Review | Reign Returned by Katie Keridan

Kyra Valorian is the most gifted Astral healer the golden-blooded realm of Aeles has seen in ages. When tragedy strikes, Kyra discovers she possesses a life-changing gift: she’s a Recovrancer, able to enter the realm of the dead and recover those who’ve died before their time. Unfortunately, recovrancy is outlawed in her realm. Desperate for answers, Kyra will do anything to get them . . . even partner with a dangerous enemy.

Sebastian Sayre is the most sought-after Daeval assassin in all of Nocens. A silver-blooded Pyromancer, he wields fire and dreams of finding Rhannu, a legendary sword that makes its holder invincible. Since the sword was long ago stolen from Nocens and hidden where no Daeval can retrieve it, however, such a dream seems impossible . . . until he encounters the one Astral who might be both able and willing to help him.

As Kyra and Sebastian work together to uncover the secrets of their realms, they also uncover secrets within their own pasts–pasts that are far more intertwined than they ever imagined. Ultimately, in this tale of discovery, destiny, and a love strong enough to outlast time, remembering the past just may prove to be the only way to change the future.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I was excited for this title because the synopsis piqued my interest right away and I was hoping it would be what I was hoping. I really enjoyed the worldbuilding as well as the characters. I felt both factors were well constructed. While the beginning didn’t grab me right away, it was soon sucking me in as the story started building. This was a great start to a series and I felt that the foundation was well built, so I’m looking forward to the sequel. I’d be interested to see how the world itself expands and what happens to the characters as their journey continues.

Happy reading!

Review | The Prince of Steel Pier by Stacy Nockowitz

A Young Teen Falls in with the Mob, and Learns a Lesson About What Kind of Person He Wants to Be

In The Prince of Steel Pier, Joey Goodman is spending the summer at his grandparents’ struggling hotel in Atlantic City, a tourist destination on the decline. Nobody in Joey’s big Jewish family takes him seriously, so when Joey’s Skee-Ball skills land him an unusual job offer from a local mobster, he’s thrilled to be treated like “one of the guys,” and develops a major crush on an older girl in the process. Eventually disillusioned by the mob’s bravado, and ashamed of his own dishonesty, he recalls words of wisdom from his grandfather that finally resonate. Joey realizes where he really belongs: with his family, who drive him crazy, but where no one fights a battle alone. All it takes to get by is one’s wits…and a little help from one’s brothers.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I found the concept of this book interesting, featuring a young teen in a transition period of his life, in a transition time period in Atlantic City. As a character Joey is very compelling and I could see how kids in the same age range would really identify with him. Joey is the third of four sons and really struggling to find his place in his family and in life itself, he feels like no one gets him and like he’s sometime invisible or an afterthought – which is a feeling I think a lot of young readers may struggle with at some point. Throughout the story is the theme of Joey not only figuring out things about himself, but also determining what is right and wrong when he’s exposed to some individuals associated with the mob.

He goes through a lot of growth in a small amount of time while also solidifying his place in a lot of ways. He learns a lot about life in general as well as his family and how society treats people they see as different than them. This book does touch on discrimination and while I don’t know a lot personally about the Jewish faith, I appreciated the snippets of information throughout the book and really appreciated Joey’s questions and contemplation on his own faith.

While some of the little twists were a tad predictable for me, I think they were perfect for the targeted age range for this story. I really enjoyed reading Joey’s story and seeing how he grew along the way.

Happy reading!

Review | The Way Back Home by Courtney Peppernell

When a dark storm settled upon the earth, you lost many things—your hope, your strength, yourself. One day, in the middle of the darkness, you meet a spirit, washed from the ocean onto the shore. The spirit hands you a key.
 
It is time to find the way back home.

Returning with her newest poetry book, beloved poet Courtney Peppernell combines storytelling, poetry, and prose in a uniquely inspirational way. Filled with heartfelt anecdotes and insightful messages, The Way Back Home is a tribute to rebuilding our lives after loss. Divided into sections that draw on themes of courage, resilience, purpose, and hope, the collection has Peppernell once again walking us through a redemptive journey of the heart, mind, and soul.

Discover what it means to continue forward in life, despite all the challenges we face, to find the way back home.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Having read some of Courtney Peppernell’s collections before I knew going in that I would enjoy her style of writing. This collection is a mix of prose and verse, with much of the prose being little stories throughout the collection, some whimsical while others were honest and thoughtful looks at real life. This collection especially seemed to come from the heart, looking at internal feelings of a wide range of emotions as well as external situations. I found a lot of the pieces very poignant and loved when there was a little whimsy or fantasy woven into the poems and prose.

Happy reading!

Review | The Rebel Girls Handbook

All Rebel, all the time. The Rebel Girls Handbook is the ultimate ticket to trivia, activities, and more about 300+ extraordinary women featured across the bestselling Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls series.

Malala Yousafzai fights for girls’ education around the world. . . and there’s an asteroid named after her. Florence Nightingale was a nurse who saved lives during the Crimean War. . . and she had a pet owl named Athena. María Isabel Urrutia is a Colombian weightlifter. . . and the inspiration for a character in the film Encanto.

The Rebel Girls Handbook includes amazing facts and beautiful illustrations of Rebel Girls past and present, all packaged together in a fun, easy-to-flip-through format. Spotlights on the home countries and traits of trailblazing women let readers explore the Rebel universe like never before, while activities encourage them to join in and make the book their own.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’m always excited to see another Rebel Girls title pop up, so I was eager to give this one a read. I really enjoyed that in this installment the beginning features highlights of regions and then broke down into countries, highlighting a few figures from each country. The rest of the book contains 300 profiles of figures throughout history and from all over the world. There’s a wide variety of professions and talents that could prove inspirational for girls of all ages. In this installment we’re given bullet points of important aspects or events from each figure and many of them include a QR code that can be scanned to learn more. As always the colors are bright and vibrant and all of the different art pieces bring life to the different individuals.

Happy reading!

Blog Tour | Small Town, Big Magic by Hazel Beck | Review

For fans of THE EX HEX and PAYBACK’S A WITCH, a fun, witchy rom-com in which a bookstore owner who is fighting to revitalize a small midwestern town clashes with her rival, the mayor, and uncovers not only a clandestine group that wields a dark magic to control the idyllic river hamlet, but hidden powers she never knew she possessed.

There’s no such thing as witches…right?

Emerson Wilde has built the life of her dreams. Youngest Chamber of Commerce president in St. Cyprian history, successful indie bookstore owner, and lucky enough to have her best friends as found family? Done.

But when Emerson is attacked by creatures that shouldn’t be real, and kills them with what can only be called magic, Emerson finds that the past decade of her life has been…a lie. St. Cyprian isn’t your average Midwestern river town—it’s a haven for witches. When Emerson failed a power test years ago, she was stripped of her magical memories. Turns out, Emerson’s friends are all witches.

And so is she.

That’s not all, though: evil is lurking in the charming streets of St. Cyprian. Emerson will need to learn to control what’s inside of her, remember her magic, and deal with old, complicated feelings for her childhood friend–cranky-yet-gorgeous local farmer Jacob North—to defeat an enemy that hides in the rivers and shadows of everything she loves.

Even before she had magic, Emerson would have done anything for St. Cyprian, but now she’ll have to risk not just her livelihood…but her life.

Buy Links | BookShop | Harlequin | Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Books-A-Million |  Powell’s

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The first thing that drew me into this book was the small town setting. I immediately liked Emerson’s attitude but she does change over time and not just for the better. I felt that this was a good introduction to a series and the foundation was pretty well constructed. There were certainly aspects of the book that were a little detracting for me, some things were a little too convenient or without consequences. I did really like the witch lore and the way all of that was set up so I would probably read the next book when it comes out to see what happens, especially with the way this one ended.

HAZEL BECK is the magical partnership of a river witch and an earth witch. Together, they have collected two husbands, three familiars, two children, five degrees, and written around 200 books. As one, their books will delight with breathtaking magic, emotional romance, and stories of witches you won’t soon forget. You can find them at www.Hazel-Beck.com.

Social Links | Author Website | Facebook | Instagram

Happy reading!

Review | The Darkening by Sunya Mara

In this thrilling and epic YA fantasy debut the only hope for a city trapped in the eye of a cursed storm lies with the daughter of failed revolutionaries and a prince terrified of his throne.

Vesper Vale is the daughter of revolutionaries. Failed revolutionaries. When her mother was caught by the queen’s soldiers, they gave her a choice: death by the hangman’s axe, or death by the Storm that surrounds the city and curses anyone it touches. She chose the Storm. And when the queen’s soldiers—led by a paranoid prince—catch up to Vesper’s father after twelve years on the run, Vesper will do whatever it takes to save him from sharing that fate.

Even arm herself with her father’s book of dangerous experimental magic.

Even infiltrate the prince’s elite squad of soldier-sorcerers.

Even cheat her way into his cold heart.

But when Vesper learns that there’s more to the story of her mother’s death, she’ll have to make a choice if she wants to save her city: trust the devious prince with her family’s secrets, or follow her mother’s footsteps into the Storm.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

First and foremost, I cannot get over how beautiful the cover of this book is. That was definitely one of the first things that intrigued me about this book and I’m really glad I decided to give it a read.

I really liked the world itself and thought the idea of the storm around the city but I did wish there was a little more world building since I’m assuming this is going to be a series. I did find what world building there was to be really intriguing.

I found all of the characters to be developed well and fully fledged, a lot of them were pretty gray morally, but really well developed.

Overall I flew through this one pretty quickly, the writing style was easy to read and for the most part. There were some places where the pacing stumbled a bit, but they weren’t major hindrances to the overall read.

Happy reading!

Review | A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano

Leonora Logroño’s family owns the most beloved bakery in Rose Hill, Texas, spending their days conjuring delicious cookies and cakes for any occasion. And no occasion is more important than the annual Dia de los Muertos festival.

Leo hopes that this might be the year that she gets to help prepare for the big celebration—but, once again, she is told she’s too young. Sneaking out of school and down to the bakery, she discovers that her mother, aunt, and four older sisters have in fact been keeping a big secret: they’re brujas—witches of Mexican ancestry—who pour a little bit of sweet magic into everything that they bake.  

Leo knows that she has magical ability as well and is more determined than ever to join the family business—even if she can’t let her mama and hermanas know about it yet.

And when her best friend, Caroline, has a problem that needs solving, Leo has the perfect opportunity to try out her craft. It’s just one little spell, after all…what could possibly go wrong?

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Just from the description I knew this was going to be a cute read, but I was definitely pleasantly surprised at how deep it went into subjects such as family relationships. Leo is the youngest of five and is struggling with the fact that all of her older sisters seem to be included in family activities that she’s excluded from. She immediately picks up that there are secrets not being shared with her and thanks to the little voice of insecurity and anxiety inside of her, she’s worried that the reason she’s being excluded is that there’s something wrong with her or that she’s not good enough. The book is full of life lessons for someone her age, about following the rules, friendships and more. It was an adorable read and I definitely look forward to reading the rest of the series.

Happy reading!

Review | Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Inspiring Young Changemakers

The fifth volume of the best-selling Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls series, 100 Inspiring Young Changemakers, includes 100 stories of extraordinary young women who have made their mark on the world.

Readers will celebrate well-known activists Greta Thunberg and Mari Copeny and meet new names like inventors Riya Karumanchi, who developed a smart cane for the visually impaired, and Xóchitl Guadalupe Cruz López, who used recycled materials to build solar-powered water heaters for families who lacked hot water. Each story is told in a whimsical fairy tale style and is paired with a bold, full-page portrait drawn by a female or nonbinary artist. In addition to showcasing the stories of incredible young people, the book features the work of young authors, artists, and editors.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Another great entry to the Rebel Girls library! This installment follows the usual format, sharing stories about a number of inspiring figures. Previous installments have had a wide range of people from different times, so this volume it was refreshing to see that it was concentrating on figures who are contemporary figures. I think taking this route with this installment was smart, as these are figures closer in age to the intended audience and will help them possibly see themselves in the girls represented. As with the other books in this series the art was vibrant and brought each person to life on the page.

Happy reading!

Blog Tour | The Second First Chance by Mona Shroff | Excerpt

For fans of Katherine Center’s THINGS YOU SAVE IN A FIRE and Jill Santopolo’s THE LIGHT WE LOST, THE SECOND FIRST CHANCE is a deeply emotional romance about two neighboring families, the Voras and the Desais, who experience a devastating fire and the fallout it creates in their lives–particularly for Dhillon Vora and Riya Desai, who struggle to admit their feelings for one another.

On one terrible night, everything changed.

Riya Desai has struggled to move beyond the devastating fire that claimed the life of her brother, Samir, and set her on a path she never anticipated. Determined to keep other families from experiencing the loss that hers did, she’s become a firefighter herself, but it hasn’t been an easy road. The other firefighters are her fire hall are overwhelmingly white–and entirely male. As a rookie and as the only woman at the station, she has to keep proving herself, over and over, in a way her male colleagues never have to. Oh, and her other problem? Her family thinks she’s a paramedic–they have no idea she’s a firefighter, and she knows they won’t be happy about her running into fires instead of away from them.

Dhillon Vora is a healer. After the fire that killed his father, he becomes a vet, his faithful dog Lucky–who survived the fire at the Voras’ and Desais’ townhouses–behind his side. On a visit to the fire hall across from his clinic, he is dumbfounded to find the girl next door, Riya Desai. Riya has become a firefighter? Dhillon is livid. And–though he can’t really admit it–kind of impressed. Even though he knows, deep down, that he’s never stopped loving Riya, he isn’t sure he’s ready to have her in his life again. Especially if he has to worry constantly about her safety.

THE SECOND FIRST CHANCE is not only a deeply moving tale of two people learning to love each other again, but an uplifting story of two families overcoming tragedy with hope, love, and the unbreakable bonds that keep us shining together even through our darkest hours.

Buy Links | BookShop | Harlequin | Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Books-A-Million | Powell’s

DHILLON

A dark brown Lab-pit mix puppy raised its head to look at Dhillon as he entered the exam room. Dhillon’s joy was instant, which was why he loved his job. His nurse, Shelly, was right behind him with the brief introduction.

“Dr. Vora, this is Scout. She is being brought in by today Firefighter Ian Walsh. Scout was found abandoned at one of their scenes and is currently under the care of the Howard County Fire Department.”

It was at the word firefighter that Dhillon tensed. He made eye contact with the man and extended his hand, anxiety flooding through his system, increasing his heart rate and beading sweat on his upper lip.

Shelly threw him a worried look. He ignored her.

“Good morning. I’m Dr. Vora.” Dhillon found his voice but focused on the leashed puppy as the man’s walkie-talkie emitted an irritating squeal. “Everything okay?” Dhillon nodded at the walkie-talkie. “We can reschedule if you have to go.” 

The Lab-pit puppy twitched her ears and raised her head at the squawk. Shelly made a cooing sound and went over to pet their patient. Any remaining anxiety Dhillon might have had melted away as he took in the befuddled pup. The firefighter didn’t even look at the puppy.

“Nah. It’s all good. I’m supposed to get the pup tended to, so let’s just do it.” The firefighter shook his hand.

Dhillon nodded to Shelly as she moved from the dog’s side to the computer so she could enter the information they had so far. He got down on the ground where the puppy had lain down. fallen asleep. “She looks like my Lucky.”

“You mean that older dog out front? With the scarring?”

“Mmm-hmm.” Dhillon picked up Scout and let her climb into his lap. He played with her a moment. He held a small treat out and watched her track it as he moved it from side to side. She lifted her mouth to grab it, but Dhillon made her wait another second before letting her have the treat and a scratch cuddle under her chin. Best part of being a veterinarian. He glanced at Walsh, who watched him with a scowl. “Lucky was caught in a house fire.” Dhillon tried to keep his voice neutral. It wasn’t this man’s fault that Lucky was burned. He stood, bringing Scout with him.

