Lullaby for My Sister by Nancy Barone


Lullaby for My Sister by Nancy Barone
Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing
Genre: Mystery/Suspense, Contemporary
Length: Full length (310 pages)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Peony

When Valentina and Lucy Mancino’s mother died, and their father turned to alcohol to cope, Valentina quickly understood it was up to her to run the household and take care of her little sister. But Valentina was only nine years old. And when their new step-mother moved in, along with her two sons, Val also knew things were about to change for the worse.

Fifteen years later, while Lucy is flailing in life, Val is running a successful career, but she’s also hiding a terrible secret. She soon discovers that her former home is suppressing secrets of its own—many unspeakable truths are dying to be told.

Heartache and hope will keep you turning the pages of Nancy Barone’s Lullaby for My Little Sister. What can only be described as an emotional ride, kept me hooked from start to finish with a plot that extends in the past and present both full of realistic joy and anguish. Nancy is an author with a lot of experience in the romance genre, but with this book tries something new, telling a mystery full of themes of family, love and trauma. The initial promise of a book about the connections between two sisters share goes well beyond this and explores many themes that feel very real and visceral to keep you reading till the end.

Lullaby for My Little Sister is a tear jerker right from the get go. You’re faced with the loss of family, but the well of grief doesn’t end there. Rather than gloss over or focus on one tragedy as the focal point, this story weaves itself around the cascade of other problems one loss can bring. The book is almost entirely internal, but there are actions associated with the emotions, even though most of it is musing from the part of the lead. Perhaps more external narrative could have given the book a better pacing, because it is quite slow to start, but the narrative style isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just prepared for a slow burn.

This book has a very strong family element and a cultural aspect of Italians living in the US. Anyone who’s read a book from this cultural viewpoint may find it familiar, even if it isn’t a culture like their own. The pains taken by the author to incorporate the family culture into the book is extremely helpful in creating a sense of immersion and filling in some of the blanks for how the characters interact with each other. Unfortunately, the other side to the cultural portion of the book is the stereotypes that go along with it. There were many parts where I just felt like I was reading something from a mob story, even if the mafia have no part of the book.

Another neat thing this book does is how the acts the characters are engaging in become allegorical for the story at large. The act of cleaning becomes one of cleaning one’s life and these themes remain constant through the book. By telling the story literally but also figuratively at the same time, the author manages to tell the story in more than one way. This aspect of the writing is very hard to explain but it worked very well and I rather enjoyed it. Perhaps this could be described as one of the strongest hooks the book has.

There are some triggers that you as a reader should be aware of before starting this book. Themes of sexual assault and loss of parents do come up and while I won’t spoil how or for whom, I will say that they become unavoidable in the story at large. If these are the sorts of things that you might struggle with then be aware they’re there. Additionally, child abuse comes up in this book and like the other themes, cannot be skipped. While these themes are treated with the weight and magnitude they deserve, for some they may hit a little too close to home.

Despite all the strong emotional storylines and clever figurative moments this story has, there is one thing that harmed the immersion if just a little. Nothing in this story was particularly out of the realm of reason, but the sheer volume of misunderstandings and shocker twists that occur started to at times feel like a soap opera. There really isn’t anything wrong with soap operas, they are hugely popular and for a good reason, but not every reader is going to find that to their taste. Personally, though not a consumer of soap operas, these instances in the story were little more than a small stumbling block I could easily get over and move beyond. It would be a shame to skip this story over something like that, but at the same time it is good to know it’s there.

Perhaps not everyone should read this book, those that have certain triggers from their own past trauma might want to take a pass and anyone who really isn’t interested in high drama may likewise find this too dense. For me personally this book was one of the most emotional investments I’ve undertaken in a while and it was hard not to appreciate all of the aspects of family, love and overcoming issues that come up in the story. For anyone looking for a book that expertly mixes the good and the bad should probably pick this book up as soon as possible. You won’t be disappointed.

One Night in Minneapolis by Margie Church


One Night in Minneapolis by Margie Church
Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (42 pgs)
Other: M/F, Anal Play
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Marine Major Skylar Landis doesn’t resemble the demure Catholic high school girl Vince Andersen once knew. They’d dated briefly until she’d patch things up with his nemesis, Ethan Standfeld. After school, she joined the Marines and they’d lost touch.

Their ten year class year reunion in Minneapolis brings Skylar face-to-face with Vince, awakening her memories of the past. She asks him to plan a hot, no-strings-attached hook-up to sustain her sexual fantasies while her intelligence unit is deployed to the Middle East. As their adventure unfolds, and he gives her exactly what she needs, Skylar wonders whether she can forget the man who put her desires first and asked for nothing in return.

This is an erotic little nugget that presents to a reader the start of something wonderful. Its basis is two people coming together for a high school reunion and getting the chance to do something they’d never really had a chance to do when they were in school – not only be with each other but to explore all that that might entail. At this stage in their lives, it’s not for dating as immature kids but coming together as adults with adult needs, expectations and fantasies.

Although the very beginning starts of slow with more telling than showing, it’s not long before the author finds her stride and the interest, spice and character dynamics take hold to provide a very entertaining read.

For fans of erotic romance, all their hot buttons should be satisfied because Ms. Church knows how to blast open the bedroom door so wide that all the sexy and passionate details are there for readers to enjoy. The word ‘shy’ isn’t in Vince or Skylar’s vocabulary.

What I enjoyed was seeing hints and references that this 24 hour marathon of uninhibited sex isn’t as shallow as the beginning led me to believe. The two have a history and it provides a good base to start with. I liked how Vince treated Skylar – his sense of humor, his willingness to try whatever she wanted and his caring for her. Yes, he has a hard time keeping his emotional distance as the hours go on, because that’s what the heroine wanted, but his slipping up here and there is what makes this little story work. I saw that Skylar wasn’t immune no matter how much she wanted to be. Through the course of all their sheet gymnastics, the interaction at the reunion and the visit to Vince’s home, Skylar is faced with the possibility that maybe, just maybe, Vince is worth taking a chance on. I got the impression that a little seed of wonder and hope might have been planted. It’s how the author chose to wrap up One Night in Minneapolis that made reading this short story worth it. The ending left me feeling happy, optimistic and assured that a romance is born. Because of that, this is an easy recommend of One Night in Minneapolis to other erotic romance readers.

The Part That Doesn’t Burn by Sam Poling


The Part That Doesn’t Burn by Sam Poling
Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing
Genre: Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full (319 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Review by Rose

In an overpopulated city-state where technology and magic are forbidden by the corrupt church, young witch, Mirabel Fairfax, plots the creation of a deadly plague to cull the burdensome rabble. That is, until she falls in love with the very alchemist she has been deceiving. Now, with soul-hungry geists flooding the city, the church scrambling for their prey, and her own mind at war with itself, Mirabel must decide what she’s fighting for before she loses everything to the evils of Autumnfall.

The Part that Doesn’t Burn is a fun romp filled with adventures as Mirabel Fairfax and Felix Eggland travel across the country…and, in the meantime, learn more about each other and are changed by each other.

The story is mostly Mirabel and Felix’s story, although we do also get the POV of the church through the eyes of the young priestess who is chasing them—I actually liked her and found her surprisingly sympathetic as she tried to do what she thought was the right thing to do. Ultimately, though, the person most changed throughout the story was Mirabel.

There were times during the first part of the story that I wanted to slap her –she was grating on my last nerve with her self-absorbtionism. However, the longer the story went on, the more I started to like her and realize that her attitude had more of a veneer of self-protectionism on it than true shallowness.

Felix is a bumbling scientific nerd who comes into his own during the course of the story and, even though this is not a romance, still made this reader’s heart fall a little in love with him.

There are some definite twists and turns in this story, keeping the reader on her toes to keep up. To me, however, it didn’t have the feel of a dark fantasy—it put me more in mind of The Wild Wild West (the old TV show) with magic instead of the steampunk elements.

I really enjoyed the world that Mr. Poling built for this story and would like to revisit it—there was a reveal at the end that came as a surprise to me and I really hope he has some other stories in mind.

The Enchanted Swans by Christy Nicholas


The Enchanted Swans by Christy Nicholas
Publisher: Tirgearr Publshing
Genre: Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (135 pages)
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

In pre-Celtic Ireland, Fionnuala was a fae princess, born to a life of luxury. She knew her duty and loved her family. She missed her mother, who died in childbirth when Fionnuala was but ten years old. Still, she had hopes and dreams of love and a full life.

