Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Reprise Review: Lessons IV: The Dead Carnival and Other Morbid Drabbles by Michael Crane



Genre: Horror/Flash Fiction

Description:

This is the newest collection of Crane’s series of drabbles, which are flash fiction stories of exactly 100 words. This volume focuses on stories from the carnival. Also included are bonus drabbles and other flash fiction from seven of Crane’s indie author peers: Daniel Pyle, M.P. McDonald, M.S. Verish, J.L. Bryan, Robert J. Duperre, Daniel Arenson, and Jason Letts.

Author:

Michael Crane is a graduate in Fiction Writing from Columbia College Chicago, his hometown school. In addition to the first three Lessons volumes, Crane has a short story collection, In Decline, and a novelette, A Gnome Problem, available for your Kindle. He has also been featured in many short story anthologies. On rare occasions, Crane will post on his blog.


Appraisal:

Can I make this one-hundred words, like each drabble in this collection? We’ll see. While I wish Crane would apply his demented mind to something longer (a novel, or More Declined, my title for the follow-up to his short story collection with tales of normal people, down on their luck), his fans keep saying “more drabbles.” I see them as bite-size stories. Crane’s typically end with a demented twist. Find out what being a “mark” means and why a blowup doll is a bad date. Pyle’s bonus story shows why you shouldn’t mess with the short guy. Yup, one-hundred words.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language.

Added for Reprise Review: Lessons IV by Michael Crane was the winner in the Short Story Collections and Anthologies for B&P 2013 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran April 24, 2012

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 4-5,000 words

Monday, January 28, 2019

Review: Are We French Yet? by Keith Van Sickle




Genre: Travel Memoir

Description:

“Can Two Americans Really Become French?

Val and Keith turned their lives upside down when they quit their jobs to begin a part-time life in Provence. But they wondered: Can we fit in? And maybe become French ourselves?

Follow their adventures as they slowly unlock the mysteries of France…
- Is it true that French people are like coconuts?
- Can you learn to argue like a French person?
- What books have changed French lives?
- Most important of all, how do you keep your soup from exploding?”

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:

I’m tempted to point to my review of Keith Van Sickle’s previous travel memoir, One Sip at a Time, which I also thoroughly enjoyed, and say that Are We French Yet? is “more of the same.” That would be fair, to a point. Both books chronicle the adventures Van Sickle and his wife have had living in France part time for the last several years, giving a look at France that is deeper than the normal tourist might see or experience. The format of this book is the same with short vignettes or essays on different subjects or experiences, ignoring chronology, but with some of the same themes coming into play in different ways, the same friends showing up in different situations, so it feels like the book holds together as a whole rather than being a bunch of disjointed tales.

If there is anything that is different between the two, it is that the author recognizes that while he’s dove into French culture deeper than a typical tourist, that he’ll never be able to fully assimilate. For example, while his French might be fluent, there are subtle rules of etiquette that he realizes he’s unlikely to ever get right. Which as long as people realize he’s not French, he’s not expected to. A recognition of just how “French” it is practical to become, no matter how much time he and his wife live in France, is one theme that came through in this installment more than the first. I also found the discussions of how life in the US and France differed to be especially interesting. If you’re into travel, interested in France specifically, or just curious about how people in other countries live, you’ll find something appealing here.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

While this might be considered a sequel to One Sip at a Time, Van Sickle’s first book about his adventures in France, and there may be an argument to be made that reading that book first would make sense, I believe a reader should be able to follow and enjoy the books reading them in any order.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 40-45,000 words

Friday, January 25, 2019

Reprise Review: Loki by Mike Vasich



Genre: Fantasy/World Mythology

Description:

Loki. The Trickster. What would the overarching story of the Aesir and the countdown to Ragnarok be, told from his viewpoint?

Author:

Mike Vasich teaches English to gifted and talented students. He is the author of a separate anthology of stories about Loki, as well as other books. He has a wicked sense of humor and welcomes feedback from readers.

To see Mr. Vasich’s other books you can visit his Amazon Author page.

