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Book Review: Soulmated (Joining of Souls Book 1) by Shaila Patel

Eighteen-year-old Liam Whelan has a huge target on his back. Having just been named the leader of his entire empath clan, he suddenly sees potential enemies everywhere, especially considering he is looking for his soulmate. Since the age of six and guided by his father’s visions, Liam and his family have traveled across the United States, moving from town to town in search of the girl destined to “join” with Liam. However, no empath in centuries has had a soulmated union. No one  knows how the joining occurs or what actually happens when it does, and Liam is tired of his parents’ pushing and the search for what he considers a fantasy girl, but he agrees to give his parents one more year of his life, moving with them to North Carolina for his senior year without any expectations of finding his soulmate until he sees his new neighbor. Laxshmi Kapadia is on the fast-track to graduate a year early. Her mother, an overprotective and overbearing widow, has Laxshmi’s whole life planned out. Either her daughter attends med school, or she marries a proper Indian boy. Neither prospect appeals to Laxshmi, who wants to major in dance and isn’t even ready for dating much less marriage. So, when she meets the handsome new boy two doors down from her house, she’s confused and suspicious as he becomes increasingly more attentive to her, unaware that she possesses strong latent empathic abilities. Liam is shocked by how powerful Laxshmi is and completely smitten with her mesmerizing eyes, but as the two become closer, a strange power begins to emerge, a power that threatens both their lives and draws the attention of the very enemies Liam fears. 

A major theme in the novel is that of responsibility, both familial and that owned to oneself. At barely eighteen, Liam has to prove himself worthy to lead his clan. He sees it as a great honor, but he isn’t blind to how his life will change with the added burden becoming the “prince” brings. In addition to his rigorous school schedule and homework, he must also constantly review the financial documents of his people since their success rests on his shoulders. His heightened empathic abilities make him an asset to the entire empath world but also a dangerous wildcard. Though Liam has no desire to control the Group of Elders, others, including his own father, see that as his future. Combine that with his potential to be the first soulmated empath in centuries, and Liam, the boy, becomes lost in his own abilities. Since no one in recorded history actually knows what becoming soulmated will do to him or for him, those eager for power see only a threat. Searching for his mate has dominated his teenage years so much that Liam has never actually dated a girl of his own choosing, “researching targets” instead. His strong sense of responsibility has cost him and will continue to cost him years of his life.

Laxshmi’s life isn’t any easier. Since the death of her father five years ago, she has become her mother’s sole focus. Because she and her mother struggle financially, Mrs. Kapadia is determined to make sure Laxshmi will not–either by becoming a rich doctor or marrying a wealthy man, and though she balks at her mother’s control, Laxshmi can’t help but feel she must also play the role of the dutiful daughter sue to a promise made to her deceased father. She is willing to give up her own dreams to pursue those outlined by her mother rather than shirk her responsibility to take care of Mrs. Kapadia. Laxshmi honors her mother’s wishes to stay away from all boys, especially those who are non-Indian, though it means she may be missing out on a genuine love with Liam. Her life is so limited by her mother and herself that she is far from the typical teenage girl. Ironically, both Liam and Laxshmi see a certain freedom in the responsibility of a relationship with each other. Though they know the emotional investment is great, they find the prospect of choosing their own paths oddly freeing. Rather than feeling burdened by another’s emotions, they are made stronger. 

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: The Valley (The Druid Chronicles Book Two) by A.M. Linden

Herrwn, Chief Priest of a secret Druid community, has spent his entire, privileged life in Llwddawanden, a secluded valley kept separate from the spread of Christianity from both Saxon and Celt alike. With the threat of certain persecution by nonbelievers of the Great Mother Goddess, Herrwn has maintained the traditional practices passed to him by his own father. As an orator in charge of repeating the legends and beliefs of his people, he knows his own importance and the heavy responsibility required by his sacred office. With the decrease in believers outside of the valley, he understands the precarious position of the community and the difficult balance he must maintain. Over the course of his long life, he has come to rely on his cousins, Olyrrwd, Chief Healer, and Ossiam, Chief Oracle, but as the years pass, his loyalties become torn when what starts as simple gibes between the two priests morphs into unspoken fear of what the other might do to gain favor with the various priestesses chosen as the Goddess Incarnate. Having lost his beloved wife and young child,  Herrwn grows closer to Olyrrwd, and becomes the peacekeeper between the priests to keep what remaining family he has left. When a promising young man, Caelym, the son of a former Goddess Incarnate, becomes the sole priest-in-training, the cousins further divide on the right course of action for the clan and furthering of their beliefs. At each turn, dissension and sedition threaten every belief and tradition holding the people together, and Herrwn will have to make decisions that could change the course of his community forever. 

