The holiday season has started. It’s a great time to take breaks from the chaos and snuggle up with a book. And, of course, books make great gifts!
Somehow, I read 14 books this month. They just got away from me, and it’s too many for one post. So here are half of them!
November’s reviews (part one) include my 4 and 5-star reads of a poetry/flash fiction collection, a psychological thriller, a horror novelette, a paranormal thriller, a murder mystery, and two illustrated children’s books.
Click on the covers for Amazon global links.
Variety is the Spice of Life by Sally Cronin
I’m a fan of Cronin’s syllabic poetry, flash fiction, and short stories, and this latest collection is an excellent example of why. The first half of the book is filled with 38 beautiful poems in a variety of structured forms.
Many of the poems are poignant reflections on love and loss, the wonder of life, and the beauty of nature found in her garden. Each includes a complementary image. One of my favorites:
Rejection (form: a butterfly cinquain)
and distance between us
and your rejection leaves my heart
the promises we made that day
are scattered in the wind
and dreams have turned
The second half of the book is comprised of 8 short stories, most of them heartwarming tales of human kindness, forgiveness, and redemption. (With a tale of magical murder thrown in). Three of my favorites were Miss Lloyd’s Robin, The Green Hill, and The Home Help. I highly recommend this afternoon’s read to fans of syllabic poetry and short stories.
The Bubble Reputation by Alex Craigie
Social media is a wonderful way to connect with family and friends, but most people know that it has a dark side as a vehicle for bullying, making threats, and spreading lies. Emmie is a highly successful children’s author, until a jealous coworker and a tabloid needing a tasty scoop decide she’d make a great target for a scandal. A lie and a doctored photograph start off a social media storm that picks up momentum with frightening speed. As the feeding frenzy intensifies, it nearly costs her everything. And I mean everything.
There are a whole lot of things that are frightening about this story. The plot is highly plausible, and though I could see the escalation coming, it was still horrifying to watch. The way ordinary citizens start going for blood is not only shocking but terrifyingly realistic. It’s a situation that not every character finds their way out of without a heavy toll.
This isn’t a long book, and I read it in one afternoon, glued to the story. The pace moves quickly and there are a wide variety of authentic characters—some heartless and calculating, some risk-avoidant, some bloodthirsty, and others highly supportive. There are a lot of takeaways from this read, particularly a chance to decide which type of character we want to be. Highly recommended. (Kindle Unlimited.)
Dog Meat by Priscilla Bettis
This is one of the more unusual novelettes I’ve read in years, and I needed to spend a few days processing it before I could write a review.
According to the author, “30 million dogs die each year in the brutal trade that operates in nine countries.” In this story, Kalb Ward’s job is to kill the dogs that will be served to a restaurant’s wealthy diners.
Ward lives in a closed dystopian society where he has no choice in what kind of work he performs, and his one attempt to run away lands him in a reeducation camp for 18 months. Only threats to his mother’s life are powerful enough to return him to the job he can’t tolerate.
Ward sees himself as a killer, and his reactions to the endless violence move this book beyond the horror genre into one that explores the impact of intolerable guilt, brutality, and despair on a human life and soul. This is a society without empathy, where compassion and kindness can’t find a foothold.
The scenes are horrific, and anyone who loves dogs will be tested to the core. Like the author, I hope this story raises awareness and supports the end of this cruel industry. The writing quality is excellent, and Ward’s plight drew me deeply into this well-wrought world. Highly recommended, but with a big trigger warning about graphic violence against animals.
The Valley Walker by T. W. Dittmer
This impressive book certainly captured my attention. Teri Altro is part of a government task force looking into a rash of drug deaths in Michigan. She’s competent, hard-shelled, and a bit of a rogue. She’s also the target of an attempted assassination. But as three men close in on her, someone gets in the way, and in a strange manipulation of reality, the three killers end up dead. That someone is John Walker Michaels, a Vietnam deserter who shouldn’t exist, and who possesses the mystical powers of the Hmong people that became his family. The Laotians call him the Valley Walker.
What follows is an investigation into the drug deaths that extends from the streets and governing halls of Michigan to the jungles of Laos, from the present time back to the dark days of the Viet Nam war. The scenes of war are eerily visceral, reminiscent of Apocalypse Now. The Laotian mysticism adds an otherworldly surrealism that connects the timelines.
Characterization is impressive with each member of the task force wonderfully unique. Peripheral characters are also fully realized and distinct. Though Michaels participates in the multiple POVs, he retains his mysterious aura, and it’s through his relationships with other characters and his dialog and action that I came to understand him.
The author served in Viet Nam and the authenticity he brought to the story was riveting. It also didn’t hurt that his writing is polished and well-paced with just the right amount of description. A complex plot comes together with little difficulty and several twists kept me on my toes. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy complex stories about war, power, and justice, topped with a metaphysical twist. (Kindle Unlimited.)
Flower Power Trip (Braxton Campus Mysteries Book 3) by James J. Cudney
This is Book 3 in the Braxton Campus Mysteries, and for readers who’ve enjoyed the first two in the series, this one was just as fun. When a renowned biologist ends up dead at a masquerade ball at Braxton College, Professor Kellan Ayrwick is once again unofficially asking questions and trying to ferret out the murderer. Some of the people close to him are suspects, and there are plenty of secrets to untangle. And then there are the postcards he’s receiving from his dead wife.
As with previous books, Kellan’s relationship with Sheriff April Montague was delightfully snarky, and I just adored their growing respect for each other. Wise-cracking, take no nonsense, Nana D is also back, and she’s a hoot. There are a lot of characters in this series. Having read the previous two books, I had the advantage of knowing a number of them already. For this reason alone, I recommend starting the series at the beginning.
The pace moves quickly, and plenty of red herrings point in multiple directions. I couldn’t guess the identity of the killer and had to wait for the reveal for everything to sort out. Though the masquerade murder is fully solved, a cliffhanger is introduced at the very end as a hook for the next book. Readers will find a likable protagonist, some fully-realized and fun secondary characters, and plenty of twists and turns. Recommended to fans of cozy mystery series.
Sleepy Happy Capy Cuddles by Mike Allegra
The more I learn about capybaras, the more I want to cuddle with them. This book might come as close to the real thing as I get. A rainforest is a noisy place. So noisy that it’s hard to think and hard to sleep. But then along comes a Cuddly Capy, blowing burbly bubbles and fwippa fwipping its ears. Little by little the Happy Capy convinces the other animals to cuddle, and the rainforest grows quiet. But then who comes out of the swamp? A roaring crocodile! Can a capybara get a crocodile to cuddle? Of course.
A lovely book about the kindness of cuddles and inclusion, and how even the loudest roars and toughest skins can soften with a little loving care. The Happy Capy is single-minded in her love of cuddling and no one can resist. In addition to the fun story, beautiful animal illustrations fill this picture book from front to back. Highly recommended to cuddly preschool kids and their parents. (Hardcover only)
Everybody’s Favorite Book by Mike Allegra
Everybody’s Favorite Book has to include everybody’s favorite stuff, right? Like spacemen, pirates, pink princesses, cool detective kids, giant guinea pigs, and tea parties. But so much stuff gets to be a little crazy. Everybody’s Favorite Book ends up being nobody’s favorite book… until you get to everybody’s favorite happy ending.
This is a wild, creative, wacky picture book for kids age 3-7 (my guess) and librarians and parents who love big words like gallimaufry and codswallop. This book has everything and, of course, chaos ensues. The illustrations are big, bold, and bright and add to the fun. Kids and the young at heart will enjoy the imaginative mayhem. Highly recommended.
Our local librarian gets two new acquisitions: