Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Negative's Tale / R. Leib

Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Genre: Science Fiction

Approximate word count: 100-105,000 words

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Here’s what the author says about himself: I publish under the name R. Leib. (I am not Bart R. Leib. He is somebody completely different.) "The Negative's Tale" is my first novel.

I am currently working on a volume of short stories and another science fiction novel.

I am something of a dinosaur. Most of my 30 years in the computer industry was spent developing and supporting software for mainframe computers. (For those of you too young to know what that is, mainframe computers were large, expensive, and very complex forerunners of modern day servers and PCs.) After studying science (the real stuff), reading science fiction, and working in a technical field, it made sense for me to express my creativity in writing science fiction.

Set in a far future where close-to-light-speed travel permits spaceships to traverse the universe, the novel follows the life and adventures of Allon Wu whose “negative” psychic abilities enable him to enter the minds of other psychics and channel their powers.


I don’t read much sci-fi nowadays (I was a big fan in my younger years), but I do sample a lot, always searching for a title that will appeal. The Negative’s Tale did fit that bill. I enjoyed the sample, and indeed the first part of the story immensely. I finished the book last night and I’ve been struggling with how to write the review ever since. So, this may be a little unconventional:

I think this novel is actually three stories compressed into one. It would work very well as a series in my opinion, but in combination, not so much. So, I’ll review each part.

The story opens with Allon Wu hanging out on a beach in a spacecraft that has multiple domes, each with a different simulated environment. We learn in flashback how Wu’s arm was disfigured—a well-written and exciting scene. Then we flash back to a ten-year-old Wu’s training as a “negative.” There were certain shades of the early episodes of TV’s Kung Fu, especially regarding the way the student, Wu, related to a wise, old professor. This was fascinating to me, and I was totally hooked on the story at this point. I think, had Wu then gone on to have a single adventure using his newly learned skills, I’d have been happy to read, “The End” and look for the next book in the series.

However, the story started to meander. It morphed into a whodunit where Wu had to chase down and discover the identity of a murderer. This all took place near a distant planet, on a vast spaceship, and frankly, it was heavy sledding. Wu would pick up clues, but never reveal what they were, merely say “Ah, I’m nearly ready to reveal the truth,” and move on to gather another clue. There were dozens of new characters introduced and everything became confused for this reader. Also, I hate having an author keep secrets—it makes me feel like I’m being talked down to.

Then the third part of story took place on the native planet of a race known as the Hydran—huge crab-like creatures with psychic abilities and strange mating and fighting rituals. Let me tell you, Wu needed all his wits to complete his mission on that crazy planet. I enjoyed this section, but it was rushed, and I thought the premise strong enough to support a significant expansion.

Allon Wu was a terrific character. His “negative” abilities were fascinating. The space opera aspects and time travel explanations woven throughout seemed technically valid to me and the science added to my enjoyment. I just didn’t think the story was focused enough, which is a shame.

If it were my writing, I’d hire an editor—especially to fix the point of view, which was all over the map and there were multiple occurrences where the author related scenes twice (same action but different perspective). Also, much of the story was told in flashback, or related as a story narrated in flashback whilst in a flashback—yikes!

Separating the stories would remove that complication by delivering three separate story arcs told in sequential time and anchored by Allon Wu.

Format/Typo Issues:

Too few to mention.

Rating: *** Three stars

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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.

No Perfect Secret by Jackie Weger

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Game Changer / Beth Orsoff

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Chick-Lit

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words

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An entertainment attorney based in Los Angeles, Beth Orsoff writes humorous chick-lit with six previous books to her credit. She continues to deny (despite mounting evidence to the contrary) that her book Romantically Challenged is a a memoir.

For more, visit Ms Orsoff’s website.


“When it comes to relationships Samantha Haller has seen it all. As a top LA divorce attorney she knows love doesn’t last. On a rare night out at a Hollywood nightclub she isn’t looking for love, or even a relationship, but with the help of a spiked drink she may just let loose and have some fun for a change.