One of the strengths of this prequel lies in the character development. Herrwn becomes real as his life story unfolds. The tragic loss of both Lothwen, his consort, and Lillywen, his young daughter, forge him into a contemplative and thoughtful character. The reader will feel his grief through his shared memories of their time together and the depth of the love that ran deep enough to keep him from ever becoming the consort of any other woman nor the father of any more children. His remembrance of his doting and proud father’s advice and the love of a mother long gone create a very human-feel to his character. Readers will see his strength and forethought as he tries to soothe the growing tensions and tread the choppy waters of change surging through his once-tranquil life. However, Herrwn is only one of many such characters so well defined as seemingly able to leap from the pages into real life. Olyrrwd, the physician combining both herbal and ritual healing, is another amazing character. His charm and humor will make him a reader-favorite with his sarcastic, albeit pithy comments. As the novel continues the two become closer than just their familial bonds of cousins. Each is a sounding board for the other and their relationship is reminiscent of that one friend every person has–the one who understands without words and knows us better than we know ourselves. However, the mixture isn’t complete without a little chaos, and that is where their cousin Ossiam takes the stage. The reader will love to hate him as much as Olyrrwd does in that classic villain way, second-guessing his every move and questioning his every motive. With his charismatic control over the young Goddess Incarnate and his scheming to gain more than her favor, he is a perfect catalyst to the majority of the boat-rocking that disturbs both cousins’ lives, and it is this collision of values that causes Herrwn’s peacemaker qualities to emerge. The on-going battles between Olyrrwd and Ossiam create interesting tension as well as a driving force within the plot itself. It also serves to remind the reader that although millennia separate Herrwn, Ossiam, and Olyrrwd from the modern world, people are essentially the same. Fear, anger, love, hate–the emotions that make us human are the same as those of every human, creating a surprising connection to these pagan Druids.

A theme within this frame story prequel revolves around change and its impact on human relationships and cultures. From the novel’s beginning, this Druid clan is fighting a dramatic shift within the Saxon kingdoms surrounding their valley. Set during the spread of Christianity in what will become Britain and the shift away from pagan gods and goddesses, the sacred shrines and village of retreated into an even more secluded region. For many years, their isolation kept away the influences brought by Roman occupation; however, as more and more Saxons converted, the worshipers of the Mother Goddess began to convert, including members of Herrwn’s own family,  believers defecting and losing faith. For a Chief Priest set to educate future priests to pass on their very heritage, these changes literally show the end of an age-old religion. He must watch his very life foundation shift in the uncertain times. Every choice, every thought is consummoned with rituals that are fast becoming meaningless, and reconciling–much less accepting–these changes will cost Herrwn more than a sleepless night. Not only is the clan facing a loss of faith, the mature priest must also learn to live with a younger generation that seems to disregard many of the traditions he is fighting so hard to save. From a Goddess Incarnate chosen for her beauty rather than wisdom to her blood-thirsty consort challenging better trained and better equipped Saxon enemies, the generation set to lead the group into a deteriorating future poses a change to the somber, thoughtful people of Herrwn’s youth. 

With the attention to detail, explanation of ancient rituals, and the mythology within the clan’s legends, this novel builds a community, exploring a people about which little is actually known. It’s an unforgettable portrayal breathing life into a long-dead civilization.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: The Corpse Wore Stilettos by MJ O’Neill

Four months ago, Kat Water’s life fell apart. Her father, a prominent insurance broker, was arrested on racketeering charges, accused of laundering money for the mob. A successful museum curator in Boston, Kat immediately dropped everything to return to St. Louis when her father was taken into custody, leaving behind her fiance and career. With all of their possessions seized and their bank accounts frozen, Kat’s mother, Lauren, and her grandmother, Theodora, are left poverty-stricken, and Kat, with her family name now dragged through the mud by the media, can only find a job in the county morgue. With her minor in biology and her detail-oriented personality, she finds her work interesting and rewarding–almost. So, when she is tasked with processing the body of what is believed to be a prostitute, everything seems to be business as usual until she realizes the deceased girl doesn’t really bear the typical signs of her profession, but before she can really begin her task, Kat is interrupted by a gun-toting man who steals the body. Now, Kat’s family is again the target of speculation and rumor when everyone believes the body is somehow connected to her father, his crimes, and the mob. Kat is determined to find the body, solve the mystery of the girl’s identity, and clear her family name. She grudgingly teams up with the distractingly attractive Burns McPhee, ex-military special forces turned security firm owner. As they chase the mystery and the body all over St. Louis, the two realize the girl’s death is part of a much larger, much more dangerous plot.

