#BookReview: In My Life by Kay Bratt

When Art Imitates Life. This deep in this particular series, you really need to read the first two books in the series – which are both excellent, btw – in order to fully understand all that is going on here… and to avoid major spoilers from each of those two books. Once you’ve read those books, you’re going to want this one on hand anyway, as it picks up shortly after the events of Book 2. Once again, the crime being investigated is one Bratt had heard a similar tale of in her real life, and once again (as is so often in Bratt’s writing), those who have paid attention to her for in some cases not long at all will notice other details of her life making their way onto the page. In a glancing reference here, we get a reference to a child currently living on Maui, as Bratt’s own youngest daughter currently does. But much more interestingly, there is a minor plot point here – that helps build into something that could become much larger – that those familiar with Bratt’s postings on social media from just a few months ago will be all too familiar with. To be clear, while the character here pursues the more criminal method that Bratt was *tempted* to do in real life, in real life Bratt did in fact pursue numerous *legal* methods of achieving the same result. Her socials are worth perusing for that story alone, for those that also come to enjoy her fictional work. ๐Ÿ™‚ Overall another solid tale that expands the world while also keeping the “freak of the week” episodic nature of the series intact. Very much recommended.

This review of In My Life by Kay Bratt was originally written on March 13, 2023.

#BookReview: The Making Of A Matchmaker by Tess Thompson

Perfect Series Starter. This is one of those short novellas that is specifically designed to introduce a new series and its backstory so that these setup details all reside in a common point and the author can simply continue each individual story without having to rehash every word here within them – and as such, works absolutely perfectly. Quite a bit happens in these 72 pages, but every bit of it serves to show the world in which this new series will be set and set the basics of what to expect in each of the remaining books – specifically, it is rather obvious that each future book will be about one of the children and the match they are given, likely while continuing other elements found here (specifically involving the murder mystery and other secrets the children may or may not be aware of) as a form of connective tissue throughout.

Ultimately the entire point of an entry novella such as this is to whet the reader’s appetite for the series and induce them to auto-buy the entire damn thing, and the only true weakness to Thompson’s strategy there is that only the next book in the series is currently available for pre-order. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Otherwise, this novella does its job spectacularly. Very much recommended.

This review of The Making Of A Matchmaker by Tess Thompson was originally written on February 23, 2023.

#BookReview: Lucy In The Sky by Kay Bratt

Diamonds Aren’t Always What They Seem. Once again, Bratt – in a bit of a departure from her “normal” books, at least the later ones before this series I am most familiar with – manages to craft a compelling tale of a broken family in small town rural Georgia (among other places) and make it seem all too real. In this particular case, we get two different yet linked stories here, as the titular Lucy deals with the fallout of her actions from her introduction in Book 1 of this series while big sis Taylor, the lead in Book 1, continues to unravel the deep family secret she uncovered in the first book. Yet again. Bratt is perhaps too comfortable with modern police tactics for some… but yet again, Bratt *does* manage to *also* highlight at least some of the problems with modern US policing and even brings in the real-world Innocence Project here and cites some of their real-world figures regarding the number of convictions they’ve helped overturn in the last 30+ years. In both plotlines, “reality” as each sister knows it begins unravelling more and more the deeper the sister looks, and each sister has to find out just how far down the particular rabbit hole they find themselves in they’re willing to go. And with the conclusion of this particular tale… you’re going to want Book 3 (In My Life, currently slated for release one month from now on March 14, 2023) pretty well immediately. Very much recommended.

This review of Lucy In The Sky by Kay Bratt was originally written on February 14, 2023.

#BookReview: Everything We Never Said by Sarah Banks

Dark. Real. Short. This book is interesting in that it has almost two separate storylines entirely, using at least some of the same characters… and then… stuff happens.

The one storyline is a genuine romance, where our lead is troubled by accusations from her recent past but is trying to move on both professionally and personally. This storyline is dark, but meets every “rule” of the “romance genre”. It is also very *real*, almost viscerally so, in how it portrays and handles the particular situation.

Sadly, the other storyline, where someone else is simply troubled and which leads to the accusations in question (yes, this is a slight dual-timeline approach), is *so much darker*, with violent fantasies of both shooting people and raping people. (To be clear, little is ever shown “on screen” other than the character discussing a *desire* to do these things. That alone could be too disturbing for some readers though, so worthy of noting.) But here again, Banks does a truly phenomenal job of making this character and storyline so very *real*, even as this particular character is truly so *dark* and disturbed.

