Monday, October 20, 2014

Dark Witness / Rebecca Forster

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Thriller/Suspense

Approximate word count: 95-100,000 words

Kindle  US: YES  UK: YES  Nook: NO  Smashwords: NO  Paper: NO
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USA Today best selling author Rebecca Forster’s twenty-something books mostly fit within the broad mystery genre, some in the legal thriller subgenre and others harder to classify. Forster is a two-time winner in the Books and Pals Readers’ Choice Awards, with Before Her Eyes topping the mystery category in 2013 and Eyewitness (book 5 of the Witness Series) getting the nod from our readers in 2014.

For more, visit Forster’s website.


“As the edge of winter slices through Washington D.C., Josie Bates testifies before Congress about the Albanian blood feud that sent Hannah Sheraton and Billy Zuni fleeing for their lives while Archer reluctantly abandons a trail that has gone cold in his search for the teenagers.Determined to stay one step ahead of the authorities who want Billy back and a blood feud that will only be satisfied when he is dead, Hannah and Billy head north. There they will hunker down in the darkest corner of earth they can find and wait for the danger to pass. Though the journey is treacherous, they finally find themselves isolated, safe, and as far from Hermosa Beach as they can get. But their relief is short lived. When the perpetual winter dark turns to inky black, they realize they have taken refuge in hell. Now the fight in front of Hannah and Billy is not only for their lives, but their very souls.”


Those who have read the previous books in the Witness Series knew when they finished Forgotten Witness (book 6 in the series) that there would have to be at least one more book. Forster had left two important characters, Hannah Sheridan (a character almost as important to the series as Josie Bates), and recurring character Billy Zuni in limbo, with what little changed through the course of book six making their situation more tenuous. (For those who haven’t read the prior books or may have forgotten, they were running from a man intent on killing Billy.) This installment picks up Hannah and Billy’s story where their situation gets even worse.

I’m reluctant to say anything specific about what happens because everything feels like it would be a spoiler. While the last book focused on Josie Bates, this is Hannah and Billy’s book with Josie and Archer taking secondary roles. Although the initial book in the series was clearly a legal thriller, as the series has progressed it has slid out of the legal subgenre and into the broader thriller or suspense category. If this book has a single scene in a courtroom, it is so minor that I’ve forgotten it. If you’ve read the series thus far, you’ll definitely want to pick up this one as Hannah and Billy flee from one dangerous situation, only to fall into another. What that is and how it resolves is quite a ride.


This is the seventh of a series. Although I believe it could be read as a stand alone and the story still make sense, to get the full impact an understanding of what has come previously for these characters would be much better.

Format/Typo Issues:

The version I read was an advance reader copy. I’m unable to judge the final product in this area.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Reprise review: Stone and Silt / Harvey Chute

Reviewed by: Fredlet

Genre: YA/Historical Mystery

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

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“Harvey published his first novel, Stone and Silt, in August 2013. His previous published works include five technical guides in Wiley's For Dummies series.

The Stone and Silt historical mystery is based in British Columbia, where Harvey grew up and spent his teenage summers guiding whitewater raft trips on the Thompson and Fraser rivers. Harvey received a Bachelor of Science degree from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, where his elective studies included the history of B.C. and of western Canada.

Harvey works as a program manager for an IT consulting firm. He is also the founder of - the web's largest independent Kindle user forum.

Harvey lives in Bellingham, Washington, with his wife, three daughters, a lovable golden retriever, and a stern cat. He enjoys walking mountain trails, learning blues guitar, and being surrounded by great books.”

For more, visit Mr. Chute’s author's blog or the Stone & Silt Facebook page.


“A ruthless murder and a stolen shipment of gold.

At school, sixteen-year-old Nikaia Wales endures the taunts of bullies who call her a “half-breed.” At home, she worries about how her family will react if she reveals her growing feelings for the quiet boy next door.

Those are soon the least of her troubles. Nikaia discovers a hidden cache of gold, and when police find a corpse nearby, her father becomes a suspect. Worse, Elias Doyle is circling, hungry to avenge his brother’s death.

Nikaia desperately searches for clues to save her father. In her quest to find the killer, she learns about the power of family, friendship, and young love.”


For those who have not read my Meet the Pals entry, I did not enjoy reading during school or choose reading as a leisure activity. That is, until my 5th grade teacher selected the book Caddie Woodlawn for read-aloud time. I was hooked on the spunky, tomboy character and the many risks she took exploring the Wisconsin frontier and interacting with people during her pioneer childhood. It was the first book I willingly read from cover to cover. Mr. Chute’s novel evoked the same feelings in me. I am hoping many others will be as compelled to read this story as I was. The book trailer is well done and a good way to preview this book.

