Monday, October 16, 2017

Review: Dig Two Graves by Keith Nixon


Genre: Thriller/Noir/Police Procedural

Description:

“When teenager Nick Buckingham tumbles from the fifth floor of an apartment block, Detective Sergeant Solomon Gray answers the call with a sick feeling in his stomach. The victim was just a kid, sixteen years old. And the exact age the detective's son, Tom, would've been, had he not gone missing at a funfair ten years ago. Each case involving children haunts Gray with the reminder that his son may still be out there - or worse, dead. The seemingly open and shut case of suicide twists into a darker discovery. Buckingham and Gray have never met, so why is Gray's number on the dead teenager's mobile phone?

With his boss, Detective Inspector Yvonne Hamson, Gray begins to unravel a murky world of abuse, lies, and corruption. An investigator from the Met is called in to assist, setting the local police on edge. And when the body of Reverend David Hill is found shot to death in the vestry of Gray's old church, Gray wonders how far the depravity stretches and who might be next. Nothing seems connected, and yet there is one common thread: Detective Sergeant Solomon Gray, himself. As the bodies pile up, Gray must face his own demons. Crippled by loss but determined to find the truth, Gray takes the first step on the long road of redemption.

Set in the once grand town of Margate in the south of England, the now broken and depressed seaside resort becomes its own character in this dark detective thriller.”

Author:

During the day Keith Nixon is employed in a “senior sales role” by a high-tech company in the UK. But when he gets home you’ll find him working on this next book in one of two unrelated genres, either hard-boiled crime fiction or historical fiction.

Appraisal:

This is the first of the Solomon Gray series and I’m already a fan. Gray is a detective and the main story thread appears, at least at first, to be a straightforward (although certainly unique) murder case. I anticipated a straightforward police procedural. It might have been except for Solomon Gray’s past, which haunts him in many ways and I think tends to change the way he views and approaches crime solving. As the story alternates between the two threads, us learning about Gray’s past and observing his efforts to solve the current case (eventually cases) the two threads start getting tangled with each other. I never saw that coming.

The result can be viewed as a police procedural or noir crime fiction or a bit of both. But what struck me is that the underlying story has more depth than is typical of either.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 55-60,000 words

Friday, October 13, 2017

Review: The Filled In Spaces by Michael Overa


Genre: Short Story Collection

Description:

“The stories in the Filled In Spaces investigate the intersecting lives of strangers and acquaintances, acknowledging that we are all a background character in someone else’s story. The stories investigate the nature of relationships and friendships.”

Author:

“Michael Overa was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. After completing his MFA at Hollins University Michael returned to Seattle where he currently works as a writing tutor and is a writer-in-residence with Seattle's Writers In The Schools Program.”

Appraisal:

The last few short story collections I’ve read have had stories that fell flat for me. The Filled in Spaces ended that streak. These stories were all interesting, entertaining, and didn’t leave me wondering why the author had bothered writing them. They tend to be on the darker side with characters living on the edges of society, so if you’re looking for inspirational stories or a certain kind of character that doesn’t fit that, these stories might not be for you. But if you like that sort of thing (I obviously do) then they’re very good stories.

Unfortunately, if you’re the kind of reader who gets thrown out of a story due to typos, missing or wrong words, obvious misspellings, or obvious grammar errors that didn’t get fixed in the final product, this book is ABSOLUTELY NOT for you. If it went through a copyediting or proofreading process, then that process fell well short of what it should have accomplished. In fact, if these stories were even run through a word processor’s spell check function, I’d be amazed.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language and situations.

Format/Typo Issues:

The copyediting and proofreading on this were … well, really, they weren’t.

Rating: *** Three Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 35-40,000 words

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Reprise Review: A Man Alone by David Siddall


Genre: Crime/Thriller/Noir

Description:

John Doyle is a quiet man, that is until local crime boss, Barry Wood, threatens his step-daughter, April. Doyle has a past, one he’d tried to bury but is forced to bring back to the surface to protect his family.

