RCR Says: “The detail in which this fictional case is written provides excitement for the reader in its twists and turns.”
★★★★ Diary of a Witch’s Son by Oksana Leslie follows an immigrant family’s harrowing experiences with their unfriendly and oftentimes dangerous neighbors. Told through the perspective of the author’s young son, this is a work of thrilling, narrative nonfiction that details the trauma and heartache the family faces at the hands of Mrs. Burton, their jealous neighbor who is bent on destroying the family and having their matriarch arrested. Max Bush, the young son, writes in diary form of how Mrs. Burton makes untrue claims about his family to the police, though they have a difficult time proving the claims to be false. Finally, after a sequence of dramatic turns, the Bush family is able to prove their innocence and continue on with their lives and livelihood. Overall, this is an inspiring story about a hard-working immigrant family finding personal success and financial security through honesty, long hours, strong family bonds, and pure determination.
Read the full review by clicking on the book’s cover or title!
★★★★★ Kindness in a Scary World, written by Rebecca J. Hubbard and illustrated by Becca Johnson, is a children’s book that serves as a conversation starter with kids about tragic events like terrorist attacks and mass shootings. The story follows a child who observes his parents’ reaction to live news footage of a shooting, and witnesses some of that footage himself. This draws parents and child into a discussion about the causes and effects of tragedies such as the one they watched play out on the television that very evening, and whether there is anything the family can do to help make the situation better. Ultimately, the child’s parents tell him, many of us are only able to contribute in small ways, like sending money or thoughtful letters. But even these small instances of kindness can add up to make large differences in the lives of people affected by tragedy.
Read the full review by clicking on the book’s cover or title!
RCR Says: “Full of action and suspense, Winds of Hope and Change is an exhilarating novel that will inspire readers to stay cool in the face of danger and to stand up for the causes they believe in.”
It’s that time of year—again! Even the most hardhearted can agree that there is something timeless and instantly relatable about a good romance novel. Everyone wants to feel loved, and many of us also enjoy reading about it. Whether you’re a hardcore romance aficionado, or just a sucker for the occasional love story, the five books below are sure to get your heart racing. There’s something for everyone in this list, so read through to learn more. You can also click on the book’s cover to read our full review!
For the foodie:
★★★★ Olivia Dumont, a young and beautiful pastry chef, moves from New Orleans to Galveston, Texas, where she quickly lands a job at Vita e Spezie (Life and Spice), a popular family-run Italian restaurant nestled in a charming historical building. Salvatore (Sal) Angeloni, Olivia’s new boss, is grateful for the extra help in the kitchen, which he sorely needs in light of his siblings’ declining physical and mental health. Upon starting work, a string of sudden, dire events causes Olivia to grow close to the Angeloni family. She becomes especially tight with Luca, Sal’s only son, who shows up unannounced to reunite with his father after many years of separation. The connection between Olivia and Luca is undeniable, and their feelings for each other develop amidst immense family drama, as well as Olivia’s own personal hardship, which she tries very hard to conceal.
For the short-story lover:
★★★★★ In this engrossing collection of eleven short stories, author and journalist Peter Sichrovsky gives readers a handful of love stories to ponder over. His newest work, Verklempt, explores the identity of many Jewish characters, most of who are caught up in the throes of passion, attraction, disappointment, uncertainty, danger, or bewilderment. The stories are connected in a way that the same kind of overwhelming emotion is ever present throughout the stories’ pages. While the narratives all offer something different, the author’s background and heritage is a noticeable influence on his character’s identities. Issues like The Holocaust and anti-Semitism are tackled, as are current and recent political issues. In the story “Prague” a young Jewish boy’s new romance is threatened by chaos in the city, while in “The Sirens” a family is faced with the terror of staying together during an attack on their homeland. A husband tries to figure out what to do with his failing marriage in “The Love Schnorrer,” while in “The Holiday” three different families try to have an enjoyable time together on a vacation to Greece.
For the non-traditionalist:
★★★★ Stalker, My Love by Zack Scott follows the untraditional love story of Rosalyn Ray and Rhett Calloway. In their early twenties and still living in their hometown, the motley gang—self-named REM, for Rosalyn, Elliot, and Mimi—attempt to navigate life in a stiflingly small town: Pine Bridge. Unlike most traditional love stories, this one begins with the would-be knight-in-shining-armor perched in a tree with a pair of binoculars, creepily observing his maiden fair. Clumsily, fumbling, and bumbling, Rhett is caught red-handed by Rosalyn, who promptly threatens to call the authorities on him. Meanwhile, her best friend, Elliot Venice, a newly minted deputy, and the supposed love of her life, Earl Wick, a washed up ex-high-school-baseball player, slept together, completely confounding everything the moment Rosalyn winds up a missing person. Of course, the minute she learns of her best friend’s disappearance, Elliot jumps right into action, despite the fact that her superiors caution her to wait the full 24 hours before launching an official investigation. Spurred by equal measures of love and guilt, she enlists the help of an unlikely gang of fellow officers. Through twists and turns and topsy-turvy unrealities, the truth of Rosalyn’s disappearance proves to be stranger than fiction—as does the romance that burgeons in the midst of it all.
