Review: Tooth and Claw

Tooth and Claw by Michaela Thorn (Not A Pipe Publishing 2020)

Releases September 29, 2020. Now on pre-order!

Vampires.

The Man in the Moon’s bloodthirsty children forged from his scorn.

Shifters.

Mother Nature’s fearless, noble servants, who risk death by bite in their constant struggle to keep the vampires at bay.

Macy’s entire life has been devoted to Mother Nature and upholding her glory, despite Macy’s incompetence as a shifter. When she’s bitten by a vampire but doesn’t die from the venom, everything changes. Overnight, she becomes one of the monsters she reviled. Severed from her girlfriend, her people, her home, and her faith, everything is called into question.

And then the Man in the Moon whispers about something even more terrible lurking on the horizon.

My review: Just when I thought there couldn’t possibly be a new take on the YA vampire novel, along comes Tooth and Claw to flip the script. For one thing, it’s not a romance, though there is love. This is a thriller driven by every human emotion, though humans barely appear in the story. This is a tale of justice deferred, with potentially world-ending consequences: timeless, yet perfectly of our times.

Macy is a young wolf shifter about to take the examination that will determine her place in the pack. Her prior attempts went poorly. If she fails a third time, she will be stuck as a lowly omega, separated from her beta girlfriend and an embarrassment to her parents. She’s feeling anxious and useless, and then she’s bitten by a vampire. Everyone knows shifters can’t be turned, so she resigns herself to death. When she regains consciousness as a vampire in a walled vampire coven far from home, she’s not thrilled to be alive. Vampires are the hated enemy that shifters were created to control. How can she be one? Gradually, she makes friends with other young vampires who have their own harrowing stories. Macy begins to question everything she was taught about evil vampires and virtuous shifters as she learns about centuries of cruel domination … and experiences it herself. Then she discovers she is the second of two Prophets. Her annoying new friend Nico is the other, and they are both having dire visions. They will have to work together (with each other, and with other vampires and shifters) to defeat a radicalized rogue vampire and his Wormwood League before he can complete the ritual to bring about the end of the world.

Throughout the page-turner of a story, Thorn paints her scenes with beautiful descriptive language—unusual in a thriller, but understandable when you know she’s also an artist. She also did a lovely job developing the mythologies of the shifter and vampire cultures, the former revolving around Mother Nature and the latter around the Man in the Moon. Shifters can not only transform to wolves, but are born with a Marrow Mark that is more than decorative—it becomes a magical weapon when the shifter makes contact with their Grounding, an ancient shifter spirit residing within but only reachable with effort. Magic is hard won in this world. Macy’s frustration with it is relatable, as is the tale of domination leading to uprising. May we humans learn something from the monsters.

I received an advance review copy of this book from the publisher.

Pre-order your copy today from your local independent bookstore. Find it using IndieBound.org.

Available for pre-order on Amazon HERE.

Available for pre-order on Barnes & Noble HERE.

Available for pre-order on Kindle HERE.

Review: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Don't Ask Don't TellDon’t Ask, Don’t Tell by Claudine Griggs (Not A Pipe Publishing 2020)

This astounding LGBTQ crime thriller is available now.

Josie Waller, a San Francisco cop, and Emmanuel Cerrillo, a Pomona, California, detective suspect two bizarre suicides are actually murders, and the victims—a teetotaling Baptist preacher who died of a heroin overdose and a school board member who injected herself with cobra venom—are connected by their vitriolic homophobia. The officers launch an unofficial investigation and find more than expected.

Robert Davenport, an overly intellectual gay English professor at an Ivy League university with subliminal dreams of being an action hero, responds to a personal ad that delivers him to a recruiter for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” In theory, the group wants Davenport to write a literary manifesto, but just how far is he willing to go, and will the officers find him before it’s too late?

My review: What if victims of prejudice and discrimination—sometimes violent, sometimes insidious, always maddening—took up arms and fought back? What if they were backed by a well-funded organization? That’s what happens in this all too believable thriller. Set in the near past, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell covers about 18 months in the lives of a wide variety of characters (cops, academics, scientists, activists) as a secret organization recruits LGBT activists who want to fight for justice … including murder of homophobes with platforms and ambition for power.

