Dance in the Meadow by Cathay O. Reta

Dance in the Meadow by Cathay O. Reta
Publisher: Keep Walking Publications
Genre: Contemporary, Inspirational, Non-Fiction
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

What do you do when you become widowed, leave your church family of 45 years, retire from your job and move halfway across the country? You get real with yourself. Emerging from a season of loss and the unraveling of every belief and certainty she had so carefully cultivated, Cathay began to sit in conversation with God. With God, not to God. Listening to the still, small voice of her spirit, their conversations went deep and released a well-spring of life and wisdom. These musings will leave you feeling inspired to reflect on your own life and to find answers to questions you didn’t know to ask. They will leave you knowing that you are not alone.

This book took me a while to review because I kept making notes, re-reading certain passages or chapters and brought the book with me on trips. For people who are aghast at readers who mark pages in books, they’d explode because I have chapters, pages and sentences underlined (in pencil) and I have post-it notes sticking out all over the place and weird items being used as bookmarks. I found many references I could relate to in my own life. I found inspiration and experienced more Aha! moments than I expected while reading Cathay O. Reta’s journey with God as she navigated the dark times that followed upon becoming a widow. For the first time, she was defined not by the person she married or the job she had and what she did during it, but as her own person. Thing is, after identifying herself as part of everything outside herself, how does she see herself when all she has is … herself? All good questions.

There are many chapters and sections in the book so at first it might look overwhelming. The chapters are short, like baby-steps on a journey. Each one tackled a perception of self that needed to be torn down and re-written with the focus on how God sees and loves us. There is strength to be gained when we get out of our own way and let the good Lord lead us where we are meant to go. Dance in the Meadow is a year’s journey in the life of the author; what she learned, the internal conversations she had during meditation that led her to self-awareness, and their results. It may sound a bit woo-woo-ish, but meditation is practiced all over the world as part of many religious rituals and practices. The concentration needed to accomplish deep meditation is hard. Our world is inundated with distractions, noise and problems, and they affect the mind to the point it’s as busy as the world. At times, it is almost impossible to shut out. The author found a way to escape from the chaos, but it was not an overnight thing. Again, baby steps.

Elvis Presley was a distraction at one point (I do that kind of thing), the realization that rain isn’t an enemy, it’s adulting that makes it so, and the idea that certain foods weigh you down in unexpected ways (Chapter 25), was eye-opening. In Chapter 27 I learned that clutter isn’t restricted solely to our homes, but our souls and hearts, and is just as distracting and burdensome. What was interesting to me was the explanation of how love works. Not the love we read in romance books, but a healthy, non-commercial, spiritual, and profound love that is hard to put into practice. We’re actually out of touch with its true application in our lives. The author discovers that and more on her relationship journey with God. I even found it fascinating that we really do jump to negative interpretations. When we hear our boss say, I’m going to give you a challenging project, or if you are told, ‘here’s something to challenge you’, our response is most often negative, and we jump into self-protection mode. Yeah, I relate to that. But there’s another way to look at it, and Chapter 31 offers up that way. All I know is, that chapter is me.

There were a few observations and sections I didn’t agree with, some parts I gave the side-eye to, but overall, this book really does deliver an insightful, positive, and uplifting look at healing after the upheaval of becoming a widow after decades of being married and being part of a couple. Healing is not easy or quick, but with the right focus, it can happen.

Dance in the Meadow was a book I savored slowly. It’s going on my keeper shelf, mostly because of all the markings and notes I made, making it a book I’ll revisit for reference and to be reminded of what is and should be important in my life. To remember that I’m loved, not because of anything I’ve done or will do, but just because God loves me, unconditionally, unceasingly, and unswervingly. People can’t help but put conditions on it, whether they realize it or not. This book helped me to remember how it’s supposed to be. I’m glad I read it.