Author:

David Siddall writes his crime in his home city of Liverpool. He had a number of stories published in magazines before writing A Man Alone, his debut work.

Appraisal:

This is an excellent novella full of excellent characters and a situation that ramps up the pressure on the protagonist, John Doyle. The initial premise, man protects family from local thug, isn’t unusual, but there’s something intangible about Doyle that keeps the pages turning. It’s dark, brooding and violent.

Doyle the underdog up against a man who’s used to calling the shots and is caught off guard when someone fights back. For Doyle has a past, one that’s gradually revealed piece by piece as he turns up the heat on Wood. He moved to Liverpool for some peace, hoping he’d left his past behind, but he can’t help but draw on his experience.

There’s also several neat little twists that add to the story, I can’t say what for fear of ruining the surprise. If you like your crime hard boiled, I strongly recommend this novella. I’ve only one complaint – it’s too short (although the story is really well paced and balanced) in that I’d like to see more of Doyle. I really hope the author brings him back in a future story.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Nothing of note.

Added for Reprise Review: A Man Alone was a nominee in the Crime Fiction category for B&P 2015 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran July 28, 2014.

Format/Typo Issues:

A small number of issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Keith Nixon

Approximate word count: 15-20,000 words

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Review: Eighteen by CJ Maughan


Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Supernatural Fiction

Description:

“Florence Dantes is a haunted woman. Loss, grief, regret – these are the ghosts that keep her company. Day after day she lives in her past, a continual loop with only one escape. Loosely based on Dante’s Inferno, this is the story of redemption that can only begin within the deepest circle of hell.”

Author:

“C.J. Maughan is a former chemist who realized she was much better at writing fiction than lab reports. She is oddly fascinated with melancholy and tends to prefer stories that are depressingly beautiful.”

Appraisal:

Life is hell. At least it is for Florence Dantes. But is what comes after life better?
This was an interesting and entertaining read. I don’t want to say much about the plot other than to say the concept was clever. The story should provoke some introspection about life, decisions we make, and maybe get the average reader to consider their approach to life’s setbacks.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

A small number of typos and other proofreading misses.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 50-55,000 words

Monday, October 9, 2017

Review: Mr. Pish's Woodland Adventure (A Mr. Pish Backyard Adventure Book 1) by K. S. Brooks


Genre: Children’s Adventure/Nature/Educational

Description:

“Mr. Pish, the adventurous Jack Russell Terrier, leads readers on an expedition into the forest in Mr. Pish's Woodland Adventure. With full color photographs and engaging text geared to promote outdoor learning, Mr. Pish shows how easy it is to experience nature no matter where you live. Mr. Pish even teaches kids how to make their own Great Explorer's scrapbook! Best viewed on a full-color reader.”

Author:

“K.S. Brooks has been writing for over thirty years. An award-winning author and photographer, she has written over 30 titles, is currently the administrator for the superblog IndiesUnlimited, and is founder of ‘Authors for Hurricane Sandy Library Recovery’ and the ‘Liberty Library’ for soldiers and veterans. Mr. Pish is a curly-haired Jack Russell terrier who has traveled the USA and Canada to spread the word about outdoor learning and literacy.”

To learn more about Mr. Pish you may visit is his website. To learn more about Ms. Brooks you may also visit her website.

Appraisal:

Mr. Pish has an infectious personality that readily draws the reader in and includes you in the dialogue as he explores. He also has rules to follow while exploring; take plenty of water and snacks, stay on the path, and always stay in sight of an adult. The adult is basically the pack mule to carry everything for you on your adventure. Never go on an exploring adventure alone. Also, pay attention to your surroundings. If you don’t think you see anything stop, look, and listen for a while. Check out the flora, fauna, and trees.

This book is loaded with gorgeous pictures of wildlife, critters, and Mr. Pish. I found this book a treasure trove of information written simply enough for children to understand and engage with. I think any of Mr. Pish’s series books would make a wonderful addition to any library, be it a primary school, public, or a child’s own personal library.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Best viewed on a full-color device. Mr. Pish's Woodland Adventure is book one in MR. PISH BACKYARD ADVENTURE SERIES. Book two is The Mighty Oak and Me.

Format/Typo Issues:

I came across no issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: Twenty-eight pages

Friday, October 6, 2017

Review: Life in Hyperspace by Chris Solaas


Genre: Nonfiction/Memoir

Description:

“Spray-painting the cat? What was he thinking??

With four year college degrees under our belts and a dab of training in Child Psychology, my wife and I thought we were ready for anything when it came to this parenting gig.

We had no idea we would be outnumbered and outgunned. From diet to riot, meds to charts, we've tried it all, to train up our ADHD kids in the way they should grow.

From the Home School of Hard Knocks, our four ADD and ADHD kids have taught us more about coping and planning ahead than any four year college degree could have, especially when it comes to understanding what goes on in the mind of a five year old in a Buzz Lightyear costume flying on a treadmill. To Infinity, and Beyond.

This is the chronicle of two adult ADD parents and their four ADD/ADHD kids living in a loving madhouse with four neurotic cats and a snow white bi-eyed monster dog that eats trees. Inside you will find more laughs and maybe some help and advice for what to do with the ADD kids in your own home, from someone who's Been There, Done That.”

Author:

“Chris Solaas was born in Memphis, TN a half-century ago, the fourth child in a happy Norwegian/Italian family. He began writing stories at the tender age of 8. He was sure he was going to be a science fiction/fantasy novelist.

He graduated from the University of Memphis in Electrical Engineering, and began a career in Computer Programming. Things don't always work out the way you plan...”

Appraisal:

Depending on your situation, the way you might approach reading Life in Hyperspace could vary. If you have kids with ADD and/or ADHD, you might pick up some hints or ideas on how to deal with this from someone with experience. Even those who don’t will recognize the commonality in some of the stories whether comparing to your own kids, grandkids, or yourself as a kid. I got a good laugh out of a mishap with the dishwasher that reminded me of a slightly less serious episode with my youngest granddaughter last week. Chris Solaas writes with an eye to the humor in his struggles which can be entertaining to anyone.

My only issue with Life in Hyperspace is one that will be a positive for some readers and a negative for others. This is the religious content which isn’t something I saw coming, the only possible clue being a line at the end of the author’s bio that he writes “stories with a Christian Worldview.” With the exception of the bible verse at the start of each chapter which you can skip past easily enough and a couple chapters near the end. this isn’t overwhelming. Given the apparent role religion has in the author’s life the book wouldn’t reflect reality without touching on his beliefs.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 40-45,000 words

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Reprise Review: Tales of Aldura: Phaedra by Susan Stuckey


Genre:  Epic Fantasy

Description:

“The call of duty can be a rough path to follow, and some paths are more difficult than others. Phaedra, a Njae Loremaster, must tread one of the more difficult ones. Along the way she confronts her fate as predicted by a Seeress, acquires the assistance of a dragon, and risks her husband, her child, and her life in order to save the peoples of the Twin Goddess.”

Author:

“Currently (mostly) retired, but 'back in the day' Susan was a meek, mild-mannered, self-effacing accountant/auditor by day but after 5:00 her imagination broke free. She either played with historical stories, or in the magical World of Aldura she created.

Besides playing in fantasy and/or historical times, Susan searches for dead people (otherwise known as researching her family's genealogy), crochets, loves to try new recipes, and is the servant of multiple fur-children (both feline and canine).”

For more, visit the author’s webside or Facebook page.

Appraisal:

This starts as a simple story of a group of newly confirmed Rangers heading out on their first mission to patrol the Barrier Wall. Phaedra is hoping to find a way to diffuse the other members’ hostility toward her. Their patrol is joined by Thaenad, whom we first met in Choices and Kaserie’s Choice.

