June Book Reviews (Part Two)

More book reviews for the month of June, as promised. I suspect July will be quieter (famous last words). I hope you find a great read for the beach or hammock, or for those readers in the thick of winter, a story to warm you by the fire.

Below are reviews for this month’s 4 and 5-star reads including fantasy, YA fantasy, women’s fiction, romance, historical fiction, and a 10-author collaborative suspense novel.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

Can I find the words to say how much I enjoyed this magical fantasy series? Probably not. This is Book 3 of the Winternight Trilogy, and it’s easy to see why it’s a best seller. The trilogy is a retelling of a Russian (Ukrainian) folk tale, and I loved the lore and mythology, the old-world beliefs in the unseen spirits of land and rivers, dooryards and kitchens.

The invisible world is alive, but fading in the face of Christianity. Vasya embraces her identity as a witch as well as her ability to cross into the mysterious and dangerous spirit world. As war looms, Vasya is determined to save the old gods, her family, and the country that tried to kill her. Her sacrifices and courage are gripping, and there are some terrifying and heart-wrenching scenes in this book. I found it almost impossible to put down.

On top of that, the writing is exquisite with beautiful metaphors and descriptions. For readers who love lyrical storytelling, the book is mesmerizing. Characters are deeply drawn, straight from lore and legend, and the relationships are fraught with loyalty, loathing, cruelty, and love. At its heart, this is a love story, but nothing is straightforward and simple in this series. Highly recommended to fantasy readers, especially those who enjoy fairytale retellings, magic, lore, mythology, stupendous characters, a gripping tale, and beautiful writing.

*****

Bits of Broken Glass by Martha Reynolds

A twenty-fifth high school reunion is being planned for six months in the future, and for four characters it becomes an opportunity to think back on how those important years shaped them. For Kellie and Joe it stirs up old trauma. For Cherry, it’s an opportunity to make amends, and for Scott it’s an opportunity missed.

The actual reunion takes place in the last chapter, so the book is really about the lead-up to that event. Each character has a separate POV narrative, which begins to intersect with other characters as the day draws near. I enjoyed the way the author slowly revealed each character’s memories as well as how their lives had progressed. The healing that takes place was cathartic and touching. To me, it seemed that karma was in play, and that kindness bred kindness, as well as the other way around.

The characters were beautifully crafted, their actions and choices realistic and their emotions full of depth. Secondary characters had the same three-dimensional feel. The story unfolds in third-person with a little first-person mixed in. The pace was excellent, and I read the book in two days since it caught me and wouldn’t let go. Recommended to readers who enjoy women’s fiction, and stories about personal growth and rising above old hurts. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Between the Vines by Staci Troilo

Elena is a wedding planner who doesn’t trust love. In fact, she’s downright cynical. Aaron, a local cop, has been cheated on in his past, and he’s sworn off love. But his sister’s wedding brings him face to face with Elena and neither of them know how to handle the attraction. Then Heather, Aaron’s cheating ex-girlfriend and a woman you love to hate, enters the scene and pins a target on Elena’s back.

I read this short romance in a couple of hours. The third of the Keystone Couples novellas, the book has fun cameos from the first two but can easily be read as a stand-alone. The pace moves along quickly with plenty of cross-communication, fiery ladies, and a cop who’s not sure how to handle any of it. There are also some very tender testaments to love, and a huge dollop of kindness. An entertaining quick read highly recommended to romance fans. (Kindle Unlimited)

*****

Jealousy of a Viking by V. M. Sang

This historical fiction takes place around the year 860 AD when Danes and Saxons were occupying Britain. Helgha is a young woman who falls in love with Erik, a man above her status. With marriage out of the question, Erik kills her father and sweeps Helgha away to become his bed slave. In love with him, Helgha complies and bears him two sons. And when Erik weds someone of his own class, Helgha begins a devious journey of sabotaging his wife’s pregnancies. Her actions set off a cascade of tragedies.

I’m happy to say that, though jealousy and wicked thoughts follow her for most of the book, Helgha has an arc that allows her to mature and find redemption. She’s a deeply drawn character, and when she finds her heart and inner strength, it’s refreshing. As she matured and became a kinder person, I connected more with her than I did in the beginning. I didn’t like either of the men she loved (due to their treatment of women), but they did feel realistic.

At the end of the book, the author shares some of her research regarding historical events, as well as some cultural details (both researched and speculated). The book focuses on the role of women as the bearers of sons. True to life at the time, the trials of pregnancy, birth, and miscarriage occur frequently within the read, but there’s also lots of action and danger that kept me flipping the pages.

A sub-plot of Helgha’s shifting religious beliefs is exceptionally done and felt quite authentic. The pace moved at a good clip, and I found excuses to keep reading. Recommended for readers who enjoy historical fiction, especially regarding Vikings in Britain.

*****

Altitudinis: Seekers, Sinners & Secrets: A Collaborative Novel

Altitudinis is a serum under development that promises exceptional endurance at high altitudes. It will benefit India’s military as well as its businesses whose employees work in the mountains. But it hasn’t been tested on humans, and unwitting adventurers are targeted for trials. And there are unscrupulous thieves who would like to steal the research and sell it as their own.

Those are only two plot threads that run through this suspense/romance/family drama written by ten authors. The complexity of such a writing collaboration intrigued me, and it may be one reason why there was so much going on in the book with the plots and subplots. Overall, it was surprisingly cohesive and consistent, as if written by one author. That’s quite a feat.

The pace moves quickly. One of the challenges with so much plot-related action, as well as the number of main characters, is that there wasn’t much time to get deeply into the characters’ psyches, emotions, or backstories. Nikhil and Nirali were the exceptions with some time given to their relationship and romance. Because I got to know them personally, they were my favorites.

