January 2020: "MORNNOVIN: The Way Of The Falling Star Book 1" by Alyssa Marie Bethancourt

Summary (Warning: Mild Spoilers):

Elves living in hiding. Humans oblivious to their continued existence. What could go wrong? The humans of Asrellion live under the false belief that they eliminated all elves in a genocidal war centuries ago until a prince encounters one in the forest and she saves his life. From that moment their lives are intertwined, even as she disappears and the human nations go to war. At least he is comforted by the dreams they share together in each other’s absence.

Seven years into the raging war between human nations, the prince becomes suspicious and discovers that humans are being manipulated – pitted against one another by a mysterious force. The elf princess too must face this same mysterious enemy. When reunited by a common threat, there is no time to dwell on the realization that they know each other’s worlds or that their dreams were shared.

But the world is so much more complicated when hidden siblings with language barriers emerge and necrophiliacs are watching.

Amidst the lore of this book and the implications of the mythical bond, lies a story of love and self discovery twisted by outside forces. As we follow our adventurers around the amazing world of Asrellion the reader witnesses a race war unfold.

Overall Reaction:

Holy Crap. I mentioned that I had previously met the author, but I had never before read anything she has written. I love this book and the world of Asrellion. Where’s Sir Peter Jackson?

Think: The Princess Bride meets The Lord Of The Rings (and The Hobbit) with more genocide balanced with artfully crafted dialogue for each individual character’s voice and way fewer song breaks.

The world of Asrellion has an attribute I will from here on out refer to in reviews as “other laws of physics.” Magic and other mythic properties are consistent and comfortable and don’t take on illogical cause and effect relationships. A reader can wander around and learn Asrellion in their own head as they choose and based on the MORNNOVIN fanfiction, I am glad to say it appears many are!

I love that all of the characters are deeply flawed in complex ways. Characters are irrational, emotional, arrogant, petty, in denial, self-serving, and some are extremely out of touch with the reality other characters around them are seeing. There’s also character growth. These flaws are chipped away at, little by little, so they morph and change, but never fully go away.

In regards to character presentation and point of view: I don’t call it head hopping and based on everything I’ve read, this doesn’t actually fall into the definition. One perspective per scene (from third person) is used to reveal limited information to the reader, even with an omniscient narrator and the perspective is always logical and clearly presented. This tool is used to follow intense emotions (example: we follow a character that leaves the room instead of staying to hear what another character says that’s painful for them to hear). I haven’t encountered this before and it made it possible to focus on emotional aspects of the story without having to use words to talk about the emotions.

Each kingdom of elves or humans has unique cultural practices that play out through dialogue, dress, and mind games between characters. Culture clashes and language barriers are constantly explored through observations and reactions unique to each character’s personality making each reaction feel genuine to a reader without ever feeling heavy handed.

Overall, I loved the story of war strategy, fighting an enemy, and how the author allowed adversity to exist beyond the main plot in numerous ways I can’t get into here without spoiling the book. If you love fantasy books about elves, humans, culture clashes and genocide this is probably the book for you.

LGBTQA?

Major characters are represented as having diverse relationship types. Absolutely belongs on any LGBTQA Fantasy Book list.

Grammar+

The few items I found were not noticeable enough to interrupt the flow of reading and are within the 1 error/10,000 word standard.

Twilight Zone Moment

Every book has one. Without going into detail or spoiling anything, there is a scene where a character shows up beaten to a pulp to execute a secret plan to take down an enemy, but I was very confused as to how the character got beat up.

Learn More About The Author

To learn more about Alyssa Marie Bethancourt check out her interview as part of the 2020 Author Interview Series. To keep up with future projects, you can visit her website and follow her on Twitter here. You can buy the book direct from the publisher here or on Amazon here. There is a Kickstarter for the second book, Trajelon: The Way Of The Falling Star Book 2.

