Friday, February 14, 2020

Review: Stacey in the Hands of an Angry God by Thomas Keech



Genre: Dystopian

Description:

“A fundamentalist preacher with a misogynous bent gains control of the Kansas legislature and begins enacting laws to subjugate women. Law student Stacey Davenport starts a political resistance and begins an affair with an idealistic, married legislator who is holding out alone against the worst of these measures.

But as her lover’s passion for her slowly morphs into an uncontrolled jealousy, his deep-seated urge to control her overpowers all constraints of politics and religion. Only then does she realize the dysfunctional family she had scorned and avoided for many years is her only hope.”

Author:

“Thomas Keech has written four previous critically acclaimed novels dealing with state politics, teenagers entangled in suburban corruption, college romance, and a predatory physician. He sincerely hopes that this dystopian novel of fundamentalist madness is not predictive of the future. He currently lives in a very blue state that has it own problems. He hopes to visit Kansas some day.”

Appraisal:

In the dystopian country imagined in this story, the US has become much like two different countries, the red states and the blue states, each set of states passing laws at the state level that make sense from their partisan point of view. As might be expected, with many of the reddest among us caring most about one specific issue, the red states have implemented lots of laws and regulations to prevent a potential mother from ending her pregnancy early. This goes so far as requiring a female to have documentation showing she isn’t pregnant to leave the state. If she forgets, a quick ultrasound at the airport and, if all goes well, she’ll be on her way.

Our protagonist, a law student in Kansas, takes exception to these laws. Worse, a religious zealot doesn’t think the laws go far enough and is aiming to make them even more stringent. Stacey decides to fight back on behalf of herself and her sisters.

Like all dystopian novels, this takes a current direction some people are trying to pull the world or, in this case, country in. It then imagines a slippery slope and what the world would be like if we slid all the way down that slope. Part of me had a hard time believing the premise. Slippery slope arguments are, most of the time, fallacious arguments. I wondered whether we’d ever go this far, even in those states most likely to be willing. But then I pondered how much more credible 1984 feels to me today than it did just a couple years ago, and I was suspending my disbelief, at least for purposes of reading the book. If nothing else, it should get you thinking, which ultimately is the point.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Review: Pity The Dead by Keith Nixon



Genre: Police Procedural/Suspense

Description:

Don’t waste your time, he’s just another dead junkie.

That’s what Detective Inspector Solomon Gray is told when the body of a junkie is found. But Gray recognises the junkie’s name – an old school friend of his daughter. The trouble is, drug users are the underclass, who cares about them? Investigations are brief and the deaths ruled accidental, the people are soon forgotten and life moves on.

Soon, Gray learns there’s a new gang in town, quietly supplanting the previous channel. Albanians, well known for their brutality, run by the vicious Leka Krisniqi, work by fear and intimidation, making it near impossible for Gray to break in. Word from the street is Krisniqi’s gang are killing anyone remotely suspected of working with the police, spiking drugs with enough contaminant, just the weight of a snowflake, to ensure the user is dead the moment the narcotics enter their body.

And Gray gets a call from an old foe, Sylvia – she was PA to Gray’s deceased and disgraced boss and ex-friend. Sylvia’s husband has gone missing. Early one morning he upped and left with just the clothes on his back and hasn’t been seen since. However, Gray isn’t keen to help, one missing man who’s walked out on someone he doesn’t much like hardly seems important when compared to a spate of murders.

Eventually, Gray finds someone who just may be able to help, a street dealer called E. But she’s afraid for her own life and that of her family. But first Gray must do something for her…”

Author:

“Keith Nixon is the best selling author of fourteen novels, including the Margate based Solomon Gray series with 200,000 copies in circulation and reached no.1 on Amazon in the UK, US, Canada and Australia.

Keith lived near the gritty seaside town of Margate, where all his novels are based, for 17 years before relocating to the edge of the Peak District with his family where he lives today.”

