Obsession (Natchez Trace Park Rangers #2) by Patricia Bradley

Publication Date: February 2, 2021

Rating: 3 Stars

The second book of the Natchez Trace Park Rangers series, Obsession reads successfully as a stand alone novel as the reader follows Emma and her ex-fiancé Sam as they work to unravel a mysteriously misidentified body buried on slave burial grounds and the unidentified suspect working to keep them off the trail. 

Author Patricia Bradley delivers a pulse pounding romance, tangled in the past history of Emma and Sam as Sam is newly returned to the area to be closer to family.  This read jumps between Sam and Emma’s narrative point of view with a sprinkling of the killer’s anonymous internal dialogue, a talent that causes Bradley to stand out from the literary pack as she so expertly puts the reader in each character’s head.  However, there was just one weakness – I guessed the killer within only a few pages of the book and spent the rest of the read trying to convince myself of all the ways my prediction was wrong.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher; all opinions are my own.

The Moonlight School by Suzanne Woods Fisher

Publication Date: February 2, 2021

Rating: 4 Stars

“Most Americans don’t realize what a privilege it is to read.  It may shock you to know that two-thirds of the world cannot read” – p. 122

Based on a true story, author Suzanne Woods Fisher will quickly have you falling for life in the hollers of Appalachia.  Highlighting the privilege of literacy and the disparities in education this read is exceptionally well done in placing the reader squarely in the life of rural Kentucky. 

Lucy arrives in town to assist her Aunt Cora, the county’s first female superintendent.  At first Lucy feels out of place, unable to even ride a horse, she quickly learns how her life in Lexington is as privileged as they come.  As Lucy rides into the hollers to dictate letters for those who cannot read, promptly meeting the townsfolk as they wiggle their way into her heart. 

Suzanne Woods Fisher makes quick work in making readers fall in love with Cora’s plans to better the county.  Her storytelling weaves a beautiful picture of the challenges and comradery of Appalachian mountain families while addressing the lack of literacy and one women’s dedication and commitment to improve the knowledge of all. 

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher; all opinions are my own.

Two Reviews: Friends Like Us by Sarah Mackenzie & A Mother’s Promise by K.D. Alden

Friends Like Us by Sarah Mackenzie

Publication Date: January 26, 2021

Rating: 4 Stars

“A heart is a magical organ that can expand to infinite sizes, the harder you love with it, the more it can hold” – p. 263.

Friends Like Us is a story of two best friends.  Two best friends living in a “funk.”  Jill lost her husband to a motorcycle crash years ago and she’s hesitated moving forward and following her dreams in his absence.  Bree is waiting on a call regarding the lump she found, while harboring fantasies about opening her own inn,  she’s been fearful to act from seeking a man since her ex-fiancé to living in the time capsule of her parents’ home.  Living life in their respective comfort zones has kept best friends Bree and Jill from moving forward. 

This is a read packed full of bada$$ women working together to turn their lives into ones they’ve only dreamed of.  The epitome of female friendships and what they should be, from boosting each other up to supplying one another with wine, an ear and a couch to sleep on.  This cozy read entices readers to grab life by the reigns, straighten your crown and ride off into the sunset of happily ever after.  

Author Sarah Mackenzie has created not only an idyllic town, but characters readers feel so comfortable around.  Bree and Jill are written with such finesse that they could be your own best friend, penned with enough background to encapsulate the whole character while not bogging down the story, Friends Like Us models the ideal female friendship.  So cozy up with your best friend and crack open the spine of this newest novel by Sarah Mackenzie.

*Disclaimer: a review copy was provided by the publisher; all opinions are my own.


A Mother’s Promise by K.D. Alden

Publication Date: January 19th, 2021

Rating: 4 Stars

“There were all kinds of promises in the world.  Some were false.  Some were made in earnest, but easily betrayed.  Some were awkwardly, imperfectly fulfilled.  But the promise made by a mother to love her child…the promise that began in utero, via the umbilical cord that linked them…that promise could never be broken.” – p. 358

A Mother’s Promise provides a glaring look at the state of Virginia during the life altering Supreme Court case Buck v Bell (although given the fictitious nature of the book it is titled Riley v Price within).  This case dealt with eugenics, or forced sterilization, which provided precedence for Nazi Germany’s sterilization of Jews.  Buck v Bell remains law to this day, and continues to support forced sterilization, including the sterilization of 150 inmates since 2006. 

Author K.D. Alden creates the loosely based “Colony” where her characters reside, based on real events from the time period in which the book is set. Ruth Ann and her mother both live within its walls, where they are deemed imbeciles and mentally unfit.  Ruth Ann, arriving pregnant, immediately has her daughter taken away and given to a more “appropriate” family.  Regardless of her hardships, Ruth Ann creates a life for herself at the Colony and readers quickly connect with her and the friends she’s made. 

While little time is spent on the actual trial and case, the foundation of A Mother’s Promise comes together through Ruth Ann’s narrative.  Alden’s skilled pen sheds a harsh light on Ruth Ann’s legal defense and creates brilliant character development that makes readers feel empathy for even the most vile characters within.  Successfully navigating a black stain on American history, Alden enlightens readers while crafting an engaging, sad and intricate story.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher; all opinions are my own.

Summer Brother by Jaap Robben

Publication Date: February 9th, 2021

Rating: 3 Stars

Brian lives in a trailer with his father.  However, he is not an only child.  Occasionally the two visit his older brother Lucien in his care home.  Upon one such visit, Brian’s father is told that the care center is renovating and requesting families temporarily find other housing while each wing is completed.  Not one to embrace responsibility, his father declines until he learns that each family will be reimbursed if they agree to take over their family member’s care during the renovation period. 

So, Lucien is brought to the trailer park for his month hiatus from the facility and what a month it turns out to be.  Like nothing they could have expected Brian bonds with his brother, while finding love and nurturance he never thought he possessed.  Summer Brother is a tale of unconventional family, trials and love. 

Readers are immersed in trailer park life as they navigate new tenants, landlords and disputes from Brian’s point of view.  The responsibility thrust upon Brian for his summer of care may be overwhelming, but we are reminded of his lack of emotional maturity as he develops a relationship and the conflict with his mother and father unravels.  Summer Brother is a unique read, full of complexities and conflicting emotional responses, ultimately drawing you into Brian’s plight to love, nurture and care for his only brother.  An emotional look inside the family dynamics of just one family navigating a child with special needs. 

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher; all opinions are my own.

Review and Q&A with Melanie Cartoff, Author of Odd Woman Out

Publication Date: February 2nd, 2021

Rating: 3 Stars

Recognized for her role as the voice of Didi in Rugrats as well as several on camera and Broadway works, author Melanie Chartoff gives fans an inside look at her life through her newest book of essays and stories. 

Kicking off with a laugh as she tells the story of menopause and her excursion for a vibrator.  She then moves to more heart wrenching honesty around her visceral struggle to love one’s self more fully than the characters played on screen.  And of course, what book of secrets would be complete without one’s male encounters? 

Odd Woman Out is a quick read made up of short stories abound as we jump through Melanie’s life.  Each story and essay within provide readers a comical sense of enjoyment as Chartoff plays on her comedic roots to draw readers further into her Hollywood life.  Written out of chronological order, each story digs into a deeper theme, emotion or period in her life providing for a wholly entertaining if not gossip mag worthy read.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher; all opinions are my own.

An Interview with Melanie Chartoff

  • Your family was in some sense the inspiration behind your comedic talents. How did your familial relationships foster your desire to perform? 

We writers begin stalking our parents for material almost prenatally, poor things, and mine provided plenty. They inherited handed-down traumas from their Holocaust-fleeing families. It was an uphill battle for them to laugh. I performed strenuously to draw fire from my daddy’s rage, to parody my anxious mother, to cheer up my sad sister. This gave me a large capacity for embodying all the characters in my small-town life.

  • So how did you get into acting?

I was mad for theater at an early age. I recall an actor was walking through the audience at our local repertory theater and spoke his story to me directly. I felt as though I was sucked out of my seat and into the vivid life on the stage at age 13. Thereafter, I wanted to live in a play better written than my life story with better characters, including myself.

  • Any advice you can give to aspiring actors?

