Sunday, May 26, 2024

Review: The Mermaid by Marc Berlin


 

Genre: Political Satire

Description:

“Eli Mann yearns for an opportunity to quit his job as a coffee company newsletter writer. Making matters worse, his older sister bullies him, his elderly mother thinks little of him, and his girlfriend recently left him. A fork in the road appears when Eli meets a stunningly beautiful blonde woman, Inga Magnussen, a sales rep for a Danish wind power company. Inga and Eli, they quickly discover, share the same progressive values, and soon afterward are romantically involved. Eli’s good luck continues when an old high school friend, Turner Whitlock, asks him to research and then write an expose about the U.S. Senator from Oklahoma, Tex Bullard, an extreme right-wing climate change denier who’s contemplating a run for president. Urged on by Inga and realizing that Bullard is clearly a dangerous person who could easily ruin the country if elected, Mann sets out on a surrealistic odyssey that takes him from Malibu to Aspen, and places in between. Alternately comical and sad, The Mermaid exposes the character of one man, as well as the dark underside of the America we currently live in.”

Author:

“Marc Berlin has held a variety of jobs, including social worker, media executive, screenwriter, and filmmaker. He currently lives with his wife, Heidi, in Rehoboth, Mass. When not evading the paparazzi, he can be found walking on the beach near his home, playing poker, or shooting trap.”

Appraisal:

I’m struggling to decide what to think of this book. It makes it clear that it is satirical and I daresay those whose political leanings go a certain way are almost certain not to like it and will try to delude themselves into thinking that Tex Bullard, the bad guy in this story, is nothing like the actual people who are out there in the world today. They’d be wrong, at least if we account for a bit of potential exaggeration to make a point, after all, this is satire, right? My struggle is with Eli Mann, the “hero” of this story. Yeah, I was pulling for him, but if we’re going to be honest, he was a little slimy himself. The point, that while both sides are not the same, we’re all human and nobody is perfect. I’m also not sure what to make of the ending although, at least for Eli, I can’t really fault him for the decision he made. What that decision was and what it means, I can’t say. You’ll have to decide for yourself.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

While nothing explicit there is a lot of discussion regarding adult topics and some adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Review: The War on Sarah Morris by Kathleen Jones

 


Genre: Coming of Age

Description:

“ONE DAY, YOU’RE A VALUED EMPLOYEE OF THE COMPANY … THE NEXT DAY, YOU’RE BEING PUSHED OUT THE DOOR.

What happens when your secure corporate job suddenly becomes precarious? Book editor Sarah Morris finds herself in this predicament when the company she has served for twenty-one years is reorganized. Sarah’s boss gives all the company’s book editing projects to freelancers and a pet employee, unofficially demoting Sarah, who must spend her days tagging documents. And when Sarah’s boss starts bullying her, she realizes that she’s been pigeonholed into a dead-end job.”

Author:

“Kathleen Jones was born in Windsor, Ontario, Canada and graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in English literature. For thirty years, she toughed it out in the corporate world, chiefly as an editor for various Canadian book publishers. Sometimes, Kathleen had the opportunity to do work that she enjoyed, but too often, she didn’t. Towards the end of her career, the type of work that interested and challenged Kathleen began to slip away, and she became less and less happy.

Then one day, Kathleen realized something: creative, out-of-the box thinkers like her don’t belong in the corporate world, and if she wanted “meaningful” work, she would have to create it for herself.

That was when Kathleen decided to pursue the only work that she’d ever really wanted to do since she was a child: the work of a novelist!

Today, Kathleen is a full-time author who writes for a number of popular book blogs. She also contributes monthly book reviews to Goodreads. She lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.”

For more, visit her website her website.

Appraisal:

I struggled to even decide what genre to indicate this book fit in. The small publisher that published this book describes themselves as specializing in non-fiction genres “such as memoir, autobiographical fiction, poetry, or a combination.” While I’ve never heard the term autobiographical fiction before and it seems like two words that contradict each other, what they mean by that is easy enough to figure out and based on the author’s biography this novel almost surely has some degree of that. But what I could be sure of is that while far from what we think of or the typical definition of a coming-of-age story, that description still seems to fit this one as the protagonist struggles with life’s changes and how to deal with them in the same way as a teen trying to move into adulthood might.

However, unlike a coming-of-age story, the ideal reader for this is probably a touch older. To really get into the story of Sarah Morris, I think a reader needs to be old enough to be somewhat established in their career, possibly seen and struggled with unanticipated changes, or at least observed others deal with that struggle. Those in this position will understand where Sarah is coming from and get sucked into the story, wondering how it is going to end.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Review: Monarch: Stories by Emily Jon Tobias


 

Genre: Short Story Collection

Description:

Most, maybe all, of these stories have been published in various publications over the last several years, but are all gathered together here.

Author:

“Emily Jon Tobias is an American author and poet, Pushcart Prize nominee, and author of the debut story collection, MONARCH (Black Lawrence Press, 2024). She is an award-winning writer whose work has been featured in literary journals such as Santa Clara Review, Talking River Review, Flying South Literary Journal, Furrow Literary Journal, The Opiate Magazine, The Ocotillo Review, Jerry Jazz Musician, Typehouse Literary Magazine, Tahoma Literary Review, Big Muddy, Spoon Knife, Peauxdunque Review, and elsewhere. Midwestern-raised, she now lives and writes on the coast of Southern California. She holds an MFA in Writing from Pacific University Oregon.”

Appraisal:

In the introduction the author talks a bit about her life and the things she went through that inspired these stories. The stories mostly feature what I’ll describe as women going through tough situations who in spite of often having troubled pasts are also strong women and find a way to deal with and get through the current difficulty. I found the stories inspiring. They also got me thinking about how things that appear one way from the outside might be much more complex if you understand the true situation. In summary these stories are excellent and thought provoking.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language and situations best suited for mature readers.

Format/Typo Issues:

Review is based on an advanced reviewer copy, so I can’t gauge the final product in this area.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Review: Of Water and Dragons by Kelley Heckart


Genre: Romantic historical fantasy

Description:

The story is based on events in Roman Britain between 60 and 108 AD. The bones of the story come from the author’s research and are broadly factual. Fictional and fantastical elements have been added. Characters are both historical and fictional. The author makes interesting suppositions to fill gaps in the historical record, and also takes the occasional giant leap. I like giant leaps.

The Celtic tribes who have not accepted Rome are being driven further and further into the fringes of Britain by the Romans. The Romans think that these tribes have been defeated, but the tribes are ripe for an uprising. Druids seek to rebalance the physical and spirit worlds thrown out of equilibrium by the heavy-footed presence of Rome. The omens are consistently bad. Can the Celts make a great enough sacrifice to defeat the might of Rome?

Early on we meet Nemu, who is half water faery, half Celt. The first thing she does is rescue Ambiorix, a half-Celtic Roman soldier who has been injured in a battle against Celts. She nurses him back to health, then takes him to rejoin his Legion. The story concerns their ongoing meetings and partings, their growing love for one another, the Roman military engagements and Druidic machinations which largely dictate their lives after they meet. Through all this runs a thread of fantasy which enriches the whole. 

This is the second edition of a book originally published in 2005.

Author:

Kelley Heckart is an American author. She has published some 14 books in a similar milieu to this one, grouped into series. Her literary influences are Marion Zimmer Bradley, Morgan Llewelyn, Ann Rice, Stephen King, Lynn Kurland, and Evangeline Walton.

She enjoys writing about “fierce warriors and alpha males, bold women, otherworldly creatures, magic, and romance”. She describes her writing focus as “steamy, paranormal romance novels”. Her most recent series, Shadow Walkers, contains these elements, set in the present day.

She is a musician with a rock ‘n’ roll background. She is married, but coy about where in the States she lives. When not writing she enjoys archery.

Her website is here.

Appraisal:

If you enjoy this period of history, or if you want to discover more about it, then there is plenty of meat in this novel for you. If you enjoy nature, if you enjoy faeries – then, again, there is plenty here.

Unfortunately, (or maybe not, if learning is your goal), the author’s research is not lightly worn. The action has to wait its turn behind substantial descriptions of places, interiors, clothing, weapons, rituals etc. As a result I found the plot slow going, and hard to keep track of. We went down a lot of side roads which turned out to be dead ends. Focus dissipated like the Caledonian mists. Helpful signposts were often absent. As a result, important plot points were sometimes underplayed. The most unfortunate case in point being the end, where a cunningly spotted opportunity to mash together a couple of well-known British legends barely made it onto the page. To know what had just transpired I had to read the author’s note after the end of the book.

