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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

I Am Watching You by Teresa Driscoll

Genre: Psychological Suspense
Publisher: Thomas and Mercer
Release Date: October 1, 2017

Ella Longfield's on a train when she spies some men boarding. It's their generic black backpacks that draw her attention. When she hears them chatting up some innocent young women who are heading into New York City to catch a show, she pays a little more attention. It's when the men say they've just been released from prison that they gain her full attention.

As a mom, Ella's instincts are to find out who the girls are and tell their parents. She's just not sure how to find their identities. When she overhears one of the girls having sex with one of the guys in the train's bathroom, she realizes they may not be the innocents she thought they were and ends up never saying a thing.

A day later, Ella sees one of the girl's pictures on the news. Anna Ballard vanished overnight. Ella tells police everything she saw, but there's no trace.

A year passes. Ella's getting threatening postcards in the mail. Anna's still never been found, and police hope an anniversary story may be what it takes to uncover new clues. With Ella's threats and discoveries of secrets that others have been keeping, the truth may soon unravel.

Strengths and Weaknesses

I'm a fan of psychological suspense/thriller novels, so it's not surprising that I Am Watching You grabbed my attention. The story is told through multiple viewpoints. You have Ella who regrets her actions and is scared for her family's safety. You have the detectives and a PI who are trying to solve the case. You have Anna's best friend, who is hiding something. There's a secret watcher. There's also Anna's dad, who is also hiding something. Keeping up with the characters is easier than it may seem at first. Every chapter makes it clear who's telling the story.

Now, the secret watcher's chapters bored me. I didn't find they did much in terms of building suspense. I ended up rushing them because I preferred Ella.

My issue with the book became the ending. When the truth is revealed, I found myself thinking that was a little too quick and easy considering the police took over a year to get to that point. How could they not have looked at that angle from the start?

RTR's Bottom Line

I Am Watching You is an okay read. It ended up being enjoyable for what it was, but it wasn't a book I'd want for my keeper shelf. It ends up being the kind of book I'd like if I'd found it at a book sale, but if I paid full price, I know I'd fell a bit disappointed.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Christmas Cowboy Hero by Donna Grant

Setting: Texas
Genre: Holiday Romance
Publisher: St. Martins Paperbacks
Release Date: October 31, 2017

Every day is a bit of a struggle for Abby Harper. Her mom walked on her and her two younger brothers when she was just 18. All she left were papers handing over guardianship to Abby. Fresh out of high school, Abby became an instant single mom in a matter of hours.

When she gets a call that one of her brothers has been arrested for stealing cattle from the powerful East family, Abby is devastated. She does her best to offer to repay the loss of their cattle, but she doesn't have the hundreds of thousands that are needed. What Clayton offers instead may be the one thing she needs to turn her family's lives around.

Clayton East is a former SEAL who's seen way too much death. He never wanted to return to the family ranch, but he can't ignore his mother's cries. His dad's had a mini-stroke and the ranch is in financial ruin. He returns home to get everything resolved before he leaves.

When Clayton learns of Abby's situation, he strikes a deal with her brother. Her brother will come to the ranch after school and on weekends to work off the amount of money that they lost. He soon finds himself falling for Abby and her brothers. The cowboy that never wanted to return home may have found the best reason to stay.

Strengths and Weaknesses

You have a few things going on in The Christmas Cowboy Hero (Heart of Texas). There's the mystery behind the cattle thefts, the missing money, and Clayton's brother's death. More importantly, there's the romance between Abby and Clayton and her determination to be the best possible mother to her younger brothers. The family ties in this book create many emotional scenes.

While there is a bit going on, nothing feels rushed. The story flowed smoothly from start to finish and had me reading well into the night.

RTR's Bottom Line

The Christmas Cowboy Hero (Heart of Texas) is an emotional, heated romance that had me hooked. I felt for Abby and loved the chemistry between the pair. While it's a holiday romance, Christmas did take backstage to the mystery involving the cattle theft. The mystery is there, but it also never overshadows the romance.

Pick this one up if you want a heated romance that leaves you feeling warm and cozy. It's a great romance for any time of the year.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Hope at Christmas by Nancy Naigle

Setting: Hopewell, North Carolina
Genre: Holiday Romance
Publisher: St. Martins Griffin
Release Date: October 10, 2017

For Sydney Ragsdale, this Christmas is shaping up to be a difficult one. Valentine's Day came and went with her favorite chocolates and a note from her husband that he'd met someone else and wanted a divorce. Sydney refuses to have him controlling her finances, so she packs up their 10-year-old daughter and moves to her grandparent's farmhouse in Hopewell, North Carolina. There, she gets a temporary position working in the bookstore she cherished as a child.

Kevin MacAlea, Mac for short, has been a single parent since his wife walked out on him and their son. She never looked back. Mac's determined to make sure the boy knows how much he's loved. As the town's mysterious Santa, Mac brings Christmas to life. When a young girl sits on his lap and tells him how she doesn't want her mom to be sad anymore, he makes it his goal to make sure Sydney knows she has friends in town. Little does he know the magic of the holiday may open his heart to more than friendship.

