Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Tree of Water by Elizabeth Haydon Tour

It's unusual that I'm in touch with two different people in regards to the same book, but it makes me think I'm definitely in for a treat.  Below you'll find a question/answer session with author Elizabeth Haydon.  Tomorrow, I'll be posting my own personal review of the book.  Continue reading to find out more about this book and stay tuned to find out how good it is!  

Make sure you find all the stops on the tour and enter the multiple giveaways to win a copy!  

Interview with Elizabeth Haydon, 
documentarian, archanologist and translator of Ven’s 
journals, including The Tree of Water

Little is known for sure about reclusive documentarian and archanologist Elizabeth 
Haydon. She is an expert in dead languages and holds advanced degrees in Nain Studies from 
Arcana College and Lirin History from the University of Rigamarole. Her fluency in those 
languages [Nain and Lirin] has led some to speculate that she may be descended of one 
of those races herself. It should be noted that no one knows this for sure. 

Being an archanologist, she is also an expert in ancient magic because, well, that’s what 
an archanologist is.

Being a documentarian means she works with old maps, books and manuscripts, and so it is believed that her house is very dusty and smells like ink, but there is no actual proof 
of this suspicion. On the rare occasions of sightings of Ms. Haydon, it has been reported 
that she herself has smelled like lemonade, soap, vinegar, freshly-washed babies and 
pine cones.

She is currently translating and compiling the fifth of the recently-discovered Lost 
Journals when she is not napping, or attempting to break the world’s record for the 
longest braid of dental floss.

We had the chance to ask her some questions about the latest of Ven’s journals, The 
Tree of Water. Here is what she shared.

1. Dr. Haydon, can you give us a brief summary of The Tree of Water? 

Certainly. Ven Polypheme, who wrote the, er, Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme, 
lived long ago in the Second Age of history, when magic was much more alive 
and visible in the world than it is now. His journals are very important finds, 
because they tell the story of ancient magic and where it still may be found in the 
world today.

In the first three journals we saw how Ven came to the mystical island of 
Serendair and was given the job of Royal Reporter by the king of the island, a 
young man named Vandemere. The Royal Reporter was supposed to find magic 
that was hiding in plain sight in the world and report back about it to the king. As 
you can imagine, this could be a fun but dangerous job, and at the beginning of The Tree of Water, we see that Ven and his friends are hiding from the evil Thief 
Queen, who is looking to find and kill him. 

Amariel, a merrow [humans call these ‘mermaids,’ but we know that’s the wrong 
word] who saved Ven when the first ship he sailed on sank, has been asking Ven 
to come and explore the wonders of the Deep, her world in the sea. Deciding that 
this could be a great way to find hidden magic as well as hide from the evil Thief 
Queen, Ven and his best friend, Char, follow her into the Deep. The sea, as you 
know, is one of the most magical places in the world—but sometimes that magic, 
and that place, can be deadly. 

The book tells of mysterious places, and interesting creatures, and wondrous 
things that have never been seen in the dry world, and tales from the very bottom 
of the sea. 

2. The main character in The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme series is 
Charles Magnus "Ven" Polypheme. Tell us about him. 

Ven was an interesting person, but he really didn’t think so. He and his family 
were of a different race than the humans who made up most of the population 
where he lived, the race of the Nain. Nain are an old race, a little shorter and 
stockier than most humans, with a tendency to be on the grumpy side. They live 
about four times as long as humans, are very proud of their beards, which they 
believe tell their life stories, don’t like to swim or travel, and prefer to live deep in 
the mountains.

Ven was nothing like the majority of Nain. He was very curious, loved to travel, 
could swim, and longed to see the world. He was actually a pretty nice kid most 
of the time. He had the equivalent of a baby face because only three whiskers of 
his beard had grown in by the time The Tree of Water took place, when he was 
fifty years old [around twelve in Nain years]. He had a great group of friends, 
including the merrow and Char, who were mentioned earlier. It is believed that 
his journals were the original research documents for two of the most important 
books of all time, The Book of All Human Knowledge and All the World’s Magic.
The only copies of these two volumes were lost at sea centuries ago, so finding 
the Lost Journals is the only way to recover this important information. 

3. What kind of research do you do for the series? 

I go to places where Ven went and try to find relics he left behind. Usually this is 
with an expedition of archaeologists and historians. I am an expert in ancient 
magic [an archanologist] so I don’t usually lead the expeditions, I’m just a 
consultant. It gives me the chance to learn a lot about magic and lets me work on 
my suntan at the same time, so it’s good.

4. What is/are the most difficult part or parts of writing/restoring the Lost 

Here’s the list, mostly from the archaeological digs where the journals have been 
1] Cannibals
2] Crocodiles
3] Sunburn
4] Sand flies
5] Dry, easily cracking parchment pages
6] The horrible smell of long-dead seaweed
7] Grumpy members of the archaeological expedition [I could name names, but I 
8] Expedition food [when finding and retrieving the journal for The Tree of Water,
we ate nothing but peanut butter and raisin sandwiches, olives and yellow tea for 
six months straight]
9] When salt water gets into your favorite fountain pen and clogs it up. This is 
very sad.
10] Unintentionally misspelling a word in the Nain language that turns out to be 
embarrassing [the word for “jelly” is one letter different from the word for 
“diarrhea,” which caused a number of my Nain friends to ask me what on earth I 
thought Ven was spreading on his toast.]

5. What do you enjoy about this series that cannot be found in any of your 
other books? 

Getting to write about a lot of cool magic stuff that used to exist in our world, but 
doesn’t anymore. And getting to travel to interesting places in the world to see if 
maybe some of it still does exist. Also getting to show the difference between 
merrows, which are real, interesting creatures, and mermaids, which are just 

6. What do you hope readers take away from this book? 

I hope, in general, that it will open their eyes to the wonder of the sea, which 
takes up the majority of our planet, but we really don’t know that much about it 
down deep. There is a great deal of magic in the sea, and I hope that if and when 
people become aware of it, they will help take care of it and not throw garbage 
and other bad stuff into it. I have a serious dislike for garbage-throwing.
Probably the most useful secret I learned that I hope will be of use to readers is 
about thrum. Thrum is the way the creatures and plants that live in the ocean 
communicate with each other through vibration and thought. As Ven and his 
friends learn, this can be a problem if you think about something you don’t want 
anyone to know about when you are standing in a sunshadow, because 
everyone gets to see a picture of what’s on your mind. Imagine how 
embarrassing that could be. 

7. Are there more books coming in this series? 

Well, at least one. In the archaeological dig site where The Tree of Water was 
found was another journal, a notebook that Ven called The Star of the Sea. We 
are still working on restoring it, but it looks like there are many new adventures 
and different kinds of magic in it. The problem is that it might have been buried in 
the sand with an ancient bottle of magical sun tan lotion, which seems to have 
leaked onto some of the journal’s pages. This is a very sad event in archaeology, 
but we are working hard to restore it. 

As for other books, it’s not like we just write them out of nowhere. If we haven’t 
found one of Ven’s journals, there can’t be another book, now, can there? We 
are always looking, however. We’ve learned so much about ancient magic from 
the journals we have found so far.

8. You are a best-selling author with other books and series for adults. What 
made you want to write books for young readers? 

I like young readers better than adults. Everyone who is reading a book like mine 
has at one time or another been a young reader, but not everyone has been an 
adult yet. Young readers have more imagination and their brains are more 
flexible—they can understand magical concepts a lot better than a lot of adults, 
who have to deal with car payments and work and budget balancing and all sorts 
of non-magical things in the course of their days. 

Besides, many adults scare me. But that’s not their fault. I’m just weird like that.
I think if more adults read like young readers, the world would be a happier place. 

9. Tell us where we can find your book and more information about where you 
are these days. 

You can find The Tree of Water anywhere books are sold, online and in 
bookstores. There are several copies in my steamer trunk and I believe the 
palace in Serendair also has one. I also sent one to Bruno Mars because I like 
his name.

At the moment, I am on the beautiful island of J’ha-ha, searching for a very 
unique and magical flower. Thank you for asking these interview questions—it 
has improved my mood, since I have only found weeds so far today. I am hoping 
for better luck after lunch, which, sadly, is peanut butter and raisin sandwiches, 
olives, and yellow tea again.

All the best,
Dr. Elizabeth Haydon, PhD, D’Arc

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Stephen K. and Steve K. Should Unite

So, I've read everything Stephen Kozeniewski has written that I've been able to get my hands on.  I'm still waiting on the new anthology but I have faith it'll be in my hands soon.  Everything that I've read, well I've absolutely adored it.  He has a fresh perspective to his writing style and a way of taking plot to a different place than it's previously been.  In short, I love his stuff.

Thanks to a surprise email earlier today, I've started reading Steve Kuhn's Dext of the Dead series, and I have to say I'm pretty impressed so far.  Starting out, I kept thinking 'OK This has been done...where's the something new?'  Don't worry your pretty little heads...I'll be reviewing each book on here shortly.  But the something new is Kuhn's writing style.  I can't keep from smiling while reading.  Seriously, it's like that snarky best guy friend telling you about stuff that's happened...after he's downed a few shots of vodka.  OK My friends don't usually drink vodka, but you get the point.  It's random and funny as hell so far.

So here's my thinking:  These guys need to get together.  I'm loving them separately, but together they could seriously produce the most amazing masterpiece!  Take one of Stephen's plots, Toss in Steve's input.  Then let the guys each pick one character and tell the story from that point of view.  Every other chapter could be a different perspective written by a different S.K.  I'm so loving this idea!  I'd read it and would heavily promote it.

In short, you guys need to listen to me and hook up and produce something...even if it's just for my entertainment.  Then again, this could end up to be about as good as my idea for fish on a stick, covered in hush puppy batter and deep fried.  We still don't know if it's any good because nobody will try it.

Just sayin'.

The Witch of the Sands by Peter Fugazzotto

By Shawn

There's this great little game in the arcade down town.  It has several plastic alligators and their heads pop out of a cave at you.  Your job is to smack the top of the alligator's head so that he retreats back into his cave.  About halfway through the game, if you've smacked enough heads, a gruff alligator voice calls out to you and says 'Now I'm angry!'  And that, my dear readers, is exactly what came out of my mouth at the end of this novella.

We have this wonderful band of warriors who are graying and tiring.  Many of them still lust for battle, but some are ready to dissect the group and settle down with wives and get fat and happy.  The world has changed and they've become nothing more than thugs for hire.  Each man is dealing with the change in the times as well as his own age in his own way.

The characters are fascinating and multi-faceted, which is surprising considering just how little description and detail Fugazzotto (who in my brain has been renamed Fuzzy), has thrown at us.  He has a natural talent for creating characters and forcing us to see deep inside of them without actually telling us who they are and boring us to tears.  From the very opening scene we have unforgettable people who just are.  They're three dimensional and have real meat to them and I adore every single one of them.

The world that's been created here is the same way.  Fugazzotto (Fuzzy!)  throws us into sand and mud and wind torrents and you can't help but love every second of it.  Instead of taking pages and paragraphs to tell us what everything looks like, he gives us the perfectly descriptive word to let us paint the scenes in our own mind.  Incredibly well done and once again, I blame this on talent rather than years of experience.

We start off with the Hounds after they've just destroyed all of the men in a village during a paid job.  They're weary and disheartened and forcing themselves to go on.  This is where we really get to know them intimately.  From this point on, it's pretty much nonstop action.  These are not the type of men that sit around knitting by the fire discussing who Aunt Fanny is trying to set the up with.  These are men of action...doers.  And we get to be right by their side feeling the same intense brotherhood and honor.

So, why am I so angry?  It just stops!  I'm reading along...avidly devouring every single word and not paying any attention to where I'm at page-wise.  Then, all of a sudden, it stops!  This is one of the best action stories I've read in a long time, and created with surprising natural talent with a fluid ease in reading...and it just stops!

If you're into action, I strongly suggest this book.  However, wait until the next one is out!  For me, this is a Green Mile flashback.  Getting a nice little appetizer and then having to wait for the next course and avidly lapping it up the second it's released on my way to the checkout counter.

Fuzzy:  First, don't be offended.  I only give nicknames as a compliment :)  Second, you better be busy writing right now instead of goofing off and playing Cookie Clicker!!!

Shadows by Don Castle

By Shawn

The Jake Somers series illuminates the world of a private investigator, his associates and his close knit family group.  In this, he third in the series, we find Jake dealing with the murder of a beautiful college coed literally at his back door.  And when multiple murders occur across the city, and under similar circumstances, Jake's crime solving expertise is called upon by the police to help catch a serial killer.

Death on a college campus, illegal synthetic drugs and a maniacal killer are all in a days work for P.I. Jake Somers.  (taken from the back of the book)

This is NOT what I was expecting.

Let's start with the characters.  They're all incredibly likable.  They all have similar personalities, but that's alright.  The bright side of that is that they're personalities that I enjoyed.  It was like having a  book full of polite and bright people. Even the murder was a thoughtful and kind person until bullets had to fly.  I even liked the sweet little drug dealers.  Though there isn't a lot of variance in the characters, they do have different stations which set them apart from each other.  Having different names helped quite a lot too.

As for the world of the detective, it wasn't what I was expecting.  I'll admit I'm a fan of old gumshoe detective novels and I'm quite the fan of Dan Reno.  I thought this would be more like that, but it really wasn't.  Somers works in collaboration with the police.  This particular story is a crime that the police simply don't have time to investigate so they've asked Somers and his partner to look into it for them.  Basically, they're police officers without the benefits of actually being a police officer.  

Now, here's where the book really threw me off.  This is not a mystery.  By page 22, both myself and Somers had all the information to piece everything together.  I had to wait several chapters for him to catch up.  Eventually he did, however. Admittedly, Somers is dealing with his secretary's wedding plans and his mother fracturing a hip, so maybe that's why it took him so long to put it together.  Instead of being a mystery, it's more a glimpse into Somers' life.  We get to sit back and enjoy the ride as he slowly and deliberately begins to puzzle things together and deal with all of the other distractions he has in his life.

If you're looking for a good old detective novel, this may not be what you're expecting but you might find you enjoy it anyway.  If you go into it looking for just a good story without having to put in any thought, this could be right up your alley.  There are some violent situations, but none of the go into detail enough to cause most readers distress.  Though  there are romantic situations, there's no sex.  This is just a good, clean look into one case of Somers' life while he's solving it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

We Are The Destroyers by D.K. Lindler

By Shawn

Over consumption is destroying his home planet, and synthetic foods are turning his people into degenerated mutants under the control of the Brotherhood of Syn.  As one of the few remaining but persecuted Organs- those who still live the organic lifestyle- Bel'lar and his small crew must escape from their dying world to the semi-mythical blue-white planet.  They are to discover if it is really what the prophecies say it is:  a place for humanity to make a new beginning.

But the visions of his beautiful companion Ry Sing, a mystic and seer, shake Bel'lar.  She tells him that eons ago, Bel'lar was also faced with the burden of saving his people from their own greed.  Only then he was the Great One, the sacred head of their religion.  He had seen no other way to liberate them from their collision course with environmental destruction and spiritual degradation than to purify the planet in a great cataclysm...But could the horrible vision be true?  Could he really have done such a thing?  And what about the scriptures that predict that a man with a mark like his would be fated to purify a corrupted planet once again and free the souls?

