Review of ‘This Charming Man’ by C.K. McDonnell

‘This Charming Man’ by C.K. McDonnell is the second in The Stranger Times series. I haven’t read the first one, but got most of the jist pretty quickly. That said reading the first one will give a greater understanding of what on earth is going on from the get-go. 

The Stranger Times is a publication reporting on the very odd things happening around Greater Manchester and beyond. This weird group of characters involved in the paper work together in the most bizarre circumstances. Yet they manage to keep a sense of humour – well most of them do. When it appears vampires are on the loose in the city, wreaking havoc and leaving bodies in their wake, an investigation is demanded. What will they uncover – and can they really trust what they find?

It was funny, irreverent and just plain bonkers. But lots and lots of fun. This urban, supernatural fantasy kept me laughing. The author sees the bizarre in every situation and keeps the reader engaged until the end.

I was given this ARC for review.

My Best Books of 2021!

This year has been another difficult one, but authors have stepped up and given us some amazing stories. I struggled to whittle my favourite books of the year down to a reasonable number. There was no way I could stop at a Top Ten, but I managed a Top Fifteen. These are the books that made my year, and I highly recommend each and every one. Here they are, listed in no particular order:

  1. The Tell Tale by Clare Ashton

2. A Corruption of Blood by Ambrose Parry

3. The Island Between Us by Wendy Hudson 

4. The Fair Botanists by Sara Sheridan 

5. Ignis by KJ

6. The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

7. Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead by Emily R Austin

8. The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

9. The End Of Men by Christina Sweeney-Baird

10. Her Last Request by Mari Hannah

11. The Dead Of Winter by Nicola Upson

12. Song Of Serenity by Brey Willows

13.The Appeal by Janice Hallett

14. Katharine Parr, The Sixth Wife by Alison Weir

15. Shiver by Allie Reynolds

Review of ‘Song of Serenity’ by Brey Willows

What’s a Muse to do when her much-anticipated peaceful break is under threat? Calliope Ardalides is the eldest of the nine Muses, and is responsible for arbitrating arguments between the gods and answering for their failures to the humans who complain. Her haven of serenity is a small Scottish village, where the Temple of the Muses is situated. But when an American businesswoman lodges plans for an adventure park right next door, Calliope’s hopes of relaxation and calm are shattered. Despite a powerful attraction neither women appear ready to yield. Can they each get what they want? And will they be able to resist the pull of something more?

I’ve been looking forward to this, the first in a new series set in the Afterlife Inc world. The first trilogy was excellent and my favourite series of the past five years. This time we are with the Muses, and they are just as compelling. Calliope is a talented musician and singer, but has been so caught up in the other aspects of her job, that her artistic side has taken a back seat. Being in Scotland lets her enjoy music again, but the threat to her peace from Jordan James and her plans is worrying. Although she’s used to seeing an issue from both sides at work, it’s more difficult in this case. She’s a kind, thoughtful and sensitive soul and I really liked her. 

Jordan wasn’t the big, bad wolf, even though she wanted to build next to the Temple. I could see her point of view, and it would certainly help the local community. But she had to see the whole picture, and Calliope was the person to help her do that. Their attraction was intense and powerful, but it was also healing for both of them. 

Brey Willows describes the Scottish countryside perfectly and makes me feel as if I’m there. She sees past the surface and allows the reader a peek of that too. I love the marrying of old and new, the mythology and the present. The story shows wonderful imagination, and I never tire of reading what she has come up with . She knows her characters inside out and allows the reader to become part of their lives. 

‘Song of Serenity’ is a stunning story. I highly recommend it.

I was given this Arc for review. 

Review of ‘Turbulent Waves’ by Ali Vali

‘Turbulent Waves’ by Ali Vali is a romantic fantasy novel set in Atlantis and New Orleans. Vivien could never forget meeting a girl on the beach years ago. She appeared to dip beneath the waves in the company of sharks – but how could that be? Years later she finds out when Kai Merlin, heir to the Atlantean throne, comes back into her life and they fall in love. As they plan their wedding Vivien finds out about the world beneath the sea and is astounded at the scope of it all. But Atlantis is under threat and the women must fight for their lives and the home they will now share. 

This is the second in the series and I feel reading the first one is important to understanding the whole story. It’s a truly amazing world and the concept is so well thought out. I loved finding out about the history and technology of the Atlantean people. The love story between Kai and Vivien is beautiful and tender and extremely hot. The heat level is scorching, with very descriptive love scenes. But underneath all of the happiness at the impending wedding is an undercurrent of fear and tension as they battle an enemy from the stars. I loved to wallow in fantasy and this let me do that. An enjoyable story.

I was given this ARC for review.

Review of ‘Elemental Attraction’ by K Aten

‘Elemental Attraction’ by K Aten is the first in her new MythWorld Series. It’s a beautifully crafted tale of shapeshifters, mythical creatures and destiny. Ellys is a half-elven swordsman and a great one at that. She hires out her skills to help keep body and soul together for herself and her companion steed, Roccotari. When dragon shapeshifter, Aderri offers her more than the usual rate to help her get home for an important family ceremony she agrees. But the journey is fraught with danger and the threesome find themselves dealing with more than they bargained for. Add in the beginnings of an attraction that grows hotter as they near Aderri’s homeland. As each grapple with their own and others expectations, life becomes a whole lot more interesting. 

The world-building is superb in ‘Elemental Attraction’ and K Aten has once again hooked me with her imaginative storytelling. The mixture of different creatures is fantastic and seeing how they interact with each other made me laugh and sometimes shed a tear. Ellys is strong and fearless and loyal. She strives to achieve balance in everything she does. Her relationship with Roccotari is funny, sarcastic and joyful. They have an amazing bond and it is the most significant relationship for both of them. As they travel with Aderri we begin to see that love does not have to be static, and change can be embraced. I loved the banter between the three, but also the traditions, mythology and history that made them who they were. A great story.

I was given this ARC for review.

Review of ‘In Our Words’ edited by Victoria Villasenor

‘In Our Words’ is a wonderful anthology of queer stories from black, indigenous and people of colour writers. The selection by Anne Shade is inspired and I loved reading such a variety of well-written stories. I now have some authors, new to me, that I feel compelled to seek out for my next book purchases. Although I enjoyed them all, there are a few stories that took my breath away.

My favourite was ‘Granddaughter of the Dragon’ by Brey Willows. It was a beautiful story of family, love and freedom. Freedom to be who you are and embrace it. Willows is a masterful storyteller, and manages to take the reader to places where anything is possible.

I also loved ‘Sweet Potato’ by Briana Lawrence. The author used imagery and language with such skill that I could see, touch and taste everything her characters did. I certainly want to read more from this particular author in the future.

‘Art Appreciation’ by La Toya Hankins was an empowering story, with a message of hope. I enjoyed the interaction between the two main characters and appreciated how the author developed the characters over the course of a short story.

‘The Depth of Love’ by Anne Shade was an emotional story, with a twist of mythology thrown in. It was a feel-good tale with romance and left me smiling. I would love to know more about the particular mythology she explored in a novel.

This is an excellent anthology, with something for everyone.

I was given this ARC to review.

Review of ‘The Wine of Angels’ by Phil Rickman

Merrily Watkins is the new vicar in a small Herefordshire village. Women priests in the Church of England are still fairly unusual in the late 1990s and although some villagers are friendly, others seem resistant. But as time goes on she begins to wonder if the resistance is due to her gender or something rather more disturbing. 

This is a beautifully written and perfectly executed mystery with a decidedly spooky element. Merrily and her teenage daughter Jane try to settle into the vicarage and the community, but they become aware that there is much more going on underneath. Things no one wants to talk about openly. The gradual teasing build up to the reveal is masterfully done and I did not see any of it coming. And the best bit? Finding out that this is only book one in the series, and I have many more hours ahead of me with Merrily Watkins. Highly recommended.

Review of ‘Golden Sea’ by Emma Sterner-Radley

Golden Sea is the second in the Mapmaking Magicians series by Emma Sterner-Radley. I’ve been eagerly awaiting its release, as I loved the first book, Silver Beasts.  The four friends are back at the Hall of Explorers, but things have changed. The King is determined to carry on with his agenda and is now less willing to stick to the original plan. No wonder the students are worried. As well as dealing with their forthcoming dangerous mission, their emotions cause them further confusion. Dealing with them will not be easy.  

Wonderfully descriptive language takes the reader into the world of Cavarra, a world that has been meticulously created. I loved how the story opened out and in some ways things became clearer. We learned more about the history and backstory, but the author also teased us with tantalising titbits of adventures to come. It’s a YA story, but its appeal goes far beyond that audience. The fantasy, magic and mystery within the story makes it a great read for a much wider audience. I really enjoyed it and look forward to the next in the series. 

Review of ‘The Night Hawks’ by Elly Griffiths

‘The Night Hawks’ by Elly Griffiths is the 13th story in a mystery series set in Norfolk, featuring forensic archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway. It’s the first I’ve read and I loved it so much, I’m  going to go back to the start and read them all. I had no problem jumping in at this point though, as the author made so much of the backstory clear, with little pieces of information here and there. 

Ruth is Head of Archaeology at the University and dealing with her new responsibilities and her life as a single parent is hard enough, but again she finds herself called upon to help out Nelson and the local police force. When a body is washed up on the beach, suspicion that Bronze Age artefacts may be found there too means her expertise is required. The discovery of two bodies in a remote farm, and a local legend of the Black Shuck complicates her work further. As the clues mount, and suspects multiply, can Ruth and Nelson solve the case before more tragedy ensues. 

‘The Night Hawks’ is an excellent mystery, full of surprises and intrigue. I loved the Norfolk setting and the local myths and legends becoming a part of the story. The archaeological details made it all the more fascinating and kept me hooked. Ruth Galloway is a fascinating character, with insecurities and repressed passions. Her relationship with Nelson is, on the surface, professional and their personal interaction seems limited to discussions about their daughter, Kate. But we all know they want more. The ensemble cast works so well and this series could make a fantastic TV series. I look forward to many more stories. 

I was given this ARC to review.

Review of ‘Inspiration Takes A Vacation’ by Annette Mori

‘Inspiration Takes A Vacation’ by Annette Mori is a charming romance with a twist. Abby Prentice has writer’s block – and she’s not the only one. All across the Pacific Northwest creative people from all areas of the arts have lost inspiration. A coincidence? Maybe not. When she bumps into a beautiful, but strange, woman on the beach it takes her mind off her troubles for a while. She can’t quite work her out at all. Musetta is on a much needed break and has come to a point in her life where doing what’s expected is not enough for her. She has a lot of thinking to do. In the meantime she feels drawn to the accident-prone Abby, and there’s no harm in exploring that, is there?

The mixture of old and new turned this romance into something quite unexpected. Ms Mori likes to do things just that little bit differently and it works for me. I love the humour and the honesty in her writing. Abby was goofy and clumsy, but also loyal and endearing. Muse had an innocence paired with wisdom – a wonderful combination. They were a wonderful couple and I wanted it to work for them. This is the kind of book to snuggle on the couch with, for a few hours of love, romance and passion. I loved it.

I was given this ARC for review.