Torn by Vengeance, by Sally Brandle

Corrin Patten is a city girl, focused on passing the bar, hoping to make partner at the prestigious law firm she works for. She needs the money: she has family to take care of and her own dreams of someday being able to travel the world. All of that gets put on hold, though, when she boards a plane to Montana to help her best friend, Miranda, and she meets a certain very handsome country doctor and sparks fly between them. But a vindictive shadow from Corrin’s past is also following her and threatens her new found happiness in Emma Springs.

Brandle has developed a series of romances and part of the fun is how they interlock, following previous characters and introducing new characters. By the end of Book 2, I was excited about the next couple coming in Book 3. These are sweet, “clean” romances with tender kisses and thrilling touches that aim at marriage and births. There are beautiful mountains, casserole dishes with baked beans and beef and apple pies, good-hearted people, and support animals, like Big Red from Book 1 and a new comer, the darling Whinny who works his way into Corrin’s heart. If this sounds like the kind of place you’d like to live, check out the Love Thrives in Emma Springs series. You’ll want to start with Book 1, THE HITMAN’S MISTAKE, so you don’t miss anything!

New Release: Fly Away Home

Casey Banks has the glamorous life she always dreamed of, flying planes all over the world, until an unscheduled landing brings her charter flight to the small town of Kerridge, Vermont, and face-to-face with her ex-husband, Elliot. When her grounded passenger, the wealthy Ms. Landry, unexpectedly relocates her daughter’s wedding to Kerridge and puts Casey in charge as unofficial wedding planner, Casey finds herself thrown together with Elliot with three days to pull off a miracle and wondering if maybe, after all her years of running, her heart might be finally leading her home.

Amazon

Nook Press

Smashwords

Kobo

Lulu-print:  Coming soon!

For bonus content with character pictures, background, and a scrumptious raspberry scone recipe:

https://www.heidijhewett.com/bonus-fly-away

Rails to the Light Side: Ghostly Happenings at a Trolley Museum, by Michael Brenner

51XU8ItYMOL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

The book opens with the “Final Ride,” a trolley funeral procession, for longtime Motorman Frank Carbone, and shortly after, the staff and volunteers of the Connecticut Trolley Museum are shaken by another loss, that of their beloved Right of Way Maintenance Superintendent, Bob Snyder, and his beloved part-wolf-dog, Trolley Three. But Chief Motorman John Erlanson slowly begins to realize he’s not as alone as he thought: area residents report ghostly sightings and John hears voices and receives messages from defunct accounts. The Museum staff have their hands full with a pending grant application from the State. It seems crazy at first, but John finds if he listens, and trusts his unseen benefactors, things just might work out, culminating in a truly otherworldly “Rides to the Dark Side,” the Museum’s annual Halloween event that draws a record number of visitors. John needs all his faith when a last, unexpected tragedy occurs before the big event.

The Author Bio mentions that Michael Brenner currently volunteers as a Motorman at the Minnesota Streetcar Museum, and the book is full of insider knowledge that will delight anyone who loves the long, fascinating history of trolleys in America.

A Tangled Web: Allan's Miscellany 1846, by Sandra Schwab

Utterly delightful Victorian romance novella with tremendously likable characters and an unusual, truly fascinating deep dive into the world of that era’s illustrated weekly periodicals, like the fictional Allan’s Miscellany, based in part on Punch. A key part of what made this work for me is that Sarah, an aging spinster in her family, resigned to caretaking, doesn’t think of herself as beautiful, and Pel (Lawrence Pelham) is very, very nice. The complete opposite of the domineering types one finds too often in the genre. I absolutely loved them.

Schwab makes all the tiny, repressed, moments of physical contact allowed between Victorian men and women into shimmering, seismic events. I highly recommend and I’m looking forward to reading the other books in this series.

Twitch Force: A Poetry Collection, by Michael Redhill

“I was in the hall mirror all yesterday, the next morning gone.

The grade had steepened, things were sliding off.

Everything looked normal if you held your head funny.

My speech impediment makes others appear bowlegged to me.

