Review: Sparks

Sparks+Front+Cover+eBook+finalSparks by Maren Anderson (July 2019 Not A Pipe Publishing)

Romance, monsters, and magic … for grownups? Yes, please!

It’s a treat to find a good fantasy novel aimed at adult readers. Sparks is just such a book. Nothing against YA, which I love, but I like the idea of someone with life experience and responsibilities encountering magic in the midst of an otherwise ordinary life. I also enjoyed the setting: contemporary West Coast farm country, not the usual venue for tales of monsters and magic.

Rosie, a widow in her late 30s, owns a ranch where she boards horses and offers riding lessons. She loves her life but she’s deep in debt. She has plans to train five mustangs, which will help pay the bills. But first she needs to build a round pen, and the only good place for it is occupied by a century-old cowshed. A cowshed that does not want to be torn down. Things are complicated further by the arrival of Patrick, a handsome stranger with a beautiful horse and a mysterious past. Skeptical, unsuperstitious Rosie has a big adjustment to make as genuine magic enters her life, and not only from the cowshed.

The book has a nice balance of humor, romance, and suspense as Rosie and Patrick team up to figure out what is in the cowshed and how to get rid of it. Things get worse before they get better—much worse for some characters—until the surprising, satisfying conclusion. Recommended for fans of fantasy romance, mythical creatures, and horses.

Now on pre-order! Releases July 30, 2019

Hardcover HERE

Trade Paperback HERE

Kindle Edition HERE

Review: No Place Like Home (Resident Witch #4)

no-place-like-home-kindleNo Place Like Home (Resident Witch #4) by Angelika Rust

In less than a year, main character Alice Adams has grown from a shallow, mindless member of the popular, mean-girl clique into a hardworking Resident Witch-in-Training who takes her responsibilities seriously. Still grieving the loss of her parents, she’s trying to move forward with the next steps toward adulthood. And also find a name for her band. Of course her relaxing spring break will be interrupted with monsters and mayhem, because for some reason, her small pleasant town is a magnet for that sort of thing.

I love the mix of comedy and heartbreak in this series. Most of the characters have suffered terrible losses and have heavy responsibilities, but they still joke around in a way that is unforced and natural. The theme of terrible band names woven through serves to lighten the mood. (My favorites are Shit Magnet Theory and Resident Nuisance.) Most of the established is cast is back, though several characters are out of town or otherwise engaged and participate mainly by text, hinting at the near future when they will graduate and go their separate ways. I was pleased to see side character Finn take a larger role this time out. He plays the part of Sassy Gay Friend to a T, but proves a loyal friend to Alice while revealing his own deep longings. The introduction of a new character, Bastian Wolfe, helps explain why this small town attracts so many baddies while also adding another tool to Alice’s magical toolbox, not to mention a fairy tale ending for a beloved character.

Another aspect I like is that our heroes, for all they mean well, make plans, and work hard, are capable of monumental, boneheaded mistakes for the same reasons any of us are: overconfidence, too little sleep, forgetting to eat. And they don’t just brush it off. They have to learn to forgive each other, and themselves. The ending promises “to be continued” but like the young characters, the series has matured. I expect it will grow and change as it proceeds. To get the full effect, I recommend that readers start with book 1 and read the whole thing to get the full flavor. The characters and their relationships are so lovable, it would be a shame to miss out.

Get the book an Amazon

The Supernormal Legacy, Book 3: Emerge

EmergeThe Supernormal Legacy, Book 3: Emerge by LeeAnn McClennan (Not A Pipe Publishing, 2019)

Emerge, the third book of this trilogy, turns up the heat on main character Olivia Woodson Brighthall. In book 1 Dormant, she belatedly manifested the supernormal abilities she had rejected as a child after the death of her mother and began training with her cousins to hunt monsters and fight bad guys. In book 2 Root she grew in skill and confidence and embarked on a road trip with her cousins (and normal friend Anna) to rescue her friend Ben from the terrorist organization Mountain of Ash that killed her mother and brainwashed her cousin Emma into joining them. Book 3 finds Olivia in the Ashers’ clutches, far from home, her powers suppressed, and only alive because the head terrorist wants her blood to make an enhancement serum.

The suspense never lets up in this volume. Olivia endures torture in the form of altered memories as the villain seeks to power up her blood. Escape attempts are foiled as Olivia and her friends gradually learn what Mountain of Ash has in mind for the inferior normals of the world, and for the supernormals who seek to protect them. It’s a nice touch that Olivia agrees with Mountain of Ash on one point: supernormals should be able to use their powers openly. She does not agree with their cruel, destructive methods and is hurt when friends seem to go over to the dark side. Although the final battle is a pulse-pounding shocker with terrible losses, the book pulls off a poignant but hopeful ending.

If you don’t find it on the shelves of your favorite independent bookstore, ask them to order it for you, or purchase online here:

Get it at Barnes & Noble HERE. They support indie authors and have hosted Not a Pipe Publishing’s signings at multiple locations.

Get it on Amazon HERE.

Get it at Powell’s HERE.

 

Review: Don’t Read This Book

Don't Read This BookDon’t Read This Book (2019 Not A Pipe Publishing) by Benjamin Gorman

At once hilarious and heartbreaking, this novel uses fantasy monsters and rollicking comedy to make sophisticated philosophical and political points about identity and meaning. A tall order that Don’t Read This Book fulfills, and then some.

The story is set in our familiar world, but with one difference: all the monsters and magical creatures of myth and legend are real, hiding among humans … and preying on them. They have long ago formed a governing body with rules that prevent the various creature factions from attacking each other. They meet annually in Las Vegas for a convention. Bel (vampire) and Nando (werewolf) are buddy cops, tasked with capturing and punishing monsters who break the rules. But now they have a new unofficial assignment: rescue a kidnapped human writer and keep her—and her manuscript—away from the necromancer who would use this book to destroy modern civilization.

It would be a spoiler to reveal why he believes a novel could do this, but it has a lot to do with what gives life meaning and how that differs depending on who you are. Lena, the writer in question, exists at an intersection of identities: Black, Latina, lesbian, Millennial…Oregonian. She begins the story full of doubt and fear but under the influence and protection of her unlikely rescuers, she rediscovers her voice and power. Her heartbreaks and triumphs felt real and I couldn’t help rooting for her.

In addition to Las Vegas, Gorman makes good use of real-life settings in Ireland, Wales, Scotland, England, and France for scenes of narrow escapes and monster battles. Also like the real world, his monster population includes literal internet trolls, flinging flaming poo and thriving on chaos. Most real of all, it takes all the good guys working together to achieve their goal. Still, my favorite character and the true hero of the piece is Josef, a faceless clay golem who punches Nazis. Go, Josef!

Until April 19, 2019, you can pre-order your copy (and consider getting one for your local library) using the Kickstarter here! Or ask for it at your favorite independent bookstore, or order from Amazon here.

Shelter

20171224_114500Many years ago (2003 or ’04) I wrote a Christmas story to share at the Seattle Writers Association holiday potluck. I didn’t think about it again until December 2018 when the organizers of an online author event put out a call for short stories to use as prizes. I remembered this story but couldn’t find it on my computer. Believe it or not, I turned up the hard copy! It was short enough to retype and update, and I enjoyed reading it again. I hope you will, too.

SHELTER

Christmas, Anna thought, was like a big cup of Diet Coke. It promised sweetness and abundance and refreshment, but when you finally took a sip, it was flat and artificial. That was the problem: all the stress and none of the sparkle. Christmas had lost its fizz.

Anna remembered Christmas magic from long ago, when she was a little girl. And as a mother, she had made the magic herself. Even after Will died and she had to go back to work at the hospital in order to support three children, all by herself with no help from anyone, thank you very much. Those children were now grown and too mature for magic. They still expected lavish gifts from their mother, though they had yet to present her with grandchildren. There was no one to make magic for.

To battle holiday blues, Dear Abby advised helping those less fortunate, and then the church bulletin had asked for shelter volunteers for Christmas Eve. Full of enthusiastic good intentions, Anna signed up. She pictured the hospitality and Christmas cheer she would offer, a hostess to the needy young guests in this, her second home. Their gratitude would warm her heart, and just like in a TV movie, she would rediscover the true meaning of Christmas.

Late on Christmas Eve, Anna sat on a metal folding chair, watching people sleep. Rather than joy at sharing, she felt battered by the invasion. They had tromped in, armored with piercings, grimy backpacks, and attitude. Anna soon gave up trying to converse. She didn’t know their families (did they have families?), disqualifying that small-talk staple. They didn’t care that this building was erected in 1927 and nearly lost in the Depression, or that the congregation had been organized over 100 years ago, or that Anna had had her wedding reception in this very room, long before anyone thought of running a thrift shop or hosting a homeless shelter in a church fellowship hall. It was like trying to communicate with members of another species.

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Review: Greener

GreenerGreener (Not A Pipe Publishing, 2018) by Heather Ransom

Calyssa Brentwood of Going Green is back in a sequel that’s even better than the first book. In that volume, she wasn’t yet fully Green—a genetic enhancement that allows humans to photosynthesize, saving resources and time so they can devote themselves to bettering their community (with a side effect of improved health and attractiveness.) She became close to the Non-Green Staytons, even falling in love with hunky Gabe, and blamed herself for a terrorist bombing at their farm.

Greener opens eights months later, with Lyssa fully Green, in college, working an internship at her father’s company Advanced Human Genetics Assessments (AHGA), and helping care for her sister Livvy as she recovers from a near-lethal viral infection that has left her yellow and unable to photosynthesize. Lyssa uses her internship for secret investigations into possible corruption among SciCity’s Security Enforcers.

Lyssa is drawn back to the Stayton farm when her friend Ana Stayton dies from a black market Green enhancement gone wrong. Meanwhile, her new friend Ayva is into Nock, an enhancement to the enhancement from a private, unregulated lab that makes Greens Greener with party-drug side effects … but it also has a dark, dangerous side. And Livvy has a few secrets of her own. Everybody seems to, including Lyssa and Livvy’s long-lost mother. Themes of secrecy, loss and regret are woven through the narrative, as well as those of peer pressure, community, and loyalty.

Lyssa thinks she knows about loss, but also recognizes her privilege. She lost her mother as a child, had to give up her first love (who now blames her for his sister’s death), and nearly lost her own sister to the virus. In this book, the losses pile up and even wealth and power can’t shield her.

I was glad to see that music still plays an important role in Lyssa’s life. Her family is after her to choose a practical career, but playing cello is where she really comes alive and feels a connection to her mother. I particularly appreciated the realistic but compassionate portrayal of a college freshman, who feels so much more mature and knowing than she was in high school but is still naive and vulnerable. Lyssa believes she is a better spy than a pro, who is secretly keeping tabs on her and Livvy. Lyssa is unusually susceptible to the attentions of handsome genius Maddax Steele and can’t quite bring herself to ask if that’s why he’s paying attention to her. She takes crazy risks, pulling back before anyone is hurt but with real consequences.

A much bigger plot takes over before Lyssa’s personal dramas can be resolved, so there is still much to come in the inevitable 3rd book. I hope she has her cello with her after the disaster; music may be the thing to save her world.

You can get your copy here:
Oregon Books and Games, Grants Pass: HERE
Barnes & Noble: hardcover HERE, trade paperback HERE
Amazon: hardcover HERE, trade paperback, HERE
Kindle: HERE

Wizards Can’t Go Home

My novel Daughter of Magic released on May 22, 2018 from Not a Pipe Publishing, which accepted Kamila Shamsie’s challenge to make 2018 The Year of Publishing Women and will publish nine books by seven women this year. They are also accepting submissions of short stories by women to be published weekly online.

“Wizards Can’t Go Home” comes from even deeper in the backstory of Daughter of Magic than “Crane’s Fire.”

fantasy-watermill“Wizards can’t go home.”

When Master Ordahn spoke those words, his apprentice thought he meant home would feel too tame, or the wizard would be too changed for home to seem like home anymore.

He didn’t know it meant home would cease to exist.

The young wizard glanced at the dripping sky, then pulled his hood forward and sank onto a fallen log with a dejected sigh. “Now what?”

He called himself The Crane, a name he’d given himself as a boy—the last of many. He didn’t remember what his mother called him. Both his parents had died when he was very small. They had died here. He wasn’t sure he could even find their graves.

(Read more here.)