Appraisal:

Even though a typical police procedural series like this one or whatever others you’ve read typically have books that stand alone with the same main character or characters, but a new case each time, the Solomon Gray series, while mostly fitting that pattern, had one issue that was always in the background. That was a situation where those who hadn’t been with the series from the beginning might not fully grasp. But that issue came to an apparent resolution in the last volume, so this story was fully focused on the current case or situation.

A former junkie becomes not-so-former and overdoses. That Gray knew the deceased as a kid gets his attention. Then he realizes that his area has seen a large increase in the number of junkies dying from overdoses and he starts digging into this when he wonders why. As you might expect, the answers aren’t pretty, and getting to the bottom of this is an adventure. Part of that is that not everyone is playing for the side Gray thought they were. I’m a long-time fan of police procedurals and the Solomon Gray series has been one of my favorites in recent years. This installment continues that streak.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language.

Uses UK spelling conventions and slag.

Format/Typo Issues:

The version of the book I read was a pre-release ARC, so I can’t judge the final
version in this regard.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 50-55,000 words

Monday, February 10, 2020

Review: Screamcatcher: Web World by Christy J. Breedlove



Genre: Urban Fantasy/Young Adult/Native American Myths

Description:

“When seventeen-year-old Jory Pike cannot shake the hellish nightmares of her parent’s deaths, she turns to an old family heirloom, a dream catcher. Even though she’s half-blood Chippewa, Jory thinks old Indian lore is so yesterday, but she’s willing to give it a try. However, the dream catcher has had its fill of nightmares from an ancient and violent past. After a sleepover party, and during one of Jory’s most horrific dream episodes, the dream catcher implodes, sucking Jory and her three friends into its own world of trapped nightmares. They’re in an alternate universe—locked inside of an insane web world. How can they find the center of the web, where all good things are allowed to pass?”

Author:

Christy J. Breedlove: “I became a story teller. I'm a diehard frantic creator of Young Adult fiction, whether it's paranormal, science fiction, suspense or fantasy. I believe in pure escapism with unceasing action adventure and discovery. If you want a moral message or cultural statement, you're apt to get a small one. But let me tell you something, reader, I want to make you laugh until you gag, cry until you're dry and tear out tufts of your hair.”

To learn more check out the author’s website or follow on Facebook.

Appraisal:

Jorlene “Jory” Pike’s parents were killed in a horrific car wreck one month ago. She is suffering from horrific nightmares of losing her parents. Her only relative is her grandfather, Albert Pike. Albert owns and runs White Feather Novelty Store. He sells Native American artifacts and novelty items to tourists visiting the Black Hills. Albert has been giving Jory tea blends to help her sleep, but they aren’t working. So he offers her a dream catcher, which she refuses, and Albert laments the passing of native ways. Jory has heard all the old stories, she is just an unbeliever.

A constant friend for the last three years is Choice Daniels. He longs to be considered a boyfriend, however, Jory clearly has him in the friend zone. Since Jory’s parents have passed her friends have made sure that Jory isn’t home alone at night, so someone always stays the night with her. Tonight is Darcy’s night. She’s a couple of years younger than Jory and a pampered rich kid. Darcy brings along Lander Cunningham since Choice was there as well. This way they could couple up playing board games and watching movies.

Oh, and while they were at White Feather Novelty Store, Choice buys Jory a late graduation present. A huge and very old dream catcher, so Jory has to accept it. Albert taught Choice the legend of the dream catcher and he agreed with Albert that Jory should give it a try. That night a huge thunderstorm moves through the area and the boys stay the night. Jory’s nightmares added to all the other nightmares this dream catcher has is too much, and it implodes. Sending these four teenagers into a dystopian web world.

The small group must work together as they are faced with nightmare challenges. They must work their way through the web of the dream catcher to find the center which they are hoping will lead them out of this hell. Jory must rely on her Native American history to unravel the web bits at a time. Choice is right there by her side to help whenever he can. Darcy is a mess, Jory does all she can to help her dig deep and find the strength to carry on. Lander is a mystery.

The story is unique and has a nice pace. The dialogue seems authentic as things spin out of control. Some of the twists I did not see coming. The ending is emotional and bittersweet.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

Nothing to note.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 65-70,000 words

Friday, February 7, 2020

Reprise Review: Laugh's Last by Dylan Brody



Genre: Humor

Description:

Laughs Last is a rumination on family, legacy, talent, and the fluidity of time, a poignant dream of adulthood coming in fits and starts to our protagonist Damon Blazer. With a quick mind and an instinct to flee (preferably before getting punched, but not before getting in a punchline), Blazer comes from a family whose laughs never mean just one thing. He struggles to glean what lessons he can from his brutish and detached brother, his grieving but understanding mother, and his aloof but proud father, but it’s the inheritance of his grandfather’s lessons that truly form the backbone of Blazer’s biography.”

Author:

Dylan Brody is a humorist who appears regularly on radio (including XM/Sirius) and comedy clubs around the country. He has written plays, novels, and jokes for other comedians as well as being a contributor to the Huffington Post.

For more, visit Brody’s website.

Appraisal:

Damon, you have to decide, every time, whether you’re willing to face the consequences when you tell a joke. Every time. A good joke, any good joke, it tells the truth. They’re very powerful and they can hurt people and they can change the world.

I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that this quote encapsulates one of the themes that runs throughout Laughs Last. This was one of the lessons the protagonist, Damon Blazer, learned from his grandfather, who was a comedian, too. His grandfather was also Damon’s mentor and often the only member of his family who understood him.

The story jumps back and forth in time, which has the potential of being confusing, but isn’t. The logic in this convoluted timeline is explained by the narrator as a lesson Damon’s father had tried to teach him finally sinking in, that “it is only possible to know the meaning of events after some time has passed, when they can be looked back on in context.” The disjointed time line arranges events in a way that helps them make sense.

As advertised, Laughs Last is humorous. However, there is much more to the story than that, with plenty of food for thought about family and taking the unconventional path in life. A great read. If this story is any indication, that cliché about there being a thin line between comedy and tragedy is right on the money.

Buy now from:    Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language.

Added for Reprise Review: Laugh's Last by Dylan Brody was a nominee in the Humor category for B&P 2014 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran October 12, 2013.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 45-50,000 words

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Review: Whatever Comes My Way by Robert Geass



Genre: Travel Memoir

Description:

In the preface the author explains the book this way:

“I'd finally quit New York and now found myself in the Low Countries, unsure what to do with my life. I was a writer/photographer and liked to travel so, why not take a close look at the Netherlands, I thought, but do it with a difference — be my iconoclastic self. Beyond the stereotypes of windmills, tulips and wooden clogs ... not just Amsterdam ... get off the beaten track.I had long welcomed oddities, strangeness, eccentricities, the absurd; I was open to life's darker face. And appreciated the arts and historical context. I was beyond an observer when it came to drinking, which I considered inherent to my lifestyle. I wasn't hooked on accepted wisdom. My biases were real, though I tried to test them against common sense. I didn't like the bourgeois, common life, though its practitioners could interest, if not amuse me. I liked to laugh. Tossing all that into the mix, I set out, on a series of wanderings, open to whatever came my way.”

Author:

Born in Connecticut and a long-time resident of New York City, Roger Gaess is a longtime freelance journalist and photographer. Gaess currently lives in Brussels, Belgium. For more, check out his website.

Appraisal:

People travel for different reasons. Assuming personal (as opposed to business) travel, it might be to see something or someone specific (Disneyland or cousin Joe). It might be to get a change, even if just temporary, in climate like those snowbirds from the north hanging out, whether for a few days or a few months, in southern Arizona or on the Gulf Coast in winter. We might travel somewhere because it is scenic, ideal for an activity we like, or because something specific is going on that we want to attend or participate in. Nothing wrong with any of those reasons. Maybe you can come up with others.

The author of this book had another reason. I’d call it for purposes of discovery. Near the end of the book he says “unfamiliarity is, for me, the facilitating crux of travel.” My interpretation of that is to discover what the place you’re traveling to is like for those who live there and compare that to your home or other places you’re familiar with. That doesn’t mean that you don’t visit the tourist traps that appeal to you, but that you don’t limit yourself to them. Sure, you might drop in to Disneyland or Sea World, but to really discover Southern California you should spend time walking the streets of San Diego, hit the mall in Anaheim, or hang out at a bar in Oceanside. This was the approach the author of this book took. Yes, he did research on each area and came up with things he wanted to be sure to do, but he also hung out with the locals and recognized that to some degree, the journey is the reward. Since I tend to approach travel the same way, I found reading about someone else doing the same entertaining.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

A small amount of adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 65-70,000 words

Monday, February 3, 2020

Review: The Little Book Of Honest Answers About Sex by Shaindel Stodt



Genre: Sex/Self-Help

Description:

The author previously ran a website where she answered questions about sexual topics. This book brings together many of these questions and her answers to them in book form.

Author:

Shain Stodt is a long-time sex educator who currently lives in North Carolina. For more visit her website. You might also enjoy perusing the Facebook page she administers.

Appraisal:

The questions about sex and the subsequent answers the author provided to them that make up this book originated on a website the author ran. It would have been a good idea for the author to proofread those questions and answers (or even better, have someone else do it for her) as the number of proofreading issues I spotted while reading this book, while probably acceptable on a blog or website, goes beyond what is okay in a book. Or at least that’s my opinion.

However, if you ignore the issue above, the actual contents of this book are excellent. Some of the questions and the answers will probably be pertinent to you and either get you thinking about how the answers could be used to improve your love life or give validation to your current approach. Other questions and their answers might not be pertinent to you, but are valuable in understanding others, helping you put yourself in situations that you’ll never encounter, but might be pertinent to people you know and care about, ultimately helping make you a better person.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

Way too many typos and minor grammar errors. Another pass by the proofreader prior to publication would have made all the difference.

Rating: *** Three Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 25-30,000 words

Friday, January 31, 2020

Review: A Killing Game by Jeff Buick



Genre: Thriller

Description:

“Born into a wealthy and powerful Boston family, Renee Charlebois has it all. Except for one small detail – she’s been abducted without a trace. Who took her, and why, is a mystery.

The case gets dropped on Curtis Westcott’s desk, but Boston’s Chief of Homicide has little to work with. No clues, no body, no motive. Renee had no enemies, no financial skeletons in the closet, and no bitter ex- boyfriends. Curtis and Aislinn Byrne, his go-to detective on tough cases, work the file hard but come up empty. Then Westcott attends a party and overhears a story that catches his attention – he and Aislinn have their first break.

They dig in and unravel a complex series of crimes tied to Renee’s disappearance. As they peel back the layers they are convinced Renee is still alive, but that her abductor is on a precise schedule and has every intention of killing her. It’s a bizarre and twisted game, and time is quickly running out.”

Author:

A resident of Calgary, Alberta, Jeff Buick writes what he describes as “fast moving fiction” in different (but not a lot different) genres like thriller, crime fiction, mystery, and suspense.

For more about Jeff, check out his website.

Appraisal:

Wow. As the description says, the culprit in this case is playing a bizarre and twisted game. There have been multiple murders before our culprit lands in Boston. Once Curtis Wescott starts to catch on to what’s happening, he finds he’s in a race against time to see if he can solve a puzzle before it’s too late. If he doesn’t a person, currently just missing and, if the clues can be believed, still alive, will become another in a string of corpses.

The backstory as to why this is happening comes out as Wescott closes in on an arrest. Will he make it on time? All I can say is that I wasn’t sure how it would end until I got to the end, but it was an intense thrill ride the entire way. This has all the elements I look for in a thriller with plenty of unique twists, unlike anything I’ve seen before. Loved it.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

This is the first book in a new series of thrillers featuring Curtis Wescott.
Some adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 95-100,000 words

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Reprise Review: Blind Sight (The Celadon Circle) by Nicole Storey



Genre: Urban Fantasy/Paranormal/YA

Description:

“Jordan has visions of monsters, demons, and death. Seventeen, orphaned, and born into the family business, she doesn’t have friends, she doesn’t have choices. Her uncle, older brothers, and a few annoying angels dominate her life, demanding she tow their lines – and the punishment is severe when those lines are crossed... In a game between Good and Evil where God seems to have tapped out early, lines are blurred and not everything is as it seems.”

Author:

“Nicole Storey lives in the hot and humid part of Georgia with her husband, two amazing children, and plethora of pets. When she isn't traveling to magical realms with potty-mouthed pixies or fighting demons, she enjoys reading and reviewing books, blogging, and gardening.”

You can follow Ms. Storey at her website or find her on Facebook.

Appraisal:

The Celedon Circle is a secret society of human demon slayers. Jordan is a seeker, born and raised to fight demons along with her family. Being a seeker makes her rare and highly valued for her visions of demon activity. The story starts with one of Jordan's visions of an unusually horrific monster which has been summoned in a small Tennessee town. Ms. Storey paints graphic pictures of the carnage this monster wreaks and the reader is grabbed by the throat and dragged into the story.

Other than her unique ability and special family circumstances, Jordan is more or less a typical teenager and her humanity is demonstrated throughout the book. With the story being told through Jordan's eyes we get to know her well along with her perspective of some not so good angels and not so bad demons. The lines between good and evil are blurred and the twists in this character-driven plot are startling. I also found all of the characters realistic and well developed, their dialogue was believable, and the relationships authentic. 

I have to confess I was held captive through the entire story. The Tennessee     story thread is tied up nicely at the end so there is not a cliffhanger ending. However, I can't wait to see how things develop as Jordan's world is turned upside down by an unexpected twist at the end. This could turn into a stellar series. If you are looking for a different sort of urban fantasy this may be a book you would enjoy.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI: Added for Reprise Review: Blind Sight by Nicole Storey was the Winner in the Fantasy category for 2014 Readers' Choice Awards at BigAl’s Books and Pals. Original review ran February 9, 2014.

Format/Typo Issues:

I found no significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words

Monday, January 27, 2020

Review: Healing Chay by Donna Fasano



Genre: Romance/Native American

Description:

“All Chay Makwa wants is solitude so he can conquer these tormenting nightmares, yet he can’t ignore the soft sobs of a woman in the woods near his cabin. The stranger with hair as pale as moonlight and secrets in her eyes is in need of a shoulder to cry on. But after a kiss meant to soothe turns passionate, she is gone.

Tori Landing has heard of Chay, but they’d never met before the night by the lake when the grief over her sister’s senseless death overwhelmed her. Tori steers clear of relationships for a very good reason and feels putting the security of others before her own happiness will amend her past failings. But the appeal of the brooding Native American is stronger than her determination to remain single and unencumbered.

Is Tori the one woman who can bring Chay peace… and can he teach her to trust in love?”

Author:

“Donna Fasano is a three-time winner of the HOLT Medallion, a CataRomance Reviewers Choice Award winner for Best Single Title, a Desert Rose Golden Quill Award finalist, a Golden Heart finalist, and a two-time winner of Best Romance of the Year given by BigAl's Books & Pals Review Blog. Her books have sold 4 million copies worldwide and have been published in two dozen languages. Her novels have made the Kindle Top 100 Paid List numerous times, climbing as high as #1.”

Ms. Fasano has two grown sons and lives with her husband on the eastern seaboard of the United States. To learn more please visit her website or follow her on Facebook.

Appraisal:

Chay Makwa is a tortured soul. He believes he cannot find peace until he can understand and come to terms with his nightmares. Finding Tori Landing at the edge of the lake crying late one night, tugs at his heart.
Tory owns a Bed and Breakfast on the outskirts of town by the lake. Her B&B is also a secret harbor for abused women. Tory is part of a network that relocates them far away from their abuser. There are only a few people in town who know this about Tory and her Bed and Breakfast. She has to be careful because she also entertains guests at her establishment.

Through her work with abused women, Tory has become quite intuitive. This trait has become natural for her and it serves her well in dealing with abused women. In this story we learn why she is so dedicated to her work. After Chay meets Tory he begins to see a new future of himself, if it wasn’t for those blasted nightmares. Tory tries to become a sounding board for his dreams and offers perspectives for him to consider. However, she has to hide her true work from him and Chay feels rejected because she has to keep her secret while she has an occupant in the house.

I found Tory and Chay’s journey extraordinarily insightful. There are some hard truths that needed unraveling. Ms. Fasano is able to weave these two souls together in such a way that the holes now have a way to close nicely into a cohesive whole. I do have to add that I had been looking forward to Chay’s story since we met him briefly in the first book. It was worth the wait. I also feel like Chay offered the best apology. ~ swoon ~

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Healing Chay is book 3 in Donna Fasano’s, The Black Bear Brothers Series.
The books in this series are stand-alone novels, but reading the books in order will offer the most enjoyment.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 40-45,000 words

Friday, January 24, 2020

Review: The Shakespeare Conspiracy, a Clayton Lovell Stone Adventure: Volume 1 by Bruce Hutchison



Genre: History/Mystery

Description:

Clayton Lovell’s partner goes on a sudden research trip to the UK and is murdered there. She leaves him a clue as to why she has been killed. She has stumbled upon something that has the potential to rewrite Elizabethan history. There are those who desire very much to benefit from what she has found. And others who believe the world is better served by the status quo. Lovell follows her to London, Oxford and Stratford upon Avon.

Author:

Bruce Hutchison has several novels and a non-fiction book on the market all of which investigate his thesis regarding Shakespeare. There is also information on his website.

Appraisal:

The wraparound which Hutchison has used to enable him to develop his thesis regarding Shakespeare provides an exciting aura of conspiracy and violence through which the historical facts and extrapolations are woven. If you are not familiar with the several theories regarding the true authorship of Shakespeare’s plays, and such conundrums appeal to you, then this is an intriguing and informative read, especially towards the end.

Each of the 73 chapters in Hutchison’s book is preceded by an epigraph in the form of a short quote from Shakespeare’s oeuvre. The function of an epigraph is to act as a summary, introduction or example from some famous literary work so as to draw a comparison, or to generate a specific context for what follows. Often these are too anodyne to do that. A number of the epigraphs are misquoted.

There are some howlers. ‘Lord Cecil Burghley’ is actually William Cecil, Lord Burghley. A burial 392 years ago would have been made in 1626. Not a useful date for any Shakespearean enquiry I can think of. The ‘Charwell’ river which flows through Oxford is actually the Cherwell. There are others.

Hutchison is, perhaps, unfortunate that I picked up this book. I am a British writer and historian with a keen interest in Shakespeare and Elizabethan England. That being the case, of course I would pick this off BigAl’s virtual shelf for review.

Like Hutchison, I don’t believe for a moment that the glover William Shakespeare of Stratford upon Avon wrote the plays ascribed to him. Over many years a number of notables have felt the same way, including Americans Mark Twain, Henry James and Charlie Chaplin. On this side of the Pond a current advocate for alternative authorship is Mark Rylance, erstwhile director of The Globe Theatre in London and one of our finest contemporary actors. Could Hutchison’s theory possibly be correct? There is, unfortunately, a fair-sized elephant in the room that he doesn’t address. And so, the debate continues.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

One very violent scene.

Format/Typo Issues:

A number of typos. Also some muddiness of expression, non sequiturs, confusing continuity, and unhelpful formatting, particularly of the epigraph quotations at the head of each chapter. This complex book would be easier for the reader if an editor had been through it.

Rating: *** Three Stars

Reviewed by: Judi Moore

Approximate word count: 90-95,000 words