Blog Archives

To the Top of Greenfield Street

Ryan Standley’s To the Top of Greenfield Street follows Eric Daniels as he spends a brief yet formative summer in Freeport, a small northern Illinois town hundreds of miles away from his childhood home in Iowa. The text is written in an autobiographical fashion, with many musical and cultural references that indicate that the events take place in the 1980s or 1990s.

Standley does a superb job at recounting the nostalgia of youth. Eric’s adventures with his (mostly) newfound neighborhood friends – from their nighttime rendezvous to the drive-in theater to the Fourth of July festivities, all the way down to Eric’s surprise going-away party hosted by his mates – feel absolutely real and capture the freedom of any summer in the life of a Midwestern teenager. Nate, Matt, Billy, Melissa, Jen, Rachel, and Declan each make their own contribution with their easy-to-distinguish personalities.

To the Top of Greenfield Street is ultimately an engaging coming of age story. Eric has two major experiences that take place in a short amount of time, but leave an indelible mark. It is also through these turning points that Eric learns that resolutions aren’t always happy events – nor do they need to be. One, he comes to grips with the reality of his ties with Donna, his estranged and drug-addicted mother. Two, he experiences through Jen what it is like for a young man to share feelings of affection and chemistry, however fleeting, with another young woman.

Above all, the author showcases the finite nature of young relationships in a way that resonates with readers as young as their twenties. By the end of the text, Eric walks away cherishing the friendships and good times that he has had, but also accepts that just as summer inevitably turns to fall, he must accept what is and begin his next chapter of life alongside his dad. Endings do not need to be finite in nature – and very often in life they are anything but.

This is a solid read for readers of any age who want a well-written, teen-centered coming of age story. To the Top of Greenfield Street is a young adult novel that I heartily recommend.

Pages: 286 | ASIN: B08GFQCVH8

Buy Now From B&N.com

Foreboding: A Black Eyed Witch Novel

Foreboding: A Black Eyed Witch Novel (The Black Eyed Witch Book 2) by [Rowan Staeffler]

Foreboding: A Black Eyed Witch Novel by Rowan Staeffler, is a thrilling tale set in a fantasy world. The main characters in the book are Lithia  and Ronan. Lithia is a witch and Ronan, a human, is her boyfriend. Ronan’s job is to protect the witches from people. The people want to kill the witches because they believe the witches are responsible for the many deaths in the battles against monsters. Lithia, Rononan, and other witches are on the hunt for who is really to blame for the deaths and save the world.

Foreboding: A Black Eyed Witch Novel has a thrilling setup to an intriguing romantic fantasy that is filled with gruesome scenes. The author has a distinctive descriptive style that makes the grisly scenes lean towards the macabre a bit. For example this scene: “the bearded man continued to scream, watching his blood gushing out of the stumps.” (Chapter 1 page 3). Scenes like this showcase  the authors willingness to let the blood flow in some shocking ways that, for the right audience, can be entertaining.

The storyline on its own is interesting, it was something that kept calling me back to this book, and made it hard to put down, I wanted to see where it was all going. It made me wonder if they would actually end up capturing the Naguals and save the world. My favorite character is Ashley because she was fun, upbeat, and optimistic throughout the obstacles in the book. I also love fantasy, so I loved the scenes with the witches and their awesome powers trying to save the world. I really enjoyed this novel, and I think with a good edit it could definitely be a fantasy novel that I praise to everyone I come across. But as it is there are just a few sentences scattered throughout the story that feel oddly worded.

Foreboding: A Black Eyed Witch Novel is consistently riveting and filled with imaginative characters. Author Rowan Staeffler has created an absorbing fantasy adventure that is perfect for fans of sword & sorcery.

Pages: 303 | ASIN: B089FR4ZDS

Buy Now From B&N.com

From The Painted Tomb

FROM THE PAINTED TOMB: Something Ancient is on its Way by [Brenda Hill]

From The Painted Tomb by Brenda Hill follows newspaper reporter, Krista Hawthorne, that lives in a small town in the Appalachian Mountains. While on a date at the Lune river Krista and her date get attacked by a mythical creature. Her date gets murdered right in front of Krista’s eyes but her life is spared. Krista knows nothing of her lineage but she notices that the creature has the same ankh that Krista got from her mother. Knowing the creature is still out there Krista and the local sheriff venture out to find out why this creature let her live.

Brenda Hill entices readers with her thrilling fantasy novel from the very start of the book. Such a gripping story I wanted to continue reading through the night but couldn’t because it was too eerie. The author’s writing is so refined that I was not able to predict how the story would end. Hill’s writing flows effortlessly between Krista’s ominous adventures while seamlessly blending Egyptian history throughout the alluring narrative. But a good mythical fantasy is only as good as its cast of characters and Brenda Hill has created some compelling if not relatable characters that I didn’t even realize I was so invested in until I found myself biting my nails.

