The Forgotten Girls by Sara Blaedel

I just finished reading the Danish version of Law and Order: SVU.

This is obviously a novel which is a part of a series, but only three out of the eight books featuring Louise Rick have been translated into English. Despite the alluded to back story, you don’t need to know all the past details to enjoy The Forgotten Girls by Sara Blaedel. Louise has just switched jobs from the Homicide Department to the newly started Special Search Agency. Her first case involves the accidental death of an unidentified woman with a distinguishing scar who was walking through the woods after dark and stepped into a ravine. The investigation leads into familiar territory, Hvalso – Louise’s hometown from “days back when” – a place that she has purposely avoided. Besides her frustration in the search to unearth the secrets surrounding this mysterious woman, Louise also has to deal with a past which continues to haunt her, cringing whenever she meets people from her younger days, (just in case they mention the trauma she refuses to address). Her partner, Eik, has demons of his own which cause him to smoke and drink to excess.

As an aside, I had quite a few private laughs while I read this book. The names struck me as amusing, such as the men in Louise’s life – Mik and Eik (in my mind they rhyme). Then there is the scene where Louise introduces herself to a woman who answers, “Bitter”. I thought Bitter was an expression similar to “hello”, but, in fact, it was a first name. After I got over the unfamiliar words, the small town of Hvalso seemed typical of close-knit communities, with just a few quirks to remind us that the setting is Denmark and not the United States.

Back to the plot – the investigation broadens as several cases seem to indicate one common perpetrator. Louise and Eik, with help from Mik, set out to discover what is really happening up in the secluded woods and why women are disappearing or showing up viciously raped and/or murdered. As in any good mystery, there are numerous misdirections, so just as we think we know who is guilty, we get a clue which indicates another suspect. Drama ensues.

Central to the theme is a mental institution which had some shady practices prior to its closing. Much of this information is based on true events although this particular center was fictional. However, the setting was based on locales familiar to the author.

As the book wraps up, an unexpected incident occurs with references to disturbing events from Louise’s past which make her rethink everything she formerly believed to be true. The reader doesn’t get any answers to her questioning thoughts, just an urge to pick up the next book in the series.

An easy read which has a quick pace and some unexpected twists. The ancillary characters add a little substance to the story and are obviously a part of prior plotlines. Any strangeness is due to the locale (Europeans just give off a different vibe than Americans), but the translation is credible. I can see why Sara Blaedel is popular in Denmark, although this is not the next “Great Danish Novel”. Three and a half stars.

A thank you to Netgalley and Grand Central Publishing for this free ARC, with the expectation that I will write an honest review.

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The Magician’s Daughter by Judith Janeway

I liked the magic.

Valentine has studied to become a magician to emulate her unidentified father. The problem is that Valentine Hill doesn’t have a social security number, a date of birth, or a location of where she was born. Her only ID is a series of library cards from the different cities where she’s resided over the years. Her occupations have been limited to under the table pursuits, including her current job as an assistant street magician in Vegas, where she gets a clue that her missing mother is in California. Valentine hasn’t seen Elizabeth in nine years. The only reason to hunt her abusive, con artist mom down now is so that Valentine can finally get a clue to her heritage. The scars on Valentine’s arms reminds her of a brutal childhood where she was forced to participate in scamming men for their money. As a backlash to these traumatic experiences, Valentine vows to always tell the truth. Yet the people who surround Valentine have not made any such promises, so it’s no surprise that partner Jeff steals her secret stash of funds to get to San Francisco to join a band. And so the adventure begins.

The plot in The Magacian’s Daughter by Judith Janeway is fast paced and confusing as every character’s intention is suspect. The truth is as allusive as a magic trick. Just as the reader thinks they have a handle on what is happening, there is a twist. Sometimes the misdirection is interesting and at other times it’s annoying, plus the character development has been sacrificed to the plotline. Ironically, Valentine has sworn off violence, yet there is some malicious mischief as well as several gruesome murders surrounding her adventures. The surprise ending nicely tied up numerous loose ends.