Hot Potato: The story of The Wiggles by Jeff Fatt, Directed by: Sally Aitken

Hot Potato: The story of The Wiggles by Jeff Fatt, Directed by: Sally Aitken
Publisher: Amazon MGM Studios and Screen Australia
Genre: Contemporary, Non-fiction, Documentary, Film
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Hot Potato is a backstage pass to the global phenomenon, The Wiggles. The documentary chronicles the story of three preschool teachers, Anthony, Murray and Greg, and their friend Jeff, as they triumph over the odds to become one of the most successful children’s acts of all time.

This is a film about my favorite group that had a positive influence on my kids as they were growing up. The movie explores the backstory, creation and history of The Wiggles, starring Anthony Field (blue), Murray Cook (red), Jeff Fatt (purple) and Greg Page (yellow). My kids discovered them when the group made the arrangement with the Disney Channel. Kids in Australia and New Zealand knew about them years before and it’s not a wonder that they took the rest of the world by storm. I learned so much about them while watching this documentary that it simply blew my mind. Their songs may have been simple, catchy, bouncy, and fun, but the four guys’ journey wasn’t nearly so benign, easy or without serious challenges.

My most favorite aspect of the film was the nostalgia triggered by the awesome songs I sang along to with my kids as they watched the shows and videos over and over again, Hot Potato being only one of many. The dance moves that accompanied them always made me feel that if they had an exercise video based on the songs and all the moves, I would have bought the video for myself. To this very day, I’ll break out in songs like Hot Potato, Fruit Salad, Here Comes a Bear, and the silly, Do the Monkey. Man, those were awesome times when my kids were little.

Did you know that at their highest point, they made more money than AC/DC, Hugh Jackman and many others? The Wiggles did that – all while appealing to the sense of joy, fun, and energy of toddlers, and bringing their parents along for the ride. And, what a ride it was, in that Big Red Car.

Even to this day, one of my most favorite video/movies The Wiggles made was with Steve Irwin at the Australia Zoo. At that point, I was just as much a fan of the group as my kids. The documentary showed the amazing steps Anthony, Murray, Jeff and Greg took to get to that moment in their careers. It covers the difficult times after the 9/11 attack in New York City and there were a few moments in their retelling that had me tearing up. The tone was somber, respectful, and introspective. The film also covers why Greg left The Wiggles. By the time that happened, my kids were fully immersed in their school career, and we no longer subscribed to the channel that brought The Wiggles singing and dancing into our lives. I had no idea about the seriousness of Greg’s condition, nor the challenges the group faced to find someone to step in for him. Nor did I have a clue as to what role Anthony played in The Wiggles existence as the years went on.

After I watched the documentary, I looked at some reviews. Wow – that was a revelation. The film shared some examples but that nowhere touched upon the emotional response and backlash that occurred during the many transitions The Wiggles went through. I even read one where the commenter claimed that Anthony ruined The Wiggles because of the changes and decisions he’d made over the years after two other members retired. After watching the film, I disagree with that sentiment. Anthony saved The Wiggles by keeping it going, keeping their name, music, and presence alive, not letting it fade away until the point in 2019 when they were all able to come together to do a benefit in support of the Australian people who were suffering the worst fire season in the country. Society and pop culture change frequently and what is popular one day becomes lost and forgotten the next. If not for Anthony, I don’t think the public would have responded so well and enthusiastically for a band no one remembered. Instead, according to the film clips I saw, many of the attendees were in their 20s, kids that grew up singing and dancing with The Wiggles and were now young adults, with jobs and incomes that allowed them to attend and support the cause. That joy came across the screen and brought me back in time when my kids and I had the best time singing the songs together.

Do you know what else I learned while watching this documentary? Anthony and Jeff were a part of a successful singing group called the Cockroaches. One of their songs was played during an interview with Greg and I’m thinking, “I’d listen to that!” In fact, if you pay attention, you’ll get a hint of the energy and talent that would later contribute to the success of The Wiggles. I also learned the background of Dorothy the Dinosaur. I had no hint how important that character ended up being to their success. I even laughed when I heard how Captain Feathersword came about. Little by little I was seeing how The Wiggles I knew came to be. It was so cool!