For sports agent extraordinaire Jake Jensen dating means sex, nothing more. That’s why his ‘relationships’ last, on average, two weeks. As long as the women go away quietly and don’t make a scene, he’s fine with that. Finding a new one to take the former’s place is never a problem for a handsome, generous, eligible bachelor.

They both want sex with no attachment—what could possibly go wrong? They could fall in love . . .”


Budding relationships provide a treasure trove of possibility for books of all kinds, especially in humorous chick-lit. Miscommunication (or lack of communication) almost always plays some role, just like in real life. That Jake and Samantha both want the same thing, something negotiated thousands of times in only a few hours every Friday night in singles bars everywhere, adds to the humor. Of course, sometimes that real people, just like these characters, don’t always know what they want, doesn’t help. A fun story with great characters.


Mild adult content and some adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Lamentation / Joe Clifford

Reviewed by: Keith Nixon

Genre: Crime Fiction / Thriller / Mystery

Approximate word count: 70-75,000

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Joe Clifford is acquisitions editor for Gutter Books and managing editor of The Flash Fiction Offensive. He is the author of three books.

You can learn more about the author at


When Jay gets a phone call telling him his older brother Chris is in jail he’s not surprised because he’s a junkie. He’s been in and out of trouble since their parents died in a car accident years ago. Reluctantly Jay heads to the police station, but from then on what was slow, small town life is never the same again.

Chris’ business partner, Pete, has been found dead. Jay is confounded, because Chris can barely tell what time of day it is, never mind run a company. The local police think Chris is at fault, but there’s no evidence to say so and Jay gets his brother back on the streets. Again.

Chris tells Jay that Pete was killed because they found something they weren’t supposed to on a computer they were recycling. But Chris has been telling tall stories his whole life and Jay doesn’t believe him. Then Chris disappears and suddenly everyone seems to want to find him – among them a cop up from the city and the Lombardi’s, a local family that control everything from investments to politics. Jay begins to wonder if there isn’t something to Chris’ story after all…


The phrase ‘slow burn’ is often used to describe a story that steadily unfolds, usually maintaining the same unremitting pace until the final word. With Lamentation this too is apt. To a point. Because here Clifford has lit a fuse which leads to a rather large bomb which, when it explodes, leaves no-one unscathed and in the process ramps up the tension considerably in the back quarter.

At the outset this seems like an ordinary enough tale. Small town boy who’s lost his family, has a troubled junkie brother, and is separated from Jenny, the woman he still loves and the mother of his son, because he doesn’t believe he’s good enough for her. Written in the first person through Jay’s eyes we understand fully the cul-de-sac he’s driven down.

But with Pete’s murder this seemingly dead end life gets flipped upside down. Jay, reluctantly, begins to investigate Pete’s death because he’s doing something he’s spent his life on – looking after his waster older brother. The plot grows in complexity as Jay’s understanding widens until he and the reader is faced with the whole dirty picture.

Clifford is a highly accomplished writer – the evidence is clear in his previous novels, Junkie Love and Wake The Undertaker. Lamentation is subtly different, but I find it hard to put my finger on why. Perhaps it’s because there is a large element of family involved. Secondly I like the fact that some of the questions the author poses, such as whether Jay’s parent’s death was an accident, aren’t fully answered at the conclusion. What had been a weight for Jay, he’s now able to cast off and properly live his life. And it’s these subtleties and extra layers that push the rating from four to five stars. If you don’t yet know Joe Clifford, you really should.


Some swearing.

Format/Typo Issues:


Rating: ***** Five Stars

Monday, October 20, 2014

Dark Witness / Rebecca Forster

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Thriller/Suspense

Approximate word count: 95-100,000 words

Kindle  US: YES  UK: YES  Nook: NO  Smashwords: NO  Paper: NO
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USA Today best selling author Rebecca Forster’s twenty-something books mostly fit within the broad mystery genre, some in the legal thriller subgenre and others harder to classify. Forster is a two-time winner in the Books and Pals Readers’ Choice Awards, with Before Her Eyes topping the mystery category in 2013 and Eyewitness (book 5 of the Witness Series) getting the nod from our readers in 2014.

For more, visit Forster’s website.


“As the edge of winter slices through Washington D.C., Josie Bates testifies before Congress about the Albanian blood feud that sent Hannah Sheraton and Billy Zuni fleeing for their lives while Archer reluctantly abandons a trail that has gone cold in his search for the teenagers.Determined to stay one step ahead of the authorities who want Billy back and a blood feud that will only be satisfied when he is dead, Hannah and Billy head north. There they will hunker down in the darkest corner of earth they can find and wait for the danger to pass. Though the journey is treacherous, they finally find themselves isolated, safe, and as far from Hermosa Beach as they can get. But their relief is short lived. When the perpetual winter dark turns to inky black, they realize they have taken refuge in hell. Now the fight in front of Hannah and Billy is not only for their lives, but their very souls.”


Those who have read the previous books in the Witness Series knew when they finished Forgotten Witness (book 6 in the series) that there would have to be at least one more book. Forster had left two important characters, Hannah Sheridan (a character almost as important to the series as Josie Bates), and recurring character Billy Zuni in limbo, with what little changed through the course of book six making their situation more tenuous. (For those who haven’t read the prior books or may have forgotten, they were running from a man intent on killing Billy.) This installment picks up Hannah and Billy’s story where their situation gets even worse.

I’m reluctant to say anything specific about what happens because everything feels like it would be a spoiler. While the last book focused on Josie Bates, this is Hannah and Billy’s book with Josie and Archer taking secondary roles. Although the initial book in the series was clearly a legal thriller, as the series has progressed it has slid out of the legal subgenre and into the broader thriller or suspense category. If this book has a single scene in a courtroom, it is so minor that I’ve forgotten it. If you’ve read the series thus far, you’ll definitely want to pick up this one as Hannah and Billy flee from one dangerous situation, only to fall into another. What that is and how it resolves is quite a ride.


This is the seventh of a series. Although I believe it could be read as a stand alone and the story still make sense, to get the full impact an understanding of what has come previously for these characters would be much better.

Format/Typo Issues:

The version I read was an advance reader copy. I’m unable to judge the final product in this area.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Reprise review: Stone and Silt / Harvey Chute

Reviewed by: Fredlet

Genre: YA/Historical Mystery

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

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“Harvey published his first novel, Stone and Silt, in August 2013. His previous published works include five technical guides in Wiley's For Dummies series.

The Stone and Silt historical mystery is based in British Columbia, where Harvey grew up and spent his teenage summers guiding whitewater raft trips on the Thompson and Fraser rivers. Harvey received a Bachelor of Science degree from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, where his elective studies included the history of B.C. and of western Canada.

Harvey works as a program manager for an IT consulting firm. He is also the founder of - the web's largest independent Kindle user forum.

Harvey lives in Bellingham, Washington, with his wife, three daughters, a lovable golden retriever, and a stern cat. He enjoys walking mountain trails, learning blues guitar, and being surrounded by great books.”

For more, visit Mr. Chute’s author's blog or the Stone & Silt Facebook page.


“A ruthless murder and a stolen shipment of gold.

At school, sixteen-year-old Nikaia Wales endures the taunts of bullies who call her a “half-breed.” At home, she worries about how her family will react if she reveals her growing feelings for the quiet boy next door.

Those are soon the least of her troubles. Nikaia discovers a hidden cache of gold, and when police find a corpse nearby, her father becomes a suspect. Worse, Elias Doyle is circling, hungry to avenge his brother’s death.

Nikaia desperately searches for clues to save her father. In her quest to find the killer, she learns about the power of family, friendship, and young love.”


For those who have not read my Meet the Pals entry, I did not enjoy reading during school or choose reading as a leisure activity. That is, until my 5th grade teacher selected the book Caddie Woodlawn for read-aloud time. I was hooked on the spunky, tomboy character and the many risks she took exploring the Wisconsin frontier and interacting with people during her pioneer childhood. It was the first book I willingly read from cover to cover. Mr. Chute’s novel evoked the same feelings in me. I am hoping many others will be as compelled to read this story as I was. The book trailer is well done and a good way to preview this book.