As Bel'lar, Ry Sing and the rest of the elite team embark on their mission to save mankind, the truth of the vision begins to reveal itself, and Bel'lar's destiny is set before him.  But will he be able to avoid it this time?  Or is he fated to live the vision once again?  (taken from the back of the book)

Sounds like a great sci-fi story, doesn't it?  I thought so too.  Honestly, I think there is a good little story buried in here, but it's incredibly difficult to get to.

The characters, while all having specifically assigned personalities and story lines, fall flat.  They don't have any life to depth.  It's almost as if we have an outsider's perspective.  'He's afraid. I see.'  We don't feel any real empathy are care towards any of the characters.

The worlds are built nicely enough, but once again, I was left not caring.  It's a planet.  People lived there before.  They left pyramids.  There are spirits left behind.  Got it.  Don't need a whole book for it.

I think, honestly, my problem with this entire story is that it's so bogged down with the unnecessary and uninteresting.  Not only that, but the past is explained so many times and from so many different perspectives.  We got it from the first glimpse.  Show us something new!

Now, I don't mean to sound like the book is all bad, I just had coming up with quite a bit of trouble figuring out what I enjoyed about it.  It's well-fleshed out.  Possibly to the point of being overly rewritten, but all of the holes in the story have been plugged.  I did enjoy the Star Trek'esque theme going on for awhile.  I truly enjoyed several chapters where I decided to read every dialogue portion out loud using William Shatner's voice.

If Sci-Fi is your thing, just be forwarned that this one is slow-moving.  It starts off with a bit of action and then we have lots of description and explanation and by the time it gets back towards the action, you find you've lost a week of nodding off without meaning to.  Keep in mind, this is my opinion and I'm sure several people will disagree with me.

The Vagabond's Son by L.F. Falconer

By Shawn

It is no secret that I'm a huge fan of both Falconer, as well as her work.  But, let's not be personal...let's get straight to business!  She walks a fine line between fantasy and horror.  She has a way of writing that pulls you into this fairy tale world and leaves you shocked and awestruck with every violence.

If you've never read any of Falconer's work, you'll definitely want to start with the Hope series to see what I'm talking about.  If you just went her edgier horror stories, you'll want to go straight for the short stories in Through a Broken Window.

This newest book, the first in hopefully a long series, goes right along with her previous work.  We find ourselves meeting Adalanto, the son of a vagabond.  He's but an infant and already lived more horrors than most of us humans live in a life time.  Born into a life of poverty and violence, Adalanto doesn't have much of a choice in what's to come of him.  As his journey continues, he begins to decide who he doesn't want to be.  These beliefs carry him through the first quarter century of his life.

We all have our hardships in life.  Sometimes it feels as if we have more than our fair share.  Adalanto is just such a person.  We watch him being battered over and over and see the injustice of it.  Then we get to watch as he pulls himself together, dusts himself off, stands back up and faces the world.  I like to think I'm that sort of person, but I fall short where Adalanto does not.  It isn't easy.  We get to share in the pain of it all, but we also get to be there when he rises victorious throughout most triumphs.

One of my biggest complains about fantasy writers is that they take a world that's known to us and then add characters known to us instead of using the creative license they're gifted with.  Falconer does no such thing.  She takes a world that each of us is familiar with and then tweaks it and spins it and leaves us with a feeling of safety and security, yet uncertainty and fear as well.  It's like being in your old childhood room, where you've spent many happy nights, except now you fear there may be a demon in the closet.  She does the same thing with our characters.  We have these bright, bold 'people' of different races and all arranged in different status.  And we feel safe and secure because this is the safety that we know.  We all know about kings and queens and vagabonds and trolls and ogres. we?  And what do we really know about humans?  Falconer gives us that security of knowing what we already know while adding that same 'but what if there really is a demon in the closet' feeling.

If you're a fan of dark fantasy, definitely check this out.  This is NOT intended for children or young adults!  If you're planning on getting it for a teenager, please take the time to read it before doing so.  Though some teens are more mature and can easily handle the situations and gravity in the book, not all will be able to do so.  Then again, if you you enjoy dark fantasy, I strongly suggest this book anyway.  Come fall in love with Falconer's work, just like I do with every new book she sends me.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Modern Girls' Guide to the Gridiron by VF Castro

By Shawn

The synopsis here is actually pretty simple.  Most items out there discussing and explaining football are both geared towards and created by men.  Though this book could also be titled 'Football for Dummies' the fact is that most of us women aren't dummies.  We, in general, know little about football because we just don't care.  Football has taken away our spouses, brothers, fathers, uncles and children for far too long!  Why would we care about football when it takes so much attention away from us?  Not to mention the fact that it comes with a language all it's own.  They might as well be ignoring us while speaking a new form of Vulcan.

So here's the deal; you can't just sit back and ignore football if it's a part of your  life.  You can't pretend to slide it under the rug and not care about it if it does indeed affect you.  You don't have to love it.  You don't have to pick a favorite team and cheer for them.  But at least making an attempt to understand it can open up some serious new opportunities in your relationships.  Not only that, but when you hear the men in the next room talking and you begin to understand what they're saying, it can really do wonders for your self esteem.  It's exciting learning something new! (Even if you think you have no interest).  There's also the 'broccoli effect'.  You never know...once you try it, you may like it!

Castro is a sports journalist and has seen the gender gap first hand where football is concerned.  She writes in a humorous and down to earth way.  Each chapter takes you step by step into the world of football, but don't worry.  She holds your hand the entire way.  It's sort of like sitting back with an old friend and sipping wine.  Then you say 'OK So this football thing...what do I need to know so I can impress my husband?'  And then...she proceeds to tell you.  Everything is easily spelled out so that it's difficult not to understand it.

As a read through book, I was actually pretty bored.  DO NOT pick this book up with the belief that you'll just read through it really quickly and become a football expert and impress all your friends and family!  Instead, think of it as a guidebook.  Pick at one section until you understand it.  Better yet, start mentally jotting down the words you don't know and the things you want to understand better and then use the handy spandy guides in the book to get the information you seek.  If your loved ones are yelling at the quarterback...wouldn't it be great to know what a quarterback is?

Now, I don't mean to imply that women have no interest in football or sports at all, nor that they're idiots.  I know that this applies to a lot of women out there, and the above is what this book has to offer you.  It can easily and quickly give you enough knowledge to understand what's going on and bridge that gap.  Now, if you are a sports fan, and more specifically a football fan, this book still has lots to offer you.  There are anecdotes and history sprinkled throughout the book.  There's also a section at the back that I personally enjoyed that lists the different NFL teams and their histories.  There's also a section on Canadian Football League, a glossary, and all sorts of interesting information.  Whether you're just seeking a basic knowledge of the game or interested in adding to your cache of football knowledge, this is a pretty handy book.  Personally, it's going on my keeper shelf just in case I need it.  I sort of consider it my 'Football Cheat Book'.

The Lion Trees Part Two by Owen Thomas

By Shawn

The Johns family is unraveling.  Hollis, a retired Ohio banker, isolates himself in esoteric hobbies and a dangerous flirtation with a colleague's daughter.  Susan, his wife of forty years, risks everything for a second chance at who she might have become. David, their eldest, thrashes to stay afloat as his teaching career capsizes in a storm of accusations involving a missing student and the legacy of Christopher Columbus.  And young Tilly, the black sheep, having traded literary promise for an improbable career as a Hollywood starlet, struggles to define herself amidst salacious scandal, the demands of a powerful director, and the judgments of an uncompromising writer. (taken from the back of the book)

If you read my review of The Lion Trees Part One, then you already know how profoundly I've been struck by this book series.  Sporting over 1600 pages, I didn't even bat an eyelash as I picked this one up.  It took  me fewer than six hours to devour the entire thing.  After reading the first one, I was incredibly anxious to pick up where the Johns family left off, as well as continue my own journey into self-knowledge and I definitely was not let down.

