Destiny: Absent Shadows Trilogy, Book 1 by S. M. Spencer

Destiny

Absent Shadows Trilogy, Book 1

by S. M. Spencer

Genre: Paranormal, Urban Fantasy, Vampires

Four Stars

Lili McIntyre just ended a difficult relationship and is now on a much-needed summer vacation to Melbourne, Australia for a few months. Her aunt Debs welcomes her Down Under and provides her with a chance to clear her head. On the plane, Lili meets Claire, and that new friendship introduces her to more than she dreamed of. Though Claire doesn’t know it, her new boyfriend, Tom, has an enormous secret. The oblivious Claire introduces Lili to Sam, Tom’s close friend. As a natural double-date, Sam and Lili find themselves thrown together and soon discover a growing attraction.

Soon, Lili discovers why Sam and Tom behave so strangely. They are vampires! Suddenly a world of the supernatural opens up to Lili and her heart will lead her to help Sam keep his secret identity and defend the city from conflicts begun in ages past.

Destiny is an enjoyable book with a fun take on the vampire genre, full of characters created with affection and care. Lili’s struggle to determine her future and the pressures from home struck a chord with me. She feels the urgency to decide her future and move forward, although the hugeness of the decision overwhelms her.

The American/Australian crossover made me wonder through the tale about the author’s origins, but I think I know. Some telling word choice clued me in. I loved hearing about life in Melbourne and all the interesting trips the characters took nearby. Though some of Melbourne’s history appears in the book, I would have like to learn more.

I appreciated the potential for the tale to discuss the subject of abuse. I think that young women, especially, need reinforcement that abuse is real, encouragement that they don’t have to endure it, and illustrations of what it really looks like. Plenty of speakers and nonfiction writers share about abuse, but tales of people enduring and overcoming it reach us in a different, sometimes more personal way.

Lili wonders through the tale why she isn’t scared that Sam is a vampire. I know why: it’s because none of the vampires in this book are the slightest bit scary. Romance and good looks trump blood-drinking. Any slip of the teeth is slight and polite to the extent that Claire never once discovers their identity. Even the scenes that should be thrilling and terrifying lose their teeth because of the detached and passive way the author describes them. My take is that the trouble lies in the author’s unwillingness to make the characters suffer. She loves them too much. Any problem is short and quickly resolved without the pain that blood-drinking romantic interests should pose.

Aside from the pressured calm of the tale, I enjoyed the book and look forward to the second book in the trilogy to find the answers to the problems that Lili hasn’t solved yet.

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Restoration by Elaine D. Walsh

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Restoration

by Elaine D. Walsh

Genre: Women, Contemporary Fiction, Drama

Convicted serial killer Randall Wright’s crimes included more than murder. He also destroyed a family. But death by lethal injection is the worst punishment the state of Florida can give him, so Tess Olsen, one of the “other victims” can exact no retribution. Randall Wright didn’t kill Tess in the traditional sense, but he did kill her dreams, wreck her ability to connect to others, and destroy her family.  Why did her mother, Alish, fall in love with a murderer when she had a stable, happy family? Why did she leave them all for this monster? And why did she not see the evil he wrought on her daughter? How could he deceive Alish so, and how could she be so blind?

Tess, now an adult, still struggles with the pain of her broken family and smothered artistic spark. She lives a hollow life of temporary flings with men and a career of restoring artwork instead of creating her own. Will Randal Wright’s execution set her free from the fear that still strangles her? Can she find a real relationship with the chivalrous art critic, Ben, who pursues her heart and not her body? Will she ever be restored?

Elaine writes a gripping story of the far-reaching destruction that an evil person can wreak whether they live in freedom or not. She also explores the terrible layers of wrong in divorce and the different ways it affects the survivors. Tess’ sensitive nature is prostrated by the betrayal of her mother, plunging her into an existence of helplessness and misery. No other family member is tortured so much as Tess, but Randall Wright didn’t return their kindness with horrors either.

Though dark and brooding, the tale also zings with the energy of Tess’ hope for release and thirst for justice. She hopes for Randall’s death and for her mother’s eyes to be opened. Ben gives her hope for a bright future of love, though she wrestles with her confidence that she deserves such a life. The characters around her also begin to open her up and relieve her of some of her icy suffering as they show her kindness and care about her.

Restoration is a deep and varied tale that highlights the best of people and the worst. I thoroughly enjoyed Tess’ journey through her psyche and her wrestle with herself.

I approve this title for Awesome Indies. http://awesomeindies.net

I received this book from the author for the purposes of an unbiased review.

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Deep Blood by Phillip Thompson

Deep Blood

by Phillip Thompson

Genre: Mystery, Contemporary Fiction

Four Stars

This story is a gritty, manly murder mystery tale, written about a time and place when men don’t cry and folks don’t take a picture of their dinner with Instagram. Everything fits to make messed-up characters, crazy backstories, and wonderful life to everyone in the story. Every character has character from Colt to Mr. Wofford, the kooky witness who looked like a “bloated version of Raggedy Andy”. “Just a little bit on the country side”, they called it. The main character’s description of spitting his chewing tobacco, the pleasure it gives him, and the satisfying irritation it causes in his father is a great example of the little, relevant details of the story. Somehow Phillip has made even the little things like this enrich the atmosphere .

