March Book Reviews Part Two

March was a busy month for me, reading-wise. Here’s the second part of my reviews. If you missed the other post, you can read it by clicking here.

Between The Vines

Rating: 5 out of 5.

After reading the first two books of Staci Troilo’s latest series, I couldn’t wait for Between the Vines. It didn’t disappoint.

Between the Vines is the third and final novella in the Keystone Couples Series. And just when I thought the books couldn’t get better, this one did.

The storyline is well-written and nicely paced. There are touches of humor, and the setting is perfect.

The attraction between Elena and Aaron is apparent from the beginning, although neither one wants to admit it at first.

Add to that Aaron’s ex-fiancée, Heather, who is out to make trouble for Elena. If ever there was a villain to hate, it’s Heather. Troilo did a fantastic job with this character as she did with Elena and Aaron.

I enjoyed all the books in the Keystone Couples series, but this is my favorite. Highly recommend it.

Amazon Purchase Link

Blood Hollow

Rating: 4 out of 5.

When my husband insisted he needed to buy me a birthday gift, I asked if I could pick out something I wanted. I went straight to Amazon and purchased the second set of William Kent Krueger’s Cork O’Connor series. I hope to finish all the previous titles before the nineteenth book releases in August.

This is the fourth book of the Cork O’Connor series, and it didn’t disappoint. When a young woman goes out of a snowmobile ride on a frigid winter night and doesn’t return, Cork O’Connor is part of the search and rescue team.

Months later, a couple of tourists discover her body. The incompetent sheriff focuses on one potential suspect, Solemn Winter Moon. When Solemn is arrested, Cork’s wife Jo agrees to defend him. She asks for Cork’s help in finding the real killer.

Krueger left a lot of breadcrumbs. Although I had a few suspicions, I kept guessing right up to the end.

The story also touches on the O’Connor family dynamics, Cork, Jo, the children, and Jo’s sister, Rose. Cork also does a lot of soul searching in this one.

I enjoy the small-town setting of Aurora and look forward to revisiting several recurring characters such as Henry Meloux. Krueger also introduces new ones with each book that keep the storylines interesting. Like with the other books, his descriptions of the Minnesota wilderness put the reader in the heart of the setting.

If you like mysteries with small town settings, this is a great series.

Amazon Purchase Link

Yellow Hair

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I’ve had this book on my radar for quite some time. Given my recent interest in reading about Native Americans, I decided to give it a try.

After reading several reviews, I had high hopes for this book. While there were many good things about the story, I also found several issues.

I’ll begin with the positive. First, I applaud the amount of research that the author did in writing this book. It’s apparent he did his homework. The combination of real historical events and fiction had the makings of a compelling story.

I enjoyed the author’s use of Native American terms such as “six night’s sleep,” or “fourteen winters.” Language such as “The Winter of the Lone Elk” intrigued me. Not to mention the Dakota Tribe’s names of the moons — “Moon when cherries grow ripe,” and “Moon of the Changing Season,” are two examples.

However, there are several issues that I found distracting. The book was written in different tenses. I first noticed it changed with chapters, later during scenes, and finally, there was past and present in one scene. This jarred me from the story.

The repeated use of phrases like “As the whites tell time” were overdone and distracting. I think we know what the year 1858 means.

The book often changed narratives from the fictional story into historical facts. It was like reading a novel and a textbook in the same book.

There was a lot of telling and not enough showing. No showing of emotion. I found it hard to connect to the characters.

There were excerpts that bordered on author intrusion. As an example. “He then heads to the Baker farm to see the bodies for himself and to retrieve the Baker and Jones children, not knowing Clara Jones is dead.”

If the author had taken the time to show readers that scene, it would have read so much better.

Yellow Hair was not a page-turner and the pace slowed even more in the middle. I trudged on but found myself skimming the last few chapters.

Bottom line: Andrew Joyce is a good storyteller. The use of a good editor could have made a difference.

Amazon purchase link

Jagged Feathers – @jansikes3 #NewRelease #RomanticSuspense #WhiteRuneSeries

Hey, readers! I’m excited to welcome back friend and fellow author Jan Sikes today. She has a brand-new release, the second book of her White Rune Series. I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while and have already picked up my copy.

