Toward A Secret Sky, Heather MacLean

Pub Date April 4, 2017
Hardcopy $17.99, e-book $9.99

While skimming through books this cover caught my attention with its stormy sky, highland hills and secret emblem floating above what I consider to be Celtic lettering. With this said, I read the description; ping #1 for me was it looked to take place in Scotland, so I assumed it had the ‘Scots humor’ I adore, and hoped MacLean would be endearing readers to the rugged Scotland I’ve come to know. Ping #2- Secret International Organization= mystery and intrigue, right? Ping #3- twisted labyrinths and famous cathedrals. So far, before I even cracked a page, I wanted to read this book!

Cracking open said book, I can honestly say it’s a page-turner. MacLean’s writing hits each story beat perfectly, each chapter starts with a hook and ends with a hook, which in turn equals ‘page-turner’ a.k.a loss of sleep if you’re reading at night.

MacLean hit on all my pings marvelously; it does take place mainly in Scotland with the secondary cast of characters weaving in the Scot’s humor, vocabulary, and daily living nuances of uprooting to a new country. Maren’s grandparents and new friends she makes help the readers understand what it would be like to suddenly find oneself in another country.

Maren, the 17 yr old who starts her story with the loss of her mom and immediate relocation to Aviemore, Scotland to be under the care of her grandparents, states the major differences between living in the US and Scotland succinctly with the large and small differences: language barriers, food choices, music availability, internet woes, phone challenges, etc. I love this, but then I’m an adult and have experienced US vs. the World differences in various countries.

Gavin, the hero of our story, is truly our hero as he does a lot of saving of Maren when needed, which is often. Gavin’s character is a type of angel, but a very young one. He’s also the hot Scot and we’re first introduced to him while he’s hunting in a kilt–great way to unexpectedly meet a hero, right? I found Gavin’s role to be a bit of an enigma though. The more I read, the more I found Gavin’s character to be confusing; in one scene he’s more like a standard young man, then the next he’s almost all knowing. I can understand that when it comes to romantic relationships this would be a new thing to him, being an angel in which MacLean explains Gavin has never been ‘in love’; it seemed like Gavin was a little too much like the waves on the beach with his knowledge and lack of knowledge flowing in and out instead of a steady movement forward as the book proceeded. Maybe this is the authors way of explaining how confusing love can be? As for love, my favorite line regarding the attraction factor is from Maren: Forget I ever met him. Short of getting a lobotomy, I had exactly zero chance of succeeding at that.

As for the story line itself, I would explain it as Buffy melds with James Bond. We’ve got the supernatural, superpower element of good vs. evil and the international men [and women] of mystery who are licensed to kill. There’s plenty of fast paced action mixed in with the underlying mystery of nightmares of foresight, disembodied screeching and in true Bond fashion, a cast of characters whom MacLean has no problem exterminating and replacing with new blood.

Overall, I give this a two thumbs up for it’s great pacing, plotting, and story beats which carry the reader swiftly through the book. I believe the young adult readers will enjoy this, but fair warning, this is definitely geared for the female readers who love action and not so much sappy, wimpy high school love stories.


Wanted & Wired by Vivien Jackson

Publish Date April 4, 2017
Pricing – Paperback $7.99, e-book $7.49

First, I must scream CONGRATULATIONS to Vivien Jackson for her first published book! I’ve known Vivien via my local RWA chapter and critique group where, yes I’m thrilled for her and have gushed over her work for apox. 2 yrs. She’s not only a fantastic person, but a fabulous wordsmith. Vivien let me know it’s okay to say her book ‘sucks’ if it does, but I’m letting you know- I’m one to tell it how it is–no holding back; her book does NOT suck.

With this first book, Wanted & Wired, from the series Tether, I can honestly say if it hadn’t been for a bad case of the flu, I would have lost several hours of sleep for wanting to keep turning the page; to see where this journey was to take me. For those wanting to know up front, this book, for me, is Terminator meets Borg in a nut shell.

The reader is first introduced to Mari, a bad-ass, gun-for-hire gal from Texas whose reality bites [big-time]. She’s brash, highly sexual and thinks on her feet when the gauntlet is thrown down. The bad, she’s insecure and it shows up a little more than I would have liked from chapters 7-14 in mental re-hashes, but I also understand this is the time where a reader needs to see those insecurities in order to see Mari to grow emotionally; so she can move on/forward when the time comes.

The hero, Heron, is where the ‘borg’ come in. He’s a post-human who guides Mari through assignments, has her back and more than a few surprises up his tech-sleeve. If you’re looking for a new book-boyfriend and are willing to be open to the idea of someone whose unique- in a OMG fabulous way- like super-geek meets super-hero, Heron’s your man. Each time a scene came up with Heron ‘taking on the world’ to protect Mari I swear my mental synapses and heart beats skipped. I wasn’t even 11% into the book and I literally wrote “I want to know more about him; I want to keep turning the page to know more.” I think you will too.

Wanted & Wired sub-characters are just this side of fuzzy like a blanket- you just want to surround yourself with a crew like this one; Chloe, a light-emitting, non-human species that doesn’t have rights; Kellen, a not so good nature Cowboy with a heart of gold; The Queen, to which I’m not giving this one away and neither is Ms. Jackson as I would assume more information will be coming about her in one of the other two books. Let’s just say *spoilers* are there for a reason. The bad guys so far are indifferent fathers, old boyfriends and the general godfatheresque thugs who want to take you out.

Ms. Jackson’s writing is a dream. A hypnotizing, time-stealing art which kidnaps your imagination, holds it hostage and you don’t even realize it or care as pleasure neurons are being fed something unique that you want to gorge on.

Pre-orders are available and something I would recommend as the Tether series may need to be renamed to something like Magnetic Pull of Mind Gravity once you’ve read it.

It Happened in Scotland, Patience Griffin

Pub Date 03 Jan 2017
Price $7.99

Ahhh, this series is my own little vacation to a land I love, even if the land in this series is a fictional Scottish fishing village where the men are braw, kilt-wearing, and have full respect for women.

In this latest book, the reader finds the heroine, Rachel, in a [sort of] love triangle; dealing with the the loss of her husband while attempting to reunite with his townsfolk, old feelings stir for another she met once upon a time. Brodie, the hero, has his own emotional ghosts to deal with and according to the townsfolk–okay Deydie, he’s not fairing well at this task. Meanwhile, a thief may be roaming this secluded town as things start to disappear while matters of the heart are being found.

While the story is enjoyable and a quick read, I found one character a bit too annoying, Rachel’s five year old child. Maybe it’s me, but I’ve never known a five year old to be ‘that’ wise beyond her age; ‘that’ understanding about new men in her mom’s life, ‘that’ happy-go-lucky all the time. I personally felt this character could have used a little more depth of character American five year old’s typically exhibit, which may have made the story a bit more livelier between the H/H. You’ll have to judge for yourself though as this is an overall pleasant next episode for the Kilts and Quilts Novel and a wonderful journey back to Gandiegow. If you’re wanting Christmas to continue a little bit longer, you’ll love It Happened in Scotland as it takes place during the holiday season, making this one more present for you!  Happy reading.

Death Comes To The Fair, Catherine Lloyd

Pub Date 29 Nov 2016
Hardcover $19.99, E-book $11.99

As the forth book in the series, Death Comes To The Fair brings the reader to the next step in the journey of Miss Harrington and Sir Major Kurland. For those of you who have not read this delightful series, the journey started as Miss Harrington, the rector’s daughter, aiding Major Kurland in his recovery from a serious war injury, thus their roles expanding in degrees leading to proposal of marriage, where Death Comes To The Fair brings us current.

Something I applaud in Ms. Llyod’s series is the passage of time. A reader doesn’t jump from unknown time to unknown time; each book takes up where the last left off [within reason].The smooth transition is easy for the reader as well as [I assume] easy for the writer without having to re-hash what’s happened if their had been any longer expanses of time. Should a reader wish to read one book vs. the whole series, which would be a shame, they can do so as Ms. Lloyd has crafted each book to stand alone.

Now, this being said, time to fess up what I think of this latest book- I’m still in ‘like’ with the series, but for some reason this one falls a little flat somewhere in character’s relationship. Book 4 begins with our character’s readying for their wedding, which is interrupted by -gasp- a murder which places a slight hold on their impending wedding. Where I feel the relationship falls flat is Major Kurland’s flirting and amour toward Miss Harrington falls by the wayside compared to prior books. Yes, I know this isn’t a romance, but there’s been that swoon worthy charm of Major Kurland since book two and I expected it to continue, especially since the word ‘bed’ is mentioned quite frequently in this book. Then there is Miss Harrington’s misgivings about the marriage and her freedom to contend with. I would have thought by now that stubborn streak of hers would have abated since her dreams of having her own home and family are being realized.

Okay, enough of the relationship rant. As for the actual murder mystery, it was well done Ms. Lloyd! You’ve led me a merry chase through hill and dale and made sure this time not to have the killer figured out by chapter 5. The story and sleuthing was enjoyable and had me thinking and guessing almost to the end. For those who are not mystery buffs, you’ll be taken to the very end of the book waiting for the murder’s reveal as well as the HEA for the pair. As with any murder mystery, there are thrills, chills and even life threatening events. I was thinking this would have made a great release for Halloween, but alas the holiday season it is for readers.

Overall, I give this a thumb’s up for enjoyment and escapism for the average reader as once again, this is not a hard core mystery but one that is meant for enjoyment.

Hero in the Highlands by Suzanne Enoch

Pub Date 04 Oct 2016
Price e-book or paperback $7.99

Hero in the Highlands, A No Ordinary Hero Novel, is not about just the hero not being ordinary. There was recently a talk with some authors about strong leading ladies in romance novels. At the time of the discussion, I believe this book had not been released, but should have been an example for their talk. Fiona Blackstock is what I call your typical Highland lass- feisty, authoritative and driven to succeed in a man’s world.

We meet our heroine, Fiona, while in the midst of rallying the clansmen to look for a meandering cow. Fiona has the arduous task of [basically] bullying lazy men who would rather be elsewhere to look for the cow which got loose; while the owner of the cow wines and complains that it’s not his fault the cow wanders off, he also doesn’t want to look for it. This short scene nicely sets up Fiona’s position within her clan. She’s not the clan leader, nor was she ever in a position of power, yet that’s where her life has landed as she’s unwilling to see her home ‘foreclosed’ upon by the King.

It’s in the midst of this cow search our hero, Major Gabriel Forrester, Duke of Lattimer, meets Fiona. She has no idea who this person is beside he’s a Redcoat soldier and that in itself is enough to put her off. The reader meets Major Forrester in Chapter 1, in the heat of battle, fighting the French cavalry. While I found this chapter a great set up for what to expect in the hero’s character, I also found myself picturing him as the character Gaston from Beauty and the Beast animation; swagger, preconceived notions and over-confidence included. With this said, I found myself not quite sure if I liked him or not throughout the book, even in the end. As a reader, you’ll have to make up your own mind and you may love his ‘manly-man’ exploits, but for me, he was a bit over the top and found myself drawn into this novel because of Fiona.

Fiona seemed to be a steady character in her convictions, actions and deeds; I didn’t find her character changing or growing, just steady, which I think readers will appreciate in a heroine. Major Forrester’s character saw at first slow changes in attitude with large changes from the half-way mark on, becoming complimentary to Fiona’s character, which was refreshing as many times a writer will tamp-down the female’s attributes while leaving a A-type male in place.

Overall, I liked the book and found it entertaining; I believe the general public will too. I’ve been a fan of Ms. Enoch for a while and look forward to see what she has ‘cooking’ for her next novel.

A Shadow Bright and Burning, Jessica Cluess

Publication date: September 20, 2016
Price- paper or e-book $10.99

This is the first book by Jessica Cluess and happy to say I was not disappointed. Most first time published authors have an issue with over-indulging in back story, but not Ms. Cluess. Her writing was that of an accomplished author who has written dozens of books.

A Shadow Bright and Burning takes place in an alternate historical England, where magic and monsters exist. The main character, Miss Henrietta Howell, is a younger female orphan whom takes responsibility for those younger than she and those who are worse off economically than herself; unique in her ability to create fire, but unable to control it, she, with the help of her friend, Rook, an outcast, look out for each other.

