Happy Halloween! Bwa-ha-ha-ha. My 60-book Autumn Reading Challenge is stumbling along. I’ve read and reviewed 21 books so far.
October’s Part II book reviews includes my 4 and 5 star reads of fantasy, sci-fi, short stories, women’s lit, an exploration of spiritual landscapes, and a guide for new educators! I hope you enjoy the browse.
Click on the covers for Amazon global links.
Heir of Doom by Jina S. Bazzar
It’s been a while since I read Heir of Ashes, the first Roxanne Fosch novel. This one reminded me how much I enjoyed this kick-ass female character, as well as Bazzar’s complex world-building. This book picks up where the last left off. Roxanne is training with the hunters, but her halfbreed status will always leave her an outsider. When a young girl goes missing, Roxanne’s clan singles her out for blame. It’s a set up, and she has two weeks to find the child or face execution.
The pace moves quickly, and the action is well done. Danger is Roxanne’s constant companion and it’s hard to know who she can trust among these powerful and ruthless preternatural beings. Across the board, the characters are compelling, demanding, and rather scary. I’d last about 2 minutes with this bunch. Roxanne is tough! But she has a soft side too that puts the reader solidly on her team.
The world-building around the story is complex. There are multiple dimensions, magic talents, preternatural beings, clans and hierarchies and histories. I recommend reading the series from the beginning in order to absorb the backstory as its shared and to get a grasp on the large number of characters and their roles. The book ends with a cliffhanger, so you’ll want to keep going onto Book 3. Recommended for readers of urban fantasy and paranormal thrillers.
The Vintage Egg by A. C. Flory
A. C. Flory writes some great sci-fi, and though I’ve read her novels, this was my first experience with her short stories. Her imagination and polished writing skills never disappoint, and these six stories are original and entertaining. My favorite tale was broken into two parts—The Vintage Egg and Egg Run—which bookend the other offerings. I also thoroughly enjoyed The Christmas Roast. I read this collection in under an hour and highly recommend it. A great peek at acflory’s writing talent.
My Baby Wrote Me A Letter by Jacquie Biggars
Grace’s mother, Beth, disappeared when Grace was 5 years old. For most of their lives, Grace and her older brothers believed that their mother had abandoned them. Their father, Ray, had been stuck in Vietnam at the time, and he blames himself for the hardships his wife endured without him. All grown up and 8-1/2 months pregnant, Grace travels with her father to visit her brothers, and Ray brings a letter discovered in an old desk. The truth changes everything.
This short story is full of grief, anger, and self-blame. It also has plenty of humor along with lots of sibling banter. The deep camaraderie and caring between the siblings felt both authentic and poignant to me. A quick heartwarming tale with great characters and a message about the resilience of family and the power of love.
A Home for Her Daughter by Jill Weatherholt
The reading of a will reunites two old friends who must work together in order to take advantage of a generous inheritance. Janie, the mother of a little girl named Riley, has a secret—she’s just left an abusive marriage. But she’s not the only one with a painful past. Drew’s wife and daughter died in a car accident, and he blames himself for falling asleep at the wheel.
The characters are endearing, and they become increasingly closer as they face the challenges of fulfilling the will’s requirements and accepting their past mistakes. This is the perfect book for romance readers who appreciate cute kids and a sweet tale of second chances.
The Initiate by Sue Vincent and Stuart France
This is the first book in the Triad of Albion series which chronicles the explorations of Don and Wen through some of the old churches and ancient ruins of the UK, a journey “beyond the realms of accustomed normality.” It’s an erudite read, abounding with spiritual symbolism that weaves connections between Egyptian and Christian mythology, the ancient landscape and its lore, numerology, astrology, tarot, and other esoteric studies.
Essentially a true story, the characters’ discussions of their discoveries are accompanied by photographs. Images are also the basis for a series of reflective poems at the end of the book. I found the read dense with information, sometimes beyond my grasp, but with enough gentle humor and personality to keep me engaged. The authors’ knowledge of lore, history, and symbolism is highly impressive. Recommended to readers interested in the “deeper truths of existence… and opening wide the doors of perception.”
They Call Me Mom by Pete Springer
I was impressed with this highly accessible, entertaining, and informative read. A long-time educator, Springer shares his practical experience and the wisdom gleaned from working with children within the educational system. My impression was that the book is geared toward new teachers as it offers ideas about setting up a classroom, dealing with colleagues, administrators, students, and parents.
As an early childhood mental health counselor, I was most interested in Springer’s thoughts about discipline. I was glad to discover a thoughtful, holistic approach to children and their challenges in light of the stressors in their lives. Springer highlights a number of strategies that would be helpful to parents as well as to educators.
Most of the chapters provide concrete and anecdotal examples of Springer’s approach in action. He touches on cultural diversity, grief, problem-solving, and other life experiences that are part of a child’s broader education. My favorite chapters were Memorable Students and Funny Moments at School. These two chapters are testaments to his success as an educator as well as to the joy and value of teaching in general.
Tales from the Annex by Audrey Driscoll
I jumped into this collection of stories despite never having read H.P. Lovecraft or Driscoll’s novels based on the HPL character Herbert West. That may have been a mistake since the first seven stories are “by products” of Driscoll’s Herbert West novels. Without knowledge of the original stories, I had a difficult time following the narratives.
Don’t get me wrong. Driscoll is talented, and these are beautifully written tales. The prose is polished, and the characters have distinct voices and believable sentiments. I’d characterize the style as literary fiction with a turn-of-the-century tone. I suspect that Herbert West fans will appreciate the connections.
The final five stories are stand-alone speculative fiction tales, and I thoroughly enjoyed them. My favorites were The Colour of Magic and A Howling in the Woods, though I recommend them all. Each tale is unique, and they range from creepy to bone-chilling!
Fireborn by Trent McDonald
Dr. Elliot Everett-Jones has a semi-scholarly knowledge of ancient Celtic myths, and when his archeologist brother unearths a giant cauldron in the English countryside, Elliot is intrigued. When naked blue zombies, berserkers, and goonies start popping up around the world and going on killing sprees, Elliot searches for the mythological keys to their destruction.
I prefer a more cohesive plot with less wandering and more foreshadowing, but there are intriguing elements to the story—specifically some exploration of Arthurian legends, including Excalibur and the Lady of the Lake. I also enjoyed the human relationships, particularly between Elliot, his ex-wife, and his brother. The relationships felt natural, and the dialog was well done. These were the scenes where I felt the most connected to the characters’ emotional life and reality.
Otherwise, the book requires a willing suspension of disbelief on multiple levels. Elliot becomes the Merlin of the story, and there’s a fair amount of magical dreaming, mind reading, and implausible fighting skills. The battle scenes are well written, though Elliot’s final solution seemed a bit out of the blue. Recommended for readers who enjoy slightly campy stories and are interested in Arthurian legends, evil kings, and battles with zombies.