Friday, May 7, 2021

Reprise Review: Dies Irae by BV Lawson

 


Genre: Mystery

Description:

In the third book featuring investigator Scott Drayco, music majors are murdered at a prestigious private college. The killer leaves taunting clues in the form of complex music puzzles.

Author:

“Author, poet, and journalist BV Lawson's award-winning stories, poems and articles have appeared in dozens of national and regional publications and anthologies. A four-time Derringer Award finalist and 2012 winner for her short fiction, BV was also honored by the American Independent Writers and Maryland Writers Association for her Scott Drayco series.”

For more, visit her website.

Appraisal:

BV Lawson has created a memorable character in Drayco, a concert pianist turned FBI agent, turned crime consultant. He also has the fascinating condition of synesthesia, which not only adds a mysterious depth to his character it is integral to the plot. (Synesthesia: a sensation produced in one modality when a stimulus is applied to another modality, as when the hearing of a certain sound induces the visualization of a certain color. -- Dictionary.com)

The investigation moves through a fairly complex story line and an extensive group of characters, which requires alertness on the part of the reader. Lawson, however, makes the effort enjoyable as she gives each character his or her own voice and plenty of idiosyncrasies. She also weaves in interesting facts from obscure medical conditions, to religions, to musical history, some of which sent me to the Internet for more information. Among the most fascinating was Olivier Messiaen, whose work the musical puzzles were based on.

The story starts with the murder of a promising singer. A second murder and an abduction keeps the tension high as an FBI agent working with Drayco fears for his own daughter's safety.

For a who-done-it, the culprit is almost too carefully hidden. While there are some faint clues toward the climax, the hunt evolves mostly through a process of elimination. Even so, anyone clever enough to guess the killer is still in for a satisfying surprise.

Buy now from:    Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

The first victim is a petit woman, and there is a statement that her body should contain six liters of blood. That sounded like far too much. An extensive Internet check indicates calculating the amount is an inexact science, but there are several references to the average volume for a 150 pound man being around 5 to 5.5 liters. It isn’t that relevant to the story but as a retired financial journalist, I remain paranoid about not flagging a possible numerical error. Original review ran January 3, 2016

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Sam Waite

Approximate word count: 80-85,000 words

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Review: Intimate Relations by Rebecca Forster

 


Genre: Mystery/Police Procedural

Description:

“A woman in a window. A cop out of his element. A crime of unimaginable passion.

It's two in the morning when a domestic disturbance brings Finn O'Brien to an artists' colony on the frayed edges of the City of Angels. Housed in an abandoned brewery, the concrete fortress looms like a dystopian portal to hell. Inside the detective finds a bizarre gathering of Los Angeles elites, a man in a rage, and a young woman beaten to death, her face obliterated.

As he hunts a killer, Finn finds himself in a surreal world where art and science create strange bedfellows, money and desire birth shameful descendants, and the deadliest relationships of all are the most intimate.”

Author:

The author of numerous thrillers in multiple subgenres, USA Today bestseller Rebecca Forster lives in Los Angeles with her husband.

Appraisal:

This is the fourth book in the Finn O’Brien series featuring detective O’Brien and his partner, Detective Cori Anderson. As with the prior books, the characters, both O’Brian and Anderson as well as those they interact with, kept me entertained. The mystery of the case they were working on kept me coming back. There were so many ways this case could go, which kept me guessing like a mystery should do.

This story has some differences from the prior books in the series that served to mix things up a bit. One of those is that O’Brien and Anderson who normally are assigned to the Wilshire division of the Los Angeles Police Department have been loaned temporarily to the East L.A. division. Even people like me with a minimal knowledge of Los Angeles understand that this is a significant change in their work environment, from the upscale area bordering Beverly Hills to the exact opposite. Throw in the normal difficulties of working with a new and different boss and it is bad enough. Then they get assigned to what develops into a big complicated murder case and it turns out that Finn’s ex-wife is possibly involved in some way. She’s definitely involved with the people connected to the murder. The result is an entertaining and suspenseful detective mystery that fans of such stories will definitely enjoy.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

This is book 4 of Forster’s Finn O’Brien series. Each book stands alone, so no concern if you haven’t read the previous books. There are definitely adult themes happening in this story, but in spite of that it was never especially explicit.

