Friday, August 31, 2018

Review: Learn Me Goodest by John Pearson


Note: This is the first of a Doubleshot Review. Be sure to come back Monday to get BigAl's take on this same book.

Genre: Satire/Humor

Description:

“Jack Woodson, the engineer-turned-teacher (and future Dancing with the Stars champion), is back for another school years’ worth of emails with his pal and former colleague, Fred Bommerson. Join Jack as he navigates the tricky maze of overly-distracted students, administrators with bullhorns, and a wife dealing with her own classroom situations.

Can he convince the class hypochondriac that the school is not crawling with Ebola? Will he live up to the expectations of the crotchety old man inhabiting the body of one of his students? Are there any special benefits to be received from the self-proclaimed ‘Mayor of Pizza Town’ in his homeroom? With subject lines including, ‘Here Comes Money Boo Boo,’ ‘Snakes on an Inclined Plane,’ and ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Infectious People,’ Learn Me Goodest will have you laughing with each new chapter.”

Author:

“John Pearson was born just outside of Washington, DC, but moved to Texas as quickly as he could. Growing up with a passion for science, math, and calculator watches, he obtained engineering degrees and basketball (watching) accolades from Duke University and Texas A&M. His first job out of college was designing small solid-state heat pumps, where his cubicle simply was not big enough to contain him. When the engineering market went sour, he decided to try his hand as a teacher…”

To learn more please visit Mr. Pearson’s blog page, or follow him onFacebook.

Appraisal:

Learn Me Goodest follows the email--chapter format, the same as the first two books of this trilogy. The subject line hints at the subject of that chapter. Mr. Pearson is a master wordsmith and uses this talent to interject humor and word play into his stories and signing off each chapter. His students, this year are fourth graders, whom are mostly loveable if not a bit trying at times.

One of the most demanding areas this school year are the three standardized tests – math, reading, and writing-- his class has to tackle as part of the STAAR test system. Whenever the class is prepping for a portion of one of these exams he would poke fun at the second A of the acronym STAAR. Such as, the extra A is for Apocalypse, Awesomesauce, or Asparagus. As in every class there is a variety of levels of students. I found it evident that one of things the teacher enjoyed doing was breaking his class up into groups and walking around listening in on the students discussions about whatever the subject was they were challenged with.

Learn Me Goodest is a light enjoyable read for anyone who enjoys stories about kids.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Learn Me Goodest is the third book in the Learn Me Good Trilogy, following Learn Me Good, and Learn Me Gooder.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Review: Lena by Malcolm R. Campbell



Genre: Magical Realism/Fantasy/Folk Tales

Description:

“When Police Chief Alton Gravely and Officer Carothers escalate the feud between ‘Torreya’s finest’ and conjure woman Eulalie Jenkins by running her off the road into a north Florida swamp, the borrowed pickup truck is salvaged but Eulalie is missing and presumed dead. Her cat Lena survives. Lena could provide an accurate account of the crime, but the county sheriff is unlikely to interview a pet.

Lena doesn’t think Eulalie is dead, but the conjure woman’s family and friends don’t believe her. Eulalie’s daughter Adelaide wants to stir things up, and the church deacon wants everyone to stay out of sight. There’s talk of an eyewitness, but either Adelaide made that up to worry the police, or the witness is too scared to come forward.

When the feared Black Robes of the Klan attack the first responder who believes the wreck might have been staged, Lena is the only one who can help him try to fight them off. After that, all hope seems lost, because if Eulalie is alive and finds her way back to Torreya, there are plenty of people waiting to kill her and make sure she stays dead.”

Author:

Malcolm R. Campbell lives in north Georgia and has worked as a corporate communications director, technical writer, and college journalism instructor. He now works as a grant writer for museums and other nonprofit organizations.

“Campbell's fantasy novels were inspired by his work in Glacier National Park, an aircraft carrier cruise, and time spent in Florida's swamps. His paranormal ghost stories were inspired (of course) by his experiences with things that go bump in the night.”

To learn more check out Mr. Campbell’s website or follow him onFacebook.

