Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Reprise Review: Dashing Druid (Retitled: Dashing Irish) by Lyn Horner




Genre: Western Romance/Historical Romance/Supernatural

Description:

 Dashing Druid continues Lyn Horner’s unique Texas Druids saga. This sensual western romance stars Tye Devlin, the eldest of three psychically gifted siblings. Descended from legendary Irish Druids, Tye is an empath. He ‘feels’ others’ emotions. Over time, he has learned to block out most of the ‘racket’ in order to save his sanity, but when he meets Texas cowgirl Lil Crawford, he has no defense against her hidden pain.”

“Set in the 1870s, against a backdrop of Texas ranch life and an iconic cattle drive, this epic love story pits Tye and Lil against dangerous enemies and their own feuding families as they fight their personal demons. Will they decide love is worth the consequences? Will Tye’s gift turn out to be a blessing or a curse?”

Author:

Originally trained in the visual arts, Lyn Horner has worked as a fashion illustrator and an art instructor for Art Instruction Schools (famous for their “Draw Me” heads). Looking for a creative outlet after her kids left home, she started writing. Darlin’ Druid was the first of her Texas Druids series, which this book continues. She also has a Kindle ready memoir, Six Cats in My Kitchen.

For more, visit Horner’s website.

Appraisal:

I enjoyed Darlin’ Druid, the first book of this series. Its combination of a solid western romance storyline with a unique twist on the formula, provided by the infusion of a significant amount of the supernatural was a fun read that was very different. Dashin’ Druid continues the story, this time focusing on Tye Devlin, the brother of the heroine in the first book, and the romance that kindles between him and a neighbor who has a history with his new brother-in-law.

For much of this book, the supernatural aspect of the series felt almost absent; mentioned, but low key and insignificant to the plot. However, the sexual tension between the hero and heroine was so strong that throwing in too much of the supernatural would have felt like overkill. During the later part of the book, the supernatural talents of the Devlin family come more to the fore, as tension of all types increases.

In the final analysis, I enjoyed this book even more than the first. I suspect part of that is that I (and I’m guessing most people) are able to become engrossed in a book easier and quicker if they have already “established a relationship” with the characters by reading and liking a prior book in the series.

Buy now from:    Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Dashing Druid has been retitled Dashing Irish and is book three in Ms. Horner’s, Texas Devlins series.

Some mild adult content.

Could be read as a stand-alone, although reading the initial book of the series first is probably preferable.

Added for Reprise Review: Dashing Druid/Dashing Irish by Lyn Horner was a nominee in the Romance category for B&P 2013 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran June 5, 2012.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 115-120,000 words

Monday, November 11, 2019

Review: Dakota Burn by D.V. Berkom



Genre: Thriller

Description:

“Former assassin Leine Basso was supposed to be in sunny LA, watching the first class of operatives graduate from the new anti-trafficking academy. Instead, she’s in North Dakota in the middle of a brutal winter, helping ex-poacher Derek van der Haar track down and eliminate a deadly group of criminals hell-bent on providing young girls to the highest bidder.

The closer Leine and Derek get to the organization, the more dangerous the mission becomes. Soon, it’s evident that the traffickers are playing for keeps—and don’t care who they kill.

In a story ripped from the headlines, Dakota Burn reveals the dark underbelly of the Bakken oil fields, where human life is a commodity and outlaws still rule.”

Author:

“DV Berkom is the USA Today bestselling author of two action-packed thriller series featuring strong female leads: Kate Jones and Leine Basso. Her love of creating resilient, kick-ass women characters stems from a lifelong addiction of reading spy novels, mysteries, and thrillers, and longing to find the female equivalent within those pages. After a lifetime of moving to places people like to visit on vacation, she now lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and several imaginary characters who like to tell her what to do.”

