Book Review: Little White Lies

Social Worker Claire Conover Mystery #3

Little White Lies

By Margaret Fenton

As a social worker in Birmingham, Alabama, Claire Conover has seen things other people just hear and talk about. She is a champion for the countless children that find their way into the system. Each of them touches her heart in different ways, but none of them have ever come home with her. That is about to change. A thirteen-year-old runaway, LaReesa Jones has ditched her foster home and has been living on the streets. She turns up at Claire’s office after suffering a beating at the worst possible moment.

Claire immediately wants to help LaReesa, but another emergency child on Claire’s caseload could be in danger. That same morning a bomb exploded in a local election campaign office, killing a young man. Sadly, he was a single father of a baby girl who was at daycare when he died. When Claire discovers the next of kin, she realizes the child is connected to a very rich influential man that would spell disaster for the baby. She needs to find another legal option to save her.

Exhausted from the day and situation, Claire steps up to foster LaRessa. When she arrives home, her boyfriend has no clue what she has done. Claire explains to him that she had no choice. He is sorry for the life LaReesa has led, but feels that Claire should have at least discussed this important step before bringing the troubled teen home.

The fate of the baby, LaRessa and Claire’s relationship hinges on the next few days and weeks. Claire won’t help the situation by poking her nose into places people want to keep secret with her friend, Kirk. He is an investigative reporter that she has worked with many times before. It is evident he wants to be more than friends.

Little White Lies has page-turning action wrapped in lies and deceit. All will be revealed by the end of the book. I really enjoyed the characters and the twists and turns that lead readers to the truth in the end. While this is the third book in the series, it reads well as a stand-alone novel. I have not read the previous books in the series, but plan to do so in the near future.

Author Margaret Fenton knows about the child welfare system as she was a child and family therapist for the child welfare department in her county. She is an avid mystery fan, which is evident by the care she takes to wrap up all of the delicious twists and turns in her novel. Yet, keeps a tiny bit that readers can anticipate reading about in the next book of this series. I can’t wait to read it.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from publicist Maryglenn Warnock and the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2023 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: In Search of the Animalcule

Interesting Historical Fiction Spotlighting Medical Advances

In Search of the Animalcule

By Steven L. Berk, M. D.

At a Vienna hospital in 1847, Jacob Pfleger became an orphan within hours of his birth. His mother, a rarity in that she was a female obstetrician, knew she was going to die of postpartum fever due to her symptoms. Before her last breath, she demanded her son be sent to the local orphanage. There he spent the next twelve years learning as much as he could while trying to survive the brutality of the staff and older children.

Jacob is a gifted and inquisitive boy. He reads everything he can get his hands on and is a keen observer. When Jacob learns from a friend of his late mother that his father is alive and living in France as a winemaker, he is determined to find him. Once he arrives, he is welcomed, but his family has been experiencing hard times due to something that is making their wine bad after the fermenting process. Louis Pasteur arrives to investigate the problem, wakening the love of scientific procedures that Jacob always suspected were at the root of his mother’s death and many other medical problems. Thus begins his journey around the world seeking answers and learning from the most famous doctors and scientists throughout his life, including Joseph Lister and Robert Koch.

I really enjoyed following Jacob’s story and meeting the list of Who’s Who of medicine pioneers. Their work was the stepping stones to the medical procedures we have today. Just think of everyone that has had a medical procedure with their healthcare providers wearing gloves and masks or had an infection that required an antibiotic. We have come much further than the workings of the late 1800s and early 1900s, but it is very interesting to learn of the great men and women of yesteryear.

Author Steven Berk MD is a board-certified expert in infectious diseases, is the Executive VP of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and the Dean of School of Medicine. He has written five medical books and an award-winning work of fiction, Anatomy of Kidnapping, which I plan to add to my to-be-read list. I highly recommend In Search of the Animalcule. It is a fast and interesting work of historical fiction.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from publicist Maryglen Warnock and the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2023 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Standing Dead – Fabulous Mystery

A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery

By Margaret Mizushima

Sheriff Deputy Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo are on a case and it is personal. The body of Mattie’s step-father is discovered in her town, Timber Creek. The last time Mattie saw her mother, she and her second husband were living in Mexico. It is disturbing to find his dead body in the town Mattie lives and works in, and where was her mother?

It becomes evident to Mattie and her fellow law enforcement colleagues that they need to find her mother before she suffers the same fate as her husband. The entire Sherriff’s department is looking for the killer and trying to keep Mattie safe. She feels she must be in on the investigation, but will she become a victim as well? Mattie is willing to stake her life on saving her family, but at what cost?

This is the seventh book in the Timber Creek K-9 mystery series. Mizushima draws in readers from the first pages with the depth of her fast-moving plot with twists and turns throughout the book. Her characters are fully developed, and as a reader of all of her books, it is like catching up with old friends with each new book in the series.  There are a couple of interesting sub-plots that are satisfyingly finished up at the end as well.

Margaret Mizushima is one of my favorite authors and her characters come to life on the pages. They are like old friends and sometimes crazy relatives to readers of the series. I have read all of the books in this series and cannot wait for the next one. If you have not discovered this fabulous author and series, Standing Dead works well as a stand-alone novel. I highly recommend reading the entire series.

Ms. Mizushima’s Timber Creek K-9 mysteries are award-winning in the states and internationally. She is a member of several writing groups, notably Sisters in Crime, Pikes Peak Writers and is the President for the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America to name a few.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from the Author and Publicist Maryglenn McCombs and the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2023 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The Lapone Sisters

A Delightful Story of First Generation American Girls

The Lapone Sisters

By Barry Wilker

The first American generation sisters still had one foot firmly in their family’s Romanian culture, and the other foot ready to be like everyone else in the states. Their mother, grandmother and two other relatives fled their war torn home in Romania. Coming to the United States was not an easy choice, but the one they needed to survive. When the three children, Schmellda, Sorina and Esmerelda were born, they learned the old Romanian ways as well as the new ways of America. The girls are diverse in character, as if they were from different parents and upbringings. But they had family values and love for each other to bind them together no matter how unlikely it seemed due to their vastly different personalities.

Schmellda, as the oldest, always feels that she must do what her mother feels is best. As a recent graduate from Middle Tennessee State University with a home economics degree, she is finally on her own in her own apartment. She takes a job as a realtor, but her first love is floral arranging.

Sorina is currently working as a dry cleaner. She has a stutter, that keeps her from socializing with anyone but her family. But she loves to sing.

Esmerelda is proud to proclaim she is outgoing, nearly fearless and possesses a quick wit. She has a boyfriend (unlike her sisters) and is the most social of the siblings.

These three vastly different women grow and learn from life and each other that they are capable of leading their own lives, with their own choices, yet still remain close to each other. Life is not always what their parents or even they, themselves thought it would or could be. Each of the them find their way in life, traveling the road that suits them best.

This delightful tale of first-generation Americans is fast-paced and fun. The decisions the girls make and roads they choose to take are like most in the United States. They overcome hardships, but always know they can rely on each other and their extended family to be there for them.

I really enjoyed seeing how the girls interacted with each other as well as the growth they experienced by the end of this novel. This is a delightful, often funny tale warmed by the love the family has for each other as well as their new lives. I highly recommend it to fiction fans.

This is Barry Wilker’s debut novel. A retired interior designer, he has years of experience listening to the life stories of his clients. Fortunately for readers, he was inspired to write this fabulous novel. I can’t wait to see his next novel.  

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from publicist Maryglen McCombs and the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2023 Laura Hartman


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Book Review: Dragon’s Eye – Who is Watching You?

Dragon’s Eye

Who’s Watching You?

By Gregor Pratt

Right out of the gate, a mystery is brewing. A woman having an illicit affair sees what seems like an obduction. Thus begins the page turning action and intrigue involving Jack and Maddie Gamble. The couple were instrumental in resolving a matter on Ebola Island a few years ago. Now they live a quiet life in New Zealand, with their children J.J. and Allison. Until Mattie goes missing. What they don’t know is all the routine traffic and safety cameras mounted throughout the country hold a secret. The dragon’s eye is watching.

She was supposed to arrive home for dinner. She teaches English to non-English speakers. The current group she is working with are Chinese. After several hours, Jack calls the police. Even though it has not been twenty-four hours, he knows something is wrong, The police are hesitant to start an investigation so soon, but Jack convinces them that something bad has happened. Their search will lead them to places they never imagined. Also, the police discover that the traffic cameras purchased from China are not just for safety, but are tracking every move of people of interest, including Maddie and her students. Thus, begins that cat and mouse chase to get Maddie home to her family.

She has the skills to take out criminals, but will she get the opportunity to use them? She is locked in a cargo container on a ship in the ocean with one of her students, Li Wei. It is him the bad guys are after, but they are not above killing or torturing Maddie as well. She has to figure out a way to save herself and Li Wei, but how can They escape from a moving ship?

This fast-paced novel pulled me in from the first pages. The characters are realistic and add to the richness of the story. Readers will feel Jack’s pain as he tries to reassure his young children. Maddie is a force to be reckoned with, but lack of food and exhaustion are taking their toll.

I could not put Dragon’s Eye down. The fast-paced action never stopped until the final pages. Pratt skillfully flips from the peril Mattie is in to the anxiety Jack is experiencing in his attempts to get her back. I loved this book.

This is the second book in the Jack and Maddy Gamble Series. The first is Ebola Island, which I cannot wait to read. Pratt is a new author. Lucky for readers, he decided to write after his successful career as a lawyer. He is currently working on the third book in the series, so keep an eye out for the publication date. But in the meantime, get both of his current books at your favorite bookseller.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a complimentary review copy from publicist Maryglenn M. Warnock and the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2023 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Last Call at the Nightingale

By Katharine Schellman

In 1924 booze and murder were both illegal, but that didn’t stop the drinking or killing. Vivian is a hardworking seamstress by day and a gal that loves a dance and a drink at The Nightingale, an illegal gin joint when the sun goes down. Stepping out in the alley for a breath of air, Vivian and friend Bea see a passed out drunk among the trash. Vivian tries to help the man, but realizes he has not passed out, but has passed on. He is dead. Not only dead, murdered.

Vivian can’t stop thinking of the dead man. She has to find out what happened to him. Her sister Florence doesn’t approve of Vivian’s activities. She has practically raised Vivian after they ended up in an orphanage when they were very young. She thinks Vivian needs to stay home at night and work hard. They are barely scraping by as it is.

When the owner of the bar, Honor Huxley, asks Vivian to help find the murderer. At first Vivian doesn’t agree to become an amateur gumshoe. But curiosity gets the better of her and she begins investigating. Unfortunately, some very bad guys get wind of her poking her nose into other people’s business and are hellbent to stop her. She is over her head in trouble, but still insists she will find out who and murdered the man in the alley and why. But at what cost?

This cozy mystery is different than others as it is set in the early 1900’s with the lead character doing something illegal. Oftentimes cozies have a connection to law enforcement, a boyfriend or close relative they can rely on for clues. Vivian is on her own, with the bouncers at the speakeasy and her friends as the only backup. I loved the setting and characters. The whole package of setting, characters and situations was interesting and entertaining. I hope there are many more in this series.

This is the first book I’ve read by Katharine Schellman. She was a political consultant and stage performer, and lucky for readers, she writes stories. Her debut novel, The Body in the Garden, is a historical mystery and was named a Suspense Magazine Best Book of 2022. Last Call at the Nightingale is the first book in Nightingale Mysteries Series. I cannot wait to read the next book.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from the Author and Netgalley and the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2022 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Never Coming Home

By Kate Williams

Ten social influencers, one remote tropical Island and one killer – will any of them survive? It all starts with an invitation from an anonymous source. What self-respecting influencer wouldn’t jump on board for an all-expenses-paid trip to Unknown Island, which is purported to be a new kind of travel. They claimed that there would be no crowds, just a few curated strangers. Unfortunately, someone else must be on the island because very bad things begin to happen soon after their arrival.

Normally all of these influencers work alone, amassing thousands and sometimes millions of followers on their social media pages. They each have a “specialty”. There is a CEO, DJ, Politician, Athlete, Chef, Rich Girl, Beauty Blogger, Environmentalist, a Superstar and lastly a Gamer. All vastly different, but each has something in common. Someone is trying to kill them.

Will they be able to band together on this sham of a vacation to survive? Each one of them has a secret. Each secret would be the end of their social media followers if found out, and someone is sending messages to the group exposing the thing that will ruin their social influencing livelihood. Can they trust each other? Is the killer a stranger or one of them?

This fast-paced whodunit is deliciously full of twists and turns. It kept me guessing to the very last pages. The characters are plucked right out of the social media scene today, making it relevant to these times of “regular” people becoming superstars with their cell phones and computers. I recommend it to anyone who loves a solid mystery with quirky characters that could be the teenager living next door.

This is the first book I have read by Kate Williams. She has written for several magazines, including Cosmopolitan and Bustle, as well as brands such as Urban Outfitters and Vans. She is the author of the Babysitters Coven series.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from the Author and Netgalley and the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2022 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: No More Secrets – Must Read Fiction

No More Secrets

By Kerry Lonsdale

Lucas Carson leads a self-imposed solitary life. He hasn’t put down roots since he left home amid the turmoil of his father’s death. Moving often, he drifts through his life keeping the secrets that haunt him hidden. Lately, things are beginning to change. He is starting to feel comfortable living in the Mojave Desert working in a small convenience store and doing repairs in the apartment building he lives in. He loves working with his hands and is good at it.

Just as he begins to think he may have found the place he can settle down, Shiloh Bloom, a fifteen-year-old homeless girl, flies into his radar. She is in trouble and reminds Lucas of the sister he hasn’t seen for a very long time. Against all of his self-imposed rules, he helps Shiloh. It might be the end of his freedom, but there is the possibility this friendship will help set him free from the demons of his past that haunt him. But facing the hard truths of what really happened leading up to leaving his family might just be too much for him.

