Friday, April 9, 2021

Review: No Way Back Today by Eric Shoars

 


Genre: Humorous Fiction

Description:

“Midlife demands some reckoning and Eric realizes he can wait no longer. As Eric hurtles headlong toward the big 5-0, he realizes there is unfinished business and is determined to find his childhood friends, convince them to form their own rock and roll band, and to go on tour! He searches out Todd, Laurel, and Lorelei so he can fulfill that dream. The story of four Midwestern grown-ups and their childhood desires to create No Way Back Today in the face of improbable odds and middle age will have you both laughing and cheering as you recognize your own unfulfilled dreams. No Way Back Today is an epic, '80s-fueled rock-and-roll escapade for a band that never was!”

Author:

“Eric Shoars is a serial storyteller who considers the English language his playground and who never met a pun he didn’t like. Eric is a modern day Walter Mitty with a serious twist. His writing style is best described as ‘fly on the wall’ putting the reader in the shoes of the lead character experiencing what he does as he does. Getting in a person's head and finding out what drives them, what makes them do what they do is tremendously fascinating. The drama we find in art often pales to the drama of real life.

Shoars' fiction works include No Way Back Today and The Sunshine Affair series.

Shoars' non-fiction works include Women Under Glass: The Secret Nature of Glass Ceilings and The Steps to Overcome Them and Evil Does Not Have The Last Word.”

Appraisal:

Although Eric (the protagonist of this book, not to be confused with Eric the author) is a member of Gen X (the generation between the Baby Boomers and the Millennials) and I think he would say this book is especially aimed at that generation. I agree, it would resonate the most with that generation, but depending on whose definition of the specific birth years that fit in each generation some (possibly a significant number) of the Baby Boomers are going to find this book resonates with them. At least I did. Odds are if you were born in most of the ‘50s, at any point in the ‘60s or ‘70s, and even a bit into the ‘80s (the end of Gen X) this story is likely to strike a chord. Some of you kids in the Millennial generation might learn something and be amused by the old fogies and the lessons they learned in this story as well.

In spite of being fiction, No Way Back Today feels like a memoir in many ways. The inclusion of real people (Joan Jett and Ellen DeGeneres for two examples) into the story in realistic ways (at least as realistic as the rest of the story) adds to that feeling. Real places (for example the venues like the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa and First Avenue, the real club in Minneapolis) adds to the real feel, at least for those familiar with these places. Even though the story is fiction and humorous, the more serious lessons someone might take away from it if it were a memoir still stand. Among those lessons are that it doesn’t have to be too late to make your dreams come true and that the time to do that is probably right now.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 85-90,000 words

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Review: Wheels: What is a Virus by Melannie Baum


Genre: Children’s Picture Book

Description:

“Book 1 of the Tractor Adventure Series:

Wheels is a young, curious tractor, and Wheels has a lot of questions.

One question he is curious about is, ‘Can I get a virus?’

Farmer Tom, his owner, tries to answer all his questions the best he can.”

Author:

A native of Ohio, Melannie Baum grew up on a farm and still lives in rural Ohio with her two sons and her husband. For more, visit her website.

Appraisal:

A fun read for new readers or for reading to those not quite up to reading it themselves. Obviously inspired by the Covid-19 pandemic, this does a good job of explaining the basics of how a virus spreads, at least this virus, and the proper steps to limit your risk of catching it. These are all the things we’ve been hearing constantly for the last year: social distancing, mask wearing, and frequent hand washing. Hopefully your young reader has already learned these things and been practicing them for a long time. I’m hopeful that vaccines and other factors mean we’re on the downhill side of this pandemic. But as a fun way to emphasize that we aren’t there yet, occasionally reading this book to your youngster for his or her nightly bedtime story as a reminder seems like a reasonable idea.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 34 pages


Monday, April 5, 2021

Reprise Review: Sarabande by Malcolm R. Campbell

 


Genre: Magical Realism/Adventure/Literary/Fantasy

Description:

“When Sarabande’s sister Dryad haunts her for three years beyond the grave, Sarabande begins a dangerous journey into the past to either raise her cruel sister from the dead, ending the torment, or to take her place in the safe darkness of the earth. In spite of unsettling predictions about her trip, Sarabande leaves the mountains of Pyrrha and Montana on a black horse named Sikimí and heads for the cornfields of Illinois in search of Robert Adams, the once powerful Sun Singer, hoping he can help with her quest.”

