June Book Reviews

If you’re out and about, take a book with you on your wanderings. If you’re stuck at home, here are some reads to while away the time.

This month my offering of reviews includes fantasy, historical fiction, poetry, a thriller, a murder mystery, and more. I hope you enjoy browsing my 4 and 5-star reviews.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The Mermaid and the Bear by Ailish Sinclair

I finished this book a few days ago and it’s stuck with me. I didn’t realize until I’d reached the end that it’s historical fiction based loosely on real women in 16th century Scotland when witches were rounded up, tortured, and murdered. Somehow it was easier to read when I thought it was pure fiction. After getting to know the characters, the author might as well have stabbed me in the heart.

The whole book is beautifully written. Beautiful prose, beautiful characterization, deeply emotional. For the first half, the book is a sweet love story between Isobell (mistaken as a mermaid) and Thomas (mistaken as a bear). There are villains and obstacles, but life is full of promise and goodness. Isobell is a strong first-person POV character, and I found her thoroughly engaging, kind, sweet, and courageous.

Then, be prepared, for the story takes a dark turn. The author deftly intertwines the cruelty with kindness and faith, and so the story continues to hold onto its commitment to love. The ending is gorgeous and deeply moving. I had a hard time putting the book down. Highly recommended for readers of historical fiction, love stories, tragedies, and the resilience of love, kindness, and faith.

*****

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

This is a great read! The four raven boys are students at a private school with a raven mascot. Aglionby caters to the super-wealthy, so class plays a part in defining the characters and their relationships. But the story doesn’t focus on school activities. Instead, it follows the group’s paranormal investigations, led by Gansey, their un-proclaimed leader. The fifth of their party is a local named Blue, the daughter of a clairvoyant. Though a YA story, there isn’t much romance (phew), because Blue happens to know that if she kisses her true love, he’ll die.

The first 50% of the book focuses almost entirely on character development with the plot taking a back seat. It’s time well spent as these are deeply developed characters with complex personalities and relationships. Each character is unique, and by unique, I mean UNIQUE, fascinating in their own right but also as the different personalities blend together and bounce off each other. To a great extent, this is a book about deep friendships and loyalty.

All the character-prep in the first half of the read pays off when the plot ramps up. I was thoroughly invested when things got dicey. The presence of magic increases as sacrifices are set in motion and the number of characters involved in “waking the corpse road” increases. The book ends well with plenty to look forward too as their hunt for an ancient king continues. I’ll definitely be reading onward into this series. It’s well worth it. Highly recommended for fantasy readers.

*****

Wake Robin Ridge by Marcia Meara

Part romance, part thriller, part mystery, part ghost story, part epistolary, and most of all a love story, this first book in the Wake Robin Ridge series has it all, pulled together into a well-crafted tale. It’s quite a feat and thoroughly engaging.

The first half of the book alternates between two stories. One is Ruthie’s narrative, set in the early 1960s. She runs away from an abusive relationship and rebuilds her life in a rural cabin in the Carolinas. Ruthie’s story is definitely a nail-biting thriller, and I wanted to hide under my blankets.

The second narrative belongs to Sarah, who moves into the same cabin in 2011 and starts up a romance with her neighbor, Mac, a man with a secret who’s conflicted about starting a relationship. Romance readers will enjoy many of the tropes that pepper their relationship.

Then in the middle of the book, an event changes everything for both women even though they live 50 years apart. Ruth’s story continues through a series of unmailed letters, and Sarah and Mac are determined to find out what happened to her. The romance and thriller parts of the book fade as the narrative shifts into mature love, grief, loyalty, and sacrifice. There were times when I got a little choked up.

Clearly the book has a lot going on, but it’s beautifully told and kept up a good pace, particularly in the second half. The characters are three-dimensional with rich emotional lives and distinct voices. Ruthie was my favorite and the most sympathetic; it was her story that blurred the eyes. Highly recommended to love story and romance readers who enjoy a bit of a thrill and mystery blended in to add interest to the tale.

*****

Death in a Dacron Sail by N. A. Granger

This is my third Rhe Brewster book, and it was fun to read this character again. Rhe is a mom, wife, ER nurse, and part-time detective, helping out her brother-in-law who’s the sheriff in a small Maine town. A crabber finds a child’s finger in a trap, and Rhe is on the case which quickly grows into a search for four missing girls.

She’s a well-rounded character: witty, competent, brave, and very relatable as she navigates family, relationships, and work. Life is far from perfect, and as a reader, I enjoyed getting to know her on multiple levels. Secondary characters are equally human and engaging. There’s a wide range of relationships from sweet and loyal to distant, violent, and downright pathological.

The plot is well-paced and multi-layered including not only the investigation, but personal danger to Rhe (who’s pregnant), the deterioration of her marriage, and her boss retaliating for a previous investigation that involved the hospital. Red herrings add to the suspense. I was engaged in each plot thread and the book flew by.

A great read for lovers of mysteries, thrillers, and engaging characters. I hope there’s another in the series because I have to read what happens next…

*****

The Memory by Judith Barrow

The Memory, though fiction, reads like a memoir, chronicling the love-hate relationship between a daughter and mother. The story is told from the point of view of Irene, tracking her life from 1963 to 2002. Irene’s young sister, Rose, has Down’s Syndrome and dies at the age of eight. Irene is devastated. She knows what she saw. The secret of her sister’s death is never once discussed between Irene and her mother, though the rift it creates is ten miles wide.

