Book reviews

Review of Retribution (Dagger of Aita #1) by S. J. Wolff

Retribution by S.J. Wolff

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 really, but Goodreads won’t let me go halvesies. I liked it and more.

Retribution is a good, tasty fantasy in the urban/paranormal category. I recommend it as a nice, fast, fun read. Expect colorful settings, long-buried conspiracies, historic rivalries between groups of supernaturals, and a well-developed opposites-attract romantic sideline. The plot is action-filled, mystery-based, and twisty. The hero’s flaws and weaknesses are as integral to the plot as his superhuman abilities, and that’s always a positive for me.

Retribution goes international and off the beaten track with its take on the popular vampires vs werewolves trope, adding a shake of angelic forces. It’s a refreshing, thoughtful spin on the old standards. I especially enjoyed the way the historical explanations and tidbits of world-building were dropped in as stories, justified research, or during conversations without feeling forced.

There were enough homophone word errors, grammar glitches, and factual errors to grate on my perfectionist nerves, but they are few and far between. The descriptions are evocative without being overblown, and the dialogue is tightly written and full of emotional impact.

To go with my usual food analogy: Retribution is well-seasoned diner fare: a good investment in flavor and good value for the money. The plot wraps up with potential for sequels, and I’m following the author so I can pick up the next one.

Here’s a link to grab this treat for yourself: Retribution on
As of this writing, it’s FREE to Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

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Book reviews

Review: All From Dreams by Bethanie F. Devors

All From Dreams: Book One: The Seodrassian Chronicles by Bethanie F. DeVors
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars, rounds up.
This is a nice, filling read. It satisfied like a good basic pizza satisfies: warm, packed with familiar flavors and cooked to a nice golden brown. The descriptions are lush without being wordy, the dialogue is snappy, and the characters are memorable, fun, interesting, people I enjoyed getting to know. I want to see them again, and I will be buying the sequel when I get word that it’s available for pre-order. Neither formatting nor grammar errors ever threw me out of the plot, and that’s worth mentioning. So I have.

More positives: I could relate to the protagonist’s emotions; I liked the fish-out-of-water premise of a tech-savvy modern woman dropped into fantasy setting premise; (I am on a serious portal fantasy kick, yes. I am not ashamed.) I enjoyed the fantasy setting on the far side of the portal; and I appreciated the way the romantic elements were woven into the progression of the plot without being forced. The magic system is consistent and not over-powering, and the difficult trick of presenting information through dreams and prophecy worked well too.

Negatives? No, really not. Nothing jumped out at me. It’s a pizza. Familiar is good, and I’m a grumpy old lady who loves pizza. In summary, it’s good stuff, and well worth a nibble. Give it a try.

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Authoring excerpts

Introducing Lockdown, my latest Rough Passages Tale

Elena loves her family, hates homework, and likes all the same things her friends do. She’s a student, an athlete, and a dreamer, and she wants to do important things when she grows up. Most of all, she doesn’t want to grow up to be like her parents. They’re monsters.

Lockdown is the latest of my Rough Passages Tales, a collection of stories about life in a world where your life might change overnight just when you think you’ve got things figured out. Here’s a teeny snippet you won’t find in the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon:

The Test: An excerpt from Lockdown

Ms. Watkins took Elena’s hand, turning it over and pressing it between her soft palms. “I know what you’re doing, dear. Children whisper the same stories, year after year. You hear a rumor about a trick, and you think maybe. You think, it can’t hurt. You’re wrong.”Elena met the woman’s eyes and lied. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Yes, you do. You’re anemic and underweight. Starving yourself won’t affect how your blood factor develops. That fairy tale has been around forever. Stupid girls starve themselves to death.” Ms. Watkins patted Elena’s hand. “You seem like a smart girl, so that’s all the nagging I’ll do. If you have any other questions about the test or rollover, chat with the outreach team from Mercury Battalion, or make an appointment to talk privately–with or without your parents. That’s why the soldiers are here.”

Elena pictured the pair of Marines in the office again. Her spirits rose. “I can ask them anything?”

Ms. Watkins pursed her lips. “If you ask Sergeant Coby if he’s a real troll, you’ll get a lecture on history and mythology. I wouldn’t recommend it.”

“I would never.” Elena couldn’t even imagine being that horrid. “But the other one is a C-N, isn’t he? Probably a one or a two, since he’s in Mercury.”

“Corporal Tillman is a N2C, that’s right. You know your designations. Are you a monster buff, then?” Ms. Watkins sounded disappointed.

“No, but my baby brother has a big book of charts that he likes me to read at bedtime. Knowing more helps him adjust, the therapist said. See, our papa hit onset a few months ago, and he’s C8A. I wanted to ask the soldier how—he—um.” Elena’s face heated with a blush. “Papa sheds. He only has a ruff on his neck and back, but it gets everywhere. Would it be rude to ask the corporal how he gets the fur out of his shirts?”

Ms. Watkins blinked several times before answering. “That question might make Tillman’s whole day. Please do ask. Ask Sergeant Coby about scales, too. I hear they’re equally hard on clothes.” She pointed at the main office door. “Now, scoot along.”

I invite you to read any (all!) of the stories below that take place in the same world:

Kindle Short Reads
ONLY 99 cents each
And here are purchase links for all stories currently in the collection:
Authoring excerpts

Call For Help: A snippet from Joining in the Round

It’s Sunday, I feel like doing a share. Here’s an excerpt from the second story of my Partners novella pairing.

When Felicity reached the security office, the twins were working behind the counter. Dee Geary kept an eye on the flocks and the guests by remote camera while Cee sorted through package deliveries. Both men had coal-black skin, broad cheekbones and hooked noses, and today they wore white poufy shirts under long brocaded jackets. Head scarves topped off the costumes, but the modern work boots and wrist comms were distinctly anachronistic touches.

“Doing Peter Pan for the spawn’s play this year?” Felicity asked.

“Narrr, don’cha know yer classics?” Cee’s grin showed off a gold tooth cover. “Treasure Island. Rehearsal after work.”

Dee waved. “Hi, Flee. You were on Bald Ridge when I pinged your beacon this morning. Did you sprint the whole way back?”

“I might’ve rushed a little.” Apprehension sizzled through her. “I’m not expecting vistors. What’s going on?”

“We’re hoping you can tell us.” Dee said, and Cee said, “I’ll bring them in.”He was out the front door in three seconds flat. Felicity went to Dee’s desk and took a look at the security monitor over his shoulder.

Two women were waiting patiently beside a utility vehicle parked in the visitor’s lot outside the gate. They were dressed like twins in thick gray coats, which was a lot more coverage than the weather warranted, unless they’d come from someplace higher in the mountains.

Dee said, “They won’t give IDs. Do you know them?”

Felicity didn’t recognize either of them. Physically the women had only stick-straight black hair and pale gold skin in common. One was nearly as tall as Felicity, but far less substantial. She was all narrow bones and lean muscle like a wolfhound. The shorter woman had twinkling narrow eyes above high round cheeks, and she was as delicate as a pixie. Together they made quite an eyeful.

When Felicity shrugged, Dee sighed in disappointment. Outside, Cee waved the pair towards the gatehouse with a swashbuckling bow. The short one gave him an impish grin in passing. The tall one watched everything else with a worried frown and made Cee go first up the walkway. Dee said, “I can tell you one thing: that one’s a Combined Forces discharge with trauma issues, or I’ll eat my hat.”<

That comment made Felicity think of someone else she’d met recently: another edgy soldier with an ambiguous identity. He’d traveled with a mischievous partner too. She’d taught the twitchy one to knit, and the partner had shown Felicity how amazing an ordinary life could look to someone who lived a dangerous one.

Thinking of that pair and the precautions she’d taken, she said, “Did you ask Henry to run the biometrics past his civvie contacts?”

“Of course. He said they didn’t have Bureau files.”

That was impossible. The government stored biometric identification on everyone, even foreign tourists. Felicity’s confusion must have been obvious, because Dee said, “It means he doesn’t have clearance for an inquiry. Either these two out-rank his civilian liaison or they’re running under false IDs for an investigation. Or both. All they’ll say is that they have news about mutual friends. Does that mean anything?”

Fear raised a cold sweat all over Felicity’s body and left her mouth dry. “Oh, no. No, no, no.”

She couldn’t think of a single good reason for government spies to be looking for her, but a bad one sprang to mind immediately. Her summer lover had been a meticulous, careful man as well as a caring one. No promises, they’d said when they parted, but he might’ve left instructions to find her.

Dee pushed his chair away from the desk and leaned back so he could see Felicity’s face. “There’s a story,” he said in a threatening tone. “I expect to hear every detail eventually.”

A moment later Cee was inside with the visitors. He made a flourishing gesture. “Anonymous mystery women, meet Felicity Chen. Felicity, meet your enigmatic admirers.” He withdrew behind the counter and conspicuously stood listening. Dee joined him. Together they waited with folded arms and watchful eyes. They ignored Felicity’s glare.

“Very menacing,” the short woman said. “I’ve never been menaced by pirates. I like it.”

She had a sweet soprano voice as delicate as the rest of her, and she wasn’t acting like someone with bad news. That was hopeful. She stepped forward and stuck out a fragile-looking hand. “Hi there. I’m Naomi Kwan. This is Serena Nguyen. It’s good to finally meet you.”

Cee ducked into the office, no doubt to run a background check. Naomi’s name sounded vaguely familiar. Felicity kept the handshake as brief as possible. “Is it good? I mean, is this about Carl and Parker or whatever their real names are? Did something happen to them?”

