Tidings of Joy by Margaret Daley


Tidings of Joy by Margaret Daley
Publisher: Harlequin Love Inspired
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Inspirational, Holiday
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

He came to Sweetwater to repay a debt. Chance Taylor didn’t expect to have feelings for his new landlady, Tanya Bolton. He could see newly widowed Tanya had worked hard to put the pieces of her world back together, caring for her wheelchair-bound daughter and taking a job at the local bank.

Chance’s arrival interrupted Tanya’s routine…and brought unexpected happiness to her life.

But the secret obligation he struggled with meant Chance could lose Tanya—and his chance for a fresh start—forever.

A man with baggage, a woman with different baggage, but a pull that’s undeniable. Oh, and it’s Christmas.

I picked this book up because of the dog on the cover. I won’t lie. I like a good black Labrador book. This one didn’t disappoint. It’s cute and sweet. I liked the characters, and I wanted them to have a happy ending. I also wanted to know if the dog got a happy ending, too. Thankfully, everyone did.

I liked the friendship between Tanya and Chance. They hit it off right away, even when they didn’t realize it. It was cute. It also showed that sometimes the best things are worth waiting for. I liked the side story of Tanya’s daughter coming out of her shell and Chance showing them both they weren’t alone.

If you’re looking for a cute holiday read, then this is the one for you.

Head In The Sand by Damien Boyd


Head In The Sand by Damien Boyd
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer Publishers
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Fern

The discovery of a severed head in a golf course bunker triggers a frantic race to find a serial killer that brings the town of Burnham-on-Sea to a standstill.

A connection is made with a series of unsolved murders harking back to the 1970s, and Detective Inspector Nick Dixon finds himself caught in a race against time that takes him the length and breadth of the country.

The brutal killing of an elderly man raises the stakes and, as he closes in, Dixon begins to question whether he is chasing one serial killer or two.

DI Nick Dixon has his lazy Sunday morning interrupted by a phone call, a severed head has been found in 12th holes bunker at the local golf club. What follows is an increasingly complicated mystery where the bodies – and body parts – begins to increase at an alarming rate. Can Dixon and his colleagues solve the connection between the victims and top the killer?

I found this to be a really interesting and well-paced story. While it’s the second book in the DI Nick Dixon series I feel it can easily be read as a standalone. The characters and their connections are very well explained without a huge amount of info-dumping or rehashing their histories so I feel readers should easily be able to follow along and enjoy the story on its own merits. I also really enjoyed how this is very much a British police procedural style of story – with a clear murder mystery plot and a good number of suspects and twists in the storyline.

I also thought the author did a very good job of balancing the action in this story with investigation and understandable police work. It’s very clear to my mind that the author has a solid grasp of police practices and the fundamental steps inherent to any investigation and this shines through the story and makes it a real pleasure to read. Readers on the lookout for a solid, well-paced but logical and realistic murder mystery should find this book as enjoyable as I did.

A good and engrossing read, I really enjoyed this book and will be eagerly looking for the next in the series.

Wolf Point by Ian K. Smith


Wolf Point by Ian K. Smith
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Snowdrop

A Cadillac, a pistol, and a corpse make for another morning in Chicago. The body belongs to Walter Griffin, a prominent Black Chicagoan insider hailing from the city’s West Side. He ascended to the upper echelons of the mayor’s office only to meet his end in a watery grave at Wolf Point. Forensics finds his prints on the gun; it’s ruled a suicide.

But grizzled private investigator Ashe Cayne knows better.

Griffin’s children plead with a reluctant Ashe to hunt their father’s killer. They know their dad wouldn’t have taken his own life without a goodbye. And Ashe knows this town’s dark secrets often mean murder is not too far away.

Ashe decides to take on the case and navigate a city rotting with corruption, racial tensions, and sketchy backroom deals. On the bleak streets of Chicago, it’s every man for himself—and that makes everyone a suspect.

A great suspense read with a great main character. If you like well-crafted Private Investigator characters, Ashe Cayne is it. He’s practical and tough and he does what he has to in order to get things done.

I loved this Chicago setting and if you have ever been there, you would really love some of the description. The plot swirls around a city known for its beauty and for its corruption.

There are quite a few characters in this story, but I didn’t have any trouble keeping them straight. I think it’s because this is an author that is extremely detail oriented. Describing his characters or better said, painting a picture of them, makes them clearly identifiable while reading. After all, this author is a doctor who has written a wildly popular two book series and also one who has some diet books that have great reviews. From one type of detail to another. Seems he is as good at describing food detail as he is creating a great character in a suspenseful thriller. I sure hope Ashe Cayne shows up in a third book.

We Just Had a Baby by Stephen Krensky


We Just Had a Baby by Stephen Krensky
Publisher: Capstone Young Readers
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

It’s not easy getting used to a new baby in the house. Everyone in the world thinks whatever the baby does is amazing! And if you aren’t the baby, everyone acts like you’re invisible. This clever, funny picture book is told from a slightly older sibling’s point of view. The observations about living with a new sister or brother are poignant, spot-on, and will make even the youngest reader chuckle.

Change isn’t always easy, especially for children who had no say in the matter.

One of the things I liked the most about this picture book was how honest it was about the positive and negative aspects of becoming an older sibling. The main character loved his sister, but he also had some perfectly reasonable reasons to be occasionally irritated with how she had affected his life. For example, some adults favor babies over older children, and all babies cry. Acknowledging the difficult portions of this experience can make it easier to also notice the benefits of it.

I found myself wishing that the narrator’s parents would have been a little more involved in the storyline. Yes, this was about the creation of a brand new sibling relationship, but parents influence how these things develop in both helpful and unhelpful ways. It would have been nice to see the mom and dad encourage their children to become close as the baby grew up.

The ending made me smile. I enjoyed seeing how the main character had matured as a result of his experiences. He was a kind kid who ultimately needed some time to adjust to his family’s new routines. This was such a realistic take on the subject matter. It made me wish for a sequel about these siblings as they grow older, but I was also satisfied with how the reader left them in the final scene.

We Just Had a Baby was a well-balanced look at how a family changes after they have another child.

The Final Hunt by Audrey J. Cole


The Final Hunt by Audrey J. Cole
Publisher: Rainier Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Ginger

Alone in a hunting cabin, off-grid in an untamed wilderness. How does a marriage come to this?
After John disappeared while hunting—presumed dead from a bear attack—Cameron found the crime photos. His role in the recent Seattle serial murders was discovered. The media destroyed her reputation. She lost her dental practice, is on the brink of losing her home.

Everyone has a secret. But if her husband could hide the unimaginable from her, who’s to say he’s truly dead?

“What brings you so far from home?” the Alaska State Trooper had asked. The truth.

For three months she’s been a grieving widow and then one day Cameron Prescott finds her husband’s serial killer trophy photos. Was her husband John the “Teacher Killer”? And could he still be alive?

For me this was a simple and easily readable in two sittings. There’s no shock value or big reveal at the end. I pretty much saw where the story was going but I still enjoyed the journey. Quality writing that gives vivid scenic description of the wilderness of Alaska that added tension to the story. Details about bears and wolfs and how they devour their prey was interesting to know. It’s likely I wouldn’t be finding this out. So, it’s good to live through words and experience the wildlife from the safety of my sofa.

On one hand I did like the main character, Cameron, but on the other hand I found that I didn’t really get to know her. I like that she is tough, intelligent and spontaneous. She’s flying planes, she’s a dentist, she’s hiking and camping in the cold wilderness of Alaska and she outran an avalanche on a snowmobile. I mean what’s not to admire? She’s turned from grieving widow to Detective Nancy Drew. I would have liked to have known more about the characters, as well as their marriage. John is being labeled a serial killer, but Cameron had no clue. What was he like? What was their marriage like? John was an attorney, who worked on a pro bono case that nearly bankrupted the firm. Doesn’t sound like a profile for a serial killer to me. May be that was the author’s intent; unsuspecting married male with a secret. Speaking of secrets, there’s a saying that like attracts like. My guess is John saw something in Cameron that he saw in himself.

The book doesn’t give a lot of details about Simon Castelli, John’s friend and co-attorney. I’m wondering what kind of friendship they really had. I didn’t care for the microwave romance that was thrown in. I would have preferred that it was noted Dane was interested after his brief encounter and then in the epilogue details that they decided to pursue a relationship. (Purposely being vague to keep from spoiling it for future readers).

Overall, I enjoyed the book. It’s well paced, has a strong female character, but it doesn’t fit my personal definition of a thriller. Suggested reading for those that enjoy books that aren’t too heavy and that, even though it speaks about heinous crimes and acts, the content isn’t tremendously disturbing.

Their Love Deal by Helen Walton


Their Love Deal by Helen Walton
Billionaires’ Reluctant Brides Book 1
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

What started as a way to keep her mom from nagging her about marriage ended in more…

Recent college graduate Tiffany Herringer never expected to fall in love with her two boyfriends. After three years of loving Dieter Brant and Dex Munroe, she can’t let go of either of them. Everyone seems content with their arrangement, until the graduation party when Tiff discovers they know each other—and they’re friends—friends who talk about her and the things she likes.

When they suggest merging their relationships, Tiff doesn’t think she can be with two men at once. Sure, she dates them both, but together? If she agrees, she’ll never have to choose between Dieter and Dex, but then she’ll never get married. Not that she wants to get married … or does she?

Does she have to choose between the men she loves?

I love a good hot story and this one sizzles. Tiffany has been with and dated Dieter and Dex, both. She likes them both. Heck, she doesn’t want to choose between them. So, what’s a girl to do when she’s confronted with the idea she might not have to?

I loved this story because it burned and sizzled, but it also built slowly. It gave the reader, me, time to get to know the characters and feel their connection. I loved the heat to it, too. It’s a great story. There’s tenderness between the characters and a genuine connection. No lopsided love here!

I liked this trope–friends to lovers–and am glad I read this story. It was so worth the read. Check it out!

Arbitrium by Anjali Sachdeva


Arbitrium by Anjali Sachdeva
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Vashti is a pathogenic diplomat—an ambassador to the world of viruses, whom she communicates with through a machine that can translate their chemical signals into images, tastes, smells, sounds, and memories. She begins a negotiation between the US Government and a diplomatic contingent from Arenavirus, a virus which has just begun spreading a deadly mutation in Florida. If Vashti is successful, she and Arena will reach a diplomatic agreement; if not, the Arenavirus infection will continue to spread, and humans will have to race to try to find a vaccine or treatment. As she navigates the diplomatic discussions, Vashti is also trying to connect with her daughter Alma, who lives on the other side of the country in a technology-averse commune. By the time the negotiation ends, Vashti discovers that Arenavirus have learned some impressive and deadly tricks from their interactions with humans.

This tale takes the idea of having a bad day at work to an entirely new level. Humanity may go extinct if Vashti fails.

It’s rare for me to find science fiction about viruses that can communicate with humans, so I was thrilled when I discovered this short story. Intelligence in other species doesn’t have to look anything like human intelligence in order to be valid or, in some cases, dangerous. I was intrigued by the thought of how the world would look through the eyes of a creature so different from us, and Ms. Sachdeva certainly gave me a lot to think about there. Her decision to frame everything through the perspective of a person trying to communicate with the enemy was a smart one, too. There was plenty of room for character and plot development in the interactions between two such wildly different species alone, much less everything else that was happening in the storyline simultaneously.

I found myself wishing the ending had been given as much time to develop as the beginning and middle had to work with. The plot twist near the last scene was such a game changer that I was surprised to see how quickly the ending appeared from there. I’m not the sort of reader who expects everything to be wrapped up neatly, especially in a genre like science fiction that often thrives on unanswered questions, but I did find myself wondering if I’d missed something after I finished this piece. It would have been truly helpful to have a bit more information about what was happening there.

Vashti was a well-developed protagonist who had a sympathetic backstory and a likeable personality. Of course, it’s not strictly necessary for me to like a character in order to empathize with them or to be curious about what will happen to them next by any means, but it’s always delightful to get to know someone in fiction who I think I’d get along with quite well if she were a real person. She was a logical, calm individual who thought through everything carefully and had a contingency plan for all sorts of possible outcomes. I wanted to sit down with her and ask her at least a dozen questions about her work. That is a sign of memorable writing in my opinion.

Arbitrium was full of surprises.

Point Of No Return by John Carson


Point Of No Return by John Carson
Publisher: Vellum
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

An old mystery solved after thirty-five years. And a new one just beginning…Millionaire Murdo Wolf took off in a small plane from the island where he lived, and neither he nor the plane was ever seen again. Until now. The Wolf family have gathered on the island they used to call home. They’re celebrating the life of their father, Oliver Wolf, who died six months ago. Now, one of Oliver’s sons has been murdered. And when his body is discovered, so is the body of his grandfather. Did the son know where his grandfather was hidden? Did he die because of it? DCI Harry McNeil is sent to the island to investigate the cold case and track down a killer who may or may not still be there. Helping with the investigation are two detectives from Glasgow, DCI Jimmy Dunbar and DS Robbie Evans. This isn’t an open-and-shut case and they discover the killer is still lurking on the island, and the body count is increasing. But with no clear motive and no direct links to the patriarch going missing all those years ago, this is going to be one of the hardest cases Harry has ever worked on.

