Thursday, January 9, 2020

The Promise of Jenny Jones Review

Title:  The Promise of Jenny Jones
Author:  Maggie Osborne
Genre:  Historical Western Romance
Publisher:  Grand Central Publishing
Release Date:  Oct. 14, 2014
Purchase Link:  Amazon

My Rating:  5 Emotional LOL Hearts

Synopsis:
A desperate mother takes Jenny Jones' place in front of a firing squad in exchange for Jenny's promise to see her daughter safely to California. Though she and the six-year-old Graciela get off to a rocky start, Jenny will do everything in her power to keep her promise, even with the child's cousins in hot pursuit. Then she is mysteriously drawn to the handsome cowboy Ty Sanders, and though neither know it yet, their purpose is the same.

Review:
Jenny Jones is a swearin', cigar smokin', mule skinnin', hard-nosed woman who can hold her own in a fight with the meanest cowboy south of the border.  She came up tough & alone and while she swears like a sailor and fights like a man, she's learned to hide her emotions behind a cold facade.  Jenny is no lady & glad of it, but her word is sacred. She's sitting in a Mexican prison preparing to face a firing squad the next morning when a real lady - a senorita with breeding, class, and wealth enters her cell asking Jenny for a promise in exchange for her life.  Marquarita Sanders offers to take Jenny's place at dawn in front of the firing squad if Jenny promises on her life to get her daughter, heiress Graciela, to safety with her father in California.  There are extenuating circumstances, but those are for the reader to learn as the story unfolds.  Jenny accepts the deal, the switch is made, and Jenny heads toward California with 6 year old Graciela.  

What ensues is an emotional, hilarious journey of unexpected discoveries, revelations, and heartfelt moments for both Jenny & Graciela.  I'm not sure when I last laughed so much while reading a book.  Hard-nosed, gun-totin' Jenny has never been around children, most especially not one of high breeding who's had servants cater to her every whim since the day she was born.  Jenny is completely flabbergasted at the demands of this arrogant 6 year old girl - who does she think she is?  Graciela has never been around anyone like Jenny - most certainly not anyone who cusses, spits, and dares deny her demands.  The woman wears pants, for goodness sakes!  And so, each night when Graciela says her prayers in front of Jenny, she never fails to ask God to bless all her family and . . . strike Jenny dead.  If that's not possible, could He at least cause her painful, bodily harm?  Amen.  lol  The interchanges between these two characters are hilarious!  And for all you romance fans, don't worry - a big, strong, handsome, rugged unconventional cowboy named Ty comes riding into the picture, and the sexual chemistry threatens to set the countryside on fire.

The Promise of Jenny Jones is my first book by Maggie Osbourne, but I've already marked more of her work to read.  Her writing is sharp with detailed plot lines and characterizations - very witty, natural, and emotional.  I quickly fell in love with these characters, got lost in the storyline, and had a very hard time putting this book down until I finished it. It's a fantastic read for fans of historical western romance or just fans of romance with a side dose of humor.  A sexy heroic cowboy + a feisty reluctant heroine + a precocious child = one honest, heartfelt, and 0h-so-deliciously sexy read!  Highly recommended!

My Rating:  5 LOL Emotional Hearts


Cross My Heart . . . xxx
Sandra

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

IWSG: Weeding Out Time-Eaters . . .

  

IWSG is a fantastic support and resource group for writers.  Members post the first Wednesday of every month. Visit IWSG to learn more about this great writing community and while you're there, stop by and visit with other IWSG Members.  

A big thank you to this month's awesome co-hosts:  T. Powell Coltrin, Victoria Marie Lees, Stephen Tremp, Renee Scattergood, and J.H. Moncrieff!

First, my apologizes for missing last month's IWSG posting.  Life got a little too real the last quarter of 2019, and time got away from me but I think I'm back on track now!  I hope 2020 will be a fantastic writing year for each of you!

