Monday, December 4, 2023

Review: Loose on the Landscape by Joel Everett Harding


 Genre: Non-Fiction/Autobiography/Science/Travel

Description:

“Ever wonder what it’s like alone at midnight in the depths of a vast marsh, or thought of stumbling into a roiling geyser field in the dark? What happens when you get swept along for miles in a flooded river without an exit—or explore a prehistoric swamp with predators left over from the Cretaceous? How can you sense an Amazon rainforest breathing. Have you watched a great ancient waterfall cease forever in less than a day? Does the Jersey Devil still inhabit the pine barrens?

Let the author take you on these and many other outdoor adventures and ecological investigations. Written in a creative nonfiction style (reads like a novel) a professional ecologist, looks for meaning in the wildest places, and shows us a range of perspectives for appreciating the mental, emotional, and physical benefits of immersing ourselves in wild landscapes. He brings needed context by examining the causes-and-effects of ever changing environments, and brings us along as he restores damaged streams, rivers and wetlands. His poetic descriptions and insights show us how landscapes inspire perceptions of beauty, art, and increased personal well-being that underlie our innate connections with nature. Along the way, the author immerses the reader into his landscapes with keen-eyed observations that underlie our innate personal connections with nature. He shows how we gain insights and increased well-being when we go afield to explore. As he says, ‘Sometimes nothing is more important than going off into the woods and contemplating the frog chorus of a vernal pool.’”

Author:

“Joel Everett Harding is the pen name of a professional field ecologist who has spent decades exploring the wild places nature offers us. The author has professional credentials in a variety of scientific fields, including ecosystem ecology, wildlife biology, animal behavior, and habitat restorations. He has been a scientist to private industry, federal, state and local governments and nonprofit organizations. His personal adventures and scientific investigations have taken him to landscapes throughout North America and elsewhere.

He has enjoyed ‘collecting’ ecosystems and wildscape experiences of all sizes, from puddles to rainforests and everything in-between. His books have focused on a creative nonfiction style using techniques found in works of adventurous fiction where character, plot and action prevail. Thus, his compelling stories read like novels that captivate readers with their themes of realistic mysteries, exploration, and dilemma resolutions. Joel lives in the rural mid-Atlantic Piedmont region, and when not visiting the wild places, he exchanges his pen for brushes to visually paint scenes and landscapes that have inspired him.”

Appraisal:

This book is unique in that it has aspects of multiple non-fiction genres that you don’t typically see together.

First, it is partly an autobiography or memoir in that it relates true stories of things that have happened to the author over his lifetime, many of them related to his work as a “professional field ecologist” with others happening as part of his personal life, on family vacations for one example. What ties them all together is they relate things that happened in the outdoors in a wide variety of places and environments. He discusses the specific “ecoregion” where each takes place and how the environment impacted the experience. (Ecoregions are a method of defining different areas of the US and elsewhere, categorizing the unique elements of the environment in each area.)

In many ways this felt like a travel memoir with the author describing his experience as well as lots of detail about the area it was happening in. Like would happen with a travel book I found myself comparing his experience (what he saw, thought of the area, etc.) with my own experience with the area, if I’d been there before. For areas I hadn’t visited, I enjoyed visiting vicariously via the author’s description.

Last, this was a bit of a science book covering multiple areas of science at different points including ecology, biology, and geography, discussing not just the current situation in that area, but how things had changed on planet Earth over thousands of years causing changes in the geology and climate resulting in the current condition in the area in question.

Some sections were intense adventures while others were enjoyable romps and interesting learning experiences. If any of the subjects covered interest you, this book is one worth giving a read.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

A small number of proofing misses.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 120-125,000 words

Friday, December 1, 2023

Review: The Halcyon Crisis by Drew Harrison


 Genre: Thriller

Description:

“Former FBI crisis negotiator Johnathan Harper was trying to enjoy his retirement… a cruise vacation was supposed to be the ideal getaway, a chance to finally make some new friends.

