Category: book review

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.)

Book Review: The Midnight Bargain, by C.L. Polk

Image belongs to Erewhon.

Title: The Midnight Bargain
Author: C.L. Polk   
Genre: Fantasy, YA
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Beatrice Clayborn is a sorceress who practices magic in secret, terrified of the day she will be locked into a marital collar that will cut off her powers to protect her unborn children. She dreams of becoming a full-fledged Magus and pursuing magic as her calling as men do, but her family has staked everything to equip her for Bargaining Season, when young men and women of means descend upon the city to negotiate the best marriages. The Clayborns are in severe debt, and only she can save them, by securing an advantageous match before their creditors come calling.

In a stroke of luck, Beatrice finds a grimoire that contains the key to becoming a Magus, but before she can purchase it, a rival sorceress swindles the book right out of her hands. Beatrice summons a spirit to help her get it back, but her new ally exacts a price: Beatrice’s first kiss . . . with her adversary’s brother, the handsome, compassionate, and fabulously wealthy Ianthe Lavan.

The more Beatrice is entangled with the Lavan siblings, the harder her decision becomes: If she casts the spell to become a Magus, she will devastate her family and lose the only man to ever see her for who she is; but if she marries—even for love—she will sacrifice her magic, her identity, and her dreams. But how can she choose just one, knowing she will forever regret the path not taken?

I ended up enjoying this a lot, although Ianthe seemed just a little bit too good to be true. I mean, handsome, rich, open-minded and for women’s equality in a society where it’s unheard of, willing to give up his status, wealth, and family? But I enjoyed reading about him—and his fabulous clothes—as he and Beatrice got to know each other better.

The society was well-done, if a bit horrifying, and the author didn’t get bogged down in the details, giving the reader just enough detail to bring the setting to life without smothering them with minutiae. I wanted to smack Beatrice’s little sister several times, but on the whole, I very much enjoyed this read.

C.L. Polk lives in Canada. The Midnight Bargain is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: Quiet No More, by Nikki Barthelmess

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Title: Quiet No More
Author:   Nikki Barthelmess  
Genre: YA
Rating: 4.0 out of 5

College freshman Victoria Parker is trying to move on with her life after surviving sexual assault by her father and six months in foster care. She’s focusing on the positives–attending college, living on her own, repairing old relationships and making new ones, and getting involved with an abuse survivors activist group on campus. But everything’s thrown into disarray when a strange woman shows up, claiming to be Victoria’s aunt and asking Victoria to lie about what happened to her. With her father’s sentencing in a few months, she’s nervous about having to share the truth of what happened with a judge. She’s not even sure if she has the strength to go through with it. But when her fellow club members begin pressuring her to speak out, Victoria has to decide how to share her story while remaining true to herself.

Victoria has been through awful things but she’s trying to get her life back to normal. Unfortunately, specters from her past keep interfering and she has to figure out—again—how she will handle the ugly truth about what her father did to her. Her friends, new and old, all seem to have an opinion on what she should do, but when the truth comes out, Victoria must decide what is right for her.

I thought The Quiet You Carry, the book before this one, was very well-done and well-written. I have the same feelings about this book. This is about a tough topic, and the author handles it with respect and care.

Nikki Barthelmess lives in California. Quiet No More is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: Above All Else, by Dana Alison Levy

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Title: Above All Else
Author: Dana Alison Levy    
Genre: YA
Rating: 4.0 out 0f 5

Rose Keller and Tate Russo have been climbing for years, training in harsh weather and traveling all over the world. The goal that kept them going? Summiting Mount Everest, the highest point on earth. Accompanied by Tate’s dad, the two will finally make the ultimate climb at the end of their senior year. But neither Rose nor Tate are fully in the game–not only is there a simmering romance between them, but Rose can’t get her mind off her mother’s illness, while Tate constantly fails to live up to his ambitious father’s standards.

Everyone on their expedition has something to prove, it seems. And not everyone is making the best decisions while short on oxygen and exhausted, body and mind. The farther up the mountain they go, the more their climbing plans unravel and the more isolated each team member becomes. Rose and Tate will have to dig deep within themselves to determine what–or who–they value above all else.

For someone with a fear of heights, parts of this were moderately terrifying. This was an intense read! I’ve hiked the Grand Canyon twice—third trip will be next year—but that’s more of a months-of-training thing, not years of training. And, while I’m fascinated by people who choose to hike Mt. Everest, I haven’t the faintest desire to actually climb any mountain.

I loved how we see this story from both Rose and Tate’s points-of-view. They’re such different people and their perspectives are so different, despite everyone thinking of them as RoseandTate. There are some intense scenes in this, but the author does an incredible job with the setting and letting us see what Rose and Tate experience on this once-in-a-lifetime journey.

Dana Alison Levy lives in New England. Above All Else is her newest novel.

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

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Emperor’s Wolves, by Michelle Sagara

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Title: The Emperor’s Wolves
Author:   Michelle Sagara  
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 5 out of 5

As an orphan scrounging in the lawless slums, young Severn Handred didn’t have the luxury of believing in anything beyond his own survival. Now he’s crossed the river and entered the heart of the empire: the city of Elantra. When Severn is spotted tailing some lawmen of the Hawks—a not insignificant feat to go otherwise undetected—the recruiter for the Imperial Wolves thinks he should join their ranks. The Wolves are a small, select group that work within the Halls of Law, reporting directly to the Eternal Emperor. Severn hopes to avoid the law—he certainly had no intention of joining it.

In order to become a wolf—even on probation—Severn must face the investigators most dreaded throughout the Empire: The Tha’alani, readers of minds. No secret is safe from their prying, no knowledge can remain buried. But Severn’s secret, never shared before, is not enough to prevent the Wolves from adopting him as one of their own. All men have secrets, after all. Severn’s first job will be joining a hunt, but between the treacherous politics of the High Court, the almost unnatural interest of one of the Lords, and those who wish long-held secrets to remain buried forever, the trick will be surviving it.

I’ll start off by saying that I’m a huge fan of Michelle Sagara’s Chronicles of Elantra series—and Severn is one of my favorite characters. Reading this novel made me want to re-read that entire series…except I don’t have time right now. I love the voice in that series so much—and Kaylin is such a great character and finds herself in so many situations that keep my attention riveted.

Fittingly, the voice in this prequel spin-off isn’t the same. There are still hints of snark, but, as we’re following Severn, there’s not the same rushing-headlong-into-trouble-and-other-people’s-business plot going on here. Fantastic writing, setting, and characterization as the other series, but the action in this is more thought-out—whereas Kaylin rushes into everything, Severn actually thinks things through before acting.

I really loved seeing things from his eyes and learning more about his past and Kaylin’s. I can’t wait to read more in this spin-off series!

Michelle Sagara is an author, book­seller, and lover of liter­ature based in Toronto.

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

Book Review: Five Total Strangers, by Natalie D. Richards

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Title: Five Total Strangers
Author:  Natalie D. Richards   
Genre: YA, suspense/thriller
Rating: 3.8 out of 5

When Mira flies home to spend Christmas with her mother in Pittsburgh, a record-breaking blizzard results in a cancelled layover. Desperate to get to her grief-ridden mother in the wake of a family death, Mira hitches a ride with a group of friendly college kids who were on her initial flight.

As the drive progresses and weather conditions become more treacherous, Mira realizes that the four other passengers she’s stuck in the car with don’t actually know one another.

Soon, they’re not just dealing with heavy snowfall and ice-slick roads, but the fact that somebody will stop at nothing to ensure their trip ends in a deadly disaster.

It’s difficult for me to read novels with characters that I don’t like or characters that make stunningly stupid decisions, so when Mira decided to hop in a car with four absolute strangers in the middle of a blizzard, that was almost it for me. She was on the flight with one of these girls, so I have no idea why she ever assumed the rest of the group even knew each other. But she did—and promptly got in the car with them. Awesome decision, that.

There are bad decisions everywhere in this novel, but Mira keeps ignoring all the glaring signs. Again, I find it hard to sympathize with characters who make stupid decisions. Especially repeated ones. And I knew there would be a twist in there somewhere, so the reveal wasn’t much of a surprise. Solid writing and description—the setting comes to frigid, miserable life—but in the end, this was just a step above “okay.”

Natalie D. Richards is from Ohio. Five Total Strangers is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: The Christmas Table, by Donna VanLiere

Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title: The Christmas Table
Author:  Donna VanLiere   
Genre: Fiction, women’s fiction
Rating: 4.0 out of 5

In June 1972, John Creighton determines to build his wife Joan a kitchen table. His largest project to date had been picture frames but he promises to have the table ready for Thanksgiving dinner. Inspired to put something delicious on the table, Joan turns to her mother’s recipes she had given to Joan when she and John married.

In June 2012, Lauren Mabrey discovers she’s pregnant. Gloria, Miriam, and the rest of her friends at Glory’s Place begin to pitch in, helping Lauren prepare their home for the baby. On a visit to the local furniture builder, Lauren finds a table that he bought at a garage sale but has recently refinished. Once home, a drawer is discovered under the table which contains a stack of recipe cards. Growing up in one foster home after another, Lauren never learned to cook and is fascinated as she reads through the cards. Personal notes have been written on each one from the mother to her daughter and time and again Lauren wonders where they lived, when they lived, and in a strange way, she feels connected to this mother and her daughter and wants to make the mother proud.

The story continues to from 1972 to 2012 as Joan battles breast cancer and Lauren learns to cook, preparing for the baby’s arrival. As Christmas nears, can Lauren unlock the mystery of the table, and find the peace she’s always longed for?

This was a sweet tale of two women and their families in two separate decades and their stories. It’s also full of descriptions of delicious food!

“Sweet” is really the perfect adjective for this book:  there’s the food of course—not always desserts—but there’s also the journeys Joan and Lauren go on as they attempt to grow, learn, and thrive with the hands they’ve been dealt. Their friends and family truly surround them on their journeys, helping to get then through to their destinations.

Donna VanLiere is a bestselling author. The Christmas Table is her newest novel.

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