Nikki reviews Wishbone by Elaine Burnes


Meg Myers is an animal control officer in the Boston area who spends her time having unemotional sexual flings with nameless women and dodging her alcoholic mother. We follow Meg as she navigates a string of emotional experiences, some positive and negative, while trying to find where she fits in the world.

This story actually didn’t pull me in for quite a while. I was starting to wonder if I would just be following around this woman while she investigated possible turkey murders and the occasional injured deer. However once it got going, it became very intriguing. In great chunks of the book, we are following Meg as she encounters different women in her life, all helping to guide her into being the woman she didn’t know she could be. All were necessary for her growth, for different reasons. We see her gift with abused/unwanted animals, but she doesn’t recognize how her work with these animals mirrors her own needs, and highlights the treatment she should have received from a damaged system in her youth. She only sees her propensity for violence as a negative, as opposed to what it really is, her desperate need to lash out at the unfairness of the world, and the injustice faced by so many innocent children that the system continues to fail.

The characterizations are really well done, with fully fleshed-out primary and secondary characters. One of my very favorite characters is a transgender female, whose parents are having a difficult time accepting her for who she truly is. It is rare that books have a believable transgender character, and I was sad she wasn’t in more of the book. However, she did fulfill a very important role, so I’m glad she got the attention and respect she deserved by the author. Honestly there were several secondary characters that I wanted to see more of, but once they moved on I only heard of them in passing. I wish there was more from them, as they all had such big impacts on Meg’s life, and brought interesting textures to the story. However I recognize that would have made the book gargantuan.

As for the familial discord faced by Meg throughout,  I felt as though rehashing the past abuse and neglect, in addition to her troubles with her mother, became a bit repetitive. Yes, I completely understand the need for this, but at some point I started skimming through those sections as I didn’t feel they brought anything new to the narrative. The book was long enough that I believe some of this could have been trimmed to make it a more efficient story. That being said, this was overall a well done book, once it finally picked up some momentum, and by the end I was glad I stuck with it.

Also FAIR WARNING this book should come with a *trigger: a dog dies* disclaimer. Meg is an animal control officer, so she experiences her fair share of animal investigations, but some were difficult to read about. If that’s a deal breaker for you, it’s better you know that now!

You can download a sample or purchase Wishbone by clicking here.

Nikki reviews Your Little Red Book by EJ Runyon


From the blurb: Alexis, a broke young artist with problems reading and writing, keeps her little red book close at all times. It holds her life. She wants to be sure she’s gotten it all down as it comes. She narrates to herself in illegible script, unaware of her unique style of recording her own world. Here we have one half of a She said/She said scenario. Maureen, a successful owner of a small chain of Art Supply stores, catches Alexis in her store with a pocket full of stolen tubes of paint. And she’s smitten from first glance. Knowing all too well the pitfalls ahead, Mo wants only to help. Only for a while. Only in any way she can. No one told her she’d have to fight nearly every step of the way. And therein lays the other half of said scenario.

Lexy meets Maureen by attempting to steal art supplies from her shop, which begins a bit of a tumultuous romance between the two that neither expected. Their alliance is somewhat unbalanced, with Lexy wanting to be worthy of attention and happiness, but not quite sure how to get there herself.

Lexy keeps a little red book and always scribbles in it, always in indecipherable code which is never explained. Is she illiterate? Severely dyslexic? I have no idea. Her second person pov is indescribably done in future tense, which feels almost as though the red book is telling her how to interact to scenarios, how other people will respond. Instead of what IS happening it’s all stated as what WILL happen. I assumed at some point this would have some fascinating twist explaining WHY this choice was made but that never happened. Is she hearing voices? Does she think the book is talking to her? Are there little green men? That would have all been viable options, but it was just left as it was without any justification for the pov choice. Maureen’s chapters are done in first person, and often rehashes what we’ve already experienced in Lexy’s pov, or vice versa. Additionally, Maureen has a difficult relationship with her daughter, and you never really can tell if her relationship with Lexy is to compensate for this loss or a truly genuine love.

By the end, I didn’t really find the characters particularly likable and couldn’t see what Maureen and Lexy saw in each other. A lot of the story was somewhat difficult to discern, and many passages I needed to re-read several times before moving on (and often still didn’t get it but I just kept going anyway). There seemed to be a lot that the author counted on the reader figuring out themselves, obscure connections that I just couldn’t follow. This and Lexy’s unconventional pov was just all too much to wade through for me.

You can download a sample or purchase Your Little Red Book by clicking here.

Nikki Reviews When it Raynes by CD Cain


Rayne Amber Storm is a recent graduate with a bachelor’s in biology, on a summer break at home in Louisiana before starting medical school. She spends her days with her beloved Meemaw while dodging her mother’s schemes to marry her off. Throughout the narrative, Rayne is struggling with her self-identity and how she fits in the world, but nothing seems to ever grow from that, and a satisfactory resolution to these issues is missing. She’s questioning her sexuality and relationships, but she’s passive in how she handles both. The secondary characters are poorly developed, Grant in particular. He serves as a one-dimensional obstacle without the benefit of interesting characteristics. In addition, Rayne seems to have trouble communicating her feelings, which stagnated many of the interactions in the book for me.