January 2020: "Emma's Fury: The Last Winter" By Linda Rainier

Summary (Warning: Mild Spoilers):

In a modern world under the rule of Greek Gods, the Fury are the judges, jury, and executioners of justice for supernatural crimes in order to bring balance to the earth. The Fury, protected by their Gyges, follow orders passed down from the Mothers. Except, the Fury are dwindling – as their numbers decrease questions begin to arise, especially when one of those murdered is a Mother.

Emma and her Gyges, David, become caught up in a bizarre and terrifying mystery involving vampires, werewolves, fae, secret identities, Titan cults, and a plan that could end the world. In order to save each other and the power structures preventing the collapse of the unseen modern world, they must face their trauma, their emotions, and worst of all, the truth.

When every character has something to hide, come along on a dark supernatural adventure as we hope Emma and David can find a way to save the world.

Overall Response:

“Emma’s Fury: The Last Winter” is one of those books that captivated me from the first chapter. The descriptions engulf the reader in the scene, and the hand to hand combat scenes are some of the best I have ever read. If I was a better artist these fight scenes could so easily translate to a comic book format in the best possible way. For those that enjoy fiery scenes between villains that are the most extreme form of frenemy with benefits with each other with the added tension of knowing how wrong everything happening is – this is definitely the book for you.

Rainier succeeded in doing two things that made the book so much fun to read. First, She succeeded in keeping the reader a step ahead of the characters as they tried to solve a mystery while still providing plenty of twists and turns that took a reader off guard. Second, her characters have moods that change in very human-like ways corresponding to exhaustion levels and internal states. Moods are often missed by authors for the sake of consistency, and I do understand that it is difficult to balance a character’s voice with dynamic moods, but these characters have unique voices. Well developed characters are essential and I love it.

I often find myself identifying with Emma on a very personal level throughout the book and this is unusual for me as a reader, particularly with such an emotional character. I find myself wanting to do psychological analysis on many of the characters in similar ways that I have seen readers attempt to diagnose characters with a variety of disorders as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fifth Edition. In order for the characters to be at the level a reader could do that an author has taken the time to truly develop each individual personality. I am not an expert on this and hope that someone who is will read this book because this is brilliant.

For those that enjoy what I will call, with the utmost love and respect intended, “Greek Mythology Lite” with a variety of supernatural lore thrown in this is a fantastic read. There were times I couldn’t put it down and in the end I was so excited that this is book one of a series because it means the story isn’t over. I cannot wait to dive back into Emma’s adventures and see where the aftermath of this book takes these characters as we continue to explore the modern underworld.

LGBTQA?

There are some hints and references to a variety of types of relationships that are inclusive, though as part of the story romance is very specifically excluded. This does not impact my recommendation that anyone interested in modern dark fantasy should read this book.

Grammar

There were a few minimal concerns that I brought up directly in an email to the author. These did not interrupt the reading experience.

Twilight Zone

Every book has at least one. In this case, I think it may have been me – “Emma pauses briefly as she becomes keenly aware of a distant yet familiar presence. It is akin to a fragrance that is unrecognizable as it dances along her skin.” This sentence really confused me, but at the same time I imagined a cartoon cat going into an extremely alarmed posture with electricity. I’m not sure how to interpret it and maybe it’s too trippy of a synesthetic experience for me to fully grasp.

Want to learn more about the Author?

You can buy the book here. I had the pleasure of interviewing Linda Rainier as the first installment of my 2020 Author Interview series. Please take a moment to read her responses to my questions on her writing process. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

January 2020: "Guided By The Ghosts" by Sean Haughton

Plot Summary (Caution: Spoilers!)

George Stevenson is a ten-year-old boy like many others. He likes football (translation for Americans: Soccer) and Star Wars like every other kid his age, but he doesn’t have friends and has trouble connecting. Let’s be honest, the situation is worse than his parents know, and the way other children and the school have responded has not helped. George is miserable and isolated.
Then something extraordinary happens. George looks out his window late at night to see two ghosts the same age as him. These two ghosts also struggled in life, and in death, they learned a few things they can now pass along. Now, in one incredible philosophical and therapeutic journey, George has a chance to alter the trajectory of his life for the better.

My Overall Response:

Sean Haughton takes readers through this wholesome, heartwarming tale that takes advantage of parallel comparison and realistic dialogue that sounds like a precocious ten-year-old to show how the experiences George has changed his character for the better. The philosophical and therapeutic lessons provide benefit to a reader. Additional ambitious details add unique discussion points of historical and current relevance in the United Kingdom without allowing them to overpower the story.

The philosophical and therapeutic lessons I appreciated most in this story are:

Skepticism can be removed from Negativity. Be willing to question everything.

Spiritual awakening can be found in your own back yard – don’t automatically reject western philosophies.

Feel your emotions. They’re there. Accept them and give them space to exist.

The most ambitious details of the book were the memories of the ghosts. I believe that these allowed for some series of topics of discussion to be brought up. These details round the ghosts out and make them much more human and realistic. These details also immediately imply additional information about the ghosts’ lived experiences.

I appreciated the references to the religious tensions of the 1990s in the UK because it is so relevant to current affairs, albeit indirectly. For those interested in reading more, I recommend the extensive body of research on the “secularization of Britain” and a variety of factors (e.g., economy, education, immigration, Cold War, the rise of the European Union). I admit I am somewhat tortured that the author only barely touched on this, but at the same time, it meant that I spent an entire afternoon reading old research papers and educating myself. I can’t say I’m disappointed, and honestly, I think the amount of information provided is much more appropriate to a younger audience.

Overall, I love this delightfully wholesome story about a little boy from a loving home that needs some help learning how to process and deal with the outside world. I love that the ghosts aren’t evil, and if you’re looking for that kind of book, look somewhere else.

LGBTQA Friendly?

George is ten. It’s not unfriendly toward LGBTQA members of the population, and the internal struggles George’s character faces are shared by any “out-group” or individual that feels isolated. While LGBTQA presence is not directly mentioned, I think the topics in the book are valuable (given my personal experience).

Grammar:

Update: I have spoken with the author and these have since been corrected for future editions of the book.

For future editions, there are two consistent issues that do need to be addressed.

  1. The dialogue often has additional unnecessary punctuation marks. Example (pg. 27) “‘We can’t remember our names.”, the girl interjected.”  This is an easy fix because it’s consistently present.
  2. The word “corporeal” is used where I believe the author may have meant the word “incorporeal.” Example (pg. 62) “He felt like throwing up, but once again felt corporeal, as though his physical body no longer existed.” It’s a consistent issue through the book, so it should be easy to go back and address.

While there are other grammatical or punctuation issues that may be present, I will not address them here because they do not interrupt the reading experience.

Twilight Zone Moment:

Every book has at least one. The issue I am stuck on is how the ghosts can remember the names of other people but not their own names. This makes it a bit confusing as to why they remember specific details as opposed to others.

Want to know more about the author?
You can buy Guided by the Ghosts here. To read more about Sean Haughton you can visit his blog here, Twitter here, or Instagram here. You can view his other books here.

December 2019: "Christmas Magic" by Alaine Greyson and Marie McGrath in Summary

Summary (Warning: Mild Spoilers):

“Christmas Magic” is a collection of 7 short stories by Alaine Greyson and Marie McGrath focusing on love and family around the holidays in the face of struggle with grief, tragedy, and of course everyone’s greatest enemies: themselves. Each story takes the time to address what it means to be successful, and how the characters’ actions with that success defines them.

As an added bonus, one of the stories by Alaine Greyson is a spin-off of her current Reclaiming Life series, so we get to enjoy characters fans already know and love. Another one of her stories featured acts as a preview to an upcoming release.

Marie McGrath’s short stories center around family and the preservation of traditions around the holidays. These wholesome themes are brought to life with unique, lively characters, each with their own hopes and aspirations.

My Overall Response:

In “Christmas Magic” Alaine Greyson and Marie McGrath took on the task of producing a collection of wholesome Christmas themed stories with a tight deadline against some pretty tremendous personal circumstances. This was the book that inspired me to theme December 2019’s reviews in anticipation of its release. Guess what I learned? Planning, writing, and executing a holiday-themed book with a deadline is hard. Please stand and give everyone at Creative James Media, Alaine Greyson, Marie McGrath, and Brian Paone a round of applause.

With that tight of a deadline, there are going to be mistakes, and I will mention some of them here. I also recognize how AMAZING the turnaround was from when the stories were “done” to when I received my copy of the book.

Now that I’m done explaining that, let me get into some more details on my responses to the individual stories. Many of the stories I really enjoyed – they were the wholesome, sweet, and Hallmark Card style warm fuzzies I imagine readers look forward to using to decompress from holiday stress.

My favorite stories were “Christmas Spirit” and “Paws and Santa Claus”. These are my favorites because they are unique and went against the cliche Christmas Romance stereotype. “Christmas Spirit” really brought out that winter magic that I mentioned being so important to me. It is also a story about mourning and grief during the holidays. “Paws and Santa Claus” brings out the overcoming adversity theme I was looking for, and while there are hints at romance, it is not at the forefront. Enjoyably, it is almost part of a joke about how romance can wait.

I did run into a bit of confusion with the story “The Christmas Locket”. Two major inconsistencies hit me in the story: the main character was both adopted and not adopted, and the family has 5 kids then 6 kids. Only 5 kids are named. In the case of the adopted vs. not adopted issue, it was less of a concern until the mother referenced being pregnant with the adopted child. These sorts of inconsistencies should have been caught, but as previously mentioned this book was on a tight deadline. I imagine a second edition providing clarity.

The other issue I ran into a couple of times was that some of the stories, even ones that I loved, had ambiguous dialogue that could not be attributed to a specific character. This threw me off because I wasn’t sure who was saying what.

Overall, I really enjoyed this collection of short stories and encourage a second, expanded edition to be released next year. I look forward to reading more from both Alaine Greyson and Marie McGrath.

LGBTQA Friendly?
Not mentioned in the book. Does not impact the author’s recommendation, but would not be recommended for LGBTQA book lists.

Grammar and Formatting:
There are a few issues with consistencies (plural pronouns vs. singular pronouns) that do not interrupt the reading experience too badly. This is not terribly surprising given the short turnaround, but the grammar and spelling are otherwise as expected. There are some formatting errors in the book where the font size changes mid-word, but it returns to the original size. This seems like an issue with the formatting program. I would expect that these be corrected with additional time to review for future editions.

Did This Book Bring Holiday Cheer?
Absolutely! 100% – This book brought me holiday cheer and helped me destress. The stories were wholesome, and while some were a bit on the extra-cheese cheesy side for the modern fairytale ending that’s what the holidays need sometimes.

Want to know more about the authors?
The book was published by Creative James Media. You can follow Alaine Greyson on Twitter or visit her website here. You can follow Marie McGrath on Twitter and follow their books on Amazon here. You purchase your copy of the book here.

December 2019: "The 24 Nights Before Christmas" by Rachel S. Bell

Summary (Warning: Mild Spoilers):

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the holidays? Have you ever wanted to take some time to give yourself the greatest gift of all: self-improvement? In “The 24 Nights Before Christmas” Rachel S. Bell takes us on a journey through anecdotes, religious references, and therapeutic thought exercises with each day leading up to Christmas Eve, December 24.

As a brief example of the topics covered she approaches:
-Self Worth and Intrinsic Value
-Goal Setting
-Forgiveness
-Fulfilling Dreams
-Finding Your Purpose
-The Importance of Friendship
-How Nerd References Are the Best Things Ever And Applicable to Everything
-Motivation

Each day has exercises designed for prayer or for those less inclined for that style method.

My Overall Response:

If you are a Christian, or Unitarian, or a spiritualist of any walk of life that respects good advice regardless of the source, this is a great workbook. I have a friend from high school that knew from an early age that he was called to serve his church and I recommended this book to him to consider for a future workshop.

