Book Review: The Blue Cloak by Shannon McNear

Read with Caution – Gripping and Evocative

I feel compelled to admit that I’m not sure I will find the proper words for this particular review. The Blue Cloak by Shannon McNear was a riveting, emotional work of fiction that took a very close look at the Harpe brothers and their crimes from the perspective of an acquaintance of one of their wives/victims. It is part of the True Colors series by Barbour about historical, American crime. Most of the titles I’ve read to date have characters expressing a strong faith-based element or struggling to find their faith as they live through a connection to these true crimes.

Going into this one, I had no idea who the Harpe brothers even were. Let me tell you… they were pure evil, serial killers, sadists, degenerate criminals. They were evil incarnate. If you’re like me, having no previous knowledge of their crimes or terror inflicted on families and travellers in late 1700s Tennessee and surrounding areas, this book was a disturbing introduction to these less-than-upstanding characters of American history. The author does address the difficulty in walking the fine line between the gruesome telling of their crimes and doing justice to the historic, factual events and honoring the victims while still presenting a “wholesome” piece of Christian fiction. Not an easy task…

This novel is graphic and grisly and dark. On the other hand, it has moments of hopefulness, healing, and romance. McNear balances it well so the darkness doesn’t overwhelm the tale – and yet darkness is the body of the unfortunate events depicted – it leaves a stain or heaviness behind.

It’s quite difficult to explain my reaction to this one. It was intense. The novel is very well-written and you may cry more than once – at least I did. It was gripping and evocative. I highly recommend it, but I recommend it with a bright strobing word of caution. You may feel a little banged up upon completion, especially if you’re a sensitive soul. The “true crime” aspect makes it difficult to process and will have you questioning how humanity can be so broken.

My thanks to the publisher for the complimentary copy of this title via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.

Published by: Barbour Books (Barbour Publishing Inc.)

Publication Date: March 1, 2020

Book Review: One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow

Lyrical & Haunting

I was privileged to received an advance copy of One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow, a historical novel by Olivia Hawker that was published last week.

Publisher’s Description:

From the bestselling author of The Ragged Edge of Night comes a powerful and poetic novel of survival and sacrifice on the American frontier.

Wyoming, 1876. For as long as they have lived on the frontier, the Bemis and Webber families have relied on each other. With no other settlers for miles, it is a matter of survival. But when Ernest Bemis finds his wife, Cora, in a compromising situation with their neighbor, he doesn’t think of survival. In one impulsive moment, a man is dead, Ernest is off to prison, and the women left behind are divided by rage and remorse.

Losing her husband to Cora’s indiscretion is another hardship for stoic Nettie Mae. But as a brutal Wyoming winter bears down, Cora and Nettie Mae have no choice but to come together as one family—to share the duties of working the land and raising their children. There’s Nettie Mae’s son, Clyde—no longer a boy, but not yet a man—who must navigate the road to adulthood without a father to guide him, and Cora’s daughter, Beulah, who is as wild and untamable as her prairie home.

Bound by the uncommon threads in their lives and the challenges that lie ahead, Cora and Nettie Mae begin to forge an unexpected sisterhood. But when a love blossoms between Clyde and Beulah, bonds are once again tested, and these two resilient women must finally decide whether they can learn to trust each other—or else risk losing everything they hold dear.

My Thoughts:

This novel was lyrical and haunting from the very first line. It’s a story of loss and ruin, family and friendship. It’s strange and melodic and quite possibly the best novel I’ve read this year. I’m not sure I could be nearly as strong as any of the characters and the way they adapted and forged forever ties despite hardships and necessity.

Beulah, one of the central characters, is an odd one, and yet absolutely beautiful in her head-in-the-clouds and oneness with the earth. She “communicates” with the earth, with the harvest, with the animals, with those who have passed – and that sounds so creepy and wrong – but it’s actually done very well. Maybe “aware” is a better word than “communicates” – she’s hyperaware and connected with everything around her.

Overall, I can guarantee this will not be everyone’s cup of tea. The pace of the prose is meandering. The style of writing is unique. The story itself, however, is brimming with feelings and evocative imagery. I absolutely loved it.