Robert Davenport, a closeted Ivy League English professor, has been waiting too long for tenure when he spies an ad for an LGBT organization interested in justice activists. Vetted and recruited by Tanish Padgett, who is settling scores for childhood trauma, he finds himself in deep with Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, an organization ready to go public with violence on homophobes. Meanwhile, on the other coast, Detective Manny Cerrillo and Officer Josie Waller are putting the pieces together on a couple of suspicious suicides that are linked to DADT. As they race to identify the mysterious Gulf Stream who seems to be pulling the strings, DADT is preparing for a big “Pearl Harbor” event. Even with the feds involved, will they be able to prevent catastrophe?

This book is tense and exciting, as a thriller must be, but what makes it is the characters. They are all complex, interesting, and exasperatingly human. Friendship is as big a theme as murder. Partnership is the saving graces for so many of these people. Even the bad guys are at least understandable, even sympathetic. Though he’s all in with the terrorists, Davenport seems like he should be the hero, especially in a late twist. Cerrillo and Waller make a great team, though they are thrown together almost by chance. The ending presents a societal mess not unlike our present day, with things left open for at least a sequel, if not a series. The cops and Padgett all have unfinished business.

I received an advance review copy of this book from the publisher.

Order your copy from your local independent bookstore. Use IndieBound.org to find it.

Also available on Barnes & Noble HERE.

Also available on Amazon HERE.

Available on Kindle HERE.

 

 

Review: Shadow Queene

Shadow QueeneShadow Queene by Kate Ristau (Not A Pipe Publishing 2020)

While Áine returns to the light, Hennessey falls into shadow. Just when her dreams are about to come true, Hennessey’s world is torn apart. She is dragged into the Shadowlands, while Áine is forced into the light. But in a world of magic and darkness, where the fae wither and monsters reign, Hennessey finds a power all her own. She embraces the shadows and enters the endless night.

I have been eagerly awaiting this sequel since I read Shadow Girl in 2018, and it does not disappoint. Picking up where Shadow Girl left off with Aine, her old friend Ciaran, her sister Keva, and her new human friend/love interest Hennessy trying to cross from the dangers of the human world to relative safety in the Aetherlands. But it can’t be that easy. Shadows drag Hennessy to the Hetherlands (fairy hell) while the Eta (magical light particles) shove Aine through to the Aetherlands and destroy the crossing. Both girls spend the book surviving, learning, fighting, all with the goal of finding each other again.

I loved Hennessy in Shadow Girl, so I was excited to see her get her own story arc. This spitfire of an Irish teenager had been raised on fairy stories and wanted them to be real, but not like this: bones and monsters and darkness. But those stories and other memories of her Nana help her pay attention and make choices that increase her chances of survival. Those, plus a mysterious spear and an ugly dragon puppy named Rego. Meanwhile, Aine returns to a home that is out of balance and she may be contributing to the problem. She makes a drastic choice that sets her on an unknown path to restore balance and find Hennessy again.

Like Shadow Girl, this book ended before I was ready. The way things were left, this must be the middle act with a rousing conclusion still to come. Looking forward to it!

Review: Someone to Watch Over

Someone to Watch Over by William Schreiber (Not A Pipe Publishing 2020)

Someone to Watch Over

Winner of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association Rising Star Award!

When Lennie returns home to the Great Smoky Mountains, she’s devastated to learn from her brother, John, that their father has died. For her, it’s too late for love to conquer all—her estranged dad was the key to discovering the fate of a child she gave up when she was a teen.

Desperate, she sets out with skeptical John to find a rumored guardakin angel in the Appalachian Mountains who can connect deceased parents with their children.

Love builds and sustains families across generations. But can it conquer the divide between life and death? Lennie’s answer hinges on a daring leap of faith for a second chance with the child she never knew.

My review:

Siblings, parents, and children all have a shot at a second chance in this story of a dysfunctional family road-trip to connection. This book began life as a screenplay and would be gorgeous on the big screen. The characters and Southern settings are grounded and real—even the ghosts. Someone to Watch Over flirts with the supernatural, but in a grace-filled rather than spooky way.

Bohemian free spirit Eleanor (Lennie) Riley has hit the skids. Her past is filled with trauma and heartbreak, which she has dealt with by running away and reinventing herself. Now she has returned to her hometown, hoping to work up the nerve to reconcile with her father. Dad’s death spoils that plan but puts Lennie back in the orbit of her tightly wound big brother John, a successful engineer with a beautiful family and all the comforts … and his own unanswered questions about their blue-collar father. Just as Lennie is setting out to find a “guardikin angel” to reconnect her with her late father, John decides to recreate a long-ago family vacation to Cape Canaveral and demands that Lennie lend him her old Pontiac Bonneville, the car Dad bought for that trip. She says no but agrees to merge her trip with his. He refuses to consider her supernatural explanations of the dreams or visions she’s been having, even when he starts having them himself. Are they hallucinations brought on by stress and grief? Will the trip go according to John’s plan or will he accept a little of Lennie’s spontaneity? And who is watching over them?

I’m a sucker for a good sibling story, and this one does not disappoint. It’s no surprise that both thought Dad favored the other and that neither really knew Dad at all. Lennie and John seem like opposites—the only thing they had in common was basketball—but they manage to complement each other when they give it a chance. Nothing runs smoothly for them even when apparent miracles occur. The ending is satisfying and not cheaply won.

Order your copy from your local independent bookstore. Use IndieBound.org to find it.

Also available on Barnes & Noble HERE.

Also available on Amazon HERE.

Available on Kindle HERE.

Review: Back to Green

Back to GreenBack to Green: Part 3 of the Going Green Trilogy by Heather S. Ransom (Not A Pipe Publishing, 2020)

Available now!

Order your copy from your local independent bookstore. Use IndieBound.org to find it HERE.

Order online from Oregon Books and Games HERE.

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Order from Amazon HERE.

Back to Green wraps up Ransom’s Going Green trilogy with an exciting and satisfying story that keeps a few surprises until the end. (If you haven’t read Going Green and Greener yet, what are you waiting for? This one could be read on its own but will make much more sense with that background.)

Calyssa Brentwood used to be a spoiled rich girl. At 18, she underwent the Green enhancement procedure that would allow her to photosynthesize and be part of high-class Green society. As the process was taking effect, she fell hard for non-Green Gabe Stayton and learned about the anti-Green, anti-GMO rebellion taking place just outside SciCity. Then she and Gabe both suffered terrible losses for which they blamed each other, ending their romance. But when their home was destroyed in a flood, Calyssa and her father sought refuge with the Staytons on their farm. Back to Green opens in that awkward position, with Calyssa and Gabe on speaking terms but not much else.

Calyssa’s father has contracted the deadly PKPH virus and is returning to AGHA (his research institute) to begin an experimental treatment. He wants Lyssa with him. In packing to leave, Lyssa and Gabe discover a journal from over a century before, when plants were dying from the PK virus and the Green enhancement was being developed as a way to save lives and resources. The friendship warms over this shared interest. But her return to AGHA puts her back in the orbit of charismatic Maddax Steele … and Eve Huxley, the mother who doesn’t remember her but is obsessed with her DNA for a project to create superior humans.

Calyssa is often scared to the point of hysteria, but who wouldn’t be, living in the same building as a driven psychopath who has lost all empathy? She doesn’t know who she can trust and almost drives friends and family away. But she finds her courage when she needs it, risking everything for a friend.

I appreciated how Calyssa and Gabe didn’t just get back together, forgive and forget, no hard feelings. The relationship they rebuild is earned. The book ends on an upbeat note, full of surprises, including one that leaves the door open for more stories.

After losing her sister and almost losing her father, Calyssa Brentwood is finally returning to a somewhat “normal” life … until the PKPH virus mutates and attacks, and she once again finds herself scrambling. When her maniacal mother who had been presumed dead resurfaces for a second time, there’s far more danger than Lyssa has ever known. But now, when it matters most, she must decide who she should trust and what is truly worth fighting for.

“Riveting, intense, and thought-provoking. Back to Green masterfully weaves the action and tragedy of unregulated science and politics with hope for a better future.”

Mikko Azul, author of The Staff of Fire and Bone

“This series grows with every installment, and Back to Green is a perfect conclusion. Nothing short of a triumph!”

Benjamin Gorman, author of Corporate High School

 

Review: Shout: An Anthology of Resistance Poetry and Short Fiction

Shout+eBook+Cover+12_15_19.jpg?format=750wShout: An Anthology of Resistance Poetry and Short Fiction (Not A Pipe Publishing, 2020)

Full disclosure: I was excited enough about this project to submit a story. It’s an honor to be included in a collection of such excellent and bracing work.

Each of the 25 works has its own take on the theme of resistance to fascism/authoritarianism/tyranny. Some are cautionary tales of the oppression future Americans may have to live under, some portray active resistance to injustice, and others provide the satisfaction of oppressors brought low by their own hubris.

