Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Review: (Mostly) True Tales From Birchmont Village by Peter J. Stavros

 


Genre: Humor/Short Story Collection

Description:

“Based upon his lighthearted short stories that first appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, Peter J. Stavros, with this collection of vignettes, chronicles a year in the lives of these townsfolk as they are faced with one perceived catastrophe and calamity after the other, from the time the Johnsons' house caught fire – and twice in one day! – to the time Chubz, their beloved cat, went missing, to the scramble to fill the position of Santa on the eve of the annual Christmas parade. This generally social lot must also come to grips with an order to shelter in place and stay six feet apart when threatened by a dreadful virus. Yet through it all, the neighbors always find a way to join together to help each other.”

Author:

“Peter J. Stavros is a writer and playwright in Louisville, Kentucky, and the author of Three in the Morning and You Don’t Smoke Anymore, winner of the Etchings Press 2020 Book Prize for a Chapbook of Prose. Other works by him include the short story collection, (Mostly) True Tales From Birchmont Village.

A former reporter for the Associated Press, Peter has published his writing in literary journals, magazines, newspapers and anthologies …”

Appraisal:

Author Peter J Stavros says that he was aiming for his “own version of Lake Wobegon, with maybe a dash of Mayberry thrown in as well” with this series of stories. Both those fictional places have two things in common.

First, they take place in small towns where everybody knows everyone else, or so it seems. Much like many families, the people of the town have disagreements and issues with each other, but as a general rule they pull together when the situation calls for it, looking out for their neighbors and the community. The people of Birchmont Village show this over and over throughout these stories.

The second commonality these fictional communities have is unique, quirky characters. These range from the newspaper delivery boy who likes to tell you his age to the nearest minute, to the former Eagle Scout and current ranking city councilman who likes to ride around town in a golf cart, to the reigning little league baseball champions whose team members never seem to do anything apart. Most of the townspeople are likeable, but even the one who most people won’t like so much, the guy who is constantly complaining about something, is good for a laugh and for sure will remind you of someone you’ve known.

These two things combine to provide short entertaining and amusing stories. If you’re a fan of Mayberry or Lake Wobegon, odds are you’ll enjoy a visit to Birchmont Village as well.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 18-19,000 words

Monday, September 27, 2021

Reprise Review: Road Trip by Grace Jelsnick


 Genre: Contemporary Fiction/ Adventure/ Suspense

Description:

"A road trip that begins in Denver becomes a race to Evergreen when five [people] take a collision course to their respective destinies, and Noah, Victoria, Thomas, Mule, and Ricky find themselves the target of an outlaw motorcycle gang, an unscrupulous sheriff, Colombian drug smugglers, oil industry enforcers, and EPA specialists. The asphalt between Billings, Montana, and Evergreen, Colorado, is littered with bodies by the time they reach their final destination."

Author:

"Grace Jelsnik lives in North Dakota with her husband of fifteen years, their three children, two dogs, and three cats. Her novels emphasize plot, each with an element of romance that takes a down-to-earth approach to the natural give-and-take emotional interaction between two characters, addressing the sparks that lead to heat, not the heat itself. Her targeted audience is late teen and older, readers who enjoy suspense, mystery, and snappy dialogue."

Learn more about Ms. Jelsnik on her Amazon Author page.

Appraisal:

This is the third novel from Grace Jelsnik I have read for review here at Books and Pals. I don’t normally read contemporary fiction, but Ms. Jelsnik’s voice and character development have me mesmerized. When BigAl asked if I would be interested in doing a doubleshot review with him for Road Trip, I jumped at the opportunity. Honestly, I didn’t expect to like this book. Political intrigue and corporate espionage are NOT among my favorite genres. I read to escape reality, which is why I lean towards fantasy, paranormal, and romance novels. That is not to say that Ms. Jelsnik doesn’t subtly weave a little romance into her stories, because she does. But she does it in such a realistic way that it feels natural and logical.

