Friday, August 17, 2018

Review: Tales of Aldura by Susan Stuckey




Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult/Short Story Collection

Description:

Every world needs heroes.

Be they old or young, willing or reluctant, or merely following their destiny, heroes capture imaginations and provide an escape from everyday life.

In these stories set in the magical world of Aldura, the heroes stand as defenders of good, be they struggling against their own insecurities, fears, or the unbeatable forces of the enemy, each must find the will to persevere, and the courage and strength to triumph.

These tales transverse the gamut of emotions and reveal the quiet depth and resolution of those who are willing to sacrifice to help others.

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 Facebook page.

Appraisal:

I have read and reviewed several of Ms. Stuckey’s stories here at BigAl’s Books and Pals. I like that Ms. Stuckey has put these stories in a timeline order omnibus to read. All of these novellas and short stories have an overall theme of honor, commitment, family, and all have difficult choices to be made. She is a masterful storyteller.

Listed first are a few lines from the stories I have reviewed before. To see the full review please enter the title in the search box at BigAl’s Books and Pals.

Previously reviewed include:

Tears of a Seeress: A prequel to Phaedra. It’s a powerfully emotional tale about love and commitment for family, clan, and hope for a better future… The magic is well thought-out and fascinating.  

Phaedra: She has known her fate since the time she was born, she thought becoming a ranger would help prepare her for her task. This is an emotional story of honor, fortitude, strength, and destiny. I found it heart-wrenchingly well told.

Choices: Ranger Thaenad hears a call for help in the ether. A small group of refugees, mostly younglings, are held up in a small broken down hovel being hunted by a group of Halurdow and they are closing in on their location. The plot moves quickly as our small band flees for the safety of Stryker Pass. Thaenad and the black wolves prove to be a heroes, in every sense of the word.

Kaserie’s Choice: As Kaserie, a slave for the past eight years, escapes the barbarian Halurdow who enslaved her waiting for her potential magical powers to manifest. She heads to the Temple of Azrael, upon arrival her powers begin to manifest. With the help of the black wolves and a Liheiren Ranger named Thaenad, she learns she has some seemingly impossible choices to make and tasks to complete to change the future for the Kalieri people.

Jezrei's Justice: This short story is a glowing testament for love and faith on many levels. Jezrei is an elderly Lieheiren Muhadun, a teaching priest with healing powers, of the Kalieri. Jezrei has been tasked with the protection of a group of children in the Temple while the barbarian Halurdow storms the town killing and burning everything along their way. To keep the children calm he begins telling the children about the Twin Gods who created their world. I loved the ending of this story. Out of the mouths of babes was never so powerful.

The Sword of Isyndral: After the murder of her parents, the King and Queen of Dragons Keep, Allena must learn the secret to unleash the Twin Gods magic from the Sword of Isyndral in the midst of an epic battle surrounding the Dragons Keep. All the clans of Aldura are at risk of annihilation by the Halurdrow if Dragons Keep falls. There is intrigue, magic, broken oaths, treason, and dragons.

New stories I have not reviewed before:

The Fall of Azraelis

Is the war ballad of how Galdona’s capital city of Azraelis fell to the Halurdow. The battle beasts of the Dark God, Urdow.

Friends

A sweet little story told mostly through Jaelyn’s eyes. A young healer, from the city, who has been sent to work in the remote Fernwood Valley. It’s a lonely existence when the town is skeptical of their newcomer. She has been asked to assist with the birth of the Klussner’s tenth baby. As she passed Fernwood Creek on her way to their cottage deep in Fernwood’s wilderness she found three circular stones with holes in the middle, known as friendship stones in the city. She stashed them in her pocket missing her friends back home.

At the baby’s birth Jaelyn is envious of the camaraderie of the family’s friends who have gathered to help. On her way back to her own cottage darkness is falling faster than expected. Having heard trolls had been spotted by the creek every sound she hears starts to unnerve her. So she takes off running and trips over an exposed root. What she sees next causes her to faint dead away.

This is a story of the blessing of acceptance, trust, and friendship from those 
you never knew existed.

Alliandre

A warring fleet of ships have conquered the Isle of Ipsen Watch. They need to find the Guardian of Ipsen to break the shield protecting Ipsen. On a small island just outside the shield they find an old crone when what lured them to the isle was the sight of a young woman in a green dress. Their mages can learn nothing from the crone, her memory only goes back to the day the conquerors arrived. They decide to keep her alive hoping to gain her trust so that one day she will break and tell them her name and where the Guardian of Ipsen is hiding. The tale is told through the eyes of her female caretaker. Alliandre is well written and captivating.    

The Bonding - Tale of Aethnad and Stormwing:

I viewed this poem as a ballad. Stormwing is a dragon watching a drowning man and decides to save him. Death and Fate intervene. This is a story which will be told and re-told on Aldura.

It is amazing how much story Ms. Stuckey can pack in so few words. I always enjoy the way she tells a story. I highly recommend you pick up this omnibus today.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

All the stories included in this publication are also available as stand-alone publications.

Format/Typo Issues:

No issues with proofing or formatting.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Review: The Slant Six by Christopher F Cobb



Genre: Sci-fi

Description:

The Slant Six was a Semi-Finalist in the Florida Writer's Association Royal Palm Literary Awards, presumably in 2017.

The book blurb says “The year is 2252 and Loman Phin is in trouble. A washed-up channelship racer turned freelancer, he hits pay dirt with his latest mission: a fortune is on the line if he can transport forty-three kilograms of human skin to a remote villa on Pluto's moon, Nix. Little does he know his very life is at stake when he gets caught up in an ancient feud, chased by a space vampire, and forced into a death-race by the king of Ceres. Meanwhile, danger is always hot on his heels in the form of a massive space freighter out for Loman's blood. With just his wits, his friends, and his beat-up cruiser, the Slant Six, Loman sets out on the most dangerous adventure of his life.”

Author:

Christopher Cobb set out to be an actor. That didn’t go so well, so he returned to Florida, did a degree in Social Science and Ethnic Studies, and now works as a Marketing Specialist for the Palm Beach County Film and TV Commission. He lives in Jupiter, lucky man (work it out). He is published by Florida-based Darkwater Syndicate who say they are ‘the publishing company with a defense contractor’s name … We refuse to be mainstream. Our authors are not afraid to push boundaries and buck trends.” This is his second novel.

Appraisal:

The Slant Six is a dashing space opera which rushes headlong from disaster to disaster. There is hardly a space opera trope which hasn’t been lovingly plundered to add to the mayhem. Cobb’s language is a sort of space opera patois which I have never come across before. Most appropriate. The plot is derivative but the story is told with such immense energy it outstrips its well-known origins. Cobb is good with dialogue and action (his actor background stands him in good stead) and he keeps the whole crazy ride just about on course.

Death is not an absolute in this book. People are more or less dead at various points. They quite often don’t stay that way. Sadly, the people one wishes could become less dead are usually the people who are dead for good. The right things happen to the right people by the end, but the ending is not a happy one (although it is complicated). Stick with it.

As people often say about a book which is very visual, this would make a good film. It begs to be Spielberged. If you enjoyed Stars Wars I – III you will enjoy this.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Where to start! Almost every qualifier in the book is a bodily function. There is a lot of ‘wham bam thank you ma’am’ sex (without the thank you). There are some proper female characters, but most of the women in the book are described as whores and bitches most of the time. If that sort of thing doesn’t bother you, read on.

Format/Typo Issues: No significant issues

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: Judi Moore

Approximate word count: 95-100,000 words

Monday, August 13, 2018

Reprise Review: Binds that Tie by Kate Moretti



Genre: Thriller/Women’s Fiction

Description:

“Love ties. Murder binds.

Maggie never felt as though she belonged until Chris Stevens showed her what true happiness meant. Ten years into their marriage, miscarriages and infidelities have scarred them both. Despite their perfect-couple image, Maggie can’t look at Chris with anything but resentment. When a charismatic stranger offers the opportunity for a little harmless flirtation, she jumps into the game.

But charm soon turns to malice, and a deadly split-second decision forces Maggie and Chris onto a dangerous path fraught with secrets, lies, and guilt. With no one else to turn to—no one she dares trust—Maggie will ultimately learn just how binding marital ties can be.”

Author:

A scientist in the pharmaceutical industry and an avid reader all her life, Kate Moretti lives with her family in Pennsylvania. This is Moretti’s second book. Her first, Thought I Knew You, beat all comers in the chick-lit category of the inaugural 2013 Books and Pals Readers’ Choice Awards and recently hit both the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists.

For more, visit Moretti’s website.

Appraisal:

Wow. What a ride.

Thrillers are often described as plot driven because the plot is the most important part of the story. Character development matters, but not as much as in other genres. Binds That Tie almost felt character driven, yet was still clearly a thriller. The main characters, Chris and Maggie Stevens, along with some of the more important second-tier players, have current problems, past histories, and a few skeletons that have been shoved into the dusty corner of the closet. The characters are complex and their characteristics, especially their past, drives the story more than in the typical thriller.

The twists and turns of the story kept me guessing as events start to spiral out of control and just get worse and worse. I couldn’t figure out what was going to happen or what I wanted to happen as I struggled with some questions. When is the right thing wrong, and really, what is the right thing here?

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK


FYI:

Adult language.

Added for Reprise Review: Binds that Tie by Kate Moretti was a winner in the Thriller category for B&P 2015 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran June 5, 2014

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 85-90,000 words

Friday, August 10, 2018

Review: Fire Walk by Melissa Bowersock



Genre: Cozy Mystery/Paranormal/Native American

Description:

“A property in the town of Meadeview, Massachusetts has a problem with fire. Anything that is built there burns to the ground. Medium Sam Firecloud and his partner, Lacey Fitzpatrick, are called to the small town to investigate the strange physical haunting, and their research leads them deeper into the dark underbelly of the tight knit community. The more they uncover, however, the more the townspeople are threatened by the old secrets—secrets the locals would much rather remain buried.”

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 has a tattoo on the inside of her left wrist that says IMAGINE. In her next life, she plans to be an astronaut. 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 and her other books on her website or stalk her on Facebook.

Appraisal:

Fire Walk is different than the other mysteries Sam Firecloud and Lacey Fitzpatrick have investigated. Beau Hewitt is trying to build a convenience store on a corner lot he bought a couple years ago. Whenever he gets the walls up on the property it burns to the ground. The police and the insurance company are starting to question how the fire is started when the arson investigators can find no clues.

When Sam walks the property he feels an irate ghost. However, finding the source of the rage is tricky when the townspeople try to keep their secrets hidden. Lacey’s internet skills and a friendly talkative waitress turn out to be the key to the beginning of finding out facts to help this raging spirit move on. The plot moves at a good pace as Lacey’s search comes face to face with the town’s bigotry and racism. The dialogue is intelligent and engaging. I love the way Ms. Bowersock weaves her mysteries together. Her depth and connection with the human spirit seems to be never ending.  

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Fire Walk is book twelve in Melissa Bowersock’s A LACEY FITZPATRICK and SAM FIRECLOUD MYSYTERY SERIES.

Format/Typo Issues:

No issues to note.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 20-25,000 words

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Review: Love Bites (Darkness & Light Duology Book 1) by TL Clark



Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance/New Adult

Description:

“Shakira didn’t fit in. The reason why is tragic…

Moving to Wales was a chance at a new start, a quest for somewhere to belong. Things don’t always go as planned. First it was the dreams. Why was she drawn to the forest?

And who are the strange beings with glowing cat-like eyes?

Then she meets him.

Can one kiss magically change her life?

Can she become the peacemaker she was meant to be?”

Author:

“TL Clark is a British author who stumbles through life as if it were a gauntlet of catastrophes.

Rather than playing the victim she uses these unfortunate events to fuel her passion for writing, for reaching out to help others. She writes about different kinds of love in the hope that she'll uncover its mysteries. Her loving husband (and very spoiled cat) have proven to her that true love really does exist.
Writing has shown her that coffee may well be the source of life.”

You can follow Ms. Clark on her blog or on Facebook.

Appraisal:

Shakira is not really sure what drew her to Wales when she left her parent’s house in Surrey, England in her little old Ford Puma (Very clever!). She is on a quest of self-discovery. What she learns is a lot more than she bargained for. Shakira ends up on a sharp learning curve when the plot divides into several story arcs. The characters are well-fleshed out and it becomes quite evident why Shakira never felt like she fit in. Even as the story develops this insecurity still haunts her.

Ms. Clark seamlessly weaves together finicky fairies, witches who aren’t as smart as they should be, new and unique paranormal creatures with their own society and laws, and sorcerers who think they can do whatever tickles their fancy. Oh, and a dragon with some unique qualities. (I want one!) The characters are diverse with many likable qualities, others are vile. Their dialogue is intelligent and informative.

Most of the story arcs came to a satisfying close, except for two important arcs left me hanging… I should have seen it coming, it’s mentioned in the title: Darkness & Light Duology Book 1. It is possible though, to end a book in a series without leaving readers hanging. Luckily, at this late dated review, the second book of the duology is available.

I did enjoy the story, I found it well written with a few proofing misses, nothing that threw me out of the story.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Love Bites is the first book in the Darkness & Light Duology. There are some graphic sex scenes and are some F-bombs. If you are sensitive to these issues, this book may not be for you. The author, being British, uses British spelling conventions.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: *** Three Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words

Monday, August 6, 2018

Reprise Review: The Road to Rebirth by Dean F Wilson



Genre: Fantasy

Description:

The Road to Rebirth picks up where The Call of Agon left off. Ifferon, Herr’Don, Delin and company learn what they need and want out of the next chapter of their journey when all seems almost lost beyond repair. The characters go through moments of self-discovery and are prepared to fight for what they believe in – even if that means meddling with the afterlife.

Author:

Dean F. Wilson was born in Dublin, Ireland. The Call of Agon was his first published novel, which won an award for an early draft in 2001. Wilson has since published two more. He is also a journalist working in the technology field.

You can learn more at his website.

Appraisal:

The sequel isn’t usually better than the original in a series, but The Road to Rebirth is certainly an exception to that.

This is the second book in Dean F. Wilson’s series The Children of Telm. It picks up right where it left off when all the characters of the first book learned devastating news. Now, it’s time we learn how they deal with the challenges that have been put before them.

The action in The Road to Rebirth is much crisper than the original, likely because there isn’t much backstory that Wilson needs to tell to get this story moving. While there may be slightly less action than the first, there is more going on here with all the characters discovering more about themselves as they are tested to their limits.

The Road to Rebirth takes many of the characters in different directions than they plan on going, but the different journeys seem important to the quest that lies before them.

The writing is also much cleaner, cutting through any unnecessary words, but still allowing Wilson’s wonderful prose seeped with rich, lively color to allow the readers to get a full picture of the world he has created.

Wilson also shows the characters’ growth. They are all in such different places from when we meet them in the first book until the end of the second.  After going on a journey through two books with these characters, I feel invested in them and am intrigued to learn how it all plays out.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

This is the second book in The Children of Telm series and does not work as a standalone.

Added for Reprise Review: The Road to Rebirth by Dean F Wilson was a nominee in the Fantasy category for B&P 2015 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran June 14, 2015

Format/Typo Issues:

No issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Sooz

Approximate word count: 80-85,000 words

Friday, August 3, 2018

Review: No Longer Hidden by M.C. Aquila



Genre: Fantasy/Mythology/Fairy Tale

Description:

“Linnea is a Swedish princess reluctantly settled into her role as the middle child: never as influential as the eldest and never as beloved as the youngest. With her fiancé missing in action for nearly a decade, her future is uncertain. But when the Norwegian king curses her younger sister, the fate of Sweden itself is at risk. As war breaks out, Linnea goes on a quest to meet the king and strike a deal that will save the lives of her family and her people — even if it means using her own life as a bargaining chip.

But quests rarely go as planned, especially as she uncovers the secrets of Norway's royal family and the hidden purpose of the war…

This loose retelling of the classic fairy tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon takes place near the end of the Viking Age when the old, fierce gods of myth and the new, omnipotent Christian God were both considered equally true and real.”

Author:

“M. C. Aquila graduated from Winthrop University with a degree in English. She grew up in Pittsburgh, PA but currently resides in South Carolina. When she is not co-writing the Winter's Blight series, she tutors both native and ESL students in English, giving her a renewed love for the strange wonderfulness of the language.

She also enjoys drawing daily, baking recklessly, hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains, searching for the best red wine in existence, and reading any story with a villain she loves to hate.”

Learn more about Ms. Aquila at her website or follow her on Facebook.

Appraisal:

Linnea is the middle child, one of three princesses of Sweden. She accepts her standing as not as important as her older sister, who will become queen. And not as loved as her youngest sister. However, it would be nice if her father didn’t rub that in her face so blatantly. He’s not a cruel king, he is just blinded by his status, or perhaps he doesn’t realize what he is doing. So, yeah, Linnea has some self-esteem issues. And now her intended, the prince of Norway, is presumed dead after disappearing on a hunting expedition several years ago.

King daddio decides to have a competition to find a husband for his youngest daughter. When the King of Norway fails to win, he casts a sleeping curse on the youngest daughter. She will stay asleep until her father agrees to give him her hand in marriage. The royal family is devastated and the king declares war with Norway. Unbeknownst to the king and queen the oldest daughter cruelly suggests to Linnea that if she offered herself to the King of Norway he might lift the curse on the youngest daughter.

So begins Linnea’s quest to trek alone across the country to sacrifice herself to an evil magician King of Norway to prevent a war. Her adventure is filled with new experiences. To reduce her vulnerability she hires an experienced guide, Haakon, along the trail. Linnea is naïve but not stupid. She is quite creatives and cunning. Other notables are the Witch of the Mountain, a huge wolf from the old world, and other mythological creatures that keep her on her toes.

There are a couple of huge plot twists that keep Linnea off balance, change the direction of the story, and ramps up the tension. Linnea is an easy heroine to root for because of her bravery, loyalty, and easy going personality. I found this an enthralling tale.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Reprise Review: Dark Witness by Rebecca Forster



Genre: Thriller/Suspense

Description:

“As the edge of winter slices through Washington D.C., Josie Bates testifies before Congress about the Albanian blood feud that sent Hannah Sheraton and Billy Zuni fleeing for their lives while Archer reluctantly abandons a trail that has gone cold in his search for the teenagers.Determined to stay one step ahead of the authorities who want Billy back and a blood feud that will only be satisfied when he is dead, Hannah and Billy head north. There they will hunker down in the darkest corner of earth they can find and wait for the danger to pass. Though the journey is treacherous, they finally find themselves isolated, safe, and as far from Hermosa Beach as they can get. But their relief is short lived. When the perpetual winter dark turns to inky black, they realize they have taken refuge in hell. Now the fight in front of Hannah and Billy is not only for their lives, but their very souls.”

Author:

USA Today best-selling author Rebecca Forster’s twenty-something books mostly fit within the broad mystery genre, some in the legal thriller subgenre and others harder to classify. Forster is a two-time winner in the Books and Pals Readers’ Choice Awards, with Before Her Eyes topping the mystery category in 2013 and Eyewitness (book 5 of the Witness Series) getting the nod from our readers in 2014.


Appraisal:

Those who have read the previous books in the Witness Series knew when they finished Forgotten Witness (book 6 in the series) that there would have to be at least one more book. Forster had left two important characters, Hannah Sheridan (a character almost as important to the series as Josie Bates), and recurring character Billy Zuni in limbo, with what little changed through the course of book six making their situation more tenuous. (For those who haven’t read the prior books or may have forgotten, they were running from a man intent on killing Billy.) This installment picks up Hannah and Billy’s story where their situation gets even worse.

I’m reluctant to say anything specific about what happens because everything feels like it would be a spoiler. While the last book focused on Josie Bates, this is Hannah and Billy’s book with Josie and Archer taking secondary roles. Although the initial book in the series was clearly a legal thriller, as the series has progressed it has slid out of the legal subgenre and into the broader thriller or suspense category. If this book has a single scene in a courtroom, it is so minor that I’ve forgotten it. If you’ve read the series thus far, you’ll definitely want to pick up this one as Hannah and Billy flee from one dangerous situation, only to fall into another. What that is and how it resolves is quite a ride.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

This is the seventh of a series. Although I believe it could be read as a stand-alone and the story still make sense, to get the full impact an understanding of what has come previously for these characters would be much better.

Added for Reprise Review: Dark Witness by Rebecca Forster was a winner in the Thriller category for B&P 2015 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran October 20, 2014

Format/Typo Issues:

The version I read was an advance reader copy. I’m unable to judge the final product in this area.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 95-100,000 words