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Review & Giveaway: The Nature of Small Birds by Susie Finkbeiner

THE NATURE OF SMALL BIRDS
BY SUSIE FINKBEINER

Publisher: Revell
Pub Date: July 6, 2021
Pages: 368 pages
Categories: Fiction / Christian / General

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In 1975, three thousand children were airlifted out of Saigon to be adopted into Western homes. When Mindy, one of those children, announces her plans to return to Vietnam to find her birth mother, her loving adopted family is suddenly thrown back to the events surrounding her unconventional arrival in their lives.

Though her father supports Mindy’s desire to meet her family of origin, he struggles privately with an unsettling fear that he’ll lose the daughter he’s poured his heart into. Mindy’s mother undergoes the emotional rollercoaster inherent in the adoption of a child from a war-torn country, discovering the joy hidden amid the difficulties. And Mindy’s sister helps her sort through relics that whisper of the effect the trauma of war has had on their family–but also speak of the beauty of overcoming.

Told through three strong voices in three compelling timelines, The Nature of Small Birds is a hopeful story that explores the meaning of family far beyond genetic code.

“Susie Finkbeiner has such an inviting and distinctive voice as a writer that you’ll gladly follow it–and follow her–to any setting.”–Valerie Fraser Luesse, Christy Award-winning author of Under the Bayou Moon

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Review

The Nature of Small Birds by Susie Finkbeiner is a beautifully written novel that spans nearly four decades and is told from the perspective of a father, mother, and their first born daughter. At first glance, this book is about the impact of adopting a Vietnamese orphan at a time when our nation was divided over its involvement in the Vietnam War. A timely narrative given our current state of affairs, definitely. But if the title of the book is a clue to the deeper meaning behind this story, I would say that this is more about how people in general are essentially the same; specifically, small children (the metaphorical small birds) and their inevitable departure from the nest.

The perspective and the timeline shifts every chapter. In 2013, we get Bruce’s point of view as a man providing emotional support to his family, particularly the women, as they struggle with their various stages of life. In 1975, we see things from Linda’s perspective as a woman who set aside dreams of being a musician to live a simple life – or so she thought. In 1988, we get Sonny’s delightfully angsty point of view as a teenage girl with a complicated but loving relationship with her adopted sister Mindy. 

Finkbeiner does an excellent job of differentiating between the characters and maintaining credible voices while driving the story forward. I really admire her choice to stick to one character’s viewpoint for each time period because it allows us to see how every character – not just the narrator at that particular point in time – develops as they interact with each other and face difficult times, both as individuals and together as a family.

As the story of Mindy’s adoption and integration into the family and their small community unfolds, there are so many wonderfully vivid moments that we are privy to that range from comical to frustrating, but with a constant undertone of sentimentality. My only real complaint about this story is the omission of certain details that I am sure other readers would want to know. I will not elaborate further on this because I do not want to spoil any of the plot. But I think it speaks volumes to the talent of an author when the only critique is that she should have given us more to read.

So who is this story for? I think that anyone who enjoys reading will love this book. But I think that this novel will especially speak to those who love books like Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club and Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook. I know I know, those books are completely different from each other, but I think that once you read The Nature of Small Birds, you will catch my drift.

Susie Finkbeiner is the CBA bestselling author of All Manner of Things, which was selected as a 2020 Michigan Notable Book, and Stories That Bind Us,as well as A Cup of Dust, A Trail of Crumbs, and A Song of Home. She serves on the Fiction Readers Summit planning committee, volunteers her time at Ada Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and speaks at retreats and women’s events across the country. Susie and her husband have three children and live in West Michigan.

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Review & Giveaway: Gingerbread Kisses by Minette Lauren

GINGERBREAD KISSES
Hot in Magnolia Book 4
By Minette
Lauren


Publication Date: April 30th, 2021
Pages: 275
Categories: Sexy Romance

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Hollywood actress Ginger Lynn Harding is broke, unemployed, and stuck in the glaring spotlight of a sex-tape scandal thanks to her lousy ex-boyfriend. Changing her coveted ginger-colored hair to brown, Ginger heads to small-town Magnolia, Texas, where she plans to hide out and wait tables at the Cupcake Diner and Dive.

As a Magnolia constable and possible candidate for mayor, Roland Karr prides himself on protecting the community. When he nabs a Lauren Bacall look-alike for speeding, Roland is surprised that he lets the sassy beauty off the hook, but he can’t help it. She looks like she could use a break.

As Ginger settles into life in Magnolia, she can’t stop thinking about the handsome and debonair cop, but can she risk losing her heart when she’s lost everything else?

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Gingerbread Kisses by Minette Lauren is aptly named as the book is equal parts sweet and spicy. It takes a very talented author who can write a beautiful, wholesome love story and then flip the script mid chapter to treat the reader to a tantalizing, pulse quickening love scene.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. From the moment we meet Ginger Lynn Harding, we know that she is more than a pretty face. And like the old Hollywood starlets she physically resembles, the woman has gumption. She’s not one to feel sorry for herself and wallow like some fallen stars that have graced the cover of Us Weekly. To be completely honest, I knew that there was something special about this woman by the unusual, yet surprisingly practical, pet iguana that she dotes on.

As Ginger warily creates a temporary life for herself in Magnolia, the colorful townspeople are eager to bring her into the fold. This detail shocked me since I have more often read about or have personally known proud Texans who hold generational grudges. So to find out that Ginger has relatives with questionable reputations… Let’s just say that I had trouble believing that the locals would not hold that against her.

But the wonderful cast of characters made me forget about that slight hiccup quite quickly. Grudgeless Magnolia folk aside, I found the characters to be believable, interesting, and endearing. Maybe a little too endearing? I think it bothered me that there seem to be no unattractive people in this book. Perhaps the author is too kind to point out physical flaws? At any rate, the lack of ugly or even plain people had me imagining a movie shot with a soft lens (they used those in old Hollywood, right?) or those funny photo filters that make everyone look cute.

After I read the epilogue, I only then realized that this was book four of the Hot in Magnolia series. I’m not sure who the main characters are in the first three books, but I hope that the fiery Rosie Bush is featured prominently in at least one of them. Or perhaps in a future book? (Hint, hint. Nudge, nudge.)

If my previous comments haven’t made it clear, let it be known that this book can be read as a standalone. But why would you want to read just one when you could read all four? I intend to go back and read the whole series while eagerly waiting for the next book. Five stars for a scorching hot romance.

Minette Lauren is an award-winning author who loves animals and writes humorous romance in a small Texas town.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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Review & Giveaway: A Witch’s Brew by Michael Scott Clifton

A WITCH’S BREW

Conquest of the Veil Book III

By Michael Scott Clifton

Publisher: Book Liftoff
Publication Date: April 14th, 2021

Pages: 318 Pages
Categories:

Sword & Sorcery / Magical Realism / Fantasy / Paranormal

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Intent on defeating the Dark Queen and destroying the Veil, Prince Tal and Alexandria arrive at Markingham to discover a city on the verge of collapse, its people starving, and children vanishing without a trace. Hopes of launching attacks from the city against the Dark Queen evaporate. To make matters worse, the tiny breach in the Veil allows only a trickle of soldiers and supplies to pass through.
Before the city’s defenses can be restored, the Baleful, a vast army composed of melded humans and animals led by a giant centaur, sweeps across the land like locusts, leaving nothing behind.
In the midst of turmoil and conflict, the love between Tal and Alex reaches white-hot intensity. But the leader of a ragtag militia group wants Tal for herself and will do anything to get him…even strike a bargain with a child-killing witch for a potion to make her irresistible.
But every witch’s brew comes with a price.

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A Witch’s Brew by Michael Scott Clifton is book three of the Conquest of the Veil series, which I am very pleased to find is not the last book of a trilogy. In true Clifton fashion, this book manages to surpass even the first two brilliant books of the series as we are further entangled in the battle between good and evil.

 

While books one and two paint the line between the two sides more obviously, I love how this book has you pondering the meaning behind “a means to an end.” Is breaking a promise so bad when you do it out of love? And are you willing to break someone’s heart over honor? Those are just a few existential questions that come to mind when I mull over this wonderful story. The other questions I had: where is the witch and what’s in her brew? Those answers come just past the halfway mark of the book. Normally that type of thing would bother me, but I was so wrapped up in the story that I did not mind at all! Clifton’s gift for painting a complete picture of a fantasy world is so great that you forget where you are and become fully immersed.

 

Escape from the Wheel left me hopelessly in love with Alexandria’s character. So beautiful but kind, delicate yet strong. And this latest book confirmed that she is worthy of all admiration. Of course, someone is bound to be jealous of such a shining light. As someone who identifies as more of a best friend than a leading lady, I felt compassion for the brash Maggie. Oh, Sir Clifton, why do you torture us with yet another love triangle in this series? My heart can only take so much! To be completely honest, you could get by without reading the first two books. But why would you? You would miss out on so much backstory and this exciting build of adventure and love.

 

I know that I will need to toughen up for the next book because things are only getting harrier for our heroine and her brave prince. Each hard-won victory has been exciting but you know that the worst is yet to come. And Clifton’s magical way with the written word assures you that every detail will be unveiled and you will see all – both the good and the bad – unwind in a cinematic cyclone.

 

The vibe of this book was interesting – sort of Game of Thrones meets Hocus Pocus. I really look forward to reading the next book, especially knowing that it will be even better than this one. If you are a fantasy reader, you definitely need to pick up the first three books of the Conquest of the Veil series so that you’re ready for book four.

by Michael Scott Clifton is book three of the Conquest of the Veil series, which I am very pleased to find is not the last book of a trilogy. In true Clifton fashion, this book manages to surpass even the first two brilliant books of the series as we are further entangled in the battle between good and evil.

While books one and two paint the line between the two sides more obviously, I love how this book has you pondering the meaning behind “a means to an end.” Is breaking a promise so bad when you do it out of love? And are you willing to break someone’s heart over honor? Those are just a few existential questions that come to mind when I mull over this wonderful story. The other questions I had: where is the witch and what’s in her brew? Those answers come just past the halfway mark of the book. Normally that type of thing would bother me, but I was so wrapped up in the story that I did not mind at all! Clifton’s gift for painting a complete picture of a fantasy world is so great that you forget where you are and become fully immersed.

Escape from the Wheel left me hopelessly in love with Alexandria’s character. So beautiful but kind, delicate yet strong. And this latest book confirmed that she is worthy of all admiration. Of course, someone is bound to be jealous of such a shining light. As someone who identifies as more of a best friend than a leading lady, I felt compassion for the brash Maggie. Oh, Sir Clifton, why do you torture us with yet another love triangle in this series? My heart can only take so much! To be completely honest, you could get by without reading the first two books. But why would you? You would miss out on so much backstory and this exciting build of adventure and love.

I know that I will need to toughen up for the next book because things are only getting harrier for our heroine and her brave prince. Each hard-won victory has been exciting but you know that the worst is yet to come. And Clifton’s magical way with the written word assures you that every detail will be unveiled and you will see all – both the good and the bad – unwind in a cinematic cyclone.

The vibe of this book was interesting – sort of Game of Thrones meets Hocus Pocus. I really look forward to reading the next book, especially knowing that it will be even better than this one. If you are a fantasy reader, you definitely need to pick up the first three books of the Conquest of the Veil series so that you’re ready for book four.

Multi Award-Winning Author Michael Scott Clifton, a longtime public educator, currently lives in Mount Pleasant, Texas with his wife, Melanie. An avid gardener, reader, and movie junkie, his books contain facets of all the genres he enjoys—action, adventure, magic, fantasy, and romance. His fantasy novels, The Janus Witch, The Open Portal (Book I in the Conquest of the Veil series), and Escape from Wheel (Book II), all received 5-Star reviews from the prestigious Readers Favorite Book Reviews. The Open Portal has also been honored with a Feathered Quill Book Finalist Award. In addition, Edison Jones and the Anti-Grav Elevator earned a 2021 Feathered Quill Book Award Bronze Medal in the Teen Readers category. Two of his short stories have won Gold Medals, with Edges of Gray winning the Texas Authors Contest, and The End Game, winning the Northeast Texas Writer’s Organization Contest. Professional credits include articles published in the Texas Study of Secondary Education Magazine.
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nd & 3rd Winners: eBooks of A Witch’s Brew.
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Review & Giveaway: Infinity’s Gateway by James S. Parker

INFINITY’S GATEWAY
by JAMES S. PARKER
Published by: Morgan James Publishing
Series: The Infinity’s Gateway Trilogy
Pages: 361 Pages
Pub Date: January 26th, 2021
Categories: Science Fiction / Adventure / Action
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Every year, all across the planet, people simply vanish, completely disappear and are never seen again. Some areas of the world are well known for this phenomenon. Infinity’s Gateway opens with a very famous incident that took place just after the end of World War II with the United States Navy. The story then jumps to the present day with an unexplainable event that occurs off the coast of Florida, an event that cannot be ignored by the military.
The Navy ship Eclipse and its crew are sent to investigate, but after several days come up empty. Two days before returning to port, the event reoccurs, and the Eclipse is caught up in something it cannot escape. The Eclipse and its crew suddenly find themselves completely isolated, all communication lost, surrounded by a terribly hostile environment where each day is a struggle to survive. Infinity’s Gateway is an intense, action packed story of survival, self-reliance, and discovery.

PRAISE FOR INFINITY’S GATEWAY:

Infinity’s Gateway is an engaging science fiction thriller with tones of Michael Crichton Tom Clancy. To fans of the science fiction genre it will feel like an old friend with a surprising, and exciting new makeover.” —Joseph Mauceri, Executive Editor, Fearsmag.com.

