Omniscience by Janine Frances

Omniscience by Janine Frances
Publisher: Green Gables Publishing
Genre: Dystopian, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 5 stars
Review by Poppy

A family seek refuge in the Australian outback as tyranny takes hold, but who can they trust?

The world is at war and an authoritarian government has taken control in Australia. A terrorist group known as Day One is attempting to destroy civilisation so humanity can start again.

Shareen Miller gets caught up in a bureaucratic nightmare when she’s detained by an Auto-Enforcer for not having the right travel permit on the way to a job interview. Shareen’s detention sets off a chain of events that lead to her five-year-old twins being taken by the government.

With her husband Daniel, grandmother Alma, and sister Layla, Shareen seizes her children and escapes from the city. On the road, she reveals a secret about her missing mother Veronica that she’s been hiding from her family for five years.

What follows is an intense journey into the harsh Australian outback where nothing is as it seems, and no one can be trusted.

As they fight for survival, Veronica’s family finally learn the truth about why she left them. The stakes couldn’t be higher as the future of humanity hangs in the balance.

I know it’s a bit cliched to say this, but honestly–this book grabbed me from the first page and just didn’t let go. And that was a big deal to me. I’ve been in a bit of a reading rut lately, where the books I’ve picked have been a little “meh”. Not bad, but just not that great or memorable. So, to finally find a book that I didn’t want to put down, one I thought about when I wasn’t reading it and couldn’t wait to get back to it? Yeah, that was huge.

The author writes her descriptions vividly, and from the first moment I could see the world I was reading about. The oppression and non-stop oversight by the government is a bit terrifying, and I rooted for Shareen and her family from the start. I also really enjoyed that this wasn’t a book about a teenager who saves the world. Because the plot revolved around adults and family, it felt a bit more real and possible, which also made it that much more terrifying.

The plot is filling with twists and turns I didn’t see coming, which isn’t typical for me. I love that I wasn’t several steps ahead of the characters in the book, and that I was basically living the story right along with them.

Truthfully, one of the better books I’ve read this year. The author has a vivid, unique and talented way of telling a story that I greatly appreciated and crafted a world and characters that felt real, and she made me care about them. I’m very glad I was able to read this book and I recommend it to any fans of the genre.

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The New Enchantress by Sunayna Prasad

The New Enchantress by Sunayna Prasad
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Poppy

Cursed by a sorcerer’s hex, Alyssa McCarthy finds herself in a fight she can’t afford to lose, or everything she knows will be lost!
After she finishes her final year of junior high, fourteen-year-old Alyssa faces an uncertain future in more ways than one when a sorcerer casts a hex that leaves her with involuntary magical powers that are too dangerous to remove.

Unable to control her newly gained abilities Alyssa’s end-of-middle-school sleepover ends in disaster when she knocks her friends unconscious when her powers go out of control. If Alyssa can’t learn to master her magic soon, she will be cursed to forget her loved ones and serve as the warlock’s slave for all of eternity.

Her only hope is to focus on controlling her emotions if she is to break the curse. However, the difficulties of adolescence, along with the perils and growing disasters she faces, make Alyssa struggle even more. From putting her friends’ lives at risk to losing their trust, she continues to fear what will become of her if she fails.

Will Alyssa be able to break the hex and become the enchantress that she was meant to be, or will she become enslaved to the sorcerer forever?

A cute middle grade fantasy of sorts that I enjoyed. I say “of sorts” because it takes place in our world, but … there’s magic. Didn’t we all dream of having magic powers as a kid? I know I did. This book shows what might occur if that actually happened.

Alyssa is a typical tween, worried about her grades, hanging out with friends, except right at the starts of the book while she’s trying to raise her grades with a special project, magic inserts itself into the story. And so the crazy ride begins.

Alyssa is believable as a character. She isn’t perfect, she has flaws that you’d expect from a girl her age. There are squabbles with friends, doubts and worries. I liked her. The world-building is good, too, and I can see how this would appeal to the target middle grade audience.

