Friday, July 1, 2022

Reprise Review: The Damascus Cover by Howard Kaplan


 Genre: Thriller

Description:

 The Amazon entry describes it thus:

“In a last ditch effort to revive his career, washed out agent Ari Ben-Sion accepts a mission he never would have 30 years ago, to smuggle a group of Jewish children out of the Damascus ghetto. Or so he thinks.

In Damascus, a beautiful American photographer, Kim, seems to be falling in love with Ari, but she is asking too many questions.  His communication equipment disappears.  His contact never shows up. The operation is only hours away and everything seems awry. Desperate to succeed, Ari might risk everything.  Even his life.

Feature film Damascus Cover in theaters 2016 starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Sir John Hurt.”

In the new introduction to this edition the author tells us that in its first incarnation, in 1977, this novel sat in the lower reaches of the Los Angeles Times best seller list for 10 weeks. This reissue, self-published by Howard Kaplan in 2014, has obviously been put out to tie in with the forthcoming film, now apparently due in 2017.

Author:

Howard Kaplan doesn’t seem to have a website, although he is on Facebook and Twitter. For present purposes, perhaps the most important thing to know about him is that he has a little experience of being a spy and a lot of knowledge about the Middle East. He has lived in Israel and traveled extensively through Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. He knows the life of which he writes.

Appraisal:

This is an excellent spy thriller. Authors are so often recommended by publishers as ‘the next John Le CarrĂ©’. None of them are, of course. And attempts at comparison simply weaken the writing of those who are not. However, Kaplan is (or was), writing gritty spy fiction which stands genuine comparison with Le CarrĂ© circa The spy who came in from the cold.

I pride myself on being able to spot a plot twist even if it is secreted in a bag of fettuccini, but this book wrong-footed me not once, not twice but thrice. I like to be wrong-footed. Nor did those cunning plot twists feel remotely strained: as soon as the unexpected occurred one could see how it was the inevitable result of what had come before. Thus the book quickly gained a sense of menace: what has Ari missed? How will it come back to bite him? The spy-protagonist is no two-dimensional cipher: the reader goes with him into the abyss created by his own character failings, spiralling down and down, as shown through the action of the book.

The settings are Cyprus, Jerusalem and Syria – economically and vividly drawn. The Middle Eastern setting are topical (despite the book’s age). Aleppo, Beirut and, of course, Damascus all figure largely and are described at a time when they were still beautiful, multi-cultural cities.

The new introduction gives some insight into what has occurred in the Middle East since 1977, but it is not really sufficient for those of us whose knowledge of Middle Eastern politics and wars since 1948 may not be deep or recent. To enjoy this fully it will repay a quick and dirty Google of the main dates and conflicts in the area (there are quite a few) so as to have at least The Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War clear in your mind. This link may be of assistance.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

The prologue and final chapter comprise graphic scenes of torture.

The original review posted on December 14, 2016.

Format/Typo Issues:

There are a few typos which could have been put right when the text was readied for printing this time around. Or perhaps they were introduced at that point – who can say. They will not spoil your enjoyment.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Judi Moore

Approximate word count: 65-70,000 words

Monday, June 27, 2022

Review: Fatal Objective by D.V. Berkom

 


Genre: Thriller

Description:

A missing assassin. An unlikely betrayal. A secret cabal, sowing chaos.

Leine Basso's missing.

She's not answering her calls. Or texts. Lou and Santa fear she's been compromised. According to her contact on the op she's fine, just busy.

When she finally responds it doesn’t sound like her.

The two men who know her best aren’t buying it. Something isn't right.

Leine Basso's missing.

And Lou and Santa are going to find out why.”

Author:

USA Today bestselling author DV Berkom is the author of numerous novels in at least three major series and genres ranging from western to modern day thrillers. The one thing her books all have are what she describes as “kick-ass female characters.”

For more, visit Ms Berkom’s website.

Appraisal:

This is the 12th book in the Leine Basso series. It has the obvious things that returning readers would expect. First, the kick-butt female lead, Leine, obviously. The series has her name after all. A few recurring characters make an appearance as well. If you’ve read and liked one or more of the previous books, I’d expect you’ll like this one.

However, if you felt there was a pattern to the old books, like you could guess at a high level what was going to happen with just the specifics changing, the mold got broken for this book. I don’t want to say anything else so as to not accidentally include a spoiler beyond saying that this book is different. I also thought a bit of a bomb got dropped near the end, but if you read to the last word (even beyond “the end”) then you’ll get better perspective on that.

Now I’m eager to get the next book in the series when it come out. Keep’em coming, Ms Berkom.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Although this is book 12 in the series, I think it could be read as a standalone if you haven’t read any of those that came before. There are definitely things from the past that are briefly referenced and you’ll understand Leine and her relationship with the other recurring characters better if you’ve read prior books, but you should still be able to follow and enjoy the story without having done that.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words

Friday, June 24, 2022

Review: The Survivors by T.C. Weber


 Genre: Dystopian

Description:

“In a calamitous future, runaway climate change has made the planet nearly uninhabitable. Civilization has collapsed, and every day is a struggle. Lucy, a young mother of two, dreams of a better life by bringing back vanished knowledge. But the rest of her group is focused only on day-to-day survival—at any price. When a deadly hurricane destroys their home, Lucy’s group is forced on the road, where they must cope with hunger, searing temperatures, and vicious rivals. And their nightmare is just beginning…”

Author:

The author of several novels, T.C. Weber is an avid traveler (he’s visited all seven continents). By day he works for a non-profit organization as an ecologist. Weber lives with his wife in Maryland.

For more, visit Mr Weber’s website.

Appraisal:

A post-apocalyptic novel typically assumes a big disaster of some kind, whether something natural, the spread of a massive disease, war, or something else. While this story feels much like some of the post-apocalyptic novels I’ve read, I’m not sure it fits that. A dystopian novel typically imagines the direction some segment of society is trying to get the world to move, assumes a slippery slope worst case, and then shows the imagined results. It’s not pretty. I think it would be fair to call this book dystopian, but it differs in one major way. The world it imagines is not what will happen if government and society change in some fashion, but what is likely to happen if we don’t change. Essentially it imagines the world in the not-so-distant future if we don’t address climate change, figuring out how to stop and even reverse it. It doesn’t paint a pretty picture.

At the heart of the story is Lucy, a young lady and mother of two. She and her kids are now a part of a small group of people who have managed to survive in spite of fires, flooding, lack of food and limited functional infrastructure. Very few humans are still alive and running into another group is problematic as they are just as likely to want to take what Lucy and her group have, leaving them dead, as they are to join forces for the mutual benefit of both groups. (Not that the leader of Lucy’s group is going to want to treat the other group any differently.)

Lucy’s experiences and struggles got me wondering how I would react in this kind of situation and what the right reactions should be. It makes for an intense, thought provoking read, not only wondering how you’d react in the same situation, but also what you can do to reduce the odds of the world reaching the point chronicled in this book.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

Review is based on an advance reader copy that hadn’t been fully proofread, so I can’t gauge the final product in this area.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 30-35,000 words

Monday, June 20, 2022

Review: The Stories of Our Lives: A Short Story Collection by Brandy Isadora


 Genre: Short Story Collection

Description:

“Life is an extreme sport. The Stories of Our Lives is a series of mind-bending short stories that tell the experiences of characters who find themselves living in the margins of society. These stories show just how far someone will go to survive, find love, and feel alive.

Adam, an introvert in his mid-thirties, just wants to get a good night’s sleep without being woken up by his noisy neighbors. He finds the perfect place to live, but the only problem is that it’s a community for residents fifty-five and older. Adam has a plan to make this his new home, but he gets much more than he bargains for.

One night, as twenty-year-old Tesla is getting ready to pick up her mom from the airport, the power grid goes dark. Suddenly, there is no communication: no cell phones, no news reports, and no social media. No one has any idea what is really going on, and civil society is quickly disintegrating as people become fearful. Now, every choice that Tesla makes could mean life or death.

After his daughter is killed in a car accident, Preach, a biker, hires Alex for representation. Sometimes during the darkest and scariest times, friendships come from the least likely of places. These two men couldn’t be more different, but through this tragedy they become the best of friends and along the way Preach teaches Alex to embrace what life brings and to enjoy the ride.

Check out Brandy Isadora’s insightful compilation of fiction and discover eighteen mesmerizing short stories slicing up lives altered by unexpected events and revealing a rollercoaster of emotions! If you like unique voices, thought-provoking scenarios, and heart-stopping inner conflicts, then you’ll love Brandy Isadora’s enthralling anthology.”

Author:

“Brandy Isadora has always been an artist at heart. An award-winning author and photographer whose work has been exhibited internationally, Brandy believes that everyone has a story to tell.”

Appraisal:

I tend to read novels, with all that implies. The stories are obviously longer. They’re usually more complicated. However, sometimes I need a change of pace, and look for a short story collection to provide that. This collection was just what I was looking for. Interesting characters with stories that kept me guessing. Some characters I could relate to as “a lot like me” and others that gave me a chance to consider different situations and viewpoints. The genres of the story vary with some sci-fi like aspects in some stories and a wide range of people and topics. The thing all the stories have in common is they are entertaining reads.

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

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Review: It Takes an Oni by Scott Rhine

 


Genre: Fantasy

Description:

“Solomon Oni has taken a commission to rob (sic) something of devastating power from the Smithsonian’s religious artifact vault. His only friend, other than a magical tattoo artist and the odd djinn, is a young misfit witch named Morgan. When supernatural thugs threaten her, he demonstrates just how much a former servant of the underworld can do to punish the wicked.”

Author:

“Scott Rhine wanted to find a job that combined his love of reading with math problem solving, so he studied both short stories and computer languages. When his third publication, Doors to Eternity, hit #16 on the Amazon epic fantasy list, he decided to become a full-time author. Since then, each book of his Jezebel's Ladder series hit the high-tech science fiction top 100. His medical thriller, The K2 Virus, is his highest-rated novel. His latest books are witch academy stories written for his teenage daughter.”

For more, visit Mr Rhine’s blog.

Appraisal:

This tale of monsters and magic begins with a fib. “However, instead of working to punish the wicked, I became one of the wicked,” spoken by the narrator Solomon Oni about himself. He is in fact a soft-hearted uncle figure, who is so sensitive that he goes to physical pain to disguise his ugliness. His wickedness comes down to thievery, but literature abounds with noble thieves from Robin Hood to Jean Valjean. Solomon’s objective is to steal a magical object on behalf of the Drinking God. How more noble can one get?

The narrative may be stronger as a love story than a fantasy crime caper. “She doesn’t have to love you back or even talk to you,” says the “wicked” Solomon to his disciple, who adores a girl under the oni’s protection. Replies the disciple: “I have to be there to see that flower open, even if she wakes up and realizes I’m not worth her time.” Selfless love is something the world could use a great deal, even an iota, more of. Solomon himself is so besotted by his love interest, the girl’s mother, that he scarcely dares touch her least he be overcome and reveal his true visage.

At least, I think that is what is going on. I found the narrative too baroque. Magical powers pop up without support from an underlying logic. Minor characters appear, often unexpectedly, without benefit of background, introduction, or often as not, even purpose. “Already taken care of,” I assured her. “I texted your surveillance team too.” Where’d that team come from? Who are its members? What are their capabilities? What exactly is their objective? There is no other mention of the team, so why inject it? A good bit of writing, such as a description of an ESOL class, are asides that do not advance the story.

Even a fantasy needs accuracy in real world references. A bit persnickety perhaps, but I was bothered by: “Then, I texted a contact at a Zen monastery to order a saffron priest’s robe in his size.” Zen monks wear black, not the saffron of Thai and other Buddhist monks.

It Takes an Oni may still be an enjoyable read. Like a good PI novel, it is driven by characters more than plot. The characters are likeable and interesting, and this reader wants them to win.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Not suited for young readers

Format/Typo Issues:

None worth noting

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: Sam Waite

Approximate word count: 90-95,000 words

Monday, June 13, 2022

Reprise Review: MAYA: Symbiogenesis Book One by Pete Barber


 Genre: Thriller/Sci-Fi/Contemporary Fiction

Description:

“Hours before doctors plan to switch off her premature daughter’s life-support systems, Lauren risks all and injects her baby with a stolen experimental drug. The last-resort treatment transforms Maya’s genetic fingerprint. While Lauren struggles to disguise the reason for her daughter’s miraculous recovery, Maya develops unique abilities that may signal a new, more hope-filled future for humankind, or perhaps sound its death knell.”

Author:

Born into a blue-collar family in Liverpool, England, Pete immigrated to the US in the early 90s and settled in North Carolina.

After surviving near-death experiences at ages six and eighteen, he led a haphazard life, putting bread on the table as a plumber, computer programmer, salesperson, marketing executive, hotel operator, real-estate developer, and llama farmer.

Pete writes fast-paced fiction that makes people think--what if?

Pete's debut thriller--NanoStrike--has over 150 5-STAR reviews on Amazon US. Love Poison, a suspenseful romance was published September 2014. When A Warrior Comes Home followed in March 2015. MAYA, November 2016... more to come!

Mr. Barber is also a Pal reviewer at BigAl’s Books and Pals, to learn more please visit his website or follow him on Facebook.

Appraisal:

Mr. Barber doesn’t waste any time setting up his characters and scenes. The players are all fully developed and well portrayed. I tried to hold off on how I felt about Lauren through most of the book. She has a lot to lose with the critical decisions she has to face time and time again throughout the story. I didn’t have any problem identifying with her character though. Lauren is intelligent and well centered while Margaret, Lauren’s mother, was a different story. I didn’t like her at all. Fact is, Margaret’s beliefs were a major plot twist in the story and I was sure I wouldn’t like where the story was headed. However, Mr. Barber’s intelligent writing style brought me around to the compassion of understanding and accepting things you can’t change about the people you love. Margaret isn’t a bad person, she was under a misperception and simple minded. Lauren understood this and added a balance in the way she handled her mother.

Maya is a suspenseful sci-fi that employs biogenetics with a spiritual edge. I found it easy to become engrossed in all the implications involved that then evolved into this stunningly inspiring tale. I had no problem suspending my disbelief to revel in the possibilities. There are several twists that complicate the plot, some were unexpected, others you could see coming. Despite that, this is a story that will play with your emotions and may cause you to question your own beliefs.

I appreciated the time jumps used in the story. Things could have easily bogged down with too many details that weren’t relevant to moving the story forward. I have no doubt that these time warps will be filled in with flash backs in future additions to the series. The ending is tense and shocking, but adds closure to an important story arc. It also gives us a peek at how Maya has matured over the years and gives us insight into her mindset. Neither suspense nor sci-fi are my normal genres, but I loved this compelling story and can’t wait to read more about Maya.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

MAYA is book one in the Symbiogenesis series.

Original review was posted on December 26, 2016.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant proofing issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words

Friday, June 10, 2022

Review: Weatherman by Price Doom


 Genre: Science Fiction/Coming of Age/Novelette

Description:

This was published around March of 2021. It is a coming of age story about Heart and her father Sonny. They live off grid in a USA which has suffered a lot of environmental damage. They move on every time Sonny fears that God has discovered where they are. So, Sonny is nuts, you may say, early doors. And we learn early on that Heart is covered in scars of old cuts and burns which Sonny admits, with great sorrow, he inflicted on her. What on earth (an anagram of Heart) is going on? Read on …

Author:

This is Price Doom’s first published fiction. He lives in California with his children. When not writing, he teaches math and science to special education students.

Appraisal:

Sonny provides every possible care for his child – even trying to find her friends to play with. But every time they take a step into ‘the real world’, it ends in flight. As a result there is quite a bit of repetition in this short work. However, this reader found the repeated phrases and actions (eg the regular instruction to Heart to pack her three most important things) was a kind of threnody to their lives.

As Heart grows, she becomes disgruntled with Sonny’s explanations for why they live the way they do. It is a hard world for a teenager to live in. Her questions become more searching: his answers satisfy her less. The point of view is largely Heart’s from age 4 to age 15. It is through her eyes we see the rifle taped to the inside of whichever mobile home they’re currently living in, as well as Sonny’s ability to rub an alligator’s belly until it falls asleep and allows him to pick it up and return it to its park. We also catch glimpses of Sonny when Heart is absent, and these tend to provide more puzzles than they solve.

When Heart becomes a teenager she begins to need more than Sonny. And, odd as Sonny may appear, there are echoes of his oddness in the others that Heart corresponds with.

The end appears disastrous. The only saving grace being Sonny’s love for Heart. He puts his life in her hands. And that is where the story ends. You will have to decide for yourself who Sonny really is, and what (if anything) happens next.

Is this worth your time? “You know it, buddy.”

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: Judi Moore

Approximate word count: 18-19,000 words

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Review: The Backpack Years by Stefanie Wilson and James Wilson


 Genre: Memoir

Description:

“Straight-laced Stef left America to study abroad in Spain, letting loose and falling head over heels for two things: a handsome local and travel. Travel won out.

James had a ‘slowly-lose-the-will-to-live’ job in England and a future he felt he’d already destroyed. Fueled by crippling debt and a deteriorating relationship with his father, James fled to Australia in search of a better life.

Though their lives are heading in different directions, Stef and James fall in love in Sydney and ditch the carefree single life to forge a path together.

Can the two navigate their way through red-tape, relocation, miscommunication, and a last ditch, make-or-break trip to try to save their relationship, or will this be their last adventure as a couple?

Spanning thirteen countries and four continents, The Backpack Years is a story about how far we’re willing to go to be with the one we love.”

Author:

“Stefanie Wilson was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. Since she was a girl, she has been blonde and ditsy. Her super patient husband has shown her how to use the remote a million times, and she owes him big time. Though a seasoned traveller, her hometown pride and her love of a Primanti's sandwich keep her connected to her roots. She babysits her niece often and patiently makes up treasure hunts to keep her occupied. She currently lives in Pittsburgh with her broodingly handsome husband, James. The Backpack Years is her first published work.”

-Written by James Wilson

“Born in Warrington, England. Since he was a boy, he has been an accident-prone, illness-prone hot mess. His saint-like wife has nursed him back to health countless times, and he owes her big time. He has almost lived more of his life outside Britain than in it, but his love of football and a good fry-up keep him connected to his roots. He calls his mum often and patiently listens to updates on who won bingo. He currently lives in Pittsburgh with his smoking hot wife, Stef. The Backpack Years is his first published work.”

-Written by Stefanie Wilson

Appraisal:

Part memoir, part love story, part travel adventure.

The book alternates chapters written by the two co-authors with the tale told from their point of view. In the beginning they are two separate young adults, each trying to find their way, figuring out who they are and what direction they want to take their life. Then (kind-of-a-spoiler alert) they meet each other, which over time leads them to change and refine their life goals.

Whether you’re a fan of memoirs, real life love stories, or vicarious travel experiences, you’ll find something to like in this book Mixing them all together adds a few twists to the other pieces, resulting in a unique book and an entertaining read.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language.

Chapters written by James use UK spelling conventions.

Format/Typo Issues:

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

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 90-95,000 words

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Reprise Review: The Billionaire Who Wasn't by Beth Orsoff


 

Genre: Romantic Suspense

Description:

 “An ethically-challenged sister . . .

A father who's on the lam . . .

A mother who's barely speaking to her . . .

And a federal agent who wants to bed her . . .

What's a former billionaire's daughter to do?

Nina Roth is having a horrible day. Actually, make that a horrible week. In fact, make it a horrible year. Unemployed? Check. About to be homeless? Check. Father's an international pariah and Nina's guilty by association? Check. What's a former billionaire's daughter to do? The only thing she can--swallow her fear, ignore that little voice inside her head telling her all is not as it seems, and embark on an international manhunt that will either save her life or destroy it, once and for all.”