Appraisal:

I am somewhat familiar with the traditional stories from Norse mythology, so this book had immediate appeal for me. It starts out with a very brief recap of the traditional story of Loki and his relationship with the other Norse gods (the Aesir). It then moves quickly into a retelling of the stories familiar to many of the Twilight of the Gods, moving towards Ragnarok and the destruction of the world – only told from Loki’s viewpoint. As a literary device, it’s an excellent way to make an old story new again. Loki never quite becomes a sympathetic character, but the reader does realize that there are two sides to every story. The author obviously knows his Norse mythology frontwards and backwards. I have a friend who is Norwegian, living in Norway, who read this along with me, and she agreed that it was true to the stories she heard growing up, with allowances made for the different point of view.

The author has an amazing power of characterization. In one battle scene (possibly one of the best battle scenes I have ever read), he was able to convey to perfection the personification of thunder and lightning in Thor and his hammer. I knew that, but reading that scene, it was brought home to me like never before. Thor was thunder and Mjollnar was lightning, and the concepts were inseparable. It was one of those “Ahhh” moments when you fully realize and understand something you’ve known all along.

I loved this book, but I could not help stopping to think how very different the mindset and motivations of the characters are from what we (meaning Americans, most likely the intended audience) are used to in our literature. I found Odin to be one of the most frightening figures I have ever met in a book – and that includes characters such as Lucifer/Satan, Sauron, Voldemort, and others of that ilk. Interestingly, my Norwegian friend did not feel the same way at all – she says that Odin is the All-father; he’s above and beyond mere human emotion and rationalization. Yet, that was exactly what I felt was so chilling about him – the total apathy, the absolute unwillingness to lift a finger to change the course of events that were fated.

All in all, an excellent book, and highly recommended. It’s safe to say that this is probably the best book I’ve read so far this year. I would say that it would appeal primarily to readers who have some familiarity with traditional Norse mythology, since they would be able to appreciate some of the nuances more, but that certainly isn’t a perquisite.

Buy now from:    Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Added for Reprise Review: Loki by Mike Vasich was a nominee in the Speculative Fiction category for B&P 2013 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran August 16, 2012  

Format/Typo Issues:

None. Formatting was perfect.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: SingleEyePhotos

Approximate word count: 105-110,000 words

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Review: Thrill Kings - The Size Of Minneapolis Upright by Rik Ty




Review: Thrill Kings - The Size Of Minneapolis Upright by Rik Ty
Genre: Science Fiction/Short Story

Description:

“Nonstop (an interdimensional rescue worker), has to evacuate a widow and her foster children from a farmhouse before an enormous Inter-D rampages — but Nonstop can’t find any sign of the family — just the heartbreaking corpse of a friendly-looking dog. What happened?”

Author:

“Rik Ty spent the nineties on the newsstand, publishing as a writer, artist, or both, for Marvel and DC comics, Cracked Magazine, and Matchbox Toys. He has spent the current millennium as a Senior Design Manager for a major Toy Company. Thrill Kings allows him to focus his personal attentions on a long-term, all-encompassing project with a very flexible deadline - something that helps a lot.”

Appraisal:

This is a short story designed to introduce interested readers to the authors Thrill Kings series. The story is short and intense involving a rescue of a family that is in danger. The reason for the danger has to do with a few science fiction constructs that I’m not sure I have figured out well enough to explain. The short version is that for reasons I won’t go into abrasions or “bleed zones” have developed between two different dimensions. This interaction between dimensions creates issues. The Thrill Kings in this story and presumably the other books in the series are expected to save the day when things go wrong.
This tale is well written, the characters are well-developed, and the story intense. If it sounds like your kind of science fiction, give it a try.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 5-6,000 words

Monday, January 21, 2019

Review: Stage Fright by Helen Smith



Genre: Cozy Mystery

Description:

“When amateur sleuth Emily Castles joins a community theatre project in Edinburgh, she begins to suspect that she has been recruited by a cult. When a fellow performer goes missing, she must risk her life to investigate…”

Author:

“Helen Smith travelled the world when her daughter was small, doing all sorts of strange jobs to support them both - from cleaning motels to working as a magician's assistant - before returning to live in London where she wrote her first novel.”

