Review: Tooth & Claw

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

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 on Amazon HERE.

Available on Barnes & Noble HERE.

Available on Kindle HERE.

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: 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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Mother’s Day

050615-0658For Mother’s Day, I share another gift of short fiction.

I wrote the original version of “Mother’s Day” several years before my own mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, so she was able to read and enjoy it. It later won a large prize in a small contest and a small prize in a large contest, and still stands as the only fiction that has earned me any money; $100 total, I think.

These days, I write enough fiction in the present tense that it no longer seems weird or experimental. This was the first effort.

MOTHER’S DAY

It is the first day of third grade. I am going to skip all the way to school. My flopping braids beat my back and my new yellow dress flaps against my legs. My arms drink September sunshine as I spring first on one foot, then the other. My mother calls to me from the porch. I turn back, but my mouth does not reply with the usual, “Yes, Mama?” I can’t move my lips. The street, the houses, the sunshine, and Mama all fade into gray.

“Good morning,” says a woman’s voice. “How are you today?”

Where am I? I’m lying in bed with light shining on my closed eyelids. I must be awake, but it feels like a dream. I keep my eyes closed. I want to go home, one more time.

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