Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Review: Breath of Dust & Dawn by L. Penelope

About the Book

Published by Heartspell Media on January 24, 2019

GoodReads Description

This novella begins after the events of Song of Blood & Stone—it’s both an extended epilogue AND a prequel, so it’s advisable to read that novel first.

For Jasminda ul-Sarifor, the war may be over but her conflict is not. New, overwhelming duties leave her caught between two worlds but belonging to neither. She turns once more to Jack, hoping the bond that got them through the first battle is strong enough to weather a new storm.

For Jack, Jasminda’s struggles hit close to home. To help her find her way, he entrusts her with a tale from his past where, after another war, a young Jack Alliaseen must also adjust to new responsibilities. But his take a lethal turn when prisoners of war start showing up dead on his watch. With the aid of a mysterious young man destined to change his life forever, Jack must save the lives of those under his protection before it's too late.

As his story unfolds, will Jack’s memories help Jasminda conquer her present trials?

My Thoughts

As you may remember from my review of Song of Blood and Stone I was absolutely blown away by the first book in this series!  I could not wait to get my hands on a copy of Breath of Dust & Dawn as soon as I knew that it was coming out!

I was most definitely not let down.

Just as it's advertised, this book is both an extended epilogue and a prequel.  At first, I was concerned about that concept and felt like it would be too much in one single novella.  However, Penelope was definitely up to the challenge!  I loved that she was able to use flashbacks so skillfully.  Too many authors use them to fill blank space or to give unnecessary information.  This novella is a perfect example of flashbacks done well! 

Once again, Jack and Jasminda's relationship falls together quite naturally.  For them, it really is as easy as breathing.  They simply fit.  While the trope of lovers from two different worlds is one that I find quite overplayed, Penelope does it wonderfully.  This novella helps to continue the story of their relationship as they move from a simple couple to planning their wedding.

I loved Penelope's choice to use the story that brought Jack to Jasminda as a way to further their story along.  This was so beautifully done that I was upset we didn't get to hear more about his time before her.  I am definitely eager to hear more of this beautiful adventure.

My Rating

Monday, January 28, 2019

Review: Final Exam by Shaun J. McLaughlin

About the Book

Published on December 7, 2016 by Raiders and Rebels Press

GoodReads Description

Final Exam begins a series, written in the classic sci-fi visions of Asimov and Heinlein, that examines human society as people expand through our galaxy. In this future, there is no dystopian dictatorship, no cyber-menace overlord, and no inter-species warfare. Humanity faces its historic enemy, humankind, but under different skies. Even as civility and civilization advance through the millennia, greed, gangs and malice remain as wolves chasing down the weak and vulnerable. 

Final Exam introduces Shane O’Ryan, an idealistic, rich kid, about to graduate from an elite and secret academy that trains special agents. He and his secret fraternity investigate infractions of the colonization charter related to protection of intelligent species and the ecosystems on which they depend.

For his final exam, Shane and his student partner visit a snowy vacation planet to solve a mystery—how could a sub-intelligent species leap 50,000 years in evolution in months to harness fire and develop a language. Their investigation leads them into deadly conflict with a sophisticated gang trying to gain control of the planet for its mineral riches.

My Thoughts

What I Liked 

  1. The characterization in this novella is decently done.  I wasn't a huge fan of the fact that everyone looks the same, but I definitely understand McLaughlin's reasons behind doing so.  This also helped Alana to stand out which helped him to make his points throughout the piece.
  2. McLaughlin definitely has a strong imagination.  This piece was filled with whimsical yet believable aspects of a futuristic society.  I would be interested in reading more from this author.  However, I believe that he truly needs more space to write more effectively.

What I Didn't Like As Much

  1. I didn't think this book was long enough to truly build up suspense.  I would have loved to see more of the characters and to truly delve into their personalities to understand who they were.  That would have made me care so much more about them and what was going on.
  2. I have so many leftover questions!  What happened to Alana and Shane's relationship?  Did they stay friends?  I hated that I was left wondering about so many different things.
  3. What the heck was up with their teacher being so very concerned with Shane's sex life?  As a teacher, I was pretty disturbed by this.  I found the ending the most disturbing.  There are just some lines that should not be crossed in the teacher/student relationship.  

Again, I didn't completely hate McLaughlin's writing.  I strongly believe that his writing is more suited for a longer piece of literature.

My Rating

Thursday, January 24, 2019

H. M. Gooden Excerpt and Author Interview

H.M. Gooden

H. M. Gooden has been scribbling on everything since she first learned how to hold a pencil. While often told that her handwriting was atrocious, she persisted, and upon discovering computers and learning how to type, she realized that she was no longer limited by her (admittedly) messy writing.

Unfortunately, life and work and family have conspired to make it only possible to write in the wee hours or at coffee shops, so most of her love of reading and writing are indulged at times when only vampires and insomniacs abound.

Beginning in October of 2017, her love of writing and the characters in the world she has created burst into public view in her first book, Dream of Darkness, which follows the adventures of a group of girls fighting evil with abilities that H. M. Gooden would love to have. As a result, 4 am has become even busier trying to find out what will happen to her paranormal buddies in the future, and book six, seven and eight are in the works.

Contact Information:
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Social Media:
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Dream of Darkness

Rise of Light Series Book 1

Tired of moving yet again, Cat McLean finds herself in the town of Valleyview when her dad is transferred to a new job. Along with her older sister Vanessa, she must find a way to fit into another new school for what feels like the millionth time. And if that wasn't enough to deal with, shortly after their move, Cat and Vanessa are involved in a near-fatal car accident. Waking to find that she has the ability to see auras and to heal others, Cat is horrified to also discover an ancient evil that means to destroy her new home. Cat must join forces with her sister and a new friend to defeat it, or die in the attempt. Will she learn how to harness her new powers before the darkness comes for them? Or will she succumb to the darkness she fears?

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The Excerpt:

The girls finished lunch without any attention from other students, other than an occasional glance. As they walked back to the office, Cat tried to avoid catching anyone's eye, wishing again that she was more outgoing or had a thicker skin. Vanessa stopped abruptly and Cat had to pull up short to avoid running into her.

"How's the first day working out?"

A boy Cat didn't know smiled at them and she felt herself color involuntarily.

Damn it!

"So far so good!" Vanessa chirped.

The boy flashed another smile, and be damned if his hair didn't appear to ripple when he moved. He looked like a movie star, with his dark blond hair, dimples and grey eyes. He was probably about six feet tall, slightly taller than Cat, and well built. He looked directly at Cat, giving another blinding, toothy smile.

"We haven't met, but I guess you must be Catherine. It's not every day we get new students. I'm Declan Boyer. I'm in History with your sister."

Cat found herself feeling uncomfortable, but not because of his good looks. A weird, cold, and empty sensation washed over her. It felt completely out of place in the bright hallway, standing next to a guy who could be a homecoming hero.

"Hey, nice to meet you, too. It's Cat. Um, people call me Cat, generally." She managed to croak out her reply, wincing at how dumb she must sound.

Vanessa immediately noticed she was off and came to her rescue.

"Hey, Declan, do you know who we'd talk to about a track or running team? Cat was on the team back home before we moved and wants to try out here."

He nodded. "Of course! You want to talk to Ms. Fisk. She's the Art and Music teacher, but doubles as the cross-country coach. There aren't a lot of teachers here, I mean, the school only has 300 students from grade nine to twelve, so a lot of the teachers double as coaches." He looked at his watch. "I have a few minutes, I’d be happy to take you to her office."

Cat followed behind Vanessa and Declan, trying to figure out what felt so off. It was more than her usual discomfort with new people. This felt bigger and she knew she needed to listen to the feeling. It reminded her of the time she'd gone swimming with Vanessa and some of the neighbourhood kids. She'd refused to jump off the dock into the water when she was dared, walking out instead because of a weird feeling she'd had telling her not to do it. The next kid who'd jumped had hit a broken board and torn their leg badly. She had the same cold, dark feeling now that she'd had while wading in the water that day. Something about this beautiful guy made her as scared as she'd been back then.

"And here you go!" said Declan, bowing and waving his arm as though producing a rabbit out of a hat. "Ms. Fisk, in person."

A short and powerfully built Asian woman in her mid-forties smiled at him.

"Oh, Declan, always the charmer!" she said, as she fluttered and preened at his attention.

Declan smiled suavely, turning back to Cat. "I hope you find what you need. I'm on my way to a quick drama club meeting before lunch is over."

Vanessa straightened up, looking interested in something for the first time. Declan noticed and extended the invite to her.

"We're planning the show for the annual spring review. It's going to be a big one this year. We could use more players, if you're interested in joining us."

Vanessa looked at Cat with excitement. "Do you want to come?"

Cat shook her head. "You go ahead. I'll be busy here for awhile. I'll meet you outside after school, at the parking lot doors."

Vanessa smiled and gave a quick 'see ya' wave, before turning and following Declan down the hall without looking back.

Cat watched them walk away, still feeling an odd sense of unease, turning to see Ms. Fisk watching Declan walk away fondly. Ms. Fisk switched her attention to Cat, giving her a friendly once over.

"So, what brings you here today? Are you a budding artiste, looking for extra work perhaps? A musician? What can I help you with today, my dear?"

Cat smiled, finding the friendly warmth from the teacher relaxing after the oddness that had come with meeting Declan.

"Sorry, no. I'm not the artist in my family. But I'd heard you were the person to talk to about a cross-country or distance running club? I was on the track and cross-country team at my last school. I'd like to continue here, unless I missed try-outs, or whatever." Cat felt calm asking this teacher, warming to her open and attentive face.

Ms. Fisk smiled, regretfully. "Well, the track team is done until spring, but we do have cross-country into November, depending on weather. It isn't a very large group, so there's no need for try-outs. I can introduce you to the other students at the next practice on Wednesday and you can consider yourself officially a part of the team now, if you want. The last actual meet is in a couple of weeks."

Cat took down the rest of the information on a corner of a notebook, promising to be at the practice. Maybe she'd get a chance to talk to someone outside of class in an environment she was comfortable in. Feeling more optimistic than before, Cat checked her schedule and headed to her next class, English. Apparently they were learning Shakespeare, according to the titles on her book list. She sighed again, and prayed to whoever listened to high school students. Please spare me from a group read along...

The Interview

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

I find that writing is a soothing activity for me. It allows me to escape into my imagination and create worlds and solve problems in a way my day job doesn’t. So, in that sense I would say it is energizing. However, editing is exhausting at times!

Have you ever gotten reader’s block?

Yes! I had two children within 14 months of each other and I would say that I went almost 18 months, if not longer, without reading anything of mention. I was too tired and just had no interest, which is huge for me, as I can often read a book a day!

Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

I have, but in the end I guess my ego told me to keep things easy and write under my own intials. That way it is easier to point out my work and be believed ;)

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

I have been lucky to have found a community of writers on facebook that I have become close with. They are supportive and amazing, and have written books I adore. I really feel that having a group of people that will critique your work helps so much in growing as a writer.

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

Once my first book was published, it was real suddenly. It added a bit of extra pressure, but also excitement, knowing that my book babies were out in the world for people to enjoy.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

Embarrassingly, I have no idea! At least 6 right now are waiting for edits, maybe eight! I never half-finish though- I need to see how the story ends. The only one not finished is my current work in progress.

What does literary success look like to you?

Success is when your books pay for themselves and the time to create them, and seeing my name on someone’s TBR/ Favorite books lists.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Carving out the time!

Does your family support your career as a writer?

100%. They are fabulous and have been wonderful.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?

That completely depends on the book! I have taken as long as 4 months, and as little as 3 weeks to write a full length novel of 60,000 words. It depends on the amount of free time and the drive I have to get to the end.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Review: A Trail Through Time by Jodi Taylor

About the Book

Published by Accent Press on July 24, 2014

GoodReads Description

St Mary’s is back and is facing a battle to survive in this, the fourth instalment of the Chronicles.

Max and Leon are re-united and looking forward to a peaceful lifetime together. But, sadly, they don’t even make it to lunchtime.

The action races from 17th century London to Ancient Egypt and from Pompeii to 14th century Southwark as they’re pursued up and down the timeline, playing a perilous game of hide and seek until they’re finally forced to take refuge at St Mary’s – where new dangers await them.

As usual, there are plenty of moments of humour, but the final, desperate, Battle of St Mary’s is in grim earnest. Overwhelmed and outnumbered and with the building crashing down around them, how can St Mary’s possibly survive?

So, make sure the tea’s good and strong…

My Thoughts

Jodi Taylor's done it again!  I am so in love with this series!  This book was definitely no exception to that rule.  It is so hard to believe that I'm over halfway through this series!

Once again, Taylor's ability to build a world is absolutely phenomenal!  This time, her work was definitely cut out for her!  Many of the characters had different roles than in any of the previous novel.  She made sure that each character did a good job but still seemed out of place in this new role. By the end of the book, everyone was back where they should be!  This definitely showed how much more sense life makes for everyone when Max and Leon are back at St. Mary's where they belong.

Taylor definitely did not spare my emotions in this novel. Luckily, they were mainly happy tears.  I was so excited to see several characters who had died in previous novels come back.  Additionally, they were in much better shape than the previous books and were ready to jump!  I was so happy to be reunited with my old friends.

I'm here trying to think of something I didn't like about this book.  The ONLY thing that comes to mind is that in order for Max to die in this world, she'd needed to make some very non-Max decisions.  I felt like this left a decent sized plot hole, but one that could be looked over.

I'm so excited to share my review of the next book soon!

