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Marrow Island by Alexis M. Smith

In the company of Station Eleven and California, Marrow Island uses two tense natural disasters to ask tough questions about our choices—large and small.

Title: Marrow Island
Author: Alexis M. Smith
Publish Date: June 7, 2016, by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Genre: Mystery/Suspense
Source: Library

Publisher’s Description: Twenty years ago Lucie Bowen left Marrow Island; along with her mother, she fled the aftermath of an earthquake that compromised the local refinery, killing her father and ravaging the island’s environment. Now, Lucie’s childhood friend Kate is living within a mysterious group called Marrow Colony—a community that claims to be “ministering to the Earth.” There have been remarkable changes to the land at the colony’s homestead. Lucie’s experience as a journalist tells her there’s more to the Colony—and their charismatic leader– than they want her to know, and that the astonishing success of their environmental remediation has come at great cost to the Colonists themselves. As she uncovers their secrets and methods, will Lucie endanger more than their mission? What price will she pay for the truth?

In the company of Station Eleven and California, Marrow Island uses two tense natural disasters to ask tough questions about our choices—large and small. A second novel from a bookseller whose sleeper-hit debut was praised by Karen Russell as “haunted, joyful, beautiful….” it promises to capture and captivate new readers even as it thrills her many existing fans.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.

Agent Annie says…

What an interesting and thought provoking-book this was. I really enjoyed the story, and the main character, Lucie, was fascinating. I can’t quite give this book 5 stars because the ending left me unsatisfied. Since I finished the book right after watching the movie Beatriz at Dinner, I was doubly unsatisfied. Both left you wondering, “Well, now what?”

Marrow Island does, however, have many deep themes to explore. I particularly like the book’s environmental emphasis and the mystery that surrounds what happened to the main character. More importantly, I like the exploration of the nature of relationships with childhood friends and relationships one forms as an adult. I was drawn in by the friendship of Lucie and Katie. I particularly like the author’s explanation, in the Q & A at the end of the book, that the relationship between the two of them was to be visceral, murky, and a little bit twisted. There’s no doubt that the relationship is exactly that. I also like the tension Smith is able to create toward the end of the book, as the reader is drawn into Lucie’s ability to rationalize making such a poor decision as to return to an area that is under threat of a wildfire just to prove to herself that she’s not going crazy.

The author writes incredibly well and is able to create such vivid images. A simple example is when Lucie visits a care facility, and the highly polished floors make it difficult for the residents to move quickly. Lucie thinks, “I wonder if this is another trap, like the shiny floors, intended to steal a few minutes here and there from life by slowing a body down.”

I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to book groups since there is so much to discuss.

Other recommendations…

If you liked this book, you might also enjoy: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, or Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian.


Black Spark by Al K. Line

Black Spark introduces us to Faz Pound—called “Spark” since he is the Black Spark—an enforcer for the Dark Council, an interspecies group that ensures practitioners and magic beings follow the rules, particularly the one about not letting the Regulars know that magic exists. Faz has just broken that rule, killing a Regular in public. Bystanders filmed it, and YouTubers are eating it up. But Faz wasn’t exactly himself when he murdered the Regular with magic. Now he has twenty-four hours to erase the incident from the collective memory and figure out why he made such a horrible, horrible mistake.

Title: Black Spark
Author: Al K. Line
Series: Dark Magic Enforcer, Book 01
Publish Date: February 7, 2017 by Tantor Media
Genre: Urban fantasy
Narrator: Gildart Jackson
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s Description: I watched in horror as dark magic sprang from my hand faster than an imp after your socks. I didn’t know my name, let alone that I had such power. The man was dead. I panicked. I ran.

How was I to know I was a dark magic enforcer, tasked with keeping magic hidden from the world? Yeah, total noob move, I know.

But my memory is returning, and the Hidden have given me twenty-four hours to make amends. Cover it up. Finish the job I was given, or else. Failure isn’t an option. Well, it is, but I like me, and I like being alive.

Time is running out as I battle to make things right and exact revenge on those that took so much from me. Easier said than done as I deal with angry mages, bitey zombies, oversexed imps, creepy necromancers, and grumpy trolls—and those are just my friends!—all while trying to stop myself falling in love with my best friend, Kate, who just so happens to be a hot vampire.

I’m Faz Pound, a.k.a. Black Spark, Dark Magic Enforcer, and time is running out.

At least I have my looks. For now.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.

