Blindspots by Rhonda Parrish

Blindspots by Rhonda Parrish
Publisher: Poise and Pen Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Historical
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

The war is over.

Ricky just wants to lick his wounds and learn what the new normal is going to look like for him, but his brother has gone missing. Now Ricky needs to team up with his wartime friends (and at least one dog he’d hoped never to see again) to find him, figure out what’s going on and save the world.


And the clock is ticking…

Saving the world is easy, right?

One of the biggest strengths of this tale was its realistic dialogue. The conversations the characters shared ranged from perfectly smooth to abrupt depending on what was happening with the storyline and what else was going on with Ricky. These moments felt so genuine that I sometimes felt like I was eavesdropping on real talking dogs. That’s not an easy thing to accomplish, and it’s made me an even bigger fan of Ms. Parrish’s work than I already was.

There were some minor pacing issues, especially as I moved closer to the middle portion of this novel. Ricky and his friends had plenty to keep them busy in the beginning and the end. If the middle had kept up that pace, I would have happily gone with a full five-star rating.

The world building was exciting and well done. Most books about talking animals are written for kids, so I was thrilled to find one created for an adult audience instead. There were so many little details that grabbed my attention as I was reading, from Ricky’s reaction to seeing dog food scattered on the floor to the legends dogs believed about humans to how teleportation worked in this world. The author truly thought of everything which made this such a pleasant reading experience. I would be happy to read a sequel if one were published, but I also thought this worked perfectly nicely as a standalone work.

Blindspots was a creative and memorable adventure.

* The Duchess Takes a Husband by Harper St. George

*The Duchess Takes a Husband by Harper St. George
Publisher: Berkley Publishing Group
Genre: Historical, Romance
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Larkspur

Despite her illustrious title, Camille, Duchess of Hereford, remains what she has always been—a pariah. Though her title means she’s technically accepted by London Society, the rebellious widow with her burgeoning interest in the suffrage movement and her American ways isn’t exactly high on every hostess’s guest list. But Camille starts to wonder if being an outcast is not without its perks when the tantalizing answer to her secret fear appears in the shape of Jacob Thorne, the illegitimate son of an earl and co-owner of London’s infamous Montague Club.

Jacob is used to making deals with his club members—he’s just not accustomed to them being beautiful women. Nor have the terms ever been so sweetly seductive as Camille’s shocking proposition. To finally buy his own club and gain the crucial backing of investors, Camille offers Jacob the respectability of a fake engagement with a duchess. In return, the tempting widow has one condition: she wants Jacob to show her if it’s possible for her to experience pleasure in bed.

The lure of such a bargain proves too delicious to resist, drawing the enterprising rogue and the wallflower duchess into a scandalous game and an even more dangerous gamble of the heart.

The Duchess Takes A Husband is an enchanting historical romance that held me spellbound from start to finish. Harper St. James knows how to paint a picture and she did a wonderful job telling Jacob and Camille’s story. The writing is realistic and made me feel like I was right there. The characters are interesting and unique as they yearn for each other in this slow burn romance. They have tons of chemistry and I loved reading their story and also enjoyed all the entertaining secondary characters. I knew what the two main characters were thinking because the author gives us both of their points of view throughout the story.

This story takes place as the suffragette movement is just starting. Women are so constrained, they are either under the thumb of their parents, or the man they marry. The reader is taken back in time to the beginning of the movement, and we are shown how hard women worked to gain their freedom in a male dominated world.

Camille has been told what to do her entire life and she never realized she had choices. As she learns about the suffragette movement her eyes are opened to the possibilities a woman can have. Jacob is wonderful and understanding and just the type of man Camille needs in her life.

This story has engaging characters and a good plot line. I immediately liked Jacob and Camille and thought they were perfect for each other. I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and I am sure you will too.

Dragon Springs & Other Things by Raven Oak

Dragon Springs & Other Things by Raven Oak
Publisher: Grey Sun Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Paranormal, Contemporary, Historical
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

This debut collection by multi-award-winning author and artist Raven Oak brings together fantastical stories from the past ten years of her career, ranging from gothic and urban fantasy to post-apocalyptic and steampunk tales.

