One Flew Through the Dragon Heart by C.S. Johnson

About the book:

A Chinese Legend.

A British Secret.

Star-Crossed Lovers with Incompatible Magic. 

Brixton Flew works as a professor of wielder instruction at Rembrandt Academy, hoping to erase the regrets of his youth along with the resulting debt. But when he comes face to face with his biggest regret—the woman who broke his heart, Adelaide Favan—Brixton soon realizes his troubles have only begun.

Unable to control her magic, Adelaide knew leaving Brixton was the only way to protect him when they were younger. Now she discovers he is the key to recovering the Dragon Eyes, a legendary treasure connected to her magic and her family’s disgraced legacy—and she knows the risk is great, to both his life and her heart.

With others seeking the power of the Dragon Eyes, Brixton and Adelaide must outwit their foes and face down their families to save London from an ancient legend that sleeps beneath the magic portal in their city.

But the renewed passion growing between them may prove to be the greater peril…


My review:

Books like One Flew Through the Dragon Heart make me want to be a steampunk aficionado. This book had all the great things: fascinating magic, crazy contraptions, forbidden love, apocalyptic potential, and dragons! What else could you want in a great story? Good writing? Check. Interesting, well-fleshed characters? Check. Enough stupid mistakes and moments of brilliance to keep you turning the pages? Check.

This was a great read, and I highly recommend you check it out. I’ve read (and enjoyed) other C.S. Johnson stories, but I think this is my favorite so far. 🙂 An easy 4 (maybe even 4.5) out of 5 stars!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Many thanks to BooksGoSocial and NetGalley for the digital copy of this novel for review purposes. I was not required to give a positive review. All opinions are my very own! 🙂

A Devotional Journey Through Proverbs

About the book:

A Devotional Journey through Proverbs’ full-color design on every spread, will invite you to learn the wisdom of Solomon and experience a life blessed by God’s favor. As you walk through beautifully illustrated pages with the full Bible text, a devotional reading, additional insights and word studies, and reflection questions, you will find practical guidance for everyday living.


My review:

Have you ever read the daily devotions in the little Our Daily Bread magazines? They are beautiful, little everyday blessings. But I sometimes want to go deeper in a topic. That is precisely what this devotional does. It takes you into the book of Proverbs, reading just one chapter each day, and exploring some of the nuances and treasures each chapter has to offer.

Every day, you begin your journey into Proverbs with the full NIV text of the chapter of the book you’ll be diving into, followed by a devotion reflecting that chapter of Proverbs from the wonderful writers of the Our Daily Bread devotionals. Then it goes even further, with information about everything from the structure of the writings to the identity of the author to the history around the writing of Proverbs and more. Also included in most chapters are insights into specific ideas or verses from that chapter, along with thoughtful prompts for journaling (or even just meditating on), and prayers to help guide your quiet time with the Lord.

But my favorite part (since I am a total word-nerd) is the short word studies included in many of the chapters. Hebrew is such a rich language, with words stacked in layers of meaning; it is fascinating to see how the context shapes the meaning of a word and how much more beautiful a simple word becomes when we know all it can and does mean in the Bible.

And every page is gorgeously illustrated in watercolors (just like what you see on the cover)! The words are inspiring; the illustrations are calming and peaceful. I highly recommend this devotional for anyone seeking to deepen their knowledge of Proverbs and their relationship with the Lord. 5 out of 5 stars!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Many thanks to Our Daily Bread Publishing and NetGalley for the digital galley of this devotional for review purposes. I was not required to give a positive review. All opinions are my very own! 🙂

Thief of Souls by Brian Klingborg

About the book:

The brutal murder of a young woman in a rural village in Northern China sends shockwaves all the way to Beijing–but seemingly only Inspector Lu Fei, living in exile in the small town, is interested in justice for the victim.

