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.

Ashes by Steven Manchester

Ashes by Steven Manchester
Publisher: The Story Plant
Genre: Contemporary, Mainstream Fiction
Length: Full Length (257 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Middle-aged brothers Jason and Tom Prendergast thought they were completely done with each other. Perceived betrayal had burned the bridge between them, tossing them into the icy river of estrangement. But life and death has a robust sense of irony, and when they learn that their cruel father has died and made his final request that they travel together across the country to spread his ashes, they have no choice but to spend a long, long car trip in each other s company. It’s either that or lose out on the contents of the envelope he’s left with his lawyer. The trip will be as gut-wrenching as each expects it to be . . . and revealing in ways neither of them is prepared for.

Get ready for a gritty, true-to-life feel when you crack open the pages of Ashes. Mr. Manchester brings his two characters to life in all their fallible glory with convincing dialogue, introspection and hard truths. This novel explores how Jason and Tom’s childhood made them enemies and through a quirk of their abusive father’s whims, his last weird request gives the brothers a chance to reconcile before it’s too late. The journey is not as dark as one would expect because there is this glimmer of hope that gets brighter and brighter as the story progresses until it’s realized in an extremely unexpected way. There is so much within in each of us to be found in the personalities of both Jason and Tom that this novel has the capacity of reaching each reader differently from a variety of backgrounds. Ashes is an amazing piece of literary art.

There is humor, but it’s dark and self-effacing at times, other times self-derogatory, and as the journey unfolds, true delightful humor surfaces as the brothers discover how more alike they are in ways they never dreamed. Eventually the smiles and laughter come from someplace honest, healthy and full of promise. Seeing their relationship evolve in a positive manner was a true delight. Bear in mind that they’re guys and some of their words, jokes and references are a little coarse and blunt, but that is one of the charms of the book – I could believe they were real people.

The author was quite detailed in description so a reader could get a true feel of their surroundings, their experiences and the atmosphere. Every word seems chosen with precision to provide a reader with the best reading experience. I was 100% engaged.

It might even be hard for readers to learn just how nasty and scary Jason and Tom’s home life was like as children. It certainly was for me, but it’s integral to the plot conflict and resolution. If not for visiting the past, I’d never know how truly miraculous the eventual ending was. And what a wonderful ending it turned out to be. However, the author had a couple of surprises for readers and main characters alike. I didn’t have a clue what was coming and I think that’s why it was so powerful. Talk about jarring the heartstrings!

Ashes is a compelling read. It just is. It’s character driven, emotionally fulfilling and Jason and Tom are characters a reader can sympathize with. It explores the domino effect of a harsh upbringing and how it can manifest in adulthood – pros and cons. You wouldn’t think that getting beat up by a parent could have any positive aspects, but Mr. Manchester produces a believable and intriguing possibility and it astounded me. The one thing that beastly father did was produce two survivors who became more than the failures that they were labeled as, repeatedly. Jason and Tom, for all their tribulations, are heroic in living their lives successfully, and finding that being a brother to each other is the most heroic thing of all.

If a reader enjoys a story that explores sibling relationships in all their tumultuous roller coaster glory then Ashes is the perfect novel to add to your reading experience.

Light of Hidden Flowers by Jennifer Handford

Light of Hidden Flowers by Jennifer Handford
Publisher: by Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Mainstream Fiction
Length: Full Length (375 pgs)
Rated: 4 stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon

Book-smart Melissa Fletcher lives a predictable life in her hometown, working behind the scenes for her charismatic father in a financial career that makes perfect sense. But when her dad is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Missy is forced to step up and take over as his primary caregiver and the principal of the firm.

After her father’s death, Missy finds a letter from him in which he praises her for being a dutiful daughter but admonishes her for not taking any risks in life.

Devastated, Missy packs her suitcase and heads for Italy. There she meets a new friend who proposes a radical idea. Soon, Missy finds herself in impoverished India, signing away her inheritance and betting on a risky plan while rekindling a lost love.

The Light of Hidden Flowers is a deeply felt story of accepting who we are while pushing our boundaries to see how much more we can become. It’s a reminder that it’s never too late to pursue our dreams.

Jennifer Handford’s The Light of Hidden Flowers is a contemporary novel about living life, or more being willing to risk living life.

“Count your blessings” are words to live by for Melissa Fletcher. She likes her well-arranged life well enough. She works for her father, but not under his thumb, as a valued team member. However, she hits a bump in her well-ordered path when her father develops Alzheimer’s. This ‘bump’ jars her from her well-ordered course. This ‘bump’ is in fact, the start of her living…

Characters are the heart and soul of this novel: even the Dad is unexpectedly vibrant, and some financial clients are also wonderful. However, backstory is boring and repeated lapses into backstory drag down what would otherwise be a thoroughly engaging story. Handford explores motivation, both in small ways and in major. Choices, large and small, are thought-provoking.

Overall, The Light of Hidden Flowers is interesting and unpredictable.

Although it is a serious novel taking itself a bit too seriously, it is in fact beautifully written and engaging; I will certainly be looking for Handford’s next.

Autumn Blessing by Dvora Waysman

Autumn Blessing by Dvora Waysman
Publisher: Prism Book Group
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (39 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Autumn can be a desolate season. For Dorothy, after losing her husband, the autumn of her life stretches before her lonely and uncertain. But a change, a new hobby, and new friends prove this new season to be bountiful with blessings.

How old is too old to reinvent your life?

Grief can turn an active, 60-year-old woman into someone who acts decades older than her true age. If Dorothy lived in a fairy tale she’d make a wish or find a magical amulet and suddenly feel like her old self, but in real life she has to figure out how to feel better on her own. I was intrigued by her gradual transformation and her occasional tumbles into old thought patterns. The path to recovery is rarely a straightforward one, and it was nice to see a character take two steps forward and one step back as she struggles to find her way out of the fog of grief.

As much as I was rooting for her to find lasting happiness, the change in Dorothy’s habits happens so rapidly that it was a little difficult for me to believe it would be a longterm part of her daily life. When she ignores some troubling information that pops up later on in the plot it had even more trouble believing everything would work out for the best for her. It seems out of character for someone who worries as much as she does earlier on in the plot to ignore the signs that everything might not be as it seems in her world.

Dorothy’s strong relationship with her adult children and grandchildren gives me hope for her future. Ms. Waysman reveals the unbreakable bond between them with such subtle turns of phrases that I felt as if I was eavesdropping onto real conversations. The ending didn’t answer all of my questions, but it was so realistic and heartwarming that it works wonderfully for this tale.

I smiled my way through Autumn Blessing. This warm, gentle story is like a cup of hot tea on a chilly afternoon, and I’d recommend it to anyone who needs to read something to brighten their day.



The Goats of Santo Domingo by Robert McEvilla

Cover_The Goats of Santo Domingo
The Goats of Santo Domingo by Robert McEvilla
Publisher: Wild Child Publishing
Genre: Historical, Mainstream
Length: Full (222 pgs)
Heat: Sweet
Rated: 3 stars
Review by Rose

Whenever John Romero was asked if he was wounded in Vietnam, he always got a confused look when he replied that his eye was lost in Santo Domingo.

A former baseball player with just six weeks left to serve in the army, John’s plans for making a comeback are interrupted when his unit is deployed to the Dominican Republic, and he finds himself in a combat situation. While dodging bullets, he meets a beautiful Dominican woman, the aloof, Ramona. She inflames the private passions of the paratroopers that view her from their command post. Romero plots a course to win her affections, but the political intrigue and the carnage in the streets of Santo Domingo conspire to thwart his every move, forcing him to make a drastic decision.

John Romero’s plans to return to the United States and once again take up his career as a professional baseball player are thwarted when his unit is deployed to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic to aid in the military action. While he’s there, he’s intrigued by Ramona– a Dominican woman who sits in front of her house daily and reads.

The book is told from two points of view–and the voices are well-writen enough that the transitions are clear. I have to give the author credit there. When the segment is in John’s POV it sounds very different than when the story is being told from Ramona’s POV.

I can’t call this a romance, however, even though that’s the category the publisher puts it in. Yes, the characters have an interest in each other–they may even love each other. But, for the majority of the book they are apart. There are two brief scenes with them together and, even then, they don’t interact much. The ending is a bit atypical of your regular romance as well.

The writing is good and the story kept me interested. If you are like military novels, this may be the book for you because the detail about the military action and the men John serve with are really well-done. I could see this as a movie–and would enjoy it as a war movie. The scenes played out clearly and were well described.

There’s a bit of a mystery involved as well as one of the men John serves with is killed just before he’s to be sent home and there’s some fear on John’s part that he might be implicated.

Rather than romance, this book is more a “slice of life” look at one man and one woman caught in a moment of time affected by war–and the devastation it can wreak on people’s lives. Go into it expecting that, and you won’t be in the least disappointed.