Under the colorful atmosphere lie deep themes of shame, abuse, racism, family sins, and blame. Colt keeps his wounds to himself, but they follow him wherever he goes and color all his actions. Most characters are the same and it feels like a special treat when each one opens up. No character escapes the pain and scarring of a life in a poor town where racism and poverty have affected everyone.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to adults (some language, sensitive themes, and sex). I read the whole thing on a Saturday and every time my kids or the dog interrupted me, I couldn’t wait to get back to Deep Blood. I wanted to read more about Colt at the end. I hope Phillip decides to write more books about this character!

After reading Deep Blood, I realized how meaningful the title is. No, I’m not going to explain. Read the book! I approve this title for Awesome Indies. http://awesomeindies.net I received this book from the author for the purposes of unbiased review.

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March by Sunni Overend

March

by Sunni Overend

Genre: Contemporary, Women

Apple March has fallen short of her dreams. Instead of designing clothes, she manages a boutique. Her reasons for leaving the Emmeline Gray Academy of Design are shrouded in mystery. Her friends and family urge her to rekindle her passion for design, but the Academy’s influence reaches deep into the design world of Melbourne. Apple’s friend Charlie Beauchamp seems to have some important connections. She met him when he discovered her broken down on the side of the road, and he fixed her car by clunking her engine with his croquet mallet. He seems like magic. He draws the fatherless girl into the cream of Melbourne society with his friendly open nature and seemingly miraculous ability to fix the broken. Will Apple find romance with Charlie, or anyone else? Will she overcome the secret tragedy of Emmeline Gray Academy and design once again?

Sunni has crafted an engaging tale of fashion and romance in Melbourne and beyond. Apple is a lovable character, if a bit timid, with plenty of supportive friends to help her. Sunni makes us feel for her and want her to succeed even though we can’t be completely certain if she did the horrible thing that got her ejected from Emmeline Gray Academy or not. The sense of mystery about the event made it feel more important and scandalous when it was revealed in the end.

All the men surrounding Apple (and hitting on her) were handsome but not all good. The romantic situations thrilled and the betrayals stung me just as they did Apple. Sunni’s descriptions of places and fashion made me love them too.  Once or twice the action flagged enough for me to wonder how things would pick up and go, but overall I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next for Apple and all her friends. March was an ideal read for a summer afternoon. (Go Northern Hemisphere!) I approve this title for Awesome Indies. http://awesomeindies.net

I received this book from the author for the purposes of unbiased review.

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Book extract: http://www.sunnioverend.com/files/extract.pdf

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17973433-march

The Rockin’ Chair by Stephen Manchester

The Rockin’ Chair

By Steven Manchester

Genre: General Fiction

Four Stars

John McCarthy is losing his dear wife, Alice, to the horrors of Alzheimers. Her mind is slipping and her days are numbered. The crushing blow of loss motivates John to “finish his chores” and right the wrongs in his family. His son, Hank hasn’t been on speaking terms for years, though he lives just across the creek. His three grandchildren, George, Tara, and Evan, have left their Montana homestead to find their way in the world, and have lost their way.  John must call them home to mourn Alice’s passing and re-forge his connection to his family.

If you love a story of love and sentiment, where all the men are tough and earnest and all the women are longsuffering, patient angels, then this is the story for you. The writing style is rich and full of loving description of scenery and memories that run deep. Stephen has written his tail in a stream-of-consciousness style without losing the continuity of the tale. Rabbit trails branch off with appropriate context and return quickly. The sentiment of the tale abounds. Several of the descriptions made me cringe, but I’m a cynical Seattleite, not a country girl at heart.

This story was an elderly man’s fantasy. Grandpa John had all the answers and could solve all his problems and his family’s problems with a word or gesture of goodwill. Putting his mind to it and taking the steps he already knew he should, he buttoned up all the messy loose ends of his life and ensured his family’s happiness and success before he died. And they all knew it and fully appreciated him for it.

For a cynical Seattleite like me, the story was too sentimental. I enjoyed the descriptions of times gone by and love for memories, but Stephen didn’t hold back with the embellishments. Sometimes it went too far.

Grandpa John seemed to have been holding out on his family for a very long time. All along he had the solutions to everyone’s problems, but hadn’t gotten around to helping them out. Also, their problems were so easily solved by returning to the land and hearing an apology or a truism that shed a perfect light on any situation. I didn’t buy it. The troubles of each character appeared deep and serious, but evaporated like mist under the sunshine of Grandpa John’s wisdom, giving them a sense of triviality. Faith, churchgoing, and prayer appeared to be a light garnish to their lives and not the glue that held it all together. Grandpa John took that role instead. Countless opportunities to show the transforming power of the Gospel appeared to be omitted or edited out.