Though the focus of the book is the arc of Irene’s life, each chapter starts with a glimpse into two days in 2002 when she is caring for her mother who suffers from dementia. Lily is an extremely difficult patient. These glimpses are frequently just a paragraph long, minutes apart, and they clearly convey Irene’s exhaustion. They serve as a backdrop for the longer story that leads up to those final days and moments.

The story is a long one, full of details that create rich well-rounded characters and a sense of time and place. By the end, I knew Irene well, and as a caregiver myself, I found her story moving and authentic. The pace is moderate overall and well suited to the narrative, though there are some tangential details in places that slow it down. Short chapters help keep it moving, and the unspoken secret creates the tension that pulled me through to the end, even though I guessed the truth early on. A beautifully written and edited book, perfect for readers of memoirs, women’s lit, and family dramas.

*****

His Revenge by John W. Howell

His Revenge follows on the heels of the previous book, My GRL. I had fun revisiting a great character, John Cannon, an ordinary nice guy forced into the role of a hero. He’s once again kidnapped and trying to outwit the terrorist mastermind plotting to create havoc in the US. I do recommend reading the books in order, even though the author provides adequate backstory to get the gist of what previously happened.

There’s plenty of action and danger, though less than in the first book. The pace starts out a touch slow, but when it picks up, it charges ahead. John isn’t a macho, gun-toting character, and the solutions to his problems rely more on his wits and a clever plan, along with some strongly developed allies that added depth to the story. The characters face some tough choices that will make the reader squirm.

The bad guys are quite diabolical, heartless, and seemed to cover every base. But they also struck me as a touch gullible, especially since they’ve been outwitted by John before. That said, the rationale backing up the plot is detailed and the solution well-crafted. The writing is professional, the dialog and characterization excellent. I’ll be reading more of John Cannon in the future.

*****

Walk Away Silver Heart by Frank Prem

I purchased this book because I loved the premise of taking a poem (in this case, Amy Lowell’s “Madonna of the Evening Flowers”) and using each line as an inspiration for a wholly new work. The original is beautiful as are Prem’s poems that it inspired.

Prem’s style is different from Lowell’s, more like chains with each link composed of a word or three, yet he captures the tone and language of Lowell’s poem with lovely originality. Each response becomes a glimpse, and combined, they encapsulate a graceful reflection on a loving relationship. There’s a sense of depth and maturity in the feelings it evokes. A beautiful collection.

*****

Father Figure by James J. Cudney

This family drama alternates chapters between two women who, 20 years apart, are transitioning from high school to college. Amalia lives in rural Mississippi under the abusive thumb of her mother. Brianna is from New York City, and though she has a loving mother, she is desperate to know her father’s identity. Her mother, Mollie, refuses to disclose any details of her past.

In a way, the book is a character study, chronicling the two young women’s journeys from adolescence to young adulthood primarily through their sexual experiences and relationships, both positive and negative. This part of the narrative, for me, explored how each woman finally grew into her own skin.

I felt a great deal of empathy for timid Amalia, more so than for Brianna who is so persistent about finding out who her father is that she causes endless problems for everyone around her. It’s Brianna’s search that leads to the climatic end where the mysteries in the book are resolved.

The pace for most of the book felt very slow to me until the last 15% when things started coming together. Otherwise, the writing, characterizations, descriptions, and dialog are all well done. I think this read might be too long and slow for a YA audience, but I recommend it for readers of women’s lit and family dramas.

*****

Guns of Perdition by Jessica Bakkers

This is the first western-horror to cross my Kindle, and the blend of genres was a treat. Jessie is a young man sweeping up a saloon when Grace, one tough and dusty drifter, saunters in. Her face is hidden by a broad Stetson, and her holsters boast a pair of pearl-handled Smith & Wessons. It doesn’t take long before Grace’s guns are blazing, but she isn’t shooting criminals. She’s hunting demons and out to get revenge against the Darksome Gunman. With no idea of what he’s signing up for, Jessie decides to tag along. Oh, Jessie, don’t do it!     (For the full review, click here.)

*****

Happy Reading!

May Book Reviews

This is an upsetting time in the US with virus deaths reaching 100k, and the 9-minute public murder of an African American man by police. My heart is broken. Reading continues to be a release.

This month my offering of reviews includes beautiful poetry, fantasy, sci-fi, and a short story. I hope you enjoy browsing my 4 and 5-star reviews. There are some lovely reads here.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Passions: Love Poems and Other Writings by Gabriela Marie Milton

There are poetry books where the words feel like chocolates that melt on your tongue, where the imagery seduces you into a timeless place of mystery or lays out a universe of emotion, the crux of a life in a few perfect lines. I love free verse that’s evocative, where the sounds and rhythms sweep me off my feet. Gabriela Marie Milton’s poetry is and does all those things.

The book is set up into three parts. First, Love Poems, a generous collection of free verse that took my breath away. Part two has side-by-side poems, one in English, the other its Italian translation. And Part three has short prose that honestly, reads like poetry. All of it is sublime.

And none of it should be rushed. I read this collection over two weeks, savoring each offering in the darkness before sleep. A luxurious read for anyone who loves poetry and beautiful words.

*****

An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

This book is charming, charming, charming. Did I mention that it’s charming? Isobel, a human, paints portraits for the fair folk, and something about her painting of Rook, the Prince of Autumn, thrusts her into danger. Stuck in the courts of the fair folk, they fall in love, but the penalty of breaking the Good Law that forbids such affairs is death.

Forbidden romance is a source of tension in this story, but I’m hesitant to call it a romance. There’s deception, danger, magic and glamour, hard choices, and sinister forces at play. The fair folk are beautiful and exquisitely described, but beneath the nearly perfect exterior, they are opportunists, decaying, hollow, and cruel.

Characterization is exceptional. The story is told from Isobel’s pov. She and Rook are sympathetic protagonists, and their perceptions of each other’s worlds, behaviors, and rules are fascinating. In general, the differences between the fair folk and humans are meticulously developed and kept me entranced. Secondary characters run the gamut from the human Aunt Emma, to the murderous fairy thanes, to Isobel’s delightful half-sisters who are also half-goats who eat everything and climb on furniture.

Descriptions of the landscapes are as immersive as those of the characters. The writing is quite beautiful. The plot is well thought out and keeps moving right up to the reveal at the climax. I wish this was a series because I had a serious book hangover. I’ll be reading more of this author. Highly recommended to fantasy readers and anyone who loves beautiful writing.

*****

It’s All in the Blood by Carol Forrester

I was looking forward to this generous collection of poems, and as soon as it was available on kindle, I picked it up. To me, Forrester’s style is gentle and reflective with an underlying poignancy. The free form poetry unfolds in short phrasing almost like an internal monolog but interspersed with the beauty of poetic metaphor. My favorite poems were those nostalgic musings about family, aging, loss and love, regrets, hopes, and an array of universal experiences that I could relate too. This poetry is simply stated, sprinkled with jewels of imagery, and rich with feeling. An excellent collection. Highly recommended

*****

Awakening: The Shard Chronicles by Ono Northey

I’m a reader of character-driven novels. A fantastic character will keep me riveted, and this book has a six-star main character. Steve is a veteran who lost his legs in Afghanistan in an explosion that took out his team, and he wants out of the hospital. A strange murder ends up splattering his hospital room with a human smoothie and suddenly he’s on the run, learning to use a unique mental power that gets him into trouble as much as it saves him.

Why is Steve a fantastic character? He has a sardonic sense of humor that I thoroughly enjoy and that runs through the book from start to finish. External and internal dialog is exceptionally witty, consistent, and natural. He also has a complex personality; he’s a competent soldier, as well as a nice guy at heart who’s grasping at happiness while hiding from the police and visiting his unusual shrink, Tony. The secondary characters, Tony and Steve’s love interest Amber, are both perfectly believable personalities, and the relationships were interesting as well as genuine.

The pace rips along, and there’s a lot of action interspersed between Steve counseling sessions and his budding relationship with Amber. I was impressed with the military details as well as the psychological concepts resulting from Steve’s conversations with Tony. They seemed grounded in reality (I couldn’t really tell but was totally sucked in) and I found myself paying close attention.

Unfortunately, I struggled with the sci-fi-bad-guy elements of the plot. The bad guys have about 6 pov chapters out of about 60 chapters (Tony has one, Steve has the rest). I had a hard time grasping who the bad guys were, their relationships, and their motivations to kill or save Steve. The story ended with lots of loose ends, which I assume will be addressed in the next book. I’m looking forward to the read. I considered a 4-star rating, but the characters forced me to go with 5.

*****

Limbo by Laura Koerber

I wasn’t sure what I thought of this book at first. A teenager, Alyse, finds herself in Limbo after dying of a brain tumor. It’s a dismal place, populated by rather dreary ghosts like herself. The pov doesn’t stay with Alyse, and though I found this distracting for a couple of chapters, as the story progressed, I got to know this odd community, the characters’ backstories, their hopes, dreams, failures, and sorrows. Suddenly, they became deeply human, relatable, and utterly poignant. I was moved.

The world-building details are unique, clever, and enjoyable. For example, many of the characters are wearing hospital gowns (and many of us know that those don’t close securely in the back). They make poker cards out of peeling wallpaper, and have a tendency to float.

Most of the characters don’t understand why they’re in limbo or how to leave. Honestly, I didn’t understand why they were there either, and I didn’t think that question was answered by the end. For me, the lack of a reason for their presence made God (who is not a character in the story) seem cold and unkind. The end is incredibly touching. I recommend this short, well-written, and gentle read to anyone who enjoys a human story.

*****

No Pedigree: A Really Short Story by Nonnie Jules

Baylee is biracial and lives with her hardworking single mom. Mom wants her to get the best opportunities for a successful future and part of that means getting a great education in a posh high school. But in Oklahoma, racism is alive and well, and Baylee is the victim of both verbal and physical abuse. A lucky break enables her to get justice in the end.

This story is a 90-minute read and geared toward young adults, though I enjoyed it as an old adult. Lol. It takes on the important topic of racism and injustice as it still exists today in schools, communities, and the criminal justice system. I enjoyed Baylee’s strength of character and that of her good friend Carson. My only struggle with the story was the somewhat implausible way Baylee skyrocketed out of her situation, but her ability to get justice was satisfying.

*****

An Island Too Lovely by Deborah Kaminsky

Isadora lives on an island, her community isolated from the mainland, peaceful and prosperous, technologically equipped, but tightly controlled. A strange experience with a force field compels her and her friends Annie and Dylan to start questioning the mysteries of their island home.

The first part of the book covers her fruitless explorations as a child. Part 2, the bulk of the story, chronicles her “Walkabout” on the mainland with her friends, a once in a lifetime adventure that all island residents experience in their teens. Part 3, covers her return to the island and her discovery of its secrets.

For most of the book, the plot seems to wander with rambling goals and tangents… until part 3 when the whole thing comes together with an intriguing and clever twist. I thoroughly enjoyed the revelation. At the same time, I did struggle with the middle of the book and was left with questions, particularly about the structure of the walkabout (no spoilers here).

Isadora, Annie, and Dylan are great characters, and I particularly enjoyed Isadora and Annie’s lifelong friendship. They are richly-developed characters and Isadora’s point of view gave me a thorough insight into her personality. The sci-fi elements are detailed and techy, which I enjoyed. Overall, quite entertaining.

*****

Happy Reading!

April Book Reviews

A very eclectic selection this month: sci-fi, fantasy, poetry, romance, Danny the Dog, historical fiction, and parenting advice! I hope you enjoy browsing my 4 and 5-star reviews. There are some great reads here. Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Running out of Space by S. J. Higbee

If readers enjoy sci-fi and a powerful female lead character, this book hits the mark. Lizzy makes one reckless mistake, and her hopes to enter an officer-training program are dashed. But that’s not the end of her problems. She’s caught between competing forces who use her to solidify their power, and her plans to escape their clutches with the man she loves are repeatedly foiled. When things can’t get worse, they do.

The book starts with some love-struck romance (in the midst of some action), but the romance is background music as the main story takes off. Lizzy is a tough character, full of anger and impulsiveness. She has a hard time controlling her temper and tongue, but she’s justified and therefore sympathetic. Her story unfolds with a first-person point of view, and I was invested from the start, rooting for her when she suffered and cheering for her small victories and fiery personality. I found all of the characters consistent, authentic, and compelling, and the author does a nice job of holding back their secrets so there’s always a reason to turn the page.

This fast-paced book is both character-driven and plot-driven, and I enjoyed the balance. The world-building is complete, hard sci-fi with enough technical detail to be believable while not overwhelming the story. The plot belongs to Lizzy and her desire to escape those who are manipulating her, but there are larger political subplots working in the background that may rise to the surface in later books. The first book in a series, this ends at a transition point, but the story doesn’t conclude. It definitely invites a dive into book 2. Highly recommended.

*****

Tiger House by Wendy Scott

This is a great read for lovers of adventure, action, fantasy, and fabulous worldbuilding. The cover is gorgeous. And the prose is excellent too. Can you tell that I enjoyed this book? The story is about a young farmer Jairus who is kidnapped through a magical portal by the inhabitants of another world. He’s enslaved and ordered to represent Tiger House in a series of challenges to the death that will decide the new emperor. The first half of the story is an account of the competitions and the action and intrigue are non-stop. The second half of the book deals with Jairus’s attempts to stay alive for as long as he can while trying to find a way home.

To me, the worldbuilding resembles ancient Asian cultures (though I’m no expert), with the added elements of magic, strange rituals, and a whole lot of disregard for the contestants’ lives or their homeworlds. The people are brutal, macabre, and think nothing of it. The tentative head of Tiger House, a woman named Tekagi, is a ruthless, ambitious villain in the truest sense. An interesting dynamic set up by the author is that rooting for Jairus is also rooting for Tekagi.

So, the worldbuilding is perfection and the characters engaging – Jairus for his good nature, determination, and intelligence, and Tekagi, because she’s sooo bad! I woke up in the middle of the night to read more chapters under my sheets like a kid afraid of being caught by my mom. The plot is driven by Tekagi’s ambitious designs for most of the book, but Jairus does evolve as a character by the end.

There are plenty of loose ends by the book’s conclusion to hook a reader into picking up the next in the series. I know I will. Highly Recommended.

*****

My Name is Danny by Danny (and Andrew Joyce)

If you need something to read that will warm your heart, lift your spirits, and make you laugh, this book will do it. What a fun way to spend an hour.

Danny the Dog lives with his human, Andrew, on a boat in Florida. This collection of brief stories focuses on Danny’s adventures, his human and animal friendships and rivalries, and his daily activities including acquiring hotdogs. He gets into a lot of trouble and is great at justifying his choices.

The stories are all told from Danny’s perspective with a rare story by Andrew while Danny’s vacationing. Each short chapter starts with a photo of Danny, a small dog with a huge personality. Danny’s wry sense of humor, indignation, and sarcasm are hilarious. He definitely thinks he’s in charge of this human/dog duo. Dog lovers will recognize many aspects of life with a canine companion. I adored this read and recommend it to dog lovers everywhere.

*****

I Am Soul by Yecheilyah Ysrayl

I picked up this book of poetry some time ago and finally opened it. My dad was in the hospital and I had hours to kill. I started reading Ysrayl’s poetry, and the first thing I noticed was the powerful words and rhythms. This is poetry with heart, and it begged to be read aloud.

I found myself a green space outside the hospital and for a couple of hours I walked by myself and read aloud, swept away by the strong emotions and messages, the sometimes hard and sometimes soft beat of the words, and the vivid imagery. The blurb says that this collection of poems focuses “on Black History, Identity, Personal Development, and Spirituality. Readers describe this collection as touching, intelligent, personal and deeply soulful.” I can’t say it any better. A moving read and if you can find a place to read it aloud, you won’t regret it. Highly recommended.

*****

Orion’s Gift by Anneli Purchase

Sylvia and Kevin are both escaping abusive relationships and individually head to Mexico to camp along the beautiful beaches of Baja. They end up meeting and fall immediately into lust, which gradually turns into something deeper. But nothing’s going to be that easy as the drug trade south of the border strikes a little close to their camper-homes, and even worse, their exes are trying to hunt them down.

Romance with lots of misunderstandings and emotional turmoil is a major theme in the book, but the subplots add a lot of drama to the story. Both exes—who are quite different from each other—have chapters from their points-of-view which adds to the building tension. The subplot regarding the drug trade escalates the danger, particularly for Sylvia.

I liked the quick pace of the story and there was plenty going on to keep me turning the pages. The descriptions of camping in Baja include well-researched details, not only regarding the landscape but also the challenges, the things visitors need to know, and some of the pitfalls. I enjoyed the authenticity they lent to the story.

Kevin was my favorite character as he’s pretty solid and straightforward. Sylvia suffers from insecurities throughout the book, but this struck me as realistic based on her history as a victim of domestic violence. She also has a secret that interferes with any dreams of a future with Kevin. A well-rounded story and highly recommended to readers of romance.

*****

The Lost Signal by J. S. Fernandez Morales

This book is almost 400 pages, and every word was worth the read. This sci-fi adventure was a great story. For ¾ of the book, there are two alternating, unconnected narratives. One storyline follows the efforts of a group of Earthlings who are preparing for an alien invasion aided by a renegade alien named Bill (named so for convenience).

The other storyline is told primarily from Fiona’s point of view. She’s an alien/human hybrid who’s lived her whole life with humans and feels compelled to protect them when aliens descend on their village and enslave them. The stories begin to overlap at the 75% mark and it’s a very cool twist.

Fiona’s story has a persistent undercurrent of tension as she navigates the alien environment. The villain that she’s connected to is consistently brutal and unpredictable while also oddly vulnerable. I love complex villains like this. He’s horrifying and redeemable. The Earthlings’ story isn’t quite as action-packed, but it is fascinating, particularly Bill’s role. And there are a couple of shocking moments.

Characters throughout the book are unique and plausible and emotionally rich, and I’d say that they stole the show, except the plot is also very cool. A great blend that makes for a great read. Sci-fi readers who enjoy alien stories, action and adventure, and great characters will love this. Worth every word.

*****

Smoke Rose to Heaven by Sarah Angleton

This book isn’t typical of those I normally read, and I’m happy to report that I enjoyed it. Spanning the mid to late 1800s, Ada Moses relates the story of her life to an old man called the Prophet, a key influencer of the Mormon faith at its initiation. The entire book is Ada’s narrative, but it’s told in such a way that I was immersed in Ada’s experiences as they unfolded.

The impetus driving Ada to tell her story to the Prophet is a secret manuscript that came into her possession as a child, a manuscript that is dangerous to the Mormon faith. The document has put her life at risk, and she wants to tell her story before death finds her. Though this was interesting, it wasn’t the plot thread that sucked me in and didn’t let go.

For me, Ada’s human story was more compelling. Her mother dies when she’s a child, and her father gives her away to his sister and her husband. Ada’s aunt is a fundamental Christian zealot and her uncle is a snake oil salesman with some skill at dowsing and other esoteric arts. Ada is caught in the middle, trying to navigate her way safely through her aunt’s fanaticism and seeking some desperately needed parental love which she finds in her uncle and his unsavory business partners. I was riveted by her psychological and emotional growth, insights, and perspectives. Her experiences guide her choices and determine who she ultimately becomes. This is a character-driven story, beautifully written, and thoroughly engaging. Highly recommended.

*****

Be a Happier Parent or Laugh Trying by Betsy Kerekes

Kerekes offers some wise advice for parents and delivers it with plenty of wit. The exaggeration and sarcasm woven into her view of children and parenting is hysterical, but throughout the read, it’s also clear that love makes up the solid foundation of her parenting style. Parenting strategies in the book are often creative and buried in fun, but there’s also some great guidance on discipline and the less glamorous trials of being a firm parent.

As a retired early-childhood mental health counselor, I found the information in this book highly relevant as well as laugh-out-loud funny. The ideas presented in the book are geared toward parents but are equally relevant to grandparents and other caregivers.

Kerekes isn’t shy about sharing her Christian faith and a few chapters focus on parenting within that framework. My impression is that though these chapters focus on Catholicism, they could apply to other faiths or to no faith at all, such as how to encourage kindness and charity in children. I highly recommend this book of sound parental advice delivered with love, fun, and a laugh.

*****

Happy Reading!

March Book Reviews

I’m struggling with this pandemic, distracted and unfocused, even though my family is faring well, so far. Writing and blogging have been on the fritz. I have been reading though, and what a wonderful mental vacation. I recommend it! I hope you enjoy browsing my 4 and 5-star reviews. There are some excellent books here. Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

A Cold Tomorrow by Mae Clair

Book 2 of the Point Pleasant Series starts off a few months after Book 1 ends but can be read as a stand-alone (not that I recommend skipping the first). Katie Lynch takes over as the lead character and shares the limelight with brothers Ryan and Caden Flynn.

Strange supernatural happenings are taking place in Point Pleasant—dead animals, UFOs, aliens, voices in the TNT bunker, and of course, Mothman sightings. Clair tangles in a secondary plot to mix things up a bit and provide some red-herrings. The plot is complex and the pace has to be quick in order to wrap it all up and still have time for some lovely character development.

The best plot won’t survive thin characters, and Clair doesn’t fall into that trap. Main characters, as well as secondary characters, are all unique and three-dimensional. Clair carves out time to provide an emotional foundation with a bit of backstory and to dive into their relationships with each other. I particularly like books that make me feel connected to the characters and this is one of those.

The Mothman becomes more intriguing as does Caden’s character and his connection to the creature. The emotion and compassion between them is particularly riveting, and I MUST read the next book for that reason. An excellent series with polished writing. I highly recommend A Cold Tomorrow to readers of paranormal thrillers and to those who enjoy urban legends.

*****

Subject A36 by Teri Polen

I should never have read this book, because now I have to wait for the next one in the series, and that’s going to be torture! This read is sooo good.

Asher, the first-person protagonist, is a 17-year-old member of a resistance group fighting the Colony. The Colony steals attractive children (and adults) from outlying communities and kills them by stripping their DNA to serve the vanity of its citizens. Asher’s group is part of a larger network focused on freeing Colony captives before their DNA is harvested.

The plot moves along quickly and requires some suspension of belief as these teens have exceptional skills. There are twists and turns and secrets that I didn’t see coming and thoroughly enjoyed. This isn’t a story that gets bogged down with description. The science and technology is developed just enough to be believable.

The characters are beautifully crafted, and there’s none of the annoying teen angst and dumb choices that I find in many YA stories. These characters are in dangerous situations and maturity is a matter of survival. I enjoyed the authenticity. The somewhat heavy backstory in the beginning pays off as the characters develop and the events become more and more emotionally charged. Asher, his friend Noah, and lover Brynn make up the three main characters. I liked all three but was particularly enamored with Asher. I thoroughly believed his inner world, emotions, and choices. He’s a noble character, faced with tough decisions. I was hooked.

Then the book ended with a cliff-hanger, and I had a literary heart attack. Highly recommended to YA and adult readers of sci-fi. Get ready for an intense adventure.

*****

My GRL by John Howell

John Cannon is on a sabbatical from his high-powered attorney job and decides to spend a year on Mustang Island off the coast of Texas working on his used 65’ boat. Then his friend ends up shot, and the sheriff suspects that he’s keeping secrets. Add to that, it turns out that terrorists want his boat.

This book moves along at a good clip as John deals with the sheriff and then gets embroiled in the terrorists’ plot. He’s a great character, and for me, he brought the book to life. He’s kind of an average guy, but he’s smart and resourceful (for the most part), and he has some attitude. I had a great time watching him deal with all the problems while completely out of his element.

The story didn’t bog down with description or backstory, and it had just the right amount of shipboard detail to lend authenticity to the setting, John’s capabilities, and the story’s resolution. I would definitely read more of this character and author. Though a thriller, the book was also a lot of fun. Highly recommended for readers of action novels and thrillers, and book-lovers who enjoy great characters.

*****

Apollo’s Raven by Linnea Tanner

Oh, I liked this read. In 24 AD, the Romans have arrived in Britannia to lay the groundwork for an invasion, and to that end, they’ve pitted the British kings against each other with promises of power. While negotiations with the Romans take place, hostages are exchanged to secure each party’s safety. Princess Catrin’s father instructs her to pry information from Marcellus, the son of the Roman leader. But things don’t go as planned, and Catrin must choose between the man she loves and her people.

The story starts out with some romance and a bit of insta-love, but fortunately, that is short-lived. Not that there isn’t a romantic component to the story, but the bulk of the read is taken up with action, danger, politics, and plenty of magic.

Magic is integral to the story, the plot, and the relationships. It focuses on an old prophecy in which Catrin plays the central role. Her connection to ravens enables her to see through the bird’s eyes, and ravens provide her with some protection. More so, they are the gateway to the mystical Wall of Lives where she learns how to manipulate outcomes. The magic in the book isn’t a hard system, but it works, and I appreciated the way it created friction between Catrin and Marcellus.

The characters are great, three dimensional, emotional, and flawed. Even secondary characters are unique individuals. I liked how consistent they were and how that was often a problem. Catrin is foiled repeatedly by both well-intentioned characters and villains. There are villains on both sides of the conflict which complicates matters.

The danger and action keep the pace up, and though a long read, the book zipped by. It ends with a dramatic conclusion to the negotiations but is mostly open-ended. I’ll definitely be reading onward. I highly recommend this book to epic fantasy readers who love magic, action, intrigue, and a bit of romance.

*****

Dream Warrior by Helen Mathey-Horn

Teryn is a Captain charged with keeping Princess Tasmine safe when the queendom falls. They flee and end up in one perilous situation after another. Their only ally is Rabisle, the mercenary who fought against them. But can he be trusted?

The magical system is loose but interesting. Teryn is a great character with a skill shared by few. She’s a dreamer able to enter a trancelike state where she can read another person’s mind and feelings, see what they’re doing, and influence them. The skill is imperfect, and most effective when combined with dreamweed, a drug that leaves her debilitated.

The characters are believable, well-rounded, and they carry the story. The pov rests solidly in Teryn’s head, and Rabisle has a lot of mystery around him, which I found compelling. Despite her skills, Teryn spends a lot of the book pretty beat up. She’s no superhero, and I liked that.

The plot isn’t anything astonishing as the two women escape one greedy, lecherous, murderous kingdom for another with Rabisle’s help, but it serves, and things do wrap up with a nice twist at the end. I’d deduct a half-star for punctuation, but based on the great characters, I’ve rounded my enjoyment up to 5 stars. Recommended for fantasy fans.

*****

Detours in Time by Pamela Schloesser Canepa

Milt and Pinky are time-traveling companions, and they jump forward 50 years into 2047. Milt can’t resist a little research and learns the details of his death. He also discovers that in the future he will have a daughter as well as a grandson who is born after his death. A bit of innocuous meddling sets the butterfly effect in motion and much of the book is about efforts to undo parts of what they’ve done.

The pace of this book is rather slow and steady, but the story is saved by the author’s attention to details and great characters. The details of life in 2047 are quirky and fun and served to remind me of how weird human beings are with our biases and creativity and how normal it all feels when we’re in the thick of it.

Milt and Pinky are adorably ordinary and sweet to each other and are thoroughly believable with loads of personality. They don’t experience much interpersonal conflict, but they are quirky in their own ways, and I loved their tenderness toward each other. In many ways, to me, the book was about the trajectory of their relationship. POV shifts are frequent but flowed naturally and somehow seemed fitting. Dialog is natural and carries most of the narrative.

The story wraps up but leaves a few dangling threads for the next book in the series. This is an interesting book, and I recommend it for sci-fi fans who enjoy a leisurely quirky read.

*****

Short Stories

The Thing about Kevin by Beem Weeks

Jacob returns to Chicago for his father’s funeral and faces the truth about the man he loved – a man who was also a mobster responsible for much misery in the community. Jacob’s brother, Kevin, disappeared long ago, and Jacob little by little learns the truth.

This short story is beautifully written and gives a striking and delicate glimpse into the complex feelings and relationships of children who grew up with a criminal parent. A quick and memorable read. I’ll be reading more of Weeks’ stories.

*****

Voodoo or Destiny: You Decide by Jan Sikes

In this short story, Claire plays with voodoo, hoping to break her husband’s heart for cheating on her. Not only is the result distressing, but there’s more going on than she bargained for. This is a quick, entertaining, and spooky story. After reading this, I’m definitely staying far away from voodoo. A great short story.

 

*****

My Sweet Lord by Fiza Pathan

Something has to be done. The year is 2020, and Buddhist citizens living in the city of Dil-e-bad, Raktsthaan, have been suffering at the hands of government officials and their military. What began with lynching and rape has become a full-blown witch hunt. Monks have been killed and their monuments destroyed. Four members of an underground get together and decide that extreme action is called for. They are a nonviolent people, but one of them, standing at the junction in the center of Dil-e-bad, is about to fight back with fire.

*****

Red Eyes in the Darkness by D. L. Finn

This short story kicks off with wild action and finishes the same way. Cass and Will know for a fact that their brother-in-law Ronald killed Cass’s sister, but no one believes them. And they are next on Ronald’s list. But there’s more here than a serial killer as angels and demons also make an appearance.

This story doesn’t completely end but is a taste of a world further developed in Finn’s other books. I’ve read “The Button” and recognized the demons called the evildwels. I recommend this short story as an introduction to the writer and her books.

*****

The Hunted by Karen Black

A short 30-minute read, The Hunted starts with solid action and doesn’t let up. The story follows Yvonne as she flips back and forth between two worlds, one a dream, one real, but the reader doesn’t know which is which. The transitions are cleverly done and it’s not until the end that the truth (and the twist) is revealed. I loved being kept in the dark until the last sentence. Excellent short story.

*****

Happy Reading!

February Book Reviews

I’m still buried in editing, but I figured I’d better make an appearance on the old blog!  February was a fun month of reading. I hope you enjoy browsing my 4 and 5-star reviews. Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Life Lines by Sue Vincent

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

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

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

*****

Vanished by Mark Bierman

This story kicks off the action on page one and doesn’t let up. In fact, when I was about ¾ of the way through, I needed to sit back, take a deep breath, and work the tension out of my shoulders. Bierman’s ability to write non-stop, intense, dangerous action is noteworthy. And though in many ways, I’d characterize the story as plot-driven, there’s some deep emotion when it’s called for.

And the story isn’t a picnic. Though the author maintains that it’s fictional, he also states that it centers on a very real and tragic situation – child slavery. Tyler and John are two likable Americans who team up with an anti-hero in Haiti. The story follows their attempt to rescue a Haitian’s young child from a mine worked by kidnapped children. The difficulty of this plan is skillfully complicated by cultural barriers, corruption, poverty, and, of course, the ruthless adults who treat children like disposable tools – use them until they break and then throw them away.

Even though the book is plot-driven, I felt connected to Tyler and John. It was hard not to feel for them and root for them when things weren’t going well (which was the whole book). In a way, they are ordinary men who, as things got worse and worse, had to keep remaking decisions about what they’re willing to sacrifice, including their lives. They give it their all and it was very heroic. I’d read more about the characters and will read more of this author. Recommended for anyone who loves an intense action-packed adventure/thriller.

*****

Fiona Finch and the Pink Valentine by Teagan Geneviene

Fiona Finch and the Pink Valentine is a sweet short story set in the Victorian age with several steampunk gadgets, a mischievous pet duck, and a masquerade ball. What better way to spend an hour of reading? Fiona and her adopted brother Steele are delightful, and the duck steals the show as the ultimate matchmaker. As a short story, the pace is brisk, but not lacking in fun details. The mood is light and all ends well. Highly recommended.

*****

While the Bombs Fell by Roberta Cheadle & Elsie Hancy Eaton

This story reads like a memoir, and I loved it. It follows the daily life of Elsie, a 4-5-year-old growing up on a farm in England during World War II. The story starts with the family listening to an air-raid siren and climbing into their shelter beneath the garden. And though the war is the backdrop to the story and impacts daily life in significant ways, this isn’t really a story about war. At heart, this is a story about the resilient spirit of children growing up within a strong family.