“No, no.” Naomi flexed her fingers, looking bemused. “They’re both fine. Alive. Whatever. Oh, I’m so sorry. Parker should’ve known you’d jump to conclusions, but he made us promise to meet in person, and maybe I should’ve left a message, but this is so awkward already…”

“Babbling, Naomi.” Serena’s voice was a brusque alto, every syllable clipped short. “Parker said to lead with this.”

Metal glinted between her fingers, and she flung something at the front door. Two long, thin rods hit the wooden jamb one after the other and stuck there quivering. Serena nodded at them while looking at Felicity. “He says that if you still like a challenge, then you should come home with us and teach Carl the same lesson you taught him.”

Her wide, dark eyes were disconcertingly direct. Felicity glanced away. Warm memories of helping a short-tempered man redevelop lost dexterity flickered through her mind. “Parker was always doing that when he got frustrated,” she said, looking to Naomi. “That’s where I heard the name Naomi. You were his physical therapist. For his hands.”

“I was.” Naomi’s eyes danced. “And you’re the reason he knits doggie boots when he’s stressed out. Do you still like a challenge?”

Dee was staring at the door. “Those are knitting needles?”

From the safety of the office Cee said, “Yes, and Flee usually has, like, three sets on her. Makes you look at her hobby a little differently, doesn’t it?”
“It’s a craft, not a hobby, and I—” Felicity sighed. “Never mind. I’m never going to convin-”

Serena spoke over her. “You will help, won’t you? Carl is healing with crooked wings, and he snaps and scratches and doesn’t listen. You’re all feathers and claws and big and solid too. You could make him fly right. Say yes, please?”<

That bizarre string of remarks defied response. Naomi cleared her throat to break the silence. “Let me try. Carl got injured, and he’s sabotaging his own recovery. Parker thinks you can get through to him. He’s away on a job he can’t leave, or he’d be here to convince you himself.”

“Convince me, or kidnap me?” Parker wasn’t the persuasive type. He was more the ‘hit things until they cooperate’ type.<

“Good point. Maybe it’s better he’s not here. Talking doesn’t come easy.” Naomi put a hand on Serena’s arm. “He isn’t the only one with that problem.”

Joining In The Round
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Book reviews

Review: Forging Day by Noelle Alladania Meade


3.5 stars. Rounding up as usual for the site named after a river in South America.

Snapshot: I had pretty high hopes, and this tale still exceeded them. The plot moves smoothly and develops to a snappy action finale, the dialogue flowed naturally, characters were well-defined and interesting, and the world-building is presented through action more than explanation. The writing was even free from most of the indie-publishing/small press irritations that that grate on me (‘tho that’s to be expected from MuseItUp. Their editors and proofers do good work.) 

Books are food comparison: dinner at a favorite diner. Nothing mind-blowing, but always satisfying. Could return every week (or as often as budgeting allows) happily order more of the same thing off the menu, and never get tired of it.

This is the first in a series, and the story takes its time with meticulous set-up and development prior to the Inciting Event. My reading preferences being skewed towards something more like immersion therapy, I was ready for things to go haywire a heck of a lot sooner than they did. Chekov’s gun, meet Damocles sword of plotting. It’s called Forging Day. I knew, as a reader, that Something Was Going To Happen.  Everything on the page before that was interesting, but the impending Change due to happen at any moment distracted me from appreciating the minor dramas as much as they deserved.

There is sex: explicit sex, and some in situations that leaned on the consent line. I mention this because the dangers of unhealthy relationships and the protagonist’s maturation from passive victim to active agent are elements fundamental to the plot as well as to the character’s development. I thought the issues were handled with finesse and skill.  I like more emphasis on sensuality and less on mechanics in my erotica, but there are plenty of happy sheet-rumpling scenes, and plenty of variety too. 

It’s a large cast, but most of the characters conformed to archetypes that made them easy to remember without falling into stereotypes. (The distinction is a fine one, others may disagree) My only complaint is that the focus on quirks and memorable hooks obscured the depth of their personalities. I was pleasantly intrigued by glimpses of that complexity, and I have every faith that they have depth…but most of them never got a chance to show off. The action moved fast once it started, and kept moving right to the finale.

Basically the story’s strengths are in some ways also its weaknesses. Which doesn’t tell you what you need to know, and that’s this: is it worth a read?

3.5 stars means I like it, but figure it will appeal to some, and not all.

So, it depends. f you read fantasy fiction of the classic or urban variety, if you do tabletop gaming or have ever been a noob, if you enjoy creative anachronism,  or hot chicks kissing, if you get a kick about stories with mutant dinosaurs, motorcycles, or MORE COWBELL–if any or all of those references made you smile, then give this book book a read and follow the author so you won’t miss the next installment. 

Link to purchase: Forging Day (Crucible of Change 1)
Noelle Meade’s Amazon author page: