It’s been a busy, snowy, March. Good for reading, but I sure have been complaining about the lateness of spring. Then yesterday one daffodil opened. Hoorah! Maybe another will open next week! Well, on to the matter at hand…
I have lots of variety to share with you this month and all but one are available on Kindle Unlimited! March’s reviews include my 4 and 5-star reads of a collection of essays on life and growth, a western romance, a book of syllabic poetry, a “short-story” memoir, a fantasy, and a crime novel.
Click on the covers for Amazon global links.
Grow Damn It! by Cheryl Oreglia
Oreglia’s debut memoir is a beautiful read. It’s personal yet relatable. It’s outrageously funny and heartbreaking, and it’s all about the challenges that life throws at us and how we grow into wisdom and love as a result. It’s one of those books that I might read on my birthday every year, to remind myself of what’s important about this one chance at life.
In a series of essays, the author shares the experiences from her life that shaped her thinking and led to change, appreciation, and a deep well of love. The chaos that comes with family relationships—parents, siblings, spouses, children, and grandchildren—becomes the fodder for growth. And her storytelling is honest and full of wit. As a woman in her 60s, I could relate to almost every experience that comes with aging—from the delights of menopause to corralling grandchildren to watching those we love die.
Which goes to show that not every essay in this book is laugh-out-loud funny. Many involved pain, loss, and regret. They pull on the heartstrings, sharing some tough truths—that life is temporary and things can change at the drop of a hat. Don’t waste it. Oreglia’s wisdom and advice seem to arise through quiet moments of presence when she can take a reflective breath, but she also references the words of other sages, notably John O’Donohue (Anam Cara), and writer Don Miguel Ruiz (The Four Agreements), two of my favorite authors/books.
As Oreglia says, “Show up for your own life.” That’s my new mantra. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy memoirs and the opportunity to reflect on life’s universal lessons, and perhaps grow, damn it. (Kindle Unlimited)
Return to Silverhills by Sandra Cox
This western romance/adventure follows on the heels of Cox’s Silverhills, but can easily be read as a stand-alone novel. Lisa, a young woman who spent part of her life as a slave to a band of Comancheros, arrives at the Wade’s Silverhills ranch, her new home. She’s timid and wary of men, but she wants to do her part, and when the ranch’s longhorns need to be driven to Abilene, Jeff Wade is short on men to get the job done. Lisa volunteers to go along and handle the chuck wagon.
Romance is a solid plot thread in the story, and it’s handled well considering Lisa’s past. The relationship grows against the backdrop of the cattle drive which is full of high-speed adventure as Lisa and the cowboys deal with disastrous weather, floods, native tribes, dangerous stampedes, and some unsavory characters. I could visualize the action well, and it kept me turning the pages.
In addition to the riveting adventure, both the main and secondary characters are distinct, emotionally believable, and well-rounded. Lisa and Jeff share the POV and I liked them both. They’re easy to relate to and root for. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy western adventures with a heartwarming helping of clean romance. (Kindle Unlimited)
Lion Scream by Robbie Cheadle
It’s hard to categorize this book. But it’s not difficult to see it as a testament to the author’s love and concern for the wildlife of her home country South Africa.
In some respects, it’s an educational book about the impact of climate change, ongoing poaching, and the loss of habitat on a wide variety of species. An extensive number of animals are covered from familiar lions and giraffes to lesser-known kudus and dung beetles. For a variety of entries, Cheadle shares her observations from her family’s visits to wildlife preserves. She also provides a short page or two of detail about the animal with supplemental links, primarily to her video clips.
The book is also full of the author’s color photography. The images were in black and white on my kindle and in full color on my iphone, which was much better. I recommend changing devices in order to view the wonderful colors of the animals and their habitats.
And finally, this read is full of syllabic poetry, primarily the double ennead form consisting of three stanzas. The author uses her poetry to further educate and entertain as she describes the characteristics and behaviors of South Africa’s animals as well as the challenges they face. There’s a small section of poems on the environment and a short story at the end of the book. For a variety of her entries, including her short story, she shares the inspiration behind the pieces.
An entertaining and educational read for all ages, including children. Recommended especially to readers who are interested in learning more about South African wildlife. (Kindle Unlimited)
My Father’s House by Patrick Dorn
This 13-page short story by Patrick Dorn is a nostalgic and emotional reflection on his father and the house that the family owned until tragedy tore them apart. I’ve always believed that people and places become emotionally linked over time, particularly during childhood when home and family are almost synonymous. That’s certainly the case here. This is a sad memoir of loss and regret and the tragic consequences of a father’s poor choices. It’s tenderly written, memorable, and well worth picking up.
Princess of Shadows by Colin Alexander
At over 500 pages, this is one of the longer books I’ve read in a while, and once it hooked me, I had a hard time putting it down. A fantasy, it has some engaging worldbuilding—a world where the lack of orbital rotation does away with day and night and creates regions of perpetual light, shadow, and darkness. There are hints that the civilization on the planet descended from Earth, which explains many similarities to medieval societal structures and norms.
Politics and warfare are heavy throughout the book as competing dukes (called dux) vie for control, form alliances, and engage in rebellion. These machinations occupy the first 25% of the book, with little mention of the titular character. I struggled with this start, not particularly connecting with any of the wide array of characters, the majority of them only interested in their own power.
Then the death of the king and most of his family raises the stakes. The pace picks up, and the story, while still loaded with politics and battles, becomes more personal. Aeryn, the 8-year-old surviving princess, becomes the focus of the narrative as every dux and their sons want to wed her (the minute she’s of age) so they can be crowned the new king. Aeryn isn’t about to fill that role, and the story is about her struggle for autonomy and power. Though still a multi-pov novel, her narrative voice plays a greater role.
This is a book where men are in control, men have legitimacy, and men make the decisions. Even as a “Queen,” Aeryn isn’t respected unless there’s a king. I won’t give away how she solves this problem, but I found it a little disappointing since there’s no shift in the worldview regarding the status of women.
At the same time, her determination, courage, defiance, and refusal to conform are rewarding and kept me engaged in the story. She’s a powerful character, well-rounded, and easy to root for. Recommended for fantasy readers who like medieval politics and battles, and stories about strong women who assert their autonomy and authority and buck the system. (Kindle Unlimited)
The Escape by Matthew Slater
Bryan Wattson, a career criminal, escapes from prison after 10 years of incarceration. He joins his best friend Phil, and the two of them pick up where they left off. Except Bryan has a new motive for his illegal activity. Besides getting rich, he wants revenge on the man who set him up and left him for dead.
This is a plot-driven read, high on intrigue and action, and low on emotion. That doesn’t mean the characters are two-dimensional—they’re well-rounded and skillfully drawn with full personalities, especially Bryan and Phil. That said, readers looking for character arcs and emotional shifts won’t find them here.
Bryan and Phill have a tight relationship which I enjoyed even though they’re unrepentant murderers and thieves. I didn’t particularly relate to them or like them, but the skillful writing and fast pace of the story kept me entertained, and I never knew what was coming next. The conclusion wraps up with Bryan’s main objective unresolved—a good hook for the next read in the series. Recommended to fans of fast-paced, plot-driven crime/mob novels. (Kindle Unlimited)