With the addition of an omniscient POV, this book struck me as a broad versus deep story. Readers looking for a character-driven book may find themselves wanting more depth and focus, but readers who enjoy action-driven stories that don’t get bogged down in messy emotions, description, and backstory, may have found just the thing to fill an afternoon of reading. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Golden Healer by M. J. Mallon

I read the first book in this series years ago, but the story came back to me quickly. Amelina continues her journey to understand her magical abilities and the power of the crystals while at the same time she navigates her teen years with her friends and family. I definitely recommend that readers start with book one to orient themselves to this world and the characters.

This book isn’t an easy read, and it wasn’t surprising to me that each chapter is titled a “Puzzle.” The writing is beautiful and rich with description, but much of it takes place in the spirit world through visions and dreams. There are helpers and kind spirits as well as dark shadow demons. Shadows take shape in multiple forms, the primary one being Ryder, who manipulates the world in both real life and dream life.

The main conflict seems to be between the forces of good and evil as they meet in different situations. The author’s world-building is often dazzling, and occasionally I lost track of the plot in all the beautiful visuals and fascinating scenes. My attention remained rapt, but the result was a slow pace.

The primary narrator is Amelina, but her father and friends share the POV. The story unfolds in first person, third person, and omniscient. The action in the book is well described as are the intense emotions of the characters. Readers who enjoy vivid dreamlike worlds, metaphysical and new age spirituality, and coming-of-age stories may find just the thing within these magical pages.

*****

Happy Reading!

June Book Reviews (Part One)

It looks like June is going to be another successful month of reading, so breaking my monthly reviews into two posts seemed like a good idea. I have a bunch of great reads for you to browse, and more on the way.

Below are reviews for this month’s 4 and 5-star reads including a sci-fi thriller, three poetry collections, a paranormal suspense novel, and a romance/action mash-up.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The Insurgent by Teri Polen

I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series (Subject A36) and couldn’t wait to get into the second. It didn’t disappoint. Our hero, Asher, has surrendered to his bio-engineered personality (A36) and become a serious threat to his old team of insurgents. The insurgents are battling the Colony, a diabolical organization that harvests the genes of children (by killing them) so wealthy people can enhance their bodies.

The leader of the Colony, Silas, is a great antagonist because he’s so horrid! And sadly, Asher has become his killing machine. Declan rises to the top as the main protagonist in this book, and he has some relationships to repair after betraying his friends in the last one.

The author spends the first part of the story catching readers up on the characters and what happened during book one. Forward progress doesn’t really take off until about the 20% mark and then it’s non-stop action, twists and turns, deception, plotting, and battling right up until the end, which wraps up nicely.

Despite Asher’s months of murdering people, I still felt a lot of empathy for him from the first book (and recommend reading them both, in order). Declan was convincing, and I liked his sense of humor, but Brinn, and her unwavering trust in Asher’s love, was my favorite. This isn’t a long book and I had a hard time putting it down. Highly recommended for sci-fi readers and fans of fast-paced action. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Jagged Feathers by Jan Sikes

Van Noble lost his leg in Afghanistan, and he has a huge inferiority complex about being an incomplete man, but when he discovers Nakina Bird on the run from a Mexican cartel, he steps right up, determined to help her. Thus begins this exciting romance/thriller mashup.

The story has a nice balance of action and romance – the book is definitely both, and Sikes spends a lot of time on character development, which paid off. I connected with both Nakina and Van, and I liked how the action grounded their relationship. Nothing frivolous going on here as they have some serious goals to achieve.

For fans of paranormal fiction or new age mysticism, Nakina has psychic abilities that thread through the story and impact the plot. There are sex scenes and a great deal of sweetness with these characters, but the action ramps up the pace between the romantic lulls. I found both aspects of the story realistic and engaging. Characters from Book One play a secondary role in this story, and this book can be read as a stand-alone without any confusion. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy romance/action mashups.

*****

Life & Soul by Harmony Kent

I read the first book of poetry by this author and was happy to pick up the second. This little collection is full of gems and took me about two hours to read, spread over several days. The styles of poems vary, including both free form and multiple forms of syllabic poetry. Some of the poems run for several pages and some are very brief (but wonderfully powerful).

The book is divided into six sections that address different aspects of a soul’s journey or state of being. Part I, Lonely Soul expresses isolation and longing. Seeking Soul addresses disillusionment and pain. Brief Soul is full of short but impactful poetry, such as this:

Beneficent sage
This old willow
Bowing its crown

Part IV is titled Friendly Soul and explores the importance of friendships. Loving Soul extends into love relationships, and finally, Life of a Soul is a long poem that tells the story of the author’s life, one that I was familiar with from her first book.

There were a lot of poems that I enjoyed. Several of my favorites were Echoes, Life Goes On, Hope, Lost Property, Not Looking, and Unconditional. Okay, more than “several,” but all calling attention to the author’s talent. Highly recommended to fans of poetry looking for a touching read about a soul’s journey. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Quantum Wanderlust: A Short Story Anthology

I love time travel and all the ways it can manipulate reality. This book of thirteen time-travel short stories by thirteen authors offers a wide variety of twists on the topic. The genres vary from fantasy to horror to romance. Some stories are spooky, some are sinister, and others are wonderfully poignant.

The Butterfly effect enters into a number of stories but not all of them. Time travel is used to recover lost memories, and to deal with overpopulation in a dystopian future. It plays out in connecting families, getting revenge, and preventing tragedies.

I appreciated the variety of stories, and as with most anthologies, I enjoyed some more than others. There’s plenty of high-quality writing in here with compelling characters and satisfying conclusions. This is an excellent way to explore new authors, and after each story, there’s a short biography of the author with links to their other books and social media.

One thing was clear from reading this collection: Avoid traveling through time, because more often than not, something is going to go terribly wrong. Recommended to readers who enjoy short stories and speculative fiction, and who adore time travel twists. (Free on Kindle).