I'm getting real in 2020 with some major cleaning out and reorganizing - both physically & mentally.  Too many days and weeks go by when I feel like I'm just existing.  Hanging on by the skin of my teeth.  Anyone else ever feel that way?  Days pass when I run around like a rooster with his head cut off (maybe an old southern thing!), but at the end of the day or week I have nothing to show for it.  The day or week is gone.  I've done the things I had to do, but seldom the things I want to do.  I'm tired of time passing without me doing the things that fulfill and excite me - without making noticeable progress with my writing.  In other words, I feel like I've lost control of my life, fate, and destiny.  Has that ever happened to you?  How did you change it?

One of my first goals in 2020 is finding a better way to organize, plan and track my current and future events including daily writing time.  I've tried several of the most popular methods - a calendar, both paper and electronic, making lists, and I swear I can wallpaper the walls of my office with sticky notes.  Enough said.  I need something more - something concise that shows me what my next few days, weeks, and months look like.  Something that helps me focus on the when, where, and why.  Something that clearly shows the important things I need or must do, while helping me weed out unnecessary time-eaters thus freeing up blocks of writing time.  I need a plan!

I recently read The Bullet Journal by Ryder Carroll and find myself intrigued.  For one thing, I'm an old school pen & paper girl so this appeals to me on several levels although I'm sure the plan could be implemented on technical devices.  However, research has shown the many benefits gained from writing things down on paper, and the author of this book highly recommends pen & paper.  Here's what's said about his Bullet Journal system:

The Bullet Journal Method is about much more than organizing your notes and to-do lists. It's about what Carroll calls "intentional living:" weeding out distractions and focusing your time and energy in pursuit of what's truly meaningful, in both your work and your personal life. It's about spending more time with what you care about, by working on fewer things. His new book shows you how to...

• Track the past: Using nothing more than a pen and paper, create a clear and comprehensive record of your thoughts.

• Order the present: Find daily calm by tackling your to-do list in a more mindful, systematic, and productive way.

• Design the future: Transform your vague curiosities into meaningful goals, and then break those goals into manageable action steps that lead to big change.

Sounds good, doesn't it?  Question is:  Is it maintainable for me?  Will it help me carve out more writing time?  I don't know, but it might be worth a shot.  It's adaptable to each individual's needs.  It's clear & precise.  It helps you recognize what's truly important in your life, while pointing out obvious time-eaters.

I'm sending out a SOS!  Let me hear from you if you currently utilize this planner method or have in the past.  I'd also love for everyone to share the organizational planning method that works for them.



The Insecure Writer’s Support Group is a website media business with affiliates to enhance our service to visitors. We're a home for writers in all stages; from unpublished to bestsellers. Our goal is to offer assistance and guidance. We want to help writers overcome their insecurities, and by offering encouragement we are creating a community of support. Visit IWSG to learn more about this great writing community!

Monday, January 6, 2020

Golden In Death Review

Title:  Golden in Death
Series:  In Death #50
Author:  J.D. Robb
Publisher:  Macmillan Publishing, St. Martin's Press
Release Date:  Feb. 4, 2020
Purchase Link:  Amazon

My Rating:  5 Golden Hearts!

*I received a free ARC of Golden In Death  from Macmillan in exchange for an honest review. #MacmillanPublishers #readinginsidersclub


In the latest thriller in the #1 New York Times bestselling series, homicide detective Eve Dallas investigates a murder with a mysterious motive and a terrifying weapon.

Synopsis:
Pediatrician Kent Abner received the package on a beautiful April morning. Inside was a cheap trinket, a golden egg that could be opened into two halves. When he pried it apart, highly toxic airborne fumes entered his body and killed him.

After Eve Dallas calls the hazmat team and undergoes testing to reassure both her and her husband that she hasn't been exposed it's time to look into Dr. Abner's past and relationships. Not every victim Eve encounters is an angel, but it seems that Abner came pretty close though he did ruffle some feathers over the years by taking stands for the weak and defenseless. While the lab tries to identify the deadly toxin, Eve hunts for the sender. But when someone else dies in the same grisly manner, it becomes clear that she's dealing with either a madman or someone who has a hidden and elusive connection to both victims.