Lu Fei is a graduate of China’s top police college but he’s been assigned to a sleepy backwater town in northern China, where almost nothing happens and the theft of a few chickens represents a major crime wave. That is until a young woman is found dead, her organs removed, and joss paper stuffed in her mouth. The CID in Beijing–headed by a rising political star–is on the case but in an increasingly authoritarian China, prosperity and political stability are far more important than solving the murder of an insignificant village girl. As such, the CID head is interested in pinning the crime on the first available suspect rather than wading into uncomfortable truths, leaving Lu Fei on his own.

As Lu digs deeper into the gruesome murder, he finds himself facing old enemies and creating new ones in the form of local Communist Party bosses and corrupt business interests. Despite these rising obstacles, Lu remains determined to find the real killer, especially after he links the murder to other unsolved homicides. But the closer he gets to the heart of the mystery, the more he puts himself and his loved ones in danger.


My review:

This book is not what I would normally choose to read — I tend to prefer my mysteries to be historical or British or cozy (or all three). And to be perfectly honest, I obviously didn’t read the description very thoroughly, because I thought this would be more of a historical fiction, for some reason. Instead, it is a contemporary mystery set in modern-day Communist China, and even though it’s not my normal cup of tea, I found it to be a very interesting read.

Not only did I find myself wrapped up in the murder mystery that is central to the plot, but I also learned quite a bit about China. I was very intrigued by the melding and intertwining of all of the belief systems, in the political, the religious, and the personal realms. I don’t know enough about China to know how accurate the research was, but the author’s perspective was pretty fascinating. It made me want to read more books set in China and learn more about that huge nation across the ocean from us.

The writing was fairly good, with only a few instances where situations seemed to tip a little into the realm of the unbelievable. The biggest downside for me, however, was that I figured it all out long before Inspector Lu Fei did. But the author still managed to keep my attention, while I waited for Lu to finally figure it out.

I would recommend this story to mystery fans. There is plenty of action and it gives an interesting look at Chinese police procedures. And I’d probably read another Inspector Lu Fei mystery in the future. So, I’d give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books and NetGalley for the digital copy of this book for review purposes. I was not required to give a positive review. All opinions are my very own! 🙂

Thief of Souls will be available in May 2021 from St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books!

The Windsor Knot by S.J. Bennett

About the book:

The first book in a highly original and delightfully clever crime series in which Queen Elizabeth II secretly solves crimes while carrying out her royal duties.

The morning after a dinner party at Windsor Castle, eighty-nine-year-old Queen Elizabeth is shocked to discover that one of her guests has been found murdered in his room, with a rope around his neck.

When the police begin to suspect her loyal servants, Her Majesty knows they are looking in the wrong place. For the Queen has been living an extraordinary double life ever since her coronation. Away from the public eye, she has a brilliant knack for solving crimes.

With her household’s happiness on the line, her secret must not get out. Can the Queen and her trusted secretary Rozie catch the killer, without getting caught themselves?


My review:

I’ve always wondered what’s behind Queen Elizabeth II’s enigmatic smile. Now, I would really like to believe that she is truly like S.J. Bennett’s portrayal of her: brilliantly, yet secretly, solving crimes that have stumped the best investigators, while making everyone believe she’s just a slightly doddering, sweet little, old lady.

And Bennett did a wonderful job of bringing her readers into the world of Queen Elizabeth II, right into the heart of Windsor Castle and the whirlwind that is the royal life, showing us that even when she was eighty-nine, the Queen was never idle. I loved that her mind was working circles around everyone else, not only to figure out what had really happened in the castle, but also to manipulate those around her into believing that they were the ones actually finding the clues!

I got to listen to the audiobook version of this novel, and must say that the narrator did a great job giving life and personality to each character. It was engaging and enjoyable.

This was a terrific read that I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys mysteries and/or stories about British royalty. I’d easily give it 4 out of 5 stars. 🙂

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Many thanks to HarperCollins/Harper Audio and NetGalley for the digital download of this audiobook for review purposes. I was not required to give a positive review. All opinions are my very own! 🙂

The Thief of Blackfriar’s Lane by Michelle Griep

About the book:

There’s Often a Fine Line Between a Criminal and a Saint
 
Constable Jackson Forge intends to make the world safer, or at least the streets of Victorian London. But that’s Kit Turner’s domain, a swindler who runs a crew that acquires money the old-fashioned way—conning the rich to give to the poor. When a local cab driver goes missing, Jackson is tasked with finding the man, and the only way to do that is by enlisting Kit’s help. If Jackson doesn’t find the cabby, he’ll be fired. If Kit doesn’t help Jackson, he’ll arrest her for thievery. Yet neither of them realize those are the least of their problems.


My review:

With her latest, The Thief of Blackfriar’s Lane, Michelle Griep has shown me once again why she’s one of my favorite historical fiction authors. She always manages to create a story that is easy to get lost in.

Griep’s descriptions of Victorian London, and some of the intricacies of life in the City during that time, made London almost a character unto itself, which was wonderful. But I really did enjoy her characters, and I was quickly swept up in Kit’s plight and Jackson’s determination, cheering them on through all the mishaps, mystery, mayhem, and magnetism.

Filled with twists, giggles, and a dash of romance, The Thief of Blackfriar’s Lane is a great read. It’s a historical fiction I highly recommend. 4.5 out of 5 stars! 🙂

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Many thanks to Barbour Publishing and NetGalley for the digital copy of this novel for review purposes. I was not required to give a positive review. All opinions are my very own! 🙂

My Contrary Mary by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, & Jodi Meadows

About the book:

Welcome to Renaissance France, a place of poison and plots, of beauties and beasts, of mice and . . . queens?⠀

Mary is the queen of Scotland and the jewel of the French court. Except when she’s a mouse. Yes, reader, Mary is an Eðian (shapeshifter) in a kingdom where Verities rule. It’s a secret that could cost her a head—or a tail.⠀

Luckily, Mary has a confidant in her betrothed, Francis. But after the king meets a suspicious end, things at the gilded court take a treacherous turn. Thrust onto the throne, Mary and Francis are forced to navigate a viper’s nest of conspiracies, traps, and treason. And if Mary’s secret is revealed, heads are bound to roll.


My review:

What a fun read! I so enjoyed reading the Lady Janies series, where we first learned of the alternate history of the Verities and the Eðians. So, when I saw that the authors were beginning a series set in the same alternate historical world with Marys on center stage, I couldn’t wait.

And the authors made the tragic story of Mary, Queen of Scots, so much more fun than what really happened to her. (Although they did seem to rely on the TV show Reign for a good deal of their inspiration — so they already had quite a bit of alternate history to start with!) If only that was how it actually had turned out for Mary and Francis. *Sigh*

My favorite part of the story would definitely have to be Ari’s visions. She’s the daughter of the famed seer, Nostradamus, but doesn’t quite live up to his reputation. I outright laughed at what she “saw.” (I promise not to spoil them — they are great!) I also love the snarky asides from the narrators and all the allusions threaded throughout the narrative.

Overall, I would give My Contrary Mary a solid 4 out of 5 stars for a fun read that makes me want to get lost in this alternate historical world again. 🙂 My Contrary Mary releases in June, so put it on your Goodreads shelf!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Many thanks to Harper Audio/HarperTeen and NetGalley for the audio ARC of this novel for review purposes. I was not required to give a positive review. All opinions are my very own! 🙂

Treacherous Legacy by Kathi Oram Peterson

About the book:

Anna Braverman comes from a long line of intelligence agents, but her late father insisted she follow a different path and become an accountant. When an urgent summons arrives from her only living relative, Uncle Ezra, Anna drops everything to meet him in a café on the outskirts of Reykjavík, Iceland. Uncle Ezra sweeps her into a decades-old mystery as he explains that her great-grandfather, a famous Jewish artist, was accused of being a Nazi sympathizer. He wants Anna to help him disprove the lie and expose the truth. But they can trust no one. Any skepticism Anna may have harbored disappears when her uncle is shot. Barely alive, he utters one final word: “Run.”

