Friday, February 15, 2019

Review: V.Q.E. by Vivek Gumaste



Genre: Memoir

Description:

“In 1980, after completing medical school in India, a young Indian physician lands in Britain in pursuit of his dream to get to the United States.  He is young, a full 26-year-old, ambitious and opinionated. The two and half years that he spent in Britain prior to coming to the United States prove to be eventful years and this book captures that period

The narrative is set in Great Britain of the early 1980's and comprises a medley of experiences: of a young, nationalist Indian coming to the land of his colonial masters, a new medical graduate negotiating the travails of an international medical career and of an objective spectator looking down upon this once great power. Thrown into this unlikely cocktail is the political backdrop of Britain in the 80, s- the rise of Margaret Thatcher, the Royal Wedding of Princess Diana and Prince Charles, the Falkland War and racism.”

Author:

“The author is an academic and political commentator based in the United States. Passionate about India, he is an avid writer and has written several op-eds and columns for mainstream Indian newspapers like the New Indian Express, the Hindustan Times, the Sunday Guardian and the Pioneer. In addition he is a regular columnist for the popular news portal, Rediff and blogs on Huffington Post (India).”

Appraisal:

Memoirs are an interesting genre in that they can take so many forms and appeal to their target reader for so many reasons. Some readers prefer memoirs by someone famous and not at all like them, whereas others like to read about a normal person who happened to have some interesting experiences. Some would prefer to read about someone a lot like themselves while other readers see the memoir as a way to better understand someone from a different country, culture, or otherwise different from the reader. For me V.Q.E. solidly fit in that last category.

The author, a relatively new doctor and native of India, wants to move to the US. He determines his best chance of accomplishing that is moving first to the UK where he’ll get more work and pass some professional testing. This approach will both provide more experience, making him more appealing to potential employers in the US, and also improve his odds of being approved by US immigration authorities. The struggle to prepare for and hopefully pass the tests is obviously one of the primary conflicts throughout the story.

Vivek’s employment, which consists of a series of short-term assignments in different parts of the UK, keeps the stress level and intensity of the story high in several different ways. His work environment, living arrangements, and job duties are constantly changing. He’s continually applying for the next temporary position, in danger of being out of work which also would mean nowhere to live since living arrangements (typically a dorm like room hid away somewhere on a hospital campus) are provided by the employer. Then we have the historical backdrop of the UK in the 80s which might provoke nostalgia for those old enough to remember things like the Falklands War and wedding bells ringing for Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Overall, I found V.G.E. to be both entertaining and enlightening in the glimpse it gave me into a different culture and way of life.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 50-55,000 words

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Review: Snow by Mikayla Elliot



Genre: Paranormal/Time Travel

Description:

“Taken from all she has ever known and loved, Neva finds herself swept into a world of vampires where she learns she will determine their future. Yet she quickly discovers she is the target of a vampire, Zachariah, seeking to stop her from altering the vampire lineage. She must decide which path she will take while trying to protect the family she left behind, and discovering a past she cannot escape.”

Author:

“Mikayla Elliot is an avid reader and writer of fantasy novels. She is a single parent to two beautiful children and their rambunctious corgi, Sheila, living in Atascocita, Texas. When Mikayla isn't creating new worlds and adventures she spends her time working as a Planner in the energy industry, which has unveiled various landscapes in multiple states for site visits. Mikayla holds a Bachelor's in Business Management from the University of Phoenix, and feels the debt deep in her soul and pockets.”

To learn more about Ms. Eliot please visit her website or visit herFacebook page.

Appraisal:

With a dramatic and gruesome start Neva begins describing, in purple prose, how she was turned into a vampire by Thedryk as he tried to save her. The purple prose continues as Ms. Eliot sets up her world. Mostly told through Neva’s eyes. Her white aura reveals she is a chosen one and Thedryk has been following her for centuries.

