Category Archives: Four Stars

The Passer

The Passer4 Stars

The Passer by Robin Christophersen is a welcome genre-blending story by a first-time novelist. We follow Dr. Eleanor Bouchard, accomplished actress and professor, attempt to put her life together after the death of her boyfriend. On the one year anniversary of his death she is visited by an otherworldly visitor with an unsettling message. Eleanor is then thrown into a mystery where she must not only figure out the message’s meaning, but also understand herself. New powers begin to awaken in her for the first time, which only adds more murkiness to dark waters. Matters become complicated further when a former flame, Daniel Archer, who has suffered the tragic loss of his wife comes stumbling into her life along with his step-daughter, Amelia. Eleanor begins to feel strange connections to the two of them and discovers that their meeting may not be so coincidental in the first place.

The Passer is an interesting read. Christophersen mixes romance, paranormal and even a bit of mystery to make an increasingly intriguing story. You would not suspect it even being an indie read, given the polish that is displayed on the pages. I was not expecting to be hit with so many “genre” elements, but they all manage to work well and complement one another. The book itself is a fast read and I was a dozen pages in without even blinking.

Eleanor as a protagonist is easy to follow, even if she is almost “too” accomplished, given her two professions. The professorship and her role as a Shakespearean actress seems almost intimidating, even to the reader, but her grief and struggle gives the reader a very tangible doorway into her mind and soul. The fact that she is on her own path to self-discovery despite being so accomplished is an excellent technique to use for the reader to be carried alongside the character on her journey.

The novel is deftly paced and reaches a satisfying conclusion. There were points that felt drawn out, but I think Christophersen balances this with the other genre elements. The quotes from Shakespeare, I feltm were heavily on the nose, considering what Eleanor does, but I could let that go, Christophersen clearly has a passion for Shakespeare and I can make a little room for the Bard. The plot may even be weighted down with the extra elements and confusing plot tangles, but by the end Christophersen untangles these and gives the reader a very satisfying story.

Overall, I believe The Passer to be an excellent read for those looking for not only an interesting plot, but a book that brings something new to the table of genre-blending. A very satisfying debut novel from a brand-new author. If this is the first book that Christophersen produces, readers should be on the lookout for the next.

Pages: 444 | ASIN: B00G2QC69Y

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The Battle of Barkow

The Battle of Barkow by [Simmonds, Paul]4 Stars

The Battle of Barkow tells the tale of dark vs light, good vs evil, from a world where magic is not all bad, and religion is not all good. He takes readers into the mind of his characters and through them shows the good and bad of society. In the words of Paul Simmonds, “Two men will embark on a journey that will change their lives forever, if there is a forever at all. For in the world that they live it is not named nor is it entirely different from that of our own early world” (Simmonds: prologue).  The characters are intricate and plagued by the same assemblage of emotions as any other person; kindness, compassion, greed, hate, bigotry and evil. This superb confluence leaves you wondering who is going to come out on top in this novel, the simple man of God, the magician, the girl that doesn’t speak, or the dark forces that are mounting?

The story starts out with a man, hidden in a cloak speaking with an elderly woman. No names are used, but it is clear the women is a sorceress and he is there for her assistance. He is angry, he feels he has been wronged by others and denied his rightful riches and power, this woman offers him the vengeance he so greatly desires, but warns the price he will pay will be high. While she does not disclose the price, it is implying that it will not be all together pleasant for the man, but he hesitantly agrees desiring his vengeance over all else. From here the story jumps 125 years later. We meet Bolan, a simple man of God. He takes no excessive pride in his status and simply ponders life as it comes, he does not dwell too much on the past or the future. He agrees to take on an assignment for the church delivering holy books to the neighboring towns. With him goes his longtime friend and magician in training Hogarth. Hogarth can do simple magic but longs to learn more, to become something great in world that will make a difference. It is on this journey that they meet Sterre, the young women that does not speak but communicates in a form of sign language and drawings. Sterre has the gift of visions and has predicted a great danger to the city of Barkow. Barkow is the capital of sorts for this world, it is where the Pope lives and where all their laws begin. Towns outside of Barkow are not as strict as in the holy city. Bolan, Hogarth and Sterre travel to the city of Barkow to warm them of  the impending trouble that Sterre has foreseen. While they are traveling to the city, the dark forces are also headed there as well. They have no names to start, as readers we only see their evil and destruction, wiping towns out, stripping them of all life leaving no one alive to bear witness to what has happened.