Though he met Ezra only briefly, journalist Kristofer Tómasson knows the information the old man passed on to his niece is likely the reason he was murdered. Now his niece’s life is also in peril. Despite the danger, Kristofer approaches Anna with an offer to help in exchange for an exclusive story. United by a common goal, as well as an undeniable spark of attraction, Anna and Kristofer race to uncover the mysteries of the past—that is, if they survive.


My review:

This was an enjoyable novel to read. There was a great mix of history, suspense, action, and romance, which kept me intrigued and made me want to turn the pages, to know what really happened to Anna’s family.

And I loved the author’s descriptions of the various settings — from Reykjavik to Copenhagen to a boat being tossed by the stormy seas, the author’s words brought the scenes so vividly to life in my mind.

There were a few bits in the story that I thought stretched the believability just a tad too far, and therefore threw me out of the story world and back into reality. But overall, I enjoyed the read and would recommend it. I’d give it 3.5 out of 5 stars for that reason.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Many thanks to Covenant Communications and NetGalley for the digital copy of this novel for review purposes. I was not required to give a positive review. All opinions are my very own! 🙂

Traitor Cover Reveal!

I got to read Laurie Lucking’s first novel in the Tales of the Mystics series, Common, when it first arrived on the scene. I so enjoyed it (especially the nuns — they’re fabulous!) and have been waiting and waiting for the second installment. Well, I’m so excited to share in the announcement that we won’t have to wait much longer, because book 2, Traitor, will be released on April 27th!!

Today is cover reveal day, but first, here’s a bit about Traitor.

Princess Penelope has finally found a way to redeem her past mistakes—if only it didn’t require betraying her new fiancé.
 
Princess Penelope has been the object of gossip and ridicule ever since she returned home in disgrace following her failed engagement to the Crown Prince of Imperia. When her father offers a new start in a country far across the sea, she has no choice but to accept.
 
Even if it means another betrothal, this time to a total stranger.
 
Penelope arrives in Delunia determined to avoid bringing further shame upon her family. But her devoted, caring fiancé makes it harder to guard her heart than she anticipated, and rumors of dark magic haunt her with memories she’d rather keep buried far beneath her pristine exterior.
 
When a poverty-stricken village outside the palace gates looks to her as their hope for a brighter future, Penelope embraces the opportunity to make amends for her transgressions. But in order to help, she must manipulate her new fiancé, putting her reputation on the line once more. And her heart.
 
Can Penelope rise above the failures of her past, or will she forever be branded a traitor?

And now for the cover…

Beautiful, no?? I can’t wait to get my own copy!

And if you haven’t read Common, you have time to get caught up on the adventure so far. Want to know more about it? Check out my review of Common by clicking on the cover below.

Till then, happy reading! 🙂

The Initial Insult by Mindy McGinnis

About the book:

Welcome to Amontillado, Ohio, where your last name is worth more than money, and secrets can be kept… for a price.

Tress Montor knows that her family used to mean something—until she didn’t have a family anymore. When her parents disappeared seven years ago while driving her best friend home, Tress lost everything. She might still be a Montor, but the entire town shuns her now that she lives with her drunken, one-eyed grandfather at what locals refer to as the “White Trash Zoo,” – a wild animal attraction featuring a zebra, a chimpanzee, and a panther, among other things.

Felicity Turnado has it all – looks, money, and a secret that she’s kept hidden. She knows that one misstep could send her tumbling from the top of the social ladder, and she’s worked hard to make everyone forget that she was with the Montors the night they disappeared. Felicity has buried what she knows so deeply that she can’t even remember what it is… only that she can’t look at Tress without having a panic attack.

But she’ll have to.

Tress has a plan. A Halloween costume party at an abandoned house provides the ideal situation for Tress to pry the truth from Felicity – brick by brick – as she slowly seals her former best friend into a coal chute. With a drunken party above them, and a loose panther on the prowl, Tress will have her answers – or settle for revenge.

