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!

July Book Reviews

Another month of Awesome Reads!

Thanks so much for stopping by to browse some wonderful books by indie authors!

July book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of historical fiction, poetry, a cozy mystery, western romance, family romance, two episodes of a fantasy serial, a sci-fi adventure, and prehistoric fiction. Phew! Something for everyone! I hope you enjoy the reads.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The Art of War by Angela Panayotopulos

This is an exquisitely written book with beautiful imagery, a vivid sense of place and culture, and rich characters. It’s one of those stories that sneaks up on you, and before you realize it, you’re holding your breath.

The first quarter of the omniscient narrative introduces twins Kallypso and Gavril from age ten through twenty, before WWII comes to their island home in Greece. At first, I wondered about the purpose of this tour through their innocent and mischievous childhoods, but I realized by the time the war stealthily encroaches on their lives that I was fully invested in these characters and their community. The tension was palpable, the sense of doom throttling.

War comes, and like any war, it savages the characters caught up in the struggle as well as those on the periphery. Gabe, a fisherman, joins the freedom fighters and heads to the mainland. Kalli, an artist who paints religious scenes on the church walls, is left in the village with the women, children, and old men. First the Italians occupy the island. Then the Nazis.

The lives of both characters are decimated. Dreams are lost. Innocence is replaced with horror, starvation, and death. The omniscient pov allows some storytelling distance or the brutality would be almost too hard to take. The tragedies are heart-breaking partly because they’re so senseless.

But there’s also kindness and love, courage and conscience, loyalty and resilience. It doesn’t show up for a while, but there’s hope too.

Did I mention that this is an exquisitely written book? The quality of the prose and storytelling swept me away. It’s one of the best novels I’ve read this year. Highly recommended for fans of war stories, love stories, and literary fiction that grips you by the throat and doesn’t let go.

*****

Slivers: Chiseled Poetry by Balroop Singh

Singh’s poetry becomes more beautiful to me with every publication. This generous collection of micro-poetry was inspired by the Japanese syllabic forms haiku and tanka, as well as acrostic poetry where the first letter of each line, when read vertically, spells a word. Each poem is an exquisite glimpse into the author’s reflections on nature, emotions, and life. Photographs complement a number of the poems from each section.

The haiku is grouped by the source of Singh’s inspiration. Below is a lovely example from Clouds:

soft waves whisper
a thousand secrets of clouds
solemn soliloquy

An example of Singh’s tanka:

When the stream freezes
all sounds sink in the snow.
Trees stand bare and mute
gaping at the periwinkle sky
As he meets the morning sun.

An example of Singh’s acrostic entitled Dusk:

Dwindling hues of orange light
Usher in the stars
Shadows recede into darkness
Kissing the waning light

This lovely collection deserves to be read in quiet moments, contemplated, and savored, and I suspect that I’ll return to it in the days to come. Highly recommended to readers of haiku, tanka, and short poetry in general.

*****

Myth and Magic by Mae Clair

A wonderful romance/cozy mystery mash-up by one of my go-to authors. Veronica is the manager of the Stone Willow Lodge, owned by the wealthy Breckwood family. Ghost-sightings and other more gruesome events are disturbing the guests and making hay for the local newspaper whose goal seems to be driving the inn out of business. To find out what’s going on, the Breckwoods hire a private investigator who happens to be the black sheep of the family.

Caith unwillingly returns to his childhood town, pressured by his young son who wants to see his cousins and grandfather. Caith brings along a ton of psychological baggage based on old trauma that he’s unable to deal with. He and Veronica have their own issues to clear, but the attraction is as strong as ever (when she isn’t furious with him).

The romance part of the story is stormy and satisfying. The mystery part is much more… well, mysterious. The tension amps up as gruesome events at the lodge escalate and Caith runs into family resistance. The author slowly reveals Caith’s past, and I couldn’t help but worry that the tragedy of his history would repeat itself. There are red herrings and lots of potential suspects.

