Saturday, June 15, 2024

Review: On Wahoo Reef by Tim W. Jackson


 

Genre: Suspense

Description:

“Wally Breight’s a miserable-in-his-job P.R. executive who dreams of escaping to happily-ever-after in the Caribbean. When he stumbles across a run-down scuba diving operation for sale on Blacktip Island, he snaps it up and settles into paradise. But paradise has other ideas. His dive boat’s a lemon. His business partner proves the age of piracy isn’t dead. Scuba guests are scarce. And a free-spirited dive mistress might party him into an early grave. If Wally can’t get a handle on paradise, pronto, he’ll be leaving Blacktip Island faster than a coconut in a hurricane.

Author:

A former photojournalist, Tim W. Jackson now splits his time between captaining a boat, teaching people how to scuba dive, and writing. (Yes, he appears to have some similarities to the protagonist of this book.) He’s written several books and short stories, many of them based on the tropical (and I’m guessing fictional) Blacktip Island. This is the latest of those.

Appraisal:

I’ve read a couple of Tim Jackson’s books set on Blacktip Island and, if there is any kind of pattern, it is that while those involved are living or at least visiting what many would consider a paradise, things don’t always go smoothly in paradise. That’s the case for our protagonist, Wally, who thinks he’s lucked into a great situation that until now was more like one of his wildest dreams. Then things turn out a bit different than he pictured them. And of course, just when it looks like he’s getting things back on track, something else will shake things up. You’ll have to read the book to see how it all turns out for Wally, but he’ll keep you on your toes, trying (and failing) to anticipate where things are going the entire way.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

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

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Review: Soft as Water by B. Robert Conklin

 


Genre: Mystery/Suspense

Description:

“Following a life-shattering accident, conscience-stricken Will Archer seeks refuge in a small Ohio River town, where he plans to live out his life as a virtual hermit. But a chance encounter with Essence Warner, orphaned daughter of a jazz saxophonist and an aristocratic socialite, entangles him in a quest to discover the truth behind the cold case of her parents’ mysterious deaths.

As Will deciphers clues, he becomes romantically entwined with Essence, forming a relationship that draws him into a sordid underbelly of small-town existence that threatens his own life. At the same time, he uncovers a dark secret that could set Essence free from her own path of self-destruction—or does she have a plan of her own?

Soft as Water is a novel about bridges—between strangers across a river—and the dangers of mutual attraction when worlds divided by race, wealth, and culture collide. In the end, though, the novel offers a glimmer of hopefulness that survivors of trauma—physical, emotional, and sexual—can transcend their circumstances and find redemption through connection.”

Author:

The author describes himself as thus:

“I live in Columbus, Ohio, where I navigate the unpredictable moments of family life with my spouse, three kids, four cats, and a ferret. I enjoy nature walks, reading everything from Pop-Tart labels to Proust, and cartooning. I’m also an avid coffee drinker but try to limit myself to five cups a day. My debut novel, An End to Etcetera, placed as a finalist in the suspense category of the 17th Annual National Indie Excellence® Awards.”

Appraisal:

This is a unique story with elements that you don’t see very often.. That starts with a protagonist that while one of the good guys, is far from perfect with lots of skeletons in his closet that impact the story in many ways. Then you’ve got multiple people with some strange histories who are challenging to figure out in many ways, from whether they’re good people, what they’re doing and why, and how all of that is going to impact others. Then throw in a few strange things (what appeared to be a ghost or other supernatural element at play a few times and some pet tigers for a couple examples) and you’ve got a story that is not likely to be like one you’ve read before. At least it was stretching my normal reading material. In spite of this, I didn’t find myself unable to suspend disbelief and go along with what was happening. A very entertaining read.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

A small amount of relatively mild adult content.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 95-100,000 words

Friday, June 7, 2024

Review: The Retirement Planning Roadmap by Sweet Home Publishing


 

Genre: Non-Fiction/Self Help

Description:

“Discover the secret to enjoying your golden years free of fears and worries – retire with confidence in just 7 steps!

After years – or even decades – of relentlessly working, you’re almost ready to trade in your work chair for a beach chair.

You imagine yourself trotting along a picturesque town with your friends… instead of running around the office.

Right now, it's really tempting to think about retirement as a never-ending holiday, where you’re finally allowed to rest and relax without having to deal with deadlines, a full email inbox, or stressful colleagues.

But here’s a reality check: If you took a look at your bank account right now, would you have enough to have that dreamy permanent vacation… or maybe a bad dream?

The truth is, nearly half of adults approaching retirement age may not be financially prepared to retire, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The good news is, you don’t have to be one of them. Whether you're just beginning to plan for retirement or are closer to embarking on this new chapter of your life, you can act now to turn your retirement dreams into a reality.”

