Review of Dark Territory by Jerry Hunter

darkterritorySummary: From the Civil War battlefields of England and Ireland to a mystery lost in the forests of North America, this is both a roaring adventure and a timely commentary on the dangers of religious extremism.

Rhisiart Dafydd is a zealous Roundhead who embraces Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army and the violence it entails. But can his convictions survive the atrocities of the English Civil Wars and Parliament’s campaign in Ireland? Called upon by his former commander to voyage to America to seek out a missing group of Welsh Puritans, he must first survive the journey, and then – if he can find the community – see whether they really have created the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.

An epic historical adventure set during one of the most turbulent periods in history, this gripping thriller also poses questions about violence, power, religious extremism and rejection of difference which are chillingly relevant to our world today.

Note: I was given a copy of this novel by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

If history teaches us one thing, it’s that humanity never really changes. We don’t seem to learn from our mistakes. History repeats itself.

Dark Territory is historical fiction and was written in Welsh, originally published under the title Y Fro Dywyll, and was translated by Patrick K. Ford.

The novel opens with a former soldier named Rhisiart Daffyd walking through the noisy, sometimes harrowing, streets of 1656 London. Among the sights and sounds of the living, death stares back through mounted heads on pikes, a stark reminder of where we are all headed. The climate is chilling, despite the children running through the streets, the vendors selling their wares, and life continuing on as a man who has seen his fair share of death walks these cobbled streets. I am right there with Rhisiart, an invisible set of eyes on his shoulder. The description of the streets of London is done so vividly, with such beautiful detailed language, that the reader really gets a sense of what life was like then.

Rhisiart Daffyd served in Oliver Cromwell’s Army of the Saints and has come to London under the summons of his former commanding officer, John Powel. Powel has gotten word of a settlement in America that has drifted from the Calvinist views being upheld in Cromwellian England, and he wishes to send Rhisiart to the new country to investigate and report back to him.

Rhisiart boards the ship Primrose. He is surrounded by Englishmen, the only other Welshman an older man named Owen Lewys. Some of the best dialogue in the book occurs between these two during the voyage. Having witnessed, and taken part in, so much death during the war, Rhisiart questions his beliefs. The faith he once adhered to is no longer true for him. He and Owen, who his a Quaker, discuss passages in the Gospel of John, where the light within every man is written about. Rhisiart dismisses Predestination, believing it ludicrous that God would select some souls for damnation and others for salvation prior to their births. Rather, he believes now that God’s light shines within all people, even though humanity is flawed. He keeps quiet about his views aboard the ship, however, as he and Owen are in the minority.

A storm rages at sea as the ship approaches land. It hits rocks, leaving Rhisiart and a black tom cat named Nicholas the only survivors.

The novel then gives us the backstory of Rhisiart, from the time he was a boy and lost both of his parents, raised by his sister Alys and his uncle, to when he started apprenticing under a blacksmith. There is lovely narrative about Rhisiart working words into the objects he crafts. It is during this time that he develops his belief in what Cromwell professes. He marries the blacksmith’s daughter, Elisabeth, but he soon goes off to war.

When he returns from war a broken man who now questions everything he believed in, having witnessed atrocities, including the Battle of Naseby in 1645, he hopes to settle down. The “little plague” darkens his family’s doorstep, killing Elisabeth and his unborn child.

I was devastated right along with Rhisiart. Despite the atrocities he has participated in, he is still a man who loves and thought he was doing right for his homeland. It’s no wonder he takes on the mission Powel entrusts him with, seeing as he has no one keeping him in England any longer.

The book switches back to 1656. Once Rhisiart comes ashore, he is cared for by some Native Americans. There aren’t many of them at all, and the one who speaks English tells him how many of their tribe died from diseases from the settlers. The kindness of the Native Americans toward Rhisiart shows more of true Christian (or otherwise) charity than any of the characters in the book, despite they aren’t Christian. This truth is resonates with Rhisiart and does with me as well. It is heartbreaking to look back on history and see how the Native Americans were driven from their land, in some cases, and how such things still occurs today, both in America and globally. The refugee crisis in the world today comes to mind. To show kindness and generosity to your fellow person is in the spirit of what is at the heart of Christianity, the whole to do what Jesus did. To show mercy, understanding, love.

