April Book Reviews

April was another month of intense editing, but that’s behind me as of yesterday. I’m looking forward to getting back to my usual reading indulgence. In the meantime, I’ve got some good books for you.

Below are reviews for this month’s 4 and 5-star reads including a sci-fi thriller, a western paranormal adventure , a fantasy, poetry anthology, and fantasy/folklore/mystery.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Hope by Terry Tyler

In the not-so-distant future when the world is run by mega conglomerates and the vast majority of people are just getting by, the solution to increasing homelessness is Hope Villages. But is there really any hope of escaping poverty in a world rife with unemployment and rigged for the rich, beautiful, and powerful? When Lita and her two roomies find themselves unemployed, the only solution is to enter Hope Village #37. And revealing the truth about what happens within its walls can get you killed.

One of the things that was so enthralling about this read is how realistic it is. I can definitely see these villages (warehouses) for the poor cropping up in the near future. There’s a sense of just-getting-by and that anyone, including the reader, could end up in one of these places. And how they’re run is entirely based on the political party in charge. Scary, scary, scary stuff.

The writing is flawless. The read starts with a fair amount of backstory as Lita, her friends, and the challenges they face are introduced. It builds to a simmer with an impending sense of doom as things start spiraling downward. Before you know it, they’re out of choices, a point at which I found the book difficult to put down. The characters are emotionally realistic, vulnerable, brave, and totally outgunned by the powerful machine controlling their lives. The realism extends right to the end – no happily-ever-after here, though there is hope. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy suspense, dystopian fiction, and “this could happen” thrillers. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Dreams Lie Beneath by Rebecca Ross

This fantasy has everything I love: intricate world-building, a twisted plot, great characters, and lyrical/atmospheric writing.

Long ago, a murder in the mountainous realm of Azenor resulted in a curse, and now nightmares come alive every month on the new moon. Clementine and her father are wardens, people gifted with magic who hunt the nightmares and find the keys to their undoing. But when two brothers beat them in a challenge, Clem and her family are forced to leave their village. Clem vows revenge, disguises herself with the help of an ancient troll, and becomes the nightmare-hunting partner of one of the brothers. She’s drawn into a century-old conflict of conspirators and secrets, and only by uniting with her rival will she survive the dangers lurking around every corner.

The magic is clever and layered, and the encounters with nightmares are full of danger. The story unfolds in Clem’s POV, which leaves a lot of mysteries for her and the reader to unravel, including whether she can trust the various players trying to guide, deceive, and manipulate her. Each character is deliciously distinct and many of them aren’t who they seem. Their motivations are questionable, and it’s hard to tell until the very end who the good guys and bad guys are and what role they play in resolving the curse.

The writing is beautiful, full of gorgeous metaphors, and if I read the book as a paperback, I would have employed a highlighter on every page. The story is strong with emotion, visual description, action, and intrigue, as well as flavored with romance. Highly recommended for fantasy readers who also enjoy the works of Katherine Arden and Margaret Rogerson.

*****

Mateo’s Blood Brother by Sandra Cox

I thought the first book in this series was great and couldn’t wait to get my hands on the second. It didn’t disappoint. Mateo, the wolf-shifter sheriff of Grizzly is still a major part of the story but the focus is now on Jessie, his fully human blood brother. After a long period of estrangement, they’re working on their friendship, and they haven’t much choice about sticking together since the shifter-she-wolf they’d thought was dead is back for revenge. She’s targeting them and everyone they hold dear.

I enjoyed the characters the first time around and did so again. Jessie and Mateo share the story’s POV. They’re believable, emotionally authentic, and distinct. I can easily say the same about the secondary characters, even those with small parts. The shifters, including a new and mysterious brown wolf, are appealing with their deep connections to the natural world. I enjoyed experiencing the action through Mateo’s animal senses as well as his human ones and was especially intrigued by his father.

The author is well known for her western romances, but in this series, romance is secondary to the other elements of the plot. I’d characterize the book as contemporary western, paranormal fiction, and there’s plenty of action to keep the pace moving along. I read the book in two sittings while ignoring everything else I had to do. I hope the author will write more for this series. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy paranormal fiction with great characters, a touch of romance, and a quick pace. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Hues of Hope, Selected Poetry by Balroop Singh

Singh’s latest collection of free form poetry includes about 100 poems on the subject of hope. They cover a wide range of perspectives, emotions, and sources of hope, found within us as well as out in the world. The hope found in nature, in memories, and in love are prevalent in the first three sections of the book. And in the second half of the collection, hope becomes more complex and entangled with pain, disappointment, and longing, among other less cheery emotions and experiences. It was within these more nuanced explorations that I found some of my favorite poems.

A few memorable poems were “I Have Understood”, “I Know You!” and “Now I Understand You!” Below are the first three stanzas of “Who Are You” from the section Beams of Love:

Who Are You?

Once again dusk descended
Alone she sat in deep thought
One more gorge
That seemed to devour her.

Love entered from the back door
Sat by her side and smiled
She couldn’t recognize the stranger
So she asked: “Who are you?”

“You knew me at birth
You stretched your arms
For me, you cried
When I didn’t embrace you… (con’t)

Highly recommended to readers who enjoy free-form poetry around a complex theme, including the light and whimsical as well as the poignant and painful. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Spirit of the Shell Man by Chris Hall

This is Book 2 in the series, and I enjoyed getting together with the same quirky and delightful characters from Book 1: Song of the Sea Goddess. The series isn’t named, and the books may not need to be read in order, but I’m glad I did since there are a number of details that happen chronologically.

As with the first book, the characters were my favorite part of the read. They’re quirky and good-hearted, and thoroughly believable with distinct voices and personalities. There aren’t any dastardly bad guys, and though a few greedy interlopers are creating problems in the South African seaside village, it’s the group of main characters, their kind relationships, and the multiple mysteries that carry the story.

The pace is quite fast, and I read the book in two sittings. The action scenes were well written, especially the time spent in the underground tunnels (which accounted for my decision to finish the book rather than put it down). Similar to the first book, the loose plot is light and whimsical with all kinds of strange and supernatural elements, mysterious notebooks and puzzle boxes, underground tunnels, spirits, magical creatures, and ordinary creatures acting magically. The story has an African “myths and legends” feel to it which I really liked. Recommended for fantasy readers who enjoy great characters and a whimsical adventure.

*****

Happy Reading!

March Book Reviews

March Madness definitely applies. This month was intense with editing and care-giving, but I also found time for some wonderful books.