Author:

“Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of satire and magical realism: Conjure Woman's Cat (2015), The Sun Singer (2004, 2010, 2015), Sarabande (2011 and 2015), Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire (2009). His Jock Talks...Politics collection of satire is a Pushcart Prize 2013 nominee. Jock Stewart Strikes Back is a collection of humorous stores that was released in 2014. An excerpt from Conjure Woman's Cat was nominated in 2015 for a Pushcart Prize.”

For more information about Mr. Campbell check out his blog or followhim on Facebook.

Appraisal:

Sarabande is an amazingly well told tale of redemption that starts off with Sarabande seeking Robert Adams help to settle Dryad’s haunting torment. Her quest starts off well through the dimensional divide and Mr. Campbell’s poetic prose is spellbinding as he paints a picture of Sarabande riding Sikimi through the night sky. Things then go terribly awry in a horrific set of events. Sarabande must draw on all of her inner strength to survive.

Sarabande finds an ally in Billy Looks Far, who is able to help her on many levels to put her back on the path to fulfill her quest. However, she must find her own way to recover from the emotional turmoil and to find her way back to her own power. The plot is full of twists that caught me off guard at times. She does find Robert who is fully Robert Adams, not the Osprey she was actually seeking. He has turned his back on being the Sun Singer to appease his parents. Finding no help from Osprey, Sarabande plans to head back home without help. The trickster coyote delays her trip which gives Robert time to change his mind about going back with her.

But hold on, the twists in the plot are ongoing and Sarabande teaches Robert about trusting your guide instead of your own logic. Magic and logic don’t often travel hand in hand. The plights they encounter are surprising on both sides of the dimensional divide. Events are disastrous and surprising once again. Mr. Campbell may have as well have torn my insides out with the way this story ended. However, it seems as though Sarabande is well on her way to healing her psyche. Which left me feeling good, however, the why and how of it still has me debating. I have to learn how to trust the author, right?

Buy now from:    Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Sarabande is book 2 in the Mountain Journeys series. I should include this book contains a rape scene and other scenes with graphic violence. So if you are sensitive about those subjects, BEWARE!

Original review posted January 5, 2016.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 75,000-80,000 words

Friday, April 2, 2021

Review: The Ferret by Tom Minder

 


Genre: Thriller

Description:

“As an LDS elder, Louie Kimble, is assigned as construction foreman in Testimony Acres, a high-end real estate development, fifty miles north of Las Vegas. He discovers it’s a money laundering scheme put together by his religious superiors. Confronted by the FBI, he agrees to provide evidence and testify in exchange for his freedom.

After surgery to fix an unfortunate resemblance to a domesticated animal, he is given a new name and history and relocated to South Jersey. He rebuilds his life, with a girlfriend, a great job, and season tickets to the local pro football team.

Then one bright Saturday morning, there is a knock on his front door. His visitor will bring back his past, and change his life forever.”

Author:

“Tom Minder lives in southern New Jersey, with his wife Paula, and writes novels and short fiction.”

For more, check out his blog and like his Facebook page.

Appraisal:

The overall plot of this book is one with plenty of appeal to a thriller reader. Young adult man gets himself sucked into a questionable, illegal situation. (That he got into this situation due to trusting his church leaders only makes his situation more sympathetic.) This bad situation culminates in our protagonist helping the FBI convict the culprits and he goes into the witness protection program, relocates, and gets his life on the right track. At least it is going great until something unexpected shakes things up. What that is and how it all works out is, of course, the last two thirds of the book and saying much more would be a spoiler, so I won’t. I’ll just say that for some (even many) people who think this sounds appealing, odds are good you’ll enjoy this book.

My personal experience was different and I suspect anyone who has had any significant exposure to Mormons (or as they now prefer to be called, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) are going to notice things that sound wrong. For example, Louie Kimble’s situation going in is not clear. It seems to be implied that he is on some official assignment from the church, possibly a mission, when he begins working at the real estate development near Las Vegas, for example. Various terms are used that seem to imply that, but they don’t. For example, multiple times the term “Leader” is used, which is meaningless in the context it is used. Sometimes the title bishop is used or misused, seeming to be trying to imply some authority. A bishop is the leader of a specific congregation and would have no authority outside of that small circle. (One of the few, maybe only times, that the title bishop would have been the correct one, the character uses the term “Ward Leader” instead.) All of this makes those characters who are supposedly Mormon seem fake and blew my ability to suspend disbelief. Had the author made up his own religion and fake terms, I’d have bought into this. Had he gotten someone with an understanding of the Mormon culture and terminology to get things right, it would have been great. But as it stands anyone with any significant exposure to the Mormon religion or its culture including the vast majority of residents of the Mountain States in the US will find themselves cringing and mentally stumbling as they read this.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

Review is based on an Advanced Readers Copy and thus I can’t gauge the final product in this area.

