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.

Where to buy in print


Divide by Zero
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 90,350. Language: English. Published: November 27, 2014 by Indigo Sea Press. 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: 6,590. 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: 4,080. 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: 10,660. 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: 3,860. 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

Sheila Deeth's tag cloud

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.
  • Untamed Dreams Curse Of The Opal on Feb. 27, 2011

    A young adult novel with pre-teen flavor (well, apart from “lean muscled” bodies and faded jeans “snug on the waist and thighs”), Christy Frazier’s Untamed Dreams starts with seventeen-year-old Kayli entering her senior year of high school while staying with great-aunt Tilly. Kayli is scared of thunder, misses her parents and little brother Alex, takes photos with a Nikon Coolpix, and wonders why Aunt Tilly’s old house feels so strange. But a good dinner might help, just as long as Aunt Tilly doesn’t tell her too many times that “You’ll have to get to know Colton; I think you’ll like him.” Connie is Kayli’s car. Suzanne and James are Kayli’s parents, living elsewhere because of James’ job. Jill is Kayli’s friend. And Colton, who lives over the garage, is more than he seems. The world of teen girls and school comes to life when Kayli spends time with Jill, but a different world of mountain streams and beauty is introduced when she gets to know Colton at last. And more worlds wait in dreams. Untamed Dreams is grounded in the reality and genuine conversation of loving family and friends and dented cars, while dreams soar into realms pleasantly reminiscent of Pirates of the Caribbean. The writing is awkward in places with some unlikely word-choices, but it’s a fun story for modern pre-teens, with a real depiction of high school and an ending that promises more. Disclosure: I was given a free ecopy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • As The Twig Is Bent: A Matt Davis Mystery on Sep. 01, 2011

    A police mystery with likeable characters, a working marriage, some decent detective work and some scary crimes, Joe Perrone Jr’s As the Twig is Bent is a fine beginning to a new series. The reader is invited deeply into killer’s and victims’ heads (and beds) as a gruesome crime spree rocks New York’s tenth precinct. Detective Matt Davis juggles job and home life, sometimes losing track of the one or the other. His friend goes out with too many women. The woman newly added to his team has gone out with too many men. And husbands are returning from trips to find their wives brutally raped and murdered. Bent twigs grow into crooked trees, and there are many lives haunted by their pasts in this book, each seeking new chances to flower in the future. Grounded in the intricate details of everyday life, from making dinner to fly-fishing and golf, from using the internet to plugging in the wires, the novel builds a clear picture of many disparate characters who wander in and out the pages. Murders are described with the same close care and attention, and the murderer becomes very real, very wounded even as he becomes more clearly irredeemable. The church gets involved when there are suggestions of religious overtones and ritual. Newspapers find their own way to share the facts. And the politics of criminal investigation play their part. The author has a nice sense of timing, bringing the story to a fast scary climax, while genuine research with the NYPD fuels the details of slow investigation. The crimes are haunting, the criminal very real, and the reader is nicely led to see the danger as tension builds, making this a fun thriller filled with believable people and plausible danger set in a very real world. Disclosure: The author sent me a free ecopy of this novel 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.
  • 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.
  • Opening Day: A Matt Davis Mystery on Feb. 18, 2012

    Cozy in setting and characters, gritty in detail, equally convincing in police procedure and the tying of flies for fly-fishing, Joe Peronne’s Opening Day takes Matt Davis out of New York City but keeps him firmly in the world of crime and victim. Village life is filled with well-drawn characters met at station, diner, on the road or by the river. But even the quietest, safest place can hide secrets, and a dead body found in the water may be just the first of many. While Davis quietly fishes for clues, runaways look for freedom. And the mystery’s not just who-dun-it; it’s also who was done and how. The countryside’s ease lends a gentler touch to this second book as it follows As the Twig is Bent, though the dangers of life and road are depicted with the same clear-eyed honesty. I enjoyed seeing Davis continuing his career, still using his skills, but growing as a person, making this much more than just another police procedural. I’m looking forward to reading book three—Twice Bitten—and to spending more time in the company of good people, in the countryside of upstate New York’s good rivers and trees. Disclosure: I am grateful for the author for giving me an ecopy of this novel after I reviewed As the Twig is Bent.
  • 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.
  • Divide on April 25, 2012

    Charles Dickens told his tale through the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. Alexandra Lanc brings her confident schemer to the crossroads through an alien’s presence on a train, an alien who looks with simultaneous abhorrence and adoration on the protagonist, and whose gift is to reveal what the future holds. The protagonist has a gift of persuasion and a future filled with promises of success. Why waste time worrying about anyone else? But mistakes of the past might have formed her more than she knows, and refusing to learn might fuel even greater mistakes. The stranger doesn’t teach, just shows, past, present and what’s to come. And the lesson becomes clear. The setting’s intriguing—a future world where alien and human live side by side, and gentle skills might wield unconscionable power. The deceptively simple telling of a new graduate catching a train pulls the reader in. And the mystery of past and future is nicely and intriguingly told. The lesson’s well-learned too in this pleasingly modern, inspirational short story filled with echoes of our own present, past and future. Disclosure: I received a free ecopy of this short story from the author in exchange for my honest review.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • My Butterfly on July 31, 2014

