Owl Manor—The Final Stroke (Owl Manor: Book 3) by Zita Harrison

Publisher: Zealous Arts Publishing

Date of publication: August 10th, 2022

Genre: Gothic, Horror

Series: Owl Manor Trilogy

Owl Manor: The Dawning—Book 1 (review here)

Owl Manor: Abigail—Book 2 (review here)

Owl Manor: The Final Stroke—Book 3

Purchase Links: Amazon

Goodreads Synopsis:

For a quarter of a century, the horrors at Owl Manor have been buried under dust and decay, forgotten and unheard.

Then Dolores hears the whispers.

Dolores, a young artist, feels the pain all around her. It is the subject of her paintings. Strangely, once the pain is on her canvas, it diminishes.

A fated encounter takes her and her two best friends to Owl Manor in the Rocky Mountains. Ignoring the rumors of a gruesome past and ghosts, they take up residence. What’s the worst that could happen?

But it is the past that has summoned Dolores.

The owls begin to circle the sky again. The whispers get louder, seeping into each of their souls. And Dolores, besieged by the pain of brutal murders in the manor’s history, has no choice but to paint.

For the lives of those close to her hang in the balance.

Inspired by authors like Edgar Allan Poe (The Raven), Daphne du Maurier (Jamaica Inn), and Shirley Jackson (The Haunting of Hill House), Owl Manor – the Final Stroke is the third and final book in the Owl Manor trilogy of Gothic Suspense novels. It follows Owl Manor – the Dawning and Owl Manor – Abigail.


First Line:

My worn books squelched through mud and grit as I trudged down the main thoroughfare of a town.

Owl Manor—The Final Stroke by Zita Harrison

I cannot stress this enough (and I have mentioned it a few times in the previous two reviews for this series), I cannot read Gothic/horror without my husband being home. After finishing this book, I couldn’t close my eyes without seeing several of Dolores’s paintings, Kitty’s theater, or even Rachel’s descent into madness. I was so unnerved by this book, and that was a good thing!!!

Owl Manor—The Final Stroke is the 3rd book in the Owl Manor trilogy. While you can read this as a standalone book, I recommend reading books 1 and 2 first. That way, you can learn about the events that lead up to this book and how they influenced the events that take place in this book.

The author did write a forward to the book explaining how it was written. This book is written in language that was common for the time. She explained that the language combines British English and frontier dialect but is moving towards an informal American dialect. She cited a website (etymobline.com) that she used in her research to make sure it was as authentic as possible.

Owl Manor—The Final Stroke takes place around 30 years after the events of Abigail and around 50ish years after The Dawning. Dolores, Kitty, and Rachel are three friends looking for a place to open a combination restaurant/theater/art gallery. Dolores finds a carved owl at a local fair, and the seller, a young boy, tells her it is from a mansion in the mountains outside of Denver. After seeing the estate, they decide to buy it and renovate it back to its former glory. But, once living there, Dolores (an empath) starts painting pictures of murdered women, the victims of Rafe Bradstone. Her dreams reach a fever pitch as women are being murdered in Denver, and she is compelled to paint them. With Kitty going down a path that includes opium use and promiscuity and Rachel spiraling down into madness, Dolores needs to get to the heart of the mystery, Owl Manor. But can she do it in time to save herself and her friends? Or will they end up being more victims of Owl Manor?

I loved Dolores’s character. She was your typical turn-of-the-century artsy girl who dreamed of doing nothing but her art. She was also an empath who used her art to channel the pain of what she was feeling to canvas. So, when she started having nightmares and was compelled to paint them, it wasn’t new to her. But what was new was how graphic and terrifying the paintings were. The author could take Dolores’s initial feelings and expand on them. Dolores became alarmed at what she was doing. She did try to stop (the scene where she tried to burn the painting will be forever etched in my head) but couldn’t. I was terrified for her when she started painting murders that had just happened. I am going to stop there because of spoilers.

I liked Kitty’s character, but I was not too fond of the turn she took. She had a great vision for her theater, and I thought her first two shows were great. But then, she listened to Cecil, and everything turned. She went from this bright, vibrant girl to someone I didn’t even recognize. It saddened me and made her suspect when prostitutes were being killed in Denver.

I was not too fond of Rachel. She rubbed me the wrong way the entire book. I wasn’t surprised when she started hearing (and eventually seeing) Rafe. I wasn’t surprised by her attitude towards Kitty or how she refused to listen to Dolores. I did, however, think it was interesting that she was the one who looked up Owl Manor’s past, and she was the one who found Rafe’s letters to his father. I did feel bad for her in the end, mainly because she ended up being a pawn in something much bigger than her.

I enjoyed reading the storyline with Dolores, the girls, and their business. I was fascinated to see how it would do. Despite what was going on and how everything turned out, I was still rooting for them to succeed.

The storyline with Dolores and her paintings was frightening. I didn’t blame her for being as scared or fighting it as she was. I knew her paintings connected to Rafe, but I wasn’t sure what the connection was. I thought she might have been Abigail’s daughter, but that was dashed relatively early in the book.

Kitty’s storyline was a little frightening. It showcased how someone like Cecil could easily lead someone as naive as Kitty down the wrong path. Her 180 change of morals and attitude didn’t help with that conception either. I admit that I thought it was Kitty doing the killing until almost the end.

Rachel’s storyline was sad to read. While I didn’t like her, I did think that she had a valid point about being so angry early on in the book. But, as Rafe’s spirit drew her in, I could see her falling down that rabbit hole. I was verbally yelling “No” as she started acting more erratic.

The storyline with Rafe, Eva, and the ghosts was terrifying. I felt terrible for Rafe and the fact that, even in death, he was lost without Eva. So, having that part of the storyline wrapped up the way it did make sense. But the other part of the storyline, the one with the ghosts of the women he murdered, was chilling. I understood that they wanted their stories told, but possession was a little too far in my eyes.

The storyline with the killer was interesting. There were quite a few characters to pick from, and I felt that any of them (except Dolores) could have been the killer. Heck, I even had Gabriel on the shortlist!!

I felt that the author wrote the horror angle of Owl Manor—The Final Stroke amazingly. I was creeped out by what was happening in the manor. I was also creeped out by what was happening mentally and physically to the girls.

There was a slight romance angle to the book that I wasn’t too fond of. But, it didn’t get in the way of the main storylines, and it did add some extra depth to Dolores’s character arc.

The end of Owl Manor—The Final Stroke was interesting. I had chills reading it!! I loved how the author wrapped up the storyline of Rafe and Eva. I also liked how she wrapped up Dolores, Kitty, and Rachel’s storylines. As for the killer, I was shocked at who it ended up being. That person didn’t even make my “who is the killer” list or was even on my radar.

I would recommend Owl Manor—The Final Stroke to anyone over 21. There are sexual situations, mild language, and violence. There is also drug use (Kitty taking opiates) and forced sexual encounters (again, Kitty during the last of her theater dates).


If you enjoyed reading Owl Manor—The Final Stroke, you will enjoy these books:

Owl Manor: Abigail (Owl Manor: Book 2) by Zita Harrison

Publisher: Zealous Arts Publishing

Date of Publication: August 13th, 2020

Genre: Gothic, Horror

Series: Owl Manor

Owl Manor—The Dawning: Book 1 (review here)

Owl Manor—Abigail: Book 2

Owl Manor—The Final Stroke: Book 3

Purchase Links: Amazon | Indigo

Goodreads Synopsis:

14 years ago, Owl Manor trembled with echoes of madness, mysterious deaths, and marauding owls.

In 1870, Abigail fled the horror of Owl Manor with her fiancé, Peter. But she carried with her the terrible notion that she is unworthy of love, instilled by her reluctant mother. If her own mother could not love her, how would anyone else?

She trusts no one and keeps herself buried in a crypt of churning emotions, away from the world. Deep inside, her soul screams at the thought of dying alone and unloved.

Now she is back. Abandoned at the altar, and with nowhere to go, she returns to Owl Manor. Thus begin the nightmares of violent rage and destruction, ghostly images.

What really happened 14 years ago?

Enter Victor, the complete opposite of Peter, yet frighteningly familiar at times.

And the owls circle the sky once again.


First Line:

The white owl sat on the gnarled limb of a tree, deep in the gloom of the woods, its ghostly feathers frothy in the cold.

Owl Manor—Abigail by Zita Harrison

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked Owl Manor: The Dawning. So, picking up Owl Manor—Abigail was easy for me. And I am glad that I did because this book was just as fantastic as the first book.

Owl Manor—Abigail starts 14 years after the events of Owl Manor—The Dawning. Abigail, raised by the remaining staff at Owl Manor, is now a young lady. Living in New York City, she is engaged to Peter, an up-and-coming lawyer. But, when Peter gets cold feet and leaves Abigail at the altar, she returns to Denver and Owl Manor. After opening a long-term boarding house at the manor, Abigail is introduced to an exciting group of people. Victor, a boarder, has caught Abigail’s eye. But there is something very unsettling and something familiar about Victor. Abigail doesn’t have time to dwell on that because the owls have returned and, with them, murder. Who has riled the owls up, and what is that person’s connection to the house? Will Abigail, her staff, and her boarders survive a murderer in their midst?

Owl Manor—Abigail is the second book in the Owl Manor trilogy. While you don’t need to read book 1 to understand what is going on in this book, I do highly recommend reading it. The backstories of Abigail, Patty, and the house are quickly explained, but reading book one will give you some insight into what is going on in this book.

I felt terrible for Abigail in this book. Her mother’s neglect turned Abigail into a person who was afraid to open herself up. I was internally cursing Eva for what she did to that poor girl. I did think that Abigail was a little rude during the book. There were several scenes where she berated servants and her boarders for talking about ghosts. But there was a reason behind her doing it: Abigail didn’t want that gossip attached to her boardinghouse. She was trying to run a respectable business, and that gossip would turn people away. When Abigail started getting involved with Victor, I was happy. I felt that she could finally be happy. The author decimated that idea in the next chapter—all I could do after that was read and see where and how her story would end.

I thought Victor was an interesting character to read. I understood why he wanted to keep his identity a secret at first. He was trying to figure out who Abigail was and why she ended up with Rafe’s money and house. I think his feelings for Abigail were true in the beginning. But, as the book went on, his slow slide into madness was genuinely riveting. The author weaved his story around Rafe’s so that they became the same, and I loved it!!

The love triangle between Peter, Abigail, and Victor was interesting. I wasn’t a big fan of Peter when he showed up. The guy left Abigail at the altar and stewed for months afterward, trying to figure out his feelings. I was 100% team Victor until one of the servants overheard some interesting information at the local pub. At that point, I was content to sit back and see how the author would unfold this triangle. And I wasn’t disappointed!!

The storyline about the manor, what happened before, and how it was connected to the murders was amazingly written. That storyline was one of the main reasons why I couldn’t put the book down. I couldn’t figure out who the murderer was. I thought it was someone else until that person was killed. And when the author revealed who it was, I couldn’t believe it.

The horror angle of the book was well written. This book kept me up at night (after I finished it). I kept thinking about Owl Manor and how evil it was. I couldn’t understand why Abigail didn’t take the advice in the end. I know I would have.

There is a paranormal element to the book that is amazing. The author took your typical haunted house/possession and made it her own. The parallels between the first book were uncanny, and hearing Rafe asking for Eva (through Victor) was chilling. And it got even more chilling as the book went on.

I wasn’t surprised at the end of Owl Manor—Abigail. But I was surprised at who survived and how a specific person met his end. The way the author ended the book, I knew there was going to be a book 3, and I was very excited to read it.

I would recommend Owl Manor—Abigail to anyone over 16. There is violence, mild language, and no sexual situations (other than some kissing).


If you enjoyed Owl Manor—Abigail, you will enjoy these books:

Owl Manor: The Dawning (Owl Manor: Book 1) by Zita Harrison

Publisher: Zealous Arts Publishing

Date of publication: October 15th, 2018

Genre: Gothic, Horror

Series: Owl Manor

Owl Manor: The Dawning—Book 1

Owl Manor: Abigail—Book 2

Owl Manor: the Final Stroke—Book 3

Purchase Links: Amazon | AbeBooks | Alibris | Indigo

Goodreads Synopsis:

A tale of unspeakable murder, a doomed alliance, and retribution from the beyond
Sometimes the tide sweeps us into a fog where dark forces are at work…suddenly good and evil become blurred. Powerless and defenseless, we swim toward it, and wonder if we’re going mad.

Eva is born in the wrong era. In 1800s America, women are required to obey their husbands without question and to submit to their presumed superiority. But Eva wants more. Willful and ambitious, she considers herself equal to men. But the times are unrelenting, and it is her curse to remain unheard.

Rafe is a misogynist. Born of a demented mother who shattered his childhood and family, he is forever tormented by a scathing mistrust of women.

The tide brings them together at Owl Manor, a place shrouded in darkness, forsaken by the sun. A place where owls breathe in the very fabric of the walls, and shadows wander the passages. Where good and evil blur.

Will Eva make the right choice?

Owl Manor – the Dawning, the first in a trilogy of Gothic suspense novels, is inspired by authors such as Daphne du Maurier (Jamaica Inn), Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Shadow of the Wind), Shirley Jackson (The Haunting of Hill House).


First Line:

The owl appeared from nowhere, its ivory wings billowing like a ghostly cloak against the dusky sky.

Owl Manor: The Dawning by Zita Harrison

Horror, mainly the gothic subgenre, is something that I tend to stay away from when reading for pleasure and reading for reviews. I can get easily unnerved by what I am reading, and with my husband traveling 2-3 days a week, I have learned to stay away from those genres. But with him being home (new job=more at home time), I decided to take a chance and read Owl Manor. I am glad that I did because this book was incredibly creepy and very heartbreaking at the same time.

Owl Manor: The Dawning is book 1 in the Owl Manor series. This is the first book in the series, so there will be no gentle suggestions about reading the previous books.

Owl Manor: The Dawning had exciting storylines. There was Eva’s storyline. Raised by her aunt and uncle, Eva is a headstrong, intelligent young woman determined to make it in a man’s world. But then she gets pregnant, is forced to marry a man beneath her station, and is turned bitter by these events. But, Eva is a dutiful wife and mother who follows her husband to Denver (in Kansas territory) during the gold rush. In Denver, she finds mind-numbing poverty. After her husband becomes ill from working in the mines, Eva is forced to find employment. She is offered a job as a maid at Owl Manor, a mansion decorated with owls in the Rocky Mountains. What Eva finds at Owl Manor is a home and a companion with its mysterious owner.

The second storyline is about Rafe. Rafe is a wealthy Englishman who is damaged. His deranged mother abused him, and he was also forced to witness his father being humiliated by his mother. After his mother leaves Rafe and his father, Rafe is dealt the blow of finding his father after committing suicide. Then, Rafe vowed to kill any woman who was a harlot (aka a prostitute). He thinks that by killing them, he is doing the world a favor. Moving from London to the States for school, Rafe settles in Morganton, NC, and continues his killing spree. He then moves to Denver and builds a mansion in the mountains. Rafe also continues killing. But, this time, something mystical happened, and owls started attacking Rafe whenever he left the house. Soon housebound and covered with scars, Rafe starts having manic moments where he destroys his study and bedroom. That stops when he meets Eva. Taken with Eva, Rafe can forget the horror of his past and suppress his urges to kill. But that only lasts a little while before Rafe has the desire to kill again. Everything comes to a head when Eva discovers Rafe’s secret. What will happen to Eva? What will happen to Rafe? Will his secret be kept at Eva’s expense, or will something terrible happen?

I wouldn’t say I liked Eva for most of the book. I don’t know if the author intended the reader to dislike her, but I did. Eva was very unpleasant until she went to Owl Manor. She was an inattentive mother who discussed why she didn’t want children in front of Abigail (yes, that led to issues). Eva blamed her husband for her financial straights, yet she did nothing (except beg and consider prostitution) until she was offered a job at Owl Manor. But, when she got to Owl Manor, there was a gradual change in her attitude towards life and her family. Her attitude toward life improved, but it worsened for her family. Those scenes where she visited her sick husband were tough to read. Even when she was elevated to companion/mistress to Rafe, I was still “meh” about her. But it wasn’t until the very end of the book that I started to feel bad for her. She had gotten herself and her family into a situation that would be impossible to escape. I wasn’t surprised at what happened to her at the end.

I felt terrible for Rafe, but I wouldn’t say I liked his actions. He was shaped by what his mother did and his father’s inaction. It was a classic case of nature vs. nurture, with nature winning this round. I firmly believe that if he had been treated better by his mother, he wouldn’t have gone down the path he did. I did find his reaction to Eva a little heartbreaking. In those scenes, you could see who he could have become if he hadn’t been abused or witnessed everything he did.

I found the use of the owls in Owl Manor very creepy. It unsettled me a little when the author explained that souls used owls to fly to the Underworld. I got chills whenever there was a scene where owls were involved. They were hanging out on the house, waiting for Rafe to come out, and then would attack him, sending chills through me.

The horror angle was well written. The author was able to scare the heck out of me by insinuating things. A drape that moved or a reflection in the glass. I got goosebumps just reading those passages!!

The end of Owl Manor was a mess. I don’t mean a mess writing-wise (nope, the author was spot on with that), but a mess with everything that happened. Also, add that what happened to Rafe at the end was anti-climactic. I was left shaken by what happened and looking forward to reading book 2!!

I would recommend Owl Manor: The Dawning to anyone over 21. There is violence, mild language, and very mild, non-graphic, sexual situations/scenes.


If you liked Owl Manor: The Dawning, you will enjoy these books.

The Urban Boys: Discovery of the Five Senses by K.N. Smith

Publisher: Two Petals Publishing

Date of Publication: September 15th, 2015

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal, Adventure, Action, Urban Fantasy, Supernatural, Thriller, Mystery, Contemporary

Purchase Links: Amazon | AbeBooks | Alibris | Powells | Indigo | BetterWorldBooks

Goodreads Synopsis:

Welcome or unwelcome. Fate has arrived.

A suspenseful incident in a forbidden preserve heightens the senses of five friends. Sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell become super-gifts that forever change the world. But furious battles confront the boys as they try to understand their sensory super powers in a race to save mankind. With light beings and mysterious strangers complicating their plight, can the boys defeat the evil Druth before it’s too late? Get prepared for the twisting and grinding of this award-winning, action-adventure story — an edge-of-your-seat narrative for young and mature readers alike.


First Line:

An alluring midnight seeped through the preserve, where huge, wavy leaves dances beneath the moonlight.

The Urban Boys: Discovery of the Five Senses by K.N. Smith

Fantasy has been one of my go-to genres to read since I was a child. I remember reading The Hobbit for the first time and thinking, “I like this!” But I wasn’t a contemporary or urban fantasy fan until I was a little older. And when I say a little bit, I mean in my late 30’s, lol. But, once I started reading them, I liked that subgenre. When I was approached to read/review The Urban Boys, I considered how I felt about the genre/subgenre and decided to accept the invite. I am glad I did because this book was a great read.

The Urban Boys had an exciting and somewhat complex plotline. Five boys acquire magical powers that affect their five senses. They also learn that they are responsible for keeping a peaceful alien race secret and protecting the human race from a being determined to enslave them. But it isn’t easy because the boys need to learn how to control their powers and work together. Can they do that? Can they overcome Druth and save the world?

The pacing of The Urban Boys went from fast to medium and back to fast. It didn’t bother me because I could keep up with the shifting pacing. Plus, when it did shift, it allowed me to take a breather (as a reader) and process everything that had happened up to that point.

I loved that there were five teenage boys (all of various ethnic backgrounds) as the heroes/main characters of the book. The author did something I considered difficult and gave each boy a distinct personality. So, if the book shifted to that character, I immediately knew who it was.

As stated, each of the boys acquired a heightened sense that turned them into superheroes (for lack of a better word). They are (in no particular order):

  • Hearing—Jordan
  • Sight—Kinsu
  • Touch—Chase
  • Smell—Rhee
  • Taste—Alex

I enjoyed reading as the boys discovered what had happened to them. It was interesting to read each boy’s response. The responses went from thinking it was cool to wishing they never had it.

The villain in this story was an evil person, but I felt terrible for him simultaneously. He felt neglected by his parents and forgotten by people that mattered to him. But, it doesn’t excuse what he did. He used the powers he was given by the Naculeans and exploited them. He turned that power into a weapon of destruction and used it to hurt countless people.

There were a lot of secondary characters in The Urban Boys. I did have a minor issue keeping them straight until I realized I could make notes of them on my Kindle (and so I did). The main secondary characters were The Dark Stranger, Mason, and Alina Alcaraz Olivas. The other secondary characters consisted of Druth’s main thugs, the Naculeans, the parents/guardians of the boys, and Alex’s girlfriend. They were all well written. Some I wished I had more info on, and others I wanted were more involved in the plotline. But all added an extra depth to the overall plotline. I will say that I wouldn’t have been as cool as the parents/guardians were when they found out the truth.

I do want to mention the Naculeans. I found them and their backstory fascinating. They were genuinely peaceful beings who tried to help humans. But, I liked that the author made them make mistakes. The big one was telling Druth a half-truth about his powers. They realized that and ensured they had the right people (the boys) before they again bestowed the powers.

There is a lot of action in The Urban Boys. It primarily centered around the boys learning about their powers and fighting Druth’s thugs. I did enjoy it because it showed the boys’ growth as people and as a fighting unit.

A substory line was running in the background of The Urban Boys. It involved the parents of a couple of the boys, Druth, Alina, and The Dark Stranger. I was wondering how the author was going to tie everything together. I wasn’t disappointed and was very surprised by what was revealed.

The end of The Urban Boys was interesting. I loved how the author resolved the main storyline. It was a classic good versus evil battle, and I was on the edge of my seat. Of course, there is a lead-in to the next book, which I can’t wait to read.

I recommend The Urban Boys: Discovery of the Five Senses to anyone over 13. There is violence, mild language, and some kissing scenes (otherwise, a clean book).


If you enjoy The Urban Boys: Discovery of the Fives Senses, you will enjoy these books;

Love Secrets Lies by Teresa Vale

Publisher:

Date of Publication: May 10th, 2021

Genre: General Fiction

Purchase Links: Amazon | Alibris | IndieBound

Goodreads Synopsis:

Paradise is no more. She’s a stranger in her new home…

… as she sails the choppy waters of teen life. Teresa longs for picture-perfect love, but in the real world you often have to say “No”, even if it breaks your heart.

From tropical Mozambique to drab, 1970s Lisbon, from the golden beaches of Durban to five-star holidays in verdant, mountainous Madeira, and even the Moroccan kasbah, follow Teresa as she stumbles and falls and picks herself up again.

Will Teresa’s grandparents let her out of their sight for a minute? Can she forge her own path in a country that struggles to emerge from fear and taboo? Will she find true love, or is she forever fated to navigate an ocean of boys who demand more than she is willing to give?


First Line:

I detested my first kiss.

Love Secrets Lies by Teresa Vale

When I first got the email from the author requesting that I review her book, I almost said no. As a rule, I do not review anything that resembles even resembles a biography or an autobiography. But the sweetness of the request email and the blurb that I read on Amazon sold me on reading the book. I am glad I did because this was a fantastic book.

Love Secrets Lies is the story of Teresa and her journey to adulthood. Teresa was forced out of Mozambique as a young teenager when that country became politically unstable. She, her brother, her grandparents, and her parents fled to Portugal. Teresa and her brother settled in Libson with her grandparents while her father and mother (divorced) went to North Portugal and England. Teresa is a headstrong, opinionated young lady growing up in 1970s Portugal. Can Teresa overcome the obstacles of her childhood (mainly her very strict grandparents) and become the woman she wants to be?

I loved Teresa. She was a vibrantly written character who made me laugh during the book. I have a seventeen-year-old daughter, and I could see her getting into some of the shenanigans that Teresa got into. The whole kissing scene had me in tears laughing because, well, it was relatable. How many of us enjoyed our first kiss? And how many of us had the experience that Teresa had? I did find her a little tiring during certain scenes (the political scenes I skimmed over). But other than that, I loved her joy in life. It exuded from the book.

I liked seeing what it is like for a teenage girl growing up in the 70s and outside of the USA. It was very refreshing. Plus, I got to experience the 70s through her, which was a trip in itself.

Teresa had several romances throughout the book. The author didn’t hold back with them. She showed the good, the bad, and the ugly. And oh man, did the ugly get nasty towards the end. Teresa went through a terrifying situation that could have turned out bad if a certain someone didn’t step up for her.

Sexually, this is a very clean book. There are a few kissing scenes, one where Teresa and her boyfriend do heavy petting, and one very memorable scene where Teresa’s boyfriend uses a pillow as a cover for his privates (and as a supposed sexy gesture??). The author never details what Teresa is doing, but there is enough said that I could figure it out. I knew she wasn’t having sex (the author often stressed her virginity in the book).

