September Book Reviews

Another month of reviews

including some from my Autumn Reading Challenge
(which I’m already behind on – yeesh).

This month, my offering of  4 and 5 star reviews includes thrillers, humor, sci-fi, horror, short stories, and YA fantasy. I hope you enjoy the browse.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

You Beneath Your Skin by Damyanti Biswas

This debut novel by Biswas travels at breakneck speed. Set in India, it deals with the atrocious and criminal practice of throwing acid in women’s faces. But that’s only one theme in this complex and engaging plot that kept me riveted from page one. I’m not surprised that this book is receiving so much acclaim.

A police investigation headed by Jitan Bhatt into the mutilations and murders of several women intersects with an acid attack on Anjali Morgan, his lover. Everything goes totally crazy, and I mean Totally Crazy, as characters get tangled up in a web of power, secrets, confessions, and extremely hard choices.

Though I sympathized with Anjali, Jitan was the character that captured my attention. He’s the one who’s pulled in every possible direction as his marriage and career teeters on the brink of destruction, his son forces impossible choices, and his sense of morality is challenged in the face of a system riddled with corruption.

The story is a thriller indeed, but it’s also about inner strength and survival, identity and love, truth and justice, and what one is willing to do for family. An excellent read that I found difficult to put down.

*****

The Stones (Astral Conspiracy #2) by D. L. Cross

Book two of the Astral Conspiracy series starts off at a thrilling pace that doesn’t let up right to the last page. At the same time, somehow, the narrative managed to catch me up on what happened in The Gate, so if it’s been awhile since reading book one, no worries.

In this book, the aliens have landed. Professor Landon Thorne is front and center again. But the story tracks a number of contingents with separate agendas – from a paramilitary “resistance” unit to a brutal agency called CORE to a fanatical priest who believes the aliens are the spawn of the Devil. There’s a lot going on.

Thorne’s focus is on following several ancient clues that might explain the aliens’ objectives and how to defeat them. Thorne’s knowledge is interesting, entangled with well-researched speculation into the akashic records, Atlantean firestones, and the Georgia Guidestones. He and his team are at risk as the factions attempt to protect, control, or kill them.

The aliens are still a mystery in this book. They come in several variations and can be incredibly violent. Cross doesn’t hold back on the human violence either, which raises the stakes for all the characters. The world-building is great and full of details that add authenticity.

It’s clear that the series is one long and complex story, and therefore should be read in order. This book doesn’t wrap up neatly but ends with a big cliffhanger. The good news is that the series will be complete at the end of September 2020 so readers can keep going without a hitch. A highly recommended series for sci-fi fans.

*****

In Search of McDoogal by Mae Clair

In this lighthearted novella (about a 90-minute read), Brady and his friend Declan go in search of a painting of an ugly cat named McDoogal. Brady accidently sold his artist-girlfriend’s creation when filling in for her at an art sale, and he’s got one day to hunt it down and buy it back.

A road trip ensues and finding the painting isn’t as simple as it seems. Several colorful characters come into play, and there’s plenty of witty dialog about the feline subject of the artwork. Brady’s deadline keeps the pace moving.

This is a purely feel-good read, fine for the whole family. Definitely check out the author’s Afterword about the real McDoogal – it’s a touching treat for anyone who’s ever loved a cat.

*****

Tales from the Thrift by Kim Laettner

Francine gets a job working at a thrift store, but this is no ordinary shop. The customers who come in usually find exactly what they’re looking for—sometimes a memory, sometimes healing, sometimes kindness, and perhaps even romance. It’s a magical place where I’d love to work!

The story is told from Francine’s third-person POV with some minor tangents into the POVs of other characters. The pace is steady and the book is an engaging read with well-rounded, genuine characters through and through. Francine is a strong female protagonist, and I liked that she was able to take care of herself without needing a man to manage or rescue her. The dialog is fabulous, though some speaker confusion interrupted the story’s flow. Otherwise, I was swept right in.

This is primarily a sweet romance, but about halfway through, a second plot enters the story as women in the area start showing up dead. There are a number of red herrings and until the reveal I wasn’t sure who the murderer was. I’d recommend this book to readers of romance who enjoy a dose of magic and murder to spice things up.

