Category Archives: Historical fiction

Book Tour: As Long As the Lemon Trees Grow by Zoulfa Katouh



Zoulfa Katouh

Young Adult Historical Fiction

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Pages: 432 pages

Publication Date: September 13, 2022


Salama Kassab was a pharmacy student when the cries for freedom broke out in Syria. She still had her parents and her big brother; she still had her home. She had a normal teenager’s life.

Now Salama volunteers at a hospital in Homs, helping the wounded who flood through the doors daily. Secretly, though, she is desperate to find a way out of her beloved country before her sister-in-law, Layla, gives birth. So desperate, that she has manifested a physical embodiment of her fear in the form of her imagined companion, Khawf, who haunts her every move in an effort to keep her safe.

But even with Khawf pressing her to leave, Salama is torn between her loyalty to her country and her conviction to survive. Salama must contend with bullets and bombs, military assaults, and her shifting sense of morality before she might finally breathe free. And when she crosses paths with the boy she was supposed to meet one fateful day, she starts to doubt her resolve in leaving home at all.

Soon, Salama must learn to see the events around her for what they truly are—not a war, but a revolution—and decide how she, too, will cry for Syria’s freedom.

Content Warning: on page death and sexual assault. As well as, descriptions of torture, child abuse and torture, PTSD, starvation, and general descriptions of the horror that comes with war.

For more information or to purchase:

| Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indigo | IndieBound |


5 stars!!!

Simply an amazing debut novel based on the ongoing conflict and atrocities in Syria!

As Long As the Lemon Trees Grow is the amazing debut novel by Syrian author Zoulfa Katouh. It is a gripping tale from start to finish and exudes the ever-present fear of the main characters and their neighbors. The story is absolutely heart-wrenching and made even more so with the understanding that it is based on actual events and ongoing conditions in Syria. The tension was constant from the beginning but continued to build as the story unfolded. The author doesn’t pull any punches. There is no softening of the blows of the revolution’s impact on the characters or the reader. There is death and danger at every turn of the page. I had to step away from the story to recover before going on. I can’t imagine the reality of those that cannot.

The story is told in first-person from Salama’s point of view, so we are privy to her thoughts and feelings. The effects of her PTSD manifest themselves in Khawf, who shows up at all hours of the day or night to harangue and taunt her. But Salama is an extraordinary and extremely likable young woman, a real underdog everyone will want to succeed. Amid her desperate daily life, romance finds its way to her, and it is accomplished in a most natural way and satisfying way.

The story isn’t all heartbreak; there are moments of joy and recollections of good times. There are descriptions of life in pre-revolution Syria, college memories, friends and family, food and drink, and mentions of the glories of Syria’s past. Layla and Salama have been best friends since childhood, and they still have some BFF moments, sharing secrets and giggling together when they can, although, under the circumstances, this is infrequent. (This book also presents one of the biggest and most shockingly blindsiding twists I have ever encountered in a plot. All I will say is I totally did not see that coming.)

With its engaging heroine and other main characters and tense, desperate plot, I highly recommend AS LONG AS THE LEMON TREES GROW to readers of young adult fiction and suspense, especially those who enjoy stories based on actual events. Please note that the subject matter is tough and comes with a list of content or trigger warnings.


Zoulfa Katouh is the only person in her family who can’t roll her tongue, but that’s okay because she writes characters who can do so. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Pharmacy and is currently pursuing her master’s degree in Drug Sciences. She is trilingual in English, Arabic and German. Zoulfa currently resides in Switzerland where she finds inspiration in the Studio Ghibli picturesque scenery.

Ever since her Mama gave her a copy of Anne of Green Gables when she was eight years old, she discovered the beauty of books. Soon enough she was sneaking books under her school desk to read while teachers went on about Math and Physics. Her imagination grew, and one day, she had the courage to pen down the stories that roam her mind. And she never stopped!

Her speculative contemporary YA debut AS LONG AS THE LEMON TREES GROW comes out September 13th by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and September 15th by Bloomsbury Kids & YA UK, making her the first Syrian YA author to be published in the US and UK. She is represented by the warrior queen Alexandra Levick at Writers House.

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September 12th
The Ink Slinger – Interview
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September 13th
Confessions of a YA Reader – Promotional Post
Mochas and Madness – Review
Books with Michellee – Top 5 Reasons to Read As Long As the Lemon Tree Grows & Favorite Quotes
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September 14th
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September 15th
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The Clever Reader – Promotional Post
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Nine Bookish Lives – Promotional Post
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Book Corner – Review & Favorite Quote

September 18th
Melancholic Blithe – Interview
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September 12th
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September 14th
read.cells – Review, Playlist & Mood Board
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September 15th
books.andsnacks – Review
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September 16th
lady_westfall19 – Review
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September 17th
gryffindorbookishnerd – Review
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Filed under Book Reviews, Contemporary fiction, Fiction, Historical fiction, Suspense, Young adult

Book Tour: The Bluest Sky by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

The Bluest Sky


Christina Diaz Gonzalez

Genre: Middle Grade Fiction

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers

Page count: 320 pages

Publishing Date: September 6, 2022


A boy and his family must decide whether to remain in Cuba under a repressive government or risk everything for the chance of a new beginning in this gripping story from the award-winning author of The Red Umbrella.

There are two versions of Héctor: the public and the private. It’s the only way to survive in communist Cuba—especially when your father was exiled to the U.S. and labeled an enemy of the people. Héctor must always be seen as a fierce supporter of the regime, even if that means loudly rejecting the father he still loves.

But in the summer of 1980, those two versions are hard to keep separate. No longer able to suppress a public uprising, the Cuban government says it will open the port of Mariel to all who wish to leave the country—if they can find a boat. But choosing to leave comes with a price. Those who want to flee are denounced as traitors by family and friends. There are violent acts of repudiation, and no one knows if they will truly be allowed to leave the country or not.

So when Héctor’s mother announces that she wants the family to risk everything to go to the United States, he is torn. He misses his father, but Cuba is the only home he has ever known. All his dreams and plans require him to stay. Can he leave everything behind for an unknown future?

In a summer of heat and upheaval, danger and deadly consequences, Héctor’s two worlds are on a collision course. Will the impact destroy him and everything he loves?

Christina Diaz Gonzalez’s great-grandmother, great-uncle, and extended family came to the U.S. through the Mariel boatlift. She vividly remembers meeting them all for the first time in the summer of 1980 and is proud to share this part of her family’s history.

For more information or to purchase:

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5 stars!

Atmospheric and tense, the story held my attention from start to finish.

The Bluest Sky by Christina Diaz Gonzalez is a new middle-grade book that older readers would also enjoy and find enlightening. It combines historical events with fictional ones that could easily be the backstories of many Cuban refugees that literally landed on these shores. There are moments of complete heartbreak but also hope for new lives and freedom.

Although Hector is content for much of the first part of the book, it becomes clear he is so because he’s never known life to be anything different. The author envelops the characters and reader in an atmosphere of oppression, fear, poverty, and lack of the freedoms we know as fundamental to our lives in the U.S. But as the reality of life is revealed to Hector, he quickly loses that contentment. Just the effects the American embargo had on the Cuban people’s ability to maintain their homes (they couldn’t get the materials to do so) was eye-opening. The author has put names and faces, albeit fictional, to those suffering, personalizing it and making it real.

Besides the oppressive setting, the plot quickly becomes tense and dangerous. I held my breath numerous times during the family’s harrowing process of leaving the country and teared up with both sadness and relief at others. It may take me a while to get over this story.

The juvenile main characters are engaging, strong, and brave: boys and girls with whom young readers will readily feel a connection. The plot includes features of their everyday living, home life, food, and growing up. The dialogue is liberally sprinkled with Spanish words and phrases whose meaning must be construed from context or looked up. Although it slowed the reading process down somewhat, I enjoyed looking up those that I didn’t recognize or couldn’t translate on my own.

With its taut storyline and engaging characters, THE BLUEST SKY would be a great book to share and discuss. I recommend it for middle-grade or older readers, which was well worth the reading.


Christina Diaz Gonzalez is the Edgar® award-winning author of several books including The Red UmbrellaA Thunderous WhisperMoving TargetConcealed, and two upcoming books, Invisible (a graphic novel available in August 2022) and The Bluest Sky (a historical fiction novel available in September 2022). Her books have received numerous honors including the Florida Book Award, the Nebraska Book Award, and the International Latino Book Award. Her work has also been designated as an American Library Association’s Best Fiction for Young Adults selection, a Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People, a Junior Library Guild Gold Selection, and as an International Reading Association’s Teachers’ Choice book. Christina currently lives in Miami, Florida with her husband, sons, and a dog that can open doors.

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September 5th
Sheaf and Ink – Promotional Post
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September 6th
Kait Plus Books – Interview

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Stuck in Fiction – Interview
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The Book Dutchesses – Promotional Post
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September 10th
Nine Bookish Lives – Interview

September 11th
Boys’ Mom Reads! – Review
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Filed under Book Reviews, Historical fiction, Middle-Grades

Immoral Origins (The Desire Card, #1) by Lee Matthew Goldberg

Immoral Origins (The Desire Card, #1)Immoral Origins by Lee Matthew Goldberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The author’s immersive writing drew me in from the start, and I flew through the story.

It’s 1978, and Jake Barnum, a young man in his 20s, already has a rap sheet of small-time, petty crimes. Out of a short stint in jail, he’s living with his parents and disabled brother in his childhood home in Hell’s Kitchen with no prospects to improve his situation. The younger brother, Emile, needs costly medical attention and future surgery to survive, so the entire family is living on the razor’s edge, trying to keep it together and makes ends meet. His father works two full-time jobs, his mother picks up occasional work as a legal secretary when she can get someone to watch Emile, who requires constant care, and Jake feels the guilt of failing his parents and not helping out enough. Jake hooks up with a petty criminal in town, stealing and reselling coats through his childhood friend, Maggs. However, it doesn’t net him much, and his father and mother are reluctant to accept what they know is dirty money.

But at the Halloween party dressed as Robin Hood, Jake catches the eye of a mysterious and intriguing woman dressed as Marilyn Monroe. They get to talking, and Jake is taken with her, even though she refuses to remove her “Marilyn” mask or give him her real name. She explains to him that she helps fulfill wishes for a living and wants to introduce Jake to her boss, thinking Jake would be a good asset for their company, The Desire Card. The company motto is “Any wish fulfilled for the right price.”

Impressed by the boss and the company concept, Jake accepts the job offer and is immediately sent on his first assignment: a simple delivery of a small box to a woman at an exclusive address in the city. An extremely generous fee payment follows, and Jake is hooked. But as the assignments edge closer to the illegal and immoral and jobs start hitting close to home, Jake is caught between wanting to maintain his new lifestyle and cash flow and getting away from The Desire Card before the company decides he’s a liability.

Immoral Origins is the first book in a thrilling new series, The Desire Card, by Lee Matthew Goldberg. With its very different sort of hero and plot that includes him successfully performing dirty deeds, I was hooked. I was glued to the story every step of the way, not wanting to put it down until the very last page.

The characters surprised me. I don’t believe there was a genuinely likable one in the bunch. Jake is pretty much a loser. Marilyn is a damaged young woman, and Gable, the boss, a power-mad sociopath (as are all of The Desire Card’s employees.) Thugs, hoods, and mobsters populate the story, showing their very worst sides. But through it all, I was compelled to root for Jake to overcome the odds and come out on top. I had much the same experience when reading The Godfather, heinous people doing horrible things that you still are compelled to get behind.

The Desire Card operation was fascinating. Everyone works incognito, wearing masks when doing a job, visiting the office, and even attending the annual office holiday parties. Their rich and famous clientele also wear masks at the client events hosted by the company, and everyone goes by the name of the person the mask depicts: Marilyn Monroe, Bette Davis, or Errol Flynn, to name a few.

The late 70s setting encompassed iconic people and places and the headlines and music of the time. It was so well done; I was immersed in that time and that place. Goldberg’s writing drew me in from the start, and I flew through the story, feeling Jake’s confusion, hopelessness, and fear as he tried to make sense of it all. The story was fascinating, with a heavy dose of bizarreness that had me turning those pages for more.

With its well-defined setting, laden with recognizable persons, places, and events, extraordinary characters, and fascinating plot, I recommend IMMORAL ORIGINS to readers of thrillers and mysteries, especially those who like stories set in New York or organized crimes and like a touch of the bizarre.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Historical fiction, Historical mystery, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller

Blog Tour & Giveaway: Someday Belongs to Us by Margie Seaman


Fiction / Pirate Romance / Late in Life / Sea Stories
Publisher: Stoney Creek Publishing Group
Pages: 224 pages
Publication Date: June 22, 2022

It’s never too late to find love on the high seas.

Kate Caldwell is a 72-year-old romance novelist writing under the nom de plume, Desiree Desire. With more than thirty bestsellers to her credit, Kate is considered an authority on romance. Her personal life, however, has been lacking in the love department for a long time, and she has all but given up hope of finding a true, romantic connection. Her latest series, about a rakish eighteenth-century pirate, has been a struggle. Her struggle with her own creative processes boils over on a stormy night, when Captain Edward Peregrine, a pirate of the Caribbean during the year 1721, begins appearing to her as she sleeps. Convinced that Edward is a figment of her imagination, Kate happily accepts his return visits, and the two collaborate on the first two books of the series. Then, Edward suddenly stops appearing, and Kate is frustrated with her publisher’s demands for the next book.

