Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Review: Thrill Kings - The Size Of Minneapolis Upright by Rik Ty




Review: Thrill Kings - The Size Of Minneapolis Upright by Rik Ty
Genre: Science Fiction/Short Story

Description:

“Nonstop (an interdimensional rescue worker), has to evacuate a widow and her foster children from a farmhouse before an enormous Inter-D rampages — but Nonstop can’t find any sign of the family — just the heartbreaking corpse of a friendly-looking dog. What happened?”

Author:

“Rik Ty spent the nineties on the newsstand, publishing as a writer, artist, or both, for Marvel and DC comics, Cracked Magazine, and Matchbox Toys. He has spent the current millennium as a Senior Design Manager for a major Toy Company. Thrill Kings allows him to focus his personal attentions on a long-term, all-encompassing project with a very flexible deadline - something that helps a lot.”

Appraisal:

This is a short story designed to introduce interested readers to the authors Thrill Kings series. The story is short and intense involving a rescue of a family that is in danger. The reason for the danger has to do with a few science fiction constructs that I’m not sure I have figured out well enough to explain. The short version is that for reasons I won’t go into abrasions or “bleed zones” have developed between two different dimensions. This interaction between dimensions creates issues. The Thrill Kings in this story and presumably the other books in the series are expected to save the day when things go wrong.
This tale is well written, the characters are well-developed, and the story intense. If it sounds like your kind of science fiction, give it a try.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 5-6,000 words

Monday, January 21, 2019

Review: Stage Fright by Helen Smith



Genre: Cozy Mystery

Description:

“When amateur sleuth Emily Castles joins a community theatre project in Edinburgh, she begins to suspect that she has been recruited by a cult. When a fellow performer goes missing, she must risk her life to investigate…”

Author:

“Helen Smith travelled the world when her daughter was small, doing all sorts of strange jobs to support them both - from cleaning motels to working as a magician's assistant - before returning to live in London where she wrote her first novel.”

Appraisal:

This is the sixth book in Helen Smith’s cozy mystery series featuring Emily Castles. Like all of Ms Smith’s books, there are interesting and quirky characters with subtle humor spread throughout the story.

The setting for this story is especially interesting when Emily finds herself living and working with a community theatre group where things seem a bit off. Then a body turns up and Emily does her thing, trying to figure out what happened. All the words like different, unique, quirky, and unpredictable that I’d normally pull out to describe one of the previous books in the series would apply to this one. If you’ve read and liked the previous cozies featuring Emily, you’ll want to read Stage Fright too. If quirky cozies are your thing, this is a good place to start. If you think I need to find some good alternatives to use instead of the word quirky over and over again, I’m open for suggestions. The possibilities listed in the thesaurus are too pedestrian. Not quirky enough.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Uses UK spelling conventions.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

Friday, January 18, 2019

Reprise Review: The Ugly Stepsister Fights Back by Sariah Wilson



Genre: Contemporary Young Adult/Romance

Description:

A contemporary view from the ugly stepsister set during her senior year of high school. Mattie Lowe is a rebellious teenager who feels like all the odds are stacked against her. This story is homage to the movies Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, and Sixteen Candles.

Author:
Sariah Wilson lives in Utah and is a fervent believer in happily ever afters, which is why she writes romance. She grew up in Southern California and graduated with a degree in history from Brigham Young University.

For more, visit her website or her Facebook page.

Appraisal:

This twisted fairy-tale is nothing like I expected and I was thoroughly delighted. Sariah Wilson has developed Matilda into the quintessential, slightly rebellious, teenager who feels like things will never work out for her. The story starts with a list of grievances that give us a feel for this misunderstood character and the people in her life. I had to giggle at her voice; it’s fresh, quirky, sarcastic, and witty.

Mattie is intelligent but insecure and I loved the way she decided to start making changes in her life. During her journey, her perspective changes to open her eyes to the realities surrounding her. This story has a nice pace and it kept me turning the pages late into the night. I became totally invested in Mattie finding her happily ever after, bless her heart, she did not believe she was worth it. There are a few valuable lessons to be learned from this story and therefore, I think this book would especially be enjoyed by preteens and young adults, although I fit into neither of those categories and I loved it.