Pediatrician Kent Abner received the package on a beautiful April morning. Inside was a cheap trinket, a golden egg that could be opened into two halves. When he pried it apart, highly toxic airborne fumes entered his body—and killed him.

Review:
A beautiful spring morning, a beloved pediatrician heading out for a run, an unexpected package bearing a deadly golden egg . . .  and thus begins the 50th book of the In Death series.  There's no doubt readers' expectations are high and after reading Golden In Death, I'm happy to say Robb stepped up and delivered.  Lt. Eve Dallas and Detective Peabody arrive at the murder scene to find Dr. Abner dead from target specific, toxic airborne fumes that were released when he broke open a mysterious golden egg.  As soon as the Hazmat Unit clears the area, Eve and her crew begin an exhaustive investigation into the mystery of who wanted Abner dead and why.  When another unrelated person falls victim to the same cruel fate, Eve utilizes all her skills and resources to find the illusive connection between victims to stop the killer.  If you're new to the series, I'll say now that I know it's daunting to begin a series with 50 books...50!...but I can say without reservation that the In Death series is worth the time investment.  Yes, each book stands alone, and you'll have no problem reading and enjoying any one of them without reading previous books, but the opportunity to watch the development of each of these characters from the beginning is priceless.  

As always, I found it fascinating to follow Eve's thought process as she works the case in Golden in Death - examining the evidence, setting up her murder board, chasing the vaguest of leads, exhausting all available avenues to deliver justice to the dead and their grieving families.  A star studded support cast steps up to assist Eve, including her tech-savy, billionaire husband Roarke and her sidekick and partner Peabody who never fails to add a welcome dash of humor to these books. I was excited and found it fitting to see so many familiar faces make appearances in this 50th book and, as always, the character relationship development is something special.  Golden in Death flows at a steady pace as the characters work this tightly plotted, cunning case.  There are several special, momentous moments that tugged on this reader's heartstrings especially between Roarke & Eve.  An intriguing case, humor, chemistry, fumbled cliches, marriage rules, and yes, a magical touch of romance all equal another brilliantly written addition to one of my all-time favorite series.  Fans of the series will love this one!  


My Rating:  5 Golden Hearts...
Cross My Heart . . . xxx
Sandra


Saturday, January 4, 2020

Jane Anonymous Review

Title:  Jane Anonymous
Author:  Laurie Faria Stolarz
Publisher:  Wednesday Books
Release Date:  Jan. 7, 2020
Purchase Link:  Amazon

My Rating:  5 Broken Hearts

*With special thanks to Wednesday Books for an arc of this book via Netgalley.

Bestselling author Laurie Faria Stolarz’s thrilling novel Jane Anonymous is a revelatory confessional of a seventeen-year-old girl’s fight to escape a kidnapper—and her struggles to connect with loved ones and a life that no longer exists.

Synopsis:
Seven months.  That’s how long I was kept captive. 

Locked in a room with a bed, refrigerator, and adjoining bathroom, I was instructed to eat, bathe, and behave. I received meals, laundered clothes, and toiletries through a cat door, never knowing if it was day or night. The last time I saw the face of my abductor was when he dragged me fighting from the trunk of his car. My only solace was Mason—one of the other kidnapped teens—and our pact to one day escape together. But when that day finally came, I had to leave him behind.

Now that I’m home, my parents and friends want everything to be like it was before I left. But they don’t understand that dining out and shopping trips can’t heal what’s broken inside me. I barely leave my bedroom. Therapists are clueless and condescending. So I start my own form of therapy—but writing about my experience awakens uncomfortable memories, ones that should’ve stayed buried.

When I ask the detectives assigned to my case about Mason, I get an answer I don’t believe—that there were no traces of any other kidnapped kids. But I distinctly remember the screams, holding hands with Mason through a hole in my wall, and sharing a chocolate bar. I don’t believe he wasn’t really there and I’m determined to find him. How far will I have to go to uncover the truth of what happened—and will it break me forever?