The details of daily life are incredibly well-researched, and this book could almost serve as a guide to rural life in England in 1942 when rationing required adults to make some careful and creative choices. At the same time, the story is filled with delightful anecdotes of family life and the perspectives of a child, including a fear of Jack Frost, the trials of a stinky outhouse, and a trip to the movie theater to see the Three Stooges outwit the Germans.

The story unfolds in an omniscient point of view, and there’s not really a plot (thus the feeling of a memoir), but from beginning to end, the book is thoroughly engaging. I read it in one sitting. As an added bonus, the author included a few wartime recipes. Highly recommended to readers of memoirs, historical fiction, WWII fiction, and warm family stories.

*****

She Who Comes Forth by Audrey Driscoll

France Leighton and her beloved cello, Eudora, arrive in Luxor, Egypt to take part in an archeological dig. It’s not quite the adventure she expected, but she hangs in there. After a cello performance, she meets the mysterious Adam Dexter, who turns out to be far more than she expected, and not in a good way. Egyptian mythology comes alive as France must find a way to save the world from destruction.

This book is well written, the kind of writing that disappears into the background and therefore leaves the reader fully immersed in the story. I loved the setting, the details about Egypt and its mythology, the elements of the dig, and France’s interest and reverence for the magnificent tombs. In the afterword, Driscoll points out that she’s never been to Luxor, but as a reader, you’d never know it. Her research shines.

Told in first person, the story is wholly France’s. She’s a rich and thoroughly believable character, and her struggles were relatable to me. Secondary characters are beautifully three dimensional as seen through her eyes. I loved the advice of her “talking” cello and totally fell for the relationship.

The story moves at a moderate pace, a slow burn, with hints at something supernatural at play dropped here and there along the way. At the 75% mark, there’s a giant leap into the paranormal/occult that I wasn’t quite ready for, though in hindsight I could see the preparation. A compelling story that I highly recommend to readers of literary fiction and to those who enjoy a strong female protagonist.

*****

Wham! by Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps

This book has some fresh and unique worldbuilding that I thoroughly enjoyed. The story takes place in a dystopian future. The air is poisoned, the land withered, and there’s a clear sense of Big Brother ugliness about the place. The ruling class, a mega-powerful organization called the Alliance, controls the world and monitors everyone’s lives through surveillance orbs called Skinnies. The main character, Tess, is a disgruntled teen with a green-mohawk and combat boots. She doesn’t know it yet, but she’s also a fairy with magical powers. Her barber is a troll, and her friend’s pet crow is a skinshifter.

The story starts with the government brutally whisking away Tess’s parents and sister, Nia. Nia is taken to the Capital and is forced to be a sex-worker for the Potentate (the main antagonist). Despite this role, there isn’t any explicit sex in the book, and her role quickly changes. Tess is assigned to live with a couple of mean-spirited derelicts, the Warrens. Book One focuses on Tess’s and Nia’s adjustment, as well as Tess’s discovery of her heritage and her attempt to rescue her parents with the help of the underground.

The characters all struck me as three-dimensional and authentic with full emotional lives and flaws. Maxi, the troll, has a unique way of speaking which I found incredibly creative. There is also some fairy-speak, which was difficult to read and understand, but short in duration (thank goodness). As part of the world-building, it was all a lot of fun.

Great pace and clever writing with vivid descriptions. The plausibility suffers a tiny bit when all the magical beings come together for the big showdown, but it’s well-down overall, and things don’t go magically well, of course. The book ends smack dab at the climax of the action. Be prepared to read the next book or you’ll be left hanging. If readers can deal with the abrupt end and plan to continue with the series, I can highly recommend this fantasy novel.

*****

Swords of Destiny by Sue Vincent

In this modern-day adventure, the world is in peril, and the immortal Merlin (of King Arthur fame) has gathered four ordinary people with extraordinary heart and courage to stand against the destructive forces. Their mission as the Champions of Light is to acquire the four swords of destiny and bring balance to the world.

The tale draws heavily on the legends and myths of the British Isles, the sacred places, and the beliefs of those who were intimately connected to the spirits of the land. The Fae are alive and well, trolls hide out in caves. There are unicorns, elves, and mountain giants. Most of the story unfolds in conversation/exposition, though it does have some action scenes that are quite intense and emotional. There is also quite a bit of romance, and some fun humor.

What I enjoyed most was the characters, not only the human champions, but Merlin, his brother Heilyn, and the fairy queen Mab. Point of view is shared by most of the main characters with pov shifts in the middle of scenes. The dialog is witty, including sections of clever banter. There’s mischief, for sure. Recommended for lovers of ancient British Isle mythology who will likely recognize some of the sacred places and characters.

*****

Mind-Shaft by S. Burke

This collection of six short stories focuses on the dark side of speculative fiction from paranormal romance and revenge to good old horror. Each of the stories is unique with a well-developed plot and engaging characters. My favorite was A Place So Cold which had me on the edge of my seat even though I could predict the ending. Other stories were less predictable with fun twists. Definitely bloody, evil, and entertaining. There are a few formatting particularities in kindle, but they don’t impact the reading so I’m going with 5 stars.

*****

Visitors by W. J. Scott

Brody and Tom are sent to live with their aunt by their ailing mom. Aunt Sally is a recluse in a town that doesn’t take well to visitors, at least to one kind of visitor. When the boys find out what’s really happening at the lake, they learn why everyone in town is so secretive. A sci-fi short story full of kindness and hope, and though predictable at its conclusion, a sweet read.

*****

Happy Reading!