Ever since Eve was banned from the garden, women have endured the oftentimes painful and inaccurate definitions foisted upon them by the patriarchy. Maiden, mother, and crone, representing the three stages assigned to a woman’s life cycle, have been the limiting categories of both ancient and modern (neo-pagan) mythology. And one label in particular rankles: crone. The word conjures a wizened hag—useless for the most part, marginalized by appearance and ability.
None of us has ever truly fit the old-crone image, and for today’s midlife women, a new archetype is being birthed: the Creatrix.
In Creatrix Rising, Raffelock lays out—through personal stories and essays—the highlights of the past fifty years, in which women have gone from a quiet strength to a resounding voice. She invites us along on her own transformational journey by providing probing questions for reflection so that we can flesh out and bring to life this new archetype within ourselves. If what the Dalai Lama has predicted—that women will save the world—proves true, then the Creatrix will for certain be out front, leading the pack.
Part memoir, part self-help, completely inspiring!
In Creatrix Rising, author Stephanie Raffelock introduces and discusses society’s, including women’s, beliefs about a woman’s place in the world once reaching menopause. Early women’s studies have classified a woman’s life into three ordered stages or archetypes: maiden, mother, and crone. It seems that we as a society have an ingrained sense that a woman’s entire worth culminates during the mother phase, on one’s ability to produce children. Once that is no longer an option, a woman moves into the crone phase, one of less or no value.
As I’ve aged, and as my friends and family have also done so, I have heard that wistfulness in the tone of voice when we talked about entering menopause. It is a change to one’s identity, much like when one retires. (But as I liked to think when I retired, I’m just retiring from HERE (that job), I’m not retiring from life. Frankly, I’ve got stuff to do, places to go, and people to see.) But even before retiring from a job, menopause happens, and the insidious labeling of irrelevance can start to invade. Raffelock proposes we jettison the image of the crone as no longer relevant and replace it with the more accurate archetype of Creatrix: a woman who is comfortable and free to be true to herself and embrace the creativity she has within. The book fleshes out the nature of the Creatrix and how it manifests under current circumstances much better than I can.
The author narrates the audiobook edition of the book herself, and she is captivating. I can absolutely understand why she would be in demand as a speaker (which makes one of her life vignettes regarding her speaking to groups particularly poignant.) Raffelock puts her life on view for the reader, warts and all, describing her personal experiences and revelations on her way to where she is today. Like everyone, she made some mistakes in her life, and she is very candid about hers. This book is inspirational and illustrative rather than simply biographical, but I imagine her complete life story would make for fascinating reading. This book was absorbing and found it difficult to pause my listening to the audiobook.
Each chapter concludes with a set of outstanding questions for personal reflection and journaling to assist the reader in recognizing the Creatrix in themselves and promote thoughtful consideration. Sometimes the questions were difficult for me to find a starting point to form a response to; others served as an open door. Many made me wish I was listening to the audiobook with friends and family because I wanted the discussion that was sure to follow after.
I will recommend CREATRIX RISING to those friends and family and women approaching this pivotal point in their physical life and psyche.
Stephanie Raffelock is an author, speaker, and voiceover artist. She is the editor of the anthology, Art in the Time of Unbearable Crisis (2022). Stephanie is the author of Creatrix Rising, Unlocking the Power of Midlife Women (2021) and she penned the award-winning book, A Delightful Little Book on Aging (2020). She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and a goofy Labrador Retriever named Mickey.
A boy and his family must decide whether to remain in Cuba under a repressive government or risk everything for the chance of a new beginning in this gripping story from the award-winning author of The Red Umbrella.
There are two versions of Héctor: the public and the private. It’s the only way to survive in communist Cuba—especially when your father was exiled to the U.S. and labeled an enemy of the people. Héctor must always be seen as a fierce supporter of the regime, even if that means loudly rejecting the father he still loves.
