Friday, May 27, 2022

Review: Loyalty by James M. Clifton

 

Genre: Crime Fiction

Description:

“Carlos and Lena Ramirez were the son and daughter of the biggest drug lord in southern Mexico. Ivy League educated and largely insulated from the seedier side of their father’s business dealings; they were well on their way to establishing their own lives when their father was murdered by his former partner.

Consumed by hatred, Carlos and Lena exacted their revenge. Carlos came to deeply grieve his violent and destructive actions and again abandoned his criminal heritage. Lena, on the other hand, embraced the role and took control of her father’s and his former partner’s illegal empire.

Carlos embarks on his new life, with hopes of remaining insulated from his past. Lena begins to consolidate her power and strives to ensure the long-term safety and security of her family dynasty.

Carlos’s and Lena’s plans come crashing down when they attract the attention and ire of the other drug lords. What follows is an epic battle, pitting the intellect and tenacity of Lena and her disciples against the ruthlessness and brutality of the other drug barons. At stake is control of the east coast drug trade but also the survival of Lena, Carlos, and their extended families.”

Author:

“Dr. James Clifton is retired from the U.S. military and also retired from a career as an engineer. He currently spends his time fishing the lakes of Northern Alabama, golfing, hiking, and, when he has time, writing stories.”

Appraisal:

If you’ve read and liked the first two books of this trilogy, you’ll obviously want to read this one. If you haven’t done that, look at them first. Understanding the full story of how the main characters in the trilogy have gotten to this point is necessary in my opinion to understand all of the implications of what is going on in this final installment.

As I was pondering what to say about this it hit me that this book and, to be fair, every other book in the crime fiction genre, requires the reader to be rooting for what most people would rightfully consider to be the bad guys. Unlike a detective mystery or police procedural where you’re hoping and expecting the bad guys to pay a price, in crime fiction there is typically someone committing a crime and the reader is setup to want the criminal to succeed and not get caught. Often that is because the person being hurt by the crime, criminal or not, is worse. With our two main characters here, we have one person, Lena, who fits the norm. While she’s not exactly doing great things, those who oppose her or would step in if she was gone, are much worse. In contrast the other main character, Lena’s brother, Carlos, is someone who is doing all he can to steer clear of his family’s propensity for criminal enterprises. The reader is pulling for both to succeed, overcoming the conflicts with the other drug lords. It makes for an intense, good read.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

This is the third book of a trilogy. Attempting to read this volume without reading the first two books in the trilogy first might work, but is more likely to leave the reader wondering what they’ve missed. I’d advise reading the prior books first.

Format/Typo Issues:

A small number of proofreading misses.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 80-85,000 words

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Reprise Review: The Unusual Second Life of Thomas Weaver by Shawn Inmon


 

Genre: Science Fiction/Time Travel

Description:

“A second chance to make it right; a second chance to screw it up again.

Tragedy is the name of the game for fifty-five-year-old Thomas. At least that's what he tells himself as he washes down the handful of little white sleeping pills stolen from his mother. Lying back on his bed, he waits for the reaper to take away the despair. Instead he is transported to a different kind of hell--puberty. Thomas wakes in his childhood bedroom, with his teenage body, and all his memories intact. With a new lease on life he has a chance to do it all right. He will save his brother, change the course of history, find love, and stop a horrific killer. That is, if he can overcome being a pathetic screw-up.”

Author:

Former DJ, business consultant, and real estate agent, Shawn Inmon is now a fulltime author. A regular contributor at Indies Unlimited, Inmon can't seem to decide whether to write fiction (Rock'n Roll Heaven), or non-fiction, like the book based on a trip he took called A Lap Around America. Then there are his first two books that were novels based on truth or fictionalized memoirs or … I don't know what to call them, but they were somewhere in the middle.

Appraisal:

One reason I always seem to like Shawn Inmon's books is that we're around the same age and overly obsessed with music. So his books have references like the character in this book saying “Oh, and Pablo Cruise sucks. Ten years from now, no one will know who they are,” and I agree and laugh. More importantly, I get the reference. Many of you won't. If your high school years were sometime in the 70s and you haven't read all of Inmon's books, you should.

If high school was before or (even more so) after the 70s there are still plenty of universal and timeless themes in all of Inmon's books. The Unusual Second Life of Thomas Weaver possibly more so than any other. We've all made decisions in our life that we wonder about. Was that a good decision? What would have happened if I'd done this instead? If I'd have known this was going to happen, I wouldn't have done that.

The basis of this story is a different twist on time travel when the protagonist who has been haunted by a big mistake in high school finds himself transported back to before that mistake. He's not only back in time, but he looks like he did back then. The only difference is that he knows what's coming. Unless he can change that. It's a great premise. I found myself pulling for Thomas, wondering what he should do, and hoping he'd figure it out. That's at least part of what you'd hope for in a story like this. And really that's enough. However, if it sparks a little introspection, if you start wondering what you'd do differently if you were transported back in time, even better. (If you wake up tomorrow and find out that I've become a major shareholder in Amazon, that means my plan worked.)

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

A small amount of adult language.

Original review posted on December 21, 2016.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words

Friday, May 20, 2022

Review: Escape From the Future by Paul Clayton


Genre: Short Story Collection

Description:

“What if you had access to a time machine and could go back to visit a deceased love... one more time. Would you?

In 1962, Bobby Newman’s Grandpa, a basement inventor, loses his wife to cancer, then begins to lose his mind to grief. While tuning up his not-yet-perfected time machine for one last visit with his wife, he ends up going the wrong way... into the dystopian future of 2025. Inexplicably, he sends the machine back.

Fourteen-year-old Bobby uses it to lead Mom and Dad on a mission to find Grandpa and bring him back.

But Grandpa has other ideas...

This volume brings together five of Paul Clayton's most ambitious stories to date, stories that juxtapose a familiar America of the very recent past with ominous new versions of the country now coming into focus.

Clayton's concern is with ordinary people—their innate wisdom and persistent foolishness, their capacity to do good or harm, and their resiliency—with what happens when time travelers from the 1960s arrive in a city dominated by criminal gangs and corrupt politicians, or when a woman opts for a new procedure to avoid losing her cancer-ridden husband, or when a soldier in Vietnam is granted a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to give his elevator speech, or when a man, illegally alive, attempts to stay that way...

Clayton shows how people make choices that, collectively, point civilization in new directions, be it toward forcible reclamation of vast tracts of land as primeval wilderness or elimination of those deemed to be nonproductive ‘useless eaters.’”

Author:

Paul Clayton is the author of several books ranging from historical novels like his first, the award-winning Carol Melcher Goes to Vietnam, to various subgenres of science fiction.

Appraisal:

The five short stories in this collection are each vastly different, but paint a possible future that is … well, you can decide whether each of these futures is good or not so good. These future worlds range from the almost-now, when a family from 1962 uses grandpa’s time machine to chase him all the way to 2025. This one definitely hits close to home for the obvious reasons. It (more or less literally) feels like it is happening right now, tomorrow at the latest, as it looks at some of the dystopian possibilities of our current world.

The other stories feel like they’re a bit more into the future, but not too far and, just like the first one, these stories get you thinking about the direction the world is headed, or at least potentially could be. While the future is far from predictable, what I look for in this kind of science fiction is exactly what is delivered here, some visions of the future to trigger my imagination and get me pondering the world of the future.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 45-50,000 words

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Review: Tryouts by Peter J. Stavros


Genre: Sports/Coming-of-age

Description:

“A first-person account of one young man’s quest to make his high school basketball team, navigating the challenges of punch drills, and a belligerent coach, and countless ‘suicides’ to earn his spot among the finalists – but will his training, his perseverance, and his faith be enough to help him prevail?”

The author explains it this way, “I wrote this piece some forty years after my own encounter with high school basketball tryouts, during an equally difficult period for me in which, even as an adult, I found myself relying on those same lessons learned way back then – and, in so doing, everything about that earlier time came back to me as vividly as if I were living through it all again.”

Author:

“Peter J. Stavros is a writer and playwright in Louisville, Kentucky, and the author of Three in the Morning and You Don’t Smoke Anymore, winner of the Etchings Press 2020 Book Prize for a Chapbook of Prose. Other works by him include the short story collection, (Mostly) True Tales From Birchmont Village.

A former reporter for the Associated Press, Peter has published his writing in literary journals, magazines, newspapers and anthologies …”

Appraisal:

The hero of our story, is trying to make the varsity basketball team in high school. He’s motivated for all the normal reasons, plus one that most don’t have. Years ago his dad was on a team that won the state championships which was a big deal for their small town. Now the son (if we ever learned his name I forgot and couldn’t find it skimming through the book, but sometimes called “Varsity Guy” by his smart-mouthed friends) wants to follow in dad’s footsteps.

Does he make his goal? Maybe, maybe not. But as his friends get cut and “Varsity Guy” perseveres, he learns plenty of life lessons and teaches us (or maybe reminds some of us) those same lessons. A quick, fun, intense, and even a bit inspiring read.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 14-15,000 words

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Review: The Krubera Conspiracy by Jeff Buick


 Genre: Thriller

Description:

“Ross and Damon Fraser are brothers on an elite caving team attempting a new world depth record, but the wheels come off the moment they arrive in the tiny breakaway republic of Abkhazia. Akhar Kutsnia, head of the country’s shadowy intelligence network, throws them in prison and gives them an ultimatum.

Author:

Jeff put out five books through a New York publisher, but now he’s Indie publishing on Amazon. He writes mystery, suspense, thrillers and crime.

Find Jeff at his website.

Appraisal:

The Krubera Conspiracy is a tautly crafted narrative set in Abkhazia, a self-proclaimed state that broke away from Georgia. Political intrigue and a claustrophobic descent into the world’s deepest cave create parallel adventures, each driven by increasing tension and suspense. Two brothers plan to attempt a record caving depth until an agent for an Abkhazia intelligence service kidnaps one, a lawyer for the CIA, and forces him to help determine who is threatening the outcome of a critical presidential election. If he fails, his brother will be killed during his descent into Krubera.

The lawyer enlists the help of a CIA functionary in London, who is drawn into an assassination plot that includes an attempt on her life and a harrowing journey from London to Abkhazia with the lawyer. As enjoyable as the story is, my biggest takeaway is a better understanding of a volatile region of the world. South Ossetia gets a bit of notice in the Western press, but I had no knowledge of Abkhazia. The description of Krubera is a fascinating look at the techniques and perils of caving.

My only mild complaint is that many plot elements called for more willful suspension of disbelief than I would expect with a thriller, from incompetent assassins to an improbable blackmail of a CIA official. To quote a character from the novel: “It’s incredible.” Daur shook his head. “A team of assassins and they managed to survive.” A bit too incredible.

Still, this is a novel I will long and pleasurably remember.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Nothing to note

Format/Typo Issues:

Review is based on an advance reader copy, so we can’t gauge the finished product in this area.

Rating: Five stars

Reviewed by: Sam Waite

Approximate word count: 90-95,000 words

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Reprise Review: Players by Mike Markel


 Genre: Police Procedural

Description:

 “The death of Lake Williams, a former football player at Central Montana State, in his squalid tent in a homeless camp looks to Seagate and Miner like a routine heroin overdose. Soon, however, they discover that someone hired a courier to deliver the uncut heroin, knowing that Lake would shoot up and die instantly. When a second body turns up, and then a third, the evidence points to the head coach and the other leaders of the football program, who appear to be covering up a secret that would destroy the program. When a man comes forward, claiming to have committed numerous felonies on behalf of the program over many years, the detectives don’t know whether he is the killer or merely a decoy in an elaborate misdirection play. In a heart-pounding final confrontation, Seagate and Miner confront the killer--and realize they have walked right into the trap.”

Author:

 “Mike Markel writes the Detectives Seagate and Miner Mystery series, which is set in the fictional small city of Rawlings, Montana, home of Central Montana State University. That university is somewhat like Boise State University, where Mike taught writing, but in Rawlings the weather is colder, the football team less successful, and the murder rate much, much higher.

Mike lives with his wife in Boise.”

For more, visit Mike's website.

Appraisal:

 “Our partnership works because of our opposite styles. Ryan is calm, rational, and thoughtful. I’m … not.”

The character Karen Seagate may have more than her share of imperfections, but lack of self-awareness isn't one of them. In that quote she gets to the heart of why her fictional partnership with Ryan Miner makes for such good stories, too. This is the seventh book of the series and as I've reviewed each I've raved about the characters of Seagate and Miner as well as the story. Consider this another rave.

The fictional town of Rawlings, Montana where all the books take place is another piece of Markel's solid foundation for the series. Many of the stories involve happenings at the university in Rawlings and in this installment that is especially true. Along with the story of Seagate and Miner investigating a murder you might also find yourself considering college sports and the price athletes sometimes pay to participate.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Adult language.

Original review posted October 20, 2016.

Format/Typo Issues:

 No significant issues

Rating: ??

Reviewed by:BigAl

Approximate word count: 80-85,000 words

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Review: Easy to Be a God by Robert J Szmidt

 


Genre: Science fiction

Description:

This is sci fi boldly going. By the 24th century humankind has been busy warring and colonising: business as usual. The result is a lot of almost casual zipping between the stars in impressive starships, over a 1000 colonised planets, a huge amount of space debris, and the discovery of two other sentient species besides humans. All the characters have overlapping first names for reasons which remained obscure to me, eg Henryan.

Author:

Robert J Szmidt is a really big cheese in Polish science fiction. Also in Polish mass media in general. He has founded awards in Polish science fiction, also the magazines Science Fiction and Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror. These are Polish magazines, not the American ones with similar names. They publish mainly Polish stories, also some translations but not usually from English. He has published a number of novels in Polish, but this appears to be his only novel in English and it is now only available on Kindle. He lives in Poland.

Appraisal:

This is a big, baggy book, containing three very different strands (almost four) which more or less come together. First of all we pass briefly through a starfleet academy analogue and follow the most promising but seriously under-appreciated cadets onto his first posting. The ship he is posted to is a scavenger. What was considered valuable was very interesting. But that part of the book ends with an unfortunate bang.

The second part begins with a rescue, which is not carried through. People die. Henryan Darski is so furious about having to leave friends to a cold hard death that he commits a serious crime, which results in him being incarcerated in a perfectly dreadful prison which experience is dealt with at length.

The third part has Darski released to serve as Communications Officer on a spaceship observing the other two sentient species, one of which is about to obliterate the other. Needless to say, a criminal such as he has not been released from the goodness of anyone’s heart: he is expected to pay dearly for his release. Here is where the title explains itself: there is a secret group on board which seeks to intervene in the fate of the war-like species which is about to become extinct. Henryan is tasked with finding out who they are and informing his superiors.

Neither of the other sentient species are likeable. Indeed, the human characters are pretty unlikeable too. It comes to something when the most agreeable characters in the book are Nike, who has a holographic woman to pleasure him, and Henryan who is a convicted murderer. Women play a very minor role. The three in the book are clever and able, but really only defined as desirable or harridan. There is, however, a large cast of characters, a number of them not human. I found the odd forenames made some of the humans difficult to keep separate (the author has several of the names starting with D). In the alien camp too the complexity of the names and their similarity to each other made identifying them a challenge when they’d been off stage for any length of time.

For this reviewer, the novel betrays its origins in a Communist country where for half a century since World War II plenty, beauty, and choice were in short supply but corruption, brutal security forces and persecution were plentiful. The author was in his late twenties when the Berlin Wall came down.

I found some problems with continuity – unsurprising, perhaps, in a substantial, episodic work like this. Some word choices may puzzle readers who are first language English.

If you are curious as to how Polish sci fi has developed since Karel ńĆapek introduced the concept of the robot in his 1920 hit play R.U.R. this may be worth your time.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

Review is based on a pre-release advance reader copy, so we can’t gauge the final product in this area.

Rating: *** Three Stars

Reviewed by: Judi Moore

Approximate word count: 105-110,000 words

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Review: Cruz Finds His Way by Anne van Gessel


 Genre: Children’s Picture Book

Description:

“Cruz the Crow is about to embark on the single most important journey of his whole life: his solo-flight! But there is just one problem! All those letters and numbers that the other crows can read: well he can't. How will he ever find his way? A charming and inspiring tale that tells kids it is ok to be different, and that we all have our strengths.”

Author:

Information about the author is skimpy. The thing we know about her is that, just like Cruz, the hero of this story, she is dyslexic and had to come to terms with this difference between her and most of her peers.

Appraisal:

This is the story of Cruz, a crow who suffers from dyslexia, and the story of his first solo flight. This adventure is complicated by his inability to recognize and follow signs which he’s attempting to use as his guideposts to find his way back to Central Park, his starting point, at the end of the day.

While specifically aimed at helping and inspiring dyslexic children dealing with the same difficulties, I read the book with my eight-year-old granddaughter who is not dyslexic. In our case it was an excellent conversation starter in discussing children who are different and may be dealing with issues that we don’t understand and haven’t struggled with ourself.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 30 Pages

Monday, May 2, 2022

Review: My Obit: Daddy Holding Me by Kenneth Atchity


 Genre: Memoir/Autobiography

Description:

The author describes his book this way.

“At the prompting of a marketing friend, I was advised to title this book, My Intensely Madcap, Lebanese/Cajun, Jesuit-Schizoid, Terminally Narcissistic, Food-Focused, East Coast/West Coast, Georgetown/Yale, Career-Changing, Cross-Dressing, Runaway Catholic Italophile, Paradoxically Dramatic, Linguistically Neurotic, Hollywood Academic, ADD-Overcompensating, Niche-Abhorring, Jocoserious Obit. But when my designer pointed out that title wouldn’t fit on the spine, much less on any public display list, I changed my mind. Again! The story of my life.

Which this is at least the first volume of. I hope it makes you laugh, spares you some of my grief, and leads you to insist on telling your story to anyone who will listen.”

Author:

“Dr. Ken Atchity loves being a writer, producer, teacher, career coach, and literary manager, responsible for launching hundreds of books and films. His life's passion is finding great stories and storytellers and turning them into bestselling authors and screenwriters--and making films which send their stories around the world.

His books include, most recently, novels The Messiah Matrix and Seven Ways to Die (with William Diehl) and nonfiction books for writers at every stage of their career. Based on his teaching, managing, and writing experience, he's successfully built bestselling careers for novelists, nonfiction writers, and screenwriters from the ground up.

Atchity has also produced 30 films, including Hysteria (Maggie Gyllenhaal and Hugh Dancy), The Expatriate (Aaron Eckhart), The Lost Valentine (Betty White), Gospel Hill (Danny Glover), Joe Somebody (Tim Allen), Life or Something Like It (Angelina Jolie), The Amityville Horror: The Evil Escapes, Shadow of Obsession (Veronica Hammel), The Madam's Family (Ellen Burstyn).”

Appraisal:

Memoirs are an interesting beast. Some I’ve read have been people who I have a lot in common with, growing up in the same environment geographically and culturally, where I find myself comparing our respective life experiences and how we viewed them, sometimes adjusting how I view some things in subtle ways or feeling validated that the author and I are in agreement. Other times the memoirist and I have nothing obvious in common, yet I realize in contrasting our different lives that there are still commonalities with everyone that are part of the generic human experience. These can also help me understand people not like me, which has obvious benefits.

This memoir, billed as volume 1 of Kenneth Atchity’s autobiography, fell somewhere in the middle. I’ve written more than a few book reviews in my time, but never for the big publications that Atchity has. I’ve made a few career or life decisions that were outside the norm, shaking things up with a purpose, which Atchity does. But mostly his experiences were much different from mine, growing up in a much different environment, in a different time, with a much different relationship with his family from what I’ve experienced. He’s also risen to the top of multiple fields, overcoming lots of challenges on the way, learning as he goes, making mistakes, and learning still more from them. In the process of learning about his life, I think I learned a bit more about myself, and maybe picked up a few ideas to help guide me in the future based on the lessons he’s learned from life thus far.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

So adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 100-105,000 words

Friday, April 29, 2022

Reprise Review: An Elegant Theory by Noah Milligan


Genre: Contemporary Literature/Psychological/Suspense

Description:

“Coulter Zahn sees reality differently than others. Much like light can theoretically be in all places at once, Coulter sees multiple versions of his life… An existential psychological thriller, An Elegant Theory explores how the construction of memory and consciousness can shape motive, guilt, and identity through the lens of a modern-day mad-scientist motif.”

Author:

“Noah Milligan splits his time between words and numbers and is a longtime student of physics, prompting him to write his debut novel, An Elegant Theory, a draft of which was shortlisted for the 2015 Horatio Nelson Fiction Prize. His short fiction has appeared in numerous literary magazines, including MAKE, Storyscape Literary Journal, Empty Sink Publishing, and Santa Clara Review. He is a graduate of the MFA program at the University of Central Oklahoma, and he lives in Edmond, OK, with his wife and two children.”

Appraisal:

Coulter Zahn is a promising PhD candidate at MIT with a wife and a baby on the way. Understandably, he is under a lot of pressure writing his dissertation. When his hypothesis comes under criticism and his estranged mother (who suffers from mental illness herself) returns, his life starts unraveling or perhaps fracturing would be a better word? As Coulter loses control everyone’s life around him becomes irreparably changed forever.

Mr. Milligan uses a style writing An Elegant Theory that I have not experienced before. There are sudden time-warps where the story will jump either back in time or into a future you are not quite sure is real or imagined. He has employed this style to keep the reader as off balance as Coulter is feeling as his own mental health is deteriorating. And it works. At one point I was convinced Coulter was suffering from schizophrenia, however if you consider the subject of his dissertation it’s likely he was experiencing different planes of existence altogether.

The plot is character driven and not linear. The twists in the story are extreme and well thought out. The most important people are well developed and realistic. I’m wondering if I should warn the readers they may come away from this novel with a taste of quantum physics and string theory as well as what it may feel like to go slowly insane.

I think if I re-read this book, it’s possible, I may come away with a totally different theory about what was actually happening here. After saying that, this would be an excellent novel for discussion with a group or book club. Egads! I don’t think I have ever said that before in a review. I believe Noah Milligan is an author to keep an eye on in the future.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

**Warning** this book may change the way you see yourself, those around you, or life in general, forevermore.

Original review was posted on December 16, 2016.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant proofing or formatting issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 95-100,000 words