Thursday, January 20, 2022

Review: The Mary Jane Gambit by Sam B. Waite


Genre: Satire/Thriller

Description:

“This satire on crypto currencies sees a U.S. banking chain issue a marijuana-backed coin complete with credit cards and checking accounts as a true alternative to the U.S. dollar. The Mary Jane crypto appears headed for success until foreign powers issue their own stable coin intended not only to compete with the dollar but to crush it globally.

The dollar’s role as the primary currency for international reserves and invoicing gives the nation extraordinary advantage in the global economy, including its ability to impose economic sanctions for political reasons. Crypto currencies present a potential challenge that could play out in interesting ways. The Mary Jane Gambit was intended as a humorous look at what might become a quite serious issue.”

Author:

“Sam Waite spent thirty years of his career in Japan as a journalist for U.S. and Japanese financial news organizations and as a communications specialist for a global management consultancy. He joined the Marine Corps at age 18 and served one year each in Vietnam and Japan, where he began language study, which carried over to Asian studies at the University of Texas at Austin. He has an MBA from Texas A&M International. His other works of fiction, under pen names, have been published by Virgin Books, in English and German translation.”

Sam is also one of the Pals at BigAl’s Books and Pals.

Appraisal:

Although satirical, I didn’t find the things that happened in this book to be too far over the top. I bought into what was happening the whole way. I not only got an intense and exciting thriller, full of unexpected twists, double crossing “partners” and globetrotting characters keeping me guessing about how it was all going to turn out, but learned a bit in the process.

In addition to the entertainment and tension I’d expect from a thriller, I learned a bit about cryptocurrency and how it functions. Those not familiar with the history of currency, the gold standard, and how that changed over the years will also improve their understanding of money as a means of value exchange.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

Monday, January 17, 2022

Reprise Review: Capturing Gabriel by Lyn Horner

 


Genre: Contemporary Romance/Romantic Suspense/World Mythology/Magical Realism

Description:

“What’s a handsome Colombian psychic with super-hero-power to do with a spirited Navajo beauty who invades his territory? Why, kidnap her of course.

Chopper pilot Josie Tseda served in Afghanistan, extracting soldiers from deadly situations. She knows how to take care of herself. But when she vows to find Gabriel Valdez, a Guardian of Danu, and deliver him to a gathering of the Council of Guardians, she may have bitten off more than she can chew.

Locating Gabriel in the mountains of Colombia is hard enough. Josie didn’t count on ending up his prisoner – or on falling for him.

Gabriel is battling Colombian drug traffickers and seeking revenge against the man who murdered his mother. He’s not looking for romance and doesn’t trust the feisty American female who wants to fly him off to the U.S. The message she conveys directing him to return with her, supposedly coming from the High Guardian, may be a lie to ensnare him and steal the precious scroll he guards.

Yet, he can’t help wanting her. Will he allow her to capture his heart or will the secret power he wields ultimately drive her away?”

Author:

“Lyn Horner is a baby boomer born in San Francisco, California, raised in Minnesota and now residing in Texas with her husband and an ever-changing band of cantankerous, beloved cats. Trained in the visual arts, Lyn first worked as a fashion illustrator in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and later as an art instructor for Art Instruction Schools… After quitting work to raise her children, she took up writing to save her sanity. This hobby quickly morphed into an obsession with historical research and plot building.”

Learn more about Ms. Horner by visiting her website or follow her on Facebook.

Appraisal:

Josie Tseda is totally out of her element on this mission to collect Gabriel Valdez from the midst of the Colombian mountains. Gabriel is busy fighting his own war in hostile territory and has no reason to believe Josie’s far-fetched tale of murder and intrigue. The action and tension start early in this story. Josie must learn to change her tactics and go along with Gabriel for her own safety; in the process she is able to learn more about the man who holds her captive. As her trust grows, Gabriel lets his guard down a little at a time.

As their mutual respect increases so does the passion neither one of them can deny. Showing that vulnerability, though, is another story for both of them. They are both warriors, so getting them to fight for a kindred cause at the same time is the biggest problem. Being a guardian of an ancient scroll complicates Gabriel’s quest to avenge his mother’s death against the local drug cartel. He is an honorable man and believes in both causes.

This book has it all; adventure, violence, sexual tension, magic, and a heart-rending family history to hold it all together. I think Gabriel is my favorite character so far, and it makes my heart ache for him at the same time for the burden he has to carry. What more could a reader ask for?

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Capturing Gabriel is book three in Lyn Horner’s Romancing the Guardians series, following Rescuing Lara and Decoding Michaela. I would recommend reading this series in order. This book does contain sexual situations that may offend some.

Original review posted September 2, 2016

Format/Typo Issues:

I found no significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 100-105,000 words

Friday, January 14, 2022

Review: The Devil You Know by Monique Singleton


Genre: Occult ESP

Description:

A rebellious “angel” and a murderous priest join forces to bring down “gods” stealing souls from Earth and selling them on slave markets in another dimension, presumably of the multiverse.

Author:

As the daughter of a British soldier and his Dutch wife Monique Singleton toured the world where she was exposed to the cultures of many countries. She settled in the Netherlands where she pursues a full-time career as a business consultant. Her series of books mix fantasy with “psychological suspense.”

Appraisal:

The Devil You Know launches at MACH speed. By the time I paused for breath, I was well into chapter two and facing that terrifying question: “What’s it all about?” Religion’s false promise? Free will? If free will is such a big deal, why is absolute obeisance demanded by major religions? What’s this about religious adherents’ slavery? Religious hierarchy behaving as gods? The novel might not have the philosophical rigor of, say, Friedrich Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, but it touches on many of the same questions and is massively more fun.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

British spelling with some strong language and several “F” bombs.

Format/Typo Issues:

A few, but not so many as to detract from the story.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Sam Waite

Approximate word count: 80-85,000 words. 



Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Review: Boca by Moonlight by Brad Graber


 Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Description:

“Do men ever listen?

Are their friendships real?

How does a widower start over?

George Elden had it all. A lovely wife. Two beautiful adult children. A condo on the grounds of the Boca Raton Resort & Club. But when his wife dies, he's suddenly alone in retirement. A lost man. Sure, he has his golf buddies to console him, but when his friend Willy dies, George is caught off-guard. Why did Willy's family stay away from the funeral? Why did the check to the mortuary bounce? And why did George and his buddies have to pay to bury him? More importantly, what can George learn from Willy's life to escape making the same foolish mistakes?

From the award-winning author of The Intersect, After the Fall, and What's That Growing in My Sour Cream? comes a tale of redemption. The story of a man coming to grips with his mortality and the complications of human relationships. Told with the wit, humor, and emotional power that Brad Graber brings to his novels.”

Author:

Born in New York City with a career as healthcare executive in multiple cities across the US, Brad Graber currently lives with his husband in Phoenix, Arizona. He released three books prior to this one including another novel and an award-winning collection of essays.

Appraisal:

This book's blurb has a line that pretty much sums the book up in one sentence. It says that this is “the story of a man coming to grips with his mortality and the complications of human relationships.” Most of those complications that George, the protagonist of the story, as well as his best friends are experiencing are because they’re at a time of their life where things are getting shaken up. Adapting to retirement, deaths, evolving relationships with his children, and the discovery that some people weren’t what they appeared to be are a sample of the things George has to deal with. I enjoyed the read, wondering how it was all going to work out, pulling for George to figure things out and find the way to ta good ending.

While I think anyone could relate to the story at a high level because life is constantly changing for most of us in various ways, someone who is middle-aged or even a touch older would be most able to relate to George’s story as they’ll recognize things they’ve gone through or observed friends go through, or at least be able to see the possibility of the same kind of experiences on the horizon for them. I sure can.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 105-110,000 words

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Review: We Are but Warriors by Poly Iyer


Genre: Political Thriller, according to the author’s description

Description:

An Israeli newspaper publisher, whose editorials call for equal treatment of Arab citizens of Israel as well as a Palestinian homeland, is targeted for assignation just before his address to the U.N. A super skilled assassination is pitted against a security firm run by a former U.S. Army General.

Author:

Poly Iyer has published “ten books of suspense and four sexy romances she writes under a pseudonym. She started out as a fashion illustrator and storyboard artist, importer, and store owner before embarking on her fourth, and last, career as an author. Her novels include: Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, Kindle Scout winner Indiscretion, and four books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series: Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, Backlash, and The Scent of Murder.”

Find Polly at http://PollyIyer.com

Appraisal:

The author has strong opinions on Israeli politics and elements of the American Jewish community vis a vis Israel. Those ideas alone are worth the read. She describes a rightwing cabal fighting moderates in government. That sent me to an Internet search as I had thought Benjamin Netanyahu and his replacement Prime Minister Naftali Bennett would be rightwing enough for anyone. I found a Pew research report cited in The Times of Israel that said 79 percent of Israelis believe Jews should have favorable treatment over Arab citizens and that 48 percent favored expelling all Arabs from the country. I have a better understanding of the intransigence of the “Palestinian problem” thanks to Ms. Iyer. There are plenty of plot twists, and I expect enough romantic tension to satisfy a romance fan. As a political thriller, however, it is flawed. The author introduces an improbable plot twist at about the 80 percent mark. There is no set up, when it should have been central to the entire story. We are told that involvement of certain characters is needed for the new event, but without an explanation of why or how. Finally, political thrillers must nail the details. This story starts with a man whose leg is so badly mangled, he needs a cane just to hobble. Using his cane as a weapon, he disarms and defeats a highly trained assailant. Later, in a bar fight he renders three men unconscious. I was in the Marine Corps, Vietnam, have decades of karate training. It simply is not credible. In describing a kill by the assassin: “he threw his arm over the old man’s head, locking him in the crook of his elbow, and pulled tight against both carotid arteries until the frail body went limp.” Fine so far, but later the police report the victim had a broken neck. The choke described wouldn’t do that. As a sniper, the assassin loads armor piercing rounds into his rifle, but when he pulls the trigger, he shoots a hollow point bullet. Those are only some of the more obvious lapses in credibility. A pretty good story, but perhaps not for hard-core thriller fans.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some strong language with a few “F” bombs.

Format/Typo Issues:

None worth mention

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: Sam Waite

Approximate word count: 100,000-105,000 words

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Reprise Review: Arctic Dawn by Karissa Laurel


 Genre: Urban Fantasy/Mythology/Romance

Description:

“Alone and exhausted after her month-long sojourn as a shooting star, Solina Mundy flees to southern California to lie low, recuperate, and plot a survival strategy. The one person she trusts to watch her back is her best friend, Skyla Ramirez. But Skyla has been missing for weeks.

 

The arrival of a dangerous stranger and the discovery of a legendary weapon of mass destruction forces Solina out of hiding and back into the fight for her life. Solina knows she won’t last long on her own. She must find out what happened to Skyla and unite her contentious allies if she hopes to track down this devastating weapon before her enemies use it to burn the world to ash.”

Author:

“Karissa lives in North Carolina with her kid, her husband, the occasional in-law, and a very hairy husky. Some of her favorite things are coffee, chocolate, and super heroes. She can quote Princess Bride verbatim. She loves to read and has a sweet tooth for fantasy, sci-fi, and anything in between. Sometimes her husband convinces her to put down the books and take the motorcycles out for a spin. When it snows, you'll find her on the slopes.

Karissa also paints and draws and harbors a grand delusion that she might finish a graphic novel someday.”

Find out more about Karissa Laurel on her website or Facebook.

Appraisal:

Ms. Laurel has stepped up her game in Arctic Dawn. The characters are more intense, the action is nonstop and the entire book is more heavily steeped in Norse Mythology. Solina’s powers have matured and she is fully focused on her mission at all times, even if she is not totally aware of what is going on around her. I love the way she challenges Thorin at every turn. And even though this vexes Thorin, you can tell he admires her spunk and tenacity as she is always honest with her feelings about the situations at hand. However, she continues to conceal her emotions and desires from Thorin. Her walls are cracking though, as are Thorin’s. I practically melted during a few touching scenes.

I was a bit worried I would be lost when I started reading this sequel considering it had been a full year since I had read Midnight Burning. But rest assured Ms. Laurel brings forward what you need to remember without bogging down the story. New people were introduced who fit well in the mix. I ended up reading late into the night until I couldn’t focus my eyes any longer, the book was that hard for me to put down.

Arctic Dawn is a fast-paced cataclysmic addition full of action that will keep you on the edge of your seat. There are several unexpected twists, which change the course of the plot. These give rise for more Norse mythology, which is incorporated into the plot. Ms. Laurel’s imagination and knowledge seems boundless. I would highly recommend Arctic Dawn to lovers of mythology, adventure seekers, and action lovers. For those who loath romance in their stories, I will add the romance is low-key and not what this series is centered around. The ending made me swoon, while I was cursing the cliffhanger. Well done, ma’am. Please don’t make me wait another year for more.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Arctic Dawn is book two in The Norse Chronicles following Midnight Burning. I would recommend reading this series in order.

