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Friday, September 27, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: A Twist of Oleander by Raven McKray (Cozy Mystery)

Raven McKray

Genre: Cozy Mystery / Romantic Suspense / Detective Fiction
Publisher: Keystone, Imprint of Brownridge Publishing
Date of Publication: August 2, 2019
Number of Pages: 204

An escape from madness leads to murder. After suffering a manic episode, twenty-six-year old Maddie Malone retreats to small-town Kenowa and her aunt and uncle’s cattle ranch for peace and restoration. But things are never quiet for long in Maddie’s world: She finds her heart torn between her childhood sweetheart and a suave older man. Then tragedy strikes: Maddie’s uncle is found dead; poisoned by a cup of oleander tea. The police think its suicide. Maddie knows its murder. Now it’s up to her to prove it.


“This is a well-plotted cozy mystery, and you do a great job casting plausible suspicion on all of the main characters so that the big reveal during the climax is satisfyingly unexpected and exciting.”~ Kindle Scout Editorial Review 2018

Chapter One
Enter: Death
The buzzing had stopped, but my thoughts were thick like oil, and my legs and arms had turned to lead. I opened my eyes to the too-bright world and took a breath.
            “Do you know who you are?” asked a female voice next to me. It took all my energy to turn my head to look at her. In the chair beside the bed sat an Asian woman with kind eyes and shoulder-length black hair. Her voice soothed and strengthened me. She had a clipboard and was writing things on it.
            I nodded. “I’m Maddie Malone.”
            “That’s right. I’m Dr. Ng. Do you know where you are now, Ms. Malone?” She stopped writing, her pen poised in the air.
           I cringed. “Yes, Carville General Hospital. I… I work here. I’m a nurse.”
            Dr. Ng nodded. “Great. Can you tell me what happened back in Emergency? You had to triage the patients, is that correct?”
           “Yes. I had a lot of things to do, so many people needing help… I snapped. I couldn’t think anymore. Nothing made sense.”
            My mind went back to that terrible moment, back in triage, when I had drifted down the hallway like a sleepwalker, shrouded in dreams. Around me, other people yelled and made gestures. They moved back and forth, carrying trays full of instruments and bits of paper. I walked past them, keeping my head down. The buzzing inside my brain began: izz-izz-izzz.  Fear bit at me like an animal; moving under my skin and burrowing into my stomach.
I remembered all the people in the bright, white room staring at me; their eyes like coals. I was trembling inside. A woman, holding a clipboard, approached me. She spoke, and this time I heard a word I knew—Maddie.  I breathed in relief: I had a name. Then the woman thrust a paper into my face. I could read words like, “clopidogrel bisulfate” and “thrombolytic.” I knew the shape of the words, their sound, but not their meaning. I tried to eat the words, to make them talk, but the bees in my brain were becoming louder than my thoughts: izz-izz-izzz.
            Dr. Ng’s soft voice pulled me back to the present: “That's good, Maddie. Go on.” I knew what type of doctor she was, even though I had never set foot in this part of the hospital. Dr. Ng. was a psychiatrist. We were in the psych ward.
             “I thought I would lose consciousness,” I said, my voice a bare whisper. “I was sure I was dying… I was dying inside.” I remembered how the fear-animal thrust its quills into me. The lights above me were too bright; they were daggers to my eyes. I covered my face with my shaking hands. What did these people want from me?
Then, I knew. I was the only one who could help. I had to save these people from Death. I had seen Death that morning. Its claws had been around the face of an old woman; her skin lined and thin as paper. I had tried to help her, but Death was too strong. I had heard Death, too, creeping around the children with bald heads. I had tried to help them, but Death had taken them away.
“IZZ-IZZ-IZZZ-ZIT?” the bees asked me. I shook my head, but it was pointless. The bees wouldn’t leave my ears.
Death was coming for me. My breath came harder, faster. My hands and feet tingled. My body vibrated in time with my frenetic heartbeat. I could see Death now, his enormous body draped in shadows. His eyes glowed red from too many tears and from the hell-fires of the damned. He smelled of antiseptic and rotting wounds. His claws were already closing around my heart. I would lose consciousness, and then he would kill me...
“What happened after that?” Dr. Ng prodded.
            “I thought I was dying...” I whispered again, trembling, trying in vain to shut out the memory, the moment before the world went black. I remembered how men with white robes came to hold me down, how they stole a quill from Fear and stuck it in my arm.

“They stuck me with needles...” I said in a bare whisper. “Then I woke up here.”
Dr. Ng regarded me thoughtfully, then wrote something in her notes. She asked me a few more questions, and I answered them the best I could. Then she gave me medication and left me to sleep.
I drifted in and out of sleep over the next few days. During times of wakefulness, there were no flowers, no cheerful faces saying, “Get well soon.” For a while I hoped, and feared, that a few of my coworkers might come to visit: Maybe Rita or Susan, who had commiserated with me about management and day-to-day stresses.
I needn’t have worried. No one came. No one wanted to see the woman who had gone crazy. I was alone, and I was in pain. I didn’t quite want to die, but I wanted the pain to stop. It was like someone had implanted magnets in my body, and the magnets were pulling me down, down, down to the core of the earth.
Only my mother stood by me. When I was lucid, she was there, sitting beside me. Her eyes were red and puffy, but she still looked beautiful. She even managed a smile.
            “It’ll be okay, Maddie,” she said, patting my hand. I nodded, biting my lower lip. I turned my head away, into the pillow, so she wouldn’t have to see me cry.


I received a copy of this book for free. This is my honest and thoughtful review.

Following a manic episode that results in her losing her job as an ER nurse, Maddie decides to retreat to her aunt and uncle's cattle ranch to rest and figure out what to do next. The opening chapter really set the tone for Maddie's frame of mind. The author's description of the sights and sounds triggering Maddie made you feel as though you are right there with her. Unfortunately, as in tune to her mental health as she becomes, Maddie was quick to simply throw the "crazy" card at everyone else when she could not believe where the information may be taking her. It was ultimately only at the end that she seemed to have any insight into how mental illness can truly wreck havoc if left untreated, leaving readers with a positive and hopeful message.

"I knew what it was to look over the edge of reality, but thankfully I had never stepped over that edge."

There is quite a cast of highly suspicious characters all with excellent motives and very specific methods of murder, so the red herrings create a solid mystery that has to be read to the end in order to find out the quite unexpected conclusion. This book is quite short, and while I appreciated its ability to pack quite a punch in such a small package, I am surprised that for as long as it took to get to the climax, it came quickly and ended almost before it really began. However, the story never tried to be more than it was; an entertaining cozyesque mystery with hints at romance that a reader could escape into for a sitting or two. I wasn't quite connected to either love interest, and I never got the feeling that Maddie was either. It almost felt that she was partnered with one because that's what is supposed to happen. There is potential for this pairing to develop into a more dynamic and believable relationship as they face dangerous obstacles in future installments.

Despite the dialogue and interactions between characters coming across as slightly awkward at times, the story is fast paced and well written. The suspense that was built as characters were thrown into danger intensified the story's progression. And although the antagonist seemed more like a caricature of a villain, especially with the exposition reveal, the path of destruction was still thrilling nonetheless.  

Overall, this was an engaging and easy read that will resonate with many readers, especially those fans of cozy mysteries and even those looking for a cleaner new adult mystery romance.

Raven McKray lives in Ontario, Canada. She received her master’s degree in English Literature from Carleton University and has a degree in Education from the University of Ottawa. Her first novel, “Under A Fairy Moon,” written under the pseudonym “T. M. Wallace” won the Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award (Fantasy) and the Canadian Christian Writer’s Award (Young Adult Fiction) in 2012. “A Twist of Oleander” is her first mystery novel for adults, and the first book in the Maddie Malone Mystery series.

Many thanks to Pump Up Your Book Blog Tours and Raven McKray! And be sure to check out the other blog stops for more opinions and author extras!


Thursday, September 26, 2019

LSBBT GUEST POST + GIVEAWAY: Angel Thieves by Kathi Appelt (Young Adult)


Genre: Young Adult / Magical Realism / Historical / Contemporary
Publisher: Atheneum / Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Date of Publication: March 12, 2019
Number of Pages: 336

Scroll down for the giveaway!

An ocelot. A slave. An angel thief.

Multiple perspectives spanning across time are united through themes of freedom, hope, and faith in a most unusual and epic novel from Newbery Honor–winning author and National Book Award finalist Kathi Appelt.