Rating: *** Three Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 40-45,000 words

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Reprise Review: The Reveal: A Detectives Seagate and Miner Mystery by Mike Markel

 


Genre: Police Procedural/Mystery

Description:

“Many citizens in the small college town of Rawlings, Montana, are unsurprised to learn that Virginia Rinaldi, the world-famous sociologist, was murdered. A few are secretly pleased. Her political enemies knew her as an ideologue who used insults, threats, and blackmail to promote her unpopular social views. When Detectives Seagate and Miner begin their investigation, they discover that a local prostitute had recently moved into the professor's house, angering Rinaldi's college-age son. And when the community learns that the prostitute made a lesbian porn video with one of Rinaldi's students, tensions on campus erupt, leading to more bloodshed. Drawn into a horrifying world of sexual violence and exploitation, Seagate devises a plan to flush out the killer. The plan appears to be on track--until Seagate unwittingly jeopardizes the life of her partner, Ryan Miner.”

Author:

Mike Markel teaches writing at Boise State University. In addition to the Seagate and Miner Mystery series (this is the sixth) he has written several non-fiction books on writing and numerous articles for various publications.

For more, visit the author’s website.

http://mikemarkel.com/

Appraisal:

I've read and reviewed four of the five previous books in this series, loving each of them. Going from memory, prior reviews have focused on the main characters, narrator and protagonist Karen Seagate, a recovering alcoholic with many imperfections, offset by a desire to do well, and her sidekick, Ryan Miner, her polar opposite, a devout Mormon family man. I've previously talked about how well the fictional city of Rawlings, Montana and the secondary characters reflect the geography and culture of the area it would be in, were it a real place. All of these things are still true. Maybe it’s time to talk about plot.

The short version is, the plots are good, with The Reveal as my favorite thus far. In this particular story we kick off with the murder of Virginia Rinaldi, a professor at the local college. Virginia's liberal outlook has challenged and sometimes riled up the locals, including some of her peers, but she is almost universally loved by her students.

As Seagate and Miner investigate, they uncover a plethora of suspects and additional crimes are committed that may or may not be related to the initial murder. Just when I thought I'd figured out who did what, something new would happen to shake things up, and I, along with Seagate and Miner, would be forced to reevaluate. In the end, they figured it out. I was kept guessing until the end, even second guessing whether they'd arrested the right person until they'd tied up all the loose ends. This one kept me up late, eager to find out whodunit.

Buy now from:    Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language and mild adult content.

Although part of a series, The Reveal can be read as a standalone.

Original review posted January 7, 2016.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 85-90,000 words

Monday, March 29, 2021

Review: Suicide Walk by Melissa Bowersock

 


Genre:  Mystery/Contemporary Fiction/Paranormal

Description:

“Raising teenagers is tough. Medium Sam Firecloud and his partner, Lacey Fitzpatrick, have that brought home to them in spades when Sam’s sixteen-year-old son, Daniel, calls a sudden family meeting to make an unexpected, and unwelcome, announcement. Not only are Sam and Lacey struggling to deal with the development, they’re doing it in different ways, adding to the tension. At the same time, they are hired to investigate the death of a fifteen-year-old girl who chose to tragically end what was a privileged but tragic life. When Sam’s usual methods for dealing with a tethered soul go stunningly wrong, he and Lacey are left to wonder if they can ultimately help either of the two teens—living and dead—to find peace.”

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 southern Utah 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:

Teen angst times two in Suicide Walk. Daniel, Sam’s sixteen-year-old son, calls a family meeting to make an unconventional and unwelcome announcement which no one is happy about. As Sam and Lacey struggle to deal with this development, tension rises as they deal with this situation in different ways. At the same time Sam and Lacey are hired to release the spirit of a fifteen-year-old girl who chose to end what was a privileged but tragic life a year ago. They have to figure out why she is tethered to this earthly plane. When Sam tries to release her spirit, she reacts violently. Oops! Then the father fires them and plans on billing them for the damage incurred. Double oops!

Even though they have been fired from this job Lacey can’t let it go. She knows they have missed something vital from Tessa’s tragic life. Suicide Walk is a captivating and emotional story that will keep you turning the pages. The characters are well rounded and their dialogues are realistic. The plot moves at a nice pace, Ms. Bowersock doesn’t mince words to pad her word count. I also love the way Sam’s kids are worked into the story and we get to share their growing pains as well. It’s like having a magical window into the Firecloud’s daily life. I love that part of the series. Okay, back to the story at hand, you may want to have a box of Kleenex close by for the emotional climax.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Suicide Walk is book 30 in Melissa Bowersock’s, A Lacey Fitzpatrick and Sam Firecloud Mystery Series.

Format/Typo Issues:

I was a beta reader for this novella so I can’t speak about the final edition.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 30-35,000 words

Friday, March 26, 2021

Reprise Review: Caesar's Ghost by Reb MacRath

 


Genre: Supernatural/Historical Fiction/Suspense

Description:

Imagine Caesar reincarnated. Even better (or maybe worse, depending on your perspective) imagine his soul or essence coming to life in someone else's body. Almost like it is possessed only by an ex-Roman dictator rather than a demon. If you can imagine that, you've got the concept of Caesar's Ghost. I'll bet you thought it would have something to do with Perry White or Superman. Fooled you.

Author:

More than twenty-five years ago, using the name Kelly Wilde, Reb MacRath wrote The Suiting, a Stoker Award winner for best first novel. It was a dark thriller inspired by his experience as “a stateless person” after fleeing to Canada to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War. If this piques your curiosity, read his full bio on his Amazon Author Central page. I couldn't even begin to do it justice. If you'd like, you can also check out his blog.

Appraisal:

I grabbed this book from the stack because I was looking for something shortish (it's novella length) and a change of pace. It was both of those. What I didn't anticipate was how much I'd like it. It's fast-paced, with short chapters that keep the story hopping and skipping along. The premise and the plot keep the tension high, but it is also full of humor. Along with being entertained by Caesar making his way through the modern world, maybe you'll even pick up a few historical tidbits. Or maybe not. It doesn't matter either way because that Caesar, once you get to know him, is a funny guy. I'd love to hang out with him. But first, he'd have to promise not to take over my body.

Buy now from:    Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Although Caesar's Ghost is part of a series, each of the books stands alone.

Original review posted February 3, 2016.

Format/Typo Issues:

A small number of typos and copyediting misses.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 30-35,000 words.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Review: Murder, Key West Style by Dave Vizard

 


Genre: Crime Fiction

Description:

“This fast-paced novel starts with the mysterious death of an American war hero who dies alone and homeless in Key West, Florida, one of the world's great tourism meccas. Millions of people flock to the island at the bottom of the United States. Fabulous weather, terrific views, a laid-back lifestyle, incredible boating and fishing. No wonder many refer to Key West as paradise. Those attributes also prompt the homeless to gather in a place where sleeping outside is ideal most of the year. News reporter Nick Steele takes the woman of his dreams to Key West to get married and honeymoon, but gets pulled into the death of the Marine Corps veteran. More digging by the news reporter reveals a shocking side of Key West that few have ever seen. Lively, colorful characters, a winding, twisting plot and sharp writing make this novel a must read.”

Author:

Dave Vizard has worked as a journalist, taught writing and journalism at the college level, and has now released this, his fourth novel. Vizard lives in Michigan’s thumb, near Lake Huron.

Appraisal:

On an impromptu trip to Key West in order to get married and then honeymoon, Nick Steele gets drafted by his newspaper employer to do some quick research on the story behind the death of a war hero from his hometown. That quick research turns into a trip down the rabbit hole and a much bigger story than expected. As Nick digs, he solves the mystery of what happened, but uncovers something bigger. How big and what it involves I won’t say so as to not spoil the mystery. I’ll just say that the answer isn’t obvious and in the end the complete answer is bigger than I anticipated.

As you’re solving the mystery alongside Nick, if you’re paying attention, you might find your mind taking detours as you consider various subjects. The plight of the homeless is one. Various organizations, public and private, that are there to help the homeless and how things might work or go astray is another. The issue of veterans and the long-term effects they sometimes suffer from and what might be done to help is yet another side trip my mind took. I’m sure other readers will find the story to be thought provoking for other reasons. But most important, in the end, this is a good and entertaining read.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 55-60,000 words

Monday, March 22, 2021

Review: Odriel’s Heirs by Hayley Reese Chow


 

Genre: Young Adult/Coming of Age/Sword & Sorcery/Fantasy/Adventure

Description:

“The brave, burning with fire, harnessed the Dragon's Rage...

As the Dragon Heir, seventeen-year-old Kaia inherited the power of flame to protect her homeland from a godlike necromancer's undead army. But after centuries of peace, the necromancer has faded to myth, and the Dragon Heir is feared by the people. Persecuted and cast out, Kaia struggles to embrace and control her seemingly useless gift while confined to her family's farm.

But when the necromancer's undead terrorize the land once again, Kaia runs away to join the battle.

With the help of her childhood rival, the handsome Shadow Heir, and a snarky, cursed cat, Kaia must figure out how to control both her fire and her confidence in time to save Okarria. If she fails, she will sacrifice her family, her new friends, and the enchanting world she has only just begun to see.

And time is running out.”

Author:

“Hayley Reese Chow is the author of Odriel's Heirs, the 2020 winner of the Florida Author Project. She also has short and flash fiction featured in Lite Lit One, The Drabble, Bewildering Stories, Teleport Magazine, and Rogue Blades Entertainment's omnibus, AS YOU WISH!

Until recently though, she's mostly done a lot of things that have nothing at all to do with writing. Her hat collection includes mother, wife, engineer, USAF veteran, reservist, four-time All American fencer, 100 mile ultramarathoner, triathlete, world traveler, voracious reader, and super nerd. Hayley currently lives in Florida with two small wild boys, her long-suffering husband, and her miniature ragehound.

But at night, when the house is still, she writes.”

To find more about Ms. Chow’s other stories and see what she's working on next, check out her website.

Appraisal:

Kaia Dashul is the Dragon Heir, she alone has the power of fire. When an undead army attacks her homeland, she sets out to locate the sloppy necromancer who is creating the Lost Armies. She is joined by her beloved pet ragehound Gus, Klaus Thane the Shadow Heir who has the power of invisibility, and a snarky cursed cat.

And so the adventure begins. Kaia and Klaus search for clues and allies for the coming war. As discoveries are made plans have to adapt. Kaia and Klaus are also learning to work together as they are both on their own journey to self-discovery as well. Emotions and tension run high during skirmishes and losses take their toll on our young heroes. The descriptions of landscapes and native life is beautifully written. The battles are captivating as we are right in the middle of the action watching it play out through Kaia’s eyes.

I was left with one burning question after the ultimate battle though. Then the final scene I was taken back because I had completely forgotten about that slime ball. I also can’t believe that one dark sorcerer is so flippin’ hard to kill. The slippery rat bass-tid.

If you enjoy epic fantasy with sword and sorcery, battles between good and evil with snappy dialogue, you will enjoy this novel.  

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Odriel's Heirs is listed free on Amazon at the time I wrote this review. Idriel's Children is book 2 in the Odriel’s Heirs series.

Format/Typo Issues:

I noted several small proofing misses.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words

Friday, March 19, 2021

Review: Legend by DV Berkom

 


Genre: Historical/Western

Description:

“In the aftermath of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Claire accepts a job transporting a convicted murderer to prison. But Harry, the bounty hunter who captured the outlaw, is none too pleased to be sharing the reward—and trusting a woman to have his back.

Will Claire and Harry settle their differences and work together to deliver their captive to justice? Or will the murderer kill again to escape the noose?”

Author:

“DV Berkom is the USA Today bestselling author of action-packed, riveting adventure and crime thrillers. Known for creating resilient, kick-ass female characters and page-turning plots, her love of the genre stems from a lifelong addiction to reading spy novels, action/adventure stories, and thrillers.”

Appraisal:

This third volume appears to be the final installment of this series, taking the tale of Claire Whitcomb from the murder of her family in the first to what I’ll describe as her new normal by the end of this book, with plenty of excitement in between. Most of the story in this book involves assisting Harry, a bounty hunter, in transporting a prisoner to prison. Harry isn’t very pleased to have Claire foisted on him as an assistant and, at least at first, he doesn’t realize that she isn’t a man, nor does the prisoner. This was a fun read, both wondering how things were going to be complicated if Harry or the prisoner realized Claire wasn’t a guy, and anticipating complications were going to come getting the prisoner to prison (otherwise where was the conflict going to be?) and wondering how that was going to shake out. What, if anything, happens on both these fronts is something you’ll have to find out on your own. Maybe I got surprised. Regardless, I enjoyed the read which kept me entertained and on the edge of my seat throughout.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Book 3 of the series. While I think the book could be read as a standalone, knowing all that led to this point would help get even more from the book.

Format/Typo Issues:

My review is based on an advance copy and I’m unable to gauge the final product in this area.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 35-40,000 words