Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Reprise Review: A Reason to Believe by Donna Fasano


 

Genre: Sweet Romance/Contemporary/Fairy Tale

Description:

“It seems like a grand idea, temporarily trading her pixie wings for a womanly form to help handsome widower Paul Roland with his baby girl. And the moment she holds the precious bairn in her arms, Fern knows true happiness for the first time.

But Fern never anticipates the dizzying emotions she feels for the man who not only needs her as a nanny, but as a woman whose passion can heal his wounded heart. Suddenly the forbidden fairy rule she gently bends because of the baby is in danger of being irrevocably broken.

Some things are meant to be…”

Author:

“USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR DONNA FASANO is a three-time winner of the HOLT Medallion, a CataRomance Reviewers Choice Award winner for Best Single Title, a Desert Rose Golden Quill Award finalist, a Golden Heart finalist, and a two-time winner of Best Romance of the Year given by BigAl's Books & Pals Review Blog. Her books have sold 4 million copies worldwide and have been published in two dozen languages. Her novels have made the Kindle Top 100 Paid List numerous times, climbing as high as #1.”

You can learn more about Ms. Fasano on her website or stalk her on Facebook.

Appraisal:

“Oh by me heart” this is an enchanting story, which begins quite by accident. Paul Roland is an author who lost his muse and his wife, Marie, when she died two years ago during a difficult childbirth. Paul has brought Katy, their daughter, to visit and spend time with Marie’s parents in Ireland. Fern is an adventurous Pixie, full of curiosity, and a strong will. She is also not wary of humans, nonbelievers are unable to see all things magical. However, Fern gets great joy from playing and entertaining babies, who still have magical sight. And this is how she gets trapped in the sleeve of Katy’s sweater then ends up on an airplane headed to New York City. As Pixie Fern contemplates her predicament in a private space away from human eyes she suddenly finds herself transformed into human form.

 

The plot moves at a nice pace as Fern and Paul settle into a working relationship with Fern as Katy’s nanny and Paul tries to get back into his writing. Until Fern starts experiencing emotions she doesn’t understand and has no idea how to deal with. The twists in the story are enlightening, poignant, and honest. The depth of character development is much deeper than I expected in this type of story. Honestly I shouldn’t have been surprised, one of Ms. Fasano’s strengths is the depth of her characters and their realistic dialogue. But, I was expecting a lighthearted tale. Silly me!

Expect to be blown away by the complexity of the human spirit you will find in Fern and Paul’s journey in A Reason to Believe.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

A Reason to Believe is book three in A Family Forever Series.

Format/Typo Issues:

No Issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 40-45,000 words

Saturday, July 6, 2024

Review: Stars Maintain Their Glow by M G da Mota


 

Genre: Historical fiction

Description:

The novel takes the form of two, inter-connected, ‘memoirs’.

The first is from neutral Portugal during World War II, between 1940-42. The second is from East Prussia, also in World War II. There is then a third section which brings the two together, and which is set during the recent pandemic. (The novel was released in 2023.) The three parts are very different.

The first immerses the reader in the world of espionage and glitterati of neutral Portugal during World War II. It is a brittle world of anxious people – the Portuguese need desperately to keep their country out of the war. Refugees stream into the neutral country, carrying what little of their lives they have been able to save. Every cafĂ©, restaurant and casino is awash with people trying to sell or buy whatever they can. Information is a valuable commodity. A newly minted spy is sent to take advantage of this, as a member of the British Embassy in Lisbon. Now moving in exalted circles, he becomes besotted with the daughter of a local aristocrat: Maria-Eduarda. He takes (and manufactures) every opportunity to be with her. She finds him mildly diverting. But it becomes apparent that they have very different expectations of the relationship.