All her dreams were stolen from her, ripped away in a torrent of envy and magic.

Now she must care for her three brothers while learning to live under an evil curse. Will she find a way to break the spell, or would they remain swans, tethered to three places for nine hundred years?

A fantasy story which reminded me of The Six Swans of Grimms Fairy Tales. Set in Ireland many years ago around 460 BC and gradually wending its way to 450 AD, this is the tale of a princess and her three brothers who are turned into swans by their wicked stepmother. They all belong to the Faerie people who are gradually moving to the world below as humans take over the surface of the world.

This story was rather bland. There were no highlights to get the reader excited, no battles, nothing. Any events which could have grabbed the reader were told rather than shown. For instance the stepmother’s changing the children to swans could have been an exciting event. Instead they went to sleep and woke up as swans – lost opportunity here. There were too many explanations and not enough depth to the story. Also punctuation and tense need to be looked at.

I thought the actual premise of the story was good, though, and the historical parts of the story were very interesting.  If you like stories with a pretty princess and three handsome princes, a dash of magic, and history of many centuries, this may be a book for you.

Legacy of Luck by Christy Nicholas


Legacy of Luck by Christy Nicholas
Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing
Genre: Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full (295 pgs)
Rating: 3.5 stars
Review by Rose

Irish Traveler Éamonn loves gambling, women, and drinking, not necessarily in that order. But he’s entangled in a true mess when he falls for fiery redhead, Katie. When she’s married to a Scottish Traveler, Éamonn travels to Scotland to find her, with the help of Katie’s sister and cousin, and the magical brooch gifted by his father. Their quest takes them across the Irish Sea to the Isle of Skye, encountering war, betrayal, death. In the end, Éamonn must make his own luck.

This is listed as the third book in the series, but can easily be read as a standalone. I have to admit, I’m a sucker for all things Irish and this book does not disappoint in that area.

The story centers around Éamonn and Katie—Irish Travelers who meet each other at a horse trading fair and fall in love. The story is very plot-driven and I could see it very well as a movie. In fact, reading the book was a lot like watching a movie. There was a bit of separation between this reader and the book itself. It was a good story, but I didn’t feel drawn into the book in a way that I felt part of the story itself.

It has romantic elements, but does not classify as a romance because the story is not about the relationship between Éamonn and Katie, but instead around the quest of Éamonn to find and rescue her after her father marries her off to another man.

The story is part of the Druid’s Brooch series, but the brooch itself is given only a passing mention—however, the gift that Éamonn is given by the fae does help in, but also almost gets him killed, so like any fae-given gift, should be handled lightly. I would have liked to have delved a little more deeply into this aspect of the story.

This was a light, easy read and I enjoyed it enough that I’ll be looking for the other two books in the series. There was a lot of information about the Irish and Scottish Travelers that I didn’t know before and really appreciated the research the author did into this period of Irish history.

Into the Void by Emma Stein

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Into the Void by Emma Stein
Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing
Genre: Historical, Satire
Length: Full Length (215 pgs)
Rating: 5 stars
Review by Rose

The country of Anglina is teeming with social upheaval, and its officials have found an unlikely national hero in a philosopher and social activist named Horace. The Anglinian government has appointed the effeminate, irreverent, and stubborn scholar to undertake a journey around the world to learn the secret of other countries’ success. Unfortunately for Horace, most of the societies he visits turn out to be drastically different from what he expected, and he repeatedly sends scathing but witty reports about his travels and the people he encounters. At the end of his journey, Horace encounters a series of communes whose inhabitants welcome him into their ranks and open his eyes to more a liberal and egalitarian way of life.

Into the Void is a very interesting book—consisting of letters from Horace to Addie detailing Horace’s visits to the different areas around Anglina to see if there is anything he can learn that will help clear away the rot that is present in their own land.

Each of his letters can be seen as satirical commentary on our own ways of living. In this it reminds me very much of Gulliver’s Travels. Where Swift examined governments, Stein puts human relationships and ways of living under the microscope.

The letters are interesting in themselves and, even though I’m not normally one to re-read books, I think I will make an exception here. I am interested in rereading several of the letters to dig a little deeper into the meaning behind it.

