Secret Crush: The House of Morgan by Victoria Pinder

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Secret Crush: The House of Morgan by Victoria Pinder
Publisher: Love in a Book
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full length (254 pages)
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Camellia

For some, joining the FBI is a long-term goal. For billionaire John Morgan, joining the Bureau is a stepping stone to proving his father is culpable for his sister’s death. After his estranged father dies, John is forced to return home and face the ghosts of his past. That proves to be more difficult than he could have ever imagined.

Alice Collins lives a peaceful life. As a farmer’s daughter, she knows what it’s like to work hard for what you want. After losing her best friend under inexplicable circumstances, her world viewpoint shifted until her small town sensibilities convinced her to attend Mr. Morgan’s funeral.

Soon, the past and the present collide and Alice is caught in the crosshairs. John comes to her aid, complicating matters for both of them.

Can a handsome billionaire on a vendetta truly fall for a small town girl or does he have something else in mind? Can a small town girl, if she gives her heart to him, ever fit in the House of Morgan?

John Morgan, the rebellious son of the House of Morgan, loses his motivation when his father dies—John can’t bring a corpse to justice. He returns home seeking answers but soon finds himself struggling to protect the rather naïve Alice Collins whose life is in danger because of him. The problems of his dysfunctional family take a back seat as he concentrates on security for Alice who has a longtime connect with the Morgan family.

Secret Crush is a clean, easy-to-read manuscript that allows the reader to cruise right along with reading. The plotting is meticulously done and the characters all have distinct roles to play. However, even with lots of dialogue, much of the action and emotion is told to the reader rather than shown. Consequently, I never became involved like I usually do in a story of suspense, mystery, and love.

I did feel the need to finish the story to find answers for the many mysteries. As I continued, I found a real surprise about who was willing to do murder for money. But here again I felt I wasn’t allowed to know what changed that character from defending the law to being willing to break the law—there just had to be more than money for such a drastic change.

The love story had the conflict and the undeniable attraction that shepherded John and Alice through these conflicts in attention-keeping ways, taking them to their happy-ever-after. However, the story, even for a book in a series, ended with too many unanswered questions. I felt as if I had not finished reading the book.

I imagine these questions will be answered in future books in this series.

Into the Void by Emma Stein

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Into the Void by Emma Stein
Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing
Genre: Historical, Satire
Length: Full Length (215 pgs)
Rating: 5 stars
Review by Rose

The country of Anglina is teeming with social upheaval, and its officials have found an unlikely national hero in a philosopher and social activist named Horace. The Anglinian government has appointed the effeminate, irreverent, and stubborn scholar to undertake a journey around the world to learn the secret of other countries’ success. Unfortunately for Horace, most of the societies he visits turn out to be drastically different from what he expected, and he repeatedly sends scathing but witty reports about his travels and the people he encounters. At the end of his journey, Horace encounters a series of communes whose inhabitants welcome him into their ranks and open his eyes to more a liberal and egalitarian way of life.

Into the Void is a very interesting book—consisting of letters from Horace to Addie detailing Horace’s visits to the different areas around Anglina to see if there is anything he can learn that will help clear away the rot that is present in their own land.

Each of his letters can be seen as satirical commentary on our own ways of living. In this it reminds me very much of Gulliver’s Travels. Where Swift examined governments, Stein puts human relationships and ways of living under the microscope.

The letters are interesting in themselves and, even though I’m not normally one to re-read books, I think I will make an exception here. I am interested in rereading several of the letters to dig a little deeper into the meaning behind it.

In addition to the foibles of the human condition that Stein provides, the letters also give us insight into Horace and his relationship with Addie that was quite interesting to discover.

Good job, Ms. Stein. A masterful achievement!

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Murder Most Yowl by Quinn Dressler

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Murder Most Yowl by Quinn Dressler
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Short Story (134 pgs)
Other: M/M
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Cat-sitting is a dangerous business.

Cameron Sherwood turned his back on law enforcement the night his investigation led to the death of an innocent gay man. Now Cam spends his time running a business that caters to his favorite animal, cats. But when Cam stumbles upon the body of a friend while feeding her feline, he can’t walk away. Dealing with a sexy yet stubborn sheriff, a matchmaking sister, and a terrifying blind date, Cam must somehow track down a killer, all while keeping the cats around him fed with his gourmet cat treats.

Cameron thought he’d left crime scenes and murder investigations behind him in his previous life. Owning a small store famous for his home-made cat treats, Cameron was determined to live a different style of life now. Until he discovers the murder of his client when going to feed her cat, Mr Muffin Top. Sherriff Jake O’Neill was not impressed by Cameron’s past, nor did he want or need any help with his investigation. The two men, however, continually bumped into each other and they both became more annoyed each time until they each realised they’d have far more success working together than in opposition.

I really enjoyed this book. I found it had an extremely strong mystery plot – the vast majority of the story was Jake and Cameron trying to solve the murder. Their relationship progresses very slowly, starting initially as them being quite antagonistic toward each other and butting heads with sparks flying. I loved the pacing, slow enough to really see and experience how Jake and Cameron slowly turned to each other and watching their relationship flourish. The murder mystery plot was also excellent to my mind. While I admit I guessed some of it fairly early on, there were plenty of red herrings and fake-clues which made me question my assumptions. Solidly written, it kept me totally hooked right to the end.

While there were more than a few steamy kisses, readers should be aware that there wasn’t really anything exceptionally erotic in my view. There is a single, brief M/M sex scene between Jake and Cameron right near the end of the story. While the bedroom door is definitely left open it’s not particularly explicit and the whole scene is quite brief, albeit deliciously written. Readers used to heavy erotic romances might not feel as if this is a “full on” erotic romance, and particularly readers interested only in the sexy, steamy side of a M/M relationship might find that this plot-focused story doesn’t tick the right box for them.

Personally I loved this book – a real, proper mystery story with a lovely hint of sexiness and a good, well-worked M/M relationship. I really enjoyed this and will happily read more by this author.

Kiss Me Like a Stranger by Gene Wilder

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Kiss Me Like a Stranger by Gene Wilder
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre: Contemporary, Biography
Length: Full Length (261 pages)
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Gene Wilder was one of the great comic actors who defined the 1970’s and 1980’s in movies. From his early work with Woody Allen to the rich group of movies he made with Mel Brooks to his partnership on screen with Richard Pryor, Wilder’s performances are still discussed and celebrated today. Kiss Me Like A Stranger is an intimate glimpse of the man behind the image on the screen.

In this book, Wilder talks about everything from his experiences in psychoanalysis to why he got into acting (and later comedy-his first goal was to be a Shakespearean actor) to how a Midwestern childhood with a sick mother changed him. He writes about the creative process on stage and on screen, and divulges moments from life on the sets of the some of the most iconic movies of our time. He also opens up about his love affairs and marriages, including his marriage to comedian Gilda Radner. But the core of Kiss Me Like A Stranger is an actor’s search for truth and a thoughtful analysis of why the choices he made-some of them so serendipitous they were practically accidental-changed the course of his life.

There’s so much I didn’t know, but I do now… since I’ve read the rest of the story.

Gene Wilder is more than just a mildly eccentric comic with fantastic timing. There’s the cynical side and the manic side, but he’s more dimensional. This book showed the good, the bad and the human side of him.

I’d loved the work of Gene Wilder since I watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory as a child. For the longest time, I thought of him as Willy Wonka and the man who helped Gilda Radner while she battled cancer. Trust me, there is so much more to him.

I loved how he told the stories of his childhood. It wasn’t all roses and comedy. He spent time in a military school and worked hard to make his parents proud. He dealt with the death of his mother and trying to find his way as an actor. Talk about taking the long road…he certainly did.

He shows his human side as well in this book. Some actors don’t want their past revealed. He talks about his struggles with women, his adopted daughter, balancing his acting life with his inner demons and finding real love in his life. Wilder holds nothing back. I could relate to some of his experiences and respected him more as an actor.

The stories about his movies injected a human quality to them, as well. He’s not just an image on the silver screen but a person. I gained a lot of respect for him.

If you want a book that will make you laugh, cry, think and love…then this might be the book for you.

Three Modern Shorts: The Park Stories by K. Kris Loomis

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Three Modern Shorts: The Park Stories by K. Kris Loomis
Publisher: Lililoom Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (22 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

What happens when a distraught teen and a whacky old woman meet in the park? How about a couple that weaves tales about spies and incurable diseases? Or when a father and daughter are presented with the opportunity to get to know one another better under unusual circumstances?
In these three modern short stories, author K. Kris Loomis offers us glimpses of universally shared moments in everyday relationships and life. They are humorous, thought provoking, and written to be read in one sitting.

Small dramas unfold at the park every single day.

In “Lovely Horns,” an old woman named Muriel struck up an unusual conversation with a troubled teenage girl, Lucy, who had a strange problem. Muriel thought she might have a solution for it. It took me a while to decide how I wanted to interpret the problem and the solution. There were several different ways to look at both of them, and that made for a fascinating reading experience. I especially liked how the final scene was written. Not only did it give me a nice sense of closure, it also fit Muriel’s offbeat personality beautifully.

There were some parts of “Friday Afternoon” that I had trouble understanding. While I really enjoyed the funny tales Paul and Angie told each other about what they imagined the lives of the other people at the park had been like, I found it hard to relate to these characters themselves. The hints about what was actually going on between them were so subtle that I was never sure that I was accurately understanding the subtext in their conversation. It would have been helpful to have a little more information to work with in those scenes.

The complicated relationship between Jimmy and his adult daughter, Carley, in “The King Stomper” made me curious to know why things were a little strained between them and what would happen to them next. Watching them interact with each other answered enough of my questions to keep me satisfied, but their chat also made me think of more topics I wished they’d discuss. This story ended up being my favorite on in the book because of how good it was at exploring these characters’ personalities and challenging me to come up with my own theories about why they behaved the way they did.

I’d recommend Three Modern Shorts: The Park Stories to anyone who has ever wished they could peek into a stranger’s life for a moment.

Hellfire by Jeff Provine

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Hellfire by Jeff Provine
Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing
Genre: Action/Adventure, Paranormal, Historical
Length: Full Length (206 pages)
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

Locomotive fireman, Nate Kemp, uncovers a conspiracy around the miraculous Newton’s Catalyst, a powder that makes fires burn hotter than they should—secretly releasing the fires of Hell. Now, more is beginning to slip through, and the Rail Agency tries to tuck him away in a mental institution. Nurse Ozzie Jacey helps him escape. They must warn the capital, Lake Providence, before Hell literally breaks loose.

Hellfire is a Steampunk novel with all the steam, smoke, coal dust and dirt that steam engines bring. Gloriana cannot exist without its steam engines for trains, mills and other commercial engines. Newtons Catalyst is used to enhance the output. Railway fireman Nate Kemp finds the side effects of using this chemical are disastrous but those in charge will do anything to keep their secret.

I found the beginning of the book confusing and had difficulty keeping my attention focused. The story hopped from character to character and none of them seemed to have any depth. I’m glad I kept reading though as half way through the book the story picked up. Until this point the reason for the monsters and what made them so terrible had not been clear.

Then the excitement built with each passing chapter, making me want to find out what was happening, and how it would be resolved. The conflict between good and evil evolved and the character strengths deepened with every wave of tension. Good joined ranks to fight against the impossible odds of the Rail Agency marshals and their bodyguard hunchbacks, but these are only the frontmen. To beat the monsters Nate and his companions must find who is behind the monster invasion..

A good conclusion to what eventually became a clever steampunk story.

Legacy of Truth by Christy Nicholas

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Legacy of Truth by Christy Nicholas
Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing
Genre: Historical
Length: Full (358 pgs)
Heat: Sensual
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Popppy

Set in late 18th century Ireland, Esme must grow up quickly in small, isolated northwestern town. Her parents are leaving for America, abandoning her and her sister to fend for themselves. As she struggles to find her place, she finds it difficult to keep hold of what’s left that’s precious to her.

Once married and in a new town, Esme’s only friend, Aisling, helps her through difficult times, as her Traveler husband stays away longer and longer plying his trade.

