Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Reprise Review: Living Backwards by Tracy Sweeney


Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Science Fiction

Description:

Jillian Cross was a high school wallflower from Reynolds, Washington. During summer Freshman Orientation at NYU she meets Danielle Powers, a popular Reynolds High co-ed that she only knew from afar. Danielle, a perky extravert, immediately invites Jillian to become her roommate, and with Megan Dunn, another Reynolds girl, the trio share four years of college returning to Washington State best friends. Danielle becomes a talented interior designer partnered with Val, a saleswoman with a “take no prisoners” approach to business and a girl who manages to get impossible clients by sleeping with them. When one irate wife is about to blow the whistle, Jillian fears the negative press and the ruination of her best friend’s career.

Then one day, prior to attending a dreaded tenth year high school reunion, Jillian logs onto Facebook to check out a few classmates. One boy grabs her attention immediately—Luke Chambers, class hunk. Thinking about meeting Luke while squeezing into a pair of low-rise jeans, Jillian trips, hits her head on the floor, and when she awakens, she finds herself back in 1999, a month before high school graduation.

Author:

A resident of the Boston area, Tracy Sweeney is a single mom with two young sons. She has written short stories for Literary Juice, Solecisms, and Slice of Life Magazines. She is currently working on a second novel in between riveting games of Angry Birds with her seven-year-old.

Appraisal:

Author Tracy Sweeney has created a captivating time travel love story that would even make men squirm in their seats as they are riveted to its compelling plot. Jillian deduces she has been transported back in time to destroy Danielle’s budding friendship with Val, another Reynolds classmate. If she can show Danielle Val’s true nature, perhaps Danielle will avoid a liaison that will eventually become disastrous. Little does Jillian realize that she’ll also develop a love relationship with Facebook friend, Luke.

Throughout this well written novel, readers are provided with different points-of-view including Jillian’s, Luke’s, and Danielle’s; making Living Backwards a romantic novel anyone who has experienced true love can appreciate.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Added for Reprise Review: Living Backwards was the Winner in the Science Fiction category for B&P 2015 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran March 10, 2014.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Michael Thal

Approximate word count: 135-140,000 words

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Review: Sculpting David by Chadi Nassar


Genre: Literary Fiction/Contemporary

Description:

“David, a trust fund baby, has gone through the biggest heartbreak of his life. He is successful, spontaneous, and generally liked, yet he cannot hold onto his one true love. Trodding down a street one day, David is bumped on the shoulder. When he turns around, the individual is staring at him with the crispest blue eyes he had ever seen. Jolted from his broken heart and thrown into a world of love so different from what he has known, David ventures on a journey of self-discovery taking him across the world and through all realms of emotions.”

Author:

Chadi Nassar: “Chadi’s vivid imagination originated during family road trips every weekend. Anything could get his mind running, from a garbage bag swaying in the wind to the person crossing the road. Growing up as an expat in the UAE he is considered a Third Culture Kid. His adventures as a child and his ability to create a story out of any object has fueled his passion for writing. Sculpting David is his debut novel which is only the start of Chadi’s budding career.”

For more, visit the author's website or Facebook page.

Appraisal:

This story starts with David going through a deep depression after his girlfriend leaves him. The story is divided into three segments, each told from first-person points-of-view from David and two other main characters in David’s journey. The first segment, and the Epilogue is from David’s POV. The reader easily feels his pain and desperation. The emotional turmoil is raw and he has separated himself from everything trying to gain the strength to pull his life back together. There is a lot of repetition in this segment of the book meant to immerse the reader into David’s state of mind, and it works. However, where it doesn’t work as well is later in the story when a lot of this is repeated as he recalls his pain. Perhaps since this book was first released in three episodes the author felt the necessity for the repetition. However, with the episodes combined in this book, it’s unnecessary.

