May Book Reviews

This is an upsetting time in the US with virus deaths reaching 100k, and the 9-minute public murder of an African American man by police. My heart is broken. Reading continues to be a release.

This month my offering of reviews includes beautiful poetry, fantasy, sci-fi, and a short story. I hope you enjoy browsing my 4 and 5-star reviews. There are some lovely reads here.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Passions: Love Poems and Other Writings by Gabriela Marie Milton

There are poetry books where the words feel like chocolates that melt on your tongue, where the imagery seduces you into a timeless place of mystery or lays out a universe of emotion, the crux of a life in a few perfect lines. I love free verse that’s evocative, where the sounds and rhythms sweep me off my feet. Gabriela Marie Milton’s poetry is and does all those things.

The book is set up into three parts. First, Love Poems, a generous collection of free verse that took my breath away. Part two has side-by-side poems, one in English, the other its Italian translation. And Part three has short prose that honestly, reads like poetry. All of it is sublime.

And none of it should be rushed. I read this collection over two weeks, savoring each offering in the darkness before sleep. A luxurious read for anyone who loves poetry and beautiful words.

*****

An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

This book is charming, charming, charming. Did I mention that it’s charming? Isobel, a human, paints portraits for the fair folk, and something about her painting of Rook, the Prince of Autumn, thrusts her into danger. Stuck in the courts of the fair folk, they fall in love, but the penalty of breaking the Good Law that forbids such affairs is death.

Forbidden romance is a source of tension in this story, but I’m hesitant to call it a romance. There’s deception, danger, magic and glamour, hard choices, and sinister forces at play. The fair folk are beautiful and exquisitely described, but beneath the nearly perfect exterior, they are opportunists, decaying, hollow, and cruel.

Characterization is exceptional. The story is told from Isobel’s pov. She and Rook are sympathetic protagonists, and their perceptions of each other’s worlds, behaviors, and rules are fascinating. In general, the differences between the fair folk and humans are meticulously developed and kept me entranced. Secondary characters run the gamut from the human Aunt Emma, to the murderous fairy thanes, to Isobel’s delightful half-sisters who are also half-goats who eat everything and climb on furniture.

Descriptions of the landscapes are as immersive as those of the characters. The writing is quite beautiful. The plot is well thought out and keeps moving right up to the reveal at the climax. I wish this was a series because I had a serious book hangover. I’ll be reading more of this author. Highly recommended to fantasy readers and anyone who loves beautiful writing.

*****

It’s All in the Blood by Carol Forrester

I was looking forward to this generous collection of poems, and as soon as it was available on kindle, I picked it up. To me, Forrester’s style is gentle and reflective with an underlying poignancy. The free form poetry unfolds in short phrasing almost like an internal monolog but interspersed with the beauty of poetic metaphor. My favorite poems were those nostalgic musings about family, aging, loss and love, regrets, hopes, and an array of universal experiences that I could relate too. This poetry is simply stated, sprinkled with jewels of imagery, and rich with feeling. An excellent collection. Highly recommended

*****

Awakening: The Shard Chronicles by Ono Northey

I’m a reader of character-driven novels. A fantastic character will keep me riveted, and this book has a six-star main character. Steve is a veteran who lost his legs in Afghanistan in an explosion that took out his team, and he wants out of the hospital. A strange murder ends up splattering his hospital room with a human smoothie and suddenly he’s on the run, learning to use a unique mental power that gets him into trouble as much as it saves him.

Why is Steve a fantastic character? He has a sardonic sense of humor that I thoroughly enjoy and that runs through the book from start to finish. External and internal dialog is exceptionally witty, consistent, and natural. He also has a complex personality; he’s a competent soldier, as well as a nice guy at heart who’s grasping at happiness while hiding from the police and visiting his unusual shrink, Tony. The secondary characters, Tony and Steve’s love interest Amber, are both perfectly believable personalities, and the relationships were interesting as well as genuine.

The pace rips along, and there’s a lot of action interspersed between Steve counseling sessions and his budding relationship with Amber. I was impressed with the military details as well as the psychological concepts resulting from Steve’s conversations with Tony. They seemed grounded in reality (I couldn’t really tell but was totally sucked in) and I found myself paying close attention.