If you are looking for a light weight, fun adventure – hocus pocus – here is your next read.

My one regret is that there wasn’t a little more slight of hand. Then this book would have been truly magical.

The first in a series featuring our heroine Valentine Hill, with future opportunities to flesh out some of the supporting characters.

Three stars.

I wish to thank Netgalley and Poison Pen Press for this ARC download in exchange for an honest review.

At The Viking’s Command by Anne Marsh

Underground beneath the bright lights of Las Vegas is where the real gamblers go to see paranormal warriors fight to the death. Imprisoned berserker Calder morphs into bear form to tear apart his combatants. It’s kill or be killed. Even though he wants the tournaments to cease, the drugs which are pumped into his body foster his violent tendencies. His opponents don’t stand a chance.

Despite his lack of caring, Calder is curious about the small bundle dropped off in the cell next to his. It’s a newly minted werewolf, in the form of a beautiful young woman called Tyra. Something about her appeals to Calder in spite of the circumstances. There is an undeniable connection which breaks through his barriers, especially those of his inherited hatred of all things werewolf. Even one year after their escape, she is still in his thoughts and haunts his dreams at night. Tyra, after being evicted from her pack, knows that her only hope for survival is to find Calder and enlist his soldier-for-hire services, offering up the only thing she has of value – herself.

Anne Marsh has created a sweet romance between two human creatures in her novella At The Viking’s Command. We are introduced to Norse Viking mercenary Calder and his family plus Tyra and her pack. The sexual interludes are titillating and in spite of the aggression of the paranormals, the romance is heartwarming.

Even though this is “book” two in the Warrior’s Unleashed series (Book One is called Viking’s Orders) it is an excellent stand alone. There is just enough background to explain the situation. The plot moves along briskly, the main characters are appealing in spite of their violent tendencies, and the inevitable conclusion is satisfying. Kudos to Anne Marsh for keeping it a novella instead of trying to stretch the plot into a full length novel. Although Werewolves and Shiftchangers are not normally my thing, I liked this story.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Miriam’s Secret by Jerry Eicher

What would happen if you unexpectedly won two million dollars? Haven’t we all dreamed about how our lives would change and thought about the things we’d buy with our new found money? Now imagine that you are Amish from a proud, poor family that doesn’t even believe in selling their wares to the “Englisha” to improve their daily life. Just think how it is to be so poor that you eat potato soup for dinner with a full meal a once a week treat. Or imagine that your oldest daughter must go to work to help support a large family with ten children and one on the way. As sister Shirley exclaims, “The Yoder family is poor, really, really poor and Daett seems to like it that way.” That is the premise for the novel Miriam’s Secret by Jerry Eicher.

Miriam Yoder, a sweet, kind-hearted girl rooted in the Amish way, has a good paying job helping care for the elderly Mr Bland. The two form a loving father-daughter-like bond so that when the old man dies unexpectedly, Miriam stands to inherit his entire farm which is free and clear from debt. This makes her a wealthy heiress, so that suddenly her plain looks don’t matter to potential suitors. Nobody knows, not even her parents, about the additional two million dollars from her inheritance which her lawyer is managing.

Welcome to the mindset of the Amish. What we Englisha would think of as a joy, is only a hurtle to overcome for these god-fearing people who believe in a simple, hardworking lifestyle. Miriam worries over her new found fortune and decides to move from Possum Valley in Holmes County (the busiest Amish tourism center in America), to the quieter Coalgate Community in Oklahoma where her Aunt Fannie is expecting her first child. The Amish in this new homestead welcome Miriam with open arms and her Uncle William’s nephew, Wayne Yutsy, seems to appreciate her finer qualities. If only she could be certain that he isn’t more interested in her farm than in her personality.

