Review: “A Twist of Starlight” by Betty Valentine

Originally posted November 8th, 2019, editied and updated June 22nd, 2022.

Summary (Warning: mild spoilers):

A Twist of Starlight” begins with the tale of three children, the death of a mother, and the childhood of an evil half brother.

A couple hundred years later, we encounter a group of three men, seemingly disconnected from the previous chapters, capturing a scene.

From these flickers emerges a beautiful scene of a loving single father taking his baby boy for a hike up his favorite mountain, where they then take a rest together. Afterward, he picks up his son to find a half acorn clutched in his infant’s tiny hand.

Then we meet David, the infant that was once carried up the mountain. Now living in America, he is at a stagnant point in his life: dead-end relationship and stable but no longer fulfilling career as a doctor. He reminisces about his life, thinking of home with nostalgia and fondness. With these flashbacks, readers are given little hints at a time that link back to the previous vignettes. He receives the tragic news that two people he cares for deeply are suffering from health trouble: his Uncle Marc and Uncle Hugh. These are the men that helped raise him. As he travels back to Wales to surprise his family and give himself a fresh start, he continues to share memories. The wooden toys Marc carved for him as a child. The wooden crib. The lessons Hugh taught him in his garden and the children of another family friend, Bernie, that were his siblings of sorts.

He arrives home to find another family friend, Roy, at the house and that the group traveled up the mountain for the Midsummer celebration before his unannounced arrival. Onward David goes to track down these old men. When he arrives at camp, that’s when things start getting weird.

After the laughter, stories, and booze by the campfire, David’s father – Jon – murders someone on the jetty by the pond. David is taken aback, and the whirlwind truly begins. From here, David learns this his father, Marc, Bernie, and Hugh are more than the people he thought they were. And so is he!

A funeral, a celebration of life, and a battle against evil forces bent on their destruction leads to David’s father finding true love and the loss of more than one significant family member. As time passes, David discovers a sense of purpose in his new community. Most of all, he finds the happiness he never knew was possible.

My Overall Response:

I love the world Betty Valentine spun together in her first book. Fantasy is hard. I hold a lot of respect for authors that take the time to create an imaginary world with different rules, history, and mechanics than our own. At first, she brings readers into a world not unlike their own after first providing beautiful descriptions and submerging vignettes of seemingly disconnected stories. Don’t worry – they’re all connected, eventually. 

I love the story. I love the characters. I love the plot. I love the way the beginning has seemingly discontinuous snapshots of the passage of time that each build on the other. I love the honoring of Icelandic influence. I love that there’s more than one big reveal for the reader. 

The descriptions in the book are phenomenal, and I found myself wanting more. Valentine has a unique gift for combining modern vernacular with fantasy in a poetic fashion that significantly benefits the story. There were times it was impossible to read the book without having an accent envelope my mind as a reader.

My primary criticism is that I felt like the action in the book was way too dense, and I found myself wanting more from the death scenes of characters. I want to emphasize that this is my personal opinion and that Young Adult readers would benefit from the way these death scenes are written.

I want the universe Valentine created to expand, grow, and get published more. I want to have someone else I can play with in this universe because it’s fun, unique, and exceptional. I have often felt as though the LGBTQIA+ audience does not have enough inclusive fantasy, and this book is an answer to that desire. I want people to be inspired to write their own fanfiction that takes place where the train line ends. 

I was excited to hear that Betty Valentine will soon be releasing her next book, Overture and Beginners (release date November 30, 2019). Please keep writing – I love your voice and what you bring to fantasy literature.

LGBTQIA+ Friendly?

Absolutely! One of the primary themes of the book is self-discovery and coming out. I would definitely recommend for a Young Adult LGBTQIA+ reading list.

Grammar:

Not a criticism, but an explanation for a feature of the book’s composition that gave me some trouble: the soft full-stop. On occasion, a reader will notice that there are full-stops mid-sentence followed by a lower case word. This is to indicate a pause. I love these unique features in writing and am excited to have read a book featuring such a linguistic treasure!

At times I did find the book to take the conversational narrative to an extreme. Still, I do not believe that this would cause too much impedance in a reader’s ability to enjoy the book. I do think that the conversational narrative lends itself really well to Young Adult audiences (13+ for Adult Themes).

Twilight Zone Moment:

This is the first book I am not going to declare any Twilight Zone Moments for. Anything remotely close added to the mystery, fantasy, and intrigue.

Want to know more about the author?

To read more about Betty Valentine you can visit her on Twitter. You can also read her profile on her publisher’s website, Green Cat Books, here. She recommends this publisher for new and emerging authors and I greatly appreciate her sharing this resource with the writing community.

“A Twist of Starlight” is available now through Green Cat Books and Amazon.

