Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Empty Seats by Wanda Adams Fischer

Empty seatsEmpty seats by Wanda Adams Fischer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The ending of Empty Seats by Wanda Adams Fischer is so different from the beginning, it almost reads like a separate book. The novel starts out as a story about baseball. Here's a quote from Jimmy Bailey's first chance to pitch for the Jamestown Falcons, a single A team in the Montreal Expos system. He's a relief pitcher, showing his coaches what he's got in a scrimmage with Geneva, another single A team.

Russ calls for a fastball. I lean down, coddle the ball, rock back on the pitching rubber, pull my left foot up in a perpendicular motion, bring my right arm back, and fire.

There's careful detail in this writing and, when Jimmy's team is fighting to win, the book gets very exciting. You don't have to be a baseball fan to feel it.

Then the season ends and the three main characters head back to their families. These are Bobby, Bud, and Jimmy, all pitchers trying to work their way up from single A. Here the book changes to a story of young men dealing with the problems life hands them in their own ways, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Baseball has very little to do with this part of the novel, although they still encounter fans from their high school days, still have to deal with their own dreams, and still keep in touch with each other. Here's a quote from this section. This one is also from Jimmy.

Yes, Bud, you are my friend.
You're the real deal.
The peacemaker.
The leader.
My friend.

The description of what it was like to be a young, minor-league baseball player in the early seventies was my favorite aspect of this novel. I had a little trouble transitioning to the tone of the second part, but both sections were well written and exciting.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul, White Horse Regressions, Hopatcong Vision Quest, and Under a Warped Cross.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Rumor by Elin Hilderbrand

The RumorThe Rumor by Elin Hilderbrand
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Rumor probably should have been named The Rumors, since Elin Hilderbrand's novel is filled with gossip, some based on fact and some flat out wrong. It is hard to know which rumor she considers THE rumor.

Madeline is a writer who suffers from writer's block when she doesn't have an actual event to use for the basis of a plot. She was kidnapped when she was young, by a druggie, ex boyfriend. She got her first publishing break after writing a novel based on that experience. Eddie is an ex athlete, who is obsessed with monetary success and will do whatever he can to achieve it. Grace is Eddie's lonely (and horny) wife. Hope and Allegra are the daughters of Grace and Eddie. Hope is focused on success in school, while Allegra is focused on her popularity and a possible career as a model. There are plenty of conflicts in these diverse interests and Hilderbrand makes the most of them.

One of the sections I enjoyed was when Benton, Grace's gardener with benefits, talks to Hope about the books he loves best. (He was a literature major in college.) I've read most of the books he recommended, but there were a few I haven't. I'm going to try some of them. There are plenty of book lists on the web, but weaving one into a good story is fun.

The book is a little too predictable, but still a fun read for someone looking for something light.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul, White Horse Regressions, Hopatcong Vision Quest, and Under a Warped Cross

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Aisuru by Anma Natsu

Aisuru (Hakodate Hearts, #1)Aisuru by Anma Natsu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The footnotes in Aisuru by Anma Natsu are fascinating by themselves. They are a tour of Japanese culture, describing among other things: Japanese expressions, food types, and place descriptions. For example - “Honto no sumimasen” has a footnote which provides the English definition of “An extra apologetic apology, usually translated to truly, I am very sorry.” Another example defines “yakisoba” as “Fried ramen-style noodles, made from wheat flour, with a thick, sweetened sauce, vegetables, and a protein.”

Yet, this is not a tour guide. It’s a fantasy about a young Japanese woman named Sakura. She is a high school student who suffered damage to her internal organs when her father had a violent mental breakdown described as “integration disorder,” the term used in Japan for schizophrenia. Sakura has been told she will die soon and has decided to live out her life as a normal Japanese student. To achieve this goal and to avoid hurting people she knows too well, she has kept to herself and has told none of her friends.

Sakura is visited by a yokai, who was a friend of her adopted father. Yokais are “a class of supernatural monsters and spirits in Japanese folklore.” (from Babylon NG) This one, Kazuki, also has royal blood. The story continues with love and adventure.

Early in the book Sakura says, “Yes, sometimes I wonder if textbook writers actually like history that much. They always write it in such a boring fashion.” I think Anma Natsu had this thought when writing her novel. This is a wonderful picture of Japan mixed in with a fun fantasy.

Steve Lindahl - author of Motherless Soul, White Horse Regressions, Hopatcong Vision Quest, and Under a Warped Cross.

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Saturday, October 6, 2018

Boston Metaphysical Society: A Storm of Secrets by Madeleine Holly-Rosing

Boston Metaphysical Society: A Storm of SecretsBoston Metaphysical Society: A Storm of Secrets by Madeleine Holly-Rosing
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Steampunk is defined by the Oxford University Press as “A genre of science fiction that has a historical setting and typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology.” I've only read one other book in this genre, but I find this “what if” concept fascinating.

Boston Metaphysical Society: A Storm of Secrets is set in nineteenth century Boston, but in a version of our world where our country (the “Great States of America”) is run by large family owned industries. This economic/political system has resulted in a class oriented society, which is bigoted, but probably less so than the actual nineteenth century America.

This steampunk version of America is further complicated because Elizabeth Weldsmore Hunter (the novel's heroine) experiences visions she doesn't understand. Elizabeth's husband, Samuel Hunter, introduces her to an Irish medium, who helps her understand how to control these visions and leads her to otherworldly experiences worthy of the novel's title.

Elizabeth is a strong willed woman, trying to discover the person she is, independent of the legacy she was born to. The story is about her relationships with her father, her husband, and others around her. She fights to make the right choices and to help people she cares about. But she has her own set of flaws, including a tendency to act in impulsive ways and to keep secrets she should share.

The characters are strong. There are multiple plots, which come together at the end to produce a fascinating story. And the tension builds throughout the novel. Towards the end, I had trouble putting the book down.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul, White Horse Regressions, Hopatcong Vision Quest, and Under a Warped Cross.

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Thursday, September 27, 2018

Barefoot by Elin Hilderbrand

BarefootBarefoot by Elin Hilderbrand
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I enjoyed Barefoot, although it wasn't the light, beach read I expected. It's the story of three women in their early to mid thirties who travel to Nantucket to escape from their problems. These problems capture a wide range of middle age issues: career, money, marriage, motherhood, health, and, of course, their relationships with each other. The women are often self-centered, which is understandable given the seriousness of the issues they face. They do, however, support each other when they are needed.

Vickie and Brenda are sisters, while Melanie is a friend of Vickie's, invited to the summer cottage to distract her from thoughts of her husband's infidelity. For this reason, Melanie is not as close to either of the other women and even makes an attempt to leave the island.

I liked the way the character flaws of the women made them seem real. But Josh was different. He was the only major male character, a college sophomore who took a summer job babysitting for Vickie's two sons. His relationships with all three women and with Vickie's two sons grow as the summer goes on. He is reliable, caring, and always thoughtful, regardless of his role as a caretaker, an employee, a friend, or a summer fling. Yet, he seems unrealistically mature in his relationships, especially with the boys. This is compounded by the personality of his high school girl friend, who keeps showing up at odd times. The Josh we get to know would never have stayed with Dee Dee for any length of time.

Still, the women are wonderfully complex and interesting. This was the first Elin Hilderbrand novel I've read and I intend to read more.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul, White Horse Regressions, Hopatcong Vision Quest, and Under a Warped Cross

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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

A Convenient Death by Laurel Heidtman

A Convenient Death (An Eden Mystery)A Convenient Death by Laurel Heidtman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Convenient Death is a mystery set in a small, college town in Kentucky. Two bodies, an elderly man, Kenneth Griswold, and the store clerk, Tracy Andrews, are found in the backroom of a convenience store. They've both been shot. The ballistics report shows the bullets came from a single gun, but the murder weapon is not found in any of the logical dumping grounds.

Jo Valentine, a detective in the Eden Police Department, is assigned the case. She soon finds something unusual about these murders. Tracy had an overactive sex life with lots of emotional baggage and Kenneth had his own set of secrets. These issues, along with the setting, a convenience store during the night shift, provide Jo with an enormous list of suspects. The problem is too many people with reasons to kill.

A Convenient Death is a well written novel and one that is hard to put down. The characters care for each other and worry about their personal lives. They act like people normally do in work environments, sometimes getting along well, sometimes not. The dialogue is well constructed with banter that is believable for a police department. There's also a good deal of tension throughout the book, not only through confrontations with suspects, but also with office politics.

This is an excellent book for anyone who enjoys murder mysteries.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul, White Horse Regressions, Hopatcong Vision Quest, and Under a Warped Cross.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Nights Arose by Andrea Roche

Nights AroseNights Arose by Andrea Roche
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nights Arose is a good vs. evil story centered in 17th century Jamaica, but spreading out as far as the Sea of Marmara in Turkey. The novel is filled with magic on both sides: power to transform people into animals, power to witness events in the past, power to make oneself invisible, power to create great storms, and many others. These powers go head to head like opposing armies on a battlefield, increasing in page-turning intensity as the book moves on.

