Books That Changed Me—2021 Winter Edition! @JanSikes3 @JoanHallWrites @JacqBiggar @Sandra_Cox #writingcommunity #mustreads #fivestarbooks

snowy driveway
Our shed on a snowy day ten years ago.

Winter has arrived with the shortest day of the year. The icy air permeates the walls, and there is nothing quite like cuddling under a blanket to read during the long nights. The busy holidays are here, but I still carve out that time to lose myself in a wonderful story.

It’s always hard to pick three or four books from the many I read and enjoy, but these stories have left me changed after reading them. They introduced me to a new world, and I fell in love with the characters. I want to visit some of these places. They are books you can’t put down, and so good you forget you are reading. They put you right into the story.

Here are my choices this time around. I’m sharing the blurb and my review that has been on my blog before but is worth showing again. These are books to curl up by a warm fire and sip hot chocolate or mulled wine.

BLURB

New husband, new house, new town… and a new mystery to solve.

Tami Montgomery thought her police chief husband was going to be the only investigator in the family when she gave up her journalism career and moved with him to Madeira, New Mexico.

But after the historical society asks her to write stories for a book celebrating the town’s one-hundred fiftieth year, she becomes embroiled in a new mystery. If she can’t solve this one, she could lose everything. Her research uncovers a spate of untimely deaths of local law enforcement officials. Further digging reveals a common link—they all lived in the house she and Jason now share.

Tami isn’t a superstitious person, but the circumstances are too similar for coincidence. Then she unearths an even more disturbing pattern. And if history repeats itself, Jason will be the next to die.

My Review

I read the prequel to this story, “House of Sorrow,” and loved that, so I was eager to read the first book in the Legends of Madeira Series. Jason and Tami Montgomery left Driscoll Lake for Jason’s new job as the town’s police chief in Madeira, New Mexico. They buy the house that was in the prequel and quickly settled into the small, mostly welcoming town. It was nice to see characters from the Driscoll Lake series, but unnecessary to have read those books to appreciate this story. I enjoyed Jason’s growth and how he approached his new job. Tami immediately made friends and got involved in the town’s historical society that was doing a book on the town’s history.

Tami, who had been a journalist, jumped right into her part of researching past police chiefs. She soon found herself looking for more answers as she dug deeper into the murder mystery of two of these chiefs. I loved the characters, and Madeira was a place I’d like to visit. Many subplots were woven in that added an extra depth to the story. Tami was a favorite character, as was the neighborhood’s stray cat, Oscar. There was a mystery to be solved, and it appeared Jason was in danger. I had a few guesses and changed my mind more than once, but finally, by the end. I realized who it was, but not why. I love the use of legends, history, and psychic abilities mixed in with well-rounded characters and a mystery that goes back over one hundred years. This is a nicely paced read that I can highly recommend.

LINK


BLURB

Will a Christmas wish bring two lonely hearts together and give a little girl the family she’s always wanted?

Single parent, Grace Donovan arrives in the small town of Emerson with the hope a trial program at the local cancer clinic will be the answer to prolonging her young daughter’s life. She doesn’t expect to fall for her handsome boss.
As principal of Emerson Elementary, Kyle Roberts is aware of the students’ medical issues and his heart goes out to little Cassie Donovan and her mother. When he learns Grace needs a job, he fabricates a childcare program, and is pleasantly surprised by its success. Now, if only he could help Cassie’s recovery and get Grace to give him a chance before she learns of his duplicity.
Cassie Donovan barely remembers the father who died when she was just a toddler, but she does know her mother is sad. Even though Cassie wants a puppy more than anything, she gives up her wish to ask for a daddy from Santa Claus, that way if she gets sick again, Mommy won’t be alone.

This Christmas, two families are brought together by a Christmas wish and a child’s need for a miracle.

My Review

“Love Me” is a wonderful holiday read about a mother and her daughter fighting cancer. Grace and Cassie move to a new town to try an experimental treatment, and luckily an anonymous donor covers the expenses. Grace finds a job at Cassie’s school while Cassie finds a new best friend. I love how the story is told from both the mother and daughter’s POV. Cassie wants a puppy for Christmas, but she decides her mother needs a companion if something happens to her. It’s a story that tugged on my heart, thinking about a little girl battling for her life when she should be playing and having fun. Her strength and caring shine throughout the story as a powerful symbol of love, and the mother, having lived through so much loss and heartache, keeps going for her daughter. I could feel the emotion behind Cassie because her character is based on an amazing young girl on social media who is fighting this battle. This was a heartwarming romantic story that didn’t back down from the reality of childhood leukemia. I highly recommend this!

LINK


BLURB

A modern day, shapeshifting sheriff.
He’s the sheriff of a sparsely populated county in Montana. His blood brother and childhood best friend is Chief of Police on the Blackfoot Reservation, but they no longer speak. His deputy is a southern transplant with the body of a high-priced call girl, a voice of honey and mouth of a trucker. And if that’s not enough, he’s got a secret that would stun those that know him best. Other than that, it’s business as usual for Sheriff Mateo Grey.

My Review

“Mateo’s Law” is an exciting paranormal, western romance that I read in two sittings. It is set in a small town in Montana, where Blair moved to join the force as a deputy. She is in a long-distance relationship but is attracted to the sheriff, Mateo. When something attacks a town resident, they investigate it together, but Blair is unaware of Mateo’s secret of being a shapeshifter. I love it when Mateo is in his alternative form, and I felt his freedom. The scenery is lush and the town a place I’d want to call home. Blair and Mateo have great chemistry, conversations, and working relationship. I was definitely rooting for Blair and Mateo and hope more stories are coming with these characters. If you love a paranormal page-turning romance, you won’t want to miss this!

LINK


Mountain Laurel Christmas

by Jan Sikes

BLURB

Orphaned, his family torn apart by tragedy, Cole Knight has come a long way from a ramshackle miner’s cabin on the side of the Cumberland Mountain.
Daring to follow an impossible dream, he’s made it big in the music business. Now, he’s a country music sensation with a huge house, fancy cars, plenty of willing women, money, and adoring fans. He should be on top of the world. Instead, he’s drowning in a swirling pool of self-contempt and relentless guilt.

It’s easier to lose himself in a bottle than face the hard truth…he hasn’t delivered on a promise he made to his father.

It’s almost Christmas, and the sting of failure drives him back to that tiny cabin in the mountains. But has he waited too late to put the shattered pieces back together—to find himself and restore a lost family?

My Review

“Mountain Laurel Christmas” is a perfect holiday read. Cole Knight has gone from having everything taken from him as a child to becoming a huge country star who has everything. Yet, the emptiness from when he was a young boy can’t be filled with money, fame, or drinking. One night, Cole is overwhelmed and ends up at the place where he grew up. It’s here he searches for what’s missing and begins his journey to healing. The detail to the setting and music brought the story deeper, making me feel like a friend was sharing their story with me. Although a quick read, it is a reminder of what is important, especially during the holiday season. I highly recommend this heart-warming story that can be enjoyed any time of the year.

LINK


This is my final blog of the year. Happy Holidays!

 

July Book Reviews Part 1! @ColleenChesebro @teagangeneviene @JoanHallWrites #IARTG #ASMSG #WritingCommunity #WhatToRead #MustRead #IndieBooks

Cold Dark Night

by Joan Hall

I read the prequel to this story, “House of Sorrow,” and loved that, so I was eager to read the first book in the Legends of Madeira Series. Jason and Tami Montgomery left Driscoll Lake for Jason’s new job as the town’s police chief in Madeira, New Mexico. They buy the house that was in the prequel and quickly settled into the small, mostly welcoming town. It was nice to see characters from the Driscoll Lake series, but unnecessary to have read those books to appreciate this story. I enjoyed Jason’s growth and how he approached his new job. Tami immediately made friends and got involved in the town’s historical society that was doing a book on the town’s history. Tami, who had been a journalist, jumped right into her part of researching past police chiefs. She soon found herself looking for more answers as she dug deeper into the murder mystery of two of these chiefs. I loved the characters, and Madeira was a place I’d like to visit. Many subplots were woven in that added an extra depth to the story. Tami was a favorite character, as was the neighborhood’s stray cat, Oscar. There was a mystery to be solved, and it appeared Jason was in danger. I had a few guesses and changed my mind more than once, but finally, by the end. I realized who it was, but not why. I love the use of legends, history, and psychic abilities mixed in with well-rounded characters and a mystery that goes back over one hundred years. This is a nicely paced read that I can highly recommend.

Dead of Winter, Journey 6 — The Fluting Fell

by Teagan Riordain Geneviene

I have loved the journey through “Dead of Winter.” Journey 6 offered some answers, but also added more questions. Emlyn is pulled into another’s dream and experienced a horrible time in the other dreamer’s life. That moment made it clear what evil the group was dealing with. After the reactions to the shared dream, they continue on their way. I love where they make camp for a while. I could easily imagine the old mansion through the vivid descriptions. Learning more about the household, and interacting with ghosts made this one another page-turner. They ended up in a strange place that didn’t appear to be safe, but it certainly set the stage for the upcoming Journey 7, which I can’t wait to read.

Word Craft: Prose & Poetry: The Art of Crafting Syllabic Poetry

by Colleen M. Chesebro

In “Word Craft: Prose & Poetry” Ms. Chesebro has written a detailed guide of syllabic poetry. There’s history, instructions on writing the poem, several examples, and then the information is recapped for each form. Section one of the book offers Japanese Syllabic Poetry. Here are the chapters covered, Haiku, Senryu, Haiga, Tanka, Gogyohka, Haibun, Tanka Prose, and Renga. Then the second section is the American Syllabic Poetry. The types covered here are Crapsey Cinquain and all variations, Etheree, Nonnet, and Shadorma. Although I’ve spent years writing free verse poetry, I’ve come to love syllabic poems too, thanks to Ms. Chesebro. This is a fantastic guide to learn about syllabic poetry and how to write them. I will buy the paperback version for a quick reference to a style I want to try or simply refresh my memory on writing a certain type of poem. I highly recommend this guide for all poets who love this style or would like to learn about it.

I only post my 4 & 5-star reviews. If I don’t like a book, I won’t finish it. It doesn’t feel right leaving a review in that case, but I have been known to email the author:) Life is too short not to enjoy every book you read!

NOTE: The monthly newsletter will be coming out a few days early, July 17th, due to an upcoming vacation! Watch for it.

There is a special guest blog this week you don’t want to miss!

Embrace that inner child by reading a good book! D. L. Finn

New Release! “Cold Dark Nights” by Joan Hall! @JoanHallWrites #WritingCommunity #IndieAuthor #NewRelease #Mystery #MustRead #StoryEmpire #WhatToRead

I’m thrilled to have fellow Story Empire author, Joan Hall, here today to share her latest release, Cold Dark Night. It is a book I loved and look forward to the rest of the series. Here’s my review: LINK

Thank you for hosting me today, Denise. I’m delighted to be here to talk about my newest release, Cold Dark Night. It’s the first novel in the Legends of Madeira series. Each book begins with a historical event that ties to modern day.

We both share a love for animals. I think when character has a pet, it tells readers a lot about their personality. Although I like all animals, I’m especially fond of cats. I have two of my own, a seven-year-old tuxedo named Tucker and a six-year-old black Manx named Little Bit. We adopted Tucker, but Little Bit found us.

Both cats, but especially Tucker, are extremely sensitive our moods and emotions. He clings a lot if one of us is sick.

Oscar is a black cat that readers first meet in House of Sorrow. He’s a “mixture” of my two cats. Just as Little Bit “found” us, Oscar “found” Ruth. After her death, he roamed the neighborhood where neighbors made sure he had food and received proper care. Oscar wouldn’t stay with any of them, remaining a bit reclusive, but things changed when Tami moves to town.

And like Tucker, Oscar is sensitive to Tami’s emotions. I’d like to share two excerpts. The first is when Tami first meets her new fur baby. The second scene comes later in the book.

Excerpt:

Tami walked to the door with Abbey. When she opened it, a large black cat darted across the deck.

“Fantastic. Oscar finally showed up.”

“Is he your cat?”

Abbey shook her head. “He belonged to Ruth. He’s been roaming the neighborhood since she died. Everyone looks after him and makes sure he has food and shelter, but he won’t stay with anyone for long.”

The cat meowed, reached a paw out to Tami, then twined between her legs.

“Well, hello there. You’re certainly friendly.” Tami bent down to scratch him behind the ears.

“That’s unusual. He’s been standoffish, especially to strangers. But I’ve often heard people don’t choose cats, cats choose them. It looks like you have a new buddy.”

><><><><

It was mid-morning when the uneasiness gripped Tami again. She’d been in her office, trying to slog through an article for a regional magazine.

After the conversation with Jason, her disparaging mood left. But now she couldn’t shake the feeling that something bad was about to happen, as if danger lurked nearby.

Oscar jumped from his spot on the love seat onto her desk, then nudged her arm. During the past few weeks, the cat had acted sensitive to her emotions. It was as if he knew when she was upset or troubled. His presence never failed to comfort her.

“Hey, buddy.” She scratched behind his ears. He rewarded her with a soft purr. “You always know how to make me feel better, don’t you?”

The cat continued to rub his head on her hand before lying across her keyboard—something he hadn’t done before.

“Guess I won’t get any more work done this morning.” Tami laughed as she reached to power down her computer. It was then she noticed the date.

February 16. Lee Hazelton died on this date thirty-eight years ago.

She looked out the window. The expected cold front hadn’t arrived. Three months ago, she’d visited Ruth’s grave on the date of her death. She could do the same for Lee.

><><><><

Cold Dark Night is available on Amazon for .99 through June 15. After then, the price goes to $3.99, so now is a good time for readers to grab a copy.

Blurb:

New husband, new house, new town… and a new mystery to solve.

Tami Montgomery thought her police chief husband was going to be the only investigator in the family when she gave up her journalism career and moved with him to Madeira, New Mexico.

But after the historical society asks her to write stories for a book celebrating the town’s history, she becomes embroiled in a new mystery. If she can’t solve this one, she could lose everything. Her research uncovers a spate of untimely deaths of local law enforcement officials. Further digging reveals a common link—they all lived in the house she and Jason now share.

Tami isn’t a superstitious person, but the circumstances are too similar for coincidence. Then she unearths an even more disturbing pattern. And if history repeats itself, her husband will be the next to die.

Purchase Link

Connect with Joan:

Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Bookbub | Goodreads | Instagram

May Book Reviews Part 2! @bakeandwrite @JoanHallWrites @Marjorie_Mallon #BookReviews #WhatToRead #WritingCommunity #IARTG #ASMSG #IndieBooks #MustRead

Open a new door: a collection of poems

by Robbie Cheadle and Kim Blades

“Open a new door” is a collection of various types of poetry penned by two poets. The book was broken down into four sections, and within those, there were three reactions the authors called the good, bad, and ugly. This offers insight into living in South Africa and how the women navigate their lives. It’s deeply personal, and at the end of most of the poetry, there is more insight from the author which added another depth. Ms. Cheadle and Ms. Blades’ thoughts, fears, and reflections examine family to human existence, and are mixed with many other emotions throughout the book. This was an honest assortment of poems that I enjoyed, with so many ideas all combined nicely into this compelling compilation.

House of Sorrow: Legends of Madeira

by Joan Hall

“House of Sorrow” is a short story and prequel to an upcoming series. Ruth lived by herself, and her family wanted her to move into assisted living, but she refuses. Then she reflects upon her past and what led her to that point in her life. I loved going back to the 1960s and reliving the trips to the moon. I can still vividly remember that event, and Ms. Hall caught the excitement, pride, and worry of the moment through Ruth’s eyes. Ruth and her husband had moved to a new town and an older Victorian house. She fit right into the community with her infectious personality. I loved her relationship with the neighborhood kids and an older neighbor, Sam. Although Ruth didn’t believe in curses, as more of the house’s history is revealed, it doesn’t concern her. This story pulled me in, and I can’t wait to read the first book to see what happens next.


Lockdown Innit: Poems About Absurdity

by M.J. Mallon

“Lockdown Innit” is a glimpse into the pandemic through poetry. There were various subjects and types of poetry, including going to the supermarket, driving, cancer, and books. I laughed when reading “SuperMarket Bozos,” it reminded me of my feisty grandmother. “ROAD RAGE DURING COVID-19” is an all too often occurrence, even during the last year. While “Little Library” offered a picture of something one could do during the stay-at-home orders, read. The collection ended with “THIS author longs for Pets,” and I admit jumping into a cat’s dream might be that perfect escape from the heaviness of the epidemic. This is a book I’d like to go back and read ten years from now as a reminder of this time in history because it gives a unique perspective into strange times.


I only post my 4 & 5-star reviews. If I don’t like a book, I won’t finish it. It doesn’t feel right leaving a review in that case, but I have been known to email the author:) Life is too short not to enjoy every book you read!

Embrace your inner child by reading a good book! D. L. Finn

New Release! “House of Sorrow” by Joan Hall @JoanHallWrites #writingcommunity #IARTG #ASMSG #WhatToRead #NewRelease

Please give an extra warm welcome to Joan Hall and her latest story, “House of Sorrow! Here’s my review for this wonderful prequel:)

House of Sorrow: February 1980

Thank you for hosting me today, Denise. I’m delighted to be here, to visit with your readers, and talk about my newest release.

House of Sorrow is a short-story prequel to my upcoming novel Cold Dark Night, book one of my Legends of Madeira series. It’s the story of Ruth Hazelton, a reclusive older woman who lives in a two-story Victorian house in the fictional town of Madeira, New Mexico. Ruth reflects on her life, particularly when she and her husband Lee first moved to town.

This story began as a 350-word blog post years ago. From there it evolved to around 2,000 words. While planning Cold Dark Night, I decided Ruth’s story would be perfect for a prequel.

Most of the scenes occur in the late 1960s/early 1970s, so I used actual events in the story. I also drew on a few of my memories from that time. The part I’m sharing today takes place in February 1980.

