Friday, October 18, 2019

Review: Call Me Cass by Kelly Stone Gamble



Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Description:

“Cass Adams is finally happy. She has a man who loves her, a family that understands her, and a baby on the way. Other than seeing the occasional dead person, Cass feels normal. But pregnancy has an unwelcome side effect. Cass is having visions of the future, just like Grams does. While some are cloudy, Cass knows one thing for certain. Her best friend, Maryanne, is going to die.

Police Chief Benny Cloud has his own problems. His father has been released from prison and is on his way home to surprise Benny’s mother, who’s been keeping time with the county sheriff. Fat Tina’s Gentlemen’s Club is under siege by protestors. And it’s growing dark outside.

A devastating storm is coming to Deacon, Kansas. In its wake, the town must deal with tragic losses that force everyone to reevaluate their lives.”

Author:

“About Kelly Stone Gamble:

I want readers to take something away from my books and short stories: something memorable, whether it be an interesting protagonist, an emotion or a moment in time.

Depending on what characters decide to sit beside me on a particular day, I may write historical fiction or quirky, dark humor.

My interests are as diverse as my writing. I am at home fishing on a river, riding horses in the mountains, reading on a beach, hiking through the desert or playing pirate with my friends.

I don't believe in growing old and I refuse to grow up.”

To learn more about Ms. Gamble please check out her website, or herFacebook page.

Appraisal:

Cass Adams is a special sort of character that you can’t help but love and identify with. She is plain spoken and many believe her to be a little touched. Is she crazy? Probably no more than the rest of the townspeople. She has inherited her grandmother’s ability of precognition and she sees dead people. Needless to say, Cass sees the world differently than most of us. However, Cass’s precognitive dreams are not as fully developed as Grams’. So, if Grams says stay where you are ‘til the storm passes, you had better stay where you are! There is a monster tornado headed straight towards Deacon, Kansas. Devastation is massive and lives are lost.

Emotions run high as people search through the rubble for their loved ones. No one ever thinks it could happen to them, no matter how often you see the destruction on TV or video. If you live in tornado alley you are more likely to run outside to see the funnel cloud than you are to run for cover when the tornado sirens scream their warning. I’m just as guilty as my neighbors.

I loved getting to know Fat Tina, she is not your typical strip club owner. Fat Tina is full to the brim of integrity and heart. She’s smart and keeps her wits about her whether she is surrounded by protesters or in the midst of a storm. Cass impressed me as well, even though she was trying to control Mother Nature within as well as the storm outside. I am glad she was with Grams and Dog.

As with the first two books in this series, They Call Me Crazy and Call Me Daddy, the story is told through multiple points of view, which are labeled clearly at the head of each chapter. At times it seems a little repetitious, but you are seeing the same events through another character’s eyes. Some back story of certain characters are nicely woven into the story as well. Call Me Cass could be read as a standalone, but why would you do that? You’d miss Ms. Gamble’s great storytelling by skipping either of the other books. I did love the conclusion of this book, it’s one of the best endings I’ve read in a while.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Call Me Cass, is book 3 in Ms. Gamble’s A Cass Adams Novel series, following They Call Me Crazy, and Call Me Daddy.

Format/Typo Issues:

Nothing significant.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 65-70,000 words

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Reprise Review: Life First by RJ Crayton



Genre: Science Fiction/Dystopian

Description:

“Strong-willed Kelsey Reed must escape tonight or tomorrow her government will take her kidney and give it to someone else.

In this future forged by survivors of pandemics that wiped out 80 percent of the world's population, life is valued above all else. The government of ‘Life First’ requires the mentally ill to be sterilized, outlaws abortions and sentences to death those who refuse to donate an organ when told.

Determined not to give up her kidney, Kelsey enlists the help of her boyfriend Luke and a dodgy doctor to escape. The trio must disable the tracking chip in her arm for her to flee undetected. If they fail, Kelsey will be stripped of everything.”

Author:

A native of the Midwest, RJ Crayton now lives in the suburbs of Washington, DC. Before starting her family Crayton worked as a journalist, but now spends her time writing fiction and as what she calls a “Ninja Mom.”

For more, visit Crayton’s website.

Appraisal:

I’ve had a good run of dystopian novels lately. Life First continues that trend. A dystopia is the opposite of a utopia and typically a dystopian novel will extrapolate a current social or political movement taken to an extreme. Crayton’s extrapolated future struck me as different from most which, at the risk of getting too political, I’ll explain.