This novel’s character line-up shines! With one misfit, eccentric after another, they all just seem to work seamlessly to create a memorable, fun read. From shoe-obsessed drag queens to heroic strippers, this novel definitely delivers on character development. Grand, Kat’s grandmother Theodora, is a gem. This borderline “geriatric Nancy Drew” is a hoot! Often the feisty troublemaker, Grand cannot help but instigate or fan the flames in any and every bad situation.  If she isn’t “shopping” in their police-patrolled, off-limits former home, she is running around in kitschy visors (one for all occasions) and making revenge scrapbooks on ways she’ll get even with her long-time nemesis. Before it’s over, she even joins Kat on the case. Another example of character craftsmanship is DC, Kat’s best friend and co-worker. He is, perhaps, the most interesting of all the supporting characters. With his fashion savvy and his cat therapist, DC has a flair for the dramatic.  As Kat’s figurative and literal sidekick, he is in the middle of all the action. When he turns superhero–complete with costume–Kat even has to engineer a complicated rescue scheme to get him away from what he believes are Russian mobsters. Kat’s other co-workers won’t disappoint either with super-timid Henry, gothic Meg, Marshall the perv, and Sam the tattooed, motorcycle-riding, aspiring chef.

Armed with outstanding fashion sense, her minor in biology from Harvard, and uncanny random facts that she spouts whenever she is nervous, Kat Waters is an absolutely unique and memorable character herself. She has spent her entire life being pampered and made to feel special. Her life was exactly on the expected trajectory, great job, correct fiance, and her numerous pairs of expensive shoes. She never dreamed she’d be literally penniless and working in a morgue to keep Grand and her mother off the streets, and though her mother doesn’t really respect Kat’s work with the dead, Kat is learning the importance of her job in a way she never expected. She is discovering that she is much more than a two-time Miss Missouri winner in the best makeup category, and she is certainly not the mob princess the media has portrayed her to be. She is a woman who refuses to abandon those she loves and one who willingly gives up own dreams to keep together the family she has remaining. After the girl’s body is stolen on her watch, she transitions that attitude into her need to find the Jane Doe. While initially her amatuer investigation stems from her suspension and punishment at work, her search evolves into a quest for justice for a string of prostitutes similarly murdered by a serial killer six months prior. She refuses to let these women remain victims of a faceless killer and is determined to have their stories told regardless of the risk to herself. She won’t let flirty reporters, sinfully handsome ex-army guys, or psycho stalkers get in her way, and she’ll do it while looking fabulously!

From the county morgue to a dominatrix kink house posing as a barber shop turned therapist’s office, this novel is one crazy adventure after another! Mystery lovers will not be disappointed.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: Binge by Anne Pfeffer

Twenty-seven-year-old Sabrina “Bree” Hunter has just been given the chance of a lifetime. Her dream of being a published author is finally within her grasp. After years of working as the executive assistant of Josh Newman, a very demanding B-list talent agent in Los Angeles, Bree has been offered a publishing deal from Fast Track Books. She should be ecstatic, thrilled that her life is finally where she has wished it to be since her graduation from Dartmouth. However, Bree has a problem that isn’t easily fixed. Her publisher expects the skinny beauty on her webpage, a  picture taken many years previously, and since the days of the photo, Bree has become a compulsive eater. Every moment of her day is spent obsessing over junk food. Bree turns to food to comfort her, console her, and bring her joy, and her addiction has caused her to gain forty pounds since college. Finding dieting on her own harder than she expected, Bree agrees to attend a support group meeting at the insistence of her sister, Lena, whose boyfriend has recently found success in breaking his addiction to drugs and alcohol, but Bree just isn’t sure the sharing and belief in a higher power are for her–until she meets Daniel. A successful lawyer and recovering overeater, Daniel is a hunk with blue eyes, right off the pages of her own novel. With a three-month deadline looming, an unappreciative boss, and her own doubts, Bree must find a way to overcome her compulsion if she ever hopes to have the life she’s always wanted. 

Sabrina’s addiction provides amazing insight into an area most people ignore. Compulsive eating is as much an eating disorder as bulimia or anorexia; however, many choose to see it as a choice rather than a real issue. That is the case with Bree. Even Bree herself has a difficult time properly naming her overeating what it truly is–an addiction. The depiction of her compulsion will be a revelation for most readers. From hiding food in her desk to digging in the ladies’ room trash for candy, Bree is clearly an addict. The similarity between her behavior and that of a drug addict is both astounding and sad. Bree cannot see that her love of comfort foods is really a user on a bender. The extremity of the disorder will be poignant for the reader, especially if the idea of the compulsion is new to him or her. The burden of secrecy becomes overwhelming, crushing Bree’s spirit and her willpower at times. Her need to diet on a deadline only serves to enhance her cravings and creates a time crunch sensation that will cause similar feelings within the reader, that idea of an inevitable disaster with an impending, unavoidable culmination. Setting the novel in a place where image is king and only the skinny succeed, highlights Bree’s struggle. Bree sinks to shocking depths to fulfill her urges, and she must hit that metaphorical bottom before she can admit her addiction and begin to climb away from it. Readers will celebrate with her as she finds her true self in the land of Hollywood fakes. 

The reasons behind Bree’s addiction become a huge part of her story, her growth into a confident, accomplished woman. Bree began associating comfort with food when her mother left Lena and her with their absentee father. At only nine years old, Bree was both mother and father to her baby sister, cowering beneath the bed when their father wasn’t home and waiting hungrily for him to bring home food for them after he finally left work. Lena became both sister and pseudo daughter to Bree, who continues to bail her out even at the age of twenty-three. Bree has been Lena’s champion for so long, she has forgotten that she is not a middle-age mom. She has lost her vibrancy and her confidence, cowering behind her love for and addiction to sweets. Though she is the more accomplished sibling, Bree can only see her sister’s slimness, her perfect ease, in comparison to Bree’s own self-labeled corpulent incompetency. She is willing to do anything, even considering bulimia and fasting, to achieve the same perfection in herself, thinking her life will suddenly be perfect if her body is. She knows her weight is the cause of her doubt and unhappiness, but she cannot overcome it alone. Through the insistence of the sister who is overcoming her own issue, Bree attends a support meeting and begins the program that will change more than the numbers on the scale. When she meets Daniel, she has a hard time believing someone like him could like someone like her. However, spending time with him and the other members of her group soon empowers Bree, and as the novel progresses, Bree’s recognition of the imperfection of others begins her metamorphosis. She learns that even those people who have seemingly flawless lives are far from that ideal. She stops bullying herself and being her own worst enemy. Eventually, she fully sees the wasted time she has devoted to her pursuit of the unattainable and finds satisfaction in who she is and the potential her REAL life holds. 

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: When the Wind Chimes by Mary Ting

Kate Summers wants to make this Christmas extra-special for her older sister, Abby, and four-year-old nephew, Tyler. A year ago, she’d given up Christmas with her family to spend the holiday with her boyfriend, Jayden, whom she had caught cheating on her the next day. Not only is she hoping to erase that memory, but she also has another even more important reason to make this Christmas special.  A few months after her disastrous break-up with Jayden, her brother-in-law, Steve, passed away from cancer, so Abby and Tyler will be spending their first Christmas alone. After taking a leave from her job as a graphic designer in LA, Kate flies to Poipu, Kauai, determined to make this an amazing holiday, but on her way to her sister’s house, she meets a mysterious man, who gives up his cab for her. Kate can’t get the handsome stranger out of her head, and when she sees him again in her sister’s art gallery–and destroys his expensive shirt with paint–she is both mortified and excited. Billionaire Leonardo Medici, the heir and CEO of Medici Real Estate Holdings, is the most sought-after bachelor on the island and the most elusive. Lee just wants privacy and a temporary nanny for his four-year-old daughter, Bridget. When Kate applies for the job, neither is aware of their previous connection to each other until they meet in Lee’s mansion after Kate is hired by his permanent nanny, Mona. Bridget quickly bonds with Kate, and as they grow closer so do Lee and Kate. Kate’s rocky relationship past, however, keeps her on edge, and she must find a way to overcome the damage done by her cheating ex before she can ever learn to love again. 

The unpredictability of life and fate’s subsequent role in a person’s future is a major theme within this novel. Abby, Kate’s sister, never expected to be a widow in her twenties. Steve, her husband, died suddenly from cancer. The disease progressed more quickly than doctors predicted, and she is left to fend for herself and Tyler. Moving to Kauai, the place where she and Steve honeymooned, is an attempt to escape her sadness and find peace in the place where their life together began. Starting her own gallery in such a small community was another uncertainty, and while the gallery struggles at times, destiny brings Lee into her small business, and he becomes her best customer when he purchases art to stage his more expensive listings, which is how he encounters Kate a second time after a quick-passing rain storm brings them together the first time. Had Kate not jumped into his cab, slinging water all over his suit, he and Kate would not have met. Kate would have never seen the ad for a nanny had Abby not come down with a cold and needed Kate to drop Tyler off at preschool, and she would not have gotten the job had Mona not needed a replacement nanny for two weeks. The kismet that brings Lee and Kate together is an interesting and humorous part of the novel. This fate-filled string of coincidences adds a hint of the supernatural to their love’s beginning. 

Vulnerability is another great theme of the novel. Abby is most definitely a strong woman. She not only begins her own business but also must be both mother and father to her son. However, Abby can’t do everything on her own. With her struggling business and the demands of her private life, she welcomes the help Kate brings and hopes she will stay on the island rather than going back to Los Angeles. The close relationship between the sisters is touching, and Kate’s job search shows how much she loves Abby and Tyler. Even though she fails to find a job as a graphic designer and has no experience as a nanny, she takes the job, planning to give the money to Abby to help her support Tyler. However, Kate’s willingness to try something new despite her uncertainty extends to her own artistic ability. Since her horrible experience with Jayden, she has lost her confidence and desire to paint even though Abby has successfully sold Kate’s pieces in the past. It takes courage and a release of her own fear to get her in front of a canvas, but her regained confidence brings her into contact with Lee again–albeit accidental. Lee has his own vulnerability issues. Opening up and bringing Kate into his life is a risk. He cannot allow just any woman into his life. Most of the women who approach him are only interested in his money or looks, and he must protect both his privacy and Bridget. His own past causes him trepidation because he harbors a deep hurt that is known only to those within his immediate circle. Both he and Kate learn to face their deep-seated emotions rather than burying them beneath fear and uncertainty, but to do that, they must give vulnerability free reign.
When the Wind Chimes is more than a romance novel. It’s a heart-warming, feel-good read that will leave the reading wanting more.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: Spirit of the Rabbit Place (Choestoe Book 3) by J.R. Collins

The Choestoe Valley, known by the Cherokee as the “ ‘land where the rabbits dance,’ ” is paradise to fourteen-year-old Jebidiah Collins. When his grandfather settled in the valley after  immigrating from Ireland, he quickly learned the benefits of befriending the Native Americans living in the area, and the Collins now consider Dancing Bear, a Cherokee elder, and his family as relatives, sharing with and helping each other in good times and bad. Jeb’s father, Thompie, gives freely of his farm’s bounty to the Cherokee, who help work the land and teach Thompie and his children how to survive in this beautiful but deadly landscape. Cain, Jeb’s older brother, is even allowed to marry Rose, Dancing Bear’s daughter, and has become a full-fledged Cherokee warrior in his own right. Their bonds are so strong, Dancing Bear symbolically adopts Jeb, who is the same age as his own son, Wolf.  Jebidiah and Wolf become blood brothers, learning to be Cherokee warriors together and taking on any and every adventure that comes their way. They often find themselves in dangerous situations since the arrival of gold miners to their sacred valley. These unscrupulous men threaten their very way of life, and when these ruthless miners capture Wolf and force him into slavery, Jeb knows he may be his friend’s only chance at rescue. 

A poignant theme of this third novel in the Choestoe series is that of unity. Jeb’s family and nearly all of the settlers in the valley honor and respect the Cherokee who inhabited this area long before the settlers arrived. This beautiful, symbiotic-style relationship benefits both the settlers and the Native Americans. Jeb repeatedly praises the wisdom of trusting each other and working together. From plowing fields to hunting game, the Collins family and Dancing Bear’s clan work seamlessly, easily with each other. Under the age-old adage, “treat folks how you want to be treated,” Jeb understands that what he does, what he says will be returned to him tenfold, and though his mountain home is changing with the white man’s greed, he would never make an enemy of a people so much better equipped and knowledgeable than his own. His trust is implicit and unquestioning, and with that, comes the need to protect and love each other. Again and again, the idea of caring for and looking out for your family (both blood and chosen) prevails. In each episode Jeb describes, first and foremost is the idea of responsibility for each other. It is never an every-man-for-himself scenario. Their hearts beat as one; their minds think as one. When any neighbor needs help, neither the settlers nor their Cherokee brethren forsake those needs, chasing down murderous outlaws and helping free slaves. It isn’t just Jeb’s family who shows this amazing generosity of spirit, though. Throughout the valley, families return in kind the goodness shown to them. Mrs. England, for example, takes in orphaned children, even those with disabilities and special needs. Every family gives; every family receives. Each of them is willing to fight for and die for this place they’ve worked together to make a true home. The settlers not only want to fight for their way of life, but also for the ancient ways of their Cherokee neighbors, who are being treated more and more cruelly each day with the coming of gold seekers as well as the US government. This is the kind of community just about every person wishes could exist, and for the brief but precious time described in the novel, it does. 

Another prevalent idea is the value of spiritualism. The plot is an interesting mixture of Cherokee and Christian beliefs, with a deep respect for each. Jeb’s faith often brings him comfort and strength, and many times, the Cherokee turn to pray for direction and guidance on huge decisions. Jeb knows that the Holy Spirit has brought him and his family to the valley and continues to bless and guide them. Though he fears evil when he literally comes face-to-face with it, he knows the Great Creator protects him and finds solace in the idea that no evil can hurt someone who is protected by the Peace of Jesus. All of the Cherokee warriors repeatedly assure Jeb, whose Cherokee name is Spirit Filled One, that he should trust in and heed the voice of the Spirit that comes to him, and that very faith not only saves him and George Black Oak, Wolf’s blood uncle, but also shows them some much-needed information that ends an emotional struggle of another important character. This faith shines through in Jeb’s loving nature and brings light to all those around him.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: Plague by C.C. Humphreys

Captain William Coke is a thief with a conscience. Never loading his pistol with anything more than powder, he carefully selects his victims from the wealthy and often the pompous. He and Dickon, a rescued street urchin, never expected to find their marks slaughtered on the road to London, but this killing is like nothing he has ever seen, not even on the battlefield fighting to restore his king to the throne in the English Civil War. Thief-taker, Pitman, is likewise shocked by the brutality of the murders from the highwayman he has come to see as a gentleman bandit. Now, Pitman will stop at nothing to find Coke, who has become known as the Monstrous Cock after the notorious murder, but the murders continue, and as the victims pile up, Pitman and Coke begin to realize this is a different kind of criminal, one who kills with religious symbolism. The two eventually team up to find the murderer. When the killer brutalizes and murders an actor, his wife and fellow actress, Sarah, is pulled into the path of the murderer and becomes an ally of the men who are chasing him. However, the would-be detectives face yet another obstacle when the Black Plague breaks out across the poverty-stricken parts of London. The three unlikely heroes must now dodge not only the law, but a serial killer, a deadly illness, and a heretical cult  in a search that will take them from the gutters to the palace.