Format/Typo Issues:

Review is based on an ARC (advanced reader copy) so I can’t judge the final product in this area.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 80-85,000 word

Monday, May 3, 2021

Review: Who Let the Demon Out? by Naomi Bellina

 


Genre: Urban Fantasy/Contemporary/Dark comedy

Description:

“Not only is her suicide attempt thwarted by a stranger, but when she comes back from the dead, Sable is tasked by Lucifer to find and return to hell a demon she let loose. If she doesn't, she'll be sent to the darkest level of the afterlife when she dies.

The woman Jack pulled from a running car is obviously disturbed and her story about Lucifer and demons is bullshit. But she has the name of a dead man written on her arm and Jack wants to know why.

Since it's Jack's fault she's in this mess and his skills from a background in the security business are useful, Sable recruits him for her find-the-demon mission, which turns out to be all kinds of difficult. Not only can demons inhabit human bodies, they have other nasty tricks up their sleeves, like incinerating objects and people who get in their way.

It also turns out the inhabitants of hell lie and that things on Earth are not what they appear. Nor are things in her own world, Sable discovers, as she battles to complete her mission before time runs out and it's impossible to send the demon back.”

Author:

“Naomi Bellina lives in sunny Florida with the love of her life and the world's chattiest cat. She became a romance author because her characters insist on falling madly in love. So she lets them. She writes romantic suspense, light science fiction, and paranormal romance. Her interests include dancing, motorcycle riding, drumming and creating healthy meals. Her motto: Never pass up the opportunity to have an adventure!”

To learn more visit Ms. Bellina at her website or follow her onFacebook.

Appraisal:

Sable, riddled with guilt from a dark secret in her past, decides the world would be a better place without her. Jack, a tow-truck driver, sees a car running in an abandoned parking lot off the beaten path and pulls her out of her car. He is able to resuscitate her. As her life force returns to her body a demon catches a ride on Sable’s tailwind right back to earth, and he has an agenda.

When Indignus (Iggy), a dark angel, appears to Sable he tasks her to send the demon back to hell where he belongs. The trouble is demons and dark angels lie. I think Iggy just wanted to go back to the bar for a few more drinks, so he told Sable it was her responsibility to send the demon back. It also turns out that demons have a few tricks up their sleeves that are quite deadly. Since Sable figures she wouldn’t be in this mess if Jack hadn’t brought her back from the dead she recruits him to help her complete her mission. Jack is a good man and has some handy skills he is able to utilize in the demon hunting mission which I found a bit too convenient. Sable is smart, has a good heart, but is a little slow on the uptake.

After a wordy, bumpy start Ms. Bellina settles into a nice pace, aside from a few spots I would have liked more detailed information about, which would have added more depth to the story. Sable and Jack’s characters did show growth at the end, but I didn’t consider either of them badass. Perhaps the demons are the badasses, because the one in this book was. However, that is not the way I read the series title: Badass Demon Bounty Hunters.

If you are looking for a darkly humorous Urban Fantasy with a unique storyline and diverse characters you may enjoy Who Let the Demon Out?.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

*** TRIGGER WARNING *** This book begins with a failed suicide attempt. Also be prepared for adult language and several F-bombs.

Who Let the Demon Out? Is book 1 in Naomi Bellina’s, Badass Demon Bounty Hunters series. 

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 40-45,000 words

Friday, April 30, 2021

Reprise Review: I Came to Find a Girl by Jaq Hazell

 


Genre: Psychological thriller

Description:

“A complex game of cat and mouse in the seedy streets of Nottingham ends in death. Young artist Mia Jackson is compelled to watch the posthumous video diaries of Jack Flood – controversial bad boy of the London art world and convicted serial killer. Can Mia allow Drake Gallery to show Aftermath in their retrospective of his work? Muse or victim, why was she allowed to survive?”

