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 Off Script: A Monkey & Me Novel by Liv Bartlet

offscriptSummary: “I kissed Edward Wolverton once. It was everything it was supposed to be—and then some… maybe I’ll kiss him again.” TV Producer Bea Douglas’s last confession to her former business partner and ex-best friend wasn’t meant to tempt the fates. She’s eager to escape the hypocrisy of the television industry and years of hiding her faith for the convenience of other people. Edward Wolverton may be hot, smart, and funny—but he’s also two steps out of rehab with a self-proclaimed allergy to Christianity. But after a club night turns violent, Bea loses her sense of self while Eddie teeters on the edge of relapse. Their connection to each other is the only certainty. To be together, each will have to let go of past pain and have faith in a love that never fades. Off Script is an uncommon story of the power of love and resilience to bring people together in a society that does its best to tear them apart.

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

Off Script is the second in the Monkey & Me series by Liv Bartlet. I had the pleasure of reading the first novel, Production Values, last year. You can read my review here. I highly suggest you read the first book to receive the full benefit of the second book’s story, although Off Script can certainly be read independently and thoroughly enjoyed.

Off Script is a literary breath of fresh air in the indie author world. I read plenty of books by self-published authors, and like its forerunner, this second book in the series is smart, sassy, funny, has heart, and makes you actually think, all the while entertaining you. It’s rare to find a book that has all those qualities.

I am a writer, an author, and an avid reader. The more I read and write, the more persnickety I get. Liv Bartlet knows her stuff. Not only does she have excellent insight into the workings of the making of television shows and movies, but she understands human interactions with a depth that few writers can convey so believably in their dialogue.

Bea Douglas has spent years in the world of Hollywood and the like. She thrives on her work. She’s the sort of woman who needs to be doing something to feel useful. When she’s not producing a show or running PR, she’s a volunteer nurse. She’s sassy, witty, and quick. She shows a tough exterior to a world where she has to be tough for the sake of keeping her head above the water.

But behind all that glamor is a broken soul who longs for more. She wants to be a mother. She is in love with heart-throb actor Eddie Wolverton, who is the male lead in her TV show Void. She is also a woman a faith, a Mormon, who believes, against the conventions of society, in waiting until marriage to have sex.

Before you turn away at this point because of the mention of religion, let me just say that this book does not preach or try to throw religious dogma in the reader’s face. I admire Bea for sticking to her convictions in a world where many would snub her. Bea’s faith is a real part of her character, just as Eddie’s aversion to religion is a necessary and believable part of his character. As Bea loves Eddie, so he loves her. Their religious differences are one of the obstacles they must overcome to be together. People face these kinds of obstacles every day in relationships. Bea is open-minded and non-judgmental of those who are different, and Eddie loves Bea more for her conviction of knowing what she wants. This is admirable. They complement each other the way bacon and chocolate together works. They may seem strange at first glance, but look deeper, and you find that the complexities and layers are rich and meld together beautifully.

Eddie is a recovering alcoholic. Bea doesn’t drink, even though she spends time around crowds who do. This is yet another road block for their relationship, but no one just falls in love, and boom, it’s happily ever after. Even though Eddie has his vice of alcohol and his ex, Siena, he is a likeable guy. Having written a couple of male characters in my books who suffer from alcoholism and seeing it in my own extended family, I know the stumbling block it is. Alcoholics are not bad people. They are often quite charming and outgoing, but their outward smiles and living it up during the good times are a cover for the desperation of turning to the bottle.

Bea is trying to figure out her life after the partnership of Monkey & Me was destroyed when her best friend, Kat, decided to pursue her own dreams in the industry. She figures it’s finally time to walk away from the Hollywood life and settle down into her dream of a family life. When things turn disastrous for her at a club one night, she is left hollow and broken. She reaches out to Eddie. Although Eddie is very much in love with Bea, he has his own problems and is perhaps not the best support for Bea to lean on.

What ensues is a balancing act of Bea and Eddie each working independently and together to overcome their obstacles. Love is the starting point, but is it enough to break through their weakness and make them stronger as one? Bea is clear: she wants marriage if Eddie wants sex. She also wants a baby and is pregnant with another man’s child (it’s not what you think).

I appreciate Liv’s honesty with these characters. She doesn’t dance around the hard topics: like faith, family life, marriage, rape, drugs, alcohol, and more. In the messiness, a masterpiece painting is created.

I recently heard someone say that when God is creating a lovely tapestry, if you turn it around and look at the back, you will see all the messy threads, the pieces that had to go together to create this work of art. We often don’t understand why life plays out as it does, but trusting in God, as Bea tries to do, is better than trusting in ourselves alone.

Full disclosure: I am a Christian, so Liv’s story resonated with me. I understand Bea’s struggle with her faith. I also believe that anyone can read this story and enjoy its message of love being stronger than our weakness.

This is a beautifully rendered women’s fiction story.

5 of out 5 stars

Favorite quote: “Friendzone isn’t a terrible place to be. No drama, plenty of food, and someone who cares.”

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Excerpt from Arianna – Chapter 28

“Maybe we can go bug my big brother now.  He’s always good for a laugh.”

I gave his shoulder a little shove.  “You’re downright awful.”

“I’m the younger sibling.  It’s my job to instigate, no matter how old I get.”

We walked farther down the hall and stopped at the door at the end.  Marc knocked.

“Mom, I told you I’m not comin’ down,” came an irritated reply.

“It’s not Mom,” Marc said.  He flashed me a grin and then looked back at the door, his smile widening.

“Marc?”  A few seconds later, the door opened.  A man a head taller than Marc stood there, his dark blonde hair unruly.  A light brown, trim beard covered his jawline.  “Well, look what the cat dragged in.”  He smelled of beer and cigarettes.  His eyes landed on me.  “Who’s the pretty lady, little bro?”

“Her name’s Arianna.”  Marc wrapped his arm around me, almost possessively.

Justin chuckled.  “Don’t worry, Marky-Marc.  I’m not gettin’ any ideas.  All I can say is, about time.”

“You sound like Dad.”  Marc frowned.  “Speaking of stuff being ‘about time,’ what’s up with you, loser?  Got a job yet?”

“You’re hilarious,” Justin said, shoving Marc in the chest a little too hard for it to be only in jest.  “What about you?  Make it big in Hollywood yet, you pathetic dreamer?”

“I’m a stage actor, dipshit.  And hey, at least I’ve got ambitions.  More than anyone can say about you.  Who’s your latest hooker?”

Justin’s eyes darkened.  “You don’t know shit, Marc.  Donna’s the real deal.”  Then he seemed to remember I was there and frowned.  “Uh, sorry.  Hope this little douche isn’t too whiney for you.”

I glared.  “Marc’s the first good guy I’ve really been with.  I’ve been around the block enough to know about guys like you, Justin, and yeah, maybe that makes me just as dirty as you, but at least Marc had the balls to see something good in me.”  I gasped as the last of the words left my mouth and covered it with my hands.

Marc smirked.  “We’ll be seeing you, Justin.  Glad to know you’re as charming as always.”  He took my arm, and we walked down the hall to the stairs.

The slam of Justin’s door echoed down the hallway, but with the noise downstairs, it was unlikely anyone else heard it.

I leaned against the wall as we stood next to the steps.  “I can’t believe I said that.  D’you think I pissed him off?”

Marc waved me off.  “Who cares?  Maybe he needed to hear it from someone outside of the family.”  He took my hand and squeezed it.  “That was… What you said about me…”

I met his gaze and found him blushing.  “It’s true.  Your brother seems to rub you the wrong way.  I’ve never seen you so…”

“Rude?”  Marc chuckled softly.

Review of The Austrian: A War Criminal’s Story (Book 1) by Ellie Midwood

theautrianThe title of this book alone is a hook, at least for me.  World War II is, after all, one of the most important events in recent history, filled with some of the greatest atrocities ever committed against our fellow humans.

It’s easy to root for those who were persecuted and the Allies who ended the war, but what about the Axis powers?  They were people, too.

After the fall of the Nazi Reich, many of the former leaders were brought to trial and convicted of war crimes.  What would be going through a war criminal’s head?  Regret for what he’d done to others, regret for getting caught?  Anger and hatred toward those judging him?  Fear that the end of his own life was coming?  Or something more?

