Saturday, May 25, 2019

Review: Spine of the Dragon by Kevin J. Anderson

I remember well my first encounter with  KJA book.  I was a very new Star Wars fan who hadn't read anything more than the Thrawn trilogy and while waiting for my aunt to arrive one weekend, I read a book blurb that claimed Luke Skywalker was in a coma and a Dark Lord of the Sith was running amok.  I immediately bought it (and realized later that I should really have read the first two books in the series) just because I appreciated an author with the audacity to go in a less conventional direction.

This is a  slightly odd way to introduce my review, but I feel it's relevant.  Spine of the Dragon was sent to me in the form of an ARC and I devoured it.  It is his return to epic fantasy and clearly demonstrates that this format does not cheat the reader of the things I've enjoyed about his other works.  (In addition to Star Wars, he's written compelling stories in the Dune universe as well as a great read called The Dark Between the Stars.  But that's another topic.)

The best way to explain this first book in his exciting new series is to ask you to imagine a world in which, during Greco-Roman conflicts, the Olympian gods and all their wacky offspring turned out to be not so much a thing of the past as we thought.  That automatically hooked me as a "we've got bigger problems than our national agendas, but it's not simple to reconcile those."  It tells the stories of characters ranging from a besotted prince to a disgraced sorcerer-turned-miner, so that we are all invested in the various levels of these societies.  The war descriptions do not lack for intensity, but are crafted to demonstrate different priorities and strategies.

Something that struck me enough that I actually mentioned it to my straight-laced mother is that yes, the married people get conjugal, but in his best moments, Kevin writes it with attention to intimacy instead of physicality.  I have been looking for books that are able to convey that after many years of cringing through George R.R. Martin's interpretation of how all physical relations work. 

I won't say more about the plot, but definitely encourage people to go out and give this a try because I want other people to discuss it with!

Monday, February 25, 2019

Review: Empire of Light by Alex Harrow

I first encountered the author at a League of Utah Writers conference.  They were co-teaching a crash course on Writing the Other and since, I've been on a panel on diversity with them and followed their Twitter obsessively.

I know their philosophies and inclinations well, so anticipated a very interesting read when I signed up for Empire of Light.  I was fascinated by the promise of comparisons to Firefly and honestly wanted to read a book written under the influence of everything I've learned from Alex's various teaching opportunities.

Let me first say that this is not a book for the faint of heart.  It is a post-apocalyptic New York City in which the space program was scrapped because Earth's inhabitants needed to spend those resources on survival.  There is a kind of caste system that makes the Hunger Games look like a feel-good system of democracy.  There are superpowers out there (the Voyance that the subtitle references), but I don't think I've seen such a polarized magic system since the conflict between Sith and Jedi.

It is not a book for the faint of heart, but it is absolutely worth the read.  When I was given the ARC, Alex included a list of caveats telling the readers about possible hot-button subjects covered in the book.  I read through them all out of curiosity, but was interested to see how jarring they would be when they came up.

The strength of this book is exactly in that polarity.  Alex sets healthy relationships against deeply flawed ones.  We see the damage done within a complicated and damaged family, but also the ties that create a different kind of family.  We are absolutely compelled to keep reading because we  can't identify a single reason to take a side.  (This is also affected by the fact that I am absolutely a fan of one of the most brutal characters.)  It brings to mind the line from Episode III of Star Wars:  "There are heroes on both sides.  Evil is everywhere."  It is hard to trust a single character's actions or motivations, particularly when there is no lack of effective plot twists.

The fight scenes are fantastically written, particularly because of the integration of voluntary and involuntary defensive magical powers.  The system has rules and consequences that speak well of their planning and make me feel a great deal of excitement for whatever comes next.

