Friday, December 2, 2016

Review: A Beautiful Stranger by Donna Fasano


Genre: Romance

Description:

When Sean Hudson arrives to claim his new daughter, he discovers the adoption hinges on the impossible. Unless he finds a wife immediately, the tiny orphan will be snatched away from him forever. But before Sean can abandon hope, a beautiful stranger proposes a surprising solution — marriage.

Sean swears the love in his heart is only for his soon-to-be daughter. And that is perfect for Nicki Willis, whose restless spirit yearns to have a family for just a while. But the tenderness of Sean’s touch soothes Nicki’s fears as well as little Sona’s. Now Nicki aches to become a family forever… and she refuses to believe she can’t make this dream come true.”

Author:

Donna Fasano is a three time winner of the HOLT Medallion, a CataRomance Reviewers Choice Award winner for Best Single Title, a Desert Rose Golden Quill Award finalist, and a Golden Heart finalist. Her books have sold over 3.6 million copies worldwide and have been published in nearly two dozen languages.”

Her novels have also made the Kindle Top 100 Paid List numerous times. To learn more please check out her website and Facebook page.

Appraisal:

I am always amazed at Ms. Fasano’s deep understanding of emotions involved in developing relationships. It didn’t take long for me to be drawn into both Sean Hudson’s and Nicki Willis’ dilemma. Both characters were hampered by past events neither could get past.

Baby Sona’s, an orphaned infant in war-torn Kyrcznovia, wellbeing is the driving force that brings Sean and Nicki together. Without Nicki, Sean can’t adopt Sona and Nicki happens to be in need of immediate employment so she offers her services to Sean. This seems like a good plan, however neither considered the emotional toll this might take on both of them.

This plot is well paced and realistic. The chemistry between Sean and Nicki is smoldering, a fire neither one of them allows to take flame. I felt for both, not knowing the past that led them to their decisions to stay apart. Their journey is heart-wrenching as they must face the past that has brought them to this point in their lives. Ms. Fasano has a way of exposing the human condition of relationships like no other romance author I have ever read. She is able to rip open emotional scars and apply a soothing salve that brings forth healing.

A Beautiful Stranger is a captivating story that will grab your heart. Baby Sona is perfectly captured as a loving eighteen-month old. Babies are amazing at that age as they learn and explore their world. Sean’s experiences as a new father are priceless and perfectly captured. Nicki is able to offer a wise influence in both of their lives. Sean and Nicki’s rapport will heat your loins while managing to remain in the clean wholesome genre. I like my romances with a bit of spice, however Ms. Fasano managed to not disappoint me with her wordsmith magic. Well done, ma’am.

Buy now from:    Amazon US    Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant proofing issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 40-45,000 words

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Reprise Review: Will by Dan Cardinal


Genre: Literary Fiction

Description:

Only days ago, Will Brown’s wife and three-year-old daughter were killed in a freak road accident—both of them wiped out instantly. Soon after the funerals, living in his marital home in Midland, lower Michigan, wrecked with grief, and surrounded by in-laws, friends, and well-wishers who don’t know what the hell to say to him, Will has a brain fart and decides to run . . . to a remote cabin in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Author:

Dan Cardinal was born and raised in northern Wisconsin. He double-majored in English and Computer Science at UW Madison and lives in his home town with his wonderful wife and three lovely children.

To see more of Mr. Cardinal’s books please visit his Amazon author page.

Appraisal:

Gosh, this is a terrific story. Let’s get the mechanics out of the way first--tight writing, clean editing, engaging and compelling scene setting. Yeah, well, those things may sound trite, but they certainly help a story along--Mr. Cardinal is a hell of a writer.

But it’s the characters, Will and his supporting cast, that make this a great story. They all felt real to me: his concerned father, his understanding boss, and most of all the locals in the tiny town situated a two hour hike from his cabin.

I know nothing about black bears or living in remote, cold places in the far north of America. Nor do I ever want to shoot a deer and field dress it, but I trembled along with Will as he waited for the big buck to shift into his sights. My heart raced when I wondered if the momma bear protecting her cubs, or Will, would win in their battle of wits and survival. I loved his dog, Max, as much as Will did.

Most of all, I felt Will’s heartache at the loss of his wife and child. I joined in his journey and agreed with his unorthodox recipe for curing a broken heart. Running away to the middle of nowhere seemed logical. The tiny cabin into which he poured his energies provided--through his physical endeavor--focus, a solace if you will. His father, although concerned when his only son ran from a good job and a steady existence, still supported him, and in a personal way empathized because he’d too lost his wife too soon.