But the perfect vacation proved the perfect target. When a gang of sophisticated, highly trained pirates takes over a cruise ship, passengers and crew must enter a desperate fight for survival on the high seas. John finds himself involuntarily thrust back into his old line of work, grappling with the ghosts of his greatest personal failing… and as John knows all too well, negotiation only works from the outside of the locked room.

When the pirates eject all Halcyon crew on the ship’s lifeboats, they accidentally left one behind: Willa Thompson. Now, she’ll have to leverage her knowledge of the ship’s secrets to successfully infiltrate the pirate forces… a saboteur among the enemy, locked in a deadly game of cat and mouse.

And while the pirates negotiate with the Navy for their pay day, not everyone on the ship merely sits idly by… travel blogger Nina Collins finds herself suddenly at the center of a small group of tourists planning a guest resistance. But when the enemy is masked, and when imposters move among the tourists, who can Nina truly trust?”

Author:

The only information I could find about this author is that they appear to have one other book, a fantasy/sci-fi story called Starfall.

Appraisal:

This is an intense read that draws you in, getting you to care about the characters and wanting them to make it through their situation, just like a thriller should. There are a couple story lines, one from the past and one current, that come together eventually and wondering about them and how they will relate was one of the mysteries of the book that kept me engrossed. The story also kept me thinking, guessing, and wondering about numerous things. Who the good guys were wasn’t always obvious (nor was it any more obvious for the characters in the story than it was for me). Thriller fans should find this to be a good read and unique in many ways from their normal fare.

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: 100-105,000 words

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Review: They Lie Here by N S Ford


 Genre: Psychological Thriller

Description:

Difficult to say much without massive spoilers. Kat Green (our protagonist) is intent on tracking down Roscoe Darke, reclusive leader of Eighties’ synth band Scorpio Hearts. She makes a thin living off this sort of thing. We get plenty of description of his picturesque home town, ‘Waelminster’ (which had me wondering which real English town it was based on – possibly Winchester? If anyone knows for sure, do let me know.)

Kat is a loner and a wanderer, for reasons which become clear as the book unfolds. Her past is pretty murky. Why that would make her want to investigate other people with murky pasts is part of the mystery. She wouldn’t want hers coming out, but … well, that’s what the book’s about.

There are many, short, chapters. Each one is titled and together they give a good clue at the outset that there is a second important strand to the book. Also musical. Also in the past. The two strands come together like a clap of thunder, making for a satisfying climax to the book.

Author:

N S Ford is the author of one other psychological thriller, We Watch You and two short story collections, After the Burning and A Strange Belief. She is also a book fanatic and blogger, and lives in the UK.

Her blog can be accessed here.

Appraisal:

Music is absolutely central to this book. The Amazon listing has it categorised under conspiracy and psychological thrillers. But although there is certainly mystery here, it’s barely a thriller. But, trust me, that doesn’t matter a bit. The setting is well laid out without becoming too intrusive. The music industry feels queasily real. The characters are many, but incisively yet economically drawn so it is easy to keep them clear in the mind. Clues are dropped judiciously from the beginning and throughout. Kat’s fascinating and important back story is relayed in such a way as to leave the reader increasingly eager to know more. And there is some interesting science fictional seasoning. The writing is supple and engaging.

If you enjoy popular music (especially of the Eighties and Nineties) you will be entertained by this book.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

None

Rating: *****Five Stars

Reviewed by: Judi Moore

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Review: The Savage Moor by Robert Fael


 Genre: Crime Fiction

Description:

“The Exmoor Beast is a creature of myth and mystery. Some think it's a phantom. Others that it's actually a big cat that escaped from a private collection. The bloody carcasses of deer and sheep found on the moor are often quoted as proof of its existence.

Now for the first time the Beast has taken human prey, and attacks seem to be intensifying. Ex MI5 agent Hollis is called in to investigate.

What he uncovers is more than just moorland myth. It's a clash between a quiet farming community, and big city gangsters. Things are becoming increasingly violent, and the bodies they find have been pulverized with incredible force. Shotguns may be no match for AK47s, but it seems the people of Exmoor have a surprisingly fearsome ally.”

Author:

“When he was a small boy Robert’s mother left him out in the forest, hoping the fairies would leave a changling in his place. Or maybe he’d be snatched by a she-wolf.

Is it any wonder he turned out a bit odd?

Actually Robert had a very ordinary upbringing in rural England. As an adult he traveled and has lived in several parts of Europe. His current home is near Valencia in Spain. When not working or writing you’ll probably find him in one of the region’s many fine seaside hostelries enjoying tapas and a glass or two of tempranillo.”

For more, visit Mr Fael’s website.

Appraisal:

While it is accurate to describe this novella as crime fiction, it has some elements that spice things up a bit, for example the rumors of the beast that rumor and myth indicate has been sporadically attacking people in the area where the story takes place. While there were some glimmers of where the story might go, it kept me guessing to the end. The basic story is entertaining and I’d give this book a ranking of at least four stars were it not for one significant issue. I’d be reading along and  stumble, throwing me out of the story, when I’d hit a missing or wrong word or some other proofreading miss. The number of proofreading misses I noticed were more than I’d find acceptable in a full-size novel and (depending on where you draw the line) this is either a long novella or a short novel, less than half as long as an average novel.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

Way more proofreading issues snuck through than I find acceptable.

Rating: *** Three Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 30-35,000 words

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Reprise Review: For the Love of Katie by Erica Lucke Dean


 Genre: Romantic Comedy/Chick-Lit

Description:

“Newlywed Katie Maxwell is ready to settle down and leave her amateur detective days behind. But when the veil of secrecy surrounding her husband’s latest project takes them to Europe, her penchant for sleuthing lands her in some serious hot foreign water.

Katie will need to think quickly to talk her way out of handcuffs and a Parisian jail cell. Too bad she doesn't speak French.”

Author:

Erica Lucke Dean: “After walking away from her career as a business banker to pursue writing full-time, Erica moved from the hustle and bustle of the big city to a small tourist town in the North Georgia Mountains where she lives in a 90-year-old haunted farmhouse with her workaholic husband, her 180lb lap dog, and at least one ghost.

When she's not busy writing or tending to her collection of crazy chickens, diabolical ducks, and a quintet of piglets, hell bent on having her for dinner, she's either reading bad fan fiction or singing karaoke in the local pub. Much like the main character in her first book, To Katie With Love, Erica is a magnet for disaster, and has been known to trip on air while walking across flat surfaces.

How she's managed to survive this long is one of life's great mysteries.”

To learn more about Ms. Dean and her books please visit her website or follow her on Facebook.

Appraisal:

Katie, who is now four months pregnant, gets arrested in Paris trying to spy on her husband, Cooper Maxwell, at his latest film shoot.  Unfortunately she isn’t carrying any ID to prove who she is. It could happen! At the end of To Katie With Love, the prior book in this series, the book skipped forward a year. While Katie is trying to convince the Paris police inspector, Henri Gaspard, who she is, the story jumps back, using this book to fill in the gap.

The hijinks and miscommunications at work are hysterical. All of Ms. Dean’s secondary character interactions are just as enjoyable as her main characters. They always add depth to the scenes. Vivian Allen, Cooper’s publicist, is a thorn in Katie’s side, and Cooper seems oblivious to Vivian’s advancements, which gives Katie the opportunity to rely on her own devices. We are then given the privilege of getting to know Katie’s parents, I think Katie takes after her mom a little more than she’s willing to admit. There is also no denying Katie is a gem in her father’s eyes. Cooper’s parents were both gems. Lizzie, Cooper’s mom, is excellent at reading people and knows how to get what she wants. Colin, Cooper’s father, is now enjoying his life since retiring from Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service. One would expect him to be a stuffy old Englishman, which is far from the truth. They are both delightful and will be wonderful grandparents. And I’m not just saying that because they have chickens and goats on their estate in England.

