Thursday, March 5, 2015

Intermezzos / Ida Tornovski


Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Short Story Collection

Approximate word count: 15-20,000 words

Availability    
Kindle  US: YES  UK: YES  Nook: NO  Smashwords: NO  Paper: NO
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords store

Author:

“Ida Tornovski was born into a politically divided Europe. Writing only in English now, she spends her time between the 'Old Country' and the United States.”

Description:

“Ida Tornovski's satirical love stories are told with dry wit and humor, sprinkled with a generous dose of skepticism about that romantic notion we call Love. The three main romances are Interludes, Intermezzo, and Intercourse; stories about Life, Lust and Love.

Interludes are dating spoofs of one woman's trysts and tribulations with would-be and has-been lovers whose actions and reactions are lacking a certain truthfulness and romance.

Intermezzo takes you into 1965 the spy-laced Vienna of the Cold War era. Three sexy adults role-play with humorous romance turning into fantasy, jealousy and betrayal. They call it Love. As the action takes place in a hotel across from the Vienna Opera house, the conclusion of this parody is reinforced by the last words of Leoncavallo's "Pagliacci."

Intercourse explores dictionary definitions of the very word that evokes such imagery. A girl with the unfortunate name of Fata Morgana morphs from a shy and pimply cygnet into a nubile swan. This is achieved only via teenage angst and the learning curve from three other young women. Their fancy Swiss academy is an all-girl school; however, there is the young Italian gardener.”

Appraisal:

I stole (okay, borrowed) this quote from the “prelude” or introduction of this short story collection.

We all dance to the same fiddles playing that thing we like to call Love. Once in a while, however, there is a tone-deaf maestro in the pit.

I laughed, being familiar with the work of the maestro in question. Chances are you are too. While these stories might not feel like your story, they might, and I’d bet you’ll find something familiar in them. Just like the quote, they’re serious on the surface, but have a bit of subtle humor at work as well. A fun, quick, and quirky read.

FYI:

Some adult themes.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Guest Post from J.S. Bangs, author of Storm Bride





This morning my six-year-old woke up at 5:30am, which meant that I, too, was awake at 5:30am. And then, for some reason, he took it into his head to put on his snow pants, boots, and hat, and go out into the freezing pre-dawn darkness. Groan. 

Once upon a time, I was a night owl. This lasted precisely until the moment when said six-year-old came home from the hospital as a newborn, as he immediately decided that yes, 5:00 in the morning is exactly the reasonable time to wake up. Even after he started "sleeping through the night" (one of those euphemistically named milestones which boils down to "you will be slightly less insane after this finally settles in"), his "night" was from about 7pm to about 5am, and all of our attempts to move him to a schedule more to our liking were basically useless. So, for the last six years I've been an early riser, going to bed at about 10pm and getting up at 5 or 6. 

Rereading the stories that I wrote in the period when my children were born, one thing that sticks out is that there are a lot of babies in them. Their publication dates were spread out over a much longer time period, so I don't know if it's possible to discern the pattern casually, but to provide two examples, the short stories The Judge's Right Hand and The Other City were written in this period. Both of them featured children in danger of being killed and/or eaten. You may choose to interpret this as sublimated parental anxiety or, somewhat more disturbingly, outlets of parental frustration. 

Storm Bride is one of the last things I wrote in this time, and it contains some of my wrestling with the questions of motherhood and parenthood in general. The book is rich in family relationships: the primary female characters are two adoptive sisters, one of whom is pregnant, and in counterpoint to them are the antagonist, his pregnant wife, and his brother. I'm happy to say that very little in this book represents my personal experience as a parent, given that the mothers and the fathers in this book all suffer tremendously, and yet the experience is transformative for all of them. 

Fantasy literature often works by taking a commonplace truism, and then literalizing and expanding it to get at its inside. In this case, the truism that I wanted to explore is that becoming a parent changes you. In my case, it changes my sleep patterns. In Storm Bride it changes the fates of two war-torn nations. No one is exactly happy about the changes required, at least not at first. But the thing about parenthood is that changes which initially seem miserable can turn out to be sublime. 

This morning, after putting on his winter clothes, my son eagerly grabbed my hand and demanded I come outside with him. I pulled on a jacket and shivered out into the snow of my backyard, wishing I were still asleep. And then he pointed up into the freezing winter sky and said, "Look! So many stars!

Sublime.

J.S. Bangs novel, Storm Bride, is available from Amazon US (paper or ebook), Amazon UK (paper or ebook), or Barnes & Noble.


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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Conjure Woman's Cat / Malcolm R. Campbell


Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Genre: Magical Realism / Culture / Spirituality

Approximate word count: 30-35,000 words

Availability    
Kindle  US: YES  UK: YES  Nook: YES  Smashwords: NO  Paper: YES
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords store

Author:

Malcolm R. Campbell lives in north Georgia and has worked as a worked as a corporate communications director, technical writer, and college journalism instructor. He now works as a grant writer for museums and other nonprofit organizations and writes stories.

For more, visit Campbell’s website.

Description:

“Lena, a shamanistic cat, and her conjure woman Eulalie live in a small town near the Apalachicola River in Florida’s lightly populated Liberty County, where longleaf pines own the world. In Eulalie’s time, women of color look after white children in the homes of white families and are respected, even loved, but distrusted and kept separated as a group…

When some white boys rape and murder a black girl named Mattie near the sawmill, the police have no suspects and don’t intend to find any. Eulalie, who sees conjure as a way of helping the good Lord work His will, intends to set things right by ‘laying tricks.’

But Eulalie has secrets of her own, and it’s hard not to look back on her own life and ponder how the decisions she made while drinking and singing at the local juke were, perhaps, the beginning of Mattie’s ending.”

Appraisal:

The Conjure Woman’s Cat is a novella set in the Florida Panhandle in the 1950s-era about Hoodoo, the KKK, and the blues. The story is told through Lena, Eulalie’s cat and her familiar. Lena is able to spirit walk and communicate with Eulalie. I had no trouble buying into this scenario, this is fiction and I was ready to believe. I found the characters well defined, believable, and they fit into the era the book was written to be in. Eulalie claims to be older than dirt, is full of gumption and spitfire. She has had a hard life and won’t take guff from anyone and she means to set things right. I loved this quote from Lena towards the end of the book.

My Conjure Woman believes no man, woman, or cat should question the consequences of calling upon folk magic, archangels, or the good Lord to rearrange the puzzle pieces that make up the world.

I have heard there is truth in that statement. One can ask the spirits, or pray, but one cannot direct the consequences. So, you better mean what you say and say what you mean.

The plot is multi-layered and confronts racism head-on. If you are offended by certain terms, this may not be the book for you, however it fits the era and is realistic of the times. This story concerns two families in particular. Both being torn apart, one eventually comes to terms with the past so the healing can begin. It’s a realistic and moving story that will break your heart but then try to make you whole again. This book gives you a look at how white justice was handled in the south. It is sad to believe that certain aspects of this still hold true today. No one can undo the past and it could take years to get past the hurt even if the pain is a sacred pain.

I dearly loved Eulalie and Willie, I could easily have been friends with them both. The more I read the name Eulalie the more I adored it. It has a beautiful rhythm and made me smile every time I read it. Eulalie was a wise woman and deserved the respect she was given. Kudos to Malcolm R. Campbell for a story well told.

FYI:

Certain racist terms are used within this story, however they fit with the time and the story would seem unrealistic without them. If you are offended by such, perhaps this is not the book for you.

Format/Typo Issues:

I was given an ARC so I really can’t comment on the finished book, but I ran across no significant proofing or formatting issues in the copy I received.

Rating: ***** Five stars

Monday, March 2, 2015

Class Heroes: A Class Apart / Stephen Henning


Reviewed by: Michael Thal

Genre: Fantasy/Mystery

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words

Availability    
Kindle  US: YES  UK: YES  Nook: Yes  Smashwords: YES  Paper: Yes
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords store

Author:

Since childhood, Stephen Henning has been creating characters in his head with super powers. A graduate of Sheffield Hallam University in the UK with a major in English, Henning trained as a journalist, then moved into publishing. He’s also worked as a freelancer doing technical writing until he started a business with his friend. His company, Elucidox Ltd, publishes the Class Heroes books.

Description:

Fourteen-year-old Samantha (Sam) Blake and twin brother James attend South Ealing Comprehensive School in West London, England. They were on a school bus returning home from a day trip to St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Imperial War Museum when their vehicle passed a car obstructing traffic. Suddenly, all hell was unleashed as the car exploded tossing the bus on its side and dousing it in flame.

