Dreamtaker by L. Krauch

5 stars

The cover of Dreamtaker by L. Krauch

Darker than its predecessor, Dreamtaker features many of the same characters as the original 13th Zodiac story. However, the sequel adds a few new players, most notably the evil Damien who takes the story in a new, more sinister direction. 

Dreamtaker is a riveting read that boomerangs you through a wide range of terrifying emotions for your favorite characters, particularly for the King and Queen of Chall.

Although Jase and Liya are prominent in this story, other familiar characters have their stories fleshed out a bit. The author’s trademark vivid descriptions of the action scenes and running jokes (apples, anyone?) are also present in the sequel. 

While I wouldn’t have thought it possible, I am even more excited for the next installment of the 13th Zodiac series than I was for Dreamtaker. As readers, we are set up for so many different possibilities, that I can’t wait to see what direction we are catapulted into next.

My review is based on an e-ARC provided to me by the author. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Dreamtaker releases on May 13, 2022, and can be purchased through Amazon.

My review of The 13th Zodiac: https://bookpicksandpics.com/2022/01/08/the-13th-zodiac-by-l-krauch/

The Guidal: Discovering Puracordis by Roxy Eloise

4 stars

The Guidal by Roxy Eloise

In this YA fantasy book, 16-year-old Aurora lives in the Boulderfell Institute where she and the other adoptees must adhere to a strict set of rules. The story starts with Aurora moving up from the Mustards, the children’s section, to the adult quarters (Navies). Her move makes her eligible for the Unity ceremony, an annual ceremony where disciples are matched to each other.

Eloise creates an intriguing character in Aurora, the strong-willed, white haired leading lady. Aurora grows more relatable throughout the story as we learn more about her past and she navigates her way through change, love and loss. At one point, Eloise accurately describes the disembodied experience of grief, when Aurora recalls, “I didn’t remember much of the past seven days because I wasn’t there to live it.”

With each chapter of Eloise’s debut work, I became more invested in Aurora’s journey and wanted to understand the unique world she was immersed in. Supporting characters, including Tayo, the juvie assigned to her care, and the beloved Nanny Kimly add heart to the story

The Guidal, which releases on April 2, 2022, ends with several unanswered questions, which hopefully means Eloise is planning a sequel.

The book is available through Eloise’s author website. For an extra treat, you can listen to Eloise read Chapter One on her YouTube channel.

Thank you to the author for providing me with a free e-ARC of this book. The opinions expressed in this review are my own and were not influenced by receiving a free copy.

Cousin Calls by Zeb Haradon

A barn sitting in a grassy field with a blue clouded sky overhead.

What a wild and weird book! Cousin Calls is a series of vignettes that all start with a call from a cousin. The stories are recalled sitting around in a bar when several patrons are stuck there during a winter storm. 

The exaggerated, satirical writing style is reminiscent of how a story that is retold repeatedly grows bigger and more unbelievable with each retelling.

Some of the stories were a little strange and sexually graphic for my taste, and some were more interesting than others.

At the same time, there was something bizarrely compelling about Cousin Calls. I kept thinking as I read that I will most likely never encounter another book like this one, so kudos to the author for originality.

As someone with tons of cousins I adore, this book might make me think twice next time I see a cousin show up on my caller id.

I received a free e-ARC of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Cousin Calls and other books by Haradon can be found on the author’s website.

The Sky Looked the Same by Marissa Dike

4 out of 5 stars

The cover of The Sky Looks the Same displayed on an e-reader placed on a pink and blue blanket.

Set 60 years in the future, The Sky Looked the Same is told through the main character Mia’s diary entries. After defending her friends turns into a violent situation, sixteen-year-old Mia is sentenced to 30 years for her crimes.

However, in the world Dike has created, instead of serving time, convicts have time taken away from them by undergoing an aging process. Readers follow the first year of Mia’s life after her sentencing. 

Through its exploration of aging, death, and the human need for love, friendship, and forgiveness, this memorable book can be depressing at times (despite its cheery yellow cover). The short journal entry storytelling style helped keep the heavy story moving at a good pace. I also appreciated the poetry that is interspersed throughout the book. 

I fell in love with Dike’s writing style after reading her debut work, Liam’s Town. Her writing has an incredible depth and vulnerability to it that was also present in this novel.

One of the lines from The Sky Looked the Same that resonated with me was about how much an individual can endure in their lifetime. “It’s just a reminder that even strong things can break,” she writes.

The book has some triggering content, including references to a racial slur and rape/incest.

Marissa Dikes books are available for purchase through her website, www.writingmarissa.com.

Thank you to the author and to BookSirens for providing a free e-ARC. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Between the Birches: Awakening

The e-book Between the Birches displayed on an ipad propped on an ivy-covered tree.
Between the Birches: Awakening

Between the Birches: Awakening opens with Beth, her husband Tom, and their best friend, Grady heading on a camping trip in the Appalachian mountains to celebrate Beth’s 25th birthday. Shortly after they arrive, the trio unexpectedly encounters two of Tom and Grady’s old friends, and the trip quickly turns into a nightmare.

Told from multiple points of view, Between the Birches is an imaginative, unpredictable, genre-bending story. From cults to forest beasts to magic, this book weaves in a little bit of everything – and it works. Throughout the book, I honestly had no idea who or what was lurking on the next page.

Like all good horror stories, there were several moments, especially early in the story, when I wanted to grab the characters and scream, “Turn around” or “No. Don’t go there!” There is also an unusual love triangle that is responsible for a lot of tense and tender moments. All three of the main characters are relatable in their own way, though Tom was my favorite.

As a side note, I enjoyed that there were a few references to my home state of North Carolina (although, after reading, I don’t think I’ll be going into any forests on the NC/Tenn border any time soon!). 

The book ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, setting us up for the next installment in the series. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing what the future holds for this crew.

Thank you to K.P. Roberson for providing a free e-ARC. The views expressed in this review are entirely my own.

Between the Birches: Awakening, featuring a new cover design, will be available through Amazon in May 2022.

The Gene Solution by Mike Rochelle

4 out of 5 stars

“The details mattered…He had found through work that lives hung in the details.”

Mike Rochelle, The Gene Solution
A hand holding up an e-reader depicting the cover of The Gene Solution against a chalkboard with mathematical equations.
Mike Rochelle’s debut sci-fi thriller

In The Gene Solution, Dr. Tripp Galloway and his partner, Dr. Mortimer (Morti) Stein, are the doctors and fertility specialists at a prominent OB/GYN practice in New York City. 

Driven by Galloway’s desire to keep families from suffering the same devastating loss his family did, Galloway and Stein start running clinical trials aimed at eradicating diseases caused by genetic disorders like Cystic Fibrosis and Sickle Cell anemia.

To help fund their latest clinical trial, Galloway strikes a deal with Slavomir, a corrupt Russian shipping tycoon who wants to start a family. The deal has repercussions for Tripp, Morti, Aiden, their practice manager, and several others along the way.

The debut book is action-packed and covers a wide array of ethical issues. For the most part, the science was easy to understand, though it did get a little technical in parts. The author has a background in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries which came through in the writing.

The plot reads like a crime drama, like NCIS: Los Angeles, and would translate well to the screen. It was a worthwhile read that I would recommend to others who enjoy sci-fi thrillers.

Thank you to Book Sirens for the advance review copy. The views expressed here are my own.

The book is available at several book retailers and through the publisher’s site.

Finding Grace by Janis Thomas

4 out of 5 stars

Cover of Finding Grace

Finding Grace tells the story of three women, Grace, Louise, and Melanie, whose lives intersect. A bartender living in New York, Louise is estranged from her unreliable mother, Grace, who has been in and out of her life since she was 6 years old. Melanie is a 12-year-old girl who has been shuffled to different foster homes for most of her life. Their paths cross when Grace has a premonition that a young girl is in trouble. 

One of the things I liked most about this book was how the story unfolded. The story alternates among the perspectives of each of the women and it also bounces back and forth between the past and the present day. While this had the potential to be confusing, it was woven together deftly and was very easy to follow. It also kept me guessing and wondering what would happen next.

I also appreciated the distinct voices of each of the characters. With her calm demeanor and a deep wish to be loved, you root for Melanie right from the start. Louise’s strength pulls you in and Grace is written with just enough tenderness that you want her to be okay, despite being a terrible mom to Louise. 

