Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Mighty Oak and Me (Mr. Pish Backyard Adventure Book 2) - K.S. Brooks and Mr. Pish

For my final 2016 IU Reading Challenge book, I've chosen a cute picture book starring Mr. Pish, the Traveling Terrier.

This new edition of The Mighty Oak and Me brings the book into the Mr. Pish series, which promotes reading and outdoor literacy. Here, Mr. Pish talks about his favorite tree from his backyard in Maryland -- a 300-year-old oak tree. The book is full of interesting facts about oaks (which are one of my favorite trees, too), as well as a bunch of things that trees in general do for us.

I expect that after reading this book, young readers would be banging down the back door to get out and visit their own backyard trees. Highly recommended for fans of trees, dogs, and early education.

And with this post, Rursday Reads is going on hiatus. I've cleared my backlog of books to be reviewed, and my reading time is more limited these days. I'll be back to posting reviews here when I've knocked down my to-be-read "pile" on my Kindle. Until then -- read indie!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Sun Singer (Mountain Journeys #1) - Malcolm R. Campbell

Fifteen-year-old Robert Adams is a normal American teenage boy, with two differences. For one thing, Robert sometimes has dreams that come true. And for another, his grandfather knows the way to a parallel universe. Old Thomas Elliott once told Robert that he must go back to this other land, where he left important tasks unfinished, and Robert vowed to help. But now, Grandfather's health is failing, and Robert must go alone to Pyrrha and finish what the old man began -- if he can.

The Sun Singer is a cut above your typical YA epic fantasy. Robert is an appealing hero, and the other characters in the novel -- in both worlds -- are well-rounded. There's only one elf, and no dwarves or orcs, which is a relief to this somewhat jaded epic fantasy fan. And when magic is afoot, the narrative is often lyrical -- as it should be.

The book ends with a revelation about Robert's family, and the sense that there are more adventures to come. And in fact, I believe the second book in this series is already out. So I'd highly recommend that YA fantasy fans get started on The Sun Singer now.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Gino's Law - Candace Williams

The subtitle for this book is, "For Every Action There's an Overreaction," a mantra that our antihero, Gino Gibaldi, inadvertently lives by. One of his neighbors -- a slimy lawyer  -- turns up dead; when the cops stop by to chat with Gino, he mouths off to them, just sort of on general principles. Unfortunately, the cops have circumstantial evidence that he's the murderer, and Gino sure looks guilty to them. You'd think he'd wise up and straighten things out, wouldn't you? He wouldn't overreact and run from the law, would he? Of course he would. And then things really begin to get interesting.

Williams calls this a quirky mystery, and there's certainly a whodunit aspect to the plot. But the best part for me was the characterizations, from Gino the misanthrope, to the Miss Jean Louise, the beauty-prize-winning hamster owned by Gino's gay neighbor. I saw a couple of instances where the Spanish wasn't up to snuff (for instance, a native Spanish speaker would say problema, not problemo -- "no problemo" is American slang), but by and large, the book is well-written and well-edited.

If you're looking for a fun mystery story, you could do worse than Gino's Law. Highly recommended for readers who like humor with their whodunits.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Spool of Blue Thread - Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler is a master at making family relationships come alive, in all their messy glory, and A Spool of Blue Thread is no exception. Set in Baltimore, as most of her novels are, this book tells the story of the Whitshanks -- a family who came up from nothing, yet ended up owning a house as quirky as they are.

The patriarch these days is Red Whitshank. He and his wife Abby have four grown children and a number of grandchildren. Red and Abby are getting on in years, and part of the plot centers around how the adult children can best help their parents age in place. But that's only one of the things going on here; the family has several secrets, and you can bet they'll all be revealed before the final page.

A Spool of Blue Thread was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, among its many accolades. I enjoyed the book, but I wondered whether the Booker nod wasn't as much for her career as for this book in particular. Maybe when I read it, I wasn't in the mood for a book about a quirky but charming American family, one with plot threads that weave around each other to create a fabric rather than racing toward a finish line. There's humor and heart here, but not enough to make me love the book Suffice it to say that I've read a few of Tyler's books, and this one isn't my favorite. (That would be The Accidental Tourist.)

Recommended for readers who enjoy meandering family sagas with moments of humor.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Man in the Black Hat - Melissa Bowersock

For this month's Indies Unlimited Reading Challenge, I'm going slightly out of order and reading an indie book "of my choice." (I'll do the one-of-a-series challenge next month.)

Although one could be forgiven for thinking The Man in the Black Hat is part of a time-travel quasi-series. Bowersock's previous two novels were about a modern man named Travis who finds himself mysteriously transported into the past, and makes a better life for himself there than he has in the here and now. Clay Bauer, the main character in this book, is no Travis. He's a character actor in the movies -- the guy who always plays the heavy because of his looks. He's resigned to never being the leading man. But one day, while on location for a Western that's shooting in Sedona, Arizona, Clay stumbles through a sort of wormhole in time, and finds himself in the honest-to-goodness Wild West.

Almost immediately, he meets Ella -- which is a good thing, as he sustained a broken arm in a fall when he transitioned to her time. Ella and her brother Marcus are homesteading near where Sedona will be located someday. The two of them patch Clay up, and let him rest up and heal. But when it's time for Clay to go back to his old life, Ella has a choice: stay with her brother, or leave with the man she has come to love. But will she be able to adjust to life 115 years in the future?

I've enjoyed every Bowersock novel I've read, and this one is no exception. She has clearly done her homework on the history of Sedona, as well as on the movie business. Clay is an engaging fellow, Ella is as spirited and independent as you would expect a frontier woman to be, and the resolution to their dilemma rings true. I would highly recommend The Man in the Black Hat to readers who love a sweet love story.

I reviewed an advance reader copy of this book.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Druid (Storytellers Book 1) - Frank Delaney

I'm reaching into the vault for this week's book. I read the first couple of Storytellers short stories by Frank Delaney when they first came out, a few years ago, and recently realized that I'd lost track of the rest of the series. Which is too bad, for Delaney spins a fine yarn.

For those on this side of the pond, Delaney was a writer and broadcaster in Ireland and the UK for more than thirty years. He's somewhat of an expert on James Joyce, and he has been a judge for the Booker Prize. I read his novel Ireland years ago and was charmed by it -- and not only because he named one of his characters Mrs. Cantwell.

The Storytellers series was, I think, conceived as a promotional vehicle for his most recent novel, The Last Storyteller (which I have not read). The short stories and the novel came out at about the same time, and the first chapter of the novel is included with The Druid. Which I should probably get around to reviewing now.

