Tell Tale: Short Stories by Jeffrey Archer

(4 / 5)

Jeffrey Archer brings us a collection of old fashioned short stories some of which are based on people he has met, and places he’s seen, and some are just from the depths of his imagination. Each story has an interesting twist inconsistent with the foreshadowing set up at the beginning of the stories. There is humor here, and social commentary as well. The author draws the reader into the story world quickly, embroils them in mystery, and entertains at the conclusion. Don’t let the style deceive you. These are thoroughly readable stories.

You Need a Budget by Jesse Mecham

(4 / 5)

 

YNAB is different. The book does not include spreadsheets, or financial calculators, or pages of detailed directions on what percentage of your income should be allocated to what particular kind of thing. Instead, Mecham provides information that can help people change their concept about money and what money is and how to put it to work. Mecham believes money is a tool which will help people create the kind of life they want, rather than money as the end-goal itself. The book includes the usual kind of testimonial stories, which are to be expected in any kind of self-help book, but they are testimonials with a twist which prove that thinking about your money differently, and budgeting differently, can help you change your financial life.

 

 

Mecham gives the reader four rules for money:

Rule one: Give Every Dollar A Job. Be intentional about what you want your money to do before you spend it.

Rule two: Embrace Your True Expenses. Break up larger, less frequent expenses into smaller, more manageable amounts. By saving monthly for insurance premiums, holidays, or car repairs, when the time comes, your money is ready and waiting to do its job.

Rule three: Roll With The Punches. When life changes, so must your budget. Make adjustments and move along. Flexible budgets succeed because they’re guilt-free, realistic, and sustainable.

Rule four: Age Your Money. As you repeat the first three rules, you’ll increase the time between the moment you earn a dollar and the moment you need to spend it. When your money is at least a month old, you’ll have finally broken the paycheck to paycheck cycle for good.

These rules seem simple but for those without the concept of money as a tool, they could be revolutionary. Mecham also stresses that every family situation, and every budget are different. There is no one-size fits all budget option. The information would be invaluable to those living paycheck to paycheck, as well as those without a plan of any kind.

Enough! Thirty Stories of Fielding Life’s Little Curve Balls by Caroline Taylor

(5 / 5)

In Enough! Thirty Stories of Fielding Life’s Little Curve Balls, Caroline Taylor has compiled some of the best of her short stories into one captivating, memorable volume. The majority of the stories are explorations in alignment—Do I choose to align with what others demand of me or with my own desires, my own truth? What are the consequences of living a life that lacks integrity? What happens when I only go halfway? Some of the characters are quietly strong and defiant, as are the ones in Alley Cat, Departure, and the eponymous opening story, Enough! In ways both subtle and blatant, they define for themselves what is acceptable, and what will not be tolerated. In others, such as The Business of Business, Briar Patch, and Maude’s Makeover, they take full advantage of the opportunities they’ve created for themselves: all desperately, one maliciously. And then there are the narratives of Noise, Bonnie, and Plain Vanilla. The people in these stories have made their proverbial beds and now have to decide whether or not they want to lie in them. It may or may not be too late for them to change their minds.

 

Taylor’s execution of stories that cross gender, age, time, and space (literally) is skillful and imaginative. Her characters’ vivid inner lives are what give their external actions such depth of meaning. She has a particular talent for conveying the tension and unease that exists within a person when wrestling with the idea of taking a step (or three) outside one’s comfort zone. Combine that with occasional wry humor (Rules for the Company Picnic, for example), and you’ve got a superb, thoughtful, and thought-provoking read. While many of her characters are learning how to say “Enough!” in their own lives, Caroline Taylor’s Enough! will make you want to say “More!”

Morningstar by Ann Hood

(5 / 5)

In Morningstar, Ann Hood recounts her youth growing up in a small town in Rhode Island. Her immigrant family were not readers, and there wasn’t an abundance of money. But at a young age, Ann fell in love with books. She was encouraged to read by a teacher, and so began her love affair with all things reading. The bigger the better.

Morningstar tells how us how books shaped her life from an early age. One of the most poignant stories includes growing up during the Vietnam War where every night Walter Cronkite would announce the death toll of US soldiers. For Ann, these numbers meant nothing. The US had been fighting the Vietnam War for her whole life. It seemed just something on the TV screen like a movie. Then Ann got a copy of Johnny Got His Gun. The reading opened her eyes to war and warfare and she could no longer look at the news about the war without realizing that these numbers were people. The dead were brother, sons, fathers. The book impacted her life.

Though these stories are not surprising given Hood’s literary guns, they are exquisitely written and moving, reminding the reader of how impactfull books can be, and how they shape our lives and teach us about love, sex, and language, and seeing beyond our own skin.

Transference by Kate Jonuska

(4 / 5)

What do you do when you wake up one morning and every thought and physical sensation of those around you makes you feel nauseated and dizzy and completely overwhelmed? You probably don’t think, “Yay! I have superpowers now!” Like Transference’s leading lady, Janet Buckmann, you might be more likely to think of it as a super-curse and hope that it will just go away. Unfortunately for her, it doesn’t, which leads her to seek out the assistance of therapist and neighbor, Dr. Derek Verbenk.

 

Derek has issues of his own, starting with an inappropriate relationship with a patient that leads him to being fired from the therapeutic practice his grandfather started. He is simply going through the motions in his own private practice when Janet shows up. While Derek is grappling with how to help Janet cope with her newfound ability, Janet’s telepathy mirrors back to Derek the person he has become, and it’s not someone he likes. Could the relationship possibly be curative for both of them? Maybe, if they don’t drive each other crazy first.

 

Transference is a punchy, bright read from first-time novelist but long-time writer Kate Jonuska. The dialogue and chemistry between Dr. Derek Verbenk and Janet Buckmann (and between Derek and himself) is sharp and delightful and provides a strong backbone for this sometimes funny, sometimes serious, most often captivating story. When we first meet them, Janet is as combative and frenetic as Derek is myopic and stagnant. How each person evolves, and hence how the relationship develops, is clumsy and real and enjoyable to read. Jonuska deftly creates two people, that although initially unlikeable, unwind enough of their own dysfunction to become charming and appealing through their flaws and humanness. You can see the beginnings of an interesting relationship forming, and the author adroitly keeps that tension throughout the novel, without projecting too far ahead or playing coy with what might or might not happen between the two. Kate Jonuska has a keen, witty, unique voice that will likely only get more incisive and vivid with time. In this case, you don’t even need superpowers to see that.