The sex was good 😉.

If you skip lightly over the descriptions and can keep the story on track in your mind, there is much to enjoy here.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

There is some fairly graphic sex (although not, perhaps, as much as one might expect from a novel advertised as ‘steamy’).

There is one c-bomb which took even this potty-mouthed reviewer aback.

Format/Typo Issues:

I was working from an ARC missing a number of chapter headings, so some of the signposts I cite as missing above may have been inserted since.

Rating: ***  Three Stars

Reviewed by: Judi Moore

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Reprise Review: Star Walk by Melissa Bowersock


 

Genre: Mystery/Supernatural/Ghosts

Description:

“Ex-cop Lacey Fitzpatrick and Navajo medium Sam Firecloud are working a new investigation into paranormal activity. This time they’re called to clear an old Hollywood mansion of the multiple ghostly tenants that are threatening the home owner’s livelihood. At the same time, however, Lacey gets a call from her ex-boyfriend, now prison inmate, for help in a more earthly manner. He fears his sister is siphoning money from his elderly mother, and only Lacey can find out the truth. Between saving her ex’s mother from bankruptcy and researching deep into the families of the tortured souls haunting the mansion, Lacey finds the revelations of family dynamics to be both fatally flawed and heartbreakingly inspired.”

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 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 on her website or follow her on Facebook.

Appraisal:

An old haunted Hollywood mansion is being rejuvenated and the owner has enlisted Sam Firecloud’s help in clearing the spirits out. To do this he needs Lacey Fitzpatrick’s investigative skills to figure out who is haunting the mansion. Sam feels two different spirits who are haunting different areas of the house and both have stories to tell, which date back to the early days of Hollywood.

I loved the way this story unfolds. It was like watching a mystery on screen with clips of old black and white movie footage from the past as Lacey pieces together what’s going on. And since Lacey and Sam both have day jobs they could only be at the house on the weekends. That was frustrating to me, like having to watch commercial’s, because I couldn’t fast-forward through their week. I know Lacy needed time to do research and then let her findings stew in her head while she tried to fit the pieces of the puzzle together, but still…

I like the way Lacey and Sam are starting to read each other better. It’s like they are syncing. There is a lot more story here than the ghosts and Ms. Bowersock is able to seamlessly weave in a story arc that involves Lacey’s ex-fiancé, who is still serving time in prison. I also appreciate the inclusion of Sam’s two children and what’s going on in their lives. This brings a realistic feel of family to the whole series. Nicely done, Ms. Bowersock. I am really enjoying this series and looking forward to Dream Walk.

My dream for Lacey and Sam to both become independently wealthy so their ghostbusting could be a fulltime job together. I know that is not very realistic but I am a paranormal romance lover…

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Star Walk is the third book in A Lacey Fitzpatrick and Sam Firecloud Mystery series. Book one is Ghost Walk, book two is Skin Walk. Each of these mysteries could be read as a standalone if you choose. However, I am enjoying the relationship developing between Lacey and Sam and recommend reading from the beginning to get the full benefit of this storyline.

Original review published June 12, 2017.

Format/Typo Issues:

My review is based on a beta, pre-release version. I am unable to judge the final version in this area.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 40-45,000 words

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Review: Oddities by Thurdy


 

Genre: Short Story Collection/Speculative Fiction

Description:

“A dystopian vampire teenager, severed finger salad topping, disgruntled Teddy bears, and an army of Percivals. What do these all have in common? They are all trapped within the pages of this collection of stories, like a genie waiting to be released from a bottle. Oh, forgot to say, there’s a genie in there too, but not one like you’re picturing. This one is actually … well, you’ll find out.

So, for those of you who spend your life in a state of perpetual distraction, who want to buy everything in the art supply shop, whose co-workers don’t know you write poetry…

no more staring into the mirror wondering how nice it would be to have horns.

It’s time to grow a pair.”

Author:

You can find out what there is to know about Thurdy, the author of this book, on their website. The brief about page I linked gives you a bit of an idea, but for the tl;dr version, Thurdy is a slightly off-kilter artistic type who writes songs and now a book of short stories, among other things. That off-kilter part is the key.

Appraisal:

If there has ever been a book title more perfect for the contents of the book than this one, I don’t know what it is. This collection of short stories largely seems to fall within the speculative fiction umbrella that includes science fiction, horror, and fantasy among other genres. But the thing that sets the stories apart is that they are odd, along with being entertaining and unique stories. In addition to being odd, some stories challenge accepted wisdom. Maybe vampires do like garlic and being a zombie could be fun for two examples. The explanation for crop circles we’ve always heard is partly right, but mostly wrong, for another example. I haven’t read a short story collection that was this much fun in a long time, if ever.

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

Saturday, May 4, 2024

Review: Tampa Heat by Thad Diaz


 

Genre: Mystery/Hard-Boiled

Description:

“Beneath Tampa’s Tropical Majesty Lies a Sinister Past

Logan Walsh can take the heat.

He’s fought fires for two decades.

But when he helps his bail bondsman father chase down a skip, things go sideways. People start getting hurt. People close to Logan.

Now this treacherous trail of biker gangs, crooked cops, and greedy land speculators threatens to burn more than his career...

...his floundering marriage, his life, even his kids are on the line.

And he must find a way to get at these players and unravel a mystery that stretches across decades to one of Tampa’s darkest chapters.

You’ll love Tampa Heat because it’s written by a twenty-five-year firefighter.”

Author:

“Thad Diaz was a Tampa Bay firefighter until he retired in 2021 with 25 years of service. He wrote sci-fi and fantasy as T. Allen Diaz, but he's always been a fan of hard-boiled mysteries. Now that he no longer rides fire trucks, he can tell that story without concerns for his career. The Cigar City Case Files is based in Tampa. Its stories occur in actual or fictionalized places tailored to this great city. The tales display its glorious beauty and gritty underbelly as only a native can. Diaz still lives in the Tampa Bay area with his wife, two of his kids and a house full of dogs. Tampa Heat is only the first in a series that he hopes will span into the double digits. Follow him online and join his email list for the Tampa Heat prequel, Temple Terrace Badger Game today.”

Appraisal:

This was an interesting read. The protagonist, Logan Walsh, is a fireman who works on the side for his dad who is a bail bondsman. Both his jobs figure into this story as well as dad with lots of other things thrown into the mix to spice it up even more including being separated from his spouse which is causing him to miss his kids (and the feeling is mutual). Lots of things to juggle, but it doesn’t prevent him from starting to dig when something doesn’t seem quite right regarding a bail skipper he and his dad had to deal with. He starts down a rabbit hole and things get more and more complicated the further he goes. Keeping track of all the players and everything that may or not figure in to what was going on, not only in the present, but many years into the past, was hard and kept me wondering what I and Logan might be missing. I was on edge and trying to figure things out right up to the end.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

While not to the point of impacting the rating, the number of proofreading misses in this was getting close to the line for me.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 90-95,000 words

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Review: Still No Kids & Still OK: A Childfree Humor Book by Ellen Metter


 Genre: Humor

Description:

“There’s less pressure these days to make lots of dimply babies. But what about the indecision that would-be parents experience as they consider the Baby, Yes or Baby, No choices? Or the subtle societal nagging that says having zero children leads to a lonely life with only Netflix and grizzled old guys with no teeth as your friends?

Now that she’s nearly old enough to get ‘Save the Date!’ invites from the Grim Reaper, Ellen Metter is ready to share a light-hearted, illustrated look at an intentionally childfree life.

Still No Kids & Still Ok is for everyone. The author loves it when people have children since we need kids who grow up to create hilarious Netflix shows. But since parenting can be like flying a Boeing jumbo jet with squirrels in your hair, it’s best when the desire for children is strong. Like Superman strong.

And for those who hesitate to procreate? The author gets it! The only doll she loved as a kid was Barbie since that doll seemed old enough to have sex. (Protected, of course.) Still No Kids & Still Ok shares illustrated evidence that a long and childfree life is more than Ok.”

Author:

“Metter is the author of Still No Kids & Still OK: A Childfree Humor book and the sci-fi novel Transference. She's tried out several professions, including radio DJing, dishwashing, mystery shopping, and stand-up comedy. Metter enjoyed three decades as an academic librarian on Denver’s Auraria campus. She enjoys walking anywhere and singing along.”

