Sheila Deeth


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Calling herself a Mongrel Christian Mathematician, Sheila Deeth combines a love of logic, pattern and symbolism with a deep respect for the Bible, history and science. She obtained her bachelors and masters degrees in mathematics from Cambridge University, England, has lived in England and the United States, and has ties to many different Christian denominations.

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Divide by Zero
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 90,350. Language: English. Published: November 27, 2014 by Second Wind. Categories: Fiction » Literature » Literary
It takes a subdivision to raise a child, and a wealth of threads to weave a tapestry, until one breaks. Troy, the garage mechanic's son, loves Lydia, the rich man's daughter. Amethyst has a remarkable cat and Andrea a curious accent. Old Abigail knows more than anyone else but doesn't speak. And in Paradise Park a middle-aged man keeps watch while autistic Amelia keeps getting lost.
A Bible Book of Chess
Series: What IFS Bible Picture Books, Book 4. Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 11,250. Language: English. Published: July 22, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Children’s books » Activity Books, Fiction » Children’s books » Religious / Christian / General
A What IFS Bible picture book and beginning chess tutorial.
Revelation! From Easter to Pentecost in 100 words a day
Series: The Bible in 100 Words a Day. Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 6,610. Language: English. Published: July 22, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Christian » Historical, Fiction » Holiday » Family
An illustrated page-a-day calendar for the period from Easter to Pentecost
Thanksgiving! From Eden to Eternity in 100 words a day
Series: The Bible in 100 Words a Day. Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 4,100. Language: English. Published: July 22, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Holiday » Family, Fiction » Christian » Historical
An illustrated page-a-day calendar for November and Thanksgiving
Easter! Creation to Salvation in 100 words a day
Series: The Bible in 100 Words a Day. Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 10,680. Language: English. Published: July 22, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Holiday » Family, Fiction » Christian » Historical
An illustrated page-a-day calendar for Lent, from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday
A Bible Book of Laws
Series: What IFS Bible Picture Books, Book 3. Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 2,770. Language: English. Published: July 22, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Children’s books » Religious / Christian / General, Fiction » Children’s books » Concepts / General
A What IFS Bible picture book. The story of the Bible in pictures for maturing readers.
A Bible Book of Numbers
Series: What IFS Bible Picture Books, Book 2. Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 2,400. Language: English. Published: July 22, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Children’s books » Religious / Christian / General, Fiction » Children’s books » Concepts / Counting & Numbers
A What IFS Bible picture book. The story of the Bible in numbers and pictures for beginning mathematicians.
A Bible Book of Colors
Series: What IFS Bible Picture Books, Book 1. Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 390. Language: English. Published: July 5, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Children’s books » Religious / Christian / General, Fiction » Children’s books » Concepts / Colors
A What IFS Bible picture book. The story of the Bible in pictures for beginning readers.
Christmas! Genesis to Revelation in 100 words a day
Series: The Bible in 100 Words a Day. Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 3,850. Language: English. Published: July 5, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Holiday » Christmas, Fiction » Christian » Historical
An illustrated page-a-day calendar for December and the Christmas Season

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Smashwords book reviews by Sheila Deeth

  • Dark End of the Spectrum on June 09, 2009

    At 468 pages, Dark End of the Spectrum, by Anthony S. Policastro, felt rather long to me, but the pages turned quickly, even on a computer, and by the time the CIA arrived to take Dan away from his family on a sunny day off I was thoroughly hooked. I’m not sure what I’d have done then if my cell-phone had rung. The author understands technology. He talks about Ultra Wide Band transmissions and 512 bit encryption, and I wonder how out of date I am. But he’s plausible and convincing when he describes the danger of secure networks being compromised by wireless devices. It’s certainly interesting to see how we might sacrifice security for simplicity, and then to be sideswiped by the idea that we might have sacrificed security in the name of avoiding terrorism too. But the novel isn’t just about technology gone wild. Dan has a wife and child and a home life too, and the up-down relationship of a marriage strained by work grounds the tale very realistically. The author writes convincing dialog, and Amelia’s sudden anger as Dan leaves to help the CIA saddened me because of its plausibility. It did disappoint me that Dan so easily attributes her outburst to her period. But then… Well, then the story really takes off. DEWs and HSPs and other acronyms abound, but the reader soon learns to speak the same language. Dan runs for his life, not knowing who to trust, while the whole world falls apart. Cars, helicopters and houses are destroyed. People die, spectacularly. And, when the whole country is held to ransom, even the President gets involved. Descriptive details and discussions slowed the story down at times, but not enough to distract me from reading on. I stayed hunched over the computer late at night, wishing I had a paperback to carry to bed, but unable to stop reading. This is certainly a thrilling book for anyone who likes technology, conspiracy, action and disaster; one to read when you’ve plenty of time to spare because you’ll not want to put it down. Your computer had better not be acting up and your cell-phone not be on the blink. And you’d better hope no one hacks into the power grid.
  • Absence of Faith on June 19, 2009

    Absence of Faith by Anthony S. Policastro is a fascinating mixture of medical mystery and paranormal nightmare. It starts with an intriguing description of a young doctor’s near-death experience. But this isn’t your usual, walk-into-the-light type of thing, and soon there are people all over the small town of Ocean Village convinced they’ve died and gone to hell. The story-line was intriguing enough to keep my interest, though there were incidents that stretched my credulity—which probably says more about me than about the writing. After all, I’m English; I’ve never lived in small-town America; the only doctors I know work in big-city hospitals; and my inter-faith experience is colored by my own multi-Christian background. The author paints some fascinating characters with his words, fully formed before they enter the fray. Sometimes I loved this. Sometimes I just wanted him to get on with the story. But the effect is clever, leaving the reader never sure of where the enemy lies. The portrayal of a young man falling into evil is particularly chilling; the slow seduction of experience conquering the flighty attraction of love. The scenes of a town gone wild are reminiscent of various scary movies I’ve seen—ah, but only in America says my English side. And the question of whether those threatened by evil will consider themselves betrayed by faith, or will continue to trust in God, is certainly an interesting one. Satanism vs. an absence of faith. A fascinating concept. An entertaining book. And some truly haunting scenes to stay with you when the story’s done.
  • The First Dragoneer (2016 Modernized Format Edition) on Sep. 13, 2010

    The First Dragoneer by MR Mathias, is a fun adventure story for middle-grade and older. Two young boys face that time when the world changes, when they have to grow up; and though their world is very different from ours, their feelings will be familiar to many readers. March will leave to find his fortune elsewhere. Bren will stay to fulfill his family obligations. And each imagines they’d rather be the other. The author creates a pleasing “other world” with words that are close enough to familiar to avoid that sinking alien-ness that so easily alienates readers. March calls Bren a “giboon” and imagination furnishes the image—nicely done. Meanwhile the hunting and tracking skills of our own world work just as well when entering forbidden caves in another. As boys will everywhere, each tries to act unafraid in the quest for just one last adventure. Each sees the other as confident. And each is just a little too curious. The danger, when it comes, is swift and vividly described. The author certainly writes a good fight scene, and an aftermath that’s all too plausibly painful. The First Dragoneer is a nicely complete novella in its own right, and a good introduction to the author’s Dragoneers Saga; intriguing fantasy, fun characters, and lots of questions to carry the story onward.
  • The Royal Dragoneers on Nov. 03, 2010

    M.R. Mathias’s The Royal Dragoneers takes place in a world of myth and mystery where dragons are ancient enemies, feared but rarely seen, and trolls and goblins roam the wilds. The scenes, a stag hunt, a rescue, a village, a town, build nicely onto each other creating a vivid picture of the world and its denizens. Meanwhile the dangers are nicely portrayed, new details gradually coming to light, till readers’ and protagonists’ assumptions fall to the onslaught of greater knowledge. Sixteen-year-old Jenka grew up on the frontier, outside the massive wall that protects the realm, and far from the throne. He has always dreamed of being a King’s Ranger, and now his chance has come. But the world of kings and rangers is threatened, and the magical druida Zah might hold the key. King Blanchard might have a part to play too, or his son Richard, and the dragon Jade is waiting in the wings. Supplies are measured and supply-routes detailed with care reminiscent of Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth or R.R Martin’s Game of Thrones, though less weighty. A few unedited surprises lurk in the words, but many surprisingly down-to-earth images bring the world to life—a group of soldiers crying from the smell of rotten onions, an ogre like a large cherubic monster, dragon ballast protecting a boat through a raging storm. Surprising wisdom and skills wait to be discovered in the youths of this tale. Fear and excitement abound as lines are drawn for the battle to come. Honor and power, love and revenge all have their part to play as magic spells, bright swords and dragons’ claws rake the flesh of friend and foe. The story comes to a well-drawn end, with promise of more to come in the next part of the trilogy—an epic tale, in length and in scope, and the start of an epic fantasy.
  • The Bad, The Good and Two Fly Fishing Women, and a Life-Changing Day on a River on April 29, 2011

    Told in the first person, this long short story jumps straight into the tale with the pleasing voice of a mother looking back on life. Childhood troubles are bluntly, honestly depicted—break-up of parents' marriage, death of a beloved grandparent, a teenager’s feelings that “froze into opposite halves.” Amanda finds solace in fishing and the love of a dog, but soon her grandmother becomes sick and her fragile security is threatened again. The grandmother speaks wise words of choices and regret, and Amanda heads for the river. The author paints beautifully evocative scenes of water shimmering while birds sing and trout bite. Though I’ve never fished, I feel the pull of the words, the call of the wild. “Stay calm.” I listen and the battle continues, trout against girl, line pulled, rod pulsing, dream fulfilled. “Rivers are like poems,” the grandmother says, and this story reads like a poem to the river’s beauty and the power of relationships to light up shadows in people’s lives. Amanda’s walking companion has shadows of his own, but his “simple” answers hide deep mysteries like those beneath the surface of fishing pools. And maybe truths sometimes hide “like trout in a stream.” The Bad, the Good and Two Fly-fishing Women is a sweet lunch-time read, filled with the scents and sounds of the riverbank, the honesty of youth, the wisdom of ages, and the promise of redemption. To share with a child, to ease the pain of loss or the confusion of betrayal, or just to enjoy the peace engendered in a change of time and pace, it’s a long short story well worth reading and remembering. Disclosure: I received an ecopy of this story from the author in exchange for an honest review.
  • Fast Forward: Into The Future on July 06, 2011

    Time-travel, dreams-come-true, and touch of romance walk the streets of England in Kelvin O’Ralph’s young-adult novel, Fast Forward into the Future. Protagonist Lucas, genius writer and comp sci student, is trying to get his first novel published. No one quite believes he’ll succeed, not even he, until that curious incident when he travels in time. But even seeing the future can’t make it come true, and it takes the kindness of family and strangers to see Lucas through self-doubt to the promise of hope. There’s definitely a youthful glee to this novel, with carefully complete descriptions of scene and furniture, sudden insights switching points of view, and an innocent hopefulness to the various conundrums of publishing, time-travel and romance. The story reads quickly, though choice of scenes and detail seems odd at times, adding to the youthful feel. The time-travel’s as unobtrusive as the emotions. And the dream of being published is one many authors might relate to, with hope or frustration depending on their point of view. Disclosure: I received a free ecopy of this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review.
  • Inklings on July 06, 2011

    Inklings by Aparna Warrier is a neat, short collection of neat, short stories (flash fiction), ideal for drinking in with a coffee, or reading in place of that poetry book you’ve misplaced. Mini-mysteries tingle on the palette, delicate sensuality amuses, and a lovely rendition of childhood strikes cords of sympathy in the subconscious. The twelve stories range from a few short lines—the poetic, intriguing, unsettling images of So What for example—to a few short pages—Venus or Intoxicated by Impossibility—which quickly draw the reader into the mystery of new characters. Language is poetic with occasional, forgivable, lapses, and the whole is like an enjoyable tray of snacks—spiced, sweetened, tinged with curiosity and the meaning of life. Of all the stories, my three favorites are Cheeky for its innocent sensuality and pleasingly portrayal of cubicle life, Greenie for that perfectly honest and real little third-grader, and Always for the tears of a guitar. And then there’s the Revolt of the Coconut Trees… My four favorites… Ah well. They’re all good. Disclosure: I was given a free ecopy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review.
  • One Hot January on July 06, 2011

    Joe January is a private investigator operating in the South Bronx in the 1940s. He writes in first person, has a wry sense of humor and keen observation skills, and, somehow, he’s looking back on history from a future we haven’t yet seen. Could Joe January still be alive and reviewing his past in 2082? You'll find a faithful side-kick, newly returned from the war; faithless and faithful women; tragic disappearances and mysterious returns; and a missing person investigation that starts with misplaced mail, all in the pages of this book. Clues are hidden neatly in the shadows as the reader follows Joe’s tale, obscure details suddenly taking on immense importance. But the end of the story remains always just out of reach, just one surprise further ahead than the reader can see. Dialog’s so pitch-perfect I imagine watching a black-and-white movie, hearing words in my head. The combination of Bogie, WWII and time-travel is truly beguiling, and, while this novel’s clearly complete in itself, I’ll certainly look forward to reading the sequel when it comes out. Disclosure: I’m lucky. I won a free signed copy of this book, no strings attached. And I really enjoyed it.
  • Light Bringer on July 06, 2011

    If you follow my reviews you probably know I really enjoy Pat Bertram’s novels. She has a knack of taking the most puzzling premise and building it into a well-structured, logical tale, with believable characters facing the most tortuous dilemmas. In Light Bringer she brings a strange group of individuals to the small town of Chalcedony, Colorado—Becka who was abandoned on a doorstep as a baby; Philip, on the run from the authorities; mysterious government agents; a UFO hunter’s sister; and the ubiquitous corporate destroyers of peaceful scenery. In town the locals discuss conspiracy theories with disturbing glee. And outside of town there’s a mysterious field of flowers filled with music and light. Pat Bertram’s novel soars in her descriptions of mystery and scenery. The song of the rainbow flows through the characters, binding them together, while the silence of the great unknown drives them and pulls them apart. The unknown, when finally revealed, is satisfyingly strange, though, unlike many of the characters, I maintain a healthy respect for the integrity of scientists and science. Romantic subplots are simultaneously lyrical and down-to-earth; dialog is natural and sometimes laugh-out-loud fun; secrets of history and astronomy are intriguing; and the whole is a fascinating read—a touch of old-fashioned sci-fi, blended with modern magic and corporate greed, shaken, stirred and conspired against, then woven into beautiful words. Disclosure: I won a free ecopy of this book from the publisher, no strings attached.
  • The Second Fly Caster: Fatherhood, Recovery and an Unforgettable Tournament on July 06, 2011

    I don’t fish. I don’t know anything about how winds might spoil a fly-casting tournament (though okay, I can probably imagine). I don’t know anything about baseball either. But Randy Kadish’s short story, The Second Fly-Caster, soon pulls me into the world of a young American boy, caught between his mother’s desire for him to do well in school and his father’s love of fly-casting and the great outdoors. The story’s told through the young boy’s words and the voice is beautifully beguiling and consistent, from youth to adulthood. Images of Roman gladiators striding to battle, churches weighed down by silence, and snowmen mayors make the narrator and his memories seem vividly real. “God, even though I don’t always believe in you…” the young boy prays, and his fears are fervently real. He loves his dad, he hates the foe, and he dreads the thought of failure. In the end the enemy’s not entirely unexpected, the sadness not entirely salvageable. But a child can still be a hero, and the memory of his father can be a hero’s memory. The story spans America and Vietnam, accountancy and the casting of a line, to come full circle, to a place where a man can thank God and truly become all he can be. Disclosure: The author gave me a free ecopy of this story after I reviewed an earlier, equally enjoyable, book.
  • Tales of Aradia The Last Witch Volume 1 on July 26, 2011

    Cross Superman with Twilight and you might get something like this book. With the same unpolished feel of the older comics, and the beautifully sensuous bodies of Twilight, it introduces a mix of “hidden races” to a modern-day high school in Salem, and adds that special something in the form of Aradia, a girl in search of identity. Unfortunately others are searching for Aradia’s identity too, and the author cleverly leaves readers wondering just who the bad guys are as the story progresses. Aradia’s powers are sometimes overly explained, sometimes oddly inconsistent—but then, what teen ever knows the true limits of her abilities? Amusing backstories lead to Aradia’s presence at her new school, and now the “loser” is being stared at by winners and choosing her battles. Her parents are supportive, intelligent and wise, and have instilled good morals in their daughter. The result is a pleasing, if sometimes uneven tale, with nice plot, interesting characters, intriguing history, and some fascinating questions. There’s more to come, but these Tales of Aradia start with a novel that feels satisfyingly complete, one battle finished convincingly, and more of them waiting in the eaves. A fun teen novel with a gruesome start but a nice sense of humor and nice low-key touch. Disclosure: I received a free ecopy of this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review.
  • Cold Hearted Son of a Witch on Sep. 23, 2011

    Second in M.R. Matthias’ teen fantasy epic, The Dragoneers Saga, Cold-Hearted son of a witch picks up the story at the close of The Royal Dragoneers . With so many characters and a well-drawn world so thoroughly imagined and described, it’s probably best to start the story with book one. But eager readers, willing to wait to learn who’s who, will jump into book two without difficulty. Pleasingly, all the characters are there, teenagers growing older at a convincing rate, and even young March from the author’s short novella The First Dragoneer plays a part, his arrival adding even greater breadth to the world that carries the tale. There’s a king inhabiting a sorcerer’s body, a sleeping prince, young would-be lovers wondering how to combine commitment to cause with commitment to each other, friendship, dragons, betrayal, and delightfully real relationships in this novel. The combination of immediate and long-term threat is nicely portrayed with all its conflicting interests, as are the problems of everyday needs during earth-shattering danger, making the characters very real and relatable. The author’s descriptions bring the world to life, and his skill with battle scenes and their gruesome aftermath is masterful. Wars fought in this world hurt; friends die, and those left behind deal with grief while riding on to save the survivors. Genuine, gritty, well-imagined, with pleasing reality and humor seasoning fantasy and fear, this second book fulfills all the promise of the first, and more, leaving me eager to move on to book three and glad I’ve had the chance to revisit the series. Disclosure: I received a free ecopy of this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review.
  • Homegrown Muse on Oct. 16, 2011

    Lysistrata Smith—how could anyone be called Lysistrata? But Lyssa’s soon a very real character in Sally Bennet's Homegrown Muse, and her muse-born name is delightfully apt. She treads the complex world of ecology and development with confident skill—not to mention dealing with high finance, jealous lovers, cheating businessmen and family misunderstandings. Meanwhile she scrimps and saves her wages in hopes of saving her family, and eats ice-cream with a generous neighbor who pulls all available strings to help find Mr. Right. Unfortunately the world’s Mr. Right’s are often cunningly disguised as Mr. Wrong, and this is one of those novels where the urge to sit the characters down at a table and tell them what’s what can become almost overwhelming. Almost, but pleasingly not quite. A new development near Phoenix blends high-tech, conservation and beauty into something Dane Callicott can surely be proud of. But why is he so unsure of himself, and why so eager to accept the complaints of his backers that he’s going to lose money? Sometimes risks have to be taken, in business and in love, and sometimes the traditional route to success leads to the wrong result. Dane and Lyssa’s relationship mirrors the relationships between buildings and the land. When the rubble clears something beautiful will arise, something well worth waiting for. Meanwhile the reader meets two very different families and learns the strengths and weaknesses of both. Independence is good. So is a sense of belonging. And the earth is our home. I enjoyed the characters of this book, drawn deeply enough to have flaws like the flaws in the landscape. The story’s fun. The gentle hints of marketing and finance intrigue. The family dynamics are pleasantly surprising. And the whole is an enjoyable romance with that extra something that makes it worthwhile. Disclosure: I obtained a free ecopy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
  • OGINALII, is Cherokee for My Friend Like Horse is to My Heart on Nov. 21, 2011

