Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Death by Didgeridoo / Barbara Venkataraman


Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Genre: Mystery

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:

Barbara Venkataraman is an attorney and mediator specializing in family law and debt collection.

She is the author of The Fight for Magicallus, a children's fantasy; a humorous short story entitled If You'd Just Listened to Me in the First Place; and two books of humorous essays: I'm Not Talking about You, Of Course and A Trip to the Hardware Store & Other Calamities, which are part of the Quirky Essays for Quirky People series. Both books of humorous essays won the prestigious "Indie Book of the Day" award.

Description:

When Jamie Quinn’s mom dies of cancer, the family-law attorney quits work and tries to make sense of her life. But when her autistic nephew, Adam, becomes the prime suspect in a murder, she’s forced to engage the world again in order to prove his innocence.

Appraisal:

I don’t often read mysteries, but variety is the spice of life, and this book’s Amazon sample was appealing. I particularly enjoyed the author’s light and engaging writing style.

This is a short “taster” novelette, and as such it’s main job is to introduce Jamie Quinn--that part of the mission was well accomplished. Written in first person, Jamie occasionally breaks the fourth wall (speaks directly to the reader), and the technique worked—it got me rooting for her from the very beginning of the story.

The story itself rolled along nicely. I also enjoyed the politically-incorrect private detective, Duke. I suspect he’ll be coming along for the series, too.

The only problem I had was one of confusion. There were a lot of character names, and they blurred together somewhat for me, so that, or maybe because of that, I didn’t engage with any of the suspects. At one point even the author got a name confused, so I wasn’t alone. Also, Adam seemed such an unlikely murderer, that I questioned the DA’s logic; no matter how politically driven he was, I doubt he’d try to accuse a boy suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome of a murder with a blunt instrument.

All in all, though, a fast, light, fun read.

Format/Typo Issues:

I read on Kindle and it was double spaced, which kinda wore my page-turning finger thin.


Rating: **** Four stars

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Crowing, Tooting, or Something Like That

Between multiple vacations and attempting to catch up the few days I was home in between, it snuck past me. I knew it was coming and meant to keep better track. But alas, it didn’t happen. So, in a belated fashion, I thought I’d crow about a significant milestone Books and Pals recently hit.



Two or three weeks ago (July 25, if I counted correctly), we published our 1,000th unique review. That took almost exactly three and a half years. Our very first post, a review of Vicki Tyley’s Brittle Shadows, was published on January 23, 2011. Thanks to all the readers, many who have been with us from the first days and weeks, and to the Pals, past and present, who are the critical piece in being able to review as many books across virtually all genres as we do. And thanks for the chance to toot our own horn.




We’ll now return to our regular programming.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Ever Lost (Secret Affinity Book 2) / Melissa MacVicar


Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Genre: Young Adult/ Paranormal/ Ghost Story

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 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:

“Melissa MacVicar lives on Nantucket Island with her husband and two children. She is a full-time teacher who loves classic rock, watching football, and reading anything that is romantic and suspenseful.”

Find out more about her at her website or stalk her on Facebook.

Description:

New town, new school, new ghost.

Jade has a dedicated boyfriend, an overprotective mom, and a full scholarship. Uprooted from Nantucket, Jade is installed off-island at her dad’s new house so she can attend snobby Layton Academy. Leaving Charlie behind is sheer torment, but living with her father has plenty of dangerous distraction—in the form of a terrifying spirit haunting her new school. Hottie classmate Mateo Fernandez can’t see the ghost, but he knows its story. He’d like to know hers, too, but Jade still misses Charlie, even though distance seems to be changing him.

With support from Mateo and the mysterious Noemie, Jade commits to helping the agonized spirit cross over. As she delves into the ghost’s past, the disturbing secrets Jade learns draw her into a deadly confrontation with a desperate man. If she can’t play his demented game, the spirit’s harrowing fate could become her own.”

Appraisal:

This story is told through multiple first person points of view that are clearly marked at the beginning of each chapter. The main characters are well developed and the dialogue between the students sounds believable. Of course the ghost doesn’t waste any time appearing to Jade and she seems a little better equipped to deal with him than she was in the first book. However, she is trying to adapt to a new school environment and make new friends.

The plot moves along at a decent pace as Jade fumbles around looking for a mentor to help her with the ghost since her Grandma Irving is too busy taking care of her sick Papa. Then there is the distraction of Mateo, the hottie who has taken an interest Jade. However she is still hung-up on her new step-brother, Charlie. This is one reason why Jade is now living with her father and enrolled in Layton Academy, a private school in Manchester. Luckily Jade finds a suitable mentor in Noemie before the plot takes a frightening turn.

I did find Jade a little more personable in this story, her narrating was interspersed with more dialogue which made the story easier to relate to. Noemie is an interesting character and she seems to have a lot to teach Jade. I hope she will be around for a while because she added a dimension that had been alluded to by Jade’s Gram in Ever Near and needed to be explored further. This opens up new possibilities for things to get very interesting or troubling for Jade in future stories. 

FYI:

Even though this is the second book in Secret Affinity series, Ever Lost could be read as a stand-alone. Any facts that you may need to know from Ever Near are repeated in this story for the readers’ convenience.

Format/Typo Issues:

I read an Advanced Reader Copy and I found no significant editing or proofing errors.


Rating: **** Four stars
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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Fallen on Good Times / Rewan Tremethick


Reviewed by: Keith Nixon

Genre: Crime / Thriller / Mystery

Approximate word count: 65-70,000 words

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

Author:

Rewan Tremethick was named after a saint who was impervious to wolves. In his career Rewan has tried his hand at many roles, from stand-up to radio presenting. Fallen on Good Times is his debut novel.

Description:

Laslo Kane is a private investigator in the small town of Pilgrims Wane. He’s not the best of detectives, in fact he’s terrible when it comes to traditional cases he’s downright terrible. But Laslo doesn’t investigate ordinary crimes, he deals with the extraordinary.

Appraisal:

This is an interesting novel with a lot to like plus it’s a little different to the norm. Fallen… is set in 1920 and tips a heavy wink to American gangster tales with plenty of observations and slang relevant to the period.

However on top of this is an element of the supernatural thrown in. Most of the residents of Pilgrims Wane are totally unaware of what goes on around them –the existence and activities of werewolves, ogres, ghosts and vampires. Even Laslo’s ex-girlfriend, who he split with in order to protect her knows nothing.

The way the supernatural aspect is introduced by the author is subtle initially. The odd word or phrase thrown in here and there. Initially I thought Fallen… was based in another dimension. Not so. As a result this makes the paranormal more acceptable and believable because the reader gradually gets used to the new norm. It’s nicely done and adds to the reading experience.

From a technical perspective Fallen… is good fun, there are wisecracks galore, particularly from Laslo himself who narrates the story in the first person. He’s a fun and likable guy. The pace is high and there’s plenty of intrigue, on top of the supernatural element, to revel in.

Overall this is more than a decent debut novel that’s worth picking up. I’m interested to see the next installment.

Format/Typo Issues:

A few repeat words later in the novel.


Rating: **** Four Stars

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Five Faces (The Markhat Files) / Frank Tuttle


Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Genre: Urban Fantasy/ Detective/ Mystery

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 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:

“Frank Tuttle lives and writes in the perpetually humid wilderness of North Mississippi. Frank tried to be a proper Southern author and write about pickups and hound dogs, but trolls and magic kept creeping into his stories, so Frank is a fantasy author. Although hounds do make occasional appearances in his fiction.”

To learn more about Frank Tuttle you can check out hiswebsite. However, I suggest following his blog, it is always entertaining.  Of course you may also stalk him on Facebook.

Description:

“It starts as a typical day in the park, with Markhat tracking a bully the law won’t touch, and promising a little girl he’ll find her missing dog, name of Cornbread.

But as the sun sets over Rannit, a new menace creeps out with the dark. There’s a killer on the loose, and Markhat the finder suspects magic behind the murders. Each victim receives a grisly drawing depicting the place, time, and manner of death. Not a single victim has escaped the brutal fate drawn for them—and now Markhat’s own death-drawing has arrived.”

Appraisal:

I have been reading Frank Tuttle’s Markhat books since I got my very first Kindle. He quickly became one of my favorite Indie authors. I love the fantasy world and the quirky characters he has invented for this series. So, I was excited when he submitted The Five Faces to Books and Pals for a review and I jumped on it. Needless to say it didn’t take me long to settle back into Markhat’s magical world, there is a noir feel to the mysteries and Mr. Tuttle has recently employed steampunk in the mix. I love the way Indie authors can play around with genres.

Markhat is a finder, a private investigator, who has a capricious relationship with the local law enforcement of Rannit. The story begins with Markhat looking for a young girl’s stolen dog and quickly escalates into a mystery much more complicated and far reaching than dog theft. The plot moves at a nice pace as it twists into the devastating potential of unraveling the whole universe as human soul theft becomes the theme. With the help of Mama Hog, Granny Knot, Buttercup, Stitches, and Evis, Markhat has to fit the pieces together to save himself and the world as they know it from an evil spirit seeking his own godhood.

Mr. Tuttle has a talent for developing his characters with dialog that I really appreciate. I love the banter and self-deprecating humor that he excels at. I also like the elements from our world that he weaves into his unique fantasy world of human characters along with wand-wavers, undead, trolls, banshees, soothsayers, and vampires.  I am not quite sure what to make of the slilth, but I like what he did with it at the end of the story. I am laughing right along with Stitches. I also have to laugh at the Brown River Bridge clown patrol, they add an interesting touch to Rannit’s unsavory population.

If you enjoy noir detective stories with a human element in a paranormal atmosphere you are bound to enjoy The Five Faces or any of Frank Tuttle’s Markhat series for that matter.

FYI:

The Five Faces is book 8 in the Markhat series. I think this book could be read as a standalone, however some character nuances would be missed. I don’t think that would lessen your enjoyment of the story.

Format/Typo Issues:

I found no significant errors in editing or formatting.


Rating: ***** Five stars

Friday, August 22, 2014

Suicide in Tiny Increments / Riya Anne Polcastro


Reviewed by: Keith Nixon

Genre: Satire / Humour / Thriller

Approximate word count: 50-55,000 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:

Polcastro describes herself as a student of human behavior and a conduit for raw words. She has a fascination with mental illness and human interaction which influences her work. Suicide… is her debut.

You can learn more about the author at her website.

Description:

Daniel Long lives a sad, lonely existence. So much so he decides to hire a hitman to end his miserable life because he’s not brave enough to do it himself. But then one of his friends kills herself and he realizes things aren’t as bad as he thinks. Unfortunately the hitman doesn’t agree…

Appraisal:

I was drawn to this novel because of the interesting blurb and title. Unfortunately the contents didn’t quite match up.

Daniel has a dead end job and a minimal circle of friends. He’s attracted to Tina, but can’t seem to get close to her. His previous relationship was a mess – Cindi was bisexual and free with her body.

Then he finds the hitman, who happens (unknown to Daniel) to have a connection with him that later arises in the story – which is quite neat. Daniel decides he has to say goodbye to his few friends – including Jennifer. His news makes her commit suicide – she’s in love with him. When Daniel learns this after her death he decides he doesn’t want to die and hides at Tina’s house.

Then it all goes a bit haywire as Tina and Daniel turn the tables on the hitman and hunt him down.

It’s written in the present tense which gave the story a sense of urgency. However, some readers may struggle with this – I did. There are long stretches of life observations – in particular Daniel considering his ‘time’ with Cindi, often graphically.

None of the characters are particularly likable, which was probably the aim. Unfortunately this meant I couldn’t empathise with them and situations that were supposed to be amusing bordered on irritating. The conclusion is a similar affair – a ‘what the?!’ event. A somewhat frustrating read.

FYI:

Plenty of swearing and graphic descriptions.

Format/Typo Issues:

A couple of clunky sentences.


Rating: ** Two Stars

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Shadowline Drift / Alexes Razevich


Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Genre: Metaphysical Thriller

Approximate word count: 50-55-000 words

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

Author:

Alexes Razevich was born in New York and grew up in Orange County, California. She attended California State University San Francisco where she earned a degree in Creative Writing. After a successful career on the fringe of the electronics industry, including stints as Director of Marketing for a major trade show management company and as an editor for Electronic Engineering Times, she returned to her first love--fiction. She lives in Southern California with her husband. When she isn't writing, she enjoys playing hockey and travel.
She would love to have you join her on Twitter and get to know you on Facebook.
Description:
Jake Kendrick is a brilliant negotiator, even though—or maybe because—he's only three and a half feet tall. When a substance is discovered which holds the promise to end world hunger, Jake seems the perfect person to secure the rights from the diminutive Amazonian chief who claims to hold the only supply.

Appraisal:

This is the most unusual novel I’ve read this year. A story within which anything is possible and little is as it seems. The author kept me unbalanced and on edge throughout, and I enjoyed the ride.

A minimalistic plot gives the main character an overriding purpose to keep moving forward through seemingly insurmountable odds, and this frees the author to delve into a world of the real and the imaginary. For me, the reading pleasure came through the fascinating metaphysical backdrop that draped every character and event—eerily believable and richly detailed. Try this for a descriptive sentence: “Purple orchids burst through the fat green leaves like tethered birds aching to take flight,” or this for mood setting: “Drizzle fell, as soft as kisses on his skin.” I highlighted quite a few more.

A few loose ends remained untied at the conclusion, but I didn’t feel cheated. This story was about the journey not the plot. A bit like an acid trip, there’s little to be gained by explaining what went on, you have to experience it for yourself. I’d strongly recommend reading the Amazon sample. If you enjoy how the story starts, I don’t think you’ll regret reading through to the end.  

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues


Rating: ***** Five stars