The three protagonists of this novel are such contrasting, well-developed characters. Captain Coke, a man who robs for a living, has a heart of gold. He first meets Sarah when he is fulfilling a pledge by visiting and checking on Lucy, the sister of his closest friend Quentin, a fellow soldier who was killed nearly twenty years prior. Even when Lucy finds herself unmarried and pregnant, Coke doesn’t hesitate to help her though it means putting himself in harm’s way. He has also taken in Dickon, a boy with both physical and mental disabilities, and is willing to kill if need be to protect him. Coke is a criminal, but he is a kind and gentle man. Pitman, who has remarkable abilities, is ahead of his time with his crime scene investigations, and no one catches more thieves than him.  As a constable, he is responsible for shutting up the homes of plague victims with their families inside–infected or not. This causes great distress to the big-hearted Pitman. It is this kindness that can see the impossibility of Coke committing such terrible crimes, and though the two fought on opposing sides in the war and are now on either side of the law, the two develop an easy friendship, trusting each other with their very lives. Sarah Chalker owes much of her success as an actress to the protection of her husband, John. As childhood sweethearts, she and John have fought their way from the gutters of St. Giles to a place in the Duke’s Company, a theatre group frequented by Charles II himself. So when John is killed, the shear brutality of his murder makes Sarah more determined to find the vicious killer. She doesn’t hesitate to join with Coke and Pitman even though the search will put her in danger without the advantage of her male counterparts. 

Religion plays a huge role in the novel. On the heels of the English Civil War and the Restoration, London in 1665 was a place of great unrest. With the Act of Uniformity and the Act of Conventicles keeping dissenters from practicing anything other than the “accepted” Church of England within the city, all who choose to worship differently must do so in secret. This need for clandestineness provokes many to violence, including the Fifth Monarchists, who believe it their responsibility to bring about the Apocalypse and the coming of Jesus. With the year 1666 fast approaching, they see the end times in every facet of the city. From its sprawling corruption to its massive poverty, the city is prime for their brand of justice and a crescendo to what they see as the devil’s time.  It is among these “Saints” that the serial killer hides, committing his atrocities in the name of his religion. The religious symbolism connected to verses in Revelation is an interesting part of this thriller and truly takes the crime into the realm of the sinister. Chapters from the murderer’s point of view show this obsession for Apocalyptic cleansing for the sinful falseness of London. This obsession contrasts sharply with Pitman’s own religiousness. Pitman, a Quaker and therefore a dissenter himself, uses his religion for personal betterment. His beliefs create a stronger, kinder person rather than an evil killer, and the near-complete lack of religion in the other characters is another keen example of the duality present within the novel.

Plague is a thrilling ride through the gritty parts of seventeenth-century London, and readers of history and mystery alike will enjoy its shocking twist ending. 

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: Waking Up Lost by David Fitz-Gerald

Seventeen-year-old Noah Munch craves acceptance. As a biracial boy growing up in a small village in upper New York, he doesn’t feel that he belongs to either part of his heritage. Having lost his Native American father before he was born, Noah has spent his short life trying to connect with the part of himself that many in his hometown of Wilmington shun while placating and often avoiding the villagers who find his native side offensive. Noah also has a family secret to protect. His mother, Mehitable, speaks with spirits and his brother, Moses, has an uncanny ability to predict disaster and show up with inhuman speed to prevent it. As a result of his complex homelife, Noah spends a great deal of time alone and dreams of someday being a mountain man, living off his wits and the nature around him. However, Noah can’t stop himself from admiring Arminda, the prettiest girl in town. He doubts he will ever have a chance to court the blonde beauty, especially considering the meanest young man in town, Erastus Moss, has spoken for her. Erastus, whose grandparents were killed by Native Americans on a journey out West, begins to harass Noah when he notices Noah’s interest in Arminda. Though he doesn’t like it, Noah endures taunts, feeling the burden of prejudice and simultaneously the inadequacy of being the only “normal” member of his family–until the night he wakes up on top of a mountain. Noah begins to experience strange episodes which he believes are sleepwalking fits and one night finds himself inside the home of his beloved Arminda. Once the town discovers his odd behavior, suspicion and fear turn even more people against him, and Erastus uses it as an excuse to escalate his torture, and Noah knows he will have to stop the crazed man and find a way to control his abilities before it’s too late.

