The Dragon Sphere

the-dragon-sphere

The Dragon Sphere by Abel Gallardo (Young Adult Fantasy, Middle Grade Fiction)

This book, the first in a series called “Nation of Dragons,” introduces Landon Brown, a fifteen-year-old who learns that he is a “dragonoid” or “halfling,” half dragon and half human. He has no idea prior to this; all he knows is that his dad has been absent most of his life. His dad, it turns out, is a highly regarded elder among dragons; his mom is human. Full-blooded dragons can take on human form a few hours per day, while dragonoids are humans who won’t literally transform into dragons but have special powers and need training to learn how to harness them.

At fifteen, Landon goes into training in a summer camp for dragonoids, where he encounters a number of magical things and makes friends with other halflings, including Aurora, whose mother is a dragon elder. They learn about both good and evil dragons and that one of the most feared has been imprisoned in The Dragon Sphere. A group of evil dragons and their followers wish to find and release him in order to regain power over humans, and it becomes the mission of Landon and Aurora, along with their fellow trainee, Shade, to bring back The Dragon Sphere unopened. Unfortunately, many dragonoids before them have taken on the same mission and failed, never to be heard from again. Landon also sees this as an opportunity to finally find his dad and confront him about abandoning Landon and his mom.

This book is categorized as Young Adult Fantasy, designated for readers 12 to 18 in grades 6 through 12. However, it felt more on the younger side, like Middle Grade fiction. The simple, sometimes stilted, sentence structure and limited descriptions and character development left me, as a high school-aged reader, wanting more depth. That said, it has plenty of action, and the story will keep a middle schooler engaged. The author has a vivid imagination and has created an interesting dragon world and fun powers for young dragonoids. There are some messages about believing in one’s self and stick-to-it-tiveness, but the one I expected, about global warming and doing our best to preserve the environment from destruction, wasn’t developed.

Bella gives The Dragon Sphere four stars. 4 stars

Potty-mouth index: CLEAN

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Fractured

fractured

Fractured by Catherine McKenzie (Suspense)

This psychological thriller is hard to put down. From the beginning, we know that something tragic has happened in the new neighborhood where best-selling author Julie Apple has moved with her husband and young twins. Julie herself has a painful history. After writing a successful crime novel called The Mystery Game, she has become the victim of a terrifying stalker and has moved to Cincinnati from Tacoma, Washington, in an effort to evade the woman. Soon, however, she finds herself on the outs with her new neighbors, and a familiar sense of peril returns.

The story has two narrators, Julie and John, the married neighbor across the street who shares her jogging habit and becomes her running companion. In alternating chapters, they tell the story of the past year – from the arrival of Julie’s family in the neighborhood to events of the current day, when they must face the outcome of the aforementioned tragedy. Each relates just enough to keep the reader guessing about what happened and to whom. At first, the back and forth bordered on confusing, but once the story began to take shape, it all fell into place.

Catherine McKenzie, author of several bestselling novels including Hidden and Smoke, is an accomplished writer who knows how to spin a good tale. John’s wife, Hanna, is an especially well-written character; her reactions to her husband’s friendship with the controversial new neighbor add realistically sinister possibilities to the story. The neighborhood’s overbearing busybody, Cindy, is irritating enough to rile anyone who has had to deal with someone similarly annoying. The question of who did what to whom had me changing options right up until the end.

As a bonus, McKenzie is publishing The Mystery Game by Julie Apple as a separate novel coming out this November.

Grandma gives Fractured four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Guineveres

the-guineveres

The Guineveres by Sarah Domet (Contemporary Women’s Literature)

Four teenagers, each named Guinevere, end up together in a home for girls run by Catholic nuns. Abandoned by their families for various reasons, Gwen, Ginny, Win, and Vere bond as a result of their common name and do their best to cover each others’ backs as they struggle with the austere convent life. Vere narrates their story in first person, telling it as an adult twenty years later. The main theme is their united attempt to escape the convent early, rather than wait until they are released at the age of eighteen.

