Friday, November 21, 2014

The Pool Boy's Beatitude / DJ Swykert

Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Approximate word count:

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DJ Swykert is a former 911 operator. His work has appeared in The Tampa Review, Detroit News, Monarch Review, Lunch Ticket, Zodiac Review, Barbaric Yawp and Bull. His books include Children of the Enemy, Maggie Elizabeth Harrington, Alpha Wolves, The Death of Anyone and The Pool Boy’s Beatitude.

You can find Swykert at his website. He is a wolf expert.

Jack is an alcoholic, drug-using, womanizing, university dropout who stumbles through life by cleaning swimming pools.


This was a fascinating read on a number of levels. Firstly, Mr. Swykert knows how to put words on a page. The writing is crisp and engaging. Which is a good thing, because the main character, Jack, needs all the help he can get. To say he’s not an easy character to like is to understate the obvious. He’s cheating on his wife, cheating on his girlfriend, and in general willing to cheat or lie about anything if it’ll lead to his next drink.

So, it’s quite an achievement to write a story told from this reprobate’s point of view and yet keep me engaged throughout. In a strange way, I was always rooting for Jack, but God knows he didn’t deserve my sympathy.

When I tell you that that the story spans only a few weeks of Jack’s life, you’ll understand that I spent most of the time inside Jack’s head. And I learned quite a lot about the mind of an addict in the process. Although his lifestyle was not to be admired, it made perfect sense.

All in all, an unusual and fascinating read.  

Format/Typo Issues:

Some graphic sexual situations including mild BDSM.

Rating: **** Four stars

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ghosts of A.R.C.A.D.I.A / Ramsey Isler

Reviewed by: Michael Thal

Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy

Approximate word count: 40-45,000 words

Kindle  US: YES  UK: YES  Nook: NO  Smashwords: NO  Paper: NO
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Ramsey Isler’s day job is a software developer and designer in Los Angeles. When not playing with his cat or writing feature articles and media reviews at, Ramsey enjoys writing science fiction and fantasy. One of his most recent novels is The Remortal, a tale about a teen boy surviving on the streets of LA who bumps into a man who wants the teen to kill him.


Miguel Naciamento is a graduate of Stanford University, a freelance writer, and recipient of the prestigious Pulitzer Prize. In his bones he feels a second Pulitzer from the fishy atmosphere generated by the A.R.C.A.D.I.A. debacle. ARCADIA is a computer game, but not just your run-of-the-mill game one can find on the shelves of Best Buy. Created by computer genius, Ivy Yeun, ARCADIA is “an interactive world simulator with incredible detail and the ability to control everything with the power of thought.” The device can actually read a players mind.


Author Ramsey Isler has created a world in the near future where gamers get a unique experience of a lifetime. However, players are fleeing from the system like rats in a flooded tenement. Someone has hacked into the impenetrable ARCADIA system stealing money from bank accounts despite the fact that they had never linked those accounts to the game. With the help of Ivy Yeun, Naciamento sniffs out the story that peels away layer after layer to uncover an astounding revelation.

Ghosts of ARCADIA is a heart-pounding tale that will keep readers glued to its pages through this fascinating novella. 

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: ***** Five Stars

#Free for your #Kindle, 11/20/2014

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.

Ratpaths by Angelika Rust

Adelaide Confused by Penny Greenhorn

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, November 19, 2014

Guest Post from Russ Hall, author of To Hell and Gone in Texas

Writers willing to talk about themselves often amounts to a literary oxymoron.  Many people in this dilemma, like myself, are introverts who favor staying in the cave writing new engaging tales, or revisiting the characters they have created who they have come to know as friends. So I will seek instead to discuss how characters happen, how they come to life, and how they liberate writers by living daring, dangerous, and even (gasp) extroverted lives. And I will certainly want to touch on how the process is therapy for the authors, while at the same time managing to provide entertainment, discovery, and exploration for the readers.

We create characters we like, who have foibles, likes, dislikes, and complexity. We learn the most by what a characters wants. Writers must know a great deal about their characters, but it is not necessary to put all of it on the page, for that is part of the reader’s opportunity to discover.

So, here’s how I went about character development in To Hell and Gone in Texas.

Al Quinn and his brother Maury are in their sixties and should be in their golden years of sharing memories of good times, yet they haven’t spoken to each other in twenty years. Al has just retired as a sheriff’s department detective and looks forward to quiet times spent alone in his lakeside home on Lake Travis near Austin. He plans to go fishing, play chess (though most often with himself), and listen to classical music. He feeds his neighborhood deer and hasn’t enough close friends to need the counting fingers of even one hand, yet he is happy and content with his life. Maury, on the other hand is a mess.

