Emma and the Minotaur by Jon Herrera

5 out of 5 stars

“There is a light inside you, Emma. Deep within. Faint and frail. Find it.”

Jon Herrera, Emma and the Minotaur
Photo by Flash Mama Photography

The first installment in Jon Herrera’s World of Light series, Emma and the Minotaur takes readers on a magical, fantastical journey. The main character, Emma Wilkins, is an eleven-year-old girl who lives on Belle Street with her father and brother, where her days are filled with going to school and interacting with her teachers and classmates.

She makes friends with Jake, a boy whose father has disappeared and her town’s mysterious forest becomes of interest as the two start searching for him. 

With her youthful innocence, loyalty to others, and determined spirit, Emma is an easy character to love. I was intrigued by her adventure, the secrets she uncovered, and the mystical creatures she met along the way. The book ends on a cliffhanger with the reader wanting to know more.

This review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the fantastic cover art. It is truly beautiful, with the cover of each book in the series even lovelier than the previous one.

Although I enjoyed this book as an adult, I would have loved to have read it with my daughter when she was younger. I highly recommend this book for adults and young people alike.

Entanglement by Alina Leonova

5 out of 5 stars

With implants, DNA edits, and human memory rewrites, the storyline in this dystopian read was beyond inventive. Cay, Limea, and Vietra are layered, unique characters, who become entangled in situations that kept me guessing throughout the book.

The circumstances that these well-developed characters face force the reader to confront the question of “What is the most fundamental element that makes a person who they are?” I was completely captivated by the different paths Limea and Vietra took to uncover their true selves.

Set in a world where plant life is beginning to threaten human life, the book manages to weave in important messages about environmental preservation.

Leonova does take the reader down a few rabbit holes, but the story is so mesmerizingly distinctive that I didn’t mind. I’m looking forward to seeing what she writes next!

Thank you to the author for providing a free review copy in exchange for my honest opinions.

Humanity Lost by Meghan Douglass

5 out of 5 stars

Photo by Flash Mama Photography

“Things that no person should ever consider doing had now become necessary, reasonable, and entirely justifiable.”

Meghan Douglass, Humanity Lost

Meghan Douglass is my most recent find through following the Twitter writing community.

In her debut novella, Humanity Lost, conditions on Earth make it uninhabitable, sending the 6 person crew of the spacecraft Valhalla on a mission to save humanity.

Events quickly progress after the crew awakens from stasis and is faced with making some unthinkable choices. 

I sometimes struggle with shorter works, wanting more character development and longer scenes in order for the story to feel complete. That wasn’t the case with Humanity Lost. Although it has fewer than 60 pages, the tale felt finished.

Douglass makes the most of every page, creating memorable characters and packing several shocking twists in this horrific story that leaves a lasting impression.

The Ghost Beside Me by Lee Hall

4 out of 5 stars

“…what do you know of the forces that stretch beyond the boundaries of our own mortality?”

Lee Hall, The Ghost Beside Me

October is the perfect month for a ghost story. I learned about The Ghost Beside Me through the Twitter writing community.

With its enchanting cover, The Ghost Beside Me drew me in. Part ghost story and part love story, this beautifully written novella is about the lonely M. Neville and his quest for companionship.

Initially, I was a little thrown by the formal tone of the language, but it worked with the setting and the story. I appreciated the book’s overall message. I just wish it had been a little longer with more character development.

I’ve read other works by Lee Hall and he is a versatile writer. Bonus: Hall includes a sneak peek of The Teleporter in this book. I will be reading that one soon as well.

Fear Farm by S. J. Krandall

4 out of 5 stars

With the exception of my Stephen King obsession in high school, I haven’t read many horror books over the course of my life. When S. J. Krandall asked if I’d be interested in reviewing Fear Farm, Spooky September seemed like the perfect time to give the horror genre a fresh try. 

Fear Farm was a great reintroduction to the genre. This novella, which can be read in one sitting or over several days, has all the things you want in a good horror story — gore, terror, and suspense. 

I liked that the novel was a series of connected short stories. This approach kept me engaged, giving me just enough detail about the characters in each vignette while keeping the suspense level high.

I also appreciated that all of the photos used to illustrate the book were taken by the author.

Whether you are a horror junkie or new(ish) to the genre, this fast read is sure to spook.

Thank you to the author for providing a free ARC in exchange for my honest review.

Paper Castles by B. Fox

4 out of 5 stars

Set during the Great Recession, James Brooke is a lonely out-of-work architect in his late 20s living at home with his father. His life is so mundane that the highlights of his days are his aimless walks around town and his visits to a coffee shop for a single cup of coffee. 