The “good” is represented by Nessarose (Arose) Du Mouchelle, a young woman blessed with exceptional talents - enhanced by the magic of a gem stone given to her by Bess, a gypsy woman. “De spirit of de stone will protec' you always.” The “evil” is represented by Morel, a Voodoo priestess, whose power seems to grow with each paragraph. Her goal is to steal the powerful gem and use it for her own purposes.

What I enjoyed the most about this novel is that it is not only a fantasy about a war between good and evil, but also Arose's coming of age story. This young woman is able to send her spirit into the astral plane, and, from there, witness events she has already lived. We get to see her youth, as she competes with her friends and first meets her Uncle's valet, who will turn out to be important to her. We also get to see her awakening sexuality, which happens in a beautifully written vision:

Her center started to ache. She thought of how liquid his movements were. How each movement, once begun, tumbled imperceptibly to the next, cascading as water would over rocks in a stream...She wanted him; she wanted his strong arms around her.

I recommend this novel for fans of well written fantasy.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul, White Horse Regressions, Hopatcong Vision Quest, and Under a Warped Cross.

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Thursday, August 30, 2018

What Angels Fear by C S Harris

What Angels Fear (Sebastian St. Cyr, #1)What Angels Fear by C.S. Harris
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What Angels Fear is a fast paced historical thriller written by C. S. Harris and a fun read.

This book is the first in a series of novels about a nineteenth century, aristocrat in London, named Sebastian St. Cyr (or Lord Devlin). Sebastian has an array of talents which help him deal with violent opponents, including sensitive hearing and eyesight. He is also blessed with athletic abilities he uses to escape from his opponents when he can. Sebastian St. Cyr seems like a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Batman, but if you're looking for a light read and a page turner, this is a good thing.

I enjoyed the characters surrounding Sebastian. In some ways they are cliché, a rich father who has trouble communicating, a wily young boy who attaches himself to our hero, and a beautiful actress who loves Sebastian, but doesn't feel worthy of him. Yet there is depth to these characters and as we discover the details of their lives we understand the ways they are unique. I believe Harris' choices work well.

I also enjoyed the picture of 19th century London this author created, complete with the stench of the polluted Thames and the effect of the class system on the lives of ordinary people.

I intend to read other books in this series

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul, White Horse Regressions, Hopatcong Vision Quest, and Under a Warped Cross.

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Friday, August 10, 2018

The Kommandant's Girl by Pam Jenoff

The Kommandant's Girl (The Kommandant's Girl, #1)The Kommandant's Girl by Pam Jenoff
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Kommandant's Girl is a World War II novel set in Poland. The main character, Emma, is a jew who hides in plain sight by switching her name to Anna and taking on the identity of a gentile. Her husband, an active member of the resistance has arranged this opportunity to keep her safe and to protect the young son of a prominent Rabbi who also poses as a gentile.

But Emma/Anna is soon offered an opportunity to work for the local Nazi Kommandant. Working with her enemy will be dangerous, yet the opportunity is too good to pass. She might be able to use her new position to collect important information. This chance is even more important because her parents are living and suffering in the Jewish ghetto.

It soon becomes clear that Emma's boss is attracted to her. This presents a much greater opportunity for the resistance and a difficult choice for Emma. Should she allow her relationship with the Kommandant to move from business to romance? If she betrays her husband, she might discover something that would help the cause and perhaps even save his life. Yet, would Emma's infidelity be more than Jacob would willingly sacrifice? And what about her own feelings? It didn't help that Emma was drawn to the Kommandant, despite his role in the Nazi atrocities.

The strength of Pam Jenoff's novel lies in Emma's dilemma. Under normal circumstances, her values would lead her toward a quiet life of love and devotion to her husband. But the circumstances in war time Poland were far from normal.

Emma makes some decisions as the novel runs its course that are so stupid they lack credibility, but overall her character is well drawn and interesting. Her major decisions are dangerous, difficult and emotional, yet understandable. I love novels that keep me thinking after I've read them. The Kommandant's Girl is one of those.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul, White Horse Regressions, Hopatcong Vision Quest, and Under a Warped Cross.

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Monday, July 23, 2018

Wanderling by Hannah Stahlhut

Wanderling (Spirit Seeker Book 1)Wanderling by Hannah Stahlhut
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wanderling is an exciting YA novel about a seventeen year-old woman, Adala, and her younger brother, Shem. They live in the city of Gerstadt, in the empire of Bolgir. This is a society that has reached a time when people sail the sea under wind power and fight battles with knives, swords, and bows and arrows. They are a privileged society, but a brutal one, banishing anyone found guilty of a crime to the surrounding desert and never allowing them or their descendants to return. The banished people have formed into tribes which compete for the meager resources in the desert.

Adala and her brother are forced to leave their home for a village of banished people when Shem's unique skills are revealed. Shem is kidnapped and Adala follows him. The plot is about Adala's efforts to protect her brother, but also about her relationships and dreams. She is a trained, efficient warrior, but also an emotional teenager.

The land of Gerstadt and the people who reside there are carefully described with each detail having purpose and fitting into the plot like pieces of a puzzle. This is the first volume of a series (Spirit Seeker), so there are unanswered questions leading readers toward book 2. Yet Wanderling still stands on its own. It is a well-written, exciting novel with a carefully woven plot.

Steve Lindahl - author of Motherless Soul, White Horse Regressions, Hopatcong Vision Quest, and Under a Warped Cross.

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Saturday, July 7, 2018

The Baker's Husband by Jeannie Sharpe

The Baker's Husband is a mystery/romance. The mystery surrounds Chloe Livingston's husband, who has been gone for two year, since an accident where his car was totaled but he wasn't found. The romance involves Mitchell Terrison, a detective who is in charge of finding Chloe's missing husband. Although two years is a long time and Chloe finds she is attracted to Mitchell, her feelings are complicated by her belief in the sanctity of marriage and the fact that despite numerous problems, Chloe loved her husband.

The most fascinating part of this book, is Mitchell's dilemma. He's competing with the man he's trying to find, who may or may not be dead. I was reminded of Rebecca by Dame Daphne du Maurier, although in The Baker's Husband the story is about a potentially dead man rather than a dead woman.

Another aspect I found interesting in the book was Chloe's religious beliefs. She's a Christian who prays often, both in public and in private. I like the way Jeannie Sharpe handled this aspect of Chloe's personality. Of course Chloe prayed for miracles, but more often she prayed for strength. And the plot followed a logical path rather than one altered by divine intervention.

The book reads quickly and the dialogue is especially well constructed. This is a good read for anyone who likes a unique romance.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul, White Horse Regressions, Hopatcong Vision Quest, and Under a Warped Cross.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas

Prayers for SalePrayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Prayers for Sale is a series of short stories linked together with a book length narrative about the relationship between two women living in the Colorado mountains during the gold rush years. One of the women is 86 and has lived in Middle Swan for many years. The other is a young woman who has just moved to the small mountain town with her husband. The younger is lonely and needs a friend, while the older needs someone who is interested in hearing the stories of her life. Both women have experienced similar tragedies and have a need to share the pain.

The book's strength is in Sandra Dallas' ability to capture life among the women of this small nineteenth century town: their language, their quilting, their gossiping, their society class levels, and the way they forget all these things to help each other during hard times. The plot that unifies the story is a little spotty, with elements that are introduced, then forgotten, then brought back in ways that could have been handled better. Also, the overall narrative doesn't come into its own until the end of the book.

Steve Lindahl – author of Under a Warped Cross, Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

His Father's Blood (Legends of the Family Dyer, #2) by David W Thompson

His Father's Blood (Legends of the Family Dyer, #2)His Father's Blood by David W.  Thompson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

His Father's Blood is David Thompson's follow up to Sister Witch: The Life of Moll Dyer. Both books are excellent reads, historical fictions with elements of mysticism. The first novel brings magic in gradually, while this novel throws its readers into a world of spells, demons, and spirit animals from the beginning and keeps the fast pace going throughout.

John Dyer, Moll Dyer's great-great grandson, spent the first ten years of his life with his father, a shaman with a dark side. After his father died, John lived with his great grandfather until he was old enough to set out on his own. This background left John with a shaman's magic as well as a book of powerful spells he'd inherited from Moll. Yet his power seems more a curse than a blessing, specifically in the way it affects his relationship with the woman he loves.

His Father's Blood is a thrilling adventure, but also a beautiful romance. The strength of John and Ada's love is such that when Ada is separated from John, she uses the following words to describe her concept of Hell: “The room is locked, and just outside the door, you can hear the voices of everyone you’ve ever loved. You feel their happiness, you hear their laughter, but you cannot see them, or touch them, and they cannot see or hear or touch you.”

This is a great novel for anyone who enjoys magic realism.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul, White Horse Regressions, Hopatcong Vision Quest, and Under a Warped Cross.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

September Summer by Virginia Babcock

September SummerSeptember Summer by Virginia Babcock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

September Summer is an interesting read about an FBI task force working to capture a terrorist who is reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes' nemesis, Moriarty. This brilliant lunatic taunts the force perusing him and leaves clues concerning his next targets, appearing to enjoy the thrill of his bombing as part of a cat and mouse game. He kills many innocent people while pursuing his insane attempts to change world politics, but he also has legitimate rationalizations for his anger. Among these are America's “...addiction to fossil fuels and the way the entire nation polluted the world.” Combining real issues with berserk actions creates a complex, interesting villain.

The novel also includes a romance between Jenny, a young woman recruited to help the task force and one of the FBI agents. This relationship displays some very immature and thoughtless actions on both their parts, which make it seem real. Yet it also develops some unique and beautiful ways of connecting, including an intimate discussion during which they share their spiritual beliefs. That was one of my favorite parts of the novel.

I recommend September Summer for readers who enjoy romance and action with lots of detail and complex characters.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul, White Horse Regressions, Hopatcong Vision Quest, and Under a Warped Cross

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Saturday, May 19, 2018

The First Scheme by K A Meng

The First SchemeThe First Scheme by K a Meng
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At the sound of gunfire, Joann Fields wakes up. She is unable to clear her thoughts and when she struggles out of bed, she finds she has trouble walking. She shouldn't feel this way. She only had one glass of wine. Still, she needs to find her husband, so she makes her way out of the bedroom. There are plenty of people in her town who would love to hurt both her man and her.

That's how The First Scheme starts. From there, the story follows a unique and intriguing path with twists and surprises that pull readers into the story. The novel also has characters with backgrounds intricate enough to produce mixed emotions about their fates. Together these facts produce a novel that stands well on its own, but is also perfect for the first book of a series.

The First Scheme is a great read for anyone who likes a good crime story.

Steve Lindahl – author of Under a Warped Cross, Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul.

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Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson

The Orphan Master's SonThe Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Orphan Master's Son is a thoroughly researched novel about one man's life in North Korea during the reign of Kim Jong-il (the father of North Korea's current leader). It is a magnificent book for readers who like books that make them think, but not a good match for readers looking for a light, fun read. It is long and contains detailed descriptions of the infamous prison camps and of torture sessions. Adam Johnson spent years researching his story, visiting Pyongyang and interviewing people who defected. He received a well deserved Pulitzer for his efforts.

This is an important book for a time when North Korea is back in the news and when the current American president has expressed an admiration for authoritarian leaders worldwide. This is also a period of “alternative facts” in our country, which is not very far from Johnson's description of the story versus the man:

“If a farmer is declared a music virtuoso by the state, everyone had better start calling him maestro. And secretly, he'd be wise to start practicing the piano. For us, the story is more important than the person. If a man and his story are in conflict, it is the man who must change....But in America, people's stories change all the time. In America, it is the man who matters.”

Jun Do is the son of a man who runs a labor camp for orphans. His mother, a singer, was stolen from the family to work in Pyongyang. Within the camp, Jun Do receives special treatment due to his father's role, but he is given an orphan's name which carries a stigma as he grows older. The plot follows Jun's life on a fishing boat, as a national hero, and in a prison camp. In part 2, the novel continues with Jun, but also shows life through the point of view of a biographer, whose job it is to use torture to get the stories of people who have been assigned to him. The plot is also advanced through stories told to the people of North Korea over loud speakers placed in all populated areas.

Although the magnificence of this book stems from the way it reveals life in North Korea, there is room for a relationship of love and sacrifice. I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a unique read, one that requires some thought from its readers.

Steve Lindahl – author of Under a Warped Cross, Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

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Friday, May 11, 2018

Dream of Darkness (The Rise of the Light, #1) by H.M. Gooden

Dream of Darkness (The Rise of the Light, #1)Dream of Darkness by H.M. Gooden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

About a third of the way through Dream of Darkness, Cat, the sixteen year old heroine of the story, settles in with her sister, Vanessa, for some serious Harry Potter binge watching. If you could see yourself doing the same thing, this is the perfect book for you. It has teenage girls with mystical powers who set out to save their town from someone controlled by a dark, satan-like creature.

The novel also has numerous references to Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, the play the students are producing that year. Robin Goodfellow (also known as Puck) is one of Shakespeare's characters as well as a sprite out of old English folklore and a spirit who visits Cat in her dreams. Here's what Robin tells her:

“Look to your dreams for answers, and let your friends know to look to theirs. You will find help if ever you need it and you have only to ask and it shall find you.”

The plot of H. M. Gooden's novel is fun, but the best part of the book is the relationship between the two sisters. There's a little jealousy and a period of great guilt, but mostly there's love and support shared between both girls. When Gooden throws in Evelyn, a mutual friend with powers of her own, the picture is complete and the girls are ready to take on the evil threatening their world.

Steve Lindahl – author of Under a Warped Cross, Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Room 629 by Vicki Ann Bush

Room 629Room 629 by Vicki-Ann Bush
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Room 629, like all sci-fi novels, asks the question: "What if?" In this case the full question is: "What if illusions could be real?" Although this oxymoron seems impossible, Jessie and her friends Micah, Patrick, and Caleb soon learn nothing is impossible.

After their graduation from UNLV, the four students set off on a celebration trip to Prim, Nevada. While there, they see what appears to be a suburban town fading in and out of existence. But this is no romantic Brigadoon, instead their discovery starts them on a journey into horrors they couldn't have imagined.

The story is fast paced and exciting, but the young characters spend a great deal of time considering their relationships as well as the problems they face in the illusive town. This gives a light feeling to the novel. The style reminded me somewhat of the old television series “Charmed” or the more recent series “Supergirl.”

This book would be a fun read for someone who enjoys sci-fi, horror, and road trip stories.

Steve Lindahl – author of Under a Warped Cross, Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Master and MargaritaThe Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Master and Margarita starts with a meeting in a park between Mikhail Alexandrovich Berlioz, the editor of a prominent literary magazine and Ivan Nikolayevich Ponyryov, a poet who writes under the pen name - Homeless. They are discussing a poem Berlioz has requested from Homeless. This work is supposed to deny the existence of Jesus. Berlioz doesn't feel the poem is strong enough to make the point he wants.

While they are preparing for a meeting to discuss this problem, a foreigner named Woland shows up. He tells them the meeting will NOT occur and explains with some statements that make no sense, something about spilled cooking oil. He also tells them Christ existed and was crucified. He knows this because he was there and starts relating the story. There are details that differ from the traditional telling, but what Woland is speaking about is clear.

Berlioz is upset by Woland's words, thinks the man is insane, and runs off to call the authorities, starting a chain of events which authenticate Woland's words. Woland then disappears and Homeless, who is now upset with what he has just witnessed, starts a bizarre search for Woland to turn him over to the police.

The story continues with an interweaving of activities of Woland with more of the story of Pilate and the crucifixion. Margarita is introduced and takes off on a weird adventure. She is the lover of the master, who is the author of the Pilate novel, which Woland related to Berlioz and Homeless. When their love affair takes a bad turn, she turns to Woland for help.

Many of the scenes are weird, to say the least. Bulgakov often dresses his female characters in very little or nothing at all and frequently accompanies these women with men in tuxedos. There is a ball, attended by famous characters, living and dead, also a magic show designed to demonstrate the priorities of the bourgeoisie in the audience, and a large, odd cat with human qualities. Woland's strange powers are demonstrated throughout the book, generally with a relation to sin in some form.

The Master and Margarita was written between 1928 and 1940 during Stalin's regime, but not published as a book until 1967. It's an extremely complex satire, covering multiple topics including religion, life under an authoritarian regime, and the pretentiousness of art (both performance and literary). I listened to the audio version, but had to research the book to get the most out of it. I think anyone who is about to read it should at least visit the Wikipedia page. ( ). You'll encounter spoilers, but it will help the story make sense.

Steve Lindahl – author of Under a Warped Cross, Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

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Friday, April 6, 2018

Alterations by Jane Suen

AlterationsAlterations by Jane Suen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Alterations is a quick, fun read. Like most sci-fi novels, it is idea driven, but also has interesting characters.

As technology continues to advance, people are becoming more bionic, with joint replacements, new eye lenses after cataract surgery, or cosmetic implants. Suen's novel takes this idea a step further. Dr. Kite, a rogue physician, is experimenting with microchip implants. The chips alter their hosts, solving common body issues or more serious health issues. Of course, it wouldn't be much of a novel if nothing went wrong. Some of the chips are defective, causing terrible results.

The pace of Suen's writing is quick, but she doesn't ignore the details of her characters. I love her choices for the problems brought to Dr. Kite. Instead of life threatening diseases, all his subjects face problems most readers can relate to.

My favorite character is Ellen. She has a weight problem, which seems worse from her perspective than it should. I liked the way Suen treated the thoughts of people around Ellen, moving from her point of view to theirs in a way that made me wonder if the thoughts were real or Ellen's imagination.

Alterations is a light read, perfect for places with distractions, such as the beach or an airport.

Steve Lindahl - author of Under a Warped Cross, Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul.

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

A Penny's Worth by Cynthia Austin

A Penny's WorthA Penny's Worth by Cynthia Austin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The main character in A Penny's Worth reminded me of the line “Hell is other people” from Jean-Paul Sartre's play No Exit. Sara is a weak woman, who struggles to assert herself throughout the story, but is defined instead, by what others think of her. Here's a quote from the point of view of the favorite mistress of Sara's husband:

Carmela rolled her eyes dramatically and fell against the sofa. “Here we go again with Sara's pathetic attempt to gain respect. Next thing you know, she'll be threatening all of us with the wrath of her big brother. Give it up already, Sara. Your style is stale.”

The trouble is, Carmela is right. Sara has trouble sticking with her goals, whether they are struggles for romance or for self preservation.

Before he died, Sara's father ran a successful strip club in Las Vegas, which is where she works now. She tries to act like the club's boss, but no one pays attention. Instead the club is run by her brother Luke and her husband Ezra. Sara believes they are both increasing the club's profit margin through criminal activities and she knows they are both partying regularly with the club's dancers, which seems to be common practice in their workplace.

Sara wavers between supporting her husband despite his wayward ways and wanting to leave him. These conflicting goals come out in strange ways, including bigoted language. Her husband is, in her thoughts, “a non-conforming Jew,” although he does know the religion well enough to understand terms such as “Shema Yisrael.” Sara fell in love with Ezra and married him. Yet she demonstrates a dislike of Jews in general through her language, by using terms like “The Jewish nymph” and “some Jewish floozy.” Also, despite wanting to leave her husband, Sara responds to the way Carmela flaunts her relationship with Ezra by proving she's all the woman Ezra needs sexually. She thinks of this type of inconsistent behavior as a reaction to “the roller coaster of emotions she was riding,” but it felt more like a personality flaw.

I liked the way Cynthia Austin used pop culture in her writing with references to things like “the Dos Equis man” and Margaret Keane's paintings. Those choices drew me into her novel. There were also some tense moments in the story that kept me turning the pages.

This book has adult themes and sexually graphic scenes.

Steve Lindahl – author of Under a Warped Cross, Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

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Thursday, March 1, 2018

Sister Witch: The Life of Moll Dyer by David W. Thompson

Sister Witch: The Life of Moll Dyer (Legends of the Family Dyer #1)Sister Witch: The Life of Moll Dyer by David W.  Thompson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Moll Dyer was, according to Wikipedia, “...a legendary 17th-century resident of Leonardtown, Maryland, who was said to have been accused of witchcraft and chased out of her home by the local townsfolk on a winter night... Stories say her spirit haunts the land, looking for the men who forced her from her home.”

David Thompson's book, Sister Witch: the Life of Moll Dyer, is written from the point of view of Moll, with a couple of chapters from her son, Zachary's, perspective. It begins in Kinsale in County Cork, Ireland, but moves for the majority of the story to Newtown, Maryland. (I assume this is the same place Wikipedia refers to as Leonardtown.) Moll is a typical young woman who makes the mistake of trusting the wrong person and is soon forced to flee her home. She joins her Uncle Sean, who has his own set of problems, on a boat headed to America. Here's an excerpt:

Her name was the Mary Regina, and she carried four masts with square rigging. With multiple decks below, she carried 120 tons of cargo. Uncle seemed impressed describing her, but Father said she was just a foreign galleon, and little more than a low riding carrack built for speed.

The scenes in America provide an excellent picture of life in the colonies, not only for the new arrivals, but also the Native Americans of the Conoy, Chaptico, and Susquehannock tribes. There's also a supernatural side to the story with spells and demons. I won't get into this aspect of the book for fear of giving too much away. Suffice it to say this makes the novel a fun read.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

The Rules of MagicThe Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Rules of Magic is magic realism, but the book takes an unusual approach. The plot follows the lives of the Owens siblings: Fanny, Jet, and Vincent, who are part of a family with a history of witchcraft. They were born with unusual abilities and raised to understand how to create potions and work spells.

These skills come with a price: curses that affect their lives. They also have to deal with prejudice and misunderstanding, even from their own relatives. These problems are what make the novel special. On one level, it's a story of magic. On another level, it's a story of unique people coping with the things that make them different.

Although the main focus of the novel is on the three siblings and their love lives, the plot covers many years and wanders a bit, especially during the second half. It takes place in the mid twentieth century, so the Vietnam war and the draft are touched on. The war affected the lives of everyone during that time, but it came up late in the book and seemed a bit out of place. Still, the characters were full and interesting. I was left thinking about them after I was done with the book.

I love Alice Hoffman's writing, but I prefer her novels with a hint of magic rather than this one, where magic is central to the story. For that reason, it didn't come up to others I've read such as The Dovekeepers or The River King, but it is still a good choice for readers who are fans of her writing.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Life Without Living by S.C. Alban

A Life Without Living (The Strega Series, #1)A Life Without Living by S.C. Alban
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Life Without Living is a paranormal romance written from the points of view of the two main characters: Kate and Gio. The novel is a page turner, especially toward the end. Its story creates a wonderful life filled with curses and sorcery, but also brings a message relevant to life and love away from its pages.

Gio (short for Giovanni) is an Italian who has come to a small town in America in search of the woman with “...the one soul whose existence would allow [his soul] to continue instead of remaining in [an] eternal pattern...” of emptiness. Gio has been cursed with an eternal life void of any warmth and meaning. He understands this curse and the power of the man who placed it. He knows he lives in a world of witches and magic.

Kate, however, is unaware of the magic in the world around her. She's been married for nine years, to a handsome, successful man and has a good job, working for a publishing firm. She believes she is living a life worthy of envy. However, there are signs things are not the way they should be in an ideal marriage. Her husband is controlling and has a short fuse. He hasn't crossed the line to abusive, but he's close.

This mixture of two plot lines in search of each other, is what makes this book remarkable. It's a fun book, creating a world that is wonderful to think about. But it is also the story of a woman in a bad relationship who doesn't understand her own actions or lack thereof. It's about blaming yourself and your own perceived weakness for a situation that is complex and confusing. Here's an excerpt that offers a taste of this aspect of the novel:

But slowly, something was changing inside me. Something, and I didn't have a clue as to what, had began to tug on a loose thread. Gradually, cautiously, so that I didn't even know it was happening, something began to pull the strands apart. The cloth had begun to unravel.

A Life Without Living is well worth reading and the other bit of good news is that it is the first book in a series.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher

The Shell SeekersThe Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you open The Shell Seekers to a random page, you are most likely going to find very detailed, often beautiful, prose. Here's an example:

Olivia knew that she would never tire of the painting, even if she lived with it for most of her life. Its impact hit you like a gust of cold, salty air, The windy sky, racing with clouds; the sea, scudding with white-caps, breaking waves hissing up onto the shore. The subtle pinks and greys of the sand; shallow pools left by the ebbing tide and shimmering with translucent reflected sunlight. And the figures of the three children, grouped to the side of the picture; two girls with straw hats and dresses bundled up, and a boy. All brown-limbed, barefoot, and intent on the contents of a small scarlet bucket.

I loved the idea of writing about the daughter of a famous artist and her bohemian upbringing. So many books concentrate of people in positions of fame and power, but their families have stories to tell as well. I also loved having so much of the plot center around a painting which works as a metaphor for many of the family issues.

Yet, the novel didn't catch me. I was easily distracted, even at the most critical parts. Part of this was due to the descriptions, which were lovely, but too numerous. I found myself skimming descriptions of landscapes as the novel went on, especially the lists of flowers. But more than that it was the characters and a feeling that the author was intruding with her own opinions. When I was done with the book, I was left with the feeling Rosamunde Pilcher had great respect for stoicism.

The scenes of Penelope as a girl and a young woman were interesting, especially when the American troops were camped in Porthkerris. Yet Penelope's interactions with the important people in her life never seemed to have much emotion, even when she claimed to be in love. This was also true of Olivia, especially at the end of the novel, which might explain why Penelope's relation with her middle child worked.

I would recommend The Shell Seekers to readers who enjoy careful descriptions, historical settings, and a unique picture of rural England.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

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