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!

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

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

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

The Making of Tina Lost in a Crowd, Part 7

Publish the Book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

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

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

Will I Write More Children’s Books?

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

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

Blurb

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

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

Purchase Links

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

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

Diana’s Review

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

***

About the Author

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

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

Contact Miriam at –

Website/Blog: https://theshowersofblessings.com

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

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/mhurdle112

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

October Book Reviews, Part I

My 60-book Autumn Reading Challenge is progressing, even though I’m behind and probably won’t catch up. I’ve read 13 books so far – enough to warrant a mid-October review post!

This month, my offering of  4 and 5 star reviews includes a sentimental thriller, historical fiction, horror, short stories, poetry, and a children’s book. I hope you enjoy the browse.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

A Boy Named Rabbit by Marcia Meara

I fell in love with a little boy named Rabbit. OMG. This book is so wonderful, I can’t recommend it enough. Rabbit is ten years old, and for his entire life, he’s lived in the deep forest of the Blue Ridge Mountains with his grandparents. They took him there when he was a baby to keep him safe from the “bad people.” When his grandparents die, he starts a solo journey to find a place he belongs.

Rabbit enters the lives of Sarah and Mac Cole and what follows is a story of love, loss, and discovery as Rabbit learns about a whole new world. He’s never seen electricity in action or ridden in a car or listened to music! He’s an amazing character—inquisitive, funny, heartbroken, and wise beyond his years. As Rabbit transforms, the characters around him transform as well.

There’s danger in this book, a bit of paranormal “sight,” and kindness galore. My investment in Rabbit was intense, and I couldn’t stop rooting for him. Though Rabbit is the star of this literary show, the other characters are well-rounded and emotionally authentic. The writing is exceptional with spot-on dialog and an excellent pace. I couldn’t put the book down and got all teary with happiness at the end.

Though this is Book 2 in the Wake-Robin Ridge series, I’m not sure it’s necessary to read Book 1 first, though it wouldn’t hurt. I enjoyed that book too. Interested in something thoroughly original, engaging, and tender? A Boy Named Rabbit will steal your heart.

*****

The Last Pilgrim by Noelle Granger

I just finished this amazing historical fiction, and despite its length (458 pages) I clung to every word. The story chronicles the true events of the Pilgrims’ journey to the New World in 1620, and then continues through 80+ years as the colony struggles for survival and contributes to the growth of a nation. The author deftly weaves two narrative threads from beginning to end: the historical events of the times, and the personal lives of those who lived them, as seen through the eyes of Mary Cushman.

One thread, about 50% of the narrative, focuses on the politics of the time—conflicts between the venture’s investors and the colony, friendships and wars with the Native Americans, and problems with governance, both civil and religious. This is primarily narrated through the eagerly prying ears of Mary Cushman whose family(s) are leaders in the Plymouth colony.

The other 50% of the narrative is Mary’s personal story of growth into a pioneer woman, wife, mother, and grandmother. Mary is 4 years old at the crossing and the book ends when she’s in her eighties. The story is told initially from the perspective of Isaac Allerton, her father, and then gradually shifts to Mary’s point of view alone.

One thing I found enthralling was how “true to the time period” she was in her thoughts and actions while at the same time demonstrating her innate intelligence and will. She’s a lively character, and the connection to her was instantaneous. All of the characters are 3-dimensional and beautifully written, and the themes of friendship, loyalty, faith, love, loss, and family are no different than today.

The author’s research was clearly extensive—of both the actual events and politics of the time but also of the daily lives of men, women, and children. Wonderful details brought the story to life, transporting me smack into the 1600s.This isn’t a glorified tale of colonization. The events are conveyed through the lens of those who made choices for the colony and their families. Some are disturbing to our modern sensibilities, but I thoroughly appreciated the authenticity.

Having grown up in New England, many of the places were familiar and I was captivated by the history. I highly recommend this novel to history buffs and readers of historical fiction.

I just finished this amazing historical fiction, and despite its length (458 pages) I clung to every word. The story chronicles the true events of the Pilgrims’ journey to the New World in 1620, and then continues through 80+ years as the colony struggles for survival and contributes to the growth of a nation. The author deftly weaves two narrative threads from beginning to end: the historical events of the times, and the personal lives of those who lived them, as seen through the eyes of Mary Cushman.