Her coat looked almost pure black, and her big brown eyes reminded Dhillon of Lucky’s when he’d been a puppy. For a moment, Dhillon was dragged back to the day he brought Lucky home from the SPCA. Best day of his life. Well, maybe second best.

“The vet at the time was the previous owner of this practice. He did excellent work. Shelly here used to work with him. That scarring barely reflects how bad his injuries were.”

Dhillon laid Scout on the rickety old exam table which stood in the middle of the room. Nice shiny coat, alert and playful. “How old is she?” 

“Uh…maybe ten weeks. I’m not entirely sure. We just got her. Our station’s new recruit found her on scene, no collar, nothing. She hasn’t even been chipped yet, as far as we know. We’re keeping her at the firehouse for now until we find her a home.” Ian shook his head and pursed his lips.

“Why not take her to the SPCA? They can help find her a home.”

Ian shook his head. “Our new recruit insists that’s not necessary. She thinks someone’s going to claim the little thing.” He shrugged. “My experience says not likely.”

Dhillon turned to Scout, the sight of the puppy putting a grin on his face again. “I know someone who’d say the same thing.” Or used to know, anyway. Sadness flitted through him for an instant before it was replaced with resignation. He’d given up his chance to keep knowing her long ago.

Dhillon scratched the puppy’s belly. “I can chip her today.” He held out a small treat and softly said, “Sit.” Scout flipped over and sat on the table. He rewarded her with the treat.

He looked in Scout’s ears and checked her teeth and paws, dictating his assessment to Shelly as he went along. The puppy looked cared for, healthy. Maybe three months old. Obviously, the guys at the firehouse had cared for her. “Does she eat well?”

Ian shrugged. “We have her dog food, but a lot of the guys spoil her, slipping her a bit of meatball, steak, hot dog. Not me, though. You can believe that.”

“Can any of you take her home?”

Ian shook his head. “But there’s always someone at the station because we do twenty-four- and forty-eight-hour shifts. She works out with us. The new recruit is teaching her to sit, stay, come. Even to go fetch gear. Like that’s practical.” Ian shrugged, as if taking care of a dog was really not his idea of firefighter work. “You know anyone who would want her?” 

Dhillon had a thought flash through his mind. Nah. She was likely too busy, and honestly, she might even have a dog already for all he knew. Running into her occasionally outside the house didn’t really give him much information about her life. “No. But I can keep an eye out.” He continued with his examination, prepping Scout’s shots as Shelly held her.

“Are you Indian?” Ian asked.

Dhillon sighed, knowing the reason for this question. Ian knew someone who was Indian. “Yes. Well, my parents are from India, but I was born here.” Dhillon barely afforded Ian a glance. He approached Scout and administered the shot. Scout gave a small yelp.

“It’s okay, sweetie,” Dhillon cooed softly. “Just one more.”

“Just asking because the new recruit—who’s all about this dog—she’s Indian.”

She? Dhillon snapped his attention back to Ian and could not refrain from raising an eyebrow. Interesting. An Indian woman firefighter? Didn’t see that every day.

“Maybe you know her?”

Dhillon did his best to not roll his eyes as he focused on administering the second shot, but a sigh escaped all the same, as did a small hmph from Shelly. Just because he and this firefighter were both Indian didn’t mean they knew each other. “I doubt it.” He ran a gentle hand over Scout’s head and body as if to soothe away her discomfort.

If someone he knew was a firefighter—male or female—he’d already know.

Scout turned a full circle, sniffing, then promptly peed on the table.

Ian scowled at the puppy and stepped back. Shelly made a move to grab the paper towels, but Dhillon was closer. He shared a look with Shelly as he cleaned up the mess. “Potty training can take some time. Helps if she has a crate, where she feels safe.”

Ian shook his head and put out his hands. “I saw a crate in the bunk area. Desai would know.”

Dhillon’s heart skipped a beat. “Desai?” It couldn’t be. Desai was a common-enough Indian last name. Could be anybody.

Right?

He stared at Ian, who continued, completely unaware of Dhillon’s rising panic, as blood pounded through his body, his heart rate increased. “The new recruit. Who wanted this dog. The Indian girl. Riya Desai.”

Of all the names Ian could have said, that was the absolute last one he wanted to hear.

It couldn’t be her. The Riya he knew would never run into a fire. As far as he knew, she had the same reaction to anything fire-related that he did: panic and anxiety.

But then again, he didn’t really know anything about her, did he? They never really talked anymore, outside of uncomfortable pleasantries when they were forced together. Riya avoided him, and he avoided Riya.

Dhillon’s heart hammered in his chest, and the blood drained from his head. He fought to maintain professional composure as he continued his examination of Scout. “It’s a common name.” Dhillon tried to sound casual, as if he really believed his own words. He needed to believe them.

“Brown skin, dark brown eyes.”

Really? That was his description? Dhillon took a breath so he wouldn’t lay into this guy. He fought fires, after all. Saved people.

Some people.

“She’s a paramedic, too. Which helps because we have to do EMT training.”

Dhillon’s stomach plummeted, and his head spun. It was his Riya. Dhillon clenched his jaw. Well, it was the Riya Desai that he knew.

She’d never been his.

He should have picked up on it when Ian said she was teaching Scout to get gear. It was exactly what she had taught Lucky to do when they were young teenagers. Go get their backpacks or books or whatever they had forgotten. Lucky would do it, too. For her. Even though Lucky was really his dog.

What the fuck was she doing going into fires? She’d never bring back what they’d lost.

Ian was still talking. “Between you and me? She’s hot. She has the sexiest mole just below her ear, and she is stacked.” Ian put his hands in front of his chest to indicate large breasts, and Dhillon saw red.

“You know, I actually do know her.” He stared Ian down. “She grew up next door to me. So you’ll want to shut up now.” He didn’t usually talk to patients this way, but this guy was asking for it, and technically Scout was his patient. And she seemed fine with it.

“Oh, dude, sorry. I didn’t know she’d be like a sister to you.”

“She’s not a sister to me. Just a neighbor.” Dhillon had spent too much time imagining kissing that mole to look at Riya like a sister. “Either way, isn’t she your colleague? Maybe show a little respect?”

Ian waved him off. “Whatever, she won’t last long. Doubt if she can do the job.”

Oh, she could do the job. Riya and Dhillon may not be best friends anymore, but one thing he did know was that Riya Desai was fantastic at whatever she put her mind to. If she was the rookie in the department, that meant she’d made it through the academy. Since she made it through the academy, Dhillon knew she had put her mind to becoming a firefighter a long time ago.

Dhillon finished up with little Scout and—reluctantly—handed her back to Ian. “Scout will need another set of shots in one month.” His mouth moved as if by rote as he doled out instructions, but his mind was spinning.

What the fuck had Riya gotten herself into now?

Mona is obsessed with everything romantic, so she writes romantic stories by night, even though she’s an optometrist by day. If she’s not writing, she’s making chocolate truffles, riding her bike, or reading, and is just as likely to be drinking wine or gin & tonic with friends and family. She’s blessed with an amazing daughter and loving son who have both gone to college. Mona lives in Maryland with her romance-loving husband.

Social Links | Author Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads

Happy reading!

Review | Where We Come From by John Coy, Shannon Gibney, Sun Yung Shin and Diane Wilson

In this unique collaboration, four authors lyrically explore where they each come from–literally and metaphorically–as well as what unites all of us as humans.

Richly layered illustrations connect past and present, making for an accessible and visually striking look at history, family, and identity.

We come from stardust / our bodies made of ancient elements. / We come from single cells / evolving over billions of years. / We come from place, language, and spirit. / And each of us comes from story.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I loved the idea of this book, seeming like a long form poem, and am so glad that I picked it up. It really is an exploration of how we are impacted by not only our present lives, but the lives of who came before us and who we came from. Everything that our ancestors struggled through to get us where we are was represented in this book. The art that accompanies the words makes it even more poignant and truly brings the words to life.

Happy reading!