Broken Hearts by Robert L J Borg


Broken Hearts by Robert L J Borg
Publisher: Luminosity Publishing LLC
Genre: Romance, Paranormal, Contemporary, Historical
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Is a cemetery the perfect setting for love to be found? Maybe. When Damian meets Elspeth at one, he’s certain she is his long-awaited soulmate. . ., but he’s been wrong before!

Damian Marshall had always believed himself to be a bit of a ladies’ man. He loved nothing more than dating women and enjoying their company, always hoping he would meet the love of his life. However, it never seemed to be. His love affairs would be short-lived, and two which seemed successful ended in divorce, where every time the broken hearts were always his own.

Just when he thinks there is no more hope in finding that perfect woman, he meets Elspeth, in the most unlikely of locations: a cemetery.

It is she who approaches him and strikes up a conversation. She coaxes out his life story, and he is willing to recount it all. By the end of it, they find themselves drawn to each other. Has Damian finally met his true soul mate or is it just wishful thinking? Only time will tell.

Relationships aren’t easy for everyone.

Some of the most interesting scenes to me were the ones that explored how society changed over the decades. For example, earlier in Damian’s life it was quite difficult for him to let people know that plans had changed if an accident or weather event prevented him from making it to the meeting point on time. This slowly became less common as cell phones made it possible for him to call others directly in an emergency instead of finding a pay phone and leaving messages at places he thought they might also try to check in at. It’s no wonder to me that cell phones and the Internet were such revolutionary tools, and I enjoyed finding all of the other examples of progress as well.

I struggled with the large cast of characters in this book. Women entered and exited Damian’s life so regularly that I often couldn’t remember who was who. While I’m pretty sure this was done to illustrate his personality and character defects, it also made the storyline hard to follow at times because of how many different people were involved and how little time they each had to make an impression on me. This was the only thing holding me back from choosing a higher rating, and I hope to read more from Mr. Borg soon.

The romance was unique and kept my interest levels high. I’ve never seen anything quite like it in the romance genre before, so let me tip my cap to the author for coming up with something fresh. While I did figure out the twist in it early on, it was still a great deal of fun to see how Damian reacted to it once he also knew what was happening.

Broken Hearts was a breath of fresh air.

Alice in Wonderland by Lena Heide-Brennand


Alice in Wonderland by Lena Heide-Brennand
Publisher: Brennand Books
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Lena Heide-Brennand’s dark and poetic interpretation of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” is an enchanting and captivating one where Alice’s dreams take a rhythmic and playful form. In this adaptation, Heide-Brennand has seamlessly blended the atmospheric visuals from the 1915 film version with her own unique mixed media artworks. These original artworks transport us into a world of dark and gothic beauty, infused with steampunk Victorian vibes and a subtle touch of horror undertones. The result is a visually stunning experience that sets the mood for a darker and more mysterious atmosphere, capturing the essence of Alice’s strange and twisted dreams.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Heide-Brennand’s version is the poetic narrative style. Alice in Wonderland unfolds as a 112-page long poem, where every line is meticulously crafted with end rhymes. This poetic form not only pays homage to the original story, first published in 1865, but also adds a lyrical touch that enhances the enchantment of Alice’s magical journey. However, be prepared for a departure from the traditional children’s versions of Alice’s adventures. In Heide-Brennand’s adaptation, Alice’s dreams take her through scenes and encounters that are far more eerie and dark. The artist delves deep into the recesses of Alice’s imagination, exploring the hidden depths of her subconscious, and visually bringing forth characters and settings that are both mesmerizing and haunting. As you turn the pages you will encounter twisted versions of familiar characters like the Cheshire Cat, the Queen of Hearts, and the Hatter. These iconic figures, rendered through Heide-Brennand’s unique artistic lens, take on a new life and add layers of complexity to their personalities.

Prepare to be enthralled by the interplay of light and shadow, and the subtle nuances that breathe life into each character. The dark and scenic mixed media artworks that accompany the poetic narrative serve as windows into Alice’s psyche. With each turn of the page, you will be transported to eerie landscapes, mysterious forests, and intricate settings that mirror the intricacies of Alice’s mind. The detailed craftsmanship and the rich colour palette create a visual feast for the eyes, immersing you in a world that is simultaneously beautiful and foreboding.

Who wouldn’t want to follow a rabbit and go on an adventure?

I appreciated the way the author emphasized the horror themes in this tale. The original was much more subtle about that aspect of Alice’s adventure, but it was an important part of the storyline that made the whimsical scenes even better when everything was mixed together. This was a good introduction to horror for readers who might not be very familiar with that genre yet. It was frightening without ever crossing the line into something gory.