In the second the point of view is of Herta, a young girl living in East Prussia in 1943. The hardships which the German people are enduring for the Fatherland are laid out, as bare as their food cupboards. Everyone is cold and hungry, and fed up with potatoes. Then word goes round: “the Russians are coming!” They flee. But not quick enough. This section follows Herta and her family to the end of the war and beyond. The child grows into a young woman, the nightmares recede, she goes to university to study languages, then to Berlin to work as a translator. The Berlin Wall goes up. Berlin is another city full of spies trading information …

The third part relies on a bizarre coincidence: that a descendant of a half sister of Maria-Eduarda happens to live next door to the, now elderly, widow of that new minted spy who was sent to Portugal, and who then bobbed up again in Berlin after the war. Despite the passing of so many years restitution is finally made and we learn what happened to Maria-Eduarda.

Author:

M G da Mota is Margarida Mota-Bull’s pen name for fiction. She is a Portuguese-British novelist with a love for classical music, ballet and opera. Under her real name she also writes reviews of live concerts, CDs, DVDs and books for two classical music magazines on the web: MusicWeb International and Seen and Heard International. She is a member of the UK Society of Authors, speaks four languages and lives in Sussex with her husband. She has photos and information on her website, flowingprose.com.

Appraisal:

The author is Portuguese, which informs the section set in that country delightfully. The Portuguese part of the story rattles along, the sexual avarice of the spy (Gerald Neale) for Maria-Eduarda being ramped up all the time. The denouement is genuinely shocking. The morals which underpin it feel historically accurate. Since #MeToo we don’t tend to think like that any more.

The second part of the story, set in East Prussia is a tough read. After the lushness of the first, warm, Portuguese part it is like being doused in cold water. All the characters bear such deep scars. And we are shown, graphically, why. How the family recovers after the war is a miracle in itself. However, when Herta moves to Berlin her life becomes tolerable, then pleasant.

Da Mota is ambivalent as to how much of the book is based on facts. I cheated and read the explanatory notes at the end early on. This was because the story is, from the start, bracketed with interventions from Valeria, Maria-Eduarda’s descendant. And for some time it was not clear to me who she was nor why they were there. You may wish to do the same. It does slightly undermine the ‘memoir’ claim – which is a pity, because the first two-thirds of the novel work well as such. Throughout, Da Mota’s prose holds a hint of veracity (odd things are included, odd things are left out) as if she is at times concerned to be truthful to her sources. Both tales feel as though they have been translated in from other languages. It reads very much as a novel of its time, and of Mitteleuropa.  

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Graphic descriptions of sexual violence occur in the two historical parts.

Format/Typo Issues:

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: Judi Moore

Approximate word count: 135-140,000 words

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Review: Those We Do Not See by Angie Gallion


 

Genre: Thriller, Suspense, Women’s Fiction

Description:

“Britany Adams begins a rapid downward spiral after she’s involved in an accident that results in a fatality. Within weeks, she loses her home, her job, and her dignity. Struggling with guilt and living on the streets, she is plunged into a gritty world filled with danger and despair.

While investigating the crash, Officer Cliff Rathborn never dreams that he will be the last person to speak to Britany before a missing person report is filed. While assisting in the search for Britany, Cliff realizes he has not dealt with his own mother’s disappearance when he was a child. He begins to reconcile with the fact that he may never know what happened to his mother.

To discover Britany’s whereabouts, Cliff needs to enter the shadows and look into the faces of those that most people refuse to see, while Britany must survive long enough to be found.”

Author:

“Angie Gallion has been a stage actor, an anti-money laundering investigator, a photographer, and a paralegal. She has lived in Illinois, California, Missouri, and Georgia and has traveled to Greece, the Dominican Republic, Scotland, and Ireland. She dreams of traveling when her children are grown, and she and her husband can set out into the world. She is currently rooted outside of Atlanta Georgia with her husband, their children, and their two French Bulldogs.”

For more, check out her website.

Appraisal:

This is a great story with multiple levels for the reader, depending on how much you want and are open to taking in. That’s kind of vague, so I’ll explain.

The first and most obvious is the obvious thriller or suspense story on the surface. Britany’s life spins out of control when a car accident happens and results in the death of the driver of the other car. Britany isn’t blameless, but just how responsible she is for what happened is far from clear. Her guilt about the accident and repercussions in her life cause a rapid downward spiral resulting in her living on the street.

The second level is going beyond Britany as the reader considers how realistic what Britany experienced is. We meet some of the other homeless people Britany associates with and ponder how we think we would deal with such situations or what we think real people should do in that situation. We see Britany interact with others who make questionable decisions because they appear to be the only option to improve their situation. If this doesn’t get you at least thinking about some of society’s issues, you aren’t paying attention. (Or maybe just don’t want to go there.)

I’m glad I read this book and highly recommend you do the same.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

A small amount of adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

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

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 65-70,000 words

Friday, June 28, 2024

Review: Teacher by James Eric Riley


 

Genre: Humor/Memoir

Description:

“These students aren’t just bad, they’re dangerous. And then there’s the principal.

For Los Angeles teacher Eric Riley, summers off, holidays, and health benefits are all that matters. Why else get into teaching in your forties? With a wife and two young daughters, and a mountain of debt after suffering a broken leg, teaching represents a steady paycheck and time off he’s never experienced.

Riley survives his rookie year as a teacher, only to be assigned a class with a special designation: Emotionally Disturbed. He starts the new position, after taking a mandatory training session on the latest approved methods of physical restraint – the delicate name for self-defense when dealing with violent students.

One day, a student attacks Riley – and Riley puts him down hard on the floor. The school principal orders Riley to be placed on administrative leave. During a series of preliminary hearings regarding his status, he realizes that the official version of the incident is changing. When his union and legal representatives appear to be incompetent, he secretly contacts staff members at his school. They break into an administrator’s office and uncover statements and records regarding his suspension that implicate the principal, the district, and even the teachers’ union.

From classic teaching moments to administrator run-ins to a district boardroom showdown, one teacher finds out what he’s good at.”

Author:

“James Eric Riley grew up near the rust belt town of Mt. Pleasant, Pennsylvania. He attended Eastern Kentucky University and graduated with a degree in Theater Arts. After years of summer stock and regional theater, he and his wife moved to Southern California where they discovered snow skiing and - for Riley - speed skating. But after breaking a leg in a short track competition, teaching suddenly seemed like a better idea. As a high-school teacher, he finally put his theater background to use teaching public speaking and writing and directing a one-act version of Macbeth performed by students and faculty. Now retired, he and his wife Jeneva live in Independence, Kentucky.”

Appraisal:

As I read this I struggled with just how true it was. The author was a teacher. The book is described in the materials I received with the copy I reviewed as a novel with humor or dark humor as the genre. That’s seems a clear indication of it being fiction. But then just before the book’s prologue starts I see the page with these words
******
This is a memoir. Everything you are about to read is true.

Names have been changed to protect the guilty and to ensure the anonymity of the innocent.
******
Hmm. Then I look more closely at the cover and realize that on the school building pictured, just to the left of the door, it says “A Memoir.” So maybe it is true, but all the ”characters” are made anonymous. I guess I can’t say what the answer is for sure.

What I can say for sure is that while there were times that I was stretching my ability to suspend disbelief, I mostly managed to do so. It was an adventure to read and certainly helped me appreciate teachers even more than I already did. How things were going to turn out for Eric, the protagonist of the … whatever it is … was constantly up in the air and kept me engaged and eager to find out how the story ended. Certainly a good, engaging read.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

Review is based on an advance reviewer copy so I can’t gauge the final product in this area.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 65-70,000 words

Monday, June 24, 2024

Review: Gone Catfishing by JR Hopkins


 

Genre: Non-Fiction/Self-Help

Description:

Have you ever been sent a message on any dating or social media site by someone wanting you to be friends with him or her? Someone who pretended to be romantically interested in you but used a fake profile, and not who you thought they were, to lure you in and then it turned into a scam...usually for money. If you have, then you've been 'Catfished'. The was written to let people know of the different ways these scammers try to get money out of you.

Author:

Born in Durant, Oklahoma, JR Hopkins describes herself as a “displaced Okie with a bit of Choctaw blood.” A bit of a nomad her place of residence has bounced around a bit, with stints in states as varied as Hawaii, Alaska, Florida, and Connecticut as well as internationally, living for a time in Iceland. She currently lives in Idaho and is the author of several books that range from romance, to memoir, and even one that while primarily a cookbook has a little memoir thrown in as well. That’s a mashup you don’t see very often.

