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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Otherworldly #Writephoto

copyright Sue Vincent

Meriel knelt by the flame’s soft heat. “It’s so quiet here.”

The wrinkled woman sat beside her in hushed contemplation. “The stones hold the silence of time. Do you not hear it? An ancient serenade exists between the voices of the sea and the silence of the stones. There is no song without silence, and no two songs are the same, just as no stones shaping this world are the same. Each song arises from a singular darkness. Each stone bears a singular face.”

Her eyes closed, Meriel listened to the stone’s silence and peered into her clay body, attentive to the voice of her inner darkness. She waited to behold what lay hidden and fearful there, what lay wished for with secret hope, desiring to be set free. She began to see that love wove the cloth of Belonging and entwined in its folds ran threads of otherness, uncertainty, surrender, and integration.

“Will you speak to me of my journey?” Meriel asked.

With a crooked stick, the woman stirred the fire. “The Belonging never leaves us alone, child. We hold our yearning in our hearts always. We wait for an invitation to love, but we are already loved. We wait for love to fill us, but love already abides within us. When we extend our hands in love, we offer the diamonds of our souls. We offer that which is sacred and terrible in its possibility, for love is a creative and rebellious force. It is the culmination of all our dreams and desires, and therefore it is equally shrouded in fear.”

Her fingers unfolded, revealing a diamond the size of a pebble. “So, we offer the diamonds of our love. And our lover, our friend, our other, sees through the darkness only a rock, one of these pebbles worn smooth by the sea.” She closed her fist and opened it again, this time tendering a round stone. “Old wounds blind them, even though it is a precious gift we offer. We feel misunderstood, unappreciated, and in our anger and hurt, we withdraw the gift. When we are wounded, we offer the diamond conditionally. It is payment for filling our needs, for following our orders, appeasing our desires. In this way, we also turn our gifts into stone.”

A smile crossed the woman’s lips, and when Meriel looked again into her palm, the stone shimmered and transformed before her eyes. “Offer your diamonds always, Meriel. Offer them when they are rejected; offer them when they are perceived as valueless rocks; offer them when it hurts you to do so, when you tremble in pain, when your wounds gape open and bleed. Only then will they truly be the diamonds of your soul. And only then will your lover or friend or brother or sister see them for what they are. Love creates space for wounds to heal.”

Meriel wanted to believe in the possibility of transformation, the promise of hope in a world she found enormous, fractured, and filled with fear. “Where am I in my soul’s journey?” she asked.

“You are everywhere,” the woman said. “The journey is cyclical, round as our globe. We walk it individually and as communities. It ripples through our lives, often more than once.”

Meriel accepted the diamond offered in the woman’s hand.

“You must decide where you are, child, how long you will stay there, what you are willing to endure, and whether you are brave enough to risk love and hold it in your heart.” She touched Meriel’s shoulder and left her to her dreams.

At dawn, Meriel scaled the stone steps leading to the island’s grassy cliffs. Her arms rose to her sides. Love’s song, the song of the sea, her own song blended to fill the patient silence of the stones. The tides surged in her blood. Her heart pounded against the sheer walls with the waves, and her eyes filled with light. Love spiraled, descended, and alighted around her. The mist lifted, and as a warm wind bent the grass, her heart leapt without fear from the edge of the precipice into the rising sun.

***

A modified snippet from my Dragon Soul series. I hope you enjoyed it.

In response to Sue Vincent’s alluring photo prompt. She posts her prompts on Thursdays if you want to join in.

I apologize for my absence from visiting your blogs. I spend a few days caring for my mom while my dad was hospitalized. All better now. Stay safe and take good care of yourselves. ❤

Surviving Lockdown

Life continues to feel surreal.

A week ago, the hubby’s fixation on the news became too much.

I had to flee the house.

And ended up outside:

Beneath blue skies.

Spring said, “Hello, I’m here for you!”

I found some moss that needs a serious haircut.

And got my dirt ready.

In a week or so, I’ll plant my cold crops and watch them grow.

My dad turned 89, so I left a message in sidewalk chalk outside his senior apartment.

And in my writing room, I’m making masks.

And writing. A little.

My heart goes out to all those who are suffering.

To all those who are caring.

I wish you warmth, peace, and light.

Welcome Diana Peach #wouldyourather

Back before the world turned upside down, I answered some “would you rather” questions for Jill. If you’re in the mood for something a bit lighthearted, head over to Jill’s, and I hope you end up with a smile. And while you’re there, if you want a dose of sweet romance, check out her books. ❤

Jill Weatherholt

Today I’m excited to welcome friend, writer, blogger and devoted daughter, Diana Peach. At the risk of sounding corny, Diana is a real peach. The support she provides to writers on her popular blog is incredible, not to mention quite time consuming, I’m sure. For those of you who are familiar with her gift of world-building, you can understand why I was excited to read her answers. Thanks so much for playing along, Diana!

Would you rather be the funniest person in the room or the most intelligent?

Funny, definitely. I’m not funny. For a period of time (back in the olden days) I tried to memorize jokes and kept a little notebook for reference – yes, I was a dork. But humor never came naturally. It’s a special kind of intelligence that I lack despite my valiant efforts at joke collection. I love spending time with spontaneously witty people, but I wish…

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