Thursday, July 28, 2022

What Souls Are Made Of: A Wuthering Heights Remix by Tasha Suri, Narrated by Becca Hirani and Alex Williams

What Souls Are Made Of: A Wuthering Heights RemixWhat Souls Are Made Of: A Wuthering Heights Remix by Tasha Suri
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fresh reimagining of the story behind one of the most renowned couples in literature.

Author Tasha Suri takes the literary classic, Wuthering Heights, and reimagines the backstory of Heathcliff, Catherine, and her family, breathing new life into this polarizing tale of gothic trauma. The story is set when Heathcliff has fled The Heights, and Cathy has been left behind to agonize over where he's gone and what's happened to him. Events from the original tale are recounted and take on new life and meaning with the telling. Suri's story is presented from Catherine's and Heathcliff's points of view, giving an understandable heft to the reasons for their sometimes-murky relationship in the original. If you were left wanting after reading Brontë's story, this envisioning might give you some satisfaction.

Suri explores the shadowy details of the period Heathcliff is absent from The Heights, later revealed in the original story to be when he is amassing his fortune. The story follows him to Liverpool and into the seamy underbelly of the port city, where poverty and press gangs are all-encompassing. The author weaves the results of Britain's colonial history in India on its people into the story as Heathcliff comes to understand who he is. At the same time, Catherine also comes to realize her own hidden heritage as she and her brother, Hindley, attempt to lay the ghosts of their father's past wrongdoings.

The audiobook version is voiced by Becca Hirani as Catherine and Alex Williams as Heathcliff. They breathe life into these characters, imbuing each with a personality that gives the listener a fresh new perspective on what's driving their actions. The audiobook's cover is beautifully moody but depicts these two as older than they are during the story's events. As the story ends on a more hopeful note than the source materials, is this an additional nudge in the direction that things work out differently for them?

Touted as one of the greatest, most legendary love stories of all time, Wuthering Heights often eludes and disappoints modern young adult readers. Like many classic works, it has both its fans and foes. Depending on the reason for their dissatisfaction, Suri's version may very well ease some of the latter group into the former, with its updated dialogue and delivery, more revealing first-person points of view, and its fresh underpinning based on the main characters' secret, hidden ancestries.

I recommend What Souls Are Made Of to readers who enjoyed Wuthering Heights or wanted to but were left disappointed and those who enjoy YA historical fiction, especially that featuring a portrayal of the immigrant experience in 18th-century Britain.

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

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Monday, July 25, 2022

Deadly Keepsakes (A Tori Winters Mystery, #1) by Anita Dickason

Deadly Keepsakes: A Tori Winters MysteryDeadly Keepsakes: A Tori Winters Mystery by Anita Dickason
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A modern reimagining of the Gothic romantic suspense novel in the vein of authors such as Phyllis A. Whitney or Daphne du Maurier.

When hospice nurse, Tori Winters, suspects that one of her elderly patients has been murdered, she comes under attack from the murder suspect's family. Threatening phone calls escalate quickly to her home being vandalized, tires slashed, and someone taking a shot at her. With nothing holding her in Springfield, Missouri, she decides the safest course of action is to get out of town.

While rushing to get her escape underway, she receives an intriguing letter from an attorney in Granbury, Texas, but he refuses to give much information over the phone. She decides the Dallas-Fort Worth area would be as good a place as any to start over, so she heads south to talk to the man in person. Imagine Tori's surprise when she learns a wealthy grandmother she never knew she had has left her entire estate, including a lovely old home in town, to her in her will.

Tori falls in love with the house at first sight and decides to move in and bring it back to its former glory. However, the attorney, the executor of her grandmother's will, firmly tries to dissuade her, urging her to sell at every opportunity he gets. He's already received a very lucrative offer, it seems. Everywhere she turns, some old town mover-and-shaker pressures her to sell up, trying to ride roughshod over her repeated wishes to live in the beautiful old home.

During the final months of her grandmother's life, the old lady had dismissed her housekeeper, and the house's interior needed a lot of TLC. Tori decides to hire a local woman with her own home cleaning business, and Mia O'Brien turns out to be a godsend. About the same age as Tori and a real go-getter besides, Mia takes the job in hand and soon has her crew of young women, all close friends, at the house and working miracles, befriending Tori along the way. However, Tori soon hears strange noises in the house at night and finds things moved or left out of place. She has an eerie feeling that she's being watched. When accidents start occurring, she begins to wonder if her grandmother's death from a fall down the stairs was really the accident everyone claims and if she might not be next.

Deadly Keepsakes is a modern recreation of the Gothic romantic suspense novel in the vein of such great authors as Phyllis A. Whitney or Daphne du Maurier. Rather than the setting of the big house on the dark, remote, craggy-cliffed island, author Anita Dickason has reimagined the genre by placing the story smack in the middle of hot and sunny, small-town Texas.

Dickason amps up the suspense from the very start with Tori fleeing her home in Springfield, only months after her mother's death, to escape the intimidation and revenge of the Russell family. But thankfully, Tori is a bright, capable, and determined heroine (unlike some of the fragile, helpless females of old), and she takes matters into her own hands to keep herself safe.

When she reaches her new town in Texas, she is immediately surrounded by the influential, successful people at the core of Granbury society: men who seem to feel they know more about what's in her best interests than she does. I was so glad to see her set them straight quick, fast, and in a hurry. Two handsome men are also personally interested in the new heiress, and both are deliciously suspicious. But our girl keeps a wary eye on them both, though. Even as she feels attracted to one, she doesn't let this blind her to his possible participation in the strange goings on. She keeps them both at arm's length as she figures things out.

Deviating from the Gothic romantic suspense formula, though, is the presence of Mia O'Brien and her posse of friends/employees. I enjoyed this group of young women so much with their camaraderie, witty banter, and we-got-your-back attitude. I loved how Mia knew everyone in town and all their business and background. She always "knew a guy" who could do whatever needed doing. She and the other women were a fun and entertaining support network and just what Tori needed.

I especially enjoyed the secrets the house held and Grandmother Elly's backstory with her family history of gambling, gunrunning, and liquor. Readers should be sure to read the author's notes at the end of the book giving the story behind the fiction and its roots in the life and times of a real, local gangster from the area. I also felt the sadness of the tragic reasons Tori and her grandmother never met. In the end, Elly had everything but what she wanted most: her family.

With its fresh setting, strong heroine, excellent support characters, and solid, relentlessly evolving mystery, I recommend DEADLY KEEPSAKES to mystery readers, especially those who enjoy their stories with a lot of suspense and a touch of romantic suspense as well.

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Friday, July 22, 2022

Book Blitz & Giveaway!: A SHOT IN THE 80% DARK (Bean to Bar Mysteries, Book 4) by AMBER ROYER



Bean to Bar Mysteries, Book 4




Cozy Mystery / Culinary Mystery /Woman Sleuth 

Publisher: Golden Tip Press

Date of Publication: July 15, 2022

Number of Pages: 285 pages


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Felicity Koerber’s bean to bar chocolate shop is thriving. Despite everything she’s been through with the murders she’s helped solve, Felicity is ready to take on new challenges. So when a local museum offers her a contract to create a chocolate replica of a gigantic sailing ship sculpture for a gala celebrating Galveston’s history, she jumps at the chance to combine chocolate-crafting with art.

The project is fun – right up until there’s not just one but two dead artists on the scene, and Felicity has to change gears back to detective. Logan, Felicity’s business partner and previous bodyguard, and Arlo, Felicity’s ex who is now the cop investigating the case, are split on which victim they think was actually the intended one. Felicity may have to take some chances, both emotionally and in luring out a killer, to determine the truth. 

Can she find out how Galveston’s history relates to the murders, unmask a killer, and prepare 2,000 chocolate desserts for the gala all at the same time?


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Amber Royer writes the Chocoverse comic telenovela-style foodie-inspired space opera series and the Bean to Bar Mysteries. She is also the author of Story Like a Journalist: a Workbook for Novelists, which boils down her writing knowledge into an actionable plan involving over 100 worksheets to build a comprehensive story plan for your novel. She also teaches creative writing and is an author coach. 

Amber and her husband live in the DFW area, where you can often find them hiking or taking landscape/architecture/wildlife photographs. If you are very nice to Amber, she might make you cupcakes. Chocolate cupcakes, of course! Amber blogs about creative writing techniques and all things chocolate.








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Thursday, July 21, 2022

Rowdy: Wild and Mean, Sharp and Keen (Rowdy, #1) by Chris Mullen

Wild and Mean, Sharp and Keen (Rowdy, #1)Wild and Mean, Sharp and Keen by Chris Mullen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An outstanding debut for a new YA western series comparable to the tales of William and J.A. Johnstone.

After the boy saw his father and brother gunned down from his hiding place under the front porch, he fled the homestead in a skiff, escaping downriver. But only days into his tragic trip, a sudden storm destroyed his small boat and left him barely clinging to life and a large floating tree. He was rescued by a kindly riverboat captain and decided to join the small crew in transporting goods up and down the Mississippi River.

When Captain Hennessey eventually sold up and retired, the boy, now known as Rowdy, headed west, ending up in Dodge City, Kansas. Rowdy apprenticed to the local blacksmith and settled in to learn the trade and plan his future.

At the time, Dodge City was under the control of Patrick Byrne, a powerful, wealthy, and cruel rancher. Rowdy had a run-in with some of the rancher’s bullies, but he got on Byrne’s wrong side when he talked him into giving him a horse the rancher had deemed worthless and ordered killed. When Rowdy successfully rehabilitated the sickly animal revealing her hidden potential, Byrne sent his goons to take back the horse and kill Rowdy. Things didn’t go as Byrne planned, and one of his men was killed. But the local military fort commander took Rowdy’s side in the matter, and Byrne vowed to take his revenge. Once again, Rowdy was forced to run for his life. However, unlike the men who murdered his family, Byrne didn’t give up so easily. It was only a matter of time before Rowdy’s past caught up with him.

While Wild and Mean, Sharp and Keen starts out quietly enough: an older Rowdy is preparing for a hunting trip with his old friend, Roberson, it doesn't take long for this story to really let loose! As the two friends settle in for their first night’s sleep, memories of Rowdy's past take hold of his dreams. Those memories gripped me, too, as immediately there were boots on the ground and non-stop action and excitement from then on.

The success of this story rests on the shoulders of young Rowdy. He is a likable and sympathetic character, and after everything he’s gone through in his early life, he’s also careful, wise, and deliberate in his actions. That doesn't mean he doesn't have his moments of doubt. He's got tough decisions to make, and I agonized right along with him as he reasoned his way to what was right and just. The story has thoughtful moments with brave decisions and deeds. Rowdy is supported by some good men, but the bad guys are truly bad, with no redeeming qualities. I also liked that his horse, Delilah, and dog, appropriately named Dog, feature prominently in the tale.

The author uses quotes and song lyrics as touchstones for Rowdy as he matures. Each one is important at different points in his life and acts as guidance in the absence of an adult mentor. Though, at times, he encounters a couple of good men that serve that role for him. But most of the time, Rowdy is alone, trying to make his own way, which makes for a good and satisfying coming-of-age story as well as a pulse-pounding western adventure.

I recommend ROWDY: WILD and MEAN, SHARP and KEEN to readers of all ages who enjoy western, coming-of-age adventure stories.

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

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Thursday, July 14, 2022

The Kimono Tattoo by Rebecca Copeland, Narrated by Theresa Bakken

The Kimono TattooThe Kimono Tattoo by Rebecca Copeland
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An intriguing and solid mystery rich with culture and a sense of place.

Ruth Bennett is flattered and surprised when the assistant to a well-known Japanese novelist approaches her to do the English translation of his latest novel. She's pleased because she's been mired in months of tedious and mundane translation work, and she yearns to do something more interesting and substantial. However, she's also very surprised because the author was declared dead years ago! Her surprise quickly turns to shock when the dark events of the novel eerily echo those happening in real life – events involving the remaining members of the author's estranged family in Kyoto.

The Kimono Tattoo was an excellent puzzler, rich with the sense of Japanese culture and the moody, atmospheric setting of Kyoto. I was fascinated by the discussion of kimonos integral to the plot.

Ruth Bennett is a likable protagonist. The author developed an intriguing backstory for her, and I was immediately drawn to her. She melded so well into her life in Japan – more comfortable in Japan than in the U.S. I liked how Ruth pointed out the differences in customs and personal interactions between her native country and Japan.

She has a variety of friends, acquaintances, and coworkers who are introduced and pulled into her search for answers. I loved how they came from such different areas of Kyoto life, but all formed a wonderful group as the story progressed.

The story is not all peace and beauty and kimonos, though. The Kimono Tattoo is a pretty dark murder mystery, and the author shows what's lurking in the shadow. Some of the findings are grim and deal with tough subjects. Ruth gets in some situations that put me on the edge of my seat.

I listened to the audiobook edition of the book and enjoyed the narrator's performance immensely. Theresa Bakken's pace, pronunciation, and inflections were just right, and her variations in voice to represent different characters were subtle yet very effective. I found myself looking for errands to run (to listen in the car) despite the price of gas at the moment.

I recommend THE KIMONO TATTOO to readers who would enjoy a good, solid, exciting mystery set in modern-day Japan.

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

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Monday, July 11, 2022

We Made It All Up by Margot Harrison

We Made It All UpWe Made It All Up by Margot Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A unique and exhilarating mystery that asks, "Who killed the town's golden boy?"