Please welcome Jan to tell you all about it.

Thank you, Joan, for inviting me to your blog site today to talk about my new book, JAGGED FEATHERS! I appreciate your generosity.

Since you are a fellow Texan, I wanted to share this historic piece of the story with you and your followers. I don’t know if any of you are familiar with The Longhorn Ballroom and Motel in Dallas, Texas, but a part of my story takes place there.

(Photo courtesy of Jay Lafrance)

First a little history. The Longhorn Ballroom was built in the 1950s by an eccentric Dallas millionaire specifically for Bob Wills. It was said he wanted a stage large enough for Wills to ride his horse onto. It is unclear when the motel section was built, but altogether it is a large complex. It sold to Dewey Groom in the 1960s and ironically, my late husband and Groom were great friends. I have a photo of Rick presenting a pair of longhorns to Groom.

The property changed hands many times and currently belongs to Dallas Developer, Jay LaFrance. I saw an episode of “Queen of the South” that was set at the Longhorn motel and it gave me the idea to include it in my story as well.


The exit sign came up, and her gut clenched. She (Nakina) was getting close. A mixture of anger, danger, and fear for what lay ahead snaked itself around her, almost cutting off her breath.

A glance in her rearview mirror assured her that Vann was with Bridger directly behind her, in a dark-colored van with tinted windows. The rest of the team were invisible but already assembled and in their places, waiting.

The sign for the motel loomed ahead long before she reached it. She didn’t realize this was part of a complex. A statue of a giant longhorn steer faced the street and advertised the Longhorn Ballroom and Motel.

When she turned in the entrance, her heart raced. This was it. This had to be successful. There was no other outcome she would consider.

A blue feather floated down and landed on her windshield.

“Thank you,” she whispered. “Grandmother, stay with me. Help me.”

In an instant, her insides stopped shaking, replaced by steely determination.

As instructed, she parked in front of room 110, left the engine running, and car door open.

After a deep breath, she squared her shoulders, strode to the door, and knocked loudly.

No one answered. She knocked again, reaching out with her senses to feel any vibrations on the other side of the door. They had to be there. The rune tingled against her breast. 

She knocked a third time, apprehension crawling up her spine.

Finally, the door cracked open.

A man with a long scar running from his temple down his cheek growled. “You alone, puta?”

She nodded.

He opened the door wider, and she leaned forward attempting to peer inside.

“Get in here.”

She took a step backward, shook her head, and her voice dripped ice. “No. Bring my sister out, and I’ll give you what you want, but I’m not coming inside.”

The man poked his head out farther and scanned the area. “No one followed you? Where’s the gringo?” He grabbed her arm and tried to pull her inside.

Holding onto the door frame, she attached a death grip. “He’s not here. I did as I was told. Bring my sister out and let go of me.”

“Shit! You are some kind of loco, puta. You think I’m just going to hand your sister over without getting what I want?” He released her arm.

“No.” She reached into the side pocket of the duffel bag slung over her shoulder. “Here’s the key. Give me my sister, and you’ll get the rest.”

The man jerked the key from her hand, and the skull on the end of the keychain glittered in bright Texas sunlight.

“You better not be bullshitting. You will regret it.”

The door closed, and scuffling sounds came from inside.

When he reappeared, a wide-eyed Adele stood beside him, tape over her mouth and her hands tied behind her back.

Were you familiar with The Longhorn Ballroom and Motel? Have you ever been there? I attended several events there in the last five years, but I don’t know if it is still operating as I haven’t seen anything about it in a long time.


Vann Noble did his duty. He served his country and returned a shell of a man, wounded inside and out. With a missing limb and battling PTSD, he seeks healing in an isolated cabin outside a small Texas town with a stray dog that sees beyond his master’s scars. If only the white rune’s magic can bring a happily ever after to a man as broken as Vann.  

On the run from hired killers and struggling to make sense of her unexplained deadly mission, Nakina Bird seeks refuge in Vann’s cabin. She has secrets. Secrets that can get them all killed.

A ticking clock and long odds of living or dying, create jarring risks.

Will these two not only survive, but find an unexpected love along the way? Or, will evil forces win and destroy them both?










Pour it On #NewRelease by @StaciTroilo

Hey, everyone! I posted my January reviews yesterday, but this one deserves special recognition. Pour it On is Staci Troilo’s latest release – the second book of her Keystone Couples series.

Due to some other commitments, she’s not doing an official tour, so I wanted to help her out as much as I could.


Bold, complex, vibrant. The wine is, too.

Despite Romy Chandler hosting a romantic meet-and-greet at her restaurant, she’s all business. When her sommelier quits without any notice—to work for the competition, no less—she goes into mega-mogul-mode. The last thing on her mind is finding a man. She’s looking for someone who knows his way around a Bordeaux, not the boudoir.

Rick Santucci grew up in his family’s vineyard. After years of hard work, he’s turned his grandfather’s humble produce farm into a profitable winery. Once he gets their bottles into the right establishments, he’ll be able to acquire more land and move into the next phase of the company’s expansion. His mother thinks the next stage should be a wife and children, but his sights are set on different fertile grounds.

When Rick and Romy meet, they both forget all about their ambitions. The evening becomes less about revenue than romance, and they get distracted by the music and wine. She thinks he’s the man she needs, both in the restaurant and out. He finds her to be the perfect partner on the dance floor and believes she’ll be the perfect business partner, too. But a series of mix-ups could put an end to everything they’ve started—personally and professionally.

My Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A Case of Mistaken Identity…

After her sommelier quit without giving notice, Romy Chandler needs to find one immediately for a meet and wine tasting. She turns to her friend Jess who sets up three interviews on the spot, one of them named Rick.

Rick Santucci wants to expand the distribution of his family’s wines. He’d approached Nigel about setting up a meeting with Rosemary Chandler about the possibility of serving the wine in her restaurant.

When Rick arrives, he mistakes the organizer of the wine tasting as Rosemary. However, the “server” Romy catches his eye.

Romy believes Rick is the sommelier candidate. She’s impressed by his knowledge of wines.

But when she discovers Rick Santucci isn’t the interview Jess set up. Romy overreacts, and Rick leaves—both of them believing they’d blown any chance of a business relationship. Will they be able to work out their differences?

Pour it On is not only a quick and easy read but a delightful story as well. This is the second book of Staci Troilo’s Keystone Couples series and every bit as enjoyable as the first one. I eagerly await the third book of the trilogy.

New Release: Mountain Laurel Christmas by @JanSikes3

I am delighted to welcome back author, friend, and fellow Story Empire contributor Jan Sikes to my blog today. Jan has written a brand new novelette and it’s just in time for the holidays.

Jan is a master at writing short stories, and I think this one is her best to date! (Read my five-star review here.)

Now, I’ll let her tell you all about this delightful story.

There are many famous quotes about music, but this one from Leo Tolstoy grabbed me. Mr. Tolstoy was an accomplished musician and composer and had a deep abiding love for music. He said, “Music is the shorthand of emotion.”

To my character in Mountain Laurel Christmas, music is everything. It gave him a reason to keep living, a dream to follow, and a way to vent his feelings.

I’ll share a couple of short excerpts to show that:

My one solace was, is, and always will be, music. I’d often disappear for hours at a time, taking my guitar with me. A stream runs a few hundred yards from our miner’s shack on the side of the Cumberland Mountains. That’s where I’d go to find solitude. I’d play my guitar and sing to the fish that jumped out of the water, turtles that sunned on a log, and frogs that leaped from stone to stone.

And the second one:

Anger crashed through me. I tore up the porch steps and into the house. Brushing past April, I charged straight to Mama, but nothing I said would make her look at me. She was gone.

The worst thing a boy can do is cry in front of his older sister. Once I said my piece, I grabbed my guitar and headed for the creek as I’d done a hundred times since Papa died. Oh, how I pounded on the guitar that day. The more I cried, the harder I hit the strings. But, by the time I dragged myself back to the house, mentally and physically exhausted, I’d written my first song about tragedy in a Cumberland Mountain coal mine.