In addition to the foibles of the human condition that Stein provides, the letters also give us insight into Horace and his relationship with Addie that was quite interesting to discover.

Good job, Ms. Stein. A masterful achievement!

Touched by Abbey MacMunn

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Touched by Abbey MacMunn
Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (206 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 2.5 Stars
Reviewed by Daisy

When inquisitive antique dealer Cami Wilson learns she’s the revered offspring of an immortal mother and a mortal father, it’s not just her hybrid status that has her all flustered. The title comes with her very own super-sexy guardian.

Jaded immortal Joseph Carlisle has only one thing on his mind; his sworn duty to protect the hybrid from those who wish her harm. Anything else would be complicated. That is until they meet.

Chemistry sizzles between them but there’s a problem—the hybrid’s curse. Cami’s touch, skin to skin, proves near fatal to her and all immortals, Joseph included.

But the fated lovers discover her curse is the least of their concerns when a friend’s deadly betrayal threatens to tear them apart forever.

I loved the concept of Abbey MacMunn’s story and the opening certainly swept me into the tale. It has a great premise and fast pacing, fitting into a young adult or new adult genre, depending on how much sex is deemed acceptable, as there are full blown sex scenes within the book. The main character has all the seeds for a great fantasy read. A mysterious past, a dangerous faction out to get rid of her, and a handsome man (and his brother) on the sidelines.

All the components to make this book a fantastic read are there. However, it really didn’t work for me. The pacing was far too fast for me to believe the love story and the love scenes lacked real steam because of this. The characters were a little flat because more time was spent on their relationship than the pacing and conflict that should have been surrounding them in the first half. Instead of progressing the main fantasy plot, there was an attempt to further the protagonist’s sexual relationship, making it edgy by placing the ‘event’ in a location other than the bedroom, but this location has become somewhat of a tired trope and didn’t distract me from the lack of plot progression.

In addition, some of the locations in the book were disappointing. There was a stereotypical, traditional, drafty castle and a dungeon. I was hoping for something more. I wanted to know more about the characters the protagonist met, the world that she had become a new member of, and the people that surrounded her. I wanted her to react with more passion against the faction out to get her, to put up a real fight rather than be led through the motions. She becomes a passive character, protected by those around her, and more involved in the romance subplot than the main fantasy plot.

Of course, more ‘traditional’ fantasy tales can be really effective, and I certainly think this book would really appeal to the younger market due to the focus on a whirlwind romance. The fated, guardian angel style of romance and the unusual supernatural element to the protagonist will keep a younger (mature young adult to new adult) audience wondering what will come next. The book introduces a supernatural world I’m sure they’d be eager to get to know, and it would be an excellent gateway book to the wider genre.

Where the Heart Is by Jennie Marsland

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Where the Heart Is by Jennie Marsland
Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing
Genre: Historical
Length: Short Story (138 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Camellia

When Rochelle McShannon moves with her father from Morgan County, Georgia to the Yorkshire Dales, she thinks she’s leaving behind everything that matters to her. Her mother has passed away, her twin brother is going west to avoid the looming Civil War, and her family’s unpopular views on slavery and secession have destroyed her relationship with the man she hoped to marry. If returning to her father’s childhood home eases his grief, Chelle asks for nothing more.

Martin Rainnie understands grief. Since the loss of his wife in childbirth, he’s known little else, except anger. He’s retreated to his farm and turned his back on the world, including his baby daughter, who’s being fostered by Chelle’s relatives. With little Leah drawing them together, Martin begins to wonder if he can love again – and convince Chelle to do the same.

But the war overseas has far-reaching consequences, even in a small English village. Can Martin and Chelle overcome danger, loss, and bitterness to make a home where the heart is?

A rite of passage and a sweet love story, Where the Heart Is takes the reader to nineteenth century England.

Young Rochelle “Chelle” McShannon, uprooted from America and transplanted in her father’s homeland, is in bereavement, not only for her dead mother, but also for the loss of a love that she’d believed was real and true and for her twin brother, Trey, who chose to stay in America.

In the small community of Yorkshire Dale, she runs afoul of the mores of the villagers. Befriending a girl who is an unwed mother is bad enough, but spending two nights helping the precious baby girl Leah get accustomed to a new home with just the baby’s widowed father and a housekeeper in residence is an absolute non-no. Moreover, she danced with said widowed father, Martin Rianne at the community dance; AND he did not dance with anyone else.

