Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Reprise Review: Adrift in the Sound by Kate Campbell

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Lizette is a gifted abstract painter with severe personality issues—perhaps bi-polar—although I don’t believe this was stated. Pressured to achieve as a child, when her artist mother committed suicide something snapped inside Lizette. Estranged from her father, she drifts into bad company, and makes unwise life-choices. The story follows Lizette as she struggles with mental illness and searches for meaning in her life. Although set in the Seventies, no attachment with that era is required to connect with this story.

A novelist, journalist and photographer, Kate Campbell grew up in San Francisco and has lived and worked throughout California and the West. Adrift in the Sound, was a finalist for New York's 2011 Mercer Street Books Literary Prize. Campbell's environmental and political writing appears regularly in newspapers and magazines throughout the U.S. She lives in Sacramento and, in addition to writing fiction and poetry, publishes the Word Garden blog.” Learn more about her on her blog.

I read because I love to lose myself in another world and experience life vicariously through someone else’s eyes. Also, as an aspiring writer, I read to learn. For me, reading Adrift in the Sound was tantamount to attending a fiction writing master class.

Tactile scene settings sucked me into a story as multi-layered as one of Lizette’s beautifully described oil paintings. Ms. Campbell colors her scenes with fine details, often transforming the settings into another character to add emotion. For example, after an argument with her father, Lizette turns her back on him and the house and takes the path in the rain toward the small cabin her mother used as her artists’ studio. Lizette perceives the cabin like this: “Two big windows stared into the tangled garden, watching the house through rain-streaked eyes.” Or her view of the car ferry that will take her to Orcas Island in the Puget Sound, where much of the story unfolds: “The wide-bodied boat nudged the dock, bounced against the pylons, settled into its berth like a lumbering beast nestling into a safe burrow.” Or the way the ocean appears to her: “The afternoon sun scattered silver sequins across the water.” I confess I have a ton more highlights on my Kindle; so many I had to stop myself. Unable to choose which to use in the review, I simply chose the first three—they’re all exceptional.

Lizette’s world is populated by a cast of complex, multi-faceted characters. Many are unpleasant. All were real to me. A brutal sexual assault early in the story permanently scars Lizette and scarred this reader along with her. It happened because she takes crazy chances and trusts the wrong people. But don’t see her as a weakling. On a number of occasions she does significant harm to those whom she perceives as a threat. Although, as I watched Lizette become a danger to others, I was never quite sure of her intentions. That’s a measure of how off-balance the author kept me, and how hard I was rooting for Lizette.

Lizette’s affinity for the native Indians who live on Orcas and form her support group provides more wonderful characters whose lifestyle grounds the story in history and in nature. I have no connection with Native Indians or their customs, but I found their lives and beliefs and plain commonsense added to the palette of an already colorful story.

The novel is a deep, slow burn, and not without humor. One particular scene involving a large snake and an unpleasant junkie had me laughing so loud I woke my wife (I read at night). A larger-than-life character--self-described poet, Toulouse--is described in the eyes of Lizette’s friend, Marian thusly: “Toulouse moved off with a flourish, tipping a goodbye from the rim of his foolish hat. Marian watched him go, his self-importance shoved up his ass like a mop handle.”

Complex, troubled, and gifted, Lizette connects with the natural world on such a deep level that she pulled me along until I stood beside her marveling at the natural beauty of an ocean wave, or the fearsome power of the killer whales as they hunt in the Sound, or the subtle simplicity of an old Indian woman dancing in a mask of feathers and bear skin. She broke my heart as we watched a seal taken by a predator, or a pet dog injured. I know, as she does, it’s natural. You can’t interfere, you can’t help—but still, you share the stab of her guilt.

With more “Oh, didn’t see that coming” moments than I had any right to expect, Adrift in The Sound is the best book I’ve read in a long time.

Check it out. You won’t regret it.

Buy now from:    Kindle US    Kindle UK     Paperback

Added for Reprise Review: Adrift in the Sound was a nominee in the Contemporary/General Fiction category for B&P 2014 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran July 24, 2013

Format/Typo Issues:
No typos to mention. Some graphic scenes and bad language (used appropriately).