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Review

Infinity’s Gateway by James S. Parker was a timely read for me since I have a Florida trip coming up and also have a Bermuda Triangle story of my own. When I was 8, I was on the maiden voyage of Carnival Cruise’s Ecstasy that sailed out to the Bahamas. When we were in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle, something shut off (the stabilizers perhaps?) and tons of people were getting seasick. I am not a conspiracy theorist but I am terrified of the Bermuda Triangle to this day because of the experience.

Parker’s characters obviously faced greater obstacles than getting seasick. I can’t imagine the terror of flying and suddenly losing all communication and instruments. I was invested from the onset with Parker’s choice to reimagine Flight 19 and the frenzied orchestration of people that were desperate to bring everyone home safely. You know that it’s not going to end well, but that doesn’t stop you from hoping that it will all work out.

When we are brought to the present, it feels like everyone is trying their best to not utter the name “Bermuda Triangle.” On one hand, I get it. These are military people who operate off of cold hard facts and not tabloids. On the other hand, Area 51… but I digress. While I felt that the scenes leading up to the actual departure of the Eclipse were a bit long, it was interesting to hear all of the different theories of what the gateway was. I won’t go into them because that kind of spoils the point of reading the book, but I liked getting a glimpse into the military mindset of things.

What really makes or breaks a story for me are the characters. I don’t have to like them necessarily, but they have to be interesting and believable. Brett Colton is compared to James Bond and I have to agree with that assessment. Colton appears to harbor very few secrets but at the same time, holds his true self very close to his vest. It’s kind of like how everybody knows what James Bond’s real name is (isn’t that a no no if you’re a secret agent?) but they don’t know what really goes on in his heart. There are other characters that are equally interesting as well that I hope get fleshed out even more in the next book.

While slow at times, I really enjoyed the series of events that occurred and could imagine them playing out on the big screen. I envision a Predator meets The X-Files type flick with a leading man that is unquestionably strong and manly with just a hint of sarcasm. Try as I might, I had trouble picturing anyone other than Michelle Rodriguez as badass Garrett. Parker doesn’t give much of a physical description for Father Ryan, but I couldn’t help but imagine a handsome, older yet physically fit priest. Forgive me Father for I have sinned.

There were so many different directions that Parker could have taken with this book and I am excited about the choices that he made. I truly look forward to reading the next book in the series.

Every now and then author James S. Parker has a vision. And, when he does, he sees people and places off in the misty distance. Sometimes these visions are futuristic and filled with danger. Most often they are mystical, with good and evil and a cast of characters who beautifully represent both.

In his high school years James experienced a spine-tingling brush with the supernatural. That single event – complete with the sound of heavy footsteps and an invisible visitor – etched forever in his mind the idea that life is much more mysterious than we oftentimes admit — that the spiritual world is all around us, and that its impact on us cannot be denied.

Though he sees through a glass darkly, he writes as though he has been granted a glimpse into the unknown, one that has informed his novels and their powerful stories of good and evil and the struggles we all face every day to assure that good wins.

Infinity’s Gateway, the first book in a fascinating sci-fi adventure trilogy, is his latest work. James lives in San Antonio, Texas with his wife Margaret. He is available for in-person and online book club visits.

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Review & Giveaway: The Mad Ramblings of a Joker by Brandon Dillon

THE MAD RAMBLINGS OF A JOKER
By Brandon Dillon
Publisher: Paper Airplane Publishing
Pub Date: January 24, 2021
Pages: 156 pages
Categories: Poetry / Psychology / PTSD / Veteran Stories

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Poet Brandon Dillon makes his debut with The Mad Ramblings of a Joker, a brutally honest collection full of metaphor and vibrant imagery. His work covers topics such as PTSD, depression, and heartbreak, and softer moments of hope and reflective peace.
His poetry is deep and unforgettable, a beacon for a dark world that needs a friend to say, “I’ve been there. I understand.”
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Review

I had a mission when I picked up The Mad Ramblings of a Joker by Brandon Dillon. I have an online friend who is suffering from PTSD, and I wanted to get more insight on what she is experiencing. I didn’t expect to relate to anything within the slim book of poetry, but so much resonated with me. And I think that anyone, man or woman, ex-military or lifelong civilian, can relate to Dillon’s inner thoughts that he so graciously shares on the page.

You would be hard pressed to find someone who has never said one thing when they meant something completely different. A person who doesn’t deliberately hide their feelings because they know that the other person couldn’t handle them, would maybe sit through them uncomfortably, but then sneak away and never return. I think we have all, at one time or another, wondered about the point of this life and wished for something better, to be a better person.

For someone who rambles, Dillon has a delightful symmetry to his writing. Many of his poems have an opening that is echoed, either exactly or slightly altered, in the last stanza. Or a short line is repeated throughout with a different response – sort of like the congregational response part of a church service (but in reverse). Sometimes the poetry is more free form – whole paragraphs of ideas that are too large to be confined by stanzas. And although he flits between time and place, there is a flow from each poem to the next. It made me wonder if Dillon curated his collection before publishing or if this was the natural order they were written in whatever notebook he might have jotted them down in.

I like how open and honest the poems are. Not a shred of pretentiousness that I often detect in collections of poetry. Like the writer remembered all the rules of poetry from school and deliberately applied them while overusing a thesaurus at the same time. Dillon does none of those things and it is a breath of fresh air.

As someone who grew up Christian but now identifies more as a spiritual person who still has questions, I very much identified with the poem “Pointless.” This line in particular hit me hard, “What if I do not want to live forever; what if I do not want to be reborn?” The other poem that I felt a particularly strong connection with was “New Year, New Me.” The message that we shouldn’t make false promises to ourselves but “Instead, look back honestly on your year and build upon the success you have had, and learn from the mistakes you have made…”

While on the topic of mistakes, there were typos in this book that I feel like could have been avoided with some editing. I acknowledge that rambling might break the conventions of punctuation, but the typos and misspellings that are scattered throughout the pages were distracting. (The publisher has a revised version in the works now.)

I don’t keep much poetry on my bookshelf, but this book will definitely have a place in my collection. I have bookmarked several poems that I plan to share with my friend and other poems that I plan to reread and meditate on later. This is the sort of book that I know I will reference later for different seasons in my life or to share with someone else.

Brandon Dillon is an award-winning poet who writes from the soul about his life as a child born into poverty, his travels around the world as a U.S. Marine, love won and love lost, and the trauma that life brings. If you ask him his biggest accomplishments thus far, he will tell you they are the laughter and tears of the audience as he reads his words on the stage for them. He is amazed when people feel his emotion and in turn show him their emotion.
He has twice performed by invitation, reading his poetry at the FASOLT Fine Arts Expo, and has participated twice in “Color: Story,” a collaboration between poets and visual artists, winning first place in 2019. When he is not working or taking care of his two sons, Brandon frequents open mic readings for poetry and all genres of writing with the group Writespace and performs at open mic and slam poetry events with the group Write About Now, at times reading something he just wrote that day.
He is never far from his notebook, fitting his writing in between shifts at work, kids and homework, and sleeping. Brandon lives in Houston, Texas.
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Blitz & Review: Stiff Lizard by Lisa Haneberg

STIFF LIZARD
by
LISA HANEBERG

Series: A Spy Shop Mystery
Publisher: Written Pursuits Press
Pages: 364 pages
Pub Date: March 13th, 2021
Categories: Women Sleuths / Cozy Mystery / Private Investigator / Humor

Rodent Roger, a popular Galveston Island exterminator, goes missing the day after he tells private investigator and spy shop owner Xena Cali about a concerning uptick in green iguana sightings on the island. They’re crapping in people’s boats and falling from trees. Are the lizards swimming over from Florida to escape the pythons, or is it something more nefarious? Can Xena help untangle the mess before the raucous reptiles take over Galveston?

Ultima Penelope Roger is a best-selling writer of romance novels. The Lizard Liquidators have set up shop on Galveston Island. Herpetologist Quintana Flores, PhD, works on a bizarre cruise ship that sails out of the Port of Galveston. Sasha Barlow is a driven junior reporter who’ll do anything to get the story. Ned “The Pelican Man” Quinn writes a column about bird necropsies. Captain Ethan Slaughter is the head of the Major Crimes team at the Galveston Police Department. Xena and her team will have to partner with and/or battle this cast of characters and others to solve what becomes a disturbing murder investigation.

Stiff Lizard is the third full-length book in the Spy Shop Mystery series. If you like fast-paced crime novels, clever satire, and gritty beach towns, then you’ll love Lisa Haneberg’s humorous and contemporary cozy caper.

 

PRAISE FOR STIFF LIZARD

“Lisa Haneberg has a wicked sense of humor. She can also write a fast-moving, totally original mystery.” — Alan Rinzler

Lisa Haneberg’s newest entry in the Spy Shop Mystery Series lives up to its predecessors. A good number of laughs, lots of intrigue, a bit of titillation, lots of interesting information, and lots of mystery make for a good read.” – Verified
purchaser from Amazon 

Review

Stiff Lizard by Lisa Haneberg was as cool and as funny as its protagonist – the amazing Xena Cali. I have said before that I would love to meet a book character in real life, but I have never meant it more than right now. Who wouldn’t want to spend time in a spy shop solving mysteries with a woman who practices parkour and lets people taze and pepper spray her for training?

And as if Xena’s character couldn’t be improved upon even further, I love that she is listening to Dale Carnegie’s classic, How to Win Friends & Influence People, and is seriously applying it to her personal and professional lives. (Side note: My mother has a certificate for completing the leadership training course in New York and has been harassing me to read the book since college. I can now pretend that I have read it, thanks to this wonderful book!)

Haneberg’s writing style is casual and I adore that she breaks the fourth wall repeatedly. I like how she talks about the local places in a way that assumes you know exactly what and where she is describing. I have yet to Google whether each place is actually real, but what I am most interested in researching before my next trip out to Galveston was piqued by this passage: 

“There are dozens of beautiful tree sculptures on Galveston Island carved to look like mermaids, dogs, pelicans, dolphins, angels, and other things. Most were commissioned by wealthier homeowners and nonprofit organizations after Hurricane Ike flooded the island in 2008.” 

I wonder how many of these sculptures I have walked by and never noticed. I will definitely stop by the visitor’s bureau to pick up the Tree Sculpture Tour map during my next trip.

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a big fan of quirky characters – and this book has them by the bushels! Such a colorful (quite literally at times) cast from the spy shop employees and friends to the locals and, of course, the clientele and the suspects. There is also a character from Houston that I became quite fond of and sincerely hope plays a bigger role in upcoming books.

Haneberg does a great job of getting you up to speed if you haven’t read the previous books (I hadn’t) but she definitely dangles some great tidbits that make you want to go back and devour the entire series. The Spy Shop Mystery series is definitely on my TBR list and I will sign up for notifications so that I know when the next book drops!

 Purchase Links
 Amazon | Bookshop | Barnes and Noble 
 
 
 

Lisa Haneberg loves to explore Galveston Island’s gritty back streets, stellar seafood joints, magnificent natural areas, and all points in between. In addition to the Spy Shop Mysteries, she’s a blogger and has authored over a dozen nonfiction books. She earned an MFA degree from Goddard College and a BS in Behavioral Sciences from the University of Maryland.

Before writing crime fiction, she was a seasoned human resources professional with a strange attraction to gnarly internal investigations. She lives with her husband and dog in Lexington, Kentucky. Lisa once owned a home on Galveston Island and is a frequent visitor.

 

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Review & Giveaway: A Wall of Bright Dead Feathers by Babette Fraser Hale

A WALL OF BRIGHT DEAD FEATHERS
By Babette Fraser Hale
Pages: 216
Pub Date: March 1st, 2021
Categories: Short Stories / Literary Fiction

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Most are newcomers to the scenic, rolling countryside of central Texas whose charms they romanticize, even as the troubles they hoped to leave behind persist. Twelve stories highlight “the book’s recurring theme of desire—for freedom, for clarity, for autonomy, and for personal fulfillment…When women are alone, unencumbered and unbeholden to anyone, they engage in intense internal reflection and show reverence for nature—and during these scenes, Hale’s language is luminescent” (Kirkus Reviews). 
 
 
PRAISE FOR A WALL OF BRIGHT DEAD FEATHERS: 
“Hale shows a great respect for her characters and for the difficulty of their deceptively ordered existence, as well as for the problems they suffer because so much cannot be spoken.” — Francine Prose, on “Silences” 
 

“A vivid set of tales about connection to other people and to the natural world…Hale’s lovely prose shows a keen eye for detail…” 

Kirkus Reviews

Purchase Links: 

Winedale PublishingBrazos Bookstore | Amazon

Review

A Wall of Bright Dead Feathers by Babette Fraser Hale is one of those books that made me take a second look at what I thought I knew and realized that while I may have had an inkling, I am definitely not an expert. Intrigued? You should be.

I have always had mixed feelings about collections of short stories. If I am feeling like a particularly lazy type of reader, I get annoyed when all of the stories don’t converge nicely into a neat little package. Other times, I revel in the author’s ability to evoke such varied and strong emotions from bits and bobs of stories that just materialized in their wonderful mind.

Because I had no clue what I was jumping into exactly, I started reading the first half of this book waiting for the connection between the stories. And once I realized that there was no connecting plot, I was able to sit back and experience the simple, yet complex, characters and be captivated by someone else’s mundane life. That might sound a little boring, but it wasn’t at all. Especially when you take into account the different time periods that Hale sweeps you away to briefly, sometimes a little too briefly. That’s always the problem with short stories, isn’t it? They very often leave you wanting more.

And just as I was accepting the idea that there was no connection between the stories, alas, I found at least one. A woman trying to appease or figure out a man (or boy) at the detriment of her own happiness. I don’t know if that was Hale’s intention, but that was my takeaway from this book. At any rate, I felt like I was reading a cautionary tale of a woman losing herself.

I recall perking up when I got to the “wall of bright dead feathers” part of the book. My brain was jumping up and down, gesticulating wildly for me to sit up and take note. I did, kind of, but I realize that the significance was lost to me until I got to the very end. I guess that taking a mental inventory of the stories when I reached the end helped me to draw my own conclusion about the meaning behind the book’s title.

So who should read this book? Definitely women. There’s a strong vibe of casting off the patriarchy mixed in with a dash of throwing caution to the wind. But I think that the stories are so deeply Texan that this book could be part of the curriculum for a southwestern literature class as well.

Babette Fraser Hale’s fiction has won the Meyerson Award from Southwest Review, a creative artist award from the Cultural Arts Council of Houston, and been recognized among the “other distinguished stories” in Best American Short Stories, 2015. Her story “Drouth” is part of the New York Public Library’s digital collection. Her nonfiction has appeared in Texas Monthly, Houston City, and the Houston Chronicle. She writes a personal essay column for the Fayette County Record.

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Review & Giveaway: All the Cowboys Ain’t Gone by John J. Jacobson

ALL THE COWBOYS AIN’T GONE

BY JOHN J. JACOBSON
 
Pages: 352
Pub Date: February 23, 2021
Categories: Historical Fiction / Action Adventure / Western
 
 
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All the Cowboys Ain’t Goneis the rollicking adventure story of Lincoln Smith, a young Texan living at the beginning of the twentieth century, who thinks of himself as the last true cowboy. He longs for the days of the Old West, when men like his father, a famous Texas Ranger, lived by the chivalric code. Lincoln finds himself hopelessly out of time and place in the fast-changing United States of the new century. When he gets his heart broken by a sweetheart who doesn’t appreciate his anachronistic tendencies, he does what any sensible young romantic would do: he joins the French Foreign Legion. 
On his way to an ancient and exotic country at the edge of the Sahara, Lincoln encounters a number of curious characters and strange adventures, from a desert hermit who can slow up time to a battle with a crocodile cult that worships the god of death. He meets them all with his own charming brand of courage and resourcefulness.
Purchase: Bookshop.org
Review

All the Cowboys Ain’t Gone by John J. Jacobson surprised me in all the best possible ways. In my typical fashion, I didn’t read the blurb or summary before diving into this beauty, so I thought I was headed for a good ol’ Western. Y’know, cowboys on a trail ride, telling stories by a campfire, and maybe a saloon fight or two. So when we’re introduced to a young Lincoln Smith who gets busted for reading a book about the French Foreign Legion, I immediately knew that I had miscalculated and was eager to read on.

Jacobson’s knack for writing very natural dialogue allows each scene to play out cinematically in my mind. From the strict but doting former schoolteacher (Lincoln’s mother), to the devious and dishonorable Humberto Hill, Jacobson paints a clear portrait of each character and really breathes life into each of them. So much so that I was completely shocked at how much happened in the first part of the book, a scant 31 pages.

While Part One truly reads like a Western, Part Two has a more modern feel as we follow Lincoln through college and his stateside adventures. After a series of mishaps, Lincoln does what many others have done in his position. He remembers the dream of his childhood and, having nothing to hold him back, turns his dream into reality. Though the people who love him try to persuade him otherwise, our young adventurer is wise enough to know that life is too short to not pursue your dreams. With each new chapter of his life unfolding, Lincoln encounters interesting characters, both good and bad, and it’s entertaining to see how he handles himself in the various scrapes he gets into.

Part Three brings about another shift in tone as we arrive in Mur, as it is at the cusp of joining the modern world. Given that Lincoln romanticizes the place for being part of the old world, it is interesting to anticipate how he will feel once he arrives. And as the author envelopes us in this new place, it is difficult, yet exciting, to imagine how Lincoln’s story will intersect with King Suleiman’s. With each reference to legends, history, and archaeology, I have to admit that my brain immediately drew parallels to Indiana Jones. But I found Lincoln to be wiser and more grounded than Doctor Jones. Also, this book has me raring to do some of my own research on the French Foreign Legion and the history of men fighting for other countries to pay for their world travels.

This book might not be a typical Western (although to be honest, there are trail rides, campfire stories, and saloon fights) but I think that it is so much more. Much like the Alexandre Dumas books that are referenced, this book has a swashbuckling hero, true blue friendships, and romantic love that defies fate. It doesn’t read like a sequel, but I would love to hear more about what happens to Lincoln next.

Though John J. Jacobson didn’t join the French Foreign Legion after being jilted by a girlfriend, or over his displeasure of missing the last great cattle drive, he has, borrowing Churchill’s phrase, lived a rather variegated life. He was born in Nevada, grew up in the West, surfed big waves in Hawaii, circled the world thrice, survived the sixties and seventies, corporate America, and grad school. Among other degrees he has an MA in Renaissance literature from Claremont Graduate University.