It’s hard to pick favorites, but I will name a few. I couldn’t stop thinking about “Growth” by Janet Burroway, a grim and heartbreaking look at public utilities we take for granted. How self-sufficient would the average American be with all the comforts of modern life … except sewers and waste disposal? “Shout” by Benjamin Gorman is modeled on the Biblical account of Joshua and the battle of Jericho, but with a different wall and an unexpected Promised Land. “Last of Our Kind” by Heather S. Ransom is a harrowing thriller of smart, capable women on the run from active, deadly misogyny. “The Creamy Ichor Sauce over Lake Michigan” by TJ Berg is a darkly hilarious Lovecraft pastiche with a satisfying end to the corrupt powerful. “No Collision” by Jennifer Lee Rossman also provides comic relief, in the form of a deep space mission and some information the President doesn’t want found.  “Dandelion” by K. A. Miltimore speaks of the value of books and kindness. The final piece, the poem “Anthem” by Bethany Lee, reminds us of what really matters and rhymes love with love.

Whether scary, dark, funny, or hopeful, each piece is encouragement to stand up for what’s right before it’s too late.

Release date: February 2, 2020. On pre-order now:

  • You can pre-order the paperback edition from Powell’s HERE.

  • You can pre-order the paperback edition from Barnes & Noble HERE.

  • You can pre-order the paperback edition from Amazon HERE.

  • You can pre-order the Kindle edition now, HERE.

Review: SuperGuy 2: Electric Boogaloo

SuperGuy2 Electric BoogalooSuperGuy 2: Electric Boogaloo (Not A Pipe Publishing, 2019) by Kurt Clopton

I have been looking forward to this sequel from the moment I finished book 1, my anticipation heightened when I learned the title, borrowed from a beloved ‘80s save-the-rec-center dance movie. Like SuperGuy before it, SuperGuy 2: Electric Boogaloo is a superpowered workplace comedy, complete with annoying coworkers, petty rivalries, and impenetrable bureaucracy. (Q: How hard could it be to add a cape to a uniform? A: Very.) Everything that was goofy in book 1 – SuperGuy’s immodest uniform, his nemesis Gray Matter’s overly complicated plots (and his crush on a diner waitress named Alice), the police chief’s maybe-real-maybe-not animosity – are all cranked up a few hilarious notches. Meanwhile, a former minion of Gray Matter is accidentally transformed into an energy monster and takes his villain name from an old VHS tape. He hates SuperGuy and Gray Matter in equal measure, allowing for spectacular battles and destruction. And there’s a well-dressed new villain in town whose identity is a mystery only to our heroes.

Recommended for fans of Ant Man and Guardians of the Galaxy, and any readers who like their action and comedy in equal measure.

Oliver Olson, generically-themed official city superhero of Milwaukee, has finally become more comfortable with his job, if not so much with his suit. After defeating the supervillain, Gray Matter, and thwarting his plan of world domination in his first few weeks on the job, Oliver is settling into the routine of protecting his city by catching small time crooks, protecting a larger part of the country by joining a regional supergroup, and protecting his job by keeping his trainee sidekick from destroying anything. But now there’s a giant blue monster who wants a word. All Oliver wants is a cape.

“A dash of superhero action, a pinch of lovelorn supervillain angst, and a splash of cape envy. Shake it all up and you get SuperGuy 2: Electric Boogaloo. Oliver and company are back in this irreverent sequel that wonders, Is the enemy of my enemy really my friend?”

LeeAnn McLennan, author of The Supernormal Legacy trilogy

“This high-energy, laugh-out-loud action comedy will brighten the dark days ahead.”

Karen Eisenbrey, author of Daughter of Magic, The Gospel According to St. Rage, Wizard Girl, and Barbara and the Rage Brigade

Review: Itty Bitty Writing Space

Itty Bitty cover image

Itty Bitty Writing Space

Edited by Jason Brick & Dani J. Caile

Cover by Arthur Wright

Full disclosure: I am one of 104 authors in this wide-ranging flash fiction collection. It’s good company to be in.

This collection is like an assortment of quality chocolates: everyone will have different favorites but no one who likes stories will go away disappointed. With minimal commitment, readers can sample outside their preferred genres and might even discover a new favorite author.  I at first thought the book would be handy to fill brief wait times; at no more than three pages each, each story can be read in a few minutes. But it’s hard to stop at just one!

I also love the cover, which manages to be completely adorable yet not at all childish: an itty bitty writer, hard at work on a tiny masterpiece.

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.

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