Asset by Chris Lowry


Asset by Chris Lowry
Publisher: Grand Ozarks Media
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Action/Adventure
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

It ain’t easy being a spy.

It sounded fun at first. Just listen. Pay attention. Make note of who comes to the house. Who stops by.

And a poor boy from the wrong side of the tracks gets a chance to travel the world with the girl he loves.

But her do-gooder ways can get them in trouble.

When she volunteers them to help at a refugee camp in South Africa, they’re protected by her father’s reputation.

Until rebels show up and all hell breaks loose.

Now his adventure in a new world takes a deadly turn and drives him into a nightmare. He can give in and give up or dig deep and fight to become the man he always wanted to be.

It’s not a simple choice and the only easy day was yesterday. But Brill Winger will have to learn to fight if he wants to survive, and wreak havoc on the men who shattered his world, and tried to shatter him.

Grab your copy of book 1 in the action packed series about the boy who became the world’s luckiest hitman.

Brill was a poor young man who had grown up on the wrong side of town in desperate circumstances. Everything changes when he is offered a unique opportunity, just listen and pay attention to what goes on around him, then report back to his shadowy benefactors. In return he gets to stay with the young South African woman he loves and be a part of her life. Only Brill and his love are both thrown into a nightmare situation and Brill has to decide whether he will fight and take his vengeance, or whether he will give up everything he is.

I picked up this book on a whim and mostly I’m happy with the purchase. This story definitely won’t be every reader’s cup of tea. I found the writing style quite bare and very different to most of the books I read. I feel the author takes the “lean” or “gritty” style of writing to an extreme. There is very little extra description or world building in this story and I feel some readers won’t enjoy the bareness of the narrative very much at all.

The pace of this story was quite fast and I feel readers who enjoy action/adventure style fast-paced novels should really enjoy this. The plot was simple but effective – not very unique but I thought it was well handled. I personally found we received enough details about Brill and Laurette to give me a good mental picture of their characters and who they were, but I wouldn’t blame other readers who felt there needed to be at least a little more description to help make the story more fulfilling to read.

Fairly early on in the story Brill and Laurette are kidnapped with a bunch of other people by some rebels while they were volunteering in one of the refugee camps in Laurette’s home country and South Africa. After this, the story becomes far more focused on Brill and his personal growth, though the pace remains quite fast in this as well. Readers looking for a light hearted or easy read won’t find that here. There is one very full-on rape scene around this time in the story too. I feel readers should be aware this rape scene is fairly graphic – though still in the books style of bare and gritty. I definitely didn’t find it written in a titillating or glorified manner, but also the author was in no way vague with the scene, it definitely wasn’t glossed over. I really feel it won’t suit all readers and could certainly be a trigger to some, though I personally was able to read it (and I frequently skim or properly skip more graphically violent scenes – in this sense the bareness of the author’s writing style was definitely a blessing).

While Brill is caught in this nightmare situation it’s truly the making of his character. Although part of me feels there is a little too much coincidence in the unfolding of the further scenes – they were realistic and logical enough I could accept them and I found it deeply engrossing to watch Brill turn from a young man in love into what is the beginnings of a hardened warrior and a deeply rooted sense of Brill’s personal mission and the skills he would learn to grow into a man determined to carry out this journey he was beginning.

While there are a few rough corners in this story that I hope are a bit smoother in the next few books, I admit I’m hooked enough on the plotline and general premise I expect to purchase and read the second in this series. I feel there was a good enough writing style, interesting enough characters and a solid plot to this story and I admit I’m interested in knowing what happens next, so I’ll be getting the next book and giving it another try.

A Date with Violence by James Cox


A Date with Violence by James Cox
Big Balls and Brass Knuckles, Book 2
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Action/Adventure, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Erotic Romance, LGBTQ
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

They have the killer on video and yet no one can see his face…

Brett and Genius are on another case. This one involves a series of robberies where elderly victims are murdered. They have no idea how the victims are chosen or when the next one will be targeted. Their only clue is a video of the killer and his face is blurred. What invention could do that? Even Genius is stumped. As they look for suspects, the heat between them intensifies. Neither man has forgotten the kiss they shared and Genius wants a lot more than Brett’s lips.

Oh baby, the chemistry leaps right off the page.

I’ve not read anything by James Cox before this book, but I’m glad I remedied that and I will be looking for book one in this series. I loved the writing and the characters. This was a hot, but quick read and I couldn’t put it down.

Genius and Brett have great chemistry. I rooted for them immediately. I loved the interplay between them and the way they so wanted each other. So good. I didn’t want this book to end…which is why I’m going back to find book one.

If you’re looking for a quick mystery, hot story and great characters, then this is the one for you.

Bibi Blundermuss and the Tree Across the Cosmos by Andrew Durkin


Bibi Blundermuss and the Tree Across the Cosmos by Andrew Durkin
Publisher: Yellow Bike Press
Genre: Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Twelve-year-old Bibi Blundermuss is terrified of trees. Being around them makes her dizzy and sick to her stomach—even comatose. So, when her only to chance to find her missing parents means climbing a magic tree in the forest near her home, she almost doesn’t take it.

When Bibi grits her teeth and scales the trunk, the tree grows—so violently that she and her cat Eek are catapulted into another world. Here, she befriends a herd of elk, on the run from a pack of vicious white lions. And she discovers, to her amazement, that her mother is a witch who has been protecting the elk with a poison flower spell, which keeps the lions away.

Yet the longer Bibi stays in the world of the elk and lions, the less sure she is that her mother is truly on the elks’ side—or even on Bibi’s side. In the end, a dangerous journey into the lions’ lair and a reunion with both parents uncovers a secret that changes Bibi’s life forever. Drawn into an epic snowbound battle against an army of zombie trees, she must face her greatest fear to discover her greatest power.

Courage makes all sorts of things possible.

Bibi was a well-rounded and likeable main character. Her severe anxiety endeared me to her, especially when she was doing her best to face her fears despite how overwhelming they felt. I also enjoyed seeing how she incorporated her Zulu and Icelandic heritage into her everyday life. She loved both of her cultures and found all sorts of creative ways to honor them. Little details like this were what really made her personality come alive to me.

It would have been nice to see more attention paid to world building. For example, animals can talk in Bibi’s world and phobias don’t work the same way there as they do in our world at all. Both of these things were accepted at face value by all of the characters. I would have found the phobia storyline especially confusing if I were a middle grade reader because of how oddly Bibi’s hylophobia presented itself and how the resolution to that issue was framed. This is something I’m saying as a reader who loves fantasy and can easily suspend my disbelief when magical things happen. There’s nothing wrong with following a different set of rules, but not having clear explanations of why these things happened did prompt me to go with a lower rating than I would have otherwise chosen despite loving everything else about it.

The pacing fit the tone of the storyline well even though it did not always follow the same patterns. Some scenes worked best if they were savored, and others benefited from a quicker explanation of what was happening in them. It isn’t always easy to write a story that can make all of the adjustments necessary for this sort of pacing, so I commend the author for pulling it off here. He did a great job of preparing this reader to slow down and admire the glittery flowers of a magical forest filled with talking elk and then speed up again as pivotal scenes loomed on the horizon.

Bibi Blundermuss and the Tree Across the Cosmos was a wild ride that I’d recommend to anyone who loves adventurous fantasy.

A Time for War, A Time for Peace by Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy


A Time for War, A Time for Peace by Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, Action/Adventure
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Nick is a soldier from Eastern Europe, making a life in America. Tina catches his eye as a customer in the diner that he runs. Attraction leads to love but before they can enjoy their newfound relationship, the fight for freedom in Kosovo draw Nick back to his homeland.

At first, he plans to go alone to protect Tina, but he can’t leave her so she comes with him to face a world fraught with danger, fear, and hardship. When she becomes pregnant, he sends her home and plans to follow. If he survives, if he returns to her, then they have a chance at their happily ever after in the United States.

If they can make it, they’ll be golden, but can they make it?

I’d never read anything by Ms Sontheimer Murphy until this week and I’m glad I rectified that problem. This story flows well. The characters are captivating and I couldn’t put it down. I rooted for the couple to make it and have a happy ending. Boy, I got emotionally involved and that’s a good thing.

Tina and Nick are fascinating characters. He can’t handle the fact that his homeland is in danger. He also can’t leave Tina behind. He’s in a truly rough place, but he’s determined not to give up. That’s what I liked about him. He’s strong, but he’s not so strong he can’t show a sensitive side. Then there’s Tina. She’s strong, too. She is relatable and I could see her as someone I knew. I liked that because it helped me get involved with the story. The heat between them is great, too. I knew they had a connection because I could feel it.

If you’re looking for a read that’s not always easy, but it’s got a lot of heart and heat, then this might be the one for you. Give it a try.

The Magicians of Ysavar by Z.B. Lee


The Magicians of Ysavar by Z.B. Lee
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Johan Finley dreams of being a warrior for his home, Center City, but he is devastated when his own arrogance costs him his dream. When all seems lost, a cheery little fellow comes knocking on his door. Johan could never expect the fantastic journey that awaits.

There is one problem: Blazer, an enchanted sword, has fallen into the wrong hands. A shadowy enemy seeks to use this powerful weapon to turn the tides in a greater war of good versus evil. Johan must find the strength to face down this sinister foe and take back the sword before it’s too late.

Under the tutelage of a wise magician and a battle-tested knight, along with the friendship of a courageous halfling, Johan is going to learn what it means to be a true hero in the Order of Ysavar. But when the fate of the world rests on his shoulders, will he crack under the pressure? Or will he rise to the occasion?

Sometimes adventure sneaks up on you when you least expect it to.

The world building in this novella was fantastic. It explained everything the reader needed to know clearly while still leaving ample room for a sequel to dive much more deeply into the history of Articus and what the various races in this world thought of each other. These were complex topics that Johan and the audience were just beginning to understand. The author did such a good job of explaining them and showing what life was like for the members of the Order of Ysavar that I felt as though I were walking alongside the characters every step of the way.

I would have liked to see more attention paid to character development, especially when it came to Johan. Other characters mentioned his faults a few times, but there weren’t enough opportunities for the audience to see whether their opinions of Johan were correct or how he grew as a result of his experiences in my opinion. Even a few extra scenes showing this would have been sufficient. This was the only thing holding me back from selecting a five-star rating.

The plot was fast-paced and exciting. I was intrigued by how it explored what happens after someone failed to accomplish a goal in one of the very first scenes. That wasn’t something I’ve seen discussed in quite the same way in most of the fantasy I’ve read, so it immediately piqued my attention. It’s always nice when authors play around with the audience’s expectations and keep us guessing like that. This is all I can say on that topic without sharing spoilers, but do pay close attention if or when the storyline veers away from what you assumed might happen next.

The Magicians of Ysavar made me yearn for more.

The Cowboy Gladiator by Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy


The Cowboy Gladiator by Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, Action/Adventure
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

After a near fatal rodeo injury, Asher McCard is determined he’ll ride again and compete, especially now he’s decided that cowboys are modern day gladiators. His fiancée, Charlotte, doesn’t agree and she breaks their long engagement. As he gets back in the saddle, Asher is out to win back Charlotte as well as his manhood. When he learns she’s carrying his child, it’s not enough to change his mind but when the first rodeo of the season proves deadly for another rider, it’s a game changer for Asher. His priorities shift toward marriage and family if Charlotte will agree.

He wants her, but she’s afraid to give him a second chance.

This is the first book I’ve read by Ms Sontheimer Murphy and I’m glad I did. I got right into this story and the writing flowed well. I finished this in an afternoon and it was time well spent.

Asher loves being a rodeo rider and he’s determined to be great again. Charlotte, his ex-fiancée, isn’t sure she’s willing to be with a man who puts his life in danger. I had to know what would happen next for this couple. I liked their stubbornness because it was so realistic. I could identify with both characters.

If you’re looking for a sexy afternoon read, then this is the one you should try.

Bright Lights Bound By Darkness by I.M. Savage


Bright Lights Bound By Darkness by I.M. Savage
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

In a cold universe close to death, humanity’s descendants orbit a black star. Eons ago, they retreated to the collective conscious, an artificial world that provided immortality. Millennia passed without change while people slept a dreamless state, until a distant explosion forced the ship to wake its inhabitants. Only one responded, Jerel. With the ship’s fate resting on her actions, she must choose. Leave the safety of their star, their sole companion in an empty universe, or strike out into the void, to investigate the anomaly. Soon, she suspects a malignant force lurks in wait, attempting to reverse her decision. Is it the ship itself, the collective conscious, or something worse?

Not every choice is an easy one.

Jerel was a well-developed and likeable protagonist. Her reaction to the strange events that happened after she woke up in the first scene was as understandable as how she reacted to even more unbelievable plot twists later on in her tale. I admired her curiosity and stubbornness. She needed both of these character traits and more in order to figure out what was happening on the ship and how she’d ended up there.

There were some minor pacing issues in the beginning due to the focus on world building and plot development. This made for a slower start than I was hoping to see, but once I reached the later scenes my patience was richly rewarded. The author knew exactly where they were going. While I would have liked to see a faster pace during the first thirty pages or so, I was quite pleased with how it all turned out in the end.

Speaking of the ending, it couldn’t have been written better. The foreshadowing for it was subtle but steady. I had an inkling of how it might be tied all together, but I appreciated how much space the audience was given to decide for ourselves which interpretation to believe. This was the perfect choice for both the main character and the odd world she came from.

Bright Lights Bound By Darkness was an exciting adventure.

The Fabric Over the Moon by Ferran Plana


The Fabric Over the Moon by Ferran Plana
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Romance, Paranormal, Contemporary, Action/Adventure, Historical
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Stories come alive at night.

They are whispered around dying campfires, by quiet bedsides, under deformed old trees.

They might get interrupted by the howling wind, inaudible gasps, or nervous comments, only to be continued fervently once the dust settles again.

Why did the girl visit the eerie village? What did the gypsy’s words mean? Can the discovery of a new flower change the world?

Stories are supposed to end but they never do.

They leave you wondering and longing for more. They live on in your mind, in corners with cobwebs and memories you’ve been suppressing, in recurring daydreams you have while waiting in long lines. They fester and thrive there. They spiral and soar. You wish they would die but they cannot anymore.

Once you blow breath into a story, it instantly becomes yours…

Why stick to one genre when there are so many other interesting ones to explore, too?

A string of mysterious deaths in a monastery made the main character in “Winter” wonder what was really going on. I was immediately drawn into the mystery of why they’d lost so many members over that winter, especially since this was so unusual for them. The twist ending made me grin. It wasn’t something I saw coming, but it added a delightful spin to the quiet life the characters typically lead.

Some portions of this collection were hard for me to understand, and I’m saying that as someone who loves short stories and flash fiction. There were multiple times when they abruptly ended and I wasn’t entirely sure I fully understood what they were trying to communicate. “Shane” was one such example of this. It followed the adventures of someone named Shane who helped two pigs travel through the woods at night to deliver an important message. As much as I liked the characters, I was confused by how quickly it ended and how many loose ends were left dangling in the final scene.

There was a dreamlike quality to “Locked” that worked beautifully with the tale it told about someone living in the distant future who wondered what Earth was like before the environment became dangerous for humans. I can’t disclose why it was dangerous for spoiler reasons, but I can say that I was surprised by each new revelation about how humanity survived this disaster and how they’d adapted to it over time. This was something that would have made an excellent novel, but it also worked just as well in the handful of pages the author decided to write about.

The Fabric Over the Moon was a thought-provoking read.

Her Relentless Bratva by Winter Sloane


Her Relentless Bratva by Winter Sloane
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, Action/Adventure
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Katya: Some people call me an ice princess. There’s a reason for that. I survived the massacre of my entire family. When the Kotov Bratva took me in, I swore I’d do anything for my daughter and my new family. Aleksander is off-limits. He’s also relentless, persuasive, and addictive. I lean into his touches and kisses even though I should be staying away. I’m a survivor. I don’t just open up my heart to anyone but with Aleksander it’s easy. If being with him is so wrong, then why does it feel so right?

