Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Along Came a Demon / Linda Welch

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Paranormal/Mystery

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

Availability Kindle: YES    Nook: YES    Paper: YES
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Author:

Although born in England (she still has the accent to prove it) Linda Welch has lived throughout the western United States. She currently lives in a mountain valley in Utah along with her husband and dog. Along Came a Demon is the first of her Whisperings paranormal mystery series. Two others, The Demon Hunters and Dead Demon Walking, are currently available in both paper and electronic formats. For more, visit her website.

Description:

Tiff (don’t call her Tiffany) Banks can see the dead. Not their bodies and not everyone, but what she calls the “shadows” (kind of like a ghost) of those who died a violent death at someone else’s hand. These shadows are stuck at the place of their death until the killer dies or is brought to justice. At times Tiff can view what happened when the person died, as though it is through their eyes. She can also converse with them. Additionally, Tiff can detect beings among us who look human, but are actually paranormal. Although she calls them “demons,” these beings are not all the same. Tiff’s gifts are valuable in solving murders and she tries her best to help the police. This book involves the murder of a woman who lived in the apartment building next door to Tiff.

Appraisal:

In the last year or two I’ve probably read more books with some kind of paranormal twist than I had all the remaining years of my life combined. I’ve been amazed to discover the number of ways authors have to give a novel a paranormal twist. Along Came a Demon is among my favorites. I was happy discovering they aren’t all glittery vampires.

As I evaluate the reasons Along Came a Demon was an enjoyable read for me several things come to mind. Part of it is the mystery portion. Ignore the paranormal part and this book is like a police procedural or private investigator mystery, which are genres I’ve read and enjoyed for years. Unlike the typical paranormal book, Tiff’s skills and the existence of paranormal creatures aren’t treated as if they are normal. Tiff assumes most people wouldn’t acknowledge or accept her talents or paranormal beings exist, so she hides the true nature of her abilities and the existence of the paranormal. This adds a different twist to the story. Hiding certain things like that, most notably two “dead” people who reside in Tiff’s house, adds plenty of humor to the book.

There is one thing about Along Came a Demon that was an issue for me, although it wouldn’t be for most readers. When a story is set in a specific non-fictional place, I’ll apply any knowledge I have of the area as I’m imagining what is taking place. If I read something that doesn’t fit, I notice. I found myself getting disoriented in the beginning of this book because it takes place in a very specific area of Northern Utah, with town and highway names that make it easily identifiable, yet Clarion, the town where much of the story is set doesn’t exist. Once I accepted that it was okay most of the time, but sometimes I still found myself slipping out of the fictional world into the real world I am familiar with.

FYI:

Although the author lives in the US and uses corresponding spelling and slang (if any), there is one aspect of her English usage common to authors writing to UK norms. This is a tendency to drop certain words like “of” and “to” in some situations. An example from the book is “I needed to identify the killer so Mike and SLCPD could get everyone out the mall” instead of “… out of the mall.” This was infrequent enough that it shouldn’t be a concern for anyone.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: ***** Five stars

Monday, May 30, 2011

Vestal Virgin / Suzanne Tyrpak

Reviewed by: Jess

Genre: Historical Suspense

Approximate word count: 80-85,000 words

Availability Kindle: YES    Nook: YES    Paper: YES
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Author:

Suzanne Tyrpak resides in Colorado and works for an airline. This has given her the ability to visit Rome and Italy and see first hand the scenes and countryside she uses for the backdrop in this book. She has some writing experience with Dating My Vibrator, a collection of short stories. Ghost Plane is a short story available on her blog and will be epublished in September of this year in another short story collection, Ghost Plane and Other Disturbing Tales. For more information, visit the author's blog or Facebook page.

Description:

Education, privilege, and reverence come at the price of 30 years of celibacy and service for Vestal Virgins in Ancient Rome. Suzanne Tyrpak's debut novel Vestal Virgin takes us through the emotional conflicts of Elissa Rubria Honoria as she faces forbidden love, family tragedy, treachery, and betrayal. While traversing the daily tasks and obligations of a young woman in this challenging position she begins to question her faith in the very Gods she is bound to honor.

Appraisal:

By using fewer characters and delving deeper into their psyches, Ms. Tyrpak easily drew me into the drama and challenges of life in a different time and place. Nero's greed and psychosis were the perfect opposition to Elissa's virtue and hope for a happier life. She also perfectly captured the teen angst of Flavia, as she struggles in that ackward phase, poised on the brink of adulthood but not yet allowed to make her own decisions. Writing through the eyes of each major character gave the author the ability to slowly, but dramatically, increase the tension of the story as she moved the plot along by introducing related themes that gave the book a robust feel. This story had it all! It was obviously well researched. I found the timelines, architecture and historic details all in keeping with what we know about ancient Rome.

The only negative I have is that Tyrpak leaves the reader hanging just a little by not completely resolving the progression of the subplots surrounding the other female leads. If she is planning to write a sequel or offshoot with one of these characters, it is a perfect set up though. Also, due to the nature of the main character, the specific time in history, and the setting, there are many religious references. It was a positive aspect of the story in my opinion.

FYI:

There is quite a bit of sexuality in this book. It's more suggestive than explicit. I would not recommend this book to anyone under 17 for that reason.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Friday, May 27, 2011

Iron Horse Rider – Book 1 / Adelle Laudan

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Romance

Approximate word count: 45-50,000 words

Availability Kindle: YES    Nook: YES    Paper: YES
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Author:

Romance author Adelle Laudan is a mother of four from Southern Ontario, Canada. Many of her books, including this one, were traditionally published previously. Laudan has now republished them independently. The Iron Horse Rider series has three books currently available. Laudan also writes spicier romances as Elle Laudan. For more, visit her website.


Description:

After his wife Kelly is involved in a fatal motorcycle accident, Shane is devastated. Running away from the life he lived with Kelly, Shane befriends an Indian chief and, despite resisting, finds himself falling in love again.