As we continue on, we find that though everyone's lives have taken dramatic turns, that they're on the verge of self-discovery.  Each one struggles with their surrounding situations and begins to look internally for answers.  It isn't easy for any of them, but it's never easy for any of us.  The premise is that each of us has been scratched and scarred in some way and that has led us to define who we are.  It leads us to make choices that will force us to continue to play the roles we've had thrust upon us that we feel we must continue, for whatever reason.  It's a lot more complicated than that, much more in depth, but that's the general feel of what each person is going through.  As they begin to look inward, they begin to finally take responsibility for their own actions and grow as an individual.

Once again, this was an astounding read for me.  Not only was the story telling mesmerizing, but Owen's writing style is inspiring.  His use of the English language transcends most of the barriers I've seen most writers of our time face.  Instead of searching for the right words to convey his meaning and to get you to dig deep into your own psyche, he naturally voices to you instructions for how to do so, without even letting you know that he's doing it.  His writing is seemless and flawless and makes me yearn for more.

Though I continued my own journey while reading, the second book served to prove to me that I have a long way to go.  Since I first picked it up I've been searching for my own initial scratch and insight on what to do with it once I find it.  Owen Thomas has led me on an enlightenment journey that I'm sad to see at an end.  Though the story left me feeling satisfied, it served to remind me that there really is no end to any of our stories.  You won't find the ending of this saga wrapped in pretty little pink bows all neatly tied up.   You'll find one person's version of the end of the Johns' family story, but that is all.  The rest you have to figure out on your own.  You also have to figure out how it pertains to you and your life and exactly what you plan to do about it.

After reading both of these books, I've nominated the for Book of the Year Awards,  I truly believe this is the best story that I've read this year, actually in a long time.  This is what fiction and novels were initially created to be.  It's not only beautifully crafted, but it becomes a part of you.

The Birth of Death by Joseph Macolino

By Shawn

Artimus, the head investigator for the elvish kingdom of Erathal, is disturbed when he discovers that the culprit behind a recent string of kidnappings presents the greatest threat the world of Evorath has ever seen.  As he develops feelings for Savannah, a beautiful elvish druid hiding a great secret, he struggles to separate his personal feelings from his responsibilities to the crown.  Meanwhile, Irontail, a young centaur warrior, endeavors to find his way in a tribe where independent thought is discouraged.

When their paths cross, the entire forest must unite, performing an ancient ritual to combat this new evil.  While the world of Evorath deals with this great threat, Artimus and his companions must put their internal conflicts to rest as they work together to combat this harbinger of death.  As they work towards this common goal, they find that they each have their own, unique gifts to offer.  But, will they be strong enough to survive?  (taken from the back of the book)

First, I want to say that it's obvious that Macolino poured his heart and soul into this baby.  This is his first book and it's pretty good for a first book.  Though I have to tear it apart a little, it's more due to the inexperience fact than it is anything missing in Macolino's approach or passion.

This book is what I like to call Swiss Cheese Fiction.  I know several of my author friends hate that term, and with good reason.  Basically, it's been done.  Though there's a fabulous idea behind the book, a great plot, if you will, the characters and world creation are something right out of a role playing game.  This isn't a bad thing, if that's what you like.  Given the great idea and the possibilities there were to work with here, it would have been great to see a little more creativity on the part of the characters, species, and surrounding elements.

Relationships between the characters are stilted and the characters don't really seem to have much life.  Though they're interesting enough, they're definitely two dimensional.  We get glimpses into their thoughts and we get to learn who they are a bit through actions, but so much more could have been done here.  I think Macolino would benefit a lot by taking his characters through personality profiles to get to know them a little more intimately.  The interactions between characters is a little difficult for me.  I'm so sick of hearing how pretty Savannah is and how perfect her body is.  Honestly, it only made me despise Artimus, who I'm supposed to adore.  He's supposed to be my hero and instead I find this idiot who thinks with his nether regions.  I get it, this book is geared more towards men.  I have no problem with that.  The problem I have is that any man would be so smitten with such a flat and obviously empty person.  I have to give men, as a whole, more credit than that.  I feel like most of their 'relationship' was tossed in there as simply a way to pull more people in, when in fact it was the largest turn off of the book for me.

Action, adventure and fight scenes are quite well done.  This is a definite building point in future stories.  Macolino has banter and argumentative dialogue down pat.

Though this wasn't the masterpiece I was hoping for, it's actually pretty decent for what it is.  If you look at it as a role playing adventure without a lot of depth, you could really enjoy yourself.  All of that being said, I think Macolino has real promise as a writer.  He has a great writing style and story telling style that could really go places with a few adjustments.  Though I wasn't in love with his first attempt, I look forward to seeing him grow as an author and I'm excited to see the progress he'll make.

Evil and the Details by Roy A. Teel, Jr.

By Shawn

There's a scourge on the streets of Los Angeles.  A serial killer is stalking, capturing, torturing, and killing young teenage boys.  FBI Profilers Special Agent Steve Hoffman and Special Agent John Swenson are working with Los Angeles County Sheriff's Detective Jim O'Brian to catch this elusive killer.  However, with each turn the investigation takes into the murders, the more puzzling they become.  The deeper the investigation goes, the darker the soul of its source.  It's a race against not only time; it is also a race against The Iron Eagle, who they all know is working to unravel the mystery and capture the killer.  Who will solve the crimes and end the terror?  Only time will tell.  (taken from the back of the book)

Oh this is so terribly hard to review without putting up spoilers!  I'm going to try to be  tricky about it so that I don't give too much away, but I have a few things that must be said.  Firstly, for nearly a decade I have had the same plans for what to do with my body when I die.  Thanks to this book, I've had to change them.  Anyone wanting to know more, feel free to email me and I'll be happy to discuss!  However, the fact that Teel read my  mind and used it in a book, well I find that just downright fascinating and I love that I'm not the only person with the idea!

Secondly, if you have difficulty reading about violence in relation to children, stop reading this review right now.  This is not the book for you.  It has a lot to offer, but the violence/children portion(s)  of the book will be too difficult to handle and the rest of the story will make zero sense.  Find something better to read and if you need some ideas, give me a holler and I'll be happy to give you some suggestions.

Third, if you're a Dexter fan, this is the book for you!  No, this guy is nothing like Dexter.  The similarities occur with the thinking behind the actions of The Iron Eagle.  Though he's really nothing like Dexter (from Dexter...HBO fame, not Dexter's Laboratory, the cartoon), there are enough similarities in character that you'll find The Iron Eagle fascinating to behold.

OK now to the actual review part!

When I first began reading, I had a pretty difficult time.  The storytelling is great and it begins immediately with intrigue.  It's the format of the thing that gave me trouble.  I'm used to paragraphs and dialogue being separated.  In this book, the dialogue is simply included in the paragraph so you have to read pretty carefully to keep track of what's going on and who's saying what.  This took a bit for my brain to bend to since I've been trained since a very early age to read the dialogue as banter in my head.  I'm so used to doing this, that I don't even think about it.  I'll admit though, that by the fourth or fifth  chapter I had easily adapted to Teel's writing format and no longer even noticed it.  It was actually a little tricky going back to regularly formatted books!  I don't know if this is something that will catch on in future, but it actually made the reading both quicker and easier once I adjusted to it.

There really isn't a lot as far as mystery to this book.  We have the bad guys and we know why they are.  We, as readers, have all the nasty little details and get to sit back and watch the play unfold from each person's perspective.  Nasty being the key word there.  Just when you think you've read it all and there's nothing horrific left for you to read, you pick up a book like this.  Most of us have become so numb thanks to all the horror media out there that we read violence and gore quite easily and digest it just like we would a cardboard meal from a drive through place.  Teel really pushes the boundaries here though and it's more like digesting razor blades dipped in acid than it is our normally tasty cardboard terror.  Now, let me say, if you enjoy the horror and terror, this is a really good thing for you.  If you're not so much into that, this probably isn't the book for you.

Over all, I had a blast with this book.  Though it took some adjusting, I found the writing style and story telling to be to my taste and was even a little squeamish throughout parts of the book.  As a horror fan, that rates this book as a success for me.  Toss in the fact that we have so many intriguing character studies, and you have a winner.

Aim True, My Brother by William F. Brown

By Daena

A contemporary, political action thriller, as Middle East terrorism explodes on American shores.  Ibrahim Al-Bari is a skilled Hamas commander who has battled Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan.  After losing two brothers in a bloody attack on a civilian bus in Israel, Al-Bari takes his private war to the heart of America itself.  Nothing as simple as a sniper in a book depository window; when Al-Bari strikes, he will unleash a firestorm that will take out the President, other international leaders, and half the government, national television.  It falls to Eddie Rankin, a maverick FBI agent, who has never met a rule he couldn't break; Moustapha Khalidi, Chief of Security at the Egyptian Embassy, and Rachel Ullman, a hard-edged, Mossad agent and killer, to stop him. Can this dysfunctional alliance hold together long enough to catch Al-Bari before they kill each other - and the clock is ticking.  (taken from Amazon description)

Ibrahim Al-Bari is a Palestinian whom has seen enough of the destruction the United STates has caused in the Middle East and is ready to put an end to it.  After his own failed terrorist attack on his homeland, he comes to the United States to attack at the heart of the problem.  The FBI learns of his arrival into the United States and races to figure out what his next move may be, where he may be, and just exactly what he is planning.  They  must find out before his plan is carried out and hundreds of lives are lost.

The author, William F. Brown, has brilliantly written this novel.  Giving his reader a peek into the mind of a terrorist as well as the FBI agent trying to track him down offered a unique emotional journey for me.  The reason for Ibrahim's actions as a terrorist are explained so wonderfully and with such emotion, I found myself actually hoping for a victory for him for a period of the novel.  It was only as his plan to kill hundreds of people was about to be executed that I realized I was rooting for the terrorist.  The author then switches to writing, mainly, from the point of view of the FBI agents.  I instantly felt anxious and was urgently reading the pages, panicking at the thought of the agents not putting the pieces together in time and being able to stop him.  I wished I was able to tell them where he was and was desperate for the agents to find Ibrahim.

The author definitely takes the reader on a thrill ride in this action packed novel.  This is a magnificently written book.  I do not necessarily consider myself a fan of political action thrillers; however, this book gripped my attention and imagination from the very first page.  I was immersed in the story from beginning to end.  I could not put it down and found myself sneaking in a few pages when I woke up in the middle of the night.  Excellent work by William F. Brown.  One of the best books I've read.

Ohio 2029 by D.A. Winstead

By Daena

Those with open eyes knew the inevitable would happen one day...that economic implosion would put an end to our small world.  But when the United States learned that the Black Crash of 2015 was planned and carried out by Washington insiders, people simply stopped wondering why, rose above the fray, and learned how to move on...with some conditions.  What happened in 2015 was not just an attempt to bring on a financial apocalypse; it was an attack on our way of life carried out by progressive ideologues...insiders...and it left a poor and angry nation seeking revenge, and a conservative force determined never to let it happen again.

Fourteen years later, a very different United States has taken shape.  Led by a coalition of conservative Southern states credited for forging the greatest economic recovery in our nation's history, the national economy is strong again.  New laws have minimalized Washington's power and placed progressive troublemakers in ghetto-like reform zones.  Still, most Americans remain unwilling to forgive and forget.

Much of the nation is still suffering and ready to move on.  But first, two families must do so.  Mary Catherine Marshall is the daughter of a powerful Red State senator living in Atlanta; Maddy Garner is the son of a Blue State refugee hidden away in dangerous and violent Cincinnati, a national reform zone known as Hell Town.  With four of the last five reform zones set to be closed, leaving only Cincinnati to remain for the long-term, Mary Catherine goes there to be with Maddy, the only one she's ever loved.  When she goes missing inside the zone her father created, the two families find out quickly that getting over political ugliness isn't their biggest problem.  Deep in the bowels of the nation's most dangerous and violent reform zone, where a hateful roamer has taken over, the two families must forget the past to unite and fight an even uglier and more revengeful reality.  (taken from the back of the book)

Author D.A. Winstead has brought political reality to life in his latest novel.  Two families wth extremely opposite political beliefs are bound by friendship and true love.  However, when the economy fails, those ties are tested and undone between two opposing families.  They go from living similar lives with differing political views, which seemed irrelevant as long as they didn't talk politics too often or too deeply,to not speaking and living completely different lives.  One family recovers magnificently.  The other is forced to live in poverty-like, oppressive conditions.  The remaining love between the children of these two families would eventually reunite them when they have to fight to save the daughter of the wealthy family, Mary Catherine, whom they believed had been kidnapped in the most dangerous town in the United States.

The novel begins with random newspaper clippings to bring the reader up to the present day and time and was just slightly confusing for me, but made sense once I was past the clippings.  Due to the clippings not giving a lot of details or introducing the characters, I found it difficult to dive into the story until I was about a quarter of the way through the book.  This is a very well written book, with a very believable plot.  I enjoyed Winstead's style of writing and the intelligent way it was written.  I thought he offered insight regarding political affairs to the novel due to his political/military background.  This added a realness to the novel other authors may not have been able to offer.  I do wish the ending of the book had been a little more traumatic.  I felt like there was a big build up for a sort of uneventful ending.  Over all, it was an interesting novel and I would recommend it to someone whom enjoys political fiction.

Gone Feral by Novella Carpenter

By Daena

Gone Feral is Novella Carpenter's search for her father.  Back-to-the-land homesteader, gifted classical guitarist, Korean War vet, hermit, curmudgeon, George Carpenter has been absent for most of his daughter's life.  But when he officially goes missing - only to be found in a fleabag Arizona motel escaping the brutal Idaho winter - his daughter is forced to confront the truth:  Her time with her dad, now seventy-three years old, is limited, and the moment to restore their relationship is now.  Thus begins a journey of discovery that carries Carpenter from her Oakland urban farm to her father's ramshackle cabin on a quest for connection that reveals who she is and where she came from.

The story starts in San Miguel de Allende in 1969, where Carpenter's free-spirited parents meet and fall in love.  Their whirlwind romance continues through Europe and ends on 180 acres beside Idaho's Clearwater River.  Carpenter and her sister are born into a free, roaming childhood but soon the harsh reality of living on the land  loneliness, backbreaking labor - tears the family apart.  Carpenter's mother packs the girls and heads for the straight life in Washington State while George remains on the ranch, tied to the land and his vision of freedom.

In Gone Feral, Carpenter, now a grown woman contemplating a family of her own, returns to the wild to answer why her father chose this life of solitude.  She quickly finds that Geroge is not living the principled, romantic life she dreamed and the truth is ore complicated than anything she might have imagined.  As she comes to know the real George, Carpenter looks to her own life and comes to recognize her father's legacy in their shared love of animals, of nature and of the written word; their dangerous stubbornness and isolating independence. (taken from the back of the book)

The author's raw, matter-of-fact approach to writing really allowed me to delve into this book.  It was as though I, as the reader, was experiencing some of the same revelations as the author was experiencing as the story is told.  Novella tells her own life experience, but allows the reader the emotional connection to relate her to trials and triumphs with ease and even revelations.

If it is possible to truly need to read a book, I needed to read this one.  The author includes so many insights in to life and lessons about self-acceptance, unconditional love (or true love), survivalism and rebellion, spelled out with humor and straight-forwardness, that I believe I am a better person for having read this book.  Novella Carpenter did her audience a great favor by sharing her experiences, in her wonderful writing style, with the world.  This is definitely on my list of favorite books I've read.

In A Wolf's Eyes by A. Katie Rose

By Ed

Raine is a slave, a gladiator.  Known as the Bloody Wolf, he is the champion of all champions in the Empire of Khalid.  Ly'Tana is a warrior princess of Kel'Halla and is set to wed the heir to Khalid's throne, Crown Prince Broughton.  When Raine and his new wizard pal, Rygel, accidentally murder the High King, they setin motion events which rapidly spiral out of control.  Ly'Tana discovers the true, and violent, nature of her betrothed, a man nicknamed Prince Brutal for his vicious nature, and escapes her marriage.

Brutal will stop at nothing to have her for his wife.  To entice his runaway bride into a trap, he brings down and captures her griffin bodyguard, Bar.  Ly'Tana vows to have Bar back or die trying, and seeks the help of Raine and Rygel, to free Bar from Brutal's clutches.  In doing so, Raine and Ly'Tana are forced to flee for their lives, hunted by Brutal's secretive assassins.

Can they escape the hunters and silent, evil hounds?  Can Ly'Tana evade Brutal's hungry need to marry her and seize her beloved country?  Can Raine keep Ly'Tana alive and still save himself from capture and torture?  Can they stop themselves from falling in love?

Thus begins the first novel of The Saga of the Black Wolf series.  (taken from Amazon description)

This book, which I learned is the author's first, is very well written.  The story and characters feel well thought out.  It's told from the first person perspective of two different people, Raine and Ly'Tana, something I haven't read since Susan Kay's "Phantom" (one of my favorite books.)  Having more than one protagonist helps flesh out the world better than trying to describe one person's point of view alone.

One observation I would make, is that the relationship between Raine and Rygel seems forced.  Yes, it may be setting the scene for something more, but in the beginning it puzzled me and didn't seem true.  Their brotherly banter later on becomes endearing, especially after Raine helps Rygel overcome his drug addiction.

Ly'Tana and Rain's relationship, while only mutually beneficial at first, clearly sparks into something more.  Being a fan of a 'good' love story, I'm very interested to see how this relationship develops.

Fantastic escapes, near misses, and a chilling cliffhanger ending left me wanting more.  Bravo Miss Rose!!

The Battle for Darracia series by Michael Phillip Cash

By Ed

On the planet Darracia, an ever-widening social gap between its inhabitants is causing turmoil that is fracturing a once peaceful world.  Struggling with his identity, nineteen year old Prince V'sair must harness the power of the elusive Fireblade, the secret to a warrior's heart, in order to overcome his uncle Staf Nuen's lust for supremacy.  Will the energy of the Elements gide the young prince to his true destiny or will Staf Nuen conquer Darracia?  (Schism, from Amazon)

The Darracia saga continues with all the key players spread out and searching for answers throughout the solar system.  Prince V'sair struggles to hold his fractured kingdom together without help from his family.  His stepbrother Zayden is on a vengeful hunt for his evil uncle Staf Nuen.  Tulani navigates her two worlds trying to bring them together.  Staf Nuen, the orchestrator of the original coup, is making unholy alliances with nefarious new allies.  Like the comet zipping across the horizon, all the different factions are heading for a collision course that will test both their faith and power.  (Collision, from Amazon)

Imprisoned on the dead moon of Bina, trapped at the bottom of the cold Hixom Sea, lockedin a cell in the flooded Desa and blinded and defeated in the Eastern Provinces, the ruling class of Darracia is defeated without hope.

In the conclusion of the Darracia saga, V'sair, Tulani, Zayden and Reminda must dig deep and find both strength and faith to rise from the depths of the impossible and restore order to their home planet from Lothen, Staf Nuen and the evil armies of Geva.  (Risen, from Amazon)

In Schism, we thrust into a world with absolutely no background, very little detail, and are basically told we had to like it.  The protagonist, Prince V'sair, seems to be the only character of any merit, the only one with an interesting story to tell.  As a half-breed prince, his struggles to fit in and be accepted seemed plausible.  We are given brief glimpses into the lives of his parents, his treacherous uncle, and his love interest, Tulani, who's basically pimped out to him by the queen.

Mr. Cash fails to firmly establish the genre he's trying to create:  is it science fiction or fantasy?  Caught in a landslide, not much of an escape from reality.  He talks of interstellar travel, space ships, alien races from multiple planets, while at the same time the characters are communing with the Gods and wielding mystical blades of fire.

The finale of the first book was too quick and honestly didn't set the stage for the furtherance of the series.  It felt as though the story could have ended there, and I would have been happy if it had.

But, we continue on to Collision, where Mr. Cash tries to further flesh out his non-descriptive story.  We're given a little more back story on V'sair's bastard half brother Zayden, but not enough to warrant any real feelings for the character.  Meanwhile, V'sair and Tulani pine for each other as they struggle to bring the people of their planet together.  I don't buy this relationship at all.  A single tryst in the jungle and they're meant to be??

The traitorous uncle returns in the finale of the book, to reclaim his planet with little more than pistols and a few surface missiles.  Really??  You expect me to believe a species that has mastered interstellar travel relies on weapon technology no greater than a six shooter??

And so we go to Risen.  This book was the quickest of the three for me to read, as I felt the author himself was getting sick of it, and just wanted to wrap it all up.  The introduction of yet another species is made, purely for plot convenience.  There's no way a species existed on this planet for eons and no one had a bloody clue.  V'sair's uncle is given a horribly dishonorable ending and Zayden's given an undeserved hero's charge.  It was as if Mr. Cash was looking for an easy way to tie things up, rather than one that felt like it belonged in the story.

On the whole, this series was a big disappointment.  My wife really enjoyed his other books, so go read those instead.

Christian by Disguise by Erna Kamerman Perry

By Carrie Anne

For nearly all of the sixty-odd years since the end of World War II, I hardly mentioned the Holocaust or my experiences in it.

And yet, this period covered the first ten years of my life and has had a dramatic and traumatic effect on me.  Life kept me busy and I buried the memory of that time fairly deep. My mother, my uncle, friends and acquaintances familiar with my past or those who shared in it occasionally would remark on an episode.  For the most part, however, we were mute on the subject.  Neither my husband nor my children knew much about it, just a single event mentioned in passing and made to sound irrelevant.

But years have passed and those who have experienced the Holocaust are disappearing.  Death is no longer something far on the horizon but a frequent visitor to many around me.  And so, it seems that I must take the chance of telling my story, a story that was a part of the horror my people experienced.

I have no illusions that another thread in the weave of the narratives about the Holocaust will make any difference:  the deniers of it will keep denying, the haters will keep hating, genocides will keep occurring.  I only want my children, my (few) relatives, my friends, and those readers interested in the historical horrors of the twentieth century to know that once there was a little girl who, through no fault of her own, had to lie and pretend so she could live to see another day. (taken from Amazon description)

I cannot imagine the horrors visited upon the Jewish families during the Holocaust.  Even more, I can't imagine tucking those memories away, pretending they didn't happen, or trying to ignore the pain.  For that, I commend Perry for coming forward with her story.  She's right, those people available to tell their tales are fewer every day.

Unfortunately, with a title such as Christian by Disguise, I was expecting something more.  Bright, with an ability to pick up quickly on other languages, Erna was taught to read Catholic prayers, in the hopes she could pass for a Polish Catholic should the need arise.  Her lessons saved her and her mother.  The charade continued, though, and Erna learned more about the Catholic faith, and began to question her Jewish background.  This is a story we haven't heard, and I was interested in following her spiritual awakening.  Unfortunately, at one point her mother says "Let's not argue about religion.  You'll make up your own mind when you are older."  And we, as readers, never learn any more.

