Monday, March 2, 2015

Class Heroes: A Class Apart / Stephen Henning


Reviewed by: Michael Thal

Genre: Fantasy/Mystery

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 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:

Since childhood, Stephen Henning has been creating characters in his head with super powers. A graduate of Sheffield Hallam University in the UK with a major in English, Henning trained as a journalist, then moved into publishing. He’s also worked as a freelancer doing technical writing until he started a business with his friend. His company, Elucidox Ltd, publishes the Class Heroes books.

Description:

Fourteen-year-old Samantha (Sam) Blake and twin brother James attend South Ealing Comprehensive School in West London, England. They were on a school bus returning home from a day trip to St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Imperial War Museum when their vehicle passed a car obstructing traffic. Suddenly, all hell was unleashed as the car exploded tossing the bus on its side and dousing it in flame.

Three days later, Sam wakes up in a hospital room at Brent Valley General with broken legs and burns. James fared a little better. However, Dr. Okocha is amazed at James’ quick recovery, and James is flabbergasted at the wondrous powers he has suddenly inherited. James can transport himself to any location at a blink of an eye. Sam soon discovers that she can control fire.

Appraisal:

Author Stephen Henning knits together a compelling story of fantasy and suspense. His twin characters must uncover the mystery behind their amazing abilities and the mysterious girl who seems bent on capturing them while destroying lives in the process.

Class Heroes: A Class Apart is non-stop action from beginning to end. My only criticism of the book is that more questions were raised than answered at the conclusion of the book. Fortunately, there is book 2, What Happened in Witches Wood?, book 3, Where’s Lolly?, and book 4, London Belongs to the Alchemist. If you enjoy book series where each novel is connected to the last, A Class Apart should be your first read in this exciting curriculum.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Worm / Anthony Neil Smith


Reviewed by: Keith Nixon

Genre: Crime

Approximate word count: 65-70,000 words

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

Author:

Smith has had over thirty stories published in literary magazines. He is also the co-editor / co-creator of the online noir journal Plots With Guns and an associate editor with the Mississippi Review. His day job is Director of the English Department at Southwest Minnesota State University.

You can learn more about the author at his website.

Description:

Ferret is a worm, a new employee in the Bakken oil field of North Dakota. From Alabama originally, Ferret moved up to start a new life, to earn money so his wife, Dee-Dee, and daughter, Violet, can move up and start a new life together. But his in-laws do not like Ferret and Dee-Dee has anxiety attacks.

There’s trouble everywhere Ferret looks, from his boss, Pancrazio, to meth labs and whore houses and roughnecks just wanting a fight. Can Ferret stay in one piece long enough to realise his dreams?

Appraisal:

Initially I though Worm was simply a character driven novel set against the backdrop of Minnesotan oil fields. The players were all well drawn and the setting powerfully described, but that was it – great decoration, but where was the flavour.

But then Smith got the story going and I was hooked. Ferret, so desperate to get his family back together, will do anything to earn enough cash whilst living the hard life of an oilman. He starts to run drugs on behalf of Pancrazio and falls in with some dubious people – Good and Bad Russell (two people!), Gene Handy and Slow Bear, an Indian cop from the reservations.

Soon Ferret learns from Gene that Pancrazio is not what he seems (I won’t say as it is the crux on which the story is based) and the narrative flips again into one of greed and retribution. When Dee-Dee moves up Ferret thinks he has everything now, but someone has an alternative purpose in mind for Ferret…

This is a slow burn story, Smith cleverly ramps up the pace and tension. The narrative is slick and intelligent, the dialogue even more so. The characters are brilliant. A thoroughly enjoyable story that packs in twist after twist to keep the reader guessing. Again, I’d like to say more, but then that would ruin the surprises…

FYI:

Plenty of swearing.

Format/Typo Issues:

None.

Rating:  ***** Five Stars

Saturday, February 28, 2015

With the Headmaster's Approval / Jan Hurst-Nicholson


Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Woman’s Fiction

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 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:

A resident of South Africa, Jan Hurst-Nicholson is the author of several books in various genres aimed at readers of all ages, including children, young adults, and grown-ups. For more, visit Ms Hurst-Nicholson’s website.

Description:

Adam Wild creates controversy when he’s appointed as the Head of St Mary’s Academy, an all-girls school in England. The governing board feels that his background as a officer in the US Navy makes him well suited to restore some needed discipline, but some of the all-female teaching staff don’t see it this way.

Appraisal:

I’m struggling to figure out how to articulate the problem I had with this book. So I’m going to start out with the good parts, and there are plenty of those. Adam Wild has been appointed as the head of an all-girls academy with a staff that is virtually all female, the lone exception an older Mr Fix-it type who takes care of building maintenance. Adam is a widower, but young enough to be seen as an attractive older man by the teen students and a potential romantic interest for any teachers who are unattached and looking. However, the school’s governing board has made it clear that romantic fraternizing with his staff isn’t allowed. Of course that means someone is bound to see that as a challenge. Adam’s struggle to hit the right tone with teachers and students, accomplish what the board has set as his goals, and work out what he wants his future to be, all make for an interesting and engaging story.

