July Book Reviews

I’ve been writing like a madwoman, so fewer book reviews this month – but some good ones!

My offering of  4 and 5 star reviews includes romance, historical fiction, mystery, family drama, superheroes, and prehistoric fiction. I hope you enjoy browsing.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The Sister Pact by Jacquie Biggar

I read this book in a day and thoroughly enjoyed the distraction. It’s a romance, but so much more than that. The story has a maturity to it that I appreciated, genuine characters struggling with all kinds of relationships, old hurts, forgiveness, and love.

Holly Tremaine is ill and, forced to leave her job, returns to the dysfunctional home of her childhood. You couldn’t cut the tension with a chainsaw, and she immediately wonders what the heck she just did. An old beau enters the scene, but so do old wounds, misunderstandings, and hurtful assumptions between the family members, particularly between Holly and her sister Susan.

One thing that I enjoyed about the book was how genuine the family and characters felt, flawed but trying hard to make their lives work. The focus is on Holly who shares the story’s pov, primarily with her sister. The writing is polished and tight, which provides a speedy pace while allowing for some beautiful descriptions. The plot works well and wraps up nicely. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy romances, relationship stories, and a fast-paced entertaining jaunt through family life. A perfect beach read.

*****

Cape Menace by Amy M. Reade

This mystery begins in 1711 in Cape May, New Jersey, a small settlement in the new world. Sarah Hanover’s mother disappears, and despite their grief, she and her father, the local apothecary continue on. But the question of what happened to Ruth Hanover never goes away and Sarah is determined to discover what happened.

I like historical fiction and the richness that a particular time period adds to a story. In this case, the beliefs about healing are fascinating – a reliance on blood-letting, drawing out a burn with hot metal, and shaving a head to cure a fever, to name a few.

The entire tale is tole in Sarah’s first-person pov. She’s a great character, kind and obedient to her father, but endowed with a well of inner strength, resilience, and independence. She’s also a bit of a snoop, which is highly improper, and about which she feels guilty. Secondary characters are also wonderfully developed, particularly Sarah’s father.

The mystery aspect of the story is well done with a weave of red herrings and parallel running plots. Despite all my guessing, I wasn’t able to guess the ending until it came. The book isn’t particularly bloody or scary though there is plenty of tension at certain points. The writing is polished and beautifully edited. Highly recommended for readers of historical fiction and cozy mysteries. Appropriate for YA and adult audiences.

*****

A Ghost in the Kitchen: Three Ingredients 2 by Teagan Geneviene

I’ve read a number of Geneviene books, and what I love about them is how light-hearted and whimsical they are, full of great characters, fantastical creatures, and quirky adventure. This one is no different. Pip and her grandmother have the ability to see ghosts and several show up in Granny’s kitchen, including a rather colorful Maestro who enjoys cooking. The story has mermen, cursed cowboy ghosts, and Daisy, Pip’s friend who died under mysterious circumstances. Pip and her friend Andy are determined to discover the truth.

This is a lively story with great characters and a lickety-split pace. Pip is a 1920’s flapper with an engaging personality, and the story is full of fun lingo. I haven’t read the first book in the series and though there are references to what occurred, this book worked fine as a stand-alone. A lighthearted, magical read

*****

Watching Glass Shatter by James J. Cudney

Families aren’t easy, filled with flawed humans who bounce off each other in myriad directions, some sweet, some chaotic. When a family is full of secrets, things can get pretty tangled. Ben Glass was the glue that held his family together, and when he’s killed in a traffic accident, his widow Olivia and their five grown sons start the process of shattering.

Olivia struggles for control, and one by one begins interfering in her sons’ lives. She is the keeper of one of Ben’s secrets, but the young men have secrets of their own, and like an overpowering mother, she tries to “fix” everyone and “fix” their relationships. There were definitely points in the book where I wanted to shake her. That said, there aren’t any villains in this story, and I appreciated that real-life quality.

Without giving too much away, the family’s journey through grief and separation into repair is the main focus of the plot. A lot of detail and description gives the book a leisurely but steady pace. The characters are thoroughly developed, three dimensional and unique, with full emotional lives. I felt a lot of empathy for all of them, even for Olivia as she bungled along, an imperfect person who wants so much to manage her family into healing. In many ways, the story is about family strength and love. Recommended for readers of family sagas and literary fiction.