Rating: ***** Five stars

Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Approximate word count: 90-95,000 words

Monday, May 30, 2016

Looping with Quinia by Karen Kolodenko #BookReview

Genre: Short Story/ Time Travel/ Comedy

When eccentric barista-cum-inventor Quinia Schmul casually tampers with time while babysitting, she discovers some disturbing truths about time looping and, as it were, spaghetti.

Philosophy student Rand wants nothing more than to finish studying for his final exam, but his girlfriend has other ideas. Quinia is working on a time looping mechanism designed to give everyone more free time. He predicts disaster, and of course he's right, but what he doesn't expect is the scale of the problem and how reality can become quite so skewed.

Come along on a new kind of time travel adventure - a dizzying ride filled with coffee, domestic disasters and logical paradoxes.”

Karen Kolodenko writes comedy, speculative fiction, nonfiction, and young people's literature. Originally from Chicago, Illinois, she has lived on both U.S. coasts. She enjoys carving wooden utensils, knitting, making shoes out of leather, crafting bad puns, and recipe-free cooking.”

This is a quirky little story. It was dizzying and lots of fun. Rand is head over heels in love with Quinia and her head full of curly red hair. She may be a bit ditzy but she has something working for her in that odd head of hers. Rand must have thought so too. Uncomfortably beyond his twenties he deserted a lucrative job in software support to take a doctorate at a university big on theory and small on practical applications smack in the middle of a global economic depression. He felt certain that society was shifting towards a new philosophical approach. So he is now studying a new specialty field called foremodern philosophy.

With no real scientific theory education Quinia loves inventing and dabbling in quantum mechanics, random probability, and magic. At the moment it is the theory of time that she is trying to manipulate. Is it linear, circular, or squiggly like spaghetti? The biggest problem is she knows just enough to get herself in trouble. Especially when she factors in paradoxes. It is all utter nonsense but Quinia adores nonsense and is able to pull Rand along with her random logic that he can almost follow.

It was fun trying to follow along with the dialogue between Rand and Quinia. If you enjoy quick quirky reads that will leave you spinning and questioning reality, this may be a story you will enjoy.

Buy now from:    Kindle US      Kindle UK

Format/Typo Issues:
I came across no issues with proofing or formatting.

Rating: **** Four stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 9-10,000 words

Friday, May 27, 2016

Dragon Choir by @BenDescovich #BookReview

Genre: Epic Fantasy/ Adventure/ Coming of Age

Prepare yourself for a fantasy romp of epic proportions. When the days stretch and the land bakes, dragons will again scour the sky.

A city of bones and a city of gold plot against each other while the rebellion gathers strength. A young man is caught in a tempest of intrigue that will forge a new era of freedom, or forever scar the land. He must discover the secret of the Dragon Choir to save his father and end the stranglehold of an unforgiven nation.”

Benjamin Descovich is the founder of ethicalwriter.com and works every day writing the seeds to grow a better future. He is a passionate environmentalist, social justice advocate, and holds a degree in Political Science. Born in Australia and well-travelled through Europe and Asia, he has been spoilt with inspiration for his fiction. While the dramatic landscapes, political intrigue and epic battles will captivate your imagination; the dragons and magic take your breath away.” Learn more about him at his website

Elrin is a young man, not yet twenty, trying to find his way in the world without his father. He’s currently serving as a messenger between a priest he trusts – Herder Kleith – and the Guild Master. Nosing around the Guild Master’s study, waiting to deliver a missive, Elrin picks up a mysterious dagger to study. When he overhears secrets between the Guild Master and an unknown source his life is suddenly in jeopardy. Narrowly escaping the Guild Guards, Elrin flees to Kleith who dresses Elrin in priests robes and sends him across land and then to the Hoard Islands to seek the Dragon Choir for help. Kleith is unable to see the dagger in Elrin’s possession, but knows it well. It belonged to Elrin’s father, Arbajkha, who has been missing for over half of Elrin’s life.

Thus begins this rip-roaring adventure full of intrigue and espionage between political and religious leaders who wish to hold power over all the surrounding nations and the sea. Elrin inadvertently ends up with an eclectic band of diverse rebels who wish to free the Jandan slaves and restore justice to all. As with every epic fantasy there are many characters, but I found each one fully rounded and unique. I had no trouble liking or identifying with all of the heroes. The bad guys were the most vile ever to live. There are epic battles with swords, magic, and arrows on land and cannons with black powder at sea as pirates join in for their share of the spoils while still aiding the rebellion.

There are prophecies to decipher, ogres, evil redeemers, mage priests, drakkin type warriors, a beautiful assassin, a confused naval captain with a decent heart, hobbit type humans, dwarfs, a young elemental acolyte they name Amber, and dragons to boot! This intelligently told story is bound to sweep you up as the plot twists and turns with each new revelation. If you love intricate high fantasy epic adventures, Dragon Choir is worth checking out. A small warning though, this book does end in a cliff-hanger that will have you waiting on the edge of your seat for the next book.

Buy now from:   Kindle US     Kindle UK     Paperback

Dragon Choir is the first book in An Epic Fantasy Series of High Adventure series. Benjamin Descovich uses UK spelling.

Format/Typo Issues:
No significant errors, except for the one time Elrin was called Erin. You wouldn’t think that would throw me out of the story, but it did catch me off guard.

Rating: ***** Five stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 90-95,000 words

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Reprise Review: Tapped by @LynneCantwell #BookReview

Genre: Urban Fantasy/ Contemporary/ World Mythology

Naomi Witherspoon, chosen by a Lakota Indian goddess to mediate a truce in heaven, is in the midst of a number of down-to-earth problems. She hasn’t heard from her boyfriend, Joseph, in weeks. She has also been attacked recently by a man channeling an Aztec jaguar god. Her best friend Shannon thinks she ought to get out of town for a while – but what Shannon proposes is a road trip to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to track down Naomi’s father, who doesn’t know she exists. Naomi agrees to go, but the additional stress literally makes her sick.”

Ms. Cantwell is a contributing author at IndiesUnlimited where she shares her knowledge about Indie publishing and promotion. Her Pipe Woman Chronicles include four volumes to date Seized, Fissured, Tapped, and Gravid. She is now working on the fifth book in this series Annealed. You can connect with her at her blog or on Facebook.

I am inexplicably drawn to Native American stories and wolves. This story has both and so much more. As we join Shannon and Naomi on a working vacation, we are educated about the Pine Ridge Reservation, the battle at Wounded Knee, and how the wolf works in the Lakota tradition. I thought it all blended well as Naomi starts to feel connected to her own Native American roots. It is a heartwarming journey as she gets to know her extended family and we get to see into the process of her new mediating vocation as it is implemented into the judicial system on the reservation. She is excellent at her job, the Goddess has chosen well.

The plot takes a not so surprising turn into Celtic mythos; we were told Shannon was part fae in Seized. She is now taking on a larger role in the whole scheme as the confrontation with Jehovah draws closer. I love the way all belief systems are being blended together in this series, we are all one. I also liked the fact that George, Joseph’s friend, has now been drawn more into the story. It will be interesting to see if he takes on a larger role or if he is, as he seems, just a friend.

Jack, what can I say about Jack except that he is a tool? He needs to be watched and monitored constantly; he is not free of his demon yet. However, he does seem to have a conscience, every now and then, so perhaps there may be hope for him. There is exciting news announced in this installment and a turn at the end of this story that will hook you for the next book.

Buy now from:      Kindle US    Kindle UK     Paperback

Tapped is Book three in The Pipe Woman Chronicles series.
This book contains adult language and situations that may be offensive to some.

Added for Reprise Review: Tapped was a nominee in the Fantasy category for B&P 2014 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran April 8, 2013

Approximate word count: 55-60,000 words

Format/Typo Issues:
Excellent editing, I found no issues with editing or formatting.

Rating: ***** Five stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Trapped in an 80s Teen Movie by Michelle Duffy @MDuffyWrites #BookReview

Genre: Romantic Comedy/ Fantasy/ Time Travel

When lifelong friends Julie and Rosanna are electrocuted by an ancient Betamax VCR, they wake up as the main characters in their favorite 1980s teen movie. How will they get back to reality... and do they really want to?

For Rosanna - eternal adolescent, reluctant single mom and frustrated artist - being zapped into an eighties teen movie is a dream come true. She's the coolest girl in school with a hot, mysterious boyfriend, a doting father who'll give her anything she wants and a scholarship to study art in Paris. Why would she ever want to leave?

For Julie - Miss Responsibility - this is her worst nightmare. She's the sidekick in her own favorite movie and the boy of her dreams - Johnnie - is hopelessly, unrequitedly in love with Rosanna. Julie is determined to get back to reality.

But things start to change when Johnnie falls for Julie and offers her everything her real-life husband isn't giving her; and Rosanna has to choose between her over-protective father, her 'perfect' boyfriend and her spoilt-brat real-life son.”

Michelle Duffy is a screenwriter and author of comedy-romance Trapped in an 80s Teen Movie. She is currently developing screenplays with directors in England and Ireland and working on the follow-up novel, Trapped in a 90s RomCom.”

I grabbed this from her website:
In the past fifteen years, I’ve had a lot of different jobs that all had one thing in common: I helped other people to realize their creative dreams… spent some years freelancing as a script editor and drama development producer for a few different production companies, producing a few short films in between. This was great, but truly badly paid and it left no time for any writing of my own, so when I was approached by Birmingham City University and offered a job in their Digital Media School, the lure of holiday pay and private medical cover proved too much.

I loved, loved, LOVED teaching Screenwriting and Film Industry to undergraduates, developing and delivering classes and seeing my students blossom in confidence as they took their first steps into their own careers. But this still left me with no time nor creative energy for writing of my own, so a couple of years ago I threw it all up in the air again, accepted a generous voluntary redundancy package and committed to writing full time.”

Trapped in an 80s Teen Movie is Michelle Duffy’s debut novel. To learn more check out Ms. Duffy’s website or follow her on Facebook.

While this story is original and smartly told it draws heavily on some of our favorite characters and scenes in a mashup from several 1980 teen movies, weaving Julie and Rosanna’s characters into the plot. It was a lot of fun reminiscing; it has been many years since I have seen a lot of these films.

Julie and Rosanna are both in their late thirties and get together every Friday evening for a girls’ night. Both are disillusioned with the way their lives have turned out for very different reasons. This week Julie decides so have a movie night with her friend after she comes across an old Betamax VCR and several favorite movie tapes they enjoyed when they were in high school together. Things are going along great as they enjoy vodka fruit smoothies, cake, and old eighties teen movies. At least things were going fine until the Betamax starts smoking and one of them grabs a cake fork to pry the movie out and *BAM*, both women are electrocuted.

Somehow they are both thrown back twenty years in time and wake up in separate houses. Both Julie and Rosanna are again eighteen year-old high school seniors and are now the stars in their own movie. Julie finds herself in what she always considered the perfect loving family she never had. Rosanna is the only daughter of a doting single father. At first they both think it is all a dream, but it proves otherwise. When they make it to school things play out like the beginning of their favorite movies. They are greeted by friends who think they have always known them. Except for the hot new boy in school who happens to be Rosanna’s heart throb in the movie they had been watching.

I know it sounds like this book should be full of clich├ęs, but it isn’t. It addresses some weighty subjects that both Julie and Rosanna are forced to reassess. Things they found lacking in their old lives are brought to the forefront and must be looked at with different eyes. Julie, being the responsible one, wants to find a way back home even though she has very little to get back to. That is until Johnny starts paying attention to her instead of Rosanna. Johnny was always her favorite character in the movie. She has secretly carried a torch for him all these years.

I found this an enjoyable blast from the past that I am sure many will enjoy. The characters are likeable and relatable. The dialogue was realistic for all concerned. From Rosanna with her teen-aged son and later with her pseudo father to her best friend Julie. I also found the twist at the end heartwarming for both Julie and Rosanna. So add this to your summer vacation reading list today.

Buy now from:   Kindle US    Kindle UK     Paperback

There were a couple of F-bombs dropped and some mild cussing. We are talking about teenagers here…

Format/Typo Issues:
I came across a small number of proofing issues in the file I was given to review, nothing that really threw me out of the story.

Rating: **** Four stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 40-45,000 words

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Reprise Review: One More Body by @Josh_Stallings #BookReview

Genre: Crime

Moses McGuire is lost, staying hidden in Mexico with the ghosts of his past. Until he’s approached by Rollens, a detective who claims her niece has been taken and sold into a life of child prostitution. McGuire reluctantly returns home to help. But all is not as it seems and McGuire is drawn into a messy world of crime and desperation.

Josh Stallings has had many occupations in life – from criminal, to taxi driver to club bouncer. On the creative front he has written and edited prize winning films, some in partnership with leading writers such as Tad Williams. More recently Josh turned to novels. One More Body is his fourth book. He currently resides in Los Angeles with his wife and several pets.

This is the third installment comprising anti-hero Moses McGuire, after Beautiful, Naked and the Dead and Out There Bad. It opens with McGuire in a bad way, existing in Mexico, riddled with guilt, talking to a ghost and pelting back prescription drugs and alcohol in equal measure.

In effect, the story takes up where Out There Bad finished (although each of the books operate as stand-alones). Once Rollens appears on the scene McGuire slowly begins to take a grip on his life through helping others. He’s a bad guy with a big heart, an excellent character who’s as frail as he’s strong.

The story moves along at a fast pace, flipping between first person (McGuire) and third person (the kidnapped girl, Freedom). As McGuire rises from the depths he’s cast himself into, Freedom sinks down into a grim world of child prostitution, exploitation and murder. It’s here the writing is at its most graphic - Stallings takes no prisoners when he describes scenes of abuse. The pill isn’t sweetened in the slightest.

What is very interesting and incredibly well done is how the writing style reflects McGuire’s mental state. At the outset he’s lost, guilt ridden and off his face on narcotics and the prose matches it. Then he’s drawn back to LA and begins to find a degree of purpose, but his world is still confusing, he’s not sure which way is up. The writing tightens, but still has a vague quality running through it. Then McGuire comes off the drugs and is entirely focused so the style shifts with it – to clipped and direct sentences. It’s clever and very well done.

Here’s an example of the writing:

I fired a second shot into the windshield. The concussion sent a million chunks of glass spilling back. It tore a three-inch hole through the seat before ripping out through the trunk. The safety glass bloodied up the bangers pretty good, but they showed good form, not a wail or a moan.

A thoroughly enjoyable, cracking read of knuckleduster prose.

Buy now from:    Kindle US     Kindle UK     Paperback

Plenty of swearing and graphic scenes.

Added for Reprise Review: One More Body was a nominee in the Crime Fiction category for B&P 2014 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran November 27, 2013

Approximate word count: 
60-65,000 words

Format/Typo Issues:

Rating: ***** Five stars

Reviewed by: Keith Nixon

Monday, May 23, 2016

Sick by Christa (Wojo) Wojciechowski @christawojo

Genre: Psychological suspense

Everyone has a breaking point. Is this marriage based on unconditional love or an unhealthy obsession? 

Susan Branch's life revolves around the care of her charming and inscrutable husband John, a man born into wealth and prestige who lost his family's fortune when his mysterious chronic illnesses left him bedridden. Together they live a decrepit existence beholden to the current owners of his family's former estate.
After years of devoting herself to John's care, Susan is worn out and frustrated. Yet she is determined to scrape together whatever resources she can to keep John comfortable and happy. This includes stealing Demerol from the doctor's office where she works to feed John's ever-increasing need for pain medication. 
As John's condition continues to puzzle doctors, Susan begins to notice strange objects appearing around her house. Ever wary of creepy Old Pete, the groundskeeper, Susan decides to confront the elderly man and put an end to his snooping for good.
John suffers a critical emergency, but he is saved and is soon released from the hospital. His health begins to improve, and Susan dreams of a normal life, but her hope for a miracle transforms into a nightmare one fateful afternoon when she discovers
the true cause of John's sickness.”

“Christa (Wojo) Wojciechowski is the author of The Wrong David, SICK: A novella, and is working on a series called The Sculptor of New Hope. Her characters explore existential turmoil, mental illness, and the complexity of romantic love. She uses her stories to compare the dark, carnal nature of humanity with its higher qualities of creative expression and intellectualism.

Christa currently resides in Panama with her husband and a house full of pets. She works as a freelance digital marketer and loves to help fellow authors build their brands and platforms. Christa enjoys foreign movies, yoga, wine, and the outdoors. Most of all, she's passionate about books and writers and loves discussing them on social media.” 

Be sure to find her on blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter 

Although the story features only two significant characters, Susan, and her husband, John, I never fully engaged with either. I understand that Susan was a hopeless codependent—that became clear early on--but I never really got to know her, to know why she dealt with other people in that manner, and so I struggled to empathize with her. John seemed to flit from one personality to another. Possibly there’s a medical explanation for his behavior, but this is fiction, and I found it difficult to connect with him. The ending has a twist, which for this reader was overly telegraphed. Although the medical specifics were new to me, it wasn’t really a surprise.