Celeste Bergstein left Montreal and moved to Montana with her father, hoping for a fresh start in a new school. But Kray's Defile is a very small town where everyone knows everyone else and all their business. It's tough to be the new girl in school under the best of circumstances, but it's even harder when the rest of your classmates have been friends since they were in diapers. However, after an odd interaction between Joss, a popular school athlete, and Seth, his former friend, during English class, she meets Vivvy Kray, who is a direct descendent of the man the town is named after.

Vivvy takes Celeste around town to all the places everyone goes, pointing out who's who and generally getting to know each other. Vivvy has a crush on Joss, but he's been dating a popular girl for ages and feels he's beyond her reach, at least for now. Celeste initiates a back-and-forth series of fan-fics with Vivvy that feature Joss and Seth, speculating on what might be behind the classroom drama.

But the school year progresses, and Joss and his girlfriend break up. Vivvy invites him to join her, Celeste, and Seth one Saturday night for a bonfire and vintage, "found" liquor up on the mountain that overlooks the town. A game of Spin the Bottle, though, eventually pairs up Joss and Celeste. However, with the amount of alcohol she's consumed, Celeste blacks out, waking up alone on a bench in a town park at the base of the mountain, with no memory of what happened after she and Joss had begun kissing or how she got where she was. But when she returns to school Monday, it is to the announcement that Joss had been killed sometime Sunday morning and it wasn't an accident.

We Made It All Up was unputdownable! This new YA thriller by Margot Harrison grabbed me from the start with its dual timeline of "Then" and "Now," told in alternating chapters. Harrison's writing style was easy to read, and the action and dialogue felt true to life. I could easily picture the characters and see the plotline's events as they played out as if I were watching them.

The five main characters – Celeste, Vivvy, Bram, Seth, and Joss – seemed genuine. I was drawn to each of them over the course of the book. Each was vulnerable in their own ways, all having experienced traumatic events in their pasts, and this informed their states of mind and actions in the story. However, the story unfolds from Celeste's point of view, and I found her backstory intriguing and the book's climax harrowing and exciting.

The book's setting is a small town in Montana where everyone knows everyone else and all their business. It is situated near a mountain riddled with an extensive system of caves. I loved that the mountain and caves played such an important role in the plot and they became almost characters themselves in the drama. I really liked the vivid place descriptions that once again put me right there in the story with the characters.

If you don't like figuring out "who done it" too fast, this book is for you; the plot had me guessing to the very end. So often, I thought I knew what had happened up on the mountain, only for the author to twist the story and change my mind. But in the end, the answer is plausible and was looking me in the face the entire time. I found the wrap-up immensely satisfying.

I highly recommend WE MADE IT ALL UP to readers who enjoy YA thrillers and mysteries.

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

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Wednesday, July 06, 2022

Pictures of the Shark: Stories by Thomas H. McNeely

Pictures of the Shark: StoriesPictures of the Shark: Stories by Thomas H. McNeely
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Stories that will stay with you long after you turn the final page.

With so many great books yet to read, I’m not usually one to re-read many. But Pictures of the Shark: Stories may prove to be an exception. Frankly, I sat down and read this book in one sitting, and I was captivated from the start. But as I raced through, page after page, I am certain I missed things. I really feel the need to go back and do it again, slowly.

Buddy Turner’s life is presented to the reader in a unique fashion in this collection of stories. We see him first as a young boy, but then he appears as a teen, only to reappear later on as a child again. Each story is self-contained, so I didn’t feel confused by the back and forth even as I watched the breakdown of a marriage and the impact this wreaked on the young Buddy and its manifestation in his older self as he displayed more and more of his father’s characteristics. The non-linear storytelling may not be to everyone's taste.

The stories reveal personal dramas of the kinds happening around (or to) each of us. I’m reminded that you never know what’s going on at the house next door and don’t have any idea what other people may have endured to get to the moment you encounter them. I was emotional reading about Buddy’s life; those feelings continue to surface. These stories hit me surprisingly hard, and their memory seems to want to linger. As a mother of sons, I hope my impact on them was positive, strengthening, and affirming, but I can’t help but wonder if I couldn’t have done better myself.

I highly recommend PICTURES OF THE SHARK: STORIES to readers of literary fiction.

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

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Sunday, July 03, 2022

Remember the Alamo Bowl: Bram Kohlhausen and TCU's Epic Comeback by Jim Reeves

Remember the Alamo Bowl: Bram Kohlhausen's Epic TCU ComebackRemember the Alamo Bowl: Bram Kohlhausen's Epic TCU Comeback by Jim Reeves
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Straight-forward and wonderfully told, humble with all the warts.

The 2016 Alamo Bowl game between TCU and Oregon was one for the record books, with TCU overcoming one of the largest deficits in bowl game history to attain a victory. With a 31-0 score at halftime, the sportscasters had all but turned out the lights at the Alamodome on TCU's chances to win that game. But the Horned Frogs team that came back on the field for the second half had decided they weren't ready to lie down and give up. And leading the way was TCU senior quarterback Bram Kohlhausen. Relieved to find he still had the coaching staff's confidence, he put the frustrating first half behind him and led the Frogs to an amazing comeback victory in triple overtime. Remember the Alamo Bowl is Bram's story.

I liked that the author begins Bram's story as the miserable first half of the game concludes. Bram is disheartened, and the Horned Frogs are devastated by their performance and are returning to the locker room. The author succeeds in placing us right there with the team and coaches. The insights from the players, including Bram, his family, and friends, were honest and heartbreaking, especially with the ever-present shadow of the disgraced Trevone Boykin hovering in the midst. It was easy to feel the excitement of the time, even all these years later, as each one recounted their thoughts and participation. You could still hear the wonder in the comments at what the Horned Frogs accomplished that night.

The story goes back to Bram Kohlhausen's childhood and early success in high school football, and he is open and forthcoming about how he handled all the attention he received, becoming the big man on campus. I especially enjoyed his brothers' contributions to the story and could easily relate to his mother. The loss of his father in the months leading up to the bowl game was heart-wrenching. Bram takes ownership of things that didn't go well in his college football journey, partly due to his own decisions, actions, and choices but not all. Still, there was no finger-pointing.

The events leading up to Bram replacing Boykin in the Alamo Bowl, his first start as a quarterback for TCU, are covered from start to finish. I felt I better understood what went down in San Antonio back then. It was such an avoidable tragedy for his friend and teammate, and I could feel the brotherhood in that Horned Frog team.

I have watched this game a couple of times since the live airing, and the recounting of the plays in the book was still exciting. Reading this, I knew what would happen, and I was still caught up in the same emotions I felt during the actual game.

I highly recommend REMEMBER THE ALAMO BOWL to readers who enjoy sports books, underdog stories, and most of all, TCU fans, especially those who watched or experienced that game.

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

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Saturday, July 02, 2022

Rosaline's Curse by Katharine Campbell

Rosaline's CurseRosaline's Curse by Katharine Campbell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The intriguing yet endearing 'Sleeping Beauty' tale of a cursed 13th-century princess who awakens in 2017.

It was a fantastic discovery: the perfectly preserved body of a Kaltish princess was found in the crumbling ruin of a high tower. Mark Reid, an anthropology student on the site, was excited to be among the first group of scientists called to investigate the find. He was quite surprised to see that she looked almost as if she'd fallen asleep and was yet to awaken, and he couldn't resist the urge to reach out and lightly touch her cheek. Imagine his shock when she opened her eyes and sat up, suddenly very much alive!

Cursed by an immortal being she'd angered during her own time. Princess Rosaline had been 'asleep' for almost 800 years. But rather than shock and fear at awakening in 2017, Rosaline was ecstatic! Before her 'big sleep,' she'd been facing an arranged marriage she desperately wanted to avoid, and now she was free! But before she could even leave the tower grounds, her hated fiancé arrived, also still very much alive and still determined to change her mind and go through with the wedding!

Together Mark and Rosaline must try to undo what she did in the past that originally put her in this mess, all while being chased by two immortals: one with romantic intentions, the other intent on murder!

Rosaline's Curse was fun and fast, and full of action. Rosaline is brave and fearless in pursuing her goal of breaking the curse. Mark is smart and nerdy, pretty much a regular guy, yet sweetly vulnerable. Their nemeses, the immortal twins, Julyan and Acacia, are entertaining yet deadly. The premise hooked me, and the fast pace of the plot kept me glued to the story.

I thoroughly enjoyed Rosaline's determined progress in understanding her new surroundings. I liked that the author made her a quick study in learning the new language because her dialogue, especially later on with Mark, had some very amusing lines. In addition, I liked that the university set her up with Agnes and a place to stay after her release from the hospital rather than under lock and key somewhere to be studied.

The story moves from the UK to Austria and beyond. The background changes to some interesting locations: university grounds, mountains, a monastery, a channel crossing, and crypts and tunnels belowground. The author's descriptions were vivid and gave me a good clear picture of these places and the shivers a couple of times, too.

With its great premise, relatable and likable characters, international settings, and fun dialogue, I recommend ROSALINE'S CURSE to readers who would enjoy a modern take on what came after Sleeping Beauty awoke.

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

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