Friday, December 30, 2016

Review: The Billionaire Who Wasn't by Beth Orsoff


Genre: Romantic Suspense

Description:

An ethically-challenged sister . . .

A father who's on the lam . . .

A mother who's barely speaking to her . . .

And a federal agent who wants to bed her . . .

What's a former billionaire's daughter to do?

Nina Roth is having a horrible day. Actually, make that a horrible week. In fact, make it a horrible year. Unemployed? Check. About to be homeless? Check. Father's an international pariah and Nina's guilty by association? Check. What's a former billionaire's daughter to do? The only thing she can--swallow her fear, ignore that little voice inside her head telling her all is not as it seems, and embark on an international manhunt that will either save her life or destroy it, once and for all.”

Author:

An attorney working in the entertainment industry (aka a “Hollywood Lawyer”) by day, Beth Orsoff writes chick lit, romantic comedy, romantic suspense … pretty much anything with humor and romance both in the mix. She lives in Los Angeles where she chases her toddler around in her spare time. Or maybe that's writes in her spare time.


Appraisal

This was a fun read. Part of me liked to imagine the billionaire of the story was Donald Trump. He clearly wasn't, but had a few random things in common with Trump including two daughters with different mothers, the youngest named Tiffany. It was easy and more than a bit fun to imagine an FBI investigation sending him on the run, even though it never did.

Knowing this was romantic suspense meant I thought I knew how some of the story, specifically the romance part, was going to come together, even if I had a hard time seeing how that was going to happen through much of the book. I wasn't exactly wrong about that, but more wrong than right. I was even farther off in how the suspense part of the story was going to conclude. As you might gather, if you like stories to surprise you, taking twists and turns that keep you on your toes, The Billionaire Who Wasn't fits the bill.

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: 75-80,000 words

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Review: Dark Dawning by Christine Rains


Genre: Urban Fantasy/Mystery/Romance

Description:

Shifters across Alaska are going missing. When up and coming interior designer Ametta Dorn rescues the gorgeous Kodiak shifter Lucky Osberg, she comes into the crosshairs of two relentless hunters. While Lucky sets his sights on wooing her, the killers seek to not only capture her in her powerful polar bear form but to also take her skin.

To prevent her murder and the deaths of other shifters, she must work with Lucky to track down and stop these merciless hunters. After all, their enemy’s plan for shifter skins is something much more terrifying than collecting mere trophies.”

Author:
Christine Rains is a writer, blogger, and geek mom. She has four degrees which help nothing with motherhood but make her a great Jeopardy player. When she's not reading or writing, she's going on adventures with her son or watching cheesy movies on Syfy Channel. She's a member of S.C.I.F.I. and Untethered Realms. She has one novel and several novellas and short stories published.”
Appraisal:

I have read and reviewed several of Christine Rains’ novellas and I enjoy the way she writes. Dark Dawning is set in Alaska and grabbed my interest right away with its Inuit mythology. I have a weakness for Native American stories. However, I can’t recall having read any stories about polar bear shifters before. I dove in head first and devoured the novella enjoying the story till the end. Then my mind started to question some of the events, like how did that happen? Was a certain ritual being performed that wasn’t mentioned? And where was Saskia this whole time? We know she was out hunting the hunters, but why did she not find a way to communicate with her family after a certain length of time? Was she that egotistical and inconsiderate all the time?

Sorry, I guess I jumped ahead of myself here. Saskia, Kinley, and Ametta Dorn work together in a custom home building/design/renovation business in rural Alaska. They are polar bear shifters and this story centers on Ametta, the youngest of the three sisters. Her expertise is in design and her dream is to move from Alaska and set up her own design firm in a large metropolis far from Alaska. This has become a source of contention within the family recently.
When Ametta rescues an injured Kodiak bear who is being hunted by an elite set of hunters the mystery begins. It seems that she and gorgeous Kodiak shifter Lucky Osberg are on their own to figure out who, what, and why. Ametta is head-strong, intuitive, and impulsive. It seems like she can be her own worst enemy at times. Ametta meeting Lucky has the potential of throwing a huge wrench into her future plans. The sexual tension between them is palatable and intriguing.

