Feels Like Home: A Song for the Sonoran Borderlands by Linda Ronstadt and Lawrence Downs, Bill Steen

Feels Like Home: A Song for the Sonoran Borderlands by Linda Ronstadt and Lawrence Downs, Bill Steen (photographer)
Publisher: Heyday
Genre: Non-Fiction, Travel, Memoir, Contemporary, Historical
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Linda Ronstadt takes readers on a journey to the place her soul calls home, the Sonoran Desert, in this candid new memoir.

In Feels Like Home, Grammy award-winning singer Linda Ronstadt effortlessly evokes the magical panorama of the high desert, a landscape etched by sunlight and carved by wind, offering a personal tour built around meals and memories of the place where she came of age. Growing up the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants and a descendant of Spanish settlers near northern Sonora, Ronstadt’s intimate new memoir celebrates the marvelous flavors and indomitable people on both sides of what was once a porous border whose denizens were happy to exchange recipes and gather around campfires to sing the ballads that shaped Ronstadt’s musical heritage. Following her bestselling musical memoir, Simple Dreams, this book seamlessly braids together Ronstadt’s recollections of people and their passions in a region little understood in the rest of the United States. This road trip through the desert, written in collaboration with former New York Times writer Lawrence Downes and illustrated throughout with beautiful photographs by Bill Steen, features recipes for traditional Sonoran dishes and a bevy of revelations for Ronstadt’s admirers. If this book were a radio signal, you might first pick it up on an Arizona highway, well south of Phoenix, coming into the glow of Ronstadt’s hometown of Tucson. It would be playing something old and Mexican, from a time when the border was a place not of peril but of possibility.

A picture painted in photos, words and song.

I picked this book up because when I flipped through the pages, the vistas are simply breathtaking. I’ve never been to Arizona and haven’t seen the Sonora, but I want to. If it’s anything as pretty as the photos, then I want to be there.

This is the place Linda Ronstadt grew up. She was surrounded by her American and Mexican roots. To say she’s steeped in both cultures is an understatement. She writes eloquently and it felt like I was really there. The recipes included are fascinating and while I’ll have to order some of the ingredients online (we don’t have some of the specialties around my neck of the woods), I can’t wait to try to make them. I loved every page.

I will say there is a small bit that gets a tad political. Keep in mind, Ronstadt is writing from her own perspective and how she’s been affected by what she’s writing about. I won’t give away spoilers, but the politics are there. They didn’t take anything away from the story for me because it’s part of who she is and part of the culture down there. She’s writing from experience. It might not be for some and that’s okay, but don’t not read this book because of that. You’ll be missing out.

If you’ve ever wondered what this part of the country looks like, tastes like and feels like, then pick this book up and give it a try. You’ll be glad you did.

Mirage by Shutao Liao

Mirage by Shutao Liao
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary, Poetry
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

The poet found himself retreating to his own lodge as an observer after long tedious travel, writing down everything across his mind, to reveal a splendor of romantic emotions as well as a profound sense of beauty throughout the words between the lines.

An intimate journey to the kingdom of self salvation.

Change isn’t always easy, but it’s an unavoidable part of being alive.

I enjoyed the repetition of certain themes throughout this collection. For example, the speakers spent a lot of time talking about the circle of life and death and how what might seem to be a catastrophe in one moment can be interpreted very differently if a long term view of the problem is taken instead. Natural disasters were one example of this, and they made me think of how fire can look quite destructive for a prairie or a forest in one particular year but also be critical to the survival of that ecosystem decades or centuries from now. Finding patterns like these made it difficult for me to stop reading. I kept wanting to pick out more examples of what the author was talking about and connect everything together.

There were times when I struggled to understand what the author was trying to say. Poetry can be written in ways that can lead to multiple valid interpretations of the same text, of course, but I did find myself wishing that some of these passages were a little easier to comprehend. The writing style was so detailed that it saddened me to walk away from certain stanzas without fully figuring out what they were trying to share with the audience. If not for my confusion in those moments, I would have happily gone with a higher rating.

