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!

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!

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!

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!

September Book Reviews

September flew by, didn’t it?

These are all great reads, so don’t ask me to pick a favorite. Enjoy a beautiful October. And Happy Reading.

September book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of poetry, fantasy, western romance, sci-fi, a memoir, and a middle-grade book.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

More than Coffee: Memories in Verse and Prose by Lauren Scott

This highly recommended and quick read is a compilation of a number of Scott’s personal and precious memories conveyed in both short prose and freeform poetry. A lot of those memories come with the luxury of a hot cup of coffee, but not all. They capture bits of time from idolizing Barbara Streisand as a kid to camping in the Sierras, and lifelong encounters with spiders. Embedded within many of the stories are heartfelt relationships with parents, spouse, and children.

Some of my favorite stories were “Silver Heirlooms” about how simple hand-me-downs become filled with meaning, “Ascent” about grief and the solace of nature, “Laughing Spiders” about big hairy arachnids, and “1989” a romantic relationship initiated by, of all things, an old refrigerator.

I’ve read poetry books by Scott in the past, and the poems in this collection are some of my favorites. They follow along the same lines as the prose pieces and are in many cases reflections of the same topic. My favorite poems were: “The Right Time”, “Simple Existence”, “To My Babies” and…

The Teacher

Its canary boldness
rises up to the sun
alone, yet not lonely,
fearing nothing,
but wearing bravery
on each petal –
standing tall with spirit
in lean green attire
as if soaking up the day’s
endless possibilities.

*****

The Prince’s Protege by Deborah Jay

This is the third book in the Five Kingdoms series and like the previous two, the story features a new main character, one who played a small part in the previous books. In this case, Marten, the fledgling king of Darshan. His mentors believe he’s capable of rule, and he’s on his own and unsure of himself. The gods, Chel and Charin, have dual natures, and they’re taking a strong role in a rising conflict between the royal family and several dastardly nobles.

Lady Betha is Marten’s protector and spy, and though she and Marten are highly attracted to each other, Betha’s ability to heal herself (magic) places a wedge between them. Magic is illegal unless it’s a “gift of Chel,” and the difference depends on who wields it.

There’s a lot going on in this book – plots, murder attempts, and those meddlesome gods. Rustam and Risada share the limelight with Marten and Betha, though their story is secondary to the king’s. Between all the nefarious goings-on, this book has a lot of romantic elements that readers of romance will enjoy.

The book starts back in time, prior to the ending of Book Two, giving the reader Marten’s experience of past events before the story catches up and moves forward. It took me a bit of time to warm up to Marten and Betha, but they did grow on me, especially Marten as he rose to the challenge of leadership.

As in the rest of the series thus far, this is a complex and rich world. The pace is steady, the plot full of drama, and the characters true to themselves. Most of the plot threads resolve with a satisfying conclusion. I look forward to the next book in the series. Recommended to readers who enjoy a well-written fantasy series with a touch of romance.

*****

Tumblestar by Sandra Cox

Independent characters, wild horses, gunfights with buffalo hunters who smell like death, and good old-fashioned love. What more can readers of western romance ask for?

When Cooper Malloy meets the stage coach to retrieve his young orphaned niece, Kallie, he discovers that she’s accompanied by his old childhood friend Miranda Lockhart, only Miranda’s no longer a child. Miranda and Kallie take up residence at Coop’s Tumblestar ranch and it’s not long before an attraction blooms. But who has time for romance when a ranch needs running? Wild horses need breaking, and the buffalo-hunting Doolin brothers are out for blood.

This story has lots of strengths from diverse and rich characters with three-dimensional lives to glimpses of life on the frontier to high-paced action with a variety of villains. Cooper is a great blend of grit and fair-mindedness, Miranda is courageous, and secondary characters are as strong as the main. Scenes involving the round-ups of wild horses and the rescue of an injured stallion were some of my favorites. Read and enjoy, but do not try this at home! Except for the romance, of course.

An excellent fast-pace read for fans of western romance. Highly recommended.

*****

Grief Songs: Poems of Love and Remembrance by Elizabeth Gauffreau

This book of poetry is no more than a half-hour read, but what a lovely way to spend my time. Most of the poems are tankas, short syllabic forms of five lines, and Gauffreau is a master of this style. The collection is a beautiful tribute to the author’s family and includes heart-wrenching, poignant, humorous, and sweet poems about childhood, family, love, and loss. Grief is the thread that connects the poems together, sometimes overtly, but more frequently as a remembrance of treasured moments with people missing in Gauffreau’s life.

A family photo precedes each poem, and the combination of the two adds depth to both. Though the poems are intensely personal to the author, it was easy to relate many of the experiences to my own family and the universal human journey that families undertake. I jotted down my favorite titles and suddenly realized I’d written down half the book. I highly recommend this short collection to readers who enjoy poetry that speaks to the heart.

Clam Bake

clam bake on the beach
driftwood fire crackles, smokes
Michael row your boat
Mummy sings, guitar strumming
five hundred miles from our home

Sixty Years of Katharine

sixty years safe under glass
minutes tucked into envelopes
decades left in dresser drawers
held in thrall, left behind
her blue eyes bright with wonder

*****

Blackened Rose by Cage Dunn

In a way, I’ve become used to expecting the unexpected from Dunn’s books. They’re all so different. This one starts off with some riveting darkness. The main character Mr. Black is an enigma, a problem-solver of the dangerous kind. He’s approached by Liana Benit. Her father died after being falsely convicted of a high-profile murder. It’s not a case he’d usually accept, but something about her intrigues him—he feels her probing inside his head.

The POV’s (both Black’s and Liana’s) are tight, so the reader has to figure out what’s happening without much backstory or explanation. I like how that creates mystery and suspense, but it also requires concentration. Both main characters held my attention. Liana’s ability makes her unique while her emotions make her relatable. That said, I especially enjoyed being inside Black’s scary thoughts. He’s not evil, but he borders on amoral and has no qualms about sticking to his contracts. Like Liana, he has an unusual ability, as does the dying woman Rose at the core of the story.

This is an intriguing read, but it’s not a light one. Dunn’s staccato writing style creates tension which balances nicely with believable detail. The story settles in at about the 25% mark, and the pace is just about right. The culminating psychic battle, for me, ran a tad long, but it was also very well done. Highly recommended to readers of dark fantasy and horror.

*****

Meno – What?: Memorable Moments of Menopause by D. G. Kaye

I tried to read this book in bed before nodding off, but my husband made me go downstairs… apparently my laughter was keeping him up. As someone who’s gone through “The Change,” I found this book highly relatable and, at times, laugh out loud funny. Kaye recommends laughter as a way of dealing with this shocking stage of life, and her account of her own battle with menopause and post-menopausal changes demonstrates that conviction.

Kaye gives an overview of the biological changes, reminds us that she isn’t a doctor, and clarifies that every woman will experience this misery in different ways. Besides offering plenty of opportunities for laughter, she provides suggestions for ways to manage our changing bodies. I especially related to her discussion of post-menopausal changes that begin with a stage called “What the Hell?”

Her anecdotes are relatable… the covers on/covers off routine… opening the car window to let the snow blow in… “alligator” skin… sagging, spots, you name it, she covers the gamut and all with sardonic wit, disbelief, good sense, and a determination to fight back. This book is a memoir but one that doubles as a guide for women during their menopausal journeys. Highly recommended.

*****

Woman: Splendor and Sorrow: Love Poems and Poetic Prose

Best-selling poetess Gabriela Marie Milton is making a name for herself in the literary world, and it’s easy to see why. Her free form poems are rich with imagery and emotion, gently loving, full of longing and loss, and sometimes shining with personal strength. In every way, this collection captures the diversity of experience that comes with being a woman.

The book is divided into two sections—the first titled Love Poems and the second Poetic Prose.

Many of Milton’s love poems have a dream like quality. The lines of poetry are as beautiful for their words as for the way they flow. Some of my favorites were You in Another Life, If only…Autumn, Son of the Desert, Night Poem, The Moon and I, and Bring the Summer.

Excerpt from The Moon and I:

In the green meadow by the lake,
the moon and I knit poetry like silk,
the language of the birds sleeps in the trees
like ripened fruits
your eyes are closed and faraway
the world rotates between two cherries and a kiss….

Milton’s prose reads like poetry but without the form, and much of it seems to be a reflection on aspects of the author’s personal experience or her thoughts about subjects such as poetry, feminism, identity, and again, love. Some of my favorites were My Name is Gabriela, Of Wounds, Creation, and Who Am I?

A highly recommended collection for readers of poetry who enjoy flowing imagery, beautiful words, and a deep dive into the soul of womanhood.

*****

Amanda in New Mexico: Ghosts in the Wind by Darlene Foster

I happily dived into my second Amanda-adventure, and though it’s a middle-grade book, I selfishly read it in preparation for a trip to NM. It’s full of wonderful detail about the Taos area including its history, art, architecture, sights, culture, and… ghosts! The details seamlessly weave through a ghost story as Amanda and her classmates explore the city and countryside.

Amanda’s friend Cleo is afraid of ghosts, and she not only insists that she sees them but that they are causing some mischief. Amanda worries about Cleo’s mental health, until she too starts having strange experiences. The “chills” factor is perfect for middle-grade readers, and the mystery kept my nose glued to the book, which I read in one sitting.

I found the open-ended conclusion intriguing, satisfying, and worthy of further conversation. To that end, the author includes questions for discussion at the end of the book. Highly recommended for middle-grade readers, light history buffs, and anyone interested in traveling to New Mexico.

*****

Breathing Space (Sunblinded #3) by S. J. Higbee

I thoroughly enjoyed Books I and II of the Sunblinded Trilogy and decided to jump into Book III without delay. Lizzie, the main character, steals the show as usual. She’s unbelievably tough, emotional, competent, and when given the opportunity, she has a kind heart. Just watch out if she’s crossed.

She’s the chief of the Peace and Prosperity mercenary force policing Sector Two, dealing with politics and plots like a pro. Yet, almost from page one, she’s faced with a major catastrophe, instigated and carried out by her estranged and psychotic brother. Yes, Eddy is back and ready to take revenge on Lizzie for all the miseries of his life.

As in the previous books, the world building is exceptional, including encounters with aliens and alien technology. It was great to see the core of characters again including the sarcastic ghost of Jessica who talks in Lizzie’s head. Several characters from the first book return, and I enjoyed the way they tied the beginning of the story to the end. A few surprises too!

The author does an excellent job of wrapping up all the loose ends for a satisfying conclusion. The pace is excellent, the plot holds together well, and the sci-fi elements are believable, including spacer lingo. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy hard sci-fi, rich characters, and a tough female protagonist.

*****

Dead of Winter: Journey 9, Doors of Attunement by Teagan Riordan Geneviene

Journey 9 begins with Emlyn, Osabide, and Focia stuck in another dimension in the lost library. They’re trying to return Zasha to her body as well as find their way back to the rest of the Deae Matras group. This novella-length journey expands on Emlyn’s ability to pass between realms, and they learn more about the dire condition of the veil that separates the dead from the living.

As always, Geneviene’s episode is full of luscious details about the world including stairways that seem to lead nowhere, runes that turn cold, and magical staffs that hold the key to power. Some of these story elements feel random, but they do enhance the mystery and adventure, and there’s a chance that they’ll tie together at some point.

There are lots of mysterious characters, some helpful, some malevolent, and a few who could go either way. Little by little stakes are rising and the Deae Matras are in the thick of it. I look forward to continuing the fantasy adventure.

Happy Reading!

August Book Reviews: Part 2

Part 2 of a busy month of reading!

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

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

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

Feasting Upon The Bones by Suzanne Craig-Whytock

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

Perspective (tanka)

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

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

Trust (tanka)

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

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

*****

In the Best Interest of the Child by Felicia Denise

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

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

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

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

*****

1NG4: A Long Short Story by Berthold Gambrel

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

*****

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

Hair Peace by Dawn Doig

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

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

*****

And So, Ahmed Hears by Dawn Doig

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

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

*****

Wadee and the Worry Wakes by Dawn Doig

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

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

*****

Happy Reading!

August Book Reviews: Part 1

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

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

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

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

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

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

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

A Toast to Life

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

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

*****

Oskar’s Quest by Annika Perry

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

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

*****

Out of Time by Jaye Marie

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

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

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

*****

The Scarlet Ribbon by Anita Dawes

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

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

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

*****

Operation Outfect by Alex Canna

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

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

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

*****

Song of the Sea Goddess by Chris Hall

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

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

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

*****

Jonah by Jan Sikes

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

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

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

*****

Happy Reading!