Below are reviews for this month’s 4 and 5-star reads including a family drama/cozy mystery, a western romance, a story story anthology, a paranormal romance, and another installment of a fantasy serial.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

That Darkest Place by Marcia Meara

Meara continues to impress me with her characters, their emotional depth, the reality of their relationships, and how utterly genuine they feel. They’re like people I know—working, struggling, caring for each other, arguing, forgiving, doubting themselves, dealing with baggage from their pasts, and ultimately finding their way. This book, the final installment in the Riverbend trilogy has all that.

The story focuses on the Painter brothers. Their parents are deceased, and it’s only the three of them. When Jackson is severely injured in an auto accident, Forrest and Hunter are committed to seeing him pull through, not only physically, but emotionally. The hurdles are many, including Jackson’s guilt over the death of his passenger, the woman he intended to marry.

There’s an action-oriented subplot, as Jackson starts receiving death threats which escalate into violence. It keeps the tension up, but to be honest, it was the brothers’ relationships that kept me glued to the read. I loved their steadfast loyalty to one another, their good hearts, and pure determination in the face of challenges.

There’s also plenty of romance, but without a lot of superficial drama. The challenges faced by the characters are very real and relatable, and though there are hurdles to overcome, there’s a pervasive feeling of maturity, forgiveness, and commitment. So, if readers are interested in great characters with good hearts and a compelling story, I can highly recommend this series. The last book, this one, will stick with you for a long time. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Silver Hills by Sandra Cox

Cox writes western romances, but this book is so much more than that. It’s full of action and adventure, and at times, it also feels like a family saga about a close-knit group of people and how they fare through their lifetimes. Aside from the bad guys, there’s kindness, forgiveness, healing, respect, friendship, and, of course, love. The romance is clean, so this read would be appropriate for teens as well as adults.

Alexandria is fleeing something terrible from her past, and dressed as a boy, she joins a cattle drive. Her skills get her noticed, but not quite as much as her outspoken attitude. And not everyone is fooled by her baggy clothes and low-slung hat. By the end of the drive, Alex’s secret is out, and she’s bewitched her boss, Brandon Wade, owner of the Silverhills Ranch. A stormy romance begins, but there’s a ranch to run, comancheros causing havoc, and that secret from her past is tracking her down.

I loved the characters. Alexandria is feisty and outspoken, and though she frequently requires rescue, she’s tough and skilled with a gun, which comes in handy. Brandon is also strong-willed, and though at times I felt he was pushy about marrying Alex, they were an excellent match. Secondary characters are rich with personality and many of them memorable. I appreciated that the bad guys were also nuanced, especially the comanchero leader, which increased my interest in the story.

The settings are well-described, and there’s plenty of detail about ranch life and raising cattle to give the story an air of authenticity. The plot doesn’t have a “one and done” crisis, which contributed to the feeling I was indulging in a family saga. Unlike many romances that end with a wedding, this story continues into old age, and that part brought a tear to this reader’s eye.

Highly recommended to readers of westerns who also enjoy romance, great characters, plenty of action, and stories about people who won the west. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Strange Hwy: Short Stories by Beem Weeks

Strange Hwy is a book of 19 short stories, and though I wouldn’t characterize them as Strange, they certainly are well written and worth reading. Each story is very different from the others, and they range from heartwarming to horror, and from paranormal to family drama. I never knew what was coming next.

My favorite story in the book was the second, titled Constant as the Day. For me, this one was riveting, deeply emotional, and heartbreaking. I would have bought the book just to read this one brief story. One thing that also made it unique as well as impressive is that it’s written in second-person, an extremely challenging undertaking that Weeks pulled off beautifully. It drew me in and didn’t let go.

There are a lot of other stand-out stories including Alterations, Family Traditions, Sweetie Girl, Dodging the Bullet, and Looking for Lucy (and more). A highly recommended book for short story readers who enjoy variety and well-crafted tales.

*****

Ghostly Interference by Jan Sikes

Jag Peters is a bit of a goodie-two-shoes nerd who grew up in an emotionally healthy family. He falls hard for biker/waitress Rena Jett, a woman with a troubled past who doesn’t trust anyone or believe that life will ever be kind. Though Jag’s attraction is immediate, it takes some time for Rena to warm up to him. Rena’s brother Sam, a soldier, died in Afghanistan, and his ghost makes it clear to Jag that he wants his sister to be happy.

Three-quarters of the book is romance with a capital R, focused on the growing relationship. There’s little conflict as the characters get to know and trust each other. Two aspects of Jag’s life get some extra text—his musical abilities and the music scene, and the “new age” spiritual beliefs he’s gained from his mother. There’s some graphic sex, but the majority of the read is Jag simply being thoughtful and nice. He’s almost too perfect, and for that reason, I found Rena a more compelling character.

The story takes a turn in the last quarter, flipping into some great action as Jag and Rena become involved in helping a friend in danger. Both of them shine as they risk their lives to save the day. This last part of the story zips by after the casual pace getting to this point. Recommended to readers who enjoy basking in romance and watching a relationship grow.

*****

Dead of Winter: Journey 12: Goddesses by Teagan Riordain Geneviene

I continue to be impressed by the world-building and scope of this epic fantasy. This “journey” like many of the others is a two-hour read, easily devoured in one sitting. The story advances as the Deae Matres join with the Lost Library Guard in Pergesca. They get their first glimpse of the thousands-strong army of the dead as it spreads over the land.

Though late in the serial, the large cast of characters continues to expand. Two goddesses enter the story, and though one seems to be an ally, her role is yet unclear. Bits of backstory and world-building details make for a moderate pace, which I expect will ramp up as the battle begins. I’m eager for the final journeys and to see how everything comes together, particularly for Emlyn.

*****

Happy Reading!

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

Today is the International Day of Awesomeness and the authors at Story Empire decided to honor an awesome blogger, author, and supporter of the indie community: Sally Cronin.

Since I’m out and about today, this is a repost of my book reviews for Sally’s awesome books. Enjoy the browse and, of course, have an AWESOME day!

***

Sally 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 Mosaic: Random Fragments in Harmony

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

***

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

I love 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 Reading!

February Book Reviews

It’s the end of February, and due to a productive month of writing, I only have 4 books to share. But all are 5-star reads including a psychological thriller, a romance/thriller mash-up, a madcap time travel romance, and a cozy mystery.

I’ve started something new, and at the end of each review noting it a book is available on Kindle Unlimited.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Means to Deceive by Alex Craigie

I’ve enjoyed Cragie’s other thrillers and snatched this one up as soon as I saw it. Gwen has moved back to her hometown to care for her grandmother who can no longer live alone. Granny’s advancing dementia leaves her irritable, and to Gwen, their relationship has always felt strained. But that’s the least of her problems as two men, for different reasons, have bones to pick with her. The harassment starts small and grows increasingly concerning. She doesn’t know who the culprit is and the police aren’t helpful. Her brother Gethin comes to help her despite his own problems at home, and Ben, a new neighbor, takes a romantic interest in her, but can she trust him?

The pace is a slow burn, a steady escalation of tension that doesn’t let up, and it kept me turning the pages. I found the characters completely authentic and their relationships and choices believable. I could relate well to Gwen’s interactions with her difficult grandmother and appreciated the realistic support system, which made sure Granny’s care was covered while the plot played out.

This read is full of red herrings, and I suspected a number of different characters at different times, sometimes two of them at once. I had no idea until the reveal who the main culprit was in the increasingly dangerous and disturbing harassment. A secondary plot regarding Gwen’s past resolves simultaneously and wraps up all elements of the story well. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy a tense psychological thriller. (Kindle Unlimited)

*****

Twilight’s Encore by Jacquie Biggar

In Book 3 of the Tidal Falls series, the story switches to another set of characters connected to the retired seal team that binds the books together. Katy returns to her hometown to make sure her wedding plans are progressing well, and that includes the renovation of her family’s rundown theater. Her ex-boyfriend Ty and his construction company are doing the work, and the old flame between them ignites almost immediately. But this book (and series) isn’t limited to romance. Someone is sabotaging the theater, someone is stalking Katy, and that someone doesn’t care if people get hurt.

One of the fun things about the story is that it occurs in the same timeline as Book 2, so there are details connecting the two. To me, that added depth to everything that was going on. I had information unknown to the protagonists because I was there for the previous book in a different POV. Very clever.

Biggar’s characterization is always well-rounded and rich with emotion. There’s plenty of steamy romance in addition to danger and action. The plot moves quickly, and the last quarter of the read is pure thrills as the final showdown unfolds. I whipped through this book in two sittings and look forward to seeing what happens in Book 4. Highly recommend to fans of romance/thriller mash-ups. (Kindle Unlimited)

*****

The Viking and the Courtesan by Shehanne Moore

Moore’s witty prose and exceptional characters pervade another delightful romance. In 19th century London, Malice is an independent woman whose profession is breaking up marriages. When her husband’s mistress unwittingly hires her, she intends to engage in the marriage-wrecking scandal herself. But her plans go awry as a kiss transports her over 900 years into the Viking past and into the clutches of Sin, a man in love with Snotra and wishing to make her jealous enough to marry him. Romance of any sort doesn’t seem to have a chance between the time travel complications and a madcap clash of cultures.

The narrative unfolds primarily through Malice’s point of view, though Sin (Sinaar) has some scenes of his own. One thing I love about Moore’s writing is the extremely tight POVs, the ever-present humor, and the fast pace. Malice is witty and snarky while being true to her era. She’s also clever and possesses a good heart despite her name and profession. Secondary characters are delightful, the Vikings reminiscent of pirates, and the nuns eager to be Sin’s bed slaves. The names are hysterical.

The book includes plenty of action in both time periods, particularly when Malice is trying to survive among the Vikings. The romance is fairly clean. Partly because, for Snotra’s sake, Malice and Sin are “pretending” romance for the first half of the book. When the true romance begins to bloom, the sex is primarily off stage. I enjoyed the evolution of the romantic relationship. It rings with authenticity and depth despite all the humor. This is a fun book that I recommend to romance readers who love witty characters and a madcap plot.

*****

Alibaster Alibi by S. D. Brown

When her uncle Jasper is murdered, Allie inherits half-ownership of his rock shop in Sedona, Arizona. As a condition of the inheritance, she has to live on site and share ownership with Collin, a young playboy with questionable ethics and a temper. When Collin ends up dead, Allie’s the prime suspect.

This is a cozy mystery with a strong female protagonist who once worked in criminal justice and isn’t about to be bullied by the local sheriff. She wants to find the killer and starts chasing down clues. There are several red herrings as the backstory comes to light, and I didn’t know the identity of the killer until the action-packed end.

The plot isn’t complicated, but it’s cohesive and comes together well. That said, the characters were my favorite part of the read, especially Allie. She’s high energy, smart, determined, and worth rooting for. She speaks her mind but also has a kind heart. Secondary characters are well rounded, distinct, and memorable, which is good since there are a number of them with small roles. The pace whipped along and I easily read the book in two sittings.

Highly recommended to murder mystery readers who enjoy a snappy pace, great characters, and a strong female protagonist. (Kindle Unlimited)

*****

Happy Reading!

A Creative Review or what!

One of Resa’s drawing of Madlyn

Resa McConaghy is a street-art explorer and photographer as well as a costume designer for film and television. She’s the creator of astonishingly beautiful Art Gowns.

She’s also a reader who brings her love of art to her reviews, weaving together images of murals, interview questions, and her original drawings of characters. Her reviews are works of art.

She recently read my book The Sorcerer’s Garden, and created such a review.

No one has ever taken the time to draw one of my characters, and I’m bowled over by her kindness.

I’m over at Resa’s if you want to stop by and check out her unique approach.

And don’t forget to browse the artwork on her sites. You won’t be disappointed.

Graffiti Lux Art & More (the blog with the Review)

Art Gowns (I linked to her slide show, wow)

Thank you, Resa.

January Book Reviews

January flew by with lots of blogging and reading (and no writing). February should prove more productive, but the reading paid off. I have some great books to share with you.

January book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of a sci-fi time-loop thriller, a YA magical coming of age story, a horror novelette, lots of fantasy, a thriller, and several variations on romance. Something for everyone!

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The South Tower by Alex Canna

Phew, what a story! I wasn’t sure about reading this book after being traumatized by the actual events of September 11th. That was a horrifying day, and I was afraid the book would stir up a lot of feelings. Instead, the story is a sci-fi thriller and page-turner, and I read it in one sitting, totally enthralled.

The sci-fi element of the story is a time loop similar to Groundhog Day. Nick Sandini returns over and over again to the point the plane slams into the South Tower, and with each iteration, he learns something new in his effort to escape the building alive. Each time he has 59 minutes before the tower collapses. That time frame keeps the book’s pace ripping!

Nick, as the main character, is perfection, an ordinary guy who attempts the impossible. His even-keeled temperament and focus on logical steps keep the book from becoming too emotionally heavy. He recruits other people trapped in the tower, and we get to know them quite well as they repeatedly problem-solve during the 59 minutes they have to figure the whole thing out.

The story is told in a very tight third-person point of view, so close that it feels like first-person, and I loved that. It made me root for Nick as if my own life depended on it. The author did an amazing job tracking the details of each loop and keeping Nick’s growing knowledge organized chronologically. I didn’t find a single plot hole, and the editing is pristine.

