Thursday, April 24, 2014

Inter-Galactica, An Otherworldly Brief Romance / Ida Tornovski


Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Genre: Contemporary Fiction/ Short Story

Approximate word count: 5-6,000 words

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

Author:

“Ida Tornovski was born into a politically divided Europe. Writing only in English now, she spends her time between the 'Old Country' and the United States.”

Description:

“In her short fantasy Inter-Galactica, An Otherworldly Brief Romance, Ida Tornovski shares one woman's encounter with an interstellar man, who may or may not be the man of her dreams.”

Appraisal:

This is a strange little story set in present-day Boston. It is told through first person point-of-view by the main character who is self described as “a spinster lady.” During lunch one day in the park a man sits on the bench beside her and introduces himself as Heaven. He is a chameleon of sorts, somehow able to change his appearance at will, and they become friends. The story is told with a dry wit. I had a problem suspending my disbelief with the ease our main character did about him being from another planet. It is unclear whether she is daydreaming about their time together and shaping him into who and what she desires. To play Devil’s advocate, perhaps he is a predator filling her full of lies to get what he desires and then leaves her to pick up the pieces of her shattered life. Or perhaps Heaven is an alien and our world is doomed and he will return to her for their happily ever after. She seemed resolved and content with this end.

Some may call this a romance, while others may call this a personal descent into madness. It is a thought-provoking story that takes on its own chameleon-like qualities and may be seen through different perspectives to have a different meaning altogether. Personally, I chose to interpret this as a character study because love can drive people crazy. I wouldn't be surprised to see this short story with a wide range of ratings. We all bring our own experiences into any story and I may have revealed more about myself in this review than I did about the story itself. ~sigh~

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues


Rating: **** Four stars

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Cabinetmaker / Alan Jones


Reviewed by: Keith Nixon

Genre: Crime / Thriller

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 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:

I couldn’t find a bio on the author. However you can learn more about the book, its setting and themes at this website.

Description:
John McDaid’s first day in CID and he steps straight into the middle of a murder case. A young man has been beaten to death. McDaid and his colleagues quickly catch the offenders, but they get off on a technicality. And so begins a career long case for McDaid, from the late 70’s through to the 00’s when he finally learns all the answers to what really happened that fateful night.

Appraisal:

I really wanted to like this story, it’s exactly the sort I tend to reach for (as BigAl said, “It screamed Keith Nixon”). Unfortunately it didn’t quite match up to expectations, but it did have merit.

As the description outlines, the plot is the reminiscences of a now retired policeman as he looks back over a case which stretched back over his career. And the author does manage this aspect well. McDaid’s voice is that of an old man and is written as a reflection. Jones also deals satisfactorily with the resultant large time gaps in the narrative – in some cases years between events – and builds a warm relationship between McDaid and Francis Hare, the father of the murdered young man, that the rest of the narrative hangs off. The segments where McDaid is embroiled in a crime feels convincing.

However, the timeframe and approach in themselves create issues. There were long stretches where McDaid undertook two pastimes with Hare – cabinet making and playing football in a local team together. The former is in particular highly detailed and the construction of a piece can take page upon page. Both bring McDaid close to Hare, so it’s worth doing, but the word count to do so is far too high - in these sections I was seriously considering giving The Cabinetmaker two stars because it switched me off. The narrative wasn’t being driven along sufficiently and it floundered.

The quality of Jones’ writing veered between unpractised and excellent. Here’s an example of the latter:

Barlinnie prison is one of these places that should have the effect of discouraging criminals from their profession – the grey imposing exterior is matched inside by a cold drabness that no amount of modernization and bright paint can cover up.

I really enjoyed that paragraph. But the narrative is peppered with basic errors in punctuation, repeated words and an over use of names that undermines the enjoyment of The Cabinetmaker.

In terms of punctuation it would be rare to go a page without seeing something. Whether it was a comma the wrong side of a speech mark, speech marks on lines that weren’t dialogue or missing full stops, incorrect capitalization (e.g. Rats) and speech marks that varied between ‘ and “. A desire to underline words to emphasize them also crept in during the second half of the story.

Repeating words is quite common in self-published works. It’s something that drives me to distraction because it’s a basic error that simply isn’t necessary. Heavy use of names is less seen, but I think the author suffered from a need to tell rather than show – lots of words used to point out how he or the character was feeling also crept in. Sometimes the wrong surname was used – O’Hare instead of Hare, but I didn’t find a spelling mistake.

Here are some examples:

“That had been my first day. Naively I had thought that every day would be the same, but here we were a day later…”

“I enjoyed chatting with you yesterday, you are a nice guy, aren’t you?”

A couple of other issues – the book starts in the 1970’s and, other than a Life On Mars angle (for UK readers, yes one of the characters does drive a Capri) and runs through to the 00’s, however I got no sense of the time and very little of place. It didn’t help that characters would drop in and out of Scottish dialect, often across a single page. A language guide accompanies the novel, but I didn’t need it until the very end.

All of that being said, on balance I did enjoy the story. It kept me going through to the end which, given the above, says quite a lot. If the author wielded a knife on some of the less valuable segments and employed an editor this could be a pretty decent novel deserving of a higher rating.

FYI:

Plenty of swearing, with the strongest of words used often.

Format/Typo Issues:

Lots and lots of them, see above.


Rating: *** Three Stars

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Keeping Private Idaho / Rick Just

This is the second half of a doubleshot review. If you missed the first half where BigAl provided his thoughts along with some cultural and historical context, check it out, too.


Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Genre: Contemporary Fiction/ Satire

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 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:

“Rick Just is a native Idahoan who grew up on a ranch along the Blackfoot River. He is a former Marine, a whitewater kayaker, a sculptor, a sports car buff and the alpha male of his schnauzer pack... He was the editor of 100 Years, Idaho and its Parks, the centennial history of Idaho's state parks system. He is a member of the Idaho Writers Guild.”
Mr. Just also has a few young adult fantasies published, The Wizards Trilogy and Anjel. To learn more please visit his website and blog.
Blog: <http://rickjust.blogspot.com/ >

Description:

“Coyote never seems to learn. Yet, he never fails to teach, mostly through the error of his ways. He taught the Nez Perce that they came from the Heart of the Monster. Now, he is teaching modern day Idahoans, they have a monster in their heart. This is Private Idaho, a place that exists in the minds of accidental natives and territorial pranksters who take out their resentments on tourists and real estate speculators. They are anonymous and deadly. In this tale of the New West, where the cowboys are women and the Indians wear Rollerblades, be alert for exploding potatoes, the allure of mineshafts and the terrible finesse of chainsaws.”

Appraisal:

This book takes a wry look at xenophobia from many different angles, it also applies to many other states or even countries. Idaho just happens to be the home state for Mr. Just and he is knowledgeable about many aspects that were explored in this book. The fact that the B-52's had a song titled Private Idaho is just icing on the cake. Yes, I had to Google it and then got caught up in all sorts of other 80s music. Really, I don't want to talk about it... don't judge me!

So what we have here is a serious character study laced with some humorous aspects and spotted with tragic consequences. Mr. Just does an outstanding job weaving this tale from many different points of view. However, I felt like Coyote was used as a scapegoat to avoid pointing fingers at any one person, group, or business. While I felt a little cheated about the personification of Coyote, I am pretty sure he was happy to fill that role so perfectly suited for his character.

This story reflects on several characters from different walks of life which were handled skillfully and realistically. Several concerns are addressed from multiple angles and I found it easy to be drawn into each person’s story. Here is where I wish there had been more personal interaction with Coyote, instead he mainly orchestrated the events that affected these characters lives. I was appalled at the lengths some people would go to in order to protect their own self interests, it's not easy for me to have my rose-colored glasses ripped off my face. I found this book interesting, entertaining, and a worthwhile read that has a valuable moral to be heeded.  

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.


Rating: ***** Five stars

Keeping Private Idaho / Rick Just

This is the first half of a doubleshot review. When you read this first half you'll see that I brought some cultural and historical knowledge to the setting of this story that most readers wouldn't have and wondered if the reaction of someone without that knowledge would react differently.

?wazithinkin' had already agreed to do a doubleshot review before I'd read the book and realized this, so I was curious to see what she had to say. Hopefully you will be too and will also read her take this afternoon.


Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Satire

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 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:

“Rick Just is a native Idahoan who grew up on a ranch along the Blackfoot River. He is a former Marine, a whitewater kayaker, a sculptor, a sports car buff and the alpha male of his schnauzer pack. As a student, he served as editor of Boise State University's nationally acclaimed literary magazine, cold-drill. During Idaho's Centennial, Rick wrote and produced the official Centennial radio series, Idaho Snapshots, which aired daily on stations statewide. The program won the Governor's Take Pride in Idaho award and was honored in the national Take Pride in America program.”

Description:

“Coyote never seems to learn. Yet, he never fails to teach, mostly through the error of his ways. He taught the Nez Perce that they came from the Heart of the Monster. Now, he is teaching modern day Idahoans, they have a monster in their heart. This is Private Idaho, a place that exists in the minds of accidental natives and territorial pranksters who take out their resentments on tourists and real estate speculators. They are anonymous and deadly. In this tale of the New West, where the cowboys are women and the Indians wear Rollerblades, be alert for exploding potatoes, the allure of mineshafts and the terrible finesse of chainsaws.”

Appraisal:

I’m a sometimes Idahoan with roots in the state going back several generations. About twenty years ago I was living elsewhere and suggested to a co-worker, another expat-Idahoan, that beyond the obvious differences between rural and more populous areas common in most states, that Idaho was actually three states (maybe I should have said regions to be less divisive) with their own distinct cultural norms. The first of these is The Panhandle (which is a cross between their close neighbors of Eastern Oregon and Western Montana, with a dash of right-wing extremism thrown in to keep things interesting). Next is the Mormon influenced Southeast, in many ways more of a far-northern outpost of Utah. Last, is the Southwest, with Boise, the only significant urban area and Sun Valley, the two places most likely known to people largely unacquainted with the Gem State.

Each of these areas is represented by at least one significant character in Keeping Private Idaho, and the diversity of the characters in the novel is reflective of reality. Thrown into the mix is Coyote of Native American mythology as another major character. The large cast of characters was difficult to track in the beginning. As the story progressed and each distinctive personality solidified in my mind, that became less of a problem.

One thing each area of the state has in common is tourism as a significant industry. The timeframe when the story takes place (the mid-90s) was also a period when Idaho, along with many other western states, experienced conflict, with rapid growth, an influx of “outsiders” moving in (many from California), and rapid appreciation in housing prices. At times this caused disagreements and clashes between the natives and the newcomers, with bumper stickers saying “Don’t Californicate Idaho” as one obvious outward representation of those opposed to the changes.

It’s against this backdrop that the story of Keeping Private Idaho is told. It’s a cautionary tale (luckily the modern day Monkey Wrench Gang depicted here was never reality). Part of me realized while reading that some things, like a rural rancher wishing her city cousins would get as nostalgic about bucking hay as they did during branding season, wouldn’t evoke the same knowing chuckle from everyone as it did for me. Some of the subtle humor (the names of the children in the Thompson family, for example) wouldn’t tickle the funny bone for everyone, like it did for me. (In fact, most people would probably have to have it explained to even realize there was humor there.)

However, Keeping Private Idaho also explores some universal themes, dealing with change and the concept of geographical and cultural roots, being the two that resonated most with me. I would expect those parts of the story to be entertaining and thought provoking for all readers, even those who have never been within a thousand miles of the state.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.


Rating: ***** Five Stars

Monday, April 21, 2014

Fallen Redemption / R.B. Austin


Reviewed by: Sooz

Genre: Paranormal Romance

Approximate word count: 90-95,000 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:

Fallen Redemption is R.B. Austin’s debut novel. She writes paranormal romances and young adult novels. She includes knitting as one of her hobbies. 

You can learn more about Austin on her website.

Description:

Emma’s life is crumbling. She is laid off from her job, has no family, and decided to wash away her troubles with a night of drinking. This only leads to more problems as she is attacked on her way home from the bar. However, vampire-like creatures rescue her and while in their care, the leader of the group, Cade, falls for her. Cade and his men have to rid the world of evil, and he doesn’t want to fall in love again after blaming himself for the death of his wife. However, neither one of them may be able to stop what’s coming.

Appraisal:

R.B. Austin isn’t breaking new ground with Fallen Redemption. She uses themes regularly seen in paranormal books of good vs. evil, redemption, forgiveness and love.

And there is nothing wrong with that.

Austin creates compelling characters that show a range of emotions. The development of the main characters, Cade and Emma, are believable and inspired. Austin was able to write the characters in a way that make the readers care about what is going on.

Fallen Redemption reminded me of Lara Adrian’s Midnight Breed series (at least the first book), which has had comparisons to JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood, but I had never read that series. Several paranormal creatures are part of Cade’s group whose job it is to hunt evil and rescue humans from it. These other characters are compelling as well, and could certainly be main characters in later books in the series. I wanted to learn more about them – just not yet. Austin does a nice job of not letting too many people get in the way of the main story.

The paranormal romance is believable. Emma was brought to the compound because she was attacked by a Fallen (one of the bad guys) and needed to be healed. Her initial reaction is that she has been kidnapped, and is frightened. However, as she realizes she is not a prisoner, she lets her guard down. That’s when Cade, timid and reluctant in the love department, envelops her, and both go down a road neither is prepared for.

As expected with paranormal romances, there were sex scenes, but none of them felt dirty or gratuitous. When a couple of Cade’s partners had to go out and take care of some, uh, needs, Austin didn’t go into details about this nameless club sex, which kept the story moving, but allowed you to understand what happened.

There was an interesting twist near the end of the book when Cade and Emma’s affair hit a roadblock, but it couldn’t be the end for them because that doesn’t make for a fun romance.

FYI:

There is sex and cursing in the book.

Format/Typo Issues:

No major issues


Rating: **** Four Stars

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Class Vamp / Silence O'Shea


Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Genre: Paranormal/ Erotic Romance

Approximate word count: 25-30,000 words

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

Author:

“Silence O'Shea lives in a tiny woodland town in the extreme Northern U.S., where the lusty locals generate enough heat to melt the polar ice caps. As in any good Catholic town, dirty deeds are afoot behind closed doors. Some people just have to share their exploits--and Silence is a superb and trusted listener. She’ll never spill secrets, but that doesn’t mean she can’t use the naughtiest bits and most colorful characters as inspiration for her work.

For more, visit her website or Facebook page.

Description:

“Hoping to make her ex-classmates eat their bullying hearts out, Josie Miller plans to attend her high school reunion a foxy vixen. Until a bloodsucking fiend turns her. Now she’ll be attending the reunion a fat vampire. Enter Tanner Douglas, her one-time crush, who’s happy to use various body parts to boost her confidence, and help Josie waltz into the reunion a sexy, sultry class vamp.”

Appraisal:

In this smexy (A little smutty and a little sexy equals smexy) novella, Ms. O'Shea has redefined some of her own unique vampire life rules. A vampire's appearance never changes after the turn although they still have to be wary of sunlight and pointy sticks. They also have laws governing them, especially laws about turning new vampires.

While patrolling a dark alley Bob, a vampire cleaner who wears a trendy Marc Jacobs cross-body man purse, finds Josie dying from a sloppy vampire feeding. He has a choice to save her by turning her into a vampire or letting her die. After saving her life and a rowdy round of the best sex Josie has ever had, all she wants is a do-over. The last thing she wants to be is a chunky vampire for the rest of her undead life. Their conversation is hysterical! Bob ends up making sure she gets home afterward while she laments about being a fat vampire for all eternity and being turned by what she considers a vampire janitor.

With help from her best friend Carmen, Josie takes on changing her self image problems. This is a totally irreverent look at a realistic problem facing many women today.

The plot has a nice pace and the characters are well developed and believable, aside from Josie's vampire situation. When Josie runs into Tanner, an old high school crush who just happens to have moved back to town, she tries to stay realistic but is all too easily swept away. When she learns he may have an ulterior motive, all of her insecurities instantly lock back in place. I enjoyed the dialogue between Josie and Carmen, everyone needs a friend to help them examine life, people, and situations through different eyes. Tanner is almost too good to be true and Josie's concerns are rational. With the reunion approaching Josie's and Tanner's relationship is still on shaky ground when an argument about what she will wear to the event breaks loose and both their worlds are turned upside down.

This is a fun, sassy, and sexy journey which is really more paranormal Chick-Lit than Romance. However, could it last an eternity?

FYI:

Explicit sex and language that may not be acceptable for all readers.

Format/Typo Issues:

I found no significant issues with editing or formatting.


Rating: **** Four stars

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A Whole New Ballgame / Caryn Rose


Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Chick-Lit

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:

The titles of Caryn Rose’s novels, B-sides and Broken Hearts and now A Whole New Ballgame reflect her two major interests, music and baseball.

For more, visit Rose’s blog.

Description:

“The story of a 20-something woman who finds comfort and solace in baseball as her carefully ordered world starts to unravel.

26-year-old Laurie Nicholson thinks she's beginning to sort things out when it comes to life, work, and love. When a sudden declaration from an on-again, off-again boyfriend inspires her to take a risk, only to meet with crushing heartbreak instead, Laurie finds herself searching for refuge.

A chance encounter with Eric Morris and Peter Ellis, two friends spending their summer visiting every ballpark in America, offers Laurie an unexpected way to salve her wounds. Despite growing up in Boston surrounded by Red Sox fans, she wasn't a fan of the game-until Eric and Peter's enthusiasm turn that around and she falls in love...with baseball.”

Appraisal:

If you’re one of those women who isn’t much into sports or at least not baseball, you might be tempted to skip past this book. I’m not much of a sporty guy myself, so I understand. But in skipping it you’ll miss out on a good story that just happens to have baseball as a backdrop. Plus, you’ll find you have more in common with Laurie, the protagonist, than you think. You might not understand some of the references to specific players, but they aren’t important to the story. (I don’t know who they are either.) Maybe you’ll understand the music and band references better. (Those, I got, but they’re also unimportant.)

At its heart, A Whole New Ballgame is a coming of age story. Although Laurie is an adult, living on her own, established in her career, and much more “grown-up” than many of her peers, the struggles she goes through and the lessons she learns take her through the next level of growth. I found myself struggling with her as she faced some tough decisions, upset, when she was, and even gaining a small appreciation of baseball, even if I’m not planning to run out to the ballpark on opening day.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.


Rating: **** Four Stars