Ms. Eliot has developed a new unique vampire story. It takes a while to get into, but it is intriguing. So if you can get past the purple prose you will enjoy this story. There are many supporting characters who are introduced who add tension and drive the story forward. Emotion runs high as Neva comes face to face with a reality she never dreamed could happen.

As this is a trilogy there is a larger story arc that continues past the end of this book. However, this story comes to a satisfying closure. If you are looking for a new vampire story that breaks free from typical vampire trope this might be the book for you. As long as you can tolerate the purple prose that adds far too many descriptive words, which is why I gave this book the rating I did.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Snow is book 1 in Mikayla Elliot’s Black Ice Trilogy.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: *** Three Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 50-55,000 words

Monday, February 11, 2019

Reprise Review: Vlad to the Bone by Beth Orsoff



Genre: Chick-Lit

Description:

This continuing saga of Alex and Gwen picks up two years after Vlad All Over ends. Alex and Gwen seem to have found a way to put their animosity aside for the sake of their son, David. They have joint custody worked out, perhaps a little too well, according to Gwen’s new boyfriend Robert. When it becomes necessary for Gwen to return to Romania because of her claim as a legitimate heir to Vlad Tepes, old habits return and animosity takes another hold.

Author:

When Beth’s parents told her they didn’t send her to college to be a professional lifeguard, she moved to California and enrolled in USC Law School to become an entertainment lawyer. She also became a regular attendee of the UCLA Extension Writers Program workshops. She lives in Los Angeles with her daughter. 

To find out more about Beth visit her web site and read the author interview she gave here at Books and Pals with BigAl.

Appraisal:

I was quickly drawn into this fascinating and multi-layered story line, honestly how do authors come up with this stuff? Beth Orsoff was able to capture Gwen’s and Alex’s complex personalities perfectly as well as all the supporting characters. The story never lags and gets quite racy at times, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I found the relationship between Gwen and her best friend Zoe was one of my favorites. Their conversations were realistic and humorous. Zoe was a steadfast, honest friend Gwen could always depend on.

The journey that Alex and Gwen were on was a hard one, I sympathized with both characters. Alex was the perfect alpha male who would take charge and thought he always knew the best way to handle any situation. It was difficult for me to watch when he got scared. I would not want to be the one to oppose him, he was ruthless. Gwen never hesitated to oppose him, she was as strong willed and proud as he was. As a result, she would make decisions just to spite Alex, not really taking her or her son’s best interest into consideration. Her pride was a problem for me.

The children in this story I felt were captured very well. Isabella is now a sassy ten year-old and David an adorable two year-old. The well-being of both was in the forefront of everything Gwen did concerning her and Alex’s joint custody of David. It was interesting to watch how she and Alex handled the kids and the single-parent dating scene. Since the story is mainly told through Gwen’s point of view, we mainly saw how she handled it with her boyfriend Robert (Dr. Bob) and only one of Alex’s girlfriends, Brianna, who was the latest and most serious.
The twists in the plot about Gwen’s claim to Vlad Tepe’s blood line drove the plot forward in interesting ways. I found them captivating and compelling. It is clear how Ms. Orsoff’s storytelling skills are growing as well as her understanding of the human condition. I will not hesitate to buy her future books; they are always creative and unique.

Buy now from:    Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

This book contains adult language and sexual situations that may be offensive to some.

This is a sequel to the book Vlad All Over. That book should be read first for an adequate understanding of the backstory to the events in Vlad to the Bone.

Added for Reprise Review: Vlad to the Bone by Beth Orsoff was a nominee in the Chick Lit category for B&P 2013 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran January 17, 2013

Format/Typo Issues:

I found no errors or issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 95-100,000 words

Friday, February 8, 2019

Review: Atom Bomb to Santa Claus by Trevor Homer



Genre: Trivia

Description:

“Three cheers for the ingenious, inventive, United States of America!

From the kitchen to the office to outer space, America has been at the forefront of the advances of the human race for the last two centuries. It's given birth to more new products, devices, medicines, leisure pursuits, sports, musical genres, and vehicles than any other country or people ancient or modern. More Nobel prize winners come from these shores than the next five countries combined.

Atom Bomb to Santa Claus celebrates the country's pioneering drive by describing some of its greatest innovations and some of its greatest – and most surprising – inventors. It challenges the imagination to know that the same country that gave the world the artificial heart and e-mail, also originated sliced bread and Chinese fortune cookies. Guaranteed to entertain and enlighten, Atom Bomb to Santa Claus is an amazing chronicle of some of America's most important and imaginative creations.”

Author:

“Trevor Homer was born and educated in the industrial Midlands of England and is a former British Amateur Champion golfer who represented England and Britain 28 times. Homer is the author of The Book of Origins which was translated into six languages and sold to eleven countries. He is also the author of Born in the USA which was published in the USA by Skyhorse of New York. Married with two sons and three grandsons, Homer now lives in South Staffordshire. This book is based on a lifelong obsession with obscure facts, and a deep admiration of the great democratic experiment which is the United States of America.”

Appraisal:

If you’re into history, interested in knowing some back story of how inventions and innovations came to be, and a bit of a trivia buff, have I got a book for you. Some of these things you probably know about, for example I knew Thomas Edison had helped harness electricity and invented the lightbulb, but other things might be new even on subjects you know. (If I ever knew General Electric Corporation was founded by Edison, I’d forgotten.) The author is British and in some instances his viewpoint might be interesting, seeing how a foreigner perceives something the originated in the US or how what reached the UK was subtly different from the original. For example, the discussion of a dance called the Okey Cokey confused me. Then I realized that the name of what I think of as the Hokey Pokey (yeah, the one where you put you right foot in) goes by a few slightly different names in different areas. If you’ve got a thirst for trivial knowledge, this is a fun read.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Uses UK spelling conventions.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Review: 50 Herbs and Spices of Love by Terry Demcloshoff




Genre: Humor/Erotica/Short Story

Description:

“When Heather finds out her boyfriend is cheating again, she does the only sensible thing she can think of. She orders fried chicken!”

Author:

From Terry Demcloshoff’s Amazon Author page, “A fighter pilot by day, food porn author by night, Terry Demcloshoff is a man of action, mystery and fine dining in, or around fine places. Born on a cruise ship between Florida and the Caribbean, he grew up on the sea never seeing land until his tenth birthday. He's been many places and seen many things, now he wishes to share these experiences with the world through the art of storytelling.”

Appraisal:

Heather is tired of her cheating boyfriend, Peter. It’s humiliating, especially when all of her co-workers start giving her advice about how they would deal with him. She insists she loves him and doesn’t want to lose him. She’s just tired of his infidelity. At the end of the work day Lucy, a new co-worker, comes to her cubicle and offers her a solution. Lucy’s idea beats the heck out of going to a bar and picking up a one-night stand, and none of her other co-workers would be the wiser.

This story is short on words but not on anticipation, emotion, and angst. The ending is embarrassing and hysterical.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK
  
FYI:

Bedroom scenes could be offensive to some. Don’t forget to ask Roger to deliver your chicken.

Format/Typo Issues:

Nothing significant.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 4-5,000 words

Monday, February 4, 2019

Reprise Review: Until My Soul Gets it Right by Karen Wojcik Berner



Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Women’s Fiction

Description:

“You can’t run away from yourself.

Catherine Elbert has never been good at making decisions, whether it was choosing an ice cream flavor as a small child, or figuring out what she wanted to be when she grew up. The only thing Catherine knew for sure was there had to be more to life than being stuck on her family’s farm in Wisconsin.

While watching a PBS travel show, Catherine becomes entranced by Portland, Maine. The ocean. The lobsters. The rugged coast. Nothing could be more different from the flat, nondescript farmlands of Burkesville.

Despite her parents threatening to disown her and her brothers taking bets on how many days until she comes home, Catherine settles on Peaks Island, off the coast of Portland.

She is finally free.

Or so she thought.”

Author:

An award winning magazine writer and editor, Karen Wojcik Berner’s first novel, A Whisper to a Scream, was the initial book of a planned series, with each focusing on one or two members of a book club. This book is the second of the series.

Berner also has a blog called BibliophilicBlather, which features flash fiction (either her own or a guest’s) each Friday. Another frequent feature is Editing for Grammarphobes, short grammar, language, and editing tips that are beneficial for everyone, whether they think they are a writer or not. I know her tips help me. For more, visit the author’s website.

Appraisal:

I loved the first book of The Bibliophiles series, A Whisper to a Scream. I knew the remaining books in the series would each focus on specific members of the book club introduced in the first book, and wondered how that would work. Would the stories be chronological, happening at the same time (which seemed like it would present problems), or something else. It turned out to be something else, at least in the case of Until My Soul Gets It Right.

If you’ve read the first book, you’ll remember Catherine as the “actress” who, if you reacted to her the same as I did, might have been a bit of an enigma, and who possibly rubbed you the wrong way at times. This book goes back to Catherine’s childhood, and brings her story forward to the present. It changed my opinion of Catherine for the better. It’s a story that anyone should be able to relate who has wanted to escape where they grew up, for whatever reason. Berner has a talent with prose that flows smoothly and puts the reader right where they belong, inside the character’s head. Until My Soul Gets It Right is another winner.

Buy now from:    Amazon US        Amazon UK
             
FYI:

A small amount of adult language and adult situations.

Although the second book in the series, reading the first book is not a prerequisite for full enjoyment of this book

Added for Reprise Review: Until My Soul Gets it Right by Karen Wojcik Berner was a nominee in the Contemporary Fiction category for B&P 2013 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran June 7, 2012

Format/Typo Issues:

The review copy I received was an advance reader copy, so I’m unable to comment in this area.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

Friday, February 1, 2019

Review: Those Which Remain by Angela V. Cook




Genre: Paranormal Romance/Contemporary/Coming of Age

Description:

“In Into a Million Pieces, seventeen-year-old Allison solved her sister’s murder, barely escaping an attempt on her own life. Now, with the past behind her, Allison is finally getting a taste of teenage normalcy—going to school, hanging out with her best friend, and sharing it all with her loving boyfriend, Ren. Life is good.

But it doesn’t stay that way. It never does for a succubus.

When Allison's nature draws in a predator, shattering her sense of trust and safety, she realizes the succubus curse is behind all the darkness and heartache in her life. Determined to end it, she tracks down a distant relative with knowledge about the curse. But more questions are raised than answered when Allison meets the mysterious and wealthy Leona Doriano. Suddenly thrust into a dangerous world of money, power, and deadly secrets, Allison must find a way to break the curse—a curse not everyone wants broken—before she’s drawn in too deep.”

Author:

“Angela V. Cook lives a very unexciting, but never boring, life with her husband and two children just outside of Detroit. Like most writers, she's been making up stories for as long as she can remember and can't imagine a life that doesn't involve creating worlds.

Angela loves to write novels for teens because it's the best outlet for her sarcastic personality, immature sense of humor, and love of romantic firsts. Her idea of the perfect day involves a quiet house, a good book, and a piece of cheesecake. Or two.”

To learn more about Ms. Cook visit her website and follow her onFacebook.

Appraisal:

Those Which Remain begins a few months after Into a Million Pieces ends. Allison’s life seems to calm down so she has a short time to enjoy being a somewhat normal teenager. However, during Christmas break events drive Allison out of the safe haven of her paternal grandmother’s house. Now she has no choice but to search for relatives from her mother’s side of the family. She is determined to find a way to break the succubus curse that has plagued the maternal side of her family who she finds in a small town in North Carolina.