And then the locals: a few scraped a decent living from tourists in the summer and full-timers in the winter. But many others, like Will, had cut themselves off from the ‘real world’ for personal reasons and became so married to the isolation that, like frantic beasts caught in tar sand, they were no longer able to extract themselves.

Would Will end up like them, unable to leave? Would his life become so inwardly focused on surviving the tough winters, and alcohol, and solitude, that he’d die alone and full of regrets like Lars Jackson. Or could he grasp onto a woman’s love like a lifeline and trust her enough to help him overcome his inner demons and break away? Could Will become a new person, a good person, a better person?

Well, if you’re interested in finding out. I suggest you read the story for yourself. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Buy now from:    Amazon US    Amazon UK

FYI:

Added for Reprise Review: Will was a nominee in the Contemporary/Literary/General category for B&P 2015 Readers' Choice Awards. 
Original review ran April 4, 2014.

Format/Typo Issues:

None!

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Approximate word count: 95-100,000 words

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Review: Glory on Mars by Kate Rauner


Genre: Science Fiction

Description:

There are eight settlers on Mars until the colony's psychologist walks out an airlock to die on the cold, airless sands. Emma and her crewmates, the next mission of settlers, launch from Spaceport America despite the tragedy and despite their own misgivings. They take a tabby kitten with them, as requested by the survivors on Mars, and hope to revive the shocked colony.”

Author:

Kate Rauner (Hanover, New Mexico, USA) writes science fiction novels and science poetry and serves as a volunteer firefighter. Kate is a retired engineer and Cold War Warrior--she worked in America's nuclear weapons complex. Living on the edge of the Southwest’s Gila National Forest with her husband, cats, llamas, and dog, she’s well on her way to achieving her life-goal of becoming an eccentric old woman.”

Appraisal:

As a young man, I’d have jumped at the chance to sign up for a one-way ticket to Mars, so this book fitted right in my wheelhouse. I particularly enjoyed the opening chapters, which started at the Earth-side preparation station with potential travelers confined for two years in a modular habitat that simulated the conditions they would encounter on Mars. Better to discover claustrophobic tendencies and personality clashes before takeoff, right?

Once on Mars, though, the story meandered and got bogged down in the day-to-day minutia of the settlers. I understand that living in an artificially maintained environment on a planet with no atmosphere would involve a lot of chores and attention to detail, but the activities became repetitive in the extreme. So much so, that the plot and characters became secondary. Moments of tension were few and too easily resolved. Potential conflicts were hinted at, but not fully realized.

And the cat? Well the cat made it onto the book’s cover but didn’t have any significance. That red-herring niggled at me most of the way through.
IMO, assuming the technical details are accurate (and they seemed to be, which is all that really matters for disbelief suspension, right?), this could be turned into an engaging story if it underwent a content edit.

Buy now from:    Amazon US    Amazon UK

FYI:

Clean copy, solid writing skills.

Format/Typo Issues:

None.

Rating: *** Three Stars

Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Reprise Review: They Call Me Crazy by Kelly Stone Gamble


Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Mystery/Woman’s Fiction

Description:

Cass Adams is crazy, and everyone in Deacon, Kansas, knows it. But when her good-for-nothing husband, Roland, goes missing, no one suspects that Cass buried him in their unfinished koi pond. Too bad he doesn’t stay there for long. Cass gets arrested on the banks of the Spring River for dumping his corpse after heavy rain partially unearths it.

The police chief wants a quick verdict—he’s running for sheriff and has no time for crazy talk. But like Roland’s corpse, secrets start to surface, and they bring more to light than anybody expected. Everyone in Cass’s life thinks they know her—her psychic grandmother, her promiscuous ex-best friend, her worm-farming brother-in-law, and maybe even her local ghost. But after years of separate silences, no one knows the whole truth. Except Roland. And he’s not talking.”

Author:

Kelly Stone Gamble was born and raised in the Midwest… all over the Midwest. By the time she graduated from high school, she had run away from home twice and attended twenty-two different schools.”

To learn more about Ms. Gamble check out her website or Facebook page.

Appraisal:

There was a lot of dark humor in this twisted tale that could have taken place in any small town. The story exposes some serious issues of mental illnesses being improperly medicated by doctors who treat beyond their expertise. Cass lived her days in a fog and the best decision she ever made was dumping her pills down the toilet on that fateful day. Crazy ran in her family. When Cass was five, her mother committed suicide. Cass and her nine-year-old sister, Lola, were left in the care of their grandparents. Their grandma Babe was known for making potions, reading auras, and told fortunes with tarot cards. She was considered the town witch.

This story is told through multiple points of view that are clearly marked in each chapter heading. Each character rang true as they told us their perspective of the events as they unfolded. I could feel the sheriff’s frustration, and had to giggle as Cass’s big city lawyer put his spin on the situation. Small town secrets always have a way of coming to light, much to Maryanne’s dismay. The local fifth grade teacher has several secrets of her own and is expertly woven into Cass’s, Roland’s, and Clay’s lives. Clay was Roland’s older brother who after being discharged from the army after two years’ service, now spends his time with his worm farm when not working at the local hardware store. To say this town has colorful residents is an understatement.

I found this an entertaining read that pulled me in and kept me reading till my eyes wouldn’t stay open any longer. The setting of this book happens to be relatively close to where I live, so I could identify with the people, the problems that they dealt with, and situations that arose a little too easily. I appreciated the fact that Cass attempts to take full responsibility for herself instead of playing the crazy card and she doesn’t see herself as a victim. This was a well told story that left me with a smile on my face.

Buy now from:    Amazon US    Amazon UK

FYI:

Added for Reprise Review: They Call Me Crazy was the winner in the Contemporary Fiction category for B&P 2015 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran February 11, 2015.

Format/Typo Issues:

Even though I read an advanced readers copy and normally don’t comment on editing or formatting issues, I came across no issues to note.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

Monday, November 28, 2016

Review: Love, Christmas - Holiday stories that will put a song in your heart! by Katy Walters, Dani Haviland, and Cynthia Cooke

Editor's note:  We conclude our multi-part review of this box set with part 7.



Genre: Romance/Christmas/Box set

Description:

Put a song in your heart with 20 all-new Christmas Romances from NY Times, USA Today, and national best-selling authors. Each brand-new title is inspired by a Christmas carol and will lift your spirits and bring on the holiday cheer.”

Sleigh Ride by Katy Walters - Miss Sophia Vale faces poverty. Enter the Earl of Breconbridge, renowned as a rake hell with a conscience.

Little Drummer Boy by Dani Haviland - How could a mere drummer boy help those stranded in the worst winter storm of the 18th century?

Santa Claus is Coming to Town by Cynthia Cooke - A big city girl reunites with a small town boy--magic. A Santa in need of an elf--Christmas magic.

Author:

Katy Walters, “lives in the midst of Regency towns on the South Coast of England. Being of Welsh and Irish parentage, her novels tend towards Celtic themes. Her main interests are historical and regency romance with an underlying theme of time travel. She is equally drawn to the paranormal myths of the Dark Ages, the pre-medieval era, where the ancient Britons were known as the People of the Trees…

Katy’s enjoyed an eclectic career, delighting in every one of her occupations. On leaving school, the office beckoned and became her prison, one she managed to escape taking up operatic singing… Later on returning to university, Katy went on to enjoy a long and rich career as a research psychologist, psychotherapist and hypnotherapist… But then her first love, writing, beckoned, and she was in a position to write to her heart’s content. It was a dream come true when Amazon opened up the doors to publishing.”

To learn more please visit Ms. Walters website.

Dani Haviland, a Mayflower and Mormon pioneer descendant, recently semi-retired from selling tractor parts, tools, and roses in Alaska, relocating to a more temperate climate in western Oregon to pursue her passions: writing, gardening, and photography.

Life has changed from jumping into a skid-steer loader to plow snow to pull-starting the walk behind weed whacker, but there are still enough hours in the day for the feisty old lady to propagate people for her novels and plants for her yard. Sharing is part of her personality, so creating books and photos to share all over the world makes her happy.”

To learn more please visit Ms. Haviland’s website.

Cynthia Cooke, “First published in 2003, Cynthia Cooke is an award-winning author who has published 17 novels in 12 different countries with Harlequin, Entangled, and Amazon Kindle Worlds. She has a deep affection for romance stories and playing in the ocean. On her best days you can find her on the beach with her notebook, a novel in hand, and her dog, Angel, by her side.”

To learn more please visit Ms. Cooke’s website or follow her onFacebook.

Appraisal:

IIn this seventh and final group of novellas from Love, Christmas I am reviewing more new-to-me authors.


Sleigh Ride by Katy Walters:

Tragedy hit the Vale family several years ago when the Reverend Stuart Vale succumbed to yellow fever, along with two of his three sons. This left Lady Vale to raise six daughters and a son on her own. Baron Jude Hawsley, a lecher with a penchant for young maidens, has allowed the Vales to continue living in a cottage on his property. The Baron has now set his sights on Sophia, the oldest Vale daughter. Sophia is strong-willed, able-bodied, and realistic. However she is totally taken with the Earl of Breconbridge - Lord Jacob Wells - despite the debauchery involved during their first meeting. Sleigh Ride is a sweet romance in which Lord Jacob has to go to great lengths to prove to Sophia’s mother that he is not a rakehell.

I identified too many proofing issues in this novella. First and foremost is the Reverend’s first name was Stuart and he was only referred to as Thomas once. However, it is confusing to the reader when the author can’t keep their character’s name straight. Another large concern was the use or misuse of quotation marks; they were either half missing or on the wrong passages. I have to call it sloppy editing and deducted a star.

Not only is Ms. Walters a new-to-me-author, but I now have to wonder if I have ever read any Regency romance other than Pride and Prejudice. I would have found the restrictions placed on women and the language used almost comical, if they hadn’t been so restrictive. Sleigh Ride is an enjoyable story, with comical moments, if you are willing to tolerate the proofing issues.

Little Drummer Boy by Dani Haviland:

At only thirteen years of age, Scout is on his own. Son of a Cherokee mother and an absentee white, wannabe-Indian father, Ian Kincaid, he is searching for employment as a scout in the North Carolina backwoods. When he comes across a small group of soldiers trying to build a bridge across the river, he offers to guide them to an easier place to cross in exchange for employment pay as a scout. The year is 1784, it’s the month of December, and black clouds are moving in as they set up camp on the far side of the river.

I discovered reading this novella that Scout and others in this story are from a series titled The Fairies Saga; the first book is Naked in the Winter Wind. Being such, there are many characters mentioned who don’t get much screen play. I am sure they were there for readers who were already familiar with the series. However, it got a bit confusing trying to keep them all straight for me.
Scout is a smart, interesting character and I enjoyed learning about him and his many talents. The book is told through different points-of-view, so we got to know Scout and about his wayward father. Family relationships and bonds are explored as extended family is introduced. This novella doesn’t tell us how fairies are involved, unless Jenny turns out to be one. She and Scout have a special relationship. Jenny is the adopted daughter of Ian’s first, handfast wife Evie, who he also abandoned when he learned she was pregnant.

Since this seems to be Scout’s first Christmas, stories are shared to educate him in Christmas traditions of this time in early America. Little Drummer Boy is an enjoyable read.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town by Cynthia Cooke:

Nicole Flattery hasn’t been home in four years since she graduated college. She moved to Boston to build her career as an architect and she’s moving up the ladder to success. When her father, Frank, falls from a ladder putting up Christmas lights and breaks his leg and sprains his arm, Nicole packs up her files and heads home to assist her father.

Frank has been the town’s Santa since before Nicole was born and when he is unable to fulfill that obligation this year he talks his neighbor’s divorced son, Landry Parsons, into filling in for him. Landry’s six-year-old daughter, Kimmie, is beside herself with glee because she gets to be Santa’s elf. Nicole has lost her Christmas spirit over the years she has been away and worries about her dad’s sanity with his obsession about Christmas. Landry’s mother, Mary Margaret, has been taking the pictures since Nicole left for school and then work. However, this year her whole family is coming into town and she just can’t manage it. Against Nicole’s wishes but at her father insistence, she takes over the photo gig again. I call parents’ manipulation here, and I think you will too.

In the meantime, Kimmie vows to help Nicole find the Christmas magic she lost years ago. That’s a tall order for a six-year old but she is up to the challenge and of course the chemistry between her father and Nicole helps quite a bit. The twists in this novella aren’t surprising but things get tense and a bit unnerving. This is an endearing story about priorities, being truthful with oneself, and surrendering to passion. Santa Claus is Coming to Town will leave you with a smile on your face and a song in your heart. 