But in the summer of 1980, those two versions are hard to keep separate. No longer able to suppress a public uprising, the Cuban government says it will open the port of Mariel to all who wish to leave the country—if they can find a boat. But choosing to leave comes with a price. Those who want to flee are denounced as traitors by family and friends. There are violent acts of repudiation, and no one knows if they will truly be allowed to leave the country or not.
So when Héctor’s mother announces that she wants the family to risk everything to go to the United States, he is torn. He misses his father, but Cuba is the only home he has ever known. All his dreams and plans require him to stay. Can he leave everything behind for an unknown future?
In a summer of heat and upheaval, danger and deadly consequences, Héctor’s two worlds are on a collision course. Will the impact destroy him and everything he loves?
Christina Diaz Gonzalez’s great-grandmother, great-uncle, and extended family came to the U.S. through the Mariel boatlift. She vividly remembers meeting them all for the first time in the summer of 1980 and is proud to share this part of her family’s history.
Atmospheric and tense, the story held my attention from start to finish.
The Bluest Sky by Christina Diaz Gonzalez is a new middle-grade book that older readers would also enjoy and find enlightening. It combines historical events with fictional ones that could easily be the backstories of many Cuban refugees that literally landed on these shores. There are moments of complete heartbreak but also hope for new lives and freedom.
Although Hector is content for much of the first part of the book, it becomes clear he is so because he’s never known life to be anything different. The author envelops the characters and reader in an atmosphere of oppression, fear, poverty, and lack of the freedoms we know as fundamental to our lives in the U.S. But as the reality of life is revealed to Hector, he quickly loses that contentment. Just the effects the American embargo had on the Cuban people’s ability to maintain their homes (they couldn’t get the materials to do so) was eye-opening. The author has put names and faces, albeit fictional, to those suffering, personalizing it and making it real.
Besides the oppressive setting, the plot quickly becomes tense and dangerous. I held my breath numerous times during the family’s harrowing process of leaving the country and teared up with both sadness and relief at others. It may take me a while to get over this story.
The juvenile main characters are engaging, strong, and brave: boys and girls with whom young readers will readily feel a connection. The plot includes features of their everyday living, home life, food, and growing up. The dialogue is liberally sprinkled with Spanish words and phrases whose meaning must be construed from context or looked up. Although it slowed the reading process down somewhat, I enjoyed looking up those that I didn’t recognize or couldn’t translate on my own.
With its taut storyline and engaging characters, THE BLUEST SKY would be a great book to share and discuss. I recommend it for middle-grade or older readers, which was well worth the reading.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Christina Diaz Gonzalez is the Edgar® award-winning author of several books including The Red Umbrella, A Thunderous Whisper, Moving Target, Concealed, and two upcoming books, Invisible (a graphic novel available in August 2022) and The Bluest Sky (a historical fiction novel available in September 2022). Her books have received numerous honors including the Florida Book Award, the Nebraska Book Award, and the International Latino Book Award. Her work has also been designated as an American Library Association’s Best Fiction for Young Adults selection, a Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People, a Junior Library Guild Gold Selection, and as an International Reading Association’s Teachers’ Choice book. Christina currently lives in Miami, Florida with her husband, sons, and a dog that can open doors.
Murder and the ever-present threat of the evil eye create an atmospheric story of danger and dread.
Even with 11 Emmys to her credit, when a tip from a confidential informant leads to a lawsuit against the television station where she works, crime reporter Marisol ‘Mari’ Alvarez is put on probation, quickly becoming persona non grata. Her disgrace hits bottom when she returns to work, and the boss publicly pulls her from the crime beat, assigning her to cover fluff pieces and filler. But old habits die hard and on her way to her first feature assignment, a new baby sloth at Busch Gardens, Mari sidetracks to the scene of an unfolding murder investigation only blocks from her own home. If she gets on location before the police button down the crime scene, people are more willing to talk about what they know.
When she and her photographer, Orlando, arrive, they discover a woman had been gunned down at point blank range as she answered the door. Whoever committed the murder had placed a gold coin with a crown on it on one of the dead woman’s eyes, a possible sign that this was the work of the local gang, the West Tampa Kings. But for Mari, the murder becomes much more personal. The circumstances are eerily similar to those surrounding her own mother’s murder ten years earlier. Fearing the two crimes could be related, Mari worries that her mother’s unidentified killer has returned to their peaceful neighborhood.
All The Broken Girls was a fantastic thriller of a mystery! Mari, the disgraced reporter, had my complete and immediate sympathy. I admired how she kept her head up when all her coworkers were eyeing her, and her boss blamed her for the lawsuit when she knew she had the goods all along. I loved her relationship with her abuela and was fascinated by the inclusion of her practice of Santeria traditions, rituals, and belief system. I liked that Mari was clever and figured out the clues quicker than her police contacts. I felt her heartbreak as she identified with the two Rodriguez sisters and later discovered the betrayal of family members. I enjoyed the sprinkling of Spanish in her thoughts and dialogue throughout the story.
I also liked the police detective, Antonio ‘Tony’ Garcia, and the tension and eventual chemistry between the two main characters were fabulous. His family was delightful, especially his mother. I loved how she was so in charge of the family and her son. I liked how they and Mari’s family were such an integral part of their neighborhood.
The setting in West Tampa was unique, and I enjoyed the geographical mentions and the tantalizing inclusion of the market and other real places. The descriptions of the Cuban-American community were both colorful and comfortable. The subtle references to traditional foods and dishes teased me to find the nearest Cuban-influenced restaurant “quick, fast, and in a hurry.”
The action is constant, and I had trouble finding a good stopping point to put the book down. Consequently, I couldn’t leave the story alone for long; it was that absorbing and exciting. There was a sense of urgency to see what happened next. There was that feeling that whoever was behind the murders was watching the heroine, and something terrible would happen. With a creepy stalker dude hanging around somewhere just out of sight, mysterious and puzzling notes cropping up, and the ever-present threat of the evil eye, the story had a continuous atmosphere of danger and dread.
I recommend ALL THE BROKEN GIRLS to readers of mystery and thrillers who like strong female protagonists and those who would enjoy the Cuban-American flavor of its West Tampa setting.
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publishing Date: September 6, 2022
One teen’s summer job scaring tourists with ghost stories takes a terrifying turn when he accidentally summons the spirit of a dead girl–and she has demands. . . .
The award-winning author of Airborn
delivers a roller-coaster ride of a story about the wakeful and wicked dead.
Rebecca Strand was just sixteen when she and her father fell to their deaths from the top of the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse in 1839. Just how they fell–or were they pushed?–remains a mystery. And their ghosts haunt the lighthouse to this day. . . .
Gabe tells this story every day when he gives the ghost tour on Toronto Island. He tries to make it scary enough to satisfy the tourists, but he doesn’t actually believe in ghosts–until he finds himself face to face with Rebecca Strand.
The true story of her death is far more terrifying than any ghost tale Gabe has told. Rebecca reveals that her father was a member of the Order, a secret society devoted to protecting the world from “the wakeful and wicked dead”–malevolent spirits like Viker, the ghost responsible for their deaths. But the Order has disappeared, and Viker’s ghost is growing ever stronger.
Now Gabe and his friends must find a way to stop Viker before they all become lost souls. . . .
A suspenseful and exciting middle-grade novel of ghosts, friendship, and family
Ghostlight is a suspenseful and exciting middle-grade novel about ghosts, friendship, and family. In addition to the fictional tale, the book includes some serious and highly discussable topics such as divorce, the death of a parent, immigrant experiences, and what happens after you die. This is definitely one I would have been glad to share with my boys when they were that age for the excellent story, superior storytelling, and the diverse conversations it most likely would have prompted.
The ghostly aspects of the story are unique. I enjoyed the author’s vision of how ghosts exist, hidden on the edge of regular daily life. The descriptions of the evil Viker were scary, and I could clearly visualize his appearance and the changes he underwent. His consuming the other spirits and the images of the ghosts crossing the water to get to land both gave me the willies. And I worried from the start about Rebecca draining the energy from Gabe; it seemed so realistic.
The setting was fresh (Toronto), and I enjoyed the quest the four friends conducted to find the answer to Rebecca’s terrible problem (trying to avoid spoilers there.) The kids, including Rebecca, were well-drawn, each different from the others, but a well-matched, balanced group with interesting backstories. I liked that Callie was continuously researching for clues, and Yuri was steadfast in his focus on improvising the best way to combat the evil ghosts. These kids were serious about what they were doing yet still displayed their fun, young, and modern side. (Even Rebecca is intrigued and learns to use some modern conveniences.) They were or became friends, and some of their dialogue had me laughing out loud.
“Steaming pile of yak dung! Who says such a thing?”
“Me, from now on!”
With its unique setting, characters, and ghostly afterlife to its suspenseful and exciting plot, I recommend GHOSTLIGHT to middle-grade readers who like stories that involve puzzling out a mystery or a search, ghosts, or a setting during a summer job at an amusement facility or waterside in Toronto.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
I was born in Port Alberni, a mill town on Vancouver Island, British Columbia but spent the bulk of my childhood in Victoria, B.C. and on the opposite coast, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At around twelve I decided I wanted to be a writer. I started out writing sci-fi epics then went on to swords and sorcery tales and then, during the summer holiday when I was fourteen, started on a humorous story about a boy addicted to video games.
The author’s immersive writing drew me in from the start, and I flew through the story.
It’s 1978, and Jake Barnum, a young man in his 20s, already has a rap sheet of small-time, petty crimes. Out of a short stint in jail, he’s living with his parents and disabled brother in his childhood home in Hell’s Kitchen with no prospects to improve his situation. The younger brother, Emile, needs costly medical attention and future surgery to survive, so the entire family is living on the razor’s edge, trying to keep it together and makes ends meet. His father works two full-time jobs, his mother picks up occasional work as a legal secretary when she can get someone to watch Emile, who requires constant care, and Jake feels the guilt of failing his parents and not helping out enough. Jake hooks up with a petty criminal in town, stealing and reselling coats through his childhood friend, Maggs. However, it doesn’t net him much, and his father and mother are reluctant to accept what they know is dirty money.
But at the Halloween party dressed as Robin Hood, Jake catches the eye of a mysterious and intriguing woman dressed as Marilyn Monroe. They get to talking, and Jake is taken with her, even though she refuses to remove her “Marilyn” mask or give him her real name. She explains to him that she helps fulfill wishes for a living and wants to introduce Jake to her boss, thinking Jake would be a good asset for their company, The Desire Card. The company motto is “Any wish fulfilled for the right price.”
Impressed by the boss and the company concept, Jake accepts the job offer and is immediately sent on his first assignment: a simple delivery of a small box to a woman at an exclusive address in the city. An extremely generous fee payment follows, and Jake is hooked. But as the assignments edge closer to the illegal and immoral and jobs start hitting close to home, Jake is caught between wanting to maintain his new lifestyle and cash flow and getting away from The Desire Card before the company decides he’s a liability.
Immoral Origins is the first book in a thrilling new series, The Desire Card, by Lee Matthew Goldberg. With its very different sort of hero and plot that includes him successfully performing dirty deeds, I was hooked. I was glued to the story every step of the way, not wanting to put it down until the very last page.
The characters surprised me. I don’t believe there was a genuinely likable one in the bunch. Jake is pretty much a loser. Marilyn is a damaged young woman, and Gable, the boss, a power-mad sociopath (as are all of The Desire Card’s employees.) Thugs, hoods, and mobsters populate the story, showing their very worst sides. But through it all, I was compelled to root for Jake to overcome the odds and come out on top. I had much the same experience when reading The Godfather, heinous people doing horrible things that you still are compelled to get behind.
