Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Elsewhere by Alexis Schaitkin

ElsewhereElsewhere by Alexis Schaitkin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A peaceful, idyllic village where mothers are revered but mysteriously disappear without a trace.

Vera grew up in a remote, isolated mountain village with her father, who owned and ran the local photography shop. Every aspect of life was guided by traditions whose origins had been long lost in time. It was a small place where everyone knew everyone else and their business. And what they couldn’t provide for themselves was supplied from outside the village or “elsewhere,” as they called it, during regular stops by the trader known as Mr. Phillips, who in turn took the villagers’ wares back with him for sale.

The children all went to the local school, and the girls dreamed of the day they would finish their education, marry, and become a mother, hoping the “affliction” would pass them by for one less favored. The village was quiet, peaceful, and beautiful, but regularly, mothers would mysteriously disappear from their homes and beds without a trace.

Vera’s mother had “gone” when she was a little girl of five or six. Now with a husband and daughter of her own, Vera was seeing the signs that she, too, would soon be “gone.”

Elsewhere is a fascinating puzzle of a book that kept me riveted to its pages with its mysterious and almost taunting plot and the compelling narrative in the voice of the main character, Vera. The writing is smooth and absorbing in its style and delivery. Although the cause of the affliction remained a mystery to me, not knowing all the full backstory of the town and its residents, I was wowed! This slow burn of a story of Vera becoming a mother and all that meant to her was utterly engrossing.

Then, too, there were the truths women face when they become mothers. One is never totally prepared for what motherhood entails, and even the most experienced still have moments of doubt and lapses in confidence. I thought the way the village responded to the mothers who disappeared, desperately trying to pinpoint why each was gone, was shocking and perfect in the story. As mentioned in the book’s synopsis, aspects such as the traditions and the position of the mothers in the village society did remind me of Shirley Jackson’s short story, The Lottery, and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

The village itself is idyllic, but the grove, the jungle on the outskirts, and the mountains were atmospheric and frightening, as were the clouds that crept in every evening, obscuring the familiar and hiding everything and everyone under a moisture-laden blanket of white. As I read, I felt like the physical village was breathing down my neck.

With its moody setting, compelling narrative, and unsettling underlying mystery, I recommend ELSEWHERE for readers who like speculative fiction and have enjoyed works such as The Lottery by Shirley Jackson or The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood in the past.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the publisher, Celadon Press.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Never Coming Home by Kate Williams

Never Coming HomeNever Coming Home by Kate Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Engaging characters, a remote tropical island setting, and a well-done and updated And Then There Were None story!

The buzz on social media was incredible: Unknown Island!, a luxury resort on a secret island located in the South Pacific, where everything is free and only for visitors under the age of 21! The tantalizing promotional video with its sand, surf, and beautiful teens went viral immediately. What’s more? Visitors applying for a trip had to be personally invited to the island. Unknown Island claimed they carefully curated who was invited each week to include the perfect mix of those who applied for the free week of paradise. And the names of the first ten attendees had finally been made public.

Unsurprisingly, the first lucky group of 10 was a mix of successful influencers with billions of followers combined. Oddly though, no actual “celebrities” were among them. But when the big day came and as the young guests arrived on the island, all their social media suddenly went dark. The only account chronicling the ‘soft opening’ was Unknown Island’s corporate account, and the posts were cryptic, dark, and bizarre in nature. The entire online world of social media watched and wondered, “What in the world was happening on Unknown Island?

Never Coming Home was creepy and tense! With the action coming so quickly, I was on the edge of my seat every moment, and I never knew for sure who was behind it all. Each character was a unique personality with a tragedy in their past. I appreciated that there were boys, girls, a transgender character, and later, a character still figuring out their sexuality. Not all were portrayed sympathetically either. I also appreciated that characters I initially liked were slowly revealed to be less than stellar individuals, and those I originally thought less of turned out to be better people. That kept me changing my opinion as to who was manipulating everything behind the scenes.

The island setting gave me a bit of a Lord of the Flies vibe as the story went on. The changeable weather increased the tension, too, making possible rescue a dim hope in the characters’ minds. And as I was never 100% sure the place was devoid of others, I was never wholly confident one of the guests was the murderer, so I was always a little off-balance.

I particularly enjoyed the social media foundation connecting all the characters – in their real lives, their “real” lives online, and in the public eye. That one character had a manager to help guide her content, spin events in her life to her advantage, and make lucrative financial deals for specialized content or “collabs” was fascinating. The continual need for the characters to adjust their content to control their narrative and brand rang true and was mind-boggling.

With its engaging characters, remote and creepy setting, and updated And Then There Were None plot, I honestly didn’t want to put this book down. I recommend NEVER COMING HOME to readers who enjoy suspenseful YA fiction featuring intelligent, savvy characters, diverse backstories, and remote tropical island settings.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author and publisher through TBR and Beyond.

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Saturday, June 18, 2022

Beyond the Moonlit Sea by Julianne MacLean

Beyond the Moonlit SeaBeyond the Moonlit Sea by Julianne MacLean
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fantastic story spanning thirty years of secrets. love, and loss.

1990: Olivia Hamilton's husband, Dean, a private pilot, disappeared one night, plane and all, on his way back to Miami as he flew through the notorious Bermuda Triangle. No trace was ever found, no explanation ever forthcoming, and he was finally deemed lost at sea and a death certificate issued. But the uncertainty, the not knowing, continued to haunt Olivia for the rest of her days.

1986: Up-and-coming particle physicist Melanie Brown was successfully navigating her Ph.D. program at Columbia and working on a groundbreaking dissertation on the mysterious Bermuda Triangle when her mother was tragically killed during a tornado back home in Oklahoma. Guilt, self-doubt, memories of a poor childhood, and the impact of her past, along with liberal amounts of alcohol, lands Melanie in dangerous territory, mentally and emotionally, and her committee chair recommends she get some professional help. But a forbidden relationship with her therapist sends her spirally out of control.

2017: An inevitable discovery and technological advancements link these two women together and focus attention once again on Dean's long-ago disappearance.

What an incredibly compelling story! I was immediately invested in the lives of these three people, Olivia, Dean, and Melanie. They were bound together by the past and secrets built upon secrets, with the Bermuda Triangle's tantalizing reputation looming over it all. I was completely absorbed in getting to the bottom of the unexplained mystery of Dean's disappearance.

Olivia begins the story upbeat and optimistic and remains until the end, even when her world is falling apart. When she becomes absorbed in her own search for answers, she maintains enough clear-headedness to know when to move on and live life again. I loved how she realized she'd treated her former boyfriend poorly and took great pains to avoid doing it again, consciously opening up to him about her thoughts and fears regarding Dean. I loved her honorableness, and I loved their relationship.

As for Dean and Melanie, both were deeply damaged from their childhoods. He was doing pretty well but couldn't let go of the past, continuing to hide his background from everyone. But the effect of this was so subtly revealed that even with his voice delivering part of the story's narrative, I was surprised by his decisions.

Melanie's gradual collapse was much more apparent. We have her voice as well as Dean's, providing a running commentary of her mental state. She seems like such a nice, intelligent, and engaging young woman until the therapy and her past take their toll.

I enjoyed how the author used the two timelines to set up the starting points for the book and advanced the story over a 30-plus-year timeframe. I appreciated the story's development of Olivia's two marriages and the feeling of her life moving forward normally and successfully after losing Dean. The Olivia that opens the book is essentially the same Olivia at the end but with the wisdom of a life well-lived. I couldn't have asked for a better resolution to this book either.

I wholeheartedly recommend BEYOND THE MOONLIT SEA to readers who have read and enjoyed this author's previous work and those who like general fiction with dual timelines and a setting from the 1980s to the late 2010s.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author.

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Friday, June 17, 2022

White Gold by Micheal E. Jimerson

White GoldWhite Gold by Micheal E. Jimerson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With a rural East Texas setting and intriguing and intricate plot, White Gold hooked me with its hot action from the very first page.

E.J. Kane, a disgraced former Texas Ranger, works as the head of corporate security for Devekon Energy and gets the call the investigate when a body is found at one of the company’s gas well sites. By all appearances it was a horrific accident; the deceased was killed when lightning struck a tank and the equipment he was using. But the man, a salt-water extraction truck operator, had no business being at the location, and the circumstances surrounding his death raise a lot of questions. E.J. becomes suspicious that something else is going on and the man has been murdered.

Meanwhile, E.J.’s got his hands full dealing with his ex-wife, Rebecca, and daughter, Sharla. His marriage had broken up after their son had been killed in Afghanistan; Rebecca blamed E.J. for Konnor’s patriotic desire to serve his country and his subsequent death. Sharla, a teenager at the time, had taken her brother’s death and her parents’ divorce hard. During the ensuing years, she’d turned to drugs and was now an addict desperately trying to make her next fix and pay off her supplier. But when she disappears from school with her boyfriend and no one knows where she is or what is going on, both her parents are out of their wits with fear. With little to go on, E.J. gets his former partner with the Texas Rangers to help him find his girl.

White Gold hooked me from the very start, and I didn't want to put it down until the last page. First, the main character, E.J. Kane, seems like a regular guy dealing with extraordinary circumstances and handles himself well. His surrounding characters are an interesting and distinctive lot, and there are obviously backstories and prior histories between them and E.J. Some of these backstories are broadly hinted at but left unexplained. But for the most part, readers will get the gist of their relationships. However, I felt more could have been done to flesh out these details and characters.

E.J. is a former Texas Ranger, always an excellent choice in my mind, but he has been forced to retire under an investigative cloud, the circumstances of which are never fully explained. The reader knows that other rangers lost their lives, and E.J. was blamed. Although exonerated, local law enforcement still holds the incident against him. However, his former trainee, Cooper, and a close FBI colleague have his back. But that's not his only burden, his ex-wife blames him for their son's death in Afghanistan, and his college-age daughter is at a crisis point in her use of some very heavy drugs. E.J. is suffering and is very vulnerable, leaving him open to some of what happens in the book.

The plot dealing with oil production was fresh and intriguing. Who knew there could be that much interest in what could be seen as a waste product? Mixed with his personal problems, the involvement of a rural conservative political organization, and his friend and employer's legal struggle, the story has twists and turns upon twists and turns! I could have kept turning pages all day to find out where things were going if life had allowed it.

I thoroughly enjoyed the east Texas/Louisiana settings, ones not often used; I perked up each time E.J. hopped on Interstate 20. And except for mentions of Lufkin, Houston, and Shreveport, the action is operating in the middle of rural east nowhere. Being from the north-central Texas area myself, I love seeing this area highlighted.

With its dual focus on E.J.'s investigation and his ex-wife's courtroom drama, I recommend WHITE GOLD to readers who have enjoyed the Andy Carpenter series by David Rosenfelt. With its main character of "a certain age" and temperament and his old-school ways, as well as the rural east Texas setting, WHITE GOLD may please fans of Reavis Z. Wortham's Red River series. I hope this is the author's first book in a planned series; I will be first in line for more.

A final note: The book's text appearance is fabulous. The font used and page layout are attractive and easy to read. It just looks high quality.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from Reedsy Discovery.

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Book Blitz & Giveaway: Deadly Keepsakes - A Tori Winters Mystery by Anita Dickason

A Tori Winters Mystery


Publisher: Mystic Circle Books
Coming July 10, 2022
Number of Pages: 360 pages
Scroll down for Giveaway!

The past becomes the future. Secrets that can kill!
After someone tries to kill her, Tori Winters is on the run. Looking for a place to hide, a mysterious phone call about a vague inheritance seems to be the answer. After all, who would think of looking for her in Granbury, a small quaint Texas town. Instead, her life is about to spin into an existence where nothing is as it seems. The historic house she inherits has secrets. Ones she's been warned can kill. A stranger in a strange town, who can she trust? There is the kindly lawyer and his son, or the disinherited step-grandson. What secrets do they hide? Tori's newfound fortune may not be a blessing. It could become her death warrant.
Award-winning Author Anita Dickason is a twenty-two-year veteran of the Dallas Police Department. She served as a patrol officer, undercover narcotics detective, advanced accident investigator, tactical officer, and first female sniper on the Dallas SWAT team. 
Anita writes about what she knows, cops and crime. Her police background provides an unending source of inspiration for her plots and characters. Many incidents and characters portrayed in her books are based on personal experience. For her, the characters are the fun part of writing as she never knows where they will take her. There is always something out of the ordinary in her stories. 
In Anita’s debut novel, Sentinels of the Night, she created an elite FBI Unit, the Trackers. Since then, she has added three more Tracker crime thrillers, Going Gone!, A u 7 9, and Operation Navajo, which are not a series and can be read in any order, and Deadly Business, a crime thriller. 
As a Texas author, many of Anita’s books are based in Texas, or there is a link to Texas. When she stepped outside of the Tracker novels and wrote, Not Dead, she selected Meridian, a small community in central Texas for the location.


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Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Betting on Love by Mary Beesley

Betting on LoveBetting on Love by Mary Beesley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Entertaining and fun, with some sweet and poignant moments that will tug your heartstrings!

When Tempest Swan and three fellow employees are let go from their jobs as actuaries because some new software made their positions redundant, a tiny part of her wished for revenge against the billionaire developer that had so blithely destroyed her career and job future. But when her roommate, Blair, made a bet she wouldn’t follow through on telling the man what she thought of him and his software, she accepted the challenge. But on her initial reconnaissance mission she ended up falling off her bike at the feet of the billionaire’s nerdy neighbor and she began to have second thoughts about her plan, feeling a definite attraction to this new acquaintance who helpfully tended to her injuries. But Tempest always played it safe and she literally knew nothing about this man.

Leonard “Ardy” Allred is the founder of Red Rocco, the software company that developed the actuarial program that curtailed Tempest’s career. When Tempest crashes her bike in front of this condo, he rushes to her aid, offering first aid, and eventually dinner and a ride home. When she misunderstood who he was, he held off setting her straight when she revealed her contempt for the man who destroyed her career. He was sure he’d be able to tell her the truth soon. But even as he became more and more besotted with the first woman to really claim his heart, something always got in the way of him coming clean.

Betting on Love is such a delightful story with the added fun of being set in the area where I live. I really liked the two main characters, and the supporting ones were intriguing as well. Many were interesting enough on their own (Blair, Zena, Dean) that I would welcome a book about each one of them! Even the love affair of the parents was sweet and loving.

Tempest is an intelligent girl, and considering the preparation she’s gone through to become an actuary and then successfully practicing in her field for five years, I felt terrible for her when the job market was so tough. I thought the author did a great job getting her struggles across in interesting ways and without demeaning the choices she has to make, accepting work that wasn’t what she wanted but was available. I like the character more for just getting a job and giving it her all, even though the job wasn’t her dream job.

Although we don’t see Leo at work a lot, we do get a good sense of what he’s done with his company from discussions with other characters. He is an engaging cinnamon roll of a male lead and as nerdy as Tempest. I felt they were a great match! I enjoyed the mistaken identity plotline and his dilemma in wanting to set the record straight. I like his immediate attraction to Tempest and that it was pretty serious for him right from the start. He was adorably awkward, and I wanted him to win Tempest over.

The plot beginning with an element of revenge based on a bet between Tempest and her roommate, Blair, hooked me from the start. But the subplot of the grown children coming to terms with their parents having a new life is one many readers may have experienced as either a parent or a grown child! I have, and this increased my engagement with the story for sure. Those early meetings are a killer oftentimes, but the ones in this story offered a lot of humor. But I can easily imagine being Silvia and wanting to have a perfect Thanksgiving, blending the two families for the first time. Talk about stressful! That event is a big enough deal every year anyway without the addition of trying to impress the new in-laws. And the family trip camping in California had me laughing out loud from the first mention.

However, the main thing I enjoyed about Betting on Love was how well the author kept teasing me, over and over, with getting Tempest and Leo together, them feeling their deep attraction to one another only for something to keep them apart. Be it their own ability to overthink their situation or the presence of other people throwing a monkey wrench into the works, the to and fro in their relationship journey kept me glued to the pages and completely entertained.

I recommend BETTING ON LOVE to readers who enjoy contemporary romance, especially one set in the Dallas area.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through Lone Star Book Blog Tours.

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Thursday, June 02, 2022

The Latecomer by Jean Hanff Korelitz

The LatecomerThe Latecomer by Jean Hanff Korelitz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Addictive reading of an incredibly dysfunctional family, I couldn’t put it down!

The Oppenheimer triplets. From the moment of their birth, the thing they wanted most was to be shed of the others.

Their father has a sad and tragic secret. Their mother has devoted her life to freeing him from his past and creating a loving family. However, the results couldn’t be further from that goal.

With their emotionally, and increasingly more physically, absent father and their mother in denial about the true state of the family dynamics, the three siblings leave their Brooklyn home to follow their own separate paths via their choice of universities. However, as their freshman year goes on, the secrets and resentments continue to pile up, and the Oppenheimers are headed for disaster.

From the opening chapters to the very last page, I was completely immersed in the family’s story: mother, father, and triplets. The narrative by the, at first, unnamed sibling was strong and confident, teasing me with its foreshadowing, urging me on deeper into the Oppenheimer family drama. I was hooked by not only the story but the author’s deliberate. Engaging writing style and delivery.

The triplets initially put me off, each unpleasant in their way, but as I got their point of view and their stories came out, they won me over – even the obnoxious Harrison had his moments for me. The story is an absorbing family drama, but twists and turns in the plot floored me and kept me glued to the pages: definitely five-star surprises. However, the healing and forgiveness among family members ultimately made this such a satisfying reading experience for me. Won over to each character’s side, I was aching for their futures to work out.

With its smart and smooth writing and delivery and its fascinating plot, I recommend THE LATECOMER to readers of literary fiction, especially those who enjoy epic family dramas.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

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