So much of this fourth installment of the Adirondack Spirit Series revolves around Noah’s coming of age. In true bildungsroman style, Noah is on both a physical and spiritual journey. He feels the difference between himself and other boys, including his twenty-year-old brother, keenly. Noah is small and by his own admission “scrawny.” He doesn’t have the physical presence that he knows others expect of a boy his age, and though often the most handsome boy in the town, Noah’s dark hair and olive skin also set him apart in a way that he finds unacceptable. However, Noah has never known his father’s people since his father was estranged from his tribe and died before Noah’s birth, so he has no opportunity to see or socialize with people he thinks might accept him more than his white neighbors. He can’t see himself as anything other than a clumsy daydreamer who will never fit in, thus giving him a plausible reason to live alone in the mountains as his father had done years ago. He believes this will also connect him to the father he resembles; however, when he attempts to isolate himself, nature and man conspire to bring him right back to the town he hates, and he finds no solace in his mother and brother’s assurances that he possess a power that will someday be his greatest strength. Doubling his feelings of deficiency is the notion that he shouldn’t be so normal. With a mother who guides spirits to the afterlife and brother with inhuman speed, Noah can’t accept that he is so ordinary. He believes that the prejudice caused by his race might be somehow more tolerable if he knew he had a secret talent, but when he does develop an unexplainable ability, it proves nightmarish and deadly since he never knows when it will happen or, more importantly, where it will take him. Ironically, this strange power that Noah typically finds deplorable becomes paramount in discovering the very purpose he longs to find. 

Faith and trust in God are also important aspects within Noah’s life and, therefore, within the novel. Noah often relies on his faith to carry him through the unbelievably difficult situations in his life. Whenever he is physically or mentally hurt, he turns to prayer for comfort and reassurance, and later when he commits a crime (albeit justified), he doesn’t feel free of the burden until he seeks absolution from God. Though his episodes sometimes prove horrific, Noah realizes so much of what he is able to do is miraculous. He searches for God’s plan for his life even while questioning how he will know the plan when he sees it. When Noah is at his lowest and fearful he’ll not survive, he feels the “warmth” of God in a physical way and hears His message that Noah isn’t alone. Noah is God’s servant, and he begins to understand that he must become what God expects, not what he wants. 

The supernatural elements in the novel set it apart from the typical novel of this genre, making it feel like a hybrid between historical and paranormal. Giving the family members such unusual abilities heightens their outsider status. Mehitable has been a single mother for seventeen years, raising her biracial sons among a town of hate and prejudice, and though she does have a few staunch supporters, these people can’t always keep the wolves at bay. She and her sons suffer from the racism so prolific during the 1800s in America. Compounding her pariah-like treatment, she speaks to spirits and must keep her gifts secret for fear of further mistreatment. Though Moses’s abilities are more vague, he, too, has otherworldly talents which cannot be openly acknowledged. Noah most of all suffers for his gift. Though he has no power over its occurrence, he is practically run out of town. These additions to the plot create more tension and conflict, enhancing the tragic treatment of this family.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: Mischief and Mayhem (Whiskey Sister Book 2) by L.E. Rico

Jameson O’Halloran never asked for her life to be so complicated and unpredictable. She never asked for a cheating husband, never asked to be in charge of her father-in-law’s life, and certainly never asked for her brother-in-law to show up looking so irresistible. Since her recent divorce, Jameson has focused on rebuilding her life without the dream family she always wanted. Her toddler, Jackson, takes up most of her time, and when she isn’t caring for him, she is helping her sisters run the family pub in Mayhem, Minnesota, after the death of their father. She is NOT looking for love, not now, maybe not ever again, but when her ex-father-in-law suffers a stroke, she is forced into the very delicate position of health proxy for the seriously ill man she still considers family. However, she isn’t alone. Big Win Clarke named a co-proxy, his estranged second son, Scott. Scott, a Project Peace employee, has spent the last ten years abroad, running from his father and from himself, but when he is called to his unconscious father’s bedside, he knows those years spent abroad were a mistake, one he may never get to correct if his father doesn’t recover. When he lays eyes on his beautiful ex-sister-in-law, he can’t deny the attraction drawing him to her. Together they must uncover the truth behind the mystery that sent him running years earlier and hopefully find themselves along the way.

Family bonds is a strong theme within this novel. The contrast between the close knit O’Hallaron sisters and the volatile Clarke brothers is significant to every part of the plot. The “Whiskey sisters,” Hennessy, Jameson, Walker, and Bailey, function as a solid unit. Named by their pub-owning father, these girls share more than their unique names; they have a solidarity which is touching and profound. Even when they argue, they know the immense love they have for each other will never fade. Pulling together to run the family business after their father’s death, these women willingly sacrifice for the legacy left them by their parents. Having lost their mother many years before their father, the girls have been both mother and sister to each other. They celebrate triumphs and mourn loss as one, filling in the gaps in their lives with sibling unity. Jameson can’t fathom going days, much less years, without seeing her sisters, holding them, confiding in them. On the other hand, Scott and Win Clarke (junior) have never had and likely never will have that bond. The brothers have spent their lives at odds with other, keeping secrets and driving a wedge in what could be the most enduring relationship of their lives. For Win, jealousy pushes him to exploit Scott’s weaknesses, and Scott’s need to escape keeps him from discovering the truth behind his family history and from forging a bond with his ill father. Just like the Whiskey sisters, the Clarke brothers have also lost their mother, but where that draws the women closer, it only serves as the catalyst for pushing the men apart. It isn’t until Scott begins to lean on Jameson that he finally sees what family should be. The Whiskey sisters show Scott the strength behind sibling loyalty and help him face the revelation that changes his life.

Like most novels of this genre, this second installment of this series is chocked-full of romance but with a refreshing burst of humor that will leave the reader LOLing! Scott Clarke is sigh-worthy on every level, and like most male protagonists in a romance novel, he struggles with the notion of settling down and committing to any woman. He’s unsure he can give up his nomadic life while feeling drawn to the notion of a home of his own, a family to come home to every night. Jameson has been hurt in a way only adultery can hurt. She feels unworthy of love and bitter that her picket-fence dream has been shattered by the only man she’s ever loved. In many respects, the plot is traditional for the genre but the light-hearted nature of Scott and Jameson’s budding relationship is the true gem. In scene after scene, these two–and many of the other characters as well–will leave the reader in stitches. One of the best parts of the novel is Scott’s interaction with Siri, a novelty he has just discovered since his return to civilization after years in remote locations with Project Peace. Numerous chapters end with Scott’s philosophical discussions with his voice-activated assistant, and his first experience with Facetime is priceless! With scenes that will leave you swooning mixed in, the reader will not be disappointed with this clean, wholesome romance. 

Character building, not just for the protagonist but with the entire cast of Mayhem, is a strength of the entire Whiskey Sisters series. From psychic baker to gossipy priest to celebrity cat sweater maker, the characters shine. Each of the O’Hallaron women has her own distinct personality, offering a promising glimpse of what is to come in the series. The reader will love her visit to this picturesque, town and long for the cozy comfort of O’Halloran’s pub. The entire town is a unique tapestry with love woven into every scene. 

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: Dared to Return by J.J. Clarke

Kate Anderson has an exciting new life in Tampa Bay, Florida. An aspiring writer with a new book recently released, she’s left behind her old life as a court investigator in Kingseat, Missouri, but when she receives a frantic call from her ninety-two-year-old grandfather, she hops on a plane home. Just five weeks earlier, Kate’s step-grandmother, Helen, died, and not long after Helen’s death, Kate’s grandfather, Theodore, was thrown out of his home and sent to the Squaw Valley Nursing Home, a place where old people go to die. Unbeknownst to Kate, most of Helen’s two-million dollar estate has been left in a trust, not to her husband of twenty-five years. The trustee is a corrupt secret society known as HOGG, a group of important town officials who con elderly citizens out of their money, distribute it to charities, and take a huge percentage for themselves. Despite receiving a piece of Helen’s property, a gift Kate considers hush money to keep her from suing, Kate refuses to sit idly by while this group fleeces unsuspecting old people who think they are donating to the betterment of the community. She teams up with her spunky publicist, Susie Jones, and former US Marshall and newly appointed Kingseat Police Chief Reese Matthews to get her revenge and try to bring down this ring of corruption. With a family feud, a suspicious trust, and a fiery sleuth, what could possibly go wrong?

Kate is a protagonist to be reckoned with. She is the epitome of a survivor from a young age since her parents died in a plane crash when she was only four years old. Raised by her biological grandfather and step-grandmother, she has never had an ordinary life considering her grandfather believed his job was to make her tough. With a degree in law enforcement, she spent five years working as a bond investigator until she became the prime suspect in a murder investigation. Using her law knowledge, she gives US Marshall’s a merry chase as she works to clear her name. With two deaths tied to her, Kate is a tough nut to crack, and she isn’t about to let the evil forces at work in Kingseat get away with stealing from her grandfather. Her tenacity even causes her to punch a lawyer in court (and get away with it), and her endless costume closet presents unlimited chances to catch her prey red-handed initially in some humorous–and oddly satisfying–ways. She and Susie make a modern-day, irreverent superhero duo, righting the wrongs done by the evil, dominating force of HOGG.

Kate’s fight for justice goes beyond the boundaries of the novel. Preying on the old is a despicable act that, unfortunately, occurs often. Her need for satisfaction is likely a need numerous families have felt in reality. This “beautiful little town with an underbelly of evil” hits close to home in many ways for some, and Kate’s fight for her grandfather is a fight for every man.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.