Strengths and Weaknesses

There's a lot that happens in Hope at Christmas. Therefore, I'd call this a multi-layered read. You have Sydney and her daughter. They're both handling the emotions of the divorce, moving to a new town, and settling into an older farmhouse. You have Mac who is doing everything possible to be the best single parent possible. There's Bea who knows she's getting older and ready to retire, but her passion for her bookstore has her longing for someone who will take over.

While there are a few things going on, the book is cohesive and doesn't jump around and lose the reader. I found myself involved deeply in each character and hoping for that magical happily-ever-after moment that comes with most romance novels.

RTR's Bottom Line

Of all the holiday romances I've read this year, I think I liked this one the most. It is a romance, but it's equal parts women's fiction. It didn't rush into the romance. Instead, it built up the relationships between Sydney and the rest of the small town. I felt like part of the town and loved getting to know the characters. Hope at Christmas was a win for me.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Murder Over Mochas: A Java Jive Mystery by Caroline Fardig

Setting: Nashville, TN
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Publisher: Random House
Release Date: October 24, 2017

Now that she's a private investigator, Juliet Langley tries to leave murder investigations to the murder investigators in Nashville. This time it's tough. Juliet and her boss and best friend, Pete, are prime suspects. She doesn't believe the police are doing enough to investigate the crime. The lead detective is determined to pin the murder on her.

You may be wondering why Juliet and Pete are the prime suspects. This time, the victim is Juliet's swindling thief of an ex-fiance. He dropped dead of a what appears to be a poisoning in Java Jive.

Juliet and Pete dive into an investigation together in order to clear their names. The problem is that the more they investigate, the more it appears that the real killer isn't going to let them uncover the truth.

Strengths and Weaknesses

I've been a fan of cozy mysteries for years. Diane Mott Davidson kicked things off, and I've followed many series over the years. I've come to adore Caroline Fardig's A Java Jive Mystery series. Murder Over Mochas is especially intriguing as you get to see more of the notorious Scott, for as long as he lasts.

There's always just enough action, a few twists, and settings that draw me in. I have been in Juliet's corner from the start. As she's met potential love interests, I've grown to like them very much, too. This book took a bit of a step away from her work as a PI, but the coffee shop details were still there and made me wish I was there.

RTR's Bottom Line

Buy it. If you're new to the series start at the beginning and catch up. I love how the romances in this book have taken unexpected turns. While other series seem to drag things out, I'm always pleasantly surprised by the way romances work out in this series. Murder Over Mochas is another satisfying entry in this delightful series.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Spinster Wife by Christina McKenna

Setting: Northern Ireland
Genre: Suspense/Mystery
Publisher: Lake Union
Release Date: October 12, 2017

Rita-Mae's reached the last straw with her husband. She's had enough and wants out before he kills her. When she spies an ad for a rental cottage in a remote village in Northern Ireland, she feels it's the perfect time to escape.

Dorrie wakes up on a bed and breakfast with no idea how she got there or where she is. She struggles to find any clues that might help her remember more than snippets of her past.

There's also Bram, Rita-Mae's landlord. He lives under the shadow of his domineering mother. He'd love nothing more but to find his soulmate, but so far it's all been a wash. Rita-Mae may be secretive, but she's caught his eye.

Both women have no idea who to trust as they start new lives. Rita-Mae has other looming troubles as it appears a stalker is after her and determined to make her life a living hell. Is Bram someone she can trust or not? Will they be able to find peace in their temporary new homes or are they doomed to misery?

Strengths  and Weaknesses

There was a lot going on in The Spinster Wife. You have Rita-Mae, a woman whose cruel husband forced her to flee. There's Dorrie, a woman who has no idea who she is or how she got there. There's the cottage where Rita-Mae moves to that seems to have its own secrets. Then, there's Rita-Mae's landlord who comes off as creepy one minute and protective and sweet the next. Those all work together to create a puzzling mystery.

The issue is that the story flipped between people so often that I found it distracting. Things would be heating up with one character's story and suddenly you're into another location and mysterious aspect. I had a hard time adjusting to the switches and grew tired of them.

RTR's Bottom Line

While I loved the premise and intrigue found within The Spinster Wife, the story dragged at times. I found it too easy to lose focus and not want to continue. Many times, this was the direct result of the switches between the women and the landlord that rents to one of the women.

This is one of those books where I wanted to keep reading to find out what was really going on. Getting there was harder than I wish it had been.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Halloween Carnival Vol. 1 Edited by Brian James Freeman

Genre: Horror Anthology
Publisher: Hydra
Release Date: October 3, 2017

Loved, loved, loved this anthology of short and not always so sweet horror stories. Here's the breakdown of what's within the pages of Halloween Carnival Volume 1.

1. Robert McCammon's Strange Candy - Hidden in the bottom of their daughter's trick-or-treat bag is an odd skeletal hand-shaped candy. It's not wrapped, so there's no way anyone will eat it, or will someone take the chance that it's just a normal candy?

2. Kevin Lucia's The Race of Achilles - It all starts with a new priest hearing a confession. Nothing is really what it seems with this returning visitor.

3. John R. Little's Demon Air - One young woman's flight turns out to be nothing as she would imagine on Halloween eve.

4. Lisa Morton's La Hacienda de la Muertos - Trick McGrew has the chance to be a film star again. He needs the money, but he never imagines to be filming a horror movie in a place where an urban legend may be more than a legend.

