#BookReview: One Wrong Word by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Twisty Interconnected Suspense. This is another one of those tales where Tony Stark’s snark about Nick Fury in The Avengers rings true: his secrets have secrets! Or to use another movie connection… Now You See Me: Come in close, because the more you think you see, the easier it’ll be to fool you. Yes, this is one of *those* books, the kind where the WTFs per minute rise and you begin to get whiplash from whipping your head back and forth trying to follow all the twists and turns, particularly late in the tale. Ultimately a satisfying read… if you like that kind of story. For those that don’t… you’ve been warned. Very much recommended.

This review of One Wrong Word by Hank Phillippi Ryan was originally written on February 9, 2024.

#BlogTour: The Weekend Retreat by Tara Laskowski

For this blog tour, we’re looking at an intriguing tale with multiple (and rapidly switching) character POVs. For this blog tour, we’re looking at The Weekend Retreat by Tara Laskowski.

Here’s what I had to say on the review sites (Hardcover.app, TheStoryGraph, BookHype, Goodreads):

Intriguing Tale With Multiple (And Rapidly Switching) Character POVs. This is one of those tales with a lot of moving parts and a lot of different character POVs that can throw some people off. So if that is you, know up front that this is the style Ms. Laskowski has chosen to tell this particular tale in. Specifically, we have three couples – each of the surviving children of a now deceased former matron of the family + their significant others, as well as a seventh person – an unannounced and unplanned guest. (The final central character is another, planned, guest.) The tale uses the perspectives of each of the three females + the unplanned guest as our narrative device, and ultimately it tells a strong tale of family secrets, petty grudges, and everything else that makes a family so complex at times. Here, the book truly shines – and yes, it is helped by its stormy, near gothic mansion (complete with hidden passages and rooms!) setting. The prologue is particularly strong, drawing the reader in and urging them to find out what exactly happened on this eventful weekend among siblings (and their partners), and the overall mysteries are much deeper than are originally thought, adding to the depth and complexity of the tale.

Overall Ms. Laskowski did a truly great job telling this story in this particular format, even as confusing as the frequent perspective jumps can be at times – she also used them to great effect to propel the reader forward in an “I’ve GOT to see what happens next!” manner. Yes, after an admittedly somewhat slow start, this will eventually become one of those that you’re going to want to stay up later than you probably should to finish the book.

Those looking to end 2023 with a bang would do well to pick this book up, as it releases just in time to be many peoples’ final book of 2023. Very much recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt from the book followed by the “publisher details” – book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.

And at the very end, special to this particular blog tour… the Spotify Playlist Ms. Laskowski created for this book!
Continue reading “#BlogTour: The Weekend Retreat by Tara Laskowski”

#BlogTour: Two Dead Wives by Adele Parks

For this blog tour, we’re looking at an interesting sequel that the author originally never intended to exist. For this blog tour, we’re looking at Two Dead Wives by Adele Parks.

Here’s what I had to say on the review sites (Hardcover.app, TheStoryGraph, BookHype, Goodreads):

WOMAN LAST SEEN Began My War On Books Featuring COVID. This Book Continues It. Having read literally 394 books between WOMAN LAST SEEN and this book, I did not *even* realize this book was a sequel to that one until the very end, when I read the Author’s Note. Perils of reading so much? This isn’t exactly the first time this has happened to me in my reading these last few years, though I think this is (so far) the most books between sequels. Long winded way of saying, if you read these books closer together than I did, or perhaps have better memory than I do, you’ll likely pick up on the fact that this is a sequel within the first chapter or two, so despite me not finding out until the end… it isn’t exactly a secret, either.

All of that noted, as with Woman Last Seen, here we get an excellent mystery/ thriller sequel, one that actually manages to work within the bounds given by the original book when a sequel was never actually intended – and thus showing just how strong of a storyteller Parks is (and perhaps how good of an editor she has). If you love fairly fast paced, character driven mysteries, you’re likely going to enjoy this one.

