August Book Reviews: Part 2

Part 2 of a busy month of reading!

Thanks for all the kind wishes about my dang back. It’s made giant strides toward wellness, and I intend to keep it that way after spending the entire month of August groaning.

August book reviews (part 2) include my 4 and 5 star reads of poetry and fantasy, a courtroom romance, a book of dark short stories, two sci-fi reads, and three children’s books.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Dying for Space (Sunblinded #2) by S.J. Higbee

I read Book One of the Sunblinded trilogy a couple of years ago and have no idea why it took so long to read Book Two, since the first book was awesome. And this one was even better.

In this sci-fi page-turner, the first-person protagonist Elizabeth returns. She’s enrolled in an officer training program on a mercenary space station responsible for protecting Sector Two, and she’s looking forward to active service. But her father, General Norman, has other plans. He’s a hot head, a bully, and says he wants her safe. She surrenders to his pressure and takes a job in Procurement, but she’s smart and observant, and there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye. Then the bodies start piling up.

The world building is great from the functioning of the space station to the unique space-jargon used by the characters. The plot gave me whiplash, it moves so fast, and I read the book in two days, sneaking around to get another chapter in and staying up late. There’s a lot of tension, quite a few twists, and Elizabeth is as easy to anger as the General. When the two of them are together, the sparks fly, and things get downright dangerous.

But the best part of the read is the characters. Besides being one tough cookie, Elizabeth is emotional, compassionate, fervent, and at times out-of-control reckless. And she has a dead friend in her head challenging her every decision or adding snarky commentary. That may sound weird, but I tell you, it works. Secondary characters are equally compelling, and at times its hard to know the good guys from the bad. Everyone seems slightly compromised, and there are some surprises.

I recommend starting with Book One, as this is one chronological story. Highly recommended for sci-fi fans and readers who enjoy a fiery female protagonist who can hold her own. I sure to dive into Book Three soon.

*****

Feasting Upon The Bones by Suzanne Craig-Whytock

This speculative fiction anthology of short stories by Suzanne Craig-Whytock is loaded with gems. I read it in one sitting late into the night, saying to myself, “Just one more,” until the book ran out of pages.

The stories are broken into three sections: Be Careful What You Wish For, What Goes Around, and The Price of Love is Loss. I had a bunch of favorites in each section but found every story entertaining and well “executed.”

Some of the stories were creepy like “The Grandmother Tree” and the “Human Match.” Some were dark and twisted like the title story “Feasting Upon the Bones” and “Brotherly Love.” A few fell into the realm of dark humor and had me chuckling such as “Mr. Death Comes To Call” and “As the Crow Flies.” And believe it or not, there were a few heartwarming tales of kindness and love like “Little Soldier” and “Perfect Food.”

The collection of stories is impressive. Highly recommended to readers of short stories who love dark speculative fiction.

*****

Behind Closed Doors: A Collection of Unusual Poems by Robbie Cheadle

When the author subtitled these poems “unusual,” she was right in her description. She says in the foreword that many of these poems are about her experiences during lockdown or her emotions and thoughts about aspects of her life. In that way, this collection feels like a glimpse into the author’s world.

There are many poems in the collection that are positive reflections on life, such as a beautiful poem about motherhood called “He walks away,” a lovely metaphorical poem about marriage called “contrasting colours,” and some of my favorites including “Can you see the butterflies” and “Sleep.”

Perspective (tanka)

Is it possible
To escape conformity
And break your shackles
By riding a bicycle
With your face in the wind?

Many of the poems express the author’s stress, disillusionment, and struggles of the time, including working from home under immense pressure. I think many readers will be able to relate to the strain of the pandemic on different parts of our lives. I connected with many of these, including “Do you want it enough,” “The corporate hunt” and “Making a splash.”

Trust (tanka)

Always remember
When studying the outside
Of anything in life
That it may be misleading
And tell agreeable lies

Highly recommended for readers who enjoy poetry from the author’s heart and experience.

*****

In the Best Interest of the Child by Felicia Denise

Olivia Chandler is a high-powered attorney. She’s asked by a respected judge to represent a young girl Rena. Rena was injured in a car accident that killed her mother and put her father in a coma. Her situation is so similar to Olivia’s childhood experience that it raises old trauma. While Olivia dedicates herself to making sure Rena doesn’t end up in the foster care system, the case changes her life.

But the story is only half legal-drama. The other half is romance, almost too good to be true except that it runs up against Olivia’s deeply ingrained self-doubt related to her childhood.

The characters are deftly drawn and consistent—endearing, charming, greedy, and despicable (this is about lawyers, after all). If I had one tiny complaint, it would be that the extended family of Olivia’s love interest, Bruce Bellamy, is just way too wonderful. I loved Olivia’s strength most of all and her determination to protect her young client. There’s some questionable behavior going on that Olivia is determined to ferret out.

I enjoyed this well-written story on multiple levels. It’s not only about how the legal and foster care systems work (and don’t work), but the romance is sweet. The pace is steady and the dialog is exceptional. Well-edited. Highly recommended for readers of romance with a lawyerly twist.

*****

1NG4: A Long Short Story by Berthold Gambrel

Gunnar works as a research assistant on a floating science station years after the seas have risen and mankind has run short on land. Though he’s merely an assistant, he has important work – to run tests on a technology that (might be alien and) promises to provide limitless energy . All is going well until the science platform is attacked. At the same time, an AI rises from the sea floor with some powerful skills. Gunnar wonders if the world hasn’t gone insane.

One of the things I liked best about the book was Gunnar’s voice as the novella’s narrator. He’s just an average guy and he’s got an average guy’s perspective – just doing his job on the one hand and a little over his head on the other. The AI, named 1NG4, is fast, smart, efficient, and seems to be helping the crew. I liked her scenes and how the humans responded to her, but she’s an enigma.

The plot moves along at a clip. There’s a lot of mystery, distrust, and intrigue that isn’t explained, but the new technology is at the center of it. The reader has to go with the flow and come to their own conclusions. I figure I know the answer.

*****

Dead of Winter: Journey 8, The Lost Library by Teagan Riordain Geneviene

I think this was my favorite episode of the series so far. Emlyn and the Deae Matras begin to explore the Lost Library. Osabide and Zasha have disappeared, and when they return to the group, Zasha isn’t herself, but a woman from 1000 years ago. In this strange altered reality, women of the past and present overlap. Do they have the means and courage to do what’s necessary to bring Zasha back?

The journey starts with a riveting prolog, and with the reader caught up on back story, this one gets right into the action and mystery of the library and its portals. Beautiful details and lovely imagery bring this episode to life. I’m looking forward to Journey (episode) 9

*****

I learned through Sally Cronin that Dawn Doig donates the proceeds from her book sales to a school for deaf children in Cameroon. I was inspired to help out and purchased the three books below. Thanks, Dawn, for your kindness.

Hair Peace by Dawn Doig

Johanita despairs her tight kinky hair. She wants flowing locks and soft curls. Her mother takes her to the mall, and she sees wigs of different colors and styles, and her dreams come true. For a week, she tries various wigs and none of them work for her. Then she meets Zara. Johanita learns a valuable lesson about inner beauty and friendship.

A cute children’s book about being happy with who they are, and about how true friendship has nothing to do with hair. Colorful illustrations accompany the story. Perfect for children at an age where they begin to compare themselves to others.

*****

And So, Ahmed Hears by Dawn Doig

A young boy doesn’t sing or talk or hear the roar of the sea, shouts of warning, or his mother’s call. Concerned, his mother takes him to the doctor and audiologist. Fitted with hearing aids, he gets to hear the sounds that he’d missed before.

A beautifully illustrated children’s book for young children with hearing aids or interacting with hearing-impaired people, especially peers. A simple story about diversity and acceptance

*****

Wadee and the Worry Wakes by Dawn Doig

Wadee the Warthog can’t sleep because he has the worry wakes. He worries about his friend the zebra losing his stripes, the anteater getting his head stuck in an anthill, pesty mosquitos spreading malaria, teasing, and a host of other troubles that come to him in his dreams. Each morning when he wakes, everything is fine. Finally, the gray parrot shares an old African proverb: “When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.”

A lovely story for children who worry by day or night. The illustrations of the African animals are bright and colorful. Recommended for young school age children

*****

Happy Reading!

August Book Reviews: Part 1

I read so many books this month I have to split them into two posts.

I was laid up with a bad back and had to spend a lot of time resting, and what better way to relax than to read. Thank goodness for books! Part II will follow in a few days.

August book reviews (part 1) include my 4 and 5 star reads of poetry, sci fi and fantasy, a crime thriller, and a children’s book.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Life is like a Mosaic: Random Fragments in Harmony by Sally Cronin

This collection of poetry kept me up late. I’m a fan of syllabic forms and like it best when the structure fades into the background, transitions are seamless, and the meaning and emotion of a piece rises to the forefront. Cronin’s poetry does that effortlessly. All poems within this collection are complemented by an evocative image that adds another layer of meaning to the words.

The book begins with a variety of syllabic poems focused on nature and the author’s reflections on daily life, including love, peace, aging, dreams, and loss. Some of my favorites were: The Day After, Birthdays, The Future?, Immortality-Writers, Spices, and …

A Toast to Life

Bottles
once filled with wine
have now been re-purposed
as decorative reminders
of fun.
A time
when friends raised high their glasses
in an affirming toast
to the richness
of life.

The latter part of the book changes to longer, rhyming poems about the author’s life, with a delightful focus on childhood, the teen years, travel, and friendship. My favorites in this section were Childhood Memories, Rebellion in Frome, The Lure of the Waltzer, and Farewell to Colorful Friends. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy syllabic poetry and reflections on life

*****

Oskar’s Quest by Annika Perry

Oskar, a little bluebird, finds himself on the island of Roda where the flowers are weeping. Why? Because Drang, the darkest storm cloud in the sky, has captured Maya the songbird, and her music has stopped. Normally a timid bird, Oskar decides to talk to the dark and windy Drang. What follows is his quest to set the songbird free. He discovers that Drang merely wanted a friend, and Oskar comes up with a wonderful solution that saves the day for everyone.O

Oskar’s Quest is a picture book geared toward toddlers and preschoolers with colorful illustrations by Gabrielle Vickery. The vocabulary is accessible to young children as is the theme of kindness and friendship. The story touches lightly on teasing and bullying. It also encourages children to be brave, for what seems scary at first might turn into an opportunity to make friends. This is a delightful story for young children and highly recommended.

*****

Out of Time by Jaye Marie

In this thriller, Kate Devereau wakes up in the hospital without any memory of the violence she’s endured. Nor does she remember any of the people in her life, including a past lover Michael who wants a second chance, or her ex-husband Jack, a sociopathic killer trying to do her in. David Snow is the detective tasked with her case. All four of these characters share alternating points of view in the story.

Kate’s character was the most interesting to me as she’s the one most in the dark. As the reader, I knew more about what happened than she did, but there were many tidbits of information I learned along with her. The author makes no secret that Jack Holland is the murderer and intends to finish the job he started. Jack is completely evil, but the other characters are nuanced and easy to relate to.

The pace moves along well, the tension is good, and I finished this book in two sittings. There aren’t many twists and turns; instead, the return of Kate’s memory provides a counterpoint to John’s increasing menace and David’s attempts to learn the truth. Recommended to readers of thrillers who enjoy a fast-paced story.

*****

The Scarlet Ribbon by Anita Dawes

The book starts with a horrific accident. Maggie is hit by a car, and she’s in the hospital in a coma. Her body might be immobile, but her mind is another story. She enters parallel levels of existence through astral projection, listens to the guiding voice of darkness, and tries to fulfill a mission she doesn’t understand in order to return to her life. But things aren’t quite what they seem and the twists and turns are plentiful.