The Desire Card operation was fascinating. Everyone works incognito, wearing masks when doing a job, visiting the office, and even attending the annual office holiday parties. Their rich and famous clientele also wear masks at the client events hosted by the company, and everyone goes by the name of the person the mask depicts: Marilyn Monroe, Bette Davis, or Errol Flynn, to name a few.
The late 70s setting encompassed iconic people and places and the headlines and music of the time. It was so well done; I was immersed in that time and that place. Goldberg’s writing drew me in from the start, and I flew through the story, feeling Jake’s confusion, hopelessness, and fear as he tried to make sense of it all. The story was fascinating, with a heavy dose of bizarreness that had me turning those pages for more.
With its well-defined setting, laden with recognizable persons, places, and events, extraordinary characters, and fascinating plot, I recommend IMMORAL ORIGINS to readers of thrillers and mysteries, especially those who like stories set in New York or organized crimes and like a touch of the bizarre.
I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours.
One magical inn, two kids with supernatural powers, and an ancient Celtic creature trying to destroy their world by Halloween night…
Halloweentown meets Supernatural in this spooky middle-grade series from the acclaimed author of the Storm Crow duology!
Thirteen-year-old Annabella Ballinkay has never been normal, even by her psychic family’s standards. Every generation uses their abilities to help run the Ravenfall Inn, a sprawling, magical B&B at the crossroads of the human world and the Otherworld. But it’s hard to contribute when your only power is foreseeing death.
So when fourteen-year-old Colin Pierce arrives at Ravenfall searching for his missing older brother and the supernatural creature who killed their parents, Anna jumps at the chance to help. But the mysteries tied to Colin go much deeper than either of them expects. . . .
As the two team up to find answers, they unearth Colin’s family’s secret past and discover that Colin has powers beyond his imagination. And now the supernatural creature, one with eerie origins in Celtic mythology, is coming after him. If Anna and Colin can’t stop the creature by Halloween night, the veil to the Otherworld could be ripped open—which would spell destruction for their world as they know it.
Ravenfall by author Kaylin Josephson is an entertaining and exciting middle-grade novel full of unique supernatural creatures, magic, and mystery. It is also a coming-of-age story, though under extraordinary circumstances, told from the dual viewpoints of Anna and Colin. The cast of characters is broad, and young readers will find a diverse range of strong, good, and capable personalities. I enjoyed the wide array of magical abilities presented in the story and liked Anna’s remark about living with a sister whose special power was hearing other people’s thoughts. One that would surely come to mind for all of us if that ability was real.
“It’s hard not to think about something you don’t want Kara to hear, because by thinking about not thinking about it, you always end up thinking about it.”
I liked that both the lead characters, Anna and Colin, experienced similar feelings about their place in their families and the world. These are feelings that almost all of us can recall experiencing at one time or another growing up: not fitting in, not feeling valued, not belonging, or feeling like no one is listening or taking us seriously. Both are lonely kids, though in vastly different situations, revealing these feelings can occur under a variety of circumstances.
Both Anna’s and Colin’s families are loving ones with a lot going on at the moment, and in their different ways, they are just trying to keep their children safe. But both Anna and Colin are kept in the dark about certain family matters, with their parents not recognizing they are growing up faster than they thought.
The story is set in the charmingly described town of Wick. Surrounded by old woods with colorful cottages, shops, and a Faerie Garden, the magical and non-magical live side by side with one group none the wiser. I enjoyed the interesting and unique beings, some of which I’d never heard of before, mentioned throughout the book, such as cù-sìth, dybbukim, or merrow. The author borrowed from a wide range of cultures. Max the “cat” is mischievous, fun, and definitely, my favorite.
With its exciting and suspenseful plot, interesting characters, and dual viewpoints, RAVENFALL grabbed me from the beginning and kept me engaged and entertained until the very last page. I was delighted to read that there is a sequel in the works. I recommend this book to middle-grade readers who like a story with magic, magical creatures, and determined and capable young protagonists.
