Sentence of Marriage by Shayne Parkinson. Available at Smashwords.com.
Summary: “In 19th Century New Zealand, there are few choices for a farm girl like Amy. Her life seems mapped out for her by the time she is twelve. Amy dreams of an exciting life in the world beyond her narrow boundaries. But it is the two people who come to the farm from outside the valley who change her life forever, and Amy learns the high cost of making the wrong choice. Book 1 of “Promises to Keep”.”
Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, and a great historical fiction novel with an intelligent female protagonist never fails to float my boat. Sentence of Marriage is a novel about a girl who gets herself into trouble over a boy, and you’ll be shocked at the lengths she has to go to make everything right. This book is first in a series.
I’m no history buff, but everything in the novel rings true for 19th century country life. In the beginning, emphasis is placed on Amy’s everyday activities around her family’s farm. This provides a necessary backdrop for understanding the conflicts she has with her stepmother, and it’s also just plain interesting. I easily became immersed in this story and era, and I didn’t put the book down at all for the last hundred pages. It goes to show that even though social customs change over the years, human nature hasn’t; the issues Amy faces are easy for today’s readers, especially women, to relate to.
I think readers of all ages will enjoy this book. There are one or two adult situations but nothing gratuitous, and nothing that isn’t shown on Fox anyway.
The Bottom Line: As good of a window to the past as Little House on the Prarie, but a much, much jucier and more compelling story. I bought the second book in the series immediately upon finishing this one.
The Second Coming by David H. Burton. Available in lots of formats, links are at DavidHBurton.com.
Summary: “Travel to a future of blood sacrifice, demons, witchcraft, and an immoral God that has returned to reclaim his former dominion.”
It’s Earth, in the future, after the planet has shifted on its axis. All sorts of demons, horrors, and magic have been released upon the world by the shift in energy. The undercurrent everywhere is fear and persecution. It’s in this environment that a brother and sister get separated, a monk leaves home to seek the Beast, and witch hunts are a daily occurance; all these separate plotlines converge in a giant battle of good vs. evil. The heart of this book is good guys against bad guys, but the good guys get confused, the bad guys change their minds, and the whole situation degenerates into a complete shitstorm, figuratively speaking. Literally speaking, it’s great reading.
This is a dark and secretive novel, but beautifully and delicately written. The worst-case scenario is usually the one that plays out, and all the characters struggle constantly between their wants, duties, and vices. It’s mentally tiring to keep up with all the burdens the characters have to bear. It goes both ways: I think some of the ever-present despondency I sensed was just my own brain projecting my feelings onto the scenes. I like when this happens, because I feel like I’m deeply connecting with the author and the story.
The book mixes some Native American and Christian lore in with new stuff, and some of the regions and countries retain their present-day names, which make familiar anchors for the reader in this otherwise foreign new fantasy world. Each character’s story and background are revealed in media res, through flashbacks and small tidbits revealed here and there. Infuriating at times, when something is revealed at the end of the story when crises would have been averted had it been mentioned at the beginning, but basically foolproof for making the reader stay up long past her bedtime.
The Bottom Line: Read it if you want to try out some dark fantasy with familiar elements to make it easy.
“Herbert Meets God” by Justin Kemppainen. Available at Smashwords.com.
Summary: “The world has ended. But not really, everyone on it has just died. Except for Herbert, but, as he soon discovers, he’s not alone, and he was kept alive for a reason. In the ashes of civilization, Herbert comes face to face with his creator. Unfortunately for Herbert, God isn’t exactly what he expected.”
Poor Herbert! God purposely let everyone die except him. Now he’s alone on Earth with God. Could you ask for better company? Probably…
What a goofy, fanciful, and cute story. At first I felt bad for Herbert, but he turns out okay in the end, despite almost dying once and actually dying once.
This story presents another way to think about God: as an entity with a (childish) sense of humor, and a lot of bratty siblings around the universe. It’s not the most profound philosophical literature but it’s lighthearted and will provide some laughs. To me it seems oversimplified, and this makes the whole story basically a joke on itself. It’s refreshing.
The Bottom Line: It’s free and funny. There’s no reason not to read it.
Whole World Blind by Michael Mefford. Available at Smashwords.com.
Summary: “One man trudges forward, his life in ruins. A psychiatrist, he’s done his best to guide others, but some of his guidance has gone wrong. Very wrong. One man lost his mother to suicide and was left with a monstrous father. He vows revenge on the psychiatrist that turned his childhood into a nightmare.”
This is a dark, psychological thriller with a crazy serial killer who focuses his efforts on the doctor whom he blames for his mother’s death.
I started to have a problem with this book when the main character, Dr. Carson, has no problem giving the police the names of and details about his former patients. The police are able to walk into a family planning clinic and ask where the files are and if they can see them, and the manager of said clinic freely admits the files aren’t locked up, and she proceeds to let the police paw through them. The conclusion I must draw here is that this book was written before the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was passed in 1996, and indeed before any concept of doctor-patient confidentiality, which is part of the Hippocratic oath. Either that, or it is simply a grievous oversight by the author or a way to cut corners.
Any person trained to work in a hospital, doctor’s office, or pharmacy knows to never give out any patient information, unless a compelled by a court order. People make mistakes, but Satan would be ice skating to work before any police officer was just casually granted permission to look through patient records. This may not be important to you, and it only affects part of the story, but to me, this is like saying rocks roll uphill or the sun sets in the east.
Some creative thinking could have been practiced to circumvent this very real dilemma. The female cop could have seduced Dr. Carson into telling her the names. Bribery or threats could have been used. Anything except a simple asking and granting of permission. Even a single sentence: “Once the court order went through, they drove over to the clinic…” etc. As is, it takes credibility away from the whole novel.
I think the story could have been a little spicier. The police happen to guess everything right the first time. No spoilers, but one of the conclusions they came to was, I thought, pretty remote. This book could easily be a hundred pages longer if a few more people were questioned, the killer taunted Dr. Carson at the hospital a bit more, or more background about Dr. Carson’s life was given, rather than only the info pertaining to his car accident. I got a sense of the whole thing just being rushed.
As a thriller, Whole World Blind fell a little short for me. There are some suspenseful parts, but they are so brief that it’s impossible to savor them. The story idea is good, and once the author’s writing muscle is exercised a little, I think a lot of incredibly creepy and suspenseful stories will be produced. The end of this book is left open to a sequel, and if one comes I’d check it out.
If anyone’s ever wondered about what goes on inside the head of a writer Thomas Harris when he writes about Hannibal the Cannibal, you’ll feel the same way about Michael Mefford. Some people just have a talent for deliberately expressionless delivery of shocking information, and he is one of them.
The Bottom Line: I’d recommend it if you want a quick read, and you like the police procedural/serial killer genre.
The Acorn Stories by Duane Simolke. Available at Smashwords.com.
Summary: “From romantic comedy to razor-sharp satire to moments of quiet reflection, Duane Simolke’s award-winning tales transform a fictional West Texas town into a tapestry of human experiences.”
This is a book of short stories about the residents of a fictional town called Acorn, in West Texas. I probably wouldn’t have paused on this book ordinarily, but I was invited by the author to read it and I’m glad I did.
The stories here are basically normal stuff: people getting mad, falling in love, struggling financially, making babies, etc etc. It’s a nice representation of the things that go on behind the scenes in other people’s lives that are so easy to forget about. Almost every story has a different tone and point of view, yet they all come together and fit perfectly. The stories range from a blackmail letter, to a stream-of-consciousness while lap swimming, to a woman’s messages on her mom’s answering machine. Some characters make an appearance in more than one story, so the reader gets to know them and see them how other Acorn residents see them. Approximately a year goes by in Acorn over the course of the book.
I’ll say again that I liked this book, but I think I would have liked it more if there were a little more drama or scandal going on. There is some, but perhaps I’m desensitized. I read for the same reason I watch a movie or a TV show: to be entertained. Reading about normal people’s lives isn’t as entertaining as reading about murder mysteries and magic-casting elves. If it were a novel of the same length focused on only one family, it would give more time for the reader to get to know those characters closely. As-is, little snippets of time are taken out of context and strung together like scenes in a movie, never staying focused long enough to get stale.
The Bottom Line: I’m not a huge fan of the genre, but this is a nice, well-written set of stories.
In My Garage by Scott Semegran. Available at Smashwords.com.
Summary: “A couple of years ago, I made a pact with my two best friends, Nolan and Jacob. We decided that we would spend the last night before the end of the world partying in my garage. And that’s just what we did. A short story by Scott Semegran.”
This is a very fast read about three lifelong friends and the way they spend end-of-the-world eve: with each other, of course.
The narrator is of one of the three men, and his view of the world reveals a lot about him. We get a picture of the guy, at least what he wants us to see of him, and he freely admits the bad and the good. Reading this story, I got a feeling of stepping into his shoes completely. In this way I sensed that the narrator was, deep down, an angst-y, vaguely discontented person. It was a lot more effective and powerful to demonstrate these traits by showing them in a subtle way than it would be to mention them outright, and I was impressed at how the whole picture just crept up on me.
This story was okay overall, but it didn’t exactly make a lasting impression on me. I think I might have missed the point; however, I thought it was written well and I’ll check out more from this author in the future.
The Bottom Line: I’d recommend it if you’re looking for a brotherly love, “bros before hos” validation kind of story.