Despite the link to the tragic day in US history, in the end, the feeling that the book evoked wasn’t misery, but gratefulness for the many ordinary people who went above and beyond that day to save others. Highly recommended.

*****

Through the Cracks by Sheri J. Kennedy

Lydia is a teenager dealing with the aftermath and trauma of her father’s overdose death and her own suicide attempt. Her mom keeps a controlling eye on her as they both plod toward recovery. Then Lydia falls through the cracks – physically – of a door into the shop neighboring her mother’s store. There she meets and befriends Audrey, an older woman with experience and wisdom who sees the beautiful light inside Lydia and helps her see it as well.

The paranormal aspects of the story enhance and give visual affirmation to the healing power of connection. They also support the story’s pace by facilitating interactions that would happen more slowly in a world without “magic.” In essence, though, this is a story about love, healing, choices, trust, and the power of meaningful human connections. It suggests that caring for others is a way to find value, meaning, and light inside us.

I liked all the characters and connected with each of them, particularly Lydia and her mom who share the POV. There aren’t any villains in the story, but there are flawed people who make mistakes and struggle through the consequences. Their personal and interpersonal challenges resonated, and their story arcs were gratifying. A beautifully crafted story about growing up, healing wounds, and choosing love. Highly recommended.

*****

The Hay Bale by Priscilla Bettis

A very creepy novelette for those readers who want to spend about 45 minutes holding their breath! After several miscarriages, Claire leaves the city to spend some time grieving and recovering in an old mansion in the countryside. Her husband has left her due to her obsession with having a baby, and she maintains an inner dialog with him as she settles into the run-down place. It isn’t long until she hears scratching in the walls and a child crying. And in the nearby field, she discovers a single, large hay bale with something dangerous growing inside it.

The story feels a lot like classic Stephen King horror. I don’t want to spoil the plot but will share that there are some strange people in these pages and some odd goings-on. Claire is a strong protagonist, fearless in her pursuit of answers as well as in doing what she thinks is right. The ending is unexpected and made me wonder about her as well as the small community of characters she interacts with. Highly recommended to horror fans looking for a quick read.

*****

The Prince’s Heir by Deborah Jay

Book 4, the last in the Five Kingdom’s series, ends with a bang! The characters I’ve come to know and care about face some new challenges as well as those that have been brewing since the beginning. King Marten is in danger of losing his throne, and his wife and child are pawns in a dangerous game fueled by religious zealots. Rustum and Risada long for a quiet life, but Rustum is called on by the magical gem-eyes to battle an ice dragon, leaving Risada behind to deal with the conspiracy, murders, and kidnappings.

The duality of the twin gods, one benevolent, the other murderous, finally plays out in this installment of the tale. There are parallels to our world, both ancient and contemporary: the genuine conviction of some people that they know the will of the gods, and the rampant hypocrisy of others who preach godliness while amassing power and committing crimes.

The last 25% of the book is a gigantic confrontation with gripping action. It’s well-written and ultimately satisfying. Subplots regarding the use of magic and family conflicts also wrap up nicely. The pace moves along well.

Rustum’s foray to defeat the ice dragon and capture a mad gem-eye seemed like a bit of a tangent, but it does hone the skills that he’ll need in the final chapters. The characters were consistent throughout the four books. Lead characters, including the villains, were well-rounded, credible, and nuanced, with interesting arcs over the course of the story.

The books all form one story and should be read from start to finish in order. Highly recommended for fans of high fantasy and appropriate for YA readers as well as adults.

*****

Blue Snow in the Moonlight by Mary J. McCoy-Dressel

During a cold snowy December, Elle returns home to North Dakota for a wedding. She rents a cottage from a rancher named Cullen. They’re both still getting over failed marriages, and Cullen, with cattle and kids filling his hours, isn’t ready for another relationship. He may never be. But the attraction is instantaneous, and it goes both ways. The question is… will they give it a try.

This book is pure 100-proof romance without a smidgeon of other genres sneaking in. Romance readers will love the slow burn as these two gradually find their courage to love again. The growing relationship is the focus of the tale and sex scenes occur “off-page.”

What’s unique about the book is the wonderful and dangerous winter setting, as well as the fast-paced chaotic life of a rancher with full custody of his kids. There’s never a dull moment, and if you’re like me, there’s nothing quite as attractive as a man who’s a loving parent. Cullen is so that.

Though Cullen stole the show for me, Elle is also a likable, well-rounded genuine character, as are the kids and Cullen’s sister Sierra. There aren’t any bad guys in the story. Cullen is his own nemesis and obstacle in the way of finding love. His kids, on the other hand, are all for it. Highly recommended for romance fans.

*****

The Rebel’s Redemption by Jacquie Biggar

The Wounded Hearts series follows the post-war lives of a Seal Team as they transition to civilian life. So far, each book I’ve read features one of the team members, and as thriller-romance mash-ups, the action in their lives hasn’t quite fallen off as other opportunities arise.

This book focuses on Jared, the team’s electronics guy, and Annie, the woman he abandoned 8 years ago when he went to war. They have a stormy past, an intense attraction, and a surprise for him in the form of a seven-year-old son. When the boy is kidnapped, they can’t help but join forces, and the sparks fly.

A second plotline weaves through the book. This one involves the capture of Maggie, a DEA agent working undercover to investigate a sex-trafficking ring. Her partner, Adam, has no idea where she is. This plot thread doesn’t resolve by the end, and it makes a great case for reading on in the series.

Of course, there’s romance between Jared and Annie. I didn’t quite believe they would take time for romance with their child kidnapped and in mortal danger. They had their frantic moments, bouts of anger and tears, and opportunities to comfort each other, but for me, some of the romantic interludes robbed the story of a sense of desperation.

The thriller elements of the book are spot on. Characterization is excellent, the action fast-paced, and the stakes high. The story is told from third-person multiple viewpoints, and the perspectives worked well. I enjoyed that the narrative touched briefly on many of the characters I met in Book 1. And I appreciated the relationships among the group of men, especially their ongoing brotherhood and concern for each other.

I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in Book 3. Highly recommended for fans of romance/thriller mash-ups, and series readers who enjoy male friendships among a band of brothers. 

*****

Rage by Sue Rovens

An interrupted suicide catapults Weston Cross into mental health counseling with Lindsey Yager. She’s a grossly incompetent therapist with a collapsing marriage and a serious drinking problem, and the combination adds up to disaster. When Lindsey refuses to listen to Weston’s dark thoughts, she awakens his rage. And when Weston’s kindly neighbor Jay suggests that Weston put his energy into making the world a better place, Weston has his own ideas about what that means.