David is a unique and interesting character with several positive attributes. I enjoyed getting to know him. When David is thrown a curve ball that throws him off balance, he has to come to terms with his sexuality. At the beginning of his story he truly believed that Helen was the love of his life, and when she left he was devastated. Now, he has to reevaluate his whole life, which leads to consequences he wasn’t expecting for himself or from his family.

Time, as it often does, brings deep losses and healing. As David is settling into his new situation another curve ball is thrown and his life is turned upside down again. I did notice one character description inconsistency in this area that is integral to the story. I don’t feel like I can explain further without a spoiler, so I am going to leave it at that.

I do feel like this book is worth investing in another round of editing to clean up issues. The story is worth it.  Sculpting David is an enlightening read, full of diverse, well-developed characters, globetrotting fun, and an emotional roller-coaster ride that will leave you contemplating life.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK
  
FYI:

Sculpting David is the full version, containing three Episodes - that are available independently, of The David Saga. Mr. Nassar uses British spelling.
There are a few F-bombs. Sexuality is handled gently and tastefully.

Format/Typo Issues:

Several small proofing issues such a missing or extra words and the character inconsistency I mentioned in the review. I also found a few formatting issues that concerned font size irregularity, this did not distract me during reading.

Rating: *** Three Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 45-50,000 words

Monday, March 27, 2017

Review: Age Six Racer by Joe Vercillo


Genre: Action Adventure/Coming of Age

Description:

“Now, I'm not sure if it's like this for every guy out there, but it seems like the main underlying reason for everything I do is because of a girl. It was 'the girl' who made me run away from my hometown. And it was 'the girl' who almost got me killed. But it was also because of 'the girl' that I ended up in New York City with my three best friends on a mad adventure. My name is Princeton, and I'm a white-footed mouse.”

Author:

“Joe Vercillo is a professional ice-hockey goalie, singer-songwriter, and actor from Toronto, Canada. Stumbling upon the love of his life, he journeyed down to Princeton, New Jersey, and found a dead mouse in a garage. The rest is history.”

Appraisal:

I never dreamed I could like a book with a mouse as the protagonist until now. I know, Stuart Little is a children’s classic, but I honestly don’t remember ever reading it or having my mom read it to my siblings and I like she did with E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. (No, Mom let me read The Elements of Style on my own, once I was old enough.) Age Six Racer is also not a children’s book. (While it has some mild adult-ish language, it should be fine for the young adult demographic up to grey-hairs like me.)

The story is a little bit action-adventure with a coming of age element. The mice, rats, and other animals that populate Vercillo’s story world are presented as more than those pests we lay out traps to eradicate, but as intelligent beings, going about their lives much like we do. The vermin seemed almost human. Buying into the premise was easier than I would have thought and once I did I cared about Princeton and what happened to him and those he met on his grand adventure. What a fun read.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

Review based on a beta, pre-release version. Unable to judge final version in this area.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 35-40,000 words

Friday, March 24, 2017

Review: Ghost Cat by Christine Rains


Genre: Fantasy/Romance/Mystery/Adventure/Myths

Description:

“Bigfoot is rampaging through a small fishing town, and he has friends.

The whispers say a boy is missing. Kinley Dorn can’t ignore them. The last time she did, a giant almost killed her. Her investigation in the boy’s disappearance leads her and her boyfriend, Ransom Averill, to a village on Lake Iliamna. Unfortunately, that boy isn’t the only child missing.

Some folks claim Bigfoot is taking the children, but the gentle creature usually stays away from humans. Kinley believes a totem is making Bigfoot act strangely, but can she and Ransom find it before more kids are abducted?”

Author:

“Christine Rains is a writer, blogger, and geek mom. She has four degrees which help nothing with motherhood but make her a great Jeopardy player. When she's not reading or writing, she's going on adventures with her son or watching cheesy movies on Syfy Channel. She's a member of S.C.I.F.I. and Untethered Realms. She has one novel and several novellas and short stories published.”

Check out her Amazon author page for all of her books or stalk her on Facebook.

Appraisal:

Kinley Dorn is the middle sister, she has been the family caretaker since her mother died years earlier. She also inherited aspects of her mother’s gift. Kinley is competent and secure in her talent as an architect for their business. Their newest client wants her to do the interior design part of the job, primarily because he and Kinley share an interest in the same geeky, nerdy stuff. Ametta usually handles the interior design part of their jobs, but her style is more cutting edge modern. Kinley is excited to give it a try, but a seed of insecurity plants itself in her over her ability to handle the decor and it starts to grow into other aspects of her life. Namely her developing relationship with Ransom. Are they moving too fast? Why did Ransom let that woman kiss him on the lips? And why didn’t he introduce me as his girlfriend? Does he feel the same about me as I do about him?

When they see a flyer about a missing twelve year-old boy, and both Kinley and Ransom hear the whispered voice that says, “Find him,” they know they have to do all they can to track him down. Since Ransom grew up in the area where other children have also been disappearing without a trace, he is familiar with the area and the people who live in the remote fishing village by Lake Iliamna. Plus, there have been several Bigfoot sightings in the area lately. However, they are usually shy, docile creatures. Kinley and Ransom are both aware that if a totem token is in the area it will cause the creatures to act out of character and perhaps be aggressive.

Hearing the native myths and stories of the area was a bonus. There are a few surprising twists in this novella that I wasn’t expecting, which made the story more engaging and more personal for both Kinley and Ransom. I’m not sure why I was more emotionally involved in this story. Perhaps, I’ve decided that these two are my favorite and the most relatable couple? It was fun losing myself in their turmoil and hunt for the totem token. I must be more sadistic than I realized. I think everyone will enjoy Ghost Cat.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK
  
FYI:

Ghost Cat is Novella Five in Ms. Rains Totem series. Contains adult language with several F-bombs. The Totem series of novellas build on each other and would be best enjoyed if read in order.

Format/Typo Issues:

I only came across one minor proofing issue, a dropped ‘s’ on the word as. It should have read as huge as.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 25-30,000 words

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Review: Treading Softly, Breaking Shells by Kim Balette


Genre: Historical/Romance

Description:

In 1878 Louisa travels to Seychelles to live with her brother. She finds it difficult to get used to life on the islands in general and on her brother’s plantation in particular. The climate, culture and amenities are very different from what she’s used to. This is a land where the memory of slavery is still recent and colonialism still present. Relationships between the old French families, the ex-slave population and the English incomers are complex. The veneer of civilisation is sometimes very thin.

Author:

Kim Balette is an Australian writer living and teaching in Seychelles. Her love of travel and History led her to research the colonial past of Seychelles and the result is this, her debut novel.

Appraisal:

The book follows Louisa through her first eight months on Seychelles, as she tries to acclimatise to the climate and the people. Quite often the reader is shown Louisa through the eyes of others.

The Seychellois setting is unusual and a big part of the book’s appeal. (Certainly it was a major reason this reader chose the book.) Balette draws delightful descriptive pictures of the islands, as here: ‘… the seaweed patches made pictures in the water. Louisa wondered if one could read the future from these swirls as gypsies did from tealeaves (sic) in a cup.’

Three languages are in use on the islands: French (Seychelles had been a French colony for a time in the eighteenth century), English and Creole which the former slaves developed from French. A smattering of these three languages adds savour to the book.

As well as talking about the land, Balette also describes meticulously how people lived there at this time. Descriptions of making soap, salting fish and meat, harvesting pods from the vanilla orchid, pruning breadfruit trees and many other quotidian occupations also add interest.

Various small mysteries are set running; there is romance; there are suspicious deaths; there is sickness; there are financial worries; and there are several sexual episodes which are described elegantly but graphically. But at bottom this is a book about people getting along with each other, or (in several cases) not.

For this reader, the descriptions of place and the daily doings of the inhabitants (delightful as they were in themselves) began, after a while, to get in the way of the story. Or perhaps the problem was that there wasn’t really enough story to prevent the pace of the book from flagging.

Several salient pieces of information that the reader could have done with early on were withheld until it was too late for them to matter much. In the absence of authorial clarity, you can make up your own mind as to what the hints dropped may mean. The major romance followed that pattern where each party misunderstands the other for lengthy periods of time and much unnecessary angst results. You may be a fan of this approach: it is certainly a tried and tested romantic formula.

At the end this reader considered the experience and could only conclude that it had all been something of a storm in a rather beautiful teacup.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some ‘literary’ but fairly explicit sexual content.

Format/Typo Issues:

Some typographical and some syntactical errors. One persistent tendency was to insert commas where they simply got in the way of understanding the sentence, another was a vagueness with pronouns which on occasion made it impossible to work out who was doing what to whom.

The ebook file we received had an issue with type that was gray rather than black. Not great for the eyes. We checked the look-inside and downloaded a sample from Amazon to see if this was still an issue. It wasn’t, however it has been replaced with issues in the text justification.

Rating: *** Three Stars

Reviewed by: Judi Moore

Approximate word count: 80-85,000 words

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Reprise Review: Blue Wicked by Alan Jones


Genre: Police Procedural

Description:

Eddie Henderson is investigating a series of brutal murders around Glasgow, but no-one in the authorities wants to listen to him. Eddie is a vet and the victims are all cats, killed in a fashion designed to maximize pain and suffering. When human remains start appearing, killed in exactly the same fashion as the felines, Eddie finally gets some attention. He begins to track down the killer with the help of junior detective Catherine Douglas but the bodies begin to pile up…

Author:

Alan Jones was born and brought up in Glasgow but now lives on the Ayrshire coast. Jones works in the animal health industry. He’s been writing gritty crime for a decade, and publishes his work under a pen name. In his spare time Jones makes furniture, sails boats, reads and cooks.

You can learn more about Mr. Jones’ books please check out his author page on Amazon or his website.

Appraisal:

Some months ago I reviewed Jones’ debut, The Cabinetmaker. It was an interesting novel that had much going for it and, when the author’s second work appeared, I was more than happy to take a look. And I wasn’t disappointed. In Blue Wicked Jones takes a huge step forward as a writer (and he was in a good place to start with). This is an accomplished, well-constructed crime novel that deserves a wide audience.

The opening is very intriguing – Henderson investigates a death, but it’s not conventional in approach. Henderson isn’t a copper and the body is a cat. It’s a quick reveal that cleverly shows the reader this story is a little different. In addition that the investigating protagonists are a vet and a wet behind the ears DC are also somewhat novel. The setting is suitably grim Glasgow, so the other main characters and the action are within this mould.

The story itself clips along, and does not sag at all. I read pretty much the whole of Blue Wicked on a long transatlantic flight rather than sleep. There’s a love interest for introverted Henderson and, even when you think the story is told, there’s more to be revealed. I’m reluctant to say more in case of giving away the plot.

With The Cabinetmaker the author produced a mass of supporting information on a website. For those interested in backstory, you won’t be disappointed.

Good, solid writing. I look forward to Mr. Jones’ third work with even more anticipation than previously.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some gruesome murders. Scottish accenting to some dialogue and UK convention.

Added for Reprise Review: Blue Wicked was a nominee in the Mystery category for B&P 2015 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran October 25, 2014

Format/Typo Issues:

None.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Keith Nixon

Approximate word count: 80,000-85,000 words

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Review: Who by Karen A. Wyle


Genre: Science Fiction

Description:

In the near future, 2045 according to the Global Future 2045 International Congress of 2013, humans with adequate means will be able to have their minds uploaded into computers to achieve digital immortality. One computer specialist and musician who does so finds herself in a legal battle to maintain her human identity and free will against corporate greed and an enterprise with a political agenda.