In desperation, she decides to take a two-week cruise with her granddaughter, Ellie, hoping the chance to relax and watch the waves breaking in the beautiful waters of the Caribbean will reset her creative process. Little did Kate know that troubled waters lay ahead or that she’s in for the adventure of her life, and possibly, true love at long last.


“A fun and lively read about romance, and the real and imagined adventures of a woman writer cruising through her senior years. Once again, Margie Seaman proves age is no obstacle in this swashbuckling debut novel.” —Lise Olsen, Author of CODE OF SILENCE


| Stoney Creek Publishing | Amazon |


ARRGH-uably one of the most delightful books I’ve read all year!

Someday Belongs to Us is Margie Seaman’s debut novel and hopefully is the start of a long, lovely series. Kate is a wonderful character and the type of person one would love to have as a best friend. She’s in her early 70s but is very youthful in mind, spirit, and body, as her absolutely killing it on the dance floor can attest. I liked that she was so genuine – a real standup gal – who also happens to have 30 bestsellers to her name. She and her granddaughter, a real sweetie herself, have the BEST relationship: one any grandmother would envy. And though Marco was the initial hot daddy out of the starting gate, I really rooted for the quiet professor to eventually win her heart.

I loved how the author had two stories going at one time (and in a first book!) Her handling of the dual plotlines was smooth and seamless, with both having their exciting twists and turns and tender moments. I felt Kate’s excitement as her writing started to flow again, her bittersweet regret over Edward’s new love, and her anger later when a betrayal comes to light. I particularly enjoyed the dance contest subplot with its rehearsals, costumes, and exciting final performance.

One of the biggest things I got from this delightful book is an urgent desire to go on a cruise! The little tidbits the author included about the day-to-day aboard ship and the island excursions were so tantalizing that I don’t care where I go as long as I go!

With a charming cast of characters, many of whom are retired persons and senior citizens, stunning story-within-a-story, and the tempting treat of a cruise life setting, SOMEDAY BELONGS TO US is an inspiring romance that incorporates later-in-life love and second-change romance. I recommend it to romance readers who enjoy more mature protagonists, cruises, and PIRATES!

MARGIE SEAMAN is an eighty-five-year-old, late-blooming author of her debut novel Someday Belongs to Us. After a forty-year career in marketing, she switched to a new venture in website design where she has been the president of Citation Solutions for the past fourteen years. Margie also writes a travel blog for seniors, The Graytripper, that encourages people to get out and explore their world. Margie is the mother of three, grandmother of seven, and great-grandmother of three. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Houston and lives in Houston, Texas, right down the street from her childhood home. She is currently dogless for the first time in her life but does have some totally spoiled cats that ungraciously allow her to share their living environment.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Fiction, Historical fiction, Romance

Blog Tour & Giveaway: Fancy (Love Train Multi-Author Series, #10) by Linda Broday


Love Train Multi-Author Series, #10



Western Romance /Sweet Romance/ American Historical Romance

Pages: 190 pages

Publisher: Kindle Unlimited

Publication Date: August 15, 2022


A stolen baby
An orphan child
A bargain struck
Told her baby died in childbirth, Fancy Dalton grieves for her son. But in the midst of a raging storm, a shadowy figure appears and tells her that he’s alive and well! He was stolen! Now she has an address and a name. From despair comes hope.
One thought drives her—finding and getting him back. Selling everything she owns, Fancy buys a one-way train ticket to Denver. Nothing and no one will stop her. In a mad dash to board the train, she collides with Jack Coltrain. As fate would have it, the rugged cowboy, on a mission of his own, sits next to her. Experience has taught her to be wary of men. But when her bag is stolen, he gets it back and earns a small piece of her trust.
As the iron wheels roll, taking her closer to her two-year-old son, Fancy and Jack discover an orphan girl who needs their help and open their arms to her. Ten hours from their goal, Fancy and Jack strike a deal—her help for his. Desperate times for both call for creative solutions…but marriage, even in name only? However, nothing is off the table. She’ll do whatever she must to save the orphan and get her child back. Still, giving Jack her heart…that’s not part of the bargain.


Fancy by Linda Broday is the tenth book in the multi-authored series, The Love Train. Each story is connected to the others via a particular train, the Union Pacific #1216, where each main character finds their true love.

Broday’s contribution is exciting and, despite the tragic circumstances that launch Fancy’s story, hopeful as well. With this series, you can count on a HEA ending. I enjoyed how everyone’s luck seemed to improve after they rode on the train. Readers are treated to a ride aboard the “1216” as it would have been during the early 1880s, and there are also solid glimpses of early Omaha (Saratoga), Nebraska, and Denver, Colorado.

