“Perilous Times” by Thomas D. Lee – Review

By: Angie Haddock

Being reborn as an immortal defender of the realm gets awfully tiring over the years—or at least that’s what Sir Kay’s thinking as he claws his way up from beneath the earth yet again.

Kay once rode alongside his brother, King Arthur, as a Knight of the Round Table. Since then, he has fought at Hastings and at Waterloo and in both World Wars. But now he finds himself in a strange new world where oceans have risen, the army’s been privatized, and half of Britain’s been sold to foreign powers. The dragon that’s running amok—that he can handle. The rest? He’s not so sure.


This one came out last week, and I was reading it concurrently with “The Battle Drum.” Yes, two fantasy books that came out the same day… and both, curiously enough, feature a character whose hand has turned into a tree branch?! Wild times.

But the similarities end there. This one takes place in a world not too far gone from our own… but just a little further down the path of climate change. The action is set in the UK, where flooding and food shortages abound.

As the blurb above suggests, certain knights of the Round Table have been given the ability – or duty, really – to come back from the dead when Britain is “in peril.” That’s a little loosely defined, and over the centuries, certain elements of society have learned to manipulate these warriors for their own aims. After sleeping underground for a century or so, they don’t know who’s who in the government, or what the new technologies are capable of – so they’re easy to manipulate.

Sirs Kay and Lancelot are brought back into this near future, where climate change might be the biggest peril? Well, there is also a dragon loose for the first half of the book, but maybe those problems are related.

Kay falls in with FETA – the Feminist Environmentalist Transgressive Alliance. His first encounter with them is when one of their group goes rogue and blows up a fracking site. Lancelot is working for the government, which is more or less on the other side of things. We follow each in their own exploits for some time.

Later in the book more characters from the old days show up, including Merlin and even Arthur himself. If we thought Kay and Lancelot were easily manipulated… wait until you meet Arthur.

One recurring theme here is that everyone is tired of fighting. The knights, the environmentalists, everyone. And they keep hoping that someone else will come along to fix things. This is why multiple parties are more than happy to see knights show up. This is why people are excited to bring Arthur back. Surely someone else will have some better idea than their own, right? But time and again, it goes awry. And each character has to learn that they have to keep doing their part. No one can just “magic” all the problems away – not even characters who can legitimately wield magic.

This book is definitely a satire, and has some great one liners here and there. Fantasy, satire, and environmentalism all in one story? Sounds like a great (albeit hefty) summer read to me!

This one is out now, but I was able to read ahead on Netgalley thanks to Penguin Random House.

Success! You're on the list.

“The Battle Drum” by Saara El-Arifi – Review

By: Angie Haddock

Anoor is the first blue-blooded ruler of the Wardens’ Empire. But when she is accused of a murder she didn’t commit, her reign is thrown into turmoil. She must solve the mystery and clear her name without the support of her beloved, Sylah.


Note: This is the second in a series, which is intended to ultimately be a trilogy. See our review of the first book here.

When we last saw these characters, Anoor had just been named the Disciple of Strength. Realizing there was a whole world outside The Wardens’ Empire – which had been kept secret from most people – she sent Sylah to go find out what was out there, and hopefully come back with a solution to the Empire’s climate problems.

So, these two characters both remain main characters in this book – but spend the entire thing apart. We are following stories in two (very) different locations.

This book offers an expanded world geographically, with new peoples, cultures, and lore. But it also offers an expanded world from a storytelling standpoint, as chapters are told from different points of view. We have Anoor, Sylah, and Hassa, who were all POVs that were used in the previous book. But we also see a good portion of the story from Jond’s perspective. This begins because Sylah is incapacitated for a while, but his chapters continue after she wakes up. And we have a completely new character, Nayeli, who lives in an area we have not explored before. I wasn’t sure exactly when Nayeli’s story took place, since it’s so removed from the others, but I felt from early on that it was before the time of the other characters. We do find this out near the end of the book.