Unfortunately, I struggled with the sci-fi-bad-guy elements of the plot. The bad guys have about 6 pov chapters out of about 60 chapters (Tony has one, Steve has the rest). I had a hard time grasping who the bad guys were, their relationships, and their motivations to kill or save Steve. The story ended with lots of loose ends, which I assume will be addressed in the next book. I’m looking forward to the read. I considered a 4-star rating, but the characters forced me to go with 5.

*****

Limbo by Laura Koerber

I wasn’t sure what I thought of this book at first. A teenager, Alyse, finds herself in Limbo after dying of a brain tumor. It’s a dismal place, populated by rather dreary ghosts like herself. The pov doesn’t stay with Alyse, and though I found this distracting for a couple of chapters, as the story progressed, I got to know this odd community, the characters’ backstories, their hopes, dreams, failures, and sorrows. Suddenly, they became deeply human, relatable, and utterly poignant. I was moved.

The world-building details are unique, clever, and enjoyable. For example, many of the characters are wearing hospital gowns (and many of us know that those don’t close securely in the back). They make poker cards out of peeling wallpaper, and have a tendency to float.

Most of the characters don’t understand why they’re in limbo or how to leave. Honestly, I didn’t understand why they were there either, and I didn’t think that question was answered by the end. For me, the lack of a reason for their presence made God (who is not a character in the story) seem cold and unkind. The end is incredibly touching. I recommend this short, well-written, and gentle read to anyone who enjoys a human story.

*****

No Pedigree: A Really Short Story by Nonnie Jules

Baylee is biracial and lives with her hardworking single mom. Mom wants her to get the best opportunities for a successful future and part of that means getting a great education in a posh high school. But in Oklahoma, racism is alive and well, and Baylee is the victim of both verbal and physical abuse. A lucky break enables her to get justice in the end.

This story is a 90-minute read and geared toward young adults, though I enjoyed it as an old adult. Lol. It takes on the important topic of racism and injustice as it still exists today in schools, communities, and the criminal justice system. I enjoyed Baylee’s strength of character and that of her good friend Carson. My only struggle with the story was the somewhat implausible way Baylee skyrocketed out of her situation, but her ability to get justice was satisfying.

*****

An Island Too Lovely by Deborah Kaminsky

Isadora lives on an island, her community isolated from the mainland, peaceful and prosperous, technologically equipped, but tightly controlled. A strange experience with a force field compels her and her friends Annie and Dylan to start questioning the mysteries of their island home.

The first part of the book covers her fruitless explorations as a child. Part 2, the bulk of the story, chronicles her “Walkabout” on the mainland with her friends, a once in a lifetime adventure that all island residents experience in their teens. Part 3, covers her return to the island and her discovery of its secrets.

For most of the book, the plot seems to wander with rambling goals and tangents… until part 3 when the whole thing comes together with an intriguing and clever twist. I thoroughly enjoyed the revelation. At the same time, I did struggle with the middle of the book and was left with questions, particularly about the structure of the walkabout (no spoilers here).

Isadora, Annie, and Dylan are great characters, and I particularly enjoyed Isadora and Annie’s lifelong friendship. They are richly-developed characters and Isadora’s point of view gave me a thorough insight into her personality. The sci-fi elements are detailed and techy, which I enjoyed. Overall, quite entertaining.

*****

Happy Reading!

The Red Bridge #Writephoto #Tanka Tuesday

copyright Sue Vincent

I decided to combine Sue Vincent’s beautiful #writephoto prompt (above)

with Colleen Chesebro’s intriguing #photoprompt (below)

photo provided by Vashti Q. Vega, image credit: Balaji Malliswamy

Hmmm…

***

 

Beneath the red bridge

Innocent waterlilies

Bloom with pink brushstrokes

While spring’s fecund beauty hides

A predator’s lustrous eyes

Naj’ar, a Goblin.

I took a last-minute break to finish the 5th draft of my trilogy: Unraveling the Veil. Phew. Done. Now I can celebrate start my next draft. Yay! Ugh!

This project has been in the works for 2 years, and I plan to start publishing in May August if all goes well.

I thought I’d share a slightly-condensed intro to my WIP’s main characters, starting with Naj’ar, a goblin. I hope you enjoy the read.

Cover concept

Bats squeaked in the blackness, and an enduring cold leached from the walls. Neither troubled Naj’ar. His kind were accustomed to the leather-winged company, and his muscled frame, though half-elven, tolerated the chill almost as well as the purebloods. A shaggy fur draped his shoulders as he navigated the tunnelways beneath the mountain.

Ragged veins of quartz glimmered in the rock’s wet crevices, their latent power spiraling as if they’d captured wisps of cloud. Their faint glow cast angular shadows. Yet, the reflective surfaces of his eyes granted him the vision to lope through the crude passageways with sure feet.

The ground shook, and he paused, a hand reaching into the void for balance. Curved fingernails scraped a wall. Grains of igneous rock sifted from the ceiling. The tunnels to the peaks meandered in a labyrinth of forks, crumbling stairways, and long sloped passages, familiar to him though he’d never labored in the upper mines. His interest lay in the Veil and the hidden world that lay beyond.

Na’jar, a goblin

A pragmatic people, goblins rarely indulged in fantasy. But legends hinted of a hallowed land, the birthplace of the First where only the brave and just found welcome. Others speculated that behind the shimmering wall lay the answers to the secrets of eternity. Its allure tugged at his curiosity, a barbed thorn hooked in his mind, impossible to pry loose.

His feet slid, and his fingernails dug into the ice varnishing the slanted floor. Ice within the mountain? He frowned, gray skin prickling. The air froze on the walls in a glassy rime. The crust of frost thickened. Clouds formed with each breath, and for the first time, the frigid chill seeped into his bones. He sniffed the downy scents of snow and earth mingled with something new—the electric tang of power.

Bent in a crouch, he pressed forward. At the end of a winding incline, beyond the frame of winter’s brambles, a sinister light forced his yellow eyes to narrow. The snow-laced peaks sawed at the sky. And behind them, the Veil beckoned.

He toiled uphill. Bare feet crunched through frozen drifts. A white wind howled from the heights, and the curtain shimmered through gaps in the storm-bourn snow, a sheet of silver light, shuddering and bulging. Lightning crackled and ribboned through a lace of arteries and veins as if it were a monstrous creature hovering at the edge of the world.

Ears swept back, hands and feet numb, Naj bent against the blow. He trudged upward, determined to reach the ridge. Ice caked his face, sparkled on his lashes. The air hissed with electricity. The distinctive odor of ozone, both clean and burned, wrinkled his nose.

The Veil splintered. A blast of power flung him backward.

He tumbled down the steep slope, hurled into a black and white slide of rock and snow, past the tunnelway’s entrance. With a breathless gasp, he clambered to his feet and climbed for the mountain’s shelter. A second explosion slammed him to his back. Colossal shards of light shot outward, streaking through the storm. He covered his face with an arm. The snow and stone lost its grip on the mountainside, burying him alive. He clawed and kicked free of his icy tomb and scrambled over the sliding terrain.

Then the wind died. Snow and rock rumbled to stillness. The Veil began to weave itself together, threads swiftly stitching across the ether, reconnecting and patching the jagged wounds. The blizzard transformed into rain, slackened to a lazy drizzle, then evaporated before it mottled the ground. Sunshine lanced through gashes in a rapidly mutating sky. Snow vanished in a hot fog and then the fog too burned away.

The Veil thinned and solidified, releasing the energetic mass that had fortified it against the storm. Naj hastened for the tunnel entrance, his soles pained by the hot stones. Tufts of grass, moments before buried in ice, began to smolder. He dove into the warming passageway, rolled to his feet, and dashed into the blackness.

***

Thanks for reading!

