Monday, August 3, 2015

The Fifth Floor / Julie Oleszek


Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Coming of Age

Approximate word count: 90-95,000 words

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

Author:

Julie Oleszek grew up the ninth child of ten surrounded by constant commotion, which is why she loves being an elementary teacher. Julie also loves to travel, especially to the west coast and overseas, and host family parties. The Fifth Floor is her debut novel.”

For more, visit the author's website.

Description:

Seven-year-old Anna adores the constant commotion of her large family in 1970s suburban Chicago. Anna idolizes her ten-year-old sister Liz. Together they make kites, climb trees, and play acrobatic games on their backyard swing set. One moment the two girls are playing—the next, everything changes, and Anna will never be the same.

In the constant hubbub of life in a huge family Anna’s distress is overlooked, until she completely stops eating at the age of seventeen. Fearing the worst, Anna’s mother takes her to see Dr. Ellison, a cool competent psychiatrist, who immediately hospitalizes Anna on the fifth floor of the local hospital.

Even under the guidance of Dr. Ellison and the caring staff, Anna is defiant. She trusts no one. She guards the past like her life depends on it. Will she ever share the truth so she can heal?”

Appraisal:

It's a bit of a cliché that the protagonist in an author's debut novel often shares a lot of qualities with the author. Here, the protagonist, Anna, and author are both the ninth in a family with ten children. I suspect the author grew up in the Western suburbs of Chicago, probably about the same time as Anna, too. All of this means the details ring true. As the oldest in a family a touch smaller than Anna's, I can say that Oleszek nails the dynamic of a large family, both in how the siblings and parents interact and the differences in the experiences growing up for the younger children compared to the older.

Getting the little things right matters, especially in a story like this where those minor details set up some of the major ones, how Anna reacts to the death of a sibling and how as a younger sibling she is overlooked, eventually resulting in much bigger problems. The majority of the story is how Anna eventually comes to terms with her sister's death in this thought provoking and enjoyable coming-of-age story.

FYI:

A small amount of adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Larry Potty's Animal Rhymes / Larry Potty


Reviewed by: BigAl with The Princess

Genre: Children's Picture Book

Approximate word count: 16 illustrated pages.

Availability
Kindle US: YES UK: YES Nook: YES Smashwords: NO Paper: NO
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Author:

Larry Potty is the pen name used by Scotsman David J. Mackay who writes humorous children's poetry.

Description:

An illustrated book for children with humorous rhymes about various animals.

Appraisal:

It has been awhile since I've drafted The Princess, my twelve year-old granddaughter, to assist me with a book review. I thought we were overdue, so I grabbed her and asked her to roundup her two younger sisters who are two and six. Then The Princess and I took turns reading to her siblings.

The book description suggests the appropriate age range for this book as between 4 and 7. Based on the reaction of the two year-old (who wouldn't sit still on the couch for even the short amount of time to read this book) as well as the six year-old (who ate up every word, despite also not being the type to sit still), this age range seems right. The six-year old enjoyed the story and hearing about the animals, although she told me one section (Creepy Crawlies) was kind of … well … creepy, as you might expect.

The Princess and I were in agreement that the humor and rhyming along with the illustrations made this a good choice for the target age with the tip-top of the range being capable of reading it themselves. For the younger part of the range, older siblings, parents, and even grandparents will have a fun time reading it to them. We both did.

FYI:

Although the author is from the UK, he made a point of limiting himself to only using words that are spelled the same in both the US and the UK. While there are some word choices and turns of phrase that still would have clued me in that the author was from the UK, I don't think anyone would have difficulty understanding.

Format/Typo Issues:

No issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Saturday, August 1, 2015

High Maintenance / Lia Fairchild


Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Approximate word count: 20-25,000 words

Availability
Kindle US: YES UK: YES Nook: NO Smashwords: NO Paper: NO
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Author:

"Bestselling author, Lia Fairchild, is both a traditionally published and independent author who writes women's fiction, romance, and chick lit. Fans of her books praise her endearing, real characters who come to life in stories that will touch your heart.