One thread, about 50% of the narrative, focuses on the politics of the time—conflicts between the venture’s investors and the colony, friendships and wars with the Native Americans, and problems with governance, both civil and religious. This is primarily narrated through the eagerly prying ears of Mary Cushman whose family(s) are leaders in the Plymouth colony.

The other 50% of the narrative is Mary’s personal story of growth into a pioneer woman, wife, mother, and grandmother. Mary is 4 years old at the crossing and the book ends when she’s in her eighties. The story is told initially from the perspective of Isaac Allerton, her father, and then gradually shifts to Mary’s point of view alone.

One thing I found enthralling was how “true to the time period” she was in her thoughts and actions while at the same time demonstrating her innate intelligence and will. She’s a lively character, and the connection to her was instantaneous. All of the characters are 3-dimensional and beautifully written, and the themes of friendship, loyalty, faith, love, loss, and family are no different than today.

The author’s research was clearly extensive—of both the actual events and politics of the time but also of the daily lives of men, women, and children. Wonderful details brought the story to life, transporting me smack into the 1600s.This isn’t a glorified tale of colonization. The events are conveyed through the lens of those who made choices for the colony and their families. Some are disturbing to our modern sensibilities, but I thoroughly appreciated the authenticity.

Having grown up in New England, many of the places were familiar and I was captivated by the history. I highly recommend this novel to history buffs and readers of historical fiction. 

Side Note: There was an interesting moment in the book when one of my notorious ancestors, Arthur Peach, was hanged by the colonists for murder. Arthur’s history has been well-researched by my family, and it was wild to read a few paragraphs about him in Noelle’s book.

*****

Murder They Wrote

by Judi Lynn, C.S. Boyack, Mae Clair, Kathleen Palm, Julia Donner, D.P. Reisig, Rachel Sherwood Roberts

Seven authors, seven genres, seven murders. One of the things that appealed to me about this book was the blend of genres and authors, which guaranteed lots of varied entertainment. The stories offered a wide range of settings and characters from a 19th century courtroom to a medieval castle, from a modern sleuth with the ability to dissolve into a fog to a regency couple who solve a murder at a balloon launch while engaging in witty repartee.

Story length ranged from short story to novella, and together made a full-length book. I was impressed with the quality across the board. No weak links in this group. Well-constructed plots, three-dimensional characters, and expertly edited. Highly recommended. 

*****

We All Die in the End by Elizabeth Merry

This collection of loosely-connected vignettes offers glimpses into the lives of nineteen different residents in a small, seaside Irish town. For the most part, the stories are grim, the characters ranging from slightly off kilter to severely struggling. There are tidbits of humor and kindness here and there, but those are few and far between.

The writing is polished, and the characters are deeply rendered and distinct. My overall impression was that the characters are trapped in their lives, contributing to a sense of despair, sadness, madness, and violence. Despite the bleakness of the situations, the read is mesmerizing. Each story is unique. Highly recommended to short story readers and readers of literary fiction.

*****

Brazos Wind by Jan Sikes

A wonderful western short story. Jack McClean finds Savannah Logan on the brink of death outside her burning farmhouse. In a nutshell, what follows demonstrates how kindness can not only save a life, but heal a soul. As Jack helps Savannah, he changes both of their futures.

There are no bad guys in this short story beyond chance and bad luck. Like life for many of us. The story is expertly crafted with well-rounded believable characters. It leaves off with a hint of more to come and I hope the author follows through. A lovely read.

*****

Slices of Soul by Harmony Kent

I picked up this book after learning that the author spent 13 years in a Zen Buddhist Temple. I was curious about how her experiences influenced her poetry. The poems are divided into seven sections beginning with Shaved Head, Short Hair, and Long Hair, representing the journey from the monastery back into modern life.

Many of the poems read like koans, statements used for meditation. The poems are simply written and it’s easy to appreciate how they reflect of the author’s journey of change and discovery. Several favorites are Rebirth, Diamonds, Waterfall, and The Alchemist. A lovely collection that I read in less than an hour.

*****

Molly Finds Her Purr by Pamela Wight

Molly is a stray who sees a pampered cat named Clara purring as she gets some loving from her owner. Molly wants a purr too, but has trouble finding it, since life on her own is pretty lonely. That all changes when she encounters Petey the squirrel and a couple of other friendly creatures who create a circle of friends.

