Book Review: A Highlander in a Pickup, by Laura Trentham

a highlander in a pickup
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:  A Highlander in a Pickup   
AuthorLaura Trentham
Genre:  Romance
Rating:  4.5 out of 5

Anna Maitland is ready to show everyone in Highland, Georgia what she’s capable of. Her best friend, Izzy, can’t run the Highland Games in their hometown this summer, so Anna is happy to do it. If she succeeds, her bid for mayor will be sure to succeed, so she’s not letting a single thing out of her control—except the animals. She’ll need help with that, because a dance instructor in a tutu knows nothing about sheep and cows. Fortunately, there’s a man in a kilt who can handle the animals.

Ian Connor is used to being the strong, capable man everyone turns to when they need something physical done—and then abandoned when they don’t. He grew up at lonely Cairndow Castle, where he’s expected to take over as groundkeeper from his father. But now he finds himself in Georgia, to help plan the Highland Games—if a certain controlling dance teacher will ever admit she needs help.

I love that Ian isn’t the typical handsome, suave romantic lead. He’s awkward but nice and goes out of his way to help people. Anna was a little harder for me to like, as she was prickly and a bit too bossy, but the interactions between the two were fun to read, as was the further development of Highland, Georgia. This was a quick, enjoyable read.

Laura Trentham is an award-winning author. A Highlander in a Pickup is the newest novel in her Highland, Georgia series.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Master of Sorrows, by Justin Call

master of sorrows
Image belongs to Blackstone Publishing.

Title:  Master of Sorrows
AuthorJustin Call
Genre:  Fantasy
Rating:  4 out of 5

Annev de Breth isn’t like the other students in his class. Seventeen years ago, in the village of Chaenbalu, he was believed to executed for the taint he was born with—proven by his partially-missing arm—and raised by those who killed his parents. Now he’s struggling to become one of the Academy’s warrior-thieves, along with all the other boys who were stolen from their families years ago.

And Annev doesn’t know his own history.

Raised by his priestly mentor, who doesn’t believe magic is bad—unlike those surrounding him, who believe it evil—and with his missing arm disguised, Annev struggles with remaining true to himself and his friends—or stepping into his future as a master at the Academy. Will he do as the masters ask, betraying his friends and murdering a man to prove his abilities, or will he finally learn the truth of who he is?

While Master of Sorrows had some cliched elements—a young orphan raised by a wise mentor who has secret magical abilities—it’s actually a unique take on this trope. Annev is a conflicted character, and he struggles with this conflict between his childhood dreams of becoming one of the Academy’s masters and what his mentor teaches him throughout the book. The friendships are real and believable, and the action just worked for me, making this a book I finished in one sitting.

Justin Call has been making up stories since he was five. Master of Sorrows is his debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of Blackstone Publishing in exchange for an honest review.)

Sundays are for Writing #60

I had a fairly successful writing week this week. I got in four out of five planned fiction sessions, and I also wrote several book reviews. Even better, I did some brainstorming on the new writing project and a new editing/revision project. Definitely a win!

Book Review: Ten Days Gone, by Beverly Long

ten days gone
Image belongs to Harlequin/MIRA.

Title:  Ten Days Gone
AuthorBeverly Long
Genre:  Suspense
Rating:  4 out of 5

Detectives A.L. McKittridge and Rena Morgan have their fourth dead body in forty days:  four women, each killed ten days apart, with no sign of a struggle, and nothing connecting them. The clock is already ticking down to the next victim’s death, and they have nothing to go on. When a hail-Mary interview leads them to a list with all the victims’ names on it—exactly 10 spaces apart—they know they’ve found the connection. But they still don’t have any idea who the killer is.

Trying to track down the next name on the list—Tess Lyons—is almost as difficult as finding the killer. Still recovering from tragedy, she’s withdrawn from everyone and everything to nurse her wounds in silence. But when the detectives track her down, she agrees to help them find the killer—even if it puts her own life at stake.

Ten Days Gone is the start of a new series for Beverly Long. I don’t think I’ve read any of her work before, but I enjoyed this suspense tale. The dynamics between the two detectives were entertaining and realistic, without falling into clichés or tropes. Tess was the most enjoyable character, though. Wounded and recovering from something horrifying and unexpected, she’s shut out the entire world to nurse her grief and bitterness, but the connections she makes open the door to getting her life back.

Beverly Long grew up in Illinois and co-authored her first book in the fourth grade. Ten Days Gone is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/MIRA in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Isaiah’s Legacy, by Mesu Andrews

isaiah's legacy
Image belongs to WaterBrook.

Title:  Isaiah’s Legacy
AuthorMesu Andrews  
Genre:  Biblical fiction, historical
Rating:  5 out of 5

Eight-year-old Shulle only knows a simple life in her small village, caring for her father, who’s different from everyone else. He may be different, but Shulle loves him deeply, and does her best to help him every day. Then her uncle, Shebna, arrives, and asks her to return to Jerusalem to help him teach young Prince Manasseh, who shares many of her father’s oddities, and Shulle agrees to help the prince.

Once in Jerusalem, she befriends Manasseh, who soon grows dependent on her. But Shebna teaches her about the starry hosts, whose power she admires and yearns for, while her father reveres Yahweh, the god of the Hebrews. Shulle tempts Manasseh with powers of the starry hosts, turning the prince away from the god of his fathers.

When Manasseh becomes king at a young age, he insists on marrying Shulle and whisking her away on an extended trip. Assyria’s crown prince turns Manasseh to cruelty—and far from Yahweh’s love. When Manasseh’s cruelty grows, Shulle must turn to the god she never knew as the only one who can comfort her—and save her family.

I loved this story! Mesu Andrew’s writing brings this biblical story to life in heartrending detail and entranced me from the very beginning. She’s a wonderful writer, and I love how she brings biblical stories off the pages and makes the characters living, breathing people. This story is sad in places, horrifying in others, but every word feels truthful.

Mesu Andrews lives in the Appalachian Mountains. Isaiah’s Legacy is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of WaterBrook in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Southern Double Cross, by Caroline Fardig

southern double cross
Image belongs to Random House/Alibi.

Title:  Southern Double Cross
AuthorCaroline Fardig
Genre:  Mystery
Rating:  4 out of 5

Quinn Bellandini is minding her own business, living life and wishing she were back at the B & B she runs with her sister, Delilah, and her grandfather, instead of trying to pull off a fundraising gala—and keep the high society guests from sniping at each other and causing a ruckus. Then Quinn gets a call from her friend Pepper, working for the event’s caterer. Pepper tells her the hostess—and owner of the mansion hosting the gala—has been found dead.

Soon enough, Pepper’s brother has been charged with murder and Pepper insists the Bellandini sisters clear his name. Quinn’s questions only lead to more questions. The victim had more frenemies than you can shake a stick at. The catering company’s employees are shady at best. And then there are the rumors about the victim and her ex-husband’s rekindled relationship. Quinn isn’t sure where to start, but with her boyfriend Tucker’s help and the irrepressible Delilah on the case, she gives it her best shot.

I enjoyed this entry into the Southern B & B Mystery series (it looks to be the last, too). The writing is solid. Savannah, Georgia comes to life—as does the high society crowd that populates the pages. I’ve enjoyed watching Quinn and Tucker’s relationship grow, and the sisters are fun to read as well.

Caroline Fardig is a bestselling author. Southern Double Cross is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Random House/Alibi in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Borgia Confessions, by Alyssa Palombo

the borgia confessions
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:  The Borgia Confessions
Author:  Alyssa Palombo
Genre:  Historical fiction
Rating:  3.5 out of 5

Rome, 1492.

Rodrigo Borgia has risen to pope and is intent on bringing his family with him on his rise in power. His goal is a papal dynasty. His oldest son, Cesare, doesn’t want to enter the church—he wants to be in the military—but he abides by his father’s plans—as his foolish brother is chosen for military greatness. So Cesare learns to keep his thoughts and his emotions a secret.

Maddalena Moretti comes from the countryside. She’s thrilled to have found a place working in the pope’s household and ecstatic to be working for such a holy man. Until Maddalena realizes the Borgia family have feet of clay, and her faith starts to crumble. Soon she finds herself involved in a secret relationship with Cesare and knowing all the Borgia secrets—enough to put her life in danger.

Fantastic writing in this novel. The setting, characters, and cultures all came to vibrant life. But…I didn’t like any of them. The Borgia family is selfish and self-absorbed—at best—caring only for their own ambitions and desires and ignoring those they hurt on the way. I had some sympathy for Maddalena, but she embraced her weakness for Cesare and made excuses for it, and that’s something I cannot fathom. These people were horrible to each other—but the writing was spectacular enough that I was engrossed in a book about people I avidly disliked.

Alyssa Palombo lives and works in Buffalo, New York. The Borgia Confessions is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: A Good Neighborhood, by Therese Anne Fowler

a good neighborhood
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:  A Good Neighborhood
AuthorTherese Anne Fowler
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  4.0 out of 5

Oak Knoll is a quality neighborhood—a good neighborhood—in North Carolina. The neighbors know each other and support each other, so when a new house is built and a new family moves in, everyone knows it. The Whitmans have money, fame, and a daughter who’s hiding things.

Brad Whitman likes everyone knowing his name—and controlling everyone he can. Julia Whitman escaped her trailer-house-and-poverty-filled life for the safety of marriage, and she knows Brad was her way out and her key to continued wealth. And Juniper is tired of being labeled a good girl and doing what everyone else thinks is best for her—and she’s intrigued by the cute boy who lives in the house behind them.

Valerie Aston-Holt is an ecology professor and a single parent to her talented biracial son, Xavier. She nurtures Xavier’s talents and her trees with the same devotion, and when the Whitman’s new home threatens the ancient oak on her property, she knows she must act. When she discovers Xavier’s love for Juniper, she knows there will be complications. But even Valerie can’t foresee just how bad those complications will be.

This book made me angry. Angry because I believe this could so easily happen in our culture—and does happen frequently in a society that thinks because racism isn’t blatant and overt, it isn’t real. So, yeah, anger was my main response to this book.

I had a little bit of trouble with the point-of-view here, which was a Greek-chorus style narrator, and made the book feel distant to me. I also didn’t find the portrayal of conservative “Christians” (in the book, a Christian is someone who goes to church, and that is not accurate in the least bit) to be anything short of narrow-minded and biased. I have no doubt that some conservatives attend churches like those portrayed in the novel, but not all Christian churches are like that. In the slightest. And the ones that are, are doing people a grave injustice.

The issues the novel is concerned with are real and troubling and horrible, and this portrayal of them brings them to life and makes them personal. Solid writing, intriguing characters (except Brad), and a read I highly recommend, despite its one-sidedness in certain areas.

Therese Anne Fowler is a bestselling author. A Good Neighborhood is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Fair is Foul, by Hannah Capin

foul is fair
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:  Fair is Foul
AuthorHannah Capin
Genre:  YA
Rating:  3 out of 5

Ella and her three friends are the queens of their circle and their school. They do what they want, when they want. They do and say whatever they please, no matter who it hurts, and they’re untouchable—until the night they crash a St. Andrews Prep party and Elle is roofied and raped by the golden boys of St. Andrews.

Intent only on revenge, Ella becomes Jade, dying her hair, erasing her identity, and transferring to St. Andrews. With her crew’s help, she’ll have her revenge, but revenge isn’t enough. Instead, she wants to destroy the golden boys—and take their lives. And one of them will help her, for his ambition is as ruthless as Jade’s own.

I’m not a fan of the idea of revenge being necessary—though the boys definitely needed punishment—and the right of the wronged. What happened to Jade was horrible, and the golden boys were evil, but…Jade was at least as evil as they were. The actions of Jade and her crew were unfathomable to me, and I couldn’t relate to her on any level, making her—and her friends and enemies—completely unlikable and unreal to me. However, I can see how this is just my thoughts on a trope. The revenge storyline is probably great for some people, but it’s just not for me, and I shouldn’t have even bothered to finish reading this.

Hannah Capin lives in Virginia. Foul is Fair is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)