Road Trip revolves around a hot political topic of the environmental effects from hydraulic fracking. Noah Severson, a veterinary doctor in Montana, notices the health of the area livestock is deteriorating before his eyes. When Noah tries to alert the EPA of his findings he is met with bureaucratic roadblocks and local authorities who are making big money from the fracking operations. Armed with only his data, a camcorder, and a disposable phone, he sets out on foot, after watching his house go up in flames, to a rendezvous point given to him from a mysterious caller who claims he can help.

Victoria Winslow is disillusioned with her life and decides to take a road trip to ‘find herself.’ She drastically changes her appearance and leaves with no plan or destination in mind. She sets out on her own to experience life without any celebrity attachments. Her chance encounter and conversation with a woman named Wanda helps Victoria by providing focus and direction from insights Wanda shares about her own experiences and life philosophy. Victoria never suspects how much this meeting will change the course of her road trip, as well as her life.

Next, Victoria meets Thomas, a hungry thirteen-year-old runway, and soon thereafter Thomas's younger brother, Ricky, who change Victoria's plans yet again. Complicating matters even further is an English mastiff desperately in need of a new home.

Then Victoria meets Noah in the most unexpected manner, and the ensuing road trip turns into a journey of discovery and exposition for all of these participants as they evade the onslaught of several nefarious adversaries. This character-driven plot has numerous twists that keep Noah and Victoria constantly aware of the danger they are in and the action is often fast and furious.

I ended up enjoying this story a lot more than I anticipated. Ms. Jelsnik has a unique way of weaving realistic individuals into extraordinary situations and making them believable. Road Trip drew me in and kept me riveted. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys well-developed, intelligent characters wrapped in an exceptionally astute story-line.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Original review posted July 1, 2016.

Format/Typo Issues:

I ran across no issues at all.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 80-85,000 words

Friday, September 24, 2021

Review: Surviving Chaos by Harold Phifer

 


Genre: Memoir/Humor

Description:

“For more than fifty years, Harold Phifer's childhood living conditions remained a secret, even from those who thought they knew him best. No one knew about his past growing up with a mother who suffered from mental illness; a greedy, controlling aunt; a mindless and spoiled older brother; an absent father. It wasn't until an explosion in Afghanistan that his memory blasted back into focus. This book is the result of a long, cathartic chat with a stranger at a beach bar, where Harold finally found some peace.”

Author:

“Harold Phifer was born and raised in Columbus, Mississippi. His first twenty-five years were spent entirely in his home state. After graduating Mississippi State and Jackson State Universities, he became a highly specialized air traffic controller, living and working as an international contractor serving numerous tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Surviving Chaos is his second book.”

Appraisal:

As I’m sure I’ve said before, one of the things I like about memoirs is to take the opportunity to compare my experiences to the author’s. I’ve read memoirs of authors who grew up in the same environment as I did (even the same town in one case) with a comparable family situation, roughly the same time frame and at least some of the same experiences. These provide value to the reader in various ways, possibly giving them a different perspective on some of their own life experiences.

However, other memoirs are much different. For example, in this one the timeframe Harold Phifer, the author, was growing up was just a few years behind me and in the same country. Beyond that we have virtually nothing in common. Many people gauge their opinions and reactions to the actions and decisions of others based on the assumption that everyone had the same basic experience and background as they do, because the majority of those around them did exactly that. Reading about someone with a vastly different experience, like this author’s growing up years, should drive home the fact that everyone’s experience wasn’t the same. Not everyone had the same expectations placed on them, support in reaching their goals, or good role models around them as examples of what to aim for.

Reading about Harold’s childhood drove home how lucky I was, but in a way that was interspersed enough with humor that it wasn’t a constant downer, which it could have easily been. It was an entertaining, mind opening, and educational read. Not a typical combination.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Reprise Review: Dragon Choir by Ben Descovich

 


Genre: Epic Fantasy/ Adventure/ Coming of Age

Description:

“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.”

Author:

“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 Mr. Descovich at his website.

Appraisal:

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:    Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

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

Original review posted May 27, 2016.