This thriller unfolds with an omniscient POV, giving the reader a broad view of the situation as well as insight into each character’s thoughts, backstory, and motivations. As main characters, neither Lindsey nor Weston is likable. Secondary characters, however, shine in that department. Jay, the neighbor, and Jeremy, Lindsey’s soon-to-be ex-husband, were the ones I cared for and worried about.

Weston is a deftly written, well-rounded villain, and it was hard to pick just one area of his beat-upon life that compelled him to attempt suicide. After Lindsey’s terrible counseling, his pathology ends up manifesting sexually, so readers should be prepared for some explicit sexual behaviors.

The book is a page-turner with a snappy pace, and I read it in a day. I had no idea how things were going to resolve, and the surprise ending made perfect sense. Perhaps my only disappointment was that Lindsey wasn’t present in the final climactic scene to face the havoc. That said, this was an enjoyable read, and I’ll be picking up more books by this author. Recommended for fans of thrillers who love a quick read.

*****

Dead of Winter: Journey 10 by Teagan Riordan Geneviene

After reviewing 9 Journeys in this epic fantasy adventure, it’s hard to say anything new about the complex and varied characters and engaging plot, the magical devices and mystical settings. This episode continues at the lost library and centers on a painting that serves as a portal to Pergesca, a city by the sea.

In this Journey, one character’s life comes to an end, a devastating experience for Emlyn. One of my favorite side characters, a dragon, makes a reappearance, and a bit of humor takes place as Emlyn visits her first “public house.” She continues to grow into her power as someone who can pass easily through portals into the realm of the dead and beyond. Once again, she, Zasha, and Osabide are separated from their group, and more than ever, the trio are becoming the reborn women on whose shoulders the world depends.

Readers who enjoy epic fantasy should start this serialized story with Journey 1. I’m looking forward to reading onward.

*****

Dead of Winter: Journey 11 by Teagan Riordan Geneviene

I can tell now that the journeys are building to a climax. Gethin finds the sword of his ancestors and it seems he will play an important role in the coming battle as well as in protecting Emlyn. While most of the Deae Matres and their protectors are still in the Lost Library, Emlyn, Sasha, and Osabide continue their work in Pergesca where the government ignores their warnings of Arawn’s army of the dead.

This journey felt like an amassing of power with a couple of new characters and preparations on all sides for a showdown. While some critical pieces to the story are put into play, the journey is also rich with worldbuilding details, including descriptions of clothing and foods and a culture foreign to Emlyn. She’s becoming more confident in her power even as she disguises herself to play a part in a grand deception. I’m eager to begin Journey 12.

*****

Happy Reading!

December Book Reviews

Happy New Year!

I wish you much happiness, good health, and amazing books!

My Goodreads goal was 100 books in 2021 and I read 102, many of them yours! The covers are below my reviews. They bring back so many great memories. Enjoy!

December book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of magical realism, a romantic thriller, cozy mystery, western romance, romance novella, and climatic sci-fi.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The Art of Spirit Capture by Geoff Le Pard

Jason Hales loses his job and simultaneously learns that he and his brother Peter have inherited the estate of his Aunt Heather and Uncle Ben. His brother is in a medically induced coma after a traffic accident, and since Jason, as executor, has the time, he leaves London to handle the estate. What he doesn’t expect is to be caught up in the legacy of his deceased uncle, who crafted magical glass ornaments called captures. The art of spirit capture is a secret and everyone in town has an opinion about what Jason should do with the captures and his uncle’s old workshop.

There aren’t any bad guys in this story, but there is the mystery of the spirit captures, and the pages are full of wonderfully distinct characters. The story unfolds in Jason’s POV, and he’s an extremely likable person, trying to do his best. The supporting cast is just as compelling. It’s this lively and eclectic group that brings the story to life. I felt connected to most of them and cared about what happened to them. The mystery of the captures and how all the relationships are going to work out left me guessing right up until the end.

Magical realism is probably the best description of the genre, and the spirit captures are beautiful, visually as well as what they represent to the characters and the community. This is a long book at 500 pages, but it didn’t feel long, and I read it over about 4 days. A great read for anyone who loves kindness, mystery, a little magic, small towns where everyone is in everyone’s business, and a touch of romance. This story is pure heartwarming pleasure.

*****

From Fame to Ruin by Jina S. Bazzar

This book is a romance-thriller mash-up that starts with a kidnapping and leans heavily toward the action. Set in Brazil, Carol’s three-year-old son is kidnapped and held for $25 million in ransom. Warned not to go to the police, she approaches her old flame Ricardo for help. He can afford the payment, but they have a lot of bad blood between them that frequently boils over and scalds.

The chapters of the book alternate between Carol’s present desperation to save her son’s life, and four years earlier when Carol and Ricardo had a whirlwind romance after meeting in an airport. At first, I found the 4-year-old romance chapters less interesting (though extremely well-written). However, as the story progresses, the past starts clarifying the emotional damage in the present. The two timelines are expertly interwoven and make perfect sense as the story comes together.

Perhaps the best part of the story is the characterization. Except for the kidnapper who is sociopathic, every character is nuanced with a distinct personality. The children in the story are pure delight. Carol and Ricardo share the story’s pov (with a few exceptions), and they’re richly drawn with believable emotions and motivations. I found Ricardo and Carol likable and empathetic though both suffer from emotional wounds and are sizzling mad at each other, often to the point of being cruel.

I read the whole book in one airplane ride while everyone else snoozed around me. The pace steadily picks up until this page-turner comes to its explosive ending. Highly recommended to readers of thrillers who enjoy a well-crafted book with great characters and a touch of romance.

*****

Cold Dark Night by Joan Hall

Tami and Jason move to Madeira, NM, where Jason’s taken a job as the new police chief. They purchase an old Victorian home that belonged to the previous chief, a man murdered on the job. Tami starts on a project for the town’s historical society, researching the history of some of Madeira’s law enforcement professionals. She discovers the deaths of several police chiefs who all lived in her house, going back about 100 years. And someone doesn’t like her asking questions and digging into the details.

While Tami handles the main plot of this cozy mystery, several subplots throw around suspicion, and there are plenty of red herrings. I didn’t know who the murderer was until the reveal at the end, which includes the villain’s explanation of details going back in time. Secondary players are 3-dimensional with character arcs that kept me emotionally engaged.

I enjoyed the prequel (short story) to this book, but it’s not required reading as Hall includes just enough backstory to cover the important details. There are other books planned in the Madeira series, but this one read perfectly fine as a stand-alone. Highly recommended to readers of cozy mysteries.

*****

No Such Luck by Staci Troilo

Piper loses her job, and while security packs up her desk, they inadvertently discard her dried-up good luck rose from her high school crush Tommy. She heads to her parents’ home early for Christmas and runs into Tommy as well as Jack, her best friend who she hasn’t seen in years. It’s clear from the start that one of the two men is a much better match for her than the other, but does she know which?

This novelette is a short hour-long read that takes off at a snappy pace and doesn’t let up. It’s a heartwarming romance with distinct characters and a wintery Christmas setting. No kissing and groping in this one, just pure heart with an emphasis on kindness and being there. Highly recommended to readers who want to dive into a quick story about the true test of love.

*****

Aerovoyant by P. L. Tavormina

Climate change is the central theme of this futuristic sci-fi read—the archaic carbon (fossil fuel) corporate interests versus those who grow food and require a healthy planet to survive. I’m always a little surprised that corporate execs believe they can survive on a dead planet – but there you go, that’s real life, as well as characteristic of the villains in this book.

The combustion industry of Turaset controls the political system and uses insidious incentives to convince farmers to become reliant on their polluting products. It’s also ruthless in eliminating anyone with a visual trait that enables them to see the chemical compositions in the air. I enjoyed the planetary science woven throughout the read, as well as the realistic corporate tactics to infiltrate their victims’ livelihoods.

The worldbuilding is comprehensive and the political machinations go into some depth. There are footnotes and appendices for readers who want more information on Turaset’s timeline, politics, conventions, and genetics. I didn’t read them and had no problem with comprehension.

The chapters alternate between two main characters. Alphonse can’t accept his mother’s plan to use him to further corporate goals and flees to the countryside, surrendering potential political power to labor with his hands. Myrta is a farm girl with the visual trait, which has put her at risk for her entire life. These two characters—all the characters, really—are beautifully 3-dimensional and their relationships are rich in emotion.

This is a character-driven novel, and readers looking for a riveting plot and snappy pace might be disappointed. The pace is quite slow, and the protagonists don’t cross paths until the 65% point (which is about 275 pages in). Up to that point, it’s mostly worldbuilding and character development. Goals and a plan of action don’t happen until the last 20% of the book.

Despite the long ramp up and slow simmer, the characters entranced me. The quality of the writing is beautiful, especially Alphonse’s metaphysical journeys back in time to Earth’s creation and through billions of years to the dawn of man.

The quality of this novel is excellent, and I highly recommend it to readers who aren’t bothered by a slow pace, and enjoy long, rich, character-driven reads. Especially if they enjoy climate-based sci-fi.

*****

Sundial by Sandra Cox

Sarah Miles is a contemporary woman who travels back in time and finds herself in the company of Jesse Adams at the battle of the Alamo. The two of them have a connection that transcends time, and the attraction is instant, though they don’t understand what’s happening. They end up in New Orleans where Sarah starts making a life for herself as a painter. Despite how much she loves Jesse, she knows eventually she’ll need to leave him and return to her own time… losing him once again.

This is a western romance and an easy read with accessible characters and a straightforward plot despite the time travel. Cox includes bits of American history, and she creates an accurate feel for the time without heavy descriptions.

A variety of kind and diabolical characters populate the story, including a voodoo practitioner, kidnappers, and an Arabian sheik intent on purchasing women. Needless to say, there’s plenty of action in the bayou. The third-person POV pops around a little between Sarah and Jesse with other characters making cameos as necessary. The pace is moderate overall with an extended wrap-up in the end.

There isn’t explicit sex or gratuitous violence, so this book is fine for YA readers. Sarah’s cat, Monet, time-travels with her and plays an entertaining part in the story. Though not particularly plausible, some readers will enjoy the cat’s persistent presence. I most liked the premise of relationships surviving multiple lives, as well as the adjustments the characters needed to make when living in unfamiliar eras. Recommended for readers of western time-travel romance.

*****

Books Read in 2021!

Happy Reading!

Mountain Laurel Christmas: Interview and Book Tour

I’m delighted to host Jan Sikes today with her new novelette: Mountain Laurel Christmas. I reviewed it Here if you want to find out what I thought of it (highly recommended).

I’ve read a number of Jan’s short stories and novelettes and was curious about her choice to focus on short fiction versus full-length novels. Having her over was a great opportunity to pick her brain.

Here’s my question for Jan:

After having read your work for a few years, I’ve noticed that a number of your Amazon publications are short stories or novelettes, such as Mountain Laurel Christmas. What motivated you to start publishing short pieces, and are there any pros and cons you’d like to share? 

And now for her answer:

Jan Sikes

Thank you for hosting me today, Diana! I am honored to be here.

Great question! The first thing that motivated me to write shorts was a contest. The rules were that you had 90 days to write, edit and format the story plus make a cover. I chose to combine two very different short stories and a poem for my first submission, and it won the grand prize. That inspired me to explore writing other short stories, which I also entered in the same contest and won first place three years in a row.

For me, the biggest two pros to writing short stories are: #1They don’t require months to write and produce. #2 It’s a great way to explore writing in different genres and different POVs. I have written everything from Sci-fi and Fantasy to a Western using different points of view. And I loved all of it!

The only con is that readers are often left wanting more of the story, and I have seen that comment show up in reviews of my shorts. Will I ever turn any of my shorts into a full-length novel? Maybe. 🙂

Now a bit about Mountain Laurel Christmas from Jan

The Revered Circle

In August 2019, I had the pleasure of visiting Nashville, Tennessee. A part of that visit included a guided tour through the new Opry House, where The Grand Ole Opry now takes place.

A significant part of that tour included the opportunity to stand in the revered ‘circle.’

When they built the new Opry House in 1974, an 8-foot square of wood was cut from a portion of the original Ryman Auditorium stage. It was lovingly carved into a perfect six-foot circle that would remain intact over forty years later. It brought a historic piece of the old into the new. The ‘circle’ is the Holy Grail for country musicians. It is the place where all of the greats have stood going back as far as 95 years.

So, when my character, Cole Knight, returned to Nashville after being away, he reflects on the significance of the ‘circle.’

Here’s an excerpt:

The wooden stage creaks under my ostrich skin boots as I stride onto it. The revered circle where so many great artists have stood beckons to me. The applause and cheers are deafening.

The Grand Ole Opry has never felt so welcoming.

***

I’d love to hear from you. Have you ever visited Nashville and stood in the ‘circle?’

Mountain Laurel Christmas Blurb:

Orphaned, his family torn apart by tragedy, Cole Knight has come a long way from a ramshackle miner’s cabin on the side of the Cumberland Mountain.

Daring to follow an impossible dream, he’s made it big in the music business. Now, he’s a country music sensation with a huge house, fancy cars, plenty of willing women, money, and adoring fans. He should be on top of the world. Instead, he’s drowning in a swirling pool of self-contempt and relentless guilt.

It’s easier to lose himself in a bottle than face the hard truth…he hasn’t delivered on a promise he made to his father.

It’s almost Christmas, and the sting of failure drives him back to that tiny cabin in the mountains. But has he waited too late to put the shattered pieces back together—to find himself and restore a lost family? 

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November Book Reviews

My reading is way off this month due to NaNoWriMo, but I finished the first draft of my WIP, and I’m happy about that.

I still have four wonderful books for you!

November book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of 19th century romance, Christmas romance, a Christmas novellette about family love. And for a little variety… a book with werewolves!

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The Unraveling of Lady Fury by Shehanne Moore

This book was a hoot. Imagine a romance where the characters are blackmailing each other and yet contractually agree to produce an heir.

Lady Fury needs an heir if she hopes to keep the estate of her dead husband, who, by the way, is in a box in the cellar and starting to stink. Captain Flint Blackmoore is an old flame from years past, a privateer who dumped Fury on the docks and later lost his ship. He knows about the body in the cellar, and she knows his real identity. They’re stuck with each other.

The numerous clinical “rules” Fury imposes on Flint regarding the act of reproduction generate some one-upmanship, negotiation, and plenty of outrage. How exactly does one have sex without touching or removing one’s clothes? For the characters the act of sex becomes an act of war. For the reader, it’s hysterical. And heaven forbid they fall in love.

Time is of the essence because of the decomposing body, and Fury demands repeat performances for as long as it takes. With all the wrangling and finagling, the initial installment of the contract takes the first 25% of the book, and it’s all entertaining as heck.

I loved the tight POV that allowed me to experience Fury’s running commentary up close and personal. Both she and Flint are sympathetic characters even when driving each other nearly insane with frustration. The pace whips along, the characters motivated, the flush of emotions rampant. Highly recommended to readers of romance, and readers who enjoy the fireworks when great characters are thrown together in a madcap plot.

*****

Mountain Laurel Christmas by Jan Sikes

This is one of my favorite novelettes from Jan Sikes. And that’s high praise coming from a Christmas Grinch. I read this sweet story of family love and redemption in about an hour and actually choked up at one point.

Cole is a famous musician out of Nashville whose lost his zest for life. Then he visits the mountain shack where he and his siblings grew up. He loved his family, but by the time he turned fifteen, he was an orphan and, in the years since, lost track of his little brother. He finds an old letter that changes everything.

Sikes includes rich details that bring the settings to life, and even the minor characters are multi-dimensional. Cole’s arc is believable as well as touching, and his younger brother Timmy is an absolute delight. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy short stories, heartwarming tales about family, and a bit of Christmas cheer.

*****

Love, Me: A Christmas Wish Novel by Jacquie Biggar

If you love Christmas romances with adorable kids, puppies, and sleigh rides, this short 2+ hour read will warm the cockles of your heart. Grace has moved with her young daughter Cassie to a new home where Cassie can participate in a promising trial for the treatment of leukemia. Robert is the principal at Cassie’s new school, and he has a daughter, Avery. The kids hit it off immediately. And though the parents have some instant attraction, life has thrown some hardballs their way that just might strike them out.

There aren’t any villains in this story to speak of. The barriers to love are real problems that real families deal with. Grace’s dedication to her daughter’s health and treatment is absolute. Robert has ideas for his under-funded school and plans that teeter on the brink of failure. I enjoyed how grounded the adults were when it came to their children, and how hopeful the children were when it came to the adults.

The plot moves along well. Grace, Robert, and Cassie share the POV, though Avery is also a star. This is a heartwarming Christmas romance with sweet characters, lots of sparks, mischievous little kids, giggles, and yes, puppies.

*****

Lunar Boogie (The Hat #4) by C. S. Boyak

Lunar Boogie is the 4th book in The Hat series, but if a reader has read the first book (The Hat) and gotten to know Lizzie and her hilarious talking headgear, I don’t think the order of the rest matters much. In this adventure, Lizzie and the Hat are playing gigs with their cover band, The Pythons. That’s her official job.

The unofficial job? That’s hunting paranormal creatures. In this case a werewolf that’s leaving large bloody messes but few body parts (after eating his fill). What’s concerning Lizzie and the Hat is the murders seem to be following the band. There’s a fair amount of stalking scary places after dark and chasing red herrings. Joe Yoder, a cop who talks to the ghost of his dead wife, is also on the werewolf’s trail. I liked the emotional depth he brought to an otherwise plot-driven read.

One of my favorite aspects of this book (and the other Hat books) is the clever and often dry banter between Lizzie and the Hat. They have a great relationship that’s most evident in the prevalent dialog. Boyak’s quirky storytelling style is all over this book. A fun read for Hat fans and readers of paranormal fiction. Highly recommended.

.

*****

Happy Reading!

October Book Reviews

I spent half of October in Hawaii, hiking volcanos and lounging on the beach with my nose in a book. I’m rested and ready for a month of frantic writing during NaNoWriMo.

And have I got some great books for you! Happy Reading.

October book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of poetry, fantasy, sci-fi, two anthologies, and a short story.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Things Old and Forgotten by Mae Clair

This collection of 15 short stories ranges from humorous and sentimental to haunting and sinister. Clair explores numerous themes of paranormal fiction: life after death, reincarnation, ghosts and monsters, spirit guardians, and there’s even a bunch of genies bamboozled by prim old Miss Lily. Some tales are full of action, some full of twists. In other words, there’s something here for everyone who enjoys wandering into speculative fiction.

Some of my favorites were:

Remembering Sadie – a burial with a twist.
Kin-Slayer – a monster fantasy by the sea.
Robin of Sherwood – a deftly written and super entertaining mashup blending medieval and futuristic details.
Desert White – a tale of guardian spirits and a search for redemption.
Mrs. Conway – an exquisitely written encounter. My favorite of the favorites.
Miss Lily makes a Wish – full of humor, immensely clever, and nothing like I’ve read before.
I’ve got a Plan – a haunted house tale for every entrepreneur.
Father’s Day – a paranormal story close to the author’s heart.

Now I’ve shared more than half of the book as personal favorites. Head over and pick up an entertaining book. Highly recommended to readers of paranormal short fiction.

*****

Fallout by Harmony Kent

This is a long book, but the pace is ripping fast and the story flew by. A thousand years in the future, a virus ravages the human population inhabiting the planet Exxon II. What’s left is a lawless world where survival is precarious, infection threatens, and aspects of technology don’t function as they used to. There’s also a cure contained in a lost vial. This becomes the driver of the story as various parties are out to find it and use it to increase their political power and control.

The plot is complex and the world-building fascinating with technology that seems realistic on one hand while it stretches boundaries on the other. The virus, for example, can induce various superpowers in the infected, and serums are capable of imparting knowledge. There are political factions and lots of maneuvering, crosses and double-crosses and, dare I say, triple-crosses. Things move so fast, it’s important to pay attention.

Many of the characters are self-serving and devious to the point of sociopathic, so readers are wise not to take them at their word. Sexual violence and sexual manipulation are prevalent among these characters. Though a few repent and try to turn their lives around, I never found them likeable based on their past choices. The exceptions are Priya and Kaleb. Though the main character Priya begins the story as naïve and helpless, her arc rapidly progresses, transforming her into a woman of power who never surrenders her innate goodness. Kaleb is a tragic figure, and he’s the one that pulled on my heart strings.

Readers who enjoy a deep dive into post-apocalyptic science fiction with a complex plot and a flawed cast will find Fallout a fast-paced and polished read. Enjoy. 

*****

The Girl in the Tower (Winternight book 2) by Katherine Arden

The first book in the Winternight trilogy captivated me, and I was eager to read the second. In this retelling of a Russian folk tale(s), Vasya has ridden away from her village on the back of Solovney, her magical horse. She dresses as a boy, determined to see the world and escape a culture where women lack choices. On her way south, she saves three children from bandits and flees with them to Moscow where she continues her charade… a day too long.

Old spirits of the land and hearth fill the story, magical creatures and beings that fade before the new religion that denies their reality. I loved how alive the invisible world is to Vasya, and the ill-fated love story with the Frost King feels almost sacred.

The setting and worldbuilding are mesmerizing, as are the characters. Main and secondary characters are emotional and often conflicted. Sacrifice, guilt, obligation, love, and the freedom to make one’s own choices are central themes. A steady undercurrent of tension keeps the pace moving and doesn’t let up until the explosive end. I’m looking forward to book 3. Highly recommended.

*****

Fable (Fable book 1) by Adrienne Young

I’d read several reviews praising this book and finally got around to reading it after letting it languish in my kindle for months. Honestly, by the time I finished chapter 3, I was hooked and couldn’t put it down. As soon as I read the last page, I moved on to the second book in the duology.

The worldbuilding is rich but not overly laden with detail – there’s just enough to bring the setting to life. The story takes place on sailing ships. “Dredgers” harvest gems from the coral beds, and in this world, gems are the foundation of wealth and trade. While some get rich, dredgers like Fable, barely scrape by. It’s a brutal world for those without power, and no one gets a break.

Fable’s a survivor with a lot of emotional baggage, special talent, and fearless determination. But she’s all alone – abandoned by her father when her mother died. Then she finds a ship where she might have a chance to belong. And just when that dream seems to be coming true…

This book is a fast-paced adventure with memorable characters and a touch of romance. It’s a great set up for all the intrigue that unfolds in book 2 (which I already finished). Highly recommended to fantasy readers.

*****

Namesake (Fable book 2) by Adrienne Young

Namesake starts where book one left off. Fable’s dream of belonging to a crew falls prey to powerful people and their plots to control the world of shipping and gems. She has a solution, but it also puts her new companions in jeopardy. A chance at love makes her vulnerable to manipulation, and when things go wrong, she’ll give up everything to save her crew.

The pace picks up as the stakes increase, and the plot becomes more complex and twisty-turny than in the first book. A lot of surprising secrets, as well as hidden agendas, come to light as the story progresses. Fable has to take plenty of risks and not all of them work out in her favor or to the benefit of her crew. Nothing’s easy.

The action is non-stop, but character-driven readers will enjoy the distinct, emotionally rich personalities, the warmth and genuineness of Fable’s allies, and the impersonal avarice of those willing to use her to achieve their goals. A highly satisfying conclusion comes after a highly satisfying read. Definitely recommended.

*****

The Shadows We Breathe: An anthology of short fiction, edited by Sarah Brentyn

Full disclosure: I’m a contributor to this collection, but wanted to recognize the talent of the other authors whose work is included within these pages.

Shadows we Breathe opens with a stunning flash piece by Ali Isaac. Her story feels scraped and raw and personal, a deep dive into the emotional wreckage and redemption of love. I think I held my breath through the entire read, hanging on every word, completely immersed in the dark and light of the relationship she describes. It’s so beautiful it hurts.

Then the book moves on to an exquisite flash story by Sarah Brentyn… then Georgia Bell and onward to Reena Dobson, Allie Potts, Maria Carvalho, and Mary Smith. I’m truly humbled (and intimidated) to be included among this amazing line-up of talent.

The theme of the flash stories (500 words), micro stories (50 words), and micro-bursts (10 words) is relationships. Sarah Brentyn’s introduction describes them as tales “beautifully painted and edged with darkness.” That darkness is deeply human, often hidden, and in this book, thoroughly compelling. Highly recommended to readers of flash fiction who want to feel stories in their hearts and bones.,

*****

The Moons of Autumn: A Word Craft Journal of Syllabic Verse, First Edition

(Full disclosure: I have 3 poems in this one too.)

The first Word Craft Journal of Syllabic Verse invited poets to submit poems around the theme of the Harvest Moon. If you love poems about the moon, you’ll find a plethora of verse among the pages to entrance, haunt, and raise a sigh or smile.

The range of forms is impressive – 18 in total – and the poems are organized by type. Each section begins with a description of the form: number of lines and syllable count, as well as the original focus of the poetic form if there is one (nature or love or human foibles, for example). In this way, the journal is instructive while offering a collection of beautiful poetry.

With approximately 75 poems in the collection, I didn’t make a list of favorites, but the editors chose three “Best of Issue” poems. Below is a Haibun Idyll a combination of prose and haiku.

Moon’s Magic
By D. L. Finn

A lone black cat sits on the edge of the world, under the harvest moon. Her green eyes reflect the celestial beams, and her fur absorbs the stars. She rubs against the night’s promise, and its magic fills her soul.

our perceived shackles
released in nature’s healing
under the moonbeams

*****

Breathless: A Short Story by Yvette M. Calleiro

Silena is a maid with a crush on her employer, the wealthy playboy William. When he ridicules her, she uses magic to make herself young and beautiful. William falls for her, but at the last moment, Silena changes her mind. Instead of having sex with him, she curses him. It’s a curse with an unexpected twist that neither of them will escape. This short story is a quick 1/2 hour read and a great way to fill some free time. Recommended to adult readers who enjoy a touch of magic and a whole lot of karma.

*****

Happy Reading!