An Unexpected Afterlife

An Unexpected Afterlife

An Unexpected Afterlife by Dan Sofer (Religious Fantasy)

Complex, interesting characters in a most unusual situation. Moshe Karlin wakes up lying on the dirt in a cemetery, naked and alone, with no recollection of how he came to be there. Before long he learns the alarming truth: he died two years before.

Without going into the plot or the outcome, let me simply say that this novel grabbed my attention from the get-go with all its possibilities, and it was a great read. In addition to being highly creative in his premise, Sofer gives us humor and adventure as well as raising a number of questions. Among them: Would it really be so great to come back from the dead? If a deceased loved one suddenly came back into my life years later, would I believe it? How might it complicate my life and what would I do? Will true believers recognize and be ready to accept the End of Days when it begins? Are there people already among us who are more than they appear to be?

Throughout the action, the author brings modern-day Israel to life for those of us who have never been there, as well as providing interesting details about Jewish tradition, Judaism’s belief in the Resurrection of the Dead, and its anticipation of the End of Days. As one who enjoys novels that teach me something, as well as being well-written, well-edited, and well-proofread, I found this book to be pure joy and very satisfying entertainment.

This is Book One in a series called The Dry Bones Society. As such, it left a number of questions open in preparation for Book Two. With that in mind, I’m able to accept the fact that one character – who may or may not be the prophet Elijah – remained a mystery to me at the end. Moshe’s story – at least for the moment —  was resolved well enough, and I hope that future books will tell us more about the fates of his fellow resurrectees.

Grandma gives An Unexpected Afterlife five stars. 5 stars

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

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Rotten Magic

Rotten Magic

Rotten Magic by Jeffrey Bardwell (Science Fiction/Steampunk)

This novella is the prequel to The Artifice Mage series. Devin is a young mage living in an empire that seeks to rid itself of mages. In addition to his magical capabilities, he has a creative mind that gets him into an apprenticeship with the Artificer’s Guild, the techies who keep the steam-powered Empire running and who abhor mages. He tries to suppress his magical side, and as a result we are witness to a continuous internal argument between his artifice side and his mage side. When he attempts to move up from apprentice to journeyman, the internal conflict takes its toll.

I don’t know why, but I never really learned to care about Devin. He has a mom and a little sister, and the story begins with a dialogue he’s having with his little sister. As a result, we know he’s basically a good person with these inconvenient magical capabilities, but somehow he never quite comes across as a sympathetic character. He has a female friend among the apprentices, but no real relationship is explored there. He has an arch enemy. And he has some unfortunate run-ins with egotistical journeymen who ultimately have power over his future.

Overall, I found this to be a downer of a book, with characters I couldn’t connect with. It would also benefit from one more proofreading to rid it of some obvious mistakes.

Bella gives Rotten Magic three stars. 3 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

The Mentalist Series

The Mentalist Series

The Mentalist Series by Kenechi Udogu (Young Adult Paranormal/Fantasy)

When I was contacted by author Kenechi Udogu, I agreed to read Book One of this series, Aversion. Ms. Udogu sent me the box set, and I’m glad she did, for when I finished Aversion, I needed to know what was going to happen next and ended up reading all four books. Since each book is more of a novella, reading the foursome was a reasonable undertaking and, in reality, the first three should have been a single book. (The fourth is a prequel.) Neither of the sequels to Book One is a stand-alone novel; they both require knowledge of the preceding book(s) in order to make sense.

Aversion and Sentient are told from the point of view of the protagonist, Gemma, who has always known she was different, but at the age of fifteen, going on sixteen, is still learning just how different she is. What I liked about her is that she’s basically a normal teen in a normal world but has inherited special gifts and responsibilities as an “Averter” — one who can step in and avert tragedy by telepathically convincing a potential victim to avoid the risky situation. Her gifts require her to keep her distance from peers and follow rules laid out for her kind, but when she becomes involved with classmate Russ, everything in her life changes and keeps on changing, not always for the good.

Keepers (Book Three) is told in chapters alternating between her point of view and Russ’s. After two books told only from Gemma’s POV, this was a surprise and took some getting used to. Constantly going back and forth allowed the author to build tension by ending the chapters at critical points, but as the reader, I found it frustrating to have the POV change just when I was getting used to the current one. This book wraps up the three-part story sufficiently but does not resolve everything, leaving room for future books, should the author wish to write more.

Broken Ties is the prequel to the other three books, relating the story of how Gemma’s parents came together. Again, it is told alternately by her father and mother, but this time the approach works well, since it’s fun to see how each perceives the other. Without prior knowledge of why this story is significant, however, I’m not sure a reader would find the ending sufficient to make this a stand-alone novella.

