Category Archives: Three Stars

Changing the Rules

Changing the Rules (The Sterling Woods Series Book 2) by [Charlene Johnson]

Stephanie Xavier hasn’t wanted for anything her entire life. She is privileged, spoiled, and has everything at her disposal. Her family’s wealth is well-known, and she has never had to hold a job or support herself. As perfect as her life seems, Stephanie is in need of much more. She has spent the better part of teens and young adulthood moving through meaningless short-lived relationships and has never known true love. The friendships she has made can hardly be called true. In fact, the only two women who still manage to spend time with her are as emotionally bankrupt as she is. When she makes up her mind to change her life, will the ones she wants to take with her be ready and willing?

Changing the Rules, the second book in the Sterling Wood series, by Charlene Johnson, chronicles the tempestuous life of Stephanie Xavier and her quest for a meaningful and loving relationship. After spending years bouncing from one man to the next in an effort to compete in a game based on sexual conquests, Stephanie realizes she wants love and not physical attention. Her problem is the man she wants, Craig, has been burned and is sure he can never love again–especially someone like Stephanie. He has heard the stories about her sex club and he knows she is the last person to commit. Their relationship seems doomed from the beginning. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Stephanie–as privileged as she is, she is a truly sad character.

Romance fans will revel in Johnson’s work. From cover to cover, the main characters are embroiled in one gratuitous sex scene after another. Buried within the explicit scenes is a storyline that doesn’t seem to get enough attention. The prologue set me up with some high expectations for the plot, but this was less a thriller and more of a romance. This is a plot-driven romantic suspense novel, with intense sex scenes, but I really wanted to see much more develop between Stephanie and several of the other characters.

I highly recommend Changing the Rules to any romance fan. With an element of mystery to the plot, I can see romance fans being intrigued with Stephanie’s storyline, her turbulent life, and the constant conflict she faces with Craig–she is a memorable character and definitely leaves her mark on readers.

Pages: 296 | ASIN: B08R81BYRT

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Ardent Grandeur

Ardent Grandeur

One bad work experience and a lay off is all it takes for Bryce’s life to change forever. Not only has the course of his life changed, but he has changed the direction of the lives of everyone around him. Those closest to him have no idea how much their lives will now be altered due to the decisions Bryce is making. When his rap career begins to take off, it doesn’t take long at all for the negative influences associated with that lifestyle to pull him in and ruin what he hoped would be a life of grandeur.

Ardent Grandeur, by Lynnette M. Clement, traces the career and unfortunate life choices of young Bryce. From the first moment in a recording studio to his last, Bryce is unable and, for the most part, unwilling to control his urges and say no to the many temptations around him. One by one, he brings pain and suffering to his family and the women in his life. Try as he might, Bryce falls time and time again.

Clement’s book, Ardent Grandeur, reads like a soap opera. Moving very quickly through the years, the author takes readers on a ride from the beginning of Bryce’s rap career to the tragic events that change his life forever. Written in the present tense, Clement’s work pulls readers into the lives of the characters and, at times, makes the story even more personal by turning to the reader with what feels like a second-person point of view. Bryce’s story is one readers will find fascinating and tragic and simultaneously horrifying.

While Ardent Grandeur has the makings of a wonderful realistic fiction story with a main character readers will find enthralling, there are some writing choices I could not move past. Long stretches of dialogue read more like a screenplay with little variety in sentence structure.

I found myself hoping with each subsequent chapter that Bryce would learn from his mistakes, make things right with his loved ones and stop repeating the same painful and damaging mistakes. He is one of those main characters I find exhausting because I was so emotionally invested in his character that I felt all the pain and suffering. Bryce was so authentically tragic. Ardent Grandeur is an absorbing urban fiction novel that will be hard to put down.

Pages: 242 | BN ID: 2940162735069

Jack Sterling and the Spear of Destiny

Jack Sterling and the Spear of Destiny by [Ray Griggs]

Jack Sterling and the Spear of Destiny is the first installment in a suspenseful adventure series by author Ray Griggs. The story follows marine archaeologist Jack Spears. Tormented by his fathers mysterious disappearance and following the lead of a gold coin that proved the existence of an undocumented nazi U-boat allegedly containing Hitlers Spear of Destiny; a powerful artifact that according to legend, whoever weilds it holds the power to rule the world. Unfortunately for Sterling, he’s not the only one after the Spear, as there are powerful people willing to do anything to get their hands on it. Desperate to avoid the artifact from falling into the wrong hands, and to protect his friends and family, Sterling embarks on an underwater journey to retrieve the U-boat and its contents. He faces dangerous obstacles and uncovers dark secrets that may change everything. Will Sterling be able to pull through and do what’s right, or will he fall victim to the strong pull of the ocean’s secrets?