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


Monday, September 20, 2021

Penny Pinching Tips for the Morally Bankrupt by Libby Marshall


 Genre: Satire/Humor/Short Story Collection

Description:

“Penny Pinching Tips for the Morally Bankrupt is a fantastically funny, wonderfully weird, and surprisingly sincere collection of short stories, humor pieces, and miscellaneous bits. In this explosively original debut, Libby Marshall plumbs the depths of suburban despair, female desire, and the ever-present feeling that death could claim us at any moment.

Debra, an unhappy billionaire’s wife, decides to resurrect the 18th-century trend of hiring a man to live on their property as an ornamental garden hermit. An elderly serial killer, bored by her dull nursing home existence, finds a deadly new purpose when her high school nemesis ends up living down the hall. In 1953 a young couple drives to Makeout Point where instead of an evening of heavy petting, they find mountain lions, a man with no gaps in his teeth, and the opportunity to kill Henry Kissinger. Within these pages, a man tries to date after losing his wife to The Salem Witch Trials, a Wi-Fi router gains sentience, a series of cardboard boxes oozing with smoky-sweet baked beans mysteriously appear at a woman’s front door, and a Chuck E. Cheese is haunted by the spirit of Princess Diana.

Boldly strange, deliciously satirical, and laugh-out-loud hilarious, Penny Pinching Tips for the Morally Bankrupt swings from the grim and ghastly to the exquisite and lovely. This one-of-a-kind book takes the reader on a surreal journey through the compulsory despair of daily life and concludes that the only sensible reaction to that much pain is laughter.”

Author:

Based in Chicago, Libby Marshall is a comedic actress, performing solo and in sketch and improv shows. Her writing has appeared in multiple publications. This is her first book.

Appraisal:

I could imagine someone being put off by the title of this book. But the reality is, good satire is humorous while exposing what is wrong with the actions, people, or ideas being satirized. Although the short stories in this collection have some dark moments due to some of the characters being satirized, ultimately the over-the-top ridiculous actions offset any darkness with humor. This is definitely not your typical humorous short story collection, but it was absolutely a fun read, sometimes getting me pondering certain types of people and always entertaining.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Adult language and subjects.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 65-70,000 words.

Friday, September 17, 2021

A Plague of Traitors: A Leine Basso Thriller by D.V. Berkom

 


Genre: Thriller

Description:

“A former assassin leads a heroic band of foreign fighters to thwart an enemy like no other.

Former assassin Leine Basso races to prevent Syrian intelligence from obtaining a lethal Russian bioweapon—a savage combination of toxins never before seen in nature.

Leine’s called back to war-torn Tripoli, enlisted by her former employer to train a heroic group of Isis-fighting snipers to crush the horrific threat. But there’s a leak, and the Libyan operation goes terribly wrong—the bioweapon ends up in the hands of a brutal terrorist who will stop at nothing to force the West to its knees.

Are there spies in their midst? Can Leine and her warriors prevent a ruthless enemy from releasing the deadly toxin before it's too late? Or will humanity be destroyed in a cataclysmic finale orchestrated by A Plague of Traitors?

Author:

“DV Berkom is the USA Today bestselling author of action-packed, riveting adventure and crime thrillers. Known for creating resilient, kick-ass female characters and page-turning plots, her love of the genre stems from a lifelong addiction to reading spy novels, action/adventure stories, and thrillers.”

Appraisal:

This is book 11 in author D.V Berkom’s Leine Basso thriller series and I’ve read and enjoyed them all.

In some ways I know exactly what to expect to find, which is good. As Ms Berkom’s bio makes clear, her books feature what I’ll call kick-butt females to hopefully dodge any bots looking at language on some internet sites. Leine definitely does that, kicking, shooting, and exploding the specified body part and others when needed. Although Leine has a past that might be a bit unsavory, these days she’s always on the right side, even if what she has to do gets a bit messy at times.

But what gets me every time if the part of the series formula that is unpredictable. While we can assume that the bad guys are going to be involved in human trafficking, since Leine is working for an organization combating that, who they are, where they are operating, and exactly what they’re doing to get the attention of Leine and her cohorts varies each time, but is always engaging. It keeps me on the edge of my seat, wondering what’s gong to happen next every time.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 80-85,000 words


Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Reprise Review: Nothing Normal In Cork by Chris Coulson

 


Genre: Literary Fiction

Description:

Chester feels he’s a failure. He’s a disappointment to his family in America. He drinks too much. His life is mundane, going nowhere. He has repeatedly made the wrong life decisions, and so he escapes to Cork, Ireland, just before his fiftieth birthday and vows to change. On or before midnight of the last day of his forty-ninth year—he will never be “normal” again.

Author:

“Chris Coulson had a lot of jobs before writing this book; golf caddy, bartender, obituary writer and morgue attendant (simultaneously, night shift and day shift - had 'em coming and going), newspaper reporter, actor and other jobs less romantic. And he always carried a 50-cent Bic pen in his pocket.”

Learn more about him at his website.

Appraisal:

This novel was a lot of fun. Funny, poignant, deeply introspective, and yet hope filled.

The work may be more accessible if you’ve ever drunk alcohol and had one or two too many or know someone who does or has, but that isn’t necessary. The author does a fine job of outlining the benefits and the pitfalls of booze.

It may also help if you’ve been to Ireland or maybe know someone who has told you tales of the Emerald Isle. Again, that is far from essential in order to enjoy the story as the descriptions of the people, the culture, the pubs, the weather, and the scenery are so vivid.

The writing is lyrical, full of fresh imagery and James Joyce-like streams of consciousness (although I don’t personally enjoy Joyce, so that isn’t a prerequisite either).

If you are a fellow author, and I know many of Big Al’s subscribers are, then cast aside any bias you have against the present tense. I often find present to be an awkward tense for a novel, but in this case it pulled me inside of the story and imbued the characters with a tangible warmth and closeness.

The writers among you may also have to check your internal editor at the door, because Mr. Coulson happily breaks many of the normally expected rules relating to point of view. Expect to inhabit every character in the book at one stage or another, including a pepper-colored terrier. Yet, as though to prove the adage of the exception proving the rule, the head-hopping works and delivers a kaleidoscope of viewpoints and internal perspectives that add colorful layers to the tale.

In my humble opinion, this is an exemplary example of why self-published books add hugely to the body of writing out there.

Highly unusual, and highly recommended.

Buy now from:    Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

English spelling.

Original review posted April 6, 2016.

Format/Typo Issues:

I found only one minor typo, but on my Kindle there was a translation issue on quotation marks, which appeared as a strange non-keyboard character. Because the problem was consistent throughout, it didn’t spoil my reading enjoyment.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Approximate word count: 60- 65,000 words

Monday, September 13, 2021

Review: Reborn by T.M. Parris

Welcome a new Pal to the Books and Pals' team with his first review. 



Genre: Spy Thriller

Description:

Disgraced ex-MI6 operative Rose Clarke is given the chance to redeem herself by tracking down John Fairchild, an independent dealer in information believed to be selling British secrets to the highest bidder. But Fairchild’s motives are unclear, and as Clarke tracks him through Hong Kong, China and Tibet, another story begins to unfold.

Author:

"A history graduate from Oxford, T.M. Parris has earned a living teaching English in Budapest and Tokyo.

Her first career was in market research, during which she travelled extensively to numerous countries and had a longer stay in Hong Kong which involved visiting many of the surrounding countries. She has also taken sabbaticals for a road trip in the USA and to travel by train from Brighton in the UK through Russia and Mongolia to Beijing and around China to Tibet and Nepal.

More recently she has played a role in politics, serving as a city councillor in Brighton and Hove on the south coast of the UK.
She currently lives in Belper, a lively market town near the Peak District National Park in the centre of England.

She started writing seriously in 2011. She published her first novel, Reborn, in 2020 and is the first in a series of international spy thrillers, She is drawn to international settings and the world’s most critical and life-threatening political issues, as well as the intrigue, deception, betrayal and secrecy of clandestine intelligence services.

Crime and action thrillers are her favourite books, film and TV choices. She enjoys walking, running, cycling and generally being outdoors in beautiful countryside, as well as cooking and baking and, of course, travelling.”

Appraisal:

T.M. Parris’s Reborn definitely hits the ground running. From its first scene – a shootout in a Hong Kong restaurant – to its suspenseful closing pages, there is not a slack moment, and there are enough fight scenes, escapades, thrills and suspense to keep your typical thriller reader turning the pages. This is all very nicely done, and the frequent action scenes are both believable and well put together.

However, the book is more than just a thrill ride, and the action is backgrounded by the cultural colour of a string of far-flung locations (far flung to me, anyway!): Hong Kong, China, Nepal and Tibet. All of these feel well researched, and anyone with an interest in in the East – and in travel in general – will find these places painted with a confident and no doubt well-informed hand (judging by the author’s declared love of travel and familiarity with these areas). These provide background to an intriguing and cleverly constructed plot which eventually draws our two protagonists into the struggle of a group of dissident Buddhist monks in Chinese-occupied Tibet. Here, there is some careful and knowledgeable handling of Buddhism, together with a nuanced view of the political situation (with understandable sympathies for the Tibetans), all of which helps elevate the story above your run of the mill thriller.

The characters are well drawn with relatively good psychological depth and enough shades of grey to make them interestingly unpredictable, though personally I would have liked more of this. There are a few elements of both protagonists’ backstory that provide some relevant impetus to the plot, but which I felt could have been introduced or hinted at earlier on. The dialogue and description are good and unfussily workmanlike (without being sparkling), and the spy talk and “tradecraft” of the world of espionage seem believable without rivalling Bond levels of ingenuity.

Overall, a great first instalment to a promising series, of which I look forward to reading more.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

British spelling.

Format/Typo Issues:

A very small number of typos and no significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: Gareth Southwell

Approximate word count: 85-90,000 words

Friday, September 10, 2021

Review: Ruthless Spirits by Sandy Wolters

 


Genre: Paranormal/Horror

Description:

“Terry Anderson’s lifelong dream has come to fruition. Finally his success as an artist affords him the opportunity to purchase the home that has beckoned to him since childhood. What he doesn’t know is, if he moves in, a sinister evil will be unleashed, threatening everything and everyone Terry cares about.

As High Priestess of her Wiccan Coven, Rainy Stratton’s sixth sense has never failed to shed insight on anyone who crosses her path. That is…until she encounters Terry. Intrigued by his eccentric style and humor, she finds herself drawn to him, and despite her misgivings, she eagerly entrusts her heart to the man she can’t read.

When the wicked come out to play, Rainy and Terry face a battle of good versus evil, but she can’t see how it will end. However, the price of losing is unacceptable. For if they do, the devil will claim their souls.”

Author:

From Ms. Wolters’ Amazon Author page: “I've been an avid reader for years. To my husband's dismay, I have bookshelves full of books, rooms full of books, boxes full of books. My cars have books in them. I just can't seem to get rid of them after I read them. You just never know when you will want to read it again, right?

About two years ago, my husband gave me the dream gift, a Kindle. It was love at first sight and my first foray into the world of eBooks.  While I still have books everywhere, I no longer take ten or twelve books with me when I go on vacation. The only thing I need is my Kindle. It never leaves my purse.

My genre of choice is romance with a paranormal twist…The women in my books are strong individuals that have moments of weakness and frailty to work through.”

Appraisal:

Terry Anderson is an artist who has just purchased the home of his dreams. He, Nathan, and Jody used to walk past this house on their way home from school. There is a building in the backyard which will provide Terry the perfect art studio. As Nathan is helping Terry move in Nathan feels an oppressive presence around the future art studio. However, he is hesitant to mention to Terry that he thinks the place is haunted.

Nathan enlists Jursic to help in the move and assure Nathan that he is right about the state of the studio. The three human men try to battle the supernatural entity as best as they could, to no avail.

Another arc of the story is Jody and Jared’s hand fasting ceremony to be performed by Rainy, a Wiccan High Priestess. Terry is captivated by Rainy and they become quick friends with a promising relationship. Nathan gets his first glance of Bright Flower, the woman who has taken over his dreams.

Terry finds himself in deep trouble for not telling Jody and Rainy the ordeals he has had with the monster inhabiting his house when all he was trying to do was protect them. With all in the open now Rainy gathers a team to confront and battle the demon. Ms. Wolters does an excellent job putting the reader in the middle of the action as they storm the house and battle the demon. The whole book is an emotional rollercoaster ride. Ruthless Spirits is a great addition to the Spirit Voices series, not to be missed.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Ruthless Spirits is book 2 in Ms. Wolters, Spirit Voices Series. There are a number of F-bombs and one hot sex scene that is tastefully written.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words


Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Reprise Review: Armageddon Girls (The Juniper Wars Book 1) by Aaron Michael Ritchey

 


Genre: Dystopian/Post-Apocalyptic/Adventure/Young Adult

Description:

“It is the year 2058. The Sino-American War has decimated several generations of men, and the Sterility Epidemic has made 90% of the surviving males sterile.

Electricity does not function in five western states. Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, and Montana are territories once again. Collectively, they are known as the Juniper. It is the most dangerous place on Earth.

On a desperate post-apocalyptic cattle drive to save their family ranch, Cavatica Weller and her two gun slinging sisters stumble across a rare boy. Sharlotte wants to send him away, Wren wants to sell him… and Cavatica falls in love with him.

Little do they know that an inhuman army is searching for the boy and will stop at nothing to find him.”

Author:

“Aaron Michael Ritchey was born with Colorado thunderstorms in his soul. He's sought shelter as a world traveler, an endurance athlete, a story addict, and even gave serious thought to becoming a Roman Catholic priest. After too brief a time in Paris, he moved back to the American West and lives semi-comfortably with three forces of nature: a little, blonde hurricane, an artistic tornado, and a beautiful, beautiful blizzard.”

Mr. Ritchey’s Long Live the Suicide King was a nominee in BigAl’s Books and Pals 2015 Readers’ Choice Awards under the YA category. For more information about Aaron Michael Ritchey please visit his website.

Appraisal:

I generally don’t read dystopian stories, but the premise of this one grabbed my attention. The characters are all well-developed, quite unique, and interesting. This is going to be an epic coming-of-age saga contrasting two disparate worlds existing side by side. Aaron Michael Ritchey has done an outstanding job setting up his world and has kept it as realistic as fantasy can get while still pushing the limits of reality with the elements he employed.

The story is told through Cavatica Weller’s eyes. She is the youngest of three living sisters who has been pulled out of school, The Sally Browne Burke Academy for the Moral and Literate in Cleveland, Ohio, to assist in a cattle drive to save the family ranch in the Juniper. Each sister has her own strengths. Cavatica is strong-willed, opinionated, na├»ve, and ruled by her emotions. A persevering theme throughout the story is the New Morality Movement. There were several times I wanted to slap the s**t out of Cavatica. Her views are so extremely colored by this New Morality that she can’t see straight. I found it frustrating and kept having to remind myself of her young age. I hope she will eventually find a balance that will serve her better in coming sequels. The mysterious young man they rescue from a raid adds a complicated element to the storyline, especially when the oldest and youngest sisters set their sights on him.

The character-driven plot is fast-moving with several surprising twists thrown into the mix, which continually causes adaptions to be made to the Weller sisters plans. I have found myself invested in this family’s quest to get their cattle to a fair market with their family, friends, and employees intact. The surprise at the end left my jaw on the floor. Mr. Ritchey has woven a tangled web and I am not sure what to expect next. I do know that I will be anxiously awaiting the next addition of this story.

Buy now from:    Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Armageddon Girls is the first book in The Juniper Wars series.

Original review posted April 8, 2016.

Format/Typo Issues:

I read and reviewed from an advanced readers copy, so can’t really comment on editing.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 80-85,000 words

Monday, September 6, 2021

Review: She Shits Bricks and Other Short Stories by Samson Tonauac

 


Genre: Science-Fiction, Cyberpunk, Short Story Collection

Description:

“Twerker, COVID-991, advert jinn--we all went a little crazy after 2020 ... did we not? 13 ultra-short science fiction and cyberpunk stories inspired by the events of 2020.”

Author:

Besides this short story collection Samson Tonauac is also the author of a cyberpunk novel, Dreamsphere: The Day We Stopped Dreaming.

Appraisal:

When I decided to give this short collection a read, I was looking for a change of pace. Something that wasn’t one of the genres I gravitate to most often. Something different. This definitely fit that. The future world where these stories take place is different in many ways from today’s, but as the description indicates, they’re also inspired by the events of 2020. The people in the stories may live in a vastly different world, but they’re still human, and still react in many of the same ways. The things that are good about humans and the things that irritate the heck out of us are still there. The stories may make you laugh, they may make you think. Both applied to me at times, but most importantly I was entertained and got that change of pace I was hoping for.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 18-19,000 words

Friday, September 3, 2021

Reprise Review: Jonathan’s Shield by Channing Turner

 


Genre: Historical fiction

Description:

“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.”

Author:

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 Amazon Author Page or follow him on Facebook.

Appraisal:

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:    Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

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.

Original review posted May 13, 2016.

Format/Typo Issues:

None. Looks very good on the page.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Judi Moore

Approximate word count: 85-90,000 words

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Review: Giving the Devil His Due by Various

 


Genre: Short Story Anthology/Fantasy/Horror/Science Fiction

Description:

"What if a young girl had the power to stop her tyrannical father from battering her mother ever again?

What if a student had a secret weapon to end sexual assault by her predatory professor permanently?

What if a housewife had unusual means to get back at her controlling husband and walk away from her marriage alive?

In Giving the Devil His Due, The Pixel Project’s first charity anthology, sixteen acclaimed fantasy, science fiction, and horror authors take readers on an unforgettable journey to alternative worlds where men who abuse and murder women and girls meet their comeuppance in uncanny ways.

Featuring stories from Stephen Graham Jones, Christina Henry, Peter Tieryas, Kelley Armstrong, Linda D. Addison, Hillary Monahan, and more, Giving the Devil His Due presents sixteen stories that will make you think about the importance of justice for the victims of gender-based violence, how rare this justice is in our own world, and why we need to end violence against women once and for all.”

The proceeds from this book will go to support The Pixel Project, a non-profit focused on ending violence against women.

Author:

Sixteen authors, each with their own take on things and each bringing something personal to their story as mentioned in the appraisal below.

Appraisal:

The description for this collection says that these stories “will make you think about the importance of justice for the victims of gender-based violence, how rare this justice is in our own world, and why we need to end violence against women once and for all.” That’s the obvious goal of the stories and they absolutely deliver on that promise. The stories vary in genre, tending to have aspects of the speculative fiction genres, horror, fantasy, and science fiction, since these are the genres the authors invited to contribute specialize in. I found that some of the stories connected with me better than others, but hasten to point out that this wasn’t due to flaws in the stories. Instead, it was the particular set of circumstances and how well it related to those things I’d observed or could relate to in some other fashion. Which stories click with you will no doubt be different, but are varied enough that I think most will find many they can relate to.

After each story there is a brief author’s note that discusses the inspiration for the story, often a real-life experience of the author or someone close to them. These brief notes drive home that while these stories are speculative fiction and in some cases have paranormal or other aspects that obviously aren’t true, the issues at the core of the story are all too real.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language and a lot of adult situations.

Format/Typo Issues:

My version was a pre-release ARC (advance readers copy) and I’m unable to gauge the final product for these kind of issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 80-85,000 words