Book Reviews, Fiction Blog

Book Review: The Art of Breathing by Kate Evans

art-of-breathing-coverThe Art of Breathing (Scarborough Mysteries #3) by Kate Evans
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

The Art of Breathing by Kate Evans is a crime fiction novel and the third installment in the Scarborough Mysteries series. It follows the lives of Hannah Poole, Detective Sargent Theo Akande, and Aurora Harris as they navigate mental health and family issues, as well as investigate crimes in their small town. Because this is the third book in a series, I’ll keep some aspects of my review vague to avoid spoiling details from the first two novels. You can read my review of The Art of the Imperfect (Scarborough Mysteries #1) here.

When I read The Art of the Imperfect, I remember thinking that the novel read more like literary fiction (or even an extended prose poem) than a typical crime novel. While I enjoyed the gorgeous language, I found it difficult to keep track of the details at times. In The Art of Breathing, Evans has struck the perfect balance between poetic language and crime fiction. The novel includes the time-honored tropes of the crime genre, but the writing itself retains that beautiful, lilting character that sets Evans’s work apart. As someone who doesn’t always like the gritty/punchy feel of crime novels, Evans’ style is perfect for me.

Without spoiling anything, I’ll say that the plot is complete, intriguing, and comes with a few little twists (one of them is just … brilliant). However, even with a strong plot, I believe that the characters are the true jewel of The Art of Breathing. They are well-crafted and complex, and (as I’ll discuss below) serve as fantastic vehicles for Evans to explore important social themes. Where Evans’ character creation is particularly strong is their versatility – at times, they can be difficult to like (especially Hannah, with her self-destructive thoughts and behaviors), but they also elicit waves of empathy from the reader. A difficult task for a writer to accomplish.

In my own writing, I place a great deal of importance on examining social issues, so I really enjoy novels with strong thematic weight. The Art of Breathing, Evans manages to display both sides of several dark themes (sexual assault, adultery, murder, etc.) in a way that makes the reader question previously held assumptions. Her characters provide riveting case studies of mental health and social concerns (depression, PTSD, homophobia, racism, etc.), and after spending the novel with them, I truly felt like I came away with a better understanding of how people facing these issues live. That’s the power of great fiction – it deepens your perspective on reality and allows you to live other lives.

The Art of Breathing (and the rest of the Scarborough Mysteries series) isn’t your cookie-cutter crime fiction. It’s a study of human character, an examination of Western society, and a beautiful tribute to language … all wrapped up in a murder mystery. Strongly recommended for literary fiction readers who want a gentle entrance into crime fiction, and crime readers who are looking for a refreshing take on the genre.

Want to know more? Kate Evans was kind enough to drop by my website to describe how she uses her crime fiction to search for truth and delve into dark themes. You can read her insightful guest post here.

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art-of-breathing-coverIf you are interested in reading The Art of Breathing and would like to help sponsor my writing and research, you can purchase it through my Amazon Associates Store. By doing this, you will not pay a cent extra, nor will the author receive a cent less, but I will receive a small commission on the sale. Simply click the book’s title or the book’s image.

Book Reviews, Fiction Blog

Indie Book Review: Maledicus (The Investigative Paranormal Society Book I)

maledicus-finalMaledicus: The Investigative Paranormal Society Book I by Charles F. French is a horror novel that mixes elements of paranormal suspense with historical fiction. In the relatively sleepy town of Bethberg, Pennsylvania, the Investigative Paranormal Society (IPS) team (Roosevelt, Sam, and Jeremy) search out strange happenings, then debunk them or dispel disgruntled spirits, as appropriate.

In the series’ debut novel, the IPS faces off against its toughest opponent yet: a demon named Maledicus. Once a proud (and depraved) Roman citizen, Maledicus now delights in bringing terror to the living. When Maledicus targets a young girl and her aunt, the IPS must stop him before he can devour their souls.

Before I dive into my review, I want to add two quick disclaimers. First, as always, I’ll be keeping the content details vague to avoid any spoilers. Second, I’m inclined to note that I received an advance copy of this novel. Therefore, it might have gone through further revision before publication (thus rendering some of my comments moot).