All Allison wants is to learn about the curse and how to break it. However, her great-grandmother, Lenora, has other plans for her. Karma, Lenora’s daughter, befriends Allison, but speaks in riddles and won’t answer Allison’s questions outright. This is where the story bogged down for me. Allison seems dimwitted, refusing to understand what Karma was trying to tell her. I felt like a lot of time was wasted and the story got too wordy until about two-thirds of the way through, where the story picks up and the plot started moving forward fast and furious with twists and tension. Backstory is added in ways I wasn’t expecting, adding more depth and understanding.

There is dramatic, highly emotional, and surprising climax to one of the story arcs. Then as Allison tries to come to terms with her new life, she insists on trying to explain her sudden disappearance from her paternal grandmother’s house. Allison wants a clean slate, and I’ll be damned if her grandmother doesn’t surprise her with more history Allison wasn’t aware of. This is a satisfying closing of this duology. If you enjoy contemporary coming of age stories with paranormal elements you will probably enjoy this duology.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Those Which Remain is book 2 in Angela V. Cook’s PIECES DUOLOGY series. I do recommend reading book 1, Into a Million Pieces first.

Format/Typo Issues:

Nothing significant enough to note.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Reprise Review: Lessons IV: The Dead Carnival and Other Morbid Drabbles by Michael Crane



Genre: Horror/Flash Fiction

Description:

This is the newest collection of Crane’s series of drabbles, which are flash fiction stories of exactly 100 words. This volume focuses on stories from the carnival. Also included are bonus drabbles and other flash fiction from seven of Crane’s indie author peers: Daniel Pyle, M.P. McDonald, M.S. Verish, J.L. Bryan, Robert J. Duperre, Daniel Arenson, and Jason Letts.

Author:

Michael Crane is a graduate in Fiction Writing from Columbia College Chicago, his hometown school. In addition to the first three Lessons volumes, Crane has a short story collection, In Decline, and a novelette, A Gnome Problem, available for your Kindle. He has also been featured in many short story anthologies. On rare occasions, Crane will post on his blog.


Appraisal:

Can I make this one-hundred words, like each drabble in this collection? We’ll see. While I wish Crane would apply his demented mind to something longer (a novel, or More Declined, my title for the follow-up to his short story collection with tales of normal people, down on their luck), his fans keep saying “more drabbles.” I see them as bite-size stories. Crane’s typically end with a demented twist. Find out what being a “mark” means and why a blowup doll is a bad date. Pyle’s bonus story shows why you shouldn’t mess with the short guy. Yup, one-hundred words.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language.

Added for Reprise Review: Lessons IV by Michael Crane was the winner in the Short Story Collections and Anthologies for B&P 2013 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran April 24, 2012

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 4-5,000 words

Monday, January 28, 2019

Review: Are We French Yet? by Keith Van Sickle




Genre: Travel Memoir

Description:

“Can Two Americans Really Become French?

Val and Keith turned their lives upside down when they quit their jobs to begin a part-time life in Provence. But they wondered: Can we fit in? And maybe become French ourselves?

Follow their adventures as they slowly unlock the mysteries of France…
- Is it true that French people are like coconuts?
- Can you learn to argue like a French person?
- What books have changed French lives?
- Most important of all, how do you keep your soup from exploding?”

Author:

“Keith Van Sickle is a technology industry veteran and lifelong traveler who got his first taste of overseas life while studying in England during college. But it was the expat assignment to Switzerland that made him really fall in love with Europe. With his wife Val and their trusty dog, he now splits his time between Silicon Valley and Provence, delving ever deeper into what makes France so endlessly fascinating.”

Find out more about Keith on his website.

Appraisal:

I’m tempted to point to my review of Keith Van Sickle’s previous travel memoir, One Sip at a Time, which I also thoroughly enjoyed, and say that Are We French Yet? is “more of the same.” That would be fair, to a point. Both books chronicle the adventures Van Sickle and his wife have had living in France part time for the last several years, giving a look at France that is deeper than the normal tourist might see or experience. The format of this book is the same with short vignettes or essays on different subjects or experiences, ignoring chronology, but with some of the same themes coming into play in different ways, the same friends showing up in different situations, so it feels like the book holds together as a whole rather than being a bunch of disjointed tales.

If there is anything that is different between the two, it is that the author recognizes that while he’s dove into French culture deeper than a typical tourist, that he’ll never be able to fully assimilate. For example, while his French might be fluent, there are subtle rules of etiquette that he realizes he’s unlikely to ever get right. Which as long as people realize he’s not French, he’s not expected to. A recognition of just how “French” it is practical to become, no matter how much time he and his wife live in France, is one theme that came through in this installment more than the first. I also found the discussions of how life in the US and France differed to be especially interesting. If you’re into travel, interested in France specifically, or just curious about how people in other countries live, you’ll find something appealing here.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

While this might be considered a sequel to One Sip at a Time, Van Sickle’s first book about his adventures in France, and there may be an argument to be made that reading that book first would make sense, I believe a reader should be able to follow and enjoy the books reading them in any order.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 40-45,000 words

Friday, January 25, 2019

Reprise Review: Loki by Mike Vasich



Genre: Fantasy/World Mythology

Description:

Loki. The Trickster. What would the overarching story of the Aesir and the countdown to Ragnarok be, told from his viewpoint?

Author:

Mike Vasich teaches English to gifted and talented students. He is the author of a separate anthology of stories about Loki, as well as other books. He has a wicked sense of humor and welcomes feedback from readers.

To see Mr. Vasich’s other books you can visit his Amazon Author page.

Appraisal:

I am somewhat familiar with the traditional stories from Norse mythology, so this book had immediate appeal for me. It starts out with a very brief recap of the traditional story of Loki and his relationship with the other Norse gods (the Aesir). It then moves quickly into a retelling of the stories familiar to many of the Twilight of the Gods, moving towards Ragnarok and the destruction of the world – only told from Loki’s viewpoint. As a literary device, it’s an excellent way to make an old story new again. Loki never quite becomes a sympathetic character, but the reader does realize that there are two sides to every story. The author obviously knows his Norse mythology frontwards and backwards. I have a friend who is Norwegian, living in Norway, who read this along with me, and she agreed that it was true to the stories she heard growing up, with allowances made for the different point of view.

The author has an amazing power of characterization. In one battle scene (possibly one of the best battle scenes I have ever read), he was able to convey to perfection the personification of thunder and lightning in Thor and his hammer. I knew that, but reading that scene, it was brought home to me like never before. Thor was thunder and Mjollnar was lightning, and the concepts were inseparable. It was one of those “Ahhh” moments when you fully realize and understand something you’ve known all along.

I loved this book, but I could not help stopping to think how very different the mindset and motivations of the characters are from what we (meaning Americans, most likely the intended audience) are used to in our literature. I found Odin to be one of the most frightening figures I have ever met in a book – and that includes characters such as Lucifer/Satan, Sauron, Voldemort, and others of that ilk. Interestingly, my Norwegian friend did not feel the same way at all – she says that Odin is the All-father; he’s above and beyond mere human emotion and rationalization. Yet, that was exactly what I felt was so chilling about him – the total apathy, the absolute unwillingness to lift a finger to change the course of events that were fated.

All in all, an excellent book, and highly recommended. It’s safe to say that this is probably the best book I’ve read so far this year. I would say that it would appeal primarily to readers who have some familiarity with traditional Norse mythology, since they would be able to appreciate some of the nuances more, but that certainly isn’t a perquisite.

Buy now from:    Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Added for Reprise Review: Loki by Mike Vasich was a nominee in the Speculative Fiction category for B&P 2013 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran August 16, 2012  

Format/Typo Issues:

None. Formatting was perfect.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: SingleEyePhotos

Approximate word count: 105-110,000 words