Krista’s love interest brings a welcome complexity to the story. While her relationship unfolds throughout the story, the focus of the book never moves away from the enigmatic mystery that drives this spellbinding story forward. With relatable characters, an engaging paranormal plot, and a dash of romance, From The Painted Tomb will appeal to readers across genres.

Pages: 283 | ASIN: B08GJXC7LB

Buy Now From B&N.com

Significant and Relevant

Photoshoot%2520-%2520Blue_edited_edited.jpg
Jeff Pollak Author Interview

First Second Coming has a new God replacing the old one and wants to test humanity’s ability to eliminate violence or face extinction. What was the inspiration for the setup to this thrilling story?

Although I didn’t start writing the novel until 2015, the concept that planet earth needs a planetary turnaround specialist came to me while I watched the World Trade Center’s towers collapse on 9/11.

Prior to that horrible event I’d been in the building many times, the last time being in May, a few months before the attack. I had in the WTC and my law firm did annual conferences at the Top of the Tower conference center there and knew some of the staff. As the towers fell I worried about everyone inside, whether I knew them or not.

The idea of writing a story around a planetary turnaround specialist re-emerged when I sat down to try to write my first novel. Ram and Bren’s names and histories, an outline of a basic plot and three possible endings flowed out in one sitting. It was as though I’d developed all that subconsciously in the intervening fourteen years between 9/11 and 2015.

I enjoyed Ram and Brendali’s characters. What were some driving ideas behind their character development and relationship?

My character development was an effort to have Ram and Bren share some common features but respond to them in entirely different ways. For example: Both of them shared a blue collar upbringing and had to deal with traumas. While Ram’s childhood traumas made him reject religion and become self-reliant, Bren’s traumas made her embrace Catholicism and rely on her relationship with (the now retired) god. In this way the two of them could relate to one another while coming from entirely different emotional spaces.

I also wanted Ram and Bren to be able to exemplify the book’s themes (discussed below) in their attitudes and interactions, while understanding that they are opposites in temperament and personalities. The idea was that they’d be able to complete each other, supply strength when needed or bolster weaknesses when required – an example of the opposites attract concept.

The relationship these two developed is entirely different. When I began writing I didn’t know that some authors get so close to their characters that they can actually hear them. That happened to me – I’m neither female nor Latina, so hearing Bren in my head the first time was jarring. But I got used to it and began to enjoy the experience.

Before long Bren was waking me up at around 4 a.m. to tell me what was going on in the next chapter I was writing. I let her shape the romance aspect of the story since she was hot for Ram and he was mutually attracted to her.

I hadn’t expected a romantic relationship, it simply developed. I was fine with that since it contrasted with the suspense elements and provided lighter moments that allows readers to catch their breaths every so often. The relationship also deepened both characters and gave them a personal stake in the outcome of the “Convocation” that serves as the novel’s motor. Taken all together, there was no reason not to let Bren and Ram fall in love.

What were some themes that were important for you to focus on in this book?

Because this novel was inspired by 9/11, I wanted to stay true to event thematically. I felt that the best way to honor all those who died that day was to use religious violence as the test the new God employs to determine whether or not humanity would be included in the planetary turnaround plan.

That meant the themes had to be related in some way. The obvious connection, at least to me, was to adopt the themes of tolerance, acceptance and cooperation. Bringing members of religions from all over the world to work together or face extinction struck me as the right vehicle for demonstrating the need for these attributes.

I had no idea when I chose these themes that we’d be in the world we’re in right now, when tolerance, acceptance and cooperation are in such small supply. So these themes are more significant and relevant than I expected. But that’s an added bonus.

This is Book one in The New God Series. What can readers expect in Book two?

I’m working on book two now. It has a working title of Earth’s Peril. I’m too early into the book to be able to estimate when the book will be ready for publication, but 2022, if not sooner, seems to me to be a reasonable guess.

Author Links: GoodReads | Facebook | Twitter | Website

In 2027 the deity known as NTG – short for New Testament God – retires after more than two thousand years of minding the store for his employer, Milky Way Galaxy, Inc. The new god, a planetary turnaround specialist, must decide whether Earth’s dominant species should or should not be included in his plan to bring the planet back into full compliance with Milky Way Galaxy, Inc.’s planetary operation standards.

Earth’s new God introduces himself to humanity by unexpectedly appearing on the Ram Forrester Hour talk show. Ram, an atheist, and co-host Brendali Santamaria, a devout Catholic, are stunned. God’s interview, beamed worldwide, shocks and infuriates viewers. They learn that a sixty-day conference will take place in Los Angeles to determine whether humans are capable of helping him implement his planetary turnaround plan. To earn a coveted spot in this God’s good graces all mankind must do is eliminate religious violence forever, without his heavenly help, within sixty days. Failure means extinction.

God designates Ram and Bren as the conference’s only authorized media reporters. This assignment, fraught with peril, ignites their romance. Not only must the harried couple attend the conference meetings by day and do their show at night, they must also outwit a fanatical religious group bent on killing them. When rising conflicts within the conference intensify, it’s up to Ram and Bren to do whatever it takes to protect their budding romance and mankind’s very survival.

Rise of a Warrior

Rise of a Warrior (Immortal Warriors Book 5) by [Denna Holm]

Carla Trystan has spent her life running from monsters. She never understood why she was different, or why she didn’t age. She just followed her instincts and ran whenever she encountered someone that wasn’t human. Vampires, shapeshifters, Djinn and Fae are all involved in this mystery. Azrael is tracking down rogue shifters, and in this hunt, he runs into Carla, he knows instantly she is his one true mate. Carla only knows she is surrounded by monsters and needs to get away but stays to save the young coworker of hers that the rogue has taken hostage. From this point Carla is now part of hunting party. Azrael introduces her to the many supernatural beings that become involved in this much deeper plot than he or the council of Laizahlia ever expected.

This is the second book by Denna Holm I have read, Rise of a Warrior did not disappoint me at all. The novel starts out with Carla telling readers that she has to run again. You can feel the fear she has, but at the same time, her deep desire to protect her friends in the diner. The desire to protect humans is a Laizahlia trait that she is unaware of in her genetic makeup. Over the first few chapters we learn just how strong Carla is. Her need to run isn’t just fear, it is survival. Azrael finds her and she starts handing everything he throws at her in stride. Going from knowing there are monsters out there, to learning you are one is intense, and Holm lets the reader experience all of it with her detailed and precise writing style.

You can find hundreds of books out there on shapeshifters, vampires, fae, and other creatures, but Holm’s version of these beings feels fresh and different. She isn’t taking the same old character sheets and giving them new names, she instead has taken traditional “knowns” about these beings and enhanced them. They come to life more and are relatable in their thoughts and actions. This book is hard to put down because the characters are so engaging, and you get attached and want to know how things turn out. The plot line is complex and layered. It isn’t just a simple story; it builds as it goes and you uncover more and more players all twisted together. There is the building romance of Carla and Azrael, but I wouldn’t classify this as a romance novel, the relationship is just part of the story and mystery, not the end all destination.

While Rise of a Warrior is book five in this series, it stands on it’s own but leaves you wanting more. With so many plot lines twisted you know there will be more to explore, more questions to answer, and even some more romance to build.

Pages: 398 | ASIN: B08KLB36FX

Buy Now From B&N.com

The Witching Vault

The Witching Vault (Accessory to Magic Book 1) by [Kathrin Hutson]

Jessica Northwood is an ex convict looking for a job. With a rough past and in a rough financial state at the moment, she just wants to forget her tainted past, find a legal job and get paid at the end of the day. With little known to her, she takes a job as an apprentice to Tabitha, the owner of Winthrop & Dirledge Security Banking. Although her employer seems crazy at first, Jessica remains open minded and stays focused on keeping her job and getting paid. When tragedy strikes a twist of fate leaves Jessica as the new owner of the bank. This is not your usual bank, and it doesn’t serve the usual customers. Jessica is tasked with the responsibility of protecting this magical facility which has a mind of its own. Jessica has no idea where to begin, but as an apprentice and the new owner she must step up and run this place.

The Witching Vault by Kathrin Hutson is a thrilling fantasy adventure novel set in the dark world of magic and witches. Every chapter is short engaging and deftly crafts a unique and magical world that rises above the chaos that Jessica finds herself in. Each chapter takes you deeper into a magical world that is well thought out and detailed.

Contrary to the belief that magic and witches come with dark undertones, this book has a sharp wit and comic sense to it. Kathrin Hutson colors each chapter with a bit of charm, some effortless humor, and imbues each character with a unique air of coolness. While the characters are many and varied I appreciated how the story stayed linear, never losing focus on the main story arc, making this story much more accessible and easy to consume.

The Witching Vault has created an intricate fantasy world that has set the stage for readers to uncover a much wider world throughout this series. Kathrin Hutson thrusts readers into a magical world filled with dark secrets that Jessica Northwood tackles in entertaining fashion.

Pages: 260 | ASIN: B08HVT4CNR

Buy Now From B&N.com

In the Key of Nira Ghani

In the Key of Nira Ghani by [Natasha Deen]

Nira was miserable, pretty much all the time. As an immigrant in her school (or as she called herself, “one of the only brown people”) she was automatically an outsider, and spent her days there commiserating with her one friend about it. Her life at home was equally as unfulfilling, spent under the strict watch of her parents who lived to ensure that she accomplished the dreams they had for her future. Her two biggest comforts are her grandmother and her trumpet, both equally soothing for her soul. Eventually, though, Nira begins to learn that no one’s life is quite what it seems.

In the Key of Nira Ghani, by Natasha Deen is a coming of age story that finds Nira navigating life not only as a teen, but as an immigrant in a foreign country. On the surface, the story is familiar territory- monetarily poor teen bemoans how sad and unfair her life is until she realizes that everyone else’s happiness is mostly a facade and discovers all the things in life money can’t buy. However, on a deeper note Deen has crafted a story that is in equal turns heartwarming and heartbreaking, all while being impossible to put down. She shares the intricacies of Nira’s family life in a way that highlights its cultural differences while also showing that we all face similar challenges and rivalries when it comes to those relationships. While writing about teen conflict can be challenging, Deen approaches all of Nira’s problems without making any of them seem trite or trivial. She absolutely nails the turmoil of being a teenage girl, even before the added pressure of living in a completely new place.

In the Key of Nira Ghani manages to touch on all the major themes of teenage life- the desire for more independence, rebellion against parents, the need for acceptance, the evolution of childhood friendships (whether for better or for worse), and first love. Nira begins the story in a place of utter loneliness, but as she encounters all of these things she learns to grow and eventually becomes more defined by juggling each new obstacle. By the end of the book, Nira has discovered an independence and strength that she never imagined, not to mention empathy and understanding for those around her.

While Nira’s emotional turmoil was hard to read at times, it was accurate for her age and experience, and the added layer of cultural differences made the story that much more interesting. I spent the entire book emotionally invested and was definitely happy to be along for the ride!

Pages: 300 | ASIN: B07G74YP63

Buy Now From B&N.com

Thankfully In Love

Thankfully in Love: A Thanksgiving Anthology by [Anna J. Stewart, Kayla Perrin, Melinda Curtis, Cari Lynn Webb]

Parker is running again. She thought she was done, but her past has found her once again. It only took one short note in an envelope to bring the life she had worked so hard to establish to a screeching halt. Miranda has been ghosted. She can’t imagine what she’s done to deserve it, yet here she is right before the holidays with no one to bring home. When her friends suggest someone from her past, Miranda is less than enthusiastic. Claire’s close-call wedding is a year behind her, and she is struggling to balance her four-year-old, her job, and her emotions. When she meets up with Drew, she begins to connect the dots she thought were long behind her. Kelsey, dealing with the prospect of impending blindness, is beginning to give up on happiness in all respects.

Thankfully in Love, a holiday anthology compiled and edited by Lezli Robyn, follows the plights of four young women all carrying emotional weights almost too heavy to bear. All four of these main characters offer readers relatable story lines and hope for happy endings. Robyn has managed to pull together four fantastic examples of short stories centered around family dynamics, the hectic hubbub of the holiday season, and of course, the chance to find true love.

I especially enjoyed “No Place Like Home,” by Anna J. Stewart. While somewhat more of a thriller than the other three stories, it offers readers who enjoy mysteries and an element of drama a little something to sink their teeth into from the first chapter. A close second is “Dog-Gone Holiday,” by Melinda Curtis. Curtis’s main character, Claire, is fighting to get over a marriage she never achieved. Her son is her world, and she isn’t sure what her future holds romantically. Claire is a highly relatable character with whom readers will sympathize.

“Second Chances,” by Kayla Perrin features Miranda, a young woman who rediscovers a love she never knew she felt after being ghosted by her current love interest. Miranda’s story is intriguing in that she is quite reluctant to rekindle a friendship she thought she lost after high school. Her story will make readers feel nostalgic for their own former friendships and almost-relationships. “Love Guides the Way,” by Cari Lynn Webb, is perhaps the most specific of the four stories. Kelsey, facing blindness, is dealing with finding love and the prospect of how her future partner may feel about her disability.

The four very different short stories within Thankfully in Love give readers quick but substantial stories, relatable main characters, and a sense of satisfaction. A great read for the holidays. I highly recommend Robyn’s anthology to anyone looking for a sampling of fantastic love stories.

Pages: 300 | ASIN: B08D3TBSTJ

Buy Now From B&N.com

%d bloggers like this: