Friday, December 6, 2019

Review: Diamond of Aether by Scott L. Collins




Genre: Middle Grade/Epic Fantasy/Adventure/Coming of Age

Description:

“One more gem to complete the Scepter. One more battle, this time with everything at stake. A small band has rebelled against the evil king and fought to reunite the power of the Scepter of Harmony before confronting him in a fight to free the kingdom from his brutal rule.

Daniel, Aidan, and friends search out the Diamond of Aether, the last missing stone, before planning their assault on Argyle. How can one small group of teens hope to defeat the most ruthless king the land has ever known? How can they hope to launch an assault on a fortress guarded by everyone Argyle has called to defend him?

The time has come to put an end to the chase, one way or the other.”

Author:

 “Scott Collins was born and raised in Southern California but relocated to the Denver area following the birth of the first of his two sons. Days' End was his debut novel but has since switched to Middle Grade Fantasy so he can share his writing with his young boys. In addition to writing, he enjoys spending his free time (with two kids that's not much time) running and cycling.”

You may visit Mr. Collins’ Amazon Author page or follow him on Facebook.

Appraisal:

The quest of our small group of heroes is to restore the Scepter of Harmony to reestablish peace in the kingdom. Lilli can feel the last gem to recover is deep inside the White Mountain, but not how to get to it. Aidan’s dragon friend may be able to help, but even that plan is sketchy.

Even if they get the last gem, they have to build an army to storm Argyle’s castle. They have been lucky enough to make some allies during their quest. Surprisingly, they find some strong allies in the least likely creatures in one of the saddest moments. These men are able to help Daniel to hone and finalize their plans of attacking the castle.

Diamond of Aether is action packed and enthralling. War is a nasty business and there are losses. Storytelling is a great way to instill morals in our children as they grow. Our heroes learn some powerful lessons during this quest, and they take them all to heart. Scott Collins has done a wonderful job weaving together many fantastical beasts and elements in this epic fantasy series. I hope I’m not giving anything away when I say Aidan has a new awesome gift bestowed on him and there is a budding romance, which made me smile.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Diamond of Aether is book five in the Scepter Series. This series builds on each other. I would recommend starting with book one, Scepter.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Review: Wokeistan by Tony DiGerolamo and Christian Beranek



Genre: Political Satire

Description:

“President Trump has just been inaugurated for the second time. The students at Upstate College are not happy. Led by one charismatic person of color, of African, Indigenous, Pan Asian descent who is a differently-abled Muslim-Atheist, they obliterate the college experience forever.

Wokeistan is a satire: Politics, media, corporations, feminism and the relationships between men and women. In a world where anyone to the right of Fidel Castro is considered a fascist, one college professor will try to save his school.”

Author:

“Tony DiGerolamo is a New Jersey screenwriter, novelist, comic book writer, game designer and comedian. He is best known for his work on The Simpsons and Bart Simpson comic books. He has also been a joke writer for Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher, a scriptwriter for Space Ghost: Coast to Coast and a blogger for Comedy Central's Indecision website.”

“Christian Beranek writes books, shoots photography, records music and has talked about directing films one day.

Appraisal:

The premise of Wokeistan is simple. A subset of students at a college push back against social norms. Just like books in the dystopian genre, they take a political direction too far, down the slippery slope until things hit rock bottom. A place where, as the book’s description says, “anyone to the right of Fidel Castro is considered a facist.”

When I finished, I was left not knowing what to think. Part of me loved the book. Part of me felt something more akin to hate, definitely an emotion way to the other extreme of the spectrum. I wasn’t sure what point the authors hoped I’d take away was, if there was one. I didn’t know if I agreed with them or if they got it all wrong. Then I realized, if I didn’t know what they wanted me to think, that was actually a good thing.

I finally took a deep breath. Forced myself to chill. The only difference between this and the dystopian books that I can’t get enough of is that this story is happening too close to home, timewise. Maybe that’s why dystopian books work, giving us some distance from the story being presented. If Orwell’s 1984 had been published in 1982 instead of 1949, it might have caused readers to over react like I did.

So now I’ll remind myself of a few things. The first is that assuming a slippery slope works to make a point in a book, but assuming it is going to happen is a logical fallacy. The point being made, that some directions and changes that have happened and continue to happen in society can be positive, but taken to an extreme can be as bad as what the change is attempting to cure. In fact, that’s essentially what happened here. As with most conflicts, the right answer is usually closer to the middle than either extreme. Maybe I learned something from this book after all.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

A small number of proofing misses.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 50-55,000 words

Monday, December 2, 2019

Review: Lost Witness by Rebecca Forster



Genre: Thriller

Description:

“It's two in the morning and an aging cargo ship lies off the Port of Los Angeles. Deep in the bowels of the vessel, an important man is dead and the woman who killed him is mortally wounded. On shore another man staggers out of the sea determined to save the woman before she dies or the ship sails. Exhausted and terrified, he goes to the only person he trusts to help, Josie Bates. He brings with him a history she can't ignore, a problem that seems insurmountable, and a plea she can't refuse. But Josie is up against international law, maritime justice, a Port Authority that doesn't want anything to get in the way of profit, the U.S. Coast Guard who dances to the tune of politics and a captain who swears the people in question were never on his ship. With the clock ticking, Josie becomes ever more desperate to prove the woman is real and get her safely ashore. What Josie doesn't know is that the sands of time that are running out may be her own.”

Author:

USA Today best-selling author Rebecca Forster’s twenty-something books mostly fit within the broad mystery genre, some in the legal thriller subgenre and others harder to classify. Forster is a two-time winner in the Books and Pals Readers’ Choice Awards, with Before Her Eyes topping the mystery category in 2013 and Eyewitness (book 5 of the Witness Series) getting the nod from our readers in 2014.

For more, visit Forster’s website.

Appraisal:

Fans of Rebecca Forster’s Witness series who feel like they’ve been left hanging for more than five years should be primed to jump all over this book. For those unfamiliar with the series, this can be read as a stand alone as the author includes enough back story to understand the most important parts of the past as they pertain to this latest installment.

In Dark Witness, the last installment of the Witness series, we left two of the main characters, Hannah Sheridan and Billy Zuni, in a strange place. Billy thought Hannah was dead while Hannah knew (or at least had convinced herself she knew) that Billy was alive, in spite of evidence that he wasn’t, but she would have had no idea how to find him if she was right. He could be almost anywhere in the world. 

Several years later we pick up their stories again. Here they’ll discover the other again, have their current worlds shaken up in the process, and have a current crisis to survive before they’ll have a chance to figure out where to go from there. This story has a lot of action, is full of unpredictability, and has a lot happen over a period of only three days. As with the rest of the series, it’s also a great read that kept me engaged and the pages turning.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

One minor use of adult language.

This is the eighth book in a series. Although there is a lot of history between the main characters that will improve the understanding and enjoyment in subtle ways for those who have read past books, this book can still be read as a stand alone.

Format/Typo Issues:

Read an advance reader copy prior to final proofreading and can’t judge the final product in this area.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 90-95,000 words

Friday, November 29, 2019

Reprise Review: Broken Christmas by David Henderson



Genre: Short Story Collection

Description:

This is a collection of three short Christmas stories.

Fourth Wish

A homeless man finds himself leading a trio of privileged but neglected youths on Christmas Eve journey to fulfill their Christmas wishes.

Best Christmas Ever

An eight year-olds remembrance of a Christmas Eve his parents would rather forget.
Broken Christmas

A soldier leaves the frozen battlefield behind and goes home for Christmas via his dreams.

Author:

There is very little information about David Henderson! Except this on Goodreads, and it says nothing. ~sigh~ However, he has website you can check out now.

Appraisal:

The Fourth Wish

Conrad seems to fit the typical homeless man at the beginning of this story. Until three eleven year-old boys spending their Christmas at a boarding school find him drunk and passed out on the snowy steps of their school. They manage to drag him into the school and down the hall to the showers. The only clothes they have for him to put on is a Santa suit, which they had been playing dress-up with to entertain themselves on Christmas Eve. Once Conrad dons the suit, the magic of Christmas takes over. Somehow Conrad finds it in himself to try and fulfill the three boys Christmas wishes. It is amazing what can be accomplished with a little ingenuity. The journey that Conrad takes the boys on is a well-told story that will make you smile. I loved this story.

Best Christmas Ever

The events of this Christmas Eve through the eyes of eight year-old Jimmy is hysterical. Nothing about this Christmas Eve is typical or what you would expect. The memorable day flowed seamlessly as they escalated and I laughed out  loud. This is the best story ever!

Broken Christmas

You can tell after reading the first two stories, this author knows what he is doing. I knew from the title of the story this one was going to be heart wrenching, but that still didn’t prepare me for what was coming.

David Henderson has given us a sampling of his range in these three short stories. I found his stories easy to get drawn into and I cared about the characters. I think all the stories had a nice pacing and flowed well. I look forward to reading more from this author.

If you find yourself needing to escape for a few minutes during the Christmas rush this book would be a good choice.

Buy now from:    Amazon US        Amazon UK
FYI:

Added for Reprise Review: Broken Christmas by David Henderson was a nominee in the Short Story Collections and Anthologies category for B&P 2013 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran November 8, 2012.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 15-20,000 words

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Review: Grams' Christmas Baby by Barbara Silkstone



Genre: Cozy Mystery/Humor/Woman Sleuth/Novella

Description:

~*~ Christmas Eve ~*~

“Grams finds a baby on her doorstep—but what about the body in the bay?

Unarmed, can Olive keep the thugs away until the cops arrive?

Will Lizzy overcook the roasted faux goose?

Is WonderDog’s bite worse than his bark?

Will all this fit in one mini-read?”

Author:

 “Barbara Silkstone's most current series is Florence Nightingale Comedy Mysteries...The Giggling Corpse, The Killer Corset, and The Cheeky Coroner. Cozies all.

Silkstone is the best-selling author of both Regency Pride and Prejudice variations, including the popular the MISTER DARCY SERIES OF COMEDIC MYSTERIES ~ PRIDE AND PREJUDICE contemporary variations. All her books are light-hearted adventures based on Jane Austen's timeless tales of love denied and love discovered. ‘Feel good’ tales to warm your heart.

She is also the author of the Wendy Darlin Comedy Mystery series. Five coffee-snorting tales that combine cozy with outrageous adventures.”

For more from Barbara, visit her website and her Facebook page.

Appraisal:

When Grams finds a baby on her doorstep on Christmas Eve, she thinks he’s the answer to her prayers. She names him Herbie. Olive nor Lizzy want to turn Herbie over to Child Protective Services on Christmas Eve. With baby Herbie safely tucked away at Lizzy’s house, Olive, Grams, and WonderDog head back to Grams’ house.

Soon the focus of who baby Herbie is changes to how to protect him and his mother from the thugs who are chasing them. Olive is only armed with her trusty can of hairspray, Grams with her large brass candle stick, and WonderDog. They become trapped with a thug at the front door and another at the back door. Can Olive and gang stay hidden until the police arrive? These bargain basement thugs have no idea what they are in for.

Ms. Silkstone is an entertaining storyteller. Her plots are well thought out, clever, and endearing. This is a short read, but well worth your time. Enjoy!  

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Grams' Christmas Baby is book 5 in Ms. Silkstone’s, COLD CREAM MURDERS series. “Each book contains a recipe for homemade cosmetics!”

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant proofing issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 12-13,000 words

Monday, November 25, 2019

Cold, Cold Water by Marie S. Crosswell



Genre: Dystopian/Western

Description:

“In a lawless American West transformed by the Second Civil War, part-time bounty huntresses Ramona del Toro and Jo Lilly take a job: find and capture a mysterious woman named Cottonmouth, accused of murdering an innocent man. As they track her through northern Arizona, southern Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico, Ramona and Jo encounter colorful people who can only point them in Cottonmouth’s direction. When Jo and Ramona finally catch up to Cottonmouth, she reveals the truth. Will the bounty huntresses join their target or trade her for a bag of cash?”

Author:

A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College in upstate New York, Marie Crosswell now makes her home in the American West where she writes fiction of varying lengths and genres. She also writes poetry that, thus far, she’s been keeping mostly to herself.

For more, visit Crosswell’s website.

Appraisal:

This story takes place a few years from now, in 2043. But in those few short years things have happened that have changed the world in ways both obvious and subtle. The most obvious is that the Second Civil War in the US is now over. You didn’t even realize it was going to happen? Sorry for the spoiler. It’s now over and one of the results is that law enforcement is spotty, so people have had to take over enforcing social norms themselves. This has meant the rise of bounty hunters like Ramona and Jo, the main characters of our story, who for a price will track down wrongdoers, possibly bringing them back to the person who hired them so the client can exact whatever punishment they see fit.

I wasn’t sure what I’d think of this genre, described as “Western Dystopian,” which is just like what it sounds like. It’s dystopian, in that it happens in a future world that has changed in ways that aren’t so good. But it’s Western, in that in the largely rural area of the western US where this story takes place, things are lawless, with the fastest gun being the ultimate authority.

I not only enjoyed the basic story, but was drawn into it even more by the creative and different aspects to the characters and the story world. Not just the unique combination of dystopian and western genres, but also the non-traditional sexuality of the main characters. Overall this made for a quick, entertaining, and often thought-provoking read.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 30-35,000 words

Friday, November 22, 2019

Review: Ghosters 3: Secrets of the Bloody Tower by Diana Corbitt



Genre: Middle Grade/Paranormal Mystery/Ghosts

Description:

“When Theresa and her little brother Joey tour The Tower of London with their good friend Kerry, the kids expect to see a ghost or two, but they never imagined they’d find themselves involved in one of history’s most infamous missing person cases. They’ve got a pair of very impatient spirits on their hands and for good reason. The two 15th-century English princes have been forced to haunt The Tower for more than five-hundred years, all because someone else is buried in their Westminster Abbey tomb.” 

Author:
“Diana Corbitt is a retired elementary school teacher living in northern California. Her work has appeared in Bewildering Stories and Encounters Magazine. She had a podcast on Manor House and one of her short stories was anthologized in Wax and Wane: A Gathering of Witch Tales.

To learn more about Ms. Corbitt check out her website.

Appraisal:

In this addition to the Ghosters series, Theresa, Kerry, and Joey get to take a hop across the pond. Theresa and Joey Martinez’s father is an author who is invited to do a two-week book tour in the United Kingdom. It would be an educational trip for the kids, and a shame for them to miss out on. It would also be a bummer if they had to traipse their father around to all the book tour stops. Luckily, their good friend and fellow ghost chaser, Kerry Addison, is from England and her grandmother lives in London. Grandma is more than willing to have the three kids stay with her while dad is gallivanting around the countryside on his book tour. It’s been a year since Gran has seen Kerry, so she’s overjoyed about the visit. Gran happens to be a retired history professor and an ex-tour guide at the Towers of London, so she knows the best attractions to get the kids tickets for. She is also ghost savvy. 

Not two days into their visit Gran suffers an appendicitis attack and ends up in the hospital. Luckily Aunt Ginny lives right next door to Gran. The kids are allowed to tour London on their own during the day since Gran has it all planned out for them, then they’ll report back to Aunt Ginny’s every evening for dinner.

When a small boy appears to Joey in the Bloody Tower, he and the girls are curious. When they see the boy’s likeness in the portrait gallery, they are off and running to try to figure out why he and his brother are stuck in a small Bloody Tower room instead of properly buried in Westminster Abby, where their bones belong. They learn that there was scuttlebutt back in the day that the two young princes were murdered and their bodies hidden in an unmarked grave. No one knows whose bones are actually in the Abby in their place.

It’s a fun and educational adventure. As you can imagine there are lots of ghosts around London, some are new and some hundreds of years old, many of which are friendly and helpful or in need of help. Each encounter is different and engaging.

Poor Kerry has to lug around her electronic thingamajigs just to see and hear the blasted ghosts. And it’s always entertaining when Joey, who has Asperger syndrome, often takes words, rules, and common phrases quite literally. He also doesn’t like to be touched, so strangers aren’t allowed in his bubble. However, his sister, Theresa or Kerry, are always close by to protect, or explain situations and phrases for him. I especially enjoyed the times Theresa and Kerry tried to explain rule breaking to Joey, so he’d understand that sometimes rules have to be broken for the greater good.

Secrets of the Bloody Tower is a delightful romp through London with a big finale that makes this trip even more memorable. Don’t miss out on this story.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Secrets of the Bloody Tower is book 3 in Diana Corbitt’s, GHOSTERS Series.

Format/Typo Issues:

A small number of proofing misses, such as missing, extra, or wrong words.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Review: Letting Go by Len Joy



Genre: Short Story Collection

Description:

Author Len Joy says he’d write short fiction as a change of pace when he’d get stalled writing one of his two novels. He describes this collection as mostly being stories about “people who have lost something and are trying to find a way to move on with their lives.”

Author:

A small-town boy from upstate New York, Len Joy headed off for college and eventually ended up with a corporate job in Chicago. In addition to his writing (he’s written two novels plus this collection) Mr Joy is a nationally ranked triathlete.

Appraisal:

This collection of short stories fit the bill for me. As the author describes this collection, most of the stories are about someone who lost something and are trying to find a way to move on with their lives. I find I like to read stories like these. First, whatever happens to the people in the stories, it is always worse than whatever I might be complaining about in my own life at the time. It’s a good reminder that things could be worse. But even more I like to ponder the situation the characters find themselves in, ponder on how I think I would react if faced with the same situation, and consider how I or their actions and reactions could be improved. I found these stories to be entertaining and thought provoking.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 20-25,000 words

Monday, November 18, 2019

Reprise Review: The Sparrow Conundrum by Bill Kirton



Genre: Crime/Satire

Description:

“Machin’s garden explodes, igniting a power struggle over lucrative North Sea oil and gas contracts. The Sparrow takes flight amidst chaos and violence that are the least of the strange goings-on.”

Author:

A former university lecturer, Bill Kirton was born in England and has lived most of his life in Scotland. He has written everything you could imagine, from academic essays and dissertations to songs and plays. He has several more short stories and novels available for your favorite eReader. You could find Kirton books on his Amazon author page.

Appraisal:

I saw this described as a “crime spoof,” which is a perfect description. It is full of humor, often dry and subtle, as the stereotype of English humor would indicate. I learned the names of obscure (to me) birds and fish, which are used as codenames amongst the criminals; thankfully, my Kindle dictionary knew them all. Many of the criminals, especially the protagonist Chris Machin, are likeable and sympathetic (with the exception of those crimes they’re supposed to be committing). In contrast, the police are anything but, not to mention much better at crime than the criminals.

Beyond the story, I enjoyed the way Kirton strings words together. For example, I love this line, for how it twists the cliché into something clever, rather than overused:

“Hawk would undoubtedly have been more suspicious, but he was desperate for a gift horse and its mouth was invisible at the other end of a telephone line.”

Kirton won the 2011 Forward National Literature Award in the humor category for this book, and the reason is apparent.

Buy now from:    Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Uses UK spelling conventions and slang (possibly Scottish too, but I’m no expert).

Some adult language. While there is very little that is explicit, sexual themes and innuendo are constant. If the thought of anything sexual makes you blush, especially if it involves obscure kinks and fetishes (anything beyond a man, a woman, and a bed), this isn’t the book for you.

Added for Reprise Review: The Sparrow Conundrum by Bill Kirton was the WINNER in the Humor and Satire category for B&P 2013 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran April 3, 2012.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 65-70,000 words

Friday, November 15, 2019

Review: Spirit Talk by Colleen McManus Hein



Genre: Metaphysical Fiction/Coming of Age

Description:

“In 1985, Fiona is a young woman from the suburbs of Chicago on the doorstep of the tidy life her parents planned for her: college, career, then hopefully marriage and children. Never mind the dead relatives who speak in Fiona’s ear. Never mind Fiona’s vivid dreams which then play out in real life. They are not part of the plan.

When a series of misfortunes interrupts Fiona’s fate, she finds herself living with her grandmother in a remote town in northern Minnesota. Grandma Mary has been shunned by Fiona’s parents due to her profession: fortune-teller and medium. As Fiona begins to learn her grandmother’s trade, she is finally allowed to embrace and explore the beautiful gift her parents tried to deny her.

And speaking of denial, Fiona falls for the one man in town who is off-limits. As her psychic abilities unfold, so does her heart. But is it safe for Fiona to open metaphysical and emotional doors? When dealing with the occult, probably not, but Fiona discovers she has more courage than she knew.”

Author:

“Colleen McManus Hein is a book-lover, avid reader, and now an author. Writing a novel was a lifelong dream and finally accomplished as an empty-nester. She enjoys reading many genres, but has always been attracted to books with a paranormal theme. As an adolescent, Colleen especially enjoyed the novels of Lois Duncan.

Colleen, the mother of three grown children and soon to be a grandmother of two, lives north of Chicago with her husband. She is currently working on Book 2 in The Fiona Series. Occasionally, she reads cards and palms for neighbors and friends.”

To learn more about Ms. Hein check out her Amazon Author page.

Appraisal:

After a series of misfortunate events Fiona’s college plans are dashed. As a result of the tight financial situation Fiona sets off to live with her Grandma Mary in Fireside, Minnesota. Grandma Mary has a reputation as a tarot card reading fortuneteller, who also reads palms and communes with spirits. Fiona is excited by this move, finally she’ll have someone to guide her. Fiona has always heard voices and been able to find lost objects. However, these things were discouraged by her father. Grandma Mary is pleased to be able to pass her knowledge of the occult on to her granddaughter as well as giving her a more detailed family history. Fiona also enjoys hearing stories about her mother growing up.

Fiona is a quick study and starts to make a name for herself in their small community of Fireside. She’s also making friends and feels like she would love to make her move here permanent. However, fate intervenes again and the story takes a drastic turn. Spirit Talk doesn’t have a cliffhanger, but ends with a teaser about the direction Fiona’s life is taking.

My one complaint about Spirit Talk is how many times the tarot cards meanings are gone over. One. At. A. Time. The whole freaking deck of fifty-two cards, three different times. This bogged down and screwed up the pace of the story without moving the plot forward. When authors repeat things like this over and over it gives me the feeling that they are trying to raise their word count. Or don’t trust their readers to be smart enough to catch on. Authors’ please don’t do that! This story, in particular, is strong enough without the repetition of bloated text.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

If you want to learn to read tarot cards, this would be a good primer, and you get a story as a bonus.

Format/Typo Issues:

A small number of proofing errors, mostly extra or wrong words.

Rating: *** Three Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 65-70,000 words