I only had a few quibbles. First, I’m not the target audience, and so there were things that happened that were meant to be a surprise that I could see coming. And, sometimes the mom in me wanted to take hold of the kids and give them a good shake. Also, this book is the third in a series and there were times I felt a little lost. I imagine the whole experience would be richer if you started with book one.

Still, this was a good read. It had a solid plot, believable characters, decent world-building and you understood Alyssa’s motivation throughout. As a reader and reviewer, I certainly can’t complain about that!

Lady and the Tribe by Brenda Billings Ridgley

Lady and the Tribe by Brenda Billings Ridgley
Publisher: Whole You Media
Genre: Non-Fiction (self-help)
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Poppy

Wives, mothers and career women – we have all fallen victim to the silent epidemic that is, literally . . . letting ourselves go. Not the weight-gain, makeup-free, yoga-pants routine. Little by little, we have allowed our preferences, interests, and individuality to slip away until we no longer recognize ourselves outside of our role as wives, mothers, or professionals. Who we are has become what we do.

In the process, our friendships have become the casualty of a “busy life” and lack consistency and depth. We have a gaping hole inside us that longs to be filled. How do we reclaim who we really are and fill this empty space that seemed to appear from nowhere?

The answer lies in our Tribe. Our best friends see us more clearly than we see ourselves and are representations and extensions of our individuality. They are our companions, cheerleaders, and counselors—always in our corner. They are the branches of our tree of life that lift and support us, so we can flourish. Our Tribe is the family with whom we choose to live our life . . . with no strings attached.
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Lady and the Tribe is a blueprint for building deep connections. As you read, you’ll be swept away on a journey of friendship as the author shares her own personal stories and those of other women. In the process, you’ll discover how to find, nurture, and deepen friendships and create a Tribe culture that is unique to you.

I’ve just moved to the other side of the country and left all my friends and family behind. So when I saw this book pop up for review, I grabbed it since I’d love to have a new “tribe” of women friends here where I live now.

I honestly wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from this book, but I really did enjoy it. It started out a little slowly, with quite a bit of citing of studies that showed how much women need friendship and support, etc., but stick it out because it’s worth it. The author shares about her own journey and how she came to know who was in “her” tribe and whose tribes she was part of. It was interesting to see the different descriptions of the types of people you are friends with and it all made sense as I read. It made me realize that there are, in fact, friends for a season (or a reason) and we shouldn’t feel badly if we lose touch with those. And it made me recognize the few women I’ve become such good friends with that years and distance don’t matter.

My only actual criticism of this book was that, well… I’m a “doer” and a maker of lists and very type A, and I wanted more instructions on HOW to build my tribe. LOL! I was so excited at the one time she actually made a list of questions that I could write down and answer, which I did diligently and thoroughly. And when that was done, I had my journal ready for more. And it didn’t happen. (Aside to the author: maybe a workbook would be in order for people like me?)

Those of you who live a little less rigidly than I and maybe don’t love routine and to-do lists in the same passion as I do, who prefer reading others’ experiences as an illustration of how to do something should absolutely enjoy this book. And I can whole-heartedly recommend it.

Divorce Bucket List by Jennifer Harris

Divorce Bucket List by Jennifer Harris
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Non-Fiction
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Poppy

Divorce Bucket List is a practical and heartfelt guide that effortlessly blends meaningful exercises and reflections with author Jennifer’s personal experiences through the trials and challenges of divorce. Written as a way to empower others to rebuild their lives as they work through the trauma of a divorce, this illuminating guide explores Jennifer’s harrowing journey through divorce, revealing her creation of her Divorce Bucket List – and how it helped her emerge into a happier, healthier, and more emotionally fulfilling chapter of her life.

Perfect for anyone who feels lost, alone, or broken as they struggle through divorce, Divorce Bucket List will help you rediscover yourself and your values, overcome your fear of the future, and learn to love again. With a blend of real-life anecdotes, reflections, and exercises to encourage you to apply a Divorce Bucket List to your unique situation, Jennifer’s story will inspire you to move past your divorce and make the most of this exciting new time in your life.