Another adorable thing I enjoyed while watching the film were the film clips. Parents must have submitted them to the group. They showed their toddlers reacting and interacting with The Wiggles on television and generally having a great time singing, learning and laughing. There is power in laughter and in music.

Hot Potato: The story of The Wiggles was one of the most enjoyable documentaries I’ve ever watched. How the group came to be such a success was fascinating to watch. To think, if not for two of them being teachers, and their passion and joy for teaching, which I believe contributed to the focus of singing songs for preschoolers, I don’t think The Wiggles could have come to be. Learning how Anthony, Jeff, Greg and Murray came together to create a singing group that touched generations starting with the littlest of fans, was a sheer joy to experience. I am awfully glad I discovered this film. I highly recommend this documentary for all those who were parents at the time who repeatedly watched the videos and sang the songs with their kids. I think it would be great for those littlest fans, now grown up, to learn more about the men and characters that enriched their childhood. It’s fascinating, entertaining and eye opening. This film made me appreciate The Wiggles all the more.

In Darkness: The Shark by L. Diane Wolfe

In Darkness: The Shark by L. Diane Wolfe
In Darkness series
Publisher: Dancing Lemur Press, L.L.C.
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Paranormal
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Souls shrouded in darkness…

Focused on her studies and duties at the aquarium, Jewels prefers her solitary life. Burned many times and short on trust, she has more in common with her aquatic friends than the people around her. But she never imagined coming face to face with a shark named Clarence…a shark who talks!

As their friendship grows, Jewels must overcome her deep set mistrust. There are dangers, both in the Australian ocean and on dry land. Can Jewels depend on the great white or will his animal nature betray her?

This was a surprising read. I didn’t know what to expect but having a shark for a friend certainly got my attention. The length might be a novella, but it packs a powerful punch when it comes to the storytelling.

I’ll be truthful, there was a moment during the net scene where I thought all my worst tropes and cliches were about to come true and I was stressed and sad. The story was so different and interesting, cute and fun and I really didn’t want it to go in that direction. Well, it sort of did yet didn’t. It followed the science to some degree, and yes, human nature did get in the way as I knew it would. However, compassionate minds prevailed, and the sought-for solution was achieved, yet the consequences couldn’t be prevented. All that to say, my emotions were engaged, I cared and totally was into the groove of the whole story in all its ups and downs.

Now, here is the weird part. It really is a romance story but it’s highly unconventional. It’s sweet and endearing and, I realized when I was almost done with the book, that love really was growing between Clarence and Jewels. It happened through trust and communication. When those two things are all you have, it builds a foundation not distracted by physical attraction, social conventions and shallow presentation. It’s pure and honest. And that’s what the crux of the plot conflict was. Jewels has been hurt so much in her young life that she doesn’t trust anyone – anyone human that is. Clarence has to earn her trust. I mean, he IS a great white shark, and we all know about the movie JAWS and how that story affected people across the world – fear and terror. Now do you see why I found the premise of this book so incredibly fascinating? Add in that it’s a romance and my curiosity got the better of me. I had to find out how this would work. Enter the paranormal aspect. It arrives in a gentle manner. There’s no explanation of how things came to be, they just are. It’s up to a reader to decide what power might have been responsible for it but the end result is just beautiful. It’s happy and it made me happy.

The Shark is unusual fun, a unique adventure of friendship, and proof that love can grow when you have the basics – trust, communication, the ability to learn and have fun, and the willingness to go out on a limb for the one you love. I definitely recommend this story.

