Little Witch Hazel – A Year in the Forest by Phoebe Wahl

Little Witch Hazel – A Year in the Forest by Phoebe Wahl
Publisher: Tundra Books
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Little Witch Hazel is a tiny witch who lives in the forest, helping creatures big and small. She’s a midwife, an intrepid explorer, a hard worker and a kind friend.

In this four-season volume, Little Witch Hazel rescues an orphaned egg, goes sailing on a raft, solves the mystery of a haunted stump and makes house calls to fellow forest dwellers. But when Little Witch Hazel needs help herself, will she get it in time?

Little Witch Hazel is a beautiful ode to nature, friendship, wild things and the seasons that only Phoebe Wahl could create: an instant classic and a book that readers will pore over time and time again.

Everyone needs some kindness in their lives, including forest creatures!

In “Spring: The Orphaned Egg,” Little Witch Hazel found an abandoned egg in the forest and decided to try to hatch it herself even though it was bigger than she was! I chuckled as she figured out how to safely bring it home and keep it warm as the creature inside finished growing. This was my first glimpse of what a compassionate character Hazel was, and it made me want to get to know her better.

I was not so impressed with “Summer: The Lazy Day.” Hazel’s adventures began with her trying to run some errands and getting frustrated by her inability to finish any of them. As adorable as her day turned out to be, it bothered me a little to see a character not be able to gather berries for the winter, have her shoes repaired before autumn hit, or return library books so someone else could enjoy them next. It wasn’t like she was acting grumpy and expecting everyone else to be equally productive that day or anything like that! She simply wanted to plan ahead responsibly, and I think that’s something that should be encouraged even in lighthearted tales like this one.

There was just a little bit of spookiness in “Autumn: The Haunted Stump” when Hazel heard a scary noise and went to investigate who or what might be causing it. I enjoyed the Halloween themes of this one quite a bit, and the warm-hearted twist at the end made it all even better. As much as I want to go into more detail here, it really is best to read it without any hints about what she finds.

“Winter: The Blizzard” wrapped everything up beautifully. The themes of compassion and kindness repeated themselves for the fourth time, but now Hazel was the one who needed help after she was surprised by a terrible blizzard while walking home after a long day of doing home visits with various patients she was caring for in the forest. The plot was strong and fast-paced here, and I was eager to see how she’d get home safely when she was cold, tired, and still such a long walk away from her cozy fireplace and warm bed.

This seems like a good place to mention the fact that these stories are all connected to each other and should be read in the order they appear in this anthology.

Little Witch Hazel – A Year in the Forest was a magical read.

The Love Token by Raven McAllan

The Love Token by Raven McAllan
Publisher: Totally Entwined
Genre: Historical, Erotic Romance, Action/Adventure, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Spies, smugglers, scandals. Stealth, seduction and sex. All they had to do was decide which was theirs to take and what had to be earned. And hope they reached their happily ever after.

Jonathon, Viscount Carville, soldier, spy and would-be lover of Miss Miranda Riston, has accepted a mission to discover who is smuggling contraband into East Yorkshire. Her papa, however, is convinced Jonathon is dead, and wishes her to marry elsewhere. Miranda refuses and is delighted to find Jonathon is very much alive but working undercover on behalf of the British Government.

More is at stake than just a few shillings of tax duty owed.

Among their close friends and acquaintances there is a traitor working against the crown on behalf of Emperor Napoleon. Danger threatens as they seek to discover the identity of their treacherous foe.

Who is an innocent pawn? And who is not all they seem?

What’s better than heat and high seas excitement? This book!

I’ve read other books by Raven McAllan and loved them. When I saw this one, I knew I had to read it. I’m glad I did. The story moved at a great clip, the writing kept me enthralled and I couldn’t put it down. I couldn’t stop thinking about the characters after the last page, too.

Miranda and Jonathan have great chemistry. I loved their take-charge attitudes and the way their romance leapt off the page when they got together. The heat certainly was there, and I couldn’t get enough. I loved the way they worked together, and the ending was fantastic.

The tag suggests spies, smugglers and stealth. It also suggests bedroom antics. It delivers. If you’re looking for something hot, historical and fun, while full of suspense, this might be the one for you.

Forever Past by Marty Ambrose

Forever Past by Marty Ambrose
Publisher: Severn House
Genre: Historical, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Snowdrop

Claire Clairmont’s perilous quest to learn the fate of her daughter with Lord Byron enters its final stages in this last in a captivating historical trilogy based on the ‘summer of 1816’ Byron/Shelley group.

Italy, 1873. Claire Clairmont, one of the last surviving members of the Byron/Shelley circle, is determined to uncover the true fate of Allegra, her daughter conceived with Lord Byron. But her quest so far has been fraught with danger, and Claire knows she has enemies who will stop at nothing to keep past secrets hidden.

When she learns of a stunning revelation involving the abbess and Allegra, Claire returns to the convent of Bagnacavallo with her close companions to confront the abbess, and soon finds herself grappling with a series of chilling and threatening events.

As Claire finally closes in on the truth, could someone in her closest circle be plotting against her? And can she survive long enough to get the answers she craves for?

I have not found such an easy reading historical fiction book that is a mystery in quite some time. There is a little bit of everything here. This story contains mystery, danger, even a hint at romance. This is basically classified as historical fiction because Lord Byron, the poet, and Mary Shelley, from the Frankenstein novel, are a part of the story line.

Clair, a character in the story, has been present in the previous series. She is searching for her daughter with all hopes that she is still alive. Their journey, she and her companions, is fraught with danger. Claire begins to wonder just who she can trust.

As you can see, there is a lot more to this book than one might think of in an historical mystery. All of it is very readable and enjoyable. Forever Past is Book 3 in a series titled “A Lord Byron Mystery”. I enjoyed the book a lot, and I think it could be read as a stand-alone. It might have been nice to have known a little more about Claire and the previous threads of the story. However, I think the reason for this is because Marty Ambrose has made the story so interesting that you want more, not because you need more background to enjoy the story.

Wylder Bride by Amey Zeigler

Wylder Bride by Amey Zeigler
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Historical, Romance
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Hibiscus

Maisie Brinley rejected every bachelor in the Boston elite put forth by her social-climbing mother. Then Mother issues an ultimatum to marry a family friend—but he’s twice Maisie’s age. After corresponding with a stranger whose letters connect with her heart, Maisie crosses the continent for his love. When they meet, will he live up to her expectations, or will her escape be in vain?

Living in Wylder, Wyoming Territory—where men outnumber women ten to one—gunsmith Cyrus Haddock hides his disfigured face to avoid romantic rejection. Out of pity, he helps a friend woo a woman through letter writing. But his success backfires when Cyrus falls in love with the Easterner’s words. When they meet, will Cyrus hide his feelings or confess his love?

Normally it is a book’s blurb that will help me to decide whether or not to read it. Wylder Bride was no different. When the blurb mentions Wyoming, I always think cowboy or rancher. The blurb also describes Cyrus as having a disfigured face, which turns out to be different than I imagined.

The heroine said, ” I want a real man—one with gumption, grit, and passion.” While we all have a different idea as to what traits are in a real man, this declaration makes Maisie relatable, and I hoped she’d find what she was looking for.

All of the historical romance books I have read took place in England. All of the western romance books were contemporary. This is the first historical romance book I have read that took place in America and it didn’t disappoint me.

I did wish for an epilogue in this book, as many historical romances have. The reader is left to make their own conclusion. I loved these characters so much; I just wanted a little more and to see how their lives had panned out. However, even without an epilogue, this story was a great read.

Everything else I want to share about Wylder Bride leads to spoilers and I don’t want to ruin anyone’s fun. I really enjoyed reading this story and I highly recommend it.

She’s the One Who Won’t Behave by S.R. Cronin

She’s the One Who Won’t Behave by S.R. Cronin
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Rose

Gypsum, the sixth of seven sisters, has always been a rebel. Yet no one thought she would go so far as to join the reczavy, a group living in tents on the edge of the desert and known for their sexual promiscuity and playful ways.

But as the date of the Mongols’ return draws near, Ilarians of all types must work together if they are to have any hope of surviving. And the reczavy, for all of their odd ways, do have plenty of tricks up their sleeves. Well, up their sleeves whenever they are bothering to wear clothes, that is.

Gypsum is touched when her oldest sister Ryalgar comes to call, and brings an olive branch with her. Ryalgar recognizes that the reczavy have as much to lose as anyone, and as much to contribute. Will Gypsum accept a key role in the plan to stop the invasion? Of course she will.

Unfortunately, her playmates don’t all feel the same sense of urgency. Many would rather simply enjoy the time they have left. A few claim to be allergic to long term planning. And some are too busy with their own poorly-timed plans to overthrow the government Ilari already has.

Good thing needlepoint is the one traditional skill at which Gypsum has always excelled. She will need to thread a fine needle in order to coax this recalcitrant group into becoming life-saving warriors of a very different kind.

Another great installment in the Seven Troublesome Sisters series! This time we get a look at Gypsum and her life with the reczavy, a free-spirited group who are very accepting and inclusive … they appear to be a very loving group. This volume tells how they fit into the overall plan of saving their land.

I really enjoyed the special power that Gypsum has with her needlework. What a lovely talent that would be! I don’t want to give any spoilers, so I’ll let you discover that on your own.

I’m very excited about how the seventh book is going to tie everything together. Again, no spoilers, but this book came to a very satisfying conclusion.

Give the series a try…do start at book one, though. I don’t think you’ll regret it!

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Enemy’s Keeper: Forbidden Ties by Kyrie Wang

Enemy’s Keeper: Forbidden Ties by Kyrie Wang
Publisher: Tellwell Talent
Genre: Historical, Young Adult
Rated: 3 stars
Review by Rose

1075 A.D. England Nine years after the Norman Conquest

Orphaned during a rebellion against William the Conqueror, Heather’s life is just settling down when her childhood sweetheart disappears to save the son of a murdered Norman knight.

This quarrelsome son, Matthew, is determined to destroy the English rebels who decimated his household. Heather stays out of it—until she is accidentally entangled with a young rebel leader named Toby.

As she is whisked off through the forests of medieval England, inhabited by a dangerous but misunderstood tribal society, Heather is forced to take a side. Her decisions will put into peril everything she holds dear.

This book is full of non-stop action. There’s not a lot of setup in the story itself…reading this is rather like being thrown into the pool and told to swim. That’s not always a bad thing, because it definitely draws you into the story quickly.

Because it is action-based though, you don’t really get to know the characters very well. We get to see things mainly from the main character, Heather, who has the experience of trying to reconcile what she has been taught about different groups of people with their actual actions – not a bad lesson for young people to learn. Some older people would do well to learn the same lesson.

My major complaint about the book, even knowing it was the first book in the series, is that is just ended. Not really on a cliffhanger, but more like it was the end of a chapter. It did not leave me with the overwhelming urge to know what was coming next. Also, the action was there but the overall plot has not yet revealed itself. It almost feels like it was part of a larger work that was divided into smaller works…it would have been nice if this book had more of a plot arc leading to the next book.

That said, I did enjoy the writing and I still plan on reading the next book in the series because I want to see who Heather ends up with… because there are at least two possible characters that might turn out to be a love interest.. and I’m all about the love interests. 🙂

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Ultimate Dinosaur Rumble by Jerry Pallotta, Illustrated by Rob Bolster

Ultimate Dinosaur Rumble by Jerry Pallotta, Illustrated by Rob Bolster
Who Would Win? series
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Genre: Historical, Non-Fiction, Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Sixteen different dinosaurs battle it out in an epic prehistoric fight! Who will be the champion?
This nonfiction reader compares and contrasts 16 ferocious dinosaurs. Readers will learn about each animal’s anatomy, behavior, and more. Then compare and contrast the battling animals before finally discovering the winner! This nonfiction series is full of facts, photos, and realistic illustrations, and it includes a range of mammals, sea creatures, insects, and dinosaurs to satisfy all kinds of animal fans.