The journey that these three take brings them in contact with many others, some are willing to help fully, others offer veiled advice. Some are strong war heroes that have their own battles to fight but ultimately must decide between their own personal gains or the greater good. We are left looking at a vast cross section of people whose characteristics could be anyone in modern society. In The Battle of Barkow Simmonds is able to show us that their may be darkness in us, but being good is a choice, and often times we fall somewhere in between.

Pages: 240 | ASIN: B06XK7YDBX

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A Small Bronze Gift Called Mirror

A small bronze gift called "Mirror": A Mystery Novel4 Stars

Lydia is a sixteen-year-old girl living at a boarding school. Her mother died when she was young and her grandmother Maria raised her. On her sixth birthday, Maria gave Lydia a bronze mirror and told her to treat it like she would treat herself. She grew up on the run, moving at a moment’s notice, trying to stay one step ahead of a killer with a scarred face. Maria thinks Lydia will be safe at the school, so she leaves her there, then disappears. The boarding school is reserved for students with mirrors like Lydia’s. Unlike regular mirrors, these show the reflection of a spirit. Lydia learns to talk to the reflection that she calls Phoebus. She has a few friends, but she’s obsessed with finding her grandmother.

When the headmaster of the school forces Lydia to compete in a mirror contest, Lydia and Phoebus hatch a plan to run away and find her grandmother. They escape after the contest, and a helpful stranger sets them on the trail of a conspiracy that goes back centuries. But the Managers of the reflections are in pursuit, and Lydia becomes a fugitive. She and Mario—a friend of her grandmother—chase clues all over Europe. They discover the truth of Lydia’s past, and uncover a hidden power that could change the world.

There are some good things to like about this book. Lydia is a strong-willed, independent teen who takes matters into her own hands. Growing up like a fugitive has taught her to be resilient and resourceful, the same skills she needs to uncover the secret of the mirrors. It’s not hard to understand Lydia’s plight or her determination to get to the truth. Many of the people she meets are also in hiding, traumatized by the past, or possibly lying to her to keep her from the truth.

The story is wonderfully original, a unique take on magic mirrors that’s vastly different from the fairy tale version. I also enjoyed that friendship plays such a big role in the story. Calypso, her dearest friend at school, helps her understand her own mysterious mirror, and they become as close as sisters. Mario is the son of a man who died to keep Maria and Lydia safe. Together, Calypso and Mario give Lydia the knowledge, strength, and courage that keep her going. There’s a nice glimmer of budding romance with Mario, and that was fun to read as well.

The biggest problem with this novel is the translation. The translator has done the author a great disservice, and my poor reading experience was in no way Ms. Musewald’s fault. She has written an original, exciting story that is completely overshadowed by the translator’s errors. There are multiple problems on nearly every page, with bad spelling, punctuation errors, missing words and confusing sentences. The novel was a chore to read, but I stuck with it because Lydia is such a strong young woman and her story is so compelling that I had to see it through to the end.

Pages: 231 | ASIN: B06XFM4N9H

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Physical: The Catastrophe of Desire

Physical: The catastrophe of desire4 StarsPhysical: The catastrophe of desire by Mari Reiza is a wild ride of a read. For both main characters, two middle aged women, Kiki and Fatima, it is indeed a catastrophe, but of their own making. Kiki is virtually strapped in a small town in Northern Italy and finds herself alone after her longtime boyfriend leaves for an “upgrade”. Fatima finds herself in a crisis of identity after having twins and struggles to find purpose in her enlarged family. Yet, both women feel pulled along by their baser desires to rekindle the energy and passion they had in their youth.

Overall, the book reads very fast pace, which for a shorter book is expected and I would say enjoyed it. There are moments where the book reads as if Reiza is experimenting with stream of conscious, but then it breaks away from that to continue in a more traditional narrative pattern. The change can occur on the same page or even within the same paragraph, which may be disconcerting to the careful reader.

The characters themselves are a varied mix of character strengths and flaws that can keeps the reader engaged. Kiki has a mouth like a sailor and clearly has a drive and motivation to make something of herself if she can overcome her very physical, base needs. There were times it was hard to follow her storyline given that she self-sabotages to a large degree. Fatima on the other hand seems to be the polar opposite, in the sense that she is in a steady marital relationship with children, something Kiki is allergic to. Fatima is no prude though and is as explicit as Kiki is about sex and the like. Both women seem driven to try and enliven their lives in any way they can no matter the cost, even if it dramatically disrupts their lives.

The story is told through both women point of view in alternating chapters and some heavy style choice make the narrative more “telling” than “showing”. But these are easy to push past as you get drawn into the struggle of Kiki and Fatima. The strongest point of Reiza’s writing is that you can truly feel where these women are coming from in their midlife crises. They are clearly tired and bored of their current lifestyle and need to do something to shake it up. It truly appeals to the deepest core beliefs that individuals can have when they have reached a “rock bottom” or stagnant part of life.

Overall, it is a classic contemporary fiction story. Of two women trying as best they can to beat back the overshadowing struggle of age and day to day responsibilities. Passion isn’t only reserved for the youth; it can always be rekindled later with a little help.

Pages: 143 | ASIN: B01N9ZU9XL

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Cassie’s Marvelous Music Lessons

Cassie's Marvelous Music Lessons4 Stars

Cassie’s Marvelous Music Lessons is a charming children’s story that is about a lively little puppy dog and her love for music. Cassie, the dog, finds herself in a studio that is filled with upbeat tunes that fill her heart and soul and leave her little tail tapping to the beat. A lady, by the name of Mrs Applebaum, is the cause for such beautiful rhythms and soon Cassie realises that her passion for music and teaching must be heard! However, Mrs Applebaum struggles to understand Cassie’s dreams and desires and together they must come to an understanding through the language of music.

Cassie’s Marvelous Music Lessons, written by Sheri Poe-Pape is a delightful children’s story about a family’s favourite pet- an excitable pup by the name of Cassie. Cassie is a lover of the beat, and with her musical ear, she is eager to transfer her passion into teaching. Beautifully written, this story will put a smile on your face as you vividly imagine the little pup tapping away to the beat of the music, desperately trying to show that she too could potentially be a teacher one day.

Perfect for the young ones, this short story will fire up their imagination as they begin to wonder what secret talents their beloved family pet could secretly possess. I found myself wondering if my little puppy dog was actually trying to tell me that she too could possibly be a musical genius beneath that big furry coat! I love how Sheri Poe-Pape puts into perspective how your pup may be trying to communicate and leaves you questioning what your pup might be saying between their barks, growls and howls. Cassie’s vibrant personality and determined nature will help show children that your dreams are certainly possible- as long as you are persistent!

You can almost hear the music being played in the studio as you read the songs which have quirky titles such as “A Starry Night Howl”. Between these furry tunes, you will find Cassie desperate to communicate with her owner through the rata-tatt-tatting of her furry tail and the howling of her passionate bark. The themes within this story could also apply to people attempting to speak to each other through different languages and how music could be used as the universal way to converse with each other.

Overall Cassie’s Marvelous Music Lessons will serve as a heartwarming reminder that it is important to never judge a book by its cover (or by its fur coat!) and the only limits are the limits you put on yourself. As it is family orientated, Cassie’s Marvelous Music Lessons would serve as the perfect bedtime story or for a child learning to read short stories. Sheri Poe-Pape’s uplifting style of writing leaves you feeling joyful and inspired to fulfill your goals and pursue your dreams- no matter how big they may be!

I would recommend this for children who enjoy amusing short stories involving little furry friends!

Pages: 32 | ASIN: B017THEOAI

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Blooded

Blooded (Lisen of Solsta, #3)4 Stars

In the final installment of the Lisen of Solsta trilogy, Blooded by D. Hart St. Martin takes us on a gruesome journey as we learn how Lisen as Empir of Garla will affect the future of the Garlan people. After ascending to the throne, Lisen must make major decisions while facing her own physical and mental battles alone, especially when she’s captured by rebel Thristans for a period of time. On the verge of a devastating war, Lisen and the holders of Garla face the bloodthirsty Thristans in a battle that reveals the truth of the hermit’s prophecy and whether peace can ever truly arise between the two nations.

In Blooded, the concluding piece of the Lisen of Solsta series, Lisen becomes Empir Ariannas—without Korin at her side, though, she struggles with this new sense of authority. As a result, Nalin becomes a vital figure who assists Lisen with developing the knowledge and skills needed to rule over Garla, and he becomes even more important when Lisen is captured by rebel Thristans. Blooded also follows Korin’s return to his homeland, Thristas, and he experiences his own dilemmas, as he realizes his connection to Lisen is much deeper than he originally thought—in this world, where gender norms are shattered, men or women can carry a child, and Korin is carrying his and Lisen’s baby (unknown to Lisen).

Hart St. Martin’s impressive fantasy world construction throughout the entire Lisen of Solsta series kept me so absorbed in the story that I couldn’t put this last book down—I had to know how the series ended because I felt genuinely invested in these carefully-constructed characters. For example, along with everyone else in Garla and Thrista, Lisen resembles a human, but she has a flat chest, a furry belly, and a marsupial-like pouch. In Blooded, we learn more about the “unpouching” or birthing process in this world by witnessing two important “outcomings” or births. St. Martin makes these moments suspenseful and full of emotion by showing two birthing events from different perspectives.

While Korin is raising his and Lisen’s child in Thristas, Lisen faces her own mental struggles when she realizes that the Thristans are planning to go to war with Garla. This climactic moment in the plot, where Lisen and her Council devise a plan for war, showcases the dynamic development of both Nalin’s and Lisen’s characters throughout the series.

During Lisen’s abduction by the rebels, Nalin becomes a strong-minded, confident leader, commanding Lisen’s Council to make major decisions in Lisen’s absence. On the other hand, Lisen sets aside her typical sarcastic, sassy attitude and at times she reveals her emotional turmoil a bit more, as she feels overwhelmed by death piling up around her and the possibility of war. Bala, a significant character from Tainted, becomes instrumental to the plot of Blooded once she’s granted a spot on Lisen’s private Council—when the Garlans go to war, Bala shows her true colors as an assertive leader for her troops.

It’s rare to find a series of books that keeps your interest until the very end, and the end of Blooded and the Lisen of Solsta series left me feeling a great sense of closure. With characters that felt so real within a uniquely constructed fantasy world, this series captures the best aspects of the fantasy genre while also pushing the genre’s boundaries through constructing a gender non-conforming world.

Pages: 420 | ASIN: B00R8K8XXQ

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Tainted

Tainted (Lisen of Solsta, #2)4 Stars

In Book II of the Lisen of Solsta series, Tainted by D. Hart St. Martin takes the reader back to the land of Garla and also introduces us to the dangerous land of Thristas. After overcoming a harrowing event, Lisen must develop her strength in order to fulfill her destiny: to become the Empir of Garla. With the loyal Captain Rosarel at her side, Lisen hides away in the desert lands of Thristas, growing in ways she’d never imagined. Tainted by dark impulses that threaten to destroy her, Lisen must ultimately decide which promises she’ll break and which promises she’ll keep.

After reading Fractured, the first book in the Lisen of Solsta series, I was pretty psyched to read Tainted. The book begins where the first one left off—Lisen of Solsta, the heroine of the story, is recovering from almost succumbing to madness beyond the point of no return. Once she’s fully recovered, she continues her trek with Captain Korin Rosarel to Avaret in order to face her brother, Ariel Ilazer, who is currently ruling as Empir.

In a decision to keep her safe, Korin takes Lisen to Thristas, a desert land with a unique way of life. Under the guise of two former Guards in love, they discover that Lisen must commit to cultural rituals that threaten to change their relationship. I’m always a sucker for romantic subplots in fantasy novels, and this twist creates a romantic tension that continues to develop throughout the novel, morphing into a love triangle once Nalin’s feelings become revealed.

