Wild Irish Yenta by Joyce Sanderly


Wild Irish Yenta by Joyce Sanderly
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Do killers, stock manipulators, and kidnappers stalk the Temple? After the body of Roberto Gomez is discovered in Temple Israel’s parking lot, Patricia Weiss, nee Reilly, exchanges her suburban-mom sneakers for gumshoes to investigate the supposed hit-and-run. Inspired by her police detective dad, Patricia feels compelled to uncover who killed the hardworking custodian and why. Before she can progress with her investigation or work on problems in her difficult marriage to a busy cardiologist, and his controlling Jewish mother, she is plunged into the Temple’s troubles. Her mentor Rabbi Deborah, who has guided Patricia through her own recent conversion to Judaism, disappears after delivering a controversial sermon in support of interfaith marriage. Despite her husband’s concerns, Patricia joins forces with her buddy Brenda. Designating themselves The Yenta Patrol, they unravel the mysteries.

Not everything is as simple as it may first appear to be.

Patricia was a memorable and likeable protagonist. She was insatiably curious about the world around her, and sometimes this led her to making decisions that her cautious husband disagreed with. I appreciated the way the author shared both of their perspectives on what are and are not acceptable risks to take in life. It made sense given the cultural differences between Patricia and Michael, and it also helped me to understand her as a character better. No one is perfect, after all, but this flaw was a good way for the audience to understand where she was coming from and why she assumed the world was a much safer place than her husband did. Novels that encourage readers to pause for a moment and think about the assumptions we all make in life before going on to reveal what happens when two people have opposite reactions to the same situation are part of the reason why I have continued to review books for so many years. Reading and reviewing are excellent ways to explore the world through other perspectives.

As much as I enjoyed learning more about Patricia and her relationships with everyone around her, I struggled with the slow pacing of this book. More time was spent exploring what various members of the synagogue thought about each other than pushing the plot forward with more clues about why Roberto Gomez died or why Rabbi Deborah disappeared. This made it difficult at times for me to remain engaged with the plot since it often took quite a while for the next important twist to be revealed.

Some of my favorite scenes were the ones that showed the long process Patricia went through to convert to Judaism. There were classes to attend, holy texts to study, and cultural and religious traditions to start observing. What made it even more interesting to me was to see the wide range of reactions her conversion elicited from other members of her temple, from deep suspicions about her motives to total acceptance and everything in between those two possibilities. There was so much depth and emotion included in those passages that they sped up the reading process for me when they happened despite my earlier criticisms about the pacing.

Wild Irish Yenta kept me guessing.

The Ares Virus by AP Bateman


The Ares Virus by AP Bateman
Publisher: Rockhopper Publishing (Kindle)
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

The gloves are off for Secret Service agent Rob Stone as his hunt for an assassin leads him to a deadly agenda too terrible to contemplate.

For years Isobel has been working as a senior lab technician at a secret government facility working with a team under her mentor’s leadership. They have finally had a breakthrough – confirming that Ares is a virus with the potential to be a game-changing weapon of mass destruction, but thrillingly also proving significant progress with Aphrodite. Aphrodite is the antidote to Ares, and has a nearly unlimited potential, possibly the answer to cure AIDS, cancer and who knows what else. But when Isobel’s mentor is killed and she uncovers a plot to use Ares in unfathomable ways, she knows it’s up to her to try and prevent this. Secret Service Agent Rob Stone is also investigating the suspicious death and he quickly realizes that Isobel holds the key to his case. Can Isobel and Rob work together to save the world?

I have to admit my taste for “world is threatened by a virus that can kill everyone” style of stories has greatly lessened since Covid, but there were just too many factors in this story that I usually love and so I was happy to give it a try. I’m quite glad I did. This is the first book featuring Rob Stone and so readers should definitely feel like they can just pick this up fresh and not worry about any links to anything previous.