*****

A Voice in the Silence by D. L. Finn

Drea, a recent widow, lives alone in her home far from town. There’s a serial killer roaming the area and a winter storm on the way. But what initially finds its way into her home isn’t a murderer, but a trio of animals who’ve escaped from a lab—a dog, a cat, and a rat. And before she knows it, they’re doing things that no animals should be able to do. They talk.

Suspension of disbelief was a necessity for this book. In some ways, the fantastical abilities of the animals gave the story a whimsical, childlike innocence. But that quality is countered by the presence of a serial killer outside in the storm, and the suspense intensifies when Drea finds his footprints in the snow. With the help of her animal family, a ghost, and a caring police officer, she just might get through the storm alive.

Three major plot lines thread through the story, and each comes to its own satisfying climax rather than all resolving at the end. The main protagonists are well-rounded characters, and that includes the animals. My favorites were Drea, Adam, and Charlie the dog. The villains range from mentally ill to completely deranged.

The story unfolds primarily from Drea’s perspective though the overall POV is omniscient. The pace is good, and descriptions gave a clear picture of the action and setting. There’s a romantic undercurrent and some violence, including an off-stage suicide. Overall, I’d say this book is suitable for YA and adult audiences, and I recommend it to readers who enjoy paranormal stories and want to try something whimsical, suspenseful, and entirely different. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Summer Magic by Marcia Meara

I loved Meara’s Wake Robin Ridge series, and this short book of 18 poems is written by the main character Mackenzie Cole (not really, but you get the idea). The poems are lovely glimpses of childhood summers and growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. For this nature-loving reader who spent her summers exploring the woods of Vermont, it was like a trip down memory lane.

The book is divided into two parts: Mac at Ten (about his childhood), and Poems of Love & Life (told from the perspective of an adult). Some of my favorite poems were: The Rope Swing, Star-gazing, and Bruises.

One stanza from Bruises:

Badges.
Attesting to his bravery,
Marking his adventures,
And confirming in his mind
His place among Immortals.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author (ages ago) without any expectation of a review. I’m glad I finally read it. Highly recommended to poetry readers and grown-up kids who remember the magic of summer.

*****

Poetry Treasures 2: Relationships (WordCrafter Anthology)

I enjoyed the first Poetry Treasures anthology and decided to give this one a try as well. The anthology includes a selection of poems from twelve poets, and as the title suggests, the theme of relationships guided the work. Despite the unifying theme, the poems were quite varied in content and style, and I enjoyed the diversity of forms and voices.

In many anthologies, there’s a range of skill, and some pieces reflect more talent than others. I have to say that in this case, I found all of the poems well-crafted and a pleasure to read. Some of them I recognized from previously published anthologies, and it’s a good sign of their quality that they were so memorable.

That said, I did have some favorites—too many to list, of course. Here is a handful that I especially enjoyed: “The Red Petticoat” by Elizabeth Merry, “A Jar” by D. Avery, “She Lives and Yet She’s Dead” by Robbie Cheadle, and “Fat Belly Joy” by Marjorie Mallon. And so many more.

Prior to each set of poems there’s a short biography of the poet. Many of these poets have their own published collections for readers who didn’t get enough here. The book took me about an hour to read (approximately 36 poems in all) and it was an hour well spent. Highly recommended

*****

Happy Reading!

May Book Reviews

I read so many great books over my break that I decided to hold a couple book reviews until June. I have soooo many great reads for you to browse.

Below are reviews for this month’s 4 and 5-star reads including a historical fiction, a thriller, three romances, a cozy mystery, a horror short story collection, a MG horror novella, a women’s lit novel, and a debut poetry anthology.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The Russian Concubine by Kate Furnivall

If you like Amy Tan, I think you’ll enjoy this beautiful, often gripping, often heart-wrenching, and tragically romantic historical fiction. The book opens toward the end of the Russian revolution and then shifts eight years into the future to an international settlement in China, another nation on the brink of communism. Lydia is sixteen, living with her Russian mother as refugees, and they’re barely scraping by.

The story unfolds primarily in Lydia’s third-person POV. She’s learned to take risks to support herself and her mother, and having grown up in China, in the midst of its culture and people, she lacks the biases of the older adults in her life. Her audacity and fearlessness thrust her into dangerous situations and into a relationship with a Chinese young man. Their story is filled with tenderness and wonder, and the sense of impending tragedy was enough to keep me up at night. This book in many ways is a love story (reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet), though I wouldn’t characterize it as a romance.

The characters are exceptional, so beautifully drawn, flawed, dangerous, and heroic. The descriptions are richly visual, and I could “see” this book as I read. One of the things that brought both characters and descriptions to life was the attention to the details of time and place, as well as how the western and Chinese cultures interacted and clashed. Everything in this book is nuanced, and I loved that.

One note that I feel compelled to share is that, to me, Lydia was neither a concubine nor a mistress as the title suggests. Instead, she’s a young woman caught up in the sweep of cultures and history and love. This is a fabulous book that I highly recommend to readers of historical fiction who enjoy Asian cultures and settings and who want both gripping action and a beautiful love story.

*****

She Who Returns by Audrey Driscoll

I enjoyed the first book in this series, “She Who Comes Forth,” which introduced France Leighton and her archeological initiation into ancient Egypt. In this sequel, France returns to Egypt two years after her last disastrous and mystifying experience. She’s accompanied by her newly discovered half-brothers and her friend Willa. All four of them travel for different reasons, France to seek answers to lingering questions about what happened to her and about her paranormal connection to an ancient tomb.

As in the first book, the author’s world-building and knowledge of Egyptian archeology are impressive, and I was immersed in the physical reality of the setting. The spiritual, mythological, and paranormal elements of the story combine with antiquities theft to create layers of danger for France and her companions.