Author:

An attorney working in the entertainment industry (aka a “Hollywood Lawyer”) by day, Beth Orsoff writes chick lit, romantic comedy, romantic suspense … pretty much anything with humor and romance both in the mix. She lives in Los Angeles where she chases her toddler around in her spare time. Or maybe that's writes in her spare time.

For more, visit Orsoff's website.

Appraisal:

This was a fun read. Part of me liked to imagine the billionaire of the story was Donald Trump. He clearly wasn't, but had a few random things in common with Trump including two daughters with different mothers, the youngest named Tiffany. It was easy and more than a bit fun to imagine an FBI investigation sending him on the run, even though it never did.

Knowing this was romantic suspense meant I thought I knew how some of the story, specifically the romance part, was going to come together, even if I had a hard time seeing how that was going to happen through much of the book. I wasn't exactly wrong about that, but more wrong than right. I was even farther off in how the suspense part of the story was going to conclude. As you might gather, if you like stories to surprise you, taking twists and turns that keep you on your toes, The Billionaire Who Wasn't fits the bill.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language.

Original review posted on December 30, 2016.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words

Friday, May 27, 2022

Review: Loyalty by James M. Clifton

 

Genre: Crime Fiction

Description:

“Carlos and Lena Ramirez were the son and daughter of the biggest drug lord in southern Mexico. Ivy League educated and largely insulated from the seedier side of their father’s business dealings; they were well on their way to establishing their own lives when their father was murdered by his former partner.

Consumed by hatred, Carlos and Lena exacted their revenge. Carlos came to deeply grieve his violent and destructive actions and again abandoned his criminal heritage. Lena, on the other hand, embraced the role and took control of her father’s and his former partner’s illegal empire.

Carlos embarks on his new life, with hopes of remaining insulated from his past. Lena begins to consolidate her power and strives to ensure the long-term safety and security of her family dynasty.

Carlos’s and Lena’s plans come crashing down when they attract the attention and ire of the other drug lords. What follows is an epic battle, pitting the intellect and tenacity of Lena and her disciples against the ruthlessness and brutality of the other drug barons. At stake is control of the east coast drug trade but also the survival of Lena, Carlos, and their extended families.”

Author:

“Dr. James Clifton is retired from the U.S. military and also retired from a career as an engineer. He currently spends his time fishing the lakes of Northern Alabama, golfing, hiking, and, when he has time, writing stories.”

Appraisal:

If you’ve read and liked the first two books of this trilogy, you’ll obviously want to read this one. If you haven’t done that, look at them first. Understanding the full story of how the main characters in the trilogy have gotten to this point is necessary in my opinion to understand all of the implications of what is going on in this final installment.

As I was pondering what to say about this it hit me that this book and, to be fair, every other book in the crime fiction genre, requires the reader to be rooting for what most people would rightfully consider to be the bad guys. Unlike a detective mystery or police procedural where you’re hoping and expecting the bad guys to pay a price, in crime fiction there is typically someone committing a crime and the reader is setup to want the criminal to succeed and not get caught. Often that is because the person being hurt by the crime, criminal or not, is worse. With our two main characters here, we have one person, Lena, who fits the norm. While she’s not exactly doing great things, those who oppose her or would step in if she was gone, are much worse. In contrast the other main character, Lena’s brother, Carlos, is someone who is doing all he can to steer clear of his family’s propensity for criminal enterprises. The reader is pulling for both to succeed, overcoming the conflicts with the other drug lords. It makes for an intense, good read.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

This is the third book of a trilogy. Attempting to read this volume without reading the first two books in the trilogy first might work, but is more likely to leave the reader wondering what they’ve missed. I’d advise reading the prior books first.

Format/Typo Issues:

A small number of proofreading misses.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 80-85,000 words

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Reprise Review: The Unusual Second Life of Thomas Weaver by Shawn Inmon


 

Genre: Science Fiction/Time Travel

Description:

“A second chance to make it right; a second chance to screw it up again.

