Monday, October 2, 2023

On Moonberry Lake by Holly Varni Book Review

About the Book:

Cora Matthews's life is a mess. A broken engagement and the unexpected death of her mother have left her wondering if things will ever return to normal. Whatever "normal" is.

It certainly isn't what she finds at Moonberry Lake. After she receives her family's dilapidated lakefront lodge as an inheritance--with a surprising condition attached--Cora finds her life overrun by a parade of eccentric neighbors who all have something to say and something to teach her.

As Cora works to put her life back together, she must decide if she is willing to let go of the past, open her heart to love, and embrace the craziest version of family and home she could ever have imagined.

You can read an excerpt here.

My Review:

This novel was a pleasure to read. The characters are what make it fun and there are plenty of them. There are oddballs who made me laugh. There are older ones who have amazing insights into life. There are sweet neighbors who are more than willing to help Cora and a really grouchy one who wants her gone. There is the colorful history of the area to learn and personal secrets to uncover. There is a potential romance suitably hampered by heart breaking misunderstandings. The plot centers around the idea of being independent verses allowing others to see our needs. Allowing others to help us may just be what gives meaning to their lives.

This pleasant novel is vague on Christian faith, however. There are references to broader spiritual experiences than one might expect in a novel from a long time Christian publisher. Varni also includes the common plot point of an unexpected storm to spice up the action. Other than that, an enjoyable novel. Varni's writing style is engaging and I'll be looking for more from her.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

About the Author:

Holly Varni is a native Minnesotan of strong Norwegian descent, who was raised in the Lutheran Church that Garrison Keillor made a career depicting. Between the lutefisk, grumpy grandparents, and crazy neighbors who mowed their lawn wearing pajamas, the seed to becoming a storyteller was planted. Though she, her husband, and their three sons live along the Central Coast of California, her beloved Midwest roots continue to haunt everything she writes. She hosts the Moments from Moonberry Lake podcast where she shares more stories of her beloved characters. Learn more at Photo Credit: Melissa White Photography

Revell, 336 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Death and the Sisters by Heather Redmond Blog Tour Book Review


Death and the Sisters

by Heather Redmond

September 25 - October 20, 2023 Virtual Book Tour


The tangled relationships between Frankenstein author Mary Shelley, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Mary’s stepsister Jane Clairmont form the backdrop for an intriguing historical mystery, set in London in 1814, that explores the complex dynamic between sisters and the birth of teenaged Mary’s creative genius.

London, 1814: Mary Godwin and her stepsister Jane Clairmont, both sixteen, possess quick minds bolstered by an unconventional upbringing, and have little regard for the rules that other young ladies follow. Mary, whose mother famously advocated for women’s rights, rejects the two paths that seem open to her—that of an assistant in her father’s bookshop, or an ordinary wife. Though quieter and more reserved than the boisterous Jane, Mary’s imagination is keen, and she longs for real-world adventures.

One evening, an opportunity arrives in the form of a dinner guest, Percy Bysshe Shelley. At twenty-one, Shelley is already a renowned poet and radical. Mary finds their visitor handsome and compelling, but it is later that evening, after the party has broken up, that events take a truly intriguing turn. When Mary comes downstairs in search of a book, she finds instead a man face down on the floor—with a knife in his back.

The dead man, it seems, was a former classmate of Shelley’s, and had lately become a personal and professional rival. What was he doing in the Godwins’ home? Mary, Jane, and Shelley are all drawn to learn the truth behind the tragedy, especially as each discovery seems to hint at a tangled web that includes many in Shelley’s closest circle. But as the attraction between Mary and the married poet intensifies, it sparks a rivalry between the sisters, even as it kindles the creative fire within . . .

Praise for Death and the Sisters:

"Death and the Sisters is a terrific blend of gritty history with a mystery that will keep readers turning pages. Impeccably researched and imaginative, Redmond’s first Mary Shelley Mystery immerses readers in the drama of young Mary Godwin and her family, as well as her budding romance with Percy Shelley, as they work together to solve a wonderfully bookish murder. I thoroughly enjoyed this series kick-off and can’t wait for the next story!"
~ Susanna Craig, author of The Lady Knows Best

"Death and the Sisters is a rip-roaring murder mystery with twists and turns that introduces teenaged Mary Godwin, not yet the author of the immortal work Frankenstein, as an amateur detective. Redmond's foray in the world of rational atheists in early 19th century London is a mesmerizing, forceful delight."
~ Eilis Flynn, author of The Riddle of Rym

"Crafted with vivid historical detail, an artfully twisted plot, and engaging characters, Death and the Sisters is an excellent start to what I hope will be a long-running series."
~ Dianne Freeman, author of the award-winning Countess of Harleigh Mysteries

"It might be the way London comes to life in all of its dark and gritty complexities, or the dynamics between Mary and her step-sister, Jane, as they set out to find the killer of the man who they discover dead in the bookshop. Everyone is a suspect—even Percy Shelley who has caught the eye of the women in the household. Propulsive and immersive, Heather Redmond is at the top of her game until the intense and satisfying end."
~ Mary Keliikoa, author of Hidden Pieces

"An intrepid cast of characters, a stunningly atmospheric 19th-century London, and a riveting murder… Highly recommend."
~ Melissa Bourbon, bestselling author

My Review:

This novel was a hard one for me to follow. There are many characters and I really appreciate a list of the at the beginning of the book. I read a digital edition and it was hard to access that character list. It was the second marriage for the Mr. Godwin so there are step-children and step-parent relationships, some rather harsh. The plot concentrates more on relationships, especially involving those with Shelley, than the murder. The murder investigation is quite convoluted and meandering and is not your typical amateur sleuth style.