The premise is interesting, and the novella seems to be well researched and might provide valuable information to people unknowingly facing similar circumstances, but there was a lot of repetition, in particular related to John’s symptoms and Susan’s internal angst. After closing the last page, I wondered if this might not be better stripped down and delivered as a shorter work with more punch and a faster pace.

Buy now from:    Kindle US     Kindle UK    Paperback

Format/Typo Issues:
Very few.

Rating: *** Three Stars

Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Print Length: 82 pages

Friday, May 20, 2016

2015 Indies Unlimited Excellence Awards: Best Review Site

BigAl’s Books and Pals is pleased to announce that we were voted the BestReview Site in the 2015 Indies Unlimited Excellence Awards competition. There were three categories in which the indie community were asked to vote: Best Resource Site, Best Promotion Site, and Best Review Site.
We would like to thank everyone who voted for us and appreciate all of your support. We would also like to congratulate all of the finalists who also received lovely badges that represent a vote of confidence from the indie community.
From Indies Unlimited: “We’d like to thank everyone for vigorous participation. The votes constitute an important part of the process, but do not exclusively determine the winner. To balance the votes and prevent the awards from becoming an outright ‘popularity contest,’ we used the Alexa rankings of the finalists in the final calculation. Alexa is the leading web traffic ranking service, and we regard it as an impartial standard.
The total votes received by each finalist by the close of the polls was divided by each candidate’s Alexa ranking. The rankings used were those recorded for each site on the morning of January 20, 2016.
This methodology was chosen for several reasons. First, while it gives significant weight to the Alexa ranking, it does not allow a site (even with an excellent rating) to win without getting votes. Second, of the various methodologies we tested on dummy data, this was the only one that did not produce ties. It also removes any potential elements of favoritism.
Both the winners and the finalists exemplify the very spirit of the indie community. We are pleased to present the recipients of the 2015 Indies Unlimited Excellence Awards.”

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Beverly by @FionaPearse

Genre: Women's Fiction/Coming of Age

Beverly sidesteps the need to interact with co-workers by working from home. When she must venture outside, she wears earphones so no one will bother her. Social niceties are designated to her best friend and flatmate, Ella.

Beverly would be jealous of Ella's gregarious charm and high-life, if she didn't have the security of her long-term boyfriend, Roland, who spared Beverly from the dating scene and gave her a future. Beverly won't speak for herself because she has a stutter. This is how she carefully arranges her life, until Roland breaks up with her...to date Ella.”

An Irish software developer, this is Fiona Pearse's second novel. Her first, Orla's Code, was a Books and Pals Readers' Choice Award nominee. For more, check out Pearse's website.

This is the story of two roommates. Ella, the social butterfly and Beverly, the wallflower-by-choice. Beverly tries to avoid too much interaction with people due to her stutter, not only in social situations, but also in her work life. She's arranged to work from home to avoid interaction with co-workers. While Beverly's stutter at times makes her dialogue harder than usual to read, it also keeps her difficulties front and center in the reader's mind.

How Beverly is pushed to deal better with her stuttering problem is central to the story. But there are also a few good themes running throughout including some points made about setting boundaries between friends and the nature of friendship.

Buy now from:      Kindle US      Kindle UK

Some adult language and situations.
Uses UK spelling and word usage. None of this should cause problems although I was momentarily confused when I realized that a “pot plant” was a plant in a pot. Not … you know.

Format/Typo Issues:
No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 50-55,000 words

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Guest Post from Channing Turner, author of Jonathan’s Shield

I got the idea for Jonathan’s Shield several years ago when I stumbled onto the story In 1st Samuel. It’s a little remembered incident where Prince Jonathan, accompanied only by his loyal shield bearer, climbs a hill and routs a Philistine outpost to win the battle for Israel. That shield bearer was never named nor heard from again. I thought he at least deserved a name. Beral. Beral then watches and tells the subsequent story of David and Jonathan to its conclusion. My intent was to fill this biblical tale with real people—people like us, with flaws and shortcomings who occasionally display instances of noble behavior. After all, when you look beneath the dry wording of stories in the Bible, you see some pretty dramatic stuff. It’s better than reality television.