Fairchild is addicted to the warmth of Southern California and holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and a multiple-subject teaching credential. She is a wife and mother of two teenagers."

To see more of her stories visit her website or follow her on Facebook.

Description:

Lexy’s apartment is a dump, but she refuses to move in with her controlling fiancé. Instead, she takes matters into her own hands, getting down and dirty to fix things. Then Tate, the super’s sexy son, shows up. Lexy and Tate spar over the latest maintenance issues, generating more heat than the record-breaking temperatures that have invaded their city. As her attraction to Tate grows, Lexy becomes more resistant to her fiancé’s demands, putting a wrench in her relationship and her impending marriage.”

Appraisal:

Lexy is a strong-willed, smart, independent, Latino woman who wishes to make her own way in the world. I enjoyed the sexual innuendos at the beginning and throughout the story. The characters are well developed and relatable. I enjoyed Lexy’s best friend, Mimi, and her quirky neighbor, Mrs. Granger. Lexy’s fiancé, Julian, is rich and arrogant, but tries to give Lexy the feeling that he allows her to make her own decisions while still manipulating behind the scenes.

Tate and Lexy’s banter is clever and engaging. While he tries to be respectful of the fact that Lexy is engaged, he sees Julian for the scoundrel he is, Tate is biding his time while becoming friends with Lexy. The twists in the story are well played and believable. I found this an intelligent, fun novella and suspect I will be picking more books from Lia Fairchild in the future.

FYI:

Strong adult language. Sexual situations are not behind closed doors.

Format/Typo Issues:

I noticed no proofing or formatting errors to speak of.

Rating: ***** Five stars


Friday, July 31, 2015

The Art of Raising Hell / Thomas Lopinski


Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Genre: Coming of Age/Literary

Approximate word count: 65-70,000 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:

Thomas Lopinski studied at the University of Illinois and later moved to Southern California with his wife and daughters to work in the music industry. Document 512"was his first published novel in 2012 and won awards from Reader Views, Foreword Review, National Indie Excellence Awards and BestIndieBooks.com.

His second novel The Art of Raising Hell"is published through Dark Alley Press and is a 2015 Kindle Book Awards Semi-finalist novel. Thomas is also a member of the Independent Writers of Southern California (IWOSC). More at his website.

Description:

Newbie Johnson has recently moved to Bunsen Creek, Illinois, when his mother is killed in a tragic car crash. His father does his best to maintain a normal household, but his broken heart is just not up to the task. Newbie finds solace by hanging out with his three buddies in their clandestine Backroom hideout. Getting into mischief becomes their favorite pastime as they try to follow in the footsteps of Lonny Nack, who has perfected the art of running on all four.

“Running on all four” takes on a new meaning for Newbie when he finds his inner voice and begins to understand the difference between chasing life and being chased by it.

Appraisal:

I rarely read coming of age novels. I consider myself too old to relate. So please keep that in mind when reading this review, but the writing in the Amazon sample grabbed hold, so I took the plunge.

The novel comprised a series of anecdotes told by Newbie Johnson (in first person). Through the adventures Newbie and his friends had, I got an interesting profile of small town Illinois in the 60s and 70s. Newbie and his pals and the local townsfolk were well drawn and their antics had me laughing on more than one occasion.

The writing was engaging throughout. The only disappointment for me was a lack of tension. Certainly, there were tense moments, but to me this read more like a series of short stories than a novel. The main character was central throughout, but because the action was related to each anecdote, challenges were too easily solved for my taste and the story didn’t seem to have an overriding purpose.

Format/Typo Issues:

Too few to mention.

