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Dessa is our guest reviewer for middle grade and young adult.
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In Gilded Age Manhattan, Rose Gallagher is not your typical maid. When her boss goes missing, she is willing to endanger her place in society, her job, and her life searching for him. Rose is opinionated, strong-willed, and completely unprepared for the ghosts, shades, and upper class secrets she will encounter. I thought I was reading the story of a missing man and his doting maid. Imagine my surprise when a ghost story was introduced and this tale became so much more. The twists and turns in this engaging novel challenged my expectations. As Rose experiences the otherworldly persons she faces, the reader is educated along with her. When she endangers her family and friends, we worry with her. Rose delighted me as she evolved into an intelligent, pushy woman determined to get more out of life than society deems appropriate. I cannot wait for Rose’s next adventure as this tale will be hard to outdo. -- Guest Reviewer Sandra Hale
Octoberfest is in full swing in Leavenworth, Washington. Tourists and a documentary film crew have flooded the town. Sloan Krause is juggling a new job, helping manage the brewery belonging to her in-laws, and trying to move forward with her life after catching her husband with a much younger woman. She does not need the drama of a dead body or the inappropriate physical reactions she feels when her new boss Garrett is nearby. Brought up in the foster care system, Sloan is a complicated main character who has attempted to protect herself from emotional involvements while hiding her thoughts. She has failed at both. She may feel like her world is collapsing, but I was drawn to her strength. Whether Sloan is trying to protect her teenage son from his disintegrating family or creating a new craft beer, she moves forward with a positive attitude. For me the book gains momentum from the relationships between the townspeople and the sense of community revealed in the beer crafting industry, as well as the pride in the products produced, not in the mystery itself. The murder, the investigation, and the ensuing solution are added draws in the appealing tale. This is the second book in the series, and I am honestly looking forward to the third book.
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This novel is a dark, graphic tale that is hard to read and harder to put down. The three-dimensional, multi-faceted characters pulled me into the vortex. Carrie Santero is the first woman on the Coyote Township, Vieira County, Pennsylvania Police Force. Faced with her first murder, she is excited by the graphic violence displayed before her and fixated on the idea of serial killers. When Carrie’s best friend and the woman’s six year old daughter disappear, the only clue to what happened to them is a weird photo Carrie received. Enter Jacob Rein, a disgraced former detective with a back story and intimate knowledge about serial killers. And the man who recognizes the pose and ties it to a former killer. Desperate to find the missing woman and child, Carrie joins forces with the reluctant Rein. The road the two unlikely partners travel together will go to places better left alone. The conclusion will leave readers both stunned and horrified. In spite of myself, I have to recommend this novel. -- Guest Reviewer Sandra Hale
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1939. Sarah is on the run: from her mother’s dead body, from Nazi soldiers hunting her, from her Jewish heritage. She is strong, compassionate, caring, and loving. Who is Ursula Bettina Haller? Both girls are 15, gymnasts, undersized for their age, blue-eyed blonds. If Sara wants to survive, the similarities must end there. On the run Sara met a man, rescued him, then traveled with him. She became Ursula Bettina Haller, niece to Herr Helmet Haller. The 15-year-old finds herself in a school for the daughters of Nazi higher-ups. Sarah must make friends with a specific girl, get invited to the teenager’s house, and find plans for a bomb. In order to do this, Sara must become a cold, calculating girl and ingratiate herself with the in-crowd, teenage girls who make Nazi soldiers seem benign. She must betray everything she has been up to this point. Can she do this? How far can the brutalized young woman go? What can she accomplish? That question kept me reading this fast-paced, terrifying novel. Can a young, untrained teen forget her past and become someone she doesn’t like? This book is a fast, easy read which surprised me. It is scary and traumatizing. And riveting. I would love to meet Sara again – if she survives. – Guest Reviewer Sandra Hale