When you write a novel like this, you can’t help but come to like—maybe love—some of your characters. Of course, it’s easy to like Beral. After all he’s the main guy, and he’s conflicted because he’s a good and loyal man. But I also have a warm spot for Zelig, the gruff old warrior with many of those same traits. However, Zelig is older and wiser. He already knows about the weaknesses of men and women. He sees his role as mentor to young Beral. Then there’s King Saul. He is paranoid and losing his grip so at this stage in his life so it’s hard to like him. I tried to hint at the character of the man he used to be when Yahweh chose him to be the first king of Israel. I don’t know if I succeeded at that. Probably not.

Anyone writing a historical novel has to do some research. I suppose how much depends on how true to life you want to be. Fortunately for me, I enjoy history. I read a lot of books and articles about the setting and time of this story. Sometimes I would start reading about some particular subject and forget I was supposed to be writing instead. I can’t say all of it was fun, but there is a certain amount of satisfaction you get when you complete a project like this. I only hope readers find it to their liking too.

To learn more please visit Channing Turner’s website

You can pick up his novel here:   Kindle US   Kindle UK    Paperback

Just in case you missed Pal Judi Moore’s review for Jonathan’s Shield last Friday, here is the link to her review.

About the author: A son of the South, Channing Turner grew up in Arkansas and Louisiana before graduating from Louisiana State University in Psychology. He did graduate work in marine biology and became an estuarine biologist along the Texas coast. After retiring from the petrochemical industry where he worked in Louisiana and Montana as a laboratory analyst, he managed the 2010 US Census in Montana and northern Wyoming. He now lives in eastern Washington with his wife, Barb.

Channing served in the army and was discharged as an Armor captain. Reading and writing are his sedentary pursuits, but he also enjoys riding his Tennessee Walker in the Blue Mountains of Washington and Oregon.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Reprise Review: Blessed Are the Wholly Broken by Melinda Clayton @AuthorMelindaC

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

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.”


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 IndiesUnlimited, where she contributes a monthly post on any- and everything related to self-publishing. To learn more please check out her website.

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:    Kindle US    Kindle UK     Paperback

Some adult content.

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

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

Format/Typo Issues:
No significant issues

Rating: ***** Five stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Monday, May 16, 2016

Dark and Disturbed by Morgan Winters

Genre: Flash Fiction Collection

This collection of 25 flash fiction stories features darkly humorous and sometimes creepy works ranging from a ten-year-old serial killer to talking woodland creatures. Each story includes a written prompt and a full-color photograph, so the reader can see how they were twisted to be dark and disturbed.”

The nefarious Morgan Winters is a supervillain who writes dark flash fiction on those days when taking over the world just gets to be kind of a pain.”
Morgan Winters is a pseudonym, or a "nom de plume" if you will. You can try to find out more about him on his website or stalk him on Facebook, but you won’t be able to learn much… The best information about Mr. Winters is from his Guest Post on IndiesUnlimited. There is also a highly entertaining interview at TheIndieView by Mr. Winters.

I don’t normally read dark twisted stories or horror. However, I have found that taken in small doses, like these flash fiction pieces, they can be enjoyable. Each story in this collection is vastly different from the one before and stretches your imagination to wondrous limits and then leaves you to ponder the possibilities. I found all of these devilishly delightful, but not overly graphic, or profane.

Morgan Winters has gathered the Flash Fiction prompts and photos from the weekly Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction Competition and presents them alongside his stories here. He doesn’t enter to win, purposely writing more words than the competition allows. Mr. Winters uses this vehicle to stretch his writing muscles so that one day he will be able to write his own magnum opus to share with the world. He disappeared for a while, but when I noticed he was back at his craft again I decided to pick-up this book to review. Hopefully he will stick around and gift us with more of his fiendishly scandalous words. I am looking forward to seeing more from this author.

Buy now from:     Kindle US          Kindle UK

I read Dark and Disturbed on my Kindle Paperwhite, which shows the photos in black, white, and shades of gray.

Format/Typo Issues:
No issues.