The references to the events of 2020 were an interesting surprise. I liked the way Mr. Liao discussed how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected everyone’s lives to this day, from the tragedy of the countless deaths from this disease to the social isolation that all of us survivors have dealt with while trying to slow the spread of the virus. The poem after this one described the author washing his dusty soul for reasons I’ll leave other readers to discover for themselves, and I thought it was a pleasant way to wrap up a reference to something that is still such a major portion of everyone’s lives.

Mirage made me yearn for spring and the beginning of the next cycle of the seasons.

Ryan’s Temptation by Amber Daulton

Ryan’s Temptation by Amber Daulton
Arresting Onyx Book 2.5
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Mistflower

Wrong place, wrong time. Now she’s running for her life.

Beautician Chanel Leroc can wield a pair of scissors like nobody’s business. After she witnesses a murder and lands on a serial killer’s hit list, she has to figure out how to protect herself—and fast. The killer tracks her down, but her sexy new neighbor, Dr. Ryan Naylor, drives the brute off.

The police dump the pair in a witness protection program, which doesn’t last long. Either the killer has a connection to the police, or he’s far more intelligent than they realize. All Chanel wants to do is get back to her safe life and get to know her neighbor better. Instead, she and Ryan hit the road and try to survive on their own.

How will they stay alive and keep their blooming romance intact with the killer hot on their trail?

I read the synopsis for Ryan’s Temptation and, no pun intended, I was tempted to read this book. LOL

If the synopsis didn’t arouse my attention, then the first sentence of the story surely did. “The piercing cry froze the blood in Chanel Leroc’s veins”.

Chanel is the heroine of the story. I am undecided if she’s brave or lacks common sense. Let’s think about it for a minute. Chanel hears a cry for help, and she asks herself, “What kind of person would that make me if I abandon someone who might be hurt?” I’d say that would make her a smart person. Chanel is a beauty beautician with no weapon. But does that stop her? Her choices wouldn’t be my choices, but it sure set up the suspense. What Chanel thinks next and what happens right after is the perfect setup for the story and plot. Chanel even meets her new neighbor in an unconventional way.

Needless to say, it didn’t matter to me at that point if Chanel was brave or stupid. Ryan is the new neighbor that Chanel couldn’t stop thinking about. Chanel can’t resist men with a cleft in their chin, or dimples. It’s remarkable that her new neighbor, Ryan Naylor, the hero in the story, has both. He is simply breathtaking.

If you like to watch the tv show “Criminal Minds” as I do, then this story might delight you as it did me. Ryan’s Temptation would make an entertaining episode for any of those crime solving police shows on tv. The plot is predictable as they come but I still rapidly turned the pages to solve the mystery. The romance was electrifying as much as the suspense was riveting. I couldn’t get to the end fast enough. Once I finished the book, I felt quite satisfied.

The story was well written as I read to find out “How will Chanel and Ryan stay alive and keep their blooming romance intact with the killer hot on their trail?”. This story is book 2.5 in a series but can be read as a standalone. If you are in the mood to raise your blood pressure either by a steamy romance or sitting on the edge of your seat, then this book might be a good choice for you. I’m glad I read it. Happy Reading!

Beyond Odin’s Gate by Greig Beck

Beyond Odin’s Gate by Greig Beck
The Mysterious Island: Book 2
Publisher: Severed Press
Genre: Contemporary, Action/Adventure, Paranormal, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

The legend of Lemuria, the Mysterious Island, and all its wonders and dangers were all too real. And it has been found.

But the ancient stories of the great treasure and great horrors that existed through the ice rift and beyond Odin’s Gate, could never have prepared them what they discovered – monstrous creatures that lived in the sea, in the air, and on land. And now Troy Strom and Anne Walsh are trapped there amongst them.

But they have a plan, and if they can retrieve the Heart of Odin, the massive ruby, they can use it to escape. Until then they must learn to live on a primordial island amongst horrifying life forms that defy the normal rules of evolution. To survive they need to travel into the dragon’s lair, and there find the truth about the ancient dragon of myth and what it guards, and also discover the fate of the first Viking clan that set foot there and what they had become.

The legend of Lemuria – the Mysterious Island – has been discovered and the tales of adventure and monsters are all too real. Troy Strom and Anne Walsh are trapped down there, with the creatures and wonders. But if they can retrieve the Heart Of Odin – a massive ruby – it can be used by them to escape. Only their enemies – Elle and Tygo – are not far behind them, even more determined to once again have the Heart Of Odin in their hand, and this time they don’t plan to leave without it.

I found this to be an exciting action/adventure story, filled with paranormal and amazing creatures and monsters. I feel the story covers a number of genres, from Mystery to mild Horror, to Paranormal and Adventure. While it’s the second book in what I expect shall be a trilogy I do feel readers could pick it up and enjoy it without having read the previous installment. I strongly feel for maximum enjoyment the first book should have been read before this – but the plotline, characters and story arc is very well explained by the author so it isn’t strictly necessary. Equally, some new characters and plotlines are introduced here in this book so it adds a lot to the overall arc – that of Lemuria and the mysterious hidden island – and definitely nudges the reader towards interest and curiosity on what will happen in the final installment of the trilogy.

I really enjoyed the fact there were a number of new types of monsters (very hungry monsters) in this book and Beck really needs to be commended on his imagination. I found the monsters he created were realistic, scary and very easy to picture. The fact the monsters managed to eat a fair number of random characters was just a bonus for me. Readers who like monster/horror style of adventure novels should definitely feel Beck does justice to this genre in the book. I was found the book quite amusing/ironic that just as a number of parties were trying to find their way into Lemuria and find the Heart of Odin, equally there was Troy and Anne trying to find their way out. That situation tickled my funny bone.

Overall, I thought this was an exceptionally well written story – full of adventure, monsters, a few really solid plotlines and plenty of interesting characters. I definitely feel Beck is an excellent author and am eager for the final installment in this trilogy. The pace of the story was fast enough to keep me gripped to my seat but didn’t feel too rushed or like it skimmed over anything. There were a few plots interwoven together and as they’re all so clearly linked to the one larger story arc, I feel this helps give the whole book a good cohesion and feel as if we’re rollicking along on a crazy – and monster filled – adventure together. A great book and I’m very eager for the next one to come along.

Dinners with Ruth: A Memoir on the Power of Friendships by Nina Totenberg

Dinners with Ruth: A Memoir on the Power of Friendships by Nina Totenberg
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Historical, Contemporary, Non-Fiction
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Celebrated NPR correspondent Nina Totenberg delivers an extraordinary memoir of her personal successes, struggles, and life-affirming relationships, including her beautiful friendship of nearly fifty years with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Four years before Nina Totenberg was hired at NPR, where she cemented her legacy as a prizewinning reporter, and nearly twenty-two years before Ruth Bader Ginsburg was appointed to the Supreme Court, Nina called Ruth. A reporter for The National Observer, Nina was curious about Ruth’s legal brief, asking the Supreme Court to do something revolutionary: declare a law that discriminated “on the basis of sex” to be unconstitutional. In a time when women were fired for becoming pregnant, often could not apply for credit cards or get a mortgage in their own names, Ruth patiently explained her argument. That call launched a remarkable, nearly fifty-year friendship.

Dinners with Ruth is an extraordinary account of two women who paved the way for future generations by tearing down professional and legal barriers. It is also an intimate memoir of the power of friendships as women began to pry open career doors and transform the workplace. At the story’s heart is one, special relationship: Ruth and Nina saw each other not only through personal joys, but also illness, loss, and widowhood. During the devastating illness and eventual death of Nina’s first husband, Ruth drew her out of grief; twelve years later, Nina would reciprocate when Ruth’s beloved husband died. They shared not only a love of opera, but also of shopping, as they instinctively understood that clothes were armor for women who wanted to be taken seriously in a workplace dominated by men. During Ruth’s last year, they shared so many small dinners that Saturdays were “reserved for Ruth” in Nina’s house.

Dinners with Ruth also weaves together compelling, personal portraits of other fascinating women and men from Nina’s life, including her cherished NPR colleagues Cokie Roberts and Linda Wertheimer; her beloved husbands; her friendships with multiple Supreme Court Justices, including Lewis Powell, William Brennan, and Antonin Scalia, and Nina’s own family—her father, the legendary violinist Roman Totenberg, and her “best friends,” her sisters. Inspiring and revelatory, Dinners with Ruth is a moving story of the joy and true meaning of friendship.

Two people and a remarkable friendship. Everyone should be so lucky.

When seeing the title of this book, one might think it’s political, but it’s not. Truly. This is the story of two friends and their times together. There’s quite a bit about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but also a lot about the author, too. Through the author’s writing, the luck of having a good friend shines right through.

This isn’t just about dinners, as the title might suggest. It shows the strength of women and how we can be together–strong and supportive. I liked how Ginsburg was shown, not only as a judge, but as a person. The reader gets to know her on a more personal level–her love of opera, her need for the collars and her stubbornness to stand up for what she saw was right. It also showed her struggle with cancer and the inevitability of old age.

The author shows the same struggle–not with old age per se, but with seeing her friends and loved ones go ahead of her. The author writes about her first husband dying and his many mishaps, then about Ginsburg’s passing and it did bring a tear to the eye. I felt like I was there with them.

If you’re looking for a biography that’s not just another bland story, give this one a try.

Hard Case by John Carson

Hard Case by John Carson
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Three victims. Two men on the hunt. One killer to play the game.

Calvin Stewart has just retired from Police Scotland, but far from ready to sit in front of the fire with his slippers on. He has joined the small private investigation firm, run by a former colleague, Michael “Muckle” McInsh. Along with his friend, Finbar O’Toole.

Fresh off a case tracking down a runaway bride, they get a job to go north. A woman’s husband disappeared almost a year ago while on a golfing holiday with some friends.

Now, the body of a man has just been pulled out of the water. This man had identification on him. Just not his own. It belongs to the missing man.

The woman wants answers. Where is her husband? And why did this man have his identification on him?

Calvin and Finbar are sent to investigate after the police investigation stalls. But this might be a bigger job than even they can handle. They get their friends DCI Harry McNeil, along with DI’s Frank Miller and Charlie Skellett involved, and they uncover a crime far bigger than any of them could ever have imagined.

Calvin Stewart has dealt with many killers in his career, but maybe not one quite as dangerous as this one…

Calvin Stewart might have retired from the police force, but he and his friend Finbar O’Toole are happily keeping busy working for a mutual friend in his Private Investigations firm. Calvin and Finbar find themselves working to find the missing husband of their client even though he’s been off the radar almost a year. Another man has been found drowned – but with the missing husband’s possessions on his corpse. For a seemingly simple missing person’s case, things get complicated fast and Calvin and Finbar need to untangle the web before they get stuck in it.

Readers who have experienced John Carson before should have a general understanding of the sort of story this is. There is plenty of banter, memorable and engaging characters and – as with anything related to Calvin Stewart – a ton of bawdy but well-meaning humour and a plethora of words that would singe your grandma’s ears off. That said, you can also expect a fast moving and well woven plotline, more than a few interesting twists and turns and a warm-hearted, good natured, romping adventure. This book is all that and more.

While there are a number of cameos from various Scottish Police friends and associates, this book does focus front and center on Calvin and Finbar. They each have quite a lot of experience behind them and are settling into their new careers with vigor and ease. I thoroughly enjoyed the snippets of other characters – mainly from the DCI Harry McNeil series, but some of Carson’s other series’ as well – but this book really does mostly focus on Calvin and Finbar and the sleuthing team they are becoming together. I enjoyed their character and personal growth – both as a team and as individuals.

Readers looking for an enjoyable – albeit sweary – Scottish murder mystery should feel this really fits the bill. While Calvin isn’t a policeman anymore, decades of his training and previous experience lie here – as do his many connections and his overall outlook on solving the puzzle – so while this technically isn’t a police mystery it is a very close cousin of it. I actually liked the blending of PI work and police procedure – I feel Carson has written this in a highly believable, very organic kind of manner that makes it interesting but different; strongly believable and – with the banter and characters he is so well known for – thoroughly enjoyable.

This is the sort of story where you should get comfortable, grab a drink or three and settle in with for a fun and cozy weekend. I very much hope there will be more books in this series forthcoming. Highly recommended.

Do Let’s Have Another Drink!: The Dry Wit and Fizzy Life of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother by Gareth Russell

Do Let’s Have Another Drink!: The Dry Wit and Fizzy Life of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother by Gareth Russell
Publisher: Atria Books
Genre: Historical, Non-Fiction
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

During her lifetime, the Queen Mother was as famous for her clever quips, pointed observations, and dry-as-a-martini delivery style as she was for being a beloved royal. Now, Do Let’s Have Another Drink recounts 101 (one for each year of her remarkable life) amusing and astonishing vignettes from across her long life, including her coming of age during World War I, the abdication of her brother-in-law and her unexpected ascendance to the throne, and her half century of widowhood as her daughter reigned over the United Kingdom. Featuring new revelations and colorful anecdotes about the woman Cecil Beaton, the high society photographer, once summarized as “a marshmallow made on a welding machine,” Do Let’s Have Another Drink is a delightful celebration of one of the most consistently popular members of the royal family.

A woman made of steel wearing a crown and holding her own.

I didn’t know much about the Queen Mother when I picked up this book. I saw the title and thought it’d be a rollicking good time kind of book. It’s so much more, just like the Queen Mother. Sure, she had her faults, but she went through a lot in a long lifetime.

The writing flows along well and kept me entertained. Honestly, the fascination of the woman was plenty. She lived through two wars, bombings, the death of her husband, his rise to the throne and seeing her daughter do the same. She had a lot to handle and seemed to do it with grace. She might have spent a lot of cash along the way and loved her racehorses, but honestly, she was very much of her time. This book showed me that in so many ways.

If you’re looking for a book about the Queen Mother that’s not a run-of-the-mill biography, give this one a try. It’s worth the read.

*Their Marchioness by Jess Michaels

*Their Marchioness by Jess Michaels
Publisher: The Passionate Pen LLC
Genre: Historical, Romance
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Larkspur

After nearly a decade of marriage, the Marquess and Marchioness of Egerton are going strong. A power couple with an intense physical connection. Only Elliot knows a secret about his wife. He knows that Merritt was torn away from her first love, Peter Reid when they were very young, hurtling her into their arranged marriage instead. So as her birthday approaches and they head to a secluded retreat for a week of pleasure, he has a very special gift in mind.

Merritt cannot believe it when Peter Reid arrives at the cottage her husband has let. Believes it less when Elliot suggests that for this week she could have every fantasy she ever imagined…with both men. It’s a suggestion impossible to refuse and she surrenders to pleasure more powerful than anything she’s ever experienced.

Peter is not the same man he was when he lost Merritt. Now a celebrated playwright, his patron none other than the Marquess, himself, he has more confidence in himself and what he wants. He wants Merritt. And he wants Elliot.

The question remains if the three can take a week of intense passion and allow it to become a lifetime of love.

If you are looking for an intense and passionate historical romance, you don’t want to miss this one. Their Marchioness immediately captured my attention, and I enjoyed the quaint setting and the three main characters.

This is an entertaining story about three people spending time together and exploring their feelings. I enjoyed reading about all the encounters between Elliott, Merritt and Peter. They are all vulnerable but willing to open their hearts to discover what might be.