The plot of Fancy going to retrieve her son is an emotional one. She feels like she’s fighting a losing battle almost every step of the way, but her spirit and determination are strong. Little Piper, the 12-year-old orphan, escorting her mother’s casket to Denver and the grandparents she’d never met, has an even more heartbreaking tale. I was gripped by her story, wondering how things would work for her. Jack Coltrain is the type of cowboy hero that dreams are made of.

I recommend FANCY to fans of Linda Broday’s previous books; they certainly won’t be disappointed, and to romance readers in the mood for an engaging historical Western tale where the underdog wins big.

Click to purchase!


“I have loved every Linda Broday book I have read, but I must say this one touched my heart.” Cricket (Goodreads)

“Linda Broday waved her magic wand when her turn came and gave us one of her most profound heroines she’s ever written. Fancy wrapped her tragic story around my heart and transported me into the late 1800s.” Tonya (Goodreads)

“Linda Broday has always been able to weave her characters together like a mix-match patch quilt, but the end results are amazing.” Rose Ann (Goodreads)

“…Her ability to convey the goodness of their souls will leave the reader wanting more.” Sally (Goodreads)
I’m a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of thirty historical western romance novels and short stories. I reside in the Texas Panhandle on land the American Indian and early cowboys once roamed, and at times if the breeze is just right, I can hear their voices whispering in the wind. Texas’s rich history is one reason I set all my stories here where cowboys still remain caretakers of the land. I’m inspired every day by their immense dedication and love for the wide-open spaces. I combine those men with the love of family in all my stories and hope to continue to give readers books that entertain and fulfill.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Historical fiction, Romance

What Souls Are Made Of: A Wuthering Heights Remix by Tasha Suri, Narrated by Becca Hirani and Alex Williams

What Souls Are Made Of: A Wuthering Heights RemixWhat Souls Are Made Of: A Wuthering Heights Remix by Tasha Suri
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fresh reimagining of the story behind one of the most renowned couples in literature.

Author Tasha Suri takes the literary classic, Wuthering Heights, and reimagines the backstory of Heathcliff, Catherine, and her family, breathing new life into this polarizing tale of gothic trauma. The story is set when Heathcliff has fled The Heights, and Cathy has been left behind to agonize over where he’s gone and what’s happened to him. Events from the original tale are recounted and take on new life and meaning with the telling. Suri’s story is presented from Catherine’s and Heathcliff’s points of view, giving an understandable heft to the reasons for their sometimes-murky relationship in the original. If you were left wanting after reading Brontë’s story, this envisioning might give you some satisfaction.

Suri explores the shadowy details of the period Heathcliff is absent from The Heights, later revealed in the original story to be when he is amassing his fortune. The story follows him to Liverpool and into the seamy underbelly of the port city, where poverty and press gangs are all-encompassing. The author weaves the results of Britain’s colonial history in India on its people into the story as Heathcliff comes to understand who he is. At the same time, Catherine also comes to realize her own hidden heritage as she and her brother, Hindley, attempt to lay the ghosts of their father’s past wrongdoings.

The audiobook version is voiced by Becca Hirani as Catherine and Alex Williams as Heathcliff. They breathe life into these characters, imbuing each with a personality that gives the listener a fresh new perspective on what’s driving their actions. The audiobook’s cover is beautifully moody but depicts these two as older than they are during the story’s events. As the story ends on a more hopeful note than the source materials, is this an additional nudge in the direction that things work out differently for them?

Touted as one of the greatest, most legendary love stories of all time, Wuthering Heights often eludes and disappoints modern young adult readers. Like many classic works, it has both its fans and foes. Depending on the reason for their dissatisfaction, Suri’s version may very well ease some of the latter group into the former, with its updated dialogue and delivery, more revealing first-person points of view, and its fresh underpinning based on the main characters’ secret, hidden ancestries.

I recommend What Souls Are Made Of to readers who enjoyed Wuthering Heights or wanted to but were left disappointed and those who enjoy YA historical fiction, especially that featuring a portrayal of the immigrant experience in 18th-century Britain.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Historical fiction, Uncategorized, Young adult

Book Tour & Giveaway – Rowdy: Wild and Mean, Sharp and Keen, Rowdy Series, Book One by Chris Mullen







Young Adult / Historical Fiction / Western / Action & Adventure

Publisher: Wise Wolf Books

Page Count: 278 pages

Publication Date: February 23, 2022

Scroll down for a giveaway!

Thrust to the mercy of the Mississippi river, thirteen-year-old Rowdy floats safely away as he watches the smoke rise from his burning farmhouse. Now alone in the world, his perilous journey of survival begins, challenging and shaping him into the young man his father would want him to become.

Pulled from the waters, he is given a chance by a lone river Captain and his mate. Rowdy has grown strong working the river but must use his wit as well as his strength to confront a bullying crewman and survive a surprise attack by river pirates.

Growing up on the Mississippi river was a start for Rowdy, but Dodge City, Kansas proves it has its own challenges. He was warned not to get entangled with Patrick Byrne, Dodge City’s most powerful rancher. Unknowingly crossing Byrne, he faces life and death decisions. Rowdy’s only option is to run.

Survival is what he has come to know all too well. His escape across the plains nearly claims his life. Through a stranger’s help, Rowdy recovers and finally discovers Lincoln, New Mexico, and acquires a new friend along the way. Rowdy is settling in when hired guns sent by Patrick Byrne find and confront him. Blood, bullets, and tears bring Rowdy’s world to a showdown. Fighting for what was right is his code, living life for others becomes his way, and staring danger in the face is what he must do if he can truly be Wild and Mean, Sharp and Keen.

While Wild & Mean, Sharp & Keen starts out quietly enough: an older Rowdy is preparing for a hunting trip with his old friend, Roberson, it doesn’t take long for this story to really let loose! As the two friends settle in for their first night’s sleep, memories of Rowdy’s past take hold of his dreams. Those memories gripped me, too, as immediately there were boots on the ground and non-stop action and excitement from then on.

The success of this story rests on the shoulders of young Rowdy. He is a likable and sympathetic character, and after everything he’s gone through in his early life, he’s also careful, wise, and deliberate in his actions. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have his moments of doubt. He’s got tough decisions to make, and I agonized right along with him as he reasoned his way to what was right and just. The story has thoughtful moments with brave decisions and deeds. Rowdy is supported by some good men, but the bad guys are truly bad, with no redeeming qualities. I also liked that his horse, Delilah, and dog, appropriately named Dog, feature prominently in the tale.

The author uses quotes and song lyrics as touchstones for Rowdy as he matures. Each one is important at different points in his life and acts as guidance in the absence of an adult mentor. Though, at times, he encounters a couple of good men that serve that role for him. But most of the time, Rowdy is alone, trying to make his own way, which makes for a good and satisfying coming-of-age story as well as a pulse-pounding western adventure.

I recommend ROWDY: WILD & MEAN, SHARP & KEEN to readers of all ages who enjoy western, coming-of-age adventure stories.


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Chris Mullen is an author from Richmond, Texas. He graduated from Texas A&M University in 1997 and began his teaching career. Chris was awarded the 2019 Connie Wootton Excellence in Teaching Award presented by the Southwest Association of Episcopal Schools. In 2021, Chris signed with Wise Wolf Books, a YA Imprint of Wolf Pack Publishing, and re-released his debut novel ROWDY: Wild and Mean, Sharp and Keen on February 24, 2022. On March 31, 2022, he released ROWDY: Redemption, followed by an April 21, 2022, release of ROWDY: Dead or Alive. Chris currently writes for Wise Wolf Books and is working on the next ROWDY installment. 

His novel, ROWDY: Wild and Mean, Sharp and Keen was named WINNER in the 2020 American Fiction Awards, a 2020 Best Book Finalist, and 3rd Place WINNER in the 2021 Selah Awards, all in the western category. His YA Western series, ROWDY, continues to grow and attract readers of all ages.

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Filed under Action/Adventure, Book Reviews, Historical fiction, Western, Young adult

Pictures of the Shark: Stories by Thomas H. McNeely




Short Stories / Southern Fiction / Coming of Age

Publisher: Texas Review Press

Date of Publication: July 12, 2022

Number of Pages: 205 pages 

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A sudden snowfall in Houston reveals family secrets. A trip to Universal Studios to snap a picture of the shark from Jaws becomes a battle of wills between father and son. A midnight séance and the ghost of Janis Joplin conjure the mysteries of sex. A young boy’s pilgrimage to see Elvis Presley becomes a moment of transformation. A young woman discovers the responsibilities of talent and freedom.

Pictures of the Shark, by Houston native and Dobie Paisano award-winning author Thomas H. McNeely, traces a young man’s coming of age and falling apart. From the rough and tumble of Houston’s early seventies East End to the post-punk Texas bohemia of late eighties Austin, this novel in stories examines what happens when childhood trauma haunts adult lives.