*****

Bystanders by Phillip Murrell

This is a great read for anyone who loves action, a plot-driven story, and superheroes. But it’s not typical of superhero reads since the superhero has almost no role in the narrative. Instead, the story focuses on those touched by his actions – a news anchor, hospital workers, EMTs, law enforcement, criminals, and a couple of teenage bloggers.

Don’t expect any deep character development, emotional turmoil, or personal growth. For the most part, the characters are simply reacting to events and don’t have overarching goals that drive the action. But do expect well-rounded personalities revealed through exceptional dialog, the strongest element of the book.

The pace is good throughout, though there are times when the dialog, though realistic, goes off on short tangents. There’s some humor around the superhero’s name, and there’s plenty of violence, so be prepared for blood. An entertaining book that I recommend to readers of plot-driven superhero and action novels.

*****

Against All Odds by Jacqui Murray

This book concludes the fascinating trilogy that began 850,000 years ago as Xhosa and her People begin their search for a new home, migrating across continents, meeting different peoples, and facing the harsh elements. They learn new skills, adapt, and develop strategies that help them survive. I recommend reading this series in order since it entails a single journey.  (For the full review, click here.)

*****

Happy Reading!

Against All Odds: New Release Review

I’ve been a fan of Jacqui Murray’s prehistoric fiction for years now. Her latest, Against all Odds, the 3rd book in the Crossroads Trilogy, is just out and my review is below.

Did I mention that I’m a fan? I’ve read and reviewed:

Born in a Treacherous Time 

Survival of the Fittest (Crossroads Trilogy 1)

The Quest for Home (Crossroads Trilogy 2)

And, newly released:

Against All Odds (Crossroads Trilogy 3)

If you need an August read, why not give prehistoric fiction a try.

The Story:

A million years of evolution made Xhosa tough but was it enough? She and her People finally reach their destination—a glorious land of tall grasses, few predators, and an abundance that seems limitless, but an enemy greater than any they have met so far threatens to end their dreams. If Xhosa can’t stop this one, she and her People must again flee.

The Crossroads trilogy is set 850,000 years ago, a time in prehistory when man populated most of Eurasia. He was a violent species, fully capable of addressing the many hardships that threatened his survival except for one: future man, a smarter version of himself, one destined to obliterate all those who came before.

From prehistoric fiction author Jacqui Murray comes the unforgettable saga of a courageous woman who questions assumptions, searches for truth, and does what she must despite daunting opposition. Read the final chapter of her search for freedom, safety, and a new home.

A perfect book for fans of Jean Auel and the Gears!

Trailer:

My Review

This book concludes the fascinating trilogy that began 850,000 years ago as Xhosa and her People begin their search for a new home, migrating across continents, meeting different peoples, and facing the harsh elements. They learn new skills, adapt, and develop strategies that help them survive. I recommend reading this series in order since it entails a single journey.

What I’ve enjoyed most about Murray’s prehistoric fiction is the meticulous research, which shines through and brings the time period to life. While the glimpses into prehistoric life were mesmerizing at the beginning of the series, this third installment focuses more on the characters and their personalities and how they adapt to situations. The natural landscape and elements continue to be a challenge but there are more encounters, both cooperative and aggressive, with other humans, including cannibals.

The cast of characters has grown over the trilogy and a glossary of names at the book’s beginning is worth browsing for a refresher. Murray also provides some research detail in a foreword that is interesting though not required to enjoy the story. The book moves along at a good pace, and the author does a great job envisioning the world through prehistoric eyes with terminology that creates an aura of the past. Highly recommended for readers of prehistoric fiction.

Meet Jacqui Murray

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also an adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for  NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Laws of Nature, Book 2 in the Dawn of Humanity trilogy, Winter 2021.

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Happy Reading!

 

The Quest for Home: A Review

A few months ago, I offered to beta read Jacqui Murray’s new prehistoric fiction book, A Quest for Home.  And, to be honest, with all the craziness going on with my parents, my followthrough was rather tardy. Good thing I get to make up for that now with a little hoopla and a review!

The Quest for Home:

Chased by a ruthless and powerful enemy, Xhosa flees with her People, leaving behind her African homeland, leading her People on a grueling journey through unknown and perilous lands. As they struggle to overcome treachery, lies, danger, tragedy, hidden secrets, and Nature herself, Xhosa must face the reality that her most dangerous enemy isn’t the one she expected. It may be one she trusts with her life. 

