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100 Pages A Day...Stephanie's Book Reviews

I absolutely love historical fiction and read a lot of it; I love to learn history this way.  I also enjoy reading science fiction, fantasy, horror, thriller and non-fiction science.

Deadly Spirits

Deadly Spirits (A Mac McClellan Mystery) - E. Michael Helms

Mac McClellan is a war veteran and practicing Private Investigator. He has recently been dragged along to do some investigating with the Palmetto Paranormal Society with his girlfriend Kate. When two subsequent paranormal investigations end with the mysterious death of two investigators, Mac knows something is up; these are more than unfortunate accidents. After he is officially hired to investigate one of the deaths, Mac begins to notice several things that aren't sitting right in town: a previous insurance fraud case that is continuously being harassed, generous donations to a local college from people who do not have the money to give, a separate PI that is tailing him, a ghostly recording that has gone missing, several more near-deaths and a woman in the Paranormal Society who isn't who she says she is. Now, it's up to Mac to piece the clues together before more people die and to decide whether the forces at play are of the normal or paranormal variety.

This book immediately starts with action and really does not stop until the end. After reading the first few pages, I realized that this book was part of a series, however; I was filled in pretty quickly and I didn't feel like I really needed the rest of the books in order to understand everything. It might have been helpful to understand a little more about Mac's history, but that's about it. I was really impressed with the layers of mystery and was wondering to the end about how they all fit together. I also really enjoyed the incorporation of the paranormal; the investigative techniques were really interesting and Mac's skepticism provided a nice contrast. Mac's character was intriguing as well, at first he seemed very typical and one dimensional, but as the story progressed, I learned more of his true character and really enjoyed his interaction with people and especially his dog. Overall, this seems like a great mystery series and I would love to read more of Mac!

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

The Essex Serpent

The Essex Serpent - Sarah Perry

Cora Seaborne is a recent widow to an abusive husband and is reveling in her new found freedom.  Dr. Luke Garrett saw Mr. Seaborne through his illness and is now enraptured with Mrs. Seaborne.  He is also on the verge of performing open heart surgery, if only he had a willing participant.  Taken with new found spirit, Cora travels to Essex with her son, Francis and friend Martha where there have been renewed rumors of a serpent haunting the town.  There, in the small parish of Aldwinter, Cora meets Will, the local vicar, his beautiful and frail wife Stella and their children.  Cora and Will, seemingly opposites, and with very different views of the serpent, strike up an unlikely friendship.  As Cora spends more time in Aldwinter, the mystery and hysteria surrounding the serpent grows challenging the bounds of friendship in all directions.

The Essex Serpent is haunting and magical while being very firmly set in the reality of Victorian England.  Rich and vivid writing makes the scenery and characters jump from the page.  I was transfixed with Cora from the moment that she watched her husband die with a mixture of resolve, hope and giddiness.  I loved that Cora was inspired by Mary Anning, a real paleontologist and so happily took up digging through the mud of a small farming village so unlike her London home.  The mystery of the Essex serpent itself provides a mystery as well as a platform for the small parish of Aldwinter.  I was intrigued by the real accounts of this 'Strange News Out of Essex,' but even more so by the fictional characters reactions to the serpent.  Everything from hysteria to disbelief is displayed in the parish.  However, it was not the serpent that was really the main focus of the book, but the unlikely friendships of the characters and how they progress.  As much as I loved Cora and Will's friendship, I was interested in Stella and Frankie as well as Martha and Joanne. The Essex Serpent also shone light on a variety of Victorian London issues: advances in medical technology, housing crises, poverty, women's rights and gaining knowledge of the environment.  Overall, a curious and addicting tale with as many facets as the serpent's scales that will be sure to take you on a delightful journey.