5. Mark Allan Gunnell's #MakeHalloweenScaryAgain - Liking and retweeting may be all the rage, but in one small town, an author's posts go viral in a very terrifying and real way.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Let's start with my favorite in the collection. Strange Candy isn't as horrific as it is emotionally appealing. It's a spooky story, but it's also one where I felt myself become attached and had to keep reading. I loved that. I think my second favorite is the longer, creepy #MakeHalloweenScaryAgain, that one had a bit of a Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer feel to it that I loved. I noted the author's name cause he's someone I want to watch.

I say "I think" because the other three are really good. I'd almost say that while Strange Candy was my favorite, the others pretty much tied for second.

 Lisa Morton's story was creepy, but I knew where it was going. That's the only reason I won't put that in my favorites. The Race of Achilles was emotional, spooky, and touched this reader's heart. Finally, Demon Air was short, sweet, and frightening. All are crafted well and held my attention from start to finish.

RTR's Bottom Line

Buy Halloween Carnival Volume 1 now. It's a creepy collection of Halloween themed stories that you shouldn't miss.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

With This Christmas Ring by Manda Collins

Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Swerve
Release Date: October 3, 2017

When her close friend is dying shortly after giving birth, Merry Parks agrees to track down the woman's husband and present his daughter to him. Doing so will bring Merry back to the castle of a man she left five years ago.

Alex Ponsonby, Viscount Wrotham, never understood why Merry left him. He loved her and knows she loved him. When she shows up with an infant, he's stunned his cousin would abandon a new wife. He agrees to help Merry unite the newborn with his cousin. It means she has to return to his castle. When snow strands her in his castle for a week, he's determined to get to the bottom of her leaving him and maybe convince her to give their love a second chance.

Strengths and Weaknesses

This is a holiday romance, though it's subtle enough that I think it's simply a good read at any time of the year. I wasn't fond of a couple characters. One I felt got off a little too easily and that bugged me. The writing, however, was pretty convincing to make me dislike these characters so much!

The romance between Alex and Merry is enjoyable. It has steamy moments, but as this is a novella, it builds quickly and never felt rushed. I appreciate having a novella not feel rushed.

RTR's Bottom Line

With This Christmas Ring is a festive, romantic Christmas tale of true love. It's tender and emotional, which made it the perfect read on a week that's been, for lack of sugar coating anything, miserable on a national and personal front.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Christmas in Kilts: A Highland Holiday Box Set by Various Authors

Setting: Scotland
Genre: Historical Romance Novellas
Publisher: Macmillan
Release Date: October 31, 2017

Christmas in Kilts is a five-novella collection of historical holiday romances. Here's the breakdown.

A Highlander's Hope by Terri Brisbin

With this novella, you have a romance where a laird's dream girl is not a choice society will approve of. Iain MacKillop's wife died, and there's a push to get him to marry again. The problem is that the woman he most desires is Robena MacKendimen, the village harlot. She sleeps with many men for money, including Iain, and that makes her a totally wrong choice.

A Highland Christmas Wager by Lecia Cornwall

She made a huge mistake sleeping with Magnus MacVane when she was 18. In her defense, she had no idea he was looking for a conquest before he married. Meggie MacLeod is now forced to take shelter in his castle. Her grandmother needs to be safe and that's of the utmost importance. Soon, Magnus and two of his other male guests have a bet in place. Whoever gets Meggie to kiss them first wins the chance to ask for her hand in marriage. Magnus is determined to win, but he has some fierce competition.

A Scot for Christmas by Bronwen Evans

Dougray, the Earl of Lorne, is mourning his wife's death. It's been six years and he needs to marry Fiona Mackenzie, even if she doesn't appeal to him. Yet, when Lady Emma appears at his home, he finds himself experience feelings he never thought he'd feel again. His house party may be about to change his entire future.

Leftover Mistletoe by Lavinia Kent

Emma Spencer is excited for Christmas. While her trip to her uncle's estate was delayed by weather, that seems to be the least of her issues right now. Some man is taking up too much room in the coach she's using to get to her uncle's. James Barran is said man. He's on his way to Glasgow to stop a wedding. Things don't go as planned for either and they find themselves stranded with each other for company.

Sweet Home Highlands by May McGoldrick

Captain Gregory Pennington is set to escort a family to Baronsford. He's eager to start a new life out of the corps. He's even thinking of leaving Scotland and starting his new life across the ocean in Boston. Fie and Ella, an aunt with her young niece, interrupt his plans when the young girl begs her aunt to ask her to ask the captain to marry her.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Each story is short and moves quickly from opening to closing line. Sometimes, the story feels complete without having been rushed. Other times, I found the ending seemed a little rushed. That happens with novellas though.

Sweet Home Highlands and A Highlander's Hope were my favorites. Both drew me in and held my attention from start to finish. The others, while good, didn't grip me to the same degree.

RTR's Bottom Line

If you love holiday romances and historical settings, Christmas in Kilts is a winner!

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Devils You Know by M.C. Atwood

Setting: Wisconsin
Genre: Teen Horror
Publisher: Soho Teen
Release Date: October 3, 2017

To avoid final exams, seniors at Red River High are given the choice of going on a field trip to the Boulder House. Legend has it that the home's original owner cursed the property. Some enter and never return.