While I know that the author was following a specific meter and rhyme scheme, it would have been helpful to have more descriptions included in this poem. There were times when I would have been confused about what just happened if I wasn’t already familiar with the original Alice in Wonderland, and other scenes remained fuzzy even after that. This dampened my enthusiasm for something I otherwise enjoyed quite a bit.

The puns and wordplay made me smile. I was glad to see that this aspect of the plot was left intact as it is one of the many reasons why this story is such a classic and appeals to people of all ages. Some of these jokes will be more meaningful to adult readers, of course, but all of them can be explained easily for younger folks who want to understand why a certain word or phrase is so funny.

Alice in Wonderland was a creative retelling of the old classic by the same name.

Sleuthing the Klondike by Joan Donaldson-Yarmey


Sleuthing the Klondike by Joan Donaldson-Yarmey
Publisher: BWL, Inc (Books We Love, Inc)
Genre: Historical Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Chamomile

Helen Castrel and her lady’s maid, Mattie Lewis, have just arrived in Victoria, British Columbia, from England. Helen hires Detective Baxter Davenport to go with them to Dawson City and help find her brother David, who was sent to Canada as a remittance man ten years ago. Mattie has come along to look after Helen and also because she has her own motive to find David.

The last word the family had from David, he was on his way to the Klondike gold rush at Dawson City. Before they leave Victoria Helen and Baxter discover that a man had been killed the summer before and had never been identified. They wonder if he was David.

But Helen is determined to find her brother alive and the three head north armed with an old photograph and a recent description provided by David’s former landlady. When they arrive in Dawson City, the gold rush is in full swing and they are challenged by deceit, fraud, and danger in their quest to find David.

This one starts off with an interesting twist and pulled me along for an exciting ride! It’s not often that a mystery can keep me guessing until the final pages, but this one does just that!

Helen and Baxter make for an unusual pair, but as the story picks us their teamwork, along with the help of some friends, provides for a wonderful search for the truth. When all hope seems lost, a new clue or twist will put them back on the hunt. I loved meeting the cast in this one and enjoyed the storytelling.

Joan Donaldson-Yarmey is a new author to me, and I’d not heard of the Canadian / Alaskan mystery books that inspired and included this story before picking this one up but love the idea and am so glad I got to read this one!

Shadows Of Men by Abir Mukherjee


Shadows Of Men by Abir Mukherjee
Publisher: Vintage Arrow
Genre: Historical, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Calcutta, 1923

When a Hindu theologian is found murdered in his home, the city is on the brink of all-out religious war. Can the officers of the Imperial Police Force—Captain Sam Wyndham and Sergeant “Surrender-Not” Banerjee—track down those responsible in time to stop a bloodbath?

Set at a time of heightened political tension, beginning in atmospheric Calcutta and taking the detectives all the way to bustling Bombay, the latest instalment in this remarkable series presents Wyndham and Banerjee with an unprecedented challenge. Will this be the case that finally drives them apart?

When a Hindu religious man is found murdered Calcutta goes to the brink of a religious war. Can Captain Sam Wyndham and Sergeant Surendranath Banerjee find the killer before the streets run riot with blood?

I have greatly enjoyed this series and found this to be an exceptional addition to it. I really in particular enjoyed that this time the chapters frequently alternate between Sam’s perspective and Suren’s which I really felt gave the whole book a lot more depth and complexities to it. I have to admit I really enjoyed Suren’s perspective and being able to see things through his lens and in particular hear him articulate the reasoning behind his actions was fabulous.

I do feel this book can be read by itself. While the working relationship and friendship between Sam and Suren is a layered and entwined one that has grown through the previous books the plot of this story and the actions and ramifications of their decisions is very contained within this book. I don’t feel readers will lose much from having just picked this book up on a whim. Currently, this is the last book in this series – though I am glad the door was certainly left open should the author chose to continue this series with more installments. I didn’t feel like the ending was a cliffhanger or that it would be outrageous for this to be the last book in the series should it fall that way.

This book is set in India in 1923 so while historical the characters and setting are relevant enough, I feel modern readers shouldn’t get too bogged down in the historical aspect to the story. I felt the main thrust of the plot – figuring out who the killer was and bringing them to police justice – was relatable enough most readers should enjoy it.

A well written and well-paced historical murder mystery this is a book – and a series as a whole – that I have really enjoyed. Recommended.

