Leo by L. Krauch

5 stars

This weekend marks the one-year anniversary of launching this blog. I’m celebrating with a review of the latest book by one of my favorite indie authors, L. Krauch.

Krauch is the author of The 13th Zodiac, an anime-inspired high fantasy series with a touch of romance. Her newly released book, Leo, is a prequel to the 13th Zodiac and Dreamtaker. 

The 13th Zodiac: Leo by L. Krauch

While Leo has many of the characters from the other books, it is primarily Jase Raion’s origin story. Jase is one of the main protagonists in the series and a not-so-secret favorite of the authors. 

In Leo, readers learn many things about the gunblade-wielding Jase, including where his name and his fondness for apples come from. We also find out about horrific and violent events during his formative years that shaped who he is in the remainder of the series.

I’m always surprised when an author can make a prequel as interesting as the first book in a series, and Krauch achieves this goal. Reading Leo makes me want to re-visit the other books in the series to see how I would experience it differently. This is very telling because, generally, once I’ve read a book, I am not usually interested in re-reading it, no matter how much I loved it the first time.

With series, especially those with prequels, there’s always a debate about the ideal reading order. I am partial to the order I read the series in, which was 13th Z, Dreamtaker, and then Leo. I think it would also work to read Leo first and then the 13th Z.

However, whatever order you decide to read the series in, the important thing is that you read it!!!! You will not regret one minute you spend indulging in the high fantasy, character-driven world Krauch has created. I know I haven’t!

Thank you to L. Krauch for providing a free e-review copy. This review reflects my honest, unbiased opinion.

My review of Dreamtaker is available here and my review of The 13th Zodiac can be found via this link.

I Let You Fall by Sara Downing

4 stars

In I Let You Fall, Eve Chapman observes an emergency operation on a woman who suffered a traumatic brain injury. When the bandages are removed, Eve realizes she was the person being operated on. While in a coma, Eve hears her family and friends visit, and she struggles to deal with being unable to communicate back with them. In fact, the only person who can see and hear her is Luca, a lawyer whose body is also trapped in a comatose state.

I Let You Fall by Sara Downing

The story primarily follows Eve and Luca, as Eve learns from him how to navigate her new state of being. There are a few side characters and stories thrown in that have more meaning as Eve’s story plays out. 

At its core, I Let You Fall is about the power of human connection. The novel started out a little rough for me, but after the first few chapters, it had me racing through each chapter to find out what would happen next. Ultimately, I felt it was an engaging read, with wholesome characters and light romance reminiscent of a Lifetime movie. 

After reading this book, I am interested in checking out others by Downing. She skillfully creates Eve’s reality without overexplaining how things worked. Some elements didn’t make complete sense to me and yet these mysterious bits were exactly what made a story about an unconscious main character work.

I recommend this book to readers who are fans of uplifting stories about overcoming difficult circumstances and a comfortable with a spiritual thread woven into the narrative.

I read this book at the request of an author support specialist with the publishing company. Thank you to Maria Inot, the author Sara Downing, and Quilla Books for mailing me a free paperback review copy. This review reflects my honest, unbiased opinion of the book.

The Alchemy Thief by R.A. Denny

Book review graphic with bookshelves in the background.

The first in the Pirates and Puritans series, The Alchemy Thief has an ambitious, intricately woven plot that spans centuries and continents.

Experience “Peri” Fuller is about to start her studies at Harvard when she discovers an ancient hairpin in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. She becomes intrigued by the symbol on the artifact, which believes she has seen before during a post-graduation trip with her best friend.

Shortly after embarking on a new relationship, starting college, and beginning an internship, Peri is suddenly and dramatically transported to 1657, where she meets among others an alchemist John Winthrop, Jr., and Daniel, a Wampanoag man who lived with Reverend Thomas Mayhew, Jr. as a boy.

This historical fiction tale has a lot of components I enjoy in a book: a leading woman character who grows during the course of the story, the use of time travel as a major component of the plot, and references to an interesting time period in early American history.

Denny also throws in hypnosis, alchemy, pirates, and terrorists – elements that are both interesting and overwhelming at times.

The Alchemy Thief was told mostly from Peri’s perspective but interspersed a good number of chapters from the viewpoint of Ayoub, a young thief raised to be a terrorist. I connected more with Peri. I found myself engrossed in her story, particularly after she is transported in time, while I dreaded getting to Ayoub’s chapters because of their disturbing descriptions of violent and horrific acts.

There is a fair amount of attention given to religion in this book, which makes sense given it is a story that focuses heavily on 17th-century Puritans and includes references to Islamic extremism. While I could see that some of the ways the author presented the Christian and Muslim faiths were to be true to the time period, there seemed to be a hint of bias against the Muslim faith which made me uncomfortable.

I was also caught off guard that the book, which is nearly 500 pages long, stopped so abruptly, leaving me wanting desperately to find out what happens to Peri, her family, and the friends she makes in the 17th century. I understand ending on a cliffhanger to build interest in the next book in the series, but after investing so much time in the characters, I felt readers deserved a little more closure.

To the author’s credit, it is clear she cares about history, has a fantastic imagination, and that she did an amazing amount of research to write this book. I enjoyed the Author’s Note at the end which provided insight into which characters were real historical figures.

Thank you to R.A. Denny for providing me with a free e-review copy of The Alchemy Thief. The views expressed in this review reflect my honest opinion.

Awakening (Commune’s Curse Book 1) by Lucy McLaren

4 stars

The cover of Awakening by Lucy A. McLaren.

This well-written fantasy novel by Lucy McLaren centers on the story of Evelyn, a teen-aged orphan, and Raif and Rose, two young siblings who end up in her care.

One of the things that made this multi-point-of-view book so interesting is the central role that two children play in the story. It’s unusual for young characters to have such complex backstories, and deep relationships and to be portrayed with layered emotions. In most of the fantasy books I’ve read, the children are background characters who are mentioned briefly. It was refreshing to see them have a lead role. 

The pacing was a little slow in this book, especially toward the middle. What it lacked in action, it made up for in strong characters and appealing themes. I love books with strong female characters and sibling relationships, and this book has both. The strong-willed Evelyn was easy to connect with – I couldn’t help but root for her to overcome her inner battle with herself and gain more self-confidence. I also appreciated the found family theme and the bonds that develop between Evelyn, Raif, and Rose. The 14-year-old Raif’s fierce sense of responsibility and protectiveness over his 6-year-old sister made him an appealing character.

The book ends in a way that is both satisfying and leaves you wanting more, setting readers up perfectly for book 2 in the Commune’s Curse series.

Thank you to the author and the Santa Fe Writers Project for providing me with a free e-ARC of the book. The opinions expressed in the story are my own.

Awakening is available on Amazon and a variety of other outlets. Visit McLaren’s website for a full list of places to purchase the book.

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.