    S. J. Byrne’s My Butterfly tells a tale in several parts, starting with a scary scene of sexual violence and its aftermath. But the crux of the story is the protagonist’s road to recovery, beyond the confines of psychotherapy, away from the love of her daughter, and off among the lochs and castles of Scotland. Having been to Scotland, I truly enjoyed the author’s descriptions of familiar places. I found the dialog very convincing, well-rendered with accent and dialect, though not always easy to understand. My Butterfly deals, not just with the fear engendered by violence, or the displacement of starting a new life, but also with issues of guilt and control. Some telling scenes reveal “the world is full of all manner sexual tastes an[d] many of them are misunderstood...” as Katherine explores the balance between pleasure and pain. Twin languages of art and romance are beautifully and evocatively rendered, with pleasing humor creating a convincing picture of two people falling in conventionally romantic, but unconventionally gratified love. Still, love is a risk, and perhaps a holiday romance is all Katherine needs... just one of many sexual choices, where time takes away the chance to control what happens next. “The intimacy level of their relationship only deepened” says the author as the tale progresses, but will it last? Not an easy read, nor a quick one, My Butterfly asks intriguing questions, invites the reader into scenes of both pleasure and pain, has great dialog once you get past the accent. It comes to a pleasingly satisfying conclusion too, as fate plays its part. Disclosure: I won an ecopy a while ago and I offer my honest review.
  • 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!
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 22: The Biography of a Gun on Nov. 10, 2017

    In a world of well-regulated gun-ownership, the number of guns and gun deaths should surely fall. But an illegal weapon might take on a life of its own, passed from hand to hand, crime to crime, and punishment to punishment. Author Christopher McPherson tells the story of those hands wielding their weapon in this tale, and quietly invites the reader to ponder the meaning of gun ownership, gun regulations, gun temptation, and more. In a world of drugs and guns—and flawed human beings—this book might even be a must-read. Each character—each victim, bystander or villain—has a name and an age. Each life is endangered, not always directly by the gun. Each accident or deliberate crime is plausible and scarily real. And each time the gun is fired, the lives of real people are changed. Like the butterfly effect, one crime in one place leads to another seemingly unconnected, and the gun, the bullets, or the people are to blame. From women in love to children in need, from father taking risks to mother taking control, from planned betrayal to betrayal by chance—a path that never leads quite where the characters want, born of laws that never lead quite where the legislators planned—22 has the sense of a cool collection of cleverly connected short stories. It's an evocative novel of real people in real places, and an enthralling, thought-provoking depiction of a world where people haven’t changed. Touches of humor lighten the darkness of these tales. Touches of pathos deepen the shadows. And touches of raw humanity make this a novel that’s truly hard to put down. It’s highly recommended. Disclosure: I was given a copy and I offer my honest review.
  • Epitaph on Dec. 10, 2017

    "Crazy Amy" hears epitaphs from the dead. Her family works by the graveyard, so it’s easy to keep her secret, and to benefit from it. But Amy’s not in this for money, and she’d love to have a normal life. When reporter Kevin interviews Amy, she tells him his sister’s calling out for justice. But Kevin’s sister died in an accident. Why would he reopen an old investigation, and old wounds? But those wounds are going to be opened anyway. Incautious words of the living are as dangerous as those of the dead, and someone’s out to silence any witnesses, real or imagined—or psychic. Kevin falls for Amy. Amy’s brothers protect her. And pleasing humor lends a light touch to a fast-flowing dangerous adventure, making Epitaph an enjoyable paranormal romantic suspense and a great start to a series. As natural with human technology as with spiritual strangeness, the writing’s fast and clear, the protagonists are fun, the characters are intriguing, and the danger is well-contained. Disclosure: I was given an ecopy and I offer my honest review.
  • The Reconciling: The Overcome Trilogy Part I on March 16, 2018

    Starting with a truly intriguing premise, as a girl grows up hiding a secret by wearing gloves, April Lynn Newell’s The Reconciling takes readers from quiet small town with trees, to high school with teasing, and to someplace strange where a high king Roi might even seem to be real. Hints of Narnia and echoes of The Magicians thread through the story. It’s a fast, fun adventure; it wears its mystery lightly, disguised as stories in the Book; and it offers plenty of food for thought, plus hope for the chance to read Part 2. The reconciling is an enjoyable, intriguing read, despite occasional point of view confusion. It’s relatively short (satisfying in a world of sprawling epic fantasies) and sufficiently complete to read on its own. It’s also sufficiently incomplete to entice readers to look for more. I’d certainly enjoy seeing how these teens put the things they’ve learned to good use. Disclosure: I was given an ecopy and I offer my honest review
  • Mistfall on May 01, 2018

    Told in a pleasing voice with great personality and humor, Olivia Martinez’s Mistfall builds from a premise that’s intriguing and thought provoking, whatever (if any) your faith. Earth’s gods and monsters keep their distance from earth’s inhabitants, but warring parties reveal there’s a lot not yet known about the female protagonist, a jinn on the run, unsure of who she can trust. When best-trusted keep darkest secrets, and best-loved might be best-failed, the old phrase “ignorance is bliss” gets turned on its head, as does the protagonist. Ignorance drives men to war, and war is coming to Mistfall. An intriguing story, with strong enough characters to really pull in the reader, this novel draws to a convincing conclusion, leaving the reader wanting to know more. I hope there will be more. Disclosure: I got this on a deal a while ago and wish I’d read it earlier. Definitely intriguing.
  • neXt on Feb. 14, 2020

    Lance Manion’s fast-moving, quirky collection of short stories blends fascinating spins on words and ideas with odd philosophical musings, creating a book that’s both easy to read and curiously absorbing—even haunting—like haiku in prose. There’s a childlike delight to my favorite story—She don’t fade—where a character is advised to remember what pufferfish do when they’re scared. And there are plenty of scares. Procreation is another frequent topic, handled amusingly as people are compared to trees in A Wonderful Thought… Ruined. Excellent titles entice the reader throughout, fascinating science intrigues, curious humor amuses (and sometimes confuses), and together it’s a cool blend of real, impossible, imaginary tales told with self-deprecating humor, cool wordplay and worldplay, and happy delight. Then there’s the cover—okay, that’s definitely odd; it fits the book perfectly. Disclosure: I was given a copy and I enjoyed it.