With the evolution of online performance, it’s imperative that young actors learn to adjust their truths for the camera and mic hidden in their computers; that they internalize roles that are bigger than life for the close-up scrutiny of the small screen; that they can believe so ardently in a fiction and feel it so deeply, that the audience feels it, too.

  • You’ve said that you’ve played many roles as a human being before you actually became one — can you elaborate a bit on that?

I was a product of people’s projections. I took my shape from their desires. I had no idea who I was, but I was a carrier of what others needed from me. I tried to look like other people looked like they felt when I was young. Then, when I became famous, I pretended to be my onscreen persona, although I didn’t always feel like that tailored, fabricated self.

  • Is there a specific reason you waited so long to get married? Do you regret waiting?

I made many mistakes in love as I didn’t know which aspect of myself to be with different people.  And my husband and I regret we didn’t find one another far sooner in our long lives. We’ll have less time than other people, so we are cramming as much joy as we can into our days and into our relationships with the many we love.

  • You say that you’ve written this book for mature singles. Can you explain how you think your experiences can help inspire them?

I think singles (of all genders) who have found themselves child-free and freelance in their lives after 35 will keenly relate. It took me a long time to forgive myself for my colossal blunders in relationships; for needing love too much to be more discriminating; for not knowing who I was sufficiently to know what I needed; to find delight and wonderment in my own company and imagination so that being alone didn’t feel like a punitive sentence pronounced by some patriarchal system.

  • What do you hope readers take away from the book after reading about your life?

I trust they’ll be amused by revelations in my quirky ways of thinking and that they’ll see and forgive themselves in my actions. I hope they’ll enjoy highlights of a 50-year life in the arts on stages and screens, in an assortment of odd courtships, and finally in a new marriage of unique equals whose mutual oddness turned to evenness when they wed. I want to remind readers it’s never too late to learn to love — yourself and other people — and to get life right.

Billion Dollar Start-Up: The True Story of How a Couple of 29-Year-Olds Turned $35,000 into a $1,000,000 Cannabis Company by Adam Miron, Sebastien St-Louis & Julie Beun

Publication Date: February 2nd, 2021

Rating: 4 Stars

Two brothers-in-law with VERY different styles (think tailored suits versus t-shirts), set out to fill a gap in Canada’s changing cannabis law.  After ups, downs, near misses and actual misses, the brothers amass a billion-dollar empire.  Billion Dollar Start-Up is their story, and what a crazy story it is. 

Providing enough background and detail to make readers understand where the needs for the consumer were, while also giving us the staggering histories of two different, but actually pretty similar men, Billion Dollar Start-Up takes readers on their journey from idea to reality.  And while they acknowledge their reality is ever-changing in the rapid cannabis industry, their story is unique and developed enough to provide for an entertaining roller coaster ride.

Dispersed throughout the read are “Billion Dollar Lessons” from both Adam and Seb’s point of view.  Each is witty and engaging and foreshadows events to come.  Billion Dollar Start-Up is a unique story that shows readers lessons of hard work, staying true to oneself and the journey to their own billion-dollar empire.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher; all opinions are my own.

When Twilight Breaks by Sarah Sundin

Publication Date: February 2nd, 2021

Rating: 5 Stars

Author Sarah Sundin continues to be such a gift to the literary world.  She has an uncanny ability to create such masterpieces of historical WWII romantic fiction through some of the most astonishing female leads that she really deserves a genre all her own.  Her latest book When Twilight Breaks is no different. 

Peter and Evelyn are in 1930’s Germany for very different reasons, but as Hitler continues to rise to power their lives continue to cross.  As the country continues to fall apart under Nazi regime, at the brink of an all-out world war, Peter must reassess his beliefs and Evelyn must continue to report the truths back to the United States as a foreign deployed journalist. 

Sundin has truly done it again as she creates an unlikely romantic tension amongst an unimaginable backdrop.  Transporting readers to the heart of Germany as laws against the Jewish begin to bear down, we are given an inside look at the harshness of both sides of the oncoming war.  Heart wrenching, eye opening and unimaginable circumstances collide in this newest WWII work of art.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

From the Moon I Watched Her by Emily English Medley

Publication Date: January 19th, 2021

Rating: 3 Stars

There are several religious-centered books that hit the right note of entertaining the masses while remaining “Christ-focused.”  The Book of Essie vaguely comes to mind, as well as several others.  However, I found that this book to be unique as it maintained a gloomier story line with more triggering themes and events. 

From the Moon I Watched Her is a book that swirls with darkness.  Centered on a family hiding their secrets despite their outward religious devotion.  This read follows Stephanie through adolescent as she tries to understand her family, her religion and the outside world.  Readers be warned that are many trigger warnings that arise making this read not for the faint of heart.  Capturing young daughters, broken mothers and family shame.  All these tragic elements combine in this deeply religious, coming of age story.  

Author, Emily English Medley has crafted a well-organized and well-paced jaunt through the upbringing of a troubled family, but readers prepare as the narrative is heavily driven by the religious aspects of our protagonist’s family history.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher; all opinions are my own.

Two Reviews: The Secret Starling by Judith Eagle & Sunshine by Marion Bauer

The Secret Starling by Judith Eagle

Publication Date: June 8th, 2021

Rating: 4 Stars

Ballet may be the backbone of this book, but Clara provides all the necessary fillings for making it a magical story. 

Clara lives a miserable routine filled life.  Her uncle barely speaks to her and doesn’t allow her the freedom and joys natural in any child’s life.  But suddenly the burden of “raising” Clara is too much as uncle seemingly dumps her, alone in the world to fend for herself.  It is at this juncture that Clara’s real story begins to unwind in such an enjoyable, yet tragic, way. 

Written from the heart of a child, Clara and The Secret Starling take on a perseverance of its own as author Judith Eagle graces us with the joys, terrors and decisions that come with being alone in the world, orphaned and betrayed.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.


Sunshine by Marion Bauer

Publication Date: May 18th, 2021

Rating: 3 ½ Stars

Ben’s mom walked out of his life when he was 3 years old.  He’s felt like it was his fault ever since, but he’s got a plan.  He’s spending a week with his mother on her island in the woods, with no running water, electricity or phone service in hopes he can win back her love and convince her to come home again.  Ben plans to bring his dog Sunshine along for the adventure, so what could go wrong?

The wilderness teaches Ben a thing or two about himself, facing fears and learning about the mom he hasn’t seen since he was young, but it also teaches him about growing up.  Exquisitely well written with so much packed into the awkward weeklong stay on a remote island just mom and son.  His mother’s feelings are almost palpable, and Ben’s narrative adds a sincere spin on the story within.  Thought provoking, fast paced and lovable Sunshine is certain to win over many hearts.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

Deliberate Duplicity by David Rohlfing

Publication Date: January 5th, 2021

Rating: 4 Stars

Deliberate Duplicity is a heavily involved murder mystery that is sure to keep your eyes wide open throughout its entirety, pun intended. The author uniquely wastes no time quickly and fully summarizing each character introduced, and there are a lot of characters.  This highly detailed summary often deluges such details as to the origin of the person’s name and marital history.  While this may cause readers’ heads to spin as they grasp at all the detail, the particulars of each character come back into play in otherwise unimaginably unique ways later in the story, indicating an exceptionally thought out and thorough writing style. 

As the first book in Rohlfing’s Detective Sasha Frank Mystery Series, it offers enough intrigue, mystery and skilled writing style to entice readers back for more.  This powerful debut, set in the Midwest, gives readers a creepy, entirely thorough and nearly perfectly planned murder…nearly. 

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

Watch Her by Edwin Hill – Review with Q & A

Watch Her (Hester Thursby Mystery #3) by Edwin Hill

Publication Date: December 29th, 2020

Rating: 4 Stars

I’ve read a lot of twisted family drama reads in my time, but nothing that quite compares to this outsider’s view.  None of the family members actually play a narrating part in Hill’s newest edition to the Hester Thursby Mystery Series, my first foray into this series.  Instead, we are graced with “associate” family member Maxine, Police Sargent Angela, librarian Hester and college student Barret.  Odd grouping, right?  I thought so too, but it made for an insatiable story as they all tied together.