Stories that will stay with you long after you turn the final page.

With so many great books yet to read, I’m not usually one to re-read many. However, Pictures of the Shark: Stories may prove to be an exception. Frankly, I sat down and read this book in one sitting, and I was captivated from the start. But as I raced through, page after page, I am certain I missed things. I really feel the need to go back and do it again, slowly.

Buddy Turner’s life is presented to the reader in a unique fashion in this collection of stories. We see him first as a young boy, but then he appears as a teen, only to reappear later on as a child again. Each story is self-contained, so I didn’t feel confused by the back and forth even as I watched the breakdown of a marriage and the impact this wreaked on the young Buddy and its manifestation in his older self as he displayed more and more of his father’s characteristics. The non-linear storytelling may not be to everyone’s taste.

The stories reveal personal dramas of the kinds happening around (or to) each of us. I’m reminded that you never know what’s going on at the house next door and don’t have any idea what other people may have endured to get to the moment you encounter them. I was emotional reading about Buddy’s life; those feelings continue to surface. These stories hit me surprisingly hard, and their memory seems to want to linger. As a mother of sons, I hope my impact on them was positive, strengthening, and affirming, but I can’t help but wonder if I couldn’t have done better myself.

I highly recommend PICTURES OF THE SHARK: STORIES to readers of literary fiction.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through Lone Star Book Blog Tours.


 “McNeely’s brilliant stories are filled with delicious menace and heartbreaking hope.”

– Pamela Painter, author of What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers and Fabrications: New and Selected Stories

“In these gorgeously crafted interlinked stories, Thomas McNeely demonstrates once again an uncanny ability to illuminate the darkest emotional corners of his characters with a vision that is as tender and compassionate as it is unflinching.”

Antonio Ruiz-Camacho, author of Barefoot Dogs

“With masterful prose, McNeely draws you down into emotional depths where your ambivalence and confusion show you at your most profoundly human. These stories hook you quickly and deeply and keep you even after they end.

– C.W. Smith, author of Steplings, Buffalo Nickel, and Understanding Women


Thomas H. McNeely is an Eastside Houston native. He has published short stories and nonfiction in The Atlantic, Texas Monthly, Ploughshares, and many other magazines and anthologies, including Best American Mystery Stories and Algonquin Books’ Best of the South. His stories have been shortlisted for the Pushcart Prize, Best American Short Stories, and O. Henry Award anthologies. He has received National Endowment for the Arts, Wallace Stegner, and MacDowell Colony fellowships for his fiction. His first book, Ghost Horse, won the Gival Press Novel Award and was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize in Writing. He currently teaches in the Stanford Online Writing Studio and at Emerson College, Boston.





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Filed under Book Reviews, Contemporary fiction, Historical fiction

Beyond the Moonlit Sea by Julianne MacLean

General Fiction / Historical Fiction / Mystery / Romantic Suspense

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

Date of Publication: June 14, 2022

Number of Pages: 352 pages

Beyond the Moonlit SeaBeyond the Moonlit Sea by Julianne MacLean
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fantastic story spanning thirty years of secrets. love, and loss.

1990: Olivia Hamilton’s husband, Dean, a private pilot, disappeared one night, plane and all, on his way back to Miami as he flew through the notorious Bermuda Triangle. No trace was ever found, no explanation ever forthcoming, and he was finally deemed lost at sea and a death certificate issued. But the uncertainty, the not knowing, continued to haunt Olivia for the rest of her days.

1986: Up-and-coming particle physicist Melanie Brown was successfully navigating her Ph.D. program at Columbia and working on a groundbreaking dissertation on the mysterious Bermuda Triangle when her mother was tragically killed during a tornado back home in Oklahoma. Guilt, self-doubt, memories of a poor childhood, and the impact of her past, along with liberal amounts of alcohol, lands Melanie in dangerous territory, mentally and emotionally, and her committee chair recommends she get some professional help. But a forbidden relationship with her therapist sends her spirally out of control.

2017: An inevitable discovery and technological advancements link these two women together and focus attention once again on Dean’s long-ago disappearance.

What an incredibly compelling story! I was immediately invested in the lives of these three people, Olivia, Dean, and Melanie. They were bound together by the past and secrets built upon secrets, with the Bermuda Triangle’s tantalizing reputation looming over it all. I was completely absorbed in getting to the bottom of the unexplained mystery of Dean’s disappearance.

