Review of The Other Half of Me by Jennifer Sivec

theotherhalfSummary: Maggie and Sam’s love was forever, until it wasn’t.

Is it ever too late to go back home?

Maggie Whitaker had always dreamed about the same boy even though she’d never met him.

A loner, with an overly critical mother and a head full of self-doubt, she has spent most of her life isolated. That is, until she meets Trip. He becomes her only friend until he cruelly betrays her, making her feel even more alone.

Sam has endured far more than anyone has ever realized. When he meets Maggie, he feels as though he knows her immediately. They fall for each other hard and fast and Maggie feels as though she’s been waiting for him her entire life.

Their life together is beautiful as they make plans for a future together, until Sam is in a horrible accident and suddenly everything changes.

When Maggie finds herself alone with no explanation, she does her best to move on with her life. She realizes that erasing Sam from her heart is close to impossible, until Dylan.

As she’s finally about to have her chance at love, the unexpected happens and Maggie must decide if love is ever just enough, or if she needs more to be complete.

Caution: This story contains themes of sexual assault, addiction, and mild sexual situations.

Note: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I am the first to admit that I am a sucker for a good romance and a big fan of damaged characters who are trying to rebuild their lives. Being an author myself, I write about these themes, so as I opened this book and knew that it was highly rated, I was looking forward to a great story.

What I came away with was a good story, not a great one. I didn’t feel the ground move beneath me the way I was expecting when going into this.

Maggie lacks self-confidence because of her critical mother. Her mother is passive-aggressive. I often wanted to smack her for the rude tone and underlying jabs in what she says to her own daughter, even if her words hold some good stuff. So when unpopular Maggie, at age 15, finally attracts the attention of a boy at school, she is completely taken in. Poor Maggie is ruined by Trip, a boy who wanted one thing and one thing only from her.

That type of encounter leaves a scar on a girl’s heart, making it hard to open up to another guy. I felt badly for her and wanted her to find real love.

A few years pass and she goes to college, where she meets Sam. Sam is a jock who doesn’t think he’s smart and asks her to tutor him. He is popular with the girls, so Maggie is cautious when she agrees to help him. Their relationship quickly grows deeper, and they express that they feel they have always known each other. Next thing you know, Sam and Maggie are engaged and a few more years have passed.

This is the point where I felt disappointed. I would have loved to have read more about their relationship over those years. As this is a novella and therefore not a long story, it would have benefited from being developed more and made into a novel. I just didn’t believe their feelings and claims of having always felt a connection. That was too cliche, cheapening the bond that could have been expanded through more storytelling. There was a lot of telling and not a lot of showing, making the pacing off during this part of the book.

Then Sam is in a terrible car accident and is laid up in bed, unconscious. Maggie is left wondering if he will ever wake up. This tragedy pulled at my heartstrings. Then Maggie goes through a dreamlike sequence of visiting different parts of Sam’s childhood and seeing how his father walked out on them when he was young and how is mother had drug problems. Sam never felt like he deserved Maggie.

I don’t want to spoil too much, but more years pass. Maggie loves again, but as before, the pacing was off. The author seems to rush to get to the part of the story she wants to tell the most and skips over years of Maggie’s life where she could have shown the reader how her heart healed (although not completely) and how she managed to fall in love again. I feel cheated by not being given these details.

However, the end does save a lot of my criticisms. There is some lovely dialogue between Maggie and Sam, some downright gut-wrenching, raw emotion. The story delivered in the end. This was a short, easy read, but I wanted more of a good thing. I wanted this love story to be something that tore my heart to pieces and then mended it back together again. What I got was some damage to my heart and an easy fix.

4 out of 5 stars

Purchase The Other Half of Me (The Coming Home Series Book 1) on Amazon

 

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Review of Second Week in November by Kathleen Joyce

secondweek

Summary: Tucked in a cozy corner of the Pacific Northwest, the charming town of Amelia Bay becomes the focus of the media who have descended on the community seeking a sensational tabloid story. A beautiful young waitress, from Harrigan’s Irish Pub, disappears. Did she simply walk away, was she kidnapped, or worse? Clare Harrigan’s brother, Finn, a successful movie producer, finds himself up to his neck in hot water. The new Chief of Police believes he has his man. Can Clare clear Finn? She and her friends have to solve another murder amid the hubbub of getting ready for Thanksgiving and her son’s wedding. Someone is determined to stop Clare from finding the truth.

