Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Mysterious Case of the Golden Egg / Ernie Lindsey


Reviewed by: BigAl with input from The Princess

Genre: Middle Grade/ Young Adult / Mystery

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

Availability    
Kindle  US: YES  UK: YES  Nook: NO  Smashwords: NO  Paper: YES
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords store

Author:

An author of primarily mystery and suspense for adults, Ernie Lindsey has at least ten novels and numerous short stories available. His book Sara’s Game was on the USA Today bestseller list and reached #2 on the Kindle Bestseller list. A native of the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, Lindsey and his family now make their home in Oregon.

For more, visit the author’s website.

Description:

“The sudden and unexpected arrival of a mysterious package interrupts Hat Tintersmoot’s twelfth birthday. Where did it come from? Who left it? Once she discovers that the small cardboard box is a gift from her Grandpa Gordon, the mystery deepens...considering the fact that he passed away three years ago.

The handwritten note reads, “Inside this box is an impossible mystery that only the purest of hearts can ever hope to uncover. Solve it, and you will discover the answer to one of the greatest secrets ever.”

It’s another perfect job for the owner of The Marshmallow Hammer Detective Agency. With the help of a new best friend, and her first official employee, Hat must uncover the truth behind five difficult clues in order to find the answer to the greatest secret ever.”

Appraisal:

Twelve year-old Halcyone Acasia Tintersmoot, known as “Hat” (her initials and the thing you wear on your head). She has this nickname for the obvious reason that her real name is a mouthful. She’s the owner of “The Marshmallow Hammer Detective Agency.” You won’t find it in the phone book, but it is as real as it gets, at least to Hat. Although this is the first book in the series, Hat mentions other cases she’s worked on and sometimes solved.  “The Case of the Disappearing Toothbrush,” is one. You’ve probably worked a case like that one yourself. “The Mysterious Case of the Cute Boy on the School Bus” is an open case that Hat manages to solve while working on the current case.

When I read and review children’s books, I’ll sometimes draft The Princess, my now eleven year-old granddaughter, to assist. Our process is for her to read a book first, then tell me what she thought, with likes, dislikes, and a letter grade, just like a report card. I’ll then read the book so I can add my impressions while watching for the things The Princess has mentioned. I think The Mysterious Case of the Golden Egg received the most accolades of any book we’ve done this with. Her report to me started with “I liked this a lot” and ended with, “I’d give it a grade of A plus, plus, plus …” I finally told her I got the idea so she’d stop with the pluses.

The mystery to be solved was set up by Hat’s grandfather, who died three years earlier. Before he died, which he knew was coming, he’d arranged for Hat to receive the first clue on her twelfth birthday. Grandpa Gordon was a private detective and liked to talk to Hat about his cases, which was Hat’s inspiration to become a detective. One of the comments The Princess made was that the mystery wasn’t like some, where you found out the solution, and felt cheated that the clues weren’t there to solve it while reading. She felt the clues were tough, but also liked that many of them she was able to figure out. The mystery hit the right balance for the age the book is aimed for. The Princess also thought the book would be fun to read aloud to younger kids and although it would be an easy read for an adult, she thought “even a grownup would like it.”

The Princess was right. I was surprised at how much I liked this book. The clues were fun to try and figure out, and not too easy, even for someone several times older than the target reader. As Hat works her way through the clues she meets and helps several of her Grandpa’s friends (an aspect of the book The Princess also thought important enough to mention) and in doing so learns a lot of life lessons that Grandpa knew he wouldn’t be around to teach her in person. The Princess and I both hope the author continues this series. It’s off to a great start.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.


Rating: ***** Five Stars

Monday, September 22, 2014

When You Make it Home / Claire Ashby


Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Genre: Contemporary Romance/ Relationships

Approximate word count: 85-90,000 words

Availability    
Kindle  US: YES  UK: YES  Nook: NO  Smashwords: NO Paper: YES
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords store

Author:

“Claire Ashby was born and raised in the heart of Atlanta … She resides in Austin with her family and a pack of wild dogs.” 

When You Make It Home is Ms Ashby’s debut novel. Learn more about her at her website or check out her Facebook page.

Description:

“Meg Michaels, a bookstore owner, has already walked away from two cheating exes. She’s learned her lesson and has her mind set on success—until she gets knocked up. Embarrassed and unwilling to discuss her situation with friends and family, she wears layers to hide the pregnancy.

When Meg gets sick at a party, she’s mortified. Even worse, Theo Taylor, the guest of honor, discovers her secret. Theo, an Army medic wounded in the war, agrees not to reveal her condition, and the two forge a bond of friendship that blossoms into love.

Theo is soon filling all of Meg’s late-night cravings—and not just the pregnancy-induced ones. But can their love overcome all the obstacles that stand between them and creating a happy family?”

Appraisal:

Meg has dealt with so many disappointing relationship issues in her life she has built a wall around her heart. She is plagued with abandonment issues that started when her mom left her and her twin brother at a very young age and continues with all the men she has ever had relationships with. When she ends up pregnant with an ex-boyfriend’s baby, who was separated from his wife at the time, her life spins out of control.

When Meg meets her best friend Ellie’s brother-in-law Theo, who has just returned from Afghanistan minus one leg, an unconventional bond starts to form between them. Theo is angry and bitter but trying to cope with his “new life.” He refuses to be a burden to anyone and has a lot of admirable qualities even though his rehab is not going smoothly. The dialogue between Meg and Theo is realistic and genuine as their relationship develops into more than either one of them bargained for.

The story is mostly told through Meg’s eyes as she deals with telling everyone about her pregnancy and has to explain that the baby daddy is not her ex-fiancĂ© who she broke up with two or three months before. She is also dealing with the real baby daddy, her own father who has left her stepmother (who Meg never really bonded with), and running the family bookstore with her twin brother. She also feels the maternal need to find her own mother to learn why she abandoned her and her brother before they were two years old. There were a lot of relationship dynamics explored is this novel. It was a huge undertaking for a first time author to take on. I felt like the timeline didn’t quite work out for me in a couple of places, mainly concerning the pregnancy, and this threw me out of the story for a while.

Meg’s emotions were all over the place, which is normal, because of the hormonal changes women’s bodies go through during a pregnancy. I loved this quote from Meg during one of her inner dialogues giving herself a pep talk while trying to control her emotional turmoil. “I wanted to know the pleasure of someone holding me up. But maybe some of us were meant to hit the ground. Otherwise we’d never learn to bounce.  I could bounce.”

Theo’s dialogue and actions had a way of melting my heart throughout the story. He had to chisel his way into Meg’s heart. At one point when Meg released all her fury at his actions, I feared for their relationship. However, I was proud of Meg for finally owning and expressing her feelings. In my opinion this should have led directly to the climax of the story. As it is… I was left wanting with a certain unresolved story arc, which made the ending feel rushed. I felt cheated that Ellie and Jake were not included at the end. Ellie was an important friend that was there through the whole story. We shared the drama with her pregnancy problems and celebrated her baby along with Meg’s when they had a dual baby shower. I felt like this oversight was unforgivable and took away a star.  

When You Make It Home, is an emotional rollercoaster. I have no doubt that it will make you laugh, cry, and warm the coldest heart.

FYI:

I would consider this an Erotic Romance with adult sexual situations that may not be suitable for all audiences.

Format/Typo Issues:

I was given an Advanced Reader Copy. Other than the timeline issue I found no significant editing or formatting issues.

Rating: **** Four stars

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Evolution of a Wine Drinker / Alicia Bien


Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Genre: Humor / Culture / Non-Fiction

Approximate word count: 20-25,000 words

Availability    
Kindle  US: YES  UK: YES  Nook: NO  Smashwords: NO  Paper: YES
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords store

Author:

“Raised in Ohio, Alicia Bien received a Bachelor's Degree in Literature and a Master's in English Linguistics. She is a Fulbright Scholar, wine lover and comedy fan. While interning in the U.S. Senate, she saw lots of funny things.

Drawing on life's humorous experiences, Alicia writes and performs comedy. She studied sketch and improv at Second City, Hollywood and the Upright Citizens Brigade.

She lives in California with her husband and adopted cat.”


Description:

“Do you like wine but don’t know anything about it except it’s 1) Alcoholic and 2) Wet? Well, Alicia Bien is here to remedy that. Pronto!

Here's a collection of wine stories, the highs—and lows—of Alicia’s own evolution as a wine drinker from novice to—many bottles later—an expert wine bottle opener. These pages contain an alphabet’s worth of wine stories from 'Drinking Alone' and 'How the Army Changed My Life’, to ‘Ullage Uvula, U Know’ and ‘Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, Zip-A-Dee-Ay, My Oh My What a Zinfandel Day’.

So grab a bottle, sit back and enjoy. CHEERS!”

Appraisal:

Every now and then I have to step away from my fantasy diet and read something… well, more down-to-earth.  As I was scanning the books submitted for review database, I came across Evolution of a Wine Drinker and thought, “I like wine! Perhaps I could educate myself a little.” So I stepped outside of my comfort zone to review a non-fiction novella, hoping some of the wine culture will rub off on me. These are stories of Ms. Bien’s experiences with wine, wine tasting, and vacations centered on wine regions. Bien takes her wine very seriously and has taken the time to educate us novices on the finer points of all things wine.

It all started in college (go figure) when she was looking for an elective and her academic advisor pointed out a “wine tasting class” in the catalog… She grinned. So begins Alicia Bien’s love of wine. She learned how to hold each wine glass, judge a wine by its color, how swirling wine in the glass aerates the wine to improve its flavor, and how to smell the wines to help your taste buds better define and appreciate the flavors and nuances of a wine. She studied grape varietals, wine growing regions of the world, and their histories. In time her instructor managed to turn a college beer chugger into a passionate wine drinker.

This book is full of short personal essays cleverly arranged from A-Z which include humorous and educational stories from Ms. Bien’s adventures with wine and wine country not only here in the states but around the world. Along with stories about her friends and their own wine tasting club parties, which almost convinced me to try hosting one. :) This book is a fast, pleasant read that will leave a smile on your face. It may also make you feel a little more confident in choosing your next bottle of wine. This review was written while enjoying a glass of Belle, a sweet red wine from Red 55 Winery located in Texas. Ha! See, I never would have checked that out if I hadn’t read this book!

Format/Typo Issues:

I came across no editing or formatting issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Sunshine / Alyssa Cooper


Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Dystopian/Short Story

Approximate word count: 10-15,000 words

Availability    
Kindle  US: YES  UK: YES  Nook: NO  Smashwords: NO  Paper: NO
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords store

Author:

“Alyssa Cooper is a Canadian writer with a graphic design diploma and a passion for storytelling. She collects old books and antique typewriters, and has a preference for the darker side of fiction.”

For more, visit Cooper’s website.

Description:

“When ozone levels plummeted, the world changed. There’s no going back.

This is a world where sunshine can kill. Where there are heavy steel shutters on every window, and underground tunnels for safe passage. Where citizens nourish themselves with synthetic vitamins and rationed food, living a life in darkness, never seeing the sun.

This is the only world that eighteen-year-old Manda has ever known. As this strong, passionate girl struggles to bloom in a hard and unforgiving world, she finds a single comfort; Jordy, a man who delicately shows her how beautiful life can be. But then the letter comes.”

Originally published in 2012, the author did some revamping and republished it, hence the subtitle “The Author’s Edition” on Amazon.

Appraisal:

This long-ish short story or novelette has a love story as a significant story thread, but the main story conflict is the protagonist Manda’s struggle living in the world the author has imagined. It isn’t clear why, but with rare exceptions, people are not exposed to the sun. Maybe the world is different due to climate change. (The rarity of rain and shortage of water argues for this.) Possibly it is due to government intervention for health reasons. Most likely a combination of both. Avoiding the sun is possible through a change in habits (most sleep during the day, with waking hours at night) and infrastructure (blackout blinds and underground tunnels to get from place to place). A thought-provoking story.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.


