Friday, July 31, 2015

The Art of Raising Hell / Thomas Lopinski


Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Genre: Coming of Age/Literary

Approximate word count: 65-70,000 words

Availability
Kindle US: YES UK: YES Nook: YES Smashwords: YES Paper: YES
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Author:

Thomas Lopinski studied at the University of Illinois and later moved to Southern California with his wife and daughters to work in the music industry. Document 512"was his first published novel in 2012 and won awards from Reader Views, Foreword Review, National Indie Excellence Awards and BestIndieBooks.com.

His second novel The Art of Raising Hell"is published through Dark Alley Press and is a 2015 Kindle Book Awards Semi-finalist novel. Thomas is also a member of the Independent Writers of Southern California (IWOSC). More at his website.

Description:

Newbie Johnson has recently moved to Bunsen Creek, Illinois, when his mother is killed in a tragic car crash. His father does his best to maintain a normal household, but his broken heart is just not up to the task. Newbie finds solace by hanging out with his three buddies in their clandestine Backroom hideout. Getting into mischief becomes their favorite pastime as they try to follow in the footsteps of Lonny Nack, who has perfected the art of running on all four.

“Running on all four” takes on a new meaning for Newbie when he finds his inner voice and begins to understand the difference between chasing life and being chased by it.

Appraisal:

I rarely read coming of age novels. I consider myself too old to relate. So please keep that in mind when reading this review, but the writing in the Amazon sample grabbed hold, so I took the plunge.

The novel comprised a series of anecdotes told by Newbie Johnson (in first person). Through the adventures Newbie and his friends had, I got an interesting profile of small town Illinois in the 60s and 70s. Newbie and his pals and the local townsfolk were well drawn and their antics had me laughing on more than one occasion.

The writing was engaging throughout. The only disappointment for me was a lack of tension. Certainly, there were tense moments, but to me this read more like a series of short stories than a novel. The main character was central throughout, but because the action was related to each anecdote, challenges were too easily solved for my taste and the story didn’t seem to have an overriding purpose.

Format/Typo Issues:

Too few to mention.

Rating: **** Four stars

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Reprise Review: Dimebag Bandits / Craig Furchtenicht


Reviewed by: Keith Nixon

Genre: Crime Fiction

Approximate word count: 55-60,000 words

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

The author was born and raised in Iowa where he currently resides with his wife. Craig enjoys rock hunting, horticulture and the outdoors. He has released other work including The Blue Dress Paradigm and Night Speed Zero.

Description:

Kori Woodson is in trouble. When he learned his stepfather preacher had given Kori's college savings to the church he decides to makes ends meet by stealing and selling drugs. The problem? He gets caught and finds himself bundled off to live with his brother and father in rural Iowa, far from the city's bright lights.

Almost as soon as he returns home Kori is dragged into his brother's nefarious schemes – robbing drug dealers and selling the proceeds. These are the Dimebag Bandits...

Appraisal:

This is an interesting, well written story (with a caveat that I'll get to shortly). It opens with a hard-hitting scene, several unknown men rob a bar owner of his drugs stash, using some pretty stiff techniques to loosen up his tongue. Next we're with protagonist Kori, he's in a police interview room witnessing fellow wrongdoers and their antics as he awaits judgement for his theft.

His preacher stepfather is, from the outset, a hypocrite (he had an affair with Kori's mother) and instantly detestable. In fact, the majority of characters in Dimebag Bandits are thoroughly unpleasant – thieves, drug users, bent cops to name but a few. Everyone is out for a buck and puts themselves first, even resorting to murder in the process.

The characters are one of the major strong points of this generally excellent novel. They're well drawn and engaging and, via their actions, drive the story along at a pace that never really lets up. Like the story itself the characters are seedy and often nasty, in particular Virge the Perv, a paedophile who films his activities and is key in the later story.

The other strength of Dimebag Bandits is the hard-bitten scenes and back stories of which there are many. They swing between gory and gruesome, but most have a humorous vein, something that cuts through the entire book. I'd like to describe them, however, it is something that's best discovered by the reader themselves. Don't expect soft views from the author, in fact it's the opposite. The characters and their portrayal may offend some.