“A dream can’t be alive without a dreamer who believes in it.”

B. Fox, Paper Castles

As James describes his life, “The days are starting to bleed into one another, and I’m losing track of them. Sunrises have become pale, and sunsets have grown dim.”

The storyline is simple and focuses on a limited set of characters, primarily James and Karen Green, the waitress at a coffee shop. Readers follow the ups and downs of James’s very ordinary life. Yet, the book somehow manages to be engaging with poignant observations like, “A dream can’t be alive without a dreamer who believes in it.”

The book covers loss, despair, and feelings of failure while remaining hopeful. The real strength of this debut work is the writing. Because of his masterful way of capturing emotions and crafting descriptions, I will look forward to reading B. Fox’s next novel.

The Humane Algorithm by Trevor Wynyard

4 out of 5 stars

The Humane Algorithm, a newly-released dystopian novel, is told from the perspective of Matt Turner, an older brother and father figure to Kevin. Matt lives with Kevin and his mother in a society where the government strictly regulates electricity and controls access to medical care. The Turners find themselves in desperate need of high level medical care when Matt discovers their mother is gravely ill.

The premise of this book was interesting to me, and I liked that it centered on a family of three. With his oldest child syndrome and deep love for his mother, Matt was a relatable protagonist.

Wynyard does an excellent job with world-building in this novel. I appreciated his descriptions of scenes, like when Matt and Kevin try to get their mother admitted to the government-run hospital. He gives enough detail for you to envision what’s happening without being too sparse or overly descriptive.

My quibbles with this book were minor. I would have liked more background about how society evolved to be the way it is described in the book. I also had a little bit of trouble following some of the family timelines — I couldn’t figure out how much older Matt was than Kevin. The ending also felt a little unresolved, though that’s likely because the reader is being set up for the next book in the Streetlighters Trilogy. The odds are good that I will read the second book in the series.

I received an ARC of this book through BookSirens in exchange for my honest review.

Anywhere Else by Kayla Hicks

4 out of 5 stars

Anywhere Else is my most recent book discovery from participating in the Twitter #writingcommunity. 

Self-reliant Leena, a pick-up truck driving young woman with an alcoholic mother, is the main character of this YA novel.

Through this story, we see Leena navigate romantic relationships, figure out how to live on her own, and learn how to trust others. I enjoyed reading Leena’s story. She is easy to connect with and you want to see where her journey goes. 

This book relies on the classic love triangle for much of its storyline but it is well done. To me, the book was like comfort food — it uses your favorite ingredients and satisfies your craving. It is not a life-changing book but it is charming and delivers on your expectations in a pleasing way. 

I will be reading another book by this author. In fact, I have already purchased a copy of her novella, The Back-Up Superhero.

Thank you to the author Kayla Hicks for providing a free ARC of Anywhere Else in exchange for my honest review.

The Scars of Gaia by R.P. Lauer

Five out of five stars

Cover of the book The Scars of Gaia

This dystopian sci-fi novel focuses on the relationship between James, a merchant from Deice, and Claire, a botanist from Acumen. These two nations, which are part of the world of Gaia, have dramatically different values. Deice prizes power and physical strength while Acumen cares only about knowledge and science. 

Birds flying underneath colorful cloud cover.

James and Claire discover that their nations may be on the brink of war. The pair must figure out what, if anything, can be done to stop the destruction.

The parallels between these two opposing societies and the polarization present in our country now made this an even more compelling read for me.

Part one of the story unhurriedly sets the stage for the events to come. The pacing picks up significantly in part two and sprints to a surprising and satisfying conclusion.

I appreciated the book’s message that real strength comes from compassion, empathy, and love.

I look forward to reading more by R.P. Lauer.

Liam’s Town by Marissa Dike

4 out of 5 stars

Liam’s Town was the first book I discovered through a writer’s lift on Twitter, and I’m really glad I found it.

This YA book centers on Liam, who, like most fifteen-year-olds, lives in a world of his own. His world consists of working for his grandfather and spending as much time as possible hanging out with his three friends, Trinity, Jenny, and Fender.  

At first, you think the book will be a typical story about Liam’s life in a small town, his friendships, and his burgeoning love life, but you quickly realize that things are not what they seem on the surface. The book grew on me with each chapter and had several twists that I didn’t see coming. One of the things I loved most about the book was Liam’s voice. Dike created a lovable character in Liam —  you can’t help but root for him throughout the story. 

I would definitely be interested in reading more books by this author.