Appraisal:

This is the sixth book in Helen Smith’s cozy mystery series featuring Emily Castles. Like all of Ms Smith’s books, there are interesting and quirky characters with subtle humor spread throughout the story.

The setting for this story is especially interesting when Emily finds herself living and working with a community theatre group where things seem a bit off. Then a body turns up and Emily does her thing, trying to figure out what happened. All the words like different, unique, quirky, and unpredictable that I’d normally pull out to describe one of the previous books in the series would apply to this one. If you’ve read and liked the previous cozies featuring Emily, you’ll want to read Stage Fright too. If quirky cozies are your thing, this is a good place to start. If you think I need to find some good alternatives to use instead of the word quirky over and over again, I’m open for suggestions. The possibilities listed in the thesaurus are too pedestrian. Not quirky enough.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Uses UK spelling conventions.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

Friday, January 18, 2019

Reprise Review: The Ugly Stepsister Fights Back by Sariah Wilson



Genre: Contemporary Young Adult/Romance

Description:

A contemporary view from the ugly stepsister set during her senior year of high school. Mattie Lowe is a rebellious teenager who feels like all the odds are stacked against her. This story is homage to the movies Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, and Sixteen Candles.

Author:
Sariah Wilson lives in Utah and is a fervent believer in happily ever afters, which is why she writes romance. She grew up in Southern California and graduated with a degree in history from Brigham Young University.

For more, visit her website or her Facebook page.

Appraisal:

This twisted fairy-tale is nothing like I expected and I was thoroughly delighted. Sariah Wilson has developed Matilda into the quintessential, slightly rebellious, teenager who feels like things will never work out for her. The story starts with a list of grievances that give us a feel for this misunderstood character and the people in her life. I had to giggle at her voice; it’s fresh, quirky, sarcastic, and witty.

Mattie is intelligent but insecure and I loved the way she decided to start making changes in her life. During her journey, her perspective changes to open her eyes to the realities surrounding her. This story has a nice pace and it kept me turning the pages late into the night. I became totally invested in Mattie finding her happily ever after, bless her heart, she did not believe she was worth it. There are a few valuable lessons to be learned from this story and therefore, I think this book would especially be enjoyed by preteens and young adults, although I fit into neither of those categories and I loved it.

Buy now from:    Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Added for Reprise Review: The Ugly Stepsister Fights Back by Sariah Wilson was a nominee in the Young Adult category for B&P 2013 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran February 26, 2013.

Format/Typo Issues:

I found no significant errors.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 50-55,000 words

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Review: Safe to Die by Steve Thornes




Genre: Mystery

Description:

“Harry Briggs is a Private Investigator based in Yorkshire, England in the 1980s.
His cases have been the run of the mill kind. Seedy divorce cases, fraudulent insurance claims and the serving of court documents. His business is close to financial collapse and his marriage is on the rocks.

Along comes a different type of case. It’s a big one and could put Harry on financial easy street. It could also ruin him. The potential rewards are great, and so are the dangers. Harry struggles with his sense of doing the right thing against losing everything. He is new to murder, violence and the threat of spending time in jail. He has some tough choices to make.”

Author:

“Steve Thornes was born in 1948. His life has had its setbacks – loss of parents at an early age, a bitter divorce and financial disasters. Through all of life’s trials and setbacks Steve always found a way to see happiness. Steve is now happily married and enjoying life as an author and freelance writer.”

Appraisal:

At a high level I liked this story. The main characters, Harry Briggs, a Private Investigator in England, and his assistant, Paula Goodwin, are likeable, and the reader is naturally going to pull for them. The basic plot of the story is okay. The writing is mostly competent although with a tendency to sometimes get repetitive or a bit too wordy. If the feeling you’re getting is neutral or lukewarm, like I’m neither ready to warn you off of this book or eager to recommend you grab it for your next read, you’d be right.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Uses UK spelling conventions.

Format/Typo Issues:

A small number of proofing misses.

Rating: *** Three Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 30-35,000 words

Monday, January 14, 2019

Review: Windmaster by Helen B. Henderson




Genre: Fantasy/Sword and Sorcery

Description:

“Despite his insolent attitude, Ellspeth, captain of the Sea Falcon, is attracted to the dark-haired worker she hires to help unload the vessel's cargo.

When the supposed dockhand reveals he is Lord Dal, the last member of the Council of Wizards, and her passenger, Ellspeth breaks a cardinal rule—fraternizing with the paying customers. Bringing Dal back from near-death releases Ellspeth's latent powers and threatens her captaincy. For to have magic she must give up the sea.

In accordance with an ancient prophecy, Dal allows Ellspeth to be handfasted to him without her knowledge or consent. However, the prophecy doesn't state whether she will return his love. A likelihood threatened as the deception is unveiled and they are hunted by fanatical clerics bent on ridding the world of magic and those who wield it.

Trapped within the Oracle's Temple and marked for sacrifice, Ellspeth is forced to choose between survival, saving the future of magic...or love.”

Author:
Helen B. Henderson writes about herself, “Although I wrote fiction for myself as long as I can remember, and been a professional writer for many years, pursuing publication for my fiction is a more recent endeavor… My writing crosses genres and types, from fiction to historical documentaries. I'm especially proud of the two romantic fantasy series, the Dragshi Chronicles and the Windmaster novels. Originally conceived as short stories, the characters came to life for me and my readers. I hope they will for you also.”

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

Appraisal:

Ellspeth has sea water in her veins. She has always dreamed of captaining her own ship, which she has accomplished, and has the loyalty and respect of her crew. It’s long been known that magic and deep water don’t mix, and that fact is proven when Lord Dal, the last member of the Council of Wizards, and two healer mage’s are passengers on the Sea Falcon when a magical storm engulfs the ship. Lord Dal is gravely injured using his powers to protect the vessel, and it’s all the healing mage’s can do to keep him alive. Little does Ellspeth realize her latent ability for mage power has awakened, and she is able to pull Dal back from the brink of death with her touch and speaking to him.  

This is an exciting tale that will keep you on the edge of your seat till the last page. There is an evil mage, with his conspiring evil clerics, human sacrifices, and swashbuckling sword fights. As well as serious soul searching, contemplation, emotional turmoil, and a budding romance. All woven into a quest for hidden wizarding artifacts to fulfill an ancient prophecy to save the wizarding world.

The characters are well thought out and fully developed. I found it easy to become fully immersed in their world of challenges. The scenery puts the reader on the deck of a ship looking out over calm or raging sea, experiencing the adventures of crossing the craggy cliffs, beautiful meadows, or forested lands. The plot twists and turns in clever ways. The dialogue is natural and believable. I can’t think of one thing I didn’t enjoy about Windmaster. I would highly recommend to readers who enjoy adventures by land and sea, swashbuckling quests, and magic.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Windmaster is book one in the WINDMASTER NOVELS. Young Adult appropriate.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 95-100,000 words

Friday, January 11, 2019

Review: Instant Wisdom: 10 Easy Ways to Get Smart Fast by Beth Burgess



Genre: Self Help

Description:

“This book will make you smarter, more capable and more creative, super-fast - whatever your IQ.

Have you ever had a problem at home, work or in a relationship that you just couldn't figure out how to solve? Have you felt stuck and frustrated because you can't come up with a good solution? Maybe it's a problem that's been niggling at you for ages, draining your energy and making you unhappy. Or maybe it's an ambition or project which you can't seem to complete or achieve, no matter how hard you try – but it would make such a difference to your life if only you could.

Have you wasted precious time or money on ineffective solutions? Has the issue caused you stress or hung a cloud over your life? Has your potential suffered because you can't see how to achieve your goals?

How much better would your life be if you were able to overcome your obstacles super-fast? If you could have instant epiphanies rather than wasting your time spinning your wheels? Wouldn't you feel lighter and freer knowing that you can solve issues in a snap? Wouldn't life be easier and more enjoyable when you can simply eradicate problems and get on with your goals?

Blending science, psychology and philosophy, INSTANT WISDOM: 10 Easy Ways to Get Smart Fast will teach you tools, tweaks and techniques that will make you smarter in mere minutes or seconds, boosting your creativity and expanding your mental horizons.”

Author:

“Beth Burgess is an award-winning, best-selling author, therapist, coach, freelance writer, and founder of several specialist services…

After making a complete mess of the first part of her life, Beth set out on a journey to gain insight, so she could become a wiser, better, happier person.

By studying and exploring science, spirituality, philosophy, psychology, and sociology, Beth has been able to formulate new ways of thinking, develop her own insights, and transform her life.

Beth wanted to share the wisdom she has learned, so she set up Wiseism.com, a resource to help people use wisdom to improve their lives.”

Appraisal:

I just glanced at the dictionary for a definition of wisdom and what I found talks about three things. Smarts, the stuff you know comes first. Experience, what I’d call the stuff you’ve learned from doing. Last is good judgement, which might be looked at as having a good sense of how to combine the first two in coming to a conclusion on how to proceed when faced with the need for a decision.

Instant Wisdom addresses all three pieces of this to some degree, outlining different techniques or approaches to help improve your decision-making skills to become more wise. One statement near the start of the book jumped out at me when the author talked about how “acknowledging your own ignorance can pave the way to greater wisdom.” Those who think they know it all have been shown to vastly overestimate their knowledge. (Research the “Dunning-Krueger Effect if you’re interested in details.) Those who take the author’s advice and assume they don’t know as much as they’d like to are more likely to not only actually know more when decision time comes, but also are more likely to do adequate research in coming to a decision and increase their knowledge in the process.

Do the author’s ideas work? I suspect this will vary from person to person, but I’m going to vote yes. Some of the ideas are things I’d already discovered and use, so those definitely work for me. The others seem logically sound, it’s just a matter of putting them into practice.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Uses UK spelling conventions.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 30-35,000 words

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Review: Mystery Walk by Melissa Bowersock



Genre: Cozy Mystery/Paranormal/Ghosts

Description:

“When paranormal investigators Lacey Fitzpatrick and Sam Firecloud are on a case, they are all in, and don’t rest until the haunting is resolved. Now they’ve been invited to a Murder Mystery Weekend of role-play, sleuthing and fun. Lacey thinks they’ll have an advantage because they’re such practiced investigators, and the tangled trail of clues, motives and red herrings creates a fierce competition to find whodunit. Lacey fully intends to solve the mystery and win the prize, but the weekend turns out to be surprisingly different on very many levels.”

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 on Facebook.

Appraisal:

Christine, Sam’s ex-wife, asks Sam and Lacey to join her and her husband, Ed LaRosa, for a murder mystery role-playing weekend. This was a lot of fun, and Ms. Bowersock did a wonderful job getting all of the details right. Everyone was given a character to portray, and a history profile they were to keep secret from the other players. They were also given play money with which to bribe secrets from the other players. It was also suggested to rent period costumes for their personas. And they are reminded to try not to get their feelings hurt if they are snubbed by another player, it is all an act. So, they should try to have fun with it.

Lacey is a little slow taking on her character, her investigator self is hard to let go of. However, she is sure her professional life will give her an advantage in this game she fully intends on winning. Sam has no problem taking on his character fully, and he won’t share a whit with her, much to Lacey’s chagrin.
Mystery Walk is a fun relaxing read. The details were entertaining and captivating. The detective added an intriguing element with his tidbits of information from his investigation for the players to chew on. I enjoyed watching the players interact, and the murderer was a complete surprise. I did not see that coming. I would suck at a role-playing murder mystery game. 

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

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

Format/Typo Issues:

Review is based on a pre-release beta copy and I cannot comment on the completed product.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 25-30,000 words