The plot is well done, with appropriate foreshadowing, and I didn’t know who the culprits were until the reveal. I have to say though that Caith and his three brothers stole the show. The relationships were complicated, but there were moments of pure joy too. A highly recommended standalone read for fans of deftly entwined romances and cozy mysteries.

*****

Keeper Tyree by Sandra Cox

Keeper is a bounty hunter and hired gun, past his prime and suffering from arthritis. The widow Cathleen O’Donnell hires him to kill the bandit that shot her son. He agrees, never expecting that Cathleen will show up at his campfire in trousers, determined to go along.

They don’t get far before they run into (and aid) a stuck wagon full of ladies of the night, and a crushed wagon carrying a fledgling attorney and his young son. Tyree and Cathleen see them all to their destination, and despite Tyree’s determination not to get involved with women, Cathleen’s smile is having an impact. Clearly there’s a romance in the making.

The hunt for the killer Pardee takes them into the Badlands. More characters enter the story (including a few “characters”) and the action continues to build with no shortage of face-offs and gunfire. I liked Cathleen’s determination to take down her son’s killer and Keeper’s attempts to ignore his feelings. A fun and adventurous story I highly recommend to fans who enjoy fast-paced westerns and an engaging romance.

*****

A Dream of Family by Jill Weatherholt

Weatherholt delivers another sweet romance of second chances and family. Molly owns her dream bookstore, but it’s going under as a new chain store gobbles up her customers. She has her heart set on adopting a little girl Grace, but if she’s struggling financially, she may lose that dream as well.

Enter Derek, handsome and successful with the business savvy she needs. If he can help her bookstore turn a profit, it helps him with some future business plans of his own. But Molly blames Derek for warning off her fiancé on her wedding day, an experience that magnified childhood insecurities from foster care. And Derek has some old family baggage of his own.

Despite the conflicts and misunderstandings, the tone of the book is genial and heartwarming with a strong emphasis on kindness, forgiveness, and family. The read is tagged as a Christian romance and faith in God plays a role in the characters’ healing. But it comes with a light touch, focusing on values that most humans can relate to regardless of faith. The characters are wholesome and likeable. Who can resist a six-year-old kid and a goofy puppy named Duke?

As a bonus, the book has lots of ideas for setting up a successful bookstore (or really any kind of customer-friendly business). That aspect added a lot of credibility to Derek’s character and it was fun to see the transformation of Molly’s shop as her life also transforms.

A sweet read for anyone who enjoys gentle romances and stories of family

*****

Dead of Winter, Journey 6: The Fluting Fell by Teagan Geneviene

Another installment of the epic adventure, this one starts off with one frightening dream! Emlyn’s dreams are vivid and convey a lot of information, but this one isn’t hers. She dreams a nightmare from Boabhan’s past as if it happened to her. The villain Arawn and the danger he presents becomes a lot clearer.

In the second half of this journey, Emlyn’s ability to see the dead comes to the forefront when the group of Deae Matras stop at an abandoned mansion. Her encounters with the dead, including the pale man and the white wolf, continue to be my favorite scenes. I think I know who he is… and look forward to Journey 7.

*****

Dead of Winter, Journey 7: Revenant Pass by Teagan Geneviene

After seven installments I’m becoming used to the modest pace and omniscient feel of the narrative. The backstory repeats now and then, likely catching readers up who are exploring the epic world at a casual pace. As always, the level of detail in the world-building is meticulous.

Like many of the journeys in this story, this episode has two “parts.” Journey 7 begins with Emlyn and her party of Deae Matres stuck beyond the veil in the Realm of the Dead without a clue as to how to get back. The setting is creepy and the resolution full of danger. In the second half of the journey, they search for the Lost Library, which appears to be nothing but ruins… only it isn’t. As is the case with several of the episodes, it ends on a cliffhanger. Dead of Winter continues to be an engaging read for fans of epic fantasy.

*****

Templum Veneris by Jeremy L. Jones

It’s not often that a second book in a series outshines the first, but I think it did in this case. This was a great sci-fi read full of action, intrigue, and engaging characters. I enjoyed meeting up with the team members from the first book as they embarked on another mission to reconnect with human colonies lost in the solar system – this time on the planet Venus.

What they encounter is a strong ruler and militaristic society of loyal subjects. Citizens are divided into warriors and workers, and all seems to function well, despite the feeling among the team that something is very off. This uneasiness adds a lot of tension as little by little the ugly underbelly of the Venusian culture is revealed.

The action is great and the pace zooms along. I read the story in two sittings, though it’s not a short book. What I enjoyed most of all was the characters. Each member of the team is well-rounded and highly distinct in their personalities and quirks. Motivations are clear and choices are logical and made complete sense to me. Where the first book in the series seemed more plot driven, in this one the characters shine, and I definitely was drawn in. Once again Viekko was my favorite.

This worked well as a standalone, but I recommend starting with the first book, Saturnius Mons. A great read for sci-fi fans who enjoy a rollicking adventure and great characters.

*****

Laws of Nature (Dawn of Humanity Book 2) by Jacqui Murray

I read the first book in this series a while ago, and it was great to travel back in time again (1.8 million years to be exact). I couldn’t wait to catch up with Lucy and her group of primitive humans. This book starts where the last left off, so I’d recommend beginning the series with book one, Born in a Treacherous Time, which blew me away, btw.

(Click here for the rest of the “book blast” review.)

*****

Happy Reading!

June Book Reviews

Vacations are made for reading!

I just got back yesterday from two weeks at Yosemite National Park. Somehow, I still managed to fit in some reading time.

June book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of two memoirs, middle-grade fantasy, steampunk, historical/paranormal fiction, two poetry collections, a YA family drama, and a western romance. Something for everyone! I hope you enjoy them.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Flashes of Life: True Tales of the Extraordinary Ordinary by Pamela Wight

What a beautiful book. I started reading this collection of personal flash stories outside on my deck right before dinner. I read through dinner, and continued reading until the sun went down and the mosquitoes came calling. I just couldn’t stop. In the preface, the author hopes that readers will see glimpses of themselves, their families, their joys, and their lives reflected in hers. And that supposition that human life is full of universal experiences couldn’t be more true. I LOVED this book.

Wight’s flashes (pieces of short prose) read like beautifully crafted diary entries and in a way, the book is a memoir. These are stories about herself as a child, spouse, mother, and grandmother. Funny little stories about yoga and pets, food, even a beloved plant. Poignant stories about aging, illness, time together, joy, and So. Much. Love. Perhaps the feeling that I walked away with more than any other was gratefulness. Wight reminds her readers that life is full of wonderful moments if we are mindful, take the time to notice them, and gather them up for safe-keeping. Highly recommended reading for humans who want their hearts warmed over and over again. 

*****

ThunderTree by S. Cox

Another satisfying western romance/action novel from Cox. Ben is a loner with a capital L. He doesn’t want any attachments to place or person, but he also can’t let a bunch of outlaws take advantage of a young woman. After he rescues Katy, he takes her home to her uncle John T’s ranch where an offer of dinner turns into a very short stay (and then a longer and longer one) as a range war heats up with a neighboring ranch. The conflict starts immediately, and there’s plenty of gunslinging.

The romance is a slow build, and there’s more than one couple working up their courage. I liked Ben’s determined resistance and the lack of waffling in his convictions. The story is primarily told from Ben’s and John T’s points of view. Both men are stoic, though kind-hearted, and I liked the lack of wishy-washy, angsty vulnerability that often comes with romance novels. Male friendships are well written, and I enjoyed the distinct personalities.

I also liked the feisty and independent women in the story. No wilting petunias among the fairer sex either! These women know how to ride and shoot. As a whole, the characters are tough and honorable. They know themselves and what they want. Great characters, great action, and a nicely done wrap up. Recommended to readers of westerns who like a little romance in between lots of tension

*****

Apprenticed to my Mother: A Memoir of Barbara Le Pard 2005-2010 by Geoff Le Pard

I never thought of myself as a memoir reader, but when they’re this entertaining, I can’t help but fall in love with the genre. I’ve read a book of short stories by Geoff Le Pard and decided to give his memoir about his mother, Barbara, a try. What a touching book full of humor, compassion, and love. Lots of love.

The book starts with the funeral of Le Pard’s father, Desmond, an event that changed Geoff’s relationship with his mother, bringing it front and center. He became an unwitting “apprentice” for his father’s role, and got an education from his mother about her expectations. It made sense that his father’s death had created his opportunity and that the book would start at that point. But the book isn’t only about Barbara. Each chapter ends with a poem by Desmond, poems that highlighted this thoughtful and talented man and how much he loved his wife, family, and life in general.

As a person who takes care of her elderly parents, I could relate to many of the events that take place in the book from the baffling and frustrating to the downright hysterical. Though the book covers the last years of his mother’s life, there are plenty of look-backs to early times that give a well-rounded and colorful look into the Le Pard household. I laughed out loud at the Manure Years (something we had every spring at our house too), and the escaped guinea pig adventure. Another funny anecdote was after Barbara’s cataract surgery at the age of 82, when she took the author to task for not telling her that she had wrinkles. And there was the car that needed a half dozen clutch replacements… and Gran selling the garden vegetables when no one was looking…

I highly recommend this book to readers of memoirs who want to laugh, have their hearts warmed, and perhaps shed a tear.

*****

Calmer Girls by Jennifer Kelland Perry

I usually don’t read much YA relationship-based drama, but this book has been on my radar for a few years, and I decided to dive in. I’m glad I did. The writing is polished, the story had me hooked, and these aren’t teenage characters with frivolous problems. Samantha, her sister, and her mom are all flawed, as is Ben, the love interest of the two sisters.

The story unfolds in Samantha’s point of view. Her family is falling apart. Her father has moved away, and her mother is drinking too much. Money is tight. Samantha has a crush on Ben, but he falls for her sister, Veronica. Samantha takes a hit to her self esteem, but when the relationship fails, Samantha and Ben get a chance at love.

But it’s not that easy. Resentment drives a wedge between the sisters, and mistakes aren’t going to simply disappear. Ben has some problems of his own that the author waits to reveal. The mystery around his character and issues was intriguing, and I didn’t fully trust him. I had no idea how the story was going to resolve, and that question made me read well into the night.

Ultimately the story is about a family growing up, about dealing with love, disappointment, and wounded hearts. I could relate to how painful that process was for every character in the book. Wonderful writing and highly relatable characters. Definitely recommended for readers of YA drama and family sagas.

*****

New Day, New Dreams by Lauren Scott

This is the second book of Scott’s poetry that I’ve read. And I enjoyed it as much, if not more, than the first. Scott’s collection includes free form poetry, both with and without subtle rhyming. The poems feel personal, poignant, and from the heart, and many reflect the nature of love in its varied forms. Family relationships provide much of the fodder for reflection.

There were so many poems that I enjoyed that I stopped making notes. Some are touching and sentimental like “Morning After.” A poem called “Bananas” had me laughing with its silliness, and “Raindrops and Coffee” has wonderful imagery and a staccato rhythm (like raindrops). Other favorites were “In Loving Memory of Mom,” “Winter’s Lane,” and “Reflections.” Highly recommended for poetry readers who enjoy touching poems about life and family.

*****

A Ghost and his Gold by Roberta Easton Cheadle

This is a highly ambitious book, and with so much going on, I had to think about how to do it justice with a review. Perhaps most of all, it’s a lesson in history about the second Boer War in South Africa. While reading, it’s clear how much research went into the details of the war, troop movements, battles, and military maneuvering. The text is rich with footnotes and sourcing, as well as further descriptions and clarification.

What’s different from a “history book” is the narration of the war’s events through two fictional characters, one from each side: Pieter—a Boer farmer/soldier, and Robert—a British soldier. The two opposing characters make for an interesting contrast, and its easy to connect with their humanity and the tragedies that befall them, as well as to observe the atrocities on both sides.

The historical aspects of the story extend into the concentration camps where the Boer women and children were sent by the British and where many died from the poor conditions and widespread illnesses. I found this part of the book, narrated by Pieter’s daughter Estelle, the most riveting and tragic.

Overlaying the history and interspersed through the book is the modern story of Michelle and Tom who are being haunted by the ghosts of Pieter, Robert, and Estelle. I felt less connected to these characters and the paranormal part of the story, though the past and present are intertwined and the couple is pivotal to the book’s conclusion.

The book’s overall point of view is omniscient, offering a broad view of the war. Narratives occur in both present and past tense, and there are quite a few time-jumps that need to be kept track of, especially in the beginning. Recommended to readers of historical war stories who enjoy a touch of paranormal suspense. 

*****

Tree Fairies and Their Short Stories by D. L. Finn

In the redwood forest, the tree fairies and their human friends are tasked with protecting the woodlands and it’s creatures. They have the help of the Wise Trees who’ve watched over the land for thousands of years. In many ways, this middle-grade book is about real environmental threats, all crafted into age-appropriate and magical stories.

The three tales are connected, sharing the same characters, and each one addresses a different danger to the natural world. “Tree Fairies” introduces the forest fairies and kicks off their relationship with young Daniel and his human family who will save the land from clear cutting. “Roselle” addresses the illegal dumping of toxic waste. And in “Goldie,” the fairies drive off a pair of poachers.

There’s plenty of magic in the books and activities that middle-grade kids will relate to such as fairy school, writing papers, listening to parents, and standing up to bullying by the “city fairies” who’ve lost touch with nature. A fun read for kids who enjoy magical tales while learning about the importance of protecting the old forests.

*****

The Sensaurum and the Lexis by Richard Dee

I believe this novel might share its steampunk subgenre with “biopunk.” The characters, dialog, and social norms seem Victorian in nature, but the story takes place in a world designed around one highly sophisticated technology—in this case, synthetic biotechnology, specifically biorobotics and prosthetics.

The story follows Jackson and Jessamine, two teenage orphans who work as spies for a secret agency determined to stop an evil mastermind from bio-engineering the brains of ordinary citizens in order to turn them into mindless slaves. Along with bio-tech, there are other forms of technological upgrades including gadgets that help the duo survive, gas guns, rail vehicles, and flying machines. Some of the bio-science is a big stretch, but with some suspension of disbelief, it’s consistent and enjoyable.

These two characters share the narration, though the story is told in an omnipresent pov. Dialog is formal and a bit stilted based on the era, but it felt natural in this altered world. I liked both characters, especially Jackson who is new to the spying game and learning the ropes. There’s some romance and tenderness, but the book is full of action, danger, and intrigue as the two heroes and their group try to discover what is going on and how to stop it.

Recommended to readers who enjoy steampunk worlds, plots around mind control, evil master minds, and the teens who foil them.

*****

Poetry Treasures (WordCrafter Poetry Anthology)

Poetry treasures is a short anthology that took less than an hour to read. It offers an introduction to nine different poets with a modest (2-3 page) biography and a sampling of 3-5 poems from each contributor. Some of the poetry is exceptional, and there’s a variety of themes. Styles include syllabic forms (haiku and nonet, for example) as well as free-form pieces.

The poets included in the book are Sue Vincent, Geoff LePard, Frank Prem, Victoria Zigler, Colleen Chesebro, Kevin Morris, Annette Rochelle Aben, Jude Kirya Itakali, and Roberta Eaton Cheadle. Recommended to readers interested in learning about the above poets and sampling their work.

*****

Happy Reading!

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!

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!

February Book Reviews

March is almost here! Time to plan some reading for spring (or autumn)!

