Friday, May 17, 2019

Reprise Review: Integration by Imogen Rose



Genre: YA/Paranormal

Description:

The second book in Rose’s Bonfire Academy series, Integration continues the story of Faustine, Quinn, Cordelia, and many of the other characters from Initiation as Faustine completes her next year at the Bonfire Academy, a boarding school in the Swiss Alps that trains teen paranormals to use and control their special powers. It’s just like high school, only worse.

Author:

Globetrotter Imogen Rose is Swedish by birth, went to college in London (where she received a PhD in immunology), and is now a Jersey girl. After her eight-year-old daughter insisted she write down her stories, Rose wrote the first of her Portal Chronicles series and decided to let it out into the world. The response was so positive that she’s continued with three books in the series. Plans at least one more, and started two other series. For more, visit Rose’s website.

Appraisal:

If you’d told me two years ago that I’d be reading books that were not only young adult, but full of paranormal characters, I’d have called you crazy. But I got sucked in by reading the first of Imogen Rose’s Portal series, which convinced me that young adult didn’t mean a grandparent was too old to enjoy it. It snuck in a small dose of the paranormal, so I was open to giving it a try when she started a series that was definitely paranormal. Now I’m hooked. Integration has only set the hook deeper.

The Bonfire Academy series is a prequel to The Bonfire Chronicles, which currently has only one book, Faustine. Integration bridges the time from the end of Initiation to the start of Faustine. The focus is largely on Cordelia, although many of the students are returning, including one in particular who generates much of the book’s conflict. Some new characters also make their first appearances and shake things up.

I’m always impressed by Rose’s ability to introduce and integrate new characters in an ongoing series and to craft an engrossing story, which is aptly demonstrated here. But what struck me as I was reflecting on Integration was that she’s done a first class job of world building without me realizing it. When I think of a typical book in the fantasy or science fiction genres, I expect a large part of that will be describing a world that is much different than anything in real life, while having enough aspects of the real world for us to be able to relate. While Rose’s world exists on the same planet we live on and sometimes her characters visit that world, I realized that what she has done with the Bonfire Academy series is created a world that is just as foreign to the world I live in as a story taking place on Planet X. None of the characters are 100% human. Their emotions, reactions, and powers are, at most, sometimes human-like, but more often not. Maybe the reason it took me this long to realize this is that their goals aren’t that much different from those of a human teenager: survive school, have fun, and find someone to hook up with.

Now I’m left looking forward to the next Imogen Rose book, and wondering what it will be. Another installment in the Portal series is most likely. But The Bonfire Chronicles has only one book thus far and it isn’t clear whether this will be the last of The Bonfire Academy series or not. Whatever comes next, I hope it won’t be long, or I may have to give in and read Twilight.

Buy now from:    Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Recommend reading Initiation, the first in the series, prior to reading Integration.

Added for Reprise Review: Integration by Imogen Rose was the Winner in the Young Adult category for B&P 2013 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran July 10, 2012.

Format/Typo Issues:

As a beta reader I evaluated based on a pre-publication version and can’t evaluate the final version in this area.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 85-90,000 words

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Review: Masquerade: Oddly Suited by Various



Genre: Short Story Anthology

Description:

“Find love at the ball…

Can a fake dating game show lead to love? Will a missing key free a clock-bound prince? Can a softball pitcher and a baseball catcher work together? Is there a vampire living in Paradise, Newfoundland? What’s more important—a virtual Traveler or a virtual date to the ball?

Ten authors explore young love in all its facets, from heartbreak to budding passion. Featuring the talents of L.G. Keltner, Jennifer Lane, C.D. Gallant-King, Elizabeth Mueller, Angela Brown, Myles Christensen, Deborah Solice, Carrie-Anne Brownian, Anstice Brown, and Chelsea Marie Ballard.

Hand-picked by a panel of agents and authors, these ten tales will mystify and surprise even as they touch your heart. Don your mask and join the party…”

Author:

The stories are by various authors who “won” placement in the book in a contest administered by the Insecure Writers Support Group.

Appraisal:

Each of these ten short stories have one thing in common, young love. Beyond that, they’re all solid efforts. In every other way they run a broad gambit with multiple genres and different writing styles represented. If a short read with young love as part of the story appeals to you, you’re sure to find at least a couple of these are a perfect fit for you. (If your taste in genres is wide enough, maybe all ten.)