Three days later, Sam wakes up in a hospital room at Brent Valley General with broken legs and burns. James fared a little better. However, Dr. Okocha is amazed at James’ quick recovery, and James is flabbergasted at the wondrous powers he has suddenly inherited. James can transport himself to any location at a blink of an eye. Sam soon discovers that she can control fire.

Appraisal:

Author Stephen Henning knits together a compelling story of fantasy and suspense. His twin characters must uncover the mystery behind their amazing abilities and the mysterious girl who seems bent on capturing them while destroying lives in the process.

Class Heroes: A Class Apart is non-stop action from beginning to end. My only criticism of the book is that more questions were raised than answered at the conclusion of the book. Fortunately, there is book 2, What Happened in Witches Wood?, book 3, Where’s Lolly?, and book 4, London Belongs to the Alchemist. If you enjoy book series where each novel is connected to the last, A Class Apart should be your first read in this exciting curriculum.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Worm / Anthony Neil Smith


Reviewed by: Keith Nixon

Genre: Crime

Approximate word count: 65-70,000 words

Availability    
Kindle  US: YES  UK: YES  Nook: YES  Smashwords: NO  Paper: NO
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords store

Author:

Smith has had over thirty stories published in literary magazines. He is also the co-editor / co-creator of the online noir journal Plots With Guns and an associate editor with the Mississippi Review. His day job is Director of the English Department at Southwest Minnesota State University.

You can learn more about the author at his website.

Description:

Ferret is a worm, a new employee in the Bakken oil field of North Dakota. From Alabama originally, Ferret moved up to start a new life, to earn money so his wife, Dee-Dee, and daughter, Violet, can move up and start a new life together. But his in-laws do not like Ferret and Dee-Dee has anxiety attacks.

There’s trouble everywhere Ferret looks, from his boss, Pancrazio, to meth labs and whore houses and roughnecks just wanting a fight. Can Ferret stay in one piece long enough to realise his dreams?

Appraisal:

Initially I though Worm was simply a character driven novel set against the backdrop of Minnesotan oil fields. The players were all well drawn and the setting powerfully described, but that was it – great decoration, but where was the flavour.

But then Smith got the story going and I was hooked. Ferret, so desperate to get his family back together, will do anything to earn enough cash whilst living the hard life of an oilman. He starts to run drugs on behalf of Pancrazio and falls in with some dubious people – Good and Bad Russell (two people!), Gene Handy and Slow Bear, an Indian cop from the reservations.

Soon Ferret learns from Gene that Pancrazio is not what he seems (I won’t say as it is the crux on which the story is based) and the narrative flips again into one of greed and retribution. When Dee-Dee moves up Ferret thinks he has everything now, but someone has an alternative purpose in mind for Ferret…

This is a slow burn story, Smith cleverly ramps up the pace and tension. The narrative is slick and intelligent, the dialogue even more so. The characters are brilliant. A thoroughly enjoyable story that packs in twist after twist to keep the reader guessing. Again, I’d like to say more, but then that would ruin the surprises…

FYI:

Plenty of swearing.

Format/Typo Issues:

None.

Rating:  ***** Five Stars

Saturday, February 28, 2015

With the Headmaster's Approval / Jan Hurst-Nicholson


Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Woman’s Fiction

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

Availability    
Kindle  US: YES  UK: YES  Nook: NO  Smashwords: NO  Paper: NO
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords store

Author:

A resident of South Africa, Jan Hurst-Nicholson is the author of several books in various genres aimed at readers of all ages, including children, young adults, and grown-ups. For more, visit Ms Hurst-Nicholson’s website.

Description:

Adam Wild creates controversy when he’s appointed as the Head of St Mary’s Academy, an all-girls school in England. The governing board feels that his background as a officer in the US Navy makes him well suited to restore some needed discipline, but some of the all-female teaching staff don’t see it this way.

