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.