How to Be A Necromancer:The Complete Series by D.D. Miers and Graceley Knox

The How to Be A Necromancer series by D.D. Miers and Graceley Knox contains five novels: Grave Promise, Grave Debt, Grave Mistake, Grave Magic and Grave Chance. Vexa Tzarnavaras’s life changes drastically at her great-uncle Ptolemy’s funeral. An enchanted candle activates her long-buried necromancer powers and she accidently raises all the dead bodies in the funeral home, including her great-uncle. An immortal ancestor tracks her down and the quest begins.

Vexa’s efforts to stay alive while defeating the undead take her to the fae world, the dwarven underworld, and the world in between. She’s joined by a self-cursed werewolf, a derelict demon dabbling necromancer vagabond, a resurrected mutt in need of regular taxidermy services, an exiled fairie, and her great-aunt Persephona. 

The steamy romance that blossoms between more than one of the team adds a nice touch to a paranormal adventure series. The only issue I really had was that Vexa is described as having long, curly black hair in the book, but the cover shows a blonde bombshell. 

How to Be A Necromancer:The Complete Series by D.D. Miers and Graceley Knox is a fun read with lively escapades and a likeable bad-ass necromancer heroine. 

How to Avoid 101 Book Publishing Blunders, Bloopers & Boo-Boos: how to successful publish a book by Judith Briles

When I picked up How to Avoid 101 Book Publishing Blunders, Bloopers & Boo-Boos: how to successful publish a book by Judith Briles, I decided to ignore the blooper in the title (successfully) in the hopes of some useful tidbits. I did indeed get some useful tidbits, however not 101, which was disappointing.

Some sections were geared towards authors who have managed to snag a traditional book publishing deal. Since I have not, although I haven’t given up hope of someday, the information about reading the fine print, making sure you keep your rights to republication, and getting the best deal of the book publishing company, didn’t apply to me. 

I did learn about the Amazon Advantage program. However, when I did more research, I discovered that this publishing platform is closed to new publishers (such as myself). Amazon has given no date for reopening, unfortunately. Since I can’t access the Amazon Advantage program, the chapters on finding a decent printer weren’t useful either. To publish on Amazon, currently I need to use Amazon’s print on demand service. 

Another Amazon program that has expired but is included in the blooper book is the Matchbook program, where you could offer a digital copy of your print book for a reduced price or free. This nifty feature was taken out of circulation in October of 2019. Phooey. 

Not everything presented was obsolete or irreverent though. I really liked the idea of creating a tag line that expresses what my books (or me) do to benefit the reader. I also appreciated the suggestion to add a copyright watermark to images that I have created and share on social media. 

Overall, I was disappointed with the amount of useful information I found in this book that had such high ratings on Amazon. Some chapters seemed redundant, others weren’t useful since the feature wasn’t available anymore, and others were irrelevant to my particular writing situation. If you are a first-time author looking for the tricks of the trade, I can’t say that I recommend How to Avoid 101 Book Publishing Blunders, Bloopers & Boo-Boos: how to successful publish a book by Judith Briles.

Black Thumb Greenhouse: How to Take Your Self-Sufficient Homestead from Dream to Reality: An Introduction to Greenhouse Gardening even Cactus-Killers can Master by J.D. Isaly

J.D. Isaly has done a magnificent job of describing greenhouse options, detailing necessary components to successful greenhouse gardening, and discussing plants that do well in greenhouse conditions. The information about the history of the greenhouse and the benefits of utilizing a greenhouse were well-researched and clearly presented. 

The author shared his extensive knowledge about greenhouse construction and its upkeep. Since I have been dithering back and forth about whether I wanted to invest in a greenhouse to extend my growing season, I read this book eagerly. After I finished, I decided that a greenhouse is not in the near future because of the growing conditions in my area based on the information Isaly provided. Thus, you can see that the thorough treatment of the topic would be extremely beneficial to anyone considering or ready to take the leap into greenhouse gardening.

I especially liked how the author talked about how gardening can provide physical and mental benefits to the gardener. Anyone who putters around in the soil can attest to the contentment felt out digging in the dirt. Of course, the physical activity involved in gardening is beneficial to staying in shape as is the option of eating non-GMO, organic produce. Interspersed between the chapters were short, fascinating trivia tidbits about plants under the heading “Did you know?”

The only thing I felt would have added to this informative text were drawings. For instance, when the author was explaining the relative merit of different types of greenhouses, I would have liked to have had a picture to help me understand the descriptions better. Or when describing the drainage system, I didn’t really have a clear idea of what the v-shaped flood floor consisted of. An illustration would have been helpful here too.

So if you are considering setting a greenhouse to augment your food production, then Black Thumb Greenhouse: How to Take Your Self-Sufficient Homestead from Dream to Reality: An Introduction to Greenhouse Gardening even Cactus-Killers can Master by J.D. Isaly is the perfect book to help you begin.

I received an ARC from Reedsy Discovery. You can read my review here.

Probably Dead by Ed Church

Probably Dead by Ed Church is part of the Detective Brook Deelman Mystery series. However, I didn’t feel as if I needed to read the other books in the series in order to follow the storyline. I enjoy a good investigative drama and this book fits the bill to a T. 

Beginning in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, Detective Brook Deelman stops a bar robbery and is handed the case files for a thirty year old unsolved disappearance. His investigation takes him back to London and his own precinct. The mystery resolves itself unexpectedly, going full circle in returning to South Africa.

I’m especially fond of mysteries that I haven’t solved from my armchair half-way through. Then when I found out I could read more of Detective Deelman’s crime-stopping crusades, color me delighted! If you are a mystery fan and admire rugged and efficient detectives too, you’ll love Probably Dead by Ed Church.

Todd by Adam J. Nicolai

One day, everyone in Alan’s life is gone. Everyone in Alan’s neighborhood is gone. Everyone in Alan’s state is gone. Everyone except Alan and his 8-year-old son Todd. Alan, an unemployed would-be entrepreneur suffering from depression, is not the man his son needs him to be in this TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As You Know It) scenario. 

Alan has not stockpiled for a doomsday event. He has not learned basic survival skills. He makes mistake after mistake as he struggles to keep himself and his son alive. Then he spots the blue blur and the approaching asteroid. 

This is the end-of-the-world survival book to end all books. The hero in our story isn’t a former special-ops military genus. Nor is he a self-sufficient hermit already prepping to the hilt. No, our guy is a loser from the suburbs, with no survival skills whatsoever with an 8-year-old boy tagging along.

I absolutely loved this book. I mean, what would you do if your toilet stopped working? Would you go about constructing an outhouse or start pooping in the neighbor’s living room? What about when your food supplies became covered in deadly blue moss? What would you do then? With winter approaching, would you stay in Minnesota or try to head south? How far south? Is Iowa far enough? With the power out, would you know enough to start a fire to cook food and stay warm? Would you know how to ventilate the room or to move the blanket far enough away so that it doesn’t catch fire? If you went on the road, what would you take and what would you leave behind? What about those blurs? How would you handle injuries? Do you know how to dress a wound?

If you want an amazing SHTF read with a bit of science fiction thrown in to lessen the predictability, then Todd by Adam J. Nicolai is the book for you!

This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel

Claude is the youngest of five in a loving family. Claude knows what he wants to be when he grows up. He wants to be a girl. This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel follows this family as they try to support Claude’s life as Poppy. 

While I didn’t personally agree with the decisions the family made (often even the individual members of the family couldn’t agree), I could totally understand the parents’ wish to do whatever it took to make their child(ren) happy. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a fairy tale world. Gender dysphoria is trendy right now, but the reality of transgender is far from life at Disney.

The story is told through the parents’ perspective and at times is rambling and incoherent. The magical trip to Thailand that “resolves” the gender issue isn’t very effective. Yes, there are lady boys in many cultures, but how does that knowledge help a child born in middle-class America cope with the situation on an everyday basis? It doesn’t. 

Despite some blatantly unrealistic aspects of the story, reading about Poppy’s experiences was both poignant and frustrating. As parents, we really want the best for our children. But who’s to say what that really means? For that reason alone, This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel is worth your time.

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

I’ve read both negative and positive reviews of American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. The controversy piqued my curiosity and I read the book. After finishing, I have to say that some of the outrage by the Latino community was warranted, but that didn’t make it a horrible read. 

The action begins right from the first page. A shoot-out at a quinceanera barbeque—ok, stop right there. Anyone who knows anything about Mexican culture will tell you that relegating the formal pageantry and coming-of-age ceremony of a quinceanera to a backyard barbeque, with potato salad no less, is sacrilege. 

The cartel, naturally, is the aggressor, the target, a journalist’s family. Since Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, the scenario seems plausible. However, describing the shooters as “the modern bogeymen of urban Mexico”, well, the boogeyman isn’t a Mexican creature, but maybe the author meant El Cucuy. 

Mexican currency at the time American Dirt was written.

Lydia and her 8-year old son Luca are the only survivors of the massacre. Knowing she can’t rely on the police, Lydia flees with just a few things she takes from her mother’s house. She pays the hotel’s 4,000 pesos deposit with four pink bills—hold up. The pink bills are each worth 50 pesos each, so she actually pays 200 pesos. The color of money is mentioned again when Lydia needs to pay 10,000 pesos. She lays down 7 pink, 2 orange, and one blue bill, so that would be well, I don’t know. Are we playing Monopoly here because there aren’t any orange bills in Mexican currency?  Maybe the orange ones are the 100 peso bill? 

The head of the cartel that Lydia and her son must hide from is known as La Lechuza, who according to Lydia’s husband could have been the next Bill Gates–really, what’s wrong with a reference to Carlos Slim here? Yes, the criminal leader of the big bad cartel organization is called La Lechuza, just like the popular children’s song, although there is no reference to this song in the story at all. Since the song is about putting people to sleep, it would have certainly added a creep factor if nothing else. 

Lydia comments that La Lechuza is a terrible name since owls aren’t scary. However, it’s common knowledge in Mexico that la lechuza is often a precursor of death, a bad omen, certainly no laughing matter. But again, none of this was mentioned in the book. 

There were more references that just took away from the authenticity, an Italian meal in San Miguel de Allende (not carnitas), ginger ale (not Coca) stored in the Abuela’s basement (who has a basement?), police officers dreaming about pot roast (not tacos), a girl from Honduras looking like an Aztec (not Maya) warrior, the journey measured in miles (not kilometers), using the word vertedero (not basurero), drinking water from the tap (just not done) and so on. 

However, despite it all, I have to admit it was an engaging read. From the get-go I was invested in the outcome, as implausible as some of it seemed. But then again, it was a work of fiction, a fantasy of sorts, so it was ok. Anyway, if you are looking for something that not only provides an exciting adventure but also tests your knowledge of Mexican culture in an alternate universe since it depicts neither an authentic Mexico nor a typical migrant experience, well then American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins is just the ticket. 

Calling Myself Home: Living Simply, Following Your Heart and What Happens When You Jump by Robin Rainbow Gate

There were several things that resonated with me personally in the memoir Calling Myself Home: Living Simply, Following your Heart and What Happens When You Jump by Robin Rainbow Gate. Although I didn’t have her more privileged childhood, I too, heard the call to Mexico and found myself home in this rural, brilliantly colored land. 

The author studied herbal lore extensively, learning at the feet of some amazing herboleras (herbalists) on both sides of the border. The book thus is divided into sections that coincide with the concept of the Medicine Wheel, as understood by the Native Americans and Mexicas. 

There is considerable time devoted to the author’s childhood and early memories. At first I was frustrated, ready to get to the journey in Mexico. However, as I read, I realized that in order to understand how the author came to be where she was, it was important to see where she had been. 

The author’s life as she settled and embraced Mexico was as fulfilling as you’d expect. She described her wanderings in mountain villages, frustrations with a new way of learning, experiences with unknown sights, sounds, and tastes and her gradual growth as a person as a result of these things. 

Delightfully, at the end of the book, there are self-reflection questions so that the reader too can devise a plan to live life more fully. Honestly, there aren’t many women who would or could follow in the author’s footsteps. However, we each have our own path to follow, some of which cross the mountains and deserts of Mexico. The questions provide an excellent starting point for anyone looking for a more authentic life. Perhaps you’ll too find Mexico calling.

Click here to read more about Robin Rainbow Gate.

Yucatán with Kids: A Travel Guide

Mexico Cassie has done it again. The author of Moving To Mérida: How To Successfully Move To Mexico As A Family has created an excellent guidebook to exploring the Mexican state of Yucatán with kids, naturally called Yucatán with Kids: A Travel Guide. 

This book includes pronunciation assistance for the Mayan place names you will be visiting. It highlights the best beaches, cenotes, and archaeological sites to take your kids. It does a great job of giving pertinent information, like how difficult the cenote is to access, so that you can plan accordingly. It also includes information on haciendas, natural spaces, caves, and inland cities and towns you can take your children, including Mérida and Valladolid. 

Towards the end of the book, Cassie includes two road-trip suggestions for traveling in Yucatán state and surrounding areas. There are notes on food, national festivals, safety and tips for traveling with children. As a guidebook for families with children exploring the area, it can’t be beat.

There were some editing issues that kept me from giving this book the highest rating, however. These are probably things that won’t bother the average reader, but I’m picky. First, the author says she wasn’t going to include pictures because most people would be reading an e-book version. What’s a guidebook without pictures? Since the majority of locations were places the author herself has visited with her family, I’m positive she has oodles of lovely images. And you can absolutely use pictures in e-books. It takes more time formatting, but it would have taken this book over the top.

Note from the author: Photos to accompany the book are on my website, a formatting decision that may not work for everyone but makes the book more affordable and given that most travel books are now sold as ebooks, works well.

Then there were some terms that were mistranslated, although they were understandable errors. The first was Río Lagartos which she informs her readers means Alligator river. No, it doesn’t. The word lagarto translates as lizard in English. Since the crocodiles that live there do indeed resemble very large lizards, Lizard River was an apt name. 

Note from the author: The story about crocodiles and alligators does not come from me but is something told by guides and locals in Río Lagartos.

Another term that caught my attention was the word sarteneja which the author said translated as cistern. The Spanish online dictionary defined sarteneja as another term for bache (pothole). Further research informed me that sartenejas were crevices of naturally found water deposits. So I expect this is a Mayan term that originally referred to areas where water collected and now is used to talk about the structures that hold water. In my area, these are called aljibes and in areas more central in Mexico, I’ve heard the term pila. 

The third mistranslation was concerning the local sun god, Kinich Ahau. The author goes through the etymology of the word, stating kin means sun, ich means face and ahau means lord or priest. However, ich translates as both face and eye in Mayan. As most representations of the sun god have a sun literally in the eye of the carving, k’inich is thought to be more accurately translated as sun-eyed, rather than sun-faced. 

There were also some proofreading errors that should have been corrected before this book was released. In some places río (river) and ría (estuary) were used interchangeably and lacked accents. Then, when listing culinary delights, she mentioned chicharra and castacán as pork dishes. Well, castacán is indeed a local pork dish. However, chicharra is the word for cicada. While cicadas are, in fact, a delicacy in Mexico, they taste more like shrimp than pork, according to sources who have tried them. I believe the word she meant to use was chicharrón, pork rind. 

Note from the author: It is necessary to point out that chicharra is, indeed, a correct term for chicharron in Yucatán.

Towards the end of the book, it felt like I was reading the author’s travel notes rather than a guidebook. Sentences were incomplete, months and days were abbreviated, capitalization and accents became randomized and well, it felt rushed. There were some items that could have been explained a little better. For instance, she mentions Pueblos Mágicos. Anyone living in Mexico would know that she referred to select towns that received revinalization money in recent years to encourage tourism. However, travelers to Mexico might not have that information. 

All of these petty little negatives should not take away from the fact that as a guidebook for families with children who wish to travel in Yucatán state, Yucatán with Kids: A Travel Guide is top-notch. Available on Gumroad and Amazon.

I received an ARC from the author.