April Book Reviews

April was another month of intense editing, but that’s behind me as of yesterday. I’m looking forward to getting back to my usual reading indulgence. In the meantime, I’ve got some good books for you.

Below are reviews for this month’s 4 and 5-star reads including a sci-fi thriller, a western paranormal adventure , a fantasy, poetry anthology, and fantasy/folklore/mystery.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Hope by Terry Tyler

In the not-so-distant future when the world is run by mega conglomerates and the vast majority of people are just getting by, the solution to increasing homelessness is Hope Villages. But is there really any hope of escaping poverty in a world rife with unemployment and rigged for the rich, beautiful, and powerful? When Lita and her two roomies find themselves unemployed, the only solution is to enter Hope Village #37. And revealing the truth about what happens within its walls can get you killed.

One of the things that was so enthralling about this read is how realistic it is. I can definitely see these villages (warehouses) for the poor cropping up in the near future. There’s a sense of just-getting-by and that anyone, including the reader, could end up in one of these places. And how they’re run is entirely based on the political party in charge. Scary, scary, scary stuff.

The writing is flawless. The read starts with a fair amount of backstory as Lita, her friends, and the challenges they face are introduced. It builds to a simmer with an impending sense of doom as things start spiraling downward. Before you know it, they’re out of choices, a point at which I found the book difficult to put down. The characters are emotionally realistic, vulnerable, brave, and totally outgunned by the powerful machine controlling their lives. The realism extends right to the end – no happily-ever-after here, though there is hope. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy suspense, dystopian fiction, and “this could happen” thrillers. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Dreams Lie Beneath by Rebecca Ross

This fantasy has everything I love: intricate world-building, a twisted plot, great characters, and lyrical/atmospheric writing.

Long ago, a murder in the mountainous realm of Azenor resulted in a curse, and now nightmares come alive every month on the new moon. Clementine and her father are wardens, people gifted with magic who hunt the nightmares and find the keys to their undoing. But when two brothers beat them in a challenge, Clem and her family are forced to leave their village. Clem vows revenge, disguises herself with the help of an ancient troll, and becomes the nightmare-hunting partner of one of the brothers. She’s drawn into a century-old conflict of conspirators and secrets, and only by uniting with her rival will she survive the dangers lurking around every corner.

The magic is clever and layered, and the encounters with nightmares are full of danger. The story unfolds in Clem’s POV, which leaves a lot of mysteries for her and the reader to unravel, including whether she can trust the various players trying to guide, deceive, and manipulate her. Each character is deliciously distinct and many of them aren’t who they seem. Their motivations are questionable, and it’s hard to tell until the very end who the good guys and bad guys are and what role they play in resolving the curse.

The writing is beautiful, full of gorgeous metaphors, and if I read the book as a paperback, I would have employed a highlighter on every page. The story is strong with emotion, visual description, action, and intrigue, as well as flavored with romance. Highly recommended for fantasy readers who also enjoy the works of Katherine Arden and Margaret Rogerson.

*****

Mateo’s Blood Brother by Sandra Cox

I thought the first book in this series was great and couldn’t wait to get my hands on the second. It didn’t disappoint. Mateo, the wolf-shifter sheriff of Grizzly is still a major part of the story but the focus is now on Jessie, his fully human blood brother. After a long period of estrangement, they’re working on their friendship, and they haven’t much choice about sticking together since the shifter-she-wolf they’d thought was dead is back for revenge. She’s targeting them and everyone they hold dear.

I enjoyed the characters the first time around and did so again. Jessie and Mateo share the story’s POV. They’re believable, emotionally authentic, and distinct. I can easily say the same about the secondary characters, even those with small parts. The shifters, including a new and mysterious brown wolf, are appealing with their deep connections to the natural world. I enjoyed experiencing the action through Mateo’s animal senses as well as his human ones and was especially intrigued by his father.

The author is well known for her western romances, but in this series, romance is secondary to the other elements of the plot. I’d characterize the book as contemporary western, paranormal fiction, and there’s plenty of action to keep the pace moving along. I read the book in two sittings while ignoring everything else I had to do. I hope the author will write more for this series. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy paranormal fiction with great characters, a touch of romance, and a quick pace. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Hues of Hope, Selected Poetry by Balroop Singh

Singh’s latest collection of free form poetry includes about 100 poems on the subject of hope. They cover a wide range of perspectives, emotions, and sources of hope, found within us as well as out in the world. The hope found in nature, in memories, and in love are prevalent in the first three sections of the book. And in the second half of the collection, hope becomes more complex and entangled with pain, disappointment, and longing, among other less cheery emotions and experiences. It was within these more nuanced explorations that I found some of my favorite poems.

A few memorable poems were “I Have Understood”, “I Know You!” and “Now I Understand You!” Below are the first three stanzas of “Who Are You” from the section Beams of Love:

Who Are You?

Once again dusk descended
Alone she sat in deep thought
One more gorge
That seemed to devour her.

Love entered from the back door
Sat by her side and smiled
She couldn’t recognize the stranger
So she asked: “Who are you?”

“You knew me at birth
You stretched your arms
For me, you cried
When I didn’t embrace you… (con’t)

Highly recommended to readers who enjoy free-form poetry around a complex theme, including the light and whimsical as well as the poignant and painful. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Spirit of the Shell Man by Chris Hall

This is Book 2 in the series, and I enjoyed getting together with the same quirky and delightful characters from Book 1: Song of the Sea Goddess. The series isn’t named, and the books may not need to be read in order, but I’m glad I did since there are a number of details that happen chronologically.

As with the first book, the characters were my favorite part of the read. They’re quirky and good-hearted, and thoroughly believable with distinct voices and personalities. There aren’t any dastardly bad guys, and though a few greedy interlopers are creating problems in the South African seaside village, it’s the group of main characters, their kind relationships, and the multiple mysteries that carry the story.

The pace is quite fast, and I read the book in two sittings. The action scenes were well written, especially the time spent in the underground tunnels (which accounted for my decision to finish the book rather than put it down). Similar to the first book, the loose plot is light and whimsical with all kinds of strange and supernatural elements, mysterious notebooks and puzzle boxes, underground tunnels, spirits, magical creatures, and ordinary creatures acting magically. The story has an African “myths and legends” feel to it which I really liked. Recommended for fantasy readers who enjoy great characters and a whimsical adventure.

*****

Happy Reading!

October Book Reviews

I spent half of October in Hawaii, hiking volcanos and lounging on the beach with my nose in a book. I’m rested and ready for a month of frantic writing during NaNoWriMo.

And have I got some great books for you! Happy Reading.

October book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of poetry, fantasy, sci-fi, two anthologies, and a short story.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Things Old and Forgotten by Mae Clair

This collection of 15 short stories ranges from humorous and sentimental to haunting and sinister. Clair explores numerous themes of paranormal fiction: life after death, reincarnation, ghosts and monsters, spirit guardians, and there’s even a bunch of genies bamboozled by prim old Miss Lily. Some tales are full of action, some full of twists. In other words, there’s something here for everyone who enjoys wandering into speculative fiction.

Some of my favorites were:

Remembering Sadie – a burial with a twist.
Kin-Slayer – a monster fantasy by the sea.
Robin of Sherwood – a deftly written and super entertaining mashup blending medieval and futuristic details.
Desert White – a tale of guardian spirits and a search for redemption.
Mrs. Conway – an exquisitely written encounter. My favorite of the favorites.
Miss Lily makes a Wish – full of humor, immensely clever, and nothing like I’ve read before.
I’ve got a Plan – a haunted house tale for every entrepreneur.
Father’s Day – a paranormal story close to the author’s heart.

Now I’ve shared more than half of the book as personal favorites. Head over and pick up an entertaining book. Highly recommended to readers of paranormal short fiction.

*****

Fallout by Harmony Kent

This is a long book, but the pace is ripping fast and the story flew by. A thousand years in the future, a virus ravages the human population inhabiting the planet Exxon II. What’s left is a lawless world where survival is precarious, infection threatens, and aspects of technology don’t function as they used to. There’s also a cure contained in a lost vial. This becomes the driver of the story as various parties are out to find it and use it to increase their political power and control.

The plot is complex and the world-building fascinating with technology that seems realistic on one hand while it stretches boundaries on the other. The virus, for example, can induce various superpowers in the infected, and serums are capable of imparting knowledge. There are political factions and lots of maneuvering, crosses and double-crosses and, dare I say, triple-crosses. Things move so fast, it’s important to pay attention.

Many of the characters are self-serving and devious to the point of sociopathic, so readers are wise not to take them at their word. Sexual violence and sexual manipulation are prevalent among these characters. Though a few repent and try to turn their lives around, I never found them likeable based on their past choices. The exceptions are Priya and Kaleb. Though the main character Priya begins the story as naïve and helpless, her arc rapidly progresses, transforming her into a woman of power who never surrenders her innate goodness. Kaleb is a tragic figure, and he’s the one that pulled on my heart strings.

Readers who enjoy a deep dive into post-apocalyptic science fiction with a complex plot and a flawed cast will find Fallout a fast-paced and polished read. Enjoy. 

*****

The Girl in the Tower (Winternight book 2) by Katherine Arden

The first book in the Winternight trilogy captivated me, and I was eager to read the second. In this retelling of a Russian folk tale(s), Vasya has ridden away from her village on the back of Solovney, her magical horse. She dresses as a boy, determined to see the world and escape a culture where women lack choices. On her way south, she saves three children from bandits and flees with them to Moscow where she continues her charade… a day too long.

Old spirits of the land and hearth fill the story, magical creatures and beings that fade before the new religion that denies their reality. I loved how alive the invisible world is to Vasya, and the ill-fated love story with the Frost King feels almost sacred.

The setting and worldbuilding are mesmerizing, as are the characters. Main and secondary characters are emotional and often conflicted. Sacrifice, guilt, obligation, love, and the freedom to make one’s own choices are central themes. A steady undercurrent of tension keeps the pace moving and doesn’t let up until the explosive end. I’m looking forward to book 3. Highly recommended.

*****

Fable (Fable book 1) by Adrienne Young

I’d read several reviews praising this book and finally got around to reading it after letting it languish in my kindle for months. Honestly, by the time I finished chapter 3, I was hooked and couldn’t put it down. As soon as I read the last page, I moved on to the second book in the duology.

The worldbuilding is rich but not overly laden with detail – there’s just enough to bring the setting to life. The story takes place on sailing ships. “Dredgers” harvest gems from the coral beds, and in this world, gems are the foundation of wealth and trade. While some get rich, dredgers like Fable, barely scrape by. It’s a brutal world for those without power, and no one gets a break.

Fable’s a survivor with a lot of emotional baggage, special talent, and fearless determination. But she’s all alone – abandoned by her father when her mother died. Then she finds a ship where she might have a chance to belong. And just when that dream seems to be coming true…

This book is a fast-paced adventure with memorable characters and a touch of romance. It’s a great set up for all the intrigue that unfolds in book 2 (which I already finished). Highly recommended to fantasy readers.

*****

Namesake (Fable book 2) by Adrienne Young

Namesake starts where book one left off. Fable’s dream of belonging to a crew falls prey to powerful people and their plots to control the world of shipping and gems. She has a solution, but it also puts her new companions in jeopardy. A chance at love makes her vulnerable to manipulation, and when things go wrong, she’ll give up everything to save her crew.

The pace picks up as the stakes increase, and the plot becomes more complex and twisty-turny than in the first book. A lot of surprising secrets, as well as hidden agendas, come to light as the story progresses. Fable has to take plenty of risks and not all of them work out in her favor or to the benefit of her crew. Nothing’s easy.

The action is non-stop, but character-driven readers will enjoy the distinct, emotionally rich personalities, the warmth and genuineness of Fable’s allies, and the impersonal avarice of those willing to use her to achieve their goals. A highly satisfying conclusion comes after a highly satisfying read. Definitely recommended.

*****

The Shadows We Breathe: An anthology of short fiction, edited by Sarah Brentyn

Full disclosure: I’m a contributor to this collection, but wanted to recognize the talent of the other authors whose work is included within these pages.

Shadows we Breathe opens with a stunning flash piece by Ali Isaac. Her story feels scraped and raw and personal, a deep dive into the emotional wreckage and redemption of love. I think I held my breath through the entire read, hanging on every word, completely immersed in the dark and light of the relationship she describes. It’s so beautiful it hurts.

Then the book moves on to an exquisite flash story by Sarah Brentyn… then Georgia Bell and onward to Reena Dobson, Allie Potts, Maria Carvalho, and Mary Smith. I’m truly humbled (and intimidated) to be included among this amazing line-up of talent.

The theme of the flash stories (500 words), micro stories (50 words), and micro-bursts (10 words) is relationships. Sarah Brentyn’s introduction describes them as tales “beautifully painted and edged with darkness.” That darkness is deeply human, often hidden, and in this book, thoroughly compelling. Highly recommended to readers of flash fiction who want to feel stories in their hearts and bones.,

*****

The Moons of Autumn: A Word Craft Journal of Syllabic Verse, First Edition

(Full disclosure: I have 3 poems in this one too.)

The first Word Craft Journal of Syllabic Verse invited poets to submit poems around the theme of the Harvest Moon. If you love poems about the moon, you’ll find a plethora of verse among the pages to entrance, haunt, and raise a sigh or smile.

The range of forms is impressive – 18 in total – and the poems are organized by type. Each section begins with a description of the form: number of lines and syllable count, as well as the original focus of the poetic form if there is one (nature or love or human foibles, for example). In this way, the journal is instructive while offering a collection of beautiful poetry.

With approximately 75 poems in the collection, I didn’t make a list of favorites, but the editors chose three “Best of Issue” poems. Below is a Haibun Idyll a combination of prose and haiku.

Moon’s Magic
By D. L. Finn

A lone black cat sits on the edge of the world, under the harvest moon. Her green eyes reflect the celestial beams, and her fur absorbs the stars. She rubs against the night’s promise, and its magic fills her soul.

our perceived shackles
released in nature’s healing
under the moonbeams

*****

Breathless: A Short Story by Yvette M. Calleiro

Silena is a maid with a crush on her employer, the wealthy playboy William. When he ridicules her, she uses magic to make herself young and beautiful. William falls for her, but at the last moment, Silena changes her mind. Instead of having sex with him, she curses him. It’s a curse with an unexpected twist that neither of them will escape. This short story is a quick 1/2 hour read and a great way to fill some free time. Recommended to adult readers who enjoy a touch of magic and a whole lot of karma.

*****

Happy Reading!

August Book Reviews: Part 1

I read so many books this month I have to split them into two posts.

I was laid up with a bad back and had to spend a lot of time resting, and what better way to relax than to read. Thank goodness for books! Part II will follow in a few days.

August book reviews (part 1) include my 4 and 5 star reads of poetry, sci fi and fantasy, a crime thriller, and a children’s book.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Life is like a Mosaic: Random Fragments in Harmony by Sally Cronin

This collection of poetry kept me up late. I’m a fan of syllabic forms and like it best when the structure fades into the background, transitions are seamless, and the meaning and emotion of a piece rises to the forefront. Cronin’s poetry does that effortlessly. All poems within this collection are complemented by an evocative image that adds another layer of meaning to the words.

The book begins with a variety of syllabic poems focused on nature and the author’s reflections on daily life, including love, peace, aging, dreams, and loss. Some of my favorites were: The Day After, Birthdays, The Future?, Immortality-Writers, Spices, and …

A Toast to Life

Bottles
once filled with wine
have now been re-purposed
as decorative reminders
of fun.
A time
when friends raised high their glasses
in an affirming toast
to the richness
of life.

The latter part of the book changes to longer, rhyming poems about the author’s life, with a delightful focus on childhood, the teen years, travel, and friendship. My favorites in this section were Childhood Memories, Rebellion in Frome, The Lure of the Waltzer, and Farewell to Colorful Friends. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy syllabic poetry and reflections on life

*****

Oskar’s Quest by Annika Perry

Oskar, a little bluebird, finds himself on the island of Roda where the flowers are weeping. Why? Because Drang, the darkest storm cloud in the sky, has captured Maya the songbird, and her music has stopped. Normally a timid bird, Oskar decides to talk to the dark and windy Drang. What follows is his quest to set the songbird free. He discovers that Drang merely wanted a friend, and Oskar comes up with a wonderful solution that saves the day for everyone.O

Oskar’s Quest is a picture book geared toward toddlers and preschoolers with colorful illustrations by Gabrielle Vickery. The vocabulary is accessible to young children as is the theme of kindness and friendship. The story touches lightly on teasing and bullying. It also encourages children to be brave, for what seems scary at first might turn into an opportunity to make friends. This is a delightful story for young children and highly recommended.

*****

Out of Time by Jaye Marie

In this thriller, Kate Devereau wakes up in the hospital without any memory of the violence she’s endured. Nor does she remember any of the people in her life, including a past lover Michael who wants a second chance, or her ex-husband Jack, a sociopathic killer trying to do her in. David Snow is the detective tasked with her case. All four of these characters share alternating points of view in the story.

Kate’s character was the most interesting to me as she’s the one most in the dark. As the reader, I knew more about what happened than she did, but there were many tidbits of information I learned along with her. The author makes no secret that Jack Holland is the murderer and intends to finish the job he started. Jack is completely evil, but the other characters are nuanced and easy to relate to.

The pace moves along well, the tension is good, and I finished this book in two sittings. There aren’t many twists and turns; instead, the return of Kate’s memory provides a counterpoint to John’s increasing menace and David’s attempts to learn the truth. Recommended to readers of thrillers who enjoy a fast-paced story.

*****

The Scarlet Ribbon by Anita Dawes

The book starts with a horrific accident. Maggie is hit by a car, and she’s in the hospital in a coma. Her body might be immobile, but her mind is another story. She enters parallel levels of existence through astral projection, listens to the guiding voice of darkness, and tries to fulfill a mission she doesn’t understand in order to return to her life. But things aren’t quite what they seem and the twists and turns are plentiful.

The first half of the story started a little slow for me, but it picks up significantly when a rather startling twist takes place and doesn’t stop twisting. Things got very interesting, and I had no idea how they were going to work out. The ending was a surprise.

I liked all the characters, found them three-dimensional, and could relate to Maggie’s confusion, her changing relationships, and her struggle to understand what was happening to her. Most of the secondary characters are nuanced and sympathetic. The exploration of alternate realities was intriguing as well as the speculation about a person’s journey, what they need to accomplish in their lives, and the nature of death. Recommended for readers who enjoy great twists, and a jaunt through parallel worlds

*****

Operation Outfect by Alex Canna

A billionaire hires Neil Grenham to recruit a select group of investors to fund a scheme to send the genetic code for human life into space. Neil also must convince the aliens on those habitable planets to turn the codes into human beings. This goal becomes the main plot of the novel, and it’s full of interesting discussions about the art of persuasion, the viability of life on other planets, and climate change since the Earth is on the brink of serious disaster.

The project returns Neil to South Africa where he once worked within the apartheid machine. Backstory about those days transforms into a second plot later in the book: Neil has an old secret, and several characters have their own agenda regarding the space mission. Despite the backstory, there isn’t much foreshadowing of the shift in plots, and it seemed a little out of the blue for me.

This sci-fi novel reads at a steady pace and is full of believable details related to climate change, space travel, Fox news, and some references to covid-19. Mostly a book of planning and discussion, the action picks up toward the end. I enjoyed the characters and found them all realistic and well-rounded. Neil’s first-person narration worked well and I liked his dry humor and commentary on the events of the past and present. Recommended to sci-fi readers who enjoy stories about plans to colonize other planets and how those plans might go wrong.

*****

Song of the Sea Goddess by Chris Hall

This whimsical and magical read is set in South Africa and follows a handful of delightful characters as they deal with some strange happenings including a mysterious bucket of Atlantean gold that burns fingers, the appearance of a naiad and selkie, a couple of lurking bad guys, flying whales, a shape-shifter, and a concrete factory that’s polluting the rivers and sea.

The plot rambles and is full of tangents, some of them quite entertaining though they don’t go anywhere other than to develop character and add flavor to the village setting. For much of the book, I questioned where the story headed, but that said, most of the plot threads wrap up well in an explosive and magical ending.

What I enjoyed most about the book was the fabulous characters. Other than the lurkers, the group is wonderfully original and quirky. The friendships are adorable, and I could easily picture the amiable village community. The two Aunties were a riot, and Abu and Albertina were the epitome of kindness. They were my favorites, and I enjoyed their chapters the most. Recommended to readers who enjoy quirky characters and a whimsical adventure. 

*****

Jonah by Jan Sikes

Jonah had a choice: prison or abandonment on an island. He opts for the island and finds himself in an inhospitable environment that he’s not sure he’ll survive. Then Titus shows up, an unusual boy with webbed fingers and glowing eyes who offers hope and a way out if Jonah is willing to change his life.

This short story, in some ways, works as an allegory for the process of finding self-acceptance, integrity, fellowship, and redemption. It relies heavily on the books The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz, and The Dark Side of the Light Chasers by Debbie Ford, both which Jonah studies while trapped on the island.

Magic also comes into play, perhaps allegorical for the real “magical” transformation that comes with self-discovery and owning one’s choices. Overall, the story worked and kept my attention with its unique setting and relatable characters. Recommended to readers who enjoy allegories and a fictional overview of the steps leading to personal growth.

*****

Happy Reading!

June Book Reviews

Vacations are made for reading!

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

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

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

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

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

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

*****

ThunderTree by S. Cox

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

*****

Calmer Girls by Jennifer Kelland Perry

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

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

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

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

*****

New Day, New Dreams by Lauren Scott

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

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

*****

A Ghost and his Gold by Roberta Easton Cheadle

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

*****

The Sensaurum and the Lexis by Richard Dee

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

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

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

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

*****

Poetry Treasures (WordCrafter Poetry Anthology)

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

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

*****

Happy Reading!