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Here’s the next installment of books for which I’ve promised reviews. 


Review 4:

An Object of Desire 

Author: Jenny Twist, Published by SHP (6 Feb. 2019)

Genre: Romantic Paranormal Thriller Novella

Blurb: Hannah and Rea, on holiday in Tangiers are disturbed to discover that two sinister looking characters are following them. Then they meet the mysterious Toby who is himself following the stalkers. He wants to know why the men are interested in the girls. But the girls have no idea. They are not too worried, since they are moving on to Chefchouen. He says he will take them himself, secretly.
But who is Toby? What does he do? Is he a policeman? A spy? A treasure hunter?
All seems well until one of the girls disappears.


My Review 3.5 out of 5 stars: 

Romancing the Stone meets Casablanca. An Object of Desire is a sweet little romantic thriller with a touch of supernatural. Best friends Hannah and Rea are on an exotic holiday in Morocco when they witness a young man being chased, presumably a thief pursued by police. But the women notice later that two men who followed behind the chase now appear to be following them, interested in a necklace Rea picked up in a Souq market stall.

A mysterious but handsome stranger named Toby introduces himself to the young tourists, and says he’s been tracking the two men who are stalking them. He offers to become their bodyguard. After that, the usual thriller events occur in quick succession—break-in, kidnapping, car chase, and the odd bit of romance—an entire feature-length film’s worth packed into 42 pages.

Because it’s so short, we never get answers to some basic questions. Who is Toby really? Does he actually care about Hannah or is she the flavor of the week? Hannah confronts him directly, looking for answers.

‘Are you some sort of James Bond?’

He gave me a quick glance and then switched his attention back to the road.  ‘Not really.’

‘Because if you are I’m having nothing more to do with you. None of the James Bond girls make it to the end of the film. You might as well sign your own death warrant.’

Toby snorted but didn’t bother to reply.

I reviewed An Object of Desire for Rosie’s Book Review Team

Author Jenny Twist packs an astonishing amount into this short tale. She does a good job of creating settings that are believable and realistic. My only complaint is that there was just TOO much action, too much going on for the tiny number of pages. There’s no room to get to know the characters, let alone develop them into three-dimensional figures capable of changing and growing, or for the bad guys to be anything more than cartoon villains.

And that’s really a shame, because Jenny can write and write well. The exotic settings are sketched out in just enough believable detail, but her plot and her characters really deserve much more than 42 pages.

 



Review #5: 

Ringside at the Circus of the Fallen (By the Hands of Men, Book Six)

Author: Roy M. Griffis, Amazon, Feb 1, 2019)

Genre: Historical epic thriller

Blurb:

Robert and Charlotte fell in love amid the mud and blood of the Great War, before human duplicity tore them apart. Two decades and thousands of miles later, fate gives them another chance. Is the memory of young love enough to make the two weary travelers dare to risk heartbreak once more?

Robert has carried Charlotte in his heart ever since they first met near the front lines in France. All the long miles he traveled, she was never far from his mind.

Charlotte survived the hell of the Russian Civil War and she made a life for herself in America, but the cost was high. Losing faith in humanity, she resigned herself to the life of a beloved spinster aunt. And then tragedy once more brought her to close to her heart’s longing.

Robert and Charlotte have learned that the hands of men can make a heaven or a hell of earth. When they are given a second chance at a first love, will fear keep them from risking everything?

Ringside at the Circus of the Fallen is the sixth and final volume of the By the Hands of Men series. Historical fiction by Roy M. Griffis, this epic saga sweeps across four continents in a gripping tale of fate, loss, redemption, and love.


My review: 5 out of 5 stars

I was playing Trivial Pursuit with my kids…and they were beating me on contemporary history—the stuff I lived through, but they learned in history class. But while they knew the dates and names, I knew what it felt like to live through those events. It’s that sense of experiencing events that Roy M. Griffis gives us in his By the Hands of Men series. Unlike the straightforward dates and names of a history class, we view the first World War and following years through the eyes of Robert and Charlotte.

Although each started life as the child of aristocrats, when the very young British officer and Russian nurse meet during the horrors of World War I, each is already cut off from their former lives of privilege. Their brief romance is cut short and the young lovers parted. Separately, they travel a world subjected to the excesses of Soviet-style socialists, the economic collapse of American-style capitalists, and the growing threat of European-style fascists.

But instead of watching the world’s leaders posture and plot on a world stage, we see this play out among individuals as Charlotte experiences first-hand the horrors of Russia, or Robert sees the failures of the British empire builders. Eventually, each heads separately to the United States, where Hollywood provides the ultimate metaphor for the artificial constructs behind the “dream factory”.

As with earlier books in the series, the individuals—Robert and Charlotte and their friends—provide an intimate look at the effects of history. But it’s the animals in their lives who provide the metaphor. For Charlotte, it’s the beautiful but captive wild eagle who accompanies her out of Russia and eventually to the USA, where she joins an old friend and fellow wartime nurse on her Wyoming ranch. For Robert, it’s a variety of animals he encounters as he finds a vocation in learning to treat their injuries and illnesses, even including the lion who almost kills him.

But it’s when both Robert and Charlotte, still unknown to each other, become involved in the movie industry that the metaphors come together to represent the world barely emerging from the Great Depression into the mid 1930s. Robert becomes involved with a needy and rapidly failing “circus”—the Selig Zoo which in its heyday had provided exotic animals to the movie industry, while Charlotte and her friends leave their Wyoming ranch home for jobs working with the horses used by a movie industry that is gleefully prepared to sacrifice lives of animals and “extras” in the name of entertainment.

I can’t say that I love everything about this series. The language sounds more like something out of Jane Austen than twentieth century. People check the time on their “wrist chronometer”. Robert fears the animals “…would be discomfited at the sight of masses of human beings milling round them.”

And then there’s the politics. The author’s conservative political lens is unabashedly aimed at the growing left-leaning sympathies of Hollywood and intellectuals, while only making passing reference to the growing dangers of Nazi and other fascist groups.

But in terms of what he sets out to do—presentation of the sweep of history from the first world war to the brink of the second—Roy M. Griffis’ By the Hands of Men series is nothing short of an epic masterpiece on an intimate scale.

 


Review #6:

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler

Author: Kelly Harms 

Genre: Contemporary fiction. Published by Lake Union Publishing (May 1, 2019)

Blurb:

Overworked and underappreciated, single mom Amy Byler needs a break. So when the guilt-ridden husband who abandoned her shows up and offers to take care of their kids for the summer, she accepts his offer and escapes rural Pennsylvania for New York City.

Usually grounded and mild mannered, Amy finally lets her hair down in the city that never sleeps. She discovers a life filled with culture, sophistication, and—with a little encouragement from her friends—a few blind dates. When one man in particular makes quick work of Amy’s heart, she risks losing herself completely in the unexpected escape, and as the summer comes to an end, Amy realizes too late that she must make an impossible decision: stay in this exciting new chapter of her life, or return to the life she left behind.

But before she can choose, a crisis forces the two worlds together, and Amy must stare down a future where she could lose both sides of herself, and every dream she’s ever nurtured, in the beat of a heart.


 

My Review: 4 out of 5 stars.

I’m missing about a decade. As far as I remember, I was pregnant for most of it, had young children for all of it, and only saw those movies that involved animated rodents during it. I used to dream of the ultimate escape—a trip to the grocery store ALL BY MYSELF. I’d even fantasize about getting pregnant again just so I could spend time in a single room in the hospital after delivery. But there is one incredible week of that decade that I will always remember. That was the week my husband took all the kids away for a visit to grandparents, leaving me in the house alone. Nobody asked me what I was doing and how long I’d be doing it when I went into the bathroom. Nobody messed up a room I’d just cleaned. Nobody even threw up. Best week of my life.

So I got what Amy Byler—reluctant single mom, school librarian, and abandoned wife—was going through. Her husband’s midlife crisis meant her affluent life was suddenly exchanged for long days, unrelieved responsibility, and precarious financial balancing. His sudden return after years of absence leaves her angry, frustrated, and unexpectedly—free. Or, as her sophisticated New York best friend Talia dubs it, Momspringa.

QUOTE: “She fishes around for the perfect word. ‘Your momspringa.’

‘My what now?’ i ask.