The storyline moves at a good pace with a couple wrenches thrown in to complicate things. A lot of For the Love of Katie is a comedy of errors that were no fault of her own. Then there are memorable scenes that are Katie’s fault, these all involved too many adult beverages. The ending is perfect as Cooper defines being the perfect man by accepting and relishing Katie for who she is. For the Love of Katie is an enchanting read I highly recommend.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Original review published May 9, 2017.

For the Love of Katie is book two in The Katie Chronicles. This book can be read as a standalone.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 80-85,000 words

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Review: Far From Mortal Realms by Karen A. Wyle


Genre: Fantasy

Description:

Negotiating with the Fair Folk is a tightrope walk over deadly perils. And even the most skilled can misstep.

The many wondrous realms the Fair Folk inhabit offer tempting opportunities for mortals hoping to benefit from faerie magic. But making bargains with the Fair Folk is a dangerous business, for the fae have a habit of leaving loopholes to snare the unwary. Father-and-daughter lawyers Abe and Adira have made a career out of helping their fellow humans reach such agreements safely.

Abe and Adira know the rules for dealing with Fair Folk: don't reveal your true name, don't say thank you, don't accept gifts, don't eat fae food, don't tell even the slightest of lies . . . . Oh, and always, no matter the provocation, be unfailingly polite.

A moment of carelessness, a brief lapse, and a professional defender of mortal interests may be in dire need of rescue.”

Author:

“Karen A. Wyle was born a Connecticut Yankee, but eventually settled in Bloomington, Indiana. She now considers herself a Hoosier. She is an appellate attorney, photographer, and mother of two.

Wyle's thoughtful and compassionate fiction includes SF, historical romance, and fantasy. She has also collaborated with several wonderful illustrators to produce picture books. Relying on her legal background, she has written one nonfiction resource, explaining American law to authors, law students, and anyone else interested in better understanding the legal landscape. Wyle's voice is the product of a lifetime spent reading both literary and genre fiction. Her personal history has led her to focus on often-intertwined themes of family, communication, the impossibility of controlling events, and the persistence of unfinished business.”

Appraisal:

I don’t read books in the fantasy genre very often and after I finished this I started wondering why. I’m not sure, but if every fantasy book was as good a read as this one, I might not read anything else. It has the three things that I look for in a book.

The first of these are characters, especially the main characters or protagonists. While not an absolute requirement, having likeable protagonists, people who you care about once you get to know them, helps keep you involved in the story. If you don’t care what happens to them, why finish reading the story? This delivers on that with Abe and his daughter Adira, the father/daughter team of attorneys who are this book’s protagonists, are likeable and had me pulling for them all the way.

The second critical item that this book delivers on is a goal. This is usually developed in the first part of the book and the characters move toward it until the end of the book with the possibility of the goal changing or evolving. In a romance book this would be the prospective couple getting together. In a police procedural it would be catching the guilty criminal. I’ll leave it to you to find out the goal of this story so as to not introduce any spoilers.

The third item a good book needs is a good story world. Often this is just our contemporary world in some random generic location that feels like it could be anywhere. For many stories, that’s enough. But the story world here is what sets this apart from most books in other genres. Part of the story takes place in the mortal world (that generic location above), but much of it takes place in other “realms” that are vastly different from our mortal world. These realms are unique, each populated by beings that are unique to their particular realm in what they look like, how they communicate, and other ways. Understanding and figuring out the different realms as our main characters have cause to visit them adds much to the story.

I’m glad I gave this one a try in spite of being a bit outside my normal reading choices and highly recommend it.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 80-85,000 words

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Review: Ubiquicity by Various Authors


 Genre: Cyberpunk/Science Fiction/Short Story Anthology

Description:

“It is the dawn of the 22nd century, and in the sprawling development known as ‘UbiquiCity,’ the most wealthy and powerful districts possess all the latest in smart technology, with every building, device and control system connected via the Internet Of Things.

The world is augmented and identity is fluid. Satellite-guided cars drive themselves. Busy drones fill the skies. Cloud-assisted bots perform once-human jobs. Appliances, vehicles, buildings, media devices, products, streetlights, roadsigns and even toilets communicate electronically, all under the watchful eye of the AI CitySystem. For the inhabitants of the UbiComp zones, life is sweet.

But not everyone in the city is so blessed.

Short stories by Niko Carcosa, Antony Copeland, Tod Davies, Tod Foley, DeAnna Knippling, SL Koch, Shariann Lewitt, Adrian McCauley, and T Reynolds paint a picture of a realistic future city where ubiquitous computing is the source of much innovation, renovation and social disruption.”

Author:

A variety of authors.

Appraisal:

This book starts out with a map of Union City. All of the ten stories in this anthology take place in this shared story world. The map and the stories also share some terminology to describe things in the shared story world, for example sprawl zones and squatter towns are what might be thought of as the slums (to use terminology from our times) of Union Town. This also takes places in the future where artificial intelligence is widespread and those that populate the planet where Union City is located are as likely to be a robotic creature as anything else. (Be aware that there is a glossary at the end. If you find yourself wondering about the meaning of some terminology then scanning the glossary before continuing might be a good idea.)

Cyberpunk, the genre label used to describe these stories, happens in a dystopian future and, like the dystopian genre, these stories make you think about the potential downsides of some directions the world is headed. I found it interesting, yet logical in many ways, that those who lived in the slums of Union City often seemed like the happier characters. As with any collection of stories from multiple authors, some of the stories grabbed me more than others, but overall I found them to be good reads that succeeded in getting me to wonder about what the distant future will bring.

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: 105-110,000 words

Monday, November 13, 2023

Review: The Theft by Aaron Frale


 

Genre: Comic Crime/Thriller

Description:

“Certain death? Conspiracy that goes to the top? Robbery gone wrong? All in a day’s work…

F hired me to do a straightforward job, but there was a slight snag in the operation when what I stole was stolen from me. Three goons showed up at my door to not so politely tell me that I have 24 hours to deliver F’s goods or my body will never be recovered.

The real tragedy is that I haven't had my morning coffee...

Those punks better watch their back. Nothing comes between me and my coffee.”

Author:

When not writing Aaron Frale is also the guitar player for Spiral, a progressive metal band based in Montana, and the host of a podcast called Aaron’s Horror Show. He has books in multiple genres including science fiction, horror, and fantasy. The one thing the books normally have, regardless of genre, is what he calls “a comedic twist.”

Appraisal:

One quality about the protagonist of this book that jumped out at me from the first page is that he is a … I can’t use the word I want to and get away with it in some of the places where I’ll be posting this. I guess saying his butt is intelligent might fly. It turns out that this becomes more and more extreme as the tension level ratchets up which, since he makes his living as a criminal and tends to upset crime bosses which can result in serious repercussions, it happens a lot.

The result is a thriller, as you can’t help but feel the tension, hoping that he’ll somehow make it through each of the situations he (sometimes literally) falls into. But the more intense things come, the more humorous the things that he thinks and says become. You can’t help but laugh, or at least be amused, but with what is going on it might be a tense laugh. It makes for an interesting dynamic and an enjoyable read.

One thing that I’m not sure what to think of are the footnotes. Yes, I’m serious, footnotes in fiction. What you’ll find if you follow them is they take you to a section at the end of the chapter (or you can just wait and read them when get to the end of the chapter instead). These have what I’ll describe as side notes, background, or quick stories that aren’t needed for the main story, but provide additional background for what is going on or has happened to the character in the past. As I said above, I’m not sure what to think of them, but a reader could just ignore them and page past them at the end of each chapter and have no issue following the same story, but if you’re interested and don’t mind getting sidetracked, go ahead and read them. Whatever works for you.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

This review is based on an advance reader copy so I can’t gauge the final product in this area.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 40-45,000 words

Friday, November 10, 2023

Review: The Blissful Plague by Brady Koch


Genre: Post Apocalyptic

Description:

“Twelve-year-old Maggie, her mother, and their loyal dog, Penny, traverse desolate cities, guided by a well-worn travel book. A chance encounter with a solitary boy, entangles them in the perils of Plantation Oaks, a seemingly safe haven.

As secrets unravel, revealing the reasons behind their endless voyage, Maggie and her mother grapple with their complex past. This poignant tale speaks to survival, resilience, and the unbreakable bond between a mother and daughter, emphasizing the strength it takes to navigate a shattered world.”

Author:

Prior to this series Brady Koch had authored three collections of short fiction. This is the fourth and final book in the “All Our Forgotten Futures” series.

For more about Brady Koch visit his blog.

Appraisal:

I’ve loved all the books in this series and this final book is no exception. In it Maggie, a mature beyond her years twelve-year-old, and her mother grapple with some difficult decisions as her mother tries to help Maggie understand their pasts and prepare her for a future that no one on this planet has experienced before. This was an intense and thought-provoking series, made even more so given the world’s recent experience with the Covid pandemic. My only regret about the series is that it has come to an end.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

A small amount of adult language.

The novelettes in this series are written to stand alone. You could read this book without having read the others in the series and understand what is going on.

Format/Typo Issues:

This review is based on an advance reviewer copy of the book so I can’t gauge the final product in this area.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 40-45,000 words

Monday, November 6, 2023

Reprise Review: Postcards from Mr. Pish Volume 2: A Cross Country Journal by K.S. Brooks


 Genre: Children’s Picture Book/Educational

Description:

Postcards from Mr. Pish: A Cross-Country Journal, Volume II follows the lovable Jack Russell Terrier as he embarks on a new adventure, traveling from Washington State all the way to Maryland, through ten states and four provinces of Canada. Mr. Pish writes fun postcards with full color photographs and maps highlighting his days so that children, and adults, can learn about our world in an entertaining and memorable way. Best viewed on a full-color device.”

Author:

“K.S. Brooks has been writing for over thirty years. An award-winning author and photographer, she has written more than 30 titles, is currently the administrator for the superblog IndiesUnlimited.com, and is founder of ‘Authors for Hurricane Sandy Library Recovery’ and the ‘Liberty Library’ for soldiers and veterans.”

Ms. Brooks Postcards from Mr. Pish educational series currently has eight volumes, which includes Mr. Pish's National Park Centennial Celebration: A Mr. Pish All Ages Activity Book. For more, visit Ms Brooks website.

Appraisal:

If you are not familiar with Mr. Pish, he is a loveable Jack Russel Terrier. His human is K. S. Brooks who loves to travel, take pictures, and write about her adventures through Mr. Pish’s eyes. Postcards from Mr. Pish is a wonderful educational series written to engage kids of all ages. I love the way Mr. Pish engages the reader by asking questions to inspire dialogue.

The format of the postcard on each page is clever. Most pictures surrounding each card include Mr. Pish in the environment he is visiting. In this volume Mr. Pish is traveling from Washington State across four provinces in Canada to Maryland. Mr. Pish gives readers a unique perspective documenting his travels that are engaging and entertaining. I highly recommend any book in this series.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

This is Volume Two in Mr. Pish’s, Cross Country Journal series. Which is also a part of Mr. Pish's Postcards Series. Best viewed on a full-color device.

Format/Typo Issues:

None

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 2-3,000 words (30 pages)