The strongest relationship is clearly with Meemaw, the one person Rayne always turns to as a mother figure, and my favorite character in the story by far. She is a no-nonsense lady who loves her granddaughter unconditionally, which Rayne seems to be lacking elsewhere in her life. However, the relationship with Rayne’s mother (Charlie Grace) confused me a bit. Rayne spent much time complaining about how poorly they got along, including how Charlie Grace attempted to rule her life. However, the interactions between them described within the context of the story seemed unremarkable, and not particularly angsty. Charlie Grace buys her a brand new jeep for graduation, wants her to get married to a nice guy, and go to church, much like every mother in America. I had a difficult time seeing much reason for any antagonism, and Rayne’s strong reactions to her felt melodramatic as a result.

This book required a much more thorough editing, and at some point I actually wondered if it had been edited at all. Punctuation is sometimes missing (or misused) but more noticeable are the frequently repeated phrasing and words throughout. There were times when strikingly similar sentences were written directly following each other, which should have been caught. Additionally, the dialogue needs work to improve its consistency. The preponderance of casual Louisiana dialect spelled out phonetically isn’t a problem, per se, but it is not uniform, jumping in and out of using contractions somewhat arbitrarily. Meemaw in particular would randomly not use contractions, making her suddenly sound very formal and out of character.

The writing itself is problematic, particularly in the overly flowery language that lacks execution and comes across as nonsensical metaphors. I’ll put some examples here so you can see what I mean:

– “The wants of his desire were evident in his state and needed not to be expressed with words.”

-During a dancing scene, “Charlie Grace appeared escalated into a world of freedom found in a rhythmic beat.”

-“My body stirred again as I realized a warmth with the stinging of the vision behind my closed eyes.”

-“I couldn’t be too judgmental of his ambition as I too had never focused on the present for my vision of the future”

Those lines made my brain slam on the brakes and re-read them multiple times, which caused the flow of the story to feel disjointed. It’s not just wordy, it’s mixed metaphors that don’t particularly fit in the way they are presented. I’m a huge fan of flowery descriptions, and writing with a lyrical and poetic bent, when done masterfully. However, it missed the mark in this book, and that should have been reigned in significantly. As Mark Twain said, “don’t use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do,” and I’m betting Meemaw would agree with him.

You can download a sample or purchase When It Raynes (Chambers of the Heart Book 1) by clicking here.

Sunny Reviews Nudge by Sandra Moran


I finished reading Nudge by Sandra Moran over a week ago, but I’ve been holding off writing this review because I really want it to be worthy of the book. I probably should have turned this one over to another reviewer with a more eloquent vocabulary and better grasp of such thought provoking subjects. It’s a book with lots of what I like to call thinky-thoughts. It’s also a book I highly recommend. I may not be the most articulate reviewer, but I know good writing when I read it.

I also try really hard when writing a review to avoid spoilers. There are parts of this book that will be very hard to discuss without giving away some of the mystery, but I’ll do my best not to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t read it. I’m giving you fair warning: there may be minor spoilers ahead. On that note, if you decide not to read any further than this paragraph, let me just say that this is an incredibly thought provoking book and I really enjoyed it. Go read it. Soon. Then come back here and discuss it with me!

On to the book… Sarah Sheppard is a New York advertising executive who is approached by a mysterious visitor asking her, at the request of God (also known as Infinity by those in the inner circle), to write, edit, and market to the masses an addendum to the world’s religious texts. The Addendum, as it becomes officially known, is to be an addition to the Bible, the Quran, the Book of Mormon, etc., to bring the world up-to-date on happenings and events after those original texts were written. Sarah, of course, thinks this is one big joke and refuses the offer. Things begin to happen, just as her mysterious visitor predicts they would, that baffle Sarah and make her second guess her decision. Then really strange things begin to happen that convince Sarah that she’s dealing with something beyond her level of comprehension. Oh, did I mention that Sarah is an atheist? Yeah, there is that little fact that really makes things interesting for her. She ends up begrudgingly signing a comprehensive contract to take on this daunting task, and is then whisked off to a remote estate in upstate New York. There she joins other scholars and theologians hand-picked in various fields of expertise to help her in her mission.

The book begins with a prologue that is really the final scene, so you sort of know where things are going to end up right off the bat. Sort of. When we actually get to that scene, we learn a lot more, but I found it to be a really interesting way to start off the book. I was amazed at the amount of research that went into this story as well as the amount of historical knowledge that was imparted in what I found to be a very interesting and palatable way. I’m not a huge fan of historical fiction, but this was done in a way that made it very readable and contributed a lot to the story. There are a lot of amusing little tidbits that make the book relatable and bring about a few chuckles. For instance, Sarah has daily meetings with Infinity via speakerphone much like Charlie ‘appeared’ to his Angels. Oh, and butter rum lifesavers… you’ll see.

