Friday, December 7, 2018

Review: The Night Before Krampus by Peter Johnson



Genre: Folk Tale/Middle Grade/YA/Fantasy/Christmas

Description:

“It’s two days before Christmas and a quiet Rhode Island town is about to be visited by a number of unexpected guests—including a pair of very different Krampuses. Are they there to protect the innocent, or to exact revenge for a long-forgotten tragedy? Some curses fade over time, while others grow stronger. In this homage to Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, a young boy named Christoph and his friends must find some way to atone for a wrong committed a generation before they were born.”

Author:

“Peter Johnson is the critically acclaimed author of several collections of poetry, short stories, and YA and middle grade novels… Johnson is the recipient of two creative writing awards from Rhode Council on the Arts and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He is a Professor Emeritus at Providence College where he still teaches, and he lives in Barrington, RI with his family and his black pug, Winnie.”

To learn more please check out his website.

Appraisal:

The Night Before Krampus is a deliciously twisted novella about a curse, which has taken a generation to come to fruition. It takes place in a small Rhode Island town where two wealthy, bigoted, mean-spirited men decide to run a small destitute family out of town. Despite some well-meaning citizens’ compassion, they succeed. All to protect the town’s economic standing.

The story is told through an omniscient narrator with multiple points-of-view that centers mostly on a small group of middle schoolers. Christoph, Clarisse, Bullet, a recent new comer, and Studs, the school bully. The town has also attracted some strange new citizens recently. Like the new disabled and kindhearted baker, Mr. Engle, who is delightful. Ms. Bright who is the new drama teacher directing the school Christmas play, The Night Before Krampus. And Adrian Hasty, the creature posing as Bullet’s father.

Mr. Johnson weaves this contemporary tale of old world creatures, ghosts, magic, and humor into a captivating and entertaining Christmas story. Compassion rises in the most unlikely places as the story unfolds. The theme is a classic good struggling to overcome evil, with the possibility of redemption. Which is why no two Krampus stories will ever be the same. I am glad I picked up this novella, it was a frightfully fun read with heart.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some scenes could be distressing to readers.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 35-40,000 words

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Reprise Review: White Christmas by Rebecca York




Genre: Romance/Fantasy/Novella/Christmas

Description:

“The snow is coming down so fast, Amelia Parsons doesn't see the speedingcar until it's too late. One moment she's crossing an ice-rutted street in St. Stephens, Maryland. In the next, she's flying into the air, and the world goes black. She wakes, confused, in what appears to be Santa's workshop during the holiday rush. If that's not strange enough, a hunky FBI agent named Daniel is there, demanding to know why she's involved in a plot to ruin Christmas. Can she convince him she's not the villain and then work with him to find the real saboteur?”
Author:

Rebecca York: “A master of paranormal romantic suspense, Rebecca York is the author of over 150 books. A New York Times and USA Today best-seller, she has written paranormal romantic thrillers for Berkley and romantic thrillers for Harlequin Intrigue.”

To learn more about Ms. York please visit her website.

Appraisal:

This story is right up my alley. I dearly love fantasy and this tale includes a mystery with a little magic as well. Under more than the usual Christmas stress, Amelia is distracted while crossing the street and gets hit by an oncoming car. Was it an accident or something more nefarious?

When Amelia awakens, she is in a mountainous snow-covered forest she doesn’t recognize. Making her way towards lights in the distance, she is rescued from a sudden avalanche by a handsome stranger. Daniel suspects she may be a spy, since he is head of security in this remote township where unexplained accidents have been happening.

Nick, Daniel’s boss, and his wife, Wendy, are sure Amelia has shown up for a special reason. No one ever accidentally finds themselves around their humble abode for no reason. I loved being swept away in this charming story where my imagination could run free. I found the characters well-rounded and the plot moves at a nice pace. I loved every minute of White Christmas and appreciated the promise of a budding relationship between Daniel and Amelia.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK        

FYI:

Added for Reprise Review: This review is from LOVE, CHRISTMAS 1 – Box set of Holiday stories that will put a song in your heart! Original review ran November 14, 2016. **Originally written for "BigAl’s Books and Pals" book blog. May have received a free review copy.**

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 15-20,000 words

Monday, December 3, 2018

Review: When the Storm Ends by Rebecca L Marsh



Genre: Women’s Fiction

Description:

Beth became a child psychologist so she could help abused children. Her latest patient is HerHErin, a fifteen-year-old who has killed her father. There appear to be no extenuating circumstances. If Beth can’t find out why she did it, the girl will spend many years in prison. Erin, however, isn’t talking. “Of course, Beth knows she shouldn’t share her own past with a patient, but there seems no other option. Now the abuse she suffered as a child has returned in terrifying nightmares.” (Amazon)

Author:

This is Rebecca L. Marsh’s first novel, released in October 2018. “[She] is an author of women's fiction and a member of the Paulding County Writer’s Guild. She grew up in the mountains of Western North Carolina and now lives in Dallas, Georgia, with her husband and daughter. When not writing or caring for her family (cats and dog included), Rebecca occasionally makes home-made candy and works on her scrapbooks (she is woefully behind).” The book is largely set in W North Carolina.

Appraisal:

This is a good read – and is a considerably edgier book than one might expect to find under the flag of ‘women’s fiction’. I was looking for something different to review – and this is certainly not something that is usually on my ‘to read’ pile. I don’t think it gives anything away to say that a central thread of the book is domestic abuse. The descriptions of the violence put across the pain and terror of the victims vividly. The sense of dread is well-handled. The way abuse attracts its own consequences is well drawn. The whole, however, is dealt with sensitively and with compassion. The book follows well-trodden paths, but does so, for the most part, with drive and elegance. The pages turn themselves. What happens rings true, to the point where I pray Marsh is not drawing on personal experience. She has certainly done her homework. This is an accomplished piece of work. Especially when one learns that this is the author’s first novel.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Be aware that the book deals with domestic abuse..

Format/Typo Issues:

None

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: Judi Moore

Approximate word count: 95-100,000 words

Friday, November 30, 2018

Review: Julia’s Dilemma by Lyndsey Carter



Genre: Romance/Young Adult

Description:

“Julia is content with her no frills - no thrills life consisting of long, cubicled days as an accountant, and lonely nights spent watching her favorite soap opera, as she edges ever closer to her thirties.

Between constant self-comparisons with her married friends, a romantically traumatic past, endless bouts of self-deprecatory thoughts, and resentful exchanges with a domineering mother highly critical of her non-existent love life, she can't help but feel a tinge of apathy at the idea of romance...

Following a fateful accident, she crosses paths with Matt, a handsome, mysterious biker with biting sarcastic wit, and the irresistible charm of a serpentine tongue. There is an initial tingle of interest, but she fears a relationship with him might end in even more sunken depths of despair.

Can he prove to her that all men are not the same, as she learns to trust again? Will she open herself up to the possibility of a romance? Or is she just getting her hopes up as usual...”

Author:

I found no information on Lyndsey Carter aside from the fact she has one other book published on Amazon.

Appraisal:

Julia is a mess. She’s not really happy with her job as an accountant, but finds consistency and logic in numbers. Her life is boring because she is afraid to put herself out there. She lives in her head criticizing herself and others. She has a best friend, but only calls her if she needs or wants something from her. I don’t think that is the way friends treat other. Julia’s Dilemma is supposed to be a romantic comedy, but I found very little funny about Julia or her situation.

One day on a rush to get home after work she steps into the path of a cyclist named Matt. The book’s description calls Matt a biker, which is misleading and a little less exciting. At any rate Matt seems like a great guy with a sarcastic wit. Julia seems to try to sabotage this budding relationship. I honestly felt like she needed to be on antidepressants. As the story moves forward I did become invested in Matt’s story, which is slowly doled out in bits and pieces. All along I felt like Julia’s dilemma was just her mental state. But NO; a bombshell drops at the end of this story with a-hell-of-a cliffhanger. Which is Julia’s true dilemma.
Have I mentioned I hate cliffhangers before?

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

The book cover is also misleading. That killer hand of four aces has nothing to do with this story. The fairytale background in soft shades of blue partly cloudy sky with trees and kite? Well, I suppose Matt took Julia to the local park on a date.

Format/Typo Issues:

The only significant error I found was a mixing up of names at least once in this book.

Rating: ** Two Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 30-35,000 words

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Reprise Review: Grown Up Christmas List by Donna Fasano



Genre: Romance/Novella

Description:

“Book 5 of the Ocean City Boardwalk Series, where life isn’t just fun in the sun—there’s love waiting on those sandy shores!

Dina Griffin flees a dangerous situation and ends up in Ocean City, Maryland where she hopes to spend the holidays in hiding. Trusting no one, she wants only one thing this Christmas—to feel safe. Then Officer Gav Thomas threatens to arrest her for shoplifting. Shoplifting?

Gav is certain there’s something Dina isn’t telling him about her visit to his seaside town, so he devises a means to stick close to the vulnerable beauty. An unexpected attraction sparks, fierce enough to heat up the salt-tinged, wintry nights.

But the trouble Dina had hoped to escape arrives at her doorstep, bringing with it stark-raving fear and the realization that she must place her trust in someone.
Is Gav really just a local cop… or is he Dina’s guardian angel?”

Author:

Donna Fasano is a multi-award winning author whose accolades include “a two-time winner of Best Romance of the Year given by BigAl's Books & Pals Review Blog. Her books have sold 4 million copies worldwide and have been published in two dozen languages. Her novels have made the Kindle Top 100 Paid List numerous times, climbing as high as #1.”

You can visit her at her website, and Facebook.

Appraisal:

This story is set in Ocean City, Maryland and part of Ms. Fasano’s An Ocean City Boardwalk Series, though indirectly connected by location only. When we first meet Dina Griffin the reader is given the impression she is homeless. This is not the case. However she is in hiding. I love the way Ms. Fasano lays out her stories to draw the reader in. The story arc is realistic with an air of mystery. The dialogue between the characters is rational and engaging. Dina tries to be as honest as she can without revealing too much about herself for her own protection. She has good reason to be leery of Officer Gav Thomas and, handsome as he may be, he is still an officer of the law.

The plot unwinds at a nice pace as Gav helps Dina get a job at The Sunshine CafĂ© and engages Dina in a project he has at work gathering donations for the annual holiday toy drive. Even as Dina grows more comfortable with Gav, she’s reluctant to share her secret. With Gav’s patience and persistence he’s able to slowly get past some of Dina’s walls. Unfortunately, Gav happens to be out of town when the plot takes a nasty turn on Christmas Eve and Dina considers running again.

I think everyone will find this Christmas addition to An Ocean City Boardwalk Series heartfelt with some humorous delights.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK
             
FYI:

Added for Reprise Review: This review is from LOVE, CHRISTMAS 1Box set of Holiday stories that will put a song in your heart! Original review ran October 17, 2016.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: File Size: 298 KB
Print Length: 167 pages

Monday, November 26, 2018

Review: Xmas Elf: Secret Agent by Aaron Frale



Genre: Christmas

Description:

“As one of Santa’s Elite Fixers, Jing spends most of his time waterboarding greedy toy manufacturers or responding to terrorists holding Rudolph for ransom. While not on the job, he relaxes in the North Pole, a paradise where he can forget all the killing and bloodshed and curl up to some Christmas music and hot cocoa.

Until a rogue group of elves betrays Santa and threatens what should have been a pleasant Christmas.

Every time a bell rings, an elf gets his Glock.”

Author:

“Aaron Frale writes Science Fiction, Horror, and Fantasy usually with a comedic twist. Time Burrito is the audience favorite. He also hosts the podcast Aaron's Horror Show and screams and plays guitar for the prog/metal band Spiral. He lives with his wife, his son, and two cats in the frozen tundra of Minnesota.”

Appraisal:

Imagine a hardcore book or movie of some kind. Maybe a mashup of spy story and something with a crime family like The Godfather. Then swap out most of the characters with Santa, Mrs Santa, a few reindeer, and elves. Last, make it funny. (Yeah, that step with the elves pretty much got you to funny already.) What you’ve got is Xmas Elf: Secret Agent. After reading this, you’ll never view Santa and Christmas the same.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

I believe the version I received was an advance reader copy that might (and should have) received additional proofing prior to publication. Given this assumption I can’t judge the final version and my rating doesn’t take any proofing issues into account. I hope additional proofing was done. If not, those sensitive to homonym errors will especially be cringing.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 50-55,000 words

Friday, November 23, 2018

Review: Blood Instincts by Marie Lavender



Genre: Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance

Description:

“Enter the Other World at your own risk…

What if you found out that you weren’t exactly…human?

Myah Sullivan is suddenly living that nightmare. There are Others in the world, dangerous, supernatural creatures that make her mind spin and cause her to question the reality she’s always known.

Oliver King is her savior, a vampire who tries to show her the way. Through her journey she learns far more than she ever thought she would about herself, and about the past. Soon, she discovers that there is so much more to meeting Oliver than mere happenstance.

Can Myah accept her new reality, or will she retreat into that normal, safe world she once thought was her own?”

Author:

Marie Lavender is a multi-award winning author who writes in several genres. She lives in the Midwest with her  family and three cats. She has been writing for over twenty years.

For more, visit Ms. Lavender’s website.

Appraisal:

Blood Instincts is set in the future world much like our own. Desiree, from book one, Second Nature, experiences a clairvoyant dream, which sets the tone of this story.

Myah Sullivan is twenty-five, and believes herself to be a strong independent human woman. Despite being orphaned at age nine and raised by her aunt and grandfather. She’s finished college and has an uneventful job as an accountant. Myah is comfortable where she is at in her life. Until she meets Oliver King, a vampire, who is an artist in the human world. He senses something special about Myah, something “Other,” but can’t pinpoint what exactly. He is smitten instantly, and decides to help her understand this new world of “Others” that is opening up to her as her own powers awaken.

Oliver is a perfect teacher. He can sense what she’s feeling, and knows what she needs before she does. He tries to stay in teacher mode, however, he is finding it hard not to make the transition to lover before she is ready. I suppose it is normal for Myah to be plagued with doubts about all this newness to everything around her, but come on! Her doubts and vacillations drove me to the edge of my tolerance. I feel like it slowed the plot down and became too repetitious.

Blood Instincts has an interesting storyline which is told through differing viewpoints and several emotional twists. The plot dragged for me when it got too wordy. Also, some of the plot twists presented as, “oh, by the way, this happened earlier.” I found irksome.

The characters are well developed and I did feel invested in the story. The bedroom scenes are graphic, well written, and consuming. The twist at the end foreshadows the next book well, and it’s evident that Myah is a more than she ever dreamed.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK
  
FYI:

Blood Instincts is book 2 in Marie Lavender’s, Blood at First Sight Series. Following book 1, Second Nature. If graphic love scenes disturb you this book may not be for you.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: *** Three Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 110-115,000 words

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Review: The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy by Tim Tate and Brad Johnson



Genre: Non-Fiction

Description:

“At 12.16am on Wednesday, June 5, 1968, Senator Robert F. Kennedy was shot and mortally wounded in the kitchen service pantry of the Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles. He had just won the California Primary, an important victory in his quest for nomination as the Democratic Party’s candidate in the US Presidential election late that year. A little over 24 hours later, he was pronounced dead.

A 24-year-old Palestinian immigrant, Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, was captured in the pantry with a smoking gun in his hand. Eyewitnesses had seen him step out in front of Kennedy and begin shooting with a small calibre revolver. He fired all eight bullets in its chamber. In April 1969, Sirhan was convicted of Robert Kennedy’s murder and the wounding of five others. He was sentenced to death, later commuted to life imprisonment. He has been in prison – often in solitary confinement – ever since. Fifteen applications for parole have been rejected.

That is the official history of the murder of Robert F. Kennedy. Now, on the 50th anniversary of the assassination, award-winning investigative journalists Tim Tate and Brad Johnson uncover the true story.

This book is the result of more than 25 years’ painstaking forensic work. The authors have scrutinised more than 100,000 official documents, located previously unknown recordings, and conducted original new interviews with key figures in the case.

They show that Sirhan could not have fired the fatal bullets, reveal detailed evidence of a murderous conspiracy involving organised crime, and disclose CIA documents detailing successful experiments to create a hypno-programmed political assassin. The book also unmasks the likely identity of one of the most enduring mysteries in the case – the infamous ‘Girl in the Polka Dot Dress’.”

Author:

Tim Tate is a British documentary film-maker and the author of numerous non-fiction books.

Brad Johnson is an award-winning writer, editor, producer and television news anchor.

Appraisal:

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. Was it going be a big conspiracy theory? Was what it said going to seem credible? For the tl;dr crowd, the answers to those questions are no and yes.

The somewhat more detailed explanation is that the book does a good job of explaining not only the official story and how it came to be, but also pointing out where that story has issues. Unlike a conspiracy theory, they don’t point fingers and spin yarns with conclusions about who did what and why, instead just laying out the facts and clues, leaving it to the reader to draw their own conclusion. I certainly found the evidence they presented to be disconcerting. I’ll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Uses UK spelling conventions.

Format/Typo Issues:

A small number of proofing misses.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 95-100,000 words

Monday, November 19, 2018

Reprise Review: Brittle Shadows by Vicki Tyley



Genre: Thriller/Mystery

Description:

Jemma Dalton travels to Melbourne to tidy up the affairs of her sister, an apparent suicide brought on by the suicide of her fiancĂ© two months prior. Soon Jemma begins to suspect things aren’t as they seem. How was her sister able to support her better than average lifestyle and accumulate over $1,000,000 in stock on a personal assistant’s salary? Were these really suicides?

Author:

With her first novel, the mystery thriller Thin Blood, Vicki Tyley was one of two independent authors with a book on Amazon’s list of the top 100 selling Kindle books of 2010. Her 2nd book, also released in 2010 is Sleight Malice. Although a native of New Zealand, Tyley and her husband have lived in Australia since the early 80s.

To learn more about Ms. Tyley please visit her website.

Appraisal:

Tyley is a master at weaving a complex, multilayered plot. The many characters Jemma meets starting with the manager of her sister’s apartment and the police detective who assists her, continuing to her sister’s friends and co-workers, all have unclear alliances and murky agendas. Everyone is a possible ally or a potential foe. The more Jemma uncovers about her sister and the other characters the cloudier the picture gets. Somehow Tyley managed to keep me guessing and second guessing what really happened right up until the end.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Ms Tyley is an Australian resident and the book takes place in Australia. This means you’ll see an occasional Aussie-ism. There is also some word usage that may be unfamiliar to US readers as well as Australian/UK spelling.

Format/Typo Issues:

Although the version I reviewed was a pre-release copy it had been formatted for the Kindle and had no significant formatting or typo issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words

Friday, November 16, 2018

Review: Gangster Walk by Melissa Bowersock



Genre: Cozy Mystery/Paranormal/Ghosts

Description:

“Technical whiz kid Cameron Gregory is one of the richest men in America, but even all his millions can’t relieve him of a menacing ghost. Only medium Sam Firecloud and his partner, Lacey Fitzpatrick, can do that. Hosted in Gregory’s luxurious Hudson Valley mansion, the paranormal investigators expect this job to be a piece of cake, but no one expects their research to lead them into the mysterious disappearance of a mobster kingpin from almost a hundred years ago.”

Author:

“Melissa Bowersock is an eclectic, award-winning author who writes in a variety of fiction and non-fiction genres: biography, contemporary, western, action, romance, fantasy, paranormal and spiritual. She has been both traditionally and independently published and is a regular contributor to the superblog Indies Unlimited. She has a tattoo on the inside of her left wrist that says IMAGINE. In her next life, she plans to be an astronaut. She lives in a small community in northern Arizona with her husband and an Airedale terrier. She also writes under the pen name Amber Flame.”

Learn more about Ms. Bowersock and her other books on her website or on Facebook.

Appraisal:

Sam and Lacey are not strangers to staying in luxurious places. For example they stayed in an Irish castle in a prior book. However, staying in an American mansion causes a boat load of introspection for Lacey. Sam seems to take all things in stride, even dealing with a multi-millionaire who is used to getting his own way. I have to say, I thought the way Sam stands up to Cameron Gregory when he challenges Sam on a decision he made while in Mr. Gregory’s employ was damn sexy.

The history of the mansion’s previous owners is captivating. The mystery of the mob kingpin’s disappearance, in particular, is easy to fall into and speculations abound. But to get to the bottom of the mystery, Sam needs facts. And that is Lacey’s job, to tease out facts from the “what ifs.” The secondary characters are well developed and realistic. The dialogue is strained at times, which lends to its believability. The descriptive prose telling us about the mansion grounds and the surrounding area paints a beautiful picture.

Gangster Walk is another intelligent cozy mystery, with a touch of paranormal, to add to this series that is growing at an amazing rate. I love the way Sam and Lacey have meshed their personal and professional lives together. I enjoy visiting with them and peeking in on their lives. Keep the stories coming, Ms. Bowersock.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Gangster Walk is book fourteen in Melissa Bowersock’s A LACEY FITZPATRICK and SAM FIRECLOUD MYSYTERY SERIES.

Format/Typo Issues:

Review is based on a pre-release beta copy and I cannot comment on the completed product.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 20-25,000 words