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.

The Good Widow by Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke


The Good Widow by Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (300 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Cholla

Elementary school teacher Jacqueline “Jacks” Morales’s marriage was far from perfect, but even in its ups and downs it was predictable, familiar. Or at least she thought it was…until two police officers showed up at her door with devastating news. Her husband of eight years, the one who should have been on a business trip to Kansas, had suffered a fatal car accident in Hawaii. And he wasn’t alone.

For Jacks, laying her husband to rest was hard. But it was even harder to think that his final moments belonged to another woman—one who had left behind her own grieving and bewildered fiancé. Nick, just as blindsided by the affair, wants answers. So he suggests that he and Jacks search for the truth together, retracing the doomed lovers’ last days in paradise.

Now, following the twisting path of that fateful road, Jacks is learning that nothing is ever as it seems. Not her marriage. Not her husband. And most certainly not his death…

Marriage isn’t ever easy, but it’s worth all the ups and downs along the way. At least, that’s what Jacks had always believed. However, when two police officers arrive on her doorstep to tell her her husband has died in a place he never should have been, she begins to question everything she once knew. What do you do when your world is turned on its ear? Do you curl into a ball and ignore it or do you dig until you find the answers you need?

Jacqueline “Jacks” Morales is my kind of woman. Despite the fact that her in-laws don’t much like her, she carries on with her marriage. Although she does try to thaw her mother-in-law’s icy demeanor, she doesn’t become obsessed with it either. Her relationship with her sister is the best though, and Beth’s love and support are amazing.

Nick Ford is every woman’s dream. Smart, handsome and a firefighter to boot. Despite losing his fiancée to another man and then – eventually – to death, he perseveres. I was wary of his idea to trek all the way to Hawaii to find out the truth of what happened to Dylan and James, but once they were there, I was fully on board. It didn’t surprise me to find Nick and Jacks drawn to one another after their mutual tragedy, but I wasn’t sure I liked it a whole lot either.

You learn a lot more about Dylan Matthews, the woman James Morales is seeing on the side, than you do about James, but that’s okay, too. I think seeing Dylan’s side of the whole story helps you understand exactly why she did what she did. Not that it makes her infidelity right, but it does make it more plausible. I wish we could have gotten a chapter or two from James’ point of view, if only to help the reader reconcile the things that Jacks wouldn’t ever know.

The Good Widow hooked me from the blurb. I didn’t even have to crack the book to know that I was going to love it and I wasn’t wrong. I had the hardest time putting this book down because my need to know the truth was so strong. Then, the authors threw a twist in there that maybe I should have seen coming but, like that big truck late at night, it completely blindsided me. I felt a lot of kinship and sympathy for Jacks, although I’ve never been in her situation before. By the end, I was also firmly on Dylan’s side because, as her story unfolds, you get to know the real girl behind the face of the mistress. Engaging, intense, and full of surprises, The Good Widow was an excellent read.

Crimes Against a Book Club by Kathy Cooperman


Crimes Against a Book Club by Kathy Cooperman
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (320 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Cholla

Best friends Annie and Sarah need cash—fast. Sarah, a beautiful, successful lawyer, wants nothing more than to have a baby. But balancing IVF treatments with a grueling eighty-hour workweek is no walk in the park. Meanwhile, Annie, a Harvard-grad chemist recently transplanted to Southern California, is cutting coupons to afford her young autistic son’s expensive therapy.

Desperate, the two friends come up with a brilliant plan: they’ll combine Sarah’s looks and Annie’s brains to sell a “luxury” antiaging face cream to the wealthy, fading beauties in Annie’s La Jolla book club. The scheme seems innocent enough, until Annie decides to add a special—and oh-so-illegal—ingredient that could bring their whole operation crashing to the ground.

Hilarious, intelligent, and warm, Crimes Against a Book Club is a delightful look at the lengths women will go to fend for their families and for one another.

A mother will do anything for her child, that much is a given. So when it becomes clear that Annie’s autistic son needs expensive therapy, she turns to her best friend, Sarah, for help. Since Sarah, desperate for a baby of her own, needs some quick cash of her own for pricey IVF treatments, they put their heads together and come up with a plan. Although a crazy, outrageous plan that might just land them in the hottest water of their lives, it’s the only shot they have.

Crimes Against a Book Club hit me right where I live – my kids. Even though I can’t relate to Sarah’s plight with infertility, I can relate to how Annie was willing to go to jail to get her son the treatments he so desperately needed. I loved her relationship with Sarah, and it reminded me of my best friend who is also named Sarah. She’d never think twice to help me or one of my kids out in a time of need. Annie and Sarah have their ups and downs during the course of the story, but in the fashion of true, lifelong friends, they always find a way to meet on common ground.

Funny, heartwarming and a little left of center, Crimes Against a Book Club is a story about real life struggles tackled in an unconventional manner. The characters are real and relatable, even the upper crust members of the book club that Sarah and Annie target with their scam. It’s a story that proves the old saying that necessity is the mother of invention. My only complaint is that I wish there was a follow up novel telling us about Sarah and Annie’s life post book club, but I’m quite happy with what I got in the end. For a first novel, I’m impressed and cannot wait to see where the author takes us next.

Forever is the Worst Long Time by Camille Pagan


Forever is the Worst Long Time by Camille Pagan
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (284 pgs)
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Cholla

When struggling novelist James Hernandez meets poet Louisa “Lou” Bell, he’s sure he’s just found the love of his life. There’s just one problem: she’s engaged to his oldest friend, Rob. So James toasts their union and swallows his desire.

As the years pass, James’s dreams always seem just out of reach—he can’t finish that novel, can’t mend his relationship with his father, can’t fully commit to a romantic relationship. He just can’t move on. But after betrayal fractures Lou’s once-solid marriage, she turns to James for comfort.

When Lou and James act on their long-standing mutual attraction, the consequences are more heartbreaking—and miraculous—than either of them could have ever anticipated. Then life throws James one more curveball, and he, Rob, and Lou are forced to come to terms with the unexpected ways in which love and loss are intertwined.

What do you do when you meet the love of your life? A better question is: what do you do when the love of your life is engaged to your best friend? This is the question that struggling novelist James Hernandez finds himself contemplating the day he meets Louisa Bell – the woman about to marry his longtime friend, Rob.

In a way, I can relate to James’ life. Never able to finish that novel, unable to move past his love for Lou, he stagnates, stuck on his dreams. But on the other hand, he doesn’t try very hard to move on from his feelings either. That’s where he and I differ. If he were a teenager, his inability to find happiness with someone other than his best friend’s wife would be understandable. However, as the years go by and his relationships continue to fail and his manuscripts never get finished, it gets to be a bit old. He has very little character growth until the last quarter of the novel.

Lou was much less annoying in the sense that she did everything she could to make her marriage to Rob, James’ best friend, work. Even when Rob wasn’t on board with it all. She doesn’t give in to her suppressed wishes until she realizes that things aren’t as perfect as she wants them to be. By that point, I couldn’t blame her, honestly. You can only give so much without getting anything in return before you stop giving.

I really struggled with the first half of this novel. It felt like it took a long time to get to the point where the ‘big thing’ happened and the story really started. Once we hit that point, I felt more invested in the characters and became involved in what was happening. The story that unraveled in the last third to half of the book was fascinating, engaging, and heartbreaking. I only wish that it had engaged me sooner. Overall, I did enjoy the story and the characters, but for me, it took entirely too long to set up what I felt to be the meat of the plot.

The Halo Effect by Anne D. LeClaire


The Halo Effect by Anne D. LeClaire
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Mystery/Suspense, Contemporary, Mainstream Fiction
Length: Full Length (374 pgs)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

In this tour de force, a father, shaken by tragedy, tries to avenge his daughter’s murder—and restore his family’s shattered life.

It was supposed to be a typical October evening for renowned portrait artist Will Light. Over dinner of lamb tagine, his wife, Sophie, would share news about chorus rehearsals for the upcoming holiday concert, and their teenage daughter, Lucy, would chatter about French club and field hockey. Only Lucy never came home. Her body was found, days later, in the woods.

The Eastern Seaboard town of Port Fortune used to be Will’s comfort. Now, there’s no safe harbor for him. Not even when Father Gervase asks Will to paint portraits of saints for the new cathedral, using the townspeople as models. The only thing Will sees in each face is a mask of the darkness of evil. And he just might be painting his daughter’s killer.

As Will navigates his rage and heartbreak, Sophie tries to move on; Father Gervase becomes an unexpected ally; and Rain, Lucy’s best friend, shrouds herself in a near-silent fugue. Their paths collide in a series of inextricably linked, dark, dangerous moments that could lead to their undoing…or to their redemption.

There’s nothing better than a good whodunit and while The Halo Effect isn’t your run of the mill one, it’s nevertheless a page turner. I love the opening lines: Every day is ordinary. Until It isn’t.

One thing I liked about this book was that the author chose to dive straight into the story. While there was a prologue to set the stage, Ms. LeClaire introduced us quickly to the main character Will who is also the first person narrator of the story. He’s a sympathetic one and not just because his daughter Lucy doesn’t return home one night. There’s something of everyone in him, strength and yet vulnerability all wrapped into one. Something which I found make him complex and likeable.

I’d call this a mystery but at the same time it has a literary feel to it as Will narrates the story of his struggle to survive after Lucy’s gone, his relationship with his wife, and how he sets out to find the truth about his daughter.

Although this is a long book, it’s definitely a fast paced page turner. It’s almost as if, like Will, you want to find out what happened and who took Lucy’s life. The tension mounts and finally you’re given the relief you’re been craving as you read on to finish the story and say goodbye to Will.

If you’re mystery fan looking for something just a little different, I’d say give this book a try because I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Sweet Lake by Christine Nolfi


Sweet Lake by Christine Nolfi
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Chick Lit
Length: Full Length (332 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Linnie Wayfair knows just how many people are counting on her. But knowing doesn’t make doing any easier.

Everyone in Sweet Lake, Ohio, wants her to muster all her business sense and return the Wayfair Inn to its former glory. Her parents hope she’ll forgive her scoundrel of a brother and reconcile the family. The eccentric Sweet Lake Sirens want her to open the inn—and her heart—to new possibilities. And her hilarious lifelong friends Jada and Cat are dropping none-too-subtle hints for her to ignite a romance with Daniel Kettering, the sexy attorney who’s been pining for her for years…

Now a shocking turn of events will open old wounds and upend the world Linnie has carefully built. She has to make changes quickly—and the results, though not entirely what she expected, might be what she’s been yearning for all along. ​

​Comfort food served up in a book. That’s what Sweet Lake is for me.

I’ve never read anything by Christine Nolfi and this was a great introduction to her work. The writing flows well and kept me engrossed. I felt like I needed to know what would happen to Linnie and company.

I do have to admit I’m not big into chick lit and this book felt a lot like it. There is a relationship that goes on (no I won’t spoil it) and that added to the story. But there is a deep bit of comfort to the book. I knew when I started, this wouldn’t be terribly complicated and that was fine. That’s what I wanted. There are complications, don’t get me wrong. The characters I wanted to hate I did and the ones I wanted to love…well, you get the idea.

Linnie has issues–she’s supposed to save the inn, but she’s the second child and a girl at that. Her parents believe the oldest son is the one who should run the family. Don’t we all know someone like that? Someone who is put upon by circumstances they don’t control? That’s what helped me to identify with Linnie. ​Having lived in a situation where the male of the siblings was valued over me, I could see where Linnie’s anger came from. She’s trying to do what’s right in a totally wrong situation. I rooted for everything to work out for her. She deserved a happy ending.

​If you want a book that’s got lots of drama, the whole community in on the situation, small town feel and a touch of romance, then this might be the book for you. ​