The main characters are the step-sisters Mary and Jane. The narrative changes focus with Jane's section in first person and Mary's in third person. I appreciate the difference as it was easier to recognize. I was very surprised when Jane revealed some activities near the end, a complete surprise to me, even though much of the novel was from her personal viewpoint.

This is a novel that would appeal to readers interested in a possible teen life of Mary before she was married and before she wrote her novel, Frankenstein. A future novel from Redmond may well shed more light on Mary and her adventures with Percy Shelley.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Book Details:

Genre: Historical mystery
Published by: Kensington
Publication Date: September 2023
Number of Pages: 320
ISBN: 9781496737991 (ISBN10: 1496737997)
Series: Mary Shelley Mystery, 1

Read an excerpt:

“Come, Mary.” Jane flopped onto her bed. “Tell us a story about the prisoner ghosts wailing.”

“I’ll have to think it up,” Mary said and then began to quote. “‘This relation is Matter of Fact, and attended with such Circumstances as may induce any Reasonable Man to believe it.’”

“What’s that?” Jane asked. The floor creaked as she kicked off her slippers and knocked them to the floor.

“Defoe, I think,” Mary said, already considering the form of her story. If only Mother had written such fanciful tales, to give her ideas on how to construct them. “I’ll consult his works in the bookshop for further inspiration. It seems like quite a good start to a ghost story.”

Mary placed her slippers next to Jane’s and walked down in her stocking feet, hugging the wall so as not to set off the worst of the creaking stairs. If Mamma heard her, she’d be set to mending something. Her stepmother never thought about the cost of candles when she could make her daughters work themselves into exhaustion after dark.

The bookshop’s interior door hung open. Very odd, as Mamma was particular about making sure that the smells of domestic life, particularly cooking odors, did not damage the books.

Mary shrugged, glad she had come downstairs, because if Mamma had been the first to notice, she’d have no doubt blamed Mary. She lit the lantern kept in readiness for customers who wanted to browse in the dark corners.

While she knew exactly where Defoe was kept, she first went to a back corner of the shop and dropped to her knees, then pulled out a much-loved volume that Mamma kept in stock because she knew that it sold, even though it was anything but highbrow or philosophical. Ann Radcliffe’s The Romance of the Forest. Feeling a little breathless, like a Gothic heroine about to swoon, she opened the book to her favorite page. With the lantern held over the engraving, she examined the bare legs of the man removing a blindfolded girl from a house.

She bit her lip as she looked over the engraved musculature, feeling a familiar shiver dance up through her body. Did Shelley have legs so magnificent? He certainly possessed the broad shoulders and narrow waist of the figure on the page. She set down the lantern when it shook in her hand.

“Oh, to see a form like that,” she whispered to herself. None of her Scottish suitors had possessed a body she wanted to caress. As such, none of them had enticed so much as a kiss from her. After a last heated glance, she closed the book and tucked it away again.

The next shelves were in front of the bow windows. The Juvenile Library was shelved there, at the perfect height for children. Works of historical merit were on the other side. Mary rose.

Her foot twisted as she took the first step. She grabbed for the edge of the bookcase with one hand, the other gripping the lantern tightly. Her fingers were trembling by the time she righted herself. She reached down and swiped at her foot. Something sticky coated her fingers. What was on the floor?

“Honestly,” she muttered to herself. More cleaning. She set the lantern on the bookcase and walked past the windows. Slatted lines from the shutters were illuminated by the oil lamp that burned all night at the corner of the road.

Distracted by the sudden reflected light, she tripped again. “Blast,” she cried.

When she tried to take another step forward, her way was blocked by something solid. Confused, she prodded it with her foot. It felt warm, dry, and slightly yielding. She backed up to take the lantern in her hand again, then cupped the side of it with her hand to keep the illumination from the road. When she reached the mass again, she held the lantern out over the floor.

Her mouth dropped open when she saw what lay in front of her. A man, like something out of a painting of the French Revolution, was sprawled on the floor. Facedown. She swept the lantern over his body. Her hand shook as she saw first one knife, then another.

The first was impaled in his back. The other, in the mysterious recesses between his legs.

“Faith!” Wobbly, Mary blinked hard, then forced herself to kneel down beside the sprawled figure, to touch the man’s hand.

Still warm. She squeezed it, feeling that strange sensation of callused male flesh under hers, then dropped the hand. What was she doing? Molesting a corpse?

She scooted back, her eyes closed, then opened them again, feeling her lips tremble at the sight of the dark blue velvet coat, the dark stain around the knife gleaming wetly in the light. She knew that coat. Shelley! That fine figure of a man, ended so cruelly. They had just seen him leave not twenty minutes earlier. Had he been accosted in the street and dumped here?

“I could have loved such a being.” Tears sprang to her eyes, and she let them fall, keenly feeling her sensibility. Hadn’t he said he was a new father? And his poor young wife, not even twenty yet, a widow.


Drat that Jane. Could she not offer up a moment’s solitude to anyone?

Her stepsister’s footsteps came closer, along with the bobbing of a candle flame.

“Don’t come any closer,” Mary warned. She set the lantern down.

Ignoring her, Jane came down the space between the bookshelves and turned in the nook in front of the windows.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

Mary scrambled to her feet, hoping to block her sister’s view. The candle wavered as Jane took in the scene. She gasped loudly.

“What,” Jane asked, “is that?”

“Knives,” Mary said. “Murder has been done here.”

“What?” Jane repeated, some frantic power coming into her voice. “Papa?”

“No,” Mary said, grabbing the candleholder before the candle dropped. “Shelley.”

