One Good Deed by David Baldacci

One Good Deed by David Baldacci
Publisher: Pan Books
Genre: Historical, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

It’s 1949. When war veteran Aloysius Archer is released from Carderock Prison, he is sent to Poca City on parole with a short list of do’s and a much longer list of don’ts: do report regularly to his parole officer, don’t go to bars, certainly don’t drink alcohol, do get a job — and don’t ever associate with loose women.

The small town quickly proves more complicated and dangerous than Archer’s years serving in the war or his time in jail. Within a single night, his search for gainful employment — and a stiff drink — leads him to a local bar, where he is hired for what seems like a simple job: to collect a debt owed to a powerful local businessman, Hank Pittleman.

Soon Archer discovers that recovering the debt won’t be so easy. The indebted man has a furious grudge against Hank and refuses to pay; Hank’s clever mistress has her own designs on Archer; and both Hank and Archer’s stern parole officer, Miss Crabtree, are keeping a sharp eye on him.

When a murder takes place right under Archer’s nose, police suspicions rise against the ex-convict, and Archer realizes that the crime could send him right back to prison . . . if he doesn’t use every skill in his arsenal to track down the real killer.

It’s 1949 and Aloysius Archer has just been released from jail. The war is still fresh in everyone’s mind and day-to-day life and Archer arrives in a small southern town looking for a fresh start and some honest work. When a local businessman is brutally murdered the newly arrived Archer is the number one suspect. Can Archer work out what’s really going on before he’s sent back to jail, again?

I’m usually not a fan of “recent” historical novels – but I am a big fan of Baldacci’s and so was curious enough to give this book a try. I’m very glad I did, as I found it to be an excellently written murder mystery book. Despite being set about 70 years ago the characters and motives and even much of the social landscape is still incredibly relatable and intriguing. There were a few times when I paused to really think about whether some of the plot points were a bit too modern- like when Jackie admitted she’d discussed her affair with Hank’s wife and the general understanding they’d both come to from that conversation. While I found myself dubious about just how realistic that was – particularly 70 years ago – I equally realise women have been making compromises like this and facing the reality of how life really works for centuries. While it felt a little bit of a stretch to me, I could also see how it wasn’t as outrageous as I initially thought.

So, while much of the story is definitely set and has a strong feel of the past – particularly in the small-town society and how the war had affected things like rations and clothing and the like – it didn’t feel so steeped in history that I couldn’t relate to a number of aspects to the plot. Indeed, much of the small-town motives and jealousies and revenge – that all struck me as modern and true today as it would have back in 1949. I enjoyed exploring those sorts of thoughts and links and this book did an exceptional job for that. I also have to strongly recommend Baldacci having done what I assume was a fair bit of homework. A number of things, from the fashions and finances to how parole and the law functioned back in those days all seemed to be very well researched and presented to me.

Readers looking for a different style of murder mystery should find this book appealing. While a lot of the groundwork is laid in the first third or so of the story – and the pace of that might be a bit slow for readers expecting something a bit more action orientated – I really feel this book is worth sticking with. This is also the first in a series so readers should definitely feel it’s a good place to start. I enjoyed how the characters begin to weave together very convincingly and I came to really think Archer’s character has a certain something that I really enjoyed. He was an interesting mixture of strong and vulnerable that wasn’t simple or easy to unpack and I found myself as curious about him as a character as I was with the whole murder plotline itself.

A different and very interesting book, I will absolutely be picking up the next in the series. Recommended.

Secured by Sean Michael

Secured by Sean Michael
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, LGBTQ
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

After five years of living under the threat of a stalker, Finn Wicker is finally free. About nine months ago, his stalker was finally taken down, but not before the man shot and nearly killed Finn’s bodyguard Chris. Finn had always had a crush on Chris, but he’d never done or said anything about it because the man worked for him. But when Finn walks into the Hammer Club and sees Chris up as one of the men to bid on at the Charity Christmas Auction, all bets are off, and Finn throws his hat in the ring to win his ex-bodyguard.

Could there be more between Finn and Chris than just a former business relationship? Finn sure hopes so and all he wants for Christmas is his feelings to be reciprocated.

Almost a year ago Finn was finally freed when his stalker – who had made his life hell for more than five years – had been brought down by the police. Finn had managed to take his life back, but when he walks into the Hammer Club for their annual Christmas Auction and sees his ex-bodyguard up for bidding, Finn can’t help himself. He’s always been attracted to Chris and while Finn wants his affections reciprocated, he hopes that by bidding on Chris they can maybe finally explore if they’re compatible in more than just a business sense.

This is a fun and seriously sexy quick read. A short story, I was impressed that the author managed to pack a fair bit of history between the two characters which really helped sell the speed and sparks of chemistry between them. While there is absolutely a wonderful, albeit smutty, short story there isn’t a huge amount of plot. Finn and Chris finally getting together really is the plot. It was delightful to watch them realize they have the solid workings of a long term, committed relationship together, each of them sharing the same taste in their bedroom kink and antics. Readers looking for something heavily plotted or complicated probably won’t find this story quite to their tastes.

I thoroughly enjoyed the steamy and sensual connections and relationship that quickly built between the two men. I found with their emotional connection and strong background together the speed with which they hooked up – and the intense trust they placed in each other – was quite believable and very well written. Indeed, a part of me wondered why – even though it was a bodyguard/client working relationship – with the strength of their attraction and mutual chemistry it seemed a little odd to me personally that neither had at least tested the waters until Finn bid on Chris at the auction. This was a fairly small point though, and one I could easily overlook.

Smoking hot and deliciously kinky, this is a great quick read and one I can easily recommend.

Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber

Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber
Publisher: Forge Books
Genre: Contemporary, Light Paranormal, Women’s Fiction
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Nestled in the mountain shadows of Alabama lies the little town of Wicklow. It is here that Anna Kate has returned to bury her beloved Granny Zee, owner of the Blackbird Café.

It was supposed to be a quick trip to close the café and settle her grandmother’s estate, but despite her best intentions to avoid forming ties or even getting to know her father’s side of the family, Anna Kate finds herself inexplicably drawn to the quirky Southern town her mother ran away from so many years ago, and the mysterious blackbird pie everybody can’t stop talking about.

As the truth about her past slowly becomes clear, Anna Kate will need to decide if this lone blackbird will finally be able to take her broken wings and fly.

Two women, lots of misunderstanding and hurt, plus pie.

I picked this book up because it was recommended to me. I’m glad I read it, as it was something out of my normal wheelhouse. The book moved along fine, and the writing was good. It’s a family saga, women’s fiction type of book and it was good.

I have a few niggles with the book, though. There are a lot of characters and at times, it was hard to keep track of them. Natalie and Anna Kate are good characters, but the cast around them is almost too much. I get that this is a homey feel type of book, but there could’ve been more depth to the characters to make them stand apart better. Also, I got confused as to whether this was a paranormal book or straight realism. The cat was a fascinating character, but it seemed like the thread was left loose. There are the starts of romances in the book, but nothing really seemed wrapped up.

I do have to say this did read well like a family saga and a slice of life story. I did feel like I was there with Anna Kate and Natalie. I think some of the dimensions of their characters could’ve been explored more, but they were relatable and that worked. I liked how it was like reading about friends.

If you’re looking for a book that’s warm, cozy, takes a while to develop and will make you want to eat pie, then this is the book for you. Check it out.

Nick and Charlie by Alice Oseman

Nick and Charlie by Alice Oseman
A Heartstopper Novella
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Genre: YA (16+), LGBTQ, Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

From the mega-bestselling creator of Heartstopper, a must-have novella in which Heartstopper’s lead characters, Nick and Charlie, face one of their biggest challenges yet.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder… right?

Everyone knows that Nick and Charlie love their nearly inseparable life together. But soon Nick will be leaving for university, and Charlie, a year younger, will be left behind. Everyone’s asking if they’re staying together, which is a stupid question… or at least that’s what Nick and Charlie assume at first.

As the time to say goodbye gets inevitably closer, both Nick and Charlie start to question whether their love is strong enough to survive being apart. Charlie is sure he’s holding Nick back… and Nick can’t tell what Charlie’s thinking.
Things spiral from there.

Everyone knows that first loves rarely last forever. What will it take for Nick and Charlie to defy the odds?

Two young men navigating a world that’s hard enough when you’re older and treacherous when you’re a teen.

I read Heartstopper, Vol 1 and loved it, but I picked up this one next because it was available. I’m still reading Vol 2, 3 and 4. Having said that, I don’t feel like I missed much by reading this novella next. It’s the most recent in the Nick and Charlie saga, but it’s told in the form of a novella, not a graphic novel. That made a difference. It’s told through each character’s point of view and I liked that because the reader can get into the character’s head.

Nick and Charlie are at a crossroads. Nick is about to go ff to college and Charlie will be left behind. It’s a rough situation many teens go through–leaving their girlfriend or boyfriend behind. It’s relatable what these two go through and it’s heart rendering, too. It’s tough to be a teen. But in this story, the tale is told through the eyes of the characters and at a teen level. There’s no pandering here. I liked that.

If you want a story to get involved with, with characters that stick with you long after the last page, then this might be the one for you. It was for me.

Around We Go by Sarah Caldwell

Around We Go by Sarah Caldwell
The Loveseat Series, Book 1
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Erotic Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

An elegant dress, a paid-for hotel room, and a night out with my boyfriend? What could possibly go wrong?

Around We Go tells the story of Allie, a journalist desperately in need of a good night out. Uninspired at her job and yearning for adventure, she attends the opening of the hotel that her boyfriend helped develop. Perhaps this event will provide just what she needs to rekindle her flame, and maybe even light a new one…

Fast and hot.

I picked up this book because I wanted something quick for a lunch read and this delivered. It moves at a great clip and the characters were interesting. I’ve never read anything by Sarah Caldwell and I’m glad I did.

I liked that Allie came into her own in this story. It’s refreshing to see a woman blossom this way and to realize what she deserves. The empowerment is great. I liked that she’s relatable, too. I had some issues with the way things played out, as it was almost too fast and would like to see where this goes after this book.

Still, it’s hot, fast and will singe the screen as you read. Give this short story a try!

Love’s Anchor by Mimi B. Rose

Love’s Anchor by Mimi B. Rose
The Laurentian Mountain Clan
Publisher: Totally Bound
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Erotic Romance
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

She’s caught between two clans. One says she’s their property, the other she’s the Fated Mate of the Alpha’s son.

After hiding from shifters all her life, Mirabelle Beauchamp finds herself caught in a deadly rivalry between two clans. When sexy Alpha’s son Maxime Ducharme helps her fend off a shifter attack, she’s thrown into the world her mother shielded her from. Maxime’s rivals return, claiming Mirabelle is one of them, but she knows she belongs to Maxime and Maxime belongs to her.

They’ll both have to fight for what they want. For the freedom to choose—and to love.

Hot, fast and shifter fun!

I’ve never read anything by Mimi B Rose and I’m glad I rectified that. This was a hot read and fast, but it moved along at a good clip. I liked the writing style and will check out more of the author’s work.

Mirabelle and Maxime are a good pairing, even if they’re from rival clans. I liked the way they had to work together and figure things out, while fighting off temptation and rivals. This story moved fast, but I liked the insta-love portion. It worked for the story.

There were a few loose ends I wanted to see tied up, but that only whet my appetite for the next book. I see this is a prequel, so I’m excited to find the rest.

If you want something hot and fast, then this might be the right story for you.

Heartstopper, Vol 1 by Alice Oseman

Heartstopper, Vol 1 by Alice Oseman
Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books
Genre: YA (Ages 14-18), Romance, LGBTQ, Graphic Novel, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Boy meets boy. Boys become friends. Boys fall in love. An LGBTQ+ graphic novel about life, love, and everything that happens in between – for fans of The Art of Being Normal, Holly Bourne and Love, Simon.

Charlie and Nick are at the same school, but they’ve never met … until one day when they’re made to sit together. They quickly become friends, and soon Charlie is falling hard for Nick, even though he doesn’t think he has a chance.

But love works in surprising ways, and Nick is more interested in Charlie than either of them realised.

Heartstopper is about love, friendship, loyalty and mental illness. It encompasses all the small stories of Nick and Charlie’s lives that together make up something larger, which speaks to all of us.

Two young men, a confusing world and a whole lot of attraction.

I liked this book because it’s easy for teens to understand. I don’t mean it’s an easy read (though it is because it’s a graphic novel and told like a big comic) but because it’s on their level. It doesn’t talk down to them, but rather shows them another dimension of what they’re going through. It’s relatable.

I liked Nick and Charlie. I could tell right away there was more going on than met the eye and I liked how it unfolded. There’s timidness and fear, but also attraction and coming to terms with who one is. It’s wonderful and not shaming. I like that the characters are still afraid to be themselves, but they come into their own around each other and their families are accepting. This is a positive story for teens to read.

I can’t wait for the next volume as this one ended on a cliffhanger. That’s okay. It drew me in to wanting to know more.

If you’re looking for a great teen YA LGBTQ romance, then this is the one for you. Check it out!

Greek Style by Stephanie Burke

Greek Style by Stephanie Burke
Publisher: Changeling Press
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Erotic Romance
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

All May wanted was to take pictures of poppies in the mountains of Greece. She didn’t know she was breaking a taboo and stealing male energy.

But when a satyr and a faun demand she gives back what she has inadvertently taken, the term Get Your Goat suddenly takes on a new and deliciously naughty meaning.

Hot, quick and sinful.

I love the work of Stephanie Burke. The author takes the story to places I would’ve ever expected or fathomed, and it works so well. The writing flowed along well, and I felt like I was there with the characters. I needed to know more.

May, her faun and her satyr are a good triad. I liked how things got hot FAST. This short story is intended to be scorching and it delivered. I liked that the story moved so quickly and there wasn’t much time to catch a breath—especially not for May!

If you’re interested in a hot, FAST, paranormal short story that will scorch your lunch time, then this is it!

Unkinked by MC Roth

Unkinked by MC Roth
It’s a Kink Thing series, book 2
Publisher: Pride Publishing, Totally Entwined
Genre: LGBTQ, Contemporary, Erotic Romance
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Two broken men. One secret addiction. No turning back.

When Derreck stumbles upon Maddy, who is sitting in his car and nearly sweating to death under the summer’s sun, he is at his breaking point.

But Maddy is just as lost, searching for a Dom he only knows by name and waiting in his car outside the club Unkinked on the tiny chance that the Dom might find him. When it is revealed that Derreck is the man Maddy has been searching for from the very beginning, it seems fate couldn’t get any sweeter.

Derreck invites Maddy into Unkinked as his guest, with the promise of the pain that Maddy so desperately craves. A scene that should have been simple opens Maddy’s mind to a new world and community that aren’t riddled with guilt or judgment.
Derreck knows he can’t let his sub slip away, but Maddy is keeping secrets from his new Dom—secrets that could change their relationship forever.

Tenderness that’s not always visible in some kink books.

I’ve read the others in this series and this one is my favorite so far. The buildup is great and the characters even better. MC Roth writes kink well and this book showcases that. I couldn’t get through this story fast enough.

Derreck understands Maddy in a way that few others do, and I liked the way they meshed. Maddy needs pain in his play and Derreck can give it in the way Maddy needs but also with respect. I liked that these two are hurt but find a way to work together to heal each other. The story gave me hope and I liked that.

The story took a while to unfold, but it was worth the wait.

If you’re looking for something hot and totally worth getting invested in, then this is the one for you. Check it out.

Oblivion’s Child by Tommy B. Smith

Oblivion’s Child by Tommy B. Smith
Publisher: Raven Tale Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Historical
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

The storm came down, incredible in its fury. When the clouds parted, even the sun’s brilliance could not dispel the darkest spaces to persist.

Nine-year-old Zander sees the outlines of the monsters in the darkness. Against his mounting fears, he cannot elude them, nor escape the madness of the day when his mother tried to drown him in the bath.

She never gave him a true name, only a Z with X’s behind it, and promised him to the void.

For Zander, his grandmother, and his catatonic Aunt Helen in their beachfront house on the Florida shoreline, the tide has shifted—the tide of a turbulent cosmic sea, its dark currents murmuring chaos.

Rural doesn’t always mean safe.

What a deliciously scary read this was! I loved the ominous descriptions of the places Zander visited during the course of the plot. Some of them seemed fairly ordinary at first glance, but that only made it more exciting to discover their eerie secrets as the characters took a closer look at the home or the forest they were currently in and realized that things might not be what they seem. I wish I could be more specific than that, but the less other readers know in advance about what awaits the characters the better.

I would have liked to see a bit more time spent on the character development as the amount of it that was included tickled my imagination. Yes, this seems to be a world that is more plot driven, but with a little more attention paid to fleshing out the characters I would have happily bumped this up to a full five-star rating. It was otherwise exactly the sort of horror I love to read.

Secrets can have a funny way of wiggling their way out into the open. Zander’s limited knowledge about his birth parents intrigued me, and I wondered where the author might go with the few tidbits of information about them Zander did have as the plot progressed. I’m still a fairly new fan of Mr. Smith’s work, but I have to say that I’ve become even more impressed with his ability to weave plot lines together in memorable ways as I dig deeper into his body of work. He handled Zander’s origins nicely.

This is the second instalment in the Black Carmenia series, and it should be read in publication order for plot development reasons.

Oblivion’s Child made me yearn for more.