Tragedy is the name of the game for fifty-five-year-old Thomas. At least that's what he tells himself as he washes down the handful of little white sleeping pills stolen from his mother. Lying back on his bed, he waits for the reaper to take away the despair. Instead he is transported to a different kind of hell--puberty. Thomas wakes in his childhood bedroom, with his teenage body, and all his memories intact. With a new lease on life he has a chance to do it all right. He will save his brother, change the course of history, find love, and stop a horrific killer. That is, if he can overcome being a pathetic screw-up.”

Author:

Former DJ, business consultant, and real estate agent, Shawn Inmon is now a fulltime author. A regular contributor at Indies Unlimited, Inmon can't seem to decide whether to write fiction (Rock'n Roll Heaven), or non-fiction, like the book based on a trip he took called A Lap Around America. Then there are his first two books that were novels based on truth or fictionalized memoirs or … I don't know what to call them, but they were somewhere in the middle.

Appraisal:

One reason I always seem to like Shawn Inmon's books is that we're around the same age and overly obsessed with music. So his books have references like the character in this book saying “Oh, and Pablo Cruise sucks. Ten years from now, no one will know who they are,” and I agree and laugh. More importantly, I get the reference. Many of you won't. If your high school years were sometime in the 70s and you haven't read all of Inmon's books, you should.

If high school was before or (even more so) after the 70s there are still plenty of universal and timeless themes in all of Inmon's books. The Unusual Second Life of Thomas Weaver possibly more so than any other. We've all made decisions in our life that we wonder about. Was that a good decision? What would have happened if I'd done this instead? If I'd have known this was going to happen, I wouldn't have done that.

The basis of this story is a different twist on time travel when the protagonist who has been haunted by a big mistake in high school finds himself transported back to before that mistake. He's not only back in time, but he looks like he did back then. The only difference is that he knows what's coming. Unless he can change that. It's a great premise. I found myself pulling for Thomas, wondering what he should do, and hoping he'd figure it out. That's at least part of what you'd hope for in a story like this. And really that's enough. However, if it sparks a little introspection, if you start wondering what you'd do differently if you were transported back in time, even better. (If you wake up tomorrow and find out that I've become a major shareholder in Amazon, that means my plan worked.)

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

A small amount of adult language.

Original review posted on December 21, 2016.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words

Friday, May 20, 2022

Review: Escape From the Future by Paul Clayton


Genre: Short Story Collection

Description:

“What if you had access to a time machine and could go back to visit a deceased love... one more time. Would you?

In 1962, Bobby Newman’s Grandpa, a basement inventor, loses his wife to cancer, then begins to lose his mind to grief. While tuning up his not-yet-perfected time machine for one last visit with his wife, he ends up going the wrong way... into the dystopian future of 2025. Inexplicably, he sends the machine back.

Fourteen-year-old Bobby uses it to lead Mom and Dad on a mission to find Grandpa and bring him back.

But Grandpa has other ideas...

This volume brings together five of Paul Clayton's most ambitious stories to date, stories that juxtapose a familiar America of the very recent past with ominous new versions of the country now coming into focus.

Clayton's concern is with ordinary people—their innate wisdom and persistent foolishness, their capacity to do good or harm, and their resiliency—with what happens when time travelers from the 1960s arrive in a city dominated by criminal gangs and corrupt politicians, or when a woman opts for a new procedure to avoid losing her cancer-ridden husband, or when a soldier in Vietnam is granted a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to give his elevator speech, or when a man, illegally alive, attempts to stay that way...

Clayton shows how people make choices that, collectively, point civilization in new directions, be it toward forcible reclamation of vast tracts of land as primeval wilderness or elimination of those deemed to be nonproductive ‘useless eaters.’”

Author:

Paul Clayton is the author of several books ranging from historical novels like his first, the award-winning Carol Melcher Goes to Vietnam, to various subgenres of science fiction.

Appraisal:

The five short stories in this collection are each vastly different, but paint a possible future that is … well, you can decide whether each of these futures is good or not so good. These future worlds range from the almost-now, when a family from 1962 uses grandpa’s time machine to chase him all the way to 2025. This one definitely hits close to home for the obvious reasons. It (more or less literally) feels like it is happening right now, tomorrow at the latest, as it looks at some of the dystopian possibilities of our current world.

The other stories feel like they’re a bit more into the future, but not too far and, just like the first one, these stories get you thinking about the direction the world is headed, or at least potentially could be. While the future is far from predictable, what I look for in this kind of science fiction is exactly what is delivered here, some visions of the future to trigger my imagination and get me pondering the world of the future.

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: 45-50,000 words

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Review: Tryouts by Peter J. Stavros


Genre: Sports/Coming-of-age

Description:

“A first-person account of one young man’s quest to make his high school basketball team, navigating the challenges of punch drills, and a belligerent coach, and countless ‘suicides’ to earn his spot among the finalists – but will his training, his perseverance, and his faith be enough to help him prevail?”

The author explains it this way, “I wrote this piece some forty years after my own encounter with high school basketball tryouts, during an equally difficult period for me in which, even as an adult, I found myself relying on those same lessons learned way back then – and, in so doing, everything about that earlier time came back to me as vividly as if I were living through it all again.”

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:

The hero of our story, is trying to make the varsity basketball team in high school. He’s motivated for all the normal reasons, plus one that most don’t have. Years ago his dad was on a team that won the state championships which was a big deal for their small town. Now the son (if we ever learned his name I forgot and couldn’t find it skimming through the book, but sometimes called “Varsity Guy” by his smart-mouthed friends) wants to follow in dad’s footsteps.

Does he make his goal? Maybe, maybe not. But as his friends get cut and “Varsity Guy” perseveres, he learns plenty of life lessons and teaches us (or maybe reminds some of us) those same lessons. A quick, fun, intense, and even a bit inspiring read.

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: 14-15,000 words

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Review: The Krubera Conspiracy by Jeff Buick


 Genre: Thriller

Description:

“Ross and Damon Fraser are brothers on an elite caving team attempting a new world depth record, but the wheels come off the moment they arrive in the tiny breakaway republic of Abkhazia. Akhar Kutsnia, head of the country’s shadowy intelligence network, throws them in prison and gives them an ultimatum.

Author:

Jeff put out five books through a New York publisher, but now he’s Indie publishing on Amazon. He writes mystery, suspense, thrillers and crime.

Find Jeff at his website.

Appraisal:

The Krubera Conspiracy is a tautly crafted narrative set in Abkhazia, a self-proclaimed state that broke away from Georgia. Political intrigue and a claustrophobic descent into the world’s deepest cave create parallel adventures, each driven by increasing tension and suspense. Two brothers plan to attempt a record caving depth until an agent for an Abkhazia intelligence service kidnaps one, a lawyer for the CIA, and forces him to help determine who is threatening the outcome of a critical presidential election. If he fails, his brother will be killed during his descent into Krubera.

The lawyer enlists the help of a CIA functionary in London, who is drawn into an assassination plot that includes an attempt on her life and a harrowing journey from London to Abkhazia with the lawyer. As enjoyable as the story is, my biggest takeaway is a better understanding of a volatile region of the world. South Ossetia gets a bit of notice in the Western press, but I had no knowledge of Abkhazia. The description of Krubera is a fascinating look at the techniques and perils of caving.

My only mild complaint is that many plot elements called for more willful suspension of disbelief than I would expect with a thriller, from incompetent assassins to an improbable blackmail of a CIA official. To quote a character from the novel: “It’s incredible.” Daur shook his head. “A team of assassins and they managed to survive.” A bit too incredible.

Still, this is a novel I will long and pleasurably remember.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Nothing to note

Format/Typo Issues:

Review is based on an advance reader copy, so we can’t gauge the finished product in this area.

Rating: Five stars

Reviewed by: Sam Waite

Approximate word count: 90-95,000 words