Appraisal:

I have been looking forward to this book. At the end of Eulalie and Washerwoman Eulalie was leaving to fetch Willie back home. They’ve had a long-standing relationship and Eulalie was ready to take it to the next level. Being a romantic at heart I was ready for this relationship to move forward. So, what does Mr. Campbell do? He puts Eulalie in peril! Which in turn kept me reading late into the night.

Thank goodness Lena survived the wreck into the swamp, but Eulalie is missing and feared dead. Fortunately Eulalie’s daughter Adelaide has some of her mama’s conjure ability. However, she is a little too head-strong and undisciplined. Pollyanna, is a new character with a lot of spit-fire and potential. I really liked her and can’t wait to see more of her. And I really want to know who her father is.

The plot twists really shouldn’t surprise me. The town of Torreya is full of high-positioned men who secretly belong to the KKK. They are cruel, evil, and easy to hate. Towards the end of the book Joe Moore, the local raccoon, scared the bejeezus out of me with his prophesy to Lena about the coming day. After my heart started beating again, and the tense cluster... uhhh... a mess of a climax. I was completely satisfied and it left me with a smile on my face.

My favorite sentence in this story:

“Like a conjure woman, the good Lord does his work with the materials at hand,”

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Lena is the third book in Mr. Campbell’s Florida Folk Magic Stories. Following Conjure Woman’s Cat, and Eulalie and Washerwoman. Please be aware the language is not always politically correct, however it is true to the era.

Format/Typo Issues:

A small number of proofing errors, nothing that threw me out of the story.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 30-35,000 words

Monday, August 27, 2018

Reprise Review: Post by Sean Black



Genre: Thriller

Description:

Byron Tibor is highly trained undercover special forces agent. But his most recent mission in Afghanistan catches up with him. Suffering from post traumatic stress disorder he enters a military programme to produce the guilt free soldier...

Author:

Sean Black is the author of the best selling Ryan Lock thriller series. As research he trained as a bodyguard, worked in a prison and has undergone desert training. He grew up in Scotland, but spent some of his childhood in the US. He now lives in Ireland.

Appraisal:

I've had Sean Black on my TBR list for some time and I'm very glad to have finally got around to his work with Post. This is a thoroughly enjoyable read that has several major twists and turns that keeps the reader guessing through to the end. The premise, PTSD and a set of military enhancements to 'develop' enhanced soldiers could so easily have become something standard and dull, but the opposite is the case here. It reminded me slightly of a book I read quite a few years ago called Weapon by Robert Mason (eventually a film, I think) - but Post is far superior.

Post opens with a very stressed out man in a bank who kills himself. The police and military are all over the scene within moments, it's all very shady and the author creates a powerful tension and mystery that left me wanting to know more. Then we switch to Afghanistan and we meet Byron during his undercover op in Afghanistan. It's a major style change, and the first of several. We follow Byron as he undertakes his op and the repercussions...

Then we hit what at first seems to be a disjointed scene. Byron thinks he's in Afghanistan, but discovers he is actually outside Las Vegas. If this sounds confusing, good. I don't want to give any more of the plot away. At this point I thought Black had lost it, but pushing through discovered this was all part of the plan. Byron's past and present memories are mixed up and he sets out to make sense of it all. Again, excellently done.

Overall this is a superior thriller that raises questions in the reader's mind about humanity and ethics, the power of government and how soldiers are treated. The characters are excellent as is Black's sense of place. High tension, powerful mystery cut through with a military theme. The conclusion is satisfying and draws everything together with perhaps the potential for a sequel? I hope so.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Added for Reprise Review: Post by Sean Black was a nominee in the Thriller category for B&P 2015 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran March 15, 2014

Format/Typo Issues:

No issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Keith Nixon

Approximate word count: 90-95,000 words

Friday, August 24, 2018

Review: Life Seemed Good, But.... A Collection of Short Quirky Stories by Richard Bell



Genre: Short Story Collection/Flash Fiction

Description:

“A collection of very short, humorous-sad stories with unpredictable endings. Dedicated to all those who supported someone suffering with cancer or any serious illness.”