I recommend this book highly, as you can tell, but it is one where the seedy underbelly of a society and the depravity of a society in a state of collapse are described graphically.  Drug abuse and addiction are major parts of the story, as are very personalized physical and emotional abuse. Those who are not comfortable with profanity should know that it is used as a natural part of the dialogue and I described it as "between Seanan McGuire and George R.R. Martin on a level of how many people punctuate dialogue with profanity."  One early scene was graphically intimate, but I found myself more comfortable with the more passing references to intimate pairings.  I am not as familiar with stories written by and about characters of different sexualities and sexual preferences, but I found their depiction of a demisexual narrator to be both authentic and realistic.  It was actually the first overt depiction of a demisexual that I have seen since discovering that it is a term I relate to, so as soon as Alex inserted that characteristic into the story, I paid attention to the perspective even more. 

I am grateful that I can tell you about this story on its release date and hope you will all go check it out.

Buy here!

Monday, December 31, 2018

Review: Alive: Shadows of a Living Past

Florence Sterling should be perfectly happy. She’s been given a second chance at life with her beloved husband. But all is not well. She yearns for more children, even though Alex is reluctant. Memories of the day she and her baby were murdered still haunt her. And she can’t shake the feeling she will be separated from Alex again. 

As if in confirmation of her premonition, Alex is called on a dangerous mission to enlist America’s aid in WWII. Trying to distract herself, Florence investigates what really happened when her son died. As she searches, she becomes convinced her son is alive, although witnesses say otherwise. And with each clue she discovers, she unwittingly draws closer to her old enemy—the deranged woman who will stop at nothing to destroy her. 

When Alex goes missing in action, Florence must reach deeply into her faith as she faces her greatest fears. If Alex is lost to the war, will she allow herself to love another man and fulfill her desire to have a family? Or will she remain alone the rest of her life?


I was curious to come into this series in Book 2.  Book 1 refers to a forgotten past, while this title promises to refer to that which is still very much alive.

In a story where there are a million things we should be aware of,, it would be very easy to start this review by saying "I wish I had the information I needed to enjoy this book more."  But Marcia writes in a style that I love, in which you are given necessary information without it being a clunky infodump.

The story with its twists and turns is a fascinating and often portentous one, which an effective suspense-building style.  We are clued into dangers without feeling that the author is trying to hold things back.  And the world-building is clever enough that the reader is drawn in as much  by curiosity about what else we'll find there as driven to follow the story.

Perhaps I am at a disadvantage because of not having read the first book, so I am not sure if the character introductions are handled the same way in each installment.  While I enjoyed so much about the book, the beginning feels slightly ponderous because of hammering in the initial importance of the circumstances in which the story opens.  We are reminded again and again in the first act of the book why we should feel strongly about these characters.  I feel as though it would be more powerful to spread out these reminders.

I will not divulge too much in the interest of letting you explore this storyline, but I highly recommend diving into the world of Florence and Alex and the narrative brilliance that comes along with the way the story goes.

Character Casting

Alexander Sterling: Richard Armitage\

 / Florence Contini: Emma Watson

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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Review: Duck, Duck, Moose

I admit two things.  1)  I overslept and had to post this after work.  2)  I picked up this title just because the play on the children's game made me laugh.

Duck’s best friend Goose is gone for winter and Duck is lonely. The animals try to cheer Duck, but Duck, Duck, Pig is too messy, and Duck, Duck, Moose is too scary. Will Duck be alone until Goose gets back? Or can Duck come up with a game they all can play?


I really enjoy books in which friendship is built by working through a problem.  It's a common thing in everything from Lord of the Rings to Okay For Now.  And it's a great way to get children to understand deeper meanings without hitting them over the head with it.

I think that Joy did a great job creating a situation in which we could relate to these animamorphic characters on a very human level, which is something that is an absolute must if I can connect to a book or movie about woodland creatures.  It was sweet, but also something that didn't felt dumbed-down for the enjoyment of little ones.  The illustrations are definitely appropriate to the story.

This would be a good story to read multiple times over years in order to get a child to understand it in a different way as they grow up with the book.

Joy Heyer lives in Virginia with her loving husband and three of her four crazy children. Her oldest child now has a child of her own, making Joy a grandma. 

Her family recently convinced her to get a dog. What was she thinking? The dog now follows Joy everywhere, waits loyally at the front window every time she leaves the house, and goes berserk when she comes back, even if she was only gone for 10 seconds to get the mail. 

In her spare time….wait, what spare time? Whenever her children and dog permit, she loves to read, write, paint, and dream up home improvement projects.

To follow the rest of the tour and get more on this book check out the official page! Loving the Book Book Tour

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Review: Sweet Indulgence

Welcome to today's review of Sweet Indulgence by Debbie White.  It was a refreshing romance to start off the new year and I hope you check it out.
 Debbie is a USA Today Bestselling Author. She currently lives in northern California where the hills are dotted with vineyards and the jagged coastline is nearby. Many of her books describe the beautiful area she calls home. She avidly supports animal rescue by donating a percentage of all book sales to rescue groups nationwide! Now here are a few more interesting tidbits of information about her!

1. Her spouse served in the U.S. Air Force for over 20 years. She uses some of her experiences as a military wife in some of her stories.

2. She has two granddaughters and a grandson.

3. She received her degree in Sociology in 2011 and graduated Magna Cum Laude.

4. She hasn't always dreamed of writing, but she's always loved reading and decided she'd give it a try. Her fans love her so much, she's still putting out books three years later.
Real Men Eat Cupcakes

Annie McPherson has had it with all the blind dates her grandmother and auntie set her up with. She just wants to be left alone to run the Sweet Indulgence cupcake bakery – even if it means she’ll remain single forever.
Jack’s just been through a gut-wrenching break-up, and women are the last thing on his mind. Now he’s on a mission to pick up cupcakes for his niece’s birthday party—not a mission to fall in love. Pulled in by Annie’s good looks and witty charm, though, temptation proves too sweet.
But will Annie’s pesky grandmother and auntie welcome Jack as Annie’s choice or will they have him jumping through hoops to prove he’s the one?
Fans of Debbie Macomber, Sherryl Woods, and Susan Wiggs are sure to love Sweet Indulgence, the first sweet romance novel in the Charleston Harbor series.
This book is too sweet to pass up! Scroll up to one click and begin your indulgence today!


The stand-out element of this book is that not a single one of the characters is a caricature.  Annie and Jack meet in a normal business setting while he is helping a family member with something perfectly reasonable.  (Though I will never understand this current obsession with lovelorn women opening cupcakeries, it's much more palatable than the billionaire romance to me.)  The grandmother and auntie have ritual and order in their lives.  Class dynamics arise and much of the book is occupied with keeping the business that is at the heart of the book running to the best of its potential.

That said, the romance escalates a bit quickly.  Not 50 Shades of Grey quickly and not as slowly as the four-book Twilight build to the honeymoon, but they go from casually hanging out on a boat to French-kissing their brains out in a kind of condensed middle section of the book.  It would have been more effective for the pacing if it were spread out more.  And the ending just made me laugh because of the unexpected twist she throws in.  I won't ruin it for you.

In general, the book made me want to make a pitcher of sweet tea and read this somewhere surrounded by people who say y'all a lot.  And that is a compliment.

Buy here

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Review: Christmas Secrets

"A charming rogue-turned-vicar, Will wants to prove that he left his rakish days behind him, but an accidental kiss changes all his plans. His secret could bring them together...or divide them forever.

Holly has two Christmas wishes this year; finally earn her mother's approval by gaining the notice of a handsome earl, and learn the identity of the stranger who gave her a heart-shattering kiss...even if that stranger is the resident Christmas ghost."

I am very particular about certain things, if you can't tell by my reviews.  I largely avoid Christmas tales, because they so often miss the mark, and I sometimes avoid historical tales because I spend too much time picking out anachronisms when the tale fails to enthrall me.

Fortunately, neither of these things was an issue with Donna Hatch's Christmas Secrets.  It felt like a combination of Downton Abbey and Doctor Who, not for the time period, but because we were dropped into a world with mannerisms and expectations and knew that every character had a rich history that we would work through by the end in one form or another.

It's a story in which people find adventure in the ordinary and stolen kisses do not turn out as intended.  The story itself is an enjoyable comedy of errors at time, but a heart-warming approach to finding happiness in others.  That really is how most of my favorite Christmas tales go (Miracle on 34th Street and It's A Wonderul Life), so I found myself forgetting genre and fact-checking to go along for the ride.  (Though I did check out some of the things I was unfamiliar with because they fascinated me.)


Donna Hatch is the award-winning author of over a dozen books including the best-selling
"Rogue Hearts Series.” A hopeless romantic and adventurer at heart, she discovered her writing passion at the tender age of 8 and has been listening to those voices ever since. She is a sought-after workshop presenter, and juggles freelance editing, multiple volunteer positions, and most of all, her six children (seven, counting her husband). A native of Arizona who recently transplanted to the Pacific Northwest, she and her husband of over twenty years are living proof that there really is a happily ever after.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Review: Dating the It Guy

 Genre:  Contemporary, Young Adult
Publisher: Clean Reads
Publication date: March 21, 2017
Emme is a sophomore in high school who starts dating, Brendon Agretti, the popular senior who happens to be a senator’s son and well-known for his good looks. Emme feels out of her comfort zone in Brendon’s world and it doesn’t help that his picture perfect ex, Lauren, seems determined to get back into his life, along with every other girl who wants to be the future Mrs. Agretti. Emme is already conflicted due to the fact her last boyfriend cheated on her and her whole world is off kilter with her family issues. Life suddenly seems easier keeping Brendon away and relying on her crystals and horoscopes to guide her. Emme soon starts to realize she needs to focus less on the stars and more on her senses. Can Emme get over her insecurities and make her relationship work? Life sure is complicated when you’re dating the it guy.

Besides mining her teen years and humiliating moments for her novels, Krysten is also a book addict who has never met a bookstore she didn’t like. Krysten writes about friendship, self-esteem, fitting in, frenemies, crushes, fame, first loves, and values. She is the author of True Colors, Best Friends…Forever?, Next Door to a Star, Landry in Like, and Competing with the Star (The Star Series: Book 2). Her debut novel, True Colors, won the Readers Favorite award for best preteen book. Krysten’s work has been featured in USA Today, The Flint Journal, the Grand Haven Tribune, the Beavercreek Current, the Bellbrook Times and on Living Dayton.

I have to say that I enjoy it when an author manages to write high school without turning it into an episode of Gossip Girl.  (I have almost no problems if they want it to resemble Buffy: The Vampire-Slayer, but that's a subject for another post.)  I read a lot of YA books wherein high school bears no resemblance to how life worked at my alma mater and sometimes, that's hilariously refreshing and sometimes it just annoys me that the author can't seem to grasp how teenagers think.

This book does not have that problem.  Whether talking about a flaky group project partner, stains that won't come out of your Homecoming dress, or someone complaining about having bombed their French quiz, it felt like a very natural environment.  The main characters meet in a summer school class that Emme is taking because the local newspaper rescinded her internship when they forgot to mention that she needed to be 16 and have her own car.  On her birthday, she gets an awesome present that costs a ton (she's dating an It Guy after all), but he stops and makes them compare class schedules for the upcoming school year.  All of the characters dress like normal teenagers and go to their parents for help paying for a special occasion.

The twist comes with the interactions with the eponymous It Guy, who doesn't seem to understand that he needs to have a better balance between having a good college application and having a good relationship with the girl he's dating.  He skips an event that's very important to her to host a charity auction, which would annoy me, too.  He's grown up as the son of a prominent politician, so is used to being a people-pleaser who doesn't always know when to have quality time one-on-one.  It was a source of frustration to me that he kept missing this point, so I'm glad that there was character development talking about not only his response to the concern, but how Emme felt about the dynamic. 

This is definitely a clean read overall, but the characters make frequent references to who is probably sleeping around and gold-digging and there is public intoxication involving high school students at one point.