Buy now from:    Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Added for Reprise Review: The Ugly Stepsister Fights Back by Sariah Wilson was a nominee in the Young Adult category for B&P 2013 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran February 26, 2013.

Format/Typo Issues:

I found no significant errors.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 50-55,000 words

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Review: Safe to Die by Steve Thornes




Genre: Mystery

Description:

“Harry Briggs is a Private Investigator based in Yorkshire, England in the 1980s.
His cases have been the run of the mill kind. Seedy divorce cases, fraudulent insurance claims and the serving of court documents. His business is close to financial collapse and his marriage is on the rocks.

Along comes a different type of case. It’s a big one and could put Harry on financial easy street. It could also ruin him. The potential rewards are great, and so are the dangers. Harry struggles with his sense of doing the right thing against losing everything. He is new to murder, violence and the threat of spending time in jail. He has some tough choices to make.”

Author:

“Steve Thornes was born in 1948. His life has had its setbacks – loss of parents at an early age, a bitter divorce and financial disasters. Through all of life’s trials and setbacks Steve always found a way to see happiness. Steve is now happily married and enjoying life as an author and freelance writer.”

Appraisal:

At a high level I liked this story. The main characters, Harry Briggs, a Private Investigator in England, and his assistant, Paula Goodwin, are likeable, and the reader is naturally going to pull for them. The basic plot of the story is okay. The writing is mostly competent although with a tendency to sometimes get repetitive or a bit too wordy. If the feeling you’re getting is neutral or lukewarm, like I’m neither ready to warn you off of this book or eager to recommend you grab it for your next read, you’d be right.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Uses UK spelling conventions.

Format/Typo Issues:

A small number of proofing misses.

Rating: *** Three Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 30-35,000 words

Monday, January 14, 2019

Review: Windmaster by Helen B. Henderson




Genre: Fantasy/Sword and Sorcery

Description:

“Despite his insolent attitude, Ellspeth, captain of the Sea Falcon, is attracted to the dark-haired worker she hires to help unload the vessel's cargo.

When the supposed dockhand reveals he is Lord Dal, the last member of the Council of Wizards, and her passenger, Ellspeth breaks a cardinal rule—fraternizing with the paying customers. Bringing Dal back from near-death releases Ellspeth's latent powers and threatens her captaincy. For to have magic she must give up the sea.

In accordance with an ancient prophecy, Dal allows Ellspeth to be handfasted to him without her knowledge or consent. However, the prophecy doesn't state whether she will return his love. A likelihood threatened as the deception is unveiled and they are hunted by fanatical clerics bent on ridding the world of magic and those who wield it.

Trapped within the Oracle's Temple and marked for sacrifice, Ellspeth is forced to choose between survival, saving the future of magic...or love.”

Author:
Helen B. Henderson writes about herself, “Although I wrote fiction for myself as long as I can remember, and been a professional writer for many years, pursuing publication for my fiction is a more recent endeavor… My writing crosses genres and types, from fiction to historical documentaries. I'm especially proud of the two romantic fantasy series, the Dragshi Chronicles and the Windmaster novels. Originally conceived as short stories, the characters came to life for me and my readers. I hope they will for you also.”

To learn more please visit Ms. Henderson’s website.

Appraisal:

Ellspeth has sea water in her veins. She has always dreamed of captaining her own ship, which she has accomplished, and has the loyalty and respect of her crew. It’s long been known that magic and deep water don’t mix, and that fact is proven when Lord Dal, the last member of the Council of Wizards, and two healer mage’s are passengers on the Sea Falcon when a magical storm engulfs the ship. Lord Dal is gravely injured using his powers to protect the vessel, and it’s all the healing mage’s can do to keep him alive. Little does Ellspeth realize her latent ability for mage power has awakened, and she is able to pull Dal back from the brink of death with her touch and speaking to him.  

This is an exciting tale that will keep you on the edge of your seat till the last page. There is an evil mage, with his conspiring evil clerics, human sacrifices, and swashbuckling sword fights. As well as serious soul searching, contemplation, emotional turmoil, and a budding romance. All woven into a quest for hidden wizarding artifacts to fulfill an ancient prophecy to save the wizarding world.

The characters are well thought out and fully developed. I found it easy to become fully immersed in their world of challenges. The scenery puts the reader on the deck of a ship looking out over calm or raging sea, experiencing the adventures of crossing the craggy cliffs, beautiful meadows, or forested lands. The plot twists and turns in clever ways. The dialogue is natural and believable. I can’t think of one thing I didn’t enjoy about Windmaster. I would highly recommend to readers who enjoy adventures by land and sea, swashbuckling quests, and magic.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Windmaster is book one in the WINDMASTER NOVELS. Young Adult appropriate.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 95-100,000 words

Friday, January 11, 2019

Review: Instant Wisdom: 10 Easy Ways to Get Smart Fast by Beth Burgess



Genre: Self Help

Description:

“This book will make you smarter, more capable and more creative, super-fast - whatever your IQ.

Have you ever had a problem at home, work or in a relationship that you just couldn't figure out how to solve? Have you felt stuck and frustrated because you can't come up with a good solution? Maybe it's a problem that's been niggling at you for ages, draining your energy and making you unhappy. Or maybe it's an ambition or project which you can't seem to complete or achieve, no matter how hard you try – but it would make such a difference to your life if only you could.

Have you wasted precious time or money on ineffective solutions? Has the issue caused you stress or hung a cloud over your life? Has your potential suffered because you can't see how to achieve your goals?

How much better would your life be if you were able to overcome your obstacles super-fast? If you could have instant epiphanies rather than wasting your time spinning your wheels? Wouldn't you feel lighter and freer knowing that you can solve issues in a snap? Wouldn't life be easier and more enjoyable when you can simply eradicate problems and get on with your goals?

Blending science, psychology and philosophy, INSTANT WISDOM: 10 Easy Ways to Get Smart Fast will teach you tools, tweaks and techniques that will make you smarter in mere minutes or seconds, boosting your creativity and expanding your mental horizons.”

Author:

“Beth Burgess is an award-winning, best-selling author, therapist, coach, freelance writer, and founder of several specialist services…

After making a complete mess of the first part of her life, Beth set out on a journey to gain insight, so she could become a wiser, better, happier person.

By studying and exploring science, spirituality, philosophy, psychology, and sociology, Beth has been able to formulate new ways of thinking, develop her own insights, and transform her life.

Beth wanted to share the wisdom she has learned, so she set up Wiseism.com, a resource to help people use wisdom to improve their lives.”

Appraisal:

I just glanced at the dictionary for a definition of wisdom and what I found talks about three things. Smarts, the stuff you know comes first. Experience, what I’d call the stuff you’ve learned from doing. Last is good judgement, which might be looked at as having a good sense of how to combine the first two in coming to a conclusion on how to proceed when faced with the need for a decision.

Instant Wisdom addresses all three pieces of this to some degree, outlining different techniques or approaches to help improve your decision-making skills to become more wise. One statement near the start of the book jumped out at me when the author talked about how “acknowledging your own ignorance can pave the way to greater wisdom.” Those who think they know it all have been shown to vastly overestimate their knowledge. (Research the “Dunning-Krueger Effect if you’re interested in details.) Those who take the author’s advice and assume they don’t know as much as they’d like to are more likely to not only actually know more when decision time comes, but also are more likely to do adequate research in coming to a decision and increase their knowledge in the process.

Do the author’s ideas work? I suspect this will vary from person to person, but I’m going to vote yes. Some of the ideas are things I’d already discovered and use, so those definitely work for me. The others seem logically sound, it’s just a matter of putting them into practice.

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: 30-35,000 words

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Review: Mystery Walk by Melissa Bowersock



Genre: Cozy Mystery/Paranormal/Ghosts

Description:

“When paranormal investigators Lacey Fitzpatrick and Sam Firecloud are on a case, they are all in, and don’t rest until the haunting is resolved. Now they’ve been invited to a Murder Mystery Weekend of role-play, sleuthing and fun. Lacey thinks they’ll have an advantage because they’re such practiced investigators, and the tangled trail of clues, motives and red herrings creates a fierce competition to find whodunit. Lacey fully intends to solve the mystery and win the prize, but the weekend turns out to be surprisingly different on very many levels.”