My Rating

Friday, January 4, 2019

Review: Jamhuri, Njambi & Fighting Zombies by Ted Neill

About the Book

Published April 20, 2018 by Tenebray Press

GoodReads Description

A Delight for Young Readers and the Young at Heart. 

A princess trapped in a high tree and a brash young man determined to “rescue” her; a devoted daughter searching for a magical spring to save her ailing father; a teenage girl who is forced to replace her mobile phone with a machete to protect her family from zombies—all their stories interweave in a stirring alchemy set in a rich African backdrop. Ted Neill moves readers from folktale to action, comedy to cosmology, rural to urban, material to spiritual, with the ease of a master storyteller, crafting an adventure along the way that will appeal to the head, the heart, and the soul.

About the Author: Before becoming a writer, Ted Neill worked in Global Health and Education. These stories were inspired when Neill was volunteering and living at an orphanage for HIV+ children in Nairobi Kenya. He wrote Jamhuri, Njambi, & Fighting Zombies when the children requested stories featuring people and places that reflected their own culture and their own world.

My Thoughts

What I Liked

  1. The world-building in this piece is amazing.  Although Neill doesn't take much time to explicitly describe parts of each scene, he truly brings the African backdrop that this world is set in to the reader's mind.  It is absolutely obvious how beautiful Sia's home is and how breathtaking the spirit world is.  I think there are several authors who could learn from Neill's expertise here.
  2. In many anthologies, the short stories never connect.  I was blown away by how well the first two stories connected in and with the third.  Everything finally comes together.  Although I don't know a lot about African culture, I understand that connectivity is very important to them.  I like that the culture was represented in this way as well as in the scenery, animals, plants, and people described.
  3. This book would be a lot of fun to teach.  Many textbooks have African literature that is very difficult for students to relate to.  The characters in this piece would give them the connectivity and relevance that they require.  Neill takes his time to introduce foreign flora and fauna which would give World Literature students a great place to dive in to foreign literature.

What I Didn't Like As Much

  1. This book definitely needs a pronunciation guide.  I was sooooooooooo beyond grateful for the audiobook because it was the only way I knew that I was pronouncing so much wrong!  I felt very culturally insensitive because of my mistakes.  I always expect my students to pronounce names as intended, but this book did not make that easy for me to do.  
  2. Several concepts were explained once and then later revisited.  However, they were often revisited much later, so I'd already forgotten what that concept was.  It would be helpful if there was a little bit of a refresher for these ideas.
Overall, I really liked this book!  The description is not kidding when it says this book is for young readers and those who are young at heart.

My Rating

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Review: A Second Chance by Jodi Taylor

About this Book

Published on February 11, 2014 by Accent Press

GoodReads Description

St Mary’s is back and nothing is going right for Max. Once again, it’s just one damned thing after another.

The action jumps from an encounter with a mirror-stealing Isaac Newton to the bloody battlefield at Agincourt. Discover how a simple fact-finding assignment to witness the ancient and murderous cheese- rolling ceremony in Gloucester can result in CBC – concussion by cheese. The long awaited jump to Bronze Age Troy ends in personal catastrophe for Max and just when it seems things couldn’t get any worse – it’s back to the Cretaceous Period again to confront an old enemy who has nothing to lose.

So, make the tea, grab the chocolate biscuits, settle back and discover exactly why the entire history department has painted itself blue …

My Thoughts

I have no words for the emotional flogging I suffered at the hands of this book. I hope that wherever she is, Jodi Taylor is proud of herself for destroying me.  How the H*** does she think this is OK?

In all seriousness, this book brought a new level of accomplishment to Taylor's writing.  Yes, she still does a fantastic job of world building and characterization as in Just One Damned Thing After Another and A Symphony of Echoes.  Here, however, she uses both of those things against her readers.

The relationship between Max and Leon has never been stronger.  I never rooted for them more than in this book.  And then all heck broke loose.  I was flabbergasted.  Taylor had definitely lulled me into a false sense of security with this couple in the first two books.  It was like she blew up a balloon of happy, tingly, joyful emotions and then popped it without the slightest of warnings.

If there is one thing that I never gave Taylor credit for it's that she knows exactly when to throw a wrench in the works.  She knows exactly when to hit the audience with a shocking event that will force them to clench the pages and keep reading in miserable delight.  Through each of the first two novels, I knew that something strange had to happen to keep the momentum of the plot.  The third installment was most definitely an exciting difference. I was so enthralled that I had to keep reading and finished the last two hundred pages in one sitting.  

After this novel, Jodi Taylor has gone from being an author I like to an author I will end up cramming down everyone's throats.  I am so excited to see what the next books in this series bring.

My Rating