The follow-up, “A Twist in Stone,” is available now through Green Cat Books and Amazon.

“Overture and Beginners” is available now through Green Cat Books and Amazon.

Review: “Kingdom of the Northern Sun” by Clara Martin

Originally posted: Oct 16, 2019. Updated: June 9th, 2022.

Summary (Warning: mild spoilers):
A disabled veteran, named Eileen, seeks to find a way to have independence. Using her skills and managing her own disability, she also finds herself as a new ally to others. In this new journey, she fights for the freedom of human slaves in a time when powerful magic and political conflict are at the forefront of debates in Washington, DC.

In this first book of The Revolution Series, Eileen finds herself caught up in a collection of political plots. While one group seeks to unseat a royal family in a fae kingdom, she is recruited to assist in coordinated espionage to free enslaved humans from these same kingdoms. All the while, she is reminded that everyone has ulterior motives, including the voices in her own head.

My Overall Response:
Clara Martin approaches neurodiversity and mental illness through Eileen’s experience providing the reader with insight often missed but desperately needed. Martin shows the importance of self-care, structure, and examples of the constant micro-aggressions people that choose to be open about their situations face each day. One of the impressive parts of the book is how Martin uses this as a way to share some of her personal experiences with the daily battles she shares with Eileen. Her representation is consistent with other personal accounts of schizophrenia, such as those shared on the Out of My Mind podcast, and adds to an ever growing narrative that breaks down the stigma.

The story has twists, turns, and plenty of fun to keep the reader interested. From double agents to dishonest romantic interests, the characters reveal themselves as distrusting of even the best-intended information due to their own prejudices.

A special bonus for describing the setting in ways that show the author is writing what they know. I much appreciate it when I read about places I know in ways that capture intimate details, such as how difficult it is to park in Washington, DC.

Additionally, Eileen is a strong female character working to overcome her inability to use magic in a world where magic is continuously used. This parallel provides the reader with some insight into the compensation and constant struggle many veterans face after military service when they return home with new disabilities. Martin acknowledges that many wounds are from training exercises, accidents, assault, and other non-deployment related injuries – an often forgotten piece of the daily struggles for veterans. Female veterans tend to be underrepresented in fiction, but Martin succeeds in bringing this perspective to the table while addressing the issue of sexual assault.

LGBTQIA+ Friendly?
This book features an adorable couple as well as other examples, inclusive representation of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Grammar:
This book has an easy reading style with content that is appropriate for ages 12+, but is also very enjoyable by an adult reader.

Overall the few grammatical issues included a couple missing punctuation marks and some inconsistent verb tenses. The punctuation could easily be missed due to formatting and the verb tenses are not inappropriate given common use. These errors do not interrupt the reader’s experience and may not be noticed by most.

Twilight Zone Moment:
Every book has at least one. These are the moments that don’t quite add up and throw a reader rolling down into the uncanny valley for a moment in an otherwise brilliant scene.

  • Charles calls and shows up even though logically, they are much farther away. The main character, perhaps due to exhaustion, doesn’t notice the inconsistency until after the character arrives and turns out to be someone else.
  • Somehow missed by Anna, even though she was already informed, an accused double agent kills someone to prevent anyone from using them for information. This scene seems like it should have garnered more attention than it received.

I don’t use rating scales (for now). I recommend reading this book and look forward to reading the sequel, Kingdom of the Western Wind.

If you’re interested in more information on Clara Martin, please take a moment to check out her blog, Clara Martin’s World or her twitter @WritesClara

Kingdom of the Northern Sun is available now at Amazon.

Book Review: Trajelon By Alyssa Marie Bethancourt

Front cover of Trajelon – The Way Of The Falling Star Book 2

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Trajelon in exchange for a review. While I attempt to keep my reviews as fair and unbiased as possible, it is important to note that I received this copy as a gift and read it in two sittings while traveling to/from Seattle while planning our upcoming move. Also, I have known the author since 2011, though I was unaware of her writing endeavors at the time.

Summary (Low Spoiler)

Before you proceed reader, I insist you go back and read the first book in this series: Mornnovin – you can buy it here. The digital version is currently on sale through 7 January 2021.

Welcome back to the world of Asrellion where, over 3,000 years later, the elves and humans are finally signing a peace treaty to officially end the genocide that sent all elves into hiding to the extent they were assumed extinct. Our Míyahídéna is still waiting for her prince of Grenlec to return from his quest to seek out the Elven god Vaian in the sea, and her coronation day is quickly approaching. But what will happen if he doesn’t arrive? And what evil forces lurking beyond the sea could be involved in preventing his return? As the ruler of Elvédíen becomes more erratic in her behavior and eventually disappears, what will her kingdom do?

Response (Spoilers & Content Warning)

Driven mad by the absence of the one other being to which her soul is magically bound, Loralíenasa descends into the depths of despair, bringing the reader along for the ride.

Dear reader, if you have never experienced a major depressive episode, dissociative episodes, personality changes due to severe trauma, or have first hand knowledge of various types of emotional, sexual, and physical abuse… you will. For readers that have experienced these abuses first hand, be assured that Bethancourt has taken great care in her writing on these topics. Chapter breaks, perspective changes, and timeline retrospectives are all used as mechanisms for grounding the reader when the scenes become too intense.

On the bright side, you won’t have to go through years of therapy after the fact to be able to recognize the warning signs for these traumatic experiences. Plus, you will enjoy the educational ride along the way through the incredible story telling mechanics, much like all of the Magic School Bus kids with their super secret Stockholm Syndrome.

If Mornnovin was the book to introduce us to Asrellion and the universe’s clashing cultures, Trajelon is the book that introduces us to the wide cast of characters. With this cast of a new and old characters, we explore the Elven world with new depth and breadth. With no character fully innocent, it’s easier to see these characters as flawed when put under duress. One thing is certain: every character has a unique perspective on events driven by their own motivations and this influences their actions accordingly. We also gain better understanding of how hard they work to appear as a singular presentation of their choosing on the surface as per their training with the Qíarnos – the “Seven Principles of Wisdom” and how these principles impact the culture we’ve come to expect from our cold, pointy eared companions.

With expansions on language and trade relations intermixed with customs, history, and a powerful storyline that will leave a reader emotionally scarred, but begging for more, Trajelon is the sequel we needed.

Yet another brilliant work of art by Bethancourt, Trajelon reveals that she can write epic adventures of the mind and spirit in addition to the sword.

LGBTQA

Major and minor characters represent all potential combinations and it is revealed that elves are very sexual creatures in ways that tend to be left to the imagination. While there are many questions I still have as a reader (re: Galvanos), I’m sure these will be answered in upcoming sequels. So many details have been slow, subtle reveals that are delightful puzzles in this series and I highly recommend readers paying attention to the uses of coding by the author.

Grammar+

This book meets or exceeds the 1/10,000 word error industry standard.

Twilight Zone Moment

What happened to the wedding ring? I know this is a very small and minor question, but I had to wonder.

About The Author And The First Book

You can read more about Alyssa Marie Bethancourt in her interview from last year here or on her website. Follow her on social media via Twitter. You can purchase a copy of Trajelon for yourself here or through amazon here (the digital versions of Mornnovin and Trajelon are on sale for $1.99 through 7 January 2021).

The Hundredth Post! Excerpts From “Timber” And Short Story Collection

This is my hundredth post! As of yesterday, you all have blessed me with 2,000 visitors to this website in 2020. Because of this, I figured I would let my readers choose the content of my hundredth post, so I held a poll to let everyone decide what this post should be and the option selected by popular opinion was an excerpt from a work in progress. I have multiple works in progress, so I decided to include a scene from Timber and one of the short stories, Moving On, from my upcoming collection to be released at the end of this year.

For some context, Timber is a book that follows the main character, Sarah, through her divorce, loss of her existing friendships, and change of identity as her perceptions of reality are challenged and reconciled. The scene I picked is from the middle of the book.

Enjoy!

Photo by Hisu lee on Unsplash

Excerpt From “Timber”

Charity smiled sweetly as her large pale blue eyes with opalescent pupils caught Sarah off guard. She never noticed Charity’s eyes before, or the eyes of any other zombie for that matter. Her extremely pale skin, a deeper blue at the tips of her fingers, had been rarely this visible. She rolled up her sleeves and lovingly arranged baskets filled with children’s books and miniature prints of famous art.

“What will the children do with the baskets?” Sarah asked as Charity’s careful and loving movements prepared each basket.

“They’ll eat them and become smarter. It will help their brains develop and they will better be able to communicate with the world around them.” Charity responded with a hint of exhaustion at having to explain.

“Why not just give the children adult books. Wouldn’t that be faster and better?” Sarah inquired while reaching for her own stack of baskets to begin filling.

“You can’t just give a child a book at a higher reading level! Our brains develop similarly to humans – the solid foundations for learning must exist before we can advance. When a child tries to eat books more advanced than they can handle they get very stressed and sometimes sick. Sure, they might regurgitate the material, but they could end up confused with disjointed information because they couldn’t digest it properly.” Charity handed a stack of children’s books to Sarah.

“So, zombies eat in order to learn?”