All in all this is a very strong read, the author shows plenty of promise. The only issue I would flag is the need for a small amount of editing to tighten up some of the narrative, an easy 'issue' to resolve. Normally this would be a factor that would thoroughly irritate me and ruin the overall story, however the quality of the writing deservedly pushes this to one side. A writer for the future.

FYI:

Violence and swearing

Format/Typo Issues:

A few typos.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Cheetaka, Queen of Giants / Gita V. Reddy


Reviewed by: Michael Thal

Genre: Fantasy/Magic/Children's Fiction

Approximate word count: 65-70,000 words

Availability
Kindle US: YES UK: YES Nook: YES Smashwords: YES Paper: YES
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Author:

Born and raised in India, Gita V. Reddy earned a Master’s degree in Mathematics from Hyderabad University in 1985. She worked for the State Bank of Hyderabad as a Probationary Officer for 26 years. In 2011 she retired and pursued a career as an author. Reddy writes for middle-grade readers and some of her books include Cinderella’s Escape and The Missing Girl.

Description:

Nine-year-old Tara is a poor little rich girl ignored by her parents. Her father is a rich industrialist and her mother a generous philanthropist. When Tara’s birthday nears, all she wants is to spend quality alone time with her mom and dad, so she chooses a cruise as her birthday gift. She figures that way her parents will be far away from their minions and phones. Unfortunately for Tara, her folks bring their work with them. So when a storm rocks her ship, Tara is in hiding in hopes of teaching her family a lesson. However, fate has other plans, and Tara is jettisoned alone in a lifeboat that ends up on the shores of Giant Land.

In Giant Land Tara meets people that look similar to humans, but they dwarf us in size. She is no bigger than a thumb. The cast of characters, to name a few, includes Cheetaka, Queen of the Purple Mountains Land, her seven year-old son, Montek, Aaloma, a wise and aged giant, and Mamahak, an evil magician.

The basic plot is about Tara’s adventures with best friend Montek and Giant Land’s infiltration of evil by the hapless King Druaka and his son, Trimo, who uses evil magic in an attempt to conquer the world. Naturally, everything leads to Tara’s final quest to return to her home world.

Appraisal:

On her website, Gita V. Reddy claims her target audience are children from 8-14. With that in mind, Reddy keeps her sentences short and simple, a huge plus for reluctant readers. However, her novel, Cheetaka, Queen of the Giants, is 214-pages long. Too often the author goes off on tangents that don’t really push the plot forward. Though she has written an action packed book some middle school children would love, I felt there was too much gratuitous violence.

It was obvious that Cheetaka was self-published. A good editor would have cut out unnecessary scenes and rambling narration. Also, books for children are about children. They have a problem and they work out that problem with other children. Adults are just props that give little or no feedback. In Cheetaka, Tara feels more like a secondary character overwhelmed by the wise Queen of the Giants who solves most of her problems for her.

A good writer shows her audience the plot as it develops. Though Reddy did this to some extent, she resorted to meandering narration rather than focused dialogue and scene descriptions. Too often I had to go back and re-read the scene to figure out where it took place, and frequently could not find the answer to my search.

Format/Typo Issues:

None noted.

Rating: ** Two Stars

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Given Names / Andrew Leon Hudson


Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Genre: Coming of Age/Native American/Culture/Historical Fiction

Approximate word count: 20-25,000 words

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

Andrew Leon Hudson is an unapologetic genre author from England. In preparation for life as a writer he has worked in fields as diverse as prosthetic make-up, teaching, contact lens retail, "intoxicant delivery" and the services (customer and military). He used to have his own company, but it died. His first novel was published in 2014 to silent acclaim only to vanish from existence nine months later, so in 2015 he's doing all that sort of thing for himself. An ‘unapologetic genre author’, he is currently writing End Trails, a series of weird western stories, and Dark Matters, which presents themed pairs of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic science fiction, and horror stories with an edge of black humour…”

For more,visit his website.

