Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Tuesday Book Reviews

The Churn: An Expanse Novella (The Expanse)

5-star review of The Churn by James S. A. Corey

This novella tells the back story of one of my favorite Expanse characters, Amos Burton. His life as a young adult in the mean streets of Baltimore, during a time when Earth, Mars and the Belt haven’t yet become embroiled in war, explains a lot about his abilities, his sometimes ruthless, sometimes tender behavior. It’s as well written as the novels in the series so you can experience what life was like for him. We even learn how he got his name. The Churn occurs due to a crackdown on crime and mobsters, and seals Amos’ fate.

The Loot (Charlie McCabe Thriller Book 1)

4-star review of The Loot by Craig Schaefer

Schaefer’s first crime thriller and the first in a new series follows Charlie McCabe, just back from her military tour, where she was a bomb defusing expert. That skill comes in handy in this fast-paced story. Charlie must come up with money to pay her father’s bookie. The job she gets with an agency that provides protection for wealthy people won’t pay nearly enough to provide the amount she needs. There are several great characters in this story that behave consistently, including Charlie. I enjoyed this enough that I’ll look for the next in the series.

Dying to be Fathers: A Dai and Julia Mystery

5-star review of Dying to be Fathers by E. M. Swift-Hook and Jane Jago

A great addition to Swift-Hook and Jago’s stories about Dai and Julia in a Britain where the Romans were never defeated. This time Dai, his brother-in-law and nephew are kidnapped and Julia is about to give birth but is asked to temporarily take charge. So many of the usual characters are involved in the efforts to find the three and learn why they were taken. This has to be my favorite alternate history series.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Sunday excerpt

And now for something completely different, here's a bit from my kids' book, So You Want to be a Dragon:

On a sunny, warm day in the second month of summer, I was selling clams and oysters to hungry passersby in the central marketplace, when my little sister came running up to me. Her eyes blazed and her hair was wildly disheveled. Cora was seven going on forty, always trying to boss me even though I was six years older and a foot taller. We had the same dark brown hair and brown eyes, even the same turned up nose, sprinkled with freckles.
Cora tugged at my hand. “This way!”
“Where are we going? I still have shellfish to sell.” I pointed to what was left on the table at the front of my stall.
“Come on, Bekka.” The urgency in her voice was compelling.
I followed her down an alley, redolent with the odor of rotting vegetables and spoiled fish. The alleyway appeared to end in a high wall, but before we reached it, she turned left into an even narrower passage between two-story brick buildings I’d never been down before. About half-way to a dead end, she stopped abruptly and studied the side of the building on the left, then touched three chipped bricks.
A section of wall slid sideways, leaving a gap just wide enough for me to slip through, tearing my gray tunic in the process. Cora didn't have any difficulty following me. Once the section closed we were left in pitch black. I conjured up a light and held it out in both hands. It couldn't illuminate the darkest corners of the small room, but it was enough to see the dirt floor, a single chair with broken slats in the seat, and an old wooden table. The latter had once been painted green, but only flakes of paint remained. The skittering of rodents was the only indication of something alive in the room. At least the stench wasn't as bad as in the alley.
“We'll be safe here,” Cora said.
“Safe from what?”
“Safe from the dragons that burned everything on the south side of Lorando. A lot of the harbor is gone.”
“Cora, how did you know about this hidey-hole and the way in?”
“Derry told me about it last winter. Didn't he tell you?”
Derry was our neighbor, a year older than me, and always getting into trouble. No matter how many times our mother warned us to stay away from him, neither Cora nor I could.
I didn't answer. Instead, I inspected our surroundings. “How did you know about the dragons? And how long do we have to stay here?” I walked over to where my sister sat on the cold, hard ground.
“I saw some people running from the harbor, and asked one. She didn't stop but she shouted at me, telling me to take shelter. I...I couldn't find Mother, but you were just where I thought you'd be.”
I sat beside her. “How will we know when to leave?” Besides the fact that it was dark except for my light, we didn't have any water and, to eat, only the small sack of raw clams I'd grabbed.
“Give me your hands.” My little sister held hers out, palms up.
I placed my larger ones on them.
“Now close your eyes and what do you see?”
I gasped. In my mind was a vision of the south part of town, the harbor smoking but no longer aflame, and three huge dragons flying out to sea.
“It's safe to leave here now.” Cora let go of my hands and stood. She found the secret spot to push to open the way from the room and we stepped outside again.
It was as if the dragon attack had never happened. Almost. Smoke from the harbor had reached this central section of town. The smell of burnt wood and flesh was faint, but added to the putrid alley smells, it made my stomach queasy.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Holiday Book Reviews

Happy Holidays

The Fifth Doll

4-star review of The Fifth Doll by Charlie Holmberg

Well-written as all of Mrs. Holmberg’s books are, but I found it a bit disturbing. Very imaginative. Nesting dolls are part of Russian culture, but she has used them in a unique way. Matrona lives in an idyllic insular village but is attracted to a younger man although she’s betrothed to another. Returning a paintbrush to Slava thought to be a tradesman and living in the largest house in the village begins her journey. The bit of Russian history, retold in the middle of the book, was probably unnecessary although it explained part of Slava’s motivation. The mystery of the dolls in Slava’s home and of the village is revealed piece by piece the same way as the dolls are exposed from first to fifth.

Ye Olde Magick Shoppe

4-star review of Ye Olde Magick Shoppe by Claire Buss

Fun-filled as always when Ned Spinks and Jenni are on the scene. A mysterious magic shop has appeared in town and when the investigator and the sprite from The Rose Thief, well, investigate, they’re spirited away to a spot miles out of Roshaven. How will they get back and thwart the owner of the shop? A quick read guaranteed to bring a few laughs.