The first half of the story started a little slow for me, but it picks up significantly when a rather startling twist takes place and doesn’t stop twisting. Things got very interesting, and I had no idea how they were going to work out. The ending was a surprise.

I liked all the characters, found them three-dimensional, and could relate to Maggie’s confusion, her changing relationships, and her struggle to understand what was happening to her. Most of the secondary characters are nuanced and sympathetic. The exploration of alternate realities was intriguing as well as the speculation about a person’s journey, what they need to accomplish in their lives, and the nature of death. Recommended for readers who enjoy great twists, and a jaunt through parallel worlds

*****

Operation Outfect by Alex Canna

A billionaire hires Neil Grenham to recruit a select group of investors to fund a scheme to send the genetic code for human life into space. Neil also must convince the aliens on those habitable planets to turn the codes into human beings. This goal becomes the main plot of the novel, and it’s full of interesting discussions about the art of persuasion, the viability of life on other planets, and climate change since the Earth is on the brink of serious disaster.

The project returns Neil to South Africa where he once worked within the apartheid machine. Backstory about those days transforms into a second plot later in the book: Neil has an old secret, and several characters have their own agenda regarding the space mission. Despite the backstory, there isn’t much foreshadowing of the shift in plots, and it seemed a little out of the blue for me.

This sci-fi novel reads at a steady pace and is full of believable details related to climate change, space travel, Fox news, and some references to covid-19. Mostly a book of planning and discussion, the action picks up toward the end. I enjoyed the characters and found them all realistic and well-rounded. Neil’s first-person narration worked well and I liked his dry humor and commentary on the events of the past and present. Recommended to sci-fi readers who enjoy stories about plans to colonize other planets and how those plans might go wrong.

*****

Song of the Sea Goddess by Chris Hall

This whimsical and magical read is set in South Africa and follows a handful of delightful characters as they deal with some strange happenings including a mysterious bucket of Atlantean gold that burns fingers, the appearance of a naiad and selkie, a couple of lurking bad guys, flying whales, a shape-shifter, and a concrete factory that’s polluting the rivers and sea.

The plot rambles and is full of tangents, some of them quite entertaining though they don’t go anywhere other than to develop character and add flavor to the village setting. For much of the book, I questioned where the story headed, but that said, most of the plot threads wrap up well in an explosive and magical ending.

What I enjoyed most about the book was the fabulous characters. Other than the lurkers, the group is wonderfully original and quirky. The friendships are adorable, and I could easily picture the amiable village community. The two Aunties were a riot, and Abu and Albertina were the epitome of kindness. They were my favorites, and I enjoyed their chapters the most. Recommended to readers who enjoy quirky characters and a whimsical adventure. 

*****

Jonah by Jan Sikes

Jonah had a choice: prison or abandonment on an island. He opts for the island and finds himself in an inhospitable environment that he’s not sure he’ll survive. Then Titus shows up, an unusual boy with webbed fingers and glowing eyes who offers hope and a way out if Jonah is willing to change his life.

This short story, in some ways, works as an allegory for the process of finding self-acceptance, integrity, fellowship, and redemption. It relies heavily on the books The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz, and The Dark Side of the Light Chasers by Debbie Ford, both which Jonah studies while trapped on the island.

Magic also comes into play, perhaps allegorical for the real “magical” transformation that comes with self-discovery and owning one’s choices. Overall, the story worked and kept my attention with its unique setting and relatable characters. Recommended to readers who enjoy allegories and a fictional overview of the steps leading to personal growth.

*****

Happy Reading!

Vokhtah: sci-fi world-building with acflory

THE most original sci-fi book I’ve ever read is Vokhtah by Andrea Flory. The depth of her world-building and character-construction is highly creative and intensely alien, right down to the language these insect-like creatures use. I’ve been wanting to interview her and finally got the chance. Welcome Andrea!

1. You decided to create an alien world without humans. Lots of authors do that, but their characters are often “human in disguise” with human-ish thoughts and emotions and cultural variations. Your characters are definitely NOT human. What inspired you to create a completely alien species?

Aaaah Diana! Thank you for inviting me, but…you’ve opened a real Pandora’s box here. What inspired me? I could say it was the original Mr Spock played by Leonard Nimoy, or the character of Dexter, the ‘good’ psychopath, or the aliens of The Left Hand of Darkness by the late Ursula K. Le Guin, but that would only approximate the truth.

To give you a genuine answer I would have to change your question to ‘Why do so many humans create aliens in the first place?’

To that question, my answer is that we’re looking for answers about ourselves. Humans are such a mixed bag. We run the gamut from saints like Mother Teresa to monsters like Ted Bundy. Why are we so different? In creating my aliens, I tried to create a dark mirror to the familiar, a contrast by which we could see ourselves more clearly. And what could be a greater contrast than flying, sociopathic hermaphrodites?

2. For a book to engage readers, characters (particularly the protagonists) need to be relatable. Readers want to feel connected to them, and this is often accomplished through shared “human-ish” experience and emotion. What was your thought process in how to achieve relatability while maintaining a sense that these are very different creatures?

Every society requires some kind of co-operative ‘glue’ to survive. On Vokhtah, my alien society evolved to value strength, courage, justice, honour and the paying of ‘debts’, traits we humans recognize and value too. Those traits provide a bridge between them and us. Plus, I have to admit that some of my aliens are ‘nicer’ than others. The hardest part of writing them was stopping myself from making them too nice.

3. Your world-building is deep and complex.  Did you plan it out in advance of writing? And to what level of detail? Did it evolve as you wrote the first book?

Nanowrimo 2004 triggered the creation of my aliens, but the world took about nine years to evolve, and it required a lot of research, including a crash course in basic astronomy. The relationship between the twin suns has a profound affect on the planet so I had to learn about binary star systems and how they might affect the day/night cycle as well as the seasons. This is my reference ‘calendar’:

And then there’s the con lang [constructed language] spoken by my aliens. Because their lungs are in their wings, sound is produced by pushing air through tiny ‘pipes’ called cilia. As a result, their language evolved as a mix of organ-like sounds together with optional ‘scents’ that add an emotional depth to their words.