The action is fast and furious and I became totally engrossed. The twists in the story kept me off balance, which caused the questions above. I’m pretty sure I’ve worked out some of the answers. The rest I’m hoping will be answered in the following novellas. Characters are developed in differing amounts, depending on their importance. Saskia and Kinley are introduced with key personality traits and I suspect they will become more fully rounded as the series continues. I am anxious to learn more about the Black Shamans, the ancient police of the shifters. Saskia’s association with them is briefly touched on when they were brought into the mystery. The plot quest comes to light at the end of this story, which includes some mystical properties. So while one story arc is completed there is much more to come as the hunt continues.

Bottom line, I found this novella compelling but was left wanting. This is a common problem with novellas for me. I think this may be a promising new urban fantasy series with some original elements.

Buy now from:    Amazon US    Amazon UK

FYI:

Dark Dawning is book one in the Totem series, of which there are six completed so far.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues in proofing or formatting.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 25-30,000 words

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Reprise Review: The Earthquake Doll by Candace Williams


Genre: Historical Fiction/Coming of Age

Description:

The gap between the old Japan and the new is never so wide as when it tears open a young girl’s heart…

It's 1952 Japan, seven years since the war was lost to the Americans, seven years since Miyoko lost her father and the home of her birth. Now she must earn a living caring for the children of an American family at the nearby air base.

When tragedy strikes, sixteen-year-old Miyoko is ordered to obey her family's wishes or disgrace the memory of her father and bring hardship upon her family. Tradition says she must obey, but her secret heart whispers that the new laws can free her.

As the earth trembles and splits beneath her, Miyoko must jump forward—or back.”

Author:

Candace Williams lives with her husband and beloved rescued Iggys (Italian Greyhounds) in Texas. Her first novel, The Earthquake Doll, was inspired by her early experiences in post-war Japan while her father was serving in the Korean Conflict. She is hard at work on her next book, a contemporary mystery.”


Appraisal:

Those who don’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” George Santayana – Philosopher and Poet

You’ve probably heard or seen this quote or a variation of it at some point. For me at least, when I’m reading historical fiction, in the back of my mind I’m comparing the world as it was then to now. It’s a way to “remember,” either reminding me of a time I lived through or giving me a perspective of an era, like this one, that I didn’t experience. The Earthquake Doll triggered plenty of those thoughts, mainly related to the life of the American family Miyoko works for and the aftermath of war.

However, even more interesting was the Japanese culture which at the time was going through some major upheavals with young people rebelling against tradition that no longer made sense. Miyoko is torn as she struggles with the conflict between the old and new ways and is forced to make a life changing decision between two options, each one with its price. The result is a gripping coming of age story set against a unique backdrop of time and place.

Buy now from:    Amazon US    Amazon UK

FYI:

Added for Reprise Review: The Earthquake Doll was a nominee in the Contemporary/Literary/General category for B&P 2015 Readers' Choice Awards. 
Original review ran March 19, 2014.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 50-55,000 words

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Making Michael by Mike Smallcombe


Genre: Biography

Description:

Side-stepping sensationalism, journalist Mike Smallcombe enters uncharted territory as he takes you behind the scenes to reveal the real Jackson, a man few people ever got to know.

Interviewing over sixty of Jackson's associates including managers, lawyers, music executives, producers, musicians and engineers - many of whom are speaking about their experiences publicly for the first time - he provides exclusive access to one of the biggest-selling recording artists in history.”

Author:

Mike Smallcombe is an English journalist.

Appraisal:

If you're interested in Michael Jackson as a fan or due to a general curiosity about the life of a creative genius or celebrity, Making Michael should do the trick. I found the insights into Jackson's life and accomplishments interesting. Even more so the different view, more complete and nuanced, I gained into Michael's approach to creative tasks.

Buy now from:    Amazon US    Amazon UK

FYI:

UK spelling conventions.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 130-135,000 words

Monday, December 26, 2016

MAYA: Symbiogenesis Book One by Pete Barber


Genre: Thriller/Sci-Fi/Contemporary Fiction

Description:

Hours before doctors plan to switch off her premature daughter’s life-support systems, Lauren risks all and injects her baby with a stolen experimental drug. The last-resort treatment transforms Maya’s genetic fingerprint. While Lauren struggles to disguise the reason for her daughter’s miraculous recovery, Maya develops unique abilities that may signal a new, more hope-filled future for humankind, or perhaps sound its death knell.”

Author:

Born into a blue-collar family in Liverpool, England, Pete immigrated to the US in the early 90s and settled in North Carolina.