Run your tongue over my teeth, Try to talk like that…”

I know Michael Redhill primarily as a novelist, from his Inger Ash Wolfe literary crime mysteries to his most recent Bellevue Square which deals with mental health and identity disassociation, and I find his work just fascinating.

It is dark, and this poetry collection has a similar darkness to it: embodied existence weighs heavily, time and meaning are looming questions, but I can relate at times to this way of seeing the world. I don’t pretend to understand all the poems here, but I like them very much. They stretch my brain. My favorites in this collection are: “Askew” “Forms” “Charlatans” “Search Engines” “Plant Tomatoes Under a Full Moon” “Mycelium” “Scar Tissue” “Bitten” “Cunnilingus” and “Myodesopsia.”

Three Star Island, by Kat Caulberg

“You’re a good soul, Penelope. You forgave me my sins, though God knows why. You’ve no affection for pretenses, you’ve brooked none of my nonsense, you’ve a filthy mouth and a sharp mind. I don’t have to pretend when I’m with you. Do you understand what that’s worth?”

Ordinarily, a time traveling romance begins in the present, with the heroine stumbling back into time as either the Inciting or the Act I turning point, and one of the things I absolutely love, love, love about Kat Caulberg’s Three Star Island, is that it starts after the time travel. A long time after, in fact: Penelope is stuck on an island, in the early 18th century, among strangers who dislike her, and part of the story is filling in how she got there and what’s happened in the intervening years. So when the notorious pirate Captain William Payne washes up on the beach, his ship having sunk, his crew having mutinied against him, they’re both in a similar position of being stranded.

Having lived on her own without hope for so long, Penny finds it hard to open her heart, but she’s has intelligence, a fiery spirit, and—matched against Will—she rediscovers laughter, passion, and purpose. She needs every ounce of her indomitable will to face the dangers ahead of them

Laura and the Railroad Baron (Montana Women #4), by Nancy Pirri

Montana in the late 1880s, from the modern perspective, represents an intriguing mix of wilderness and formality, and this is what Pirri captures in her Montana Women series. On the one hand, the women are stronger and more independent because they live on the frontier, but there is also a courtliness to the manners between men and women that belongs to a bygone age.

This is a fun, short romance about Laura, a woman struggling to open her heart because of the guilt and grief she’s still holding onto from her past, and Matt, a railroad baron with a young son, who unexpectedly finds himself put in the position of Laura’s guardian when her father dies. Wealthy, headstrong, and used to getting her way, Laura isn’t going to make it easy for him, and Matt decides the best course of action is to marry her off as quickly as possible….

Need to Know, by Karen Cleveland

“…the ever present feeling of floundering, of failing, of being torn between two things that were so important to me, each of which demanded more time than I could I give.”

On the surface, Need to Know is a CIA spy thriller, but at it’s heart, it’s a story about trying to be “supermom,” a modern American working mother who’s family and way of life feels like it’s always on the edge, who’s career keeps her from her kids, but who can’t afford to give up her career, and the guilt she lives with. Everything in the plot, including whether or not Vivian can trust her husband as an equal partner, intensifies this basic, psychological reality, which is the brilliant part. I couldn’t put it down, and Vivian’s dilemmas and need to protect her family absolutely grabbed me and had me on the edge of my seat, twisted in knots. It’s beautifully written as well, dancing lightly between past and present, as Vivian relives the key moments of her marriage, seeing everything in her new double-vision: the anatomy of a marriage.

I will say the end of the book didn’t work for me, but reviewers have different opinions, and overall, the book is just genius.

