Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: Island by Alistair MacLeod

As yet another selection from my bookshelf cleanout, I picked up Island by Alistair MacLeod.  It’s a collection of short stories (not my typical thing to read) that completely blew me away.

From the Cover:

The sixteen exquisitely crafted stories in Island prove Alistair MacLeod to be a master. Quietly, precisely, he has created a body of work that is among the greatest to appear in English in the last fifty years.

What I Loved:

Island is gritty, somber, and muted.  The stories are positively dripping with the tiny details of life, from the way a small boy remembers his father’s sweater to the grim details of a corpse found at sea.  Many of the stories carry themes of death and family relationships.  They revolve around occupations and how they form entire lives and even whole towns.  Island is all about small towns, the love (and burden) of family, coming of age, leaving home, and returning.

There’s only one reason you’ll want to put this book down, and that is to write.  It’s incredibly inspiring from a writer’s perspective, with stories that are poignant, moving, and excellently written.

“The Lost Salt Gift of Blood” was definitely one of my favorites.

What I Didn’t Love So Much:

As I’m sure you can guess, I have very little to say here!  Sometimes the stories were a bit too heavy, but that’s part of what makes them so amazing.

Rating and Recommendation:

If you enjoy short stories, if you want to feel all the feels, or if you want to be inspired to improve your own writing game, then I highly recommend Island.  5 stars.

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Ashley O’Melia is an independent author and freelancer from Southern Illinois.  She holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University.  Her books include The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keeping and The Graveside DetectiveHer short stories have been published in The Penmen Review, Paradox, and Subcutaneous.  Ashley’s freelance work has spanned numerous genres for clients around the world.  You can find her on Facebook and Amazon.

Note:  I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.  I will always give you my honest opinion on something before linking to it.

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Book Review: To Defy a King by Elizabeth Chadwick

A beautifully-written book that grounds the reader in the lives of the past, To Defy a King is not mere historical fiction but a time machine.

From the Cover:  

The spirited daughter of England’s greatest knight, Mahelt Marshal, lives a privileged life. But when her beloved father falls out with the volatile and dangerous King John, her world is shattered.

The king takes her brothers hostage and Mahelt’s planned marriage to Hugh Bigod, son of the Earl of Norfolk, takes place sooner than she expected.

Mahelt and Hugh come to care for each other deeply, but Hugh’s strict father clashes with the rebellious Mahelt. When more harsh demands from King John threaten to tear the couple’s lives apart, Mahelt finds herself facing her worst fears alone. Caught between the family she was born in and the family she married into, Mahelt is uncertain if she—or her marriage—will survive.

What I Loved:  To Defy a King completely immerses the reader in the past and paints a vivid picture of what it would be like in the thirteenth century, particularly for a young woman whose life is defined by what the men around her want.  The main character, Mahelt, must contend with this on a daily basis.

I was a little hesitant to start this book because it’s the fifth in the series and I haven’t read any of the other ones.  Fortunately, it didn’t seem to matter.  Everything was wrapped up well enough in this volume that I didn’t feel I’d missed out on anything.

To Defy a King is a rather lengthy book, and the characters are given ample time to develop and show off their depth.  It seems there is nothing that happens without a purpose, so there’s never a dull moment.

This way I would describe the tone of this book is tense.  I felt my entire body going rigid as I read because of everything Mahelt had to go through (but I don’t want to give away any spoilers here).  I guess this could be either a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s definitely not a relaxing read!

What I Didn’t Love So Much:  The characters, especially at first, are a bit difficult to keep track of.  This is mostly in regard to the families of the two main protagonists.  There is a family tree in the front of the book, which helps, but I don’t like to flip back and forth.  Nor do I like to accidentally spoil something for myself and see when they die or get married before it happens in the story!

Rating and Recommendation:  If you love historical fiction with a heady mix of action, adventure, and romance, then To Defy a King is for you.  Four stars.

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Ashley O’Melia is an independent author and freelancer from Southern Illinois.  She holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University.  Her books include The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keeping and The Graveside DetectiveHer short stories have been published in The Penmen Review, Paradox, and Subcutaneous.  Ashley’s freelance work has spanned numerous genres for clients around the world.  You can find her on Facebook and Amazon.

 

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.  I will always give you my honest opinion about an item when linking to it.

 

 

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Book Review: A Harvest of Bones by Yasmine Galenorn

A semi-spooky mystery with ghosts, supernatural powers, and cats.  What more could you need?

I’m presently working on reading through and cleaning out my bookshelves, and A Harvest of Bones was one of my recent selections.  I’ve been writing a lot in the mystery genre lately, so it’s always nice to do a little “research.”

From the Cover:  It’s harvest time in Chiqetaw, Washington; Emerald O’Brien’s favorite season. But this year, nature yields a most supernatural bounty. When Em and her sweetie, Joe, stumble over a bramble-covered foundation that has remained hidden for fifty years in the lot next door, strange events begin to occur. The cat vanishes. Will o’ the Wisps threaten to harm Emerald and her loved ones. And the ghost of a woman named Brigit and her beloved calico make themselves at home in the backyard. Now it’s up to Em and her friends to delve into the past, reveal the secrets of the dead and lay them to rest as they ring in the autumn with a harvest of bones.

What I Loved:  Like I said:  cats!  Okay, yes there are plenty of other good things about this book.  It was a nice combination of murder, ghosts, history, witchcraft, psychic powers, and everyday life.  The characters were mostly relatable and easy to keep track of.  The mystery in question was engaging, and while I had an idea of whodunnit about halfway through, all the little details were held back until the end.  And yes, there really were plenty of cats.

“Even a diary isn’t safe from prying eyes.  But a cat will listen, and keep her silence for you.”

What I Didn’t Love So Much:  I grabbed this book at a library booksale with the thought that it was more of a cozy mystery.  A liberal sprinkling of cuss words and a dash of semi-steamy scenes made this not nearly as cozy as I imagined.  I wasn’t offended by any of this; I just didn’t really expect it.  Readers who prefer something a little cleaner might not be interested.

Rating and Recommendation:  If you’re looking for a good mystery that’s a fun and easy read, I definitely recommend A Harvest of Bones.  I’m giving this book four stars.

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Ashley O’Melia is an independent author and freelancer from Southern Illinois.  She holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University.  Her books include The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keeping and The Graveside DetectiveHer short stories have been published in The Penmen Review, Paradox, and Subcutaneous.  Ashley’s freelance work has spanned numerous genres for clients around the world.  You can find her on Facebook and Amazon.

 

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.  I will always give you my honest opinion about an item when linking to it.

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Book Review: Nice to Come Home To by Rebecca Flowers

All the feels.

Nice to Come Home To by Rebecca Flowers is the latest reading choice in my Bookshelf Cleanout.  I’ve had it for years.  I’ve picked it up but never cracked the cover.  I don’t even remember where I got it, and I honestly wasn’t expecting much from it.

From the Cover: Everyone around Prudence Whistler, thirty-six, seems to be settling down. Her once single girlfriends have married and had babies. Her gay best friend is discussing marriage with his partner. Even her irresponsible younger sister, Patsy, is the single mother of a two-year-old. But when Pru panics at losing her mediocre boyfriend of two years-and begins to see the door to her traditional family life closing-she accidentally finds something even better: a new definition of family and happiness. First, it’s the crazy cat who moves into her apartment. Then come Pru’s headstrong sister and two-year-old niece. Then the niece’s dog, the sister’s ex-boyfriend, and, ultimately, Patsy and Pru’s widowed mother. With the strength of her modern new household, Pru musters the confidence to open the dress shop she’s always wanted in town-and discovers an extended family of sorts in the community of shop owners and devoted customers. It’s only then that she ends up with the man of her dreams. Endearing, romantic, and satisfying, Nice to Come Home To is a charming, crowd-pleasing debut.

What I Loved:  This is a book in which nothing happens and yet everything happens.  Pru seems at first to be the kind of person I wouldn’t like.  (I mean, she does have a complete aversion to her boyfriend’s cat.)  But as the story advances and I learned more about her, I began to see more and more of myself in her.  There were times when it was almost too real, as though Flowers had pulled my life into tiny pieces, jumbled them up, and poured some of them into this book.

Nice to Come Home To is about finding love, not only romantic love but self love and familial love.  It’s about learning to accept your own flaws as well as the flaws of others, but still never settling for anything less than you deserve.

The somber and occasionally depressing tone of the book really stood out to me because it worked so well for it.  When I was about three-quarters of the way through, I felt like my best friend was having a hard time and I was helping her through it.

What I Didn’t Love So Much:  I wasn’t always a fan of Flowers’ style when it came to sentence structure.  There were too many commas for my taste, something that pulled me out of the story to ponder whether they were correct or not.  It’s one of those things that comes down to personal preference.