This is not to say that she doesn't have an interesting story to tell.  Her close calls and near captures took my breath away and brought me to tears.  It just isn't the story I was expecting to read.

The French Executioner by C.C. Humphrey

By Carrie Anne

The last thing Jean Rombaud expects upon being summoned to behead Anne Boleyn is  to dedicate his life to her.  But the ill-fated queen has a mysterious request for her executioner:  that after taking her life he also take her infamous six-fingered hand and bury it at a sacred crossroads in France.  His oath will set Jean on the most dangerous journey of his life.  (taken from Amazon description)

I expected this to be one man's story.  Sure, he was going to meet people along the way, but I didn't expect them to start questing with him.  And that's what it felt like:  a story about a quest, full of traveling and fighting, not one man's journey to some sort of personal fulfillment.  The beginning of the book got my attention and the interaction with Anne Boleyn was touching.  But, from there it was a swashbuckling adventure, not what I signed on for at all.

If you like your history spiked with a dash of derring do, this may be the book for you.  Nearly 400 pages and covering several locations, it's sure to keep you entertained.  The author is an accomplished actor, writer, swordsman, and fight choreographer, so you can expect quality action.  Unfortunately, it just wasn't the book for me.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Lion Trees by Owen Thomas Part One: Unraveling

I've been an avid reader for well over thirty five years.  I've been a reviewer for over a dozen.  I've been bombarded by today's cookie cutter story assembly and I despise it.  There are times when I just don't think I can take another pre-fab book.  Then, someone like Owen Thomas comes along and reminds me what the book world CAN offer, what a story CAN be.  It reminds me of the reason I fell in love with reading in the first place and what a magical world the art of storytelling is.

I'll admit, this book is intimidating.  The first book is over 800 pages.  It's massive.  Book two appears to be about the same length.  Given the size of the books alone, you expect  them to be dry and filled with all sorts of nonsensical and superfluous information.  You expect chapters of lifeless stage settings and dull noticings of the author.  You expect to pick up the book and have them give you every detail down to the crack in the floor that has nothing to do with anything.  What I found instead is a mesmerizing tale.  Thomas lets the scene set itself and only gives you the necessary information.  You're allowed to fill all the colorful gaps in yourself and actually use your mind.  Instead of finding a dull, brittle book filled with annoying redirection from the story, I found myself immersed in a world that ended all too quickly.

We find the story beginning with Tilly Johns, a famous actress.  But the story isn't really about her.  Not really.  Each chapter is told from the perspective of either her or one of her family members.  There is Tilly, her brother David and her parents.  Then there's Ben.  Ben is the baby of the family and a Downs Syndrome child.  Each of the people in this family unit are struggling with their own identities and reasons for being.  Each has been cast in a role and they struggle with not only where they are and who they are, but whether they intend to stay in that role.  If not, is escape possible?

This book is definitely not for the light reader or the non-thinker.  It's the best book I've read  this year, which is saying something considering I had a brand spanking new Maguire in my hands this year.  However, if I were going to write a book myself, I would want it to be something that changed the world of the person holding it, and this book does that exceedingly well.  While traveling through the individual lives of each family member, you'll find yourself questioning your own life and finding new truths that you didn't even know existed.  But it's not all about that either.  You'll also be entertained and lost in the world of the Johns family.  You'll find yourself anxious to know where the story is leading and what sort of exciting journey you're being led on in order to get there.  That's not even to mention the surprising use of the English language that Thomas has mastered.  Don't get me wrong, editing could have been a little more smooth, but the way that he composes words alone will find you lost in the beauty of Thomas' world.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Destruction by Sharon Bayliss

David Vandergraff wants to be a good man.  He goes to church every Sunday, keeps his lawn trim and green, and loves his wife and kids more than anything.

Unfortunately, being a dark wizard isn't a choice.

Eleven years ago, David's secret second family went missing.  When his two lost children are finally found, he learns they suffered years of unthinkable abuse.  Ready to make things right, David brings the kids home even though it could mean losing the wife he can't imagine living without.

Keeping his life together becomes harder when the new children claim to be dark wizards.  David believes they use this fantasy to cope with their trauma.  Until, David's wife admits a secret of her own-she is a dark wizard too, as is David, and all of their children.

Now, David must parent two hurting children from a dark world he doesn't understand and keep his family from falling apart.  All while dealing with the realization that everyone he loves, including himself, may be evil.

Let's get the bad stuff out of the way first.  The magic.  It wasn't poorly written or even poorly researched.  Everything seemed to be pretty sound.  The problem I had was that it's overdone and I really wish it had been a bit more original.  It takes up such a huge part of the story and there are just so many things that could have been done with it, that I felt like it was just tossed in there instead of being the true meat of the story it could have been.

Actually, this was a pretty fascinating 'what if' story.  What if you had an affair and children and then they disappeared and suddenly reappeared years later?  What if you didn't have the courage to tell your wife, but you still needed to be there for your children?  Not just from Dave's perspective, but from the entire family's,  not to mention the poor children.  Not only did Bayliss run the gamut of possibilities, but she did so while exposing some pretty serious character studies.

The most fascinating part for me was just how much I despised one of the main characters.  We have bad people and good people and bad people who think they're good and good people who think they're bad.  Those that we know are 'bad', honestly, they sort of faded into the background for me.  It sucked that they weren't nice people, but they didn't really have any impact on me.  Dave, the main character, means well, but he's such a coward that I found myself having a hard time really caring about him either.  His wife, however.  Wow!  My jaw dropped several times at her.  I hate her with a fierce intensity that I worried would set my Kindle aflame.  She is so evil and horrible that I found myself ashamed to be a woman.

This is the first book in a series and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next.  I feel like this one did a great job of putting the 'family' into perspective for future adventures/mysteries.

Minstrel's Gambit by Nance Bulow Morgan

By Ed

Minstrels' Gambit is the first in the Minstrel's Tale Mysteries Series.  Saeede knew that Behlanna was not going to be a good city.  She knew it the moment she saw the dark tower looming over the sleek dark wall.  She and her partner Andreas needed to rest after a long journey.  They would stay long enough to rest and perhaps play a tune or two for the locals but then they would be off again to more pleasant surroundings.  Upon their arrival in the city the two tired friends; minstrels and adventurers, are soon caught up in a murder investigation and find that they are the prime suspects!

Their investigation leads them to discover that an ancient riddle is at the center of their problem.  Evil forces are at play against them and they must solve the riddle, and foil the unleashing of evil upon the world, to clear their names.

The keys to the riddles are hidden within four musical scores.  As adventurers they must retrieve the scores from their protections within the elements.  As minstrels they must decipher the keys hidden within the scores.

Thrust into an epic adventure, the friends learn how deep and unwavering is their friendship-how deep and unwavering is their skills with sword, music, and magic.

Minstrels' Gambit is Bulow Morgan's second novel.  Sprung from the setting of her first novel Legend Destiny.  This epic adventure attests to her story telling ability.  The reader will be hooked from the very beginning of this gorgeous adventure.  (taken from Amazon description)

At first glance, this book looks like either a paint by number picture, or the box to an 8 bit video game, and it was about as much fun reading this book as the code for one.  And this book is looooong, and I don't just mean many pages.  Sentences and paragraphs blur into each other.  Though the book only has ten chapters, it's still 453 pages long!  It was like trying to read the credits at the end of a movie, just no break.

The title of the series, A Minstrels' Tale Mystery, I found to be grossly misstated, as they solved the whodunit before the third chapter.  I wasn't expecting CSI Dungeons and Dragons,but save the big reveal for the last couple of chapters!

The author is way too descriptive.  I don't need to be told about every inch of every building they come across.  As for the minstrels themselves, I call BS on their relationship.  In such a setting, fraught with danger, where lives are often short enough as it is, there would be no time for Ye Olde Friend Zone.