After surviving near-death experiences at ages six and eighteen, he led a haphazard life, putting bread on the table as a plumber, computer programmer, salesperson, marketing executive, hotel operator, real-estate developer, and llama farmer.

Pete writes fast-paced fiction that makes people think--what if?

Pete's debut thriller--NanoStrike--has over 150 5-STAR reviews on Amazon US. Love Poison, a suspenseful romance was published September 2014. When A Warrior Comes Home followed in March 2015. MAYA, November 2016... more to come!

Mr. Barber is also a Pal reviewer at BigAl’s Books and Pals, to learn more please visit his website or follow him on Facebook.

Appraisal:

Mr. Barber doesn’t waste any time setting up his characters and scenes. The players are all fully developed and well portrayed. I tried to hold off on how I felt about Lauren through most of the book. She has a lot to lose with the critical decisions she has to face time and time again throughout the story. I didn’t have any problem identifying with her character though. Lauren is intelligent and well centered while Margaret, Lauren’s mother, was a different story. I didn’t like her at all. Fact is, Margaret’s beliefs were a major plot twist in the story and I was sure I wouldn’t like where the story was headed. However, Mr. Barber’s intelligent writing style brought me around to the compassion of understanding and accepting things you can’t change about the people you love. Margaret isn’t a bad person, she was under a misperception and simple minded. Lauren understood this and added a balance in the way she handled her mother.

Maya is a suspenseful sci-fi that employs biogenetics with a spiritual edge. I found it easy to become engrossed in all the implications involved that then evolved into this stunningly inspiring tale. I had no problem suspending my disbelief to revel in the possibilities. There are several twists that complicate the plot, some were unexpected, others you could see coming. Despite that, this is a story that will play with your emotions and may cause you to question your own beliefs.

I appreciated the time jumps used in the story. Things could have easily bogged down with too many details that weren’t relevant to moving the story forward. I have no doubt that these time warps will be filled in with flash backs in future additions to the series. The ending is tense and shocking, but adds closure to an important story arc. It also gives us a peek at how Maya has matured over the years and gives us insight into her mindset. Neither suspense nor sci-fi are my normal genres, but I loved this compelling story and can’t wait to read more about Maya.

Buy now from:    Amazon US    Amazon UK

FYI:

MAYA is book one in the Symbiogenesis series.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant proofing issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words

Friday, December 23, 2016

Review: Call Me Daddy (A Cass Adams Novel Book 2) by Kelly Stone Gamble


Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Woman’s Fiction

Description:

Cass Adams comes from a long line of crazy, and she fears passing that on to her unborn child. Also, she’s run over Roland and Clay’s surprise half-brother Britt, landing him in the hospital. With her inner demons coming out to haunt her, she doesn’t know if she should keep the baby.

Clay Adams has his own decisions to make. His half-brother shows up to tell him their father, Freddy, is still alive but needs a liver transplant. When Freddy blew out of town thirty-five years ago, secrets were buried. But it’s time for them to be dug up, because only then can Clay hope to lay the past to rest.

Call Me Daddy is a story of family, the secrets they keep, and to what lengths someone would go to protect them.”

Author:

I want readers to take something away from my books and short stories: something memorable, whether it be an interesting protagonist, an emotion or a moment in time. Depending on what characters decide to sit beside me on a particular day, I may write historical fiction or quirky, dark humor.

My interests are as diverse as my writing. I am at home fishing on a river, riding horses in the mountains, reading on a beach, hiking through the desert or playing pirate with my friends. I don't believe in growing old and I refuse to grow up.”

To learn more about Ms. Gamble check out her website or Facebook page.

Appraisal:

Call Me Daddy is above all a story of family, much like the novelty song “I’m My Own Grandpa” written in 1947 by Dwight Latham and Moe Jaffe. They got the idea for the song from a book of Mark Twain anecdotes. I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist the reference because it made me laugh.

Honestly, though this story isn’t nearly that complicated, but it is tangled, and is certainly not nearly as funny. However, there is a lot of dark humor employed with complicated emotions throughout the story. Ms. Gamble slowly unravels secrets of old friends and family in a delft manner using multiple points-of-view that are clearly marked by chapter headings. This style choice also produced some repetition of facts. I tried to overlook those instances because it lets the reader know that the character was also aware of those same secrets.

