The Complete Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman


The Complete Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman
Publisher: Pantheon
Genre: YA, Graphic Novel, Historical, Ages 16+
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

A brutally moving work of art—widely hailed as the greatest graphic novel ever written—Maus recounts the chilling experiences of the author’s father during the Holocaust, with Jews drawn as wide-eyed mice and Nazis as menacing cats.

Maus is a haunting tale within a tale, weaving the author’s account of his tortured relationship with his aging father into an astonishing retelling of one of history’s most unspeakable tragedies. It is an unforgettable story of survival and a disarming look at the legacy of trauma.

Haunting, sad, but also educational.

I picked up this book because I was told it was a fantastic read. It was. The art is great and depicts the characters as mice, cats, dogs and some pigs. The characters might be animals, but the meaning shines through. The Holocaust was a terrible time in human history and should be dealt with. We should all learn about it so we’re not destined to repeat it.

I cried during this book. I didn’t think a graphic novel would make me so emotional, but I got invested in the characters. I wanted to see them survive. Art Spiegelman’s father is the main character in this book. The story is told through his stories to his son about his time in the war and concentration camps. The emotional fragility, the strength, and the colossal devastation are evident in this character, his situation and his future. It was painfully obvious this man saw stuff and it messed with him.

I wouldn’t recommend this to a younger read, but this is powerful stuff and would be better for an older YA reader. It’s hard to read, emotionally, in spots, but worth the read.

Penny Gothic: A Romance of Fictitious Proportions by Shelley White


Penny Gothic: A Romance of Fictitious Proportions by Shelley White
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Romance, Contemporary, Historical
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Gypsy magic gone awry. A dubious family legacy.

When Penelope Darling’s grandmother dies, Penny inherits much more than a used bookstore. With only clues from a stack of letters left by her great grandmothers, Penny must find her destined true love… in a book.

Penny needs to convince her hero he’s not an actual book character, while avoiding the book’s determined villain. But convincing her knight in shining armor might not be enough to make a happily ever after.

She also must decide if she’s ready to fall in line with the family legacy, or go with the equally tempting (and totally non fictional) guy next door, and forget the man fated to be hers.

Love operates on its own timetable.

Penny’s snarky personality was a hoot. Her aversion to romance, at least in this specific chapter of her life while she still had so many other goals to accomplish, made it amusing to see how she reacted to the idea that her one true love had already been selected for her without her input. The snide comments she occasionally made about what was expected of her were softened out nicely by her devotion to her grandmother and her best friend. I adored the fact that she had already created a happy, successful life for herself before any hint of romance was so much as whispered in her vicinity. She was the sort of character I’d love to go out to dinner with.

I certainly wouldn’t expect every conflict to be resolved in the first book of a new series, but I would have preferred to see a few more loose ends tied up in the final scene. It ended so quickly that I found myself scrolling through to the final page to ensure there wasn’t another chapter hidden somewhere. The way that last scene was written didn’t feel quite complete to me, although I’m still curious to see what happens next.

One of my favorite things about this story was how respectful it was of its characters. They didn’t always obey the common tropes or plot twists of the romance genre, but they were trusted to wander off into storylines that one doesn’t see in romances too often. This writing style kept my interest levels high from the first scene to the last one. I was never quite sure what the characters might do next or how they’d reinterpret their roles to better suit their personalities.

Penny Gothic: A Romance of Fictitious Proportions is one of those rare books that I’d be equally happy to recommend to diehard fans of this genre, folks who read it occasionally, and even people who may generally not be interested in romantic fiction at all. It worked on so many different levels, and it kept a smile on my face the whole time.

White Bird by RJ Palacio


White Bird by RJ Palacio
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Genre: Historical, Graphic Novel, YA, Ages 16+
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

In R. J. Palacio’s bestselling collection of stories Auggie & Me, which expands on characters in Wonder, readers were introduced to Julian’s grandmother, Grandmère. Here, Palacio makes her graphic novel debut with Grandmère’s heartrending story: how she, a young Jewish girl, was hidden by a family in a Nazi-occupied French village during World War II; how the boy she and her classmates once shunned became her savior and best friend.

Sara’s harrowing experience movingly demonstrates the power of kindness to change hearts, build bridges, and even save lives. As Grandmère tells Julian, “It always takes courage to be kind, but in those days, such kindness could cost you everything.” With poignant symbolism and gorgeous artwork that brings Sara’s story out of the past and cements it firmly in this moment in history, White Bird is sure to captivate anyone who was moved by the book Wonder or the blockbuster movie adaptation and its message.

Haunting, beautiful and sad.

I picked up this book because I’ve been on a history binge and a graphic novel one, too. I’ve not read any other stories by RJ Palacio, so this was my first. I have to say this was a haunting book. I can’t imagine being in Sara’s place, nor dealing with what she did. I had a hard time staying in my house during the pandemic – I love fresh air – so living for a whole year in a barn is beyond my wheelhouse. Reading about Sara being there for that long made me appreciate my situation much more.

Sara is a Jew living in France, but it’s during World War II and Jews aren’t welcome in France after the collapse. I can’t imagine being her, living in a barn, hiding in the straw, living off scraps and hoping for the end of the war because no one should have to live like that. She lost her mother during the war and even her best friend. It was sad and I was very much emotionally invested.

I liked how her father would swing her around like a bird and that verbiage, along with Julien’s friendship and help, got her through the war. I hated the ending, even if the war did end – I won’t give away spoilers, but when you read it, you’ll see. I knew that would have to happen, but I was hoping it wouldn’t. It tore at my heart and made me think.

If you’re looking for a graphic novel that’s another way to learn about the Holocaust, the travesties of war and the strength of human resolve, then this might be the book for you.

Recommended.

Lucky In Love by Carlene Havel and Billie Houston


Lucky In Love by Carlene Havel and Billie Houston
Texas Brides series, Book 3
Publisher: Chavelbooks, LLC
Genre: Historical, Romance, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Mistflower

Recipe for Trouble
Begin with the year 1922, in south Texas ranch country. Take Lucky Livingston, one devil-may-care cowboy bent on revenge. Add Bridget McGuire, a frightened young woman desperate for a place to hide. Stir in a dangerous outlaw, a marauding band of Ku Klux Clansmen, and three inept matchmakers. Spice the mixture with a bank’s missing loot and one dishonest deputy sheriff. Pepper with humor, bring to a rolling boil, and stand back!
Will too many cooks spoil the broth?

Carlene Havel and Billie Houston are new authors for me and taking a chance on them turned out to be a blessing. It’s always a joy to add a new author to my ‘follow the author list’. This book was on my ‘to read list’ for a long time. It is book three of three in the Texas Brides series, but it can be read as a standalone. I enjoyed the story, Lucky in Love, that they created together.

From the first page to the last I was captured, or maybe just wished I was, by the hero, Lucky Livingston. He was dream-worthy, and the heroine, Bridget McGuire, was most definitely in need of a hero such as Lucky. Together they made an entertaining read. Their romance was mostly sweet and endearing. Bridget and Lucky made me chuckle a few times with their bantering. There wasn’t any doubt that they had more than just chemistry between them. They were in love at first sight.

There is mild suspense threaded throughout the plot which made for a quick pace to see what happened next. Trust me, there was a lot happening between the cast of characters.

Speaking of the characters, they were well developed and easy to bond with. What I don’t understand is how this is book three of three when Lucky has two brothers that are available. I would love to read Charlie and Zeke’s story. I did go look up book one and two to read the synopsis to see if they were about Charlie or Zeke and they were not.

Anyway, I have three more books on my ‘to read list’ and I hope they are at least half as good as this one was. Lucky in Love was a fortunate hit read for me. I can easily recommend this story to other romance readers. Happy Reading.

The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg


The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg
Publisher: Random House Publishers
Genre: Historical, Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Mrs. Sookie Poole of Point Clear, Alabama, has just married off the last of her daughters and is looking forward to relaxing and perhaps traveling with her husband, Earle. The only thing left to contend with is her mother, the formidable Lenore Simmons Krackenberry. Lenore may be a lot of fun for other people, but is, for the most part, an overbearing presence for her daughter. Then one day, quite by accident, Sookie discovers a secret about her mother’s past that knocks her for a loop and suddenly calls into question everything she ever thought she knew about herself, her family, and her future.

Sookie begins a search for answers that takes her to California, the Midwest, and back in time, to the 1940s, when an irrepressible woman named Fritzi takes on the job of running her family’s filling station. Soon truck drivers are changing their routes to fill up at the All-Girl Filling Station. Then, Fritzi sees an opportunity for an even more groundbreaking adventure. As Sookie learns about the adventures of the girls at the All-Girl Filling Station, she finds herself with new inspiration for her own life.

She wants to know who she is…after getting a strange envelope for her mother!

First off, I read Fannie Flagg for comfort. She’s comfort food in book form. No matter how goofed-up your life might be, her characters are zany enough to make you forget and just enjoy. The characters in this book are no different.

Sookie comes from a small town where everyone knows everyone. Her mother is a grand dame of the town and full of herself. It’s a slice of small-town life that’s normal and relatable. Her world is thrown into upheaval when she finds out she’s adopted. Again, very relatable.

I liked how the author handled the women pilots during the second world war. They were human and relatable, too, despite being fancy pilots who weren’t getting a lot of recognition for their help in the war effort. I have to admit this part of the story could’ve been handled with a more in-depth touch, but that’s okay. For a cursory lesson in women pilots during the war, it works.

I have to admit there were times when I wasn’t a fan of Sookie. She spent a lot of time wallowing. But then again, I didn’t always like Fritzi, either. They made decisions I might not have, but I wasn’t in their position. I did laugh at times–the war with the blue jays–and cried a little too. I won’t disclose where, you’ll have to read it to find out. But it was worth the read.

Good for an afternoon, this book is comfort food. If you want a simple, easy read, then pick it up.

Refracted Reflections: Twisted Tales of Duality & Deception by Kaye Lynne Booth, et al


Refracted Reflections: Twisted Tales of Duality & Deception by Kaye Lynne Booth, et al
Publisher: WordCrafter Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Romance, Paranormal, Historical, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Reflections and Refractions…

One reveals truths, while the other bends light into varying shapes of deception.

Does a small camp mirror reveal hope… or death?

Is the warrior in the mirror a monster… or a protector?

Does a glimpse in the mirror reveal a young woman’s true self… or what someone else has shaped her into?

Does the mysterious portal to the future reflect what could be… or what must be left behind?

Are the dancers reflected in the water’s depth things of beauty… or evil?

This unique and imaginative collection of nine mind tantalizing fantasy and science fiction stories will appeal to readers who enjoy thought provoking tales with hidden meanings resting deep below the surface. These stories will keep you pondering long into the night.

If you liked Gilded Glass or Once Upon an Ever After, you’ll love Refracted Reflections.

The truth is out there, and it’s waiting to be found.

Kenzia sought out the help of Masilda, the one person who could grant her greatest desire in “The Cost of Magic.” I enjoyed the banter between these two characters. They were both intelligent people who knew what they wanted out of life. Figuring out that about them made the plot twist that popped up later on even more exciting.

Not everyone enjoys spelunking or history, so I was patient with Irene in “The Nutcracker” as she complained about everything happening on the cave tour she was on with her parents. When she began to hear someone talking to her who seemed to be invisible, I wondered what was really going on with Irene. Once their conversation started up, I was quickly able to guess where the storyline might go from there. This was among a few different stories in this collection that I wished had been given more time to develop. They all had great premises, but there was space in them for more character development and plot twists if the authors had decided to include them.