Horizon #Writephoto

copyright: Sue Vincent – Causeway

Horizon

Dare I fly from the sea’s rim to the sun’s white center
When sorrow bleeds crimson from my tongue and fingertips
Will I sing through the throat of hope, the beauty of the human story?
My wings unfold with the flame of a yearning soul

When sorrow bleeds crimson from my tongue and fingertips
If heart’s betrayals bend me beneath grief and despair
My wings unfold with the flame of a yearning soul
As hallowed skies blaze away the bruised ache of living

If heart’s betrayals bend me beneath grief and despair
Remember by faded day the child’s longing for life’s horizon
As hallowed skies blaze away the bruised ache of living
In night’s full wildness dream of yes beneath the weary bone moon

Remember by faded day the child’s longing for life’s horizon
Dare I fly from the sea’s rim to the sun’s white center
In night’s full wildness dream of yes beneath the weary bone moon
Will I sing through the throat of hope, the beauty of the human story?

 

***

I’ve been trying to write a pantoum for a year, honestly. I love this form, but struggled with it!  Sue’s Thursday #writephoto prompt inspired me to just go for it.

Be peaceful, be well.

 

Breaking Up is Hard to Do, Especially With a Muse.

My muse subcontracted to this guy – DISCIPLINE for a while.
Amazing artwork by Peter Pham

 

There was a short time, a few years ago, where several bloggers posted about encounters with their muses. They were not only entertaining posts, but our muses all knew each other and ended up in relationships. Lol. Well, Greg’s muse showed up again. If you enjoy a little muse-drama, you’ll get a laugh from his post. Have fun.

If you’re interested in learning more about the hulk above who kicked off a bunch of muse posts, click here Muse for Hire. I also reblogged all the spin-offs, so they follow that post.

If you have a conversation with your muse during this strange time, pingback to the Muse for Hire post, and I’ll reblog as many as I can. Happy Musing.

Almost Iowa

My muse arrived at 7:00 a.m. sharp.

The only problem was, I had not seen her in months.

I tried to contain my sarcasm.

“Glad to see you made it on time.”

She didn’t even look in my direction. “I just stopped by to pick up a few things,” she snapped.

“I could use your help with this essay.”

“You don’t get it, do you?”

“What?”

“We are done, through, finished, finito – no longer an item.”

“I know we were having issues,” I stammered, “but can’t we try to work things out?”

That really made her angry.

“Try? Oh, now there is a word. Trying is something you never tried.”

“Huh?”

“A writing relationship takes trying. It requires dedication. It means putting your butt in a chair every morning and working at it.” She was on a roll. “It takes…”

“Don’t say it,” I shouted.

“…discipline.” she shrieked – and…

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April Book Reviews

A very eclectic selection this month: sci-fi, fantasy, poetry, romance, Danny the Dog, historical fiction, and parenting advice! I hope you enjoy browsing my 4 and 5-star reviews. There are some great reads here. Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Running out of Space by S. J. Higbee

If readers enjoy sci-fi and a powerful female lead character, this book hits the mark. Lizzy makes one reckless mistake, and her hopes to enter an officer-training program are dashed. But that’s not the end of her problems. She’s caught between competing forces who use her to solidify their power, and her plans to escape their clutches with the man she loves are repeatedly foiled. When things can’t get worse, they do.

The book starts with some love-struck romance (in the midst of some action), but the romance is background music as the main story takes off. Lizzy is a tough character, full of anger and impulsiveness. She has a hard time controlling her temper and tongue, but she’s justified and therefore sympathetic. Her story unfolds with a first-person point of view, and I was invested from the start, rooting for her when she suffered and cheering for her small victories and fiery personality. I found all of the characters consistent, authentic, and compelling, and the author does a nice job of holding back their secrets so there’s always a reason to turn the page.

This fast-paced book is both character-driven and plot-driven, and I enjoyed the balance. The world-building is complete, hard sci-fi with enough technical detail to be believable while not overwhelming the story. The plot belongs to Lizzy and her desire to escape those who are manipulating her, but there are larger political subplots working in the background that may rise to the surface in later books. The first book in a series, this ends at a transition point, but the story doesn’t conclude. It definitely invites a dive into book 2. Highly recommended.

*****

Tiger House by Wendy Scott

This is a great read for lovers of adventure, action, fantasy, and fabulous worldbuilding. The cover is gorgeous. And the prose is excellent too. Can you tell that I enjoyed this book? The story is about a young farmer Jairus who is kidnapped through a magical portal by the inhabitants of another world. He’s enslaved and ordered to represent Tiger House in a series of challenges to the death that will decide the new emperor. The first half of the story is an account of the competitions and the action and intrigue are non-stop. The second half of the book deals with Jairus’s attempts to stay alive for as long as he can while trying to find a way home.