Even with the romantic subplot, Lisen develops as a dynamic, heroic character, constantly fighting her surroundings and learning more about herself. St. Martin does an excellent job with maintaining strong values in Lisen— overcoming gender norms, Lisen fights off forces that try to weaken her, and she continually quips sassy, sarcastic remarks. It’s fun to watch Lisen adapt to different environments, especially once she discovers her true purpose in life. Even while Korin and Lisen continue with combat training, Lisen has her own plans, as she secretly trains her mind and develops her necropathic powers.

What excited me most about this sequel was how intricately St. Martin wove the other characters into the plot. My favorite example of this is in a chapter about “Evenday/Evennight,” a holiday in the land of Garla and Thristas. Ariel and Lorain, his soon-to-be spouse and the mother of his unborn child, have a drastically different Evennight than the other characters— especially Korin and Lisen, who experience Farii, a Thristan fertility ritual. Through taking various characters’ perspectives, St. Martin creates unique vantage points for the reader during such a heightened moment in the plot. There’s a few characters that I wished were featured more often, such as Bala and Titus, but I wouldn’t be surprised if those characters play a bigger role in the third book.

After weaving multiple characters’ perspectives throughout the novel, the final chapters, filled with fast-paced action and a few plot twists, bring all the characters’ paths together in a masterful way. Ending with a cliffhanger regarding the fates of Korin and Lisen, I can’t wait to see what happens next in the final book of the trilogy.

Pages: 350 | ASIN: B00GCYAYVS

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Into The Liquor Store

Into The Liquor Store4 Stars

Are you a fan of people watching? Can you spend hours just watching society go by and analyzing situations that seam small and insignificant but are all part of a bigger drama that is unfolding before your eyes? Charles Sims-Charles creates a future version of Earth in his novel Into the Liquor Store. This novel does not have a linier plot line, it has no great mystery to solve, there is not even a major conflict in need of resolution. Instead we are transported into a world where the main character Bink is a spray paint graffiti artist and connoisseur of cannabis and we follow him through a series of life events. While the events all lead up to a surprise ending your left wondering just what is going on sometimes. Add in the Galactic Triumvirate (GT) and the colonies on the Rings of Saturn and the moons and you have an intriguing story to follow.

Bink’s journey is told through his eyes and through a third person narrator view. This adds to the disjointed effect of the novel, but adds to the feeling of watching someone’s life unfold from a distance, as if you were watching a movie. It is the year 2218, Earth is now called Terra and the inhabitants are called Terrans, while the people living on the moons and rings are called Orbiter’s. The world is divided even more than it is now, states are now their own territories with their own laws and rules, countries have their own sets of standards and laws, everyone is acting under their own guidance unless they are part of the GT. One of the focuses of Bink’s story is tagging. He is a talented graffiti artist. Tagging in this time is regulated art form and taggers are well respected. Each artist has a special ID cap that is registered and somehow when it is used, they can scan the paint on a piece of work and determine who painted it. There are rival gangs among the taggers, but most rivals are in good sport and everyone is out to keep the art form alive and well respected.

The other focus is on Bink’s love life. He goes through several relationships throughout the novel, but they all follow a theme. Bink’s relationships with the other characters, Derrick (Lux), Kris, and Milly are also a focus. It is not secret Bink hates the rings and the orbiters, but when his life lands him on a remote ring colony he is reunited with his lost love Milly. On the rings, life is confusing. They speak in riddles; they call their language Summertime. Everyone dresses in a steampunk style and paint their faces like animals. It is a complex society with it’s own rules drastically different from Earth. Somehow Bink winds up mixed in with the Mob, a group called the Koeghuza. He learns how to navigate this world as well and become successful.

Charles Sims-Charles’s world is creative and unique. His descriptions of the clothing, music, and environment draw the reader in and give them a feel for being there and experiencing everything Bink does. It is the perfect novel for the person that likes to watch others and analyze the psychology of people. The society structure is interesting and complex, the relationships diverse and just as complex as the characters that have been created. A great novel to take you out of the modern stress and see a glimpse into a future where art and science thrive.

Pages: 235 | ASIN: B01NAGKSJJ

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The Paranoid Thief

The Paranoid Thief4 Stars

Set in a futuristic world with air-bikes and credits for cash, we come across one of Danny Estes’ lovely worlds. The Paranoid Thief is a lovely addition to Estes’ roster of exciting and fun to read books. It opens with our poor protagonist, Randolph, in the midst of a very bad day. As the paranoid thief from the title, he has just botched a job and has the unfortunate job of reporting to his client. In a whirlwind of intrigue peppered with sheer ignorance our Randolph finds himself slammed into a strange cell after being tried and convicted for an atrocious murder he did not commit. Randolph isn’t alone in this prison and soon finds himself in the company of Jill, a secretary who has just lost her job and been thrown in the cell beside him. There’s more to Jill than meets the eye and Randolph begins plotting his revenge.

If there’s one thing Estes is good at, it’s writing an interesting and slightly humorous story. He’s very good at writing from the point of view of the protagonist in such a way that the reader can immediately identify with them. As with most of his books, there is a sexual component that isn’t too over the top. The stories are told from a male point of view and that is just what readers get: an unfiltered look at this world through the eyes of a man. Expect physical descriptions of female characters and which body parts the protagonist enjoys the most.

For The Paranoid Thief there were some disappointing spelling mistakes and some incomplete sentences. Having read other works by this author, it was a surprise to see them. Normally his works are clean with very few mistakes. The incomplete sentence in an early section of the book was the most disheartening as the reader is left to figure out what Estes meant. While it is still pretty easy to finish it in the readers mind, that’s not what people are looking for. Estes makes up for this with his exceptional story-telling skills and his excellent descriptions. There are times when the book feels like a narration of a movie. The action certainly does not disappoint and the way Estes is able to lead his readers by the nose and keep them wanting more is excellent.

As a short read, The Paranoid Thief by Danny Estes is a highly recommended addition to any library. As soon as you start reading about our hapless protagonist Randolph and his really bad day, you’ll want to continue reading to find out how it all gets resolved. Short, without leaving out any important information, this fun read feels like an author’s careful first step into the literary world. It’s a good first step and it reminds us all that perhaps we should pay more attention to those around us. Especially their eyes.

Page: 276 | ASIN: B009Q1I6SM

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Defiance on Indian Creek

Defiance on Indian Creek4 Stars

Defiance on Indian Creek is a quiet, but enthralling read by Phyllis A. Still. We follow a smart, courageous thirteen-year-old girl, Mary on the frontier in West Virginia on the eve of the Revolutionary war. Her father comes home with news that disrupts Mary’s world; talk of loyalty to the unfair King and moving to far off Kentucky. The relationship with her father is stretched as she finds him mired in plots and implications of possibly being a traitor or even a spy. Mary is forced of her own loyalties to her father, family and country as the weeks go on until she is asked to make an impossible choice.

Overall, Still has clearly done her research in this fine YA novel. In the tradition of historical fiction before it, Defiance on Indian Creek takes a quiet frontier family and throws them in the forefront against an increasingly dangerous time. Reading these pages gave me the feeling I was actually there in the reeds of Indian Creek alongside Mary and her Papa. The maps included at the front of the book were helpful in understanding the setting and getting even more of a feel of what this era felt to those early colonists.

It isn’t often such a tale is spun on the frontier, but also invokes the greater happenings on the east coast. Mary is a fun protagonist to follow as the story progresses, because Still is able to give the reader the feeling of anguish from the girl and her struggles over choosing to place trust in her father and the lack thereof.

Being a YA novel the story itself is pretty straightforward and does not beat around the bush when it comes to finding out certain things. Mary herself seems to grasp things beyond her years, but her parents are not the usual inept adults that are so often present in YA novels. And being a young girl, who genuinely wants her father to be okay and her family to be safe, the reader can only root for her.

There are few books that I could remember for the relationships it creates between characters, but Still has managed to make the daughter-father relationship in this book a special one. Especially, since the tension between them is so palpable as the book goes on.

If there is any criticism for the book that can be offered it would be for something that is almost uncontrollable. It concerns the background conflict between the Colonies and the Crown. This is what gives historical fiction its flavor, but it does overshadow the very personal, family struggle between Mary and her father. This is the only real issue with the storyline, beyond this Defiance on Indian Creek will be a pleasurable read to any person who enjoys YA and a painstakingly researched historical fiction.

Pages: 212 | ASIN: B01HBV3VOW

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