Five of the teens who opt to go on the trip go for reasons beyond skipping exams. Ashley, Dylan, Gretchen, Paul, and Violet, find themselves trapped in the house and facing horrifying battles they never imagined. They'll have to team up, which isn't easy when you don't even like each other and try to defeat the evil within, if that's even possible.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The pacing of The Devils You Know never slowed. I did find the glimpses into the Maxwell Cartwright, Jr.'s house to be a litte jarring. I didn't need the break. I ended up racing over those to get back to the teens.

The horror aspect did a good job. I don't like clowns. I haven't liked clowns since I was a kid. Dolls to me are worse. Detailed narrative involving dolls and other items turning their heads and following the teens around, if not full out attacking them, definitely brought in that creep factor I look for in a horror novel.

The teens - maybe it's where I live - but some of their internal conflicts didn't seem authentic. I don't want to give away spoilers, but some of the things that made them "freaks" in their peers' eyes are openly accepted here. I had a hard time with those details for that reason. It could be Wisconsin is different. I'm not sure.

RTR's Bottom Line

I've read plenty of creepy books over the years. Dolls and clowns top my list of objects with a major creep factor. For that reason, The Devils You Know didn't disappoint. 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Berserker by Emmy Laybourne

Genre: Teen Fiction
Publisher: Macmillan
Release Date: October 10, 2017

Hanne Hemsted's special powers make her feel ashamed. When someone she loves is threatened, she becomes a cunning and brutal killer. Hanne's brother insists their powers are a gift from their gods. When her father's attacked and Hanne uses her powers in a futile attempt to save him, the family goes on the run.

To avoid a murder charge, the siblings head from Norway to the U.S. to start anew in the west. The government is practically giving away land to anyone willing to create a homestead. While they have a guide to help them navigate this unexplored land, Hanne hopes to find the one man who might be able to teach her how to control her skills as a Berserker and keep from killing others.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Berserker doesn't start out slow. It starts in a flurry of action that holds your attention. Even after discovering Hanne's powers, the sibling's quest to get out of Norway keeps you on the edge of your seat. It delves into the past, when settlers left their homeland for the chance to settle in territory west of the Mississippi River, and has you hooked with all they endure. From weather to the bounty hunters that want to claim the bounty, this story never slowed down.

RTR's Bottom Line

The writing is crisp and so vivid. I am not big into mythology and the likes, so I wasn't sure how well I'd like this story. I loved it. There are action and adventure, but there is a strong family bond and touches of romance that round out the teen fiction novel. If you're looking for something that hasn't been overdone in fiction, pick up Berserker.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

In the Light of the Garden by Heather Burch

Setting: Gaslamp Island, Florida
Genre: Women's Fiction
Release Date: January 10, 2017

Charity Baxter's mother was never really the ideal mother. While Charity grew up wanting her mother's attention, she was thrilled to spend her summer's with her grandparents on Gaslamp Island. There, Charity experienced the magic of the island and the true meaning of family. That all ended with her grandmother's unexpected death.

Now an adult, Charity returns to the island after her grandfather dies. She now owns the large house and his life savings. What she wants more than anything is to return to a time when the island didn't hold bad memories.

Dalton Reynolds needs time away. He's on Gaslamp Island to renovate a cottage. While there, he is able to hide from the realities he faces. When he meets Charity, he soon realizes that maybe his time for hiding is over.

Charity and Dalton form a friendship that has the potential to blossom into more. That's just the start of this book as Charity's elderly uncle returns harboring his own secrets. Plus, Charity takes in a runaway who is looking for a chance to start anew. For once, Charity finds herself surrounded by a family of sorts that seems to be exactly what she needs, providing she can get past her own guilt and shame.

Strengths and Weaknesses

In the Light of the Garden is part women's fiction, part romance, and part mystery. There's also the weeping willow that adds a bit of fantasy to the story of love, forgiveness, and family. While there are a few different storylines, it's easy to keep up with each one.

I loved the setting. It came to life. I could smell the salt air, feel the breeze, and wanted to be the one walking to the town for fresh seafood, coffee, and conversation. The setting was almost as appealing as the characters. I was sad when my time in Gaslamp Island came to an end.

RTR's Bottom Line

Pick up In the Light of the Garden and embrace a story that looks at lives and loves of several island residents or visitors. I have to say that while this is a complete novel, I do have hopes that the author will return readers to this charming community. Maybe bring us back to see Daisy as an adult? I'd love that.

Monday, September 25, 2017

A List of Cages by Robin Roe

Genre: Teen Fiction
Publisher: Disney - Hyperion
Release Date: January 2017

Five years ago, Adam Blake and his mother took a young foster child into their home. To Adam, Julian was the brother he never had. His mother loved Julian like her own. Everything was great until a distant uncle was found. He pulled Julian from their home and cut off any hope of staying in touch.

Adam is a senior in high school now. He's assigned to aide the school counselor. His first duty is to make sure a freshman actually shows up for meetings with the counselor. Adam is surprised to find Julian is that freshman.

Julian's school performance is pathetic at best. He does poorly on assignments, skips classes regularly, and has no friends. The counselor hopes that Adam may be key to reaching Julian. Adam takes Julian under his wing and starts to transform Julian's life. Those transformations, though, could cost the boys dearly.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The detail that went into the writing is amazing. The scenes with Julian tugged at my heart. Adam is a character I loved. Watching Julian and Adam reunite and form such a deep bond had me tearing up. The end of the novel was tough but gripping.