While Esme has had some comfort in her small family, she must now find comfort on her own, as her treacherous sister tries stealing the family heirloom to sell, a brooch reputed to have mystical powers, which had been left to her by her grandfather. Esme must learn to cope with her dwindling family and growing despair in order to keep the brooch safe.

Richly detailed and well written, Legacy of Truth is a treat for fans of historical fiction.

This is not a book for someone looking for a light read. The author has loaded up this story with a remarkable amount of historical details. I found I could only read a few chapters at a time and then needed to stop and give my poor brain a rest! I was fascinated by the tale, though, as I’m not overly knowledgeable about the time period in Ireland (like the fact that Catholics couldn’t buy land at one time, for instance). I really enjoyed the learning that went along with the plot.

There was a very slight paranormal twist involving a magical brooch, but for the most part this is just really historical fiction. I admit I struggled to get involved at first. We meet the family and not much happens for the first few chapters. Truthfully, I have a low tolerance for books that take time to find their footing, and had I not been reading this for review, I might have stopped. I’m glad I didn’t–and if you enjoy historical fiction, I suggest you continue on, too!

The author does a good job investing the reader in the characters, but I was surprised how my opinions of just who was “good” and who was “bad” changed as I turned the pages. So well done! I did struggle a little with the ending, because I really prefer a truly happy one, but this turned out the only way it could have, I think, and it wasn’t exactly unhappy either. Times were difficult then, and the author injected a certain amount of realism in her story.

All in all a satisfying historical read. If they made history in school this interesting, everyone would pass with flying colors!

Turbo Jetslams: Proof #29 by Jass Richards

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Turbo Jetslams: Proof #29 by Jass Richards
Publisher: Magenta
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (126 pages)
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

You ever have a neighbour whose behaviour is so mind-bogglingly inconsiderate and so suicide-inducingly annoying that you just want to ask him, in a polite Canadian way, to please stop? TurboJetslams isn’t like that.

Jass Richards’ new novel, TurboJetslams: Proof #29 of the Non-Existence of God, tells the tale of one person’s pathetic and hilarious attempts to single-handedly stop the destruction of a little piece of beautiful Canadian wilderness by the increasing numbers of idiots who couldn’t care less.

A cottage by the lake, peace, quiet and embracing nature. Wouldn’t we all like to be able to do this? Vic had saved hard for ten years and at last achieved her goal. A cabin on the edge of Paradise Lake. She settled down to live a life of bliss and this lasted for fifteen years while she made the cabin her own. Then modern day life caught up with her. Jetslams, speedboats, ATVs and all the noise associated with them came to Paradise Lake as sections which had stood vacant for years began to be sold along with the noise of new houses being built.

I found this book totally absorbing. I smiled at Vic’s attempts to persuade her neighbors to respect other people but when these failed dismally, she took the law into her own hands.

Vic did all the things we wished we could do when faced with similar situations. How often have people wished they could sink someone’s speedboat because their noisy races intruded on peace and quiet? An afternoon bird watching spoiled when loud music frightens away the birds. A peaceful night on the deck watching the moon and stars reflect on the water spoiled by idiots careening around throwing empty beer cans into the water. There are ways to stop this, but such attempts usually result in a visit by the police.

Vic’s actions weren’t legal and at times they were lethal, but it seemed every time she got rid of one hazard, another reared its ugly head. The book has to be read from beginning to end. I mean I had to read it as I needed to know if she succeeded in recovering her peace and quiet or did she have to move? Good book, unusual topic but well written.

Hidden by Shelley Shepard Gray

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Hidden by Shelley Shepard Gray
Publisher: Harper Collins
Genre: Contemporary, Inspirational
Length: Full Length (161 pgs)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

When Anna decides it’s time to leave her abusive boyfriend, she doesn’t know where to turn. Rob has completely won over her parents, and the entire community, with his good looks and smooth charm. Only Anna has seen his dark side.

Desperate, she runs to the only place she’s ever felt completely safe—the Amish Brenneman Bed and Breakfast, where Anna met life-long friend Katie Brenneman. The family welcomes her in, and with few questions asked allows her to stay, dressed in Plain clothing, and help around the inn.

Katie’s older brother Henry is the only one who doesn’t take too kindly to the intrusion. He tries to ignore Anna, knowing no good would ever come from caring for an Englisher like her. But as he gets to know Anna, he discovers her good heart and is surprised with her readiness to accept their lifestyle.

The more time Anna spends with the Amish, the more she feels she’s found a true home. But how can she deny the life she left behind? And will her chance for happiness be stolen away by the man from her past?

I remember the 80s movie Witness and after I started reading Hidden I found it easy to make a few parallel observations. The difference is that in this novel the romance bears fruit and there’s an HEA. I enjoyed the simple, profound and gentle romance between two very divergent people.

Henry and Anna are the main protagonists who at first don’t get along well – oil and water. As with all good romance stories, as circumstances affect them, as they get to know each other and see each other as they really are, feelings start to grow, respect is nurtured and understanding develops.

The character with the most to gain, lose, grow and change is Anna. She’s running for safety; she’s felt lost in her own world for a long time and someone does not want her to leave it. Time is running out. There’s a guy hot on her tail and he’s not very nice. Where can she turn? Who will help her? It turns out the least obvious is the best bet, but can she leave all that she knew behind? Surprisingly it’s her faith in religion that slowly guides her to make the choices that lead her to what her heart had been searching for and never found in all that she’s done in her life so far. It takes the calm and focused lifestyle of the Amish to give Anna the time to slow down, to think, to feel, and most importantly, listen to what God was trying to tell her. There’s so much Englisher static from her background it takes a while for Anna to finally hear.

The story is told mostly from Anna’s point of view, then Henry’s. The villain gets his say and he’s a sad specimen of humanity. The author made it very clear as the plot unfolded that something really isn’t right with that guy. He was an effective antagonist.

The one thing that saddened me about this novel was Anna’s mother. Her dad was written quite well and I liked him. The mother was a head case. Where there should have been redemption, she just didn’t get it, not truly, and I was disappointed in her final act on stage. Didn’t she learn anything?

I liked the dramatic conclusion and found it showcased all the main characters’ strengths. I liked the secondary characters and found them helpful as Anna and Henry navigated their growing attraction. The happy ever after was sweet and full of spirituality and love. It was tender and brought a smile to my face.

Hidden is a delightful change of pace from the many frenetic, violent or over the top sexy stories out there. Sometimes, a reader just wants a story of the heart, about two people overcoming seemingly unsurmountable odds to find love, happiness and fulfillment in a deeper way than most can comprehend. There are times where I need to be reminded that love isn’t proved by material things or boisterous gestures, but by trust in another person and the faith, love and respect they have for their God and each other. It can be beautiful and Ms. Gray did a wonderful job of capturing that with her story.

Outcast by Dianne Noble

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Outcast by Dianne Noble
Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s fiction
Length: Full (308 pgs)
Rating: 5 stars
Review by Rose

Rose leaves her Cornwall café to search for her daughter in the sweltering slums of Kolkata, India.

In the daily struggle for survival, she is often brought to her knees, but finds strength to overcome the poverty and disease, grows to love the Dalit community she helps.

But then there are deaths, and she fears for her own safety.

Her café at home is at risk of being torched, and finally, she has to make the terrible choice between her daughter and the Indian children.

This is a beautifully written book about mothers and daughters, about forgiveness and redemption, about loss and finding oneself. The subject matter itself isn’t pretty. It deals with the poverty and struggle that is the life of the Dalits–the untouchables–of India. But the story itself is beautiful and is one I think I will be thinking about for a long time.

The story begins with Rose discovering that the plane on which her daughter was supposed to be arriving after her gap year in India was missing. Her relief that Ellie did not actually get on the plane quickly turned to a desire to repair the damage that had been done to their relationship over the years, so she decides to go to India on a surprise visit, leaving her café in the capable hands of Hannah, who we discover has her own mother issues that are juxtaposed against the story of Rose and Ellie.

I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of the two stories, and I hope Ms. Noble plans on revisiting Hannah and Willow. I would like to see how their story plays out.

Although the ending was not the one *I* would have chosen, I can quite see how it was the right decision for the characters.

Good job, Ms. Noble. I will definitely be checking to see if you have other books available.