September Book Reviews

September flew by, didn’t it?

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

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

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

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

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

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

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

The Teacher

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

*****

The Prince’s Protege by Deborah Jay

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

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

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

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

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

*****

Tumblestar by Sandra Cox

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

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

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

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

*****

Grief Songs: Poems of Love and Remembrance by Elizabeth Gauffreau

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

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

Clam Bake

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

Sixty Years of Katharine

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

*****

Blackened Rose by Cage Dunn

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

*****

Woman: Splendor and Sorrow: Love Poems and Poetic Prose

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

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

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

Excerpt from The Moon and I:

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

Happy Reading!

August Book Reviews: Part 2

Part 2 of a busy month of reading!

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

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

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

Feasting Upon The Bones by Suzanne Craig-Whytock

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

Perspective (tanka)

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

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

Trust (tanka)

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

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

*****

In the Best Interest of the Child by Felicia Denise

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

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

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

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

*****

1NG4: A Long Short Story by Berthold Gambrel

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

*****

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

Hair Peace by Dawn Doig

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

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

*****

And So, Ahmed Hears by Dawn Doig

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

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

*****

Wadee and the Worry Wakes by Dawn Doig

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

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

*****

Happy Reading!

August Book Reviews: Part 1

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

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

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

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

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

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

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

A Toast to Life

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

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

*****

Oskar’s Quest by Annika Perry

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

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

*****

Out of Time by Jaye Marie

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

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

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

*****

The Scarlet Ribbon by Anita Dawes

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

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

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

*****

Operation Outfect by Alex Canna

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

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

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

*****

Song of the Sea Goddess by Chris Hall

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

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

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

*****

Jonah by Jan Sikes

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

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

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

*****

Happy Reading!

My Bookbub experience and a few tips

Phew. What an experience. Talk about pins and needles.

I ran my first Bookbub promo on May 15th and wanted to share a bit of my newbie experience — what I learned, and what I might do differently next time.

First of all, I dove into this effort after reading a detailed post by Deborah Jay (author’s of The Prince’s Man – an excellent fantasy series, I might add). Deborah provided wonderful guidance regarding her strategy as well as a look at her results.

I wasn’t as financially successful as Deborah, but I did turn a profit. Two months after the promotion, my sales are still above pre-promo levels. I’m happy with that.

I also hit #1 Bestseller in a number of categories including Epic Fantasy, ahead of Sarah Maas (and her 22K reviews) for a day! And ranked #24 in the Fantasy genre over all. That little “Best Seller” banner was a giddy high while it lasted.

Some things I learned:

Make your book available through multiple retailers.

Some authors say this doesn’t matter, but I had tried to snag a Bookbub promo a number of times in the past and was always turned down. My books were exclusive to Amazon, a requirement of Kindle-Unlimited. This worked great for lazy old me, but from my perspective, it seemed to be a problem when it came to Bookbub.

I took seven books off KU, including the series I wanted to promote, and three other books that were languishing on Amazon anyway. I had to wait for the KU contracts to expire which can take up to 3 months, so I did this step first.

When the KU contracts expired, I published all seven books on multiple platforms: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, and Googleplay. I didn’t realize that Smashwords publishes (on your behalf) on Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Apple. So I did more work than I needed to. But live and learn. Smashwords and Googleplay would have done the trick.

A special note here: Bookbub knows what they’re doing. If the book had only been available on Amazon, I would NOT have made my investment back. For me, the multiple platforms were essential to pushing up the sales.

Pricing

I went with the $.99 promotion, dropping my retail price from $2.99. I’ve heard that the bigger the drop, the bigger the incentive to buy from a reader’s perspective. I have no idea whether my price deal was significant enough to cinch a purchase if someone was on the fence, but there you go.

I dropped my prices a week ahead of the promotion on all sites. I didn’t know how long it would take for all retailers to make the adjustment and didn’t want a hiccup. This also enabled me to do some pre-Bookbub promotions to give the book a bit of a boost in rankings.

Be sure to check ahead and make sure the prices changed. This should be a no-brainer. But… I set up Googleplay to drop automatically and it didn’t! I discovered it the day after the promotion and lowered it then. UGH!