This is a lovely story about friendship and belonging. As a rescuer of feral cats, I happen to know that inside every cat there’s a purr waiting to come out. How true for people too. The sweet message of friendship and kindness will resonate with children, young and old. Beautiful illustrations and perfect for preschoolers.

*****

Nightmareland by Dan Alatorre (Editor)

Robbie Cheadle, Ellen Best, Kaye Booth, Betty Valentine, Alana Turner, Christine Valentor, more…

I haven’t read a horror anthology before, and with Halloween right around the corner, I thought I give this one a try. With 23 stories from 14 authors, I was bound to find something I enjoyed. I wasn’t disappointed.

The anthology offers a variety of stories from witches and hauntings to madness and murder. Monsters come in all shapes and sizes, including human ones, and to me, those were the most frightening tales of all. “My Scared” was such a tale and my favorite in the collection. The variety of authors ensures a range of narrative voices and writing styles that I thoroughly enjoyed. A great read for anyone who enjoys suspense, thrills, spooky tales, and a few bone-chillers.

*****

Magical Whispers by Balroop Singh

I’ve read a few of Singh’s poetry collections, and this one is my favorite. Each poem is a gem, and though this isn’t a long book, it’s worth taking a few leisurely days or weeks to savor.

The 73 poems are divided into two sections: Magical Whispers and Whispers of Life. The poems in Magical Whispers have a strong focus on Nature—the mysteries, solace, and magical connections the author has to Mother Earth. A few of my favorite poems are Dawn Whispers, Magic of Senses, and A Moon Fairy.

Whispers of Life is broader in scope, touching on love, growth, longing, memories, and other facets of human life. Though personal to the author, the poems are relatable and insightful. My favorites in this section are My Words, Only Memories are Mine, and Muted by Time. Highly recommended.

*****

Happy Reading!

August Book Reviews

Only four this month! I’ve been slacking.

Actually, I’ve been super busy preparing for my launch and then dropping into bed at night, too tired to read.

This month, my offering of  4 and 5 star reviews includes fantasy, sci-fi, and a children’s book that my 7-year-old grandson reviewed. I hope you enjoy the browse.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Coyote Summer by Laura Koerber

I really, really enjoyed this book. The story starts with a “boys will be boys” rape of a very drunk teenager at a party. The main character, Ben, doesn’t participate, but he also doesn’t take strong action. This story is about his loss of innocence as he grapples with his guilt and the disheartening cultural biases, including within his own family, that force the victim into silence and give the perpetrators a break.

The story, the attitudes, and the choices of all the characters felt authentic to me. I related deeply to Ben as his rosy, privileged world dimmed, and he was forced to grow up and consider his values and actions, to decide what kind of person he wanted to be. Though his situation was unique, the loss of innocence and the rite of passage into adulthood felt universal. He’s a great character that I liked a lot.

There is a paranormal thread to the story that complements the main one. I wasn’t sure the paranormal aspects were necessary, but they didn’t detract, and I appreciated Ben’s relationship with the young woman Puppy and how healing and defining that was for him. All of the characters were beautifully written. The pace is perfect, and the story moves along without a hitch. The ending felt important. Highly recommended.

*****

Serang by C. S. Boyack

This is my first read from Boyack that wasn’t a madcap paranormal adventure, and I enjoyed the seriousness of this story. It’s described as an origin story about Serang who has a role in the Lanternfish books (which I haven’t read yet). I think that description is exactly right.

The story begins when Serang is 6 years old and progresses through her teens. As a child, she’s abandoned at a temple by her mother. The monastery becomes her home, its residents her family, until the Emperor has the monks killed. On the run, Serang finds a new master who continues her training as the two of them travel across the harsh land.

The characters are wonderfully 3-dimensional, and I enjoyed the way their relationship developed. The worldbuilding is exquisite. After I finished reading, I learned that the tale is a fantasy, and I laughed because I had assumed that the setting was a real place.

The plot consists of the journey as well as Serang’s training and mastery. As an origin story there’s no giant climatic conclusion, but there is a satisfying ending to the intriguing tale. The pace is steady overall with moments of exciting action. I recommend this book as a companion read/prequel to the Lanternfish books, which I’ll be reading soon.

*****

Aftermath (Book 2 of the Shard Chronicles) by Ono Northey

Aftermath is the second book in the Shard Chronicles series. Any book that’s over 600 pages makes me a little squirrelly, but I enjoyed the first book in the series and dove in.

