March Book Reviews

Happy April! Time for some reading!

I’m planning to take some time away from the blog to finish up my WIP and spring clean my house. Yeesh. I need a band of house spirits to help with that second task. One of the challenges with a log house, is wiping down each and every dusty log.

Wish me luck.

March book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of fantasy, a medical thriller, two poetry collections, a short story, and a Vietnam War memoir.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

I loved The Enchantment of Ravens and looked forward to reading another of Rogerson’s books. Just imagine a fantasy set in a Great Library where books ruffle their pages or grumble or sniff or snap at your clothing as you pass. Some of them are talkative, others love to sing opera, and a few are so wicked they have to be chained and locked in a vault. Imagine a world where demons can be bound as servants and where love tests the limits of evil. Where a haunted sorcerer and librarian’s apprentice join forces to save the world. Oooooh. This book is so magical.

The story is told from the POV of the apprentice. Elizabeth is quite daring, full of energy, genuinely emotional, and mostly fearless. Secondary characters are equally rich with distinct personalities. There’s a lot of humor in the relationships as well as tenderness and a touch of clever banter. The book isn’t a skinny little thing, but the plot moves well, and the story kept me turning pages.

And if that isn’t enough, the writing is beautiful, visual, and evocative. I love the imagery: “As the afternoon shadows deepened, the coach clattered into the Blackwald, the great forest that slashed through the kingdom like the stroke of a knife. Everything grew dark and damp. Here and there among the undergrowth stood shocking white stands of birch trees, like specters floating among the black gowns of a funeral party.”

Highly recommended to fans of fantasy, beautiful writing, and giant libraries full of magical books.

*****

Acts of Convenience by Alex Craigie

The opening of this book got me all riled up! It starts with some political maneuvering that might strike a little close to home depending on where you live. The lives of people are reduced to statistics, and their value is measured based on a cost-benefit analysis. In the case of healthcare, old people are deemed a burden on the system, and the government devises ways to help them into an early grave.

Cassie is a nurse in said healthcare system and doesn’t at first acknowledge that a broader conspiracy is at play. She notices poor care and unfair decisions, but there always seems to be a justification and excuse. Time moves forward, and the situation only gets worse. After 40 years in nursing, she has no choice but to acknowledge that something nefarious is occurring at her hospital. And she can’t let it go.

The story starts in 2017 and extends decades into the future. It becomes completely Cassie’s tale at about the 20% mark, and what a thriller. I had a hard time putting the book down and, over several nights, reading wrestled with my need for sleep. The plot is riveting as Cassie engages with an underground group who is dedicated to the truth and willing to risk their lives. Her secret life puts her at odds with her husband and family, and the danger ratchets up until the final showdown.

The characters are well-rounded and distinct with a full range of emotions. Cassie’s evolving relationships are varied and believable, the dialog natural. I especially liked Cassie and her granddaughter, Seren, and the closeness of their relationship. I also was delighted to read a thriller with an “older” main character. The pace speeds up as the stakes rise. Highly recommended.

*****

The Prince’s Son by Deborah Jay

Deborah Jay can write fantasy. This is the second book in The Five Kingdom series. The story focuses on several main characters: One, Rustam Chalice, who has been ordered by the Prince to escort two young women over the treacherous Tylocian mountains. Two, Nessa Haddo, one of the women who is kidnapped by the barbarian clans and must use her wits and burgeoning magic to escape. And three, Resada, the prince’s wife who is pregnant and conflicted about her life.

This is a long read, almost 500 pages. The worldbuilding is fascinating and politically complex, and it’s easy to see the depth of work that went into crafting it. For most of the book there are three related but independent plots, one for each main character. Despite some page-turning action, the navigation between the multiple storylines does make for a modest pace. The three narratives converge and wrap up well with a few dangling problems for the next book.

The characters are three dimensional and emotionally rich, and all three grow during the book with Nessa making the largest leap. To me, she stole the show in this read, though my heart also ached for Rustam and Resada. Highly recommended for fantasy readers who love an epic story with a lot of depth to the worldbuilding and characters. Start with Book One, The Prince’s Man.

*****

Midnight Haiku by Sue Vincent

I read this lovely collection of 365 haiku over a few days, but honestly it should take a year to fully savor them. For that reason, I plan to read the book again, one poem a day, which is how the author crafted them. The poems loosely follow the seasons. They’re reflections on the beauty and wonder of nature and the passage of time. They explore the mysteries of an ancient landscape and the human connections to sacred places. Some return home to the heart, to the magic and poignancy of love and the mysteries of life. In every sense, I found this a deeply spiritual read. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy haiku, daily inspiration and reflection, and beautiful, thought-provoking imagery. A few favorites:

walk forward in grace
stars have strewn a path of gold
bounded by beauty

from a darkling shore
dreamers can walk on water
a land of light calls.

closer to earth
a child’s eyes sees miracles
we have forgotten

we pass as shadows
ephemeral fallen leaves
on the path of time

*****

Minus One by Elizabeth Merry

Merry describes her collection of poetry as “The Story of a Life” and as I read her poems, I was aware of an underlying and poignant theme of loss—sometimes as a result of death, but also those losses brought about by change, time, growth, and aging. The poems are touching. The imagery digs deep, offering glimpses with carefully chosen details more than telling stories.

The book took about an hour to read, and I used the time to reflect and savor the words. It includes a combination of free-form poetry, haiku, and a selection of photographs to complement the poems. A stand out collection from start to finish, I had a difficult time picking favorites. A few that I highlighted are Minus One, The Red Petticoat, Seascapes, Landscapes, In a Yellow Dress, and Frances. Recommended to readers who enjoy reflective poetry from the heart.

As an example, here is the first stanza of Frances:

Here I will rest
My ashes falling
Into swirls of bog-brown water
In Spring perhaps
The river quiet
And the birds gone mad
My ghost will hover –
A shape in powdered white
Casting chills on my attendants…

*****

Brother’s Keeper by Jan Sikes

This short story touches on the relationship of two brothers, Quentin and Rowdy. For his whole life, Quentin has been his brother’s keeper, but when Rowdy kills a man, what will Quentin do? The story is a quick read, almost a character study, and moves at a speedy clip. The ending left me thinking about the family dysfunction and how it impacted every character and relationship, as well as the choices the two men made and were willing to live with. No one walks away unscathed. A grim tale. Well written and recommended for fans of short stories.

*****

Waiting for Westmoreland by John Maberry

John Maberry’s memoir tracks his life from his childhood in a struggling family through his disillusionment with the Vietnam War, and how that experience compelled him to make a positive difference in the world. That difference came first as an anti-war activist, second through getting a law degree, and finally, through embracing Buddhism and the recognition that change comes from within.

I most appreciated the account of his childhood and his years in the service. I was a child during the Vietnam War and “protected” from much of the grim news by my parents. John provides a personal glimpse into the war, and his account of his experiences, particularly the devaluation of human life, is heart-wrenching. The callousness and corruption of US political and military leadership, is infuriating.

I found the account of the subsequent years of activism and academic pursuits detailed and not quite as engaging, though they are part of his search for belonging and a way to facilitate change. How that search led to an understanding of Buddhism and the role of karma in his choices brings the memoir to a conclusion. I recommend this story to readers who enjoy memoirs and anyone interested in a soldier’s experience of the Vietnam War, the anti-war movement, and the search for wholeness that followed.

Happy Reading!

February Book Reviews

March is almost here! Time to plan some reading for spring (or autumn)!

February book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of fantasy, a paranormal western, a psychological thriller, a western contemporary romance, and a spooky kid’s book. ! I hope you enjoy the browse.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

I’m a total sucker for beautiful, lyrical writing, and this book is loaded with it. I was underlining the paperback like a mad woman. The story is based on a Russian folktale, I think, but it was unfamiliar to me, so I read the story as if it were a fantasy. It definitely has the feeling of a folktale with a Russian flavor. The details are rich, rich, rich, magical and fantastical, a feast for a reader’s imagination.

The story begins when Vasya is a child and goes until her young womanhood. She has “the sight,” capable of seeing the spirits of the home and northern forest. Some of them are kindly and some terrible. Vasya’s stepmother believes they are evil and tries to drive them out. Their battle of wills is magnified as the Frost Demon and his brother, the Bear, compete for Vasya’s life. Tragedy befalls the north when a Christian zealot arrives, spreading fear of the old ways. As the spirits weaken, Vasya is the only one with the courage to take a stand. There’s so much more to this story than that – a battle for independence, deep family love, madness, the old gods against the new, and all set against the beauty, magic, and deadly cold of winter.

Aside from the exquisite writing and storytelling, the characters are deeply drawn with multilayered emotions and motivations. Little is spelled out and the complexity of the story, details, and characters had me flipping the pages deep into the night. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy folktale retellings, fantasy, and beautiful writing.

*****

Mateo’s Law by Sandra Cox

What a fun read. Mateo is a shapeshifting sheriff in small town Grizzly, Montana, and few, if any, residents know his secret. His chief deputy, Blair, is a transplant from Atlanta, and when a black wolf begins killing animals and slashing people, the two of them are on the case. Sardonic banter and aggravating behavior scarcely mask the sexual tension flying between them.

Mateo is a competent, dark, mysterious, and hunky guy, but Blair was my favorite character, her snappy sarcasm and self-deprecating humor right up my alley. She’s also tough, comfortable with her identity, and undaunted when it comes to doing the right thing. She doesn’t know Mateo’s secret, which generates some entertaining situations.

Secondary characters are well done, particularly the wolves and Mateo’s estranged friend, Jesse. Other characters and the setting serve to round out the story without going into a great deal of backstory or detail. The plot isn’t complicated, but it’s a great backdrop for a lot of fast-paced action that showcases Mateo’s and Blair’s relationship. No dull moments in this book. I recommend it to readers who enjoy contemporary westerns with a paranormal flair, and great characters with lots of personality who generate sparks.

*****

Brody Cody and the Haunted Vacation House by Toni Pike

Tornado Boy and I enjoyed the first Brody Cody book and were eager to pick up this one. It had the perfect amount of scariness for an 8-year-old who’s just started to enjoy ghost stories.

Brody, his mom and dad, and three friends go on vacation to the Blue Mountains. They’ve rented the Wysludge Manor, a dusty cobwebby house with overgrown, dead gardens. Things start going wrong right from the start, and Brody and his friends are determined to get to the bottom of the strange occurrences, creepy noises, and visions of ghosts.

The book is about an hour’s read, the language accessible to young independent readers and a fun choice for parents and kids who enjoy chapter books. Grammy and Tornado Boy highly recommend Brody Cody books and look forward to the next one!

*****

Seasoned with Destiny by Mary J. McCoy-Dressel

Judy Carlson is at the stage in life where she’s enjoying her grown sons, their families, and a batch of grandchildren with more on the way. She’s also having hot flashes and after years of widowhood, starting to date. But Dale Conner comes with some baggage that opens her eyes to the real hero in her life, one right under her nose.

There’s danger in this book, but this romance is well…mostly romance. And for those who wonder if it’s ever too late to love, this might be the perfect read. There are also lots and lots of babies, as well as family dynamics that keep Judy busy between asserting her independence and discovering love. She’s a tough lady.

This is the fifth book in the Double Dutch Ranch series, but I read it as a stand-alone, and it worked just dandy, though I can see how reading it in order would flesh out her family in preparation for this novel. I enjoyed the story and recommend it to readers of contemporary western romance.

*****

Dead of Winter: Journey 2, Penllyn by Teagan Riordain Geneviene

In true serial form, Journey 2 starts at the end of the first and isn’t meant to be read as a stand-alone. In other words, start at the beginning! The first half of this Journey primarily introduces Zasha, a member of the mysterious group called the Deae Matres, as well as Zasha’s guardian, Tajin. They travel the countryside and grow concerned about threats to outlanders, particularly to women. I enjoyed this intriguing relationship and am eager to learn more about them.

The second half returns to Emlyn as she and her father walk to the village of Penllyn to sell cider from his orchard. It’s at the inn in Penllyn, that a second motivation for the trip becomes clear to Emlyn, and the truth is worse than her most worrisome imaginings.

Descriptions are vivid and beautiful and sometimes chilling. The worldbuilding is intricate and thorough. I came to like Emlyn more and her father less as the characters continue to develop. A fair amount of Emlyn’s experience is conveyed through her thoughts as italicized internal dialog. I have mixed feelings about that, but there’s plenty of verbal dialog to round it out. Dreams play a large part in this journey as well as ghosts who introduce Emlyn to potential allies in the Deae Matres. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.

*****

Warning Signs by Carol Balawyder

This psychological thriller is told from three points of view: a serial killer, the young woman who loves him, and the detective investigating the murders of several teenagers.

Eugene Munroe is a creepy guy, and there were times during the read where the real world disappeared and I was completely absorbed in his strange and fascinating thought processes. Angie is overly needy and desperate for love, and Eugene’s attentions have her ignoring the warning signs that something is wrong. Van Ray is the cop on the case who compromises the law in more ways than one.

The plot starts with a lot of tension that kept me glued to the pages. A significant twist at the halfway point changes the nature of the story, shifting it away from imminent danger into the psychology of the characters. The pace slows slightly as the book works toward a conclusion, but it wraps up the various threads nicely. The writing seemed well researched, particularly related to the serial killer.

I encountered a problem with formatting on my kindle (it may just be my kindle). There were no breaks or indents distinguishing paragraphs. This made the read more difficult for me, but otherwise, I recommend it to fans of thrillers, crime novels, and psychological dramas.

*****

Finding a Balance by Lauren Scott

I read this short book of poetry on a quiet evening. Many of the poems are reflections about the journey of life: love, pain, hope, and self-discovery. They’re told from a gentle and often wistful perspective. Scott’s language is accessible, as are the emotions within her poems.

Most of the poems rhyme, some subtly and some more pronounced. I generally prefer free-form poetry, but there are some lovely pieces in here including a selection of haiku. A few of my favorites were: Pillow, Healing, Refreshing, and Butterflies to Stay.

For an example of her poetry, this is the first stanza of Healing:

Gasping for air
with my head underwater
lungs on the verge
of exploding
I’m in orbit
heading into a world
of other dimensions
where gravity
has no bearing…

*****

Voyage of the Lanternfish by C. S. Boyack

James Cuttler’s sweetheart, Bonnie, is bricked into a tower by the Earl of Grandelur and won’t be released until James and Dan (Bonnie’s brother) incite a war between two rival nations. This demand kicks off the adventure as James and Dan travel through the fantasy world—first by wagon and later by sea as pirates. They assemble allies and a ship’s crew and cause havoc everywhere they go.

The book is a jaunting quest with a focus on a unique collection of characters and worldbuilding detail. The pace is moderate, and the plot ambles in places, but there are also bouts of intense action, and readers who enjoy pirates will appreciate the sea battles.

As other readers have mentioned, the real stars of the book are the root monsters. They “grew” on me, and their scenes are hysterical from start to finish. Boyack has a wonderful way of creating magical characters and imbuing them with distinct—and frequently outrageous—personalities. The root monsters are impressive. I recommend this fantasy read to anyone who enjoys rambling quests with fabulous characters, sea battles, and plenty of humor.

Happy Reading!

Life Lines by Sue Vincent

As we celebrate our dear story-teller, poet, blogger, and wise-woman Sue Vincent, I’d thought I would share my favorite book of her poetry.

Below is a sublimely beautiful poem from its pages, and my review. If you enjoy it, consider picking up a copy for own heart’s enjoyment. ❤

Flowers

by Sue Vincent

There were always flowers.

Orchids pinned upon a mother’s breast,

All lace and diamonds.

Long black gloves

And painted lips,

As she left, laughing.

A child who watched

As the door closed.

*

There were flowers…

Yellow tulips,

Cellophane and ribbon

A girl who blushed

As the curtain fell

Upon the stage;

She cradled them,

A first bouquet.

*

There were flowers,

Roses and lilies

White, in hands and hair,

Their fragrance mingled

With frankincense,

A ghost of awe and wonder

Finding a home

In memory.

*

There were flowers…

Rainbow hued,

Everywhere.

Greeting a life newborn,

With love and welcome,

Lighting stark severity

As a babe cried.

*

There were flowers…

Daisy chains

Around his brow,

Crowning him with sunlight,

In laughter,

In simplicity,

In love.

*

There were flowers,

Three roses,

Red as life,

Placed in a cold hand,

One for each heart

Saying farewell.

Too long,

Too soon.

*

There are flowers,

Heather and bluebells

Painting horizons

Still unexplored.

Pathways of petals

Laugh at our feet,

Inviting.

*

In joy or sorrow,

When the tears fall,

There are always flowers.

*

My Review

This collection of 52 poems by Sue Vincent is a gem. I’d give this book 6 stars if I could. It’s hard to put into words how moving I found Vincent’s poetry. The poems are free form reflections on the profound moments of life, the deep emotional wells of love, loss, and memories, the rhythms of nature reflected in our journeys, and the poignant journeys themselves.

It was almost impossible to pick out a few favorites, but I’m giving it a try: “I See You” is an exquisite poem about aging and the lasting echoes of youth that we carry inside our memories. “Flowers” (which makes me weepy just thinking about it) chronicles a woman’s life-stages in flowers from birth through death. Two touching poems are told from the point of view of someone watching a loved one sleep. They’re both gentle and heartachingly beautiful. “Just for a Moment” is a rare syllabic poem in the collection about the peace of love, and “Memory” about love lost.

Though the poems can be read in an hour or so, I would suggest savoring them. Highly recommended.

*

You can connect with Sue here:

Blog: Daily Echo – Echoes of Life

Website: France & Vincent

Twitter

Facebook

Check out today’s beautiful post from Sue: Impression of Contentment

Happy Valentine’s Day. Hugs.

January Book Reviews

Now that I’m writing again, my reading has dropped off. *Sigh*

January book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of paranormal fiction, a vampire anthology, Gothic anthology, and YA fantasy! I hope you enjoy the browse.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The Light by Marcia Meara

I could read a book about 11-year-old Rabbit navel-gazing and be entertained. I’m in love with this character and as long as he’s in the story, I’m satisfied. Once again, Rabbit is using his gift of “sight” to solve murders and heal old wounds. In this book, one of the Brown Mountain lights is different from the rest. It’s full of sadness, and Rabbit wants to find out why.

This story has less violence and minimal danger compare to the previous books in the series, and though Rabbit solves the mystery, the more dire consequences unfold on their own. In this read, the focus has shifted somewhat to Rabbit’s expanding “family” as he spreads around his good will and makes connections with other good people. There’s a sweetness to this story and to these characters, and that’s not a bad thing.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Rabbit’s journey and happily recommend Meara’s Wake Robin Ridge series to fans of paranormal fiction, addictive characters, and expert writing. I will miss this little guy. A solid five-star read.

*****

The Vampire Connoisseur (anthology – multiple authors)

I’ve avoided vampire stories for years. I think Anne Rice spoiled me with Interview with the Vampire, which I loved. And the vixen vampires on television… ugh. But this anthology has a great cover and vetted stories. I gave it a go, and I’m glad I did.

There are sixteen stories by sixteen authors, and each story is vastly different. Some have sublime characters with unique voices. Others have incredible world-building. And still others have unusual plots. My favorites included some of each, particularly those stories that surprised me with their originality or made me empathize with vampires, or both. Be prepared for some gruesome blood and guts too.

Favorites were The Red Angel (amazing), The Sun Sets Nonetheless, Finch, and Dissidents. Recommended for readers of horror who enjoy well-written vampire stories.

*****

The Brinwade Chronicles (anthology multiple authors)

This is the third book and second anthology I’ve read from the Fosseway Writers, and so far, it’s my favorite. The collection of Gothic short stories is loosely organized around Brinwade, a fictional village near Nottingham in central England. A map is included in the Foreword, a nice touch that helped orient me as I read.

Though the 29 tales take place in the same village, the authors had leeway when it came to timeframes. Some of the stories take place in modern England, while others unfold elsewhere in a history that spans hundreds of years. This increased the variety already created by having multiple author-contributors and character voices.

As a fan of speculative fiction there was a lot for me to enjoy: ghosts, vampires, elves, very creepy scarecrows, visits from the fae, and haunted marshes, to name a few. Not all the stories are frightening. Some are tragic and others heartwarming. All are well edited. Highly recommended to readers of Gothic and speculative fiction short story anthologies.

*****

Knightmare Arcanist by Shami Stovall

I enjoyed this read though I think it’s geared more toward young teens and precocious middle-grade readers. In this magical fantasy world, young people compete for a chance to bond with mythical creatures and become arcanists (wizards). If you can think of a magical creature, it’s in this story—from phoenixes and pixies to leviathans and yetis. Suspending my disbelief was a necessity from start to finish.

In this first book of the series, Volke and other new arcanists travel to a magical manor on a giant turtle’s back to begin their magical training. The arcanist guilds are struggling with a mysterious plague that’s corrupting the mystical creatures and turning their masters into pirates. The kids are trying to figure out what’s going on and who they can trust.

For the most part, the human characters are fifteen years old. They and their creatures are all different and distinct. The creatures talk and some of them have mysterious or fun personalities (a ferret-type creature called a Rizzel reminded me of some of the hilarious Disney side-kicks.) The adults are the biggest threat in the story though one of the teens is a bit of a bully. The pace moves along with a steady stream of action. Recommended to young readers of YA fantasy who are looking for a kid-driven adventure.

*****

Happy Reading!

“Dead of Winter” is here!

Amazon Global Link

Teagan Geneviene has a new book, well… a serial of monthly novelettes that will tell one epic story. And the first “journey” is now available on Amazon. I read it in one sitting and reviewed it below. But first, I had a few questions for Teagan. We didn’t spoil the read, I promise.

Dead of Winter Interview

Dead of Winter has been in the works for over a decade. Why did you wait so long to release it, and why are you publishing this story in monthly novelettes?

I had been researching and then writing Dead of Winter for a couple of years.  Then Game of Thrones premiered on HBO and used a tag-line that I had woven throughout my novel — Winter is coming!  (I talk about that nightmare in a blog post.)  That coincidence caused me to shelve my huge novel.  However, the characters and world stayed with me.  Over the next decade, I considered dividing it into a trilogy, or making it into a blog serial.  I even fantasized about it becoming an anime series.  Still, I couldn’t escape the fact that George R. R. Martin had used the phrase that was core to my story.

After his television show ended, I decided I had let that hold me back long enough.  If my phrase wasn’t new, then I would present the novel in a new way — by publishing a monthly series of novelettes, or journeys (the characters journey through their complex world).  The original manuscript is longer than 800 pages, so I think it will run for at least a year.

Abraham Pether, Wikipedia

The first novelette introduces the reader to Emlyn, her restrictive culture, her teacher, and her world. What aspects of the world were the most interesting for you to craft?

Emlyn’s world in Dead of Winter is not a historic fantasy.  Although it looks and sounds similar to pre-industrial Great Britain and Europe.  I also researched all the names of the many characters and places so they would be reminiscent of those places.  I’m a research geek, so I loved creating that part.  More than 200 places and characters are mentioned in the overall story.

Many of your books are fun and whimsical in nature. This one feels more serious and dangerous. Was that a deliberate decision?

There are two parts to that answer — yes and no.  The difference in style was an evolution, rather than a decision. Before I started publishing and blogging, I wrote “high fantasy” stories.  I wrote this novel back then.  During the years since, my style has progressed to the lighter things you’re used to seeing from me.  When I started writing blog serials, those brought out a strong sense of whimsy.  The whimsy was always there, but in the past, it was expressed in a more serious way.

Also, I started writing Dead of Winter in the winter of 2009 – 2010.  I had recently relocated to a place where both the climate and the culture were much colder than I had ever experienced.  A historically harsh winter, and a personal injury set the tone of Dead of Winter.

Emlyn has paranormal abilities that set her apart. Tell us a little about the magic in this world.

The “dead” are a fundamental part of Dead of Winter, but the story is more about Emlyn and her world than it is about ghosts.  How to say it?  It’s more of a story with ghosts than an actual ghost story — if that makes any sense.

As a reader who studies the work of successful mainstream authors, I learned the value of making gradual increases in magic and/or violence.  Emlyn’s ability to communicate with spirits is the main “magic” of this story, but the tale grows into other forms of magic as well.  There are also supernatural creatures and there is some “earth magic.”

Do you have a favorite character and why?

This story was in my head for years.  Many of the characters became real to me.  One favorite is Tajín, a companion for Zasha.  I definitely had a crush on Tajín.  You won’t meet him until Journey 2.  I love his personality.  His home, Bandihar, is inspired by ancient civilizations in Mexico.  I enjoyed shaping his culture and letting it help develop his personality, even his weapon.

Review of Dead of Winter, Journey One

This story will unfold in monthly installments (Journeys), and in this first novelette, the author introduces the reader to the fantasy world, to the main protagonist, Emlyn, and to a few secondary characters who impact her life. I read this Journey in about an hour.

Emlyn lives with her father and sister in a rural village where the culture is patriarchal and restrictive, with women bearing the brunt of the harsh control. This doesn’t bode well for Emlyn who has the ability to see ghosts. Osabide, Emlyn’s elderly teacher and a wise woman reminds her not to share knowledge of her gifts with anyone, because her strange skill could cost her everything, including her life.

The story is told from Emlyn’s point of view, and the reader gets glimpses of her encounters with ghosts as well as a mysterious white wolf. The novelette raises questions, and there are teasers galore, including an underlying sense of danger. An excellent start to an epic tale, recommended to readers who enjoy fantasies and want to try a different sort of reading experience. I’m looking forward to the next Journey.

Teagan’s Links

Dead of Winter Global Link

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Teagan-Riordain-Geneviene/e/B00HHDXHVM
Twitter: https://twitter.com/teagangeneviene
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TeagansBooks
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/teagangeneviene/
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCoM-z7_iH5t2_7aNpy3vG-Q
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/teagangeneviene/

Happy Reading!

New Year, New Book, and New Review

A Journey Through Time…and Time Again

I’m taking a break from my break to bring you a highly recommended series and new release from blogger and writer, Kennedy J. Quinn (aka Sheri). I’ve read the first two books in The Unwitting Journeys of the Witty Miss Livingstone series and bugged Kennedy for a year regarding the third. Finally it’s out. My review is below, but before going there, I was curious:

My Question for Kennedy: One thing that I noticed (and loved) in the very first book, as well as in subsequent reads, is Miss Livingstone’s distinctive voice. I’d swear a proper and very witty young lady was whispering her thoughts and dialog into your ear. Where did this voice come from and why does it feel so authentic? Are you secretly Miss Livingstone?

Kennedy’s Answer: This question (or questions) made me laugh. I’m delighted Miss Livingstone comes through to you with the unique verve I feel from her as I write. I confess most of my characters live vibrantly for me. They appear to me fully formed with vivid personalities, and I usually know their names without hesitation.

But Miss Livingstone is special. In a sense she does whisper to me, because if I struggle to write her lines here and there, she instantly demands correction when I stray – as forcefully as her in-story character demands everything else. She abides no weakness, though she gives room for innate faults and quirks with no need for apology. Her wit surprises me – perhaps as much as it surprises you – jumping out from all directions as I’m writing (or you’re reading) along. She doesn’t miss much and, again, demands I add in her brilliance.

Where her voice comes from, you may think you know at this point… sheer lunacy on the part of the writer, perhaps? But no, I think I’m as sane as any other fiction writer who ‘hears’ their characters. That leaves plenty of room for speculation on where any story originates in human psyche.

But a bit of insight on my background: My Canadian mum raised my brother and I with proper manners infused into daily living. My household was atypically quiet, and we did a lot of reading, art projects and other creative things – so imagination always loomed large and clear for me. Conservative values fused with dry or absurd humor. My well-read family thrived on astute observations and witty turns of phrase. I came to love British literature, music, drama and humor. I read mostly classics as a child and often still choose them for ‘light reading.’ So older style English and grammar come naturally. Though I purposely fuse simpler, more direct phrasing into the Miss Liv Adventures series while working to maintain a classic-nostalgic feel to the style.

So am I secretly Miss Livingstone? Her respect for proper behavior, yet inability to fully abide within it, lives in me. And I’d like to think I carry her boldness of spirit lit with a genuine heart. But I wouldn’t do some of the things she does… What fun to imagine I could! This boisterous, impetuous Miss Caprice Livingstone has a life of her own that bursts from the page and keeps me wanting to turn the next one. I’m thrilled to present Book III: Dreams Key. And I can’t wait until she tells us all more!

Thanks for asking, Diana! I’m pleased you enjoy the books, and it’s my pleasure to be spotlighted on your blog. Much appreciated!

Diana’s Review:

Miss Livingstone’s steampunk world includes time travel as well as dimensional travel, and the butterfly-effect gets everything incredibly tangled. Hold on to your petticoats! Lizzie’s access to magical gemstones and keys drops her into her past and future as well as into other versions of her life. Imagine her shock at suddenly finding herself in Scotland, about to give birth.

Several things stood out for me with this read. One is the complex plot created by the time/dimensional travel. Miss Livingstone might be witty, but she also has to use her wits to avoid causing a mess. She’s not the only one traveling which adds layers to the mysteries and shenanigans.

As in all the books, the characterization is fun and beautifully authentic. I enjoy Miss Livingstone’s personality which is genteel while it pushes at the boundaries of propriety with her sneakiness, guffaws, and occasional snorts. In voice, language, and good manners she is straight out of 1910. The same authenticity applies to the secondary characters though she is the most entertaining as she barges full steam ahead into any and every situation.

Book 3 picks up at the moment Book 2 ends, and Quinn doesn’t waste any pages catching the reader up. I’d recommend reading the books without too much time between them in order to avoid confusion. Recommended to readers who enjoy steampunk and fantasy with a turn-of-the-century flair.

Sheri’s Links:

Amazon Author page for Kennedy J Quinn: https://www.amazon.com/Kennedy-J-Quinn/e/B01M7TO14L

Miss Liv Adventures website: https://misslivadventures.com/

Kennedy J Quinn Twitter: https://twitter.com/KennedyJQuinn

Kennedy J Quinn Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KennedyJQuinn

FreeValley Publishing / FVP Books website: https://freevalleypublishing.com/

The Unwitting Journeys of Miss Livingstone Global Links:

Book OneBook TwoBook Three!

Happy Reading!

December Book Reviews, Part II

My 60-book Autumn Reading Challenge was a success, finishing with 5 days to spare!!

Here are final 6 reviews and a snapshot of all the wonderful books.

December’s Part II book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of YA fantasy, a paranormal anthology, short stories, and poetry! I hope you enjoy the browse.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

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

 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. 

*****

Perfectly Imperfect by Jacquie Biggar

What a delightful feel-good romance. This is an hour-long read, a fun foray into the contentious relationship between two business people, one trying to hold on to her dream company while the other one is tasked with selling it out from under her. Of course, sparks fly – the bad kind as well as the good.

I whipped through this book. The characters were colorful, both likable, and I loved their sarcasm and spats. The secondary characters were just right and wonderfully well-rounded for such a short book. The plot isn’t overly complex, and there isn’t any of the belabored drama-queen, helpless-female stuff that sometimes makes me roll my eyes. Instead, it struck me as carefully-crafted with just the right details to give a vivid sense of place, character, and action. Honestly, this spunky romance was one of the best I’ve read. Highly recommended.

*****

The Dome by Suzanne Craig-Whytock

Cee and Dee (named for their childhood designations of C and D) are young adult siblings who live on their own in a dystopian world where the “Fancies” reside in comfort and everyone else lives in tent cities or as near-slaves on agro-farms. Anyone who bucks the system is likely to end up at the Dome where they’ll fight other prisoners to the death. Crime is a means of survival and when Cee gets in trouble, his sister joins with other renegades to save him. But it doesn’t stop there! This plot has a lot going on.

The worldbuilding is extensive, and there’s a fair amount of backstory about the place and its history, peoples, and characters, usually relayed through stories. The pace varies, slower when filling in backstory and speeding up significantly during the action scenes and toward the story’s climax. Along with futuristic technology, there’s some quasi-magic too, particularly when it comes to Cee and Dee’s one-of-a-kind talents.

Cee and Dee are fully-drawn, emotionally rich characters with a close relationship. The first-person POV switches between them, and though they’re often separate from each other, they stay connected through their telepathic abilities. I didn’t quite believe that they weren’t aware of their other immense powers, but other than that, I was drawn into the story. An entertaining book for readers who enjoy awesome world-building and dystopian YA. I received a free copy of this book without any expectation of a review. (Paperback)

*****

Timeless Echoes Poetry by Balroop Singh

I’ve read Singh’s poetry books Magical Whispers, and Moments We Love, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. So, I decided to travel back in time a couple of years and dive into an older collection. The poems of Timeless Echoes reflect the poet’s same beautiful voice and reflective musings with a slightly more formal style.

The poems struck me as personal, a sharing of the many facets of love and relationships – the joys, but also the regrets and hurts, those which we carry with us, examine with older eyes, and come to know in a new way or let go. My favorites were the more free-flowing poems that struck a personal chord: Ageless Echoes, Illusional Calm, New Life, and A Letter. This generous collection of nearly sixty poems can be easily read in an afternoon, though they deserve to be savored.

Dolphin’s Cave by D. L. Finn

Coral is a teenager who’s lived with her aunt since her parents died in a mysterious plane crash in Hawaii. She has repeating dreams of riding dolphins to a golden city, but she always wakes up before the dream’s secrets are revealed. With another family, including their teenage kids, Ben and Beth, Coral and her aunt head to Hawaii for a vacation. Coral is determined to find out what happened to her parents and learn the meaning of her dreams.

The story is told from Coral’s POV. She’s a believable character and true to her age. There’s an appropriate focus on things teens enjoy, and her experiences with young love are sweet. She and her group enjoy some of the tourist-based highlights of Oahu and Maui, while in the background there are darker forces at work – several nefarious characters are spying on Coral and targeting her aunt.

The pace is moderate and the setting well researched. As the plot ramps up, the magical world of the golden city bursts in on an otherwise real-life narrative with all kinds of fantastical creatures like unicorns and dragons, healing powers and royalty. The murderous goals of the bad guys become clear as Coral learns the secrets of her dream and magical heritage. I was too “old” for this read, but do recommend it to tweens and young teenagers, especially girls

*****

Whispers of the Past: Wordcrafters Paranormal Anthology, Edited by Kaye Lynne Booth

This paranormal anthology includes 8 short stories from 6 authors, and I finished the read in a couple of hours. The stories varied widely from a horror-filled tale of untreated rabies in Missed Signs to a naïve and enthusiastic infatuation with a mermaid in Tanked. Other favorites included Partners in Time and A Peaceful Life I’ve Never Known, both exceptionally well-written. As with most anthologies, I appreciated some stories more than others, but they were all entertaining and thoroughly unique. Recommended to fans of paranormal short stories who are looking for an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.

*****

The books of the 60-Book Autumn Reading Challenge:

A total of 140 books read and reviewed in 2020, so far.

Happy Reading!

December Book Reviews, Part I

My 60-book Autumn Reading Challenge speeds toward the finish line. I’ve read and reviewed 54 books!!

Ten days to read 6 more. Piece of Cake!

December’s Part I book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal fiction, thrillers, a memoir written by a dog, poetry, and a children’s book! I hope you enjoy the browse.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Snow White and the Civil War: Survival of the Fairest by Cathleen Townsend

Clearly, from the title, this is a fairy tale retelling, and though the story of Snow White is recognizable in the book, this tale has enough originality and enhancements to rise above the Disney version. No singing mice here; instead there’s a young woman named Gwen trying to survive in California at the start of the Civil War.

Like in the fairy tale, Gwen flees her evil stepmother (and her mirrors) and finds a new home with seven dwarfs who dig for gold in the mines. Gwen keeps house and cooks while the industrious dwarfs keep her safe. The story diverges from the classic tale as Gwen’s desire to pull her weight encourages her to excel at her domestic skills as well as learn new ones. Life is pretty wonderful, and so is love, until the war and her stepmother get in the way.

An underlying theme of the story is the vital role frontier women played in the forming of the country. That said, there’s plenty of magical and real danger, and Gwen has a strong character arc. The narrative includes less-known historical facts about California’s role in the Civil War. It’s also full of details about the mid-1800’s, including homesteading and survival skills.

Townsend does a good job of differentiating between the dwarfs. Told in first person from Gwen’s POV, she’s the character that I got to know best. She’s well rounded, emotionally believable, and her sensibilities are true to the time period. The pace is moderate, and the book ends with a cliff-hanger, so be prepared to dive into Book 2 (Snow White and the Civil War: Plot of Gold). Recommended to YA and adult readers who enjoy fairy tale retellings and stories about frontier women.

*****

Snow White and the Civil War: Plot of Gold by Cathleen Townsend

This book is Part 2 of the Snow White and the Civil War tale, which should be read in order. It switches its POV from Gwen (Janet/Snow White) to Jack (the Prince Charming who isn’t so charming and needs to grow up quite a bit). The timelines of the stories overlap slightly though the characters don’t meet again until later in the book. The story diverges from the traditional fairytale in that Jack has a complete story of his own – as opposed to the largely absent prince in the childhood versions I read.

Having left Janet heartbroken, Jack’s goal is to impress his father by making a successful business for himself. At the same time the Civil War is looming, and California’s gold can make or break the war depending on whose pockets it fills. The politics of the time are well-researched and play a greater role in the story than they did in the first book. Jack’s efforts on behalf of the Union run parallel to his growing up and growing deeper, which I liked as his primary arc. He’s a three-dimensional character, as are a number of secondary characters.

The pace picks up alongside the action. Toward the conclusion, the story transitions back into the Snow White tale, and the evil stepmother makes her reappearance. All the plot threads come together nicely for a satisfying conclusion. Recommended to readers who enjoy fairy tale retellings, historical fiction, Civil War fiction, and books set in the American west.

*****

Patient Zero by Terry Tyler

I’ve been avoiding pandemic books (since there’s enough of that going around in real life these days), but decided to give this collection of nine short stories a try. Great decision (pats self on back). All of the stories take place in the same world, a place being ravaged by a “bat virus.” They read like vignettes, and I was completely drawn in by the characters and their situations. It was fascinating and chilling at the same time.

Each story focuses on a different character, often living through a different stage of the pandemic. Some of them are alone, others with family or friends. Some are highly prepared, others not so much. What I really enjoyed about the collection was how unique each story was and how believable! Yikes. I could absolutely see these tales happening in my neighborhood.

The deadly pandemic is the driving force behind the stories, but the characters bring their own situations, logic, and emotions into their choices. Not all of them survive, despite the best of plans, and for those who do, the world will never be the same. This isn’t a long read, and I recommend it to sci fi fans who enjoy a fictional pandemic and great writing.

*****

The Glamourist by Luanne G. Smith

I really enjoyed The Vine Witch and picked up this continuing story about Elena, a vine witch, and Renard, her fiancé and a vineyard owner. They’ve left the vineyard for the city to assist Yvette, a young woman on the lam from the law who’s trying to discover her magical abilities, protect a treasured book, and find out why she was abandoned as a child.

The plot is too complex to summarize, but it’s well laid out without any confusion. There are a number of characters with competing goals, and the story unfolds like a mystery as paths cross, clues are deciphered, and magic revealed. With witches, jinnis, eccentric mortals, criminals, and a magical cat, things get interesting fast.

One of the best parts is the world-building. This is a society (city) where witches are everywhere among the mortals. They own businesses and their magical abilities are strictly governed by the laws of the Covenants Regulation Bureau. It’s rather wonderful and fascinating, and both witches and mortals have their law-abiding citizens and criminals. Characters are rich and varied, and I enjoyed the author’s creativity when differentiating between them.

The writing is superb with a snappy pace. I’d suggest starting with The Vine Witch, though this book can be read as a stand-alone. A great choice for fantasy readers.

Crown of Coral and Pearl by Mara Rutherford

The start of this fantasy is all about being beautiful, going to a ball, and marrying a prince. The shallowness of the characters almost made me put the read down. But I hung in there, and lucky for me, things started going wrong, and they continued going wrong. Before I knew it, I was hooked.

In an act of kindness, Nor, a feisty young woman, switches places with her demure twin sister, Zadie, and heads from her sea-stilt village into the mountains to marry Prince Ceren. Not only is Ceren sickly and cruel, but he has brutal plans for her people in his lust for the healing pink pearls that they alone provide. Nor is determined to save her home even at the cost of her life.

The pace moves along well, and there’s plenty of action as well as a touch of romance. The plot is well constructed, integrating key parts of the worldbuilding. I like it when the fantasy elements play a role in the story and aren’t just background. Nor is a great character, unable to keep her mouth shut and ultimately unable to keep the prince from learning her secrets. She’s a well-rounded character as is Ceren and his brother Talin (Nor’s love interest).

The story is told from Nor’s first person POV, which unfortunately requires some “telling” at the conclusion when Talin has to explain a bunch of political secrets and maneuvering. But other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed this read. Recommended to fantasy fans who like a well-crafted tale with lots of action and a touch of romance.

*****

Desolation Bluff by Toni Pike

Oliver is a successful romance writer and happy newlywed. His wife, Vanessa, is his writing assistant, and his best friend Ray handles promotion. But Oliver is also blind, and what he doesn’t see is the way Vanessa and Ray roll their eyes at him and touch each other’s hands across the table. Then a freak accident returns Oliver’s sight. Before he can tell the two most important people in his life about the miracle, he discovers them in the throes of passion. His ability to see becomes his secret, and the tables turn.

The characters started off a touch flat for me, but they didn’t stay that way for long. As soon as Oliver gets his sight back, things get very interesting, very fast. Oliver is quite crafty and when a distant relative, Ferris, shows up at Oliver’s estate, she joins in the scheming. Things escalate like crazy and grow out of everyone’s control. The pace is great and the plot well-conceived.

The characters are varied and interesting, all of them flawed. Even Vanessa and Ray, despite their deceptions, don’t seem to start out with murderous intentions. And Oliver, in many ways the victim, makes vengeful choices with disastrous results. This book is a quick read that I polished off in a morning. Recommended for anyone who enjoys thrillers.

*****

Sam: A Shaggy Dog Story by Sally Cronin

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.

*****

Thistledown: Midsummer Bedlam by Teagan Geneviene

I read most of this book when it was a blog serial, and since I missed several episodes, it was a pleasure to sit down and read the finished story from end to end. Geneviene has a great imagination, and this tale of fairies is chock full of delightful magic. The sheep float, cherries roll into the bakery in single file, and there are hallucinating bats. This doesn’t even begin to touch on the fairy names which are a hoot all by themselves (Bedlam Thunder, Catseye Glimmer, and Peaches Dragonfly to name a few). And then there’s the hummingbird with the “strange” name Bob.

Bedlam Thunder is the main character and a seer. She has a vision of a colorless, parallel world, and little by little it’s seeping into Thistledown. There are magic books, doppelgangers, hornless unicorns, and kissing fish called suckers. Somehow, Bedlam and Bob have to figure out how to save Thistledown from the insidious drabness.

The story fishtails through this marvelous fairy world. Don’t look for carefully plotted action or lots of time spent ruminating on the meaning of life. For me, the enjoyment of the story was derived from the imaginative jaunt through this fairy world. I recommend this story to children and adults. It’s a quick read and lots of fun. 

*****

Mr. Sagittarius by M. J. Mallon

I didn’t know what to expect when I opened this book, and must have been in just the right mood, because it was charming and poignant and very sweet. The book offers a glimpse of three elderly siblings -William, Harold, and Annette – one already passed on at the books opening. The intermittent visits with these characters, a paragraph or two here and there, form the thread that holds the book’s narrative together. The memories and grief are touching, and it isn’t long before Annette is on her own.

Between the story’s visits with the siblings are loosely related sections of prose and syllabic poetry. Some pieces touch on the seasons. Others are fantastical tales about bubble monsters and snow snakes. Most of them are about nature and flowers which are tied to the garden bench where the siblings enjoyed their days. I especially enjoyed a chain cinquain titled That Twinkle in her Eye is Magic. This book is less than an hour’s read, and I recommend it to readers who enjoy a fanciful and touching foray into poetry and short prose selections.

*****

Whispers of Dawn by Celestine Nudanu

This modest collection of poetry took under an hour to read, and what a worthwhile way to pass the time. The author explains that the form of her poems is called a cherita, a Malay word for story or tale. It consists of six lines broken into three stanzas.

In these small poems, the poet shares her personal truths and depth of experience. Like all short poetry word choice is deliberate and evocative. The collection is broken into seven themes, some light and hopeful, others dark and full of loss: Whispers, Making Love, The Dark Side of Love, Death, Saving Grace, Random Thoughts.

I could have jotted down a dozen favorites, but included two below. Recommended for readers who enjoy short poetry.

***

I cried

the night you left
only once

not because of the cold pillow
but for the stars
that refused to shine.

***

stillness of night

rustle of silk, silvery whispers
draw me to the window

I peep
God’s presence
Amongst the stars

*****

Murtle the Purple Turtle by Cynthia Reyes

Murtle is a unique turtle – she’s purple. And when another turtle points out to her that she’s different, she does everything she can to change her color to green – all to no avail. Then, with the help of her friends, she learns that turtles comes in a lot of different colors, and that being purple is wonderful. The story’s message of self-acceptance and diversity is perfect for young children. and the vivid illustrations are a delight. I recommend this sweet book to preschoolers and their parents.

*****

Happy Reading!

November Book Reviews, Part II

A short break from muse reblogs to share a bunch of reviews. My 60-book Autumn Reading Challenge is looking grim, but I’m still going for it. I have 3 weeks to read 20 books!

November’s Part II book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal fiction, historical fiction, a short story, poetry, and a few suspense-thrillers! I hope you enjoy the browse.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Someone Close to Home by Alex Craigie

I read on the treadmill, and this page-turner made me exercise three times my usual minutes! I think I burned off an entire chocolate cake in calories. I couldn’t put it down (the book, not the cake).

Megan was a successful concert pianist with a bright future. But her career and happiness are a part of her past at the opening of the book. Megan lives in a neglectful nursing home, unable to speak or control her body, and someone in the home is determined to torment her.

The story covers a time period of about a month or so. The progression of Megan’s life, starting at age 9, weaves through her memories, and eventually the timelines intersect. Both timelines are gripping. Megan’s inability to protect herself is heart-wrenching and infuriating. Craigie did a great job of stringing me along as Megan navigates the danger and vulnerability in her life.

Megan is a great character and the most three dimensional and relatable of the cast. I empathized with her immediately, understood her choices (even the horrible ones), and was in her corner for the duration. The pace is speedy, the setting bleak. A great choice for readers who love a gripping thriller.

*****

Harbinger by Marcia Meara

I loved the book A Boy Named Rabbit and couldn’t wait to read Rabbit’s next adventure. Once again, this little 11-year-old kid stole my heart. Rabbit and his dad, Mac, are enlisted by the local sheriff to see if they can use Rabbit’s “sight” to figure out what happened to a little girl who disappeared twenty years ago.

The book is a paranormal mystery and thriller as well as a beautiful story about goodness and love. I enjoyed watching Rabbit and his new family interact. They’re kind and thoughtful and it warmed my heart. I also enjoyed the tension and disturbing actions of Cadey, the bad guy, who slowly loses touch with reality as the story progresses.

The plot is well constructed, with the pov alternating between Mac/Sarah and Cadey. There’s no mystery as to who the bad guy is, but there’s a great deal of tension as their paths draw closer to each other. The characters are well-done, realistic and with full emotional lives. The ending of the trilogy gives a sneak peek into Rabbit’s future, which I thoroughly appreciated. I could happily read more books about Rabbit, but this one ends on a high note and I appreciated that.

Highly recommended to readers who enjoy great characters and well-told stories.

*****

The Pellucid Witch by G. Owen Wears

If you like alien world-building, this book is the tops. It’s very cool; the world is bizarre, the characters are bizarre, the plants and animals are bizarre. I loved the author’s imagination. Kryl is a human-ish man with a fungal exoskeleton that is both a symbiote and a parasite. It’s protective of Kryl while it also feeds on him. When it’s turned on his enemies, it’s downright ravenous. Did I mention the world-building?

The plot isn’t as fascinating as the world-building but both are thoroughly entwined. It takes about ½ of the book to set the story up. Then in the second half, the conflict take off. The tale is told in the 3rd person from Kryl’s POV. He’s a relatable character, nothing special while being very special. He’s a brutal killer but also holds tight to a sense of fairness.

There is blood and guts a plenty in this read, but not gratuitous gore. Kryl, his exoskeleton, and the Pellucid Witch are characters who survive on violence. This isn’t a long book and I read it in a day without a problem. I highly recommend it to sci-fi fans who want to dive into some awesome world-building.

*****

The Nine by D. L. Cross

The third book in the Astral Conspiracy Series starts off in the thick of the action. There’s little backstory, so it took a while for me to get my bearings with the complex plot and large cast of characters. Thank goodness the series was released together and can be read in one long binge.

There are a lot of factions at play – more than one of them nefarious and more than one of them trying to do the right thing. They take off in different directions so there are several stories to keep track of at once. And none of the characters are particularly gentle people. With the fate of the Earth in play, almost to a person, the good guys are tough and the bad guys are tougher. Landon continues to be the most relatable, though I have to say I enjoyed Beck’s predicament (and humor) the most.

And then there are the Aliens. The world-building continues to impress, and little by little Cross reveals the aliens’ abilities and the power of the Atlantean artifacts, as well as who The Nine are. As in the previous books, the research into alien/Atlantean theory is fascinating and adds authenticity to this sci-fi adventure. This is a dense read that required me to pay attention. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy hard sci-fi, aliens, complex plots, great world building, and lots of suspense.

*****

Contract by John Howell and Gwen Plano

Pete and Teresa are sent from heaven to assume the bodies of Brad Channing and Sarah O’Brien, two strangers who recently died. Their mission is to prevent a political cataclysm that could destroy the world.

The first third of the book relates Brad’s and Sarah’s individual stories as they are given second chances at life and eventually find each other. It switches to solid romance until the midpoint when the action and thrills take off. Brad (an ex-Navy Seal) takes over as the book’s hero as Sarah fades to the background. I wondered why the authors chose to start the book in heaven, but it does make for a cool ending.

There are some red herrings and twists, and it isn’t clear who the bad guys are until the end. The plot doesn’t answer all the questions raised by the story, and I questioned the bad guys’ motivations and choices here and there, but I also read the book in a day, so it clearly held my attention. An entertaining book for readers who enjoy a bit of romance and a lot of action.

*****

Virtually Gone by Jacquie Biggar

A serial rapist and killer is on the loose, and a DNA match links the killer to the murder of Detective Matthew Roy’s sister a decade ago. The story tracks the police investigation, led by Matt and his partner Connor. Conner’s girlfriend, Julia, a head-strong journalist, is also on the killer’s trail.

This book is part of a multi-author series that focuses on the same group of characters and features a different character per book. I read this story out of order, and once I got to know the characters, it worked fine as a stand-alone, tying up with a satisfying conclusion.

As main characters, I found Matt and Julia believable. The secondary characters were equally three dimensional with rich backstories. The reality and details of the investigation seemed plausible including the high-tech aspects that serve as a connecting theme of the series. There are red herrings aplenty, and the clues add up logically. Not a long read, I read this book in a day. Recommended to readers who enjoy police investigations and suspenseful murder mysteries.

*****

Elizabeth’s War by D. L. Finn

When WWI breaks out in Europe, brothers, sons, and fathers leave their livelihoods and families in the US to fight overseas. This story is told from the point of view of Elizabeth, an eleven-year-old girl whose life changes dramatically. At home on the farm, she begins her own version of “fighting the war” with new responsibilities and challenges – increased chores, learning new skills, nursing sick family members, worrying that Christmas may come without gifts, and more (no spoilers!). It clearly demonstrates the quiet strength of women and the valuable role they played while the men were away.

The young perspective and gentle kindness reminded me a lot of Laura Ingalls stories. I think this book is perfect for middle-grade readers and young teens, but can be enjoyed by adults too (like me). In the Afterword, the author writes about how the story is based on her own family’s experiences, and the details of the time-period seem well-researched. A lovely story.

*****

Reckoning Tide by Anneli Purchase

This book picks up right at the end of The Wind Weeps, which should be read first. Andrea’s reprieve and escape from her abusive husband, Robert, is brief, and he’s out to get her. What ensues is a stalking nightmare as Andrea and her lover, Jim, flee Robert through the windswept coastal channels and islands of the Canadian Pacific.

The action starts immediately and continues right to the end with several breaks for sexy romance. As in the first book, the authors knowledge of the area and the life of a fisherman add a lot of authenticity to the setting and action.

Purchase does a good job of showing the lingering complexities around domestic violence, how women aren’t believed, and how hard it is for them to be safe from their abusers. Even Jim is a bit of a jerk for a while. But Robert escalates rapidly and the need to escape him becomes critical to the couple’s survival. I liked Andrea’s arc from dependence on a man in book one to a strong woman who sticks up for herself and is determined to take charge of her life. A fast-paced series for romance and suspense readers.

*****

Conscience by Jonathan Pongratz

In this science fiction short story, Epher, the leader of the Free Thinkers is dead. The Corporation has the rebel’s body in their lab, and Rory Bennel’s job is to conduct a cerebral upload of Epher’s mind into data storage. When things go wrong, Rory makes a frantic adjustment, and the next thing he knows, he’s on the run.

This is an entertaining story of a brutal governing corporation, the manipulation of the masses, and the power of one person to make a difference. The story moves at a quick pace with a cohesive plot and empathetic characters. Recommended to readers of sci-fi short stories.

*****

Crimson Skins by Devika Mathur

I’m a fan of freeform poetry that’s thick with imagery, that explores the language of the senses and seeks out beautiful words. Mathur’s poetry does all that. Overall, the tone of the collection struck me as melancholy, full of pain and longing. There’s little romance, though the poems are often sensuous. The book is structured as a journey, starting with Isolation and moving through sections titled Detachment, Delirium, and Attachment, and into Revival (where the poems have a stronger, more self-assured theme).

The imagery often has a dreamlike quality, and I found myself reading aloud to “hear” the language and let the meaning and emotion behind the words find a place to settle. Some of my favorite poems were: Pointless, Sentiments like Silk, Madness, and the Art of Embalming. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy freeform poems, beautiful language, and a reflective journey.

*****

Picky Eaters 1 by S. J. Higbee

An elderly dragon named Castellan has to move in with his daughter and her family, which puts an end to his quiet life. His precocious granddaughter, Sammy-Jo, is full of energy and adventure and practically forces Castellan into resurrecting his time-traveling skills. His talent doesn’t go over well with the other dragons or the dwarves.

This story made me laugh a few times, particularly because humans are referred to as “food” and knights in armor are “canned food.” The dwarves fare about as well as their human cousins in terms of ending up crispy and delicious. This novelette moves quickly. A plot-based story, it didn’t steal my heart, but readers who like some time-traveling twists may enjoy this short tale.

*****

Happy Reading!

November Book Reviews, Part I

My 60-book Autumn Reading Challenge is rolling along. As I hunker down at home, I’ve upped my total of reviewed books to 34.

November’s Part I book reviews includes my  4 and 5 star reads of fantasy, sci-fi, poetry, women’s lit, and two memoirs! I hope you enjoy the browse.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee

I picked up this book because I’d heard it’s wonderful (which it is). And as usual, I didn’t bother to browse the blurb, so I was surprised to find myself reading a love story. I’m not usually a fan of love stories, and yet I was enraptured by this beautiful and tender tale. Who knew? (Probably anyone who read the blurb, but that wasn’t me.)

Monty and Percy, and Monty’s sister Felicity, go on a “tour” of the Continent before Monty has to settle down and start a respectable life according to his father’s rigid standards. The tour ends up being a quest that involves highwaymen, pirates, sinking tombs, and magical hearts, but honestly, I didn’t care about the quest. Though peppered with vivid characters and clever dialog, the quest was just the backdrop to Monty’s and Percy’s unfolding love story. I wanted to hug them through most of the book, and Monty’s character arc is believable as well as emotionally riveting.

The writing is fabulous and full of droll humor. The first-person story is told from Monty’s pov. He’s a spoiled rich lord – witty and sarcastic and prone to exaggeration. His carefree life is falling apart, and his devil-may-care attitude is getting knocked out of him as he faces himself and his choices. His relationships with Percy and Felicity are perfectly expressed through exceptional dialog and the way the characters care for each other (despite their difficulties). Secondary characters are just as distinct and entertaining.

This is Book 1 in the Montague Siblings series, but can be read as a stand-alone novel. Highly recommended!

*****

The Emissary 3: Love Hurts by Marcia Meara

I really wondered how Meara was going to wrap up this series. At the end of book 2, Dodger receives permission from the Archangel Azrael to experience a loving relationship with a girl. But I just couldn’t imagine how it would work between a human and an immortal emissary of the angels. Well, silly me for being skeptical. The author pulls it off beautifully, though not at all how I expected. I was a teary mess.

This is a wonderful series with characters that I completely empathized with. They’re supremely human, emotional, and kind-hearted. Even scary old Azrael is enjoyable as he loosens up a little. Though there are problems to be overcome in the story, the main conflict centers on the challenge I posed above. The ending is brave, believable, and emotionally stunning.

The writing is tight, and the editing is flawless. The books in the Emissary series aren’t long, so they make for quick satisfying reads. I’d definitely recommend starting at the beginning of the series. A wonderful trilogy for readers who enjoy feel-good stories. 

*****

Lethal Impact: A Dragon Soul Press Anthology

This post-apocalyptic anthology includes 16 science-fiction tales by 15 authors. These stories border on novelettes, so there are plenty of pages for fabulous world building, rich characters, and interesting plots. What they have in common is the end of civilization as we know it and humans facing a dangerous world where survival requires a whole new set of skills. There are viruses, androids, steel forests, and vicious gangs. Add to that some cannibalism, zombies, and aliens. The stories are highly original and well-edited. My favorites were King’s Note, Eve’s Apple, Blood and Light, Assimilant 620-Singe, and A Little Less Conversation. Highly recommended for sci-fi readers and post-apocalyptic fans.

*****

Marriage Unarranged by Ritu Bhathal

This is a light, romantic jaunt from England to India and back again. When Aashi finds a used condom in her fiancé’s bathroom, the wedding is suddenly off. Her family is angry and embarrassed, but they support her decision. A trip to India, originally to purchase a wedding gown, becomes a vacation for Aashi and a chance to unwind and heal. Her two brothers and her best friend Karin go along.

The romantic story is fairly straightforward, and it unfolds at a leisurely pace. What held my attention was the story’s immersion in India’s rich culture and setting, specifically the bustling city of Delhi. The main characters are England born and raised, so the influences of their dual cultures were interesting to see played out, and the details of life in India were fascinating. Bhathal clearly incorporated a wealth of personal experience into the narrative.

The characters are all likeable, except for the cheating fiancé, though I felt a twinge of sympathy for him by the end. All in all, this story was about family, culture, self-esteem and independence, love and friendship. Recommended for readers of romance and women’s lit.

*****

The Wind Weeps by Anneli Purchase

The Wind Weeps starts off as a romance and gradually shifts to a tension-filled walk on the high-wire of domestic violence. Andrea is a naïve and insecure single woman who, despite warnings from her friends, rebounds after a very short relationship into the arms of a charming man with a dark side.

The story takes place in the Canadian Pacific Northwest, beautiful and rugged country where commercial fishermen make their livings. The author’s familiarity with the area and with the details of the industry lend an incredible amount of authenticity to the narrative. As Andrea’s life becomes geographically isolated, she falls into more and more danger. I was on the edge of my seat.

The plot moves along at a good clip once things get tense. The writing is polished with well-rounded, consistent, and interesting characters. I wanted to shake some sense into Andrea in the beginning, but was quickly caught up in her fearful situation and her determination to save herself. The book offers an honest look at domestic violence, including why women are sometimes slow to make a break. My only complaint would be the abrupt ending; however, the story continues with a second book: The Reckoning Tide. Recommended to readers who enjoy a mash up of romance and suspense and plan to read both books. 

*****

Words We Carry by D. G. Kaye

D. G. Kaye shares the true story of her growth from a child with poor self-esteem into a confident woman who changed her thinking, took responsibility for her relationships, and discovered happiness. Though she shares her personal experiences, many of her observations are common to other women, and there are lessons to be gleaned from her advice.

The book is divided into two sections: Appearance and Relationships. The focus of the appearance section is on boosting self-esteem by paying attention to physical appearance. It isn’t about being beautiful, but about feeling beautiful and investing energy into clothes, shoes, hair, and makeup that enhance a woman’s strengths and make her feel attractive. Chronic lazy dressers like me may not relate to Kaye’s love of shoes and big hair, but there’s a lot of humor in this section that kept me smiling.

Section Two, Relationships, was the most meaningful to me as it opened a discussion of the deeper issues that contribute to low self-esteem, as well as the vicious cycles that can lead to isolation, depression, and abuse. The author maintains that healthy self-esteem is essential to healthy relationships of all kinds. She provides strategies for evaluating relationships honestly, changing patterns, and taking control of choices.

Words We Carry is part memoir/part self-help. Recommended for women who are struggling with feelings of low self-esteem and want to make a positive change in their relationships and lives.

*****

Shorts: a take on poetry by Eric Daniel Clarke

As the title of Clarke’s anthology states, the poems in this vast collection are generally short in length and spare of words, drilling down to the essence of thought and experience. To me, the poetic style was one that frequently invited contemplation and interpretation. The poems range from a few lines to several stanzas, and in most cases, they explore the reality of relationships. My favorite poems were Life’s Lights, Promises, Called Your Name, and the heartbreaking poem Forgotten:

I don’t remember everything
dates and place escape me
moments spent with you
fade and forsake me too

Strange faces begin to haunt
with their smiles and tears
I still know I love you
ask of you one thing

When I don’t know you
all our years forgotten
I beg no regrets be free
let me forget to breathe

Recommended to poetry readers who enjoy a unique style and generous selection of poems. 

*****

My Gentle War by Joy Lennick

This memoir focuses primarily on the years 1939 through 1941 when the author was 9-11 years old, a child living in Wales with her younger brothers during WWII. The children were sent to Wales to escape the more dangerous areas around London.

This isn’t a harsh story. It’s a recounting of life from the perspective of a child and is, therefore, full of fun and imagination and resilience. There are “ear-wigging” glimpses into the adult world, news of the war, and letters from the author’s dad who was serving in France. The sad and confusing realities of war surely intrude on daily life, but the focus is on friends and relatives, memorable gatherings and events. There are new trousers, dance performances, and games of truth or dare!

Lennick’s writing is witty and conversational, and she includes a handful of poems commemorating particular memories. Perhaps my favorite part of the book was the brief jump ahead at the end to the conclusion of the war. The feeling of joy is palpable in the pages.

As Lennick concludes: “Oh the puzzling juxtaposition of every-day events, the ordinary, the extraordinary and the tragedies of life.” That sums up this book perfectly. Recommended for readers who enjoy memoirs of the war years.

*****

Happy Reading!