The murder mystery plot was exciting, dangerous, and stressful to read. There were many twists and turns on the way to the resolution. Nikaia, Klima, and Yee Sim were very resourceful and clever. But, my favorite parts were the everyday background details and the interactions between Nikaia’s family and friends. I loved the way the consequences of Nikaia’s choices led to her father giving her the nickname Mischief. Her relationships with her family, friends, and community were authentic. Mr. Chute’s vivid descriptions of Fort Yale, British Columbia, and the Fraser River brought them to life and made them seem like a “real” character. The telling of Nikaia’s mountain quest, the Anybody Boat, Charlie Ray’s trap line experience, Annie Adams’ basket weaving, and other stories brought realism to the book by teaching meaningful lessons to characters, and providing insight into the culture of the First Nations people and pioneer life during the gold rush. I also enjoyed the tentative, developing feelings between Nakaia and Yee Sim. I was glad to read in an interview that there are plans for a follow-up novel with many of the same characters.

Mr. Chute states in his author’s note, “This story is my homage, my love letter, to the people of the Fraser Canyon, past and present.” That’s how reading Stone and Silt felt to me.

Format/Typo Issues:

I read an ARC of this book, and found no errors.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Far-Knowing / Melinda Brasher

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Genre: Fantasy/ YA/ Adventure/ Coming of Age

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words

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“Melinda Brasher spends her time writing fiction, traveling, and teaching English as a second language in places like Poland, Mexico, the Czech Republic, and Arizona. Her talents include navigating by old-fashioned map, combining up to three languages in a single incomprehensible sentence, and dealing cards really, really fast. Her short fiction and travel writing appear in Intergalactic Medicine Show, Ellipsis Literature and Art, Enchanted Conversation, Go Nomad, International Living, and others.”

Learn more about Ms. Brasher at her website or check out her blog; Have Book, Will Travel.

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Blog: < >


“After the Chaos Mage traps their mentor within a deadly spell, two apprentice mages set out to find and defeat this menace to the kingdom. But how can they track down a man no one has ever seen face to face? How can they battle a mage so powerful he destroys entire villages with summoned wind or fire? They’ve learned no aggressive magic and never tested themselves against a real enemy.

Kallinesha, still an apprentice after seven years, struggles against her lack of raw magical power, compensating instead with discipline and study. Daughter of the High Commander, driven relentlessly by the duty in her blood, she knows they can defeat the Chaos Mage and safeguard the king and kingdom.
Ista, a commoner and daughter of a city baker, harbors no such delusions. But after only three years of study, her power burns much brighter than Kallinesha’s. The task before them terrifies her, but she loves her mentor too much to let her waste away under the Chaos Mage’s spell. Not if there’s the slimmest chance of saving her.

The two apprentices have never been able to work together--or understand each other--but it just may be their differences that give them the strength to face the kingdom’s greatest enemy.”


Kallinesha is of noble blood and has an elitist attitude, a lot of insecurities, and jealousy is her biggest enemy. Ista is full of natural abilities, easy going, and likeable. This grates at Kalli as she struggles to find her place in the world. Ms. Brasher has done an excellent job developing her fantasy world, her characters, and the way magic works in her stories. Her characters are flawed and up against impossible odds as they pursue their quest to expose the Chaos Mage and destroy him to save their teacher, the king, and the Kingdom of Andalinn.

The plot twists and turns as circumstances change due to their missteps and failed attempts. However, they continue to find a way to work together for their common goal. This is a unique tale with multiple layers that give the plot depth which range from personal development to political manipulations of a society. Truths are revealed that are hard for young idealist minds to accept without shattering what they have always believed or been taught growing up.

At the end of the story I still found Ryveld Daistar, Protectoret of Smotur an enigma. I am having trouble justifying his true role in the story. However, Kalli seems quite smitten. The story was divided up into different points of view so we know he is not as innocent as he professes. It will be interesting to see what other stories may come from this.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues in editing or formatting.

Rating: **** Four stars

Friday, October 17, 2014

Shining Light: Revealing Conversations with Dedicated People / Charles McNamara

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Memoir

Approximate word count: 30-35,000 words

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An author, magazine publisher, and photographer with many years of experience in the magazine business, Charles McNamara is also the man behind Tributary, “an on line collection of personal stories of unusual lives; a documentary of our times.”

For more, visit McNamara’s website.


Shining Light is a collection of 22 revealing conversations, including black and white portraits, with people who share amazing stories about their lives.”


That’s what human beings do. Storytelling. We spend our lives talking and telling stories. When we’ve taken care of shelter and food and reproduction that’s what we do next.

That’s a quote from the interview in Shining Light with Mick Bolger, frontman for Colcannon, a Colorado based band who play traditional Irish music (plus, original compositions inspired by the same). It struck me as a good explanation of the point of this book. Most biographies and memoirs tend toward the extraordinary, the celebrity, successful business person, politician, or sports star. We all have stories that, presented in the right light, could provide entertainment, life lessons, and inspiration, to name a few of the potential reasons for reading memoirs.

With this book, the author has given twenty-two people a chance to tell their story and us the opportunity to learn from them. None are famous (at least not outside of a niche or small group, and we’re all famous somewhere, even if just within our immediate family). The common thread each has, as implied by the subtitle, is dedication to their particular interest, whether they’re a cowboy poet, editorial cartoonist, or mountain man re-enactor. One subject could be described as “just a farmer,” although he’s a farmer dedicated to growing a unique crop.

When I read something like this one of the things I’m looking for is how this person’s experience might apply to another area or insights I can use in my own life. One example of this sort of thing gleaned from Shining Light came from Dr. Bonnie Clarke, an archaeologist who has been exploring a World War II Japanese Relocation Camp who had this to say about those camps:

It’s a reminder that when people are feeling threatened that civil liberties are often the first thing to go. Fear and racism are a very, very dangerous mix.

A thought to keep in mind, both to guard against the potential of this reaction in ourselves, and to help recognize it in others.

Another is from Cole Thompson, a “fine art photographer,” who had an insight that I thought was applicable to many areas. Certainly any indie authors will understand where he was coming from:

We’re trained to think of certain people as experts and to hang on every word they say. As well intentioned as these experts are, they are giving advice from their perspective. Their advice may be good, but it may not be good for my vision and my definition of success.

Overall a fun, educational, and inspiring read. Well worth the time.

Format/Typo Issues:

A small number of copy editing and proofing issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Reprise review: Mask / Kerry Nietz

Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Genre: Sci-fi

Approximate word count: 70,000-75,000 words

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Kerry Nietz is a refugee of the software industry. He spent more than a decade of his life flipping bits, first as one of the principal developers of the database product FoxPro for the now mythical Fox Software, and then as one of Bill Gates's minions at Microsoft. He is a husband, a father, a technophile and a movie buff. He has one non-fiction book, a memoir entitled FoxTales: Behind the Scenes at Fox Software. His first novel, A Star Curiously Singing, was published in October of 2009.


In a future world where disaster (unspecified but not important to the plot) has left cities cut off from each other and resources scarce, overpopulation is the most pressing social problem. The solution: each citizen maintains a personal vote count. Anti-social behavior will result in other citizens ‘voting’ negative points. When a citizen’s votes reach a critical level, a ‘collector’ is dispatched, and he or she removes the offending citizen and delivers them to a re-processing plant where they are destroyed—population problem solved J


A good sci-fi story needs a solid premise and I loved this concept of voting. The main character, Radial Crane, by day is a short-order cook. As we move through Radial’s work-a-day life, the effects of the voting system on people’s behavior was palpable. Everyone lived in fear of being negatively voted if they offended others or broke societal rules. Voting was anonymous, done at home on vid-screens. Anyone could decide to vote you although those closest to you carried the most weight.

Citizens with low vote counts are tempted to canvass positive votes from others even through canvassing is outlawed and can result in negative votes. No one is immune, even babies and children can be ‘voted’. The world governed by the vote was an uneasy place to live and the author had me feeling anxious for all those citizens I met.

By night, Radial is a collector. He wears a specially constructed suit, undetectable by CCTVs, impenetrable, and loaded with cool weaponry. His face is obscured by a mask (hence the title) which is hooked to the master computer, Quantum, and provides him positional data and bio-feedback on the incons (inconvenients) he is targeted to collect.

The dichotomy between Radial Crane the cook and his alter ego when he pulls on the mask is extraordinarily well handled. I moved with him as he controlled tiny flying monitors to provide visual data on his targets. The soft female voice of Quantum in his ears gave a sureness to his collection tasks and it seemed natural that Radial would be detached and efficient as he went about his business. Directed to the targets by Quantum, the Mask uses hi-tech gadgets to trap and then immobilizes his targets with ‘trankers’ which fly out from pods in his suit’s arms and stun the victim on impact. Once incapacitated, the collector lifts the limp incon over his shoulder and removes him or her to a waiting white van, which whisks them off to the processing facility. Other citizens stand by and turn away, fearful that they might become the next victim. Yes, I found myself thinking, that’s exactly how people would behave—herd mentality.

When Radial’s friend (someone he would never ‘vote’ and who would never ‘vote’ him) fails to show for work, it forces Radial to become emotionally attached to a victim. Later that evening, dispatched by Quantum to collect a ten-year-old girl who has been ‘voted’ by her mother, Radial reaches breaking point and his questioning of the values of the voting system and the true motives behind Quantum leads him to break from his role as a collector.

The remainder of the story follows Radial and the young girl, who he rescues. As he learns more about the society he is helping to maintain, what is being done at the processing plants, and the real purpose and nature of Quantum, Radial questions the validity of the voting society and turns its own weapons against it.

This is a fast read. The world building is well executed and cleverly shown through the daily lives of Radial and people with whom he interacts, rather than laid out as a narrative. Radial is a fascinating character. He relies on the Mask as a crutch to absolve him from guilt, and at the same time, it acts as a metaphor for the distancing of citizens from the society they have come to accept.

Thinly veiled references to belief in God as a key factor missing in the ‘voted-society’ and a crazy techno-wizard we meet toward the end of the story seemed underdeveloped themes to me. But neither of these small niggles spoiled my overall enjoyment of the story—highly recommended.

Format/Typo Issues:

Too few to affect the read.

Rating: ***** Five stars

#Free for your #Kindle, 10/16/2014

The author of each of these books has indicated their intent to schedule these books for a free day for the Kindle versions today on Amazon. Sometimes plans change or mistakes happen, so be sure to verify the price before hitting that "buy me" button.

The Hunt for the Well Hidden Treasure (K.I.D.S. Adventure Series Book 1) by Timothy Taylor

A Reason to Live by Matthew Iden

Author's interested in having their free book featured either here on a Thursday or a sister site on a Monday, visit this page for details.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Road to Nowhere / Shana Hammaker

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Genre: Urban Fantasy / Young Adult

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words

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“Shana Hammaker grew up in sunny California, but dreamed of escaping to cooler climes. She considered Bangor, Maine, possibly because her favorite author, Stephen King, lives nearby, but instead, ended up in Tennessee where it is warmer and more humid.”

“… it was in this sultry Southern climate that Shana realized her destiny: to read and write stories in which weird and frequently horrible things occur. (Twelve Terrifying Tales for 2011) And also, on occasion, to write quirky little memoirs.”

Ms. Hammaker is the author of The Cookie Dumpster and Hieroglyphs along with her set of thriller short stories from Twelve Terrifying Tales for 2011. Feel free to check out Ms. Hammaker’s other books on her Amazon author page or Goodreads.


Nowhere is hidden not too far east of Somewhere, just past No Man’s Land. It is a desolate place with secrets of a hidden past.

Someone is sabotaging the construction of a highway from the happy hamlet of Somewhere that leads straight to Nowhere. Amarillo Saffron, Mayor Orange’s secretary for the town of Somewhere, seeks to uncover corporate corruption and biotech espionage as well as expose the secrets Nowhere is hiding.


This is a unique story in that the urban fantasy world sits smack dab in the middle of our own world. Somewhere’s biotech firm Ardor Labs claims to have perfected a system to help people live happy stress-free lives. With their emotion actuator inhaler one can breathe their stress into it at night for a restful emotionless sleep or inhale hope out of it during the day if you start feeling down or stressed and a vitamin called Actify! to start each day anew. Inhaling hope out of the actuators has a drug like quality to it, so when it becomes evident that someone is stealing hope, officials get concerned.

Meanwhile in Nowhere there is very little hope, it’s a dead little town with no color that is surrounded by a force field, and No Man’s Land is downright toxic situated between Nowhere and Somewhere. One of Nowhere’s biggest secrets are the lost children living hidden from the world inside its secured border. I felt like I had stepped into one of Tim Burton’s domains here, I love his style and perspective.

Cerulean, age eighteen, has been living in Nowhere for nine years and is one of the oldest inhabitants besides Mayor Blue. She does her best to take care of and protect the young children when they mysteriously appear at Gruesome Point on the southern edge of Nowhere. Mayor Blue sustains his life-force with children’s tears and has evil designs for Nowhere.

The characters are colorful and well developed. When a small gang in Nowhere, who call themselves Outlawz, are given a taste of the stolen hope from Somewhere, they go to desperate measures to insure they get more, and things go from bad to worse. When Amarillo Saffron, with the help of investigative reporter Fern Viridian, looks into Deputy Mayor Scarlet and Ardor Labs, wondering about their connection to Nowhere, the plot takes clever and devastating turns. This story has a dystopian feel to it at times as the plot moves forward and truths are revealed as their society starts to unravel.

Ms. Hammaker does an excellent job painting a picture of the desolate Nowhere and No Man’s Land world with her prose and uses colorful character names for the inhabitants of Somewhere, which is a much more hopeful place until the storm hits…  The dialogue is realistic and convincing even between the children of Nowhere when they decide to take a stand against Mayor Blue. There are lessons to be learned here in this clever skillfully told and at times frightening story.

Format/Typo Issues:

Review is based on an advance reader copy. I am unable to judge the final book in this area.

Rating: ***** Five stars