Maggie’s List by Brittany Severn

Maggie’s List by Brittany Severn
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

When Ivy loses her twin sister, Maggie, to cancer, she discovers a secret journal to be read after her death. Ivy discovers that Maggie has a bucket list that she was unable to complete. To honor her sister, Ivy sets out to complete it on Maggie’s behalf.

As Ivy works through her grief, visiting all the places Maggie never got to see, she finds herself in Scotland. Eager to tick off a few more items on her list, Ivy teams up with Evan, a handsome tour guide. Pouring her heart out in the journal, Ivy soon realizes that her old life is gone, but a new one might be ready to begin.

Every day is a fresh page in the book of life.

Some of the most memorable scenes were the ones that showed how many loose ends surviving relatives must tie up after someone dies. This can be something as simple as cleaning and organizing a bedroom all the way to far more complex tasks like, say, finishing a bucket list. I was especially intrigued by the way Ivy’s grief leaked through sometimes as she checked these tasks off her to-do list. This was such a realistic approach to the process of grieving and healing after a terrible loss.

I would have liked to see more character development in this novella. While Ivy was an interesting protagonist, there wasn’t enough time spent exploring how she changed as a result of her sister’s death and the trips she took after the funeral. There was plenty of material for her to work with. I simply needed to see more examples of her personal growth in order to feel comfortable giving this a higher rating.

The romance was handled nicely. Grief can be all-consuming, especially when someone as young as Maggie dies, so I was curious to see how the author would balance Ivy’s grief for her twin with her budding romance with Evan. Luckily, the romantic scenes were handled sensitively and gave Ivy plenty of time to say goodbye to her sister before she thought of what she wanted to do with her life next. It was also cool to see space left for a possible sequel. I don’t know if Ms. Severn has one in the works, but I’ll happily read it if she does!

Maggie’s List made me smile.

Dawning of Darkness: The Fall of Gods and Kings by James G. Robertson

Dawning of Darkness: The Fall of Gods and Kings by James G. Robertson
Publisher: Self-Published / Next Life Publishing LLC
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Systems fall, planets die—darkness dawns on us all. When a god known simply as the Dark Creator enters our universe, the concord of the world inhabited by the spirits of men and their kings, the gods’ chosen few, fades. As this being and his overwhelming force of corrupted horrors and children eclipse Afterworld and its territories, the kingdoms of men must put aside their differences and band together.

After millennia of fighting, the final blockade separating man from those sinister entities has collapsed. With so much at stake, and with the Dark Creator approaching the Divine Mountains, will our protectors’ sacrifices ensure Afterworld’s survival? Or will this encroaching darkness consume it all?

Resistance is essential if good is to prevail.

Without giving away too many details, this was no ordinary war. Not only had it lasted for thousands of years, there were plenty of other magical things going on with it that made me smile. It was cool to see just how many fantasy tropes and mythical creatures the author was able to include in the storyline in ways that made sense. I wish I could gush about them all in more detail, but it’s best if other readers are pleasantly surprised just like I was.

I found the large cast of characters confusing. There wasn’t a lot of space in this novella to get to know the characters deeply, especially the ones who played supportive roles, so I didn’t have enough details about many of them to quickly recall who they were and how they were connected to everyone else.

The descriptions of the settings were well done. I appreciated the time the author took to explain the landscape, how it affected how people lived in that area, and how it may have changed since previous scenes. All of that attention to detail made it easy to imagine where the characters were and why they were so surprised by certain developments.

Dawning of Darkness: The Fall of Gods and Kings was an exciting ride.

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.

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!

The Mouse in The Tabernacle by Myrtle Brooks

The Mouse in The Tabernacle by Myrtle Brooks (Author), Sidra Mehmood (Illustrator)
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Children’s, Inspirational
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

A timeless, inspirational tale of faith, determination, and listening to the heart.

Kettie is just a mouse. And small, even for a mouse. But her faithful, obedient heart and fearless spirit have caught the attention of her Creator.

Traveling as a stowaway in a donkey cart with Shem, a Levite traveling to Shiloh to serve at the tabernacle, she tells a fellow mouse: “I don’t know why I’m going.”

“Maybe,” he answers, “it’s because you’re supposed to go there first before you understand why.”

Once there, she discovers that the tiniest pinpoint of light can tend a fire. For, as one priest observes, “It is our thinking that needs to grow bigger. The rest of the mystery will unfold as the days come.”