Vivian’s decisions are so much harder because of her social and economic situation, which comes down to two working parents, four small children, and not enough social or financial cushion. This part of it reminded me of reading Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink by Katrina Alcorn. I also recently heard Sen. Elizabeth Warren chronicle her life story, with the constant struggle to find childcare and afford the basics, being a working mother, or in school, and also a parent. She credits her Aunt Bea who came to her rescue to care for the children so that Warren could work, but notes that most people aren’t so lucky, after which she went on to outline her proposal for Universal Childcare, which, I think, has the potential to change millions of people’s lives for the better. Imagine not having to constantly worry about that! Another character in Cleveland’s novel finds himself trapped because of access to healthcare, another source of constant worry for millions that could be addressed by public policy, and I suddenly thought, my god, what if someday we could look back on this period and see it as such a dark time in which the vast majority of people struggled, possibly needlessly, just to raise their families, because it doesn’t have to be like this. We don’t have to have so many people living on the edge, one job loss, one missed paycheck, one health emergency away from everything collapsing.

Haunting Highland House, by Kathryn Hills

A time travel romance set in the present and the mid-1880s centered on an old New England house. What really stood out for me about this novel was that when Samantha (“Sam”) travels back in time, her brief visits jump around in time, so you have this fascinating situation where Robert (the ghostly owner) experiences Sam out of sequence - each time they meet, she’s at one stage of their relationship and he’s at another. I really, really liked this non-linear development of their relationship.

Whitechapel Lass, by Lilly Adam

Set in 1837 and 1858’s London, the novel follows the intertwined stories of a mother and daughter—one raised in poverty, one raised in prosperity. For Ruby, growing up in the tenements of Whitechapel, pride has no place among the poor, but she still has her dignity. Her beauty and unquenchable spirit catch the eye of Robert Thornton, a well-to-do businessman, who rescues her and her illegitimate child, the result of a villainous rape, and takes them to his fine town house in Reigate and marries her. But Ruby’s past pursues her, forcing her to flee her new home, leaving her young child behind.

Victoria, her daughter, also finds herself pursued by a cruel and heartless man, set up by her conniving step-mother. Rather than go through with the loathsome wedding, Vicki bolts, disguising herself as a man, and finds her way to Whitechapel, followed by Robert, now seeking his missing wife and daughter. Eventually both father and daughter find their way into the family of the Smiths, who were tied to the events of Ruby’s earlier life. The residents of London’s poorest district work hard and live in terrible conditions, but Vicki and her father, able to see beyond the social divisions, discover they have kind hearts. The subtitle of the novel is “A heartwarming story of love and endurance,” and although there is great suffering, the novel delivers on its promise that there is always something good that will spring from every bad situation, justice will be served, and truth, in the end, will finally reveal itself.

There is a sweeping, family saga quality to this Victorian novel that reminded me of THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDE MOONEY by Viola Russell and Janet MacLeod Trotter’s A CRIMSON DAWN. There is also a wealth of research and detail the author put into recreating the Dickensian lives of the Victorian underclass, and if this appeals to you, you may also be interested in Michael Toledano’s Victorian-era mystery, TRUNCATE.

Love Below Stairs: Edwardian romances

A collection of short romances centered around the Upstairs/Downstairs inhabitants of a well-to-do family in 1908, South Carolina, each by a separate author published by Forget Me Not Romances. I love the Edwardian period and the “Downton Abbey”-style (although Edwardian to me suggests England rather than America), and I liked the idea of interlocking stories with a shared cast of characters. I also liked that they focused on the servant class, which tends to be under-represented in historical fiction. The romances are “clean”/“sweet” and there is a Christian under-pinning to a greater or lesser degree to all four stories. The collection is free with Kindle Unlimited.

The Switch, by Joseph Finder

My Murder & Mayhem book club is reading cyber-crime mysteries this month. I read a lot of crime fiction, but not very much in the Action/Thriller category, and The Switch is a good representative example of why, although it’s well-researched, fairly well written, and contains all the requisite elements one would expect to find satisfying. So this is less of a critique of this specific book as it is of the limitations of the genre in my view.