While there were a few minor instances of situations that didn’t ring true for me, the first two thirds of the book were mostly a fun, entertaining read. Although the book is not and is not intended to be a romance (despite Amazon including that as one of its classifications), the first two acts are set up exactly like a romance. Perhaps some of my struggles were subconscious expectations created by that pattern. Then the third act goes all to hell, at least if the reader is expecting the final third to play out like a romance.

First, another party is thrown into the mix. While this person is someone who has been mentioned a few times before now, how and what happens seems out of left field based on the story thus far. It feels like the reader has been set up, not unlike if a mystery book was to have the detective suddenly solve the puzzle by arresting someone we’d have no clue was even a viable suspect. Then, at the last second, that doesn’t work out the way it appears to be headed, and we’re thrown another twist, more in keeping with where the overall story seemed to be headed in some ways, very much not like that in others. Sometimes a story gets described as “like a roller coaster ride” and that is meant as a positive. For me, this was more like a roller coaster that jumped the tracks on the final turn.

FYI:

Uses UK slang and spelling conventions.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: *** Three Stars

Friday, February 27, 2015

DragonKin / Maria Schneider


Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Genre: Fantasy / Young Adult

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 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:

Maria Schneider grew up in New Mexico and currently lives near Austin, Texas with her husband.

After working in the computer industry for twelve years she now enjoys creating messes and inventing characters to find their way clear of her imaginings.

You can find several of Maria's short stories online in such fine magazines as: Coyote Wild Magazine, www.AnthologyBuilder.com, TownDrunkMag.com and Over My Dead Body.

She writes cozy mysteries, fantasy, paranormal mysteries. Feel free to check out her website.

Description:

“Drissa needs a place to hide, and she needed it yesterday. Wendal, with its rumors of inhospitable shifters, unknown terrain and wild magic, is not a territory many want to explore, making it the perfect place to disappear. Now, the last thing Drissa needs is to adopt more trouble, but what can she do when it hatches at her feet and then insists she drag it and a half-dead stranger to safety? But she’ll do whatever is necessary to survive, because her younger sister can’t wait forever to be rescued. Of course, Wendal and its inhabitants aren’t necessarily interested in her long-term plans or her survival.”

Appraisal:

This adventure is full of dragons, dragonkin (smaller dragons that don’t shift), gryphons, shifters, ogres, chimera, snakes, unhappy parents, a cruel uncle, poisonous plants, and one very special dryad (wood nymph). It also had a romance that made my heart melt. The story hits the ground running and doesn’t stop. There is a plot to enslave the dragonkin with nefarious capitalists who have enlisted the help of the chimera.

The plot is full of action as Lindis, Drissa, and Falk try to save the dragonkin from their plight. Sparks is the dragonkin hatchling that has adopted Drissa, he is delightful through the whole story as he grows up fast. The plot takes some unexpected twists as Falk’s parents try to find him a mate that will be advantageous for their clan. With Drissa running from the same fate and trying to save her younger sister who was drafted to replace her, she and Falk are able to relate.

I got a chuckle out of the fact that the same prince was kidnapped, again, to marry Drissa’s sister as in the Dragons of Wendal. This prince has some serious security issues to deal with back at home. Since he hasn’t chosen his own bride yet, I wondered if perhaps he is gay. Wouldn’t that be a hoot? (Sorry, I got distracted there a minute.) Ms. Schneider has done a wonderful job building her fantasy world and the characters who inhabit it. Except the chimera, I couldn’t wrap my head around them, they seemed too illogical. Mad cows would have been a better choice. (Stifles a giggle.)

FYI:

This is the second book in Dragons of Wendal series. There are a few returning characters in DragonKin, however I think it could be read as a standalone.

Format/Typo Issues:

I found no significant editing or formatting issues.

Rating: ***** Five stars

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Guest post from Brenda Vicars, author of Polarity in Motion



When I was a high school English instructor, an opportunity came up to teach a college night course inside a nearby prison. At that time I still had the smug idea that I could bestow brilliant wisdom upon my classes, so I jumped at the chance to teach inmates.  Of all the students on the planet, who more needy of my guidance than the incarcerated?

Entering the prison through a series of gates played out just as it had in movies I’d seen, but in spite of the clanging bolts and locks, I wasn’t bothered by feelings of being trapped. I would dabble in this world only a few hours and then retreat to my safe, white, middle class life.  I was led through a maze of check-in rooms and required to relinquish my purse and phone before a guard escorted me into an outdoor area—the prison yard—about the size of a football field and walled in on all sides by two-story buildings. With the guard, I felt safe enough as we walked twenty feet along a sidewalk that bordered the yard and led to the education building. 

