April Book Reviews

A very eclectic selection this month: sci-fi, fantasy, poetry, romance, Danny the Dog, historical fiction, and parenting advice! I hope you enjoy browsing my 4 and 5-star reviews. There are some great reads here. Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Running out of Space by S. J. Higbee

If readers enjoy sci-fi and a powerful female lead character, this book hits the mark. Lizzy makes one reckless mistake, and her hopes to enter an officer-training program are dashed. But that’s not the end of her problems. She’s caught between competing forces who use her to solidify their power, and her plans to escape their clutches with the man she loves are repeatedly foiled. When things can’t get worse, they do.

The book starts with some love-struck romance (in the midst of some action), but the romance is background music as the main story takes off. Lizzy is a tough character, full of anger and impulsiveness. She has a hard time controlling her temper and tongue, but she’s justified and therefore sympathetic. Her story unfolds with a first-person point of view, and I was invested from the start, rooting for her when she suffered and cheering for her small victories and fiery personality. I found all of the characters consistent, authentic, and compelling, and the author does a nice job of holding back their secrets so there’s always a reason to turn the page.

This fast-paced book is both character-driven and plot-driven, and I enjoyed the balance. The world-building is complete, hard sci-fi with enough technical detail to be believable while not overwhelming the story. The plot belongs to Lizzy and her desire to escape those who are manipulating her, but there are larger political subplots working in the background that may rise to the surface in later books. The first book in a series, this ends at a transition point, but the story doesn’t conclude. It definitely invites a dive into book 2. Highly recommended.

*****

Tiger House by Wendy Scott

This is a great read for lovers of adventure, action, fantasy, and fabulous worldbuilding. The cover is gorgeous. And the prose is excellent too. Can you tell that I enjoyed this book? The story is about a young farmer Jairus who is kidnapped through a magical portal by the inhabitants of another world. He’s enslaved and ordered to represent Tiger House in a series of challenges to the death that will decide the new emperor. The first half of the story is an account of the competitions and the action and intrigue are non-stop. The second half of the book deals with Jairus’s attempts to stay alive for as long as he can while trying to find a way home.

To me, the worldbuilding resembles ancient Asian cultures (though I’m no expert), with the added elements of magic, strange rituals, and a whole lot of disregard for the contestants’ lives or their homeworlds. The people are brutal, macabre, and think nothing of it. The tentative head of Tiger House, a woman named Tekagi, is a ruthless, ambitious villain in the truest sense. An interesting dynamic set up by the author is that rooting for Jairus is also rooting for Tekagi.

So, the worldbuilding is perfection and the characters engaging – Jairus for his good nature, determination, and intelligence, and Tekagi, because she’s sooo bad! I woke up in the middle of the night to read more chapters under my sheets like a kid afraid of being caught by my mom. The plot is driven by Tekagi’s ambitious designs for most of the book, but Jairus does evolve as a character by the end.

There are plenty of loose ends by the book’s conclusion to hook a reader into picking up the next in the series. I know I will. Highly Recommended.

*****

My Name is Danny by Danny (and Andrew Joyce)

If you need something to read that will warm your heart, lift your spirits, and make you laugh, this book will do it. What a fun way to spend an hour.

Danny the Dog lives with his human, Andrew, on a boat in Florida. This collection of brief stories focuses on Danny’s adventures, his human and animal friendships and rivalries, and his daily activities including acquiring hotdogs. He gets into a lot of trouble and is great at justifying his choices.

The stories are all told from Danny’s perspective with a rare story by Andrew while Danny’s vacationing. Each short chapter starts with a photo of Danny, a small dog with a huge personality. Danny’s wry sense of humor, indignation, and sarcasm are hilarious. He definitely thinks he’s in charge of this human/dog duo. Dog lovers will recognize many aspects of life with a canine companion. I adored this read and recommend it to dog lovers everywhere.

*****

I Am Soul by Yecheilyah Ysrayl

I picked up this book of poetry some time ago and finally opened it. My dad was in the hospital and I had hours to kill. I started reading Ysrayl’s poetry, and the first thing I noticed was the powerful words and rhythms. This is poetry with heart, and it begged to be read aloud.

I found myself a green space outside the hospital and for a couple of hours I walked by myself and read aloud, swept away by the strong emotions and messages, the sometimes hard and sometimes soft beat of the words, and the vivid imagery. The blurb says that this collection of poems focuses “on Black History, Identity, Personal Development, and Spirituality. Readers describe this collection as touching, intelligent, personal and deeply soulful.” I can’t say it any better. A moving read and if you can find a place to read it aloud, you won’t regret it. Highly recommended.

*****

Orion’s Gift by Anneli Purchase

Sylvia and Kevin are both escaping abusive relationships and individually head to Mexico to camp along the beautiful beaches of Baja. They end up meeting and fall immediately into lust, which gradually turns into something deeper. But nothing’s going to be that easy as the drug trade south of the border strikes a little close to their camper-homes, and even worse, their exes are trying to hunt them down.

Romance with lots of misunderstandings and emotional turmoil is a major theme in the book, but the subplots add a lot of drama to the story. Both exes—who are quite different from each other—have chapters from their points-of-view which adds to the building tension. The subplot regarding the drug trade escalates the danger, particularly for Sylvia.

I liked the quick pace of the story and there was plenty going on to keep me turning the pages. The descriptions of camping in Baja include well-researched details, not only regarding the landscape but also the challenges, the things visitors need to know, and some of the pitfalls. I enjoyed the authenticity they lent to the story.

Kevin was my favorite character as he’s pretty solid and straightforward. Sylvia suffers from insecurities throughout the book, but this struck me as realistic based on her history as a victim of domestic violence. She also has a secret that interferes with any dreams of a future with Kevin. A well-rounded story and highly recommended to readers of romance.

*****

The Lost Signal by J. S. Fernandez Morales

This book is almost 400 pages, and every word was worth the read. This sci-fi adventure was a great story. For ¾ of the book, there are two alternating, unconnected narratives. One storyline follows the efforts of a group of Earthlings who are preparing for an alien invasion aided by a renegade alien named Bill (named so for convenience).

The other storyline is told primarily from Fiona’s point of view. She’s an alien/human hybrid who’s lived her whole life with humans and feels compelled to protect them when aliens descend on their village and enslave them. The stories begin to overlap at the 75% mark and it’s a very cool twist.

Fiona’s story has a persistent undercurrent of tension as she navigates the alien environment. The villain that she’s connected to is consistently brutal and unpredictable while also oddly vulnerable. I love complex villains like this. He’s horrifying and redeemable. The Earthlings’ story isn’t quite as action-packed, but it is fascinating, particularly Bill’s role. And there are a couple of shocking moments.

Characters throughout the book are unique and plausible and emotionally rich, and I’d say that they stole the show, except the plot is also very cool. A great blend that makes for a great read. Sci-fi readers who enjoy alien stories, action and adventure, and great characters will love this. Worth every word.

*****

Smoke Rose to Heaven by Sarah Angleton

This book isn’t typical of those I normally read, and I’m happy to report that I enjoyed it. Spanning the mid to late 1800s, Ada Moses relates the story of her life to an old man called the Prophet, a key influencer of the Mormon faith at its initiation. The entire book is Ada’s narrative, but it’s told in such a way that I was immersed in Ada’s experiences as they unfolded.

The impetus driving Ada to tell her story to the Prophet is a secret manuscript that came into her possession as a child, a manuscript that is dangerous to the Mormon faith. The document has put her life at risk, and she wants to tell her story before death finds her. Though this was interesting, it wasn’t the plot thread that sucked me in and didn’t let go.

