Thursday, December 8, 2022

Review: The Sound of Patriarchy and Other Stories by L. F. Roth


 Genre: Short Story Collection

Description:

“A collection of stories that runs the gamut from serious to comic. Relationships, and reactions to traumatic experiences or change, all come under scrutiny. Life-changing events play out against a counterpoint of minutely observed details.

Though you won’t meet any bears in this volume, you will come across the real Dylan, delve into a literary feud, partake in preparations for a funeral rehearsal, share a musician’s musings, find out the importance of gender-neutral watches and, perhaps, learn to stay clear of tigers, at least in the form of tattoos.”

Author:

L.F. Roth’s bio indicates a history of bouncing around from job to job and country to country, spending time living in the US and Sweden as well as what appears to be his native country, England. He’s had many short stories appear in various anthologies over the years with many of them finding their way into this collection.

Appraisal:

More than 20 short stories. The Sound of Patriarchy is one of the stories, but don’t assume that this title is indicative of what the majority of stories are about. In fact, the actual story with that title didn’t turn out quite like what I would have anticipated. However, the stories were generally entertaining, sometimes thought provoking, and had enough variety to keep things interesting. If you’re into short story collections this one is definitely worth checking out.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Uses British slang and spelling conventions.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 60-65,0000 words

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Reprise Review: Domination by Imogen Rose


 Genre: YA/Paranormal

Description:

“Years of hard work preceded her entry to the Oval Office. She attended the right prep schools and right colleges. She made sure to make all the right contacts, ingratiating herself into the right circles. But all those rights hadn’t been enough.

In the end, she’d needed her mother.

And now it was time to repay that debt.”

Author:

Globetrotter Imogen Rose is Swedish by birth, went to college in London (where she received a PhD in immunology), and is now a Jersey girl. After her eight-year-old daughter insisted she write down her stories, Rose wrote the first of her Portal Chronicles series and decided to let it out into the world. The response was so positive that she’s continued writing. With the addition of this one she now has eleven books available, plus foreign translations of many.

For more, visit Rose’s website.

Appraisal:

It's been almost two years since Imogen Rose's last book. I found myself slipping easily into her world and hearing about the latest adventures of the characters (at least the likable ones) was like catching up with old friends.

In each installment we learn a little more about Rose's paranormal creatures, not just their personalities, but their capabilities or powers. We understand the world they live in a bit better, which is partially our world, but things are going on that we aren't aware of or misinterpret based on our limited knowledge.

In this latest installment two of the main characters are having a baby. This is complicated not only by the child-to-be's genetic makeup (a combination of fairy, demon, and wanderer, the last a paranormal creature that might be unique to Rose's story worlds) which is unique enough as to be hard to predict how it will work out, but also due to some issues with the grandmother-to-be. Then there is the US President and the wrath her mother is trying to unleash on the world. Needless to say, tension is high and how or if it will turn out okay is in question right up until the end.

Those who have been waiting for this aren't going to be disappointed. Those who haven't, now is as good a time to hop on board, either reading Domination or going back to the start of the series.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language.

Although part of a series, reading this book as a standalone would work fine as the author gives enough grounding in past events to get new readers up to speed while refreshing the memories of those who have been around since the beginning.

Original review posted January 17, 2017.

Format/Typo Issues:

Review is based on an advance copy and I can't judge the final version in this area.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 85-90,000 words

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Review: An Empty House by the River by Robert Hays


 Genre: Literary Fiction

Description:

“Life has been good in the old Prather house on the bluff overlooking Singleton’s Branch. Then the second ‘once in a hundred years’ flood in a decade brings changes that will affect the Prather family for years to come. Lacy, who sees beauty wherever she looks and expects others to be as good as she is, can no longer count on her big brother to protect her from an abusive husband, and the family learns a hard truth: No one is immune to the quirks of fate, be they blessings or tragedies, and the river takes more than it gives.”

Author:

“Robert Hays is the author of six previous novels and a book of short stories and has written, edited, or collaborated on a half–dozen works of non–fiction. His short stories have appeared in anthologies and he has published numerous academic journal and popular periodical articles. Selections from three of his novels have gained Pushcart Prize nominations. He is a U.S. Army veteran and, though retired from classroom teaching, holds professor emeritus rank on the faculty of the University of Illinois. He lives in the beautiful southern Illinois wooded hill country about which he often writes.”

Appraisal:

I found this story interesting and engaging for a couple different reasons. It tells the story of a family over several decades, with more than a few times of crisis and conflict that keep the reader engaged as the family members deal with these issues. (If everything went perfect, it would have been boring, right?) However, along with the obvious story I found myself thinking about a few other things that the story seems to be setting up. One is family and how a family’s relationships evolve and change over time. Of course, I found myself thinking about my own family relationships and comparing them to the Prather family. The other thing I found myself pondering was the house that the book is named after and how it made the family members feel they had roots in that community. Any book that gets me thinking, comparing my life to those of the characters, understanding the similarities or helping me to better grasp the reasons people are different is a book I can appreciate and enjoy.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Review: Doctor Alien, Three Tales by Rajnar Vajra


 Genre: Science Fiction

Description:

An alien species, the ‘Tsf’ has begun trading with Earth. They find single members of three other alien species adrift in space and bring them aboard their own space craft. The three appear to have no physical injuries, but perhaps some mental defect? The psychiatrist of the title is deputed to travel up to the Tsf ship and see what he can make of the aliens they have rescued. The three interlinked tales deal with what he finds when he gets there, how he helps the three aliens, and others. They also explore the problems that accrue when the Tsf reward him for his help.

Author:

Rajnar Vajra has been a regular and delightful voice in Analog magazine for many years. He also contributes to Tor.com (including their anthologies). One can only wonder why it has taken him so long to collect some of his stories together as he has done here.

Appraisal:

I have been an Analog subscriber (and also Asimov’s), and always enjoyed the stories enormously. It contains hard SF of a most satisfying kind. The only thing you might say against it is that you can still see its origins in the Fifties: it isn’t particularly ‘slipstream-y’ or modern. Things (often space ships or medical equipment) get built, alien races are interacted with, the way our lives might be in the future is explored. There is very often a clever twist at the end which makes the reader ask ‘why didn’t I think of that?’, or preen quietly if s/he did.

These three stories were originally published as long stories (possibly serialised) in Analog. They build up one upon another and have an internal chronology. If you enjoy hard SF you will enjoy these. There are intriguing puzzles to solve before the clever twists I refer to above (what is wrong with the aliens? Why does the Doctor keep assembling and disassembling the same robot?); there is an interesting take on life in the future; there are well-imagined, seriously weird aliens; and the stories are funny. What more could one ask for?

Perhaps an interesting introduction to the three stories such as that provided by Stanley Schmidt (editor of Analog 1978-2012)? That latter date is perhaps a clue to one of the few problemettes with these three tales: they were all written between 2009 and 2012. They stand up pretty well, considering the youngest of them is 10 years old. One always fears – especially with near future stories such as Vajra claims these to be – that they may quickly become a mere historical curiosity because the real world has moved in a direction one’s authorial brain did not foresee.

Technology hasn’t overtaken these stories, human nature hasn’t changed, answers to the fundamental questions of the universe are still being sought. Which is presumably why these particular stories were chosen for this project. Nevertheless, I hope Vajra issues some more recent tales in this format soon.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

I was working from an ARC, so cannot comment on the final accuracy of the book.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Judi Moore

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Review: Dead Winner by Kevin G. Chapman


 Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Description:

“Be careful what you wish for . . .

Rory McEntyre is a lonely trusts & estates attorney who plays the hero inside video games. Then, his old flame, Monica, walks into his office with a $60 million winning lottery ticket and a world of trouble.