The main strength of both books is the wonderful characterization. Steve is an awesome protagonist and tough as nails. In this book, we get to know the bad guys who were rather nebulous in the first installment. These mages are so powerful that they almost don’t know how to function in the real world and the situations can get funny as well as outrageously weird. They also kill and destroy indiscriminately without the slighted idea that this might be wrong.

The writing is exceptional. Northey has a wonderful grasp of language, description, action, and dialog. It’s hard not to be impressed. The world-building is also outstanding. It’s broad and deep, and comes off as real science and psychology… and after reading, I almost believe that magic exists. Overall, I enjoy the long discussions of the power of perception and mind over matter, though some readers may find this too labored.

And that gets me to the challenge with this book. I think it suffers from a second book slump. As wonderfully as its written, there’s a long long stretch (about half of the book) where the plot stalls. Several characters from book 1 disappear while Steve trains his mind and the mages prepare for conflict within their ranks. The action is great when it happens, but much of this book seems like preparation for the third book. That’s a lot of preparation.

This is a hard book to rate. I love the writing and characters and didn’t skim any of the 600+ pages. But the lack of movement in the plot and long delivery were a disappointment. I’m going in the middle with four stars and a warning to readers that the “action” in this book is conceptual more than physical.

*****

Brody Cody and the Stepmother from Outer Space by Toni Pike

I purchased this book for my grandson, and this is what he said about it:

I liked this book. It’s about this boy, Brody Cody, whose mom died. He and his dad live together and Brody doesn’t have very many rules. Then his dad goes away and comes back with a new mom. Brody doesn’t like her because she has rules, like eat vegetables and do chores. He thinks she’s an alien. The best part is when he thinks he sees the spaceship. I liked Brody, and he found out having a mom was pretty good. I read the whole book. There aren’t pictures, but it was good.

*****

Happy Reading!

A teen writer publishes against all odds

For her high school senior project, Kendra Stefan wanted to write, illustrate, and publish a children’s book, and I agreed to mentor her through the project. As writers out there know, a book is a lot of work. For Kendra, the challenge was over the top. She was suffering from heart failure.

We got an early start, working on the book between her other studies, her numerous doctor’s appointments, and rising fatigue. As we got her story down, her condition declined and her position on the waiting list for a donor moved up.

When the story was essentially done, but the illustrations just started, Kendra got the call. In July, she received her new heart.

Kendra’s work on the book continued while she recovered in the hospital – between rehab sessions, medication adjustments, and the hard and painful work of building up her strength.

When she was released for visits home, we worked on the book. Still unable to return to school, we inserted the artwork. Between her follow-up doctors’ appointments, we formatted. Between her naps, we uploaded and worked through the myriad of glitches that plague even seasoned authors.

And then Kendra hit PUBLISH. Jackie Moves to Bunsvill is live in print and ebook.

She’s running a sale today and tomorrow – the ebook available at the low price of $.99.

If you feel like giving this young writer a big smile, click this global link:

Amazon ebook or Amazon paperback.

Now back to Kendra. She was kind enough to do a mini-interview with me.
**

Hi Kendra, so you hit the publish button on your first book! How does it feel?
It showed me that I really did write a book. I was so surprised that I actually wrote a book! It was an adrenaline rush.

 

 

What did you enjoy most about writing a children’s book?
I think the thing I enjoyed most was drawing the characters for the first time and coming up with their personalities and how all of those different personalities would mesh together. It gave me so much creative freedom… there was no limit.

What did you like least?
Working with [the formatting program] and fixing grammatical errors. Just because it was so tedious and time-consuming. Diana and I spent three hours just to fix two words.

 

 

Was there anything that surprised you about the process?
Yes. There was a lot that surprised me. I never knew it would take so much time and so many computer programs. I was surprised by how easily I would make mistakes.

What might you do differently next time besides not having a heart transplant in the middle of the process?
I would work more at lining up dates and setting up plans to do readings instead of doing it at the last minute.

 

 

Any advice for other young authors?
As soon as words start flowing through your head, write it down because you can always organize those ideas into stories.

Any other books in your future?
I think so, but I don’t know when. I think that my books in the future will be more targeted towards teenagers and adults.

**

 

 

Thanks to everyone for stopping by to learn about Kendra’s journey and her book! I was so honored to play a small part.

Now get busy writing!