That Banks manages to create such divergent storylines, using some of the same characters, and manages to do so in such a short amount of space (clocking in at not far over 200 pages), *and then manages to combine them so superbly*… this is a master storyteller at work, yall. Very much recommended.

This review of Everything We Never Said by Sarah Banks was originally written on February 10, 2023.

#BookReview: Small Town Girl by Sarah Banks

Small Town Shenanigans. This is a great example of one of those small town tales where everyone has secrets, and, to quote Tony Stark in The Avengers: their “secrets have secrets”. So when a murder happens as our hero here is trying to rebuild her life and save her career… of *course* she has to investigate it herself. Because, you know, secrets. But along the way we really do see the inner workings of very small towns quite well, and Banks also manages to keep enough of the romance there to balance out just how dark and creepy this town can feel at times. A definite break from this author’s norm (she is working under a new pseudonym here), but a solid effort in this particular type of space and one that manages to up the creepy factor while adding in quite a bit of tension and apprehension not generally found in her other works. Very much recommended.

This review of Small Town Girl by Sarah Banks was originally written on January 4, 2023.

#BookReview: Hart’s Ridge by Kay Bratt

Genre-Bending Series Starter. This is a police procedural, ala so many others such as BR Spangler, Noelle Holten, and Allison Brennan, among so many others. Which is perfect for TV fans of shows like Blue Bloods or NYPD Blue or Chicago Blue or the various Law and Order shows. Bratt’s explicit inspiration here is the true crime genre she personally loves, and in fact the case here is based on a real-world case nearly four decades old.

But it is *also* a women’s fiction tale of a woman, her family, her small town, and the various secrets involved all around, all over town. It is here where the true “hart” ( ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) of the story is, and as with the various police procedurals named above (and others), it is on the strength of these stories that really makes this book as strong as it is and sets up the new series as well as it does. Which is quite commendable here.

The one thing that *must* be mentioned by me in particular, as a former Cop Block activist that largely (though not *completely*) gave up that activism to become a book blogger -with Bratt’s own Dancing With The Sun one of my earliest books in that switch over – is that Bratt *does* get quite cozy with the pro-police “copaganda” bullcrap. Understandable, given Bratt’s own small-town, rural life, the market she has created for herself, and even the tale set up here. As a native of the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains / exurbs of Atlanta, I can say without question that the sentiments Bratt expresses here are genuine to the region. But that region is also home to cops who murdered a pastor for taking a parishioner to a convenience store, who threw a grenade on a baby sleeping in its crib, and who murdered a 17yo JROTC cadet for the “crime” of opening his door with a Wii controller in his hands. For those who despise copaganda in all its forms, I *can* say this: Read this book despite this. It really is that strong as a story outside of those elements, and there are at least hints that maybe they won’t be as pervasive going forward in the series.

Another thing that Bratt does particularly well, however, is showing North Georgia fairly well, warts and all, including even a seeming reference to the now-defunct yet legendary Poole’s BBQ of Ellijay, which closed its doors less than a couple of months prior to the publication of this book. Others who have followed Bratt for a while will notice other true-to-life elements, including a lot of the various dynamics at play within the book ringing similar to things Bratt has spoken of within her own family and the Yorkie rescue Bratt works with quite heavily. (RIP, Grandpa.)

Overall this is truly yet another great book and a solid opening to a series with great potential from Bratt, despite the copaganda, and it truly is very much recommended.

This review of Hart’s Ridge by Kay Bratt was originally written on December 16, 2022.

#BookReview: A Prairie Creek Christmas by Elizabeth Bromke

Short Sweet Romance. Yet again Bromke nails another Hallmarkie (and self aware of this ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) romance. This one is one of the more fun/ hilarious ones with a touch of heat (but nothing more than barely kissing shown, for the clean/ sweet romance crowd) with less real drama. And given its brevity (under 150 pages), a great quick read for when you need to escape the Christmas drama in your real life and dive into a better fictional world. And besides, who other than Cruella de Ville doesn’t like puppies? Yes, there are puppies here – the tale largely revolves around a fundraiser for the local animal shelter! So come on in for a quick bite, relax, and have some fun. Heck, about the only remotely negative thing here is that “Christmas” just doesn’t jump off the page the way it does in other books, even other Christmas books from Bromke herself. Very much recommended.

This review of A Prairie Creek Christmas by Elizabeth Bromke was originally written on December 8, 2022.