And then… the COVID. Whereas the first book dealt with COVID more as an ominous foreshadowing, being set in the days immediately prior to the global lockdowns that destroyed far more lives than the virus ever will, this book dealt head on with said lockdowns and actually incorporated them – and the slow global re-opening – into the story. Thus, while I deducted a star from Woman Last Seen because I DO NOT WANT TO READ ABOUT COVID even though it was more tangential in that book, with it being far more central and ever present in this tale, the deduction remains because even nearly four years later, I STILL DO NOT WANT TO READ ABOUT COVID. My war against such tales began with Woman Last Seen, and with Two Dead Wives it continues, along with my own real “weapon” at my disposal: the single star deduction in rating. Seriously, authors, PLEASE – just abandon that entire year or so of human history. Or at least ignore those parts of that year.

But again, other than the COVID aspects, this truly was a superb tale that truly shows how remarkable Parks is as a storyteller – I truly don’t know of many that *could* have written such a book when it was never intended, and I perhaps know of even fewer who *would* write such a book when readers clamor for it.

Very much recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt from the book followed by the “publisher details” – book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: Two Dead Wives by Adele Parks”

#BlogTour: The Vacation by John Marrs

For this blog tour, we’re looking at a complex, interwoven thriller with a lot of moving parts. For this blog tour, we’re looking at The Vacation by John Marrs.

Here’s what I had to say on the review sites (Hardcover.app, TheStoryGraph, BookHype, Goodreads):

Complex, Interwoven Thriller With Numerous Characters And Flashbacks. Hell, the one thing to knock this book on is just how sudden the flashbacks and returns can be. Other than that, this is one of those twisty, complex, interwoven tales more about the people that find themselves at a particular hostel at a particular moment than any titular “vacation” – though, as you’ll come to see, every single one of them is truly on a “vacation” of sorts, so the title *does* work. I simply think the original title of “Welcome To Wherever You Are” may have actually been a more apt title for the tale.

If you want a single, simple plotline with a one or two true main characters and maybe a supporting cast… this isn’t that kind of tale. If you want a tale where there are definitive answers and everything is black and white… this isn’t that kind of tale. If you want an absolute mind fuck of a tale that makes you question your sense of reality… this isn’t that kind of tale, either.

Instead, this truly is one of those more interesting in between tales that shows a more accurate depiction of humanity and how we’re all flawed and we all have our own stories both before and after any given encounter, this simply happens to be the tales of those people who wind up being in the same Los Angeles area hostel at the same moment in time at the particular moment of the story here. If you’re looking for *that* kind of tale… congratulations. You’ve found one of the better examples of it I’ve ever come across in my own reading.

Very much recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt from the book followed by the “publisher details” – book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: The Vacation by John Marrs”

#BookReview: What You Do To Me by Rochelle B. Weinstein

Better Than Malibu Rising. I read and reviewed Mailbu Rising as an ARC, back before it came out. In that review, I noted that while it was a good story overall, I knew of many others that were at least as good – and would likely never get anywhere *near* the hype.

Here, despite being published by an Amazon imprint and thus having a pretty solid team behind even it… we have just such a book that is *better* than Malibu Rising… and yet isn’t getting anywhere near the hype, even though it absolutely should.

Even from the opening of the tale, before you even get to a word of Weinstein’s own alternate history of Hey There Delilah, the fact that she/ someone on her team was able to get Tom Higgenson from the Plain White T’s to write a foreword for this tale is freaking awesome.

Then, we get into the tale. And what a tale it is. I’ve read several of its type over the years, of coming of age, of finding yourself, of mysterious zeitgeist happenings, of journalists looking for their big break and landing on a secret they decide to try to find the truth of, of star crossed lovers and what comes of them, of famous rockers that famously either disappear or crash and burn or crash and burn and then disappear.

And yet… Weinstein manages to make this tale her own unique blend of all of the above, and a love song to the entire music industry and the songs that we all believe were written about specific people to boot. Choosing to lead into every chapter with a song referencing someone specific, then discussing so very many different artists and songs through the narrative – and even having cameos by various artists – was a great touch.

Including a condo in Miami was an interesting touch, and perhaps a nod to her own real-life tragedy as her family knew some of the victims of the 2021 Surfside Condos collapse – though this is pure speculation (about the nod) on my part. (Those who follow her on social media know she did in fact know some of those victims.)

Weinstein almost always brings her own Jewish faith into her tales as well, and this is no different – and yet, like the best Christian writers I’ve encountered over the years, she always does it seamlessly and without preaching, just bakes it right into the overall tale she is telling and uses it to even *enhance* the story she is telling.

The addition of a young character who barely speaks English when we first meet him is also quite relevant to where we originally encounter him – Miami, where thanks to the large Hispanic population, this is a particular character type that much more commonly gets overlooked – particularly in these types of tales.

And then there are the actual relationships here, and where the true magic and heartbreak of this story lies. The daughter who may not know as much about her parents or why they split as she thinks she does. The lover who pushes people away because she thinks she is unworthy of love. The soulmates forced into separation. The loving parent who never stopped wanting the best for their kid – even when the kid actively rejected them. So many others, and it all comes crashing together in this maniacal way that in less deft hands and with a less skilled storyteller could have been an absolute mess, but instead Weinstein pulls off masterfully in ways that will have you both breathless and bawling.

Truly an excellent work, and very much recommended.

This review of What You Do To Me by Rochelle B. Weinstein was originally written on October 17, 2023.

#BlogTour: The Royal Daughter by Soraya Lane

For this blog tour, we’re looking at . For this blog tour, we’re looking at The Riyal Daughter by Soraya Lane.

Here’s what I had to say on the review sites (Goodreads, Hardcover.app, TheStoryGraph, BookHype):

Strong Dual Timeline Emotional Rollercoaster. This is a book about finding yourself and doing your own thing – even when everything and everyone is against you. It is about finding family you never knew you had. It is about unravelling decades old family secrets… that you didn’t even know were secrets. It is about falling in love, a few times over – at least once in each timeline, + falling in love with a new land.

As Lane has done throughout this series, she yet again shows remarkable skill in bringing together the two halves of her former writing – the romance + the historical fiction – in a genuinely compelling, but only very loosely coupled, series. Indeed, while other *groups* of authors have, over the last several years in particular, come together with similar loosely coupled “series” where each can be read as standalone, all tied together by some theme or some macguffin… with this series, Lane manages to create a much more cohesive single author version of the gimmick that still maintains the “can be read as standalone” allure of this gimmick. In doing so, in many ways she changes it from a marketing gimmick to her own (so far unique, at least in my own reading) almost genre, really. Because this tale, and this series, isn’t *just* romance, though it fills every (mostly “clean” / “sweet” / “behind closed doors”) requirement for the romance genre that I’m aware of, even by its more strict interpretations. This book isn’t *just* historical fiction, though again, it fills every requirement I’m aware of for the genre (which are much looser generally than romance). And while Lane truly excels in both spaces – and I think I’ve said this next bit before in other reviews of this series – she truly comes to her full ultimate power in combining them so effectively and beautifully.

And speaking of effective and beautiful… be forewarned here: there are sections near the end where the room gets extremely dusty all of a sudden. To the point that some readers may cry out for an Audible version of the tale, as it may genuinely become impossible to read the words on the page with your eyeballs due to the amount of dust in the room. (To be clear… men don’t cry. But sometimes, sometimes rooms get extremely dusty – and it may *look* like we’re crying or even bawling as we try to keep the dust out of our eyes. 😉 )

Very much recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt from the book followed by the “publisher details” – book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: The Royal Daughter by Soraya Lane”

#BookReview: The Haven by Nicola Marsh

Sold Short Sychological Sequel. (Yes, the alliteration didn’t work with “psychological”, so I had to misspell it. :D) This is one of those sequels where you actually really need to read its prior book, in this case The Retreat, first. But since both are actually perfect for when you want a spooky read (such as during Halloween, when this book releases)… that is actually a great thing in this case.

This one is perhaps a bit less gothic, though it certainly has the creepy old mansion. It also has an even deeper tangle of secrets, as characters from the first book come back to play roles in this book as well – though certainly not all of them, and even in nearly every horror tale out there, at least one person survives. So the prior bit isn’t really a spoiler of anything. 😀 But *does* point to *why* you need to read The Retreat first.

In both cases though, you get quite a bit of tale packed into relatively short (here, 260 ish pages) books – making them a bigger bang for your buck than longer, slower tales. And making them overall better for when life is busy and/ or you are doing other things, but also want to read some books.

And as explosive as the ending was in The Retreat… here, while the explosions are of a different type… they may be even bigger and more devastating…

Very much recommended.

This review of The Haven by Nicola Marsh was originally written on October 11, 2023.

#BookReview: Dreaming Of Water by A.J. Banner

Fast, Twisty Read With Plenty O’ Drama. Once again Banner delivers on managing to pack quite a tale into a relatively short (260 ish page) package. Here, her personal passion for old typewriters (shared by Tom Hanks, fwiw) shines through, and she manages to essentially wrap an entire story around this anachronistic device that yes, was still being used by some as recently as 2004, when the “before” period of this book was set. Was it the dominant form of communication then? No. But remember: the smart phone was still 2-3 years away, as dated by Apple’s introduction of the iPhone in 2007. So it wasn’t as though communication had been completely revolutionized yet at that point either. The twists here come at a rather frenetic pace once they start, and the tension is particularly well paced, starting out rather slow as we first enter the world, before ramping up slowly and consistently before getting to a few peaks and troughs leading into the climax. Overall yet another excellent work by Banner, and I for one truly hope she continues to keep writing, as her particular style not being around anymore would be quite a loss for the literary world. Very much recommended.

This review of Dreaming Of Water by A.J. Banner was originally written on October 7, 2023.

#BookReview: The Last True Templar by Boyd Morrison and Beth Morrison

Middle Ages Mediterranean Adventure. One of the interesting things for me when reading this book is that David Wood released his book Baal just a couple of weeks before this one came out, and both books are rather similar at the highest of levels – in that both are adventure books touring the Mediterranean Sea region in search of lost treasures. Separated by a few hundred years and thus with completely different specifics as far as character motivations, transportation, weapons used, cultures, etc. And to be clear, with Beth Morrison – an apparently renowned Medieval period scholar – as coauthor here, the actual historical aspects – from the various factions involved to the different cultures of the various Italian cities to even exactly how different things worked and who would have what skillsets, are apparently spot-on, so best as I could tell anyway. Paired with her brother Boyd’s action story sensibilities, once again the two create a spectacular historical fiction tale that anyone interested in any modern action/ adventure tale can also love – and showing those who “only” read historical fiction that modern tales can also be just as great. Overall truly an outstanding book, and I hope these siblings can continue to work together for many more books to come. Very much recommended.

This review of The Last True Templar by Boyd Morrison and Beth Morrison was originally written on September 28, 2023.

#BookReview: A Storm Of Infinite Beauty by Julianne Maclean

Earth Shattering Quakes Both Real And Metaphorical. This is an intriguing dual timeline tale that takes us through deep family secrets… and the 1964 Anchorage Alaska earthquake – still, 60 yrs later, one of the strongest ever recorded (since 1930) – that may or may not have helped hide some of them. It is a strong tale of privacy, pain, the desire to live the life of one’s choosing… and of normal people with the potential to be superstar celebrities… and superstar celebrities who just want to be normal people. It is a story of thinking you know a particular family member as well as anyone possibly can… and suddenly finding a revelation that you never saw coming. It is a tale that will make you feel like you are actively in the coastal woods of Nova Scotia… and the wilds of coastal Alaska. It is a tale that brings you front and center to the chaos of being in the midst of one of the strongest earthquakes humanity has ever actively recorded… and a tale that brings you front and center to the chaos of finding out that those you thought you knew best, you hardly actually knew at all. It is truly an excellent tale, and it is truly superbly told. Very much recommended.

This review of A Storm of Infinite Beauty by Julianne Maclean was originally written on September 23, 2023.