Martine Rianne, a successful farmer, still mourns the loss of his wife when baby Leah was born. He had farmed the baby out to live with a wet nurse and never went to see the child. His dead wife’s parents become the bane of his life—antagonists this reader REALLY didn’t like.

Jennie Marsland wove together a short, but heart-touching love story that keeps one turning pages. She shows the reader the plight of the mill workers in the community, the moral corruptness of the ‘straight-laced” people who look down on Chelle, the story of her brother Trey, along with the happy, productive life of her father’s brother’s family. Chelle’s being involved in all these things transforms her.

A good evening’s entertainment!

Sister Agatha: The World’s Oldest Serial Killer by Domhnall O’Donoghue

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Sister Agatha: The World’s Oldest Serial Killer by Domhnall O’Donoghue
Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (122 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Sister Agatha is a colossal 118 years of age, whose vim and vigour would put the most robust athletes to shame. During a routine check-up, however, her doctor claims she has just a week to live, news that proves to be quite inconvenient, seeing as the beloved sister has one ambition in life: to be the oldest person in the world. At last count, she was the fifth.

However, never one to admit defeat, Sister Agatha concocts a bold Plan B. Dusting off her passport, she decides to leave Irish shores for the first time in her very long life, and using the few days remaining, plans to travel across three continents and meet the only four people whose birthday cakes boast more candles than hers.

And then, one by one, she intends on killing them.

You’re never too old to get into some mischief.

Getting to know Sister Agatha was delightful. I admired her intelligence and resourcefulness, but what really made me like her was her uncanny ability to reveal something new about herself just when I thought I had her all figured out. There were so many cleverly-hidden parts of her personality to discover that I wished her tale would never end so that I could keep learning more and more about her.

This book had a slow beginning. It took me a long time to get into the storyline because of how little was happening to move the plot forward. A big part of the reason why it moved so slowly was because the narrator kept flashing back to things that happened when Sister Agatha was growing up. While I found those scenes interesting, having so many of them did make it hard for me to stay focused on the mystery itself due to how little time the characters spent on it in the first several chapters.

The dialogue in this story was lively. Some of my favorite scenes to read were the ones where two or more characters had in-depth conversations about what was happening around them. Every character had an unique voice and something important to share with the audience. Listening to them talk to each other gave me many opportunities to guess what was going on and what might happen next, so I enjoyed every minute of their discussions.

Sister Agatha: The World’s Oldest Serial Killer should be read by anyone who is on the lookout for something completely unexpected.

Hellfire by Jeff Provine

HELLFIRE
Hellfire by Jeff Provine
Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing
Genre: Action/Adventure, Paranormal, Historical
Length: Full Length (206 pages)
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

Locomotive fireman, Nate Kemp, uncovers a conspiracy around the miraculous Newton’s Catalyst, a powder that makes fires burn hotter than they should—secretly releasing the fires of Hell. Now, more is beginning to slip through, and the Rail Agency tries to tuck him away in a mental institution. Nurse Ozzie Jacey helps him escape. They must warn the capital, Lake Providence, before Hell literally breaks loose.

Hellfire is a Steampunk novel with all the steam, smoke, coal dust and dirt that steam engines bring. Gloriana cannot exist without its steam engines for trains, mills and other commercial engines. Newtons Catalyst is used to enhance the output. Railway fireman Nate Kemp finds the side effects of using this chemical are disastrous but those in charge will do anything to keep their secret.

I found the beginning of the book confusing and had difficulty keeping my attention focused. The story hopped from character to character and none of them seemed to have any depth. I’m glad I kept reading though as half way through the book the story picked up. Until this point the reason for the monsters and what made them so terrible had not been clear.

Then the excitement built with each passing chapter, making me want to find out what was happening, and how it would be resolved. The conflict between good and evil evolved and the character strengths deepened with every wave of tension. Good joined ranks to fight against the impossible odds of the Rail Agency marshals and their bodyguard hunchbacks, but these are only the frontmen. To beat the monsters Nate and his companions must find who is behind the monster invasion..

A good conclusion to what eventually became a clever steampunk story.