Saturday, September 5, 2015

Romantic Violence: Memoirs of an American Skinhead / Christian Picciolini

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Memoir

Approximate word count: 90-95,000 words

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Christian Picciolini is an award-winning television producer, a visual artist, and a reformed extremist. His work and life purpose are born of an ongoing and profound need to atone for a grisly past, and to make something of his time on this planet by contributing to the greater good. After leaving the violent hate movement he was part of during his youth, he began the painstaking process of rebuilding his life. Picciolini earned a degree in International Business and International Relations from DePaul University, began his own global entertainment and media firm, and was appointed a member of the Chicago Grammy Rock Music Committee and the Chicago International Movies and Music Festival. In 2010 and 2011, he was nominated for three regional Emmy Awards for his role as executive producer of JBTV, one of America's longest-running nationally broadcast music television programs. He has worked as an adjunct professor at the college level, and as the community partnerships manager for Threadless, a company that combines a thriving online art community with a highly successful e-commerce business model. Additionally, in 2013, he contributed to Google Chairman Eric Schmidt's and Director of Google Ideas Jared Cohen's New York Times best seller, The New Digital Age. Most notably, in 2010 he co-founded Life After Hate, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping communities and organizations gain the knowledge necessary to implement long-term solutions that counter all types of racism and violent extremism. An explorer by nature, Picciolini loves to learn new things and thrives on challenging himself with positive disruptive thinking. He values kindness, unselfishness, sincerity, and respect for all people, and believes that small ideas can change the world.”


At 14 years old, Christian Picciolini, a bright and well-loved child from a good family, had been targeted and trained to spread a violent racist agenda, quickly ascending to a highly visible leadership position in America’s first neo-Nazi skinhead gang. Just how did this young boy from the suburbs of Chicago, who had so much going for him, become so lost in extremist ideologies that would horrify any decent person?

'Romantic Violence: Memoirs of an American Skinhead' is a poignant and gripping cautionary tale that details Christian’s indoctrination when he was barely a teen, a lonely outsider who, more than anything, just wanted to belong. A fateful meeting with a charismatic man who recognized and took advantage of Christian’s deep need for connection sent the next decade of his life into a dangerous spiral. When his mentor went to prison for a vicious hate crime, Christian stepped forward, and at 18, he was overseeing the most brutal extremist skinhead cells across the country. From fierce street brawls to drunken white power rallies, recruitment by foreign terrorist dictators to riotous white power rock music, Picciolini immersed himself in racist skinhead culture, hateful propaganda, and violence.

Ultimately Christian began to see that his hate-filled life was built on lies. After years of battling the monster he created, he was able to reinvent himself. Picciolini went on to become an advocate for peace, inclusion, and racial diversity, co-founding the nonprofit Life After Hate, which helps people disengage from hate groups and to love themselves and accept others, regardless of skin color, religious belief, or sexual preference.”


One of the reasons I read memoirs is to understand someone who has had an experience nothing like anything I ever have or will. In this case, to get a handle on something I haven't been exposed to and don't understand. The book was queued to my Kindle for reading when Dylann Roof, a white supremacist, gunned down several people in South Carolina. I decided it was time to push it up the list.

Romantic Violence is at times infuriating and frustrating (knowing where it is headed and having 20/20 hindsight) while also being scary as it is easy to imagine how almost anyone in the same situation could get sucked in to an extremist organization like this. I also noticed that the terminology and rhetoric of a racist right-wing group is much the same as other extremist right-wing organizations that don't have the racist component. (Left-wing groups have their own set of touchpoints, I'd guess.) As intense as a good thriller, made more so by being true.


Adult language and situations.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars 

Friday, September 4, 2015

A Time to Reap: The Legend of Carter Gabel / Jonas Lee

Reviewed by: Michael Thal

Genre: Fantasy/Science Fiction

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

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Jonas Lee is from the Black Hills of South Dakota. When he’s not writing science fiction he coaches softball. He also enjoys photography and being a dad to his little girl.


Carter Gabel is a special kid attending a unique high school, Pemberton Academy. Its student body has all witnessed acts of temporal displacement or telepathy. Carter has a rare genetic condition called Chronological Displacement Syndrome, which he can’t control. Carter is prone to bursts of traveling through time. It’s an embarrassing situation for this young man because when a temporal surge takes him back in time, he always loses his clothes.