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Review & Giveaway: Scorched Earth by Kathleen McFall & Clark Hays

SCORCHED EARTH
THE HALO TRILOGY, BOOK 2
by Kathleen McFall and Clark Hays
Publisher: Pumpjack Press
Pages: 318
Date of Publication: February 14th, 2021
Categories: Science Fiction / Hard Boiled Detective

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The year is 2188 and the Earth—long-ago abandoned for Mars by the plutocrats—is scorched by poverty, disease, and environmental collapse. What these wealthy elite don’t know is that on his last trip upuniverse, Detective Crucial Larsen stumbled onto a secret that could destroy them. But he doesn’t intend to use it. Fighting back against the ruling Five Families of Mars is a fool’s game destined for failure—or worse, he thinks. Plus, he never wants to set foot on that damn planet again. Then Melinda, his long-lost love and a staff scientist on Mars, begs for his help clearing her fiancée of a murder charge. Crucial jumps on the next q-rocket, hoping maybe this time he can patch things up with Mel. His investigation ultimately leads back to the radiation-blasted sunbelt, where cannibal lizard-people—a climate change mitigation genetic experiment gone terribly wrong—hold the key to a different future, if only Crucial can stay alive long enough to unlock it.

 

Praise for Scorched Earth:

“Others have attempted to blend the genres of an investigative detective piece with sci-fi, but few achieve such a seamless integration as do McFall and Hays … a compelling saga, edgy and different, thoroughly absorbing.” 

Midwest Book Review

 

Purchase: Amazon

 

 
 

Review

Scorched Earth by Kathleen McFall and Clark Hays is the fourth book I have read by this talented couple, and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with their ability to build such a bleak and interesting future. That might sound like an odd thing to say, but I feel like most authors figure out their lane and stay in it. The duo’s Bonnie and Clyde series was so well written that for a second, my brain wouldn’t accept that they co-authored this amazing science fiction novel with the totally rad cover. (Can I get the cover art on a T-shirt, please?) So what is their lane? Anything action packed with brilliant characters and punchy dialogue, apparently.

So, normally I would complain about a book that didn’t do the whole exposition thing thoroughly for the previous books in the series. But I liked how this one gives you just enough information to power through and understand what is going on. And if the intention was to make the reader want to go back and read Book One, mission accomplished. Thankfully, there were only two or three instances where I was kicking myself for not reading the previous book, but they were enough for me to add Gates of Mars to my TBR list. And best believe that it will get read before Book Three comes out.

There is a delicate balance to writing good science fiction. The future has to be different enough from the present to make a plausible and realistic story, but at the same time not be completely off-the-wall to the point that the reader scoffs at the unlikelihood of any of it coming true one day. The idea that humans have migrated to Mars is not a new one – what with all of our Mars missions and other fiction works where science has finally figured out how to sustain life on the Red Planet. What I found particularly compelling in this new world is the monopoly on leading a comfortable life on Mars and the lengths that people will go to fight against or maintain that power.

And it is these people, AI included, that really make this book a fantastic read. Not only do McFall and Hays write a seamless story, a feat that many co-authors are unable to accomplish, but they create these colorful characters with wonderful voices and quirks. Even the characters that you probably won’t care much for, you kind of do, because as annoying as they are, you are now invested in what happens to them.

This is definitely a series that I hope Netflix or some other streaming service will pick up and make into a movie or TV show. Do yourself a favor; make sure you read Gates of Mars if you haven’t already. I bet that there are some truly hilarious and exciting moments in that book, as there will be in Book Three, no doubt.

Clark and Kathleen wrote their first book together in 1999 as a test for marriage. They passed.  Scorched Earth is their ninth co-authored book.

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Review & Giveaway: Dreams Rekindled by Amanda Cabot

BNR Dreams Rekindled

DREAMS REKINDLED

Mesquite Springs, Book 2

BY AMANDA CABOT

Categories: Christian Historical Fiction/ Romance/ Stand-Alone

Publisher: Revell

Date of Publication: March 2, 2021

Pages: 352

 

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He’s bound and determined to find peace . . . but she’s about to stir things up. 
 
Dorothy Clark dreams of writing something that will challenge people as much as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin seems to have. But in 1850s Mesquite Springs, there are few opportunities for writers–until newspaperman Brandon Holloway arrives, that is. 
 
Brandon Holloway has seen firsthand the disastrous effects of challenging others. He has no intention of repeating that mistake. Instead of following his dreams, he’s committed to making a new–and completely uncontroversial–start in the Hill Country. 
 
As Dorothy’s involvement in the fledgling newspaper grows from convenient to essential, the same change seems to be happening in Brandon’s heart. But before romance can bloom, Dorothy and Brandon must work together to discover who’s determined to divide the town and destroy Brandon’s livelihood. 

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