    Oginalii is Cherokee for My Friend Like Horse is to My Heart is the longer title of Stephanie M Sellers short Young Adult novel, a prequel to her longer work, Black Purse. Exilee is a mixed-race tomboy just beginning to learn her heritage. Preferring animals to humans, she runs her own pony show with cat and terrier and three-legged buffalo called Oginalii. She doesn’t want to learn the piano. She doesn’t get on with her sister. And she still dreams her mother’s spirit might come back and talk to her. The animals talk to Exilee, and their conversation carries the tale. The writing has an interesting cadence that soon has the reader believing Exilee can hear voices from pony and Yellow Cat. Beautifully descriptive and curiously different, the separation between Exilee and her family and her heritage feeds hauntingly into the words. The complex sentences weave an intricate blanket, and a willing reader is lulled by the curious cadences of the words, carried along into Exilee’s world and mystery and longing to learn. A neighbor is described moving “the cows down the hill every summer when the new Gardenia leaves unfold, like a soft slow wave hello from his wife.” Exilee’s struggle to listen to human conversation is intriguingly portrayed in the descriptive “Exilee stands statuesque as she plays radar for Miss Ginger’s words.” Oddly mesmerizing, the writing pulls you in. And Exilee grows up. The story is bracketed by loss, but what’s gained in between builds the character of Exilee. A broken three-legged heritage, like a three-legged buffalo, might prove to be something wonderful after all. But I’ll have to read Black Purse to find out what Exilee does with it. Disclosure: I received free copies of both these novels from the author in exchange for an honest review. I apologize for taking so long to get to them, and hope to get to Black Purse soon.
  • Bedtime Stories for Cats on Dec. 12, 2011

    Amy Neftzger’s matching ebooks, Bedtime stories for Cats and Bedtime stories for Dogs make a great set of tales (or tails) for the animal lovers (and animals) of any household. The stories weave nicely together with cat-stories retold from the dog’s point of view, and dog-myths replayed with cat-like superiority. Lovers of both breeds will benefit greatly from having both books to read, and indeed, I believe the print version contains them both, told from back and front and meeting in the middle. Cats, it seems, do not create or destroy but rather bring order to the world. So it’s fitting that their creation myth should involve adding order to chaos—fitting too that a well-named dog should precipitate the fall. Cats meet dogs in the house and park, viewing everything from that slightly different perspective, more concerned about mice and gifts for their people than spherical objects and squirrels. And they enjoy their mastery of that curious magic that we humans take for granted. The author’s timing makes for some very satisfying revelations, and the cat-voice of mild superiority is very pleasingly portrayed in this enjoyable collection (but if you like dogs, make sure you read the companion volume too). Disclosure: I received free ecopies of both books from the author in exchange for an honest review.
  • Bedtime Stories for Dogs on Dec. 12, 2011

    Amy Neftzger’s matching ebooks, Bedtime stories for Cats and Bedtime stories for Dogs make a great set of tales (or tails) for the animal lovers (and animals) of any household. The stories weave nicely together with cat-stories retold from the dog’s point of view, and dog-myths replayed with cat-like superiority. Lovers of both breeds will benefit greatly from having both books to read, and indeed, I believe the print version contains them both, told from back and front and meeting in the middle. The short stories cover mythology, bathtime, squirrels, spherical yellow objects, and food of course, plus the vagaries and follies of cats as these pets meet in park or house, sharing—or trying not to share—ideas, and seeking their different goals. The world’s greatest evil might be magical or mouse-like, but what does it matter when there’s food to be enjoyed? And the world’s most curious magic might seem casually simple when we inferior bipeds finally understand. With dog point of view beautifully portrayed, a pleasing dog-like turn of phrase, and bath-time consistently hated, this is a fun book to share with pets or family or both. Disclosure: I received free ecopies of both books from the author in exchange for an honest review.
  • My Enchanted Life on Feb. 03, 2012

    American teen Emma knows her life's about to change--it's the final summer before college. But a letter from England brings news that turns her every dream on its head. Emma has inherited a house from her long-lost uncle, and the lawyers want her to come and see it, now. I felt almost as unsettled as Emma when Laura Eno's novel moved to England, but, ignoring occasional un-English details, I soon imagine the village of Witton-le-Wear somewhere in the Cotswolds, perhaps, with stone-built homes, small graveyard, family plots and... all beautifully described and engagingly delighting all my senses. Then there's the dragon, a gnome, a demon and more. Poor Emma's thoroughly perplexed. Laura Eno's story brings magic into the mundane as a girl nervously facing change finds courage to make changes of her own. Standing up to the establishment, sticking up for her friends, trusting her instincts and bravely seeking out the truth, Emma's a fitting hero for teen readers and her story's filled with fun and mystery. I love the dragon, and I really enjoyed the book. Disclosure: I was lucky enough to get an ecopy while this book was offered free.
  • The Crossroads on Feb. 07, 2012

    A scary short story, Majanka Verstraete’s The Crossroads begins with Angela’s shock at finding her boyfriend cheating with her ex-BFF. The language is a little awkward at times, but the words and point of view feel authentically young. Not “one of those timid, socially-awkward girls who did everything their boyfriends told them to,” Angela makes a strong female protagonist, willing to make demands and set rules, but young enough for foolish mistakes and careless trust. A rapid run through past events leads to Angela walking home alone in the dark, her biggest concern the discomfort of her shoes. Based on popular urban legend, this tale soon gives the hitchhiker more important things to think about, and the author reveals a pleasing sense of timing in both danger and resolution. A short, slightly awkward, horror story with a satisfying twist, this makes for a fun read over supper, with wild wind blowing and teenagers shouting faraway as their cars speed by. Disclosure: I was lucky enough to get a free ecopy of this story and enjoyed it enough to review it.
  • Black Purse on Feb. 13, 2012

    Complex characters inhabit a very real contemporary world in Stephanie M Sellers’ Black Purse. Good farmers care for horses just as well as if they were people, and in the process, animals ease the pain of humans who learn to earn their trust. Under the surface, though, there’s a wealth of human history, family and national, waiting to be scratched and brought to light. Part-American-Indian, Part-African-American, and wholly herself, belonging in no box, young Exilee is angry and maybe rightly rebellious. But the gentle family that gives her space and a job soon becomes part of her life. And their son—well, maybe he’s always been part of her dreams, though she’s not sure she wants to settle down. Quiet romance grows awkwardly in the first third of this novel, with deep questions of race and pride discussed at length in the beauty of a long horse-ride. But the story comes of age and finds its footing when the young victim of modern prejudice enters the family’s lives. Animals and nature weave their magic to strengthen and heal, and evidence of historical cruelties weave into present-day mystery and suspense. There’s a genuine honesty and faith in the protagonists of this tale—wounded people, generous and ready to forgive, facing others whose greed and anger cause only more hurts. There’s a wonderful respect for individuality too, and those boxes we place each other in cannot hold our neighbors anymore than a box holds the grown-up Exilee. The story’s not an easy read, partly for its content and partly for style. Leisurely, sometimes awkward and unedited, not quite fitting any box or genre, it might not flow the way the reader might expect. But the book’s well worth reading and leaves a haunted feeling of history belonging to more than just people or land, and lessons well-learned. Disclosure: I received a free ecopy of this novel from the author in exchange for my honest review.
  • Vampires Rule on Feb. 13, 2012

    Jack would love nothing more than to be human again, but Jack died ten years ago and now his little brother’s older than him and his girlfriends are fighting over him. A teen novel with vampires who aren’t adorably dreamy and dangers that really might include death and dismemberment, K.C. Blake’s Vampires Rule makes a refreshing change. Jack gets his wish, but living a normal high-school life in the daylight doesn’t quite live up to expectations. As he worries about whether he’s really “safe” he finds he has no-one to talk to, except a teacher who seems to know entirely too much. There’s a halting romance between Jack and Silver, romantic tension between Jack and his vampire friend, sibling rivalry between Jack and his brother, and an intriguing mentor-mentee relationship building between Jack and the man who might be his nemesis. Different weights are given to different relationships throughout the tale, and book two, Werewolves Rule might resolve some of the mysteries left open at the end. But Vampires Rule comes to a satisfying conclusion, avoiding both simple endings and out-and-out conflict, leaving a curious sense of mystery with ancient prophesy and modern hope. Written with a nicely youthful point of view, instilling just enough confidence to make me believe all the coincidences will be explained, this novel reads well on its own and is a worthy beginning to a series. Disclosure: I was lucky enough to get a free ecopy and promised myself I’d write a review in thanks.
  • Everblossom: A Short Story and Poetry Anthology on Feb. 13, 2012

    There’s a breathless, unpolished feel to the writing in Larissa Hinton’s short stories and poems, as if the author couldn’t wait to release the words. The mix of poetry and story is nicely laid out, following a blossom from bud to flower to seed, and following characters and places with introductions to the author’s novels. There’s a land of wishful thinking where “bam, like Disney said it would happen, it really happened” characterizes the results of idle thought. And there’s a school for characters who delightfully hide more than the usual teen angst—indeed, my favorite story, Changes, takes place in that school. But there are oddities of language that left me with unintended smiles, perhaps my age and my English background battling against the nuances of American freedom and teenspeak. Long passages of dialog slow the reader down in short stories, while short lines of staccato teen angst, high school language and nature, college bills and English Major Blues, characterize the free-form poetry. The whole is a fairly slow read, surprising for such short pieces. Youthful exuberance is enhanced by loosely formed sentences and contemporary vocabulary, but the collection's probably not recommended for readers who might find such things offensive or distracting. Disclosure: I received a free ecopy of this collection from the author in exchange for an honest review.
  • Ruined City on Feb. 23, 2012

    Author A.F. Stewart’s words paint pictures in glorious colors in this short story collection, tall curling spires with swirling delicate traceries on the walls. The reader feels as small as the narrator entering these halls. But darkness stirs and vengeance threatens this pastoral opulence. The author creates magical scenes and imbues them with emotion, faint hints of modern-day questions lurking on the tongue. Different characters narrate the tale, giving the story immediacy and depth while keeping the chapters fresh and the reader eager for more. Mixing past and present tense, hope and fear, deep emotions and relentless powers, the haunting vignettes in these tales grow together into a convincing and intriguing tale with a nice sense of warning and completion. Occasional typos might mar the stories for some readers, but powerful writing drew me deeply into the author’s vivid imagination—an enjoyable journey. Disclosure: The author kindly gave me an ecopy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
  • Arm Farm on April 05, 2012

    Sarah Butland’s Arm Farm starts wonderfully with a young woman walking into a field of… arms. The touches of horror blend perfectly with reality as she contemplates why she’s there—a perfectly natural explanation—and the chapter’s intriguing, disturbing and fascinating all at once. The story becomes a little more mundane as the top-of-her-class college student proceeds to get thoroughly drunk while celebrating success with her teacher. Characters make important decisions with surprising ease, belying the complex emotions of the first chapter and tending more towards a cozy mystery style of writing. A mystery in the past concerning the murder of the protagonist’s family, bleeds into the present with a stalker whose thoughts are occasionally revealed. Red herrings are tossed into the mix then disappear, while odd remarks gradually become clear, giving a feeling that the characters have kept secrets from the author as well as the reader while the story progressed. The result is a slightly awkward cross between mystery and suspense. A few soaring scenes will stick in my mind despite occasional typos and unconvincing behavior. Meanwhile the Arm Farm of the title creates a well-written powerfully haunting wrapper to the tale. Disclosure: I received a free ecopy of this novel from the author in exchange for my honest review
  • The Guest on April 09, 2012

    The Guest by Karen Dales is a short story introducing the Angel of Death from the Chosen Chronicles. It’s certainly an intriguing tale, set in a Buddhist monastery where the guest who’s stayed for many long years is called upon to perform his mysterious duty. The guest’s identity is nicely veiled while the mystery of his gift offers a pleasingly different point of view on life, death and rebirth. The writing involves all the senses with evocative description of thought, actions and surroundings. There’s a quiet level of unspoken conversation that wisely avoids any temptation to tell all. And there’s a convincing respect for difference. I enjoyed this gently unsettling tale, short, intriguing, and just long enough for a good cup of coffee. Disclosure: I was lucky enough to get a free ecopy.
  • Reconstructing Charlie on April 12, 2012

    A modern-day fairytale with hints of Cinderella, Charmaine Gordon’s Reconstructing Charlie is definitely uplifting if not entirely believable. Coming from an abusive home, Charlie Costigan is suddenly thrust into wealth and riches when her mother sends her away to previously unknown relatives in Chicago. But these relatives are rich, kind, wise and wonderful. Their servants are sweet-tempered and fun. And their home and lifestyle remind me of a previous century or perhaps Batman, which shows how little I know of upper-class America Charlie proves well able to build on the dreams of her relatives. A world-class athlete, genius student, quick-witted, nimble and, underneath it all, unassailably kind, she works her way through high school, deals with boy troubles, gets a scholarship and enters the world of business and finance through sheer determination and the magic of money and intelligence combined. Through it all, she maintains a sincere concern for those who might suffer as she did. But perhaps the strongest scenes are those giving first and final glimpses of Charlie’s mother. An amazing opening scene starts with Charlie’s confession “I killed my father”—the book’s worth reading just for this scene. And a powerful sense of closure is found when Charlie meets her mother again near the end. In between is the story of teenager Charlie, reconstructing herself in riches from the rags of an abusive past. Disclosure: I received a free ecopy of this novel from the author in exchange for my honest review.
  • The Black-Eyed Susan on April 12, 2012

    J.A. Clement’s short story serves as a prequel to the On Dark Shores series and paints a vivid picture of sailing ships, land and sea at a certain time in imagination / history. A scheming money-lender enjoys the fruits of his “labors” but the enemy he makes might turn out much stronger than he seems. I long to see someone get the better of this schemer and hope the longer volume—On Dark Shores, the Lady—will bring him closer to his downfall. The story’s short. The writing’s smooth. Scene-setting and backstory are quick and natural. Characters are vivid. I really enjoyed this piece and the series should be a really good read. Disclosure: I found a free ecopy after agreeing to review the Lady, which I will read next.
  • On Dark Shores 1: The Lady on April 16, 2012

    It took a little while to get into J.A. Clement’s On Dark Shores, the Lady, even though I’d already read the prequel, Parallels. But perhaps I was looking for too many parallels between the stories. Characters do reappear, but the story's set later and the future's more important than the past. The evil Copeland's still ruling the port town of Scarlock and Nereia, the thief, works for him, trying to keep her younger sister safe and fed. Boxer Blakey wounds people in his master's name but might be a much deeper character than he seems. Mickel deals with the outside world. Sailors man the ships and enjoy the brothels. And hope is hard to find. Despite its darkness, this story’s infused with the promise of something more. Mysteries lurk on the edge of revelation as Nereia and her sister make a bid for freedom. The author spares nothing in portraying the cruelties and hardships of life, but adds a pleasing human kindness and the promise of more. I was just sorry the novella finished before the “more” was revealed, giving this reader a feeling of having read only part of something really good. I hope there’ll be a sequel soon, but I guess I wish I’d held off reading until the sequel was there. The story’s highly recommended—just a pity it’s incomplete. More please! Disclosure: I was lucky enough to get a free ecopy from the author in a promotion. Now I’ll just have to look out for more. These characters demand it.
  • On Dark Shores 2: The Other Nereia on April 25, 2012

    If I hoped for a more complete ending from this second of J.A. Clement’s On Dark Shores series I might be disappointed. But Nereia’s tale does come to a fascinating turning point and the oddly ambiguous bad guy, Blakey, begins his approach to redemption. Meanwhile the Mother lies waiting in the wings and armies start to gather, and I'm hooked. The world of this series is nicely complete with history, present and future waiting to unfold. Characters interact with pleasing dialog and genuine feeling. The streets, stores and shores of Scarlock feel very real. And there’s no sense of author intrusion as the story propels itself forwards. The fiercely addictive contents of Blakey’s snuffbox and the haunting appearance of Nereia’s Dark Shores visitor add depth and mystery, making the reader eager for more even though the mysterious Mother has yet to be revealed. Expert world-building combines with good writing, great characters and dialog, and a sense of increasing tension to make this a thoroughly enjoyable series—just as long as you’re willing to wait for the end. If incomplete stories really annoy you, I’d suggest you place this high on to your future read-list. But if you’re looking for a nicely worked-out fantasy world to spend some reading time in, this is the series for you. Disclosure: I received a free ecopy of this novel from the author in exchange for my honest review, and I hope book 3 comes out soon!
  • Killers and Demons on April 29, 2012

    Short scary tales hook you from the first page in A. F. Stewart’s Killers and Demons. In classic short horror tradition, the tales evoke darkness with beautiful use of language, and twist the reader’s emotions onto a slippery, slithery slope. Reminding me of Ray Bradbury, the author sets up simple scenes—a dinner table perhaps, laid out for a gourmet meal, a faithful knight at prayer, or the haunting fog of Victorian London. Each tale is perfectly seasoned with surprising stings, leaving the reader haunted by the sort of questions horror is meant to leave. And the author wisely doesn’t give the background—who knows, this killer or demon just might live next door. Delicious, perfectly fitting the scary book cover, ideal for a haunting evening’s read… but keep the lights on and play the music loudly. Disclosure: I was lucky enough to get a free ecopy of this book, and I already knew I enjoy the author’s writing.
  • Even the Paranormal Play Sports on May 05, 2012

    Rumors fly and reporters drive, but the two come together at this hockey match where the young supporter just wants her team to win. Still, she supposes she should answer a few questions, so she tells the tale of those strangers who came into town and how things changed. The reporter’s determined to learn more, the fangs aren’t quite showing yet, and the secret… well, maybe there are others who’d like to keep it kept secret for other reasons. An enjoyable read with a very neat, mildly disturbing premise.
  • Existence on May 05, 2012

    A delightfully disturbing tale, A.F. Stewart’s Existence takes readers into the mind of a scientist who’s almost worked it out. Just one last experiment and they’ll have achieved all they desired. But suddenly he’s not sure anymore what he wanted or why or how the world has changed. Skillfully recreating the man’s confusion as he’s thrown into uncertainties, intriguingly creating a world that’s so scarily different from the one he woke up in, and cleverly refraining from too much explanation, this is classic science fiction with style. A thoroughly enjoyable read.
  • The Confliction on May 08, 2012

    Bringing the Dragoneers Saga to a satisfying close and leaving the door open to further adventure, M. R. Mathais’ The Confliction is an enjoyable novel, set in a complex and well-imagined world, with the sort of exciting battle scenes that just beg to be seen on a movie screen. Readers should probably start with the earlier books, but, as a reader who very quickly forgets what she’s read before, I can reasonably claim the story will still be interesting without reading them. As a well-planned saga, this series involves a lot of fascinating characters in a world filled with detail. Earlier books have built up the mystery of the dangerous prince, the magic of body-swapped king and adviser, wise witches, fallen druids and, of course, dragons. The dragons and their riders are the heroes of this tale, independent yet tied by allegiances to friends and humanity, powerful yet limited, and pleasingly loyal to each other. New enemies and allies are revealed in each book, and this one’s no exception, building new threats nicely on hints from previous tales, and even adding a hero whose background, though untold, feels perfectly right for the land. Extra details explaining past events are smoothly and satisfyingly woven into the tale. And the final battle is very expertly told. This third novel seems shorter, more precisely edited and faster-moving than its predecessors. For me at least, it reads like the best in the series. I’m looking forward to more, but it’s nice to see the completion of this part of the tale. Disclosure: I received a free ecopy of this novel from the author in exchange for my honest review.
  • The Confliction on May 08, 2012