I think this is what strikes Rhisiart, both in his discussion aboard the Primrose with Owen Lewys and with the Native Americans. More than ever, he doesn’t believe in the Calvinist doctrine. He sees it for the manmade construct it is, not a divine ordinance…although he still has a mission to see through.

He regains his strength while in the care of the Native Americans. They give him a map to the settlement Powel told him to seek. Rhisiart travels several days through the woods in the dying fall and arrives at New Jerusalem. By the name alone, you can be sure this settlement believes it is God’s kingdom on Earth.

Rhisiart settles there for several months, befriending some (blacksmith Griffith John Griffith and his son, Ifan, and young, pregnant widow Rebecca) and at odds with others (namely the Elder, Rhosier Wyn). He learns some secrets about the corrupted ways the leaders of New Jerusalem carry out what they believe is divine justice. His beliefs are challenged more every passing day, and as Rebecca’s pregnancy nears its end, dread overcomes the reader, wondering how this is all going to end.

We have seen the crimes and wars done in the name of religion over the centuries, including the accurate historical representation in Dark Territory. So much unnecessary violence and death has resulted over disagreements. The whole “I am right, you are wrong” mentality and the pride of believing one’s way is the only true way puts up walls between people, between nations, and it tears down the Golden Rule. In theory, it should be simple to follow the path of love, to treat others as you wish to be treated, even in our human imperfection.

We can look at the serious nature of the English Civil Wars of the seventeenth century and the harsh beliefs of the Puritans in America and believe we have come so far from those ways of thinking, but a quick look around the world today paints a different story.

Dark territory, indeed. This novel shows the journey, the struggle, the life of one man in the midst of religious wars and tyranny. It forces us to look deep within ourselves and examine our hearts, our beliefs, to trod the path today through dark territory.

This novel is one of those rare gems that hooked me from the beginning. The themes are important for anyone to realize and think about. This is one of those masterpieces that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

5 out of 5 stars

Favorite quotes: “He imagined that silence would roll down the corridors like mist on the surface of a river, that quiet would collect in the chambers like water gathers in a fountain’s pool, turning sound to vapour and dulling the ear, keeping secrets secret.”

“He tilts his face to the sun, his eyes closed, and all the sounds of the ship are like a whisper in a dream. This is the world, he thinks, and this is the life I have lived. The heat he feels on his face has the warmth of skin: like another cheek pressing against his own cheek. Living fingers playing with his hair, a hand caressing his skin playfully.”

“Is the way that the most insignificant instincts lead an animal to its death essentially different from the way that most men follow their instincts to the end?”

“‘I do. He knew that I… had lived the life… had believed… had done. And he knew that I now doubt many of the things I used to believe in. And he saw value in that.’”

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Review of Cobwebs of Youth by Rose Auburn

cobswebsofyouthSummary: ‘Cobwebs of Youth’ is a contemporary, romantic novel set in the London suburbs. It tells the story of Lara Cassidy who realises her dream of becoming a children’s book illustrator like her father. Yet her happiness is short-lived and she is plunged into uncertainty as Robert Kennedy, the mysterious stranger she first encountered ten years earlier, comes back into her life. Will Lara finally be able to lay her Father’s ghost to rest and fully embrace what the future holds?

Note: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Cobwebs of Youth is a lovely book, let me just say. Lovely is the first word that comes to mind and sticks with me as I recount my experience reading this novel.

I am quite familiar with British novels, having recently read The Girl on the Train and The Woman in Cabin 10. I am also a fan of British shows, such as Doctor Who, Downton Abbey, and Sherlock. Being an American, I pick up on the differences in the English language when I step into a British novel. And it’s lovely.

The characters in this book are very realistic and relatable. Their dialogue reads so fluidly, so naturally. That is probably my favorite part of this story, and it’s a character-driven, dialogue-driven story told in third person-limited narrative, so what a pleasure to read Lara Cassidy’s journey of finding herself.

It may sound like another modern mundane romance story, like another journey of self-discovery. I admit, this arch is overdone these days, yet it works so well most of the time. When done right, as it is in Cobwebs of Youth (which is a great title, by the way), these types of stories can resonate with many people.

The book opens with an 18-year-old Lara visiting her father, against her mother’s wishes. Her parents are divorced. When she arrives at her dad’s house, she finds he is with a French woman. She feels betrayed, no longer the first woman in her dad’s life. She is at a vulnerable age. She and her best friend, Jen, go to a local pub to drink away their sorrows. While there, Lara meets an older biker man named Rob, who comforts her. She is both intrigued and put off by him.

A decade passes. Lara’s dad has died, and she moves into his house. She is in a relationship with attorney Ed, a guy who, according to Lara’s mum, has a good job and is a good match for Lara. Lara is an artist, an illustrator like her dad, and has a big project coming up to illustrate a children’s book called Puddle. It may be her big break where her career is concerned, but she finds herself severely unhappy. She attends one of Ed’s work parties, where everyone is only surface-level and rubbing noses. She has felt little affection for Ed for months, and he seems equally distant, more concerned with his job than their relationship. They finally end it.

Lara almost steps back in time by returning to the pub where she met Rob, unable to forget him all these years. As fate would have it, he is there again. They start talking and strike up a relationship. Rob is everything Ed isn’t. Jen and Lara’s mum don’t approve of her dating a biker, but she feels more alive with him than she has in her life. She rides a motorcycle for the first time and feels exhilarated. She meets new people. She is head-over-heels in love with this mysterious guy.

But life is never easy. As much as Lara wants to get away from the past, it’s still part of her. This story is a beautiful exploration of a young woman’s struggle to come into her own.

There are some grammatical errors in the book, but they don’t detract from the story or the great dialogue.

4 out of 5 stars

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Review of Jacqueline Willoughby by Schuyler Randall

jacquelinewilloughbySummary: A string of mysterious murders rocks Birmingham, Alabama, in the page-turner Jacqueline Willoughby. At first glance, the murders seem to be connected to the Ten Commandments, but FBI agents Kason McAlester and Troy Stephens see that there is more to the story—and that a rare book written decades ago by a woman named Jacqueline Willoughby may have the answer to solving the crimes.

Will the two agents be able to follow the trail of the old book and find the killer responsible for these grisly murders? You’ll have to read Jacqueline Willoughby to find out.

Note: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Jacqueline Willoughby is a crime novella that reads quickly and is a good short book to pick up if you’re looking for an afternoon of entertainment. It’s what I might call a beach read: It’s easy to understand and straightforward.

The novel revolves around a series of murders in Birmingham, Alabama, in current day. FBI agents Kason McAlester and Troy Stephens investigate these murders and quickly come to the conclusion that they are connected. The murderer is following the Ten Commandments to carry them out. The victims are always purposefully placed and left with a wadded up piece of paper in their mouths that says what their crime is that they were killed for, plus the initials J.W.

For several chapters, the story follows a simple convention: The FBI agents and other police show up at the crime scene to find the victims. Kason smells a perfume fragrance left by the killer. The papers are recovered from the victims’ mouths.

This repetition begins to feel a bit overdone, but luckily, the author breaks up the chapters by having the agents meet with others who may have some knowledge of what happened. I enjoyed these segments more, especially the visits to a Mrs. Madison and her elderly aunt, Dr. Moore, who is interesting and sometimes humorous to read. Dr. Moore is the one who gives the agents the information about a book written by Jacqueline Willoughby that may be connected to these murders. The book describes similar murders that happened in the 1930s and were done by Willoughby’s daughter, Raina.

The dialogue from some of the minor characters was more realistic than what came out of the agents’ mouths most of the time. Of course, it’s expected the FBI agents would be all business while investigating a crime, but I would have liked to have seen more personality worked into Kason and Troy. We get some glimpses of their personal lives, like when they are with their wives or at church, but I would have liked to have seen more.

I don’t read many crime novels (or novellas), so this genre isn’t very familiar to me. It felt very formulaic. As a novella, it is shorter than a novel, but I would have liked it to be fleshed out more. I think more background on the agents and more time spent with them when they weren’t just investigating crimes would have made them more relatable and interesting. Many of the characters just spoke in bland dialogue, maybe even feeling robotic at times.

I am more into character-driven stories. This one is definitely more plot-driven. More motives and background on the killer would have been great as well. Everything seems almost too easy. I figured out who the killer was about halfway through the book. Throw in some red-herrings next time. Make me guess more. Don’t make it so easy.

