Archive for February 2021

Magic By Fire: Spark of a Flame by Travis R.J.


"I have ignited a fire---a spark of a flame!"

I'm not normally a fan of fantasy. With the exception of a few popular series, the genre has just never really captured my attention. When my friend and debut author Travis R.J. offered me a copy of his debut fantasy novel to review, I was hesitant to accept it. It isn't the genre I would normally pick up, and I was nervous that I wouldn't enjoy the writing. As I opened the book, however, my hesitance soon began to fade. Magic by Fire: Spark of a Flame drew me in through a powerful opening that quickly introduced the main characters and hinted at the adventure to come. I was ready to go wherever this story was going to take me. 

By all accounts, Liam is an ordinary boy. He lives with his mother in a small village, and the pair manage the local bakery. Each day looks much like the others, and Liam is perfectly content with this routine. After work, he often sneaks out of the town to the forested landscape that surrounds it. Liam and his best friend Pat spend the evenings playing with an enchanted ball and cautiously exploring their abilities with 'ignegic', fire-based magic. Being a Pyrend, someone who can perform this magic, is extremely rare. Moreso, practicing ignegic has been outlawed by the queen. Already it seems that Liam isn't as ordinary as we originally believed. 

In Magic by Fire: Spark of a Flame Travis R.J. deftly lays the foundation of his planned trilogy upon the characters who inhabit it. The care with which he crafts each person and relationship directly translates into us connecting with them. The bond between mother and son, mentor and mentee, and best friends are each fully realized. The emotional connection with the characters served to heighten the action and drama that they encountered. More importantly, this careful character work grounds the fantasy in a sense of reality. 

Whether you are someone who regularly reads the genre or are more like myself, there is something for a variety of readers to find in Spark of a Flame. The story sets up a classic hero's journey, placing the ordinary main character into extraordinary circumstances. An old prophecy sets most of the narrative action into motion, and it is up to the main character to determine if they will play into that prediction or go against it. In most fantasy I've read, it is the world-building that usually plods along and loses my interest. Travis R.J. circumvents this challenge by revealing most of the world through his characters and the events that unfold. There is a brief section at the midpoint of the novel that started to lag a bit for me, but it quickly gave way to more revelations and a suspenseful encounter in a faraway town. Ultimately, Magic by Fire: Spark of a Flame was exactly the kind of novel I needed to read to ignite my own interest in the genre. It promises to burn into a fully formed blaze over the course of the nest two installments. 

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2021, 8)

The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor


"Guilt is a little like grief. A cancer of the soul. They both hollow you out from the inside."

The rural community of Chapel Croft is a town haunted by its past. Five hundred years ago several Protestant martyrs, including young girls, were burned at the stake in a religious purge. Locals still commemorate that horrific history by constructing a monument to them and leaving twig dolls around town, gifts for the burning girls. The more recent history of the city is no less tragic. Around thirty years ago, two teenage girls disappeared without a trace. Yes, Chapel Croft is no stranger to misfortune. It is the kind of place where everyone knows everyone else and all of their business. At the center of this community lies the church, a parish that has recently faced a tragedy of its own. After years of serving the town and living as part of the community, the town vicar has committed suicide. 

Reverend Jack Brooks is no stranger to tragedy. In fact, it was a tragedy at her previous inner-city parish that prompted her reassignment to quiet Chapel Croft. Relocating herself and her teenage daughter Flo isn't easy, but she's hopeful that a new town will bring the opportunity for a fresh start. Right out of the gate, however, Jack is greeted by a foreboding welcome at the front door of the ramshackle cottage she will call home. As Jack and her daughter integrate into the town, they both begin to experience reminders of the town's torrid history, figurative and literal ghosts of the past. In the coming days, the pair will be forced to reckon with not only the history of their new home town but the personal secrets they harbor as well. 

"But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms will be proclaimed upon the housetops."-Luke 12:2-3

In The Burning Girls, C.J. Tudor deftly explores religion, parenthood, trauma, and grief, all packaged in the guise of a supernatural thriller. I've enjoyed each of her works since her debut novel The Chalk Man, so I was happy to accept a copy of this latest novel from her publisher. That first book has been my favorite of her three published works, but this newest easily surmounts that one to take the top place. There is a richness to the dialogue between mother and daughter, a sense of normalcy and reality that perfectly balances with the supernatural horror elements. The history of the town imbues the story with the depth of a real place. I couldn't help but keep reading. I just had to learn more about these characters and this place. 

Tudor is no stranger to balancing multiple perspectives in her writing, and The Burning Girls sees her present the story through a mother, a daughter, and one other character whose identity and motivations remain a mystery for the majority of the book. With each viewpoint, we gain a clearer portrait of what has occurred in this town and where this story is headed. The three points converge in a way that both thrills and satisfies. The best novels capture your attention as you read, but also linger in your mind long after you finish the final page. The Burning Girls is that kind of novel. Whether you're looking for a thoughtful meditation on religion, a harrowing story of a mother and daughter learning to live and love each other, or a "can't put down" thriller that keeps you reading into all hours of the night, you'll find what you're looking for in this book. The Burning Girls is the best novel C.J. Tudor has written thus far and has me brimming with excitement for whatever tale she conjures up next. 

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2021, 7)

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins


How well do you know your partner? You love and care for them and commit to spending your lives together, but when you stop to think about it there are large parts of your lives that you have lived apart. It can even seem like you lived a different life before you met them. Your love for them builds trust that helps fill in the gaps for the parts of their life that you didn't experience with them. As the relationship progresses, you learn more and more about the person you love, but there will inevitably be things that simply don't come up. There will always be little unknowns between the two of you. In The Wife Upstairs, the buzzy new thriller that everyone seems to be reading, author Rachel Hawkins draws upon those unknowns to concoct a story of wealth, power, and deceit. 

Jane couldn't be more out of place. Newly residing in Birmingham, Alabama, the penniless young woman has taken a job walking dogs for the residents of Thornfield Estates. Each day, she walks the sidewalks and dreams of the lives of those women who reside within the opulent manors that populate the gated community. Her own life couldn't be further from those of the people she works for. She lives in a rundown apartment with a man who could be described as manipulative at best, abusive at worst. Jane would do anything to switch her life for the life of one of the women she works for. As luck would have it, that very opportunity is about to present itself. 

It wouldn't be accurate to call Eddie Rochester the most eligible bachelor of the neighborhood, but Jane can't help but be drawn to the quiet widower. Eddie's wife Bea, a prominent businesswoman in her own right, died in a tragic boating accident. Bea and her best friend were both lost in the ill-fated trip to the lake, their bodies never recovered after the tragedy. Jane is immediately drawn to Eddie and the potential for a change in lifestyle that he brings. She quickly inserts herself into his life, and the pair become inseparable. But everything isn't as it seems. The details surrounding Bea's death are murky, and Eddie seems more willing to forget about his past and move on than investigate things further. Little does he know that Jane is keeping her past a secret too. Behind the facade of a perfect relationship lies toxicity that is about to come to the forefront. 

I love the kind of book that draws you in from the start and doesn't let go. The Wife Upstairs is exactly that. Rachel Hawkins writes intriguing drama, morally ambiguous characters, and enough twists and turns to keep the plot rolling from start to finish. The novel is a retelling of the classic Jane Eyre, but you don't have to be familiar with that book to enjoy this one. The Bronte book is one of those that I only skimmed through in high school, so I've never actually read it myself. Suffice it to say that The Wife Upstairs has enough intrigue to stand on its own. I won't say that this is the best thriller I've read this year. There are no traditionally likable characters, and the conclusion doesn't quite live up to the mystery that leads up to it. Still, Hawkins has written the kind of compulsively readable novel that begs to be read in one sitting, a fun if a bit flawed thriller. 

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2021, 6)

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