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Book Review: Blazing Bullets in Deadwood Gulch by Jacquie Rogers

Honey Beaulieu is going to get her man–no matter how many tries it takes. Determined to capture the elusive Boyce McNitt, Honey is off to Deadwood Gulch despite the warnings that the dangerous road is plagued by thieves and natives.  But before she can pursue the $500 bounty, she needs to take care of issues at home, including finding a shop for a pregnant seamstress, sixteen-year-old Emma, a home for eight-year-old Myles Cavanaugh, his two younger sisters, and their pregnant mother. Between her do-gooding, denying her blossoming feelings for Deputy US Marshal Sam Lancaster, and a run-in with a herd of escaped pigs determined to destroy Fry Pan Gulch, Honey barely has time to get out of town before she gets trapped by winter. Once on the road, she comes face-to-face with Sean Chaney, the Badger Claw Kid, a bounty worth $400, and is intent on capturing him, as well. With a little otherworldly, albeit not entirely helpful, advice from her ghost guide Roscoe, Honey will have to take down two dangerous fugitives. But, when she runs into a fireball-throwing ghost bent on revenge, her real adventure begins.

This third installment of the Honey Beaulieu – Man Hunter series reunites the reader with the unique cast from Honey’s previous adventures as well as introducing some new characters sure to return. This quirky cast shares in the ultimate theme of the novel, good old-fashioned “help your fellow man.” Only with the help of Agnes, Honey’s mother, the madam of the Tasty Chicken Emporium; her thoroughbred racing mule, Pickles; and Roscoe, the mind-reading ghost, is Honey able to rid the Wyoming Territory of bad guys. This theme permeates every aspect of the plot. Most of the citizens of Fry Pan Gulch perform some act of kindness for another character. From gifting poor children with small treats to hiring criminals to keep them out of trouble, the townspeople’s pay-it-forward attitude embodies the spirit of what most readers associate with a simpler, kinder time in American history. These tiny acts of humanity remind the reader that caring for people, not things, can make the most significant difference in someone’s life.

Warm and kind-hearted while remaining fiercely independent and tough, Honey is a woman ahead of her time. Much like her bonnet-wearing mule, Sassy, she refuses to be led blindly along but forges a path of her own, not allowing herself to worry about finding a husband and assume her womanly role as a homemaker but choosing instead to follow her “papa’s roving blood.” She has seen too much of what happens to weak women in her mother’s brothel, and she knows she could never allow herself the weakness she sees in most women. This poker-playing bounty hunter purses a life of freedom unheard of for 1879 and trades in the homestead for the dusty trail and freedom. She is more than sassy enough to hold the reader’s interest, surprising everyone except herself with what she can accomplish. But Honey isn’t the only strong woman in the novel. Agnes, Honey’s mother, owns and operates one of the most successful whorehouses in the Territory and manages to do it as “ethically” as possible. She cares about her employees and providing a safe environment where they choose to remain rather than to be enslaved by impossible contracts and cruel pimps. Even Emma and Myles’s mother show strong women. Emma is only a child herself, but she still manages to make a life for her and her unborn child by starting a sewing business. Myles’s mother, Ivy Mae, has been abandoned by her husband (stepfather to her children) and is also expecting a child. She is willing to sacrifice herself to feed her children. In this world where husbands are killed, and boyfriends shirk responsibilities, the women manage to survive – and sometimes flourish – in true female fashion!

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: Campari Crimson by Traci Andrighetti

Texas transplant Franki Amato has only lived in New Orleans for only a year and a half, but she has already seen some pretty strange things. As a private investigator for Private Chicks, she has had her share of oddball cases and clients, but this one is blood-curdling–a vampire serial killer is stalking The Big Easy. With Halloween only days away, the initial robberies of local blood banks by a caped figure seem more prank-like than serious until a fraternity member of Delta Upsilon Delta is found drained of blood in one of the city’s above-ground crypts with the message “Campari Crimson” scrawled on the wall in his own blood. Franki wants nothing to do with the cryptic case, but when a psychic gives Franki a chilling impromptu reading from a restless spirit who claims someone drained and drank his blood and then warns her the same thing is going to happen to her brother Anthony, Franki fears she will be drawn in anyway. Her fears are confirmed when Josh Santo, a multi-millionaire millennial, hires Franki to find the real culprit after he is accused of the thefts. Josh’s bizarre behavior of dressing up as infamous self-proclaimed NOLA vamp Compte Jacques de Saint Germain-all while living in the house belonging to the bloodsucker-attracts the attention of Detective Wesley Sullivan and Franki thinks Josh may be more guilty than innocent. As the case escalates with yet another killing, Franki faces danger at every turn and finding the killer becomes entirely too personal. The Crescent City on the eve of a blood moon Halloween, what could possibly go wrong?

Real terror meets comedy that forces the reader to hang on with both hands in this fast-paced romp through one of America’s most enigmatic cities. From the sixty-something ex-stripper and nudist Glenda to Pam the hippie with her sweater-wearing Dachshund, this novel is one fun ride. Around every corner, it is sure to surprise like a Gothic cabaret funhouse. The vividly drawn characters are a genuine joy, and the city is celebrated in fine fashion. Anyone who has ever visited and loved this famously irreverent place will appreciate how NOLA becomes a living, breathing entity. Set against the backdrop of voodoo, cities of the dead, and history ripe with vampire lore, New Orleans is intricately woven into every aspect of the plot. One aspect of the city that comes through loud and clear is the idea of “live and let live.” First appearing on a necklace worn by one of the characters, this theme extends throughout the plot from a priest’s “judge not” advice to Raven the vampire’s philosophy of only feeding on willing donors. A feeling of acceptance for all permeates the atmosphere of N’Awlins and thus the novel. “Let the good times roll” is more than a motto; it’s a way of life for the New Orleanians.

What do you get when you cross a meddling nonna with a slacker brother? For Franki, you get family. When Franki is bulldozed by her mother into taking in her grandmother and brother (despite the fact that she has only a one-bedroom apartment), she doesn’t send the two packing back to Texas. Although an unwilling participant in this new “get Anthony a life” scheme, Franki still agrees to take them and even gives up her bed for her nonna, a force of nature in black weighing in at less than a hundred pounds. Nonna’s constant meddling in Franki’s love life, or lack thereof, and her case are both an annoyance and a sweet reminder of an Italian grandmother’s love. Regardless of the problems they cause, both Nonna and Anthony are family, “[a]nd among Italian-Americans, family [is] everything.” It’s an endearing part of the story that will make the reader love Franki Amato even more.

Campari Crimson: Franki Amato Mysteries, Book 4 by Traci Andrighetti won First Place in the CIBA 2018 M&M Awards for Mystery and Mayhem novels.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: The Muse of Fire by Carol M. Cram

Grace Johnson dreams of a life bigger than the one expected of a woman in the early nineteenth century. At twenty-two, she should be hoping for marriage and a home of her own. Instead after a childhood spent privately acting for her mother, she quietly longs for life in the spotlight, a place on a London stage, embracing the roles of Shakespeare’s greatest heroines, but she fears her dream will never come true. Not only is she overly tall, clumsy, and plain, but her father, a harsh man with a grudge against his own daughter whom he blames for her mother’s death, will not allow Grace to speak of it. When his temper and drunkenness cause him to beat Claire, she finds herself alone on the dark streets of London’s theatre district where she is rescued by a young man named Ned Platagenet. Ned, a stage manager at the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden, gives Grace a place to stay, and as their friendship grows, he takes her to a play, a rare event for the woman who has only seen one other play years ago. When she fills in for an absent chorus girl one night, she knows this is where she belongs and defies her father by begging her estranged aunt for a place to stay. However, the more time she spends with her newfound theater family, the more she realizes her own mother and aunt have a strange connection to some of the cast and crew and the less she trusts her own family and even the memories of her mother. In this world where the dreams of women are throttled at every turn, Grace must decide just how far she is willing to go to build a new life for herself. 

Perhaps the most striking trait of Grace Johnson is her willingness to accept the stigma associated with acting in the early 1800s. Though better than in centuries past, the theatre atmosphere was considered morally corrupt for women even married ones. This world of impassioned men playing daring roles sure to seduce even the most hard-hearted of women often led to unwanted pregnancies and homeless girls, and Grace isn’t immune to the charms of one such rogue. Grace is well aware of what society might say about her, but she doesn’t allow that to stop her. She makes her way on her own terms, doing what she must to continue acting even following her father’s disownment and her somewhat forced marriage. When her first acting performance flops, she licks her wounds then forges ahead. 

This optimistic-survivor attitude isn’t particular to Grace alone, though. Both Mr. John Kemble and Ned exhibit the same trait. Mr. Kemble, renowned actor and owner of the Theatre Royal, knows he must “ ‘find a way forward’ ” when fire destroys his precious theatre. He begs and borrows to finance this new building, larger than any other theatre in England and later stands firm against the raging crowds rioting in very theatre. Ned understands that he “ ‘can’t change what [he] can’t change’ ” and refuses to bemoan his lowly birth in the Foundling Hospital. This broad-shouldered, gentle giant rose from an orphanage to become the right-hand man of Kemble, a staple in the wings of this successful company. He is like everyone’s big brother, protective and watchful, a “white knight” showing his bravery during the OP Riots and his pure heart caring for Grace in her hour of need. 

This sprawling historical fiction takes the reader spinning through time with a cast of real-life stars of the London theatre in the early nineteenth century. The fictional characters are interwoven through the true story of two significant fires in the theatre district and the “Old Price” Riots which disrupted theatregoers and actors for months. Readers will see what life was like for the actors of the day as well as the average patron.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: Blame it on the Bet by L.E. Rico

Twenty-six-year-old Hennessy O’Halloran should have it all. She should be enjoying her overpriced apartment in St. Paul, Minnesota, her successful legal career, and her “friends with benefits” neighbor, but in the month since her father’s sudden death, all of those things have become unimportant. She thought she and her sisters had some time to figure out what to do with Jack’s legacy, an Irish pub he and their deceased mother built from scratch, but when they discover a substantial loan agreement secreted away in Jack’s belongings, they realize they only have six weeks to come up with over $100,000, money he borrowed against the business to help finance various expenses on his daughters’ behalves. She finds herself back home in Mayhem, Minnesota, living above the pub and trying desperately to find the funds to save the business when Bryan Truitt, land developer and business “matchmaker,” sweeps in from Los Angeles with his letter of intent to purchase the pub sans Jack’s signature. Even though Jack had planned to sell the bar and settle his debt, his daughters can’t bring themselves to sell to the slick, fast-talking Bryan, no matter how hot he looks in his ridiculously overpriced suit and Italian loafers. Bryan, despite his initial desire to arrive, conquer, and depart this Midwest winterland, finds himself drawn not only to small-town life but also to the confident, courageous Hennessy. When Bryan wagers against Hennessy’s ability to raise the money to save the business, neither realizes the stakes are much higher than just the pub. Will they risk their hearts to win a future together?

Blame it on the Bet is chock full of vivid characters. From Bryan’s hard-nosed assistant Helen to the matchmaking Father Romance, the novel overflows with realistic, lovable characters, right down to Jackson, a curse-word-loving toddler whose speciality is his spectacular aim with flung food. These folks feel so human, readers will easily fall for them and their quirky town of Mayhem, where a psychic baker who reads fortunes in pies and everyone owns at least one rescue cat and all of them–the cats not the owners–wear sweaters. The humor is a welcome addition to a genre that sometimes takes itself much too seriously, and good ole Midwestern honesty means there isn’t the elaborate game playing plaguing many romances. The O’Halloran sisters lend themselves to a major theme within the novel. Known as the “whiskey sisters,” Hennessy, Jameson, Walker, and Bailey are as varied as the alcohol for which they are named, but together, they create a tight knit unit deadset on saving their father’s legacy. That legacy, that sense of belonging to something worth more than the individual, permeates every aspect of the plot. The sisters drop everything to pull together and face the challenge head on to hold onto their father’s dream, a dream which built the very foundation of each of them. Family pride drives not only the girls but in a way the entire town as they pull together to save O’Halloran’s with chili cook offs and quiz nights. The fight for the town favorite becomes one of pride. Even Bryan becomes embroiled in his own fight for and against legacy when he battles his familial demons in the form of his father’s past and his unintentional tie to it. He must acknowledge his own past before he may create a new future with Hennessy, becoming a member of the family he has chosen in a home he never expected to find.

Lovers of romance will fall for this couple and this town. It will wrap you up in a cozy blanket and keep you warm as a cup of hot cocoa on a cold Minnesota day.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Readers’ Choice Rates Something New 5-Star

“It had all started with my blood and this necklace, and now I would end it.” In Something New by Andrea Murray, 17-year-old Miriam ‘Ria’ Gabriel receives a pendant from a mysterious old woman at an estate sale. From that point on, her normal, orderly and studious life changes. Strange things start to happen; her old music box starts working again and the family dog, Cain, seems to be agitated with her. Worst, Ria dreams about a girl with haunting blue eyes and a painful past, begging to be set free. But is the girl truly a tormented, lost soul? As Ria gradually loses control, her health and grades suffer, and her relationships with her best friend and her family are affected. What will she do? 

Andrea Murray’s Something New is highly engaging from start to finish. The prose and characterization are solid. Ria is easy to root for as her strange predicament begins from the moment the mysterious pendant is clasped around her neck. Her confusion, fear, and anger easily resonate through the pages. The teen’s determination to take back control of her life and solve the problem herself is admirable although unwise and dangerous. Luckily, she literally comes to her senses and accepts help from her friend Rachel and big brother Jake. The messages of family, trust, friendship, bravery, persistence, and faith are deftly incorporated and readers can easily identify with these. Even though there’s no obvious hint, the epilogue shows that the story could continue. This a great paranormal tale from Murray and I look forward to reading more of her work in this genre. 

Review: Reviewed by Lit Amri for Readers’ Favorite 

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Book Review: The Bookminder by M.K. Wisman

More than anything, Liara just wants to belong. As an orphan “fey” child in the seventeenth-century, she has been a ward of the Church for ten of her sixteen years, taken in and cared for by Father Phenlick, Rome’s designated protector of Dvigard, a city in the Limska Draga Valley, but most of the villagers want her gone. The product of rape by a magical creature, she is imbued with magic and in many ways IS magic itself. Her progenaurae, the wizard who created the creatures who attacked her mother during their destruction of the valley, knows nothing of her existance because Father Phenlick enlisted the help of Nagareth, the wizard of the woods, to shield Liara and the village from further attacks all while outlawing the very power he is secretly trusting. At St. Sophia, Liara is safe until she steals from the village busybody. When Liara’s extensive hidden stash is discovered  in a “magicked” hollow tree, the Venetian soldiers who protect the valley force Father Phenlick to ostracize Liara. Abandoned by even her friend Kresimir, Liara is taken in by Nagareth, who promises Phenlick that he will not teacher Liara his craft, and even though Liara begs Nagareth for instruction, he only allows her to care for his extensive magical library. Gradually, Nagareth sees great potential in his new ward, but when everyone in Dvigard is killed by a mysterious plague, he begins to fear that he can’t protect her from her powerful creator who will want her powers for his own. Liara cannot see the danger around her, and as her own magical knowledge grows through her maintenance of Nagareth’s books, she can only see her own need for revenge against her father. As her abilities grow so does her anger and confusion at the only person standing between her and distruction. 

Liara is a complex, dynamic character. Her history gives her more than the normal teenage problems. Liara’s mother was driven crazy by her rape and was never able to truly care for and love Liara, eventually dying and leaving Liara to the cruelty of the villagers. Without Father Phenlick, Liara would never have survived, and though he tries to give her a home, he isn’t able to fill the emptiness of her life. Liara desparately needs something and somewhere of her own, which is why she steals–to fill her life with things that are her own. In creating her hollow-tree hiding place, she creates that place where she isn’t afraid to be herself. Though she is unaware of her own magic, it is as much a part of her as her history. In the beginning, all Liara wants is to grow that power. She desires the very thing others accuse her of having to give her what she has never had, but it’s a double-edged sword. She is hated for her supposed abilities even before she shows evidence of magic, but when she finds the magic she wants so badly, it will define her. That is all she will be, not a real person. She wants others to see she has feelings and dreams, but in the very thing she wants most, this undeniable power, people will ONLY see that. She limits herself to this magical creature, and that drive quickly becomes an obsession. Only too late does she see Nagarath’s minimal use of magic isn’t a waste. She almost allows her prejudiced idea that magic should be grandios to cloud the important lesson she learns about living simply, living for love and not power. As she grows through her relationship with Nagareth, she learns what magic should truly be.

The evolving bond between Liara and Nagareth is a beautiful story. Only nine years Liara’s senior, Nagareth sees Liara as child in the beginning, but over the novel’s development, he begins to see Liara as a true companion. The joy she brings to his life, the peace she makes him feel, even the annoying insistence that she teach him become invaluable to the lonely wizard.

He wants to make sure she has a life of stability, not fear. As he opens himself up more and more, he becomes her friend. He realizes she has given him more than he has returned and relents in his promise not to teach her. Nagareth grows as much as his precious ward.

The magic of this fantastical history will charm the reader and leave them wanting more.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: The House at Ladywell by Nicola Slade

A surprise bequest, a cryptic benediction, and a box of letters–Freya Gibson is in the middle of a life-changing mystery. As the personal assistant to successful novelist Patrick Underwood, Freya never takes a vacation. She believes herself content to be surrounded by the hustle and bustle of London, keeping Patrick on track and reigning in her newly discovered and completely uncertain feelings for her boss. When Freya is given a house by a distant relative she has never met, she isn’t sure how to handle it, and with a clause preventing her from immediately selling the relic, Freya has no choice but to visit the home, still fairly certain she will rid herself of the property-that is until she sets foot in the ancient home in Ramalley. With Patrick gone on a business trip to the US, Freya decides to spend a week getting to know her new home and the village nearby. She quickly decides she wants to keep the enigmatic house with the enormous stone mantle, former church windows, and hand-carved hares, but as she falls in love with the house, she uncovers evidence that Violet, her cousin and the former owner, knew a great deal more about Freya than Freya knows about herself. With each step closer to her truth, the house seems to draw her closer in a protective grip and maybe give her a chance at a new future. 

In this frame story, the real gem is the historical background for the house and well. Lovers of history will relish the retelling of so many stories from various time periods that all shaped and were shaped by the area. From an adolescent Roman deserter to a broken-hearted WWI soldier, the stories not only show the residents of the area but also the tapestry of England at each telling. Through centuries of time, the well at Ladywell drew the sick, the needy, and those looking to begin again, and just like the modern protagonist, each time it brought renewal and hope. Freya’s story usually shadows the scattered historical episodes that often explain some aspect of the house or village. Through the historical details and period dialogue, the short excerpts are just as rich as the main plot. 

Reinvention and rebuilding are major components of both Freya’s and the house’s story. Damaged by an abusive relationship and the death of both of her parents, Freya discovers as much about herself as she does about Ladywell through her investigation of her new home. While searching through her cousin’s belongings, she finds more questions than answers, and she must search deep within herself to find the strength to pursue the truth of her parentage as well as the means by which her birth was arranged. As she muddles through her sense of wonder and disbelief, she learns to lean more on the support of Patrick, who needs Freya as much as she needs him. Just like the house, their love is both new and comfortably worn. She comes to grip with the need to reconcile her past, embracing the stony parts, and learning from it, just like the history of all those at Ladywell. She finds solace and strength in the worn floors and crumbling ceilings and allows the healing “waters” of the well to wash her clean. In restoring “the balance” of her home, she restores the balance in her own life.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: Wissahickon Souls by PJ Devlin

Claire Penniman, a free black living near Philadelphia in the early 1800s,  is only six years old when she is indentured to Raymond and Anna Williams, white landowners who have known her family for many years. Elizabeth and Moses, Claire’s parents, have already indentured their older son Samuel to the Williams in hopes that both of their children will learn invaluable life skills as well as reading, writing, and arithmetic in exchange for working the land and tending the animals. Wissahickon Farm quickly becomes a part of who Claire is, and she easily befriends five-year-old Lawrence, the youngest son of Anna and Raymond. As Claire and Lawrence grow so does their bond, creating an uneasy relationship between Claire and Anna who sees the danger with her son becoming too attached to a black girl. Near the end of her twelve-year indenture, Claire and Lawrence run away to Haiti to begin a life together in a country where they believe their races won’t matter, but they quickly learn they can’t escape prejudice, and their love may not be stronger than fear. 

Set in time when trains are new and steamboats rule, Wissahickon Souls spans thirty years in the life of Claire Penniman. She grows from an impetuous, daring little girl to a strong, independent woman. Claire’s journey, both physically and mentally, showcases the trials of African Americans in the 1800s. Though Claire’s family has a long history as free blacks living in a Northern city, they are far from free. Prejudice lurks around every bend and dark alley in Germantown and Philadelphia, and the Penniman family keeps a dangerous secret–the family “business.” For decades, the family has helped runaway slaves seeking asylum and has delivered hundreds of “packages” farther north, even giving permanent refuge to some. This episodic tale shows numerous examples of the risks this family endures, and though the Penniman’s are fictional characters, it is not hard to see the real dangers evident in their exploits and to appreciate the courage of those who did provide safe havens for all those runaways.
A theme of monumental importance within the novel revolves around sewing. Claire’s sewing literally becomes the tie that binds. Claire is taught her craft by her mother and grandmother, just as she learns the skill of helping slaves to freedom. She uses her ability to both heal the injured and protect her family from the harsh world. As an adult, her needlework becomes a means of feeding her children and bonding her to strangers who become vitally important within the novel’s tight fabric. Repeatedly, she is called upon for her talent and earns hardwon respect for it. 

The idea of love’s boundaries is clear in this Romeo and Juliet tragedy. From vicious white men to a raging flash flood, Lawrence repeatedly saves Claire but is unable for years to stand beside her in public. As children, Lawrence doesn’t see Claire’s race until others force him to see it then he is unable to reconcile himself to the difficulty of their life together. Even after running to Haiti, the land of free blacks, the couple is torn apart by race. They seemingly can’t completely love each other anywhere, often not even in their own hearts, and though the doomed couple is most obviously an example of this theme, it is perhaps more poignant between Claire and Anna. 

Anna, Lawrence’s mother, fears Claire’s influence from the beginning. She has seen how the world treats race and, to a certain extent, does nothing to change it until it is almost too late. She wastes many years believing Claire unworthy of her white son and nearly loses everything before learning that character is built upon more substance than color.

Claire’s sprawling, twisting journey from rescuer to runaway to redeemer will transport the reader on an intense trip through history.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: Persuading Lucy by Tammy Mannersly

Lucy Spencer has everything, a successful career in advertising, good friends, and a quiet life. For fourteen years, she’s pushed aside her feelings for a childhood friend, Callum Hawthorne, and become a strong, independent woman, burying her hurt over his betrayal and creating her own life free of the drama of Cal’s womanizing ways–that is until he saunters back into her life.

Callum Hawthorne only wants one thing, to reconnect with his former best friend, Lucy. Cal has done everything he can think of to worm his way back into his Lucy’s life even enlisting the help of one of their mutual friends, but he can’t get Lucy to agree to meet him. With no idea what he did to create the rift between them, Cal doesn’t know how to make amends, but he does know one thing for sure: His life will never be complete without Lucy.

When his father’s first acquisition, a failing resort on the Gold Coast, is threatened, Cal hires Insight Marketing to help him save the crippled business. Lucy has no idea who the new, ultra-rich client is until she sees Callum. With no choice but to do the job she was hired to do, Lucy must find a way to put aside her old hurt and work with Cal, who hopes his high school crush can evolve into a grown-up relationship.

Friendship is an endearing theme in this well-written, fast-paced novel. It exists in every form, long-time friends, new friends, the kind of friends who will help drown your sorrows in wine, and the kind who will literally and figuratively rescue you from yourself. Lucy’s friends often ride to her defense. From Madison’s refusal to divulge Lucy’s whereabouts to Mia and Steph showing up at her door, pizza and booze in hand. Lucy’s female friends make a strong nexus, but the entire premise is based upon the friendship of Lucy and Cal, a lasting friendship that holds both love and hate.

Cal is the typical hot, rich protagonist (yes this is a familiar trope), but his friendship with Lucy sets him apart from the norm. He realizes quickly that he must win her back through that friendship. In order to win her, he must set aside the fiery passion he feels every time they are together and re-establish their friendship. He vows to gain her friendship, then her love, a love for which he’s pined most of his life. In fact, his surface philandering began as his way to preserve their friendship, fearing that admitting his feelings in high school would push her away.

Lucy quickly realizes she can’t just give up on Cal’s friendship again. He was once her closest confidant and letting that go proved to be a huge mistake. Nearly every happy memory she has includes the delectable Cal, and her traitorous heart refuses to release him without trying to be what they once were (and maybe more). They both have to take a headlong plunge into something that could prove heart wrenching and disastrous, but isn’t that the duality of this crazy emotion called love? The ability to heal and kill all in one. With only one month to save their childhood memories and to resurrect a dead friendship, Cal and Lucy will take the reader on a face-paced, romantic adventure.

Persuading Lucy won 1st Place in the 2018 CIBA in the Chatelaine Awards for Contemporary Romance.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: Nowever by Kristina Bak

At 16, Stevie Wales suddenly blossoms. Seemingly overnight, “Stevie the Mouse” disappears, and in her place stands a tall, beautiful girl, too beautiful in the eyes of her best friend the ultra-popular Winter. After Stevie snaps and attacks Winter, Stevie is shunned by many of the fickle teens in her Puget Sound island community, so she decides to become what she believes they all see anyway–the weird girl. As her oddity status rises, so does her anger, but when she is forced into a therapy program that includes working on a horse ranch, Stevie discovers her unusual ability to take away pain sensations in both animals and humans. Beginning to feel needed, Stevie seems to be on a positive path when she is seriously injured by one of the horses. Her life becomes a twisted version of an already blurry existence as she struggles to find “normal” again. In an attempt to find her true self, Stevie goes on an incredible journey to find her father, a man the world believes dead. She convinces her mother and therapist that she needs to go to Australia, the place where the wreckage of her father’s boat washed ashore. Her search takes her physically to a strange continent, and though this exploration becomes much, much more, she may find a truth she isn’t ready to accept.

Despite being set in a not-so-distant future, Stevie’s teenage world isn’t so different from now. Mean girls are still mean girls, and the smart, shy Stevie doesn’t feel like she belongs. So many teenagers, both male and female, can relate to Stevie’s (partially  self-imposed) alienation. Her artistic talents and her empathy for others are endearing traits that help bring Stevie to a culminating awareness. Both of these bring Stevie full-circle to find her own version of normal, her definition not the world’s. Seeing Stevie evolve into a confident young woman through her own efforts is inspirational and a lesson that adolescents–and some adults–need.

Though Stevie’s paranormal gift isn’t a major part of the novel, the gift symbolizes the noble need to help others. While Stevie can literally take away the pain of others, most people could figuratively do the same by sharing in the pain of others and trying to understand what someone is experiencing. Stevie can’t deny her ability even though she repeatedly tries to ignore it. When she stops her denial, she not only helps other characters, but she heals herself. This lesson isn’t lost on the all-about-the-self society of today. If only everyone could recognize suffering and try to eliminate it, this world could be a much better place.

One of the most engaging parts of the novel is Stevie’s time in Australia. This exotic, culturally diverse continent becomes a character unto itself, drawing Stevie into the adventure of a lifetime while giving her the closure she desperately needs. Pulled into the mysterious murder of a boy she meets, Stevie encounters others who inspire and help her find the man she once called father, and she learns true contentment by helping the family of the dead boy all while searching for own history. Ironically, in the midst of death, she finds life as she navigates a land as wild as her emotions.

This journey into self-awareness offers multiple stories in one. From a murder mystery in an alluring land to a revelation with a supernatural catalyst, Nowever will keep readers twisting and turning till the end.  

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.