But I wasn’t prepared for the emotional wham that hit me with my first glance at hundreds of men, mostly black—all dressed in white scrub-like uniforms—milling around in the caged in area. The reality of all these people, locked up, jolted me. 

Armed with my syllabus and lecture notes, I made it through the 165-minute class.  In this prison there were no breaks during the once-a-week session, so we worked for 165 minutes, non-stop.  The inmates were not allowed to do anything independently—no leaving early if the work was complete, no staying late for extra help. 

Bathroom breaks were permitted, but the logistics required with the guards was not something I wanted to experience.  During the three years I taught in prison, I rarely visited the ladies’ room.

So what great insights did I bestow upon these men?  Probably none.  Oh, for sure they absorbed the literature. These were the only classes I’d ever taught in which everyone actually read all the assignments—no Cliff Notes or Internet summaries in prison. Essays were never late or incomplete.  Test scores were excellent.

But here’s a better question: What did the inmates teach me? This question makes me take a deep breath and wish I had better words to express the profound lesson. The men often wrote about their youth—sometimes their middle and early high school years—when their lives had begun to unravel. I gradually realized that many of my public school students were living through the same stresses that haunted the inmates. The inmates’ pasts were my high school students’ present.  The difference was my adolescent students weren’t talking or writing about their struggles. Instead, they were coping and doing their best to navigate—so far.  

Teaching in prison changed me. Lessons from the incarcerated made me acutely aware of how fragile and blurred the critical line is during adolescence—the line between holding onto a path to success and crashing through a crack. 

In my writing I try to unearth that line and give it voice.

Get your copy of Brenda's book, Polarity in Motion, from Amazon US (ebook or paper), Amazon UK (ebook or paper), or Barnes & Noble.


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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Teatime with Mrs. Grammar Person / Barbara Venkataraman


Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Non-Fiction/Humor/Writing

Approximate word count: 7-8,000 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:

During the day, Barbara Venkataraman is an attorney. At night, she writes in a variety of genres including humor and mystery.

Description:

“Fear not, Gentle Writer, Mrs. Grammar Person is here and she has the answers to all of the questions you never thought to ask. As a dedicated and serious grammarian, she will do what it takes to be entertaining and enlightening, but never vulgar or coarse. Heavens, no! Where are her smelling salts? Warm and witty, Mrs. G.P. makes grammar interesting with rhyming, wishful thinking, story-telling and a champagne toast. You are cordially invited to join her for a spot of tea!”

Appraisal:

A series of chapters that may have had a first life as blog posts, this small book teaches and refreshes grammar rules with an emphasis on word usage (common homophone errors, who vs whom, etc). The lessons are delivered by the fictional character Mrs. Grammar Person. She’s a bit over the top, even for a mild Grammar Nazi such as me, in how serious she takes her subject. But that seriousness is where the humor comes into play. Mrs. Grammar Person’s wordplay to illustrate her points was both amusing and educational. I picked up on one set of homophones that I was consistently using wrong (you home in on something, not hone in). I also picked up a good rule to help with the dreaded ‘who’ versus ‘whom’ decision.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Confessions of a Hit Man / Richard Godwin


Reviewed by: Keith Nixon

Genre: Thriller / Mystery

Approximate word count: 50-55,000 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:

Richard Godwin is a widely published author, with a focus on horror and crime, and a playwright. He has written two full length novels – Apostle Rising and Mr Glamour and has contributed multiple short stories to anthologies.

You can learn more about the author on his website.

Description:

Jack is a Royal Marine commando, a trained marksman and explosives expert, good at reconnaissance, sabotage and using information. Needing finance Jack takes on a hit for Luca Martoni, telling himself it would be just the one.

But before he knows it Jack is a full time assassin, his stock on the rise, his fee increasing all the time. But he gets pulled into a government plot selling enriched plutonium to a country that shouldn’t have it…

Appraisal:

Confessions of a Hit Man is as addictive to the reader as it is to Jack. I devoured the story in a couple of sittings. The style is pacey, the sentences chopped, the chapters brief and to the point. The novel itself is short, around 50,000 words and if there’s one complaint it’s that I wanted more, it was such a good read.

The ‘confession’ aspect in the title is an apt description, Jack is writing down the individual hits as a salve to his conscience – he didn’t start out wanting to kill people for a living, it sort of crept up on him. Something he subsequently realizes.

As the narrative progresses it moves from individual chapters to more of an interlinked story line as he gets drawn into the government plot. We steadily learn about Jack and his motivations, but is there still good within him?

Godwin tends to write psychological thrillers and horror so this is a degree of departure for him. However it is a welcome one and suits him. I hope to see Godwin writing more within this genre and Jack too.

FYI:

Nothing of note.

Format/Typo Issues:

No issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars