Detour Trail by Joy V. Smith

TRAIL
Detour Trail by Joy V. Smith
Publisher: Melange Books
Genre: Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Short Story (138 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Westward bound on the Oregon Trail, Lorena Emerson is alone after her uncle is killed by a thief trying to steal his money belt. Ignoring the wagon master’s advice to go home, she rounds up others needing help, and they join a later wagon train and are soon slogging through dust and mud and steep mountain passes. It’s a long way to Oregon, and because another woman needs her help, Lorrie again goes her own way, leaving the wagon train and the Oregon Trail to travel onward—off the beaten path—with her small group of wagons. She’s helped by members of her wagon train, people she meets along the way, and the mule, Jake, an integral part of the story. You’ll meet them as they join in her travels and encounters with enemies she also meets as she searches for a new home and supplies as winter reaches out its icy hands…. Settling the frontier isn’t easy!

Her uncle, a lawyer, has taken her off to a new start. They’ll move west to Oregon and start a new life without the greedy relatives who want her inheritance. Things start to go wrong a lot sooner than expected. Thieves try to take her uncle’s money belt. Her uncle ends up dead and so do the two thieves. Now the wagon train master tells her to go back home. She can’t go on alone. Oh yeah? Lorena Emerson may never have been on her own before, but she’s determined to go west and make herself a new life. Now she just has to figure out how…

Ms. Smith writes a good western tale. She points out the hardships and the glories that are all part of life on the trail. She also has good and bad people populating her stories so there are challenges for her characters. I really liked Lorena. She started shy but she bucked up and defended herself. She’s a strong woman with a good head for planning and organization. The men in her life are mostly nice and good friends with her, but it takes a while for her to find love.

Wagon trips were hell. There were food shortages, wagon problems, sometimes illness, and no rest for anyone. When Lorena starts trying to get a group together to travel with her, she never realized she was developing a small, mixed family. She finds a young brother and sister and a Negro couple, and finds another wagon train that will let them join them. The problem is that there is a pregnant woman on the new train that is having problems from the travelling. When Lorena hatches another idea, the pregnant woman and her family joins Lorena’s little family and they look for a place to settle.

The characters are strong, work hard, defend themselves and offer each support. Lorena needs that since she never learned how to cook! Now she’s got free meals everywhere.

The pace is strong, there’s plenty of hard work and action to keep your interest and, while there are sad spots, for the most part this is a positive story about life in the west and how settlement changed it.

Tzimmes (and don’t forget the cheesecake and the strudel) by Arthur Marshall Fell

CHEESECAKE
Tzimmes (and don’t forget the cheesecake and the strudel) by Arthur Marshall Fell
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (90 pgs)
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Tzimmes (and don’t forget the cheesecake and the strudel) is a humorous story about Dr. Sam Landover, an unpretentious high school mathematics teacher, grounded in Jewish tradition, who despite himself gets tangled up in the middle of choosing a rabbi for Shalom Center. Improvising his way through the confusing jumble, the story becomes a mixed-up stew, like the tasty Jewish dessert called tzimmes.

Want to learn a little bit about the Jewish religion, Jewish people, and how no matter what faith or none, all people can act a bit silly? This is the book for you.

Mr. Fell writes a tale about two rabbis who are looking for work. It’s a humorous look at life with Jewish touches. I know nothing about the Jewish faith, so his glossary at the back of the book was quite helpful. Most of it I understood without referencing that. I found the story amusing.

There are two shuls in the local area and both are looking for a rabbi. There are men and women on the boards of both, and the applicants are one male and one female. When the vote is tied, the decided voter abstains from voting. They need help!

I’ve never thought about feminism being a factor in a Jewish environment. I’m used to men holding all the positions of importance (even in the Catholic life I grew up in) and was surprised they had a female rabbi. It gets even more complicated when the two rabbis’ begin to develop a romantic interest in each other.

Mr. Fell’s main character, Sam, has to walk the tangled path between the two shuls and try to maintain peace in each. I like how he handles the problem and resolves it with the best results you could hope for. While they are busy eating cheesecake and talking religious differences, you begin to find yourself chuckling and turning the page to see what happens next.

This is a good humorous read with some Jewish terminology that can mean more than one thing and a fun result at the end.

The Christmas Journal by Kimberly B Jackson

JOURNAL
The Christmas Journal by Kimberly B Jackson
Publisher: Prism Book Group
Genre: Holiday, Inspirational
Length: Short Story (54 pgs)
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Sorrel

Ashley Moore’s life forever changed the day her mother died, and she was sent to live with relatives. Now, ten years later, Ashley returns home, hoping to connect with her estranged father. When she learns he’s decided to reopen the family’s Christmas lodge for the upcoming holiday season, Ashley volunteers to help. While cleaning, she discovers her mother’s journal detailing the last month of her life. Will the book hold the answer as to why her dad sent her away? Who is the mysterious Adam her mother keeps mentioning in the diary? Can the words of her mother reconcile father and daughter in time for Christmas?

After years of silence, the answers will bring a family together.

Ashley comes back home, after being away several years, to her family’s Christmas lodge. While cleaning the lodge she finds her mom’s diary and with it comes questions as well as answers that would shake her world.

The Christmas Journal is not from a genre that I normally read though I would say that whenever I do read any book like this it just touches my heart and this book did it again and again. Kimberly Jackson did a great job painting a picture of the different scenes. At the same time, I would have liked a little bit more descriptiveness in some.

I was with Ashley and her father from the start to the finish. In every step of the way there were parts of the journal which allowed the cleaning of lodge to come through and give a semblance of normality.

This was a refreshing change that touched my heart and gave me hope.  You get a slice of music, with a dash of hot British abs and touch of family and love with a heart touching emotions that will leave you wanting more and more. I can easily recommend it to anyone who loves a sweet story.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

GALE
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Publisher: St Martin’s Press
Genre: Historical, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (438 pages)
Heat Level: sweet
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Camellia

In love we find out who we want to be.
In war we find out who we are.

FRANCE, 1939

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets the compelling and mysterious Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. When he betrays her, Isabelle races headlong into danger and joins the Resistance, never looking back or giving a thought to the real–and deadly–consequences.

Kristin Hannah eases the reader into THE NIGHTINGALE with a present time, gentle, loving beginning before she changes time back to World War II in France. She weaves a spellbinding story that seems so real one feels as if it is an absolutely true story of two sisters plus all the events and people that impact their lives.

World War I that changed Viann and Isabelle Rossignol’s father, also did its part in making the sisters feel unloved and abandoned. Their need to feel loved colors much of their action. Each of the girls copes in her own way with low self-esteem and that unrelenting desire for love. As the horrors of World War II move into France and settles in like an insatiable monster, the truth of Ms. Hannah’s statement that “In love we find out who we want to be, in war we find out who we are” become very real.

The impetuous Isabelle seems to “rush in where angels fear to tread,” while the older Viann sees herself as weak and unable to cope alone. Yet, both rise above their flaws to survive in the desperate time of war when deprivation is almost unbearable, racial hatred runs amok, and unspeakable atrocities occur. Trust vanishes and the German occupation forces move in, seeking to totally dominate the French people.

Viann and Isabelle, one operating underground and the other operating in plain sight, go quietly about their secret doings. At times, the reader’s senses are reeling with descriptions of atrocities in the villages and towns, but a near sensory overload comes when conditions in the concentrations camps roars to life with the remarkable descriptions Ms. Hannah writes.

However, the daily living is also beautifully revealed that makes the reader smile at the happy times and cry when the devastation comes. How the people survive as the months and years bring more and more deprivation and persecution makes one aware of both the strength and the fragility in each human being.

THE NIGHTINGALE has a multitude of characters (so many that need special recognition), along with clandestine operations that all play important roles in how the French never really give up, but held on until the Allies arrived.

The story ends back in present time with a twist that made me cry, even though it reveals a love so precious.

This is a novel I highly recommend. It is rich with descriptions like: “Roses tumbled like laughter along the ancient stone wall.” “She wanted to bottle how safe she felt in this moment, so she could drink of it later when loneliness and fear left her parched.” “The street was a living breathing dragon of humanity.” It immerses the reader in the horrors of war and how ordinary people, even with their many flaws, become extraordinary. It is beautifully written and memorable!

The Unexpected Consequences of Love by Jill Mansell

LOVE
The Unexpected Consequences of Love by Jill Mansell
Publisher: Sourcebooks-Landmark
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: Full Length (411 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

Sophie has no interest in finding love. But what happens when love finds her?