The Rockin’ Chair is an entertaining tale of family love and redemption. Sentimentality, country sense, and good ol’ days fill the pages, with a healthy dollop of family loyalty, drowned in butter.  If you long for the simple life, this book is for you.

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The Bone Road by Mary Holland

Bone Road

 

The Bone Road

By Mary Holland

Genre: Fantasy

Four Stars

Rhona the midwife and divvy has just lost her mother. A sudden stroke overtook her on the road and now she lies in the ground, becoming a part of the Bone Road. What survives is her mission. Rhona must carry out her mother’s last wish and travel to meet someone she doesn’t know to carry out a mysterious favor. Her journey begins the strange and wonderful journey of The Bone Road. Through the lives of her son and Selena, the woman she must aid, we learn the culture and fierce dignity of the Deo, from Wid and Zeosil, Shun, Landers, and Nobile. What will this final chore cost Rhona? How will young Jak choose to carry on his life after the choices she has made? Can Selena face the terrible Markus after what he has done to her son, and what will she do when her desperate plan results in a life she never knew she could have?

I enjoyed this story thoroughly. Mary spun a tale rich with culture, tradition, mystery, and adventure. The details sparkled and I felt like I joined them in the rich world of Deo. Part of my sadness at ending the story was about leaving Mary’s lovely world.

The people she created and their world fascinated me with their meaning and depth. Rhona, Jak, and Selena enchanted me with their fierce courage and honor. I cared about them like friends and felt great relief when they evaded danger. Markus the villain fulfilled the creepy, evil role with flair. I loved the emotional touch she achieved through the Deom traditions and taboos, and the ways the characters broke them for all the right reasons.

Though the mantle of main character transfers unexpectedly midway through the book, it really fits with the increasing strangeness of the tale. Events transpire that just one character couldn’t experience. The split perspective resolves at the end of the action when they unite against the villain.

Mary’s creativity shone in this tale through her rich characters, vivid and gorgeous settings, and wonderful, sometimes beautifully awful, surprises throughout the tale. I approve this story for Awesome Indies.  http://awesomeindies.net

I received this book from the author for the purposes of unbiased review.

Thorn by Intisar Khanani

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Thorn

by Intisar Khanani

Genre: Fantasy, Folk Tale

Five stars

The King from the neighboring land of Menaiya pays a visit to the humbler land of Adania. Princess Alyrra assumes they visit for trade reasons, but soon the naïve and reclusive princess understands that the king’s visit to her widowed mother is for the purposes of marriage negotiation. She will marry prince Kestrin and there is no argument she can make. Is this her escape from the troubles of her life or a trade-in for even greater problems? Alyrra doesn’t feel equal to the  increase in importance and responsibility.

Magic intrudes, first in the appearance of a mysterious mage one night in Alyrra’s room. He has but a moment to speak to her before his malevolent enemy, The Lady, appears with terrible and vague threats to her or to the Menayan prince.

All her fears turn on their heads on the journey to Menaiya and marriage, when her lady companion, Valka, appears in the forest with The Lady, who steals her identity. Switching bodies with the princess, Valka enters Menaiya as the bride. Alyrra must endure her displeasure as the superior power and is sent off to tend the geese. Now living as the Goose Girl called Thorn, is this the escape Alyrra longed for or is it condemnation for the people of Menayia? Can she ignore her duty as princess, or must she face the dangers together with Prince Kestrin?

Intisar has written a thoroughly enjoyable, beautiful story. Retelling the classic tale of The Goose Girl, she broadens the horizons of the story and adds depth to places one might not expect it. I especially liked Alyrra’s struggle with the relief of casting off an oppressive identity versus the responsibilities it still holds over her heart. I also loved the exploration of The Lady, her motivations and grievances, and how Alyrra appeals to her for mercy.

I read the same tale re-told in “The Goose Girl” by Shannon Hale, but it was entirely different. I truly believe that each author will write a completely different tale even if given the same plot as a basis. Thorn demonstrates just that.

The ending expanded the heart of the tale, in my opinion. The character of Alyrra was forced to wrestle with her yearning of a simple, peaceful life of obscurity, and the great need of the helpless people around her for someone to stand for them. A terrified, reclusive girl becomes a true princess and hero. Her heroism grew from her strength of heart and her compassion, and I really love that. Thorn is a truly enjoyable, rich read, both entertaining and challenging. I approve this title for Awesome Indies. http://awesomeindies.net

I received this book from the author for the purposes of unbiased review.

GoodReads: goodreads.com/book/show/14059999-thorn

Buy on Amazonhttp://www.amazon.com/Thorn-ebook/dp/B00869SADQ/

B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/thorn-intisar-khanani/1111104034?ean=2940016184708

Apple iStore: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/thorn/id562695485