Buy now from:    Amazon US    Amazon UK

FYI:

The stories in Love, Christmas are new and never before published. Two of these novellas can be classified as Clean and Wholesome stories. Santa Claus is Coming to Town has a couple of sexual scenes not behind closed doors. 

Format/Typo Issues:

Sleigh Ride by Katy Walters: I found way too many proofing errors and had to deduct a star.

Little Drummer Boy by Dani Haviland: No proofing issues.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town by Cynthia Cooke: No significant proofing issues.

Rating: Sleigh Ride by Katy Walters: *** Three Stars

Rating: Little Drummer Boy by Dani Haviland: **** Four Stars

Rating: Santa Claus is Coming to Town by Cynthia Cooke: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 375-400,000 words for the full set. Each story is novella size, 20,000 words or slightly less.


Friday, November 25, 2016

Review: Dark Heart by Catherine Lee


Genre: Mystery

Description:

Detective Charlie Cooper is on the verge of leaving Homicide. But when the serial killer he's been chasing for a decade is murdered, Cooper has the chance to save the killer's final victim and atone for all the ones he's failed.
After a life-saving heart transplant, Eva Matthews just wants things to get back to normal. But when she learns she's received the heart of the serial killer, she can't ignore the strange dreams that haunt her. Is the killer's heart telling her where his final victim is hidden?”

Author:

Catherine's love of reading and dislike of working for a living led her to the only possible solution -- write fast-paced mysteries that readers will struggle to put down. Not content to simply produce page-turners, Catherine strives to leave the reader with more than who did it to think about. Cellular memory, ancestry, genetic therapy, and cyberbullying are just some of the topics involved in the Dark series, as Detective Charlie Cooper and his partner Joe Quinn solve mysteries and murders in the heart of Sydney.
You can find out more and get a free copy of Dark City, the prequel novella to the Dark Series, on Catherine's website.

Appraisal:

I don’t often read police-procedural-type mysteries, but the premise of Dark Heart added a twist that I liked. Namely that Eva Matthews receives a heart transplant, and the heart came from a serial killer. The concept of cellular memory was stretched rather a long way, but it did add flavor to the story. Ms. Lee’s writing style is easy on the eye and kept the pages turning for me.

This is the first book in a series (all with Dark in the title), and at the time of writing this review the novel was free for Kindle. $0.00 is always a good price. If you enjoy well-written mysteries with some unexpected twists, I’d recommend you pick up a copy of Dark Heart. It may open you up to an enjoyable series.

Buy now from:    Amazon US    Amazon UK

FYI:

Australian settings and English usage.

Format/Typo Issues:

Very clean copy.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Reprise Review: The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire by Sandra Hutchison


Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Coming of Age

Description:

It’s the summer of 1977 in a small town in Western Massachusetts. Physics professor David Asken has just lost his young family in a plane crash he somehow survived. Sixteen-year-old neighbor Molly Carmichael used to be the babysitter, but now will be keeping house for him while he recuperates. He’s quietly planning to end his life just as soon as he can drive again, but may not be willing to wait that long after he comes across his dead wife’s journal and encounters more hostility than he had ever imagined. Molly is trying to cope with being known as Tampon Girl, thanks to a sculpture by her notorious artist mother, but she will have to deal with much worse after a drunken teenage party.

Both man and girl are going to have to grow up the hard way, and it’s their unexpected connection — fraught with potential scandal — that may just help them do it. This provocative coming-of-age novel asks: Is there ever a time when doing the wrong thing might be exactly right?”

Author:

A native Floridian, Sandra Hutchison moved north during high school and has remained there. Currently she lives in Troy, NY with her family and teaches writing at Hudson Valley Community College. She has once other novel, The Awful Mess, available.


Appraisal:

The reasons people read fiction and what they expect or hope to get from the experience varies, not only from reader to reader, but sometimes from book to book. For some, it is purely entertainment or vicarious experience of some kind. Others want something deeper whether it be a message, a thought-provoking story, or a trigger to consider the world and their place in it. A good story will work on both levels, entertaining all readers while providing grist for the mill to those who are looking for something deeper.

The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire has the entertainment part down with a coming of age story set in the late 70s. If that’s your era, you might find it evokes a few nostalgic feelings, but regardless of age, if you’ve ever been a teenager you’ll relate to the struggles of that time in life.