Appraisal:

It seems to me that the romance genre has more conventions than most. Since there isn’t an official organization approving and codifying these, not every romance reader will agree on what they are. Some, like the happily-ever-after ending, is one which most would agree is required. Iron Horse Rider has the required ending. Author Adelle Laudan describes Iron Horse Rider as romance and I agree. However, the male lead or hero, to use the label typical among romance readers, is the focus of the story rather than the heroine. I don’t know if this violates an unwritten genre convention. I do know it makes for an unconventional romance novel.

Iron Horse Rider has some other elements that are, if not unique, at least uncommon in the typical romance novel plot. One of these is that Shane is a motorcyclist, the iron horse in the title. This is a big influence on Shane’s life and lifestyle. It also figures prominently throughout the story. A large portion of the story takes place at an Indian camp. (Substitute your preferred term - Native American or, since the story takes place in Canada, First Nation, the term you’ll sometimes find used there for the native population.) Indian culture is a significant part of the story with some of their beliefs helping Shane eventually come to terms with Kelly’s death.

Romance fans should find Iron Horse Rider a different kind of read while still fitting what many would want in a story. For romance readers who love cruising on their Harley it should be an easy decision.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues. I did find a couple minor story inconsistencies. These were insignificant to the overall story, but might temporarily confuse you when you read a line in the book that disagrees with the rest of the story.

Rating: **** Four stars

Thursday, May 26, 2011

John Yunker / The Tourist Trail

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Thriller

Approximate word count: 65-70,000 words

Availability Kindle: YES    Nook: NO    Paper: YES
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Author:

A resident of Ashland, Oregon, John Yunker is co-founder of Ashland Creek Press, a publisher specializing in books with travel and environmental themes. He is also an expert on “web globalization” and has written three books on the subject. For more, visit Yunker’s website or the website for Ashland Creek Press.



Description:

A research biologist who is studying penguins in Patagonia, a computer geek, and an environmental activist become involved in a battle over the world’s oceans.

Appraisal:

As a rule, I read nonfiction to learn. Fiction is for entertainment. In The Tourist Trail, I found what I wanted and expected. It contains adventure. There are characters you'll quickly start caring about and a lot of conflict to overcome. You'll find plenty of romances to spice things up. All the elements of a good thriller are here and, if that's what you're looking for, you should come away satisfied.

Fiction, however, can also teach you things that nonfiction can't. It can help you understand a point of view that, given your life experiences, would be difficult. By putting yourself in the shoes of another, you can better understand them. This was the case with The Tourist Trail.

As in Edward Abbey's environmentalist classic The Monkey Wrench Gang, the group at the center of this story, the Cetacean Defense Alliance (CDA), is out to sabotage their foes - the scene has just moved from the desert to the ocean. They object to whaler's who continue indiscriminate harvesting of what they believe is an endangered species. They oppose long-line anglers who they think kill too many birds and other seagoing life as "incidental catch.” Their philosophy was summed up in this quote:

When you raise cattle, you at least feed them. However, anglers don't feed fish. They just take. They even take the food the fish eat. Sheer avarice.

Not everyone agrees with the CDA's methods, calling them "eco-terrorists.” That's what the FBI thinks (although the FBI agent chasing them is conflicted). You'll have to decide for yourself. Regardless of what you decide, you'll come away with a better understanding of the ocean-environmentalist movement and a good read.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five stars

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Farr Point / Sam Havens

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Literary Fiction

Approximate word count: 45-50,000 words

Availability Kindle: YES    Nook: YES    Paper: NO
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Author:

A playwright and screenwriter, Sam Havens lives in Houston, Texas with his wife. He has done voice-over narration for radio and TV commercials and taught playwriting, screenwriting, and drama at two Houston area universities. For more visit his website.


Description:

Eddie Tipton’s widowed mother has moved them from town to town, as she’s chased a higher salary as a teacher. His senior year of high school they land in oil-rich Farr Point, Texas.

Appraisal:

Small towns like the imaginary Farr Point have a strange dynamic. It is only a slight exaggeration saying everyone knows everyone else and everybody knows everyone else’s business. They can also seem insular, with few outsiders moving in and out. Sixty years ago, when this story takes place, this would have been even more true than today. Drop newcomer Eddie Tipton into a school where he’ll be looked on suspiciously, not only for being a newcomer, but also the son of the new teacher in town, and that conflict alone is the basis of a decent story.

Small towns also have secrets. Eddie becomes obsessed with one of the mysteries of Farr Point, the unsolved murder of his landlady’s oilman husband. As he uncovers clues to the mystery Eddie is forced into making some tough decisions and learns several life lessons. Farr Point is an enjoyable coming-of-age story and strong debut novel.

FYI

It was insignificant to the plot – only a single line in the middle of the book – but if you read Farr Point see if you can spot the anachronism.

At first glance, this book appears suited for a young adult audience. Some sex, not explicit, but also more than just implied, is enough to disqualify it for that genre. It would be suitable for older teens who read adult novels.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five stars

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

In My Shoes / Adrian Stephens

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: YA/Fantasy

Approximate word count: 90-95,000 words

Availability Kindle: YES    Nook: YES    Paper: YES
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Author:

Adrian Stephens lives in Las Vegas with his wife and two children. You can find out more, including what book Stephens is currently reading, by visiting his website.

Description:

Jake is teenage boy, and Nicole is the girl of his dreams. When Jake attempts asking Nicole for a date, she shoots him down and is quite rude while doing so. Jake vows that if he were a girl he would never treat a guy like that. Maybe Jake will get a chance to prove it when the next morning he wakes and realizes he’s in Nicole’s bed and inhabits her body. Nicole now has possession of Jake’s body. Can they find out how to swap back and not ruin each other’s lives in the meantime?

Appraisal:

My initial reaction to the premise of this book was, “it’s been done.” The idea of swapping places with someone goes back at least as far as Cyrano de Bergerac who did a low-tech version. The book Black Like Me wasn’t a full-fledged swap, but did mine the same territory. Freaky Friday is an even better touchstone. I’m sure there are many more I’m forgetting or don’t know. Then I read the Stephen’s bio on Amazon where he says he wasn’t much of a reader, rarely reading for fun, until about five years ago. I wondered if someone with so little experience as a reader could do a competent job as an author. My concerns turned out to be unfounded.

The reason certain story types are used and reused is the basic premise has a lot to offer. The clichĂ© about walking in someone else’s shoes, the obvious inspiration for the title, has endless variations. The variations on this theme that are most likely to make a good story are those with two people prone to misunderstanding who find it difficult to imagine what the other person’s life is like. The parent child swap in Freaky Friday is a natural. So is swapping a teenage boy with a teenage girl.

As you’d expect Nicole and Jake find living the life of the other is more complicated than they realized. Stephens thought a lot about what it would take to make a situation like this work. Jake and Nicole gave each other extensive debriefings so they could learn to act correctly, otherwise they could damage relationships with friends and family for the other. Jake, in the body of Nicole, had to learn how to apply makeup and stop walking like a man. I was impressed at how well Stephens handled the details; especially the difficulties Jake had being Nicole.

A potential pitfall of a novel like this is keeping track of who is who. If Jake does something, is it Nicole in Jake’s body or Jake in Nicole’s body? Most of the time Stephens managed to keep this clear. Any uncertainty was limited to the confusion the characters were also feeling.

This is a fun read for teens and many adults. It should give either gender an appreciation for the challenges of the other – I know it did me. Or you can choose to overlook the lessons and concentrate on the humor in the situation. It’s funny, as long as it isn’t you in someone else’s shoes.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four stars

Monday, May 23, 2011

Loisaida – A New York Story / Marion Stein

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Literary Fiction/General Fiction/Mystery

Approximate word count: 100-105,000 words

Availability Kindle: YES    Nook: YES    Paper: YES
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Author:

A native New Yorker, Marion Stein has two Masters Degrees, one in creative writing and the other in social work. She moved around the US and Mexico before returning to New York in September 2001. In addition to this novel, she has a novella, The Death Trip, available for your favorite eReader.

Description:

Set in New York City’s East Village in the late 80s, this is the story of those outside society’s mainstream. The neighborhood, also known as Loisaida, is composed of artists, junkies, dreamers, anarchists, and hustlers. It is also a neighborhood on the cusp of gentrification as developers are gutting buildings and displacing much of the population. The story focuses on those who lived there and events going on around them.

The plot centers on a beautiful dancer wannabe who is murdered, and her corpse dismembered. Rumors about how the body was disposed and who was involved in the murder are rampant. A freelance journalist sees a potential book deal and starts digging deeper.

Appraisal:

Loisaida can be viewed two ways. As a work of literary or general fiction, which was the authors intent, or as a mystery.

As a work of literary or general fiction, Loisaida is excellent. Written from the point of view of different characters and constantly switching from one character to another is an approach that can be difficult for the reader to follow, but I didn’t find this to be a problem because Stein’s characters are finely drawn when first introduced. Despite having a large cast, keeping track of the current point of view and how each character connects with the others was rather easy. Although this approach is hard to execute well, Stein did just that. The characters, their stories, and the flavor of the place and time were entertaining and held my interest.

As the story progresses one person emerges as the central character. Peter, an actor turned journalist sees a possible book deal if he can uncover the full story behind the murder and dismemberment of Ingrid, an aspiring dancer. The mentally unstable suspect in custody was almost certainly involved, but rumors that indicate others were involved swirl around. The mystery of who was involved in Ingrid’s murder and exactly what happened ties most of the characters together. While there are other significant plot threads, solving the murder was the most significant.

It is the mystery, central to the plot, where evaluating Loisaida gets tricky. Avoiding spoilers while explaining is also difficult. The book description doesn’t imply you’re reading a mystery. Yet, to the reader, there is a point where it will begin feeling like a mystery. How the story ends and the way the mystery is resolved may be disconcerting for some readers. It was for me. Yet, there is nothing inherently wrong with the ending. Given the story arc, it is more realistic than the ending you might anticipate. That my preconceptions were shaken up when the story took an unexpected turn was a good thing. Understanding why the ending felt wrong … well, that was tricky.

Format/Typo Issues:

A small number of typos.

Rating: ***** Five stars

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Dangers of Field Work / William Vitka

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Short Story/Horror/Science Fiction

Approximate word count: 1-2,000 words

Availability Kindle: YES    Nook: YES    Paper: NO
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Author:

A fan of the over-the-top pulp horror and science fiction of days gone by, William Vitka aims for the same in his fiction. An author and journalist he lives in New York City. Vitka has written another short story, Bodily Harm, and The Boneyard: A Novelette, both available for your Kindle. His debut novel, Infected, will be published in June 2012.

Description:

A communist worker on a strange planet questions why the colony must work so hard for food. Then monsters arrive, killing her coworkers with shooting flames.

Appraisal:

At just under 2,000 words, this quick read rapidly pulls you into the protagonist’s world. She’s hungry and frustrated at first. Hunger turns to terror and a fight for survival when monsters attack.

As I was reading Vitka’s tight, descriptive prose I was continually cycling from disoriented to thinking I had a handle on his story world. Then something major would happen, disorienting me again. The final twist turned my perceptions upside down, as the world came into focus in a way I never imagined.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant errors

Rating: **** Four stars

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

33 Days / Bill See

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Memoir

Approximate word count: 80-85,000 words

Availability Kindle: YES    Nook: YES    Paper: NO
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Author:

Lead singer of the critically acclaimed rock band Divine Weeks, Bill See is now taking what he learned as an indie musician and applying it to becoming an indie author. You can find out more from a website for the book
or Bill’s blog.