I happened to see another short review of this book that criticized it because it wasn’t a ‘lesfic romance’ as the reader had expected. I could take issue with down-grading a rating just because a book wasn’t what you expected, rather than judging it on what it actually is, but that’s another discussion for another day. However, it prompts me to give you another warning: if you’re expecting hearts, flowers, and romance, you won’t really find that here. What you will find, behind its really cool cover art, is a very well-crafted tale that may make you question your own beliefs and wonder if people really are who they say they are.

So, what are you waiting for? Here’s a nudge: go read this book!

You can download a sample or purchase Nudge by clicking here.

Aftermath by Ann McMan


I was lucky enough to get a review copy of this book from the author, who I love talking with and have had the opportunity to do so twice on the Cocktail Hour podcast. I tell you this because I want to be upfront with the fact that I got a free copy of Aftermath to read for the review AND that I genuinely like the author. I also want you to know that I have no issues with calling bullshit if it’s there to be called and have done so while talking with Ms. McMan on the show. More than once. Just wanted to get any thoughts of sugar-coating out of the way before you read any further. Ok. Ready? Here we go!

Aftermath picks up over a year after Jericho ends. That’s right, just in case you missed it, Aftermath is a sequel to Jericho, Ann’s first published book. All of our favorite characters are back, Maddie and Syd, David and Michael, Roma Jean, Celine, and, of course, little Henry. There are a few new characters introduced, too. My favorite is Charlie Davis. Ok, moving on with the review…

Jericho is hit with a massive tornado which destroys much of the town and while everyone is trying to put their lives back together, Maddie and Syd are hit with a few extra issues. Syd’s soon to be ex-husband has decided at the last minute that he wants to contest the grounds for divorce – his infidelities – and Henry’s father is coming home from Afghanistan. But Maddie and Syd aren’t the only ones in town dealing with changes and revelations. Roma Jean is realizing some things about herself, David and Michael each have some new interests and business ventures, and Henry is dreaming of what life will be like when his daddy comes to live with him at Maddie and Syd’s.

As with all of Ms. McMan’s work, there’s more humor and witty banter than you can shake one of Nadine’s chicken legs at. There are a few things that really stand out to me, the first being the foreword written by David Jenkins. Yes, David from the book provides us with a summary of what’s already happened so we’re not lost if we haven’t read Jericho in a while. And I hadn’t so it was helpful. It was also funny and I loved the way that Ann, through David, pokes fun at the weaker plot points from the first book. Another stand out moment, humor-wise, is David explaining fan fiction to Maddie and comparing her and Syd to Cagney and Lacey. Maddie, objecting to that pairing, suggests Xena and Gabrielle and then, a few minutes later, a more current version with Rizzoli and Isles. I know several of my friends who will be happy to know that the term “Rizzles” wasn’t used anywhere in the book.

There was a much more serious side to Aftermath, too. I’m not ashamed to admit that there’s a scene near the end of the book that forced a few tears to run down my cheeks. Most of the heavy emotions revolve around the imminent departure of Henry from their home but Syd and Maddie are dealing with a lot of stress and turmoil. They’re not the only ones, of course, but for me they’re the focal point of the book, and I think they will be for many readers.

Here’s the bottom line, I truly enjoyed Aftermath. I believe I enjoyed it more than Jericho and I very much enjoyed that book. There are some wonderfully funny images and exchanges but there are also some very serious moments that made me sit back and stop reading for a few minutes; just sit back and think about what was going on and about how I would respond in a similar situation. The scenes describing the tornado ripping through the county – particularly the one involving Maddie and Henry – were intense and very well done.

I don’t really have any bullshit to call but I will say this: I love Ann’s more serious themes and conversations. Yes, I love fun, quick-witted humor and Ann does that in a way few others can. But I also love it when characters struggle and hurt and deal with life and I think Ann does that very well, too. We see it here in Aftermath but sometimes the humor seems to diminish the importance or duration, maybe, of the emotion the characters are experiencing or the seriousness of the situation. It lets us, and the characters, off the hook too soon, I think. I’m not sure I’m explaining this well enough but I hope you get the gist of what I’m trying to get across. It could be that I’m an angst junkie and just am not happy until someone cries. Regardless, Aftermath is a great read and I recommend it.

Now, go pick up a copy of Aftermath. If you enjoyed any of Ann McMan’s previous work, you’ll love this one. And if you don’t, I’m sure Ann can arrange for you to receive one of Peggy’s lemon chess pies to make up for it.

If you haven’t read all of Ann’s books, which I highly recommend you do, you can click here to see Ann’s Amazon author page.