This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

Horizon

Horizon - Tabitha Lord

Caeli Crys is one of the few survivors of the Novali people. The Novali have special gifts; Caeli happens to be an empath as well as having the ability to heal people. Because of their gifts, many of the Novali were killed by the other people on her planet, the Amathi. Caeli escaped the Amathi and has been living on her own in the woods. That is-until she connects with the mind of Derek. Derek's spacecraft has been hit and is crashing near Caeli's camp. Caeli arrives at the crash site in time to help heal Derek, but not his partner, Tommy. After several days of helping Derek heal, Caeli and Derek connect on a deeper level. Caeli shares her history and her people's trouble with the Amathi. When Derek's command ship, the Horizon, sends a rescue team, she is granted asylum aboard the ship. However, the Horizon soon learns of another planet under attack and Derek's team is sent on a mission there. Derek knows that Caeli's gifts would be helpful on the mission, but fears putting her in danger again.

This is a fast-paced science-fiction romance that had me hooked from the moment Caeli connected with Derek's mind. I was very interested in Caeli's people and their powers. The story of Caeil's planet, Almagest, that she shared with Derek really drew me in. Through this backstory, I really got to know Caeli's character; I knew how deeply she cared for people and her true strength, with or without her gifts. I really think this could have almost been a story by itself. I am also really interested in how the planet fared after Caeli left, especially with the resistance that was rising. I do appreciate the parallels on Caeli's planet to what is happening in some parts of the world right now. Caeli sums it up best in the quote: "No, but I can't ignore the situation in front of me. My people did that. They chose not to see, not to act, and it cost us everything." Hopefully, this will be explored in the next book! While it was no surprise to me that Derek and Caeli formed a romantic relationship after being connected through their minds; however, for me this happened a little too quickly. Once on Horizon, the pace quickened. I was glad Caeli found her place so quickly as a physician and was valued among the crew. When Derek learns of the threat on the planet Tharsis, I knew Caeli would be involved. The situation was very similar to what happened on her home planet. This section of the book moved quickly and was filled with suspense. At the end of the book I am still left with some questions about Caeli's planet and how humans came to populate all of these other planets. Maybe book two, Infinity will answer these!

This book was provided for free in return for an honest review.

The Life and Deaths of Blanche Nero

The Life and Deaths of Blanche Nero - Ken Bingham

Blanche Nero's life has been punctuated by a series of important deaths.  At fifteen years old, Blanche's father was executed for the killing of their neighbor.  This death caused Blanche to have an interest into her father's past and sparked a curiosity for violence and death .  After excelling academically in high school and college, her mother's death provides enough money for Blanche to go to Med School.  Blanche is able to train with the best doctors in the field and becomes a successful trauma surgeon at Charity Hospital in New Orleans.  After Hurricane Katrina hits, Charity closes and Blanche takes a leave to Venice.  In Venice she rents a flat and befriends Ludo, or more precisely, Count Lorenzo Ludovici.  Ludo is dying of AIDS, but before he goes Ludo has a secret to reveal to Blanche that will unravel the mystery behind her father's death.  Ludo's death will also open up another door for Blanche to move on with her life.

 
From the moment Blanche's father murders their neighbor, I was pulled into the mystery of the Nero family.  The name Blanche Nero literally means 'White Black.'  From Blanche's birth, everything has been one or the other, black or white, no grey.  Throughout the book I did wonder if her father gave her the first name of White to try to lessen the black of his name.  Blanche's character lives her life very directly.  The writing brought me back and forth between Blanche's present as a 60 year old woman in Venice and her past growing up in Almesboro and throughout her schooling.  She is looking back at her life and examining her choices through a very mature lens.  Throughout the book death and violence are recurrent themes.  However,  through Blanch eyes, the deaths are drawn in a different light, without much meaning or emotion, but with advancement; that is until Ludo.  Ludo is exceedingly charming and a little frustrating with the slow reveal of his relation to Blanche's mystery.  Ludo's dignified ways create the perfect illusion to begin to introduce Blanche to the black spot in her father's history that I couldn't even begin to piece together until the very end.  In addition to the curious mystery, the Venitian culture and city is brought to life through Blanche and Ludo's travels as well as it's darker history.  Overall, an engaging story that weaves together death, secrets and their impact on our lives. 
 
This book was received for free in return for an honest review. 

The Belle of Two Arbors

The Belle of Two Arbors - Paul Dimond, Martha Buhr Grimes

Belle has grown up in the wilds of Northern Michigan in Anne Arbor at the turn of the century. She loves going for long swims in the lake, hiking along the dunes and composing poetry. Young Belle became the caregiver to her younger brother Pip and her mother after Pip's birth took it's toll. Lovingly deemed Marmie by her brother, Belle continued her caretaker roll as her father ran the family stove business. After Belle's mother dies in a tragic accident, Belle becomes more involved in the family business, continues to care for her mother and begins the task of saying goodbye to her mother through poetry. At 21, Belle finally ventures off to college in Ann Arbor where she meets those who will become some of the most influential poets of the day. More importantly, she learns that her poetry stands up against the greats. While navigating college Belle still has a hand in her family business and assists Pip as he becomes an adult.


The Belle of Two Arbors is an epic tome that stretches US history through Belle's eyes from 1913 to 1953. Though Belle is fictional, her story shines light on many events in US history and is interwoven with the stories of poets, scholars and athletes who defined the time. Belle's character is immediately defined as strong, intelligent and sensitive. She is the original sandwich generation caretaker, expected to care for a parent and a child while still coming into her own. From the moment of her mother's death, I knew Belle would prove to be a force to be reckoned with. She proves this time and time again as she fights for women's rights, reproductive care, indigenous rights, equal rights and environmental conservation.

The writing in The Belle of Two Arbors is impressive; to carry me through several decades in almost 700 pages, Belle's story captivated and intrigued. In partnership with the poetry, the words painted a landscape and evoked strong feelings of love, loss and natural beauty. I truly did feel that the poetry was on par with the writers of the time.

Most importantly, for me, the history was brought alive. Through Belle and her real life people that have been entwined into her life I was able to get a glimpse into to life of Robert Frost and the creation of some of his poetry, a young Theodore Roethke and his troubled but inspirational journey, and Gertrude Ederle and her triumphs as the first female swimmer to cross the English Channel. Through time, I also witnessed Belle's triumphs through the Great Depression and World War II. Throughout everything, Belle's story reminds us that we are the greatest tool to shape the world around us.

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

The Irish Milliner

The Irish Milliner - Cynthia G. Neale
Norah McCabe is an Irish-American immigrant living in the Five-Points area of New York City right before the Civil War.  Norah was widowed on the crossing and now does everything she can in order to support her daughter, Katie. Norah has taken to making hats for the women of Five Points, however she would love to expand her business into a department store.  For extra money Norah also writes articles for an Irish Newspaper.  As Lincoln takes office, political tensions arise and  turmoil bubbles over into the Five Points neighborhood where the Irish and African-American's are both struggling to survive.  In her travels, Norah is fortunate enough to have met and befriend Elizabeth Jennings, an African-American schoolteacher.  Through Elizabeth, Norah learns about the Underground Railroad and does what she can to help.  As the War surges on, Norah's fiance is compelled to join the ranks.  In order to follow him, Norah takes a risky newspaper assignment following a photographer to Gettysburg and is able to see for herself the horrors that the war for herself.


The Irish Milliner transported me back to New York City right before the Civil War.  Through Norah's eyes, I had a clear view of the trials facing Irish Immigrants at this point in time, the tenement living, the streets of Five Points, the working conditions,  as well as what it meant to be a woman fighting for her own independence as well as an abolitionist. For a book written about the Civil War, there were many timely and poignant issues and ideas that Norah faced.

