V.L. Smith - The White Spider of Savignac
The official blurb: When Sir John FitzAlan, lord of an elite mercenary company, is rewarded with the Aquitainian barony of Savignac by Richard Lionheart, his future seems straightforward enough: restore a neglected estate to readiness for war and make the best he can of an arranged marriage to its baroness, Mellisande, a woman he has never met.
Twice-widowed Mellisande, however, is in no mood for a third marriage. Far from the demure chatelaine John expects, she is an expert vintner and herbalist – skills her people, and the local bishop, suspect she used to murder her two previous husbands.
As John’s disciplined soldiers clash with the unruly local people, and relations with his wife grow colder, John begins to wonder if the tales told of her are true. Will he be Mellisande’s next victim?
My two penny's worth: For those of us who are no longer twenty, Ms. Smith creates a mature hero and heroine you can connect with from the first pages of the novel. The setting is richly and believably detailed and the secondary characters fully fleshed and engaging. Having read other works-in-progress of Vicki's, I can attest to her particular talent in creating sexy vikings :) I especially appreciated the pace of the story - she avoids the current pressure for break-neck speed and develops a plot you can actually savor. I managed to read and enjoy it while still in the throes of morning sickness - what higher accolade could there be?
Diane Scott Parkinson - Ring of Stone
The official blurb: Rose Gwynn is determined to study as a physician in 1796 in England, a time when women were barred from medical school. When she prevails in assisting the local doctor, Rose uncovers a shocking secret that will threaten Dr. Nelson’s livelihood. Servant Catern Tresidder returns to the Cornish village to confront the man who raped her and committed murder. After Rose’s sister is betrothed to this brutal earl, Catern struggles with her demons to warn Rose of the truth. Rose’s attraction to a man far beneath her further complicates her situation. Three people fight society’s dictates to either face ruin or forge a happy ending. Through it all, the ancient stone circle near Rose’s house holds the key to her family’s past, and is positioned through the myths of Cornwall to save her sister’s life.
My two penny's worth:
Amy Dupire - god-thing and other weird and worrisome tales
The official blurb: A Northern transplant teenager chafes under the culture of her Southern U.S. high school and creates her own deity. A reanimated corpse joins a zombie crawl, and stuffed animals spill the beans on their darkest secrets. These award-winning, YA short stories offer curious insights into human nature with humor as well as an unsettling view toward its darker truths. In this collection of tales, you’ll find fortune-telling pancakes, second-tier superheroes, and the occasional possum.
And it may make you think twice before opening the kitchen cabinets.
My two penny's worth: I've read a lot of Amy's work, published and unpublished, and I love her oddball, dark, humorous take on life. As the blurb says, several of these stories have, deservedly, won or placed in writing competitions. It's hard for me to pick a favourite, but "Key Lime Pie at the Nightmare Diner" and "The Pancake Reader" would definitely be contenders. For young adults or preteens, depending on your child's maturity level/ threshold for the slightly scary.