The dynamic between the three women, Hester, Maxine and Angela, and their respective roles in the story worked so well together with Barrett providing the glue that tied all these women to the plot anchoring this story, one surrounding a family-owned for-profit college. As a first-time reader of a book in this series, I thought Watch Her read adequately well as a standalone.  There is certainly some background and history between our lead women but nothing that detracting from the wholly encompassing twists and turns encountered within.  Hill expertly navigates through the complexities of this mystery as readers crawl toward an explosive ending. 

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

An interview with EDWIN HILL

  • This is the third installment of the Hester Thursby series. How has Hester evolved from the beginning of Book 1 to now?

I like to think that she’s grown (and grown up) a bit! When we first meet Hester Thursby in “Little Comfort,” she’s recently been saddled with her 3-year-old niece, Kate, and has decidedly mixed feelings about raising someone else’s child. That ambivalence strains her relationship with her long-time boyfriend, Morgan Maguire. The traumatic events of “Little Comfort” leave Hester emotionally scarred. She carries those scars into the second novel in the series, “The Missing Ones,” and those scars almost break her relationship with Morgan. 

“Watch Her” picks up a year-and-half later. As a couple, Hester and Morgan have healed stronger than they were before, and they’ve both committed to raising Kate as full-time caretakers. They’ve also continued to expand their found family. Many of the recurring characters in the series, including fan-favorites Angela White and Jamie Williams (and Waffles, of course) make appearances in this book. 

  • Are there any challenges you’ve come across as a male author writing a female-led series? How have you overcome those challenges?

I always say that writing is a series of problem-solving exercises, and this would be one of those exercises! Anytime you write a character who’s removed from your own experiences, you have to make sure you’re asking the right questions and talking to people who have had those experiences to test your assumptions. The job of the fiction writer is to inhabit characters and represent them as fully realized and three-dimensional. You wouldn’t want to read a novel about me (too boring!), so all my characters have to be developed through my imagination. Hester experiences all sorts of things that I’ll never experience — she’s a woman; she’s 12 years younger than I am; she has a child; she works as a librarian; she’s estranged from her mother; she’s very short — and my goal is to make those experiences seem authentic to the reader. I talk to lots of people and have a group of reviewers look at drafts of novels before they go to my editor to flag anything that seems off. Ultimately, though, it’s up to me and whether I can provide that connection for the reader. 

While Hester and Morgan are the central characters in the novels, all of the Hester Thursby novels are told from multiple points of view, so this challenge doesn’t stop with Hester!  

  • The book focuses on gender dynamics between the 1990s and 2010s. Can you talk a bit about writing characters that explore and defy stereotypes? 

Each of my books explores different aspects of gender and sexuality. Hester struggles against submitting to gender norms. I also bring queer-identified characters into the novels. Angela White is one of the recurring characters in the series. She is a detective in the Boston Police Department and lives with her wife, Cary, and Cary’s son in Dorchester. Angela had a small role in “Little Comfort” and a somewhat larger role in “The Missing Ones,” but I wanted to bring her into the forefront of “Watch Her” and to fully explore her work and home life. For me, she’s a standout in this book. 

  • Can you speak a bit to your connection with the Boston area and why you’ve set the series there?

I grew up in Massachusetts, and after a few years in California, have lived here for the past two decades. One of things I like about Boston and New England is that the landscape offers a lot of variety in a relatively compact area, which is perfect for writing. Hester and Morgan live in Somerville, where, not coincidentally, I lived when I first started the series. Each of the books is set in Somerville and in other picturesque locations — Beacon Hill and the Lakes District of New Hampshire for “Little Comfort”; an island off the coast of Maine for “The Missing Ones”; and Jamaica Plain for “Watch Her.” I’ve also enjoyed playing with the weather — something that also varies in New England. “Little Comfort” is set in the dead of winter. “The Missing Ones” is set in the autumn, and “Watch Her” is set in spring. 

  • The book centers around the fictional for-profit Prescott University. Did you do any sort of research to help accurately depict the world of higher education?

My research for this book was three-fold. I worked in higher ed publishing for many years and saw some of the ins and outs of academia in that job. For-profit schools differ from traditional schools in that they report to a board of directors that expects a return on their investment. I didn’t want Prescott University or Maxine Pawlikowski, the character who serves as the general manager of the school in the book, to be over-the-top corrupt, so I tried to base the college on good educational principles, even if some of the characters wind up making poor decisions. I also read up on for-profit colleges that have failed or been shut down in the past two decades like Corinthian Colleges. I wanted to understand what could make a seemingly thriving business go belly up and what impact that had on the students enrolled at those schools. What really helped me most, though, was graduating during a recession in the early ’90s. I had a series of terrible, terrible temp jobs that provided plenty of fodder for any poorly run business. When I wanted to show something going badly at Prescott University, I consulted my vast database of personal experiences!

Engaging Your Teen’s World: Rise Above Fear to Create True Connection by David Eaton

Publication Date: June 30th, 2020

Rating: 3 Stars

Engaging Your Teen’s World is encompassed in 4 key sections: Why Engaging Your Teen’s World Matters, How to Engage with Your Teen, Topics You Need to Engage with Your Teen and What Now? Each section seeks to help parents navigate the nuances of raising teens in today’s culture of social media, pressures and other potentially negative outside influences. 

I was disappointed by the number of sections that housed real family’s stories about “my kid became transgender” or “my kid told me they were gay,” while these stories ultimately did not become religion driven per se and warmed up as the chapter progressed, I was disheartened that better topics/stories weren’t chosen. 

Additionally, in the third key section, titled “Topics You Need to Engage with Your Teen,” readers were introduced to topics such as sex, college, videogames, phones, etc. however the order of these topics seemed illogical.  For instance, the section on college came before the topic of drugs or anxiety as if drugs and anxiety didn’t start until after teens begin looking into colleges. 

Otherwise, Engaging Your Teen’s World provided a safe platform for parents to feel heard and gave solutions to continue working to engage teens in their faith.  While it certainly wasn’t a “catch-all” book providing all the answers, it did prove to be a good starting point for parents worried about their teens straying from their faith and values. 

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

The High-Rise Diver by Julia Von Lucadou, translated by Sharmila Cohen

Publication Date: March 2nd, 2021

Rating: 4 Stars

Imagine this, you are a champion diver, lined up for your run at the top of a high BUILDING in your skin tight “flysuit,” running for takeoff, jumping and holding your form until just before you hit the ground where you release and fly into the air.  Constantly defying death, maintaining peak physical form and appealing to the masses.  Your life, financial stability and identity are all woven into this feat.

This is Riva’s life, but suddenly one day she decides she’s had enough of it.  She’s one of the most famous high-rise divers, but she breaks her contracts and commitments and becomes under constant psychological monitoring as teams work to “fix” her, watching her every move on cameras in her own house and city. 

This dystopian fiction lives up to the comparisons made of it as it’s compared to The Handmaid’s Tale and The Circle.  Providing a disturbing mix of technology and privacy concerns as citizens succumb to the invasion of privacy for the tradeoff of a better life.  The High-Rise Diver is realistically futuristic and believable, a scary combination indeed.  Well written, seamlessly translated, and all encompassing, this read does not disappoint.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher; all opinions are my own.

The Great Godden by Meg Rosoff

Publication Date: July 9th, 2020

Rating: 3 ¼Stars

Summers are spent at the family beach house.  These summers are our unnamed narrator’s family’s time to unwind, be bored in the mundane and bask in the sun and sea. But this summer is different, Hugo and Kit Godden are joining them as their movie star mother drops them at her godmother’s door and dashes.  The Godden brothers could not be more dissimilar.  Kit is radiant, with movie star good looks, while Hugo prefers to remain on the fringes, alone and with his own thoughts. 

This introspective, family drama is not what one would expect.  Tantalizing, mesmerizing and unexpected, author Meg Rosoff delivers a smashing summer hit.  A coming of age story for both youg and old adults, so unexpected it’s refreshing. 

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher; all opinions are my own.

Shared Universe: New and Selected Poems 1995-2020 by Paul Vermeersch

 Publication Date: September 1st, 2020

Rating: 3 Stars

The universes created by Vermeersch in this collection of poems are mystical, creative and engrossing.  With Daniel Scott Tysdal’s introduction readers get a sneak peak on what to expect page-by-page, or should I say universe-by-universe.  Unlike a typical then to now collection, Vermeersch opts to stray from the chronological order typically seen.  Rather, this collection takes on a more logical jaunt through the beginning to end of times as I’ve interpreted it, and that’s the beauty of poems, their circumstance and grip is in the eye of the beholder.

Buckle up for this ride through the fantastical ages as Vermeersch delivers a wholly captivating collection of poems throughout the decades.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher; all opinions are my own.

The Escape (US Marshals #1) by Lisa Harris

Publication Date: November 3rd, 2020

Rating: 4 Stars

Jonas and Madison have both had and lost love in different ways, and while they’ve had years to move on the trauma remains.  But, after a plane crash leaves them with a felon on the loose, they have to put their traumas behind them as they trek across the country in a manhunt to recapture their prisoner. 

Jonas and Madison’s personal history’s slow burn throughout this book, connecting them on a deeper level as the search intensifies, however the action within is anything but slow.  Traversing the United States, author Lisa Harris provides us with two exceptionally strong main characters and a very manipulative con artist, making for a devouring read as she kicks off this latest series.

The Escape just happens to be a perfect escape as this suspenseful romance will certainly keep readers up at night as they hunt down Barrick alongside the US Marshals within.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher; all opinions are my own.

Reach Out, Gather In: 40 Days to Opening Your Heart and Home by Karen Ehman

Publication Date: October 20th, 2020

Rating: 4 Stars

Growing up our home was always an open door where friends could kick off their shoes, hang out and eat endlessly.  Now, with my own child on the way, I hope to successfully replicate this atmosphere of welcome, relaxation and love.  It is for this very reason I felt compelled to pick up Reach Out, Gather In

Ehman’s newest release is the perfect tool for mothers, fathers or family members looking to get comfortable with a messy house and thrown together meals for strangers and friends that walk through their door.  Advice, guidance, tips and tricks are concisely offered in 40 weekday chunks, each end-capped by delicious recipes with ingredients readily available in most fridges.

Not only will the recipes be referred to time and time again as I open my own doors, but the advice and reassurance provide readers with exactly the confidence boost needed to make their space a gathering place for lively conversations, safe sharing and welcoming to all.

*Disclaimer: a review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

The Love Note by Joanna Davidson Politano

Publication Date: October 20th, 2020

Rating: 3 ½ Stars

Who would have thought an undelivered note, found years later amongst another’s things, could cause so much stir in an old and bitter house?  This captivating story set in simpler times reminds us to never take a moment with a loved one for granted.  Wholly enchanting with blazingly strong female characters, reader’s hearts will be ripped right out from their chest as Willa seeks to achieve her dreams and maintain her independence.

Author, Joanna Davidson Politano, transports readers back in time as Willa seeks to forage her own path a female doctor, withstanding marriage proposals in a time when marriage was a womanly duty.  The characters within are all multi-layered with individual complexities slowly unraveling as the pages unfold.  Politano uses the words within a love letter as she delivers an entirely engrossing plotline, full of historical romance, love and blazing one’s own path.

*Disclaimer: a review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

They’re Gone by E.A. Barres

Publication Date: November 10th, 2020

Rating: 3 ½ Stars

Two seemingly opposite women become forced into the same bloody fight when both of their husband’s are murdered on the same night.

Deb is a suburban wife, still reeling from the unexpected murder of her strait-laced husband. Cessy, a bartender working to make ends meet, is relieved by the murder of her abusive husband.  Yet, these women have something very important in common.  Rotating between Deb and Cessy, readers are thrust into the minds of two diversely different women. 

As a reader, I always find it curious when male writers attempt to take on women’s issues.  Author, E.A. Barre, successfully pulls off this feat, not only capturing the thoughts of women but adequately portraying their unique fears and insecurities as he ensnares the female mind in his creation of complex, layered women of color. 

While the storyline seemed far fetched at times, They’re Gone wrapped smoothly, albeit disturbingly, as Deb and Cessy race against time to secure their safety and security from the decisions made by their husbands.  Set in the MD/VA/DC triangle, They’re Gone is a captivating read, full of lies, deceit and murder. 

*Disclaimer: a review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

The Price of Valor (Global Search and Rescue #3) by Susan May Warren

Publication Date: October 6th, 2020

Rating: 4 Stars

Ham thought Signe died 10 years ago, but when Senator White sends him to Italy to recover an asset, he has his heart ripped from him all over again. 

With the rush of a Jason Borne novel and the romance of a cozy read, Susan May Warren gives readers the best of both worlds.  From trekking across Europe to the back woods of Minnesota and the glamourous galas of Washington D.C. political life, Ham and his team lead and exciting life, none more obvious than that within the pages of The Price of Valor

The Price of Valor is not your average suspenseful romance.  The scenery and desire behind Ham’s unabashed love for Signe is burning bright.  This novel further sets itself apart from the pack with its harrowing adventure in beautiful lands.  From natural disaster to disastrous villains this is a read you won’t want to miss and won’t quick forget.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

Blind Spots: Why Students Fail and the Science That Can Save Them by Kimberly Nix Berens, Ph.D.

Publication Date: October 27th, 2020

Rating: 3 Stars

“The learning process is the same regardless of age, gender, race, socioeconomic status, or classification.  We learn through a very specific process: the repeated reinforcement of our behavior over time until it becomes neurologically permanent.  All children learn this way.” – p. 21

Blind Spots provides readers a critical look at the current educational system, both public and private.  While focused in the United States, the problems persist far beyond our national borders.  Author, Kimberly Nix Berens asks readers to re-evaluate the preconceived ideas surrounding our existing system.  She succeeds in pointing out the blind spots that persist and failed measurement systems in place.

As a scientist, Berens provides evidence and apt references, delivering a strong basis for the claims she makes within.  Using data and science, Berens opens educators and parents’ eyes to the atrocities of our educational system.  Pointing out how we are being led to believe our systems are “superior” and “adequate,” while so many students are failing and/or being diagnosed with learning disorders.  Rather than evaluating the overall educational structure, Berens suggests we are blaming the very students being left behind. 

Overall, Blind Spots places heavy blame on the foundation of education in the United States.  While captivating facts are cited, and the scientific process is adhered to, this book is not a leisurely read.  However, the statements within and solutions provided are compelling.  As for parents with kids labelled by our system as having a “learning disorder” or falling below our standardized measures of learning, this book gives a reassuring view of the truth and achievable solutions to obtain success. 

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person by Frederick Joseph

Publication Date: December 1st, 2020

Rating: 4 ½ Stars

“While this book is meant to be a guide for white people to understand and be better, it’s important that white people also understand that it isn’t the duty of Black people or people of color to explain things.” – Chapter 10: We Don’t Care What Your Black, Brown, or Asian Friend Said was Okay (F.U.B.U.)

Author Frederick Joseph began writing this book several years ago.  During the course of his writing, Frederick admits that at times he felt unable to write with the events unfolding around him.  He, like many others, are tired.  Tired from 2020, tired that Black people continue to suffer pain, trauma and injustices, and tired from so much more.

Throughout the reading of this book, I marked countless pages, earmarking some, at other times texting quotes to friends, and overall learning how to be a better accomplice.  As white people, Frederick encourages us not to be allies but to be accomplices to those in the Black community.  Allies are simply a friend and supporter of people of color, but accomplices are those who are able to knowingly and intentionally volunteer themselves and give assistance to others.  Accomplices are active participants in stopping the wrongdoings and mistreatments of people of color.  They are the people that stand up to those doing wrong and defend their friend, they are the ones that actively kick family members out of their home for disrespecting someone, and they are the ones that actively TRY TO MAKE CHANGE. 

The Black Friend was an intensely emotional book.  Frederick opened up to readers about his own experiences, based on race.  However, despite the traumas he, and many others, have and continue to face he wrote as if he was a friend speaking directly to you, providing information and lists.  The back of the book is filled with lists of people all white individuals should be familiar with, songs, books and movies needing read, watched and listened to and he informative interviews with change-makers, change-doers and prominent individuals within the community. 

I strongly suggest this short, but jam-packed, read to anyone and everyone.  Start committing to be an accomplice.  Educate and inform yourselves so you can help in undoing the wrongdoing that surround us.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

The Key to Love by Betsy St. Amant

Publication Date: October 13th, 2020

Rating: 3 Stars

What does a travel magazine writer and a small-town baker have in common?  Turns out not much. One is completely turned off to romance, and the other has their head in the clouds.  But, do either of them stand a chance against the “love angels,” the very duo that brings this world traveled writer to their small-town after the bakery’s love story goes viral and puts the town of Story, Kansas on the map?

Like Gerard, our hunky travel writer, I too put some pounds on from reading this delectable romance.  The sweet desserts cooked up by Bri are sure to give you a sweet tooth.  Thank goodness this was a quick read, or my wardrobe would have been needing an update from all the mouth-watering moments within. 

Author, Betsy St. Amant cooks up a delicious romance with swoon worthy characters as Bri persuades readers toward the quaintness of small-town living and Gerard seeks to broaden our travel horizons.  An engrossing, if at times predictable and cheesy romance.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat

Publication Date: October 13th, 2020

Rating: 4 Stars

I remember hearing the story on national news in the summer of 2018 of the Thai soccer team stuck in a cave.  It was DAYS of coverage and extremely terrifying despite the thousands of miles separating them from the United States. However, Soontornvat’s All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team is soo much more than that national news coverage.  This book gives us stories of all thirteen boys and their coach, it details the countless local and international volunteers that showed up to help whether it was with water pumps, supplies or diving expertise.  Doctors, cave divers and SEALs from all over flew to the small providence of Mae Sai to lend their skills and knowledge in saving as many trapped boys as they could.  This is more than a story about the flood waters that weren’t supposed to arrive for several more weeks and it is more than the miles of cave they travelled, it is the story of an ordinarily extraordinary group of boys with a  passion for the game of soccer and how the world came together to make sure they lived the long, bountiful life they deserve.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

Blood Moon by Lucy Cuthew

Publication Date: September 2020

Rating: 5 Stars

Written in prose and beautifully captivating as words linger in margins, right, left and center as the author uses the pages to highlight and exclaim Frankie’s story. 

Harriet and Frankie seem to be pulling toward different interest and hobbies.  Childhood friends, inseparable with a shared treehouse HQ in the yard, high school and male drama suddenly seems to be ripping them apart. As Harriet becomes embarrassed by her own decisions, Frankie suddenly falls into her own issues as her period goes viral. 

Ultimately, this is a story of girl power.  Blood Moon re-introduces readers to the goodness of humans and mountains that can be summitted with the support of a few good friends. However, this is not achieved without the wrath of a few trolls, bravery and eventually some growing up, all of which are on full display throughout this fast-paced read. 

*Disclaimer: a review copy was provided by the publisher. All opinions are my own.

The Edge of Belonging by Amanda Cox

Publication Date: September 8th, 2020

Rating: 5 Stars

In her debut novel, Amanda Cox brings readers to tears, in the most beautiful way possible.  The Edge of Belonging weaves the present-day life of Ivy Rose with the story of Harvey, a homeless man who stumbles upon a crying and discarded newborn on the side of the road.  Both of their lives changed that day, in ways they never could have expected.  Simply put, this is the story of Ivy as she returns home present day to clean out her grandmother’s home, trying to make sense of the past as she navigates her present.  It is also the story of Harvey as he falls in love with an abandoned child, who changes his world.

A surprising debut, as powerful as ever, watch out world Cox is a force to be reckoned with.  This book kept me up well past acceptable hours of the night as I was completely engrossed in the characters, their stories and the weaving of timelines. This quick read juggles family and love in all forms and the beauty behind opening one’s heart to it all.

*Disclaimer: a review copy was provided by the publisher. All opinions are my own.

The Christmas Swap by Melody Carlson

Publication Date: September 1st, 2020

Rating: 4 Stars

This short tale of Christmas time love is just what the fall season ordered. At less than 200 pages, this short holiday novella warms the heart as Emma and West navigate drama, deceit and maybe even some inklings of love. 

Not unlike the Christmas movie classic “The Holiday,” starring Jude Law and Cameron Diaz among others, this house swap comes with a side of love and breath-taking beauty as readers are transported into the majestic town of Breckenridge, CO.  Maybe it’s the scenery that captivates readers whole-heartedly, but the stories of learning to ski the mountains, enjoying nights on the town and S’mores in the back yard are just what 2020 ordered.

Author, Melody Carlson, weaves a conversationally heavy story of West and Emma’s narrative leading up to Christmas Eve.  So, dig in and try not to dig out the Christmas tree already in September.

*Disclaimer: a review copy was provided by the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Don’t Look for Me by Wendy Walker

Publication Date: September 15th, 2020

Rating: 4 ½ Stars

What does it take for a mother to just walk away from her life? A husband’s affair?  Grief over a dead child?  What about something her other two surviving children do to her? 

Gone in the middle of a hurricane, Molly Clarke leaves her car, devoid of gas, and seemingly disappears.  But her daughter Nicole doubts this theory and seeks to do what the police could not. This twisted page turner grips readers as each Hastings Town member seems equally guilty of Molly’s disappearance.

What makes this book so devouring?  First, a little background on author Wendy Walker.  Walker graduated magna cum laude from Brown University and Georgetown Law.  She practiced law and held positions in finance before deciding to become an author.  She’s written several powerhouse books including All Is Not Forgotten, Emma in the Night, The Night Before and her newest release Don’t Look for Me.  The penning of these books has earned her the title of international bestseller as her novels have been translated into 23 foreign languages, have been featured on The Today Show, The Reese Witherspoon Book Club, The Book of the Month Club and been optioned for TV and film.  If this wasn’t impressive enough, Walker has arguably earned herself a spot as one of the top psychological thriller authors in present times, drawing on her training in child advocacy and knowledge of trauma and psychology in creating her stories with intriguingly mysterious characters.

So, if this isn’t enticing enough reason to pick up her books, her most recent book is set to release September 15th and is sure to be one of the most talked about novels of the Fall 2020 season.  Don’t Look for Me is so thrilling, creepy and utterly enticing you won’t be able to pry the book from your hand, I know I sure couldn’t.  Walker’s talent is in making readers believe so deeply in one character as the villain before flipping the script not even 10 pages later.  She keeps you on your toes in the best way possible and writes stories so originally enticing, and on par with current events, you can’t not applaud her.

*Disclaimer: a review copy was provided by the publisher. All opinions are my own.

An Oddity of Some Consequence by Gary Dickson

Publication Date: September 15th, 2020

Rating: 5 Stars

I’ve had the pleasure of reading several of Gary Dickson’s works.  His writing style is distinct – formal, crisp and endearing.  His love of travel and the time he spent both domestically and abroad lend favorably to the scenery he so exquisitely details in his books. 

While his previous works, An Improbable Pairing and A Spy With Scruples, were linked by the couple within the pages, this most recent penning is so far beyond the scope of Dickson’s last two books, but enticingly similar.  For instance, the writing is exactly what you’ve come to love about Dickson, his signature of including a strong and independent female character continues, the love story within is just as engrossing and the globe trotting is excitingly far flung and numerous.  However, the story and plot are so farfetched from anything he has done before it is an exhilarating freshness I was not anticipating.

An Oddity of Some Consequence gives readers Robert, a man full of wisdom and years, but Robert has a significant secret he is holding onto tightly, one he is not willing to reveal despite the love he’s quickly feeling for Alexis.  It also gives us Alexis, a rich, well-educated, strong female lead who is intriguing in her own right and refuses to stop digging into Robert’s past to uncover the secret he firmly clings to.  The question at the forefront of Robert and Alexis’ tale is whether love can cease to exist after you’ve run away from it, and whether a person can really live a full life without it? 

This book is so beautiful as Dickson paints the extraordinary European scenery for his readers, bookending it with his own experience of living in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills.  An Oddity of Some Consequence is so far beyond anything you’ve read before, you will not want to miss it.  This is sure to make you an instant fan of Dickson’s storytelling.

*Disclaimer: a review copy was provided by the author. All opinions are my own.

Beauty Mark: A Verse Novel of Marilyn Monroe by Carole Boston Weatherford

Publication Date: September 8th, 2020

Rating: 4 ½ Stars

Beauty Mark brings us Marilyn Monroe in an ENTIRELY new way.  Written in prose and verse, this decorated non-fiction author pens an incredible reflection of memories from Monroe’s life. From her tumultuous childhood to her rollercoaster of fame and marriages, Beauty Mark is written in the first person as readers are offered a wholly engrossing story of Marilyn Monroe’s life like we’ve never seen before.

I cannot stress enough how unique this author’s writing style is.  Carole Boston Weatherford has certainly earned every non-fiction writing award she has won, and rightfully so her flair is so impressive.  In this, her most recent work, she drops the reader squarely into Monroe’s life and offers an unforgiving look at her extraordinary “rise from the ashes” life.  Prior to reading this book I was relatively unaware of Marilyn Monroe’s life and career, other than the readily available images of her Hollywood fame and movie posters.  However, at the conclusion of this read I felt like a Marilyn Monroe expert as readers are left feeling like they lived her life alongside her as a friend and confidant given the way this is so expertly written. 

I will certainly be picking up more of this author’s works!  As well as spreading my Monroe knowledge to all I come across. 

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

Two Reviews: Everything I Thought I Knew by Shannon Takaoka & Making Friends with Alice Dyson by Poppy Nwosu

Everything I Thought I Knew by Shannon Takaoka

Publication Date: October 13th, 2020

Rating: 4 Stars

Chloe is an overachieving senior, stressed and preparing for finals and college admissions.  So, when she passes out at cross country and learns she immediately needs a heart transplant, her life quickly becomes a series of “before Chloe” and “after Chloe.”  “After Chloe” suddenly isn’t into schoolwork, she likes surfing and finds herself hanging with a very different crowd.

This book takes a hard look at the devastating mental and emotional price transplant recipients experience. It provides a unique perspective on the changes that occur both externally and internally when such a traumatic event unfolds.  The author does an incredible job emotionally tying the reader to Chloe’s experience.  The story is entirely enticing and trippy at times, but powerful and emotional all the same.  Extremely well done take on adolescence and the emotional rollercoaster that life can sometimes take us on.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.


Making Friends with Alice Dyson by Poppy Nwosu

Publication Date: September 15th, 2020

Rating: 3 ½ Stars

Alice Dyson is content being the school nerd, focusing on her studies and her friendship with May.  But, one afternoon a video of her dancing alongside the school “bad boy,” Teddy Taualai, goes viral and suddenly she’s getting more attention than she ever wanted.  A heartwarming story about the importance of remaining true to yourself and your friends, Making Friends with Alice Dyson is a swoon-worthy young adult read.

While this book is set in Alice’s senior year of high school, the dialogue, drama and maturities seemed more fit for a younger high school experience.  However, the story maintained catchy and engrossing themes as the characters’ needs to fit in were relatable no matter the age. 

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

A Reason to Be: A Novel by Norman McCombs

Publication Date: September 1st, 2020

Rating: 4 Stars

“Up until he had laid eyes on Suzy, Douglas wasn’t sure if he had any ‘reason to be,’ as Mark had put it.  But he knew now in a way he could not have known when he awoke this morning, that one of his reasons to be was named Suzy.” – pg. 17

A Reason to Be is a romantic tale of love after 50 and the discovering of one’s past. Present day Douglas is facing the loss of his wife, with waning motivation to get up in the morning he is urged to find a renewed passion in his genealogy.  This hunger for genealogy may or may not have something to do with the librarian tasked with assisting him, but it makes for a unique courting nonetheless. Rotating between Douglas’ present-day life with Suzy, the librarian, and his ancestors’ stories through the ages this story resonates and tugs at the heartstrings of forgiveness, understanding and the finding of one’s “reason to be.”

Readers no longer have to search far and wide for an over 50 romance that isn’t over the top or forced.  Author, Norman McCombs, provides a delicate story of finding new love and a rejuvenated sense of hope and purpose.  This entangling story of how our past doesn’t define our present is the spark of excitement we all need during these times of limited travel.  As we are invited to travel back to Scotland, Europe, Canada and finally New York, readers are quickly captivated by the story of the McComb family name.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

The Every Body Book: The LGBTQ+ Inclusive Guide for Kids about Sex, Gender, Bodies, and Families by Rachel E Simon, Noah Grigni (Illustrator)

Publication Date: June 18th, 2020

Rating: 4 Stars

This short book is PACKED with information for teens about their bodies and identities. Parents and teens alike are certain to learn a thing or two about biological sex versus sexuality and identities.  From cis to trans, gay to pansexual and intersex, a wide array of topics are appropriately covered.  The author does a great job of preaching respect for all and the importance of maintaining privacy and not “outing” others.  The author even goes so far as to explain intercourse, pregnancy, birth contraception and more following the entirety of life. 

The Every Body Book is a simple read with illustrated pictures that help to cover or start the hard conversations parents and children are likely to encounter.  This all-encompassing guide is a great tool to keep on hand as your child matures.  Well compiled and detailed as author, Rachel E Simon, uses her experiences as a clinical psychotherapist and sexuality educator to provide children and families with a one-of-a-kind resource for understanding ourselves and others.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the author/publisher.  All opinions are my own.

The Unlocking Season by Gail Bowen

Publication Date: September 1st, 2020

Rating: 3 Stars

Joanne’s life has been fraught with despair and drama.  It’s for that reason a six-episode limited series is being developed on her life, friendship and childhood.  But, when the writer dies mysteriously and a series of events seeks to further derail the project, it seems more may be a stake than just a TV series.

The Unlocking Season provides readers an intimate look inside the production and dramatics of filmmaking and friendships.  This book takes readers into a theatrical world of chaos.  Who knew so much could go wrong? This read almost provides too much in depth and descriptive details on the innerworkings of the film industry as they become somewhat distracting from the underlying thrills, suspense and mystery.  But, ultimately the unwinding of the director’s mysterious death, how each character played a role, and the loveable family Joanne has created in adulthood win out for a pleasurable, if at times creepy, read.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

Cities in Layers by Philip Steele, Andres Lozano (Illustrations)

Publication Date: August 11th, 2020

Rating: 4 Stars

Cities are large settlements of people which the book defines beautifully as comprising of walls or defenses, water, buildings, roads or railways, bridges, boats and monuments. This read looks at six cities through time, ranging from Rome in 753 BCE to New York City present day.  Each chapter begins with facts about the city, famous people who have lived there and the changes from modern day to the city beginning.  This is followed by an exciting and interactive illustrated map highlighting more than a dozen important landmarks through the years.

Readers will have fun tracking the landmarks by number across the interactive map as you are invited to learn more about each monument, church, plaza, bridge and more.  While COVID may have halted our travels, Cities in Layers provides the perfect opportunity to plan your next destination and historic stops along the way.  This book invites families to learn more about six key cities around the world as they daydream about travels to foreign, or even local, lands.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

Rural Voices: 15 Authors Challenge Assumptions About Small-Town America edited by Nora Shalaway Carpenter

Publication Date: October 13th, 2020

Rating: 4 Stars

Rural, for the purpose of this book, as defined in the introduction, “refers to belonging to a community consisting of ten thousand people or fewer that is a significant driving distance from an urban area.” As someone who grew up and continues to live in Iowa, this book was intriguing to me.  Many think of my state as a “flyover state,” with nothing to offer but corn and cows.  As such, I was drawn to this read and was not disappointed or even surprised by the stories each author brought to this compilation.

15 authors spanning across rural America come together in this enchanting read. Based on their experiences living in small towns of America, they open their lives and their towns to the readers, showing us not only a piece of their heard, but the culture of their town.

15 short stories capture the similarities, differences and struggles of rural America and the stereotypes that often come with such a label. Some authors within provide glimpses at the “differentness” of small town residents and lower income people, while others open our hearts to the love and passion they all have for their rural upbringings. But ALL authors show another side of small town living, breaking the stereotypes and inviting us in.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

Kids Fight Plastic: How to be a #2minutesuperhero by Martin Dorey

Publication Date: August 1st, 2020

Rating: 4 Stars

According to this book, the #2minutebeachclean was a challenge started by author Martin Dorey after going to his local beach and experiencing first-hand the horrible amount of plastic littering the beach.  The hashtag quickly caught on and has evolved into a worldwide call to action as citizens work together to fight plastic.

Along the same lines as this #2minutebeachclean Kids Fight Plastic is a short plea to both parents and kids to clean up their home’s use of plastic, while becoming more aware of the dangers and harm that often come from single use plastics. 

There is much to be learned from this book. From the types of plastic, to what is considered good or bad plastic and how each impacts our planet. The author has set this book up to include 16 kid and family friendly missions to make each of us a superhero.  The missions range from raiding your lunch of single use plastics to being more conscious about your clothes in your closet to party decorations and what goes down your toilet.  The author is clearly passionate and builds on his original #2minutechallenge to engage more families in his fight.

How can we be better? How can we save the ocean? The what can start in our own homes in these simple, easy to follow missions to leave the world a better place.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

Don’t Keep Silent (Uncommon Justice #3) by Elizabeth Goddard

Publication Date: June 30th, 2020

Rating: 3 Stars

Rae is an investigative reporter, still reeling from a story that turned dangerous and almost got her and an undercover agent killed.  But, when her sister-in-law goes missing, her brother asks her to use her talents to find her, bringing Rae right back into the path of the undercover agent she nearly killed, Liam McKade.

While Don’t Keep Silent is written as a standalone, the reader feels a missing piece of the puzzle in Liam and Rae’s first encounter and embattled past. The author works diligently to weave both stories together, but one cannot help but feel cheated out of the full history of two strong characters.

Otherwise, this story does not lack for action and suspense with MANY dubious and daunting characters.  Each chapter seems to bring the reader a new suspect as Rae works quickly to find the story that hits closest to home, involving her college roommate turned sister-in-law.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

These Nameless Things by Shawn Smucker

Publication Date: June 30th, 2020

Rating: 3 Stars

The author’s note indicates this book was inspired by Dante’s Inferno.  Truthfully, this is not a story I am well versed in, so I read These Nameless Things with an open, unencumbered mind. As such, the connections to Dante’s Inferno were not made, regardless of if they were there or not. However, this read does offer a unique setting, filled with an array of characters, each with a distinctive story. 

Dan and the other members of his mountain community have all run from something, what exactly they are running from has been lost in their memories.  This “community” is filled with people who have escaped from the West and eventually find forgiveness or strength to continue their journey to the East.  Except Dan, Dan knows he’s waiting for his brother.  A brother he hardly remembers but feels an urge to linger for. Then suddenly unexpected things start happening around the “community” and Dan is forced to decide if he should return to the West in search of his brother or continue to wait.

As I read this book, I kept trying to fit the title of this book with the mystical-esque community on the prairie within.  There are several mentions of the nameless things surrounding Dan, whether in the silence or beyond his field of view.  As Dan lives under the shadow of the mountain, fearing what he cannot see or remember there are many parallels to one’s real life and the worries we face daily, especially as we weather the current pandemic we face. 

After reading several of Shawn Smucker’s books, his writing style and stories continue to stick out for their unique characters and plots.  He continues to show his range of talent in this newest penning as he draws further upon his imagination and storytelling abilities in a whole new way.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel by Sheela Chari

Publication Date: October 6th, 2020

Rating: 4 ½ Stars

Think Ender’s Game when you crack open this young adult novel.  Mars Patel and his gang are constantly finding themselves in detention for pranks.  But, when Aurora, and then Jonas, go missing he is determined to find them.  Along the way, Mars discovers kids are going missing from all over the world and Oliver Pruitt of Pruitt Prep (think Elon Musk) may have something to do with it.

Mixed with podcast entries, group text messages and school flyers, this read is anything BUT ordinary.  Mars and his crew are determined to stop at nothing.  An explosive series debut in what promises to be an extraordinary adventure of Mar Patel.  This is a wildly entertaining and seriously addicting read you will not want to miss.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher. All opinions are my own.

What Momma Left Behind by Cindy K. Sproles

Publication Date: June 2nd, 2020

Rating: 3 Stars

“Daddy was right about these mountains. Even in the hardest of times their beauty speaks to you. Life is hard here. A body only has the simple things to keep them goin. A man closes his eyes at night and just prays to open them when the rooster crows.” – p. 161

Set in the 1800’s among the Appalachian Mountains the author captures the speech of the time as well as the hardships faced by many in this area in the 1800’s.  Opening with an author’s note regarding “the fever” that killed many souls in the mountains, What Momma Left Behind transports readers to the struggles, fears and insecurities faced by many children orphaned by “the fever.”

Kicking off with the death of Worie’s momma, this is a tale of loss, suffering and love.  With themes of adoption, hardship and family drama the author’s skilled penning conveys harder times.  While a short read, the language of the less educated, mountain community of the 1800’s certainly slowed my reading speed, but the hardships and hard-fought battles quickly puts life into perspective and is more than worth the read.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

Stories That Bind Us by Susie Finkbeiner

Publication Date: June 2nd, 2020

Rating: 3 Stars

Author, Susie Finkbeiner, is so skilled at capturing families in her novels that it was unsurprising her ability to tug at the heart strings in this newest one Stories That Bind Us

Better Sweet had a less than perfect childhood, but after marrying Norman Sweet the Sweet family immediately wrapped her in their love.  But when Norm suddenly passes, Betty is left as a window in fear of once again being without family.

After having previously read All Manner of Things by this same author I was more than prepared for the intricate family stories she so expertly weaves into her plot lines. Taking on hard themes in this newest penning, this is a story of stories.  From stories of her family, her love and her life after the sudden loss of her husband. While slow in parts, as every family’s life can be, the love captured within the pages and the family bonds snaking across generations are too heartwarming not to read.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

Shifting Shadows: How a New York Drug Lord Found Freedom in the Last Place He Expected by Herman Mendoza

Publication Date: May 5th, 2020

Rating: 4 ½ Stars

Herman gets in with a bad crowd from an early age, doing, and then later selling, drugs.  After marrying his childhood sweetheart, as a way to make ends meet, he decides to go into the ILLEGAL family business.  After countless years in jail, Mendoza finds God and turns his life around. 

Shifting Shadows is a cumulation of his life’s story.  It speaks of the ability to be reborn, renewed and forgiven despite overwhelming odds against you.  Herman could have spent life in prison.  In fact, many with his charges do.  He had a lavish lifestyle, but described himself as never feeling happy, until he returned to prison and found a higher power. 

God certainly played a role in the outcome of Herman Mendoza’s life, but this story is a powerful, all encompassing account of the path he took to get back on track.  This story is well worth the read and despite everything, you may leave it rooting for Mendoza, his family and many others like him.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

Running From the Dead: A Crime Novel by Mike Knowles

Publication Date: June 2nd, 2020

Rating: 4 ¼ Stars

Sam Jones is a private investigator.  For six years he’s been trying to solve the disappearance of an 8-year-old that the police have all but given up on.  He solves it, but with what would seem to be his last week of freedom, due to the choices he made upon confronting the kidnapper, rather than tell the woman who hired him to find her son, he feels driven to save one more person.  The person he chooses to save comes to him in the form of a message on the back of the bathroom door in graffiti. 

Calmly fast-paced is the best way to describe Running From the Dead as Jones unearths many different characters, each playing a crucial role in solving this mysterious case.  Author Mike Knowles does an exceptional job in crafting his writing style around the composed disposition Jones maintains as he races against the clock to save one last person.  Highly recommend this story of an unruffled, unique and fascinating PI, Sam Jones.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

Starfish Pier (Hope Harbor #6) by Irene Hannon

Publication Date: March 31st, 2020

Rating: 2 ½ Stars

Steven is ex-military, settling into Hope Harbor as a fish charter boat captain. Holly is newer to town, taking over as the first-grade teacher and diving into volunteer work at the local church.  Both harbor their own secrets. 

Starfish Pier is not my first experience with author Irene Hannon.  After previously reading Hidden Peril, a suspenseful romance, Starfish Pier was a much more tranquil vibe. However, from the start I was skeptical about the abruptness of their feelings for one another.  From literally the moment Holly stumbles on his boat they are smitten but fighting back love.  The chemistry of Steven and Holly was hard to feel as the shifting of perspectives from Steven, to Holly, to Steven’s brother Patrick, and even Holly’s neighbor Pete added to the forced feeling of their romantic bond.  Regardless, Hannon holds nothing back as she embraces some incredibly heavy themes and topics.  Thus, as the setting remains idealistic, there are certainly some heavy storms waged on land, in hearts and through the secrets each holds. 

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

Standoff (Natchez Trace Park Rangers #1) by Patricia Bradley

Publication Date: May 5th, 2020

Rating: 3 ½ Stars

Brooke is excited to be following in her father’s footsteps.  She’s been training to become a law enforcement officer in the National Park Ranger service. However, prior to her ride along training with her father he abruptly cancels and is later found dead. 

Luke is deep undercover as a drug dealer.  He’s returned to his summer home, next door to Brooke, as part of his most recent operation.  After 14 years without seeing or communicating with Brooke he is thrown right back into the feelings they had for each other all those years ago.  But Brooke is now dating the town’s most eligible bachelor.

Despite being stuck in a love triangle, Brooke’s character remains a strong, independent female lead.  Refusing to be anything but blunt with her family and male suitors, Brooke proves to be a spitfire as the principle character. This strength of hers aids in bringing an entirely eventful and fast-paced story to the hands of all readers.  Bradley continues to create dazzling stories, full of explosive suspense, strong characters and action-packed narratives so be sure to pick up this, her latest.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

A Spy With Scruples by Gary Dickson

Publication Date: March 3rd, 2020

Rating: 4 ¼ Stars

I’ve been pondering how to properly dissect this read. An Improbable Pairing was such a flirty, coming to Switzerland story as Scott Stoddard is knocked off his feet by the Countess de Rovere, a woman so far out of his league an improbably but perfect pairing they make.  So, when I learned of this second novel I expected more of the same.

First, I was pleasantly surprised to encounter that this second read was strong enough to hold as a standalone.  Providing enough history to both refresh one’s memory of the first while not feeling like those diving into book two were really missing out.  Where book one spun a pleasurable love story, book two created an atmosphere of deception, guilt and intrigue.  One of my favorite aspects of the Stoddard’s, and subsequently Dickson’s storytelling, is that while Mrs. Stoddard, the former Countess de Rovere, is a strong and powerful character, the story remains primarily dedicated to Scott and his more American views as he aims to maintain his own success outside of the intrigue and celebrity of his new wife. Furthermore, Dickson chooses to address the Vietnam war from an entirely unique angle.  Providing the readers with an international, espionage angle while maintain the aristocratic, deliberate and formal writing we’ve come to enjoy in the first book.

*Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.  All opinions are my own.

“Crime Beat Girl” by Geri L. Dreiling

Reader Views Book Reviews

Crime Beat Girl

Geri L. Dreiling
Geri L. Dreiling (2020)
ISBN 9781735030319
Reviewed by Jill Rey for Reader Views (12/2020)

Drawing on her personal career as a journalist and lawyer, author Geri L. Dreiling immerses readers in Debbie’s life as a crime beat journalist returning home to help her well-known attorney mother navigate breast cancer treatment.

“Crime Beat Girl” kicks off as reporter, Debbie, returns to her hometown of St. Louis to care for her mother recently diagnosed with breast cancer. After dropping her fiancé and journalistic life in D.C. she doesn’t quite know what to expect of her new career in St. Louis as a writer for a print and online magazine, edited by a high school contact. However, as she arrives in town Debbie happens to be eyewitness to an out of control Audi driver as he plows down and kills one teen pedestrian. From there, her role…

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“The Discovery” by Patrick M. Garry

Reader Views Book Reviews

The Discovery

Patrick M. Garry
Kenric Books (2020)
ISBN 9780983370376
Reviewed by Jill Rey for Reader Views (12/2020)

“The Discovery” is a love story for small towns as the pull between small and big makes its way to the pages in the form of a legal battle between family members.

Author, Patrick M. Garry, provides readers with an action-packed legal drama as a small-town lawyer takes on a New York powerhouse firm in a seemingly unwinnable contract law dispute. With a subtle romance brewing behind the main event, “The Discovery” brings readers family tension, male friendships and Frank, a quiet lawyer with feelings that get in the way of ethics once in a while. All of these ingredients mix for a twisted, yet exciting result.

Garry takes a unique approach to unraveling Frank’s life, peppering every few chapters with first person narrative accounts from Frank’s past customers, wife and other…

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“The Donor” by Patrick M. Garry

Reader Views Book Reviews

The Donor

Patrick M. Garry
Kenric Books (2020)
ISBN 9780983370390
Reviewed by Jill Rey for Reader Views (11/20)

“Just when you think you have it all figured out, maybe you don’t.” – p. 271. This quote, found on the final page of this whirlwind of a book, “The Donor,” by Patrick M. Garry, does an entirely thorough job summing up the life of Mr. Sibley Cathright, while remaining vague enough to not entirely spoil the read.

Sibley is a Las Vegas loan collector. He’s finally travelling home to Minnesota to collect on a loan gone sideways. From the beginning, nothing about this loan collection has been his usual, from the borrower being pre-warned of his visit to the error in accounting, so it’s unsurprising when Sibley befriends one of the hotel’s young bus boys, Nathan. While Sibley’s views on Nathan’s intention may be misconstrued, the reader soon learns that Nathan…

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“A Lifetime of Men” by Ciahnan Darrell

Reader Views Book Reviews

A Lifetime of Men

Ciahnan Quinn Darrell
Propertius Press (2020)
ISBN 9781716707933
Reviewed by Jill Rey for Reader Views (11/2020)

Wow, there isn’t a single angle in which “A Lifetime of Men” doesn’t surround you and squeeze out every emotion.

A story within a story, “A Lifetime of Men” follows three distinct females: Bo, Sarah, and Tolan. Beginning with Tolan stumbling upon a novel in process on her mother’s computer potentially detailing the story behind the elusive scar on her mother’s face. As Tolan navigates her mother’s story, she can’t help but to begin thinking of it more as a memoir than a work of fiction. Rotating between Tolan’s present day as she works on discovering her identity and sexuality, to Bo’s harsh childhood and impressive adult endeavors, finally wrapping up with Sarah’s story of orphan to lover. This phenomenal debut impressively rockets to one of my 2020 favorites, as…

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“The Elizabeth Walker Affair” by Robert Lane

Reader Views Book Reviews

The Elizabeth Walker Affair

Robert Lane
Mason Alley Publishing (2020)
ISBN 9781732294523
Reviewed by Jill Rey for Reader Views (1/2021)

The fact that “The Elizabeth Walker Affair” is the seventh book in the Jake Travis novel series is a testament to the author’s way with words and story crafting. The intricate details of the setting and character descriptions loll the reader into the Florida climate and scenery Lane creates.

Bookended by love, this winding tale kicks off with a private murder investigation ignited by a visit from a US Marshal. “The Elizabeth Walker Affair” is delightfully and heartbreakingly romantic while shrouded in the mystery of death and killing. Rocketing into action within the first twenty pages, readers are kept firmly within the plot’s grasp until the very last page.

Author, Robert Lane, enchants readers as we explore different cities within the Florida corridor, attending several lobbyist fundraisers and confronting several…

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“The Art of Advertising” by Max Ivaniy

Reader Views Book Reviews

The Art of Advertising: How to Sell Anything to Anyone

Max Ivaniy
Max Ivaniy (2020)
ISBN 9781777441821
Reviewed by Jill Rey for Reader Views (1/2021)

There is a lot packed into this 400+ page book. Not all of it will be useful to every business or business owner, but it provides enough of a broad stroke summary to be helpful and applicable to all in some way or another. Whether through simplistic models, to quotes from advertising superstars over the years, “The Art of Advertising” is really a reference guide to get businesses advertising and taking that leap towards more profit potential.

“Money is just a scorecard of the value you create for your customers.” – p. 466

Author Max Ivaniy, seemingly gives readers the “secret sauce” for creating ads themselves and achieving higher profitability through “The Art of Advertising.” However, there is a time, place and purpose for “stories”…

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