Saturday, November 14, 2015

Book Review #6: A Bramble House Christmas

Title: A Bramble House Christmas
Author: CJ Carmichael
Published: October 26th, 2015
Page Count: 172
Price (eBook): ~ $3.99
Format Read: NetGalley PDF
Genre: Romance
Date Read: November 8th - November 14th, 2015
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Recommendation: Highly Recommended

Synopsis: When Finn Conrad finds out that his father bequeathed a large sum of money to the nurse who cared for him in his last few weeks, he is convinced that she must be up to something sinister. His mother and sisters urge him to visit Montana, where she'll be spending the Christmas holiday, to find out more about this woman who seemingly manipulated their father into giving her his money.

Willa Fairchild is just a mother struggling to protect her six-year-old son from the world. Now that he's been declared cancer-free, she knows that she ought to release her grip on him, but it's difficult. Since his father left shortly following his diagnosis, it's been difficult for both of them. 

Finn no longer believes in love, following his parents' divorce. He comes to Marietta, Montana under his nom de plume, hiding his identity from a woman he believes had sinister intentions with his father. Once he meets her, however, it becomes apparent that she's nothing like what he expected. 

My Thoughts: I loved everything about this book. It's one of my favorites that I've read this year, and I will happily recommend it to all the family and friends who enjoy romance novels. 

It's no big secret that I'm not generally a fan of romance novels. I've read quite a bit of Nora Roberts, but little else captures my attention. Most of the time I find the heroes to be weak and the heroines simpering and pathetic. This is not a genre that I generally pick up, but for some reason this book stood out to me (in spite of the fact that I don't like the cover at all). When I do pick up a romance novel, I don't often finish it, so the fact that I not only read this, but finished it and loved it is saying something to me.

Willa's character is real. She's soft and warm, but we want our romantic heroines to be soft. We're not looking for a strong female lead who's going to sweep in and save the day. If we did, we'd be reading a different genre. 

Her concern for her son is touching, and Scout's story -- not to mention the fact that he is a key character in the book and not simply a plot device! -- tugged at my heart strings. His condition forced Willa's character to develop independent of the romantic storyline, which I very much like. Kids are often little more than props in romantic stories (which is one reason I don't often finish them!) but in this case I felt like Scout was a fully-developed character himself, which was lovely. 

Finn is masculine without being macho. His manliness isn't shoved into our faces. He's sensitive to his mother and sisters' needs while the relationships are still kept realistic and varied. They aren't a perfect, happy family without any problems in their relationships, and I liked that about him. I loved the fact that he was an artist, because this, too, is not typical romance novel fare. He's not a man in uniform, and his occupation isn't a prop to make him more attractive to the reader (or to the heroine, for that matter).

I fell a little bit in love with both of them, and Ms. Carmichael did an amazing job of making them both appealing. Most romance novels I've read start out with one character being an unappealing ass while the other is the partner they've always wanted. One then has to work their way toward the other. In this novel, however, the conflict is more external (the inheritance money) and less to do with the characters' personalities.

The magical touches in the book just made it that much more appealing.

I will definitely be looking at the other books in this series! I loved all the characters I was introduced to!

Highly Recommended!

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This is my honest opinion of the novel.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Book Review #5: Flesh and Blood by Simon Cheshire

Flesh and Blood by Simon Cheshire

Title: Flesh and Blood
Author: Simon Cheshire
Published: March 2nd, 2015
Page Count: 336
Price (eBook): ~ $8.89
Format Read: NetGalley PDF
Genre: Horror
Date Read: November 6th - November 8th, 2015
Rating: 2/5 Stars
Recommendation: Not Recommended

Summary:  Sam Hunter's family has always struggled until his father, a musician, sells a song and suddenly they have millions of pounds to allow them to move to an affluent neighborhood. The family moves into a large house near an estate (in England, an "Estate" is like the American "Projects") and they meet their new neighbors, the Greenhills. But why does everyone they meet have a thin line of yellow mucous on their upper lips? And why do his parents seem so cheerful all of a sudden? Everyone around him seems strange, and Sam believes that the Greenhills must be up to something. He begins to investigate, using all of his skills as a journalist, but he never expects what he actually finds.

My Thoughts: Ugh. I hated it. Not so much as to give it a one-star rating, but this book was quite awful.

To begin with, the book starts out with several pages (I didn't count) of a massive info-dump that details the life that Sam and his family had before they moved, through to the journey to their new home, and details of how his father got the money. All of this information is redundant, and the reader doesn't need to read it in order to get into the book. This is the sort of thing that I hate in a novel and I hope that when I finally begin writing mine, I won't do this myself. 