You’ll find coffee-drinking ghosts, ever-changing faces, elemental spirits who both protect and harm, assassins, magical pockets, and snarky creatures in these ELEVEN fanciful fictions. Dragon Springs & Other Things contains SIX never-before seen stories for your enjoyment, including two stories featuring fan favorite character, Ida, from Oak’s Boahim Trilogy.

STORIES INCLUDED: Mirror Me, Water the Fire, Alive, Learning to Fly, The Drive to Work, The Ringers, Cookie Man, Amaskan, Peace Be With You, Friend, The Snark, and Dragon Springs & Other Things.

Magic is everywhere.

A young couple wondered why they kept having kitchen, bathroom, and pipe leaks in “Water the Fire.” Were the water demons attacking them? I loved the clever progression of this storyline, especially once the main characters began to notice more clues about what was going on in their home. It surprised me more than once, and I couldn’t wait to find out how they might fix their wet and sometimes very stinky problem.

While I enjoyed all of the stories in this collection, I thought a few of them would have been better with a bit more development. “The Snark” was one of them. It followed the life of an snarky and unrepentant Internet troll named Elizabeta who would never believe you if you told her what was about to happen to her. The premise was fantastic, but the plot was wrapped up so quickly that I never found time to settle in and anticipate her reaction to her big surprise.

The town of Dekwood was enveloped in a thick, eerie silence in “The Ringers.” I enjoyed getting to know Elise and her family as they moved to this area without realizing that magic was forbidden there. The narrator gave me exactly the right amount of information for me to know when these characters were in trouble and what might happen to them if they couldn’t find a way to clear their debts and get away before anyone realized that Elise had special abilities. Every new plot twist only pulled me further into her world. I wish I could say more without giving away spoilers, but this is something that works best for readers who only know a little about it when they begin.

Be sure to read the author’s notes about where their ideas came from at the end of each tale. I love it when writers take the time to do this, and all of these explanations were fabulous.

Dragon Springs & Other Things makes me eager to read more from Ms. Oak.

The Merchant’s House by Kate Ellis

The Merchant’s House by Kate Ellis
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

DS Wesley Peterson, newly arrived in the West Country town of Tradmouth, has his hands full when a child goes missing and a young woman is brutally murdered on a lonely cliff path.

Then his old friend, archaeologist Neil Watson, unearths the skeletons of a woman and a newborn baby in the cellar of an ancient merchant’s house nearby.

As they begin to investigate the murders, Wesley starts to suspect that these deaths, centuries apart, may be linked by age-old motives of jealousy and sexual obsession. And the pressure is on if he is going to prevent a further tragedy . . .

DS Wesley Peterson has just arrived with his wife into the West Country, pleased to be out of the hustle and bustle of London. New to the small police force, he is eager to settle in and for he and his wife to make a new home. He bumps into an old university friend from his archaeology days, Neil Watson and the two of them compare their current careers, surprised to find more and more there is some overlap in each of their current projects.

I picked this book up on a whim as it appeared to have a number of similarities to the Dr Ruth Galloway series which I am enjoying immensely. While I didn’t find the characters or plotline as deep or complex as the Galloway series, I did find this an enjoyable police procedural style of mystery novel. The archaeology came out mostly in snippets from a relevant diary at the beginning of each chapter, so readers expecting a strong sense of history or archaeology/digs encompassed in the plot might find this aspect to the story a little lacking.

The mystery and police aspect to the plot is well thought out and while the pace is a little slow, I felt that added more to the countrified air of the story and more authentic than a hurried or more action-orientated city-style of pacing. As the first book in the series, I was pleased there was a decent introduction to the main characters including the members of Wesley’s police team. I would have enjoyed a bit more time spent with Wesley’s wife and be able to understand her a little better. I’m hoping that occurs in the coming few books.

Readers who enjoy British style murder/mystery novels especially with a hint of history/archaeology should find this an easy and entertaining read.

Fresh Water for Flowers by Valérie Perrin

Fresh Water for Flowers by Valérie Perrin
Publisher: Europa Editions
Genre: Romance, Women’s Fiction, Literary Fiction
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

Violette Toussaint is the caretaker at a cemetery in a small town in Bourgogne, France. Traversing the grounds by unicycle, tending to her many gardens—and being present for the intimate, often humorous confidences of visitors—Violette’s life follows the predictable rhythms of mourning. But then Violette’s routine is disrupted by the arrival of Julien Sole, the local police chief.

Julien has come to scatter the ashes of his recently deceased mother on the gravesite of a complete stranger. It soon becomes clear that Julien’s inexplicable gesture is intertwined with Violette’s own complicated past.

What would it be like to be a young caretaker of a cemetery? What would you learn and experience from this? Violette often ponders the lives of the dead as she looks at their birth and death dates. She has her own issues to deal with as well. She wants to be happy. She is deserted by her husband and loves her daughter; then tragedy hits.

The years roll on as Violette describes her life, her loves, family, friends, and the search for answers. Her narration and insights are written as if a friend were speaking in an elegant way, but she makes many lists throughout the story. Her thoughts and observations offer readers a lot to think about and touch upon many emotions.

The book is layered and complex and crosses time and characters’ perspectives. It starts with Violette appreciating the good she could find in things around her, but the book takes a turn into more serious territory.

It is an intelligent story with cleverness abounding. Turns of action and discoveries will take readers by surprise. The mood is enveloping, and one will be treated to French culture along the way. Why not check out this character-driven tale of a woman with unusual life circumstances and be entertained while being given plenty to think about?

Retribution by Robert McCaw

Retribution by Robert McCaw
Publisher: Oceanview Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Cholla

As people around him come under attack, Chief Detective Koa Kane wonders if he might be the real target

In the back alley of a bar on Hawaii Island, a young man is found stabbed to death. When Hilo Chief Detective Koa Kane begins investigating the crime, the murder weapon is recovered only a few feet away from the body. Crime scene technicians find fingerprints on the knife — they are a perfect match for Koa’ s younger brother, Ikaika.

As the brothers scramble to prove Ikaika’ s innocence, another crime sends shockwaves through the Hilo police force. A sniper tries to take out Makanui, Koa’ s closest colleague. As Koa tries to figure out whether these crimes are linked, the sinister force continues their killing spree, threatening Koa and his loved ones at every turn.

Could Koa be the real target? If so, who is behind this trail of retribution? With his own secret criminal past, Koa confronts an all-out offensive against those closest to him and his police force to which he has devoted his life. As the bodies pile up, Koa finds himself the ultimate target of a ruthless adversary and must risk it all to survive.

First, it was one of the detectives under his command. Then it was his brother. But before long, Chief Detective Koa Kane began to wonder if there was more to it. Random attacks that just happen to surround him, or was he a connecting thread tying them all together? There was only one way to find out and Koa was determined to uncover the truth.

Retribution is the kind of detective novel that I enjoy the best. A group of detectives working together to solve a crime as a team. The camaraderie and friendships between them are often more important to me than the actual crimes. Koa has a great relationship with his team, with the forensic team, and the local prosecutor as well, which is a huge plus for me.

Koa himself is a tough but fair boss, who strives to do his best while bringing out the best in his squad. He’s a smart and effective detective as well. The way he worked through what was going on and actually listened to the thoughts and advice of others only made me like him more. The rest of his team was well put together and likable as well. The combination of experienced officers with a less experienced one worked well for the story.

The setting is what drew me to Retribution – I’ve not read a book set in Hawaii before now. However, the cast of characters is what kept me reading. Good, honest detectives and some pretty frightening bad guys came together to create an engaging and intense story. Once I picked it up, I didn’t want to stop reading. The bad guy reveal surprised me as well. My only complaint is that this is the fifth book in the series and I’m only just now discovering it. Time to hit the library for the first four.

Golden Prey by John Sandford

Golden Prey by John Sandford
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

The man was smart and he didn’t mind killing people. Welcome to the big leagues, Davenport.

Thanks to some very influential people whose lives he saved, Lucas is no longer working for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, but for the U.S. Marshals Service, and with unusual scope. He gets to pick his own cases, whatever they are, wherever they lead him.