Some of the scenes are so ugly that it's hard to praise them. That said, the key topic is child abuse. That's pretty clear from the start. I hated one character in the book and, sadly, know that there are so many out there that are like him. It breaks my heart that while this is a work of fiction, it could just as easily been taken from the headlines.

RTR's Bottom Line

Pick up A List of Cages. If you can get through this novel without tearing up and feeling outraged, I'll be surprised. I was emotionally invested and wanted to hug so many teens in this story. What an emotional powerhouse of a story.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Deck the Halls by Donna Alward

Setting: Darling, VT
Genre: Holiday Romance Novella
Publisher: Macmillan
Release Date: October 3, 2017

He used to be homeless, but thanks to the help of his friends, George now has a place to live, a modest income, and a job he enjoys. He's stunned when his friend and fellow soldier's twin sister shows up with questions. Amy feels it's high time she gets answers explaining exactly how her brother died in the Middle East.

George knows he's responsible for her brother's death. He wants to leave the past in the past. At the same time, he knows Amy deserves answers. Fifteen years have passed, is the magic of the holidays enough for both battered hearts to find what they need?

Strengths and Weaknesses

As this is a novella and not a full-length romance, things did seem really hurried. I liked catching up with other characters, and I was happy to see George get his own book, but I wasn't as thrilled with it being so short.

Deck the Halls returns readers to Darling, VT. As a Vermonter, I do spend time trying to figure out what town Darling is patterned after. In all honesty, I can't think of one. There are a couple that may be close, but none are exact. I can't think of a small town where everyone knows each other, has a main street filled with stores, and that's near some of the box stores. It's always left me guessing.

That's the funny part. I'd love to find a town like that. Darling sounds amazing!

RTR's Bottom Line

You don't have to spend a lot to get this novella. It's a very quick, very satisfying holiday romance. While I think I would have preferred a longer novel, one where things didn't feel as rushed, I still enjoyed seeing more of George and finding him happy.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Hanna Who Fell From the Sky by Christopher Meades

Setting: Clearhaven
Genre: General Fiction
Publisher: Park Row Books
Release Date: September 26, 2017

Hanna's grown up sheltered in a community where the men are required to marry multiple women. At 17, Hanna's own wedding to a man her father's age is days away. She's uncomfortable being forced to marry a man of her dad's choosing, especially when that man is so much older. She can't help but wonder what life is like in the outside world.

Enter Daniel. Daniel's also part of the community. He and his family have returned after exploring the outside world. Daniel's brothers will be sent out of the community to seek new experiences, but Daniel's chosen to remain as the man who will follow in his father's shoes. Daniel's not sure he wants the life being chosen for him.

Daniel wants to show Hanna that there is life outside of their community. Hanna's both intrigued and scared. If she leaves, she's leaving her handicapped sister behind, and she simply cannot do that to the girl she loves like a daughter. Can Hanna leave it all behind or will she follow her father's wishes?

Strengths and Weaknesses

The strong protagonist in Hanna Who Fell From the Sky told such an amazing, real, and often heartbreaking story. I felt her indecision and cheered her on as each chapter pulled me further into her world. I just can't imagine going back to days when you had no say in who you married.

The title actually plays a part in the story. As Hanna's wedding day nears, you experience more of her mother's past and relationship within the family that is a blend of sister-wives, children, and the patriarch ruling them all. As this story took a stronger part in the book, I started struggling with it. It had more of a fantasy leaning at that point than the general fiction I'd grown fond of. I started to find myself feeling a little disillusioned and definitely less interested.

RTR's Bottom Line

I kept reading because I needed to see how things ended for Hanna. I did really enjoy the first two-thirds or so, and then I found myself uncertain. Having finished it, I'm still not sure I loved how it played out. Part of me wishes that the author had stuck to the gripping reality of life in a cult and bypassed the magical aspect that played a big part in the rest of the book.

That puts my bottom line at how you feel about magic/fantasy novels. I'm not a fan. I'm certain that's what makes me feel so mixed on how everything ended. If you like them, you'll love Hanna Who Fell From the Sky.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Hope for Christmas by Stacy Finz

Setting: Nugget, California
Genre: Holiday Romance
Publisher: Kensington
Release Date: October 10, 2017

While she still misses her missing daughter dearly, Emily McCreedy is happily married to Clay, enjoying being a step-mom to his two sons, and loves her newborn daughter. Christmas is quickly approaching. Emily's busy getting set up for the town's cookie swap, caring for her two-month-old, and getting holiday shopping completed.

Emily's world takes a sudden spiral when she and her ex-husband both receive letters that Hope is alive. Could their missing daughter, a girl who has been gone for seven years, really be out there?

There have been too many hoaxes over the years, so she dares not believe in another one. It leads both her and Clay to wonder how they put an end to this madness and really get on with their lives. However, this person is persistent and may finally have the answers Emily needs.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Since reading the story where Emily and Clay met, I've been wanting closure. You finally get it in Hope for Christmas. I wasn't disappointed. The issue here is that I can't give spoilers.

Catch up with all of the characters in the A Nugget Romance series. I loved seeing where they are now and seeing them prepare for Christmas. Nugget is a charming fictional town that I'd love to be part of.

RTR's Bottom Line

If you haven't ready Finding Hope, I really recommend starting there. That builds up Emily and Clay's story.

I loved the story, but one thing niggled at me. That's where the spoiler issue comes in. Part of the resolution, while appreciated, seemed to be rushed and lacking what I know is a key step. That it felt rushed made me feel a little cheated.

With that in mind, I still really enjoyed the conclusion to the mystery surrounding Hope's disappearance and would recommend this if you've read Emily and Clay's introduction.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Visitors by Catherine Burns

Genre: Psychological Suspense
Release Date: September 26, 2017

Marion and her brother, John, live together in a home that was once well cared for but has now seen years of neglect taking its toll. In her 50s, Marion has never truly been seen as her own person. She's bossed around, verbally abused by peers and loved ones, and spends most of her day lurking in the home, ignoring the cries she hears coming from the basement, and sleeping with her collection of teddy bears each night.

Marion's neighbor only socializes with Marion when she wants something. John wants Marion to realize the neighbor only uses her. He also wants Marion to keep out of his things and do as he says. When he suffers a heart attack, Marion finds herself finally by herself in a house where John still wants to control what she does and says.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The atmosphere in The Visitors is chilling. It's creepy. It's one eerie family and that comes true from the very minute you start meeting the mother, father, and children in the past to the children who are now adults.

It was slow to build, however. I was far more than halfway through the book before the brother has his heart attack. That's when the action really picks up. By that point, I knew what was coming even if the main character was seemingly blind to it. I also found myself no longer interested in what Marion would do next. It was too late.

RTR's Bottom Line

If you look at The Visitors as a disturbing look into a woman who never truly grew up, the book works. If you're, like me, expecting a surprise in the basement, well I'm sad to say it just was never surprising. I wanted to love all of the story, but when I was halfway through and Marion was still muddling along and nothing had changed, I didn't really feel compelled to finish the story. It was a struggle from that point.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Single Malt Murder: A Whisky Business Mystery by Melinda Mullet

Setting: Scotland
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Publisher: Alibi
Release Date: March 21, 2017

Her parents died in a car crash when she was young. Abi Logan's uncle raised her, and she's always been incredibly close to him. When he loses his battle with lung cancer, Abi is shattered. She heads up to Scotland to decide what to do with Abbey Glen, the whisky distillery he owned.

Abi's an award-winning photojournalist who really has no interest in the business, but it was her uncle's pride and joy so she will do right by him. When threatening messages find their way to her, she's cautious but not dissuaded. When a body's found in one of the distillery's vats, Abi decides that she may be a little more diligent about getting to the truth behind the murder and the person that is so eager to get Abi to leave.

Strengths and Weaknesses

I liked Abi from the start. She's shrewd and having been all over the world in dangerous situations, she's not one to scare easily. It takes a little time to get each of the Abbey Glen characters down. There are a few of them.

I do appreciate the author knowing that whisky is the correct spelling in Scotland and that the "e" shouldn't be there. That was nice to see, as it doesn't always happen. I also liked reading about the process that goes into making whisky and the differences between blends and single malts.

I'm used to cozy mysteries having a touch of romance. That's hinted at in this book, but it's never the main focus. I appreciate that. I also have my own hopes on where things go in future novels and plan to keep reading to see if I'm right. I like that the story wrapped up but left me with an eagerness to read the next book.

RTR's Bottom Line

Single Malt Murder is an intriguing start to a series. I'm not a big whiskey drinker, but I have discovered a taste for Irish whiskey over the years. It was fun reading about the process that goes into making a Scottish whisky and meeting the characters, some of whom still remain a bit of a mystery. I can't wait to get to know their characters in future A Whisky Business mystery novels.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Christmas at Two Love Lane by Kieran Kramer

Setting: Charleston, South Carolina
Genre: Holiday Romance
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks
Release Date: October 3, 2017

As one of the owners of Two Love Lane, Macy Frost is uncertain the matchmaking service's latest prospect is worth their time. They find people's true loves. They arrange quick flings, and that's exactly what Deacon Banks is after. He wants to make his aunt happy by seeing a number of women before Christmas arrives. He has no interest in finding the love of his life.

Macy ends up taking on the project if only to prove to him that he just hasn't found the right woman yet. She's out there, and Macy knows it. What Macy never plans on is that she's the perfect match. He's her client, and that means she cannot possibly have what every algorithm finds or what her heart truly wants.

Strengths and Weaknesses

I know it's all part of the romance conflict, but I've never understood why people opt to ignore what's right in front of their face. That's exactly what Macy does. Even though she knows he's the one, she continues to make excuses. It was somewhat maddening at times. Life's too short to ignore what's right in front of you.

With that, the conflict in Christmas at Two Love Lane also kept me hooked. I couldn't get enough of Deacon. What a charmer. I also loved the feel-good story that was so uplifting. It's a big part of why I look forward to holiday romance season.

After a tough year, some feel-good fiction is exactly what I need. Kieran Kramer certainly delivered. With that in mind, I really hope that poor George gets his own special someone. I loved his character and wanted to see him find the right person, too.

