Saturday, August 6, 2022

Review: Distant Relations by Rebecca Forster


 Genre: Crime Fiction/Thriller/Suspense

Description:

“A private plane explodes killing Finn's estranged uncle and his childhood love. Coming to grips with the tragedy, Finn O'Brien puts the accident behind him until a misdirected insurance settlement, a federal investigation, and an arrogant ATF agent pique his curiosity and provoke his anger. The explosion was no accident, the people on board had histories, and Finn O’Brien’s assistance in the investigation is not wanted. Unable to find justice, Finn goes rogue, incurring the ire of everyone while his investigation leads him through a deadly labyrinth created by big business and personal passions. In the end Finn discovers that his life, and the lives of those he loves, are in the hands of a distant and deadly relation.”

Author:

“Rebecca Forster will try anything once, but when she was dared to write a book she found her passion. Now a USA Today and Amazon best selling author with over 40 books to her name, Rebecca is known for her keen ear for dialogue, three dimensional characters, an eye for detail, twisted plots and unexpected endings.”

Appraisal:

As the fifth book in Rebecca Forster’s Finn O’Brien series there are a few things that every book has in common. Finn O’ Brien, his partner Cori Anderson, and an entertaining story that is never what you expect, with each one going somewhere totally unexpected. This one starts with a bang (quite literally), and involves Finn stepping on a few toes, digging into something that isn’t his job to investigate. Wondering who (if anyone) was responsible for the bad things that set Finn off and whether Finn or anyone else will be able to figure out who this was and bring them to justice kept me engaged and guessing to the very end.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Although the fifth book in the Finn O’ Brien series, each book stands alone well enough that reading of the prior books isn’t needed to understand the story in this volume.

Format/Typo Issues:

Review is based on a pre-release ARC (advanced reader 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

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Review: Deacon Blues by Karl G. Trautman


 Genre: Political fiction/Coming of Age

Description:

Jolted by an arrested adolescence, Manfred Schmidt is a lonely teenager who craves for belonging and respect. His unconscious rage and forming identity are fused together at a time when a new leader is offering hope to a troubled, post-Watergate nation. He takes on Jimmy Carter as his hero, offering hope to his evolving self.”

Author:

“Trautman was born in Madison, Wisconsin and has lived in Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland, Washington D.C., Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Kansas and Michigan. He has also lived in Afghanistan and Ireland. He currently resides in Maine.”

Appraisal:

Things protagonist Manfred Schmidt did:

   1.   Experienced angst when his parents divorced.

   2.   Went to some baseball games and museums.

   3.   Dropped out of college without ever having kissed a girl.

   4.   Did volunteer work for Jimmy Carter’s reelection.

   5.   Watched Carter’s defeat on TV.

The end.

I realize that as a sarcasm one of the world’s great novels could be reduced to “Old man catches huge fish. Shark eats fish.” However, that two-line synopsis implies great struggle, victory, and defeat. Does it imply that struggle is useless or that struggle itself conquers defeat, irrespective of the inevitable?

There are no such implications or questions in Deacon Blues. The struggles run to trying to gin up courage to ask the Carter campaign for a paying job and to invite a girl to a movie. The narrative focuses on Schmidt as a socially inhibited young man; one who is devoid of charm. He is no Holden Caufield snarkily thumbing his nose at imperfections of society.

It would be unduly generous to attribute Schmidt’s devotion to Carter as a metaphor for selfless devotion to good against overpowering evil. Even though Schmidt seems to see things that way, it’s ultimately just politics.

Readers who, for whatever reason, finish the novel will have waded through a morass of excruciatingly banal details.

“The laundry room was pretty basic, with industrial size washers, huge dryers, a few long tables for folding and some metal chairs for sitting.”

Ah, so that’s what chairs are for.

As a positive, Trautman’s writing style is clean, readable and error free.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Nothing to note

Format/Typo Issues:

None

Rating: Three stars

Reviewed by: Sam Waite

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words

Friday, July 29, 2022

Reprise Review: Bardwell's Folly by Sandra Hutchison


 Genre: Literary Fiction/Women's Fiction

Description:

“Dori Bardwell's father was the white Southern author of THE novel about slavery, a man who settled his large family up north in a replica of a plantation house and never spoke of his past. A tragic accident pulled Dori from college to care for her only remaining brother, but now the money is running out, her ex-boyfriend appears intent on revenge, a media baron has designs on her father's last, unfinished manuscript, and her own thoughtless blackface joke is about to go viral and turn her life upside down.