Deadly Focus by Sue Hinkin

(4 / 5)

None of this would be happening if she had just let him jump. She wouldn’t be sitting in a windowless prison in the-middle-of-nowhere, Mexico, if she had just let him jump off the ledge of that dive hotel in Hollywood, California. Not that Lucy could have probably actually done that — she’s a good person, after all, but it certainly would have made her life much easier. There’d be no murder, no poisoned cattle, no Mexican drug cartels, and no sexy CNN correspondent. But then, where’s the fun in that? And S.A. Hinkin’s Deadly Focus: A Vega & Middleton Novel certainly is fun.

 

Deadly Focus’s main protagonist is Lucy Vega, a smart, headstrong reporter who gets drawn into a world of political intrigue beyond her imagining when her uncle is killed in a car accident. While wet roads and bad weather are officially to blame, Lucy suspects something more sinister is at play, and decides to find out what really happened. Her sleuthing takes her to a far-flung village in Mexico, where she uncovers an international heroin operation abetted by corrupt law enforcement and a priest who is not near as holy as he seems. She also discovers that her imprisonment in Mexico and her uncle’s death on the Pacific Coast Highway are much more connected than the geographic distance would suggest.

 

This is the first book of the Vega & Middleton series. Lucy Vega, Bea Middleton, Ray Truckee, and the lot are likeable and genuine, and Hinkin does a good job of portraying the trust, camaraderie, and friendship that develops between people when they have been working together for a while, often under tense circumstances. While the Middleton of Vega & Middleton takes a bit of a back seat to Lucy in this book, Bea is a strong, capable, entertaining character in her own right. Hopefully we’ll see more of her in a future Hinkin novel. Until then, Lucy and her wild, page-turning exploits in a remote Mexican jungle will definitely satisfy those looking for a story chock-full of adventure and chicanery with a tough, tenacious, and tender heroine at its heart.

The Prize by Geoffrey M. Cooper

(4.5 / 5)

Scientists are often thought of as being hardworking and disciplined and the kind of people whose reason and intellect usually prevails over the baser human traits of envy, hubris, and greed. The Prize’s Pam Weller sure fits that description. As a matter of fact, her years of perseverance have led her and her team to one of the most monumental scientific discoveries of our time – a potential cure for Alzheimer’s. It’s the kind of work that could easily garner her a Nobel Prize. While her research is quite promising and there is much cause for celebration, not everyone is so thrilled with Pam’s findings. Eric Prescott, a renowned scientist and Alzheimer’s researcher in his own right, is watching his own chances at the prestigious award slip away as Pam appears to have had the scientific breakthrough he had long been hoping for. He decides he can’t let that happen, no matter what the cost.

While author Geoffrey M. Cooper is no stranger to writing (he has several non-fiction books under his belt), this is his debut novel. You wouldn’t know that from the way he writes. His sentences are smooth and lean. The dialogue feels natural; the means and motives of his antagonists are solid. He does a brilliant job of simplifying the testing involved in medical research for us non-scientists while still maintaining the integrity of the processes. Cooper effortlessly changes the point of view between characters, allowing the reader to know who did what before those in the story do. Hence, the real thrill in this thriller comes from seeing if the good guys will put all of the pieces together before it’s too late, or if Eric Prescott will get away with his crimes. The Prize is a clever, suspenseful page-turner for seasoned lab-coat wearers and novice geeks alike. The real question here is not whodunit, but what took Geoffrey M. Cooper so long to start writing fiction. If he ever gets tired of test tubes and academic politics in real life, The Prize proves that he has the imagination and literary chops to have a robust second career as a writer.

Over the Moon by Linda Joffe Hull

(4.5 / 5)

With a push or two and a ‘hee-hee-ho’, we are propelled back into the delightfully crazy world first imagined by author Linda Joffe Hull in Frog KissesOver the Moon picks up with Sunny St. Clair-Dey giving birth to her second child with husband, Adam.  Of course, it being Sunny, adding another member to her family is just the tip of the iceberg of the chaotic, occasionally neurotic, swirl that is her life.  First, there’s the presumably well-intentioned but intimidating and overbearing mother-in-law that comes to stay with Sunny and help out with the new baby. Then there’s a gigantic business deal for Sunny and her sister, Luna, that has the potential to make all of their monetary dreams come true.  Or so it would seem.  Third, there are those pesky emails that seem to suggest Adam is having an affair.  He wouldn’t, would he?  He has been gone a lot and has been quite evasive lately. . .  I haven’t even mentioned The Cream, Jake’s startling psychic visions, Atlas’ odd lack of them, or the Next Mrs. St. Clair.  Oh yeah, and the super yummy ex-boyfriend who wants Sunny back in the worst way.  Whew!

 

Linda Joffe Hull does a beautiful job of creating very human characters who are likeable, flaws and all.  They are down to earth and talk the way real people talk, which is easier said than written.  The problems her characters face are honest and they are tackled in real and imperfect ways.  Her writing is infused with engaging whimsy and wordplay that comes across as fun and natural, not contrived or cringe-inducing.  One of the best parts about reading Over the Moon is that you feel as though Sunny could be someone you know – that smart, pretty friend who is a bit high-strung, a little myopic and always trying to juggle too many things at once, but nevertheless is good-hearted and is someone you’re glad you have in your life.  Or maybe she’s you.  Either way, the continuing adventures of Sunny St. Clair-Dey and her clan will leave you smiling and glad that you’ve invited them into your life to stay.

Heaven’s Crooked Finger by Hank Early

(4.5 / 5)

Earl Marcus grew up in a fringe Pentecostal church run by his daddy in the fingers of the North Georgia mountains. Daddy was a snake handler and forced the young Earl to be one too. Except Earl got snake bit and nearly died and, for five days his daddy left him where he lay, to live or to die, according to God’s plan. Earl rejected God that day, and Daddy, and he walked away from both to live his adult life filled with beer and bourbon. Flawed and wounded, Earl spends his days investigating petty crimes as a detective.