For the nostalgic:
★★★★ An intriguing tale that twists together the paranormal with a witty rom-com, Seven For a Secret is both a ghost story and a romantic escapade. We follow twenty-four-year-old Kate as she moves into a new apartment, celebrating the freedom she feels as the year 2000 ushers in a new millennium. She decides to take a break from her boyfriend Dexter so that she can explore more of her spontaneous side, quickly developing a crush on her attractive next-door neighbor. However, it’s not long before her plan for romance goes awry, as she learns that her building, Camden Court, was once a hotel in the roaring twenties. Now, eighty years later, Kate is confronted with the reality that many of the hotel’s past guests haunt the halls. One of these supernatural beings happens to be ninety-year-old Olive, whose life ended in Kate’s very apartment. As the narrative unfolds, we learn that Olive holds a deadly secret she’s eager to share, one that links her to a scandalous affair involving a young man named Lon, who brings a whole bout of tragedy to the situation that Kate is forced to deal with, whether she likes it or not.
For the thrill-seeker:
Part thrilling court drama, part enthralling romance, Forever Bound by J.B. Millhollin follows the complicated story of determined defense attorney, Rosa Norway, as she attempts to juggle the murder trial of Angelo Bonaventura and her messy love life. The story begins before Angelo and Rosa cross paths, with the backstory of the murder that’s led Angelo to be tried by the Nashville District Attorney’s office. Chuck Harris, Angelo’s son-in-law, just so happens to also be his employee at Webber’s Furniture Store. Chuck has figured out a way to grift money from innocent, unsuspecting old ladies, and he’s certain that his menacing father-in-law will remain none the wiser. His assumptions prove fatal, as Angelo has him “taken care of” shortly thereafter. Fast-forward five months to when Rosa’s story begins. Rosa, in a fog post-drunken-night-out, edges her way out of an awkward situation with an ex. From that moment her feet touch the ground, she never quits running around trying to defend indefensible actions and manage multiple dalliances with lovers current and past. Among the key characters in her fascinating trials and tribulations are David, her prickly ex; Stoney, a handsome former lover and current business partner whose misdeeds land him in the worst sort of trouble; John Winstrom, another complicated lover with piercing blue eyes and a magnetic quality that keeps drawing Rosa back for more; and, of course, Angelo Bonaventura, a dangerous felon with a propensity for having bodies mysteriously pile up around him. It takes everything in Rosa’s power to maintain her composure and navigate her way through these murky waters.
Have you been thinking it’s time to start establishing a home base online? Wondering where or how to get started? We asked author Rumer Haven (What the Clocks Know, Coattails and Cocktails) to share a bit of her experience crafting an author website. The process doesn’t have to be difficult, and you can keep the project as slow-paced or as light as you’d like. Read below for advice from Rumer.
★★★★ In Gus and the Winter Sprite by J. Steven Young, a diminutive dragon named Gus is lamenting the loneliness that winter brings—after all, his friends are all hibernating for the season and his treasured garden has gone dormant—when a winter sprite comes zooming into his cozy house and interrupts the quiet. Crystal, the sprite, has a problem of her own: she’s not like other sprites, and helping to bring on winter doesn’t make her happy like it does everyone else. Gus swaps a story for a story and tells Crystal that he was once feared by the other inhabitants of the forest, who didn’t understand that Gus is actually harmless. Emboldened, Crystal tells Gus that what she really wants to be is a phoenix, the legendary bird of fire. She uses the power of a wish to transform into her heart’s true desire and helps awaken Gus’s friends so that they can all gather for a festive winter party. Continue reading “Recently Reviewed”
Authors: Myers and Reed
RCR Says: “Life & Spice: Vita e Spezie is an inviting story about food, family, and the healing power of love.”
In Sarah’s Shadow, written by Nick Jones and illustrated by Si Clark, a young girl arrives home after being bullied about her scrawny shadow on the school playground that day. Upon seeing a shooting star up in the sky, Sarah makes a poorly thought-out wish to get rid of her shadow, thinking she’ll be better off without it. Initially, Sarah is thrilled to discover that her wish has come true and that she is no longer dogged by her shadow. But later at summer camp, as Sarah and her campmates are making shadow puppets on the wall of their tent, Sarah realizes just how disastrous of a situation her wish has created for her. In the end, she finds her shadow and the two of them pair up to perform some truly dazzling shadow puppetry for the entire camp.
A young man wakes up in a hospital room, completely unharmed, on a distant planet with no recollection of who he is or how he got there. Within moments, he is set upon by anonymous assailants, kicking off a cat-and-mouse game that will span entire worlds and civilizations. But just who is he? Mitchell, some call him. MH-217 is another name he hears, its very mention sparking something in the back of his mind. Remembering his true nature could ultimately be the key to his survival—and also might help explain why he seems imbued with the strength of ten men, and the regenerative stamina of a starfish. As secrets spill out among MH-217’s friends and enemies, one thing becomes clear: real peace will not come easy to this sprawling empire. And no one is getting out of this without blood on their hands. Continue reading “Recently Reviewed”
Sunayna Prasad’s From Frights to Flaws tells the story of twelve-year-old Alyssa McCarthy’s unexpected encounter with magic. Alyssa is kidnapped from her home in New Jersey by Beau Dunchap (Master Beau), an evil wizard, and taken to his dark magic center in Fiji. Master Beau plans to kill Alyssa so that he can absorb her strength and fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming France’s dictator, but he quickly realizes that murdering Alyssa will not supply him with enough power. Therefore, Master Beau and his crew kidnap Alyssa’s friends—Hailey, Jasmine, Destiny, and Madison—in order to kill them, as well. With help from a few benevolent wizards and magical creatures, the five girls battle Master Beau and his black sorcery.
Prasad’s writing is playful and lighthearted, despite the abundance of dark magic throughout the storyline. Each page beckons a reader to open his or her imagination as they take in incredible sights, such as a tiny man made of marble, a potion that adjusts you to new time zones, and a glittery lamb who can break sleeping spells. But while the magical world that Prasad creates is certainly wondrous and full of endless surprises, the book’s characters are disappointingly underdeveloped. Flat dialogue and a pervasive lack of emotion distract from the events unfolding before the reader. Thematically, the exploration of Good’s eternal struggle against Bad is a major part of the story, as Alyssa witnesses, firsthand, the extreme kindness and extraordinary evil that magical powers can yield. From Frights to Flaws leaves readers with questions about the fates of Master Beau and Alyssa, which will both surely be addressed in Prasad’s next book.
In this riveting young adult fantasy, two nations—the Eisenberge and Alkilion—have long been at war, spurred on by a vicious act performed by the Eisenberge’s malevolent ruler, the Sorceress. Now, the Sorceress and her apprentices seek to end the conflict between the neighboring countries by laying utter waste to Alkilion. In an effort to aid her mistress, Athala, one of two apprentices, abducts the Alkite princess with the intention of inciting the armies of Alkilion to attack the Eisenberge. Little does Athala know that she has single-handedly destroyed the Sorceress’s long-laid plans of conquest, putting her very country’s future at risk. Sentenced to death, Athala is saved by a young Alkite soldier named Zimri, who has been sent to rescue the imprisoned princess from the Sorceress. Together, Athala and Zimri form an uneasy truce and set out to destroy the darkness at the heart of the Eisenberge. But will they be destroyed by their own secrets along the way?
The Sorceress’s Apprentice is a darkly charming trip through familiar fantastical landscapes. Damsels in distress, knights-errant, evil sorceresses—all are present in some form in Gardner’s novel, though they each receive a welcome refurbishment that lends this young adult fantasy a charm all its own. Gardner builds up a tightly wound tale around his two central characters, showing how quickly an individual’s perspective can change when everything comes crashing down around them – or, more likely, when they are shown the error of their ways. Other interesting touches are employed to elevate the mystique of Gardner’s world-building, such as the description of various gods and goddesses worshipped by the peoples of Alkilion and the Eisenberge (some of whom even make an appearance during the story), and the use of Germanic linguistics to help name numerous locations and spells throughout the novel. All told, this is a classy, well-constructed story that we should be so lucky as to see continued in a sequel.
Happy New Year, everyone! We’re so thankful to be heading into our fifth year of working with independent writers. Last year, we reviewed over 250 titles, all of them self-published, and we’re truly excited for everything coming up in 2018. (Including the Red City Review Book Awards! More info on that coming soon.)
Being part of a community of readers, we figured that a good number of you might have received a new Kindle over the holidays. Did you know that all Kindle devices come with a free month of Kindle Unlimited? That means you can read every single one of the books below for free, just by signing up. Click on the title to read our review, and click on the cover to head over to the Amazon e-book page!
The Last Straw is Ed Duncan’s second book in the Pigeon Blood Red series. In this crime thriller, readers are reintroduced to the talented hitman Richard “Rico” Randers. Rico is approached by Howard Forester, a notorious crime boss in the Chicago area, after Forester’s son kills a man in an attempted carjacking. Forester is determined to silence Sandra Yanders, a teenager who, having witnessed the carjacking, is set to testify against his son. Forester asks Rico to murder Yanders but he refuses. Rico is against killing such a young, innocent girl but John D’Angelo, another hitman and Rico’s enemy, agrees to take the job. Tensions between D’Angelo and Rico run high as Rico teams up with a lawyer, Paul Elliott, to try to protect Yanders, and themselves, from D’Angelo’s fury.
With danger looming in every chapter, The Last Straw is an action-packed and nerve-racking read. Duncan skillfully draws the reader into a complex web of characters navigating difficult situations. A few key twists within the storyline keep the reader intrigued in this fast-paced thriller, and despite the fact that they are both killers, the main characters are very likable. The Last Straw casts an interesting light on right versus wrong, urging readers to reflect on the morality of the book’s characters and the motivation of one’s actions. Multiple people are killed in The Last Straw, and while these murder scenes are well executed, the emotional reactions of the surviving characters are not convincing. The Last Straw is an outstanding crime thriller which could be made even stronger by further developing its characters’ expressions of grief and fear in the face of extreme violence.