July Book Reviews

Another month of Awesome Reads!

Thanks so much for stopping by to browse some wonderful books by indie authors!

July book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of historical fiction, poetry, a cozy mystery, western romance, family romance, two episodes of a fantasy serial, a sci-fi adventure, and prehistoric fiction. Phew! Something for everyone! I hope you enjoy the reads.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The Art of War by Angela Panayotopulos

This is an exquisitely written book with beautiful imagery, a vivid sense of place and culture, and rich characters. It’s one of those stories that sneaks up on you, and before you realize it, you’re holding your breath.

The first quarter of the omniscient narrative introduces twins Kallypso and Gavril from age ten through twenty, before WWII comes to their island home in Greece. At first, I wondered about the purpose of this tour through their innocent and mischievous childhoods, but I realized by the time the war stealthily encroaches on their lives that I was fully invested in these characters and their community. The tension was palpable, the sense of doom throttling.

War comes, and like any war, it savages the characters caught up in the struggle as well as those on the periphery. Gabe, a fisherman, joins the freedom fighters and heads to the mainland. Kalli, an artist who paints religious scenes on the church walls, is left in the village with the women, children, and old men. First the Italians occupy the island. Then the Nazis.

The lives of both characters are decimated. Dreams are lost. Innocence is replaced with horror, starvation, and death. The omniscient pov allows some storytelling distance or the brutality would be almost too hard to take. The tragedies are heart-breaking partly because they’re so senseless.

But there’s also kindness and love, courage and conscience, loyalty and resilience. It doesn’t show up for a while, but there’s hope too.

Did I mention that this is an exquisitely written book? The quality of the prose and storytelling swept me away. It’s one of the best novels I’ve read this year. Highly recommended for fans of war stories, love stories, and literary fiction that grips you by the throat and doesn’t let go.

*****

Slivers: Chiseled Poetry by Balroop Singh

Singh’s poetry becomes more beautiful to me with every publication. This generous collection of micro-poetry was inspired by the Japanese syllabic forms haiku and tanka, as well as acrostic poetry where the first letter of each line, when read vertically, spells a word. Each poem is an exquisite glimpse into the author’s reflections on nature, emotions, and life. Photographs complement a number of the poems from each section.

The haiku is grouped by the source of Singh’s inspiration. Below is a lovely example from Clouds:

soft waves whisper
a thousand secrets of clouds
solemn soliloquy

An example of Singh’s tanka:

When the stream freezes
all sounds sink in the snow.
Trees stand bare and mute
gaping at the periwinkle sky
As he meets the morning sun.

An example of Singh’s acrostic entitled Dusk:

Dwindling hues of orange light
Usher in the stars
Shadows recede into darkness
Kissing the waning light

This lovely collection deserves to be read in quiet moments, contemplated, and savored, and I suspect that I’ll return to it in the days to come. Highly recommended to readers of haiku, tanka, and short poetry in general.

*****

Myth and Magic by Mae Clair

A wonderful romance/cozy mystery mash-up by one of my go-to authors. Veronica is the manager of the Stone Willow Lodge, owned by the wealthy Breckwood family. Ghost-sightings and other more gruesome events are disturbing the guests and making hay for the local newspaper whose goal seems to be driving the inn out of business. To find out what’s going on, the Breckwoods hire a private investigator who happens to be the black sheep of the family.

Caith unwillingly returns to his childhood town, pressured by his young son who wants to see his cousins and grandfather. Caith brings along a ton of psychological baggage based on old trauma that he’s unable to deal with. He and Veronica have their own issues to clear, but the attraction is as strong as ever (when she isn’t furious with him).

The romance part of the story is stormy and satisfying. The mystery part is much more… well, mysterious. The tension amps up as gruesome events at the lodge escalate and Caith runs into family resistance. The author slowly reveals Caith’s past, and I couldn’t help but worry that the tragedy of his history would repeat itself. There are red herrings and lots of potential suspects.

The plot is well done, with appropriate foreshadowing, and I didn’t know who the culprits were until the reveal. I have to say though that Caith and his three brothers stole the show. The relationships were complicated, but there were moments of pure joy too. A highly recommended standalone read for fans of deftly entwined romances and cozy mysteries.