Belles live to bestow beauty upon a people born gray and red-eyed…for a price. Camellia Beauregard and her five Belle “sisters” are the latest season of Belles. Camellia’s determined to be Queen’s favorite. But something’s rotten in the lush kingdom of Orleans. Belles are practically deified for their talents, but they lived a cloistered existence in the most lavish of cages. Camellia is both the main protagonist and our narrator. Her perspective and voice are both guide and gatekeeper. As this tale grows increasingly full of political intrigue and shifting loyalties, this is both a boon and a barrier. Clayton’s built a world rich in detail and strong themes, but her young protagonist is a dreadfully slow learner. The Belles opens with such vibrant descriptions it reels you in without you realizing. If you’re a fan of the story progression of a Kiera Cass novel or the world-building of Leigh Bardugo then The Belles is the first in a series you’re destined to enjoy. This is Dhonielle Clayton’s debut solo novel and the buzz is definitely warranted. – Guest Reviewer Ro
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In 2003, Matthew Sullivan traveled from San Diego to Cuba with a wedding dress and hopes for a future with Yarmila “Yarmi” Portal. Instead of a bride, he found a murder victim in a bathtub. With his passport in the hands of the police, Matt finds himself staying in Cuba and focusing on the name Pato Macho — his hope-to-be fiancée’s lover. Who is Yarmila? Everyone police Lieutenant Marlene Martinez, tasked with finding the murderer and figuring out the reason behind her death, talks to describes the young woman as outgoing, friendly, generous, but less than forthcoming about her views and background. I kept turning pages hoping to understand Yarmi Portal. Yarmila was a cook, a linguist, a Communist, a blogger. To her parents, Yarmi was a staunch Communist; however, her cooking blog was written in English and her primary boyfriend was American. I began to think of Yarmi Portal as an onion. Every time a layer is peeled back, every time a lie is exposed, you get closer to the truth about the dead woman. If you are interested in recent history, the customs of other countries, recipes, or character-driven stories, you will enjoy this novel. Follow the fictional blog “Yarmi Cooks Cuban
,” and try to untangle the life and death of an enigma. – Guest Reviewer Sandra Hale
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Anne Bishop skillfully expands the world of The Others in Lake Silence with a tale about a town where “not human controlled” takes on new meaning. Vicki DeVine accepted The Jumble in her divorce to start over. But when she finds lodger, Aggie Crowe, heating up an eyeball for lunch, Vicki discovers the girl’s one of “those” Crows and her new home is in the middle of a terra indigene settlement. The local Others take an interest in Vicki and many fear they are all that stands between her and death when her past comes stalking. With next-level world-building, subtle social commentary, and addictive storytelling, Bishop coaxes fans to become entangled with new characters. Lake Silence is a tense journey that reveals exactly how deadly it can be messing with someone under the protection of the terra indigene. – Guest Reviewer Ro
Anna and Charles Cornick are back in Burn Bright and things are about to get interesting (again) in Aspen Creek. Bran’s away on vacation leaving Charles in charge. What should be merely a struggle not to kill his stepmother Leah, becomes a life and death battle to keep everyone safe . . . because someone’s come hunting reclusive pack members. Anna and Charles face ever-increasing danger that reveals new enemies wearing familiar faces and a conspiracy built on a centuries-old grudge. From the opening scene to the final word, Briggs sets an intense pace that reveals heartbreaking betrayals that may just cost the pack everything. With a stellar use of wit, Briggs brings new and secondary characters to the forefront. Burn Bright intertwines mystery and magic for a thrilling new installment of the Alpha and Omega series that changes everything. – Guest Reviewer Ro
Carrying on a family tradition of military service is the only future Kerida Nast wants. But her psychic abilities put an end to that dream and rip her from her family because Talents “belong” to the Halls. After resisting this new path, Kerida realizes she can to learn to use her skills or face a bleak future. Just as she’s begins to apply herself, the brutal Halians cut a bloody path across the empire hunting “witches” to end “rule of women.” Kerida’s thrust into violence and surrounded by questionable allies. Halls of Law tells the story of this reluctant heroine with rich world-building, uncomfortably recognizable gender-based political issues wrapped up in a prophecy that makes this journeyman's tale stand apart. Escalda pulls the best elements of the genre to anchor her story firmly on the adventurous side. The magic system isn’t unusual, but its application in this world as the Rule of Law is unique and excellently weaves its threads for a unique beginning of a new series. – Guest Reviewer Ro