Adding to that complexity is the fact that, as hermaphrodites, my aliens are neither ‘he’ nor ‘she’ but ‘it’. Trying to make English reflect these constraints without being too awful to read was a…challenge.

4. I know you enjoy making images as you conceptualize your story.  Tell me more about that process and your reasoning.

Some people can visualise everything perfectly in their heads. Me, I have to see the things I imagine in some kind of physical form, otherwise I miss the ‘obvious’.

One of those obvious things I almost missed had to do with how many arms my aliens have. I wanted them to have ‘clever hands’ and powerful wings that look a bit like bats, but bat wings look like this:

Those wings rely on impossibly long ‘fingers’, leaving no room for functional ‘hands’. The challenge was to find a way for my aliens to have both hands and wings.

It took a while, but as I messed around with various models, I suddenly realised that my aliens needed not one set of arms but two! That ‘ah hah!’ moment combined with a lot of images of black leather eventually led to this:

Still a work in progress, but getting there.

5. What excites you about writing these books?  What are you most proud of?

I love a challenge, and I love doing research, but what I’m most proud of is that I stayed true to the original vision of the story.

I created sociopaths so I could explore what it means to be human. I created hermaphrodites so I could explore gender. But to stay true to both those themes, I had to create a language that was both gender neutral and lacking in names. That resulted in dialogue like this:

Begging,” the Apprentice sent in desperation. “Allowing others in group to join Tellers. Not deserving this.”

There was a short silence before the Runner replied.

Others can re-joining caravan,” it said, “but not Apprentice, Flyer or that Plodder. Life-debt must being cancelled.”

One of my first beta readers strongly advised me to re-write the dialogue in standard English, to make it ‘easier’ for readers. I did agonise over that one because I know that too much ‘dialect’ can make dialogue almost incomprehensible, but there was no way I could change the dialogue without changing everything about the story, starting with the biology. I kept the dialogue.

6. Thank you so much for sharing your creative adventure with us, Andrea. Anything else you’d like to add?

Vokhtah was, and is, my passion. If the book had been picked up by a traditional publisher, I am sure I would have been told to change a great many things, including the dialogue. One of the joys of being an Indie is that I can stay true to the vision that made me write the story in the first place. That freedom is a gift of immeasurable value.

And so is the gift of community. Family and friends are precious, but sometimes their eyes glaze over when I talk about writing. When I come here, it feels like coming home. Thank you, Diana, for always making me feel welcome in this accepting community of writers and readers.

Huge hugs to all,
Meeks [aka acflory]

Diana’s review of Vokhtah:

This is a hard book to describe. “Pure Alien” is a good start, and I’m impressed by the author’s ambition and execution. Vokhtah is an alien planet and the characters are insect-like (my impression) creatures who engage in their own sort of political intrigue, espionage, and social caste system. They’re clever, dastardly, selfless, and selfish – much like humans – but there the similarities end.

The world-building is rather amazing and humans won’t find much that’s familiar here. Even the speech is different. The iVokh and Vokh are genderless “its” and don’t have names, referred to by their role in society, their ranking, and their talents. Social norms are dictated by groups and reinforce variations in dominance and subservience. It takes about a third of the book to get used to.

The story unfolds from multiple points of view, all alien. Flory doesn’t pamper the reader with backstory or explanation, but tosses us right into the strange world – sink or swim. The experience is immersive, but it requires patience to figure out who these aliens are and what the heck they’re doing. I enjoyed the story-telling, the fascinating world, the author’s imagination and writing skills. The pace was excellent and kept my interest.

I did spend a fair amount of the book confused about the characters, though. This is primarily, I think, because they don’t have names and, in many cases, go by multiple designations. For example, there are a number of Sixths and Sevenths. A Blue is also a Messenger who is also a Healer. A Teller is also a Trader, and is sometimes an Apprentice, so sometimes they’re the same character, sometimes not. There are a lot of identically designated characters as each location/eyrie in the story has the same basic social structure, and the book involves travel. I struggled to keep them straight until about 50% through when the plot began to narrow down the action and further define the characters’ personalities and motivations.

But then, I struggled to keep Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon straight. That one I gave up on; this one I didn’t. And it was worth it. By the end, I was ready for the next book in the series. I highly recommend Vokhtah to readers who love pure alien sci-fi, love a reading challenge, and want to engage with the work of a wonderfully creative imagination.

Amazon Global Link

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!

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!

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!

My 5-star reviews of books by Sally Cronin, blogger and writer extraordinaire

Sally Cronin and her blog Smorgasbord Invitation is a household name around WordPress. She’s one of the most generous bloggers this side of Sunday, and how she manages to keep up her wide range of posts continues to amaze me. I think she has a workshop of elves in the attic.

If you’re not already a fan, check out her blog for book and author promotions, reviews, music, humor, food and health tips, short stories, and poetry. All that, and….

she’s an exquisite writer.

I couldn’t think of a better way to thank Sally for her kindness than to share my reviews of some of her books. You can’t go wrong with any of these.

5-Star reads by author Sally Cronin

(In no particular order)

(click on cover for global link to Amazon)

Life is like a Bowl of Cherries: Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet

I’m a fan of Cronin’s short stories and snagged this anthology the day it came out. The author describes it as a collection of short tales that reflect “the complexities of life, love, and loss.” That’s a fit description. There are stories of kindness, family, grief, courage, and second chances. The characters are ordinary and relatable, but they’re also extraordinary in those moments that define who they are as people.

The first story in the anthology, The Weekly Shopping, is hilarious if not a little ominous, but the rest of the selections are touching. Many are heartwarming, and I wanted to hug the characters. I enjoyed the whole collection but my favorites were: The Scratch Card, The Charity Shop, The Date, and The Gardening Assistant. Between the stories are selections of syllabic poetry. A crown cinquain entitled The Birds was just beautiful. I highly recommend this anthology to anyone who loves well-written short stories about life.

***

Just an Odd Job Girl

Click on cover to order

One of the books that flew west with me was Sally Cronin’s Just an Odd Job Girl. In more ways than one, it’s a great summer story.

I picked up this book while on vacation and thoroughly enjoyed it. A quick read at 156 pages, the book begins with an older Imogen. At 50, she’s on her own, traded-in by her husband for a younger “fast-tracker.” After 25 years of raising children and keeping house, she feels frumpy and bored, and decides to find a job.

The temp agency asks for a resume of her work experience, and all she has is a long list of pre-marriage odd jobs, starting with a summer stint as a teenager at a seaside gift kiosk and rambling through temporary positions with a dental office, department store, bar, funeral parlor, boys school, and country inn.

As the reader joins Imogene on a reflective journey through her odd jobs, it’s impossible not to laugh at her antics, the colorful characters she meets along the way, and the predicaments she gets herself into and out of. What I enjoyed most, was young Imogene’s humanity. She’s a wonderful combination of funny, compassionate, resourceful, and fearless. I couldn’t wait to see the fix she got into next.

In addition to laughs, Just an Odd Job Girl has a lovely message for young adults as well as those of us getting on in age: that life is full of opportunities, that wonderful people are everywhere, and that you are never to old to grow. Get your copy for the beach or backyard hammock. You won’t be disappointed.

***

Life’s Rich Tapestries: Woven in Words

Cronin is a master storyteller and this collection of poems, flash fiction, and short stories makes for a delightful afternoon. The first part of the book is comprised of syllabic poetry with themes based on nature, the human experience, a love of animals, and a bit of magic. Following her poetry, Cronin offers a number of 99-word flash fiction stories, and then dives into her short stories for the bulk of the read.

The short stories were my favorite part of the book as the author writes with a great deal of heart, which comes through beautifully in her plots and characters. Most of her work is positive in nature with a focus on the goodness found in life. Like her poetry, Cronin’s short stories are arranged around themes: dogs, cats, and speculative fiction (which includes a broad range of tales). My favorites were Great Aunt Georgina, and The ‘1812 Overture’ but there are many others that I thoroughly enjoyed. A highly recommended book for all ages.

***

What’s in a Name? (Volume 1)

What’s in a Name is a delightful collection of 20 short stories organized alphabetically by the names of the main characters. A few stories are dark, some are magical or humorous, and many close with a sense of poignancy. Cronin is a marvelous storyteller, and for a reader, spending an afternoon immersed in the lives of the people behind the names is time well-spent. For me, the last story in the collection “Jack” was the icing on the cake, but all the stories are unique and well worth the read. Highly recommended for any reader who enjoys short stories about the human journey.

***

What’s in a Name? (Volume 2)

I read the first volume of What’s in a Name and was eager to give the second a try. Volume 2 is a collection of short stories that picks up when the first ended, covering names starting with K through Z (Kenneth through Zoe). Cronin includes a bonus short story for a collection coming out later in 2018.

This is a quick read that I breezed through in a few hours, sitting outside in the spring sunshine. Many of the stories have older characters, covering a range of topics from heartwarming reunions, grief and loss, recovered dignity, and romantic love beyond the grave. There’s also a bit of happily ever after and match-making, as well as some swindling, and a taste of well-deserved murder! The variety is highly entertaining and kept me engaged throughout.

Cronin is a master storyteller and I recommend this collection (both volumes) to readers of all ages.

***

Sam, A Shaggy Dog’s Story

This read is a little more than an hour, but it’s an hour of cuteness and laughs. I’ve lived with dogs for most of my life, and the attitudes and antics of Sam, a Collie, were delightfully familiar. This tribute to a dog’s life is narrated by Sam himself, starting when he was a newborn and stretching into his old age. I rarely laugh out loud while reading, and this book was an exception.

Sam has a very funny (as well as adorable) perspective on life with accounts of his cat friend Henry, his love of chicken and sausages, his dislike of veterinarians, his job as a paper shredder, and his occasional encounters with “that Bloody Danny,” a little canine with poor manners. He relays his experiences with “cat speak” as well as his acquisition of several human words which are strategically employed to earn pieces of cheese.

The book is organized into short chapters by topic. This is a lighthearted and endearing read for anyone who loves dogs.

***

Flights of Fancy

I’ve read several of Cronin’s books of short stories, and this collection of eleven tales is as enjoyable as the others. I read it in a single afternoon, completely immersed. As usual, the author includes a wonderful variety of tales from touching stories of eternal love in The Other Side of Heaven and Curtains, to adorable cuteness in Henry’s Story, and humor in Psychic Parrot. Highly recommended for anyone who loves short stories and well-told tales.

***

About Sally

Sally Cronin is the author of fourteen books including her memoir Size Matters: Especially when you weigh 330lb first published in 2001. This has been followed by another thirteen books both fiction and non-fiction including multi-genre collections of short stories and poetry. Her latest collection, Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries: Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet, reflects on the absurdities and sometimes tragedies that drop into our lives.

As an author she understands how important it is to have support in marketing books and offers a number of FREE promotional opportunities in the Café and Bookstore on her blog and across her social media.

After leading a nomadic existence exploring the world, she now lives with her husband on the coast of Southern Ireland enjoying the seasonal fluctuations in the temperature of the rain.

Thank you, Sally, for all your wonderful support of this blogging/writing/reading community.

Happy Summer Reading!

May Book Reviews

Summer is Coming (or Winter)! Time for some reading!

Summer is always a busy time of year here in the Pacific Northwest. The rain stops and we all spill outside. My husband and I named our deck “vacation.” So every afternoon we go outside on “vacation” to read.

May book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of a lot of poetry, two installments of a serial fantasy, a fallen angel fantasy, a thriller, and a prequel to a new mystery. I hope you enjoy them.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Word Craft: Prose & Poetry: The Art of Crafting Syllabic Poetry by Colleen Chesebro

This book is a must-have for writers of syllabic poetry. Chesebro has the experience and credentials to have crafted this easy to follow and detailed look at twelve forms of Japanese and American syllabic poetry, as well as their variations. Styles range from the well-known haiku and tanka to the less familiar gogyohka and etheree. Though written for poets beginning their exploration of these beautiful forms, I learned quite a lot (and I’ve been writing several of the forms for years).

Chesebro’s explanations not only include the technical aspects of each poetic form, but a quick history, the style’s creative intent, and tips for finding inspiration and writing. These aspects of each poetic form are conveyed in a concise manner, and each section is followed by examples of her poetry and the poetry of authors I’ve enjoyed for years. The poems not only illustrate the preceding lesson but are beautiful in their own right.

The quality of this book and its citations make it useful as a “text book” on the craft of writing syllabic poetry, appropriate for academic settings. Chesebro’s conversational style, easy to understand explanations, and poetic selections also make it accessible to a wide range of learners. The book’s format lends itself to lesson-planning for young poets.

Highly recommended to poets who are just starting out or who’ve been writing for years. An excellent learning tool filled with wonderful examples of the forms.

*****

The Vanished Boy by Harmony Kent

 I read this book in two sittings. I even listened to it on my phone while working out to Jane Fonda. I couldn’t put it down. What parent hasn’t had those moments of panic when a child doesn’t call, or shows up late, or wanders off? For Carole, that scare becomes a nightmare as her son Jayden vanishes without a trace.

The first 75% of the book follows Carole as she desperately seeks clues. I was riveted to her every move, including the realistic struggle of tracking her son through social media, with all the unhelpful information and hurtful comments that come with it. The author did a great job with Carole’s navigation through the technical aspects. Her resourcefulness felt authentic as did her unraveling of the clues—even as she’s emotionally falling apart.

The story is told in Carole’s tight pov until the last quarter of the book when several other characters share their experiences in their own points of view and in varying formats: flashback-style narratives, diary entries, and an interview. This is where the details of the events surrounding Jayden’s disappearance come to life. I would have liked the story to continue with Carole, but the pov of the perpetrator was worth the diversion.

The pacing is desperate until the wrap up at the end. The plot holds together well, and there are some surprises that I didn’t see coming. A great read for fans of fast-paced thrillers.

*****

Crossroads (Winds of Love): Poetry and Prose, by Jude Kirya Itakali

I enjoyed Jude Itakali’s debut poetry book. This is no ordinary collection of poems about love. Instead, Itakali’s poems tell a story about the journey of love, beginning with a prologue and progressing through three Parts. Part 1: Longing and searching. Part 2: Intimacy and Lust, and Heartbreak and its horrors, and Part 3: The other side of love, and New beginnings. The structure intrigued me as well as how he describes some of the poetry as short stories. The styles range from rhyming sonnets to free form verse to a number of syllabic forms including haiku, tanka, senryu, and nonet.

Personally, I agree that love is a journey with parts (or stages), and it was interesting to see the poems divided this way, as well as to follow the emotional journey with the author. A favorite from the section on longing:

Hope

Sing me to sleep
Nightingale of sorrow
Soothe my lonely heart
Cool breeze of twilight
Let the robin trill in the dawn
And bring my soul hope
Let the first rays of sunrise
Beam upon the One
With whom I’ll spend, my last days.

*****

Son of the Serpent (Fantasy Angels Book 2) by Vashti Quiroz-Vega

Son of the Serpent is Book 2 of the Fantasy Angels series, and the story of the fallen angels shifts from Lilith, the instigator behind the angels’ banishment, to Dracul, the son she bore on Earth with Satan. Where Book 1 includes a large cast of pov characters, I enjoyed the narrower focus on Dracul. That said, if you enjoyed Lilith in the first book, she’s still in the picture and has some chapters of her own.

Dracul’s goal in the story is to find his mother, learn why she tried to murder him, and then kill her. Lilith’s goal is to find her perfect mate and rule a world corrupted by her evil. While she’s the epitome of despicable, Dracul is nuanced. Despite his propensity to drink blood and murder, he is full of regret and turmoil and desires redemption and love. I enjoyed the inner conflict and his emotional volatility.

The author weaves the “quest” plot into encounters with biblical characters, places, and events including Noah and the flood, Lot, baby Moses, and Sodom and Gomorrah, to name a few. I’m not especially familiar with the bible, but I recognized elements of the stories, and followed easily. Like the bible, there is rape, evil, and plenty of graphic violence.

The writing and dialog seemed formal, which gave it an authentic biblical feel. I enjoyed that aspect, though the narrative style created a bit of distance from the characters. Pacing was good, and Dracul’s emotional rollercoaster was compelling. He’s a great character, and I look forward to more of his story as the focus shifts in Book 3 to the angel Gadreel.

Recommended to readers who enjoy biblical spin offs, fantasy, fallen angels, and stories of good versus evil.

*****

House of Sorrow: Legends of Madeira by Joan Hall

Ruth lives alone in an old Victorian home. For her whole life she hasn’t believed in luck of any sort. She’s not superstitious, but there are some coincidences that leave her wondering. House of Sorrow is a look at her life, the relationships she develops, her volunteer work, and the newsworthy events of the 1960s including the moon landing and the Kennedy assassinations. Despite gentle pressure from her concerned nephew to move into assisted living, Ruth refuses to sell her home, and only she knows why.

This novella reads at a steady pace. The plot unfolds subtly, and the reveal doesn’t come with a big splash. This story is a prequel to a series, and from that perspective, it works great to set the stage. The length of the read is perfect (about 66 pages, plus back matter which includes the first chapter in the continuing series).

The details of the time are well done as is the setting, and it’s easy to get a feel for the house, neighborhood, and town. I found the characters thoroughly believable and distinct, and the unfolding of Ruth’s life is relatable. There aren’t any villains beyond the mystery surrounding the house, and I would like to learn more about the letter she found in an old chest, a letter that changed her life. Recommended for readers of mysteries, especially as a prequel to the following series.

*****

Just Her Poetry Seasons of a Soul by D. L. Finn

Finn offers a generous supply of poetry to while away the hours. Part One of this collection focuses on the author’s love of nature and her peaceful moments of reflection when enjoying the world outside. It includes a number of selections based on motorcycle roadtrips through sunshine and beautiful scenery. Part Two is entitled Seasons of the Soul and focuses on a wide range of personal emotions from dark to light, including feelings of loss, anxiety, yearning, self-discovery, and love.

As a whole, the tone of the collection is positive with an emphasis on self-awareness, gratefulness, respect, and personal growth. A lovely book for readers who especially enjoy uncomplicated, sincere, and uplifting poetry. One of the author’s nature poems that I enjoyed:

Waves

The waves glide smoothly on top
Of the salty surface, proudly…
Blending against the azure
Until they merge together profoundly.

Their roar precedes them…
As they hit land—this is where it ends…
They are positive, but they are wrong…
That was only their birth, now the journey begins.

*****

Dead of Winter, Journey 4, The Old Road by Teagan Geneviene

I read journey 4 on the heels of 3. It was fun reading them back to back, though I’m becoming used to the installments and look forward to them each month. In this episode, the danger to Emlyn and the Deae Matras increases since the brethren haven’t given up the hunt. This installment gives the reader a deep look into Boabhan, a member with some remarkable abilities, and a familiar face joins the group.

The writing continues to engage me, and I like the increased action now that I have a good feel for most of the characters. They’re distinct and well rounded. The story moves along at a good pace with lovely descriptions and details about this world. I have no idea where it’s going, so I look forward to starting Journey 5.

*****

Dead of Winter, Journey 5, Llyn Pistyll Falls by Teagan Geneviene

I think this was my favorite installment of the Dead of Winter (serial) Journeys so far. The backstory of the characters and world is taking less text now that I’ve come to know them, and the pace of the story continues to pick up. The dead are starting to make their presence known, the Un’Nafians are still in pursuit of Emlyn, and she’s gradually revealing her unusual skill to the Deae Matras.

I especially enjoyed the beginning of this journey and the way Geneviene gave glimpses into a variety of random characters lives as the dead came calling. The ending is a huge cliffhanger, an effective one as I’m eager to know what happened! Readers interested in the story, should begin with the first journey. Recommended to fans of epic fantasy.

*****

Happy Reading!

April Book Reviews

Happy May! Time for some reading!

April was a month of catch up on my to-do list, which included resuming my Jane Fonda workouts from 1985 (before some of you were born!) That means I’m not reading on the treadmill anymore, but I still made time for some great books!

April book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of a western romance, a military romance, an afterlife time travel fantasy, a serial fantasy, and a horror anthology.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The Seal’s Temptation by Jacquie Biggar

Another awesome action/romance mash-up from Jacquie Biggar, and this one ranks toward the top of my favorites. After a disastrous mission and rescue, the seal team is taking a breather at the peaceful cattle ranch of Chief Seal Frank Stein. Maggie is among them, still suffering from the trauma of her time undercover with the Mexican cartel. While the attraction between Frank and Maggie heats up, all is not well at the ranch as cattle disappear and calves are slaughtered. Drug smugglers and a couple of escaped convicts are causing trouble, and the team can’t help but get involved.

What I loved about the book was the depth of the characters, the whole team. This isn’t a light romance with the usual tropes. No drama queens or kings in this read. These people have serious lives and histories. They’ve risked their lives for each other, and friendships and loyalties run deep. The relationships are grounded in multi-layered emotions, in the maturity that comes from age and from facing hardships together. Personalities are well developed, and there’s a strong sense of history. Maybe part of that is because…

This is Book 7 in the series, which probably wasn’t the best place to start. There are 6 books that provide a lot of backstory and relationship building before this one. The book did read well as a stand-alone, but that said, it makes sense to start at the beginning of the series, to get to know the characters and learn their stories chronologically. It took me a bit to catch on, but then I was hooked.

To be honest, I skimmed the few sex scenes, but I did fall for the romance and action and characters. The pace moves along quickly, and I enjoyed the skilled and well-edited writing. I may have to skip back to book one and start at the beginning. Highly recommended to readers who love a military romance mash-up.

*****

Gwen Slade, Bounty Hunter by Sandra Cox

Gwen is a female bounty hunter in the old west of Kansas, and she has a problem when Jordie Kidd saves her young brother. She’s grateful, but Jordie has a bounty on his head. He’s also handsome and a nice guy. Gwen and Jordie form a temporary alliance as they hunt down the Rondo brothers, a lucrative bounty that will solve a lot of problems for them both before they go their separate ways.

This western is half romance with many of the familiar conflicts and longings that romance readers love. It’s also half action and adventure as Gwen and Jordie meet up with the brothers one at a time and bring them to justice. Readers who enjoy gunfights, danger, and hard rides will find plenty to hang their hats on.

The pace is good and becomes even better as stakes increase near the end. The plot is straightforward, but there are a couple twists too that I didn’t see coming. I enjoyed all the characters. They were well-rounded with strengths and flaws, believable emotional lives and motivations. Gwen is tough, insistent that she can play in a man’s world, but she also must rely on Jordie despite her independent streak. Trust me, all kinds of sparks fly.

This book is well-edited and has something for readers of westerns, readers of romances, and readers of both! Highly recommended.

*****

Dead of Winter, Journey 3 by Teagan Geneviene

Journey 3 continues with the same mystery, action, and beautiful descriptions of the two previous episodes. Zasha seeks the golden runes belonging to the mysterious staff in her possession. Emlyn runs away from the religious zealots who are determined to put her on trial, and she encounters the strange silver man who has visited her dreams. Finally, she connects with the Deae Matras.

