Monday, May 31, 2021

Review: If I Can’t Eat Flies, What Am I? by Alicia J. Pfaff

 


Genre: Children’s Picture Book

Description:

“As a brave little frog looks for a way to fit in, will he discover that it’s okay to be different?

Tad is sad because he’s allergic to flies. Since everyone knows that’s what frogs eat, he’s sure he must be another kind of animal. So, the unhappy hopper heads out into the wide world to find out what he might be instead.

As he travels around the pond meeting a young duck, raccoon brothers, and a friendly cow, his efforts to find a place where he fits in just have him feeling even more like he stands out. Then, the frustrated little guy meets a magnificent medic bee who gives Tad all the information he needs to answer his question!

Will Tad realize he’s still a fabulous frog, no matter what he eats?

If I Can’t Eat Flies, What Am I? is a whimsical picture book designed to help youngsters understand and feel better about food allergies, suitable for ages 4-8. If you or your child like endearing characters, lighthearted learning, and clever rhymes, then you’ll love Alicia J. Pfaff’s charming tale.”

Author:

On her website Alicia Pfaff explains that she has a food allergy and that when her son had a bad experience related to a food allergy of his own, she went looking for a book to help him put his allergy into better perspective. When she couldn’t find what she was looking for she was inspired to write her own. This is her first book.

Although Alicia Pfaff hadn’t dreamed of writing a children’s book, her friend, artist Paula M. Zelienka, had dreamed of sometime illustrating a children’s book. When Alicia asked if she was interested she jumped at the chance.

For more visit her website.

Appraisal:

A fun read with a message. For those kids who need the message, that it is okay to have a food allergy, this book should do the trick. Even for those without a food allergy, the lesson that it is okay to be different in other ways is just under the surface. I think most kids could benefit from that more subtle interpretation and even those who don’t need that will probably still find this to be a fun story. I read this with my 8-year-old granddaughter who I call LBG (little blonde girl). She loved the story of Tad and at the end when I asked her to pretend she was doing a grade for the book she didn’t hesitate in telling me that it got an A+. Since she’s the boss, I didn’t argue. My only negative, for any half-blind grandparents who might consider reading this to their grandkids, is that on a Kindle Fire the words were difficult to read, especially when I was trying to hold it in a position so that LBG could see the pictures. Slightly larger letters would have helped as would reading it on a bigger screen or from the paper version.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 23 pages

Friday, May 28, 2021

Reprise Review: Don't Tell Anyone by Laurie Boris

 

Genre: Women’s Fiction

Description:

“When pneumonia lands Estelle Trager unconscious in the emergency room, it ruins everything for the stubborn 65-year-old woman. She'd been keeping a secret—a deadly secret—that she'd planned on taking to the grave. But now her son Adam and his wife, Liza, know about her tumors. Adam is outraged, but Estelle, who watched her mother and grandmother suffer from breast cancer in the days when no one dared speak its name, has no intention of putting her family or herself through the horrors of cancer treatment. Estelle decides there is only one solution: ask Liza, the 33-year-old daughter-in-law she once called a godless hippie raised by wolves, to kill her.”

Author:

A freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and former graphic designer, Boris is the author of two other novels, The Joke’s on Me and Drawing Breath. She lives with her husband in the Hudson Valley of New York.

For more, visit Boris’ website.

Appraisal:

This is the second book I’ve read by Laurie Boris, and although the story and characters are much different, it struck me that the other book, Drawing Breath, had a character suffering from a serious disease too. This is a time-tested recipe to create conflict, one of the more important qualities a book needs to draw a reader in and make them care about what happens.

I would describe Don’t Tell Anyone as character driven. The main point-of-view character is Liza and the story revolves around how she, her husband Adam, their family, and friends deal with Liza’s mother-in-law, Estelle, after she is diagnosed with cancer. Not to mention how Estelle reacts and the chain-reaction among all concerned. It’s an interesting spotlight on the dynamics of relationships, both within families and between friends.

Buy now from:    Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Original review posted December 4, 2012.

Format/Typo Issues:

My reading was based on a beta version. Unable to judge the final product in this area.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Review: Talk to a Real, Live Girl and Other Stories by Paul Clayton

 


Genre: Science Fiction/Short Story Collection

Description:

Three futuristic short stories. The first is Talk to a Real, Live Girl, the story of men, working in the mines of their robot overlords on a faraway planet. The Lawn and Happy Acres are much shorter tales of an imagined potential future.

Author:

Paul Clayton is the author of several books, from historical (a three-book series taking place during the Spanish conquest of Florida), to slightly more recent history, Carl Melcher Goes to Vietnam, based on Clayton’s Vietnam War experiences, to science fiction.

Appraisal:

All three of the stories in this collection are entertaining and thought-provoking reads. The two shorter stories that conclude the book, The Lawn (a story of a man whose backyard has turned into a jungle, and maybe more), and Happy Acres, the story of a man who moved with his wife to a new housing development on Mars, but things aren’t working out as hoped. These both had me trying to figure out what was going on and where the story was going to go. The endings of all three leave enough wiggle room that whatever you think the answer should be, might be right. (Or maybe not.)

But the title story is the longest and the one that drew me in the most. Alex, the protagonist, has just gone through a divorce. He’s tired of a lot of the cultural and political upheaval happening in America and decides the answer is to flee earth for a while. He accepts a six-month contract with a mining company on a planet called Kratos. Things here are definitely different, for example the place is full of bots. Some of them are the bosses. Some, for those humans from earth with physical desires to be satisfied, are bots that can get physically intimate. With all the men from Earth visiting these bots keep busy. But for those who want something more, or at least something different, the men can also use some of their hard-earned money to be allowed in a room where they can talk to a girl. No, not bots, an actual real live flesh and blood girl. Alex does this once, he likes the girl, which I’m sure happens all the time. But it appears the girl really likes him too. Except that’s against all the rules. How this all shakes out makes for a fun and intense read. The world where this story took place with its differences and similarities to our current world made for some interesting things to ponder as well.

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: 30-35,000 words

Monday, May 24, 2021

Review: Shattered Souls by Erica Lucke Dean

 


Genre: Paranormal Romance/Time Travel

Description:

“Ava Flynn walked through flames to erase the past and bring her little brother, Josh, back from the dead. But the reboot doesn't come without strings. While navigating her new reality, Ava must avoid Maddox... without fracturing the timeline. If she fails, she may never find Laith again.

With her own heart at stake, Ava scours time for the key to unraveling the curse binding her soul to both Laith's and Maddox's. One brother is the love of her life. And the other... not even death will stop him from keeping them apart.

As Ava's present collides with the brothers' pasts, she discovers that breaking the curse might have unintended consequences. And this time, her soul isn't the only one on the line.”

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… with her workaholic husband. When she's not busy writing she's either reading bad fan fiction or singing karaoke in the local pub…

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.”

For more, visit her website.

Appraisal:

I am sitting back in awe at the twists and turns Shattered Souls takes the reader on. Ava walks through the flames of time to reset the timeline to save her little brother Josh’s life. However, she has to be careful not to fracture the timeline too much or she may lose Laith forever. This third book of the series will break your heart as the story unwinds. It’s like a cat playing with a ball of yarn batting it around the room who then gathers it all up into a hopeless knotted mess that will never be the same. Erica Lucke Dean manages to not drop a single thread with her cohesive prose enthralling the reader.

I enjoyed the secondary characters who surprisingly had roles in the past and present. They were able to shine light on the turbulent souls of brothers Maddox and Laith, like the lighthouse beacon warning ships of the rocky shore. The secondary characters from the past add an unexpected richness to the story. You can tell Ms. Lucke Dean poured her heart and soul into Splintered Souls. The ubiquitous emotional rollercoaster is turned up a couple of notches to an F-5 tornado’s ferociousness.

Don’t miss this climatic ending to the Flames of Time Trilogy. I recommend reading the entire series in order from Splintered Souls, book 1, to Scattered Souls, book 2, and then Shattered Souls for your full enjoyment. And now you can read the whole Trilogy without having to wait for the conclusion. I loved every book in this Trilogy, and I’m not too proud to admit Erica Lucke Dean made me cry at the end.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Shattered Souls is book 3 in Erica Lucke Deans, Flames of Time Trilogy.

Format/Typo Issues:

The copy reviewed was an ARC (advanced reader copy) and therefore I can't judge the production version.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words

Friday, May 21, 2021

Reprise Review: Duchess Rising (The Seven Realms of Ar'rothi) by Alison Naomi Holt

 


Genre: Fantasy/LBGT/Myths

Description:

“You are invited to enter Ar’rothi, a world as vividly realized as Narnia or Middle Earth, a world where animal spirits guide humans towards enlightenment, and in which an orphaned girl and a warrior duchess must join forces against an evil that threatens everything they have learned to love.

…Stormy clouds of war are moving against Anacafria on two fronts; the Tevaiedin, the dark spirits of the Seven Realms, and Desdamea, the cruel and grasping queen of the neighboring country of Organdy, are both gathering their forces in a bid to dominate and destroy the kingdom. The Duchess finds her loyalties divided between her adopted daughter, who is the only one who can lead a defense against the Tevaiedin and her king, who needs her skills as a warrior and as one of the commanders of his elite troops.”

Author:

Alison Naomi Holt grew up on a working cattle ranch in Arizona where she inherited her greatest passion, the love of animals, from her grandmother. After earning a Bachelor of Arts Degree in writing at the University of Arizona she joined the police force where she worked every possible job that became available, changing assignments every few years just because she could. She has been a patrol officer, a detective, a hostage negotiator, commanded Undercover Units and Riot Control Squads, and became the Sergeant/Supervisor for the 11 man K9 squad. Ms. Holt hopes to share her passions and experiences through her writing. Learn more about her other stories at her website or follow her on Facebook.

Appraisal:

It has been about two and half years since I read Spirit Child, so I was a little concerned about picking up Duchess Rising cold, without at least skimming the last half of the first book. However, I didn’t. Partly because I wanted to know how long it takes me to get back into a story that I haven’t thought about for a long period of time. Yeah, occasionally I would see Spirit Child’s book cover, which I love, and I would remember I really liked that story. I think it speaks a lot to the author’s talent if I don’t need an in-depth recap to get back into their fantasy world. Ms. Holt’s must have really impressed me because I didn’t have any trouble getting back in tune with the story. Some names may have escaped my memory but the author has a glossary of names and terms at the end of the book.

The way this story starts, drops the reader right in the midst of the action as Kaiti stalks up on King Leopold, in the midst of camp, to test the guards’ readiness for an assassination attempt. King Leopold and Commander Jathez become fully developed characters as the plot progresses. As well as several other secondary characters that I suspect will play major parts as this series continues. The author does an extraordinary job with her Spirit Guides as well. Each has their own personality and can be very outspoken. It’s a good thing the King has not become enlightened enough to hear or see them yet. I am a little surprised that Kaiti has not started picking up some of the language spoken by Bree so far. And Bree doesn’t seem to be making an effort to learn Kaiti’s language either. I would think since Prince Darius and Kaiti are the same age they would try harder to communicate as well.

King Leopold and his imperial guard are on their trek back to King’s City after gathering fighting troops from the outer lying dioceses of the kingdom to prepare for war. He also would like to enlist the Natives from the Shona tribe for assistance as well as repair diplomatic relations between their nations that had been destroyed through one of his dioceses warring. There are several plot twists as treachery, and treasonous acts erupt within camp when the Tevaiedin, the dark spirits, find black hearts to latch onto within some of the troops in camp at a very bad time. The conclusion comes to a somewhat satisfying end, however, with a nefarious note. I am anxious to see what will happen now, I hope it doesn’t take another two years to find out. I am a bit disappointed they all didn’t make it back to Kings City before the story ended.

Buy now from:    Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Duchess Rising is the second book in a powerful and moving fantasy series by Alison Naomi Holt that will appeal to fans of Anne McCaffrey and Mercedes Lackey — one that blends the lyrical and mystical with pulse-pounding action.”

I would also recommend reading Spirit Child first before reading book 2. I should also mention there is a short sexy scene between Healer Becca and her lover Nashotah, a female Shona healer.

Original review posted February 18, 2016

Format/Typo Issues:

I found no significant issues with proofing or formatting.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Review: The Payoff by Lynne Cantwell


Genre: Contemporary Fantasy/ Psychological Fiction/Paranormal

Description:

“Choices have consequences…

Janis Fowler and Jan Marek grew up together, the only two students at the Institute, a research facility and school for children with paranormal abilities. Or so their parents were told. In reality, the Institute’s director, Dr. Denise Tandy, had her own plans for their talents – Janis can read a person’s past and Jan can see a person’s future – and when the kids resisted her, she was ruthless at getting them to comply.

At last, Janis and Jan escaped – and split up, knowing it was the only way to protect both themselves and each other. But they knew they would reunite someday, when the time was right.

Forty years later, the time has come. Their old tormentor has turned up again. Her game is the same, but her newest ruse is more dangerous than ever. And she’s recruiting more victims.

Jan and Janis must use their powers to put an end to Dr. Tandy’s vile scheming – without risking each other. It’s a tall order for two people who have been hiding in plain sight for four decades. But with age comes wisdom. And they have waited long enough to see justice served.”

Author:

“Lynne Cantwell writes mostly urban fantasy and paranormal romance, with a dash of magic realism when she’s feeling more serious. She is also a contributing author for Indies Unlimited. In a previous life, she was a broadcast journalist who worked at Mutual/NBC Radio News, CNN, and a bunch of other places you have probably never heard of. She has a master’s degree in fiction writing from Johns Hopkins University. She lives in New Mexico.”

To learn more about Ms. Cantwell and discover her other Kindle books visit her website.

Appraisal:

The Payoff begins by introducing Janis Fowler and Jan Marek reuniting as adults. Their pasts growing up together as students at the Institute are told through flashbacks. They sought solace in each other while living under the claw of Dr. Denise Tandy. On the eve of his eighteenth birthday, Jan survives a failed suicide attempt, which gives Jan and Janis an escape route from Dr. Tandy’s clutches. However, she is able to escape justice for her abuses and other illegal activities by leaving for South America.

The intrigue and tension builds as Dr. Tandy resurfaces with another scam of epic proportions with a new victim, Antoine, to exploit. Jan has to hone his talent to identify this new player and his gift. Janis has to bite the bullet and dig into what Dr. Tandy has been up to these last forty years.

I found it entertaining to watch these two old friends interact, their dialogue was priceless. The sexual tension was strong and neither wanted to be the first to overstep the boundaries of friendship to test the waters. Both Jan and Janis were equally strong and respectful characters, one never out shined the other. There were two important secondary characters, aside from Dr. Tandy who cast her nasty shadow over everyone. Antoine reminds us of the power Dr. Tandy holds over her victims. She tears down his sense of worth with verbal, emotional, and physical abuse, however, he still feels indebted to her. Then there is Simone. She seems a little late to the party, she is Antoine’s secretary or Tandy’s office manager. She’s the only other employee and she fills both services. I really enjoyed her character, she seems impulsive and a no holds barred kind of young woman. I really liked her and so did Janis when she finally met her.

The ending is satisfying in a classy way. There were no tricks or sleight of hand, just truth. Finally, truth and justice is served. But, what of Janis and Jan? Only time will tell.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

Nothing to note.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 50-55,000 words

Monday, May 17, 2021

Review: The Risks of Dead Reckoning by Felicia Watson


Genre: Space Opera

Description:

This is the third and final part of Watson’s trilogy about the Uniterrean space ship Lovelace and her crew.

Amazon’s description says: “The Lovelace is ordered to respond to a distress call from unexplored space, and from a crew who all died 200 years ago. What they find is not only amazing, but potentially lethal. If Lt. Decker is going to make it down the aisle, she will have to survive the dangers of planet Tolu first.”

It “harkens back to the classic science fiction of Asimov, Clarke and Herbert, but with the richly developed characters of a Roddenberry-esque story.”

 Author:

Felicia Watson started writing stories as soon as they handed her a pencil in first grade. When not writing, Felicia spends her time with her darling dogs, her beloved husband, being an amateur pastry chef, swimming, and still finds time for her day job as a scientist.”

"She’s especially drawn to character driven tales, where we see people we recognize, people who struggle with their mistakes and shortcomings, acknowledge them, and use that knowledge to grow into wiser human beings.”

Appraisal:

It is the 31st century. In the middle book of the trilogy the Uniterraen space ship Lovelace, was repurposed from a military vessel to a ship of exploration. The substantial crew consists of the main character, Lieutenant Naiche ‘Deck’ Decker, her captain father, her fiancĂ©, her colleagues and friends and others who she probably just nods to in the corridor. This crew has been together a long time now and has become an efficient, well-drilled unit. It is also free of the angst that was evident in the first two books, as ‘Deck’ worked out her various issues with her father, authority in general, and her love life. This is conveyed without losing the seat-of-the-pants excitement that made the first two books such a pleasure. New characters supply the mis-steps that create the drama (at the heart of which we still find ‘Deck’, ‘Kai’ and ‘Con’).

Watson has a lot of fun working up Lovelace’s investigation of the distress call. The way the crew evaluates the paradox is deft. During their attempts to help, they find a couple of invisible worlds: Watson is a scientist, and knows how to build a good world, or two. There are humans and other species involved who have never heard of Uniterrae. It is with these that the conflicts reside which drive the book.

The heading of each chapter with an apposite quote is carried through this final novel: these continue to enrich the material which follows.

This is the shortest book of the three. It gallops along. ‘Deck’ and ‘Con’ her team leader continue to get themselves into scrapes, but in this book they act on actual plans that have received some thought and probing for weaknesses (until they go wrong, which they always do of course). In between missions (for which read adventures) there is a lot more introspection than in the previous volumes. Some of the younger crew members, with partners on Lovelace, begin to wonder about the logistics of having children: some of the older crew begin to ponder retirement, or at least a change of career. Here Watson shows her skill at developing character driven tales, as well as convincing Trekker-type space opera. Watson asks important questions of her cast. The downtime is not overdone.

By the end of the book, however, the major players have their stories tied neatly with a bow. I found it quite hard to slow down to that pace after the page-turning adventure that had come before. But this is, of course, life: one cannot go on saving the universe forever. At some point one has to learn how to change that diaper, or accept that desk job. Or, possibly, both.

I shall miss the crew of the Lovelace. I wonder where Watson’s imagination will take her next? I look forward to following her on the journey wherever she goes. She is a fine writer, with an empathetic heart, and that good scientific background.

You can enjoy this book as a standalone. But I recommend reading all three, in order.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

I was working from an ARC, cannot comment on what of the few typos and clunks I came across may have made it into the published book.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Judi Moore

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words


Friday, May 14, 2021

Review: Curse of the Hunted by Christine Rains

 


Genre: Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance/Mystery

Description:

“Meet Akila Levesque, Sphynx...

Akila's well-ordered world has fallen apart. Her delinquent brother, Cairo is the only family she has left after their mother's death. When she receives the letter from the High Council of the Supernatural to become a Keeper, she believes this could be a fresh start for both of them.

But the moment Akila presents a family heirloom to give to the Keepers as her part of her initiation, everything erupts into chaos as the cracked Egyptian statuette runs away. Corrupted by its broken aura, the rogue artifact hunts Akila in the ghost riddled seaside town.

It doesn't help when the gorgeous Chaz Nowiki keeps turning up wherever Akila goes. She doesn't want a gargoyle in shining armor to save her, even when he looks so hot in his firefighter's suspenders. Yet even with the help of a powerful guardian, things grow desperate when the relic targets Cairo as well.

Now Akila must risk everything to save her brother. But will that even be enough when she has no idea what it means to be a Keeper or a Sphynx?

‘After all, every secret needs a Keeper.’"

Author:

“Christine Rains is a writer, blogger, and geek mom. She has four degrees which help nothing with motherhood but make her a great Jeopardy player. When she's not reading or writing, she's going on adventures with her son or watching cheesy movies on Syfy Channel. She's a member of S.C.I.F.I. and Untethered Realms. She has four novels and several novellas and short stories published.”

To learn more check out Ms. Rains website or follow her on Facebook.

Appraisal:

Akila Levesque and her twelve-year-old brother, Cairo, move to Pyreshore, New Hampshire after the death of their mother to start a new life after having been invited by the High Council of the Supernatural to become a Keeper of Knowledge. Now Akila needs to learn how to adapt to a small-town life where everyone knows your business after living in a big city where one can live in anonymity. One of Akila’s talents is she can see ghosts. They are given a house to live in which has a ghost in the front yard to greet them. Akila calls him Captain and he is always there. It is clear Captain wants something of her but she can’t hear him, therefore she keeps putting Captain off because of the other chaos going on in her life.

One of the conditions Akila is given to become an apprentice keeper is to bring an undocumented artifact to donate to the council to be put into their archives. She does this, however her mentor, Seth, wants to see the small sarcophagus that contains an ushabti. An ushabti is a statuette carved in the likeness of a person who served a pharaoh, and this one is magic. Seth’s curiosity wins out so he opens the sarcophagus to see the six-inch ushabti. He is able to grab some photos of it before it disappears. So now the hunt begins and Akila and Cairo are plagued with strange potentially deadly events where the ushabti turns up.

It took me a while to warm up to Akila, she is rigid, unforgiving, and rude. Chaz is nothing but helpful to her and she can’t stand feeling like he is rescuing her from small inconveniences she could handle given time. It’s the small-town neighbors helping neighbors she can’t understand or accept. However, this handsome hunk of man also shows up just in time to literally save her life time and again. The storyline is original, unique, and enthralling. The characters are well rounded, intelligent, diverse, and captivating. The tension ebbed and flowed from terror to sexual tension. There were times I was sure I could see what was coming, but then the plot veered another direction. I had Captain pegged, but the way it all came about blew me away. I was pleased to see Akila finally settling into her role in the township of Pyreshore. I can easily see The Keepers of Knowledge turning into an epic series.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Curse of the Hunted by Christine Rains is book 8 in The Keepers of Knowledge Series, and can be read as a standalone. 10 books, 10 authors, 10 Keepers, 1 shared world.

Format/Typo Issues:

A few proofing misses, mainly missing words, but nothing that threw me out of the story.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 65-70,000 words

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Reprise Review: How it Ends by Scott C. Lyerly

 


Genre: Science Fiction

Description:

Anita Lory is a grad student in robotics for Professor Brian Coleman. She is also his lover. Brian’s nemesis at Denlas-Kaptek Industries (DKI), the world’s leading robotics firm, is Eric Breckenridge, DKI’s executive vice-president. When Eric needs a professor to review DKI’s newest program, he requests anyone but Brian to perform the review. So Dr. Sidney Hermann is called in to examine DKI’s newest robots not realizing that he is about to set off a chain of events that will alter world history forever.

Author:

Born and raised in the Washington D.C. area, Scott C. Lyerly graduated with a degree in English Literature from the University of Maryland, College Park. Currently, Lyerly lives in Worcester, MA where he’s writing a hard-boiled detective novel.

Appraisal:

Author Scott C. Lyerly finds the worst in human nature as he develops characters that scheme to advance their own agendas with little thought for anyone else. Even Gammons, Eric’s personal administrative assistant, a robot that is so advanced it has become a sentient being, has his own plans for a future free of human bondage.

In an exciting 292 page tomb set a century ahead of our own, a servant class of robots are created to serve humanity. Lyerly’s premise shows what could happen when one of those machines subverts its programming, taking control of the robot slaves.

Lyerly’s greatest strength is his ability to create believable characters that tend to lack a moral compass. He does an amazing job of showing his readers the thoughts and feelings of his human and even robotic characters. Throughout the story the author provides his readers with potentially disturbing possibilities of artificial intelligence that makes How it Ends such a provocative read.

Buy now from:    Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Original review ran January 16, 2016

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Michael Thal

Approximate word count: 80-85,000 words

Monday, May 10, 2021

The Midas Effect by Manuel Dorado

 (translated by Laura Fitzgerald)


Genre: Science Fiction/Technothriller

Description:

Extract from Amazon: Miguel Le Fablec, a young European university professor, appears to have the ability to turn his imagination into reality – the so-called Midas Effect. Unaware of his power, Miguel attracts the attention of the CIA and NASA, which take him to the US and draw him into international intrigues, scientific projects and secret services operations that overwhelm his reaction capacity. Everyone wants to control and use him.”

Author:

Manuel Dorado has a background in the area in which he has set this, his first novel. Not the CIA. Hopefully. But he is an aerospace engineer. His short fiction in Spanish has won awards, and been included in a number of magazines. This is his first novel and, I think, his first translated work.

Laura Fitzgerald translated the novel. She has retained excellent page-turning quality and the English is supple and effective.

Appraisal:

This is an unusual novel in several ways. I like unusual, which is why I was drawn to it in BigAl’s looong list of indie books looking for reviews.

For a start, it was written in Spanish and has been published in translation. So, from the outset this British reader is getting a different worldview. Spanish is not constructed anything like English. A book has to be well constructed to withstand such a sea change without reading as stilted. For this reason, I don’t usually seek out translated literature or poetry. But I had already become intrigued by this novel before realising. Still, I like being outside my literary comfort zone. It’s why I review indie books, because they are like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get. So with this.

The premise is a simple one, but one which I have not come across before in science fiction: what if you could influence events so as to have the outcome you want every time. We can all imagine ourselves having that ability, so although it is definitely fiction about science it also snuggles up warmly to the reader, as the concept is eminently graspable. What would we do with that ability? Could we control it? How would we control it? And, most importantly (as the blurb considers) what would The Powers That Be do with a person with such a gift?

I like the way certain characteristics of the people inhabiting the book are reinforced each time they take centre stage. Castillo fiddles with his tie, Gorlov has an endless supply of cheap pens which he deconstructs while he thinks. Everyone has a tic. Physical descriptions of the characters really worked for me, as with this: “Fred smiled. His Anglo-Saxon features compressed with the action, his eyes almost disappearing between cavernous wrinkles.” The descriptions are pithy and insightful, reinforcing characterisation, motivation and action. This enables the protagonists to think in really rather subtle ways. Indeed, the imagery throughout the book is a delight. I also like the lightly worn knowledge of the geographical settings that Dorado uses, in the USA, Europe and the Middle East.

So much for the characterisation, what of the plot? There is plenty of that too, despite the ‘inflection’ taking place, inevitably, inside the head of the Midas. There is danger, and chases; allies turn out to be enemies and vice versa. The page turning quality is excellent.

And, finally, it has a twist at the end which I did not see coming (and I almost always spot the twist coming).

Recommended.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: Judi Moore

Approximate word count: 135-140,000 words

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