And where they’ve led him this time is into real trouble. A Biloxi, Mississippi, drug-cartel counting house gets robbed, and suitcases full of cash disappear, leaving behind five bodies, including that of a six-year-old girl. Davenport takes the case, which quickly spirals out of control, as cartel assassins, including a torturer known as the “Queen of home-improvement tools” compete with Davenport to find the Dixie Hicks shooters who knocked over the counting house. Things get ugly real fast, and neither the cartel killers nor the holdup men give a damn about whose lives Davenport might have saved; to them, he’s just another large target.

Lucas Davenport has been working for the US Marshal’s for the last few months and is slowly beginning to find his feet. He hasn’t managed yet to find a case – or even really an area – that he can sink his teeth into. Until a random chat with an out of state officer has Davenport slowly unraveling the case of two men responsible for the heist of a drug cartel counting house that resulted in the quick execution of everyone inside – including an innocent six-year-old girl. While Davenport slowly pieces everything together, the cartel is also looking for these two heisters and their money. Davenport quickly realizes if he doesn’t follow the trail, nothing will be left behind.

I’ve been a big fan of this series for many years and while all the books are well worth a read, I was pleased that this is one of Sandford’s best stories yet. Lucas is an excellent investigator and always at his best hunting the more difficult cases and this is no exception. His new job has a few perks over his old in that as a federal agent it now takes him across state lines. Sure, there’s more resistance in some areas, but I really feel it helps expand Sandford’s work and storytelling.

Readers who like a faster moving plot with more action (and a number of shooting scenes as well) should find this story really hits the mark for them. Once Davenport starts following the various leads and threads of the plot the action really begins to move and we see things both him his investigation’s perspective, as well as the pair of cartel employees who are also on a similar trail and looking to recover the cartel’s missing millions. Readers should be aware that while there is a fair bit of action and shoot ‘em up scenes, I didn’t feel any of the story was overly graphic and certainly none of it was written in a titillating manner or dwelled upon unnecessarily.

While this book is a long way into the series, I feel it can easily be picked up and read on it’s own merits. There is a good amount of background details given to the reader, so the characters all make sense and their connections to each other is explained. The plot is also very well contained within this book alone and so readers shouldn’t worry about starting this book if they haven’t read any of Sandford’s previous works.

An exciting and well paced mystery book I really enjoyed this.

American Arcadia by Laura Scalzo

American Arcadia by Laura Scalzo
Publisher: Regal House Publishing
Genre: Fiction, Historical
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

New York City, 1985, the scaffolded and torchless Statue of Liberty is under reconstruction, the Twin Towers hum with money, and the clubs pulse with music. Young Wall Streeter, Mina Berg, and her roommate, Chry Risk, strike up friendships with the volatile Danny Nyro and easygoing Dare Fiore. Mina wants Chry’s family prestige, while Chry only wants to play the bass like Jaco Pastorius. Nyro trades on his father’s notoriety and Dare is keeping secrets. Each of these twenty-somethings attempts to rewrite their origin story as they find themselves knotted in the cross purposes of friendship and love, life and death. Meanwhile, the Sicilian grandmothers on Staten Island are telling tall tales of a fugitive mermaid who lives in the New York Harbor. It’s for you to decide if she’s a monster or a saint. Themes of art, immigration, reproductive rights, AIDS, assault, class, and betrayal simmer beneath a dynamic plot that spans one life-altering year.

The 1980s was a memorable time, with big things turning the world upside down or individual homes. This story, set in 1985, in New York, covers some of those things such as AIDS and friends and family dynamics.

Mina and her friend Chry live their busy lives in this big city, Mina on Wall Street, and Chry as the daughter of a senator, trying to find her own way through music. They befriend a nice guy with a secret and a rich guy whose bold behavior often encourages the others to take chances. Each of them is bathed in mystery. For example, Mina was left to die as a baby but adopted. Will she ever know the truth from where she come?

As these twenty-somethings live day-by-day, having fun and working, they discover things about themselves and others. Not all these things lead to somewhere good. They face tragic realities, and readers are sure to pick up some of these moving moments and feel them as well.

One learns about the culture of the era, the New York of the eighties and what a bustling time it was, in some ways, different that it is today. Questions are often different, but not always. While reading about these friends and their families, one is likely to be entertained. The writing is personal and addictive. Why not check this one out?

Mercy by David Baldacci

Mercy by David Baldacci
Publisher: Pan Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

For her entire life, FBI agent Atlee Pine has been searching for her twin sister, Mercy, who was abducted at the age of six and never seen again. Mercy’s disappearance left behind a damaged family that later shattered beyond repair when Atlee’s parents inexplicably abandoned her.

Now, after a perilous investigation that nearly proved fatal, Atlee has finally discovered not only the reason behind her parents’ abandonment and Mercy’s kidnapping, but also the most promising breakthrough yet: proof that Mercy survived her abduction and then escaped her captors many years ago.

Though Atlee is tantalizingly close to her family at last, the final leg of her long road to Mercy will be the most treacherous yet. Mercy left at least one dead body behind before fleeing her captors years before. Atlee has no idea if her sister is still alive, and if so, how she has been surviving all this time. When the truth is finally revealed, Atlee Pine will face the greatest danger yet, and it may well cost her everything.

FBI special agent Atlee Pine knows her parents and twin sister are out there somewhere, her family fractured and broken after her twin sister, Mercy, had been kidnapped when the girls were six years old. Now Atlee is at the end of her journey, determined to finish what she had started.

This is the fourth (and I believe, final) book in the Atlee Pine series. While the story has continued from the previous three books, I feel readers should be able to catch up pretty quickly on the backstory and enjoy this book on its own merits. I do believe, though, that a deeper and possibly more emotional connection to Atlee’s character and journey in particular might be achieved with readers who have followed the progress through the series in its entirety.

That said, this is an excellent ending to the series in my opinion. I thought the numerous sub plots were all woven very well together, and I enjoyed the different character’s perspectives. I also found it quite clear to me that the author had organized everything to dovetail neatly together. While I did feel a few aspects to the plot – especially surrounding Atlee and Mercy’s mother – was a little too easy and cliched, overall I thought most of the various moving elements all meshed well together and there wasn’t too much of a need to suspend disbelief.

I was particularly pleased that both Atlee and Mercy had their story arcs rounded out in what I felt to be a satisfactory manner. This book had a well-paced plotline and a number of solid action scenes – but I definitely feel most readers will be largely invested in the closing off of the main series arc between Mercy and Atlee and I was really pleased with how the author wrapped everything up in this respect. I feel readers should be similarly pleased. While the action and mystery sides to the plot were very well handled – it was the character resolution that I feel most people will be seeking and find very suitable here.

A satisfying and enjoyable end to an excellent series, this was a good book.

Three by Valerie Perrin

Three by Valerie Perrin
Publisher: Europa Editions
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

1986: Adrien, Etienne and Nina are 10 years old when they meet at school and quickly become inseparable. They promise each other they will one day leave their provincial backwater, move to Paris, and never part.

2017: A car is pulled up from the bottom of the lake, a body inside. Virginie, a local journalist with an enigmatic past reports on the case while also reflecting on the relationship between the three friends, who were unusually close when younger but now no longer speak. As Virginie moves closer to the surprising truth, relationships fray and others are formed.

Valérie Perrin has an unerring gift for delving into life. In Three, she brings readers along with her through a sequence of heart-wrenching events and revelations that span three decades. Three tells a moving story of love and loss, hope and grief, friendship and adversity, and of time as an ineluctable agent of change.

This suspenseful tale is sure to touch the heart of its readers. It begins with three childhood friends: Adrien, Etienne, and Nina who promise to always be together. Decades later, a body is found inside a lake, and a journalist, Virginie, discusses the case. She thinks about the three friends. Could they have something to do with it?

We are taken back to 1986 in a provincial area of France, where these kids make big plans. The story unfolds in such a natural way while holding one’s interest. Details bring this passage to life while relationships are explored.

Time passes, and readers cross decades to see the friends later in time. Unexpected things have become of them. Why is this? This is answered by going back in time again. The back-and-forth timelines make for a quick pace and is done smoothly.

While the suspense gets stronger, readers are charmed with the day-to-day episodes of the characters’ lives. The protagonists and their supporting characters are delineated well.

Themes of friendship and dreams, love and choices add layers of complexity to this heart-rending tale. Also, people who love animals will appreciate the aspect of the book that brings their needs to awareness.