The first half of this journey is still introducing characters, building the backstory, and developing the world. The action takes off in the second half with Emlyn’s flight. Emlyn continues to be my favorite character and her ability to see into the world of the dead is intriguing. I loved the scene with the silver spirit/man. There is still a lot to learn about who he is and what Emlyn’s role will be, which makes me eager to read onward.

The pace is moderate during the first half and picks up significantly as the journey progresses. The details incorporated into the descriptions are well researched and many of them are vivid as well as beautifully written. Characters are distinct and have well-rounded personalities, especially the women. Readers who have gotten this far will likely be hooked. I’ve already started Journey 4 of the serial. Recommended for readers of epic fantasy.

*****

Eternal Road by John Howell

Samantha has been dead since childhood, and when James is killed in a car accident, Sam becomes his guide, tasked with leading him to his eternal home. Don’t count on deep religious overtones or run of the mill theories about the afterlife in this book. The story quickly becomes a fantasy time-traveling “road trip” where Sam and James participate in key historical events such as the shootout at OK Corral, the battle at the Alamo, and the invasion of Normandy, to name a few. They also travel two thousand years into the future.

For most of the book, the plot rambles from event to event while the ultimate goal of reaching James’ eternal home takes a “back seat.” The tangents are interesting and details seem well researched, though loosely connected to the overall goal. The debonair Devil has his hand in the mix, and the sexual relationship between Sam and James offers intermissions between the tenser time-traveling activities.

Both Sam and James are well-rounded characters. Their relationship feels genuine, and the dialog flows naturally. Because Sam and James are already spirits, they aren’t in any mortal danger and they experience little fear. Other emotions, like grief and sadness, play a small part until the end when some of the more satisfying and heartfelt aspects of the story take place. This isn’t a deep philosophical read, but if you’re looking for a jaunt through time with two companionable friends, this will do it. Recommended.

*****

Wings & Fire Anthology: an anthology

I seem to be reading a lot of horror short stories lately. This generous collection of 24 stories from 16 authors fits the bill. There’s a wide range of tales here from a realistic and utterly gruesome home invasion to evil magic and fantasy. There are vampires, werewolves, zombies and, monsters in the woods. Some stories are shocking, others are clever, and there’s even a laugh or two.

As true with most anthologies, I enjoyed some stories more than others, but all were well written and cleanly edited. My favorites are usually those tales that offer something highly clever or original. A few that I thoroughly enjoyed: An Unsolvable Problem or Not, Abraham’s Theory on the Paradigm of Choice, Mary, The Classics, and The Great Potoo. Recommended to readers who are seeking a variety of horror short stories.

*****

Happy Reading!

Tina Lost in a Crowd by Miriam Hurdle – Book Release Tour

I’m back from a productive break, and what a wonderful way to start blogging again. I’m delighted to host Miriam and her lovely new book! Take it away, Miriam…

Hi Diana, it’s my privilege to be here on your beautiful blog Thank you so much for your kindness to host my Book Release Tour and allow me to share my process from pen to publication with your readers.

The Making of Tina Lost in a Crowd, Part 7

Publish the Book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Amazon and Barnes & Noble have different formatting guidelines to publish picture books. I would have been happy to have the book on Amazon alone. But I wanted to have a hardcover version. It’s good to have a hardcover version for young children, for the school libraries and public libraries. I also wanted to have a hardcover version of this book for my library.

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) only publishes eBook and paperback but doesn’t have the hardcover option. Barnes & Noble publishes eBook, paperback, and hardcover. For this reason, I published the eBook and paperback on Amazon, and eBook and hardcover on Barnes & Noble. I may inquire if the local B&N would carry my book.

Will I Write More Children’s Books?

As I mentioned on the first day of this Book Tour that I took a writing course at the Institute of Children’s Literature and wrote many stories. Tina Lost in a Crowd was the first story among those stories I revised and published. I may revise some more to be the Tina stories.

There are new ideas for the children’s books. I’ll keep these options open.

Blurb

Tina invited her friend Erica to attend a popular Tchaikovsky’s Spectacular concert on a summer evening with her parents. During the intermission, her dad left the seat to buy some snacks. Tina and Erica followed him wanting to use the restroom. The shoving crowd pushed them away, and they lost sight of him. It would be impossible to fight through the 18,000 people to find him or go back to Tina’s mom. What would the girls do?

This story tells about what happened to Tina and Erica after they got lost. Children can adapt to the learning from different situations they may observe or encounter. Adults could have discussions with the children about the situations to help them develop problem-solving skills.

Purchase Links

Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B091M586M7

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w?ean=2940162309741

Diana’s Review

Tina and her friend Erica go to the Hollywood Bowl with Tina’s parents to listen to a classical music concert and watch fireworks. During the intermission, on the way to the restrooms, Tina and Erica get lost. Thankfully, Tina remembers some words of wisdom and all ends well. This is a cute story appropriate for preschoolers and young readers, and it shares some excellent advice for kids if they ever get separated from their caregivers. The language is accessible and the illustrations are delightful. It made me want to visit the Hollywood Bowl!

***

About the Author

Miriam Hurdle is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). She published four children’s books at twenty-six years old. Her poetry collection received the Solo “Medalist Winner” for the New Apple Summer eBook Award and achieved bestseller status on Amazon.

Miriam writes poetry, short stories, memoir, and children’s books. She earned a Doctor of Education from the University of La Verne in California. After two years of rehabilitation counseling, fifteen years of public-school teaching and ten years in school district administration, she retired and enjoys life with her husband in southern California, and the visits to her daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughters in Oregon. When not writing, she engages in blogging, gardening, photography, and traveling.

Contact Miriam at –

Website/Blog: https://theshowersofblessings.com

Amazon Author’s Page: https://www.amazon.com/Miriam-Hurdle/e/B07K2MCSVW

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17252131.Miriam_Hurdle

Twitter: https://twitter.com/mhurdle112

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Miriam-Hurdle-Author-100123351515424