Rating: **** Four stars

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Reprise Review: Dimebag Bandits / Craig Furchtenicht


Reviewed by: Keith Nixon

Genre: Crime Fiction

Approximate word count: 55-60,000 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:

The author was born and raised in Iowa where he currently resides with his wife. Craig enjoys rock hunting, horticulture and the outdoors. He has released other work including The Blue Dress Paradigm and Night Speed Zero.

Description:

Kori Woodson is in trouble. When he learned his stepfather preacher had given Kori's college savings to the church he decides to makes ends meet by stealing and selling drugs. The problem? He gets caught and finds himself bundled off to live with his brother and father in rural Iowa, far from the city's bright lights.

Almost as soon as he returns home Kori is dragged into his brother's nefarious schemes – robbing drug dealers and selling the proceeds. These are the Dimebag Bandits...

Appraisal:

This is an interesting, well written story (with a caveat that I'll get to shortly). It opens with a hard-hitting scene, several unknown men rob a bar owner of his drugs stash, using some pretty stiff techniques to loosen up his tongue. Next we're with protagonist Kori, he's in a police interview room witnessing fellow wrongdoers and their antics as he awaits judgement for his theft.

His preacher stepfather is, from the outset, a hypocrite (he had an affair with Kori's mother) and instantly detestable. In fact, the majority of characters in Dimebag Bandits are thoroughly unpleasant – thieves, drug users, bent cops to name but a few. Everyone is out for a buck and puts themselves first, even resorting to murder in the process.

The characters are one of the major strong points of this generally excellent novel. They're well drawn and engaging and, via their actions, drive the story along at a pace that never really lets up. Like the story itself the characters are seedy and often nasty, in particular Virge the Perv, a paedophile who films his activities and is key in the later story.

The other strength of Dimebag Bandits is the hard-bitten scenes and back stories of which there are many. They swing between gory and gruesome, but most have a humorous vein, something that cuts through the entire book. I'd like to describe them, however, it is something that's best discovered by the reader themselves. Don't expect soft views from the author, in fact it's the opposite. The characters and their portrayal may offend some.

All in all this is a very strong read, the author shows plenty of promise. The only issue I would flag is the need for a small amount of editing to tighten up some of the narrative, an easy 'issue' to resolve. Normally this would be a factor that would thoroughly irritate me and ruin the overall story, however the quality of the writing deservedly pushes this to one side. A writer for the future.

FYI:

Violence and swearing

Format/Typo Issues:

A few typos.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Cheetaka, Queen of Giants / Gita V. Reddy


Reviewed by: Michael Thal

Genre: Fantasy/Magic/Children's Fiction

Approximate word count: 65-70,000 words

Availability
Kindle US: YES UK: YES Nook: YES Smashwords: YES Paper: YES
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Author:

Born and raised in India, Gita V. Reddy earned a Master’s degree in Mathematics from Hyderabad University in 1985. She worked for the State Bank of Hyderabad as a Probationary Officer for 26 years. In 2011 she retired and pursued a career as an author. Reddy writes for middle-grade readers and some of her books include Cinderella’s Escape and The Missing Girl.

Description:

Nine-year-old Tara is a poor little rich girl ignored by her parents. Her father is a rich industrialist and her mother a generous philanthropist. When Tara’s birthday nears, all she wants is to spend quality alone time with her mom and dad, so she chooses a cruise as her birthday gift. She figures that way her parents will be far away from their minions and phones. Unfortunately for Tara, her folks bring their work with them. So when a storm rocks her ship, Tara is in hiding in hopes of teaching her family a lesson. However, fate has other plans, and Tara is jettisoned alone in a lifeboat that ends up on the shores of Giant Land.

In Giant Land Tara meets people that look similar to humans, but they dwarf us in size. She is no bigger than a thumb. The cast of characters, to name a few, includes Cheetaka, Queen of the Purple Mountains Land, her seven year-old son, Montek, Aaloma, a wise and aged giant, and Mamahak, an evil magician.

The basic plot is about Tara’s adventures with best friend Montek and Giant Land’s infiltration of evil by the hapless King Druaka and his son, Trimo, who uses evil magic in an attempt to conquer the world. Naturally, everything leads to Tara’s final quest to return to her home world.

Appraisal:

On her website, Gita V. Reddy claims her target audience are children from 8-14. With that in mind, Reddy keeps her sentences short and simple, a huge plus for reluctant readers. However, her novel, Cheetaka, Queen of the Giants, is 214-pages long. Too often the author goes off on tangents that don’t really push the plot forward. Though she has written an action packed book some middle school children would love, I felt there was too much gratuitous violence.

It was obvious that Cheetaka was self-published. A good editor would have cut out unnecessary scenes and rambling narration. Also, books for children are about children. They have a problem and they work out that problem with other children. Adults are just props that give little or no feedback. In Cheetaka, Tara feels more like a secondary character overwhelmed by the wise Queen of the Giants who solves most of her problems for her.

A good writer shows her audience the plot as it develops. Though Reddy did this to some extent, she resorted to meandering narration rather than focused dialogue and scene descriptions. Too often I had to go back and re-read the scene to figure out where it took place, and frequently could not find the answer to my search.

Format/Typo Issues:

None noted.

Rating: ** Two Stars

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Given Names / Andrew Leon Hudson


Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Genre: Coming of Age/Native American/Culture/Historical Fiction

Approximate word count: 20-25,000 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:

Andrew Leon Hudson is an unapologetic genre author from England. In preparation for life as a writer he has worked in fields as diverse as prosthetic make-up, teaching, contact lens retail, "intoxicant delivery" and the services (customer and military). He used to have his own company, but it died. His first novel was published in 2014 to silent acclaim only to vanish from existence nine months later, so in 2015 he's doing all that sort of thing for himself. An ‘unapologetic genre author’, he is currently writing End Trails, a series of weird western stories, and Dark Matters, which presents themed pairs of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic science fiction, and horror stories with an edge of black humour…”

For more,visit his website.

Description:

Travel the End Trails - paths into hidden places, taking you towards the unknown and from which return is far from certain. Tales of things not believed from the comfort and safety of civilisation and only whispered about on the distant fringes of exploration, all waiting in the wilderness.

In Given Names, a Native American boy comes of age only to have the future he imagined snatched horribly away, leaving only doubt. No-one knows to what destination the path through life will lead - but one thing is for sure: you won't be the same person when you get there...”

Appraisal:

This novella is a well written account, from a young boy’s point-of-view, of his life as a member of his tribal community. No mention of his parents is ever given, so I assumed he was an orphan adopted by the whole tribe. His name is Circling Bird, which could be construed a few different ways, since we don’t really know him yet I assume it refers to a hawk or eagle. He and three of his friends have been chosen to follow along on their first hunt. They are excited, they have been training for this experience. No one expects the tragedy that befalls them.

The story is Circling Birds healing journey, he has been renamed Three Spirits. He is taken under the wing of Wide Sky, the village shaman who has lost his son. As Three Spirits regains his strength he undergoes a process of selfdiscovery as he learns the healing arts from Wide Sky. As time passes, Three Spirits feels the need to confront his past and he separates himself from the tribe to head back to where he once called home alone. Prairie Wind follows and guides him in weapon use for hunting and further lessons in tracking. Until the early morning, when Three Spirits feels he must continue his journey alone.

The twist at the end of the story is shocking and totally unexpected. Whether it is believable or not depends on your own perspective and willingness to believe in the outcome. It is certainly grievous on several levels.

FYI:

The author uses British spelling conventions. Given Names is Book 2 in the End Trails series and can be read as a stand alone. “The End Trails are stories to be told around the camp-fire, dark things to unsettle the mind, before you settle down to sleep.”

Format/Typo Issues:

I found no issues with editing or formatting.

Rating: **** Four stars