Print Length: 83 pages

Rating: ***** Five stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Friday, May 13, 2016

Jonathan’s Shield by Channing Turner

Genre: Historical fiction

Beral's only goal is to serve loyally as Jonathan's shield bearer and protect his prince through whatever battles may come. But Jonathan needs a friend as well, a man he can trust while navigating the precarious footing of his father's court. Being that friend puts Beral's life in danger and stretches his loyalty to the breaking point. For what Jonathan wants is to do Yahweh's will, whether that be through defying his increasingly paranoid father, King Saul, or supporting the aspirations of young David, whom Jonathan believes is the rightful heir to the throne. 

As he competes with David for the hand of the king's daughter, Beral struggles to hold true to his loyalties, even while he watches King Saul descend into madness. If Yahweh withdraws his protective hand, Beral and his men will be all that stand before their gathering enemies. Only one thing is certain: Beral's fate, as well as the future of Israel, is tied to the virtue of their king, and Saul's honor has long since fled.”

His publishers (Red Adept Publishing) say of him: A son of the South, Channing Turner grew up in Arkansas and Louisiana before graduating from Louisiana State University in Psychology. He did graduate work in marine biology and became an estuarine biologist along the Texas coast. After retiring from the petrochemical industry where he worked in Louisiana and Montana as a laboratory analyst, he managed the 2010 US Census in Montana and northern Wyoming. He now lives in eastern Washington with his wife, Barb.

Channing served in the army and was discharged as an Armor captain. Reading and writing are his sedentary pursuits, but he also enjoys riding his Tennessee Walker in the Blue Mountains of Washington and Oregon.”
This, I believe, is his first published novel. To learn more about Mr. Turner feel free to visit his website or follow him on Facebook.

I enjoyed Jonathan’s Shield very much. Turner has gone to the Bible, and imagined what the arc of the extraordinary events described in the Book of Samuel might actually have been. The Bible is fruitful ground for writers. I’ve worked up a fictional ‘what if’ from the New Testament myself. It offers lots of opportunities for one to fill in all the frustrating gaps in the story which have occurred in its transmission through time and various languages down to us today. But it is, of course, a fiction. It is not a Christian book. It may, indeed, be a book some Christians will find strays too far into fictional territory. There is plenty of smiting, a lot of treachery, and hubris gets its comeuppance, but there is also a fair amount of sex.

The book deals with what happened when the Israelites, under King Saul, got fed up with being pushed around by the Philistines in particular and most of their neighbours in general and fought back. Historical figures about whom we know rather less than, perhaps, we think we do – Saul, Jonathan and David – get plenty of time on stage and Samuel the prophet has himself an important role to play; the events of the book are observed, experienced and related by Beral, the shield bearer of the title.

Turner uses a verse from Samuel as an epigraph before each chapter, and what follows expands on that, rolling the sparse source material together and forward to build an exciting story. The author has a good, plain style without frills or furbelows which suits his subject matter well and keeps the story moving at a goodly clip. He knows how to pace a story, what to put in, what to leave out. This is a lean, mean, fighting machine: lots of battles occur and are excitingly related. Even the drilling of soldiers to become an everyman army, with the tricks of how to catch the men’s imagination and commitment, and revelations about Beral the narrator in the mix, is riveting.

Turner fleshes out female characters as well as male ones (not something the Bible does much of) and the book is the richer for this, as women are often motivation for upheavals in empire as well as beside the domestic hearth. Seeing both genders in their familial and societal roles lends verisimilitude and depth to the work as a whole.

Despite the small quibbles below, this is a work that is well worth your time if you enjoy biblical era epics, adventures set in the Holy Land, or sword and sandal fiction in general. And if you haven’t tried any, this book is a fine place to start.

Buy now from:     Kindle US     Kindle UK     Paperback

In a few places, tiny infelicities of expression left me puzzled as to who someone was, or why the plot had just taken the turn it had. If you go with the flow it soon comes clear. Two such instances: who is Miriam? (she is a slave of Saul’s who Beral acquires as a maid later on when one has quite forgotten her earlier, momentary, walk-through part). And a second: why does David bring his brothers food? They are in the army, he is not – yet he is part of Saul’s entourage and it is odd if he doesn’t know that all food is shared via a commissariat system. It is, of course, an authorial device for getting him to the army camp, which just needs a teensy tweak to work perfectly.

Format/Typo Issues:
None. Looks very good on the page.

Rating: ***** Five stars

Reviewed by: Judi Moore

Approximate word count: 85-90,000 words