Book Review│Batten Down the Belfry by Diane Kelly

Whitney Whitaker and her cousin, Buck, are back at it flipping houses in this fourth installment of Kelly’s house-flipper mysteries. This time they have their eyes set on an old church. Whitney is drawn to the abandoned church with its beautiful stained glass and is eager to make the abandoned space come alive again. They want it to become an entertainment venue.

Only, the owner of the farm next door, Nolan Sibley, is not too supportive of their plans and asserts a legal claim over the church property that puts Whitney’s and Buck’s flipping dreams in jeopardy. As the legalities play out, Whitney and Buck decide to move ahead with renovations despite the harsh welcome they received from Nolan– greetings with a cattle prod and a church full of horses! Things only get worse when Whitney’s cat, Sawdust, finds a body in the bell tower. It is the body of the man who had only recently delivered their replacement windows.

Whitney’s boyfriend, Colin, is assigned the case, but it becomes a complex case to solve after a second murder occurs nearby. This mystery will definitely keep you guessing until the very end while still maintaining the cozy-mystery feeling that the earlier books have done so well.

Book Information

Batten Down the Belfry by Diane Kelly will be released on February 22, 2022 from St. Martin’s Press with ISBN 9781250816030. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review│The Island House by Amanda Brittany

Get ready to be immersed in a atmospheric, Gothic-esque tale of a young girl who is struggling to remember the early years of her life and the lives of two siblings, Verity and Hugh, living in their strange island home with their ventriloquist/magician father who has hired a trail of nannies to care for them, only they never last too long…

In the vein of And Then There Were None, Alice arrives on the island following the hit and run death of her mysterious father. She is eager to solve a family mystery and purposefully travels back to her family’s old home, now a hotel. Only, once she arrives everything falls apart. Guests start being murdered one by one and a storm sweeps in, trapping the survivors in the hotel. This creepy and anxiety-filled setting lends well to the mental state of the main character as she navigates surviving as well as uncovering her family’s story as well as their lives.

The story moves from the present day back to the story of Hugh and Verity and their upbringing at Flynn House. Their story lends well to the creepy, dark feeling of the hotel, the island and the murder mystery unfolding before us.

This was definitely one I could not out done and eagerly finished in one sitting after I put my kids to sleep. It’s a perfect locked-room mystery for a quiet Friday night with a glass or two of wine.

Book Information

The Island House by Amanda Brittany was released on August 11, 2021 with ISBN 9780008362898 from HQ and HQ Digital, an imprint of Harper Collins UK. This review corresponds to an electronic galley supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review: Our Trespasses by Michael Cordell

I had the pleasure of reviewing Michael Cordell’s first novel, Contempt, earlier this year. I was excited to receive this new galley not only because I had enjoyed his earlier book, but also because it was a paranormal thriller and it’s just the perfect time of year for that kind of read.

Cordell spends the first couple of chapters setting up the premise of his book. There are two brothers: Matthew and Jake. They share a special psychic connection even though Matthew had chosen to leave Nebraska and make a life for himself in New York, but has found it to be a dismal existence in recent years with dead-end jobs that cause him to struggle. The bond isn’t severed despite their distance and seems to become heightened when Jake dies, alerting Matthew that his brother is dead and has to come home in order to face his past and the mess that his brother has left behind.

While Matthew had been struggling in New York, Jake had been choosing a difficult life that came with very powerful enemies. Once Matthew returns home, he really begins to come into his own and is determined to right the wrongs of his brother while trying to solve his murder. He also wants to make a mends with his mother and Casey, the girl he left behind all those years ago. It also becomes quite clear the further Matthew delves into the mess his brother left, that his brother is in fact his real life evil twin who is paying for his life of pain in an even more hellish afterlife…and no matter how hard he tries to distance himself from their connection, it only seems to come back stronger leaving you with an unsettling, anxious feeling through out this thriller.

As the story unfolds and the action amps up, Cordell makes for many well-written, uber creepy scenes that show the dark side of humanity even in the most pious of people– the confession made by the Catholic priest made my jaw drop. Overall, it is a interesting take on the supernaturalness of sibling bonds, especially twin bonds, and the power of forgiveness and redemption. I finished the book with a few days and had I not had kids that do not allow for much free time, I probably could have finished this in a night that is how invested I was in the novel from the very beginning. It was a creative take on old themes and I enjoyed it.

Book Information

Our Trespasses by Michael Cordell was released on October 15, 2021 from TCK Publishing with ISBN 978-1631611537. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review │Peter Green and the Unliving Academy by Angelina Allsop

“Fourteen-year-old Peter Green woke up knowing only three things: the proper way to put on a tie, that lemon custard was disgusting, and that he was dead.”

Peter has died and he has no memory of it or his life before his untimely death. He has found himself with a ticket to a special school of dead orphans just like himself: Mrs. Battisworth’s Academy and Haven for Unliving Boys and Girls. There he finds many kids just like him– dead and forgetful of their life before. Now, as supernatural beings, all of the children are figuring our what their powers are as is Peter, but Peter can not seem to shake the feeling of having forgotten something extremely important. Is is someone that he loved? Is it someone who was important to him in life? Or, is it something more sinister…like someone that he has forgotten is in serious danger?

The students at Mrs. Battiworth’s won’t be allowed to have their memories back until the graduate, however. Peter’s adventure unfolds with magical creatures, teachers who are snakes and enchanted objects like the chalk…that BITES!Together with his unique group of friends, Pete is off for an adventure through his life in purgatory or is it his death? Either way, this novel is full of magic and adventure.

Even though Pete is 14 years old at his death, the character reads as several years younger than that. The novel does not explore big coming-of-age things or even romance that older middle and younger high schoolers tend to gravitate towards, but rather, it focuses on the friendships and the experiences that Pete and his friends undertake in the afterlife. Peter Green and the Unliving Academy is best suited for early middle school to upper elementary, in this teacher’s opinion.

Be prepared for a large cast of characters and a lot of action throughout the novel. Even the slow parts weren’t all that slow and this made for a nice Friday night read.

Book Information

Peter Green and the Unliving Academy by Angelina Allsop was released on November 18, 2018 by TCK Publishing with ISBN 1631610643. This review corresponds to a paper galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review│The Lights of Sugarberry Cove

As a teacher who has survived virtual school and as a real estate professional who navigated her own buy/sell in this crazy housing market, I can safely say I am tired. I am looking forward to a simple summer with my kids and a very long break from teaching. I am also looking forward to those summery, fun reads that take you to new places that have that coziness to them.

The Lights of Sugarberry Cove takes us to Alabama and to Sugarberry Cove, a lakefront community that holds a yearly lantern festival. It is a lush and magical backdrop of the story that unfolds for us. Sadie Way Scott, a content creator, almost drowned in the lake years ago and has avoided coming home since, but circumstances push her back to Sugarberry Cove. She has spent the last eight years running from her accident and searching for meaning in her life.

It is a stark contrast from her sister, Leala Clare, who is married to her workaholic husband and a mom to her toddler-son, Tucker. She is the antithesis of her own mother, being a stay-at-home mom to her young son who may even slightly air on the side of over protective. She is questioning her own life choices as she finds herself unfilled and unhappy in her marriage.

Susannah Scott, their mother, is the over of the bed and breakfast where Leala almost drowned years ago. She has put her business before her own daughters constantly and it has caused a divide among the women because of it. However, Susannah has also had a recent heart attack which has left her reviewing her own life and perhaps pushing her to a life lesson: the importance of family over business.

All three women are questioning their life choices and what they want to do to move forward as they face the reality of lost dreams, bitterness among family and the burn of old love. This steamy story is set in a cozy, summer spot that grabs you from the moment you start the book. Just picture a southern lake, the mysterious magic of a humid southern summer and a lantern festival where Lady Laurel of the Lake will grant your wishes if you believe.

Step into the shimmering magic of Sugarberry Cove with Heather Webber’s latest novel.

Book Information

The Lights of Sugarberry Cove by Heather Webber will be released on July 20, 2021 from Macmilian/Tor: The Forge Imprint with ISBN 9781250774620. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review│Miss Austen by Gill Hornby

Although a fictional recreation, Miss Austen gives us an explanation as to a question that have puzzled Austen academics for years: why did her younger sister burn all of her letters after her death?

Hornby creates for us a believable adventure that centers around these letters and the life of Jane’s sister, Cassandra. We are taken through the years before and after Jane’s death as Cassandra settles into a life of routine in a rural English cottage. She goes on to visit a family member at a vicarage that is about to be cleared out for its new occupant. The mother of the vicarage has in her possession letters that were written between Jane and Cassandra and they are ones that she prefer not to give to the world.

Cassandra takes possession of the letters and begins to read them as she is drawn back in time to the events and emotions that are present in the letters. Hornby beautifully weaves together the fictional retelling of the letters with events and the loves of both of the Austen girls. While the plot is not outlandish and over the top, Horny has a talent for creating realism in her historical fiction that lifts the family of Austen off of the page, endearing them to the reader.

This was a charming take to read that made for an intriguing take on the famous Austen letters and a plausible reason as to why Cassandra chose to destroy them rather than allow the world to have them. Any Austen fan will love to curl up with this well-written novel as they daydream about bonnets, pinafores and endless English county sides.

Book Information

Miss Austen by Gill Hornby was released on April 7, 2020 from Flatiron Books with ISBN 978-1250252203. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review│The French Paradox by Ellen Crosby

This is the 11th book in Crosby’s Wine Country Mystery Series…and my oh my, does this one have it all!

Lucie Montgomery runs the vineyard that we have fallen in love with throughout this series. She is still engaged to Quinn and in this segment, both of her siblings have returned home for the season. Mia takes the front seat in this installment when she becomes suspected of murdering a man found in the Vineyard after he had trashed a local gardener’s methods. Her grandfather is due back to celebrate Cricket’s 90th birthday and with his arrival, the past and present begin to collide.

This all swirls around the intrigue that has been created around a very famous Jackie…that’s right! Let’s say for a minute, that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, had had a lover before she met JFK and when she had that secret lover, someone had kept a few journals about the affair and now someone had their hands on it! All of this had been set into motion because Jackie, while study abroad years ago and having a fling, also bought small portraits of Marie Antoinette by a little-known 18th century female artist and those paintings were now going to be sold. Then, when Lucie’s grandfather visits from France, he confirms his knowledge of the journal and is also holding onto a huge secret of his own, casting this cozy mystery into the fringes of this sub-genre. A mix of the lore of Camelot and powerful, rich people with secrets that are capable of undoing generations if all goes to plan…

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am eager to pick up the ones that have come before it in this series. This was great as a standalone novel as I had no prior knowledge of the series, but it also made me want to go back and delve into the earlier books. This was a great read on a weekend when I wanted an escape into a world of wine, intrigue and people with a lot of money and too many problems. If you are a fan of the Agatha Raisin series on Acorn TV, you will love this book.

Book Information

The French Paradox by Ellen Crosby will be released on April 6, 2021 from Severn House with ISBN 9780727891013. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review│Contempt by Michael Cordell

Thane Banning is a former real estate attorney who has spent the last five years of his life in prison, some of it on death row over a murder he claims he did not commit. Released on a technicality, Banning is determined to clear his name and prove that he did not murder Assistant District Attorney Lauren McCoy, that they are claiming he did. However, life on the outside is proving just as hard as it was for him on the inside. The victim’s father wants him dead and everyone he comes into contact with are either scared of him or want him to pay for his crime since he was released on a technicality and not because he cleared his name. Banning is up against a lot as he tries to navigate his life after prison and prove his innocence.

Then, he gets a call from his old jail friend and fellow ex-inmate, Skunk. He has been charged with the murder of retired police Detective Ted Gruber who also happens to be the officer that arrested Thane on the night that he was charged with the murder of Lauren McCoy. Despite having no experience in trying murder cases as an attorney, Banning decides to take on Skunk’s case which is where this legal thriller really takes off.

Not only does the powers shift with Banning’s taking on of Skunk’s case, but the DA that put Banning away for McCoy’s murder is not only trying Skunk’s case, but is also up for re-election. District Attorney Stone’s re-election, however, is not looking too promising as he won his first election on the back of winning Banning’s murder trial years before. Stone becomes obsessed with winning Skunk’s murder conviction to win public favor and thus, his re-election as district attorney.

Alongside the murder trial, there is also the personal life of Thane Banning. He is trying to put prison behind him, clear his name as well as navigate his relationship with his wife that he hasn’t seen in three years because he wanted her to move on from him. All of which is extremely difficult to do when you have the general public believing that you got away with murder and have the victim’s father out to ruin you because he wants justice for the loss of his daughter. All spun together, this makes for a well-paced legal thriller that will keep you turning the page.

Cordell is a trained screenwriter and it shows throughout the novel. He is also a playwright and novelist, and has sold three screenplays to Hollywood including “Beeper,” which became an action-thriller starting Harvey Keitel. He has an extraordinary ability is casting a scene that yo can easily visualize as you read. Contempt does not disappoint!

Book Information

Contempt by Michael Cordell was released on July 27, 2020 by TCK Publishing with ISBN 1631610805. This review corresponds to an advanced paper galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review│The Guilty Die Twice by Don Hartshorn

At the heart of this legal thriller, are the family dynamics between two brothers: Travis and Jake Lynch. The two have been at odds for ten years and even their mother nor their wives can seem to get the two to make a mends. However, outside events are going to bring these two feuding brothers together whether they like it or not. Fate has an ironic sense of humor when the death penalty is what makes the two brothers face each other after being torn apart for years over the very same thing.