Although the future extrapolated in a dystopian novel is typically thought to be a warning against continuing in a particular direction, many are nothing more than slippery slope arguments. The slippery slope argument often seems rational, but is usually a logical fallacy when used as a justification against taking the first step. (If you want to understand why, Google will uncover several good explanations.)

Life First was different for reasons I couldn’t quite pinpoint until I finished the book and took time to reflect. The biggest reason is the slippery slope argument isn’t there. Those who are arguing in real life to take the first steps (at least in the US) of limiting abortion with an eye to eradicating it completely are the same people who would object the loudest to the next steps, forcing someone to donate an “unneeded kidney” for example. Even if other events happened in between (a pandemic that wiped out 80% of the world’s population, in this story) I’m not sure that those who are for the first steps would ever support the next steps. Yet, the logic to justify the first steps (the sanctity of life) seems to apply at least as much to the additional steps. For me, the “warning” wasn’t needed, but did prompt some reflection and gave me new insights on the issue being explored, which is another kind of success.

But none of the subtext matters unless the story is good. This one was. I was drawn into Kelsey’s plight and cared how it ended. It also prompted questions about how I would react if put in the same position and how far I’d be willing to go in defense of my position.

Buy now from:    Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Added for Reprise Review: Life First by RJ Crayton was a nominee in the Speculative Fiction category for B&P 2014 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran November 4, 2013

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 85-90,000 words

Monday, October 14, 2019

Review: Golden Age Of Fucking Everything by Richard Moore



Genre: Satire/Science Fiction

Description:

“One billion years in the future, Ritch Speerat seeks psychological help for his nightmares. On his way to his therapist, he meets The Hortboy. Ritch shares with The Hortboy his love of ancient history, specifically an age one billion years in the past which he calls the 'golden age of fucking everything'. The Hortboy is charmed by this age and shares it with everyone he knows. It goes viral.

Ritch's therapist informs him that he can end his nightmares by using The One True Law Of The Universe on his cannibal family. Ritch must retrieve The One True Law, overcoming many obstacles, and expose the source of his nightmares to its justice. Maybe his unique knowledge of the 'golden age of fucking everything' will help him.

On his journey, Ritch encounters giant pizza-delivering rodents, enchanted roadways, weird spells, strange magic items, golden skyscrapers, a singing/dancing army, ghastly demons, villainous cannibals, multiple One True Laws, a pot smoking dragon, and a group of frat boys, all of which come together like water in a fucking funnel.

The Golden Age Of Fucking Everything juxtaposes: mature psychological issues with sophomoric humor, emotional abandonment with serendipitous friendship, girl parts with boy parts; you get the fucking idea.”

Author:

This appears to be the first published work by Richard Moore, at least under this name. He has another book on the way, but that’s petty much all the information I’ve been able to find.

Appraisal:

It seems unfair that the title and book’s description both use a word that I’m sure if I used it in my appraisal of the book would prompt Amazon to disallow or delete my review when I post it there. That’s not flipping fair. I guess I’ll have to find a way to deal with those restraints while describing this book.

If you’re one of those people who are offended by certain language and don’t think it should ever be used in works of fiction, I’m guessing the title was enough to convince you to move on. If it didn’t, you may want to now. In fact, if constant use of the word that comedian George Carlin called “the champion of dirty words” is going to be a problem, this book isn’t for you.  Additionally, if sophomoric humor as it is described in the book’s description will be an issue, you’ll want to skip it. Some might feel the frequent reference to sex involving a person’s rear is a problem as well.

But if you get past all of that, you’ll find the book is funny. Trying to anticipate where the adventure the main character is experiencing will end up is entertaining. Figuring out the strange world the author has envisioned for a billion years in the future is a fun exercise, helped along by a glossary at the end if you’d like to refer to it and frequent footnotes that can also be a help. Plus, if a billion years prior to a billion years in the future was really the golden age of … ummm … pretty much everything then maybe at least part of the book’s purpose is to make us glad we live when we do instead of a billion years in the future. For the most part, it did that. Except for making me unhappy at having limits on how often I can use my favorite freaking words.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

See title. See appraisal. If it is possible for you to be offended by language, this isn’t the fucking book for you.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 25-30,000 words

Friday, October 11, 2019

Review: Prediction by Tony Batton



Genre: Technothriller

Description:

“When someone steals a top secret experimental nuclear reactor, the British intelligence services have no leads. Their hopes rest on a new quantum super computer, one capable of interpreting patterns in the oceans of intelligence data. There’s just the small challenge of building it.

Gregory Jenson, CEO of ZAT Systems, is tasked by MI5 to create the computer, but ghosts in his past could thwart matters before he even begins. Young lawyer, Michael Adams, is given the task of helping Jenson, but he soon has problems of his own.

And they’ll soon learn that a hidden player wants to use the new system for their own plans – someone incredibly well-informed, and prepared to go to any lengths to achieve their goals.

And if they succeed, the recovery of the nuclear reactor will be the least of everyone’s problems.”

Author:

“Tony Batton worked in international law firms, media companies and Formula One motorsport, before turning his hand to writing novels. He is passionate about great stories, gadgets and coffee, and probably consumes too much of each.”

Appraisal:

An intense technothriller that might creep into near future science fiction. The reason I say might is that it’s hard to know what is and isn’t possible in today’s world and what might become possible in the near future. The concept here is that the use of “big data” will make it possible not only to figure out how to influence the masses in what to buy and who to vote for, but also to predict the future.

It’s a fast-paced, unpredictable and intense story. But more importantly it should get you thinking, pondering what the future might hold.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Uses UK spelling conventions.

Format/Typo Issues:

A small number of errors, but not enough to be a big concern. Using the word waive instead of wave two or three times especially caught my attention.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 100-105,000 words

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Reprise Review: A Referendum on Conscience by Christopher Truscott



Genre: Political Thriller

Description:

 “A terrorist attack. A vote against a popular war. A re-election campaign.
Rebecca McElroy is looking forward to retiring as she nears the end of her second term in the U.S. Senate.

Clarissa Rogers, the senator's young speechwriter, is glad to be out of the campaign business and has no intention of ever going back.

Then terrorists launch a devastating attack on Washington that drives the country into a bloody war and changes everything for the pacifist senator from Minnesota.

Clarissa's sent home and is tasked with managing a campaign the experts predict is doomed to fail. They're running against fear and anger—and public opinion. All they have to go on is the senator's conscience.”

Author:

A former journalist, Christopher Truscott now sometimes works as a political strategist and is a veteran of “two dozen local, state and federal campaigns over the last ten years.” He has written three books in his Perpetual Campaign series (this is the second) and recently co-authored a non-fiction book on Michele Bachmann. He lives in a suburb of St. Paul, MN.

Appraisal:

Sometimes I’m guilty of refusing to remember that fiction is, by definition, not true. No matter how much an author might weave people, places, and things they’re familiar with into a story, it is still a story they’ve made up. I was guilty of that with A Referendum on Conscience, picturing the President in the story as a George W. Bush clone and the war in question as a slightly modified war in Iraq in search of non-existent “weapons of mass destruction.” I’m not sure that viewing the story in this light wasn’t a good thing for me, but I found out after reading that the true happenings which served as inspiration were something else.

Regardless of how you choose to relate the story to real life, if you do that at all, it’s a great story. That there are multiple ways to relate the story to our world only makes it better. I assume it is due to the author’s work as a political strategist, but the “behind the scenes” look at a political campaign felt right to me. Much of the story takes place in Minnesota, and his depiction of the different cities and towns, as well as the specifics of the Twin Cities metro was spot on. If you’re a political thriller fan, you owe it to yourself to give A Referendum on Conscience a read.

Buy now from:    Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language.

Although this is the second book of a series, I didn’t realize this prior to reading and never felt that I was missing pieces of the story even though I haven’t read the first. It definitely works as a stand-alone.

Added for Reprise Review: A Referendum on Conscience by Christopher Truscott was a nominee in the Thriller/Suspense category for B&P 2013 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran July 5, 2012.

Format/Typo Issues:

Very few issues; however, among the few, one was using the wrong last name for a character (a third party candidate with a major role in the story) and the other, also a name problem, calling one of the character’s cars a Porsche Boxter, which should be Boxster.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 110-115,000 words

Monday, October 7, 2019

Review: A Mountain of Untold Tales by Fleming J. Allen



Genre: Short Story Collection

Description:

“… a book of twenty-five unique short stories. They are split into two categories. One group of narratives tend to illuminate the everyday experiences and issues of childhood, motherhood, family, marriage, adventure, and so forth. The other set of tales, however, accentuate the gloomier aspects of life which imagination dictates. They invoke fear, mystery, the supernatural, malice, despair, and more. Regardless of the variety of these fictional storylines, this collection aims to provide reflections and impressions that can be enjoyed and shared for years to come.”

