True Grandeur, by Cal R. Barnes

Stereotypes for artists exist for a reason, and Conrad manages to hit many of them. While searching for his big break, the romanticism of loves’ ideals captures him. Caught deep within tendrils of his heart, Conrad must fight for both his budding career and the affections of the woman he loves.

The whole novel feels like one of those old black and white movies of the Hollywood elite and their inner politics. An overall tone of romanticism and whimsy permeate the author’s writing and ultimately spills directly into Conrad’s character. With the way the story was spun, I honestly expected some sort of Twilight Zone ending.

With only a handful of characters to really keep up with, their interactions felt a lot more meaningful. It allowed the author to explore characters deeply without overwhelming the reader. Conrad’s obsession with Gracie shows the darker side of what one could call love, and it proved to be an interesting dynamic not just between them, but simply for Conrad himself. There were occasions where his overwhelming love for Gracie came off as too much, borderline creepy given the length of time he’s known her, though the tone was meant for something different.

True Grandeur was an interesting exploration of Hollywood and what goes on behind the scenes. I think the writing style definitely fit the tone of the story. It’s one that will get into a reader’s head with very specific imagery.

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James Fisher and the Bird Witch, by Simon Corn

Every little town has its own story of a reclusive older person that legend says is some kind of mystical being. Well, for James, there’s no exception. After fleeing from some bullies, he ends up on the doorstep of none other than the Bird Witch.

An endearing tale, Bird Witch teaches many life lesson: love, loss, hope, and a bit of redemption. As a kid, James endured a lot. He was resilient, though. A little too resilient and positive sometimes. I liked his character, and his development. He was an ordinary kid living an ordinary life, even though circumstances didn’t always seem so ordinary for someone his age.

Mental illness was handled in a relatively good way. It wound up being a bigger theme in he latter half of the book, and I think it was done respectfully, by someone who cares enough about accuracy. There were a lot of emotions to deal with. They came out well in both the characters and readers. It also highlighted the importance of something very easy to forget: how much a support system can help. We see the dynamic there in James versus Daisy (even Shaz) and how the circumstances of their lives changed because of who they have to talk to and the people there for them.

It was long, and there were plenty of ups and downs. James is an interesting and well-written character to follow. The interactions and friendships found along the way made for good learning experiences. It was easy for the reader to put themselves in James’ shoes, no matter how old.

Darkwater, by D. W. Johnson

I so wanted to like this book. And to a degree, I did. This read like a well-planned D&D campaign that had interesting situations, and interesting plot nuances, but the execution fell short.

After finding a messenger bag on a dead body, Lacey begins a strange journey with new friends. Artifacts are discovered, and legends come to life the farther she carries on. What magic lies ahead for such a mage?

The opening of this book is a slow-moving info dump. It didn’t catch and hold my attention. I was hoping maybe things would pick up after the first few chapters, but things felt incredibly monotone. The pacing of the story, the reactions of characters, and the characters themselves, all felt like they had one emotion and it wasn’t particularly evocative.

There’s little to no “showing” in the novel. The entire time the reader is being “told” what’s going on and it made for a bland read. I felt like things were too easy for the characters. There was extra care taken to make sure there were actual challenges to overcome, but they were all easy to overcome.

Tense changes were prominent throughout the entire novel. It was jarring to me as a reader.

As I said before, the plot was interesting. The world felt lifted from D&D in a lot of ways and so it served as familiar, accessible fantasy. The setting, for the most part, was fairly easy to visualize. I loved the fact that most of the party was comprised of women. I genuinely want to know how their story progressed, however, the execution of the story did not impress me as a reader.

Arena: Omnibus, by D. Michael Withrow

When Roman culture makes it into the American justice system, convicted killers become the gladiators of the rich. Thousands turn out for the sport, and it’s a brutal, brutal thing that tears families apart.

Colston acquires one such fighter, a giant of a man named Cole. The two become fast friends. Colston’s perspective on life changes and he develops enough to finally start standing up to his father to fight for his own ideals.

Overall the book wasn’t bad. The story was interesting, and the integration of Roman culture wasn’t bad. It enhanced the plot in many ways. The fight scenes were written well, and they filled a good portion of the book, so that was nice.

There were also a few themes, like depression and sexual assault, that weren’t executed well in relation to the story. I liked the fact that the author touched on them, and I liked the fact that the attempt was made. However, I felt like it was rushed and just kind of thrown in for the emotional impact, which didn’t succeed very well for me.

Most of the relationship dynamics were interesting, and relatively unique, with the exception of the romantic one. It, too, felt rushed and thrown in just to give them something to do. I was a big fan of Anna, and I really liked her, I just wished she could have played a slightly different role. I understood what the author was going for; it was just such an overdone trope.

I wish the world would have been expanded for the reader a bit. I had an okay idea as to the state of things, and how it differed from the modern day. I know things were different, I just wasn’t clear on a good portion of the details.

Like I said, overall the book wasn’t bad. It was still an interesting read. There was a lot I liked about it, but there were also opportunities to improve, just like anything else.

Megan’s Munchkins, by Pamela Foland

This was an incredibly cute tale of a young girl learning responsibility, as well as the fact that every action has consequences, no matter how good the intent.

Megan really wants a pet. Her parents don’t think she’s responsible enough yet. Megan finds some abandoned kittens, so what does she do? Takes them home, of course! Now the race is on to prove that she can be responsible before her parents find out.

There were many, many good messages to young adults contained within the book. The writing style was age-appropriate for the target audience. It seemed like a good book to read with parents, too. In fact, I think there were lessons that even parents could learn from it regarding how to handle situations such as that. I really liked the communication between parents and Megan. Things felt realistic.

The story was complete and the resolution was one that left readers satisfied all the way around.

Sidewalk Stories, by Francis DiClemente

Sidewalk Stories took the reader on a guided, observational tour of New York through the eyes of the author. As far as poetry went, the ebb and flow of the words read more like annotated journal entries. It was free-form without much rhythm. All the entries told a story, which was very nice. It was clean, well-written, and overall not bad.

Sleep Savannah Sleep, by Alistair Cross

It’s very rare for the ending of a mystery novel to surprise me. I’m pleased to announce that this one did.

After the death of his wife, Jason moves to Shadow Springs with his two kids. No foreshadowing in the name, right? Small towns hold such ominous secrets, and Jason’s about to find out just how devastating they can be.

This was a pretty nice blend of both horror, suspense, and mystery. Time and effort were put into creating a compelling and well-paced mystery. The clues were all there, but they were expertly placed and not very obvious. I liked that a lot. It made the twist at the end even more shocking.

Jason, now a single father, was a very dynamic character. I liked how the author addressed the struggles of becoming the “mom” figure and dealing with a hurting family. Things were done tastefully and realistically. Family dynamics were done much the same way, too. Things were very believable, and it was easy to see a bit of familiarity in the way they interacted.

The overall plot was done well. I felt as though things progressed in a logical manner, even if things felt a little slow. The slowness came from getting to know important characters to make them stand out rather than just be bland and boring.

Development was an essential part of each character. It helped them come alive. Even the minor characters were treated with the same priority.

I did wind up having one or two questions at the end, but they were relatively minor in relation to the overall story. I felt like, for the most part, they didn’t affect anything and most readers would be very satisfied by the way things wrap up.

Realm of Mindweavers, by Marianne Ratcliffe

A full and complete story, all the while beginning a full series, Realm of Mindweavers was an enthralling tale.

Zastra, a failure in the eyes of her father because she isn’t a mindweaver, runs for her life after the most brutal of betrayals. Only thirteen and nothing but her father’s instructions to go on, she must survive on her own long enough to escape the country and seek help.

There was a lot that impressed me about the book. Instead of embracing the trope of an active hero with many forms of expertise, Kastra was a passive, almost reactionary, hero that really was just…average. Though young, it was so easy to identify with her as character. She was written with incredible depth.

Secondly, the world building. Oh, easily my favorite part. There was such depth and intricacy to the world. It was vast and unknown. Never once did I feel overwhelmed by the amount of new information about the world. I never felt lost in my surroundings. It was descriptive, well-though out, and so detailed. The setting really shone.

Characters were so fun and engaging. There were many of them, a huge handful of them only minor, but they all stood out as their own individual. They were made for the plot and served an integral part of it. Nothing felt like an afterthought or an unimportant detail. Plot was full of tightly woven depth. It answered all questions, made sense, and had such fantastic pacing. I love the way the series began, and I love everything about the story it told.

This was such an excellent read on so many levels. A series I would be happy to continue, and an author to keep an eye on as well.

The Wizard in Wonderland, by Ron Glick

Crossovers are tough. Doing a crossover well, especially with popular media, is even tougher. So many extra expectations surface that authors buckle under the pressure, I think.

I’m pleased to announce that was not the case with the Wizard in Wonderland. Alice in Wonderland and the Wizard of Oz leave so much magic in their worlds that a crossover only makes sense. The reader starts in Oz, where Dorothy makes her glorious reappearance. Things aren’t quite right, however, and a new witch is making herself known and threatening to destroy everything the Wizard helped create. The absence of the Wizard isn’t making things easier. A deeper mystery comes to light as two worlds collide and grave misdeeds surface.

The combining of Alice and Dorothy was flawless, in my opinion. I felt like the author took great care to write the characters as close to their original form as possible. Everything from the bantering dialogue, to the tone of the narrator, to the hair-pulling debate of semantics and logic that were so prevalent in Wonderland were there. The storyline made sure to feature both worlds equally, and presented problems unique to the both of them. Story progression happened in a logical and timely manner that didn’t leave the reader behind or confuse them. Transistioning between worlds and perspectives was smooth.

I think my overall satisfaction came with how well the characters were written and how well they interacted with each other and their environment; not just Dorothy and Alice, but all of them. They blended together nicely.

Honestly, I can’t wait to read more. This has serious potential to become one of my favorite crossover series.

A Few Minor Adjustments, by Cherie Kephart

Just a bit of a preface before I continue on with the review: hopefully I’m back for good and able to get back on track for the reviews. A divorce is on the horizon and so the past little while I just haven’t been able to commit myself emotionally or mentally to much of anything. I apologize wholeheartedly; I know there’s many authors still waiting for news of their books, and I promise you I am getting to them. I’m just working through some personal stuff in the meantime. Each and every one of you have been absolutely amazing with your patience–something I can’t thank everyone enough for. Life has a funny way of turning out, and hopefully it’s finally on the rise for me.

Now, without further ado, what everyone came here to actually see:

Memoir writing is a tricky thing. Oftentimes they have strange tones, which make them sound less sincere. They don’t always evoke the emotions that the author intends.

Cherie Kephart’s writing style was very much geared towards emotion. It didn’t feel like a memoir. The first person tone was well-done, and it was immersive for a reader. The pacing was excellently done. The story itself felt whole and complete—the reader got plenty of background information at the right times without a total info dump. Jumps in time we’re documented clearly and in a way that made sense; I never really felt jarred from the story or confused about where I was at.

As far as the emotion went, I liked the level it was conveyed on. The tone wasn’t asking the readers for pity—rather it was broadcasting a show of strength. It felt more like the author was saying: “hey, I’ve had a lot of stuff happen to me, but even in my darkest moments, I never gave up.” I think one advantage that the author had that many dont was a wonderful support system in the way of family and friends. Oftentimes when people take ill, those are the first to abandon them; they can’t ‘handle’ it; the ill person is making them miserable—I’ve seen and heard many examples. Surrounding yourself with good people is sometimes difficult, but something to certainly strive for.

Another thing this novel did was raise awareness for such a tricky illness. Especially one that never really seems to be such a big deal. Sure, everyone’s heard of it, but the disease itself is such a far cry from what people think it is. I was shocked myself when the root of the problem showed.

The book ended very well. It didn’t tarry on or drag out. I think the author got her point across and let it be. Endings are tricky, and something that can make or break a novel, but the author managed a very logical stopping point, both narratively and emotionally.