Sunday, April 14, 2024

Review: The Crew by Michael Mohr

 


Genre: Literary fiction

Description:

“When Jack Donnigan—a na├»ve, protected 16-year-old sophomore at St. Andy’s Prep in Southern California in 2000—jumps into The Crew, a renegade punk rock clique on campus led by the nefarious and intelligent Cannonball, he is thrilled. But he soon challenges Cannon’s leadership by starting a secret relationship with Cannon’s chosen girl, Sarah, and by jumping on stage at live punk shows, displaying more bravery to the rest of the members.

Jack’s relationship with mom and dad becomes increasingly strained. He stays out late and rebels for the first time, enjoying his freedom and wild experimentation. The faculty at St. Andy’s—wanting to dismantle the cult hero status of The Crew on campus—organize a coup. They plan to nail the perceived leader: Jack Donnigan, who’s been conned by Cannonball.

Meanwhile, Sarah and Jack decide to run away to Jack’s uncle’s in San Francisco, flee their small town and live “real life.” Jack’s mentor is his beloved but unconventional English teacher, Mr. Bryce. When the faculty nail Jack, Mr. Bryce does his best to save the floundering student. But when Jack is finally kicked out of his folks’ home, and Cannonball connives to drum up drama, stealing Sarah back by spreading a web of lies, who will save him from himself?”

Author:

“Michael Mohr is a Pushcart Prize-nominated writer, former literary agent’s assistant and freelance book editor.” For more, visit his website.

Appraisal:

I related to this story way more than I want to admit. I think anyone who had a rebellious streak in their teens (an extremely large percentage of the population I suspect) will react the same. Those who didn’t will at least see a high school friend or maybe enemy or at least someone they knew in their high school years in Jack Donnigan, the protagonist of this story.

Since I was able to relate to Jack, I was also concerned as to how things were going to work out for him. There were a lot of possibilities, some good, some very much not so, and plenty in between. I’ll leave it to you to decide where on this spectrum things end up for when you’re done reading, but will say that I wasn’t sure how things were going to end until they did. It was an intense tale that kept me engrossed to the very end.

One minor issue, but worth mentioning, is whoever did the copyediting or proofreading of this needs to research the phrase “all of the sudden” and discover that it should be “all of a sudden” according to all the experts. But even if you cringe the handful of times you read this, it is bearable and the rest of the editing and proofreading was great.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

A bit of adult language. They’re wild teenage punks, it wouldn’t be realistic without some.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues other than a handful or more times where the book says “all of the sudden” instead of the correct “all of a sudden” which grates on me way more than it probably should.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Review: Muffalettas and Murder by Jann Franklin


 

Genre: Cozy Mystery

Description:

“Evangeline Delafose is finding Graisseville, Louisiana just as she remembered—boring and uneventful. Until her brother Nate asks her to help solve a murder.

Follow Ev as she navigates clues, dead bodies, and quirky small-town residents to solve a mystery. And of course, show her little brother that she's still got it.

You'll laugh, cry and roll your eyes at the antics of this charming small-town Southern sleuth and her exasperating private investigator.

This book is the first of the Small-Town Girl Mystery Series.”

Author:

Jann Franklin lives in Grand Cane, a small town in Louisiana that only had a population of 217 in the 2020 census. She grew up in a small town in Arkansas, then spent some time living in big cities in Texas, first Waco for college, then Dallas. But now, like Evangeline, the star of her book, Jann finds herself living in a small town again. For more, check out her website.

Appraisal:

This was a fun read. At its heart you’ve got a cozy mystery, with Ev, the protagonist, who has just moved back to the small town she grew up in helping her brother, a policeman, by looking into a murder case that he’s not making any progress on. Trying to imagine who the guilty party might be is difficult because there are a lot of people who are possibilities, but none are obviously the guilty party. As the story goes on people go on the list, then off, sometimes back on, as Ev and her cohort Shorty dig into the evidence and question people around town to put things together.

Shorty, who Ev describes as her “private investigator” is a hoot. He adds a lot of humor, is a unique character, and he keeps Ev both entertained and sometimes confused as he helps her out for a reasonably small price.

