February Book Reviews

March is almost here! Time to plan some reading for spring (or autumn)!

February book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of fantasy, a paranormal western, a psychological thriller, a western contemporary romance, and a spooky kid’s book. ! I hope you enjoy the browse.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

I’m a total sucker for beautiful, lyrical writing, and this book is loaded with it. I was underlining the paperback like a mad woman. The story is based on a Russian folktale, I think, but it was unfamiliar to me, so I read the story as if it were a fantasy. It definitely has the feeling of a folktale with a Russian flavor. The details are rich, rich, rich, magical and fantastical, a feast for a reader’s imagination.

The story begins when Vasya is a child and goes until her young womanhood. She has “the sight,” capable of seeing the spirits of the home and northern forest. Some of them are kindly and some terrible. Vasya’s stepmother believes they are evil and tries to drive them out. Their battle of wills is magnified as the Frost Demon and his brother, the Bear, compete for Vasya’s life. Tragedy befalls the north when a Christian zealot arrives, spreading fear of the old ways. As the spirits weaken, Vasya is the only one with the courage to take a stand. There’s so much more to this story than that – a battle for independence, deep family love, madness, the old gods against the new, and all set against the beauty, magic, and deadly cold of winter.

Aside from the exquisite writing and storytelling, the characters are deeply drawn with multilayered emotions and motivations. Little is spelled out and the complexity of the story, details, and characters had me flipping the pages deep into the night. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy folktale retellings, fantasy, and beautiful writing.

*****

Mateo’s Law by Sandra Cox

What a fun read. Mateo is a shapeshifting sheriff in small town Grizzly, Montana, and few, if any, residents know his secret. His chief deputy, Blair, is a transplant from Atlanta, and when a black wolf begins killing animals and slashing people, the two of them are on the case. Sardonic banter and aggravating behavior scarcely mask the sexual tension flying between them.

Mateo is a competent, dark, mysterious, and hunky guy, but Blair was my favorite character, her snappy sarcasm and self-deprecating humor right up my alley. She’s also tough, comfortable with her identity, and undaunted when it comes to doing the right thing. She doesn’t know Mateo’s secret, which generates some entertaining situations.

Secondary characters are well done, particularly the wolves and Mateo’s estranged friend, Jesse. Other characters and the setting serve to round out the story without going into a great deal of backstory or detail. The plot isn’t complicated, but it’s a great backdrop for a lot of fast-paced action that showcases Mateo’s and Blair’s relationship. No dull moments in this book. I recommend it to readers who enjoy contemporary westerns with a paranormal flair, and great characters with lots of personality who generate sparks.

*****

Brody Cody and the Haunted Vacation House by Toni Pike

Tornado Boy and I enjoyed the first Brody Cody book and were eager to pick up this one. It had the perfect amount of scariness for an 8-year-old who’s just started to enjoy ghost stories.

Brody, his mom and dad, and three friends go on vacation to the Blue Mountains. They’ve rented the Wysludge Manor, a dusty cobwebby house with overgrown, dead gardens. Things start going wrong right from the start, and Brody and his friends are determined to get to the bottom of the strange occurrences, creepy noises, and visions of ghosts.

The book is about an hour’s read, the language accessible to young independent readers and a fun choice for parents and kids who enjoy chapter books. Grammy and Tornado Boy highly recommend Brody Cody books and look forward to the next one!

*****

Seasoned with Destiny by Mary J. McCoy-Dressel

Judy Carlson is at the stage in life where she’s enjoying her grown sons, their families, and a batch of grandchildren with more on the way. She’s also having hot flashes and after years of widowhood, starting to date. But Dale Conner comes with some baggage that opens her eyes to the real hero in her life, one right under her nose.

There’s danger in this book, but this romance is well…mostly romance. And for those who wonder if it’s ever too late to love, this might be the perfect read. There are also lots and lots of babies, as well as family dynamics that keep Judy busy between asserting her independence and discovering love. She’s a tough lady.

This is the fifth book in the Double Dutch Ranch series, but I read it as a stand-alone, and it worked just dandy, though I can see how reading it in order would flesh out her family in preparation for this novel. I enjoyed the story and recommend it to readers of contemporary western romance.

*****

Dead of Winter: Journey 2, Penllyn by Teagan Riordain Geneviene

In true serial form, Journey 2 starts at the end of the first and isn’t meant to be read as a stand-alone. In other words, start at the beginning! The first half of this Journey primarily introduces Zasha, a member of the mysterious group called the Deae Matres, as well as Zasha’s guardian, Tajin. They travel the countryside and grow concerned about threats to outlanders, particularly to women. I enjoyed this intriguing relationship and am eager to learn more about them.

The second half returns to Emlyn as she and her father walk to the village of Penllyn to sell cider from his orchard. It’s at the inn in Penllyn, that a second motivation for the trip becomes clear to Emlyn, and the truth is worse than her most worrisome imaginings.

Descriptions are vivid and beautiful and sometimes chilling. The worldbuilding is intricate and thorough. I came to like Emlyn more and her father less as the characters continue to develop. A fair amount of Emlyn’s experience is conveyed through her thoughts as italicized internal dialog. I have mixed feelings about that, but there’s plenty of verbal dialog to round it out. Dreams play a large part in this journey as well as ghosts who introduce Emlyn to potential allies in the Deae Matres. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.

*****

Warning Signs by Carol Balawyder

This psychological thriller is told from three points of view: a serial killer, the young woman who loves him, and the detective investigating the murders of several teenagers.

Eugene Munroe is a creepy guy, and there were times during the read where the real world disappeared and I was completely absorbed in his strange and fascinating thought processes. Angie is overly needy and desperate for love, and Eugene’s attentions have her ignoring the warning signs that something is wrong. Van Ray is the cop on the case who compromises the law in more ways than one.

The plot starts with a lot of tension that kept me glued to the pages. A significant twist at the halfway point changes the nature of the story, shifting it away from imminent danger into the psychology of the characters. The pace slows slightly as the book works toward a conclusion, but it wraps up the various threads nicely. The writing seemed well researched, particularly related to the serial killer.

I encountered a problem with formatting on my kindle (it may just be my kindle). There were no breaks or indents distinguishing paragraphs. This made the read more difficult for me, but otherwise, I recommend it to fans of thrillers, crime novels, and psychological dramas.

*****

Finding a Balance by Lauren Scott

I read this short book of poetry on a quiet evening. Many of the poems are reflections about the journey of life: love, pain, hope, and self-discovery. They’re told from a gentle and often wistful perspective. Scott’s language is accessible, as are the emotions within her poems.

Most of the poems rhyme, some subtly and some more pronounced. I generally prefer free-form poetry, but there are some lovely pieces in here including a selection of haiku. A few of my favorites were: Pillow, Healing, Refreshing, and Butterflies to Stay.

For an example of her poetry, this is the first stanza of Healing:

Gasping for air
with my head underwater
lungs on the verge
of exploding
I’m in orbit
heading into a world
of other dimensions
where gravity
has no bearing…

*****

Voyage of the Lanternfish by C. S. Boyack

James Cuttler’s sweetheart, Bonnie, is bricked into a tower by the Earl of Grandelur and won’t be released until James and Dan (Bonnie’s brother) incite a war between two rival nations. This demand kicks off the adventure as James and Dan travel through the fantasy world—first by wagon and later by sea as pirates. They assemble allies and a ship’s crew and cause havoc everywhere they go.

The book is a jaunting quest with a focus on a unique collection of characters and worldbuilding detail. The pace is moderate, and the plot ambles in places, but there are also bouts of intense action, and readers who enjoy pirates will appreciate the sea battles.

As other readers have mentioned, the real stars of the book are the root monsters. They “grew” on me, and their scenes are hysterical from start to finish. Boyack has a wonderful way of creating magical characters and imbuing them with distinct—and frequently outrageous—personalities. The root monsters are impressive. I recommend this fantasy read to anyone who enjoys rambling quests with fabulous characters, sea battles, and plenty of humor.

Happy Reading!