Invested Ivana says…

“The rain had stopped, making the new paving gleam like a polished crystal ball as the sun made a risky move. It dared to shine for a few brief moments, before a concerted attack by the Welsh cloud gang took back their territory. The victorious clouds celebrated with a downpour so sudden and fierce the street emptied in seconds.”

Black Spark delivers a fun urban fantasy adventure, interesting world-building that turns some of the normal tropes on their heads, a thoughtful system of magic, and some fun and lovable characters. Kate, Grandma, and the imp Intus, are probably my favorites. There are some jewels of writing, such as the “Welsh cloud gang” quote above, that really tickled my fancy. And I love that Gildart Jackson is the narrator. Jackson is also the narrator of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka, of which I am very fond. He does an excellent job.

The book is written as if Faz is talking directly to the reader. So the fourth wall gets broken a lot; the narrative switches between past and present tense, depending on whether Faz is describing something that Is (in his imaginary present state) or Was part of the story he’s telling; and the character’s voice is much closer to the informal way someone would talk rather than the more formal way someone would write. These appear to be deliberate choices by the author that make the book feel very chatty and fun, appropriate for an urban fantasy.

However, there are some less-polished aspects of the writing that I noticed, being a fiction editor myself. It often feels as if Faz is rambling. His sentences can get very long and go off in a multitude of directions. At times, the narrative tense changes from past to present when it probably shouldn’t. There are also parts of the narrative that feel a bit repetitive. None of these things really impacted my enjoyment of the story; I just happened to notice them.

I do have to say, though, that I’m very glad I chose to listen to the audio version. I happened to open the Kindle version, thinking I could get some reading done at a time when I couldn’t listen to the audio. Attempting to actually read the book was a very different experience because of a noticeable lack of editing or proofreading. I’m sure I’m more sensitive to issues of grammar and punctuation because of my job as a line editor, so not all readers may be as affected as I was by this lack. But I’m not sure I could have finished the book had I tried to read it. I have to give Gildart Jackson triple kudos for translating that raw text into a great performance.

That being said, I am not reviewing the text version of this book, but the audio. I give the audiobook four stars. I liked the characters and world-building, and I enjoyed the story. I’m sure I will pick up more audios in the series and check out Line’s other series as well. I’ll just keep my fingers crossed that, since Black Spark was published in 2016, Line has discovered the benefits of a good editor.

Other recommendations…

Gildart Jackson also narrates the Alex Verus series, which I adore. You might also check out James Hunter’s Yancy Lazarus series and anything by J.A. Cipriano.

The Cuban Affair by Nelson DeMille

From the legendary #1 New York Times bestselling author of Plum Island and Night Fall, Nelson DeMille’s blistering new novel features an exciting new character—US Army combat veteran Daniel “Mac” MacCormick, now a charter boat captain, who is about to set sail on his most dangerous cruise.

Title: The Cuban Affair
Author: Nelson DeMille
Series: Mac MacCormick, 01
Publish Date: September 19, 2019 by Simon & Schuster
Genre: Suspense/Thriller
Source: Library

Publisher’s DescriptionDaniel Graham MacCormick—Mac for short—seems to have a pretty good life. At age thirty-five, he’s living in Key West, owner of a forty-two-foot charter fishing boat, The Maine. Mac served five years in the Army as an infantry officer with two tours in Afghanistan. He returned with the Silver Star, two Purple Hearts, scars that don’t tan, and a boat with a big bank loan. Truth be told, Mac’s finances are more than a little shaky.

One day, Mac is sitting in the famous Green Parrot Bar in Key West, contemplating his life, and waiting for Carlos, a hotshot Miami lawyer heavily involved with anti-Castro groups. Carlos wants to hire Mac and The Maine for a ten-day fishing tournament to Cuba at the standard rate, but Mac suspects there is more to this and turns it down. The price then goes up to two million dollars, and Mac agrees to hear the deal, and meet Carlos’s clients—a beautiful Cuban-American woman named Sara Ortega, and a mysterious older Cuban exile, Eduardo Valazquez.

What Mac learns is that there is sixty million American dollars hidden in Cuba by Sara’s grandfather when he fled Castro’s revolution. With the “Cuban Thaw” underway between Havana and Washington, Carlos, Eduardo, and Sara know it’s only a matter of time before someone finds the stash—by accident or on purpose. And Mac knows if he accepts this job, he’ll walk away rich…or not at all.

Brilliantly written, with his signature humor, fascinating authenticity from his research trip to Cuba, and heart-pounding pace, Nelson DeMille is a true master of the genre.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.