The Austrian: A War Criminal’s Story explores such questions with vivid, often heartbreaking detail, so much so that I sympathized with the man who this story is about.  In the end, he is still just a man who has known love and hate, happiness and sadness, good times and bad times.

Ellie Midwood’s well researched, well crafted World War II novel follows the life of Ernst Kaltenbrunner, a high-ranking SS official from Austria. While based on a real historical figure of this name, the character of Ernst is fictionalized. The story swaps effortlessly back and forth between the novel’s current day of 1946 of his imprisonment while he awaits trial for his war crimes and his past–from his boyhood and first love with a Jewish girl to how he would up serving in the Nazi party.

The novel opens with Ernst in Nuremburg Prison on the day of his execution.  We know his life is at the end, so this might seem like a strange place to start, but how did this man wind up in the gallows?  

Ernst comes from a family where he’s the oldest son, so the expectation is that he will follow in his father’s footsteps of becoming a lawyer, marrying, and having a family of his own.  Ernst is also a big, strong boy for his age, and his father encourages him to beat up those who deserve it.  As a young man, Ernst stands up for those who the bullies pick on at school, including Dalia, who is a little older than him and Jewish.

He even has to act as the head of his household when his father is drafted during World War I.  He seems to grow up before his time, even proposing to Dalia when he’s not old enough to marry.  Dalia, however, knows they could never be together because of their backgrounds.  The young Ernst doesn’t understand this, as both of their fathers are lawyers, and if Dalia and he love each other, what’s the problem?

Feeling bitter and heartbroken, Ernst leaves Dalia.  He begins attending secret political meetings with his father, where people get together who oppose the current government.  He meets a young woman named Melita afterward and begins hanging out with some college students, and from there, Ernst’s connections to the “right people” grow.

As he gets older, he moves up in the ranks of the Austrian SS.  He’s a mixture of a man who stands up for the underdog and who can easily beat someone to a pulp, sensitive and aggressive.  Before he knows it, he’s the damned leader, all the while wondering how he got into this position.

The story continues in the second book, including how Ernst falls in love with a woman who is the only beckon of hope he has as he awaits his end in prison.  I look forward to reading the rest of his story.

Ellie Midwood is an expert of World War II history, and it shows in his book. The historical facts check out, yet flow flawlessly with the fictionalized story of Ernst.

Her writing is lovely and at times heart-wrenching. Ernst is a good man who got caught up in the wrong world. His one true love is what gives him hope during his last days in prison, where he is left wondering if he did right by his life.

For anyone who is a fan of historical fiction and a complicated romance, I recommend this novel. It’s top-notch!

5 of out 5 stars!

Purchase The Austrian (Book 1) here.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday, including book reviews.

My new novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for only $2.99 here.

My first novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful,  is available for $3.99 here.

Book Review of Finding Kate by Pamela Humphrey

Kate Westfall thought she was done with her family’s secrets.  Think again.

Finding Kate is the second in the Texas Hill County series by Pamela Humphrey.  It immediately follows the first book, Finding Claire, which I highly recommend you read before diving into Finding Kate.  Otherwise, Finding Kate won’t make much sense!

You can read my review of Finding Claire here.

Kate, after discovering the truth about her background and identity, including her real family, decides to move from Denver to Schatzenburg, Texas.  In the first book, she met Alex Ramirez, a lonely widower, and they spent a lot of time together under dire circumstances.  Alex and Kate developed feelings that were more than just the friendship-type, and at the beginning of this book, they are still sorting those feelings out.


The beginning of Finding Kate seems a bit slow.  The reader feels like the dust has settled for Kate and Alex after how Finding Claire ended with such a bang, and now it’s just a matter of them figuring out their lives going forward.  Kate moving to Texas to be closer to her father and Alex, in addition to moving into the home she inherited, is the focus at first.  Alex comes with Kate to Denver to meet her friends and help her pack up her apartment.  Putting things in boxes and harmless talk feel mundane after what they have just been through a few days ago, but that’s part of getting back to real life.

