Friday, June 23, 2017

Review: One Sip at a Time by Keith Van Sickle


Genre: Travel Memoir

Description:

“Can a two-career couple really pick up stakes and move to Provence?
Keith and Val had a dream – to live in Provence, the land of brilliant sunlight, charming hilltop villages and the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean.
But there were two problems: they weren’t French speakers and they had full-time jobs. So they came up with a plan…”

Author:

“Keith Van Sickle is a technology industry veteran and lifelong traveler who got his first taste of overseas life while studying in England during college. But it was the expat assignment to Switzerland that made him really fall in love with Europe. With his wife Val and their trusty dog, he now splits his time between Silicon Valley and Provence, delving ever deeper into what makes France so endlessly fascinating.”

Find out more about Keith on his website.

Appraisal:

At its heart One Sip at a Time is a travel memoir. And yet it is different than most travel memoirs I’ve read in ways both good and … not really bad, not really good, definitely different. I’ll try to explain.

There are two things I tend to look for and expect in a travel memoir. The two words in that phrase are a hint. For the travel part I’m hoping to get a sense of the place the person is traveling to or through. That might include something about the scenery, the culture, the people, or whatever it is that made this place special, different, or worth visiting to the author. The memoir part is the more personal. It’s what sets a travel memoir apart from a guidebook or brochure from the local tourism office. Ideally this part is not only how they react to the experience of traveling, but also how it changed them.

Typically, that last item comes from a narrative that is mostly chronological with (sometimes literally) one foot in front of the other, going from point A to point B. This book isn’t like that. Although it has two parts that are tied together chronologically, it’s more like a series of essays or true stories that related different experiences with no obvious order or transition from one to the other. What that meant was that rather than having a climax or realization of how the trip had changed the author near the end, it happened (or the reader noticed and realized it was happening) through a gradual process. If anything, that’s more realistic in how change really happens and it worked for me as a reader.

As for the travel part, I thought the author’s insights into the culture and people went much deeper than a typical travel memoir would, largely because his goal wasn’t to be a traveler, but to be an actual resident (even if short term) of the area of France he was visiting. That paid off, for him and for us.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 20-25,000 words

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Reprise Review: Vulgarian Vamp by Barbara Silkstone


Genre: Humor/Mystery/Adventure/Paranormal

Description:

“You are cordially invited to the destination wedding of Wendy Darlin Tomb Raider and Doctor Roger Jolley, world-renowned archaeologist to be held at the Van Helsing Resort and Spa in Loutish, Vulgaria. In lieu of wedding gifts please bring whole garlic buds. The ceremony will begin once the forty bloodless monks are contained in Carfax Abbey.”

Author:

“Barbara Silkstone is the best-selling author of the Wendy Darlin Tomb Raider series ~ Mystery Comedies featuring Wendy Darlin, Miami real estate broker and part-time Tomb Raider. Silkstone enjoys doing playful things with language as she writes criminally funny tales ripped from the headlines...shaken, not stirred, and served with a twist and a chuckle. She lives in south Florida where she survives on buttered popcorn and fried chicken... extra crispy.”

You can find out more about Ms. Silkstone at her website or connect with her on her blog. Ms. Silkstone has also recently opened another website that has nothing to do with books. “The Second Act Café is a place for those lingering on either side of fifty. It’s about getting even by having fun. Life truly should be one long laugh.” Her books are also available on Audible.com.

Appraisal:

Roger Jolley has finally convinced Wendy to marry him so he whisks her off for a destination wedding in Vulgaria. Wendy allowed Roger to pick the location, her only requirement was that it be thug-less. Wendy is also sporting a seven month baby bump and the hormones that come with that stage of pregnancy. To say she was a bit cranky at times is an understatement. Hilarity ensues as both Wendy and Roger try to curb their language so as not to taint little Roger’s ears while in the womb, in hopes that the habit will stick with them after the baby is born. With Wendy’s best friend, Kit, by her side for support and the assistance of Miss Squirl E. McCurley, the hotel innkeeper/cook, the Van Helsing Resort and Spa looked to be the perfect romantic location. NOT.

Needless to say the quaint little town of Loutish has more surprises for the happy couple than they expected. Between the mysterious events that had just befallen the Carfax Abbey, to old Vulgarian customs that must be adhered to for their wedding to be legal, and mob mentality Loutish villager’s the festivities get a little disorderly. Just for fun Ms. Silkstone has thrown in a politician building his platform for the upcoming election, a mattress salesman who sees a business opportunity, an ex-husband thought to be dead, and vampires. All these ingredients are stirred, not shaken, and ultimately brought together with Roger’s secret motive for choosing Van Helsing Resort and Spa that makes one hell of a good story that will warm the cockles of your heart. 

The plot is fast paced and multi-layered as things spin out of control, at least until the Vatican Vampire Investigators arrive in the Vaticopters. Will Roger and Wendy manage to get married by Reverend Bram Soaker and protect the cutest little non-sparkly vampire, Mina, who has been living on the wine stored under Carfax Abbey her entire undead life? This is a fun mystery with a surprise twist at the end. I can’t wait for Wendy’s adventures to continue.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

This is the fifth book in the Wendy Darlin Tomb Raider series. While this could be read as a stand-alone, I think it would be more thoroughly enjoyed having read the previous books of the Tomb Raider series.

Added for Reprise Review: Vulgarian Vamp was a nominee in the Humor category for B&P 2015 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran July 22, 2014

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant errors.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 40-45,000 words

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

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


Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult/Short Story

Description:

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

Author:

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

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

Learn more about Ms. Stuckey by checking out her website and Facebookpage.

Appraisal:

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

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

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

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

Format/Typo Issues:

No errors in proofing or formatting.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 4-5,000 words

Monday, June 19, 2017

Review: More Conversations with Pop by Michael Brooks


Genre: Humor

Description:

More Conversations with Pop is a fun-to-read collection of quick flash fiction stories of conversations between a father and his son. Pop has a unique (and sometimes annoying) way of viewing life but always finds ways to impart nuggets of wisdom, while engaging in humorous verbal sparring matches with his son who is always there to keep his father grounded.”

Author:

An author of both fiction and non-fiction, Michael Brooks has written stories and articles for several periodicals and websites. “He has an M.A. in Writing Studies, is endeavoring to expand his fiction repertoire, and dreams of being a Jeopardy answer some day.”

Appraisal:

I count an even dozen stories in this collection which means they’re around six or seven hundred words each. Flash fiction is short and quick to read. Like Brooks’ original Conversations with Pop these stories are quick conversations that go back and forth between the narrator and “Pop,” his father. I suspect Pop is around my age or slightly older, so I can relate to his way of seeing things. The narrator, while obviously an adult with a kid of his own, doesn’t have Pop’s experience. He’s not as “old and wise.” But both are quick with a quip and the narrator especially skilled at putting Pop in his place when required. I found this fun, funny, and at times an impetus to ponder something from a different angle.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 7-8,000 words

Friday, June 16, 2017

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


Genre: General Fiction

Description:

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

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

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

Author:

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

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

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

Appraisal:

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

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

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

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

Buy now from:            Amazon US     Amazon UK

FYI:

Format/Typo Issues

A few typos, but not enough to irritate.

Rating:  ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Approximate word count: 85-90,000 words

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Reprise Review: To Hell and Gone in Texas by Russ Hall


Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Description:

“Trouble big as all hell.

Retired sheriff’s detective Al Quinn hasn’t spoken to his brother, Maury, in twenty years. When Maury lands in the hospital under suspicious circumstances, though, Al reluctantly abandons his quiet country seclusion to look into the matter. A second attempt to take Maury out drives the brothers back to Al’s lakeside home, where Al knows the territory, but they’re not alone for long. ICE agents demand that Maury rat on his silent partner, city cop Fergie Jergens comes investigating the murders of Maury’s lady friends, and someone takes a match to Al’s house.

Al soon learns his problems are only getting started—his brother’s in trouble on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. Caught in a ruthless power struggle between the ICE and Los Zetas, a vicious Mexican mafia bent on ascendancy, Al learns the hard way who he can trust—and who’s willing to do whatever it takes to succeed.

With everything he loves on the line, Al will find out just how far he’ll go to protect his own.”

Author:

The author of numerous books, from mystery to westerns and nonfiction to poetry, Russ Hall is an award-winning author who currently lives in Austin.


Appraisal:

To Hell and Gone in Texas is a mystery that often reads like a police procedural (to be expected with a retired sheriff’s detective as the protagonist), yet it has much more going on. It’s a thriller, with several intense scenes where the good guys aren’t sure they’ll make it through (this sure isn’t a cozy mystery). There’s a hint of romance and it’s even spiked with a touch of humor, as in this line near the beginning when the protagonist, Al Quinn, is learning why Maury, his estranged brother, is in the hospital:

“Well, the lab tests suggest he’d taken the equivalent of three Viagra tablets. Why do you suppose he’d do that?” 

“Ambitious?”

But what makes To Hell and Gone in Texas unique from a typical book in this genre neighborhood is the secondary storyline about the relationship (or lack thereof) between Al and Maury. We slowly learn what caused their falling out and, to use a cliché, things aren’t always quite what they seem. An intense and entertaining read.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language.

Added for Reprise Review: To Hell and Gone in Texas was a nominee in the Mystery category for B&P 2015 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran December 2, 2014

Format/Typo Issues:

Although the version I read was an advance reader copy and I can’t judge the final product in this area, I found no significant issues in the review version.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 65-70,000 words

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Review: With the Right Enemies by Rob Pierce


Genre: Hard-Boiled/Crime Fiction

Description:

“Vollmer’s a young guy, grows up on ugly streets. He survives by being uglier, hurting people for money, hurting people because he likes hurting people. When he’s hired to track down Dust and bring back the money he stole, keeping Dust alive isn’t a priority. Neither is keeping anyone else alive, even people he loves. Vollmer’s killed people he loves before. With The Right Enemies is the bullet-drenched follow-up to Uncle Dust, Rob Pierce’s acclaimed debut novel about a bank robber’s disastrous fling with domestic life.”

Author:

“Rob Pierce wrote the novels Uncle Dust and With The Right Enemies, the novella Vern In The Heat, and the short story collection The Things I Love Will Kill Me Yet. Editor of Swill Magazine, an editorial consultant with All Due Respect Books, and co-editor at Flash Fiction Offensive, Rob has been nominated for a Derringer Award for short crime fiction and has had stories published in numerous ugly magazines. He lives and will probably die in Oakland, California.”

Appraisal:

Mickey Spillane fans will not be disappointed. With the Right Enemies is a stylistically adept dark tale with clipped narrative, gritty dialog, and plenty of psychopaths.

The action races through California’s Bay Area cities of Berkley and Oakland.

“Oakland was bloody. Nothing unusual there, but Berkeley was bloody too. The towns were side by side and there was violence in both, but Berkeley was a university town, the focus was on the achievements of the educated masses, not the occasional shootings in bad neighborhoods. In Oakland, every minute was a possible occasion.”

Pierce depicts the locale with authority and creates a chilling bunch of characters that could have been lifted straight from police blotters.

My only complaint is that the story is not quite a complete tale. It is a sequel to Uncle Dust and apparently a prequel to another installment in a sort of Perils of Pauline serial. Except for the people who are killed, events do not affect the characters. They are the same at the conclusion as they are coming.

While it’s a ripping narrative as far as it goes, it doesn’t have the psychological tension of Raymond Chandler or the genre’s greatest wacko, Jim Thompson. I say that only out of respect for Pierce’s obvious talent and the expectation he can move to a higher level.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

This is a hard-boiled crime novel. If you’re sensitive to language and such, this isn’t your thing to begin with, right?

Format/Typo Issues:

None

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Sam Waite

Approximate word count: 50-60,000 words

Monday, June 12, 2017

Review: Star Walk by Melissa Bowersock


Genre: Mystery/Supernatural/Ghosts

Description:

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

Author:

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

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

Appraisal:

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

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

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

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

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK
  
FYI:

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

Format/Typo Issues:

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

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 40-45,000 words

Friday, June 9, 2017

Review: Fairy Bite by Maria Schneider


Genre: Fantasy/Romance/Young Adult

Description:

“Shunned and ridiculed ever since a fairy mistakenly bit her, Ally leaves her village knowing it's the only way her family can resume their normal lives and be respected. She heads to Wendal, hoping the shifters there won’t care about the little problems associated with the effects of a fairy bite.

Before she is even halfway there, she discovers that the fairies may not be finished ruining her life. If she wants to leave Birk, she’ll first have to contend with the little people, a very ornery gargoyle, more than one prince and, of all things, an enraged dragon.”

Author:

“Maria saw her first dragon while gardening. She asked the gnome to take pictures, but dragons are shy and very fast. One of the fairies finally snapped a shot, but just as she handed it over, the dragon came by and flamed it to ashes! Neither of us wants to get our fingers burned a second time so, sadly, there will not be pictures any time soon!”

To learn more please visit Ms. Schneider’s website.

Appraisal:

Because of the fairy bite Ally got at age eight, she can sense and borrow magic from others. She also describes herself as ugly with distorted features due to the fairy bite. It took me a while to warm up to her, she seemed so pathetically withdrawn. Because of Ally’s situation or status for the last twelve years she grew up with no friends. Being a loner she is also a deep thinker, logical, and smart. The first friend she makes is Landry, a brownie, who is on a mission to find a gargoyle to collect on a “boon” (a term for favor or request) to free his family from slavery and abuse in Prince Kal’s prison near Anton. Prince Kal has declared every magical creature is his own.

The plot moves at a nice pace as the small band tries to overcome the nullifying magic of Prince Kal’s wizard. The rescue of all the shifters that have been captured is a far bigger job than expected. Prince Kal is nasty piece of work and his wizard is diabolical. The dialogue fits the story and all the characters remain true to themselves and grow accordingly. The twists are fast, furious, and unexpected. Fairy Bite is an engrossing, unique story, which is cleverly woven together, that goes above and beyond what I expected.

Buy now from:            Amazon US       Amazon UK

FYI:

Fairy Bite is book three in the Dragons of Wendal series. I think book three could be read as a standalone. However, I highly recommend the whole series.  

Format/Typo Issues:

Nothing significant.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Reprise Review: The Mysterious Case of the Golden Egg by Ernie Lindsey


Genre: Middle Grade/Young Adult/Mystery

Description:

“The sudden and unexpected arrival of a mysterious package interrupts Hat Tintersmoot’s twelfth birthday. Where did it come from? Who left it? Once she discovers that the small cardboard box is a gift from her Grandpa Gordon, the mystery deepens...considering the fact that he passed away three years ago.
The handwritten note reads, ‘Inside this box is an impossible mystery that only the purest of hearts can ever hope to uncover. Solve it, and you will discover the answer to one of the greatest secrets ever.’

It’s another perfect job for the owner of The Marshmallow Hammer Detective Agency. With the help of a new best friend, and her first official employee, Hat must uncover the truth behind five difficult clues in order to find the answer to the greatest secret ever.”

Author:

An author of primarily mystery and suspense for adults, Ernie Lindsey has at least ten novels and numerous short stories available. His book Sara’s Game was on the USA Today bestseller list and reached #2 on the Kindle Bestseller list. A native of the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, Lindsey and his family now make their home in Oregon.

For more, visit the author’s website or follow Mr. Lindsey onFacebook.

Appraisal:

Twelve year-old Halcyone Acasia Tintersmoot, known as “Hat” (her initials and the thing you wear on your head). She has this nickname for the obvious reason that her real name is a mouthful. She’s the owner of “The Marshmallow Hammer Detective Agency.” You won’t find it in the phone book, but it is as real as it gets, at least to Hat. Although this is the first book in the series, Hat mentions other cases she’s worked on and sometimes solved.  “The Case of the Disappearing Toothbrush,” is one. You’ve probably worked a case like that one yourself. “The Mysterious Case of the Cute Boy on the School Bus” is an open case that Hat manages to solve while working on the current case.

When I read and review children’s books, I’ll sometimes draft The Princess, my now eleven year-old granddaughter, to assist. Our process is for her to read a book first, then tell me what she thought, with likes, dislikes, and a letter grade, just like a report card. I’ll then read the book so I can add my impressions while watching for the things The Princess has mentioned. I think The Mysterious Case of the Golden Egg received the most accolades of any book we’ve done this with. Her report to me started with “I liked this a lot” and ended with, “I’d give it a grade of A plus, plus, plus …” I finally told her I got the idea so she’d stop with the pluses.

The mystery to be solved was set up by Hat’s grandfather, who died three years earlier. Before he died, which he knew was coming, he’d arranged for Hat to receive the first clue on her twelfth birthday. Grandpa Gordon was a private detective and liked to talk to Hat about his cases, which was Hat’s inspiration to become a detective. One of the comments The Princess made was that the mystery wasn’t like some, where you found out the solution, and felt cheated that the clues weren’t there to solve it while reading. She felt the clues were tough, but also liked that many of them she was able to figure out. The mystery hit the right balance for the age the book is aimed for. The Princess also thought the book would be fun to read aloud to younger kids and although it would be an easy read for an adult, she thought “even a grownup would like it.”

The Princess was right. I was surprised at how much I liked this book. The clues were fun to try and figure out, and not too easy, even for someone several times older than the target reader. As Hat works her way through the clues she meets and helps several of her Grandpa’s friends (an aspect of the book The Princess also thought important enough to mention) and in doing so learns a lot of life lessons that Grandpa knew he wouldn’t be around to teach her in person. The Princess and I both hope the author continues this series. It’s off to a great start.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Added for Reprise Review: The Mysterious Case of the Golden Egg was the winner in the Children's/Middle Grade category for B&P 2015 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran September 23, 2014.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl with input from The Princess

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Review: Closest to the Fire by Karen A. Wyle

Genre: Non-Fiction

Description:

“Write about the law -- and get it right!

Learn your way around the legal landscape!

The world of law and lawyers, with its suspense, its moral quandaries, and its ripped-from-the-headlines subject matter, provides wonderful material for fiction. This guide will help writers explore these many story possibilities -- while avoiding the also-numerous pitfalls awaiting the unwary author. It can also serve as an overall reference for law and prelaw students, or for anyone wishing to understand more about the American legal system.

Included throughout the book are ideas for stories or story elements based on the content and available for the readers' use.”

Author:

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

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

Appraisal:

Closest to the Fire is positioned as a guide to help authors keep situations involving US law in their fiction reasonably credible. The author even throws out ideas and suggestions for how a particular legal principle might be used in a compelling story to good effect for readers who are inclined to take the idea and run with it. I spotted more than a few of those suggestions that I’d like to read. The only problem for me is that I’m not an author and odds of me ever writing a book that is fiction are worse than the odds of me winning the lottery (and I never buy lottery tickets).

However, as I’ve said more than once in online discussions, I’m not a lawyer, but I often play one on the internet. The law and the legal system is something that’s always interested me. I’ve read more than my share of legal thrillers by Turow, Gresham, and Rebecca Forster, among many others. While I’m not sure most people want to dive in and read this from virtual cover to virtual cover like I did since it is designed more as a reference than an entertaining read, I suspect there are others out there beyond the target audience who might find this worth reading. If you think you might find it interesting, I’d bet you will.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 210-215,000 words