Ms. Stuckey is an expert storyteller. Her prose is tight, it is hard to believe she can pack so much story in forty-six pages. Her fantasy world is well written, her characters are always interesting and unique, as is the magic they each possess. Phaedra has known her fate since the time she was born, she thought becoming a ranger would help prepare her for her task. This is an emotional story of honor, fortitude, strength, and destiny. I found it heart-wrenchingly well told.

The scope of Ms. Stuckey’s Tales of Aldura keeps growing and this one, in particular, weaves into Tales of Aldura: Choices. If you haven’t read it yet, you will want to now. I will be rereading it.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

The original review was posted here at BigAl’s Books and Pals on April 12, 2015.

Format/Typo Issues:

No editing or formatting issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 14-15,000 words

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Review: Double Dealing in Dubuque by Dean Klinkenberg


Genre: Mystery

Description:

“Writer Frank Dodge is feeling optimistic for a change. He just landed a plum assignment from a national magazine to write about the growth of boutique food in the Midwest. Dodge's mood quickly turns sour, though, when his scheming rival Helen shows up--is she trying to steal another story from him? When a fire erupts at the food convention Dodge is scouting out, two people die and Dodge can't shake the feeling that the fire was no accident.

Dodge's search for the truth will take him from the specialty shops of Galena, Illinois, through the neighborhoods of Dubuque, Iowa, and to the murky backwaters of the Mississippi River, landing him in the middle of a volatile feud between ice cream queen Stella and chocolatier Ashley.

Can he keep Helen at bay as he investigates the fire? And how far will Stella and Ashley ultimately go to skewer each other? Double-Dealing in Dubuque is a compelling novel that delves into what can go wrong when feuds get out of hand.”

Author:

“Dean Klinkenberg, the Mississippi Valley Traveler, explores the back roads and backwaters of the Mississippi River Valley, a place with an abundance of stories to tell, big characters, epic struggles, do-gooders and evil-doers. Some of those stories are in the Frank Dodge mystery series; others you’ll find in the Mississippi Valley Traveler guidebooks. He lives in St. Louis with his husband, John, and a parrot, Ra.”

Appraisal:

This is Dean Klinkenberg’s second Frank Dodge mystery and, like Klinkenberg himself, Dodge operates in what he describes as “Middle America, where—in the mind of my editor—cultural trends arrive via Pony Express. But, hey, it’s my home, where I keep my stuff—parachute pants, pet rock, and all.” There might be a hint there of who the ideal reader for this book would be. The setting for the series in smaller towns and cities along the Mississippi is going to work best for those from Middle America who can laugh at our foibles, but also recognize that those on the coasts aren’t as special as they might think. As Dodge put it, “When folks on the coasts adopt things that we’ve been doing all along, we’re content to let them think they invented it. It’s important to them to feel that way, and we’re sensitive to other people’s feelings.”

As the paragraph above shows, Klinkenberg delivers a few straight lines that should elicit a laugh or at least a chuckle from readers who are paying attention. But there is also a good mystery here. Some interesting characters and a fun time for the reader to follow along with Frank while we try to figure out who set the fire that killed two people at the convention center.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language.

This is the second mystery in this series featuring Frank Dodge. However, this book can be read as a standalone.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 80-85,000 words

Monday, October 2, 2017

Review: Mixed Grazing by Chad Strong


Genre: Short Story Collection

Description:

“This collection of eight short stories showcases the multi-genre range of Chad Strong’s writing. From Westerns and Suspense, to Fantasy and Supernatural, to Contemporary and Young Adult.”

Author:

A Canadian, Chad Strong likes to write in a variety of genres. His first novel, High Stakes, is western historical romance. He’s currently working on a young adult fantasy.