The story is set 850,000 years ago, a time in prehistory when man populated Eurasia. He was a violent species, fully capable of addressing the many hardships that threatened his survival except for one: future man, the one destined to obliterate any who came before.

Based on a true story, this is the unforgettable saga of hardship and determination, conflict and passion as early man makes his way across Eurasia, fleeing those who would kill him. He must be bigger-than-life, prepared time and again to do the impossible because nothing less than the future of mankind is at stake.

My Review

I’ve become a huge fan of Murray’s prehistoric fiction. “The Quest for Home” is the second book in the “Crossroads Trilogy,” following “Survival of the Fittest.” I recommend reading them in order, though other reviewers have commented otherwise.

In book two, Xhosa continues to lead her group of ancient People across a harsh and unfamiliar terrain, seeking a new home. They encounter other humans on alternate evolutionary paths, some kind, others violent and territorial. And though the journey is riddled with danger, the greatest threat to her group stands at her elbow.

The “quest” plot isn’t new, but Murray is a master at worldbuilding, leaving me with the sense that I’ve read something unusual. To varying degrees, most storytelling relies on a reader’s understanding of modern sensibilities, norms, and behaviors, all the trappings of civilization that simply didn’t exist 850,000 years ago. The well-researched details of prehistoric life bring a fresh and fascinating layer to the read.

The characters are decidedly human in their nature, riddled with the familiar emotions of love, hate, grief, anger, ambition, and jealousy. There are norms, primarily based on what’s necessary for the group to survive, but beyond that, there is little restraint. Xhosa is a powerful character, but not the only one. A number of compelling characters, both female and male, have strong three-dimensional personalities and play important roles in the story.

I flew through this read. The pace moves quickly, occasionally veering into the story of another group, one which split from Xhosa’s People. Xhosa commands the primary point of view, but it does switch to other group members on occasion. I highly recommend “The Quest for Home” to readers of prehistoric fiction, speculative fiction, and adventure.

Available at: Kindle US   Kindle UK   Kindle CA   Kindle AU

 

Author bio:

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for  NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, In the Footsteps of Giants, Winter 2020, the final chapter in the Crossroads Trilogy.

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Survival of the Fittest – Blog Hop

Jacqui Murray has a new prehistoric fiction book!
I loved Born in a Treacherous Time (see my review here).
I can’t wait to dig into this new one
Congrats, Jacqui!

Blurb

Five tribes. One leader. A treacherous journey across three continents in search of a new home.

Chased by a ruthless and powerful enemy, Xhosa flees with her People, leaving behind a certain life in her African homeland to search for an unknown future. She leads her People on a grueling journey through unknown and dangerous lands but an escape path laid out years before by her father as a final desperate means to survival.

She is joined by other homeless tribes–from Indonesia, China, South Africa, East Africa, and the Levant—all similarly forced by timeless events to find new lives. As they struggle to overcome treachery, lies, danger, tragedy, hidden secrets, and Nature herself, Xhosa must face the reality that this enemy doesn’t want her People’s land. He wants to destroy her.

Jacqui’s Q & A

Could Xhosa (the main character of Survival of the Fittest) really have traveled with a wolf companion?

Dogs weren’t domesticated until about 10-15,000 years ago, long after Xhosa lived 850,000 years ago. But her understanding of man and animal were not what ours is. To Xhosa, the line between man and animal was blurry. She didn’t think of animals as lesser creatures. Why would she? As far as she knew, like her, they could plan, think, problem-solve, and display emotions just as she did.

So, for Xhosa to partner with a wolf made perfect sense.

Book information:

Title and author: Survival of the Fittest by Jacqui Murray
Book 1 in the Crossroads series, part of the Man vs. Nature saga
Genre: Prehistoric fiction
Cover by: Damonza
Available at: Amazon Global Link

Chapter1

Her foot throbbed. Blood dripped from a deep gash in her leg. At some point, Xhosa had scraped her palms raw while sliding across gravel but didn’t remember when, nor did it matter. Arms pumping, heart thundering, she flew forward. When her breath went from pants to wheezing gasps, she lunged to a stop, hands pressed against her damp legs, waiting for her chest to stop heaving. She should rest but that was nothing but a passing thought, discarded as quickly as it arrived. Her mission was greater than exhaustion or pain or personal comfort.