    Bringing the Dragoneers Saga to a satisfying close and leaving the door open to further adventure, M. R. Mathais’ The Confliction is an enjoyable novel, set in a complex and well-imagined world, with the sort of exciting battle scenes that just beg to be seen on a movie screen. Readers should probably start with the earlier books, but, as a reader who very quickly forgets what she’s read before, I can reasonably claim the story will still be interesting without reading them. As a well-planned saga, this series involves a lot of fascinating characters in a world filled with detail. Earlier books have built up the mystery of the dangerous prince, the magic of body-swapped king and adviser, wise witches, fallen druids and, of course, dragons. The dragons and their riders are the heroes of this tale, independent yet tied by allegiances to friends and humanity, powerful yet limited, and pleasingly loyal to each other. New enemies and allies are revealed in each book, and this one’s no exception, building new threats nicely on hints from previous tales, and even adding a hero whose background, though untold, feels perfectly right for the land. Extra details explaining past events are smoothly and satisfyingly woven into the tale. And the final battle is very expertly told. This third novel seems shorter, more precisely edited and faster-moving than its predecessors. For me at least, it reads like the best in the series. I’m looking forward to more, but it’s nice to see the completion of this part of the tale. Disclosure: I received a free ecopy of this novel from the author in exchange for my honest review.
  • Brain Tales - Volume One on May 27, 2012

    Sarah Butland’s Brain Tales are definitely quirky, ranging from weirdly scary to scarily weird. Some issues with word choice, logic and editing might make put off readers, but three stories will definitely linger in my mind. The elderly woman losing memories presents a haunting picture in Peeling Apples. The secret of a lost child is pleasantly comforting after the slow machinations of At Ease. And the Paper Box is delightful. There’s a forced feel to the humor and complex sentences of these tales, with phrases such as “flushing away thoughts of performing any forces of nature,” or “My heart stopped for the second time that day,” leading to rather odd word-pictures in my mind. The tales are surreal and complex, but a simpler telling might make them more accessible. Disclosure: I received a free ecopy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest review.
  • The Medicine People on June 04, 2012

    The first line of Lazarus Barnhill’s The Medicine People surely deserves a position in the first line’s hall of fame. “The instant Ace—Officer Adams—reached for his service revolver with his right hand, he extended his ice cream to me with his left hand.” The novel lives up to this promise wonderfully, offering a combination of intriguing mystery, police procedural, pleasing romance, and family drama with a truly fascinating side-order of well-researched Native American history. The story’s told with a self-deprecating sense of urgency by rookie patrolman Dan Hook. With a keen eye for observation and a willingness to learn, Dan finds himself investigating a crime that occurred before he was born. His loyalties are tested when he doubts the official line, and his future in the force might hang in the balance. There are deeper loyalties at play in this story though as Dan watches the mysterious Medicine People gather around the bars of Ben Whitekiller’s cell. Meanwhile Dan’s falling for the young woman who drove with Ben, and trying to learn more of his own past from his mother, who also falls for her. The dialog’s fast and furious and fun. The police procedures and crime scene investigation are equally enthralling and authentic. And Dan’s explanation of Indian history and alcoholism are carefully given, as befits a rookie cop explaining what he knows. Of course, he also has much to learn. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would love to meet these characters again. Disclosure: I was given a free ecopy of this novel by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
  • It All Started With a Dog on June 04, 2012

    Leigh Somerville McMillan’s It all started with a dog reads like a tall glass of iced tea on the patio on a hot and humid summer’s day. A Washington DC lawyer of a certain age, Rachel Springer has begun to grow old alone, enjoying her large comfortable home in town and occasionally visiting relatives on the farm where she grew up. Rachel has no desire to change anything in her life or her work, but change comes uninvited in the shape of a delightful dog and continues on from there. People, like the dog, have a knack for worming their way into Rachel’s heart. Coincidence wears the pleasing guise of love and fate in this novel, with heartwarming characters, both young and old, real-world issues, honest problems and enjoyable relationships. Rachel’s interfering friend hides a heart of pure gold and her visitor’s wounded heart bleeds diamond threads. It all started with a dog weaves a delightful web of relationships, infusing them with love and summer sun, and tying them together in a thoroughly enjoyable way. Slow and well-detailed backstories befit the pace of a detail-oriented woman slowly turning her life upside down, and the whole is a fine tale for a long hot summer’s read. Disclosure: I received a free ecopy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
  • Carpet Ride on June 13, 2012

    Sam Stanley’s got everything going for him—new bride, delightful one-year-old son, new house and job to go home to, and the perfect honeymoon driving through pristine forests between Oregon and California. But everything starts to fall apart when he almost wrecks the RV on a narrow winding road. The rolled-up carpet in the middle of the road probably fell off a van… or something. Author Norm Brown renders Sam’s thoughts perfectly in his novel Carpet Ride. The characters are comfortable, the conversation’s pleasing, and the sudden blows of trouble falling on trouble are genuinely surprising, gluing the reader to the page. Sam’s friend John soon becomes convinced Sam’s run of bad luck isn't just coincidence. Murder, fire and mayhem ensue as Sam tries to save his new family in Texas and John investigates mysteries in Colorado. The stories come back together in a truly exciting scene in the wilds of Texas, and even a reader who loves to try to guess the resolution too early in the tale will enjoy watching this mystery twist and turn. Action, adventure, mystery and romance rolled into one, this Carpet Ride is one wild ride and a thoroughly enjoyable read. Disclosure: I received a free ecopy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
  • School of Lies on June 19, 2012

    Mickey Hoffman’s School of Lies creates a very believable high school where politics, money, sex and power vie with the need or desire to protect and educate. Standard High is an inner-city failing school, last resting place of failing teachers and students. Quiet Kendra Desola really isn’t the only one who’s concerned for her special ed students, and Vice Principal Zant probably isn’t the only cynical in-it-for-himself administrator. But when news filters through the grapevine, via the unions, of something wrong in Standard High, Kendra searches for strength to find an answer. Beset from the start by threatening emails, Kendra’s trying to keep a low profile while the police investigate recent events. But soon Kendra forms her own theories, putting the facts and inferences together, and proving to be a dogged detective in her own right. The story picks up speed as the investigation stalls, and there are lots of surprises in store. The characters, both adults and children, are entirely plausible, with well-written dialog and totally believable motivations. Misunderstandings, misleadings and missing clues combine to make this an interesting mystery and an absorbing look at modern education—a truly enjoyable novel with a complex plot, pleasing protagonist and satisfying conclusion. Disclosure: I received a free ecopy of this novel from the publishers in exchange for my honest review.
  • HYM and HUR on June 25, 2012

    A thoroughly enjoyable short story, Phillip Frey’s Hym and Hur has pleasingly thought-provoking humor, combining a delightful premise with thoroughly enjoyable execution. The author’s light touch with matters of heaven and hell blends perfectly with the innocent mood of his oddly ancient protagonists, Hym and Hur, as they plan their next curious prank. The human protagonists are pleasing too as their perils stretch before them, but the reader’s eyes are kept firmly fixed on the mystical—how will Hym and Hur get everyone out of the mess their foolish tricks have created? An odd misused word can easily be forgiven in such a short pleasing piece. The grown-up fairy-tale feel of the writing is thoroughly enjoyable and the story wends its way to an appropriate conclusion without ever devolving into analysis of what’s going on. I hope I might meet Hym and Hur in more pranking short stories some day. Disclosure: I received a free ecopy of this story from the author in exchange for my honest review.
  • News on the Home Front on July 19, 2012

    The details of America’s recent history abound in Christopher Geoffrey McPherson’s News on the Home Front, bringing to life the world of rich and comfortable women left behind when husbands and brothers went to war. Paperback books are just being introduced to the stores, movies are made, silk stockings are scarce, and servants are kind. Since my own knowledge of World War II’s home front comes from my English background, this entirely different world had me hearing the silken voices of movie stars in its dialog and imagining black and white scenes from the silver screen. Irene becomes a “vital member of the working class” building parts in a factory while her upper class friend Carole enjoys the luxuries of lying in bed, awaiting breakfast and bemoaning her fiancé’s departure for war. But the two friends are inseparable, and Irene tries to cheer Carole with shopping trips where they bemoan the absence of luxuries in the stores. On the surface, these characters annoyed me, but the story grows as it progresses, secret fears adding depth and the keeping of secrets adding tension. The characters changed, grew wiser though still annoying, and I wanted more for them. Long pieces of backstory pull the threads together eventually, building the novel to a nicely emotional climax. I wasn’t entirely convinced by the characters’ changes of heart, but then, these are people who keep secrets even from themselves—a Home Front, but also a front kept up at home. News on the Home Front is like a black and white movie in a book, sweet, soft-spoken, soft-focused, occasionally biting, and honestly drawn. Disclosure: I received a free ecopy of this novel from the author in exchange for my honest review, and I’m just sorry it took me so long to get to it.
  • Love Notes on July 24, 2012

    Sherrie Hansen Decker’s Love Notes is Christian romance where fiction is lifted up, not bogged down by faith. Genuine hope kindles slowly in human hearts. Beautiful music soars. Trials come, not because the characters are sinners but because they’re human and the world around us is wounded. The bad guys are drawn with space awaiting healing grace, and the scenery, towns and countryside are vivid with beauty and darkness side by side, hope hiding in the shadows. An opening scene with winter coming, a dark storm brewing on the lake, paints assumptions that time will surely pull apart. Coincidence is nicely grounded in cause and effect. Miscommunications build on genuine misconception. And two great characters, both proudly, fiercely independent, slowly learn to see through different eyes. Forgiveness of others and self, acceptance of unwelcome advice, and finding what to stay true to when others guide you away, all these and more form a backdrop to Hope’s desire to keep Rainbow Lodge afloat and Tommy Love’s search for a song to revive his life and career. One of them wants to escape from the crowds. The other seeks the company of crowds to enjoy the scenery. Somewhere behind it all they might be made for each other or might be made to set each other free. Meanwhile each is freed from the past as God writes his Love Notes on their hearts, through song, through beauty, through faithful community, and through hope. The balance of finance and tradition in small towns is complicated. As well, “It’s complicated when two mature adults go into a relationship,” as one of the characters says. But complications can be anchored on solid ground and new life can be forged. This story kept me glued to the page, never knowing how I wanted the tale to end, but always sure the author would end it well. After all, she’s very clearly listening to the author of our lives as she writes these lives—Christian fiction indeed, where honest humanity meets heavenly hope. Disclosure: I received a free ecopy of this novel from the author in exchange for my honest review and I honestly loved it.
  • The Vampire Hunter's Daughter: Part IV on Aug. 14, 2012

    Part four continues the series nicely, adding darkness and depth but leaving the reader eager for parts 5 and 6, which I hope to read soon. Read parts 1 to 3 first.
  • Water Lily on Aug. 14, 2012

    Author Sherrie Hansen writes books beautifully shaped to their titles, and characters whose lives and trials grow into genuine truths. The three sisters of her Maple Valle trilogy are all different, united by common experience of their upbringing, but divided by their different responses, from childhood to adulthood. Without the overarching confidence or her older sister, or the goody-two-shoes perfection of the youngest one, Michelle has spent her life trying to please her mother and expecting to fail. Now at a certain age and a certain size she’s come home. Unable to shape herself to fit the parental image, she’s a genius at shaping her surroundings instead. An interior designer with talent and imagination, an encouragement to everyone around her, an astute observer of her niece's needs, all Michelle is missing is the confidence to create a home life for herself, and to accept herself as beautiful. None of us are perfect, but Michelle’s high school crush comes pretty close. Divorced with two small sons, he’s back in town, but he’s obviously far too good for Michelle, or is he? As murky waters of misunderstandings, secrets and trepidation flow around them, and the clock ticks on Michelle’s dreams of someday having a child, love blooms like a glorious water lily, tentatively breaking the surface and waiting to be seen. Not just a love story, this might even be considered a coming of age story, allowing those of us long out of high school to come of age as well. It’s a tale of learning to accept oneself, to see through eyes of love and joy, and to recognize whose words really matter—the mother who wants the best for you and treads on your confidence, the schoolfriend who wants the worst and scorns your dreams, or the one who truly sees you, warts and beauty and hopes and all. An uplifting story with great characters, a lovely sense of place, and a protagonist you’ll wish you could meet again in real life, Water Lily is a thoroughly enjoyable, peaceful read with wise lessons and lasting joy. Disclosure: I bought this ebook a while ago and can’t imagine why it took me so long to get around to reading it.
  • Merry Go Round - Maple Valley Trilogy, Book 3 on Aug. 14, 2012

    Last in Sherrie Hansen’s Maple Valley trilogy, Merry Go Round tells the story of the perfect sister with the perfect marriage, and what happens when perfection’s not what it seems. There’s something hauntingly real in the image of a pastor’s wife, nervous of who’s watching, who’s talking, and who might learn her husband’s secret. And there’s something very honest in the wounds caused by secrecy. Marriages break up for many different reasons, and parents struggle to give the best to their kids. The characters of Maple Valley have all the old-fashioned values that shape and center our lives, but the Maple Valley stories look behind those values, giving them depth and comfort to cope when fairytales stop following the plan. Divorce is real. Homosexuality can’t be swept under the carpet. Children can be hurt even when their parents have the best of intentions. And just maybe, honesty is the best policy. Tracy’s rebellious daughter, sullen older son and delightful youngest child are all so real, all so filled with potential. But Tracy has buried her potential in the need to play a part and project a perfect image. Gradually she learns to recognize and value herself, imperfect, lovable, and ready to move on. With architecture’s shape and form, music’s laughter, and the constant turn of the merry-go-round, author Sherrie Hansen sets her characters in motion along matching rides then brings them together in satisfying unison. Even the estranged siblings of the other two volumes learn to see how they grew up together and now might grow more through caring for each other. Merry go round is a slightly darker ride than the earlier two volumes, but a beautifully thought-provoking romantic drama and a thoroughly enjoyable stand-alone read. Disclosure: I received a free ecopy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
  • The Vampire Hunter's Daughter: Part V on Aug. 21, 2012

    Part five resolves the end of part four with a pleasing mix of action and introspection as Chloe learns more about herself and her father and, more importantly, more about her feelings. Another satisfying episode in an enjoyable series.
  • The Vampire Hunter's Daughter Part VI on Aug. 21, 2012

    I enjoyed the sense of closure at the end of this final volume of the Vampire Hunter's Daughter. It's clear there's more story to be told, and some characters don't yet seem as important as they're sure to be. But the main storylines have reached a pleasing conclusion making this a satisfying place to finish the novel.
  • Twisted Shorties on Oct. 22, 2012

    I’m one of the authors, a minor player, a face hiding in the crowd in this collection of FREE short pieces. Poetry, humor, romance, science fiction and wondrous scares abound. But I put off reading this, didn’t want to have to write a review because… well, first, how do you review something that includes your own work, and second, how could I stand to be the first not to give a five-star rating? After all, I could hardly claim perfection for something that includes my own words. But I am a very small bit-player here… what of the rest? So yes, it gets five stars in spite of me. Twisted Shorties is free and would still be really good value if you had to pay for it. The pieces really are good—quick short reads filled with passion, plot, laugh-out-loud hilarity and haunting pain. They’re neatly collected so you can read by author or by theme (thank you A. F. Stewart!). They’re so varied everyone will find something to enjoy. They’re so well organized you’ll contentedly keep reading from beginning to end, and so short you’ll have no problem finishing something then stopping to go shopping or answer the phone. The collection starts beautifully with Alice Grimes’ lovely poem, Salt Covenant. R. C. Larham trips over miracles. John Beck delights in metaphor. And the world suddenly turns with A. F. Stewart’s trademark swiftly drawn and fully imagined worlds. But there’s more… An upward moving elevator (Len Maxwell), entrancing exerpts from Patricia Gilliam’s Hannaria series, Ms. Lee P.’s Steampunk Grandma and Lord Gregory’s thought-provoking insanity. Then there’s Doug Westberg’s spoonerisms, magical children’s stories, Jax’s Practical Pig, Christmas, Terry McDermot’s wise animal capers, Greg Schiller’s biting social commentary told with his equally biting humor. Indeed, there are too many authors to mention. Too many favorites to list. Does Hell have a “municipal code”? If so, perhaps I’ll violate its laws in rating this, but it’s going to get a five for all that I’m in it, simply because it deserves it. Just don’t go looking for my name—my pieces really are small fry in this wonderful pond. Disclosure: It’s free. I bought it. I loved it. I read it so I reviewed it.
  • Shadows of Suspicion on Dec. 05, 2012

    The family banter is pleasantly natural, the family’s Christian faith is pervasive, and the sense of danger’s quickly and scarily real in Ashley Dawn’s Shadows of Suspicion, next in her Shadows series of Christian romantic suspense novels. The story follows on from Shadows of the Past but readers are brought up to speed very naturally and won’t need to read the first book to enjoy the second. Kerry’s brothers work for the FBI and the CIA, so her life’s bound to be complicated, especially when the possibly deranged son of a recently imprisoned criminal decides he wants revenge. When Kerry’s kidnapped she knows how to pray and how to free herself, but she’ll need the help of the mysterious Luke to avoid being recaptured. And suddenly she finds he’s captured her heart. Unfortunately Luke thinks “[S]he must be brain washed or something to enjoy church,” and Kerry’s biggest problem, apart from being chased by a murderous madman, is “finding someone who share[s] her faith and beliefs.” Religion, after all, isn’t “only for women, children and old people.” But how will she convince Luke? The real question of course, is whether she really believes all things are possible with God. Perhaps it’s not her but her preacher who will reach Luke with holy words. Perhaps the honest emotions of true Christians will win him over from his bitter past. And, in the meantime, perhaps Kerry’s life will be saved even while Luke’s soul finds salvation. Smoother-reading than the first book, Shadows of Suspicion is an enjoyable, Christian romantic suspense with an interesting plot, scary villains, and wonderful family dialog to anchor it. Disclosure: I received a free ecopy of this book when the author visited my blog during her blog tour.
  • Broken City on Jan. 10, 2013

    D.D. Chant’s post-apocalyptic world is one that remembers six-packs, appreciates the beauty of which poets speak, plays chess, and keeps its Tribe in a tower-block while warriors fight for survival on the streets. Warriors protect, and the weak and helpless, the untouched, are treasured—kept safe or kept prisoner, depending on your point of view. The narrator of D. D. Chant’s Broken City surely wishes she could go outside and see it all. But Tom and her father forbid it. The novel opens with a nicely lyrical remembrance of a long-gone time, setting the scene for what’s to come. Future history is swiftly and unobtrusively described through the eyes of Deeta, a young adult, unattached, whose voice is pleasingly normal—restless, unsure of the future, feeling the steady ache of wanting something more. The author’s use of present tense first-person narration provides a convincing sense of innocent detachment, though it does tend to accentuate the lack of action at the start. Still, when Deeta ends up imprisoned in a different world of post-apocalyptic contrasts, and death and murder loom, then the present tense narration lends a convincing immediacy. In early scenes Deeta reflects “that I must be pathetic to be so self-indulgent,” but everything changes and, as war approaches, “my startled eyes collide with my Mother’s,” writes Deeta as she learns to make her own decisions. For myself, I was surprised to learn how old Deeta was, but perhaps that just reflects my lazy reading. Parts of her world seemed so well-preserved I wanted to know how, but the author does a good job of not revealing or reveling in background, keeping the need for logical questioning at bay. I was interested in, but not entirely convinced by the remnants of civilization, and I enjoyed the interplay of a large number of characters, the various separate worlds of a broken city, and the intriguing mystery of the hidden murderer. A fun story with action, innocent romance, mystery, concern for neighbors, and children spared from danger, Broken City offers entertaining reading and intriguing food for thought. Disclosure: I was given a free ecopy of this novel by the author.
  • Vendetta on Jan. 28, 2013