A Perfect Death by Kate Ellis


A Perfect Death by Kate Ellis
Publisher: Piatkus
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

When a woman is burned to death in Grandal Field in Devon, it looks like it could be a case of mistaken identity. Until DI Wesley Peterson learns of a legend involving a woman who died in similar circumstances in the thirteenth century.

It seems clear that there is a link between the mysterious legend and the recent murder when Wesley discovers that records of a previous site excavation have vanished, and two archaeologists involved in the dig died tragically.

The case echoes a story of twisted love and obsession from many centuries ago, and Wesley realises that edging closer to the truth brings unexpected danger . . .

DI Wesley Peterson and his wife are enjoying a short holiday in France, with nothing more important to do other than decide which restaurant to enjoy their next meal in. But while out on one of their walks Wesley bumps into Ian Rowe, a former fellow student from his archaeology days, and Ian seeks Wesley’s help with a missing friend. When Wesley returns to Devon he discovers there’s a far bigger mystery surrounding this situation. Can Wesley and his team discover what’s really going on?

I enjoyed this addition to the series and found the usual blending of current police procedural crime linked with the archaeological history as gripping as ever. The main thing that stood out for me personally, however, was that the author slid into the main storyline a very good way to finally bring Pam – Wesley’s wife – around and somewhat redeem her character. I feel with the author having Pam invested and interested in the mystery Ian brings Welsey on their vacation, as well as her continuing enthusiasm and curiosity bodes well for her being more invested in Wesley’s police career. Pam’s impatience with Wesley’s divided attention – even though he clearly makes a concentrated effort to spend as much time as possible with his family and children – has rankled me for a while now. I am very hopeful this might be Pam finally turning a corner here.

Outside of this rather large character arc change, the mystery itself was very well handled I felt. I was pleased that it took the police quite some time to identify the woman who was murdered and burned, and there were a number of different events surrounding the death that muddied the waters to a good degree. I feel readers who enjoy a complicated mystery and a lot of police procedural detective work should enjoy this plot and pacing. While there is a good element of archaeology in this story – as there usually is within this series – I did feel this took somewhat more of a back seat and so readers who prefer the archaeological side to these books might feel that this is lacking somewhat in this particular book.

With a strong and interesting plot and a cast of well known and long-standing characters this is a good read and a strong mystery book.

Dreams of Drowning by Patricia Averbach


Dreams of Drowning by Patricia Averbach
Publisher: Bedazzled Ink
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Paranormal, Historical
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Dreams of Drowning is a work of magical realism that moves between real time where lives are buffeted by political conflict, tragedy and loss and another mysterious time where pain is healed, and love is eternal.

It’s 1973 and Amy, an American ex-pat, is living as an illegal immigrant in Toronto where she’s fled to escape the scandal surrounding her twin sister’s death by drowning. Joanie’s been gone two years, but Amy still hears her cries for help. Romance would jeopardize the secrets Amy has to keep, but when she meets Arcus, a graduate student working to restore democracy in Greece, she falls hard. Arcus doesn’t know about Amy’s past, and she doesn’t know Arcus has secrets of his own, including the shady history of an ancient relic he uses as a paperweight.

In 1993 Toronto, Jacob Kanter, a retired archaeologist, is mourning his dear wife and grappling with his son’s plans to move him to a nursing home. Despite double vision, tremors, and cognitive impairment, he remembers sailing as a youth and sets out toward the lake where he boards a ferry boat embarking on its maiden voyage. He expects a short harbor cruise, but the Aqua Meridian is larger than it looks, and time is slippery on the water. When he hears a drowning woman call for help his story merges with Amy’s, and they discover they have unexpected gifts for one another.

Secrets always find a way to reveal themselves in the end.

Recovering from trauma is rarely if ever a straightforward process. Some of the most memorable passages were the ones that explored the many different ways that ordinary moments in life triggered Amy’s terrible memories of her sister’s accidental death. Even a sight as innocuous as noticing store employees carrying a mannequin through a store could dredge up memories she desperately wanted to forget. I thought the author did an excellent job of showing how someone might deal with flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, panic attacks, and the pain of losing a loved one, especially during a period of history when it was much less common to seek treatment from a mental health professional after a traumatic event.

Ms. Averbach did an incredible job of writing a dual perspective novel. The vast majority of the time, I find that I have anywhere from a mild to a strong preference for one of the storylines when I read something like this. It was refreshing to be equally emotionally invested in both Amy and Jacob’s lives and to never be ready to stop reading about either of them. They were both well developed and sympathetic characters that I couldn’t wait to learn more about. This is an incredibly difficult thing to pull off in my experience, so kudos to the author for not only accomplishing it but for making the transitions between the two timelines so seamless and beautiful.

I also enjoyed this exploration of Canadian life in the past. Toronto was and still is a multicultural city filled with a wide variety of often colorful personalities, and the plot reflected that nicely. Readers do not need to have any special knowledge of this part of the world to enjoy the storyline, but those who are already familiar with it will find fabulous references to that culture tucked away here and there.

Dreams of Drowning was utterly delightful. I wouldn’t change a single thing about it!

The Devil and Mrs. Davenport by Paulette Kennedy


The Devil and Mrs. Davenport by Paulette Kennedy
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Historical, Fiction, Paranormal, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

The first day of autumn brought the fever, and with the fever came the voices.

Missouri, 1955. Loretta Davenport has led an isolated life as a young mother and a wife to Pete, an ambitious assistant professor at a Bible college. They’re the picture of domestic tranquility—until a local girl is murdered and Loretta begins receiving messages from beyond. Pete dismisses them as delusions of a fevered female imagination. Loretta knows they’re real—and frightening.

Defying Pete’s demands, Loretta finds an encouraging supporter in parapsychologist Dr. Curtis Hansen. He sees a woman with a rare gift, more blessing than curse. With Dr. Hansen’s help, Loretta’s life opens up to an empowering new purpose. But for Pete, the God-fearing image he’s worked so hard to cultivate is under threat. No longer in control of his dutiful wife, he sees the Devil at work.

As Loretta’s powers grow stronger and the pleading spirits beckon, Pete is determined to deliver his wife from evil. To solve the mysteries of the dead, Loretta must first save herself.

Set in 1955, Missouri, this story tells the tale of a housewife, Loretta Davenport, with gifts and the serious problems that come with it. Her husband Pete teaches at a Bible college. He is a traditional guy but is a bit unreasonable when it comes to his wife and his expectations.

When a girl is murdered, Loretta gets messages from the other side of the veil. Pete thinks she just has an overexcited imagination. When Loretta befriends Dr. Curtis Hansen, Pete is not happy about this. He becomes more and more difficult.

The pace picks up in this mystery as the danger unfolds for Loretta and a friend of the murdered girl who is also threatened. Can Loretta help her before it is too late? Things might be too late for herself as Pete becomes abusive and wants to lock her up.

Themes of mental health, family, friends, abuse, and forgiveness are weaved within the pages of this mystery. The characterization is done well, and this book has complexity and depth. It is also respectful of the times, being true to the setting.

Embracing Amelia by Elaine Violette


Embracing Amelia by Elaine Violette
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Historical, Romance, Holiday
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Chamomile

Lady Amelia Pierce has a forbidden dream: riding in equestrian competitions. When she loses a family ring in the stable, her brother finds her foraging for it in the hay with Lucas Grey, a duke’s bastard son. Amelia’s outraged father sends her to London to salvage her reputation and find a suitable match.

Despite his ignoble birth and rakish reputation, Lucas is much admired for his management of Winston Equestrian Stables. He and Amelia are fascinated by each other. But the missing emerald ring and a viscount’s greed lead to disaster and imprisonment for Lucas. Will scandal and secrets keep him from Amelia forever?

The blurb on this one intrigued me, but it wasn’t until I started reading that I realized how much I was going to enjoy this one! Embracing Amelia by Elaine Violette is a lovely British regency tale that had all the swoon of a regency read, with some added twists that made this one fun and unique! Amelia isn’t your typical heroine, sure she is excited to fulfill her role in planning for the upcoming winter holiday parties, but she also has a secret. She aspires to compete at the horse jumping arena she’s so fond of!

Lucas has a reputation, one he’s quite proud of. At least, in part, but is there more to this broody bachelor than a notorious reputation that follows his every step? When he ends up in the middle of yet another scandal, and this one quite by accident he finds his life and the Lady Pierce’s suddenly become both intriguingly complicated.

Will Amelia be able to salvage her reputation and earn her father’s forgiveness in time to finish the holiday planning? And how will she ever explain the away the fact the Lucan Grey seems to find a way into her already messy life at every turn?

There’s so much I enjoyed about this one, the delightful twists and swoony romance were spot-on! This is a sweet romance that was overall clean. As for language, there were a few minor curse words and a instance or two with innuendos, mostly about past events. There is also one place where Amelia has to run away from an unwelcome advance from another character, but it is vague and dealt with quickly. This is a quick read, and once I started I couldn’t stop reading! I was pulled into their story immediately, and am so glad I got to read their story!

I loved meeting Amelia and Lucas, but also really liked her banter with her Aunt Libby, and meeting Georgette as well! The characters were wonderful and fit so well into this wintery tale! Amelia’s love for horses and Lucas’s devotion to Mr. Winston gave the story a deeper tone that also played beautifully into their story. Such a good read, I definitely recommend this one!

Lion Man: The First and Greatest Black Superhero by Demetrius Sherman


Lion Man: The First and Greatest Black Superhero by Demetrius Sherman
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Non-Fiction, Historical
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

When no Black comic book heroes existed, he battled the most dangerous villains in the world.. He was Lion Man. Discover the fascinating history of African American journalists and cartoonists. Learn why Lion Man was the first and greatest Black superhero.

World War II changed the world in many ways…including when it came to what people expected from superheroes!

One of the many things I learned from this novella was just how much some adults fretted over comic strips in the 1940s. There were fears that children would prefer this style of entertainment over reading novels, so some parents tried to discourage their kids from picking up comic strips at all. I have seen some modern parents share similar concerns about what their children are reading and whether graphic novels should be counted as reading time at all. The solution to this dilemma that Evans came up with made a great deal of sense for his era as well as for our own.

It would have been helpful to have more examples of how the last few sections were intended to tie into Lion Man’s groundbreaking accomplishment. While I understood that they were giving other examples of how African-American artists and creators were producing all sorts of toys and content beginning in the early 1900s, it did feel a little disjointed to me to suddenly leap to this topic after spending so much time on Orrin C. Evan’s career specifically. As much as I wanted to give this a full five-star rating, I needed stronger connections between these sections in order to feel justified about doing so.

I appreciated all of the time Mr. Sherman invested in explaining the historical context for Lion Man and the other African-American comic book characters that Orrin C. Evans invented. There were some scenes from these strips that could be read in very different ways today due to how much American culture has changed over the last eighty years, so knowing the original intentions behind them was as educational as it was interesting.

Lion Man: The First and Greatest Black Superhero made me smile.

The Shining Skull by Kate Ellis


The Shining Skull by Kate Ellis
Publisher: Piatkus
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Little Marcus Fallbrook was kidnapped in 1976 and, when he never returned home, by his grieving family assumed the worst. Now, thirty years later, teenager Leah Wakefield has disappeared and DI Wesley Peterson has reason to suspect that the same kidnapper is responsible.

As Wesley delves into the case, his friend, archaeologist Neil Watson, discovers a mystery of his own when he exhumes the dead from a local churchyard. A coffin is found containing one corpse too many and Neil believes it may be linked to a strange religious sect.

Wesley is still searching for the key to the abductions when, in a shocking twist, Marcus Fallbrook returns. DNA evidence confirms Marcus’s identity but his recollection of his past kidnapping is hazy. Wesley hopes that, as Marcus begins to recover memories, it will lead them to a sinister criminal. But he is about to discover that the past can be a very dangerous place indeed.

DI Wesley Peterson and his team are thrown into an unusual situation when a man returns home, claiming to be son of a local family – one kidnapped back in 1976. While they have their hands full with that, a local famous teenager is kidnapped and the two cases bear some striking similarities. Can they sort out what’s really going on?

Overall I have been enjoying this series though I must admit I do feel some of the characters have some ups and downs. The plots though – and the skillful way Ms Ellis weaves together the current mystery with a historical one – is always a pleasure. Admittedly I felt this time Wesley’s good friend Neil takes a bit of a back seat. I feel this was very well handled – and the reason for Neil keeping his distance completely understandable – and while I feel one of Neil and Wesley’s last interactions shows a strong glimmer of hope I have to say I’m glad things seem to be getting back onto a more even keel.

I also felt there was a fairly major “aha” moment for one of Wesley’s team-members, though the low key drama surrounding Rachel and her messy love life usually is one of the things I like least about this series. I am hoping the strong development/understanding that occurred in this book will also start putting all that tension to rest as well.

In amongst all these personal interactions and developments I felt the historical and current mysteries were given a good amount of weight and were written very well. While I admit I did guess a few of the revelations there were still a few interesting twists and I must admit the interwoven plots kept my attention riveted throughout the book.

Readers who enjoy a solid British police procedural style of book but also enjoy a bit of historical mystery and a few different layers to their plots should find this an agreeable read and a series worth investing in.