The story is set in Ireland, and the main character is a fake druid named Lew. The ugly little fellow decides he must marry Elaine, the fairest young girl in the neighborhood -- not because he loves her, but because he's convinced her wealthy father will set them up for a life of ease. Alas, Elaine is already promised to another -- a stranger who is shortly to arrive to collect her. Lew and his one-legged crow have only a few days to figure out how to trick Elaine into marrying him.

Delaney's tale is told effortlessly and with a great deal of fun. As you read it, you can almost imagine yourself gathered with your loved ones around the hearth while the Old Storyteller weaves his tale about you all.

I need to find the other stories in this series. Highly recommended for those who love a good tale.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Nova - Samuel R. Delany

Basically, I was shamed into reading Nova. Well, maybe not shamed, exactly. But a number of friends, upon learning that I'd never read anything by Samuel R. Delany, strongly suggested that I read this book.

Nova won the Hugo Award for Delany in 1968. It's a space opera about a good-guy space captain named Lorq van Ray and his quest to find a plentiful source of Illyrion, the element that makes space travel possible. He believes he can generate it by sending his ship through a nova, so he assembles a ragtag crew and heads for his destiny. Compounding the danger are his nemeses, Prince Red and his beautiful twin sister Ruby. The Red family currently controls the largest viable source of Illyrion, so if Lorq succeeds, the Reds will be ruined. But Prince Red's hatred of Lorq goes back much farther, to their shared childhood. In short, Lorq is the good guy, Prince is the mentally unbalanced bad guy, and Ruby is the siren whom Lorq is in love with -- although there are hints that her relationship with Red, and her fierce loyalty to him, are more than just brotherly love.

But some of the most interesting parts of the story involve the members of Lorq's crew, most notably Mouse, a gypsy from Earth who plays a remarkable holographic synthesizer called a syrynx; and Katin, a Harvard-educated fellow who is knocking around the galaxy to tour moons while he gathers material to write a novel -- an archaic storytelling device that nobody bothers with anymore.

Much has been written about Nova's use of metafictional techniques: Lorq's whole voyage is a grail quest, and two crew members (Lynceos and Idas) are named for two of Jason's Argonauts. Also, the Tarot figures prominently -- and interestingly, in this society the Tarot is considered to be not only accurate, but worthy of scientific pursuit.

My friends were right -- Nova is worth your time. Recommended for fans of space opera, as well as for anyone interested in serious science fiction.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Repulse: Europe at War 2062-2064 - Chris James

Historians, futurists, and sci-fi fans alike should like Chris James's new book, Repulse: Europe at War 2062-2064.

The novel opens with a bit of a sketchy tale about how this manuscript purportedly fell into the author's hands. Then it goes full-out into history mode, recounting -- from a vantage point nearly 80 years into the future -- the details of a European war that hasn't happened to us yet.

James has done a crackerjack job of world-building, imagining a future where technology is far advanced: medical nanobots make short work of battlefield injuries, brain scans of captured soldiers reveal the enemy's plans, and cities destroyed in battle are rebuilt in a matter of months. The bad guys in this world are a secretive Third Caliphate that intends to destroy the Christian infidels in a reverse Crusade. It's up to a scant few military geniuses to develop the tech necessary to beat back the threat.

The tone is dry, as befits a "history," but those who like reading about military strategy and gee-whiz technology should enjoy this book.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Newark Earthworks: Enduring Monuments, Contested Meanings - Lindsay Jones and Richard D. Shiels, eds.

Those of you who read my posts at my regular blog, hearth/myth, know that I've become a teensy bit obsessed with the Newark Earthworks. This complex of earthen mounds and ditches in central Ohio was built by Native Americans 2,000 years ago. Archaeologists today call the builders the Hopewell culture, and suspect they died out after contracting diseases brought to North America by Europeans without ever having come in direct contact with a white man.

The Newark Earthworks, together with other Hopewell culture earthworks nearby, have been added to the short list for designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The editors of this volume, Jones and Shiels, were among a group of archaeologists, historians, cartographers, experts on Native American cultures, and other scholars who gathered in 2006 for the founding of the Newark Earthworks Center at Ohio State University. The members of this group realized that no one had produced a comprehensive book explaining why these earthworks needed the World Heritage designation. This collection of fifteen essays, published this past spring, is meant to be that book.

Some of the essays are kind of dry, as scholarly works can be. But in all, they paint a picture of a remarkable achievement by a supposedly primitive culture. The complex includes two large circles, each nearly 1,200 feet in diameter, and a square and an octagon of similar size -- all joined by wide "roads" delineated by earthen banks. Each structure was placed deliberately to provide sight lines for various celestial events, including a moonrise position that happens only every 18.6 years.

What is also remarkable is how the structures have been preserved over the centuries, even through public use of the land for everything from a county fairgrounds to a military encampment. (Today, the Octagon is part of a country club's golf course.) And the site, which was built as a ceremonial center, is experiencing a resurgence in interest -- not just from scholars, but also from today's Native Americans, including the Shawnee, who called the area home after the Hopewell culture had died out and before their own tribe was force-marched to Oklahoma in the 1800s.

I learned a lot from reading The Newark Earthworks, and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in the Hopewell culture, ancient structures, or World Heritage sites.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Return to Crutcher Mountain (Cedar Hollow Book 2) - Melinda Clayton

In Return to Crutcher Mountain, Melinda Clayton travels back to Cedar Hollow, West Virginia, to further the tale of Jessie, the troubled, abused girl who was adopted by Billie May Platte in Appalachian Justice. Jessie is an adult now, and has created a successful career in Hollywood as a movie producer. But she still has problems with trusting people -- including the man she's currently seeing.

After Billie May died, Jessie inherited her mountain land. There, she has founded a center for children with developmental disabilities. And now she's called back to Cedar Hollow because of some problems at the center -- problems serious enough that the center might have to close. In rescuing the facility, Jessie may find healing once again, this time with the help of a little boy named Robby who's staying at the center.

Clayton tells her story with a sure hand. Robby's first-person sections are cute, but not overly so. I spent a good chunk of the book rooting for him and hoping he would eventually be able to tell Jessie what he knew about her past. Jessie is properly worldly and self-assured, yet vulnerable. There's a plot twist toward the end that was totally plausible, and the ending seemed to hold promise for everyone.

I'm highly recommending the whole four-book Cedar Hollow series, which Clayton recently released as a box set. You don't have to read them in order -- I didn't -- but read Appalachian Justice first. It explains Billie May's back story, which is key to a full appreciation of the rest of the books.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Alchemists' Council - Cynthea Masson

The Alchemists' Council is the first book in a fantasy trilogy (a fantasy trilogy -- imagine that!) where the people-in-charge make up a sort of magical Trilateral Commission.