The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye

The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye
Publisher: Puffin Books
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.) (6-11 yrs.)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Along with Wit, Charm, Health, and Courage, Princess Amy of Phantasmorania receives a special fairy christening gift: Ordinariness. Unlike her six beautiful sisters, she has brown hair and freckles, and would rather have adventures than play the harp, embroider tapestries . . . or become a Queen. When her royal parents try to marry her off, Amy runs away and, because she’s so ordinary, easily becomes the fourteenth assistant kitchen maid at a neighboring palace. And there . . . much to everyone’s surprise . . . she meets a prince just as ordinary (and special) as she is!

What a delightful story! It’s quirky, enchanting, entertaining and a wonderful fairy tale that was a true pleasure to read.

The style is third person narrative and Princess Amy is most often referred to as The Ordinary Princess for most of the book. It’s very reminiscent of Cinderella but it has a mixture of Snow White as well, what with the addition of Mr. Pemberthy and Peter Aurelious; they act as the prerequisite forest friends to the princess.

As in Sleeping Beauty, there is the one fairy that uses her magic to gift the baby Princess Amy with a very unexpected, unique and shock-worthy gift. It causes the Queen to have fits, and the King basically crowing “I told you so!” because he just knew something ghastly was going to happen. Everyone in the castle believed that it was a horrible thing, and that belief lasts until the very day the princess gets her happy ever after.

What I liked about this story was its easy style. It had an innocence to it that was refreshing, from the dialogue, the choices the princess makes and her relationship with Peregrine, the man-of-all-work. I enjoyed watching as they escaped the drudgery of their lives by visiting the forest when they had time off – a place they could be themselves without anyone telling them nay, or reprimanding them if they wanted to climb trees, get muddy or lay back among the flowers and watch the clouds drift by. I even thought the creation of The Birches was romantic in and of itself. It was a commitment of sorts, a foretelling of what could be because of how it was built. A romantic idea crossed my mind and the happy ever after wrap-up proved it true. It was sweet and adorable, and I could believe in the fairy tale – they lived happily ever after.

I found humor in the most unlikely places. The king and his flamboyant reactions to when he was pleased or displeased was one example. The wild and wacky dragon idea was worthy of an eye roll.

The one thing I noticed was the author’s clear descriptions about the environment, the jewels, the castle, how people dressed, descriptions of rooms – it’s quite easy to envision the scenes. The illustrations helped get some perspective on some of it, but there weren’t that many of them to classify this as a picture book. This is a story of words and ideas. It’s not flashy, loud or full of adrenaline. It’s a nicely written and well-told story of a girl meeting her forever sweetheart in a most unlikely fashion; of princesses, princes, kings and a crusty old fairy named Crustacea (kids will probably need help pronouncing that name plus some others in the story) who has a well-guarded marshmallow heart hiding inside all those shells and seaweed.

The Ordinary Princess is a treasure of a story and should be on anyone’s reading list who likes Cinderella, Snow White, any princess story you can name, or just fairy tales in general. Princess Amy is no ordinary princess. She’s special and readers will enjoy finding that out for themselves when they read it too.

International Kittens of Mystery by Chris Dolley

International Kittens of Mystery by Chris Dolley
Publisher: Book View Cafe
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Xerantheumum

In an uncertain world there is one organization that stands head and small furry shoulders above the rest. Whenever the planet is in danger – be it from giant balls of wool or bands of renegade squirrels – only one group is guaranteed to answer the call.

The International Kittens of Mystery!

This is a journal of their stories. For the first time, cameras have been allowed into one of their top secret training camps – Training Camp Alpha. A camp where, under the supervision of pet humans, recruits are shown not only how to save the world but also how to manage their secret identities.

If you like a fun story with pictures of cute kittens saving the planet, this is the book for you.

The first few pages introduce a reader to the goal of the international kittens and their technology, like wickerbowl personal transporters, the orbiting kitten command center, and the stars of the book, Kai (Persian/Tabby), Xena (Tabby) and The Tribbles (Five Bright Orange Gingers). I was immediately charmed, enchanted and hilariously entertained.

The book is illustrated with actual photos of kittens, so this really appealed to the cat lover inside me. The imagined secret agent talents of kittens is a joyous hoot. I was tickled pink about the explanation as to why the kitten’s eyes were a funny color after flying practice and the application of the “Power of Cute”.

I cracked up about the alien death ray device and aliens from the planet, Sheep. Seriously, there are a lot of veiled pop culture references young kids may not get but their parents certainly will, making this little book a hit with kids and adults alike.

There’s even a short plot of mystery that the international kittens of mystery must solve – the president’s wife has been kidnapped! Who would do such a thing? How are they going to save the president’s wife?

This little book is too cute for words. Thank goodness for great kitten shots, secret agents and amazing feline ‘technology’ to save the day. International Kittens of Mystery was a fun read.

You Only Die Twice by Brynn Kelly (Author), Alan Carlson (Narrator), Stacia Newcomb (Narrator),

You Only Die Twice by Brynn Kelly (Author), Alan Carlson (Narrator), Stacia Newcomb (Narrator),
Publisher: Audible Originals
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Suspense/Mystery/Thriller
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Danger and desire collide in this romantic thrill ride—available exclusively in audio!

When high school English teacher Alice Thornton helps her dying Russian neighbor write a spy thriller, she thinks she’s just doing a good deed. But when a sexy mystery man shows up in her classroom, claiming to be the novel’s dashing antihero, Alice is swept into a lethal conspiracy.

Enigmatic former CIA operative Carter Beck warns her that the sensational murder plot wasn’t fiction. And because she knows too much, the killer wants her silenced—making Carter her only hope of survival.

Forced on the run, Alice and Carter must separate truth from fiction to unmask the murderer before they become the next victims. The danger is only too real—and so is their unexpected chemistry. In between motorcycle chases, dodging bullets and unraveling clues, the unlikely pair start to wonder if the secret to their survival might just be each other….

Anyone looking for an edge-of-your-seat romantic suspense can’t go wrong with this audiobook. You Only Die Twice is only available in audio format and its delivery is exceptional and engaging because of the narrators and how they bring the story to life. In the beginning, there were even sound effects, so I felt like I was listening to a movie. I laughed at the screeching tires because of what they actually meant. Thank goodness I’m not that bad a driver.

What I found fascinating about the narrators is that Alan Carlson and Stacia Newcomb take turns at the mike. Instead of one taking only the male characters and the other, the female characters, their readings included doing both voices. Mr. Carlson had a distinctive female voice, and Ms. Newcomb had a distinct and growly tone for the hero, Carter Beck. It actually worked.

The format is interesting. When the narrator for Carter Beck was on scene, the story is told from 18 months prior, leading up to when Alice’s narrator takes over and continues the story in the present day. It’s interesting how the timelines gradually merge into the present ending up at the time both are on the run. The only drawback of an audio-only format is the inability to see how names are spelled. Nikka(?) is the female Russian spy who I only get to meet via Carter’s historical narration. In the present, when Alice is talking about Nikka, she has already died so the focus is on solving the mystery by finding the clues the Russian spy left behind. Their location ends up being surprising. What the secrets were was incredibly shocking.

The suspense level is driven by the main characters having no idea who they can trust. It turns out that some of the ones they should be able to trust, can’t be, and some that they shouldn’t trust turn out to be unexpected allies. Because lies are flying all over the place, there’s no sure way to tell which is which, so for the most part, Carter and Alice are on their own. For being ‘just a teacher’, Alice ended up being a better partner and asset to Carter than he ever could have expected. Heck, Alice shocked herself in what she could accomplish when death was on the line.

The weird and unexpected sub-theme of the story is death. Not by gunshots or bad guys, but by cancer. Alice’s whole family is attacked by cancer. Her sister is amazing and her last zing to Alice ended up bringing tears to my eyes. What a truly special relationship they had. Readers/listeners get to know her, so the ending has a special poignancy. In fact, both Alice and Carter bond over some of what some might call morbid similarities, but in truth, it’s what thousands of people face and fight each and every day. It really made the hero and heroine believable, relatable, and I was 100% invested in their story.

I stumbled upon this book and the blurb seemed really interesting. I wasn’t sure if I was going to stick with the book in the beginning because I was going in blind. I didn’t know the author’s caliber, and as listeners of audiobooks know, narrators can make or break a book. I can assure you that every single component of this story, from plot to dialogue, pace and narrative talent, all worked together in perfect harmony and engaged my senses to the point I stayed up until 1 A.M. because I simply didn’t want to stop until I reached its conclusion. It was a great experience!

I heartily recommend this audiobook to readers of contemporary romantic suspense. You Only Die Twice delivers a fantastic mystery experience filled with drama, suspense, intrigue, action, romance and a happy-for-now with solid tones of a true HEA.

The Viscount and The Orphan by Rosemary Morris

The Viscount and The Orphan by Rosemary Morris
Publisher: BWL Publishing Inc.
Genre: Historical, Romance
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

This classic historical romance erupts in 1703 England.

Gabriel, Viscount Cavanagh is bankrupt, his fortune wasted on mistresses, extravagance, and gambling. Orphaned, emotionally neglected, deprived of his inheritance and his own person by his grandfather, Adam Maynard, his only option to avoid disaster is acceptance of an arranged marriage proposed by Adam, a ruthless merchant prince.

Adam summons his sixteen-year-old ward, wealthy Dorinda Davenport, from boarding school to be Gabriel’s bride. An orphan, she yearns for love. Well-educated, but naïve, she clings to her fantasy of a happy-ever-after marriage to a gentleman as handsome, and charming as her favourite fictional hero. Gabriel is the romantic hero of her dreams, but bitter disillusionment follows the wedding.

A connoisseur of beautiful women, Gabriel conceals his distaste when he meets dumpy, sallow-skinned, socially inept Dorinda. Nevertheless, he soon appreciates her innocence, intelligence, and kind heart.

This is a novel about a hasty marriage in which everything that could go wrong, did go wrong, and the path back to happiness.

The hero, Gabriel, is a man controlled by his domineering grandfather who is a control freak on steroids. He’s the one who tells Gabriel who he is going to marry. He’s the one who controlled who the hero could socialize with and who he should have no contact with – it’s pretty much an entire family branch. I did not like the merchant prince. He was mean to the hero, and the old guy’s sister wasn’t a peach either. It’s not a wonder the hero took some wrong turns and messed up his life.

When I met Dorinda, the heroine, she was a 16-year-old orphan stuck in a home for girls to teach them proper deportment. Dorinda was way too young to marry, and without a loving home life, was sorely unprepared to be thrust into a life dictated by the machinations of her guardian who just happens to be Gabriel’s grandfather, the meanie. Talk about a recipe for disaster.

One thing is for sure, the old guy’s plans didn’t go the way he wanted. Here’s the one thing that both Gabriel and Dorinda did during the course of the novel – they grew up.

The story goes through their growing pains using the people they meet along the way, their friends and other family members previously thought lost to them both. Each secondary character helps in one fashion or another to get both the hero and heroine where they need to be in order to become the people they were always meant to be. It’s not easy and it took some time. It’s a long book. If readers like these kinds of epic journeys of personal discovery and positive success against characters’ original negative paths, coming into their own and becoming stronger and more certain of who they are in life, then this novel should strongly appeal.

It does eventually happen. The hero and heroine come together as full-fledged adults and are on a more even playing field. After all that growth and change, will the people they’ve become be as appealing in a marriage as when they first met? That’s the big question that gets resolved in the end.

I did experience a few hiccups as I read. Gabriel has a good friend, Avery. Avery’s method of speech hurt my brain. I couldn’t get the hang of how the dialogue might have sounded based on the spelling. After a while, I gave up. There were a few times where the wrong person’s name was used in a scene, but it didn’t throw me out of the story, not like Avery’s dialogue. I also found that the ending was too abrupt. After investing so much time in watching both Gabriel and Dorinda each become better people than when the book first started, I expected at least an epilogue to give a more well-rounded experience of closure. Especially with the bombshell Dorinda revealed to Gabriel at the end. But no, there was nothing to firm up that last sentence of Gabriel’s internal dialogue. I needed there to be an epilogue just to balance out what had come before. I’m let down by the lack.

On the whole though, The Viscount and The Orphan was a convincing historical romance with quite a bit to recommend it. I understood the references to Cromwell and his legacy and effect on England and religion during that period. I experienced echoes of that time through Dorinda’s actions even though Cromwell was long gone at the time this story takes place. Dorinda is a pious little thing in the beginning, full of dreams, romance and fanciful notions. Her faith gives her strength and that’s the one thing I did admire about the heroine – when everyone else around her gave it up because it was ‘inconvenient’, she didn’t. It was a part of her she refused to give up on even when someone complained about it. There were hints early on that the heroine had some spine in her. The story proved it to be a correct assessment.

I was happy that Dorinda and Gabriel got their happily ever after, after all, and I’m glad Avery’s character turned out to be a solid asset for the hero. He really was a nice guy and I’m glad for his role in it. Everyone should have a friend who sticks by them in the worst of times, and in the best of times.

This was a solid historical romance and I enjoyed reading it.

In Darkness: The Vampire by L. Diane Wolfe

In Darkness: The Vampire by L. Diane Wolfe
In Darkness series
Publisher: Dancing Lemur Press, L.L.C.
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Paranormal
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Souls shrouded in darkness…

Stuck working as a barmaid for her demanding father, Anna dreams of adventure. When mysterious strangers enter the bar, she overhears they seek Zancrela, an ancient fortress filled with treasure and a magical library. Taking her chance, she offers to guide them. The conditions: deliver Zancrela or die.

As they journey through the wilderness, she discovers their secret: they are vampires. And most view her as food. One takes interest in her and her heart dares to hope, but it might not be enough to change her fate. Will Anna find Zancrela or become a vampire morsel?

I’ve been looking for a different kind of vampire romance story and I’ve found it in The Vampire.

It starts off with an angle that reminds me of Cinderella and her wicked stepmother, except in this story, Anna’s own father is the heavy, and she’s the hardest worker in his pub. The story alludes to her being mistreated and perhaps even being beaten if she displeases her parent. It makes it quite believable that the heroine would grasp at any opportunity to escape even when it’s made very clear that if she didn’t succeed in her promise to deliver, the result is her death. Desperate times call for desperate measures and Anna has incentive.

The author focuses on Anna’s struggles to keep up with the group of very tall, dark and broody people who set a furious pace on their quest. Anna has a hard time keeping up because she’s only human. Everyone else is not. She finds out that fact in a very dramatic fashion. I liked the heroine’s spunk, determination and pragmatism in the face of the fact that most of her companions not only don’t like her but would like nothing more than to eat her. She’s food after all. That fact gives the story an edginess that keeps the tension high and the book’s pages flipping. The pacing of the story is brisk, informative, fascinating and well told. The part with the bear was a bit gory, but everyone has to eat, right?

Victor was the surprise. He’s the hero but I initially didn’t see him that way. He was the vampires’ leader – gruff, forbidding, commanding and no nonsense. He saw in Anna a truth he was willing to take a chance on. He believed her when she said she knew the way to their quest’s goal. He championed her quite a few times and I figured it’s because she proved she had the knowledge, and she was an asset to protect. It was the little things as the journey continued that showed me Victor was seeing Anna as more than just a human with knowledge they needed. He started seeing her as a woman. And he was torn and in a quandary because of it. Would the others still respect him if he chose a human female? That was a tough call and caused some emotional drama between Anna and himself.

Of course, they reach their goal but what happens in the palace was shocking, action-packed and pivotal. I definitely didn’t expect that to happen. That was a nice piece of drama.

What I appreciated greatly is that this slow-to-build romance was sweet to sensual. I feel ‘sensual’ can be applied because there was a heat-building moment that fanned the flames of Victor’s desire, but it’s sweet because in the end, it’s banked and implied in favor of action, storytelling and the resolving of the plot. It is also a happy ever after because the ending leaves no doubt that Victor and Anna are going to succeed in being together as man and wife. That made me very happy. But wow, what an arduous journey to get there!

The Vampire is an awesome, well-told story, and was a treat to read. I really liked it and if paranormal romance readers are tired of the in-your-face bedroom scenes that seem to be inherent in most paranormal novels these days, this book is refreshing, fascinating and entertaining because it delivers a solid plot with classic elements and ends with a satisfying conclusion. I’m so glad I read this novella that reads like a novel, and I hope other readers will enjoy it as much as I did.

Finding Happiness by Susan Warner

Finding Happiness by Susan Warner
Hidden Treasures Book 4
Publisher: EG Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

A treasure worth having is a treasure worth facing your past for.

When Olivia came to Markarava she found a place that gave her a voice and she didn’t’ have to hide herself or her ideas behind another person. Her insecurities shrunk but her loneliness grew. Growing up in a traditional family she was always told family or work. When she went to work her family didn’t understand why an attractive woman would turn away from the men who wanted to take care of her. As the town gets ready to celebrate the resilience of towns and families she tries to leave only to find she’s been volunteered because she’s so good at organizer the whole event.

Jeremy Collins can’t believe he’s working on the families are strong event. If it wasn’t for the fact that he needs the money to pay for a father in a home he wouldn’t’ even consider it. Jeremy knows he’s not good at relationships or families. Then when he’s teamed up with Livia from a nearby project he’s sure he’ll be stuck with Ms. Bubbles. Instead he finds a kindred soul.

As they organize the event, hear the stories that started the event they find the past doesn’t look bleak and maybe they can do the family and relationship thing, if they have the right person. Will they have the courage to trust and open their hearts to one another?

If a reader likes stories set in small towns, where the communities watch out for their own and like to play matchmakers, then this book might appeal. Both Olivia and Jeremy have friends in town who are trying to watch their backs for them, but at the same time believe they’re good for one another and try to guide Olivia and Jeremy towards their own happy-ever-after. Easier said than done.

Both the hero and heroine have noble traits in their personalities – they both believe in keeping promises, fulfilling obligations and won’t quit until there’s no option. That means stubbornness is a strong component in the story. Jeremy wants to take care of his aging father, and Olivia is searching for her missing baby sister. For some reason, one main character thinks they can work it out and be together, and the other believes those kinds of commitments preclude having a healthy long-term relationship. Those are some serious hurdles they both have to overcome and are one of the major plot points.

The dialogue was good, the sense of community was strong, the sub-romance between Caroline and Mark was appealing but it wrapped up in a quick disjointed manner. But I’m coming from not having read any of the previous books in the series. Perhaps it’ll be clearer for fans since they know the backstory. Parts of Finding Happiness were confusing at times but not enough to pull me out of the story. It was nice to have a solid HEA though because Finding Happiness has more of a ‘happy for now’ tone to it for the main characters. Perhaps I need to read book 5 in the series for the full effect. I’m pretty sure that’s the case because there’s a dangling plot thread that belongs to Olivia that has to be tied up. It’s mentioned in this story and progress is made, but for Olivia to be 100% happy, she needs closure. It makes sense that the last book in the series will dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s.

This was a good read, fine for passing the time in at a doctor’s appointment, or getting your oil changed. It’s a story about personal conflicts that need to be overcome before Olivia and Jeremy can move on towards their future together. It was engrossing and entertaining, and I enjoyed reading the book. It’s obvious to me that I’m going to have to read the final book in the series. Nothing like a little closure to make my day.

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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