Growing Season is what I like to call a "quiet" feel-good story. Some feel-good books are very dramatic, and don't get me wrong, I love that. Sometimes, though, a book comes along with subtleties that make the reader think and feel, more than anticipate. (Again, nothing wrong with anticipation!) I was happy to just be in the story with Melinda Foster, who was laid off from her job in Minneapolis and returned to her home town in rural Iowa to nurse her wounds while helping her family. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Melinda learn how to bring her rented farm and garden back to life, with the help of new friends and neighbors. The rhythm of small town life is enchanting, and the author does a great job of evoking a rural setting. Yes, everyone was very nice in this story, but in these dark times in our nation--a global pandemic and civic unrest--nice goes an awfully long way. There are seven books in this series, and I can wait to read the next one.
Those Summer NIghts, book five in the Oyster Bay series, is the first Olivia Miles book I’ve read, but it won’t be my last. And I certainly want to go back to the beginning of the series and start with book one. I was immediately drawn in by the quaintness and home-town vibe of Oyster Bay, situated on the coast of Maine, where this story mostly plays out. The town is cozy, with rich and vibrant descriptions of the community and geography. There is also a compelling plot line taking place simultaneously in California, which only serves to strengthen the overall story. Readers will love the main characters in this romance, as they are well developed and likeable. Evie, an advice columnist, and Liam, who Evie thinks is just visiting Oyster Bay, are highly relatable and behave in ways readers will find familiar. Miles explores human relationships—relationships between family members, love interests, and friends—in a delightful way. The author’s ability to incorporate humor adds another pleasing dimension to the book. Even the stodgiest curmudgeon will laugh out loud at some of the scenes.
Olivia Miles also does a great job of placing dramatic elements throughout the book, making it an exceptionally pleasant reading experience. Many chapters have a surprise you never saw coming (at least I didn’t), and there are some mini-cliffhangers in there, too.
The characters are all subject to internal struggles, less than ideal circumstances, tragedy, and suffering. But what makes Miles’ characters special is that readers will get the sense that they can all overcome—that they can rise to any occasion. Which means her characters can also experience great joy and happiness, as they should in a novel of this genre. If you love cozy and clean romances as much as I do, you will love this book. I know I did.
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Sara When She Chooses is a book about a young girl, her ties to a mysterious heritage and a choice that has the potential to change her life. The novel is written for readers ages nine to twelve, but I enjoyed it as an adult reader.
Every summer, eleven-year-old Sara is sent to spend a few weeks with her grandmother in the deep, deep bayou where there is no electricity or other links to the outside world. World building is obviously a strength of author Cat Jenkins, who creates a lush, mysterious environment that slowly begins to reveal itself to Sarah in unexpected ways. It is thus that Sara realizes she has special gifts, and that her visits to her grandmother are not mere social visits. She is there to learn and grow her unusual talents. She is there to choose the path she will take for the rest of her life.
The author skillfully leads the reader until we willingly suspend disbelief and enter the main character’s fantastical world, comprised of a crew of imaginative, mythical creatures, each with its own quirks and purpose.
I particularly enjoyed the dialogue, especially that of Sara’s grandmother. It is authentically homespun—not an easy achievement, especially because the author carries the thread very well throughout the entire book.
I really hope there will be a sequel because at the end.... Well. You’ll see what I mean when you get there!
Have you ever awakened in the morning and the first thought you have is, "I just had the strangest dream!" Well, that was my feeling when I finished The Bonerunners (The Chronicles of Corvacadia Book 1), by Karen Turkal. But I felt this in a good way. The book is filled with magic and mystery, well-developed and interesting characters, a well-paced story line, and settings brought alive by the essence of the tale.
The story is built around a group of people, known as Corvids, who have survived an outbreak of a very strong strain of flu and suddenly begin to grow “outer bones,” which are literally bones that grow on the outside of their bodies. The Corvids are hunted by the “bonerunners,” the evil-doers who will stop at nothing to harvest the bones and reap their special powers. Grim, right? Yes, but very well done.
Throughout the book the main character, Dia, must deal with this unspeakable evil and violence, and she does so with the help of a peculiar but likeable group of new friends. In addition, she draws on the magical powers she learns she has inherited, and must rely on the sometimes puzzling guidance of her grandmother, Gram Spina. Dia is haunted throughout the book by a personal tragedy which opens the story, and plunges her into the horrific world of the bonerunners.
Turkal's considerable imagination has conjured up a compelling story that can be described as a cross between a fairy tale and a horror story, with the underlying struggle of good versus evil intertwined. Her talent for world-building immerses the reader fully into Dia’s surroundings.
The author’s respect for and knowledge of nature is also evident. There are even a few adorable animals. As this first book in the series comes to a close, the reader is introduced to the wonders of Corvacadia, a magical and beautiful world with surprises of its own. Readers will be eager to know more about Corvacadia in subsequent books in the series, and will certainly want to keep up with Dia and her tribe of unusual but capable allies as she navigates an increasingly complicated maze where magic and evil come together.
As I read this book, I was constantly amazed at the author's ability to keep all the events, characters, plot twists, and surprises straight, but she managed to do so, and do it well.
After you’ve read this mesmerizing book, be sure to check out books two and three, The Corvids and Corvacadia.
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I always give books as Christmas presents, as I'm sure most writers do. The books I gift have to be exceptional, because the people receiving them are smart, sophisticated, and worldly. And, of course, they are readers in every sense of the word. This year, I gave only one book (if you don't count the children's story, Because of Winn Dixie, which I bought for my nine-year-old niece), and it was Matka, the debut novel from writer Sarah Hanley. Based on the story of her grandparents, Matka examines the fate of Polish prisoners liberated from the labor camps following WW II.
Hanley shines a light on this time period with gritty precision, telling the story of Zosia, a Polish mother who takes her son’s place as a Gestapo prisoner in hopes of saving him. From the first heart wrenching pages, Matka takes its readers on an emotional roller coaster ride through the horrors of life as a slave laborer and then into a post-war displaced persons facility. In addition to the beautiful writing, haunting characters and absorbing story line, the author puts a fine point on her novel with meticulous historical research. This is raw story, made even more poignant by the fact that it is based in fact.
There is a reason that Matka has all five star reviews on Amazon. The novel takes it rightful place alongside such standout WW II novels as Sarah’s Key, Suite Francaise, and 22 Britannia Road. I look forward to more from this author.
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Marris Sheffield and her friends are orphans living in a cold and spartan facility for unwanted children, and become caught up in a sinister plot that ultimately results in their deaths. What follows is a young adult novel that is part thriller, part ghost story, and part tragedy. While it is too late for Marris, Cullen and the other orphans who have died as a result of horrendous medical experimentation, Marris and her friends resolve to uncover the truth about their deaths and perhaps spare the remaining children who are still alive.
When I first picked up Shattered, I wondered how the author could sustain a story that asked the reader to bond with a main character before her death, and then continue to be invested in her after her death. Happily, this was done quite well and in fact, I think I liked Marris even more following her death.
To that end, while this story has a very strong and intricate plot with plenty of twists and turns, I think Shattered is a character-driven book. Marris is a strong heroine, and the author is not afraid to push the limits. Although some of Marris’ actions are questionable, I was one hundred percent on her side. How could I not be? They were necessary for good to triumph over evil. I particularly liked the parts where Marris had to “learn” to be a ghost. The book presented many such obstacles for her to overcome if she was to achieve her goals, and kept the story clipping along at a good pace.
Ultimately, Shattered is a sad story. But that doesn’t make it any less powerful. And while the distinction of good and bad are, of course, obvious, there are some grey areas in the story that help Marris to grow as a person (or should I say “ghost”?) and to understand the spectrum of the human condition.
All in all, a very good read that kept my attention until the very end. Look for more books by the author on her Amazon author page.
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What I love most about cozy mysteries is that the shear creativity authors come up with for the settings and themes that drive the story: a book store, a knitting shop, catering, libraries, a tea shop. The list goes on. One of the things I really enjoyed about Dawn Brooke’s A Cruise to Murder was the cruise ship setting with a medical theme thrown in. This is a new combination for me and I’m glad I picked up the book. The novel was obviously well researched and presented an accurate account of the workings of a cruise ship. And the fact that the author is a nurse lends another air of authenticity to the book.
A Cruise to Murder has all the elements of a fine cozy: a sympathetic main character (we like Rachel Prince because she is both vulnerable and kick-ass); a cheery side-kick; a love interest; and of course the murder mystery, which centers around an elderly woman Rachel meets on the cruise.
The author created a strong cast of characters and kept me in sufficient suspense, wondering which one was the murderer. I liked the fact that we got to know the characters and the setting before the murder. It’s so nice to ease into a cozy rather than encountering the corpse in the first chapter!
In true cozy fashion, I enjoyed much of A Cruise to Murder curled up on the couch, a snoozing puppy on one side and a cup of tea on the other. (I had to have tea: the author is British!) This book definitely lived up to the standards of a fine cozy, including the upcoming release of a second book in the Rachel Prince series, A Deadly Cruise.
Learn more about Dawn Brookes
Just when you think that everything under the sun has already been "done," something like Alex Bailey's novel The Future Memoir of Ann Jones: A Time Travel Romance with a Splash of Magic hits your radar.
This is a charming, refreshing and fun read, and I was immediately drawn in by the intriguing title. After all, the phrase "future memoir" is counterintuitive.
Although the story is book-ended by letters, I quickly became happily immersed in the plot and forgot where the story was in time and space. It was a bit of jolt at the end when the spell was broken and I was brought out of it, but nevertheless, I appreciated the author's distinctive approach, which she pulled off so well.
The main character, Ann Jones, is extremely likeable and provided many laugh-out-loud moments, and the author has created a quirky but loveable cast of supporting characters. While I enjoyed the story, characters and the subplots, it was wanting to get to the bottom of the knitting club, which Ann joined, that kept me coming back for more. A knitting club where no one knits? Bizarre rules reminiscent of a cult? The club brought to mind the lyric in the Eagles' song "Hotel California": "You can check out anytime you want, but you can never leave."
The author does an excellent job of unfolding the mystery of the knitting club, a little at a time. Dare I say it? Like rolling out a ball of yarn and letting the thread trail slowly behind it.
Readers will not be disappointed with this novel. The Future Memoir of Ann Jones is a pleasing mix of eerie suspense and romance, with the splash of magic promised in the title. I recommend it for those who enjoy sweet romances and cozy mysteries.
Want to learn more about the book and the author? Follow Alex Bailey on Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Amazon.
A fun and funny paranormal mystery with some romance thrown in!
I’d never read a paranormal mystery (or paranormal anything!) before so I didn’t know what to expect when I sat down with Kim Cox’s “Haunted Hearts,” the first in the Lana Malloy series. While Lana and Tony are the main characters—and they are wonderfully drawn, especially Lana’s internal conflicts— it is Lucy, the ghost, who steals the show. The way the author describes Lucy and her antics made me feel like I was in the story with her and I could visualize her perfectly. I love it when a book makes me laugh out loud, which this one did. And it had just enough suspense and mystery to keep me interested to the end.
You can read a lot more from Kim Cox, including the entire Lana Malloy series, as well as many others!