She saw what was going to happen and held up her other hand, hoping to forestall it. But she failed, and Jane, coming closer, screamed. Mary bent under the onslaught and grabbed her sister’s hand.

“Hush,” she begged, pulling her away. “We have to tell Papa before the watch comes.”

Though Jane resisted, Mary pulled her through the bookshop, then forced her to sit on the steps and hold the candle while she went back for the lantern. She set it on the table in the hall.

“Stay here,” she commanded.

“But,” Jane whispered. “But the body.”

“Papa will know what to do.”

“But the watch.”

“Papa should call them, not us. Do you want him surprised?”

“The bookshop,” Jane said next.

“Yes, it’s very bad,” Mary agreed.

“It isn’t S-Shelley,” Jane stuttered. “He just left.”

Mary pulled the handkerchief from her sleeve and tucked it into Jane’s unresisting hand. “It must be,” she said. “Who else? Cry quietly, please.” Hoping her sister obeyed, she picked up her skirts and ran up the steps to her father’s library.


Excerpt from Death and the Sisters by Heather Redmond. Copyright 2023 by Heather Redmond. Reproduced with permission from Heather Redmond. All rights reserved.


Author Bio:

Heather Redmond is an author of commercial fiction and also writes as Heather Hiestand. First published in mystery, she took a long detour through romance before returning. Though her last British ancestor departed London in the 1920s, she is a committed anglophile, Dickens devotee, and lover of all things nineteenth century.

She has lived in Illinois, California, and Texas, and now resides in a small town in Washington State with her husband and son. The author of many novels, novellas, and short stories, she has achieved best-seller status at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other retailers. Her 2018 Heather Redmond debut, A Tale of Two Murders, has received a coveted starred review from Kirkus Reviews.

Catch Up With Heather Redmond:


Tour Participants:

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Click here to view Death and the Sisters by Heather Redmond Tour Hosts.



This is a giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Tours for Heather Redmond. See the widget for entry terms and conditions. Void where prohibited.



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I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Partners in Crime Book Tours. My comments are an independent and honest review. The rest of the copy of this post was provided by Partners in Crime Book Tours.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Murder at Midnight by Katharine Schellman Blog Tour Book Review


Murder at Midnight

by Katharine Schellman

September 18 - October 13, 2023 Virtual Book Tour


Perfect for fans of Deanna Raybourn and Ashley Weaver, when a body is found shot to death after an unexpected snowstorm, Lily Adler quickly realizes that some people will stop at nothing to bury their secrets.

Regency widow Lily Adler is looking forward to a quiet Christmastide away from the schemes and secrets she witnessed daily in London. Not only will she be visiting the family of her late husband; she will be reunited with Captain Jack Hartley, her friend and confidante, finally returned after a long voyage at sea.

But secrets aren't only found in London. Jack's younger sister, Amelia, is the center of neighborhood scandal and gossip. She refuses to tell anyone what really happened, even when an unexpected snowstorm strands the neighborhood families together after a Christmas ball. Stuck until the snow stops, the Adlers, Hartleys, and their neighbors settle in for the night, only to be awakened in the morning by the scream of a maid who has just discovered a dead body.

The victim was the well-to-do son of a local gentleman--the same man whose name has become so scandalously linked to Amelia's.

With the snow still falling and no way to come or go, it's clear that someone in the house was responsible for the young man's death. When suspicion instantly falls on Jack's sister, he and Lily must unmask the true culprit before Amelia is convicted of a crime she didn't commit.

Praise for Murder at Midnight:

"Delightful . . . Historical mystery fans will devour this holiday treat."
~ Publishers Weekly

"A plummy period whodunit with a colorful collection of suspects."
~ Kirkus Reviews

My Review:

 This is the second mystery I have read featuring Lily. I liked this mystery in the locked room style. We know one of the people sequestered because of the snowstorm must be the murderer. All of the potential suspects, it seems, have secrets. It was interesting to see how Lily and Sir John uncover the truth. Lily is persistent, even when Sir John thinks he has his villain.

Shellman has created a quite complex plot. There are layers of deceit that must be uncovered. I like Lily as an amateur sleuth. She is observant and intelligent. The setting is well done. I appreciate the attention to historical detail. While I am not usually a fan of historical mysteries, I liked this one and will be watching for more featuring Lily Adler.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

You can read my review of the earlier novel I read featuring Lily Adler, Death at the Manor.

Book Details:

Genre: Historical mystery
Published by: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: September 2023
Number of Pages: 320
ISBN: 9781639104321 (ISBN10: 1639104321)
Series: A Lily Adler Mystery, 4
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | | Goodreads | Penguin Random House

Read an excerpt:

Lily sat bolt upright. Where had the sound come from? It hadn’t been loud . . . another part of the house? For a moment, in the pressing silence, she wondered if she had drifted back to sleep without realizing it and imagined the whole thing.

But a moment later, the sounds of a commotion rose just outside her window. Lily dashed to the window, throwing it open with some effort and peering out into the swirl of snow and early- morning light.

The guest room she had been given was one of the smaller ones—the better to quickly heat rooms that hadn’t been prepared in advance—and as was typical for such rooms, it lacked a pretty view. Hers looked over what she realized after a moment must be the poultry yard. Darkly clad figures who she could guess were servants stumbled through the thick layer of snow that had fallen, trying to reach the two people in the middle of the yard.

One Lily could see from her vantage only as a still, upright figure, hand outstretched and pointing toward the second person, who lay sprawled on the ground. The one on the ground was half covered by the ice and snow, unmoving.

Lily grabbed the dressing gown from the chair, pulled on her shoes, and ran from the room. In the hallway, a few guests were poking their heads out of their doors, hair tousled and faces creased with sleep, inquiring grumpily if anyone had heard an odd noise.

Lily didn’t stop to consider propriety or worry about what anyone else might think before she yelled “Jack!” as loudly as she could. She didn’t know which room he had been given, but a moment later, a door past the stairs was flung open and the navy captain’s head appeared.

“What is it?” he demanded. He was already dressed and wearing his driving coat over his clothing. That was odd at such an early hour, but Lily didn’t have time to be surprised.

“Downstairs.” In spite of the months they had spent apart, Lily knew she could depend on him to understand and act quickly. “Something happened. We have to help.”

And in spite of those months apart, he didn’t stop to ask questions. More guests were emerging, summoned by Lily’s shout, and questions were beginning to fly back and forth as she dashed down the stairs, Jack on her heels.

They didn’t need to wonder where to go; on the floor below, Mrs. Grantham was following a stately-looking woman who might have been the housekeeper or another upper servant. Their pace was just barely too dignified to be a run, but they couldn’t hide their worry as they disappeared down the steps to the kitchen. Lily and Jack hurried after them.

The servants’ staircase was narrow and cold. At the bottom, servants clustered in the kitchen, talking in shrill, anxious voices as the cook tried to keep some order. The underservants glanced uneasily at Lily and Jack as they came into the kitchen, but no one seemed to know what to do or say. The door to the yard had been left wide open, and the wind blew in gusts of snow and icy morning light. Outside, more servants were gathered, though they parted like a wave as the housekeeper led Mrs. Grantham out to see what had happened.

As Lily and Jack tried to follow, they were stopped by the frail but determined body of the butler, who interposed himself between them and the open door. “Madam, sir, perhaps you would care to return to your rooms? Breakfast will be ready shortly.”

Jack drew himself up, clearly prepared to use his rank to push his way past the aging servant. Before he could say anything, though, and before Lily could think how to reply, Mrs. Grantham turned sharply.

“What is . . .” She trailed off, eyeing Lily and Jack with trepidation. She looked ready to send them on their way with some commonplace assurance. But half a dozen emotions chased their way across her face in that moment, and she instead asked, “Mrs. Adler, how many of the rumors about you are true?”

“That depends on the rumors,” Lily replied calmly, though her heart was pounding. Behind Mrs. Grantham, she could see the limbs of the eerie, still figure sticking out of the snowbank. “Though if you refer only to the ones that are most relevant at this moment . . .” She turned her gaze pointedly toward the body in the snow. “There is indeed some truth to them.”

Mrs. Grantham hesitated, then seemed to make up her mind in a rush. She stepped aside, pulling the confused housekeeper with her. There were boots for the servants lined up next to the door, crusted with mud from repeated use. Lily pulled off her delicate evening slippers, slid her bare feet into the pair that looked closest to her size, and followed as she and Jack were ushered into the yard, their eyes fixed on what awaited them there.

A man dressed in borrowed clothes, his skin white with cold, his hair thick with clumps of ice and snow. He could have fallen, hit his head, been caught in the storm and frozen. He could still be alive, in need of help. He could have had an innocent reason for being out in the storm.

He could have. But this close, Lily could see the snow that had been kicked aside and trampled by half a dozen feet in the servants’ frantic attempts to clear it away. The icy powder was too thick on the ground for her to see the mud of the yard. But it was still stained with red and brown from where the man’s life had leaked away in the night.

The once-snowy linen of his shirt was stained the same color, jagged and torn from the bullet that had ended his life. The gun that had fired it had been unearthed beside him, as snow-logged as his own body. The man’s frozen eyes and mouth were wide open, as though he had not believed until the last moment that whoever had faced him in that yard could be capable of the shot that had ended his life.


Excerpt from Murder at Midnight by Katharine Schellman. Copyright 2023 by Katharine Schellman. Reproduced with permission from Katharine Schellman. All rights reserved.


Author Bio:

Katharine Schellman is a former actor and one-time political consultant. These days, she writes the Lily Adler Mysteries and the Nightingale Mysteries. Her books, which reviewers have praised as “worthy of Agatha Christie or Rex Stout” (Library Journal, starred review), have received multiple accolades, including being named a Library Journal Best Crime Fiction of 2022, a Suspense Magazine Best Book of 2020, and a New York Times editor’s pick in June 2022. Katharine lives and writes in the mountains of Virginia in the company of her husband, children, and the many houseplants she keeps accidentally murdering.

Catch Up With Katharine Schellman:
BookBub - @KatharineSchellman
Instagram - @katharinewrites
Facebook - @katharineschellman


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I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Partners in Crime Book Tours. My comments are an independent and honest review. The rest of the copy of this post was provided by Partners in Crime Book Tours.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Friday, September 29, 2023

The Confessions of Pope Joan by Gary McAvoy Book Review

About the Book:

In the heart of the English countryside, a discovery is made that threatens to overturn centuries of Church history. When Father Michael Dominic uncovers a cryptic diary leading to a lost 1st century Gospel, he is thrust into a labyrinth of deceit, murder, and controversy. Alongside Hana Sinclair, a savvy journalist, Michael sets out to unravel a mystery buried deep within the Church's past. The Confessions of Pope Joan is a gripping tale of courage and faith, charting their quest against a powerful adversary seeking to keep the truth hidden.

Their journey reveals the existence of Pope Joan, the first and only female Pope whose reign has been obscured by time and conspiracy. As they traverse the intricate tapestry of deceit and power, they must confront a society unwilling to relinquish its patriarchal hold. Meanwhile, Detective Inspector Grace Dempsey, assigned to a seemingly unrelated murder case in England, stumbles upon a thread that binds her to the historic revelation. Their paths converge, creating a thrilling narrative that intertwines past and present, fact and fiction.