Author:

Shortlisted for the Jane Austen Short Story Award and The Virginia Prize for Fiction, British author Jaq Hazell writes crime fiction and contemporary short stories for adults, as well as children's fiction and YA. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, University of London. Born near Portsmouth, on the south coast of England, her first full-time job was at Buckingham Palace. She has also worked as a humorous greetings cards designer and a journalist. She lives in London.

For more information please visit her website.

Appraisal:

I Came To Find A Girl is one of the best stories I’ve read for Books & Pals, and when you consider I’ve reviewed 100+ and sampled at least six times that many titles, you’ll understand that is a substantial compliment to the author. Finding unique stories like this is what keeps me reading indie works.

The writing was light and crisp with terrific imagery. How’s this for a keen observation in a night club full of “beautiful people?”--“Boys with shaved heads and sharp suits stood in a Reservoir Dogs group while a Jesus lookalike in an artfully torn T-shirt popped something in his mouth.” The prose flowed. The dialogue was clipped and realistic. And the pages kept turning. The author owes me some sleep.

Large portions of the story were shown through the lens of a camera being used to record a documentary film. This unusual technique took a little getting used to, but it proved an effective and efficient way to cover a lot of ground, both physically (because the film was shot in short segments at different locations) and also emotionally, as the person holding the camera, Jack Flood, was a main character, and the movie he was making became a key part of the plot.

The main character, Mia, was a struggling art student heading into her final year and working as a waitress to cover her expenses. She and her friends were so real to me they jumped off the page.

There was an underlying mystery threaded through the book, but it never dominated the plot. Sure, I wanted to know “who done it?” but the journey was satisfying enough that it didn’t need a big reveal. I was disappointed when I turned the last page. Not because the story didn’t feel complete—it did--I just didn’t want it to end.

Highly recommended!

Buy now from:    Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

English spelling. English settings. Mostly these will be no problem for an American reader with the exception of a small piece of rhyming slang which made me smile. When someone is “Hank Marvin” it means they are “Starving” (hungry).

Original review ran January 21, 2016.

Format/Typo Issues:

None.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Approximate word count: 65-70,000 words

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Review: Can You Do What A Cat Can Do? By Jill Wright

 


Genre: Children’s Picture Book

Description:

“Can your child do what a cat can do? Read this fun and engaging rhyming book together with your child and watch them read/listen, think, ask, then get up and move around so they can try all the different things a cat can do. It's simple! It's fun!

What's inside? An easy to read description of what a cat does every day is followed by a question you can ask your child about each activity. Each text page is accompanied by a corresponding full color image.

Aimed at having your young child (among other things):

Listen and engage

Think and respond

Act and speak

Learn and reason”

Author:

“Jill Wright is the mother of 3 boys. She has been an avid crafter all her life, having learned to knit and crochet at a very early age.

Jill is a published knit and crochet designer and has written 2 crafting books: Take The Fear Out Of Cables (knit), and Victoriana (crochet shawls). More recently she discovered she had a yearning to write books for children.

Jill also builds websites, knits, crochets, and sews recycled items for sale, and probably won't ever stop being a Jazzercise Instructor!”

Appraisal:

Can You Do What A Cat Can Do?, is an engaging and interactive story where your child can show off some skills or shake their head ‘no’ to proclaim they would NEVER do THAT! The pictures are adorable enough to draw any child into the book. There is really no story, only situations, actions, and questions.

The only problem I have with this book are proofing misses. The first page introduction has a wrongly spelled two letter word. Check the ‘Look Inside’ feature on the Amazon product page. That is a really bad start, especially for a print version of the book. Kindle files can be corrected easily enough.

I tried to read this book on my Kindle Paperwhite first. Trust me when I say that is not the way to go. It can be done, but the gray tones don’t do the book justice. I ended up using the Kindle app on my computer.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

I recommend using a full color screen for you and your child’s reading pleasure. There is also a Spanish version.

Format/Typo Issues:

As I mentioned in my review there are a few proofing misses.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 27 pages


Monday, April 26, 2021

The Love I Leave Behind by J.R. Wheeless

 


Genre: Short Story

Description:

“What goes through the mind of a man lingering on Death Row when he falls in love with a country western singer-songwriter he has never met?

A guitar picker is convicted of a crime he cannot remember committing. He is sentenced to die by lethal injection for a murder he may not have committed. While being booked into jail he is introduced to the music of Kayla Ray. Her down to earth style and southern twang captivates him. The words of her songs move him.

As the condemned man is waiting for his appeal to make its way through the court system Kayla’s music fills him with melancholy and yearning he had not experienced in years. He falls in love with her voice and the lyrics of her songs. His love for the woman he’s never met sustains him though the lonely days and the even lonelier nights in prison. As his date with death approaches, the convicted killer tells his life story to a reporter. The young writer promises to share the tale with the world.

Learn how an unrequited love can alter a doomed man’s outlook. How does his love for a woman he will never meet affect his thinking? Will it help him remember the details of the crime for which he’s been sentenced to die? Does he ask forgiveness from a god he has never had any use for? And, how does the reporter deal with the information that has been shared?”

Author:

A review of J.R. Wheeless’ available biographical information leaves me better than clueless, but barely. It appears that he’s currently living a nomadic lifestyle, mainly bouncing around the southwest US in an RV. He has several books available that range from short stories to short story collections, to collections of random thoughts, with a novel or two thrown in. For more, visit his blog or page on Facebook.

Appraisal:

It feels like I should lead off with a disclaimer. Whether a story appeals to a specific reader or reviewer has a couple big factors. The first is the obvious, how skillful the author was in weaving an entertaining story that would appeal to many, if not most people. We differ enough that even this isn’t always straightforward. This story got me in that way. The second is the unpredictable factor, what is there in the story that resonates with the specific reader that might not be nearly as meaningful to a random potential reader. This story got me in that second way as well.

As mentioned, this story has both aspects for me. I found the story compelling. The protagonist, Lyle, had stumbled through life, sometimes struggling and other times seeming to be on top of the world. Music is one aspect of life that is important to him, not only as a listener, but as a sometimes performer. Then something happens and he finds himself arrested and waiting for the end on death row. How the story evolves and works out kept me involved. I liked Lyle, as I think most readers will. Whether or not he is guilty is up in the air. A reporter, who makes a brief appearance at the beginning and end isn’t sure either. Reading this may get you pondering the death penalty, whatever your thoughts on it.

To most of you, Kayla Ray, the singer Lyle has fallen for from afar is probably not one you’ve heard of. This is where I find myself in a different place than the average reader. Music obviously plays a big part in this story and I find Lyle explaining his musical likes and the names he drops falling right in line with the music I gravitate to. Even Lyle’s obsession, Kayla Ray, is someone I’ve heard a few times performing online on a Facebook page called Sequestered Songwriters. Had someone set out to pull me in and to feel a kind of kinship with the story’s main characters they couldn’t have done better.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 10-11,000 words

Friday, April 23, 2021

Review: Among the Ruins by Dominic Peloso

 


Genre: Dystopian/Psychological Thriller

Description:

“An aspiring actress finds herself the only person still alive after a plague has devastated the world. With no purpose left, she finds herself almost unable to go on; until she meets literally the last man on earth.

Together the pair find a reason to live within each other, and work to build a life on a beautiful, quiet Earth they have all to themselves.

But when a message from someone long thought dead warns that all is not as it appears, paranoia sets in. Is the last man on earth her charming savior or a creepy captor?

Gripping, packed with twists and turns from the first page to the very last, this stunning psychological thriller is a rollercoaster of a read that explores gaslighting, Stockholm Syndrome, disassociation, mental illness, existentialism, and the search for purpose in an absurd universe.”

Author:

A former policy analyst for the US government with a focus on bioterrorism, Dominic Peloso now lives in what he calls the “rainy part” of Alaska. He’s written multiple books that tend toward the dystopian.

Appraisal:

This was definitely a different kind of read. The premise that Elyse, the protagonist, was the last person on Earth, at least as far as should could tell until she ran into the last man on Earth, was one that hit close to home. A virus that kills off essentially everyone might even be a good reminder that our current virus issues could be a lot worse. The last part of the book’s blurb describing it as “a rollercoaster of a read that explores gaslighting, Stockholm Syndrome, disassociation, mental illness, existentialism, and the search for purpose in an absurd universe” is a description that couldn’t be much more accurate. Some of those issues are possibilities in what happens in the story and some are absolutely true. Which fall into which category, you’ll have to decide on your own. I’m still not sure. Stories that put me, as the reader, in a position I’ll probably (and hopefully) never come close to experiencing and encourages me to grapple with the hard questions that characters in the story have to deal with are among my favorites. This tale certainly had me wondering whether or not I’d take the same path that Elyse did.

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, April 21, 2021

Reprise Review: Suddenly Spellbound by Erica Lucke Dean


Genre: Paranormal Romance / Humor

Description:

“Kindergarten-teacher-slash-sorceress Ivie McKie has officially sworn off magic. With her father back from the dead—just in time for her upcoming wedding to sexy former magician Jackson Blake—Ivie has plotted a course straight to happily-ever-after-ville. And she won’t let anything get in her way this time.

But Daddy Dearest has something sneaky up his sleeve. When “just one more spell” goes horribly wrong and detours her into the path of her father’s dangerously hot new apprentice, Ivie has to scramble to get the magic… and her love life… back on track.

Along the way, she encounters a promise made before she was born, a clan of Scottish sorcerers in kilts, and yet another goat.”

Author:

“After walking away from her career as a business banker to pursue writing full-time, Erica moved from the hustle and bustle of the big city to a small tourist town in the North Georgia Mountains where she lives in a 90-year-old haunted farmhouse with her workaholic husband, her 180lb lap dog, and at least one ghost.

When she's not busy writing or tending to her collection of crazy chickens, diabolical ducks, and a quintet of piglets hell bent on having her for dinner, she's either reading bad fan fiction or singing karaoke in the local pub. Much like the main character in her first book, To Katie With Love, Erica is a magnet for disaster, and has been known to trip on air while walking across flat surfaces.”

How she's managed to survive this long is one of life's great mysteries. Check out her other books on her website and stalk her on Facebook for fun.

Appraisal:

“Something witchy this way comes.”

Erica Lucke Dean’s words always cast a spell on me. Her prose is easy to read and draws the reader in with believable dialogue and well set scenes. There are many twists in this story that have Ivie grasping for her sanity. The story is told through her eyes so we only know as much as she does. Her father, Angus, has secrets he has not shared with anyone. These secrets are now back to haunt not only him, but they also affect Ivie’s future and she sees no way out.

Angus has more than one secret and keeps digging his hole deeper as time passes. Suddenly, he has a new apprentice. A handsome Scottish man named Liam McDougall, who just happens to be Ivie’s age. He also seems to know more magic than Angus. The worst part is the barely controllable sexual pull Ivie feels when Liam is near. Daddy has done some dickering around and drawn Ivie into a few spells, which she had sworn off, and her hair is bright red. Jack is understandably jealous, especially when Liam shows up at every turn of events that are plaguing Ivie.

It’s a fun romp until the whole McDougall clan shows up, including Liam’s mother. It seems she and Angus knew each other as children. The IRS and the FBI both have questions for Ivie’s mother and father concerning Angus’s life insurance policy that was collected after his supposed death. There is trouble brewing all around and you must read this to see how it all turns out. There is a surprising twist at the end that leaves a few things unresolved…

Buy now from:    Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Suddenly Spellbound is book 2 in The Ivie McKie Chronicles. While it could be read as a standalone, I don’t understand why you would want to. 

Original review posted February 28, 2016.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words

Monday, April 19, 2021

Review: The Magnolia That Bloomed Unseen by Ray Smith

 


Genre: Romance/Literary Fiction/Civil Rights Movement/Self-Actuating

Description:

“‘You’ve seen the woman in the photo. The woman screaming . . .’

So begins the story of Molly Valle, who at forty-eight thinks she knows all that life has to offer a single, middle-aged woman—namely, men’s dismissal and disrespect. But when handsome activist John Pressman arrives in her Mississippi hometown, he challenges her self-doubt along with nearly everything else in her world. Soon, Molly discovers a strength and beauty she never knew she had—and a love so powerful, it can overcome the most tragic of consequences.

The Magnolia That Bloomed Unseen is a love story, an adventure novel, and a self-realization journey. It reignites the truth that many women—and men—have unconsciously extinguished: you are special and worthy of love, and it’s never too late to make your dreams come true.”

Author:

“Ray Smith lives in Los Angeles and is working on another book.”

The Magnolia That Blooms Unseen looks like Mr. Smith’s debut novel. However, you may be able to learn more on his website or his Facebook page.

Appraisal:

The Magnolia That Bloomed Unseen, is a captivating story of romance, self-discovery, and strength of character.

The prologue is RC recalling how he first met Molly Valle, an activist for the Civil Rights Movement. He was a high school student who interviewed her for a class report, for which she gave him a Cliff Notes version and he received an A. Thirty years pass and out of the blue RC gets a phone call from Molly. She’s 103 years-old and is ready to tell her and John’s story in more depth,  She asks if RC would be interested in writing her story down. She had always had the faith in RC to become a novelist. At forty-four years old all he had written were short stories for literary magazines. He jumps at the chance and so the novel begins in earnest.

In 1961 Molly is a forty-eight-year-old high school English teacher who cares for and tutors her students in a small town in Mississippi. She’s divorced and lives a solitary life until she unwittingly ends up in the middle of a peaceful sit-in protest at a local diner. A young black couple enters and sit at the counter asking for a cup of coffee. Trouble ensues when John intervenes stopping a town bully from throwing a punch at Molly for standing up for the young black couple. The police arrive, arrests are made, and the incident causes Molly to lose her job.

John Pressman, at fifty years-old, was immediately attracted to Molly. His world shifted. He’d left his New York City job to join the Civil Rights Movement to make the world a better place. He’s a deep thinker and a charismatic speaker. Molly is mesmerized by him. Their journey is a romantic one on many levels. Mr. Smith is a wizard at painting the picture of an ugly time in US history against the beautiful backdrop of Mississippi. Molly and John’s story is fascinating, complex, and heart wrenching. The secondary characters are as fully-rounded and diverse as the main characters. At the end RC is left testing the boundary between what’s real, what’s imagined, and how to end his book.

I highly recommend The Magnolia That Bloomed Unseen if you enjoy human stories crafted with beautifully written prose and humility.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Race related violence, nothing overly graphic. 

Format/Typo Issues:

Nothing worth noting.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 55-60,000 words

Friday, April 16, 2021

Reprise Review for Mountains of Mischief by Gordon A. Long

 


Genre: Fantasy/Adventure/Alternative History

Description:

“Nobody messes with a Dalmyn wagon train. That is the credo of Dalmyn Cartage, and their drivers and guards are up to the task of keeping it that way.

Until Aleria anDalmyn goes out on her first assignment as wagonmaster and runs into a simmering quarrel involving an ancient boundary dispute and forbidden Mechanical weapons. And a Ghost Beast from an ancient tale, which Aleria would prefer not to believe in until the mutilated bodies persuade her otherwise.

Trapped in the suffocating depths of a crumbling mountain fortress by an ambitious and relentless foe, Aleria struggles to survive as her small party gets whittled down and her confidence in her ability to do her duty fades.

Even the sturdy presence of her guard Captain, Erlon, with his hand-and-a-half sword, and the handsome but diffident Kolwyn anLlannon, inheritor of the lore of the Old Ones, can protect her party if she makes the wrong move.”

Author:

“Brought up in a logging camp with no electricity, Gordon Long learned his storytelling in the traditional way: at his father’s knee. He now spends his time editing, publishing, travelling, blogging and writing fantasy and social commentary, although sometimes the boundaries blur.

Gordon lives in Tsawwassen, British Columbia, with his wife, Linda, and their Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Josh.”

Please check out Mr. Long’s other books on his website. He is also a contributing author for Indies Unlimited.

Appraisal:

Aleria anDalmyn is coming into her own in Mountains of Mischief. New characters are introduced that I believe are going to be around for a while. The plot is compelling and dangerous at times. Aleria is promoted to Wagonmaster and is unknowingly carting illegal contraband on this first outing. As a result, loading the wagons has to change at Dalmyn Cartage and no last minute cargo will be accepted. When the King hears a report of the situation Dalmyn Cartage had to deal with he becomes alarmed at the unrest that is happening between some of his domains. Some of the warring is caused by undefined borders, some are caused by the grand designs from an overzealous Lord.

When Lord Raif gets orders from the King to ask Aleria if she would be willing to go do some reconnaissance and emissary work for the throne the next time she leads a Dalmyn wagon train out to make deliveries? Lord anDalmyn sees a business opportunity to expand their services to domains in outlying areas up into the mountains and down into an area called the Trench. This route would make a huge circle coming back into Kingsport on the far side. Aleria agrees as long she gets to pick her own crew, add an outrider, and extra guards on this mission.

Gordon A. Long does an excellent job rounding out his secondary characters, and painting the pictures of the landscapes as they change dramatically. I love the way he uses dialogue and emotions with all his characters, the reader can really get a good feel of who they are through their speech. The story is mainly told through Aleria’s eyes and occasionally we are given insights into her thoughts. She is insecure about her abilities at times but is able to confront her fears while showing her crew a stoic face. I have learned to love her as she matures into her own, she is smart, determined and spunky. She is good at taking charge and clever enough to turn events to her own advantage.

When the wagons get to Tyn Terfyn, Aleria and Erlon are treated to legends of the Old Ones, Tyn Dyfnant, and the Ghost Beast higher in the mountains. The well-developed plot takes off with several twists and unexpected events as Aleria and Erlon gather a small crew to accompany Kolwyn, the Lord’s son, up into uncharted territory. Kolwyn and a couple of shepherds serve as guides to explore the abandoned and crumbling Tyn Dyfnant for the existence of old maps. Knowing full well they are entering the sanctum of the Ghost Beast.

Buy now from:      Amazon US      Amazon UK

FYI:

Mountains of Mischief is Book 3 in the World of Change series. Could possibly be read as a standalone but I would suggest reading Out of Mischief and Into Trouble first for a fuller understanding of Aleria, Kensel (her father), Maddoes, and Lord Raif. Original review ran January 19, 2016.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 105-110,000 words

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Review: Beverly Hills Postmate by Charles St Anthony

 


Genre: Memoir/Humor

Description:

“After purchasing a new electric car to avoid catching the coronavirus on mass transit, Charles St. Anthony needed to come up with some money fast. Hoping to rake in some big tips, Charles decided to do Postmates in the areas the rich and famous play.

In this humorous short read, Charles explores Beverly Hills and the neighboring areas of Los Angeles using food delivery apps. He takes you down the rabbit hole of Beverly History, and introduces affordable things to eat in America's most glamorous zip code: 90210! Charles serves up "Beverly Hills on a Budget" by introducing economical (but delicious) food he discovered in Beverly Hills—foods that taste expensive but come at prices everyone can enjoy.

After completing more than 500 deliveries via Postmates, DoorDash, and Uber Eats you'll learn what people in LA—a city known for health and fitness—truly eat. The answer might be greasier than you're expecting! Also, Charles answers pressing questions such as what was the most popular type of Taco Bell sauce packet, what food truck has the most devoted fan base, and what was the total number of French fries ordered in his 500+ deliveries. It's a feel-good, laugh out loud short read that shows how food delivery apps offered a path to dignity to people who needed to eat and people who struggled to make money in the pandemic era.”

Author:

Charles St. Anthony is the author of several short humorous reads. He also has a humorous podcast called “T with Charles.”

Appraisal:

I’d enjoyed reading Uber Diva, Charles St. Anthony’s humorous memoir about his time as a driver for Uber, Lyft, and other rideshare programs in San Francisco, so giving this new humorous memoir a try was an easy decision. The two books have some obvious similarities and a few differences. The author is operating a bit farther south in California this time with his focus being on Beverly Hills in the customers he was aiming to serve and the restaurants he aimed to do deliveries for although the area he worked sometimes slid into nearby areas of the Los Angeles metro. In this book he’s still driving all around based on what a customer has requested via an app (actually multiple apps), but the humor in the story doesn’t come from his passengers, at least not directly (those Big Macs, cupcakes, “famous garlic noodles”, and the lemon chicken plate from California Pita don’t even talk), but St. Anthony still finds lots of humor. The reader also learns some interesting history of Beverly Hills, including the answer to the obvious question, “who the heck is Beverly?” I suspect many of us have used Uber Eats and apps like it much more in the recent past. Here’s you chance to see what the person leaving the food on your doorstep thinks. Be sure to tip them well.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language and subjects.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 8-9,000 words

Monday, April 12, 2021

Review: Evil Robots, Killer Computers, and Other Myths by Steven Shwartz

 


Genre: Non-Fiction

Description:

“Longtime artificial intelligence (AI) researcher and investor Steve Shwartz has grown frustrated with the fear-inducing hype around AI in popular culture and media. Yes, today’s AI systems are miracles of modern engineering, but no, humans do not have to fear robots seizing control or taking over all our jobs.

In this exploration of the fascinating and ever-changing landscape of artificial intelligence, Dr. Shwartz explains how AI works in simple terms. After reading this captivating book, you will understand

• the inner workings of today’s amazing AI technologies, including facial recognition, self-driving cars, machine translation, chatbots, deepfakes, and many others;

• why today’s artificial intelligence technology cannot evolve into the AI of science fiction lore;

• the crucial areas where we will need to adopt new laws and policies in order to counter threats to our safety and personal freedoms resulting from the use of AI.

So although we don’t have to worry about evil robots rising to power and turning us into pets—and we probably never will—artificial intelligence is here to stay, and we must learn to separate fact from fiction and embrace how this amazing technology enhances our world.”

Author:

“Steve Shwartz began his AI career working with Roger Schank as a postdoctoral researcher in the Yale University Artificial Intelligence Lab. Starting in the 1980s, Steve was a founder or cofounder of several AI companies, one of which created the award-winning Esperant business intelligence product. As the AI Winter of the 1990s set in, Steve transitioned into a career as a successful serial software entrepreneur and investor and created several companies that were either acquired or had public offerings.”

Appraisal:

Although it isn’t my typical genre, one of the books I read recently was science fiction that took place on a planet far from Earth that is run by robots. The humans on the planet were essentially a step up from slaves. I wasn’t too concerned that we were on the verge of this being a real possibility, but there are definitely things I see all the time that make me wonder what is going on. (Those advertisements that pop up on Facebook for the product you just checked out on another site are just one obvious example.) This book is excellent in that it discusses the different ways that artificial intelligence is currently being used, what is potentially on the horizon, and what is unlikely to happen anytime in the foreseeable future.

While we might not have to worry about robot overlords taking over anytime soon (our grandkids are probably even safe from them) we do have plenty to be aware of and, in some instances, even concerned. Understanding how we and our fellow Earthlings might be misled and manipulated is good knowledge to have. Knowing what to expect, if anything, from a self-driving car in the near future is also extensively covered. The author also points out areas where new laws might be called for to avoid misuse or abusive practices using some of the artificial intelligence capabilities that already exist or are likely to be developed in the near future. In spite of some of the potential downsides from artificial intelligence that we need to guard against, I finished this excited to see what the future will bring. Just like past disruptive technologies such as the automobile and computer, especially the personal computer, artificial intelligence promises to do much to change our lives for the better. We just need to have a good handle on what is and isn’t possible and put protections in place to limit the potential negatives.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 55-60,000 words

Friday, April 9, 2021

Review: No Way Back Today by Eric Shoars

 


Genre: Humorous Fiction

Description:

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

Author:

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

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

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

Appraisal:

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

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

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 85-90,000 words