Description:

Travel the End Trails - paths into hidden places, taking you towards the unknown and from which return is far from certain. Tales of things not believed from the comfort and safety of civilisation and only whispered about on the distant fringes of exploration, all waiting in the wilderness.

In Given Names, a Native American boy comes of age only to have the future he imagined snatched horribly away, leaving only doubt. No-one knows to what destination the path through life will lead - but one thing is for sure: you won't be the same person when you get there...”

Appraisal:

This novella is a well written account, from a young boy’s point-of-view, of his life as a member of his tribal community. No mention of his parents is ever given, so I assumed he was an orphan adopted by the whole tribe. His name is Circling Bird, which could be construed a few different ways, since we don’t really know him yet I assume it refers to a hawk or eagle. He and three of his friends have been chosen to follow along on their first hunt. They are excited, they have been training for this experience. No one expects the tragedy that befalls them.

The story is Circling Birds healing journey, he has been renamed Three Spirits. He is taken under the wing of Wide Sky, the village shaman who has lost his son. As Three Spirits regains his strength he undergoes a process of selfdiscovery as he learns the healing arts from Wide Sky. As time passes, Three Spirits feels the need to confront his past and he separates himself from the tribe to head back to where he once called home alone. Prairie Wind follows and guides him in weapon use for hunting and further lessons in tracking. Until the early morning, when Three Spirits feels he must continue his journey alone.

The twist at the end of the story is shocking and totally unexpected. Whether it is believable or not depends on your own perspective and willingness to believe in the outcome. It is certainly grievous on several levels.

FYI:

The author uses British spelling conventions. Given Names is Book 2 in the End Trails series and can be read as a stand alone. “The End Trails are stories to be told around the camp-fire, dark things to unsettle the mind, before you settle down to sleep.”

Format/Typo Issues:

I found no issues with editing or formatting.

Rating: **** Four stars

Monday, July 27, 2015

In the Name of Love: Stories about Revenge, Redemption, and Rebirth / Laurie Boris


Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Short Story Collection/Flash Fiction Collection

Approximate word count: 20-25,000 words

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

The author of six novels, Laurie Boris is a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader as well as a regular contributor to Indies Unlimited. Her book Sliding Past Vertical was the winner in the Contemporary Fiction category of BigAl’s Books and Pals 2014 Readers’ Choice Awards. Laurie lives with her husband in upstate New York.

For more, visit Laurie’s website.

Description:

A lonely neighbor tries to melt a widow’s reluctant heart. Bullying brothers threaten to spoil a young girl’s Halloween. Left at the altar once, a woman takes a gamble on a second chance. These are just a few in a collection of thirty short and shorter stories about growing up, growing older, moving out, moving on, revenge, redemption, and love in all its shades of bittersweet pain and joy.”

Appraisal:

I sometimes find reviewing short story collections problematic. With thirty stories ranging from a couple hundred to a couple thousand words, mentioning each is going to take way too many of my own words. Whatever theme might loosely tie all of these together is handled in the subtitle and book description. That leaves me with overall impressions of what is a diverse collection, and hitting on a few high points.

Overall the stories are solid, good reads. While the underlying themes are serious, some have an amusing twist. One example is the story called Outside the Box about a woman trying to get her fiance to spread his wings. He does, but it might not have worked out as well as she thought. I found many of the shorter, flash fiction pieces finished open-ended, which has the effect of lengthening the piece as the reader ponders where the characters might have gone from there. My favorite of the collection was Adam the Explorer. While the impact wouldn't be the same for those who haven't read Boris' “Trager Family Secrets” series, those who have will recognize two characters from that series in a pivotal point from their boyhood.

FYI:

Some adult language and situations.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Reprise Review: Return to Bryn Mairwyn / Jennifer Selzer and Daniel Huber


Reviewed by: Sooz

Genre: Fantasy/Short Story

Approximate word count: 3,000-4,000 words

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

Jennifer Selzer and Daniel Huber have written three books together. Selzer was born and raised in Los Angeles. She wrote her first book at 11 years old. Huber grew up in on the Central California coast and currently lives in an L.A. suburb with his wife.

You can learn more about them at their website.

Description:

Desmond McKenna returns home to England to finish out the final days of his life. He’s sad and lonely and his long years on the earth have only fueled his desperation. But a revelation could change all that as Desmond still learns something after all this time.

Appraisal:

Return to Bryn Mairwyn read like a preview, or perhaps an epilogue, of a longer story. Perhaps that’s what the authors have in mind.

Immediately, there is a connection with Desmond McKenna. He’s returned home after a long time away with the feelings that it’s time to end things where they began. The desperation is there, the loss, the loneliness. He’s ready to end his long, long life that has been filled with heartache and struggle.

For Desmond, an issue is that no one understands his plight. He’s gone through his life with no one else like him – or so he thought.

When Desmond meets a similar person, it adds doubt to his decision.
Instead of completely letting go, he turns into his true form of a dragon and feels the joy that he was originally intended to feel.

What does he ultimately decide? That question is unfulfilled with the story left open-ended for the reader to fill in the blanks.

The short story was compelling enough for me to want to know more and find out if Desmond is able to find peace. So, if there is a novel-length book to this short story, it’s likely I will read the rest of Desmond’s story whether the tale is about what came before or after this story.

Format/Typo Issues:

No issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Shoot / M.P. McDonald


Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Thriller

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

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

M.P. McDonald makes a living from taking your breath away... then giving it back via a tube or two. She lives in a frozen land full of ice, snow, and abominable snowmen. On the days that she's not taking her car ice-skating, she sits huddled over a chilly computer, tapping out the story of a camera that can see the future.”

McDonald is the author of the Mark Taylor Thriller series. This book is the first of the C.J. Sheridan Thriller series, a spin-off of the Mark Taylor series.

For more, visit McDonald's blog.

Description:

Interning at the CIA prepared CJ Sheridan to be a bureaucrat, not a hero. But, when he's handed a camera that offers teasing glimpses of potential tragedies, what else can CJ do but try to change the future?

No stranger to the camera’s power, CJ’s father is dead set against the idea. He understands all too well the horrifying price the previous owner, Photographer Mark Taylor, paid for its use.

CJ’s knows the camera’s history, but with the support of an experienced team behind him, including his FBI Bureau Chief father, he’s sure that won’t happen to him.

Heedless of the dangers, when offered the chance to save the life of a murder victim, a young nurse named Blanche, CJ charges to the rescue.

Only to find himself alone, a suspect… with only his wits and courage to help him change the course of fate.”

Appraisal:

Fans of M.P. McDonald's Mark Taylor thriller series are already familiar with the characters in this new series. In the prior series, Mark Taylor bought an old-fashion camera in an Afghanistan bazaar, and discovers that the pictures he takes sometimes show a future event. These events are usually deaths or murders and if he's able to figure out where and when they're going to happen, he's sometimes able to prevent them.

In this new series, CJ Sheridan is assisting, if not taking over for Mark, as the keeper of the camera. CJ, who long-time series followers met in the last Mark Taylor book, is the son of CIA agent Jim Sheridan, who evolved through the series from one of Mark's enemies into a key component of his support system.

With CJ as the protagonist, much remains the same as in the Mark Taylor stories with the overall premise of the camera being the same. If this story is indicative of what's to come, the stories remain fast-paced and intense, with multiple issues of life-or-death to be resolved.

However, some things will change. CJ is still learning, sometimes the hard way. In this book, he decides that the best way to protect himself is to carry a gun, with unexpected consequences. I enjoyed CJ's adventures in Shoot and I'm eager to see what new directions McDonald has in store for him.

FYI:

Some adult language.

Although the first of a new series, this book has most of the main characters from McDonald's Mark Taylor series. It can be read as a standalone, but I'd encourage those who start with Shoot and like it to try what comes before this starting with No Good Deed.

Format/Typo Issues:

I read a pre-release beta version of this book and am unable to judge the final product.

Rating: ***** Five Stars