The premise of The Switch is an “average” guy, Michael Tanner, who happens to accidentally pick up a senator’s laptop by mistake in airport security, and the lengths her team and other, darker governmental entities are willing to go to in order to retrieve it and make him disappear. Tanner has a wife, Sarah, from whom he is estranged at the beginning of the story, and a coffee business that’s just been outmaneuvered by a competitor. If I were writing the story, it would be Tanner and Sarah on the run together, fighting, cooperating, working out their relationship, but in Action genre style, this story is just about Tanner. Sarah appears at brief points in the narrative, and they reconcile – seeing him in danger makes her realize she still loves him – but the relationship is secondary (tertiary? quaternary?) to the main plot, even to the main interest, which is a race against the other men involved. By the end of the story, Tanner has, as one would expect, found a clever solution to extricate himself, and applies what he’s learned – the new man he’s become – to turn the tables on his business competitor. He’s learned, he tells the reader, If you kill my dog, I’ll kill your cat. I would never in a million years end a story on this moral.

I say fairly well written not to be snide, but because two of the main characters made choices that came out of left field for me. Everything hinges on Tanner not returning the laptop as soon as he realizes the mistake, and his decision has a whimsical quality to it when I think it has to be necessary: either something that comes out of a deeply flawed character or events outside of the character’s control. I have the deepest sympathy: an early draft of Lexi had John Michael letting himself be wheedled into letting LX8000 out of the lab, and I worked and re-worked it until I realized if your Act I turning point is “against his better judgement,” the whole thing is on crutches.

MoveMind: Speculative Short Stories, by Robert New

If you read the author’s bio, you can find out Robert New has degrees in psychology, sociology, biology, and education, but if you’ve read this fabulous collection of short stories, you might have already guessed that: they are smart, mind-bending, and often contain scientific or philosophical ideas and explore moral questions.

I was particularly intrigued by the stories in which New’s own beliefs come to the fore: “The Second Fear” and “Devilish Tricks” which examine the role of fear in shaping human behavior; “How to Win a War” and “The Principled Principal” which present case studies in how to turn enemies into friends; and “The Lost Chapter” in which New proposes a foundation for a more equitable political society.

If you enjoy having your mind stimulated and your normal way of seeing the world challenged, check it out!

Governess to the Duke's Heir, by Maggi Andersen

It is impossible for me to hear “governess” and “Duke” without immediately thinking of Jane Eyre, and there are plot elements in the second half that have echoes, particularly when Jenny leaves in haste in the middle of the night (although for quite different reasons), but the first half of the book, which was my favorite, reminded me of “The Sound of Music,” which is an entirely different governess-falls-in-love-with-employer story.

One of the things I thought was quite brilliant here was that the class divide is so firmly ingrained in Andrew’s mind that when he is happy around Jenny (a river bank picnic with the children), he daydreams that he and the baroness he is courting will have picnics with the children in the future: he recognizes he is happy, but mistakenly thinks it is the setting, not the person he is with. (As I said, “The Sound of Music.” Love that about this book!)

Governess is listed as Book 4 of Andersen’s “Dangerous Lords” series, and I’m not quite sure why—although there is danger and suspense around them—but that’s good, because I don’t read books that romanticize dangerous men if I can help it. If you enjoy historical romance (1820s England), I recommend it.

Whatever It Takes (Highland Springs #4), by Leigh Fleming

Darla has resigned herself to the possibility she may be single the rest of her life. She has her dream house, a busy career as a successful realtor, her cat, Mr. Fluffybottom, and she’s just been nominated by the Highland Springs’ city council for their prestigious Citizen of the Year to be awarded at the Raspberry Festival. Except that none of them know her secret. She’s immediately attracted to Jason Byrne when he turns up in Highland Springs searching for the mother of his adopted daughter, but her whole house of cards is about to come down.

The book is a testimony to the courage it takes for women to come forward and the family and community support they need.

Heart Collector, by Barbara Russell

I loved this steampunk set in 19th c New Zealand! There’s a mystery, and great characters, and swoony scenes (I love Murk)! Isabel is a Supernatural, hunting a serial killer who’s found a way to collect the supernatural abilities of his victims, and I love how her empathic gift comes in smells, auras, and surprising visuals. That and the setting really made this book pop for me as something fresh and original. Terrific fun, quick read.

The Painted Veil, by W. Somerset Maugham

I’ve been reading about English “fish out of water.” I’d seen the movie “The Painted Veil” with Edward Norton a number of years ago, and it had made a deep impression on me. I’d made a mental note that someday I wanted to read the original book, which turns out to be absolutely magnificent, and far, far more problematic:

“The way that had seemed to stretch before her straight and easy and now she saw that it was a tortuous way and that pitfalls awaited her.”

In the introduction, Maugham writes that the story was inspired by a few lines in Dante, about a man who discovers his wife is adulterous and takes his revenge by transporting her to an unwholesome place where the miasma will kill her. Maugham updates the story to his own time (1920s) and sets it in rural China in a cholera epidemic, but he takes what might be sort of Jacobean “pot-boiler” stuff and makes it complex, because Kitty, though presented as shallow, is not your average heroine, and Walter, a sympathetic/unsympathetic character is less sure of his own vindicating rightness. And it doesn’t work the way Walter had planned.

It also doesn’t work the way the movie suggests, which was a bit of a stunner to me, although I eventually came around to thinking that was the right choice—they could not have stayed true to the book—while simultaneously being glad the book avoids easy answers. There is something here about the difference in the media. We could not have seen and understood Kitty if we had watched her from a distance. You have to be inside her subjective experience in order to hold on when the path is not straight and the victories are small and slippery. But it is a victory, I think, and I was grateful that Maugham didn’t gloss over the difficulties of trying to change. It made me think about addiction and what a disservice it is if we tell stories that suggest is it easy to overcome. Progress is not always a straight arrow.

Where Maugham gets minus points is his sentimental gloss (in my view) of the sisters of the convent and his careless treatment of the Chinese, who, with one exception, have no individual personalty and are casually described as in a way that suggests they are alien or even less than fully human. Not entirely unexpected for a writer of his time period, but it still makes me cringe as a modern reader.

If you can put a big asterisk by that short-coming, the book is still worth reading, because it’s a profound book, at least in the way he handles the English characters, and avoids the kind of easy answers that promise reformation through a single act of will or that romantic love will always flourish and provide salvation.

A Passage to India, by E.M. Forester

Reading A Passage to India has entirely new relevance for me in 2019. I’d read it in high school English, had no idea what it was about, watched the movie and still didn’t know what it was about, but I love Forester, so I’d always meant to come back and take another crack at it as an adult.

It’s still a bit of an enigma to me—if anyone can explain the concluding “Part III: The Temple” section to me, I’d be grateful—although this time around, I felt like I understood most of what Prof. Godbole and Mrs. Moore are saying, and even the experience of the Marabar caves, which on my read has to do with a sort of moral flattening of the universe: the infinite is not grandiose, it’s empty. A bit like how I used to think of death as “nothing for a long time” until I realized it might just be “no time” (although I no longer believe that). Forester also makes a great deal out of the collapse of good and evil in the face of meaninglessness, which I pretty quickly dismiss: whatever “ultimate” meaning there is or isn’t, the fact is that how we treat others in the lived in moment certainly makes a difference to our own and other people’s experience of the world, which is plenty.

Most of what struck me square between the eyes, though, was the Anglo-Indian relations, the cultural and racial tensions. It’s an incredible book to have be written in 1924, and it’s still challenging and thought-provoking, but with new echoes: not just a snapshot of a particular community in time, but a portrait of humanity. If you haven’t read this, or haven’t read this in a while, I highly, highly recommend it.

New Book: THE MARTIAN ZOMBIE

www.amazon.com/dp/B07PWHSG8T

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

My name is Mike Addison. I’m an astronaut, and I eat brains. Yep, I’m a zombie, and I’m pretty sure that landing shuttle taking off is my crewmates and the woman I love leaving me behind. Unless the creature that’s been stalking us got them first.

This isn’t so bad. I’m a mechanical engineer and cell biologist. All I have to do is work one problem at a time. I can handle this. If the oxygenator breaks down, I’m already dead. If the power and heat go out, I’m already dead. If the water regenerator—you get the idea. The first thing I need to do is figure out how to grow my own supply of brain cells, because potatoes, my friend, are not going to cut it.