Friday, August 16, 2019

Review: Mind Walk by Melissa Bowersock



Genre: Urban Fantasy/Mystery/Native American

Description:

“Sam Firecloud’s job as a medium is pretty straightforward: along with his partner, Lacy Fitzpatrick, he investigates hauntings, researches the ghosts to find out what keeps them tethered to the earth plane, and he releases them. But a new call for assistance brings a surprising request: a neurologist wants to study Sam’s brain as he’s connecting with lost spirits. The study is one thing, but when Sam and Lacey look deeper, they soon realize the doctor has a hidden agenda, and it’s not scientific at all.”

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:

I think we all have a clue how Sam Firecloud feels about mind games. However, getting a chance to learn how his brain processes information differently than others is too intriguing to pass up. Dr. Kaufman is heading a study to learn how a medium’s brain functions by having the medium wear a helmet that has electrodes attached in the key areas they want to monitor. It’s a legitimate study at an Institute for Neurological Study. But Dr. Kaufman hasn’t been wholly honest with Sam and Lacey about what else he is seeking.

The controlled study includes a control spirit located on an estate which Cal State now owns. Sam easily picks him up as a creative scientific genius who is bound to the earth plane by guilt. The source of his guilt is the mystery and without that bit of knowledge Sam can’t release him. To top that off the scientists don’t want the ghost unbound.

On the home front, Sam is experimenting with some new techniques with his pots. The kids are excited to give these a try on a pot of their own. There is also a new resident in the back yard of Sam’s studio. I was excited to meet him, as he tickled my fancy, and brought up memories of my own childhood.

Back at the estate, Sam takes a second Walk in the back flower garden and learns this ghost found a lot of solitude in the surrounding gardens. With more information from the scientists, Sam and Lacey claim they are done and leave the project. This is where the plot takes some interesting turns and things start to look bad for Sam and Lacey. The climax is rather subtle and Lacey starts to protest, but Sam shakes his head at her. I had a big chuckle at the turn of events at the end.

As always, I was thoroughly entertained with this unique story that almost went sideways. Emotions ran high, even for Sam. You don’t get to see him lose his cool very often. I loved everything about this story, from the neurological study, to the new pot techniques with the enthusiasm of the kids, to the backyard visitor.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK
  
FYI:

Mind Walk is book 21 in Ms. Bowersock’s, A LACEY FITZPATRICK and SAM FIRECLOUD MYSYTERY SERIES. This series does not need to be read in order. However, you may miss some character development.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 25-30,000 words

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Review: A Squatter in London by Irene Pylypec



Genre: Travel Memoir

Description:

“Squatters. Dirty disheveled hippies lazing about smoking dope while occupying other people's properties? Maybe. Maybe not.

Told from a former squatter's perspective, this insightful, compelling narrative digs deeper into the squatting subculture of 1970s London by exposing the myths, while at the same time acknowledging the truth behind the stereotype.

When her traveling companion’s dad dies, the young woman from the Canadian prairie is thrust into traveling solo across the pond to England. She immediately falls in love with London but with only a three-week ticket and limited funds, she needs a strategic plan to extend her adventure. And she must do so in a turbulent environment of critical housing shortages, a tanking British economy, multiple social protests and unpredictable Irish Republican Army activities.

This is one woman’s story of how she handled these socioeconomic issues, all while combating culture shock, to achieve her goal.”

Author:

“Irene Pylypec, a sufferer of Peter Pan Syndrome, lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan aka ‘Paris of the Prairies’. A self-professed daydreamer and adventurer, she backpacked solo throughout England, Scotland and Ireland in the mid-seventies, where she caught the travel bug. Her passion for travel took her on numerous adventures to such diverse countries as Soviet Ukraine, England, Hong Kong and Mexico.”

Appraisal:

Memoirs appeal to me because they allow you to view the world and the situations another person experiences from a different point of view, helping you to understand what life is like for someone else in a better way. Travel memoirs allow you to vicariously experience someone else’s travels, getting an idea of what a place where you’ve never been is like or, if you’ve visited that place, comparing your experience to what the author of the travel memoir experienced and hopefully understand the place more thoroughly.

A Squatter in London goes the typical travel memoir one better. I’m tempted to call it a “Time Traveler Memoir” because it takes place in a distinct time (the 1970s) as well as a distinct place (London, England) and a specific subculture in that time and place. Something I wasn’t aware existed at the time or really until I read this book. I found it interesting, both understanding and following along as the author figured things out, but also contrasting her experiences to what I know (or think I know) of London and other comparable cities and subcultures. If this kind of thing appeals to you, I think you’ll find this an enjoyable and eye-opening read. I did.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Uses Canadian spelling conventions.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

Monday, August 12, 2019

Reprise Review: Entangled Thorns by Melinda Clayton


Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Drama

Description:

“After the mysterious death of their brother Luke at the age of thirteen, seventeen year-old Beth and her younger sister Naomi ran away from home, planning to never return. Beth Sloan has spent the majority of her life trying to escape the memories of a difficult childhood. Born into the infamous Pritchett family of Cedar Hollow, West Virginia, she grew up hard, surrounded not only by homemade stills and corn liquor, but by an impoverished family that more often than not preferred life on the wrong side of the law.

Beth manages to suppress the painful memories and create a comfortable, if troubled, life with her husband Mark and their two children in an upscale suburb outside of Memphis, Tennessee. Twenty-seven years later old resentments and family secrets are awakened by a letter from Kay Langley that their mother is dying and it is time to make amends. Beth, at the urging of her sister Naomi, agrees to return to Cedar Hollow risking everything to finally face the truth about what happened to Luke that long ago summer night.”

Author:

Melinda Clayton is an odd mix of psychotherapist and writer who has always loved to read, and who loves to explore the motivations behind difficult choices and decisions. She has an Ed.D. in Special Education Administration, and is a licensed psychotherapist in the states of Florida and Colorado. Her vast experience working in the field of mental health gives her a unique perspective on human behaviors. She is also a regular contributor to the superblog Indies Unlimited.

Clayton lives in central Florida with her husband, two children, and various cats. She is the author of Appalachian Justice and Return to Crutcher Mountain.

Learn more at her website or at her Goodreads author site.

Appraisal:

Told through multiple points of view, Ms. Clayton does an excellent job devoting each chapter to a single character in this heart-wrenching story. She takes us on an emotional journey into the past of a dysfunctional, but proud family, to discover how abuse affects all members of a family and the dynamics of the abuse that surrounds them. By singling out and developing each character individually she explores how these cycles tend to continue, how the courageous ones try to break the cycle, and how things are not always the way they seem. Not many authors have the expertise to accomplish this without making judgments the way Ms.  Clayton does.

I love the style in which this story is written, through inner dialogue, we are allowed to feel what each character is feeling and gain an understanding of why things are the way they are and how each character perceives them. We are also given insight through the eyes of Kay Langley, the owner of the local cafĂ© that serves as the town’s hub. Through her eyes we see a caring outsider’s view of how the town views this family and its individual members. One of my favorite elements of this story is the fact that Beth took her seventeen year-old daughter, Marissa, along with her on this difficult trip to face her ghosts. With Marissa along we are given three generations of viewpoints.

This character driven story flows well considering we are getting the story from five different characters. It is incredibly well told and I enjoyed my trip back to Cedar Hollow. There is a definite feeling of hope as this story draws to an end and I found it inspiring. I will share this book with my daughters and granddaughters. One of the things I appreciate about reading a hard story like this one is it makes me reevaluate my life and I realize my life is not so bad after all; things could be a whole lot worse. Melinda Clayton has won herself a spot on my ‘must buy’ list for future books.

Buy now from:    Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Although this is the third book about Cedar Hollow Ms. Clayton has written, I believe it can be read as a standalone story. You may miss some of the richness of the minor characters or of the area in general in doing so though.

At the end of this story Ms. Clayton has included questions for book clubs to consider after reading her book. This would be a great book for discussion because everyone has their own story and view point and I am sure everyone can identify with one of more of the characters in this book. I know I did.

Added for Reprise Review: Entangled Thorns by Melinda Clayton was a nominee in the Contemporary Fiction category for B&P 2013 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran October 29, 2012.

Format/Typo Issues:

I noticed NONE at all.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

Friday, August 9, 2019

Review: Secrets To Being Amazing by Denise Wijayaratne



Genre: Self-Help

Description:

“Do you know someone who is so effortlessly cool, calm and collected that nothing ever ruffles their feathers? Do you find yourself wondering how they do it, so comfortable being themselves without a care in the world? Do you wish you could have even half of the confidence they have in order to erase self-doubt and stop worrying about what other people are thinking about you?

This book spills the secrets of highly confident people, not just of their natural responses and reactions to everyday situations, but also their unique thought process that sets them apart from the rest of society. It shows common behaviours that aren’t beneficial to self and the importance of self-love in building successful relationships. Amazingness Keys in each chapter will help you develop higher levels of self-confidence and ultimately revolutionize your relationships with self, family, friends, romantic partners and professional colleagues.”

Author:

“Denise Wijayaratne has a deep passion for classical music which led to her learning the piano from the age of 5 and becoming a classical pianist. She has, because of her interest in personal growth and emotional intelligence, spent many years researching and observing different aspects of human behaviour and how that impacts relationships. Born and raised in a Southeast Asian culture, she has also lived in Western countries for 10 years, and has learned to take the best of both worlds and apply it to life. Other activities she loves include baking, traveling and trying new experiences.”

Appraisal:

Self-help books are an interesting breed. Sometimes they’re written by people with specific training and expertise that, at least in theory, would imply that their suggestions have some scientific basis. Publishers tend to pick up self-help books from those kinds of authors whereas self-published self-help books are often written by people with no apparent expertise. That doesn’t mean they don’t have value though. When I read these kind of books I do so through the filter of what I’ve experienced and observed, asking myself “does this make sense?” When I’ve taken the suggested approach or the exact opposite, how has it worked out? We’re all different and what makes sense or works for some, may not for others. A good self-help book will get you thinking about how you can possibly improve in whatever area it is aimed at (in the case of this book, building self-confidence).

As I was reading this, I found myself agreeing at times. Other times I questioned the suggestion, but then realized as it got explained more thoroughly or a prior idea was referenced again in a subsequent section in a way that helped me understand the point a bit better, I found it made more sense than I’d first thought. The key is it got me thinking, questioning how I sometimes approach things, and that is how we improve. Your mileage may vary, but even deciding you disagree with an idea, coming to the conclusion that it wouldn’t work for you, is a positive. If you’re interested in how to increase your self-confidence, this book may well be what you need. At a minimum, it should get you thinking.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 10-15,000 words

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Reprise Review: Killing Ways 2 by Steven Torres



Genre: Mystery/Noir/Short Story Collecton

Description:

“Hard luck, hard knock, hot and cold blooded killers, criminals, and the people they collide with.”

Author:

Born and raised in the South Bronx and now a college teacher in Connecticut, Steven Torres is author of the Precinct Puerto Rico series (published by St. Martin’s Press) and the novel, The Concrete Maze. This is his second self-published short story collection, pulling together six short stories, previously published in various magazines. For more, visit his Amazon Authorpage.

Appraisal:

Can noir, which to me implies characters with a non-sentimental, dog-eat-dog view of life lived on the edge, be humorous? If asked before reading Killing Ways 2, I’d have said no, with the obvious exception that the genre sometimes seems to satirize itself, with characters that take the “it is what it is” ethos to an extreme. The first two stories in this collection changed my mind, where I saw humor and were coincidentally also my favorites.

These stories, The Biography of Stoop, the Thief - Chapter One: Stoop and Clyde and The Biography of Stoop, the Thief - Chapter Three: Stoop and Elizabeth are standalone short stories focusing on Stupendous Jones (known by most as Stoop). How he got his name is a sad commentary on his origins, yet still tickled my funny bone. Stoop’s life is hard and he’s virtually on his own from a young age. What could be sad and completely dark, comes off as that, and more, not only from the subtle humor Torres uses in describing Stoop’s life, but also from the picture it paints of Stoop as a modern-day Tom Sawyer of the ‘hood. The other stories are darker, yet each is excellent, built on a solid premise, with strong characterization that quickly draws the reader into the story.

Buy now from:    Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Added for Reprise Review: Killing Ways 2 by Steven Torres was a nominee in the Short Story Collections category for B&P 2013 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran July 16, 2012.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 20-25,000 words

Monday, August 5, 2019

Review: Victim Three by Mike Markel



Genre: Police Procedural

Description:

“When graduate student Cassandra Lyons is found stabbed behind the wheel of her car in her condo's garage, Detectives Seagate and Miner suspect her live-in boyfriend, Richard Harson. Only a week before, the police responded to a domestic-disturbance call at their condo. The shouting match had something to do with Richard's affair with his ex-girlfriend, as well as Cassandra's ongoing relationship with Will Nyland, a distinguished professor. Cassandra and Nyland had just returned from a professional conference, also attended by another graduate student, Beth Park. When a video shot in a hotel room surfaces, apparently showing Cassandra and Nyland raping Beth Park, the detectives devise a new theory of the case: Beth Park exacted her revenge on her fellow grad student. But when another woman is found dead and Beth Park disappears, the detectives believe she is about to become the third victim.”

Author:

“Mike Markel writes the Detectives Seagate and Miner Mystery series, which is set in the fictional small city of Rawlings, Montana, home of Central Montana State University. That university is somewhat like Boise State University, where Mike taught writing, but in Rawlings the weather is colder, the football team less successful, and the murder rate much, much higher.
Mike lives in Kirkland, WA.”


Appraisal:

This brings the Detectives Seagate and Miner Mystery series to 9 books. The first several books were great in two way. First, they’re just good police procedurals. Plus, I have an easy time picturing Rawlings, MT, the fictional college town where the series takes place as it is much like the town I live in (smaller Western city dominated by a state university). The second thing that drew me in was the relationship and contrast between the two partners, Karen Seagate, the single, recovering alcoholic and Ryan Miner, the younger, straight-arrow Mormon family man. As the series has gone on this second draw has become “just the way it is” and isn’t as noticeable anymore. But I’ve continued to be entertained. The stories have continued to get me thinking about things. Those things have just been different. 

In this case the story should have you thinking about the #MeToo movement. About men with power who take advantage of women and how institutions and other people have protected them in the past and all too often continue to do so. I guess you could say that the basics of this story were “ripped from the headlines,” but the author has put his own spin on it, keeping it entertaining and intense, as all good detective stories should be, as Seagate, Miner, and the reader try to figure out what really happened.

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: 75-80,000 words

Friday, August 2, 2019

Review: Up to No Good by Nicky Matthews




Genre: Drama/Romance/Young Adult

Description:

“What happens when best friends fall madly in love with one another? Or the ex-boyfriend doesn’t take it nearly as well as you had intended that he would? That is exactly what Stephanie and Alexander have to decide. Will they manage to keep it all together or will they fall apart and no longer speak to each other? Can Stephanie manage to save her beloved family barn or let it fall to ruins? The answers remain to be seen and there’s oh so much more to decide, while getting up to no good.”

Author:

Nicky Matthews is, “A graduate of Ferris University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Integrative Sciences, she has always kept writing close. Throughout her program, she could be found either taking a writing course in order to keep her skills sharp or dabbling in a new project in between writing term papers, helping her fellow students and keeping an active social life going. She has actively participated in NANOWRIMO and Camp NANOWRIMO for 5 years now and continues to do so.”

To learn more visit Ms. Matthews website or follow her on Facebook.

Appraisal:

First of all the book file I read had a main female character named Sara. The book blurb above, from the product page, says her name is Stephanie. This happens to be the first of far too many proofing problems, such as missing, extra, and wrong words. I have to assume the book file I received never saw an editor, I can suppose Books and Pals was sent the wrong book file. The problem with that is I have to review the file that was submitted for review. 

Sara/Stephanie had grown up in an ideal family. The family owned a ranch where they boarded and helped rehabilitate abused horses. Sara/Stephanie loved working on the ranch and barrel racing. She has three older brothers who grew up and moved away. Then things started to go horribly wrong in her life. She had an abusive boyfriend and then her parents were killed in an automobile accident. At the beginning of this book Sara/Stephanie dumped her abusive boyfriend and is trying to put the pieces of her life back together and save the ranch. Alexander is a ranch hand who has worked on the ranch for several years, and had been learning the ropes about how the business was run. Alexander has had a thing for Sara/Stephanie for years, but has kept his distance because he valued their friendship and didn’t want to lose her. The devotion that these two feel for each other is repeated time and time again to the point it bogs down the story. Their growth on this journey is brain-numbingly slow and boring. Sara/Stephanie whispers most of her dialogue, I guess because she is so emotional that is as loud as her words get before she bursts out in tears. Alexander speaks softly and calmly to not sound judgmental or to send Sara/Stephanie running off crying behind a locked door?

I also never saw any correlation between the story, the title, or the book cover. The story centers on a budding romance and the love for horses. There is no way a dirt road conveys either of those. To top it all off, there is a cliffhanger ending. So be prepared for that.

There is an emotional story here that could be good, but needs a lot of work. It needs work not only in the proofing but with storyline consistency to improve the flow of the story.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Be prepared for the shock of a cliffhanger ending.

Format/Typo Issues:

More than acceptable on more than one level. See review.

Rating: ** Two Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 50-55,000 words