Author:

In addition to this collection, author Fleming J. Allen has written a novel and a work of non-fiction.

Appraisal:

The plot or underlying story in some of this collection was entertaining or interesting to a point, even if the presentation was often lacking. Other times I was left wondering what the point of the story was. While the stories in the first half were generally more upbeat and the second half tended toward darker subjects, I found my opinion was the same with both halves.

The issues I had with the presentation of the stories were numerous. I’ll hit on some of the high (or low) points in a quick list.

Proofreading was lacking. I found numerous sentences that were obviously lacking a word or had an extra word or in some other way didn’t make sense without reinterpretation. Homonym errors were also frequent.

It seemed like redundancy and long lists were the order of the day. While they increased the word count, they also slowed things down. An example of redundancy is the mention of a “snow blizzard” (snow is inherent in the definition of blizzard and specifying snow serves no purpose). Then there are sentences like this:

“He went to places like: the Washington Monument, Smithsonian National Museums, Lincoln Memorial, U.S. Capitol, Arlington National Cemetery, Old Ebbitt Grill, Ben’s Chili Bowl, Indian eateries, and pubs.”

Again, this is way more specific detail than is important. “While in Washington he visited the typical DC monuments as well as several eating establishments he’d heard of” or words to that effect would do the trick. Sure, name one or two examples, but an exhaustive list is only going to put the reader to sleep. This issue wasn’t just a one-time problem, but a constant. Most stories had at least one example of this. I didn’t go back to check, but suspect some had multiple examples.

Another issue was throwing in lots of information about characters or places in the story that do nothing to contribute to the story, so just bog it down instead. For example, “They also jumped into the bath or shower to clean up and changed into their warm pajamas. They had the footed kind.” If having the “footed kind” of pajamas figured into the story in any way, knowing this could matter (although there is probably a better way to let us know about it). But if it doesn’t figure into the story or tell us something important about the character, it’s just a bunch of useless noise.

Ultimately it was a struggle to read this to the end. The stories need a lot more polish.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

Numerous proofreading issues that ranged from extra or missing words to homonym errors and various other problems.

Rating: ** Two Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 115-120,000 words

Friday, October 4, 2019

Review: Treacherous Ground: Elemental Keys Book 2 by Lynne Cantwell

Editor's Note:

In case you missed it, in our last post Judi Moore weighed in with her review of this book. Now in the last half of this double shot review ?wazithinkin gives us her thoughts. If you missed the first half, check it out too.


Genre: Urban Fantasy/Celtic Mythology

Description:

Can’t a girl get a good soak around here?

Raney Meadows, undine and out-of-work actor, is in Ireland with her no-name team of Elemental superheroes on a mission of mercy. They’re taking team member Collum Barth’s brother’s things to his parents. But they’re also on the trail of Raney’s father, Damien Jones. Daddy Dearest is possessed by an ancient evil, and the creature wants to destroy the Earth by unleashing a Very Bad Thing. The V.B.T. is behind a locked door, and Damien has the Key.

The team is in a race against time to find the door before Damien does. It could be anywhere – in a cave, in a passage tomb, maybe even in a bog. Collum’s father is a gnome who should know where it is, but he’s not much help. The fae have offered their help, but Raney is leery of their price.

And while the team tries to outrun Damien, Raney is trying to avoid him, lest he snatch her up for his collection of one-of-a-kind things.

It’s enough to make a half-undine like Raney go to pieces…”

Author:

Lynne Cantwell is a contributing author at Indies Unlimited where she shares her knowledge about Indie publishing and promotion. She has a master’s degree in fiction writing from Johns Hopkins University and is a former broadcast journalist who has written for CNN and Mutual/NBC Radio News, among other places. Ms. Cantwell currently lives near Washington, DC.”

You can connect with her at her website or on her Facebook page.
Indies Unlimited:

Appraisal:

Are secrets and loyalties worth keeping when the fate of the world is at stake? Where is that line located before it crosses into treasonous for your species? Ms. Cantwell tackles these questions on a more personal level in what’s left of the Barth family as their relationship dynamics are explored. While our small team of superhero Elementals search for the Earth Key in the beautiful country of Ireland.

As an old soul, Collum has taken a liking to his new smart phone. Proving you can teach an old dog new tricks, which doesn’t necessarily apply to cats. I just stuck that in so readers would know Tiger finds her way to the home of Collum’s parents, Niall and Kate Barth, in Kilkenny. Tiger is just as much a member of our small team of half-breed Elementals. She is such a diva and adds humor when things get intense, because you know she’s going to be right in the middle of things.

I was glad Raney and Gail were able to get in a little sightseeing before all the action started. There are false leads, dangerous bogs to avoid, caves to explore, kidnappings, and golems to battle. Golems are demon made warriors of clay whom are propelled by fire, and are single-minded in their directives. Outwardly, they look like real humans, so when Raney tricks two into a bog she has a crisis of conscience thinking she killed two men.

The storyline twists around on itself as our team of superheroes chase and are chased by the demon riding Damien Jones, Raney’s daddy dearest. Each team member are becoming more dimensional and true to their personal elements. I am also enjoying the way Raney is learning how to use the new element Gail shared with her in the ritual joining ceremony from book 1, Rivers Run. If you haven’t read it yet, pick it up! These books build on each other. I’m looking forward to seeing more of the team learn to use their shared elements. I am looking forward to book 3. Will our team finally come up with a name that fits them all? And will they finally get team t-shirts? These questions and more, I hope, will be answered in upcoming books.

Buy now from:   Amazon US    Amazon UK

FYI:

Treacherous Ground is book 2, of the ELEMENTAL KEYS Series. Following book 1, Rivers Run.

Format/Typo Issues:

Nothing significant.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 50-55,000 words

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Review: Treacherous Ground by Lynne Cantwell

Editor's Note:

This is the first half of what we at Books and Pals call a "double shot" review. Today Judi Moore weighs in on a book. Then in our next post, two days from now, ?wazithinkin will weigh in with her opinion on the same book.


Genre: Modern Fantasy

Description:

This is the second novella in a projected tetralogy (Elemental Keys), there being four elements, earth, air, fire and water. Raney Meadows is half undine (water nymph). In the first book (Rivers Run: Elemental Keys Book 1), a series of super-coincidences brought her together with Earth, Air and Fire Elemental half-bloods. The four became a team to stop an ancient evil in the first book. Now they’ve come to Ireland to bring team member Collum Barth’s dead brother’s things home to his parents. But they’re also on the trail of Raney’s father, who tricked them out of an ancient key at the end of Book 1, and is now possessed by the ancient evil. The team needs to find what the key fits before Damien does. They believe it is in Ireland, close to Dublin and Collum’s parents’ home. The fae offer to help, but the fae charge a high price for assistance. Raney is keen to avoid her father as she knows that, even un-possessed, he has a passion for collecting of one-of-a-kind things, such as a unique, half-undine daughter.

Author:

Our Lynne Cantwell (not to be confused with the Irish woman rugby international of the same name!) grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan and currently lives near Washington, DC. She is a prolific author of modern fantasy novels and novellas, usually with a warm romantic strand.

Cantwell worked as a broadcast journalist for many years. She has written for CNN, the late lamented Mutual/NBC Radio News, and a number of recherché radio and TV news outlets, including the now defunct wire service Zapnews.

Amongst her many qualifications, Cantwell includes a journalism degree from Indiana University, a master’s degree in fiction writing from Johns Hopkins University, and a paralegal certificate.

She is a contributing author at Indies Unlimited.

Appraisal:

This novella works as a standalone, but you will quickly become aware that you are joining the story partway through.

The story quickly locates to Ireland, and we are given considerable information about Ireland in general and Dublin in particular. I once spent a week working in Dublin: a lovely city. Being a Celt by birth myself, I felt right at home there. I hope Cantwell did too.

As with all of Cantwell’s books, this one zips along. Something is constantly happening, problems are always being raised and solved, magic is being worked. In this case add to the mix a cat who mind-speaks with humans (if it likes you). The Elementals are still testing the extent of their powers as a quartet, and these are still growing. They get better, as the book unfolds, at what they do. But they are up against powerful opposition. Collum, in particular, learns much about his gnomish gifts which are very useful to the Elementals.
And there is a warmth in the growing relationship between Raney and Collum to spice the book.

If you enjoy modern fantasy which is based on splicing together worldwide pantheons, myths and legends, then you will enjoy this book.

Buy now from:    Amazon US    Amazon UK

FYI:

I was surprised that Cantwell puts in the mouths of her characters the word ‘Indian’ to refer to Native Americans. Especially as in earlier series of books her protagonists have been Native Americans.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four stars

Reviewed by: Judi Moore

Approximate word count: 50-55,000 words