This is the third and final book in Kerry Lonsdale’s No More series. She brings the characters to life on the pages, pulling readers into the lives and stories of the three siblings. Each book in the trilogy enriches and compliments the other books by allowing Lily, Olivia and Lucas to tell his or her stories through their own eyes. Like a beautiful tapestry, the trilogy weaves a complexly beautiful picture that would have been lost without all three main characters adding their own perspective and feelings. I highly recommend reading the entire series. The writing is superb, pulling the reader in on the first page and not letting go until the final words.

Bestselling author Kerry Lonsdale is the co-founder of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and the #1 Kindle bestselling author. She is a Wall Street Journal bestselling author. I have read the No More series, as well as Side Trip, Last Summer and Everything We Keep. The rest of her novels are on the top of my to-be-read list.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley and the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2022 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Chevy at the Levee

By Lou Gallio

Lou Gallio writes this beautiful memoir of Pat, his late wife. His love for her and the life they lived together is heartwarming and interesting. In the pages of Chevy at the Levee he shares memories of their life together, that ended too soon. Her untimely death haunts the husband she left behind, with bittersweet memories and an emptiness in his heart that will never be filled. His memories are sharp and his willingness to share their life together in the pages of this book allows readers to enjoy Lou and Pat’s story.

Pat was born in Scotland. As a young woman, she finds work at the American Embassy in London as a switchboard operator. Lou meets his future wife while stationed in London in the United States Marine Corp. They soon became friends. Their journey quickly evolves into  becoming a couple and then a happy marriage with two children. It is an interesting journey traversing countries and continents.

Chevy at the Levee starts out strong. The first chapter foreshadows a problem with Pat. It seems she has something wrong, but isn’t willing to share with her husband or grown children. The suspense tugged at my mind while reading the book, knowing that something bad was going on with Pat, urging me to read one more chapter to see what would be revealed regarding her health.

By all accounts, Pat was an interesting, kind and loving person, tragically leaving this earth too soon. Closure is difficult to find when you love someone as deeply as Lou loved Pat. His life goes on, along with his two children, now adults, and the countless relatives they have in the States as well as in Scotland and other countries. But the space that Pat filled in his life will always be empty, with the exception of all of his happy memories he now holds closer to his heart.

I highly recommend this beautiful work of love and loss. Parts of the story are heart wrenching, but many more passages are full of love and laughter. Lou’s love for his wife shines through his words.

Please note that this is the second time I have reviewed this book. Originally I did not like it very much. The author rewrote much of it, turning it into the beautiful story I reviewed today.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Reedsy Discovery in exchange for a fair and honest review. You can find it here: Copyright © 2022 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Does My Body Offend You?

By Mayra Cuevas and Marie Marquardt

In 2017, amid the devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Maria in the U.S. Territory of Puerto Rico, more than 135,000 Puerto Ricans left the island, moving to the United States. Many were students, assimilating into a different culture and daily routines and expectations.

Malena, an honor student, is one of those displaced by Maria. She now lives in Miami with her mother, close to other family members that have lived there long before the upheaval in Puerto Rico. Her father stayed on the island, helping with the restoration of basic necessities such as power and water.

Life is different, but Malena is an honor student trying to learn the culture and assimilate as best she can. Things were going pretty well until the day she was so sunburn she could not wear a bra to school. Her mother insisted it would be fine to go braless, but one of the teachers thought differently. She was sent to the principal’s office and the nurse’s office. Eventually she was humiliated by the nurse insisting that she wear panty liners taped to her nipples. She was given detention because they said it was against the dress code to go braless – which eventually is found to be false. When one of the popular girls, Ruby, finds out about what happened to Malena, she begins the rebellion. Standing up for her rights was not what Malena bargained for, yet she ends up being the poster girl for the revolution.

Does My Body Offend You? Is an interesting coming of age novel for teens and adults. There are situations that would not be appropriate for younger readers. That being said, it is beautifully complex. The melding of cultures is interesting and informative. The characters are fully developed and complex. Both authors have created a seamless collaborative novel about difficult situations that will make you think of the characters and situations long after the last pages are read.

Author Myra Cuevas was born in Puerto Rico and is a professional journalist and fiction writer. Does My Body Offend You? is her second novel, the first, Salty Bitter Sweet, is a YA aswell. Award winning author Marie Marquardt is an author of young adult novels, a college professor, and an immigration advocate. Marquardt’s second novel, The Radius of Us is also a novel of Latin American teenagers seeking asylum in the United States.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from the Author and Netgalley and the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2022 Laura Hartman

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