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:

Christine, Sam’s ex-wife, asks Sam and Lacey to join her and her husband, Ed LaRosa, for a murder mystery role-playing weekend. This was a lot of fun, and Ms. Bowersock did a wonderful job getting all of the details right. Everyone was given a character to portray, and a history profile they were to keep secret from the other players. They were also given play money with which to bribe secrets from the other players. It was also suggested to rent period costumes for their personas. And they are reminded to try not to get their feelings hurt if they are snubbed by another player, it is all an act. So, they should try to have fun with it.

Lacey is a little slow taking on her character, her investigator self is hard to let go of. However, she is sure her professional life will give her an advantage in this game she fully intends on winning. Sam has no problem taking on his character fully, and he won’t share a whit with her, much to Lacey’s chagrin.
Mystery Walk is a fun relaxing read. The details were entertaining and captivating. The detective added an intriguing element with his tidbits of information from his investigation for the players to chew on. I enjoyed watching the players interact, and the murderer was a complete surprise. I did not see that coming. I would suck at a role-playing murder mystery game. 

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Mystery Walk is book sixteen 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: 25-30,000 words

Monday, January 7, 2019

Reprise Review: Music Speaks by Various



Genre: Short Story Anthology

Description:

In these pages are eleven short stories from nine independent authors. These stories cover a wide range of genres—from romance to dystopia—but they all share a single theme: the power of music.

Titles include:

Gone Too Soon by Christopher T. Grace

The Heart Never Forgets by Ann Cathey

Solo by David Antrobus

Heavy Metal Lovesong by Pam Bainbridge-Cowan

Save Me by Erin McGowan

Playlist by James Clark

Music Heals All Hearts by Laurie Sorensen

Punk Rock 101 by JD Mader

and three Jukebox Heroes Vignettes by LB Clark

100% of profits from the sale of this short story collection will be donated to the MusiCares Foundation—a non-profit organization that helps musicians in times of need.

Author:

See author list in description.

Appraisal:

Anyone who has read many of my reviews knows I’m a sucker for stories that have a tie-in to music. Stories that share the common thread of the “power of music” to lift our mood, inspire, entertain, and even change our lives are a perfect fit. I’d use the cliché that they’re preaching to the choir in my case, if only I could sing. The fact that the profit from sales of this book go to an organization that has provided a safety net for musicians who have experienced financial setbacks such as crushing medical bills is just an added benefit.

Short story anthologies sometimes suffer from unevenness. That wasn’t what I found here. Although you might have favorites based on genre preference and taste, there isn’t a single clunker in this collection. I tried to pick a favorite and, if forced, would choose the lead story, Gone Too Soon, by Christopher T. Grace. But every story was a contender.

Buy now from:    Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

A small amount of adult language.

Added for Reprise Review: Music Speaks was a nominee in the Short Story Collections and Anthologies category for B&P 2013 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran August 13, 2012

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 35-40,000 words

Friday, January 4, 2019

Review: Sleeping with the Blackbirds by Alex Pearl



Genre: Contemporary/Urban Fantasy/Young Adult

Description:

“Eleven-year-old schoolboy, Roy Nuttersley has been dealt a pretty raw deal. While hideous parents show him precious little in the way of love and affection, school bullies make his life a misery. So Roy takes comfort in looking after the birds in his garden, and in return the birds hatch a series of ambitious schemes to protect their new friend. As with the best-laid plans, however, these get blown completely off course - and as a result the lives of both Roy and his arch tormentor, Harry Hodges are turned upside down - but in a surprisingly good way.”

Author:
“Alex Pearl is an advertising copywriter living in NW London with his wife and two kids.

Sleeping with the Blackbirds - a black, comic urban fantasy, was initially written for his children in 2011 and published by PenPress, and subsequently republished by CreateSpace.

In 2014 his short story, Scared to Death - the fictionalised account of the first British serviceman to be executed for cowardice during the First World War, was published by Mardibooks along with 22 other short stories in an anthology entitled The Clock Struck War.

Alex is currently writing a very dark thriller set in London following the terrorist attack in 2005. He hopes to have this completed and on the shelves by 2019.

Alex's claim to fame is that he is quite possibly the only person on this planet to have been accidentally locked in a record shop on Christmas Eve.”

To learn more you can visit Mr. Pearl’s website, Amazon Author page, or Facebook.

Appraisal:

Eleven year-old Roy Nuttersley is living in a toxic environment of emotional abuse and often neglectful parents. To say nothing of the bullies at school. He finds solace in the back yard under their huge oak tree. Roy has built several brightly painted bird feeders to hang in the trees for the birds he considers friends. The large black birds understand and feel the sadness emanating from Roy. So, they devise plans to protect Roy. When one of their schemes goes awry, the result turns the lives of both Roy and his arch tormentor, Harry Hodges, upside down.

The characters are well developed with precision for the readers to properly understand each and every one. This includes the birds who are instrumental in several portions of the tale. The string of events are cunning and well thought out. There were twists to the story I never expected. The adventure becomes quite emotional at times and handles several heavy topics with humanity and grace.

This is a book that would be enjoyed by middle grade and young adults. I think they will easily identify with the characters and many situations. There are many morals to be learned in this story. The twists at the end of the book are brilliant and make the story worth sharing. 

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Author uses British spelling conventions.

Format/Typo Issues:

Nothing significant.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 35-40,000 words

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Reprise Review: Eightball Boogie by Declan Burke



Genre: Noir/Mystery

Description:

“Freelance hack Harry Rigby likes a smoke, the easy life and Robert Ryan playing the bad guy in late night black-and-whites. Sweet. But when the wife of a prominent politician is murdered in her best nightdress, Rigby finds himself caught in a crossfire between rogue paramilitaries, an internal Garda inquiry and the heaviest blizzard of coke ever to hit Ireland’s northwest. If all that wasn’t bad enough, his relationship with Denise is on the rocks. And then there’s Gonzo, Rigby’s brother, back on the streets and meaner than a jilted shark …”
This book was originally published by Lilliput Press and may still be available through them in a paper version.

Author:

Declan Burke lives with his family in Wicklow, Ireland. In addition to this novel, he has written three others, two of them available for your Kindle. He also edited Down Those Green Streets: Irish Crime Writing in the 21st Century. For more, visit Burke’s blog.

Appraisal:

Imagine an Elmore Leonard book written by an Irishman, and you’ll have a good idea of what to expect from Eightball Boogie. Harry Rigby is a hanging-by-his-fingertips private eye who bills himself as a “research consultant.” His relationships are complicated and not always what they seem (to us or to him), and in this case he’s in over his head from the start.

Although I loved the story, what I found impressed me the most was Burke’s way with words. For example, this line:

Down in the Old Quarter, two times out of three you flip a double-headed coin, it comes down on its edge. Last time, it doesn’t come down at all.

Or Burke’s description of his favorite pub:

The benches were upholstered in worn red velvet. The carpet was pocked with tiny scorch marks. The low ceiling was tuberculosis brown.

Or when Harry said he’d “have spotted Helen Conway with one eye tied behind my back.” I’d be reading on cruise control, taking the story in, and then hit a line that had me do a double take because it was different, but also evocative, in a way you don’t often see. Eightball Boogie gets all the stars and thumbs pointing at the ceiling that I have to give.

Buy now from:    Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language and situations. The author is from Ireland where Eightball Boogie takes place, and uses spelling conventions appropriate for Ireland. There is also a lot of Irish slang.

Added for Reprise Review: Eightball Boogie by Declan Burke was a nominee in the Mystery category for B&P 2013 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran June 11, 2012

Format/Typo Issues:

A small number of what I perceived as proofing or copy editing misses, almost all instances of missing small words. I’ve become convinced that these situations aren’t seen as errors in many English speaking countries. For example, “I was tempted to touch the ugly welts on her throat but I got out the car, locked it, crunched through the snow to the hospital,” seems like it is missing an “of” to me. If not, where did he get the car out from? Maybe his pocket?

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 65-70,000 words