 

Thirty years later Earl gets a letter. His Daddy is missing though that can’t be possible because Daddy died a few months before. Earl decides it’s a scam and will leave it be, but he receives another letter that his granny, the only person who ever loved him, is dying, and he has to go home. Earl travels home to Georgia and realizes that he needs to know the truth. Is Daddy dead or alive?

 

The book’s initial setting feels like a hidden character, moody and dark, and evocative with inherent conflict. The tone of the chapters focused on Earl’s early life are filled with arcane religious images which are eerily compelling, believable, but frighteningly so, while the present day chapters seem stilted and forced just as Earl is stilted and forced as he moves through the dichotomy of his life’s past and present. These two sides wrestle against each, steadily increasing in tension and intrigue until Earl reaches the top of the mountain, though not of his own accord.

 

The Beaten Territory by Randi Samuelson-Brown

(4.5 / 5)

The Beaten Territory is a fast-paced, deeply textured tale of three women whose lives interconnect in late nineteenth century Denver. Annie, enmeshed in the prostitution trade, yearns to become an independent businesswoman, with her own saloon and brothel. Lydia, owner of the building Annie rents, is drawn to Hop Alley and the opium dents to supplement her laudanum additions while her naiveté exposes her to risks she doesn’t suspect. Annie’s niece, Pearl, is nurtured into the trade by her aunt and is soon trapped into a life of prostitution. Attractive and resentful, she plays the game, waiting for her chance to get out. The lives of the three women intertwine, but each exists in her own world, none knowing enough about the others’ affairs to sense how much of a spider-web their lives eventually become. When each attempts to satisfy her own goal, all are put in danger.

Samuelson-Brown’s use of vivid, metaphorical language brings historic Denver and surrounding towns to life. Many passages are almost lyrical in tone without subtracting from the story itself—a delicate balance. Her secondary characters convey the shadiness of the red-light districts of the past and add depth to the story. Setting and flavor are admirably accomplished.

But it is the masterful weaving of individual stories that makes this novel stand out as unique. At the onset, each character has her own separate story. Annie, Lydia, and Pearl each have dreams as well as flaws that hold them back. Samuelson-Brown adeptly establishes each of the three as sympathetic while never losing track of the rough edges that make them who they are. As she winds the three plotlines together into a complicated tapestry, she reminds the reader of the tragic influences of the underworld. The story is a captivating yet realistic glimpse into prostitution in the Old West and how trapped such women became, despite their strengths.

Dark Signal by Shannon Baker

(4 / 5)

There’s something about trains that evokes excitement and nostalgia in many folks. Maybe it’s the hypnotic clickety-clack of the train as it moves on the rails, or the spirited whooo-hooo of the whistle as the train pulls out of the station, ready to transport people and goods to faraway cities. However, the train in Dark Signal by Shannon Baker is not that kind of train. It is a place of shattered windows, icy steps, and inky blackness where there should be light. It is a place of murder.

 

The grisly, suspicious death of a BNSF engineer takes place one bitterly cold January evening on the rails outside the small town of Hodgekiss, Nebraska. Lifelong resident and newly appointed county sheriff, Kate Fox, has her plate full trying to figure out who would kill a local resident and why. While her partner in the case, state trooper Trey Ridnoir, quickly zeroes in on another native of Grand County who certainly seems to have means, motive, and opportunity, Kate isn’t so sure. As she searches for evidence to disprove Trey’s theory, she finds herself in the kind of danger that could bring the murder count in Hodgekiss to two. Or more.

 

Dark Signal, the follow-up to the first novel in the Kate Fox series, Stripped Bare, is intriguing and engaging. While it would have been nice to see Kate herself mulling the case over and having a couple of “aha!” moments as she went along, (many of her thoughts seem to be about Trey being wrong and whether or not to trust her gut, instead of putting clues together) the author does a good job of creating a plausible whodunit that will leave many readers guessing until the end. All of the characters are well written, each coming across as genuine and distinct from the other. Several of the characters are quirky and enjoyable in a way that only some small-town people are, and they bring humor and a sense of earthiness to Shannon Baker’s fictional town. Baker also beautifully conveys the stark, breathtaking landscape of the Great Plains in midwinter, giving her story a wonderfully tactile sense of place. That place is one you’ll want to return to in future Kate Fox novels, if for no other reason to see if there might be more to Kate and Trey’s relationship than just solving crimes.

19 Souls by J.D. Allen

(3.5 / 5)

 

19 Souls begins with a great opening line.

 

Her bloody finger left a translucent smear on the phone screen as she glanced through the list of private investigators in Vegas.

 

 

The sentence raises questions. Who is she? Why is she bloody? Why does she need a PI? Is she a victim? Is she a killer? Turns out she may be both. The PI that she calls is Jim Bean. Jim thinks he is on track when he picks up a new client, Sophie Ever

s, the above-mentioned woman. Sophie contacts him because she needs help finding her long-lost brother, Daniel. But soon Jim discovers the truth. Daniel is not Sophie’s long lost brother at all. In fact, Daniel is the brother of Cynthia Hodge a.k.a. the body. There’s been a murder. Remember the opening line?

 

And so begins the bizarre series of twists and turns of the novel.

 

This thriller is fast paced. The main character is engaging and the story begins deceptively as a noir tale with a straight-laced but reserved PI with a tragic past but makes an unexpected turn. Soon Jim is on the hunt for a killer a.k.a. his client.

The Pirate Bride’s Holiday Masquerade

 

(4.5 / 5)

Pirate Andre Dubois can deny his wife nothing. They both know that. So even though Andre much prefers the high seas to dry land, when Sophie Bellard Dubois asks to spend Christmas in New Orleans with Andre’s father, he reluctantly agrees. What neither of them know is who is also home for the holidays — fellow pirate and arch enemy, Gilbert Harrington IV. Sophie has still not psychologically recovered from the scars Gilbert left when he forcibly robbed her of her maidenhood five years earlier. Once he finds Sophie in the Crescent City, he demands she privately entertain him again, lest Andre be thrown in the stocks. Sophie fears there is no way out, unless she can create one of her own.

