Short Story Review: A Charming Christmas by Tonya Kappes @tonyakappes11

A Charming Christmas
Magical Cures Novella
Tonya Kappes
Cozy Mystery Publishing, November 2014

From the author—

Whispering Falls is having a winter storm warning. Not only from a blizzard, but a thief. . . the Whispering Falls Grinch. Sheriff Oscar Park is snowed in the nearby town of Locust Grove and unable help catch the unwanted visitor in their magical town. It is up to June Heal and her familiars, Mr. Prince Charming and Madame Torres, to put their amateur sleuthing skills to work and bring the Whispering Falls Grinch to justice.

Psychic June Heal is on her own, sort of, in finding a local thief who’s messing with Christmas in the magical town of Whispering Falls. She’s on her own because her beloved wizard sheriff is snowed in in another town but she does have her familiars, Mr. Prince Charming and Madame Torres, to give her an assist.

This town of spiritualists doesn’t really celebrate Christmas usually but the Village Council decided to have a month-long bazaar to draw in shoppers. A few citizens are disgruntled about it but most get into it with lots of decorations, caroling, festive street lights and the like. Too bad some misguided grinch is stealing the shop decorations; is this thief all that upset about celebrating the season? Then again, perhaps June will discover something else entirely and save the bazaar.

There are no murders here, just a fun little story to enjoy along with a cup of cocoa and a Christmas cookie; fans of the series as well as new readers will relish this visit to Whispering Falls  😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2019.

Book Reviews: Stolen Memories by Mary Miley and Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Stolen Memories
Mary Miley
CreateSpace, November 2015
ISBN 978-151-8883705
Trade Paperback

If you asked me for a book that you could really sink your teeth into—a murder-mystery with just a hint of romance—one that is a delight to read, but not “light reading”… know, something that keeps your eyes glued to the pages you are frantically turning and sneaks into your thoughts at random times; but doesn’t necessarily rip out your heart & run away with it–I’d happily hand you Stolen Memories.

1928 was a fabulous time to be a young woman in Europe.  It was particularly exciting and opportunistic for the intelligent, courageous woman carving a path for her own independence and paving the way for others to follow. Eva Johnson, however, is not that woman.   Rather, she is a self-serving, manipulative, nasty thief who has no problem spilling a bit of blood along her way.

When she awoke under the concerned eyes of a doctor in France, Eva had no idea what landed her in a hospital bed.  She has no memory, at all.  She surely does not remember marrying that angry giant hulking around her bedside.  More importantly, she can’t fathom being married at all.  Even in the absence of her memories, she’s sure there’s been a huge mistake.  This initial unease and uncertainty perfectly set the tone for her tale.

Eva desperately wants to regain her memory to reclaim her true self, nothing about being a part of this eccentric family feels relatable.  Those around her share her goal, but for very different reasons.  Deciding who to trust is a daily challenge.  Information is fed to her intermittently and often, inaccurately.  Her every move is watched and scrutinized.

Under such close inspection, we begin to see some interesting things.  While some may simply want to recover their stolen property, someone wants her dead.  Further muddying the waters, Eva is just not herself.  With seemingly natural inclinations towards kindness, she stuns her family.  It is particularly entertaining to watch a mystery unravel while the participants continue to be puzzled.  The many moving parts make for a quick, compelling read.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2016.


Counting by 7s
Holly Goldberg Sloan
Puffin Books, September 2014
ISBN 978-0-14-242286-1
Trade Paperback

This is one of those treasures recommended for ages 10 and up that I believe everyone can thoroughly enjoy, not just older elementary and middle-grade people.

I can’t imagine the person who would not be charmed, then completely smitten with young Willow, who at the tender age of 12 has her world shattered.  An admirable and awe-inspiring person Before, her strength, courage and resolve After show the reader what a real-life super-heroine is all about.

Even cooler, we see her spirit, determination and natural kindness pour out and touch so many.  Those touched by Willow intuitively and impulsively stand a little straighter, try a little harder and become more generous.

