A Tangled Mercy by Joy Jordan-Lake


A Tangled Mercy by Joy Jordan-Lake
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Historical
Length: Full length (464 pages)
Rating: 4.5 stars
Review by: Cholla

After the sudden death of her troubled mother, struggling Harvard grad student Kate Drayton walks out on her lecture—and her entire New England life. Haunted by unanswered questions and her own uncertain future, she flees to Charleston, South Carolina, the place where her parents met, convinced it holds the key to understanding her fractured family and saving her career in academia. Kate is determined to unearth groundbreaking information on a failed 1822 slave revolt—the subject of her mother’s own research.

Nearly two centuries earlier, Tom Russell, a gifted blacksmith and slave, grappled with a terrible choice: arm the uprising spearheaded by members of the fiercely independent African Methodist Episcopal Church or keep his own neck out of the noose and protect the woman he loves.

Kate’s attempts to discover what drove her mother’s dangerous obsession with Charleston’s tumultuous history are derailed by a horrific massacre in the very same landmark church. In the unimaginable aftermath, Kate discovers a family she never knew existed as the city unites with a powerful message of hope and forgiveness for the world.

A woman on the run from her future runs straight into a past that she hadn’t been expecting. Kate is fleeing the loss of her mother and searching out secrets that were kept from her. However, when she meets a little boy one morning, her world is turned upside down and the secrets kept for so long are about to come unraveled.

Time is a fluid thing and A Tangled Mercy proves this as the story weaves between the past and the present. Written in chapters alternating between present day Charleston, South Carolina and the same city in 1822, a terrible and beautiful story unfolds, bringing the two timelines together. At first, I was so confused, not able to understand how any of it might connect. However, the author is a master at dropping hints and giving clues that you don’t even realize you’ve picked up until it all comes together.

I loved Kate from the very beginning. It’s hard not to like her. She’s smart, she’s sweet, and she’s completely devoted to her family. Losing her mother shakes her world to its foundations and in a way, I think it brings her to herself. Her interactions with Gabe are the sweetest and most fun parts of the story.

Tom Russell’s story is heartbreaking. Unfortunately, this half of the story isn’t anything new or surprising as our history is filled with many such sad tales. However, I hadn’t ever heard about the failed slave revolt that the historical half of this novel focuses around. For me, it was interesting to learn about it in such a first-hand sort of way.

A Tangled Mercy is an informative and enjoyable trip through Charleston, South Carolina. The author paints an amazing picture of both timelines and doesn’t shy away from the less appealing parts of the narrative. The racism and horrors of life are equally represented in both timelines, making it an evocative and haunting story.

The Good Liar by Catherine McKenzie


The Good Liar by Catherine McKenzie
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Fiction, Mystery/Suspense, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (405 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

Can you hide a secret with the whole world watching?

When an explosion rips apart a Chicago building, the lives of three women are forever altered.

A year later, Cecily is in mourning. She was supposed to be in the building that day. Instead, she stood on the street and witnessed it going down, with her husband and best friend inside. Kate, now living thousands of miles away, fled the disaster and is hoping that her past won’t catch up with her. And Franny, a young woman in search of her birth mother, watched the horror unfold on the morning news, knowing that the woman she was so desperate to reconnect with was in the building.

Now, despite the marks left by the tragedy, they all seem safe. But as its anniversary dominates the media, the memories of that terrifying morning become dangerous triggers. All these women are guarding important secrets. Just how far will they go to keep them?

The title of this book pulled me in. . . I had a feeling it would be suspenseful, and this one was.

One thing I’ll warn you about straight away is that its narration can be initially jarring. It’s a mix of first person, third person, and interview transcripts. It sort of threw me off at first but the more I read on, the more I understood why the author had chosen this format for the story.

All three women in this story are interesting characters. Cecily is the one you identify with the most because it’s through her first person narration the story begins and mainly continues. Did that make me like her more? I think so and as the story unfolds you realize she’s the real victim in the story but then the author makes you wonder… is she? I won’t give away the ending but let me just say it picked up tempo and intrigue as the tale unfolded. We get a clear picture of what secrets each women is hiding and how the three lives slowly mesh together.

I thought the dialogue was natural sounding and the pacing perfect. The last third of the story really flies by as all lives and backstories begin to merge. It’s also a story that gets you thinking about what you’d do if faced in similar circumstances. Is it ever a good idea to hide things from loved ones or to run away from things we’re not happy about?

It’s a fun read and if you like suspense and secrets in your stories then this is definitely one to check out.

Tips for Living by Renee Shafransky


Tips for Living by Renee Shafransky
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full length (328 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Cholla

On the day Nora discovered that her husband, Hugh, had gotten another woman pregnant, she made a vow: I will come back to life no matter how long it takes…

It’s taken Nora three years. With the help of her best friend, she fled New York City for a small resort town, snagged a job as the advice columnist for the local paper, and is cautiously letting a new man into her life. But when Hugh and his perfect new family move into a house nearby, Nora backslides. Coping with jealousy, humiliation, and resentment again is as hard as she feared. It’s harder still when Hugh and his wife are shot to death in their home.

If only Nora could account for the night of the murders. Unfortunately, her memories have gone as dark as her fantasies of revenge. But Nora’s not the only one with a reason to kill—and as prime suspect in the crime, she’d better be able to prove it.

Betrayal isn’t an easy thing to put behind you. However, it’s the one thing Nora knows she needs to do. Move on and get over her cheating ex-husband’s treachery. Which, she was doing quite well with for the last three years until he – and his new wife and child – arrive in the quiet little town Nora had settled into. Now what was she going to do? Live and let live or take the bull by the horns?

Nora is a fabulous, complex character. She has her ups and downs and it’s all so relatable. Her anger, jealousy, and bitterness all come from an honest place and not just an outlet for revenge. When you add in the murder of her ex-husband and his new wife, things only get more confused for her. It doesn’t help that she’s been suspected of the double murder and, when she realizes she’s started sleepwalking again, can’t honestly rule herself out either.

Tips for Living is a wild, rollercoaster ride of a story. There are infinite twists and turns that I never saw coming. The author’s relaxed voice only makes it that much easier to devour the novel. I loved the little bits from the paper that were included between chapters, gave the book a homier sort of feel. The large case of characters makes you want to visit this little town for the summer and get to know them all. They also all have their secrets, giving you a wide pool of suspects for the murders. I must say, I never once suspected the actual culprit either. If this debut novel is any indication, the author’s next book out to be even more amazing.

The Wake Up by Catherine Ryan Hyde


The Wake Up by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Length: Full Length (362 pgs)
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

Something has been asleep in forty-year-old cattle rancher Aiden Delacorte for a long time. It all comes back in a rush during a hunting trip, when he’s suddenly attuned to the animals around him, feeling their pain and fear as if it were his own. But the newfound sensitivity of Aiden’s “wake up” has its price. He can no longer sleepwalk through life, holding everyone at arm’s length. As he struggles to cope with a trait he’s buried since childhood, Aiden falls in love with Gwen, a single mother whose young son bears a burden of his own.

Sullen and broken from his experiences with an abusive father, Milo has turned to acting out in violent and rebellious ways. Aiden can feel the boy’s pain, as well as that of his victims. Now he and Milo must sift through their pasts to find empathy with the innocent as well as the guilty, to come to terms with their deepest fears, and to finally discover the compassionate heart of a family.

I’ve never read a Catherine Ryan Hyde book I didn’t thoroughly enjoy, and this one was no exception.

What I like most about this author’s stories is she lets you connect with the characters from page one, you feel for them, you cheer them on, and the lead character, Aiden, made me feel that way. The other characters are just as well created but it’s Aiden that you feel yourself empathizing with the most as he struggles with his new found ‘gift’, that of feeling others pain. Well, not just humans but animals too which isn’t a good thing for a man who’s a cattle rancher.

This story is a page turner and not just because of its plot but it you feel the essential emotional pull that makes you want to read more and read on to see how Aiden’s new life evolves. Another interesting character in this story is Milo, the young son of Aiden’s new love interest. Milo’s got his own issues, his own pain from the past and it’s all brought out beautifully when he and Aiden start to interact and gradually begin the healing process.

The dialogue is wonderful and the pacing spot on for a book of this length. I don’t think I’ve ever read any book by Ms. Hyde that hasn’t left me a bit teary eyed. You might not have experienced the same thing as the characters, but you, like Aiden in this story, can feel what they’re going through which for me is the trademark of a book that lives on in your heart.

This is a story I highly recommend for your winter reading list.

When We Were Worthy by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen


When We Were Worthy by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full length (278 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Cholla

A win brought them together, but loss may tear them apart.

When the sound of sirens cuts through a cool fall night, the small town of Worthy, Georgia, hurtles from triumph to tragedy. Just hours before, they’d watched the Wildcats score a winning touchdown. Now, they’re faced with the deaths of three cheerleaders—their promising lives cut short in a fatal crash. And the boy in the other car—the only one to survive—is believed to be at fault. As rumors begin to fly and accusations spin, allegiances form and long-kept secrets emerge.

At the center of the whirlwind are four women, each grappling with loss, regret, shame, and lies: Marglyn, a grieving mother; Darcy, whose son had been behind the wheel; Ava, a substitute teacher with a scandalous secret; and Leah, a cheerleader who should have been in the car with her friends, but wasn’t. If the truth comes out, will it bring redemption—or will it be their downfall?

Small towns are known for a variety of things. Community. Support. Gossip. Oh, and the secrets. There are always secrets, right? Worthy is no different and when a tragic accident takes the lives of four of their cheerleaders, all that they thought was hidden rises to the surface. It doesn’t take much to become famous – or infamous – in a small town. What is the truth, how did they get here, and will the town ever recover?

Told in alternating points of view, When We Were Worthy, is an emotional roller coaster of a novel. Margalyn’s conflicted feelings over the loss of her daughter and the chance to help another, less fortunate girl, hit me the hardest. As a mother, I can understand her position and why she did what she did. Darcy’s story is probably the most tragic, and in a lot of ways, I can relate to her as well. Who wouldn’t do everything they could to protect their child? Even when that child is guilty, they’re still yours. Ava and Leah are both compelling characters with their own secrets and, although I don’t necessarily relate to them as well as the others, they deserve to be heard and seen and understood.

Through the eyes of four very different women, we see a town in mourning as well as a town with problems like any others. When We Were Worthy is a story of redemption, of forgiveness, and human nature at work. These women aren’t perfect by any means, but they are who they are and, by the end of the novel, they have come full circle, having examined the best and worst in both themselves and the town surrounding them. No one comes out unscathed, but everyone comes out changed. You just have to hope that the change is for the better.

Working Fire by Emily Bleeker


Working Fire by Emily Bleeker
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (308 pgs)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

Ellie Brown thought she’d finally escaped her stifling hometown of Broadlands, Illinois; med school was supposed to be her ticket out. But when her father has a stroke, she must return home to share his care with her older sister, Amelia, who’s busy with her own family. Working as a paramedic, Ellie’s days are monotonous, driving an ambulance through streets she’d hoped never to see again.

Until a 911 dispatch changes everything. The address: her sister’s house. Rushing to the scene, Ellie discovers that Amelia and her husband, Steve, have been shot in a home invasion. After Amelia is rushed to the hospital, Ellie tries to make sense of the tragedy. But what really happened inside her sister’s house becomes less and less clear. As Amelia hangs on in critical condition, Ellie uncovers dark revelations about her family’s past that challenge her beliefs about those closest to her…and force her to question where her devotions truly lie.

If there’s one type of plot I love, it’s one about people keeping secrets. Not just keeping them, but a plotline involving the prospect of them coming to light, throwing a family into total dysfunction and putting them in danger.

That’s what drew me to Working Fire. The main character Ellie, now a paramedic, and back in the town she grew up in, is called to a crime scene where it’s her sister Amelia who’s been shot during what looks to be a home invasion.

The story goes back and forth between present day and five weeks before the incident and told from both Ellie and Amelia’s point of view. As the plot progresses the time span gets shorter until both coincide. At first I didn’t like the approach but toward the end of the book I realized it did add to the suspense.

I loved the plotline and the pacing was spot on but what I felt could have been a great book was somewhat spoiled by lots of information dumping by both Ellie and Amelia and dialogue that did somewhat similar things. I felt I would have enjoyed it more had the author relayed the information about their past more slowly.

However, if you’re looking for a fast paced read, and like me, love the secrets from the past plotline, this will be your type of book.

Everything We Left Behind by Kerry Lonsdale


Everything We Left Behind by Kerry Lonsdale
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full Length (327 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

Two months before his wedding, financial executive James Donato chased his trade-laundering brother Phil to Mexico, only to be lost at sea and presumed dead. Six and a half years later, he emerges from a dissociative fugue state to find he’s been living in Oaxaca as artist Carlos Dominguez, widower and father of two sons, with his sister-in-law Natalya Hayes, a retired professional surfer, helping to keep his life afloat. But his fiancée, Aimee Tierney, the love of his life, has moved on. She’s married and has a child of her own.

Devastated, James and his sons return to California. But Phil is scheduled for release from prison, and he’s determined to find James, who witnessed something in Mexico that could land Phil back in confinement. Under mounting family pressure, James flees with his sons to Kauai, seeking refuge with Natalya. As James begins to unravel the mystery of his fractured identity, danger is never far behind, and Natalya may be the only person he can trust.

This story is the sequel to Everything We Keep and I’m glad the author chose to write Aimee and James’ story from his perspective because I’d been fascinated to know what really happened to him.

All is answered in this book. James is now Carlos, a widower with two boys and living in Mexico. As the story unfolds…it’s told in both the present and past as we learn what happened and how he ended up in a fugue state.

Aimee is now married with a child and I thought perhaps the story would focus on their reconnecting but instead it takes different course and the suspense deepens when his brother is released from prison. He was the catalyst for the drama surrounding James’ disappearance and in this book; he’s trouble with a capital T.

I thought this had more of a page turning quality to it than the first one and found myself reading more as I got farther into the book. It’s got a ticking clock quality to it and I found the characters really compelling

I obviously won’t give away the ending but let’s just say these two books have turned me into a die-hard fan of Ms. Lonsdale.

I strongly suggested reading the books in order to appreciate the sweeping and suspenseful story line.

Everything We Keep by Kerry Lonsdale


Everything We Keep by Kerry Lonsdale
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full Length (292 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

A luminous debut with unexpected twists, Everything We Keep explores the devastation of loss, the euphoria of finding love again, and the pulse-racing repercussions of discovering the truth about the ones we hold dear and the lengths they will go to protect us.

Sous chef Aimee Tierney has the perfect recipe for the perfect life: marry her childhood sweetheart, raise a family, and buy out her parents’ restaurant. But when her fiancé, James Donato, vanishes in a boating accident, her well-baked future is swept out to sea. Instead of walking down the aisle on their wedding day, Aimee is at James’s funeral—a funeral that leaves her more unsettled than at peace.

As Aimee struggles to reconstruct her life, she delves deeper into James’s disappearance. What she uncovers is an ocean of secrets that make her question everything about the life they built together. And just below the surface is a truth that may set Aimee free…or shatter her forever.

Do we truly know the person we’re in love with?

That’s a question that springs to your mind as you delve deeper into the plot of this book.

I loved the opening to this story. No backstory but straight into the main character Aimee’s nightmare. A wedding that turns into a funeral for James whose body was washed up on shore.

The opening had me thinking that maybe this was going to be about love lost, its heartache and maybe Aimee would find love again but I quickly realized this wasn’t all romance and that’s what made the book so enjoyable.

There’s a strong suspense thread in this story and that’s what had me turning the pages. I loved the character of Aimee. From the opening you’re on her side as she tries to not only get on with her life, but put the pieces of James disappearance together.

The pacing is just about perfect and I now have the follow up sequel to read and review and I’m looking forward to it.

If you like a book that makes you think about the people in your own life and love a good suspense, I highly recommend this go on your to read list.

The End of Temperance Dare by Wendy Webb


The End of Temperance Dare by Wendy Webb
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Mystery/Suspense, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (316 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

When Eleanor Harper becomes the director of a renowned artists’ retreat, she knows nothing of Cliffside Manor’s dark past as a tuberculosis sanatorium, a “waiting room for death.” After years of covering murder and violence as a crime reporter, Eleanor hopes that being around artists and writers in this new job will be a peaceful retreat for her as much as for them.

But from her first fog-filled moments on the manor’s grounds, Eleanor is seized by a sense of impending doom and realizes there’s more to the institution than its reputation of being a haven for creativity. After the arrival of the new fellows―including the intriguing, handsome photographer Richard Banks―she begins to suspect that her predecessor chose the group with a dangerous purpose in mind. As the chilling mysteries of Cliffside Manor unravel and the eerie sins of the past are exposed, Eleanor must fight to save the fellows—and herself—from sinister forces.

A rolling fog, an isolated creepy property and a heroine who’s headed there to take over as director of an artist’s and writer’s retreat. I haven’t read a gothic novel in what seems like forever, and I can’t remember ever reading one set in contemporary times so I’m glad I got to enjoy this one.

I’ll make a confession here…I like gothic novels and I haven’t found one I couldn’t finish but I’ll give credit to this one for making not just like but love the story.

The opening had all the great things that makes me enjoy the genre. The flashback to the past and what seems to be a very creepy little girl. The fog so thick you can’t see where you’re heading and house, or in this case, a previous TB sanatorium, and the heroine’s feeling that something bad is about to happen.

As with all good gothics, this one is told from a first person narration. You sort of feel sorry for Eleanor as she seems to take on more than she can handle when the previous director is found dead in her bed. While I did guess one of the big reveals that happens at the end, I found myself reading faster and turning the pages. I know there’s no set number of pages for chapters but Ms. Webb seems to have found the key to keeping them at just the right amount for what’s happening in the scene. I read the last part of the book in one sitting and was determined to read to the end no matter the time. Yes, that’s the sign of a great story.

The story gets creepier as it progresses and you find yourself throwing all sorts of theories out there as to what’s going on and if it’s going to end well. I’ll just say it does, but hang on to your hats for the finale.

If you, like me, miss the gothic of yesteryear definitely pick up a copy of this one.

The Bloom Girls by Emily Cavanagh


The Bloom Girls by Emily Cavanagh
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (256 pgs)
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Cholla

A tender, heartfelt story of three sisters, their late father’s painful past, and the power of forgiveness.

When the news of their father’s death reaches them, sisters Cal, Violet, and Suzy Bloom have to set aside their own personal crises, and their differences, to gather in Maine. Responsible Cal, the oldest and closest to their dad, is torn between taking care of her family and meeting the demands of a high-pressure law career. Impulsive Violet, the estranged middle child, is regretting a messy breakup with a man she’s just now realizing she truly loves. And Suzy, the sweet youngest daughter, is anguishing over a life-altering decision.

Arriving in their father’s small coastal town, the Bloom sisters can’t help but revisit the past, confronting the allegations against their father that shattered their family nearly twenty years earlier. As they try to reconcile different versions of their childhood and search for common ground, they’re forced to look at their father’s life—and their own lives—with new eyes, or risk losing all they hold dear.

Nothing brings families together like the death of one of their own. Even when the family is fragmented and scattered, everyone will turn up for a funeral. However, when family is reunited, all the skeletons thought to be long buried are dug up and held under the lights for inspection. The Bloom family is no different.

When their father dies, sisters Cal, Violet, and Suzy come together to make arrangements and face their past. While all three know that there were accusations of impropriety leveled against their father while he was a teacher, none of them know the whole truth, only their own piece of the puzzle. As the truth comes to light – not only about the accusations made against their father, but the truth of his life after his divorce from their mother – the sisters are forced to reconcile what they’d known with what they now know. It’s not an easy task for any of them, since they’re each dealing with their own crises and baggage.

In a lot of ways, I can relate to the sisters. Although my dad didn’t have any deep, dark secrets when he passed, my younger sister had such a different take on the man he’d been than I had as the older sibling. Talking about our childhood shed a lot of light on things for both of us. So, watching how Cal, the oldest, and Suzy, the youngest, worked through things was fascinating to me. Violet, the middle child, was the one with the most to assimilate and accept, however. I did love how they each managed to take their anguish over their loss and use it to begin to work through the issues in their current lives. The one downside to this story was that there was so much sadness in their childhood, things that they didn’t know or understand, that caused them to not only push away from their father, but also from each other. It makes me wish they could have figured these things out long before they lost their father. But, in the end, that they figured them out while they still had each other, gave the story enough of a happy ending that you didn’t leave it feeling down. You feel hopeful for their future, even if you do feel for the missteps of their past.

The Bloom Girls is a slice of real life. Families are complicated and complex creatures that harbor many secrets and harsh truths that are often ignored for a variety of reasons. It shows the many facets of a grieving family and how relationships evolve over time and distance. A bittersweet and heartwarming story of estranged sisters finding their way home again.