*****

Keeper Tyree by Sandra Cox

Keeper is a bounty hunter and hired gun, past his prime and suffering from arthritis. The widow Cathleen O’Donnell hires him to kill the bandit that shot her son. He agrees, never expecting that Cathleen will show up at his campfire in trousers, determined to go along.

They don’t get far before they run into (and aid) a stuck wagon full of ladies of the night, and a crushed wagon carrying a fledgling attorney and his young son. Tyree and Cathleen see them all to their destination, and despite Tyree’s determination not to get involved with women, Cathleen’s smile is having an impact. Clearly there’s a romance in the making.

The hunt for the killer Pardee takes them into the Badlands. More characters enter the story (including a few “characters”) and the action continues to build with no shortage of face-offs and gunfire. I liked Cathleen’s determination to take down her son’s killer and Keeper’s attempts to ignore his feelings. A fun and adventurous story I highly recommend to fans who enjoy fast-paced westerns and an engaging romance.

*****

A Dream of Family by Jill Weatherholt

Weatherholt delivers another sweet romance of second chances and family. Molly owns her dream bookstore, but it’s going under as a new chain store gobbles up her customers. She has her heart set on adopting a little girl Grace, but if she’s struggling financially, she may lose that dream as well.

Enter Derek, handsome and successful with the business savvy she needs. If he can help her bookstore turn a profit, it helps him with some future business plans of his own. But Molly blames Derek for warning off her fiancé on her wedding day, an experience that magnified childhood insecurities from foster care. And Derek has some old family baggage of his own.

Despite the conflicts and misunderstandings, the tone of the book is genial and heartwarming with a strong emphasis on kindness, forgiveness, and family. The read is tagged as a Christian romance and faith in God plays a role in the characters’ healing. But it comes with a light touch, focusing on values that most humans can relate to regardless of faith. The characters are wholesome and likeable. Who can resist a six-year-old kid and a goofy puppy named Duke?

As a bonus, the book has lots of ideas for setting up a successful bookstore (or really any kind of customer-friendly business). That aspect added a lot of credibility to Derek’s character and it was fun to see the transformation of Molly’s shop as her life also transforms.

A sweet read for anyone who enjoys gentle romances and stories of family

*****

Dead of Winter, Journey 6: The Fluting Fell by Teagan Geneviene

Another installment of the epic adventure, this one starts off with one frightening dream! Emlyn’s dreams are vivid and convey a lot of information, but this one isn’t hers. She dreams a nightmare from Boabhan’s past as if it happened to her. The villain Arawn and the danger he presents becomes a lot clearer.

In the second half of this journey, Emlyn’s ability to see the dead comes to the forefront when the group of Deae Matras stop at an abandoned mansion. Her encounters with the dead, including the pale man and the white wolf, continue to be my favorite scenes. I think I know who he is… and look forward to Journey 7.

*****

Dead of Winter, Journey 7: Revenant Pass by Teagan Geneviene

After seven installments I’m becoming used to the modest pace and omniscient feel of the narrative. The backstory repeats now and then, likely catching readers up who are exploring the epic world at a casual pace. As always, the level of detail in the world-building is meticulous.

Like many of the journeys in this story, this episode has two “parts.” Journey 7 begins with Emlyn and her party of Deae Matres stuck beyond the veil in the Realm of the Dead without a clue as to how to get back. The setting is creepy and the resolution full of danger. In the second half of the journey, they search for the Lost Library, which appears to be nothing but ruins… only it isn’t. As is the case with several of the episodes, it ends on a cliffhanger. Dead of Winter continues to be an engaging read for fans of epic fantasy.

*****

Templum Veneris by Jeremy L. Jones

It’s not often that a second book in a series outshines the first, but I think it did in this case. This was a great sci-fi read full of action, intrigue, and engaging characters. I enjoyed meeting up with the team members from the first book as they embarked on another mission to reconnect with human colonies lost in the solar system – this time on the planet Venus.

