June Book Reviews (Part Two)

More book reviews for the month of June, as promised. I suspect July will be quieter (famous last words). I hope you find a great read for the beach or hammock, or for those readers in the thick of winter, a story to warm you by the fire.

Below are reviews for this month’s 4 and 5-star reads including fantasy, YA fantasy, women’s fiction, romance, historical fiction, and a 10-author collaborative suspense novel.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

Can I find the words to say how much I enjoyed this magical fantasy series? Probably not. This is Book 3 of the Winternight Trilogy, and it’s easy to see why it’s a best seller. The trilogy is a retelling of a Russian (Ukrainian) folk tale, and I loved the lore and mythology, the old-world beliefs in the unseen spirits of land and rivers, dooryards and kitchens.

The invisible world is alive, but fading in the face of Christianity. Vasya embraces her identity as a witch as well as her ability to cross into the mysterious and dangerous spirit world. As war looms, Vasya is determined to save the old gods, her family, and the country that tried to kill her. Her sacrifices and courage are gripping, and there are some terrifying and heart-wrenching scenes in this book. I found it almost impossible to put down.

On top of that, the writing is exquisite with beautiful metaphors and descriptions. For readers who love lyrical storytelling, the book is mesmerizing. Characters are deeply drawn, straight from lore and legend, and the relationships are fraught with loyalty, loathing, cruelty, and love. At its heart, this is a love story, but nothing is straightforward and simple in this series. Highly recommended to fantasy readers, especially those who enjoy fairytale retellings, magic, lore, mythology, stupendous characters, a gripping tale, and beautiful writing.

*****

Bits of Broken Glass by Martha Reynolds

A twenty-fifth high school reunion is being planned for six months in the future, and for four characters it becomes an opportunity to think back on how those important years shaped them. For Kellie and Joe it stirs up old trauma. For Cherry, it’s an opportunity to make amends, and for Scott it’s an opportunity missed.

The actual reunion takes place in the last chapter, so the book is really about the lead-up to that event. Each character has a separate POV narrative, which begins to intersect with other characters as the day draws near. I enjoyed the way the author slowly revealed each character’s memories as well as how their lives had progressed. The healing that takes place was cathartic and touching. To me, it seemed that karma was in play, and that kindness bred kindness, as well as the other way around.

The characters were beautifully crafted, their actions and choices realistic and their emotions full of depth. Secondary characters had the same three-dimensional feel. The story unfolds in third-person with a little first-person mixed in. The pace was excellent, and I read the book in two days since it caught me and wouldn’t let go. Recommended to readers who enjoy women’s fiction, and stories about personal growth and rising above old hurts. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Between the Vines by Staci Troilo

Elena is a wedding planner who doesn’t trust love. In fact, she’s downright cynical. Aaron, a local cop, has been cheated on in his past, and he’s sworn off love. But his sister’s wedding brings him face to face with Elena and neither of them know how to handle the attraction. Then Heather, Aaron’s cheating ex-girlfriend and a woman you love to hate, enters the scene and pins a target on Elena’s back.

I read this short romance in a couple of hours. The third of the Keystone Couples novellas, the book has fun cameos from the first two but can easily be read as a stand-alone. The pace moves along quickly with plenty of cross-communication, fiery ladies, and a cop who’s not sure how to handle any of it. There are also some very tender testaments to love, and a huge dollop of kindness. An entertaining quick read highly recommended to romance fans. (Kindle Unlimited)

*****

Jealousy of a Viking by V. M. Sang

This historical fiction takes place around the year 860 AD when Danes and Saxons were occupying Britain. Helgha is a young woman who falls in love with Erik, a man above her status. With marriage out of the question, Erik kills her father and sweeps Helgha away to become his bed slave. In love with him, Helgha complies and bears him two sons. And when Erik weds someone of his own class, Helgha begins a devious journey of sabotaging his wife’s pregnancies. Her actions set off a cascade of tragedies.

I’m happy to say that, though jealousy and wicked thoughts follow her for most of the book, Helgha has an arc that allows her to mature and find redemption. She’s a deeply drawn character, and when she finds her heart and inner strength, it’s refreshing. As she matured and became a kinder person, I connected more with her than I did in the beginning. I didn’t like either of the men she loved (due to their treatment of women), but they did feel realistic.

At the end of the book, the author shares some of her research regarding historical events, as well as some cultural details (both researched and speculated). The book focuses on the role of women as the bearers of sons. True to life at the time, the trials of pregnancy, birth, and miscarriage occur frequently within the read, but there’s also lots of action and danger that kept me flipping the pages.

A sub-plot of Helgha’s shifting religious beliefs is exceptionally done and felt quite authentic. The pace moved at a good clip, and I found excuses to keep reading. Recommended for readers who enjoy historical fiction, especially regarding Vikings in Britain.

*****

Altitudinis: Seekers, Sinners & Secrets: A Collaborative Novel

Altitudinis is a serum under development that promises exceptional endurance at high altitudes. It will benefit India’s military as well as its businesses whose employees work in the mountains. But it hasn’t been tested on humans, and unwitting adventurers are targeted for trials. And there are unscrupulous thieves who would like to steal the research and sell it as their own.

Those are only two plot threads that run through this suspense/romance/family drama written by ten authors. The complexity of such a writing collaboration intrigued me, and it may be one reason why there was so much going on in the book with the plots and subplots. Overall, it was surprisingly cohesive and consistent, as if written by one author. That’s quite a feat.

The pace moves quickly. One of the challenges with so much plot-related action, as well as the number of main characters, is that there wasn’t much time to get deeply into the characters’ psyches, emotions, or backstories. Nikhil and Nirali were the exceptions with some time given to their relationship and romance. Because I got to know them personally, they were my favorites.

With the addition of an omniscient POV, this book struck me as a broad versus deep story. Readers looking for a character-driven book may find themselves wanting more depth and focus, but readers who enjoy action-driven stories that don’t get bogged down in messy emotions, description, and backstory, may have found just the thing to fill an afternoon of reading. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Golden Healer by M. J. Mallon

I read the first book in this series years ago, but the story came back to me quickly. Amelina continues her journey to understand her magical abilities and the power of the crystals while at the same time she navigates her teen years with her friends and family. I definitely recommend that readers start with book one to orient themselves to this world and the characters.

This book isn’t an easy read, and it wasn’t surprising to me that each chapter is titled a “Puzzle.” The writing is beautiful and rich with description, but much of it takes place in the spirit world through visions and dreams. There are helpers and kind spirits as well as dark shadow demons. Shadows take shape in multiple forms, the primary one being Ryder, who manipulates the world in both real life and dream life.

The main conflict seems to be between the forces of good and evil as they meet in different situations. The author’s world-building is often dazzling, and occasionally I lost track of the plot in all the beautiful visuals and fascinating scenes. My attention remained rapt, but the result was a slow pace.

The primary narrator is Amelina, but her father and friends share the POV. The story unfolds in first person, third person, and omniscient. The action in the book is well described as are the intense emotions of the characters. Readers who enjoy vivid dreamlike worlds, metaphysical and new age spirituality, and coming-of-age stories may find just the thing within these magical pages.

*****

Happy Reading!

Interview with Yvette at Priorhouse

Yvette Prior at Priorhouse kindly offered me a chance to do a mini-interview on her blog. Of course, I snapped it up, and it’s live today. If you have a chance, stop by to say hi. See you there.

***

Hello Readers,

Today I am sharing “TEN Questions with an Author” featuring D Wallace Peach.

📚

Some long-time followers of this blog might know that I startsd the Priorhouse Interview series back in 2015-2016Ish – and managed to do a handful of interviews (mostly yoga teachers) and then in 2021, I decided to put more of a focus on it (thanks in part to Marsha  @alwayswrite).
Also, to get momentum, I scheduled monthly interviews ahead of time (and next month – July 2022- we have author Robbie Cheadle – here – so hope to see you back for that).

Another thing that helped the interview series was doing some unplanned interviews that unfolded on their own- like with  Paul Lucas from the Mariner’s Museum (here) and like this mini interview today.

D Wallace Peach, DWP,  has a new book coming out in August and that was one of the reasons for this mini interview post.  I also had a blog insight for authors and wanted to share that as well (see #5)

#1

Can you tell us about the new book being released in August 2022? And thanks for doing this interview here at Priorhouse.

DWP:

Thanks for having me over for a mini-interview!  And thanks for the fun questions with a chance to jump up and down about a new book!

(Continue to Priorhouse Blog)

April Book Reviews

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

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

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Hope by Terry Tyler

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

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

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

*****

Dreams Lie Beneath by Rebecca Ross

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

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

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

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

*****

Mateo’s Blood Brother by Sandra Cox

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

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

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

*****

Hues of Hope, Selected Poetry by Balroop Singh

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

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

Who Are You?

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

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

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

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

*****

Spirit of the Shell Man by Chris Hall

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

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

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

*****

Happy Reading!

Dare to Choose #TankaTuesday

Pixabay image by Pretty Sleepy

Dare to Choose

clockwork

doorways beckon

gears and pistons fastened

we seek a master’s silver key

to click

 

unlock

we brave of heart

silence snaps with a snick

cogs whir and teeth weave as hands tick

time twirls

 

in loops

knobs thump, rings spin

through creamy clouds of steam

oil and grease, wheels whirl, and rust flakes

doors break

 

open

to infinite

portals, countless choices

through keyholes we peek before doors 

creak closed

 

defy

the gyrations

clockwork machinations

we wield the ancient key and dare

to choose

***

I had the pleasure of choosing the image for February’s Ekphrastic prompt, and then struggled mightily to write for it! This poem is a Crown Cinquain, five stanzas, each with syllable count of 2/4/6/8/2.

The weekly #TankaTuesday syllabic poetry challenge is the brainstorm of Colleen at Wordcraft Poetry. Think about joining in. It’s great fun.

A Creative Review or what!

One of Resa’s drawing of Madlyn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Resa.

January Book Reviews

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

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

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The South Tower by Alex Canna

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

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

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

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

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

*****

Through the Cracks by Sheri J. Kennedy

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

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

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

*****

The Hay Bale by Priscilla Bettis

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

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

*****

The Prince’s Heir by Deborah Jay

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

*****

The Rebel’s Redemption by Jacquie Biggar

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

Rage by Sue Rovens

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

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

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

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

*****

Dead of Winter: Journey 10 by Teagan Riordan Geneviene

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

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

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

*****

Dead of Winter: Journey 11 by Teagan Riordan Geneviene

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

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

*****

Happy Reading!

A Readers’ 12-Step Program #TBR

Thanks to everyone who took the time to write and read responses to the TBR story challenge. I’m delighted to share my offering. I hope you enjoy the story. Happy Reading!

Readers Anonymous: A 12-Step Program

I have a book problem. Check. First step done in my 12-step program.

Sucking in a breath, I push through the library’s wooden doors, ready to deal with my kindle addiction. The fluorescent lights shine on colorful shelves and comfy chairs, and I resist the temptation to browse. Some of the titles pop from the spines as if sprinkled with magic dust. The covers of fantasy books attract my eyes like lodestones. Down by my ankle, my Kindle tugs on my jeans and whispers, “Just read the blurb. Do it, do it, do it.”

I drop my gaze to the chubby little pest and shake my pant-leg loose of its grip. “No. We’re here to deal with your insatiable appetite. This has to stop.” My stubborn kindle digs his claws into my right boot, and I march to the meeting room in the back, dragging him across the worn carpet with every other step.

The room is almost bare of distractions. Someone with foresight covered the bookshelves with mismatched tablecloths. Four folding chairs form a circle, occupied by four women with a variety of e-book readers, every one of the devices glowering in defiance. The women look harried, and they scooch over to make room for one more chair.

They start introducing themselves.

Shelley smiles broadly and goes first. She’s in her twenties, a sales rep, who knew she had a problem when she started reading thrillers while stopped at traffic lights. Getting rear-ended propelled her into the group. She thinks she’ll be ready to move on after a few more meetings, but her e-reader squirms on her lap like a hungry toddler in a candy store, ready to raid the chocolate bars.

The woman to Shelley’s left rolls her eyes. She’s Mildred, a middle-aged reader of horror and a voracious fan of Clive Barker and Stephen King. She keeps her pudgy Kindle on a leash, which she’s tied to her chair. The growling beast has finished off a jar of red herrings, and Mildred ignores the thing as it shreds the corner of the carpet with its serrated teeth. “I keep him in a locked cage at home,” she says as if she’s kicked the habit.

“But, dear, you haven’t removed his internet access,” the next lady points out. “He’s sneaking anthologies.” Harriet is about ninety, sitting primly in a black coat and lace-up boots. The flattened hat on her gray head sports a flurry of raven feathers. She’s a life-long reader of Gothic romances.

When it’s Harriet’s time to fess up, she sighs dramatically. “My switch from hardcovers to paperbacks initiated an inevitable slide down the slippery slope into ebooks, and I’ve become addicted to having books at my fingertips.” Her kindle swoons into her leg and bats its eyelashes seductively. She frowns and locks the things between her heels.

“I like the instant gratification too,” I admit. “As soon as I finish a book, I like starting a new one.”              

The next lady in the circle pats my knee and snaps her gum. “We all do, dear. I’m Greta. I’m a sci-fi binger.” She dresses like she’s going to a dance club the minute the meeting adjourns. She crosses her legs, and her spikey heel whacks her battered tablet flat onto its cover. She scoops up the pot-bellied blimp and sits it on her lap. “I put the thing on a diet. You know… buy one, read two.”

The other women nod knowingly, including me.

“Then, I’ll have one of those days. You know the kind.” Greta huffs. “We just fall off the wagon and start buying trilogies, and suddenly I’ve lost months of progress.”

Mildred rolls her eyes. “I told you not to sign up for Kindle Unlimited.”

“But it’s such a good deal,” Shelley pipes in. Her e-reader squirms from her lap and waddles to the door leading to the stacks. He collapses and starts wailing.

“And that’s what you end up with.” Mildred cants her head toward the tantrum.

“Try to ignore him,” Shelley whispers.

His misery is hard to overlook, but it’s my turn. “Well, I’m Diana, and I’ve noticed that my kindle is growing a paunch. I know there are people with nearly a thousand books, and I’m not that bad yet…” All four of them suddenly look everywhere but at my face. “But I have months’ worth of reading that I’ll never get to, and it’s only getting worse.” My greedy little Kindle grumbles and snivels until I stuff it in my bag and close the zipper. “It doesn’t stop. It’s insatiable.”

“They lack restraint,” Harriet says. “Too much passion and desire.”

“Never a dull moment though.” Mildred gives the leash a tug, and her kindle gnashes its teeth. “Save it for when we get home,” she mutters, and it plops down on its haunches and glowers.

Greta unwraps another piece of gum and pops it between her scarlet lips. “I’ll admit, I can’t remember the last time I was bored. I just finished the best book, my favorite this year. I’d definitely recommend it.”

“Oooh,” Shelly hurries to the door and grabs her e-reader. It quits hollering and gurgles at her. “What’s the title?”

“Shelly!” Mildred frowns. “No new books!”

Shelly stops short and pouts as she takes her seat. “But… it’s Greta’s favorite.”

“I read an excellent romance mash-up by an indie author.” Harriet’s face lights up. “It had the perfect blend of thrills and lust.”

“Gah!” Shelley looks stricken. Her e-reader drools on her hands.

I give her a commiserating smile. I want to hear about the books too. Just the sound of a great title makes me want to snuggle up with my roly-poly Kindle and read. I unzip my bag and let the poor starving porker out. It climbs onto my lap, looking morose. The group sits silently for a moment, both ladies and e-readers. The steam’s run out of our meeting.

“I don’t know if this group is the right fit for me,” I say.

Shelley tucks her hair behind her ear. “It is kind of depressing.”

“There’s a degree of hopelessness.” Harriet’s lips pinch as the brightness in her face dims.

Greta gazes down at her tablet. “I never liked book-diets. They’re just fads. They never work.”

Mildred draws in a resigned breath, and her gaze pins me to my chair. “Do you have any ideas as to how we can make our group function better?”

“Actually, I do.” I smile at the ladies. “How about we turn it into a book club?”

October Book Reviews

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

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

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

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Things Old and Forgotten by Mae Clair

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

Some of my favorites were:

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

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

*****

Fallout by Harmony Kent

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

*****

Fable (Fable book 1) by Adrienne Young

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

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

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

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

*****

Namesake (Fable book 2) by Adrienne Young

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

Moon’s Magic
By D. L. Finn

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

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

*****

Breathless: A Short Story by Yvette M. Calleiro

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

*****

Happy Reading!

September Book Reviews

September flew by, didn’t it?

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

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

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

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

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

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

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

The Teacher

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

*****

The Prince’s Protege by Deborah Jay

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

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

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

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

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

*****

Tumblestar by Sandra Cox

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

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

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

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

*****

Grief Songs: Poems of Love and Remembrance by Elizabeth Gauffreau

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

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

Clam Bake

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

Sixty Years of Katharine

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

*****

Blackened Rose by Cage Dunn

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

*****

Woman: Splendor and Sorrow: Love Poems and Poetic Prose

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

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

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

Excerpt from The Moon and I:

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

Happy Reading!

August Book Reviews: Part 2

Part 2 of a busy month of reading!

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

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

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

Feasting Upon The Bones by Suzanne Craig-Whytock

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

Perspective (tanka)

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

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

Trust (tanka)

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

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

*****

In the Best Interest of the Child by Felicia Denise

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

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

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

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

*****

1NG4: A Long Short Story by Berthold Gambrel

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

*****

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

Hair Peace by Dawn Doig

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

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

*****

And So, Ahmed Hears by Dawn Doig

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

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

*****

Wadee and the Worry Wakes by Dawn Doig

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

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

*****

Happy Reading!