First time author Ray Griggs really got creative on this one, a washed-up archaeologist, a magical artifact, and a dangerous foe, all blend to make quite a thrilling historical fiction novel. The incredibly original plot is filled with cliffhangers and plot-twists that always kept me guessing. While I enjoyed this story overall I felt that there was some style choices, coupled with some grammatical errors, that slowed this story down a bit.

Jack Sterling is a well defined character that is intriguing and was a character I desperately wanted to learn more about. Sterling’s long-lost childhood friend Dymitry, offered the story a great relief, but the story remains focused on our protagonist’s development through this dramatic adventure. Jack was a character whos motivations were clear and the story is definitely one that thrives with a strong protagonist. The author leaves readers with a dramatic cliffhanger that perfectly sets up a series of novels that is sure to follow in the vein of campy theatrical adventures like Indiana Jones or The Librarians. Jack Sterling and the Spear of Destiny is an ambitions historical thriller that will take readers on a unique adventure.

Pages: 275 | ASIN: B08NTWC2NW

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Hollyweird Needs

Hollyweird Needs: when monsters fell from a hole in the sky by [Michael Greco]

Michael A. Greco’s Hollyweird Needs is one of the most unique books I have ever read. The first word that came to mind as I read it was “peculiar”. From the characters to the storylines, there seems to be an eerie vibe to this book.

It follows the life of Chester, Smegman, Wordsworth, and other autistic teenagers living in a Los Angeles special need school dubbed “Special Kneads”. Although most of these teens don’t have any other caregivers, the school staff and neighbors play a huge role in their everyday lives, some even taking the place of family.

Havoc ensues in the shopping center that houses the school (Butts Plaza) when a new arcade claw game mysteriously shows up. Although the game seems harmless at first, it begins sending those who play it to the past, something that eventually results in devastating consequences. It is ultimately up to the teens to save the adults and restore order.

Not only is this book’s storyline unique but it also goes to great lengths to explain what goes on in an autistic person’s mind. I particularly appreciate the author’s efforts to not paint any of the teenagers as victims but rather as masters of their own destiny. Their individuality really did shine throughout the book.

The use of wordplay throughout the narrative is also a nice touch. For instance, the fact that that Wordsworth doesn’t speak and the claw game is called Dimensional Needs is quite a treat. But while the plot of the story is quite solid, but the execution is wanting, some dialogue seems out of place, and there seems to be a large cast of characters to keep track of. Apart from brief family history and information about their journey with autism, we didn’t get much about who the main characters were, and I really wanted to know because I found the characters interesting and wanted to know more.

With a solid concept and a large dose of creativity, Michael A. Greco’s Hollyweird Needs is an interesting science fiction story that will appeal to readers who like a little dark comedy in their urban fiction novel.

Pages: 264 | ASIN: B08SJ2XGMS

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The Power of Us

The Power of Us (Us Duology Book 1) by [Skylar Shoar]

Skylar Shoar’s The Power of Us is utterly romantic. It follows the love story of Harly, a young billionaire and Cassidy, a college freshman. Although they come from entirely different worlds, they are drawn to each other from the first day they meet, their lives becoming deeply intertwined.

Naturally, they face many challenges, some instigated by family and others by foes. But they seem to be tenacious, at least when it comes to their love. However, something much greater than people’s opinions and reactions eventually threatens to wreak havoc on their union.

If there is one thing that makes this story so relatable, it has to be its main characters. Harly and Cassidy are so well developed, so well fleshed out that you would be forgiven for believing you know them personally. By writing the story from each of their perspectives, the author brings us into their inner domain, helping us understand why they act the way they do.

Apart from their love for each other, we also get a glimpse of how their childhoods informed the current personalities and thought processes. Moreover, we encounter powerful themes like loyalty, betrayal, revenge, and the need for belonging; all things that readers can identify with. But if I was to pick one thing that I loved most about this book, it would have to be its easy-to-read language. Its sentences are simple and clear, leaving little to the imagination.

While I enjoyed this story, I would have loved a more dramatic twist at the end, and a few more interesting facets that would make the story more unique in the romance genre and keep things from being predictable. The sex scenes, while steamy, reinstated the powerful man- innocent woman dynamic where I would have loved a unique twist. 

The Power of Us is perfect for a mature audience interested in new adult romance. Readers looking for a dramatic love story with riveting scenes of love and violence will find plenty to enjoy in Skylar Shoar’s provocative novel.

Pages: 452 | ASIN: B08LQQ6CMR

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Gifted by [Walter Strychowskyj]

Wally is managing to maneuver through life one drama averted at a time. From the very beginning, he has led an exceptional life and possesses abilities like no one else around him. He is one of a select group of people in the world with highly-developed senses and a memory that never fails; his gifts are both an asset and a curse. Nothing gets by Wally and, unfortunately, everything happens to him. He has lived through his mother being killed and almost losing his dream of graduating from Harvard’s prestigious law school. Somehow, Wally always manages to persevere.