Join the Harrigan Clan and their friends, as they serve up more delicious meals of comfort food served around cozy fireplaces, in the second book of the Amelia Bay Mystery series.

Note: I am part of a writers group that has read and critiqued this novel during its creation. I am also a good friend of the author and served as an editor for her. My opinion is honest and unbiased.

Kathleen Joyce is back with her engaging cozy mystery series involving Clare and her group of gals in lovely Amelia Bay. Just coming off the horrific events of the first novel, Clare is looking forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas and her son’s wedding, but murder is happening again in this sweet fictional Pacific Northwest small town. When a young waitress named Bets who works at the local pub disappears and a mysterious group of people belonging to the cult Evening Star walk into the bar one evening inquiring after her whereabouts, things turn bad for Clare’s ladies’ man, Hollywood producer brother, Finn, who was dating Bets. Just as one murder seems bad enough, another woman’s body turns up…on Clare’s property. Clare and her friends are determined to clear Finn’s good name and get to the bottom of these murders, but someone has it out for Clare and her family. The stakes grow higher as the story progresses, and amidst delectable desserts, warm fires, glasses of wine, and tasty meals and the elaborately-brought-to-life background of Amelia Bay, you can’t help but be written right into the action yourself. Joyce tells a carefully crafted tale that delivers a satisfying ending.

Her writing style reads smoothly. Even lengthy descriptive passages that are part of the cozy-telling formula are well-rendered and don’t get in the way of the plot. The dialogue between various characters is engaging and often delightfully humorous, as sweet as the desserts in the book and just a little sassy. Such dialogue plays an integral part in bringing Clare and her friends to life.

You will want to be sure to read the author’s final and third book in the Amelia Bay series when it’s released later this year.

My review of the first book in this series is here.

5 out of 5 stars

Purchase Second Week in November (An Amelia Bay Mystery Book 2) on Amazon

 

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Review of Dante’s Garden: Mystery and Magic in Bomarzo by Teresa Culter-Broyles

dantesgardenSummary: Dante’s Garden is the story of what happens when Frank Farnese, a book collector from 2017, falls through Hell’s Mouth, a strange sculpture in Bomarzo, Italy.

In 1570, Lucrezia Romano and famed antiquarian Pyrrho Ligorio welcome him when he awakens in a garden, from what he thinks is a dream but isn’t. Together they must figure out how to put the world right again.

The Inquisition, an extraordinary visit to Venice, and the dreams of Duke Francesco Orsini entwine to pull them all deeper into adventure, danger, love, and the hardest decisions of their lives.

Dante’s Garden weaves fact and fiction, history and imagination, to tell the story of Frank and Lucrezia, and the connection that, finally, may not be strong enough to hold them safe as time splits apart.

Note: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

As a lover of Italy and history, I was looking forward to reading this book. The moment I began reading, the author’s imagination and intense knowledge of Italian culture and heritage mingled to form a beautiful tapestry of a tale.

In current-day, book collector Frank Farnese boards a plane in New York and travels to Italy to meet Pasquale and Sandra Ciacionne, who have a 16th century Aldine Press copy of Dante’s La Commedia. The book is old but defective, due to two upside-down pages at the back, a burn mark, and a note left in the front…a note that seems like it was written to Frank.

In 16th century Italy, a young and beautiful, well-read lady named Lucrezia Romano has dreams of adventure. She meets the antiquarian Pyrrho Ligorio (based on the real Ligorio), and they become instant friends. He travels to the Duke Vicino Orsini’s palazzo to work on his garden of grotesques and stone monsters and invites Lucrezia and her parents along. Lucrezia will be Ligorio’s model for a statue of Ceres.

Meanwhile, in current-day Italy, Frank visits the Garden of Monsters (the Duke’s garden from the 16th century and a real place). He has the copy of Dante with him as he tours the garden alone and it grows dark. A thunderstorm ensues, and he takes cover in one of the sculptures, the Mouth of Hell, but not before seeing the statue of Ceres. He is drawn to the statue’s face in particular.