Sixteen-year-old Cade Curtis is an angel thief. After his mother’s family rejected him for being born out of wedlock, he and his dad moved to the apartment above a local antique shop. The only payment the owner Mrs. Walker requests: marble angels, stolen from graveyards, for her to sell for thousands of dollars to collectors. But there’s one angel that would be the last they’d ever need to steal; an angel, carved by a slave, with one hand open and one hand closed. If only Cade could find it.

Zorra, a young ocelot, watches the bayou rush past her yearningly. The poacher who captured and caged her has long since lost her, and Zorra is getting hungrier and thirstier by the day. Trapped, she only has the sounds of the bayou for comfort—but it tells her help will come soon.

Before Zorra, Achsah, a slave, watched the very same bayou with her two young daughters. After the death of her master, Achsah is free, but she’ll be damned if her daughters aren’t freed with her. All they need to do is find the church with an angel with one hand open and one hand closed.

In a masterful feat, National Book Award Honoree Kathi Appelt weaves together stories across time, connected by the bayou, an angel, and the universal desire to be free.



Spiritual, succinct, and emotionally gripping. ~ School Library Journal

A heartfelt love letter to Houston that acknowledges the bad parts of its history while uplifting the good. ~ BCBB

Shows the best and worst sides of humanity and underscores the powerful force of the bayou, which both holds and erases secrets. ~ Publishers Weekly

Narrative strands are like tributaries that begin as separate entities but eventually merge into a single thematic connection: that love, whether lost or found, is always powerful. ~ Horn Book

Richly drawn and important. ~ Booklist, starred review

Ocelot Attack
Guest Post by Kathi Appelt

One of the main characters in Angel Thieves is an ocelot. I can’t say how many times I watched this short video. I fell in love with this beautiful, charming cat, and this video somehow served as a bellwether for the way I wanted my own Zorra to live. Safe, healthy, playful and beloved. It’s what I want for all of our creatures, wild and tame.

Kathi Appelt is the author of the Newbery Honoree, National Book Award finalist, PEN USA Literary Award–winning, and bestselling The Underneath as well as the National Book Award finalist The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, Maybe a Fox (with Alison McGhee), Keeper, and many picture books including Counting Crows and Max ... Attacks

She has two grown children and lives in College Station, Texas, with her husband and their six cats. She serves as a faculty member at Vermont College of Fine Arts in their MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program.

(U.S. Only)

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Many thanks to Lone Star Book Blog Tours and the author! It was a pleasure hosting! And be sure to check out the other stops on the tour for more opinions and extras!

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Thursday, September 19, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Strands of Truth by Colleen Coble (Romantic Suspense)



Colleen Coble

on Tour September 9 - October 4, 2019

Genre: Romantic Suspense
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Date of Publication:  September 10, 2019
Number of Pages: 336
Purchase Links:  Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble  |  Goodreads

Strands of Harper Taylor’s childhood are resurfacing—but will the truth save her...or pull her under? Harper Taylor is used to being alone— after all, she grew up in one foster home after another. Oliver Jackson finally took her under his wing when she was a runaway teenager, and now Harper pours her marine biology knowledge into Oliver’s pen shell research. But she’s never stopped wishing for a family of her own. So when a DNA test reveals a half-sister living just two hours away, Harper is both hopeful and nervous. Over warm cinnamon rolls, Harper and Annabelle find striking similarities in their stories. Is it just a coincidence that both their mothers died tragically, without revealing Harper and Annabelle’s father’s name? Oliver’s son Ridge still sees Harper as a troubled teen even all these years later. But when Oliver is attacked, Ridge and Harper find themselves working together to uncover dangerous secrets that threaten to destroy them all. They must unravel her past before they can have any hope for the future.