Kalyn Josephson currently works as a Technical Writer in the tech industry, which leaves room for too many bad puns about technically being a writer. Though she grew up in San Luis Obispo, California, she graduated from Santa Clara University with degrees in Biology and English (Creative Writing). Currently, she lives in the Bay Area with two black cats (who are more like a tiny dragon and an ever tinier owl). THE STORM CROW duology is out now.
Law Enforcement Biography / Memoir / Ethics & Morals
Publisher: Creative Texts Publishers
Pages: 250 pages
Publication Date: June 7, 2022
You know, I never saw an officer, an EMT, a fireman, or an ER crew ask anyone what their politics were and then refuse to care for them because of their answer. The color of skin pigment, the last name, the amount of money in a bank account, none of that mattered.
All that mattered was someone needed help, and they had the skills as well as the burning desire to do so.
Yes, they are only human and internally flawed and prejudiced as any other. But their true nature, their crowning glory in mortal life, is their ability to rise above those flaws and prejudices when called upon.
In a world of hungry, destructive wolves, they stand as the sheepdog who serves and protects the flock.
You run into very few outstanding storytellers over a lifetime, and Ben H. English, the author of Black and White: Tales of the Texas Highway Patrol, is undoubtedly among the best. The words flow, and the stories unfold, and with them comes truth and emotion.
Mr. English is upfront that Black and White was a book he never wanted to write. The subject matter is achingly personal, and the people involved are important not only to him but to many others (perhaps the entire state of Texas in some cases.) But he felt the stories needed telling; the subjects deserved to be known, appreciated, and honored. And so, we have them. And they are well worth the time you’ll spend sitting, reading, and absorbing.
Black and White is a collection of stories linked together by being incidents occurring during Mr. English’s career with the Texas Highway Patrol. Some of the same individuals are involved in more than one, his coworkers or family members, and you get to know them. Some tell of tragic events, while a few are more light-hearted or end in a good place. Photographs of many individuals who are the subject of these memories are included, making those people much more real.
I appreciated the author sharing these vignettes from his past; you see these men and women usually only on the interstate checking speed or writing citations, but these stories prove there’s so much more to what they handle. I particularly enjoyed the humorous recounting of the recalcitrant Christine, but I was deeply affected by others. (I had to pause and regroup after reading The Memory Thief.) And, too, there is just something about this area of the state where these incidents took place. The author had me feeling the open emptiness and almost tasting the dust. I have driven these counties (always going elsewhere), and now after reading these stories, I want to go back and see the area again with them fresh in my mind.
With its evocative storytelling and exciting action of deeply personal and actual events, I recommend BLACK AND WHITE to readers who enjoy memoirs, good law enforcement narratives, and true stories set in rural Texas.
Ben H. English is an eighth-generation Texan who grew up in the Big Bend. At seventeen, he joined the Marines, ultimately becoming a chief scout-sniper as well as an infantry platoon sergeant. Later he worked in counterintelligence and traveled to over thirty countries on four continents.
At Angelo State University, he graduated Magna Cum Laude along with other honors. Afterwards, Ben had a career in the Texas Highway Patrol, holding several instructor billets involving firearms, driving, patrol procedures, and defensive tactics.
After retirement, he decided to try his hand at writing. His first effort, Yonderings, was accepted by a university press and garnered some awards. His second, Destiny’s Way, led to a long-term multi-book contract. This was followed by Out There: Essays on the Lower Big Bend, The Uvalde Raider, and now Black and White: Tales of the Texas Highway Patrol.
His intimate knowledge of what he writes about lends credence and authenticity to his work. Ben knows how it feels to get hit and hit back, or being thirsty, cold, wet, hungry, alone, or exhausted beyond imagination. Finally, he knows of not only being the hunter but also the hunted.
Ben and his wife have two sons who both graduated from Annapolis. He still likes nothing better than grabbing a pack and some canteens and heading out to where few others venture.
Bride of the Corpse King Emily Shore
Publication date: September 1st 2022
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
~From Bestselling Kindle Vella Author Emily Shore
“I will have you on my throne. And worship you like the goddess you are.”
Flowers have followed Isla Adayra her whole life. Things are no different in the City of the Dead.
After volunteering to be Bride of the Corpse King to save her family, Isla sets a course to woo the God of Death. From seducing him with her corpus roses to accepting his mark of Death, Isla must keep him from reaping her soul.
With Death in his cursed form, the Corpse King, Allysteir, meets his match with Isla and her passion. It isn’t long before his feeble heart falls for the girl who eats forbidden fruit and grows roses and thorns from her flesh. But could she truly tempt Death? And break their land’s Curse?
For fans of A Touch of Darkness comes a dark and rapturous fantasy retelling starring a brooding and tortured Corpse King and a heroine strong enough to conquer the God of Death…
As a bestselling Kindle Vella Author for fantasy romance, I love to feature strong, badass heroines, dark, tortured love interests, spicy romance, and queer inclusivity. My past work includes a Top 100 YA anti-trafficking dystopian: The Uncaged Series.
After finding my voice late 2020, I am celebrating my newer debut works. Bride of the Corpse King: A Hades and Persephone Retelling and Bride of Lucifer are my top Kindle Vella books. Learn more at “Emily’s Vella Verse” on FB or connect with me on any social media pages, especially Tiktok!
An abuse survivor and trained advocate, I’ve worked as an awareness speaker all over Minnesota including the MLA and MEA conferences attended by hundreds of educators and librarians. As a recently out and proud bisexual feminist, my passion through my advocacy work and writing is to celebrate and normalize queer characters, showcase trauma-overcoming themes, and to empower female audiences, including my two daughters.
Please subscribe to Emily’s newsletter at – http://www.emilybethshore.com – to keep up with my series projects, author promos, and contests to receive fun prizes!
Emily lives in Saint Paul with her husband and two daughters. When not writing enemies to lovers with sex positive and empowered females smashing the patriarchy, Emily is pursuing grad school for domestic abuse advocacy.
There is nothing like the secrets, subterfuge, and backroom machinations of Forsyth’s ancient Rome.
It has been 20 years since the Battle of Philippi when Octavian and Mark Antony defeated the Republic to claim leadership of the Roman Empire. The defeated noblemen were exiled, and among them was young Lucius Sestius Quirinalis. Years later, Augustus granted him and others pardons, and Lucius returned to his country home in Cosa to farm, tend his vineyard, and rebuild his family’s livelihood. The family had been stripped of much of their land and wealth as a consequence of choosing the wrong side in the Civil War. Dedicated to the Republican ideal, Lucius stayed away from Rome, out of politics, steadfast in tending to his family.
Time, though, was not kind to the winner. Octavian, now Emperor Augustus Caesar, was ill. Concerns for the continuation of the Empire in the event of his sudden death have been under much discussion. Trying to lessen his day-to-day burden, he sends his representative, Gaius Maecenas, to Lucius to have him return to Rome to take on the role of consul, just until the end of the year.
Although not enamored of the idea, the positive impacts that having served as consul would have on his children’s futures tip the scale in favor of accepting, and he does so with trepidation. But, in truth, what choice does he have?
Of course, immediately after starting this book, I began to wish I was more familiar with the history of Rome. Well-known historical figures feature prominently, and I know I missed getting some of the implications of certain conversations that I wouldn’t have had a more intimate understanding of that time and place. However, this didn’t detract from my pure enjoyment and satisfaction with the story. There is nothing like the secrets, subterfuge, and backroom machinations of Forsyth’s ancient Rome. The Emperor’s Servant vividly conveys all the complexities and totality of the scope and reach of these definitive puppet masters.
The book’s main character is Lucius Sestius Quirinalis, and he has been a favorite of mine since his introduction in Rome’s End. He seems like a regular guy, trying to do the right thing. He is always polite and conscientious of his family, retainers, and the people of Rome. I was sad that he had come to depend on wine to cope with his life, though he’s been through plenty to need a drink. He is relatable, too. The scene of him weeping in relief after his election as consul made him seem even more real. A number of years have passed since the conclusion of book one, and at first, I thought Lucius was no longer the innocent he was then. However, even after all he’s been through, he still has a natural innocence, which causes him to be surprised by what others around him do.