What they encounter is a strong ruler and militaristic society of loyal subjects. Citizens are divided into warriors and workers, and all seems to function well, despite the feeling among the team that something is very off. This uneasiness adds a lot of tension as little by little the ugly underbelly of the Venusian culture is revealed.

The action is great and the pace zooms along. I read the story in two sittings, though it’s not a short book. What I enjoyed most of all was the characters. Each member of the team is well-rounded and highly distinct in their personalities and quirks. Motivations are clear and choices are logical and made complete sense to me. Where the first book in the series seemed more plot driven, in this one the characters shine, and I definitely was drawn in. Once again Viekko was my favorite.

This worked well as a standalone, but I recommend starting with the first book, Saturnius Mons. A great read for sci-fi fans who enjoy a rollicking adventure and great characters.

*****

Laws of Nature (Dawn of Humanity Book 2) by Jacqui Murray

I read the first book in this series a while ago, and it was great to travel back in time again (1.8 million years to be exact). I couldn’t wait to catch up with Lucy and her group of primitive humans. This book starts where the last left off, so I’d recommend beginning the series with book one, Born in a Treacherous Time, which blew me away, btw.

(Click here for the rest of the “book blast” review.)

*****

Happy Reading!

The Necromancer’s Daughter, and initial thoughts about Vella

I decided to give Vella a try.

In a nutshell, Amazon’s latest program (beta in the US for now) allows authors to publish new stories in serial episodes that readers can access though tokens. (The first three episodes of every serial are free — no fiddling with the tokens required). Readers can “thumbs up” episodes they enjoy and thereby push them up in visibility.

For authors who have published their episodic writing on programs like Wattpad, this is a great way to leverage their fanbase and earn revenue. Over a thousand fantasy stories showed up on Vella on the first day, and one had over a thousand “thumbs up.”

It wasn’t mine. Lol.

The Necromancer’s Daughter Blurb

The mechanics of setting up a Vella story, posting episodes, and editing them is easy… because there aren’t a lot of options. I don’t mind that, though some authors seem to want more formatting flexibility.

The cost per episode to the reader (after the first free ones) is pennies, and as far as I can tell, the author’s accumulated revenue after 80k words, is about the same as a kindle sale.

I’m undecided about whether Vella and I are a good fit, but I’m committed. Writing and publishing in episodes is nerve-wracking and instantly gratifying for those adrenaline junkies who enjoy hitting the Publish button with every “chapter.”

And when the serial story is finished, authors can always delete it and republish it as a book. In that regard, no effort is wasted. And who knows, we might pick up a few new readers along the way.

If you have the time and want to see what this is all about, here’s a link to The Necromancer’s Daughter.

You can also check out the Serial-Pro Teagan Geneviene’s story: Pride and Flowers, Prejudice and Dirigibles.

Have you considered Vella as an author or reader? Any first impressions?

If you have a Vella story in the works, feel free to share the link.

Laws of Nature: Virtual Book Blast and a Review

Jacqui Murray has a new book on the shelves. I’m a huge fan of her Prehistoric fiction, and my review is below. You did it again, Jacqui, transported me back in time 1.8 million years.


A boy blinded by fire. A woman raised by wolves. An avowed enemy offers help.

Summary

In this second of the Dawn of Humanity trilogy, the first trilogy in the Man vs. Nature saga, Lucy and her eclectic group escape the treacherous tribe that has been hunting them and find a safe haven in the famous Wonderwerk caves in South Africa. Though they don’t know it, they will be the oldest known occupation of caves by humans. They don’t have clothing, fire, or weapons, but the caves keep them warm and food is plentiful. But they can’t stay, not with the rest of the tribe enslaved by an enemy. To free them requires not only the prodigious skills of Lucy’s unique group–which includes a proto-wolf and a female raised by the pack–but others who have no reason to assist her and instinct tells Lucy she shouldn’t trust.

Set 1.8 million years ago in Africa, Lucy and her tribe struggle against the harsh reality of a world ruled by nature, where predators stalk them and a violent new species of man threatens to destroy their world. Only by changing can they prevail. If you ever wondered how earliest man survived but couldn’t get through the academic discussions, this book is for you. Prepare to see this violent and beautiful world in a way you never imagined.