Gifted, by Walter Strychowskyj, is the story of a gifted but troubled man and the many obstacles he faces throughout his life. The primary dilemma Wally must navigate is his blossoming relationship with Elizabeth. Their romance and the drama surrounding the two of them and Wally’s nemesis, Jeffrey, permeates the story. Interspersed throughout the book are the many complications with which Wally must deal with regarding his family’s involvement in drug distribution–a thorn in Wally’s side for much of his life.

This book has great potential, but I felt that the book bounces from one storyline to another without clean breaks and I felt like there were no clear connections between them. While the characters were interesting, I felt like the characters emotions rapidly changed. I was left wanting a deep dive into each of these characters because what was given was so intriguing.

This book definitely has potential to have a riveting plot that uses parallel storylines about the family’s involvement in illegal activity.

Gifted by Walter Strychowskyj has phenomenal potential in each of the characters. With a little more cohesiveness I think this could be a stellar book that explores some deep topics through a compelling character. Readers who enjoy crime fiction stories or family drama grounded in reality will enjoy Gifted by Walter Strychowskyj.

Pages: 332 | ASIN: B08MWVPPMD

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Sanctuary (The Dark Days Series Book 2)

Sanctuary (The Dark Days Series Book 2) by [Christopher Cole]

Dark Days- Sanctuary, by Christopher Cole is the second book in his thrilling post-apocalypse book series. The book is set in a dystopian land and follows the story of a few survivors trying to sustain themselves in an undead infested world, but the story is more than survival and bloodshed. Its focus is on the relationship between the characters in the aftermath of death and its implications on the survivors. A group of people, including Sonny and his friends, are trying to find a safe sanctuary, all the while fighting the zombies. They find a safe haven in Fort Gold Rush. The city was built to protect residents from the zombies and predators secured behind walls. The sanctuary has A Good Place vibe to it, but will this blissful state last, or does fate have more adventures for them?

Sonny, our protagonist, is a 12-year-old boy trying to protect his friends and missing his own family while trying to figure out the world around him. The second protagonist is an older adult, Grim, who is on the lookout for someone to pass his knowledge to. The story revolves around the connection between the two. While Sonny is innocent and pure, Grim is cold, callous, but good at heart.

I was able to connect to the character’s point of view and I also loved the message of the story, but I felt that the structure could have been improved with some editing that would remove some of the repeat sentences and keep the story concise.

I still found myself immersed in this emotional story. The characters were intriguing, but I felt that  their actions and relationships were black and white, in a post-apocalyptic dystopian world I wanted things to be a bit more grey in areas that would allow the mind to wonder.

This book reminds me of AMC’s The Walking Dead in it’s ability to explore characters in a high stress situation, which is intriguing on its own, but then add in a bit of NBC’s The Good Place and you have a unique zombie apocalypse story the likes of which gives readers plenty to be entertained with.

I would recommend Dark Days- Sanctuary to rabid fans of the zombie apocalypse genre. Readers will find a unique story to get lost in and, with a bit of editing, this could easily be one of the best post-apocalyptic stories I’ve read this year.

Pages: 292 | ASIN: B08L84KY32

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Skies of Red Dawn

Skies of Red Dawn by [Matthew Taylor]

Matt Taylor’s Skies of Red Dawn follows Robert J. Johnathan, a retired CIA agent who is framed for traitorous actions that result in a team of comrades dying during a mission. With his own team going after him he enlists his ally, British MI6 agent Captain Liam Thomas James Sterling, on a personal mission to uncover the source of the ambush, only to find himself tangled in the midst of a dangerous terrorist plot.

Skies of Red Dawn has all the makings of a great spy thriller. It has a fast-paced narrative that keeps readers engaged, and the characters are dynamic and likable. The references to weaponry, reconnaissance language, and battleground tactics also imply that the author completed the necessary research to make this story believable.

While I enjoyed this compelling novel, I felt that there were a few punctuation and spelling errors that distracted from an otherwise stimulating read. If this book had a good proofreading, I have no doubt that this will be a top-notch book.

The story takes Johnathan and Sterling from English-speaking America to Cuba and Cyprus, where both agents encounter other individuals who speak non-English languages. As a Spanish speaker, I was able to fully understand the exchanges in Spanish. However, the exchanges in Greek left me feeling lost since I am unfamiliar with the language. The story keeps an air of authenticity in this way, but I do not feel as though I got a full understanding of each scene due to the lack of translation

Matt Taylor has written a story with action-packed narration, an intriguing spy theme, and a solid plot along with engrossing character development. With some helpful translation and proofreading I think the focus will remain on these solid pieces of storytelling. Skies of Red Dawn will be welcomed by readers that enjoy spy thrillers with an authentic feel.

Pages: 269 | ASIN: B08GM98LMB

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