Monday, March 23, 2015

5 Stars for Covert Exposure

Title: Covert Exposure (A Nick Spinelli Mystery Book 1)
Author: Valerie J. Clarizio
Genre: Mystery, Romance Suspense
Reviewed by: Nancy Pennick


Detective Spinelli’s life is tossed sideways when he is reassigned from the Homicide division to assist in the Child Services division of the Social Services Department for the holiday season. From the beginning, Spinelli and Caseworker Shannon O’Hara generate their own kind of fireworks, causing more than the normal workplace stress. They both have their own philosophies for dealing with the clientele. However, the forces of nature have their own plan for Spinelli and Shannon.

Shannon moonlights as Santa Claus’ little helper at the mall, and when Santa and an elf turn up dead Shannon appears to be next on the killer’s list. Spinelli is placed back on homicide and goes undercover as Santa to help capture the killer. He catches a great deal of grief along the way but will he capture the heart of his little Santa’s helper as well?


Due to a well-earned retirement, Nick Spinelli is a homicide detective without a partner. He has his cases wrapped up and his boss sends him upstairs for the holidays, to help out in the social services department. There he meets and falls for Shannon O’Hara, the woman he’s assigned to work with. Still, he’s not too thrilled having to go on cases with a social worker and lets it be known. Shannon also moonlights as a Santa’s helper at the mall. Santa is murdered and Nick joins in with his homicide detectives to solve the case.

Handsome Nick Spinelli falls for the beautiful and sweet Shannon. She’s not like other women who immediately fall for him. I think he sees her as a challenge at first, but the more cases he goes on, he sees her gentle nature and caring attitude. Nick has a past which keeps him rough around the edges. He ends up playing Santa at the mall to help solve a murder, but also to keep an eye on Shannon. During this time, he learns a lot about himself and lets his guard down. Then the criminal investigation picks up putting a few of the characters in danger. The story is a nice mix of romance and crime fiction.

Covert Exposure is a fast, enjoyable read. Ms. Claizio has two follow-up books in the series. It will be interesting to see what Nick and Shannon are up to next.

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Saturday, February 14, 2015

4 Stars for Love Least Expected

Authors: Meredith Bond, Aubrey Wynne, Valerie Twombly, Kris Calvert, Katie Stephens, Nessie Strange, Kishan Paul, Isabella Harper, Michaela Miles.

Genre: Women’s Fiction/Anthology

Reviewed by: Nancy Pennick

When love drops in unexpected, the strangest things can happen. Nine short stories from sweet to sultry, full of romance, magic and love from award winning and USA Today recommended authors

Under The Mango Tree: (Historical Romance) ~ by Meredith Bond

Lakshmi is a good 18th c. Indian girl who should not be hiding among the branches of the mango tree avoiding her chores. She truly should not be seen by a man who is not a member of her family–an Englishman, no less. And she absolutely should not even contemplate speaking with this man. But Lakshmi has never been one to follow the rules.

Rolf’s Quest: (Historical Romance) ~ by Aubrey Wynne
Time is running out for the royal wizard of Henry II. Rolf’s quest: find genuine love and lift the enchantment that has imprisoned his ancestor, Merlin, for centuries. Now he must win Melissa’s heart without the use of magic. She desires him, but will she defy her family and refuse her betrothed? Or will Rolf be doomed to a life of bitterness like his ancestors before him.

Fall Into Darkness: (Paranormal Romance) ~ by Valerie Twombly

Eli, bounty hunter for the Tribunal, is sentenced to earth to find his humanity. But when temptation is thrown in the angel’s path in the form of the soft curvy Ashley, he is unable to resist. Fate may bring them together, but desire could bond them for eternity

Alphabetical Disorder: (Fantasy Romance) ~ by Katie Stephens

When a trick horseback rider gets caught up in a dangerous prophecy that jeopardizes the circus, she believes she can solve the problem by dating alphabetically. Now all she has to do is figure out how to manipulate her flawed interpretation so she can be with the man she loves.

Roses Are Wrong, Violets Taboo: (Southern Romance) ~ by Kris Calvert
When Alexander Chase Tabeau and Rose Westwood meet by chance, neither planned on stumbling into the best night of their life. But timing is everything and fate has a cruel sense of humor. With love on the line and nothing to lose, will one night together change their destiny forever?

Love’s Not Viral: (Contemporary Romance) ~ by Nessie Strange

When a crazed Hollywood star puts Aster Sanderson in the media crosshairs, her home becomes a prison. With her life out of control, the last person she expects to rescue her is her captor’s brother, James. Is their attraction a result of circumstance…or could it be something more?

Taking The Plunge: (Contemporary Romance) ~ by Kishan Paul
When Pete, Eve’s high school crush, shows up in her life, she pepper sprays him. Despite her efforts to push him away, Pete finds himself drawn to the red haired beauty. When logic and emotion don’t agree, which path should she follow?

The Trouble With Never: (Southern Romance) ~ by Isabella Harper

When Summer and Caleb run into each other after a long absence, sparks fly. Her painful past makes it hard for her to open up, but he’s more than willing to help. He’s loved her most of their lives. Can she learn to love and trust him, or will her fears push him away?

Keep Calm And Eat Chocolate: (Contemporary Romance) ~ by Michaela Miles

When institution residents Elle and Chris meet, their personalities clash. During a quiet moment in the garden together, secrets are shared and a bond is formed. Will their connection be their downfall or lead to the fresh start they deserve?

My review:

Love Least Expected is a collection of love stories by nine different authors. It’s a great read for Valentine’s, but I recommend it for any time of the year. The other great thing is it’s just 99¢ on Amazon! The stories range from historical to paranormal. There’s something for every reader. I rate the stories from 3 to 5 stars, so I gave it an average rating of 4.

Reviewing the book as a whole, I found each story to compliment the title. The main characters weren’t looking for love. It happened organically while following other paths in their lives. Some stories had a touch of magic, others a realistic theme. I enjoyed reading about the fallen angel searching for his humanity and how the wizard, Merlin, ended up as part of a tree after trying to force love. His only hope was for his ancestors to save him by finding true love.

Some of the stories are excerpts to longer novels, so expect a few to be cliffhangers. Those that were, I wanted to know more. The short stories all end in a satisfying conclusion. There’s a nice mix in this anthology. This is a great read for those who don’t have the time to invest in a novel. Read at will, chose your own story. What’s not to like?

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Saturday, January 24, 2015

4 Stars for Candice Fox's Hades

Hades is the debut of a stunning new talent in crime fiction. Hades Archer surrounds himself with the things others leave behind. Their trash becomes the twisted sculptures that line his junkyard. The bodies they want disposed of become his problem - for a fee.Then one night a man arrives on his doorstep, clutching a small bundle that he wants 'lost'. And Hades makes a decision that will change everything...Twenty years later, homicide detective Frank Bennett feels like the luckiest man on the force when he meets his new partner, the dark and beautiful Eden Archer. But there's something strange about Eden and her brother, Eric. Something he can't quite put his finger on.At first, as they race to catch a very different kind of serial killer, his partner's sharp instincts come in handy. But soon Frank's wondering if she's as dangerous as the man they hunt.