For me, Ada’s human story was more compelling. Her mother dies when she’s a child, and her father gives her away to his sister and her husband. Ada’s aunt is a fundamental Christian zealot and her uncle is a snake oil salesman with some skill at dowsing and other esoteric arts. Ada is caught in the middle, trying to navigate her way safely through her aunt’s fanaticism and seeking some desperately needed parental love which she finds in her uncle and his unsavory business partners. I was riveted by her psychological and emotional growth, insights, and perspectives. Her experiences guide her choices and determine who she ultimately becomes. This is a character-driven story, beautifully written, and thoroughly engaging. Highly recommended.

*****

Be a Happier Parent or Laugh Trying by Betsy Kerekes

Kerekes offers some wise advice for parents and delivers it with plenty of wit. The exaggeration and sarcasm woven into her view of children and parenting is hysterical, but throughout the read, it’s also clear that love makes up the solid foundation of her parenting style. Parenting strategies in the book are often creative and buried in fun, but there’s also some great guidance on discipline and the less glamorous trials of being a firm parent.

As a retired early-childhood mental health counselor, I found the information in this book highly relevant as well as laugh-out-loud funny. The ideas presented in the book are geared toward parents but are equally relevant to grandparents and other caregivers.

Kerekes isn’t shy about sharing her Christian faith and a few chapters focus on parenting within that framework. My impression is that though these chapters focus on Catholicism, they could apply to other faiths or to no faith at all, such as how to encourage kindness and charity in children. I highly recommend this book of sound parental advice delivered with love, fun, and a laugh.

*****

Happy Reading!

More Indie Book Reviews

A few more fabulous reads from my travels!

Simple

by Anita Dawes

This story was a riveting page-turner that I was unable to put down and couldn’t wait to get back to when I did. The tale takes place in the backwoods hill country of the Eastern US where life unfolds according to different rules than it does in town. The law has no influence, relationships are frequently brutal, and survival requires living by one’s instincts.

The main character, Leanne, grows up in a cabin with her grandmother and extended family where a “meanness” comes out in violence and cruelty. She and her mentally disabled uncle, Simple, are burdened with kind hearts and eventually, their defiant choices put them in mortal danger from their own family.

Part of what makes the book so engrossing is its utter unpredictability. The tension sits on a knife’s edge at all times. The family is explosive, and Leanne, though only fourteen, survives by her wits, knowing full well the nature of her adversaries. All of the characters are thoroughly believable and so real that I’m staying far away from any place where I might run into their like. Honestly, it’s a bit chilling.

Dawe’s prose reflects the colloquial dialog and lack of education among the hill-folk, and yet it flows smoothly and is effortless to read. Each character’s voice is distinct and consistent. There is no gratuitous sex or violence, although these elements are frequently present as ways in which the family’s goals, anger, and revenge are carried out. The details regarding hill-life lend credibility to the story and increase immersion.

Despite the brutality, ultimately this is a read about the power of kindness and love, and finding one’s way home. This book is one of my favorites this year. Definitely high on my recommendation list.

 

Mahoney

by Andrew Joyce

Mahoney is a family saga that follows the lives of three generations of fathers and sons. Part I chronicles the immigration of Devin Mahoney from Ireland to the US in the mid-1850s to escape the potato famine. Despite rampant discrimination, he contributes to the growing nation as a brick-layer and railroad man. Part II extends into the American West with Devin’s son, Dillon, who becomes a US Marshal and California oilman. Part III transitions to the story of David Mahoney as he rediscovers the country his forefathers helped build and finds himself in the process.

Joyce tells the story in an omniscient point of view, sprinkling third-person and first-person narratives with historical details about the time and place, the men’s vocations, living conditions, war, justice, and injustice. These details are well researched and add a fascinating backdrop to the human story. Descriptions are vivid, and the pace is leisurely.

The characters are richly developed. The dialog is exceptional, and relationships feel authentic. I felt connected to each of the three men and their stories and was moved at the end as David Mahoney embraces the legacy left by his father and grandfather. An excellent read that will appeal to anyone who enjoys stories about multi-generational families, historical fiction, or the making of a nation.

