Another month of reviews
including some from my Autumn Reading Challenge
(which I’m already behind on – yeesh).
This month, my offering of 4 and 5 star reviews includes thrillers, humor, sci-fi, horror, short stories, and YA fantasy. I hope you enjoy the browse.
Click on the covers for Amazon global links.
You Beneath Your Skin by Damyanti Biswas
This debut novel by Biswas travels at breakneck speed. Set in India, it deals with the atrocious and criminal practice of throwing acid in women’s faces. But that’s only one theme in this complex and engaging plot that kept me riveted from page one. I’m not surprised that this book is receiving so much acclaim.
A police investigation headed by Jitan Bhatt into the mutilations and murders of several women intersects with an acid attack on Anjali Morgan, his lover. Everything goes totally crazy, and I mean Totally Crazy, as characters get tangled up in a web of power, secrets, confessions, and extremely hard choices.
Though I sympathized with Anjali, Jitan was the character that captured my attention. He’s the one who’s pulled in every possible direction as his marriage and career teeters on the brink of destruction, his son forces impossible choices, and his sense of morality is challenged in the face of a system riddled with corruption.
The story is a thriller indeed, but it’s also about inner strength and survival, identity and love, truth and justice, and what one is willing to do for family. An excellent read that I found difficult to put down.
The Stones (Astral Conspiracy #2) by D. L. Cross
Book two of the Astral Conspiracy series starts off at a thrilling pace that doesn’t let up right to the last page. At the same time, somehow, the narrative managed to catch me up on what happened in The Gate, so if it’s been awhile since reading book one, no worries.
In this book, the aliens have landed. Professor Landon Thorne is front and center again. But the story tracks a number of contingents with separate agendas – from a paramilitary “resistance” unit to a brutal agency called CORE to a fanatical priest who believes the aliens are the spawn of the Devil. There’s a lot going on.
Thorne’s focus is on following several ancient clues that might explain the aliens’ objectives and how to defeat them. Thorne’s knowledge is interesting, entangled with well-researched speculation into the akashic records, Atlantean firestones, and the Georgia Guidestones. He and his team are at risk as the factions attempt to protect, control, or kill them.
The aliens are still a mystery in this book. They come in several variations and can be incredibly violent. Cross doesn’t hold back on the human violence either, which raises the stakes for all the characters. The world-building is great and full of details that add authenticity.
It’s clear that the series is one long and complex story, and therefore should be read in order. This book doesn’t wrap up neatly but ends with a big cliffhanger. The good news is that the series will be complete at the end of September 2020 so readers can keep going without a hitch. A highly recommended series for sci-fi fans.
In Search of McDoogal by Mae Clair
In this lighthearted novella (about a 90-minute read), Brady and his friend Declan go in search of a painting of an ugly cat named McDoogal. Brady accidently sold his artist-girlfriend’s creation when filling in for her at an art sale, and he’s got one day to hunt it down and buy it back.
A road trip ensues and finding the painting isn’t as simple as it seems. Several colorful characters come into play, and there’s plenty of witty dialog about the feline subject of the artwork. Brady’s deadline keeps the pace moving.
This is a purely feel-good read, fine for the whole family. Definitely check out the author’s Afterword about the real McDoogal – it’s a touching treat for anyone who’s ever loved a cat.
Tales from the Thrift by Kim Laettner
Francine gets a job working at a thrift store, but this is no ordinary shop. The customers who come in usually find exactly what they’re looking for—sometimes a memory, sometimes healing, sometimes kindness, and perhaps even romance. It’s a magical place where I’d love to work!
The story is told from Francine’s third-person POV with some minor tangents into the POVs of other characters. The pace is steady and the book is an engaging read with well-rounded, genuine characters through and through. Francine is a strong female protagonist, and I liked that she was able to take care of herself without needing a man to manage or rescue her. The dialog is fabulous, though some speaker confusion interrupted the story’s flow. Otherwise, I was swept right in.
This is primarily a sweet romance, but about halfway through, a second plot enters the story as women in the area start showing up dead. There are a number of red herrings and until the reveal I wasn’t sure who the murderer was. I’d recommend this book to readers of romance who enjoy a dose of magic and murder to spice things up.
Malice and Foresight: Short Stories of Malice and Murder
This collection of 4 short stories kept me entertained for an hour on a rainy afternoon. Each story reads like a vignette, with vivid characters and a quick pace. The central theme is murder with a bit of malevolence and planning, and the stories are quite different from each other. A favorite was hard to choose, but I probably enjoyed “The Marshall Sisters” most of all. Recommended for short story readers who enjoy a good murder and quality writing.
Diaballein by Cage Dunn
This is an unusual read. The writing style is distinct with short sentences and fragments that almost give it a staccato quality. The narrative is highly “present” with minimal backstory or internal reflection. I felt as though I experienced the story the very instant it happened, each sight, action, and thought recorded with precise detail. My only challenge was that I noticed the fascinating writing more than the tale.
That said, this is an engaging story. It alternates between two characters, Kano and Eyza, both struggling with what is real and what is madness. I liked the uncertainty while it lasted, and it was during this time of disorientation that I most connected with the characters. I felt their panic, as well as the power of their choices and the risks they took. The staccato quality of the writing added to the disjointed feel of the characters’ thoughts, which I thought was effective.
The story takes place in the Australian bush and an amazing sense of place grounds the narrative. Both characters are researchers, one a metallurgist, the other a naturalist. Their research brings them to the outback where a dark force is at play. The quick pace becomes quicker for the second half of the read when the couple battles the Diaballein. The battle feels both epic and surreal as science overlaps with ancient lore and Earth magic. I recommend this novella to readers looking for something different. It’s worth exploring.
Maya and the Book of Everything by Laurie Graves
I love magical books, and the Book of Everything that a desperate woman slips into Maya’s pocket is magical indeed. And apparently, it’s no accident that Maya and the book find each other. The book has many talents, including the ability to transport her to other times and planets.
With her friend from the past, Andy, Maya travels to a medieval world, Ilyria where she encounters two dukes, rival brothers vying for control of the dukedom. And the Book of Everything in Maya’s pocket isn’t the only magical book in play. If both books come into the possession of those who wish to exert control over knowledge, all will be lost.
The world-building is engaging including the wondrous Great Library and the Toad Queen who “peels” Maya’s eyes. Maya was my favorite character, a brave 15-year-old with a strong sense of duty. She always chooses well, which is something that can’t be said of everyone in these pages.
The story starts off at a brisk pace, though there’s a significant portion of the second half that proceeds without Maya and the pace slows. There are bad guys and poor choices but no gory violence and little death. For that reason, I think this book is well-suited for young teens on up to adults who enjoy YA tales. I’m curious to see where the Book of Everything takes Maya next!
I Wouldn’t Be Surprised: A Short Story by D. L. Finn
This thriller of a short story starts with an evening of laughter between Janice and her husband, Dale. Her supposed lack of surprise at some hypothetical scenarios sets the couple up for trouble when a ghost tests their bravado. The scary-factor ramps up quickly without much backstory or foreshadowing. Go with the flow, and enjoy the build-up of creepy tension; the ghost will provide backstory near the end.
I’ve read other books by DL Flinn and think this would make a great prequel to her world of ghosts, red-eyed evildwels, and angels. Janice and Dale’s story continues beyond this short read, and I liked learning how it all began. A quick tale for readers of paranormal thrillers and for fans of Finn’s evildwel-based fiction..