These are the women who fascinate her!  No matter Irish women's skin is as pale as buttermilk, the Negro woman and the Irish woman have much in common.  Hate and poverty visit all shades of skin, she thinks.
 ​
​Norah's character is strong, resourceful and caring during a time in history when it would have been easier to simply try to survive and not make waves. Norah is a woman of many hats, both literally and figuratively.  I absolutely loved the idea that she used her time and resources to make hats women on the underground railroad so they would not stand out as runaways.  I do really wish that this storyline would have been expanded upon, especially since the title suggests that the book would be about a milliner.  I would have loved to know exactly how the hats ended up helping the women on their journey and their specific fates.  The book did have a very broad view, covering large swatches of time in several sentences and covering from Lincoln's speeches as a senator to the end of the Civil War.  This broad view did give me a very good sense of the history and feeling of the time, but missed out on telling several detailed, smaller stories within Norah's journey that would have made her story stand out even more. ​

This book was received for free in return for an honest review. 

The View From the Cheap Seats

The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction - Neil Gaiman

The View From the Cheap Seats is a compilation of Neil Gaiman's best non-fiction.  Some of these are essays, some are introductions, some are speeches and all of them are thoughtful.  In this book, Neil Gaiman shares things he believes, things about the people he is fortunate enough to know, movies, comics, music and more.
 
You might be thinking that Neil Gaiman is best known for stories, fantasy or science fiction works and why would anyone want to read 500 pages of speeches and introductions, who reads introductions anyways?  Well, I always read introductions and hopefully you will too. 


In The View from the Cheap Seats I have learned what I have always known, but have never put into complete thoughts; stories are important, stories have power.  I have learned that words are magic that turn into ideas, ideas that can make you change the world.  

In his essays, speeches and introductions about other authors I learned of the deep respect held for fellow mentors and writers.  I also gleamed some insight into how authors work and develop ideas.  Most of all, I discovered some authors that I have never had the pleasure of reading and have now been added to my to-be-read pile. 

With any compilation, you could pick and choose which sections to read or individuals selections.  If you do choose to read this, read it however you choose, skip around, devour or meander through, but I do suggest reading it all and letting the power of the words soak in. 

This book was received for free in return for an honest review. 

Manservant

Manservant - Shari J. Ryan
Julia just wants one summer of fun before entering the real adult world. Oh, and she has sworn off hot guys- the type who are more into themselves than the relationship- after her break up with super hot guy, Andy. Julia and her best friend Jade have found what were supposed to be easy jobs nannying on the coast of Maine. However, when Julia arrives in Maine she is greeted by an even wilder than usual Jade, whose personal life is crumbling as well as Dylan, the 10 year old boy that she is nannying for. Dylan's needs are very specific and his mom forgot to mention that most nannies haven't made it past 10 days with him. And, did I mention the hot guys that seem to be everywhere? There is Sterling, a sweet but smooth-talking surfer who also teaches Dylan's lifeguard training and Liam, a seemingly rude and confusing housekeeper for Dylan's family that Julia has to live with for the summer. Julia forgets her one rule and then seems to make a mess of everything. At least she is a source of entertainment for her friends!

Manservant is a humorous and sexy new adult romance that I easily got lost in. Shari J. Ryan is a master at creating a slow build in sexual tension with back and forth witty banter and puns. I didn't know whether to love or hate Liam and I think he got me into as much of a frenzy as he did to Julia.

"Fine?" he whispers in my ear. As unexpected as my voice is, being so close to me, his words make my heart pound in a way it hasn't beat in a very long time, possibly ever. "I could think of a few different words to describe you, but 'fine' would be at the bottom of that list."

The characterization is also amazing, Julia seems like the perfect best friend as well as a very real young adult in the world. I loved that she found and named the Shermanator and the picture had me cracking up. I also loved Julia's strength when she found out that he boyfriend was cheating as well as when she found out that Dylan has Asperger's syndrome. Julia did not give up or give in, she learned as much as she could and tried to do everything right for Dylan. I applaud the inclusion of Dylan's character and the realities of his everyday life without it being the main point of the book.
The romance and sex aspects are just right for my tastes. There are several sultry scenes that had just the right amount of allure with a dash of fun; and with Julia's inner monologue it was just perfect. Overall, a steamy summer read with a mix of romance, drama and plenty of fun.

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.
 
 

 

Among Animals 2

Among Animals 2: The Lives of Animals and Humans in Contemporary Short Fiction - Sascha Morrell, JoeAnn Hart, John Yunker

Among Animals 2 is a collection of short stories that examines the varied relationships between humans and animals. With a mix of contemporary fiction, historical stories, dystopian and science fiction, many different aspects of these relationships are able to be captured. Some of these stories will make you uncomfortable, some are sweet and comforting, all will make you think about the relationships humans share with animals that are pets, in captivity, on farms or in the wild and how our actions affect them.

 

Some stories that affected me were:

Phoenix Cross looks into factory farming of chickens and genetic engineering. Some of us may know exactly the horrid conditions in which factory farmed chickens are raised, we might ignore it, we may not care, some of us might choose free-range chickens. Phoenix Cross brings out not only the effects of this method on the chickens, but on the farmers as well. I loved the connection of boy and bird in this story and the bird's point of view really made me think about how our food gets to us.

 

Exotic Animal Alert: Please Post Widely inspects caretakers and zoo animals as well as the close bond one might form with an animal that is truly wild. Again, an animal point of view was used in order to empathize with the clouded leopard point of view. What I found most interesting was the differing opinions about Sokar the clouded leopard formed by the husband and wife who raised him and how Sokar's presence impacted their relationship.

 

A Normal Rabbit is the story of a family and their ordinary pet rabbit, Camper. Camper is a symbol for many things in the family, but most of all Camper's presence is able to elicit responses of empathy for other living things.

 

Overall, an interesting compilation of stories that will hopefully make readers reexamine their relationships with the animals and environment around them.

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

Sovereignty

Sovereignty - Anjenique Hughes
In the 23rd century, the Sovereign Regime rules.  In what was once Los Angeles, Davio sits in his impenetrable fortress making everyone else's life difficult.  On the third day of their life every human is implanted with a chip into their wrist.  The chip allows the Regime to see your every movement, everything you have bought, everyone you have interacted with and at any time, you may be monitored for what you say.  Eighteen year old Goro and his friends are mounting a rebellion, beginning with a way to outsmart the chip readers that track everything they do. After a successful test run, the teens are on the SR's radar and well as the underground resistance movement.  The underground luckily gets to them first and they begin training with the resistance army to bring down Davio and the SR. Goro's role, however, is different, the resistance needs something from him personally to bring down the SR and Goro's revenge is now personal. 
 
This is a different type of Young Adult Dystopian that follows the same patterns that dystopian readers are used to,but with some new elements.  Goro is very family oriented and is determined to make their lives better by fighting the regime. However, he is also very hotheaded and reckless. I am always interested in the dystopian world in which the story takes place and how it got there.  This dystopian world is all political, the Sovereign Regime rules the planet in one New World Order.  As for how we got there, no one has all the details, but there was a lot of warfare with very technologically advanced weapons.  I do wish a little more backstory was given into how the world ended up this way. One of the things that Sovereignty does highlight really well are the pros and cons of the advances in technology.  Everything is very convenient in their world, but nothing is private.  The government is easily able to abuse anyone with their information.  One thing that did bother me the entire way through the story was the language; this book is definitely for a high school audience with an 18 year old protagonist and violent fighting scenes, however, the insults the characters throw around are 'derp,' 'fuddy-duddy,' and 'whoopsay (sic).' Also, for being in the 23rd century, there sure are a lot of references to things today and historically that I'm not sure kids 200 years from now would even know about.  Modern language such as 'bae,' 'containing my feels' and 'butt-ton' are used, there are also references to contemporary technology that just make the story feel a little out of place with the time.  I do applaud the use of multi-cultural characters throughout the story.  Goro is of Arab origin, his friends are Latino and some mix of European countries.  Although, all these nationalities are mentioned, they don't really have a purpose other than to diversify the cast.  Race doesn't seem to matter much in the world-building.  People are separated by wealth.  The ending was very exciting, I enjoyed reading about all the training for overtaking the SR.  It seemed like the resistance movement was very well organized and ready to strike.  Goro's necessary item within the resistance was also very interesting. The story intensified as they were attacking Davio's lair and things ended with a positive outlook for the people once under the SR. 
 
This book was received for free in return for an honest review. 

Escape From Witchwood Hollow

Escape from Witchwood Hollow - Elizabeth Jordan

Lady Elizabeth Clifford is on the run in the newly settled area of Arnn, New York in 1670.  She is accused of murder and has taken off into the thick woods. Her attackers have lost her, and are calling her a witch.  So, Lady Clifford decides to settle into her patch of woods and become exactly what they called her.  As time passes and Arnn becomes more settled, several people wonder into Witchwood and never return making Witchwood Hollow fully steeped in folklore.  In 2001 15 year old Honoria, her brother and aunt and uncle move to Arnn in order to escape the City and the tragedy of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that killed her parents.  Honoria is drawn into the woods by some friends at her school; she makes it through and is continually drawn back by a feeling in the woods- something in Witchwood Hollow might be able to bring her parents back and Honoria would be willing to do it.

This young adult paranormal/ historical crossover drew me in from the beginning with the legend of Witchwood Hollow.  The historical aspect and being able to learn about Lady Elizabeth Clifford and her motivations made this very interesting for me, although I am also a huge sucker for dual-time stories.  Honoria's character was intriguing to watch as she learned about the Witchwood,, I was unsure if she was going to fall victim or be healed by it.  From the historical end, the mystery of the Witchwood expanded as lost characters came together.  This was a shorter read that I devoured in a shorter setting, but I think it would have still kept my interest if the lives of each of the lost characters was expanded upon.  While the ending was very shocking, it was a little too serendipitous in some aspects .  I do wish that I would have learned how the Witchwood reacted after everything. 

Letters to the Damned

Letters To The Damned - Austin Crawley

Chris and his wife have separated, he is trying to comes to terms with living alone when she dies in a freak accident.  Chris decides to visit the English countryside that his wife enjoyed in order to grieve and move on.  His destination is motivated partly by the remoteness of a village that is barely on the map and a tabloid article he picked up about an out of service post box that supposedly sends messages to the dead.  Chris arrives in town and begins to have strange dreams, when he meets the villagers and begins to investigate the mailbox, he is warned off.  When a villagers mails a letter to a deceased relative and someone dies, he is intrigued.  And when Chris begins hallucinating, he decides to leave.  However, the pull of the mysterious box is too much for him to handle.  

The concept of a post box that could communicate with the dead really pulled me in.  The setting of an out of the way village with only adults as residents set a creepy tone and Chris as a curious but wary visitor rounded out the story.  Chris's character was very interesting; although he and his wife were separated, it is very clear that he was very much in love with her and his willingness to test out the mailbox proved that even more.  I enjoyed that he was of Mexican heritage, but  it was mentioned a little too often and didn't serve much purpose plotwise.   Chris was also interesting in that he tried to do the smart thing and just leave the post box behind.  This was a shorter book, and did well pace wise. However, I would have loved to expand a little more on some of the characters within the village and the lore behind the box.  For example, one of the villagers tells Chris that he is experiencing a Puca, but nothing more is explained.  Overall, a quick, creepy read with an atypical outcome for the horror genre. 

This book was received for free in return for an honest review. 