Charity stopped filling the baskets and looked up at Sarah, her direct eye contact forcing Sarah to shift weight between her feet. “We do not call ourselves ‘zombies’. Humans came up with that term and forced us to take it with the addition of bad literature and even worse movies.” Charity cleared her throat, took a deep breath, and continued. “And yes, we must physically consume material to learn new information.”

“What do you call yourselves?” Sarah asked, apologetically. Momentary silence stretched into an eternity between tics of the wall clock’s second hand.

“Phagoneurites” Charity sighed. “Individuals are Phagonuers.” She paused and pointed to fabric basket covers. “Hand me the wraps, will you? These are ready to be sent to families.” She indicated to the full baskets now covering the table.

Sarah grabbed the wrap and started helping Charity enclose each basket. “If Phagoneurites learn information so efficiently, why aren’t more in higher paying jobs?”

Charity paused in silent contemplation as her posture and face saddened. “Take that question to your politicians, your judges, your lawyers, and your education system.” She tightened her jaw with a deep seething breath, “The way things are now, we can’t. There are policies against us everywhere, both written and unspoken. The written ones are carefully worded as to prevent us from challenging them. So, we have our own universities, but most businesses refuse to accept degrees from them. The human education system refuses to give our programs accreditations.” Charity began picking up baskets from the table and shifting them into the large bins labelled “outgoing”.

Sarah chewed her mouth, trying to understand her desire to argue with Charity’s words. She’d learned her whole life that the policies were ‘anti-discrimination’ and that it was a choice not to attend human schools. Her brain tried to understand the words Charity said while she kept silent. “I’m sorry,” Sarah managed to say before she even realized she spoke.

“You’re here. That’s a start.” Charity looked at the cleared table and opened a box of books labeled ‘Young Adult’, grabbing more baskets. Her blue lips pursed as she closed her large eyes, appearing to be weighed down by the long white eyelashes. “What was your favorite book as a kid?”


Moving On

The crisp fall air ebbs with the emerging early winter’s night, whipping my hair into my face. It is too cold to meander lost in thought, but too comfortable to be set on edge. The familiar streets twist and turn while the sidewalk cracks etch their places under the moonlight. Hands in my pockets, I fiddle with the once broken necklace. I trace my path with the motion­ sensor front porch lights and barking dogs from across the brick-paved streets.

She loved this walk. Sunday mornings, we dabbled in conversation. She beamed, with those golden curls framing that face – emerald eyes the hidden gems beneath. Her shoes clipped those cracks; she faltered and tripped. Calling herself clumsy, she would hit herself if she stumbled. If she didn’t catch herself, I tried my best to be the arms where she fell. Each time her face reddened: rosy cheeks and the embarrassed grimace. She glossed over that fluttering heart against my chest by enveloping me in a desperate hug. So many surprises emerged from her square, youthful features. I somehow forgot she stood two inches taller. Then again, in those days, I never stopped smiling like an idiot.

At the end of the road, a park hides among an old orchard once part of a larger estate. I approach it as my thoughts flash pleasant autumn days against my will. Under that tall one. They pull me, pointing. The one with the spread branches and the old board nailed to the trunk. My imagination carefully fills in the apple load that weighed down the branches. The scene bleeds memories. The apples from that tree tasted best. She stole apples. I stole a kiss.

I roll the memory around on my tongue. Her eyelashes caressed against my cheekbones. The sound of her soft breath and the rapid beating of her heart against my own as they synchronized: everything I wanted, presented to me with a button nose.

She smiled with such serenity. I boosted her into the tree. Her necklace, the little gold filigree cross pendant on a delicate chain, snagged on a branch, breaking the clasp. In a surprise, she slipped, and I caught her. Through her tears, I held her promising to retrieve and repair it.

Under that tree, in the darkness, I pull the necklace out of my pocket, tracing my fingers along the charm’s sides. Looking up to the branch, I see the stars on the other side of the barren branches.

The pendant was a gift from her parents. While repairing the necklace, I stared. I longed to meet them every time she chose never to invite me to join her at a family dinner or event. I sought out pictures to prove to myself that they looked like her. I fantasized about which bits of her personality she inherited from whom. I wondered if they ever knew my name.

I lost my taste for apples. She disappeared. She never really loved you. Answering machine messages blinked in and out of existence without response. Notes I left under her door sat in my mind, their words echoing my insecurities from inside their sealed envelopes. Why did you ever think you were deserving of love? Why did you think you’d be more than someone’s phase or experiment? Removing the repaired necklace from my pocket, I kiss the pendant one last time. I loop it on a tree branch and turn to leave – following the brick road to a home of boxes and goodbyes. In my periphery – my mind playing tricks – I glimpse her walking our path alone.


Thank you so much for taking the time to read this hundredth post. If it speaks to you, please let me know by liking, commenting, or sharing. This helps me know which posts my readers like best.