Appraisal:

As the description indicates, this collection has a wide range of stories in different genres from western to fantasy and supernatural. My favorite was probably the closing story, a contemporary fiction tale called “The Decision,” about a young woman faced with a life or death decision. But all the stories are solid efforts, the biggest difference in how a reader will like each being genre preference rather than quality of the story.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 30-35,000 words

Friday, September 29, 2017

Reprise Review: Rescuing Lara by Lyn Horner


Genre: Contemporary Romance/Romantic Suspense/World Mythology

Description:

“Lara Spenser is running for her life. She guards a treasured relic from ages past that no one outside a select group is supposed to know about. Yet, an evil one has learned of its existence and his minions are hot on Lara’s trail. Although she has escaped to Ireland and is living under an alias, her special sixth sense tells her the ‘Hellhounds’ are growing near. Injured in a car wreck that killed her beloved uncle, she is desperate for someone to act as her bodyguard.

Enter Connor O’Shea, ex-Special Forces soldier. Now the foreman for a crew of oil and gas well firefighters, Conn is on an extended vacation after a devastating explosion on his last job. Out of curiosity, he answers Lara’s ad for a ‘strong chauffeur’ and takes on the job of guarding her temporarily.

Conn has his hands full, not only keeping Lara safe but also trying to help her recover from deep physical and emotional wounds. As days and weeks pass the two grow closer and romance blooms, but their tenuous peace is shattered one terrifying night by Lara’s pursuers. Conn may prove his ability to protect her, but can he help her fulfill her destiny as High Guardian of apocalyptic secrets? Can he rescue her from the soul-deep pain that holds her prisoner?”

Author:

“Lyn Horner is a baby boomer born in San Francisco, California, raised in Minnesota and now residing in Texas with her husband and an ever-changing band of cantankerous, beloved cats. Trained in the visual arts, Lyn first worked as a fashion illustrator in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and later as an art instructor for Art Instruction Schools… After quitting work to raise her children, she took up writing to save her sanity. This hobby quickly morphed into an obsession with historical research and plot building.”

Learn more about Ms. Horner by visiting her website or follow her onFacebook.

Appraisal:

Lara is temporarily wheelchair bound after a suspicious car wreck that left her scarred and her uncle dead. His death makes her the heir to an ancient family scroll of their Druid ancestry and sacred secrets she has promised to guard with her life.

She flees to Ireland hoping to dodge the Hellhounds who are pursuing her. Realizing she needs a bodyguard, she hires Texan Conner O’Shea, but she is reluctant to share too much information with him. Conner happens to have Irish blood in his family also and has promised his mother while he is in Ireland he will try to locate some descendants from their family line. Lara quickly begins the search with the help of her hired housekeeper, who wasn’t too fond of Conner in the beginning. However, Conner is a smooth operator and finds his way into her good graces easily enough.

It was easy to imagine the Irish countryside with the author’s descriptive prose as Conner becomes tour guide for Lara, trying to distract her from obsessing about the Hellhounds. When Lara’s sixth sense picks up a warning that the Hellhounds have found her cottage, Conner decides to take Lara back to Texas with him as quickly as they can. Ms. Horner does a good job weaving the tension and suspense of the main story arc of Lara’s mission with the ancient Druid scroll and being pursued by the Hellhounds with Lara’s own emotional dilemmas. She is a strong-willed woman with some emotional insecurities that get the best of her at times. Conner has lost his heart to her and does his best to prove his worth and devotion to Lara despite the fire and brimstone she throws at him. He will pull all of his resources together to protect Lara and help her fulfill her mission to locate the other guardians and defeat the Hellhounds.

This is book one of the Romancing the Guardians series. It ends with Conner and Lara fleeing west out of Texas in search of a safe hiding place. It’s going to be very interesting to see how things develop next with Dev, an ex-friend/employee of Conner’s, who has offered to assist Lara.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

This book does contain sexual situations that may offend some.

Added for Reprise Review: Rescuing Lara was a nominee in the Romance category for B&P 2015 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran February 15, 2015.

Format/Typo Issues:

A small number of proofing errors.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 55-60,000 words