Candice Fox’s Hades is an interesting twist in Crime Fiction, one that turns good cop to bad leaving the reader surprisingly sympathetic to evil. It reminds me of Jeff Lindsay’s Darkly Dreaming Dexter. The Dexter book hooked me in the first paragraph, first because of the genius way the serial killer Dexter is first implanted in the reader’s mind, second the writing is fantastic.
         “And the Need was very strong now, careful cold coiled creeping crackly cocked and ready…it made me wait and watch.
I had been waiting for the priest for five weeks now.”
The use of alliteration is better than Peter Piper, no pause in the need – to kill. Right away, you know Dexter will kill himself a priest. But, why? And better, why does he have this need? For anyone whose watched Dexter, you’ll know there’s a great reason for that.
Now, back to Fox’s Hades, she proposed that same kind of mystery in her story; however, I don’t think it was as fleshed out as it could have been. The reason was there, and it was good, but not great as in the Dexter book. There the reason exploded in all its gory detail, and in it Dexter was our hero, odd but true. I didn’t come out of Hades finding a hero, just a lot of lost souls. I'm a girl that likes a hero, someone to root for.
         First, the character of Hades felt like a deep, dark shadow with no real face, and I thought he had the most potential to be interesting. Fox’s set-up of him was interesting, but I would have liked to see more into what made him tick, not just a glimpse of his childhood but a deep probing. I never really understood his need to help young Eden and Eric other than he didn’t kill innocents. Eric came across as just a stereotypical bully, sadistically psycho, sure, but nothing too mind blowing. Eden was interesting, but like Hades I wish I could have seen more, maybe even before of who she was before meeting Hades. Overall, the three of these characters competed with a fourth character, Frank. Frank was the primary perspective the story was told in. Frank was a typical cop with a history of being unreliable and selfish. His character made an unusual turn towards heroic at one point, where I started to like him a little, then he did something at the very end of the story that simply said there was no changing this guy. He was always going to pursue his own interest which meant chasing down Eric and Eden’s secrets rather than protect those that needed protecting. Frank started selfish and ended that way for me.  I wish someone else had told me the story, maybe Hades.
         In the end, I will say the double plot worked. The serial killer Frank chased never felt like it was competing with his need to find out more about Eden and Eric. The ending was predictable, but for a good vengeance story, and serial killer story this is what I expected. Hades was a fast read, with a neat ‘Desterish’ premise that I would recommend. It’s worth your time if your into a good crime story, with a serial killer, and some messed-up cops looking for vengeance, Hades is your cup of Joe, dark roast no vanilla, thata be your hero.

Hades can be purchased at

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

5 Stars for Shady Cross by James Hankins, a crime thriller

In one hand, small-time crook Stokes holds a backpack stuffed with someone else’s money—three hundred and fifty thousand dollars of it.
In the other hand, Stokes has a cell phone, which he found with the money. On the line, a little girl he doesn’t know asks, “Daddy? Are you coming to get me? They say if you give them money they’ll let you take me home.”
From bestselling author James Hankins comes a wrenching story of an unscrupulous man torn between his survival instincts and the plight of a true innocent. Faced with the choice, Stokes discovers his conscience might not be as corroded as he thought.


This is the third book I’ve read by James Hankins and it is the best one. Obviously, this writer gets better the more he writes. I prefer a book that’s character driven, and Shady Cross is entirely dictated by the actions of the main character, Stokes, a guy down on his luck and a complete loser. Stokes is a guy you don’t expect to be heroic saving a little girl from some ruthless kidnappers willing to do anything to get their money - even hurting the girl in bits and pieces.

Shady Cross is a terrific example of how a great story can be developed from well-done characterization. Stoke’s character peeled away like an onion, revealing him first as the loser he’d become, then the motives that made him that way, and finally the choices he was trying to make to change. Every other character in the book developed through their relationship to Stokes, highlighting his actions past and present.

The biggest characteristic I liked about Stokes was deciding quickly to save/or not save the girl. Don’t get me wrong, the inner struggle to do the complete opposite was a constant conflict. In Techniques of the Selling Writer, quick decision making by the main character is a must…

“The issue is the moment of commitment. True suspense only comes when you establish the story question. And the story question moves into focus only when your character, desiring, looks danger full in the face and then takes up the challenge that the situation offers. Implicitly or explicitly, he must say, ‘I’ll fight’, before your story can begin.”

Shady Cross began right away and kept up an intriguing fast pace all the way till the end. I read it in three days. This book is loaded with suspense, conflict, and tension. Suspense on whether or not the girl would be saved kept me reading, the constant conflict inner and outer with Stokes kept me reading, and finally the tension beneath the suspense layer kept me turning pages.  The final ending felt perfect to the events leading up to it. Although, the ending is not necessarily the happiest – it works splendidly. A bold move from Mr. Hankins. I highly recommend Shady Cross to mature readers looking for a good fast pace thriller with an unlikely hero.

Shady Cross comes out February 24th, but can be pre-ordered through 

Barnes and Noble

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Monday, December 15, 2014

4.5 Stars for Coming Home for Christmas

Author: Joanne Rawson
Genre: Women’s Romance (Novella)

Reviewed by: Nancy Pennick


After her husband’s death, Sophie and her young daughter return to her family in Derbyshire. The Ferguson’s seem like a perfect family until you scratch the surface. With so many emotional baggage, and only nine weeks to Christmas, can Sophie bring them altogether for the perfect Christmas she dreams of?

Thomas, the gorgeous, moody renovator, is a man with his own agenda that doesn't seem to include Sophie. Even in his paint-smeared tee shirt, faded jeans and scuffed boots, he is immodestly masculine, handsome and sizzling hot. But when his eyes reflect the pain she knows so well, Sophie cannot help but wonder if there is another side to the cold exterior.

Thomas finds his heart opening to this beautiful, wounded woman from his past. A passion smolders as they work together in the months before Christmas. But he has been hurt before and hesitates to stoke the fire between them.

Will the magic of the holidays heal a family and bring two lost souls together?


Sophie returns to her small village in England following the death of her husband. She has a small daughter and feels that would be the best place for her to grow up, surrounded by family and friends. She finds a house just weeks before Christmas and is determined to have it ready by the holiday. Her mum helps out and finds just the right kind of decorator—handsome and hunky. Sophie falls almost immediately for the guy. He, in turn, is quite standoffish.

Joanne Rawson is becoming one of my favorite authors. She needs to stop writing novellas and dive into a full book! Her novella is filled with rich characters with baggage to boot. Sophie and her sister, Shelly, have a lot to deal with when it comes to mum. I could relate. The writing is fun and the pace keeps moving.

The only small problem I had with the story was Tom, the decorator. He did an about face too fast. He went from barely a hello to spilling his personal history on their furniture building date. Tom was like a different person from then on. I would’ve liked to seen Sophie call him out on that. The relationship happened a little too quickly for me, but since this is a shorter story I can understand why.

If you’d like a romantic, fun Christmas read for the holidays, I suggest picking up Coming Home for Christmas. Join Sophie and the Ferguson family in typical dysfunctional style for the holidays.

Purchase links:

Amazon Kindle
Satin Romance

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Monday, December 1, 2014

5 Stars for The Spider and the Stone.

Reviewed by: Miccilina Piraino
Genre: Historical Fantasy


As the 14th century dawns, Scotland’s survival hangs by a spider’s thread. While the clans feud over their empty throne, the brutal Edward Longshanks of England invades the weakened northern kingdom, scheming to annex it to his realm.

But one frail, dark-skinned lad stands in the Plantagenet monarch’s path.

The beleaguered Scots cherish James Douglas as their "Good Sir James." Yet in England, his slashing raids deep into Yorkshire and Northumbria wreak such terror that he is branded the Black Douglas.

As a boy, James falls in love with the ravishing Isabelle MacDuff, whose clan for centuries has inaugurated Scottish monarchs on the hallowed Stone of Destiny. Their world is upturned when James befriends Robert Bruce, a bitter enemy of the MacDuffs. Forced to choose between love and clan loyalty, James and Isabelle must make fateful decisions that will draw the opposing armies to the bloody field of Bannockburn.

Here is the story of Scotland’s War of Independence and the remarkable events that followed the execution of William Wallace, whose legend was portrayed in the movie Braveheart. This thrilling epic leads the reader to the miraculous Stone of Destiny, to the famous Spider in the Cave, to the suppressed Culdee Church, and to the unprecedented Declaration of Arbroath, the stirring oath document that inspired the American Declaration of Independence four hundred years later. A saga of the star-crossed love, religious intrigue, and heroic sacrifice that saved Scotland during its time of greatest peril.


Glen Craney's The Spider and The Stone is a work that takes some time to read, but in the end is well worth the time. When you get into the meat of the story, learn to adapt to the language of the time and read between the lines of the story within the story (the fictional parts), then you relax into a darn good read. I had some general knowledge of The Stone of Scone (The Destiny Stone) culled from reading and watching a PBS Special on Westminster. I also knew of Robert the Bruce, the Plantagenet and Stewart names and William Wallace from history class and of course from Braveheart the movie. I have to admit to being sadly lacking in knowing who James Douglas (The Black Douglas and the Co-protagonist was.)

The historical part of the story was very well done (I admit, I googled it all to see if he had it right). He Did! The fictional parts were also very well done; a love story (If you are expecting a happy ending - Don't!), some lore and legend, some magic and sorcery and of course recounting individual conversations, all within the half century or so that this book covers. You get invested in how the book recreates this period in Scotland's history, the terrible suffering that the people endured just to be recognized as an independent sovereignty. The questions you find yourself with at the end of each part are answered in the next. I really loved the interplay among the characters and with my fascination for all things Celtic - I am half Irish with a wee bit o welsh thrown in - I found the language fairly easy to follow. Overall a satisfying several hours. Bravo Mr. Craney - Well Done! Five Stars from Me.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

5 Stars for The Waters of Nyra.

The Waters Of Nyra, Volume I
by Kelly Michelle Baker
Middle Grade Fantasy
Book reviewed by Lasa Limpin


Never an ordinary dragon, Nyra grew up forbidden to breathe fire or fly. Like her mother before her, she has only known a life of enslavement, held in thrall by mountain dragons, which need Nyra’s ripening wings to secure hunting for the future.

But at the cusp of her first flying lesson, new rumors whisper through the herd. Mother pursues friendships in forbidden places, blurring the once succinct enemy line. In a whirlwind of realization, Nyra uncovers a secret in plain sight, one thought unknown to her enslavers, and one putting her at the focal point of rebellion should it come into play.

And come it does, but through a terrible accident, killing the slaves’ last chance of escape. To survive, Nyra must conquer the sharp-ended lies cutting her future to ribbons and the war threading in their wake.


This is the story of a young dragon named Nyra. She and her family are a kind of dragon called Agring and they live in a small colony of Agrings by the sea. Unfortunately, the Agrings have been enslaved by the Sperks, large dragons who use the smaller Agrings to hunt fish. Together they are ruled over by the menacing Sperk leader, Darkmoon.

I’m giving this book five stars because, despite its flaws, I found Nyra’s story to be engrossing. Baker has done an excellent job of immersing herself and the reader into a believable world of dragons. The author never loses sight of the fact that she is writing about non-human characters, and, because of that, neither does the reader. Furthermore, the development of Nyra over the course of the book, both physically and mentally, is eyes-glued-to-the-page reading.

The novel has a few weaknesses. The main weakness is that the book gets off to a very slow start. The setting and backstory develop without the use of meaningful conflict beyond an initial encounter with Darkmoon. But once siblings Nyra and Blaze begin a week long punishment the story gets going and I strongly suggest readers hold on for that. Meaningful conflict at the beginning of the novel would have helped considerably, and I’m afraid readers will put down the book (I myself had begun skimming) before the story takes off and becomes fully engaging (after which I was riveted).

Furthermore, there was a simple issue that nonetheless marred my initial acceptance of the novel’s premise. And here, I will phrase my inquiry in the manner in which it troubled me, although it already implies a misunderstanding: Why was it so important to the Sperk overlords that the Agring didn’t learn to fly, let alone open their wings, until age twelve? For much of the book I didn’t understand the point of this rule, or whether the rule was part of Nyra’s enslavement or simply the Agring way of raising their young.

All that aside—and yes, throw all that aside—this is a good book. The Waters of Nyra is a perfect novel for dragon enthusiasts. What’s more, it’s perfect for readers who enjoy novels which leave humanity behind and focus exclusively on the animal point of view, be it dogs, owls, cats, or in this case, dragons. There is not a single human being in The Waters of Nyra, and due to that, and the writer’s exceptional focus on conveying to the reader the tactile experience of living in the body of a dragon, this novel is sure to delight fans of this middle grade fantasy sub-genre, which includes the cat-centered Warriors series by Erin Hunter, and similar titles.

In summary, if you or your children enjoy novels about dragons, or stories that center on a world of animals, I strongly recommend The Waters of Nyra. Skim the slow bits up front if you have to, because The Waters of Nyra is an extremely worthy book and a welcome addition to the lore of dragons.

Purchase Links: 

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This book was reviewed by guest reviewer Lasa Limpin, author of numerous novelettes and the historical fantasy novel, Unlanded: Mask of the Revolution. All her ebooks are currently available at Amazon.

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