I found this to be an excellent addition to the DCI Harry McNeil Scottish mystery series. With a small cast of long-standing characters and an interesting murder mystery plot this book was a solid addition. Best of all while I do feel readers who have read some of the previous installments will get a deeper understanding from the book, the characters and setting is well-laid and explained fully enough that readers should feel comfortable picking this up and reading it as a stand-alone.

I greatly enjoyed the “closed room” aspect to the mystery plot. The murder occurs on a small Scottish island – off the Isle of Mull – with a limited number of local inhabitants and the members of a wealthy family who have gathered for the patriarch’s funeral service. This lent the whole book the air of an older style who-did-it sort of mystery with a limited number of people who could possibly have committed the crime – with the rich family members right at the top of the list.

Indeed, I strongly feel the characters and their interactions are what make this story so wonderful to read. The author does a really good job to my mind of writing the Scottish police characters in a realistic and relatable manner, without being too cliched or over-the-top. I found the main characters to be particularly vivid and enjoyable, their camaraderie and clearly solid relationships were really well handled and made the reading quick and pleasurable for me. While the other characters and suspects were also very well drawn I was pleased a large part of the story focused on the police investigation and interactions. This might make the plot feel a little slow moving for some readers – those used to high-octane and strongly action orientated novels – but personally I enjoyed the deeper characterizations and slightly slower pace.

Readers who enjoy closed room murder mysteries – or smaller town settings like, say Agatha Christie or more plot and character centric novels with a little less action and adrenaline, should find this book really fits the bill. I found the mystery to be interesting and well handled, though admit there is an equal – if not slightly greater – focus on the main characters and their interactions and investigation. I thoroughly enjoyed this story and look forward to the next in the series. Recommended.

The Marsh Bird by Anne Brooker James


The Marsh Bird by Anne Brooker James
Publisher: Koehlerbooks
Genre: Historical, Mainstream fiction
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

Woven with murder, mystery, and magic, The Marsh Bird is a compelling story of a young, orphaned, multiracial girl from Louisiana and a white teen abandoned as an infant and raised by a local white fisherman, both embraced by the residents of a rural, Gullah Geechee sea island community. Set among descendants of those once enslaved in the lush marshes of the Lowcountry coast of South Carolina and Georgia, this is an unforgettable love story, and a tale of survival that proves it is the bonds of love and care that create a family.

This is a stunning new novel that is filled with surprises and emotional ups and downs. The Gullah Geechee culture is presented in a sensitive way, and readers will sympathize with their struggles and the strength they show to deal with their challenging circumstances.

Their traditions are laced with spirituality, making them people with depth, and the author does well showing this. The relationships are realistic and draw out emotions.

To make the story even more intense, there is mystery and murder within these pages. Family and race are common themes that bring it all together beautifully. A love story spanning the growing years of the young protagonists is tender. Then the young man must go off to war. He does not realize that he becomes a father while he’s gone. Will his true love ever see him again?

If you enjoy reading about other cultures and times, this is a great book to check out. It was well done with memorable characters.

His Novice by Arabella Sheen


His Novice by Arabella Sheen
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Nathan Stockman controls his own destiny and answers to no one. But when Summer Jenkin erupts into his life, he finds it hard to resist the temptation to bed her. She’s everything he’s not. She’s classy, she’s young, and she’s … virginal.

Dare he be the man responsible for awakening her to the pleasures of lovemaking, or should he walk away before they become emotionally entangled?

Summer doesn’t care that Nathan is older than she is, and it certainly doesn’t stop her from wanting a night of passion in his arms. Offering to be his novice is no guarantee he will teach her everything he knows about love, but she’s ready and more than willing to learn how to please him … both in and out of bed.

He’s hot for her. She’s hot for him. But are they right for each other?

This is somewhat of a slow burn story, but if you’re looking for heat, then this one will singe. Arabella Sheen has written a hot story, packed with heart. I couldn’t put it down.

Summer needs a bit of education in the bedroom and she’s not afraid to ask Nathan for it. I liked how she wasn’t afraid to be what he wanted. I also liked that she had some backbone. Nathan wants a novice. He’s a bit older, a bit wiser and he’s attracted to her. They don’t fall into the romance part right away and that was refreshing.

This trope – older brother’s best friend and the virginal heroine – has been done before, but this time it’s fresh and hot. I liked it a lot.

If you’re looking for something hot, short, but worth the read, then check this one out.