Original review posted August 12, 2016.

Format/Typo Issues:

I found no significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 100-105,000 words

Friday, December 31, 2021

Review: Ain't That a Kick in the Head by Nigel Bird


 

Genre: Crime Fiction/Police Procedural

Description:

This year, the fireworks will be red hot…

Skates Farrington is a changed man. Gone are the smart suits, the dull meetings and the extra pounds. Nowadays, he gets his thrills at the skate park and from whatever substances his dealers send his way. The only thing missing from his life is his ex-wife. She’s shacked up with a respectable partner in an isolated farm and striving to create the perfect life. Skates is convinced that she will come back to him when she sees his new self, but when attempts to win her heart all over again are thrown back in his face, he decides a little gentle persuasion is in order. Now he can include murder and abduction among his new-found skills.

DI Oliver Wilson, leading the investigation, has more than a few things on his mind. The case and imminent arrival of his third child should be at the forefront of his thoughts, but the arrival of a sequence of unusual gifts is making him nervous. The packages are sending him a message, he just can’t work out what they’re trying to say.”

Author:

Nigel Bird is a Scottish school teacher as well as a writer of fiction. He has several novels available and has had his work appear in numerous magazines.

Appraisal:

As I was pondering this book something occurred to me that I don’t remember considering before. Specifically, the different things that a story may or may not have and how those different approaches keep a reader engaged in the story. In this case I was thinking specifically about the difference between a mystery or a lot of stories that, like this one, have some main characters who are police detectives trying to solve a crime and how those compare to stories where the reader knows who committed the crime early in the story. Here we know who committed the crimes in question when they happen or even before (the book description spills the beans).

What keeps the reader engaged isn’t figuring out who did it, but wondering whether those who don’t have those answers are going to figure it out and stop the criminal before he does more. That threat of more crime keeps the reader engaged. That’s what happened to me here. What Skates was going to do, just how far he’d go, and what damage he was going to cause was never clear. The answer to that question kept me wondering and engaged in the story.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Although this is book #3 in a series it can be read as a standalone.

Format/Typo Issues:

This review is based on an ARC (advance reader copy), so I can’t gauge the final product in this area.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 50-55,000 words


Monday, December 27, 2021

Review: Chad Stinson Goes for a Walk by Shawn Inmon

 


Genre: Short Story

Description:

“Chad Stinson is fat. When a series of unflattering pictures at his 49th birthday party burn that fact into his brain, he decides to do something about it. Turning to Amazon, he orders an Azuul ExerTracker, hoping to find the discipline he lacks. He finds it. His life will never be the same. Chad Stinson Goes for a Walk is a short, macabre tale of obsession and possession, perfect for a quick lunchtime read.”

Author:

A native of Washington, Shawn Inmon is a former DJ, Real Estate Agent, turned prolific full-time author.

Appraisal:

If you’ve joined the crowd of people who count your steps with one of the “fitness trackers” available today or know anyone who owns one, this story will strike home. (I felt like the protagonist was a kindred spirit, at least at first.) It’s a fun story of inspiration and motivation gone awry.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 7-8,000 words


Thursday, December 23, 2021

Review: The Atherton Vampire by Lynne Cantwell


 Genre: Vampire fantasy

Description:

“For a hundred years, Jerome Atherton has roamed the world in a fruitless search for a cure for his vampirism. Now he has returned to the family home – a crumbling mansion that sits, brooding, on a bluff above the river town that bears his family’s name – and his faithful manservant, a gargoyle named Kamen. Jerry falls for a TV news anchor named Lauren Whitacre, but when Lauren discovers his secret, he must flee again. But not for long. Not for nearly long enough.

Upon his return, another TV news personality intrigues him: reporter Callie Dailey. But Jerry Atherton is not the first vampire Callie has run into and she is not interested in complicating her life with another. Yet Jerry needs Callie’s help to find out why an out-of-town developer is so interested in his family's old shipyard. Will he have to use his vampiric powers of persuasion on Callie? If he does, he may lose her forever…”

Author:

Lynne Cantwell’s biography tells us she has been writing fiction since the second grade, when the kid who sat in front of her showed her a book he had written, and she thought, "I could do that." The result was "Susie and the Talking Doll," a picture book illustrated by the author about a girl who owned a doll that not only could talk, but could carry on conversations. The book had dialogue but no paragraph breaks.

Today, after a twenty-year career in broadcast journalism and a master's degree in fiction writing from Johns Hopkins University (or perhaps despite the master's degree), Lynne is still writing fantasy. She is also a contributing author at Indies Unlimited.

 Appraisal:

Nosferatu (the movie) scared the bejazus out of me at an early age. Imprinted on my hind brain forever is the image of the ghoulish shadow thrown onto the wall of the staircase as the creature creeps upwards, towards the bedroom of his beloved victim. Thereafter I came to terms with vampires as scary but comedic entertainment through dear Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She sure got through ‘em, with her trusty stake and sharp one-liners. I mention all this to show that I can go either way with vampires.

There is romance in the novel, and the story isn’t really dark, so I have been pondering what genre this occupies. You can judge the result of my deliberations for yourself if you give the book a whirl.

This vampire tale kept me on the edge of my seat whenever the vampire was on stage as I examined every utterance for a careless invitation to step inside, and occasionally shouted at the Kindle in my hand ‘don’t look into his eyes!’. So tension is kept high.

There is, however, rather little staking – without which the vampire genre inevitably feels a little thin. Reasoning with a vampire, with any expectation of not ending up with a sore neck and an aversion to daylight, seems to this reader to be a fool’s game. It’s all about the catching and the biting, with vampires, isn’t it? Cantwell does, however, give something of the story of the vampire in history and its transmogrification into a fiction staple. This she does through one of her engaging narrators, Callie Dailey – a local TV news anchor, very much in the Tess Showalter mould (see the Magic series). She has the Cantwellian, spunky heroine  ‘come on, what’s the worst that can happen?’ approach to danger, and Gretchen the video operator follows gamely at her heels.

The second narrator is, however, more fun even than the ever-inquisitive reporter and her sidekick. Kamen functions under a glamour laid upon him by his master. He is the magical factotum of Jerome, the Atherton vampire, and through Kamen’s glum narrative we are given a quite different slant on events. Kamen is rather like Marvin the Paranoid Android from Hitchhiker’s Guide, but with wings. And better at catching rats at need. Kamen has a favourite line: “if a creature of stone could feel [insert emotion], then I would feel it now.” For dogged goodness, which he constantly downplays, Kamen is without doubt the most appealing character in the novel. He considers himself dull. But he is not. The vampire gets a sense of civic duty (although I still don’t trust him), the reporter gets a boyfriend, but Kamen gets a soul. Nice.

As ever, it is the cast of characters which invigorate this new novel of Cantwell’s. She gives each one breadth, depth and life (even the dead ones …). The pages turn briskly.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

An accomplished and well-edited work of fiction. No infelicities to report.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: Judi Moore

Approximate word count: 40-45,000 words

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Reprise Review: Cargo by D.V. Berkom


Genre: Thriller

Description:

“Haunted by memories of an op gone bad, former assassin Leine Basso travels to Bangkok in search of a missing backpacker. With help from an old contact, she discovers the man responsible for the girl’s disappearance is connected to a violent Hong Kong triad and is the linchpin of an extensive trafficking network—both animal and human.

Making enemies isn’t new for Leine, but making one in the triad is—she soon finds herself a prisoner on board a cargo ship headed for sub-Saharan Africa. To ensure her survival and to continue her hunt for the missing girl, she must join forces with Derek, an ivory poacher who promises to help her.”

Author:

“DV Berkom is the award-winning author of two action-packed thriller series featuring strong female leads (Leine Basso and Kate Jones). Her love of creating resilient, kick-ass women characters stems from a lifelong addiction to reading spy novels, mysteries, and thrillers, and longing to find the female equivalent within those pages.

Raised in the Midwest, she earned a BA in political science from the University of Minnesota and promptly moved to Mexico to live on a sailboat. Several years and a multitude of adventures later, she wrote her first novel and was hooked.”

For more, visit her website.

Appraisal:

Cargo is the fourth book featuring Leine Basso. The short review: this book is like the others, intense.

Leine has a talent for getting into tight situations that will have you on the edge of your seat, wondering how, or even if, she'll manage to accomplish whatever she set out to do. How is she going to manage to get out of whatever dangerous situation she's stumbled into? As in some of Leine's past adventures, in Cargo she finds herself dealing with human trafficking and having to find her way in foreign environments in what I thought was her most intense case so far.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language.

Original review posted August 24, 2016.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words