 

 

Cathy Skendrovich’s sequel to The Pirate’s Bride is a saucy, delightful romp through eighteenth-century La Nouvelle-Orléans. The liberal sprinkling of French throughout Holiday Masquerade adds charm and texture; the story is briskly paced and realistic. Sophie is fierce and independent. So it makes sense that the high point of the book comes when she regains her sense of power over Capitan Harrington, and even though Andre is present, she doesn’t need him to save her.

 

Skendrovich does a wonderful job of creating chemistry and passion between the two title characters. Those are key to a really good romance, after all, and Andre and Sophie have them in spades. That is fully evident in the titillating lovemaking scenes sprinkled throughout the book. From bed to bed and beginning to end, Andre and Sophie are lively and entertaining. Even though The Pirate’s Bride: Holiday Masquerade is set during Yuletide, it is a perfect read for any season.

The Clan Calling by Wendy Terrien

 

 

(4 / 5)

The Clan Calling

Chronicle Two—Sadie in the Adventures of Jason Lex

 

(Terrien is releasing two books simultaneously: The League of Governors, and Clan Calling, both are sequels to The Rampart Guards)

 

Sadie’s no stranger to superpowers. After all, she’s seen her friend Jason Lex shoot bolts of electricity out of his hands in The Rampart Guards. But putting people to sleep? That’s a new one, and one Sadie didn’t ask for and doesn’t want, at that. However, that’s often how it works with the owners of superpowers, and Sadie Callahan is no different. In The Clan Calling: Chronicle Two—Sadie in the Adventures of Jason Lex, Sadie soon figures out that people unexpectedly dozing off in her presence is the least of her worries. An uninvited white-haired stranger starts showing up at her house at the same time as her beloved, usually healthy and sharp grandmother, Mamo, is suddenly beset by a series of intensifying nightmares that leave her weaker and more disoriented after every episode. What the unwelcome guest eventually reveals to Sadie will shake her to her core and ultimately force her to make a decision that will irrevocably reshape her family and her future.

 

The story is nicely paced, balancing well-written action with a solid, character-driven plot. Sadie is thoughtful, strong, and courageous — important attributes in every young heroine, with or without superpowers. Author Wendy Terrien does a wonderful job of creating an empowered, capable female protagonist that adeptly holds her own in the male-dominated urban fantasy genre without having her overcompensate to do so. It’s also interesting to read about shape-shifting as a painless, non-traumatic event, although Sadie might say otherwise about the after-effects. Both adult and YA fans of The Hunger Games series or Ransom Riggs’ peculiar children (to name but two) will find much to like in The Clan Calling. Terrien has created a world that is as unique, engaging, and memorable as any out there. It’s a good thing this is only the second book in the series because you can tell by the way the book ends that the excitement is really just beginning.

League of Governors by Wendy Terrien

 

 

(4.5 / 5)

 

The League of Governors

Chronicle Two–Jason in the Adventures of Jason Lex

 

(Terrien is releasing two books simultaneously: The League of Governors, and Clan Calling, both are sequels to The Rampart Guards)

 

 

As The League of Governors begins, Jason Lex is still recovering from the battle that ensued when his mother betrayed her family and tried to wipe out the human race in The Rampart Guards. But the scars on his hands have scarcely healed when his father, Zachary, and sister, Della, go missing and Jason and his uncle Alexander hightail it to League headquarters in London to find them. Jason quickly discovers there is something sinister behind Zachary and Della’s disappearance when the two reappear but aren’t really the same. In fact, no one in the League is quite normal. And that is saying something when “normal” includes Yetis and Kappas and Ahools. You would think all of the fanged, clawed, poisonous cryptids are what Jason needs to be afraid of at the League. You would be wrong. It’s the little purple pills.

 

In the second book of her urban fantasy series, Wendy Terrien takes us on an engaging, exciting adventure to the League of Governors and the secrecy and wickedness hiding therein. Even though the narrative is easily solid enough to stand on the strength of its characters and action alone, the unique elements of the fantastic that Terrien incorporates are what make The League of Governors stand above many of its YA counterparts. The invisible buildings and mind-controlling, power-enhancing serum are clever and well thought out. The Orwellian wristbands that everyone in the League wears are as brilliant as they are terrifying, as they may not be all that far-fetched. In addition, it’s refreshing that Terrien mixes in a wide variety of cryptids; in recent years, one might be forgiven for thinking there were no interesting creatures in all of myth and folklore other than vampires and werewolves. From cover to cover, Wendy Terrien’s The League of Governors is a thoroughly entertaining, satisfying read. Those who enjoyed The Rampart Guards will not be disappointed, and for those whom this is your first Wendy Terrien novel, it will likely not be your last.

The Essential Carl Mahogany by Zach Boddicker

 

(3.8 / 5)

The self-effacing, chaotic, past-his-prime, doubtful, ambivalent, awkward, sometimes arrogant, but usually humorous main character in Zach Boddicker’s novel The Essential Carl Mahogany, is at the proverbial crossroads. What direction should he go in his life? And besides the van named Percy who should Carl bring with him? Carl’s mission is to figure out how to get his shit together and to find his soul which he lost working in the country music industry, except Carl perpetually gets sidetracked by…pick something. Anything. This is why Carl isn’t all that famous of a musician. Sometimes life just happens.

 

There is no dire conflict within the story. No swashbuckling. No hero action. All of the conflict is the soul-sucking daily kind, but Boddicker tells his tale with so much broken self-awareness that you are drawn in by the prose. The story is an oddball, misfit kind of thing that is difficult to categorize as other than a fictional memoir, but the moodiness of the setting and the narrative tickles your ear like a beloved old country song you forgot you knew.

The Discharge by Gary Reilly

(4 / 5)

In The Discharge, Private Palmer is home from Vietnam. Everything that served him previously, his training, his skills, no longer applies, and Palmer flounders to make sense of “home” and what that means. The evolution from military personnel to private citizen is laborious, arduous, and problematic. At a loss with what to do with himself, Palmer wanders the streets of Denver, ambles around San Francisco, follows that inevitable movie dream in Los Angeles, but has that bleak moment where he questions all. Palmer returns to Denver, the place that never left his subconscious, to where he finally finds some sense of belonging.

 

The Discharge has the moody quality of a memoir, with emotional depth and moment by moment details, as if you are eavesdropping on Palmer as he shares his story over a beer at a bar with an acquaintance he hardly knows. Maybe Palmer drank too much and shared more intimate moments than intended, only Palmer wasn’t aware of it. The telling is frank and uninhibited and careens between both past and present remembrances sloshing amid tangible vignettes of memory, sensory perception, and moody interruption. Palmer’s journey corkskrews him on the quest of a man trying to find himself again after the disruption of the war and death and distance and time. Ultimately, when Palmer returns from battle he is trying to be the same person he was before Vietnam. But that is just not possible because the ends of a spiral never touch.

The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking

 

(3.5 / 5)

Written by the CEO of The Happiness Institute in Denmark, The Little Book of Hygge attempts to translate the concepts of Hygge (pronounced hue-gah) from Danish to American English, something that doesn’t translate overly well, but basically, means something like “cozy” or “comfort.” Hygee, according to the author, is the main reason that Danes are the happiest people on the planet, and it is something they practice in daily life, both at work and at home.

 

The concepts provided in the book are simple, and yet suspiciously difficult (I suspect) for Americans to achieve. We are not an overly cozy people in my experience, especially in the current political climate. But perhaps if we made some effort we would be more apt to be happier as a whole. The key to happiness, it seems, is to slow down and enjoy the moment, enjoy your friends and loved ones, and have a coffee and a piece of cake. This is oversimplified, but it’s the gist of it. Hygee creates little pockets of warmth in one’s life, though the author admittedly states that this can also make it difficult to invite new people in.

 

Hygge is all about atmosphere and experience, something the book presents again and again in quaint and cozy variations. Curling up with a good book is another way to experience Hygge, and this book gives a good overall presentation on the concept in demonstrable form. Pour yourself a coffee. Grab a blanket, and curl up and read this book during a thunderstorm and you will have a physical example of this elusive word.

 

Mind Virus by Charles Kowalski

(5 / 5)

“Religion is the smallpox of the mind, and I am its Jonas Salk,” states the evil mastermind who is behind a wave of global terrorist attacks in Mind Virus.  The villain (whose name shall not be revealed here so as not to spoil some of the fun) believes the optimum way to eradicate this virus of the mind is to kill the infected hosts – otherwise known as people of faith.  Enter religious studies teacher and Army veteran, Robin Fox, whose job it unwittingly becomes to stop these international attacks and find the person responsible.  His task becomes all the more personal when colleague and friend (or more?) Emily Paxton is kidnapped and held as leverage to get Fox to stop interfering in the terrorist’s plans.

 

It is no wonder Charles Kowalski won RMFW’s Colorado Gold Award for Mind Virus.  It is a thoroughly-researched,  thoughtful novel regarding the nature of belief, and how what we believe governs how we treat each other, and in turn, how the way we are treated instructs what we come to believe.  Don’t let words like “thoroughly-researched” and “thoughtful” fool you – Mind Virus is also well plotted, nicely paced, and packed with action.  To wit, Professor Fox survives several attempts on his life, saves the Royal Family from a terrorist attack, and makes it from D.C., to Israel, to London, and back during the Passover and Easter holidays.  Not bad for a week’s work.

 

In Mind Virus, Kowalski skillfully tackles some of the largest issues of our time – namely religion and terrorism and their respective roles in shaping who we are as a global people.  And who we are choosing to become as we move forward.  He adroitly weaves together Bible verses, deadly nerve agents, and the imminent murder of thousands of innocent people to create a brilliant, riveting read.  Hopefully, we will see much more from Charles Kowalski in the years to come.

Rather be the Devil by Ian Rankin

 

(4.5 / 5)

John Rebus has given up cigarettes. Seems he is waiting for the results of x-ray. If the shadow on his lung won’t deter his acerbic wit, then nothing will. Rebus has also givin up his job. Sort of. He’s now retired, bored, and in need of a hobby, and so finds himself begging to solve an old, unsolved murder. DI Siobhan Clarke has mercy on him and gives Rebus some case files for an unsolved murder from 1978 which involved a wayward wife, a rock band, and a mob boss. But who done it? That is what Rebus needs to discover.

 

Gangster Daryl Christie has been beaten near to death, which becomes Clarke’s case. And when a former detective is fished out of the harbor, DI Malcolm Fox is assigned to assist. The three cases seem to intersect, which then brings the three former colleagues (Rebus, Clarke, and Fox) into an uncomfortable alliance. But are they separate cases?

 

Rankin’s 21st book in the Inspector Rebus police procedural series has masterfully woven his adept characters with suspenseful plots, and colored them all with the seedy side of Edinburgh. The story is a gleeful excoriation on members of the greedy elite, and Rankin juxtaposes those supposedly noble characters with the ruthless criminal class. Though Rebus is shadowy in this book, perhaps echoing the shadowed lung, and other characters take front and center in the investigation, it is Rebus who untangles the web of intrigue.

 

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

(4 / 5)

Neil Gaiman revises the ancient sagas in Norse Mythology and refashions them into an enjoyable retelling of the exploits of the gods, while staying true to the original stories. From the creation of the nine worlds through to the end of time, Gaiman includes the creation stories, and the births of the gods, including Odin, Thor, and mischievous Loki. These versions are not like the movie portrayal perhaps, but there is a depth to the characters that is both subtle and courageous.

 

Using the threat of Ragnarok as the narrative arc, Gaiman shows both the humor and misfortune that permeates the sagas. Ragnarok—the end of time for the gods who will ultimately die—also offers a time of hope for mankind. The stories are infused with an emotion lacking in earlier translations, as well as motivations for actions and events, also lacking in earlier translations. Plus, Gaiman adds interesting and colorful dialogue that helps to bring these characters to life. Clearly Gaiman has loved these stories since childhood, and his treatment of them shows on every page.

 

Norse Mythology presents a worldview that is very different from our everyday life, but it can still help us to learn about humanity as a whole, especially since some of the tales feel particularly relevant to today.

Still Black Remains by Kevin Michaels

(3 / 5)

“To turn or change shape under torsion”.  That’s one of the ways Merriam-Webster defines ‘twist’.  It’s also an apt name for the main protagonist in Kevin Michael’s latest book.  Still Black Remains is the story of Skulls gang member, Twist, and the internal contortions and distortions he undergoes as his beliefs, desires, and humanity come under increasing pressure and strain from real-world people and events.  Those events ultimately lead to Twist having to make some life-changing decisions for himself and those around him.  Whether he adheres to his own moral compass or forgoes his humanity will be up to the reader to decide.

Much of Still Black Remains is a buildup to the climax at the end of the book.  Portions of the dialogue come across as formal, and therefore lack a sense of urban authenticity.  Conversely, Michaels does a good job with setting a scene and using the kind of detail that paints a clear picture of Twist’s environment.  It is in its third act that Still Black Remains comes alive.  The action is well done, to the point but visceral and complete.  It chases away some of the mental cobwebs and muted connection to the characters that comes from Michaels’ heavy-handed efforts in earlier chapters to convey how pointless and isolating Twist’s life feels.

The author spends a lot of time communicating the despair, powerlessness, and detachment that Twist and his companions experience.  Michaels does that so effectively that the reader begins to wonder why he should care about their lives if they don’t even care about their own.  ‘Meaning’ is a significant underlying theme in Still Black Remains.  Does anything have meaning other than the meaning we give it?  If so, what happens when we stop ascribing meaning to a thing?  Does it become worthless?  Then what?  It’s ultimately up to each individual to decide that.  Kevin Michaels wisely doesn’t pretend to know the answers.  He’s just asking the questions.

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

(3.8 / 5)

In Certain Dark Things, a lonely street kid named Domingo, hooks up with an Aztec vampire named Atl, who is on the run from another species of vampire after her family was murdered for their drug cartel ties. Atl must make it to South America and needs Domingo’s help to get there.

 

Set in Mexico City, the author subjugates the classic vampire tale and intertwines it with Aztec and Mexican mythology. As Atl shares her past, we learn a vast amount about the vampires that inhabit Atl’s world; There are multiple species and sub-species of vampire, and if one considers the vast array of vampire mythologies from so many world cultures, this wide array of vampire species not only makes sense, but it’s a very clever twist on standard vampire lore.

 

The story line, though simple, is layered with evocative color in the telling, and the world building is tangible and tactile But the characters are not particularly likeable, and word choice and voice give a dirge-like feel to the book as a whole as the story moves forward. A very unromantic romance develops between Domingo and Atl that may or may not be a slap at the romance genre.

 

Though this new take on the vampire tale is fresh and interesting, the tale is less thrilling than it should be.

Deer Michigan by Jack C. Buck

(4.5 / 5)

Jack C. Buck’s Deer Michigan is a wide-ranging flash fiction collection that while set in very American locales like Michigan and Colorado, speaks to a much more universal set of human experiences.  The sixty-three tales that comprise the anthology range from the literal to the fanciful, from the nostalgic to the self-punishing – sometimes moving from one to another within the same story.  They can be little snippets of life, something that in real time might be a mere moment, or they can be odes to entire lifetimes.

 

For example, Grand Rapids, Michigan evokes a particular American era before computers and global terrorism, when children were wholly absorbed with the important business of being children.  Even if Grand Rapids was never your town and you don’t know of a life without cell phones, Buck makes you feel the sticky heat of summers in the Mid-West and ache for the wild freedom of having so much life stretching out in front of you.  Conversely, Conversations in an Idle Car is deeply intimate and closes in around you.  It is about that moment in a relationship when it hits you, that you know for sure it’s over.  Almost without saying a single word.

 

Buck’s talent as a writer lies in describing any given sliver of life so well and with such detail that one can’t help but be there, wherever there is.  But he also somehow manages to encourage your own memories and imaginings of times real or dreamt of.  There is a poetic rhythm to many of his stories, a slow to and fro that compels the reader to witness and to feel and to become a part of Deer Michigan.

Promised to the Crown (Daughters of New France) by Aimie K. Runyan

(3.5 / 5)

In 1667, King Louis XIV created a program to promote emigration of young women to New France as wives for Canadian colonists. Promised to the Crown follows the story of three fictional young women who answer the call. Rose leaves a bleak life in a charity hospital; Nicole hopes for a better future than that promised for a poor farmer’s daughter; Elizabeth flees her mother’s schemes for her future.  Each has her own demons, her own dreams, and her own story.

 

Runyan masterfully creates a composite tale, combining accounts of many of the real King’s Daughters into a single captivating story that weaves the lives of three women together.  She is able to create characters with believable flaws and complicated histories. Her adept merging of historical facts from the lives of many women to build these three distinct protagonists speaks to Runyan’s skill as both a researcher and a writer. Each woman responds uniquely to the unexpected realities of Quebec: its harsh climate, difficult conditions, the sometimes discouraging attitudes of those already there.  Expectations are tested when Rose, Nicole, and Elizabeth discover life in New France to be different than anticipated. All three women demonstrate resiliency as they adapt and grow. Historical information not utilized for her main characters is highlighted via dialogue and secondary characters.

 

Each of the women in the novel has faults and makes choices that can sometimes be a bit exasperating to the modern reader. It is a credit to Runyan’s skill that she is able to motivate their seventeenth-century responses with backstory. Her careful construction of their personalities allows us to identify with them despite the span of time and culture that separates us from them.  The book is worth the read to glean a glimpse of this often forgotten chapter of history.

Stack A Deck: Book Four: The Weir Chronicles by Sue Duff

(3.5 / 5)

To Do List:

  • Save Earth and its twin planet Thrae from destruction by your father Aeros and his brother the Primary.
  • Rescue both Gwynn, your mother and one of three sisters whose combined powers have been essential to the survival of the planets and Rayne, the woman you love.
  • Do it all without much of your Sar power while being pursued by Aeros, who is busy slaughtering all of the innocents who get in his way.

Welcome to Ian Black’s life.  Welcome to Stack A Deck.

 

Author Sue Duff has done a wonderful job of creating a world and people similar enough to our own so to be relatable, yet different enough to be interesting and original.  The plot of Stack A Deck is well thought out, creative and complex.  However, occasional clunky sentence structure and unfortunate syntax and grammatical errors distract from the flow of an otherwise good book.  If those flaws weren’t present, I would have given it four stars.  There is a glossary in the back of the book, which is helpful especially if one is new to the Weir world.