With a new, media-savvy African American friend, Dori embarks on a voyage into her family's secret history that might just lead her right back to where she started.”

Author:

“Born and raised in Florida, Sandra Hutchison survived a transplant to a small, snowy New England town during high school and eventually stopped sulking about it, though it's possible she's still working it out in her fiction. She currently lives in Troy, New York, where she teaches writing at Hudson Valley Community College. “

Appraisal:

Bardwell's Folly is hard to nail down. Is it literary fiction or women's fiction? Is it humorous and satirical or serious? Should a reader come away being entertained by the story as told, or is there some hidden meaning or point to be gleaned by looking a little deeper?

The answers to all of these questions are obviously a big resounding yes. Or no. Whatever you want the answer to be to any of those questions including “all of the above,” it fits the bill. I was amused by Dori, but still took what was happening to her throughout the book seriously enough to care. I think there are lessons or at least points to consider about family and literary celebrity, but more than enough to be entertaining if you want to avoid the deep thoughts. There should be something here for anyone who wants a good read, regardless of how you define that.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language.

Original review posted January 6, 2017.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 100-105,000 words

Monday, July 25, 2022

Review: The Broken Heart of Arelium by Alex Robins


 Genre: Epic fantasy

Description:

This is Alex Robins first novel, and the first in a series of four (over-arching title ‘War of the Twelve’). This one was published in March 2021, the fourth in June 2022. All have been brought out by Bradypus Publishing.

It is not giving away anything you won’t discover early on to add that the McGuffin is several vast, mysterious Pits, which are rigorously guarded for reasons long forgotten. As you might expect, it becomes all too apparent early on that the Pits have been guarded for centuries, and the action kicks off from there.

This has the sort of pace and structure that make me think the author is a keen video-gamer. Such gamers are its target readership.

Author:

Alex Robins was born in Norwich, England. His family moved to France when he was 12. He was by then already into The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis & Tracey Hickman, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien, and David Eddings' The Belgariad, and epic fantasy continued to be his go-to genre as he made a place for himself in a strange land. He now lives in the sunny Loire Valley in western France, surrounded by imposing castles, sprawling vineyards, and two children. He has degrees in agronomy, project management, and computer sciences.

Appraisal:

Once I realised the video-gaming ancestry of this novel it quickly grew on me. Battle after battle is fought against overwhelming forces; the piles of the slain grow; new combatants are added on both sides; serious wounds are overcome with a mug of ale and a bowl of stew; mortal wounds do not prove fatal. The various battles, meetings and dialogues are ably described so that it is clear what is going on with the substantial cast of characters of more and less importance. We are given a full description of every location and of everybody’s clothing. (People make time to change at peculiar moments sometimes.) There is chivalry. There are monsters. There are rites of passage. There is a subtle hint of romance and a substantial whiff of treachery. Towards the end, meaty plot additions are left temptingly on the table to carry the book on into the second in the series (The Ashen Hand of Kessrin).

The author obviously knows his mediaeval battle armour (in our own world) and it gets a fair amount of space. If you don’t know your greaves from your gambesons you soon will. My dictionary admitted defeat pretty quickly. Just go with the flow.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

None

Rating: *** Three Stars

Reviewed by: Judi Moore

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Review: These Numbered Days by Anna E. Collins

 


Genre: Women’s Fiction

Description:

“How do you ask forgiveness for the unforgivable?

When Annie Wolff’s ex-husband dies unexpectedly, she breaks her self-imposed exile and returns home to Snohomish, Washington. Annie hasn’t seen her children, Grace and Connor, in eight years, and now, her in-laws are making a bid to adopt them. She only hopes the depression that once sent her running will remain in check.

Annie is quickly drawn back into the lives of her now-teenage kids, under the skeptical supervision of their aunt. While Connor welcomes his estranged mother with open arms, Grace wants nothing to do with her. Annie is determined to be patient, even though her daughter’s behavior raises red flags.

As Annie sets out on this new, treacherous road, she stumbles into the path of Wic Dubray—the handsome but annoyingly honest woodworker who leases her a room. Not used to anyone caring for her, she finds his presence is both an unanticipated gift and a complication.

Annie must navigate old memories, hostile relatives, her wavering mental health, and a growing fondness for Wic. Only then will she have a chance to win back her children and her life and maybe find love.”

Author:

Based in the Seattle area, Anna E. Collins is a former teacher who decided to put her master’s degree in psychology “on the shelf” and become an author instead. This is her second novel.

For more, visit Ms Collins website.

Appraisal:

Pondering this book when I finished, I was struck by something that had never occurred to me before. There are a couple frequently used terms for book genres, chick-lit and women’s fiction, that indicate the protagonist is female and seem to imply to most people that these are aimed at women readers rather than men. Why is that? Why shouldn’t men read these books, women read books with male protagonists?

For a long time I’ve contended that many male readers, if they read the description of a lot of women’s fiction books would find the book appealing and enjoy reading them. Putting yourself in a position comparable to that of the book’s protagonist and imagining how you’d react or how that would feel, can be an eye-opening learning experience, just as reading a book with a male protagonist can often be. That’s how this book worked out for me.

As for what appealed to me in the story, the struggle Annie, the protagonist, was going through in reestablishing a relationship with her two children, questioning her past life choices, and fearing making the same mistakes in the future is one that drew me in. Even though most people haven’t experienced the things Annie did, we’ve known people who have and even though I haven’t experienced what she did I found it easy to imagine being in that position, pulling for her to work it out, and eager to see how the story was going to end.

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: 85-90,000 words

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Review: Ending Forever by Nicholas Conley


 Genre: Science Fiction/Suspense

Description:

“Axel Rivers can’t get his head above water. Throughout his life, he’s worn many hats — orphan, musician, veteran, husband, father—but a year ago, a horrific event he now calls The Bad Day tore down everything he’d built. Grief-stricken, unemployed, and drowning in debt, Axel needs cash, however he can find it.

Enter Kindred Eternal Solutions. Founded by the world’s six wealthiest trillionaires and billionaires, Kindred promises to create eternal life through mastering the science of human resurrection. With the technology still being developed, Kindred seeks paid volunteers to undergo tests that will kill and resurrect their body—again and again—in exchange for a check.

Axel signs up willingly, but when he undergoes the procedure—and comes back, over and over—what will he find on the other side of death?”

Author:

A native of California who now lives in New Hampshire, Nicholas Conley describes himself as “an award-winning Jewish American author, journalist, playwright, and coffee vigilante.”

For more, visit Mr Conley’s website.

Appraisal:

If there was an indication as to when this story takes places, I missed it, but it feels like it is in the not-too-distant future. The only indications I spotted to think it was in the future are that the richest people in the world are a bit richer than today and medical science has advanced a touch beyond where we are now. While some of the things that happen stretch the imagination a bit, I was to suspend disbelief fairly easily. Specifically, I’m talking about the ability for someone to die and be resurrected, not through the actions of some deity, but through the use of technology.

Of course the story gets you thinking, which I see as the point of this kind of tale. One rabbit hole my brain went down was pondering the repercussions of this technology being bankrolled by the world’s most atrociously rich people and whether they were going to use what they found to help mankind in a generic sense, or to make their lives longer and their bankrolls larger with no changes for the average person. The protagonist, Axel Rivers, and his life also sent my thoughts off on a tangent or two. Have you got someone who has passed away that you’d do almost anything to see again? Or have you got anyone still in this world who you’d be willing to do almost anything for? Do you have regrets in life that you wish you could somehow makeup for in some way? All of these questions are the kind of issues Axel struggles with in this book. If you’re like me you’ll wonder if you’d react the same as he did when addressing these questions. It all made for an entertaining and (hopefully obvious by this point) thought-provoking read.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 50-55,000 words

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Reprise Review: What Does Queer Mean Anyway? by Chris Bartlett


 

Genre: Non-Fiction

Description:

“For much of his life Chris felt unsure of how to politely address and to interact with people who place themselves outside of the traditionally encouraged heterosexual mold. This fear of appearing ignorant or rude led him to avoid interacting with some people and prevented him from sticking up for others when he should have.

The truth is that being uncomfortable and unsure around a new concept does not make anyone a bad person but when that mindset prevents one from being fair and equitable to others then there is a problem. After reading this Quick and Dirty Guide to LGBTQIA+ vocabulary you'll be confident enough to ask polite questions about gender and sexuality and informed enough to understand the answers. “

Author:

Chris Bartlett lives in Colorado with Sophia, his Chihuahua.

Appraisal:

 I'm straight, male bodied, and cisgendered. How about you? If you're not sure what that means or aren't confident you know all the terms someone else might use to describe the same things about themselves, but you'd like to have that knowledge, this book might be for you. As the author explains in a note at the front of the book:

Many Americans are just recently finding themselves comfortable with homosexuality and are surprised to discover that there are more identities that they now need to account for. Many more are still acclimating to “sex” and “gender” not meaning the same things (if that describes you, never fear, the difference is explained in this book.)

This book is written for them; for those who are curious, well meaning, but perhaps not completely comfortable with people who identify in ways that our culture has traditionally not accepted. This book is non-confrontational and non-judgmental; come as you are and leave as you will.

Although I knew a fair amount of what the book covers going in, the description of his target reader still hit close to home for me. I learned a lot, both refining and strengthening my existing knowledge.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Original review posted October 28, 2016.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 9-10,000 words

Saturday, July 9, 2022

Review: Bridgespotting by Bob Dover


 Genre: Travel/Non-Fiction

Description:

“Tourist bridges span the range from small, abandoned structures that have been preserved in a county park to large, world-famous bridges with sidewalks, viewing platforms, visitor centers, decorations, tour guides, and a gift shop to accommodate their enormous numbers of visitors. People visit bridges to pursue an interest in history or architecture, to obtain the best available view of the landscape or riverfront, to use its sidewalk as a hiking and biking trail, or just because the bridge is a famous landmark.

Based on detailed research, interviews, and hikes across hundreds of walkable bridges, Bridgespotting examines 50 different reasons, citing more than 350 specific examples, that people visit bridges as tourists, for recreation, or in the pursuit of a hobby.

By providing detailed descriptions of more than 70 of the most prominent tourist bridges and multi-bridge tours in the United States, Canada, and Europe, Bridgespotting serves as a travel guide for those interested in exploring the history and cultural development of their next vacation destination, or of the local bridge that they drive over every day. Also, through the identification and cataloguing of the features that make bridges important to the community and attractive to visitors, Bridgespotting provides dozens of ideas to be considered by communities that are planning new bridges, or pondering what to do with their old, obsolete bridges.”

Author:

“Bob Dover is a geologist with more than 35 years of professional experience as a petroleum geologist and environmental project manager. He has spent most of the past 20 years leading environmental planning efforts for transportation, solar power, nuclear power, and pipeline projects.

From 2013 to 2022, he hiked across and photographed more than 600 bridges throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe, studying the manner in which people use bridges besides the obvious use of getting to the other side. In doing so, he found that bridges represent a unique intersection of his interests in human geography, architecture, and history.”

Appraisal:

When I first decided to read this book, I was waffling as to whether I wanted to or not. I’ve got a strange travel goal of my own (to visit every county in the US) and have friends with their own goals, some are trying to visit every national park, one guy wants to visit every major league baseball park, another is trying to go to a craft brewery in every state. In that light the idea of visiting bridges around the country or world didn’t seem that strange, even if it didn’t immediately appeal to me.

It didn’t take long for me to get sucked in, not necessarily wanting to visit bridges as a primary goal, but at least understanding some of the appeal. The author discusses different kinds of bridges that appeal to different sets of people. The history of how some bridges came to be and different ways communities deal with a bridge in need of major repair or replacement is discussed. (If that doesn’t seem pertinent, often the answer results in what could be described as a “tourist bridge.”)

I also enjoyed spotting the bridges I’d visited, seeing and/or driving across them, when the author mentioned them. (Of course, there were a few that I can’t believe I missed, living nearby and driving all around them without realizing they were there.) Going in I anticipated some of the bridges in the Portland, Oregon area would get a mention since the city is often called “The City of Bridges” and in my experience do a lot to promote their bridges. I was wrong about that, with Portland’s only mention being described as being at one end of the Willamette River Valley, a hotspot for covered bridges. But the reality is that with the thousands of bridges in the world not all of them, not even all of them worth a visit, are going to get mentioned. However, if you read this and react the same way I did then you’ll come away with an expanded appreciation of bridges and are likely to stop and check them out or tweak your route to go by one that you wouldn’t have before. Maybe even more.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 125-130,000 words

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Review: Wind, Ocean, Grass by Karen A. Wyle

 


Genre: Children’s Picture Book

Description:

“This unique picture book has neither human nor animal characters, but instead features the wind speaking to the grass, explaining how long grasses are both like and unlike the waves of the ocean. Through lyrical prose and breathtaking impressionist-style paintings, the reader follows the wind’s journey over sea and land: the many moods of the ocean, the different seasons of the grassy field. We see glimpses of the birds that live off the bounty of the ocean, and the birds and flowers that live among the grasses.

Through this nature metaphor, the story, without becoming didactic, teaches children about seeing commonality and celebrating differences.”

Author:

“Karen A. Wyle was born a Connecticut Yankee, but eventually settled in Bloomington, Indiana, home of Indiana University. She now considers herself a Hoosier. Wyle's childhood ambition was to be the youngest ever published novelist. While writing her first novel at age 10, she was mortified to learn that some British upstart had beaten her to the goal at age 9.

Wyle is an appellate attorney, photographer, political junkie, and mother of two daughters.”

Appraisal:

My nine-year-old granddaughter who I call LBG read this book out loud for me. She did pretty good. While I think it stretched her reading vocabulary once or twice, she did a pretty good job. I was wondering how well she would relate to a book with no characters, at least not characters in the way we typically think of them. Instead the characters are parts of nature. I’m not sure how much she picked up the underlying message of celebrating differences (she’s pretty good about that kind of thing anyway). However, when she finished reading the book to me and I asked if she liked it I got a big smile and two thumbs up. Then she was off to play in nature, riding her bike outside with the birds, next to the grass, with the wind blowing in her hair. Almost like she was inspired by the book. I took that as an additional thumbs up. Three thumbs up from LBG doesn’t happen very often.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No issues

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 49 pages

Friday, July 1, 2022

Reprise Review: The Damascus Cover by Howard Kaplan


 Genre: Thriller

Description:

 The Amazon entry describes it thus:

“In a last ditch effort to revive his career, washed out agent Ari Ben-Sion accepts a mission he never would have 30 years ago, to smuggle a group of Jewish children out of the Damascus ghetto. Or so he thinks.

In Damascus, a beautiful American photographer, Kim, seems to be falling in love with Ari, but she is asking too many questions.  His communication equipment disappears.  His contact never shows up. The operation is only hours away and everything seems awry. Desperate to succeed, Ari might risk everything.  Even his life.

Feature film Damascus Cover in theaters 2016 starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Sir John Hurt.”

In the new introduction to this edition the author tells us that in its first incarnation, in 1977, this novel sat in the lower reaches of the Los Angeles Times best seller list for 10 weeks. This reissue, self-published by Howard Kaplan in 2014, has obviously been put out to tie in with the forthcoming film, now apparently due in 2017.

Author:

Howard Kaplan doesn’t seem to have a website, although he is on Facebook and Twitter. For present purposes, perhaps the most important thing to know about him is that he has a little experience of being a spy and a lot of knowledge about the Middle East. He has lived in Israel and traveled extensively through Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. He knows the life of which he writes.

Appraisal:

This is an excellent spy thriller. Authors are so often recommended by publishers as ‘the next John Le CarrĂ©’. None of them are, of course. And attempts at comparison simply weaken the writing of those who are not. However, Kaplan is (or was), writing gritty spy fiction which stands genuine comparison with Le CarrĂ© circa The spy who came in from the cold.

I pride myself on being able to spot a plot twist even if it is secreted in a bag of fettuccini, but this book wrong-footed me not once, not twice but thrice. I like to be wrong-footed. Nor did those cunning plot twists feel remotely strained: as soon as the unexpected occurred one could see how it was the inevitable result of what had come before. Thus the book quickly gained a sense of menace: what has Ari missed? How will it come back to bite him? The spy-protagonist is no two-dimensional cipher: the reader goes with him into the abyss created by his own character failings, spiralling down and down, as shown through the action of the book.

The settings are Cyprus, Jerusalem and Syria – economically and vividly drawn. The Middle Eastern setting are topical (despite the book’s age). Aleppo, Beirut and, of course, Damascus all figure largely and are described at a time when they were still beautiful, multi-cultural cities.

The new introduction gives some insight into what has occurred in the Middle East since 1977, but it is not really sufficient for those of us whose knowledge of Middle Eastern politics and wars since 1948 may not be deep or recent. To enjoy this fully it will repay a quick and dirty Google of the main dates and conflicts in the area (there are quite a few) so as to have at least The Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War clear in your mind. This link may be of assistance.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

The prologue and final chapter comprise graphic scenes of torture.

The original review posted on December 14, 2016.

Format/Typo Issues:

There are a few typos which could have been put right when the text was readied for printing this time around. Or perhaps they were introduced at that point – who can say. They will not spoil your enjoyment.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Judi Moore

Approximate word count: 65-70,000 words