Review:
To say I was totally unprepared for the impact this compelling book had on me is an understatement.  From Jane's first written words in her journal to her message to readers on the last page, I found it hard to breathe.  Jane Anonymous is the gripping, heart-wrenching story of a seventeen year old girl's kidnapping, her struggles to escape captivity with body and mind intact, and her inability to merge back into her old life with family and friends once she came home.  Jane was held in captivity for seven grueling months during which time she discovered she could communicate through the wall with a fellow victim in the next room.  This communication became her lifeline to reality - another driving force to keep trying to escape.  Please avoid reviews that contain spoilers.  Readers need to feel Jane's utter despair and devastation as well as her strong will to survive first-hand to understand what happens in the end.

This story unfolds through two timelines - now & then, and is told exclusively from Jane's point of view.  In the now, prayers have been answered and Jane is back home with her family, but she's now a prisoner of her own mind and the four walls of her room as she struggles to deal with memories, nightmares, and the trauma of captivity as well as guilt over the one she left behind.  She can't return to normal because she doesn't recognize herself in her old life - she's no longer the girl she was before.  In the then, readers are in Jane's head within the four walls of a small, locked room watching as she struggles to keep her sanity.  We know from the beginning that Jane does eventually escape, but at what cost?  Her life is forever shattered into pieces around her.  She can't begin to find her way back until she deals with the aftermath and acknowledges the lost pieces of the puzzle taunting her to remember.

Jane Anonymous is an intense, fast-paced story that speaks of control, guilt, anger, mental health, survival, and the emotional struggle of victims to become whole again.  To acknowledge, accept, and thus gain control of one's life again.  Through short chapters, the author accelerates the pace forward at an intense, rapid rate making for a compulsive, angst-filled read.  With few characters, the attention focuses almost solely on Jane, essentially becoming an exclusive character study of her before and after.  The swing back and forth between past and present serves to keep readers slightly off-balance in an urgent must-read-now kind of way.  While I'm not in the intended age target range for this book, I had no problem becoming totally consumed by it as I simply could not put it down.  While I can't say I didn't see the surprise ending coming, it in no way lessened my enjoyment of this unique, brilliantly written young adult thriller.  Jane Anonymous is the gripping story of a young girl's emotional journey back from being broken to becoming whole again.  A fantastic story that I highly recommend no matter your age!

My Rating:  5 Broken Hearts...
Cross My Heart . . . xxx
Sandra

Friday, January 3, 2020

Bitter Falls Review

Title:  Bitter Falls
Series:  Stillhouse Lake #4
Author:  Rachel Caine
Publisher:  Thomas & Mercer
Release Date:  Jan. 21, 2020
Purchase Link:  Amazon

My Rating:  5 Thriller Hearts

*With special thanks to the publisher for an arc of this book via Netgalley.

Synopsis:
She’s investigating a cold case no one else could—by going places no else would dare.

In spite of a harrowing past still haunting her, Gwen Proctor is trying to move forward. Until a new assignment gives her purpose: the cold-case disappearance of a young man in Tennessee. Three years missing, no clues. Just Ruth Landry, a tortured mother in limbo. Gwen understands what it’s like to worry about your children.

Gwen’s investigation unearths new suspects…and victims. As she follows each sinister lead, the implications of the mystery grow more disturbing. Because the closer Gwen gets, the closer she is to a threat that looms back home.

In a town that’s closed its ranks against Gwen; her partner, Sam; and her kids, there’s no bolder enemy than the Belldene family—paramilitary, criminal, powerful, and vengeful. As personal vendettas collide with Gwen’s investigation, she’s prepared to fight both battles. But is she prepared for the toll it could take on everyone she loves?

Review:
Back home after the life-changing revelations revealed in the town of Wolfhunter, Gwen and her partner Sam Cade are moving forward together with her children sixteen year old Lanny and thirteen year old Connor in their home on Stillhouse Lake.  Unfortunately, it's no longer the sanctuary it once was as the locals have turned against them and old enemies are knocking on their door with threats.  With their lives in turmoil once again, Gwen is more determined than ever to build a brighter, safer future for her family while working as a private investigator.  She's accepted a three year old cold case involving the disappearance of college student Remy Landry whose grieving mother she identifies with. As she delves deeper into Remy's disappearance, she uncovers information that ties back to events revealed in Wolfhunter River, and she suddenly realizes that she's unknowingly put loved ones on another maniac's radar.  Will Gwen solve this case - the who, why, where - in time to save her loved ones?

Bitter Falls is a chilling suspense thriller with strong protagonists and crazed villains that alternates between the first person point of view of Gwen, Sam, Lanny, and Connor.  And never has it been more important to get the pov of each of these characters as their world threatens to implode. The story unfolds at neck-break speed in a setting that stimulates all the senses, taking on a life of its own as another influential player in the fate of these characters.  Caine's uncanny ability to spin multiple, often shocking, twisted plot lines that continuously build in intensity from the gravely disturbing prologue all the way through to the explosive end is nothing short of brilliant.  Backstory is seamlessly woven into Bitter Falls so that a new reader can follow this story without reading the previous three books but oh what a mistake that would be!  Although each book completes a story, characters introduced in the first book play prominent roles in each book.  Caine
 excels at writing characterizations that are intricately detailed, and just so authentic that readers have little choice but to fear for each character's safety.  I swear my heart pounded nonstop throughout Bitter Falls as the stakes are high, the danger inescapable, and the terror certifiable.  I was thrilled by the critical role played by a previous character appearing in this one and yes, I'm being intentionally vague.  You simply must avoid all spoilers, carve out some uninterrupted time, and commit to reading this one in mostly one sitting.  

Bitter Falls is riveting, dark, fast-paced, high intensive story telling at its best!  I could nitpick and say it's a bit over the top with all the non-stop, life-threatening danger to characters, but let's face it...I could not put this book down.  My heart raced and my emotions soared out of control as I held on for dear life to complete this wild, run-away ride until I could finally let out the breath I'd been holding and give thanks I survived to read The End.  I just can't criticize an author or drop the rating on a book that grips me that hard.  Bitter Falls is a fantastic addition to the Stillwater Lake series and a must for fans of suspense thrillers!  Highly recommended!

My Rating:  5 Thriller Hearts
Cross My Heart . . . xxx
Sandra

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Big Lies in a Small Town Review

Title:  Big Lies In A Small Town
Author:  Diane Chamberlain
Publisher:  St. Martin's Press
Release Date:  Jan. 14, 2020
Purchase Link:  Amazon

My Rating:  5 Stunning Hearts

*A special thank you to St. Martin's Press for a copy of this arc.

Synopsis:



North Carolina, 2018: Morgan Christopher's life has been derailed. Taking the fall for a crime she did not commit, she finds herself serving a three-year stint in the North Carolina Women's Correctional Center. Her dream of a career in art is put on hold—until a mysterious visitor makes her an offer that will see her released immediately. Her assignment: restore an old post office mural in a sleepy southern town. Morgan knows nothing about art restoration, but desperate to leave prison, she accepts. What she finds under the layers of grime is a painting that tells the story of madness, violence, and a conspiracy of small town secrets.

North Carolina, 1940: Anna Dale, an artist from New Jersey, wins a national contest to paint a mural for the post office in Edenton, North Carolina. Alone in the world and desperate for work, she accepts. But what she doesn't expect is to find herself immersed in a town where prejudices run deep, where people are hiding secrets behind closed doors, and where the price of being different might just end in murder.

What happened to Anna Dale? Are the clues hidden in the decrepit mural? Can Morgan overcome her own demons to discover what exists beneath the layers of lies?
Review:
Big Lies in a Small Town is a stunning, beautifully crafted story that held me enthralled from page 1 through the end.  Through dual points of view and dual timelines, the author weaves the story of two women born decades apart, their fates intertwined by one mysterious, 1940 painted mural commissioned to hang on the post office wall of small town Edenton, N.C. - although it never did.  In 2018, former art student Morgan Christopher is serving time for a crime she didn't commit, but was foolish enough to confess to in the name of love.  She is afforded one opportunity to get out of prison early . . . agree to restore an old, badly damaged post office mural by a certain date, and she'll be a free woman.  As she meticulously strips  years of grime from the painted mural, a dark, mysterious tale of the original artist begins to surface.  Who was the woman who painted the mural and what happened to her?  

