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.

The Man and the Crow by Rebecca Crunden

The Man and the Crow by Rebecca Crunden.

In this short story, what starts off as a seemingly ordinary evening for Jessica, a part-time sales clerk at a hardware store, takes a shocking turn. 

Jessica arrives home to the flat she shares with Clara, the odd roommate she barely tolerates, and makes her way through Clara’s various housepets. Jessica stumbles into a horrific scene. 

Magic was everywhere and secrecy was paramount.

The Man and the Crow by Rebecca Crunden

Following Jessica’s peculiar encounter with the perpetrator, the book quickly pivots to the story of Enlil and Aris, who have a connection to Clara and the events that transpire.

Saying too much more would spoil the plot. Suffice it to say that Crunden makes the most of every word and scene in this 24-page, century-spanning story.

With witches, warlords, wit, and wry references to contemporary topics, I couldn’t ask for anything more as a reader.

I will definitely be reading more works by Crunden. Crunden’s books are available on Amazon.

The Original Superheroes by Kayla Hicks

4 stars

A paperback copy of the book The Original Superheroes by Kayla Hicks.

The Original Superheroes is book 2 in the Backup Superheroes series. In this story, a prequel of sorts, we learn more about Frank, the barkeeper who played a supporting, yet important role in book 1. 

As the title suggests, The Original Superheroes tells us how and why the Backup Superhero league was formed. It delves into Frank’s past life as a police officer who becomes the Dark Vigilante and seeks justice against corruption in the department.

With 149 pages in the paperback copy, the novel is a short, fast-paced read that does a nice job setting up the newly-released third book in the series, The Backup Who Cried Wolf.

Although a little heavier in tone than the first book, The Original Superheroes kept my interest alive in the fun, quirky concept of a D-league of superheroes consisting of regular people armed only with nicknames and superhero costumes trying to make the world a better place.

I’m looking forward to finding out what happens to this cast of characters we’ve grown to love in the next book.

Books in The Original Superheroes series can be purchased through the author’s website, https://kayla-hicks.com/

My review of The Backup Superhero is linked here.

Refraction by Terry Geo

5 stars

A paperback copy of the book Refraction by Terry Geo.
Refraction by Terry Geo

Based on the reviews and the Twitter hype, I had high expectations going into this book. In fact, I was so excited about it, I bought the e-version and the paperback  so I would have my choice of formats when I was ready to enjoy.  Refraction did not disappoint!

With a lot of build up and a clear turning point for the action, Refraction feels like two different  books in the most amazing way. Geo takes his time setting up the adventure, planting little seeds and letting you get to know each of the characters who will go on an action-packed, head-spinning ride in the second half of the book. 

From there, we encounter a unique world where reality and dreams collide in unpredictable and unexpected ways. 

It is truly difficult to pick out what I enjoyed most about this book. From the London setting, the truly imaginative plot, the fun pop culture references, to the diverse cast of likable characters, there is so much to love and enjoy.

I read The Cracked Reflection, Geo’s introductory novella, first. After reading Refraction, I want to go back and reread it to see if it changes how I interpreted Maria’s story.

My review of The Cracked Reflection is available here.

Both books are available on Amazon and Terry Geo’s Refracted World website.

The Mother by J.E. Clarkson

4 stars

The cigarette smoking detective Kate Monroe is back on the scene, investigating a serial killer in this sequel to The Lamb. The book takes us right back to Barnsworth, where Monroe and Halifax are pulled back in with fresh murders, one of which might be the new girlfriend of Monroe’s ex-husband.

The Mother: A Detective Kate Monroe Crime Thriller displayed on an iPad.
The Mother by J.E. Clarkson

I adored that Clarkson included a glossary of characters in the front of the book. As someone who has read several books since reading the first installment in this series, I appreciated the refresher on the cast of characters. I was also glad to get an answer to a major item that the first book left unresolved.

Clarkson’s distinctive writing style is present in this fast-moving tale, which can be consumed in a single sitting or savored at a slower pace. Again, I was able to add a few new British colloquialisms to my vocabulary, which is always fun.