    Set in the glamor and glitz of Vegas, and its dark underbelly of danger and corruption, Nancy Niles’ Vendetta introduces a pleasing female protagonist in Private Investigator Tina Munroe. Equally at ease fighting off attackers and spotting gamblers cheating at cards, she promises to help an old friend and finds she’s bitten off more than she’d really want to chew as danger looms. Tina's brother is a snooty detective who doesn’t believe his sister can do anything right. Her boss is a nice guy tied to a wounded past, and he goes missing. Meanwhile casino owners are dying. But which parts of the plot are connected, and who’s doing what to whom? Firebombs, gunshots, car-chases and more abound in this exciting novel. Smoothly written, pleasingly descriptive with casino lights as vivid as scenes of desert mystery, and with the sort of fast action that has you waiting until later to ask why on earth did he let her do that? Vendetta’s a well-written thriller with great characters and more than enough background to fuel a series. I hope there’ll be more. Disclosure: I was lucky enough to “buy” a free ecopy.
  • Night & Day on Feb. 04, 2013

    Some romances, you know exactly which protagonists are going to get together. You know it will be perfect. You’re just waiting for the characters to work it out for themselves. But Sherrie Hansen’s Night and Day isn’t that kind of romance. These characters are all too real and too flawed for a perfect world. They’re stubborn. They cling to dreams and don’t want to compromise. Their relationships struggle to pass each all-too-human hurdle, and even as the story nears its close, it’s not clear which lives will stay entwined and which connections will quietly unravel. Is love just an idealized dream after all, or are dreams the stuff of love? Sherrie Hansen creates sprawling farm and comfortable home, American countryside, Amsterdam streets, wobbling bicycles, squabbling siblings, lovers’ arguments… Her scenery and her characters are all equally real, from Anders despising all things American, to Jensen delighting in all things historical, to practical Ed and misunderstood Tara, and parents who’ve moved away to Arizona. The love in these pages isn’t syrupy sweet, the characters aren’t cutouts chasing after dreams, the internet’s not perfect and neither is love, or homeland. But the mysteries of a hundred-year-old romance have messages for an all-too-modern internet relationship, and the lessons of lilacs cut to make them bloom are relevant to all. I loved following these characters as their relationships grew. I loved wondering what choices Jensen would make, and whether she and Anders could ever turn fairy-tale into reality. I loved the side characters. I loved the conversations. I loved the world… Sherrie Hansen’s created a thinking woman’s romance, as full of depth and feeling and love as any other, but seasoned with history, internet, real relationships, common sense and hope; a wonderful novel, highly recommended. Disclaimer: I got this book from a family member for my birthday; read it, enjoyed it, and reviewed it.
  • Reflections of Poetry on Feb. 13, 2013

    A nice mix of poetic forms and subjects graces A. F. Stewart’s Reflection of Poetry. Since I’m not a poet, I sometimes wish the author would tell us the forms. But there’s much to enjoy for a mathematician and wordsmith in recognizing patterns of rhythm and rhyme, and A. F. Stewart shows pleasing mastery of many patterns. Poems ebb and flow with well-balanced structure and melody. Rhymes from Scotland to the Emerald Isle blend a cool mix of ethereal charm and gleeful gruesomeness. In a section of lunar-inspired poems I particularly enjoyed Bringing Down the Moon: “The Wind of the Moon / calls the untamed heart” says one line, and earlier “We have crowned her / Queen of the dark.” Seasons pass in beautiful words, but my favorite poems are those inspired by works of art, particularly Starry Night Over the Rhone, by Vincent van Gogh, where the form’s repeated lines haunt the reader just as much as the painting does. There’s lyrical storytelling in science fiction themed poems, with fascinating questions to inspire the reader: “Infinitessimal / in quantum / mechanical speed. / Do you wonder if they bleed?” the author asks of atomic particles. But TV heroes have their questions too, in a doctor’s blue box or a Game of Thrones perhaps. Blending pathos with humor, gruesome scares with laughter, and complex form with gorgeous imagery, this collection has something for everyone. Disclosure: I bought a copy while it was free.
  • Don't Fear the Reaper on March 05, 2013

    Keely’s twin sister’s dead. Her parents are grieving. And reformed bad-girl Keely has had enough of being left to sorrow alone. Her moods have driven everyone away. Now she drives herself on one last journey, but finds the end somewhat different to all she’d expected. Isn’t hell a given if you kill yourself? Deeply intriguing, filled with haunting and haunted characters and no easy answers, Michelle Muto’s Don’t Fear the Reaper introduces a very different grim reaper from legend, his curiously sympathetic sidekick, and a purgatory that’s like nothing you’ve ever imagined. A tale that blends touches of sympathy for the devil with hauntingly descriptive passages, deeply moving mysteries, and heart-searching decisions, this book lets you see death through a dead girl’s eyes and long for life. In the end, the devil’s sure he’ll win, but his minions might have minds of their own, the almost-damned might still be seeking redemption, and the almost-saved might stay to save someone else. Whatever you believe about life after death, this is a novel of fascinating imagination, thought-provoking ethical questions, great humor and compelling characters, one that will stay with you long after the final pages are turned. Think Touched by an Angel but much darker. Disclosure: I won an ecopy of this novel. Lucky me!
  • Jet on March 05, 2013

    First in a series, Russell Blake’s Jet introduces a cool action heroine, chased by criminals, hiding from her past, with a secret history in the Mossad’s invisible forces. An exciting introduction follows this seemingly innocent shopkeeper as she destroys the hit team sent to kill her and swiftly falls off the radar. Nicely detailed, swiftly told, and immediately enthralling—it’s hard to even think about putting the book down until those first fast scenes are done. Then, with perfect timing, the author introduces backstory, building a mystery behind the tale. Why did Jet leave her Mossad team? And why can’t she stay lost? The author balances answered with unanswered questions to create an enthralling standalone tale, perfectly set up for further novels in the series. Jet’s no one-dimensional heroine, and she’s more than just backstory and plot. By the end of the tale she’s a wounded character chasing hope in the face of betrayal, as skilled with knife and gun as with a computer, and someone you’d definitely want on your side. As to who’s side she’s going to end up on, I guess I’d have to read more novels to find out. In this dark world of political and industrial espionage, good guys are hard to find. I’ve read several of Russell Blake’s novels before this one, and this is definitely my favorite—unputdownable and fun! Disclosure: I was lucky enough to be given a free ecopy of this novel.
  • Raven (The Carriena Oracles, Book One) on March 05, 2013

    One day space travel might be as simple as guiding a stranger across the plains in the days of wagon trains. Whole planets might guard themselves with secret faith. And a girl called Raven might agree to transport a scientist away from the land where an Oracle dwells. There’s a wonderful robot, the glorious blackness of space, and a pleasingly authentic feel to Raven’s spaceship. But Raven’s been keeping her heart in check and friend Ben has longed for a plan to set her free. Revelations, spiritual, natural and informational, come with perfect timing in Laura Eno’s short novella. New characters spring to life on the page. Action, adventure, suspicion, excitement and more make this look like the start of a series well worth following, with hints of Firefly in its distant future and dreams. Highly recommended. Disclosure: I was lucky enough to find a free copy; sadly it took me a while to find free time to read it.
  • NANA's QUEST on March 18, 2013

    A nicely different take on a familiar fairy tale, with a truly scary premise, Nana's Quest by Shelly Goodman Wright has two teens looking after their ailing grandmother, just for an hour or so while Mom goes shopping. When Nana's spirits seem down, Stacey digs out a favorite book to read to her. But Nana can’t stay awake, and suddenly the story vanishes. Soon the teens are on a curious adventure, trekking through the forest to find the missing book before its owner comes to collect on some long-forgotten promise. There are scares both natural and supernatural waiting there for them, and hints of a familiar fairy story enticing the reader to wonder what might happen next. A fun, scary children’s tale, dark as the original fairy tales were, this is such an enjoyable short read that the occasional editing and logic issues really won't distract you or your kids. Disclosure: I was lucky enough to get a free ecopy of this short story and I enjoyed it
  • Wraith (The Carriena Oracles, Book Two) on March 18, 2013

    Evoking Firefly crossed with I Robot, Laura Eno invites readers back into the lives of Raven’s fine cast of characters in this second book of the Carienna Oracles. Mikael is still tortured by regrets after losing his friend in their first search for the Oracles. Now he longs to find out what really happened. Meanwhile Raven has fallen in love, something she thought would never happen. But events spin out of control and leave her losing her fragile sense of self-worth. “You have love and hope and good friends willing to help,” her android friend, Ben, assures her. And indeed, Ben might be the most interesting, and most endangered character of them all. Another pleasingly quick read in the series, Wraith takes the characters to an almost invisible moon, beautifully imagined and convincingly described. Betrayals ensue, loyalties are tested, and an evil tycoon manipulates everyone who ventures into his grasp. But Raven does indeed have love and hope and good friends, who eventually prevail. I certainly hope there’ll be more to these tales from Laura Eno. Disclosure: With thanks to the author for giving me an ecopy of this story.
  • Just Between Friends on March 27, 2013

    Best friends will do anything for each other won’t they, just like sisters except more so because they choose to be together? At least that’s how Emma and Layne’s friendship seems to work at the start of Donna Small’s novel Just Between Friends. And, just as best friends are meant to know everything about each other, the author invites us into all the details of Emma and Layne’s thoughts as their friendship is tested by romance. Emma loves Andy, but Layne is marrying Andy. When Layne’s marriage proves less exciting than the latest romantic fiction, then who should she turn to but Emma for advice, and help, and cover, and anything else she can think of? Great dialog keeps the story flowing, while long internal debates reiterate the past, going over all the reasons why Emma’s got to be the perfect best friend. There’s some head-hopping, because best friends and lovers should always be able to tell what their companions are thinking. And there’s lots of detail, because best friends know everything. In the end, there’s even a satisfying resolution to a story that defies genre, mixing romance and family drama with a tale of guilt and forgiveness. Not one for the cynical, and a fairly slow read, Just Between Friends should satisfy readers who like their romance touched with broken hearts and BFF friendship. Disclosure: I got a free ecopy through the publisher’s book club.
  • Donations to Clarity on March 31, 2013

    Combining the low-brow humor of Bigfoot in love (with a Bigfoot impersonator), sci-fi antics that remind me of Men in Black, and a wealth of musical references from Elvis to the Beatles and beyond, Noah Baird’s Donations to Clarity donates lots of fun to the cause of the oddly unclear, and is a thoroughly enjoyable read, laugh-out-loud funny but not-in-front-of-the-children. I don’t normally enjoy clever quotes from American song lyrics—perhaps being English means I feel like I’m missing the joke. But this author gets around my culture shock very quickly and easily. His references are so neat and well-placed I test myself as I read, eager to spot the next set of lyrics and catch the clue; will I guess before I read where it’s really come from? Musical quotes feed very naturally into a truly zany story, with rat race, government, media and more all coming under an enjoyably critical scrutiny. The psychiatrist wonders why a patient speaks of the outside in mythical terms. A short-sighted bigfoot makes friends with a patient who lights his cigarettes. A get-rich-quick schemer wishes his girlfriend wasn’t so determined to change him. And a nervously fake she-bigfoot hopes her erstwhile lover won’t change her/him too much. Drugs, alcohol, guns, darts and conspiracy theories combine. Government agents are charged with the task of eliminating witnesses. Song lyrics, random factoids and clever narration all add to superb inner dialog—no wonder E. Jean Carroll, Emmy nominated writer for Saturday Night Live, recommended women throw this volume at the men in their lives… But luckily not all men in this book are as hapless as they seem, and there’s hope, even for Bigfoot (and impersonators) after all. Disclosure: I won a copy of this book by suggesting a suitably awful title for an 80s girl rock band in a competition.
  • Holly and Ivy on April 25, 2013

    Ivy’s not looking forward to Christmas, but her cat Fergus seems determined to tell her something. Of course, Fergus is really her dead mother’s cat, and a sprig of holly might mean more than just it’s time to decorate. Short, sweet and fast-flowing, Lisa Farrell’s Holly and Ivy adds a thoroughly enjoyable touch of the paranormal to Christmas romance as Ivy meets her future at the grave of her past. There are a few obstacles to overcome of course and some very haunted scares, but mother knows best and a pleasing Christmas bonus is in store, making this a great read to sooth your wish-it-was-Christmas pangs, your twinges of I-love-cats, or your need for a fun story to peruse with that lunchtime snack. Disclosure: I won a free ecopy of this story.
  • Father Christmas on April 25, 2013

    Spam the cat is a wonderful protagonist. Part wild, part tame, he lives in a glorious cat-filled household together with friends/family called Board, Byte, Alt, Escape and more, but you might have to read Spam vs the Vampire to learn more about them. Luckily there’s a very enjoyable excerpt included at the end the of Father Christmas—well worth the read. In Father Christmas Spam sets out to enjoy his first ever Christmas, and slowly learns the mysteries of a star that leads reindeer to mystical hay, and the strange stone statues of people decorating people’s lawns. This cats-eye view of faith and festivities is thoroughly enjoyable. From sneaky raccoon to over-confident, over-eager Tomcat with his harem of wives, this story’s a bundle of fun, and a thoroughly enjoyable treat even if it’s not Christmas. It’s a pretty short book, but don’t miss out on the extras at the end—they’ll hook you even more! Disclosure: I won a free ecopy of this book.
  • Father Christmas on April 25, 2013

    Spam the cat is a wonderful protagonist. Part wild, part tame, he lives in a glorious cat-filled household together with friends/family called Board, Byte, Alt, Escape and more, but you might have to read Spam vs the Vampire to learn more about them. Luckily there’s a very enjoyable excerpt included at the end the of Father Christmas—well worth the read. In Father Christmas Spam sets out to enjoy his first ever Christmas, and slowly learns the mysteries of a star that leads reindeer to mystical hay, and the strange stone statues of people decorating people’s lawns. This cats-eye view of faith and festivities is thoroughly enjoyable. From sneaky raccoon to over-confident, over-eager Tomcat with his harem of wives, this story’s a bundle of fun, and a thoroughly enjoyable treat even if it’s not Christmas. It’s a pretty short book, but don’t miss out on the extras at the end—they’ll hook you even more! Disclosure: I won a free ecopy of this book.
  • Uncontrollable (Book 2: The Nature of Grace series) on April 30, 2013

    Filled with memorable phrases and great characters, including the enjoyable cast of Untraceable, Uncontrollable by S. R. Johannes sends the inestimable Grace back into the woods, scant weeks after her father’s tragic death. Chapter headings give survival tips as valid for backwoods life as for inner-city depression and offer intriguing insights into a teen’s approach to difficulties. Meanwhile, accompanied by “Backwoods Barbie and Camping Ken,” Grace has to learn when to trust and when to take charge, and how to care about people as well as animals. She learns to care for herself too as the story progresses, and the dangers she faces may be even greater than those challenging the wolves she’s trying to save. The novel takes a wisely bleak and honest look at death and its consequences, tackling issues head on and offering a pleasing sense of hope. Grace misses her father and is blamed for other local deaths. Guilt and blame cast shadows over relationships, leaving her with the aching thought that “the one thing about death that’s… hardest…, [is]how much people change.” In a beautiful scene with her old Cherokee friend, Grace feels “We don’t speak the same language anymore,” but is it the language of friendship, of forgiveness, or of the woods? Sometimes lyrical, sometimes oddly abrupt, teen emotions and dialog are convincing. While the adults may seem less relatable, they’re really the minor characters in this novel of teen survival against emotional, ecological and physical odds. The stakes are high. The story’s exciting. The lessons are wise. And the wolves are glorious in this tragic but hopeful teen novel. Disclosure: I received a free ecopy when the author was a guest on my blog.
  • Uncontrollable (Book 2: The Nature of Grace series) on April 30, 2013

    Evoking a very convincing not-too-distant future, Lee Strauss’s novel Perception is set in a globally warmed, technologically advanced world where the genetically altered “haves” lord it over the “have-nots” who serve them. The novel offers a pleasing mix of science fiction, mystery and young adult romance. Rich beautiful Zoe follows the expected path of well-laid plans for education and career until her brother Liam’s disappearance changes everything. The perfect boyfriend proves less than wonderful. Distracted parents hide themselves away in secret conversations. And the servant’s son, a mere “natural,” becomes Zoe's only ally. The author’s imagined technology is consistently convincing and intriguing. Questions of faith, science and the space in between are thought-provoking, and the ethical considerations of gene manipulation are very nicely presented. An underlying mystery adds depth to fast action as Zoe tries to uncover one secret only to find herself embroiled in far more than she imagined. And the result is a novel of enjoyable surprises, well-drawn characters, and well-imagined future history, with plenty of action too. Disclosure: I received a free ecopy when the author was a guest on my blog.
  • The Tower Bridge on May 14, 2013

    Reminiscent of a board game adventure, The Tower Bridge is filled with detailed descriptions and events that feel like the roll of a die determines the course of action. The mood is enhanced by the use of present tense narration, three-dimensional detail, and the presence of enterprising young protagonists. Mysterious rooms reveal strange contraptions. Curious science solves puzzles. And the “furtive imagination” of a child provides helpful insights. Behind it all is a mix of old-world new-world steampunk and, of course, aliens. Two adventurous boys hide in a hotel and find their way to a curious attic room. The power is off, but when it’s switched on the strange machine spits them out in a whole new world. There, a man from the past struggles with modern phrasing and is inspired by youth to believe in escape. Some amusing scenes, plenty of excitement, pleasing illustrations, and a satisfying conclusion round out this novel for middle-grade boys. Sentences structures might not obey all the rules, and word choice might be odd in places, but it’s a fun tale. Disclosure: I was lucky enough to buy this when it was free.
  • Delilah Dusticle on June 26, 2013

    Charlie Fenchurch-Whittington is such a perfect young gentleman he’ll even compliment the miraculous Delilah Dusticle on how well she cleans the house. But Delilah wants more than compliments from him, and despite the warnings of a nearby suit of armour—“Staff are not permitted to fraternize with the family…”—she continues to dream—after first tickling said suit of armour with a dandelion duster of course. Delightfully fun and light-hearted, even when tragedy strikes and dustbuster turns into dustmaker, Delilah Dusticle has the feel of Mary Poppins crossed with a touch of childish romance and Doctor Who. “The more you believe there is nothing good about you, the more real it will become,” says Delilah as she finally learns the truth of her affliction. By the end of this short tale, everyone’s living happily, probably ever after, and wise lessons have been learned in the world of the very ordinary. Short, fun, great for kids and with wisdom enough for adults to enjoy the read too, Delilah Dusticle is a fine little fable of post-war London and the rise of the modern world. Disclosure: The author gave me a free ecopy and I promised an honest review, which I have now written.
  • Sarah & Gerald on July 09, 2013

    Set in Hollywood, the Hamptons and France, peopled with familiar names from the literary world of Europe and America, and told in the languidly simple style of the era, Christopher McPherson’s Sarah and Gerald vividly recreates the 1920s where Gerald’s bold art will shock the French press, Ernest will betray his wife, Scott will write another masterpiece, and Sarah will hold them all together while bringing up a family. A marriage of old and new money underlies the central relationship of this story, and a marriage of old and new telling characterizes the writing. Real people are painted slightly askew, real lives recognizable behind the fiction, but everything larger than life as befits the time between the wars. The “lost generation” tries to find itself. Friends help each other. A generous spirit refrains from questioning that which pleases a loved one. And children grow up surrounded by more than love. By the end of the tale I’m sorry to lose sight of these characters (and have to look them up on the internet). They’ve seemed so real, their trials so heart-rending, their triumphs and losses so generously shared. The novel may be short but its echoes are long in a world where we no longer espouse bull-fighting but delight instead in fighting our neighbor’s sexual inclinations and dictating what lifestyles should be allowed. The Great Gatsby meets The Man on the Third Floor; Sarah and Gerald is highly recommended. Disclosure: I was given a free ecopy in exchange for my honest review. My apologies for taking so long to get around to reading it—I really enjoyed it.
  • Twisted Shorties II on July 25, 2013