Description:

Divine Weeks, an up and coming rock band, cram into a cargo van on their first North American tour. Playing to almost empty clubs or in the bars of Canadian brothels, they struggle to build a fan base, one person at a time.

Appraisal:

Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll. Many people see the life of a touring rock band as one long party. A life of limos, jets, and tour buses with roadies and groupies taking care of all your needs. For some bands it is. For most it isn’t.

In 33 Days Bill See tells the story of the first national tour of Divine Weeks, a Los Angeles based band, during the summer of 1987. As the subtitle explains, instead of jets and groupies it was Touring In A Van, Sleeping On Floors, Chasing A Dream. 33 Days is also the story of what the majority of bands that make it past the local level experience: Playing in clubs where a sellout means a couple hundred people, not tens of thousands and weeknight shows where you hope you’ll make enough to earn gas money to make it to your next gig — ten or twelve hours down the highway.

The music fan in me liked 33 Days for the inside look at what touring is like for the kind of band I’ve gravitated to for the last several years. I had a clue - multiply a pittance of a cover charge by forty or fifty and compare that with a quick barebones estimate of expenses. But, you can’t get a sense of the highs and lows unless you live it, even if only vicariously. For those interested in such things 33 Days delivers.

All readers, even if they don’t give a hoot about the workings of the music business, will still find a compelling tale. In many ways, this is a classic coming-of-age story. For See, this tour is a chance to escape his dysfunctional family and test his own limits. Many of his band mates have home issues they’re also working out. How this group of young men come together as a team while dealing with their individual issues is a story anyone could learn from and enjoy.

As an avid reader of indie books, I frequently cite recent music business history as an explanation of where the publishing business is going — 33 Days is a primer on how that will happen. Indie authors who lament how much work it takes to get their book noticed could learn from the ethos of See and Devine Weeks.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five stars

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Halloween Sky and Other Nightmares / Robin Morris

Reviewed by: JA Gill

Genre: Horror/Short Story

Approximate word count: 45-50,000

Availability Kindle: YES    Nook: YES    Paper: NO
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Author: Robin Morris’s latest novel, Mama, is available as an ebook.

Description:

14 tales of horror and weirdness: mortality is vanity, you can run but can’t hide from your inner demons, witchcraft in the suburbs, one person’s efforts to create a ghost town, Cthulhu reborn, and many more.

Appraisal:

A great majority of Robin Morris’s short stories in Halloween Sky are little self-contained packets of dread and dark novelty, along with a few grammatical terrors. The former makes her a writer whose work is worth following. However, the punctuation and spelling mistakes, obvious and sporadic, subtract from the reading experience.

Like other modern horror, Halloween Sky processes the familiar and wholesome, Christmas carols, circus acts, and sleepy neighborhoods, into the threatening and alien. As Morris demonstrates throughout her collection, this does not imply that the format is yet incapable of churning out strange and original fiction.

Loneliness, as both a plight to overcome and a fact of life to endure, runs through a few of the works in the collection, as does the singular observation of fat people—never main characters, always the “other.” It remains a peculiarity because, otherwise, character description in Halloween Sky is noticeably spare. Starving the reader of physical referents has an alienating effect, Kafka’s The Burrow is an extreme example, and when stretched across multiple stories erodes interest in the fate of the characters when things go awry, as they tend to do in horror stories.

At the end of each tale is a rationale or answer to the presumed question of inspiration. Why writers do this remains a mystery: of course readers want to know, for example, why more zombies at this point in the zeitgeist…that is until we’re awarded with a mundane explanation.

As for type, the stories in Halloween Sky range from palpable and campy to hallucinatory flights of fancy, even black humor. There are a few gems as well, such as the improbably original post-apocalyptic tale of two sisters, the Stephen King-esque piece of haunting childhood experience, and a particularly well-crafted story involving a young woman in a diner with a to-do list.

Format/Typo Issues:

Moderate spelling and punctuation errors

Rating: *** Three stars

Monday, May 16, 2011

DEAD (as a doorpost) / Naomi Kramer

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Mystery/Humor

Approximate word count: 9-10,000

Availability

Kindle  US: YES UK: YES Nook: YES  Smashwords: YES  Paper: NO
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon, B&N or Smashwords stores

Author:

Naomi Kramer lives in Ipswich, Australia, which is up the road a bit from Brisbane. A technical writer by day, Kramer wrangles a husband, two kids, and a couple cats in the evening. Somehow, she also finds time to write. We reviewed her YA novella, Maisy May, several weeks ago. She has three other books. One is a recently released flash fiction collection, Bad Fuck, not a Young Adult book, which we’ll review later. Her other books are a series of novelettes, like this one. The first DEAD(ish), is also the name of the series and available in a Greek translation if you’re so inclined. The second book in the series is (technically) DEAD.

Description:

In Dead (ish), we met Linda, a ghost, for lack of a better term. She’s dead. She’s also stuck between the earth and her next stop. It seems she can’t move on until she can find her body. I guess she’s not dead, just DEAD(ish). In (technically) DEAD Linda has finally made it to heaven. Before she adapts to life (or death) there she returns to Earth, tasked with resolving someone else’s problem. Now, in DEAD (as a doorpost) Linda is settled in heaven, and assigned to help a newcomer adapt. He also needs help understanding how he died.

Appraisal:

Most books that depict heaven paint a picture of a place that’s nice, where everyone is amenable and gets along. Booorrrringgg. I could deal with that, I guess. The angels playing harp music all day would put me to sleep though. If you really only have two choices then sure, boring is better than that eternal damnation thing.

I much prefer Kramer’s heavenly ideal. The harps sound like electric guitars, that is when that is what the angels want. You work because it is fun and your choice. I’m not even going to discuss how sex is different from in that other boring version of heaven.

Linda’s character has evolved during the series. In DEAD (ish), she was evil. I’ll concede it was a playful kind of evil. Still evil. In (technically) DEAD, she was finding her way, adapting to how things work in heaven.

In DEAD (as a door post), for the first time I didn’t see Linda as evil and actually liked her character without reservation. Her wicked and irreverent sense of humor push all the right buttons for me. Linda has grown as a person, if you can do that after you’re dead. She tries to be nice to others, until they give her reason not to be. It looks like her “work” in heaven is going to be helping others whose affairs need straightening out before they can completely move on from their earthly lives. It gives her a chance to snoop, cajole, and get pushy with people who are covering up. This suits Linda’s personality perfectly.

If you’d like a glimpse of a better heaven and a chance to watch Linda in action as she clears up one more mystery to help someone’s smooth transition to the afterlife, DEAD (as a doorpost) is the book for you.

FYI:

If adult language and themes offend you, this may not be the book for you. Avoid the buy button if an irreverent sense of humor offends you.

Although part of a series, any of the books in the Dead(ish) series can be read as stand-alone. The stories are all self-contained. Although some characters in addition to Linda appear in multiple books, knowing their back-story isn’t needed.

Kramer is an Aussie and proud of it. She spells like one and uses Aussie slang. If you run into a strange word, watch Crocodile Dundee again or try this resource. That might help.


Format/Typo Issues:

No issues.

Rating: ***** Five stars

Saturday, May 14, 2011

An Interview with BigAl

On his website, author Simon Royle does what he calls Indieviews. These are interviews with indie authors, readers, and reviewers. If you explore the site you also find many resource for the indie author and reader. Today he does an Indieview interview with BigAl.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Down Low Dead / Zandri & Gelati

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Short Story/Humor

Approximate word count: 5500-6000 words

Availability Kindle: YES    Nook: NO    Paper: NO
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon or B&N store

Authors:

Vincent Zandri is a bestselling novelist in two genres, hard-boiled thrillers and romantic-suspense. The New York Post described As Catch Can, his romantic-suspense novel, as “Brilliant.” An essayist and freelance photojournalist, Zandri’s work has been in many publications around the globe.

Giovanni “The G-Man” Gelati is a blogger and host of Blogtalk radio show The GZONE. Gelati is a writer, but not an author, at least he wasn’t until now.

Description:

Inspiration for this collaboration came from two directions. The first was an experiment Gelati did on his Blogtalk radio show.
In short, one Friday night Gelati’s guest picked a person, place, and thing. Then, four different authors around the world took a turn adding to a short story centered on those words. On Saturday afternoon two other authors read the story on air and shortly after the collaboration was published for the Kindle.

Cue Katherine Lahart, a fan of both authors, graduate student, and author-to-be. Lahart called in when Zandri was a guest on The GZONE and suggests the two collaborate. The wheels started spinning and they came up with the idea of switching back and forth about every five hundred words. (Five hundred words are about the length of a typical blog post, Gelati should be able to pull that off.) In addition, Zandri and Gelati recruited Lahart to write the forward of their work.

Appraisal:

If you’ve ever played the game where one person starts a story and after a minute or two passes off to the other, you’ll have the spirit of this collaboration. You’re never sure where the story is going to end up. Each participant has the challenge of taking the story the direction they want it to go, while staying consistent with what has come before. In many ways this book is like that, except one of the participants has proven his storytelling ability and the other has shown he can put words together.

All right, I’ll stop busting Gelati’s chops and admit he can tell a good story too.

Down Low Dead is fun, just like that game because you don’t know where they’re going to end up; neither did they. It’s full of laughs (unless you’re Mrs. Gelati who takes a little lighthearted abuse). I’d have had a fun time reading it even if I didn’t know how it was produced.

Collaborations like this have a second level of entertainment value beyond the story. This second level allows one to see the seams. Previously I mentioned that the craftsmanship in good flash fiction is a draw that extends beyond the stories. Knowing the concept, and being able to tell which section each author wrote, allows you to admire the gamesmanship as each maneuvers the other to make himself look good and the other not, as each of the dueling writers take the story the direction they want it to go. Well played, gentlemen.

FYI:

Originally, this collaboration was titled The Gang that Couldn’t Kindle Straight, an homage to Gelati’s favorite eReader and Jimmy Breslin’s classic novel, The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight. Amazon was having none of that. “The powers that be have found our title unacceptable,” according to the email I received from Gelati. “Apparently they own the rights to a verb that others have used since the dawn of man,” Gelati stated.

Gelati liked how this turned out so much he decided to search out other victims. He’s labeled this volume one of The Author’s Lab/Collaboration. A second volume, The Jersey Shore has Eyes, a collaboration between Gelati and Big Daddy Abel, is also available in the Kindle store with more to follow.

Format/Typo Issues:

I reviewed based on what I think (at least I hope) was an advance copy. If not the rush to publication needed to be delayed long enough for another set of eyes to proofread.

Rating: **** Four stars

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Appalachian Justice / Melinda Clayton

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Approximate word count: 70-75,000

Availability Kindle: YES    Nook: YES    Paper: YES
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon or B&N store

Author:

The daughter of an English teacher and a minister, Melinda Clayton became a psychotherapist and an author. She has worked as an advocate for abused women, children, and those with developmental disabilities. However, she says her biggest accomplishment is her children who are “amazing, cool, fun little people.” For more, visit her blog.

Description:

Life in West Virginia’s coal mining country in the 1940s wasn’t easy for anyone. For Billy May Platte, a half Irish, half Cherokee orphan, life takes an ugly turn when three boys, just home from the war, call her sexuality into question.

Appraisal:

Appalachian Justice is a story about being different, experiencing intolerance and abuse, while still remaining true to oneself. And ultimately, it is also a story of love, courage, and redemption. Books with a story this powerful are a rarity.

A large portion of the book is narrated by Billy May, the main character, and it is done the way she would talk. She isn’t highly educated and is far from “well spoken.” I found this disconcerting in the beginning. Part way through the first chapter when I read the initial statement from Billy May, “from the top of my mountain, I seen that girl runnin’,” it threw me. However, before long I became accustomed to Billy May’s voice and no longer noticed.