Author:

“Karen A. Wyle was born a Connecticut Yankee, but eventually settled in Bloomington, Indiana, home of Indiana University. She now considers herself a Hoosier. Wyle's childhood ambition was to be the youngest ever published novelist. While writing her first novel at age 10, she was mortified to learn that some British upstart had beaten her to the goal at age 9.

Wyle is an appellate attorney, photographer, political junkie, and mother of two daughters.”

Appraisal:

Wyle undertakes an ambitious project to give social context to the seriously considered goal of copying the consciousness of humans into computer hardware.

How will the “stored” interact with the world of the living? What are their legal rights? Do they remain citizens of their homeland? Can they vote?

Wyle answers the last question “yes.” If so, can they be manipulated to support policies they would have opposed when they were alive? Are unrequested “improvements” made by programmers to the stored’s personalities and physical characteristics an attack on free will? Or is elimination of arthritic pain and sagging skin simply a benefit freely provided? How about easing an unsociably nasty temper?

While the story is thought provoking on an intellectual level, there is little emotional or plot tension. Even though the stored heroine and her living husband maintain a loving relationship, including somewhat unfulfilling romantic encounters, it is presented largely through exposition and sterile dialog.

The husband and wife are central players in the first half of the book, but at chapter 13 of the 26 chapter story, they become passive players in their own destiny except for cooperating with their brilliant lawyer. That might mirror reality, but it doesn’t make for a gripping story. Much of the second part is a mockup of court proceedings complete with legal reasoning for assumed complaints, testimony, objections and conferences with the judge. Rulings by an appellate court and the Supreme Court follow. That is all interesting in itself, but it is a tedious advance to the story’s human drama.

If the technology is ever developed, the questions Wyle addresses will have to be considered. “Who” should be required reading for Ray Kurzweil and his fellow futurists--or better yet, a short essay by the very thoughtful Wyle.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: Sam Waite

Approximate word count: 85-90,000 words

Monday, March 20, 2017

Review: A Killing Truth by DV Berkom


Genre: Thriller

Description:

They say the truth will set you free, but what if it kills you first?
Before serial killers and drug cartels, Leine Basso faced the ultimate betrayal…
Leine eliminates terrorists for a living. After a routine assassination almost gets her killed, she chalks it up to a fluke. Her lover and fellow assassin, Carlos, has another idea altogether. He thinks their boss is setting them up for a fall.
When Carlos goes missing and a bombing thwarts another mission, Leine suspects the stakes are far higher than she could ever imagine, and wonders if the man in charge might have it in for her after all.”

Author:

“DV Berkom is the USA Today best-selling author of two action-packed thriller series featuring strong female leads: Leine Basso and Kate Jones. Her love of creating resilient, kick-ass women characters stems from a lifelong addiction to reading spy novels, mysteries, and thrillers, and longing to find the female equivalent within those pages.”

Appraisal:

If you've read the books in the Leine Basso series that have come out prior to this, you know a lot about her history. That she worked as an assassin for a quasi-official government agency was always clear. That she no longer did was also clear. And at least to me it seemed that her feelings about her history were ambiguous, with some pride and some regret.

This book is a prequel, coming before any of the main series. It takes place near the end of Leine's time as an assassin. It works as a standalone thriller, with an intense, edge-of-your-seat story. However, those who “know” Leine from the main series will come to understand her that much better after reading A Killing Truth. And while I may be reading more into it than was intended, I think the way this book ended there may be another prequel in the future. Maybe more than one.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language.

Since this is a prequel to the series there is no reason someone would have to have read the rest of the series to enjoy the story.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 35-40,000 words

Friday, March 17, 2017

Review: The Flight of the Pickerings by John Grayson Heide


Genre: General Fiction

Description:

"Guy Pickering is a good man and good husband to his wife Dorothy who grows wackier every day with dementia. Guy sees the end coming and wants to be in control, but Life has other plans. His most private moments spiral out of control as a nosy neighbor intrudes, a rebellious teenage grandson shows up and finally a fame-hungry reporter spotlights them in front of a world-wide audience." 

Author:

"The Flight of the Pickerings is based on a dream which came at a time of extreme stress in John's life. He was living in paradise (Hawaii) and watching his life savings evaporate. Negativity abounded, but the dream/story would not let go and John felt the increasing need to write it out. In writing, his life re-focused on bigger and better aspects and helped him move on. The story had a life of its own and after 8 years of steady re-writing, he’s finally happy to share it. Some people will appreciate the book and the underlying message of life and its sacredness. Also death, and its own brand of sacredness. Some people might take the story as an endorsement for suicide. This is not the intention of the book. The highest good this book might foster would be a brave and intelligent discussion among families regarding end of life issues."

Appraisal:

This is a book about life and how we choose to live it, and with whom. It is also about death, our attitude to it, our reluctance to deal with it, our making peace with it eventually. But mostly this is a book about love, real, true love, and how far we are prepared to go for the beloved. It's an unusual book to come across these days of dark, graphic thrillers and erotic love stories. The prologue is exciting and welcomes the reader into the lives of Guy Pickering and his wife, Dorothy.

Guy is the main character, a devoted, caring husband to Dorothy who is both senile and terminally ill. Guy will do anything to make her life, and death, easier. He had been a courageous soldier in his younger days, in both Korea and Vietnam, earning himself a Purple Heart; he needs this courage now. He is a very lovable character, as is Dorothy and the reader becomes deeply involved in their problems.

The narrative is well paced and the characters are believable, including the teenage grandson who swings between being mature and thoughtful, and uncaring and hostile, in the space of a minute. The dialogue is realistic and carries the story forward.

There is a lot of humour in this story, with a fussy daughter, Darlene, and a very nosy neighbour across the street. These characters, and the sulky grandson too,  lighten the sadness of the Pickerings in a natural, unforced way.

A strange thing about this book is the way the author assigns thoughts and feelings to the family cat and also to the cars that Guy drives, as in:

"The modest Ford Fairlane sedan that had sat for years in the shadow of the big beautiful Olds, cringed once again in self-loathing beside the blustering growl of the mighty classic."

And, when the car realises what Guy is up to:

"This can’t be! No! Oh, goodbye, sir! This can't be what’s best for you."

It's a strange quirk which adds nothing to the story, only popping up now and again.

Some of the prose is overblown and a bit purple:

" . . . his voice enveloping her body with a soothing balm."

And:

"A sense of honorable dignity joined a hint of relief and breathed its wonderful scent over Guy."

Overall, this is a lovely story, well worth reading - and thinking about. It covers a difficult topic with humour and compassion. The ending is perfect - and very exciting.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

There was one common, grammatical error:

" . . . grandson—the same one that moments before had inferred that his grandparents ought to just go off and die."

This should read:  " . . . had implied that his . . . "

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: Four Stars ****

Reviewed by: Joan Slowey

Approximate word count: 90-95,000 words

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Review: To Shoot a Musky by Bill Stokes

Genre: Short Story

Description:

“Satchel was the undisputed king of the resident muskies. He had roamed the flowage for years, periodically terrorizing innocent fisherman by surfacing like a whale so close to a boat that the occupants could look deep into the fish's black eyes and see what seemed to be undiluted piscatorial evil.”

Author:

A native of Wisconsin, Bill Stokes has had a long career as a columnist and journalist for several newspapers in Wisconsin as well as a stint at the Chicago Tribune.


Appraisal:

This is a fishing story, I suppose. But I'm not much of a fishing story kind of guy and I loved this short story because it is so much more. It's a Cheesehead Moby Dick. It's a wonderful tale about the love between a grandparent and a grandchild. It's a short glimpse into life in small-town Wisconsin. It's a darn good read.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 2-3,000 words