Appraisal:

If you’ve read a few books in the Leine Basso series and liked them, odds are good you’ll like the others including this one. You’ll also have an idea of what you might expect. Someone will be involved in sex trafficking. SHEN, the association Leine works for will send her to investigate. There will probably be a few people shot. Some of those could be by the bad guys, some could be by the good guys and even though the legality of what happens is questionable, you’re not at all upset to see it happen. Spoiler alert: Eventually the operation will be shutdown with the major players facing justice, if they survive. Yeah, that’s not really a spoiler because who really expects the protagonist of a thriller to ever not survive?

The basic format is engaging and exciting, but what really sets each book apart are the specifics. Sometimes that’s the specific bad guys and what they’re doing. Sometimes it’s something about this case that is especially a big deal to Leine and the reader. Sometimes it’s the setting. For me, the last two things are what sets this volume apart. The something special is the involvement of Jinn, a character from a prior installment of this series who is now working with Leine. I also found the setting in North Dakota to be interesting and a change of pace. Many books in the series have taken place on the west coast which has been done to death in books, TV, and movies, almost to the point where a southern California location is about as close to generic as you can be. It’s easy to imagine that the oil boom in North Dakota could have had some negative side-effects. The author did a good job of evoking the qualities a rural middle-of-nowhere location like this has and integrating them into the story. As always, Leine let me hang out for an intense and at times gut-wrenching case and I’m glad I came along for the ride.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult content and language.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words

Friday, November 8, 2019

Review: Ants In My Blood by Kevin Berg




Genre: Short Story Collection/Horror

Description:

“Love and parasites, painfully hungry work, people in the water, vindication at a price, itchy needles, lingering debts, ignored warnings, and the true cost of an epidemic. Experience the worst kind of parental guidance, watch the devil bleed, and wait for the eternal messengers to take you apart before carrying the last pieces of you away.

Straddling the boundaries between horror, suspense, dark humor, and the bizarre.”

Author:

“Kevin Berg is the author of Indifference and Daddy Monster. His dark fiction can be found at Pulp Metal Magazine, Near to the Knuckle, The Blood Red Experiment, Horror Sleaze Trash, Trembling With Fear, and Underbelly Magazine, among others.”

Appraisal:

In the acknowledgements at the end of this short story collection the author mentions that most of the stories were written during what he calls a “crazy and heartbreaking year.” It shows. While some of the stories could be classified as horror, many don’t fit that description, but they all have a dark side. Sure, you might laugh at points. I sure did when I discovered the name of the character in one story was Jesus Harold Christ, for example. However, after the initial laugh I quickly discovered that story had a dark side too. (It also had a point to ponder.) Most of the stories were like this. Well written, dark, and yet something more whether it is being thought-provoking, humorous, or entertaining in some other way.

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: 40-45,000 words

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Review: The Winter of Our Distemper by Victor Catano




Genre: Urban Fantasy/Paranormal/Contemporary Fiction

Description:

“After their recent adventures in Florida, Gabriel, Sheila, and Orson are due for a vacation. But their dreams of beaches are interrupted by an urgent cry for help.

Sheila's aunt, the witch who first taught her magic, has hidden herself away in snowy Maine. Now she's being targeted by a radical environmental group that's demanding her help... or else. They've mastered an ancient native magic and are going to use it to destroy anyone who gets in their way. And they have a nasty habit of controlling animals... including Orson.

It will take all of Sheila's magic and Gabriel's skills to stop them, and it just might tear them apart before they're through. But if they fail, it could be the darkest night of all.”

Author:

“Victor Catano lives in New York City with his wonderful wife, Kim. When not writing, he works in live theater as a stage manager, light designer, and technical director, working mainly with dance companies. His hobbies include coffee, Broadway musicals, and complaining about the NY Mets and Philadelphia Eagles.”

Learn more at Mr. Catano’s website or follow him on Facebook.

Appraisal:

Sheila gets an urgent cognitive message for help from her Aunt Mona. So off Gabriel, Sheila and Orson go to snowy Maine in January. Sheila nor Orson are willing to say much about the relationship between Aunt Mona and her niece. Aunt Mona is eccentric and even though Mona taught Sheila how to use her magic, their relationship is a bit frosty. However, there is nothing Sheila wouldn’t do to help her aunt.

Mona was known quite well in the 60s and 70s on the protest circuit for her environmental position. Now in her own neck of the woods Caleb, an environmental zealot, wants Mona to join his group of protestors. And he’s not taking ‘no’ for an answer. Caleb is wielding a power that is not witchcraft. Mona thinks she may know who to ask to find the answers they need to confront Caleb. So off they all go to find the answers they need.

Their adventure takes some interesting turns, and an old friend of Mona’s joins their group. Oh the stories they tell! As they gather the information they need they learn some dark secrets about native magic, which Caleb is using, and he seems to be getting stronger. As our small team of heroes regroup to come up with a plan of attack, Sheila scolds Gabe for putting himself in danger and begs him to stay out of the coming battle. He promises he’ll try. Gabe is an awesome boyfriend for a witch to have, he’s loyal, supportive, and even being human he tries to do what he can to protect Sheila.

The climax is full of action and goliath battles. Gabe tries to stay on the sidelines until it starts looking bad for Sheila and he sees an opportunity to help. Even Orson gets in on the battle following Gabe’s example! It is a dangerous choice for Gabe to make, both by going against Sheila’s wishes and physically.

There is a wonderful surprise at the end, though. I am enjoying, A Gabriel & Orson Adventure series. Even though this is book 2 of the series it can be read as a standalone novel.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

The Winter of Our Distemper is book 2 in Victor Catano’s, A Gabriel & Orson Adventure series. Following book 1, Tail and Trouble. However it can read as a standalone novel.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant proofing issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 55-60,000 words

Monday, November 4, 2019

Reprise Review: Blessed Are the Wholly Broken by Melinda Clayton



Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Description:

“After the heartbreak of losing their newborn son to a previously undiagnosed genetic condition, Phillip and Anna Lewinsky managed to patch their lives back together and move forward, filling the emptiness with friends, work, and travel.
When Anna unexpectedly finds herself pregnant again at the age of forty-three, Phillip is thrilled to have a second chance at fatherhood in spite of Anna’s objections.

As desires clash, misunderstandings abound, and decisions are irrevocably made, the foundation of their marriage begins to crumble until only tragedy remains.”

Author:

“Melinda Clayton is the author of Appalachian Justice, Return to Crutcher Mountain, Entangled Thorns, and Blessed Are the Wholly Broken. Clayton has published numerous articles and short stories in various print and online magazines. In addition to writing, Dr. Clayton has an Ed.D. in Special Education Administration and is a licensed psychotherapist in the states of Florida and Colorado.”

You can also find Ms. Clayton at Indies Unlimited, where she contributes a monthly post on any- and everything related to self-publishing. To learn more please check out her website.

Appraisal:

Given a choice, I’d prefer to like a book and give it a good review than the opposite. Yet, it seems writing a negative or even lukewarm review is much easier. Articulating why a book didn’t work for me is normally easy, usually a matter of listing which common faults I found, both of a technical nature (inadequate proofing, grammar problems, convoluted verbiage) and issues with the story (inadequate or too much characterization, lack of conflict, nonsensical plot points) with examples.

You’d think a good review would be a matter of working from the same mental list of what can go wrong and explaining that it didn’t. Sometimes I do just that. But how many times can a reviewer say “fun (or entertaining) story, good characters, buy this book?” Even if the readers of the review don’t notice, the reviewer knows and feels like he or she is repeating the same old thing. It may not bore you, but sometimes it bores me writing it. Often the books I like the most are the toughest to figure out how to explain why. Blessed Are the Wholly Broken is one of those books.

Melinda Clayton’s first novel, Appalachian Justice, has been on my short list of books to recommend to others since I first read it. This book is as good in its own way, but much different. Maybe the way to get at the appeal of this book is to compare and contrast the two. The main characters in Appalachian Justice (I’ll abbreviate the two books as AJ and BWB going forward), due to the environment they were born into, both have much to overcome just to survive. Although one of the characters in BWB was born into a situation that isn’t much better, when we pick up his story he appears to have moved beyond his troubled beginnings (whether that is actually true, I’ll leave to the reader to decide). In any case, the characters and the setting of the story in BWB are going to feel more familiar, a lot more like what the typical reader has experienced in their own life than those in AJ.

The story conflict, those things the characters need to overcome, is also something most readers will more easily be able to relate to their own life or someone they know, even if they’d handle the conflict in a different way. Another difference between the two is the overall tenor of each story. While both have emotional ups and downs, AJ is much more positive and ends on an emotional high while BWB is the opposite, darker throughout with enough of the ending hinted at in the prologue lurking in the readers head to temper even the happiest points in the book.

In the end, both are excellent stories, but much different reading experiences. Picking a favorite would be tough and ultimately comes down to the reader’s taste.

Buy now from:    Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult content.

Added for Reprise Review: Blessed Are the Wholly Broken by Melinda Clayton was a nominee in the Contemporary/General Fiction category for B&P 2014 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran December 10, 2013

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

Friday, November 1, 2019

Review: The Perfect Culture by Brent Robins



Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Description:

“Thomas Gephardt is a world traveler. Or at least he would like to be one. Determined to leave the confines of his sheltered upbringing in the United States, he voyages to France to expand his horizons. He spends three months with a French family in Bordeaux, working in a local hotel. Inspired by these experiences, Thomas has plans to continue traveling. However, a romantic interest in Paris—an Israeli woman named Sendi—complicates matters. He leaves, but remains in contact with Sendi while he lives abroad in Japan as an English teacher and then in Israel as a volunteer on a kibbutz.

Throughout his explorations, Thomas attempts to probe deeply into his experiences and to ponder big questions: What is the value of foreign travel? What is unique about each of these three cultures? How is each country shaped by its history? On the lighter side, Thomas has a variety of experiences—he is seen as a "quasi-alien" in a French restaurant, he wonders if he can meet expectations as a "talking monkey" in Japan, and he is informed that, unlike in The Big Lebowski, he definitely cannot roll on Shabbos in Israel.

Bill Bryson meets J.D. Salinger, The Perfect Culture is full of satirical observations and thoughtful analysis of travel, people, and customs.”

Author:

Brent Robins lives in Cleveland, Ohio, where he participates in many interests including singing, exercise, reading, and watching movies. He’s also an avid traveler, having visited over forty countries.


Appraisal:
The problem with this book isn’t with the message it is attempting to impart on the reader. That message, which I’ll discuss shortly, is not only valid, but also something that could and should be of value to many potential readers. The problem is that the book tries to be something that it’s not (at least not in the form it’s taken) rather than what it wants and needs to be.

Anyone who has studied fiction writing has been exposed to the maxim that teaches a budding novelist to “show, don’t tell.” The idea behind this is that a character doesn’t tell the reader directly how they feel or what they’re thinking. Instead the character’s actions and his dialog (the words he speaks to other characters in the scene) communicate this to the reader in a more indirect, but also more entertaining way. An extremely large portion of The Perfect Culture is the protagonist, Thomas, outlining for the reader his reactions, his thoughts, often his entire thinking process to come to a conclusion about how he feels about something that just happened to him. By the end of the book I felt the same way about Thomas as his high school classmates, that he was very strange guy. But I wasn’t entertained in the same way I’d like a novel to do.

I started the book in agreement with the premise it is trying to illustrate, that travel is a positive for the traveler in exposing them to people, places, and cultures that are different from their home. However, the story did get me to recognize additional ways and reasons why this is true. But that was in spite of rather than because of the way the information was presented.

Possibly this same story, done much differently, could have worked as a novel. But I can also see the point being made better if it was done as a non-fiction book. That might be done by presenting vignettes of experiences different people had while traveling with the traveler’s explanation of what they’d learned from the experience. Or possibly, given the author’s extensive travel, this is a memoir in disguise. If so, maybe it should have been written as such. The one thing I’m sure of is, as a novel, this didn’t work for me.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: *** Three Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 85-90,000 words

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Reprise Review: Before Her Eyes by Rebecca Forster



Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Description:

“In a remote mountain community, the execution of a grocer and the abduction of a world-renowned model leave the local sheriff searching for a connection, two killers and a woman who is running for her life.”

Author:

“Rebecca Forster is the USA Today bestselling author of Keeping Counsel. She has written in many genres but her legal thrillers have been called, 'Perfect. Impossible to put down,' by the CBS legal correspondent

She holds a BA from Loyola University, Chicago and an MBA from Loyola University, Los Angeles.

Married to a superior court judge and the mother of two sons, she teaches at UCLA writers program, volunteers in classrooms and speaks in many venues around the country.”


Appraisal:

I’ve read several of Rebecca Forster’s legal thrillers and loved them all. Before Her Eyes was a change of pace from those; still a thriller, but moved out of the courtroom into the cold, cruel outside world and with a bit of mystery thrown in the mix. The book has two main story lines that are happening concurrently.

The first is what is happening with the sheriff, who is investigating a murder and what appears to be the kidnapping of a “world-renowned model.” The sheriff has a history with the victim and issues of his own that present a struggle and plenty of conflict, both internal and external. He and many of the characters he interacts with are complex, which makes the plot of the story both more unpredictable and more satisfying.

The second story line is what is happening with the missing model. While the first storyline is more of a mystery/police procedural, the second storyline is pure thriller. In neither can you assume that everything is as it seems as both have a twist that leave assumptions made early in the story torn to shreds.

Did I mention that I loved this book?

Buy now from:    Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

A small amount of adult language and situations.

Added for Reprise Review: Before Her Eyes by Rebecca Forster was the WINNER in the Mystery category for B&P 2013 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran June 18, 2012.

Format/Typo Issues:

A small number of typos/proofing misses. The most common was a missing “ed” ending such as “… an abandon house on the left,” which should be abandoned.
A formatting issue with spaces missing before sentences starting with quote marks. My version was obtained from Smashwords. This may not be an issue for other retailers and didn’t create problems in my reading enjoyment.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 80-85,000 words

Monday, October 28, 2019

Review: Deception Walk by Melissa Bowersock



Genre: Cozy Mystery/Drama/Native American

Description:

“The paranormal investigative duo of Lacey Fitzpatrick and Sam Firecloud are doing fine, but when an ex-girlfriend of Sam’s shows up, Lacey feels uneasy. Sam has never talked much about his past, so the sudden arrival of a beautiful blonde is disturbing. However, when that same blonde disappears without a trace, and Sam is the last person to see her, Lacey realizes her worries are just beginning. The LA County Sheriff’s office and the LAPD know more than they’re saying—and they both consider Sam a suspect.”

Author:

“Melissa Bowersock is an eclectic, award-winning author who writes in a variety of fiction and non-fiction genres: biography, contemporary, western, action, romance, fantasy, paranormal and spiritual. She has been both traditionally and independently published and is a regular contributor to the superblog Indies Unlimited. She has a tattoo on the inside of her left wrist that says IMAGINE. In her next life, she plans to be an astronaut. She lives in a small community in northern Arizona with her husband and an Airedale terrier. She also writes under the pen name Amber Flame.”

Learn more about Ms. Bowersock and her other books on her website or on Facebook.

Appraisal:

Sam Firecloud, Navajo medium, ends up in the hot seat after going out on an impromptu lunch with a former female friend he hadn’t seen or heard from in years. Sounds innocent enough, right? However, when this female friend goes missing and Sam is supposedly the last person to see her, things get complicated. Then the Sheriff’s Department finds her car abandoned in Angeles National Forest and Sam’s fingerprints are found in her Mercedes. The lead Sheriff Deputy Christianson does all he can to pin her disappearance and subsequent murder on Sam.

It’s not very often we see Lacey scared out of her wits. This story exposes her vulnerability when Sam is arrested for the woman’s murder. Of course he has no alibi, he works alone in his ceramic studio. Sam’s defense attorney, Rod Silversmith, keeps hitting road blocks from the court, which builds tension in the readers who are pulling for Sam. Lacey is conducting her own investigation and she has to be extremely careful not to be accused of witness tampering. She’s after the facts and has to do something to keep her mind occupied or it ventures to the worst case scenarios. The first twist in the plot is easily spotted. However, the rest of the story is an emotional rollercoaster all the way to the climax. 

Deception Walk is an excellent character study type of story. I love the way Ms. Bowersock’s characters are never stagnant, they grow, and even the kids are maturing realistically. The secondary characters are well developed and add interesting twists. None of the characters in this book are inherently evil. Although Deputy Christianson was real easy to hate. All in all Deception Walk is an intriguing read.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK
  
FYI:

Deception Walk is book 22 in Ms. Bowersock’s, A LACEY FITZPATRICK and SAM FIRECLOUD MYSTERY SERIES. This series does not need to be read in order. However, you may miss some character development.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant proofing issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 25-30,000 words

Friday, October 25, 2019

Reprise Review: Click: An Online Love Story by Lisa Becker



Genre: Chick-Lit

Description:

“Fast approaching her 30th birthday and finding herself not married, not dating, and without even a prospect or a house full of cats, Renee Greene, the heroine of Click: An Online Love Story, reluctantly joins her best guy pal on a journey to find love online in Los Angeles.

The story unfolds through a series of emails between Renee and her best friends (anal-compulsive Mark, the overly-judgmental Ashley and the over-sexed Shelley) as well as the gentlemen suitors she meets online. From the guy who starts every story with ‘My buddies and I were out drinking one night,’ to the egotistical ‘B’ celebrity looking for someone to stroke his ego, Renee endures her share of hilarious and heinous cyber dates. Fraught with BCC's, FWD's, and inadvertent Reply to All's, readers will root for Renee to ‘click’ with the right man.”

Author:

“Lisa Becker had endured her share of hilarious and heinous cyber dates, many of which inspired Click: An Online Love Story. She is now happily married to a wonderful man she met online and lives in Manhattan Beach [California] with him and their two daughters.”

Appraisal:

Click has a couple things in its premise that are guaranteed to grab my attention and, if done right, suck me into the story. One of those is building the story around computers in almost any way, but especially how our interactions are different with each other because of computer technology. This book does that in two ways, with computer dating and being made up entirely of emails between the protagonist, Renee, and her best friends. The last might spook lovers of dialogue or the flipside, haters of extended narration (and I’d put myself in the last group), but Becker managed to not trip any of my triggers in this regard. That she managed to slip in this joke that appealed to both my computer-geek and language-nerd sides was also a mark in the book’s favor:

I’m not certain I want to be with a man that even knows what a UNIX system is. But, I guess UNIX is better than Eunuchs. Ha! Ha! Okay, obviously this situation is making me a bit uncomfortable and as a result I’ve resorted to homonym humor.

Renee’s experience reminded me of Beth Orsoff’s book, Romantically Challenged, which is one of my favorite chick-lit books, in that she had to date a lot of frogs before she found a potential prince. And this was the second big attention grabber for me. As with Orsoff’s book, it gave me a chance to compare myself to the frogs and usually (okay, sometimes) come out okay in the comparison. But for the main target audience (which I’m not), you might find Renee’s experiences familiar and everyone will find them funny. I found that once I started reading this book I had a hard time putting it down and although it ties the story up nicely at the end, I wanted to know more about what happened to the characters afterward. Luckily, the sequel Double Click was queued up on my Kindle, so I was able to jump right in.

Buy now from:    Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Limited adult language and situations.

Added for Reprise Review: Click: An Online Love Story by Lisa Becker was a nominee in the Chick-Lit/Women's Fiction category for B&P 2014 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran June 10, 2013.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 50-55,000 words