Our main character is Jaden, a young woman who was half-invited, half-dragged to a parallel realm where alchemists regulate the events that happen on earth. Their job is to maintain the world's elemental balance by keeping the Flaw in the Lapis, an infusion of red in an otherwise blue crystal, from getting any bigger. The Flaw allows those who live in the outside world to have free will -- but too much free will, the alchemists believe, and chaos would result. So they seek to limit its size, with the goal of someday eradicating it entirely.

But there's a Rebel Branch of alchemists that's fighting to expand the Flaw, and the rebels want Jaden to join them. Jaden has been taught to fear the rebels, but soon she finds herself wondering who to believe.

Masson has created a complex yet logical system of magic for her world; one of the most charming, yet horrifying, scenes in the book is the one in which Jaden realizes where the crystals in the Amber Garden come from. The political intrigue, both between Council and the rebels and within the council itself, rings true.

This is not a fast-paced book by any means, and yet the plot doesn't meander. I enjoyed The Alchemists' Council and would be very interested in reading the next book in the series.

I should add that I received an ARC of this book from the publisher.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Mr. Pish's National Park Centennial Celebration - K.S. Brooks

Last week was the National Park Service's 100th anniversary. In honor of that -- and as this month's Indies Unlimited Reading Challenge book -- I'm reviewing Mr. Pish's National Park Centennial Celebration: A Mr. Pish All Ages Activity Book.

I'm supposed to be reading a children's book for the IU challenge this month, and this book qualifies as that. But some of the puzzles, and even some of the detailed coloring pages, may be a challenge for the smallest readers. No matter, for the traveling terrier does his part, as usual, to encourage everybody to get outdoors and learn about the world around us. I've been visiting national parks since I was four years old, and even I learned some things from this book.

Mr. Pish's National Park Centennial Celebration is available only in paperback. Highly recommended for preparing for your next visit to a national park -- even if you only dream about it.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Shadow Days (Cedar Hollow #4) - Melinda Clayton

Shadow Days was a tough, but ultimately cathartic, read for me.

The main character is Emily Holt, a widow living in Florida whose sons are away at college. On the anniversary of her husband's death, Emily gives into an impulse to flee. She gets in her car and drives away, wandering aimlessly, until her car breaks down on a winding mountain road. The sheriff's deputy who picks her up takes her to the nearest town -- which happens to be Cedar Hollow. There, Emily begins to find her way out of her complicated emotions, and she also finds a way to tell her sons the truth about their father's illness.

Clayton has created a realistic portrait of a woman with a loved one who's suffering from mental illness. Emily's husband, Greg, was manic-depressive, and she spent the vast majority of her marriage covering for him in one way or another: finding him work, dealing with his behavior and his medical needs, and raising their children pretty much by herself. To compound matters, she strove to shield the boys from all knowledge of Greg's illness.

Without going into detail, I'll just say that I identified with Emily in a lot of ways. I was in tears more than once. And I was heartened that Emily's story might eventually have a happy ending.

Shadow Days is available both on its own, and as part of Clayton's Cedar Hollow omnibus. All four novels are highly recommended, but I think this one might be my favorite.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Tradition of Household Spirits - Claude Lecouteaux

The Tradition of Household Spirits is a fascinating look at spirits of place in the medieval world.

Lecouteaux's biography says he is a former professor of medieval literature and civilization at the Sorbonne, and he has written a number of books on subjects in his field. In this book, he seeks first to explain how and why people in the medieval period believed their homes to be sacred space, and how they delineated the boundaries of that space. He then goes on to talk about the spirits and/or deities these people were honoring. It's clear to him that ancestors took on almost godlike status in succeeding generations; families believed those who first built on the land would stick around to bless them, if only their descendants treated them well.

The author concentrates on European practices and beliefs -- both Eastern and Western -- with a little bit of Asian lore thrown in here and there. He seems to think it significant that so many of these practices are similar, but I was less entranced. After all, most of the peoples he talks about can be traced back to a shared Indo-European homeland. We see that root in language as well as in pagan pantheons; with that much of a shared cultural root, it should be no surprise that people considered walls and hedges to be protective boundaries, and windows and doors to be liminal spaces that needed special protection.

Still, I learned a fair amount from this book. One thing he talks about is the belief that a cricket on the hearth will bring good luck. I always thought the saying referred to a literal cricket, for which I suppose I can thank Charles Dickens (and Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin). But Lecouteaux writes, "Isn't a good housewife sometimes referred to as the 'cricket of the hearth'?" I had never heard that before. Maybe it's a French proverb.

Lecouteaux ends his book with a lament that we no longer honor household spirits today: "Like so many other creatures that once embellished life and brought hope, house spirits have vanished and with them the souls of our houses have fled, never to return." Au contraire, professor: Some of us do still attempt to honor spirits of the places where we live, if not the spirits of our hearths.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Concealed (Virus #1) - R.J. Crayton

Concealed is the first volume in a dystopian YA series about a virus that has turned the world upside down.

Elaan Woodson is a lucky girl. The Helnoan virus has infected most of the population. Almost everyone who contracts the disease dies from it, although some recover -- and a handful, like Elaan, appear to have a natural immunity. In addition to her immunity, she is also the daughter of a scientist who's working on a cure for the virus, and because of that, she, her brother Lijah, and her father are living in the underground bunker where her father's lab is located. Lijah is a survivor -- as is Josh Wells, the only other teenager in the compound. Elaan and Josh are obviously headed for romance, but Lijah keeps warning her away from him. Lijah says Josh has a secret that will hurt Elaan, but then Lijah has a big secret of his own. And the most important secret is the one Josh's father is keeping from all of them -- one that might cost Elaan her life.

Crayton spends a lot of time in this book developing her main characters and the setting. We learn a lot about Elaan's daily life, and about how the underground facility operates, including the behind-the-scenes machinations like management hierarchies and gossip. The plot, however, takes a while to get going. I found myself wishing somebody would just break down and tell Elaan something already, so the story could move along. Things do finally accelerate, but the action doesn't pick up until near the end of the book.

Crayton is a fine writer, and her topic is certainly timely. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of this series. Recommended for those who enjoy YA science fiction.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Tell a Thousand Lies - Rasana Atreya

For this month's Indies Unlimited Reading Challenge, I'm reading a book from another culture than my own. I've chosen a book that I have been meaning to get around to reading for several years: Tell a Thousand Lies by Rasana Atreya.

The book is set in rural India, where a grandmother has taken on the task of raising three sisters: Malli, the eldest; and fraternal twins Lata and Pullamma. In this traditional village, the most a girl can hope for is a good marriage, and these girls have no dowry. But it's worse for Pullamma, as her skin is darker than the other girls', and she grows up hearing -- and internalizing the message -- that her future is hopeless. But then, a local strongman sees a political angle. He pays the village soothsayer to claim that Pullamma is a goddess reborn, and suddenly the girl is the center of a lot of unwanted attention. Eventually, she escapes -- but the corrupt politician still has his hooks in Pullamma and her family, and her life will be ruined many times over before she has an opportunity to triumph.

Atreya champions the rights of Indian women in this book. Pullamma's twin sister Lata wants nothing more than to get an education and become a doctor -- which her traditional grandmother considers to be madness. And too, the whole book is quite a send-up of the idea that women should only aspire to make a good match, and then be obedient wives -- nothing more than that.

My only quibble is that the plot gets quite melodramatic -- very much like a soap opera, with one horrible thing after another happening to Pullamma, her husband, and Lata. I've only seen one or two Bollywood movies, but the plot here is very much like one of those.

If you like Bollywood flicks, I'd highly recommend Tell a Thousand Lies.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Grandmother (Babicka) - Bozena Nemcova

When I was young, my favorite book was Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. Alcott's tale about Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy went a long way toward forming my ideas about fairness, kindness, and how to get along in life. The Grandmother serves the same purpose in the Czech Republic. Published originally in 1853 -- 15 years before Little Women -- The Grandmother tells the story of an elderly country woman in northeast Bohemia who comes to live with her daughter and her daughter's family on a noblewoman's estate. Mr. Prosek, the son-in-law, works for the noblewoman, you see -- the house is part of his living expense. Grandma is immediately pressed into service as babysitter for the couple's children. But the old lady doesn't mind; in fact, she thrives on teaching the children everything from Christianity to superstitions and folk remedies. Everyone in the neighborhood loves her, of course -- even the noblewoman, who comes to believe that Grandmother is not only the epitome of Czech peasantry, but full of good ideas, to boot.

The novel is beloved in the Czech Republic, but I suspect most modern-day Americans would find it tedious. There's no plot, really -- just a series of vignettes following the Prosek family through the course of a year. I found it interesting because of my heritage, and because I was looking for examples of how pagan practices had survived in Bohemia. But there's very little action, and only a little conflict among the characters.

The biggest revelation is perhaps the story of Victorka, a madwoman who lives in a cave near the family's home. She went mad after conceiving a child out of wedlock, and the most interesting thing about it is how no one in the village condemns her -- either for becoming pregnant (rather than scolding the girl for her loose morals, the villagers consider the father a demon!) or for her treatment of the baby (which she delivers alone, and then throws in the river). Victorka's story is told with typical Czech practicality, and none of the melodrama that someone like Dickens would likely have employed.

If you have an interest in historical accounts of idyllic 19th-century family life, or of old Czech customs, I'd recommend checking out The Grandmother for its place in Czech literature alone. The rest of you should probably give it a pass.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Our Lady of the Ice - Cassandra Rose Clarke

It's the time of the year when I look at my TBR pile of dead-tree books and realize I only have a few months to get through it before I get another book bag at this year's World Fantasy Convention. So I may be reviewing more trad-pubbed books than usual over the next few months.

Our Lady of the Ice is steampunk, I guess. Around the turn of the 20th century, developers built a weatherproof dome in Antarctica and put an amusement park under it. They also built a city under the dome for the people who would work in the park, and called it Hope City. But they also built robots, some more humanoid than others, to work in the harsh climate. As the novel opens, it's been several decades since the park was shut down. The infrastructure may (or may not) be decaying, and many people want only to escape to the mainland. That's the dream of Eliana Gomez, a female private investigator -- but she hesitates because it would mean leaving her boyfriend, Diego Amitrano, behind. Diego works for the gangster who controls much of the city, but Eliana wonders how deep Diego is involved. At the same time, a society woman named Marianella Luna has teamed up with a city council member to champion a proposal to grow crops under the dome, thereby making Hope City less dependent on the mainland. But the androids in the park are gaining sentience, and they have their own agenda. And Marianella harbors a secret that could bring ruin to everyone.

I enjoyed the book. Eliana and Marianella are appealing characters, each in their own way. And Sofia, an android and another point-of-view character, was well done. My favorite character, though, might be Luciano, another of the androids, who is not as far along in his development as Sofia in some ways, and yet farther along in others.

The book has a noir feel to it, what with the gangsters and the winter darkness. The dome frames the story: it keeps everyone alive, but it also traps the characters and their corrupt society.

I would recommend Our Lady of the Ice to readers who enjoy alternate history, noir fiction, and androids.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Being Travis (No Time for Travis Book 2) - Melissa Bowersock

I enjoyed Finding Travis, Bowersock's first installment in this series, and was pleased to hear that she had written another book with the same appealing characters. I am happy to report that Being Travis did not disappoint.

This book picks up some time after the end of the first book. To recap, Travis Merrill was volunteering as an army surgeon in a reenactment at Camp Verde, Arizona, when he was somehow whisked back in time to the real camp. He managed to pull off pretending to be a real doctor, with the assistance of one Corporal Riley. Now, Travis and Riley have both mustered out of the Army; Travis has married Phaedre, a woman he met at the camp, and is setting up a homestead not far away, with Riley's assistance. As time goes on, Travis discovers it's becoming harder to keep the secret of who is is and when he's from -- especially from his wife.

This is one of those stories where you just want to take the main character and shake some sense into him. Riley, of course, has some inkling of the truth, but all Phaedre knows is that Travis is hiding something from her, and that's not a good foundation for any marriage. Travis did a pretty good job of screwing up his life in our time, and this reader would really hate to see him screw things up in the past, too.

Bowersock has included some intriguing subplots, including one in which a notorious historical figure stumbles across Travis's neighborhood. I hope we've seen the last off that fellow, but the writer in me wonders whether he won't come back for an encore in the next book.

Which is to say that I hope Bowersock writes the next book in this series soon. I would highly recommend both books in this series for readers who enjoy historical fantasy.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

A Killing Truth (Leine Basso Thriller Prequel) - D.V. Berkom

For the Indies Unlimited Reading Challenge this month, I'm supposed to read a book in a genre I don't usually pick up. Thrillers qualify, for sure; usually I find them violent for the sake of being violent, and lacking in character development.

With D.V. Berkom's work, however, I don't have either problem. This is the second of her books that I've read, and I've enjoyed them both.

A Killing Truth is a prequel to Berkom's series featuring Leine Basso, a kickass operative for a shady U.S. anti-terrorist agency. When she's not picking off bad guys, she enjoys time with her young daughter. And she has a boyfriend, Carlos, who shares her line of work. When Leine nearly gets killed on assignment, she writes it off as a bad job -- but Carlos thinks their boss might be trying to eliminate them both. Then Carlos goes missing -- and the boss sends Leine on a crazy mission that's sure to get her killed.

