Saturday, July 26, 2014

Requiem for a Lost Youth / Diana Hockley


Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Mystery/Short Story

Approximate word count: 3-4,000 words

Availability    
Kindle  US: YES  UK: YES  Nook: NO  Smashwords: NO  Paper: NO
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Author:

Diana Hockley lives in a small town in rural Australia with her husband and seven pet rats. In addition to several short stories, Hockley also has two novels available.

Description:

“Sometimes the past comes back to haunt you...”

Appraisal:

As I try to figure out what to say about Requiem for a Lost Youth I think of a point, then say, “nope, that gives away too much.” All I can say is that there are at least two mysteries and a character or two who have a youthful indiscretion that comes back to haunt them, all packed in just a few thousand words. A quick, yet satisfying read.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues


Rating: **** Four stars

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Number of the House is 13 / T. R. Sutherland


Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Horror/Ghost Story/Short Story

Approximate word count: 6-7,000 words

Availability    
Kindle  US: YES  UK: YES  Nook: NO  Smashwords: NO  Paper: NO
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Author:

In her day job T.R. Sutherland is a computer programmer. She lives in Florida with her husband and their dog.

Description:

“On this street the house was number 13.

For two adventurous cousins, the reputation this house has acquired is based on rumor, and they're determined to find out if there is any truth in it. They decide to explore the house to see for themselves what all the fuss is about. As soon as they approach the house, they become aware of a menacing presence. Their plan was to spend the entire night in the house, but with each passing moment the house slowly comes alive as a cold terror creeps in.

Will they make it through the night?”

Appraisal:

I thought this short story started out well. A haunted house is a premise that’s been done before, which means originality is harder to find, yet it is also so well known that the setup is easy. This story started out feeling like one of those tall tales you might relate while sitting around a campfire late at night only with more detail and better descriptions.

The narrator (who I don’t think was ever named) and his cousin, Jett, set off to explore the haunted house. The foundation was set, the tension was building, and then I started seeing holes in the story. A room was described as having thirteen walls, which set my mind off on a tangent, trying to picture how that could be and how plausible it was. One second it is so dark that Jett was groping in the dark, trying to find a candle that had gone out, and the next they’re able to see the detail of the candle well enough to see that it had been “stuffed out” with someone or something pushing the wick into the melted wax rather than blown out. Later they sense two “persons” (presumably ghosts) “with the slightest possible distance between them” go by, yet in the next breath the beings have changed directions with the follower “steadily getting closer.” (I thought they were just as close together as possible.)

A ghost story, like any story containing things most of us are certain don’t exist, requires a reader to suspend disbelief. Usually I’m able. Here, with things I couldn’t picture and what seemed like one sentence contradicting the next, I wasn’t able.

The story ends with the narrator making the statement that he wonders “what was reality and what was nervous delusion.” Unfortunately I was wondering the same thing, only way too early.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues


Rating: *** Three stars

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Reprise review: Adrift in the Sound / Kate Campbell


Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Approximate word count: 90-95,000 words

Availability    
Kindle  US: YES  UK: YES  Nook: NO  Smashwords: NO  Paper: YES
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Author:

A novelist, journalist and photographer, Kate Campbell grew up in San Francisco and has lived and worked throughout California and the West. Adrift in the Sound, was a finalist for New York's 2011 Mercer Street Books Literary Prize. Campbell's environmental and political writing appears regularly in newspapers and magazines throughout the U.S. She lives in Sacramento and, in addition to writing fiction and poetry, publishes the Word Garden blog.

Description:

Lizette is a gifted abstract painter with severe personality issues—perhaps bi-polar—although I don’t believe this was stated. Pressured to achieve as a child, when her artist mother committed suicide something snapped inside Lizette. Estranged from her father, she drifts into bad company, and makes unwise life-choices. The story follows Lizette as she struggles with mental illness and searches for meaning in her life. Although set in the Seventies, no attachment with that era is required to connect with this story.

Appraisal:

I read because I love to lose myself in another world and experience life vicariously through someone else’s eyes. Also, as an aspiring writer, I read to learn. For me, reading Adrift in the Sound was tantamount to attending a fiction writing master class.

Tactile scene settings sucked me into a story as multi-layered as one of Lizette’s beautifully described oil paintings. Ms. Campbell colors her scenes with fine details, often transforming the settings into another character to add emotion. For example, after an argument with her father, Lizette turns her back on him and the house and takes the path in the rain toward the small cabin her mother used as her artists’s studio. Lizette perceives the cabin like this: “Two big windows stared into the tangled garden, watching the house through rain-streaked eyes.” Or her view of the car ferry that will take her to Orcas Island in the Puget Sound, where much of the story unfolds: “The wide-bodied boat nudged the dock, bounced against the pylons, settled into its berth like a lumbering beast nestling into a safe burrow.” Or the way the ocean appears to her: “The afternoon sun scattered silver sequins across the water.” I confess I have a ton more highlights on my Kindle; so many I had to stop myself. Unable to choose which to use in the review, I simply chose the first three—they’re all exceptional.

Lizette’s world is populated by a cast of complex, multi-faceted characters. Many are unpleasant. All were real to me. A brutal sexual assault early in the story permanently scars Lizette and scarred this reader along with her. It happened because she takes crazy chances and trusts the wrong people. But don’t see her as a weakling. On a number of occasions she does significant harm to those whom she perceives as a threat. Although, as I watched Lizette become a danger to others, I was never quite sure of her intentions. That’s a measure of how off-balance the author kept me, and how hard I was rooting for Lizette.

Lizette’s affinity for the native Indians who live on Orcas and form her support group provides more wonderful characters whose lifestyle grounds the story in history and in nature. I have no connection with Native Indians or their customs, but I found their lives and beliefs and plain commonsense added to the palette of an already colorful story.

The novel is a deep, slow burn, and not without humor. One particular scene involving a large snake and an unpleasant junkie had me laughing so loud I woke my wife (I read at night). A larger-than-life character--self-described poet, Toulouse--is described in the eyes of Lizette’s friend, Marian thusly: “Toulouse moved off with a flourish, tipping a goodbye from the rim of his foolish hat. Marian watched him go, his self-importance shoved up his ass like a mop handle.”

Complex, troubled, and gifted, Lizette connects with the natural world on such a deep level that she pulled me along until I stood beside her marveling at the natural beauty of an ocean wave, or the fearsome power of the killer whales as they hunt in the Sound, or the subtle simplicity of an old Indian woman dancing in a mask of feathers and bear skin. She broke my heart as we watched a seal taken by a predator, or a pet dog injured. I know, as she does, it’s natural. You can’t interfere, you can’t help—but still, you share the stab of her guilt.

With more “Oh, didn’t see that coming” moments than I had any right to expect, Adrift in The Sound is the best book I’ve read in a long time.

Check it out. You won’t regret it.   

Format/Typo Issues:

No typos to mention. Some graphic scenes and bad language (used appropriately).


Rating: ***** Five stars

#Free for your #Kindle, 7/24/2014

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 Birr Elixir by Jo Sparkes





Veganism: A Beginner's Motivational Guide for THE Most Healthy, Plant Based Lifestyle and How to Transition in to the Delicious Vegan World! (Vegan Diet) by Elizabeth Aron




The House on Persimmon Road by Jackie Weger



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, July 23, 2014

Monkey Talk / T. Lucas Earle


Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Science Fiction/Short Story

Approximate word count: 4-5,000 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:

“T. Lucas Earle is a writer and filmmaker. T. Lucas has a degree in Film Production from Emerson College, and currently works as a script reader in LA. His stories have been published in Electric Spec and The Colored Lens. T. Lucas also writes two blogs and reviews television pilots for Blogcritics. His dark comedy, Abduction, was premiered in the 2013 LA Shorts Film Fest.”

Description:

“Loosely based on the Chinese myth, the Monkey King, a timeless story about who belongs, and who doesn’t. In a future in which Chimps can give lectures on cybernetics, Mr. Towry is a Chimp with an attitude.”

Appraisal:

Reviewing a short story presents challenges that are unique to the form. At least part of that is saying something meaningful, yet not too vague, without giving away too much of the plot. If I was familiar with the Chinese myth of the Monkey King the description says this is based on, I could riff on that. But I’m not.

Apparently (cribbing from the description again) that Chineese myth has something to do with “who belongs, and who doesn’t.” The interesting thing is, I could argue that Monkey Talk could be interpreted two different ways. First, in a world where a chimp can be an accomplished scientist like Mr Towry, where he and his fellow apes are arguably more evolved than humans, the obvious lesson is that being different doesn’t mean you don’t belong. However, as Mr Towry argues to his new human assistant, “we’re all animals,” and the story gives enough ammunition to someone so inclined to make the claim that Towry isn’t as evolved as he’d like us to think and doesn’t really belong. I’m going for the first interpretation, but think that leaving room for either interpretation is a positive and makes the story more thought provoking.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: **** Four stars

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Vulgarian Vamp (Wendy Darlin Tomb Raider Book 5) / Barbara Silkstone


Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Genre: Humor/ Mystery/ Adventure/ Paranormal

Approximate word count: 40-45,000 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:

“Barbara Silkstone is the best-selling author of the Wendy Darlin Tomb Raider series ~ Mystery Comedies featuring Wendy Darlin, Miami real estate broker and part-time Tomb Raider. Silkstone enjoys doing playful things with language as she writes criminally funny tales ripped from the headlines...shaken, not stirred, and served with a twist and a chuckle. She lives in south Florida where she survives on buttered popcorn and fried chicken... extra crispy.”

You can find out more about Ms. Silkstone at her website or connect with her on her blog. Ms. Silkstone has also recently opened another website that has nothing to do with books. “The Second Act CafĂ© is a place for those lingering on either side of fifty. It’s about getting even by having fun. Life truly should be one long laugh.” Her books are also available on Audible.com.

Description:

“You are cordially invited to the destination wedding of Wendy Darlin Tomb Raider and Doctor Roger Jolley, world-renowned archaeologist to be held at the Van Helsing Resort and Spa in Loutish, Vulgaria. In lieu of wedding gifts please bring whole garlic buds. The ceremony will begin once the forty bloodless monks are contained in Carfax Abbey.”

Appraisal:

Roger Jolley has finally convinced Wendy to marry him so he whisks her off for a destination wedding in Vulgaria. Wendy allowed Roger to pick the location, her only requirement was that it be thug-less. Wendy is also sporting a seven month baby bump and the hormones that come with that stage of pregnancy. To say she was a bit cranky at times is an understatement. Hilarity ensues as both Wendy and Roger try to curb their language so as not to taint little Roger’s ears while in the womb, in hopes that the habit will stick with them after the baby is born. With Wendy’s best friend, Kit, by her side for support and the assistance of Miss Squil E. McCurley, the hotel innkeeper/cook, the Van Helsing Resort and Spa looked to be the perfect romantic location. NOT.

Needless to say the quaint little town of Loutish has more surprises for the happy couple than they expected. Between the mysterious events that had just befallen the Carfax Abbey, to old Vulgarian customs that must be adhered to for their wedding to be legal, and mob mentality Loutish villager’s the festivities get a little disorderly. Just for fun Ms. Silkstone has thrown in a politician building his platform for the upcoming election, a mattress salesman who sees a business opportunity, an ex-husband thought to be dead, and vampires. All these ingredients are stirred, not shaken, and ultimately brought together with Roger’s secret motive for choosing Van Helsing Resort and Spa that makes one hell of a good story that will warm the cockles of your heart.  

The plot is fast paced and multi-layered as things spin out of control, at least until the Vatican Vampire Investigators arrive in the Vaticopters. Will Roger and Wendy manage to get married by Reverend Bram Soaker and protect the cutest little non-sparkly vampire, Mina, who has been living on the wine stored under Carfax Abbey her entire undead life? This is a fun mystery with a surprise twist at the end. I can’t wait for Wendy’s adventures to continue.

FYI:

This is the fifth book in the Wendy Darlin Tomb Raider series. While this could be read as a stand-alone, I think it would be more thoroughly enjoyed having read the previous books of the Tomb Raider series.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant errors.


Rating: ***** Five stars 

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Minefield of Writing Ancient Egyptian Fiction, a guest post by Inge H. Borg



The old advice from largely inaccessible agents used to be “only write about what you know personally.”

I obviously disregarded those sage words (and am consequently not on any best-seller lists). Well-meaning friends and readers of KHAMSIN, The Devil Wind of The Nile, often ask, “Have you been there?”

Duh, people! Khamsin plays out in 3080 BC. I may be old, but surely you don’t think I am that ancient. That said, of course, the “feel” of historical fiction has to be there – or your soul, your eternal ba, shall be cursed “never to cross through the field of rushes to find eternal peace.”

That leaves RESEARCH; and plenty of it. So, what really happened at the dawn of that amazing civilization having apparently sprung out of nowhere as a fully formed society?

Nobody knows. So you (the historical fiction writer) assume you can just fabricate the stuff. Not so fast. There are plenty of people (I am excluding historians and archaeologists here) who do know a lot more than you do. Hence, you have to do your research to be incorporated into your story in such a way that it feels authentic without the infamous info-dump just to show what you have learned; and that’s when the trouble starts.

Time-lines especially become a blur of contradictions and "facts" are constantly superseded by new findings. Take Dynasties 00 to 03, for example, since I wrote about the dawn of Dynasty 01. Every publication hungrily perused for indisputable dates lists a different year, even century, as the beginning and duration of those dynasties. Of course, we are dealing with things that supposedly happened five-thousand years ago; and the pox on those inconsiderate scribes who didn’t save their scrolls in “The Cloud.”

Then, take the names of kings, their wives/consorts, and the ancient places. Most widely recognized are the major settlements described by the Egyptian priest Manetho (written in Greek). But he, too, was a few thousand years late to the party and—so they say—had quite a good imagination.

The Greek historian Herodotus gave us “Memphis,” and “Thebes,” and “Abydos,” among many others. The pyramid of Mycinerus? Really? Did Menkaure (also spelled Menkaura and Mencaure) speak Greek? One therefore needs to choose between the various spellings for the same thing and, if you concoct a story around that time, stick to it.

For me, it all started when I happened upon the publications by individual archaeologists describing, nay, expounding their latest and greatest findings. One stumbling block was the often apparent hesitation of their colleagues to accept contradictions to their research. Likely for fear that those might usurp their own published and accepted scientific papers. Hello! Are those theses chiseled onto modern Rosetta Stones and are they, henceforth, forever indisputable?

Way back, when I started my saga, I had no Internet, no Google, no Wikipedia. “You need to read William Budge,” the librarian suggested. Great Horus! Little did I know how outdated that was, and as I wormed my way past Howard Carter et al, I finally stumbled upon the illustrious albeit somewhat opinionated Dr. Zahi Hawass.

I wrangled with the familiar names of the ancient sites (until modern Egypt changed them into Arabic): Hierakonpolis, Herakleopolis, Heliopolis. “Wait a minute. These are all Greek names again,” I sputtered, and then had a heck of a time to find the ancient name Ineb-hedj (City of White Walls). Yes, it’s the well bandied-about Memphis. It definitely wasn’t Memphis during the First Dynasty. Finally, I stuck as best as I could to the ancient names resorting to appendices and a glossary for readers who wanted to know “the real thing.” But one must consider the casual, even though quite knowledgeable reader. Chucking authenticity aside, I decided to stick with a few Greek names for the better-known gods, such as Isis and Horus.

So what is an innocent soul like me – a former Austrian mountain goat turned California sailor - doing traipsing in and out of this ancient minefield? Sometimes, I think that, just maybe, I should be writing erotica instead (it certainly sells better). But, I suspect, that too requires certain research (volunteers not requested).

The morale of my story: If you write HF, you do have to do your search – and know more than you ever use in your novel. Nothing is easier than to slip back into our own comfort zone – but it just wouldn’t do to have a scribe “text” to ask his mother what she’s cooking for dinner; and then “pick up his fork.”

In the end, a writer must strive that the story itself prevails, with the exotic backdrop enhancing rather than challenging a reader’s experience (although I do provide several appendices for cities, gods, etc.).

It all seems to have turned out well, though, since Khamsin, The Devil Wind of The Nile (Book 1 – Legends of the Winged Scarab), has just been short-listed with 8 other books for the 2014 Indie Award by the Historical Novel Society – the winners to be announced at the HNS London Conference in September –read more about it here:

About the Author:

Born and raised in Austria, Inge H. Borg completed her language studies in London and Paris. To continue her study of French (in a round-about way), she accepted a job at the French Embassy in Moscow. After Ms. Borg was transferred to the States, she has worked on both coasts, and after several years of living in San Diego, she finally became a US citizen.

Ms. Borg now lives in a diversified lake community in Arkansas (call it happy exile), where she continues to write historical and contemporary fiction. She also just published a non-fiction book about her cat and its former shelter buddies. Her poetry has been published in over twenty anthologies and was chosen for professionally recorded readings. Her hobbies include world literature, opera, sailing and, of course, devising new plots for future novels.

Author Pages -- Inge H. Borg