A few random reviews, in no particular order, of books I’ve recently enjoyed:
FIND HER by Lisa Gardner: 5+ Stars
Another excellent, complex mystery featuring detective D.D. Warren. With deft point-of-view switches, each one of Lisa Gardner’s fast-paced police dramas focuses on an interpersonal consequence of crimes. FIND HER explores the psychology of prolonged victimization for the victim and her family. We do not know how far the victim has gone in identifying with or even helping her abuser/abductor. As usual, Ms. Gardner’s police characters continue to evolve and grow, and I remain invested in each novel in order to follow the relationships.
THE LEMONCHOLY LIFE OF ANNIE ASTER by Scott Wilbanks: 5 Stars
CARRY THE OCEAN by Heidi Cullinan: 5+ Stars
Emmet is a delightful mathematical savant whose parents have helped him accommodate his autistic needs and live as successfully as possible. Jeremey’s parents have not done the same for his depression. Emmet and his parents intervene with Jeremey, and he begins to manage his life.
Ms. Cullinan has created a rare gift: we are able to share Emmet’s self-acceptance. We learn along with Jeremey to acknowledge and accept our awkwardness, difficulties and mistakes.Carry the Ocean introduces the Roosevelt, a group home that assists challenged young adults develop daily living skills and gain independence. I anticipate more stories of fun, loving relationships from the Roosevelt.We desperately need such homes everywhere, and in keeping with Mental Health Awareness Month, I honor Heidi Cullinan’s masterful achievement.
SLEIGH RIDE by Heidi Cullinan: 4.5 Stars
In Sleigh Ride, Arthur Anderson is a skilled handyman who’s been hooking up but not actually dating anyone in his tiny Minnesota hometown. The witty new librarian, Gabriel, is hiding from the shame he learned as a child.Heidi Cullinan puts her high emotional IQ to good use with her deft touch on their relationship and lovemaking. She sensitively demonstrates how light bondage can actually release shame and free a lover from overthinking.
The dialogue is delightful. (“‘If you walk out on me after this, I’ll shred your library card.’ It was such an empty and endearing threat. Arthur had to pause, letting Gabriel’s vulnerability roll over him.”)
In the library, Gabriel confronts the town’s bigotry with surprising delicacy. While he tries to teach the town children’s other points of view, he also insists that the angry parents need to be heard.
Sleigh Ride is a fun romance at the same time it hits strong emotional notes. A very satisfying read.
AARON by J.P. Barnaby: 5+ Stars
With delicate skill, JP Barnaby draws us into the lives of sensitive, intelligent young men who strive to create functional lives. Aaron, a college freshman, has retreated into isolation following a violent attack. His burgeoning friendship with a deaf classmate gradually reconnects him to a healthier lifestyle, and an emotionally frayed psychiatrist is the first professional to directly address his PTSD.JP Barnaby demonstrates a thorough understanding of the acute vulnerability that can follow a tragedy, and her satisfying novel offers kindness and hope for the wounded.
ALL SOULS TRILOGY by Deborah Harkness: A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES, SHADOW OF NIGHT, and THE BOOK OF LIFE: 5 Stars
LOLLIPOP by Amy Lane: 5+ Stars
Satisfying.I haven’t read a story of Amy Lane’s that doesn’t satisfy my appetite for complex, endearing characters and struggles bravely endured and overcome. And she’s fun. How can you not enjoy descriptions like “Skinny uncoordinated people who run like an epileptic ostrich” or “You could bounce a quarter off his mother’s ass—but that didn’t mean you could melt an ice cube on it.” And she punches the heart with casual remarks like “Sometimes I think God misses when he shoots.”
In LOLLIPOP, Miguel and Ezra are the Candy Man’s current fix-it project. Both guys have issues, and watching their love develop pulls us from one page to the next. At one point, Miguel comments on how Ezra “came out good” despite being “raised by snakes,” referring to Ezra’s bigoted father. In one of the most striking statements of the novel, Ezra replies, “He was mean to me, and I just… it felt like the people he was mean to, we should be on the same side.”
Total buy-in for me. With a keen understanding of the human capacity for both suffering and bravery, Amy Lane has once again offered us hope and love.
BAGGAGE by Jeff Erno: 4 Stars
Jeff Erno’s Baggage is an emotionally complex novel filled with heart.After Chandler’s parents die, his daily life revolves around the needs of his sometimes emotionally violent brother, who has suffered a stroke. Chandler has lost his love and his job of many years and now works as an editor from home. Though Chandler is lonely, he is not a self-sacrificing victim. He is strong, makes healthy choices, and is proud to have paid for his trailer home.
Then Marcus moves into the trailer park. The handsome, kind young man opens up Chandler’s world. Chandler begins to enjoy a full life, and then Marcus’ past rears up to smack them.