Deacon, Kansas is a small town with many memorable quirky personalities. Most are longtime residents that grew up in the area and know everyone else’s business. The twists in the plot are realistic and surprising. There were times the book was hard to put down. Hard decisions had to be made by the Adams’ family members. While others could only watch and be there to pick up the pieces in case things went awry. Call Me Daddy is a poignant story where skeletons are forced out of the closet to dance on the graves of those passed and at times the souls of the living.

I look forward to more stories from Deacon, Kansas. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that this setting is almost in my neck of the woods and the residents seem like family to me. Which may be why I prefer to escape into fantasy and paranormal books. However, Ms. Gamble is quickly becoming a favorite author.

Buy now from:    Amazon US    Amazon UK

FYI:

Call Me Daddy is the sequel to They Call Me Crazy, and can be read as a standalone novel.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant proofing or formatting issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 80-85,000 words

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Review: Throw the Texas Dog a Bone by Russ Hall


Genre: Mystery

Description:

Human bones found in a furnace at an animal shelter just outside of Austin cause retired detective Al Quinn to be called in to work the case. Before he leaves the shelter, Al adopts a new companion, Tanner, a dog just two days away from being euthanized.

Testing shows that the bones belong to more than one person. Al must deal with a pesky FBI human-trafficking team that butts into the investigation while he is training a new detective. At home, he has a houseful of people when he’d planned to live alone, not to mention his new pet. Add a burglary ring whose members threaten his housemates, along with Tanner, and someone will soon be seeing the dark side of Al Quinn.”

Author:

The winner of multiple awards, Russ Hall has more than twenty published books that include mysteries, thrillers, westerns, poetry, and nonfiction. Hall lives in Austin, Texas.

Appraisal:

This is the third book in Russ Hall's series featuring Al Quinn as a retired police detective who keeps getting drug out of retirement to work a case. (Yeah, I don't think he understands the point of retirement either.) All of the stories are solid mysteries with what you'd expect from a good police procedural or mystery with a police detective as protagonist.

However, one thing that sets the Al Quinn series apart from many of the same type is the supporting characters. They add to the stories in numerous ways not only because they often contribute to solving the mystery (and also tend to get in the way at other times), but because they're unique, not at all the kind of characters you'd expect to see. They add an entertaining element to the stories, a laugh, and a break in the tension at times where that's just what's needed.

Buy now from:    Amazon US    Amazon UK

FYI:

A small amount of adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 65-70,000 words

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Review: The Unusual Second Life of Thomas Weaver by Shawn Inmon


Genre: Science Fiction/Time Travel

Description:

A second chance to make it right; a second chance to screw it up again.
Tragedy is the name of the game for fifty-five-year-old Thomas. At least that's what he tells himself as he washes down the handful of little white sleeping pills stolen from his mother. Lying back on his bed, he waits for the reaper to take away the despair. Instead he is transported to a different kind of hell--puberty. Thomas wakes in his childhood bedroom, with his teenage body, and all his memories intact. With a new lease on life he has a chance to do it all right. He will save his brother, change the course of history, find love, and stop a horrific killer. That is, if he can overcome being a pathetic screw-up.”

Author:

Former DJ, business consultant, and real estate agent, Shawn Inmon is now a fulltime author. A regular contributor at Indies Unlimited, Inmon can't seem to decide whether to write fiction (Rock'n Roll Heaven), or non-fiction (his current work-in-progress is based on a trip he took a few months ago, partially chronicled at his ALap Around America website). Then there are his first two books that were novels based on truth or fictionalized memoirs or … I don't know what to call them, but they were somewhere in the middle.

Appraisal:

One reason I always seem to like Shawn Inmon's books is that we're around the same age and overly obsessed with music. So his books have references like the character in this book saying “Oh, and Pablo Cruise sucks. Ten years from now, no one will know who they are,” and I agree and laugh. More importantly, I get the reference. Many of you won't. If your high school years were sometime in the 70s and you haven't read all of Inmon's books, you should.

If high school was before or (even more so) after the 70s there are still plenty of universal and timeless themes in all of Inmon's books. The Unusual Second Life of Thomas Weaver possibly more so than any other. We've all made decisions in our life that we wonder about. Was that a good decision? What would have happened if I'd done this instead? If I'd have known this was going to happen, I wouldn't have done that.

The basis of this story is a different twist on time travel when the protagonist who has been haunted by a big mistake in high school finds himself transported back to before that mistake. He's not only back in time, but he looks like he did back then. The only difference is that he knows what's coming. Unless he can change that. It's a great premise. I found myself pulling for Thomas, wondering what he should do, and hoping he'd figure it out. That's at least part of what you'd hope for in a story like this. And really that's enough. However, if it sparks a little introspection, if you start wondering what you'd do differently if you were transported back in time, even better. (If you wake up tomorrow and find out that I've become a major shareholder in Amazon, that means my plan worked.)

Buy now from:    Amazon US    Amazon UK

FYI:

A small amount of adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Review: Felix Finds Out! By Joan Slowey


Genre: Middle Grade

Description:

Felix Quirke is a shy, undersized ten-year-old boy, who lives with his Uncle Eddie in a small, dingy flat in an Irish seaside town. His biggest concern is what to wear to the Fancy Dress party at school before the Christmas holidays. However, Uncle Eddie has a bigger concern and asks for Felix’s help, which could prove dangerous. Quirky characters abound in this tale that takes a small boy out of his comfort zone.

Author:

Joan Slowey, an Irish writer, has lived in Dublin for most of her life but is from Co Down originally. She has been writing for many years and has published short stories, poems, and novels for children.”

Check out Ms. Slowey’s other books on her Amazon author page.

Appraisal:

Felix Finds Out is a charming but quirky story about a young, insecure boy who has to step out of his comfort zone. Because of unfortunate family circumstances, Felix Quirke is living with his uncle in a small village on the Irish coast. Felix is a clever boy and learns quickly that he needs a few friends to snoop around his school with him in order to help his uncle nail a small-time thief to save his job.

Being an introvert, Felix hasn’t sought to make friends at this new school. However, his choices turnout to be good ones. That is until a new girl arrives at the school who is self-confident, out-going, bossy, and tends to walk on the wild side. With Samantha, Felix meets his biggest personal challenge of all.

The plot is character-driven, slow-paced, but suspenseful. The characters are diverse, well-drawn, and believable. Since there is no real mystery of who the thief is, the story lacks a certain degree of oomph. However, Felix Finds Out is an inventive tale that explores many levels of friendship to help discern when and where to take a stand. It’s an enjoyable story as Felix finds confidence to feel more secure in himself.

Buy now from:    Amazon US    Amazon UK

FYI:

Ms. Slowey is an Irish author and uses British/Irish spelling conventions and slang, which may be challenging for younger readers.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant proofing issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 45-50,000 words

Monday, December 19, 2016

Review: Good Girl Bad Girl by Ann Girdharry


Genre: Psychological thriller

Description:

When her journalist mother goes missing, Kal investigates. Kal's no fool, though sometimes she might pretend to be, because hiding her strengths is a great way to extract information.

An expert in psychology and skilled in reading other people and their behaviours, she first learnt her craft from her deceased father. He was a man with dark secrets.
A shadow’s been stalking her family for three generations. Kal will uncover a child trafficking network and to find her mother, she'll be pushed over her limits and forced to face a horror she's been avoiding all her life…”
Author:

Ann Girdharry was born and educated in the UK. A trained psychotherapist, she worked for many years as a manager in the not-for-profit sector, for agencies working with: carers, vulnerable older people and those with dementia, survivors of abuse, and victims of racial attacks.

Today, she lives in Montpellier, France with her husband and two children.

Appraisal:

Overall, I enjoyed this novel. Kal, the main character had some interesting skills and a troubled history that added zest. The plot was believable, and all the threads were pulled together neatly by the end.

A couple of issues niggled at me throughout: First, Kal’s path was often eased by convenient occurrences. Although these happen-chances fell a little short of deus ex machina, they were pretty close and could have been handled better. Such as when she was so easily employed at a clinic, or gained access to a billionaire’s home. The second issue was with Kal. I enjoyed her psychological knowledge and how she applied it to glean essential information about people she encountered, but the author felt the need to over explain. This weakened what should have been a strength of the novel--when the “show” is enough, trust the reader to understand without also being told.

All that said, this is a strong thriller. The action sequences are really well done--not a trivial task. Kal is scheduled to feature in further adventures and she’s certainly a strong enough character to carry a series.

Buy now from:    Amazon US    Amazon UK

FYI:

English spelling and locations. The plot revolves around a pedophilia ring. Although there is no graphic child abuse, it is insinuated.

Format/Typo Issues:

A few typos, but not enough to upset me.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: Pete Barber


Approximate word count: 90-95,000 words

Friday, December 16, 2016

Review: An Elegant Theory by Noah Milligan


Genre: Contemporary Literature/Psychological/Suspense

Description:

Coulter Zahn sees reality differently than others. Much like light can theoretically be in all places at once, Coulter sees multiple versions of his life… An existential psychological thriller, An Elegant Theory explores how the construction of memory and consciousness can shape motive, guilt, and identity through the lens of a modern-day mad-scientist motif.”

Author:

Noah Milligan splits his time between words and numbers and is a longtime student of physics, prompting him to write his debut novel, An Elegant Theory, a draft of which was shortlisted for the 2015 Horatio Nelson Fiction Prize. His short fiction has appeared in numerous literary magazines, including MAKE, Storyscape Literary Journal, Empty Sink Publishing, and Santa Clara Review. He is a graduate of the MFA program at the University of Central Oklahoma, and he lives in Edmond, OK, with his wife and two children.”

Appraisal:
Coulter Zahn is a promising PhD candidate at MIT with a wife and a baby on the way. Understandably, he is under a lot of pressure writing his dissertation. When his hypothesis comes under criticism and his estranged mother (who suffers from mental illness herself) returns, his life starts unraveling or perhaps fracturing would be a better word? As Coulter loses control everyone’s life around him becomes irreparably changed forever.

Mr. Milligan uses a style writing An Elegant Theory that I have not experienced before. There are sudden time-warps where the story will jump either back in time or into a future you are not quite sure is real or imagined. He has employed this style to keep the reader as off balance as Coulter is feeling as his own mental health is deteriorating. And it works. At one point I was convinced Coulter was suffering from schizophrenia, however if you consider the subject of his dissertation it’s likely he was experiencing different planes of existence altogether.

The plot is character driven and not linear. The twists in the story are extreme and well thought out. The most important people are well developed and realistic. I’m wondering if I should warn the readers they may come away from this novel with a taste of quantum physics and string theory as well as what it may feel like to go slowly insane.

I think if I re-read this book, it’s possible, I may come away with a totally different theory about what was actually happening here. After saying that, this would be an excellent novel for discussion with a group or book club. Egads! I don’t think I have ever said that before in a review. I believe Noah Milligan is an author to keep an eye on in the future.

Buy now from:    Amazon US    Amazon UK

FYI:

**Warning** this book may change the way you see yourself, those around you, or life in general, forevermore.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant proofing or formatting issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 95-100,000 words

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Review: Christmas Bessie by Grace Jelsnik


Genre: Christmas/Romance

Description:

Stella’s personal life has deteriorated beyond her ability to cope. She divorced her husband. Her friends, all married, want nothing to do with a single woman. Her mother isn’t speaking to her. Her new neighbors have never spoken to her. Her furniture attacks her. She can’t even get the date right for the Christmas festival she attended in the hopes of gaining some holiday spirit.

Then the car in front of her on a dark, snowy highway stops at the side of the road and dumps out a dog, speeding away. Stella doesn’t realize how special this dog is until everything in her life changes for the better.”

Author:

Grace Jelsnik earned her M.A. in English with an emphasis on creative writing at the University of South Dakota. She lives in North Dakota with her husband, their children, two dogs, and three cats.

Appraisal:

Just before I hit the end of Christmas Bessie I was floored. I felt like I'd been blindsided by a twist that made absolutely no sense to me. I talked it over with a fellow reader and … well, we'll get to that later. First let's talk about the rest of the book.

I loved the rest of the book. It's full of humor, that made me laugh. It has a romance with the vet that follows the traditional romance story line. There is plenty of feel-good Christmasy kinds of things going on. And there is even a little bit of a mystery for our heroine Stella and her handsome veterinarian to investigate.

Now back to that twist. I can't say what happened. I can say that the story wouldn't have felt incomplete without it and that it made no sense to me. When I discussed it with the friend she said that it was making a statement on “the supernatural essence of love and devotion.” She mentioned a couple books by the same author she has read that had this same kind of element. I realized that another book of hers I had read did as well. Someone more spiritual than I am is going to react differently. (In fact, from further discussion my friend's reaction to this would have been much different than mine. She also suggested, correctly, that there were subtle hints this was coming along the way.)

So where does that leave us? If the book description appeals, grab it. If you're into spiritual or supernatural, expect a little bonus. If you're not that spiritual, maybe knowing something a bit off-the-wall is coming will lighten the blow.

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

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

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.

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