 

The fourth book of The Weir Chronicles has a solid storyline and lots of action.  However, it would be great to see the action scenes fleshed out a bit, as well as a more full-bodied description of the differences of environment between Thrae and the various colonies on Earth.The ecology in particular, seems sparsely illustrated.  That being said, the characters are engaging and the plot rolls along nicely, feeling neither contrived nor illogical.  Overall, Stack A Deck left me wanting more, and mostly in a good way.

Ghosted by Judith Docken

(4.5 / 5)

Freelance writer Hannah has a predilection for the unwanted and for distancing herself from others (with the exception of her cat), so when she comes across a Victorian era house for sale located in the wilderness outside of Calgary, she knows she’s found the perfect place. Tucked an hour away from everyone she knows, she soon discovers that it is someone else’s place as well—the resident ghost, who has scared off all previous owners of the beautiful, lovingly crafted home. But Hannah is as intransigent as the ghost and refuses to leave her newfound sanctuary. The two battle for control; all changes to the home are met with door-slamming and the knocking over of lamps, and even her cat starts behaving strangely. When Hannah’s journalistic drive leads her to discover what motivates her spooky companion, she finds a commonality between the two of them—and wonders if the ghost’s fate may also be hers.

 

Judith Docken paints the small town of Spruce Valley and its denizens as well as the quiet beauty and solitude of the woods outside Calgary in a way that makes the reader visualize it all perfectly. She possesses a strong voice as a writer, as shown by the subtle details of her characters, all who feel like distinct personalities. Hannah, the protagonist, is an independent, stubborn, and completely relatable woman in her early thirties with a penchant for wine and an equally independent and stubborn cat named Jimi (for Jimi Hendrix, whose black hair the cat resembles, which I found to be a nice touch). Any cat owner will chuckle knowingly at Jimi’s antics, as well as Docken’s deadpan humor, which contrasts perfectly with the heavier aspects of tragedy and loss that pervade the story. Ghosted is a strong debut novel from Docken, and a thoroughly enjoyable read.

The Pirate’s Bride by Cathy Skendrovich

(5 / 5)

 

The Pirate’s Bride is a story about the young, but beautiful, Sophie Bellard, and her handsome, though unwilling, husband Captain Andre DuBois. Both parties are forced into a political marriage by their pirate king fathers, they part ways after a disastrous wedding night. Freed by the death of her father, Sophie trains to become a pirate under her father-in-law’s watchful gaze. Soon, Sophie is sailing the seas as a pirate fearsome enough to rival her husband. They meet, and passions flare, but Sophie holds a dark secret that might destroy any chance they have at happiness. After a terrible accident, it’s uncertain whether the lovers will be together at all.
I found this action-packed romance refreshing and invigorating. Sophie is a young, independent woman with a desire for freedom, and Andre is a sexy and passionate male lead. The accurate historical facts in this book only made me fall deeper into the story as I read. The author, Cathy Skendrovich, does not leave a person wanting as she carefully balances her fight scenes, her romance building, and her passionate encounters to create a story that is not only believable, but highly enjoyable. Skendrovich really gets into the magic of New Orleans, and paints a picture of the town and the high seas as they would have been hundreds of years ago. Even though the characters are from a different time, I could relate to their passion for life, and the emotions they faced with each new twist of fate. She will leave you rooting for Sophie and Andre to succeed in their love, and crying at the challenges they face. I would highly recommend any historical romance lover add this to the top of their reading list.

Conan the Grammarian: Practical Guidelines on Grammar and Craft for Fiction Writers by Susan Mackay Smith

(5 / 5)

Conan the GrammarianConan the Grammarian: Practical Guidelines on Grammar and Craft for Fiction Writers humorously and concisely shows that grammar can be both entertaining and informative. Writers of fiction need to be able to tell their stories clearly and powerfully which makes a good knowledge of grammar essential. Through Smith’s alter ego Conan, it is clear that this book was written with a passionate love of language, and with the desire for authors, if they don’t share in that passion of language, not to make dumb writing mistakes which make Conan fly into a berserker rage.

 

Don’t be duped into thinking that Conan the Grammarian is a dullard because you happen to find grammar dull. Conan is incredibly witty and intelligent and has crafted a string of surprisingly funny sentences to prove his point. 

“She wore a dress the same color as her eyes her father brought her from San Francisco.” You’re smart and talented, and you have a suspicion that her father probably didn’t bring her a pair of eyes from San Francisco. You know when to laugh at your autocorrect when it incorrectly suggests you add a comma. In reality, you know the difference between to, too, and two, and there, their, and they’re. You’re a pro, right?

Maybe, but what about those other tricky situations? Do you think your editor will fix it? Good luck with that.

 

The topics included in the book make it clear that this grammar was written for novelists, but it is a good reference for anyone wanting to improve their writing skills. This is the rare kind of book that should be recommended reading for all aspiring writers and some professional ones.

Apocalypse All The Time by David S. Atkinson

(4 / 5)

 

Apocalypse All The Time“It’s the end of the word as we know it, and I feel fine.”

 

Sometime in the near future the world has become a dystopian society where apocalypses of all sizes and magnitude are a normal part of life’s routine.  Unlike other post-apocalyptic fiction, the world of Apocalypse All the Time is collapsing from every kind of imaginable horror – impact apocalypses, nuclear, climate change, zombie, and even alien invasion apocalypses.  Marshall is sick of it.  Life is constantly in danger and continually disrupted by one apocalypse or another, but nothing significant ever changes and no one seems to die.  Ever.  The emergencies are always handled by the Apocalypse Amelioration Agency and their Wizard of Oz-like leader, Malcolm.  Like the best heroes of fiction, Marshall is out to change that.  But instead of saving the world, he sets out to stop the reign of apocalypses.

 

Quirky and entertaining, Apocalypse All The Time paints a vivid picture of a world gone weird and one man’s daily struggle to manage while life crumbles around him on a regular basis.  What makes Apocalypse All The Time unique isn’t the subject matter.  The end of the world has been coming in literature for years, and America as we know it has been decimated and destroyed repeatedly by plagues, disease, explosions, and the un-dead.  What makes this book different is that while Doomsday keeps coming, the world averts disaster over and over until one man decides he has had enough.  In Not Quite So Stories, Atkinson examined society’s need to explain and demystify the world through short stories that concluded that life is so absurd, it is beyond our comprehension.  In Apocalypse All the Time he explores the impact an allure with apocalypticism can have on the way we live our lives and the effect it has on us. It is an absurdly funny exploration of society’s fascination with the end of the world and the trend of endless apocalypse predictions.

Unexpected Prisoner: Memoir of a Vietnam POW by Robert Wideman and Cara Lopez Lee

(4 / 5)
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On a cloudless day in May 1967, Robert Wideman heard a noise that would change his life forever.  It was a small, simple click.  That seemingly innocuous noise meant the A-4 Skyhawk that Robert had been flying over Vietnam had been hit.  Robert was forced to eject from his plane only to land on North Vietnamese soil and subsequently be taken prisoner.  The story that follows in Unexpected Prisoner is a recounting of Robert’s harrowing, gripping ordeal as a Vietnam POW.

 

After Robert was captured, he was forced to strip to his underwear and march blindfolded and bound, in mud and cold from one village to the next as his captors led him to the first of many prison camps in which he would be detained.  In each camp he would experience varying degrees and types of persecution and suffering. Throughout his imprisionment in North Vietnam, he was interrogated repeatedly by North Vietnamese soldiers.  They would not hesitate to torture him (although Wideman doesn’t see it that way – he says so many others suffered so much worse than he) if he did not “answer correctly”.  He bears some of the physical and mental scars of his captivity to this day.

 

Wideman would finally be released in March 1973, after spending time in the infamous Hanoi Hilton in addition to other lesser-known prison camps.  In Unexpected Prisoner, he writes frankly of his time in North Vietnam, the conditions he endured as well as the unforseen difficulties of living in a stressful, demanding environment with other American POWs.  His matter-of-fact narration allows the reader to easily be there with him through the fear and the boredom, the friendships and the betrayals, the hopelessness and the hope.  Robert never paints himself or his fellow POWs as saintly, just human.  And it is in reckoning with his own innate imperfection under inhumane conditions that Robert allows us to glimpse the elemental divinity within us all.

The Book That Matters Most by Ann Hood

(4 / 5)
9780393241655Ava’s twenty-five-year marriage unravels after her husband Jim leaves her for another woman. Ava’s children are grown; her son if off to work in another country and her troubled daughter Maggie leaves for Europe to attend school. Ava is lonely and desperate for company, and though she is not an avid reader, she begs her friend Cate to let her join Cate’s monthly book group where members choose the books they want to discuss throughout the year. This year’s theme is for each member to choose the book that mattered most to them over the course of their lives. Ava, struggling to name a book that matters most to her, chooses a book from her childhood which she read after the traumatic deaths of her sister and mother, for which Ava blames herself. Ava, trying to fit in with the group, tells them that she has invited the author of her book to come to the group and speak. The problem is that Ave does not know, nor can she locate, the author. Maggie disappears in Europe, and Ava must now find both her daughter and the author. These quests both confuse Ava and help her to untangle secrets from her past including the death of her mother.

 

The Book That Matters Most if filled with misdirection but ultimately these direct the reader to a predictable ending. In spite of this, the story is smoothly written as it examines grief and healing, and is filled with a tangible depth of emotion. Hood weaves humor throughout the moody and intricate plot and builds suspense, forcing this reader to turn pages.

The Rampart Guards: Chronicle One in the Adventures of Jason Lex by Wendy Terrien

(5 / 5)
Jason Lex’s life irampart-guardss changed when his mother is presumed dead from a mountain lion attack and her blood-stained jacket is found. Full of grief, Jason’s dad needs to start fresh and moves the family to Idaho, where Jason knows no one except his Grandmother. Since moving to town, Jason can see weird flying creatures and wonders if he is going crazy, especially since he swears he saw his mom after her death. Soon after this confusing experience, Jason discovers his family’s secret about their connection to cryptozoological creatures. Jason’s family has kept the creatures from overpowering the world with their negative energy for centuries, but now that Jason’s mom is dead, the creatures are out to take over the world and only Jason can stop them.

Terrien does an excellent job of instilling the action-packed adventure story with teen nervousness and dread while dealing with difficult emotional issues, such as the death of a parent, family shame, guilt and hurtful secrets. Terrien creates charismatic characters and weaves them into a fast-paced plot set in a seemingly real world full of amazing cryptozoological creatures which are both endearing and fearsome. The use of magical elements is delightful and makes this novel, the first in the series, appealing to many audiences. I was intrigued and captivated by this story.

The Ninja’s Daughter: A Hiro Hattori Novel (A Shinobi Mystery) by Susan Spann

(5 / 5)
The Ninja's DaughterIn 1565 Kyoto, Japan, Ninja Hiro Hattori is awakened by a knock at the door. There has been a murder, and Hiro and Father Mateo, a Portuguese Jesuit, head off to investigate. Hiro discovers a family relationship with the deceased’s father, but distrust between family and clans, misdirection of clues, lies, espionage, and the pressing political tensions due to the recent death of the shogun, make the case a difficult one to solve. Then the local police forbid the investigation, and Hiro and Father Mateo are forced to dodge both threats and blackmail. But the death of the innocent girl presses on Father Mateo and the two can’t just leave it unsolved. They must find the murderer even when continuing the investigation is at their own peril. They find themselves going in circles around potential suspects, but nothing is what it seems. They discover an illicit relationship, stolen property, and treasure, while circumnavigating the customs and hierarchy of feudal Japan. All the while the potential new shogun threatens war.
Susan Spann’s writing is exquisitely precise just like her ninja character Hiro Hattori is precise. Not a single word is wasted. The descriptions of 16th century Japan are vividly painted, but not overwrought, and the author clearly has done her research into both the history, and beautiful, but sometimes brutal culture of feudal Japan.
Her characters are clearly defined, so much so that as a reader, I could judge them by the things they did not say. Each character’s look, each action had clearly defined meanings. The story drew me in from the first sentence and the plot twists and turns surprised me again, and again. I loved this book.