The other factor that makes this book unique is the small town atmosphere and culture. If you’ve never lived or spent much time in a small town, prepare to be amused and confused as you get exposed to how things tend to be in small towns where everybody knows everybody, or so it seems. That’s good in some ways, not so much in others, and you’ll get an idea of why that is as you read this fun cozy mystery.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Although one character is inclined to swear, he does his best to keep it under control. If you’re touchy about such words, what sneaks through shouldn’t be too tough to handle and everyone will be amused at the alternative ways of expressing his thoughts this character comes up with.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Review: Destiny Walk by Melissa Bowersock


 

Genre: Mystery/Paranormal/Cozy Mystery

Description:

“Medium Sam Firecloud and his partner Lacey are called into a posh residence in Pasadena, California, to investigate a suicide. When they arrive, the terrified spirit immediately attaches herself to Sam, but she is so desperate and panicky that she threatens to overwhelm him with her all-consuming emotions. Sam wants to help the woman’s husband understand why she ended her life, but he’s not sure he’ll be able to cut through her anxiety in order to get to the reason behind it. And now the panic-stricken ghost refuses to let go of her grasp on the medium. Sam has never been gripped like this before in his life, and he’s not at all sure he can break out of it and bring peace to the distressed family—on both sides of the veil.”

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:

I’ve read several of the now forty-two books in this series and they never fail to be a fun read that keeps me on my toes, not being able to figure out what to expect or where the story is going. Actually there are certain things that I can expect. One, that there will be a person who has died and their spirit remains, refusing to move on to the next life. When they died (last week or a century or more ago) is up in the air. Why they’re unable to move on is a mystery. What it will take so they feel like they can move on is a question that needs to be answered so that Sam Firecloud with the assistance of his partner, Lacey Fitzpatrick, can help them move on.

This story has all of those things and yet it feels like the elements are put together in this story much differently than those books I’ve read in the series prior to this one. Hopefully it isn’t a spoiler to say that multiple lives, past and future, are involved in the hangup preventing our spirit from moving on. I always enjoy reading the books in this series and this might be my favorite, at least until the next one.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 20-25,000 words

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Reprise Review: Tales of Aldura: Tears of a Seeress by Susan Stuckey


 

Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult/Short Story

Description:

“If Father Tree dies so will all children and creatures of the Twin Goddess including the Njae. Arael's Rest, the home of the Kalwyn Njae, has been under siege by the Halurdow for more than a generation. Added to the enemy, a plague has struck the Njae--a plague that is always fatal. If any Kalwyn Njae are to survive, they must flee their home. Seeress Illyani and her son, Glimrion, fight to save Father Tree and stop the Halurdow. Will they succeed?”

Author:

Susan Stuckey: “Currently (mostly) retired, but 'back in the day' Susan was a meek, mild-mannered, self-effacing accountant/auditor by day but after 5:00 her imagination broke free. She either played with historical stories, or in the magical World of Aldura she created.

Besides playing in fantasy worlds and/or historical times, Susan dabbles in various hobbies, loves to try new recipes, and is the servant of multiple fur-children (both feline and canine).”

Learn more about Ms. Stuckey by checking out her Facebook page.


Appraisal:

Tears of a Seeress is a prequel to Phaedra. It’s a powerfully emotional tale about love and commitment for family, clan, and hope for a better future. Father Tree grows in the heart of Arael's Rest, the home of the Kalwyn Njae, who have been entreated to its protection. The Njae have erected a Barrier Wall surrounding Arael’s Rest, which will be imbued with magic following their exodus, to safer territories. The Halurdows, blood-thirsty warriors of the Dark God - Urdow, are sworn to annihilate everything the Twin Goddess has created, are fast approaching the gates of Arael’s Rest.   

Seeress Illyani and her entire family, are facing heart-wrenching decisions before the exodus through a secret tunnel under the Barrier Wall. The plot moves fast, as there are only fourteen pages. However, that doesn’t mean this is a light read. Ms. Stuckey has chosen her words wisely to weave heart-breaking tension and reflection to draw the reader in quickly while setting up the premise. The main characters and setting are well described. The magic is well thought-out and fascinating. I am glad I picked up this short story and highly recommend all of Ms. Stuckey’s stories in her Tales of Aldura series. She is a masterful storyteller and will not let you down.??

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Although Tears of the Seeress is set earlier in the time-line, than other Tales of Aldura series, I would recommend reading this after reading Phaedra.

Original review published June 21, 2017

Format/Typo Issues:

No errors in proofing or formatting.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 4-5,00 words

Friday, March 29, 2024

Review: The Dying Five 2: Caught Dead-Handed by Jennifer Wright-Berryman


 Genre: Mystery

Description:

“Your favorite Hospice Heroes are on the case again, but this time, they’re gliding their walkers and wheelchairs through Indianapolis to catch the killer of a young homeless shelter volunteer, which hits Mary right in the heart, since she used to be homeless herself.

Our savvy dying detectives are in cahoots with Sylvia Winters, a pharmacy mogul with terminal cancer, who has an underground operation to help the homeless and poor get the medications they need. But when her primary distributor is murdered, she realizes someone is trying to take her organization down. She seeks out the help of The Dying Five, who are excited to unmask yet another murderer.

The Dying Five do not know who they can trust in Sylvia’s inner circle. Everyone looks suspicious and motives for murder abound. Each of the heroes faces peril as the case twists this way and that, the clues leading them everywhere but to the killer. Just as they think their journey to exact justice is coming to a close, there’s another twist, one that could turn the tables on all of them. However, TD5 will not be deterred; this unlikely cast will chase the culprits with the help of some homeless friends until the criminals are caught and sent to the clink, even if it means facing the most menacing murderous monster of all.”

Author:

An associate professor of social work at the University of Cincinnati, Jennifer Wright-Boatman does research into serious subjects involving death from suicide prevention to equitable death care. The Hospice Heroes mystery series, of which this book is the second, gives her a chance to combine her love of a good mystery with her areas of expertise.

Appraisal:

This mystery kept me guessing as to who the culprit or culprits were going to be. I took it on faith that they would be identified, typically a reasonable assumption in a mystery. Unlike some mysteries I didn’t find myself thinking I knew who the guilty party was, then realizing I was wrong, and in the end thinking the clues were all there to see and I just missed them. The reality is some of the clues were there, but this mystery involved uncovering a lot more clues and figuring out how they tied together than a typical mystery.

Of course, this is also far from a typical mystery. “The Dying Five” (or TD5 as it is frequently abbreviated in the book when the current leader of TD5 is recording what they have found in a notebook to pass down to future members of TD5). We know there will be future members of TD5 because, by definition, the TD5 is made up of a team of five people who are literally dying, each with some malady that is going to cause their death in the not too distant future. At this point in life they may not be in great shape physically (some requiring walkers, wheelchairs, or canes to get around as depicted on the series book covers), but they are still sharp mentally and want to do something positive for the world while they still can. As one member of TD5 dies, someone else will be recruited to take their place. As evidenced from past notebooks, they’ve been around awhile and solved lots of cases, but this is only the second case with a book about it. As is probably obvious, the members of TD5, their physical struggles and the mental struggles brought on from their current condition, provide inspiration that is a bonus in addition to the typical mystery as well as the varied personalities and views on things giving TD5 a different feel to their mysteries from the norm. It all makes for a fun read.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

This review is based on an ARC (advanced reviewers 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

Monday, March 25, 2024

Review: The Furies’ Bog by Deborah Jackson


 

Genre: History/Mystery/Science Fiction

Description:

Archaeological finds are turning up where they have no business to be. Could there be a connection between ancient bog bodies found in a national park in northern Canada and others found in the Everglades in Florida? Why do some of them appear to be Phoenician? And why are astronauts on a mission to observe the terraforming of Mars spying on each other?

Author:

Deborah Jackson’s debut novel was Ice Tomb. This is her second, and was published in 2016. There is now a sequel to this one, published last year (and a third novel published sometime in the intervening seven years). She also writes the ‘Time Meddlers’ books for children.

Jackson has a science degree, and did online courses with MIT in order to refresh and deepen her knowledge in the areas of genetic studies, biology and planetary geology as part of her research for this book. She lives in Ottawa.

Appraisal:

I love a good history and mystery. I also love SF. So a mash-up of the two should be ace, right? Well, when you cram as much as this into one book matters can get a bit out of hand. This book is some 160,000 words long. There is a *lot* of plot here. Also a lot of characters, some of them with needlessly similar names. There are many, many chapters, the beginnings of which give the reader no clue as to which bit of book we’ve now arrived in. It is, frankly, a bumpy ride.

Jackson did a *lot* of research for this book, and was obviously keen to use it all. Not only is there a substantial information dump of an extremely technical nature towards the end of the book, there is also a glossary of terms beyond the end of the book proper, *and* an Author’s Note at the beginning detailing the preparations she made before writing the book.

But be in no doubt – this is original stuff, and a fascinating read. You will need time, and patience, but it really grabbed me from about half way through when it became clear that something Really Weird was going on with the archeology. Why it needed to take that long to lay that before the reader I cannot tell you. The relevance of the Martian thread remained opaque longer. But when the Martian material began to make sense too one finally got a sense of the over-arching plot. And it is huge.

You have to wait a long time for the first Big Reveal: hints are dropped from early on. I pride myself on being able to take a clue and make a three course meal out of it – but I could do nothing with Jackson’s hints. She screws the reader’s patience to screaming pitch before beginning to release information as to what is actually going on.

When the release began (it takes the rest of the book to be completely divulged) I was very impressed with the underlying ideas which took the book to that point. But then the book became diffuse again. There is, of course, the sequel to consider: must leave some plot for that. But I did feel I’d been left dangling at the end. Was it the end of the world as we know it, or not? And who were the Furies of the title? The only reference to them appeared to be in epigraphs from Ovid.

The cast of characters is substantial. I couldn’t warm to any of them. Jackson is at pains to give each major character serious personality flaws. The Baddies, on the other hand, are without nuance but are just Really Bad. Except for those who have a foot in both camps. The Baddies have an enormous chip on their shoulders for reasons I never fully grasped.

If you enjoy long, complex novels, this may be just what you’ve been looking for.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: *** Three Stars

Reviewed by: Judi Moore

Approximate word count: 155-160,000 words

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Review: Eddie & Alan by Anthony O. Amiewalan


 

Genre: Literary Fiction/LGBTQ

Description:

Eddie and Alan is a novel that follows two men who reflect on the end of their three-year relationship. They come from different walks of life; Eddie is a black queer man, and Alan is a cis white, mostly straight man. They were introduced to each other at work and quickly connected. Eddie and Alan's friendship morphed into something more intimate, coming to a head during their four-day beach vacation. At its heart, this story seeks to shed light on the complexities of relationships between men, the fluidity of sexuality, and what happens when the lines are blurred.”

Author:

Born in the southern US, Anthony Amiewalan describes himself as a first-generation Nigerian American. He mostly grew up in the Midwest, then lived on the west coast for a short time before landing in Brooklyn, NY where he lives with his longtime partner. This is his first novel although he also wrote a memoir that was released in November, 2022. For more, visit his website.

Appraisal:

Years ago I read a memoir written by a then new author that told the story of a high school romance the author had. He and the girl he was involved with were doing great until her parents put an end to it, forbidding them to see each other. Years later, as adults, they ran into each other and things took off again with them eventually getting married. The author’s next book was the same story, told from the perspective of his girlfriend and eventual wife. It turns out that while the big picture was often the same, the way they viewed and interpreted events was often much different. The contrast between the two viewpoints for an outsider was interesting because as an outside observer, a reader who read about events from both sides could understand how both parties came to see things the way they did and it was a reasonable viewpoint, at least based on the information each had.

That’s a lot of words to tell you about a different book, but in the preface of this book the author explains that this novel is going to tell the story of two friends in a first-person narrative style from the viewpoint of both of the main characters, which I’m sure you could guess are named Eddie and Alan. Seeing this explanation upfront I immediately flashed on that set of books above and saw how this approach could work. And it did. That Eddie and Alan are very different from each other in many ways, from the obvious characteristics of race and sexuality, to the different approaches to life, the way they deal with difficult situations, and many other ways only adds to the story with the contrasts helping the reader to understand how people who might be different than the reader might view things. I’ve long thought that one of the things gained by reading is that it puts the reader into the minds and lives of people who are often much different than themself and helps them understand others better as a side-effect. With these two main characters you’re guaranteed at least one of them is going to be much different than you, quite possibly both of them will be, at least in some ways. The result was an interesting and enlightening read.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

A small amount of adult language. There are also some adult situations depicted although they are relatively mild as such things go.

Format/Typo Issues:

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

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 35-40,000 words

Monday, March 18, 2024

Review: Early Adopter by Drew Harrison


 

Genre: Short Story Collection/Science Fiction

Description:

"Early Adopter is a collection of short stories from the edge of human progress. Eight stories hold dark mirrors to our own world… experience thought-provoking sci-fi, technologic tragedy, and pulse-pounding thrillers.

To Run Again: Dr. Laura Brandie is ready to change the world.

She's the lead researcher behind the KSE, a revolutionary cure for paralysis and neurodegenerative conditions. And now, by good fortune, she's found the perfect candidate for her first human trial: a man who suffers from locked-in syndrome.

Brett Harmon's paralysis is total: he can't move his arms, legs, torso, neck, or face. To the outside world, he's little more than a statue that breathes... but Dr. Brandie's KSE might be the miracle that allows Brett to run again.

Homonoia: The world faces an unprecedented alignment of catastrophes and failing systems, far too intricate and interconnected for any human to solve. Frank Burman joins with seven other volunteers for Project Homonoia--a radical, last-ditch effort to postpone the apocalypse. Separate minds link to form one multidisciplinary consciousness, the world's first human superorganism... a hive mind. But with the world's health rapidly failing, can Project Homonoia work out its kinks in time to make a difference?

Early Adopter: A loner enters into a relationship with a new type of partner: an AI agent, programmed to be the "perfect companion."

Sure, it's all self-deception and a game of pretend, as she's not actually real... but where simulated consciousness is concerned, maybe the lines between real and real enough can get blurry.

And many more!”

Author:

By day, Drew Harrison is a teacher who “writes on the side.” He had previously published two novels, one science fiction and the other a thriller.

Appraisal:

This collection has eight short stories, the three outlined in the description plus five more. As indicated, they are from “the edge of human progress.” I’ll define that as things that aren’t real today, but based on the rate of progress the last several decades and the things that are known to be possible today, all of the things explored in these stories seem like possibilities to come to fruition sometime between tomorrow and a few decades from now.

While the stories explore multiple technological advances, from the current hot topic of artificial intelligence to the creation of a virtual world to technological ideas that you’ve probably never considered (I sure hadn’t), the stories all get you thinking, which is obviously the point of these stories. It sure worked for me.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

A small amount of adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

I believe this was a pre-release advance reviewer copy, so I can’t gauge the final product in this area.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 85-90,000 words

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Reprise Review: Isolation by M.P. McDonald


 

Genre: Thriller/Post-Apocalyptic

Description:

“Cole Evans thought he'd found a safe haven for his family and a growing band of survivors of the most lethal virus the world has ever known. But he finds continued survival is far from guaranteed as they battle hostile encounters with other survivors, nature, and devastating accidents. Are they prepared to survive their first brutal Wisconsin winter after the rest of the world has perished?”

Author:

“M.P. McDonald makes a living from taking your breath away... then giving it back via a tube or two. She lives in a frozen land full of ice, snow, and abominable snowmen. On the days that she's not taking her car ice-skating, she sits huddled over a chilly computer, tapping out the story of a camera that can see the future. She hopes it can see summer approaching, too.”

Appraisal:

The premise of this series is a virus that wiped out many, maybe most, of the world’s population. This band of survivors believe they’ve outlasted the virus although they still take precautions in many situations. In this second volume of the series they’ve survived the initial problems and are trying to figure out the long term.

I found the world they’re living in, the premise, and the things they have to work out an interesting mind exercise to go through with them. Of course, there is much more than planning involved as accidents happen, plus other survivors pop up from time to time and it isn’t clear who is friend and who foe. Not to mention the issues involved in a Wisconsin winter. I’m looking forward to the next in the series to see where things go from here.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

While the second book in the series, this can be read as a standalone and still understood. (I haven’t read the first in the series and it was not a problem.)

Original review published June 5, 2017

Format/Typo Issues:

The review is based on a pre-release beta copy of the book, so I can’t judge the final product in this area.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 90-95,000 words

Saturday, March 9, 2024

Review: All the Rage in Texas by Russ Hall


 

Genre: Thriller/Suspense

Description:

Rage paves the roads of Texas.

Al Quinn’s quiet life as a retired sheriff’s department detective is disturbed by a case of road rage. An angry driver shoots at Al’s sister-in-law, Bonnie, and her baby. Bonnie returns fire and wounds her assailant, Ketchum, who leaves the scene. But that’s not the end of the altercation.

Ketchum gathers some friends to help him get revenge. Al and his entire family are now in the path of enraged, payback-minded armed thugs who have little to lose.

Sheriff Clayton makes matters worse by asking Bonnie and the rest of Al’s group not to kill the men so they can stand trial. Law enforcement wants to make a point about road rage. But Al would rather teach them not to mess with the ones he loves.”

Author:

“A writer of mysteries, thrillers, westerns, poetry, and nonfiction books, Russ Hall has had more than thirty-five books published. He lives and writes on the north shore of Lake Travis near Austin, Texas, where he hikes, fishes, and lives with far more books than the anti-hoarder groups would approve.”

Appraisal:

If I had to describe this story in a single word it would be intense. I’ve read and enjoyed other books featuring Al Quinn, but this jacks things up to a more intense level because Al and those most important to him are the people most likely to suffer if things go sideways. We know who the culprits are and for most of the book so do Al, his cohorts, as well as law enforcement. The problem is finding them and bringing them in before they can get their revenge on Al’s sister-in-law, Bonnie, and anyone else who upsets them along the way. It all adds up to a book that draws you in and keeps you turning the page, wondering how it is all going to work out.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

Review is based on an advance reader copy and might not reflect the final product, so I can’t gauge this area.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 55-60,000 words