Friday, March 1, 2024

Review: The Other Murder by Kevin G. Chapman


 

Genre: Murder Mystery/Police Procedural

Description:

Sometimes, the most dangerous thing . . . is the truth.

For disgraced cable news producer Hannah Hawthorne, covering the shooting of a pretty NYU sophomore is a chance for redemption. When the story snowballs into a media circus, Hannah’s reporting fans the sensationalistic flames and earns her acclaim. The tragic murder, seemingly the result of random urban gun violence, prompts protests and vigils that further magnify the story.

Meanwhile, Paulo, a reporter for a small online neighborhood newspaper, is following the other murder in Washington Square Park that same night – a Hispanic teen. He discovers an unexpected connection that is political dynamite. When Hannah and Paulo team up, they uncover disturbing facts, leading them to question everything they thought they knew. Their reporting also leads them to the man who might be the killer.

When the story is ready to explode, the truth may be hotter than anyone can handle. Breaking the next scoop could ruin Paulo’s paper and wreck Hannah’s career – and it could get them both killed.

If you like David Baldacci's page-turners, Michael Connelly’s cops, and Sara Paretsky’s quirky characters, you will love The Other Murder.”

Author:

A lawyer specializing in labor and employment law by day, Kevin Chapman describes his real passions as playing tournament poker, rooting for the New York Mets, and writing fiction. For more, visit Mr Chapman’s website.

Appraisal:

For those who have read and liked Kevin G. Chapman’s Mike Stoneman Thriller series, this book is different than those, but I think you’ll still like it. Both take place in New York, and some characters you might recognize from those books pop up or get mentioned in some way including Stoneman himself, but the focus of the story is much different from what it would be in those books. Just before the start of chapter one (I guess I could call it the preface although it isn’t labeled that way) are two quotes.

“An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propaganda, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it.” – Mahatma Gandhi

“In seeking truth, you have to get both sides of a story.” – Walter Cronkite

These two quotes set up the heart of this story. There are two murders that happen in New York’s Washington Square Park the same day. The two main characters in this tale, Hannah, the producer for cable TV news program, and Paulo, a reporter who writes for a small neighborhood newspaper, get involved, both reporting what is known, but doing what they can to dig out more details about both murders, determine if they have any relationship to each other, and then struggle with how and what to report about their findings and how to find out more.

The resulting story is one with a mystery, that as a reader kept me involved as the different pieces of the whole story came to light. But there is also a side story that sent my thoughts off on tangents, pondering the press, what we can and should expect from them, and wondering if there is a way to help better align their priorities to what would bring about the best result for everyone. I think both Gandhi and Cronkite were onto something and Chapman’s story ought to get us all thinking.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

Review is based on an advance reviewer copy, so I can’t gauge the final product in this area.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 95-90,000 words

Monday, February 26, 2024

Review: Strong at the Broken Places by Steven Newton


 

Genre: Romance/LGBTQ

Description:

“What happens when two intelligent, resilient women, both suffering the mental, emotional, and physical scars of severe abuse and living on the edge of poverty ... lose their jobs?

As each desperately struggles to recover her equilibrium, they find their lives further complicated by an experimental living situation, a precocious pre-teen daughter, a terminally ill best friend, a malevolent father, and a quirky priest with a penchant for playing matchmaker.

What do you get? Either a recipe of for disaster, or ... healing love?

Thirty-seven-year-old Sloan McKenzie has just been fired as a Catholic school administrator, and has barely enough in the bank to eat or pay next month’s rent, but not both. She accepts a part-time job teaching history at a struggling women’s college primarily because it will permit her to starve more slowly. In the closet for years, Sloan isn’t looking for love, though she could use a friend.

Leslyn Knapp became a teen mom at fifteen. Tossed into the streets, she’s fought every day to keep custody of her daughter without giving in to the internal voices that relentlessly insist that the world would be better off without her. Now twenty-seven and unexpectedly laid off, she’ll do whatever’s necessary to keep the two of them out of another shelter. "Whatever's necessary" has so far meant conning her way into a job in the dean’s office of the same small college, and signing up for a strange co-housing experiment. Leslyn needs a certain part-time professor to make the work commute possible, but she can’t afford friends.

Amanda Knapp is bright, athletic, motivated, and knows she has the best mother in the universe, all those “ghosts” that keep haunting Mom notwithstanding. But the twelve-year-old also suffers from persistent, often crippling anxiety that pulls her into dark places no matter how hard she fights. And Mom must not know; she cannot be a burden. The last thing she needs is an interloper who might threaten their exclusive, two-person team.

Sometimes, however, you don’t know what you really need until you stumble across it by accident.

This story is a love letter to all the women and daughters who find the courage to try and the resilience to persist in the hope of becoming … Strong at the Broken Places.”

Author:

A twenty-year member of the US military and then twenty seven years teaching history at Delaware State University hasn’t stopped Steven Newton from also writing lots of books, some traditionally published, others not. This is his nineteenth book.

Appraisal:

I loved this book. It would be a great story about human struggles, familial support, and teamwork, even if the main characters weren’t lesbians who were struggling with that part of their lives as well. That part just upped the tension and, for those of us who don’t fit that description, it puts us in a situation we aren’t going to experience in real life. I think imagining what others unlike us go through in difficult times is good for all concerned and one of the reasons I like books like this.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language and content. The book’s description on Amazon has a long content advisory that, if you might potentially be triggered by the depiction of a character with mental health issues, you should check out before deciding to read this book.

Format/Typo Issues:

My review is based on an ARC, so I can’t gauge the final product in this area.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 125-130,000 words

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Reprise Review: One Sip at a Time by Keith Van Sickle


 

Genre: Travel Memoir

Description:

“Can a two-career couple really pick up stakes and move to Provence?

Keith and Val had a dream – to live in Provence, the land of brilliant sunlight, charming hilltop villages and the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean.

But there were two problems: they weren’t French speakers and they had full-time jobs. So they came up with a plan…”?

Author:

“Keith Van Sickle is a technology industry veteran and lifelong traveler who got his first taste of overseas life while studying in England during college. But it was the expat assignment to Switzerland that made him really fall in love with Europe. With his wife Val and their trusty dog, he now splits his time between Silicon Valley and Provence, delving ever deeper into what makes France so endlessly fascinating.”

Find out more about Keith on his website.

Appraisal:

At its heart One Sip at a Time is a travel memoir. And yet it is different than most travel memoirs I’ve read in ways both good and … not really bad, not really good, definitely different. I’ll try to explain.

There are two things I tend to look for and expect in a travel memoir. The two words in that phrase are a hint. For the travel part I’m hoping to get a sense of the place the person is traveling to or through. That might include something about the scenery, the culture, the people, or whatever it is that made this place special, different, or worth visiting to the author. The memoir part is the more personal. It’s what sets a travel memoir apart from a guidebook or brochure from the local tourism office. Ideally this part is not only how they react to the experience of traveling, but also how it changed them.

Typically, that last item comes from a narrative that is mostly chronological with (sometimes literally) one foot in front of the other, going from point A to point B. This book isn’t like that. Although it has two parts that are tied together chronologically, it’s more like a series of essays or true stories that related different experiences with no obvious order or transition from one to the other. What that meant was that rather than having a climax or realization of how the trip had changed the author near the end, it happened (or the reader noticed and realized it was happening) through a gradual process. If anything, that’s more realistic in how change really happens and it worked for me as a reader.

As for the travel part, I thought the author’s insights into the culture and people went much deeper than a typical travel memoir would, largely because his goal wasn’t to be a traveler, but to be an actual resident (even if short term) of the area of France he was visiting. That paid off, for him and for us.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Original review published June 23, 2017

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 20-25,000 words

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Review: The Anshar Gambit by Ian G McDowell


 

Genre: Near Future Techno-thriller

Description:

The Earth is about to be blown to bits (not really a spoiler, as this information is in the first sentence of the Prologue). There is an asteroid which has been captured by Space Corps Inc to be mined for rare minerals required for faster-than-light space flight, but is instead about to be cut into chunks for use as missiles.

Humanity is on the cusp of being able to ‘escape the surly bonds of Earth’ as the poet says. Anshar, as the asteroid has been named, was supposed to enable that but (mwah ha ha) a lunatic has taken over the project and several major cities are obliterated before anyone can do anything sensible.

The book cuts between various points of view and locations to convey to the reader how and why things have come to this pass. Also, who is trying to prevent the destruction set in motion, and how they are going about it.

The sense of panic thus induced in the reader is way past ‘page turning’. I couldn’t put this down.

Author:

McDowell is a software engineer and technologist. He has worked at top Silicon Valley tech companies and has a Masters degree in Information Management and Systems. He makes excellent use of this knowledge and skill in his fiction. He is a talented writer. As a reader one quickly acquires that confidence in the writing, essential for this kind of tale, that the whizz-bang ride he is taking one on is not going to blow a gasket mid-story.

Appraisal:

This is an excellent, fast-paced, thriller. The author is well-versed in current and near-future tech, and laces the books with oodles of drones, HUDs, brain implants, and IT things we haven’t even imagined yet. McDowell, however, has imagined them. And he knows how to deploy them on the page. Hopefully not in the real world or we’re all doomed.

The strength of the story isn’t in its plotting, to be fair. It is a standard ‘end of the world as we know it’ scenario. But the characters are drawn vividly and larger than life, and the tension is kept at ‘twang’ pitch throughout. This would make a super action movie. There is never a dull moment. And just when you think the story is coming in for a soft landing – whee! It takes off again.

The book is not only a wild ride, it has plenty to say about where we’re actually heading, environmentally and technologically. It includes IT/AI and security corporations which seem all too familiar, and which have no ESG whatsoever in their structure. Inter alia it asks that all-important question ‘just because we can, should we?’

Thoroughly recommended, if you like hard, near future, SF.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Plenty of cussing

Format/Typo Issues:

A few continuity issues. You won’t have time to worry about them.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Judi Moore

Approximate word count: 80-85,000 words

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Review: The Noise by Allison A



Genre: Horror

Description:

“Angela Blau has a degenerative bone disease, but she was never warned her mind could deteriorate as well. There’s no other explanation for the footsteps coming from the second floor—footsteps her husband, Jack, never hears. And then there’s the ghosts who attack her at night, and townspeople who dig through the dirt like rabid animals and peer through her windows.

Maybe the ghosts and the townspeople are in her head—it wouldn’t be the first time she’s let her mind wander—but the noise has to be real, and she’d go up there and prove it if the stairs weren’t so rotted that she’d fall right through, Jack says.

Things get worse when Arlo, a lonely old man who lives ‘somewhere down the street,’ reveals a violent crime that occurred on the second floor. Against Jack’s warnings, Arlo indulges Angela’s growing obsession and pushes her to discover the true source of the noise, who exactly the townspeople are, and whether a traumatic incident that occurred four months ago, an incident Angela refuses to talk about, is to blame for all of it.”

Author:

This appears to be Allison A’s first published book. Information about her is limited with only the first name and last initial as her byline, no author page on Amazon or any information about her on Amazon’s page for this book. If you read the book, when you reach the acknowledgements, you might be able to figure a few things out about her. Her maiden name, a pretty good guess at what that last initial of A stands for, and that some parts of this book (but I’m guessing far from all of them) are things she’s experienced in real life.

Appraisal:

The author describes this book as a horror novel, but also says that at its core it is a book about coping with loss. In some ways I think it could be looked at as a thriller with a bit of supernatural or at least the appearance of such since the main character is constantly seeing and hearing what could be described as ghosts. What else would you call a being that you see and sometimes even talk to, yet no one else sees them? That’s what the main character, Angela, is experiencing, and isn’t quite sure what to make of it.

Figuring out what is going on was an interesting exercise. Let’s just say that it wasn’t all in Angela’s imagination, no matter what others might have thought. But it isn’t quite what Angela thought either. I’ll bet if you figure out the big picture it won’t be until late in the book, regardless of the clues that might have led you to the proper conclusion. I guess figuring what is going on makes this a bit of a mystery too. An interesting and unique read that could easily get you thinking about the big picture of this life and even whether there is a next life and what it might look like.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

A small number of proofreading misses.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 85-90,000 words

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Review: Spider Woman Walk by Melissa Bowersock


Genre: Mystery/Paranormal

Description:

“Sam Firecloud is a medium and forays easily into the realm of the metaphysical, yet he still has earthly concerns and worries about the welfare of his almost 90-year-old grandfather, Ben. When he gets a phone call that Ben has had a serious accident, he and Lacey rush to Arizona and the Navajo reservation. They must figure out how to keep Ben safe while maintaining his stubborn independence, but at the same time, a recent unsolved murder of a master weaver in Tuba City has the Navajo weaving community on edge. The heavy responsibility for both problems falls to Sam, and he's not at all sure he has the ability to keep everyone safe.”

Author:

“Melissa Bowersock is an eclectic, award-winning author who writes in a variety of fiction and non-fiction genres: paranormal, biography, western, action, romance, fantasy, spiritual, and satire.”

For more visit Ms.Bowersock’s website and follow her on Facebook.

Appraisal:

This is the 41st book in this popular series and while I haven’t read even close to all of them, I’ve read several and liked every one I’ve read. They’re typically fast reads with some things you know to expect, probably a murder mystery or at least a mystery involving someone who has died, whether recently or potentially long in the past. Sam Firecloud uses his ability to communicate with the spirits of those who have died, but the spirts need his help with unfinished business before they can truly move on. Sam along with his wife Lacey helping him always makes for a fun and entertaining read that usually has a bit of the paranormal mixed in with a mystery that keeps me guessing as to where things might be going.

However, that’s typically only half the story. There is typically something else going on in Sam and Lacey’s personal life that provides another story thread and, since you can’t read these without liking Sam and Lacey, it’s always interesting to see how they turn out and, in doing so, the reader gets to know Sam and Lacey a bit better. In this book this part involves Sam’s grandfather, Ben, and how to set things up for his remaining time in a way that will work for everyone. Okay, I’m ready for the next book now.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 30-35,000 words

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Reprise Review: Fairy Bite by Maria Schneider


 

Genre: Fantasy/Romance/Young Adult

Description:

“Shunned and ridiculed ever since a fairy mistakenly bit her, Ally leaves her village knowing it's the only way her family can resume their normal lives and be respected. She heads to Wendal, hoping the shifters there won’t care about the little problems associated with the effects of a fairy bite.

Before she is even halfway there, she discovers that the fairies may not be finished ruining her life. If she wants to leave Birk, she’ll first have to contend with the little people, a very ornery gargoyle, more than one prince and, of all things, an enraged dragon.”

Author:

“Maria saw her first dragon while gardening. She asked the gnome to take pictures, but dragons are shy and very fast. One of the fairies finally snapped a shot, but just as she handed it over, the dragon came by and flamed it to ashes! Neither of us wants to get our fingers burned a second time so, sadly, there will not be pictures any time soon!”

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

Appraisal:

Because of the fairy bite Ally got at age eight, she can sense and borrow magic from others. She also describes herself as ugly with distorted features due to the fairy bite. It took me a while to warm up to her, she seemed so pathetically withdrawn. Because of Ally’s situation or status for the last twelve years she grew up with no friends. Being a loner she is also a deep thinker, logical, and smart. The first friend she makes is Landry, a brownie, who is on a mission to find a gargoyle to collect on a “boon” (a term for favor or request) to free his family from slavery and abuse in Prince Kal’s prison near Anton. Prince Kal has declared every magical creature is his own.

The plot moves at a nice pace as the small band tries to overcome the nullifying magic of Prince Kal’s wizard. The rescue of all the shifters that have been captured is a far bigger job than expected. Prince Kal is nasty piece of work and his wizard is diabolical. The dialogue fits the story and all the characters remain true to themselves and grow accordingly. The twists are fast, furious, and unexpected. Fairy Bite is an engrossing, unique story, which is cleverly woven together, that goes above and beyond what I expected.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Fairy Bite is book three in the Dragons of Wendal series. I think book three could be read as a standalone. However, I highly recommend the whole series.

Original review published June 9, 2017

Format/Typo Issues:

Nothing significant.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words


Friday, February 2, 2024

Review: Murder for Treasure by Dave Vizard


 

Genre: Thriller

Description:

“Long-lost treasure from a sunken Great Lakes steamer is the link between two Michigan killings and an attempted murder. Plenty of cut-throat desperadoes are eager to get their hands on the vault of silver and gold. Follow Bay City news reporter Nick Steele as he solves the murders, tracks down the killers, and goes on a wild run to beat the bandits to the booty in this fast-paced thriller.”

Author:

“Dave Vizard is a former award winning newspaper and magazine writer and editor. He has taught journalism and writing at the college level. Each of his murder mysteries is rooted in Michigan and revolves around the exploits of news reporter Nick Steele. If Steele is on the scene, then there's very likely at least one lifeless body nearby.”

Appraisal:

I’ve read a few of these thrillers featuring newspaper reporter Nick Steele and always enjoy them. They tend to have twists that are clever and unique. For example, the ultimate answer to the mystery at the heart of this story is going to fit the clues, but I suspect it won’t be what you think the answer is going to be. These stories mostly take place in an area stretching from Michigan’s Tri-Cities of Saginaw, Midland, and Bay City eastward to encompass Michigan’s thumb region. Although I’ve only visited that area a couple times I find that I’m having no problem imagining the area and the people populating these stories who fit those in the area very well. When reporter Nick Steele visits some little town in the thumb area it triggers the travel nerd side of me and I’m taking out a map to see where it is and trying to imagine what it is like there. But you don’t need to be a travel nerd to get into this book, just someone who likes a unique mystery thriller with a strong sense of place.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words

Monday, January 29, 2024

Review: The Bad Day Book: Volume 1 by Various Authors


 

Genre: Short Memoir Collection

Description:

“Do you ever feel like life’s a joke and you’re the punchline?

The Bad Day Book is for people looking for a solution to life’s many bad days; one that doesn’t include curling up in fetal position while crying, or pretending it never happened.

You know the days we’re talking about. When your plans get ruined. You think you’re a superhero, and you’re not. Or you have to deal with… people — no explanation necessary.

We all have them.

And frankly, the number of healthy reactions available is quite limited.

In this collection of real-life bad day experiences, you will find comfort knowing that you are not alone. And learn to laugh at life’s unexpected comedy.

By the time you finish The Bad Day Book, you’ll understand that if your life is going to be a joke, you’re better off making it funny.”

Author:

Around seventy or eighty authors each contributed short sections to this book. It reminded me of a short story anthology in that each author contributed their own short story that fit the overall theme of the book, with the significant difference that these stories are supposedly true. Basically, a collection of short memoirs.

Appraisal:

The premise of each story in this book, the first in a planned series, is that a “bad day” can be funny. I don’t remember it being explicitly stated, but the message of the book seems to be that an appropriate reaction, maybe I should say the best reaction, at some of life’s minor challenges should be to laugh, not get upset. The book’s introduction makes it clear that the bad days being explored here are not those terrible days where something tragic or heartbreaking happens, but more life’s little irritants.

This was a fun and amusing read. I realized that many of the “bad” things that happened to the author of each tale was, if not exactly, at least similar, to something that had happened to me or someone I know. The reaction of the storyteller encourages an amused reaction from the reader and you realize that while a bit of a pain, laughing and moving on is often the best response to days like those chronicled. The stories are, in theory true, and most of them were credible and, as I said earlier, even familiar or universal at times. A couple had things happen that I wasn’t sure I believed, but not so far out there that I couldn’t suspend disbelief for the sake of the story. A fun read and potentially good for a bit of an attitude adjustment in the reader.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Review: Questionable Practice by Randy Moon


 Genre: Historical/Thriller

Description:

“Becoming a hired killer was not in Robert Madigan’s plan when he began his medical career at The University of Pennsylvania in 1935. He had pledged to help save lives, not take them. But finding himself thrust into a desperate situation after his father’s death left his mother and younger siblings with no financial support, he accepts a sinister offer to become a hitman for Gavin Noel, a man he meets through one of the medical school professors.

To help carry out the murderous plot, Madigan enlists the help of his friends, Samuel Moore, an aspiring medical doctor, and Clark Magnusson, who’s studying to become a psychologist. Together they carefully craft a diabolical plan to do away with the victims their employer has chosen. Like an actor preparing for the movie role of a lifetime, Madigan begins to assume the personality of a twisted alter ego, tweaking their plan to allow the victims a choice in their demise - death by bullet or by lethal injection.

‘The Good Doctors’, as the friends call themselves, began their career paths intending to use their talents for good, but let desperation and greed cloud their vision and take over. They even seem proud of their ability to carry out this bizarre assignment as they devise their plans.

But Robert is plunged into a world of criminals, betrayal, and powerful men who consider themselves gods. There’s no turning back now, and Robert must find out who is worthy of his trust, and who is plotting to destroy everything he cares about.”

Author:

Under the pen name Schuyler Randall, award-winning author Randy Moon has written three books. This is the first under his actual name.

Appraisal:

This book is a thriller, with the “good guys” actually not being so good in that they become paid killers. I guess desperate times might call for desperate measures, and these are definitely desperate times. Maybe the people they’re killing aren’t very good people and it can be justified. Are you buying this?

It’s an interesting read because it puts the characters who are good people, or at least want to be, in a difficult situation, and then lets us ride along as they figure out what their limits are and how to deal with the situation. The historical aspects, with the story happening during the Great Depression, are interesting in that they intensify the situation while, due to the lack of modern technology, also makes getting caught less likely than it would be today. An interesting mind exercise in an exciting and intense story.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

A tiny bit of adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

This review is based on an ARC (advanced reviewer copy) and thus I can’t gauge the final product in this area.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words