Sophie Wells is a successful photographer with a focus on putting the past firmly behind her. When Josh Strachan returns to the seaside town of Cornwall from the States to run his family’s hotel, he can’t understand why the fun, sexy girl has zero interest in letting him-or any man for that matter-into her life. He also can’t understand how he’s been duped into employing Sophie’s impulsive friend Tula, whose crush on him is decidedly unrequited. Both girls remain mum about the reasons behind Sophie’s indifference to love. But that doesn’t mean Josh is going to quit trying…

I always think the first and last book you read each year should be extra special so I’m glad I got to read this new one from Jill Mansell. I’ll admit I’ve never disliked any of her stories and this one was no exception.

If you’ve never read anything by the author let me start by saying if you love sometimes quirky and not your run of the mill characters, you’ll enjoy the author’s writing. This particular story is also filled with tears, laughter, and generally puts a smile on your face on a cold winter’s day.

I loved all the characters but have to say I did find myself longing for more scenes with the hero Josh. He’s kind and honest and you share his frustration when Sophie isn’t showing any interest in him. You feel yourself shouting at the pages, saying Sophie, this guy’s perfect for you.

However, part of the enjoyment of reading this story grows from the author’s clever plotting of having everyone else wanting someone they can’t have or someone who only has eyes for someone else. It has you turning the pages to find out if Ms. Mansell was kind enough to give everyone the happy ending you craved. Sometimes things didn’t work out but I found myself reading the last sentence of the book with a smile on my face.

One added bonus for me was the setting of Cornwall. It’s mostly mysteries or romantic suspense stories I see set there so this was a nice change of pace. The author did a great job describing it and the hotel that Josh runs. Despite its 400 plus pages, this story clips along at a steady pace and is sadly done before you realize it.

If like me you take extra time selecting that first or last book of any year, I’d recommend this one.

Starter Wife by Moriah Densley

WIFE
Starter Wife by Moriah Densley
Publisher: EsKape Press
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (280 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Quince

Linnea King has it all, fabulous social life, adorable children, and her successful husband’s income… until he serves her with divorce papers. Her perfect life crumbles in a storm of police reports, cranky bus drivers, and burned dinners. The single life feels as foreign as a trendy haircut.

Just when Linnea fears she’ll lose everything, her new neighbor steps in to help. Not that she’s judging by appearances, but TJ Gates looks like trouble with a capital T. Tattoos, motorcycle, and sexy southern manners, TJ is the last person Linnea expects to be her hero.

A demolitions expert who takes prizefighting gigs to pay the bills, TJ has pretty much screwed up everything that matters, and rebuilding his life after a violent past is harder than it looks. He thinks the polished, expensive-looking Linnea King needs the same thing he wants: a second chance.

It is a universal truth that there are some stories that grab reader’s attention immediately, and there are some where it takes a while to warm up to them. Starter Wife falls within the second category. I even put it aside after the first half and returned to it after a week. Am I ever glad that I did return to reading it and did not gave up on the book because it turned out to be a really good story!

As the book opens the reader meets Linnea King at her lowest. She is taking the punches (figuratively speaking) from her ex-husband, who left her with three kids (one of them with Down’s Syndrome), no money and visitations from child protection services. At the beginning Linnea is a woman with no self-esteem because years of psychological abuse took its toll. Gradually as the story progresses, the heroine, with a little determination and help from her sexy neighbor and a few other friends, gets her confidence back. She becomes stronger, so she can have her revenge. In the process she also found the love of her life.

I find Starter Wife to be a very interesting and empowering story because there are many women out there who helped their husbands build their careers only to be left with kids and no job in the end. Linnea made it; she got her groove back and her life back on track, but it wasn’t easy. I found Linnea’s character amazing. At the beginning she wallows a bit in self-pity, but once she takes her life in her own hands, she turns out to be smart, funny and an interesting woman. Although she finds a new love (true one) and married him, she does not made same mistake twice and so, at the end she becomes economically independent as well. On the other hand, the hero, TJ Gates (sexy as hell) is a bit too much for me. He is a great character and he also grows through the story but he too much alpha for me.

Starter Wife is cross between women’s fiction and a romance novel. The story focuses on Linnea’s life – her trials and ordeals and on her relationship with TJ Gates; but really it’s a bit more focused on her getting her life back on track. Both storylines are well combined and the writing in general is great. The pace of the story is a bit slow at the beginning but it speeds up in the second half. Starter Wife is not an instant “falling in love” kind of story and it has only one lovemaking scene but it’s a book with a solid character driven plot.

All in all Starter Wife is worth reading, and it made me want to read other stories by Moriah Densley. It is a cozy read that made me feel good. I highly recommend it.

Mr Fix It by Noel Thomas Fiems

FIX
Mr Fix It by Noel Thomas Fiems
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (19 pages)
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A father loses his son, will he also lose his daughter?

There are some things even the most talented handyman can’t fix.

The character development in this short story was incredibly well done. Within a handful of pages I knew exactly why the main character was acting the way he was. I even caught a few glimpses of the kind, gentle parent he must have been before the terrible accident that changed his family forever. It’s hard to discuss the plot in any more detail than this without giving away spoilers, but its gut-wrenching themes brought a tear to my eye.

There were a few times when the narrator seemed to veer off topic, but sometimes appearances can be deceiving. What impressed me about his flashbacks were how applicable they were to everything that was currently happening in his life. Mr. Fiems clearly chose every single word he used carefully even if their meanings weren’t immediately apparent to this reader. I’d recommend reading it through again a second time to anyone who has a similar response to their first interaction with these characters.

One of the hardest things about experiencing a loss, no matter what kind of loss it is, has to do with how easy it is to replay critical moments in one’s mind over and over again. It’s unbelievably tempting to get sucked into this cycle of regret and shame, but that doesn’t make it a healthy, longterm decision. This tale perfectly captured what it feels like to wade through such a tangled mixture of emotions.

Mr Fix It is a must-read for anyone who has ever been overwhelmed with grief.

Little Miss Sure Shot by Jeffrey Marshall

SHOT
Little Miss Sure Shot by Jeffrey Marshall
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Short Story (124 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Little Miss Sure Shot is a fictionalized account of the life of Annie Oakley, drawing heavily on the real timelines and events of her life. However, the book is not a biography – it invents situations, people she meets, and a myriad of conversations. Moreover, while the book is presented chronologically, apart from the prologue, it skips certain periods and attempts to focus on those that are especially vital, such as the early years Annie spent with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, including the tours through Europe.

A special feature of the novel is the framing of Annie’s loving marriage to fellow sharpshooter Frank Butler, whom she married at sixteen and remained married to for 50 years until her death. Frank was far more than just her husband – he was her manager (he gave up his own shooting for that role) and her constant companion.

The novel closes with an epilogue in Frank’s voice, presenting an overview of their lives together and the circumstances of her death in 1926.

Annie Oakley is almost a legend in western history. This author’s account of her lets you get to know her personally. You learn of her humble beginning where she learned to use the rifle to keep meat on the table for her family, about her well-loved husband, and about her travel life as she toured with shows to both show off her skill and support herself. It’s a fascinating story.

It’s even more enjoyable because the author lets her talk. She never had a formal education so while she could shoot well, she couldn’t read. She did learn how later in life. She’d worked a seamstress once, so she could make her own costumes. And when she married Frank Butler she’d found the love of her life. If only we all could be so lucky.

Mr. Marshall accurately portrays that era and mines the history that remains of Annie’s Oakley. She was born at a time of change in the world and she adapted. They travelled all over the world. She wasn’t fond of Venice because of all the water. Little facts like that made it fun to read.

This could have been a very dry historical read, but Mr. Marshall infused his characters with personalities and opinions and made the story alive. Annie and her husband Frank made a mean team. They made enough to live comfortably and her shooting skills were admired by all. In Europe, women weren’t supposed to be shooters. After she shot, she had their admiration.

I knew quite a bit about Annie before I read this book, but I learned several things along the way: How she didn’t like Venice, how she was unsecure when another young woman joined the show, and when her hair turned white. Mr. Marshall did a very nice job compiling the facts and presenting them in book. If you’ve ever wanted to read a good book about a competitive female shooter, here you are.

Qualified Immunity by Sylvie Fox

QUALIFIED
Qualified Immunity by Sylvie Fox
Publisher: Penner Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (176 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Sheila Harrison Grant is the first African American woman ever nominated to the federal bench in Cleveland. But when her thirteen-year-old daughter Olivia shares a family secret with a well-meaning guidance counselor, she sets the wheels in motion to feed a partisan senate’s opposition, threatening her mother’s position…and both of their lives.

