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.

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.

The Kill Switch by J.E. Clarkson

4 out of 5 stars

Clarkson keeps the adrenaline pumping in The Kill Switch, the third installment in her dystopian, techno-thriller series. The short, action-filled chapters keep the suspense high as the nameless main character known only as The Cleaner and her allies continue to fight against the evils of Stella and Nemo & Co. 

The Kill Switch by J.E. Clarkson

Leaping in where The Ghost Society ends, the book revisits some familiar themes and scenes present in the first book, while adding a political element reaching the highest levels of power. We also get a teaser for the fourth book with references to a parcel of documents labeled Dark Cygnet.

In addition to the fast pacing and endless curves, I enjoy the observations like, “They say you don’t hear the bullet that kills you,” which are present in Clarkson’s writing. Her astute metaphors also keep me engaged. One example: “I felt a bit like I was taking a slow walk into hell and the soles of my feet were beginning to burn.”

These books are definitely written to be read in order, not as interchangeable stand-alones. So, if this review sounds intriguing, and you haven’t read the first book in the Nemo and Co. series yet, do yourself a favor and download it today. You will quickly start to see why Clarkson has her own category on this blog.

As for me, I will be devouring The Dark Cygnet Files, the next in the series, as soon as I can.

Clarkson’s books are available on Amazon.

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

3 out of 5 stars

After hearing all of the hype about this bestseller that’s been turned into a Netflix series, this novel was a bit of a disappointment for me. While it had funny moments and a few interesting observations about human nature, the storytelling style was a bit disjointed. It seemed to switch randomly from moments in the lives of some of the characters to the hostage situation to interspersing transcripts from the police interviews.

The cover of Anxious People displayed on an e-reader being held in someone's right hand.

The characters were a bit too quirky for my tastes. I understand that the author gave many of the characters exaggerated quirks for a purpose, but it resulted in me finding it difficult to connect to any of them. For the most part, many of the men and women involved in the hostage situation could have been better described as Annoying People rather than Anxious People. I have a hard time enjoying a book when there isn’t a character that I can relate to or root for to succeed.

While the plot was a tad absurd, I did appreciate some of the themes in the book. Anxious People reminds us of the life-changing effects of having compassion for each other. The interactions between the characters also highlight the fact that none of us ever really knows what someone is going through. 

“Some people accept that they will never be free of their anxiety, they just learn to carry it.” 

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

I also thought the author wove in some thoughtful observations about anxiety and depression. One of the lines that resonated most with me was “Some people accept that they will never be free of their anxiety, they just learn to carry it.” 

Another powerful observation was about the way people tend to hide their depression, even from the ones they love most. Backman writes, “A person who’s drowning doesn’t look like they’re drowning…Your family can be standing on the beach waving cheerfully to you, completely unaware that you’re dying.”

Even though this wasn’t my favorite book, I do think I will give Backman another try to see if I connect better with a different one of his stories.

What I Learned in My First 6 Months of Blogging

This month, I am celebrating my 6-month anniversary as a book and photography blogger. Sixty posts, 2,012 views, and 880 visitors later, what do I have to show for this milestone?

Well, I’ve had fun, explored my creative side, and made lots of connections with other writers, book lovers, bloggers, and photographers. But, most importantly for you, I’ve learned a few lessons you can benefit from if you’re planning to start a new blog or relaunch a stalled one.

So, before I break out the balloons and champagne to celebrate, here are a few words of advice for you.

Have some content banked before you start.

My bank of original photos has been a source of inspiration for post ideas.

At first, you are likely to be bursting with ideas and energy for your new blog. That’s a great place to be in, but be sure to pace yourself with posts. Resist the urge to post everything you create immediately and bank some of those ideas and posts for later. Trust me – you are going to hit a time when you’re short on inspiration or time to create new posts and you’re going to need to draw on your content bank in order to be consistent with your posting. When those times have hit for me, I have been grateful to have had a reserve of book reviews and photography to lean on.

Just start.

This one is for all of the overthinkers and over-analyzers out there who have a tendency to get stuck revving your engine at the starting line. Don’t wait until you have years and years of content stored up or until some magical date in the distant future. Why? The danger of waiting too long is that you run the risk of never getting started – and it would be a loss for your audiences not to get to read your perspective. This almost happened to me. I first had the idea for a blog in the mid-2000s but was overwhelmed by the idea of starting. I sometimes wonder where my blog would be had I just jumped in then. Don’t wait for the perfect time to get started – just get going already.

Speaking of perfection – it is highly overrated.

There will be things you can’t get perfect at first, no matter how hard you try. You may want to get into blogging because of a love of writing and connecting with others, but your technical skills aren’t the best. Or maybe you love showing off your web development and design skills but the writing part doesn’t come naturally.  For me, I struggle with troubleshooting formatting issues in WordPress. If I waited until I could figure out how to fix every minor alignment issue before posting, I’d never get anything posted. I’ve had to learn to get posts up to the best of my ability and accept I will make mistakes and that’s okay. It’s part of the learning process. The only way to get better at the parts that are a struggle is to do them.

For the wanna-be bloggers who haven’t taken the leap, what’s holding you back?

For the more experienced bloggers out there, what would you add? 

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.

The Ghost Society by J.E. Clarkson

The Ghost Society

The Ghost Society is the second installment in J.E. Clarkson’s Nemo & Co dystopian techno-thriller series.

Like the first book, The Ghost Society is told from the perspective of a woman known only as The Cleaner. The Ghost Society reveals more about The Cleaner, introduces us to a few new characters, and resurfaces a few others who are pivotal to the story. 

Like its predecessor, what this book lacks in attention to minor editing details, it more than makes up for in plot. This book is genuinely exciting, and a little terrifying, to read. Just when you think you know what is happening, Clarkson tosses in another curveball, and suddenly you are boomerang-ing in another direction. 

“Extraordinary people are sometimes worth extraordinary compromises.”

J.E. Clarkson

I liked that this book added romantic love into the mix of human emotions it explores. As one character observes, “Extraordinary people are sometimes worth extraordinary compromises.”

Love and the compromises we make are just two things in this journey that are infinitely more complicated than they seem on the surface. 

I’m definitely sticking with this series, which has two more books – The Kill Switch and The Dark Cygnet –  to see where it takes us next.

Read my review of The Vanishing Office.

For the Love of Many by Vivian Dunn

5 stars

“…why should anyone ever have to hold in their happiness?”

Vivian Dunn, For the Love of Many

For the Love of Many is a period romance book based on the life of Joan Crawford (“Billie”).

Billie is a showgirl from Kansas City who fights her way from Detroit to a Broadway chorus in the mid-1920s. She meets a more experienced dancer, Nadine, and the two chorines are immediately drawn to each other. 

One of the most masterfully written books I’ve read to date, Dunn’s descriptions effectively capture the heady buzz of working in show business in New York City and the tumult of new emotions Billie feels. 

The relationship that develops between the two women forms the heart of the book. Dunn vividly captures the explosive feelings that develop and expertly expresses how each woman views herself in relation to the other.

Themes of sexual abuse, trauma, addiction, abortion, and even dealings with the mob are skillfully and subtly woven into this intense love story.

The book rhythmically moves along, paced like a musical with chaotic scenes balanced by slower ballads. There were a few times when the book felt a bit repetitive but this was a minor issue in the context of the story as a whole.

This book will appeal to readers interested in a glimpse of what it is like to be a young woman trying to make it in show biz in New York City in the roaring 20s.

Thank you the author and Booktasters for providing a free e-ARC of this book. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.

The book is available in multiple formats on Amazon.

The 13th Zodiac by L. Krauch

4 out of 5 stars

In the 13th Zodiac, the titan Time makes a decision that sets the foundation for the rest of the story. And, what a story it is! 

This high fantasy book features some wonderful world-building and a diverse set of interesting characters. The main characters Jase Raion, the Crown Prince of Chall, and Liya Fairaway, the lost princess of Aria, have layered, interesting backstories and well-developed personalities. Krauch does a great job getting you invested in these two, as well as other important characters like Jemi, Liya’s sister, and her adoptive brothers Tokei and Jiroo.

In addition to the main characters, another thing I enjoyed about this book is that I could really picture the action scenes – and there’s a lot of action in this book. I can sometimes get bogged down reading, rather than watching, action scenes but that wasn’t the case in The 13th Zodiac. Krauch’s vivid descriptions made the conflict scenes easy to visualize.

Be prepared for the fact that this story features a large number of characters. If you’re like me, it can sometimes be a challenge to keep a lot of characters straight, but this story is written in a way that you can easily focus on the primary cast to keep from getting confused.

I’m looking forward to reading the next installment in the series. I also think this book would make a great movie – I’d love to see it on the big screen one day.

The book is available through Amazon in paperback, as an e-book, and Kindle Unlimited.

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

3 stars

A hand holding up the book A Good Girl's Guide to Murder.

Everyone has been talking about this Holly Jackson series featuring a smart, driven young woman as the main character. I love books with strong women, so I decided to give it a try.

In this first book in this young adult (YA) mystery series, high school student Pip Fitz-Amobi decides to investigate a 5-year-old murder for her senior project.

As someone who thrived off Nancy Drew books as a kid, I was completely drawn in by the premise of a modern-day teenage sleuth. One of my favorite elements of this book is the way Pip’s research notes and interview transcripts are incorporated. I was worried at first that these would be distracting but found myself enjoying them even more than the traditional narrative parts of the book. 

The biggest drawbacks of this otherwise enjoyable book for me were the high-risk situations that Pip naively gets herself into and the big leaps that she makes in the last third of the book. The mom in me was in a constant state of concern and disbelief.

There were a few points where I just couldn’t buy that this seemingly sheltered teen was able to outsmart some pretty devious individuals in her first investigation. 

Even with these flaws, I am likely to read the next book in this series, where I hope to see more sides to Pip’s character. I am also interested to see what becomes of her partnership with Ravi.