Monday, April 20, 2015

The Storyteller’s Bracelet / Smoky Zeidel


Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Genre: Native American/ Myths/ Historical Fiction/ Magical Realism

Approximate word count:40-45,000 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:

“Smoky Zeidel is a novelist, poet, and earth mage, whose love of the natural world is thematic in all she writes. She taught writing and creativity workshops for many years at venues throughout the Midwest before succumbing to her bohemian urges and moving to Southern California. Her work has earned her two nominations for the prestigious Pushcart Prize.

Smoky lives in a ramshackle cottage in the hills outside Los Angeles with her husband Scott and a plethora of animals, both domestic and wild.

After breaking with her former publisher, Smoky took all her books off the market and went on an 18-month sabbatical from writing, during which time she pursued her love for fiber arts, sculpture, and painting. But words are in her soul; she signed a new publishing contract with Thomas-Jacob Publishing, LLC.”

For more, visit Ms Zeidel's website or like her Facebook page.

Description:

“It is the late 1800s, and the U.S. Government has mandated native tribes send their youth to Indian schools where they are stripped of their native heritage by the people they think of as The Others. Otter and Sun Song are deeply in love, but when they are sent East to school, Otter, renamed Gideon, tries to adapt, where Sun Song does not, enduring brutal attacks from the school headmaster because of her refusal to so much as speak. Gideon, thinking Sun Song has spurned him, turns for comfort to Wendy Thatcher, the daughter of a wealthy school patron, beginning a forbidden affair of the heart.

But the Spirits have different plans for Gideon and Sun Song. They speak to Gideon through his magical storyteller’s bracelet, showing him both his past and his future. You are both child and mother of The Original People, Sun Song is told. When it is right, you will be safe once more. Will Gideon become Otter once again and return to Sun Song and his tribal roots, or attempt to remain with Wendy, with whom he can have no future?”

Appraisal:

I have to admit, I am partial to Native American themed stories. I appreciated the way Ms. Zeidel wove the tribal belief systems and symbols together to include all Native American people. Their connectedness to Mother Earth and sense of community is something I can identify with. This story depicts a history that has been excluded in United States history school books of the atrocities that Native American youth endured at the hands of the Others, the White Man. They were forcibly removed from their families and taken to schools far away from home to teach them how to assimilate into the white mans’ world. They were stripped of their native attire and names given to them by their parents. The school assigned everyone an English sounding name, handed them English styled clothes, and hard leather shoes. They were taught English and not allowed to use their native language. The male children were given haircuts and taught a trade. The girls were not allowed to braid their hair and they were taught housekeeping, gardening, and other menial jobs. More or less they were being taught how to be slaves for the Others.

Sun Song/Susan tried her hardest to hold onto her native roots, she was a storyteller at heart. Otter/Gideon was able to see some benefit in knowing the English language, which would make trading with the white man easier, for the tribe as a whole. He is a storyteller also, but tells his stories on silver with pictographs and tribal symbols. This is their story. Both are seventeen and see themselves married in the future. Little did they know what was in store for them both in the world of the Others. Although, Sun Song had a clue after watching her brother’s transformation upon returning from his schooling back East. As with all school systems there were a few good teachers who had compassion for the Native American plight. However, their hands were often tied and unable to change the system as a whole under the current administration.

The different storylines were easy to follow and woven together seamlessly. Sun Song and Otter were not allowed to socialize, even in the dining hall. With the third person perspective we are able to see Sun Song’s journey as well as Otter’s. The story is told with sensitivity and compassion. There are many twists in the plot that complicate matters and a few magical moments that had me in awe. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Native American tales. Ms. Zeidel’s prose is easy to read, highly descriptive, and inspiring.

Format/Typo Issues:

I was given an advanced readers’ copy for an honest review so I can’t gauge the final product in this area, although my copy was very clean.

Rating: ***** Five stars

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Big Mojo / Jack Getze


Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Mystery

Approximate word count: 45-50,000 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:

Former newsman Jack Getze is the fiction editor for Spinetingler magazine and the author of the Austin Carr Mystery series.

For more you can check out Carr’s website. Yes, you read right, it’s the character’s site. If you’re as obsessed with red heads as Carr, you’ll definitely want to visit.

Description:

“Wall Street’s miasmal garbage washes up on the Jersey Shore when a small time broker falls in love: Is he attracted to the beautiful lady—or her brother’s inside information?

Held spellbound by a steamy, auburn-haired woman with a dubious past and a get-rich-quick, insider trading scheme, Austin Carr knocks down a beehive of bad-acting Bonacellis, including the ill-tempered ‘Mr. Vic’ Bonacelli, who wants his redhead back, and local mob lieutenant Angelina ‘Mama Bones’ Bonacelli, architect of a strange and excruciating death trap for the fast-talking stockbroker she calls smarty pants.

To survive, Austin must unravel threads of jealousy, revenge and new affections, discover the fate of a pseudo ruby called the Big Mojo and slam the lid on a pending United States of America vs. Austin Carr insider trading case. Can Austin and his Jersey Shore mouthpiece possibly out maneuver the savvy U.S. District Attorney from Manhattan? Will anything matter for Austin ever again if Mama Bones flips that switch?”

Appraisal:

It’s not that stockbroker Austin Carr doesn’t want to make a killing in the market. After all, he does have his kid’s college fund to think about. But when his slimy partner, “Mr Vic” and one of Vic’s clients comes to him with some insider information, Carr knows if he acts on it he’d be caught and refuses to get involved. When someone else buys the stock using Austin’s account, it’s only the beginning of the troubles coming Carr’s way.

This was a fun read, at times intense, often funny, and sometimes both. It has a mix of entertaining characters from the oddball (Vic’s mother, “Mama Bones” for one) to others that provided comic relief. For example, Austin’s dealings with his ex-wife and teenage daughter evoked several chuckles from me.

FYI:

Some adult language.

Although Big Mojo is part of a series, it reads fine as a standalone.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Reprise Review: Night Undone / K.S. Brooks


Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Action-Adventure/Thriller

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 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:

K.S. Brooks has written numerous books in multiple genres including romantic suspense, satire, and educationally oriented children’s books. She is co-administrator of Indies Unlimited (a multi-author blog “celebrating independent authors”), where you can often catch her pontificating on matters of interest to both readers and authors.

For more, visit Brooks’ website.

Description:

“Former Special Agent Kathrin Night is not adjusting to civilian life. More than a year after her career-ending injury, she still can’t get the hang of it. This is wearing thin on her lover, Russian FSB Agent Aleksey Khovechkin, who tricks Kathrin into seeing a psychiatrist specializing in post-military/espionage patients.

The therapy doesn’t go exactly as Aleksey hopes, but before he can react, Russia recalls him to make him an offer he can’t refuse. Before his departure, Aleksey reveals his deepest, darkest secret to Kathrin. Had he, in fact, used her to escape his duties in Russia, or was his allegiance to her?

Determined to see justice served, Kathrin hatches a scheme to help Aleksey while at the same time reviving her career in espionage. The Vancouver Winter Olympics could be the perfect venue for her plan, but can she pull it off without destroying their relationship, causing an international incident, or getting either of them killed?”

Appraisal:

As with the last book in this series, Kiss of Night, this book is character driven more than the typical story in this genre. However, the action, adventure, and intensity are jacked up, as you’d expect from an action-adventure or thriller. Much of what leads to that action is driven by Night’s desire to find a way for her and Aleksey to work together in a way that will satisfy the desires and needs of both.

Night Undone not only satisfied my need for a vicarious adrenalin rush, but left me wanting more to see where Night and Aleksey’s relationship goes next. Brooks has a history of long waits between books in this series. Hopefully, I won’t be waiting too long.

FYI:

Some adult language and situations.

This is the third book featuring Kathrin Night. The first of these, Lust For Danger, I haven’t read and don’t feel this is required to get the most out of this book. However, the second book, a novelette called The Kiss of Night, has a lot of Night’s history as well as establishing much of the backstory for this book. Although this could possibly be read as a standalone, I’d recommend reading The Kiss of Night first.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five stars

Friday, April 17, 2015

Where The Moon Shines Brightest / Kevin Crank


Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Coming of Age

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 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:

A resident of Dallas, this is actor and writer Kevin Crank’s first novel. For more, visit his website.

Description:

“Wallace Johnson longs to leave country life behind him. Vowing to find a way to pay for and graduate from college, he doesn’t realize the price he will have to pay to get it. Not only does he have to fight against his dad’s pre-conceived plans of following in his footsteps of living on a farm, he also has a crooked sheriff and a childhood nemesis to deal with, as well as family loss, all before his eighteenth birthday.

Leaning heavily on his brother to guide him, Wallace grows up quickly in a world where moonshine affects the lives of those dearest to him. Through it all, he falls in love with his high school sweetheart. However, after a time of separation without any word from her, they finally reunite and Mary reveals secrets of her past that might hinder their future together.

Wallace now has a choice to make. Will he leave the country life in which he was raised to pursue a career as a writer? Or will he forget all his dreams for the woman he loves?”

Appraisal:

Where the Moon Shines Brightest is a coming-of-age story set in rural Southwestern Arkansas in the 1950s. In spite of my complaints which I’ll get to shortly, there is a good story here. The protagonist, Wallace (never Wally), is a teenager with ambition, hoping to attend college to become a journalist and author, and willing to work hard to achieve his goals. But like most teenagers, he’s also figuring out life. Helping him are his older brother and his parents, although his father has plans for Wallace that conflict with his personal goals. The two brothers are much different in what they’re looking for in life, but his brother Lantis is an excellent mentor and always has Wallace’s back. The story revolves around themes of family, duty, love, and geographical roots.

However, I had two issues with the way Wallace’s story was presented. The first was a tendency to over explain or over describe. Although this can be a valid stylistic choice to add color or control pacing, too often it felt like the story was bogging down as I read all the steps required to get out the door or make breakfast. Other readers might not react the same (Robert Parker’s Spenser novels are prone to this, and they did okay).

My bigger issue was the ending. Not what happened, but how the reader is told, and what that does to the pacing of the story. Things appear to be coming to a climax at about the 85% point, with a major story thread coming to a head. I turned the page, expecting that the next chapter would get more intense as that came to a final resolution. Instead what happened was a six year jump in the timeline and the fast pace comes to a crashing halt in a section that reads more like an epilogue. Through flashbacks we find out how the first thread resolved, another complication is thrown into the mix, and the pace builds again from there. Eventually the main story conflict comes to a resolution. But by that point, as a reader, I was so frustrated that it was more of an anti-climax.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: *** Three Stars

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Reprise Review: Awakening / Christy Dorrity



Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Genre: Urban Fantasy/ YA/ Coming of Age/ World Mythology

Approximate word count: 85-90,000 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:

“Christy Dorrity lives in the mountains with her husband, five children, and a cocker spaniel. She grew up on a trout ranch in Star Valley, Wyoming and is the author of The Geis series for young adults and The Book Blogger's Cookbooks. Christy is a champion Irish dancer and when she's not reading or writing, she's probably trying out a new recipe in the kitchen.”

Learn more about Ms. Dorrity and her books on her website and check out her facebook page.

Description:

“A little magic has always run in sixteen-year-old McKayla McCleery's family—at least that’s what she’s been told. McKayla’s eccentric Aunt Avril travels the world as a clairvoyant for the FBI, and her mother can make amazing delicacies out of the most basic of ingredients. But McKayla doesn't think for a second that the magic is real—it’s just good storytelling. Besides, McKayla doesn’t need magic. She recently moved to beautiful Star Valley, Wyoming, and already she has an amazing best friend, a solo in her upcoming ballet recital, and the gorgeous guy in her physics class keeps looking her way.

When an unexpected fascination with Irish dance leads McKayla to seek instruction from the mute, crippled, janitor at her high school, she learns that her family is not the only one with unexplained abilities.

After Aunt Avril comes to Star Valley in pursuit of a supernatural killer, people begin disappearing, and the lives of those McKayla holds most dear are threatened. When the janitor reveals that an ancient curse, known as a geis, has awakened powers that defy explanation, McKayla is forced to come to terms with what is real and what is fantasy.”

Appraisal:


This book exceeded my expectations. This is not just another coming of age story. Ms. Dorrity has woven Celtic myth into this whole family's history with an ancient curse they never had a clue about. The author's passion for Irish dance shines through in the emotion of her words. I was totally swept away into the dance, the history, and the characters of this book.

The story is mainly told through McKayla's eyes interspersed with third person, the transitions are smooth and well placed. The story threads were woven together with thoughtful consideration to the overall plot. The stories are heart wrenching and fascinating. I was blown away when I learned this was Ms. Dorrity's debut novel. I thought the story started off strong but I found myself a little overwhelmed with all the details and was afraid I wouldn't be able to keep up. It turned out I didn't have the problem I anticipated thanks to Ms. Dorrity's adept writing style. At about a third of the way in the story takes off and I had trouble putting the book down to sleep. The story comes to a satisfying ending with a nice twist to draw you into the next book. This is going to be an enchanting series.

Format/Typo Issues:

I found no significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five stars

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Fighting Monks and Burning Mountains / Paul Barach


Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Travel Memoir

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 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:

Paul Barach is a Seattle based writer, producer, and stand-up comic. Among his proudest achievements in life is “only falling into the La Brea Tar Pits once.” This is his first book.

For more, visit Barach’s website.

Description:

“A 750-mile pilgrimage, an unprepared office worker, and everything that went wrong along the way.

Age twenty-eight and fed up with the office job he settled for, Paul Barach decided to travel to Japan to follow a vision he had in college: to walk the ancient 750-mile Shikoku pilgrimage trail.

Here are some things he did not decide to do: learn Japanese, do any research, road test his hiking shoes, or check if it’s the hottest summer in history.

And he went anyway, hoping to change his life.

Fighting Monks and Burning Mountains is the absurd and dramatic journey of one impulsive American’s search for answers on a holy path in an exotic land. Along the pathway connecting 88 Buddhist temples, he’ll face arduous mountain climbs, hide from guards in a toilet stall, challenge a priest to a mountaintop karate battle, and other misadventures. He’ll also delve into the fascinating legends of this ancient land, including a dragon-fighting holy man, a berserker warrior-priest, haunted temples, all manner of gods and monsters, and a vendetta-driven ghost that overthrew a dynasty.

Told with humor and humility, Fighting Monks and Burning Mountains is a funny, engaging memoir about the consequences of impulsive decisions, and the things you can discover while you’re looking for something else.”

Appraisal:

A reader who doesn’t get a sense of where this travel memoir is headed from the description surely will if they pause to consider the two quotes that proceed the prologue.

“Every day some new fact comes to light—some new obstacle which threatens the gravest obstruction. I suppose this is the reason which makes the game so well worth playing.”

Robert Falcon Scott (Died exploring the South Pole)

“Adventure is the result of poor planning.”

Roald Amundsen (Did not die exploring the South Pole)

Barach chronicles plenty of adventure in this story of his pilgrimage. I hesitate to call it a pilgrimage as the choice of hiking this trail seems to be driven by the author’s obsession with Japanese culture more than any particular religious belief, but at its root, his goals for this trip were not all that different than a typical pilgrim’s might be. He describes this as “enlightenment,” which is going to be different for each individual, but will boil down to making some kind of major decision or coming to terms with some aspect of life. In Barach’s case, figuring out his future direction, not wanting to become an office drone, but also not seeing an alternative.

I’m always drawn to travel books that involve a quest, some specific goal that might not mean anything to many people, but does to the author. This book fits, as would books from Amundsen or Scott (if he’d only survived to write it), as I think there is something to be gleaned from the story of the attempt, successful or not. I’m amused that at least part of Barach’s goal in this trip was to escape the repetitiveness of an office job, only to replace it by a trip that in many ways was just as repetitive, although with much more of a struggle to adequately satisfy basic human needs like food, water, and sleep. Does the author find enlightenment or come to terms with his future? I’ll leave it to you to decide. I will say that his journey was a positive step in life’s journey for me.

FYI:

A small amount of adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issue.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Breath to Breath / Carrie Maloney


Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Approximate word count: 130-135,000 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:

Carrie Maloney began her career at a PBS station in St. Paul, Minnesota, producing for the Emmy Award-winning national science show, Newton’s Apple. She currently works as a freelance writer and video producer while volunteering at dog-centric non-profits. Carrie lives in Star Prairie, Wisconsin, with her husband and two shelter dogs who make her laugh every day.


Description:

Veterinarian Anna Dunlop is struggling to find meaning in her life since the tragic and unexpected death of her husband. When a local woman calls on her to save a litter of puppies that has been abandoned in a very cruel manner, she responds, but the challenge seems to be just one step too far for her psyche, and Anna begins to unravel.

Appraisal:

First off, Ms. Maloney is one heck of a good writer. Tight prose that conveyed deep emotion and gave unique voices to a cast of characters kept me engaged throughout the story. Although this is primarily about Anna, the story is set in a small rural area, and the rescued puppies affect the lives of a number of other townsfolk who add color to the tale as they each have their moment in the spotlight.

Anna provides call-in advice for people’s pet questions at a local radio station, and that becomes the device that connects the vet, the other characters, the puppies, and the community. The scenes in the radio studio were my favorite part of the novel—both funny and heartwarming.

I think you’d have to be an animal lover to truly appreciate the story because the moral dilemma of how we humans regard animals is a central theme, and I could see how it might feel a little “preachy“ to someone who was just a casual animal “liker.”

All in all, once again I have been lucky enough to select a most unusual, entertaining, feel-good  story from Big Al’s list.

Format/Typo Issues:

Very clean.

Rating: ***** Five stars