Monday, October 30, 2023

Review: Chasing Sevens by Liberty Lane


 Genre: Literary Fiction/Contemporary Fiction/Coming of Age

Description:

“Good-natured yet na├»ve Tobi Stone has always been dealt an unfair hand.

Tobi dreams of becoming a successful musician but finds creative spirits are silenced in forgotten ‘fly-over’ towns. When his closest friend goes missing, a streak of luck leads him on a journey to find her.”

Author:

It appears that Liberty Lane grew up in a town in rural Ohio and her bio indicates that “Liberty’s main goal is to evoke emotion in her readers. She aims to craft characters and worlds that are realistic, tangible, thought-provoking, and sometimes controversial. Taking readers on a journey of love and loss, she explores gray areas of the modern world that typically fly under the radar.”

Appraisal:

This story drew me in with characters that I cared about and wanted to see how things turned out for them. Some readers might see the obvious flaws that Tobi, the protagonist, has and think poorly of him. However, as you get to know him better you come to realize that all things considered he is doing pretty good and that in those areas where he falls short (school work being the obvious one) it might be due to factors that cause that to be a lower priority. Tobi also has some dreams. This story of Tobi reaching for his dreams, learning and adapting his goals as he learns from life, is a good coming-of-age story with lessons to be learned for all of us buried in there.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

The author includes a trigger warning that this book at times touches on some topics that some readers may find troubling “including but not limited to drug and alcohol usage/abuse, childhood trauma, previous loss of a family member, sexual assault, various mental health topics, bullying, and domestic violence.” She recommends those who might find any of these topics to be an issue to “proceed with caution.”

Format/Typo Issues:

This review is based on an advance reviewer copy of the book, so I can’t gauge the final product in this area.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 105-110,000 words

Friday, October 27, 2023

Review: Sea Walk by Melissa Bowersock


 

Genre: Mystery/Paranormal

Description:

“A prominent family in Plymouth, Massachusetts is restoring a 250-year-old patriot smuggler’s mansion for conversion into a historical museum. The conversion is going well with one exception: there’s a ghost in the house, and the city council is not keen on exposing the public to that particular aspect of history. Paranormal investigators Lacey Fitzpatrick and Sam Firecloud are tasked with clearing the house of the ghostly presence, and although the storied history of Plymouth gives them plenty of clues, they’re still not quite prepared for the brutal and violent revelations that Sam uncovers.”

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:

I’ve read several of the books in this series and enjoy them every time. The basic premise is the same, a ghost is causing issues somewhere and someone calls Sam Firecloud in because he’s shown an ability to communicate with such beings and help them move on to the next realm, taking care of the issue. Essentially “unhaunting” some location. Sam’s partner, Lacey Fitzpatrick, helps him. She acts both as an observer and a researcher, helping him figure out who the ghost is and what they might require in order to move on. It’s a good formula, but just because you know from a high level how the book is going to go, doesn’t mean it isn’t still an entertaining and sometimes thought provoking read. As every reader of books in the romance genre will tell you, if the formula is a good one, then it can make for an unlimited number of great reads, and that’s what Melissa Bowersock has found with this series.

This book was interesting in that it had a couple surprises from what Sam and Lacey typically encounter. What that is specifically is a bit of a spoiler, so you’ll have to read it yourself to find out. The story takes place in Plymouth, Massachusetts, which provided an interesting setting with lots of history that figures into the story. Near the end of the book two of the characters are talking to Sam about what happened and ask if all of his cases surprise him, to which he gives an answer that indicates that they do, are “all pretty convoluted” and that he never knows what he’s going to encounter. As a reader, I feel the same, and it keeps me coming back for more.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

This is book #40 in the Lacey Fitzpatrick and Sam Firecloud Mystery Book series, but each book stands alone, so there is no need to have read any of the prior books in the series to understand this one.

Format/Typo Issues:

A small number of proofing errors.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 25-30,000 words

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Review: Sanctuary Motel by Alan Orloff


 

Genre: Thriller

Description:

“Mess Hopkins, proprietor of the seen-better-days Fairfax Manor Inn, never met a person in need who couldn’t use a helping hand—his helping hand. So he’s thrown open the doors of the motel to the homeless, victims of abuse, or anyone else who could benefit from a comfy bed with clean sheets and a roof overhead. This rankles his parents and uncle, who technically still own the place and are more concerned with profits than philanthropy.

When a mother and her teenage boy seek refuge from an abusive husband, Mess takes them in until they can get back on their feet. Shortly after arriving, the mom goes missing and some very bad people come sniffing around, searching for some money they claim belongs to them. Mess tries to pump the boy for helpful information, but he’s in full uncooperative teen mode—grunts, shrugs, and monosyllabic answers. From what he does learn, Mess can tell he’s not getting the straight scoop. It’s not long before the boy vanishes too. Abducted? Run away? Something worse? And who took the missing money? Mess, along with his friend Vell Jackson and local news reporter Lia Katsaros, take to the streets to locate the missing mother and son—and the elusive, abusive husband—before the kneecapping loansharks find them first.”

Author:

Award-winning author Alan Orloff has ten published novels as well as having his short fiction included in many publications.

For more about Alan Orloff, visit his website and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Appraisal:

This is being called book one of the Mess Hopkins series, which I hope means we’ll see the protagonist of this book staring in more stories in the future. Yes, people really do call him Mess. He’s got a real name which I’ve forgotten, but you’ll see it mentioned once or twice if you read the book. His mom started calling him Mess when he was a kid and it stuck as a nickname. With a name like that it makes sense that he runs a family-owned dive motel. He’s the boss there. In reality he has a manager who takes care of most of the important stuff while Mess is causing and then getting out of various messes. (Not what his mom had in mind when she nicknamed him that.) While the manager likes to rent the rooms of the motel out to paying customers, the number of actual paying customers tends to be fairly small, at least partially because Mess makes a habit of offering free temporary housing to those in need.

While there are a few other people Mess helps in this book, the main story focuses on a mother who flees an abusive husband with her teen son. Mess gives them a place to stay while mom figures out her next steps. Then things get complicated putting Mess in the position of trying to work out a few mysteries when the Mom disappears and other unexpected things happen. I liked the mystery and suspense aspects of the book which ultimately define the genre of the story, but I also found Mess and his approach to life and helping people to be a positive in the story and an interesting springboard to the main parts of the story.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

A small amount of adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

Review is based on an ARC (advance review copy), so I’m unable to gauge the final product in this area.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words

Friday, October 20, 2023

Reprise Review: For the Love of Katie by Erica Lucke Dean


 

Genre: Romantic Comedy/Chick-Lit

Description:

“Newlywed Katie Maxwell is ready to settle down and leave her amateur detective days behind. But when the veil of secrecy surrounding her husband’s latest project takes them to Europe, her penchant for sleuthing lands her in some serious hot foreign water.

Katie will need to think quickly to talk her way out of handcuffs and a Parisian jail cell. Too bad she doesn't speak French.”

Author:

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

Appraisal:

In To Katie with Love (the first book in this series) between the penultimate and final chapter, the story jumps ahead a year. A lot of things have changed for our protagonist, Katie, and her love interest, Cooper, during that interval. This story looks back on that period and tells the story of how Katie and Cooper jumped from point A to point B.

While a lot changes in that year, the things that don’t change are just as critical. Katie is still clumsy. She worries just a little too much. And she’s … snoopy might be a nice way to put it. In other words, none of the things that made Katie so loveable and her first story such a fun read have changed which made For the Love of Katie a fun read as well. For what it’s worth, I think Cooper is a saint.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Original review published May 9, 2017.

Mild adult situations.

While this is the second book in a series it can be read as a standalone.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 80-85,000 words

Monday, October 16, 2023

Review: The Hotline at the End of the World by Brady Koch


 

Genre: Science Fiction/Suspense

Description:

“In a world paralyzed by an unprecedented outbreak, Clint mans the CDC hotline, a solitary beacon of dwindling hope. Then, one fateful day, a call comes in. Clint finds himself navigating a delicate situation involving a mysterious woman, hinted at in classified files, who may possess the coveted cure. As the world remains under a suffocating lockdown, Clint's every word, every choice, holds the weight of untold futures.

The Hotline at the End of the World is a gripping narrative of responsibility and suspense, set in a reality where a single phone call can alter the course of humanity.”

Author:

Prior to this series Brady Koch had authored three collections of short fiction. This is the third book in the “All Our Forgotten Futures” series with one more book in the series slated for release sometime before the end of 2023.

For more about Brady Koch visit his blog.

Appraisal:

I’ve read and enjoyed the first two books in the series that this book continues, but this one is, by far, the one that I’ve enjoyed the most. Part of that is that the first two books set things up so well for this one. Even though this book can be read as a stand alone I felt like the background and feel for the story world I got from reading those prior books in the series helped draw me into the story even quicker than I would have otherwise. As far as that goes the experience the world got with the Covid pandemic over the last few years was a great setup for this series. Just imagine that experience and jack up the intensity several orders of magnitude and you’ll have an idea of what this series is like. One of the prior books involved Sarah Glen, a woman who scientists believe has DNA that is the key to being able to vaccinate against the deadly virus they are experiencing. Word has gotten out and now the CDC (Center for Disease Control) has a hotline that people who believe they have found Sarah Glen can call. However, the reality of this hotline is complicated, as you’ll see when you read this book. It made for an intense, thought-provoking read that I couldn’t put down.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

The novelettes in this series are written to stand alone. You could read this book without having read the others in the series and understand what is going on.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 25-30,000 words

Friday, October 13, 2023

Review: Ascension of the Phoenix by Jessica Piro


 Genre: Suspense/Thriller

Description:

“Detective Leila Wells has apprehended every criminal to cross her path, except for one. And when Bryan Foster returns, he devastates her world. To cope, she finds release in street fighting.

Successes with her fighting partner grant them an invitation to participate in the Rulers of the Realms Fighting Tag Tournament. But as she fights, a power begins to rise within her—a dark and angry blaze urging her toward revenge.

To rise from ashes, one must be a phoenix.”

Author:

Jessica Piro has multiple health issues the keep her confined to a wheelchair, but that hasn’t prevented her from being the first in her immediate family to graduate from college, and she gets lots more action through her characters as an author who writes in multiple genres, mostly thriller and suspense. For more, visit Ms Piro’s website.

Appraisal:

The thing that strikes me most about this book is that it is different from what you might expect at first glance, and yet still a satisfying read. The protagonist, Leila Wells, is a police detective, which could reasonably lead you to believe that she would be searching for a criminal who committed a specific crime. And she does a bit of that, but it isn’t the focus. The genre labels used to describe the story are thriller and suspense, and it fits those. But there is also a big part of the story that could be described as paranormal or supernatural or some such term, or maybe it is all just in Detective Wells head, and those labels wouldn’t fit. I’m sure different readers will have different interpretations. Ultimately the result is a tale that delivers on the promised suspense and thrills in a story with some unique qualities for the genre.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

A small number of proofing misses.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 90-95,000 words

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Review: My Second Life by Simon Yeats


Genre: Autobiography

Description:

“We all have two lives. We only get to experience living in the second after we realize we only have just one.

I have my first real scare in life when I get attacked by a kangaroo when I am seven. My first brush with the cliff-face edge of death comes when I am 12. My dad drives the family down the dangerous Skipper’s Canyon dirt road in New Zealand in a rented minivan.

Including the occasion I am almost involved in two different flight crashes, in the same night, there have been at least a half dozen more occasions when I have been within a moment’s inattention of being killed.

However, none of those frightening incidents compare to what I experienced after my son was abducted.

This memoir is the story of how I used the traumatic experiences of my life to give me strength to forge on during a 13-year fight to be a father to my son.

What did it take for me to get to my second life?

It took me to truly understand what fear is.”

Author:

Simon Yeats is a native of Australia who currently lives in the US. This is his first book which he says he wrote as “a way to manage his grief and pain.”

Appraisal:

My thoughts on this book are all over the place, with some positive things and others not so much.

The title and the overriding concept of the book is, at least in theory, that life changes when you realize how fragile life is. At least the way I see it this means living and appreciating life now, not spending too much time positioning or aiming for some hopeful future. Whether the story makes that point for you or not will probably vary a lot from person to person. Having already had an experience that drove this home for me a while ago, I was already there before reading this. So this potential lesson wasn’t going to matter to me.

The book has several stories of life changing experiences (many, if not most, being potentially life ending) in the author’s life. While I wondered how one person could have this many such things happen to them, since I was just along for the ride, they were entertaining adventures to hear about. The author’s sense of humor shined through, for example when he described the number of people to die on Mt Washington in Vermont since they started keeping track as being 161  or “167 under the Metric System.” Sometimes he’d exaggerate a bit (for example claiming that one place was so cold that when it warmed up to -17 the locals would start considering playing water polo). These stories and basic biographical background made up what was roughly the first half of the book.

The second half of the book was primarily the story of the author’s marriage, the birth of his son, and divorce as well as his difficulty in being allowed to spend time with his son over the years since his birth. In fiction there is a concept that a reader has to “suspend disbelief” sometimes and depending on the genre and fictional world the amount of disbelief that has to be suspended can vary a lot. But this is sometimes still required even for stories that are taking place in contemporary times with normal people. For nonfiction, it isn’t normally needed in my experience, but I had to do that here. I also had to pretend it was fiction because putting myself in the author’s place if it wasn’t would be too painful. If you want to decide for yourself, give it a read.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

A small number of proofing misses.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words

Saturday, October 7, 2023

Review: Spooky Walk by Melissa Bowersock


 

Genre: Mystery/Paranormal

Description:

“Paranormal investigators Lacey Fitzpatrick and Sam Firecloud are not in the market for a pet—but one finds them anyway, and it turns out to be a very special pet indeed. At the same time, they are called to a small town in Tennessee to investigate a haunted cemetery. The historical society puts on a family friendly event called Dinner with the Dead, but lately there have been some uninvited “party crashers” that are threatening to halt the events and possibly even bankrupt the historical society. Sam and Lacey only have two days to sort this out. With little information to go on, will that be enough time? Or will the specters destroy everything the historical society has built?”

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:

The description and the cover of this book should preclude me from being accused of a spoiler if I say that Sam and Lacey find themselves with a new pet that fits well within their family. While a small part of the overall story and unrelated to the main story thread I suspect Spooky, their new cat, might play a bigger part in future books. Or maybe I’m wrong. (Can a review have foreshadowing about an as yet to be written book? I guess we’ll see.)

For those who have read one or more of the books in this series, what you’ve come to expect is what you’ll find again. For those who haven’t, this series is a mystery series with a strange twist. Sam Firecloud has the ability to see and communicate with ghosts, specifically people who have died, but their spirit has not yet moved on to whatever comes next, needing to resolve some unfinished business in this life before they’re able. This creates issues here in this world. (Most people don’t like ghosts hanging around doing ghostly things, right?) Sam, with his partner Lacey’s help, figure out what is preventing the ghost from moving on and help resolve that issue so that all concerned, the ghosts and those still in this realm, can be in a better place. In this story Sam is asked to help with a couple ghosts that have been trapped in limbo since the Civil War.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

This is book #39 in the Lacey Fitzpatrick and Sam Firecloud Mystery Book series, but each book stands alone, so there is no need to have read any of the prior books in the series to understand this one.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 25-30,000 words

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Reprise Review: A Woman Misunderstood by Melinda Clayton


 Genre: Psychological Suspense

Description:

“On a sweltering July morning in rural Tennessee, fifty-year-old Rebecca Reynolds visits the family farm, where she literally stumbles across the mutilated bodies of her parents and younger sister, a sister who had spent life in a wheelchair after a birth fraught with complications.

Rebecca’s first thought is to call 911. Her second is to find her estranged sister, Lena, who was disowned by the family years before. Her third is to wonder how long it will be before Lena is arrested for the murder of their family.

As the police gather evidence pointing to Lena, the sisters turn to attorney Brian Stone. Convinced of Lena’s innocence, he agrees to take on the case. But in a family ripped apart by dysfunction, is anyone truly innocent?”

Author:

 “Melinda Clayton is the author of The Cedar Hollow Series, which includes novels Appalachian Justice, Return to Crutcher Mountain, Entangled Thorns, and Shadow Days.

Clayton also authored Blessed Are the Wholly Broken and Making Amends, two dark novels of tragedy and suspense.

In addition to writing, Clayton has an Ed.D. in Special Education Administration and is a licensed psychotherapist in the states of Florida and Colorado.”

For more, visit Clayton’s website.

Appraisal:

What a wild ride reading A Woman Misunderstood was. It starts with the book’s protagonist, Rebecca, walking into her childhood home and discovering the decomposing bodies of her mother, father, and one of her sisters. That first short chapter ends with these words:

After I finished screaming, my first thought was to call 911.

My second was to find Lena, my surviving sister.

My third was to wonder how much time we had before her arrest.

This is important, this third thought of mine. If you stick with my story, you’ll understand why.

I hesitate to say much about the story itself other than to say that by the time you, the reader, have a full understanding of the complete repercussions of these statements you’ll be dizzy from the unexpected twists and turns, be shaking your head and saying, “well, I never saw that coming.”

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

 Some adult language.

Original review published May 1, 2017

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 50-55,000 words

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Review: Get a Room by Casey Dembowski


 

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Description:

“Brian Hawkins has had the worst year. He watched his girlfriend marry another man, lost his job and his apartment, and after a summer under his parents' roof, has taken refuge with his younger sister. A quiet few months in Philadelphia are just what he needs to clear his head and get back on his feet. But he's barely unpacked before the bane of his existence, his sister's best friend, shows up. His planned solitude is replaced by pop songs, rom-coms, and bright-pink hair. All that would be bearable, except there's only one extra bed, and there's no way he's sharing it with her.

Sarah Webb didn't think anything could be worse than a marriage-proposal-gone-wrong walk of shame to her best friend's apartment. But she was wrong. So wrong. Because she's not just staying with Jess. She's also sharing space with Jess's older brother. Brian is grumpy and stubborn and—not that Sarah would ever admit it out loud—totally hot. He's also off limits, which is why she should let him have the bedroom, stop staring at his abs, and keep her distance. But playing nice isn't in her nature.

As Sarah and Brian pull pranks and place wagers over who can lay claim to the bed, things between them start to shift. Sarah can admit that Brian has his moments, and Brian sees a side of Sarah she usually keeps hidden. When she needs a last-minute date for a charity gala where her doctor-ex is going to be in attendance, Brian seems like the perfect fake date. But as they spin around the dance floor, their fledgling friendship turns to something unexpected—and only one thing's certain: more than just the bed is up for grabs.”

Author:

“Casey Dembowski loves to write stories that focus on the intricacies of relationships—whether romantic, familial, or platonic. Her novels focus on the inner workings of women and how everything in their lives leads them to exactly where they are, whether they like it or not.

Casey lives in New Jersey with her family. She has an MFA in Fiction from Adelphi University and currently works in corporate marketing communications. In her (limited) spare time, she enjoys reading, baking, and watching her favorite television shows on repeat.”

For more, visit Ms Dembowski’s website.

Appraisal:

As I was thinking about this story it occurred to me that I wasn’t sure if the romantic comedy genre is the same as the romance genre in that you can assume the potential couple will end up together in the end. A quick Google and a visit to the Wikipedia page indicates that normally they do end up together although an occasional rare exception will happen. This isn’t one of those times and the description makes that clear.

However, despite knowing how things are going to end you’ll find yourself questioning that at times. Even if Sarah and Brian realize what the reader does, that they belong together, there are other things where they don’t seem to be a fit. Sarah has a great job that she enjoys where she lives in Philadelphia whereas Brian is eager to move back to New York for just one example. Plus, we have Brian’s sister, Jess, who is also Sarah’s best friend in the mix, complicating things exponentially. The ups and downs as Sarah and Brian navigate their eventually romantic relationship are an adventure and, yes, the word comedy also applies. The results are a fun read.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language and mild adult situations.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 80-85,000 words