 

Life in a Flash

by Geoff Le Pard

This generous collection of flash fiction is full of quirky humor. Le Pard has a way of exaggerating recognizable human interactions and bringing to light their inherent nonsense in a fresh and delightful way. I kept opening my Kindle during the night to read one or two more.

But humor isn’t the only offering on the book’s pages. Sprinkled among the laughs are some poignant stories that strum the heartstrings, and some social commentary that points to the human condition and the current struggles faced by many. I highly recommend this book to readers who enjoy flash fiction and a clever and imaginative take on life.

Indie Book Reviews: Part I

The best thing about spending the last 2 months driving between Oregon and Washington, living out of a suitcase, and ignoring my bossy muse has been catching up on reading. Indie books were gifts from heaven!

It’s been a while since I’ve shared reviews of books I’ve enjoyed. These are in no particular order. And there are more to come!

 

A Thousand Yesteryears

by Mae Clair

Intriguing plot and believable characters. At the death of her aunt, Eve Parrish returns to Point Pleasant to sell off the family hotel. Not only is the town known for sightings of a fantastical creature, the mothman, it’s also the location of a bridge collapse that, fifteen years ago, claimed the life of Eve’s father and friend. That tragedy still hangs over the town, and Eve has no plans to stay.

But her old crush Caden Flynn still lives in town, a man haunted by the events of the collapse that took his sister’s life. The truth about what happened that day begins to unravel when the home of Eve’s aunt is vandalized, and she begins receiving threatening notes. Someone wants her gone, even if he needs to kill her.

The story is a high-paced paranormal thriller with vivid worldbuilding and a touch of romance. The plot holds together well with all pieces falling into place. The characters are emotionally rich and thoroughly credible, not only the main characters but those on the periphery. I was intrigued by the mothman and its mysterious relationship to the events. Excellent fun and highly recommended. I’m eager to read more of the series.

Global Link to Amazon

***

Survival of the Fittest

by Jacqui Murray

Fascinating world-building. I seem to have developed a taste for prehistoric fiction. After reading Murray’s Born in a Treacherous Time, I was looking forward to her next foray into the dawn of man. This book takes place 850,000 years after Born in a Treacherous Time and is the first book in a trilogy. It’s not a stand-alone novel so be prepared to move on to Book 2 when it comes out.

The plot of the story is something of a quest as three separate groups of early man abandon their home-bases in search of safer ones. A changing climate, dwindling resources, and danger from a growing number of aggressive tribes drive them onward.

To some extent, the first half of the book is three separate stories, one for each group. They join into one larger group about mid-way through the read, and the rest of the book deals with the choices made to procure peace and ensure their survival. Subplots and characters add flavor to the story, all in the well-researched context of prehistoric life where, naturally, the norms are different than they are today.

One group dominates more of the book than the other two. The main character is a female leader, Xhosa. Her responsibility is to protect her people from a variety of dangers, particularly from other humans, while they search for a new home. She’s a complex character, thoughtful and ingenious, and callous as needed in a world where the weak jeopardize the entire group.

Secondary characters have distinct personalities, strengths, weaknesses, and quirks which add complexity to the “human” tale. There are power struggles, deceptions, kindnesses, and wisdom. The world-building is a fascinating foray into prehistoric landscapes. Though fiction, Murray deftly brought to life a time we have little record of. Highly recommended.

Global Link to Amazon

***

 

Short & Not Always Sweet

by Dorinda Duclos

Stories to savor. Duclos offers a generous selection of over 60 short stories, pieces of poetic prose, and flash fiction in a compilation that kept me enthralled for an entire afternoon. The writing is lovely, evocative, and in many cases emotional. Some pieces are lyrical and heartfelt reflections with themes centered on nature, serenity, and empowerment. Others are dark forays into ghostly hauntings and the realms of murder and revenge. Some of my favorites are Patience, Dusk, Wilted, and I Am. A wonderful way to spend an afternoon or to savor over a week, one page at a time.

Global Link to Amazon

***

Happy Reading!