Appraisal:

Maybe it is because I don’t patronize websites or use apps like Tinder that are specifically aimed at helping to hook two willing people up, but I’ve been lucky enough not to have become a target of one of these catfishing schemes. It seems as though women being targeted by men happens more frequently and targeting people on social media sites that I do frequent isn’t as common, although it does happen. Reading this to familiarize myself with examples of these schemes will hopefully prepare me in case I ever do become a target or if it happens to friends or family, it might help me recognize what is happening.

Odds are none of the above will happen to me. That’s good. I’d rather not need the knowledge I gained from reading this book. Despite being true and my assumption that everything would work out in the end I still found it entertaining, with some of the qualities of a thriller or mystery, as I wondered what the catfishers were going to do next and hoped the author was going to see and deal appropriately with all the potential repercussions. So, it was a fun and engaging read as well as educational.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

My review is based on an advance reviewer copy so I can’t judge the final product in this area.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 30-35,000 words

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Reprise Review: Dream Walk by Melissa Bowersock


 

Genre: Mystery/Supernatural/Ghosts

Description:

“Private investigator Lacey Fitzpatrick and Navajo medium Sam Firecloud are usually called to clear haunted locations of their lingering ghosts using Sam’s unusual talent for communicating with the dead. This time, however, the dead — Sam’s former brother-in-law — comes to him… in a dream. Now Sam and Lacey head to Las Vegas to figure out how to find the body and uncover a murder plot before the murderers bury them forever.”

Author:

“Melissa Bowersock is an eclectic, award-winning author who writes in a variety of fiction and non-fiction genres: biography, contemporary, western, action, romance, fantasy, paranormal and spiritual. She has been both traditionally and independently published and is a regular contributor to the superblog Indies Unlimited. She lives in a small community in northern Arizona with her husband and an Airedale terrier. She also writes under the pen name Amber Flame.”

Learn more about Ms. Bowersock on her website or follow her on Facebook.

Appraisal:

Sam Firecloud, Navajo medium, is up against something a little different than he has experienced before. His dreams are being visited by someone he knew several years ago, and he is having trouble communicating with the spirit. When he calls Lacey, a PI and occasional partner, to get her advice on his dilemma, they both decide they need to check things out around his last known address in Las Vegas, Nevada. After Lacey finds a couple of reputable contacts in Homicide and Vice departments at the Vegas police department, Lacey and Sam head out of L.A. with few facts and no leads to follow.

Dream Walk has a bit of everything that makes this series so great. These include an excellent mystery, Sam using his empathic abilities to connect with the victim, the adventure of trying to locate a dead body in the desert around Las Vegas, as well as the sexual tension between Lacey and Sam exacerbated by outside parties. The secondary characters are well developed and realistic. This story also is the most dangerous Lacey and Sam have ever been involved with. They both learn, the hard way, that drug lords are not to be trifled with. But to prove a crime has even been committed at all, they need the dead body.

I found Dream Walk a tension filled, emotionally charged mystery as Sam and Lacey scour the dangerous side of Vegas. While also being confronted with their relationship as partners in business and the growing sexual tension between them. Decisions need to be made. Is Sam, with his introvert personality, going to step up to the plate? How will Sam’s kids react if he decides to have a personal relationship with Lacey? Find out now in Dream Walk.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Dream Walk is the fourth book in A Lacey Fitzpatrick and Sam Firecloud Mystery series. Each of these mysteries could be read as a standalone if you choose. However, I am enjoying the relationship developing between Lacey and Sam and recommend reading from the beginning to get the full benefit of their storyline.

Format/Typo Issues:

My review is based on a beta, pre-release version. I am unable to judge the final version in this area.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 35-40,000 words

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Review: On Wahoo Reef by Tim W. Jackson


 

Genre: Suspense

Description:

“Wally Breight’s a miserable-in-his-job P.R. executive who dreams of escaping to happily-ever-after in the Caribbean. When he stumbles across a run-down scuba diving operation for sale on Blacktip Island, he snaps it up and settles into paradise. But paradise has other ideas. His dive boat’s a lemon. His business partner proves the age of piracy isn’t dead. Scuba guests are scarce. And a free-spirited dive mistress might party him into an early grave. If Wally can’t get a handle on paradise, pronto, he’ll be leaving Blacktip Island faster than a coconut in a hurricane.