One of my most important concerns for paranormal novels is whether the story follows “the rules of its world.” Maledicus does exactly that. The paranormal content is believable within the story and “the rules” remain consistent throughout. French uses vivid language to bring the paranormal activity and demon Maledicus to life, which makes the scary moments all the more chilling for the reader. Without spoiling anything, the plot follows a clear trajectory, contains a great balance of action and quiet suspense, and reaches a satisfying conclusion.

Though the plot itself remains rather linear, the narrative structure of Maledicus jumps back and forth between different times, locations, and character perspectives. At first, I found this a bit odd to read. Like many classic novels, the narrative often reads more like the author is telling a story, rather than the reader is in the moment with the characters. However, once I adjusted to this style, it did flow rather well.

French offers the readers chapter flashbacks into the human life of the demon Maledicus (which makes him all the more despicable), as well as mini flashbacks within scenes that feature the IPS team. These are clearly given to add depth to the characters and succeed in that goal. However, personally, I would have preferred for the scenes featuring the IPS team members to stay in the present day, with hints at backstory peppered throughout. Of course, this might have just been my impatience to see if/how the evil Maledicus would be defeated!

As for the characters themselves, I found them to be well-rounded and distinct personalities. In particular, appreciated that they are mostly middle-aged to elderly, as I believe literature needs more diverse/fewer stereotypical representations of “older” characters. Roosevelt is the classic gentlemen, while Sam feels every bit the ex-cop (and jokester), and Jeremy perfectly fits his role as the more introverted one of the group. The main side characters are equally well-developed and compelling – I especially liked Helen’s passion for learning, dedication to her family/students, and unwavering bravery.

My only criticisms with the characters are that sometimes the dialogue came off a bit stiff and that I felt they were over-described. Many physical and emotional details were repeated multiple times, and while that is always a writing no-no, it was superfluous with such distinct characters.

maledicus-finalOverall, I enjoyed reading Maledicus: The Investigative Paranormal Society Book I. Horror in plot, paranormal/historical in details, and literary in narrative style, it’s a well-crafted debut novel with compelling characters and a nice balance of action and quiet suspense. Recommended for readers who like ghost stories, history, and cozy mystery.

Charles F. French was kind enough to contribute a guest post to accompany my review, where he discusses the theme of evil in Maledicus. Check it out here. If you’d like to read Maledicus, pick up your copy from Amazon.

Fiction Blog, Writing Updates

Month-End Update: August 2016

August went so quickly that I almost feel like it didn’t happen. As in July, I enjoyed a much-needed break from author work toward the end of the month while I visited my family and friends in Kansas. However, my mini-vacation also left me a little behind heading into September. The next two weeks will be especially busy, as I prepare for the publication of The Courtesan’s Avenger, but I’m ready to tackle my monster to-do list. Stay tuned for more updates – there are a lot coming very soon!

Writing

  • Blog Posts Written  9
  • Fiction Words Written  0
  • # of Days I Wrote Fiction  0
  • Nonfiction Prompts Written 105 prompts (plus two rounds of front/back matter material)
  • # of Days I Wrote Nonfiction  9
  • Outlines Written –  1 (100 Mystery, Thriller, and Suspense Writing Prompts)
  • Days Without Writing and/or Editing 16 (thank you, Kansas!)

Editing/Revising

  • Drafts Revised  Final line edits and first proofread of The Courtesan’s Avenger (Desertera #2)
  • # of Days I Revised  7

Reading

*Remember, I review every book I read on my Goodreads page.

Author Business Activities

Goals for September

  • Final proofread of The Courtesan’s Avenger
  • Finish cover design process (now that my designer is back from vacation)
  • Publish The Courtesan’s Avenger
  • Write and publishing 100 Mystery, Thriller, and Suspense Writing Prompts (Fiction Ideas Vol. 9)

What did you accomplish in August? What goals are you working towards in September? Share below!

Book Reviews, Fiction Blog

Indie Book Review: Checkmate by A.M. Offenwanger

checkmateCheckmate by A.M. Offenwanger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Checkmate is the third novel in A.M. Offenwanger’s Septimus series. You can read my reviews of the previous books, Seventh Son (Book 1) and Cat and Mouse (Book 2) by clicking on their titles.

While this review does not contain spoilers for Checkmate, it does contain spoilers for the first two novels. I should also note that Seventh Son is FREE at the time of this writing, so if you haven’t read it yet, download your copy from Amazon today!

Thus far, Checkmate is my favorite novel in the Septimus series. It takes place several years after Cat and Mouse, and shows Guy and Cat’s growing family fully settled in the Ruph community. The main action revolves around the return of Bina’s (formerly Bibby’s) cousin Rhitha and her family to Ruph, as well as the two girls’ growing friendship.

As with the other books in the series, Checkmate was well-written in what I have come to recognize as Offenwanger’s distinctive narrative voice: a balance of playfulness and poetry. My only criticism is that some of the chapters would start in present time, then jump back to the past-perfect tense for a scene or two. I would have liked to be “in the moment” with the characters (especially Rhitha) as some of that action unfolded.

Since I don’t want to risk spoiling anything about the plot of Checkmate (it’s that intricately tied and well-developed), I’ll touch quickly on the aspects that made this novel my favorite in the series so far:

– Meeting new characters to love (or love to hate), who fit into the story as if they were always a part of it.
– Reading from the perspective of new characters.
– The complex and realistic relationships between the characters (both loving and hate-filled).
– The development of Bina’s powers and how she learns to control them.
– Seeing Andy and Ben advance in their prospective fields.
– The themes of family and friendship, with the moral message that family can be chosen and friendship should be steadfast and loyal.
– Learning about new traditions in the world (such as trade/economics, other countries, and Ruph’s Solstice festival).

The ending of Checkmate? Perhaps one of the most fun and cleverly executed magical climaxes I’ve ever read. I adored it.

Overall, Checkmate is a heartwarming addition to the Septimus series that comments beautifully on family, friendship, and the importance of both. A fun and magical tale, it will delight readers of fantasy and young adult fiction.

REMINDER: As I said at the beginning of this review, the first novel in the Septimus series, Seventh Son, is FREE for a limited time. Download your copy now, then leave your own review for Ms. Offenwanger!

View all my reviews


checkmateIf you are interested in reading Checkmate. and would like to help sponsor my writing and research, you can purchase it at my Amazon Associates Store. By doing this, you will not pay a cent extra, nor will the author receive a cent less, but I will receive a small commission on the sale. Simply click the book’s title or the book’s image.

Fiction Blog, Writing Updates

Month-End Update: July 2016

Wow. As I recap July, I feel like these mere 31 days were two months instead of one. For the first 20 days, Daniel was in Australia visiting his family. I eased my loneliness by working my ass off, putting in extra hours to write, revise, and do all the little things that come with being an authorpreneur. And then I got on a plane to Australia to join Daniel…

…and promptly did zero author work for the final 11 days of the month. A much-needed rest that has left me feeling a bit disoriented as I head into August (aka the final march toward the publication of Desertera #2!). Here are my notes on what I accomplished in July and my goals for the coming month:

Writing

  • Blog Posts Written 7 (and two reblogs)
  • Fiction Words Written  0
  • # of Days I Wrote Fiction  0
  • Nonfiction Prompts Written 100 prompts (plus front/back matter material)
  • # of Days I Wrote Nonfiction 8
  • Outlines Written –  1 (100 Science Fiction Writing Prompts)
  • Days Without Writing and/or Editing 13 (thank you, Australia!)

Editing/Revising

  • Drafts Revised Line Edit of Desertera #2
  • # of Days I Revised  10

Reading

*Remember, I review every book I read on my Goodreads page.

Author Business Activities

Goals for August

This month is all about getting Desertera #2 ready for publication in September!

  • Finish line editing and proofreading
  • Finish cover design process
  • Format for ebook and paperback
  • Set up preorder on online retailers

I also plan to write and publish 100 Science Fiction Writing Prompts (Fiction Ideas Vol. 8).


What did you accomplish in July? If you participated in Camp NaNoWriMo, did you meet your goal? What are your plans for August? Share below!