Rating and Recommendation:  Nice to Come Home To is an easy read and yet a deep one.  It delivers so much (deep characters, a cathartic pull of emotions) without demanding much of the reader.  If you enjoy modern fiction, I definitely recommend it.  5 stars

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Ashley O’Melia is an independent author and freelancer from Southern Illinois.  She holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University.  Her books include The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keeping and The Graveside DetectiveHer short stories have been published in The Penmen Review, Paradox, and Subcutaneous.  Ashley’s freelance work has spanned numerous genres for clients around the world.  You can find her on Facebook and Amazon.

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.  I will always give you my honest opinion about an item when linking to it.

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Book Review: An Affair with a Spare by Shana Galen

If you don’t know what it means to pick up a romance novel and not want to put it down, then you haven’t read An Affair with a Spare by Shana Galen.

I’ve really been trying to work through my current (giant) stash of books in my bookshelf cleanout, but when I saw this book on the New Arrivals shelf at my local library, I just had to get it.  I’ve been following the author on Facebook for a while, and though you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, I fell in love with the dresses!

From the Cover:

Rafe Beaumont, fifth son of an earl, uses his irresistible charm with the ladies to glean dangerous war secrets. Now he’s putting those skills to the ultimate test: capturing an elusive assassin by seducing his daughter. The problem? She’s entirely immune to Rafe’s flattery.

Never before has Collette Fortier met a man as attractive as Rafe. But her father’s life is at stake, and succumbing to Rafe would be disastrous. But when Rafe turns the tables on her, offering support and friendship instead of a fleeting affair, Collette finds herself tempted in ways she never could have imagined…

What I Loved:  There’s so much to love about this book!  It’s well-paced, with a good mix of events and evolving emotions moving the story along.  The characters are deep and well-established, so much so that even the side characters are easy to keep track of.  Their backgrounds support the choices they make and the insecurities they have.

The story shows a lot of inner feelings (both physical and emotional), but they’re mixed nicely with descriptions of the setting and the characters to keep the reader deeply rooted in the time period.

This being a romance, I have to say the steamy scenes are beautifully written, building the physical and emotional bond between the characters.  No cheap erotica here!

Collette, raised in France but now in England, occasionally references the mating habits of hedgehogs since she’d learned much of her English from a book about the subject.  She drops facts about hedgehogs when she gets nervous, and it adds just the perfect amount of humor.

What I Didn’t Love So Much:  There’s really not much to say here.  The only thing I noted was a repeated phrase in one of the later chapters that was missed by the editor.  Can’t really complain about that!

Rating and Recommendation:  If you love romance, historical fiction, and lots of details about beautiful dresses, then An Affair with a Spare is for you!  I’m definitely looking forward to reading the rest of the series!  5 stars.

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Ashley O’Melia is an independent author and freelancer from Southern Illinois.  She holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University.  Her books include The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keeping and The Graveside DetectiveHer short stories have been published in The Penmen Review, Paradox, and Subcutaneous.  Ashley’s freelance work has spanned numerous genres for clients around the world.  You can find her on Facebook and Amazon.

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.  I will always give you my honest opinion about an item when linking to it.

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Book Review: The Vanishing Sculptor by Donita K. Paul

I apologize that it’s been a while since you’ve seen a book review on here.  I had really been doing a great job of finding time to read (something that’s always difficult between work and kids) and using that time to clean out my bookshelves.  Unfortunately, it took me several weeks to get through The Vanishing Sculptor by Donita K. Paul.

From the Cover: In The Vanishing Sculptor, readers will meet Tipper, a young emerlindian who’s responsible for the upkeep of her family’s estate during her sculptor father’s absence. Tipper soon discovers that her actions have unbalanced the whole foundation of her world, and she must act quickly to undo the calamitous threat. But how can she save her father and her world on her own? The task is too huge for one person, so she gathers the help of some unlikely companions–including the nearly five-foot tall parrot Beccaroon–and eventually witnesses the loving care and miraculous resources of Wulder. Through Tipper’s breathtaking story, readers will discover the beauty of knowing and serving God.

What I Loved:  Paul’s writing is easy to read, with varied sentence structure and variable word use to keep things moving.  With the main characters, she does a good job of establishing their personalities and how they think about the world.  One character in particular who stands out is Lady Peg, Tipper’s mother.  Her mind wanders off into odd places, and her dialogue is usually quite entertaining.

What I Didn’t Love So Much:  Unfortunately, there’s a lot I didn’t like about this book.  It’s a bit difficult to keep track not of the characters but of their world.  There are too many references to types of people or places or animals without some sort of description of them.  I feel that a fantasy book that introduces us to an entirely new world needs to be a little bit less abstract.  Otherwise, it just feels like the story is one big dream.