Author:

A former photojournalist, Tim W. Jackson now splits his time between captaining a boat, teaching people how to scuba dive, and writing. (Yes, he appears to have some similarities to the protagonist of this book.) He’s written several books and short stories, many of them based on the tropical (and I’m guessing fictional) Blacktip Island. This is the latest of those.

Appraisal:

I’ve read a couple of Tim Jackson’s books set on Blacktip Island and, if there is any kind of pattern, it is that while those involved are living or at least visiting what many would consider a paradise, things don’t always go smoothly in paradise. That’s the case for our protagonist, Wally, who thinks he’s lucked into a great situation that until now was more like one of his wildest dreams. Then things turn out a bit different than he pictured them. And of course, just when it looks like he’s getting things back on track, something else will shake things up. You’ll have to read the book to see how it all turns out for Wally, but he’ll keep you on your toes, trying (and failing) to anticipate where things are going the entire way.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

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

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Review: Soft as Water by B. Robert Conklin

 


Genre: Mystery/Suspense

Description:

“Following a life-shattering accident, conscience-stricken Will Archer seeks refuge in a small Ohio River town, where he plans to live out his life as a virtual hermit. But a chance encounter with Essence Warner, orphaned daughter of a jazz saxophonist and an aristocratic socialite, entangles him in a quest to discover the truth behind the cold case of her parents’ mysterious deaths.

As Will deciphers clues, he becomes romantically entwined with Essence, forming a relationship that draws him into a sordid underbelly of small-town existence that threatens his own life. At the same time, he uncovers a dark secret that could set Essence free from her own path of self-destruction—or does she have a plan of her own?

Soft as Water is a novel about bridges—between strangers across a river—and the dangers of mutual attraction when worlds divided by race, wealth, and culture collide. In the end, though, the novel offers a glimmer of hopefulness that survivors of trauma—physical, emotional, and sexual—can transcend their circumstances and find redemption through connection.”

Author:

The author describes himself as thus:

“I live in Columbus, Ohio, where I navigate the unpredictable moments of family life with my spouse, three kids, four cats, and a ferret. I enjoy nature walks, reading everything from Pop-Tart labels to Proust, and cartooning. I’m also an avid coffee drinker but try to limit myself to five cups a day. My debut novel, An End to Etcetera, placed as a finalist in the suspense category of the 17th Annual National Indie Excellence® Awards.”

Appraisal:

This is a unique story with elements that you don’t see very often.. That starts with a protagonist that while one of the good guys, is far from perfect with lots of skeletons in his closet that impact the story in many ways. Then you’ve got multiple people with some strange histories who are challenging to figure out in many ways, from whether they’re good people, what they’re doing and why, and how all of that is going to impact others. Then throw in a few strange things (what appeared to be a ghost or other supernatural element at play a few times and some pet tigers for a couple examples) and you’ve got a story that is not likely to be like one you’ve read before. At least it was stretching my normal reading material. In spite of this, I didn’t find myself unable to suspend disbelief and go along with what was happening. A very entertaining read.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

A small amount of relatively mild adult content.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 95-100,000 words

Friday, June 7, 2024

Review: The Retirement Planning Roadmap by Sweet Home Publishing


 

Genre: Non-Fiction/Self Help

Description:

“Discover the secret to enjoying your golden years free of fears and worries – retire with confidence in just 7 steps!

After years – or even decades – of relentlessly working, you’re almost ready to trade in your work chair for a beach chair.

You imagine yourself trotting along a picturesque town with your friends… instead of running around the office.

Right now, it's really tempting to think about retirement as a never-ending holiday, where you’re finally allowed to rest and relax without having to deal with deadlines, a full email inbox, or stressful colleagues.

But here’s a reality check: If you took a look at your bank account right now, would you have enough to have that dreamy permanent vacation… or maybe a bad dream?