Do you play a musical instrument or have a deep appreciation for music? I’d love to hear from you!


Orphaned, his family torn apart by tragedy, Cole Knight has come a long way from a ramshackle miner’s cabin on the side of the Cumberland Mountain.

Daring to follow an impossible dream, he’s made it big in the music business. Now, he’s a country music sensation with a huge house, fancy cars, plenty of willing women, money, and adoring fans. He should be on top of the world. Instead, he’s drowning in a swirling pool of self-contempt and relentless guilt.

It’s easier to lose himself in a bottle than face the hard truth…he hasn’t delivered on a promise he made to his father.

It’s almost Christmas, and the sting of failure drives him back to that tiny cabin in the mountains. But has he waited too late to put the shattered pieces back together—to find himself and restore a lost family? 










No Such Luck #NewRelease by @stacitroilo

Hey, everyone! Today I have the privilege of welcoming back Staci Troilo to my blog. She is a good friend, fellow author, and contributor at Story Empire.

I’m always excited when she has a new release. I’m confident you’ll enjoy No Such Luck. If you’d like to check out my five-star review, just click here.

But for now, please give a warm welcome to Staci.

I’m grateful for the invitation here today, Joan. Hi, everyone. Thanks for taking a few minutes to chat with me about my new release, No Such Luck. It’s a short, seasonal clean romance just right for this time of year.

Piper Seidel is home for the holidays. A stroke of bad luck has her there a bit earlier than expected, and nothing has gone right since she arrived, but she’s there. And she’s looking forward to the holiday traditions of her youth. But even Christmas tree shopping doesn’t go smoothly. It’s a good thing her stepmother is overbearing—and sends her best friend to the rescue. The following excerpt gives a glimpse into how things don’t go according to plan.


“Who cuts the tree, Piper? You or Frank?”

“Dad. Why?”

Jack stepped closer. When he spoke, his voice was barely above a whisper, so low that she had to lean in to hear him. “Do you really think that’s a good idea?”

“That’s tradition.”

“That isn’t what I asked.” He looked toward where her father stood, still on the phone.

Piper thought back to Dad’s flushed complexion and wheezing breath on his way up the mountain. Maybe him down in the snow, struggling with a handsaw wasn’t the best idea. Dragging a tree down the hill probably wasn’t, either.

To Jack’s credit, he didn’t say anything else. He scooped the saw from the ground where Dad left it, knelt in the snow under her “perfect” tree, then began sawing. When the tree started falling, she stood and watched it.

“For God’s sake, Pea, move!” Jack lunged at her.

He tackled her into a snow drift just in time. They only got scraped by the top needles of the tree.

“What on earth are you thinking?” Jack asked.

“I don’t know.” Breathless, she gazed into his eyes. Got lost in them. Finally, she blinked. Cleared her throat. When she continued, her voice was husky and low. She barely recognized it. “The tree is so pretty, I can’t stop looking at it. And you cut through the trunk so much faster than Dad does, I just wasn’t prepared for it to fall so soon.”

Jack stared at her for a long moment, then shook his head.

Despite the bad luck Piper’s suffering since losing her good luck charm, she’s lucky to have a friend like Jack.

I hope you enjoyed that quick sneak peek. No Such Luck, the first installment of the Keystone Couples series, is available now on Amazon.


Seeds of luck usually wither. The rare one grows and blooms.

Piper Seidel has one thing going for her—a red carnation given to her by Tommy Burnett in the tenth grade. It might have dried over the years, but it’s still her good luck charm. Losing it sets her life in a downward spiral, forcing her to return to her hometown where she comes face to face with her high school crush.

The years have been kind to Tommy, who looks better than ever. Unfortunately, Piper is at her worst, continually embarrassing herself whenever he’s around. The only plus? Her long-time friend, Jack Rhodes, still lives in town. Since she last saw him, his legs have grown longer, his biceps thicker, and his shoulders broader. He was always the brother she never had, but now she can’t help noticing him in an unsisterly way. Jack is every bit as caring as he’s ever been—until her bad luck drives him away, maybe forever.

Piper needs a new good luck charm, and fast, before she loses her final chance at happiness.

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