Leine is a no-nonsense professional and a deadly adversary -- and as usual with Berkom's work, the excellent editing and taut pacing kept me on the edge of my seat to the very end.

As A Killing Truth is a prequel, you don't need to have read any of the other books in the series to enjoy this one. Highly recommended for readers who like their crime novels with tough female heroines.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Pierced by the Sun - Laura Esquivel

Laura Esquivel is best known as the author of Like Water for Chocolate. In her new book, Pierced by the Sun, the magic realism is less overt, but it's there nonetheless.

Lupita is a Mexican policewoman who witnesses the murder of a local politician in broad daylight on a city street. His death throws her back into the self-abusive practices she had used before -- drinking and drugs. At the same time, the local political machine marks her for death. She inadvertently escapes into the succor of indigenous spirituality, and in so doing, finds a way out -- not just for her personal dilemmas, but maybe for her nation, too.

Esquivel does a fine job weaving together the various threads that make up the tapestry of modern Mexico -- Catholicism and indigenous religion, political corruption and the drug trade, and people just trying to live their lives. The trope of the modern woman who finds her way again by adopting ancient ways is somewhat hackneyed, but at least the author doesn't make it the focus of the book. She does, however, have an overt agenda, or at least a moral to her story; it's clear that Lupita is a stand-in for Mexico herself, as evidenced by the story's final sentence:
Most importantly, if Lupita -- who had collected so much pain, who had experienced so much anger -- could heal and connect to The Whole, so could Mexico.
I picked up Pierced by the Sun for free as part of Amazon's Kindle First program. If you're looking for another Like Water for Chocolate, you'll be disappointed. But if you can stand a little morality play with your magic realism, you may enjoy Pierced by the Sun.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Catering Girl - Laurie Boris

Y'all know by now how much I love Laurie Boris's work -- and I'd say that even if we weren't fellow minions at Indies Unlimited. So nobody should be surprised when I say that I loved this book.

Catering Girl is a prequel to Boris's first novel, The Joke's On Me! The main character in both books is Frankie Goldberg, a nice Jewish girl from the East Coast who has made her way to L.A. to try to make it as an actress, or a comic, or both. Instead, she's working for a catering company on the set of a film starring Oscar-winning starlet Anastasia Cole. Anastasia is a diva with a reputation, but Frankie happens to deliver her cappuchino when she's having an identity crisis -- and before long, Frankie finds herself wheeling and dealing on Anastasia's behalf. But how long will Anastasia continue to need her? And what if, in the process, Frankie loses herself?

I love Frankie. Her snarky attitude just barely covers her major self-esteem issues. And Boris has given her a great foil in Anastasia, the not-quite-brainless beauty who essentially hires Frankie to be her best friend.

I would highly recommend Catering Girl to anyone looking for a quick, fun summer read -- and if you find Frankie as appealing as I do, you'll be glad to know you can segue right into the rest of her story.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Ashes and Rain (Ahsenthe Cycle #2) - Alexes Razevich

Part sci-fi and part fantasy, Ashes and Rain picks up where Khe left off -- and does a wonderful job of furthering and enriching the original story.

As this book opens, Khe knows she has changed, and she is becoming aware of how much her efforts, and those of the doumanas she assisted, have changed their world. They have overthrown the lumani, the shadowy race that ran the doumanas' society -- but now that no one is telling them what to do, the doumanas don't know how to make their own decisions. Because of that, many doumanas distrust Khe, and she finds she literally cannot go home again.

But more changes are in store, for both Khe and for all of her kind. The road to get there will be rocky, but it must be traveled. The question is whether Khe is up to the journey.

Many times, a follow-up book suffers in comparison to the first -- but that is not the case here. Razevich's doumanas are wonderfully drawn, and Khe herself is an amazing character. I was thrilled to be in her world again. Highly recommended.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicles: Day One) - Patrick Rothfuss

Why, oh why did I wait so long to read this book?

The Name of the Wind was first published in 2007, and friends who are fans of epic fantasy have been talking about how great it was. But I was reading other stuff, and, well, time gets away from one.

I finally got around to reading it recently, and I very much enjoyed it.

A more-or-less itinerant Chronicler stumbles into an inn in the middle of nowhere one night, and finds himself face-to-face with a legend: Kvothe, the most amazing wizard (among other things) of all time. But here, Kvothe is known by another name, and he's running this inn with his loyal assistant, Bast. All is not what it seems, of course; Kvothe is Bast's teacher, and Bast himself is...perhaps not entirely human. And there's a monstrous evil thing that has begun attacking people not far from the inn. It's clear Kvothe will soon need to come out of hiding -- but first, he agrees to tell the Chronicler his life story. The Name of the Wind, the first installment of that tale, details Kvothe's early years, from his life with his parents in a performing troupe to his years at the University in Treban.

Rothfuss is a fine storyteller, and he's picked a unique way of telling his story: Kvothe tells his life story in first person, but the present-day frame for his tale is in third person, and I thought the choice made perfect sense. I found Kvothe to be an appealing hero, and his mysterious love interest intrigued me. Of course, this book has been compared to everything from Lord of the Rings to Game of Thrones to Harry Potter, but it's different from each of these. In all, a fine start to the series. You can bet it won't take me another nine years to read the next book.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Life Memories - Jacqueline Hopkins

For this month's Indies Unlimited Reading Challenge, I'm reading a memoir by an author who cared for her mother during the last two years of her life.

The subtitle of this book is, "A memoir of surviving life and preserving memories!" and Hopkins has done a pretty good job at both. 

In this book, Hopkins talks about how her life, and her mother's, were upended when the older woman began developing dementia. Peggy Hopkins, the author's mother, was living in the family home in Alaska when her memory began to deteriorate. At the same time, the author's husband was leaving Alaska for North Dakota to find a better job, and she intended to follow him. So the family closed up Mom's house, and the author brought her mother along with her to the Lower 48. 

My mother also suffered from dementia during the last years of her life, so I could empathize with Hopkins. Her frustration with the medical establishment, in particular, rang true for me.

But the author's stated purpose in writing the book was to document not just the frustrating and overwhelming times, but the more pleasant -- and even funny -- times, too. She was determined to remember the good things as well as the bad, and that's perhaps the most valuable takeaway from this book.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Rainbow's Edge - Leland Dirks and Angelo Dirks

Rainbow's Edge is about family, and secrets, and redemption.

The book opens with a Nebraska farmer rushing to the hospital to see his youngest son, who was severely injured in a car accident, and from whom he has been estranged for some time. When he arrives, he finds Buddy in a coma. But the two men discover a mental connection that allows Buddy and his dog from childhood to take the father on a trip down Memory Lane. During that week, we learn the reason for the estrangement (it's not a spoiler to tell you that Buddy is gay), and Dad has the opportunity to rethink some things -- and maybe even come to a greater understanding about his own life.

I've been a big fan of Leland Dirks's writing since I read Jimmy Mender and His Miracle Dog, and I've read several more of his books since then. This one felt a little rushed to me. A great deal of the book is, of necessity, dialogue, and of course it's not taking place in a physical space, so some of the things an author might use to help with pacing aren't plausible -- body language, for example. Still, I wished for a momentary pause now and then.

But that's a minor quibble. Dirks handles a difficult topic with his usual stellar sensitivity. And I learned a few things about rainbows along the way. Recommended.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Shaman Rises (Walker Papers #9) - C.E. Murphy

I'll get to the review in a minute. But first, a story: I discovered the Walker Papers series at about the same time as I discovered urban fantasy as a genre. I've now sampled several series, but the only ones I've stuck with until the end are Carrie Vaughn's books starring Kitty the werewolf, and C.E. Murphy's books starring Joanie Walker the reluctant shaman. When Mountain Echoes came out in 2013, I devoured it, and made a note to grab the next book in the series as soon as it came out. And then I forgot about it. It wasn't until earlier this year that I said to myself, "Hmm, I wonder if that final book ever came out?" And lo and behold, it 2014. This, Dear Reader, is what a diet of mostly indie novels does: when readers are conditioned to expect a new book from their favorite authors every few months, a sequel that won't be available for a whole year is easily forgotten.

Anyway, to the review.

As Shaman Rises opens, it's been a year since Joanne Walker first realized she had shamanic powers. Back then, she was the girl mechanic in the Seattle P.D. motor pool, running from her past and secretly in love with her boss, Capt. Morrison. By the time we get to this book, she has quit her job; she has learned of her mother's magical power in Ireland and her father's shamanic power in North Carolina and integrated them both into her own; and her relationship with Morrison is progressing nicely. Now she's drawn back to Seattle and into the final battle with the Master. She's strong, but he's ancient, and she has a lot to lose -- her friends, her lover, her city, and her life.

If you haven't read the earlier books, don't start with this one. Murphy makes very little effort to catch up readers to what's going on. Then again, she doesn't have time. This book starts off with a bang and doesn't let up; Joanie herself hardly gets a chance to catch her breath.

I love this series for its blending of Native American and Celtic beliefs. And when it comes to the pagan stuff, Murphy gets that right, too. Kudos to Murphy for that, and for bringing her series to a breakneck close. Recommended -- but read the earlier books first!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Finding Travis (No Time for Travis Book 1) - Melissa Bowersock

Life is not going well for Travis Merrill. He has pursued, and abandoned, several careers without really finding his niche. Now his wife has left him. Just about the only good thing he has left in his life is his volunteer work at Fort Verde, a rebuilt frontier encampment in Arizona. 

One night, as he's portraying the cavalry surgeon during a holiday event at the fort, he dozes off in a chair in the surgeon's quarters -- and wakes up in 1877.  As luck would have it, the fort -- then known as Camp Verde -- doesn't have a surgeon in residence. So Travis passes himself off as an Army surgeon from back East, and tries to make it look good by relying on the little bit of medical knowledge he gained during one of his abortive career attempts. As time goes by, Travis begins to realize he may be stuck in 1877 forever.

I always enjoy Bowersock's books; she has a talent for working a paranormal angle into just about anything, including historical fiction. Fort Verde is a real place, and Bowersock has clearly done her homework on the fort and her chosen time period. Travis is an appealing character, but my favorite might be his assistant, Riley -- a finer stoic Irishman you won't find anywhere.

Kudos to Bowersock for this wonderful start to her new series. Highly recommended.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Emotion Amplifiers - Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi

It's the first week of the month, which means it's time for a review for the Indies Unlimited Reading Challenge. This month, I'm supposed to read a nonfiction book. I've chosen Emotion Amplifiers by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.

The subtitle suggests this short book is a companion guide to The Emotion Thesaurus, which is already a Rursday Read, and I'd say that's the best way to look at it. In The Emotion Thesaurus, the authors give you ways to indicate your character's emotional state while not coming right out and saying which emotion he or she is feeling. It allows the reader to identify with your character more easily, and so draws them further into your story.

Emotion Amplifiers is a book to turn to when you want to up the ante. Your character's sad or angry? Well, he might go out and get drunk. Turn to the section on inebriation and you can add a few details to your scene that will indicate just how drunk he is. Then you can set up a situation that requires sober judgment, and see whether he's up to the challenge.

Now, most of us have probably been inebriated at one time or another, and could therefore fill in the blanks without a guide. But what if your character is dehydrated? Suffering from heat stroke? Exhausted? All of these states of being can make a character feel his or her emotional state more deeply. And it's at this sort of deep state that your characters can fight their internal demons, and maybe -- just maybe -- win.

Emotion Amplifiers is free for Kindle. If you've found The Emotion Thesaurus useful, I'd recommend you pick up this companion book. If nothing else, it can serve as fodder for plotting your next novel.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

On hiatus.

I have been remiss. I thought I had posted that I planned to take last week off, but I guess I didn't. And I don't have a review ready for this week, either.  Bad author! No donut!

I'll be back in top form next week, I promise...

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Then and Now: The Harmony of the Instantaneous All - Randy Attwood

It's been said that if you remember the 1960s, you weren't really there. In Then and Now, Attwood captures the mood of that turbulent time with a protagonist who writes down his memories of his college years to try to make sense of them.

Stan Nelson is middle-aged now, but in 1969 he was a graduate student at the University of Kansas. As he pieces together his memories, his story's narration shifts viewpoint to various people he knew there. Among them: Peter Thomas, who staged and directed an avant-garde production of the Greek tragedy Oresteia in which Stan improbably landed a part; Melvin Washington, originally from Trinidad, who found himself as angry as any native-born American black man; Yen Li, the Chinese woman Stan fell for; Charlie Wilson, the drugged-out non-student; Betty Reed, who would rather live on a farm without electricity than spend another night under the roof of her father, a racist cop.

Interspersed with their stories are Stan's updates on how they turned out, and how their memories of the events of '69 and '70 compare with his. As for Stan himself, he has built a tea house on a hillside to learn the Tao of tea.

My own college experience began several years later, but I had very little trouble recognizing the character types. (We even had our own Charlie Wilson, in a way; the late Leon Varjian made a name for himself at my alma mater, Indiana University, before going on to become a legend at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.) The difference for us was that the draft was no longer hanging over the heads of male students.

Anyway. The episodic nature of the narrative gives the book a feeling of being a little rough around the edges. But then, the late '60s were like that. If you're interested in what it was really like back then -- or if you find yourself struggling to remember -- I'd recommend Then and Now.

(The author gave me a copy of this book without requesting a review. The decision to review it is mine alone.)

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The One Grapes: Addressing Hospital Food with Crude Doodles - Joseph Picard

It's time for this month's entry in the Indies Unlimited 2016 Reading Challenge. For April, I am reviewing a humorous (or is that humourous?) book. Presenting:

Author Joseph Picard is a paraplegic. In early 2015, he developed a pressure wound that landed him in the hospital for two months. So he had a lot of time to, um, appreciate the food -- and to ponder the meal order slips that the kitchen always attached to his tray. Early on, one of those slips listed, "1 EA GRAPES". As a creative kind of guy, Picard couldn't let that slide. So he doodled One Grapes having an existential moment and sent it back down with the empty tray. He heard the ladies in the kitchen liked it. So he started doing doodles on every slip, and snapping a photo of each one with his cell phone before his tray was whisked away.

With that much material, The One Grapes was practically inevitable.

I found the sketches witty enough for at least a chuckle and their descriptions charming. Picard's narration features a self-deprecating style that springs from a kind heart. Must be because he's Canadian.

If you've ever been hospitalized, you'll appreciate this book. If you know someone who's in the hospital -- or, hey, someone who works in a hospital kitchen -- this would be an awesome gift. Highly recommended, in other words, for just about everybody.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

No review this week, sorry.

I'm in the midst of moving from one apartment to another this week, so of course something has to fall through cracks. Apparently, Rursday Reads is it. Sorry about that. I promise to be back in the saddle again next week.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Dance of the Heart (Moments of the Heart Book 1) - Susan Berry

I am not a huge fan of sweet romances. It's not the lack of sex that bothers me; it's the conspicuous consumption -- the big houses, the luscious food, and so on. Just not my thing. But lots of readers like them, and they may very well like Dance of the Heart.

Our heroine is Maggie Campbell, who fled home after her mother's death, and who has been enticed into returning by the prospect of her beloved grandmother's 90th birthday. Upon Maggie's arrival, she discovers that a handsome fellow by the name of Desmond Kinsley has somehow wormed his way into the bosom of her family. Everyone seems to love him -- including her grandmother. Maggie smells a rat, especially after learning how entwined Desmond is in her family's financial affairs. When her grandmother falls ill, Desmond once again makes himself indispensable to her family. And even as Maggie falls for him, she can't help but wonder whether they're all making a big mistake.

The plot is fine, and so are the characters. Maggie is adorably klutzy when necessary; Desmond is the wealthy man of mystery who may or may not be romantically available. The supporting cast was pretty well fleshed out.

However, I saw some continuity problems. For one thing, as Maggie entered the ballroom for her grandmother's birthday party, I didn't realize the room was already full of people until the crowd reacted to Desmond's entrance. Then later in the book, a number of scenes take place in her grandmother's house, but often I wasn't clear which one the author meant -- whether it was her actual house, or Desmond's carriage house where she was convalescing. Also, distances seemed somewhat elastic. I didn't have a good sense of how close all of the houses were to one another. Some indication along the lines of "Grandmother's house was X minutes' walk from Desmond's" would have helped me a lot.

And there were quite a few typos in the version I read, as well as some repeated text that should have been excised in the editing process. Overall, I'd suggest another round of edits would strengthen the book.

I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Oddfits (Oddfits #1) - Tiffany Tsao

The Oddfits is an oddly charming story of a young man who finds his place in the world almost by accident.

Murgatroyd Floyd is eight years old, a blond-haired, blue-eyed Singaporean boy. He loves his English expat parents, never noticing how cruel they are to him. He's bullied at school, and his only escape is an ice cream shop whose owner takes a shine to him. For the ice-cream shop owner, Yusuf bin Hassim, senses that he and Murgatroyd share a special ability: they are Oddfits, who can travel from everyday reality, or the Known World, to a place called the More Known World.

Due to a twist of fate, Murgatroyd loses his chance to meet his destiny and continues living in Singapore. At 25, he's still living with his parents, who still treat him poorly; he works for a restaurant, but the owner almost treats him worse than his parents do; his best friend is not as good a friend as he could be; and Murgatroyd continues to be oblivious to it all. Then, at last, he meets another Oddfit, and is finally given the chance to travel to the More Known World. But leaving turns out to be harder for Murgatroyd than it should be -- because none of the people he's closest to want to lose their doormat.

Tsao gives her speculative-fiction piece a literary turn. Nearly every character has a backstory, and the action often skids to a halt while the author spends a page or two describing someone we've just met. Not that the book is particularly action-packed; the pivotal scene is almost a tableau, as Murgatroyd's parents sit motionless while their son finally figures out what's been going on all his life.

Still, it's a charming book. Murgatroyd is a nice guy, and I was pulling for him hard at the end.

If you're the sort of reader who likes roundabout tales with quirky characters, you might enjoy The Oddfits. And if you end up liking it a lot, you'll be glad to know that more volumes in the series are on the way.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Angelo's Journey - Leland Dirks and Angelo Dirks

As it happens, it was six years ago this month that Angelo, Leland Dirks' Border Collie, went walkabout for 40 days. Angelo had come to Dirks four years before, on the day after his beloved Suki was killed by a car, and brought him through his grief. Dirks and Angelo became inseparable. And then, one day, Angelo disappeared.

Grief-stricken all over again, Dirks spent days searching far and wide for his dog. And then he did what writers do in this day and age: he began a blog about his missing dog. Little did he know that Angelo was keeping his own sort of journal, and when man and dog were reunited (with the help of a UPS delivery man), Angelo helped Dirks fill in the blanks.

Okay, not really. I'm pretty sure Dirks made up a lot of Angelo's adventures. Then again, this dog had already rescued one human; who's to say he wouldn't have been saving others while trying to find his way back home?

Leland Dirks is one of my favorite writers. If you like good storytelling, or dogs, or uplifting stories, or...oh, heck. Just read this book. You'll love it.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Goody One Shoe - Julie Frayn

It's the first Rursday of the month, which means it's my monthly date with the Indies Unlimited 2016 Reading Challenge. This month, I'm supposed to read a book by an author who lives in another country. Canada's not all that foreign to me, but it's not the United States -- which means Julie Frayn's Goody One Shoe qualifies.

Goody One Shoe is superhero fiction. Billie Fullalove lost her leg as a child. She and her parents were at the wrong place at the wrong time -- they stumbled across a team of street punks in the commission of a crime. Billie's father pulled out his police badge and tried to stop them, and one of the punks opened fire, killing both of Billie's parents and shooting off her leg.

Despite her last name, Billie grows up full of anger, fear, and self-doubt. She copes by taking her red pen to crime stories in the paper, adding endings in which the criminals get what's coming to them. Then she begins to have odd blackouts -- and at the same time, some of the crooks she's written about get what she gave them in her rewrites. Billie has to figure out who's been looking over her shoulder, and what to do about it.

If Billie were only a cranky victim out for justice, I would have tired of the book in a hurry. But Frayn has imbued her with heart -- and a wicked sense of humor, too. I found myself pulling for Billie every step of the way.  I hope Frayn is planning on writing more of Billie's adventures. This could be the first of a great series.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

From the ridiculous to the sublime, more or less.

A few weeks ago, I admitted on Facebook that I'd never read To Kill a Mockingbird. Several people I respect told me that I ought to, because it's a wonderful novel. So I ordered a copy.

Little did I know how timely our discussion was. Harper Lee died a week ago, on February 19th, 2016.

I won't do a big rehash of the plot, as I suspect it's pretty well ingrained in the American zeitgeist by now, but here's the elevator pitch: Eight-year-old Scout learns a lot about life in her small Alabama hometown when her father, Atticus Finch, is appointed to defend a black man accused of raping a white woman.

I have to tell you that I nearly set the book aside -- the first few chapters were pleasant, but didn't really hold my interest. (Although I suspect I would have been more interested had I known that Truman Capote was Lee's model for Dill.) It wasn't until Chapter 9 or so, when Atticus's defense of Tom Robinson began to seep into the kids' awareness, that the story began to get interesting for me. I found the trial to be fascinating but its outcome unsurprising -- although the final outcome of Tom's story did catch me by surprise.

As a writer, I admire the way Lee began the book with Jem's broken arm, and then made me forget all about them until the big reveal toward the end. And I thought she did a great job with making each character identifiable, despite the size of the cast.

I suspect I've come to the book too late in life to consider it a touchstone or moral guidebook, as some readers do; I came to Scout's conclusions about race on my own, decades ago. But I found To Kill a Mockingbird captured its place and time quite well, and I can see now why it got the attention it did as the civil rights movement of the '60s was getting underway. Highly recommended for those who want to know what mid-century America was like, back before we tried to kid ourselves about how we're a post-racial society.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Incontinence Man - K.S. Brooks and Nicholas Forristal

I'm not much of a connoisseur of graphic novels, but I thought Incontinence Man was a gas.

Oh, all right. I'll try to avoid bathroom humor in the rest of my review, even though the book is full of it.

Our hero, Luke Payne of Payne Manor, is a rich playboy whose days as a crimefighter in disguise are numbered, due to some rather severe gastro-intestinal issues. His trusted servant Alfreda makes him a deal he can't refuse: see a doctor, and she'll make him a new costume in poop brown (to hide the inevitable mishap). And just in time, too, because there's a new supervillain in town -- and the crafty creature might have ties to Luke's doctor. (Gasp!)

It's clear Brooks and Forristal had a ball creating this Batman send-up. The artwork started out as real photos that were cartoonified. And if you've never read a graphic novel on a Kindle, you may be pleased to know that Amazon has built in a pop-up feature that isolates each dialogue balloon and presents them to you in order. That's a boon to those of us who find ourselves somewhat challenged when reading comics. Not that I ever have that problem.

Incontinence Man Number One was such a fun read that I'm hoping Number Two is already in the works. (Sorry, I couldn't resist one more.)

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Sonnets for Heidi - Melissa Bowersock

Sonnets for Heidi is a heartfelt tale in which what-might-have-been becomes a way forward.

Trish has a lot on her plate. She lives in the San Fernando Valley with her boyfriend Eric; they have a great relationship, but Trish had an abusive first marriage and is leery of getting married again. She is also coping with the recent death of her mother -- and the responsiblity for her aunt Heidi that her mother's death has thrust upon her. Trish feels guilty about putting Heidi into a care home, even though Heidi has Alzheimer's and the care home is a great situation for her. Still, she does her best for Heidi, which is more than the woman's son has ever done for her.

Then suddenly, Heidi too dies. And in going through her aunt's things, Trish stumbles onto a family secret -- one that will take her back to her hometown in Pennsylvania, and will introduce her to a woman Heidi never forgot.

Bowersock is a wonderful writer, and here she has brought her characters to life in a kind and loving way. My mother suffered from dementia before she died, and I recognized many of Heidi's behaviors as the coping skills they were -- and I felt for Trish, who always seemed to cope with them with grace. And the way she honored her aunt's memory at the end was marvelous.

I highly recommend Sonnets for Heidi for any reader who enjoys character studies of strong women, and for those who need to be reminded of how oppressed women were in the first half of the 20th century.

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book, and am providing an honest review in exchange.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

By Darkness Revealed (Blackwell Magic Book 1) - Kevin O. McLaughlin

This week, I'm reviewing my second book in the Indies Unlimited 2016 Reading Challenge. This month's goal is to read a book by someone who is not an IU minion, but who often comments at IU. I've chosen Kevin O. McLaughlin's By Darkness Revealed because I've never read any of his work previously and had been meaning to.

This urban fantasy novella begins with Ryan Blackwell, a freshman at a military school, running a drill with his unit. Something odd happens to a fellow recruit, and Blackwell can see it's a magical attack by some sort of teeny critters -- otherworldly gnats, maybe -- so he goes back to rescue the young man. Blackwell hasn't been keen on others knowing about his special powers, but his platoon leader figures it out -- and soon our hero has more trouble on his hands than he ever bargained for: dead students, interviews with the local police, and a malevolent spirit that wants to kill him.

I enjoyed this book, but I wanted more. The author left a number of things unexplained: the mysterious gardener, the nature of the dispute between Ryan and his father, and how Ryan came to have special powers in the first place. McLaughlin also has an unfortunate tendency to mix up to lay and to lie -- although I'm willing to blame that on the first-person narrator. Otherwise, the book is well-written and the magic is coherently structured. And I suppose some of the things I was left wondering about might be explained in later books.

I'd recommend By Darkness Revealed as a quick read for urban fantasy fans who don't mind a little military-school terminology mixed in with their critters that go bump in the night.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Creepier by the Dozen: Twelve Twisted Tales - Stephen Hise, Cole Hise, and Anneliese Hise

This book is truly a family affair. Stephen Hise and two of his children, Cole and Annaliese, pulled together twelve of their best short horror stories and put them together in this anthology.

I'm not a fan of the blood-and-guts variety of horror stories, and I was relieved to discover that very little of that appears in this book. Instead, these stories are meant to give you a little shiver, as if perhaps someone walked across your grave.

Among my favorites was the fifth tale, "Guardian," about two kids and a dog that could have been better socialized. The ending of that one rattled me. Then there was "GPS," the seventh tale, a ghost-in-the-machine story with a satisfying ending.

I would recommend Creepier by the Dozen to anyone who likes a shiver on a dark winter night.