Sundays are for Writing #96

Here’s what I discovered this week: I am not in a good mental space to push myself with NaNo. There is too much going on, too much stress, in my life to force myself to write. I did write two book reviews, and went on vacation on Wednesday, so we’ll see if a few days at the beach will change my mindset.

Book Review: The Garden of Promises and Lies, by Paula Brackston

Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title: The Garden of Promises and Lies
Author: Paula Brackston
Genre: Fiction, historical
Rating: 5.0 out of 5

As the bustle of the winter holidays in the Little Shop of Found Things gives way to spring, Xanthe is left to reflect on the strange events of the past year. While she’s tried to keep her time-traveling talents a secret from those close to her, she is forced to take responsibility for having inadvertently transported the dangerous Benedict Fairfax to her own time. Xanthe comes to see that she must use her skills as a spinner if she and Flora are ever to be safe, and turns to the Spinners book for help.

It is then that a beautiful antique wedding dress sings to her. Realizing the dress and her adversary are connected in some way, she answers the call. She finds herself in Bradford-on-Avon in 1815, as if she has stepped into a Jane Austen story.

Now in Xanthe’s time, Fairfax is threatening Xanthe into helping him with his evil doings, and demonstrates all too clearly how much damage he is capable of causing. With Fairfax growing ever more powerful, Xanthe enlists the help of her boyfriend Liam, taking him back in time with her. It is a decision that might just ensure she prevails over her foe, but only by putting her life—and his—on the line.

I think I’ve read the first book in this series—The Little Shop of Found Things—but I’m not positive, and I know I haven’t read the second book. Honestly, that didn’t detract from reading this at all. Sure, it would have added some depth, but a reader coming into this series at book three would be totally lost and unable to figure out what was going on.

I love the quirky characters—Harley especially—and find the whole basic premise fascinating, twining the past and present together like pieces of a puzzle. Brackston is an excellent writer, bringing both modern day and historical settings to vivid life and I’m now going back to read (or maybe re-read) the first two books in this series.

Paula Brackston lives in Wales. The Garden of Promises and Lies is her newest novel, the third book in the Found Things series.

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

Book Review: Goblin King, by Kara Barbieri

Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press/Wednesday Books.

Title: Goblin King
Author: Kara Barbieri
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 5.0 out of 5

Against all odds, Janneke has survived the Hunt for the Stag–but all good things come with a cost. Lydian might be dead, but he took the Stag with him. Janneke now holds the mantle, while Soren, now her equal in every way, has become the new Erlking. Janneke’s powers as the new Stag bring along haunting visions of a world thrown into chaos and the ghost of Lydian taunts her with the riddles he spoke of when he was alive.

When Janneke discovers the truth of Lydian and his madness, she’s forced to see her tormentor in a different light for the first time. The world they know is dying and Lydian may hold the key to saving it.

Torn between her feelings and her duty as the Stag, Janneke must bring her tormentor back to life if she has hopes of keeping her world alive. But the journey is long and hard and this time she won’t have Soren for company.

Lydian might be able to stop the worlds from crumbling, but reviving him may cost Janneke the life with Soren she’s tried to hard to build. After all, there can only be one King….

I loved the first book in the Permafrost series, White Stag, and Goblin King was just as good. Sometimes the second book in a series isn’t, so I was very pleased that did not hold true here. I find the setting and mythology compelling and vivid, and the characters, while brutal, are well-developed and believable.

Janneke has so many issues she’s dealing with it stresses me out! It’s a shame she had to learn the hard way not to keep secrets from people she cares about…I love even the secondary characters in this series! They’ve distinct and unique enough to keep my attention, even if I prefer reading about Janneke and Soren. Highly recommended!

Kara Barbieri likes adding mythology to her stories. Goblin King is her newest novel.

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

Best Books I Read in October (2020)

In October, I read 26 books, bringing my total for the year to 270 books. Some of these were okay. Some were excellent. A couple more I stopped reading.

The books I liked the most were all fantasy this month:

The Kingdom of Sea and Stone, by Mara Rutherford. I loved the first book in this series as well, but the setting and characters are just so vibrant and fascinating I just fall into the story world.

The Emperor’s Wolves, by Michelle Sagara. The Chronicles of Elantra is one of my absolute favorite series, so the opportunity to read the first book in this new spin-off series was a no-brainer. And I was not disappointed at all! Yes, it was missing some of Kaylin’s snark—which was as it should be, as she’s not really in this. Loved this read.

Goblin King, by Kara Barbieri. This is the second book in the Permafrost series, and if you haven’t read the first one, please do that. I love the mythology in this series and find the whole concept and characters unique and riveting.

What I Read in October (2020)

Books Read in October: 26

Books Read for the Year:  270/200

Topical Books/Monthly Goal Books: 

Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen (classic re-read). This made me laugh. Her overactive imagination…

An Echo in the Darkness (TBR). Loved this!

Parables, by John MacArthur (spiritual). This was a very heavy/deep/detailed read.

A Theory of Happily Ever After (TBR). A fast, fun read.

The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Real (TBR). I’m enjoying this series so much!

For Review:

Kingdom of Sea and Stone, by Mara Rutherford. I really enjoyed this sequel to Crown of Coral and Pearl. The cultures and characters are intriguing and I just enjoyed everything about it.

Confessions on the 7:45, by Lisa Unger. Excellent writing, but these characters were the pits. I did not like them, so it greatly detracted from the book itself.

A Golden Fury, by Samantha Cohoe. The first half of this was great: alchemy and a bit of romance. The second half didn’t quite live up to that precedent.

A Highlander is Coming to Town, by Laura Trentham. Ah, yes, another men-in-kilts adventure. This series is sweet and fun and this was a great addition to the series.

The Christmas Table, by Donn VanLiere. This was a sweet tale, in dual timelines. Family. Growth. Cooking! It definitely made me hungry.

Five Total Strangers, by Natalie D. Richards. I have a hard time with characters who do stupid things, so when the MC jumps in a car with four complete strangers—in the middle of a blizzard, no less—that was almost it for me.

The Emperor’s Wolves, by Michelle Sagara. I loved this spin-off to the Chronicles of Elantra series! We get to know Severn in this, and I enjoyed that so much.

Above All Else, by Dana Alison Levy. I have no desire to summit Mount Everest, but I really enjoyed this YA tale. Fantastic setting descriptions, too!

Quiet No More, by Nikki Barthelmess. I liked this follow-up and this one was also about a tough topic.

The Midnight Bargain, by C.L. Polk. I thoroughly enjoyed this tale of women who want to be allowed to study magic in a patriarchal, controlling society.

One of Our Own, by Jane Haddam (review forthcoming). Reading the last book in a 30-book series without reading any of the others probably wasn’t the best idea, but I still thought this was a solid read.

Among the Beasts & Briars, by Ashley Poston. This definitely felt like a fairy tale, and I thought it was excellent, if a tiny bit predictable. The creatures in the woods were unique and not the least bit predictable, however, so I definitely recommend this read.

Delayed Justice, by Shirley McCoy. I enjoyed this entry into this series of linked standalones.

A California Christmas, by Brenda Novak. I didn’t really like the two main characters: they were both childish and there was no character growth here.

Goblin King, by Kara Barbieri (review forthcoming). This was an excellent read, the second in the Permafrost series.

The Garden of Promises and Lies, by Paula Brackston (review forthcoming). I thoroughly enjoyed this, and am now going back to read the first two books in the series (or re-read, because I think I’ve read the first one.).

Miss Benson’s Beetle, by Rachel Joyce (review forthcoming). This was a surprising book to me. Adventure, character growth, surprises…it had a lot of high notes, and the friendship between the characters was wonderful to watch.

Just Because:

The Remnant, by Tim LaHaye.

Armageddon, by Tim LaHaye.

Twelve Extraordinary Women, by John MacArthur. I don’t think this was a book MacArthur needed to be the author of. He’s a bit condescending towards women at times.

Unbound, by Byna Whitlock (review forthcoming). I read this because she was speaking to my class at church, but I enjoyed the read and will be reviewing it this month.

Left Unfinished:

Invisible Girl, by Lisa Jewell. I just couldn’t get into this. The characters were not my cup of tea.

Never Turn Back, by Christopher Swann. Again, just couldn’t care about the characters.

Sundays are for Writing #95

I’m pretty happy with this week of writing: five book reviews and a plan for NaNo. I have to admit, though, I’m a bit nervous about NaNo. It’s been years since I’ve written with any kind of daily word count goal, so that’s a little scary.

Happy writing!

Book Review: A California Christmas, by Brenda Novak

Image belongs to Harlequin/MIRA.

Title: A California Christmas
Author: Brenda Novak
Genre: Romance
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Up-and-coming TV anchor Emery Bliss can’t imagine anything more humiliating than the sex tape her ex revenge-posted online. That is, until it causes her to lose her job on top of her self-esteem. Seeking solace—and anonymity—in Silver Springs, Emery isn’t looking to get involved with another man anytime soon. But when she’s thrown back into contact with Dallas Turner, she sees something that his many detractors have missed.

Being home for the holidays and his adoptive mother’s wedding isn’t where mountain climber Dallas feels most comfortable. Thanks to his troubled childhood, he’d rather be on a rock face alone than trying to connect with people. Emery, however, makes him want to overcome his past…somehow.

Both Emery and Dallas had been planning on a quiet, solitary Christmas, but the sparks between them are lighting a fire strong enough to last—possibly forever.

I thought this was well-written and I enjoyed the small-town setting, but I did have some issues with the characters. Both Emery and Dallas came across as childish and petty. Emery was the victim of something awful, but her texts were manipulative and dishonest, and I didn’t care for that. Dallas…had some issues—understandable ones—but he showed zero growth during the course of this novel. None.

Again, this was well-written and I enjoyed the read, but I found the characters mostly-unlikable.

Brenda Novak is a bestselling author. A California Christmas is her newest novel.

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

Blog Tour and Book Review: Delayed Justice, by Shirlee McCoy

Image belongs to Harlequin.

Title: Delayed Justice
Author: Shirlee McCoy
Genre: Romance, Christian
Rating: 4.0 out of 5

Detective Bradley McGregor and his K-9 partner, King, come to the rescue when journalist Sasha Eastman’s targeted by a shooter who looks just like her mother’s murderer. But that killer supposedly died years ago in a shootout with the police. Now it’s up to Bradley and King to protect Sasha…but how can they stop a killer who’s already dead?

I enjoyed this much more than the last True Blue K-9 Unit: Brooklyn book I read. Solid writing, believable characters, and it wasn’t insta-love thankfully. Faith was worked naturally into the story and felt right for the characters, instead of being like checking off a box.

Of course, the dog is a big part of the story, and I always enjoy reading about these working dogs. They’re so smart! Sasha has been through some stuff, and she does make some bad decisions in this book, but she’s tough and smart, so it works out. Bradley is also a great character, and I enjoyed reading his point-of-view. This is a sweet, quick read with a hint of danger.

Shirlee McCoy is a bestselling author. Delayed Justice is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: Autumn Skies, by Denise Hunter

Image belongs to Thomas Nelson.

Title: Autumn Skies
Author: Denise Hunter
Genre: Romance
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

When a mysterious man turns up at Grace’s family-run inn, it’s instant attraction. But she’s already got a lot on her plate: running the Bluebell Inn, getting Blue Ridge Outfitters off the ground, and coping with a childhood event she’d thought was long past.

A gunshot wound has resurrected the past for secret service agent Wyatt Jennings, and a mandatory leave of absence lands him in Bluebell, North Carolina. There he must try and come to grips with the crisis that altered his life forever.

Grace needs experience for her new outfitters business, so when Wyatt needs a mountain guide, she’s more than happy to step up to the plate. As their journey progresses, Grace soon has an elusive Wyatt opening up, and Wyatt is unwittingly drawn to Grace’s fresh outlook and sense of humor.

There’s no doubt the two have formed a special bond, but will Wyatt’s secrets bring Grace’s world crashing down? Or will those secrets end up healing them both?

I’ve really enjoyed the Bluebell Inn Romance series, and this was no exception. I love the small-town setting, and Grace and her siblings are great characters. It was fun to see more of Molly’s and Levi’s stories, too, after reading their linked standalones.

Grace and Wyatt are a good match:  both struggling with tragedies from their past and trying to figure out where their futures are going. I loved watching these characters grow and change through the story, and I’d love to read more stories set in this small town.

Denis Hunter is a bestselling author. Autumns Skies is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: Among the Beasts & Briars, by Ashley Poston

Image belongs to Balzer + Brayin.

Title: Among the Beasts & Briars
Author: Ashley Poston
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 4.2 out of 5.0

Cerys is safe in the kingdom of Aloriya.

Here there are no droughts, disease, or famine, and peace is everlasting. It has been this way for hundreds of years, since the first king made a bargain with the Lady who ruled the forest that borders the kingdom. But as Aloriya prospered, the woods grew dark, cursed, and forbidden. Cerys knows this all too well: when she was young, she barely escaped as the woods killed her friends and her mother. Now Cerys carries a small bit of the curse—the magic—in her blood, a reminder of the day she lost everything. The most danger she faces now, as a gardener’s daughter, is the annoying fox who stalks the royal gardens and won’t leave her alone.

As a new queen is crowned, however, things long hidden in the woods descend on the kingdom itself. Cerys is forced on the run, her only companions the small fox from the garden, a strange and powerful bear, and the magic in her veins. It’s up to her to find the legendary Lady of the Wilds and beg for a way to save her home. But the road is darker and more dangerous than she knows, and as secrets from the past are uncovered amid the teeth and roots of the forest, it’s going to take everything she has just to survive.

This story felt like an enchantment. I enjoyed the magic and the creatures in the woods—unique in concept and execution. Reading this, I felt like I’d stepped into the pages of a fairy tale.

However, none of the reveals came as a surprise to me. Some of it just turned out exactly like I expected, and there are hints that the next book will also have some things I just expect to happen. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve read so much fantasy over the years that certain things seem like they’re done a lot—or if the hints the author dropped were just a touch too heavy-handed. It doesn’t detract from the story, but it’s there.

Ashley Poston is from South Carolina. Among the Beasts & Briars is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Balzer + Brayin exchange for an honest review.)