Probably the biggest story of February 1980 was the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. I was recovering from a hospital stay and spent much of my time watching the games, saddened that Tai Babalonia and Randy Gardner wouldn’t be able to compete in pairs figure skating. I cheered Eric Heiden won five gold medals for speed skating and celebrated the “Miracle on Ice,” when the US Hockey team beat the Soviets for the gold.

 Public Domain photo of Lake Placid Olympic Medals

But while the rest of the US was celebrating, something was afoul in Madeira, New Mexico. Let’s hear more.

Excerpt:

February 16, 1980

I wish Lee would confide in me more often. Something is bothering him. I can tell by the way he acts. He’s always been the quiet one. Never wanting to burden me with his problems.

After twenty years of marriage, doesn’t he realize we’re in this together? I want to help. He’s always been there for me, but I know better than to push him. If and when he’s ready, he’ll talk.

Maybe I’m reading too much into things. He turns fifty in a few days. Could be a mid-life crisis. I’ll probably be the same way when the time comes for me.

Ruth closed the journal then went into the kitchen to check on the pot of stew. It was one of Lee’s favorites—a hearty meal perfect for a cold winter night. She lowered the burner. Looked out the window toward the driveway. There was no sign of her husband.

The clock read six-thirty. He was already half an hour late. She debated on calling the station but decided against it. She’d never been one to phone him at work unless it was an emergency.

There was nothing more to do than wait, so she went back to the living room. This time she opted for the television.

An hour later, Lee still hadn’t shown up.

“Okay. It’s been long enough. I’m calling.” Ruth started to pick up the phone when the doorbell rang.

She opened the door to find Detective Juan Garcia and another police officer who she didn’t recognize.

“Hello, Juan. Lee isn’t home, but I’m expecting him any minute. In fact, he should have been here by now.”

“May we come in?” Juan’s voice was somber. His face expressionless.

“Of course. No reason for you to wait outside. The living room is nice and warm.”

The officers entered the foyer. Ruth closed the door against the bitter cold.

“Would you like something hot to drink?” she asked.

The younger officer shook his head then glanced toward the seasoned detective.

“Ruth, why don’t you sit down?” Juan spoke softly.

Her heart plummeted. For the first time, she noticed the wording on the second officer’s badge.

Nathan Turner, Chaplain.

She sank into a chair, her hands shaking, and her stomach in knots. A million scenarios raced through her mind, searching to find an explanation for Juan’s demeanor and the presence of a chaplain.

Other than the obvious.

But in her heart, she knew. They weren’t here to see Lee. They were here to tell her about Lee.

Blurb:

Dream home or damned home?

Ruth Hazelton is over the moon when her husband Lee agrees the nineteenth-century Victorian in Madeira, New Mexico, is the perfect home for them. While he starts his new job as police chief, she sets about unpacking and decorating.

But it’s not long before Ruth needs more. She becomes a fixture in the community, making time for everyone, volunteering, hosting events—she’s every bit the social butterfly her husband is not. Through her friendships, she learns several former residents of her home met with untimely deaths. If she were superstitious, she might fear a curse, but such nonsense doesn’t faze her.

Until the unthinkable happens.

Now, as the end of Ruth’s life draws near, she must find a way to convey her message and stop the cycle to prevent anyone else from suffering in the house of sorrow.

Purchase Link

Connect with Joan:

Website  |  Blog  |  Facebook  |  Twitter  |   Bookbub  |  Goodreads  |  Instagram

 

Cover Debut for “Unclear Purposes” by Joan Hall @JoanHallWrites

I’m excited to welcome author, Joan Hall, here today to share her cover for the soon-to-be-released new book “Unclear Purposes!”

Unclear Purposes Smaller

Some people take secrets to the grave…

Three years after her husband’s murder, Christine Lawrence still struggles for balance. She has a rewarding career and a close circle of friends but feels oddly unfulfilled. Worse, the close relationship she once had with her teenage daughter has grown increasingly strained.

Former FBI agent, Vince Green, is battling demons of his own—painful secrets that drove him from Driscoll Lake. Newly resettled in the small town, he makes his living as a private investigator.

When Vince and Christine cross paths, stumbling over the body of a murder victim, he’s forced to confront memories he thought long buried. The circumstances surrounding the killing are eerily similar to a victim from his past.

As the body count continues to rise, Christine finds herself drawn to Vince. With a murderer stalking the streets of Driscoll Lake, neither is aware the killer has targeted her as the next victim—or that Vince’s past is key to unmasking a disturbed and deadly killer.

 

Joan Hall Author Box Updated 8.18

Website and Social Media Links:

 

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