The truth is, nearly half of adults approaching retirement age may not be financially prepared to retire, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The good news is, you don’t have to be one of them. Whether you're just beginning to plan for retirement or are closer to embarking on this new chapter of your life, you can act now to turn your retirement dreams into a reality.”

Author:

No information provided

Appraisal:

I’ll start this out with the statement that I wish I’d read this book many years ago. Given my current age and likely retirement age, I should have gotten this information from somewhere a long time ago. (From this book would have been perfect, except it didn’t exist until more recently.) That said, there is a ton of information here that is and will continue to be valuable to me. The subjects covered in this book include the obvious, specifically the financial issues surrounding retirement, but also some of the other less obvious issues, what I’ll describe as the mental roadblocks and mental adjustments you’ll need to prepare for and work through. Some, I’d thought of, but this has got me thinking of others. I suspect many who, like me, are close to retirement, could benefit from reading this too. The downside is that you’re liable to stress out if you realize you aren’t as prepared in some ways as you thought you were, but better to adjust plans now if needed.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 30-35,000 words

Monday, June 3, 2024

Review: Dave's New World by Luke Richards


 Genre: Dystopian/Satire

Description:

“DV-8 lives in a dystopian, totalitarian, Orwellian nightmare...and he loves it!

After all, when every single aspect of your life is dictated, it takes a lot of the pressure off you.

He never has to worry about making plans for the weekend as he’s not allowed to do anything; he never has to worry about making small talk with strangers since any topics outside of party business are outlawed and he never has to worry about meeting someone as he already has a partner assigned to him. He’s living the dream.

So, when the revolution comes and DV-8 is granted his freedom (and a new name), he finds he has absolutely no idea what to do with it. Eventually he does what we all do when we are scared and clings on to his safe, familiar ways for dear life. While the majority are out enjoying their new found freedom, DV finds himself ostracised for living by the same rules that used to promise him safety, security and a sense of purpose. When DV discovers there are others like him who are not quite ready to give up the old ways, they team up and hatch a plan to put things ‘right’.

A twist on a traditional Orwellian tale that will make you say, ‘Bring Back Big Brother'.”

Author:

Luke Richards describes himself as being a guinea pig enthusiast, author, and comedian (in that order). Dave’s New World is his first book.

Appraisal:

A dystopian novel that is also satire or comedic is a twist I’ve never seen before and I loved it. Seeing things from the protagonist’s point of view was different. You might think the protagonist is named Dave, but don’t be fooled. People who aren’t with the program start to call him that, but his real name is DV-8. Everyone has a serial number assigned that is made up of a couple digits or letters, a dash and one or two additional digits or letters. (Yeah, If I had done the math to figure things out I’d realize that there couldn’t possibly be enough combinations for the number of people in the country he lives in, but I didn’t feel like doing math.) The overall story is engaging as we try to figure out whether DV-8 is going to see the light or not. But there are also a bunch of comedic things buried in there for people familiar with popular literature and popular music. For example, I kept expecting to run into a person called MC-5 in reference to the 60s rock band from Detroit. That didn’t happen, but we did see other bands show up, UB-40 for example, along with other musical and cultural references used in a humorous way. How it all shakes out and what DV-8 or Dave think of it, I’ll leave you to find out when you give this book a read, but if you’re into the dystopian genre and comedic or satirical stories as much as I am, you’re going to love this book.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

The author is from the UK and uses UK spelling conventions.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 55-60,000 words

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Reprise Review: Didn’t Get Frazzled by David C. Hirsch, M.D.


Genre: General Fiction

Description:

“Medical student Seth Levine faces escalating stress and gallows humor as he struggles with the collapse of his romantic relationships and all preconceived notions of what it means to be a doctor. It doesn’t take long before he realizes not getting frazzled is the least of his problems.

Seth encounters a student so arrogant he boasts that he’ll eat any cadaver part he can’t name, an instructor so dedicated she tests the student’s ability to perform a gynecological exam on herself, and a woman so captivating that Seth will do whatever it takes to make her laugh, including regale her with a story about a diagnostic squabble over an erection.

Didn’t Get Frazzled captures with distressing accuracy the gauntlet idealistic college grads must face to secure an MD and, against the odds, come out of it a better human being.”??

Author:

“David Z Hirsch grew up on the steppes of Nebraska peddling Kool-Aid off I-129 until saving up enough cash for medical school. After graduation, he moved to Pyongyang to teach pre-med classes at Kim Il-sung University. He soon fell out of favor and was imprisoned at Kaechon where he traded medical favors for soup and toilet paper until he made a daring escape across the border.

Dr. Hirsch subsisted for the next three years by foraging gooseberries and licking the dew off spiny toads. This led to a burst of creativity, and he wrote the first draft of Didn’t Get Frazzled on bark peeled off a dying Manchurian Ash tree. Ultimately discovered in a semi-feral state by the China Coast Guard flotilla from Liaoning, Dr. Hirsch returned to the United States sixty pounds lighter but more inspired than ever.

David Z Hirsch is a pen name, so absolutely nothing in the above paragraphs are true. This is not lying, you see. It’s fiction. Many well-regarded sources insist that these are two distinct things. The actual guy who wrote this novel is a practicing physician in Maryland. His life story is considerably more prosaic, but in his head he lives a fascinating, fascinating life.”

Appraisal:

Although the author’s name is fictional, this story was written by an M.D., which leads to some medical terms that left me somewhat cross-eyed. However, the authenticity of the main character's experience as he stumbles through medical school, made the Latin inconsequential.

Be warned, if you buy this book and read it in a public place, you may well embarrass yourself by laughing aloud. Well, the laughter might not cause you a red face, but if you have to explain what is so funny--good luck with that!

Along with light-hearted humor where the reader is laughing along with the main character and not at others, the author includes a smattering of well-considered social commentary on what exactly makes a good doctor. He educated me on the tremendous stresses endured not just by medical students, but also by those already qualified doctors who are expected to teach as well as perform their onerous duties on a hospital ward. For Seth, the stress extends beyond the hospital wards and stretches his personal relationships to breaking point.

In summary, this is a terrific read. For a doctor, the author’s writing is beautifully clear and accessible--see what I did there? At 99 cents on Kindle, this is a bargain you shouldn’t miss.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Original review published June 16, 2017

Format/Typo Issues:

A few typos, but not enough to irritate.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Approximate word count: 85-90,000 words

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Review: The Mermaid by Marc Berlin


 

Genre: Political Satire

Description:

“Eli Mann yearns for an opportunity to quit his job as a coffee company newsletter writer. Making matters worse, his older sister bullies him, his elderly mother thinks little of him, and his girlfriend recently left him. A fork in the road appears when Eli meets a stunningly beautiful blonde woman, Inga Magnussen, a sales rep for a Danish wind power company. Inga and Eli, they quickly discover, share the same progressive values, and soon afterward are romantically involved. Eli’s good luck continues when an old high school friend, Turner Whitlock, asks him to research and then write an expose about the U.S. Senator from Oklahoma, Tex Bullard, an extreme right-wing climate change denier who’s contemplating a run for president. Urged on by Inga and realizing that Bullard is clearly a dangerous person who could easily ruin the country if elected, Mann sets out on a surrealistic odyssey that takes him from Malibu to Aspen, and places in between. Alternately comical and sad, The Mermaid exposes the character of one man, as well as the dark underside of the America we currently live in.”

Author:

“Marc Berlin has held a variety of jobs, including social worker, media executive, screenwriter, and filmmaker. He currently lives with his wife, Heidi, in Rehoboth, Mass. When not evading the paparazzi, he can be found walking on the beach near his home, playing poker, or shooting trap.”

Appraisal:

I’m struggling to decide what to think of this book. It makes it clear that it is satirical and I daresay those whose political leanings go a certain way are almost certain not to like it and will try to delude themselves into thinking that Tex Bullard, the bad guy in this story, is nothing like the actual people who are out there in the world today. They’d be wrong, at least if we account for a bit of potential exaggeration to make a point, after all, this is satire, right? My struggle is with Eli Mann, the “hero” of this story. Yeah, I was pulling for him, but if we’re going to be honest, he was a little slimy himself. The point, that while both sides are not the same, we’re all human and nobody is perfect. I’m also not sure what to make of the ending although, at least for Eli, I can’t really fault him for the decision he made. What that decision was and what it means, I can’t say. You’ll have to decide for yourself.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

While nothing explicit there is a lot of discussion regarding adult topics and some adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Review: The War on Sarah Morris by Kathleen Jones

 


Genre: Coming of Age

Description:

“ONE DAY, YOU’RE A VALUED EMPLOYEE OF THE COMPANY … THE NEXT DAY, YOU’RE BEING PUSHED OUT THE DOOR.