Mo is one of Carter’s classmates who happen to be a powerful telepath. When the two are in proximity, their powers are enhanced, which is a good thing. They are about to learn secrets about their abilities that will help them stop the powers determined to enlist them into their nefarious organization or die.


Author Jonas Lee brings his readers a fast paced science-fiction/fantasy novel, A Time to Reap: The Legend of Carter Gabel—think Harry Potter on steroids. Lee has a unique gift of getting into the head of a teen relaying Carter’s story in the first person present tense narrative.

It’s interesting to note how the author showed telepathy, making this reviewer believe Lee has an up-front seat to mind reading capabilities. So if anyone out there runs into Jonas Lee, beware of what you’re thinking.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Thursday, September 3, 2015

When Camels Fly / NLB Horton

Reviewed by: Sam Waite

Genre: Suspense

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words

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After an award-winning detour through journalism and marketing and a graduate degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, NLB Horton returned to writing fiction. She has surveyed Israeli and Jordanian archaeological digs accompanied (twice!) by heavy artillery rounds from Syria and machine gun fire from Lebanon. Calmly tossed a tarantula from her skiff into the Amazon after training with an Incan shaman. Driven uneventfully through Rome. And consumed gallons of afternoon tea across five continents. Life is good.:


A plot to steal water in the Middle East draws the attention of an attractive hydrologist, her family and assorted clandestine agencies.


Despite the author’s impressive resume, When Camel’s Fly, fails on every level except an intriguing premise: Water theft in the Middle East. Unfortunately, the story delivers no rational scenario to carry the premise forward as the story line devolves into nonsense.

A vaguely defined group has begun transferring water from an aquifer beneath Israel and Jordan to an ill defined underground reservoir with no monitors in either Israel or Jordan noticing the loss. The group is trying to kill a hydrologist, Maggie, who, initially, seems to be the only person aware of the theft. As the story progresses, it turns out Mossad, the CIA, MI6, China, Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are aware of the problem:

Our government is tracking us, Dmitri. Apparently, we’re viral. China, Russia, Turkey, and Israel are in. Saudi Arabia and Jordan are hemming and hawing.”

Why Maggie can’t solve things simply by notifying Israeli authorities isn’t clear. She is saved from one assassination attempt by her mother, a crack shot apparently owing to her work as a “UNESCO spy.” Action escalates to a climatic assault on a heavily defended water transfer facility. Defenses include three “battle-equipped helicopters” hovering over the facility. Why they are airborne, needlessly burning fuel is not explained. A small group armed with pistols, crossbows, submachine guns and shoulder-held rocket launchers attack the facility. Maggie is shot in the chest during the assault, but fortunately is rescued by Israeli forces shortly after. Why didn’t the group wait for the Israeli army to secure the area and then do its business? The process of transferring water is slow. There is no apparent urgency.

Rather than the Israeli army, the assault is aided by “thousands” of camels, donkeys, sheep and llamas. There is no explanation of how llamas got into the mix.

Weapons wielded by the group needlessly include hand-held rail guns, heat-seeking bullets, and arrows with homing devices, all of which remain in the realm of science fiction.

There is an inexplicable reference to an Israeli-Jordanian treaty:

I need Annex Two of the Israel/ Jordan Peace Treaty.” She searched, and read aloud. “‘ Systems on Israeli territory that supply Jordan with water … Israel’s responsibility. New systems that serve only Jordan … Jordan’s expense … to companies selected by Jordan.’” She saw we listened. “‘ Israel will guarantee easy unhindered access of personnel and equipment to such new systems for operation and maintenance.’”

Carte blanche,” I said. “Disguised as maintenance.”

The implication that the treaty leaves Israel vulnerable is intellectually dishonest. Article Four of the annex contains precisely reciprocal language for the Jordanian side. Anyone interested can easily find the document on the Internet.

Silly plots are not a death knell even for some best sellers, but the writing is equally flawed.

Words are tossed out with no regard for their meaning:

“…we barreled slowly”

To barrel” means to move fast.

Maggie hoisted to the shelf…”

The author means Maggie pulled herself to the shelf. Hoisting requires a block and tackle. Those are two examples from a single page in chapter one. The novel is rife with similar errors.

Convoluted sentences waste a reader’s time:

His iconic pose, enabled by flexibility earning the nickname Grasshopper, was authentic: knees to shoulders, and heels flat on the ground.”

In two words: He squatted. This is followed by a paragraph saying the individual trained to properly assume the “origami-inspired pose.” Primates, including humans, can squat naturally.

Many sentences are befuddling:

He shook himself like a wet dog, realizing too late that splattering her with icy raindrops would not rekindle their romance.”

Others are incomprehensible:

Shaking my head to clear it, I dislodged the grill through which I looked.”

My voice bobbled with each trotting step, gargling every word.”

There are numerous gaps in logic:

Maggie’s mother Grace sprained her ankle and goes from being on crutches to no crutches to running her hand along a tunnel wall as she walks again with crutches to sprinting. Then, from a stationary position, she shoots out both rear tires of a fleeing car. The author has familiarity with small arms and must know the only way that would be possible is for the car to pass once exposing one side then drive back around to expose the other.

Maggie insists she alone can reprogram the water transfer equipment to reverse the flow.

Can you tell me how to do it?” Cliff was persistent…

“…No one can teach you undergraduate-, graduate- and post-graduate-level hydromechanics in five minutes.” Maggie turned away. “I have to go.”

Then after she was shot:

Jeff had the presence of mind to say that the three of them finished the work she started. ‘She told us what to do right after she was hit. It was as simple as facility one.’”

Format/Typo Issues:

There are many careless errors:

Based on this conversations, this wasn’t the time to catch a cold, so he draped his jacket over his friend’s shoulders, tenting him in it.”

Cleansing groundwater of salt was an almost impossible.”

Rating: ** 2 Stars

#Free for your #Kindle, 9/3/2015

The author of each of these books has indicated their intent to schedule these books for a free day for the Kindle versions today on Amazon. Sometimes plans change or mistakes happen, so be sure to verify the price before hitting that "buy me" button.

Meet the Beast by Claire Grimes

15 Hours by David Kessler

Author's interested in having their free book featured either here on a Thursday or a sister site on a Monday, visit this page for details.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Complex / J. Rudolph

Note from BigAl: Two and a half years ago ?wazithinkin reviewed this book shortly after it was self-published. The review was mixed. Since then the book was picked up by a small press and went through a "major facelift" and another round of editing. The author asked if we would be willing to read and review the new version. ?wazithinkin (who is much nicer than I am) agreed. :)

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Genre: Zombie/Post-Apocalyptic/Horror

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words

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J. Rudolph is the author of the zombie series The Reanimates, and the young adult paranormal mystery, Hadley's Haunting. Born in 1977, she resides in Southern California with her husband, son, two turtles (who she claims own all rights to her house and allow the people to live there, since only they can open the food jars) and her maniacal bird (who seems to have developed a taste for flesh in its lifetime). As a nurse with over fifteen years of experience, she often incorporates an element of medical training in her stories, offering authenticity to her medically minded characters. She also offers authenticity to her zombie series--she calls herself a living dead girl ever since her spinal reconstruction in 2014.”

To learn more about Ms. Rudolph check out her website or follow her on Facebook.


Cali Anglin, RN, had a great life. It may have been nothing special to the rest of the world, but she loved it.

That was on a Wednesday.

By Friday, it was gone forever.

With the government gone, electricity extinguished, and the food supply dwindling, she has to face questions she’s never asked herself before–just how far would she go to save her family, her friends and her rapidly collapsing community? Would she kill for them? Would she die for them?

She’s about to find out.”


I first read and reviewed this book for BigAl’s Books and Pals in January 2013. I gave it three-stars back then. Ms. Rudolph has since gained a small publisher Winlock Press, an imprint of Permuted Press, and asked if I would re-read The Complex. If you read the original review you will see I had some story-line problems, so I was interested to see how the book had or hadn’t changed.

When a devastating virus, which causes it victims to reanimate after death, hits the U.S. people everywhere start to panic. The Complex is about a small gated apartment complex in southern California and how they deal with the situation. Several families pack their things up as fast as they can and leave. A few families or residents of this complex decide to stay and ride it out for as long as they can. The characters are strongly developed and diverse, each having their own strengths. They quickly fortify their complex to keep the zombies out and gather food, tools, weapons, ammo, and medicines they need to sustain and protect themselves. Things are working out well for them as each challenge is met and dealt with. At least until a band of marauders discover them and their safe haven.