Interwoven into the story is a prophecy about a special ‘girl-child’ who rises to fight the seven evils so England can be set free. The story unfolds once Henrietta’s gift is discovered by a Sorcerer and taken to a school which teaches other young sorcerer’s how to control and use their powers to fight the evil forces which roam the Earth.  Well, that’s an awful lot for a young girl of 16 to take on, but Cluess weaves a believable tale of doubt and courage with-in this girl; a character young females readers of this book to look up to, which I applaud.

It’s at this school that mysteries and secrets are uncovered and the truth of her parentage discovered. Cluess has created an action packed story that could be considered a blending of Harry Potter and Sabrina, The Teenage Witch, which equals a thoroughly entertaining book geared toward tween and teen females–not that a boy may not like this, but this is definitely girl-empowered!

A Study in Scarlet Women, Sherry Thomas

Publish date October 14, 2016
Price: $15.00 paperback; $9.99 e-book

I’d like to start out this posting with a little background on Sherry Thomas for those of you who are not familiar with her works. She’s an acclaimed author whom is frequently on best-seller lists for romance, young adult and women’s fiction. Her previous fiction of the YA persuasion, The Elemental Trilogy, was a delightful roller-coaster ride in which became more glorious with each turn of the page right up to the last one.

Next, if you don’t know this yet, Ms. Thomas writes in her second language!  The first being Chinese. This should give hope to all those who are struggling with the American language, to which I sometimes succumb to deficiencies in speech as well as writing. With this said, let’s get on with my thoughts on A Study In Scarlet Women.

The cover immediately drew my eye from a long list of covers as it intrigued me with it’s moonlight sliver-blue color, a woman in scarlet from a century or so past slightly surrounded by a light fog and of course a hint of light in varying hues. This screamed- READ ME! and so I did. Was thrilled to actually.

Named after A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle, Ms. Thomas’ work is a role reversal on the Sherlock Homes books. Charlotte Homes is the odd woman out in the 1800’s; too logical to be a society miss, but stuck in the role until she takes matters in to her own hands. The first third of the book sets up the cast of characters and can be slightly tedious, but necessary, as this series and must be done. Personally, I could have done without the prologue, but some may want one as in the original Sherlock series, Dr. Watson provides prologue by way of personal history. Once Ms. Thomas gets rolling with the story, she delves deep in Sherlock Homes psyche. Readers looking for a quick, mindless read will be disappointed; to follow the clues, twists and turns Charlotte’s (Sherry’s) sleuthing takes you’ll need to pay attention as train of thought can quickly lead in another direction. There’s no romance in this book, it’s a mystery, plain and simple. Not to say that there’s not a set up for romance to happen, and it may, but not in this volume.

For Homes fans, the cast of characters exist, but in a slightly different set up, so if you’re a die hard Sherlockian, please don’t assault Ms. Thomas with emails that she’s desecrated Sir Conan’s work–it’s very enjoyable WOMENs fiction. While reading, my mind kept contemplating what a wonder storyteller Ms. Thomas is; how mind-blowing it must be to write such in depth, logical characters and the skill it took to accomplish this work while upholding the original story structure of Sherlock Homes.

There are some inconsistencies, which may be on purpose, such as the set up of ‘Sherlock’ being a very ill man who can not be met with in person, but lies in the other room, while Charlotte, the ‘sister of Sherlock’, meets with clients and then confers with her brother. Yet, in chapter 12, ‘Sherlock’ proclaims to prove himself to Treadles by speaking of slight nuances about his attire, which someone in another room would never be able to see, such as the material of Treadles’ clothes, cuffs and detachable collar. This type of faux-pas happens frequently throughout the book, e.g.- policemen using a pen vs. a pencil, as pens were for the rich and I can’t see a local police budget of this time period including ink pens for field officers. It’s unknown if the author decided other characters are too far below in intelligence to notice or if this will ultimately lead to the mass unveiling of a fraud.  While this is annoying, it is done masterfully, providing a sense of relating to the time period, so I’m willing to play along and I hope you will too.