John Patrick Kennedy’s Plague of Witches is a coming of age tale about 21-year-old protagonist, Kana. Kana has been raised by her wealthy father in a life of ease. She seems to have everything, except her mother. She has no memory of her at all. Kana is bright and on the path to success when she is met with some information that rocks her. Kana finds out that she is a witch. Not only is she a witch, she’s a legacy. She will be attending her mother’s alma mater, Shipton University, to continue her mother’s research. First, she will have to jump through a myriad of hoops to deem herself worthy and learn 21 years worth of magic in a very short period of time.
I love how Kennedy takes such an obscure element and makes it relatable. I’d dare to say that the everyday reader hasn’t done much more dabbling in magic than the occasional card trick. Yet, I found myself sympathizing and relating with many things that Shipton’s students are facing. Kana is playing catch up, trying to master skills that her classmates have long been proficient in. She’s sort of the “low man on the totem pole,” and even though she is catching up quickly, she feels a bit out of place. The same can be said for Vanessa. She’s a master of magic, but due to stifling rules, her magic has been suspended. She’s older than most of the classmates, and also feels like she sticks out like a sore thumb. Even though these two have boundless power at their fingertips, they can still feel small and inept. It seems to be a common theme across not only this story, that no matter how powerful or perfect someone is, self doubt and the feeling of not belonging almost always sets in. These young adults are skilled witches, but Kennedy doesn’t lose their humanity.
Kennedy also piques interest when speaking of the “entity” who continually seeks its “promised” host. We are to assume that the entity is seeking Kana. A dark, elusive, inhuman being is always on her heels. I feel like this can be metaphoric in a way. Kana has a perfect life from the outside, but there is a big mysterious hole in the shape of her mother left in her soul. No one has a perfect life. There’s always an obstacle or hindrance or something in a dark closet in the way of complete contentment and reminds me that no one really has it all together.
Plague of Witches is written masterfully. It’s like the elusive black entity of Stranger Things meets a crazy cast of characters from Harry Potter. Being a fan of both, I can’t get enough of this book. Kennedy should have no problem gaining loyal readers in this genre. The plot is interesting with its twists and turns and easy but not boring readability. I’d love to read more by Kennedy.
Pages: 370 | ASIN: B07X51CV6N
Cloud Cover by Jeffrey Sotto starts off with a warning so intense that it grabs your attention and you just have to continue reading. Like on the news when they say “these images may be disturbing… viewer discretion is advised.” Indeed, the books’ graphic exploration of eating disorders (from an in-depth exploration of a violent binging and purging episode to hair loss and bleeding gums) is slightly terrifying for anyone who isn’t aware of the very real consequences of anorexia and bulimia. But in addition to being horrifying, it is fascinating like seeing a horrific car accident.
The thing I really loved (and I am not sure if “loved” is the right word, but I definitely couldn’t put it down) about this book was its reality and Sotto’s ability to accurately portray the struggles that people who see themselves as “different” go through hundreds of times a day. Though Tony (the main character) isn’t actually all that different from those around him, being a gay man with severe mental health issues is enough for anyone to feel like an outsider among the masses. Anyone who struggles with any mental illness will immediately empathize with Tony as he runs the exhausting race of attempting to navigate a life fraught with the invisible pain of mental illness. And really, who can’t relate to that on some level? We all fall somewhere on the spectrum of mental health issues, whether it is simply never being happy about how we look in the mirror or feeling dissatisfied with our current status in life and feeling like we are missing something.
The book delves into so much of the human experience in one fiction novel. So much so that I could not believe this was Sotto’s first book. Throughout the book we explore how those with mental health issues interact with the people around them. Tony’s blossoming romantic relationship with Antonio provides insight into how someone with the dark secrets of mental health navigates between the pain of their lives alone with the hope of happiness that new love provides. The constant juxtaposition of how Tony is living with how Tony could live is regularly portrayed through scenes like an episode of what should be a happy couple indulging in a delicious meal ruined by Tony’s ongoing inner monologue about how he plans to purge himself of the calories the very second he is able.
This book will be an excellent read for anyone, though those who can relate more closely to Tony’s issues will probably get even more from the book. In all, I would recommend this book for anyone interested in taking an unfiltered view of the things that some people hide inside them which they may otherwise go their whole lives without otherwise being introduced to. It is a book for those who long to understand humans and their experiences.
Pages: 339 | ASIN: B07ZRTJ255
Duty and Betrayal is a political thriller following the intertwining stories of international spies and war criminals. What was the inspiration for the setup to this exciting novel?
I suppose the inspiration initially came from my childhood, listening to my mother and grandma describing their experiences of living in London during WWII, and in particular, the fear engendered toward the end of the war by Hitler’s so-called VI and V2 “vengeance weapons.” They were in effect jet propelled rocket torpedoes, capable of killing thousands of people at the press of a button, and technically, way in advance of anything the Allies could counter.
Jack Stein and Spencer Hall are intriguing and well developed characters. What were some ideals you wanted to explore with their characters?
Since the war Stein and Spencer’s lives had moved on inexorably, just as their world had moved on around them. But whilst they had their own agendas, their own remits and loyalties to their respective organisations (the CIA and British Intelligence), at heart there existed between them a kind of unwavering, undying bond and trust that can only ever be truly borne out of fighting for your lift in the midst of battle side by side.
I enjoyed the history and backstory used in this book. What research did you undertake to get things right?
I spent a year, or more, researching the background, not only the technical stuff, but some of personalities involved, including former Third Reich experts like Wernher von Braun, who eventually worked on the Apollo mission. I guess it’s an often forgotten aspect of WWII, that post-war, both the US and Soviet rocket programs coveted the expertise of their respective former Third Reich scientists and engineers. Many of whom found themselves at the heart of what would ultimately become known as the “Space Race.”
Everyone has a different agenda when a former Nazi scientist and a current NASA rocket expert arrive in 1960s London for a conference. International spies and war criminals alike are still looking to settle old scores from World War II.
Monitoring the conference are Spencer Hall of MI5 and Jack Stein of the CIA, top agents who became fast friends while fighting side by side for their lives. They’ve been called to protect their nations’ vital secrets, but one of them harbors his own plans for revenge. Meanwhile, Bernard Zimmerman, the NASA scientist, wants everyone to forget his past work with the Third Reich so he can create a new life in America. Unfortunately, both the Soviets , Mossad, and the Germans remember him all too clearly While Stein will stop at nothing to protect him, his loyal friend and intelligence source, Spencer Hall is consumed with a personal vendetta.
I enjoyed the illustrations throughout the The Haunting of Smock Hill. What was the art collaboration like for this novel?
I have an ongoing creative relationship with, I believe, one of the greatest artists ever. She goes by Ergoshwampy and we have collaborated on my last six books. When I get an idea for a drawing I relay to her what I am thinking and leave the complete design up to her. She never disappoints when it comes to the artwork. She also designs the covers for the books as well and again, I let her know what I am thinking of for the cover and she wastes no time in coming up with a fantastic cover.
The plot and it’s twists were really engaging. What were some challenges you set for yourself as a writer with this story?
The challenges were trying to make sure I had the historical information as close to accurate as I could get. The coal industry in the late 19th and earyl 20th century did not have a lot of information. I managed to get a lot from the Smock Historical Society. As I started out writing about a haunting I had an idea as to what it would be like if someone was using modern technology for their own reward and how that same technology could be their downfall. The ending I left open in case I want to continue the story.
Do you plan to write more stories about the town of Smock Hill?
Yes, I do plan on writing more. This was my third storyline that takes place in Smock. My first was a four part series on an old Tai Chi instructor who mentors a young boy back to health using Tai Chi and Qigong along with other Chinese health practices.
A Dark Spirit has apparently returned to the former mining town of Smock, Pennsylvania, terrorizing the residents. Julia and her cousin Edward try to find out why it has come back and how to defeat it before the residents flee. What is this Dark Energy? What sinister reason does it have for returning?
Ariawyn the elven princess of Lathai, daughter of Queen Aramaris, and last of the line of the Demon Queen. It is said that Lathai must be ruled by someone from the Demon Queen line or else the land will be destroyed. The problem however, Ariawyn does not want to rule. She feels unprepared and unfit to rule a kingdom she has not spent any time in since she was a child. Ariawyn does the only thing she thinks she can, she runs away. Her cousin Luthitan and Rune plan to take over the Lathai throne, not believing in the curse of destruction if Ariawyn does not rule. The magic, deceit, and mystery surrounding all will lead to a bloody end. Can Ariawyn save the kingdom she was born to rule.
Camryn Daytona brings to readers a new take on the elves and dwarves races in her novel The Last King of the Mountain. This is the first book of the series and sets up an epic tale that will capture the interest of fantasy readers new and old. In the first few pages you may feel like this is a retelling of the same old stories we all know of the battle between elves, dwarves, and the mortal races. After the first chapter or two though you see Camryn Daytona’s unique perspective come forth. It is nice to see some common trends among the races that fantasy readers have grown to expect but the overall story line and plot is unique. Ariawyn’s back story is filtered through the main story line and you learn more about her past and how she ended up sheltered in Ellahil rather than Lathai where she is to rule. The novel is long, over 400 pages, but it is not filler or overdone long monologues. All the descriptions of the cities and details about Din Mehidnar are used to enhance the story line and move the character development along. Nothings feels like it is added just fill pages, Daytona is careful about adding the right amount of detail at the right time to keep readers interested and asking questions.