February book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of fantasy, a paranormal western, a psychological thriller, a western contemporary romance, and a spooky kid’s book. ! I hope you enjoy the browse.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

I’m a total sucker for beautiful, lyrical writing, and this book is loaded with it. I was underlining the paperback like a mad woman. The story is based on a Russian folktale, I think, but it was unfamiliar to me, so I read the story as if it were a fantasy. It definitely has the feeling of a folktale with a Russian flavor. The details are rich, rich, rich, magical and fantastical, a feast for a reader’s imagination.

The story begins when Vasya is a child and goes until her young womanhood. She has “the sight,” capable of seeing the spirits of the home and northern forest. Some of them are kindly and some terrible. Vasya’s stepmother believes they are evil and tries to drive them out. Their battle of wills is magnified as the Frost Demon and his brother, the Bear, compete for Vasya’s life. Tragedy befalls the north when a Christian zealot arrives, spreading fear of the old ways. As the spirits weaken, Vasya is the only one with the courage to take a stand. There’s so much more to this story than that – a battle for independence, deep family love, madness, the old gods against the new, and all set against the beauty, magic, and deadly cold of winter.

Aside from the exquisite writing and storytelling, the characters are deeply drawn with multilayered emotions and motivations. Little is spelled out and the complexity of the story, details, and characters had me flipping the pages deep into the night. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy folktale retellings, fantasy, and beautiful writing.

*****

Mateo’s Law by Sandra Cox

What a fun read. Mateo is a shapeshifting sheriff in small town Grizzly, Montana, and few, if any, residents know his secret. His chief deputy, Blair, is a transplant from Atlanta, and when a black wolf begins killing animals and slashing people, the two of them are on the case. Sardonic banter and aggravating behavior scarcely mask the sexual tension flying between them.

Mateo is a competent, dark, mysterious, and hunky guy, but Blair was my favorite character, her snappy sarcasm and self-deprecating humor right up my alley. She’s also tough, comfortable with her identity, and undaunted when it comes to doing the right thing. She doesn’t know Mateo’s secret, which generates some entertaining situations.

Secondary characters are well done, particularly the wolves and Mateo’s estranged friend, Jesse. Other characters and the setting serve to round out the story without going into a great deal of backstory or detail. The plot isn’t complicated, but it’s a great backdrop for a lot of fast-paced action that showcases Mateo’s and Blair’s relationship. No dull moments in this book. I recommend it to readers who enjoy contemporary westerns with a paranormal flair, and great characters with lots of personality who generate sparks.

*****

Brody Cody and the Haunted Vacation House by Toni Pike

Tornado Boy and I enjoyed the first Brody Cody book and were eager to pick up this one. It had the perfect amount of scariness for an 8-year-old who’s just started to enjoy ghost stories.

Brody, his mom and dad, and three friends go on vacation to the Blue Mountains. They’ve rented the Wysludge Manor, a dusty cobwebby house with overgrown, dead gardens. Things start going wrong right from the start, and Brody and his friends are determined to get to the bottom of the strange occurrences, creepy noises, and visions of ghosts.

The book is about an hour’s read, the language accessible to young independent readers and a fun choice for parents and kids who enjoy chapter books. Grammy and Tornado Boy highly recommend Brody Cody books and look forward to the next one!

*****

Seasoned with Destiny by Mary J. McCoy-Dressel

Judy Carlson is at the stage in life where she’s enjoying her grown sons, their families, and a batch of grandchildren with more on the way. She’s also having hot flashes and after years of widowhood, starting to date. But Dale Conner comes with some baggage that opens her eyes to the real hero in her life, one right under her nose.

There’s danger in this book, but this romance is well…mostly romance. And for those who wonder if it’s ever too late to love, this might be the perfect read. There are also lots and lots of babies, as well as family dynamics that keep Judy busy between asserting her independence and discovering love. She’s a tough lady.

This is the fifth book in the Double Dutch Ranch series, but I read it as a stand-alone, and it worked just dandy, though I can see how reading it in order would flesh out her family in preparation for this novel. I enjoyed the story and recommend it to readers of contemporary western romance.

*****

Dead of Winter: Journey 2, Penllyn by Teagan Riordain Geneviene

In true serial form, Journey 2 starts at the end of the first and isn’t meant to be read as a stand-alone. In other words, start at the beginning! The first half of this Journey primarily introduces Zasha, a member of the mysterious group called the Deae Matres, as well as Zasha’s guardian, Tajin. They travel the countryside and grow concerned about threats to outlanders, particularly to women. I enjoyed this intriguing relationship and am eager to learn more about them.

The second half returns to Emlyn as she and her father walk to the village of Penllyn to sell cider from his orchard. It’s at the inn in Penllyn, that a second motivation for the trip becomes clear to Emlyn, and the truth is worse than her most worrisome imaginings.

Descriptions are vivid and beautiful and sometimes chilling. The worldbuilding is intricate and thorough. I came to like Emlyn more and her father less as the characters continue to develop. A fair amount of Emlyn’s experience is conveyed through her thoughts as italicized internal dialog. I have mixed feelings about that, but there’s plenty of verbal dialog to round it out. Dreams play a large part in this journey as well as ghosts who introduce Emlyn to potential allies in the Deae Matres. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.

*****

Warning Signs by Carol Balawyder

This psychological thriller is told from three points of view: a serial killer, the young woman who loves him, and the detective investigating the murders of several teenagers.

Eugene Munroe is a creepy guy, and there were times during the read where the real world disappeared and I was completely absorbed in his strange and fascinating thought processes. Angie is overly needy and desperate for love, and Eugene’s attentions have her ignoring the warning signs that something is wrong. Van Ray is the cop on the case who compromises the law in more ways than one.

The plot starts with a lot of tension that kept me glued to the pages. A significant twist at the halfway point changes the nature of the story, shifting it away from imminent danger into the psychology of the characters. The pace slows slightly as the book works toward a conclusion, but it wraps up the various threads nicely. The writing seemed well researched, particularly related to the serial killer.

I encountered a problem with formatting on my kindle (it may just be my kindle). There were no breaks or indents distinguishing paragraphs. This made the read more difficult for me, but otherwise, I recommend it to fans of thrillers, crime novels, and psychological dramas.

*****

Finding a Balance by Lauren Scott

I read this short book of poetry on a quiet evening. Many of the poems are reflections about the journey of life: love, pain, hope, and self-discovery. They’re told from a gentle and often wistful perspective. Scott’s language is accessible, as are the emotions within her poems.

Most of the poems rhyme, some subtly and some more pronounced. I generally prefer free-form poetry, but there are some lovely pieces in here including a selection of haiku. A few of my favorites were: Pillow, Healing, Refreshing, and Butterflies to Stay.

For an example of her poetry, this is the first stanza of Healing:

Gasping for air
with my head underwater
lungs on the verge
of exploding
I’m in orbit
heading into a world
of other dimensions
where gravity
has no bearing…

*****

Voyage of the Lanternfish by C. S. Boyack

James Cuttler’s sweetheart, Bonnie, is bricked into a tower by the Earl of Grandelur and won’t be released until James and Dan (Bonnie’s brother) incite a war between two rival nations. This demand kicks off the adventure as James and Dan travel through the fantasy world—first by wagon and later by sea as pirates. They assemble allies and a ship’s crew and cause havoc everywhere they go.

The book is a jaunting quest with a focus on a unique collection of characters and worldbuilding detail. The pace is moderate, and the plot ambles in places, but there are also bouts of intense action, and readers who enjoy pirates will appreciate the sea battles.

As other readers have mentioned, the real stars of the book are the root monsters. They “grew” on me, and their scenes are hysterical from start to finish. Boyack has a wonderful way of creating magical characters and imbuing them with distinct—and frequently outrageous—personalities. The root monsters are impressive. I recommend this fantasy read to anyone who enjoys rambling quests with fabulous characters, sea battles, and plenty of humor.

Happy Reading!

January Book Reviews

Now that I’m writing again, my reading has dropped off. *Sigh*

January book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of paranormal fiction, a vampire anthology, Gothic anthology, and YA fantasy! I hope you enjoy the browse.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The Light by Marcia Meara

I could read a book about 11-year-old Rabbit navel-gazing and be entertained. I’m in love with this character and as long as he’s in the story, I’m satisfied. Once again, Rabbit is using his gift of “sight” to solve murders and heal old wounds. In this book, one of the Brown Mountain lights is different from the rest. It’s full of sadness, and Rabbit wants to find out why.

This story has less violence and minimal danger compare to the previous books in the series, and though Rabbit solves the mystery, the more dire consequences unfold on their own. In this read, the focus has shifted somewhat to Rabbit’s expanding “family” as he spreads around his good will and makes connections with other good people. There’s a sweetness to this story and to these characters, and that’s not a bad thing.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Rabbit’s journey and happily recommend Meara’s Wake Robin Ridge series to fans of paranormal fiction, addictive characters, and expert writing. I will miss this little guy. A solid five-star read.

*****

The Vampire Connoisseur (anthology – multiple authors)

I’ve avoided vampire stories for years. I think Anne Rice spoiled me with Interview with the Vampire, which I loved. And the vixen vampires on television… ugh. But this anthology has a great cover and vetted stories. I gave it a go, and I’m glad I did.

There are sixteen stories by sixteen authors, and each story is vastly different. Some have sublime characters with unique voices. Others have incredible world-building. And still others have unusual plots. My favorites included some of each, particularly those stories that surprised me with their originality or made me empathize with vampires, or both. Be prepared for some gruesome blood and guts too.

Favorites were The Red Angel (amazing), The Sun Sets Nonetheless, Finch, and Dissidents. Recommended for readers of horror who enjoy well-written vampire stories.

*****

The Brinwade Chronicles (anthology multiple authors)

This is the third book and second anthology I’ve read from the Fosseway Writers, and so far, it’s my favorite. The collection of Gothic short stories is loosely organized around Brinwade, a fictional village near Nottingham in central England. A map is included in the Foreword, a nice touch that helped orient me as I read.

Though the 29 tales take place in the same village, the authors had leeway when it came to timeframes. Some of the stories take place in modern England, while others unfold elsewhere in a history that spans hundreds of years. This increased the variety already created by having multiple author-contributors and character voices.

As a fan of speculative fiction there was a lot for me to enjoy: ghosts, vampires, elves, very creepy scarecrows, visits from the fae, and haunted marshes, to name a few. Not all the stories are frightening. Some are tragic and others heartwarming. All are well edited. Highly recommended to readers of Gothic and speculative fiction short story anthologies.

*****

Knightmare Arcanist by Shami Stovall

I enjoyed this read though I think it’s geared more toward young teens and precocious middle-grade readers. In this magical fantasy world, young people compete for a chance to bond with mythical creatures and become arcanists (wizards). If you can think of a magical creature, it’s in this story—from phoenixes and pixies to leviathans and yetis. Suspending my disbelief was a necessity from start to finish.

In this first book of the series, Volke and other new arcanists travel to a magical manor on a giant turtle’s back to begin their magical training. The arcanist guilds are struggling with a mysterious plague that’s corrupting the mystical creatures and turning their masters into pirates. The kids are trying to figure out what’s going on and who they can trust.

For the most part, the human characters are fifteen years old. They and their creatures are all different and distinct. The creatures talk and some of them have mysterious or fun personalities (a ferret-type creature called a Rizzel reminded me of some of the hilarious Disney side-kicks.) The adults are the biggest threat in the story though one of the teens is a bit of a bully. The pace moves along with a steady stream of action. Recommended to young readers of YA fantasy who are looking for a kid-driven adventure.

*****

Happy Reading!