The end of summer has arrived, and it’s time to wrap up August’s reads before the start of The Necromancer’s Daughter book tour.
But don’t worry, there won’t be a lack of book recommendations. For the next 2 months, I’ll be sharing my favorite books written by my tour hosts, a bunch of marvelously talented folks.
This bunch of August reviews are for 4 and 5-star reads including a cozy mystery, a horror anthology, and lots of main-stream fantasy, including a complete trilogy.
Click on the covers for Amazon global links.
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
I’d heard so many good things about this book that I decided to pick it up for a long long car ride. I ended up reading the whole thing in one sitting. Linus Baker is a rule follower, and he’s sent by the Department of Magical Youth to provide an objective evaluation of an orphanage on an island at the end of the train line. This orphanage is home to six children with extreme magical abilities, and if Linus finds the orphanage unsuitable, he will objectively recommend shutting it down, despite what that means for the children. What Linus discovers on the island is frightening, imaginative, eye-opening, and heart-warming, and it will change him in profound ways.
This is a delightfully creative book, full of childhood imagination. Linus is so stiff in the beginning that he’s almost scary, and the kids are so “atypical” that they’re almost unrelatable. But during the course of the book, this group of children, their fiercely protective caregivers, and Linus grew on me, and by the end, I was enamored with the whole lot of them. I wanted to cheer them all on. Secondary characters are wonderfully distinct as well.
The book is full of humor and fun (it’s about children after all), and there were times I laughed out loud. It also has many incredibly tender moments that made me want to jump into the book and hug the characters. The message of accepting and protecting those different from us, especially children, may seem a little heavy-handed at times, but it’s a message the world needs to hear over and over again. I highly recommend this engaging, disarming, funny, big-hearted book to readers who love children, love the antics of childhood, enjoy a fantastical twist, and want to close the last page with a giant smile.
Broken Heart Attack by James J. Cudney
I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in the Braxton Campus Mysteries series and had a great time with book two. When elderly Gwendolyn Paddington dies from an overdose of cocaine in the middle of a King Lear performance, Kellan determines to find out why. Gwendolyn’s sister-in-law, Eustacia, is behind the unofficial investigation, and the rest of the wealthy family become suspects from top to bottom. Kellan’s search for the truth isn’t easy. There’s a missing will and he has to be careful of stepping on the touchy sheriff’s toes.
There are a lot of red herrings in the story as Gwendolyn’s extended family is full of morally flawed potential murderers. Few of them are likable, but they’re entertaining and have distinct personalities. A feisty favorite from book one, Nana D is back. She’s meddling (as usual), and running for mayor, and she provides some wonderful humor and banter to the read. Her relationship with Kellan is a delight.
The pace moves along quickly, and I didn’t know until the end who the murderer was. This book can easily be read as a stand-alone, and I recommend it to fans of cozy murder mysteries. I look forward to the next in the series.
Dead Stars and Stone Arches: A Collection of Utah Horror
I love the cover of this horror anthology and was eager to dive into this generous collection of short stories and poetry set in Utah, a state I’ve visited several times. The book contains 37 short stories and poems, written by 30 different Utah authors.
The stories are broad in subject and range from short flash fiction to longer pieces with an informal chapter-like format. Some take place in the past, some in the future with a sci-fi flavor. All are creepy. I enjoyed the variety and found the writing quality very good across the board. A few stand-outs for me were Tick Way, Guardian, Derelict, and Flesh and Feathers.
Poems make up about a third of the offerings. The poetry is superb and thoroughly bone-chilling. I can’t pick a favorite because I enjoyed every single one of them. Recommended to fans of horror short stories and poetry who don’t mind having nightmares. (Kindle Unlimited).
Dark Shores by Danielle L. Jensen
This is a non-stop YA action fantasy with some comprehensive world-building, great characters, and underlying romance. When the Empire of Celindar learns of a secret land, the Dark Shores, across the Endless Sea, their first thought is of conquest. But they need a guide, and the magic-wielding Maarin seafarers are the only ones who know how to get there. Seventeen-year-old Teriana is forced into the role, the lives of her people riding on her cooperation and success.
Marcus, the skilled leader of a Roman-style legion, heads up the mission. His relationship with Teriana is stormy, to say the least. These characters share the 3rd person POV, and both are rich with backstory and personality. The tension between them is understandable and entertaining. Many of the secondary characters are also compelling, and I found myself caring about what happened to them. (I’m glad this is a trilogy so I will get more of them in future books).
The pace moves along well, and though Book One ends with a few plot points resolved, it also leaves lots of open questions, including secrets, bad guys to be dealt with, an unknown traitor, and a romance that I already know is heading into trouble. The end was satisfying, but it’s clear that there’s more to come and this book is just the opening. Highly recommended to fantasy trilogy readers who enjoy strong characters, fast-paced action, and enemies-to-lovers romance.
Seafire (Seafire Book 1) by Natalie C. Parker
In the first book of this steampunk trilogy, young Caledonia Styx captains the Mors Navis, a ship with a crew of tough young women, each of them survivors in a world terrorized by the Bullets, a brutal sea-faring organization that killed Caledonia’s family. When a Bullet crewman defects and wants to join her crew, she won’t even consider it. She’s about to throw him overboard, but he shares valuable information – her brother is still alive, and he can help her rescue him.
The book takes place in a dystopian world, and the steampunk elements are deftly woven into the story, often critical to the sea adventure. Fast-paced with lots of action, this book is primarily an account of the Mors Navis’s travels from one tough encounter and escape to another while on their way to the Bullet ship, and readers should be prepared for a cliffhanger ending with minimal resolution.
Between all the action, the main and secondary characters shine, their personalities distinct, their relationships nuanced and complex. The story unfolds in Caledonia’s third-person pov. Trust is hard for her, and in many ways, she’s a tortured soul as she takes responsibility for what happened to her family and worries about keeping her crew alive. I look forward to reading the next book in the series. Recommended to YA fantasy readers who don’t mind cliffhangers and who enjoy a fast-paced, woman-power adventure.
Steel Tide (Seafire Book 2) by Natalie C. Parker
The second book in this steampunk trilogy picks up directly where the first left off. Caledonia survives to fight another day. She finds more allies, goes on daring rescues, gets trapped by the brutal Bullets who rule the sea, and finds her way out of messes. Sea battles and fights abound as she seeks her brother in this detailed fantasy world.
The action feels non-stop despite occasional breathers. I like it when world-building is essential to the plot, and that is definitely true of the steampunk elements of this story. Issues of trust plague the different sea-faring crews, and Caledonia continues to weigh the need for violence against her hope for a peaceful future.
The cast of characters expands as new groups join Caledonia’s fleet, but they’re distinctly drawn and memorable with understandable motivations and hurdles to overcome. Some definitely grew on me. Book Two doesn’t end with quite as much of a cliffhanger. A new leader has taken control of the Bullet fleet, and he and Caledonia have history, raising the stakes. Recommended to fantasy readers who love a good adventure. I’m reading onward.
Stormbreak (Seafire Book 3) by Natalie C. Parker
In the final book of the Seafire Trilogy, all elements of the story escalate: the fleet grows, more characters join Caledonia’s command team, the violence intensifies, and the stakes rise. Sea battles continue to dominate the text, and she makes an unsavory alliance out of necessity. There is a sense of a final strategy coming together and a showdown ahead as the Bullet’s new leader takes the offensive.
As the book sails toward the conclusion, there are moments of celebration for victories, as well as despair and doubt as important characters are lost to the war. There’s a touch of romance as well that continually gets put on hold, dependent on an uncertain future. Themes of trust, sacrifice, and choice take center stage.
The ending was satisfying as all the elements set up throughout the trilogy come together and play a role in the final chapters. There’s no happily ever after here, but a sense of peace does win out. To avoid spoilers, I’ll leave it with a thumbs up for steampunk readers who enjoy a swashbuckling sea adventure with lots of battles, intricate world-building, and relentlessly powerful female protagonists.