While this is a good book for entertainment, I think it would have worked better as a full novel with more details. It feels like something is missing for me, but maybe that’s just my bias. Readers of crime novels and plot-driven stories would likely enjoy this book.

Grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure are all near perfect, which is a breath of fresh air after the last couple of indie authors I’ve read.

3 out of 5 stars

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Jacqueline Willoughby

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Review of The Son of Alpha (The Legend of the Sky-Titans Book 1) by Raleigh Daniels Jr.

skytitansSummary: In post-apocalyptic America, two orphaned children raised as sharecroppers live together in a fragile, farm home. Michael Gilliganson Jr, the son of the world’s greatest mercenary, Mopy, acts as the sole guardian of his little sister, Nya, after the death of their parents. But when the NeoMen (humanoid dinosaurs) invaded their small town, they take Nya hostage. Michael, who must now live up to his parent’s legacy as the legendary Sky-Titan to save his sister, is gifted with his father’s Badge of Alpha, a blue and yellow, badge-like device that gives him the ability to transform into the therianthropic god, Alpha to fight against the emergence of the tyrannical dinosaur dominated empire led by the evil King Mungfalme. He then joins forces with legendary werewolf hunter, Val Helsing (now known as Pappy), Jullian the Iota Eagle, the Vendor, Mr. Dalton, The Duke of Washington, and newcomer Samantha as they fight against the Dinosaurs to save and protect mankind from the brink of annihilation.

Note: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The book opens with Michael and Nya Gilliganson living on a farm in post-apocalyptic America. They are orphans, so Michael cares for his younger sister. They go about their lives in seemingly normal fashion for the time period, but it’s clear that they are just trying to mind their own business and survive. While at the market one day to get produce, they meet a young boy named Thames, who is also an orphan. They take him home. That’s when things start to get interesting.

Thames is not an ordinary boy, which we find out when Michael drops Nya and him off at the schoolhouse one day. Thames and Nya quickly develop a close bond, and Thames is fiercely protective of Nya. When a bully picks on them at school, chaos ensures. Things unravel, and what was once a benign relationship turns complex, even sour. Thames is not who he appears.

Meanwhile, back home, Michael makes a discovery that will change his life. He finds the Badge of Alpha, which gives him immense power. He is the son of two legendary Sky-Titans, who battled the Neomen (dinosaur-men who invaded Earth and took over). An intense battle plays out right after he gains power from the badge, and not even understanding what’s happening, Michael is joined by the fruit vendor from the marketplace (Pappy). They fight some demonic creatures, who seemingly appear out of nowhere and are looking for the badge.

Not only do we get the story of Michael and Nya, but we also read about the Neomen through a letter that one of them, General Yalen, is composing to King Mungfalme. Yalen begins having reservations about how the Neomen are treating (more like mistreating) humans. He befriends a human named Samantha, who is one of the prisoners on the ship he’s on. His hostility toward the Earl who is in charge on the ship grows daily.

There are many exciting action sequences in this story, which read quickly and keep the reader engaged, although some of the scenes are hard to follow because there is perhaps too much going on in just a few pages. This book is anything but boring, but it is filled with typos, grammatical errors, tense changes, and punctuation problems, which make the reading clunky. I am unsure if this novel was edited at all, but it doesn’t appear to be. If it went through an edit, I believe the story would read much easier and flow better.

The characters are all interesting, and their different voices are clear. However, the constant change of point of view reads odd. I feel that this story would work better told in third person instead of the switching first person views.

There are some lovely passages, showing a clear sense that the author has the ability to write beautifully, but then there are several sentences that read unevenly, repeat the same word, or have extraneous words in them. Again, if edited, I believe this would clean up much of this and help tell the story better.

The content of the story is solid and good, but due to the level of other issues mentioned above, I didn’t feel I could enjoy it as much. I also admit that fantasy is not a genre I read much, so while I am sure others may enjoy this type of story more, I found it good but not great. It was an easy book for entertainment, yet I didn’t feel fully invested in the characters enough to care what happened or feel for them.

3 out of 5 stars

Favorite quote: “Just before I ran to this discarded hill, I heard voices, a melancholy rainbow of voices pouring into my head like a raging waterfall.”

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The Son of Alpha (The Legend of the Sky-Titans Book 1)

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Review of Off Script: A Monkey & Me Novel by Liv Bartlet

offscriptSummary: “I kissed Edward Wolverton once. It was everything it was supposed to be—and then some… maybe I’ll kiss him again.” TV Producer Bea Douglas’s last confession to her former business partner and ex-best friend wasn’t meant to tempt the fates. She’s eager to escape the hypocrisy of the television industry and years of hiding her faith for the convenience of other people. Edward Wolverton may be hot, smart, and funny—but he’s also two steps out of rehab with a self-proclaimed allergy to Christianity. But after a club night turns violent, Bea loses her sense of self while Eddie teeters on the edge of relapse. Their connection to each other is the only certainty. To be together, each will have to let go of past pain and have faith in a love that never fades. Off Script is an uncommon story of the power of love and resilience to bring people together in a society that does its best to tear them apart.

Note: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Off Script is the second in the Monkey & Me series by Liv Bartlet. I had the pleasure of reading the first novel, Production Values, last year. You can read my review here. I highly suggest you read the first book to receive the full benefit of the second book’s story, although Off Script can certainly be read independently and thoroughly enjoyed.

Off Script is a literary breath of fresh air in the indie author world. I read plenty of books by self-published authors, and like its forerunner, this second book in the series is smart, sassy, funny, has heart, and makes you actually think, all the while entertaining you. It’s rare to find a book that has all those qualities.

I am a writer, an author, and an avid reader. The more I read and write, the more persnickety I get. Liv Bartlet knows her stuff. Not only does she have excellent insight into the workings of the making of television shows and movies, but she understands human interactions with a depth that few writers can convey so believably in their dialogue.

Bea Douglas has spent years in the world of Hollywood and the like. She thrives on her work. She’s the sort of woman who needs to be doing something to feel useful. When she’s not producing a show or running PR, she’s a volunteer nurse. She’s sassy, witty, and quick. She shows a tough exterior to a world where she has to be tough for the sake of keeping her head above the water.

But behind all that glamor is a broken soul who longs for more. She wants to be a mother. She is in love with heart-throb actor Eddie Wolverton, who is the male lead in her TV show Void. She is also a woman a faith, a Mormon, who believes, against the conventions of society, in waiting until marriage to have sex.

Before you turn away at this point because of the mention of religion, let me just say that this book does not preach or try to throw religious dogma in the reader’s face. I admire Bea for sticking to her convictions in a world where many would snub her. Bea’s faith is a real part of her character, just as Eddie’s aversion to religion is a necessary and believable part of his character. As Bea loves Eddie, so he loves her. Their religious differences are one of the obstacles they must overcome to be together. People face these kinds of obstacles every day in relationships. Bea is open-minded and non-judgmental of those who are different, and Eddie loves Bea more for her conviction of knowing what she wants. This is admirable. They complement each other the way bacon and chocolate together works. They may seem strange at first glance, but look deeper, and you find that the complexities and layers are rich and meld together beautifully.

Eddie is a recovering alcoholic. Bea doesn’t drink, even though she spends time around crowds who do. This is yet another road block for their relationship, but no one just falls in love, and boom, it’s happily ever after. Even though Eddie has his vice of alcohol and his ex, Siena, he is a likeable guy. Having written a couple of male characters in my books who suffer from alcoholism and seeing it in my own extended family, I know the stumbling block it is. Alcoholics are not bad people. They are often quite charming and outgoing, but their outward smiles and living it up during the good times are a cover for the desperation of turning to the bottle.

Bea is trying to figure out her life after the partnership of Monkey & Me was destroyed when her best friend, Kat, decided to pursue her own dreams in the industry. She figures it’s finally time to walk away from the Hollywood life and settle down into her dream of a family life. When things turn disastrous for her at a club one night, she is left hollow and broken. She reaches out to Eddie. Although Eddie is very much in love with Bea, he has his own problems and is perhaps not the best support for Bea to lean on.

What ensues is a balancing act of Bea and Eddie each working independently and together to overcome their obstacles. Love is the starting point, but is it enough to break through their weakness and make them stronger as one? Bea is clear: she wants marriage if Eddie wants sex. She also wants a baby and is pregnant with another man’s child (it’s not what you think).

I appreciate Liv’s honesty with these characters. She doesn’t dance around the hard topics: like faith, family life, marriage, rape, drugs, alcohol, and more. In the messiness, a masterpiece painting is created.

I recently heard someone say that when God is creating a lovely tapestry, if you turn it around and look at the back, you will see all the messy threads, the pieces that had to go together to create this work of art. We often don’t understand why life plays out as it does, but trusting in God, as Bea tries to do, is better than trusting in ourselves alone.

Full disclosure: I am a Christian, so Liv’s story resonated with me. I understand Bea’s struggle with her faith. I also believe that anyone can read this story and enjoy its message of love being stronger than our weakness.

This is a beautifully rendered women’s fiction story.

5 of out 5 stars

Favorite quote: “Friendzone isn’t a terrible place to be. No drama, plenty of food, and someone who cares.”

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Review of The Lamp and Lantern by A.E. Vaughn

41qh2iBbcaLSummary: The first series in the Lamp & Lantern contains ten episodes that portray a search for a legendary fictional gold mine lost in a cursed region of the northern Rocky Mountains. Along the way the cast of characters are drawn together by a common lust for gold as they reminisce about the past, speculate about the lost fortune, and share in the success and misfortune of those around them. In their pursuit of the lost mine they endure a myriad of challenges from this world and the next.

The target audience crosses between those that enjoy modern stories and television about outdoorsmen, survival, gold fever, and paranormal and unexplained mysteries. It brings many historical and modern concepts together to provide a new twist on a gold rush in today’s world. The manuscript simultaneously comments on people, large corporate deception, and greed while being intertwined with the reinvention of love in the main characters eyes.

During the first series the reader meets Jonathan Daxter, who spent much of his childhood with his grandfather and uncle searching a remote section in northern Idaho for the Lost Lamp gold mine. After growing up and moving away, Jon returns home upon the passing of his grandfather. He soon realizes that he has reached a breaking point in his career and relationship, and rekindles his long forgotten lust for the lost mine as a way out of middle class normalcy. Jon gathers a team of trusted friends and colleagues with whom he pieces together clues from stories and maps forgotten in history. Along the way they navigate through difficult mountainous terrain, encounter eccentric people, stumble upon clues lost in time, and cross over into a seemingly paranormal world lost in the remoteness and mystery of the area. In the end of the first part of the series the reader is left to believe that certain team members have fallen, others have split, and others may have indeed stumbled upon the Lost Lamp mine – and perhaps much more.

Note: I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The novel opens with a 15-year-old Jon Daxter out in the Idaho wilderness with his grandpa Jim and his uncle Roger.  Jim tells his grandson stories about the lost gold mine they are searching for.  Jon knows finding this mine has been his grandpa’s life ambition, and he has gone out into the woods many times in search of it.  Right off the bat, there is a lot of narration used to tell the backstory of the mine.  It feels like the author is eager to give the reader as many details about the legendary mine, and it comes across as an information dump.  It’s too much too soon.  Grandpa Jim is an interesting character, but he could have been rendered more three-dimensional if his character hadn’t been used primarily as a source of giving information.

When Jim has a sudden stroke by a creek upon the trio discovering a symbol of the lamp on a tree, at a place they’ve never been before while on their search, it seems like that’s the end of the journey for Jon.  The narrative fast-forwards twenty years, and Jon is an executive in a large company in corporate America, highly unhappy with his lot in life.  He’s been living with the same woman since college.  The woman, Paige, has nothing better to do than laze about their apartment and watch T.V. and spend all of Jon’s hard-earned money.  Jon is clearly unsatisfied with where his life has gone.  His dreams in his youth have vanished to give way to a bitter, middle-aged man who hates his job and his relationship.  This is an interesting development for Jon’s character.  I like that he is given more of a backstory than just lusting after the gold like his grandfather.

All these years, Grandpa Jim has been catatonic from the stroke.  He has spent most of that time in nursing homes, but he comes home to die.  Jon is called back home because his grandpa is dying.  It’s been years since Jon has been back to Hayden, Idaho.  He sees his grandpa one last time, and miraculously, Grandpa Jim briefly becomes conscious and tells Jon some information regarding the lost gold mine.  He imparts cryptic messages, such as “The lamp lights your way, and the lantern guides you out.”

Jim passes away.  Jon meets up with his old high school buddy, Shim, while out drinking one night at home.  They get to talking about old times and the gold mine.  Shim is a colorful character who has some great lines.  

Then Jon must return to his unhappy life.  He is clearly done with his job.  The reader wants just as much as Jon to be out of his company, a place full of uncompassionate people who are only driven by greed.  While the corruption of a large company like this is believable, I am not sure everyone would be such a jerk as they are shown.  Only one coworker seems to care that Jon lost his grandfather.  This doesn’t match up with my life experience.

Jon finally decides to leave his job and his girlfriend and take up the torch from his grandpa.  He wants to find the lost gold mine.  He returns to Hayden and immediately asks his uncle Roger and his friend Shim to help him.  They begin gathering a group of people to help, those who have skills necessary to navigate through the harsh wilderness.  The group grows in size and meets to discuss what is already known about the mines and what their plans are.

The novel becomes several chapters of the characters sitting around talking about the above. There is very little action. Several characters seems to serve no purpose other than being source of information, so their lengthy paragraphs of dialogue come across as information dumps. People don’t talk like this. If you have a group of seven people sitting around, there is going to be much more exchange in the talking, especially when discussing something as dangerous as cursed mines that are surrounded by all sorts of lore, from ghosts, to landforms that change, to extraterrestrials, to the gate to hell, to wild Indians killing people, to people disappearing when they go looking for the mines, etc.

The idea behind the mines is certainly full of merit. It could make for a high-action, high-suspense, high-mystery, high-thriller tale, if only the characters would actually get off their behinds and get out there and actually search for the gold mines!  We have to wait through 75 percent of the book to finally get to the point of action!

I also like the idea of Jon having a sudden awakening in the middle of his life and realizing he’s been wasting his time doing unfulfilling things, and it taking the death of a loved one to finally snap him into action to make something out of his life. But the ideas alone are not enough. The story lacks a lot of momentum.

There is far too much telling going on, too little action. I would like to see more showing and action. I thought I was going to be reading about a dangerous, life-threatening expedition to find this gold mine, and instead, I feel I have been sitting in a room, growing bored as I listen to a bunch of guys talk and talk and talk. And why is the group just guys? Where is a woman in the crowd?

There are some saving moments of dialogue, especially between Hurk and Travis, two of the guys recruited to go on the trip. But again, it’s just not enough to drive the story forward.

There are also many punctuational errors and spelling errors littered throughout the book. I am not sure if this story went through an editor, but it doesn’t appear to have done so.

I wanted to enjoy this story more, but unfortunately, it just didn’t keep my interest.

2 of out 5 stars

Favorite quote: “The lamp lights your way, and the lantern guides you out.”

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Review of River Rising (Carson Chronicles Book 1) by John A. Heldt

riverrisingSummary: Weeks after his parents disappear on a hike, engineer Adam Carson, 27, searches for answers. Then he discovers a secret web site and learns his mom and dad are time travelers stuck in the past. Armed with the information he needs to find them, Adam convinces his younger siblings to join him on a rescue mission to the 1880s.

Note: I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Being a fan of time travel and historical fiction, this novel piqued my interest when the author approached me to ask if I would read and review it.  Adam Carson, the oldest of the Carson siblings, acts as the leader in his parents’ absence.  His younger siblings include Greg (a history teacher), Natalie (a journalist), and twins Cody and Caitlin (still in high school).  Upon receiving news that his parents’ mysterious disappearance a few months earlier was because they went through a time vortex in Sedona, Arizona, Adam decides he and his siblings need to go back in time to find them.

Early on in the book, most of the chapters are devoted to Adam.  Although the narrative is third person, the chapters switch focus on which sibling is in the center of the action.  Adam seems to be making all of the decisions, and his siblings don’t seem to have much in way of voices of their own at first.  The exception to this is his sister, Natalie, who gets her own chapter early on.  She finds her boyfriend cheating on her, and it makes the decision to leave life in 2017 to go to 1888 that much easier.

I would argue that all of the siblings pretty much collectively make this decision too easily.  It’s not that I wouldn’t expect them to want to find their parents, but I would have liked to have seen more character development early on for each of the characters.  It would be a lot to ask anyone to leave everything they know and travel to another time.  The fear of something happening during the unknown process of time traveling or the risks of trying to live in the past are very real fears, not to mention the possibility that the mission might fail.  Adam and his siblings are pretty clueless on how these time vortices work, except that they are active on the equinoxes and the solstices.  I am glad they took the chance to find their parents and do the noble thing, but I would have liked to have seen more struggle with the decision.

The author does a good job of researching the time period.  He gives nice references to Mark Twain, to the technology of the time, and the social conventions.  It is obvious that he researched the 1880s well when writing this novel.

The true excitement for this story begins upon their arrival in 1888.  When they step out of the vortex, they aren’t in Sedona anymore (or Kansas for that matter–ha, ha), but rather in rural Pennsylvania.  They make their way to the nearest town of Johnstown, and after talking with the hotel clerk, find out that their parents just passed through the town.

The Carsons arrive on December 21, 1888 and decide to stay until at least March 20, 1889, when the equinox will be. Greg is sent out west to explore Arizona and California, because a jeweler in Johnstown tells them that the older Carsons told him they would be traveling in that direction. The rest of the siblings remain in Johnstown.

Natalie meets young and handsome reporter Sam Prentiss, who works for the local paper.  She gets a job as a columnist there, also in hopes of getting connections to finding out information on her parents. She knows they met with Mark Twain, so she procures an interview with the man himself.  In the midst of all this, she develops feelings for the wealthy Sam, finding her heart torn between falling in love and knowing she will have to leave in a few short weeks.

The twins attend high school.  Cody quickly falls for pretty Emma, and Caitlin is wrapped up in learning as much as she can about the times.

Adam has his own love interest, the clerk at the hotel where they are staying: Bridget O’Malley. He keeps tabs on the rest of his siblings and on gaining information on his parents.

Greg’s story seems to be the most exciting.  Once in Arizona, he meets up with Clayton Kane, a man who is on the run, although Greg doesn’t know it.  A shootout ensues when traveling with him in the desert!  He has the luck of getting information on his parents’ whereabouts by talking with a local merchant.  Greg manages to make it to San Francisco, where he explores the theatres, as his parents are lovers of the arts and would have likely visited the theatres while in town.  He develops his own love interest with Julia Jamison, an older widow who is an actress.  Little does he know he just crossed paths with his parents, Tim and Caroline Carson, while eating in a restaurant one night!

There are many facts thrown in about the times, such as Groundhog’s Day and Benjamin Harrison becoming President.  Details on what buildings were in San Francisco prior to the 1906 earthquake, what sorts of guns were used in the Wild West, and the fare that was eaten during the time period are nice touches.  The author does a great job with setting.

Despite my earlier concern about character development, I believe Mr. Heldt more than makes up for that as the novel progresses.  This is a long book at over 600 pages, so patience is a virtue when reading.  The divided nature of every character caught with connecting to the 1880s and returning to their own time is believable and understandable for anyone caught in such a plight.  Even if time travel isn’t possible, we can all relate to having to make a tough decision of staying or leaving when we are invested in both places.  I like the subtle romance of a time when public displays of affection were frowned upon, when people were much more formal, despite the tugging of their heartstrings.  

The biggest worry the characters have is whether or not they will actually get to their parents in time, before Tim and Caroline Carson step through another portal to another time (as they have done in the past–this trip wasn’t their first).  The Carson siblings may very well lose their parents forever is that happens.

So, the question hangs: will they succeed or not?  The story only escalates from what I’ve shared so far, but sharing too much would ruin the beauty of this time-travel tale of love, heartache, shootouts, and survival.

4 and of 5 stars

Favorite quote: “From Gurley to Goodwin Street and beyond, he saw saloons, restaurants, and breweries and more false fronts than on the set of a Spaghetti Western. Most were as tightly packed as book on a library shelf, as unique as fingerprints, and as appealing as cancan dancers on a Saturday night.”

Buy River Rising (Carson Chronicles Book 1) on Amazon

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday, including book reviews.

My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for only $2.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $3.99 here.