Category Archives: Review

Review: Among the Lesser Gods by Margo Catts

Title: Among the Lesser Gods by Margo Catts
Publisher: Arcade Publishing
Genre: Historical (70s), Women’s Fiction
Length: 336 pages
Book Rating: A

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

For fans of authors like Barbara Kingsolver and Leif Enger, a stunning new voice in contemporary literary fiction.

“Tragedy and blessing. Leave them alone long enough, and it gets real hard to tell them apart.”

Elena Alvarez is living a cursed life. From the deadly fire she accidentally set as a child, to her mother’s abandonment, and now to an unwanted pregnancy, she knows better than most that small actions can have terrible consequences. Driven to the high mountains surrounding Leadville, Colorado by her latest bad decision, she’s intent on putting off the future. Perhaps there she can just hide in her grandmother’s isolated cabin and wait for something—anything—to make her next choice for her.

Instead, she is confronted by reflections of her own troubles wherever she turns—the recent widower and his two children adrift in a changed world, Elena’s own mysterious family history, and the interwoven lives within the town itself. Bit by bit, Elena begins to question her understanding of cause and effect, reexamining the tragedies she’s held on to and the wounds she’s refused to let heal.

But when the children go missing, Elena’s fragile new peace is shattered. It’s only at the prospect of fresh loss and blame that she will discover the truth of the terrible burdens we take upon ourselves, the way tragedy and redemption are inevitably intertwined—and how curses can sometimes lead to blessings, however disguised.

Review:

Among the Lesser Gods by Margo Catts is an emotional novel of self-discovery, self forgiveness and redemption.

Twenty-two year old Elena Alvarez is no stranger to making mistakes that culminate with life-altering consequences. On the brink of graduating from college, she is unsure what comes next for her when her beloved grandmother offers her a safe refuge in Leadville, CO. Trying to outrun her past while planning for her future, Elena wonders if she is the best person to take care of two grieving children while their father is out on the road. Unexpectedly connecting with her charges, eleven year old Kevin and five year old Sarah, Elena’s attempts to help them heal from their loss have a surprising effect on the wounds she carries from her own somewhat tragic past.

Having never been given the opportunity to deal with the defining moment of her life, Elena self-sabotages herself at every juncture. Always trying to outrun her missteps without examining the reason she makes such ill-fated decisions, Elena’s latest error in judgment results in an unexpected pregnancy. She is only planning to remain in CO temporarily as she tries to decide whether or not she wants to keep her baby or give it up for adoption. While neither option feels quite right, Elena does not think she has what it takes to raise a child but will she change her mind by summer’s end?

Elena is initially out of her element as she begins caring for Kevin and Sarah.  Armed with advice from her grandmother, she manages to make surprisingly sound decisions about how she and the kids spend their days. However, she feels like she is well of her depth when it comes to the messy emotions and small dramas that crop up with the children. As Elena offers helpful advice to Kevin and Sarah, she is quite shocked to discover these life lessons also apply to her. These shifts in her perception and the meaningful discussions with her grandmother are rather eye opening and prove to be quite healing. With this newfound awareness, Elena arrives at startling conclusions about some of the motivation for the choices she has made throughout her life. Armed with a fresh outlook and finally forgiving herself for the mistakes of her past, will Elena decide to keep her baby? Will she remain in Leadville?

Among the Lesser Gods is a poignant yet heartwarming novel that is quite captivating. The storyline is well-written and quite thought-provoking. The characters are richly developed and multi-faceted with relatable strengths and weaknesses. Elena is easy to relate to and it is an absolute joy watching her forgive herself for past mistakes and begin making plans for her future. The setting is absolutely perfect and Margo Catts brings both the town and its residents vibrantly to life. An utterly marvelous debut that is deeply affecting and will linger in readers’ hearts and minds long after the last page is turned.

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Filed under Among the Lesser Gods, Arcade Publishing, Historical, Historical (70s), Margo Catts, Rated A, Review

Review: Cold Summer by Gwen Cole

Title: Cold Summer by Gwen Cole
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Young Adult, Time Travel
Length: 334 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

Today, he’s a high school dropout with no future.

Tomorrow, he’s a soldier in World War II.

Kale Jackson has spent years trying to control his time-traveling ability but hasn’t had much luck. One day he lives in 1945, fighting in the war as a sharpshooter and helplessly watching soldiers—friends—die. Then the next day, he’s back in the present, where WWII has bled into his modern life in the form of PTSD, straining his relationship with his father and the few friends he has left. Every day it becomes harder to hide his battle wounds, both physical and mental, from the past.

When the ex-girl-next-door, Harper, moves back to town, thoughts of what could be if only he had a normal life begin to haunt him. Harper reminds him of the person he was before the PTSD, which helps anchor him to the present. With practice, maybe Kale could remain in the present permanently and never step foot on a battlefield again. Maybe he can have the normal life he craves.

But then Harper finds Kale’s name in a historical article—and he’s listed as a casualty of the war. Is Kale’s death inevitable? Does this mean that, one of these days, when Kale travels to the past, he may not come back?

Kale knows now that he must learn to control his time-traveling ability to save himself and his chance at a life with Harper. Otherwise, he’ll be killed in a time where he doesn’t belong by a bullet that was never meant for him.

Review:

In Cold Summer by Gwen Cole, a teen’s time-traveling ability endangers his life and puts him at odds with his family.

Kale Jackson began time-traveling at seven years of age and recently his “trips” have begun to occur with alarming frequency. His recent travels take him back in time to World War II where his skills as a marksman put him in harm’s way. Kale’s brother Bryce and sister Libby have always been  his staunch supporters, but with Bryce ignoring him as he prepares to leave for college and Libby spending the summer with their mother, Kale has little reason to remain in the present. Adding to his stress is his increasingly fractured relationship with his father, who makes no effort to hide skepticism for his son’s inexplicable disappearances.

Until six years ago, Harper Croft spent her summers with her Uncle Jasper. She, Kale and Libby were inseparable during her visits but in recent years, she is only in touch with Libby. Now moving in with her Uncle Jasper permanently due to her mother’s recent move, Harper is looking forward to renewing these friendships.  Although she is aware of Kale’s disappearances, she has no idea why he periodically vanishes. Despite her alarm over his unhealthy appearance and his apparent unhappiness, Harper keeps her promise she made to him long ago. But when she discovers shocking information about his visits back to World War II, will Harper convince to Kale to try to figure out how to control his unusual ability?

In theory, time travel sounds like an exciting adventure, but as Kale knows all too well, not everyone is willing to believe he travels into the past. Although his siblings and best friend Miles never doubt his stories about his adventures, he has given up trying to convince his father he is telling the truth.  Kale is quickly sinking into despondency when he thinks about his future since his unexplainable absences caused problems with school and extracurricular activities. With everything in the present turning into a unhappy mess,  Kale is only slightly troubled by his frequent trips back to World War II.  At the same, the situation with his dad is spiraling out of control but Kale stubbornly refuses to provide him with irrefutable proof he is telling the truth.  Will he make the same mistake when his relationship with Harper turns romantic?

Harper knows she made the right decision to move in with her Uncle Jasper but she cannot help but wish things were different between her and her emotionally (and now physically) absent mother.  Making the best of her new circumstances, she tries to be understanding about Kale’s frequent absences but she is fairly assertive as she tries to persuade him to try fix his relationship with his father. With her concern over his health growing with each of his trips back to World War II, she eventually forces him to tell her the truth about what is going on with him. Once their friendship deepens into romance, will Harper convince Kale to figure out why his travels have become more frequent? And when she learns the truth about what happens to him during World War II, will Kale try to change the outcome?

Cold Summer is a very clever and enjoyable young adult novel with an interesting premise. Gwen Cole does a fantastic job with the time travel element of the story while at the same time gently delivering an important message to her readers. Although flawed, the characters are appealing and sympathetic. The storyline is engaging and quite interesting. The glimpses of Kale’s wartime experiences  provide insight into  both his need to go back in time to help comrades in arms and his struggles with PTSD in the present. All in all, a riveting young adult novel that I absolutely loved and highly recommend to readers of all ages.

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Filed under Cold Summer, Contemporary, Gwen Cole, Historical, Historical (40s), Rated B, Review, Sky Pony Press, Time Travel, Young Adult

Review: Vodka & Handcuffs by Brandon Witt

Title: Vodka & Handcuffs by Brandon Witt
Mary’s Boys Series Book Two
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary, M/M, Romance
Length: 112 pages/Word Count: 36,047
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by the Author

Summary:

A Mary’s Boys Novella

Vahin Arora, Hamburger Mary’s sexy bartender, plays the flirtatious role so well even his closest friends—his chosen family at Mary’s—don’t realize Vahin hasn’t had a hookup in months. Then Tall, Dark, and Handsome steps through the door, and Vahin’s libido races back to life.

Being a black cop on the Denver police force is no easy job—Marlon Barton can’t imagine adding being gay to the equation. And while Marlon loves his work as an officer, his life has taken a turn for the hellish because of his new partner, the nephew of a senator.

Fleeing his partner’s company one night, Marlon stumbles into Mary’s for the first time… and wakes up with a hangover in the bartender’s bed. The one-night stand heats up into a budding romance, but not without stress as Marlon’s partner’s actions threaten Vahin’s livelihood and Marlon’s future on the force. Can Vahin and Marlon face the challenges and hold on to the love, friendship, and family they’ve found?

Review:

Vodka & Handcuffs by Brandon Witt is a charming romance that is also quite thought-provoking. This latest addition to the delightful Mary’s Boys series can easily be read as a standalone, but I also recommend the previous installment as well.

Denver police officer Marlon Barton’s legendary patience is tested to the limit by his new partner, Andrew Morris.  After barely diffusing what could have been a volatile situation, Marlon’s plans to relax with a beer at his usual hangout are thwarted when he discovers Andrew is there.  He instead stops in at Mary’s where his plans quickly take a very uncharacteristic turn after meeting bartender Vahin Arora.  Marlon’s previously uncomplicated life is turned upside down by his vengeful partner and his fledgling relationship with Vahin is soon put to the test.

Vahin and Marlon are mature characters who have both experienced prejudice based on their appearance.  Vahin came to terms with his sexuality a long time ago but he lost his family’s support in the process.  His job at Mary’s provides him with more than an income; his co-workers have become his family.  Vahin is tired of meaningless hook-ups but before he and Marlon have the chance to see where their relationship is headed, Marlon pulls a disappearing act and his partner sets his sights on Vahin.

Marlon has enough to deal with on the job due to the fact he is a person of color, so he keeps his sexuality a closely guarded secret from his fellow officers.  Before he really has the chance to figure out if he has a future with Vahin, he has to deal with the fallout from his loathsome partner’s vengeful actions. Will Vahin still be waiting for him once Marlon sorts through his complicated feelings about the effect their relationship might have on both his personal and professional lives?

With a cast of wonderful characters and a substantive plot, Vodka & Handcuffs is an engrossing romance that is realistic and quite moving.  Touching on some very topical issues with sensitivity, Brandon Witt’s newest installment in the Mary’s Boys series is an angst free love story that has plenty of depth and substance.  An absolutely outstanding read that old and new fans do not want to miss!

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Filed under Brandon Witt, Contemporary, Dreamspinner Press, M/M, Mary's Boys Series, Rated B+, Review, Romance, Vodka & Handcuffs

Review: Lucky Girl by Amanda Maciel

Title: Lucky Girl by Amanda Maciel
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

Lucky Girl is an unflinching exploration of beauty, self-worth, and sexual assault, from the author of the acclaimed Tease.

Rosie is a beautiful girl—and it’s always been enough. Boys crush on her, men stare at her, girls (begrudgingly) admire her. She’s lucky and she knows it.

But it’s the start of a new school year and she begins to realize that she wants to be more. Namely, she’s determined to be better to her best friend, Maddie, who’s just back from a summer program abroad having totally blossomed into her own looks. Rosie isn’t thrilled when Maddie connects with a football player who Rosie was hooking up with—but if it makes her friend happy, she’s prepared to get over it. Plus, someone even more interesting has moved to town: Alex, who became semifamous after he stopped a classmate from carrying out a shooting rampage at his old high school. Rosie is drawn to Alex in a way she’s never experienced before—and she is surprised to discover that, unlike every other guy, he seems to see more to her than her beauty.

Then at a party one night, in the midst of a devastating storm, something happens that tears apart Rosie’s life and sets her on a journey of self-discovery that forces her to face uncomfortable truths about reputation, identity, and what it means to be a true friend.

Review:

Lucky Girl by Amanda Maciel is a thought-provoking young adult novel about sexual assault.

Rosie Fuller is a beautiful teenager who revels in the attention she gets from the opposite sex. While she is popular with the boys at her school, she is not exactly teeming with female friends.  After spending the summer apart from her best friend, Maddie Costello, she is shocked to discover that Maddie has transformed from a slightly nerdy awkward duckling into a beautiful swan.  Rosie is determined to be a better friend to Maddie so after learning of Maddie’s crush on popular football player (and Rosie’s summer fling) Cory Callahan, she breaks things off with Cory.  Despite her lingering jealousy, Rosie is supportive of her friend’s new romance with Cory. However, one night at a party, Cory attacks Rosie and instead of coming to her friend’s defense, Maddie blames Rosie for coming on to her boyfriend. In the aftermath, Rosie is ashamed and blames herself for Cory’s actions but will  her new friendship with transfer student Alex Goode help her see that what happened is not her fault?

Rosie is beautiful and she knows it.  She uses her looks to validate her self-worth and she seeks out attention from boys every chance she gets.  She is a party girl who sees nothing wrong with flitting from boy to boy but her relationships are as superficial as she is. While her friendship with Maddie means the world to her, Rosie is extremely jealous of her friend’s transformation and she is ill prepared for the change in the dynamic of the friendship once Maddie gains some much needed self-confidence.

Initially, Rosie is so incredibly self-centered and selfish that she is difficult to like but after the incident with Cory, she finally begins to tone down her need for male attention. She is also much more reflective as tries to understand her conflicted emotions about what happened to her. Like many girls and women, Rosie is certain that she is to blame for the attack because she dresses to noticed and loves to flirt.  She goes over the events from that night again and again and while at first she is convinced she flirted too much, she gradually begins to understand that the only person who is responsible for what happened to her is Cory.  This is just the beginning of Rosie’s transformation from self-absorbed party girl to a young woman who begins to realize that outward appearances are not the measure of a person. Repairing her friendship with Maddie is another important facet of her newfound maturity. Will Rosie take the next step in healing from her ordeal and report Cory for assaulting her?

Lucky Girl is a poignant and powerful novel that challenges the pervasive “blame the victim” attitude following a sexual assault. The long standing “she asked for it” mindset is still firmly in place and women are conditioned to automatically take the blame when they are sexually assaulted. The resulting shame and guilt in the aftermath of an unwanted sexual advance or assault are HUGE factors in a victim’s unwillingness to report an attacker.  Amanda Maciel’s portrayal of Rosie after Cory’s attempted assault is an all too accurate depiction of what a victim feels and thinks in the aftermath of such a shocking and painful  event.  In Rosie’s case, her confusion is much worse considering her previous relationship with Cory and her own behavior.  The subject matter is difficult to read, but this topic is so incredibly important that I highly recommend Lucky Girl to readers of all ages.