In Baggage, Jeff Erno offers validation and hope for the costs and benefits of serving as caregivers. I especially love his dedication to the unsung heroes and the need to overcome the stigma of mental illness in order to attain better treatment for the suffering.
INCLINATION by Mia Kerrick: 4 Stars
LOVE AND MURDER by W.S. Long: 3.5 Stars
THE NEPHILIM’S PROMISE by W. S. Long: 3.5 Stars
The Nephilim’s Promise introduces an intriguing world of modern issues, ancient history, angels, and Nephilim. Eli is the honorable offspring of humans and angels. In ancient times, he makes a promise that brings him to the present. He helps Joshua, an 18-yeary-old young man who is homeless for revealing he’s gay. Joshua is determined to finish his last year of high school but doesn’t always make the best decisions.While romance is secondary to the weight of The Nephilim’s Promise, this novel is enjoyable and has a satisfying conclusion.
THE SHATTERED DOOR by Brandon Witt: 5+ Stars
In The Shattered Door, Brooke Morrison needs every bit of his considerable humor, resiliency and keen understanding of human nature to face down his hometown’s bigotry.Several years earlier, Brooke had left his unhappy home to obtain a degree. He has since married a good man and is enjoying a career working with challenging teens when his difficult mother has a stroke. While his husband finishes teaching school for the year, Brooke returns to El Dorado alone. He reconnects with friends and family while he struggles to care for a mother who doesn’t want help and to forgive people who aren’t sorry for their cruel judgments.
Through Brooke’s experiences, author Brandon Witt reveals his own integrity and faith in a God who is much bigger than small-minded bigotry.
The Shattered Door is an intelligent, classy, beautifully written novel.
HELL & HIGH WATER by Charlie Cochet: 4 Stars
I love comic relief mixed with suspense, and Hell and High Water displays Charlie Cochet’s mastery of weaving hilarity with sexual tension and danger.A virus that was spread during the Viet Nam war has created Therians, a were-type species that necessitates an entirely new branch of law enforcement called the “Thirds.”
With his fighting skill, intelligence and especially his psychological intuition, Dex makes an excellent human Defense Agent for the Thirds. He tries to ignore his desire for his Therian partner, who is unwillingly entertained by Dex’s irreverent wit as they encounter one tense situation after another.
“Hell and High Water” is the first in a series, but Ms. Cochet provides a satisfying sense of story completion even though its mystery and suspense is carried forward into the next novel.
FAVORITE SON by Will Freshwater: 4 stars
SAVING CROFTON HALL by Rebecca Cohen: 4 Stars
Saving Crofton Hall is a stand alone, romantically satisfying story set in present times, but Rebecca Cohen drops enough intriguing hints to hook me into reading about the previous Croftons.The Earl of Crofton (Ben) and Ashley are both hardworking, smart guys who want to make a financial success of Crofton Hall. They care passionately about the Hall, and the details of their work on the place are interesting. I like how they build a mature friendship before venturing into a (hot) romance, and they don’t hesitate to support their families. An enjoyable story.
BENEATH THE STAIN by Amy Lane: 5+ Stars
Amy Lane never disappoints. She has once again revealed emotional intelligence in Beneath the Stain. We follow the members of the band “Outbreak Monkey” and their close friends from high school through adulthood, and we adore them every step of the way. Our hearts are tugged as the band members channel hurt, tragedy and love into their music.This endearing group matures as best they can, and we grow a little wiser along with them. “Beneath the Stain” is especially satisfying when the characters dramatically challenge cruelty and bigotry.
HELWIN by Kate Lockridge: 4 Stars
Helwyn starts a unique, smoothly-written series based on old urban legend songs. Nate is a Helwyn, created and empowered to hunt a serial killer demon. Molly is the sister of one of his victims, and her feisty determination to catch the killer interrupts Nate’s solemn investigation. They learn to align their goals, and the beginnings of their romance lead us on to the next book in the series, where the hunt for the serial killer will continue.
BLUE DAYS by Mary Calmes: 4 Stars
I HEART BOSTON TERRIERS by Rick R. Reed: 4 Stars
An emergency room doctor and a cop are forced to solve a “Deadly Secret” involving murder and paranormal elements. The pace is relentless, the paranormal aspect is unique and intelligently written, and we’re given a few nasty surprises along with some very nice eroticism. Well done, Ms. Brighton! Looking forward to the next in the series.A guy’s sister convinces him to adopt a dog, and then a smart, nice guy helps with the adoption. Rick R. Reed’s characters are realistic and likable. A delightful, quick escape with a fun romance and a sweet little dog.
MATCHES by Rick R. Reed: 5 Stars