    “Returning favourites like Tracy Fabre, Doug Westberg, Barbary Chappel, Patricia Gilliam… as well as Twisted Shorties newcomers… mystery author Aaron Paul Lazar… have all joined in on the festive fandango,” writes author A. F. Stewart in her introduction to this fine collection of short fiction and poetry. The site may have suffered a wounding glitch, but its authors are going strong, and this second Twisted Shorties collection is testament to the hard work and dedication of the editors, wranglers of writers, artists and more. Me, I’m one of the authors, yes, but I wouldn’t be had I not received such timely and generous reminders from Wrangler-in-Chief, Pam Brittain. I’m delighted to be part of such a fun collection, and I offer my thanks to all. At 497 pages (on my kobo), this is a weighty book. But the reading’s easy, with content organized by author’s names, and again by category. It’s perfectly fitted to the electronic form, easy to dip into, easy to follow and browse through, and thoroughly enjoyable to open at any time of day. With romance, fantasy and science fiction, children’s stories, humor, horror and more, all set into fiction, essays, snippets and poetry, I’d love this even if I wasn’t a part of it. Learn the secret of Helena’s second birthday in Pat Moore’s beautifully evocative A Holiday Somewhere in the World. Join Elsie Duggan in the remembered rapture of The Dance. Startle as Len Maxwell turns an awards night on its head, meet the world’s strangest unknown mythological creatures, buy a Stardrive from R. C. Larlham, beware the Jabberwock, enjoy Ms Lee P.’s Busy Bee, and see a different vision of Happy Never After… I could list all my favorites, but, did I say, there are 497 pages, and all of them fun, intriguing, odd, enticing, enthralling, entertaining. I guess authors shouldn’t really review works they’re included in, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this beautifully edited, enticingly constructed collection, well designed with the e-reader in mind, and ridiculously excellent value for money. Disclosure: I’ve already disclosed it: I’m one of the authors, but I’m reviewing the other 490+ pages, not mine, so I think it’s okay.
  • The Babi Makers on July 29, 2013

    The world of Nove may or may not be an imagined future earth, but some disaster has changed it from our present, and humanity lives in safely closed towns where well-ordered lives guarantee no crime and only the simplest of emotion. The writing’s odd lack of sentimentality befits the story perfectly, inviting the reader into lives so simple and calm that we just know, there must be something wrong. In a world where plants and animals have died, foods are constructed from proto-proteins in factories, but offer all the flavors and textures long lost. Unless you happen to be ridiculously rich, in which case maybe more is on offer, and a beautiful opening scene regales the reader with gastronomic splendors and surprise. The topmost surprise is the sort of sting that leaves you wondering, surely not, and reading on to find out how this could be. Well-timed backstory provides the impetus as a teacher lectures his students. A rich leader pays the exorbitant fee to allow the birth and adoption of a child. The ordinary worker wonders why his female friend has fallen ill. A healer dies. And slowly the disparate characters of the tale come together while the edifice of perfect lives tumbles into denial. Nove is a world where sexual pleasure is neither more nor less than its words, a kind hand offered, a drink, a hug, a coupling unburdened of regulation or effect, and desire turned into the “do no harm” pursuit of happiness. But harm, perhaps, is being done behind the scenes of this world. And The Babi Makers is an oddly disturbing and intriguing exploration of logic’s illogical conclusions. Not for the fainthearted, this is a novel that makes you think and leaves you thinking more. What would we sacrifice for love? And what for order, comfort, peace, and control? Disclosure: The author gave me a free ecopy of this novel and asked for my honest review.
  • The Visitation on July 29, 2013

    A short story filled with honest emotion, Brian Bigelow’s The Visitation explores “the solitary existence of an elderly widower,” nicely framed by the Emily Dickinson quote, “Because I could not stop for Death, he kindly stopped for me.” The author portray’s his character’s love and loss convincingly, and it’s hard not to see people I’ve known living out these daily actions as I read—boiling a kettle, reading a book, turning down the corner of a page. Languid sentences filled with detail, repeated reminders of repeated steps, and actions analyzed into motive and effect, all build into an oppressive loneliness befitting the tale. But there’s light at the end in a visitation that offers no glib answers or religious requirements, just the gentle touch of hope and love. The Visitation felt a little over-slow to me, but that probably says more about my reading than about the tale. An enjoyable short story with a gift, instead of a sting, in its tale. Disclosure: I was lucky enough to buy my copy when the author was offering it free.
  • January's Thaw on Aug. 06, 2013

    I read J. Conrad Guest’s One Hot January quite a while ago and enjoyed it, but I have a talent for forgetting tales and all I remembered, on picking up this sequel, January’s Thaw, was that the story involved time travel and a 1940s Private Investigator. I thought about picking up the earlier volume and rereading before embarking on January’s Thaw, but I didn’t and so I can confirm, January’s Thaw stands perfectly well alone, though you’ll want to read One Hot January afterwards if you haven’t already. And I still want to read January’s Paradigm too. Which is prequel and which is sequel becomes a moot point in a novel of intersecting timelines and parallel universes. Which is the real Joe January? How honest an effort can he make to change his own past? And how will he learn to live in the present when yesterday was 1947 and tomorrow is 2047? There’s a touch of H.G Wells in the author’s explanations and description of the future, with Joe January facing a world of promiscuity, terrorism, excess and modern technology. Time-travelling protagonists question whether changing the past has brought any improvement, and the modern world’s supposed freedoms are well compared with a theoretically benign authoritarianism. Attitudes to women, love and lust come to the fore with some fascinating arguments about past and future objectification of women. “Love is a choice, not a feeling,” says one of the characters, and respect is a right. “If the rights of even one individual are revoked, then the rights of all mankind suffer,” she says later. The story’s tightly woven around one man’s hopes, loves and regrets. But the themes are all-encompassing with politics, recent events, abuse, advertising and more, all viewed through the eyes of the ultimate outsider—a man from the past, living in the future, looking forward and back to the present. A fascinating, if sometimes wordy book, with much food for thought and a fine storyline, this is an intriguing novel bound to appeal to anyone who’s ever wished H.G. Wells were still dreaming and writing today. Disclosure: I received a free copy of this novel from the author in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!
  • Dictionary of Biblical Symbolism on Aug. 21, 2013

    Author Stan I. S. Law points out that what we have in the Bible is a flow of Hebrew words, arranged on a page, and all the rest is interpretation. Some Christians might say the words were placed in precisely that order by God. As we read our favorite version in our favorite language, some of us claim the words and translation are both guided and designed by our Creator. Still others trust in God and turn to Him for interpretation of what cannot be fully known. Stan I. S. Law looks at what he calls the “inexorable demise” of organized religion, views the Bible and related books through lenses of symbols, science and history, and offers his dictionary to children of an Age of Individualization. While my personal interests lie in the real (historical and scientific) world of the Bible, filled with real people, loved by a real God, I enjoy the author’s allegorical interpretations. I delight in symbols. I love parables. And as stories and words repeat, reflect and refract, I love the timelessness of interlocking meanings. But how do you “use” a dictionary when reading in translation? The author offers an intriguing introduction with Biblical passages quoted around bracketed alternative words. Footnotes remind the reader of symbols—“son” as “consequence,” “10” as “executive power,” “land” as “bare ground,” and more. Moving from Exodus, through Isaiah, to Revelation, Old Testament to New, comparing faith with knowledge, and inviting question, the author shows how his dictionary can be used. And then he provides a truly comprehensive dictionary. Place names, people’s names, names of nations and more are interspersed with common (and uncommon) nouns and verbs, all with their various options and meanings displayed. The format’s plain and simple (and dictionary-like), and the result is truly intriguing. While new translations of the Bible look for literal accuracy, and modern interpretations seek original meaning in the light of historical culture, this author looks for symbolic accuracy, repeated (and timeless) ideas, and internal structures reflecting the heart of individualism. Even if you’re interests are different from the author’s, this book is a pleasing and helpful way to find out more about the Bible’s words. Disclosure: I was given a free ecopy of this dictionary by the author and I promised my honest review.
  • Toy Garden on Aug. 30, 2013

    Margaret’s a strange little child, planting toys instead of flowers because the flowers always die. The toys seem to have had a pretty hard life as well. And the centerpiece is a bruised and broken thing, but you’ll have to read it to find out why. Author Wayne Murphy creates an absorbing dark atmosphere around his small protagonist, and the reader waits to learn the garden’s secret with mounting trepidation. Scary, haunting, twisted… if this is the start of a series I want to read more. Disclosure: It was free so I bought it. It was short so I turned the page. It pulled me in, so I carried on reading to the end.
  • Yeshua - Personal Memoir of the Missing Years of Jesus on Sep. 17, 2013

    Author Stan I. S. Law draws his readers in quickly with a convincing narrative voice in this “memoir” of life with Jesus, as told by Jesus’ best (Hindu) friend. Fiction ties in swiftly with gospel events, giving a sense of what’s to come. And the world of Jesus’ time is made vividly real, with excellent historical and geographical detail, as teenagers travel physical roads, and study philosophical meanings with an Indian trading caravan. The somewhat gnostic Jesus of the author’s imaginings keeps this novel firmly rooted in fiction for me. But the details of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs (and more), the interconnections between stories of different traditions, and the harmonies of truths are beautifully told and endlessly fascinating. With a wise and learned man guiding the younger student, and much intriguing information to be conveyed, the book does for faith what Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World did for philosophy, and I truly enjoyed it. Some strange word choices slow the tale for me, and on occasion I had to leave the book for the computer, compelled to check the internet for evidence of unexpected details (Judith of the Essenes for example). A few of the “old” beliefs espoused might actually be newer than they’re painted, and there’s a definite new-age flavor to the book. But this is a novel, and as such it’s a fascinating journey through history and faith, with great characters, much food for thought, and many rewards for the reader. Disclosure: The author offered a free copy and I promised an honest review.
  • Finding My Escape on Sep. 25, 2013

    She’s the girl who lost her parents. She’s the victim of a horrifying crime. She feels like everyone’s staring at her in school. And she’s trying to pick up the pieces of her life. Author Fran Veal creates a very believable wounded protagonist in the narrator of her young adult novel, Finding my Escape. Hannah’s voice is bright and convincing, without that inner whine of so many first-person teen-girl novels. Descriptions are crisp and clear with appropriate analogies. Hints of fantasy appear perfectly naturally in the dreams of a girl who’s suffered a blow to the head. And mysteries grow with nearly perfect timing. The romance is well-drawn and well-timed too, as Hannah comes of age and the friend of a lifetime proves to have grown and changed. But a killer is still chasing after her, and conversations still disappear into silence as soon as she appears. Who’s hiding what? And why? This story will keep readers guessing right to the end, and leaves you longing for more. It’s complete, but I want to stand by the watercooler and ask what everyone else thinks—perhaps I should read more reviews, but I’d rather read book 2 and find out more. Disclosure: I got lucky and was given an ecopy.
  • Come Home to me, Child on Sep. 25, 2013

    Elaine needs peace and quiet and rest after a brain injury. So her family moves to the small sleepy town of Veil, Texas, just for a while until she recovers. They’re a nice family, kind to each other, teasing, helpful, and very real. The dialog’s perfect and makes them seem just like the family next door. But it’s the families next door to them that might be the problem. When Elaine learns that a young girl, just the same age as her daughter, once vanished from this very house, the knowledge really isn’t conducive to peace and a quiet and rest. Elaine’s problems separating dream from reality leave her unsure of what she’s seen. But gradually the clues add up and soon she’s seeking allies in a seriously unrestful game. After all, who could rest, knowing a possible murderer’s gone free? And how can Elaine feel at home while a child from the past remains missing? Come Home to Me Child introduces a feisty wounded heroine in a pleasing short detective novel with interesting characters, great dialog, convincing locations, and an all too plausible crime. It’s just as well the novel doesn’t run to thousands of pages, as I couldn’t put it down. Disclosure: I was lucky enough to get a free ecopy, with no estrings attached.
  • Backstop: A Baseball Love Story in Nine Innings on Sep. 29, 2013

    I’m not really into sports, but the cover of J. Conrad Guest’s novel, Backstop, has a woman’s hand holding the ball and promises A Baseball Love Story in Nine Innings. So I learn there are nine innings in a baseball game. I grew up English so I started this novel knowing very little about baseball—it includes a bat, a ball, and the need to run, but it’s not cricket. Still, the narrator, Backstop, describes his sport and his life in this book in a way that makes me care about him and the game. Sometimes it’s like listening to the guys in my family discuss football (soccer to the uninitiated). I can almost join in. I’m having fun. J. Conrad Guest’s novel feels very personable, and really is fun. I want Backstop’s team to win. I want the right sort of ball. I watch to see the arm before its release—how fast will it fly?—and I listen for the crack to resound in the air. Meanwhile I learn of a young man first succumbing to then overcoming the advances of female sports fans. He wants more of life—I want more for him. He meets a girl… The reader follows the love story, as promised, while following the game. It’s an important game, an important love too, and either could be lost; commitment, trust, faithfulness… and coping with betrayal. On the field there’s the player who always annoys, but perhaps still has true advice to give. Off the field there’s hope. So now I know a little more about baseball, and a little more of love. I have a sympathy for sportsmen I might not have had before, after seeing the hard sides of temptation. And I feel like I’ve spent time with someone honest and interesting, who loves a sport and a woman and is well worth knowing for both. Backstop’s a read where slow development contrasts with fast balls, slow plans with hurried mistakes, and slow reading with quickened excitement and delight. The dialog has a sweet old-fashioned feel, pleasant humor, and serious depth, and the whole is a seriously enjoyable tale. Disclosure: I was given a free copy of Backstop by the author, no strings attached, and chose to write a review.
  • Once Upon a Dark and Eerie... on Dec. 02, 2013

    Filled with vivid and memorable images, and equipped with the fictional warning that “effects are temporary and may be addictive,” A.F. Stewart’s Once Upon a Dark and Eerie presents tales with skillful stings appended, and a fine collection of brief dark eerie glimpses into the unknown. Haunting tragedy, lingering surprises, and short sharp shocks that succeed in being simultaneously complete and unfinished, all make for a book that can be picked up and put down at any time, a page per coffee cup perhaps. There’s a poetry selection at the end offering sometimes startlingly deep questions: “The truth shall set you free, but do you want to fly?” for example, asks if we wouldn’t rather hide in our “gilded cage;” then a well-crafted alphabet simply satisfies with gruesome fun. Short, fun reads in a short, fun collection with surprises for everyone. Disclosure: I won a free ecopy and enjoyed it.
  • Fairy Tale Fusion on Dec. 02, 2013

    A perfect blend of humor, horror, snippets and stories, and fun! If you’ve read Once Upon a Dark and Eerie, by A. F. Stewart, you’ll already have met the newscasters at Fairy Tale News, and you’ll recognize the flavor of this slim volume. The author skillfully intersperses short sharp news snippets (“Mary’s soft wool and yarn... Rumpelstiltskin was apprehended... the wedding of Jack and Jill...”) between longer tales of mystery behind the headlines, and suspense behind the myth. Long-running stories continue after the break with breaking news. The search for the Old Woman Who Lives in a Shoe continues. And Fluffy the Clown reappears with a satisfying picture of his secret. Fairytales have always had their undertones of horror. Here they have horror and family fun, perfectly blended, and, as the tagline so enticingly declares, “things get messy in the Riding Hood.” Disclosure: I won a free ecopy and thoroughly enjoyed it.
  • Read Me Dead on Dec. 02, 2013

    A story so firmly set in the present day it even names the drugs prescribed to a girl who’s afraid to sleep, Emerald Barnes’ Read me Dead ratchets up the scares from strange noises at night to terrifying attacks with murderous intent. The protagonist has grown from immature ten-year-old, coloring under her father’s desk, to uncertain teenager, keeping secrets like a child while seeking love like an adult. Soon those secrets seem certain to threaten her life, and Alex’s “favorite meal. Mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese and fried chicken fingers” probably won’t help. Prayers don’t seem to help much either, but it’s no surprise when Alex finds herself compelled to turn to prayer. Sadly, she doesn’t learn to trust, or to reveal her secrets, even when the reader has guessed what’s going to happen. But she’s a teen, and this story is told in the convincing voice of a teen, with carefully analyzed feelings, stubbornly held secrets, and that mix of caution and folly that leads to disaster. By turns scary and frustrating, Read me Dead reads like a teen movie trending toward horror without quite letting go of the real. Disclosure: I was lucky enough to get a free ecopy and I’m offering my honest review.
  • Wishes and Promises on Jan. 15, 2014

    Christmas is meant to bring good dreams, but Janie’s husband is missing in action in Afghanistan, and her daughter’s sweet certainly that Daddy will be home for Christmas only makes things worse. While Janie wonders how to explain death to her child, daughter Katie has real-seeming dreams where Daddy promises to return. Is the world right, telling mother and child to move on, or does Katie understand something no one else knows? Janie argues her case with the slightly stilted dialog of grief, denying her own courage while upholding her child’s, until shocks and surprises accompany the Christmas season, and the final truths are told. In the end, true courage wears many different masks, and hope might be the greatest Christmas gift, making this an enjoyably uplifting seasonal mystery. Disclosure: I was lucky enough to download this book when it was free.
  • Smokestack on Jan. 29, 2014

    From the interesting history between Hedwick and Robert, to Tommy’s tragic backstory and beyond, J.R. Hobeck’s Smokestack blends a large wealth of characters and lives into a tale of small-town Indiana under assault from military secrets. Except, it may not be the military, and the secrets may not be entirely American. Real-world concerns, from school levies to winding roads, combine with science fiction action, twisting the threads of small-town relationships as a strange and dangerous artifact appears in a quarry. Not all details have relevance, but all details will surely have been researched by the new protagonist as the story unfolds. And surprise revelations, both physical and existential, eventually clarify the need for such full disclosure. With so much detail and backstory, Smokestack is not a quick read. But it’s a fascinating tale that keeps the reader turning pages and satisfies with a nicely unexpected and intriguing outcome. Disclosure: I was lucky enough to “buy” a free ecopy.
  • The Gateway on Feb. 10, 2014

    With echoes of Gulliver’s Travels, Steve Simons’ The Gateway details the adventure of two English boys who accidentally slip into an alternate dimension while playing near their home. The chapters are nicely episodic, well-designed for reading to children at bedtime. Cliff-hanger endings are repeated as new chapters begin, and the stories move quickly from one reality to another, with some imaginative hints of technology, language and mystery, nicely drawn from images a child might easily relate to. There’s a radio script feel to part of the story, with space for musical interludes. I can image children getting out their noisiest toys, though perhaps that wouldn’t be conducive to sleep. Intriguing language and science ideas will hold a child’s interest and keep them asking questions—sometimes answered, sometimes left to the imagination. And the writing’s gently unpolished, keeping parents awake while they read. Enjoyable, family friendly fun, with a hint of wise lessons behind the imagination, this isn't deep or heavy. It would be an easy bedtime novel for kids. Disclosure: I was given a free ecopy and offer my honest review.
  • Thistle Down on March 10, 2014

    A lovely novella, prequel to the author’s Wild Flowers of Scotland series, Thistle Down introduces readers to a small Scottish town, its crumbling old church, and the handsome new pastor, Ian. The depiction of a pastor’s life is pleasingly honest and evocative, and the conversation of old ladies might be heard in many a church hall. Who shall they marry the pastor off to? And how will he deal with upcoming weddings where spouses seem so awkwardly unsuited? Ian is wise beyond his years, both in spiritual and secular matters. His prenuptial meetings offer suggestions and exercises of value to any readers intending, or enjoying marriage. And his Easter sermon presents a wonderful image of comfort beyond the thorns. Meanwhile someone’s stealing artifacts, from a church! And the flowers of Scotland’s spring are coming to bloom. Evocative, sensitive, sensible and sweet, this is a tale with well-drawn thorn and flower, making a truly lovely lunch-time read, in a world where not everything is resolved in one gulp. Disclosure: I’ve enjoyed other books by this author and was lucky enough to be told where to find a free ecopy of this one.
  • Fractured on March 17, 2014

    Rich Adams’ novel, Fractured, is filled with well-researched historical and scientific details concerning the storage of atomic waste materials—a problem that continues to grow as atomic energy becomes more prevalent. How do we keep such waste safe, not just from accident, but also from natural disaster and evil intent? Fractured presents one possible solution in complex and fascinating detail. But when disaster and evil intent combine, a novel of conflicting aims and desires, dire coincidence, and dangerous games of spy and counter-spy ensues. Chapters start with date and location, simplifying a rather complex braided timeline, as long as the reader remembers to check. Locations, many and varied, are evocatively portrayed with sometimes lyrical prose. And characters are given plenty of depth and backstory, their hangups as detailed as the scientific dangers they face. Occasional typos slow the prose, and details are sometimes weighty. But it’s an intriguing novel of what might-have-been, and a truly fascinating read. Disclosure: I was lucky enough to get a free ecopy and I’m sorry it took me so long to get around to reading this.
  • Warning Signs on March 17, 2014

    Kellan didn’t really intend to go to a séance, but it was hard to get out of it once her friend had brought her there. Besides, the experience might give her a story to ease her writer’s block. But Kellan and her friend both get more than they expect when they ignore these warning signs. This “spirit virgin” finds herself “typing at a rate of speed she’d never known herself capable” while a dead young man insists on invading her dreams. Meanwhile a film crew investigate life after death, and two storylines are set to converge. In a small town where church-goers, and especially Kellan’s boyfriends’ mother, really don’t approve of the paranormal, Kellan’s growing insistence on the reality of what she’s seen, and the need to do something about it, soon leave her ostracized and alone. Author Sheila Englehart handles the conflict deftly and honorably, with pleasing quiet humor, touches of honest faith and doubt, and great characters with genuine concern for each other. The plot’s intriguing. The lifestyles of TV host and house-cleaner are equally convincingly portrayed. And the story’s an enjoyable blend of urban fantasy with very thought-provoking real-world “warning signs.” Disclosure: I was lucky enough to get a free ecopy of this novel and I’m just sorry it took me so long to get around to reading it.
  • The Wood Sprite's Tale on March 17, 2014

    Lachelle Redd’s The Woodsprite’s Tale is a short dark fairytale, set in a complex world with plenty of depth and history. Intricate details weave world and history together and create a fine list of characters, though I could have wished some names weren’t so similar to each other (Hailey and Harley for example). Some odd word choices, tense changes and potential logical flaws distracted me, but the story’s fun and the odd blend of epic language with everyday teen dialog might well attract younger readers. “What the h—l else were we going to do!” asks a protagonist when tackled for letting the teens have their own way. And a quest comes to fulfillment, not without cost, but with plenty of young woodsprite bravery. Disclosure: I was lucky enough to get a free ecopy of this novella.
  • Rubicon Ranch: Riley's Story on March 28, 2014

    I read occasional chapters of this novel online while it was being written. BBut now, at last, I’ve been able to read the whole thing in one setting, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Different authors pen chapters from the points of view of different characters. But the end of each tale meshes perfectly with the next, and the story progresses, through twists and turns (and death), to its mysterious, perfectly logical conclusion, while the reader is left to guess, imagine, wonder, and reflect. The inhabitants of Rubicon Ranch are a mixed bunch, with accidental killers, accused pedophile, angry son, angry widow, and singularly dubious strangers staying at the local B&B. In classic Agatha Christie style, they might all have reasons to kill, and to hide, in a desert development where even the sheriff has his secrets. But which one, or ones, did the deed? Feisty widow Melanie teams up, reluctantly, with the handsome sheriff. Seeing the world through a camera’s eye, and describing it with a writer’s sense of detail, she’s either the best at hiding her motives, or else she just hasn’t looked in the right place yet. Their tense relationship is fun, filled with promise for future books in a series that’s most un-traditionally written, but classically cool and enticing. The desert’s pretty cool too—seriously hot, beautifully described, thoroughly genuine, and with snakes in the grass. I really enjoyed this delightfully traditional, thoroughly modern mystery. Disclosure: I bought this when it was free and can hardly believe it took me so long to get around to reading it.
  • 500 Miles to Go on March 31, 2014

    500 Miles to Go, by J. Conrad Guest My parents loved watching Formula 1 races on TV, and the sound of cars speeding around the track always takes me straight back to childhood. So does J. Conrad Guest’s 500 Miles to Go, which evocatively recreates everything to do with the American USAC , from scary crashes, miraculous survival, pit-stops that always seemed impossibly fast, to, of course, that magical sound as the cars rear around the bends, seemingly ready to fly. I read as drivers jockey for position and expect to see my father, tense in his seat, watching, wondering if the favored car will find a gap. Mum’s telling me which driver’s honest and which one’s going to cheat his way to victory. English names fill me with pride. Foreign ones with memory. And it’s just plain fun. Meanwhile, of course, there are drivers living real lives with lost loves, dashed hopes, and off-track arguments. 500 Miles to Go tells the story of one driver’s success and separation. “Lucky in cards, unlucky in love,” my Gran used to say, but Alex Król is lucky and skilled in cars, while his love life is more unfortunate. Król is being interviewed by a newspaper reporter as the story starts. They eat, drink scotch, and smoke cigars; the author recreates the scent of cigar smoke on the air as evocatively as the sense of racing on the track, while the older man teases his interviewer, offering truths and half-truths, before plunging into revealing all. He's lured perhaps by her beauty and her obvious interest. But is she interested in him, or just in her article? There’s a wealth of fascinating history in this novel, all told in the voice of a man who lived it and cares. And there’s a convincing sense of someone transcribing his words. A sweet love story gives way to the love affair with speed. And cigar smoke offers that sense of slow listening, where interviewees can speak in full paragraphs and tell the tale their own way. First loser becomes disillusioned winner, hindsight waxes philosophical, and a lonely man reminds us “One doesn’t find love... It’s not some object to be unearthed... Love is a choice.” Is losing love a choice as well? As riders seek that median path, how do those of us on life’s track avoid being overtaken? I started to enjoy this story for its evocative depiction of racing cars. In the end I loved it for its people, and I'm really glad I found the time to read it. Disclosure: The author kindly gave me an ecopy and I offer my honest review.
  • Lacey Took a Holiday on April 07, 2014

    Good-hearted farmer falls in love with fallen woman and offers a new life. It’s been written a hundred times before, but not like this. Here the farmer’s as wounded as the woman he loves. The woman’s the one with a care (albeit fairly distant) for church and its trimmings, while the country farmer finds no solace there. Bad guys might be good. Good guys might sin. And the demon drink’s no more evil than any other human failing. The characters feel genuinely real and conflicted in this tale. Miscommunications are a side-effect of honest care, not defined by the plot. And simple solutions are too complex for real emotion. The dialog’s peppered with genuine humor and fun. The tragedy’s seasoned with hope. And the future beckons in a story that’s quick and easy to read, pleasing to digest, and enjoyably different and real. America just after WWI has never seemed so vivid or so real. Disclosure: I bought a copy of this a while ago and it languished on my to-read shelf. I’m just sorry I didn’t lift it down sooner, because it’s a really good book!
  • Gothic Cavalcade on April 07, 2014

    Gothic Cavalcade, by A. F. Stewart, is a dark, scary story with twists full of magic and light. Coolly disturbing, it starts with a mysterious carnival and a frightened woman. But who is this “Mother” who sends Byron to tempt the stranger in? And what dark initiation awaits? Clever misdirection keeps the reader guessing as Althea gets to know the Family. Their generosity clearly hides a secret, and dark fears loom. But love is blossoming too, against a backdrop of Althea’s own secrets. And choices can change the view. I enjoyed this story’s short complex path and gentle hints of mythology. Filled with great characters, it presents a true masquerade and reveals surprising hope behind some of its masks. Disclosure: I can’t remember how I got this ebook, but I do wish I’d read it sooner. I really enjoyed it.
  • Scoundrel on May 14, 2014

    Set in the early 1800s, Bud Fussell’s Scoundrel retells the Biblical story of Jacob, his brother, and his sons, transposing it to the American frontier. There’s a satisfying sense of discovery as each new twist in the plot echoes stories of old. Meanwhile the recent history of American slavery invites a change of focus as the story’s told. This Jacob is every bit the schemer and scoundrel of the Biblical tale, multiply married (I love the twist that makes this possible on the frontier), successful in the acquisition of land, slaves, and animals, a (very) early adopter and reader of books on genetic engineering, and a clever manipulator of political chance. Set against a background of slavery, the Homestead Act, and Napoleonic land-grabs, this novel involves the reader quickly in everyday life and its problems. Strong clear scenes reveal the structures and morals of the time, and occasional historical uncertainty is easily forgiven. The writing’s detailed and slow, as befits so long a life. But the characters are fascinating, with their relationship to Biblical archetypes beautifully imagined. I love the final revelations of Jacob’s will—so hard to explain in the original text. And I’m glad I read this novel; I enjoyed the chance to see Biblically familiar events through such very different eyes. Disclosure: I bought a copy when it was free.
  • Wild Rose on May 27, 2014

    Wild sweet humor, occasional thorns, the odd pricked conscience, and enjoyably thought-provoking musings on faith, forgiveness, tolerance and love characterize this delightful Scottish romance by Sherrie Hansen. And if the pastor’s seen the woman naked before falling for her, well, so has half the local police force, and she really shouldn’t have cavorted so close to the hidden cameras... And so it goes. The dear gentle-ladies of Pastor Ian’s small church have their own ideas about who would qualify as a pastor’s wife. The cops would have Rose hung drawn and quartered if only such things were still done. The board of her company would love to throw her out, and her brother-in-law wants to disown her. But Pastor Ian is falling sweetly in love, and Rose is falling not only for the pastor, but also for his faith. Because, after all, she never really stopped believing in God—she just wasn’t sure she believed God cared for her. The combination of faith and humor, suspense and romance, and wholly believable, delightfully flawed characters is genuinely enticing in this novel. Pastor Ian’s probably never blushed so much. The dear gentle-ladies would probably blush all the colors of their multi-season quilts, but this wild romp through Scottish countryside, with occasional stops in the police-station and several in church, is just pure, wonderful, zany, faith-filled fun and I love it so much, even an occasional creeping Americanism can’t distract me. Disclosure: I was given a free ecopy and I offer my honest review.
  • Ghost Mountain on June 23, 2014

    “Scott Curtis knew he was going to die. Unfortunately, he wasn’t sure why.” With a start like this, Ghost Mountain is almost irresistible. The reader longs to know why Scott has died, and soon we’re teamed with a reluctant seer who finds she has her own reasons for needing to solve the mystery. Told in a pleasing conversational style, the story follows its protagonist (Cerri, named for the Celtic goddess) as she struggles to avoid the attentions of her childhood imaginary friend. But the friend’s not as imaginary as she’d thought, and just because she doesn’t understand, “does not mean there is no reason” for what’s going on. Pleasingly, this is a tale with strong relationships, and Cerri’s almost perfect husband Matt is a source of constant support as Cerri tangles with the FBI, is almost accused of murder, then suddenly finds herself invited to help, like some paranormal investigator—a role she’s never had any hankering for. The mystery’s nicely intriguing too, with just enough clues for readers to guess and solve, adding to the tension as Cerri stays maybe one step behind. With it’s almost-perfect marriage, genuine family stresses, and a thoroughly down-to-earth and normal mom (apart from her unexpectedly paranormal insight), this is a refreshingly fun read, and I sincerely hope there’ll be more. Disclosure: I was lucky enough to buy a copy in a free deal.
  • Blue Belle on June 23, 2014

    One has a secret identity. The other has a secret fear. And both are hiding in a fine Scottish world of history, castles, wild flowers, and the internet. Reporter Isabelle thinks she’s too old to be cute, would rather not be cuddly, and certainly doesn’t want to write cute and cuddly travel guides. Meanwhile stonelayer Michael proves able to recognize feelings just as surely as stones. He’s also ridiculously handsome. And neither he nor Isabelle intend to fall in love. With tales of buried treasure offshore, a castle to be restored, Scots and Welsh Gaelic keeping secrets in the pub, and a lovely minister’s wife who understands but surely can’t understand it all, the stage is set for more than just romance. More, of course, is precisely what the reader gets with romantic suspense, enjoyable humor, the odd touch of social commentary, and plenty of action and adventure. Author Sherrie Hansen weaves fascinating factoids and wise snippets very naturally into a tale of people keeping secrets, making mistakes, and failing to see what’s on the other side. A cool blend of mystery, humor, romance and suspense, it climbs to a terrifying climax and leaves its readers happily satisfied. Disclosure: The author kindly gave me a free ecopy and I offer my honest review
  • iDoubt: When Faith Falters on Aug. 07, 2014

    “We had died and gone to heaven,” says C. P. Fagan, describing that earth-shattering experience of a teen coming to faith to the sound of strummed guitar, accompanied by fellow believers. But hell is never so far away, and doubt enters the equation all too soon. Still, is doubt really the enemy it seems? As the author points out, Mother Theresa doubted, and refused to let those doubts change her response to God. Author C.P. Fagan goes on to look at well-known non-believers---no doubts in their minds as they describe the Bible’s fairytales and condemn how it has been used to foster wars. Answering with the “fairytale” of human conception offers gentle reasons to smile—do we really start life as cheeseburgers? Later the author even asks, Is heaven the same as Disneyland? Holding the reader’s interest through family-life examples of conscience, desertion and questioning, the author builds a case for reasonable faith—so reasonable that, of course, it almost has to allow for doubt. (After all, I reasonably believe I will live until tomorrow, but I might not.) The author’s approach to “other” gods and deduction that Christianity offers the only sensible solution might seem overly simplistic, as does his disagreement with the science of evolution. But answers to other Christian doubts are well-illustrated and nicely offered in this book. Have you ever wondered how a good God allows bad things to happen? Or whether hell can be forever? Can true forgiveness truly be conditional? In nicely personable answers, the author doesn’t “mean to start a battle of the Scriptures,” but topics are argued with appropriate and convincing scriptural background, offering plenty of food for thought. Subsections with titles like “Whoa Noah” and “When you’re down, you need a lift, not a shove,” will lift readers’ hearts, and the arguments for and against church attendance are as fascinating as the question of whether it’s easier to believe God or matter has existed for eternity. (Personally, I subscribe to the time-is-limited-and-God-isn’t approach, but that’s the mathematician/scientist in me.) That said, will this book convert unbelievers? Probably not (especially not if they follow other faiths or are moderately trained in science). Will it interest partial believers and everyday doubters? I think so, yes. Will it help a regular Christian accept both doubts and faith, provide food for thought, and invite many long evenings of serious discussion? I think it might. And will it give you all the answers? No. But it’s worth the read; just skip the evolution and comparative religion bits if you’re like me. Disclosure: I learned the ebook was free on a Sunday. What better day to read it?
  • Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces on Aug. 27, 2014

    Masters of the collective novel, Second Wind Publishing have two mysteries set in Rubicon Ranch and another on the way. Each has a fascinating cast of characters, and authors take turns at telling their own hero or anti-hero’s side of the tale. The chapters blend well, tying nicely together, leaving readers to extrapolate in all the right places, and always keeping those vital details hidden. Different actors take the stage, press the story forward, hide their secrets and ponder their lies, all the time with no one knowing whodunit until the final script is proffered. Readers too will follow red herrings (usually red with blood and body parts, or the eponymous necropieces), wonder who’s hiding what and why, and unsettlingly decide they’re not so sure if X or Y really did “it” or did something else entirely. It’s complicated, fun, entirely worthy of Agatha Christie, and I only wish there weren’t so many great characters threatening to leave by the end of the book. But who knows; perhaps they’ll stay. I’ll have to wait for book three to find out. Meanwhile, what did happen to her husband in the car accident? An overarching mystery in a series of mystery novels, written by a fine blend of writers. What’s not to like? Disclosure: I found a free copy and I loved it. More please!
  • Mist on the Meadow on Aug. 27, 2014

    Wolf has to find a kundigerin, but it might help if he knew what one was. Still, his grandmother seemed pretty sure he’d bump into one when wrote the idea into her will. And he doesn’t plan to let her down. But as one man grieves, one young woman, with a passion for baking, is facing her own grief’s coming. The uncle she loves, whose arrival is always heralded by magic, is suddenly showing his age. He’s also showing some remarkable match-making propensities, and Wolf is his target for Marissa. They meet over a car, fall in love over food, and learn together about knowledge and heritage. Meanwhile they share the love of a cat, and solve the mystery of a failing company. More importantly, they strive to solve the mystery of each other while one can’t talk about what she is, and the other can’t understand. But love gives meaning to it all, releasing the claws of wrong relationships and the silence of secrecy, and binding two people who just might have more in common than they realize—but only time and more novels in the series will tell if breaking these rules is accident or intent. Great dialog, fun characters, romance and a cat... Disclosure: I found a free ecopy and I enjoyed it.
  • When Danger Calls on Aug. 27, 2014

    Frankie’s trying to hold it together, caring for her delightful daughter, watching over her mother’s romance, and struggling to keep her jobs well separated, because who wants a school-teacher to work at a bar. But the bar is where Frankie meets Ryan, and fate seems determined to throw them together until romance starts to bloom. Of course, this is an uneasy romance. Frankie’s babbling meets Ryan’s taciturn stillness. Frankie’s ordinary world meets danger and terror. And Frankie’s delightful daughter worms her way into everyone’s hearts. The dialog is fun and natural, especially when a little girl steals the scenes. Love scenes are sensually detailed. And danger involves the usual chapter of accidents, guesses and missteps. When Mom’s finances come into question, who knows whether terrorists or thieves will win the day? When Danger Calls is a fun tale with a beautiful Colorado setting, pleasing characters, good humor, detailed sensuality, and just enough excitement and mystery to keep the pages turning. Disclosure: I found a free ecopy and I enjoyed it.
  • The Marriage Wager on Oct. 03, 2014

    A fun, lighthearted romance set in Regency England, The Marriage Wager, by Karla Darcy, propels its protagonist from riches to poverty and back again. Swift point of view changes make for a slightly jumpy read, appropriately disorienting as Jena, upset from her favored days of good fortune, struggles to cope with a life of hardship without compromising her moral standards. When Dev sees her, he’s convinced she’s a fallen woman. But he’ll never marry anyway, since ladies and actresses – both ends of the social spectrum – can surely only be interested in money. With Dev unwilling, and Jena unable to marry, the stage is set for romance. Jena's father turns out not to be the only one partial to a good wager as this tale progresses. And Jena's good nature combines with good humor and generous wisdom to offer the promise of improvement to her former employees. There may even be the hope of love for this tale’s jaded antagonist, if he can just learn to listen to his heart. Meanwhile readers can enjoy some great characters and fun historical details in a tale of pleasing romance. Disclosure: I found a free ecopy. I can’t remember how, but I enjoyed it.
  • Eternal Mercury on Oct. 03, 2014

    In Boise Idaho, a young man's 'flu turns suddenly serious, and friends and family grieve. A life of doing just what he wants seems meaningless and wasted now it might all end. But what if there's more to life than fun, and more to memories than just recollections of the past? And what if true love endures in more than just the hearts of the living? Told in the voices of two very different protagonists, Eternal Mercury invites readers into a grieving girl's heart, gradually expanding her horizons to include a community wounded by tragedy. The twin stories of recovery from grief and folly feel compellingly real, lightened by love and deepened with some very practical and generous considerations. Some beautiful scenes set in a hospital children's ward will linger long after the tale is done. "It's amazing how fate [gives] you exactly what you need at just the right moment," muses one character, as decisions are made and life goes on. This teen love story holds much more than just teen angst and romance. Inviting readers to ponder life death and love in new and deeper ways, it just might compel you to fill in that organ donation card too. Meanwhile "Trust fate, live life, finish well," is a pretty good motto to grow by. Disclosure: I won a copy in a blog hop and I offer my honest review
  • Immortal Embrace on Oct. 24, 2014

    “Vampires only get the ever after–without the happily,” muses Sophia, and it’s got to be hard, trying to live in the modern world, go to a modern high school, and enjoy modern dances, while all the time knowing you’re going to live forever. It’s got to be hard falling in love. Sophia and her “family” aren’t the only supernaturals in this teen romantic suspense, and Salem is more than history to them. Past events are recounted to round out the tale, and past details ring mostly true, though modern idiom has clearly taken over the characters’ thoughts to help them blend. Sophie’s sisters love to dress Sophie “like a Barbie doll” over all her objections. And Nate, super-cool football player, is the perfect mate for her. A pity he’ll be so short-lived, but who knows what later episodes in the series will bring. Add witches to Twilight, take away the sparkle, and match a female vampire to a wonderful male human ally, then you’ll end up with the Immortal Embrace that starts author Charlotte Blackwell’s story. Of course, there are stray siblings, “day crystals” so Sophia “can eat human food without getting those awful stomach cramps and indigestion, a normal and very painful reaction for a vampire,” and mysteries and dangers too. But the greatest danger is still only a threat as this first book ends, with more to come. The dialog’s sometimes stilted, but with characters that cross histories and continents, that’s probably to be expected. The romance is powerful, and the magic’s intriguing. But the plot is just a start—you’ll have to read on for more. Disclosure: I won a copy of this and book two in the series, which I look forward to reading soon.
  • Anywhere But Here on March 17, 2015

    Jason D. Morrow’s Anywhere but Here is a fast, compelling read, especially if you don’t immediately dislike zombies. Well-timed flashbacks give a picture of how one teenager perceives the world falling apart. Characters who come to her aid are quickly made real through the language of remembered feelings, and there’s an immediate pain conveyed through scenes of cruel loss. But this isn’t just a run-away-from-the-zombies tale. These people really do have hope, but struggle to know how much faith to place in human institutions, how much trust to place in law, and how to plan for an uncertain tomorrow. Into this mix, add the curious powers of characters who aren’t quite superhuman, just as the grayskins may not be entirely subhuman. Does seeing the future mean it’s set in stone? Is hearing (even super-hearing) the same as understanding? And what secret are leaders and hunters hiding? The dialog’s convincing, the voice is natural, the tale has a powerful immediacy, and the ending, while clearly the start of something more, comes in a well-chosen place, with one mystery solved in the defining of the next. I would certainly read more. Disclosure: It was free, and I really enjoyed the earlier series.
  • The Magic Fault on March 17, 2015

    Paul Mohrbacher’s The Magic Fault is a fascinating modern-day thriller built around the theft of a sacred relic—the Shroud of Turin. The blend of historical mystery and current events, plus corporate greed and personal determination, is very pleasingly done and the protagonists, history professor Tom Euland and his girlfriend Rachel Cohen, make a very enjoyable pair of detectives. The Shroud of Turin has a long and fascinating history which feeds well into the tale, and the mystery and intrigue of curious monks, violent crime, high-speed car-chases and cryptic clues combine to build a truly enjoyable novel. Is the fate of the world at stake or just the fate of big business? Will genetically modified foods save or destroy the hungry poor? Can a Lutheran professor, a Jewish activist, a Catholic archbishop and a Muslim businessman really work together? And who is truly behind this plot? I loved the interactions between characters, the nicely low-key religiosity, and the underlying care for earth, faith and peoples in this exciting tale—an adventure novel with depth, where human interest replaces the tortuously esoteric erudition of some other religious mysteries. Magical thinking, where faith in God devolves into belief in ritual, is pitted against rational resolution and the heavenly touch of perfect timing, making this a truly satisfying read on lots of different levels. Highly recommended. Disclosure: I received a free ecopy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
  • Ryder on the Storm - Emerald Seer 1 on March 25, 2015

    Blending Celtic myth, shape-changers, angels and demons (perhaps), paranormal powers and paranormal romance, Violet Patterson’s Ryder on the Storm brings readers into a complex word of gods, seraphs and humans, bound to the myth of the Emerald Seer and curious questions about its provenance. When good intentions go awry and well-meaning guardians betray, Storm Sullivan finds she’s inherited far more than she bargained for. Seemingly alone in the world, except for two hunky friends, she’s hardly equipped to cope with an unknown history, still less dangerous threats from handsome strangers. But lots of mysteries will come to light as the story progresses and Storm’s strange powers meet Ryder’s potent threat. Ryder on the Storm has plenty of romance, intimate bedroom scenes, modern-day action, and suspense of mythical proportions. Characters grow and change pleasingly as the story switches between Storm and Ryder’s points of view. Occasionally odd word usages tripped me up, but not enough to detract from a fast fun tale with pleasant good humor and a nice sense for twisted mythology. The end is not the end, of course, since it’s part one of a series. But enough threads are resolved to make this an enjoyable exciting read. Disclosure: I heard about this during the author’s blog tour and was pleased to have the opportunity to read the book.
  • Dark Prelude on April 03, 2015

    Author Andrea Parnell recreates a convincing 1750s London, where a mysterious stranger offers a poor girl the chance to escape her fate, and rich sons battle and drink together, just for fun. Details entice the reader and make the patchwork of dark streets, gloomy houses, and docks, seem vividly real. Dialog is convincing, and characters, apart from the mysterious brothers, are nicely three-dimensional. The novella is a prequel to a longer tale, and it’s clear the brothers will become more real as history reveals their motivations. Scary scenes of threat and escape accompany Sylvia’s flight, with nicely drawn details of the problems of running in a long skirt. Meanwhile, pleasing humor adds depth and intrigue. The novella ends, at least in my copy, with excerpts from longer works, nicely advertising the author’s writing skills, and enticing readers to purchase more books. Occasional typos might have marred my enjoyment, but they’re probably fixed by now, and anyway, the storylines have got me thoroughly hooked. I would love to read more. (Can I download some time first please?) Disclosure: I found that it was free and decided to try it.
  • Girl on April 13, 2015

    We name those things and people we value, and so Girl unnames herself, casting off her old identity after a brutal rape. But now she has to cast off all the identities others give her too. Replacing the rules of the Torah with laws of her own, honoring no-one, and writing her own dark script, she passes through almost mythical tests and trials to reinvent herself as an upscale whore. Meanwhile she reads and fills the hole in herself with wisdom and wit. Meanwhile, someone else has other plans to fill Girl’s life, and she becomes Woman. Girl is the sort of unsettling novel that makes the reader switch seamlessly from belief to disbelief and back again. It’s beautifully, powerfully written, filled with a series of dangerous characters, deeply drawn so evil can show its human side and crime can reveal its hidden cause. World-spanning cruelties and wildly different paths to self-destruction come into focus around real people who hurt, care, and try their best to survive. But sometimes survival’s not the most important thing after all. Girl will make you question pre-conceptions. The prose will draw you close to Girl, then cast you aside as she detaches again from her past and reinvents her life. It will make you long for salvation, as humor and pathos give way to cruel irony. And it will linger in your mind long after that final page is turned, the final myth inverted on itself. It’s a cool, dark, unflinching, scary book, with hints of Barbara Taylor Bradford’s Woman of Substance in its multi-year scope and depiction of determination, reinvention, and realism. It’s also an excellent modern-day satire and an enormously relevant read. Disclosure: I was given a free ecopy and I offer my honest review.
  • Polite Conversation About the Weather on May 01, 2015

    Like Elizabeth’s Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, D.A. MacQuin’s novel, Polite Conversation about the Weather, is grown from a set of short stories about the interlocking lives of Midwestern characters. The parts are nicely fitted together, offering that enticing delight of discovery as remembered characters reappear, together with a sense of hopes fulfilled or dashed as their stories are seen through different eyes. MacQuin’s short stories are built on the backs of science-fiction readers, pot smokers, and angry young men and women looking back on, or forward to, uncertain futures. The world around them is changing. The death penalty—a mournful bracket around the whole collection—comes and goes, but wounded lives go on and guilt lies often unseen. Dune’s Atreides wanted to save the world, but author D.A. MacQuin saves small lives individually by giving them depth and breath. From final meal to sirens tempting a missionary by the pool, from dark internal dialog to convincing and natural flashes of conversation, and from past to present, these tales present a selection of ordinary people with lives both successful and dull, hopes lost and found, and dreams distorted. Sharp stings in the tales twist perception and preconception, and unedited tense shifts offer a rapid-fire approach to deep realities and pains. Too early? Too late? Too fast? Too slow? Or just life? These tales are just life, frequently seen in injustice or justice delayed, wounded and picking up the pieces, ever going on. But together they form a novel that’s more than the sum of its parts, and a fascinating mirror on a generation. Disclosure: I was given a free ecopy and I offer my honest review.
  • The People Under the House on May 15, 2015

    Dene Hellman tells a compelling three-part story in The People Under the House, with a short fourth part bringing it all to completion. It’s a tale that begins with a 60s housewife and, whose perfect life, with all those extras long-hoped for, long-promised, seems suddenly dull and gray. The perfect husband works hard for a living, and the perfect children are truly admirable. But wife and mother loses sight of herself and feels like a servant below-stairs in the rich man’s home. Many women today, though the world has certainly changed, will still recognize themselves in her dilemma. The chance to interview a German Jew, survivor of WWII, just might be what the lonely housewife needs to revive lost dreams of being a writer. Or it might serve to shatter the dreams she’s in danger of losing now. Part two gives a new and haunting perspective to the tale. The wife who has everything is brought, together with the reader, into the life of a man who lost everything. The trials of a 60s housewife, or a wife and mother today, seem as nothing compared with the slow shattering of childhood hopes, Kristallnacht’s swift shattering of lives, and all those small incidental betrayals required just to stay alive in Hitler's Germany. Werner’s no hero, but he proves to be a determined survivor. Meanwhile his story has romance but no fairytales. And his dreams are still born of nightmares. By the end of part two, the reader’s primed to believe there must be hope. But this story continues with real-life trials and tribulations while fairytales fade. There are other wounds besides being hunted or ignored. The lives of the everyday can be filled with secrets every bit as painful as the lives of the lost. And living below-stairs might be preferable to what’s to come. I love the first two parts of this tale. Fast-flowing, deeply involving, painfully relatable, they contrast beautifully as the protagonists meet on a 60s housing development. But this novel is memoir, and real-life conclusions can be messy, complex and sad. Warts and all, the story builds on post-traumatic stress and lifestyle trauma into a picture of two real lives, separate, intertwined, and finally far enough apart to be knitted back together at the seams. Disclosure: I was given a free ecopy and I offer my honest review.
  • Killing Rush on June 02, 2015

    Author John Calvin Hughes jumps the reader straight into a story of troubled brothers and troubled lives in his novel Killing Rush. Strong language perfectly fits the strong lead character, redneck to the core, dragged out of his strangely uncaring life into a cross-country quest to “save” an apparently weak and ailing brother. But no one is quite who they seem in this scarily honest depiction of insanity, love and loss. Dark humor, slapstick comedy, tragic uncertainty and vividly plausible religious and political musings all intertwine as reality twists, losers win, and those who would be saved might damn them all. By turns mystical and down-to-earth, both lyrical and harsh, the author’s perfect sense for detail creates pictures drawn with strong clear concepts and a minimum of words. Convincing dialog makes even deep and complex religious debate as fascinating as conversation around drugs, drink, literature, and music. Meanwhile, equal strength passion, pathos and humor drive an oddly plausible, humorously reprehensible “mission from God.” Killing Rush is one of those books that defy genre and draw the reader into a real world, totally convincingly portrayed, evocative, filled with unexpected wit and emotion, and manifesting different kinds of grief through human joy. I don’t know if it’s “more fun to be stoned while we discuss philosophy” or theology, but I do know this book brings to life a wealth of experiences and arguments, and leaves me missing the characters when the final page is turned. Disclosure: I was given a free ecopy and I offer my honest review.
  • Colours of Poetry on June 02, 2015

    Lovely titles, beautifully organized, invite the reader into the pages of A F Stewart’s Colours of Poetry. The pages are filled with poems of many different forms, but the author creates a very natural feel in each form, and even, wisely, includes an explanation of poetic forms at the end. The organization of the poems follows the rules of poetry as surely as do the poems, with each new concept flowing naturally from the last. The Devil’s Deal – “A sky tongue / silver some may say ... and moonlight at the crossroads...” – might be my favorite. Or lyrical beauty might draw me in, as in, “Shall we dance with angels / far above the velvet clouds, / where the stars whisper light / and cast it to the eyes below?” But perhaps instead I’ll “spend our transitory sanity /chasing gilded gleams of hope,” Under the Midnight Sun. Tyrian Purple offers the cruelties of lost and broken loves, of wounded earth, and of histories colored with beauty, together with poetic hints of hope.But another favorite is Ashen, or maybe Horizon. Hope flows down through darkness as pages turn, and Ann’s Stardust Farewell offers shape and meaning as well as dedication for this collection. Colors of Poetry is a beautiful book, to dip into or to read page after page, haunting, absorbing, and beautifully drawn. Disclosure: I won a free ecopy and I offer my honest review.
  • Blue Flame on July 28, 2015

    Author MC Schmidt writes great dialog, but better than that, he knows that “true conversation” is often “had in the faces,” and he writes great conversations in this warmly odd and supremely compelling book. Sixty-one year old Arthur works for a thirty-six year old boss. In a world of empty malls and failed bookstores, the “cockroaches of American industry” thrive, while the down and out struggle to survive. And Arthur, despite a good woman’s concern, is surely heading down and out. Enter Arthur’s estranged son, strange friendships, a broken future, and fractured memories of an equally broken past. The pieces come together convincingly. A character’s sense of self and identity changes in a literary moment, sent off course by unexpected events, emotions, or even memory. Then space is left for the true self to be seen. Perhaps facing up to who we are truly does become the key to who might be. Love and death, life and dreams, even what constitutes family, all are smoothly fluid in a novel that examines betrayal, neglect, and love with equal aplomb, through multiple, convincing viewpoints, and a wonderful touch of hope. I loved this book and could hardly put it down. Disclosure: I was given a free ecopy and I offer my honest review.
  • The Last Orphans on Aug. 04, 2015

    Published by Clean Teen Publishing, the Last Orphans is a teen horror novel with lots of violence and gore, minimal swearing, great characters, and enough fast action to outweigh any plot holes and keep the pages turning. The story starts with Shane, a genuinely nice young man with a tough life that’s about to become much worse. When bees and wasps go on the attack, cattle charge their fences, and adults die in increasingly horrifying ways, Shane finds himself the reluctant leader of a band of youthful survivors. Inspired by a much-loved sports coach, he calls his team together while hints of Lord of the Flies draw near. The plot eventually hinges on a fairly simplistic quest, but excitement rises as our band of heroes meets unexpected enemies and friends. The Last Orphans is a clean-enough, thoroughly scary tale of horror and post-apocalyptic survival, great for teens with strong stomachs, and a fast, good read. Disclosure: I bought a free ecopy and I offer my honest review.
  • Twin Powers on Aug. 04, 2015

    A beautiful scene opens David Pereda’s Twin Powers, with sudden unquiet invading a young girl’s peace as events come into focus. The daughter of a rich doctor is vacationing with her mother in Cuba when things fall apart. Soon the doctor, a dangerous assassin friend, Castro’s family, and many more are united in a quest to save the child. Nice turns of phrase bring characters and scenes to life, while some surprising understatements call secrets into question. “It was obvious he [the father] was going through a rough patch in his life,” might startle the reader when a man’s daughter’s just been kidnapped. But this father is more than just a doctor, and his past, or that of his wife, or both, might be about to catch up with him. The story includes plenty of sexuality, unexpected romance, touches of mysticism, fast action, cynicism and humor—something for everyone it seems. Some typos slowed the reading for me (she for he, and for an etc), but perhaps they were just in my copy – they didn’t stop me reading. Twin Powers surprised me most in that the powers of its titular twins are so low-key, almost sidelined in the plot. I wish there had been more about them, but I’m guessing, since this reads like the middle of a series, there’s bound to be plenty more to come. Disclosure: I bought a copy long ago when it was free. I’m just sorry it took me so long to get around to reading it.
  • A Ripple in the Water on Aug. 18, 2015

    When does attraction turn to love? When does loss turn to need? And when does a child become a man? These questions and more fuel Donna Small’s quietly convincing tale of middle-aged romance, where the widowed mother of a swimmer finds herself falling for the coach. But the biggest question of all is, when can a woman of a certain age date a man of a much younger age? The characters feel very real in this novel. A mother’s concern for her daughter, the correct application of sunscreen, swimming, swim meets, and everything in between is authentically and evocatively portrayed. Kate’s journey from grief is described with a pleasingly light touch, honest, deep, and healing. Meanwhile, her unexpected journey to romance feels equally real, from tentative admission of attraction to something which grows convincingly. And if the wonderful, gorgeous guy is a little too adult for his age, isn’t that how age-different romances are meant to start. There’s a tentative darkness to this tale, with haunting fears invading growing delights. But most of all, there’s a thoroughly modern honesty, a genuine feel for human love and flaws, and a pleasing delicacy that’s thoroughly sensual without overabundant sexuality. There's a lot of soul-searching as the story progresses, but the problems are real, and the result is a thoroughly enjoyable, absorbing read. Disclosure: I was given a free ecopy and I offer my honest review.
  • Khawla's Wall on Aug. 18, 2015

    Along the Arabian Peninsula, “Wasta is the hand that guides every aspect of life.” But influence, like walls, serves a genuine purpose, holding everything in place. And there are many walls in this intriguing novel. Author Andrew Madigan paints places, past and present, with vivid words, using old times and customs to remind reader, and protagonist, that space is not happiness; luxury is no guarantee; and privacy is not peace. A pearl-diver seeks the best treasure from depths, while fake pearls flood the market; an honest employee seeks honest improvement, but mustn’t rock the boat; a generous son tries to be true to his past, but the past won’t be true to him. And a beautiful women hides behind her wall of temptation. Is Khawla seeking freedom? Is Mahmoud seeking love? And do the outsiders with statistics and computers want truth, or just a truth that fits their safely walled assumptions? Beautiful writing, evocative scenery, well-wrought history, and smooth sociology pull the reader in. Clear authenticity, generous and well-researched sympathy, and honest dialogs recreate a wholly believable emirate culture, pleasingly observed and humanly flawed. A wall is built, and the reader must turn the pages to see who it will hurt, should it ever fall. Disclosure: I was given a free ecopy and I loved it.
  • Ted Saves the World on Aug. 18, 2015

    This is YA/middle grade fiction at its best. Tongue-in-cheek humor, unexpected super-powers, internet fame, scary threats to the world, and a trio of wholly human, honest, confusing and awkward teens at the center of it all. Of course, when Natalie breaks up with Ted, the trio could fall apart. But Dhiraj might get brave enough to ask Jennifer out. And then there’s Erika, but she’s... Well, you’ll have to read it to find out what's happened to her. Suffice it to say, when blue light shines over your skin, your whole perception of reality might change. With wholly age-appropriate attractions, real-world dangers combining with immortal combat, high school terrors contrasted with nightmares dreamed at the end of the world, or on the computer screen, Ted Saves the World presents an awkward, inept, intelligent teen with some seriously scary choices, and keeps the reader glued to the page as the story reveals itself. Of course, there are still lots of questions to be answered when the tale comes to an end. This is a convincing, exciting, and really enjoyable standalone novel, with a whole wealth of mysteries to fuel a series too. It's highly recommended. Disclosure: I was given a free ecopy and I offer my honest review.
  • The Ninety-Ninth Reunion on Sep. 18, 2015

    A compelling sense of mystery propels the reader forward in the Ninety-Ninth Reunion by Dene Hellman. Why not the hundredth? Well, this just happens to be the one the sister goes back to...just happens to be the one where she meets... just happens to be the one. And something is going to happen, but the psychic younger sister can’t see through walls erected by those she loves. The story’s told in first person through different eyes, each section flowing beautifully from the last, and each view-point perfectly chosen. The characters seem very human and clear, from psychically skeptical big sister to dangerous stranger, and their tales weave together into a convincingly flawed fabric. Perhaps the mystery is the brother? Perhaps the parents? Perhaps... And just when you wonder why the story didn’t start in the middle, it all makes sense, leaving the reader in awe! Hollywood doesn’t have to define all our endings; not all joy is uncomplicated sweetness; and life is built from the stuff of people and love. I really enjoyed this book, with its wonderful sense of place and character, its powerfully haunting authenticity, and its intelligent weaving through the gulf between church, science, and psychic—wonderfully done, and a great book! Disclosure: I acquired a free ecopy; I can’t remember how but I’m sorry it took me so long to get around to reading it.
  • Johnny Nothing – Free half a book on Oct. 07, 2015

    This review is from the full book. I don't know how much is offered in this free half. Johnny Nothing is probably the perfect book for singularly imperfect boys. But it’s not all boogers and bodily fluids—there’s some wonderful language lurking behind the irreverence, such as when Johnny is compared to a “colour.” The humor is very English, convincingly teen and male, and somewhat smelly. Some readers might find it wearing after a while, like the worst of British TV imported to the States. But others, many of them unwilling readers aged from 10 to 18, will assuredly love it. There’s a boyish exuberance combined with a fascination for bodily functions; there are wonderful lists of puns from a round-the-world trip; and there’s the usual attraction of poor hopeless boy, powerful hopeless guardians, and unexpected opportunity. Of course, the powerful guardians—large obnoxious mother in particular—are amply skilled at the thwarting young Johnny’s plans, but a surprisingly wise lesson in failure might change things around. No thing is spared the sharp knife of humor and scorn in this tale. Politics and religion aren’t forbidden, and neither is BO. Names like Ebenezer Dark and Johnny Nothing offer a pleasing sense of fantasy. But, on the whole, this probably isn’t a book for reading moms. Combining the worst of boyhood infatuations with a well-plotted storyline and well-written scenes however, it just might make readers out of their pre-teen sons. Disclosure: I was given a free ecopy and I offer my honest review.
  • The Hardest Thing in the World on Oct. 29, 2015

    In December ’97 big sister Kayla writes, “It’s... Christmas break in Bay Village and I can’t bear Renee the zombie or Daddy in his dead zone fog or Mommy pretending to be happy...” Kayla’s story and her mother’s come to life with convincing first person narration in this novel by Nicole Eva Fraser, while Renee is always a third person character, even when we see from her point of view. Fading into the background of her own life, never belonging, never quite moving forward from the mental illness that haunts almost invisibly, Renee changes from sweetly imaginative child into brooding adult and wrecker of social occasions. But she’s still loved, and this novel of awkward, genuine, confusing and wounded love, in all its many guises, is beautifully told. Real characters fill these pages with sibling rivalry, schoolgirl friendships, mourning for the lost, and an awkward need to believe in or deny self-worth. All these issues are tackled through convincing storylines, each different thread drawing the reader further in. Each character takes center stage as adult and child, making right decisions and wrong, and moving on. Meanwhile Renee, in her strange confusion, is just as real and deserving of sympathy as anyone else, her emotions and those of her family retold with evocative conviction. I could hardly put this novel down, and I truly loved the blend of convincingly flawed characters, of suspicion giving way to reality, and of faintly paranormal aspects converging on clinical distress. The book reads like a journey through real lives, and leaves the reader with much to ponder, and new friends to keep in the heart. It’s a well-balanced tale of unbalanced lives; and a novel of the waning century, filled with perfectly chosen detail and authentic descriptions. Enjoy. Disclosure: I was given a free ecopy and I offer my honest review.
  • Deadly Adagio on Oct. 29, 2015

    In Senegal's tightly closed world of embassy employees and Peace Corp volunteers, the wives (or occasional husbands) struggle for identity and strive to fill the endless days of being defined by "other." Emily is one such wife, a musician playing in a volunteer orchestra, a mother, and a woman with few friends in her foreign world. When one of those friends is murdered, Emily could quietly accept that the men will solve the crime, or she could follow her heart and look for answers. Emily makes a pleasantly smart, believable protagonist in this mystery, neither too clever nor too foolish, but certainly determined. In the late ‘90s, Senegal reveals itself as a place filled with real people, local and foreign, with real needs and real desires. Women suffer genital mutilation as a matter of course, as Emily learns. Terrorists are an ever-present fear. Cultural divisions create amusing moments. And wounded relationships thrive. Author Carole Howard weaves authentic details and invaluable lessons seamlessly and unobtrusively into this novel, making it a truly evocative read, well-grounded in culture, time and place. Nicely drawn images of life in a different world invite readers to see through other people's eyes. The agony of needed change is beautifully balanced against the pain of change enforced through death, and hidden secrets reveal the need for and meaning of true friendship. Meanwhile the deadly adagio plays – slow in the heat of a Senegal day, whispering the need for change, and well-composed with mystery in the beginning, middle and end. Disclosure: I bought a free ecopy and I offer my honest review.
  • Haunting at Ocean House: A James Murray Mystery on Nov. 18, 2015

    This fifth book in the James Murray Mysteries is again set in a meticulously researched and convincingly rendered 1930s LA. The twin characters, James Murray enjoying newly married life, and the nameless detective of his novels, are engaged in parallel mysteries of seances, murder and mayhem. Meanwhile the reader is quickly engaged by smoothly convincing dialog and prose, and by that overarching mystery of how one story will feed itself into the other. The viewpoints of James, his wife Arden, and the fictional detective all blend and part very smoothly throughout the novel. Scenes are viewed through different pairs of eyes, revealing different secrets and ideas, and engaging the reader convincingly in each character’s approach. Well-timed recaps of previous storylines offer immediate reminders and bring the backstories quickly into focus. Meanwhile short chapters with enticing reminders make each section stand alone; the novel can be read in one long session filled with satisfying twists and turns, or many shorter ones, just as the novel Jamie’s writing will be written in long and short bursts. LA has grown larger and grander since the first James Murray mystery. Following the city’s growth as well as the character’s is immensely satisfying to the reader, and the gap growing between James and his alter ego feels perfectly timed, leading onward to a well-drawn conclusion where fake seances, clever trickery, and mysterious disquiet all resolve into satisfyingly mysterious answers. The solution, or solutions, is neither too obvious nor too obscure in the end, and the novel draws smoothly to a close. Disclosure: I was given a free ecopy and I offer my honest review.
  • Valerie's Vow on Nov. 18, 2015

    Valerie is blessed or cursed with the ability to categorize people quickly by their fictional counterparts. It’s a skill she uses to great effect in the classroom teaching English, or even teaching Scripture to the youth group at church. But now Valerie can’t even see herself as real. She simply plays a part, many parts, to fit everyone else’s image of who she should be. Unsure of herself, her faith, or her worth, Valerie’s only anchor is a vow to at least try to be herself. If this involves risk, well, she’s just at the beginning of her journey. First there’s the handsome biker, then the bar, then the gradual slide that could be away from something but might be toward it. Then there are chances and choices to be made, dreams to be undone, and friends to be betrayed. But, through it all, there’s a vow and the promise that maybe God didn’t give up on her when she gave up on God. Faith is a very lowkey, genuine and honest affair in this novel, beset with human doubt, occasionally determined, sometimes betrayed, but never intrusive or untrue. Valerie won’t enjoy any amazing revelations, and neither will the unchurched biker. But the reader will find a curious touch of hope in romance that’s as real and and broken as faith, and love that’s stronger then both. I really enjoyed this novel, and the ending left me breathless, surprised and delighted. Disclosure: I found it when it was free and I offer my honest review.
  • Crack in the World on Dec. 12, 2015

    At nearly twelve, protagonist Emily is a complicated child with a clear strong vocabulary and a sincere determination to protect herself. But how can a child be safe when a trusted adult abuses her? In a situation that all too often arises within the real world, the fictional Emily gains strength from both without and within, making friends, finding trustworthy adults, and slowly learning to say no. Sadly, as in real life, the end of abuse is barely even the start of an abused child’s recovery. Accustomed to protecting everyone else, to blaming her problems on herself, and to trusting no one, Emily will have to learn to tell the truth, to risk rejection, and to be herself. Those around her, so long oblivious, will have their parts to play. And Emily will learn that joy isn’t something she can clasp by “shaking off her sadness and feelings of being out of control of what happens to her in her house.” “Feeling happy makes me happy” is not a good enough mantra after all. With nuggets of wisdom and advice threaded into the storyline, this novel often feels more like memoir than fiction. Events follow a naturally uncharted course. Repetition is appropriate to a child’s recollection. Dialog is sweet and funny, though the details might slow it down. First love, first alcohol and first intimate relations are convincingly portrayed. Many girls might envy Emily’s first adult sexual encounter as retold here, but none will want to repeat the childhood pain that leads to it. And many, sadly, will still need to learn from her road to recovery. It's a story told with a ring of personal experience and honest truth, and a valuable read. Disclosure: I was given a free ecopy and I’m writing my honest review.
  • Off the Chart on Jan. 21, 2016

    When you get on a plane, you never know who you’ll sit next to. This is certainly true of the passengers on a long-haul flight from London. But readers will find the backstories of every survivor rendered in novel-worthy detail after an act of terrorism cuts the journey short. Having lived through an Arctic crash, this hardy band must now avoid lethal gunmen, relentless pursuers, and each other’s twisted motivations if they’re to make it back to civilization. The facts are certainly intriguing as the author details flight paths, emergency distress numbers, and the danger of empty seats in a plane crash. Philosophy and religion will be given plenty of space as characters deal with tragedy and fear. Occasionally strange social commentary might ring true or false depending on the reader’s point of view—for example, the assertion that “in England, there are basically three languages, The Queen’s English, Businessman’s English, and Cockney.” But I’m from England’s North (none of the three). Meanwhile, Flight 211 is missing. The survivors would like to know why, if they live long enough. Off the Chart is a long novel—almost a TV series perhaps—with characters built on complex backstories from multiple societies and ethnicities; science built from complex detail in some places and scant in others; plus a wealth of protagonists and antagonists, problems to be solved, and mysteries to be understood. It ends, appropriately, with just enough suspense to ask for season (or volume) two, but a good enough sense of completion in case it’s not renewed. Disclosure: I was given a free ecopy and I offer my honest review.
  • A Day With Moo: A Best Friend Book on Jan. 21, 2016

    Midge came home from hospital with a cuddly toy called Moo. Now Midge and Moo enjoy everyday life, from mud to peas, in an everyday home, nicely illustrated in Kerry McQuaide’s simply picture book, A Day with Moo. The illustrations are bright and pleasingly different. Facial expressions are fun. And Midge’s relationship with Moo is exactly as it should be. The writing’s clear and simple too, though I found myself surprised by the lack of repetition – that probably tells you more about me than the book. A Day with Moo is a fun little picture book to share with children and cuddly friends, in home or preschool as well. Disclosure: I learned that it was free so I bought it.
  • Where the Bodies Are on Feb. 06, 2016

    The mystery begins with a body in the trash. But more bodies will soon appear, while cops search for the murderer and wait for their only witness to awake from her coma. Meanwhile a stranger stalks the streets and just might be more than he seems. Where the bodies are hidden becomes a seriously important clue in L. V. Gaudet’s mystery novel. It’s a terrifying story that takes itself and its material very seriously, and introduces an everyman (or everywoman) element to all its characters. A victim shares “the similarity so many young women of the same age seem to have with each other...” inviting the reader to read themselves and their loved ones into the scene. Swift changes of tense add immediacy, though for me they sometimes distract from the tension. And descriptions, weighty with author observation and social commentary, give a sense of watching a movie with a friend, as danger draws ever more clear. Old fashioned chapter headings are a very nice touch in a story that’s thoroughly modern and scary, where readers are invited into the tortured mind of killer and victims, and left with an unsettling sense of more bodies waiting for burial. With twists, turns and surprises, some easy to spot, and others thoroughly disguised, the story offers a plot that’s well drawn, and a conclusion that’s intriguingly dark – a blend of police procedural and horror, in the guise of everyday life. Disclosure: I found it when it was free, and I offer my honest review.
  • Road To Shandara on Feb. 17, 2016

    First in the Sanafarian Order series, Ken Lozito’s Road to Shandara is an enticing beginning to an epic fantasy. College senior Jace has always enjoyed the sport of martial weapons with his grandfather and the company of his grandfather’s half-wolf. But real life beckons, and he wonders what the future will bring. Then a very different life intervenes. Jace is offered unexpected powers, then thrust into a world of danger and dread. The story starts with a funeral—a dark setting for strange revelation, and further darkness ensues. “[Y]ou always have a choice. There are no perfect solutions, not in life,” Jace’s father advises. But choices are hard when loved ones die and revenge wields the blade. Jace’s choice leads him far from home, offers unexpected friendships, and reveals the a nicely drawn mythology and philosophy of lives, love and power, plus a pleasingly intriguing sense of “soul.” “Trust yourself,” a new friend advises. “[I]n the end it’s all we can really do.” Meanwhile the son inherits the problems of the grandfather, and has to trust his history as well. Road to Shadara is sometimes word, perhaps, but always fascinating and enthralling. Occasional typos really don’t seem to matter. It’s a slow read, with lots of introspection. But it’s filled with fast, well-drawn fight scenes, intriguing imagination, and great characters. The story ends powerfully and promises more to come. Disclosure: I was given a free ecopy and I offer my honest review.
  • The Phantom Lady of Paris on March 04, 2016

    Told in the thoroughly convincing voice of a late 1960s protagonist, an American in Paris, Calvin Davis’ Phantom Lady of Paris brings to life a thoroughly European world, on the brink of violence and decay. Surprisingly, that world seems not so different from the world of today, inviting the reader to tread carefully and wait for revelation. Phantom is a hauntingly beautiful novel, combining mysteries of human life, deep suspicions, enthralling backdrops of coffee, river, history and cafes, and history’s dark intrusions on the lives of real people. It’s hard not to view the sins of the past as a cancer infecting the present, while desires for change turn into action, reaction, and occasional terror, while the desire for love learns to fly. The language is beautiful, and honestly real. The scenery is evocative. The pages are filled with a genuine sense of real history. And the mystery captivates. From missing newspaper to missing persons, dejected coffee-drinker to over-enthusiastic cop, and from first love to haunting renewal, this is a book to read, savor, absorb and remember, as we live through the Parises and Parisians of our own humanly confusing and partisan world. Disclosure: I was given a copy and I offer my honest review.
  • Snake Holes on March 04, 2016

    A sweet short story told in a delightfully convincing voice, Snake Holes shows that popularity isn’t everything, friendship’s not unachievable, and consequences can be thoroughly surprising. The lonely narrator of this tale wanders away, finds a secret, reluctantly shares and saves the school, maybe. But the truth of the story is in its enterprising actions, honest characters, and quietly perfect ending. The world isn’t full of right and wrong answers, clever and foolish students, or rejects and popular kids after all. But the space in between, where most of us live, might be filled with stories. This tale’s a great place to start, recommended for young readers and their families and friends. Disclosure: I was given a copy and I offer my honest review.
  • Mercy's Sunset on April 06, 2016

    How many lives can you live? How many loves can you lose? And what happens when it’s suddenly all over? Author Lindsay Luterman invites readers to share three different worlds with her protagonist, a woman who can’t remember her name or guess where she is. Starting in England at the turn of the last century, and moving toward the present day, Jane Doe has lived, loved and lost. Her tale is told with an enjoyable blend of detached bemusement, quiet anger, and honest romance. But this world’s romances don’t all end in joy, and its joys might not be eternal. Blending past lives with drama, pathos and true love, Mercy’s Sunset offers a pleasing touch of mercy to wounded lives, and a thought-provoking touch of sincerity to curiously difficult questions. I may not share the author’s vision of the afterlife, but I certainly enjoyed sharing the afterlife of these characters, particularly the blending of character and self, and the final hope engendered by that final decision. Mercy’s Sunset is intriguingly imagined and enjoyably told. Occasional tense changes feel real in the character’s bewildering present and past, and the protagonist’s choice becomes achingly urgent and real as the pages turn. I enjoyed this book. Disclosure: I think I bought it when it was free. I offer my honest review.
  • One False Move (a Mike Delaney thriller) on April 21, 2016

    As a short story, One False Move introduces intriguing characters, reveals hints of backstory and motivation, and sets up some nicely contrasting situations where the characters interact. Protagonist Delaney is “a trained assassin and veteran of ... bruising fighting contests in the South-East Asia games,” but he has vowed to kill no more. In this, he resembles other fictional, well-skilled but personally-private characters who save others while hiding their pain. And in this story Delaney's closest friend is a friend in need. Graphic, well-staged violence drives the story, but there’s enough depth of character to keep it interesting, and enough well-hinted backstory to make readers want to know more. Dialog is quick and informative, and the protagonist’s skills are nicely displayed, ready for more and longer books in the series. The second half of this ebook offers a lengthy look ahead to what’s to come, but the first half is a good fast short story and a fun read. Disclosure: I found a copy and wanted a short read. I offer my honest review.
  • Transgression: A Time-Travel Suspense Novel on June 22, 2016

    Randy Ingermanson’s Transgression succeeds in asking all the awkward questions about time travel, without insisting on answering them. Characters and plot give “time” and “travel” voice, rooted in a pleasing pseudo-science that convincingly borders on real, and seasoned with evocative, well-researched detail. An intrinsically different and thought-provoking approach to “free will” grows out of the story’s progression without ever distracting from the tale. Transgression is an enjoyable blend of science fiction with Biblical historical fiction. Customs and culture of New Testament times feel thoroughly convincing and well-researched, and the varying faiths and beliefs of characters are suitably intrinsic to the plot. Jerusalem in the time of Saint Paul comes to life with all the senses employed, and a world of political and religious upheaval, oppression, and hope, proves not so different from today. Author Randy Ingermanson balances faith, science, history, suspense and even a touch of romance in a cool exciting tale of today and yesterday, set in the boiling pot of Jerusalem’s conflicting faiths and ideals, both now and then. I enjoyed the way all points of view were offered with just enough respect and honesty to make the characters real, and I loved the way the author leaves some questions open-ended, almost unasked, as freewill and unchangeable histories collide. Disclosure: I found it on a deal and couldn’t resist. I offer my honest review.
  • Meeting of the Mustangs on Sep. 08, 2016

    Black Beauty for the modern American reader, Cathy Kennedy’s The Meeting of the Mustangs allows readers a very convincing view of life through the eyes of a gorgeous wild black horse. The language is simple and evocative, with lovely descriptions of scenery, animals and people, and a delightful sense for how and when an animal might feel frightened or brave. There’s a nice circular story arc that takes the horse from wild to pleasingly wise. And there’s a lovely feeling of life and the value of life. The horse of this story travels the country, experiences the pain of the natural world’s terrors and the world of man, plus the joys of both, and grows to a maturity that is always something different from human—a very believable portrayal of very different emotions. The humans run the gamut from kind to cruel, intelligent to unforgiving, and wise to foolish. And the story leaves the reader glad to have met and known a wonderful horse. Great for middle-grade readers and above—a charming story, filled with life and vitality. Disclosure: I was given a copy and I offer my honest review.
  • Feedback on Oct. 06, 2016

    D. L. Richardson’s Feedback feels almost like two novels in one. First is the tragedy of teens awaiting transplants, forced to view life through a narrow focus of physical tests competing with education, and short-term survival competing with future plans. The author’s teens feel very real, variously angry and depressed, or even suicida - so much so that the introduction of a CIA agent feels almost intrusive after getting to know them. But the novel changes as the agent's story advances, and soon these youngsters are facing a threat far more immediate than gradual decline, and a danger that could destroy all they know and love (or hate). The segues from dejected teen fiction to spy thriller are a little uncomfortable, but it’s fascinating to see these wounded characters coming back to life and hope. The reader is invited into each of their heads, to see life from their different points of view. And the story has much to tell about cruelty, rejection, and belonging to the group. Scientific aspects have a nicely lowkey superhero feel, and I’d love to read more stories starring these teens. Disclosure: I was given an ecopy and I offer my honest review.