This book was very timely for me — my husband asked for a divorce a month or so prior to me requesting to review.  I’m so glad I picked it up!  It’s not super long, but it’s honest and interesting and I love all the journaling suggestions. Honestly, I wish there had been more.   I went out and bought a brand new notebook just to work through this… I did all the different exercises and some of them actually sparked other journaling which was really helpful and cathartic.

The author goes through her own experiences, with honesty and doesn’t pull punches.  She tells about the ups and downs as she worked through getting past her divorce.  Some of it didn’t apply to me (I’d been married so long, our children were grown, for example, and she discusses things like having to learn to be away from her children when they were with their dad), but overall it was a solid book to give ideas for building back a life.  And that’s something I think anyone going through a divorce, particularly when they weren’t the one who wanted it, could use.

It’s not a miracle worker… I’m still devastated and broken, honestly, because that doesn’t end in a few months. But it gave me tools to use to help work through the feelings I have and to find the “me” I lost.  It helped me realize there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that the end of a marriage isn’t the end of a life.  There’s more and it can be really good.

So if you need help after divorce to find an even keel, Divorce Bucket List might help you.  I think it’s worth giving it a try!

Harlot’s Fire by LM Pampuro

Harlot’s Fire by LM Pampuro
Publisher: Grateful Publishing
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Contemporary
Rated: 3 stars
Reviewed by Poppy

Harlot Grace, the brains behind the street drug Gray Death, has escaped from the hospital.

Brendan Curry’s tour bus is missing. Curry’s father is the lead prosecutor on Harlot’s case.

Special Agent Alia Price needs to find both – one for justice, the other to save his life.

With help from a Rockstar and his caravan, Price goes on an undercover journey that takes her from a major music festival to deep within a national forest.

Will she reach both in time?

The continuation of the earlier released Harlot’s Grace, Harlot’s Fire brings a strong female lead to the spotlight.

I’m going to say something I’ve never said before — this book would have been much better as a movie. That’s not to say the book wasn’t decent, it’s just that it was dark and gritty and action-packed. Sometimes those things can be difficult to portray with words and play out better on the screen.

The story was interesting, and I liked that the author did a recap, more or less, of book one using a newspaper story. Since I didn’t read the first book in this series, it helped catch me up. It didn’t help me to understand the interpersonal relationships well, so that I did struggle with a bit as I got up to speed. Although, technically this book can stand alone, I absolutely think it would be best to read book one first to get a deeper understanding the characters and their backgrounds.

I did like the strong female lead. Her life is on the line here, right at the start, as the previous book’s wrap up slowly comes unraveled with the escape of Harlot Grace. Alia takes it pretty well in stride and, although she has very believable moments of worry and certainly has flaws, she doesn’t let that stop her from her ultimate goal. She’s a good, strong woman who does whatever she needs to in order to get the job done. She’s the best part of this book.

The author writes the book with plenty of details and the setting is its own character. Despite a few editing errors, I was able to read it very smoothly from start to finish.

I do honestly wish I’d read book one first, but other than that, a decent read. And I’d definitely go see it in the theater!

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Smile More, Stress Less by Geoffrey Saign

Smile More, Stress Less by Geoffrey Saign
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Non-Fiction, Self-Help
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Poppy

Want one easy method to end anxiety, stress, sadness, loneliness, fear, & anger? While maximizing happiness, inner peace, and self-awareness?

One quick way to cut through all negative emotions? And have fun doing it?

~Savvy & easy workbook exercises ensure success!~

In just minutes a day this playful yet smart approach can:

*End inner and outer conflicts
*End anxiety, worry, fear, anger, boredom, and self-doubt
*Increase healthy relationships with everyone in your life
*End illusions in your life and maximize clarity
*Rewire your brain to live with deep intelligence
*Become your own AAA+ rated super-counselor
*Help you discover the Power of HERE
*Allow your natural joy to blossom

This hands-on, A+B = C approach will supercharge your brain function, improve your emotional intelligence, and change your life!