The only thing I didn’t like about this book was how bratty and immature Teresa sometimes came across. But, saying that, she was a teenager living under stringent rules. So I kept an open mind while reading.

I also want to mention the locations that this book took me to. South Africa, different areas of Portugal, and Mozambique are among the few places that the author mentioned in the book. The author vividly described every site to the point where I could picture it in my head.

The end of Love Secrets Lies was a bit of a cliffhanger, and I am looking forward to reading book 2!!

I would recommend Love Secrets Lies to anyone over 16. There is mild language, violence, and mild and non-graphic sexual situations. There is also underage drinking and smoking.

Shadowed Origins (The Guardians: Book 2) by Reily Garrett

Publisher:

Date of publication: June 3rd, 2022

Genre: Romance, Suspense, Fantasy

Series: The Guardians

Shadowed Horizons—Book 1 (review here)

Shadowed Origins—Book 2

Shadowed Passages—Book 3

Purchase Links: Amazon

Goodreads Synopsis:

Ashlyn has spent years hiding her ability to connect with animals, especially dogs. After escaping the clutches of her guardian, she’s determined to remain free and bring the psychopath to his knees.
The terrorist’s plan for mass annihilation and anarchy requires her talent, and he will stop at nothing to reclaim his unique and invaluable prize.
Taylor’s telekinesis and special-ops training granted him seamless passage to work with Kenner’s paranormal unit. When he rescues a young woman from the clutches of her sadistic guardian, he’s unprepared for the emotional backlash created by their connection.
Forging ahead on the narrow path of freedom dictates keeping an eye on the rearview—for death and destruction dog their every mile.


First Line:

Ashlyn never considered the face of evil taking a physical form, with a fist to match.

Shadowed Origins by Reily Garrett

I have been looking forward to reading Shadowed Origins since I finished Shadowed Horizons. I had questions from the first book that I hoped would be answered in this one. And guess what, the author answered all of my questions. The author left me with questions about Ashlyn and Keira’s older brother. But he is the focus of book three, and I am sure the author will answer those questions for me in that book.

Shadowed Origins is the second book in The Guardians series. This book is not stand-alone. You need to read book 1 to understand what is happening in book 2.

Before I get into the review, I want to throw up a trigger warning. If you have been following my blog for a while, then you know how rare it is for me to do this. The main character, Ashlyn, has been abused (in all ways except sexual) by her captor, Roth. The author includes some scenes of the verbal, psychological, and physical abuse that Ashlyn has endured. So, if this triggers you, I strongly suggest not reading Shadowed Origins.

Shadowed Origins is Ashlyn’s story. Ashlyn has been held captive by Roth for her entire life. She has spent most of her captivity trying to escape Roth, but he has always caught her. Ashlyn had her next escape planned out, and it would have ended the same way except, this time, Ashlyn had help. She was aided by a group of men with similar powers that she and Roth possessed. Ashlyn discovers her powers (she can communicate with animals) and uses that power to protect herself against Roth’s numerous attempts to take her back. She also discovers that she has an identical twin sister who shares the same powers, and she realizes that she is falling in love with Taylor, an ex-special forces op who is also telekinetic. Will Roth succeed in taking back Ashlyn? Will she be able to meet her sister? Will she find out who is funding Roth?

I liked Ashlyn. Even though Roth abused her, she still had an optimistic view of life. She tried to find ways to escape him, and she resisted him in almost every way—which caused Roth to lash out. I thought that her plan to escape him out the bathroom window would fail (Roth had given her a sedative to keep her compliant). So, I was surprised when it didn’t fail and when Taylor and his group came to her aid. From then on, I enjoyed watching her character grow to become a young woman with confidence in her abilities. She was also able to see what/form healthy relationships look like and was instrumental in bringing the two groups together. I also loved her delight when she discovered that she had an identical twin sister and her nervousness about meeting her (Keira was an unknown and in a group that Kenner, the leader, thought was the enemy). She was a fantastic character to read, and I can’t wait to see more of her in the upcoming books.

I liked Taylor also. The author didn’t make him as fleshed out as Ashlyn, but he was still a fascinating character. He did not want a relationship because the death of his wife did affect him. But he was very attracted to Ashlyn, and he was also very protective. I liked seeing him slowly realize his feelings for Ashlyn. I also liked seeing him use his powers. His telekinesis was no joke. It was also satisfying to see him eat a bit of crow when his group finally met the other group. He was a little aggressive with that group.

Roth was one evil dude. The author didn’t get into his character in Shadowed Horizons, but in this book, she let loose with him. He was a true psychopath who enjoyed hurting people. He kept human eyes in glass jars in his office, and that grossed me out. But, there was a huge twist in his plotline that I didn’t see coming and I hope gets explained more in book 3. I did feel that he got what he deserved in the end, and I loved who gave it to him!!

The plotlines involving Roth and both groups were well written. I liked how the author finally had both groups meet after so many misconceptions about each other. I also liked how they teamed up to beat Roth and his people.

The end of Shadowed Origins was pretty awesome. I liked how the author wrapped up Ashlyn and Kiera’s storylines. She introduced Logan, Ashlyn and Kiera’s older brother, at the very end of the book (well, the concept of him), so I figure the next book will be about him. She also left the plotline for who Roth was working for, and I am very interested to see where that will end up.

Shadowed Horizons (The Guardians: Book 1) by Reily Garrett

Publisher:

Date of publication: May 13th, 2022

Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Suspense

Series: The Guardians

Shadowed Horizons—Book 1

Shadowed Origins—Book 2

Shadowed Passages—Book 3

Purchase Links: Amazon

Goodreads Synopsis:

Fate can have many paths. Which would you choose?

Kiera’s capacity to face death stems from training, begun when old enough to wield a knife. Befriended by wolves and raised by a group of psychic men sworn to protect humanity, she now faces mercenaries intent on reshaping the world using equal talents.

Prodigious keyboard skills and innate curiosity has led Wyatt McGlauklin to invent the unimaginable. He’s long since claimed status as the top computer science geek. Little do people know, there’s much more to Wyatt.
When a blonde spitfire steps out of nowhere to prevent his assassination, his life’s direction takes an extraordinary turn where his analytical mind can’t validate paranormal phenomena.

Fate decrees Kiera find her life partner, but she learns you don’t always get to choose whom you love. Wyatt’s arrival challenges destiny as they combine forces to preserve the world as they know it.


First Line:

Each flip of the key ring around his index finger tallied another reason to quit the world of high stake’s business.

Shadowed Horizons by Reily Garrett

I have read/reviewed for Reily Garrett before, and her books are consistently good. When I got the invite to review Shadowed Horizons, I didn’t hesitate to accept. I am glad I did because this book was fantastic and excited me to continue reading the series.

Shadowed Horizons is the first book in The Guardian’s series. Usually, I’d add something about if readers can read the book as a standalone or if you need to read the previous books. But in this case, it’s the first book, so those don’t apply here.

The storyline for Shadowed Horizons was interesting. Wyatt is a tech genius who a group of bodyguards is protecting with paranormal abilities. After being attacked by another group with similar paranormal abilities, he is taken to live with that group. During that attack, Wyatt meets Keira, a beautiful blonde warrior who can open portals and communicate with animals. Hiding him in their safe house is the only rational thing to do, but neither Wyatt nor Keira expected the sparks between them. Wyatt continues to work on his project, and Keira makes some discoveries that rock her world. She has an identical twin sister being held by an evil psychopath who tortures her. Another group, similar to hers, is also operating with the same end game: stop the psychopath. Can Kiera and her group save her sister, stop the psychopath, and ally with the new group? Will Kiera and Wyatt give in to their attraction? More importantly, will Kiera’s adoptive brothers allow her to have a relationship with Wyatt? And will they be able to save Ashlyn, Kiera’s twin?

I liked Wyatt. I felt he dealt with learning about paranormal abilities very well, considering how he found out. I also liked how he dealt with Kiera’s overprotective brothers. He was able to diffuse some pretty tense situations with humor. As for how he was with Kiera, I loved it. He didn’t quite know how to deal with her at first (she was a little pushy) and was a little awkward with her.

I liked Kiera. She was headstrong and knew what she wanted. She also had a penchant for practical jokes (the portals going to women’s dressing rooms was funny). Her paranormal ability (communicating with animals and opening portals) was intriguing. I liked that the author explained what she could do and how she met her wolves. I loved her scenes with Wyatt. She wanted him, and she would have him, regardless of what her brothers said. I was laughing out loud at the scenes where she asked different brothers about sex.

The bad guy, Roth, was a growing presence in the book. I liked that the author didn’t give too much away about him, only that he was collecting people with paranormal abilities and using them as mercenaries. I liked the mystery around why he was doing that and who he was. Nothing was answered about him, just that he was holding Ashlyn captive, and he was this very nasty, very evil person. I am looking forward to seeing more of him in the upcoming books.

The secondary characters, including the people from the other group of paranormals, rounded out the book. I liked seeing the guys’ different paranormal abilities and how they used them. I hope they get their books (along with their HEAs).

The paranormal angle was well written. The author kept me glued to the book with each ability uncovered. They fascinated me. I liked how they used their abilities to not only protect Wyatt but to fight Roth. I didn’t particularly appreciate that they immediately attacked the other group they found in Wyatt’s mansion or didn’t even bother to try and see who they were. They could have been allies, but no, the boys decide to fight them. That is my complaint about that (hopefully, the author will fix it in book 2!!).

The romance angle was ok for me. I liked the attraction between Wyatt and Kiera, but it didn’t progress beyond that. By the end of the book, I wanted more than a few stolen kisses between them. But, on the other hand, it was very refreshing to have a romance novel where the main characters weren’t having sex.

Something caught my attention when the author brought it up, and then she didn’t address it again. Nicholai (the head of the group and a precog) said that Kiera had a fated mate, and Wyatt wasn’t it. It was brought up again later in the book and then dropped. But I need more answers!! Does that mean that Kiera’s fated mate is still out there? Or was Nicholai wrong, and it was Wyatt all along? I hope that it gets explained more in the other books.

I had mixed feelings about the end of Shadowed Horizons. While I liked what I read, I hated that nothing was resolved, and had more questions than answers. Also, I didn’t particularly appreciate that it ended on somewhat of a cliffhanger. But that cliffhanger did its job, and now I have to read book 2!!

I would recommend Shadowed Horizons to anyone over 21. There is language, violence, and sexual situations.

The Wizard’s Ward by Jules McAleese

Publisher: Vale Media

Date of publication: April 30th, 2022

Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Young Adult

Series: Vale

The Wizard’s Ward—Book 1

Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible | B&N | Kobo

Goodreads Synopsis:

Francis has gray blood.

The King of the Elves ordered all gray bloods be put to death, by any means necessary. Francis, the Wizard’s Ward, has been hiding in plain sight all her life, under the care of Billington, the King’s wizard. When Billington disappears from the Cardinal castle, Francis enlists the help of her first love, a battle-ridden soldier called X, to find the only family she’s ever known.

But outside the castle walls, there is a war raging between kingdoms and Francis faces countless dangers that plague the land of Vale. Shapeshifting bounty hunters search for military deserters, pirates maraud Vale’s seas, combat-trained dragons dwell in the witch’s mountains, and betrayals harden once-warmed hearts.

As the journey pushes Francis to her limits, she uncovers the true power of her gray blood, a power that could fulfill a prophecy and bring down a psychotic king.

Vale: The Wizard’s Ward is the first installment of an epic young adult fantasy franchise.


First Line:

“Three pieces of kings copper?” Billington asked, as his unruly gray eyebrows rose in skepticism.

The Wizard’s Ward by Jules McAleese

I first saw reviews for The Wizard’s Ward on a couple of blogs I follow. I was very interested in reading it from the blurb and the reviews I kept seeing. But I figured that I would have to wait until I saw it for sale on Amazon. So, imagine my surprise when the author emailed me and asked if I would like to read/review this book. Of course, I jumped on it, and when I got the physical copy of the book, I decided that this would be my vacation book. Let’s say I read this book in 4 hours (split between two days) while driving to Fl, and I couldn’t get enough of it. I also have loaned it to a friend and her daughter (remember, I got a physical book). When I get it back, my 16 and 14-year-olds want to read it. So yes, I liked this book and have been recommending it to everyone.

The Wizard’s Rule had an exciting plotline. Francis is Billington’s ward, the wizard for The King of Elves. But Francis has a secret. She has gray blood, and The King has ordered all people with gray blood to be killed. Billington is hiding her in plain sight to protect her. Several things happen at once. Francis’s first love, a soldier named X is back from his 2-year deployment, Francis is required to attend a ball about her bully who happens to be the sister of The King, and Billington disappears. Determined to find him, Francis needs to go outside the castle and follow clues to where he could be. With the help of X, she escapes the castle but soon realizes that X is damaged and dangerous. With help from a surprising source, Francis enlists on a journey that will have her sail with pirates, fly with dragons, and confront a tyrant. But, can she find Billington, and can she learn what makes her so special to so many people?

I loved Francis. She did take her relationship with Billington for granted until he disappeared. It was then that she realized how much she had been protected. She also realized that he would have never disappeared without letting her know. That is when she took action and decided to go search for him. She learned much about herself and what her gray blood could do on that journey. Seeing her character grow and evolve was awesome!!

Let’s talk about X. I was pretty conflicted about his character right from the start. I didn’t understand why Francis had such strong feelings for him. He didn’t seem like her type. As the book went on and I got to see what happened from his perspective, I understood what attracted her to him. I also began to understand what attracted him to her. Francis was X’s haven. Memories of her helped him keep sane and not lose it when he was on that horrible island and forced to do awful things. So, I was a little surprised when the author had the storyline go the way it did. Surprised didn’t precisely entirely cover my reaction to that scene. More accurately, I was sad, horrified, and disgusted by his actions. Those feelings carried over for the rest of the book with everything he did and who he ended up hooking up with. But there were hints of the old X in there. He still thought about Francis constantly and imagined her when he was with Medea (which did gross me out).

I wish that Billington was more of a presence in the book. I loved how he came into the custody of Francis and raised her as his daughter. But there was a massive chunk of the book where he was just gone. I couldn’t get a feel for him as a character because of that. I hope he will be more there in the next book. I also hope the author explores Billington and Francis’s relationship a little more. He is her father, he did raise her, and I would love to see that discussed more.

The storyline about Francis’s gray blood was well written. I loved that the author didn’t fully explain what it meant (other than the prophecy and magic) until the end of the book. At that point, it made perfect sense, considering what had happened. I hope that in book 2, the author delves more into what gray blood can do.

The romance angle of the book was well written also. But, to be honest, I couldn’t pair Francis and X together in my head romantically. They were just too different. I hope that the author has them come together at some point in book 2. There are a lot of unresolved feelings on both their ends.

The author very well wrote the fantasy/magic angle of The Wizard’s Rule. The author did a fantastic job building this rich world where magic existed and was used for almost everything. I loved that Francis didn’t have a good grip on her magic for 90% of the book. She understood the spells, but they wouldn’t obey her. She ended up “wishing” for the magical things to happen, and they did. I can’t wait to see where the author will take that. I also can’t wait to see more of the fantasy world that these characters live in. The author gave us a glimpse into witches, sirens, centaurs, dragons, and pirates. What else could there be?

There are a couple of twists in the plotline. One comes with X’s storyline (see above). While I didn’t see it coming at the time, looking back, it made sense. But, the other plotline twist is HUGE and takes place in the very last chapter. I was so taken aback by what was revealed that I had to read that chapter 3 times. And each time, I kept thinking, “OMG, what did I READ!!!” It was very sneaky of the author to do that because there are certain characters that I can’t look at the same now. It also makes me want to read book two because of what was revealed.

As I mentioned, the end of The Wizard’s Ward was a complete bombshell. The author didn’t wrap up any of the storylines. Instead, she left them open, which left a vast opening for book 2.

I would recommend The Wizard’s Way for anyone over 13. There is no language, mild to moderate violence, and some very mild non-graphic sexual content (with X and Medea).

Rosie Shadow by Louise Worthington

Publisher: Red Escape Publishing

Date of publication: March 1st, 2021

Genre: Horror

Purchase Links: Amazon

Goodreads synopsis:

Whatcha crying for, sissy? Why don’t you grow a pair?’ Rosie says to her mother…‘Send me to school and I’ll rip off your arm! Beat you with the stump.’

Abandoned by her terrorised mother at the age of six, Rosie Shadow will do anything to win the affection of her father Archie, an undead cannibal in charge of Her Majesty’s Prison Shortbury, now operating as a visitor attraction.

Clare is sent reeling into Archie’s arms with the grief of losing her boyfriend in a mysterious car accident when he collides with an ancient yew tree.

The secrets in the Medieval dungeon beneath the prison are under threat when Clare becomes suspicious of Archie’s true identity and his progeny.

Rosie Shadow is Book I in The Black Tongue Series.


First Line:

At dawn, blackbirds and sparrows sing a love song to celebrate life from the top of the yew tree.

Rosie Shadow by Louise Worthington

Rosie Shadow was a different type of zombie/horror book than I have read. Not saying that I didn’t enjoy it (I did), but it wasn’t typical of the genre.

Rosie Shadow has two distinct storylines. The first storyline centers around Clare, the death of her boyfriend Lenny, her job at a prison made tourist attraction, and her relationship with her boss, Archie. The second storyline centers around Rosie, Elly (her mother), and various social workers brought to help Elly with Rosie. Both storylines are somewhat merged by the end of the book. I say somewhat because Rosie never physically meets Clare or Archie (even though she communicates telepathically with him).

Clare had my sympathy for the entire book. She was dealing with the death of her boyfriend, her school studies, and having a not-so-great relationship with her father. I was in awe over how she dealt with everything. I would have been a freaking mess, but she wasn’t. The only thing that showed that she was internally freaking out was her smoking and her relationship with Archie. But, I think her calmness helped her when everything went to crap at the end of the book. She was the one who kept her head. She was the one who was able to think on her feet with Archie. She was the one who was able to help Beth.

Archie’s character was different. Yes, he was an undead cannibal (or a zombie), but he didn’t act like your typical zombie. He held a job at the former prison. He didn’t crave brains. Instead, he needed to eat a young woman’s flesh to stay alive (for lack of a better term). I wish the author had given more background on him, but I did like what was provided. He was a former prison inmate who died (and was resurrected ?) there. While eating flesh kept him alive, sex was better, and he thought he had found a willing partner in Clare. He wasn’t necessarily evil, but he wasn’t good either. If I had to put a finger on it, he was chaotic neutral with leanings toward evil.

Rosie scared me. She was the evilest, twisted 6-year-old that I have read about in a while. She terrorized her mother, ate raw animals (which disgusted me), loved playing with animal corpses, lying in dirt graves, and generally scared people. I didn’t understand why she was the way she was until the connection to Archie was made (the scene where she killed her social worker and fed her to the yew tree to give to Archie). She sent chills up my spine every time she appeared in the book. When she went to the respite fosterer, I knew that a showdown was coming. And the author didn’t disappoint with that.

The author very well wrote the horror angle of Rosie Shadow. I am not easily scared or even disgusted while reading this genre, and the author succeeded in doing both. The last half of the book that detailed the life-or-death fight scenes between Clare and Archie/Rosie and Annie gave me nightmares.

The paranormal aspect of the book was also very well written. I wish the author had given more detail about Archie’s turning (it interested me a lot), but other than that, I was pretty satisfied with what I read.

The end of Rosie Shadow made me wonder if or when Rosie/Archie would reappear. I know this is book 1 of a series, and I am very interested in reading what book two will bring.

I would recommend Rosie Shadow to anyone over 21. This is language, extreme violence, gore, and somewhat graphic sexual situations.

With One Breath (Blackhawk Security: Book 1) by Margaret Watson

Publisher: Dragonfly Press

Date of publication: March 1st, 2022

Genre: Romance, Suspense

Series: Blackhawk Security

With One Breath—Book 1

Once Removed—Book 2 (review here)

Once Burned—Book 3 (review here)

Fool Me Once—Book 4 (review here)

Just This Once—Book 5 (review here)

Purchase Links: Amazon

Goodreads Synopsis:

Two against the Taliban, two wildly different agendas — both crazy risky!

Laila’s not the type of woman who needs rescuing. Except for a tiny rule-breaking penchant, she’s a model CIA agent—smart, resourceful, brave, and very very determined.. But right now she’s in a tight situation—in more than one way. She’s hiding from the Taliban in a network of pitch-dark interlocking caves, so narrow a cat could barely thread its way through them. A cat or an agent trained for it.

And that would be Jase, her designated rescuer.

Once her CIA training agent, he’s the last man she’d get involved with, even though he’s the hottest guy she’s ever met. He’s bossy. Intimidating. Way too alpha. And a strict rule follower.

All traits on her ‘no fly’ list.

Set against the tense U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, this rapid-fire tale begins with electrifying action, moves on to fast-flying sparks, and never lets up. Laila’s on the way to Kabul to leave the country, where she also teaches a class of village girls, when her driver betrays her. She outwits him, but it’s only a matter of time till the Taliban track her down.

She’s never been so glad to see Jase.

Romance should be the last thing on either’s mind as they frantically crawl and slither their way through the claustrophobic caves, desperate to find an exit. Still, infatuation sparks.

And smolders.

But neither can afford to take their eyes off their own goals. Jase’s is simple–to rejoin his team and deliver Laila safely to Kabul. But Laila has a more ambitious agenda, one that will require breaking rules, disobeying orders, and endangering the whole team.


First Line:

Laila’s arms ached as she held the heavy M4A1 carbine in front of her.

with one breath by margaret watson

I committed the one thing that I have told people not to do—read books out of order if they are in a series. In my defense, the author restructured the series and bumped this book up to the first book in the series. So the book I thought I was reading last ended up being the first book in the series. It threw me for a loop but didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book.

With One Breath had an exciting plotline. Laila is a civilian CIA agent who goes undercover in a remote village to gather information on the Taliban. Jase was Laila’s trainer in Kabul, and he is part of an extraction team that is supposed to get Laila and leave after intel tells them that she is in immediate danger. Circumstances strand Laila and Jase in caves outside a Taliban arms depot. Fighting a red hot attraction, Laila and Jase must work together to avoid getting captured by the Taliban. But Laila also has another plan that needs to be set in motion once they get out. She wants to move her girl students and their families to the embassy in Kabul and save them from the Taliban. Will Laila and Jase get out of the caves? Will they rescue the girls and their families? And will they give in to their attraction?

With One Breath is the first book in the Blackhawk Security series. Since it is the first book, readers can read it as a standalone.

If you are claustrophobic and do not do well reading about people being trapped in caves, I highly suggest not reading this book. A good part of this book takes place in the caves where Laila and Jase are hiding. I am not claustrophobic, and those scenes got my anxiety going through the roof.

I liked Laila and loved her determination. The only thing that I didn’t even remotely like about her was that she trusted too quickly. She was led into a Taliban trap by the older brother of a girl she taught in school. Then, she took him with her during her rescue of those same girls. I get why she did it but still. Other than that, she rocked. I don’t know how she dealt with being in those caves (and traveling the passages!!) without having a breakdown.

I also liked Jase. I did think he was a little too straight-laced, but when the author gave his backstory, I understood why. I liked how he tried to keep it professional with Laila and kept his cool under pressure. Even though he didn’t like Laila’s plan, he went along with it. The only thing I didn’t like was that he called Lailabae.” I made my feelings clear in a previous review. Other than that, I thought he was the perfect Alpha male.

The suspense angle of the book was well written. I loved the cat and mouse game Jase and Laila played with the Taliban. Those scenes in the cave and the scenes that involved them escaping had me on the edge of my seat. I was also kept on edge with the plan to get the girls and their families out to Kabul and then out of the country. There were points during those scenes that I did wonder how it was going to go. And of course, what happened to Jase at the airport had me screaming!!

The romance angle of the book was also just as well written. There is no InstaLove involved. Instead, Laila and Jase’s relationship was allowed to blossom naturally. Of course, being in a high-stress situation did move it along, but it wasn’t Instalove. I also liked that the relationship continued to progress after Kabul and that it showed that being in love wasn’t perfect. It was messy, and some things could derail it if allowed. I loved it!!!

Jase and Laila had insane chemistry. The author kept the sexual tension up for most of the book before allowing them to have sex. That was the only time they had it, and I loved it. Not having sex every other page allowed me to focus on the storylines.

The end of With One Breath was terrific!! Laila and Jase fought tooth and nail for their happiness, and I cheered with how they ended up. I also loved that the author gave updates on the girls and their families.

I would recommend With One Breath to anyone over 21. There is violence, language, and sex.