*****

Malice and Foresight: Short Stories of Malice and Murder

This collection of 4 short stories kept me entertained for an hour on a rainy afternoon. Each story reads like a vignette, with vivid characters and a quick pace. The central theme is murder with a bit of malevolence and planning, and the stories are quite different from each other. A favorite was hard to choose, but I probably enjoyed “The Marshall Sisters” most of all. Recommended for short story readers who enjoy a good murder and quality writing.

*****

Diaballein by Cage Dunn

This is an unusual read. The writing style is distinct with short sentences and fragments that almost give it a staccato quality. The narrative is highly “present” with minimal backstory or internal reflection. I felt as though I experienced the story the very instant it happened, each sight, action, and thought recorded with precise detail. My only challenge was that I noticed the fascinating writing more than the tale.

That said, this is an engaging story. It alternates between two characters, Kano and Eyza, both struggling with what is real and what is madness. I liked the uncertainty while it lasted, and it was during this time of disorientation that I most connected with the characters. I felt their panic, as well as the power of their choices and the risks they took. The staccato quality of the writing added to the disjointed feel of the characters’ thoughts, which I thought was effective.

The story takes place in the Australian bush and an amazing sense of place grounds the narrative. Both characters are researchers, one a metallurgist, the other a naturalist. Their research brings them to the outback where a dark force is at play. The quick pace becomes quicker for the second half of the read when the couple battles the Diaballein. The battle feels both epic and surreal as science overlaps with ancient lore and Earth magic. I recommend this novella to readers looking for something different. It’s worth exploring.

*****

Maya and the Book of Everything by Laurie Graves

I love magical books, and the Book of Everything that a desperate woman slips into Maya’s pocket is magical indeed. And apparently, it’s no accident that Maya and the book find each other. The book has many talents, including the ability to transport her to other times and planets.

With her friend from the past, Andy, Maya travels to a medieval world, Ilyria where she encounters two dukes, rival brothers vying for control of the dukedom. And the Book of Everything in Maya’s pocket isn’t the only magical book in play. If both books come into the possession of those who wish to exert control over knowledge, all will be lost.

The world-building is engaging including the wondrous Great Library and the Toad Queen who “peels” Maya’s eyes. Maya was my favorite character, a brave 15-year-old with a strong sense of duty. She always chooses well, which is something that can’t be said of everyone in these pages.

The story starts off at a brisk pace, though there’s a significant portion of the second half that proceeds without Maya and the pace slows. There are bad guys and poor choices but no gory violence and little death. For that reason, I think this book is well-suited for young teens on up to adults who enjoy YA tales. I’m curious to see where the Book of Everything takes Maya next!

*****

I Wouldn’t Be Surprised: A Short Story by D. L. Finn

This thriller of a short story starts with an evening of laughter between Janice and her husband, Dale. Her supposed lack of surprise at some hypothetical scenarios sets the couple up for trouble when a ghost tests their bravado. The scary-factor ramps up quickly without much backstory or foreshadowing. Go with the flow, and enjoy the build-up of creepy tension; the ghost will provide backstory near the end.

I’ve read other books by DL Flinn and think this would make a great prequel to her world of ghosts, red-eyed evildwels, and angels. Janice and Dale’s story continues beyond this short read, and I liked learning how it all began. A quick tale for readers of paranormal thrillers and for fans of Finn’s evildwel-based fiction..

*****

Happy Reading!

Colleen’s 2018 #Book #Reviews – “Myths of the Mirror, Dragon Soul Book 1” by D. Wallace Peach

Colleen Chesebro (aka the Fairy Whisperer) has been making quick work of a few of my books and has penned some wonderfully heartfelt reviews. Myths of the Mirror was my first born, and I couldn’t be more delighted that she found my baby beautiful. Ha ha. Here’s her review. ❤

Word Craft ~ Prose & Poetry

book reviewsTitle: Myths of the Mirror, Dragon Soul Quartet #1

Amazon Author Page: D. Wallace Peach

Publication Date: 2nd edition, August 19, 2016

Formats: Paperback & Kindle

Genres: Science Fiction & Fantasy, New Adult & College, Coming of Age, Fantasy

Goodreads

IN THE AUTHOR’S WORDS:

“In the distant mountains of the Mirror, exiled skyriders fly dragons in the old Way, merged in flesh, blood, and bone. Twenty years past, they fought for the freedom of the valley’s dragons … and lost.

