Albion Moon by M.L. Mastran

Albion Moon by M.L. Mastran
Albion Moon Chronicles. Book 1

Publisher: Champagne Book Group
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Paranormal, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (178 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

Evaline needs to find out what happened to her brother Jimmy. As she digs deeper into his disappearance, the search reveals an ancient family secret carried through the bloodline that began centuries ago in the Scottish Highlands.
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As this secret from the old world closes in on Evaline, she also needs answers for her disconcerting feelings toward the mysterious Mason. He not only seems to always know when she is in danger, but he is insistent on protecting her, no matter the cost.

She must also find the answers for all the strange visions and dreams she is having about Jimmy. What does it all mean? Is it connected to the secret closing in on Evaline and friends? As the old world collides with the new, Evaline quickly finds that she must choose to stand and fight or risk losing everything she holds dear.

In Elizabethan Scotland the Mac Griogair clan is forbidden to use their clan name or they will be executed. Members of the clan go far and wide, changing their names to avoid detection. When the ban was lifted in 1774 the main hub of the clan set out to bring the travellers back into the fold, but a lot of them didn’t want to come. The word went out, return or be annihilated.

Evaline (or Eva) returns to her hometown and continues the search for her brother who disappeared. Her investigation has brought all sorts of threats in her direction. The Cowen family own the local diner and she is attracted to one of the brothers, but there is something strange about the whole family. In her dreams she sees a large wolf and believes this has something to do with her brother’s disappearance.

This is a very good tale of deception, mystery and paranormal. A bit weak in the part where Eva won’t tell Mason what is wrong, I know she’s strong willed but she has an inkling of Mason’s true identity and this should ensure that he will believe her and help her.

Other than the above, the story holds together very well. Every detail was visible to me as I read it, especially the food aspect and the Cowen’s house and land. Good read and very enjoyable story.

In The Garden Where We’ve Been Planted by Oliver Yardley

In The Garden Where We’ve Been Planted by Oliver Yardley
Publisher: Champagne Book Group
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Short story (141 pages)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

When the husband of a prominent Boston art museum curator goes missing, his wife contacts our PI asking him to find him. She insists the investigation must be secret. No one is to know that her American Indian artist husband disappeared—there is to be no publicity that could reflect badly on the artist’s reputation, or her social status.

Our PI senses something deeper is wrong. Why not report him missing to the police? If it is foul play, surely the police should get involved. Perhaps his disillusionment with his professional life after his wife’s passing drives him to do a job he normally wouldn’t. Experience tells him to walk away, but the client lures him in.

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It is not only a detective story, it is a story about lost-and-found—people as well as emotions—love and the desire for affection. It looks at issues involving racism, fringe politics, people’s station in life, and ethics—contrasting the PI’s personal morality with public values.

After the death of his wife, our PI hero feels like he’s being taken on the winds of change – uprooted and cast adrift to find a new place to settle down. Feeling dissatisfied with his job as a consultant, he takes on the case of a missing husband on the sly. As the case unwinds our hero finds himself taken from the US to Australia and on a journey he’ll never forget.

I enjoyed this book. Written very much like a hard-boiled detective novel in the first-person perspective it took me a while to settle down to the fact we never discover our hero’s name. While this bothered me a little, it somehow seemed to really fit in with the Sam Spade/Harry Bosch/noir detective type feel that the book as a whole had for me. And it honestly didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the story too much at all.

There’s a fair bit of philosophical monologue scattered throughout the story – talk of our hero’s atheism and his beliefs on Fate and chance, the randomness that is life that pieces together with how we each deal with the good and bad luck we’re handed. This isn’t strictly a straight-detective novel and while I enjoyed the fact our PI had a broad and open mind, it was an odd juxtaposition between a liberal and open minded hero and the older style of hard-boiled writing and mystery. I did like this paradox but I have to admit it felt a little strange reading it, with the writing and ambience all noir/gritty mystery and then our hero freely expressing his opinion on how women could just as easily emotionally and mentally abuse their husbands as men physically abuse women. While the writing might be delightfully old-fashioned and hard – the plot and viewpoints are incredibly modern and liberal. I both enjoyed this and found it unusual.

The plot got a lot more interesting – and a lot more political – when the Australian connection came about and while I was impressed with how the author handled such delicate matters as the Indigenous relations and land issues, a lot of this side of the plot was quite dense, emotional and complicated. I really feel that readers looking for a light and fun mystery – or a more straight-forward noir/gritty detective story might find the political and Indigenous aspect of this books plot a little heavy for casual reading. I truly feel the author did an amazing job – he neither skimmed over these important issues, nor are there pages of thickly complicated activist sermons, but this plotline is a lot heavier and more politically complicated than what I would consider normal in a mystery or romance story. I feel readers looking for more meat in their plot – or who are interested in political stories revolving around the Indigenous communities – will find this interesting and satisfying. It’s not the sort of story I’d recommend to pass an idle sunny afternoon as some happy brain fluff or a quick “pick me up” type of read.

While there is an element of romance in this story, I feel this book strongly sits in the Mystery category. Our PI hero, coupled with the very strong plotline and the fact the story pretty much revolves around finding a missing husband all weigh this book in my opinion as a Mystery. There is an element or two of romance in it and while there is some love-making it’s fairly brief and I don’t feel it’s at all written explicitly. I was personally happy with this being a strong mystery book with a political plotline and only a dash of romance – but readers who are looking for something more focused on the romance and relationships might not find this fits what they’re seeking.

Hot Water (Heart and Endurance, 3) by J.S. Marlo

Hot Water (Heart and Endurance, 3) by J.S. Marlo
Publisher: Champagne Books
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full length (198 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Mistflower

Can Agent Sullivan repress his feelings for the woman he secretly loves and use her as bait to catch a serial killer?

Nineteen-year-old varsity swimmer Maxime Tremblay is leery of the string of fatal accidents involving female athletes, but after she thwarts an attack, she can no longer ignore the connection between the victims.
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Special Agent Ross Sullivan investigates the deadly events on campus only to discover they are not accidents, the athletes are not targeted at random, and the killer is only warming up.

To protect his only witness, he goes undercover as Maxime’s boyfriend, but as pretense and reality begin to blur, Sullivan faces the dilemma of putting her in harm’s way to stop the killings.

This is my second J.S. Marlo book yet my first book in the Heart and Endurance series. Even though this happens to be the third book in the series, it can be read as a standalone.

I enjoy reading contemporary novels that are relevant to me in some manner. The last ten years my sons have swum competitively, therefore I was excited to read a story about a heroine who was a varsity competitive swimmer in college. Maxime Tremblay was a brave, caring and sweet yet fiery red-headed nineteen year-old woman.
The hero, Special Agent Ross Sullivan, was competent, confident, safe and of course, handsome. He was also slightly older than Maxime. This age difference between Ross and Maxime was an internal conflict between the characters. As a mother of an almost nineteen year old I personally felt the internal conflict but from a parental perspective. Trust me when I tell you that it took an exemplary writing style to enable me to connect with this couple and their budding romance considering my ideal age expectations of a hero and heroine. I honestly struggled a tiny bit with Ross’s nicknames for Maxime. They made me feel he was a father figure at times more than a boyfriend. However they were appropriate in the context.

Maxime was very mature and responsible for her age. It was amazing how she balanced all her obligations while her life was in danger. The suspense/mystery plot made for a rapid paced page turner. It was unpredictable and the twists were clever. I’m not sure how realistic it all was but I was definitely entertained.

Over all I was pleased to read Hot Water. The ending was nicely wrapped up giving me complete closure which resulted in a satisfying sigh. I agreed with Maxime’s father when he gave Ross and Maxime his blessings. This was a clean romance with just enough chemistry that made it a heartwarming love story with well-developed characters that will linger in my mind for days to come. I wish them all the best as they go on in their life journey.

Take the Bai Road by Erika Mitchell

Take the Bai Road by Erika Mitchell
A Bai Shu Novel #2

Publisher: Champagne Book Group
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery, Action/Adventure
Length: Full length (255 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Snowdrop

After the events of Bai Tide, CIA case officer Bai Hsu is safely tucked away at Headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Bored and frustrated, he’s starting to doubt he’ll ever return to the field until he’s given a difficult new assignment: Track and investigate the mysterious Ghost Cartel, who may or may not already have hooks in our government.

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Tangled in a conspiracy that will pit him against warring cartels in Mexico, this is Bai’s most impossible mission to date. It will test him, make him question himself and the organization he works for, and ultimately rip away everything that’s ever mattered to him.

This book is much more exciting than its title might sound.

This was a fun book. While it sounds like it might be set in Japan, it actually takes place in the U.S. and Mexico. This is a book about spies and fictitious CIA characters. It is a book about drug smuggling and it is full of action.

I have never read an action book with fighting scenes included that I could really visualize until now. I would tell you that action books are not my thing; nor am I very fond of Charlie Chan type of action but this author seems to be able to describe every move of every fight in a way that makes it interesting…visual. I can only describe this as very good writing. This book also never had a slow moment for me. The end of one chapter flowed right into the next. Every bit of this book was action-packed and humorous. There were quite a few characters in this book but I seemed to have no problem understanding nor remembering them; a classic sign of good character development. I love the type of character who “thinks” humorous asides in what I’ll call a type of narrative writing. In this book Li or Bai enjoy lots of those funny moments and so did I.

This is book 2. I think it read just fine as a stand-alone. However, I will definitely go back and read Book 1.

Smile and Walk Away by Danielle Riedel

Smile and Walk Away by Danielle Riedel
Publisher: Champagne Book Group
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full length (222 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Snowdrop

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In the blink of an eye or the breaking of a glass, your life can change into something you never dreamed it could be.

This was a fun book to read. This is a story full of intrigue, spies, every day folks, people with super skills, love interests, a little humor, rebellion and even a bit of naughtiness.

I enjoyed the characters that Reidel created in this book. There weren’t too many and I think that is why she was able to develop them in depth. Oddly enough, she made you like them all. That, as you can imagine, leaves you wondering all along which one will turn out to be the bad guy…or girl. The only aspect of this book that could make it difficult to read is the switching back and forth between characters and times in their lives. Sometimes that turns me off in a book but somehow the author seemed to keep this story moving smoothly. I think her skill in not adding too many characters and developing them so well helped the reader to keep everything straight. Not an easy thing for an author to do.

The main character, Velma Bloom was my favorite. She’s a redhead and wants to create her own way in life and that, in and of itself, made for a story interesting enough to keep me reading. As in the title…I smiled but I sure didn’t walk away from this book.

Love on Longboat Key by Meg West

Love on Longboat Key by Meg West
The Keys to His Heart, Book 1
Publisher: Champagne Book Group
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday
Length: Short Story (143 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

Julie Joseph dreads spending Christmas in Florida with her cranky elderly parents. Yet that changes when she arrives at Sun Tower and meets the eligible bachelor whose equally quarrelsome parents have just moved into the penthouse. Thomas Briggs IV is hardly the type Julie has dated in the past: he’s tall, handsome, and out-of-this-world wealthy. He’s also the son of the CEO of Pilgrim Mutual Insurance, where Julie works as a copywriter.
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Julie has just a few days to date Thomas before they both have to return to the ice and snow blanketing the Northeast. But there’s one big problem: Julie’s rival for Thomas’s attention happens to be her gorgeous, but mean-spirited boss at Pilgrim Mutual. Can Julie overcome the odds and beat out Amanda Ford to win Thomas’s heart?

Love on Longboat Key, the first in a trilogy of contemporary romance novels set on the barrier islands off Sarasota, is a sweet holiday tale about finding love on the beach.

Julie works for an insurance company in Connecticut but is in Florida to spend Christmas with her parents who live in a block of flats for the elderly.  Thomas works for the same insurance company in Connecticut and is in Florida to spend Christmas with his parents in the same block of flats. They have not met before their holidays.

The two come together and find discover they have mutual employers, in fact Julie’s immediate boss is Thomas’s ex fiancé. They take time out together to get away from the demands of their parents and enjoy the Florida sunshine instead of the Connecticut snow storms.

This is a sweet romantic story where two like souls from very different backgrounds come together and help one another with their family and work problems. Add to this the ex fiancé who expects Julie to work over Christmas and is also a little bit jealous about Julie’s friendship with Thomas, and we have a story with a green-eyed monster making it interesting.

I loved both main characters and Julie’s parents added humorous light relief. The conflicts in their relationship were addressed in a very sensible way, none of this did he – didn’t he? Will she – won’t she? If they were confused, they asked. This could have made it a bit insipid but it didn’t. The story was entertaining and sweet and came a a very satisfying end. I enjoyed it immensely.

The SHIVA Syndrome by Alan Joshua

The SHIVA Syndrome by Alan Joshua
Publisher: Burst Books
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (467 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Stargazer

Beau Walker is a man without a field. Teaching at a backwater university after being dismissed from a government project because of his ethical concerns and bureaucratic maneuvers on the part of a one-time friend, Walker is an academic pariah until two soldiers appear one day. His former friend needs Walker’s expertise, and the professor—who is haunted by both his empathic abilities and the memory of the one time they failed him—has little choice but to cooperate
In the Russian city of Podol’sk, a project partially based on Walker’s work has gone horribly awry, killing thousands and leaving traces of mysteries that threaten humanity’s scientific understanding. Discovering what occurred, and how to prevent it from happening again, falls on Walker and his new friends…But as secrets and revelations accumulate, the team’s combined knowledge and abilities may be inadequate to stop what’s coming.

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Are you equipped to face the unthinkable?

Would you like to read a book that not only entertains but causes you to rethink the human mind?

The SHIVA Syndrome is a read that draws the reader in from the first page. The story follows the nation’s top scientists as they research the devastating effects of the human mind gone awry. Beau Walker is a scientist with a secret, he is an extremely powerful empath and this research is right up his alley. As Beau and his team get closer to cracking the secret of what happened in Russia, they begin to realize that it is not too far out of the question that it can happen right in the United States.

The author lays out a solid storyline with strong characters and powerful backstories. As the story progresses, characters that blended into the background begin to take development and soon the reader is immersed in a world of espionage, secrets and lies. The descriptions, dialogue, and events portray the reality that this novel could be happening in reality right now. The research was strong and had a solid foundation leading the reader to understand that the author has immersed himself in research or has a background in the topics he is writing about.

I personally loved the deep descriptions of the medical/biological components of the story. It is evident that the author has a strong background in the sciences and this cannot go unnoticed by the reader. Nothing is left lacking and the story flows smoothly without feeling forced. I found myself having a difficult time putting the book down since once the excitement began, it would rarely even taper off. I also found myself drawn to the characters; following their lives and being drawn in by their stresses and theories. The suspense from the plot was one that resonates with the reader long after the book is put down for the evening.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a science fiction journey that is so well researched that it truly could be happening right now! This was one book that caused me to rethink what happens behind closed doors.