For more, check out her website.

Appraisal:

This is a fun, relatively short read that depending on your age, parental status (are you a parent?) or parental goals (if you aren’t a parent, do you want to be now or in the future?), will speak to you in a different way. As a grandfather well past the point where having another child is likely, I still enjoyed this. But regardless of where you stand on having children, this will make you laugh, but also get you thinking. If you want kids and don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t, this book will give you some perspective on that, but in a way that will have you laughing and smiling. This book, while covering a subject that some might take overly seriously approaches everything in a humorous way. For those who don’t want kids now or in the future, you’ll have your decision reinforced as well. Along with the fun to be had in the main sections of the book there are some quotes from various people (labeled as “marvelous quote”) interspersed throughout as well as some cartoons that reinforce the message of the book.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

A bit of adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 17-18,000 words

Friday, April 26, 2024

Reprise Review: The Taste of Air by Gail Cleare


 Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Women’s Fiction

Description:

“A simple phone call disrupts Nell Williams’s well-ordered life. Her mother, Mary, is in a hospital in Vermont. But her mother is supposed to be safely tucked away in an assisted-living facility in Massachusetts, so Nell can’t fathom why she would be so far from home.

After notifying her sister, Bridget, Nell hops on a plane and rushes to her mother’s side. There, she discovers that her mother has been living a second life. Mary has another home and a set of complex relationships with people her daughters have never met.

When Nell and Bridget delve deeper into their mother’s lakeside hideaway, they uncover a vault of family secrets and the gateway to change for all three women.”

Author:

“USA Today bestselling author Gail Cleare has written for newspapers, magazines, Fortune 50 companies and AOL. Her award-winning ad agency represented the creators of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. She was the turtle Leonardo's date for the world premiere of the second TMNT movie, and got to wear a black evening gown and sparkly shoes. Gail lives on an 18th century farm in Massachusetts with her family and dogs, cats, chickens, black bears, blue herons, rushing streams and wide, windy skies. She's into organic gardening and nature photography, and can often be found stalking wild creatures with a 300 mm lens.”

For more, visit her website.

Appraisal:

While not a mystery, The Taste of Air has a bit of a mystery at its root. How did Nell’s mother get from an assisted-living facility in Massachusetts to a Vermont hospital? As Nell and her sister Bridget uncover the answer to that question, an answer that is far more complicated than they would have dreamed, it sets the stage for them and the reader to consider a lot of things. How well do we really know the people we think we know best? Odds are you’re hiding things from your kids, parents, and/or spouse, not to mention other family and friends. What makes you think they aren’t doing the same?

While I enjoyed The Taste of Air for the story, full of suspense, mystery, and drama, which kept me entertained, it also got me thinking. That’s a good thing, isn’t it?

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Original review published June 30, 2017

Format/Typo Issues:

No issues

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 85-90,000 words

Monday, April 22, 2024

Review: Looking for Home; A Lesbian Life in America by Dr. Gail S. Bernstein


 Genre: Memoir/LGBTQ

Description:

“With wisdom and insight, psychologist Dr. Gail S. Bernstein wrote frequently about her personal experiences and the issues facing LGBT people in America today. Following her death, her brother Ralph Bernstein compiled many of her essays and an unfinished memoir into this book. Filled with passion and humanity, Gail's eloquent writing gives voice to many of the fears, hopes and dreams of the LGBT community. A must-read for anyone concerned about gender equality and the rights of all people.”

Author:

Dr Gail S. Bernstein had a doctorate in psychology. Over her lifetime she worked in several professions including as a teacher and as a psychologist as well as being an outspoken advocate for the LGBT community.

Appraisal:

I think my book reviews probably mention that I think reading books helps make you a better person because it leads to a better understanding of people not like you. Memoirs are especially good for this. They’re also fun to compare someone that is like you and see how your experiences and take on things differ. In this case it was definitely a comparison to someone much different than me. Just because someone is different in some ways, doesn’t mean you won’t find yourself in sync with their thinking which I definitely found myself doing as I read through this. I found myself developing a great amount of respect and appreciation for Dr Bernstein as well as understanding what life is like for my friends and family who have a lot in common with her.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 19-20,000 words