To me, the worldbuilding resembles ancient Asian cultures (though I’m no expert), with the added elements of magic, strange rituals, and a whole lot of disregard for the contestants’ lives or their homeworlds. The people are brutal, macabre, and think nothing of it. The tentative head of Tiger House, a woman named Tekagi, is a ruthless, ambitious villain in the truest sense. An interesting dynamic set up by the author is that rooting for Jairus is also rooting for Tekagi.

So, the worldbuilding is perfection and the characters engaging – Jairus for his good nature, determination, and intelligence, and Tekagi, because she’s sooo bad! I woke up in the middle of the night to read more chapters under my sheets like a kid afraid of being caught by my mom. The plot is driven by Tekagi’s ambitious designs for most of the book, but Jairus does evolve as a character by the end.

There are plenty of loose ends by the book’s conclusion to hook a reader into picking up the next in the series. I know I will. Highly Recommended.

*****

My Name is Danny by Danny (and Andrew Joyce)

If you need something to read that will warm your heart, lift your spirits, and make you laugh, this book will do it. What a fun way to spend an hour.

Danny the Dog lives with his human, Andrew, on a boat in Florida. This collection of brief stories focuses on Danny’s adventures, his human and animal friendships and rivalries, and his daily activities including acquiring hotdogs. He gets into a lot of trouble and is great at justifying his choices.

The stories are all told from Danny’s perspective with a rare story by Andrew while Danny’s vacationing. Each short chapter starts with a photo of Danny, a small dog with a huge personality. Danny’s wry sense of humor, indignation, and sarcasm are hilarious. He definitely thinks he’s in charge of this human/dog duo. Dog lovers will recognize many aspects of life with a canine companion. I adored this read and recommend it to dog lovers everywhere.

*****

I Am Soul by Yecheilyah Ysrayl

I picked up this book of poetry some time ago and finally opened it. My dad was in the hospital and I had hours to kill. I started reading Ysrayl’s poetry, and the first thing I noticed was the powerful words and rhythms. This is poetry with heart, and it begged to be read aloud.

I found myself a green space outside the hospital and for a couple of hours I walked by myself and read aloud, swept away by the strong emotions and messages, the sometimes hard and sometimes soft beat of the words, and the vivid imagery. The blurb says that this collection of poems focuses “on Black History, Identity, Personal Development, and Spirituality. Readers describe this collection as touching, intelligent, personal and deeply soulful.” I can’t say it any better. A moving read and if you can find a place to read it aloud, you won’t regret it. Highly recommended.

*****

Orion’s Gift by Anneli Purchase

Sylvia and Kevin are both escaping abusive relationships and individually head to Mexico to camp along the beautiful beaches of Baja. They end up meeting and fall immediately into lust, which gradually turns into something deeper. But nothing’s going to be that easy as the drug trade south of the border strikes a little close to their camper-homes, and even worse, their exes are trying to hunt them down.

Romance with lots of misunderstandings and emotional turmoil is a major theme in the book, but the subplots add a lot of drama to the story. Both exes—who are quite different from each other—have chapters from their points-of-view which adds to the building tension. The subplot regarding the drug trade escalates the danger, particularly for Sylvia.

I liked the quick pace of the story and there was plenty going on to keep me turning the pages. The descriptions of camping in Baja include well-researched details, not only regarding the landscape but also the challenges, the things visitors need to know, and some of the pitfalls. I enjoyed the authenticity they lent to the story.

Kevin was my favorite character as he’s pretty solid and straightforward. Sylvia suffers from insecurities throughout the book, but this struck me as realistic based on her history as a victim of domestic violence. She also has a secret that interferes with any dreams of a future with Kevin. A well-rounded story and highly recommended to readers of romance.

*****

The Lost Signal by J. S. Fernandez Morales

This book is almost 400 pages, and every word was worth the read. This sci-fi adventure was a great story. For ¾ of the book, there are two alternating, unconnected narratives. One storyline follows the efforts of a group of Earthlings who are preparing for an alien invasion aided by a renegade alien named Bill (named so for convenience).