Kate’s neighbor, Keith, stops by and is surprised she is leaving.  I detect jealousy in Keith, as he seems to like her and doesn’t care for Alex, who is hanging around the apartment.  The neighbor feels out of place, but maybe he’s just a weirdo.  Kate and Alex hit the road for Texas, and then things start to unravel when Jeff, the husband of Kate’s best friend (LeAnn), gets kidnapped, and it’s tied to Kate.

Poor Kate just can’t seem to get a break.  In addition to this new kidnapper who wants something from her, Kate starts to feel like things have moved too quickly between her and Alex.  She wonders if their attachment is simply the result of being forced together and going through stressful circumstances.  Whenever Alex tries to physically get close to Kate, she pulls away, and the reader starts to get the sense that there’s something else in her past that’s haunting her.

No place is safe for Kate or Alex — neither his cabin nor her new house (dubbed “the castle”), as they gave Alex’s address as the forwarding address for Kate when she moved away, and Schatzenburg is a small town where everyone knows everyone’s business.  The news of Kate’s family history has spread like wildfire in the small town, and everyone knows who she is, including someone who is following her and wants something from her.

Interwoven with the narrative are old letters written to Kate’s aunt Beth from a mysterious woman named “M.”  M and “Sticks” (who we later find out is Scott Bentley, Kate’s uncle) are the parents of a little boy named “Scooter.”  Sticks had an affair with M, and Scooter was the result.  When Sticks disappeared from Scooter’s life, the young boy became pent up with resentment and anger.

How do these letters tie into Kate’s story?  Who is following her?  What do they want?

And can Kate move past whatever it is that’s bothering her, so she can be happy with Alex?

19141955_10155375087713607_1447486949_nSo many questions, and I know the answers…but that would be spoiling the book for you!  Suffice it to say that as I got further into Finding Kate, I was definitely drawn into the story more and more, needing to know the resolution to these questions…and more!

The book has a satisfying ending and doesn’t leave any loose ends.  I would recommend this book to lovers of romance and suspense.

Four out of five stars.


Excerpt from Arianna

The sky was vibrant orange and pink over the lake as Marc and I sat on his couch.

“You have a million-dollar view,” I said.

“I’d like to think it’s priceless.”

I turned toward him and smiled.  His right arm was draped around me as I sat with my legs pulled up on the cushions.  “I love how your smile is crooked.”

“Is it?”  His grin widened.

“Even more crooked now.”  I leaned in and kissed him.

When we broke apart, he said, “Hmm, I’ll have to do that more often if I know it’ll get a kiss outta you.  Maybe if I frown and play the sad and misunderstood part well, I’ll even get more than a kiss.”

I scoffed and playfully shoved him in the shoulder, causing him to remove his arm from me.  My gesture had been meant in jest, but I’d pulled away enough for Marc to notice.

“Why do you do that?” he asked.

“Do what?”

“Even time I try to get close to you or make a stupid joke about sex, you freak.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“I’m the actor here, not you, Arianna.  I don’t mean to pry, but something’s just…off.  You know I’d never pressure you to do something you don’t want, right?”

“Of course I know that.”  I forced a laugh.  “Maybe I’m just not that physical of a person.”

“Okay.  You are twenty-five, though…a grown woman.  It seems to me we like each other a whole lot, so I’m just trying to understand what’s going on.  I see the way your eyes dash around, like you’re searching for the nearest exit, whenever sex comes up.  Your body tenses under my touch.”

Review of Finding Claire by Pamela Humphrey


Imagine waking up in the back of a van after being kidnapped with no idea who you are.  No memories.  No name.  Nothing.

You have a photo with the name “Claire” on it, perhaps the only clue to who you are — your whole identity.

You manage to escape, but you’re more lost than ever.  

This is how Finding Claire by Pamela Humphrey opens.  You can see why I couldn’t stop reading.  I had to know what would happen next.

Ms. Humphrey’s writing is thought-out and easy to read, but her descriptions of the physical surroundings and the emotions stirring inside put the reader right in the scene.  As the kidnapped woman desperately picks her way through the forest at night trying to find help, my heart was pumping with adrenaline right there with her.  With every stick that snaps underfoot and every rustle of a bush, she and I kept looking over our shoulders, expecting the kidnappers to be right on our heels.