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

The copy I was provided was an advance copy so I can’t judge the final product in this area.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 55-60,000 words

Monday, May 13, 2019

Review: Predator Walk by Melissa Bowersock



Genre: Paranormal/Mystery/Native American

Description:

“When medium Sam Firecloud and his partner, paranormal investigator Lacey Fitzpatrick, are called in on a new case, it appears to be a normal haunting, if there is such a thing. But neither is prepared for the effect this ghost has on Lacey, nor the ripple effect through their own relationship. Suddenly it’s not just sending a lost spirit on its way that concerns them, but Lacey’s own mental and emotional health, and—perhaps—the future of their partnership.”

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 IndiesUnlimited. 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 on Facebook. For an up close look at A Lacy Fitzpatrick and Sam Firecloud Mystery Series check out Firecloud’s exclusive website.

Appraisal:

Predator Walk confronts serious subjects of rape, depression, and family secrets. Catherine Epps places a call for help due to a heaviness she is feeling in the master bedroom of the family home she inherited after her mother’s passing a few months ago.

During Sam’s Walk, Lacey has a strange reaction. This case is not the simple haunting they were expecting. First, Lacey’s research keeps hitting dead ends, and stories/memories aren’t adding up. I enjoyed the path Ms. Bowersock has Lacey taking to suss out the contributing factors of the case. Things get personal for both Catherine and Lacey. The reality of Catherine’s childhood is completely undone. And Lacey is haunted by a past she thought she had buried deep enough.

On the home front Lacey and Kenzie decide to grow milkweed for Monarch butterflies to lay eggs on. Kenzie becomes enthralled and decides to write a school report on what she is learning and experiences watching the whole life-cycle of the fascinating Monarch butterfly. Since Daniel turned fifteen recently, Sam decides to give Daniel driving lessons. Oh, fun times!

Back to the case at hand. The plot take some surprising twists and turns. Sam and Lacey decide a second Walk may be in order. On this second Walk Sam learns more and other things come to light. Now, Catherine needs time to digest all she has learned about her mother’s past. She also decides to take another path to learn about her biological father, which brings surprising results. And Lacey admits she has some demons of her own to deal with.

While heavy topics are revealed Ms. Bowersock handles them with respect and honesty from the victims resulting emotions. I love the way characters connected in this story, I see bright things in the future for all.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK
  
FYI:

Trigger warning; Rape is an issue in Predator Walk.
Predator Walk is book nineteen in Melissa Bowersock’s, A LACEY FITZPATRICK and SAM FIRECLOUD MYSYTERY SERIES.

Format/Typo Issues:

I was a beta reader and can’t speak about the finished product. However, Ms. Bowersock’s are books are generally clear of proofing issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 25-30,000 words

Friday, May 10, 2019

Reprise Review: Thought I Knew You by Kate Moretti



Genre: Mystery/Chick Lit/Romance

Description:

“Claire Barnes is shattered when her husband, Greg, goes on a business trip and never returns. Unwilling to just wait for the police to find him, Claire conducts her own investigation. Her best friend Drew helps her look for answers, but all she finds are troubling questions. With every clue, she discovers that Greg may not be the man she thought she married. While battling her growing feelings for Drew and raising her two young children, Claire must learn to live with the knowledge that the truth behind Greg’s disappearance may never be revealed.”

Author:

 “Kate Moretti lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, two kids, and a dog. She's worked in the pharmaceutical industry for ten years as a scientist, and has been an avid fiction reader her entire life.

She enjoys traveling and cooking, although with two kids, a day job, and writing, she doesn't get to do those things as much as she'd like.

Her lifelong dream is to buy an old house with a secret passageway.”


Appraisal:

It’s a good thing I don’t have to shelve Thought I Knew You at the local bookstore. I’m not sure where I’d put it. It could fit in romance, although the typical man who doesn’t read romance, but enjoys books with a female protagonist, would never stumble on it, despite its being a book he might like. Chick-Lit presents the same problem. The female lead is working through issues, not unlike what you might find in that genre; however, chick-lit is typically lighter and more humorous than you’ll find here. We’ve also got a mystery at the heart of the story, but that isn’t a good fit either. There is both much more to the story than that, and not as much mystery as a typical reader of that genre would expect.

Luckily, I don’t have to shelve this and you won’t need to know where to look to find it. From my ramblings above and the description, you should have a reasonable idea of the kind of story you’ll find. Anyone who reviews a lot of anything, whether music, video games, or books, loves to find something that is different enough to push the normal boundaries, while still being high quality and not going so far as to exceed the typical comfort zone. This is one of those books. Claire and Drew, the main characters (in addition to the missing Greg) are people I cared about, always important to grab and hold my interest. I assumed the main story conflict would come to a resolution, but I was constantly flip-flopping among the various ways that might happen and, when I finally got there, was still surprised. This is an engaging debut novel that deserves to do well.

Buy now from:    Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language.

Added for Reprise Review: Thought I Knew You by Kate Moretti was the Winner in the Chick Lit category for B&P 2013 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran October 9, 2012

Format/Typo Issues:

Review based on an advanced reader copy.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 85-90,000 words

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Review: Wonders Will Never Cease by Judi Moore



Genre: Satire

Description:

“It is December, 1985. The year is winding gently towards its close until Fergus Girvan, a Classicist at Ariel University, finds his research has been stolen by the man who is also seeking to steal his daughter. But which man is, actually, the more unscrupulous of the two? And is there hope for either of them?”

Author:

Along with being one of BigAl’s Pals, Judi Moore is an author of a novella, a short story collection, and one other novel in addition to this one. She was the 2019 winner of the Georgina Hawtrey-Woore Award for adult fiction.

Appraisal:

Imagine Fergus, an aging male academic in the mid-1980s. He’s someone who has spent his adult life as a professor and unrepentant skirt-chaser. Now he’s getting older and the world has been changing around him. What was acceptable in the past, isn’t always so acceptable now. Just to make things especially interesting, let’s have him discover just recently that he has a daughter he fathered years ago, now in her late teens. Those fatherly feelings toward his daughter and not-so-fatherly feelings towards his daughter’s friends are a microcosm of the conflicts Fergus is going through.

Satire, by definition, is taking something realistic, and exaggerating it just enough to make a point. As The Onion has been finding out lately, that can be a hard sweet spot to hit as the world keeps changing, sometimes in unanticipated ways. I think Wonders Will Never Cease hit that sweet spot, poking fun at the academic world and men of a certain stripe while making some points about the difficulties of being a parent and how hard it can be to keep up with changing cultural norms as a person becomes older.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

A small amount of adult language.

Author is from the UK and uses UK spelling conventions and slang terms.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 95-100,000 words

Monday, May 6, 2019

Review: The Witch of Bergen by Meriam Wilhelm


Genre: Paranormal/Witches/Time Travel

Description:

“An innocent trip to a second hand shop launches Carynn Cinnamon on a life altering adventure. Whisking her back in time to the 1600's, Carynn lands in the arms of a handsome witch who claims to be her husband. Is her heritage really tied to this man? Has she discovered her own wrinkle in time or is fate playing a cruel prank on this young witch? And what of his claim that the future of magic and witches everywhere depends on her next move? If she agrees to travel back in time again will she lose her heart or her life in the process?”

Author:

“For thirty-five years, Meriam Wilhelm worked in education. From high school teacher to college dean to her favorite job of elementary school principal, she took an excitingly non-traditional pathway, always passionate about shaping young minds.

When she retired, something magical happened. Wilhelm was bitten by the writing bug and her chosen genre was the paranormal world, specifically of the witchy persuasion… A world traveler, Wilhelm has researched the history and culture of witchcraft and found inspiration as far away as Bergen, Norway and as close as her home town. A Redondo Beach, California resident, she decided there was no better location for her family of witches to reside than the beaches outside her own front door.”

Appraisal:

Carynn Cinnamon is a novice witch who hasn’t come into her full witch powers. Losing both her parents when she was nine set learning her witchy skills back. Lately she’s been busy with mundane young adult stuff like finishing college and starting her own travel agency named Mystical Travel Tours. She has settled in Redondo Beach, California where she inherited a two bedroom beach-front condo that is right upstairs from her business. Life is good, until she enters a secondhand store searching for an old, but new to her, ornate metal bed frame. As she is making her way around the store a painting captures her attention, and whisks her back in time, but just for a short confusing time. Now, the painting won’t let her leave the store without it. Of course she finds the bed just as she had pictured in her mind. But, it is the painting that is her ticket to a destiny in the past that she must fulfill.

Carynn’s female friends, Penelope, Drip, and Brooklynn are all great characters. Leif Calland is a handsome young lawyer who lives down the way a bit who Carynn has a standing friendship with. Then there is Carynn’s familiar, Tag, a talking parrot who is a hoot! He lives cage less, however, he has a perch and free range of the house and an open window.

Carynn keeps getting thrown back in time to the 1600s in Bergen, Norway during the height of the witch trails. She and her friends are scrambling to figure out why this is happening. With each trip back Carynn is able to gather a little more physical and emotional information. Brooklynn, a Librarian and a witch, is helping by gathering the written history of Bergen in the 1600s. The twists in the plot are a web of emotions and conflicts. It’s also getting harder and harder to keep the witchy stuff from Leif as he becomes a more permanent fixture in Carynn’s life. Then Leif’s grandfather shows up, and he seems to have some knowledge of that time period.

I enjoyed the way all the many ends were tied together in the end. I can see this being an interesting and fun series if the author goes that way with this book.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

I came across a number of small proofing issues, wrong words, extra words, missing words, and spaces between words. I would like to see these issues resolved.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words

Friday, May 3, 2019

Review: The Sun Singer (Mountain Journeys Book 1) by Malcolm R Campbell



Genre: Fantasy

Description:

As a boy, Robert Adams is hit with the gift of prophesy. It’s all a bit of a lark, until he foresees the death of a school friend, which comes to pass the very next day. After that he buries his gift down deep – but he knows that it is only a matter of time before he will have to engage with it again. When he is fifteen he goes on a transformational trip to the mountains of Montana to honour a promise made to his grandfather (a soothsayer and Sun Singer himself). In the mountains Robert finds doors into the parallel world of Pyrrha. Suddenly it is clear what his gift is for. Now it is time to use it.

Author:

Malcolm R Campbell is an author of fantasy (The Sun SingerSarabandeAt Sea, and Mountain Song) and magical realism (Conjure Woman’s CatEulalie and WasherwomanLena, Florida Folk Magic Stories and, most recently, the short story collection Widely Scattered Ghosts).

Back in the day he was (sequentially) an insurance company’s training materials designer, a police management school’s course materials developer, a mental health department unit manager, a technical writer, a grant writer, a corporate communications director, a railway museum’s volunteer collections manager, and a college journalism instructor. Most germane to this review is that in his youth he did a stint as a bellman at Glacier Park, Montana. He grew up in the Florida Panhandle, and now lives on a north Georgia farm that could use some sheep.

Appraisal:

This book has been reviewed on Big Al and Pals before. But I just happen to have finished reading it this week and asked Big Al if he’d like another opinion of it. He said yes, so here is a fresh review of it.

This is one of Campbell’s earlier books (first published 2010) and already his gifts for drawing warm characters and laying out a story so it flows towards and immerses the reader are well developed.

It is a satisfyingly complex tale. When the book opens, Robert Adams has denied his gift of prophesy. More about that gift, and the reasons he has buried it, come out in flashback. He and his family go on a trip to those Montana mountains that made such an impression on Campbell (see above). Here Robert slips out of his own reality into Pyrrha, where a guerilla band is struggling against a powerful evil – standard fantasy fare. There is a great deal of hiking through the same-but-different mountains involved. The mountain country is well described and becomes a character in its own right.

Robert’s world and Pyrrha bleed into each other in places. A few people are able to cross from one side to the other: Robert is one. There are others, some of them malicious. Robert becomes close to members of the guerilla band and tries to help them, at the same time finding out more about the gift he tried to disown. In the course of his physical and spiritual journey, the teenage boy grows up and becomes the Sun Singer.

There is a sequel to this book, Sarabande (2015) and also a prequel Mountain Song (2017).

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: Judi Moore

Approximate word count: 120-135,000 words

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Reprise Review: The Test by Margaret Forrest



Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Description:

When Kate Thomas finds a lump on her breast, she fears the worst. After all, her mother died from breast cancer. The story follows Kate for twelve days as she undergoes medical and personal tests triggered by her discovery.

Author:

“Margaret Forrest is an artist, furniture designer, and illustrator whose work has been shown in the Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland, OR, the Wexler Gallery in Philadelphia, and the Meredith Gallery in Baltimore, MD... Margaret Forrest was born in Maine. She currently lives in northern New Mexico.”

Appraisal:

I was captivated by Kate’s personality: genuine, intelligent, necessarily fearful (because of the lump), at times irreverent but also introspective. This story could easily be non-fiction--an autobiographical description of how Kate’s life turned upside down. Real or not, the author had me believing. At times, I laughed aloud at Kate’s wry life observances. A few sentences later, I’d be sharing her fear and approving of her seemingly irrational reaction to how people treated her and her lump.

I read the story in one sitting. The prose is clean, crisp and engaging throughout. Try this for a description of how Kate feels after taking her mammogram: “I feel as though I’ve just boarded a train without knowing where it’s taking me.” Ahhh, nice words.

The author illustrates her tale with a number of charming, poignant pencil sketches. These images were a wonderful surprise, and they sucked me into the story even more, adding a layer of humanity and personal detail that enriched my reading experience.

I’ve recommended the story to my step-daughter (who recently recovered from breast cancer) I know she’s going to empathize and laugh along with Kate. But you don’t need any association with cancer to enjoy this book--highly recommended.

Buy now from:    Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Added for Reprise Review: The Test by Margaret Forrest was a nominee in the Contemporary Fiction category for B&P 2013 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran February 9, 2013

Format/Typo Issues:

None noted.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Approximate word count: 35,000-40,000 words

Monday, April 29, 2019

Review: The Kitchen Brigade by Laurie Boris



Genre: Dystopian

Description:

“If an army marches on its stomach, can a cook find a way to win the war?

It’s 2049. In a Russian-occupied America torn apart by civil war, Valerie Kipplander—daughter of the assassinated secretary of state—is thrown in jail. When the regime discovers this daughter of privilege is also a talented culinary student, she’s forced into service in the kitchen of a Russian general whose troops occupy New York.

The general’s mansion proves a prison of a different sort. The head chef has a mysterious past, the Russians have a more insidious agenda than what they’ve promised, the resistance wants her on their side, and one of the guards wants her dead.

Valerie knows she must take a stand. The risks are monumental, the choices few. But how long can she serve the men bent on destroying her beloved country?”

Author:

“Laurie Boris has been writing fiction for almost thirty years and is the award-winning author of eight novels. When not playing with the universe of imaginary people in her head, she's a freelance copyeditor and enjoys baseball, reading, and avoiding housework. She lives in New York's lovely Hudson Valley.”

Appraisal:

I’ve read more than a few dystopian novels. The Kitchen Brigade has the elements those I like tend to have, most significantly happening in the near future with a story world that I can easily relate to and picture myself trying to survive in. I’ve read a few of Laurie Boris’ novels as well, and despite none of them being dystopian, this one had many of the same qualities as her others did including relatable and believable characters, writing that read smoothly and does a good job of putting your imaginary self in the middle of what’s happening.

But this book, like her others, is also unique. Valerie, the protagonist of The Kitchen Brigade, isn’t like the hero of any other dystopian novel I’ve read. Exactly what her situation was and where it was going to take her wasn’t clear until the end, to either us or to Valerie. But I was pulling for her to successfully make it through this experience, whatever succeeding turned out to be.

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: 85-90,000 words

Friday, April 26, 2019

Review: Incubus Soulmate by Alexandra Ortigas



Genre: Fantasy/Erotic Romance/Short Story

Description:

“I’m on my way to a magical tropical island meant for couples on their honeymoon. But I am not going with my husband as planned. Why am I going, alone, soon to be surrounded by lustful couples?”

“As soon as she lands Evangelina perceives that there is something special about the island. Something other than the indescribable views and luxury accommodations. Little by little she learns things about herself that she never even dreamed about.

Will she find what she has been missing her entire life?”

Author:

I could not find any info about Alexandra Ortigas aside from her books listed on her Amazon author page.

Appraisal:

Evangelina is an over-sexed twenty-something woman who has an insatiable libido. She simply wears out the men she hooks up with. Her last relationship looked promising, but didn’t quite make it to the altar. So she decides to take her honeymoon trip alone to an exotic island destination.

Evangelina feels like there has to be something not quite right about her sexual appetite, and tries to take an assessment of her life. On her long walks around the enchanting island there are couples and groups of people having sex in the open. It is all quite erotic and she feels compelled to join them, so she closes her eyes and imagines herself with them. Then she starts having vivid dreams about a man on this island, and begins her search for him.

I found the story compelling as the author redefines the terms incubus and succubus in a way I hadn’t read before. I was a little disappointed in the ending. I feel like the author took the easy way out. I would have loved Evangelina to have ended up with her cabana boy.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Adult language and graphic sex.

Format/Typo Issues:

Nothing significant.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 15-16,000 Words