Survival Instinct – Fiona Quinn

Cerberus Tactical K9, Book One

Five of five stars

[I was offered a copy of this book pre-publication and invited to Beta read for the author. I was not in any way expected to give a review. I am doing so freely and all of the opinions expressed herein are my own.]

Full disclosure: I was prepared to love Survival Instinct because I have so far loved everything Fiona Quinn has written.  And I was in no way disappointed. Quinn’s books are a bit of a departure from the usual mysteries, but that is part of the attraction.  There is definitely a life or death thriller aspect, but they – for the most part – lack the gore present in so many others, and they always include a touch of romance.  Oh it’s not too overbearing, so don’t let that push you away from reading.  But it IS definitely there. 

Survival Instinct drew me in from the start.  Trip and Valor and their aborted exercise had me thinking.  Right from the first couple of chapters, I was invested in knowing how things ended up for the Team.  Enter Dani.  Seemingly far from crossing paths, but I wanted Trip and Dani to find their way to each other. 

I have not often been this invested in the romance aspect of a book.  The conflicts and struggles encountered here, however, lend a feeling of “will they make it” which is something Quinn is masterful at.

Survival Instinct is certainly a story of two people.  Though they are surrounded by the rest of the Cerberus Team, this is about them. How their paths cross almost as if they were predestined.  Can they, will they survive challenges and almost insurmountable odds?

Quinn writes a gripping story.  Well plotted, it’s easy to see the research that has gone into the work.  Survival Instinct is no holds barred, I simply couldn’t stop reading it.  I felt a bit bereft when it was over.  I wasn’t quite ready to let go.

I subsequently recommended Survival Instinct – and Fiona – to a good friend; but told her to be wary, that she’d find herself hooked.  And she will.  I think you will too.

Today is Survival Instinct’s Book Birthday – available from Amazon and many other retailers – go see for yourself why Quinn deserves a spot on your favourite authors list!


I promise, you WILL love it . . . and want a Valor of your own!!! 🐾🐾💚

Love Thy Sister – Maria Grazia Swan

Mina’s Adventures, Book One

Four of five stars given

Allow me to introduce Mina Calvi.  A headstrong, impetuous, quick to jump to conclusions, Italian transplanted at the death of her parents, to California to live with her much older sister.

Not quite completing her studies, not really working at anything except loosely doing errands for her sister’s tech company; she’s a twenty-something who is bit dreamy, a lot easily sidetracked, and opinionated as heck!

Full disclosure – she was a hard character to like.  A touch annoying, but amiable still for all of that.  And the story itself draws you in quickly and holds you till it’s fully resolved.

But don’t be fooled. There are no quick, facile resolutions here.  Mina’s relationship with those around her can be characterized as choppy at best. She often finds herself at loggerheads with her sister Paola as well.

And then a murder happens, suspicion lights on her family, and Mina – perhaps mistakenly – feels that loyalties must be honoured above all else.

Swan crafts a narrative that is twisty, and full of turns, stops, and hurdles to be jumped.  But THAT is the very thing that keeps you turning the pages.

I think, were we ever to meet in person, that Mina and I would certainly lock horns.  But I still wanted to see her overcome, succeed in fact.  Swan’s characters are engaging, though it’s easy to see that there are secrets to be uncovered before the story is told.

A challenging read, but one that I fully enjoyed; I certainly recommend this book.  I particularly liked that the writer sprinkled Italian throughout her work as one would sprinkle basil into a pot of ragu.

I’m looking forward to watching Mina continue to grow as she makes her way through further entries into her series.

Swan has included this book in a boxed set of the first volumes of each of her series. Called From Italy With Love, there’s no better way to get to know a new-to-you author. Learn and read more about it here: https://www.amazon.com/Italy-Love-Maria-Grazia-Swan-ebook/dp/B08BMK9JW5/

A Duke, the Lady, and a Baby – Vanessa Riley

Rogues and Remarkable Women, Book One

Five of five stars given

Defrauded of her inheritance, her home, and her child, after the death of her husband. His corrupt uncle and his machinations left her destitute and in an asylum but determined to get back all that was hers by rights. Thanks to the auspices of an organization called Widow’s Grace, she has help in her pursuit; but will she have patience to wait it out?

And then, a chance meeting with the Duke who – unbeknownst to her – intends to depose the corrupt uncle, has her hoping that perhaps finally, there will be someone fighting in her corner.

Though not my usual genre, this was an extremely good story. A romance, of course, but with a good dollop of intrigue to hold your interest easily. Lady Patience Jordan has ingenuity and determination; both of which will stand her in good stead as she works toward getting back to her infant son and foiling the trickery of the would-be Duke, and putting themselves on a ship back to her native Demerara.

Riley has crafted her story well. Introducing twists and turns – and misunderstandings – neatly into the plot line. It certainly piques the reader’s interest to watch how relationships blend and develop over time. As things become clearer, light is shed on past events that may not have been what they seemed.

A charming cast of characters, the deep friendship that develops between Patience and Jemima, the invaluable support of Lady Shrewsbury and the Widow’s Grace; all combine to make this a truly enjoyable read that I highly recommend.

[Many thanks to the author for an Advanced Reader Copy of this book. I was not required to write a review, however. The opinions expressed herein are entirely my own.]

Travel Can Be Murder – Jennifer S Alderson

Death By Baguette, Book Two

Five of five stars given

Travel, beautiful landmarks and tourist attractions; and a whole cast of endearing characters – well, except for the baddies, of course!  Alderson’s sleuth is a tour guide that stumbles across dead bodies while leading groups on exciting adventures. This time, she’s on a Romantic Valentine’s Week in the City of Lovers – Paris.  Can I just tell you that this is already right up my alley because I LOVE to travel!

Well written, wonderful tidbits from the city they’re visiting, show that this narrative was expertly crafted and much research was done.  Alderson fills her story with lots of information about the places to see, insights that I found quite interesting as to expectations of places versus their reality in a modern world. I found it quite interesting how she built petty – and not so petty – issues among the members of the group. I’m not sure I’ve read anything quite so engaging in a long time, ANY one of them could easily have been the culprit! BUT this reader was actually able to sniff out the real villain before the big reveal. Yaayyy me!!!

A great new-to-me series and author!  This is Book Two of the series, but was a great stand alone.  I will be going back to read the first and then continuing on from there.  I love it when I discover a really good new series that’s already several volumes in, don’t you?!

An excellent read that I highly recommend!

What the Hatmaker Heard – Sandra Bretting

Missy DuBois Mysteries, Book Six

Four of five stars given

Despite having fallen into a reputation for finding dead bodies, Missy fully expected her day at Honeycutt Hall to be smooth sailing.  After all, she was a guest of the bride whose veil she had designed and made.

When the groom is nowhere to be found, Missy offers to assist the groundskeeper – an old friend – in his search of the grounds. 

And find him they do.  They find him dead. 

As if that weren’t bad enough, that discovery is upstaged quickly when Missy gets the news that her own wedding venue has suffered a devastating fire.  Four weeks away from her own wedding day, she’s going to be looking for a new venue!  Inevitably, she becomes increasingly embroiled in the murder investigation, while her own wedding seems to be crumbling around her ears.

Bretting’s characters are charming but it’s obvious everyone is hiding something.  While her descriptions of the machinations that go on in the wealthy south seem a bit over the top, the characters fit the scenario perfectly.  Here is definitely a twisted tale of intrigue, misdirection, and secrets.  Stunning, unexpected secrets.  And Missy herself is perfectly cast, once again, as the milliner cum sleuth.

Although this is Book Six in the series; I hadn’t read the others and found this a great stand-alone, curiosity may impel you to read the others as well.  It’s a great tale that packs a few surprises; all the better for spending a quiet afternoon curled up with a good book!

Sisters in a Small Town – Holly Kerr

Five of five stars given – to each book of the three in the series

Coming Home, Book One

Brenna is a high-powered corporate lawyer.  Working more hours than she spends at home.  When she walks in on her husband to find her assistant under his desk, she can’t even say she’s really surprised.  But being asked to resign because of her reaction, while he – and the assistant – keep their jobs, seems to be the catalyst she needed.  So she heads home.

Home isn’t the warm welcome most would expect, she’s been away with little to no contact for too many years.  But it is home, and it’s where she needs to be, for now.

Kerr is masterful in crafting relationship struggles that speak to the reader.  The characters come to life in the narrative, her descriptions of the conflicts – old and long standing, as well as new – immediately pull you into the story.  Here is a chronicle of family, resentments, and a slow, steady rebuilding of relationships.

Highly recommend!

Hanging On, Book Two

The story picks up where Coming Home left off – at the funeral of their paternal grandfather and the arrival of Dory, another long-estranged sister.

The sisters have started to learn truths about each other and their parents; to accept the past, and are beginning their individual journeys of forgiveness. 

Kerr has not disappointed with her insight and understanding of the many conflicting emotions that come into play with these relationships, and her delicacy in handling them, with reasonable and believable resolutions make the reading all that much more intense.  This isn’t a shallow “beach read” but a story that demands your full investment; and I gave it happily.

These women, with all their weaknesses and tenacity, are strong and staunchly loyal.  They are women I’d happily include in my circle of friends. 

Stepping Up, Book Three

There’s a lot of turmoil in this last instalment of the Skatt sisters’ story, much growth happening as well.  As the pieces of their own puzzles fall inexorably into place, these women learn about themselves and each other, their relationships, and the fact that coming home was something that was necessary in order for all of them to have peace and completion.

Long held resentments combine with the unbreakable bonds of sisterhood to make Sisters in a Small Town a compelling, sometimes uncomfortable read.  But one that you will be all the better for having read in all its parts.

This series is definitely one of the top ten reads of this year for this reader!

Harper & Hattie Magical Mysteries – Stacy M Jones

Rule of Three, Book Three

Five of five stars given

Elaine S Dunham has become unofficial “writer in residence” at Hattie’s Cauldron.  Hattie thinks she seems troubled, frustrated even.  Lanie seems to have lost her connection to her “muse”.  Meantime, there’s a new author in town with an almost identical name – Elayne Susanne Dunham – with her first book pretty well a copy of Lanie’s first book from years ago.

A fresh, inventive tale of writers and plagiarists, revenge and magical mayhem; Jones has populated this small town with great characters – I wish I had an Aunt Hattie – and intriguing stories.  Not your average cozy here, but a story that grabs your attention on several counts and holds it tight.

Jones has an easy writing style.  And while the plot thickens with revenge, the resolutions are not what you’d expect, and that keeps you turning pages!

[Many thanks to the author for the opportunity to read an Advance Reader Copy of this book.  I was not required to, however this is my honest review.  The opinions expressed herein are entirely my own.]

‘*****

Secrets to Tell, Book Two

Five of five stars given

There’s been a murder at Willow House.  Further investigation uncovers a connection to a murder from almost one hundred years ago.  Plus, the Rock City Life photographer disappeared, leaving his girlfriend hurt and alone.  On the grounds of Willow House.  Something in the past definitely has a score to settle.  Harper is determined to find out what’s going on.

In this second entry in the series, Harper is starting to come to terms with her powers.  An acceptance that was long held at bay – and an understanding that these powers are benefits and not to be hidden – is finally coming to the fore and that pleases Aunt Hattie.  Harper is the last in the line of Ryan women, it would be a shame to ignore such a big part of herself and her heritage.

Jones has built a wonderful small town atmosphere in this corner of Little Rock.  I’d be hard pressed if I visited, to not look for Hattie’s Cauldron!  Each volume I open brings a feeling of a visit with friends.

But make no mistake, there is mischief here too, and that’s right up Harper and Hattie’s alley, with help from the ever willing Jackson and Beatrix.

Start this series from the beginning.  Not because it’s necessary to read them that way.  They stand alone well.  But because nestling in with these books is a great way to while away a couple of afternoons, with tea and something sweet, and imagine yourself on the couch at Hattie’s.

GREAT series!!!

‘*****

Saints & Sinners Ball, Book One

Five of five stars given

Hattie is hosting the Mardi Gras Ball!  It promises to be an evening filled with fun.  But Harper, having just arrived at Aunt Hattie’s, would just as soon give it a pass.  And there’s nothing that happens in that evening to change her opinion, especially when Harper is the one who discovers the dead – murdered – body of the city’s Head Prosecutor.

But even against her will, Harper is drawn in to investigate.  It’s obvious to her that the police are dragging their feet.  Enlisting Jackson and Dan to join her, Harper begins her journey to the truth.  That’s not the only journey she’s starting out on.

The First Book in the series, here is where you meet Jones’ amiable, enchanting characters.  Here’s where we start to see the hint of magic that runs through the series.  It’s not overdone.  There’s a realistic spin to all of it that leaves you wondering – maybe hoping – that there really is something magical in our world.

Join me in the Little Rock adventure, I can guarantee you will love every moment!

‘*****

Harper’s Folly, The Prequel

Five of five stars given

“The trouble starts when the magic is lost”

Harper’s life is pretty sweet.  Editor-in-chief of the family’s decades old lifestyle magazine in Manhattan; she’s married to a successful man she loves, and they’ve a beautiful home.  Everything is perfect.

Until it isn’t.  There’s an affair.  There’s something definitely illegal going on at Nick’s business.  The FBI pay her a visit.  Her father is railing on her to not “embarrass the family”.

Playing an integral part in an investigation that she really just fell into, Harper is reeling at the discoveries she’s made. This is the teaser episode in the series.  The prequel that introduces you to some of the characters you will come to know and love.  I read this series a bit backwards – I started with an ARC of Book Three, then continued on to the Prequel then Two and One – so I can say with confidence that they are all great read as standalones.  But don’t.  Jones has a knack for framing even slightly unbelievable events in a way that simply makes them real.  The Ryan women are formidable, and that’s something that shines out right from the first words you read.  I am hooked, I know you will be too!!!

Witch Woods Funeral Home Mysteries, Boxed Set – Morgana Best

Ghost of a Chance, Book One

Nothing to Ghost About, Book Two

Make the Ghost of it, Book Three

Ghost Stories, Book Four

Four of five stars given

Laurel Bay has returned to Witch Woods for her father’s funeral.  Having escaped as soon as she was able, returning is not something she wishes to prolong and she’s already planning her escape.  Her father had other ideas.  Upon the reading of the will, Laurel discovers that while her unpleasant mother has inherited the family home with the land it sits on, Laurel has inherited her father’s funeral home – the family business, all its assets and accoutrements.  And knowing that her mother would quickly run it into the ground, is only the beginning of Laurel’s dilemma.

I received this boxed set from the author, though it was not a requirement that I write a review.  But I was pleased to have four of the series’ books all together.  It was a binge-read.  An opportunity to get to really know the characters, their quirks and foibles, and this new-to-me author!

What a cast of characters it is too!!!  From the overbearing, belittling mother, to the family accountant who makes things interesting, to all the ghosts that are set on complicating Laurel’s life.  These are fun people, in a small town where everyone knows everyone, and anyone who is anyone all go to the “right” church.

Starting with the first volume, Laurel’s new life as the funeral home Director is fraught with dead bodies and a need to discover how they got that way.  All while trying to breathe life back into her father’s life work and dodging her mother’s efforts to bring her in line and marry her off – to a suitor of momma’s choosing, of course!

You’ll shake your head, you’ll mutter at the antics, but most of all you’ll enjoy every moment of each volume.  Personally, I look forward to the next instalment, I know you will too!!!

[Many thanks to the author for the opportunity to read this set.  I was not required to, but this is my honest review.  The opinions expressed herein are entirely my own.]

Widow Redefined – Kim Cano

Four of five stars given

When she notices strange flowers starting to appear on her late husband’s grave, the young wife is shocked.  Did he have secrets from her?  Was there another woman?  Who feels they have this right?

Determined to get answers, she lies in wait.  Sees the mysterious flower bestower and follows them.  But that only leads to a need for more answers. 

As she is catapulted into self-realization, discovery, new friendship, and loss; she finds herself re-examining the truths she had held close.  And in the process, rediscovers herself.

Cano is masterful in tackling a touchy, moving subject.  She has created characters that pull at your heart strings, even as their humanity irks slightly. By the end of the book, you are truly invested with their lives and their insecurities. Have tissues ready as there are some poignant passages, you will identify with this young widow and her struggles.

An enthralling read, I was simply not able to put it down till every word was read.  I highly recommend!

Swords & Fallen Lords – Trixie Silvertale

Mitzy Moon Mysteries, Book Seven

Five of five stars given

There is never a dull moment in Mitzy’s new life in Pin Cherry Harbor. All the more so now that she and Sheriff-Too-Hot-To-Handle are taking it to the next level.

Like their date.  At the Ren Faire.  Where they watch the jousting matches.  And witness the Black Knight quite literally kill the Lord Mayor in front of their eyes.  That was NOT part of the choreography!  Always at the ready to unveil the truth, Mitzy digs right in to find out if Sir Knight was indeed villainous or framed.

All the familiar characters lend this volume the feeling of a meeting with old friends.  Amidst the Ren Faire subterfuges and treachery, is the well loved banter between Ghost-Ma and Mitzy.  Aided as ever by the sage advice and timely intervention of Silas Willoughby.  The timely hints “dropped” by my favourite resident of “almost Canada” – Pyewacket, the Caracal are always on point!  And the eerie reappearance of an old nemesis adds just enough intrigue!

Silvertale has hit it out of the Faire-grounds with Book Seven.  Seeing the inhabitants of Pin Cherry again is a joy.  This author is outstanding at weaving tales that surprise and delight while still mystifying in equal measures; but it was over far too soon.  I’m now left waiting anxiously for Mitzy’s next adventure, which I know won’t be too far behind!  Highly recommend!

[Many thanks to the author for the opportunity to read an Advance Reader Copy of this book.   I was not required to write a review.  This is my honest review, the opinions expressed herein are entirely my own. ]