I enjoyed the author’s writing style very much. She had my interest from the first sentence and kept it all the way through. I can’t say enough about how much I liked the characters and the story. Unfortunately, the reading experience was lessened by annoyances like a constant lack of commas around the names of people when they were being addressed (“Let’s eat Grandma” vs. “Let’s eat, Grandma”) which could have been avoided by a good editor (or a knowledgeable Averter). Run-on sentences and improper use of semi-colons also would have benefited from intervention. That said, I believe Kenechi Udogu has a real storytelling talent and her books are worth reading.

Bella gives The Mentalist Series four stars. 4 stars

Potty-mouth Index: CLEAN

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

On Writing: Guest Post by C.J. Bentley, author of “The Shield”

I write notes down anywhere and everywhere but mainly whilst traveling, something I do a lot of. Airports are a great source for people watching and for ideas forming; I have always kept a small pad in my handbag for jotting ideas down at random.  I am on to my fifth pad and it is interesting looking back through them to see what I have written in the past.  The idea for ‘The Shield’ was my first jotting in my first note book from many years ago.

I write at home in Dubai, mostly sitting at the table in the dining room, high backed chairs to support my back with my laptop on the table along with a cup of coffee and an occasional snack of banana, or cut up apple.  Sometimes I can write for a good few hours, the time just flies by.  I don’t plan the way a story grows when I write.  I research the period and what happened in that time, a background to the sixties, the music and the news of the period are noted in the book to add substance to the writing.

I look through my research before I start to write but what happens to the main characters evolves from my brain onto the laptop screen via my typing.  When I read it back to myself it is a really exciting process.  I think of each writing session as a journey of discovery, for myself as well as the reader.

I started to write these adventure books for my grandson as I couldn’t find anything to read to him that didn’t feature vampires, zombies and farts, not good bedtime reading but it wasn’t until I found myself living in Doha and for the first time in my life found I had the time to do it.  In Doha I sat at my husband’s desk in his study where his computer was installed.  It has a large screen and after sitting and writing for a few hours I amazed myself when I saw how many thousand words I had written.  My laptop doesn’t have a word count or if it has I haven’t discovered it yet.  The study where my husband’s desk stood was furthest away from the hot sun it was cool which is a bonus in Qatar.

As I write this post I am in France, I have escaped the heat of summer in Dubai as I do each year to briefly live in this beautiful area of France, the Limousine.  It is hot but not uncomfortably so and I am sat at the table outside in the garden with the large lime green, rectangular umbrella casting its shade over me.  A pot of coffee is at my elbow with my favourite mug and a spoon, milk I keep in the fridge so have to travel inside to the kitchen to add to my coffee.  It would curdle if left out in this sunshine.  I sit for hours at this table when in writing mode.  This is my very favourite place to write because of the quiet.  No noise other than the birdsong keeps me company, apart from now when my sister, who is currently watching tennis on the television, is staying with me.   I have a background noise of the ball bouncing on the grass court at Wimbledon and my sister’s exclamations at the amazing tennis rallies.  No idea who is playing but it sounds like a good match.

I try not to eat snacks whilst writing, I have a good breakfast and then sometimes only a bowl of cherries, my most favourite fruit, French cherries are wonderful, I often eat my own weight in them when I arrive each summer.  I then don’t eat until late afternoon, thus consuming only two meals a day, enough when sitting at the table writing not using physical energy only brain energy.

My long suffering husband in Dubai is quite used to me jumping out of bed early morning to write my ideas down in my notebook as they come to me.  I tend to get them in that half-awake time between sleep and being fully awake.  The first time I did this he came plodding after me, half awake, wondering what on earth was the matter was I ill, did I need anything and when he found that it was me having a creative idea he returned to bed grumbling that his wife was slightly potty.

CJBentley_AuthorPhoto2About the author: Originally heralding from the North of England, C.J Bentley has traveled extensively and enjoyed living in a variety of countries across the world from Dubai to Doha, Qatar and now the countryside in the South of France. A background in teaching and childcare she has always enjoyed creating adventure short stories. However, it was when she became a grandma and with her grandchildren growing up that she discovered that books seemed to contain only stories of vampires, zombies and farts that she decided seriously to take matters into her own hands and put pen to paper which today she calls The Finder Series.

Website – https://www.cjbentleyonline.co.uk/
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/CJBentleyAuthor/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/CJBentleyAuthor

The Shield Cover

The Shield

People lose their belongings. That is a fact of life. It can happen by accident, but sometimes it can happen when you put them in a very safe place and forget where that safe place is. Not many people are good at finding them again.

A young, gutsy girl with a kind heart, who’s searching for her own identity growing up in the 1960s, just happens to be very good at finding things. Can she be the one to help return whatever is lost – anywhere and at any time – to its original owner?

With the help of a beautiful yet mysterious wise woman and a chivalrous knight she does just that. She finds and returns his shield, lost in battle, which unbeknown to her holds a secret that is important to his king, the safety of the kingdom, and the life of the daughter of his best friend.