My thanks to the publisher for a complimentary copy of this title via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Publication Date: October 8, 2019

Book Review: Strands of Truth by Coleen Coble

There are certain authors that you read and you know – with a great deal of certainty – that you’re bound to enjoy the storyline. Coleen Coble is one of those authors for me – she has a formula for mystery and thriller with a dash of romance that works.

I was given the opportunity to read an advanced copy of Strands of Truth before publication (it came out yesterday!) I, not surprisingly, enjoyed it. Strong characters, the right amount of dangerous tension, and a storyline that was easy to follow, but left you wondering just a little.

My only two complaints, as they were, is that I feel like, blink, and all the preexisting tension between our lead characters disappeared and they fell, a little unbelievably, in love.

Secondly, I wanted to know a bit more about the research… and not just the byssus. I wanted a little more “meat” to some of the important, heavily referenced details.

Now, those complaints vocalized, I will say that I found this absolutely enjoyable to read. I enjoyed how everything was all neatly wrapped up. I enjoyed the secondary characters and the story arc as a whole.

As the publisher touts, “Suspense, romance, and generational secrets meld in this engrossing new novel from USA TODAY bestselling author Colleen Coble.” I can’t say that I disagree. Tension and promise were balanced nicely providing a fast-paced easy-to-read seaside escape.

I received a complimentary copy of this title with thanks to the publisher, Thomas Nelson, via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review: Summer at Firefly Beach by Jenny Hale

A long, long time ago I was given this title, Summer at Firefly Beach by Jenny Hale, for advanced read and review. It was released June 17th and I just didn’t get around to reading it.

This morning I woke at the crack of stupid (before Kev’s alarm even went off) and when I say woke… I mean there wasn’t a chance of falling asleep again so I picked up my tablet and thought this sounded like a great read.

I was not disappointed – it hit all the notes I enjoy in a romance by the sea. Angst, family, pain, friendship, discovery, and, of course, love. I enjoyed the balance of general life relationships (friends, family) and the romance itself.

We’re aspects of the book unrealistic? Absolutely… but for an easy-to-digest escape it was perfect. I laughed. I cried. I cheered. I passed a few perfectly delightful hours and now want to escape to a quaint hideaway beach town myself.

If you’re looking for something light and engaging to toss in your beach tote this summer, this is it! Uplifting and charming – sweet as can be.

Published by Bookouture. I received a complimentary uncorrected advance reader copy via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: The Pink Bonnet by Liz Tolsma

The Pink Bonnet is the second title I’ve read in the True Colors series – historical novels of real American crimes. I’ve enjoyed this series because I’ve actually learned about certain parts of history that I had no clue about. In fact, I just received an email inviting me to review a third title in the series.

Tolsma’s tale revolves around the battle between a widowed mother and Georgia Tann, the head of the Tennessee Children’s Home and child trafficker. Her gang stole more than 5,000 babies and adopted them our for profit on the black market.

This is not the first retelling of the historical events (I think I might be the only one who hasn’t yet read Lisa Wingate’s “Before We Were Yours.” I promise it’s been on my to-be-read pile for some time.) It was, however, enjoyable to read in a suspenseful, I really-hope-it-turns-out type of tale. The sweet romance element added a little extra something to the drama and hopeless expectation, underdog vs. corruption focus of the story.

Tolsma presents a likeable story marked with a clear picture of horrendous events. As a mother, I found it difficult to read at times. It was “clean” in language, romance, etc.

It was a good book. It piqued my interest in the Tennessee Children’s Home scandal. It was easy to read… but even though I enjoyed it, it felt like it was missing just little something – it’s a three-star rating from me – not bad at all, but not rave-worthy either. We’ll call it a good way to pass by a quiet afternoon.

Published by: Barbour Publishing, Inc.
Publication date: June 1, 2019

I was provided with a copy of this book via the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: Not My Daughter by Kate Hewitt

In my last book review, I believe I mentioned that I’ve not been reading as much in exchange for some actual rest. This in turn means that I haven’t been reading as much… but I started the recently-published Not My Daughter by Kate Hewitt late last week and finally wrapped it up last night. In a very basic understatement, it was an amazing book.

Reminding me of my appreciation for Jodi Picoult’s novels, this is an emotional depiction of parenthood, family, friendship, love, life, and loss. While the characters weren’t always likeable, they were very real. As a couple struggles with infertility, this heart-wrenching novel explores raw struggles and the sacrifices we make for those we love. In an emotionally charged presentation, Hewitt challenges the reader as relationships are tested and decisions are made as a longed-for, much-loved child faces a terrible diagnosis.

Tears streamed down my face as I read the final chapter. As I put my reader down, I turned to my husband and said, “That was a horrible book.” But I didn’t mean it as a negative – I meant it was gut-wrenching, compelling, thought provoking, and just incredible – it grabbed me and didn’t let me go. I definitely recommend.

I was provided with a complimentary uncorrected advanced readers copy from the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions are my own. .

Publisher: Bookouture
Publication Date: May 2, 2019

Book Review: The House at Hope Corner

Delightful summer read!

I’ve read a few books from Bookouture, a UK-based digital publisher, and each one has been enjoyable. No surprise, The House at Hope Corner by Emma Davies was another successful literary escape (my favourite type of low-budget not-actually-a-vacation.)

Whirlwind romance, delightful scenery, just enough trouble to keep things interesting, and of course, a likeable female lead defining herself in the midst of it all – it equals a formula for a fantastic summer read. This book is the type you’ll want to load onto your reader for a relaxing afternoon under a tree or sitting on the beach – or in my case, snuggled up under the covers on a quiet dreary day.

I laughed, I cried, and I felt like I was right there, a part of the family with every tense scene, ever new situation, every triumph. The House at Hope Corner is a warm-hearted, page-turning depiction of a sweetly eccentric woman, her charming farmer fiancee, and the merging of two very different outlooks on life – finding balance between artistic, creative freedom and rigid, routine farm life while overcoming challenges and the secrets that come to light as you get to know someone and there family. It’s a great work of contemporary women’s fiction that will charm the socks off you!

I received a complimentary of this title via NetGalley with thanks to the publisher. As always, all opinions are my own.

Published: May 10, 2019 (Available now)
Publisher: Bookouture

Blog Tour & Book Review: The East End by Jason Allen

The East End by Jason Allen was just published this week – on Tuesday, to be exact. Congratulations to the author! I know a lot of heart and soul and sweat and tears go into the process of taking a book from idea to page to publication. When a publicist at HarperCollins sent the initial description and asked if I’d like to be part of the blog tour, I jumped on board. Here is some information on the book, the author, and my final thoughts.

ABOUT THE BOOK:

After graduating high school, Corey Halpern would love to leave the Hamptons and never look back. He is stuck though, saddled with responsibility for his alcoholic mother, Gina, and his younger brother. So for now, he finds momentary escape by breaking and entering. The night before Memorial Day weekend, he targets the estate of Leo Sheffield, the billionaire CEO for whom he and Gina work.  But everything goes awry. Leo arrives suddenly—and he’s not alone. As Corey looks on in stunned horror, he witnesses a fatal mishap…as does another traumatized onlooker. With everything to lose, Leo will do whatever it takes to cover up the truth. Things spiral out of control, however. Pushed to their limits, Corey, Gina, and Leo all hurtle towards climactic showdowns as explosive as the holiday fireworks lighting up the night sky.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jason Allen grew up in a working-class home in the Hamptons, where he worked a variety of blue-collar jobs for wealthy estate owners. He writes fiction, poetry, and memoir, and is the author of the poetry collection A Meditation on Fire. He has an MFA from Pacific University and a PhD in literature and creative writing from Binghamton University. He currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia, where he teaches writing at Clayton State University. THE EAST END is his first novel.

MY REVIEW:.

I like to provide honest reviews and I always feel a little awkward when I don’t rave about a title. So I will be honest and say this is not a book I would have purchased on my own and I realised that very quickly into the first two chapters. I know it would not be a title I would recommend to a lot of the real-life readers who are part of my circle because they would have found it incredibly offensive – it’s raw and graphic and full of harsh language and scenes that would have left them uncomfortable. (A “Rated R… viewer discretion advised” type of novel.) That being said, I know a ton of other readers in my online circles who would absolutely love this book for all the same reasons – because it’s edgy, and fast-paced, and very, very corrupt.

So while I can’t recommend it in good conscience to some of my dear and closest friends, I can say that THE EAST END is well-written. It’s not bright or cheerful, but dark and atmospheric. It’s sad (as in desolate) and tumbles along at quite a pace. It’s not a traditional mystery or suspense, but it’s suspenseful in the tension-filled, catastrophic rush to a shocking ending. The lives of many unhappy people are intertwined and the moral/immoral choices and quandaries – the lies, the loyalties, the tale of a whole bunch of people who are not happy with their lives and are trying to fill the gaps with drug and alcohol addiction, unhealthy relationships, illicit affairs, and illegal hobbies – catch up in one dynamite conclusion. The author does a remarkable job of capturing the despair and despondency of the characters despite their socio-economic differences. He effectively touches on the need for trust and connection while highlighting the dangers of secrecy, obsession, and desperation. Best of all he leaves you with a small spark of hope that two of the main characters find redemption and happily ever after.

(As a small note of humour, when I finished, all I could think is, “Man, I don’t think I’ll ever visit the Hamptons. People are not happy there.” I’m sure the tourism board will be thrilled with this one… )

My thanks to the publisher, Harlequin, for providing a copy of this title and inviting me to be a part of this tour.


Book Review: A Forbidden Love

I feel a little sheepish admitting that I procrastinated in reading this title. It was published earlier this month and I like to post my NetGalley reviews while the books are still fresh. So I ‘forced’ myself to read it… and oh my word, I wish I had cracked it open sooner.

Set during the Spanish civil war, which I admittedly knew very little about, A Forbidden Love by Kerry Postle follows the intertwining lives of a number of individuals in a sleepy little Spanish town. They are rocked by the human tragedy that befalls their village when Nationalists bring conflict to their doorsteps.

Descriptive, colourful prose and well-developed characters experience friendship, love, loss, anger, pain, betrayal, hope and more in this historical love story. While the main female lead is admittedly self-absorbed, brash, and impetuous, you can’t help but feel for her loss of innocence in such a terrible situation. She makes unwise choices, lives with the guilt, but ultimately is not responsible for the horrors of war that befall her family and friends. You see her maturity develop as she faces remarkably challenging situations that no one should ever experience.

The author beautifully presented this historical era with emotion and poignancy. I appreciated how she drew attention to atrocities committed against woman by their own countrymen. She honoured their innocence and memory.

Overall, I was truly engrossed once I was a few chapters deep. It’s a stirring account of oppression, corruption, and survival. It may leave you feeling a little raw and vulnerable by the final chapter, but in awe of the bravery and desire to fight for what is right. A tale extraordinarily told that asks if the enemy can be loved and truly forgiven. Pick up a copy for yourself!

I was provided with a complimentary copy of this title via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.

Publication date: April 2, 2019

Published by: HQ Digital (Harper Collins UK)

Book Review: Sweet on You by Becky Wade

A few weeks ago, I posted about The Bradford Sisters Romance trilogy by author Becky Wade. It’s contemporary Christian romance, with a heavy dash of mystery, and no heavy-handed preachiness – just well-written stories with likeable characters. I have been eagerly anticipating the third and final title, Sweet on You, detailing the relationship of best friends Britt Bradford and Zander Ford. I was thrilled when I realised that the title was available via NetGalley and the publisher approved my request with a complimentary pre-release copy for preview. It did not disappoint.

Perfect summer read!

Britt is the youngest of the Bradford sisters, and if you know the background on the family, you can understand that although she’s just as pampered as the others, she carries a little bit of unwarranted guilt that leads to a ridiculous independence and need to stand on her own two feet. Zander has been her best friend harbouring a love interest in Brit since high school and she just doesn’t see it. As they continue into adulthood, he’s had enough and realises that he can’t stand the pain of watching her flit in and out of meaningless relationships. Cue the dramatics as they explore whether a real romance is in their best interest and the suspense as they explore the suddenly exposed knowledge that Zander’s recently deceased uncle was concealing many dangerous secrets.

Wade does a remarkable job of balancing the fear and angst of a friendship heading into romance with the hope that all will flourish. She weaves a perfect blend of drama, romance, and suspense into a well-rounded, easy-to-read novel that tips into delightful with the must-have happily ever after. The whole series, including this title, are engaging and absolutely perfect for lakeside reading this summer! Watch for it to hit retailer shelves next week!

My thanks to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.
All opinions expressed are my own.

Publisher: Bethany House
Publication Date: April 30, 2019