As the Vatican's secrets unfold, Pope Ignatius, Michael's ailing father, battles his own legacy. Torn between preserving the Church's past and shaping its future, his decisions become paramount in the struggle for truth. The Pope’s radical stand for change, embodied in two Apostolic Constitutions, sets the stage for a new era in the Church while challenging long-standing beliefs and traditions.

The Confessions of Pope Joan is an intriguing blend of historical revelation, suspenseful mystery, and human resilience. It delves deep into the heart of the Catholic Church, unearthing secrets hidden for centuries. Through engaging characters, intertwined plotlines, and poignant insights, this novel offers readers an engrossing journey through a world where the past bleeds into the present, reshaping the future. With every turn of the page, The Confessions of Pope Joan forces readers to question the known and grapple with the unimagined, making it a must-read for fans of historical thrillers.

You can watch the book trailer here.

You can read an excerpt here.

My Review:

McAvoy does not shy away from controversial theological issues and he tackles a few big ones in this novel, including the role of women in the Roman Catholic Church, the tensions between newly discovered documents and traditional teaching and whether priests should be allowed to marry. He usually skirts the borders and circles around in the end but this time he goes all the way.

I appreciate his exploration of the attitude of women in leadership in the Roman Catholic Church specifically and Christianity in general. He clearly shows the attitude of many men that women have no place whatsoever in church leadership. That issue comes to light in the discovery of documents that challenge the traditional teaching of the Church.

There are a couple of aspects of this novel that did not seem to have the usual care McAvoy gives to his plot structure and development. The newly discovered documents are accepted as authentic at first sight and allowed to contradict centuries of authenticated manuscripts. That just would not happen in the actual realm of Christianity. Also, one of the documents challenges the Christian understanding of sin. Again, this teaching is accepted in the novel's world even though it contradicts previously authenticated and highly respected manuscripts long accepted by the Church. Centuries of teaching are overturned in a short amount of time, something that would not happen in the real Christian world.

McAvoy has not included the usual amount of suspense and intrigue I've come to expect from Father Michael and his cohorts. The plot moves quickly and everything seems to work out too easily with respect to identifying the villain and neutralizing him. It almost seems like the development of the plot was rushed and not completely fleshed out, so to speak.

I appreciate the thought provoking nature of McAvoy's writing. I really like his notes at the end, identifying the realms of historical fact and imaginative fiction. While the issues explored in this novel are brought to a resolution, we are left with the potential of another adventure for Father Michael and I'll be watching for it.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

You can read my reviews of the previous books in this series: The Vivaldi Cipher, The Opus Dictum, The Petrus Prophecy, The Avignon Affair, The Jerusalem Scrolls, The Galileo Gambit, and The Magdalene Chronicles: The Magdalene Deception, The Magdalene Reliquary and The Magdalene Veil.

About the Author:

Gary McAvoy began his writing career writing columns for a small town weekly newspaper and articles for a regional Southern California magazine. That laid the foundation for corporate communications work supporting his own and clients' businesses. He was fascinated with cryptology and intelligence during his U.S. Army tour in Germany. Following his military service, he built a number of successful ventures in Southern California and then moved to the Pacific Northwest. You can find out more about him and his books at

Literati Editions, 237 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Battered & Torn by Allison Pearl Blog Tour Book Review

About the Book

Book: Battered & Torn

Author: Allison Pearl

Genre: Faith-Based Romantic Suspense

Release Date: February 6, 2023

As just another staff member in the mansion of billionaire Archie Hamilton, Nora’s finally found a place to hide from her murderous family. But when the handsome bigshot asks her out on a date, she worries Archie’s interest—no matter how thrilling—will blow her cover and shoot up a flare for those hunting her. And if she can’t squash his crush, only God will be able to keep him out of danger.

When Archie turned in his scalpel to run the family business, life became too busy to go home and deal with his grief. But when he discovers a suspicious hire at his ancestral estate, he’s forced to confront the situation as well as his anger at God for taking not only his family, but his dreams. Despite his objections, his grandmother is determined to keep Nora on staff, but that isn’t going to stop him investigating her on his own—no matter how attractive he finds her. But the more he digs, the more questions he has.

Drawn to Nora again and again, Archie wonders if she’ll help lead him back to the truth or get him killed. Is trusting a beautiful stranger worth the risk to his family, his life, and his heart? And when Nora’s past catches up with them, will anyone be left alive?

Click here to get your copy!

My Review

This novel got off to a bit of a rough start for me. The Prologue eventually fit but I would have preferred finding out later the information it contained, along with the characters in the novel. Nora and Archie, the main characters, are presented well. I did find Archie to be inconsistent, however, and hard to like. He vows to protect Nora yet makes really bad decisions about her welfare. He seems oblivious to the danger he places her in when he should know better. He expresses his love for her yet deliberately aggravates her. He is doubting his Christianity for most of the novel then, at a suspenseful scene, is suddenly very spiritual.

While there are scenes of suspense, most of the plot is about the developing relationship between Nora and Archie. Honesty and trust are hard for Nora and the budding romance is a bumpy journey. There is the constant threat of danger because of the Prologue information. The current villain is no surprise. The twist at the end was expected in a way but not the similar obsession.

This is a good novel for readers who like more about relationship development than suspense. There is a good Christian message near the end. While this book is part of a series, I felt it read well on its own.

My rating: 4/5 stars.


