Fiction, Romance, Suspense, Women's Fiction, Young Adult

September Reads!

Since it is unlikely that I will finish another book by tomorrow, here are the books I read this month! Any of the ones with 4 or 5 stars are worth your time. Some quick thoughts:

Thank You For Listening: This unique book, written by a woman who narrates audio books, is about people who narrate audio books! The main characters are great, a lot of their communication is through emails and texts, and the big reveal is very sweet. (Some steaminess.)

Rich Blood: This is a legal thriller with twists and turns aplenty! Jason Rich is a billboard-ambulance-chasing lawyer who must now defend his sister accused of murdering her husband. It keeps you guessing until the very end. I definitely want to read more by this author!

That Fine Line/Double or Nothing: These Cindy Steel books are fantastic, with a lot more going on than the covers would lead you to believe. They are clean romances with tons of hilarity, heart, and homespun characters that you will love. They are the first and second of a four-book series that I plan to continue. Extremely enjoyable!

A Pumpkin and a Patch/How to Get Over Your Ex in Ninety Days: Jennifer Peel is another author I was thrilled to discover this month! Her characters are smart, sensitive, and constantly learning from their mistakes. These clean romances are winners! Highly recommended!

The Deep End/Guaranteed to Bleed/Clouds in My Coffee: These are the first three books in a multi-book cozy mystery series. They are very entertaining, set in the 1970s among the Kansas City country club elite. Money might buy some nice things, but it can’t stop some people from being murdered…*cue sinister laugh* I plan to continue with this clever series!

The Bodyguard/What You Wish For/How to Walk Away: Books by Katherine Center, need I say more? You know I absolutely adore this woman. Hubby and I listened to all three of these in September, sometimes for hours. And guess what? We’re having a tough time finding other audio books we enjoy as much.

I hope you find something you love from this list! Happy Reading!!

One more thing,” as Detective Colombo would say… The “Most Messed Up Book Award” for September goes to Verity, by Colleen Hoover. If you’ve read anything by the popular and divisive “CoHo” then I can tell you that Verity is not within her “normal” style. Some people love it, some people despise it. I just wanted to vacuum that story out of my brain. It. Is. Twisted. And I know I’m not alone in that opinion. You’ve been warned!

Horror, Suspense

A Curated List of Spook and Horror

Thank you, Abbie!

Here’s a very quick entry devoted to a genre that gets neglected a lot on this site. Horror. One of the most voracious readers in my online book club, Abbie, has assembled a list of books for people who want to get into the spooky spirit of Halloween in September and October. I have not read these (and probably won’t,) but if darker stories are your thing, I put a lot of faith in her choices. She reads nonstop and has an enviable Goodreads profile!

Happy Reading!

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction, Suspense

Now Is Not The Time To Panic, by Kevin Wilson

AVAILABLE November 8, 2022

I am not exaggerating when I say this is one of the most fascinating books I’ve ever read. Only 50% in, not knowing its conclusion, my mind was bursting with things I wanted to say about it. In fact, most of this review is from notes that flowed out of me before I even knew how it ended.

It is 1996 in Coalfield, Tennessee. Partly out of boredom, with a bit of mischief and a desire to make their marks in a world that was ignoring them, Frankie and Zeke combine their talents and make a poster. Frankie, the writer, creates a cryptic, poetic phrase of which she is very proud. Zeke, the artist, draws a picture to match the phrase.

Next, the two sixteen year olds make hundreds of copies of the poster and start putting them in public places. The rush they get from the town’s initial reaction is exactly the motivation they need to make more…and more…and more. But the more creative they get with the posters’ placement, the more things spiral out of control.

At the risk of spoilers, I’ll say no more about the plot except that it is brilliant. The idea that something as obscure as a poster can escalate into the level of panic that happens is nothing short of genius. Genius that is scary in its truth of the way humans behave. Any kind of extremism throughout history can be traced to an initial idea–or the interpretation of an idea. We’ve seen plenty of that in the last few years.

So is the poster about art? About the interpretation of art? Personal branding? Or is it about people trying to be a part of something bigger than themselves? Politics? Religion? It could be about any, or all, or none of these–making the book as open to discussion as the poster itself.

I highly recommend this book when it becomes available in November. There is some language–these are teenagers, after all–but the concept is so intriguing and the plot so cleverly woven, this really is a book not to be missed.

9.5/10 Stars

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction, Suspense

The Water Keeper/The Letter Keeper/The Record Keeper, by Charles Martin

Beyond the comfort of our iPhones, Kindles, and smart TVs lies a grim world that we rarely, if ever, think about. It is the world of sex trafficking. Flesh for sale. If you’ve read Timothy Ballard’s Slave Stealers, which I highly recommend, you also know that it is one of the largest, fastest growing, most lucrative, horrifying industries on our entire planet.

These are not hardened women or shiny gigolos. These are children as young as five or six years old. Some are stolen, some are lured. All are deceived, sold, or auctioned off to the highest bidder. In the eyes of their captors they are simply chattel. A means to an end. A dollar sign with terrified eyes, but easily replaceable.

When I applied to read an advanced copy of The Record Keeper, by Charles Martin, I had no idea what lay ahead, yet I felt compelled to read the first two books in the Murphy Shepherd series before tackling the final installment. Little did I know I would be discovering an amazing author and a series that will stay with me forever.

Think of the novels as a jigsaw puzzle. The Water Keeper keeps those puzzle pieces relatively scattered, but organized enough to motivate the reader to pursue the second and third books. Our main character, Murphy Shepherd, is broken yet heroic. He is solitary but part of a network. He is spiritual but a man of action. Lots of action. He is also covert, compassionate, philanthropic, and mysterious.

But, above all, Murphy is selfless. His mentor, Bones, chose and trained him because of this specific quality. The person to be rescued is always, ALWAYS the first priority. Exhaustion, hunger, and even gaping wounds come second. We see examples of Murphy’s drive and skill in The Water Keeper. We also meet important characters whose lives will intertwine with our hero in the future.

In The Letter Keeper, we learn more about Murphy Shepherd’s backstory. More of the puzzle pieces come together with each rescue. We understand what drives him, his greatest loss, and his ultimate catharsis. Humble man that he is, even Murphy doesn’t realize the extent of his positive influence.

Last in the series is The Record Keeper, due out in July 2022. Before a shepherd is needed to rescue the sheep, there is the wolf that first endangers them. This wolf is the worst of the worst and he sold his soul long ago. But to pursue him we must first understand him. How did he become that way? There are always reasons.

I will admit, I had to take breaks with this series. It is intense. It is also beautifully written in an old-world style that forces our imaginations to do all the work. The way Charles Martin is able to craft such a bleak underbelly of society without graphic language or vulgar scenes shows his genius. He creates a brilliant balance of darkness and light. I highly, highly recommend these three books and very willingly give them a rare 10 Stars on this site. They are worth your time.

10/10 Stars

***It is impossible not to feel helpless when reading about this subject. Please take a moment to visit “real-life Murphy Shepherd,” Timothy Ballard’s site Operation Underground Railroad. They always need donations to fund their worldwide efforts to bring children home. Thank you.

Fiction, Suspense

Stranger at Wildings, by Madeleine Brent

Martin said tranquilly, “Yes, I suppose it’s better to lose your memory than be changed to a different person. At least that hasn’t happened to me.” “One cannot be entirely sure.” Mr. Galletti’s eyes twinkled. Perhaps you were wild and wreckless before, my young friend.” Martin smiled lazily. “I hadn’t thought of that.”

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book by Madeleine Brent. Stranger at Wildings (also known by the title Kirkby’s Changeling) is just as wonderfully odd and unique as Moonraker’s Bride (which resides on this site’s 10-Star page.) An epic journey of self-discovery for an English girl traveling with a Hungarian circus, this book does not disappoint.

It is 1904 and Chantal (her chosen name) is eighteen and in her fifth year as a trapeze artist. At thirteen she was found alone and destitute by the kind Mr. Galletti, who took her in, trained her, and is now her mentor and wise friend. Along with his two grandchildren, Maria and Leo, they are a family within the larger troupe of circus performers and workers touring throughout Europe. They support, practice, and look out for each other.

After a few expository chapters about the dynamics of such an unusual group, we learn more about Chantal’s backstory. It is here that Stranger at Wildings becomes the classic Madeleine Brent novel, which often tell of young women whose lives are upended. Chantal’s fortitude is tested and all she knew to be true is challenged. (A reminder that “Madeleine Brent” is actually the pen name of author Peter O’Donnell, which I always find amusing because he is so adept at writing from a young woman’s perspective.)

In Forrest Gump-like fashion, Chantal comes into contact with many different people in many different places. She maintains her dignity, her keen perception, and is frequently underestimated. No matter her circumstance, she tries to be good and compassionate, always striving to be better than the person she was in her childhood.

It’s quite a different type of story, falling into the “Gothic” category, but I enjoyed Stranger at Wildings very much. I have several other novels by this author that I need to read, but this is the only one available digitally (and on Kindle Unlimited for those who subscribe.)

9/10 Stars

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction, Mystery, Suspense

214 Palmer Street, by Karen McQuestion

AVAILABLE April 5, 2022

Imagine you’re trying to assemble a jigsaw puzzle. You have no idea what it is supposed to look like. Painstakingly, you continue working. When you’re about 30% done the frustration really starts. What is it supposed to be?

Unfortunately, that is my metaphor for this book.

214 Palmer Street is a book that required a lot of patience. I doubt I would’ve finished it if it wasn’t for my agreement with NetGalley to review it. By one-third completed, I was still full of questions, confused by so many characters, and getting whiplash by the POV format that jumped from one person to another. Finally, finally the pieces started to fit together. But the more they did, the more predictable it became. By then I just didn’t care.

Sarah Aden is seen lurking inside the house of Josh and Cady Caldwell. They’re on vacation. A neighbor is suspicious. Who is this woman and why is she there? We discover Sarah is recovering from a head injury–an assault–and is becoming more and more mistrusting of her husband, Kirk. She’s discovering things about his past that do not add up.

Over time, more characters are added. Each tells their part of their story, pressing the rewind button on tedious scenes you just read. Then there’s the mysterious, unnamed “Her,” who I first assumed was one person and then changed my opinion (correctly.) All of the main characters are terrible people. Even the protagonist, Sarah, was unlikable.

This is my third Karen McQuestion book and, sadly, my least favorite. There’s no real hope, no real solution, no hero. I do not have a lot of experience with the suspense genre, but I know readers need something more than what we get here. I longed for a strong character to be the moral center, but there was none.

Thank you to NetGalley and Bookouture for the advanced copy. I wish I enjoyed this one more.

7/10 Stars