Bonus Book Review – Girl Desecrated (Cheryl Cowtan)

I know I’ve already posted a book reveiw this week . . . but I just finished a book by a new-to-me author and wanted to share!

Rachel has grown up with a fanatically religious mother who believes her daughter is possessed. While visiting her mother in the asylum, Rachel is befriended by Dr. Casbus who offers Rachel psychiatric help to deal with what appears to be a “split personality.” But is Dr. Casbus really who he claims to be? And is Rachel dealing with mental illness or something far worse?

A highland curse from the 1800’s rears it’s ugly head to completely alter Rachel’s life. Her mother’s fear of a demon wasn’t terribly far off the mark and Rachel’s encounter with an irresistibly handsome Scotsman sets in motion a terrifying change in Rachel that she is determined to fight against.

Cowtan uses carefully placed, well-crafted flashbacks to help with the backstory here. Jumping from the colonial era in the Jamestown settlement to the 1980s in Canada, we are given glimpses into the life of an otherworldly creature referred to as The Fergus She – also known as Scarlett – as well as Rachal Anam, just turned 18. Cowtan does a beautiful job keeping her reader guessing about the connection between the two women until the inevitable reveal near the end of the book. As the truth is revealed, the reader is left facing a well-crafted cliffhanger and wondering what will happen in the second book. The characters are complex and well-thought-out. I was drawn into Rachel’s story and I love it when an author can make me care about a character, flaws and all. This was definitely a worthwhile read and I can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel.

Book Review – Where She Belongs (Kaitlin Cooke)

Amelia is living her dream – dancing ballet in New York City. But when her father dies unexpectedly, she retreats to the small town in Texas where she grew up and the waiting arms of her first love. Amelia and her father had moved away shortly after Amelia’s mother died after being thrown from her horse. Now that she’s back, Dawson isn’t sure what to do. If she ever finds out what he does for a living, she’ll be furious and he could lose her forever. But with a dancing career waiting for her in New York City, how long will she stick around anyway?

A freak accident leaves Dawson badly injured and Amelia determined to stay by his side. His stubbornness collides with her desire to help, angry words are exchanged, and Amelia returns to New York City before Dawson has even left the hospital. Both of them try to move but neither is truly interested in dating anyone else. An offer from an even larger company seems like a dream come true when Amelia realizes she could still dance with both ballet companies. But the demands of rehearsal and busy schedule begin to take a toll on her health. When Dawson surprises her by coming to a performance, he can tell that she’s not dancing as flawlessly as she usually does and expresses his concern. Amelia rebuffs him and sends him away. But she can’t help wondering – why isn’t she enjoying dancing like she used to?

I have a soft spot in my book-loving heart for romance novels. Every now and then, I need a book where the guy gets the girls and happily ever after is a thing! This one stands out from many others I’ve read for a couple of key reasons. Many romance novels generate conflict through a love triangle filled with misunderstandings or past histories that come between our leading man and leading lady. That isn’t the case here. Dawson and Amelia are deeply in love with each other. Both of them attempt to move on with new relationships after things fall apart. But neither one is truly happy without the other.

Another common trope in the romance genre is to have one character rescue the other. Again, the author chose to go a different way. Both Dawson and Amelia find themselves in a place where they are vulnerable. Both of them try to push themselves harder than they should because of their passion for what they are doing. And both have to confront the fact that sometimes the human body just needs healing and rest. Because of this, neither of them come across as the hero. If anything, they rescue each other.

One thing that I especially enjoyed about the book – Dawson rides bulls in the rodeo (and he’s good!) while Amelia is a talented ballerina (frequently dancing the lead/solo parts). When describing either activity – both of which I have watched in person – Cooke’s descriptions were so beautifully crafted – down to the smallest detail – that I could almost see it. This one is definitely worth the read.

Acting Up – School Shows!

I live in a small town that has a big city love of the performing arts. With three community theater companies, two high schools and a community college with active performing arts programs, two museums and a variety of community music groups that perform regularly, the arts community has options!

Iowa Central Community College will be featuring a show written by Aaron Westrum who is himself an alum. The show is titled “Falling Awake” and opens this Thursday under the direction of my talented friend, Teresa Jackson. I had the opportunity to meet Aaron at a director’s workshop this summer – he’s a fellow musical theather director in an Iowa high school! – and it was such fun to hear his excitement. The show, in a nutshell, is about a girl who is in a coma but wakes up in a sort of “holding place”.

Fort Dodge Senior High presents “A Little Piece of Heaven” on November 1st and 2nd. The story is centered on a curiosity shop that always seems to have exactly what each customer needs. Even if they don’t know they need it. Students are hard at work bringing this touching story to life.

Whether you live in Fort Dodge, Iowa, or not do some digging and go out and support the performing arts departments at your local schools. Trust me – the performers will appreciate having you there!

Book Review

Tosca Lee once again crafts a story that keeps you breathlessly turning pages until the very end. And then it leaves you wanting more.

We meet Wynter Roth in the middle of her story – she’s being forcibly removed from The Enclave, the home of the cult known as New Earth. She leaves with one goal in mind – to return and rescue her sister Jaclyn and Jaclyn’s daughter Truly. There’s just one problem – Jaclyn is married to the leader of New Earth, a man named Magnus. And he’s the one kicking Wynter out into the world that he has taught his followers to fear. Thankfully, she’s barely past the boundary of New Earth when she is met by an old family friend, Julie, who is determined to help Wynter get her bearings. Julie and her husband Ken let Wynter move into the apartment over their garage and they make arrangements for her to see a therapist when she becomes overwhelmed by all the sudden change in her life.

The outside world is a strange place to Wynter. She’s never used a smart phone, watched television, or “surfed” the internet. And the world she’s entered is facing a serious problem that is only just becoming apparent. Numerous people are struggling with what seems to be an early-onset form of dementia and the doctors are baffled as to the cause. Especially because it seems to be contagious. To make matters worse, the power is going out and the gas stations are running out of fuel. Outside forces using the health scare to their advantage perhaps?

Beautifully weaving flashbacks together with Wynter’s current experiences, Lee takes the reader on an emotional ride through the events that led to Wynter’s expulsion from the Enclave and places her squarely at the center of a national health crisis. She reconnects with a former cult member that had supposedly died and even gets a chance to see her sister (outside of the Enclave) who entrusts her with the monumental task of transporting precious cargo that could hold the answer to curing the epidemic that is sweeping the nation. Along the way, she meets Chase, a former Marine who makes it his personal mission to help Wynter make her very important trip (once he forces the truth out of her, that is). And that former cult member? She introduces Wynter and Chase to Noah who has gone to great lengths to provide a safe, secure hideaway for just the type of crisis currently taking place.

Underlying all of this is Wynter’s own personal struggle to figure out just what or who is worth believing in. As a child, Wynter’s faith in Magnus and his teaching was firm and unwavering. In her adult years, she learns things about Magnus that cause her to question everything she once believed. So is she really sorry to be leaving when Magnus casts her out? And just exactly how does Jaclyn, the wife of The Prophet, come into possession of items that could prove invaluable to the CDC in treating and stopping what is shaping up to be a pandemic?