What happens when your secure corporate job suddenly becomes precarious? Book editor Sarah Morris finds herself in this predicament when the company she has served for twenty-one years is reorganized. Sarah’s boss gives all the company’s book editing projects to freelancers and a pet employee, unofficially demoting Sarah, who must spend her days tagging documents. And when Sarah’s boss starts bullying her, she realizes that she’s been pigeonholed into a dead-end job.”

Author:

“Kathleen Jones was born in Windsor, Ontario, Canada and graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in English literature. For thirty years, she toughed it out in the corporate world, chiefly as an editor for various Canadian book publishers. Sometimes, Kathleen had the opportunity to do work that she enjoyed, but too often, she didn’t. Towards the end of her career, the type of work that interested and challenged Kathleen began to slip away, and she became less and less happy.

Then one day, Kathleen realized something: creative, out-of-the box thinkers like her don’t belong in the corporate world, and if she wanted “meaningful” work, she would have to create it for herself.

That was when Kathleen decided to pursue the only work that she’d ever really wanted to do since she was a child: the work of a novelist!

Today, Kathleen is a full-time author who writes for a number of popular book blogs. She also contributes monthly book reviews to Goodreads. She lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.”

For more, visit her website her website.

Appraisal:

I struggled to even decide what genre to indicate this book fit in. The small publisher that published this book describes themselves as specializing in non-fiction genres “such as memoir, autobiographical fiction, poetry, or a combination.” While I’ve never heard the term autobiographical fiction before and it seems like two words that contradict each other, what they mean by that is easy enough to figure out and based on the author’s biography this novel almost surely has some degree of that. But what I could be sure of is that while far from what we think of or the typical definition of a coming-of-age story, that description still seems to fit this one as the protagonist struggles with life’s changes and how to deal with them in the same way as a teen trying to move into adulthood might.

However, unlike a coming-of-age story, the ideal reader for this is probably a touch older. To really get into the story of Sarah Morris, I think a reader needs to be old enough to be somewhat established in their career, possibly seen and struggled with unanticipated changes, or at least observed others deal with that struggle. Those in this position will understand where Sarah is coming from and get sucked into the story, wondering how it is going to end.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Review: Monarch: Stories by Emily Jon Tobias


 

Genre: Short Story Collection

Description:

Most, maybe all, of these stories have been published in various publications over the last several years, but are all gathered together here.

Author:

“Emily Jon Tobias is an American author and poet, Pushcart Prize nominee, and author of the debut story collection, MONARCH (Black Lawrence Press, 2024). She is an award-winning writer whose work has been featured in literary journals such as Santa Clara Review, Talking River Review, Flying South Literary Journal, Furrow Literary Journal, The Opiate Magazine, The Ocotillo Review, Jerry Jazz Musician, Typehouse Literary Magazine, Tahoma Literary Review, Big Muddy, Spoon Knife, Peauxdunque Review, and elsewhere. Midwestern-raised, she now lives and writes on the coast of Southern California. She holds an MFA in Writing from Pacific University Oregon.”

Appraisal:

In the introduction the author talks a bit about her life and the things she went through that inspired these stories. The stories mostly feature what I’ll describe as women going through tough situations who in spite of often having troubled pasts are also strong women and find a way to deal with and get through the current difficulty. I found the stories inspiring. They also got me thinking about how things that appear one way from the outside might be much more complex if you understand the true situation. In summary these stories are excellent and thought provoking.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language and situations best suited for mature readers.

Format/Typo Issues:

Review is based on an advanced reviewer copy, so I can’t gauge the final product in this area.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words