I won't ever read another book by Simon Cheshire because of this one annoyance. It's death for an author in my books.

The second thing that bothered me is that the author made a show of being English. I've lived in England, and I know the slang pretty well as a result, but I felt like the entire book was anglicized to the point that it was difficult to read as an American. And I mean that it wasn't just an annoyance, but that I almost couldn't get through it because I had to use context to figure out terminology I hadn't encountered when living in England or enjoying British literature in books, movies, and television. 

This is the second book I've read with this problem recently. 

The story simply didn't make up for these things. It was an alright story, when it moved, but it didn't move quickly, and once the author reached the climax (another one who hit the timing right, so he gets kudos there!), the book actually slowed down again. Action around the climax was slow moving and, for me, boring. It didn't entertain and I wasn't impressed with it at all. 

I have to admit that the ending was something of a redeeming quality, as it was the best-written part of the book (maybe the author wrote this part first!) and it startled me more than most horror novels manage to startle me. Unfortunately it wasn't enough to save this book, and though it might have brought it from a 1 to a 2 star rating, I don't plan on reading something from this author again.

Not recommended!

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This is my honest opinion of the novel.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Book Review #4: The Beast of Barcroft, by Bill Schweigart

The Beast of Barcroft, by Bill Schweigart

Title: The Beast of Barcroft
Published: November 17th, 2015
Page Count: 202
Price (eBook): ~ $2.99
Format Read: NetGalley PDF
Genre: Horror
Date Read: October 29th - November 6th, 2015
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Recommendation: Recommended

Summary: Ben McKelvie moves into a nice neighborhood in the suburbs with his fiance, but he doesn't realize that he's moving next door to an animal hoarder. Madeline feeds the wild animals, and her yard is unruly. Birds poop on Ben's car, rats infest the neighborhood whenever the lawn is mowed, and the yard is a pit. The neighbors complain about her property, but once she dies, animals begin to pick them off one by one. What is it that's stalking Barcroft, with its glowing eyes? Is it really the mountain lion, the rats, or a wolf? Ben and his little team of believers will find out!

My Thoughts: Another book that I enjoyed, I still must note that this book could still do with some editing and that I don't feel it's ready for publication on the 17th. The author is fond of the word "suddenly" and several actions appear to be very rushed, like Mr. Schweigart doesn't know quite how to make certain transitions (like a particularly awkward kiss in the middle of the novel).

In particular I was happy to see a lesbian couple in a novel, and to see their relationship treated as no more "outstanding" than a heterosexual relationship. I'd like to see more of this.

Both females in the book were strong, stand-up women with good heads on their shoulders (in completely different ways). Schweigart writes women the way that I like to read them, and these two didn't sit back for any man, no matter how chauvinistic both Ben and Richard behaved throughout the book.

The novel actually scared me (which is hard to do with the amount of horror reading I've done) and I jumped several times when interrupted during reading this book. While I'd hardly say that it's at the level of Stephen King (as the description suggests), it definitely frightened me, and that's what I'm looking for in a good horror book!


I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This is my honest opinion of the novel.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Book Review #3: The Cracked Spine, by Paige Shelton

Title: The Cracked Spine
Author: Paige Shelton
Published: March 19, 2016
Page Count: 320 (Hardcover)
Price (Hardcover): ~ $19.25
Price (eBook): ~ $12.99
Format Read: NetGalley PDF
Series: A Scottish Bookshop Mysteries
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Date Read: October 27th-October 29th, 2015
Rating: 3/5 Stars
Recommendation: Undetermined (See Review)

Summary: Delaney Nichols needs some adventure in her life! She decides to take a job working for a bookshop in Edinborough, Scotland, but is surprised to find that tragedy strikes the small bookshop family nearly as soon as she joins it! Now she must solve the mystery of who killed her boss's sister.

My Thoughts: Ugh. This is going to be a tough book for me to review. I've only finished it a moment ago and I feel unfulfilled while still compelled to read any future books in this series or by this author.

I want to be fair in this review while also being honest about my reading experience. In general, I give books two ratings: A star rating and a recommendation. The former is intellectual, usually based on the book's merits (though sometimes I might push a 3-star book to 5-stars if I particularly enjoyed it, even if its merits don't deserve it). The latter is an emotional response to the book. Is it something that I'd recommend to a frient?

In this case, the writing is good and the editing excellent. In terms of actual content, the book is a solid three-stars when compared to other popular cozies that I've read. 

The book would be much more readable if Ms. Shelton wrote dialog in plain English. Instead, she attempts to imitate the Scottish accent by writing dialect (including some Scots) into the dialog. This makes it more difficult to read, to the point that I got regular headaches while reading the novel and had to put it down in order to avoid them.

Readers are capable of inventing the accent in their own imaginations and do not need the author to do it for them. (That being said, some -- such as my husband -- love dialect in dialog. I'm just not one of them, and it's considered poor form for writers, besides).

This was the biggest drawback from this novel for me, but it was far from the only drawback that I experienced.

The book starts off slowly, with too much description of "what it's like to be an American in the UK." It would seem that the author has had her own experience with this (since her descriptions were adequate), but as someone who also has lived in the United Kingdom, I felt someone insulted by Delaney's response to the cabs and the accent. For a clearly intelligent character, she struggled with culture, and I was glad when the mention of "G-Forces" (in the car) finally stopped. 

Description has its place, but this book could have been cut by about two-thirds if only the unnecessary description was removed from it to leave the reader with more story and plot.

I also found it disturbing that the clues of his mystery didn't seem to point to its conclusion. Perhaps the author is attempting to avoid the formula, but the formula works for a reason (it tends to be more engaging to the reader). If one followed clues throughout the novel to reach a particular conclusion, we were thrown off-balance with the climax (which I felt came just a bit too late in the book, feeling rushed).

My opinion is that Ms. Shelton should have focused more on the pacing of her story throughout, and less on descriptions of the Scottish countryside. If she can do this with future novels, I'd happily read the next book in this series (which leaves me feeling conflicted on whether or not I recommend the novel in the first place).

The characters were well-developed and mostly likable (one reason I so enjoy books set in Scotland and Ireland is that they remind me of my time living in the UK and how generally hospitable these people were compared to the English!), but I found it someone strange that the majority of them were described as "older." Most of the characters -- except for the protagonist and Hamlet (one of the workers at the bookstore) -- were over the age of 50. 

While I appreciate diversity in all fiction (including books and movies), I felt that this was somewhat less "diverse" and more focused on the elder characters than on a good mix of characters from various backgrounds and ages. This may be setting the stage for another book in this series, which I would find believable.

All in all, my favorite character was Elias, and I hated the way that Delaney used him and Aggie, but have to confess to having liked Delaney well enough to give another book featuring this character a shot.

I read the book in about two days, which says something for someone who usually only reads about one book every week and a half. It will be released in March of next year and can be pre-ordered on Amazon.

Recommended for very patient readers.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This is my honest opinion of the novel.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Wishlist Wednesday #1: Focalink Double Alto C Ocarina

I've been doing a little bit of writing lately about how and why to make a holiday wishlist, so I thought that since I didn't have any overwhelming inspiration for today, that I'd write about what's on my wishlist. Every week I'll choose one (relevant) item from my wishlist and post it here (with a link to Amazon, of course!).

I'd love for my readers to participate by adding their own most wished for items in the comments. If anybody's interested enough, I'll add a linky to next week's Wishlist Wednesday. Make sure to include a link to your wishlist if you choose to participate!

Wishlist Wednesday at Coffee, Books, and Music

This week, I'd like to share with you the Double Chamber Alto C Ocarina from Focalink that has been on my wishlist for about a year.

This blog's main focus is on books because they're easy to write about, but its secondary focus is on music. I've been playing the ocarina for about two years now, and I've found real peace and joy in musical expression. I purchased the Focalink Double Soprano G last year, and I love this little instrument -- but prefer to play in the key of C. 

Other ocarina players advised me to buy a key I didn't currently own (since I already had two Alto Cs and one Soprano C). I've never been happy that I followed this advice, in spite of how much I love my two Soprano G ocarinas (one double and one six-hole).

Of all the things I hope to receive off of my wishlist before the end of the year, this is at the top of my list.

Wishlist Wednesday: Focalink Double Alto C Ocarina

If you'd like to see the other things on my Amazon Wishlist, then check out the link below.

My Amazon Wishlist

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Book Review #2: Frozen Charlotte, by Alex Bell

Frozen Charlotte, by Alex Bell

Title: Frozen Charlotte
Author: Alex Bell
Published: January 5th, 2015
Page Count: 352
Format Read: NetGalley PDF
Series: Red Eye
Genre: Young Adult Horror
Date Read: October 27th, 2015
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Recommendation: Recommended

Summary: Sophie and her friend Jay think it's innocent enough when it starts. What harm can a Ouija app on a cell phone do, anyway? But when the lights go out in the cafe and Sophie sees the figure of a girl in a long dress standing on one of the cafe's tables -- right before a woman starts to scream from the kitchen -- things take a dark turn. Can the ouija board, in fact, release something evil from beyond the grave? She's going to find out, whether she wants to or not!

My Thoughts: Let me tell you, it's been a long time since I read an entire book in one day -- including the little 70 page novellas I've downloaded free from Amazon. This book grabbed me, sucked me in, and held me until I read the last page. I came to the end shuddering with horror -- which is exactly what I like when reading a horror novel!

The book is atmospheric -- but then you might expect it to be, set on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. It reminded me in some ways of stories like The Woman in White, The Good Son, and Orphan. When a book sucks me into the setting with its outstanding atmosphere, it's harder to put it down, and results in a faster, more entertaining read.

Considering that I'm making a concerted effort to read for pleasure at this point in my life, this book hit the spot!

I have to admit that I thought I'd figured the book out -- that it was something similar to My Sweet Audrina -- and I was waiting to be proven right. Ms. Bell successfully pulled me through to the very end without spoiling the results for me. How wonderful!

If you're looking for a spooky read, this is a great choice. It includes classic components of great horror: Atmosphere, an item commonly connected to phobias (dolls), excellent characters, decent writing, and a fast pace. The book never slows down, doesn't include unnecessary wordiness, and though written simply (for younger readers), the ease with which I read this encouraged me to continue by picking up the next book on my TBR stack -- tonight.

To note: The writing could do with some improvement. At times choppy, the flow in the beginning of the book requires some improvement, but it got better as the book went on. Either that, or I was so enthralled with it that I ceased to care. It's well-enough edited: Few grammatical errors and no spelling errors that I noticed. A copy editor could deal with some of the leaps in the novel, but they aren't significant enough to bother me -- and I'm a tough reviewer, in general.


I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This is my honest opinion of the novel.

I receive a small commission on purchases made through Amazon. If you click through my link and make any purchase on Amazon through this link within the next three days, I will receive a commission. This helps to support my book habits! I'd appreciate any commissions I can make through this blog. Thank you!

Book Review #1: The Last Reading by Gillian Larkin

The Last Reading, by Gillian Larkin (Book Review)
Title: The Last Reading
Published: August 13th, 2014
Page Count: 77
Format Read: Kindle
Series: Storage Ghost Cozy Mystery #1
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Date Read: October, 2015
Rating: 3/5 Stars
Recommendation: Recommended

Summary: Grace Abrahams works with her brother's second-hand shoppe by attending storage locker auctions to pick up merchandise for the store, and she meets ghosts in the abandoned lockers who are attached to items in the lockers. 

In The Last Reading, Grace meets Mae Moonshine, a psychic reader who was killed during a psychic fair. now she must work with Mae to find the killer and answer the questions the befuddled ghost has about why she had to die.

Thoughts: I enjoyed this quick and easy cozy mystery. In the last few years I've read a number of mysteries which cannot be solved based on the clues given to the reader, and Larkin successfully built a solvable story that wasn't so completely obvious that I groaned and rolled my eyes when I reached the climax of the story. She has considerable skill as a storyteller, which is what got me through this book. 

Before I get into the specifics, I do intend to pick up more books in this series to give them a further read. I liked the book and would recommend it.

That being said, I do feel that the characterizations were a bit thin and that the author could do with hiring a good editor with a mind toward fleshing the prose out. There were moments in the book when things changed unexpectedly -- and not in a good way. One example that comes to mind is that Grace is confident throughout the story that she can use her sleuth powers (like Jessica Fletcher, on Murder, She Wrote) to solve the mystery, and then she very suddenly loses all confidence and has a meltdown in front of Mae.

The characters could do with more definition, but were likable and I feel that all in all, these characters will follow through with more development in future stories.

It bears mentioning that while this book is the first in a series, it is a continuation from another series. Grace and her brother Frankie, as well as Pearl (the ghost of the thrift store) are characters from another series by the same author. This may be confusing if you don't understand this point from the beginning (as I didn't).

I like Ms. Larkin and would love to see more from her. 

Did you read The Last Reading? If so, what did you think of it? If not, do you plan to?

I receive a small commission on purchases made through Amazon. If you click through my link and make any purchase on Amazon through this link within the next three days, I will receive a commission. This helps to support my book habits! I'd appreciate any commissions I can make through this blog. Thank you!