Years ago, Travis begins to turn his back on his privileged upbringing when he was working on a capital murder case. He goes so far as to even hide evidence to get the killer out of facing the death penalty. This is his turning point where he becomes a virtue-singling jerk bent on living in poverty and taking on any and all pro-bono work at the expense of his family and marriage. In stark juxtaposition, his brother Jake becomes a staunchly masculine character that is prone to heavy drinking and who has maintained his weekly lunch dates with his parents while Travis as remained distant and obtuse. Thrown into the mix is their successful sister, Claire as well as their wives, Shirley and Rita and crime reporter, Christine Morton who are all well-written characters who help drive the plot of the story with their own bits of drama and manipulations.

The feuding brothers are reunited in court under a drug-deal gone wrong. Dubbed “The Rich Kid Murders,” Jake acts as prosecutor wanting to put behind bars the sociopath that killed two “rich kids” and left a third one paralyzed, Sam Park. Travis in contrast, eagerly takes on Sam as a client because he feels indebted to Sam because he failed Sam’s brother years ago. We learn early on that both Sam and his brother are sociopathic killers who gleefully committed their crimes which seems odd since Sam’s parents are described as being sympathetic to him, but yet still managed to raise not one, but two cold-blooded sons.

Hartshorn weaves an intricate crime scene with a killer that is not overly discoverable at first and casts it among a group of well-written characters and family dynamics that are not only believable but interesting in their own right. Overall, Hartshorn creates an in-depth legal thriller that will leave you wanting more after each page. It is well-paced and filled with scenes that will keep you reading– there were many where the tension between characters, especially the two brothers became almost palpable.

Book Information

The Guilty Die Twice by Don Hartshorn was released on March 1, 2020 from TCK Publishing with ISBN 1631610732.This review corresponds to a paper galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review │ The Nun’s Betrothal by Ida Curtis

Anyone else feeling the pressures lately of the pandemic? I know it is getting the better of me. It is very hard to be buying and selling a home while teaching from home at the same time with two babies underfoot. There are days where I just want to scream because I feel myself getting pulled in a zillion directions. I must have repeated over a hundred times, “I just need 20 minutes to myself” to my husband…daily.

When I finally started to get those 20 minutes daily, I knew I needed more of an escape so I picked up Ida Curtis’s The Nun’s Betrothal. I was immediately transported to ninth-century France where Gilda, is just about to take her vows to enter the convent. A long cry from my modern working-mom life in New Jersey!

However, just as Sister Gilda is about to take her vows, she becomes tasked, along with the handsome Lord Justin, to investigate the marriage of Count Cedric and Lady Mariel for evidence of the need for an annulment. Together, they uncover that Lady Mariel believes that she actually married Cedric’s half-brother, Phillip, at the their marriage ceremony and that Cedric is planning to marry Lady Emma once the annulment is granted.

Rather quickly, Gilda and Justin are thrown head first into the dramas and struggles of courtly life as they try to sort out the truth while fighting to ensure that everyone gets their happy ending. Curtis shines in her mystery of being able to set the mood of a historical period well. It brought to life the court of King Louis, the Pious and really illuminated the mystery that Gilda and Justin were working to solve. Along the way, the two do fall in love and there is a separate romance that develops between them.

Unlike other romance pieces, Curtis takes a different approach and rather than having an overbearing father or even the King, disapprove of their match, she rather has the struggle be Gilda’s desire for her own freedom to be what causes tension between the two. Gilda has to decide if she wants the freedom that life as a nun would give her in terms of her independence or if she will too find that in Justin and in true love. I enjoyed the breaking away from traditional romance tropes and that Curtis allows her characters to marry for love or decide to not marry at all…which realistically probably would not have occurred many times during this time period, but it was a fresh approach overall and if you’re also like me and can do without the bodice-ripping genre of romance…then you will enjoy this novel.

The Nun’s Betrothal is the second book of a series with Song of Isabel being the first. Ida Curtis was a Connecticut native that went on to call both Canada and Seattle her home. She was a retired college advisor and a polio survivor. She resided in Seattle with her husband Jerry until her passing in January 2020.

Book Information

The Nun’s Betrothal by Ida Curtis was released on July 7, 2020 by She Writes Press under ISBN 1631526855. This review corresponds to an advanced paper galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.