Honestly, I felt the beginning was a little slow. There was certainly a lot of plot and story-arch stuff that needed to be set up, and I was hooked enough on the science and strong female lead in Isobel that I was happy to continue reading past the first few chapters. I could understand though if readers who are used to a quicker and more action orientated style of story might find their interest wane in the beginning of this book. I’d urge readers to stick with it though, I personally could feel even after the first few chapters that the pace was certainly increasing – along with the tension and sense of danger to Isobel. And once Isobel crosses paths with Rob the action really begins in earnest and the explosiveness of the plot ramps up to a crazy pace.

There were a few really good plot twists – some of which I guessed early on, some which I found to be a delightful surprise. There was a strong cast of main and secondary characters, both good and bad, and I felt the author did a good job balancing everything out and keeping all the different balls in the air. While I do feel there is nothing earth-shatteringly unique to this plotline, I do feel the author did an excellent job in making both Isobel and Rob;s characters relatable and realistic. Readers who enjoy a thriller style “race to save the world” sort of books should find this to be a book full of intrigue and one where you definitely want to keep turning the pages.

An action based, conspiracy style of virus full length novel, this is a good read from a new-to-me author. I’ll be checking out the next in the series.

Still No Kids & Still Ok: A Childfree Humor Book by Ellen Metter


Still No Kids & Still Ok: A Childfree Humor Book by Ellen Metter
Publisher: Browser Press
Genre: Non-Fiction, Contemporary, Humor
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

There’s less pressure these days to make lots of dimply babies. But what about the indecision that would-be parents experience as they consider the Baby, Yes or Baby, No choices? Or the subtle societal nagging that says having zero children will lead to a lonely life with only Netflix and a grizzled old guy with no teeth as your friends?

Now that Ellen Metter is nearly old enough to get “Save the Date” invites from the Grim Reaper, she’s ready to share an illustrated, light-hearted look at an intentionally childfree life, as well as an appreciation for those who do parenting with love, patience, and not too many screaming meltdowns.

Still No Kids & Still OK is for everyone!
It’s for those considering a stroll down the toy-strewn path.
It’s for those who said, “Hell, no, I won’t glow!” and never looked back.
And it’s for parents who will read this in the bathroom for about a minute at a time and appreciate and understand every word.

The author looks at such burning questions as:
“Who will support you when you’re old?”
“Won’t you be lonely?”
“You don’t have a teenager, do you? She’d never have let you out in that sweater!”
And, “Is ok really enough?”

Still No Kids & Still OK has the answers!

The author loves it when people have children since we need kids who grow up to create hilarious Netflix shows. But since parenting can be like flying a Boeing jumbo jet with squirrels in your hair, it’s best if the desire for children is strong. Like Superman strong.

And for those who hesitate to procreate? Ellen Metter gets it! The only doll she loved as a kid was Barbie since that doll seemed old enough to date. (With protection, of course.) Still No Kids & Still Ok shares illustrated evidence that a long and childfree life is often even more than Ok.

Parenthood should be a choice, not an obligation.

One of the things I liked the most about this novella was how deeply it encouraged its readers to think about every aspect of being a parent before deciding to have kids. There are pros and cons to any decision someone might make about if, when, with whom, or how many children they want to have. What works marvelously for one person might be difficult to impossible for someone else for reasons ranging from health to finances to what sort of support system one might have among many other options, so it’s important to have a realistic view of both the joys and challenges of what parenthood entails beforehand.

Sometimes this went a little off-topic with stories that did not seem to be related to the decision to be childfree. As interesting as they were, it was also distracting for me as a reader to be led in those directions instead of digging more deeply into what other options exist when having children is taken off the menu. I would have preferred to have fewer digressions along the way even though I enjoyed getting to know the author along the way.

People who choose not to reproduce are often stereotyped as folks who hate children. I loved the way Ms. Metter pushed against that stereotype by describing why it’s important to ensure that every child has their needs met and the difference between enjoying the company of kids under certain circumstances and wanting to raise one or more of them for two decades or so. There are many other ways to inspire and look after the next generation, from being a teacher to volunteering with at-risk youth to becoming the fun aunt or uncle in the family who gives tired parents a much-needed break for a few hours, and her inclusion of such alternatives was helpful.

I’d recommend Still No Kids & Still Ok: A Childfree Humor Book to readers who would like to understand why some folks choose not to have children just as much as I would to readers who are childfree themselves.

The Landscape Of Death by MS Morris


The Landscape Of Death by MS Morris
Publisher: Landmark Media
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

A Murder. A Homecoming. A Day of Reckoning.
A man’s body washes up on a beach on the North Yorkshire coast with a single gunshot wound to the chest. The only clue to the victim’s identity is a ring engraved with two names.

DCI Tom Raven is back in his hometown of Scarborough for the first time in over thirty years. When offered the chance to lead the murder investigation, he takes it.

Raven quickly discovers that the prime suspect is his once teenage friend, now a wealthy but shady businessman. He finds an ally in Detective Sergeant Becca Shawcross, but not everyone in the team is on his side.

As Raven delves into the case, he is forced to confront the events that drove him away from Scarborough so many years ago. Given a chance to undo past mistakes, he must make the biggest decision of his life. But first he must learn who he can trust. Because lies can kill.

DCI Tom Raven left his hometown of Scarborough more than thirty years ago. He swore he’d never return, but when his father dies Tom decides to take a short break from his job at The Met and bury the man he hadn’t seen in three decades. When a man’s body washes up on the North Yorkshire beach, Tom finds himself drawn to investigate. He’d never considered returning home, but with little outside work to draw him back to London, he finds himself tempted to stay and close this case.

I found this to be an interesting and very well written British police procedural style of book. There are a number of strong secondary characters, and I enjoyed how while some felt a little overblown to me, the main core of the police team seemed varied, interesting and mostly realistic. I also enjoyed the way the authors managed to balance some areas of cliché along with a few new twists and freshness. It helped keep the plot moving well to my mind and when I’d think I had a good idea of what was going to happen something would turn slightly and I’d be back eagerly turning the pages.

Readers who prefer a more action-orientated plot might find this pace a little slow, but I really did prefer how there was enough detail and clues that the reader really could follow along and put it all together with the main characters. I am eager to read the next in the series.

Dark Site by Patrick Lee


Dark Site by Patrick Lee
Publisher: St. Martin’s Publishing Group
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

On an otherwise normal morning, former Special Forces operative Sam Dryden is the target of an unsuccessful attempted abduction. Using his attacker’s cellphone, he learns that another person, a woman named Danica Ellis, is also being targeted. Dryden arrives just in time to save Danica from the assault team sent after her. But neither of them recognize the other, or have any idea why they are being targeted. The only clue is a heavily redacted, official-looking document given to Danica by her stepfather before he was killed.

Dryden immediately recognizes it as a “scrub file.” A scrub file is a record of what a subject knew before their memories were chemically destroyed. The redacted document refers to witnesses to a secret military site in Ashland, Iowa in 1989. Both Dryden and Danica Ellis lived in Ashland in 1989, when they were both twelve years old, though neither of them has any memory of the other.

Switching back and forth between the present day, when Dryden and Danica try to elude the forces that are after them, and the past in Ashland, Iowa, when both were twelve, making a discovery that forever changed their lives, this latest Sam Dryden novel proves yet again that Patrick Lee is one of the most original, compelling thriller writers today.

On what began as a normal morning has ex-Special Forces Sam Dryden fighting off an unsuccessful abduction attempt and then following the only link to a woman called Danica Ellis. Having never laid eyes on each other, Sam is astonished when moments after his arrival Danica also is nearly abducted by a unit eerily similar to the one who attempted to abduct him. Clearly the two of them are linked somehow – but if they’ve never met how can they be connected? As they each reach back into their pasts can they solve what’s really going on before it’s too late?

This is the third book featuring Sam Dryden and while they each are very self-contained with no real links between the stories they do each have a similar feel and pace to it. I feel anyone can pick this up by itself and thoroughly enjoy the suspense and action-orientated pacing of the plotlines. In this story I was pleased that the book bounces from the present (2018) back to 1989 when the main series of events leading to the current day occurred. As Sam and Danica discover more about the past it is merged quite well with these flashbacks so the reader learns of events and connections as the two main characters do. I felt the author did a good job with this balancing enough information to keep the plot moving but without the jarring quality flashbacks often seem to have. I thought this was well handled.

Readers who enjoy a solid mystery plot with elements of bio-warfare and military angles in it, along with a nefarious enemy lurking in the shadows should find that this sort of mystery really fits the bill. While the action keeps the pace moving at quite a solid clip the book didn’t come across to me as rushed and I had time to enjoy the unraveling of the plot. Readers who enjoy a faster pace to their stories should find this really appeals to them.

With a small cast of well-rounded and interesting characters plus an interwoven plot spanning the past and present times this was a good book and an author I enjoy.

Flock This by Jayce Carter


Flock This by Jayce Carter
Publisher: Totally Bound
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Moonflower

Trouble doesn’ t find me— I go looking for it.

I’ve been rejected all my life— always too loud, too messy, too much. I thought joining the spirit world— full of vampires, werewolves and magical beings living alongside humans— would change that, but as an anomaly without a clan, I’m more unwelcome than ever. Instead of power and sexy trysts with hot immortals, I end up working as a courier just to survive. I got turned into a crow shifter and all I got out of it is a sucky, dead-end job.

However, when I make a delivery and instead find the vampire leader’ s corpse, the stake that killed him in my hand, standing on the sidelines stops being an option. Without a clan to speak for me, I have no choice but to figure out who framed me and find the real killer on my own. Surrounded by people I can’ t trust, in a world that has no place for me, I’ve got to use every skill in my arsenal to stay one step ahead.

They say a little mischief is good for the soul, but too much of it can kill you.

Flock This is the first book in the Flocking It Up series and we start with a crow shifter who has a job as a courier. Things go pear-shaped when she makes a delivery to someone who’s just been murdered and is found with the bloody stake in her hands.

Grey doesn’t belong to any of the four clans but isn’t surprised as she has never felt as though she fits in anywhere. As she tries to find out who has framed her for murder, tries to stay alive, and maybe even find out who actually was the killer, we stay with her. Told in the first perspective, we see her innermost thoughts – most of which revolve around how chaos follows her and how alone she is. She isn’t actually alone though; she has friends and family she could turn to if she only trusted them enough.

Well-written and smoothly paced, this was an interesting story that just didn’t grab me as I wanted it to. As it’s the first in a series, I’m hoping to see more of the different players as the overall arc moves along. There are a couple of steamy scenes but nothing major. Most of the book is being sent down one alley or another, looking for the killer.

On the whole, it was enjoyable and recommended for anyone who likes urban fantasy.

Fox Hounds by Lia Connor


Fox Hounds by Lia Connor
Publisher: Changeling Press
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, Paranormal
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Foxy Lady…

Reyna’s a skilled thief and the lightest-fingered pickpocket around. Several professionals would love to have her on their side, if only to be able to keep an eye on her. What they don’t know is that Reyna’s nickname isn’t just fantasy — she’s a shapeshifting fox and as clever and wily as they come. No one can catch her if she doesn’t want to be caught, and so far no one’s come close to winning her over.

Not, that is, until the hounds pick up her trail. Jonas, Si and Boone, lovers as well as skilled tricksters, have the Fox’s scent and they intend to woo her, outsmart her and win her to their team. As hounds in name as well as in shapeshifting nature, they know they’re just as good at getting the job done as Reyna is. All they have to do is catch this thief and get her not only on their side, but in their shared bed.

And they won’t give up until they get the job done.

Reyna’s got a secret weapon – she’s a shapeshifting fox who is both clever and wily in addition to being a darn good thief. No one has come close to picking up her scent until she comes across the hounds – Jonas, Si and Boone. Shapeshifting hounds, the three men are also skilled tricksters and are determined to bring Reyna into their team – no matter the cost.

I found this to be a sexy quick read. I was impressed with this slightly different take on a paranormal spicy storyline – the three hound-shifters a cohesive and long-standing team and very comfortable with their personal and working relationship. While initially I was somewhat in the dark as to why they needed Reyna and her fox abilities to join their team, I admit I found it very fun to watch the three men collectively tempt her into collaborating with them.

An enjoyable and sensual read, it was clear there was more to the plot than just a quick seduction and I was thrilled when the author followed through on that. Readers wanting a quick, sexy, paranormal story that has a few twists and turns in it should find this a lovely and refreshing change of pace. I thought this was a good story and I’m interested in reading more by this new-to-me author.

If the Fates Allow: A Short Story by Rainbow Rowell


If the Fates Allow: A Short Story by Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: Self-Published, Amazon Original Stories
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Dicentra

Social distancing came easily to Reagan. Maybe a little too easily. She’s always liked people better from afar. But Reagan doesn’t want her grandpa to be alone for Christmas this year—he’s already spent too much time on his own in 2020. So she heads back to her hometown with a dish of holiday Jell-O salad, hoping they can have a little normalcy. Hoping it will be safe…

She isn’t expecting to run into the boy next door. Mason is all grown up now. He’s considerate. He’s funny. He doesn’t mind how prickly Reagan is—he maybe even likes it. And it makes Reagan feel like her defenses are falling. She needs her defenses, doesn’t she? In a time when six feet is close enough, how long can they keep their distance?

With a title that’s a spin on Judy Garland’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, Rainbow Rowell’s If the Fates Allow is a sweet short story of a holiday romance read. Set in the same world as her young adult novel Fangirl (though not directly connected), it tells the story of two people who meet in the time of social distancing and find a unique connection.

While COVID has upended all of our lives since 2020, I wasn’t expecting it to be the setting of a romance. I think the author did a good job acknowledging the realities of COVID (i.e., the isolation, people who don’t believe in measures like masks or vaccines) while also including some lighthearted moments in an attempt to balance out the dark cloud that is COVID. Reagan does worry a lot about the pandemic, but I actually found myself empathizing with her given I experienced those concerns myself. While this book is marketed as a romance, I was admittedly more invested in Reagan’s relationship with her grandfather and the rest of her family rather than with Mason (the boy-next-door love interest). Fear not, however – the romance was still cute and well-written.

Audiobook narrators are usually a plus for me, but I actually found it preferable to read in print rather than listen because narrator Rebecca Lowman’s performance was a bit dry. She didn’t really change tone over the course of the read, and there weren’t different voices for the various characters either. I was hoping for a bit more animation, but that didn’t happen, so it did negatively impact my enjoyment of the read a bit.

Overall, this was an entertaining read. I would have hoped for something a bit longer (more of a novella length than short story), but it was satisfying as is. I would recommend it to Hallmark Christmas movie fans who are looking for something short to read. Bonus points if you have Kindle Unlimited, as it’s free to read on that service.

TRIGGER WARNINGS: COVID, Grief, Death of a Grandparent (in the past), Messy Family Relationships

The Flesh Tailor by Kate Ellis


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

When Dr James Dalcott is shot dead in his cottage it looks very much like an execution. And as DI Wesley Peterson begins piecing together the victim’s life, he finds that the well-liked country doctor has been harbouring strange and dramatic family secrets.

Meanwhile, archaeologist Neil Watson has discovered a number of skeletons in nearby Tailors Court that bear marks of dissection and might be linked to tales of body snatching by a rogue physician in the sixteenth century. But when Neil finds the bones of a child buried with a 1930s coin, the investigation takes a sinister turn.

Who were the children evacuated to Tailors Court during World War II? And where are they now? When a link is established between the wartime evacuees and Dr Dalcott’s death, Wesley is faced with his most challenging case yet.

DI Wesley Peterson and his team are called in to investigate when a local doctor is found shot in the front door of his cottage in what looks very much like an execution-style murder. As they look deeper into the doctor they find his family history isn’t as straightforward as one would expect. Archeologist Neil Watson is also called in when two skeletons are found by a local wanting to renovate his newly purchased piece of land. What starts with two bodies quickly grown into half a dozen and one of those is the body of a small child seemingly from the 1930s. Can Wesley and Neil each uncover what’s really going on?

I was quite pleased with this book and found even though it’s right in the middle of the series readers should feel comfortable picking this up and knowing they can enjoy a well-plotted British police procedural style of mystery with a good element of archaeology woven into it as well. While I do admit the main characters and the police team in particular have a lot of threads and history connecting them together from the previous books in the series I didn’t feel there was anything that occurred which would leave readers picking up this book along would find too confusing. The two main plots are very well contained within this book alone and I believe it can be enjoyed by itself.

That said, I also did feel a little as if nothing too unique or fresh was brought into the book. While I thoroughly enjoy the fact the police procedural aspect to the mystery is well balanced with Neil’s archaeology this books felt a little bit like a “filler” style of book to me. To my mind, no real character progress was made in the police team, and nothing much occurred in any longer running story arcs so when I’d finished I felt thoroughly satisfied by the two mystery plotlines, but felt as though nothing really had been achieved by this book itself.

Readers looking for an interesting and enjoyable murder mystery – especially those who like a bit of something different like what I found with the archaeology aspect to the plot – should find this a good read and well worth the investment. In particular this might be a good book for readers not previously exposed to the series to try and find if they like the author’s style and whether this is a longer running series they might enjoy.

Changeling by Shelby Morgen


Changeling by Shelby Morgen
Publisher: Changeling Press
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, Holiday, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

“I don’t believe in Magic.”

Did he actually say those words — out loud — in an Irish pub, on St. Patrick’s Day? Divorced and alone, Michael Matthews doesn’t believe in much of anything anymore. So when he downs several mugs of Irish Stout while listening to the barkeep weave a tale of magic and intrigue centuries old, Mich’s judgment might be slightly impaired.

Mich wakes up bound and naked in a Fairy’s webs. He isn’t really sure he wants to escape the gorgeous little creature… but what’s he to do with a lover who’s only five inches tall?

She’s the Changeling Fairy, and she has a bag of Fairy toys — including magical restraints and Fairy Oil — she’s just itching to try out on her captive. She’s caught Mich for just one purpose — she has every intention of spending St. Patrick’s Day having wild Fairy sex with this hot hunk of an American. Just as soon as he learns to cooperate!

Michael Matthews is a procurement agent for a microbrewery distribution group and usually he knows exactly how to handle his beer. But this is St, Patrick’s Day and he downs more than a few mugs while listening to a very talented barkeeper. Mich then finds himself waking up entangled in more than he bargained for, and Arien is gorgeous enough neither of them are sure they want to undo what might have been started here.

I found this to be a funny and very unique sort of short story. With whip quick dialogue and plenty of quirkiness I definitely feel this is the sort of story you need to enjoy with a hefty drink and a lot of light-heartedness. Disengage your brain, relax back and just enjoy where this talented author takes you.

While there is some plot, I found that I enjoyed the fact the story didn’t really take itself too seriously. While funny, the sex was steamy and very explicit. Readers who don’t enjoy insta-lust stories might find the pace of this aspect to the plot was a little fast – but with such a short page count I don’t really see how any could expect a long, detailed, slow drop into the romance.

Steamy, funny and fast-paced, I found this to be an enjoyable and quick read. Best enjoyed with a drink and a light sense of humour, I feel plenty of readers should find this equally addictive.