And then a safe haven pops into view — a cozy cabin in the woods with a black cat in the window.  She knocks on the door at about 3:00 AM and meets Alex Ramirez, a guy in his thirties who’s got his own demons.  A widower for the last couple of years, Alex lost his wife tragically.  She was murdered, leaving him with a guilt that eats away his insides for not being able to save her, leaving him a shell.  His first inclination is to act as protector to this strange woman who shows up at his door.  He gives “Rainy” (his nickname for her, as she can’t yet remember her name) a place to stay.

Luckily for “Rainy,” Alex’s best friend is D.J., a cop.  The authorities are quickly notified of “Rainy” and her kidnappers, including two photos that she took with her when she escaped.  The one with the name “Claire” on it is an old picture of a mother and a little girl, with “Emma and Claire” written on the back.  The new picture is a current one of “Rainy.”  The investigation begins while Alex and “Rainy” commence doing their own search online for links to Claire.

“Rainy” soon gets her memory back, and she remembers her name is Kate.  She recalls getting kidnapped in the mall parking lot after shopping with her sister, Meg.  Meg was knocked out, and once things settle, Kate visits Meg in the hospital.  Parts of the puzzle start to fall into place as Kate talks to Meg and her husband, Tom.  Kate’s family lives in Denver, and she was just visiting San Antonio (where Meg lives).

It turns out that Kate has a knack for uncovering information on people because she’s into genealogy.  I can appreciate this quality, as I am also a genealogy fanatic, having spent most of the summer of 2011 researching my family tree.  It’s amazing what you can find online these days in regards to records on people, so Ms. Humphrey’s descriptions of Kate using the Internet for this purpose is realistic.  Ms. Humphrey’s love of genealogy shines through in this book, which is nice touch.

While Kate may have her memory back, she remains confused about why she was kidnapped in the first place and what her connection to Claire might be.  In addition to fearing for her safety because her kidnappers are still at large, she begins to have romantic feelings for Alex.  Unsure of whether he returns the feelings because it’s clear he still loves his late wife, Ellie, Kate holds back.  She wants more than a protector, as much as she appreciates Alex for everything he’s done.  She stays at his cabin with him for several days, and the tension between them grows as Alex struggles with his blossoming feelings for Kate, torn between loving another woman and the guilt over losing Ellie.

The suspense romance is written in alternating points-of-view.  One chapter is from Kate’s point-of-view, and the next is from third person.  I have read books like this before, although it’s rarely done.  One of the more recent books I read where the POV kept changing from first person between two main characters was the third book in Rebecca Donovan’s Breathing Series, Out of Breath.  I found this confusing in Donovan’s case because the first two books were only from one character’s POV, and with switching between two first person POVs, this was a bit much.  In Ms. Humphrey’s book, however, it works.  While Donovan would switch in the middle of a chapter, Ms. Humphrey sticks to whole chapters written in one point-of-view or the other.  There was never any confusion.  I found the insight into Kate’s mind important, knowing her fears, her reservations, her lapses in memory, her feelings for Alex, etc.  Knowing less about how Alex feels about Kate keeps the tension building, although it’s clear as the book moves along that he sees Kate as more than just a friend.

To say much more about the plot would give away too much, and I don’t want to spoil the book.  Let me just say that Ms. Humphrey doesn’t disappoint.  The same quality of needing to know what happens next that hooked me in the beginning continued through the whole novel and didn’t die for a second.  There is more to the kidnapping than you would imagine.

One final nice touch of this story is the letters written to Claire every year on her birthday by her mom and dad.  Claire was taken from her parents before she turned three years old.  You can feel the parents’ heartache, even though they know their daughter is alive.  Claire’s mom also shares the backstory of how Claire was born and what happened with her kidnapping. Again, I cannot say more without revealing too much.19141955_10155375087713607_1447486949_n

I highly recommend this book.  It’s the first in a series, so we have more to look forward to from Ms. Humphrey.  I, for one, am glad for that!

Buy Finding Claire here!