“Parallel” began with Jo breaking into an abandoned mansion to see what might have been left behind in it. I was curious to see why Jo was so interested in this property and what she was planning to do with whatever she found there. When she discovered the shimmering mirror, I thought I’d discovered the answers to my questions. This is one of those stories that works best if readers don’t know what to expect from it, so all I can say about the rest of it was that it made me shudder and not want to look at a mirror at night again for a long time. What a deliciously scary read!

Refracted Reflections: Twisted Tales of Duality & Deception showed just how magical mirrors and similar items can be.

Call It Love by Kristian Parker


Call It Love by Kristian Parker
Speak Its Name, book 2
Publisher: Pride Publishing
Genre: Historical, LGBTQ, Erotic Romance
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Charlie didn’t believe in love…until he set himself free.

It’s 1922 and after his house guest Frank Harris ran away with the under-butler, Charlie Fitzwilliam has been summoned to face the music. With the vindictive butler Bennett now watching his every move and his father planning out his life for him, Charlie finally faces up to who he is and makes a bid for freedom.

Alone for the first time in his life, he meets Michael Leonard, a kind, caring bookseller. Convinced that sex with men is only for fun, Charlie experiences a summer of self-discovery that takes him to the English seaside, the doorstep of old friends and the arms of a lover who shakes his whole belief system.

But disowned by his parents and cut off from the life he knew, can Charlie make a future for himself…and will Michael be a part of it? Is this affair something that can be called love?

Love, discovery and acceptance. Everyone needs these and Charlie’s determined to find them all.

Once I discovered the books of Kristian Parker, I was hooked. This book was no different. I loved every page. Yes, there were times when the characters weren’t always the best, but there were reasons, and I couldn’t put this book down. It’s hard to find good historical LGBTQ romance and this one fit my bill.

Charlie’s living in a time when sex with men isn’t accepted. He knows who he loves but hasn’t found the one. He’s tired of allowing others to determine the course of his life, too. I liked Charlie, even when he could be a spoiled brat. He’s a bit young and immature, but it added to his character. It made him unique and showed his growth through the book. Then there’s Michael. He knows what he wants, too, and he’s not afraid to get it. He’s also not afraid to give Charlie the what-for. Charlie needed to be reined in a bit and Michael’s a good other half. I liked the pairing of them.

If you’re looking for a novella that’s packed with characters, story and romance, then this is the one for you. Give it a try.

Gorpp the Grappler by D.R. Feiler


Gorpp the Grappler by D.R. Feiler
Publisher: Sounds & Voices Media
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

An alien invader mistakes the world championship of wrestling for the world championship of Earth. Whoops. Could have happened to anybody, right?

Despite being an alien, Gorpp is something of an everyman among a highly advanced species. Bored with the monotony of transporting supplies here on Earth in preparation for an impending invasion, Gorpp becomes enamored with the spectacle of professional wrestling. One night, in 1975, he tunes into a broadcast announcing the world champion will be defending his title in Tampa, Florida.

Gorpp is determined to show he is good for a lot more than running supplies. He is going to challenge Earth’s champion and either return a conquering hero, or die trying.

There’s more than one way to conquer Earth.

Gorpp was an intriguing main character. He looked fairly similar to humans and had a roughly equal level of intelligence, so it took me a little while to pick up on the striking differences between his species and our own. The way he thought about relationships and what it meant to be the world champion was unique. I smiled as he and the humans he met on his adventures slowly realized that their first impressions of each other might not be correct, especially when it came to what wrestling meant to each of them. Gorpp kept me interested from the first sentence to the last one!

I would have liked to see more character development in general, especially when it came to the secondary characters. Many of the wrestlers, promoters, and managers that Gorpp developed relationships with weren’t given much of an opportunity to grow. While I wouldn’t expect everyone he crossed paths with to be given equal attention, it would have been helpful to get to know at least a few of them better so I could understand what made them tick and why wrestling was so important to them.

This book has a marvelous sense of humour. Some jokes were written for kids, while others seemed geared towards adult readers in the sense that they poked fun at some current events and required a little more investment before revealing the punchline. I always appreciate it when authors appeal to multiple audiences, especially when they pull it off as well as Mr. Feiler did here. He kept me chuckling from the first page to the last one.

Gorpp the Grappler showed me an entirely new side of professional wrestling.

A Valentine to Die For by Aver Rigsly


A Valentine to Die For by Aver Rigsly
Noir Nights, Book 1
Publisher: Pride Publishing
Genre: Historical, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, LGBTQ, Erotic Romance
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Having a secret admirer can be deadly.

Ricky Morris, private investigator on New York’s elite Upper East Side, has forged a shady yet profitable life as a gumshoe for wealthy Manhattanites after burning the bridge to his law enforcement past. When women in the city are targeted by a sweet-toothed murderer in the week leading up to Valentine’s Day, the last thing Ricky expects is to be hired by the younger brother of the man who ruined his life.

Timothy Ward, young, fresh patrolman for the N.Y.P.D. who never thought he’d have to step outside the law, finds himself in desperate need of Ricky’s help when he fears his brother, James Ward, the Deputy Chief, could be behind the murdering spree.

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, both men will have to work in the shadows, putting their careers and lives on the line to get to the bottom of the murderer’s sickly sweet and cruel plans. That is, if the burning heat of the undeniable—and very forbidden—lust between them doesn’t consume them in the flames of reckless desire first..

A very cool book with two hot men.

I loved the feel of this book. It really did feel like I was reading a noir that I could’ve been watching, too. The atmosphere was so on point. Aver Rigsly has written a compelling mystery that kept me on the edge of my seat. The story plugged along well, and I couldn’t get enough. Plus, the mystery is great and had me guessing all the way through.

I liked the characters of Ricky and Timothy. They’ve got great chemistry and I loved seeing them together. This felt like I was immersed in their world, and I rooted for them to get together. I can’t wait to read more about these guys.

If you’re looking for a book that’s smart, sexy, sassy and encapsulates the era, then this is the one for you. Try it!

Moonlight Becomes You by Robert Herold


Moonlight Becomes You by Robert Herold
An Eidola Project Novel, Book 2
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Paranormal, Historical
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

The Eidola Project travels to Petersburg, Virginia, to investigate a series of murders in the Black community—rumored to be caused by a werewolf. Once there, danger comes from all quarters. Not only do they face threats from the supernatural, the KKK objects to the team’s activities, and the group is falling apart. Can they overcome their human frailties to defeat the evil that surrounds them?

Monsters can lurk anywhere.

Honestly, the werewolf was what originally nudged me to request this book, and I was pleased with how much time the author took to explore what would happen if a town was terrorized by such a creature. Werewolves don’t seem to be a common antagonist in the modern fantasy I usually read, so it was refreshing to revisit the tropes and legends about them here. The narrator assumed the audience already knew the basics about what this creature was and how it worked, but they did provide enough information to help readers who were less familiar with them get caught up on what to expect.

I struggled with the slow pacing of this tale, especially after the first few chapters when all of the introductions had taken place and the characters began diving into their newest case. There was plenty of material here for the author to work with, from a large cast of characters to a mystery that threatened to kill many innocent people if it wasn’t quickly unraveled. I simply found myself wishing that everything had moved forward faster.

Some of the most interesting portions of the storyline were the ones that discussed the prejudice faced by the characters who were African American, women, or African American women. Everyone who fell into these groups were deeply aware of the limitations society placed on them because of their identities, and they had to be cautious about where they went and how they behaved because of it. I appreciated the attention the author paid to these topics as it made the setting feel much more realistic for these characters given when and where they lived. It also made their accomplishments even more meaningful once they figured out ways to reach their goals within the confines of what they were allowed to do in that era.

This is the second installment of a series. I’d recommend reading it in order due to the character and plot development from The Eidola Project that affected this sequel so much. There were also dozens of characters to keep track of, so already knowing some of them from the previous book will make it much easier for readers to dive into this one.

Moonlight Becomes You was a satisfying read.