The narrative unfolds in France’s first-person POV, and I found all of the characters authentic and compelling. Having read the first book, I had a better grasp of the complex relationships that continue to impact France and are key to understanding many of the story’s plot threads. I definitely recommend reading the books in order. A great tale for readers who enjoy paranormal stories, thrillers, and Egyptian mythology. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Pour it On by Staci Troilo

Romy Chandler owns a popular restaurant, and Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. With a big meet and greet event on the books (which also promises future business) she wants everything to go perfectly. But at the last minute, her wine sommelier quits. She’s desperate for a replacement, and the employment agency sends a fellow named Rick to cover the night.

Rick Santucci owns and operates a family vineyard and would like to provide Romy’s restaurant with wine. He drops by unannounced, and what ensues is a wild and very plausible case of mistaken identity.

This is a short romantic novella that I read in under an hour. It’s the second of the Keystone Couples series but stands alone without any difficulty. The characters are great fun and well-rounded. The mix-up is the major plotline and obstacle of the story, and it’s cleverly done. I highly recommend this entertaining, well-written, and light-hearted romance. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Academic Curveball by James J. Cudney

Kellan Ayrwick heads home to Braxton with two things to accomplish: one, to celebrate his father’s retirement from his job as president of Braxton College; and two, to interview professor Abby Monroe for his true crime television show. When Abby ends up dead, Kellan’s in the perfect position to conduct an investigation while trying not to step on the local sheriff’s toes.

The story is told from Kellan’s POV, and he’s a believable, three-dimensional character with complex relationships including a complicated one with his father. The cast of characters is extensive, but they’re distinctly drawn. Nana D was a hoot and my favorite aside from Kellan. Many of the characters are plausible suspects in the murder investigation, which meant this book was loaded with red herrings, and my early guess as to who was the murderer was wrong!

The pace moves along, following Kellan’s investigation. The narrative captures the feel of small towns and their quirky townspeople, and the limited violence in the book happens “off stage.” I enjoyed Kellan’s dogged amassing of clues and his navigation through the maze of lies and misdirection as he figured out what happened. This is the first book I read in the Braxton Campus Mysteries series, and I suspect it won’t be the last. Highly recommended to readers of cozy murder mysteries. (Kindle Free).

*****

The Sheriff Meets His Match by Jacquie Biggar

 In book 4 of the Tidal Falls series the focus shifts to Sheriff Jack Garrett. He finds his new secretary Laurel Doyle irresistible, and she thinks the hunky sheriff is pretty hot too. But she has a problematic past as a swindler that doesn’t want to stay in her past. Her uncle wants her to pull one more scam to help pay off a debt to his son-in-law, Joe. And Joe is out to make sure he gets paid.

The story is a novella-length romance that checks all the boxes with some danger and action thrown into the mix. Biggar’s characters are always engaging, and I like the way this tale refers back to characters I’ve already gotten to know in previous books. Though there’s an overarching storyline (that of Maggie) that remains unresolved, this book reads well as a standalone. I polished off the book in one sitting and look forward to the next in the series. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

O’Roarke’s Destiny by Shehanne Moore

In this historical romance, Destiny Rhodes has a problem—her drunk of a brother has lost her ancestral home, Doom Bar Hall, in a card game to the last person she ever wanted to see. Divers O’Roarke might be handsome, but long ago, he cursed her with ruin. All she has left is her home, and now he’s trying to kick her out. Fat chance she’s going to go. Thus begins this enemies-to-friends romance complete with smugglers, excisemen, unfounded accusations, mistaken assumptions, and lots of witty dialog.

Moore’s style shines through with a quick pace and lots of clever internal dialog mixed in with outrage and laugh-out-loud humor. As in the other books of hers that I’ve read, sex plays a secondary role to the push-pull of attraction and the complications offered by the plot, which in this case has quite a bit of action, twists, and danger.

The POV is shared by Destiny and Divers, and it was easy to see how their different perspectives fueled their conflict. Like many of Moore’s leading ladies, Destiny is a spitfire, very witty, full of exaggerations, and constantly jumping to conclusions and acting on them. Divers is a little more of a mystery, a man with a secret agenda, and a straight man against her outrageous personality. I liked the dynamic. Recommended to romance readers and readers who enjoy a fast-paced, tangled plot, and entertaining characters who will make you laugh.

*****

Zoo of the Dead by Iseult Murphy

I read this collection of nine horror short stories in one sitting late into the night, and was highly entertained by the variety! From zombies and selkies, to vampires, succubus, strange hotel rooms, and a date with Death, no two stories are alike and most end with an enjoyable twist.

The tales aren’t overly gruesome, but they are definitely creepy. After each story, the author provides a brief description of her inspiration. Three of my favorites were Death’s Girlfriend, Checking Out, and Dead Jimmy and the Selkie. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy horror short stories with lots of originality and variety. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Reaper: A Horror Novella by Jonathan Pongratz

When his parents go out for the evening on Halloween, they leave 13-yr-old Greg babysitting for Imogene, his younger sister. Things don’t go well, and before the night is over, Imogene has vanished. Something terrible happened in the basement of their home and no one believes Greg when he tells them what he saw. Greg learns that Immy isn’t the only child to go missing over the years, and he’s determined to find out what’s happening and put an end to it.

This horror novella is a quick read that I polished off in one sitting. The writing is straightforward, there’s lots of great suspense, and the horror isn’t gruesome, so the story seems appropriate for horror-loving middle-grade kids on up to adult readers.

Greg is a great character, a typical kid annoyed by his younger sibling, though his love comes through loud and clear, as well as his courage and persistence. Trent, another boy who lost a sibling, is also well-rounded and a complementary ally. There’s a lot of action, and the story ends on something of a cliff-hanger, setting the stage for Reaper II. A quick, entertaining story for readers who enjoy young protagonists, creepy adults, and scary monsters.

*****

Linda’s Midlife Crisis by Toni Pike

Linda is an overweight teacher, bullied by her students, ignored by the school’s administration, and unappreciated by her husband who has no problem humiliating her, at home and in public. When Linda has a breakdown and is ordered to rest, her husband, feeling burdened, leaves her. The sense of relief begins Linda’s journey into remaking her life.

Linda faces few obstacles in her path beyond her own self-doubt as she forges ahead with some eye-opening determination. She has wonderful support from family and friends, and though most opportunities fall easily into her lap, she also takes risks. I’d categorize the story as Women’s Lit and though it’s fictional, it offers some practical advice on how to remake one’s life, as well as messages of empowerment.

The pace is spot on for a book light on conflict, and I finished it in a day. I enjoyed the array of well-developed characters, especially Linda who carries the POV. This happily-ever-after story would make a fun beach read. Recommended to Women’s Lit readers who are looking for a light and entertaining way to spend a few hours. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

My Mom’s Shadow by Mariana Dynasty

Dynasty’s debut book of poetry is a short one, consisting of five poems encompassing some of the life lessons she’s learned growing up with a struggling mother and demanding stepfather. It’s less than a 15-minute read. The poems are heartfelt and raw, and from the start, they reminded me of spoken word poetry with its repetition, subtle rhyme, and play with words. The themes of struggle, identity, and overcoming hardship also lend themselves to this genre. For that reason, I read the book aloud and thoroughly enjoyed the power that “voice” added to the form. Recommended to poetry readers who want to explore the work of a new author, enjoy spoken word poetry, and are looking for a quick read. (Kindle Unlimited).

Happy Reading!

My 5-star reviews of books by Sally Cronin, blogger and writer extraordinaire

Today is the International Day of Awesomeness and the authors at Story Empire decided to honor an awesome blogger, author, and supporter of the indie community: Sally Cronin.

Since I’m out and about today, this is a repost of my book reviews for Sally’s awesome books. Enjoy the browse and, of course, have an AWESOME day!

***

Sally and her blog Smorgasbord Invitation is a household name around WordPress. She’s one of the most generous bloggers this side of Sunday, and how she manages to keep up her wide range of posts continues to amaze me. I think she has a workshop of elves in the attic.

If you’re not already a fan, check out her blog for book and author promotions, reviews, music, humor, food and health tips, short stories, and poetry. All that, and….

she’s an exquisite writer.

I couldn’t think of a better way to thank Sally for her kindness than to share my reviews of some of her books. You can’t go wrong with any of these.

5-Star reads by author Sally Cronin

(In no particular order)

(click on cover for global link to Amazon)

Life is like a Mosaic: Random Fragments in Harmony

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

***

Life is like a Bowl of Cherries: Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet

I love Cronin’s short stories and snagged this anthology the day it came out. The author describes it as a collection of short tales that reflect “the complexities of life, love, and loss.” That’s a fit description. There are stories of kindness, family, grief, courage, and second chances. The characters are ordinary and relatable, but they’re also extraordinary in those moments that define who they are as people.

The first story in the anthology, The Weekly Shopping, is hilarious if not a little ominous, but the rest of the selections are touching. Many are heartwarming, and I wanted to hug the characters. I enjoyed the whole collection but my favorites were: The Scratch Card, The Charity Shop, The Date, and The Gardening Assistant. Between the stories are selections of syllabic poetry. A crown cinquain entitled The Birds was just beautiful. I highly recommend this anthology to anyone who loves well-written short stories about life.

***

Just an Odd Job Girl

Click on cover to order

One of the books that flew west with me was Sally Cronin’s Just an Odd Job Girl. In more ways than one, it’s a great summer story.

I picked up this book while on vacation and thoroughly enjoyed it. A quick read at 156 pages, the book begins with an older Imogen. At 50, she’s on her own, traded-in by her husband for a younger “fast-tracker.” After 25 years of raising children and keeping house, she feels frumpy and bored, and decides to find a job.

The temp agency asks for a resume of her work experience, and all she has is a long list of pre-marriage odd jobs, starting with a summer stint as a teenager at a seaside gift kiosk and rambling through temporary positions with a dental office, department store, bar, funeral parlor, boys school, and country inn.

As the reader joins Imogene on a reflective journey through her odd jobs, it’s impossible not to laugh at her antics, the colorful characters she meets along the way, and the predicaments she gets herself into and out of. What I enjoyed most, was young Imogene’s humanity. She’s a wonderful combination of funny, compassionate, resourceful, and fearless. I couldn’t wait to see the fix she got into next.

In addition to laughs, Just an Odd Job Girl has a lovely message for young adults as well as those of us getting on in age: that life is full of opportunities, that wonderful people are everywhere, and that you are never to old to grow. Get your copy for the beach or backyard hammock. You won’t be disappointed.

***

Life’s Rich Tapestries: Woven in Words

Cronin is a master storyteller and this collection of poems, flash fiction, and short stories makes for a delightful afternoon. The first part of the book is comprised of syllabic poetry with themes based on nature, the human experience, a love of animals, and a bit of magic. Following her poetry, Cronin offers a number of 99-word flash fiction stories, and then dives into her short stories for the bulk of the read.

The short stories were my favorite part of the book as the author writes with a great deal of heart, which comes through beautifully in her plots and characters. Most of her work is positive in nature with a focus on the goodness found in life. Like her poetry, Cronin’s short stories are arranged around themes: dogs, cats, and speculative fiction (which includes a broad range of tales). My favorites were Great Aunt Georgina, and The ‘1812 Overture’ but there are many others that I thoroughly enjoyed. A highly recommended book for all ages.

***

What’s in a Name? (Volume 1)

What’s in a Name is a delightful collection of 20 short stories organized alphabetically by the names of the main characters. A few stories are dark, some are magical or humorous, and many close with a sense of poignancy. Cronin is a marvelous storyteller, and for a reader, spending an afternoon immersed in the lives of the people behind the names is time well-spent. For me, the last story in the collection “Jack” was the icing on the cake, but all the stories are unique and well worth the read. Highly recommended for any reader who enjoys short stories about the human journey.

***

What’s in a Name? (Volume 2)

I read the first volume of What’s in a Name and was eager to give the second a try. Volume 2 is a collection of short stories that picks up when the first ended, covering names starting with K through Z (Kenneth through Zoe). Cronin includes a bonus short story for a collection coming out later in 2018.

This is a quick read that I breezed through in a few hours, sitting outside in the spring sunshine. Many of the stories have older characters, covering a range of topics from heartwarming reunions, grief and loss, recovered dignity, and romantic love beyond the grave. There’s also a bit of happily ever after and match-making, as well as some swindling, and a taste of well-deserved murder! The variety is highly entertaining and kept me engaged throughout.

Cronin is a master storyteller and I recommend this collection (both volumes) to readers of all ages.

***

Sam, A Shaggy Dog’s Story

This read is a little more than an hour, but it’s an hour of cuteness and laughs. I’ve lived with dogs for most of my life, and the attitudes and antics of Sam, a Collie, were delightfully familiar. This tribute to a dog’s life is narrated by Sam himself, starting when he was a newborn and stretching into his old age. I rarely laugh out loud while reading, and this book was an exception.

Sam has a very funny (as well as adorable) perspective on life with accounts of his cat friend Henry, his love of chicken and sausages, his dislike of veterinarians, his job as a paper shredder, and his occasional encounters with “that Bloody Danny,” a little canine with poor manners. He relays his experiences with “cat speak” as well as his acquisition of several human words which are strategically employed to earn pieces of cheese.

The book is organized into short chapters by topic. This is a lighthearted and endearing read for anyone who loves dogs.

***

Flights of Fancy

I’ve read several of Cronin’s books of short stories, and this collection of eleven tales is as enjoyable as the others. I read it in a single afternoon, completely immersed. As usual, the author includes a wonderful variety of tales from touching stories of eternal love in The Other Side of Heaven and Curtains, to adorable cuteness in Henry’s Story, and humor in Psychic Parrot. Highly recommended for anyone who loves short stories and well-told tales.

***

About Sally

Sally Cronin is the author of fourteen books including her memoir Size Matters: Especially when you weigh 330lb first published in 2001. This has been followed by another thirteen books both fiction and non-fiction including multi-genre collections of short stories and poetry. Her latest collection, Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries: Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet, reflects on the absurdities and sometimes tragedies that drop into our lives.

As an author she understands how important it is to have support in marketing books and offers a number of FREE promotional opportunities in the Café and Bookstore on her blog and across her social media.

After leading a nomadic existence exploring the world, she now lives with her husband on the coast of Southern Ireland enjoying the seasonal fluctuations in the temperature of the rain.

Thank you, Sally, for all your wonderful support of this blogging/writing/reading community.

Happy Reading!

Pricing Indie Books (& shameless promotion)

Mark Twain looking over a few of my books.

Pricing books is tough, especially for those of us who rely on our own efforts to market.

When I started writing, my overarching aim was to build a readership. I wanted to share my stories with the world, and as a result, every other goal took second place. Unfortunately, my dreams were quickly dashed. I had a publisher who controlled my prices and wasn’t willing to negotiate. The prices were high (in my opinion), and the publisher didn’t support giveaways or discounts. My sales were horrible. My entire royalty for my first year was $8.00. No one was reading my books.

After six titles, I canceled my contracts and indie-published all my books. Immediately, I lowered prices and ran routine giveaways. As I suspected, my readership grew, and though I was lightyears away from making a living as an author, my increased sales made up for the price drop. Slowly, steadily, those old dreams started to gain a little momentum.

But I haven’t raised my prices since, and they’re now priced below market. I hate the idea of raising them, but I’ve come to the conclusion that the time has come. Not only do I need to pay for covers, publishing services, and advertising, but I want to support indie publishing as a legitimate source of books. One way to do this is to recognize that our work has value and price accordingly.

Before prices go up, I’m running a countdown deal today and tomorrow ($.99 per book March 2nd and 3rd) for anyone who might be interested in picking up a book or two or fifteen (Lol). After that, they’ll be priced more in line with the offerings of other indie authors.

Below is a “quick” list of my books (newest first) with blurbs and universal links to Amazon. In order to keep this… erm… short, for my 3 series, I’ve only displayed the cover and blurb for the 1st books.

I hope you’re intrigued.
And I sincerely appreciate every wonderful kindness I’ve received throughout my writing career. ❤

Happy Reading!

 

Soul Swallower 

When swallowed, some souls gift insights, wisdom, a path to understanding. Others unleash power, proficiency with a sword, and indifference to death. One soul assimilates with ease. But swallow a host of the dead and risk a descent into madness.

Estranged from his family over the murder of his wife, young Raze Anvrell wields his fists to vent his rage. Then a chance at a new life beckons, and he retreats to the foothills of the Ravenwood, the haunt of unbound ghosts. He and his mentor build a freehold, a life of physical labor and the satisfaction of realizing a dream. They raise horses and whittle by the fire until the old man dies, and Raze swallows his first soul.

When his brother reaches out, open wounds begin to scar. But the tenuous peace won’t last. While those who rule the Vales yield to the lure of their ambitions, slavers of Ezar roam the countryside, hunting for human chattel. While one man manipulates the law, another heeds the souls of violence howling in his head.

Raze too listens to his soul’s whispers, and as danger intrudes on his quiet life, he has no choice but to return to his father’s world and join the fight.

Book II: Legacy of Souls

***

Catling’s Bane

Catling – She’s a weapon desired by those who reign and those who rebel.

In the tiered cities of Ellegeance, the elite Influencers’ Guild holds the power to manipulate emotions. Love and fear, pleasure and pain mark the extremes of their sway. But it’s the subtle blends that hook their victims’ hearts. They hide behind oaths of loyalty and rule the world.

Until Catling’s eye becomes the shield that disrupts the influencer’s sway.

Born in the grim warrens beneath the city, Catling rues the rose birthmark encircling her eye. Yet, it grants her a unique ability, the means to remake a civilization. To the Guild, she an aberration, a threat, and they order her death. No longer a helpless child, Catling has other plans.

As chaos shakes the foundations of order and rule, will she become the realm’s savior? Or its executioner?

Welcome to a world of three moons, a sentient landscape, rivers of light, and tier cities that rise from the swamps like otherworld flowers. A planet of waterdragons, where humans are the aliens living among three-fingered natives with spotted skin. Where a half-blood converses with the fog and the goddess plans her final reckoning.

Book II: Oathbreakers’ Guild

Book III: Farlanders’ Law

Book IV: Kari’s Reckoning

***

Sorcerer’s Garden

Recently fired and residing with her sweetly overbearing mother, Madlyn needs a job—bad. In a moment of desperation, she accepts a part-time position reading at the bedside of adventurer and amateur writer Cody Lofton. A near-drowning accident left the young man in a vegetative state, and his chances of recovery wane with each passing day.

Cody’s older brother, Dustin, and eccentric grandmother aren’t prepared to give up on the youngest son of Portland, Oregon’s royalty.

Dustin’s a personable guy, bordering on naïve and overwhelmed by familial corporate duties and cutthroat partners. Grandmother Lillian’s a meddler with an eye for the esoteric, dabbling in Dustin’s life and dealing out wisdom like a card shark. One innocent conversation at a time, she sucks Madlyn into the Lofton story, dubbing her the princess and bestowing on her the responsibility of both grandsons’ destinies.

And all Madlyn wanted was a simple reading job.

Uninspired by her self-imposed stack of literary selections, Madlyn opts for Cody’s work-in-progress. Fantasy isn’t her favorite, but with only four chapters completed, reading The Sorcerer’s Garden should be no sweat, right?

Little does she realize, the story will begin writing itself and, by the hand of destiny, become her own.

***

The Bone Wall

Blue light ripples and crackles as the shield walls fracture. The remnants of a doomed civilization stand vigil outside, intent on plunder and slaves, desirous of untainted blood to strengthen their broken lives. With the poisons, came deformities and powers, enhanced senses and the ability to manipulate waves of energy—lightbenders and fire-wielders.

For those who thrived for generations within the walls, the broken world looms, strange and deadly, slowly dying. While the righteous pray for salvation, Rimma prepares for battle, fueled by rage and blinded by vengeance. Her twin, Angel, bound to her by unbreakable magic, seeks light in the darkness, hope in the future, and love in a broken world.

***

Sunwielder

In a land on the brink of war, Gryff Worden finds his family slaughtered in his farmyard. Mortally wounded, he stumbles upon a timekeeper, an old woman of a foreign land who tracks the infinite paths of each life. She offers him a sunwield, a medallion that returns him to the critical choices that altered his life’s journey.

Now his story remakes itself through the sunwield, returning him repeatedly to moments of decision and death, his old life gone, the purpose of the medallion burning his chest forgotten. As he uncovers the power of the sunwield, new choices lead him on an epic journey through war, death, friendship, life, and love.

***

The Melding of Aeris

Generations ago, the realms fell to fire. The Burn–the only means of destroying a lush land so manipulated by man that while its crops sated hunger, they poisoned the flesh. Now the wilderness slowly reseeds, hard lessons learned through starvation, displacement, and poverty. What remains for nature’s tinkerers?

Pathway, the coveted distillation that enables the grafting of skin across species. The Sahls of the Sea Barrows meld spiral horns to their skulls, reptilian scale to their chests. They embed the razor teeth of sea-beasts in the bones of their forearms and replace the flesh on their backs with the pelts of wolves. Women of wealth adorn their bodies with serpent skin as elegant as black lace, tufted tails, and plumed feathers, their own skin cast off, no longer desirable.

Then they bear children…creatures like Aeris, a man who longs to be human.

Too late, he discovers the truth–there is only one source of human skin. Trapped in the flesh of a murdered man, Aeris joins a dogged crew of transfigured renegades. Their goal—to destroy Pathway, no matter the cost.

***

 

Myths of the Mirror

In the distant mountains of the Mirror, exiled skyriders fly dragons in the old Way, merged in flesh, blood, and bone. Twenty years past, they fought for the freedom of the valley’s dragons…and lost.

Imprisoned in the stone lair, the captive dragons beat their webbed wings and thrash serpentine tails. They tear their flesh and batter their bodies against the black bars of their cells, iron grating against iron. The once peaceful creatures howl, their fury matched only by their despair.

Treasa, the daughter of exiles, seeks the secrets of a hidden past and a father she never knew. Gifted with visions, she glimpses pieces of years long lost and a veiled future that only raises more questions. The dragons visit her dreams, laden with contradictions—for one day she sails in unfettered flight, her arms thrown wide, and the next she writhes in tortured darkness, desperate to be free.

The lair’s black-garbed riders sense the dragons’ growing savagery. Yet Conall longs to grasp their power, to subdue them and soar, and he will endure the reek, filth, and terror of the lair to earn his right to fly.

Then, a curved talon rends flesh and dragon scale, rattling against white ribs. Blood falls like rain and the world shifts. Treasa and Conall must decide who they are and what they stand for. Thus the battle for the dragons’ souls begins again. Alliances form, old myths are revealed, and new myths are born.

Book II: Eye of Fire

Book III: Eye of Blind

Book IV: Eye of Sun

Guest Post: Andrew Joyce and his Stories

Click on Any Cover for Amazon Link

If you haven’t run across Andrew Joyce in your blog travels, he’s a prolific writer of short stories and novels. He’s here at the Mirror to share a bit of his writing journey, and if can entice you, sell a book or two. His latest book, a collection of short stories, is on sale today for $.99. Take it away, Andrew:

Hello, my name is Andrew Joyce.

I have a new book out entitled Bedtime Stories for Grown-Ups. It is a collection of short stories I’ve written over the years. Inside Bedtime Stories you’ll find tales of fiction and nonfiction. There are all sorts of genres within its pages, from westerns to detective stories to love stories and just about anything else that you can imagine. Some of the stories are dark and some are lighthearted, but I hope you’ll find them all captivating.

Okay, now that I’ve got the commercial out of the way, I can get down to something Diana and I thought I should talk about. Namely, my experience writing short stories versus novels, and why I chose some of the stories included in the book.

First, a brief history of the modern short story:

Magazines had been around for a while, but were never widely distributed until the early 1900s. That’s when future novelists such as Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, Louis L’Amour, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Raymond Chandler, to mention just a few, honed their writing skills by writing short stories for monthly publications. They all thought the stories would be a one-time shot and that would be the end of them.

Long after they and their novels became celebrated, their short stories were collected into anthologies and published. I’ve read every one of those collections. My point is, they all wanted to write novels, but while they were writing their first novel, or in between their first and second, they wrote and sold short stories as a way to keep the wolf from the door.

Not that I’m putting myself in their class—no friggin’ way! I’m just saying that I, too, started out writing short stories, but they were not for publication. I wrote them because I like to tell stories. My earliest short stories were just emails to friends, telling them of my youthful adventures. They were all true, but because I led a somewhat colorful life way back then, the emails read like fiction stories. When I ran out of stories about myself, I started in on writing fiction.

Just for the hell of it, I threw one of my early nonfiction stories up on a writing forum on the internet, and it was granted the honor of being included in a print anthology entitled The Best of 2011. I even got paid for it.

That prompted me to try my hand at writing a novel. I had read an article about the Great Sioux Uprising of 1862 and it outraged me. I had never heard of it before, so I started doing research and that research led to a 164,000 word novel (eventually edited down to 139,000 words). It took about two years to research and write. To entertain myself when not working on the novel, I would write short stories, but I never did anything with them. They just sat in a file folder.

So anyway, I set out to get an agent to help me publish my recently completed novel. I sent out about a million query letters. But in the publishing world, anything over 80,000 words for a first-time author is heresy. Or so I was told time and time again when I approached an agent for representation. After two years of research and writing—and a year of trying to secure the services of an agent—I got angry. To be told that my efforts were meaningless was somewhat demoralizing, to say the least. I mean, those rejections were coming from people who had never even read my book.

So you want an 80,000-word novel?” I said to no one in particular, unless you count my dog, because he was the only one around at the time. Consequently, I decided to show them City Slickers that I could write an 80,000-word novel!

I had just finished reading Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn for the third time, and I started thinking about what ever happened to those boys, Tom and Huck. They must have grown up, but then what? So I sat down at my computer, banged out REDEMPTION: The Further Adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer in two months, then sent out query letters to agents.

Less than a month later, the chairman of one of the biggest agencies in New York City emailed me that he loved the story. We signed a contract and it was off to the races, or so I thought. But then the real fun began: the serious editing. Seven months later, I gave birth to Huck and Tom as adults in the Old West. And just for the record, the final word count is 79,914. The book went on to reach #1 status in its category on Amazon—twice—and it won the Editors’ Choice Award for Best Western of 2013.

I wrote two more books before I finally got my original novel published. And in all that time, I continued to write short stories. You see, I don’t own a TV. So at night, after working on a novel all day, I’d bang out short stories, mostly for my own entertainment.

That’s why I write novels and that’s why I write short stories. But some of my short stories are not that short. Some are over 20,000 words. Many are in the area of 10,000 words. I do have a few that are no more than 100 words. But I would have to say that the majority of my stories fall into the 2,500 word category.

My current book came about because my editor hounded me for two years to put all my short stories into one collection. Actually, it was supposed to be a two-volume set because there was so much material. I fended her off for as long as possible. I didn’t want to do the work of editing all the stories—there were a lot of them. But she finally wore me down. Instead of two volumes, I put all the stories into a single book because I wanted to get the whole thing over with. I had other books to write.

Bedtime Stories is comprised of 218,000 words. I couldn’t fit another story in if I had to. Yeah, for an eBook I could have, but the print book already had 700 pages and was three inches thick, so I kept a few stories out. And it’s a good thing too. The ones I left out, I didn’t think were up to par. One cannot hit a home run every time one’s at bat.

In the month since I published Bedtime Stories, I’ve written at least ten new short stories. But please don’t tell my editor.

Andrew’s Bio:

Andrew Joyce left high school at seventeen to hitchhike throughout the US, Canada, and Mexico. He wouldn’t return from his journey until years later when he decided to become a writer. Joyce has written five books. His first novel, Redemption: The Further Adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, was awarded the Editors’ Choice Award for Best Western of 2013. A subsequent novel, Yellow Hair, received the Book of the Year award from Just Reviews and Best Historical Fiction of 2016 from Colleen’s Book Reviews.

Joyce now lives aboard a boat in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he is busy working on his next book, tentatively entitled, Mahoney: An American Story.

Bedtime Stories for Grown-Ups: 

Bedtime Stories for Grown-Ups is a jumble of genres—seven hundred pages of fiction and nonfiction … some stories included against the author’s better judgment. If he had known that one day they’d be published, he might not have been as honest when describing his past. Here is a tome of true stories about the author’s criminal and misspent youth, historical accounts of the United States when She was young, and tales of imagination encompassing every conceivable variety—all presented as though the author is sitting next to you at a bar and you’re buying the drinks as long as he keeps coming up with captivating stories to hold your interest.

Comprised of 218,000 words, you’ll have plenty to read for the foreseeable future. This is a book to have on your night table, to sample a story each night before extinguishing the lights and drifting off to a restful sleep.

Mr. Joyce sincerely hopes that you will enjoy his stories because, as he has stated, “It took a lot of living to come up with the material for some of them.”