Monday, July 8, 2019

Scifi Thriller For Adrenaline Junkies

I'm unaware of any other authors who are doing what S. L. Huang has done with her Cas Russell series, but I'd love to read them if they're out there, because she leaves you wanting more. Null Set is definitely a middle book, bridging between Zero Sum Game and the next book, with a cliffhanger ending that for once I do not mind. I also don't mind that I can't think of other books to compare this to—only movies. If you like superhero movies, Chinese martial arts movies, and movies like The Matrix and The Fifth Element, you'll definitely be into this dark, gritty futuristic thriller and its gifted and violent anti-heroine. If you can imagine superheroes on steroids, if you dig movies like John Wick and Fast and Furious, that's when you enter S. L. Huang territory. 
Read Zero Sum Game first; it takes a while to remember how the first book made you sympathize with Cas; she's an antihero because she's not very likeable, but you root for her anyway, like her friends do. You get little character studies in the action between the action, but you are dropped full tilt into the current situation. Cas can calculate angles so quickly that she can shoot, sprint, jump and punch her way out of most dangerous situations. She and her pals are on the track of and on the run from the evil future corporation that messes around with people's heads, commits the occasional assassination trying to make the world a better place—their way. Hunters and hunted at the same time, perfect action movie plot.
It's really a gift to be able to put a movie on the page like this, to have just enough depth amidst heart-pounding suspense, enough detail but not drown the reader, enough rush for picky readers to not notice any discrepancies. Huang has taken her film and stunt experience and made it work in novel form. Most attempts at writing for adrenaline junkies fail; these books succeed. I am half "give me the next book now" and half "cliffhanger? Never said this before, but ok, maybe in 6 months to a year my heart can take it." 
Highly recommended for action fans and adrenaline junkies. 
(I received an advanced electronic copy for review, thanks to Netgalley and the publisher.)

Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Bookshop of the Broken HeartedThe Bookshop of the Broken Hearted by Robert Hillman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a great story to be reading around Father’s Day, since the main character is a loving father who lacks paternity. I love books about bookshops; in this one, the bookshop, while pivotal, relinquishes center stage to life outside the pages. The titular bookshop is like our own Singing Winds, an intellectual treasure in the Australian outback. The woman who starts it in 1968 is an immigrant: Hannah, a widow, a survivor of Auschwitz. Every book that Hannah has curated into her bookstore—a foolishly vast collection of 7,500 titles—represents hope and defiance in the face of loneliness and pain, untranslated poetry and all. Hannah hires Tom Hope to build her bookshelves.
It’s an impactful illustration of life in rural anywhere. People are both close and far apart; intimate and private; accepting and judgemental; desirous and distrustful of the novel and peculiar. Hillman is tender with his rural characters, reminiscent of Kent Haruf. So many writers highlight either tragedy or pain; this is a novel that's an attempt to portray real life with its balance of both, featuring people we feel we know, friends or family.
Even though we learn Hannah’s story in detail, the book revolves around Tom, a farmer. He’s lost his wife to a cult for the second time, along with Peter, her child who he’s raised as his own from birth. Tom Hope is the stoic and quietly heroic everyman, who may not be articulate or artistic, but who doesn't know how to take his heart back once he's given it. Each person in the book has experienced tragedy and has come to their own individual way of dealing with it, "healthy" or not; just like life. Hannah and the child, Peter, have both experienced horrific events. Both are scarred and scared and face hard choices. Both want and need Tom as an anchor, and Tom wants that, too. Hillman does a superb job of illustrating the ripple effect of the everyday hero, the redemptive power of love for those who reach to grasp it. Highly recommended! ~Em Maxwell


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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Jackson Blog Tour

Emily March has been writing a modern romance series about people recovering from life hardship and tragedies and finding love. They've been set in imaginary Eternity Springs, Colorado, but here the series takes a spinoff into Texas.
  AND WE HAVE A GIVEAWAY! Yes, some lucky reader will get a copy direct from the publisher! Leave your name and email addy in the comments; we'll put them in the magic party hat and draw the winner's name. We'll send you an email-sometime after the blog tour ends on July 9, 2019-requesting your address if you're the lucky winner! 
****(Leave comment by July 9, 2019; U. S. address only, sorry international romance fans)****
Emily is one of my guilty pleasures; as you know I don't often read and review romance. Everyone needs some favorite feel-good reading, however, and I've read the series since the beginning. I got to read an advance copy of Jackson and for now, I'll just tell you it's worth the read. I'll let Emily March herself have the floor to answer some questions about the book, about writing, about life...and we've got an excerpt from the first chapter of the book so you can get a feel for it! (Scroll past the Q & A if you want to get to reading first.)

Q: What inspired Jackson and the rest of the books in the Eternity Springs world?

Emily March: The saying “Write what you know” says it all in my case. I’m a small-town girl and my family and friendships are center to my world. I write about love and family and friendships. I have roots in both the Colorado Rockies and the Texas Hill Country, so it was natural for me to set Eternity Springs and Redemption there. The idea for JACKSON grew out of my interest in the music currently being written and performed in Texas. I’ve always thought singer/songwriters are romantic figures so I was excited to create a hero with this background. Unfortunately, I’m not a musician and I’m definitely not a singer, but I am creative so it was fun for me to explore that aspect of a character.

Q: Introduce us to your main character!

Emily: Okay. Well, Americana singer/songwriter Jackson McBride is a bit damaged when the book begins. His famous, talented and wealthy ex has won a custody battle that severely limits his access to his six-year-old daughter, so Jackson goes home to the Texas Hill Country to nurse his broken heart. He finds solace in Enchanted Canyon hiking the trails with the dog he rescues and working to bring a historic dance hall back to life. The last thing he expects is to find love again with a woman whose heart is as battered as his own.

Q: How is the Jackson trilogy different than your other series?

Emily: I don’t think it’s necessarily different from the rest of the Eternity Springs series. I write about love and family and friendship—that doesn’t change. Readers will still see old friends from Eternity Springs and a few scenes in JACKSON are set in Colorado. What’s new is we get to spend some time in the Texas Hill Country and meet a few new characters—Celeste’s cousin, Angelica, for example.
(Readers, I can tell you it's a hoot to meet Angelica! It inspires a lot more questions about mystery woman Celeste!)

Q. What inspired you to become a writer?

Emily: I’ve always loved to read, so that is part of it, but my father was my primary inspiration. He was a fabulous storyteller. I grew up sitting at his feet and listening to him tell stories about his youth and his experiences in Europe during World War II. Listening to him tell his stories was my favorite thing to do. I didn’t inherit his talent for verbal storytelling, but I think I learned from him how to tell a good story on the page. My goals as a writer are to touch a reader’s heart, to entertain her and make her laugh, to maybe cry a little and sigh with satisfaction upon reaching the end. 

Q: Lots of aspiring authors out there. Any advice for them?

Emily: I’ve always thought that one of the most important things you can do for your writing is to read. And read. And read some more. Read across genres. You absorb so much about pacing and plotting and character development when you read. Plus, you get to READ! :)

Q: I know asking someone’s all-time favorite book is a loaded question so what’s your current favorite read?

Emily: I’m a big fan of Patricia Brigg’s Mercy Thompson series and I’m reading her latest right now, STORM CURSED. (Readers, Miss Em highly recommends this kick-ass urban fantasy series, too.)

Q: Can you tell us about what’s coming up next after this for you writing wise?

Emily: I’m writing Tucker’s story. Fun fact for this—as part of my research I attended a survivalist training school for a weekend. I searched long and hard to find one where I could return to town to spend the night in a comfy hotel rather than sleep on the ground—I’m only willing to go so far for my art. I did learn to start a friction fire, though, something I’me VERY proud of. :)

Q: How can readers connect with you online?

Emily: My website is www.emilymarch.com. I’m active on Facebook. My Facebook page is www.facebook.com/emilymarchbooks. You can also reach me by email at emily@emilymarch.com.


DRUM ROLL......The beginning of JACKSON


Chapter One Excerpt

Nashville, Tennessee
Bang. The judge’s gavel fell and officially crushed Jackson McBride’s heart. He closed his eyes. Bleak despair washed over him. Up until this very moment, he hadn’t believed she’d take it this far.
He’d thought she’d come to her senses. He’d thought she would recognize that this proposal was not only nonsense, but truly insane. He’d believed that somewhere deep inside of her, she still had a spark of humanity. That she wouldn’t do this to him. To them. He’d been wrong.
Damn her. Damn her and the yes-men she surrounded herself with. Damn them all to hell and back.
The enormity of what had just happened washed over him. Oh, God, how will I survive this?

On the heels of his anguish came the rage. It erupted hot as lava, and it fired his blood and blurred his vision with a red haze of fury. He’d never hit a woman in his life. Never come close, despite plenty of provocation from her direction. In that moment had she been within reach, he might have lived up her accusations.
It scared the crap out of him. That’s what she’s brought me to.

Abruptly, he shoved back his chair so hard that it teetered, almost falling over. He strode toward the courtroom exit. “Jackson? Jackson, wait!” his attorney called, hurrying after him.
Jackson waved her off and didn’t stop. There was nothing left to be said. Nothing left to be done. No place left to go.
No little girl waiting at home to hug and cuddle and kiss good night.

The tap on the toes of Jackson’s boots clacked against the tile floor of the courthouse as his long-legged strides ate up the hallway. He shunned the elevator for the stairs and descended three flights at a rapid pace, then headed for the building’s exit. In a foolish bit of positive thinking, he’d driven his SUV to the courthouse this morning. Now the sight of the safety booster seat in the back seat made him want to kick a rock into next week.
He didn’t want to go home to a quiet, empty house. He shouldn’t go to a bar. Alcohol on top of his current mood could be a dangerous combination. Somebody probably would get hurt.

He got into the car and started the engine. For a long moment he sat unmoving, staring blindly through the windshield, his hands squeezing the steering wheel so hard that it should have cracked. When his phone rang, he ignored it.
A couple of minutes later, it rang a second time. Again, he ignored it. When it happened a third time, he finally glanced at the display to see who was calling. His cousin. Okay, maybe he would answer it.
“Hello, Boone.”
“How did the hearing go?”
Jackson couldn’t speak past the lump in his throat, so he said nothing.
Following a moment’s silence, Boone got the message. He muttered a curse, and then said, “I’m sorry, man. So damn sorry.”
“Well, it is what it is.”
“You can take another run at it.”
“Yeah.” In three years. Three years. Might as well be three decades. He cleared his throat and changed the subject. “So, how are things in Eternity Springs?”
“Good. They’re good. My friend Celeste Blessing visited my office a few minutes ago and spoke of her granite-headed cousin. Naturally, I thought of you.”
“Naturally,” Jackson dryly replied. But he felt a little less alone.
“Do you have plans this weekend? I could use your help with something.”
Pretty convenient timing. Knowing Boone, he had a spy in the courtroom. But Jackson wasn’t in the position to ignore the bone he’d been thrown. “I’m free. Whatcha got?”
“I’d like you to meet me at home.”
Jackson straightened in surprise. “You’re going back to the ranch?”
“No. Not there. I’m never going back there. However, I am talking about Texas. The Hill Country in particular. A little town west of Austin called Redemption.”

“Redemption, Texas?” Jackson repeated. For some weird reason, his heart gave a little skip. “Why there?”
“It’s a long story. Too long for a phone call. I’ll give you the entire skinny when I see you. When can you get there?”
After today’s debacle, Jackson had absolutely no reason to remain in Nashville. “When do you want me there?”
“I’ll be in later today. I’m in Austin now. I’ve been helping a friend with a project. I have a flight back to Colorado Sunday evening. The earlier you can get here the better, but I’ll make anything work.”
Jackson figured the distance and the drive time. “I’ll meet you tomorrow afternoon. Where?”
“Great. I’ll text you the info when we hang up. Bring camping gear.”
When a sound behind him had Jackson glancing up into the rearview mirror and the booster seat caught his notice, he made an instant decision. “Can’t. I’ll be on my bike.”
“You’re gonna ride your motorcycle all the way from Nashville?” 
“Yes, I think I am.”
“Okay. I’ll bring stuff for both of us.” Boone hesitated a moment and added, “Hang in there,
Jackson. It’ll get better.”
No, I don’t think it will. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Jackson ended the call and finally put his SUV in gear and backed out of the parking place. With the distraction of the call behind him, fury returned, and by the time he reached home, he felt like a volcano about to explode.
He threw a handful of things into his tail bag, filled his wallet with cash from his stash, and ten minutes after his arrival, he fired up his bike and took his broken heart and headed out of Nashville. He left behind his home, his work, and his one reason for living, his six-year-old daughter, Haley.
From Jackson. Copyright © 2019 by Emily March and reprinted with permission from St. Martin’s Paperbacks.


Sunday, May 26, 2019

The October Man (Rivers of London, #7.5)The October Man by Ben Aaronovitch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can’t help but go all fangirl here, as Aaronovich expands occult London into occult Europe with this new magical adventure in Germany. I truly love the Rivers of London books and the occult world being uncovered—oops, I mean being built here (wink,wink). We’re getting the stage set for “Men in Black International”, only with magical beings and deities instead of aliens, and the possibilities are endless and exciting.

Our hero, Tobias Winter, works for Abteilung KDA - the Department for Complex and Unspecific Matters, Germany’s version of London’s Folly, and he sounds a bit like his counterpart Peter Grant, from London. Cops and criminals think alike, no matter what country they’re in, no matter if they’re human or “other”.

“This is a tale about the Queen of the Harvest, the October Man, and the little-known time the vineyard around Trier started to eat people....” and you need to read it. Fans will not be disappointed.
(Thanks to Subterranean Press and Netgalley for the review e-galley)


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Friday, April 12, 2019

Wandering the Wilderness of the Mind

The Collected Schizophrenias: EssaysThe Collected Schizophrenias: Essays by Esmé Weijun Wang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For all the writers, artists, etc., who've felt like they've teetered on the edge of madness...it's always a good refresher to see what actual crazy is like. It's also pretty scary. This is an unflinching look at living with mental illness, eliciting wonder, despair, hope and gratitude. You understand why people who are poor and without a support system have very little hope.
It's a collection, so there is some repetition, but I found the book to be edited beautifully, especially the choice of the final essay.
I'm reminded of the story of Joanne Greenberg, who wrote the book I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (don't substitute the movie) and many other wonderful novels, most exploring people with disabilities or peculiarities and their intersection with "normal." I'm hoping Ms. Wang has a lot more high functioning life to live, and makes more books.
Worth the read, for sure.


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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics

Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women MysticsWild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics by Mirabai Starr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Part memoir, part Feminine Mystery mystic manifesto, Wild Mercy is a celebration of the Divine Feminine experienced by women (and some men) throughout history. To some, this will be an introduction; to others, a welcome visit with saints and mystics, avatars and activists, archetypes and goddesses from ancient times to the present, with Mirabai's own counterculture/Jewish/Buddhist perspective foremost.
Wild Mercy is also an introduction and exploration of the contemplative life, or the examined life, as practiced through time to modernity. There's much to savor here, each chapter opening with a meditative depiction of the heart that's calling to Spirit, then an exploration of approaches, then a deepening practice.
And again, the book presents another face, another aspect; it's an exercise in intersectional spirituality, for that's where the mystic has always resided, right smack dab in the middle of God's heart, no matter the doctrines.
If you think you might be a mystic; if you're drawn to spiritual traditions beyond your own; if you, too, are a woman of a certain age; if you feel a need to deepen your relationship with the soul's Beloved, this will be an excellent addition to your spiritual library.
(Thanks to Netgalley and Sounds True, I received a digital copy for review.)


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