The Shield is the first story in The Finder Series, taking our heroine on extraordinary journeys back in time. Her first adventure takes place in Medieval England in 1340 where she meets King Edward III, his wife, Philippa, and their son who will later become the Black Prince.

For our review of The Shield go here.

The Shield

The Shield Cover

The Shield by C.J. Bentley (Children/ Historical Fiction/Time Travel)

The Shield is described as a book for children ages 8 to 12, but I believe it will appeal to readers of all ages. The story moves right along, is fun and interesting, and is not at all childish in its content or style. It takes the narrator and the reader back in time to Medieval England, a fascinating period to visit and experience.

The narrator is a spunky ten-year-old girl who changes her name regularly and is called Peggy when the story begins in 1962. Before meeting her, however, we meet Sir Kay of Percefleet back in 1340 A.D., a knight who is about to lose his shield. Six hundred years later, while playing in a brook, “Peggy” and her friends find the shield, and the fun begins. Time travel, knights and kings, and a missing ten-year-old girl locked in a dungeon will keep the reader’s interest.

The author is British, and I enjoyed the British-isms in her writing. However, I have two complaints: the presence of run-on sentences throughout and dialogue that seems stilted and unrealistic for kids. British phrases aside, current-day speakers in England use contractions, but too often the dialogue labored under the weight of precise wording that might have been a distinctive pattern for the Medieval period but felt unnatural for the 1960s. Overall, however, the author’s style kept me reading, and I enjoyed this book.

Bella gives The Shield four stars. 4 stars

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

For a guest post from author C.J. Bentley, please go here.

 

The Rules of Magic

The Rules of Magic

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman (Fantasy)

This is the prequel to Alice Hoffman’s novel Practical Magic, which was made into a very popular movie in 1998. As one who had no knowledge of either the novel or the movie prior to reading this book, however, I can attest that The Rules of Magic is a stand-alone story that needs no previous awareness of the Owens family or their house on Magnolia Street in order to be enjoyed.

In true Alice Hoffman style, the characters are engaging individuals who draw you into their unique world, quickly involve you in their lives, and make you want to know that they’re going to be okay. While one can tire of the tales of young people discovering their magical abilities, the Owens girls have always known they were different; witchcraft has been in their bloodline for centuries. They are used to being shunned by neighbors, whispered about in school, and finding themselves so buoyant while swimming that they can’t dive deep to save a loved one in danger of drowning. They do their best to hide their special abilities, whether it’s seeing the future, reading minds, or communing with birds, while trying to fit in with townspeople who simultaneously fear them and seek them out for magical remedies to their problems. They also must face the centuries-old curse that says loving someone means losing that person, sometimes tragically. Dare they love someone if it portends the beloved’s doom?

As a prequel to Practical Magic, this story begins in the 1960s, when sisters Jet and Franny are children living in New York City with their parents and younger brother, Vincent. Vincent — a rare wizard in a long line of witches — has his own approach to dealing with the curse, and the example he sets inspires his sisters to find their own courage. That’s not to say that all will go well, but what is living really about and when is fate just fate and no one’s fault?

Whether or not you knew of Jet and Franny before, The Rules of Magic will make them people you care about as they navigate their way through the complexities of life as Owens girls and as human beings.

Grandma gives The Rules of Magic five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Rules of Magic will be released on October 10, 2017 and is available for pre-order.

A Gleam of Light

A Gleam of Light

A Gleam of Light by T.J. and M.L. Wolf   (Science Fiction)

For fans of Native American culture, UFOs, and government secrecy about unexplained phenomena, this book provides a look at the possibilities linking ancient civilizations and the extraterrestrial.

After ten years in Washington, D.C., a young Hopi woman reluctantly returns to the Arizona reservation on which she grew up. She comes at the request of old friends who believe she can help them stop a military operation that threatens sacred lands. Even though she has lost her own way following the deaths of her activist parents, she is familiar with all the old teachings and old ways, giving her the background necessary to understand and respect what possibly lies beneath the area known as Sacred Peaks. In addition, she herself experienced a UFO sighting as a child, the effects of which still linger in her mind.

The story is full of Hopi lore, interesting archeology information, and insights into extraterrestrial sightings, and while at times the dialogue feels like recitation of a research text, the plot is intriguing enough to keep reader interest. The emphasis is more on action and lore than on character development, and so emotional connection with characters is somewhat limited. Some head- hopping occurs, but it’s minor. Like most stories of its kind, it leaves the reader pondering what’s possible in our universe, what’s hidden from ordinary citizens, and what the future may hold for mankind.

The authors are a married couple with an interest in ancient alien theories, and they’ve done a good job of putting together a story worth reading. More character development could widen its audience.

Grandma gives A Gleam of Light three stars. 3 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy from the authors in exchange for an honest review.