‘Momspringa. Like rumspringa? Where the kids go wild before they settle back down to buggys and monochrome dressing?’…

I narrow my eyes at Talia. ‘I’m not Amish,’ I tell her.”

Talia convinces Amy to go along with a makeover and become subject of her magazine article, while her newly-coined momspringa begins trending on social media. Even as Amy’s image morphs from exhausted mom to sexy librarian with a potential love interest, she can’t shake the most fundamental emotion of any mother: guilt.

QUOTE: “I can’t just up and leave my life for a good-looking librarian and a wide selection of sushi restaurants. Even considering such a move calls my character into question. Even thinking it would be nice makes me a bad mom.”

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler is a romance in every sense of the word. There is a hot new relationship, plenty of misunderstanding and guilt, and a chance at Having It All. But there’s another romance that’s laugh out loud funny even as it takes me back to my missing decade. Amy, like all moms, has an incredibly tough love story that has to have a happy ending. She has to learn to love herself, and that means giving herself permission to be both a mother and a person. All her happily-ever-afters are depending on it.

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler is a frequently familiar, occasionally laugh out loud, and ultimately feel-good exploration of being a mother while being a person. I was cheering for Amy, but it felt like cheering for me.


Review #7:

The Dollmaker (The Viper and the Urchin Book 4)

Author: Celine JeanJean

Genre: Sword and steampunk/ Fantasy (Publisher: Lotus Press April 27, 2019)

Blurb:

Revolution in the streets.
A deadly weapon stolen.
A wardrobe too wide to fit up the stairs.
All is most definitely not well back in Damsport…

Cruikshank has created a deadly new weapon, but someone breaks into her workshop, steals the design, and leaves her for dead.

Time for Rory and Longinus to roll up their sleeves again.

But it doesn’t take long for them to be completely out of their depth. They find themselves facing a creepy doll maker, chaos in the streets, and a powerful man seeking to overthrow the Old Girl. In short, another sinister plot seeking to bring Damsport to its knees.

Once again, Rory and Longinus find themselves the city’s last line of defence.

Damsport really needs to invest in better defences.


 

My Review: 5 out of 5 stars.

If I were you, I wouldn’t waste one second of time reading this review. Nope. I’d go straight out and buy this series. [NOTE: it’s really important to get all of them, and read them in order. Plus it’s just SO dang much fun. You’re welcome.]

Are you still here? Really? Okay, here’s a bit about this latest book. In The Dollmaker, Rory and Longinus are still bemused to find themselves honestly employed by the Marchioness of Damsport, “The Old Girl”, who is facing a subtly subversive threat to her rule. Along with their posse—genius machinist Cruikshank, smuggler captain and loving mother Adelma, and self-described love interest Rafe—Rory and Longinus investigate the threat posed by a terrifying new weapon inadvertently invented by Cruikshank.

As I said about Celine Jeanjean’s last book, when I began reviewing this series, I looked at the characters in terms of three sliding scales: competence, proactivity, and sympathy. At first Longinus—the elegant, mysterious assassin—seems to be supremely competent, proactively controlling his life and choices, if (as a poisoner) he’s somewhat unsympathetic. While Rory, the street urchin, is at the mercy of a pitiless world, an orphan whose dire circumstances should demand our sympathy.

Only…Longinus has a showstopper flaw for an assassin: he faints at the sight of blood. Not only does that punch holes in his competence and proactivity, but it immediately sends our sympathy levels soaring. Rory, on the other hand, is just so darn competent at being an urchin. Taking proactive control of her own destiny—even if “blackmail the assassin into making her his apprentice” might not seem the ideal strategy—she simply gets on with accomplishing her goal of becoming a master swordswoman.

In The Dollmaker, we see both Rory and Longinus challenging their own self-image, stepping outside of their own limitations. Rory faces sleeping in a bed, while Longinus faces his greatest fear and greatest enemy in the form of his sister Myran. But that’s all wrapped up in an increasingly three-dimensional world, complete with it’s own slang.

This series just gets more and more fun even as the characters grow, the background story gets richer, and the action gets faster. If I could give it more than five stars, I absolutely would. Failing that, I will just say that I completely recommend it, and can’t wait for the next book.