The Baker's Secret

The Baker's Secret: A Novel - Stephen P. Kiernan

On the coast of Normandy, the people of Vergers are trying their best to go on with their everyday lives.  Since the German occupation, everyone has simply been doing their best to survive by any means necessary.  For Emmanuelle, this means continuing to bake her bread; however, it is no longer the joyful task it once was.  Emma was apprenticed to Ezra Kuchen, the village baker when she was 13.  Since the Germans came, she watched her mentor forced to wear a yellow star and later dragged away.  Emma  is the only one in town left to bake and is commanded to do so for the occupying army.  Forced to bake for the soldiers while she watches those around her starve, Emma decides that she will stretch her extra rations to make 14 loaves instead of the desired 12 for the Germans.  She stretches her resources by adding finely ground straw to the recipe.  While taking her covert bread to those who need it most, Emma is asked if she could find other things: eggs, gasoline, light bulbs, for the townspeople.  So begins Emma's unintentional Resistance to keep the town alive and hopeful until help arrives. 

 
The Baker's Secret is an extraordinary book that shows the effect of an occupation on a small town during WWII. The beautiful writing clearly conveys the struggle, the intense emotional state of the people and the beauty of the area.  I could easily imagine Emma's baking shed, the coastline and the church. More importantly, The Baker's Secret impressed upon me the importance of one person during the times of struggle.  Emma's perseverance and ingenuity saved lives and gave her town hope.  Another aspect highlighted was the choices people will make in order to stay alive, some will paint "V's" on a tree in order to tirelessly annoy the occupying troops, some will use their beauty to take up with the enemy, some will turn in their neighbors, some will bake extra bread, some will join the Resistance and risk their lives smuggling ammo. listening in to German conversation and counting paces.  With the Resistance the importance of every person's actions put together was highlighted.  I thought it was especially important that the people who everyone believed were inconsequential, those who have been outcast, or with disabilities were able to do the most because they went unseen.  These characters weren't even called their true names, going by The Goat and Monkey Boy, they were as big of heros as Emma.  Lastly, it was very interesting to see the D-Day invasion through the eyes of the townspeople, it is what they hoped for for so long but happened very differently than they imagined. Overall, a tremendous story of courage, strength and hope of a town during WWII.
 
This book was received for free in return for an honest review. 

Windsinger (Darkhaven #3)

Windsinger (The Darkhaven Novels, Book 3) - A. F. E. Smith
Ayla Nightshade is now the Overlord of Darkhaven.  She is the only adult Changer left; she can transform into a powerful Alicorn.  Ayla has been working on honing her skills both in Changer and human form with the help of Miles, an alchemist and her husband, Tomas, the Captain of the Helm.  Ayla finally feels like life is calming down, with her three children growing well and a meeting set for a Peace Treaty with an ambassador from the neighboring land of Sol Kardis, Ayla is fulfilling her role as Overlord.  However, the meeting with Sol Kardis goes terribly wrong; after Ayla and the ambassador meet in private, the ambassador suddenly dies.  Ayla is the only suspect and Sol Kardis declares war. Now, Ayla must go to the front lines with Tomas left to run Darkhaven and watch over the children while other members of the Helm frantically try to prove Ayla's innocence and figure out who is truly behind the war.
 
This is the third installment in the Darkhaven series.  Windsinger provided a fast-paced, action filled and suspenseful ride in the wonderful world of Darkhaven.  I was very pleased to see Ayla grow into a confident ruler, expand her powers, be comfortable in her Changer form and have nurturing relationships with her husband and children.  The suspense and intrigue grows right from the start as Ayla meets with the Kardise ambassador.  A twisted political scheme is set forth that involves many of the characters that I have gotten to know over the course of the series.  I was glad to see Sorrow, Zander, Ree and Art have important roles.  As the war rages on, I was also impressed to see Ayla in Alicorn form use her powers. As the end approaches, the tension rose to the point that I did not want to put the book down.  I was surprised at all of the players tangled up in the scheme and how they thought everything would play out. Another awesome installment into the fantasy world of Changers and Darkhaven. 
 
This book was provided for free in return for an honest review. 

Hannah's Moon

Hannah's Moon (American Journey Book 5) - John A. Heldt

Claire and Ron Rasmussen have struggled with fertility and loss for the past eight years. Wanting nothing more than to be parents, Claire and Ron turn to adoption after their last heartbreaking loss. However, adopting a healthy, caucasian infant in present day California is another long and sometimes painful road. When a distant aunt and uncle, the Bells, learn of Claire and Ron's struggle, they know that they have the perfect solution hidden away in the basement of their house, The Painted Lady. Using their time travel tunnel, the Bells prepare to send Claire, Ron and Claire's brother David back to 1945 near the end of WWII. Adoption policies are much less strict and infants are abundant in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1945. Claire, Ron and David arrive safely, move into a nice house and find a perfect bundle of joy, Hannah. They plan to stay several months until the adoption is finalized. They make friends with a wonderful neighbor and begin to enjoy life in a different time. Nevertheless, meddling in a different time can have issues, the Rasmussen's are being watched by the FBI and Ron is forced to enlist leaving Claire and David to wonder if they will all make it back to their own home and time.


This is the fifth installment of the American Journey series and was a little different than the previous time travel romances I've read in the series. The love in Hannah's moon was very much focused on family life making Hannah's Moon a balance between heartwarming and dramatic. I was very happy to see that the plot pivoted on adoption; although, as a mother, the first chapter broke me a bit and I had to put the book down for a while. After that though, I was transported back to 1945. John A. Heldt always done a wonderful job of conveying the time period through the eyes of his time travelers. This time, with the help of their neighbor, Margaret, the Rasmussen's are given a full southern welcome. I absolutely loved the adoption of Hannah and Margaret's childhood story helped to solidify their decision. Being set at the end of WWII, I was not expecting to learn much about the actual war, although, with Ron's enlistment I was very intrigued to learn about the USS Indianapolis and the what happened to the Navy members aboard the ship. The ending of Hannah's Moon is bittersweet, I got to revisit all of time travellers from past novels as the Bell's revealed a secret.

This book was provided for free in return for an honest review.

The Promise of Pierson Orchard

The Promise of Pierson Orchard - Kate Brandes
Jack's family life began crumbling early in his childhood.  When Jack and his brother Wade were four and five years old, Jack's mother walked out on the family due to severe depression.  Later in his youth, their father died in a hunting accident.  Not long after that, Wade disappears. Jack is left to run their apple orchard by himself.  Jack marries a neighbor, LeeAnn and after eight years of infertility, their marriage falls apart.  Then, Wade returns along with his new job at Green Energy with hopes to reconcile his past and help out the town.  Wade is selling land leases for Green Energy to frack for natural gas in the abundant shale deposits of his hometown of Minden, Pennsylvania.  The quick money is a big draw for many of the families and businesses who have seen their town dwindle since the coal companies left.  However, Jack is worried about the effects of fracking on the land, his orchard and LeeAnn's organic apple trees.  He makes the decision to call in his mother, Stella, now an acclaimed environmental lawyer to get some perspective on the issue.  With Wade, Jack and Stella all back together there will be more be more explosions than just the hydraulic fracturing.
 
As an environmental scientist, I appreciate pertinent environmental issues featured in contemporary fiction. The Promise of Pierson Orchard expertly incorporates the slowly leaking and infiltrating toxins of the hydraulic fracturing with the disassembling relationships within Jack's family.  The characters are definitely the focus of the story.  The writing switching between the point-of-view of Jack, Wade, LeeAnn and Stella giving an intimate look into each character's back story and reasoning, making it easy to see everyone's beliefs and why they were convinced they were doing the right thing.  The shorter chapters also made for quick reading and a build of suspense as secrets were revealed.  I was most impressed with the author's ability to come up with a compromise solution for the town and the hydraulic fracturing.  While the dangers of fracking and its many consequences are highlighted, Stella's character is able to come up with a solution that includes fracking done a better way in order to help the community and family that she left behind.  With a heart-pounding and surprising ending, The Promise of Pierson Orchard provides an engaging and thoughtful read.
 
This book was provided for free in return for an honest review.