Tag Archives: October 2019

October 2019: “A Twist of Starlight” by Betty Valentine

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 LGBTQA 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 Beginnings (release date November 30, 2019). Please keep writing – I love your voice and what you bring to fantasy literature.

LGBTQA Friendly?

Absolutely! One of the primary themes of the book is self-discovery and coming out. I would definitely recommend for a Young Adult LGBTQA 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 and you can buy the book here. You can also read her profile on her publisher’s website, Green Cat, here. She recommends this publisher for new and emerging authors and I greatly appreciate her sharing this resource with the writing community.

You can pre-order her upcoming book “Overture and Beginnings” (release date November 30, 2019) on Amazon.

October 2019: “Then Came Darkness” by D.H. Schleicher

Summary (Warning: mild spoilers):

It’s the Great Depression. The world is on edge as global tensions are building, and economic collapses rip apart every continent. To have any money you have a lot. Religious fanatics have latched on to the sense of impending doom, with the rise of vagrant workers as the Dust Bowl tears apart the United States Bread Basket. D. H. Schleicher pulls us into his setting where an evil force is about to burn its way through an entire family as it seeks revenge.

Joshua Bloomfield is a one-armed man of mystery. He hasn’t had a home since he escaped from his dark origin. He wants to get back his money, and he wants to kill the family that stole everything from him.

The Kydd family wants to survive. As Evelyn’s health is deteriorating, she deep down hopes her husband doesn’t come home after a family tragedy breaks her heart. Her two other children, Tyrus and Sally, and the dog, Sue, are all she has left. Can they protect her from the consequences of her own actions?

In “Then Came Darkness,” D. H. Schleicher brings early twentieth-century mysticism, the Great Depression, and a thrilling story of a family trying to escape the clutches of evil. After all, evil can look just like a friend.

Later Addition: This is one of the briefest summaries I’ve written. This is to reduce spoilers as the book builds details upon themselves. Highly recommend this read.

My Overall Response:

D. H. Schleicher blew me away with this emotional story told from multiple perspectives. I laughed. I cried. I had to take breaks because some scenes tore me to pieces. It’s dark, gritty, and I love it. Highly recommend!

First, let’s talk about Joshua Bloomfield as a character. All he wanted was to kill his father, then steal all of his money as an act of grandiose revenge. Why doesn’t anyone understand him? He also has a peculiar way of showing people he loves them. Or hates them. Not really sure. He’s a messed up dude, okay? Yet, I say that while defending him in that weird antihero way.

Next, there’s Evelyn Kydd. Evelyn is a character that is often in her own head through reliving memories, having seizures, and with those seizures sometimes visions. This gift is enough that her get-rich-quick-scheme husband wishes he could have taken her on the road. But she loves her children more than anything, especially her oldest child. She’s full of self-blame for things that she has done. The majority of the blame is a result of a society always telling her how unimportant she is. As a reader, I am saddened and frustrated by the way Evelyn believes she deserves what is happening to her. She’s an exceptionally well written female character.

This book has some death scenes. Schleicher uses these to his advantage as he first tells you that a character experiences heartbreak for the first time, then proceeds to make you, the reader, feel that heartbreak. The catharsis of emotional writing in this book was incredible. For reference, other books that have done this to me include “The God of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy, “Bright as Heaven” by Susan Meissner, “The Sun Also Rises” and “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway. It’s not easy to make me feel things!

I loved the structure of the novel as it continually brings flashbacks to fill in the gaps the reader may have little by little. Nothing is revealed immediately, though the reader may figure some things out. Such as the exact location of a particular setting, based solely on the description of walking up a set of brick steps from the James River up to the street in Shokhoe Bottom, Richmond, Virginia. As someone that has walked those steps, the description was accurately written.

LGBTQA Friendly?

This book does not directly address issues of the LGBTQA community or have characters identifying as such. This does not impact my recommendation to read this book.

Grammar:

This book is well within the standard of 1 error per 10,000 words. The only derailing issue was the use of “pealing” (a loud noise) instead of “peeling” (lifting in a layer from another surface). This may not be noticed by other readers, though.

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.

Where did Myra go? Why did we not meet Myra again? We spend an entire chapter of the book meeting a character named Myra, who is going back to New York City because a young man in love with her has died. Yet, she doesn’t visit the family or her own father?

You can purchase “Then Came Darkness” by D. H. Schleicher on Amazon

To read more about D. H. Schleicher, read more of their work, or contact them, you can visit their website The Schleicher Spin or visit their Twitter @schleicherspin

October 2019: “Honor” by Francis Williams

Summary (Warning: mild spoilers):

After the Roman Empire has withdrawn her presence from much of Europe, the chaos of competing fiefdoms and the rise of powerful families set the stage for political tensions and invasion. This overwhelmingly beautiful and well-researched novel by Francis Williams realistically depicts fictional representations of the lives of real and imagined historical figures otherwise shrouded in mystery.

Tracing back the history of the British Isles and seafaring families of greater Europe, we are introduced to the ever-present issue of early, corrupt Christianity plotting for power. In the time of popes known for their infidelity and rather not Christ-like behaviors, the Bishop Germanus acts as an ever-present villain manipulating the weak king, Ceneus ap Coel of Ebrauc (modern-day Northern England). The king calls on his merchant friend, Hall. He strikes a deal to have Hall and the village he helps to lead in modern-day Bourdeaux relocate and provide him the military advantages of a navy and experience. Once resettled, the king hopes that Hall will lead an army in the kingdom’s name on a quest north of Hadrian’s Wall.

Concurrently, Colgrin plots to overthrow a syphilitic king and requests for his brother in law, Jorrit, to get captured by the Britons to gather intelligence. Colgrin hopes to embark on a journey to invade and overthrow an area to establish his own kingdom. Jorrit sails off to be captured and ends up in the new settlement provided to Hall and his crew.

Upon capture, Hall and Drysten learn from Jorrit that their village was raided by a known slaver, and the surviving wives, children, and elders left behind were captured. In a heartbreaking scene, Drysten realizes that among those imprisoned includes his lover, fiance, and future mother of his child, Isolde. With the promise of release upon finding their loved ones, Jorrit accompanies Drysten on his fairytale-esque quest to save Isolde and free the rest of their family members.

Hall and Bors, the Elder, must then embark North with Prince Ambrosius Aurelianus of Powys and the cowardly, vile son of King Ceneus ap Coel, Prince Eidion. By befriending the estranged brother of King Ceneus ap Coel, the Prince Ambrosius and Hall gain enough force to take the stronghold requested by the king. However, as the pieces fall into place, questions arise as to the quality of the king being served.

In this engaging, thrilling, and emotionally dynamic first book of the “Thrones and Soldiers” series, the reader experiences the life of an early European after the fall of the Roman Empire. Giving a new spin on the minimally understood history of the foundations for a unified kingdom of Britons, “Honor” enlightens readers and demonstrates the power of combining research and imagination.

My Overall Response:

Williams went above and beyond my expectations of what a good historical fiction novel is. The amount of research involved that synergistically applied to be this book must be astounding. I had the pleasure of contacting the author about the research and being shown pictures of a single page of notes that pertained to one of the thousands of scenes depicted. 

I am reminded of “Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett in terms of the attention paid to detail and the storytelling style seamlessly blending into the backdrop of history. The details engaged my brain, and each chapter ended with the excitement of wishing there were more. With twists and turns, characters are rounded out.

Additionally, the question of how mental illness was perceived through the lens of spirituality in the early history of Europe makes for a thought-provoking subject reasonably included. Instead of dismissing the stories of witches and godly visitations, the story legitimizes these experiences. It shows how they can be both helpful and harmful.

It was an honor to read and review this book. I hope anyone reading this considers providing themselves the same intellectual pleasure found in its pages.

LGBTQA Friendly?

I believe that attitudes of characters are reflective of what is known to have been the cultural standard of the time. That said, I would not recommend this book for an LGBTQA reading list.

Grammar:

Assuming the industry standard is 1 spelling error per 10,000 words, then “Honor” more than meets the standard. The only “errors” involve inconsistency in punctuation that does not interfere with the reader’s experience and is likely to be completely unnoticed by the average reader.

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.

I honestly struggled with finding a solid “Twilight Zone Moment.” At the end of the book, there is a character named Argyle that engages in the following exchange:

‘Drysten glanced toward the stairway as the last light from his captor’s torch faded away. “What kind of criminal desires to be in a place like this?”

“Simple,” Argyle said through thick laughter, “the sort who desired to be captured.”‘ (page 352)

This exchange brought me back to Colgrin’s original goal of sending out scouts with the intent to be captured. Still, I am unsure as to if this is related, and perhaps this will be resolved in the next book.

If you would like more information on Francis Williams you can follow their Twitter @IamFrancisW or their Instagram @IamFrancisWilliams

If you would like to purchase a copy of “Honor” you can do so here 🙂

October 2019: “Kingdom of the Northern Sun” by Clara Martin

Summary (Warning: mild spoilers):
In a setting parallel to our own, the United States contains independent kingdoms ruled by powerful fae families interspersed with states. A disabled veteran, named Eileen, seeks to find a way to have independence, use her skills, and manage her own disability. She also finds herself fighting 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.

LGBTQA Friendly?
This book features an adorable couple as well as other examples, inclusive representation of the LGBTQA 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