REVIEW: Shattered Souls

Flames of Time 3: Shattered Souls
By: Erica Lucke Dean
Publisher: Red Adept Publishing
Publication Date: 5.18.2021
Genre: Romance, Time Travel, Paranormal
Pages: 247

Ava Flynn walked through flames to erase the past and bring her little brother, Josh, back from the dead. But the reboot doesn’t come without strings. While navigating her new reality, Ava must avoid Maddox… without fracturing the timeline. If she fails, she may never find Laith again.

With her own heart at stake, Ava scours time for the key to unraveling the curse binding her soul to both Laith’s and Maddox’s. One brother is the love of her life. And the other… Not even death will stop him from keeping them apart.

As Ava’s present collides with the brothers’ pasts, she discovers that breaking the curse might have unintended consequences. And this time, her soul isn’t the only one on the line.

If any of you have followed my reviews since before this blog became a house full of books, when it was just a gal in a blue mask, you’ll recognize Erica’s name and know that I have a love-hate relationship with her books. On one hand, I hate romance, with a passion, and am very vocal about it, but on the other hand, Erica is a fantastic sales person and can even manage to get this grouchy romance-hater to give her stuff a try. And even like it.

I want to add in a side note here before I continue on with the review of this book: I think the reason that I am drawn to her books is because the characters seem very real, even the characters that couldn’t possibly be real. Yeah, they may be beautiful or handsome, which is something that turns me off of romance books, but they are down-to-earth beautiful and down-to-earth handsome, with the clumsiness and awkwardness and stupidity and even not-so-great self esteem that could make them you or me. They are not perfect. They have family issues and have been hurt in the past. They make mistakes, and sometimes big mistakes. They need help. They come off as real people.

Shattered Souls is the third and final story in her Flames of Time series (you can find my reviews for 1 Splintered Souls and 2 Scattered Souls by following the links) and has been on my “much anticipated release” list for some time. (Note: There is not a “much anticipated release” list. I’m not one of those people who get super excited about the next book in a series or trilogy, counting down the days until release, but Erica leaves you wanting more, even when she ends a series.)

As with the other two, she had me wanting to throw my Kindle across the room, while she also had me glued to my seat because I couldn’t put it down, which is a glorious thing when you’re someone who has had a problem getting into any book for quite a while now. There were moments where I wanted to throttle Ava, where I liked Laith more than Maddox or Maddox more than Laith, and where I had a hard time trusting the people in her life, all with shocks and surprises around every corner. The time travel moments in all three stories, but especially this one, were very well done, leaving you on the edge of your seat hoping and praying that she would make it, which is an improvement considering I didn’t care for her in the first book. There was anger, tears, laughter, relief, heartbreak, and tension – all the things a good book should have – along with some unexpected moments that I’m still not over. The ending – oh my GAWD the ending! – thinking about it as much as I have since finishing this story, really, it is the perfect way to end it all, while also making me wish there was one more book. Just because I have questions. Especially since the book did not end anywhere close to the way I had thought the series would end all along.

The entire series did not disappoint. She had some fantastic side characters that I wish I had gotten to know better, so one can always hope she’ll use some of them in the next trilogy she writes. (One can always hope, right?) The setting was perfect, and became even more perfect as the series went on, as we realized more and more the importance of different aspects of where it all happened and where it all began. The bits of history she used throughout (for the story and the time travel) were very well researched (there were some little details that I went and looked up, just to see) and smoothly added to the story – they were literally hopping through time and she made it sound like the most realistic thing ever.

This series is definitely on my Top 20 of the Century list, and one that I may even sit down and read again. (Anyone who knows me and my reading habits well KNOWS that I am not someone who usually sits down and reads a book again, except for my yearly read of A Christmas Carol and my current read-through of the recently deceased Beverly Cleary books, but in this case, I think that, because of the wait between the three books, there are things I think I would notice and things I would look at differently if I did. Maybe even a few small subtle things I could have missed.)

Where Did My Love of Reading Go?

My passion for my entire life, even before I could read, was books. I remember flipping through my mother’s cookbooks, looking at the pictures, wanting to know the name of this and know the name of that. (In fact, a cookbook was my first adult book read. And I still read them as I did then – cover to cover, as if it were a novel, taking in every single word.) I remember staring up at the may bookcases we had FULL of all kinds of books, excited that one day I would be able to devour every word on every page – and I did end up reading quite a few of them in my lifetime, though the books themselves have gone on to other loving homes over the years. I would sneak down in the middle of the night to read my dad’s fancy copy of Lord of the Rings, hide under the Christmas tree with whatever book I was enjoying at the moment using the lights on the tree to read, and yes I was one of those kids who had a flashlight hidden under my bed so I could read after bedtime (and my mom probably not only knew what I was doing, but would have encouraged me to read had I not been sneaking in extra time to do so). My allowance, my money from my first job, my birthday and Christmas money, it was all spent on books. Or something having to do with books, like bookmarks.

Books were my everything. Bored – read a book. A few extra minutes here or there – read a book. Happy – read a book. Angry – read a book. Sad – read a book……. I’m sure you see where I’m going with this. I never left the house without a book. And I still don’t, though now it’s my Kindle that accompanies me everywhere.

But the last several years, things have been different. I still love books, I still purchase books, I still live for books… but not for reading.

And I can’t tell you why.

I guess I could blame COVID and the depression that came with that, or my anger over what the world is today, but this lack of an interest in reading started, sadly, years before that. I’ve given reasons, analyzed reasons, but they are all just excuses because the reality is that I don’t know what happened or why I stopped reading like I did.

I’ve tried forcing myself to sit down and read this or read that, but the reality is, most of the books I pick up have bored me so much that I just fall asleep. No matter where it is that I am attempting to read it. Sometimes even in public places. It’s gotten so bad that I don’t even bother picking it up any more, and have several books that I began but never finished.

Is it me? Is it the book? Is it the subject/story?

It’s even more depressing when I go to Goodreads and see that other people are flying through their stack of books and I am trudging, at best. (It feels like walking through a waist deep river of sludge. I’m getting nowhere and I know it.)

And it only gets worse when I come here and realize that, except for one post (a review of a short story collection by Armand Rosamilia), I haven’t written here since August of last year. And it was a post, kind of like this, full of excuses on why I haven’t written in awhile.

To be honest, it’s not because I don’t have anything to say. I have hundreds of topics I want to talk about – book related, TV related (c’mon – we’ve ALL been watching way too much TV through this time), even a few games – but I find myself not doing it, afraid to admit that I have hardly read anything over the last few months… years…

Not being able to read… it’s like losing a part of me. Like an arm or leg. Something that inhibits me from living the life that I want to live, the life that I long for. But I can’t seem to do anything about it. Minus a hand full of books that just really gripped me or books that I have been waiting so long for I just HAD to read them, everything else just sits there on my Kindle, staring at me, and the emails in my inbox, they just remind me of what a terrible book blogger I have become.

I’m not giving up, though, so please don’t give up on me. I have a review that I am writing today – a REVIEW!! I’m so excited!! – and a few more that I hope to be able to finish reading and review over the next week or so. (One is by an author whose works I really enjoy, one is the third part in a cozy mystery series, the first two being stories I really liked.) And I’m going to get to work on that list of blog posts I’ve intended to write for forever now haha.

REVIEW: Make Pretend: The Complete Short Fiction of Armand Rosamilia, Volume 1

Author: Armand Rosamilia
Publishing Company: Rymfire Books
Publication Date: 21 November 2020
Pages: 203
Genre: Short Stories

Make Pretend is the first book in a series collecting all of Armand Rosamilia’s short fiction.

Twenty-one tales ranging from horror to crime thriller to science fiction, contemporary fiction to fantasy, and more. From stories a few days ago to one forty years old.

Some stories you might’ve read in previous collections or anthologies. Maybe on the author’s Patreon. Many more never before read. Written for this and the future collections. 

Make pretend these stories aren’t real, aren’t fact, and aren’t exposing the best and worst of humanity… 

I am always impressed with the writings of the talented Armand Rosamilia, so when this book was offered to me for review, there was no option, as far as I was concerned, but to say yes.

As usual, I was not disappointed.

Armand’s Forward reveals a lot about him, as does the blips he has to say about some of the stories in the collection (I honestly think that every author who does a short story collection SHOULD have little blips talking about the story behind the story, or when it was written, why it was written, etc). Though he warns us that he picked out some good, as well as some bad, to show not only his range, but how much he’s grown, I can honestly say that there was not a single story in this collection that I did not enjoy. The only negative I can give you about this particular collection is that, when I came to the end of the last story, there were no more stories or me to read.

If you have not experienced an Armand Rosamilia book, I would definitely suggest this collection as a starter. He has such an amazing imagination, and the execution of his stories leave me satisfied while wanting more. I can’t wait for the next installment.

Radio Silence

I’ve been pretty book quiet lately. I just feel disheartened by events, and have lost interest because of those events. I can’t trust people I one supported and I have zero faith in organizations that I once thought were worth backing.

I have watched people who have done nothing be bullied out of their careers. And watched those same bullies surround and protect people who deserve to be called out publicly.

I have had my name connected to outcries and my story implied, have been dismissed as having a personal vendetta for reasons that are just untrue, and people try to use my name and story to further their own personal gain.

I have watched people be manipulated and attacked.

I have watched people share their stories of inappropriate behavior, and watched others jump on and make it all about them (and not the victims), watched others do what they can to control the narrative, to keep themselves looking like heroes.

I have been told stories of sexually inappropriate behavior and sexual assault at a convention I once loved, and seen the email dismissal (and denials) by the people running the convention (yes, calling the victims liars). I have seen the same convention heads call for the careers of others, claiming to believe and be on the side of all victims, those people destroying some and lifting up others.

I have watched people with virtually no talent hoisted on people’s shoulders as writing gods, watched them destroy careers of people they are jealous of, watched them skyrocket careers of the people that bow at their feet. (Sycophants, every last one of them. And they, sadly, don’t even see it.)

I have watched people grasp on to their relevance and hold on to it with every breath in their body, doing everything they must to keep it long past it’s sell by date.

I have watched the fake interactions between people that, in private, are very outspoken about the level of dislike they have for each other. In public, they schmooze and name drop and gush, all selfish and self-centered, using people to make their name/brand stronger.

I have also watched the fake (and often paid for) reviews on blogs I once looked up to as next-level, now run by desperate bloggers who take advantage of and destroy their name with every payment they take.

I have watched the blatant and disgusting lies. I have witnessed the pack mentality.

And I have been bullied – by bloggers, by authors – and have gone through it all with no (or virtually no) support system.

I have had people who call me friend to my face spread rumors and lies about me behind my back, and when confronted, they deny and deny, acting as if I did not have the proof I needed before I started asking questions.

I have spent almost eight years supporting and selling people – on and off my blog – and those people have taken and taken and taken until I have nothing left to give. And when I’m used up, they turn so quickly on me, looking for the next fresh face to take advantage of until they are dried up as well.

Through it all, I remained loyal.

I have lost all respect for the people I had once idolized and, to be honest, I don’t know if I will be able to come back from it this time.

Worse, I have lost my passion, my direction, any respect I may have once had for myself, and my self-worth.

I have struggled for several years, blaming myself for what I have lost, blaming myself for being bullied (and continuing to be bullied, rather than just give up and move on), blaming myself for not being able to do it, blaming myself for failing time and time again, blaming myself for everything. The truth is: It wasn’t my fault. I busted my ass at something I loved, and people didn’t like that. They made it a competition, where no competition was. My level of passion had nothing to do with them, but they made it a slight, they took it as an affront, and they did what they could to get rid of their “competition.” And I let them.

It’s time to get my head straight once again.

The direction may have been forgotten, and forgotten for far longer than it should have been, but it has never changed: I don’t need someone to tell me that I am relevant. I came here for one reason and one reason only – to talk books. I could NEVER speak to another author again and still be able to do that.

2020 Just Keeps Getting Harder

2020 has been an insane year almost from it’s beginning. Each month – can you believe it’s already the beginning of August? – has brought us a new thing to worry about, and sadly we all seem to be waiting with bated breath for the next big thing, almost joking about how it can’t possibly get worse than it already is.

As I sit here waiting for a hurricane – now tropical storm – that may or may not be hitting us (didn’t I go through this last year?), I can’t help but think about just how much loss has happened in this world.

I woke up this morning to the news that Wilford Brimley had died.

Such unfair news in this world today. Wilford Brimley was one of the best, and always will be. A lot of people know him because of The Thing and his Diabetes commercials, but I was obsessed with The Waltons and Our House growing up because of this man. And I watched the VHS tapes we had of Cocoon and Cocoon: The Return so much that they started to deteriorate.

He was the loving and caring person that he portrayed on TV and the world will truly miss his talent and his heart. It hurts that things seemed to stand in the way of me getting to meet him again, as every convention that we were both going to be attending, either he had to back out of or I did. But just having met him once was enough to know the man that he was.

This just days after the horror community found out about the loss of Jon Recluse.

He was one of the most amazing people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. A really good friend. Someone who meant the world to me.

People have tried discussing the loss with me, people who knew how much he meant to me, how much I admired him, but I just can’t right now. Losing a friend is hard, but losing a friend that truly inspired people in this world, a friend that had a lot more to give, is just hard. So so hard.

We originally met on Goodreads, what seems like eons ago. He was always there for a conversation about books, and there were many times that we messaged into the wee hours about a book one or both of us were reading. He was such a horror connoisseur, and a really dedicated fan. There wasn’t much about horror he didn’t know, and he was spot-on every time he recommended I read something, after learning that I loved something else. His reviews were always so thought out, so perfect. He was such an asset to the horror community, and I actually feel more for the people who never got the chance to get to know him, having never had that experience, than the people who knew him and loved him who are now grieving.

Somehow our friendship ended up going beyond just books, almost like we were just meant to know each other. Even when he was down, he was there when people were having a bad time of this or that, and would defend those who were treated poorly with everything he had. He was my biggest supporter, and he made me feel important, made me feel strong, just knowing that was how he saw me in this world. He would never let me give up on what I loved, and would remind me how much I was hurting myself (and others) by taking a step back, reminded me that I was better than that. I didn’t always listen to his advice, didn’t always be the friend that he needed, no matter how hard I tried. His loss is crushing.

We talked about family – his and mine – and I don’t think he ever recovered from the deaths of his sweet dog (his brother) and his mom. I’m happy to know that he is with them again, and that thought brings me comfort.

In my sadness, I try to remind myself of what my priest told me when my father died: On that day, there was a child being born, and God looked everywhere – in heaven and on earth – for the perfect guardian angel, and when he saw Jon, he just knew. Having known Jon the way I did, I can tell you that he would be the perfect guardian angel, and I hope that the baby he is watching over today lives a long and happy life, one filled with love, friendship, and definitely a love for horror.

Maybe the two are up there together now…