The book is structured to jump between three different points in Billy May’s life, the current, as she lays in a hospice bed narrating her life story, her young life with the story leading up to a life changing event, and middle age, when another incident once again changes the course of her life. Several social ills are highlighted and explored through Billy May’s eyes.

It isn’t often I hit the climax of a book and find myself holding back tears. Yet, during an emotional scene between two of the main characters near the end of Appalachian Justice, I found myself doing exactly that. I managed to fight them off for fear of losing my man card, but had they come they would have been both tears of joy and of happiness. If you read this book – something I highly recommend – maybe you can spot the scene.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five stars

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Living Image / P.M. Richter

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Thriller/Suspense/Science Fiction

Approximate word count: 125-130,000 words

Availability Kindle: YES    Nook: YES    Paper: NO
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon or B&N store

Author:

It seems like I’m detecting a pattern in author bios. They have all had many different and often unrelated jobs. In P.M. Richter’s case she worked as a bunny at the San Francisco Playboy Club while getting her degree in Psychology from Northridge State University. Since then she’s been a dance instructor, a property manager, a real estate agent, and let’s not forget an author.

Description:

Fashion designer Sabrina Miller falls asleep at a tanning salon and wakes up face to face with her double. Sabrina names her Eve (for all the obvious reasons) and discovers she is a clone with enhancements. While sharing the same DNA, Eve is physically much sturdier and stronger. A computer implanted in her brain and loaded with Sabrina’s memories makes her smarter, at least in pure knowledge. Things get dicey for both when the CIA, KGB, and a Japanese businessman all decide they want the technology used to create Eve for their own uses.

Appraisal:

The Living Image, at its core, is a generic - but well executed - thriller. Multiple organizations want Eve, and the protagonist’s goal is to avoid any of them getting her. Unofficial ties between the organizations add complexity and dimension to the basic plot.

What makes the story unique is the development of the relationship between Sabrina and Eve along with the way Eve changes, becoming “more human,” as the story progresses. Imagine trying to understand why someone reacts to the world the way they do if you have no understanding of emotions and don’t experience them yourself. Put yourself in the place of Sabrina’s boyfriend Mark who suddenly has a person who looks like his girlfriend and shares all her memories. How would you react when you realize this interloper knows the details of all the intimate experiences you and your girlfriend have shared?

This book could have used another round of proofing before publication. The issues I saw are all minor, using the word “suite” instead of “suit” or “marshall” instead of “martial” are two examples I found twice each. Although I found many of these type errors, well over the threshold where I assume it won’t impact the reading experience, for me the kinds of errors and frequency were not so bad as to continually jolt me out of the story and had minimal impact on my reading enjoyment.

Format/Typo Issues:

This book had a large number of typos and wrong words.

Rating: **** Four stars

Monday, May 9, 2011

Twelve Terrifying Tales for 2011 / Shana Hammaker

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Thriller/Horror

Approximate word count: In the 7-10,000 word range for each book.

Availability Kindle: Charlie    North of Forks    Border Crossing  
                              Nook: NO     Paper: NO
Click on a title above to go to appropriate page in Amazon or B&N store

Author:

Shana Hammaker grew up in sunny California, but dreamed of escaping to cooler climes. She considered Bangor, Maine, possibly because her favorite author, Stephen King, lives nearby, but instead, ended up in Tennessee where it is warmer and more humid.

Hammaker is publishing a thriller short each month in 2011. One of these will star the reader who submits the most creative murder method to her. (For details on how to enter, visit her Amazon author central page.)

Description:

Each installment in this series stands alone with the only common thread being that each is a thriller. This review covers the first three installments.

In Charlie, a psychological thriller, Alex Huchinson has bought her first house with the dream of settling there with her fiancé. Then corpses start spontaneously appearing. What is Alex going to do?

If you’ve read the Twilight books, you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that North of Forks is a paranormal thriller or that glittery vampires make an appearance. Sara Cullen (no relation to any character from any other book) is a human living in a small Washington town that is – you guessed it – North of Forks. They have big problems with vampires. No surprise there, but the zombie problem is an unexpected side effect.

The author describes the last story, Border Crossing, as a revenge thriller. The star of this story (at least in his own mind) is Michael Connally. Everyone finds Michael charming, with a smile that never fails to get him what he wants. What he wants are souvenirs … very strange souvenirs.

Appraisal:

Each of these is novelette length. All three are short enough to read in one sitting, yet long enough for a plot twist or two, with more time for character development than a short story would allow. Each is very different from the other. North of Forks has a little humor (at least I was amused by what I took as poking fun at the Twilight series) while the other two are full of tension from cover to cover. All have scary sections, yet for very different reasons. One of them you know whodunit from the first lines, while another you have no idea until the final pages. What all have in common is taut plotting, unique characters, and stories that kept me guessing — everything you’d want in a thriller.

Publishing in bits and bytes instead of paper allows for a flexibility and creativity of packaging that was almost impossible in the past. Stephen King originally released The Green Mile as a serial; I wonder if Hammaker’s literary idol provided the inspiration for this concept. Although the stories do stand alone, I can’t help thinking that if you like one (or three), you’ll be eagerly awaiting the next. I know I am.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four stars

Friday, May 6, 2011

Dismember / Daniel Pyle

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Suspense / Horror

Approximate word count: 80-85,000 words

Availability Kindle: YES    Nook: YES    Paper: YES
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon or B&N store

Author:

Daniel Pyle lives with his wife and two daughters in Southwestern Missouri. In addition to Dismember he has two shorter works (novella or novelette size), Down the Drain and the just released Freeze available for your Kindle. He also has short stories in multiple anthologies. For more, visit his website.