Aleksander: I know Katya Kotov inside and out. Under all that ice, lies a passionate and fiery woman I can’t wait to own and possess. I waited, hoping she’d find a better man, a decent man to settle with. But I’m not that generous. I’m a selfish and possessive bastard. Katya’s mine to tame and I’d kill anyone that gets in the way.

A dark, gritty story of love and survival.

I’ve read a few books by Winter Sloane but this was by far the darkest. I knew it would be, being it’s a mafia romance and it didn’t disappoint in the darkness aspect, but it also succeeded in the romance aspect as well. The writing flowed well, with a few errors, but it’s nothing that took away from my enjoyment of the story.

Katya has been wounded by life and the family. I understood her need to be icy to Aleks. She’s trying to stay sane while she’s a survivor. She’s strong and gritty, which is what I liked the best about her. Then there’s Aleks. He’s pushy, alpha and relentless…hence the title. I liked how he instantly took care of her and refused to let her get away.

If you’re looking for a dark story with a lot of romance and intrigue, then this is the book for you. Check it out now!

One Step Too Far by Lisa Gardner


One Step Too Far by Lisa Gardner
A Frankie Elkin novel, book 2
Publisher: Dutton
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Action/Adventure
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Ginger

Timothy O’Day knew the woods. Yet when he disappeared on the first night of a bachelor party camping trip with his best friends in the world, he didn’t leave a trace. What he did leave behind were two heartbroken parents, a crew of guilt-ridden groomsmen, and a pile of clues that don’t add up.

Frankie Elkin doesn’t know the woods, but she knows how to find people. So when she reads that Timothy’s father is organizing one last search, she heads to Wyoming. Despite the rescue team’s reluctance, she joins them. But as they hike into the mountains, it becomes clear that there’s something dangerous at work in the woods…or someone who is willing to do anything to stop them from going any further.

Running out of time and up against the worst man and nature have to offer, Frankie and the search party will discover what evil awaits those who go one step too far…

“Why do I do what I do? Because at the end of the day, the people left behind matter as much as the ones who are missing. We mourn the ones we’ve lost, but we agonize over the pieces of ourselves they took with them.”

Though the book is a bit long at 395 pages, and slow to get to the heart of the story, it still is a memorable read. At first, I wondered what I’d gotten myself into because the book seemed to be just words spoken from Frankie’s point of view about hiking to find a missing man in the Ramsey, Wyoming mountains. However, author Lisa Gardner’s fantastic writing style and her main character drew me in.

Yes this is a book about a guy going missing in the mountains, but as I read more and more the story of Timothy missing in the Wyoming woods became the back story. Frankie Elkin is a recovering alcoholic, a drifter that has a knack for finding missing people. Frankie’s character is so developed I feel like I knew her, and I felt as if I was losing touch with a friend once the book ended.

The author’s talent for creating character development really shows in this second book of the Frankie Elkin’s series. The deep conversations Frankie had with each of Timothy’s friends revealed a lot. The first hundred or so pages some readers may find slow, drawn out or even boring but I was in awe reading the details and conversations between Frankie and the other hikers. The conversations weren’t boring but informative. It gave me the feel that Frankie was getting to know them but also investigating to get more details not only about what happened to Timothy, but she also got to know Timothy though the words of those who loved him.

Frankie is a lady with her own demons. She lives for what she does. It makes it very admirable because other people would do it for the recognition, but to Frankie every single person matters and it’s not about the recognition or monetary gain, or lack thereof. Readers will get to know her struggles, and see that she is outside of her comfort zone, but she perseveres and doesn’t give in.

As the story progressed, I was still at a loss as to what happened to Timothy. The search wasn’t going as planned. Someone didn’t want the crew searching and they made it very clear. The action picks up midway through the book when the searchers become the hunted. The question changes from will they find Timothy to will they survive? The mystery of what happened to Timothy is revealed. The denouement is a short reveal and I’m not sure if the motive behind it all really made sense. The author didn’t give much or elaborate.

The book is well written with great characters, suspenseful and a good feel to it. Everything isn’t perfect, nor does it end perfectly, but to know there is someone who is touching lives, willing to help people with no ulterior motive and is making a difference as she passes through makes this a book worth reading.