All his life Maury has been a womanizer, and let’s face it, for someone getting rapidly older and who already isn’t in the best of health this is a pursuit doomed to diminishing returns. He is starting to become like the dog who chases cars but doesn’t really want to catch one, or wouldn’t know what to do with one if he did. Yet his lifelong wants and desires drive him unthinkingly on. Now, I had a great deal of backstory in my earlier drafts of this book, scenes that detailed the two boys growing up that demonstrated how Maury got the way he was. But that he is the way he is becomes apparent to the reader, so my publisher and I agreed to trim about ten thousand words of backstory of the growth, development, and interaction of the boys. This kept the pace of the suspense/thriller galloping along.

Lest you think that makes Maury a bit too one-dimensional, a horndog of a brother and nothing more, consider that he is most certainly facing a future where he is man whose wants are going to be increasingly less realistic, something he hasn’t thought about enough. Yet the stark comparison and contrast between Maury and his brother Al gives the reader the opportunity to watch how Maury behaves and how he progresses or changes, however slightly. This is part of the path of interaction and discovery that is part of reading. Suspense readers are tuned to this and grasp every nuance, and, as Stephen King said in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, “Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”

I will make an authorial intrusion here to explain that I have a brother who is a year older, and the germ of Al and Maury’s lives stems from that. But my real life brother is by no means a womanizer. In fact, he plays the piano and organ at his church. So I had to apply a little creative juice to let the brothers the reader sees happen on the page. Okay, a lot of creative juice.

There are a number of other important characters in this tale, but let me touch on a couple of favorites. Consider Bonnie, a day nurse from the hospital who agrees to come to Al’s home to tend to Maury. The fact that her daddy taught her to shoot comes in handy. I was at a public park watching a nephew play baseball when I saw the real-world model for Bonnie, just as I describe her. Everything else about her came from the same creative place as Maury’s quirks.

It seemed only fair too to bring in Detective Ferguson “Fergie” Jergens, who Al once took to high school prom, the worst night of his life. At six-foot two and wearing heels Al spent much of that evening looking up her nose. I’m not exactly certain where Fergie came from, but from the moment she first walked into the same room as Al I knew she belonged. Earlier, I mentioned therapy. The way Al interacts with Fergie, Bonnie, and his brother Maury, all provided me with hours of free psychiatric-couch therapy about dealing with wants, fears, and even desires.

Now, the characters in the Los Zetas killer cell, as well as Jaime Avila, the boss of the area’s ICE agents, are the kind of animal fierce people in the news each day as the battle of millions spent by federal agencies competes with billions made by the Mexican cartels. As the sort of characters they are, they provide the stark reality that haunts anyone seeking to live a calm and protected life, while meanwhile the menace creeps closer each day.

You mix up a batch of characters like this and turn them loose on the pages of a book and you can have a ripping good time following the adventures of a wide mix of participants. That’s just the sort of thing I was going for, and what I hope every reader enjoys!

Get your copy of To Hell and Gone in Texas from Amazon US (paper or ebook), Amazon UK (paper or ebook), or Barnes & Noble. And be sure to enter below for a chance to win some great prizes from Red Adept Publishing.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Man of Kiri Maru / Laura L. Sullivan

Reviewed by: Michael Thal

Genre: Short Story/Fantasy

Approximate word count:7-8,000 words

Kindle  US: YES  UK: YES  Nook: NO  Smashwords: NO  Paper: NO
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Laura Sullivan has worn many hats during her professional career—social worker, editor, and even deputy sheriff—providing this talented writer plenty of fodder for her middle grade fantasy novels and YA historical fiction. “A Man of Kiri Maru” is Sullivan’s break into adult fiction.


One day a scientific expedition moored off the coast of Kiri Maru to study the Humboldt squid. It was rumored that the islanders worshipped these red demons, which were larger than a man. Landa, a member of the Council of Youths, set the young scientist straight. “We do not worship the red man of the currents.” Her English was flawless.


Thus begins the scientist’s quest to observe the Humboldt squid in its natural habitat and an unexpected love affair.
Sullivan’s short story is an entertaining quick read with unexpected twists that will keep readers delighted with this enchanting story.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: **** Four Stars

Monday, November 17, 2014

Russian Roulette / Keith Nixon

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Crime Fiction/Suspense

Approximate word count: 55-60,000 words

Kindle  US: YES  UK: YES  Nook: YES  Smashwords: NO  Paper: YES
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During the day Keith Nixon is in a senior sales role, traipsing around Europe for a UK based high tech company. When he settles in for the night he reads and reviews as one of the most prolific of the pals at Books and Pals as well as writing his own fiction. His first novel, The Fix, was picked up by Caffeine Nights Publishing, a small UK based publisher that also published this series.