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Filed under Balzer + Bray, Contemporary, Rated B, Review, Young Adult

Review: Making Waves by Laura Moore

Title: Making Waves by Laura Moore
Beach Lane Series Book One
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 400 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

A self-made woman with a sweet, successful life discovers that even the best-laid plans are no match for unexpected passion in this brand-new series from award-winning author Laura Moore.

As the responsible daughter of an irresponsible socialite, Dakota Hale has plenty of practice catering to the whims of the rich and spoiled—and she’s turned that experience into a thriving concierge business serving the needs of the Hamptons’ wealthy elite. But anytime the drama on land gets too outrageous, Dakota finds calm surfing the Atlantic waves. But when sexy mogul Max Carr hires her, it rocks her balance in a big way.

Max works hard, but he’s never had to put any effort into winning over a woman—until now. With her stunning beauty and keen intelligence, Dakota is worth the effort. But it’s plain she has no interest in a casual fling, and that’s all Max, with his grief-stricken heart, can offer. But one fraught night changes everything, with consequences neither Dakota nor Max anticipated. Now they must navigate the rough waters of society gossip and devastating secrets that threaten their fragile relationship. If they can trust in the strength of their growing feelings, they’ll find that the dreams they’ve been chasing are close enough to embrace . . . together.

Review:

The first installment in Laura Moore’s Beach Lane series, Making Waves is an absolutely delightful romance between an über responsible concierge service business owner and a wealthy Wall Street financier.

Dakota Hale is a self-made businesswoman  whose life is nothing like that of her self-absorbed, socialite mother or her embittered and vengeful aunt.  Although she has worked hard to make her concierge service business a success, the off-season in  the Hamptons is a worrisome time for her. As a favor to a close friend, Dakota  agrees to a preliminary meeting with Max Carr who, in a strange twist of fate, is the new owner of her family’s beach cottage (mansion). She is rather stunned by her startling attraction to the sexy playboy, but Dakota does not mix business with pleasure.   Once she is finished renovating Max’s home, no one is more surprised than Dakota when she decides to throw caution to the wind and embark on a no strings fling with the sexy businessman.

Dakota is a breath of fresh air among the rich and entitled residents who make up her client list. Despite the fact her relationship with her family is incredibly dysfunctional, she is surprisingly well-adjusted with a good head on her shoulders. Dakota works hard to keep her clients happy and she is always striving to take her business to the next level. She is lucky to have a few close friends whose support is unwavering.  Dakota is extremely loyal and this includes her somewhat loathsome family.  Her mother is unbelievably self-centered and her aunt is exceedingly spiteful yet Dakota maintains her ties with them not matter how poorly they treat her.

Max is a hardworking businessman who is a bit of a player and he is very wary of the people he lets into his life. Estranged from his family, he puts in long hours at the private equity firm where he is a partner and his boss is extremely impressed with his business acumen.  In both his personal and private lives, Max goes after what he wants with single-minded focus and he is stunned when Dakota initially rebuffs his advances.

It is a tossup as to who is more surprised when Dakota changes her mind about exploring her sizzling hot attraction to Max. They are soon burning up the sheets on a regular basis and they immensely enjoy one another’s company both in bed and out.  Their time together is such a source of joy and pleasure that it makes it easy for Dakota to forget that their relationship is a casual fling and with one misstep, she knows she has to disentangle her life from Max’s.  Unexpected twists and turns provide them with the opportunity to reunite, but will Max and Dakota be willing seize their chance for happiness?

Making Waves is an engaging romance between two emotionally wounded people. The setting is lavish but Max and Dakota are both incredibly down to earth and quite appealing. Max is carrying some heavy emotional baggage and since he is unable to discuss his past, it is only a matter of time before Dakota inadvertently makes a mistake.  Fortunately, they deal with their issues fairly quickly so the drama is kept to a minimum. With plenty of internal and external conflict, Max and Dakota’s relationship is fraught with tension but readers will love watching them overcome the obstacles that pop up on their way to happily ever after. This first installment in the Beach Lane series is absolutely captivating and readers find themselves impatiently awaiting Laura Moore’s next release (fingers crossed this one will feature Lauren and the mysterious Tom Hunter!).