About the Author

Allison Pearl is a small-town girl who’s lived just about everywhere. She loves books, tea, chocolate, and watching old movies with her husband and furbabies. To keep in touch and get updates on new releases visit or follow her Facebook page ‘Books by Pearl’ at, on Twitter at @AllisonPearl5, and on Instagram at @allisonnicolepearl.

More from Allison

We’ve all fantasized about running away and starting over. Maybe it’s to some gem of a small town or a thrilling big city, but who hasn’t wondered what it would be like to leave our history, our anxieties, and our problems behind and trade them in for something fairytale-worthy and new? Nora didn’t just dream about starting over, she did. But did she run far enough? The nightmares that haunt her at night say otherwise, leading her to wonder Can we ever really start over or do our fears just lie in wait?

Nora’s written her own fairytale, but will her murderous family steal the happy ending? Find out the truth by getting your copy of BATTERED & TORN!

Blog Stops

Debbie’s Dusty Deliberations, September 20

Texas Book-aholic, September 21

Gina Holder, September 22 (Author Interview)

The Lit Lady, September 22

Locks, Hooks and Books, September 23

Because I said so — and other adventures in Parenting, September 24

Lily’s Book Reviews, September 25

Splashes of Joy, September 26 (Author Interview)

Truth and Grace Homeschool Academy, September 27

Book Reviews From an Avid Reader, September 28

The Book Club Network, September 29

Beauty in the Binding, September 30 (Author Interview)

Mary Hake, September 30

For Him and My Family, October 1

Happily Managing a Household of Boys, October 2

Through the Fire Blogs, October 3 (Author Interview)


To celebrate her tour, Allison is giving away the grand prize of a $50 Amazon gift card!!

Be sure to comment on the blog stops for nine extra entries into the giveaway! Click the link below to enter.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Celebrate Lit. My comments are an independent and honest review. The rest of the copy of this post was provided by Celebrate Lit.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Root of All Evil by Liz Milliron Blog Tour Book Review

Root of all Evil

by Liz Milliron

September 18 - 29, 2023 Virtual Book Tour


Rumors of a meth operation in rustic Fayette County catch the attention of Pennsylvania State Trooper Jim Duncan. When he learns that Aaron Trafford, a man who recently dodged a drug conviction, has returned to the county, the conclusion seems obvious. Trafford has set up a new operation.

Meanwhile, assistant public defender Sally Castle’s colleague, Colin Rafferty, has become uncharacteristically nervous and secretive. Her suspicion that he’s hiding something serious is confirmed when she learns of a threatening visitor and discovers a note on his desk stating, “You’d better fix this”

Colin’s subsequent murder is the first frayed thread in a complex web of deceit. Jim fears Sally’s stubborn determination to get justice for her friend will put her in a killer’s crosshairs, but Sally won’t rest until she finds answers–even if it costs her everything.

Get wrapped up in the thrilling world of Liz Milliron's Laurel Highlands Mystery series! From the captivating Root of all Evil to the latest release, Thicker Than Water, this gripping series is a must-read for any mystery lover. Don't wait, grab your copy today!

Praise for Root of all Evil:

"With a compelling plot, engaging concept and characters worth cheering for, Root of all Evil will keep you rooted to your seat."
~ Kathy Valenti, Agatha-nominated author of the Maggie O’Malley mysteries

"Big city crime encroaches on the lush backdrop of Pennsylvania’s rustic Laurel Highlands in this tense and gritty debut. Liz Milliron has crafted a tightly written, heart-pounding tale of suspense that will keep you on the edge of your seat from page one until its explosive conclusion."
~ Annette Dashofy, USA Today bestselling author of the Zoe Chambers Mystery Series

"Lawyers, guns and money; Root of all Evil is a true page-turner."
~ Bruce Robert Coffin, bestselling author of the Detective Byron Mysteries

"Root of all Evil is a gripping read! Sally Castle and Jim Duncan are complex characters with genuine depth, and the pacing is impeccable. Tensions on multiple levels will keep you turning the pages of this riveting police procedural."
~ Cynthia Kuhn, author of the Agatha-winning Lila Maclean Academic Mysteries

"Fast-paced, authentic and compelling – this tightly written procedural is action-packed and full of heart. Milliron definitely knows her stuff – what a wonderful new voice in crime fiction!"
~ Hank Phillipi Ryan, nationally best-selling author of Trust Me

My Review:

I liked this novel that combines the work of Jim, a state trooper and Sally, a public defender. Sally is tenacious in finding out who killed a fellow worker, and Jim works hard to keep up with her and keep her safe. Milliron did a good job of depicting the territorial tension between the state troopers and the local police, Sally getting in there too.

The narrative follows both Jim and Sally's actions. He has his hands full with assigned investigations and training a new trooper. This allows Sally to pursue unusual leads. She makes a good amateur sleuth, often putting the professionals to shame. There are a number of issues in the plot, from a meth lab discovery to possible judicial corruption, but they work together to make an entertaining read. I like that the potential romantic relationship between Jim and Sally takes second place to the mystery.

This is a good start to a series. I look forward to seeing how Jim and Sally develop their relationship and how the new trooper is involved in future mysteries.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery - Police Procedural
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: August 14, 2018
Number of Pages: 301
ISBN: 9781947915053 (ISBN10: 1947915053)
Series: Laurel Highlands Mystery (#1)
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | | Goodreads | Level Best Books

Read an excerpt:

Sally Castle studied the menu for a moment, then put it down. “I’ll try the Fero lemberger and a tower of onion rings, please.” She looked across the table at Colin Rafferty, her colleague from the public defender’s office. The usual crowd at Lucky 7, men and women in varying levels of business and business-casual clothing, milled around their table. “Split them with me?”

“Sure. A bottle of Miller Lite for me.” He slid the beer list back in the holder.

“Miller Lite?” Sally asked as the waitress jotted down their order and walked off. “How long have you worked in Fayette County again?”

Colin shrugged. “Almost two years and I know. You have some great local brews. I’m not a beer connoisseur.” He fiddled with the position of the salt and pepper shakers.

Had it been that long? “Anything new this week?” she asked, leaning on the table, the dark brown wood reflecting the muted overhead lighting.

He pushed away the cut-glass shakers. “Got assigned a new case today. De’Shawn Thomas, misdemeanor possession. This will be the third time I’ve been in court with him for the same damn charge. What the hell is the point?” He averted his gaze, studying Uniontown’s well-dressed business-class, all relaxing at the end of a hard week.

Sally remembered the young hotshot who’d arrived believing public defense was rock bottom. Their regular end-of-week outings were part of trying to change that. Sometimes she thought she was getting somewhere. Other times, like now, maybe not. “Colin, I know it’s frustrating. But say you were in a high-priced private practice. Is defending someone’s trust-fund kid from his third DUI in six months any different?”


The waitress reappeared with the beer and a glass of red wine. Colin took his bottle. “Red wine with onion rings?”

Sally sipped the wine, which had a unique aftertaste: a hint of oak and a slight peppery kick. The menu said it was good with grilled meats and she could taste why. “Sure.” It would go great with the classic bar finger-food.

They killed five minutes with small talk about their work until the waitress returned with the appetizer. Sally leaned forward to inhale the delicious sweet smell from the tower of fried snacks, then picked one off the top. “Got any big weekend plans?” she asked before biting into it. Sweet, salty, slightly greasy, and a burst of flavor from the herb seasoning in the crust. Yes, perfect with her wine.

He tore apart an onion ring and popped half in his mouth. “There’s a film noir festival tomorrow. The Killers. D.O.A. Might go to that.”

“Film noir. One of my faves.”

“Well, you’re welcome to join me.” He finished off the other half of the onion ring, wiped his fingers, and took another swallow of beer. “Then it’s my mother’s sixty-fifth birthday on Sunday. After the year she’s had, we’re doing it up big.”

“How is your mom?”

“Good. Three months out, the doc is still happy with her numbers. The big thrill for her? Her hair is back.”

Sally pointed at him. “Hair is important. Unlike men, women rarely look good bald. It’s terribly unfair.”

“I’ll take your word for it. Anyway, the party should end soon enough to get home to watch the Steelers game.”

She rolled her eyes and took a second onion ring. “You and your football.”

“Hey, I may not care much about the beer, but I do love the sports.”

The door opened, letting in a breeze that sent the pile of napkins on their table to the floor. Sally leaned over to pick them up. Above her, she heard Colin mutter and it sounded a lot like profanity. She sat up with the napkins and brushed hair from her forehead.

Colin’s lighthearted expression had evaporated. He rearranged the standup cards listing available desserts and beers, trying to obscure his face.

“What’s wrong?”



He ducked his head, his chest almost flat to the table. “A guy I don’t want to see just walked in.”

Sally craned her neck as she looked toward the door, but even the height of the bar-style chair didn’t allow her to see well over the crowd. She lifted herself up.

“Get down!” Colin hissed, pulling at her sleeve.

“What the hell?” She dropped back into her chair, still not seeing anyone who would upset her colleague this much. “Who is it?”

His gaze darted around the room. He took a hurried gulp of beer and stood. “Never mind. I have to go to the men’s room. Be right back.” He headed toward the restrooms, snaking his way through the crowd, bending frequently to make sure he was behind other people, and keeping out of sight of the door.

Once again, Sally tried to see through the crowd, but no one caught her eye. Who had walked in who would upset Colin so much?

Jim Duncan took his bottle of Black Magick imperial stout and thanked the bartender. Why had he agreed to meet Zelinsky here? The bar, popular with the downtown Uniontown business scene, was way too crowded. He should have insisted on a quieter place to catch up with his fellow Pennsylvania State Trooper. Someplace where he could sit, get a bite to eat, and get Zelinsky’s impression of his new trainee.

As Duncan scanned the crowd for Zelinsky, his gaze lit on another person. Sally Castle, sitting all by herself. Maybe this was a good place after all. Zelinsky could wait a few minutes. Duncan took a circuitous route to Sally’s table and came up beside her. “Only you would pair red wine and onion rings.”

She started, but relaxed when she recognized him. “Red wine goes with anything, I’ve told you this before.” She lifted her glass and winked.

A good sign. “You here by yourself?”

“No.” She pointed at the empty chair and a Miller Lite bottle. “After work drinks with a friend.”

“Your friend likes Miller Lite?” Clearly a friend without good taste.

She suppressed a laugh. “Colin isn’t a beer snob, Jim. Not everyone has your discerning palate.”

“Colin.” Sally was here with another guy. A bad sign.

“Colin Rafferty. We work together.” She grinned. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were jealous.”

A man in a dark blue suit edged behind Jim. “Sally, we’ve been friends how long?”

“A year or so.”

“You have other friends. Some of them are men. I wasn’t jealous of what’s-his-name, the baseball trainer.”

She brushed hair from her face. “Anyway, why are you here? This isn’t your scene, all the suits.”

“I’m on training duty for a new trooper. It’s her second month. I want to talk to the previous FTO, get her impressions.”

Sally took a bite of onion ring. “Is there a problem?”

“No. I don’t like to let what happened before color my opinion, but I feel like I’m having a hard time connecting with Aislyn McAllister. That’s the trainee’s name. Thus far, she’s not very talkative. Hasn’t shared anything besides the fact she’s from Natrona Heights in the two shifts we’ve worked so far. I hope it’s not me.”

“I’m quite sure it’s not you. You’re one of the nice guys.”

He lifted his beer in thanks. “It’s a point of pride. I can count on one hand the number of folks I’ve had to fail out of training.” The Black Magick was excellent, bourbon flavor with chocolate notes. “By the way, I’m working first shift tomorrow. Supposed to be a great day if you’d like to go out on the reservoir with Rizzo and me.” Rizzo, his golden retriever, loved Sally. The weather forecast was calling for a perfect fall day: blue skies, mild temperatures, fluffy clouds. The water would be filled with boaters trying to cram in as much outdoor time as possible before the winter snows froze everything solid.

“I might be meeting Colin for a film noir festival.” She took in his expression and a smile spread across her face. “Ah ha! You are jealous.”

Duncan had a horrible track record with women. Just ask his ex. However, after a year of friendship, maybe this was Sally’s way of telling him she was sick of waiting for him to make a move. “Do you want me to be?” He studied her face.

Sally flushed and turned her attention back to her food.

Okay, maybe not. He paused. “You come here a lot?” With the friend who drinks Miller Lite?

“Every Friday. I’ve been mentoring Colin this last year and it’s part of our ritual.” She tore a piece of onion ring off the stand on the table. “Speaking of Colin, where the hell is he?”

Ah, she was mentoring. He should have known Sally wouldn’t date a man who made such horrible choices in beer. Duncan looked around, even though he had zero idea what this guy looked like. Everybody was paired up, chatting, and snacking after a hard week’s work.

“He said he was going to the men’s room. I didn’t think guys took that long.”

“Not usually.” Duncan set his beer on the table. He stood and stretched to his full six-foot-three so he could see over the crowd. “Caucasian, early thirties, white shirt, dark suit, gold tie?”

“That’s Colin. You see him?”

“Yeah, he’s by the restrooms. Looks like he’s arguing with someone.” Duncan dropped back down, the crowd of people blocking his view.

Sally’s eyebrows puckered. “Who’s he arguing with? Can you tell?”

Duncan took a pull from his beer. “A guy in a suit. He had his back to me. Hold on.” He stretched up again, pushing up on the table to try for a bit more height, and looked in the direction of the restroom.

Rafferty was nowhere in sight.


Excerpt from Root of all Evil by Liz Milliron. Copyright 2018 by Liz Milliron. Reproduced with permission from Liz Milliron. All rights reserved.


Author Bio:

A recovering technical writer, Liz Milliron is the author of The Laurel Highlands Mysteries, set in the scenic Laurel Highlands and The Homefront Mysteries, set in Buffalo NY during the early years of World War II. She is a member of Pennwriters, Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers and The Historical Novel Society. She is the current vice-president of the Pittsburgh chapter of Sisters in Crime and is on the National Board as the Education Liaison. Liz splits her time between Pittsburgh and the Laurel Highlands, where she lives with her husband and a very spoiled retired-racer greyhound.

Catch Up With Our Author:
BookBub - @mary1414
Instagram - @LizMilliron
Twitter/X - @LizMilliron
Facebook - @LizMilliron


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I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Partners in Crime Book Tours. My comments are an independent and honest review. The rest of the copy of this post was provided by Partners in Crime Book Tours.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Unlock the Mind of a Champion by Mimika Cooney Book Review

About the Book:

How do seemingly ordinary people achieve the extraordinary? Do they possess a special secret that the rest of us are not aware of in their achievement of personal success?

In this growth mindset book you will discover 21 keys used by elite athletes, entrepreneurs, high achievers and inspirational bible figures that enabled them to outperform mediocrity.

Come along a journey of self discovery to learn the strategies, steps, tips, tools and mindset for success that you can implement to achieve your goals and dreams.

Written from a Christian viewpoint, this devotional style easy-read book will encourage you to unlock the champion within so you achieve your God-given purpose!

You can enter a giveaway of $130 in prizes during the book's launch here. Giveaway closes October 6.

My Review:

Cooney knows that champions are forged through fire. She gives many examples of individuals who exhibited the qualities needed to succeed. Some are Bible characters while others are well known people. One factor is emphasized with each character vignette, such as purpose, potential, and passion. My favorite teaching was on pain, what we can learn from it and how we can grow because of it.

Cooney has also included reflective questions. The book is described as one of self discovery and the questions are of that nature. “What limiting beliefs do I need to let go of...?” “What habits or practices can I cultivate...?” “What strategies can I use...?”

Because the book is of the self discovery type, I think it would best be read with a trusted friend. Questions like, “What are my core values and beliefs?” would best be discussed with another, bringing insight one might not realize alone.

This is a good book for self actuators who can formulate goals and strategies without instruction. You will be encouraged to discover your purpose and embrace opportunities for growth, developing the mindset of a champion.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

You can read my review of the first book in this series, Mindset Make Over.

About the Author:

Mimika Cooney
 is a leading faith-based Mindset Author and Speaker known as the "Personal Trainer for your Mind". She empowers ambitious Christians to rewire their brain by combining neuroscience, positive psychology, and a Christian faith-based approach.

Mimika teaches you how to unstick your mind, develop emotional resilience, and unlock high performance by becoming the boss of your brain! She is the creator of the “Unstick Your Mind“ mindset mastery method, a transformative program that equips Christians with the tools to achieve their breakthroughs.

As a leading voice in resetting your brain, she loves to empower purpose-driven individuals to transform their lives by shifting their mindset habits and patterns, as they pursue growth to achieve extraordinary results with God.

Mimika Media, 97 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)