The murder mystery plot was exciting, dangerous, and stressful to read. There were many twists and turns on the way to the resolution. Nikaia, Klima, and Yee Sim were very resourceful and clever. But, my favorite parts were the everyday background details and the interactions between Nikaia’s family and friends. I loved the way the consequences of Nikaia’s choices led to her father giving her the nickname Mischief. Her relationships with her family, friends, and community were authentic. Mr. Chute’s vivid descriptions of Fort Yale, British Columbia, and the Fraser River brought them to life and made them seem like a “real” character. The telling of Nikaia’s mountain quest, the Anybody Boat, Charlie Ray’s trap line experience, Annie Adams’ basket weaving, and other stories brought realism to the book by teaching meaningful lessons to characters, and providing insight into the culture of the First Nations people and pioneer life during the gold rush. I also enjoyed the tentative, developing feelings between Nakaia and Yee Sim. I was glad to read in an interview that there are plans for a follow-up novel with many of the same characters.

Mr. Chute states in his author’s note, “This story is my homage, my love letter, to the people of the Fraser Canyon, past and present.” That’s how reading Stone and Silt felt to me.

Format/Typo Issues:

I read an ARC of this book, and found no errors.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Far-Knowing / Melinda Brasher

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Genre: Fantasy/ YA/ Adventure/ Coming of Age

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words

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“Melinda Brasher spends her time writing fiction, traveling, and teaching English as a second language in places like Poland, Mexico, the Czech Republic, and Arizona. Her talents include navigating by old-fashioned map, combining up to three languages in a single incomprehensible sentence, and dealing cards really, really fast. Her short fiction and travel writing appear in Intergalactic Medicine Show, Ellipsis Literature and Art, Enchanted Conversation, Go Nomad, International Living, and others.”

Learn more about Ms. Brasher at her website or check out her blog; Have Book, Will Travel.

Website: < >
Blog: < >


“After the Chaos Mage traps their mentor within a deadly spell, two apprentice mages set out to find and defeat this menace to the kingdom. But how can they track down a man no one has ever seen face to face? How can they battle a mage so powerful he destroys entire villages with summoned wind or fire? They’ve learned no aggressive magic and never tested themselves against a real enemy.

Kallinesha, still an apprentice after seven years, struggles against her lack of raw magical power, compensating instead with discipline and study. Daughter of the High Commander, driven relentlessly by the duty in her blood, she knows they can defeat the Chaos Mage and safeguard the king and kingdom.
Ista, a commoner and daughter of a city baker, harbors no such delusions. But after only three years of study, her power burns much brighter than Kallinesha’s. The task before them terrifies her, but she loves her mentor too much to let her waste away under the Chaos Mage’s spell. Not if there’s the slimmest chance of saving her.

The two apprentices have never been able to work together--or understand each other--but it just may be their differences that give them the strength to face the kingdom’s greatest enemy.”


Kallinesha is of noble blood and has an elitist attitude, a lot of insecurities, and jealousy is her biggest enemy. Ista is full of natural abilities, easy going, and likeable. This grates at Kalli as she struggles to find her place in the world. Ms. Brasher has done an excellent job developing her fantasy world, her characters, and the way magic works in her stories. Her characters are flawed and up against impossible odds as they pursue their quest to expose the Chaos Mage and destroy him to save their teacher, the king, and the Kingdom of Andalinn.

The plot twists and turns as circumstances change due to their missteps and failed attempts. However, they continue to find a way to work together for their common goal. This is a unique tale with multiple layers that give the plot depth which range from personal development to political manipulations of a society. Truths are revealed that are hard for young idealist minds to accept without shattering what they have always believed or been taught growing up.

At the end of the story I still found Ryveld Daistar, Protectoret of Smotur an enigma. I am having trouble justifying his true role in the story. However, Kalli seems quite smitten. The story was divided up into different points of view so we know he is not as innocent as he professes. It will be interesting to see what other stories may come from this.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues in editing or formatting.

Rating: **** Four stars