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Review: The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst

The Bone Maker

Sarah Beth Durst’s latest stand-alone fantasy novel offers a unique magic system, some quirky characters, and a fantasy-take on the “getting the band back together” story.

Years ago, five heroes defeated the evil Elkor and went their separate ways, becoming the stuff of legend. Twenty-five years later, Kreya’s legend has become a bit darker — she lives alone in a tower, keeping alive her husband (who died in the battle) through the use of dark and illegal magics. Increasingly desperate to find a source of human bones to cast the spells and give her just a few more hours with the love of her life, Kreya hatches on a plot that will eventually involve her old crew getting back together.

Of course, there’s a reason some bands break up. And as the band gets back together in The Bone Maker, Kreya come to realize that maybe they didn’t defeat Elkor as utterly as the legends say.

There aren’t many times when it comes to fantasy novels that I wish the author had extended a series. That isn’t necessarily the case with The Bone Maker. While Kreya gets solid character work, the rest of the crew doesn’t feel as deep or as well realized. I kept wondering if Durst might have been better served by making this a duology, allowing us to have a bit more of an investment in the characters.

It would also give us a chance to enjoy her well-realized magical system. I enjoy fantasy where there are limits or consequences to using the magical system and that’s the case with what Durst has realized here.

The Bone Maker offers an intriguing magical system, some dark character takes and is a stand-alone fantasy that left me wanting just a bit more. An overall success and one that has me intrigued to give some of Durst’s other fantastic worlds a try.

I received a digital ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Trial and Error by Robert Whitlow

Trial and Error

When I first read Robert Whitlow, I was impressed by the authenticity of his novels — not just the legal thriller aspect, but also the journeys and arcs he put his characters through. Over the last two decades, I’ve read just about everything Whitlow has written. While I’ve enjoyed watching him stretch himself as a writer, there’s still something comforting about him returning to his roots with his latest novel. Trial and Error.

Seventeen years ago, Buddy Smith became a father. He got to spend a few days with his daughter before she and her mother vanished. Buddy’s spent the last seventeen years trying to find his daughter, all while building a legal career in his home of Milton County. Buddy’s passion is renewed when he finds evidence his father was supporting the mother of his child financially for years but kept it a secret from Buddy and his mother.

Clerk of the court and local softball team coach, Gracie Blaylock is on her own journey. She’s been Buddy’s friend since high school and she’s been praying for Buddy and his family for years. With the introduction of a new sheriff’s deputy who specializes in missing persons, could Gracie’s prayers be finally answered in ways she does and doesn’t expect?

Whitlow’s early legal thrillers centered on good people who have to make difficult choices. The one thing that always stood out about Whitlow’s novels was the authentic journey his flawed characters go on during the course of the novel. Whitlow does feature the story of a person’s conversion, but it’s not presented as a moment in which all of that person’s problems are swept away. There may be a peace that comes over that person and a new perspective, but it’s not like waving a magic wand to make all the issues and problems go away. (I’m looking at you LeftBehind novels).

Of course, part of the secret is that Whitlow gets you to invest in his characters so when the pivotal moment comes, you feel it along with the character. Whitlow also doesn’t have everyone magically gets saved on the same timeline. There’s a character of a visiting judge who is challenged by Gracie and begins to examine his life, but we don’t see a conversion from him. (It may happen off-screen, but Whitlow doesn’t tell us one way or the other)

Whitlow’s characters shine through as do his legal storylines. There are multiple stories going on and Whitlow expertly weaves them together. I found myself turning the last page of this one feeling fully satisfied with Trial and Error as a stand-alone story but that I wouldn’t mind going back to the world of Buddy and Gracie again, should Whitlow be so inclined.

This is one of the best novels Whitlow has written in a long time. Highly recommended.

I received a digital ARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: This Will Be Funny Someday by Katie Henry

This Will Be Funny SomedayOne of my great literary pleasures of 2020 was discovering Katie Henry’s works. Henry’s young adult novels feature quirky teenage protagonists facing issues and dilemmas that most of us would struggle with as adults. The characters are all frustratingly relatable because, as readers, we can see how they could and should change themselves to make interacting with the world a bit smoother and easier. But, like all of us, they can’t or aren’t ready to make that change just yet.

Henry’s third novel This Will Be Funny Someday may be her best offering so far, which is high praise given how much I enjoyed her first two novels.

Sixteen-year-old Izzy has always felt a bit out of place. In her family, she sees herself as the odd person out when it comes to the matched pairs — her parents and her older twin siblings. At school, Izzy is protected by her relationship with her boyfriend, though even that has come at the cost of alienating her best friend. Izzy has deep-rooted issues when it come to assigning herself value — whether it’s the (misconception) that she ruined her mother’s career when her mom discovered she was pregnant with Izzy or the emotionally abusive nature of her relationship with her boyfriend. Continue reading

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Review: The Night Swim by Megan Goldin

The Night SwimAfter two successful seasons of a true-crime podcast, Rachel Krall has found the third season for her show – the small-town trail of a young man accused of rape and its impact on him, the alleged victim, and their community.

Reading Megan Goldin’s The Night Swim, I couldn’t help but wish I’d decided to listen to the audio version of this story. Well, at least that was the case in the chapters when Megan is narrating her podcast. I couldn’t help but feel I was missing something by not listening to Rachel narrate the story as it unfolds.

Rachel’s investigation into the current rape charge brings up some old undercurrents and possibly cover-ups in the small town. The Night Swim doesn’t pull any punches or shy away from examining the implications of the rape on all those associated with it. It’s a hard, eye-opening look and yet, somehow, the novel walks a fine line. The mystery of what happened the nights in question drives the narrative and while I wouldn’t call this a suspense thriller, I will say that I was curious to see where the actual truth would lie in the final pages.

As with many great crime novelists working today, Goldin’s interest isn’t just in solving the central mystery but looking at the impact that mystery has on its characters and society as a whole. Coming away fromThe Night Swim, I found myself thinking about it and pondering those implications long after the final page was turned.

I received a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue bu V.E. Schwab

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRueNearing her 23rd birthday in a small village, the Addie LaRue of 1714 wants nothing to do with her family’s plans to marry her to a widowed man nearly twice her age. Desperate to escape, Addie calls upon the gods, making a Faustian deal with a devil named Luc.

Addie won’t age. But she also won’t make an impact on the world nor will anyone she interacts with remember who she is. The deal runs out when grows weary and willingly surrenders her soul to Luc. But Addie didn’t count on the immediate heartbreak of her family instantly forgetting her, leaving her without a home and forced to find loopholes to make minor impressions upon the world for the next three hundred years.

Until one day, she wanders into a bookstore and meets Henry. And while stealing a book (Addie gets by stealing a lot of what she needs since people don’t recall her once she’s out of sight), Henry follows her and confronts her, saying the three words she’s been dying to hear for so long — “I remember you.” Continue reading

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Review: The Doctors Are In by Graeme Burke and Robert Smith?

The Doctors Are In: The Essential and Unofficial Guide to Doctor Who's Greatest Time Lord

Reading The Doctors Are In reminded me a lot of those heady days when I first got on-line and discovered there were fellow Doctor Who fans out there who loved to debate the show as much as I did. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to me since I’ve had debates with at least one half of this writing duo about various aspects of my favorite television show long before I picked up this book.

But reading this in-depth look at each era of the good Doctor (wisely divided up into two eras for the fourth Doctor because, let’s face it, there are two eras to Tom Baker’s run on the show), I couldn’t help but feel like certain only flames were being fanned and I kept looking around for the reply button so I could begin to debate Robert Smith? and Graeme Burke on various points they have about each era of the show. (This is especially true when they pick their five stories that represent each era of the show. Because really — “Planet of the Spiders”?!? You must be messing with me!)

Reading Smith? and Burke’s debates about various eras of the show and the actors who played the Doctor is entertaining and informative. And while this book isn’t exactly breaking new ground, it has a leg up in that you can feel the passion and fandom these two have for the series.

This may be a selling point for some and it may be a detraction for others. If you’re looking for a by the numbers look at the Doctors, you may want to look elsewhere. If you’re looking for spirited debate among two long time fans who don’t agree on everything, this is worth picking up and spending time with. It may even make you want to debate the two and it may even make you want to visit the stories they refer to in their top five of the era. And while I can find some points of contention I have with some of their arguments (I’ve finally found that one fan who doesn’t love “Genesis of the Daleks.” He’s wrong, of course.), these come more from my feelings on the show than on Smith? and Burke laying out their points.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Bittersweet Creek by Sally Kilpatrick

Bittersweet Creek

Bad blood has existed for years between the Satterfields and McElroys. But when Romy is assigned to tutor high school football player Julian, sparks begin to fly and the two fall madly in love. Planning to elope the night of their high school graduation, Julian stood Romy up, never offering a reason why he didn’t meet her and head off to Nashville to follow their dreams together.

A decade later, Romy is coming home to take care of her father and with a new boyfriend in tow. The new boyfriend comes from a well-to-do family and has every intention of making an honest woman of Romy. But there’s one small catch.

Actually, there are several catches before Romy and her new boyfriend can live happily ever after. There’s the question of just who and where she wants to live out happily ever after.

Set in the same small town as The Happy Hour Choir, Sally Kilpatrick’s sophomore novel Bittersweet Creek not only lives up to the high expectations I had for it, but it eclipses them. Kilpatrick sets up a romance that has obstacles to it — and they’re obstacles that are authentic and earned. There are moments in this novel when we’re just as uncertain who Romy will choose as Romy is and there are moments when I couldn’t quite figure out what was going to come next — because Kilpatrick had created a believable scenario where one of many choices could happen. Continue reading

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Review: Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

Black-Eyed Susans

When she was sixteen years old, Tessa was only survivor of the Black-Eyed Susans killer. Dumped in a shallow grave with some of her fellow Susans, Tessa survive to testify against the man authorities believed was the killer. But over the years, Tessa always wondered if she helped convict the right man. As the convicted killer’s execution looms, Tessa is forced to question her role in the conviction and if the real killer is still lurking out there, taunting her with black-eyed Susans planted under her window.

Told in alternating time frames, Julia Heaberlin’s Black-Eyed Susans expertly doles out detail after detail of Tessa’s time in recovery and testifying and now as she tries to help an apparently innocent man avoid a wrongful execution. Heaberlin deftly sews each seed for the truth of what happened to Tessa and who was really behind her disappearance.

I’ll admit this one hooked me in the early stages. Tessa’s doubting of herself and her narrative (as well as her admission of her manipulating certain aspects of her therapy) made me question her reliability as a narrator. But this comes less from an agenda and more from wondering what Tessa is hiding from herself that may eventually come to light.

There are a couple of plausible explanations for what happened to Tessa and just if and how it ties into her family and her friendship with a girl named Lydia, who mysterious vanished after throwing Tessa under the bus on the witness stand. Heaberlin teases these details early and slowly builds up toward the revelation of what happened. Continue reading

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Review: The Salvation of Doctor Who by Matt Rawle

The Salvation of Doctor Who: A Small Group Study Connecting Christ and Culture (The Pop in Culture Series)The Salvation of Doctor Who: A Small Group Study Connecting Christ and Culture by Matt Rawle

Can my favorite secular television series offer us any insights on the divine? The answer is yes.

Matt Rawle’s book The Salvation of Doctor Who looks at spiritual lessons we can take away from the over fifty year run of the series. The book is broken down into four sections, each one focusing on an aspect of the series from the Doctor himself to the nature of time to the various foes the Doctor has faced over the years. Rawle offers short chapters that are intended to be read daily and to help the reader find deeper meaning from the series.

As a starting point for a conversation, I’ve got to admit I enjoyed this book a great deal. And while I may not necessarily agree with all of Rawle’s points in the book, I still found his arguments were well made and I could see where he was coming from.

This book has a heavy influence on the modern Doctor Who. And while I can see why the book might lean more on the modern stories and their situations, the classic Whovian deep inside me kept wishing we got more than a passing nod to the original stories. I realize that there a lot of new Who fans who haven’t or won’t watch the classic stories and this book is designed to appeal to all fans. But I still can’t help but feel like Rawle only did a passing glance at the fifty year history of the show and possibly overlooked a few lessons that are sitting there in the classic era run.

Also, I can’t help but feel that my reading this book straight through in a couple of sittings wasn’t how it’s intended to be read or experienced. I received a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley, so instead of reading one lesson a day and allowing it to sink it, I read the book straight through in a couple of sittings. This lead me to notice that Rawle begins to repeat certain points in later sections of the book. I might not have noticed (as much) had I used this as a devotional or a conversation starter from a small group as it’s intended.

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Review: Star Trek: New Frontier: The Returned by Peter David

Note: Peter David’s latest New Frontier entry was published as three e-book novellas.

Part One

The Returned, Part I (Star Trek: New Frontier)

There were several books I was anticipating reading this summer. But I’ll have to admit that few of them packed quite the same level of “can’t wait to read it” -itis that Peter David’s return to the final frontier did.

It’s been four years since our last visit to the universe of New Frontier and the crew of the starship Excalibur. And in my mind, that’s about three years too long a wait — especially given that David left us on a pretty interesting cliffhanger.

Luckily David’s return to the series proves as much a triumph as I was hoping it would be. The first installment picks up three months after the last one ended and finds Calhoun living a hermit’s existence on his destroyed homeworld and plotting his next move. David catches the reader up quickly on what’s happening — not only with Calhoun but everyone else in the New Frontier universe before setting various new plot threads into motion.

As always with David’s Trek entries, the strengths are solid characters and a sense of humor. David takes his stories seriously but he takes the time to find the humor in the characters, universe and situations. The game of who’s fooling who into “tricking” Calhoun to take on a dangerous mission to the pocket universe is superbly done and feels absolutely like pure David.

As I sat down to start reading part one, I told myself I should take my time, savor it and relish every last second of the book. And then I found myself on the final page with David leaving us hanging for the next part and thankful it was only going to be a month’s wait for the next installment. Continue reading

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