Book Review: The Bright Lands, by John Fram

the bright lands
Image belongs to Harlequin/Hanover Square Press.

Title:   The Bright Lands
AuthorJohn Fram
Genre:   Thriller
Rating:   4 out of 5

The town of Bentley holds two things dear: its football, and its secrets. But when star quarterback Dylan Whitley goes missing, an unremitting fear grips this remote corner of Texas.

Joel Whitley was shamed out of conservative Bentley ten years ago, and while he’s finally made a life for himself as a gay man in New York, his younger brother’s disappearance soon brings him back to a place he thought he’d escaped for good. Meanwhile, Sheriff’s Deputy Starsha Clark stayed in Bentley; Joel’s return brings back painful memories—not to mention questions—about her own missing brother. And in the high school hallways, Dylan’s friends begin to suspect that their classmates know far more than they’re telling the police. Together, these unlikely allies will stir up secrets their town has long tried to ignore, drawing the attention of dangerous men who will stop at nothing to see that their crimes stay buried.

But no one is quite prepared to face the darkness that’s begun to haunt their nightmares, whispering about a place long thought to be nothing but an urban legend: an empty night, a flicker of light on the horizon—The Bright Lands.

John Fram seems to have a knack for creating believable, sympathetic characters and embroiling them in unbelievable situations. I had to stop reading at one point to make sure the author wasn’t Stephen King or his son, because it had that creepy sort of feel to it. But King’s novels—including the giant spider and the clown in the sewers—are more believable for me than the premise of this novel. Despite the compelling prose, the unbelievability of the main plot idea made me lose faith in the author to a certain extent.

John Fram is from Texas but now lives in New York. The Bright Lands is his debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/Hanover Square Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: No One Saw, by Beverly Long

No One Saw Banner

NoOneSawCover
Image belongs to Harlequin/MIRA.

Title:   No One Saw
Author:   Beverly Long
Genre:   Suspense
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

Baywood police department detective A.L. McKittridge is no stranger to tough cases, but when five-year-old Emma Whitman disappears from her day care, there isn’t a single shred of evidence to go on. There are no witnesses, no trace of where she might have gone. There’s only one thing A.L. and his partner, Rena Morgan, are sure of—somebody is lying.

With the clock ticking, A.L. and Rena discover their instincts are correct: all is not as it seems. The Whitmans are a family with many secrets, and A.L. and Rena must untangle a growing web of lies if they’re going to find the thread that leads them to Emma… before it’s too late.

I enjoyed the first book in this series, Ten Days Gone, and this one was right up there with it for suspense, keeping me guessing, and having me racing through it to figure out who had taken Emma. There’s a lot of red herrings and false trails that kept the detectives—and me—guessing.

I love reading series and getting to see how characters grow and change throughout, and although this is only the second book of the series, there has already been change and events to keep up with. The writing here never pulled me out of the story at all—a sure sign this is a winner!

Beverly Long wrote her first book when she was in the fourth grade. No One Saw is her newest novel.

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

Best Books I Read in June (2020)

In June I read 28 books, bringing my total for the year to 160 books read.

A few were just “meh,” many were solid reads, and a handful were excellent.

miriam

Miriam, by Mesu Andrews. I absolutely enjoyed this tale set during the Biblical plagues in Egypt. I never really thought about what it would have been like to witness that, but this brought it to vivid life.

what you wish for

What You Wish For, by Katherine Center. This book accomplished what I thought was impossible: making me (kind of) want to be a teacher. This book was just fun to read. I loved the characters, the setting, the plot…I highly recommend it.

life on mission @ work

Life on Mission @ Work, by Tyler Edwards. This was a quick read, but full of points and suggestions about an issue I’ve been considering a lot lately (even mainly working from home).

What I Read in June (2020)

Books Read in June: 28

Books Read for the Year: 160/200

Topical Books/Monthly Goal Books:

Without Rival by Lisa Revere (spiritual). Apparently I’d already read this…but it was really good, again.

Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen (classic re-read). this wasn’t as good as P & P (of course), but I enjoyed the re-read.

The Paradise War, by Stephen R. Lawhead (TBR). I really enjoyed this time-travel/ancient Celtic adventure and I intend to read more.

The Edge of Over There, by Shawn Smucker (TBR). This probably would have made more sense if I’d read the previous book, but I enjoyed it anyway.

Miriam, by Mesu Andrews (TBR). Loved this! the tale of the Biblical plagues of England from the POV of Moses’ sister.

For Review:

the library of legends

The Library of Legends, by Janie Chang. I enjoyed this so much! Historical fiction with some fantasy sprinkled in, making this a perfect read for me when the real world was crumbling.

NoOneSawCover

No One Saw, by Beverley Long (review forthcoming). I enjoyed this thriller in the A.L. McKittridge series, about two detectives trying to solve the disappearance of a toddler that might be linked to a similar disappearance over a decade earlier.

a sweet mess

A Sweet Mess, by Jayci Lee (review forthcoming). This was a funny romantic read that will probably make you hungry.

the black swan of paris

The Black Swan of Paris, by Karen Robards (review forthcoming). Loved this! Set during the Nazi occupation of Paris, it’s about Genevieve Dumont, famed for her singing, who is involved with the resistance and secrets of her own.

mayhem

Mayhem, by Estelle Laure (review forthcoming). This had so much potential, but ended up feeling like such a copy of The Lost Boys that it was really unsettling.

the woman before wallis

The Woman Before Wallis, by Bryn Turnbull (review forthcoming). Another wonderful historical read! I’m not sure if I forgot the events around Prince Edward’s abdication of the throne—or if I just didn’t know—but this is the tale of American divorcée Thelma Morgan, who captured the prince’s heart before he met Wallis.

guarded by the soldier

Guarded by the Soldier, by Laura Scott (review forthcoming). This is a solid romance about a pregnant single mother who becomes the target of a private security/black ops group and is rescued by an ex-soldier.

in the neighborhood of true

In the Neighborhood of True, by Susan Kaplan Carlton (review forthcoming). This explores racism in the South in the ’50s and is an excellent read.

the kids are gonna ask

The Kids Are Gonna Ask, by Anthony Gretchen (review forthcoming). I wasn’t a fan of the twins, who came across as selfish and self-absorbed, with a grandmother who was lenient/willfully blind.

the bright lands

The Bright Lands, by John Fram (review forthcoming). This was…an intriguing read. I had to stop mid-read and make sure this wasn’t written by Stephen King’s son. Very creepy and a bit horrifying, it was an excellent read.

the lost city

The Lost City, by Amanda Hocking (review forthcoming). This is the first of Hocking’s books I’ve ever managed to finish (and, to be fair, I think I’ve only attempted one or two others). Interesting, but I probably won’t read more of the series.

one to watch

One to Watch, by Kate Stayman-London (review forthcoming). I thoroughly enjoyed this read, and the body positivity was great!

girl, serpent, thorn

Girl, Serpent, Thorn, by Melissa Bashardoust (review forthcoming). A princess who has never had human contact because her skin is poisonous makes a terrible mistake, endangering her family and her kingdom and putting them at the mercy of evil…but a sort of charming evil. This was a unique and interesting read.

entangled secrets

Entangled Secrets, by Pat Esden (review forthcoming). This was just a “meh” parnormal romance for me.

what you wish for

What You Wish For, by Katherine Center (review forthcoming). This book made me think something I never thought possible:  I want to be a teacher. Yeah. If you only knew how many times I’d been asked “So you want to be a teacher?” when people found out I was getting an English degree…but I never wanted to be a teacher. The school in this book was pretty awesome though, so I was tempted (briefly), and I loved the Galveston setting. This was just a feel-good book that made me happy.

cut to the bone

Cut to the Bone, by Ellison Cooper (review forthcoming). I got sucked right into this book and these characters. A missing bus full of high schoolers, a clever serial killer with a penchant for Egyptology,  a dastardly boss, and a terrifyingly well-connected psychopath all combine to challenge a stubborn and intuitive FBI agent who finds out things are definitely not what they seem.

the safe place

The Safe Place, by Anna Downes (review forthcoming). I did not like any of these characters, and Emily was the sort of clueless/stupid person I just can’t deal with. This wasn’t a good fit for me.

a walk along the beach

A Walk Along the Beach, by Debbie Macomber (review forthcoming). This made me cry, but it was so good! I love everything Macomber writes.

the vacation

The Vacation, by T.M. Logan (review forthcoming). See…if I don’t care for the characters, it’s a struggle to keep reading. This was the case here. I knew there was more going on that what seemed obvious, but I didn’t really care, because I disliked all the main characters.

how lulu lost her mind

How Lulu Lost her Mind, by Rachel Gibson (review forthcoming).  Oh, man. I enjoyed this a lot, but as someone with a family history of Alzheimer’s, it was also difficult to read. Love the Louisiana setting and culture, though.

tell me your names

Tell Me Your Names and I Will Testify: Essays, by Carolyn Holbrook (review forthcoming). This was an interesting read and a look through the eyes of someone with a wildly different life than mine (although I grew up poor, too). I’m a big believer in personal responsibility, and that wasn’t present in all of this, though, so that bothered me.

life on mission @ work

Life on Mission @ Work, by Tyler Edwards (review forthcoming). This excellent read spoke to something that’s been on my mind lately.

this is my america

This is My America, by Kim Johnson (review forthcoming). This was an interesting and powerful read—and sad.

Stopped Reading: 

Her Perfect Life, by Rebecca Taylor. Excellent, descriptive writing, but I realized at 30% that I just didn’t care about any of the characters (as well as actively disliking some). Just not a good fit.

Those Who Hunger:  An Amish Vampire Thriller, by Owen Banner. The premise of this held a lot of potential. I mean, how unique are Amish vampires? I read a bit of it, probably around 15-20%, but I just wasn’t buying in.

Hurry Home, by Roz Nay. There was nothing wrong with this book. Seriously. Solid writing, intriguing concept…I just didn’t like any of the characters. Just a case of “it’s me, not the book.”

Book Review and Blog Tour: She’s Faking It, by Kristin Rockaway

She's Faking It Blog Tour

she's faking it
Image belongs to Harlequin/Graydon House.

Title:   She’s Faking It
Author:   Kristin Rockaway
Genre:   Fiction
Rating:   4 out of 5

Bree Bozeman isn’t exactly pursuing the life of her dreams. Then again, she isn’t too sure what those dreams are. After dropping out of college, she’s living a pretty chill life in the surf community of Pacific Beach, San Diego…if “chill” means delivering food as a GrubGetter, and if it means “uneventful”.

But when Bree starts a new Instagram account — @breebythesea — one of her posts gets a signal boost from none other than wildly popular self-help guru Demi DiPalma, owner of a lifestyle brand empire. Suddenly, Bree just might be a rising star in the world of Instagram influencing. Is this the direction her life has been lacking? It’s not a career choice she’d ever seriously considered, but maybe it’s a sign from the universe. After all, Demi’s the real deal… right?

Everything is lining up for Bree: life goals, career, and even a blossoming romance with the chiseled guy next door, surf star Trey Cantu. But things are about to go sideways fast, and even the perfect filter’s not gonna fix it. Instagram might be free, but when your life looks flawless on camera, what’s the cost?

This book made me laugh! Bree is the very definition of failing at adulting…except, what if “adulting” isn’t what you want to be or do? Bree just needs to figure out what she wants to do. She is such a relatable character. Her very relatableness made this an immersive read.

It reminded me of Flirting with Forty, in a very tenuous way (At heart, both books are about figuring out what you want and pursing that dream.). I laughed at Bree, I cringed, I hoped she would not make the bad decisions I saw looming…but I was fully invested in her story from the first page.

Kristin Rockaway is a former software engineer. She’s Faking It is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: Dwarf Story, by W.W. Marplot

Dwarf Story Cover
Image belongs to the publisher.

Title:   Dwarf Story
Author:   W.W. Marplot
Genre:   Middle Grade
Rating:   3.5 out of 5

For Arty to miss a day of school, either he is very, very sick or a fairytale-character turf-war has begun in his backyard — such as what begins this particular Wednesday. First, he finds an ax-swinging, bearded, sweaty warrior Dwarf scaring his dogs. Soon enough, Emma, Cry and other middle-school friends also find fairy creatures — Elves, Spriggans, Pixies, and a hoped-for Dragon — crashing into their normal homework-doing, backpack-carrying, phone-charging schooldays. 

Why are these magical beings here? What should be done? Is that axe sharp? Can Pixies be given aspirin? 

Arty with his friends — and spying jerks, and questionable strangers with long names — follow the clues and try to find out, even as things turn dark and dangerous. 

The mythical beings are taking sides. The Gwyllion, that legendary Old Woman of the Mountains, has a sinister plan, turning the neighborhood into a fantasy battleground. One that awaits young heroes.

This is a middle-grade fantasy adventure that was a so-so read. And it’s not listed on Goodreads that I can find, so I can’t point you in that direction. I don’t read much middle-grade, so this may just be a case of being the wrong reader for the book.

I thought the premise was great, but the execution was lacking. I’m not the target audience, but solid-storytelling and logical plot progression should still be prerequisites for a good story, and this veered a bit off-track in places. Like the fact that none of the parents seemed at all concerned about what their kids were into. Or any of their siblings, for that matter. These kids had smart phones, but they were left to wander around without interference? That didn’t really make sense to me.

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

Sundays are for Writing #77

This was another solid writing week:  four book reviews, two days’ worth of snippets on the new project, and brainstorming on the story I plan on editing soon. I’m well into writing reviews that will publish in July (I have twelve reviews written and scheduled for July so far), and I’m several books ahead in my reading as well, but my family was in town from out-of-state this week, so I cut some things short to spend time with them.

Happy writing!

Book Review: The Library of Legends, by Janie Chang

the library of legends
Image belongs to HarperCollins/William Morrow.

Title:   The Library of Legends
Author:   Janie Chang
Genre:   Historical fiction
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

China, 1937. When Japanese bombs begin falling on the city of Nanking, nineteen-year-old Hu Lian and her classmates at Minghua University are ordered to flee. Lian and a convoy of students, faculty and staff must walk 1,000 miles to the safety of China’s western provinces, a journey marred by the constant threat of aerial attack. And it is not just the refugees who are at risk; Lian and her classmates have been entrusted with a priceless treasure: a 500-year-old collection of myths and folklore known as the Library of Legends.

The students’ common duty to safeguard the Library of Legends creates unexpected bonds. Lian becomes friends and forms a cautious romance with the handsome and wealthy Liu Shaoming. But after one classmate is arrested and another one is murdered, Lian realizes she must escape before a family secret puts her in danger too. Accompanied by Shao and his enigmatic maidservant, Sparrow, Lian makes her way to Shanghai in the hopes of reuniting with her mother.

During the journey, Lian learns of the connection between her two companions and a tale from the Library of Legends, The Willow Star and the Prince. This revelation comes with profound consequences, for as the ancient books travel across China, they awaken immortals and guardian spirits who embark on an exodus of their own, one that will change the country’s fate forever.

From the very beginning, I was drawn into this story. I know zilch about this period of Chinese history, but I think it’s fascinating the Chinese government prized students so much in the midst of war. There are a lot of layers in this novel, all of them blended together seamlessly into an entrancing narrative sprinkled with magic in the midst of war.

Janie Change was born in Taiwan and now lives in Canada. The Library of Legends is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of HarperCollins/William Morrow in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: What We Do for Truth, by C.L. Mannarino

what we do for truth
Image belongs to C.L. Mannarino

Title:   What We Do for Truth
Author:   C.L. Mannarino
Genre:   Fantasy
Rating:   3.5 out of 5

In Northam, Massachusetts, the world is falling apart. 17-year-old Zara de Jaager’s lost one of her moms to a vampire. The other is struggling to make things seem as normal as possible. And Scott Whitney, the only person who knows the truth about her mom’s death, has gone missing.

Zara’s read the notes. She’s studied the lore. She’s even made a connection between Scott’s story and a job her mom was working on. Except no one wants to talk about it. And when she finds out that there might even be an entire village of vampires existing under their noses, her family shuts her down. So Zara pushes back, hard. But when she realizes what’s at stake, she’s left wondering:  is taking up her mom’s job really worth it?

It’s been a while since I’ve read in this world, so it took me a bit to get up to speed. Honestly, Zara and her attitude were a stumbling block for me. I understand she’s grieving in the beginning and trying to find an explanation, but she was pretty hateful to everyone around her, and that made it very difficult for me to continue reading about her.

Lots of secrets in this book. Secrets are a given in books like this—well, a requirement, if the supernatural isn’t an open fact—so that wasn’t a problem. As I said, Zara was a stumbling block to me, and I think my mood/outlook on society when I was reading this really affected how I felt about the book.

C.L. Mannarino has been writing books since high school. What We Do for Truth is the third book in the Almost Human series.

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

Book Review: Crushing It, by Lorelei Parker

crushing it
Image belongs to Kensington Books.

Title:   Crushing It
Author:   Lorelei Parker
Genre:   Romantic comedy
Rating:   4 out of 5

To pitch her new role-playing game at a European conference, developer Sierra Reid needs to overcome her terror of public speaking. What better practice than competing in a local bar’s diary slam, regaling an audience with old journal entries about her completely humiliating college crush on gorgeous Tristan Spencer?

Until the moderator says, “Next up, Tristan Spencer . . .”

Sierra is mortified, but Tristan is flattered. Caught up in memories of her decade-old obsession as they reconnect, Sierra tries to dismiss her growing qualms about him. But it’s not so easy to ignore her deepening friendship with Alfie, the cute, supportive bar owner. She and Alfie were college classmates too, and little by little, Sierra is starting to wonder if she’s been focusing her moves on the wrong target all along, misreading every player’s motivations.

Maybe the only winning strategy is to start playing by her heart . . .

I felt a lot of second-hand embarrassment while reading this. I can’t even imagine how horrifying reading your college diary in front of a crowd would be…much less reading bits about your college crush and then realizing he’s in the audience. Kill me now. The voice in this novel was on point and had me laughing quite a bit, which definitely fits the tone of this book.

Sierra isn’t the deepest of characters, but she was fun to read and watching her grow and learn from her experiences was great. Tristan was just about what you’d expect from someone like him, but Alfie was fun to get to know. If you’re looking for something fun and funny to read, this is an excellent choice.

Lorelei Parker is a computer programmer. Crushing It is her newest novel.

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