#BookReview: The Wedding Ranch by Nancy Naigle

Awkwardly Titled Slow Burn Hallmarkie Romance. This is one of those romances where it feels like Naigle was leaning perhaps a bit too hard into her Hallmark stories – as this one is dang near a cross between a Hallmark movie and something similar to Great American Country’s Heartland. If you like small towns and saying your prayers and going to church… yeah, this story is going to be right up your alley. If you’re opposed to any of the above, and particularly if you’re strongly/ vitriolically opposed to the above… maybe just skip this one and save yourself some time and spare the author a bad review over something that was never going to be a good fit for you to begin with.

But for those who *do* enjoy this type of story – and clearly, there is a large enough segment of the population to make a comfortable career within this space across several different mediums of art – this is a pretty solid story that goes down pretty well how you expect. A lot of small town interaction, some ranch riding, some will they/ won’t they (even though this is a romance and you *know* they eventually will), and being that this is of the “good Christian story” type, you know there isn’t going to be anything beyond a light kiss or so.

No, the biggest real criticism of the book is, as some others have mentioned, the titular venue only plays a minor role – which could be explained away more if this were Book 2 in a series, as it often feels that it is. And yet, from everything I’ve been able to see on Goodreads and elsewhere, this is truly a standalone book. Though *technically*, I suppose, the “Ranch” includes more than just the venue… including much of where this story takes place. So in a larger sense, it may actually work in the end. This still doesn’t excuse such *deep* backstory that seriously, this could have even been a Book 3, with Book 1 and 2 focusing on the creation of the venue and Book 2 focusing on some aspect of the friends in Raleigh. (Obviously perhaps not Lori herself, but the male friend – who features prominently in the couple here initially getting together and then again in the end of this tale – would make for a good center piece for one of these theoretical earlier book.)

Overall this is still a strong tale of its type, and well told. Very much recommended.

This review of The Wedding Ranch by Nancy Naigle was originally written on November 18, 2022.

#BookReview: A Light In The Forest by Melissa Payne

Strong Story Well Told – Yet Very Preachy As Well. I’ve been reading Melissa Payne’s books since the very first one, and I can assure long time fans that while this book is in fact quite preachy on a couple of subjects in particular (more on that momentarily), it is also her usual quite strong storytelling here. For people that haven’t read Payne yet, this is a good one to start with *if you don’t have issues with the topics she is preachy about here*. (Otherwise go with literally any of her other books – The Secrets of Lost Stones, Memories In The Drift, or The Night Of Many Endings.)

The preachiness here is *mostly* around trans/ LGBT issues, though there is also a fair amount of “country men who don’t agree with my opinion on these issues are all backwards a**h***s”. (I’m not going to say outright misandry, because there *are* a few male characters who are both country and shown in quite positive lights – so long as they agree with particular views on the above issues.)

Beyond the preachiness though, there *is* a genuinely strong story here. Perhaps not quite as strong as the prior works by the author, all of which created strong dust storms no matter where they are read, as this reader’s eyes got watery no matter what environment he was reading them in – and *that* never actually happened with this book. Still, as a story of finding oneself even in tragedy – a few times over – and how traumas can last to new generations, this really was quite a strong tale. And heck, there are even elements of the tale that the most hyper militant pro-LGBT types probably aren’t going to like much either, but discussing those gets *way* too far into spoiler territory to mention beyond the simple fact that they exist.

Overall truly a strong tale well told, and one that while preachy, is still readable and enjoyable by most anyone – one that even if you would normally be put off by the preachiness, it is still a tale strong enough to push through those feelings and read anyway. Just please, if you do that, don’t lower your rating because of the preachiness. Do what I did here, and put your thoughts on that subject in the text of the review. ๐Ÿ™‚
Very much recommended.

This review of A Light In The Forest by Melissa Payne was originally written on November 2, 2022.

#BookReview: A Homestead Holiday by Elizabeth Bromke

Complex And Short Tale. Bromke manages to show that if a storyteller is truly great, they can manage to pack quite a bit of complexity into a still short-ish (seemingly less than 200 page) book. Here, Bromke manages to show a teacher’s passion for her particular craft, a son’s devastation over losing his father, and how the two can come together in some very unexpected ways. Heck, she even manages to toss in elements reminiscent of Mr. Holland’s Opus (without the actual concert). And again, all in a short-ish book and *while still telling a compelling romance tale* to boot! Truly excellent work. Very much recommended.

This review of A Homestead Holiday by Elizabeth Bromke was originally written on November 1, 2022.