Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of Shadow Hills by Carrie Cross

HILLS
Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of Shadow Hills by Carrie Cross
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Young Adult, Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (260 pages)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Thirteen-year-old sleuth Skylar Robbins plans to become a private detective like her grandfather. Stuck at her bullying cousin Gwendolyn’s Malibu estate for the summer, Skylar brings her detective kit, portable spy tools, and her journal for taking notes in secret code. She had no idea how dangerous the next eight weeks would prove to be. On the first day of summer school an odd classmate named Kat passes a note in backward writing, introducing Skylar to the secret world of witchcraft. Practical Skylar didn’t believe in magic—until the spells they perform in an abandoned garden actually begin to work. Skylar finds herself accepting the increasingly risky challenges made by her new BF, and when Kat tells her that a mysterious group is doing wicked things up in Shadow Hills at night, she can’t help but investigate. Her classmates are nervous and rumors are flying. The teen sleuth uses the tools in her detective kit and faces her most embarrassing fear to find the truth. If Skylar survives the summer, her life will be changed forever.

There are some things that puzzle even the smartest detective. Will Skylar be able to figure out why her cousin is such a bully or what’s really happening late at night on Shadow Hill before the summer ends?

Skylar’s insatiable curiosity made me like her immediately. She’s an intelligent and resourceful girl who is clearly accustomed to thinking on her feet. What really endeared me to this character, though, were her faults. They’re things that a lot of us struggle with, and they show up so early on in her summer vacation that they feel like natural extensions of her personality. The fact that she’s willing to do this makes me think she’s a great role model. It takes a lot of courage to own up to this stuff, after all.

There were times when I questioned Skylar’s choice of friends. She’s a kind person, but she seems to be attracted to people who don’t necessarily share that character trait. It would have been helpful to know why she befriends people who have such a different outlook on life given that Skylar doesn’t seem to have a mean bone in her body. I’m hoping that this part of her life will be more fully explored in the sequel.

As a lifelong fan of codes, I was pleased to see so many different types of them represented in this story. There’s something fascinating about writing a message that most other people won’t be able to understand. At a few different points I actually paused and played around with the various codes that Skylar and her friends used to keep their communication with each other hidden. To me this is a sign of a great young adult mystery!

Figuring out the best age recommendation for this book was tricky. The plot is clearly intended for middle grade readers. Skylar seemed to written to appeal to an audience that is a few years younger than her. Chronologically she’s a teenager, but hasn’t yet developed an interest in the kind of stuff that typically appeal to adolescents.

Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of Shadow Hills was a strong introduction to a fun, new series. I’m looking forward to catching up with Skylar on her next adventure, and I’d heartily recommend doing the same to anyone who is a fan of mysteries or young adult novels.

Worth Her Weight in Gold by Lynn Lovegreen

GOLD
Worth Her Weight in Gold by Lynn Lovegreen
Publisher: Prism Book Group
Genre: Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Short Story (39 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Ada Weiss is content to sing with her family at the new Juneau Opera House. But when she meets miner Tom Hickok, she wonders if there’s more to life than the stage. For Tom, Ada is more precious than all the gold in the Treadwell Mine, but he doubts a regular guy has a chance with a beautiful singer. When a mob threatens to run their friend China Joe out of town, Ada and Tom work together and learn what their true characters really are.

Ada Weiss sings with her family to entertain the miners at the Juneau Opera House. She has one young man who comes to visit even if she isn’t singing. The bartender or her brother chaperone them. Tom Hickok can play the piano, too, and he even plays some songs for her. They play tunes together on the piano and make music themselves while doing so. But is he serious about her? And would she consider a man of less status than she has?

The author writes a nice western town tale here of an innocent romance that grows into something stronger with time. The main characters are sweet, but they also have their own sense of right and wrong and are willing to defend it. When Tom visits a bit too much to please his boss, he’s asked work ten days straight. He agrees, already regretting the time that will be lost. His boss makes him feel better by telling him he can write to his lady.

Ms. Lovegreen writes of the prejudice shown the Chinamen working at the mines. Unfortunately, this is a historical fact that still exists in today’s society. The color of the faces may have changed but it’s still here. Being different is often seen as being bad. She demonstrates this by having the Chinese mineworkers run out of camp and being sent to another location. She adds it to the story of Ada and Tom by having them defend China Joe, who owns a shop near the opera house.

This is a sweet, easy tale to read. It reminds of you times in the past when chaperones were necessary and no one married without their parent’s permission. I found myself rooting for Tom before the story was done. I bet you do, too.

Flight to Coorah Creek by Janet Gover

CREEK
Flight to Coorah Creek by Janet Gover
Publisher: Choc Lit
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (317 pgs)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Hawthorn

What happens when you can fly, but you just can’t hide?

Only Jessica Pearson knows the truth when the press portrays her as the woman who betrayed her lover to escape prosecution. But will her new job flying an outback air ambulance help her sleep at night or atone for a lost life?

Doctor Adam Gilmore touches the lives of his patients, but his own scars mean he can never let a woman touch his heart.

Runaway Ellen Parkes wants to build a safe future for her two children. Without a man—not even one as gentle as Jack North.

In Coorah Creek, a town on the edge of nowhere, you’re judged by what you do, not what people say about you. But when the harshest judge is the one you see in the mirror, there’s nowhere left to hide.

Jess, Ellen, Jack and Adam are inspiring characters that manage to find peace in the face of suffering and overwhelming guilt. They’ve experienced more pain than anyone ever should, but they finally have a chance at happiness. Like Jess thinks when she sees Adam’s scars: she’d never change that because the scars made them who they are now.

I loved how both Jess and Ellen were portrayed as vulnerable, but essentially strong women. After being broken and ruined by men, they got up and re-built their lives. Their hesitation about letting new men into their lives was believable, although the guilt Jess and Ellen felt was perhaps a bit overdone. However, it helped to add to their inner conflict so that was easy to overlook.

Sister Luke was a refreshing, wise character that brought some wonderfully quirky moments to the story. I felt a bit more humor would make the story less sentimental and even more enjoyable by juxtaposing the poignancy of the characters’ lives with some comic relief. Even the setting fit the emotional atmosphere, with the desolate Australian Outback symbolizing the isolation of every individual. It read very authentic and real, to the point of me feeling the dust tickling my nose as I read about the dry red expanse of land.

Although the story holds a strong message of how we all deserve to be forgiven, mostly by ourselves, but by others, too, it’s the strong characters that will stay with me. The selflessness of Jack and Adam, the courage and fighting spirit of Ellen, the essential goodness of Jess. They made this story strong and unputdownable.

One Evening in Paris by Nicolas Barreau

PARIS
One Evening in Paris by Nicolas Barreau
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (278 pgs)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Alain Bonnard, the owner of a small art cinema in Paris, is a dyed-in-the-wool nostalgic. In his Cinéma Paradis there are no buckets of popcorn, no XXL coca-colas, no Hollywood blockbusters. Not a good business plan if you want to survive, but Alain holds firm to his principles of quality. He wants to show films that create dreams, and he likes most of the people that come to his cinema. Particularly the enchanting, shy woman in the red coat who turns up every Wednesday in row 17. What could her story be? One evening, Alain plucks up courage and invites the unknown beauty to dinner. The most tender of love stories is just getting under way when something incredible happens: The Cinéma Paradis is going to be the location of Allan Woods’ new film Tender Memories of Paris. Solène Avril, the famous American director’s favourite actress, has known the cinema since childhood and has got it into her head that she wants the film to be shot there. Alain is totally overwhelmed when he meets her in person. Suddenly, the little cinema and its owner are the focus of public attention, and the red-plush seats are sold out every evening.

But the mystery woman Alain has just fallen in love with seems suddenly to have vanished. Is this just coincidence? Alain sets off in search of her and becomes part of a story more delightful than anything the cinema has to offer

Alain has inherited a small art cinema in Paris. It’s an old fashioned nostalgic cinema and so are the films he shows. The great romance films of the past bring him peace and complete his life. He knows most of his patrons, but when he notices the girl in the red coat who always sits in the same seat each Wednesday night, he decides he’d like to know her better…

Mr. Barreau writes a delicate romance with Paris as a backdrop. He names old classic films, creates irascible characters and makes his main character a lonely man who doesn’t realize he is. It’s a smooth story I’d love to hear him read out loud. The story flows, the characters follow his direction and misdirection, and everyone is happier by the end of the story.

Alain is finally brave enough to invite her out to dinner. He’s amazed when the shy young woman says yes. He’s more amazed when he doesn’t get home until the wee hours of the morn. When they started talking, they couldn’t stop!

When Alain is approached by a director and his beautiful star and they ask to use the theater as the “set” for a new movie, Alain says yes. There will be some improvements to his cinema and it’ll be good advertising. But as soon as he says yes, his mystery girl doesn’t return. Why?

There are a few too many coincidences here to make me find it realistic, but it does make a good story. There is more than one Melanie missing. Finding his is challenging and almost impossible, but he doesn’t give up. They may have had only night of talking but he knows he loves her. How can you not like a book that believes in true love?

This is an easy read, an excellent story, and has lots of subplots to go with his girlfriend search. I’m glad I was given the opportunity to read it. Why not grab a cup of tea and a couple of cookies and go to the cinema yourself? Alain is waiting for you.

A Perfect Dream by Raven J. Spencer

DREAM
A Perfect Dream by Raven J. Spencer
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (29 pages)
Other: F/F, F/F/F, F/F/F/F, Toys, Ménage, Multiple Partners, BDSM, Voyeurism, Fisting
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Sex and politics can be an explosive combination. Beatrice, wife to a conservative lobbyist, can’t imagine being out in the open about her preferences and orientation, but lucky for her, there’s A Perfect Dream. Secret parties that only the privileged have access to fulfill every fantasy and need she can think of. Beatrice didn’t expect to meet Sage, a woman who not only satisfies her in every way, but challenges everything Beatrice has believed about herself so far.

It’s easy to keep a strict separation between fantasy and reality for a little while. Is this something that can be upheld over the longterm, though?

Beatrice is such an interesting and relatable main character. As soon as I met her I couldn’t help but to like her. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what to think of her quiet arrangement with her spouse at first. Her point of view is described so succinctly that I soon came to understand why she would agree to this sort of thing. Seeing how she responded to plot twists that pop up later on this tale also added an unexpected depth to Beatrice’s character.

Early on one of the characters discusses how everyone who wants to participate in A Perfect Dream is vetted first. This explanation didn’t quite make sense to me given certain loopholes in it that were never really filled in. It would have been helpful if this section had either been left out entirely or if more time been spent describing how it works.

This was one of the sexiest short stories I’ve read in a long time. The love scenes blended perfectly with the other subplot, and the transitions between the sexy romps and Beatrice’s personal development were smooth. I don’t know if the author has any intention of turning this into a series, but I’d be interesting in checking out the sequel if she does.

A Perfect Dream is a good choice for anyone in the mood for something quick and hot. Why not give it a try today?

Frost of Springtime by Rachel L Demeter

FROST
Frost of Springtime by Rachel L Demeter
Publisher: Black Lyon Publishing
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (286 pgs)
Heat: Spicy
Rated: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon

To rescue her was to rescue his own soul.

On a cold Parisian night, Vicomte Aleksender de Lefèvre forges an everlasting bond with a broken girl during her darkest hour, rescuing her from a life of abuse and misery. Tormented by his own demons, he finds his first bit of solace in sheltering little Sofia Rose.

But when Aleksender is drawn away by the Franco-Prussian war, the seasons pass. And in that long year, Sofia matures into a stunning young woman—a dancer with an understanding of devotion and redemption far surpassing her age.

Alongside his closest friend, Aleksender returns home to find that “home” is gone, replaced by revolution, bloodshed, betrayal—and a love always out of reach. Scarred inside and out, he’s thrust into a world of sensuality and violence—a world in which all his hours have now grown dark, and where only Sofia might bring an end to the winter in his heart.

Inspired by the 1871 Paris Commune, The Frost of Springtime is a poignant tale of revolution, redemption, and the healing power of love.

It is the decades of the revolution, and Paris is in turmoil. Grim, tortured Aleksender quite accidentally saves a child – a child who grows into unpredictable loveliness.

Although life, or more correctly battle, takes him far away – she waits for him, hoping against all odds for his safety – and more.

Sofia is the genuine, compassionate person that is the soul of this story; Alek has impressed us already with his act of kindness. Will Sofia’s love, and Alek’s devotion, allow them both to survive, and be together, in the nightmare of politics, rebellion and retribution? Much stands between them, their culture, events of the day, and even personal obligation. Although, on the face of it, the idea that he should fall in love with the woman who was once his ward is somehow unappealing – the true sense of each characters’ genuine, heartfelt attachment for the other somehow supersedes any concern about age difference.

This is the classic romance; the love that, at any cost, will not be denied…although indeed, we readers fear that cost! The characters are wonderful – intriguing and so strong.

The story has many glorious descriptions and then also the less-than glorious, as well as the odd longish boring tracts which are beautifully written yet drag down the story quite pointlessly: “Perched amongst the three domes and solitary pediment, the lyre of Apollo was held high and proud as it kissed the heavens, sunlight seeping through the instrument’s precious strings of gold. And, on the clearest of days, the towering stone walls resembled Mount Olympus—the home of the twelve Olympian gods. Within this edifice, the God of Music and…” lovely, but so annoying as we await Aleksender’s meeting with Sofia…however, the meeting is every bit as dramatic as one could hope, so how much can we complain? If only this sort of description happened less often or if the editor had wielded a sharper pen, this would have been a 5 book story. However, it is still well worth reading; do put it on your TBR list.

Prophecy: Elf Queen of Kiirajanna by Stephen H. King

PROPHECY
Prophecy: Elf Queen of Kiirajanna by Stephen H. King
Publisher: Dragon Tale Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, YA
Length: Full Length (397 Pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Cyclamen

Alyssa never could have imagined that her first accomplishment after high school in a small Mississippi town would be traveling to a land she’d never heard of and ascending to its throne as the new Elf Queen. But when her long-lost father, the Elf King, comes back for his daughter, that is exactly the future that he brings.

With the help of her cousin, her father, and others, Alyssa carefully finds her way as an outsider through the intricacies of elf society. Along the way she meets fairies, unicorns, and other beasts that she’d grown up believing were only to be found in myths. At the same time, Alyssa encounters a mysterious cult whose entire purpose seems to be the prevention, by any means necessary, of her taking the throne. After an arrow that misses its mark and a message written in blood fail to warn her away, Alyssa finds herself in a fight for her own life and for those of her companions.

That magic exists in the realm of the elves is obvious to Alyssa from the beginning. Its use, though, is forbidden by centuries of elf tradition. When the Cult of the Wyrm finally makes its move, Alyssa must decide whether to risk banishment from her own birthright in order to wield the destructive forces as a weapon against those who would see her dead.

Join Alyssa as the sassy Southern girl enters the land of her father’s birth and deals with a stern priesthood, a stuck-up royal trio, and, of all things, a crush, as she comes of age in Kiirajanna.

Alyssa has grown up as the daughter of a hard-working single mom in Mississippi. Her mother always said that her father was special, but as she got older, Alyssa stopped believing in him. However, right after her high school graduation, her father arrives and he is definitely special. He is the elf king to the land of Kiiirajanna, and he as come to take her to the land of the elves where she will claim her birthright as the next elf queen.

I really liked Alyssa, finding her to be a wonderfully smart, strong, totally believable young woman. She has a lot to learn once she arrives in Kiilrajanna, including a new language, many elf customs, history, geography, protocol, and a totally different way of viewing the world.

I was hooked from the opening sentence of this novel. “In hindsight, I’ll admit that slugging the high priestess was probably a very bad idea.” I thought the opening was very effective, giving the reader enough to capture them before taking a step back and showing how Alyssa reached the place where she slugged the high priestess.

The other characters are also well-drawn and multi-dimensional. Her father does all in his power to ease her transition into this new world. Sephaline, her ranger cousin, soon becomes her best friend. Sephaline has a familiar, Booboo, who is a very protective wolverine. There is also Little Treebeard, a tree which Alyssa succeeds in singing back to health.

Alyssa discovers right from the beginning that she might be the prophesied dragon queen, but not everyone wants that prophecy to come true. The plot has a lot of action and mystery and the pacing is excellent. The land of Kiilrajanna is very clearly described and it seems to be a wonderful place, filled with amazing inhabitants, even though all magic is forbidden. Alyssa finds herself having to battle magical foes with the aid of Sephaline and Prince Keion, without having any real idea of how to survive.

This is a wonderful, exciting, magical story, and while I haven’t seen any references to a series, I’m really hoping that I will once again enter the land of the elves and find out what adventures await Alyssa. Readers of fantasy are sure to be captivated by this story.

The Highwayman’s Daughter by Henriette Gyland

HIGHWAYMAN
The Highwayman’s Daughter by Henriette Gyland
Publisher: Choc-Lit
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (285 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

Is it a crime to steal a heart?

Hounslow, 1768. Jack Blythe, heir to the Earl of Lampton, is a man with great expectations.

So when his stagecoach is held up by a masked woman, brandishing a pistol and dressed as a gentleman of the road, he wholly expects to have his purse stolen. And when he senses something strangely familiar about the lovely little bandit, Jack also expects to win his cousin Rupert s wager by tracking her down first.

But as Jack and the highwaywoman enter into a swashbuckling game of cat and mouse, uncovering an intricate web of fiercely guarded family secrets, the last thing Jack expects to have stolen is his heart.

There’s nothing like a highwayman robbing a carriage to kick off a story and that’s how this one begins. In this book highwayman’s a young woman, and yes, I know it’s been done many times before, but it never gets old. Well, at least not for me.

The scene was slightly humorous and you find yourself cheering on the highwayman as soon as she draws her weapon. Cora is a character I liked from the beginning, even when she was breaking the law. She’s got a valid reason and it’s not just to line her own purse with other people’s money and belongings.

Jack is also a likeable character and from the beginning he knows he wasn’t robbed by a man which keeps you reading to find out if and when he’s going to run into Cora and if he’ll recognize her.

I liked the dialogue in this story which I thought was fitting for this time period and the historical detail was well presented. I also like that there’s sort of a story in a story. Jack thinks Cora might be somehow related and that’s when the sub-plots kicks into high gear and keeps you reading on.

The secondary characters were also well rounded and seemed to have their own story too. Despite its 250 plus pages, it’s a fairly quick read.

If you like historicals, and like me especially look for ones set in England during the 1700s I think you’ll find this an enjoyable read.

The Key-Stone of the Bridge by Craig Meggy

KEY
The Key-Stone of the Bridge by Craig Meggy
Publisher: Beer-Mat Books
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (162 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Set in the highlands of Scotland, in a mysterious and remote glen in the grip of mid-winter, four old friends have shelved their differences and dropped off the grid on one vital mission.

They have gathered together, sheltered in a mountain hut or Bothy with a plan. To fulfill a last request, and scatter the ashes of their friend on the adjacent mountain; they had no idea of the consequences.

It all goes well at first; in beautiful weather for the time of year but then strange visitors, the sighting of a mystery hiker and several mishaps are a prelude to rapidly deteriorating conditions.
Soon it becomes a struggle for survival.

Will they rip each other apart or team together and survive to discover the shocking truth about their guests and the mystery man on the mountain?

Sometimes it’s easy to memorialize the dead. This isn’t one of those times.

I appreciated how much time was put into describing the four most important characters before the mystery begins. It took me a few chapters to settle into the pacing because I was initially expecting everything to move more quickly than it did. Once I got used to the rhythm of it, though, I was really glad that I knew as much about these characters as I did. The relationships between and among them are really what drive the rest of the plot, so the payoff later on was well worth the wait.

The characters in this tale speak in a thick Scottish brogue that occasionally spilled over into the descriptive passages as well. Most of the time this technique worked incredibly well at drawing me into the plot, but there were times when I had trouble figuring out what was being said. While I completely understand why the author decided to go this route, it would have been really helpful if there had been fewer run-on sentences written in this dialect. Some of these passages were packed with so many different ideas that I had to read them several times before I understood what they probably meant.

With that being said, Mr. Meggy has an incredibly unique writing style. I never would have imagined that strings of curse words would blend together so seamlessly with his painstakingly detailed descriptions of the people and places who exist in this universe. Sometimes good storytelling demands a little vulgarity in order to accurately represent the mindset of the characters who live in that setting. This was my first introduction to this author’s work. Based on how deeply I enjoyed this mystery, I’m looking forward to seeing what he comes up with in the sequel to this book that is apparently on the way!

I’d recommend The Key-Stone of the Bridge to anyone who loves solving literary puzzles. This is one of the most memorable ones I’ve read in a long time.

A Taste Of Bliss by Lynn LaFleur

BLISS
A Taste Of Bliss by Lynn LaFleur
Publisher: Ellora’s Cave
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Short Story (122 Pages)
Other: M/F
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Tulip

Werewolves in Tyrus Chamberlain’s pack are disappearing. Not having any luck in finding out what’s happening to them on his own, he turns to a security company for help. When Mac Payne arrives, Ty’s shocked that it’s “Mackenzie” instead. He’s hit by instant lust for her, something that hasn’t happened to him since his wife died.

Mackenzie lost her husband three years ago and has no interest in another relationship. Yet the call of the wolf inside her knows Ty is meant for her. She can resist him for only so long until her wolf has to be satisfied. Their passion is explosive, their lovemaking everything they fantasized it could be.

But a killer is still on the loose, threatening more wolves and Mackenzie. Ty will risk everything, even his own life, to protect the members of his pack and the woman he loves.

This book is a page turner for sure ! I definitely enjoyed every minute of it, and even better was realizing that it’s part of a series.

Taste Of Bliss is the second book in the Moon’s Magic Series. I missed the first book but this one worked fine as a stand alone story all by itself. It had everything needed to keep this reader happy.

The plot had a great set-up with a bit of mystery involving the missing pack members. Alpha Ty Chamberlain has a big problem. His pack members are disappearing at an allarming rate. He reaches out to an old friend (I am assuming that Jay and Roni are from the first book) who puts him in touch with a security expert. It is to Ty’s surprise that Mac Payne turns out to be a very attractive female wolf. She also happens to be his mate.

There was so much that I liked about this book. First of all, Ty and Mac have that instant chemistry that seems to be a mainstay for shifter romances, but it’s a bit different for them. They had so much in common but they fought it because they’ve both loved and lost their mates in the past. So they have some conflicted feelings and guilt about moving on with someone else. There was lots of angsty drama and loads of sexual tension for these two. Then there was the mystery part. It had a surprise twist at the end that came out of nowhere. To tell you the truth, I never saw it coming. It was very well done by this sneaky author.

Now while I enjoyed all of the events that took place, It was all of the fascinating characters that really captured my interest. Ty was an utterly swoon worthy alpha. Irritating ? Why Yes, he was that. Jealous and possessive ? You know it. Sinfully delicious ? Absolutely ! Mac was strong. She was excatly the kind of heroine I like to read about. I liked how she took charge in a certain situation. It was exciting to see the heroine do that for a change. There was an intriguing cast of secondary characters that I assume will be getting stories of their own. At least I hope so, since I was especially taken with Shade.

I would say that this book was very well written. It had a strong, interesting plot that flowed at a fast pace. It captured and held my interest right up until it ended with a stunning climax. What more could I wish for ? A longer book maybe, since I hated to see it end.

All in all, this was a good read. I enjoyed it and look forward to the next book in the series.