Monday, February 27, 2023

Review: Sons of Isan by William Reyland


Genre: Travel Memoir

Description:

“What if someone born and raised in the American Midwest were suddenly immersed in the culture of a Buddhist monastery in rural Thailand? This is a true story told with unflinching introspection and honesty – along with generous helpings of humor and warmth. William Reyland’s vivid and detailed descriptions of people and places carry us instantly half way around the globe. An admittedly na├»ve aspiration leads, by a tortuous path, to deeper understanding—and along the way we are offered a glimpse behind the saffron robes into our common human predicament.”

Author:

“From a decade of living and studying abroad, part of which in Buddhist robes, William Reyland has contributed to religious studies research and published nonfiction and cultural reflections from across southeast and eastern Asia. His writing conveys a warmth and adoration for those other places and the beauty of living life fully. He currently lives in Kansas City, Missouri serving as an interfaith hospice chaplain.”

Appraisal:

Before reading I was told that this book was “tough to categorize” which is a fair statement. It’s definitely a memoir, in that it chronicles a period of the author’s life along with his reaction to what was going on with and around him. It gives a bit of a sense of what it is like living in a Buddhist Monastery in Thailand, complicated due to the immense cultural differences between the author’s American Midwest history and rural Thailand. You’ll also learn a bit about Buddhism in the process of reading.

In spite of the author spending the vast majority of the book sitting in one area, calling it a travel book doesn’t seem unreasonable. The author is far from home, experiencing a new area geographically and, as mentioned above, culturally. Those are the main things I’d expect from a travel book. That he didn’t spend a lot of time chronicling the trip from and back to the US is, I suspect, because it wouldn’t add anything to the story. One thing that I like to see in travel books is the adventures (often hassles) of dealing with various logistics of the trip. We do see a bit of that as the author has to leave the country and then return because he is initially there on a short-term visa which can be reset by leaving the country for just a short time and later what he does so that he doesn’t have to continue resetting his visa.

This was a unique, often enlightening, and fun book to read.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 40-45,000 words

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Review: Hostage Walk by Melissa Bowersock


 Genre: Paranormal/Mystery

Description:

“Paranormal investigators Lacey Fitzpatrick and Sam Firecloud face terrifying new challenges when Lacey is kidnapped and held hostage in return for Sam’s mediumistic talent. While Lacey tries to figure out a way to deal with the kidnapper and make her escape, Sam is forced to plunge into the role of researcher so he can uncover the reason for a ghost’s entrapment here on earth. But can either succeed in their diverse efforts before the situation spirals completely out of control?”

Author:

“Melissa Bowersock is an eclectic, award-winning author who writes in a variety of fiction and non-fiction genres: paranormal, biography, western, action, romance, fantasy, spiritual, and satire.”

For more visit Ms.Bowersock’s website and follow her on Facebook.

Appraisal:

Books in a series like this one tends to have stories with a lot of similarities from book to book. Each instalment has certain basics in main characters, the kinds of things they get involved in, and some aspects in how the story progresses that fit the same basic pattern. If you like one of the series and the author does a good job with the unique parts of the story in others, you’ll probably like the others as well.

For the most part that’s what I found with Hostage Walk. I’ve read a few of the books in this series, liked the story and the premise behind them. In most ways this installment follows the basic pattern with Lacey Fitzpatrick and Sam Firecloud combining their different talents to solve a mystery. Sam’s ability to interact with human spirits (okay, we’ll call them ghosts) who need help resolving some issue before they can move on and Lacey’s ability to logically work things out to solve the underlying puzzle both figure into this. However, there are some twists to the norm that add to the story. Saying too much could be a spoiler, but I’ll say that Sam’s daughter, Kenzie, contributes to the eventual solution. An excellent read, as always, in this fun series.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Although this is book 37 in the Lacey Fitzpatrick and Sam Firecloud mystery series each story stands alone.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 30-35,000 words

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Reprise Review: Ghost Cat by Christine Rains


Genre: Fantasy/Romance/Mystery/Adventure/Myths

Description:

“Bigfoot is rampaging through a small fishing town, and he has friends.

The whispers say a boy is missing. Kinley Dorn can’t ignore them. The last time she did, a giant almost killed her. Her investigation in the boy’s disappearance leads her and her boyfriend, Ransom Averill, to a village on Lake Iliamna. Unfortunately, that boy isn’t the only child missing.

Some folks claim Bigfoot is taking the children, but the gentle creature usually stays away from humans. Kinley believes a totem is making Bigfoot act strangely, but can she and Ransom find it before more kids are abducted?”

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 one novel and several novellas and short stories published.”

Check out her Amazon author page for all of her books or stalk her on Facebook.”

Appraisal:

Kinley Dorn is the middle sister, she has been the family caretaker since her mother died years earlier. She also inherited aspects of her mother’s gift. Kinley is competent and secure in her talent as an architect for their business. Their newest client wants her to do the interior design part of the job, primarily because he and Kinley share an interest in the same geeky, nerdy stuff. Ametta usually handles the interior design part of their jobs, but her style is more cutting edge modern. Kinley is excited to give it a try, but a seed of insecurity plants itself in her over her ability to handle the decor and it starts to grow into other aspects of her life. Namely her developing relationship with Ransom. Are they moving too fast? Why did Ransom let that woman kiss him on the lips? And why didn’t he introduce me as his girlfriend? Does he feel the same about me as I do about him?

When they see a flyer about a missing twelve year-old boy, and both Kinley and Ransom hear the whispered voice that says, “Find him,” they know they have to do all they can to track him down. Since Ransom grew up in the area where other children have also been disappearing without a trace, he is familiar with the area and the people who live in the remote fishing village by Lake Iliamna. Plus, there have been several Bigfoot sightings in the area lately. However, they are usually shy, docile creatures. Kinley and Ransom are both aware that if a totem token is in the area it will cause the creatures to act out of character and perhaps be aggressive.

Hearing the native myths and stories of the area was a bonus. There are a few surprising twists in this novella that I wasn’t expecting, which made the story more engaging and more personal for both Kinley and Ransom. I’m not sure why I was more emotionally involved in this story. Perhaps, I’ve decided that these two are my favorite and the most relatable couple? It was fun losing myself in their turmoil and hunt for the totem token. I must be more sadistic than I realized. I think everyone will enjoy Ghost Cat.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Ghost Cat is Novella Five in Ms. Rains Totem series. Contains adult language with several F-bombs. The Totem series of novellas build on each other and would be best enjoyed if read in order.

Original review published March 24, 2017.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 25-30,000 words

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Review: The Sixth Book by Jess Blenkarn

 


Genre: Speculative Fiction

Description:

Finn runs a book shop which makes very little money. This is largely because he is a dippy sort of young man whose priorities are mainly beer and girls. He is also a rare book collector. In one lot of rare books he acquires a puzzling set of six books which he can’t remember buying. They were all published in the nineteenth century (apparently) and detail history they ought not to know about – yet they are accurate in every particular. Finn becomes desperate to read them all and gets himself into some very peculiar scrapes in order to do so.

Surrounding this central thread is his developing relationship with Maia, who he meets at his best friend’s wedding.

Author:

The author is from Ontario in Canada (where the book is set). She is a graduate of Waterloo university and her day job is in Marketing. This is her fourth novel. Her website is here.

Appraisal:

The reader is given potted histories from each book as Finn proceeds with what quickly becomes obsessive reading. As they are standard school history book stuff, they don’t enhance plot development or pace, although the author does point out the horror of the apparently never-ending mass murders recent history has witnessed.

Finn’s increasing desperation to finish his reading does communicate itself to the reader: I felt his frustration, and need for haste, because of course it is the book which details his own time and beyond which he desperately wants to read.

Fortunately, at the point where Finn is finally ready to read the sixth book the story broadens out into a genuinely interesting mystery. Thus, as the Goons used to say, “this is where the story really starts”.

I found the two major protagonists, Finn and his girlfriend Maia, unsympathetic. Nor could I see why either one would date the other until the sixth book comes into its own, when the reasons for them being as they are, meeting, and becoming lovers make perfect sense. Both characters are essential to the story.

Finn never names a rare book he has bought or one that he wants to buy, and seems only to buy them in job lots. I confess I found it difficult to believe that this lad’s lad was a collector of them.

I have tried, but still cannot understand why Finn didn’t just dip into the first five books enough to satisfy himself that what they recounted was accurate. He could have done that in an evening.

So, for me, the novel could have had a lot of flabbiness removed from around its middle. But the denouement is certainly worth your time.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: *** Three Stars

Reviewed by: Judi Moore

Approximate word count: 95-100,000 words

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Review: Boundary Issues by Thomas Boxleiter


Genre: Psychological Thriller

Description:

“Hank Pressman, MD has lived a messy personal life marred by infidelity, alcoholism, and a surprising lack of self-awareness.

His professional life as a psychiatrist has been unblemished, until now. When he meets a sad, young woman who somehow reminds him of his dead wife; a downward spiral begins that threatens his career and the safety of those he loves. Murder, blackmail, and violent assault force him to make a decision...one that he doesn't want to make.”

Author:

Thomas Boxleiter is a semi-retired psychiatrist who lives in Dubuque, Iowa. He and his wife have two grown children and a grandson. While at first glance the protagonist of this, his first book, may make you think it is based on him or one of his fellow psychiatrists he wants to ensure readers that this isn’t the case, that the story truly is fiction.

Appraisal:

I’m amazed this is the author’s first book, at least the first book that he’s published. The story has all the qualities you’d expect from a psychological thriller, but in some ways it breaks or at least stretches the norms. It’s a bit longer than a typical thriller, yet I never felt as though it was bogging down, always eager to keep reading and figure out where the story was going. There were surprises, as things the typical reader thinks they understand turn out to not be reality. Hank, the protagonist, spends a lot of time considering his life thus far, recognizing and coming to terms with mistakes he’s made, and trying to change his life direction where it makes sense. The changes and struggles Hank went through were a major part of the story and a bit atypical of a thriller.

The pieces that made up the thriller part of the story have a bit of a mystery element, as the reader watches Hank figure out the reality of what’s going on and then is faced with a decision as to how he should proceed based on what he knows. Things are complicated by Hank’s own personal demons, a desire to make corrections in his own life, and a need to protect those important to him. Some of those most important to him might be negatively impacted by his decision which only complicates things more. Hank’s major choice and how things shake out for all concerned is put off until much later than a typical novel, but the story kept me engaged the entire time, eager to see how it all shook out in the end.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 120-125,000 words

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Reprise Review: Interface by Tony Batton


 Genre: Science Fiction/Technothriller

Description:

“Tom Faraday - new employee at the famous CERUS Biotech - wakes up after a Friday night party to find it's Monday, and he's lost the entire weekend. And that’s only the start of his problems.

25 years ago CERUS crossed boundaries that should not have been crossed. With Tom's help, they're about to try again. And what they have in mind will change everything

Author:

Tony Batton worked in international law firms, media companies and Formula One motorsport, before turning his hand to writing novels. He is passionate about great stories, gadgets and coffee, and probably consumes too much of each.

Tony's novels explore the possibilities and dangers of new technology, and how that can change lives. When not writing, or talking about gadgets, Tony likes to play basketball, guitar, and computer games with his two young sons. He lives in London with his family.

Appraisal:

I write novels in the technothriller space. I’m not sure whether that makes me more likely to enjoy or to be critical of fiction written in a similar vein. I just thought I’d put that out there before saying that this was a very good example of the genre that kept me engaged and turning pages.

The McGuffin--nanotechnology that enhances a human brain, is current and close enough to warrant speculation. The technical details never bog down the story. The characters were believable. The CERUS HQ was futuristic and very cool. The main character, Tom, went through an interesting story arc that moved him from unsuspecting victim to… well that would be an unnecessary spoiler. Tom was often in danger, as were those who supported him, and yet he managed to extricate himself from most situations without some miraculous external intervention, so the tension remained taut throughout.

Although this is Book One of a series, the story is complete in its own right. We are left with a hook for the second book but, thank heavens, not a cliffhanger! If I didn’t have such a large backlog in my TBR list, I’d read the second installment.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Original review published March 3, 2017

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Approximate word count: 85-90,000 words



Friday, February 3, 2023

Review: Pirate Penance: A Rock ’n’ Roll Novel by E.Z. Prine



Genre: Humor

Description:

“It’s 1984, and Jack St James, lead singer for rock band Pirate, thought he’d married the woman of his dreams only to discover the minister didn’t have a valid license. So it’s off to Vegas, along with the band, to make the marriage official in front of an Elvis impersonator. Jack and his bride rock up to the chapel, only to find that Jack’s cash and credit cards are gone. As Jack chases down band members to get them back, he gets sucked into one band problem after another, only to find his bride now has cold feet.

Meanwhile, back in L.A., George discovers that his wife has fallen in love with another man and wants a divorce. Barricading himself in his hotel room, George refuses to give up his beloved toddler son, even when she gets the police involved.

After trying to help George, Sam is back to escorting his mom and sisters around the tourist sites in L.A. Only a mangy cat grabs his ankle and won’t let go, preventing him from getting in their limo. Trying to do the right thing for the poor little creature, Sam finds himself saddled with a huge vet bill and a growing attachment to a pet he can’t keep. A pet he’s named Hendrix after his rock ’n’ roll hero. A pet who adores him and defends him from his sisters. A pet whom everyone has fallen in love with except the one person who can decide Drixy’s future – the germ-obsessed Jack St James.”

Author:

“E.Z. (‘Easy’) Prine writes about the escapades of Pirate, a fictional eighties hard rock band out of Manchester, England. The Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 sparked what has become E.Z.’s lifelong devotion to ‘classic rock’ and fascination with those luminaries we call rock stars.

The Pirate series is E.Z.’s love letter to rock ’n’ roll and personal thank you to all the artists and supporting others who brought this amazing contribution to our world. May we always rock on.”

For more visit the website for Pirate and follow their Facebook page.

Appraisal:

This book has a short novel, the third of the series, plus three short stories.

The novel ties up the major story threads that needed a resolution from the first two books in the series. Jack and Lucy have a bit of a trip-up on the way to the altar and figuring out whether they’re going to get married or not is a big part of the story here.

There are also three short stories after the main story that focus on members of the band outside of the main storyline and timeline of the novels. They’re a lot of fun and help the reader get to know and understand some members of the band better who hadn’t received a lot of attention thus far.

With the prior book taking the band to the end of the tour that Jack planned on making their last, this might be the end of series, but the possibility of more to come isn’t completely ruled out. I found this series to be a very fun read, full of humor, but with a plot that kept me guessing as to where the story was headed while also keeping me engaged the whole way.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

In my reviews of the first two books in this series I suggested that adult language and content was to be expected in a book focused on an 80s rock band. Nothing has changed in this book.

While it might be possible to read this book and figure out what is going on I’d advise against it. Instead, get the first two books in the series and read them first. Too many things going on that you’ll only half understand otherwise.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 55-60,000 words