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Filed under Ballantine Books, Beach Lane Series, Contemporary, Laura Moore, Making Waves, Rated B+, Review, Romance

Review: Bitter Roots by C. J. Carmichael

Title: Bitter Roots by C. J. Carmichael
Bitter Root Mysteries Book One
Publisher: Tule Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 206 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Bitter Roots (Book 1 of Bitter Root Mysteries)

Dispatcher Zak Waller prefers working behind the scenes in the Sheriff’s Office of Lost Trail, Montana, but when a newcomer to the sparely populated town is brutally murdered—and the Sheriff is quick to pin the death on an unknown outsider—Zak starts his own private sleuthing.

On the surface Lost Trail is a picture-perfect western town, offering a simple way of life revolving around the local ranches and ski hill, but Zak knows the truth behind the façade. When his old school friend Tiff Masterson, whose family owns a local Christmas tree farm, moves back to town, the two of them join forces to get to the truth about the murder.

Bitter Roots is the first of three Bitter Root Mysteries.

Review:

The first installment in C. J. Carmichael’s Bitter Root Mysteries series, Bitter Roots is a fast-paced and engaging mystery.

The day after Halloween is always a busy day for vandalism reports in the Sheriff’s office. Zak Waller is not anticipating any kind of serious crime reports, so the discovery of the body of a young woman who has apparently been beaten to death is quite shocking. Even more disconcerting is the identity of the victim: twenty-two year old Riley Concurran, a young lady whom Zak knows in passing. Since she is a newcomer to the rural community of Lost Trail, MT, local Sheriff Archie Ford is certain her murderer is someone from her old life. Although Zak is content with his behind the scenes job as the dispatcher, he is frustrated by Ford’s rush to judgment so he embarks on a bit of surreptitious sleuthing. When he uncovers some startling evidence, he turns the information over to Deputy Nadine Black to look into.

On the same day Riley’s body is found, Zak is surprised to learn his old friend Tiffany “Tiff” Masterson has returned to town. Tiff left for college then moved to Seattle where she is an up and comer at an accounting firm. Unbeknownst to her friends and family, her life has undergone some upheaval and she is planning to move back to her family’s Christmas tree farm. Hoping to open her own accounting business, Tiff is unhappy to discover her mom and Aunt Marsha have hired Kenny Bombard as the new manager of the family’s business. Her first encounter with Kenny rubs her the wrong way and she grows even more suspicious of him in the coming days.

Several of Lost Trial’s residents are in the midst of personal dramas of their own and curious minds will certainly wonder whether or not these issues have any bearing on the recent murder. Zak and Tiff’s friend, Derrick Sparks and his wife Aubrey are new parents of an adopted baby boy and Tiff is shocked by the changes in her old friend. Local attorney Justin Pittman is recently married and he is very concerned about his new wife’s puzzling behavior. Tiff wonders if there is any significance to an overheard conversation between her aunt and the local doctor. Will the ongoing investigation into Riley’s murder reveal any connection to any of these well-known and respected citizens?

With plenty of twists and turns, a perplexing murder and intriguing characters, Bitter Roots is an engrossing mystery. C. J. Carmichael brilliantly keeps the killer’s identity concealed as Zak pieces together the truth about what happened to Riley. While Riley’s murder is solved, not all of the story arcs are completely wrapped up by the novel’s end. These lingering questions will leave readers impatiently awaiting the next installment in the Bitter Root Mysteries series.

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Filed under Bitter Root Mysteries Series, Bitter Roots, CJ Carmichael, Contemporary, Mystery, Rated B, Review, Tule Publishing