Review of “Sting of the Scorpion” by Evelyn Puerto

An orphaned girl, powerless and destitute. An Endless War, that threatens to consume everyone in its path. Magic amulets, that hold the promise of victory.

After Damira witnesses the brutal slaughter of nearly her entire clan by a roving warband, she resolves never to feel helpless again. With nowhere to go, she, her brother and a friend surrender to a warlord, resigned to becoming little more than pawns in the Endless War.

But when Wei Fang, a warlord wielding magic amulets threatens to destroy anyone who stands against her, Damira must choose. Will she seek to master the power of the amulets and make a stand against the brutal Wei Fang? Or will the power behind the amulets destroy her first? 

Having read the first two books in this series, I had high hopes for this third part of the story. I was not disappointed. Each book has its own main character and unique storyline that can stand alone as a great fantasy read, but there are also elements that connect these worlds within a bigger world. This book feels even more like a stand-alone story than the first two, but there is a brief section where you’re reminded what’s going on in the rest of the…well, world, quite literally. But mostly, you’re reading about this new and before-unknown setting.

Far, far across the sand from that main world we’ve gotten to know, THIS section of the world feels very different. I LOVED how it felt like a real place with its own history and cultures and beliefs and politics, etc. etc. The author clearly had everything mapped out in her head and worked to make each clan and culture distinct. You quickly and completely understand how these peoples have been in an “Endless War,” and the tension and suspense is immediately infused in the story because of how clearly the characters are forced to struggle for survival while living in fear. From the very start of the book, you can feel the weight of this reality on the main characters’ shoulders.

Puerto’s heroines often start a bit naïve and are forced to learn quickly. I’d say that Damira is a bit ahead of the curve because she’s already quite capable as a hunter and horse rider, and she often butts heads with her leader-figure brother. But she is a girl. And in this world, that means she has to do extra to prove herself. I did very much like that, despite his traditional mindset, Syzyan does listen to her and knows she’s smart. And Shagonar is a good balance to Syzyan and also a good love interest – it’s a subtle romance and just the right amount for this story. Although at times these three disagree and take sides, it never feels like you have to side with one over the other because you can understand each of their viewpoints and you root for them all.

The plot has several twists and turns and adventures. The pacing is great. There’s quite a bit of action but also great heartfelt moments of dialogue. I was never bored. (Confession: It took me forever to read this book because of “real life” distractions, but I could pick it back up even after long periods and NEVER forgot what was going on because the writing always drew me right back in.) At one point I feared Damira might go the way of Daenerys from “Game of Thrones,” but in a lot of ways that remains to be seen. The ending allows a lot of room for future books, and WOW has this book covered a lot of ground already.

I highly recommend this book as either a stand-alone fantasy read or as a follow-up for anyone who’s read the first two books in the series. It has adventure, action, excellent world-building, creepy magic, characters worth rooting for, and truly great writing.

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Review of “Faster” by Calvin Demmer

In a word: Gripping.

Here’s yet another story from this author that made me want to read an entire novel about the main character. In just a few short pages, Demmer tells the story of a man with a far more interesting past than anyone suspects, a man both cursed and blessed by the choices he has made – and specifically, the deal he has made. I love that this story picks up without exposition but rather sucks you in with intrigue and then far later you discover the big reveal. The disturbing mystery keeps you reading and eager to learn more with every hint of Brock’s secret.

I really loved how you got the feel of what Brock’s post-deal-with-the-devil life has been like, even though he only shares a few details. Each stop, each victim, each encounter with devilish messengers keeps him moving forward, and you understand that this has been a very long, weary, tense, dark journey. For this part of his story, you see only a few brief hours (maybe less) of what that life is like, but it’s clearly a moment he has lived through again and again.

Demmer’s stories always have some twist or play on a familiar horror trope or monster, and I liked the addition of the crystal that Brock’s used to prolong his life. The devil maybe didn’t see that coming. But like Brock is told by the possessed women fated to be his next victim, everyone loses in the end. All Brock can do is move forward, move faster, and hope to last as long as he can. It sounds like a horrible life, but as Brock points out, once you know the devil is real, nothing is as bad as where you know you’re going next.

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Review of “The Alchemy Thief” by R.A. Denny

The best review I can give of this book is to tell you the progression of what I thought as I read along:

“Oh, no. Another book with a young woman sorting out her faith versus an Islamic terrorist kid. Guess I know what this is going to be like.”

“Wait, time travel? Ok, I’m back in.”

“Wow, this is really detailed. I wonder how much of this history is accurate. Are these real people?”

“Holy crap. Didn’t see that coming.”

“No! That’s the end? I want the next book now!”

So, yeah. I ended up enjoying this book. A lot. I’m a big fan of GOOD historical fiction, and this book is certainly that. At the back of the book, the author explains her personal connection to these real-life characters, the extent of her research into this complex part of history, and how she traveled to Morocco to get first-hand insight into a very different part of the world from Martha’s Vineyard. I was very impressed by the detail put into fleshing out both worlds in 1657, and I can only imagine the amount of research this took. Huge kudos to R.A. Denny for that alone.

I will say that multiple times I was very annoyed by Peri’s decisions and actions. She’s smart enough to get into Harvard but is extremely naive and sometimes does things that really only serve the plot. And she has a photographic memory for no apparent reason, which is especially weird given how badly she forgets things sometimes. BUT, nearly every other character is quite interesting, and I didn’t have any problems with how Ayoub (the terrorist kid) grows up and somewhat naturally becomes a pirate. That actually worked pretty well without being stereotypical.

The writing itself is very descriptive and gets to the point without being superfluous. The dialogue must have been tricky to write given the time period, but it was believable and helps to drop you right into a different time and culture.

Overall, I recommend this to anyone who likes historical fiction. There is definitely a romance element, but that did not distract from the mystery, suspense, and well-crafted storyline that drops you into two different – but possibly connected – histories.

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Review of “Given to Fly” by JD Estrada

I smiled the entire time I read this book. It’s sweet, fun, colorful, imaginative, and includes wonderful lessons for any child or adult. The wordplay often made me chuckle, and the writing proves Mr. Estrada is a poet even in prose. The story reminded me at times of “Alice in Wonderland ” and at times of “Charlie and The Chocolate Factory” while always being unique as well. Great characters, fantastical adventures, beautiful language – I was hooked.

This is a book I will definitely buy in paperback for my kid to treasure.

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Review of “Amongst the Killing” by Joe Compton

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This book has absolutely everything I look for in a crime thriller.  Is there a ton of action?  No.  Is the editing in this book perfect?  No.

  Did I care?  No.   I read a book hoping for great characters, and the two main men in this book are so well-portrayed that it was impossible for me not to get sucked in.

I felt on every page that the author knew exactly what he wanted to do.  This genre works perfectly for getting into the minds of your antagonist and protagonist, and I loved the back-and-forth approach.  These are very different men in terms of the morality spectrum, but there are also similarities that make things really interesting.  I wondered at first if it would be confusing to jump from one guy’s mind to the other’s, but with each break I immediately knew whose head I was in – that’s how clearly this author knows his characters. (As an avid reader, I can safely say this isn’t always the case.)

I also wondered how it was going to work that the biggest/worst murder happens right away, never really building to a climax of action, per se.  But this works because the story is about a cat-and-mouse chase, and Charles Street’s breakdown from the start makes the tension really complex.  Jack’s journey is, in a way, even more complicated as he avoids getting caught.  I can’t say I was ever really cheering for him, but you do understand him.

I did find some bits a little too convenient or simply wrapped up.  An offhand comment leads Jack to see through the cops’ plans.  The big confrontation plays a little quickly and the “trick” felt a bit forced to me.  BUT, there’s so much else going on that I got over the sticky bits, and this really was a great read.

4.5 Stars

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