RTR's Bottom Line

If you want emotional and lighthearted, Christmas at Two Love Lane delivers on many levels. I snickered, smiled, and was left with that warm cozy feeling that a solid romance offers. I'm kind of sad it's over, but so happy I took the time to read it.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Setting: Portland, Oregon
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Graydon House
Release Date: October 3, 2017

Dr. Dylan Michels has a gorgeous home, a loving boyfriend, and a job that keeps her busy. She's an OB/GYN in a thriving practice, but it's not enough. Dylan is desperate for forgiveness for a deadly mistake she made as a teenager.

Dylan lives her days and nights trying to make amends for the role she played in her older sister's death. Until that happens, Dylan will never be happy.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Perfectly Undone is an upcoming release in Harlequin's Graydon House line of novels. It's a strong example of everything I love with women's fiction. Dylan has it all, yet she harbors a secret that keeps her from happiness. As the secret is revealed, I felt for her and found the tears falling.

Given that, it is hard to get into Dylan's mindset when you're still trying to figure out her past. I struggled to see how a smart woman could be so blind. Stick with her. When the truth comes out, it will break your heart.

RTR's Bottom Line

I loved everything about Perfectly Undone. The setting made me wish I was there. Dylan's work is presented as many doctors have detailed to me during my own OB/GYN appointments in the past. It's hectic, fascinating, crushing, and rewarding at the same time and in different ways.

This is a tear-jerker that proved to be the perfect end of summer choice. I loved it.

When We Were Worthy by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

Setting: Worthy, Georgia
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: September 12, 2017

Lake Union Publishing releases another gripping novel. This time, Marybeth Mayhew Whalen is the author that kept me hooked for a few hours.

It's mere hours after Worthy's high school team landed another victory. In those moments, a number of lives will change forever. Three cheerleaders are killed in a devastating crash that also leaves a football player fighting for his life in the hospital.

Fingers point at him as the cause of the crash. He and another friend were racing. At the same time, the girls had been drinking and their designated driver didn't have a driver's license. It's a crash that changes the town and pits neighbor against neighbor and friend against friend.

Strengths and Weaknesses

In When We Were Worthy, it's hard not to get pulled in. The story is told from multiple perspectives. You have the cheerleaders. You have their fourth member who doesn't get in the car and is mysteriously absent from the evening's events.

You have the mother of the football player. She was already the victim of gossip after her husband left her for the town floozy. Her son's involvement in the accident only makes things worse, and she's not about to turn her back on her son.

There's a long-term substitute teacher who's hiding her own secret. Finally, there's Marglyn whose generosity led to a fight with her the daughter she'll never get to see again.

All of these perspectives create a very thorough portrait of a town where secrets and lies run rampant. It adds to the intrigue and makes you glad you don't live there!

RTR's Bottom Line

This multi-layered, highly emotional story kept me hooked. The parent in me just can't imagine. The former teen in me is glad I dodged behavior like that. If you like shows like Gossip Girl or Pretty Little Liars, don't miss When We Were Worthy.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Good Sam by Dete Meserve

Setting: Los Angeles
Genre: Women's Fiction/Mystery
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: June 20, 2017

Kate Bradley is less than thrilled when her boss puts her on the feel-good story of a woman finding cash on her front porch. The anonymous gift turns into a great assignment when Kate learns other people also found that cash. Plus, the cash amount in each case is $100,000. That's quite a gift!

As Kate delves into the case, she quickly learns that the benefactor does not want to be revealed. She ends up getting the chance for an exclusive interview, but her boss wants the story passed on to a more veteran reporter. Kate's not sure she's ready to give up the story that she broke. She's also not really prepared when Good Sam reveals himself to her. This has Kate questioning a lot of her own choices.

Strengths and Weaknesses

I read a lot of books and many of them are mysteries. While there are red herrings tossed your way, I never found them that tricky. I knew who Good Sam was way before the surprise revelation came out. That ended up being the only downfall.

It's clear that this is going to be a series. I want to return to Kate's life and see what happens next. She's a strong heroine, despite her flaws, and one that I enjoyed getting to know. That's part of why I liked her so much. She has flaws like we all do, and they only make her stronger when she learns from her mistakes.

RTR's Bottom Line

Good Sam has plenty of action, a bit of romance, and a plot that had me hooked. The world would be a better place if there were more good Sams out there. I ended up with the same emotional pull that I had after reading Pay It Forward.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Setting: New Jersey
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Kensington
Release Date: September 26, 2017

Lizzie Glass once had it all. She was a rising star on Food Network with her own show. Eventually, it all came crashing down. Since then, she's worked as a personal chef and magazine columnist, but she's currently unemployed and desperate for a job.

Enter the chance to spend her summer at the beach home of the Silvester family. Lizzie just needs to cook meals that meet the differing needs of the family members. Kathryn is currently on the Paleo diet, while her daughter, Zoe, is a health nut and blogger, requires only clean foods. The patriarch, Jim, needs low-fat foods. It isn't long before Lizzie realizes that there's something fishy about Zoe's site. However, the Silvesters seem to have Zoe on a pedestal, so Lizzie needs to watch what she does or says or she could be jobless again.

Strengths and Weaknesses

My biggest issue with Virtually Perfect was the big secret that Zoe tried to hold over Lizzie's head. I just never understood why that was such an issue. It didn't seem that huge a deal to me. The rest of the story, however, kept me hooked.

I loved the setting and wished I was the one in the big beach home. I enjoyed Lizzie's encounters with Jim's black sheep son. I even enjoyed the periodic interruptions as Lizzie's mom's story and Lizzie's stories started to meld.

RTR's Bottom Line

I liked Virtually Perfect. The setting made me long to be there. I was never fond of the Silvesters, short of the son. The rest of them were as fake as can be. That didn't matter though, the descriptions of the foods Lizzie made, the hintings of romance, and the pacing were enough to make me happy I picked this book up.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Half Past by Victoria Helen Stone

Setting: Iowa and California
Genre: Women's Fiction/Mystery
Publisher: Lake Union
Release Date: September 19, 2017

Facing a divorce and having been laid off from her job, Hannah Smith has to start anew. She leaves her Chicago home and heads to Iowa to help care for her mother, a woman diagnosed with Lewy Body Disease, a form of dementia. Her mother's cries of "You're not my daughter" do not hit until Hannah finds evidence that she truly isn't her mother's daughter.

Feeling lost, Hannah heads to the address listed on her birth certificate. She's determined to unravel the truth about her parents' past and who her mother really is.

Strengths and Weaknesses

By now it's no secret that Lake Union Publishing is a favorite of mine. While a few books haven't grabbed me, the majority have. I've loved the pace, the characters, and the plots. Half Past is another strong novel that drew me in and held my interest until the final page.

Hannah's a little weaker, but it's her weakness that makes her shine. She's never felt like she really fits in. She doesn't look like her sisters, and she doesn't seem to connect with her mom as well as they have. Once she's out in California, she starts investigating her parents' past and things really pick up the pace. I never found the revelations to be shocking, but it was still engrossing.

RTR's Bottom Line

Half Past is a complete story, yet I found myself flying through it. It took no time at all, it seemed, to finish the entire novel. I started it at 7 p.m. and by 8:45 I was done. I enjoyed the characters and the mystery enough that I couldn't put it down. While I'm not sure it's a book I'd read over and over, it was engrossing while it lasted and that's always a plus.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Little Bakery on Rosemary Lane by Ellen Berry

Setting: Yorkshire, England
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: September 7, 2017

Roxanne couldn't wait to escape the quiet lifestyle Burley Bridge offered. She's made quite a success of herself in London. When a new editor takes over the fashion magazine and announces Roxanne is being shifted to a new role, a role that Roxanne doesn't want, she decides to take her new boss up on the idea of a country sabbatical.

Back in her hometown, Roxanne's helping her sister with her sister's bookshop. She's also enjoying quieter mornings walking the hillside with her sister's scrappy little terrier. What Roxanne soon finds is that London may not be all she thought. She needs to decide if being a high-powered magazine fashionista is really for her or if the quiet charm of Burley Bridge, and the charming bakery owner, are what she needs now that she's older.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The atmosphere created by Ellen Berry really drew me in. If you've ever been to a  village in Yorkshire, you'll know. She's done a marvelous job creating a village and its quaint shops. I wanted to be part of the town.

I like Roxanne's character. She's feisty and smart. I loved when she started to realize that the guy back in London may not be what she really needs. In a sense, this story becomes her later-in-life coming of age story. It made me really enjoy The Little Bakery on Rosemary Lane.

I did have one issue. It's trivial, but I wasn't ready for the story to end. I liked the town and people in it too much. I haven't looked yet, but I'm hoping this is going to be or maybe already is a series. I want to return.

RTR's Bottom Line

A lot of my mom's family live in East Yorkshire. It's where she grew up. I understand the quaint, homey feeling and found myself longing to get away as I read The Little Bakery on Rosemary Lane. Ellen Berry draws you into the lives and homes of her characters and makes you want to stay. What a light, enjoyable read.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Lies She Told by Cate Holahan

Genre: Mystery/Suspense
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Release Date: September 12, 2017

Liza Cole is working on a thriller that she hopes will revive her career. At the same time, she's struggling with fertility treatments and a husband who seems to be devoting every hour to his work and not her. When her husband's business partner, Nick, vanishes, he becomes even more distracted.

With nothing to do but keep seeing her doctor and working on her novel, Liza focuses on Beth, her new character. Beth finally has the daughter she longed for, but her husband's cheating on her. Beth wants a happy family unit, she doesn't want anyone getting in the way, even if that means killing the competition and tossing her body in the river.

When Nick's body is found in East River and her husband is investigated for his murder, Liza must start to unravel the truth about those closest to her.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Lies She Told is told from two perspectives. First, there's Beth, the fictional character. Second, there's Liza. The distinctions between the two are kept very clear thanks to Beth never having time away from her child. Otherwise, some of the details around their lives could become very blurred given how alike they are, especially as the action picks up.

I found myself hooked from the start. I liked Beth and understood her frustration. I got Liza's frustration, too, though not as much from the new-mom-feeling-isolated angle. I liked as Beth started coming out more and more.

RTR's Bottom Line

I can't say the ending shocked me. That's really the only beef I had with this book. I found it a little predictable. Despite this, Lies She Told did keep you hooked. Told from both the author and her character's point of view, you got great insight into the fictional author's mindset.