I liked that there were both predictable elements and unexpected turns in this story that explores the depth of the bond between mother and daughter.

Overall, the storytelling and writing were memorable enough for me to want to read another book by this best-selling author.

Thank you to NetGalley and Blackstone Publishing for providing a free e-ARC. I am leaving this review voluntarily.

Finding Grace will be available in April 2022 and can be pre-ordered now anywhere books are sold.

I, Volcano by Eule Grey

3 stars

Tree branches against a bright orange sunset.

I, Volcano is a dystopian novel set in an oppressed island nation. Jalob Baleine is a medic who was forced to evacuate from Skarle, her home nation, when she was 10. She meets Corail Esplash, a brash violinist from Ansar, and sparks fly. 

I was really torn when reading this book. There were parts that I really enjoyed, like Jalob’s character. The responsibility Jalob felt to save others, her struggle to articulate her feelings, and her longing for home endeared her to readers. 

I also liked the contrast between Jalob and Corail. From their personalities to their physical statures, the two women were opposites in every way. As much as I enjoyed the opposites attract theme, there were times when I felt like I was muddling through the story. In my opinion, the story would have been stronger with a bit more curation. 

The book includes a teaser for a sequel, and after reading the teaser, I would give it a try. Judging by the teaser, I’m betting Grey’s writing gets even stronger with the second installment in the series.

Thank you to the author for providing a free review copy. I am leaving this review voluntarily and it reflects my honest opinion.

I, Volcano is available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats.

Shaken No More by Jacqui Morrison

3 stars

This women’s fiction/romance novel is about one woman’s fight to overcome several past traumas and find love, success, and happiness. 

Shaken No More

After leaving her abusive husband, Meredith Golden meets Paul and the two begin a romantic relationship. Things seem to be going well for Meredith in her career and in her love life until the past resurfaces.

Although Meredith’s experiences are the book’s main focus, Paul has some trauma of his own to work through. The fact that both people have emotional baggage makes their dating life relatable.

While I didn’t personally connect with every aspect of the author’s writing style, the overall story and message are meaningful. It was clear from the writing that Meredith’s story holds special significance to the author and I always appreciate when an author’s passion for a story comes through in the writing.

I recommend this book for anyone interested in stories about healing and women’s empowerment. Readers who enjoy stories featuring a strong, resilient woman as the main character should also consider this book.

I received a free e-review copy of Shaken No More from the author in exchange for my honest opinion.

Shaken No More is available in Kindle and paperback formats from Amazon.

Eighteen by Jenny Jaeckel

4 stars 

In this novel, 18-year-old Talia leaves her small town of Ukiah, California, and heads off to university in Washington state. The story starts off as shy and awkward as freshman year, and – like many college experiences – keeps getting better from there.

Eighteen

Told from Talia’s point of view, the reader follows this young woman as she makes friends, has her first sexual experience, and falls in love during the first few years of college. Set in the late 80s/early 90s, the story is sprinkled with a few references to HIV and what was known about sexual health at the time.

The book is a fast read – I was able to finish it in a few hours. I was invested in Talia’s dating life, particularly in what would happen with George.

I also really appreciated the book’s observations about the thin line between everything going well in a person’s life and complete disaster.

The part of this book that didn’t work as well for me is that Talia’s story felt a bit unfinished. While she was a relatable protagonist who demonstrated some growth, I would have liked for it to cover a longer time span of Talia’s life, or flesh out her back story as someone who spent part of her childhood living in a commune. By giving readers more than a 2-year glimpse into her college life, we would have had the chance to see her growth as a young woman more clearly.

Overall, it was an entertaining read that I would recommend, especially to those who enjoy stories about the joy, disappointment, desire, and heartbreak surrounding first loves.

My review would not be complete without mentioning the striking cover artwork which was created by Jaeckel. With is contrasting colors, graceful lines, and evocative expressions, this is one case where it is justified to judge the book by its cover.

Thank you to the author and Black Rose Writing for providing a free e-ARC of this book. Receiving a free review copy did not influence my opinion of this book.

Eighteen can be purchased through the publisher’s site.