Pre-Bookbub Promos

The Bookbub promotion is expensive – $705 expensive. I used the family’s vacation funds, hoping, HOPING, that I’d be able to replace them. Phew. I also ran $100 in pre-promotions with various sites to build momentum and improve the book’s Amazon ranking. I went with 12 sites, about half of them free with no guarantees.

(There isn’t time to book some of the better promotion sites, so act fast before slots fill).

Basically this was a bust. I sold about 12 books this way with a revenue of $4. Next time, I’ll go with more free sites. Authors who use multiple platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) may do a lot better than I did.

First in a Series

Catling’s Bane is the first in a (4-book) series, and this was key, for me, in making the promotion a success. Sales of the other three books in the series topped 125 in the first week after the promotion, and they continue to sell across the retail platforms. I would not have broken even without them. If you’re thinking about giving Bookbub a try, I recommend going with the first book in a completed series (unless you’re last name is Rowling or Clancy).

Reviews

One question that Bookbub wants answered when considering your book, is how many reviews you have (and your average). I had 66 at the time of submitting, and apparently, this was enough. (I’ve hear that books with fewer are accepted too.) Getting reviews is no easy task! I’ve recommended Goodreads Reading Rounds before, and still believe it’s a great tool. The reviews are Amazon approved. Here’s a link to a post that explains more about them: Goodreads Reading Rounds.

Post-promotion reviews are coming in from Bookbub readers. Yay for Bookbub Readers! Not many of them are text reviews, but even those star-only reviews add up.

A Few Other Things of Note:

US or International or Both:

Bookbub offers a choice in promotion markets. It’s more expensive to go global, but I’m glad I elected this option and was accepted. I had sufficient sales both domestically and internationally to cover the combined cost. I would go this way again if I have a choice.

Reporting lag times:

Don’t panic if a week has gone by and your numbers are giving you heart murmurs. Retailers report at varying times! Apple, for example only reports at the end of the month, so if you run a promo at the start of the month, it will be a while before you have the slightest inkling how you did there. It took me almost two weeks to know that my family vacation was back on again.

Payment lag times:

This takes months, so don’t panic. My promotion was mid-May which Amazon will pay at the end of July. The other retailers take just as long.

Bookbub writes the blurb:

I didn’t know that Bookbub would be writing the blurb for my promo. A bit scary to say the least. They did a good job, but it wasn’t what I would have done (or did). My eyeballs fell out of my face. Just be prepared.

Cover:

This goes without saying. A professional cover is essential. Your promotion is competing with others in your genre.

Quality:

This also goes without saying. A Bookbub promotion is a big investment, and you not only want to snag a bunch of sales, but you want the readers to pick up more of your work. I made another editing pass through the series (and corrected a score of typos) in the weeks before the promotion. I was glad I did.

Was it worth it?

It appears so. I was a wreck, but ultimately Bookbub did what it says can do – provide a return on the investment, sell books, increase sales over time, improve ranking, and generate reviews. No guarantees, of course, but this seems to be a consistent outcome. Would I do it again? Yes.

May Book Reviews

Summer is Coming (or Winter)! Time for some reading!

Summer is always a busy time of year here in the Pacific Northwest. The rain stops and we all spill outside. My husband and I named our deck “vacation.” So every afternoon we go outside on “vacation” to read.

May book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of a lot of poetry, two installments of a serial fantasy, a fallen angel fantasy, a thriller, and a prequel to a new mystery. I hope you enjoy them.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Word Craft: Prose & Poetry: The Art of Crafting Syllabic Poetry by Colleen Chesebro

This book is a must-have for writers of syllabic poetry. Chesebro has the experience and credentials to have crafted this easy to follow and detailed look at twelve forms of Japanese and American syllabic poetry, as well as their variations. Styles range from the well-known haiku and tanka to the less familiar gogyohka and etheree. Though written for poets beginning their exploration of these beautiful forms, I learned quite a lot (and I’ve been writing several of the forms for years).

Chesebro’s explanations not only include the technical aspects of each poetic form, but a quick history, the style’s creative intent, and tips for finding inspiration and writing. These aspects of each poetic form are conveyed in a concise manner, and each section is followed by examples of her poetry and the poetry of authors I’ve enjoyed for years. The poems not only illustrate the preceding lesson but are beautiful in their own right.

The quality of this book and its citations make it useful as a “text book” on the craft of writing syllabic poetry, appropriate for academic settings. Chesebro’s conversational style, easy to understand explanations, and poetic selections also make it accessible to a wide range of learners. The book’s format lends itself to lesson-planning for young poets.

Highly recommended to poets who are just starting out or who’ve been writing for years. An excellent learning tool filled with wonderful examples of the forms.

*****

The Vanished Boy by Harmony Kent

 I read this book in two sittings. I even listened to it on my phone while working out to Jane Fonda. I couldn’t put it down. What parent hasn’t had those moments of panic when a child doesn’t call, or shows up late, or wanders off? For Carole, that scare becomes a nightmare as her son Jayden vanishes without a trace.

The first 75% of the book follows Carole as she desperately seeks clues. I was riveted to her every move, including the realistic struggle of tracking her son through social media, with all the unhelpful information and hurtful comments that come with it. The author did a great job with Carole’s navigation through the technical aspects. Her resourcefulness felt authentic as did her unraveling of the clues—even as she’s emotionally falling apart.

The story is told in Carole’s tight pov until the last quarter of the book when several other characters share their experiences in their own points of view and in varying formats: flashback-style narratives, diary entries, and an interview. This is where the details of the events surrounding Jayden’s disappearance come to life. I would have liked the story to continue with Carole, but the pov of the perpetrator was worth the diversion.

The pacing is desperate until the wrap up at the end. The plot holds together well, and there are some surprises that I didn’t see coming. A great read for fans of fast-paced thrillers.

*****

Crossroads (Winds of Love): Poetry and Prose, by Jude Kirya Itakali

I enjoyed Jude Itakali’s debut poetry book. This is no ordinary collection of poems about love. Instead, Itakali’s poems tell a story about the journey of love, beginning with a prologue and progressing through three Parts. Part 1: Longing and searching. Part 2: Intimacy and Lust, and Heartbreak and its horrors, and Part 3: The other side of love, and New beginnings. The structure intrigued me as well as how he describes some of the poetry as short stories. The styles range from rhyming sonnets to free form verse to a number of syllabic forms including haiku, tanka, senryu, and nonet.

Personally, I agree that love is a journey with parts (or stages), and it was interesting to see the poems divided this way, as well as to follow the emotional journey with the author. A favorite from the section on longing:

Hope

Sing me to sleep
Nightingale of sorrow
Soothe my lonely heart
Cool breeze of twilight
Let the robin trill in the dawn
And bring my soul hope
Let the first rays of sunrise
Beam upon the One
With whom I’ll spend, my last days.

*****

Son of the Serpent (Fantasy Angels Book 2) by Vashti Quiroz-Vega

Son of the Serpent is Book 2 of the Fantasy Angels series, and the story of the fallen angels shifts from Lilith, the instigator behind the angels’ banishment, to Dracul, the son she bore on Earth with Satan. Where Book 1 includes a large cast of pov characters, I enjoyed the narrower focus on Dracul. That said, if you enjoyed Lilith in the first book, she’s still in the picture and has some chapters of her own.

Dracul’s goal in the story is to find his mother, learn why she tried to murder him, and then kill her. Lilith’s goal is to find her perfect mate and rule a world corrupted by her evil. While she’s the epitome of despicable, Dracul is nuanced. Despite his propensity to drink blood and murder, he is full of regret and turmoil and desires redemption and love. I enjoyed the inner conflict and his emotional volatility.

The author weaves the “quest” plot into encounters with biblical characters, places, and events including Noah and the flood, Lot, baby Moses, and Sodom and Gomorrah, to name a few. I’m not especially familiar with the bible, but I recognized elements of the stories, and followed easily. Like the bible, there is rape, evil, and plenty of graphic violence.

The writing and dialog seemed formal, which gave it an authentic biblical feel. I enjoyed that aspect, though the narrative style created a bit of distance from the characters. Pacing was good, and Dracul’s emotional rollercoaster was compelling. He’s a great character, and I look forward to more of his story as the focus shifts in Book 3 to the angel Gadreel.

Recommended to readers who enjoy biblical spin offs, fantasy, fallen angels, and stories of good versus evil.

*****

House of Sorrow: Legends of Madeira by Joan Hall

Ruth lives alone in an old Victorian home. For her whole life she hasn’t believed in luck of any sort. She’s not superstitious, but there are some coincidences that leave her wondering. House of Sorrow is a look at her life, the relationships she develops, her volunteer work, and the newsworthy events of the 1960s including the moon landing and the Kennedy assassinations. Despite gentle pressure from her concerned nephew to move into assisted living, Ruth refuses to sell her home, and only she knows why.

This novella reads at a steady pace. The plot unfolds subtly, and the reveal doesn’t come with a big splash. This story is a prequel to a series, and from that perspective, it works great to set the stage. The length of the read is perfect (about 66 pages, plus back matter which includes the first chapter in the continuing series).

The details of the time are well done as is the setting, and it’s easy to get a feel for the house, neighborhood, and town. I found the characters thoroughly believable and distinct, and the unfolding of Ruth’s life is relatable. There aren’t any villains beyond the mystery surrounding the house, and I would like to learn more about the letter she found in an old chest, a letter that changed her life. Recommended for readers of mysteries, especially as a prequel to the following series.

*****

Just Her Poetry Seasons of a Soul by D. L. Finn

Finn offers a generous supply of poetry to while away the hours. Part One of this collection focuses on the author’s love of nature and her peaceful moments of reflection when enjoying the world outside. It includes a number of selections based on motorcycle roadtrips through sunshine and beautiful scenery. Part Two is entitled Seasons of the Soul and focuses on a wide range of personal emotions from dark to light, including feelings of loss, anxiety, yearning, self-discovery, and love.

As a whole, the tone of the collection is positive with an emphasis on self-awareness, gratefulness, respect, and personal growth. A lovely book for readers who especially enjoy uncomplicated, sincere, and uplifting poetry. One of the author’s nature poems that I enjoyed:

Waves

The waves glide smoothly on top
Of the salty surface, proudly…
Blending against the azure
Until they merge together profoundly.

Their roar precedes them…
As they hit land—this is where it ends…
They are positive, but they are wrong…
That was only their birth, now the journey begins.

*****

Dead of Winter, Journey 4, The Old Road by Teagan Geneviene

I read journey 4 on the heels of 3. It was fun reading them back to back, though I’m becoming used to the installments and look forward to them each month. In this episode, the danger to Emlyn and the Deae Matras increases since the brethren haven’t given up the hunt. This installment gives the reader a deep look into Boabhan, a member with some remarkable abilities, and a familiar face joins the group.

The writing continues to engage me, and I like the increased action now that I have a good feel for most of the characters. They’re distinct and well rounded. The story moves along at a good pace with lovely descriptions and details about this world. I have no idea where it’s going, so I look forward to starting Journey 5.

*****

Dead of Winter, Journey 5, Llyn Pistyll Falls by Teagan Geneviene

I think this was my favorite installment of the Dead of Winter (serial) Journeys so far. The backstory of the characters and world is taking less text now that I’ve come to know them, and the pace of the story continues to pick up. The dead are starting to make their presence known, the Un’Nafians are still in pursuit of Emlyn, and she’s gradually revealing her unusual skill to the Deae Matras.

I especially enjoyed the beginning of this journey and the way Geneviene gave glimpses into a variety of random characters lives as the dead came calling. The ending is a huge cliffhanger, an effective one as I’m eager to know what happened! Readers interested in the story, should begin with the first journey. Recommended to fans of epic fantasy.

*****

Happy Reading!

Book Trailer: The Ferryman and the Sea Witch

I love making book trailers and this time tried to include more video along with my images. If this is too small, you can view a larger-sized version on YouTube.

I hope you enjoy the trailer for The Ferryman and the Sea Witch.

Now available for Preorder at $.99. Amazon Global link

Thank you to the blogging community for all your kind support of my work. If you pick this one up, I hope you enjoy it.

Tea Toast & Trivia Podcast Reading of Liars and Thieves

Once again, I’m visiting with Rebecca Budd over at Tea Toast & Trivia. This time I’m reading a couple of snippets from my book Liars and Thieves. The excerpts offer early glimpses into my three main characters: Alue, Talin, and Naj.

If you have a few minutes while washing dishes or cleaning the bathroom (or if you’re just hanging out on the hammock), feel free to stop by for a listen. I sound like I’m twelve years old. Ha ha.

And while you’re there, check out the other wonderful podcast interviews and readings on Rebecca’s sensational blog. There’s something there for everyone to love.

Happy Listening!

Click on the above image to head over to Tea Toast & Trivia

***

And for a little more shameless promotion…

Today is my Bookbub promo for Catling’s Bane. Wish me luck! And if you’re interested, the book is $.99 cents on Amazon (and elsewhere) for a few more days.

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Cover Reveal: The Ferryman and the Sea Witch

This post feels a little like a “what I did over summer vacation” essay from grammar school. During my blogging break, I tackled my to-do list, and near the top (after vacuuming up a year’s worth of dust) I finished up a book. It’s off for a final look before I slap it on Amazon and celebrate.

The Blurb

The merrow rule the sea. Slender creatures, fair of face, with silver scales and the graceful tails of angelfish. Caught in a Brid Clarion net, the daughter of the sea witch perishes in the sunlit air. Her fingers dangle above the swells.

The queen of the sea bares her sharp teeth and, in a fury of wind and waves, cleanses the brine of ships and men. But she spares a boy for his single act of kindness. Callum becomes the Ferryman, and until Brid Clarion pays its debt with royal blood, only his sails may cross the Deep.

Two warring nations, separated by the merrow’s trench, trade infant hostages in a commitment to peace. Now, the time has come for the heirs to return home. The Ferryman alone can undertake the exchange.

Yet, animosities are far from assuaged. While Brid Clarion’s islands bask in prosperity, Haf Killick, a floating city of derelict ships, rots and rusts and sinks into the reefs. Its ruler has other designs.

And the sea witch crafts dark bargains with all sides.

Callum is caught in the breach, with a long-held bargain of his own which, once discovered, will shatter this life.

And now for the cover:

Coming Soon!

(On my break, I also prepped for and landed a Bookbub promotion. Thanks to Deborah Jay for her informative post that inspired me to do the work. The notice from Bookbub set off a flurry of activity over the past two weeks as I reread all four books of the series to look for typos. It was frantic and exhausting, but I finished, and thank goodness I did the work – enough said about that!)

Now I’m back to blogging and working on a trailer for The Ferryman and the Sea Witch. Stay tuned!

April Book Reviews

Happy May! Time for some reading!

April was a month of catch up on my to-do list, which included resuming my Jane Fonda workouts from 1985 (before some of you were born!) That means I’m not reading on the treadmill anymore, but I still made time for some great books!

April book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of a western romance, a military romance, an afterlife time travel fantasy, a serial fantasy, and a horror anthology.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The Seal’s Temptation by Jacquie Biggar

Another awesome action/romance mash-up from Jacquie Biggar, and this one ranks toward the top of my favorites. After a disastrous mission and rescue, the seal team is taking a breather at the peaceful cattle ranch of Chief Seal Frank Stein. Maggie is among them, still suffering from the trauma of her time undercover with the Mexican cartel. While the attraction between Frank and Maggie heats up, all is not well at the ranch as cattle disappear and calves are slaughtered. Drug smugglers and a couple of escaped convicts are causing trouble, and the team can’t help but get involved.

What I loved about the book was the depth of the characters, the whole team. This isn’t a light romance with the usual tropes. No drama queens or kings in this read. These people have serious lives and histories. They’ve risked their lives for each other, and friendships and loyalties run deep. The relationships are grounded in multi-layered emotions, in the maturity that comes from age and from facing hardships together. Personalities are well developed, and there’s a strong sense of history. Maybe part of that is because…

This is Book 7 in the series, which probably wasn’t the best place to start. There are 6 books that provide a lot of backstory and relationship building before this one. The book did read well as a stand-alone, but that said, it makes sense to start at the beginning of the series, to get to know the characters and learn their stories chronologically. It took me a bit to catch on, but then I was hooked.

To be honest, I skimmed the few sex scenes, but I did fall for the romance and action and characters. The pace moves along quickly, and I enjoyed the skilled and well-edited writing. I may have to skip back to book one and start at the beginning. Highly recommended to readers who love a military romance mash-up.

*****

Gwen Slade, Bounty Hunter by Sandra Cox

Gwen is a female bounty hunter in the old west of Kansas, and she has a problem when Jordie Kidd saves her young brother. She’s grateful, but Jordie has a bounty on his head. He’s also handsome and a nice guy. Gwen and Jordie form a temporary alliance as they hunt down the Rondo brothers, a lucrative bounty that will solve a lot of problems for them both before they go their separate ways.

This western is half romance with many of the familiar conflicts and longings that romance readers love. It’s also half action and adventure as Gwen and Jordie meet up with the brothers one at a time and bring them to justice. Readers who enjoy gunfights, danger, and hard rides will find plenty to hang their hats on.

The pace is good and becomes even better as stakes increase near the end. The plot is straightforward, but there are a couple twists too that I didn’t see coming. I enjoyed all the characters. They were well-rounded with strengths and flaws, believable emotional lives and motivations. Gwen is tough, insistent that she can play in a man’s world, but she also must rely on Jordie despite her independent streak. Trust me, all kinds of sparks fly.

This book is well-edited and has something for readers of westerns, readers of romances, and readers of both! Highly recommended.

*****

Dead of Winter, Journey 3 by Teagan Geneviene

Journey 3 continues with the same mystery, action, and beautiful descriptions of the two previous episodes. Zasha seeks the golden runes belonging to the mysterious staff in her possession. Emlyn runs away from the religious zealots who are determined to put her on trial, and she encounters the strange silver man who has visited her dreams. Finally, she connects with the Deae Matras.

The first half of this journey is still introducing characters, building the backstory, and developing the world. The action takes off in the second half with Emlyn’s flight. Emlyn continues to be my favorite character and her ability to see into the world of the dead is intriguing. I loved the scene with the silver spirit/man. There is still a lot to learn about who he is and what Emlyn’s role will be, which makes me eager to read onward.

The pace is moderate during the first half and picks up significantly as the journey progresses. The details incorporated into the descriptions are well researched and many of them are vivid as well as beautifully written. Characters are distinct and have well-rounded personalities, especially the women. Readers who have gotten this far will likely be hooked. I’ve already started Journey 4 of the serial. Recommended for readers of epic fantasy.

*****

Eternal Road by John Howell

Samantha has been dead since childhood, and when James is killed in a car accident, Sam becomes his guide, tasked with leading him to his eternal home. Don’t count on deep religious overtones or run of the mill theories about the afterlife in this book. The story quickly becomes a fantasy time-traveling “road trip” where Sam and James participate in key historical events such as the shootout at OK Corral, the battle at the Alamo, and the invasion of Normandy, to name a few. They also travel two thousand years into the future.

For most of the book, the plot rambles from event to event while the ultimate goal of reaching James’ eternal home takes a “back seat.” The tangents are interesting and details seem well researched, though loosely connected to the overall goal. The debonair Devil has his hand in the mix, and the sexual relationship between Sam and James offers intermissions between the tenser time-traveling activities.

Both Sam and James are well-rounded characters. Their relationship feels genuine, and the dialog flows naturally. Because Sam and James are already spirits, they aren’t in any mortal danger and they experience little fear. Other emotions, like grief and sadness, play a small part until the end when some of the more satisfying and heartfelt aspects of the story take place. This isn’t a deep philosophical read, but if you’re looking for a jaunt through time with two companionable friends, this will do it. Recommended.

*****

Wings & Fire Anthology: an anthology

I seem to be reading a lot of horror short stories lately. This generous collection of 24 stories from 16 authors fits the bill. There’s a wide range of tales here from a realistic and utterly gruesome home invasion to evil magic and fantasy. There are vampires, werewolves, zombies and, monsters in the woods. Some stories are shocking, others are clever, and there’s even a laugh or two.

As true with most anthologies, I enjoyed some stories more than others, but all were well written and cleanly edited. My favorites are usually those tales that offer something highly clever or original. A few that I thoroughly enjoyed: An Unsolvable Problem or Not, Abraham’s Theory on the Paradigm of Choice, Mary, The Classics, and The Great Potoo. Recommended to readers who are seeking a variety of horror short stories.

*****

Happy Reading!

March Book Reviews

Happy April! Time for some reading!

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

Wish me luck.

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

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

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

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

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

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

*****

Acts of Convenience by Alex Craigie

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

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

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

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

*****

The Prince’s Son by Deborah Jay

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

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

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

*****

Midnight Haiku by Sue Vincent

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

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

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

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

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

*****

Minus One by Elizabeth Merry

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

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

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

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

*****

Brother’s Keeper by Jan Sikes

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

*****

Waiting for Westmoreland by John Maberry

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

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

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

Happy Reading!