My favorite parts of this novel were watching Ariawyn go from the persona of a shy quite teenager that wants nothing to do with responsibility into a strong woman ready to take back her kingdom. Siveril is a close second to me in character development. He is a cranky sorcerer that is blind with a soft heart for Ariawyn but you don’t understand why untill you get through the novel. Illimon is another character that goes through huge growth through the novel, and I’m interested to see how he develops as the series continues. I didn’t find the politics of the novel overwhelming like some fantasy novels do, nor is the magic so absurd that you can’t realistically engage with the characters. This is a great beginning to a quest for returning Lathai to its proper ruling with dark moments and light moments that will leaving you smiling.
Pages: 399 | ASIN: B07YQF1Q5J
You may never really give much thought to the ground you walk on. To you, it is simply earth. You may not think about the grass covering it. However, there is a lot to that grass. That grass’ origin, history and even etymology are interesting. You might be wondering, what is there to be intrigued about. Grass plays a significant role in human life. Grass Miracle from the Earth presents a compelling bank of information about grass and everything related to it.
For a book about grass, this one is surprisingly interesting. Most people’s extent of knowledge about grass ends with the green color. Not many know that there are 10,000 grass species on earth. You will even find out that cats use grass for digestive reasons. Therefore this book, if nothing else, is incredibly informative.
After I started reading this book I found myself enjoying it more than expected and even looked forward to the next bit of information. The title evokes this sense of excitement and wonder as well as a tinge of curiosity. The information is engaging accompanied by pictures that support the content and make it wonderfully gripping. The author terms grass as ‘clothes for the earth’ right at the beginning, which is adorable, apt, and is an example of how this book is colored with quirk. Thoughtful information is conveyed in a friendly and informal tone. The language is simple with mild refrain from scientific jargon. The print is well structured with special attention to relevance thus keeping it short.
Ideally, this book is for educational purposes, and is written in a way that suggests that it is aimed at children. However, as an adult, you will find the information interesting enough to hold your interest. However, at times it breaks from the easy flow of information and reads more like a textbook. For example, page 28 discusses seed maturation and vasculature. The reader is directed to research these word, but I hoped this was presented in a simpler way. Understandably, this part is paramount to understanding the essence of grass.
Grass Miracle from the Earth is a brief but informative book that delivers a comprehensive overview of grass and inspires you to learn more about the thing many of us take for granted. This is an unassuming book that is informative and surprisingly absorbing.
Pages: 111 | ASIN: B082KYD8W9
The Cruel Romance is a historical romance novel following the lives of Serafima and Vitya during WWII. What prompted you to write this emotional novel?
There are many books written about great battles and great generals. Much less about the dreadful effects of war and occupation on the lives of civilians. The stories of European women in their fight against the German invaders have become broadly familiar. The idea that ordinary Russian women who had to endure four years of Nazi invasion deserve the same prompted me to write The Cruel Romance.
Telling stories of unsung heroines is my humble tribute to the women who worked on the home front producing armaments, like Serafima from The Cruel Romance, or who were fighters on the front or partisans, like my heroine Lyuba from How Dare the Birds Sing, another book of mine.
Serafima and Vitya are intriguing and well-developed characters. What were some driving ideals behind their character development?
It was important for me to show not only good personality traits but also evil ones in my characters. So, Serafima, despite the horrible circumstances, developed into a kind and passionate person becoming stronger with every unfortunate turn in her life. But not like Victor, who developed—or maybe the dark parts of his character were hidden only to be revealed in critical situations—into a cruel person consumed with hate, ruining the lives of the innocent people because of some deeply personal feelings and, besides, using his position in the society to get a desired post.
I felt that the history and Russian culture and backdrop were well utilized. What kind of research did you undertake for this book?
Aside the fact that I’m Russian and the setting within which my characters acted is natural to me, every new work requires extensive research. The authenticity comes from many details. In my case, it came not only from books. I am greatly indebted to my parents who as children endured the German bombing, the hunger and fear and who shared their experience with me.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
My next book, the second one in the Love and Fate series titled Too Many Wolves In The Local Woods goes live on May 5, 2020 as a part of the Road to Liberation boxset comprising ten books from USA Today, international bestselling and award-winning authors dedicated to celebrating the end of WWII.
On October 1941, in a small village outside Moscow, Serafima bids farewell to Vitya, a Soviet officer going to the front. With only moments left together, she places a cross around her beloveds neck and reluctantly releases him into a cruel world where nothing is certain, especially whether she will ever see him again.
Days later, Germans invade her village and take over her tiny house. Serafima and her mother must comply with orders, endure abuse, and stay put, or their village will be annihilated.
As World War II intertwines Serafimas and Vityas life with that of a young German violinist and a Russian intellectual, their destinies are irrevocably altered. Can they rise to the challenge of agonizing moral choices and learn to forgive and love again?
An interesting kids chapter book is what readers will find when they pick up The Visitor from 4-D by Deborah Dolan Hunt. We come across the three Keating siblings who are visited by a tiny humanoid during a lightning storm. Not only does their visitor tell them about a parallel world in the 4th dimension, he even looks like one of the Keating siblings himself! So begins an adventure to help the inter-dimensional visitor return to his home.
The book is broken down into chapters that are easily digestible for young readers. The kids portrayed in the story are fairly realistic in their reactions and temperaments. There are some parts where the kids don’t exactly talk like stereotypical kids of their ages, but the core message of the story shines through.
Learning about differences, helping others in their time of need regardless of their origins and teamwork are all important messages to be sending to kids in the targeted age-range of this book. Doing so in a story format helps kids learn lessons without realizing they are.
The Visitor from 4-D is a fun story about inter-dimensional travel and siblings working together for the greater good. The Visitor from 4-D by Deborah Dolan Hunt is an entertaining book with an amusing plot and lively characters.
Pages: 32 | ISBN: 1644677849
The Warramunga’s War is a book that follows the Australian Army’s advances in the Middle East and Egypt. The main character, Jamie, is saved by an officer Jacko, who’s half aborigine warramunga. The book leads the reader through an adventure with Jamie and Jacko in the forefront, as they conduct counterespionage and work with real historical figures. They form a close friendship and work together to solve various missions. During their stay in Cairo, Jack and Jamie manage to work against German spies and continue the war effort onto their home turf after their job is done in Egypt. Jacko’s skills come into play near the final leg of the duo’s journey, needing to track down two wartime German Agents in West Australia.
The author describes events in vivid detail throughout the book. Greg Kater ensures the reader is taken through an action filled adventure full of twists, turns, and suspense with lighthearted moments throughout to provide moments of respite. One of these moments was at the beginning, where Jamie was unconscious and had a humorous moment with Jacko and a French nurse. The author also shows ample character development with our duo, showing how they evolve both in strength of friendship and their synergy with each other. They grow as friends and evolve to become better soldiers as well, and this evolution was something that was consistently interesting to me. I felt the part where Jamie develops a romance with someone added depth and emotion to an already well developed character. They seem to gain some level of experience from who they work with as well. Speaking of those people, the author’s level of dedication to research shows as well, with many areas being accurately described. The people he represents in the book are true to their original character and accomplishments.
While I enjoyed the narrative and the characters, I felt that the pacing, was inconsistent and sometimes abrupt. There is a part in the book where we’re zoomed into the future, which threw me off. Other than that small issue, The Warramunga’s War is an amazing read which shows a lot of spirit and has a unique take on old events.
Pages: 324 | ASIN: B07NJZFVJX
Cecilia House by Simon Gandossi is a heart-wrenching retelling of a girl’s stolen adolescence. From the very first page, the author creates a gripping air of suspense and it sparks a desire to understand what happened in the past leading up to the initial scene. We are introduced to Ruth, who is going through her recently deceased mother’s belongings and comes across a revelation that has her reeling. Her mother, after suffering the loss of her entire family, ended up in an orphanage that did nothing to help her heal from her trauma but instead made it all worse. The only consolation is that from the perspective given, you know her mother survived. However, while she goes through the trauma, it is all consuming.
The best thing about the book is that the author created such a compelling main character that it was easy to be captivated by her and sympathize with her plight. I was able to go through all of her changing emotions with her and even grow with her as the years progressed.
At times, the language of the novel was somewhat simplistic but this seemed to be more of a reflection of the character at the time. The characters were well developed and as dramatic as the events were in the book, it was all very realistic. At the same time, the subject matter was presented with a certain level of detachment that kept me continuously engaged as opposed to being overwhelmed by the events. The themes of family and friendship were prominent throughout the novel. The concept of chosen families also played a significant undercurrent role.
I like that the author didn’t strive to portray any unrealistic future whether unrealistically positive or unrealistically negative. Overall, Cecilia House was an extraordinary read, with a gripping ending.
Pages: 322 | ASIN: B07YNH1VXT