Agent Annie says…

With the introduction of “Mac” (DeMille’s new main character), I am looking forward to reading more about him. Mac’s personality, which includes the gallows humor of many military veterans, made me laugh out loud, particularly the things he didn’t say, but just thought. I enjoyed the caper that he and Jack, his first mate, went on. DeMille has done a wonderful job introducing the lackadaisical life of a tourist boat captain in Key West, but also the more serious life of the citizens of Cuba. It’s obvious DeMille has done his research, and I am not inclined to sign up for a “goodwill” trip anytime soon.

I also thought the character, Mr. Neville, was particularly tongue-in-cheek and spoke to DeMille’s own ability to poke fun at himself and authors in general. You will enjoy reading about Mr. Neville, a fellow tourist to Cuba, who is researching for a book he is writing. I had to grin though, because there was still a “hot” wife for the fictional, oafish author.

I give this book 4 stars and it will be a great beach read this summer or for a lazy afternoon by the fire this winter.

Other recommendations…

If you liked this book, you might enjoy anything by Carl Hiassen. My favorites have been Double Whammy, Skin Tight, and Native Tongue.

How to Date Your Dragon by Molly Harper

Research scientist Jillian Ramsey is very good at research but has never been to the field.  Her first assignment could very well be her last assignment if she doesn’t follow the rules and avoid a supernatural killer.

Title: How to Date Your Dragon
Author:  Molly Harper
Series: Mystic Bayou #1
Publish Date: January 23, 2018
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Narrated by: Amanda Ronconi, Jonathan Davis 
Source: Purchased by reviewer
Publisher’s Description:  Anthropologist Jillian Ramsay’s career has taken a turn south.

Concerned that technology is about to chase mythological creatures out into the open (how long can Sasquatch stay hidden from Google maps?), the League for Interspecies Cooperation is sending Jillian to Louisiana on a fact-finding mission. While the League hopes to hold on to secrecy for a little bit longer, they’re preparing for the worst in terms of human reactions. They need a plan, so they look to Mystic Bayou, a tiny town hidden in the swamp where humans and supernatural residents have been living in harmony for generations. Mermaids and gator shifters swim in the bayou. Spirit bottles light the front porches after twilight. Dragons light the fires under crayfish pots.

Jillian’s first assignment for the League could be her last. Mystic Bayou is wary of outsiders, and she has difficulty getting locals to talk to her. And she can’t get the gruff town sheriff, Bael Boone, off of her back or out of her mind. Bael is the finest male specimen she’s seen in a long time, even though he might not be human. Soon their flirtation is hotter than a dragon’s breath, which Bael just might turn out to be….

Nervous Nellie’s nervousness necessitates knowledge of the novel. In some cases…spoilers. *BEWARE*

Nervous Nellie says…

This is a typical romance.  Not graphic sex, but there is a pretty steamy scene.  A little swearing.  A tiny little graphic description of a kill scene and lots and lots of fun people.

I had such a good time with this book.  It’s a good book to relax to and the narrators paint the picture that is Mystic Bayou.  Jillian is a supernatural scientist that is creating a “How To” research paper on how Mystic Bayou makes their town work with such a diversified bunch of creatures.  She’s a hard worker and the chemistry between Bael and Jillian start churning right off.  Mostly a dislike/avoid kind of chemistry.  Bael is the Sheriff and not especially inclined to like Jillian poking around, talking to folks.

Jillian is welcomed by the townsfolk and after she proves she’s of no harm to them, they welcome her with open arms.  They give interviews and she takes copious amounts of notes.  Then the murders start.  Blatant murders.  The first murders in Mystic Bayou for years and years.  On top of babysitting Jillian, Bael has to solve these homicides.  Jillian with her natural curiousity keeps digging.  Then she discovers the towns secret.  A secret that Bael wanted to keep from her.  A secret worth killing for.

Slowly, Bael lets his guard down and realizes his reaction to Jillian is not dislike/avoid it’s protective/territorial.  His dragon is claiming Jillian and Jillian doesn’t even know it.

Things happen.  Feelings grow. Danger encroaches.  Who is behind all of this conspiracy? Why? Will Bael solve the mystery before something befalls Jillian?  He can’t allow that to happen so he needs to figure it out.

This story starts out fluffy and is fluffy for quite a large part of the book.  It’s really not until the last half or so that the action and drama of a mystery start to unfold.

I loved the dual narration.  That was the first time I’ve ever listened to a book that was narrated by both protagonists by every other chapter.  It was fun!

Other recommendations…

…you might try



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Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen

Dark fantasies set in the Old West have been gaining popularity. Here is a list of them I found on Goodreads (though I’m not convinced all of those listed fit the bill). I finally got a chance to read one of them, Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen. The book has been on my TBR list for a while and several authors have spoken highly of it.

I received an ARC of this book book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

wake-of-vulturesTitleWake of Vultures
AuthorLila Bowen (aka Delilah S. Dawson)
SeriesThe Shadow, Book 1
Publish Date: October 27, 2015 by Orbit
Genre: Urban fantasy, western paranormal, dark fantasy
Source: NetGalley

Publisher’s DescriptionA rich, dark fantasy of destiny, death, and the supernatural world hiding beneath the surface.

Nettie Lonesome lives in a land of hard people and hard ground dusted with sand. She’s a half-breed who dresses like a boy, raised by folks who don’t call her a slave but use her like one. She knows of nothing else. That is, until the day a stranger attacks her. When nothing, not even a sickle to the eye can stop him, Nettie stabs him through the heart with a chunk of wood, and he turns into black sand.

And just like that, Nettie can see.

But her newfound sight is a blessing and a curse. Even if she doesn’t understand what’s under her own skin, she can sense what everyone else is hiding — at least physically. The world is full of evil, and now she knows the source of all the sand in the desert. Haunted by the spirits, Nettie has no choice but to set out on a quest that might lead to her true kin… if the monsters along the way don’t kill her first.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.

Invested_Ivana_100Invested Ivana says…

Though I am a fan of dark fantasy, history, and different cultures, I’m not usually a fan of “westerns.” So I wasn’t really sure how I would like Wake of Vultures. But I’m happy to say I liked it a lot! If you’re a stickler for the definitions of the genres, you might have a hard time calling this either an urban fantasy or a western, but it is a great story regardless of what you call it.

Nettie Lonesome is trying to find her place in the world. Is she a daughter or a slave? Is she a ranch hand or a monster hunter? Is she timid or brave? Is she human, or something else? She can’t take for granted anything she thinks she knows about the world because nothing is what she thought it was.

A part of this book is about how your childhood experiences shape you and screw you up, both. A larger part is about how you, and only you, get to decide who and what you are. Life presents you many opportunities to figure that out, but you decide how they shape you. The author’s comments indicate that she was intentional about the diversity issues she addressed in this book, which is awesome. Nettie is a half-black, half-Native American living with white folks. She identifies as male, though she is biologically female and experiences attraction to both genders. At times she feels she has to hide what she is, at others she feels the relief of being accepted. It’s quite an emotional ride for Nettie, and she handles it better than most of us ever world, I think.


And, of course, there are monsters to hunt! Skinwalkers, vampires, harpies, werewolves, a water horse, a siren (yeah, in the desert-dry Old West), and some Native American creatures that are new to me. Can’t have either a western or an urban fantasy without something to hunt.

I’m really impressed with this first book in The Shadow series, and I’m hoping I get to read book 2, A Conspiracy of Ravens, fairly soon. This is a series I am really going to enjoy.

Agent Annie says…

The narrator of this book did a wonderful job capturing Nettie’s voice. Nettie/Rhett is a wonderful main character. The book kept my attention and I enjoyed being introduced to the world that Lila Bowen created with all sorts of different “monsters.” I also thought the author did a nice job introducing subtle elements of sexual orientation and gender identification and the different ways people are treated according to their race. The note at the end of the book was good to know since the author explained where she used historical fact and where she completely made up stuff.

The only issue I had with the book was the way in which Nettie defeats the cannibal owl. This was supposed to be the biggest, baddest monster out there, and had been for decades. The final battle scene and the death of the cannibal owl seemed just a bit too easy for me to accept even though Nettie was reaching the height of her own power. The final pages of the book did reinstate my high opinion of the book, and I look forward to reading more about Nettie in the next book, Conspiracy of Ravens, and then Malice of Crows (do you feel a bird theme going?) I give this book 4 stars.


Check out Dark Alchemy by Laura Bickle. It’s not really a western, but it felt like a western to me when I read it. If you just want a taste of western paranormal, try the anthologies Dead Man’s Hand: An Anthology of the Weird West by John Joseph Adams and Westward Weird by Martin H. Greenberg.

I received an ARC of this book  from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

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