However, odds are if you’re a reader who prefers to be entertained by the surface story, that you’ll find yourself dragged deeper against your wishes. Depending on your thoughts, beliefs, and opinions on some subjects, the direction the story takes may anger you or challenge your beliefs. Thought provoking might be too mild a term as you’re forced to ponder many things including the reasonableness of social norms, whether artistic expression should have limits, and parental responsibility.

Buy now from:    Amazon US    Amazon UK

FYI:

Adult themes and some adult language.

Added for Reprise Review: The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire was a nominee in the Contemporary/Literary/General category for B&P 2015 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran February 9, 2015

Format/Typo Issues:

A small number of proofing and copyediting issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 90-95,000 words

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Review: Innocent Thoughts by Ophir Mottes


Genre: Non-Fiction/Philosophy/Science

Description:

Many words, concepts, and sentences seem obvious to us; it feels like we know what they mean, and we do not really stop to see if we do. Often once an actual effort is done and we try to put our 'knowing' into words, we find things are not that simple.”

Author:

No information available.

Appraisal:

I'm torn about this book. There is much I liked, offset by things not so good.

The concept of the book is to take something most people understand, or at least think they do, and dig deeper. In doing showing that many concepts we think of as simple (whether our understanding is right or wrong) is actually more complex. Some of the areas addressed are philosophical, such as do you and I have free will? Others are more scientific, like defining what it means for something to be considered to have life.

On the philosophical concepts I generally followed the logic and either agreed with where the author's thoughts took us or at least saw it as a valid stance. But there were times it was work following along. As an example, the author’s book description has a sentence that says, “Often once an actual effort is done and we try to put our 'knowing' into words, we find things are not that simple.” What does that mean? It's saying that if we stop to think through a simple concept (“an actual effort is done”) that we'll realize it isn't as straightforward as first thought. It wasn't a constant problem, but I found more of those kinds of sentences than I'd like that forced me to stop and parse them before moving on.

I was also concerned about the more scientific discussions because something would be stated as fact, but I have no idea whether the author has any qualifications in this area and I worried that their understanding of the scientific concepts might be incorrect. This possibility was exacerbated due to a claim early in the book where the author made a statement that contradicted one of the basic rules of probability. (If something has a 50/50 chance of happening, for example a coin toss, just because three heads have been thrown in a row doesn't make a tail more likely than 50% on the next toss.)

Still, an interesting and thought provoking book.

Buy now from:    Amazon US    Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: *** Three Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 25-30,000 words

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Reprise Review: Keeping Private Idaho by Rick Just


Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Satire

Description:

Coyote never seems to learn. Yet, he never fails to teach, mostly through the error of his ways. He taught the Nez Perce that they came from the Heart of the Monster. Now, he is teaching modern day Idahoans, they have a monster in their heart. This is Private Idaho, a place that exists in the minds of accidental natives and territorial pranksters who take out their resentments on tourists and real estate speculators. They are anonymous and deadly. In this tale of the New West, where the cowboys are women and the Indians wear Rollerblades, be alert for exploding potatoes, the allure of mineshafts and the terrible finesse of chainsaws.”

Author:
Rick Just is a native Idahoan who grew up on a ranch along the Blackfoot River. He is a former Marine, a whitewater kayaker, a sculptor, a sports car buff and the alpha male of his schnauzer pack. As a student, he served as editor of Boise State University's nationally acclaimed literary magazine, cold-drill. During Idaho's Centennial, Rick wrote and produced the official Centennial radio series, Idaho Snapshots, which aired daily on stations statewide. The program won the Governor's Take Pride in Idaho award and was honored in the national Take Pride in America program.”

To learn more about Mr. Just please visit his website.

Appraisal:

I’m a sometimes Idahoan with roots in the state going back several generations. About twenty years ago I was living elsewhere and suggested to a co-worker, another expat-Idahoan, that beyond the obvious differences between rural and more populous areas common in most states, that Idaho was actually three states (maybe I should have said regions to be less divisive) with their own distinct cultural norms. The first of these is The Panhandle (which is a cross between their close neighbors of Eastern Oregon and Western Montana, with a dash of right-wing extremism thrown in to keep things interesting). Next is the Mormon influenced Southeast, in many ways more of a far-northern outpost of Utah. Last, is the Southwest, with Boise, the only significant urban area and Sun Valley, the two places most likely known to people largely unacquainted with the Gem State.

Each of these areas is represented by at least one significant character in Keeping Private Idaho, and the diversity of the characters in the novel is reflective of reality. Thrown into the mix is Coyote of Native American mythology as another major character. The large cast of characters was difficult to track in the beginning. As the story progressed and each distinctive personality solidified in my mind, that became less of a problem.

One thing each area of the state has in common is tourism as a significant industry. The timeframe when the story takes place (the mid-90s) was also a period when Idaho, along with many other western states, experienced conflict, with rapid growth, an influx of “outsiders” moving in (many from California), and rapid appreciation in housing prices. At times this caused disagreements and clashes between the natives and the newcomers, with bumper stickers saying “Don’t Californicate Idaho” as one obvious outward representation of those opposed to the changes.

It’s against this backdrop that the story of Keeping Private Idaho is told. It’s a cautionary tale (luckily the modern day Monkey Wrench Gang depicted here was never reality). Part of me realized while reading that some things, like a rural rancher wishing her city cousins would get as nostalgic about bucking hay as they did during branding season, wouldn’t evoke the same knowing chuckle from everyone as it did for me. Some of the subtle humor (the names of the children in the Thompson family, for example) wouldn’t tickle the funny bone for everyone, like it did for me. (In fact, most people would probably have to have it explained to even realize there was humor there.)

However, Keeping Private Idaho also explores some universal themes, dealing with change and the concept of geographical and cultural roots, being the two that resonated most with me. I would expect those parts of the story to be entertaining and thought provoking for all readers, even those who have never been within a thousand miles of the state.

Buy now from:    Amazon US    Amazon UK

FYI:

Added for Reprise Review: Keeping Private Idaho was a nominee in the Contemporary/Literary/General category for B&P 2015 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran April 22, 2014

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words

Monday, November 21, 2016

Review: Love, Christmas - Holiday stories that will put a song in your heart! By Joan Reeves, Mona Risk, and Denise Devine

Editor's note:  We continue with part six of our multi-part review of this box set. 



Genre: Romance/Christmas/Box set

Description:

Put a song in your heart with 20 all-new Christmas Romances from NY Times, USA Today, and national best-selling authors. Each brand-new title is inspired by a Christmas carol and will lift your spirits and bring on the holiday cheer.”

Last Christmas by Joan Reeves - Annabelle gave him her heart, but Rick threw it away. He wants redemption, she wants revenge.

Holly Jolly Christmas by Mona Risk - Pregnant at 18. Adoption would save the baby's future but may cost her the man she loves.

So This is Christmas by Denise Devine - He was her child nemesis, now he's her best friend forever.

Author:

JOAN REEVES is a NY Times and USA Today bestselling author of Contemporary Romance. She began her career with New York traditional publishers. When the Amazon Kindle came along, she happily embraced a new career path as an independent author/publisher.

Joan lives her happily ever after with her hero, her husband, in the Lone Star State. They have four kids who think they are adults and a ghost dog--all the ingredients for a life full of love and warmed by laughter. She lives the philosophy that is the premise of all of her romance novels: ‘It's never too late to live happily ever after.’"


Mona Risk: “New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author, Mona Risk, received an Outstanding Achiever Award from Affaire de Coeur Magazine. She's a two time winner of Best Contemporary Romance of the Year from Readers Favorite; a winner of Best Romance Novel of the Year from Preditors & Editors Readers Poll; and an EPIC Award finalist… She writes contemporary romances, medical romance, romantic suspense, and paranormal fantasy. Sprinkled with a good dose of humor, her stories are set in the fascinating places she visited or more simply at home.”

To learn more about Ms. Risk please check out her website or follow heron Facebook.

Denise Devine, a USA Today bestselling author of contemporary romance, romantic comedy, and inspirational romance. She’s been passionate about books ever since she learned to read. Ms. Devine loves animals of all kinds and always includes them in each story.

To learn more please visit her website or follow her on Facebook.

Appraisal:

In this group of novellas from Love, Christmas I am reviewing more new-to-me authors. I chose stories that sounded like they had a common theme: facing personal dilemmas.

Last Christmas by Joan Reeves:

Last year at a friend’s Christmas party in Houston, Annabelle Cooper thought she had met the love of her life, but then he disappeared without a word. Tired of grieving the lost relationship, she’s decides to move on and never let a man hurt her like that again. Now back home in her grandmother’s house, she has the job she has always wanted since she was a child: managing editor of her grandparent’s newspaper in the Texas panhandle.