What I enjoyed the most about this story were the relationships this small community developed working together to survive. They became family. The way the story is set up now grabs you and draws you into the story with a peek of what is to come. The first chapter walks the reader through how the virus began and we see how it is mutating and spreading out of control. This story is told through the eyes of Cali Anglin, a nurse, a wife, and a mother of a ten year-old son, Drew. She and her husband Trent had always joked about a zombie apocalypse; it was a game they played, ‘what if’. It was never supposed to be real.

The Complex is an interesting post-apocalyptic story with characters I found it easy to feel a connection with. The dialogue is realistic and convincing. The plot moves at a smooth pace with some realistic twists, which could happen. When the marauders come we learn humans are far more dangerous than the zombies could ever be. If you enjoy zombie stories I think you would enjoy this one.


The Complex is book 1 of The Reanimates. There are three books in the series so far. Book 2, The Highway, will be released soon and book 3, The Escape, is scheduled for release later this year.

There are three F-bombs dropped along with graphic blood and gore.

Format/Typo Issues:

I found no significant errors in editing or formatting.

Rating: ***** Five stars

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Three Seasons / Mike Robbins

Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Genre: Literary Fiction

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words

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Mike Robbins is the author of two books of travel memoirs, a novel, and a scientific book on climate change. He has been a journalist, traveler, development worker and climate-change researcher.

Born in England in 1957, he graduated in 1979 and worked in rock-music publishing, financial journalism, as a traffic broadcaster and as a reporter on the fishing industry.

In 1987 he went to work as a volunteer in Sudan, an experience he described in his book Even the Dead are Coming (2009). He later worked as a volunteer in Bhutan and went on to live in Aleppo, Brussels and Rome. Three Seasons: Three Stories of England in the Eighties, was published at the end of 2014. He expects to complete a second novel in 2015.


Three Seasons is a book of three novellas, unconnected with each other, but all set in the south of England in the 1980s.

In Spring, a middle-aged Hull trawler skipper, his great days gone, has one last throw of the dice a South Coast port.

In Summer, an ambitious young man makes his way in the booming Thames Valley property market, unconcerned with the damage he does to others.

In Autumn, the Master of an Oxford college welcomes his two sons home, but they awake difficult memories from half a century before.


I found the writing in these novellas engaging and descriptive, and yet not so contrived as to leave long descriptive passages. I was never inclined to skip sections, which is my crude gauge for the readability of literary fiction.

The author’s journalistic background shone through as each story included detailed subject background, some relating to the era—the 80s—but mostly as a vehicle to delve deeper into the plots and characters. I found the information interesting and informative but never overpowering.

I enjoyed each story for different reasons, and there truly is no connection between them. This made for three enjoyable reads, although I felt a bit short-changed by the ending of the second tale.

If you enjoy a writer who takes the time to word-paint the weather and the physical scenes and characters, I think you’ll enjoy these stories. I did.

Format/Typo Issues:

Clean copy. English spelling and colloquialisms.

Rating: **** Four stars

Monday, August 31, 2015

Reprise Review: Drawing Breath / Laurie Boris

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Approximate word count: 45-50,000 words

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A freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and former graphic designer, this is Laurie Boris’ second novel. Her first, The Joke’s on Me, was published by 4RV Publishing in 2011. Boris lives with her husband in the Hudson Valley of New York.

For more, visit her website.


“Students often fall in love with their teachers. Despite warnings from her mother, that's exactly what 16-year-old Caitlin Kelly does. But Daniel Benedetto isn't just any art teacher. Not only is he more than twice Caitlin's age, he rents the Kelly’s upstairs apartment and suffers from cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening disease.”


A well-written and thought provoking story, Drawing Breath may be a disappointment to those who jump to conclusions after skimming the description and seeing mention of a 16-year old girl, an adult man, and something about falling in love. But those who don’t come to the story with misplaced expectations will discover a tale that should stick with them long after the afterglow of satisfying their prurient interests would have faded. Drawing Breath is a coming-of-age story that raises questions of how we relate to those with serious diseases or handicaps and the roadblocks that even well meaning people may create for them in leading the most normal lives they’re able.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five stars