Description:

A car accident the summer of Dave Abbot’s seventh birthday kills the rest of his family. Rescued at the accident scene by a warped backwoodsman, he grows up a virtual prisoner. It is now twenty-three years later and Dave is finally free. He sets out to recreate the family he lost, but those who stand in proxy for his long-departed loved ones are not volunteering.

Appraisal:

I’ve been wracking my brain trying to remember if I’ve ever read something like this before. I think I must have, but nothing comes to mind. Dismember was presented as suspense, and it has all the elements of a suspense novel, yet it also has a horror element I wasn’t anticipating. This is similar to the way J.A. Konrath mixes a little horror into his police procedurals in the Jack Daniels series. I’d have guessed I wouldn’t like this combination. Not the first time I’ve been wrong.

Pyle also strayed from the stereotypical in his characterization, making the villain sympathetic. I wanted him captured before anyone (or anyone else) was hurt. There was no excuse for his actions, yet I couldn’t help feeling compassion for him.

Pyle’s writing style is entertaining and at times amusing as I wondered, “How did he come up with that line.” One of my favorites was describing a mountain road as, “curvier than a Parkinson’s patient’s question mark.” Another time one of the characters was risking an injury to her hand, “not thinking website design might be a little tricky with only a left paw and a mangled claw.”

The story is action packed and never bogs down. A typical suspense novel slowly builds tension over the course of the story, peaking near the end. Dismember builds to a peak, then backs off and lets the tension build again as it takes you on a rollercoaster ride of emotion.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: ***** Five stars

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Uneasy Rider / Allie Sommerville

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Travel Narrative

Approximate word count: 55-60,000 words

Availability Kindle: YES    Nook: YES    Paper: YES
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon or B&N store

Author:

Allie Sommerville lives on an island off the south coast of England. Every trip begins with an expensive ferry ride to the mainland. This is her first book. For more visit the author’s website.

Description:

The author, her husband, and sometimes their children traipse around Europe in a mechanically challenged campervan.

Appraisal:

I love reading travel narratives. It seems most fit in two categories. The first are those that are upfront about focusing on the difficulties that often come with travel. The other kind take a more positive tone, emphasizing the wonderful people, places, and things the author experienced. In reality, the two types aren’t that different. Both have positive experiences. Both have difficulties to overcome. The main difference is how the difficulties are presented - as adventures or opportunities for humor.

You could guess Uneasy Rider falls in the opportunity for humor category. If you didn’t, the subtitle, Confessions of a Reluctant Traveller, should make it obvious. Each chapter is a story that can stand alone. Each either focuses on a theme or relates a particular incident. For example, one chapter discusses the difficulties finding campgrounds for the night while another focuses on a night spent at a particular hotel in Spain. Although most of the stories come from a handful of long trips, they aren’t chronological. Once you set your expectations accordingly, Uneasy Rider is a pleasurable armchair excursion.

The Sommerville family experiences all the negatives of travel, giving the reader opportunity to laugh at their expense while you learn about the areas they traveled and the cultures they experienced. Although Ms. Sommerville would have us believe she was a reluctant traveler, when I finished the final story I couldn’t help wondering if she would really give up all the positive experiences to have avoided the difficulties. The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

FYI:

The author, who is from the UK, uses British expressions and spellings. I was surprised the time she mentioned a specific temperature to see it expressed in Fahrenheit. After asking a few UK residents, I found it is common for those who grew up using Fahrenheit temperatures to continue doing so in spite of the change to Celsius as the official standard. This is a positive for us Americans who wouldn’t have a clue what to wear if the temperature is 20 degrees Celsius.

Format/Typo Issues:

I found no significant proofing or typo issues. The book has some footnotes, which are explained at the end of each chapter. It appeared clicking on the footnote would take you to the explanation, however it didn’t. This would have been nice to have, but is far from a serious issue.

Rating: **** Four stars

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Remix / Lexi Revellian

Reviewed by: Jess

Genre: Female Sleuth/Mystery

Approximate word count: 75,000

Availability Kindle: YES    Nook: YES   Paper: YES
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon or B&N store

Author:

When not writing, Lexi Revellian can be found creating jewelry for the Queen Mum and Margaret Thatcher in London. She has published two novels, Torbrek and the Dragon Variation and Trav Zander, both fantasies. Her second contemporary novel Replica has just become available this month. If you'd like to learn more about Lexi, read her short stories, or the first few chapters of her novels visit her website or her blog.


Description:

Caz Tallis has finally finished decorating the flat above her rocking horse restoration studio only to find the not-so-dead fugitive lead singer of The Voices and his dog sleeping on her new patio sofa. Upon befriending them, she finds herself immersed in a web of lies, hobnobbing with celebrities, trying to decide who to trust, who to lust, and whodunit.

Appraisal:

This is one of my favorite genres. To me, Female Sleuth is a bit of Mystery, Chic Lit, and Romance all in a clean little package. I loved Ms. Revellian's characters. They were charming and endearing with just enough tang to keep them real. She paced the book perfectly. Both the plot and relationships grew gradually in complexity hitting their peaks simultaneously. The dialogue was easy to follow and the narration made scene transitions beautifully. I have never been to London, but it felt like I was there! The rousing action interspersed with light romance would make this an enjoyable read for both sexes. It's a page-turner, you'll want to finish it the same day you start it.

FYI:

This was my first time reading a British author without an American editor revamping it for a US edition. I was thankful that the New Oxford American Dictionary built into the Kindle contained all the British spellings and definitions as well as much of the slang.

Format/Typo Issues:

Keeping the spelling nuances in mind, I did not find any errors.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Kissing Kelli / Kathy Carmichael

Reviewed by: Corina

Genre: Romance

Approximate word count: 40,000 – 45,000

Availability Kindle: YES    Nook: YES    Paper: YES
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon or B&N store

Author:

Kathy Carmichael is an award-winning author of books and writing workshops. She has a few other novels available for your Kindle: Angel Be Good, Diary of a Confessions Queen, and Hot Flash, and several others currently only available in paper formats. All of her novels, including the one in this review, have been well-received, earning average ratings of four to five stars in Amazon customer reviews. You can learn more about this author at her website.

Description:

Veterinarian Kelli Palmer comes from both rich and royal bloodlines, making her a target for royalty hunters, and souring her on relationships. That and the fact that her sister brought as her date the cowboy that catches Kelli’s eye convince the animal doctor to keep her distance from rodeo star Bobby Gray Nelson. The problem is, Bobby Gray finds her avoidance of him totally unacceptable.

Appraisal:

This novel has characters that are fairly well fleshed out, interesting, and engaging. You care about Kelli, you care about Bobby Gray, and the more the reader sees through their eyes, the more the two go together. The romance between them is easy to visualize, and the attraction is there early on. Kelli fights what she feels for Bobby Gray, he fights to keep her attention, and in and about that dance weave two conflicts that threaten to keep the potential lovers apart.

These two conflicts are what weaken the story experience for me. I was all set for a sweet and fluffy romance, and the misunderstandings that generate the basis for these two conflicts were believable at the beginning, but over time lost all power to compel my compassion. I was with the star-crossed lovers at the beginning, hoping they could win through to love, and at some point in each of the conflict subplots that arose, I wanted to smack one of the characters around and say “Enough, already—talk it out!” There are always those classic misunderstandings in stories that last so long because of pride, because of anger, because of jealousy, and they are usually explained. There is an ongoing development of each character’s emotions, allowing there to be a moment of release of that tension. In both subplots of this story, the buildup of tension was too drawn out and aggravating, the release of tension was too quick, too pat, and eminently unsatisfactory.

The most frustrating aspect of reading this novel is that I can tell that this author is a good writer, with an eye for detail, and yet it felt like she has left this perhaps one draft too early. The final tweaks would bring this light and frothy book up from merely good to I-can’t-wait-for-her-next-book great.

A couple more items that caught my eye are her referring to College Station as “South Texas,” which I, as a South Texan myself, would probably classify as “Central Texas;” and the awkward name “Bobby Gray.” It certainly doesn’t roll off the tongue, as a good Southern double name should. Bobby Joe, Bobby Lee, Bobby Mack, maybe, but Bobby Gray? It just don’t sound right, Ma’am. There is a fine tradition of these names, and this one might even be out there somewhere on a real person. But that still don’t make it sound right. (Excuse my Southern accent, y’all.)

Despite that, the story is fun, sweet, and has moments where I laughed out loud at the image Carmichael painted for me. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to a teen or tween girl who is interested in romantic novels, but I would hesitate to suggest this book to one of my more discerning friends, if only for these issues with the two overstretched conflict plots, and the sudden denouement.

If you are looking for a light, undemanding summer read, you might want to add this to your reading list.

FYI:

No warnings here. This romance is innocent enough to recommend to girls of any age, particularly if they have a fondness for animals.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant Issues

Rating: *** Three stars

Monday, May 2, 2011

Character driven Science Fiction – The only way to go!

Guest Post by William L. K.

A Note from BigAl: Despite encouragement from many friends who kept suggesting, “you should start a book blog,” I kept resisting. My typical response was, “why does the world need another book review blog.” When I finally allowed myself to be convinced, it was with the thought of having more than just reviews. In the almost immediate crush of book submissions those ideas quickly fell by the wayside – it also convinced me that possibly there was a place for another book review blog.

However, I still wanted more than just reviews. One of those ideas was posts that prompted broader discussion about the world of books, rather than specific books. Although not my primary reason for writing it, the post on negative reviews turned out like that. The guest post by Donna Fasano on the romance and chick lit genres did the same. Inspired by Fasano’s post, sci-fi/fantasy author William L.K. whose books “The Voice” and “Eye of the Storm” I’ve reviewed recently offered up this post for our consideration. If anyone else, author or reader, has an idea along these same lines and is interested in writing a guest post let me know. William (or should it be Mr L.K.?) also runs a site for readers called "Awesome Trilogies and Series."

I’m amazed by the amount of readers I meet that refuse to read science fiction. The response I usually receive is a preference for ‘character’ over ‘bizarre, frightening creatures and places’ that have no foundation in reality. In my opinion, this is an interesting conceptual flaw because the best science fiction I’ve read never focuses too heavily on external surroundings.

As a sci-fi/fantasy author (and huge fan of the genre), I’ve read an enormous amount of science fiction. I do agree; science fiction that puts too strong an emphasis on setting can many times fall flat. However, the core for any story, regardless of the genre, is strong believable characters. Frank Herbert and Arthur C. Clarke are two great examples of how to create supreme character development. They are absolute masters at spotlighting real human characters, with real human qualities.

Living on this planet, we will obviously experience euphoric moments of extreme pleasure and tragic circumstance that defy understanding. It’s always been my belief that we have a psychological need to connect to the drama in a character if we are to care at all about the plot. Don’t get me wrong, of course plot is vital, but is it really what drives us to a story? At least in my own personal writing, I have found that plot is simply the manifestation of a character's believable dilemma, and subsequently, the triumph or failure over any given obstacle.

Good science fiction must be based in the perceptive analysis of our own reality. There has to be a passionate connection to the personal situations we deal with in our everyday lives. Once that is established, does it really matter where or when the story takes place?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Winner of "Upcountry" eBook

The 10 winners of a free eBook copy of R.M. Doyon's Upcountry are listed below. Click HERE for instructions on how to claim your prize. (Note that you must act no later than 12 Noon Eastern on Tuesday.) Click HERE if you missed our review of this book.

The winners in no particular order are:

Tabitha Mudaliar
Bree Gale
Nik Kamarulzaman
Jim Bernheimer
Russ Crossley
Jennifer Armentrout
Peter (Google friend name)
Jim (Google friend name)
Rhonda Lomazow
Literarygrrrl (twitter name)