Imprisoned in the stone lair, the captive dragons beat their webbed wings and thrash serpentine tails. They tear their flesh and batter their bodies against the black bars of their cells, iron grating against iron. The once peaceful creatures howl, tormented by spine and spur, their fury matched only by their despair.

Treasa, the daughter of exiles, seeks the secrets of a hidden past and a father she never…

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Writing Teenage Boys: Guest Post with Teri Polen

I’m not much of a horror reader since Dean Koontz scared the bejeezus out of me as a teenager. I’m also not a huge fan of teenagers. The real ones are tolerable, but the ones in books sometimes drive me crazy. They’re angsty,  dramatic, and they make dumb decisions. They remind me of me at that age.

So… when I picked up Teri Polen’s YA horror novel, Sarah, I was worried.

Well, silly me for fretting. The book was awesome. I’ll give you my review below, but first, I had to quiz Teri. One of the best things about the book was the way she dove into the experience of Cain, a 17-yr-old teenage boy. It felt totally genuine to me, and I happen to know Teri isn’t a 17-yr-old teenage boy. How did she do that with such authenticity? How did she prepare? Here’s her answer:

***

You’re not the first person to ask how I channeled the voices of 17-year-old boys, Diana. A good friend is convinced I was a teenage boy in a previous life. I have two sons—I honestly don’t know what I would have done with girls—and we’ve always had a steady stream of their friends hanging out at our house.

I spent countless hours driving them to sports and band practices, sleepovers, movies, dances…you get the picture. They trash talked each other while playing video games, compared puzzling encounters with the female species, and debated superhero movies. I’ve witnessed their heartache after breakups, their bets on when a friend would get dumped by a new girlfriend—and if it would be by text or in person, and their vehement defense of each other when challenged.

All the while, I listened. And it’s mostly been quite entertaining and enlightening. When the characters in my head demanded their story be told, it was natural they’d be teenage boys, because that’s what I know.

Cain’s pigsty of a bedroom is a near perfect picture of my oldest son’s room—or as my younger son calls it, ‘The Black Hole’. Things have literally disappeared in there, and the smells emanating from that room have been horrific at times. If a zombie apocalypse happened today, we could live on the half-empty Gatorade and water bottles, snack bags, and protein bars for quite a while.

My sons and their friends probably never dreamed some of their comments would come back to ‘haunt’ them in a YA horror novel. You never know who’s listening.

***

My Review: 

Sarah is categorized as YA horror and the book fits the genre perfectly. Sarah is a teenage ghost seeking revenge for her murder. She returns to the scene of the crime, now the home of Cain Shannon, a 17-year-old horror fan. At first, she appears shy and vulnerable, and Cain agrees to help her, but she’s not as helpless as he believes. With each bloody act of revenge, she grows in power, and her tactics increase in brutality. Before long, Cain is in the battle of his life against a ghost intent on death.

This book has some really creepy, icky, suspenseful, and scary things going on, but the scare-factor and gore feel appropriate for YA readers (as well as adults). The story grabbed my attention from the first page, and the tension and suspense escalate at a steady pace without much of a break right up to the climatic end. Even the last few paragraphs of the epilog are worthy of a few terrifying chills.

Though the horror aspects of the book were engaging, what impressed me the most was Polen’s outstanding characters. All of them felt well-rounded to me with fully developed personalities, but I was totally taken with the main character Cain and his friend Finn. They felt authentic to me in their thoughts, emotions, dialog, banter, friendship, and relationships with others. I’m in awe of the author’s ability to capture the essence of teenage boys with such expertise. I found the pair of them refreshing and likable, and therefore enjoyed the non-horror moments of the book as much as the horror, if not more so.

Another thing that impressed me was the believability of the characters’ choices. I often find that characters in horror (movies) make stupid choices because the plot would keel over and die if they acted sensibly. Polen was meticulous in building a backstory that supported Cain’s decisions, particularly his choice not to involve his mother and to stay in the house despite the presence of a murderous ghost. This careful attention to character and plot kept me enmeshed in the story from chapter one right through to the end.

An excellent book for both YA and adult readers of horror and suspense.

***

Eh, what’s one more book in your TBR pile? Here’s a link: Sarah

Connect with Teri on her book review blog: Books and Such