The other storyline is told primarily from Fiona’s point of view. She’s an alien/human hybrid who’s lived her whole life with humans and feels compelled to protect them when aliens descend on their village and enslave them. The stories begin to overlap at the 75% mark and it’s a very cool twist.

Fiona’s story has a persistent undercurrent of tension as she navigates the alien environment. The villain that she’s connected to is consistently brutal and unpredictable while also oddly vulnerable. I love complex villains like this. He’s horrifying and redeemable. The Earthlings’ story isn’t quite as action-packed, but it is fascinating, particularly Bill’s role. And there are a couple of shocking moments.

Characters throughout the book are unique and plausible and emotionally rich, and I’d say that they stole the show, except the plot is also very cool. A great blend that makes for a great read. Sci-fi readers who enjoy alien stories, action and adventure, and great characters will love this. Worth every word.

*****

Smoke Rose to Heaven by Sarah Angleton

This book isn’t typical of those I normally read, and I’m happy to report that I enjoyed it. Spanning the mid to late 1800s, Ada Moses relates the story of her life to an old man called the Prophet, a key influencer of the Mormon faith at its initiation. The entire book is Ada’s narrative, but it’s told in such a way that I was immersed in Ada’s experiences as they unfolded.

The impetus driving Ada to tell her story to the Prophet is a secret manuscript that came into her possession as a child, a manuscript that is dangerous to the Mormon faith. The document has put her life at risk, and she wants to tell her story before death finds her. Though this was interesting, it wasn’t the plot thread that sucked me in and didn’t let go.

For me, Ada’s human story was more compelling. Her mother dies when she’s a child, and her father gives her away to his sister and her husband. Ada’s aunt is a fundamental Christian zealot and her uncle is a snake oil salesman with some skill at dowsing and other esoteric arts. Ada is caught in the middle, trying to navigate her way safely through her aunt’s fanaticism and seeking some desperately needed parental love which she finds in her uncle and his unsavory business partners. I was riveted by her psychological and emotional growth, insights, and perspectives. Her experiences guide her choices and determine who she ultimately becomes. This is a character-driven story, beautifully written, and thoroughly engaging. Highly recommended.

*****

Be a Happier Parent or Laugh Trying by Betsy Kerekes

Kerekes offers some wise advice for parents and delivers it with plenty of wit. The exaggeration and sarcasm woven into her view of children and parenting is hysterical, but throughout the read, it’s also clear that love makes up the solid foundation of her parenting style. Parenting strategies in the book are often creative and buried in fun, but there’s also some great guidance on discipline and the less glamorous trials of being a firm parent.

As a retired early-childhood mental health counselor, I found the information in this book highly relevant as well as laugh-out-loud funny. The ideas presented in the book are geared toward parents but are equally relevant to grandparents and other caregivers.

Kerekes isn’t shy about sharing her Christian faith and a few chapters focus on parenting within that framework. My impression is that though these chapters focus on Catholicism, they could apply to other faiths or to no faith at all, such as how to encourage kindness and charity in children. I highly recommend this book of sound parental advice delivered with love, fun, and a laugh.

*****

Happy Reading!

Book Review: Legacy of Souls

Blogging has been a blessing during this virus, helping me stay connected, providing a few laughs, and some heartwarming kindness. HRR posted a wonderful review of my book Legacy of Souls and made my day. ❤

Let Me Tell You the Story of...

Last year, I read one of D. Wallace Peach’s earlier works and ended up choosing it as my favorite indie book of the year. Excited by the prospect of truly enjoying an author’s work, I wanted to continue reading some of her repertoire and moved to one of her newest series – The Shattered Sea books.

I recently read the fantastic Soul Swallowers, and I decided following that up with the second entry in the series was worthwhile.

The Book

51r2wjeqkzl._sy346_Soul Swallowers
Author: D. Wallace Peach
2018
Amazon Link

I thought the first entry in the series was absolutely fantastic and I suggest it to everyone. I thought this seemed like a Game of Thrones done in a way more fantastical and more up my alley (i.e. less flopping wieners). I’m excited to see where this goes.

Non-Spoiler Review

Peach continues to amaze me and convince me that…

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