Reading this respectable follow-up to The Lamb reinforced my love for J.E. Clarkson as an author and for Kate Monroe as a character. I continue to be a dedicated Clarkson fan and intend to keep auto-buying all of her new releases.

My review of The Lamb: https://bookpicksandpics.com/2021/12/11/the-lamb-by-j-e-clarkson/

To read my reviews of all of J.E. Clarkson’s books, browse her category on my blog.

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/

Waiting for Saturday by Catherine Morrison

5 stars

Waiting for Saturday by Catherine Morrison

I picked up a digital copy of this book because I was intrigued by the title – in some ways, aren’t we all “Waiting for Saturday” to come around? 

Based on the crushed red lollipop on the cover, I was expecting this book to be either a lighthearted YA romance or a sinister thriller about a young villain. Instead, I found an unexpected gem of a story about a young woman slowly opening her eyes to the mistreatment she suffers and regaining trust in herself. 

On the surface, Abi seems to have it all – a beautiful 4-year-old daughter, a gorgeous house in an upscale neighborhood, and a husband who provides for her every need. One Saturday morning, she meets Henry and his son at the play center. A friendship develops that gives Abi a new perspective on what’s really happening in her life. 

I devoured this fast flowing 150 page story in one weekend morning, cheering for Abi with each page. Not everyone will be satisfied with how this books ends, but I appreciated some of the warnings and the hope Abi’s story offers.

After reading Waiting for Saturday, I definitely plan to check out more of Morrison’s work.

The Backup Superhero by Kayla Hicks

4 stars

I absolutely loved the concept of this novella. In a genre where everything has been done before, the idea of having tiers of superheroes seemed original and intriguing. 

The Backup Superhero by Kayla Hicks displayed on an e-reader.
The cover of The Backup Superhero by Kayla Hicks

Tanser Girl, a D leaguer, is our heroine. After a bad day, she heads to the Hero’s Cave, a bar where the backup heroes hang out, to pick herself up. She meets up with Dwighter, a fellow level D superhero with a drinking problem, and Frank, the mysterious barkeep, both of whom are instrumental in the events that follow.

The spotlight-hating, funny, self-deprecating Tanser Girl is a likable character. With a Board of Superheroes and rules that apply to the different levels of superheroes, the story also gives us some background on the politics of saving lives. I thought these references added an interesting dimension to the book.

As much as I enjoyed the adventures of Tanser Girl, Frank, and Dwighter, the novella felt a little incomplete to me. It stops abruptly and seems more of a teaser to a fuller work than a stand-alone story. Lucky for us there’s more to the story in a second superhero book, The Original Superheroes.

The Backup Superhero and other works by Hicks can be found on her website: https://kayla-hicks.com/

Hicks has also written a young adult romance novel, Anywhere Else. My review of Anywhere Else is available here: https://bookpicksandpics.com/2021/09/04/anywhere-else-by-kayla-hicks/

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 Moon of Lycca by Anne Winchell

5 stars

“As soon as she stopped, a growl behind her reminded her that she was not alone.”

Anne Winchell, The Moon of Lycca
The cover of The Moon of Lycca displayed on an e-reader. The e-readers is surrounded by green ivy.
The Moon of Lycca by Anne Winchell

Winchell’s novella, The Moon of Lycca, is a fast-moving space saga. Mei is attempting to rescue two colonists when her glider crashes in a remote area of a dangerous planet. Armed with a limited supply of ammo, the small-framed peacekeeper must find a way to survive the perils she encounters in the darkness.

Winchell packs a lot of action and meaning into this 28-page novella. With her determination, resourcefulness, and adaptability, Mei pulls the reader in and quickly demonstrates why she shouldn’t be underestimated. I appreciated the novella’s message about women’s empowerment.

I was already a fan of Winchell’s writing and this novella left me wanting to read more of her works.

The Moon of Lycca is available for purchase on Amazon.