The looming disaster, the insidious intrigue lurks, and you know that disaster is only a page away at any moment. I was so engrossed in the story that I felt myself holding my breath at times, the muscles in my shoulders tightening as the story’s tension built. When the shoe finally dropped, I was stunned. I had become emotionally engaged with this man and his family and wondered how anyone could come back from that. But people do. All the time. The story concludes on a hopeful note, and I hope there are further adventures for Lucius in the future.
I want to note that the author’s writing flowed so smoothly that I was immediately drawn in and immersed in Lucius’s life. Small, everyday details enhanced that you-are-there feeling. Forsyth is incredibly skillful at weaving in little tidbits of information and history that had me itching to read about further. For example, Lucius remarks about the Greek physicians who never ceased attending Rome’s citizens during a terrible pestilence that their devotion to their work all came down “to an oath that they have sworn” – the Hippocratic Oath.
I recommend THE EMPEROR’S SERVANT to readers who enjoy historical fiction, especially those that like political intrigue and suspense-laden stories.
I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from Reedsy Discovery.
Ken Allen is a former competitive martial artist with one IMDB credit to his name. Eighteen years earlier, he had portrayed the fictional super spy, Jove Brand, of the wildly successful film franchise of the same name in one awful movie that was only released overseas. When the movie was eventually leaked to the US market, Near Death and its star attained a cult following. Now, Ken ekes out a living as “Sensei to the Stars,” providing personal training to an exclusive list of BIG NAMES in town, working the fandom convention circuit, and doing the occasional cameo as Jove Brand on television.
His most recent TV appearance on Good Morning, Burbank, was going better than usual. The popular actor, Sir Collin Prestor, the current Jove Brand and star of the last six blockbusters in the series, was retiring. He was hosting the popular morning show to “officially” turn over the reins to Jove Brand to the new young actor chosen to continue the role. However, the understated Prestor wasn’t wowing the audience. Enter Ken Allen with his display of martial arts kicks and jumps and his comedic portrayal of the character, and the audience responds enthusiastically, saving the bit. But only a short while later, one of the evening’s co-stars is found dead, murdered in the same over-the-top manner that Ken’s nemesis in Near Death met his end; Ken becomes the police’s number one suspect.
Jove Brand is Near Death is fun and quirky, and immensely entertaining. I was hooked from the start. Parodying such successful movie franchises as James Bond, Marvel, and DC Comics, I laughed out loud in delight at the fun parallels (and remembering my own experiences going to the cons; the descriptions are spot on!) The throwbacks to the past are fabulous, but there are also up-to-the-minute cultural references, making the whole story fresh and funny. Ken’s devotion to his diet and the frequent inclusion of trendy food choices had me smiling. The writing is easy to read, and the dialogue sparkles as Ken investigates the murder.
Ken is a genuinely nice guy, and he’s got a solid circle of friends who have his back. I particularly enjoyed Yuen Hung, his former Near Death co-star and convention partner. I hope he returns in future books. The effects master, Ray Ford, provides awesome working props that he engineers to Ken’s needs. I loved his whole persona and vibe.
The plot is a solid mystery with constant action as Ken follows his instincts and chases down possible leads. The story is more complex than I expected and kept me guessing.
Tim Campbell narrates the audiobook edition, and I thought he was perfect as Ken Allen. He has a wonderful voice and delivery and uses it to get perfect results. He is my Ken Allen now. I will also be looking for more audiobooks that he’s voiced.
I recommend JOVE BRAND IS NEAR DEATH to mystery readers, especially those with a fun interest in spy movie thrillers and comic book-themed film series. However, no knowledge of either would keep a reader from enjoying this delightful book.
I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the publisher through NetGalley.