Come, make the journey with her.

This story has adorable vividly colored illustrations. It takes readers back on an adventure to the ancient world. We are immersed there with well-written mundane details of everyday life.

There is a sense of suspense, as the cute mouse character, Kettie, does not know what lays ahead for this adventure to a new place. Complex concepts are brought down to a level children could understand through the technique of the little mouse asking her parents questions.

Little Kettie forges ahead with faith giving her courage. She meets human characters, and interesting concepts come up. This is not a book for beginners learning things but rather comes across as an entertaining and thoughtful read for families of faith.

Things take a dangerous turn for Kettie, and humans will learn a thing or two. The themes of patience and faith underline this cute story. This is a good story for families of faith.

Paper Cut: A Love Taboo by LNora

Paper Cut: A Love Taboo by LNora
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

English literature teacher and erotica writer Mark Jones grows up not knowing much about his family. This curiosity has left him with a void and desire to know love and his history in a profound way. Fate steps in one day when Mark meets Miranda Parker who he falls for but soon discovers she beholds a dark secret. Through an odd twist of fate, Mark discovers from one of his students’ papers some disturbing news about who Miranda is and the life she leads. Will fate be enough to keep the couple together once the shocking discovery is revealed?

Complicated, sexy and not what I expected.

I picked this book up because it looked different, and it was. I’m glad. I wanted something refreshing and this was certainly a change of pace. The writing is good and the story compelling.

First, some quibbles. This story is good, but it could’ve used a tiny bit more editing to make it great. That’s not to say I wasn’t entertained. I was. It just needed a little more of a finishing touch to make it shine.

Now on to the characters. Miranda and Mark are complicated and that’s what I liked about them. They’re not the usual he loves her, she loves him, get them together cookie cutter characters. They have real feelings and it’s a tangled mess. I liked that. It’s relatable. I have to say that if one reading this isn’t so much for reading a story with cheating, then this might be a trigger and something to avoid. If that’s not a problem for the reader, then by all means, keep reading. It’s a good story.

Mark has his issues and he’s trying his best to cope. The relationship between him and Miranda is even more complicated, and that twist was great. Miranda has her own issues and who doesn’t? She’s struggling because she’s in a marriage where she’s not feeling loved and finds something with Mark. I liked the twists and turns for the couple and couldn’t wait to see what would happen next.

If you’re looking for something that’s a little different and a whole lot intense, then this might be the book for you.

So You Want To Fly Private? THE RULES by Shannon McDermott

So You Want To Fly Private? THE RULES by Shannon McDermott
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Non-Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Ever had a sh***y job with problematic co-workers and even worse customers? If you just said “YES” out loud in the bookstore, and people are now staring at you, this book is most definitely for you! Inspired by the Great Resignation, So You Want To Fly Private? THE RULES, is a collection of true, darkly comedic stories as told by CFAs (Corporate Flight Attendants) in the private aviation industry.

Jenny Jetway, your favorite renegade CFA, walks you through true accounts of what it’s like to work as a CFA in private aviation, an industry that hasn’t progressed much since the 1970s. From Sugar Babies and wild Karens to toxic, misogynist bosses who don’t understand the meaning of consent, So You Want To Fly Private: THE RULES paints a messy picture of a famously secretive industry using the same uncensored rhetoric found in venting sessions with co-workers over happy hour drinks at the bar.

Through a a set of 10 rules, curated in mind for the curious travel enthusiast, So You Want To Fly Private? THE RULES is guaranteed to be a hilarious, thrilling, yet quick read that can be accomplished over the course of a flight or an airport layover.

The hospitality industry isn’t for the faint-hearted.

Anyone who has worked in any sort of customer service position knows how unpredictable people can be. From keeping inebriated people distracted to preventing rowdy preschoolers from coloring on the walls of a private plane, being a corporate flight attendant requires quick response times and plenty of patience. The anecdotes about the many humorous things her clients did when they thought no one was paying attention made it impossible for me to stop reading.

It would have been nice to have more stories about her coworkers. Some of my favorite scenes were the ones that showed how she dealt with situations where the pilot was asking her to do one thing for safety reasons, but her clients wanted to do something that contradicted those orders and may endanger themselves or those around them. I also found myself wondering what her relationships were like with the other corporate flight attendants. A couple of them were mentioned, but this seemed to be something that could have been given more attention in order to give a well-rounded view of what this job is really like. This is a minor criticism of something I otherwise enjoyed quite a bit.

I loved the author’s dry sense of humor. Her job wasn’t always an easy one, but she found the funny side of all sorts of frustrating, silly, and odd situations. I chuckled as she described the basic common courtesies she hoped her clients would extend to her and how often the people she looked after weren’t willing to mind their manners or follow simple safety rules. It can be difficult to work under such conditions, so having the right attitude about the hard days is important. There is definitely something to be said for people who are able to do this as well as she does!

So You Want To Fly Private? THE RULES was an eye-opening read.

Little Aiden – A Feelings Book for Toddlers by Albert Choi

Little Aiden – A Feelings Book for Toddlers by Albert Choi
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Have you always wanted to introduce emotions and feelings to your toddler, but don’t have the right book on hand? Or perhaps you have found a few books on emotions and feelings, but they aren’t enough to keep your toddler engaged throughout the entire book!

As Little Aiden explores and experiences different feelings and emotions, he shows other toddlers in his own little way the importance of expressing feelings. There are different emotions and feelings shown in Little Aiden including, but not limited to the following:

“Sometimes Aiden feels happy.”
“Sometimes Aiden feels frustrated.”
“Sometimes Aiden feels angry.”

Using Aiden’s simple, repetitive style, you can teach your toddler that all their emotions and feelings are okay (not just the positive ones).

Through engaging and vivid illustrations, Little Aiden’s reactions will bring joy and laughter to the entire family.

It’s never too early to promote good mental health.

One of the things I enjoyed the most about this picture book was that every scene appeared to occur over the course of a single day. Some days are a rollercoaster of emotions even for adults, and toddlers have much less experience handling that than grownups do. It was also interesting to me to see how the main character’s mood in one moment was often connected to the ones just before or after it. Aiden had good reasons for his reactions, and I enjoyed following him through a typical day for a mischievous kid his age.

I loved seeing all of the extra space Mr. Choi left for adult readers to explain things to the toddlers and preschoolers this was written for. The illustrations and text provided the basics, but all of it could be easily modified for more specific conversations about certain emotions as well if desired. This is exactly the sort of flexibility I was hoping to discover in a story on this topic.

It was refreshing to see every emotion treated identically. Whether Aiden’s feelings were negative or positive, the reader was always reassured that it’s okay to feel that way. I grew up in a time when some people were expected to hide certain emotions and not show any signs that they were angry or sad. Teaching kids that it’s perfectly fine to acknowledge how they truly feel is such an important part of raising people who will become emotionally healthy adults, and I’m thrilled to see this change in society.

Little Aiden – A Feelings Book for Toddlers was perfect.

Any Fin For Love by Petie McCarty

Any Fin For Love by Petie McCarty
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

She could almost hear the fish laughing at her . . .

Cody Ryan’s father never missed fishing the annual Loon Lake tournament until his unexpected passing. This year, Cody packs up her how-to fishing videos and her dad’s old johnboat and gives him one final entry.

Gage Connor needs some R&R away from his coast guard deployment catching drug smugglers along the Louisiana coast, so he borrows a bass boat from his buddy and heads to Loon, Alabama to do some fishing.

When Gage and Cody meet at Loon Lake, their attraction is immediate and intense—until the two discover there is only one boat slip left on the lake and they both need it, and there’s only one vacant hotel room left in Loon and they both want it. And so, their competition begins. Both vow to keep their distance from the other for their own peace of mind, but fate has other plans. The tournament pairing party picks the two-man teams and chooses Gage as Cody’s partner.

For two days.
Alone on a boat.
Working as a team.

Good things come to those who bait . . .

Don’t let the synopsis fool you. This novel has a lot more going for it than a simple romance with humor and a fishing competition. I was expecting a light-hearted fluffy tale and instead found a story that closer resembles the television series, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, back in the early 80s. It was fun, adventurous, had bad guys with the good guys winning in the end, and a burgeoning romance between two unlikely people. That is what Any Fin for Love reminds me of and perhaps that’s why I had so much fun reading this novel.

Cody Ryan, the heroine, is doing something she never did before – fish in a tournament. Fish by herself. Fish in her dad’s favorite spots, doing his favorite thing, in his memory. That right there made me adore Cody. She is sentimental, committed, stubborn, brave, fun and, did I say stubborn? The competition has never, ever had a female contestant. The good ol’ boys have no idea who is headed their way. Cody is bound and determined to do her best and no handsome guy is going to turn her head enough to distract her…much. But first, the heroine has to get her boat in the water. Yeah, that was an interesting sequence of events. Grin-worthy.

Gage, the hero, is a well-rounded character with a depth to him I don’t get to figure out until later. In the beginning, he’s just a guy on vacation, getting some fishing in and looking forward to some much-needed downtime and release from stress. His best friend, Dougah, is quite the character and is a wonderful influence on Gage. However, he is also very protective of the hero and that comes into play in a very dramatic fashion later on. On and off, when Gage calls him, his friend gives him sage advice – some are adorably teasing, and some are spot on serious. There’s some intrigue brewing in the beginning but none had the slightest inkling what was coming their way. And, it ends up not being what I and everyone else in the story expected it to be. The author has a nice way of slipping in clever twists and red herrings.

Another strong element in the book is the people in the community that Gage and Cody find themselves engaging with during the course of the novel. Velma and Delma are good-hearted matchmakers and romantics at heart. One of the good parts is the little trick they play with an innocent coin. I giggled at that scene. Red-haired Sadie was a treat to meet and Doc Taylor, too. Now there’s a bit of a story within a story. Doc Taylor enjoys some pivotal scenes that really blew me out of the water. What gets revealed and how everything comes together is a masterpiece of clever writing. Talk about tying up loose ends where I had no idea there was anything loose in the first place! It’s almost like playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, but without actors. I will say that there are clues from the past, but I didn’t put two and two together.

Not everyone in town is nice to Cody though. When I met Zeke and Alvin, I was convinced they were the exact type of guys the author made them out to be for most of the early to mid-parts of the book. I guess, even in the end, they still kind of were like that type. But they aren’t as shallow as I thought them to be, so I guess I could say they were a work in progress. In any event, that was a nice bit of writing as well. Some readers might get put off by Lila. She’s not a likeable character at all and I’m going to presume that is exactly how the author wanted me to feel about her. If that’s true, she nailed it. However, like Zeke and Alvin, there’s a twist I never expected.

The antagonists of the main serious conflict are plum loco-crazy and nasty to boot. The action scenes with the hero and heroine on the water were intense, full of action, quick-thinking and included spontaneous teamwork to make it out alive. Okay, there was a trope-slip blip with Zeke, but otherwise, it was a stellar performance.

Like I said, this is not a fluffy read. There were a lot of goings on that kept me turning the pages. My emotions for good or ill were definitely engaged, enough that I talked to the book like it could hear me. There might have been a bit of cheering, a couple of growls, some ‘awww’s’ and a few Wow!s thrown in.

Any Fin For Love is more of a romantic suspense with humor to keep the mood optimistic and upbeat. It has a wonderful story, great secondary characters, and Cody and Gage were a fun couple to watch as they fell in love despite all the stinky and wet situations they got into. I had fun reading this novel.

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Catlumbus by Franny Plaia

Catlumbus by Franny Plaia
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Action/Adventure, Historical
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Meet Catlumbus, a cat who loves to sail on his ship and go on adventures. When Catlumbus discovers a treasure map, he sets sail on a journey to find buried treasure on a tropical island. What will Catlumbus find on this island? Who will he meet along the way? Join Catlumbus on his adventure!

Anything can happen out on the ocean.

This was an exciting and fast-paced adventure. Catlumbus was prepared for all sorts of possible trouble, and I smiled as he tackled every challenge that came his way. One of my favorite scenes happened later on when he had a problem, he didn’t know how to fix that involved his boat. After how prepared he was earlier, it was nice to see him finally meet a problem that was a little trickier for him to figure out. That scene only made everything I already loved about this story even better.

A lack of detail was what held me back from giving this a full five-star rating. I found myself wishing that the narrator had spent more time explaining what the characters looked like and how being in these settings would affect what the characters heard, saw, touched, and smelled. This is something I’m saying as a reader who enjoyed everything else about it.

The riddles were well written and interesting. I haven’t noticed many riddles in the many picture books I’ve read these past few years, so it was refreshing to find them here. It’s such a fun way to introduce the mystery genre to little ones.

Catlumbus was a thrilling adventure.