Once an ambitious young law student with promise, Casey Cort made the mistake of
crossing a classmate from a prominent and influential family. Now she works as an unfulfilled, faceless cog in a broken legal system.

When fate gives Casey a second chance, she has to set aside her lack of faith in justice and find the strength to fight for those with nowhere else to turn.

In this first novel of the Casey Cort series, Sylvie Fox—a former trial lawyer in Cleveland—weaves a tale that blends the best of today’s top legal thrillers with the heart and soul of women’s fiction, in a story ripped from real-world headlines.

Good intentions don’t guarantee anything.

People have reasons for even their most illogical decisions. One of the things I liked the most about this book was how explained the poor choices certain characters made. They were described in ways that illuminated why those decisions seemed like the right ones to the people involved without ever making excuses for anyone. It’s entirely possible to understand why someone did something and yet still hold them accountable for the harm they caused. Ms. Fox knows how to balance these things out just right.

There were quite a few people in this story, three of whom shared the spotlight as co-protagonists. While I enjoyed reading the backstories of everyone, including the history of almost every character did slow down the pacing of the plot. It also wasn’t necessary, especially for the supporting characters who were only part of the action some of the time. It made me wonder if I’ll be meeting some or all of them again in the sequels, although I was never sure if that is actually what the author is intending to do.

Social workers aren’t always written sympathetically, so I was glad to see how well they were treated in this tale. Their occupation is something that fascinates me for many reasons. It was nice to see it treated fairly even while acknowledging that no system or person is perfect. The nuances that were woven into these passages makes me curious to see where this series goes from here.

I also noticed a lot of switching among narrators. Moving between so many different points of view was distracting. No sooner could I adjust to one character’s way of describing the world around them then the narrative would move me into someone else’s mind. Virtually all of the character and plot development could have been accomplished with only one or two protagonists. It would have been much easier to enjoy what was happening without so many abrupt transitions.

Sheila’s character development was strong and rewarding. She is far from perfect, but her intelligence and resourcefulness made it easy for me to like her even when she acted unethically. There is something to be said for a well-rounded personality, and she most definitely has one of those!

Qualified Immunity has caught my attention. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys fiction about the legal system.

The Tumble Inn by William Loizeaux

TUMBLE
The Tumble Inn by William Loizeaux
Publisher: Syracuse University Press
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (166 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

Tired of their high school teaching jobs and discouraged by their failed attempts at conceiving a child, Mark and Fran Finley decide they need a change in their lives. Abruptly, they leave their friends and family in suburban New Jersey to begin anew as innkeepers on a secluded lake in the Adirondack Mountains. There they muddle through their first season at the inn, serving barely edible dinners to guests, stranding themselves in chest-deep snowdrifts, and somehow, miraculously, amid swarms of ravenous black flies, conceiving a child, a girl they name Nat. Years later, when Mark and Fran are nearing middle age and Nat is a troubled teenager, Mark’s life is ripped apart, forever changed, and he must choose between returning to his old home in New Jersey or trying to rebuild what is left of his life and family in the place of his greatest joy and deepest sorrow. The Tumble Inn is a moving drama about home and about the fragility and resilience of love.

The Tumble Inn is a story that has me examining my own life and priorities. I loved both the characters of Mark and Fran. Mark’s the only narrator in this book but we get a well-rounded view of both him and Fran.

I think anyone reading this will relate to them. Stuck in a job they’re not entirely thrilled about and given the opportunity to do something completely different. Something they’re not really qualified to do but decide to go for it and never look back.

The author did a wonderful job describing the inn that Fran and Mark run and also the surrounding area. I felt like I was there. The secondary characters are wonderful too. You’re happy for this couple when their daughter Nat comes into their life. I did, however, wish the author would have added some more chapters about her and her growing up at the inn instead of using narration to chronicle the years between her being an infant to a troubled teenager.

There’s a sad spot in the book which I won’t give away. It’s a turning point for the characters and you’re drawn further into the story. I loved the ending which gives you that (as all good books should) feeling that you’re glad you took time to read it.

If you’re normally a genre reader don’t let the literary tag on this story put you off. It’s fast paced and Mr. Loizeaux has an easy to read writing style. I’d say add The Tumble Inn to your fall reading list. I know I’ll be looking for more of this author’s work.