Rating: **** Four Stars

Friday, September 19, 2014

Reprise Review: Hard Bite / Anonymous-9



Reviewed by: Keith Nixon

Genre: Crime / Thriller

Approximate word count: 45-50,000 words

Availability    
Kindle  US: YES  UK: YES  Nook: YES  Smashwords: NO  Paper: YES
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords store

Author:

Anonymous-9 is the pen name of Elaine Ash. She is a book editor and based in LA. For more information on Elaine visit her website.

Description:

Dean Drayhart is a paraplegic, badly hurt in a hit and run accident that killed his daughter. Dean and his monkey, Sid, now hunt down and take out drivers who kill. Unfortunately, their latest ‘victim’ is the beloved son of a gang boss. Whilst in parallel Detective Doug Coltson is finding bodies and investigating their demise. Queue the mother, her sons, and the police tracking Dean down. Who will get to him first?

Appraisal:

My reading in recent years has focused on crime and thrillers and, increasingly, indie authors. The reason for this is that the smaller independents often champion the cause of quirky, groundbreaking plots. Hard Bite fits into this latter slot very comfortably.

So, what makes Hard Bite stick out?

First is the protagonist, Dean Drayhart – a serial killer (by his own definition, he looks it up in a police manual) and a cripple who doesn’t mind if his life ends because he doesn’t have one. Dean is largely confined to a wheel chair after being badly hurt in a hit and run accident that killed his daughter and ultimately drove (sorry) his wife away. And here is the motivation, Dean gets his revenge on as many hit and run drivers as he can before he’s caught or dies.

The next major difference is Dean’s partner in crime, a trained monkey called Sid. He’s effectively a pet that helps Dean around the home, driving etc, but he has an extra skill. Dean has taught Sid how to bite to varying degrees. ‘Hard Bite’ is a vicious ripping of the throat.

Then there’s Dean’s limited relationships. His girlfriend, Cinda,  is a prostitute. They have an odd partnership, unsurprising as nothing is ‘normal’ about either of them, but it works. And with his carer, Marcie, who mothers him. Other than that, Dean sees no-one.

I may have painted this as a farcical tale, far from it. In the hands of a lesser author it more than likely would have descended into stupidity, but Anonymous-9 kept it well on track. It’s pacey, gritty and a little tongue in cheek. The writing is sharp and to the point, there isn’t a great deal of exposition. Four of five very short flashbacks to illustrate Dean’s motivation, but that’s it.

The viewpoint shifts are interesting and well done, flipping from first person (Dean) to a couple of third person perspectives. The dialogue is excellent and the LA backdrop, from the seedy to the seductive, is clearly one the author knows.

I literally read Hard Bite in a day. I enjoyed it that much. The ending was fitting, with some redemption for Dean, and a proper close out but which left the door open sufficiently for a sequel. When it’s out I will be picking it up.

FYI:

Adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

A tiny handful.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The See-Through Leopard / Sibel Hodge


Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Genre: Contemporary/ YA/ Coming of Age

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words

Availability    
Kindle  US: YES  UK: YES  Nook: YES  Smashwords: YES  Paper: YES
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords store

Author:

“Sibel Hodge is an International Bestselling and Award Winning Author. She has 8 cats and 1 husband. In her spare time, she's Wonder Woman! When she's not out saving the world from dastardly demons she writes an eclectic mix of genres.”

Learn more about Ms. Hodge and her many other books at herwebsite or like her on Facebook.

Description:

“Most sixteen-year-old girls are obsessed with their looks, but Jazz Hooper's obsessed for a different reason. After a car accident that kills her mum, Jazz is left with severe facial scars and retreats into a dark depression.

Fearing what will happen if Jazz doesn't recover, her dad makes a drastic decision to move them from England to a game reserve in Kenya for a new start. And when Jazz finds an orphaned leopard cub, it sets off a chain of events that lead her on a two year journey of discovery, healing, and love.”

Appraisal:

This is an extremely captivating novel on many levels. Jazz was a typical self-absorbed teenager before the auto accident that killed her mother and left her with devastating facial scars. Now, a year later, she is still drowning in self-pity and guilt because she feels like she was solely responsible for causing the accident. Her father, being a large animal vet, and her mother lived and worked in Kenya at Kilingi Game Reserve before Jazz was born, so it was not unusual when he decided to try for a new start there when an opening for a new large animal vet became available at the same game reserve. Nathan, Jazz’s father, is hoping against all odds to draw Jazz out of her isolation and depression by changing the scenery.

The story is told through Jazz’s eyes so the reactions of school friends and strangers to Jazz’s scarred face was colored by her own insecurities, in some cases, but taunts continued in Kenya as well. When Jazz comes across a baby leopard cub, whose mother had been killed by poachers, she vows to raise the cub that she names Asha, with plans to release the leopard back into the wild when the time is right. With the help of Zach, who educates Jazz in all things leopard, she learns this is no small undertaking. Zach is a few years older than Jazz and is the son of the owners who run the Kilingi Game Reserve. He was born and raised in Kenya and plans to follow in his parent’s footsteps.

It is clear that Ms. Hodge did a lot of research to write this story as realistically possible. The prose used to paint the picture of Kenya made it easy to see and step into the African landscape. The education Jazz received about large predators was enlightening. One of the toughest lessons Jazz had to learn and accept was the whole circle of life theme. She had to be able to teach Asha how to hunt live game or she wouldn’t be able to be re-released into the wild. The information about poachers, poaching, and its consequences’ is heart-breaking and needs to be heard far and wide.

As Jazz immerses herself in rearing Asha and becomes an advocate for endangered species she gains a confidence in herself that helps her see past her own scars. This is a beautiful, educational, and inspirational story to be enjoyed by all ages. I would encourage everyone to pick up this book, read it, and then share it with a friend.

FYI:

"A percentage of the royalties from the sale of this book will be contributed to Panthera, a leading international conservation organization dedicated to protecting and preserving the world's big cats, plus other wildlife conservation groups."

Format/Typo Issues:

No issues with formatting or editing.


Rating: ***** Five stars

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Wrong Shade of Yellow / Margaret Eleanor Leigh


Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Travel Memoir

Approximate word count: 55-60,000 words

Availability    
Kindle  US: YES  UK: YES  Nook: YES  Smashwords: YES  Paper: YES
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords store

Author:

Margaret Eleanor Leigh describes herself as a “writer without roots.” Born in South Africa, she’s lived in New Zealand, multiple parts of the United Kingdom, and Greece where she’s worked in a variety of jobs, from government bureaucrat to proofreader.

For more, visit her website.

Description:

Margaret Leigh needs a change and she loved Greece the time she visited years ago. So she decides to leave New Zealand, where she’s lived for several years, fly to Northern Europe, cycle across Europe to Greece. Once there she’ll find a place to live, get settled in, and send for her elderly mother. Is it any wonder she calls this her “big, fat, Greek midlife crisis”?

Appraisal:

Most travel memoirs have several common qualities. Some adventure. An educational aspect as the author discovers new things about the part of the world where they’re traveling. There are times when everything goes according to plan and those where nothing does. In retrospect, those challenging times turn out to be opportunities for growth, where the author learns something about the world and their place in it. Lessons we might be able to apply to our own lives.

The Wrong Shade of Yellow has most of the standard pieces. The exception seems to be the “everything goes according to plan” times, as the story felt like one growth opportunity after another. In spite of that, Leigh kept soldiering on. That she was able to do so must contain some lessons for the reader. One has to be that the ability to laugh at the ridiculous situations you can find yourself in is a great way to survive them.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues


Rating: **** Four stars