***************************************************

My review:

I snagged a review copy of this audiobook for two reasons: 1) I’ve always been a Poe fan and wanted to check out a retelling of one of my favorite Poe pieces (“The Cask of Amontillado”) and 2) While I haven’t read Mindy McGinnis before, I have heard that I should check her work out.

And I found myself with mixed feelings. I did like her spin on the story, resetting the tale in high school with mean girls and peer pressure abounding. And I liked how McGinnis built up her characters’ motivations, giving relatively clear reasons for why they behaved so badly.

My problem really came because I guess I’m an old-fashioned kind of girl, and the crudeness of the characters’ behavior just didn’t appeal to me. The foul language and the drug use and everything else kind of wore on me. I know that teenagers are not angels, but I probably wouldn’t recommend this book to any of my friends, let alone to their kids, simply because I prefer kids to be kids for longer than this type of story would allow them to be. I feel like encouraging kids to read books where the characters behave so poorly only perpetuates the problems we see in society. Okay, I’ll step off my soapbox.

So, to sum up: plot=okay; character motivations=understandable; character behavior=fairly deplorable. For that, I have to give this book three out of five stars. The writing wasn’t bad, but it’s not what I would consider -age-appropriate.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Thanks to HarperTeen/Harper Audio and NetGalley for the audio ARC of this novel for review purposes. I was not required to give a positive review. All opinions are my very own! 🙂

The Lady in Residence by Allison Pittman

About the book:

Can a Legacy of Sadness be Broken at the Menger Hotel?

Young widow Hedda Krause checks into the Menger Hotel in 1915 with a trunk full of dresses, a case full of jewels, and enough cash to pay for a two-month stay, which she hopes will be long enough to meet, charm, and attach herself to a new, rich husband. Her plans are derailed when a ghostly apparition lures her into a long, dark hallway, and Hedda returns to her room to find her precious jewelry has been stolen. She falls immediately under a cloud of suspicion with her haunting tale, but true ghost enthusiasts bring her expensive pieces of jewelry in an attempt to lure the ghost to appear again.

In 2017, Dini Blackstone is a fifth-generation magician, who performs at private parties, but she also gives ghost walk tours, narrating the more tragic historical events of San Antonio with familial affection. Above all, her favorite is the tale of Hedda Krause who, in Dini’s estimation, succeeded in perpetrating the world’s longest con, dying old and wealthy from her ghost story. But then Dini meets Quin Carmichael, great-great-grandson of the detective who originally investigated Hedda’s case, who’s come to the Alamo City with a box full of clues that might lead to Hedda’s exoneration. Can Dini see another side of the story that is worthy of God’s grace?

Visit historic American landmarks through the Doors to the Past series. History and today collide in stories full of mystery, intrigue, faith, and romance.


My review:

Can you beat snuggling up with a good historical mystery on a snowy day? Not if you’re reading Allison Pittman’s latest, The Lady in Residence. This dual-timeline story, told through the eyes of a vivacious magician and readings from her favorite ghost story, is both haunting and sweet, a combination that makes for a wonderful read.

I was pleasantly surprised with how quickly I was drawn into the story, falling under Dini’s magic and reading over Quin’s shoulder, wondering along with them what strange truth lay behind Hedda’s “spectral accuser.” Pittman brought the history to beautiful life, while keeping the present filled with just enough romantic tension that you wanted to know how it could possibly all work out for the characters in the end. And I especially loved that I didn’t have it all figured out until the characters did — that’s my favorite kind of mystery to read.

I would definitely recommend you grab a copy of The Lady in Residence by Allison Pittman, part of the Doors to the Past series of historical mysteries based on real American history. If future stories in this series are this good, I can’t wait to read them! It’s easy to give this story 4 (maybe even 4.5) out of 5 stars!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Many thanks to Barbour Publishing for the copy of this novel for review purposes. I was not required to give a positive review. All opinions are my very own! 🙂