While I did appreciate some of the humor, and slight modernization of the writing style, there's some terminology that just does not fit in a fantasy setting.  She even misnamed a common mythical creature.  What she describes as having an eagle's head with a lion's body is actually a griffin, not a hippogriff.

Over all, this book was a pain.  She should either switch to modern time writing or do a little more research into how fantasy is written.  I, for one, will not be finishing this series.

Note from Shawn:  We did have two other reviewers who attempted to read the book, but were unable to enjoy it as well, to the point that they did not finish it.

The Surrogates by Consuella Harris

By April

The deaths of two prominent businessmen on the same day of heart attacks is at first declared to be of natural causes.  No investigation happens until a former law clerk hires an investigator to check into those murders, and the connection to the Lake Shore Parenting Group.

Three women became surrogate mothers through this group and their children were adopted by five couples.  Once the information about their births is revealed to them, it sets in motion events none had anticipated.

The investigation into these families, their lives, and those behind the events changes everything they believe.  Yet, there is still a murderer on the loose, unless the intrepid investigator can bring that person to justice.  (taken from the back of the book)

I really enjoyed reading this book.  It made me feel like I was the one telling the story.  As someone who has had difficulty conceiving, this topic really interested me.  I got so wrapped up in each woman's story that I forgot that the book was a mystery.  I loved how the author told each woman's story and made you feel the way each one felt upon making her decision, for whatever reason.  I did not see the twist in the story coming that caused the two men to die.  I remember audibly gasping when I discovered what the motive was and who did it.  I felt connected with each of these women, families, and the surrogate children.  It just showed me how ultimately powerful greed can truly be.

The Horse That Haunts My Heart by Deborah Smith Parker

By April

Set against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, Deborah Smith Parker's coming of age memoir takes place in the 1950's during three transformative summers she spent on a horse ranch.  As a young girl growing up in the Midwest, she longed for the life of a cowboy, but the closest she could get was to watch TV Westerns and play with a toy ranch set while other girls played with dolls.  Finally, when her parents allowed her to go west to live her dream, she met her first love-a horse nick-named Tank.

She spent her summers riding, wrangling, and sleeping out under the stars while her extraordinary relationship with Tank developed, shaped by the poignancy, hilarity and drama that tested relationships undergo.  (taken from the back of the book)

This book made me smile and remember growing up riding as a child myself.  I learned some cowboy language that I didn't know.  I also learned different kinds of tack and different names for horse colors.  Seeing how Deborah felt about horses made this a very uplifting and heart-felt story until the huge twist at the end.  Even though Deborah didn't like Tank in the beginning, she soon realized that she could count on him to protect her and was glad that she had such a wonderful friend the length of the time that she did.

Though this book appears to be mostly a children's book, we consider it more of a young adult book due to the 'adult nature' of one of the happenings in the book.

Welcome to Our Tailgating Party!

We've got nine different bloggers with nine different projects to make this the most fun year yet!

Everyone loves tailgating!  Food!  Football!  Friends!  It doesn't get much better than that!

Make sure you stop by each site and check out the entire party!

Karen at Bakinginatornado: A recipe for Kielbasa and vegetables marinated, skewered, grilled and served on a roll.

Stacy at Stacey Sews and Schools:  Sewn fleece headband/earmuffs in favorite team colors

Eileen at Eileen's Perpetually busy: A seat cushion with built-in handle for carrying ease.

Robin at Someone Else's Genius: Book review on The System:  The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football

Diane at Canning and Cooking at Home:  Using up all of your green garden tomatoes into a wonderful relish

Shellybean at Follow Me Home: Simple tutorial on making 'to-do' bags for kids

Lydia at Cluttered Genius: Make a garland for your tailgate or mantel out of products you already have in your house

Melissa at Home on Deranged:  Use technology and cool gadgets to ensure you are master of tailgating time

We're going to show you how to make SnapCaps!  They're super quick and easy and I'm going to give you several shortcuts so that you can toss these together quickly!  You'll be able to make it in time for Sunday's game!

For me, the only downside to tailgating is that I don't like the cold!  I'm a total cold wussy!  It's just not my thing!  Also, I tend to be a little picky about what I wear.  These hats can be made to be cute or manly and they're so versatile!  Each one can be made in the colors you prefer and then embellished with thought bubbles.  Then in the large thought bubble, you can switch out pictures to show everyone what's on your mind!  We chose our smiley face because we're super happy right now!  You can put in your favorite team's name, a hot dog, a drink, or whatever happens to be on your mind!  Since they thoughts don't take up much space, they're easy to stow in a bag or pocket and swap out as you'd like.  These are a great conversation starter, or, they can just let people know you're unhappy and they should back off!

Making your SnapCap:

I'm going to be showing you several time-savers here.  If you can crochet, and choose to, you'll find the pattern listed below.  It's a beginner's pattern and quite easy.  You can swap out colors for a striped effect or simply make it all in your teams favorite color.  For those of you who want something a little quicker, grab any old soft hat you want!  Knits and crochets work best because they're easiest to sew through.

We used Red Heart Pattern LW2730.  Though this shows a young girl's hat, the instructions actually make an adult size.  We also left off the cuff, because we can!

Next, we'll start our thought bubbles.  We did three different sizes and then the largest one.

Ch 2
6 single crochet in first loop.
Fasten off and weave in ends.

Next Smallest:
Ch 3
9 half-double crochet in first loop.
Fasten off and weave in ends.

Next to Largest:
Ch 4
9 double crochet in first loop.
Fast off and weave in ends.

Large Thought Bubble:
Ch 6
Row One:
In fourth chain from hook:  3 double crochet
In next chain: 1 double crochet
In last chain: 7 double crochet
(continuing around bottom) In next chain:  1 double crochet
In beginning chain: 3 double crochet, join to first stitch

Second row:
Ch 3
2 double crochet in next stitch
Next stitch: half-double crochet, single crochet
Next stitch: half-double crochet, double crochet
Next stitch: 2 double crochet
Repeat around 5 times
Next stitch:  half-double crochet, single crochet
Next stitch: 2 double crochet
Next stitch: half-double crochet, single crochet
Fasten off and weave in ends.

Now position your thought bubbles onto your hat and pin them in place.  Next, simply stitch them where you want them.  Most of your SnapCap is finished! All that's left are the embellishments!

The snaps can be purchased for a few dollars at your local store, but most likely you have a few laying in your sewing box already.  You can design your own embellishments through crochet, knit, or sewing.  I've found the easiest thing to do is to go to my local store and purchase small 'patches'.  They come in a great variety and you can usually get them on clearance.

Sew one side of the snap onto your largest thought bubble, right in the center.  Next, sew the opposite side onto your embellishment.  It's that simple!  Simply use the same side of the snap and sew it onto all of your embellishments and you can swap them out within a matter of seconds!

We've actually had a lot of fun with these!  We set up an experiment had teenagers use these as their sole communication and it was hysterical!

Now go make yours and make a huge splash at your tailgating party!!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell Inserts Giveaway

If you know who Boris and Julie are, then you know how freakin' sweet this giveaway opportunity is!!

If you don't know who Boris and Julie are, you may not be all that interested, until you go look at their work.

They're giving away ten limited edition art prints!  I've been a fan of their work for years and I'm definitely entering!

Go here to check it out!!

You must be 18 to enter and the last entry will be accepted on October 8th.

Giveaway Notice

All winners of giveaways will be notified as soon as their name has been drawn. Each winner will have two weeks to respond in order to receive their prize. Prizes cannot be delivered without an email/physical address. Any prizes that are not claimed within a two week period will be forfeited.


All books (unless otherwise specified) belong to me already, have been borrowed, or are sent to me by the author, publisher or review company for review. I do not receive any monetary rewards for reviewing books. The opinions expressed in my reviews belong solely to me.