26 August 2016

Between Now and Never

This book showed up in my Bookbub feed (LOVE this service. Recommend it for all the voracious readers out there!) and I saw the blurb from Janette Rallison on the cover. At 99 cents, well, it was worth the risk, right?

YES. YES IT WAS.

From Goodreads:
"Buh boom, buh boom.

My heart thrusts with a force that takes me by surprise. Telling me something I don’t understand. A splitting pain, a longing to slip back under. They tell me I was in a hit-and-run, but I can’t remember what happened that night. All I know is that I woke up with pictures in my pocket, a card from one of those photo booths in the mall. And I’m in the pictures. Cody Rush. Me and…

Julianna.

Her brother was there that night, and my dad, the FBI agent, was the one who put her mom behind bars. What’s the connection? And why won’t Julianna talk to me now? Somehow, she holds the key to it all, and getting close–real close—to her for the answers I need will be no hardship at all…"


This is an excellent book--suspenseful and real and tugs at the heartstrings and makes me want to cheer and cover my eyes at the same time. Cody and Julianna are well-drawn and individual and I ended up admiring them both for finding their way. I really liked how their weaknesses became their strengths by the end of the story--great character growth, especially on Julianna's part.

The plot is tight and intense--no plot holes anywhere--and I had such a hard time putting down the book because I had to see what was going to happen next. I also love the way Johnston wrote the setting. I've spent 10 years living in Arizona, and she evoked memories of my time there in a subtle but realistic way. (ARGH--INCLUDING THE HEAT.) The story was well done and I really enjoyed the ending. I would have loved a sneak peek at their futures, but I'm content with how things stand. Great, great book.

Gentle Reader Alert: I don't recall anything of concern.

Second Twin

Just as a heads' up: Second Twin is the *fourth* book in the Legend of Rhyme series. I reviewed the first three books here.


From Goodreads:
"Grimblerod has led twins Asher and Ariana Caine back to ancient Rhyme, a time when Calla and Elora were the same age the twins are now. Though the Kingdom of Falmoor is rich with magic, the twins are unable to use their powers. They don’t know whom to trust, where to turn, or how to avoid doing something in the past that may alter the future forever.

Meanwhile, young Teagan Rogers must decide if she is ready to leave behind everything and everyone she knows to follow her mysterious destiny beneath the waves.

Will Teagan choose to become a mermaid? Will Asher and Ariana get home before changing the course of history forever? And can enemies truly become friends?"

Second Twin suffers from sequel-itis. It is a bridge between the beginning of the story and the end, which can make it hard to enjoy on its own. In fact, I would very much like to go back and read the entire series when it's complete to get a better sense of the story. As it was, the plot deepens and the characters grow more complex as the narrative moves on. It's setting up for a rather explosive ending. I'm looking forward to the finished product.

Gentle Reader Alert: I found nothing of concern.

17 August 2016

The Echoing




From Goodreads
"Rylee has an unusual gift. It brings good luck to those who are kind to her and misfortune to those who are not-at least, that's what the crazy woman in the woods tells her. But Rylee doesn't believe it until strange coincidences start happening to her classmates and friends. Her gift may not be a matter of luck but of life and death."

The Echoing perfectly captures the tone of an imaginative teenager who can't quite grasp the cosmic significance of the burden she just took on. Rylee treats her encounter with the hag in the woods as incidental, not giving any thought to the consequences or listening to the hag's explanations. Typical teenager. It was frustrating, but true to life. I found the plot to be quite compelling as Rylee figured out how to use her new powers and how to defeat the villain that comes with them. As she simultaneously dealt with her mother's health issues and the unexpected turn in her relationship with her childhood buddy, Rylee didn't descend into insipid woe-is-me moments, but used her smarts and her native confidence to get her through. I really do love a confident teenage character. The romance here was sweet and slow-burning and the ending had a twist that I didn't quite see coming, but that worked out beautifully. This was a great debut novel!

Gentle Reader Alert: I found nothing of concern. 


I was fortunate enough to get an interview with author Jessica Blackburn. Enjoy!



1. When you hit a block in writing your book, what did you do to get yourself unstuck?
There were some funny ways I would get inspired… Taking hot showers with the lights off, surrounding myself in nature, the rain, or going to the beach would always help. Pretty much anything involving water. I genuinely believe water has some sort of energy that helps us unlock our creativity.

2. What's the silliest/most embarrassing thing you've ever written?
I remember in 3rd grade writing a “goosebumps” kind of story about some kids who believed their dad was secretly a giant rat. And I think there was an important detail involving the father insisting on being called Papa Squeeker? … Creepy? Yes.

 3. What inspired you to write this book?
Ha! Oh boy! I probably shouldn’t share this story. When I was younger I worked at a sandwich shop and I remember one customer coming in who was just… Grumpy McGrumperson! He was extra rude and belittling and all I could do was stand there with a smile on my face as a customer service representative. As I handed him his sandwich I remember thinking, “Oh, what I would do if I could control your karma at this very moment.” In my book, you may notice my character experiencing a similar situation. Her reaction was my daydream from that moment in the sandwich shop years ago.

4. You're stuck on a fabulous luxury tropical island with electricity but no internet. How do you keep yourself entertained?
Probably just make out with my husband all day. I guess I’m picturing an island similar to the honeymoon from the last Twilight book. Can that be my island? I want that island please.

 5. What's the best piece of advice--on life, on writing, on being a human being--that you've received so far?
 As far as writing goes, if you have dreamed of publishing a book, DON’T GIVE UP! Be ready for the rejections and people who tear you down! Your day will come! Persevere!

Best advice I’ve received on life was actually marriage advice where I was told, “Whenever you’re frustrated and your needs aren’t being met, stop pouting and get up and serve the other person.” I think that can apply to anything in life. Whenever you’re down, get lost in service and you will always feel better by helping someone around you.

Great interview. Thanks for stopping by, Jessica! 

25 July 2016

Beauty and the Clockwork Beast

This was brilliantly executed! First you have to read the description, so you can see all the elements that Nancy Campbell Allen wove together.




"When Lucy Pickett arrives at Blackwell Manor to tend to her ailing cousin, Kate, she finds more than she bargained for. A restless ghost roams the hallways, werewolves have been reported in the area, and vampires lurk across the Scottish border. Lord Miles himself is clearly hiding a secret. He is brash and inhospitable, and does not take kindly to visitors—even one as smart and attractive as Miss Pickett. He is unsettled by the mysterious deaths of his new wife, Clara, and his sister, Marie. Working together, Miles and Lucy attempt to restore peace to Blackwell Manor. But can Lucy solve the mystery of Miles? Can she love the man—beast and all?"

So we have a steampunk Victorian era with paranormal creatures roaming and making mischief. And this steampunk world is richly imagined, with deft touches like an airship company and telescribes and ray guns. Truly, they work together seamlessly with the time period to enhance this Beauty and the Beast retelling in an intensely vivid way. Everything is very well thought out.

Lucy and Miles are excellent leads. Their characters are strong and interesting and self-aware without resorting to vapid quirkiness. Their romance is slow and sweet, with the tension between them bringing the story along nicely. Add in a villain that I did NOT see coming, at least not from the beginning, and the mystery plays out well too. I really, really loved the ghost and how she helped Lucy do what she could not.

Beauty and the Clockwork Beast is well written, well paced, and has a strong finish. It is a fantastic story and bears re-reading. The paranormal elements enhance the mystery and make it most enjoyable.

Gentle Reader Alert: I found nothing of concern.

22 July 2016

Inevitable Ascension


From Goodreads:

"The innocent never waver from doing what’s right, even if it means drowning the world in fire.

Violina had been burned and betrayed by mankind ever since she sprang into existence. They named her a heretic and condemned her to a pit to live and die in agony. Though she sat stranded, starved and bloodied, she would not submit. Violina, the girl who had been mocked and hunted for rejecting the warped ideals of artificial authority, would lay down her own law.

Inevitable Ascension — The rapid-fire action/adventure novel packed with a host of twists that will make your mind explode! But not literally, otherwise that would be really gross."


This was a difficult read for me. I really, really wanted to like it, because it was advertised as steampunk, but this is not the steampunk I am used to. Instead, it has a heavily technological, heavily science fiction tone. Coupled with Violina, a sociopathic unsympathetic main character who has no problem killing the people who stand in her way and leaves a high body count in her wake, and I was surprised to make it through at all. There are no lasting consequences for Violina's actions, which led to a disappointingly flat character arc, and Violina's main concern seems to be shaping history rather than making things better for the people around her. On the other hand, just as Sherlock has Watson to humanize him, Violina has Lux to humanize her, a bright character with a great faith in humanity who inexplicably stays by Violina's side. The twisty timeline of the story works out well, though the ending feels very unresolved.

So, the writing was good, the plotting superb, but the setting and the main character made this story a very laborious read for me.

Gentle Reader Alert: There is violence a-plenty in this story, but no swearing and no sex.

09 July 2016

The Immortal Crown

***I received a copy of The Immortal Crown from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. ***



From Goodreads:
"A thousand years ago, the Navigator possessed thirteen stones touched by Oum’ilah, the God of gods. Over time, these power-ful stones of light were scattered and a prophecy arose declaring that a “child of no man” would gather them again, and he would be given immortality and reign forever as god and king of Kandelaar.

Now, in an age of chaos, the time has come for the prophecy to be fulfilled. Light and darkness have each chosen a champion to claim the legendary stones:

The sorceress of the cult of she-dragon has chosen Drakkor, a warrior and mercenary who travels with bandits and a corrupt stone of darkness.

The Oracle of Oum’ilah has placed his faith in Ashar, a young postulant who is unsure the stones of light even exist.

Meanwhile, miles away, a slave named Ereon Qhuin dreams of freedom. Abandoned at birth, his only possession is a strange stone that he believes is the key to his destiny and freedom.

A mercenary, a postulant, and a slave—which one is truly the child of prophecy? Who will wear the immortal crown?"



This was a difficult book for me to get into. You know how a realtor will describe a house as "cozy" when really it's just cramped? A realtor for this book would call it "richly detailed".

And yet....

For this book, you need it.

Mr. Merrill has set up a world that is not your typical high fantasy agrarian, with rolling fields and castles and serfs. Instead there are jungles and plains, stone temples and fortresses. The characters are, by turns, intense, dark, bloodthirsty, and devout. There is a fierceness to several of them that speaks to a long history of warrior-kings who have not grown soft while sitting on the throne. But that history is ending as the current king, Kublan, seeks to extend his reign even as his bones rattle in a sharp wind.

Yeah, this is sweeping epic fantasy for sure. It definitely brings out that tone in me.

It takes a while for the story to get rolling, since Mr. Merrill has so much set up work to do. The reader doesn't even meet the third contender for the crown until about a quarter of the way into the story. I want to say that I slogged through the narrative, but that's the book's saving grace--it continually captured my interest with each twist of the plot. And the further I read, the tighter the plot twisted. There is a *huge* cast of characters, but they are handled deftly and I never once said, "Now who is this?"--which is a feat in and of itself.

So, to sum up: The setting is well-described, the characters are distinct, and the writing is clear and evocative. I thought I was done with epic fantasies for a while, but I would be interested in reading the rest of this saga.

Gentle Reader Alert:  There was no swearing or sex, but there is some violence. It's not graphic, but it is intense.

Once A Witch


From Goodreads:
"Tamsin Greene comes from a long line of witches, and on the day she was born, her grandmother proclaimed she would be one of the most Talented among them.

But Tamsin's magic never showed up.

Now, seventeen years later, she spends most of her time at boarding school in Manhattan, where she can at least pretend to be normal. But during the summers, she's forced to return home and work at her family's bookstore/magic shop.

One night a handsome young professor from New York University arrives in the shop and mistakes Tamsin for her extremely Talented older sister. For once, it's Tamsin who's being looked at with awe and admiration, and before she can stop herself, she agrees to find a family heirloom for him that was lost more than a century ago. But the search - and the stranger - prove to be more sinister than they first appeared, ultimately sending Tamsin on a treasure hunt through time that will unlock the secret of her true identity, unearth the past sins of her family, and unleash a power so strong and so vengeful that it could destroy them all.

In a spellbinding display of storytelling, Carolyn MacCullough interweaves witchcraft, romance, and time travel in a fantasy that will exhilarate, enthrall, and thoroughly enchant."


This was a surprise. I picked the book up on a whim, and the sequel, since nothing else at the library was grabbing my attention. I don't really know what I was expecting, but Once A Witch surprised me and made me laugh out loud more than once. Each character, from the main character Tamsin to Uncle Morris, who teleports to amuse the children, is lovingly and skilfully drawn. Tamsin's snark is FIRST RATE. I really appreciated that the witchcraft involved wasn't about auras or crystals, but involved supernatural talents instead. It felt a little more grounded. The suspenseful plot has just the right amount of tension and the romance is superb. Tamsin's struggle to belong in her family while lacking what makes the family special was also well-done, and it added to Tamsin's character without becoming whiny/angsty/woe-is-me. Overall, I really enjoyed the book and I'm already 3/4s of the way through the sequel!

Gentle Reader Alert:  There are a very few strong swears sprinkled in the text (nothing beyond a PG-13), but that is all.