Who doesn’t want to smile more and stress less? I’m a bit of a non-fiction book freak, so I grabbed this for review. I’m glad I did.

While there honestly isn’t a ton of new information here, it was a really well-written, approachable version of stuff I already knew. I appreciated the reminder that we are what we think… and the exercises he gave (some silly, like the over-exaggerations exercise, and some serious, like building a doable to-do list). I also appreciated the insight into why humans are rather predisposed to experience stress (hint: we used to need it for survival) and why it hasn’t really translated all the effectively into modern day society.

The author has a light touch with everything, and not a little humor. Really, his “voice” made this such an easy, fun read. I almost felt as if he were sitting right next to me, talking me through each topic. It made the book a joy to read and made me want to do the exercises more (I admittedly didn’t do all of them, but I did many and I’m glad for it).

Am I cured of my stress? No. But do I have more tools for managing it? Yes. Smile More, Stress Less is one of those books I’ll plan on revisiting periodically to help me get better and better at finding the positive, good things in my life. They’re absolutely there, you just have to remind yourself to look for them.

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Emergence by Ellie Beals

Emergence by Ellie Beals
Publisher: Tellwell Talent
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rated: 5 stars
Review by Poppy

It starts with Just Watching. But danger emerges when Just Watching ends.

When the “wild child” Xavier first encounters Cass Hardwood and her dogs in the woods of West Quebec, he is enthralled. Unknown to them, he Just Watches them in a lengthy ongoing surveillance, before finally staging a meeting. His motives are uncertain—even to him.

The intersection of the lives of Cass, a competitive dog handler; her dogs; her cousin Lori; and the complex and enigmatic Xavier leads them all into a spiral of danger. It starts when Just Watching ends—when Cass and her crew encounter tragedy in the bush. Xavier’s involvement in the tragedy, unknown to Cass, sets off a chain of potentially lethal events that begin in the dark woods of Lac Rouge, when hiking, skiing, hunting, trapping, marijuana grow-ops, and pedophilia collide. It matures in the suburbs of both Ottawa and Baltimore, and culminates back in Lac Rouge, when Lori’s spurned and abusive lover arrives uninvited at Cass’ isolated cabin in the woods. In the night. In the cold. In the heavily falling snow. His arrival is observed by Xavier, whose motives are again uncertain, but whose propensity for action is not.

Join Xavier, Lori, Cass, and the realistic and compelling dogs that are essential players in this dark drama as their fates converge in a deadly loop of revenge, fear, guilt, and hope.

What an interesting book! What a talented author. I wasn’t sure what to expect with this…the blurb sounded intriguing, but it felt as if there would be some “gray area” here in terms of right and wrong. I was right, but I wasn’t as conflicted as I might have been…

The book starts slowly, but I was never bored. The author weaved her words carefully and well, with strong descriptions and solid “showing” and not telling. I learned about each character–even the dogs!–in significant detail cleverly shared. I went into this thinking it would be an edge-of-your-seat thriller and it was, but it wasn’t. Honestly, I loved this book and didn’t think writing a review for it would be difficult, but it kind of is because this book wasn’t like the usual “thriller” I’ve read. That was a good thing, and interesting and definitely set this book apart from many others.

Add into this the aspect of dog training and having dogs as very real characters in this book…for a dog person like me, this added a level of interest that I wouldn’t have found elsewhere. I’ve been deeply involved with dogs and dog training for years, and this story is very authentic in the way it portrays Cass and her dogs. I loved it.

Xavier was a tough character to pin down. At first, I felt as if he were older and maybe had a crush on Cass, but it turned out he was a young boy, early teens, but mature in a way many aren’t because of his very odd upbringing. Also interesting was the choice the author made to use first person POV for him and third for Cass.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot… I think the blurb does that well enough. But I will say this: from the moment I started reading, I didn’t want to stop. I credit the talent of this author to slowly weave her tentacles around you until you’re completely hooked and can’t get loose from the story. Her descriptive and powerful writing is how I wish every book were written. She never forgets tiny details that make things real, and that can elicit a visceral response from the reader. I felt as if I were right there, in the Canadian wilds, living through each scene. I was fully invested in the characters and the story and was almost surprised when it was over.

Emergence was a slow, deep, wild ride that I’m glad I took. I’m ready for more from this author.

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Covet Thy Neighbor by Denise Carbo

Covet Thy Neighbor by Denise Carbo
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Rated: Four Stars
Review by Poppy

Single mom of twin boys, Olivia Banner, has her hands full juggling life’s demands. She doesn’t have time for her mysterious new neighbor or all the questions his presence conjures up, even if he is a handsome devil.

Toss in a complicated relationship with her ex-husband, meddlesome family members, and going back to school to provide a stable financial future for her and her boys, and Olivia turns to her gal pals for guidance.

Sometimes playing it safe is the right choice, and other times leaping into the unknown can lead to all the dreams you never knew you had coming true.

“My neighbor is a serial killer.”

This line is a few pages into this book, and made me literally LOL. I knew I was in for a fun time, right off the bat. You know what I loved most about this book? The characters and the town. The writing is really easy and flows nicely and the dialogue is natural between all the characters (there are a LOT of people in this book). I’m a huge fan of character driven plots, and this one checks all the boxes.

It’s obvious this is part of a series (we have a couple getting ready to get married, for example, and I’m sure they were the H/h in the previous book) but I never felt lost. I do feel as if the whole experience would have been richer and more fun if I’d read the previous books, but I had no issues following anything.

The author shows a realistic version of a divorced family, the struggles they previous spouses go through, the difficulties splitting custody of children, etc. I have to admit I did NOT like Olivia’s ex, Ryan, in the least (one of the first things he does is “smirk” at her and MAN did my irritation level rise at that) and had a hard time believing she’d even try to reconcile, but I’ve actually talked to folks who never wanted to try everything to keep a marriage together.

There’s a lot of angst and issues to overcome on the parts of both Olivia and Luke and that, also, is handled well. Olivia’s twin boys are realistic and precocious and made me want to tear my hair out sometimes (…see?… realistic!). Secondary characters were well-written and well-rounded and everyone was three dimensional and unique. I only have a couple of complaints: there were SO many people, sometimes I had trouble keeping up (this might have been different if I’d read the previous book) and occasionally the book did tend to be a little cheesy, ala your favorite Hallmark Movie. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it did cause me to have an eye roll now and then.

Really, though, this is a nice, solid small-town, character driven romance. You’ll fall in love with more than the main characters here. You’ll fall in love with the whole dang town and its inhabitants. Looking forward to more from Granite Cove!

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Fated Desires by Becky Flade

Fated Desires by Becky Flade
Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense, Romance
Length: Full (201 pgs)
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Poppy

Jenna Gavin is searching for a fresh start, but more importantly, balance. Her heart, and perhaps the hands of fate, has led her and her young son to Trappers’ Cove, Minnesota. Settling in the small, quirky town, she’s not in the market for a casual relationship yet finds herself in one with the young widower next door.

Former shortstop, Gabriel Foxx, is drawn to his difficult new neighbor. The more the prickly divorcee attempts to keep him at arm’s length, the more determined he is to break down her walls. He can’t avoid the passion she inspires but he won’t allow himself to feel more.
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When friendship grows complicated by stronger emotions and mutual desire, it just isn’t enough. Will love be worth the risk?

Before I get to the meat of this review, let me say that this author is super talented. I want to make sure that’s clear up front because I struggled with this book. But it’s still very much worth the read (especially if you’ve read the previous books in the series).

I loved getting to see our previous couples and the rest of the small town of Trapper’s Cove, absolutely adored it!  I’ve gotten pretty attached to them all, and it’s worth every moment reading this book just to revisit them.  That said, I had some issues with our heroine, Jenna.  I totally get she got a raw deal with her idiot ex-husband.  I understand she’s not ready for a new relationship, especially with the younger, moderately famous, Gabe.  But I did not like her shrewish temperament.  She was horrible to him, and I really couldn’t understand why he was even at all interested in her.  Had I been him, after the first time or two of being snapped at or yelled at, I’d have moved on.

I also had issues with Finn and his relationship with her. He’s a brat. And, yeah, I get his dad’s a creep and completely removed from his life.  But I swear I wanted to put him into permanent time out.  And his mom let him get away with stuff I don’t think she should have.  That said, part of why I put up with her nasty attitude toward Gabe was her genuine, unconditional love for her son.  When I’d read about that, I could see she actually did have a heart and I tried to be patient with her until she showed it to Gabe… but boy it took patience, because it takes nearly the entire book!

Gabe’s got his own set of issues, due to his late wife and that backstory.  He has a lot of work to do to get past that trauma (and he gets help from an unexpected place!), but he’s not nearly as horrible to Jenna and he genuinely and completely fell for Finn.  Honestly, if not for Finn, I don’t think Jenna and Gabe would have gotten past their first conversation.

The fact I was so emotionally involved with these two is a testament to the author’s skill.  Additionally, I absolutely love the author’s breezy tone and the ease with which she writes the secondary characters.  I want to visit Trapper’s Cove.  I want to meet the folks there, and become part of the community.  They are the biggest reason I thoroughly enjoy these books. I recommend you grab a copy of any of the series for yourself–you can read them out of order, but I recommend you start at the start so you can fall in love with Trapper’s Cove like I have.  I hope Ms. Flade never stops writing books set there.

Fated Hearts by Becky Flade

Fated Hearts by Becky Flade
Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense, Paranormal
Length: Full (218 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Poppy

Psychiatrist Henley Elliott fled her quiet life in Cleveland for a gypsy lifestyle, trying to stay one step ahead of her painful memories. When she breaks down in quirky little Trappers’ Cove, Minnesota, she meets Sheriff Carter McAlister – a man healing from his own share of hidden heartbreaks.

At the request of a friend, Carter offers Henley a job to help her get back on her feet . . . but soon he can’t resist trying to sweep the intriguing woman off them. Breaking through her carefully built shell proves to be a near-impossible task, and to make matters worse, a dangerous new presence in the Cove seems to be targeting Henley. They must learn to trust in each other in order to keep her safe.

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I absolutely enjoyed this book! One of my favorite things to read is small town romance, and this had it all. The secondary characters absolutely shined throughout.

That’s not to say the main characters didn’t. They did. There was an ease in the way they were written that really made this book easy to read, no burps or hiccups at all. From the very start, when Henley was coaxing her old car into just one more mile, to the end when their romance was being wrapped up (and they had Maggie and Aiden as the “peanut gallery”) I just enjoyed them all.

The storyline was interesting as well and I appreciated that both characters had a traumatic past to overcome. There were times I found Carter to be a little too cocky and Henley a bit too reticent to form attachments, but they are who they are. I had to laugh at how Maggie just steamrolled Henley from the very start and completely enveloped her with her friendship. Honestly, everyone in the town did the same thing with their openness and willingness to accept her (except Aiden…and I did like that subplot as well).

It was neat getting reacquainted with Maggie and Aiden from book one, as well as the town and its people, too. However, this book easily stands on its own so don’t let the fact it’s book two in a series deter you from giving it a try. Also, even though I say this book’s heat level is “spicy”, the love scenes are present but very mild and understated.

The mystery side of this was well written as well, though as in the book before, the bad guy was a little over the top bad (to the point I could almost envision him in one of the old melodramas twirling his mustache). Still, it holds up and I loved how everyone bands together to protect Henley.

The end was perfect. I giggled every time Maggie or Aiden murmured something during the wind down of this story. A good, solid, well written and fun read. I’m looking forward to the next book.