I enjoyed every minute of this short and steamy romance.

Sea Hunters: Shonisaurus by William Meikle

Sea Hunters: Shonisaurus by William Meikle
Publisher: Severed Press
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

John Seton, a grizzled British sailor, is a sea monster hunter.

When he takes on a job for an exclusive yacht club in South East Asia he expects it to be a simple one. It’s only one beastie after all.

But all too soon John and his crew discover that they are in big trouble.

An ancient terror from the deep has risen,

And it is out for revenge.

John Seton is a well-seasoned British sailor and a sea monster hunter to boot. He’s pretty much seen it all. But when he and his crew are hired for an exclusive job in Manila, John isn’t expecting anything too difficult. Very quickly he realizes just how wrong is initial assumptions were.

I’m a total sucker for “big beastie” types of stories – and I was actually really impressed and excited to find this wasn’t (exactly) a Jaws/Megalodon shark book. Sure, in an over-simplified way there is nothing groundbreaking or new here. But that in no way detracts from the fact it’s an easily read, highly enjoyable and fast paced paranormal/beastie mystery/horror style of novel. I am amazed and embarrassingly proud of the fact I spent the majority of the book equally rooting for random characters to get eaten by the beastie as much as for the captain to capture the monster.

Readers looking for high-brow literature absolutely won’t find that here. I adore the rough-and-tumble nature of the crew and John and find their sweary Scottish/British nature an absolute hoot to read. I found I really enjoyed the small cast of characters but was pleased Meikle spent a bit of time fleshing them all out so I as the reader could get to know them all a bit. That was lovely and added quite a bit of depth to the book in my opinion.

Readers who enjoy a “hunting the monster” type of mystery should find this absolutely fits the bill. I really enjoyed it and am hopeful there might be more in a similar vein coming down the track soon. Recommended.

Bloodstone by Rebecca Henry

Bloodstone by Rebecca Henry
Publisher: Finch Books
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Paranormal, LGBTQ, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

There’s something wicked in the wind on Ambrosia Hill and strength is held within a stone.

Zinnia knows nothing is as it seems in the witching world, and she realizes the aunts calling her back to the Fern House was not without consequences. Zinnia must embrace her witch abilities and undergo her biggest test yet. Can she learn to rely on her personal magic, the strength in others, and trust that what she sees isn’ t always reality? There’ s something wicked in the wind this Halloween on Ambrosia Hill and Zinnia must fight for those she loves most.

What might you find if you peeled back the stereotypes and looked at who someone really was?

The romantic subplot made me smile. I’ve enjoyed seeing it gradually develop from a friendship into a heartwarming romance since first meeting these characters in Amethyst. Not only was the slow burn approach perfect for them, it also gave me plenty of time to notice all sorts of similarities between them that make me think they’d be a great match. I can only hope that any sequels in the works will include more of this storyline as it’s such a nice contrast to the sometimes-scary work a witch must do.

Once again, I would have liked to see more character development. Yes, it is happening slowly, but I found myself wishing that Zinnia especially would be given more opportunities to show the audience how she’s changed as a result of coming out of the closet as a member of the LGBTQ community as well as accepting her identity as a witch. This was the only thing holding me back from choosing a five-star rating.

I know I’ve mentioned the beautiful world building in both of my previous reviews of the first two books in this series, but it continued to impress me this time around. Ms. Henry has been doing a wonderful job so far of feeding the audience exactly enough information about witchcraft and witch culture in this universe to keep my interest levels high. Just when I think I have it all more or less figured out, she adds yet another layer to it that deepens my previous understanding of how it all worked and makes me eager to see what might happen next. As far as this reader is concerned, there’s still a ton of ground to cover for these characters, and I hope for many more updates to come in the future.

While the plot itself could technically function as a standalone work, this is the third instalment of a series that should be read in order to best understand the complex and memorable world the author is building here.

Bloodstone made me yearn for more.