This is an omnibus of the full Konstantin Novellas series. The seven novellas included are:

Dream Land

Plastic Fantastic

Fat Gary



Close Contact

A Chorus of Bells

Konstantin Boryakov is a Russian with a shady past and, at least from all initial signs, a shady present.


I don’t usually do disclaimers, but this book also has something I’ve never experienced before. Although I’ve been named in acknowledgements in a bunch of books and at least a few music CDs, I don’t remember ever having a book “dedicated” to me. At least not until I read Bullet, the fourth novella in this series. Thanks, Keith, but it didn’t influence my review. Konstantin had me hooked well before.

Reviewing collections, whether of short stories or a series omnibus such as this, can be problematic. You can discuss each individual book, which has a story arc all of its own, or the whole. Both if you’re ambitious. I’m going to go with option two, specifically talking about the main character of Konstantin.

Certain genres tend to focus more on plot while others, the characters are what matters most. Crime fiction or suspense, like this series, is normally all about the plot. Each installment of this series has a plot that is fast paced and satisfying. If this is your thing (and it is mine), you’ll have no complaints. But as I considered after each installment and, even more so, at the end of the series, what it was that stood out for me, it was the character of Konstantin. What I’d learned about him, how (or whether) he’d changed over time, and what that meant.

When I first met Konstantin, when reading Dream Land, he was obviously a bad guy. As in he did things most of us would consider bad. Breaking laws wasn’t something he seemed to even be conscious of. Leaving broken bodies in his wake was the norm. I wouldn’t have called him evil, but believe I used the term amoral. If the reader was ever explicitly told why Konstantin had fled Russia for the shores of England, it slipped by me. My impression was whatever his “job” was, it was shady, although I also thought the possibility was high that he worked for a covert government agency. Regardless of what he did, he’d crossed the wrong person, and needed to leave.

Over the course of the series, my opinion changed. I came to the conclusion that Konstantin wasn’t amoral, he just operated on a different set of morals than most of society. There were people he cared about or others who he felt were unable to defend themselves, who he’d go well beyond what most people would to protect them. He wouldn’t look for trouble, but if trouble found him, he’d meet fire with fire. Those broken bodies in his wake were self defense when someone chose to tangle with the wrong guy. Sometimes first impressions are the opposite of reality.


Adult language.

Uses UK spelling conventions

Format/Typo Issues:

My review is based on a pre-release copy of the book.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Christmas Honeymoon / Alicia Street

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Genre: Sweet Romance/ Contemporary Romance/ Christmas

Approximate word count: 25-30,000 words

Kindle  US: YES  UK: YES  Nook: YES  Smashwords: NO  Paper: NO
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“Alicia Street is a Daphne Award winning author writing in collaboration with her husband, Roy, as well as on solo projects. She spent many years as a dancer, choreographer and teacher. A compulsive reader of every genre, she also loves watching old black-and-white movies and inventing new recipes for soups.”

Find out more about Alicia Street by visiting her website or friending her on Facebook.


“Serena always loved Christmas, but her favorite holiday season only brings on heartache after her groom-to-be runs off with another woman only a week before her December wedding. Giving back the wedding gifts and enduring the humiliating gossip in her small town proves to be too much for the quiet librarian who'd been the brunt of nerd jokes in high school, and Serena leaves town--only to return a year later determined to take back her life, her pride, and her joy in Christmas.

Damien has his own reasons for hating Christmas. No sweet and silly stuff for this handsome Scrooge, who hurls himself into extreme sports, almost daring nature to break through his hard shell. So why does he find his icy heart melting when confronted with the timid librarian whose sweet smile haunts his dreams?”


I needed something short and sweet after my last suspenseful read so I picked up this novella, Christmas Honeymoon. I liked Serena right away and couldn’t wait to read more about her story. She was personable and didn’t shy away from Damien’s Grinchy attitude about Christmas, but challenged him on it. Damien was an interesting character that developed great depth as the story went on. He became my favorite character in the book. I love that he wasn’t quite sure what attracted him to Serena at first. However, it became clear they both had qualities that the other needed to learn from each other.

This story was an enjoyable journey as Serena learns she has the courage to face her fears as Damien points out how she has been courageous in other aspects of her life. Serena returns the favor by giving him new memories for the Christmas season that has always been full of painful memories from the past. This doesn’t eliminate the pain but allows him to move forward and make new memories to focus on in the future. Serena and Damien complimented each other well and I enjoyed my time with them.

Format/Typo Issues:

I found no significant editing or formatting errors.

Rating: **** Four stars