I adored dinosaurs while growing up but exciting books about them were few and far between. I wish they had the Who Would Win? Series back then. I would have been learning a lot more while having fun.

This picture book had awesome illustrations and the battle wounds for the losing dinosaurs in the matches were tastefully done. It shows where the winner bites to defeat its opponent but there’s nothing gory or worrisome for parents. Some kids might find it really cool. It’s not always the teeth that gives consistent advantage, there were some surprises.

The picture book has the names of the contestants, has fun facts about the meaning of a particular dinosaur’s name, and lists the attributes of each dinosaur that nature gave them to defend themselves. A reader will start with 16 dinosaurs, but there will only be 1 winner. Who will it be?

Now, for parents who might read this book with their kids, which would be a good idea if only to help them out with pronunciations, I would like to share that there is one battle that caught me by surprise. I blurted out a very loud, HA! As in, laugh out loud funny. If you were a fan of the early years of Saturday Night Live, this scene might bring back memories. I showed that dinosaur battle with my not-so-young-anymore son who had never seen SNL and even he thought it was hilarious and in turn said, “You gotta show dad!”.

All in all, this was a delightful read that was brought to life with wonderful illustrations by Mr. Bolster, coupled with facts, like one dinosaur has feet like a chicken, and great battle descriptions by Mr. Pallotta. The most interesting thing for me was that the winner wasn’t the dinosaur I expected.

Even though the range for this book is ages 6-9, and this book is labeled as non-fiction, I think the battles portrayed are wonderful and pure, storytelling at its finest. It uses fiction to make the non-fiction interesting, engaging and entertaining. Could those battles have actually taken place, and used the fighting techniques described therein? Quite probably, but we’ll never really know, will we.

I think this is a wonderful book and I do believe both parents and kids will enjoy watching (reading) The Ultimate Dinosaur Rumble.

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Genre: Historical, Fiction, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

In December 1926, Agatha Christie goes missing. Investigators find her empty car on the edge of a deep, gloomy pond, the only clues some tire tracks nearby and a fur coat left in the car—strange for a frigid night. Her World War I veteran husband and her daughter have no knowledge of her whereabouts, and England unleashes an unprecedented manhunt to find the up-and-coming mystery author. Eleven days later, she reappears, just as mysteriously as she disappeared, claiming amnesia and providing no explanations for her time away.

The puzzle of those missing eleven days has persisted. With her trademark historical fiction exploration into the shadows of the past, acclaimed author Marie Benedict brings us into the world of Agatha Christie, imagining why such a brilliant woman would find herself at the center of such murky historical mysteries.

What is real, and what is mystery? What role did her unfaithful husband play, and what was he not telling investigators?

Agatha Christie novels have withstood the test of time, due in no small part to Christie’s masterful storytelling and clever mind that may never be matched, but Agatha Christie’s untold history offers perhaps her greatest mystery of all.

Her heart has been devoted to him, but he’s ready to move on. What’s a girl to do when she can’t immediately write her perfect ending? Take a day trip!

I picked up this book upon recommendation from a friend and I do like the work of Agatha Christie, so I thought I’d try it. This is a fictionalized version of Agatha Christie’s disappearance, and one must keep that in mind. Some of the details are a bit…fudged. I don’t know how to get into the head of Agatha Christie, but I applaud the author for trying.

This book was a good read, but it was a bit jarring at times. I wanted to know more of how Archie might have felt, but he was portrayed more as a bumbling, guilty man who didn’t understand the mess he’d made. The book had a bit of a feminist slant in that Agatha Christie took control of her own narrative and had to make some changes to come into her own, but it also feels a little naïve in that she seems to defer to her husband more than appeared necessary.

Agatha Christie was a strong woman, stronger than the women of her time. She made her own money and wasn’t afraid to have a career as an author, even when it annoyed her husband. I don’t know if this is exactly how the incident of her disappearance played out, but it’s a good enough read for an afternoon.

It’s interesting to wonder what it would’ve been like to be Agatha Christie and to understand what made her feel a disappearance was best. I liked reading the fictionalized version of her life.

If you’re interested in Agatha Christie, the mystery of her disappearance or just want a different kind of mystery, then give this one a try.

Something Fabulous by Alexis Hall

Something Fabulous by Alexis Hall
Publisher: Montlake
Genre: Historical, LGBTQ, Erotic Romance
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Valentine Layton, the Duke of Malvern, has twin problems: literally.

It was always his father’s hope that Valentine would marry Miss Arabella Tarleton. But, unfortunately, too many novels at an impressionable age have caused her to grow up…romantic. So romantic that a marriage of convenience will not do and after Valentine’s proposal she flees into the night determined never to set eyes on him again.

Arabella’s twin brother, Mr. Bonaventure “Bonny” Tarleton, has also grown up…romantic. And fully expects Valentine to ride out after Arabella and prove to her that he’s not the cold-hearted cad he seems to be.

Despite copious misgivings, Valentine finds himself on a pell-mell chase to Dover with Bonny by his side. Bonny is unreasonable, overdramatic, annoying, and…beautiful? And being with him makes Valentine question everything he thought he knew. About himself. About love. Even about which Tarleton he should be pursuing.

There’s a twist and a romance, but you’ll never guess how it all works out.

I’ve never read Alexis Hall, but this was highly recommended, so I picked it up. I’m glad I did as there aren’t many historical/regency era MM reads, so it was different. The characters had their good points and I loved Bonny. He’s a trip.

The thing is, the writing, while trying to stay true to the era, came out a bit flowery at times. I knew this would have an erotic edge to it and that was fine but the dancing around saying what they’d do was a little cumbersome. The side characters were a bit over the top and that made the story hard to follow, too. There was just a lot going on. Maybe it didn’t resonate as much as it could’ve with me, but it just might be fantastic for other readers. Might have been for me if I’d have read it on a different day. It’s not a bad book, it just didn’t hit the right notes for me at the time.

Still, if you’re looking for something different and with amusing moments, this might be the book for you. Give it a shot.

A Country Road, A Tree by Jo Baker

A Country Road, A Tree by Jo Baker
Publisher: Knopf Books
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Snowdrop

From the best-selling author of Longbourn, a remarkable imagining of Samuel Beckett’s wartime experiences. In 1939 Paris, the ground rumbles with the footfall of Nazi soldiers marching along the Champs-Élysées, and a young, unknown writer, recently arrived from Ireland to make his mark, smokes one last cigarette with his lover before the city they know is torn apart. Soon he will put them both in mortal danger by joining the Resistance.

Through the years that follow, we are witness to the workings of a uniquely brilliant mind struggling to create a language to express a shattered world. A story of survival and determination, of spies and artists, passion and danger, A Country Road, A Tree is a portrait of the extremes of human experience alchemized into one man’s timeless art.

Was this book rather academic? I have waffled back and forth about that question. It has been a topic of discussion many times. In my opinion, there are two ways to read this book. One is as merely a story, which is what I did. It is an interesting tale of a writer and his girlfriend leading a somewhat Bohemian lifestyle in Europe. Its setting in the European countries during the tough war years of WW2 describes the hardships many of the people in those countries lived with.

However, being the curious person that I am, seeing James Joyce as a character in the book made me do a little research. During that research, I found that this is really not just historical fiction as it is classified, but rather a sort of fictional biographical picture of Samuel Beckett’s life and his time in France during the occupation. This somehow made me feel differently about the book. Was I supposed to just enjoy it as a story or was I supposed to learn more about Beckett? Maybe it doesn’t matter.

It may be that my previous ramblings are what made this book read somewhat slow at the beginning for me. It sped up and flowed quite smoothly as I continued to read. In fact, it became that story I was talking about in the first paragraph. A well-written story of a young man with writer’s block and a young girl wanting very much to help him, both living with a couple trying to make it through the occupation. Jo Baker seems to be an author who is able to write so that the frightening times, the hunger, and the cold and uncertainty, are vividly felt.

Jo Baker has other publications, one has more than 3000 reviews on Amazon. I think everything she has written is worth checking out.