A perfect book for fans of Jean Auel and the Gears!

My Review

I read the first book in this series a while ago, and it was great to travel back in time again (1.8 million years to be exact) and catch up with Lucy and her group of primitive humans. This book starts where the last left off, so I’d recommend beginning the series with book one, Born in a Treacherous Time, which blew me away, btw.

What I’ve enjoyed most about Murray’s prehistoric fiction has been consistent across her trilogies—the way she brings the time period to life with some meticulous research and well-educated guessing. The characters and their lives are fictional, but the primordial setting, the prehistoric human and animal species, migration patterns, and anthropological details about life had me fascinated.

The plot of this installment isn’t complicated. Lucy and her small group of “Man-who-makes-tools” are searching for a home-base after their larger group was attacked by “Man-who-preys.” They face natures challenges in a number of forms: freezing tempertures, seismic Earth changes, treacherous landscapes, animal predators, aggressive tribes, and hunger. Survival is a daily struggle.

The story is primarily in Lucy’s point of view, but there are two parallel tracks told by other characters: Ahnda, a subadult from Lucy’s original group who has escaped captivity, and Xha, one of the “Man-who-preys” who is tracking Lucy as she searches for a safe home. A later addition to the pov characters is a female named Wild who was raised by the large canines (Canus) of the time.

One of the clever aspects of the storytelling is the way Murray’s characters view, think about, and describe their world without a scientific and conceptual understanding of what they’re seeing. Naming, as you might have noticed in this review, is descriptive based on what is observed and learned through experience. Details such as these are immersive.

Book Two comes to a partial conclusion, but the books aren’t standalone reads, and the hunt for a home-base continues. Highly recommended to readers of prehistoric fiction who enjoy man versus nature stories and descriptive details that transport a reader back in time.

Book information:

Title and author: Laws of Nature

Series: Book 2 in the Dawn of Humanity series

Genre: Prehistoric fiction

Editor: The extraordinary Anneli Purchase

Available print or digital) at: Kindle US   Kindle UK   Kindle CA   Kindle AU  Kindle India

Author bio:

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular prehistoric fiction saga, Man vs. Nature which explores seminal events in man’s evolution one trilogy at a time. She is also the author of the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers and Building a Midshipman , the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. Her non-fiction includes over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, reviews as an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Natural Selection, Winter 2022.

Social Media contacts:

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Jacqui-Murray/e/B002E78CQQ/

Blog: https://worddreams.wordpress.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jacquimurraywriter/

LinkedIn: http://linkedin.com/in/jacquimurray

Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/askatechteacher

Twitter: http://twitter.com/worddreams

Website: https://jacquimurray.net

Happy Reading!

Smorgasbord Book Reviews – #Fantasy – Legacy of Souls (The Shattered Sea Book 2) by D.Wallace Peach

A wonderful surprise from Sally Cronin this morning… her review of “Legacy of Souls,” the second book in The Shattered Sea series. She made my day. 🙂

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

This week I caught up with the second in The Shattered Sea series by D.Wallace Peach – Legacy of Souls – My Review for Soul Swallowers Book 1

About the Book

Peace descends on the Ravenwood freehold, and Raze Anvrell trusts that as love lays open his life, the turmoil of his past will loosen its grip. But in the halls of Avanoe and catacombs of Ezar, political intrigues thicken. Deflection and secrets manipulate the truth, assassins whet their blades, and more than one ruler stakes a claim in the quest for power.

A swallower of multiple souls, Sajem files his teeth and inks his eyes. Tentacles of madness slither deeper into the slaver’s afflicted mind. His raids grow brazen, tactics harsh, and conscience stripped bare. Alliances fracture and form, and no one is too old or young, too wealthy or beautiful to spare.

As his father’s health fails, Raze…

View original post 519 more words

My Bookbub experience and a few tips

Phew. What an experience. Talk about pins and needles.

I ran my first Bookbub promo on May 15th and wanted to share a bit of my newbie experience — what I learned, and what I might do differently next time.