January 1990
St. Petersburg, Florida
Lisa ran to her Datsun Bluebird and jerked open the yellow door. Her pulse strummed in her neck, and she glanced behind her to make sure she wasn’t being followed. She’d tried not to show fear during the confrontation, but it was all she could do not to cry. She couldn’t face life without him.
She’d been on edge ever since yesterday.
Twilight backlit the treetops and highlighted the hanging moss. Instead of finding it beautiful, she saw frightening shadows and shuddered. She slid under the wheel and started the engine, then pulled out of her driveway onto the road.
She turned toward the Gulf. The water always calmed her when she was upset—and she had crossed upset moments ago and swerved into the scared zone.
Her belly barely fit under the wheel, but this baby would be born soon, then she’d have her figure back. She accelerated away from her home, a dilapidated one-story house with peeling white paint, and switched on her headlights.
The radio blared full of the news about the Berlin Wall coming down, but Lisa didn’t care about that, not now. She switched channels until she found Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’ ”playing, but even her favorite tune failed to sooth her shattered nerves. Could she seriously be murdered over this? She’d glimpsed madness in those eyes.
She pressed the brakes as she came to a four-way stop, but the brake pedal went clear to the floor. She gasped and pumped the pedal again. No response. The car shot through the intersection, barely missing the tail end of another vehicle that had entered it before her.
Hands gripping the steering wheel, she struggled to keep the car on the road as she frantically thought of a way to bring it to a stop that didn’t involve hitting another car or a tree. The baby in her belly kicked as if he or she knew their lives hung suspended in time.
“We’re going to make it, little one. We have to. I can’t leave you alone.” No one would love her baby if she died. Her mother couldn’t care for her child. She cared more about her drugs than anything else.
Lisa tried to tamp down her rising emotions, but she’d never been so frightened. The car fishtailed on the sandy road as she forced it back from the shoulder. Huge trees lined the pavement in a dense formation. Where could she drive off into relative safety? A field sprawled over on the right, just past the four-way stop ahead. If she made it through, it seemed the only place where they might survive.
Had the brakes been cut? What else could it be? She’d just had the car serviced.
Lisa approached the stop sign much too fast. The slight downhill slope had only accelerated the speed that hovered at nearly seventy. Her mouth went bone dry.
Taken from “Strands of Truth” by Colleen Coble. Copyright © 2019 by Colleen Coble. Used by permission of http://www.thomasnelson.com/.

I received a copy of this book for free. This is my honest and thoughtful review.

What an impressive introduction into the work of a hugely popular and well loved author! While I am familiar with the author's books, I had never read one before, so I was incredibly delighted at how much I really enjoyed this story. Now, I'm looking forward to taking a look at her vast repertoire to discover more!

This story opens with a powerful bang, thrusting readers back to 1990, and lays the foundation for the mysteries that follow. The characters are richly developed and woven together to create a masterful storytelling experience. With a unique premise and complex plot that spans three time periods, the author's writing style is amazing in making the connections with no confusion. Intertwining mysteries in both the past and present kept the twists coming until the shocking and absolutely stunning truth is finally revealed. While I had my suspicions about what would ultimately be revealed, I did not expect nor anticipate how it all came together. The author was able to brilliantly sprinkle out the clues across the story that will keep you thinking until the final moments. The pacing was fantastic and reinforced the mounting tension all the way to the very end, which is so hopeful and inspiring given the amount of turmoil wrecking havoc throughout the entire story.

"The right time for the truth is every minute of every day."

We all know that the truth will set us free, and this was a fascinating exploration of just how devastating secrets and lies can be even for generations to come. Every one seemed to have something to hide, which certainly came back to haunt them as time went on. Despite the overwhelming sense of family dysfunction surrounding these characters, the conclusion sparks support for acceptance, forgiveness, and grace.

The story's romance is incredibly clean and tender almost to the point that the classification of romantic suspense is somewhat misleading. I am a huge fan of the hate-to-love trope and really wanted to see that play out more as characters discovered their true feelings. I was slightly disconnected from the passion that was trying to play out on the page and would have appreciated more emotion on both ends of the spectrum. 

Overall, an immensely entertaining and highly recommended read that will be hard to forget!

Colleen Coble is a USA TODAY bestselling author and RITA finalist best known for her coastal romantic suspense novels, including The Inn at Ocean’s Edge, Twilight at Blueberry Barrens, and the Lavender Tides, Sunset Cove, Hope Beach, and Rock Harbor series.

Connect with Colleen online!


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Many thanks to Partners in Crime Book Tours and Colleen Coble! It was an absolute pleasure reading, reviewing, and hosting! And be sure to check out the other stops on the tour for more opinions and extras!

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