As a non-Christian, I was thrilled with the exercises and found myself laughing at the funny anecdotes. I constantly connected with the author’s life experiences and the exercises she created. The Bible passages selected were helpful and not the kind of scripture that can be used out of context in a harmful manner. I’m reminded of a phrase I saw a while back:

“Be humble enough to recognize and accept good advice regardless of its source…” ~ Allos of Mr. Lakusu Facebook

I’m not going to quote random Facebook groups at you in these responses.

My point is that Rachel S. Bell created a book primarily for Christian readers that can still reach beyond and touch so many more. I loved it and can’t wait to pass this book along. I highly recommend anyone pick up a copy if you find yourself struggling in dark places.

LGBTQA Friendly?
Not a topic approached in the book. Does not impact the reviewer’s recommendation.

Grammar:
Fantastic grammar. The author is gifted with words.

Did This Book Bring Holiday Cheer?
Absolutely! This book brought levity to some heavy topics that have a tendency to come up around the holidays. That’s quite a hefty task. Bravo!

Want to know more about the author?
You can visit Rachel S. Bell’s website here and purchase your own copy of The 24 Nights Before Christmas here. She’s fairly private and not active on Twitter. I politely request that you respect the author’s privacy and instead show her books all of the love they very clearly deserve.

Upcoming Reviews January 2020

Happy New Year and Welcome to 2020! We have an exciting selection of books this month. There was a last minute substitution due to a change in how I review poetry. This means that I will be examining the works found in Reflections by Sean Haughton later in the year.

Guided by the Ghosts” by Sean Haughton (Live Tweet Review; Full Review)

Emma’s Fury” by Linda Rainier (Live Tweet Review; Full Review; Author Interview)

Mornnovin” by Alyssa Marie Bethancourt (Live Tweet Review; Full Review; Author Interview)

The Engineer” by Darran M. Handshaw (Live Tweet Review; Full Review Coming Soon)

Requirements for submission:

  • Print Edition Must Be Available (preferably paperback)
  • Under $20 (USD) – I buy your book like everyone else!

You must respond to either one of my calls on Twitter for new books to read in the upcoming month (the 15th of each month unless there are no available spots in the upcoming month – February and March have no upcoming availability, so the next Twitter call will be on March 15th)

OR

You can send me an e-mail with the subject line: Only a Hippopotamus Will Do (e-mails not including this subject will be ignored)

In this e-mail include:

  • a link to where I can purchase your book.
  • a brief introduction to yourself
  • a link to your Twitter and/or personal website (if applicable).

IF you are interested in sending me a copy of your book, please send me an e-mail with the subject line: The Buffalo Seem Fine to Me 

December 2019: “Boomer’s Criss-Cross Christmas” by Miriam Van Scott

Summary (Warning: Mild Spoilers):
Boomer the kangaroo takes us on a global journey through Christmas traditions on every continent on a hunt to understand what Christmas is. Through this representation of cultures and traditions around the world Boomer brings some of that Christmas magic into you and your child’s heart.

My Overall Response:
Can someone die of cuteness? Die of warm fuzzies? If you need to feel your heart expand and you want to help give your kid a sense of adventure while at the same time fill them with a sense of magic this is probably the book for them. This is a feel good book and in the depths of holiday stress this is exactly what kids and adults alike need.

LGBTQA Friendly?
No representation in this book. Does not impact reviewer’s recommendation.

Grammar:
The grammar is easy to understand for children and easy to read aloud.

Did this story bring holiday cheer?
YES – Additionally, I felt included as a non-Christian. This means a lot to me in a way I’m struggling to put into words other than Thank You.

Want to know more about the author?
To learn more about the author please visit her website at http://www.miriamvanscott.com/ or her Twitter account.

Want to know more about the illustrator?
The illustrator is Bethany Van Scott. I’m unable to find much information on them at this time and will update in the future if that changes!

I wish I knew more about the illustrator because I love these illustrations! The colors, shapes, lines, and presentations are brilliant. I would love to know how to contact them for future opportunities. I love their style.