First of all, I dove into this effort after reading a detailed post by Deborah Jay (author’s of The Prince’s Man – an excellent fantasy series, I might add). Deborah provided wonderful guidance regarding her strategy as well as a look at her results.

I wasn’t as financially successful as Deborah, but I did turn a profit. Two months after the promotion, my sales are still above pre-promo levels. I’m happy with that.

I also hit #1 Bestseller in a number of categories including Epic Fantasy, ahead of Sarah Maas (and her 22K reviews) for a day! And ranked #24 in the Fantasy genre over all. That little “Best Seller” banner was a giddy high while it lasted.

Some things I learned:

Make your book available through multiple retailers.

Some authors say this doesn’t matter, but I had tried to snag a Bookbub promo a number of times in the past and was always turned down. My books were exclusive to Amazon, a requirement of Kindle-Unlimited. This worked great for lazy old me, but from my perspective, it seemed to be a problem when it came to Bookbub.

I took seven books off KU, including the series I wanted to promote, and three other books that were languishing on Amazon anyway. I had to wait for the KU contracts to expire which can take up to 3 months, so I did this step first.

When the KU contracts expired, I published all seven books on multiple platforms: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, and Googleplay. I didn’t realize that Smashwords publishes (on your behalf) on Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Apple. So I did more work than I needed to. But live and learn. Smashwords and Googleplay would have done the trick.

A special note here: Bookbub knows what they’re doing. If the book had only been available on Amazon, I would NOT have made my investment back. For me, the multiple platforms were essential to pushing up the sales.

Pricing

I went with the $.99 promotion, dropping my retail price from $2.99. I’ve heard that the bigger the drop, the bigger the incentive to buy from a reader’s perspective. I have no idea whether my price deal was significant enough to cinch a purchase if someone was on the fence, but there you go.

I dropped my prices a week ahead of the promotion on all sites. I didn’t know how long it would take for all retailers to make the adjustment and didn’t want a hiccup. This also enabled me to do some pre-Bookbub promotions to give the book a bit of a boost in rankings.

Be sure to check ahead and make sure the prices changed. This should be a no-brainer. But… I set up Googleplay to drop automatically and it didn’t! I discovered it the day after the promotion and lowered it then. UGH!

Pre-Bookbub Promos

The Bookbub promotion is expensive – $705 expensive. I used the family’s vacation funds, hoping, HOPING, that I’d be able to replace them. Phew. I also ran $100 in pre-promotions with various sites to build momentum and improve the book’s Amazon ranking. I went with 12 sites, about half of them free with no guarantees.

(There isn’t time to book some of the better promotion sites, so act fast before slots fill).

Basically this was a bust. I sold about 12 books this way with a revenue of $4. Next time, I’ll go with more free sites. Authors who use multiple platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) may do a lot better than I did.

First in a Series

Catling’s Bane is the first in a (4-book) series, and this was key, for me, in making the promotion a success. Sales of the other three books in the series topped 125 in the first week after the promotion, and they continue to sell across the retail platforms. I would not have broken even without them. If you’re thinking about giving Bookbub a try, I recommend going with the first book in a completed series (unless you’re last name is Rowling or Clancy).

Reviews

One question that Bookbub wants answered when considering your book, is how many reviews you have (and your average). I had 66 at the time of submitting, and apparently, this was enough. (I’ve hear that books with fewer are accepted too.) Getting reviews is no easy task! I’ve recommended Goodreads Reading Rounds before, and still believe it’s a great tool. The reviews are Amazon approved. Here’s a link to a post that explains more about them: Goodreads Reading Rounds.

Post-promotion reviews are coming in from Bookbub readers. Yay for Bookbub Readers! Not many of them are text reviews, but even those star-only reviews add up.

A Few Other Things of Note:

US or International or Both:

Bookbub offers a choice in promotion markets. It’s more expensive to go global, but I’m glad I elected this option and was accepted. I had sufficient sales both domestically and internationally to cover the combined cost. I would go this way again if I have a choice.

Reporting lag times:

Don’t panic if a week has gone by and your numbers are giving you heart murmurs. Retailers report at varying times! Apple, for example only reports at the end of the month, so if you run a promo at the start of the month, it will be a while before you have the slightest inkling how you did there. It took me almost two weeks to know that my family vacation was back on again.

Payment lag times:

This takes months, so don’t panic. My promotion was mid-May which Amazon will pay at the end of July. The other retailers take just as long.

Bookbub writes the blurb:

I didn’t know that Bookbub would be writing the blurb for my promo. A bit scary to say the least. They did a good job, but it wasn’t what I would have done (or did). My eyeballs fell out of my face. Just be prepared.

Cover:

This goes without saying. A professional cover is essential. Your promotion is competing with others in your genre.

Quality:

This also goes without saying. A Bookbub promotion is a big investment, and you not only want to snag a bunch of sales, but you want the readers to pick up more of your work. I made another editing pass through the series (and corrected a score of typos) in the weeks before the promotion. I was glad I did.

Was it worth it?

It appears so. I was a wreck, but ultimately Bookbub did what it says can do – provide a return on the investment, sell books, increase sales over time, improve ranking, and generate reviews. No guarantees, of course, but this seems to be a consistent outcome. Would I do it again? Yes.

Ranger Diana

Yosemite National Park

During the last two weeks of June, my husband and I took our first vacation in nearly a decade and headed to Yosemite National Park. It’s a wonderous place of waterfalls, huge trees, and giant rocks. I hiked and read books and was mistaken for a forest ranger. How did that happen, you might ask.

I was wondering why tourists approached me numerous times over two days, asking for information on trails, directions to the parking lot, and Band-Aids for blisters. Despite being my first time at Yosemite, I was able to answer their questions, show them the trail to follow on my map, and distribute first aid.

It wasn’t until my husband and I browsed our photos that the reason became clear…..

Ranger Diana

Other highlights:

Giant trees. I’m standing beneath one that was hollowed through the center by fire:

This tree is named Old Grizzly, estimated at 2900 years old:

The closest thing we saw to a bear. So scary!:

Sunset on Half-Dome :

Rocks and rocks and more rocks:

Vacations are wonderful, but it’s nice to come home.

June Book Reviews

Vacations are made for reading!

I just got back yesterday from two weeks at Yosemite National Park. Somehow, I still managed to fit in some reading time.

June book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of two memoirs, middle-grade fantasy, steampunk, historical/paranormal fiction, two poetry collections, a YA family drama, and a western romance. Something for everyone! I hope you enjoy them.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Flashes of Life: True Tales of the Extraordinary Ordinary by Pamela Wight

What a beautiful book. I started reading this collection of personal flash stories outside on my deck right before dinner. I read through dinner, and continued reading until the sun went down and the mosquitoes came calling. I just couldn’t stop. In the preface, the author hopes that readers will see glimpses of themselves, their families, their joys, and their lives reflected in hers. And that supposition that human life is full of universal experiences couldn’t be more true. I LOVED this book.

Wight’s flashes (pieces of short prose) read like beautifully crafted diary entries and in a way, the book is a memoir. These are stories about herself as a child, spouse, mother, and grandmother. Funny little stories about yoga and pets, food, even a beloved plant. Poignant stories about aging, illness, time together, joy, and So. Much. Love. Perhaps the feeling that I walked away with more than any other was gratefulness. Wight reminds her readers that life is full of wonderful moments if we are mindful, take the time to notice them, and gather them up for safe-keeping. Highly recommended reading for humans who want their hearts warmed over and over again. 

*****

ThunderTree by S. Cox

Another satisfying western romance/action novel from Cox. Ben is a loner with a capital L. He doesn’t want any attachments to place or person, but he also can’t let a bunch of outlaws take advantage of a young woman. After he rescues Katy, he takes her home to her uncle John T’s ranch where an offer of dinner turns into a very short stay (and then a longer and longer one) as a range war heats up with a neighboring ranch. The conflict starts immediately, and there’s plenty of gunslinging.

The romance is a slow build, and there’s more than one couple working up their courage. I liked Ben’s determined resistance and the lack of waffling in his convictions. The story is primarily told from Ben’s and John T’s points of view. Both men are stoic, though kind-hearted, and I liked the lack of wishy-washy, angsty vulnerability that often comes with romance novels. Male friendships are well written, and I enjoyed the distinct personalities.

I also liked the feisty and independent women in the story. No wilting petunias among the fairer sex either! These women know how to ride and shoot. As a whole, the characters are tough and honorable. They know themselves and what they want. Great characters, great action, and a nicely done wrap up. Recommended to readers of westerns who like a little romance in between lots of tension

*****

Apprenticed to my Mother: A Memoir of Barbara Le Pard 2005-2010 by Geoff Le Pard

I never thought of myself as a memoir reader, but when they’re this entertaining, I can’t help but fall in love with the genre. I’ve read a book of short stories by Geoff Le Pard and decided to give his memoir about his mother, Barbara, a try. What a touching book full of humor, compassion, and love. Lots of love.

The book starts with the funeral of Le Pard’s father, Desmond, an event that changed Geoff’s relationship with his mother, bringing it front and center. He became an unwitting “apprentice” for his father’s role, and got an education from his mother about her expectations. It made sense that his father’s death had created his opportunity and that the book would start at that point. But the book isn’t only about Barbara. Each chapter ends with a poem by Desmond, poems that highlighted this thoughtful and talented man and how much he loved his wife, family, and life in general.

As a person who takes care of her elderly parents, I could relate to many of the events that take place in the book from the baffling and frustrating to the downright hysterical. Though the book covers the last years of his mother’s life, there are plenty of look-backs to early times that give a well-rounded and colorful look into the Le Pard household. I laughed out loud at the Manure Years (something we had every spring at our house too), and the escaped guinea pig adventure. Another funny anecdote was after Barbara’s cataract surgery at the age of 82, when she took the author to task for not telling her that she had wrinkles. And there was the car that needed a half dozen clutch replacements… and Gran selling the garden vegetables when no one was looking…

I highly recommend this book to readers of memoirs who want to laugh, have their hearts warmed, and perhaps shed a tear.

*****

Calmer Girls by Jennifer Kelland Perry

I usually don’t read much YA relationship-based drama, but this book has been on my radar for a few years, and I decided to dive in. I’m glad I did. The writing is polished, the story had me hooked, and these aren’t teenage characters with frivolous problems. Samantha, her sister, and her mom are all flawed, as is Ben, the love interest of the two sisters.

The story unfolds in Samantha’s point of view. Her family is falling apart. Her father has moved away, and her mother is drinking too much. Money is tight. Samantha has a crush on Ben, but he falls for her sister, Veronica. Samantha takes a hit to her self esteem, but when the relationship fails, Samantha and Ben get a chance at love.

But it’s not that easy. Resentment drives a wedge between the sisters, and mistakes aren’t going to simply disappear. Ben has some problems of his own that the author waits to reveal. The mystery around his character and issues was intriguing, and I didn’t fully trust him. I had no idea how the story was going to resolve, and that question made me read well into the night.

Ultimately the story is about a family growing up, about dealing with love, disappointment, and wounded hearts. I could relate to how painful that process was for every character in the book. Wonderful writing and highly relatable characters. Definitely recommended for readers of YA drama and family sagas.

*****

New Day, New Dreams by Lauren Scott

This is the second book of Scott’s poetry that I’ve read. And I enjoyed it as much, if not more, than the first. Scott’s collection includes free form poetry, both with and without subtle rhyming. The poems feel personal, poignant, and from the heart, and many reflect the nature of love in its varied forms. Family relationships provide much of the fodder for reflection.

There were so many poems that I enjoyed that I stopped making notes. Some are touching and sentimental like “Morning After.” A poem called “Bananas” had me laughing with its silliness, and “Raindrops and Coffee” has wonderful imagery and a staccato rhythm (like raindrops). Other favorites were “In Loving Memory of Mom,” “Winter’s Lane,” and “Reflections.” Highly recommended for poetry readers who enjoy touching poems about life and family.

*****

A Ghost and his Gold by Roberta Easton Cheadle

This is a highly ambitious book, and with so much going on, I had to think about how to do it justice with a review. Perhaps most of all, it’s a lesson in history about the second Boer War in South Africa. While reading, it’s clear how much research went into the details of the war, troop movements, battles, and military maneuvering. The text is rich with footnotes and sourcing, as well as further descriptions and clarification.

What’s different from a “history book” is the narration of the war’s events through two fictional characters, one from each side: Pieter—a Boer farmer/soldier, and Robert—a British soldier. The two opposing characters make for an interesting contrast, and its easy to connect with their humanity and the tragedies that befall them, as well as to observe the atrocities on both sides.

The historical aspects of the story extend into the concentration camps where the Boer women and children were sent by the British and where many died from the poor conditions and widespread illnesses. I found this part of the book, narrated by Pieter’s daughter Estelle, the most riveting and tragic.

Overlaying the history and interspersed through the book is the modern story of Michelle and Tom who are being haunted by the ghosts of Pieter, Robert, and Estelle. I felt less connected to these characters and the paranormal part of the story, though the past and present are intertwined and the couple is pivotal to the book’s conclusion.

The book’s overall point of view is omniscient, offering a broad view of the war. Narratives occur in both present and past tense, and there are quite a few time-jumps that need to be kept track of, especially in the beginning. Recommended to readers of historical war stories who enjoy a touch of paranormal suspense. 

*****

Tree Fairies and Their Short Stories by D. L. Finn

In the redwood forest, the tree fairies and their human friends are tasked with protecting the woodlands and it’s creatures. They have the help of the Wise Trees who’ve watched over the land for thousands of years. In many ways, this middle-grade book is about real environmental threats, all crafted into age-appropriate and magical stories.

The three tales are connected, sharing the same characters, and each one addresses a different danger to the natural world. “Tree Fairies” introduces the forest fairies and kicks off their relationship with young Daniel and his human family who will save the land from clear cutting. “Roselle” addresses the illegal dumping of toxic waste. And in “Goldie,” the fairies drive off a pair of poachers.

There’s plenty of magic in the books and activities that middle-grade kids will relate to such as fairy school, writing papers, listening to parents, and standing up to bullying by the “city fairies” who’ve lost touch with nature. A fun read for kids who enjoy magical tales while learning about the importance of protecting the old forests.

*****

The Sensaurum and the Lexis by Richard Dee

I believe this novel might share its steampunk subgenre with “biopunk.” The characters, dialog, and social norms seem Victorian in nature, but the story takes place in a world designed around one highly sophisticated technology—in this case, synthetic biotechnology, specifically biorobotics and prosthetics.

The story follows Jackson and Jessamine, two teenage orphans who work as spies for a secret agency determined to stop an evil mastermind from bio-engineering the brains of ordinary citizens in order to turn them into mindless slaves. Along with bio-tech, there are other forms of technological upgrades including gadgets that help the duo survive, gas guns, rail vehicles, and flying machines. Some of the bio-science is a big stretch, but with some suspension of disbelief, it’s consistent and enjoyable.

These two characters share the narration, though the story is told in an omnipresent pov. Dialog is formal and a bit stilted based on the era, but it felt natural in this altered world. I liked both characters, especially Jackson who is new to the spying game and learning the ropes. There’s some romance and tenderness, but the book is full of action, danger, and intrigue as the two heroes and their group try to discover what is going on and how to stop it.

Recommended to readers who enjoy steampunk worlds, plots around mind control, evil master minds, and the teens who foil them.

*****

Poetry Treasures (WordCrafter Poetry Anthology)

Poetry treasures is a short anthology that took less than an hour to read. It offers an introduction to nine different poets with a modest (2-3 page) biography and a sampling of 3-5 poems from each contributor. Some of the poetry is exceptional, and there’s a variety of themes. Styles include syllabic forms (haiku and nonet, for example) as well as free-form pieces.

The poets included in the book are Sue Vincent, Geoff LePard, Frank Prem, Victoria Zigler, Colleen Chesebro, Kevin Morris, Annette Rochelle Aben, Jude Kirya Itakali, and Roberta Eaton Cheadle. Recommended to readers interested in learning about the above poets and sampling their work.

*****

Happy Reading!