Monica’s husband, Tom, is dead, apparently from a self-inflicted gunshot. A homicide detective considers Monica a suspect, so Rory must be her criminal lawyer. Thugs from Tom’s shady business think Monica has incriminating evidence Tom stole from the company, so Rory must be her protector. Most importantly, Rory must be Monica’s private detective, because the winning lottery ticket is missing. As Monica and Rory search for the ticket, their relationship heats up well beyond attorney and client. Rory has the chance to win the girl of his dreams, but does he have what it takes to be a real hero? And is Monica everything he wants to believe she is? If he’s not careful, Rory could end up like Tom – a Dead Winner.”

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.

https://kevingchapman.com/

Appraisal:

I’ve read a few of Kevin Chapman’s Mike Stoneman thrillers which feature a police detective investigating a crime. A detective novel, while fun and entertaining, also has more restraints on the kinds of things that might happen and still be credible. This story gets outside of that when Rory, an attorney who typically deals with estate planning, finds himself in the middle of a situation that is well beyond his normal case. What causes this to happen and the multiple parties involved in the situation brings more complications to figuring out what is really going on. Wondering whether Rory and his client could bring the situation to a satisfying conclusion kept me guessing to the very end. While cliché to say, it’s the truth, I never saw that ending coming. Definitely one I’d recommend if you’re into thrillers.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language and adult situations.

Format/Typo Issues:

Review is based on an ARC (advance reader copy), so I can’t judge the final product in this area.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 80-85,000 words

Friday, November 18, 2022

Reprise Review: The Obvious by J. Cassidy


 Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Description:

“An alcoholic father, her mother missing since she was a child, all Sammy has are her friends. When their deceit starts to tear into their group Sammy must decide whether doing the right thing is worth losing everything.

Friendships can be fleeting, family can’t be chosen and the choices she makes will stay with her until the day she dies."

Author:

Here’s the only author description I could find, and I like it:

“I'm J. Cassidy and I used to be an oak tree growing in a park in England. I still like to be decorated once a year.

I like pink, sparkly fluffles and rainbows.”

Appraisal:

This novel is chock-full of F-bombs and sex with a constant undercurrent of violence, and I loved every word.

On the pages without a sex act or a reference to one, you’ll find a twenty-year-old girl--Sammy--who is thinking or talking or being asked about sex. Yet this is in no way an erotic novel. Sammy uses sex. Sometimes as a weapon, but more often as a shield to insulate her from the internal damage of an abusive childhood, suffered at the hands of her alcoholic father who raised her alone after her mother walked out on a four-year-old Sammy.

Most of the swearing from Sammy is colloquial, intended not to insult, but to reinforce the tough shell she has built around herself. Only her close friends are ever allowed to peek inside Sammy’s emotional bubble, and even then, it is only a peek.

Sammy is a broken person. She doesn’t smile, she turns up the edges of her mouth. This story is a snapshot taken over a short period of her life. It’s sad, poignant, and wholly believable.

The writing is sharp, and fits the mood of the piece. There is a lot of colloquial spelling in the dialogue, but it works well, without getting tiring. The novel is set in England, in a blue-collar environment, but I believe American readers can soon catch the conversational rhythm.

If you have no problem with sex and swearing and unvarnished real-life drama and you are yearning for something “different” to read. You should check out this unique story.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Heavy on F-bombs, graphic sex. English spelling and situations.

Original review posted February 8, 2017.

Format/Typo Issues:

Our review copy had some formatting issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Approximate word count: 25-30,000 words

Monday, November 14, 2022

Review: The Fable Ferrets: The birth of magic by Eric Wolf and Noah Wolf

 


Genre: Children’s Picture Book

Description:

The first of a planned series of children’s pictures books featuring a group of seven ferrets, each with their own unique personalities and quirks.

Author:

Eric and Noah Wolf are in their twenties. Noah is the artist of the two, doing the drawings for this story with the words appearing to be a group effort since both are listed as authors.

Appraisal:

I read this book with my 9 year-old granddaughter who I typically refer to as LBG in my reviews. LBG enjoyed the story, getting to know each of the ferrets and their unique personality as well as vicariously experiencing their little adventure in this story. We both thought the pictures fit the story well. However, I had a few concerns.

The first were a few grammar issues that snuck through the proofreading process. Not a lot, but with a book as short as the typical children’s picture book the errors stand out that much more. The book also uses a strange, at least to me, technique of using dashes rather the quotation marks to delineate the dialogue or words a character is saying from the other text. While different and not exactly standard, it works okay. Last is a bit too much of a propensity to replace the word “said” (as in she said or he said or Kenny said) with an alternative (“declared Kenny” is one example) or even more troublesome, trying to get too much information into a phrase like that, for example “said Teo confused” or even more extreme “declared Kenny, while analyzing what June said.”

Odds of a younger kid that this book would be aimed at taking issue with any of the concerns I have are slim, but the parents and grandparents who buy the books and sometimes read them to the kids might feel differently.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

Some concerns in this area discussed in more detail in the appraisal section.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 27 pages

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Review: Alligator River by Jackson Banks


 Genre: Thriller

Description:

“Public defender Chase Blanchard has been assigned the biggest case of his career. Jeremy Martin, his new client, is a local fisherman with a troubled past accused of murdering a young tourist in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge on North Carolina's Outer Banks.

As Chase begins to think his client couldn't possibly be innocent and pushes him to take a plea, Chief Ranger Brandon Maddox begins digging into the murder on his own and finds evidence that could exonerate Martin. Maddox's trust in the system is betrayed, however, when the lead detective on the case and prosecuting attorney try to bury the exculpatory evidence.

Chase and Maddox begin to suspect a serial killer is at large in the community as more people turn up missing or dead. Unable to trust local authorities, the two form an unlikely alliance to find the real killer before time runs out for the next victim.”

Author:

“Jackson Banks is the pen name for a writer and trial lawyer who lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with his family. He writes stories across multiple genres, including thrillers, humor, and romance.”

For more, check out his website.

Appraisal:

While a thriller, in the beginning this feels like a mystery as public defender Chase Blanchard is assigned a client for a murder that the client insists he didn’t commit. The evidence available to Chase doesn’t appear very good for his client, but the reader fairly quickly becomes aware of things that appears to indicate the client really wasn’t involved. As the reader we’ll stay ahead of Chase the entire way, constantly hoping he and those who become involved assisting him will figure things out and minimize the suffering caused to others by the actual guilty party. In spite of suspecting and then knowing who the guilty party is for much of the book, not an uncommon situation in a thriller, this knowledge only increases the intensity. If you’re into thrillers, definitely worth your time to give this one a try.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

Review is based on an ARC (advanced reader 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

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Review: Wyrd Gods: Timelessness Book 1 by Susana Imaginário


 Genre: Myth and legend

Description:

The author says this book “combines mythology with science fiction and slipstream fantasy in a strange and introspective way.”

This is the first book in a tetralogy. Susana Imaginário wrote all four as a single 300,000+ word novel, then took pity on readers and cut the result up into more manageable chunks. She has set two major, ancient pantheons against each other: the Aesir (Norse) and the Olympians (Greek) now in competition for worlds and worshippers after The Merge.

The Aesir and the Olympians seem to know surprisingly little about other religions, including the Egyptian pantheon. Kali is mentioned. A stray Egyptian goddess turns up, who nobody apparently recognises. Buddhism and the Abrahamic religions do not feature.

There are suggestions that the two pantheons need to co-operate to avoid being subsumed by Chronos, the primal god of Time. This they find difficult. Gaea, the ancient mother goddess of all life, has got herself into a bit of a pickle with Chronos. She has been playing politics and things have gotten somewhat out of hand: the Underworld has gone missing.

The central character is Psyche, a human elevated to become the goddess of the soul. However, she has transgressed against the gods, been cursed, and imprisoned (as a wyrd god) inside the mind of a dryad called Ileanna.

Author:

Susana Imaginário describes herself as “a misfit from Portugal”. She says of her tetralogy, “what started as an exercise to improve my English ended in the realisation of a twenty-year-old dream.”

She moved to England to pursue a career as an aerialist and now runs a Tabletop Gaming retreat in Ireland with her husband. Her hobbies include reading, playing board games, hanging upside down, poking around ancient ruins, talking to trees and being tired. She loves a good story, and claims not to talk much.

Appraisal:

This is a complex book. This first volume is just the tip of its iceberg. The action gallops along in short chapters. These are from a variety of different viewpoints: the Wyrd, Psyche/Ileana; Gaea; Chronos; Ideth, another dryad who Chiron the centaur calls ‘unbridled one’ for reasons still unclear to me; Chiron himself; another confined Wyrd God who is actually Odin; Loki, freshly broken out of Hades’ (now missing) realm; Hel (Loki’s daughter); a ‘Dharkan’ (a sexy, icy assassin); the Egyptian goddess of writing, Seshat; Iosh, a k a Judoc, a local lothario cum priest; and a human queen, Arianh. There may be a couple of others I’ve forgotten. It is a LOT of narrators. As the jump into a new narrator at the beginning of the chapter isn’t signposted for the reader, it means a couple of paragraphs of floundering before one establishes whose head we are in now. The author could have been kinder to her readers in this regard.

If you enjoy the sort of complex use of characters, pantheons and world building such as you encounter in Tolkien and George RR Martin, then although there is a bagginess about this first book, you will like it a lot, providing you can keep who is doing what to whom straight in your head. The beings to whom we are introduced in this first volume are very entertaining. The tone is witty and light. And the Dharkan is very sexy indeed.

No huge amount of progress towards whatever the over-arching goal of the four books is has been achieved by the end of this first one. Imaginário asks, in her author’s note, for patience from her readers and promises everything will make sense in the end.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some (mainly light-hearted) F-bombs

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: Judi Moore

Approximate word count: 95-100,000 words

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Reprise Review: The Shattered Bull by Patrick Kanouse


 Genre: Mystery

Description:

The Bull, a Chicago alderman and convicted felon, is found dead in his home from suspicious circumstances. Detective Drexel Pierce is on the case that leads him to mobsters, former friends and a shady past. Pierce has to figure out who killed The Bull with a boss breathing down his neck and a huge snowstorm barreling toward the city.

Author:

Along with being a mystery writer, Patrick also writes poetry. His works have appeared in a number of journals and publications. Patrick lives with his wife near Indianapolis.

Appraisal:

Police dramas can be tricky, especially in a “who-dunnit” scenario. With all the build up that goes into these types of books, the payoff needs to be worth it. As I read The Shattered Bull, I kept thinking to myself, “Please be worth it. Please be worth it.”

Well – it was.

Chicago PD detective Drexel Pierce finds a number of roadblocks in his pursuit of the truth, even himself. As he investigates the murder of a Chicago alderman, who also is a convicted felon that is involved with illegal activities, he realizes there are a number of leads. All the while, Pierce has his own family drama and issues that he needs to overcome.

The story itself isn't groundbreaking. Here's a guy who made a lot of enemies and any number of them could have killed him. But given his position in the community, it's a high-profile case with the media never too far behind. In the meantime, there is a huge storm bearing in on the city that could make finding the murderer a bit more difficult.

Pierce is a complex and deep character. At work, he's professional and aims to get the job done even when dealing with a boss who gets in the way. But at home, he suffers from a deep heartache that won't be going away anytime soon since the death of his wife. Based on the interactions with his colleagues, it shows that even they probably don't understand the depth of his pain.

But it's true of all the main characters in the book. They are complex and there is more to them then initially let on. There are layers to them and a good understanding in what makes them react the way they do.

The city of Chicago is as much of a character as the people in the novel. Author Patrick Kanouse describes the city with such clarity that it almost feels as though you've been dropped into the middle of the city. He has a way with words, describing in detail the surroundings. At times, this can be a bit burdensome, but for the most part, it works.

Kanouse painted a full picture inside a compelling story with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing in this mystery.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Original Review posted January 27, 2017

Format/Typo Issues:

There were no errors.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Sooz

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words