Overall, the peoples of these other lands are also dealing with climate issues. They can also do what our main characters call “bloodwerk,” although each land has a different name for it. They theorize that there is too much magic being done, and it has created an imbalance in how the world works (causing all the weather disasters).

And the peoples of these other lands are also gearing up to go to war. Initially, our characters visiting these lands – Sylah, Jond, and a team of Ghostings – are unfamiliar with their legends, powers, and history. As they are learning about all these things, some of our characters in The Warden’s Empire are starting to learn them, too – albeit more slowly.

Anoor’s team had hidden her, against her will, so she could not be tried for murder. It is only from her hiding place that she starts learning of some of the things going on. She doesn’t know most of the story until the very last pages – and even then, she is hearing a very different version than our other characters have put together.

Which brings me to the most interesting aspect, I think. At the very end of the book, all lands are posed for war – The Warden’s Empire among them – and our main characters are posed to be on opposite sides. Anoor and Sylah have yet to speak, or compare notes on all they’ve learned. Hassa’s perspective is somewhat different from both the others, but her knowledge is a little more in line with Sylah’s. So that should make for an explosive kick-off to the final book in this trilogy!

This book comes out today, May 23rd. I was able to read an advanced copy through Netgalley and Del Rey (an imprint of Random House).

Success! You're on the list.

“The Celebrants” by Steven Rowley – Review

By: Angie Haddock

The night after one of their own is tragically taken away from them, a group of five college friends form a pact: a promise to reunite every few years to throw each other “living funerals,” constant reminders that life is worth living, if not for them then for their late friend.


I have read all of Steven Rowley’s other novels (see one here), so I was super-excited at the chance to read the advanced copy of this one!

The characters in this one became friends in college in the 90s, and – aside from two of them who married – didn’t talk again for almost 20 years. The book goes back and forth between the “present,” where we learn that one has terminal cancer, and the past few “living funerals” that took place before his. During these flashbacks, we get to know all five characters well.

Marielle, the hippie-ish one, was the first to trigger their college pact to throw each other funerals while still alive. She does so because her marriage has dissolved and her daughter – birthed not long after they had graduated – is leaving for college herself.

Naomi is the other woman in the group, and she has a biting personality. She is also the child of Japanese immigrants who expected a lot from her. Their deaths, and the idea that she will never be able to prove her worth to them, triggers her to invoke her “funeral.”

Craig is a straight male, but one who works in the world of art galleries and brokering the sales of high-priced paintings. When he inadvertently decides a painting is “real” that ends up being deemed a forgery, he faces jail time. Marielle invokes the pact on his behalf, making his the first “ambush” funeral.

The last two members of the pact are the Jordans. They share the same first name, and are romantic partners living in New York. They are usually differentiated in the book by one being called Jordan, and the other Jordy. (Although we later learn that he does not like the nickname.) Jordan found that he had cancer a few years back, prompting the longtime couple to finally marry. His cancer was in remission, but now it is back and things aren’t looking good. The five friends have reunited for what we – and they – assume is Jordan’s funeral. But we’ll leave the slight twist for people who want to read this one – because I hate giving away an ending.

There is some nostalgia in here, especially if you were alive in the 1990s. And an obvious comparison could be made to “The Big Chill.” It also features some gay characters, which is a Rowley staple by now. (Write what you know, I guess?) Overall, I found it an enjoyable read. Not exactly groundbreaking, but enjoyable.

This one can be pre-ordered now, and I was able to read ahead through NetGalley thanks to the publisher, Putnam.

Success! You're on the list.

“Made from Scratch: Finding Success Without a Recipe” by Mignon François – Review

By: Angie Haddock

“All you have is all you need,” is the life lesson entrepreneur Mignon François learned as she turned the $5 she had to feed her family dinner for the week into a multi-million-dollar bakery brand. With no experience and no recipe for success – or cake for that matter – her path was truly made from scratch. In this memoir, Mignon shares her story of climbing out of a life of continuous upsets, struggle, and lack to building a legacy that would bless her and future generations.


The Cupcake Collection is a Nashville staple, so of course I had to jump on this one! And, because she’s been around town for a minute, I’d read parts of Mignon’s story before – in snippets, in local magazines and the like. But this fleshed-out version held many surprises to me.

Ms. François grew up (mostly?) in New Orleans, where food is a way of life. So I had assumed that her skills behind the oven came from her family. And ultimately, they sort of do, but not directly.

She had originally thought about being a doctor, but found herself pregnant with her first child while still a teen. Only a year later, she married a man 11 years older than her, who already had 3 kids of his own. To say her life didn’t go as planned would be a huge understatement.

After many moves, more kids, infidelity, car repossessions, and having their phones and electricity turned off more often than they were on… the François family landed in Nashville. And initially, they were on the same track here. But the tenacity that grew here started with finding a home in the Germantown area, and finding a way to afford it with all the financial problems on their record. They bought the house – and the eventual first location for their cupcake empire – by first flipping another house for the seller. They did not get paid money, they got paid in him financing the next house for them. And it was also a fixer-upper. But it got there, little by little.

Mignon’s next big move – the idea to start a bakery business – was going out on an even shakier limb. Because she did not have a love of baking, or know how to do it! She had heard on the radio that people were having bake sales to pay off debts, and just decided to do it. (She did call her grandma for a little advice.)

Now, here’s where I have to put some caveats out for potential readers. This is an amazing story, by all accounts. And the author gives all the glory to God for it. Again, this was not new to me, as I’d heard parts of this story before. But her love of that radio show – Dave Ramsey’s – might irk some people. (His reputation among the locals here is… notsogreat.)

And truly, the whole book is written from a very religious perspective. Ideas and struggles alike are presented as teaching moments from God to Mignon personally. That language might not be for everyone, so I just wanted to give y’all a head’s up.

Now, The Cupcake Collection has locations in both Nashville and New Orleans, and ships cupcakes nationwide. They also do wedding cakes, pop-ups, have merch… you name it. It’s a well-established brand that sprang from an unlikely place. But obviously the owner – who practiced baking at home for two years before she started taking her goods into the world – had just the tenacity and spirit needed to take on this endeavor!

This one comes out today, and I was able to read an advanced copy thanks to the fine folks at Books Forward.

Success! You're on the list.

“Winnie and Nelson: Portrait of a Marriage” by Jonny Steinberg – Review

By: Angie Haddock

One of the most celebrated political leaders of a century, Nelson Mandela has been written about by many biographers and historians. But in one crucial area, his life remains largely untold: his marriage to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. During his years in prison, Nelson grew ever more in love with an idealized version of his wife, courting her in his letters as if they were young lovers frozen in time. But Winnie, every bit his political equal, found herself increasingly estranged from her jailed husband’s politics. Behind his back, she was trying to orchestrate an armed seizure of power, a path he feared would lead to an endless civil war.


Growing up in the 80s & 90s, I had been aware of Nelson Mandela. But of course, what I had read back then was the children’s version of his story – and it was also a story that was not yet complete. So I thought it was about time I read a grown-up version of events. I had also been unaware of his wife’s story up until now.

And both of them had crazy and convoluted life stories!

Nelson was quite a bit older than Winnie. He was married with children already when they started dating – and she was also dating someone else at the time. Their romantic escapades with others did not stop after they got married, either.

They had two children together, both girls. The couple only really lived together for a few years before Nelson first went into hiding… then, eventually, prison. He ultimately remained in state custody for 27 years, which did curtail his philandering (but not Winnie’s).

During that time, not only did Winnie have other men around… she often had volatile relationships with thugs and informers, including some that were (eventually) half her age. In fact, after a few years of being banished to another part of the country from where she had been living with Nelson, she seemed to encourage and orchestrate violence as a means to resist apartheid. She was an advocate of armed struggle. Nelson had once believed in this, too, but his aims softened over time. She believed that he did not see things accurately while he was being taken care of in jail.

The state was always keeping an eye on her, though, which muddles the story. She led a “team” of young men who enacted a lot of threats and actual violence in the late 80s. But, a few of them were actually plants/informers. So, when the group kidnapped four young men from a nearby home, and eventually killed one, there was some difference in opinion on whether to hold Winnie accountable. Since some of the men involved were informers… did Winnie order these actions, or was she framed by the state?

She and Nelson did divorce after his release, as they had grown too far apart. Initially, he used his considerable reputation to fund her legal defense and appoint her to high positions. But they truly saw things differently, and did not stay together. Nelson eventually did remarry, to a former first lady from a neighboring African country whose first husband had passed away.

This story was full of conflict, and really made my head spin at times! The public persona of Nelson Mandela – at least here, so far away in another continent – is one of patience, of sacrificing so many years for the good of his people. The children’s version of the story I remembered was akin to those of our own Civil Rights leaders here, like Martin Luther King, Jr. So firstly, it shocked me to learn that his last name – as carried around in Johannesburg by Winnie and her “team” of gangsters – was more often associated with violence during the 1980s.

And then, it shocked me again to find that many black people in South Africa today identify more with Winnie! Because there is still much poverty, some find that not enough has changed since the supposed end of apartheid – basically feeling that it ended in name only. So they see Nelson as just a puppet, a symbol, and notsomuch an actual change-maker.

This one was definitely challenging. But, as I said, there is also a lot of action. If you’re interested in world history or politics, or haven’t studied South Africa much, it’s a eye-opening read. It came out this week, and I was able to read ahead on NetGalley and the publisher, Knopf Doubleday.

Success! You're on the list.

“The Ferryman” by Justin Cronin – Review

By: Angie Haddock

Founded by the mysterious genius known as the Designer, the archipelago of Prospera lies hidden from the horrors of a deteriorating outside world. In this island paradise, Prospera’s lucky citizens enjoy long, fulfilling lives until the monitors embedded in their forearms, meant to measure their physical health and psychological well-being, fall below 10 percent. Then they retire themselves, embarking on a ferry ride to the island known as the Nursery, where their failing bodies are renewed, their memories are wiped clean, and they are readied to restart life afresh.


I described this one to my husband as “Divergent at the beginning, WandaVision by the end… with a little Lost in the middle.” And I stand by that statement! But, with the paper version expected to come in well over 500 pages, there is obviously a lot more nuance between those basic comparisons.

Our main character is Proctor Bennett, who is a Ferryman in his forties. His job is to collect Prosperans who are nearing the end of their lives, and escort them to the ferry that will take them to the Nursery. He is married, with no kids. He has a leadership position within his profession. Some people are spooked by what he does for a living, but he sees it as helping people.

What I consider the “inciting incident” happens pretty early here, when Proctor is assigned to take his own father to the ferry. His father, seemingly ok with his circumstances at first, suddenly becomes manic and seems to be trying to tell Proctor something. Is it just the ramblings of an old man out of his depth, or no?

As Proctor starts asking questions, his life starts to unravel around him – and so does the world of Prospera. Coincidence? Of course not. But what does it all mean?!

This brings me to the “Lost” comparison. Yes, it’s an island where not everything is as it seems. Certain characters feel more like symbols than real people. There’s even a section where they are literally in a waiting room. But if you’re the type that felt constant frustration at the ol’ TV show, have faith… all does get revealed here in time.

And, as we can see, this is a far cry from the YA themes found in “Divergent,” as well. This is real grown-up sci-fi, where we see characters dealing with midlife crises – marital strife, asking whether their lives to this point have had meaning, etc. – as well as some characters dealing with the ends of their lives.

(Sidenote: do you ever “cast” books in your head? Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t, but there were a couple characters here that I had clear ideas for! Just a fun thing to think about sometimes…)

This book comes out today, May 2nd. I read ahead on NetGalley, thanks to the publisher, Penguin Random House.

Success! You're on the list.