Another thing that contributes to this abstract feeling is that questions continue to arise along the way without ever getting answered at the end.  We never understand exactly why Tipper’s father disappears all the time.  He and his friends think they have a solution to this problem, but we’re never told why this solution should work.  There are hints about Lady Peg’s past, but again these never come full-circle.  It made the ending very frustrating.

I believe it was this dreamlike quality that kept me from truly getting into the book and why it took me so long to finish it.  I always feel guilty if I don’t finish a book once I’ve started, but since the end provided so few answers I’m not sure it was worth pushing through.

I think it’s interesting that this is supposed to be a book that, according to the summary on Amazon, is supposed to help readers “discover the beauty of knowing and serving God.”  There were references to a deity, but I couldn’t see any real links that would tie this into the real world.

Rating and Recommendation:  While I wasn’t happy with this book, the writing itself (stylistically and grammatically) was perfectly fine.  I give it two stars.

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Ashley O’Melia is an independent author and freelancer from Southern Illinois.  She holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University.  Her books include The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keeping and The Graveside Detective.  Her short stories have been published in The Penmen Review, Paradox, and Subcutaneous.  Ashley’s freelance work has spanned numerous genres for clients around the world.  You can find her on Facebook and Amazon.

Note:   I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.  I will always give you my honest opinion on something before linking to it.

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Book Review: The Dark Queen by Susan Carroll

Historical fiction, fantasy, and romance collide in this hypnotic book.

The Dark Queen by Susan Carroll is the latest episode in my Bookshelf Cleanout.  I’d acquired this battered copy at a library book sale, and it’d been gathering dust for probably a couple of years.

From the Cover: From Brittany’s misty shores to the decadent splendor of Paris’s royal court, one woman must fulfill her destiny–while facing the treacherous designs of Catherine de Medici, the dark queen.

She is Ariane, the Lady of Faire Isle, one of the Cheney sisters, renowned for their mystical skills and for keeping the isle secure and prosperous. But this is a time when women of ability are deemed sorceresses, when Renaissance France is torn by ruthless political intrigues, and all are held in thrall to the sinister ambitions of Queen Catherine de Medici. Then a wounded stranger arrives on Faire Isle, bearing a secret the Dark Queen will do everything in her power to possess. The only person Ariane can turn to is the comte de Renard, a nobleman with fiery determination and a past as mysterious as his own unusual gifts.

Riveting, vibrant, and breathtaking, The Dark Queen follows Ariane and Renard as they risk everything to prevent the fulfillment of a dreadful prophecy–even if they must tempt fate and their own passions.

What I Loved:  As The Dark Queen tells the story of Ariane Cheney and the comte de Renard, it reveals a tale of passion, duty, and magic.  The characters are very well-developed, even the side characters who could’ve gotten away with being a little flat.  Their depth only continues to increase as the story goes on.

Carroll does an excellent job of establishing the setting in Renaissance France.  The reader can see every building, every chamber, every gown, and even the finer details of the candles and bowls and rings.  She accomplishes this without great lengths of flowery prose, keeping The Dark Queen driven by its plot and characters.

The romance between the two main characters is sweet and compelling, pulling the reader even further into the story.

This was a book I didn’t want to finish because I was enjoying it so much, but it was also one that I couldn’t wait to finish because I was dying to see how it ended.  This book is the first in a series, and I can’t wait to read the rest!

Favorite Quote:  Never trust a man over your cat.

What I Didn’t Love So Much:  Probably my least favorite parts of the book were the ones that showed Catherine de Medici’s side of the tale.  It wasn’t that these scenes were poorly written, and in fact they served to give a detailed picture of the force Ariane Cheney is up against.  But I was so intrigued by the Cheney side of the story that I didn’t want to read anything else!

Rating and Recommendation:  If you’re a fan of historical fiction with a twist of magic and fantasy, you must read The Dark Queen.  The whole idea of my Bookshelf Cleanout is to read the books I’ve got so I can decide which ones to keep.  I think this one is a keeper!  5 stars!

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Ashley O’Melia is an independent author and freelancer from Southern Illinois.  She holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University.  Her books include The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keeping and The Graveside DetectiveHer short stories have been published in The Penmen Review, Paradox, and Subcutaneous.  Ashley’s freelance work has spanned numerous genres for clients around the world.  You can find her on Facebook and Amazon.

Note:  I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.  I will always give you my honest opinion on something before linking to it.

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