Author:

A native of Chicago, Richard Bell is a former sailor for the Navy and bass player in rock bands. This is his first book.

Appraisal:

This collection of short stories is exactly as advertised. Short stories with a mix of sad and humorous aspects. Most, if not all, could be called “Flash Fiction,” which is generally defined as short stories under 1,000 words long. Quirky (as described in the subtitle) is another excellent word to describe these stories. The only downside I found is that with such short stories, touching on many similar things, can feel too repetitive. Short reading sessions, reading just a few stories at a time, will prevent that.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Review: Four American Tales by Jack Messenger



Genre: Short Story Collection

Description:

“Secrets. Money. Love. Death. Sometimes they’re hard to tell apart.
Four American Tales describes a world of hopes and fears on the far side of the American Dream, in a quartet of evocative stories about love and loss, struggle and ambition from the 1950s to the present day.

Wichega is an atmospheric tale of childhood’s dreams and nightmares: when Sweet Pea and her family move far away, is it really because her father has quit the Navy, or is there something else going on – something to do with his new Oldsmobile and the monster that lives in the pond out by the highway?

A Hundred Ways to Live follows Nadine and Earle outside the Law as they travel across the desert in search of the stolen money they hope will give them a new life.

Ballbusters on Parade is an unconventional parable of work in the sex industry: Mike is persuaded by his girlfriend Yolanda to apply for a screen test. Success, however, leads him in unexpected directions.

Uncle Mort tells how a bequest gives rise to unforeseen problems. Helen and Thomas are successful and happy New Yorkers. News of her uncle’s death opens up the past and suddenly everything becomes uncertain – marriage, identity and what to do with a tumbledown house that no one wants.

All four stories feature great female characters, powerful writing and intriguing storylines – stories in which things happen and people change.”

Author:

A full-time writer and editor, Jack Messenger lives in the UK. He is the author of one novel and multiple non-fiction books in addition to this short story collection.

Appraisal:

Interesting characters and stories. In the foreword the author indicates that one of his aims with the stories is to “provoke thought.” The stories certainly did that with me. They have characters and storylines that make you wonder, sometimes forcing you to read between the lines and, in doing so, making the story your own since your interpretation will be different than mine. A good, fast read.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 10-15,000 words

Monday, August 20, 2018

Reprise Review: Long Live the Suicide King by Aaron Michael Richey



Genre: YA

Description:

“Seventeen-year-old Jim JD Dillinger knows exactly how his miserable suburban life is going to play out. At least drugs added a little chaos to his life, but after almost losing his soul, JD knows he has to quit. Now clean, he figures he has another sixty years of plain old boring life followed by a nasty death. JD decides to pre-empt God by killing himself. However, once he decides to die, his life gets better, more interesting, and then downright strange. New friends. Possible romance. And donuts. Lots of donuts. Once the end is in sight, every minute becomes precious.”

Author:

A former secondary school teacher and recovering TV addict, Aaron Michael Ritchey lives in Colorado where he runs triathlons and helps raise his two daughters. He is the author of one previous novel, The Never Prayer.


Appraisal:

Compared to the average teenager, Jim “JD” Dillinger has it good. If someone tweeted his complaints about life, I’d expect to see a #firstworldproblems or even #richsuburbankidissues hash tag accompanying it. However, teen angst, depression, and wondering about the point of life can happen to any teen. Suicide knows no boundaries and logic isn’t part of the equation.

My biggest concern with reading this book was that it might be too much. For anyone whose life has been touched by suicide (I’m guessing a whole lot of people) it’s a serious subject. A story that deals with the subject has to have dark moments. Long Live the Suicide King is dark at times, but this is offset by lighter, humorous moments and never felt too heavy to me. It’s subtle in making points about choosing life over death while never feeling preachy. An excellent read, not just for its young target audience, but for adults as well.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

One f-bomb and a couple mild scenes that touch on sex. Much less than the typical teenager will be exposed to in an average school day.

Added for Reprise Review: Long Live the Suicide King was a nominee in the Young Adult category for B&P 2015 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran June 30, 2014

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 55-60,000 words

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