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.
A while ago, I wrote this 99-word story for the Sue Vincent Classic at Carrot Ranch, and I never got around to sharing it here. Sue has since passed away, leaving a hole in our writing community, and I miss her. I hope you enjoy the story.
My Mother’s Song
Even on a day of grief, the living abide no idleness. Bodies need nourishment, goats tending. The hearth yearns for fire before the wind sweeps us all beneath the dirt. I loathe our hill, the leaden clouds and cold toes, black spots on the moldering potatoes.
For years, I’d griped about my tasks while my mother had sung with the rhythm of her washboard. Of a beauty I couldn’t behold.
Now, without her, I face the quilted valley, the snow-laced mountains, branches gilded by the sun. Only now do I see, and my heart bursts with my mother’s song.
Back on February 1st, Carrot Ranch kicked off the Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic as a way to support Sue in her in journey through cancer and show her how much she is loved by this creative community.
Winners were announced on March 22nd. And what a fabulous outpouring of talent. To read all the 99-word stories and 99-syllable poems based on Sue’s photo prompt, clickHERE.
I’m delighted to share one of my entries.
When he’d asked for her hand, he’d promised a white-washed farm in the patchwork valley. Verdant fields and tart cherry trees perfect for pies. He’d offered gardens and pearls and the earnest comfort of old-fashioned love. And each time, she’d denied him.
Then they’d climbed her autumn hill, where the valley flowed like an emerald river, and beneath the woolen clouds, the sun’s long brush painted the mountains with light. He grasped her hand and dropped to a knee. “If I build you a cabin on this golden hill, will you marry me?”
Her sable brush roamed the canvas. Delicate strokes of umber and ochre for the barren branches. Burnt sienna for the dying autumn leaves.
She paused. Amused.
Had she painted autumn’s abandoned twigs? Or young buds, heralds of the coming green? She savored her newfound uncertainty. Fall or Spring? Snow a foretelling of what was to come or a last gust of cold breath before the skies turned blue?
Her lover leaned over her shoulder, adding bergamot to scents of oil and turpentine. “Why the gray skies?”
She angled a smile. “Because the liminal world is rarely black and white.”
I wrote (3) 99-word stories for the Sue Vincent Rodeo over at Carrot Ranch. Then, I read the fine print and discovered I could only submit (2). Uh oh. Decisions, decisions. Well, this is the one that I didn’t submit.
Remember that submissions can’t be previously published, even on your blog. If you want to try your hand at a 99-word story in honor of Sue, you can saddle up and read the rodeo rules at Carrot Ranch.
I’m so pleased to share this, and you bet I’m saddling up!
For those of you who don’t know Sue Vincent, she’s one of those special bloggers in our community who inspires people all over the world with her beautiful posts and #writephoto prompts. Sue has tirelessly supported other bloggers and it shows. She now has 19,000 followers and counting.
Recently, Sue encountered a new and difficult challenge: lung cancer. To make matters worse, the Covid-19 pandemic not only poses a serious threat to someone with a severe respiratory illness but has resulted in the loss of human connection when it’s needed most.
Now it’s time for Sue to receive something back from the community she’s supported for a decade. Let’s come together with hearts full of joy.
Join us for the Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic at the Carrot Ranch!
One way to participate in the Classic is to visit the prompt image, “Hidden”, at the Carrot Ranch. The image and entry form is live today – Monday, February 1st, 2021.
Enter a flash or a poem by Friday, February 19th, 2021, and you could win either $100 or a copy of one of Sue’s books. The form will allow you to give a small donation for Sue and her family. There’s also a link on the contest page. The winning entries will be announced at the Carrot Ranch on March 22nd, 2021.
Please note that Carrot Ranch will not accept entries previously published (even if published on your own blog).So use the form and keep your entry a secret until after the rodeo.
If you’re not ready to rodeo, there’s also a “Parade.” Reblog one of Sue’s posts from any of her sites (Daily Echo or France and Vincent) with a comment about why you found it special. You can follow her blogs. Read one of her books, then leave reviews where you can.
Help us celebrate a blogging hero and very deserving person. Plus, it’s a ton of fun.
Saddle up, everyone! It’s time for a Carrot Ranch Rodeo like none before. The Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic begins today, and it’ll be a TUFF prompt to fit within 99 words.
The chirping alarm clock wakes us at an ungodly hour, and I quickly prepare a thermos of hot chocolate. Muffins packed. Sweaters donned. Flashlights? Check. Blankets? Check. Keys? I pat my pocket, running through my mental checklist. We load up and drive the winding lane to the knoll.
It’s my 60th birthday, and I want to watch the sunrise. My ten-year-old granddaughter indulges my desire.
We spread a blanket on the smooth ledge, cupfuls of cocoa in hand, another blanket warming our laps. The stars behind us glimmer like luminescence in the sky’s black sea. To the east, they fade as dawn breaks. Clouds stream in heaven’s wind, a sheer sail unfurling over the slumbering land.
A light catches the corner of my eye. An iphone! “Gah! Turn that thing off.”
“I have to check one thing.”
My instruction is ignored. I emit a series of annoyed and exasperated groans, mutterings, and sighs.
“One minute,” she giggles, unswayed by my performance. “I’m looking something up.”
She leans into my shoulder and shares. “Did you know that light is actually all colors, and each color has a different wavelength. Blue is the shortest and red the longest.
“Different length lightwaves travel through space, and when they reach the atmosphere, they bounce off particles in the air. Like dust, water, and ice crystals, and tiny gas molecules. They scatter in lots of different directions.”
My subtle hints are failing to have an impact. She scrolls down. “When sunlight travels a short path through the atmosphere, tiny gas molecules scatter blue sunlight in all directions, making the sky blue. At sunrise and sunset, when light travels a long path, it’s mostly red and yellow.”
I sling an arm around her and sigh. “And I thought it was magic.”
She slides her phone into her pocket, and we “ooh” and “aah” as the sun bathes tiny gas molecules with gloriously long light waves.
“You know what else it said?” Apparently, my little scientist isn’t finished.
“That the clouds are a canvas on which nature paints her colors.”
“I like that,” I say.
“I thought you would. You see? It’s magic after all.”
I loved my 5 months of hosting a Speculative Fiction Prompt. I loved reading and sharing the amazing poems and stories and artwork.
But life got in the way, and though parental caregiving may be smoothing out in the near future, there’s no guarantee that everything won’t fall apart again. In fact, it will. The only question is when.
Carol Forester of Writing and Works contacted me about taking over the monthly prompt, and though I was sad to let it go, I took her up on the offer immediately. I want it to continue. I want to write for it and read everyone’s stories. Thank you, Carol.
September’s prompt is up! I can’t wait to see the responses.
This story was a riveting page-turner that I was unable to put down and couldn’t wait to get back to when I did. The tale takes place in the backwoods hill country of the Eastern US where life unfolds according to different rules than it does in town. The law has no influence, relationships are frequently brutal, and survival requires living by one’s instincts.
The main character, Leanne, grows up in a cabin with her grandmother and extended family where a “meanness” comes out in violence and cruelty. She and her mentally disabled uncle, Simple, are burdened with kind hearts and eventually, their defiant choices put them in mortal danger from their own family.
Part of what makes the book so engrossing is its utter unpredictability. The tension sits on a knife’s edge at all times. The family is explosive, and Leanne, though only fourteen, survives by her wits, knowing full well the nature of her adversaries. All of the characters are thoroughly believable and so real that I’m staying far away from any place where I might run into their like. Honestly, it’s a bit chilling.
Dawe’s prose reflects the colloquial dialog and lack of education among the hill-folk, and yet it flows smoothly and is effortless to read. Each character’s voice is distinct and consistent. There is no gratuitous sex or violence, although these elements are frequently present as ways in which the family’s goals, anger, and revenge are carried out. The details regarding hill-life lend credibility to the story and increase immersion.
Despite the brutality, ultimately this is a read about the power of kindness and love, and finding one’s way home. This book is one of my favorites this year. Definitely high on my recommendation list.
by Andrew Joyce
Mahoney is a family saga that follows the lives of three generations of fathers and sons. Part I chronicles the immigration of Devin Mahoney from Ireland to the US in the mid-1850s to escape the potato famine. Despite rampant discrimination, he contributes to the growing nation as a brick-layer and railroad man. Part II extends into the American West with Devin’s son, Dillon, who becomes a US Marshal and California oilman. Part III transitions to the story of David Mahoney as he rediscovers the country his forefathers helped build and finds himself in the process.
Joyce tells the story in an omniscient point of view, sprinkling third-person and first-person narratives with historical details about the time and place, the men’s vocations, living conditions, war, justice, and injustice. These details are well researched and add a fascinating backdrop to the human story. Descriptions are vivid, and the pace is leisurely.
The characters are richly developed. The dialog is exceptional, and relationships feel authentic. I felt connected to each of the three men and their stories and was moved at the end as David Mahoney embraces the legacy left by his father and grandfather. An excellent read that will appeal to anyone who enjoys stories about multi-generational families, historical fiction, or the making of a nation.
Life in a Flash
by Geoff Le Pard
This generous collection of flash fiction is full of quirky humor. Le Pard has a way of exaggerating recognizable human interactions and bringing to light their inherent nonsense in a fresh and delightful way. I kept opening my Kindle during the night to read one or two more.
But humor isn’t the only offering on the book’s pages. Sprinkled among the laughs are some poignant stories that strum the heartstrings, and some social commentary that points to the human condition and the current struggles faced by many. I highly recommend this book to readers who enjoy flash fiction and a clever and imaginative take on life.
The best thing about spending the last 2 months driving between Oregon and Washington, living out of a suitcase, and ignoring my bossy muse has been catching up on reading. Indie books were gifts from heaven!
It’s been a while since I’ve shared reviews of books I’ve enjoyed. These are in no particular order. And there are more to come!
A Thousand Yesteryears
by Mae Clair
Intriguing plot and believable characters. At the death of her aunt, Eve Parrish returns to Point Pleasant to sell off the family hotel. Not only is the town known for sightings of a fantastical creature, the mothman, it’s also the location of a bridge collapse that, fifteen years ago, claimed the life of Eve’s father and friend. That tragedy still hangs over the town, and Eve has no plans to stay.
But her old crush Caden Flynn still lives in town, a man haunted by the events of the collapse that took his sister’s life. The truth about what happened that day begins to unravel when the home of Eve’s aunt is vandalized, and she begins receiving threatening notes. Someone wants her gone, even if he needs to kill her.
The story is a high-paced paranormal thriller with vivid worldbuilding and a touch of romance. The plot holds together well with all pieces falling into place. The characters are emotionally rich and thoroughly credible, not only the main characters but those on the periphery. I was intrigued by the mothman and its mysterious relationship to the events. Excellent fun and highly recommended. I’m eager to read more of the series.
Fascinating world-building. I seem to have developed a taste for prehistoric fiction. After reading Murray’s Born in a Treacherous Time, I was looking forward to her next foray into the dawn of man. This book takes place 850,000 years after Born in a Treacherous Time and is the first book in a trilogy. It’s not a stand-alone novel so be prepared to move on to Book 2 when it comes out.
The plot of the story is something of a quest as three separate groups of early man abandon their home-bases in search of safer ones. A changing climate, dwindling resources, and danger from a growing number of aggressive tribes drive them onward.
To some extent, the first half of the book is three separate stories, one for each group. They join into one larger group about mid-way through the read, and the rest of the book deals with the choices made to procure peace and ensure their survival. Subplots and characters add flavor to the story, all in the well-researched context of prehistoric life where, naturally, the norms are different than they are today.
One group dominates more of the book than the other two. The main character is a female leader, Xhosa. Her responsibility is to protect her people from a variety of dangers, particularly from other humans, while they search for a new home. She’s a complex character, thoughtful and ingenious, and callous as needed in a world where the weak jeopardize the entire group.
Secondary characters have distinct personalities, strengths, weaknesses, and quirks which add complexity to the “human” tale. There are power struggles, deceptions, kindnesses, and wisdom. The world-building is a fascinating foray into prehistoric landscapes. Though fiction, Murray deftly brought to life a time we have little record of. Highly recommended.
Stories to savor. Duclos offers a generous selection of over 60 short stories, pieces of poetic prose, and flash fiction in a compilation that kept me enthralled for an entire afternoon. The writing is lovely, evocative, and in many cases emotional. Some pieces are lyrical and heartfelt reflections with themes centered on nature, serenity, and empowerment. Others are dark forays into ghostly hauntings and the realms of murder and revenge. Some of my favorites are Patience, Dusk, Wilted, and I Am. A wonderful way to spend an afternoon or to savor over a week, one page at a time.