Author:

No information provided

Appraisal:

I’ll start this out with the statement that I wish I’d read this book many years ago. Given my current age and likely retirement age, I should have gotten this information from somewhere a long time ago. (From this book would have been perfect, except it didn’t exist until more recently.) That said, there is a ton of information here that is and will continue to be valuable to me. The subjects covered in this book include the obvious, specifically the financial issues surrounding retirement, but also some of the other less obvious issues, what I’ll describe as the mental roadblocks and mental adjustments you’ll need to prepare for and work through. Some, I’d thought of, but this has got me thinking of others. I suspect many who, like me, are close to retirement, could benefit from reading this too. The downside is that you’re liable to stress out if you realize you aren’t as prepared in some ways as you thought you were, but better to adjust plans now if needed.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 30-35,000 words

Monday, June 3, 2024

Review: Dave's New World by Luke Richards


 Genre: Dystopian/Satire

Description:

“DV-8 lives in a dystopian, totalitarian, Orwellian nightmare...and he loves it!

After all, when every single aspect of your life is dictated, it takes a lot of the pressure off you.

He never has to worry about making plans for the weekend as he’s not allowed to do anything; he never has to worry about making small talk with strangers since any topics outside of party business are outlawed and he never has to worry about meeting someone as he already has a partner assigned to him. He’s living the dream.

So, when the revolution comes and DV-8 is granted his freedom (and a new name), he finds he has absolutely no idea what to do with it. Eventually he does what we all do when we are scared and clings on to his safe, familiar ways for dear life. While the majority are out enjoying their new found freedom, DV finds himself ostracised for living by the same rules that used to promise him safety, security and a sense of purpose. When DV discovers there are others like him who are not quite ready to give up the old ways, they team up and hatch a plan to put things ‘right’.

A twist on a traditional Orwellian tale that will make you say, ‘Bring Back Big Brother'.”

Author:

Luke Richards describes himself as being a guinea pig enthusiast, author, and comedian (in that order). Dave’s New World is his first book.

Appraisal:

A dystopian novel that is also satire or comedic is a twist I’ve never seen before and I loved it. Seeing things from the protagonist’s point of view was different. You might think the protagonist is named Dave, but don’t be fooled. People who aren’t with the program start to call him that, but his real name is DV-8. Everyone has a serial number assigned that is made up of a couple digits or letters, a dash and one or two additional digits or letters. (Yeah, If I had done the math to figure things out I’d realize that there couldn’t possibly be enough combinations for the number of people in the country he lives in, but I didn’t feel like doing math.) The overall story is engaging as we try to figure out whether DV-8 is going to see the light or not. But there are also a bunch of comedic things buried in there for people familiar with popular literature and popular music. For example, I kept expecting to run into a person called MC-5 in reference to the 60s rock band from Detroit. That didn’t happen, but we did see other bands show up, UB-40 for example, along with other musical and cultural references used in a humorous way. How it all shakes out and what DV-8 or Dave think of it, I’ll leave you to find out when you give this book a read, but if you’re into the dystopian genre and comedic or satirical stories as much as I am, you’re going to love this book.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

The author is from the UK and uses UK spelling conventions.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 55-60,000 words

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Reprise Review: Didn’t Get Frazzled by David C. Hirsch, M.D.


Genre: General Fiction

Description:

“Medical student Seth Levine faces escalating stress and gallows humor as he struggles with the collapse of his romantic relationships and all preconceived notions of what it means to be a doctor. It doesn’t take long before he realizes not getting frazzled is the least of his problems.

Seth encounters a student so arrogant he boasts that he’ll eat any cadaver part he can’t name, an instructor so dedicated she tests the student’s ability to perform a gynecological exam on herself, and a woman so captivating that Seth will do whatever it takes to make her laugh, including regale her with a story about a diagnostic squabble over an erection.

Didn’t Get Frazzled captures with distressing accuracy the gauntlet idealistic college grads must face to secure an MD and, against the odds, come out of it a better human being.”??

Author:

“David Z Hirsch grew up on the steppes of Nebraska peddling Kool-Aid off I-129 until saving up enough cash for medical school. After graduation, he moved to Pyongyang to teach pre-med classes at Kim Il-sung University. He soon fell out of favor and was imprisoned at Kaechon where he traded medical favors for soup and toilet paper until he made a daring escape across the border.

Dr. Hirsch subsisted for the next three years by foraging gooseberries and licking the dew off spiny toads. This led to a burst of creativity, and he wrote the first draft of Didn’t Get Frazzled on bark peeled off a dying Manchurian Ash tree. Ultimately discovered in a semi-feral state by the China Coast Guard flotilla from Liaoning, Dr. Hirsch returned to the United States sixty pounds lighter but more inspired than ever.

David Z Hirsch is a pen name, so absolutely nothing in the above paragraphs are true. This is not lying, you see. It’s fiction. Many well-regarded sources insist that these are two distinct things. The actual guy who wrote this novel is a practicing physician in Maryland. His life story is considerably more prosaic, but in his head he lives a fascinating, fascinating life.”

Appraisal:

Although the author’s name is fictional, this story was written by an M.D., which leads to some medical terms that left me somewhat cross-eyed. However, the authenticity of the main character's experience as he stumbles through medical school, made the Latin inconsequential.

Be warned, if you buy this book and read it in a public place, you may well embarrass yourself by laughing aloud. Well, the laughter might not cause you a red face, but if you have to explain what is so funny--good luck with that!

Along with light-hearted humor where the reader is laughing along with the main character and not at others, the author includes a smattering of well-considered social commentary on what exactly makes a good doctor. He educated me on the tremendous stresses endured not just by medical students, but also by those already qualified doctors who are expected to teach as well as perform their onerous duties on a hospital ward. For Seth, the stress extends beyond the hospital wards and stretches his personal relationships to breaking point.

In summary, this is a terrific read. For a doctor, the author’s writing is beautifully clear and accessible--see what I did there? At 99 cents on Kindle, this is a bargain you shouldn’t miss.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Original review published June 16, 2017

Format/Typo Issues:

A few typos, but not enough to irritate.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Approximate word count: 85-90,000 words

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Review: The Mermaid by Marc Berlin


 

Genre: Political Satire

Description:

“Eli Mann yearns for an opportunity to quit his job as a coffee company newsletter writer. Making matters worse, his older sister bullies him, his elderly mother thinks little of him, and his girlfriend recently left him. A fork in the road appears when Eli meets a stunningly beautiful blonde woman, Inga Magnussen, a sales rep for a Danish wind power company. Inga and Eli, they quickly discover, share the same progressive values, and soon afterward are romantically involved. Eli’s good luck continues when an old high school friend, Turner Whitlock, asks him to research and then write an expose about the U.S. Senator from Oklahoma, Tex Bullard, an extreme right-wing climate change denier who’s contemplating a run for president. Urged on by Inga and realizing that Bullard is clearly a dangerous person who could easily ruin the country if elected, Mann sets out on a surrealistic odyssey that takes him from Malibu to Aspen, and places in between. Alternately comical and sad, The Mermaid exposes the character of one man, as well as the dark underside of the America we currently live in.”

Author:

“Marc Berlin has held a variety of jobs, including social worker, media executive, screenwriter, and filmmaker. He currently lives with his wife, Heidi, in Rehoboth, Mass. When not evading the paparazzi, he can be found walking on the beach near his home, playing poker, or shooting trap.”

Appraisal:

I’m struggling to decide what to think of this book. It makes it clear that it is satirical and I daresay those whose political leanings go a certain way are almost certain not to like it and will try to delude themselves into thinking that Tex Bullard, the bad guy in this story, is nothing like the actual people who are out there in the world today. They’d be wrong, at least if we account for a bit of potential exaggeration to make a point, after all, this is satire, right? My struggle is with Eli Mann, the “hero” of this story. Yeah, I was pulling for him, but if we’re going to be honest, he was a little slimy himself. The point, that while both sides are not the same, we’re all human and nobody is perfect. I’m also not sure what to make of the ending although, at least for Eli, I can’t really fault him for the decision he made. What that decision was and what it means, I can’t say. You’ll have to decide for yourself.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

While nothing explicit there is a lot of discussion regarding adult topics and some adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Review: The War on Sarah Morris by Kathleen Jones

 


Genre: Coming of Age

Description:

“ONE DAY, YOU’RE A VALUED EMPLOYEE OF THE COMPANY … THE NEXT DAY, YOU’RE BEING PUSHED OUT THE DOOR.

What happens when your secure corporate job suddenly becomes precarious? Book editor Sarah Morris finds herself in this predicament when the company she has served for twenty-one years is reorganized. Sarah’s boss gives all the company’s book editing projects to freelancers and a pet employee, unofficially demoting Sarah, who must spend her days tagging documents. And when Sarah’s boss starts bullying her, she realizes that she’s been pigeonholed into a dead-end job.”

Author:

“Kathleen Jones was born in Windsor, Ontario, Canada and graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in English literature. For thirty years, she toughed it out in the corporate world, chiefly as an editor for various Canadian book publishers. Sometimes, Kathleen had the opportunity to do work that she enjoyed, but too often, she didn’t. Towards the end of her career, the type of work that interested and challenged Kathleen began to slip away, and she became less and less happy.

Then one day, Kathleen realized something: creative, out-of-the box thinkers like her don’t belong in the corporate world, and if she wanted “meaningful” work, she would have to create it for herself.

That was when Kathleen decided to pursue the only work that she’d ever really wanted to do since she was a child: the work of a novelist!

Today, Kathleen is a full-time author who writes for a number of popular book blogs. She also contributes monthly book reviews to Goodreads. She lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.”

For more, visit her website her website.

Appraisal:

I struggled to even decide what genre to indicate this book fit in. The small publisher that published this book describes themselves as specializing in non-fiction genres “such as memoir, autobiographical fiction, poetry, or a combination.” While I’ve never heard the term autobiographical fiction before and it seems like two words that contradict each other, what they mean by that is easy enough to figure out and based on the author’s biography this novel almost surely has some degree of that. But what I could be sure of is that while far from what we think of or the typical definition of a coming-of-age story, that description still seems to fit this one as the protagonist struggles with life’s changes and how to deal with them in the same way as a teen trying to move into adulthood might.

However, unlike a coming-of-age story, the ideal reader for this is probably a touch older. To really get into the story of Sarah Morris, I think a reader needs to be old enough to be somewhat established in their career, possibly seen and struggled with unanticipated changes, or at least observed others deal with that struggle. Those in this position will understand where Sarah is coming from and get sucked into the story, wondering how it is going to end.

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, May 18, 2024

Review: Monarch: Stories by Emily Jon Tobias


 

Genre: Short Story Collection

Description:

Most, maybe all, of these stories have been published in various publications over the last several years, but are all gathered together here.

Author:

“Emily Jon Tobias is an American author and poet, Pushcart Prize nominee, and author of the debut story collection, MONARCH (Black Lawrence Press, 2024). She is an award-winning writer whose work has been featured in literary journals such as Santa Clara Review, Talking River Review, Flying South Literary Journal, Furrow Literary Journal, The Opiate Magazine, The Ocotillo Review, Jerry Jazz Musician, Typehouse Literary Magazine, Tahoma Literary Review, Big Muddy, Spoon Knife, Peauxdunque Review, and elsewhere. Midwestern-raised, she now lives and writes on the coast of Southern California. She holds an MFA in Writing from Pacific University Oregon.”

Appraisal:

In the introduction the author talks a bit about her life and the things she went through that inspired these stories. The stories mostly feature what I’ll describe as women going through tough situations who in spite of often having troubled pasts are also strong women and find a way to deal with and get through the current difficulty. I found the stories inspiring. They also got me thinking about how things that appear one way from the outside might be much more complex if you understand the true situation. In summary these stories are excellent and thought provoking.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language and situations best suited for mature readers.

Format/Typo Issues:

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

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Review: Of Water and Dragons by Kelley Heckart


Genre: Romantic historical fantasy

Description:

The story is based on events in Roman Britain between 60 and 108 AD. The bones of the story come from the author’s research and are broadly factual. Fictional and fantastical elements have been added. Characters are both historical and fictional. The author makes interesting suppositions to fill gaps in the historical record, and also takes the occasional giant leap. I like giant leaps.

The Celtic tribes who have not accepted Rome are being driven further and further into the fringes of Britain by the Romans. The Romans think that these tribes have been defeated, but the tribes are ripe for an uprising. Druids seek to rebalance the physical and spirit worlds thrown out of equilibrium by the heavy-footed presence of Rome. The omens are consistently bad. Can the Celts make a great enough sacrifice to defeat the might of Rome?

Early on we meet Nemu, who is half water faery, half Celt. The first thing she does is rescue Ambiorix, a half-Celtic Roman soldier who has been injured in a battle against Celts. She nurses him back to health, then takes him to rejoin his Legion. The story concerns their ongoing meetings and partings, their growing love for one another, the Roman military engagements and Druidic machinations which largely dictate their lives after they meet. Through all this runs a thread of fantasy which enriches the whole. 

This is the second edition of a book originally published in 2005.

Author:

Kelley Heckart is an American author. She has published some 14 books in a similar milieu to this one, grouped into series. Her literary influences are Marion Zimmer Bradley, Morgan Llewelyn, Ann Rice, Stephen King, Lynn Kurland, and Evangeline Walton.

She enjoys writing about “fierce warriors and alpha males, bold women, otherworldly creatures, magic, and romance”. She describes her writing focus as “steamy, paranormal romance novels”. Her most recent series, Shadow Walkers, contains these elements, set in the present day.

She is a musician with a rock ‘n’ roll background. She is married, but coy about where in the States she lives. When not writing she enjoys archery.

Her website is here.

Appraisal:

If you enjoy this period of history, or if you want to discover more about it, then there is plenty of meat in this novel for you. If you enjoy nature, if you enjoy faeries – then, again, there is plenty here.

Unfortunately, (or maybe not, if learning is your goal), the author’s research is not lightly worn. The action has to wait its turn behind substantial descriptions of places, interiors, clothing, weapons, rituals etc. As a result I found the plot slow going, and hard to keep track of. We went down a lot of side roads which turned out to be dead ends. Focus dissipated like the Caledonian mists. Helpful signposts were often absent. As a result, important plot points were sometimes underplayed. The most unfortunate case in point being the end, where a cunningly spotted opportunity to mash together a couple of well-known British legends barely made it onto the page. To know what had just transpired I had to read the author’s note after the end of the book.

The sex was good 😉.

If you skip lightly over the descriptions and can keep the story on track in your mind, there is much to enjoy here.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

There is some fairly graphic sex (although not, perhaps, as much as one might expect from a novel advertised as ‘steamy’).

There is one c-bomb which took even this potty-mouthed reviewer aback.

Format/Typo Issues:

I was working from an ARC missing a number of chapter headings, so some of the signposts I cite as missing above may have been inserted since.

Rating: ***  Three Stars

Reviewed by: Judi Moore

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Reprise Review: Star Walk by Melissa Bowersock


 

Genre: Mystery/Supernatural/Ghosts

Description:

“Ex-cop Lacey Fitzpatrick and Navajo medium Sam Firecloud are working a new investigation into paranormal activity. This time they’re called to clear an old Hollywood mansion of the multiple ghostly tenants that are threatening the home owner’s livelihood. At the same time, however, Lacey gets a call from her ex-boyfriend, now prison inmate, for help in a more earthly manner. He fears his sister is siphoning money from his elderly mother, and only Lacey can find out the truth. Between saving her ex’s mother from bankruptcy and researching deep into the families of the tortured souls haunting the mansion, Lacey finds the revelations of family dynamics to be both fatally flawed and heartbreakingly inspired.”

Author:

“Melissa Bowersock is an eclectic, award-winning author who writes in a variety of fiction and non-fiction genres: biography, contemporary, western, action, romance, fantasy, paranormal and spiritual. She has been both traditionally and independently published and is a regular contributor to the superblog Indies Unlimited. She lives in a small community in northern Arizona with her husband and an Airedale terrier. She also writes under the pen name Amber Flame.”

Learn more about Ms. Bowersock on her website or follow her on Facebook.

Appraisal:

An old haunted Hollywood mansion is being rejuvenated and the owner has enlisted Sam Firecloud’s help in clearing the spirits out. To do this he needs Lacey Fitzpatrick’s investigative skills to figure out who is haunting the mansion. Sam feels two different spirits who are haunting different areas of the house and both have stories to tell, which date back to the early days of Hollywood.

I loved the way this story unfolds. It was like watching a mystery on screen with clips of old black and white movie footage from the past as Lacey pieces together what’s going on. And since Lacey and Sam both have day jobs they could only be at the house on the weekends. That was frustrating to me, like having to watch commercial’s, because I couldn’t fast-forward through their week. I know Lacy needed time to do research and then let her findings stew in her head while she tried to fit the pieces of the puzzle together, but still…

I like the way Lacey and Sam are starting to read each other better. It’s like they are syncing. There is a lot more story here than the ghosts and Ms. Bowersock is able to seamlessly weave in a story arc that involves Lacey’s ex-fiancé, who is still serving time in prison. I also appreciate the inclusion of Sam’s two children and what’s going on in their lives. This brings a realistic feel of family to the whole series. Nicely done, Ms. Bowersock. I am really enjoying this series and looking forward to Dream Walk.

My dream for Lacey and Sam to both become independently wealthy so their ghostbusting could be a fulltime job together. I know that is not very realistic but I am a paranormal romance lover…

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Star Walk is the third book in A Lacey Fitzpatrick and Sam Firecloud Mystery series. Book one is Ghost Walk, book two is Skin Walk. Each of these mysteries could be read as a standalone if you choose. However, I am enjoying the relationship developing between Lacey and Sam and recommend reading from the beginning to get the full benefit of this storyline.

Original review published June 12, 2017.

Format/Typo Issues:

My review is based on a beta, pre-release version. I am unable to judge the final version in this area.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 40-45,000 words