Olivia begins the story upbeat and optimistic and remains until the end, even when her world is falling apart. When she becomes absorbed in her own search for answers, she maintains enough clear-headedness to know when to move on and live life again. I loved how she realized she’d treated her former boyfriend poorly and took great pains to avoid doing it again, consciously opening up to him about her thoughts and fears regarding Dean. I loved her honorableness, and I loved their relationship.

As for Dean and Melanie, both were deeply damaged from their childhoods. He was doing pretty well but couldn’t let go of the past, continuing to hide his background from everyone. But the effect of this was so subtly revealed that even with his voice delivering part of the story’s narrative, I was surprised by his decisions.

Melanie’s gradual collapse was much more apparent. We have her voice as well as Dean’s, providing a running commentary of her mental state. She seems like such a nice, intelligent, and engaging young woman until the therapy and her past take their toll.

I enjoyed how the author used the two timelines to set up the starting points for the book and advanced the story over a 30-plus-year timeframe. I appreciated the story’s development of Olivia’s two marriages and the feeling of her life moving forward normally and successfully after losing Dean. The Olivia that opens the book is essentially the same Olivia at the end but with the wisdom of a life well-lived. I couldn’t have asked for a better resolution to this book either.

I wholeheartedly recommend BEYOND THE MOONLIT SEA to readers who have read and enjoyed this author’s previous work and those who like general fiction with dual timelines and a setting from the 1980s to the late 2010s.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Contemporary fiction, Historical fiction, Mystery, Romantic Suspence

Cookies and Milk by Shawn Amos

Cookies & Milk


Shawn Amos

Book Info

Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary

Publishing Date: May 24, 2022

It’s a summer of family, friendship, and fun fiascos in this semi-autobiographical novel that’s as irresistible as a fresh-baked cookie.

Eleven-year-old Ellis Johnson dreamed of spending the summer of 1976 hanging out with friends, listening to music, and playing his harmonica. Instead, he’ll be sleeping on a lumpy pullout in Dad’s sad little post-divorce bungalow and helping bring Dad’s latest far-fetched, sure-to-fail idea to life: opening the world’s first chocolate chip cookie store. They have six weeks to perfect their recipe, get a ramshackle A-frame on Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard into tip-top shape, and bring in customers.

But of course, nothing is as easy as Dad makes it sound, even with Grandma along for the ride. Like she says, they have to GIT—get it together—and make things work. Along the way, Ellis discovers a family mystery he is determined to solve, the power of community, and new faith in himself.

Partially based on Shawn Amos’s own experiences growing up the son of Wally “Famous” Amos in a mostly white area, and packed with humor, heart, and fun illustrations, this debut novel sings with the joy of self-discovery, unconditional love, and belonging.

5 Stars!

A unique story of growing up in the mid-70s that is still relatable today – to both the young and the young at heart.

In Cookies and Milk, Shawn Amos relates the feel of the middle school years during the mid-1970s perfectly. His main character, Ellis Johnson, is looking forward to a great summer and turning 12, spending time with his best friend, Alex, listening to their favorite music, and just being kids. Didn’t we all, and wouldn’t we still? You can feel his disappointment and restlessness when things don’t go as planned.

I love how he was able to adapt and “get it together,” wanting to make his father’s dream come true but still being a little grumpy about the whole thing. His introduction to Wishbone was a great plotline, and I never expected where this eventually led, but it was an extremely satisfying surprise. I loved Grandma with her fearsome cane and intriguing slips of paper with the secret acronyms for Ellis and his father to puzzle out. And I so wanted everything to go right for his father from the very start. I enjoyed the supporting characters that arose out of the Sunset Boulevard neighborhoods. They were a great mix of people in various circumstances, and I loved that they formed a sort of “found” family.

My favorite part of the story was Ellis’s increased exposure to his family’s culture, something he really missed out on growing up in a primarily white neighborhood and school. He was at the perfect age to learn and soak up the views and lifestyles different from his small family. The author wonderfully conveyed Ellis’s excitement and the wonder he felt.

With its blend of historical fiction, life in the 70s, and family mystery, I recommend COOKIES AND MILK to middle-grade readers and those with an interest in music (contemporary of the time and the blues from even earlier decades), and since it is semi-autobiographical, to those who enjoy some excellent chocolate chip cookies.


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Shawn Amos is a world-renowned Blues musician who grew up the son of Wally Amos, aka Famous Amos: a pop culture icon, cookie mogul, and household name to this day. When Shawn’s not touring or recording as The Reverend Shawn Amos, he works as a partner at NYC communications firm Hudson Cutler. He is also a divorced father of three children, with whom he enjoys baking. This is his first novel.



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Filed under Book Reviews, Historical fiction, Middle-Grades