Few books have the ability to render sobs, then a smile, but this one does.  I would chastise myself for letting this sit on my shelf for so long instead I’m going to consider the timing serendipitous, because now I can pass this jewel on to my son’s middle-grade classroom library.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2016.

Book Review: Covenant’s End by Ari Marmell

Covenant's EndCovenant’s End: A Widdershins Adventure
Ari Marmell
Pyr, February 2015
ISBN: 978-1-61614-986-4

In this adventure, the final book of this particular series featuring the thief,Widdershins, Shins returns to the city of Davillon, killing an ogre along the way. To her surprise, the city is on lockdown. She actually finds it more difficult to enter the city than it was to escape it. Almost the first thing she does is discover the mummified body of her beloved mentor laid out in one of her hideaways. When she returns to the Flippant Witch tavern, which she owns, having left it in the hands of her friend Robin, she learns the city has been taken over by her nemesis, Lisette, of the Finders Guild. And Lisette is being used by an evil God for their own purposes, one of which is to destroy Shins.

Oh, did I mention Shins has a personal God living inside her, as well. Olgun is a major part of the reason she’s survived as long as she has, as he lends her special powers. Still, there’s nothing certain that she’ll get through this as she struggles to reclaim the city.

I wish I’d gotten in on the first of this series before reading the final episode. Certain world-making features left me a bit up in the air, but the characters were good and carried the plot through to the end. There’s a lot of humor, a great deal of angst, and a ton of action. It’s amusing to see the powers Olgun helps Widdershins develop, and finally, the story concludes on a satisfactory note.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, April 2016.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

Book Review: Lost Covenant by Ari Marmell—and a Giveaway!

Lost CovenantLost Covenant
A Widdershins Adventure
Ari Marmell
Pyr, December 2013
ISBN 978-1-61614-811-9

Widdershins has returned to Davillon, a ghost in the crowd come to visit the dead. But her journey leads her to another city. Dogged by spies and enemies she must fulfill a debt. But that debt brings with it pain and suffering and not just for her. Can she save the Delacroix family in time or will their enemies bring the old family crumbling down? Good thing the Gods are on her side…well, maybe just the one.

This is a post medieval-esque romp revolving around a likeable lead with a murky past. Widdershins, or Shins as she likes to be called is a former thief from Davillon but who spends most of her time in this title sprinting around Aubier looking out for the distant family of a man who cared for her but is now dead. She has unnatural skills with weapons, agility and speed but you find that these are being helped along by someone of a higher power. There is much to like in this title, especially since it is well written and contains interesting characters. The plot was interesting, full of action and hints of double crosses and betrayals. It has a great pace to it and it alludes to previous adventures and more yet to come.

But there are a few points in the book that I didn’t like. Firstly, Shins converses with and is aided by a God of which she is the last, sole worshipper. In turn, this god, Olgun, gives her assistance such as extra speed, more perceptive hearing etc. which they both use to her advantage. After all, if she dies, so does Olgun. But it’s the manner of their conversing that began to irritate me after a while. The conversation you see is all one-sided. Shins answers each of Olgun’s questions by repeating what the god has said with her answer tagged on the end. Now, while this God inhabits her body and communicates with her via her mind, he/she seems unable to know her thoughts unless she speaks them aloud. Maybe this has been addressed in previous books but for me, it was irritating and awkward. For instance, I’m sure the reader would have been able to keep up if Olgun’s conversation was, say, in italics while Shins stayed in normal font. Then at least, the reader could be in on the joke while other characters were left in the dark. As it is, we’re just as ignorant as they are and have to work out what’s being said by ourselves. Like I said, it’s irritating. Also, the author sometimes tries too hard to make Shins funny. I mean, I get it that she’s strong yet vulnerable with a sarcastic wit but at times, it all seems overdone and forced. And finally, one last gripe…there are too many instances of gaping, gawping and general slack-jawed expressions among the characters, giving the impression that most people run around with confused and shocked faces most of the day. While this might be true in certain towns in Ireland (more due to the Guinness if I’m honest), I don’t think it should be the case here.

I’d still recommend this book though and I think that if the author was willing to smooth out some of the more irksome points, he’d have a romping great series that would do well with any number of teenagers and adults alike.

Reviewed by Laura McLaughlin, February 2014.

Leave a comment below and you might be
the lucky winner of a print copy of Lost Covenant
by Ari Marmell
! The winning name will be
on the evening of Friday, March 14th.
Open to residents of the US and Canada.

Book Review: Growing Disenchantments by K.D. Berry

Growing DisenchantmentsGrowing Disenchantments
K.D. Berry
Bluewood Publishing Ltd, June 2012
ISBN: 978-1-927134-80-1
Also available in trade paperback

Ragonnard is an ambitious and competent sorcerer who has spent many years searching for a long lost amulet. The amulet is reputed to amplify the magic of the wearer. Trouble is, it’s still with its original owner and he’s not willing to give it up so easily. Aided by a merry band of thieves, imps, illusionists and brooms, Ragonnard aims to put right his mistakes and save the world in its past, present and future.

I have to admit that I quite liked this book. It’s a light-hearted fantasy romp complete with sorcerers, mischievous imps and silly kings a-plenty. The writing is good, not overly complex and as with some fantasy titles, it does not get bogged down in detail. This helps keep the book from becoming too serious and it’s clear that the authors have enjoyed poking fun at the characters and maybe even the genre itself. There are many humorous bits with some clever word play for those quick enough to spot them. And when the gargoyles come to life, you can revel in their funny philosophical debating.

The characters in the book are all likeable while the villain is suitably maniacal with an ego to match. My favourite character has got to be the crazy imp Velasco who seems to cause more trouble than he’s worth. Overall, character development was a bit thin but what has been detailed was enough to make you want to know more about the story and its eventual conclusion.

This is certainly a fantasy title that would be good for younger readers. Being quite different from the Harry Potter series, I feel that Growing Disenchantments is more typical of the traditional fantasy genre and therefore a good starting point for young readers new to the whole fantasy realm. I’d certainly be interested in reading more should the authors choose to continue this as a series. This is one to recommend, even for older readers looking for something light-hearted and fun to help pass an afternoon and I would regard it as a stepping stone towards something like the Discworld series.

Reviewed by Laura McLaughlin, December 2012.

Book Review: Hellbent by Cherie Priest

Cherie Priest
Spectra, September 2011
ISBN 978-345-52062-3
Trade Paperback

Cherie Priest has joined my short list of automatic buys, whether she’s writing a new zombie thriller or an urban fantasy/paranormal featuring Raylene Pendle, vampire and thief.

Raylene thinks she’s a real bad-ass, and so she is. She’s all that and more, although as her list of housemates grows to include not only the homeless orphan human kids, Pepper and her brother Domino, but the blind vampire Ian Stott, and Adrian deJesus, ex-Navy SEAL drag queen, you’ve gotta wonder if she’s got a live, beating heart.

This adventure has Raylene’s business associate, Horace, cutting her in on a deal worth millions. All she had to do is steal some outrageous magical artifacts (you’ll laugh your head off when you find out what they are) from some old guy in the suburbs. The trouble is, a powerful magician is after the same artifacts, and it looks like Raylene and she will have to duke it out to gain possessiom. Not so easy, even with Adrian’s help.

At the same time, Raylene has to intercede on Ian’s behalf in a feud between hostile vampire “houses’, then convince his family he’s…er…dead. And, oh yes, try to rescue Adrian’s deaf vampire sister, while she’s at it.

Often hilarious, full of action and great characters, Hellbent is another terrific read. I can’t wait for the next book to see who else Raylene’s gonna add to her household. I just hope they all like kittens.

Reviewed by C.K.Crigger, September 2011.