The story that flows from the points of view of both women is totally captivating, revealing the sometimes ugly truth of the time period including racism, mental health, and preconceived notions about women and their abilities and place in society.  An ominous mystery unfolds as the old mural is cleaned, leading Morgan on a mission to discover the fate of the original artist Anna Dale.  A strong support cast of secondary characters add depth and realism to the plot as relationships form and shocking events are revealed.  I can't say enough about the brilliant way this author delivers this riveting, dark, gritty story as it brims with emotion, heartache, and suspense.  This was my first read by the multi-talented Diane Chamberlain, and I've already added more of her work to my to be read list.  Big Lies in a Small Town is a compelling mystery with heart, perservance, suspense, and hope.  I was simply blown away by the story and the obvious talent of Chamberlain and highly recommend it to all readers!  One of my favorite reads of 2019!


My Rating:  5 Stunning Hearts


Cross My Heart . . . xxx

Sandra

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Anything For You Review

Title:  Anything For You
Series:  Valerie Hart #3
Author:  Saul Black
Publisher:  St. Martin's Press
Purchase Link:  Amazon


My Rating: 3 Graphic Hearts


*With special thanks to the publisher for an arc of this book.




Synopsis:
Critically acclaimed author Saul Black returns with a heart-racing thriller in which a brutal murder forces one woman to reckon with her own past--and her future.

On a hot summer night, a watchful neighbor locks eyes with an intruder and unwittingly alerts the police to a vicious crime scene next door: a lavish master bedroom where a man lies dead. His wife is bleeding out onto the hardwood floor, clinging to life.

The victim, Adam Grant, was a well-known San Francisco prosecutor--a man whose connection to Homicide detective Valerie Hart brings her face-to-face with a life she's long since left behind. Adam's career made him an easy target, and forensic evidence points towards an ex-con he put behind bars years ago. But while Adam's wife and daughter grapple with their tragic loss, Valerie uncovers devastating clues that point in a more ominous direction. Lurking in the shadows of the Grants' pristine life is a mysterious blonde who holds the key to a dangerous past.

As Valerie struggles to forge a new path for herself, the investigation forces her to confront the question: can we ever really leave our pasts behind?

Review:
SFPD Homicide Detective Valerie Hart returns in Anything For You, book 3 in the Valerie Hart series.  This is the first book I've read by this author and since I'm a read-in-order reader, I was hesitate to begin with the 3rd book.  However, the author does a great job interspersing background information into the story as it progresses, and I had no issue following the story. Det. Hart is called to a murder scene when prosecutor Adam Grant's body is discovered along side his wife who's near death from stab wounds.  Valerie's thrown off-kilter by the scene as seeing Grant brings back a dark past Valerie buried long ago.  It's evident early on through words and actions that Valerie struggles with ghosts of her nightmarish past.  While I admired her grit and perseverance, her unnecessarily crude and vulgar language and actions left the impression of a character more in line with a lewd alpha anti-hero than the smart, strong cop heroine that she's supposed to be.  As the story unfolds, I found it increasingly difficult to connect with her and have the empathy I needed to care for her character.

Anything For You is a good police procedural story with some great plot points that I think many crime thriller fans will enjoy.  Told from two strong points of view, readers are privy to both characters' thoughts which worked great in this book. The story includes several twists and turns, ending with a great lead-in to the next book. However for me, the story went awry by going overboard with the overly graphic portrayal of violence and in-your-face blatant sexuality - especially from the "heroine".  It was jarring, causing me to lose focus.  While I enjoy a dark, damaged heroine/hero, Valerie Hart didn't ring true to me and some of her actions were actually quite offensive.  As a result, it's unlikely I'll be continuing with the series.

My Rating:  3 Graphic Hearts ...


Cross My Heart . . . xxx
Sandra