This novel is a quick read and the author is knowledgable about the Amish way of life since he was also raised in an Amish Community. Although the beginning of the book caught my interest, as the plot progressed there was too much repetition of the main character’s thoughts surrounding their angsts. While details of life in an Amish community were fascinating, at times the plot dragged. Also, there was no resolution to the major problem addressed, so the story was never completed. Since this is Part One in the Land of Promise series, the reader must wait for the second book to discover what happens next. I’m not a fan of series where each novel can’t be read as a stand-alone, so the ending was a disappointment. In essence – Miriam’s Secret started with a bang, but petered out to a whimper. However, I am curious enough to want to read the second book to see what the author has in store for Miriam and her family. Three stars due to the above mentioned disappointments.

I would like to thank Netgalley and Harvest House for allowing me to download a free preview of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton

How do you describe a book which creates a world then invites you to vicariously live beside the characters and experience their joys and sorrows, their hopes and dreams, their trials and triumphs? The Secret Wisdom of the Earth is that book and this is my adventure as I read it.

I entered the Appalachian region of eastern Kentucky with Kevin Gillooly and his mother who were both suffering the after effects of the tragic death of three year old Josh. When life is dealt a catastrophic event, the only place to go for healing is home, so Anna moves home to her Dad’s house with her remaining son. Not that Annie is aware of her environment, she goes through her days in a zombie-like trance leaving her father to deal with his guilt ridden grandson. Pops introduces Kevin to life in the small town of Medgar, a coal mining community experiencing the encroachment of a mega business run by William Beecher Boyd, a local man originally from Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, his success is destroying their homestead by blowing the tops off the mountains to reach the coal buried deep inside. The resulting sludge pollutes the lakes and fills the valleys with debris, yet the company pay checks sustains the life of the miners, so the backlash remains at a stand still until local hair salon owner, Paul Pierce, starts fighting back (with disastrous results). Pops owns a piece of the beautiful countryside and vows to keep it pristine as long as he lives. He refuses to sell at any price, and takes Kevin out on a camping trip so he, too, can witness the splendor and heritage of his grand dad’s youth. Jukes is where Pop’s dear wife Sarah is buried, next to the other Peebles who have resided on the property throughout the years. Along with Kevin comes Buzzy Fink, a friend from proud poor family stock. Whereas Kevin knows he will one day outgrow small town life, go to college, and begin a career, Buzzy is destined to remain in Medgar working at menial jobs to make ends meet. However, that is the future, this is the summer for fourteen year old boys to explore their world and have fun being energetic and wild. Neither realizes that they will both witness and experience a series of events which will force them to make tough decisions requiring a courage and wisdom well beyond their tender years.

What makes this book a five star wonder for first time author Christopher Scotton, is not just the idyllic plot, but the incredible characterizations. The individuals living in the town come alive so that as Kevin gets to know them, so does the reader. Then there is Pops — What an incredible man, someone we would all like to claim as a grandfather. He relates his wisdom of life and the world to Kevin, using the natural beauty of the region to help his grandson heal from the ache he carries within his heart. We, too, are touched as we experience the calamities the boys and Pops face during that fateful summer.

It’s a tale full of complexities, but simply told. A journey the reader travels with our young heroes, one which is well worth the trip. So grab your imaginary knapsack, fill it with supplies, and come along for the ride as we climb through the town and to the peak of the book, then down again, filled with the wisdom that can only be found through nature, the secret wisdom of the earth.

A special thank you to Netgalley and Grand Central Publishing for graciously allowing me to download this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Monday’s Lie by Jamie Mason

Imagine your mother was a covert CIA operative. Imagine that she has raised you to notice the world around, with points for remembering license plate numbers or the items in a random person’s shopping cart – a running competition between you and your brother. Imagine an “Uncle” Paul, an annoying constant in your life who is a partner of sorts to your mom, running the operation and wooing you as a potential recruit. Then imagine one rainy night when your mother sends you out to complete some nonsensical tasks while she “takes care” of a situation, then leaves you for what you’ll forever refer to as “The Long Trip”. Finally, remember her last moments as she bestows upon you all her love as well as the ability to conquer life’s challenges and find happiness. Welcome to Monday’s Lie by Jamie Mason.

Mason gives you a glimpse into the life of Dee Aldritch, nicknamed Plucky. She and her brother, Simon, aka Sixes, remain close, always ready to meet at the local bar to talk when the secret password “Once Upon A Time” is exchanged. Despite her unusual upbringing (or perhaps because of it) Dee yearns for a normal life, free from intrigue. She thinks she’s found it with Patrick, a fellow college student who she kmarries immediately upon graduation. They seem to have the perfect relationship, yet some nagging doubts prompt Dee to maintain a hidden stash of birth control pills. After as many years as her mama, Annette Vess, had fingers (a few were missing) everything starts to unravel. It starts with the blue sedan, a rifled through purse, and personal items which have obviously (at least to someone versed in observation) been handled. Then she recognizes someone from her mother’s past. Why is she being stalked? To top things off, her husband is acting strangely, constantly picking a fight in private, but acting the affectionate mate in public. Does any of it have to do with the recent half a million dollar inheritance? Or does hubby simply want a change of scenery with either the corner barista or the lap dancer at the local strip club?

Either, or, it’s Monday and Dee realizes her marriage is over. By Friday, she finds herself driving towards her destiny, without a plan except the knowledge that there are answers to be found.

A fun book, full of intrigue with unique, compelling characters. Jamie has a breezy style which flows smoothly, with some clever wordage and interesting events. However, over half the book is spent setting up the premise, a back and forth between the present and the past, so that the more dramatic conclusion is crammed into a few quick chapters. In this case, it is forgivable since the background info is compelling, but the culmination of the plot is problematic with too many loose ends left for the reader to ponder. I personally felt some confusion on a couple of points, but perhaps the author is planning a sequel. Four stars.

A thank you to Netgalley and Gallery Books for providing me a download of this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Darkness by Erin Eveland

Darkness by Erin Eveland is the story of a young girl unaware of the power of darkness and light buried deep within her soul. When her Nana, the only loving family in her life, dies, Catherine goes to live with her self absorbed, alcoholic mother, Kathy. Her sordid life of poverty in the trailer park of a small town has one bright spot, Nathan, who is patiently waiting for her to graduate from high school before professing his love. There’s a problem, however, with their budding romance, since Catherine is unwittingly being groomed by the mysterious Artros to fulfill her role as the black rose. This infatuation with one so young is due to a love of the power she holds which can strengthen Artros’ role as Master of Darkness. It is only through Catherine, the light, that the mystery of the quest can be unlocked. Artros makes Nathan his apprentice as leverage against Catherine. Their lessons include teachings such as “the father of color is darkness” and “the power of darkness is a tool”. Although Catherine is totally unaware of this planned destiny, others feel the disturbance. It brings Jorgen who has recently recovered from near death after a previous defeat by Artros in a battle over his supposed lover, Esa. Jorgen sees the potential hidden within Catherine and vows to protect her. Thus the contest for dominance over the shadow world begins.

There is a lot of potential for an interesting if not dynamic story, but, unfortunately, the word I would use is to describe this book is cumbersome. This supernatural tale is surrounded by wordiness. It’s as if the author has entered a contest to see how many different ways she can say the same thing, in the most verbose style possible. Why tell us once, when you can describe an event with an infinite variety of explanations, each different, but yet the same. There is also a touch of pretentiousness, with phrases such as “embalming solitude”, “the longing within was quenched”, and “death was just an escort ticket for the soul”. In spite of all the explanations, such as “Darkness lulls the heart to sleep, and in Darkness the heart will be awakened,” and “The mother of colors was light and Catherine in her innocence exemplified that light,” I remained confused about the source of power, although it’s destructiveness was clearly represented, resulting in some gruesome scenes.

Instead of eliminating the repetition and condensing the story, at the end of the unsatisfactory conclusion of Darkness, we discover it is just the first part of a series, with book two, Shadows, continuing the saga. I don’t think I can put myself through this ordeal again – two stars.

I would like to thank Netgalley and Selladore Press for providing me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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