Appraisal:

I’m struggling to figure out how to articulate the problem I had with this book. So I’m going to start out with the good parts, and there are plenty of those. Adam Wild has been appointed as the head of an all-girls academy with a staff that is virtually all female, the lone exception an older Mr Fix-it type who takes care of building maintenance. Adam is a widower, but young enough to be seen as an attractive older man by the teen students and a potential romantic interest for any teachers who are unattached and looking. However, the school’s governing board has made it clear that romantic fraternizing with his staff isn’t allowed. Of course that means someone is bound to see that as a challenge. Adam’s struggle to hit the right tone with teachers and students, accomplish what the board has set as his goals, and work out what he wants his future to be, all make for an interesting and engaging story.

While there were a few minor instances of situations that didn’t ring true for me, the first two thirds of the book were mostly a fun, entertaining read. Although the book is not and is not intended to be a romance (despite Amazon including that as one of its classifications), the first two acts are set up exactly like a romance. Perhaps some of my struggles were subconscious expectations created by that pattern. Then the third act goes all to hell, at least if the reader is expecting the final third to play out like a romance.

First, another party is thrown into the mix. While this person is someone who has been mentioned a few times before now, how and what happens seems out of left field based on the story thus far. It feels like the reader has been set up, not unlike if a mystery book was to have the detective suddenly solve the puzzle by arresting someone we’d have no clue was even a viable suspect. Then, at the last second, that doesn’t work out the way it appears to be headed, and we’re thrown another twist, more in keeping with where the overall story seemed to be headed in some ways, very much not like that in others. Sometimes a story gets described as “like a roller coaster ride” and that is meant as a positive. For me, this was more like a roller coaster that jumped the tracks on the final turn.

FYI:

Uses UK slang and spelling conventions.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: *** Three Stars

Friday, February 27, 2015

DragonKin / Maria Schneider


Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Genre: Fantasy / Young Adult

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

Availability    
Kindle  US: YES  UK: YES  Nook: YES  Smashwords: YES  Paper: NO
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords store

Author:

Maria Schneider grew up in New Mexico and currently lives near Austin, Texas with her husband.

After working in the computer industry for twelve years she now enjoys creating messes and inventing characters to find their way clear of her imaginings.

You can find several of Maria's short stories online in such fine magazines as: Coyote Wild Magazine, www.AnthologyBuilder.com, TownDrunkMag.com and Over My Dead Body.

She writes cozy mysteries, fantasy, paranormal mysteries. Feel free to check out her website.

Description:

“Drissa needs a place to hide, and she needed it yesterday. Wendal, with its rumors of inhospitable shifters, unknown terrain and wild magic, is not a territory many want to explore, making it the perfect place to disappear. Now, the last thing Drissa needs is to adopt more trouble, but what can she do when it hatches at her feet and then insists she drag it and a half-dead stranger to safety? But she’ll do whatever is necessary to survive, because her younger sister can’t wait forever to be rescued. Of course, Wendal and its inhabitants aren’t necessarily interested in her long-term plans or her survival.”

Appraisal:

This adventure is full of dragons, dragonkin (smaller dragons that don’t shift), gryphons, shifters, ogres, chimera, snakes, unhappy parents, a cruel uncle, poisonous plants, and one very special dryad (wood nymph). It also had a romance that made my heart melt. The story hits the ground running and doesn’t stop. There is a plot to enslave the dragonkin with nefarious capitalists who have enlisted the help of the chimera.

The plot is full of action as Lindis, Drissa, and Falk try to save the dragonkin from their plight. Sparks is the dragonkin hatchling that has adopted Drissa, he is delightful through the whole story as he grows up fast. The plot takes some unexpected twists as Falk’s parents try to find him a mate that will be advantageous for their clan. With Drissa running from the same fate and trying to save her younger sister who was drafted to replace her, she and Falk are able to relate.

I got a chuckle out of the fact that the same prince was kidnapped, again, to marry Drissa’s sister as in the Dragons of Wendal. This prince has some serious security issues to deal with back at home. Since he hasn’t chosen his own bride yet, I wondered if perhaps he is gay. Wouldn’t that be a hoot? (Sorry, I got distracted there a minute.) Ms. Schneider has done a wonderful job building her fantasy world and the characters who inhabit it. Except the chimera, I couldn’t wrap my head around them, they seemed too illogical. Mad cows would have been a better choice. (Stifles a giggle.)

FYI:

This is the second book in Dragons of Wendal series. There are a few returning characters in DragonKin, however I think it could be read as a standalone.

Format/Typo Issues:

I found no significant editing or formatting issues.

Rating: ***** Five stars