In the 16th century, the Duke has a ball. The party guests are in costume and are mingling in the gardens. Lucrezia is among them. A thunderstorm breaks out.

After the storm ends, Frank emerges from the Mouth of Hell, only to find himself surrounded by what he thinks are reenactors. He is imprisoned by the Duke for questioning, as it’s strange that a man just seemed to appear out of nowhere during the storm, while all the guests were taking cover.

Frank is confused and grows angry, as he thinks these reenactors are having him on. In time, however, he understands that he has traveled through time. Vicino, Ligorio, and Lucrezia are among the small group who believe that Frank (Francesco as they call him) is from the future.

Besides Frank’s sudden appearance, other strange things start happening in the garden. Statues seem to be moving. Glowing letters appear at the entrance of the Mouth of Hell at night, saying, “Abandon all thought, you who enter here,” echoing the warning in Dante’s writing.

A story of adventure and love ensues as Lucrezia, Frank, Ligorio, and Lucrezia’s father travel to Venice to visit the Aldine Press to procure another copy of the Dante, which they think is Frank’s ticket back to the future. There is also real concern that word of what’s going on in the garden will get back to the Church, and Vicino, Frank, and Ligorio will be questioned and possibility burn for it.

The relationship between Frank and Lucrezia develops as they travel together. One of my favorite parts of the story was when they were in Venice and were in love in what many consider is the most beautiful city in the world. There are some lovely descriptions of Venice, which echoes a couple torn by circumstance who is in love and just living in the moment. Having visited Venice, I can attest to the fact that you can’t take a bad picture there. I felt like I was right there with Frank and Lucrezia. While I longed for them to somehow find a way to stay together, the larger problem of the Church and the happenings in the garden tugged at my heart, knowing this would be a heart-wrenching decision.

Back at the palazzo, the Duke makes some startling discoveries about his late wife and blood magic. The Church begins to question him and others, and it’s a race to see how everything will pan out.

The more I read the book, the more the momentum grew. The climax is indeed a strong one. The ending made me cry, brought me right there with Frank and Lucrezia. More than the mystical and magical aspects of this wonderful tale is that it’s a love story at heart, and one that will stick with me for a long time to come.

5 out of 5 stars

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Review of Dark Territory by Jerry Hunter

darkterritorySummary: From the Civil War battlefields of England and Ireland to a mystery lost in the forests of North America, this is both a roaring adventure and a timely commentary on the dangers of religious extremism.

Rhisiart Dafydd is a zealous Roundhead who embraces Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army and the violence it entails. But can his convictions survive the atrocities of the English Civil Wars and Parliament’s campaign in Ireland? Called upon by his former commander to voyage to America to seek out a missing group of Welsh Puritans, he must first survive the journey, and then – if he can find the community – see whether they really have created the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.

An epic historical adventure set during one of the most turbulent periods in history, this gripping thriller also poses questions about violence, power, religious extremism and rejection of difference which are chillingly relevant to our world today.

Note: I was given a copy of this novel by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

If history teaches us one thing, it’s that humanity never really changes. We don’t seem to learn from our mistakes. History repeats itself.

Dark Territory is historical fiction and was written in Welsh, originally published under the title Y Fro Dywyll, and was translated by Patrick K. Ford.

The novel opens with a former soldier named Rhisiart Daffyd walking through the noisy, sometimes harrowing, streets of 1656 London. Among the sights and sounds of the living, death stares back through mounted heads on pikes, a stark reminder of where we are all headed. The climate is chilling, despite the children running through the streets, the vendors selling their wares, and life continuing on as a man who has seen his fair share of death walks these cobbled streets. I am right there with Rhisiart, an invisible set of eyes on his shoulder. The description of the streets of London is done so vividly, with such beautiful detailed language, that the reader really gets a sense of what life was like then.