She started again, sprinting as though chased, aching fingers wrapped around her spear. The bellows of the imaginary enemy—Big Heads this time—filled the air like an acrid stench. She flung her spear over her shoulder, aiming from memory. A thunk and it hit the tree, a stand-in for the enemy. With a growl, she pivoted to defend her People.

Which would never happen. Females weren’t warriors.

Feet spread, mouth set in a tight line, she launched her last spear, skewering an imaginary assailant, and was off again, feet light, her abundance of ebony hair streaming behind her like smoke. A scorpion crunched beneath her hardened foot. Something moved in the corner of her vision and she hurled a throwing stone, smiling as a hare toppled over. Nightshade called her reactions those of Leopard.

But that didn’t matter. Females didn’t become hunters either.

With a lurch, she gulped in the parched air. The lush green grass had long since given way to brittle stalks and desiccated scrub. Sun’s heat drove everything alive underground, underwater, or over the horizon. The males caught her attention across the field, each with a spear and warclub. Today’s hunt would be the last until the rain—and the herds—returned.

“Why haven’t they left?”

She kicked a rock and winced as pain shot through her foot. Head down, eyes shut against the memories. Even after all this time, the chilling screams still rang in her ears…

The People’s warriors had been away hunting when the assault occurred. Xhosa’s mother pushed her young daughter into a reed bed and stormed toward the invaders but too late to save the life of her young son. The killer, an Other, laughed at the enraged female armed only with a cutter. When she sliced his cheek open, the gash so deep his black teeth showed, his laughter became fury. He swung his club with such force her mother crumpled instantly, her head a shattered melon.

From the safety of the pond, Xhosa memorized the killer—nose hooked awkwardly from some earlier injury, eyes dark pools of cruelty. It was then, at least in spirit, she became a warrior. Nothing like this must ever happen again.

When her father, the People’s Leader, arrived that night with his warriors, he was greeted by the devastating scene of blood-soaked ground covered by mangled bodies, already chewed by scavengers. A dry-eyed Xhosa told him how marauders had massacred every subadult, female, and child they could find, including her father’s pairmate. Xhosa communicated this with the usual grunts, guttural sounds, hand signals, facial expressions, hisses, and chirps. The only vocalizations were call signs to identify the group members.

“If I knew how to fight, Father, Mother would be alive.” Her voice held no anger, just determination.

The tribe she described had arrived a Moon ago, drawn by the area’s rich fruit trees, large ponds, lush grazing, and bluffs with a view as far as could be traveled in a day. No other area offered such a wealth of resources. The People’s scouts had seen these Others but allowed them to forage, not knowing their goal was to destroy the People.

Her father’s body raged but his hands, when they moved, were calm.  “We will avenge our losses, daughter.”

The next morning, Xhosa’s father ordered the hunters to stay behind, protect the People. He and the warriors snuck into the enemy camp before Sun awoke and slaughtered the females and children before anyone could launch a defense. The males were pinned to the ground with stakes driven through their thighs and hands. The People cut deep wounds into their bodies and left, the blood scent calling all scavengers.

When Xhosa asked if the one with the slashed cheek had died, her father motioned, “He escaped, alone. He will not survive.”

Word spread of the savagery and no one ever again attacked the People, not their camp, their warriors, or their hunters.

While peace prevailed, Xhosa grew into a powerful but odd-looking female. Her hair was too shiny, hips too round, waist too narrow beneath breasts bigger than necessary to feed babies. Her legs were slender rather than sturdy and so long, they made her taller than every male. The fact that she could outrun even the hunters while heaving her spear and hitting whatever she aimed for didn’t matter. Females weren’t required to run that fast. Nightshade, though, didn’t care about any of that. He claimed they would pairmate, as her father wished, when he became the People’s Leader.

Until then, all of her time was spent practicing the warrior skills no one would allow her to use.

One day, she confronted her father. “I can wield a warclub one-handed and throw a spear hard enough to kill. If I were male, you would make me a warrior.”

He smiled. “You are like a son to me, Daughter. I see your confidence and boldness. If I don’t teach you, I fear I will lose you.”

He looked away, the smile long gone from his lips. “Either you or Nightshade must lead when I can’t.”

Under her father’s tutelage, she and Nightshade learned the nuances of sparring, battling, chasing, defending, and assaulting with the shared goal that never would the People succumb to an enemy. Every one of Xhosa’s spear throws destroyed the one who killed her mother. Every swing of her warclub smashed his head as he had her mother’s. Never again would she stand by, impotent, while her world collapsed. She perfected the skills of knapping cutters and sharpening spears, and became expert at finding animal trace in bent twigs, crushed grass, and by listening to their subtle calls. She could walk without leaving tracks and match nature’s sounds well enough to be invisible.

A Moon ago, as Xhosa practiced her scouting, she came upon a lone warrior kneeling by a waterhole. His back was to her, skeletal and gaunt, his warclub chipped, but menace oozed from him like stench from dung. She melted into the redolent sedge grasses, feet sinking into the squishy mud, and observed.

His head hair was sprinkled with grey. A hooked nose canted precariously, poorly healed from a fracas he won but his nose lost. His curled lips revealed cracked and missing teeth. A cut on his upper arm festered with pus and maggots. Fever dimpled his forehead with sweat. He crouched to drink but no amount of water would appease that thirst.

What gave him away was the wide ragged scar left from the slash of her mother’s cutter.

Xhosa trembled with rage, fearing he would see the reeds shake, biting her lip until it bled to stop from howling. It hardly seemed fair to slay a dying male but fairness was not part of her plan today.

Only revenge.

A check of her surroundings indicated he traveled alone. Not that it mattered. If she must trade her life for his, so be it.

But she didn’t intend to die.

The exhausted warrior splashed muddy water on his grimy head, hands slow, shoulders round with fatigue, oblivious to his impending death. After a quiet breath, she stepped from the sedge, spear in one hand and a large rock in the other. Exposed, arms ready but hanging, she approached. If he turned, he would see her. She tested for dry twigs and brittle grass before committing each foot. It surprised her he ignored the silence of the insects. His wounds must distract him. By the time hair raised on his neck, it was too late. He pivoted as she swung, powered by fury over her mother’s death, her father’s agony, and her own loss. Her warclub smashed into his temple with a soggy thud. Recognition flared moments before life left.

“You die too quickly!” she screamed and hit him over and over, collapsing his skull and spewing gore over her body. “I wanted you to suffer as I did!”

Her body was numb as she kicked him into the pond, feeling not joy for his death, relief that her mother was avenged, or upset at the execution of an unarmed Other. She cleaned the gore from her warclub and left. No one would know she had been blooded but the truth filled her with power.

She was now a warrior.

When she returned to homebase, Nightshade waited. Something flashed through his eyes as though for the first time, he saw her as a warrior. His chiseled face, outlined by dense blue-black hair, lit up. The corners of his full lips twitched under the broad flat nose. The finger-thick white scar emblazoned against his smooth forehead, a symbol of his courage surviving Sabertooth’s claws, pulsed. Female eyes watched him, wishing he would look at them as he did Xhosa but he barely noticed.

The next day, odd Others with long legs, skinny chests, and oversized heads arrived. The People’s scouts confronted them but they simply watched the scouts, spears down, and then trotted away, backs to the scouts. That night, for the first time, Xhosa’s father taught her and Nightshade the lessons of leading.

“Managing the lives of the People is more than winning battles. You must match individual skills to the People’s requirements be it as a warrior, hunter, scout, forager, child minder, Primary Female, or another.  All can do all jobs but one best suits each. The Leader must decide,” her father motioned.

As they finished, she asked the question she’d been thinking about all night. “Father, where do they come from?”

“They are called Big Heads,” which didn’t answer Xhosa’s question.

Nightshade motioned, “Do they want to trade females? Or children?”

Her father stared into the distance as though lost in some memory. His teeth ground together and his hands shook until he clamped them together.

He finally took a breath and motioned, “No, they don’t want mates. They want conflict.” He tilted his head forward. “Soon, we will be forced to stop them.”

Nightshade clenched his spear and his eyes glittered at the prospect of battle. It had been a long time since the People fought.

But the Big Heads vanished. Many of the People were relieved but Xhosa couldn’t shake the feeling that danger lurked only a long spear throw away. She found herself staring at the same spot her father had, thoughts blank, senses burning. At times, there was a movement or the glint of Sun off eyes, but mostly there was only the unnerving feeling of being watched. Each day felt one day closer to when the People’s time would end.

“When it does, I will confess to killing the Other. Anyone blooded must be allowed to be a warrior.”

Author bio:

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice, a columnist for TeachHUB and NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Quest for Home, Summer 2019. You can find her tech ed books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning

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