisa, near death and unable to communicate. The official diagnosis: a paralyzing stroke. Despite the family’s attempts to keep her away, Rhea is determined to make her own diagnosis. In an illicit examination, a hideous truth is revealed.

Then a man is brought into her ER with similar symptoms. And then another. Each one of her patients has been willfully, brutally, silenced in a most inhuman way.

Desperate to find answers, Rhea must determine who she can trust, as a powerful conspiracy threatens the people she loves–and perhaps the entire community.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

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

I am coming to this series really late in the game because I just found out that Gwen Hunter is a pen name for Faith Hunter (how did I not know this?!) and I had to pick this up. For the most part, I really wasn’t disappointed. Many of the stylistic parts of a Faith Hunter novel are present in this one as well.

This is one of those genres in fiction that can become dated very quickly because of how fast things change in the medical industry. Things that we take for granted now or consider common place may be different in the next year, sometimes even faster. Picking up a book based on medical practices that was published more than 10 years ago can be a bit jolting. I actually enjoyed it being able to see some of those changes and how far we’ve come. Things that were obvious to me because this is so heavily detailed.

The only bits that I’m going to say that I’m disappointed in here are the pieces that pushed the believability barriers a little. There weren’t a lot, but they were there. Otherwise, I really enjoyed this, dated as it is and fully intend on picking up other books in this series and under the Gwen Hunter pen name.

 

Book Review: Abandoned, Max Revere – Book #5

Author: Allison Brennan
Book Name: Abandoned
Release Date: August 14, 2018
Series: Max Revere
Order: #5
Genre: Mystery/Suspense
Overall SPA: 4 Stars
4 Stars

 

 

Blurb: Investigative reporter Max Revere has cracked many cases, but the one investigation she’s never attempted is the mystery from her own past. Her mother abandoned her when she was nine, sending her periodic postcards, but never returning to reclaim her daughter. Seven years after the postcards stop coming, Martha Revere is declared legally dead, with no sign of what may have happened to her. Until now.

With a single clue―that her mother’s car disappeared sixteen years ago in a small town on the Chesapeake Bay―Max drops everything to finally seek the truth. As Max investigates, and her mother’s story unfolds, she realizes that Martha teamed up with a con man. They traveled the world living off Martha’s trust and money they conned from others.

Though no one claims to know anything about Martha or her disappearance, Max suspects more than one person is lying. When she learns the FBI has an active investigation into the con man, Max knows she’s on the right path. But as Max digs into the dark secrets of this idyllic community, the only thing she might find is the same violent end as her mother.

New York Times bestselling author Allison Brennan weaves the intimate, unputdownable story of an investigator confronting the most important–and most dangerous–mystery of her career.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

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

This one was better than the last because you get back to Max being more of the focus of the story. This one even more so than most because you get to delve into the history of her mother and all that was going on behind her leaving Max behind.

There were bits of this that tended to push hard on the believability barriers with some pretty heavy coincidences and Max’s newest love interest being a little close to insta-love, but these only dinged my rating a little bit. I was still impressed with the fact that enough is left open along the way that you don’t know for certain what happened with Max’s mother until deep into the story.

It is going to be interesting to see how, or if, the series continues from here after the events in this book because so much will need to change for Max. Considering this was published a year ago and I don’t see the next book yet, I don’t know for sure if there will be another one or if this closed out the series. The way it ended, it could go either way and I’d, mostly, be okay with it since there really aren’t any lose threads left hanging. I would be disappointed as I’ve really enjoyed Max and I am not ready to be done with her yet.