Rhisiart Daffyd served in Oliver Cromwell’s Army of the Saints and has come to London under the summons of his former commanding officer, John Powel. Powel has gotten word of a settlement in America that has drifted from the Calvinist views being upheld in Cromwellian England, and he wishes to send Rhisiart to the new country to investigate and report back to him.

Rhisiart boards the ship Primrose. He is surrounded by Englishmen, the only other Welshman an older man named Owen Lewys. Some of the best dialogue in the book occurs between these two during the voyage. Having witnessed, and taken part in, so much death during the war, Rhisiart questions his beliefs. The faith he once adhered to is no longer true for him. He and Owen, who his a Quaker, discuss passages in the Gospel of John, where the light within every man is written about. Rhisiart dismisses Predestination, believing it ludicrous that God would select some souls for damnation and others for salvation prior to their births. Rather, he believes now that God’s light shines within all people, even though humanity is flawed. He keeps quiet about his views aboard the ship, however, as he and Owen are in the minority.

A storm rages at sea as the ship approaches land. It hits rocks, leaving Rhisiart and a black tom cat named Nicholas the only survivors.

The novel then gives us the backstory of Rhisiart, from the time he was a boy and lost both of his parents, raised by his sister Alys and his uncle, to when he started apprenticing under a blacksmith. There is lovely narrative about Rhisiart working words into the objects he crafts. It is during this time that he develops his belief in what Cromwell professes. He marries the blacksmith’s daughter, Elisabeth, but he soon goes off to war.

When he returns from war a broken man who now questions everything he believed in, having witnessed atrocities, including the Battle of Naseby in 1645, he hopes to settle down. The “little plague” darkens his family’s doorstep, killing Elisabeth and his unborn child.

I was devastated right along with Rhisiart. Despite the atrocities he has participated in, he is still a man who loves and thought he was doing right for his homeland. It’s no wonder he takes on the mission Powel entrusts him with, seeing as he has no one keeping him in England any longer.

The book switches back to 1656. Once Rhisiart comes ashore, he is cared for by some Native Americans. There aren’t many of them at all, and the one who speaks English tells him how many of their tribe died from diseases from the settlers. The kindness of the Native Americans toward Rhisiart shows more of true Christian (or otherwise) charity than any of the characters in the book, despite they aren’t Christian. This truth is resonates with Rhisiart and does with me as well. It is heartbreaking to look back on history and see how the Native Americans were driven from their land, in some cases, and how such things still occurs today, both in America and globally. The refugee crisis in the world today comes to mind. To show kindness and generosity to your fellow person is in the spirit of what is at the heart of Christianity, the whole to do what Jesus did. To show mercy, understanding, love.

I think this is what strikes Rhisiart, both in his discussion aboard the Primrose with Owen Lewys and with the Native Americans. More than ever, he doesn’t believe in the Calvinist doctrine. He sees it for the manmade construct it is, not a divine ordinance…although he still has a mission to see through.

He regains his strength while in the care of the Native Americans. They give him a map to the settlement Powel told him to seek. Rhisiart travels several days through the woods in the dying fall and arrives at New Jerusalem. By the name alone, you can be sure this settlement believes it is God’s kingdom on Earth.

Rhisiart settles there for several months, befriending some (blacksmith Griffith John Griffith and his son, Ifan, and young, pregnant widow Rebecca) and at odds with others (namely the Elder, Rhosier Wyn). He learns some secrets about the corrupted ways the leaders of New Jerusalem carry out what they believe is divine justice. His beliefs are challenged more every passing day, and as Rebecca’s pregnancy nears its end, dread overcomes the reader, wondering how this is all going to end.

We have seen the crimes and wars done in the name of religion over the centuries, including the accurate historical representation in Dark Territory. So much unnecessary violence and death has resulted over disagreements. The whole “I am right, you are wrong” mentality and the pride of believing one’s way is the only true way puts up walls between people, between nations, and it tears down the Golden Rule. In theory, it should be simple to follow the path of love, to treat others as you wish to be treated, even in our human imperfection.

We can look at the serious nature of the English Civil Wars of the seventeenth century and the harsh beliefs of the Puritans in America and believe we have come so far from those ways of thinking, but a quick look around the world today paints a different story.

Dark territory, indeed. This novel shows the journey, the struggle, the life of one man in the midst of religious wars and tyranny. It forces us to look deep within ourselves and examine our hearts, our beliefs, to trod the path today through dark territory.

This novel is one of those rare gems that hooked me from the beginning. The themes are important for anyone to realize and think about. This is one of those masterpieces that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

5 out of 5 stars

Favorite quotes: “He imagined that silence would roll down the corridors like mist on the surface of a river, that quiet would collect in the chambers like water gathers in a fountain’s pool, turning sound to vapour and dulling the ear, keeping secrets secret.”

“He tilts his face to the sun, his eyes closed, and all the sounds of the ship are like a whisper in a dream. This is the world, he thinks, and this is the life I have lived. The heat he feels on his face has the warmth of skin: like another cheek pressing against his own cheek. Living fingers playing with his hair, a hand caressing his skin playfully.”

“Is the way that the most insignificant instincts lead an animal to its death essentially different from the way that most men follow their instincts to the end?”

“‘I do. He knew that I… had lived the life… had believed… had done. And he knew that I now doubt many of the things I used to believe in. And he saw value in that.’”

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Special Sneak Peek at My Next Horror Short Story

Flushed

Mom sleeps in my sock drawer. I suppose if I were a better daughter, I would clean out the socks that don’t have matches or the ones with holes in them. At least the socks are clean, which is more than I can say about my old mother. She is a courteous inhabitant of my sock drawer, taking up only a six-by-four inch corner.

    As I climb into bed, I stop to stare at the tattoo on my inner wrist–a semicolon. Mom’s voice disturbs my concentration.

    “What a stupid idea. Why the would you waste your money on something like that, Julia? Something that never comes off. You’ll be old and wrinkled, and it’ll look like a piece of shit on your skin.” Here words echo through time, a memory from five years ago as fresh as the day I got the tattoo.

    Yes, Mom, some spots never come off, like the stains you put on my life, imprinted on my soul.

    “It’s a semicolon, not a period, symbolic that my life isn’t at an end. There’s still more to come,” I said the day I got inked.

    She snorted–then later snorted some crack and drank a bottle of vodka. “Aw, how sweet. You just failed at killing yourself, just like you failed at everything else in life…high school, one job after another. How many boys have you fucked? Don’t tell me you’re a dyke now. Screwing girls is probably the only option you have left. If you haven’t gotten into the pants of every guy in Pepperville yet, I might just have a heart attack.”

    “Please do, Mom…have a heart attack, that is. And I learned from the best. You wanna talk failure? How about your failure as a mother?”

    Slap! Her hand made contact with my cheek. The sting didn’t hurt as much as the further confirmation of her betrayal to the only person she was supposed to love. I suppose she did love me, in her own messed up way.

    I blink into the darkness now, willing the memory to die like my old mom. Ironically enough, it was a heart attack that did her in. With the chemical abuse she did to herself for years, to die of natural causes was a surprise. Of course, dowsing herself with booze and drugs likely contributed to her heart turning on her, but who knows? That her heart killed her, an organ she didn’t seem to possess in the figurative sense, well, that was more irony.

    How sweet, as Mom liked to say.

    “Shut up,” I mutter into the black.

    A switch flipped off the light five minutes ago. Why can’t I flip off a switch in my mind to turn it off, too?

    I glare at my dresser, what looks like a dark blob in the corner of my room. Next to the blob in the shadows, slightly darker than the rest of the room, a mass seems to detach itself from the dresser. I shake my head and lie down, closing my eyes. Every night since the funeral, it’s been like this. Two weeks, only two weeks, but it could be two years for the infernal haunting of Mom’s voice from that drawer.

    Some people speak of feeling a presence climbing into bed with them when trying to sleep. It’s more than a cat or a dog jumping onto the bed, but something so human-like as it moves across the surface, settling next to the victim. I can feel Mom sidling up next to me in bed, pulling the covers over us and grinning at me with her yellow nicotine teeth and dull skin. Every time I close my eyes, her bloodshot eyes glare at me. She smiles at me like a Halloween decoration and asks me who I’m in bed with now. She blows out smoke into my face.

    You, Mom? In bed with you? How twisted is that?

    Not by choice, Mother.

    I groan as I bolt up in bed, throwing the covers off. The humidity of summer sticks to my goose-bumped skin, and I wonder why the hell I was trying to stay warm only moments ago when it’s so hot. That’s right. Because I was shaking when I got into bed. Yes, downright freezing.

    I throw on the light next to the bed and wince at the brightness. My dresser sits as it always does–unmoving. The air smells of stale cigarettes and alcohol-vomit. That’s ridiculous. I leave the bed and make way for the dresser like I’m about to attack. Grabbing the top drawer, I swing it open with such force that my socks spill out all over the floor. Mom’s wooden box clatters to the faux-wooden floor, unharmed.

    I pick up the box and glower. “Just shut up, won’t you? I couldn’t afford to bury you, and no one else wanted to deal with you. God, why am I still putting up with you?”

    The box of ashes clutched in my shuddering hands, I move to the closet. I yank clothes off their hangers in my haste to dig through the bottom of the closet for it–my safebox. I haul the heavy thing out of the closet, set it on the dresser, then plop Mom on top of it.

    I flip on light after light as I make my way down the hall and into the living room, then finally the kitchen. Pulling open the junk drawer, I rifle through it until I find it–my box of keys.

    I return to my room with the box and begin my search for the key to the safebox. Grumbling to myself for not throwing away old keys, I spend the next few minutes trying every key like a mad woman. When one clicks the safebox open, I laugh in triumph. I remove the important papers from the box. Nothing is more important than locking Mom away, imprisoning her. How funny that her ashes will be protected in the event of a fire.

    Satisfied with my work, I leave the mess of keys and put the safebox back in the closet. I pull the door shut, but it gets caught on a dress half-hanging out. With a groan, I snatch the dress from the hanger, throw it down, and slam the door all the way shut.

    I flick off the lights and return to bed. The dresser is a formless mass in the darkness once again, but the shadow beside it is gone. I toss and turn for the next hour and find myself staring at the closet. Does the door seem to be open a crack? Just enough for Mom to peek out?

 

Review of Cobwebs of Youth by Rose Auburn

cobswebsofyouthSummary: ‘Cobwebs of Youth’ is a contemporary, romantic novel set in the London suburbs. It tells the story of Lara Cassidy who realises her dream of becoming a children’s book illustrator like her father. Yet her happiness is short-lived and she is plunged into uncertainty as Robert Kennedy, the mysterious stranger she first encountered ten years earlier, comes back into her life. Will Lara finally be able to lay her Father’s ghost to rest and fully embrace what the future holds?

Note: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Cobwebs of Youth is a lovely book, let me just say. Lovely is the first word that comes to mind and sticks with me as I recount my experience reading this novel.

I am quite familiar with British novels, having recently read The Girl on the Train and The Woman in Cabin 10. I am also a fan of British shows, such as Doctor Who, Downton Abbey, and Sherlock. Being an American, I pick up on the differences in the English language when I step into a British novel. And it’s lovely.

The characters in this book are very realistic and relatable. Their dialogue reads so fluidly, so naturally. That is probably my favorite part of this story, and it’s a character-driven, dialogue-driven story told in third person-limited narrative, so what a pleasure to read Lara Cassidy’s journey of finding herself.

It may sound like another modern mundane romance story, like another journey of self-discovery. I admit, this arch is overdone these days, yet it works so well most of the time. When done right, as it is in Cobwebs of Youth (which is a great title, by the way), these types of stories can resonate with many people.

The book opens with an 18-year-old Lara visiting her father, against her mother’s wishes. Her parents are divorced. When she arrives at her dad’s house, she finds he is with a French woman. She feels betrayed, no longer the first woman in her dad’s life. She is at a vulnerable age. She and her best friend, Jen, go to a local pub to drink away their sorrows. While there, Lara meets an older biker man named Rob, who comforts her. She is both intrigued and put off by him.

A decade passes. Lara’s dad has died, and she moves into his house. She is in a relationship with attorney Ed, a guy who, according to Lara’s mum, has a good job and is a good match for Lara. Lara is an artist, an illustrator like her dad, and has a big project coming up to illustrate a children’s book called Puddle. It may be her big break where her career is concerned, but she finds herself severely unhappy. She attends one of Ed’s work parties, where everyone is only surface-level and rubbing noses. She has felt little affection for Ed for months, and he seems equally distant, more concerned with his job than their relationship. They finally end it.

Lara almost steps back in time by returning to the pub where she met Rob, unable to forget him all these years. As fate would have it, he is there again. They start talking and strike up a relationship. Rob is everything Ed isn’t. Jen and Lara’s mum don’t approve of her dating a biker, but she feels more alive with him than she has in her life. She rides a motorcycle for the first time and feels exhilarated. She meets new people. She is head-over-heels in love with this mysterious guy.

But life is never easy. As much as Lara wants to get away from the past, it’s still part of her. This story is a beautiful exploration of a young woman’s struggle to come into her own.

There are some grammatical errors in the book, but they don’t detract from the story or the great dialogue.

4 out of 5 stars

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Review of Jacqueline Willoughby by Schuyler Randall

jacquelinewilloughbySummary: A string of mysterious murders rocks Birmingham, Alabama, in the page-turner Jacqueline Willoughby. At first glance, the murders seem to be connected to the Ten Commandments, but FBI agents Kason McAlester and Troy Stephens see that there is more to the story—and that a rare book written decades ago by a woman named Jacqueline Willoughby may have the answer to solving the crimes.

Will the two agents be able to follow the trail of the old book and find the killer responsible for these grisly murders? You’ll have to read Jacqueline Willoughby to find out.

Note: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Jacqueline Willoughby is a crime novella that reads quickly and is a good short book to pick up if you’re looking for an afternoon of entertainment. It’s what I might call a beach read: It’s easy to understand and straightforward.

The novel revolves around a series of murders in Birmingham, Alabama, in current day. FBI agents Kason McAlester and Troy Stephens investigate these murders and quickly come to the conclusion that they are connected. The murderer is following the Ten Commandments to carry them out. The victims are always purposefully placed and left with a wadded up piece of paper in their mouths that says what their crime is that they were killed for, plus the initials J.W.

For several chapters, the story follows a simple convention: The FBI agents and other police show up at the crime scene to find the victims. Kason smells a perfume fragrance left by the killer. The papers are recovered from the victims’ mouths.

This repetition begins to feel a bit overdone, but luckily, the author breaks up the chapters by having the agents meet with others who may have some knowledge of what happened. I enjoyed these segments more, especially the visits to a Mrs. Madison and her elderly aunt, Dr. Moore, who is interesting and sometimes humorous to read. Dr. Moore is the one who gives the agents the information about a book written by Jacqueline Willoughby that may be connected to these murders. The book describes similar murders that happened in the 1930s and were done by Willoughby’s daughter, Raina.

The dialogue from some of the minor characters was more realistic than what came out of the agents’ mouths most of the time. Of course, it’s expected the FBI agents would be all business while investigating a crime, but I would have liked to have seen more personality worked into Kason and Troy. We get some glimpses of their personal lives, like when they are with their wives or at church, but I would have liked to have seen more.

I don’t read many crime novels (or novellas), so this genre isn’t very familiar to me. It felt very formulaic. As a novella, it is shorter than a novel, but I would have liked it to be fleshed out more. I think more background on the agents and more time spent with them when they weren’t just investigating crimes would have made them more relatable and interesting. Many of the characters just spoke in bland dialogue, maybe even feeling robotic at times.

I am more into character-driven stories. This one is definitely more plot-driven. More motives and background on the killer would have been great as well. Everything seems almost too easy. I figured out who the killer was about halfway through the book. Throw in some red-herrings next time. Make me guess more. Don’t make it so easy.

While this is a good book for entertainment, I think it would have worked better as a full novel with more details. It feels like something is missing for me, but maybe that’s just my bias. Readers of crime novels and plot-driven stories would likely enjoy this book.

Grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure are all near perfect, which is a breath of fresh air after the last couple of indie authors I’ve read.

3 out of 5 stars

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Jacqueline Willoughby

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