“Awaken to Your Calling” by Randi Benator – Review

By: Angie Haddock

Whether you’re just starting out in the work world, embarking on a midlife career change, or nearing retirement and wanting a meaningful next chapter, this book has useful guidance for you. Benator draws on her professional experience of over twenty years working with clients and students as a career coach, life coach, and workshop leader to take you on a journey to discover your gifts, interests, and potential and support you to discover your calling and uncover new career and life possibilities.


The full title of this one is: “Awaken to Your Calling: A Guide to Discovering Your Career Path and Life Direction.” And right away, the author lets us know that we all have inclinations, talents, etc. – a calling, basically. And often, deep inside, we know it. Or we did, before we roped ourselves into making career decisions we felt were more “responsible.” It’s all already there, which is why she uses the word “awaken” instead of “find.”

This is an interactive book, with lots of room to make lists, and jot down ideas. I’ve gone through other books where we list things we are good and not good at, but one thing I really liked about this one is that the author doesn’t stop with making lists… she actually includes a good amount of “next steps.” In addition to steps that include more writing/thinking by the reader, she also includes ideas on how to research the ideas you come up with, maybe find mentors or additional education, etc.

A few of the questions were fun, and ones I hadn’t seen before. At one point she prompts us to think about things we want to take forward with us from previous jobs, even ones we hated; and things we want to leave behind, even from jobs we loved. I thought the framing of this exercise was interesting, and forced me to consider what good things can come from crappy jobs! Maybe a skill learned or talent nurtured? Maybe just working with cool people? And of course, even a great job can have terrible hours, or a long commute, or… the list goes on.

This one is already out, through the fine folks at She Writes Press. I was given a copy to review through the team at Books Forward PR.

Success! You're on the list.

“None of This Would Have Happened If Prince Were Alive” by Carolyn Prusa – Review

By: Angie Haddock

Ramona’s got a bratty boss, a toddler teetering through toilet training, a critical mom who doesn’t mind sharing, and oops—a cheating husband. That’s how a Category Four hurricane bearing down on her life in Savannah becomes just another item on her to-do list. In the next forty-eight hours she’ll add a neighborhood child and the class guinea pig named Clarence Thomas to her entourage as she struggles to evacuate town.


Contemporary fiction is a mixed bag for me. I was drawn to this one solely for the name, and the gloriously lavender cover. That doesn’t mean it was bad – it was just ok, though. If you are good with the “working mom trying to do it all and gets overwhelmed” stereotype, this one very much fits into that category. Also add in a semi-drunk mom, various pets and kids, and a gay best friend.

The hurricane adds a punch to the proceedings, though. The story has a tight timeline, taking place over just a few days, during which our main character goes from “eh, it probably won’t hit here” to “oh crap, I have to get these kids out of here”… and back. Spoiler alert: they go back into town, with the hurricane still coming, because her mom had failed to leave.

There are bits of the story that do take place outside of those few days, as we see flashbacks to our lead, Ramona, in her earlier, more carefree days. We also see her creeping marriage issues, various mommy moments, and memories of her own parents.

The link to Prince is very tenuous. She was a fan of his, especially back in her college days. The events here take place only a handful of months after his passing (Fall 2016). That’s it.

But I think anyone who was older than a toddler when he was still alive was (or should have been) a fan of Prince. Seriously?! But hey, the catchy name was enough for this fan to be intrigued, so I guess it’s a gimmick that worked?

The Purple One died on this date seven years ago. (April 21, 2016.) I read this book in February, but saved the review for today, to add a little purple into the day. For books actually about Prince, please see some of my previous reviews:

The Beautiful Ones

On Time

Success! You're on the list.

“Stalking Shakespeare” by Lee Durkee – Review

By: Angie Haddock

Following his divorce, down-and-out writer and Mississippi exile Lee Durkee holed himself up in a Vermont fishing shack and fell prey to a decades-long obsession with Shakespearian portraiture. It began with a simple premise: despite the prevalence of popular portraits, no one really knows what Shakespeare looked like. That the Bard of Avon has gotten progressively handsomer in modern depictions seems only to reinforce this point.


This one was fairly riveting, albeit in a totally nerdy and slightly manic way.

I studied theatre in college, and have read some Shakespeare plays in my time. But I had never considered that we don’t actually know what he looked like. There are a few popular portraits that are used to portray him, and many that have been assumed to be him over the years, but – while they all depict men of his era, and are similar in some ways – there are discrepancies among them that would indicate they may not be portraits of the same person.

So, who decides if any of these Elizabethan men are or are not William Shakespeare? Apparently, there is a whole world of museum curators, art restorers, and scholars who debate things like this. And often, disagree. And maybe even, sometimes, hide or purposefully misrepresent their findings?

The author, though, is admittedly obsessive. Also an alcoholic, on Adderall, and at times addicted to pain killers. So, while some of these tales are indeed fascinating, we have to ask if he is predisposed to seeing things as “conspiracies.”

Another theory that arises from this world is one that I had heard of before, but didn’t realize was still hotly debated. And that is: was William Shakespeare even real? Obviously, his plays were. But were they written by someone else using a pen name? Or perhaps even by several authors? The various theories on who else might have written his works are peeked into in this book, and make for pretty scandalous reading at times.

I enjoyed this one. Obviously, though, I like a good non-fiction, and have a passing interest in theatre stuff. I feel like it may get too “in the weeds” for a casual reader. It would easily appeal to fans of history, and specifically British and/or art history.

Shakespeare – if he really existed at all – has birth and death dates that are both in April. In honor of that, this book comes out today, April 18th. I was able to read ahead through NetGalley and the publisher, Scribner.

Success! You're on the list.

“The Man Without Shelter” by Indrajit Garai – Review

By: Angie Haddock

Lucy, a young lawyer, is on fast track to partnership in her firm. Arnault, a convicted felon, leaves prison after two decades through a piece of evidence in his favor. The two of them come together during a rescue operation at the centre of Paris, and then they go on with their separate lives. Months later, their paths cross again at a camp for migrants on the edge of Paris.


This novella had some good points and less-good points. Let’s start with the writing itself. The author was born in India, moved to France, and now lives in the US. The language seemed a little “off” at times – just odd word choices or ways of phrasing things – but I attributed this to the author’s background. (By that I mean, I assumed that English isn’t his first language. This could totally be my own assumption.) None of these quirks made the story hard to understand. But, if you’re a person who lives for flowery language, or is on the hunt for the most amazing phrasings – this would not fit the bill.

The story itself is pretty solid. We have Arnault, the titular man without shelter, who finds himself in that predicament because he was just released from prison. We also have Lucy, a lawyer who sets to helping him. Lucy’s story is basically driven by Arnault’s, though, and I think his part is what shines through the most.

Where this book shines is in portraying a lead protagonist who is homeless. (How often do we see that?) It shows many of the obstacles Arnault faces, like not being able to renew his ID without a permanent address. It also shows, through the Lucy character, how the rest of us might unintentionally mistreat such people. Consider the following:

“The homeowners like her (Lucy), when they meet a homeless man, they want to know his past, more out of curiosity than compassion… And most don’t want to talk about their past… They want to talk about their present and events of society. They, too, are citizens with their rights to vote, their rights to privacy… They find it ruthless when others pry into their past and consider it appropriate because they’re homeless.”

On the other hand, I got a little suspicious toward the end, when the villains of the story turned out to be some other folks described as being with one of the “traveling clans” from “different parts of Europe” who only stayed for a while and then moved on. The way they were described made me think (again, maybe my own assumptions) that they were Romani? And making them the bad guys seemed a little harsh/racist. (But, I don’t live in Paris myself, and don’t know the beefs between homeless populations there.)

This was only novella-length, so a quick read. If you are interested in books set in Paris, or seeing life through the eyes of a homeless person, it might be worth a look. I was given a copy from the author’s publicist.

Success! You're on the list.