During the New Estacado Gazette’s annual Christmas open house, in walks in the man who broke her heart. The mayor introduces him as the town’s new police chief: Rick Lassiter. Not the same name he was using in Houston last year. Annabelle tries to keep her composure and pretends to trip, tossing her champagne in his face, and grinding her four-inch heel into his foot. His gasp of pain is gratifying until he wraps his arms around her, crushing her breasts to his rock-hard chest as he crashes against a wall behind him. Big mistake on Annabelle’s part, because all those feelings from last Christmas come flooding back.

Annabelle quickly devises a plan to get Rick to leave his position and get out of town. It all horribly backfires on her and she falls for him again. The passion between Annabelle and Rick is hot and genuine. All she wants now are answers and he won’t or can’t give them to her. I loved the way the plot moved along. As the town’s residents embrace Rick, Annabelle becomes willing to accept the mystery surrounding Rick as well. The alternating points-of-view helps develop both main characters well. However, Ms. Reeves maintains most of Rick’s mysterious air until the end, which keeps the intrigue level high. When Rick’s past catches up with him, tension rises and all bets are off. Last Christmas is a captivating story I enjoyed all the way through.

I just have one nitpick about a character name, Eddie became Eddy once during the story. Honestly, I see no excuse for that to ever happen. However, Eddie is a minor character brought in to fill out Rick’s backstory and despite this error I am only willing to take away half a star, because I loved the story. Since neither BigAl nor Amazon accepts half stars, I guess we all know that leaves me at a five-star rating.

Holly Jolly Christmas by Mona Risk:

At eighteen, Heather Ramsay finds herself pregnant. She vows to not let the baby ruin Jeff’s scholarship to MIT this coming fall. Heather decides this pregnancy would best be handled by putting the baby up for adoption. That way the baby wouldn’t disrupt anyone’s life but her own, right? Silly, na├»ve teenager. I have to confess, I am not the ideal reader for this story having lived through this from a mother’s perspective. Although, our circumstances were vastly different. A box set like this is a great deal for the money, but with a wide variety of authors and sub-genres you may find that some don't work for you. Holly Jolly Christmas is an example of one that wasn’t for me.

Since Heather’s mother is rightly distracted by her dad’s serious diagnoses and cancer treatments, Heather confides in her older sister. Madelyn has graduated from medical school and offers sound advice while trying to support her younger sister. Ms. Risk does a good job representing both Heather’s views and thoughts as well as Jeff’s with alternating points-of-view. Jeff shows his maturity by trying to keep a level head, even though there are times he loses his self-control. The twists in the story keeps emotions at a high level throughout. Holly Jolly Christmas is a sweet, but heart rending, story that explores many aspects of the situations at hand.

Holly Jolly Christmas is a prequel novella to Ms. Risk’s Holiday Babies Series.

So This is Christmas by Denise Devine:

Annabelle Lee is looking forward to some alone time before an annual girl’s weekend at her friend’s family cabin at Breezy Point, Minnesota. She arrives the Monday before the planned weekend to do some soul-searching, but finds the cabin inhabited by Christopher Stone, her best friend’s twin brother, who isn’t planning to leave until Friday.

So This Christmas is told from Annabelle’s first-person point-of-view. She has managed to build a successful photography business, however, she has recently experienced an emptiness from a lack of a relationship she hasn’t had the time or energy to pursue. So she was here early to reassess her priorities alone. How can she manage to do that with her childhood nemesis around?

This is a sweet story about relationships that are not always as they seem. It’s how you choose to look at things that defines them. The lesson is to get over yourself. Annabelle’s journey was a pleasant trip to watch unfold. I would recommend this story if you need to unwind and relax.  

Buy now from:    Amazon US    Amazon UK

FYI:

The stories in Love, Christmas are new and never before published. They are also classified as Clean and Wholesome stories.
Last Christmas by Joan Reeves, contains adult sexual content and a few F-bombs.

Format/Typo Issues:

Last Christmas by Joan Reeves: Just one significant issue, which I mentioned in the body of my review. My other issue was small, a sentence with extra words.

Holly Jolly Christmas by Mona Risk: No significant issues.

So This is Christmas by Denise Devine: No significant issues

Rating: Last Christmas by Joan Reeves: ***** Five Stars

Rating: Holly Jolly Christmas by Mona Risk: *** Three Stars

Rating: So This is Christmas by Denise Devine: **** Four Stars 

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 375-400,000 words for the full set. Each story is novella size, 20,000 words or slightly less.