My experience with this book was a mixed bag. Each girl’s character was fairly well-developed, and they acted in ways consistent with their personalities. The nuns were better than the usual caricatures of nuns, and the priest was believably flawed without being criminal. At the same time, the setting itself – time and place – was never clearly defined, except for “the War” and “the War Effort” and the nuns taking in wounded, comatose soldiers, which left me guessing it was World War II era, since no war since has involved everyday citizens that way, and references to the Veterans Administration put it after 1930.

Every now and then the story stopped for a chapter told by one of the Guineveres, in the first person, about how she ended up at the convent. This format was confusing, since Vere was the only one narrating the rest of the story; if felt like those backstories should have been third person to help the reader keep it all straight and be true to the rest of the narrative. There were also random super-cheerful chapters about various female saints who joyfully endured terrible degradation and pain, usually to save their virtue. As one who grew up Catholic and read all about the saints as a kid, I found these to be highly exaggerated in their joyfulness, but wasn’t sure if that was meant to be humor or to imply that the nuns enhanced the stories for effect. I also wasn’t sure why they were there, except, perhaps, to fill out a novella into novel length.

While the book felt disjointed to me, it was still worth the read, and I believe others may find it more to their liking.

Grandma gives The Guineveres three stars. 3 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

By Gaslight

by-gaslight

By Gaslight by Steven Price (Historical Fiction, Mystery)

This book does a superb job of transporting the reader to gas-lit Victorian London and post-Civil War U.S.A., as well as the diamond mines of South Africa. Steven Price’s rich and descriptive prose sets the mood and atmosphere and satisfies the reader who appreciates literary fiction. The story alternates between the viewpoints of William Pinkerton, a detective searching for the criminal who eluded his famous father, the American detective Allan Pinkerton, and Adam Foole, a conman searching for his lost love. Their paths cross, and we have a front row seat to their interactions as they pursue a common person of interest, Edward Shade.

The work is quite long, and at times I found the pace to be somewhat slow. However, each time I picked it up, I was immediately drawn back in by the language and no-holds-barred descriptions of people, places, and lifestyles that made me glad I did not live in those times. This book is not for the faint of heart. You will smell noxious fumes, witness disgusting lack of personal hygiene up close, and inspect the dismembered remains of a murdered woman. The air around you will feel heavy, you’ll be wandering dark streets in the fog, and you’ll share the main characters’ desperation when things go wrong. In short, if you enjoy historical fiction, you’ll be in your element.

Steven Price writes without the use of quotation marks to delineate dialogue, and at first that can be disconcerting. However, their absence seemed to fit with the spare, deprived, and depraved times into which this book immerses the reader, and once I became used to it, I rarely noticed their absence.

Grandma gives By Gaslight four stars.4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Book Club Murders

The Bookclub Murders

The Book Club Murders by Leslie Nagel

This cozy mystery is an engrossing read with lots of action and an interesting premise. Someone is killing women in a small Ohio town, and each murder mimics a scene from a different murder mystery on the reading list of a local book club, the Agathas. The Agathas are mostly high society matrons, but also include Charley, the young owner of a vintage clothing store, and her best girlfriend, Frankie. When Charley realizes the pattern that the killer is using, she brings her observations to the police detective, Marc, for whom she has mixed feelings of interest and dislike. They have shared history and a mutual case of distrust, but force themselves to work together to solve the mystery and, of course, fall in love.

Sleuthing out the identity of the killer is the best part of the book. The characters themselves are pretty standard – the feisty redheaded protagonist who won’t take no for an answer, the hunky but moody detective who finds himself falling for the feisty redhead even though he doesn’t want to, the ever-faithful perky BFF who refuses to be left out of the action, and the other popular character in women’s fiction today – the gorgeous, sexy,  completely cool but alas, unavailable, gay guy best friend with the irreverent sense of humor.

This book is the first in a series called The Oakwood Mystery Series. It will be interesting to see how Charley finds herself involved in solving the next mystery, and I will look forward to reading the next installment.

Bella gives The Book Club Murders four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and participation in a post-release blog tour.

Check out today’s GUEST POST from AUTHOR LESLIE NAGEL.

Your Fortress of Solitude: Five Steps to a Power Desk

Guest Post by author Leslie Nagel, The Book Club Murders

So you’ve managed to carve out some precious writing time from your busy schedule. Fantastic. You’re now ready to tackle the next major hurdle: work space. The first logical question that presents itself is: Do I need a dedicated space for my writing? The short answer is simple.

YES. YOU DO.

There are two reasons why. The first connects logically to our earlier discussions. You are busy. For that reason, you don’t have time to set up all your junk every time you get a free moment. If you have to pack up your notes, your laptop, your favorite mouse pad and so on, and then unpack it all and arrange it before you can get anything done, odds are you’ll never get to the good stuff. The goal is to reduce or eliminate all the wheel-spinning so you can focus on writing.

The second reason has more to do with head space than geography. We’ve all read studies that show students do better on tests if they sit in the same seat they learned in. Research has proved that the territorial instinct supersedes most others, even the urge to reproduce or eat. Many animals will literally wither away while defending their lair or nest. Heavy psychology aside, if you’re going to build an imaginary world of any complexity, you’ve got to be able to come back to the same physical place, your place, day after day. Doing so reduces distractions from fresh sensory input and makes it easier for you to return to that imaginary world and concentrate on what happens next.

If you don’t have the luxury of converting an extra bedroom, den or finished basement into an office with a door, all is not lost. But that doesn’t mean you can settle for balancing your workspace on top of a filing cabinet. At a minimum, you’re going to need a desk sized surface. It can be a kitchen counter, but you’ve got to insist on at least four linear feet—six is better—that you claim as your own, that you can set up and keep set up, and that NO ONE ELSE MESSES WITH. If you are truly serious about having a writing life, then this is an absolute must.

Properly organizing your work space is essential. A quick Google search of how to do so only produced about twelve hundred hits. I read every single one, condensed all that knowledge, and it is my pleasure to present Leslie’s 5 Steps To A Power Desk:

  1. Keep it to the bare essentials. For a modern writer, the list is actually pretty short. Here is what I have on my desk right this moment:
    1. Laptop
    2. Mouse pad and mouse
    3. Lined legal pad
    4. Coffee
    5. Pad of sticky notes and stack of lined note cards
    6. Three “on deck” stickies: one with a brief plot fix, two with dialog ideas
    7. Cup with pens/pencils
    8. Desk lamp
    9. Cell phone (muted and upside down so I don’t see those flashing push notifications)
    10. ONE framed family photo
    11. Stapler (I also teach school off this desk)
    12. Dish of paper clips and rubber bands
  2. Anything you don’t actually use in the writing process belongs someplace else. If you start allowing soccer schedules and grocery lists to creep in, you’ll be distracting yourself with tasks that belong outside your writing time. TIME AND SPACE. Defend them vigorously. All my school related things go into hanging files while I’m writing. I can pull out 2 files, do the school thing, then refile and rehang in about 5 minutes. School time is school time, and I don’t let it eat into to my writing time. That took practice, but as I’ve said, disciplined focus on your writing is a habit worth cultivating.
  3. Include vertical space. Can you claim a wall near your desktop? You’re going to need it for outlining, and for those start up task reminders. I have a white board that I use for laying out plot points or sticking my endless stickies. (The three on my desk? I’ll be tackling them first thing, so I moved them right next to my laptop.)At the moment I’m also sketching a map that will appear in my next book. The plot hinges on local geography, and the only way to keep myself oriented was to draw a picture. You gain so much more work space when you go vertical.
  4. Annex a shelf. Reference books, extra paper, office supplies you don’t have room for, all of it needs to be out of sight so it stays out of mind during writing time. This could actually be in a different room, so long as it doesn’t infringe on your desk space.
  5. Purchase a trash can. This often overlooked item can be invaluable, provided you actually use it. Once you’ve completed a task, such as modifying a character name and then spell checking it from start to finish, THROW THAT NOTE AWAY. I am an inveterate list maker. Nothing makes me happier than crossing things off my list. The secret is to circular file those old lists the moment you draw a line through the last item. Scary, but liberating, I promise you. If you honestly think you might need that five page story outline from three revisions ago, create a folder and shelve it (See #4).

And that’s it. Once you’ve ordered your environment, you will free your mind for bigger things. Now off you go. I’ve got three sticky notes screaming for my attention. Can’t wait to throw them away.

leslie-nagel-author-photo-2

 

Leslie Nagel is the author of The Book Club Murders, the first novel in the Oakwood Mystery series. She lives in the real city of Oakwood, Ohio, where she teaches writing at a local community college. After the written word, her passions include her husband, her son and daughter, hiking, tennis, and strong black coffee, not necessarily in that order.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

 

 

The Bookclub Murders

In a charming cozy mystery series debut, Leslie Nagel’s irrepressible small-town heroine finds that her fellow mystery book club members may be taking their Agatha Christie a bit too literally—and murder a bit too lightly.
  
Charley Carpenter has poured heart and soul into her clothing store, Old Hat Vintage Fashions. She’ll do anything to make it a success—even join the stuffy Agathas Book Club in order to cultivate customers among the wealthy elite of Oakwood, Ohio.

Although mixing with the most influential women in town has its advantages, Charley finds the endless gossip a high price to pay. But after two women with close ties to the Agathas are brutally murdered, everyone falls under threat—and suspicion. When key evidence indicates that both murders are the work of the same hand, Charley realizes that the killer has arranged each corpse in perfect imitation of crime scenes from the Club’s murder mystery reading list. She uses her membership in the Club to convince Detective Marcus Trenault to use her as an inside informant. Not that he could stop her anyway.

Intelligent, fearless, and every bit as stubborn as Marc is, Charley soon learns the Agathas aren’t the only ones with secrets to protect. Passions explode as she and Marc must race against time to prevent another murder. And if Charley’s not careful, she may find herself becoming the killer’s next plot twist.

Amazon | B&N | Kobo | ibook

For Bella’s review of the The Book Club Murders go here.

The Delphi Effect

delphi-effect

The Delphi Effect (The Delphi Trilogy, Book One) by Rysa Walker (Science Fiction)

Seventeen-year-old Anna Morgan has been in and out of foster homes and psychiatric institutions for most of her life. As a three-year-old, she was abandoned by her parents in the food court of a shopping mall, wearing a note that said, “This child is possessed.” What possesses her are the spirits of dead people who have not been able to cross over because of unfinished business. She picks up these mental hitchhikers unintentionally, simply by touching something where they linger.

She is currently carrying the spirit of Molly, a teen who was brutally murdered and wants her family to know how it happened. Of course, Molly’s grandfather refuses to believe that Anna is anything more than a con artist, so Anna must let Molly come to the forefront and take over the conversation in order to convince him. When she does, Anna finds herself caught up in the machinations of a covert organization and becomes a person of interest to people on both sides of a dangerous game.

Although a little confusing sometimes in terms of who was who, the story was engrossing and I cared a lot about Anna and the secondary characters who come into her life as a result of Molly. The premise is very clever; among other things, once her hitchhikers have achieved their goal, they leave, but she retains their memories and skills, which can come in handy now and then. This is the first in a series, so not all of the questions are answered, such as exactly how did Anna come to have these skills and who were her parents, but we know enough to be satisfied at the end of this book while curious enough to want to read the next one.

Bella gives The Delphi Effect five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.