The Dragon Reborn (Wheel of Time, #3)

5-star review of The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan

The third book in the Wheel of Time series continues to follow the adventures of Rand, Perrin, Mat, Nynaeve and Egwene from the Twin Rivers, Elayne the daughter-heir to the throne of Andor, and Moiraine the Aes Sedai and Lan her Warder. Despite their fleeing Tar Valon in book 2, the girls are raised to the level of Accepted. They take off again after thirteen Black Ajah. Perrin is with Moiraine, Lan and Loial on his own path, and Mat with Thom (yes, Thom’s back!) but all of the paths converge, like the threads in a pattern. This is what it means to be Ta’veren.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Sunday Excerpt

Here's an excerpt from A Bite of the Apple, my award winning novella:

Have you ever wondered why I travel so much?” Aunt Gill asked in a low voice as we worked side-by-side at the sink.
I sensed her eyes on me. “I thought it was because you found it enlightening and enjoyable.” Glancing at her out of the corner of my eye, I rolled up my sleeves, but they were already wet with soap suds.
Well, it is that, surely. But I don't travel only for pleasure.” She paused as if unsure how to say something. “I'm sent by the Council.”
The High Council?” My voice squeaked in surprise. They'd ruled the land since democracy replaced the monarchy in our country more than a hundred years before. “What can you do for them?”
Oh, a bit of this and a bit of that.” She waved a hand vaguely.
I waited to see whether she'd say more, and eventually she did. “Often I act as a courier, carrying letters that cannot go through official channels.”
Oh!” That sounded infinitely more exciting than traveling only to see the sights. “I bet you've met the most interesting people!”
Yes, yes, I have.” She hesitated. What had she chosen to leave out?
Go on.” I forgot I had two dirty knives in my hands and stared at her.
She studied my face before she continued. “There are times when my task is more dangerous.” She said the next slowly, perhaps to be certain I understood the gravity. “I'm sent to obtain information our government needs. Or explore a place we've never visited before. Sometimes to establish a relationship with their government.” I must have looked stricken because she added, “I've been well-trained for my work, as you will be.”
Me?” The knives clattered as they fell into the basin.
Aunt Gill sighed. “I'm not getting any younger. It's time to prepare my successor. I've proposed you to the council as my replacement.”
I shook my head. “What do I know about these things? I've never been farther away from home than Romik except the two times we went to the seashore at Cobend. I...I grow vegetables and tend to animals.”
She nodded. “And so you must be trained. You'll return with me to the capital, and we'll begin your education.”

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Tuesday Book Reviews

She Faces Her Enemy: Learning Who "They" Are

4-star review of She Faces Her Enemy by Sharleen Daugherty

The second book in the Double Doll series is an interesting account of how the author changed her life and found out who or what her enemy was. The influences of Navajo culture that helped with those changes and her interest in promoting Navajo weavers are instrumental in her changes in viewpoint. She learned she didn’t have to face her enemies alone.

The Elixir War

3 star review of Elixir Wars by Margena Holmes

Interesting story filled with action, including a climactic sword fight, and romance. The premise is that Radern wants to control the manufacture of the Elixir, a substance that gives the characters abilities, some named and some not. Abilities, that is, not characters. Prince Jordan is tasked with rekindling his romance with Deyka Radern to find out her father’s plans despite the fact that Jordy is engaged to Samara. He’s also a pilot. Judicious editing could make the story flow more tightly and turn telling sections into showing, making this a gripping four- or five-star story.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Sunday excerpt

Here's a short piece from the second book in the Crystal Odyssey series: Under Two Moons

The bell above the front gate to the Manor grounds pealed the fourth chime, and Carys, my sister Morna and I raced down the hall from the kitchens toward Madoc’s rooms. We arrived out of breath to find my brothers and Kerr already there to hear about our expedition. With only two chairs, we all stood.
I frowned. “Does this mean we'll have to lay the fire the first night?” Madoc told me the last to arrive at this meeting would have to.
I'm sure these gallant young men will help you ladies gather wood.” Madoc smiled at us.
Yes, while you watch.” Kerr folded his arms across his broad chest. The Duke's older son was going with us as a condition for the Manor's resident wizard leaving so soon after his last trip.
Madoc ignored him. “I'll start by warning you, our journey will be long and sometimes quite arduous. Blane, Carys and Nissa can testify to the rigors of travels in unknown lands. We cannot predict what perils we'll encounter. Know this, though, we’ll rarely sleep in a comfortable bed, or eat a meal like the wedding banquet we ate yesterday.”

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Tuesday Book Reviews

The Big Crazy (Skip Langdon #11)

5 star review of The Big Crazy by Julie Smith

Skip and Adam weather the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Smith incorporated actual events played out by fictional people. The storm might have stopped the usual way of life in the big easy, but it didn't stop crime. Families were separated like the ones in the story, and the hospitals overflowed at the same time as they lost power and we're flooded. Built in tension. This was an intense and terrific read.

Banged-Up Heart: Dancing with Love and Loss

4-star review of Banged-Up Heart by Shirley Melis

An emotional memoir is mainly about the short marriage of the author to her second husband and her coming to grips with his death. The book is well-written in a literary style. Mrs. Melis makes all the people come to life with details many memoirists and biographers fail to do. Two years after the death of her first husband, she met the love-of-her-life, John. An engineer, music-lover, photographer, etc., he died too young of an unexpected form of cancer. It took time but she realized she could live on.