Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Review: Dream Walk by Melissa Bowersock


Genre: Mystery/Supernatural/Ghosts

Description:

“Private investigator Lacey Fitzpatrick and Navajo medium Sam Firecloud are usually called to clear haunted locations of their lingering ghosts using Sam’s unusual talent for communicating with the dead. This time, however, the dead — Sam’s former brother-in-law — comes to him… in a dream. Now Sam and Lacey head to Las Vegas to figure out how to find the body and uncover a murder plot before the murderers bury them forever.”

Author:

“Melissa Bowersock is an eclectic, award-winning author who writes in a variety of fiction and non-fiction genres: biography, contemporary, western, action, romance, fantasy, paranormal and spiritual. She has been both traditionally and independently published and is a regular contributor to the superblog Indies Unlimited. She lives in a small community in northern Arizona with her husband and an Airedale terrier. She also writes under the pen name Amber Flame.”

Learn more about Ms. Bowersock on her website or follow her on Facebook.

Appraisal:

Sam Firecloud, Navajo medium, is up against something a little different than he has experienced before. His dreams are being visited by someone he knew several years ago, and he is having trouble communicating with the spirit. When he calls Lacey, a PI and occasional partner, to get her advice on his dilemma, they both decide they need to check things out around his last known address in Las Vegas, Nevada. After Lacey finds a couple of reputable contacts in Homicide and Vice departments at the Vegas police department, Lacey and Sam head out of L.A. with few facts and no leads to follow.

Dream Walk has a bit of everything that makes this series so great. These include an excellent mystery, Sam using his empathic abilities to connect with the victim, the adventure of trying to locate a dead body in the desert around Las Vegas, as well as the sexual tension between Lacey and Sam exacerbated by outside parties. The secondary characters are well developed and realistic. This story also is the most dangerous Lacey and Sam have ever been involved with. They both learn, the hard way, that drug lords are not to be trifled with. But to prove a crime has even been committed at all, they need the dead body.

I found Dream Walk a tension filled, emotionally charged mystery as Sam and Lacey scour the dangerous side of Vegas. While also being confronted with their relationship as partners in business and the growing sexual tension between them. Decisions need to be made. Is Sam, with his introvert personality, going to step up to the plate? How will Sam’s kids react if he decides to have a personal relationship with Lacey? Find out now in Dream Walk

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK
  
FYI:

Dream Walk is the fourth book in A Lacey Fitzpatrick and Sam Firecloud Mystery series. Each of these mysteries could be read as a standalone if you choose. However, I am enjoying the relationship developing between Lacey and Sam and recommend reading from the beginning to get the full benefit of their storyline.

Format/Typo Issues:

My review is based on a beta, pre-release version. I am unable to judge the final version in this area.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 35-40,000 words

Monday, July 24, 2017

Review: Strawberries by Casey Bartsch


Genre: Suspense

Description:

A serial killer leaves a Strawberry symbol at each of his murders.

Author:

Casey Bartsch is an author based in small-town Texas.

Appraisal:

The story is populated by a cast of quirky characters who have apparently separate story lines. Part of the puzzle is how they all fit together. Ultimately the tie-ins are clever with the best of the lot coming at the epilog. It all builds to a satisfying and surprising ending.

The problem is that the psychopathic killer lacks believability. He is put away in a secure facility as a boy for slaying neighborhood pets. His primary doctor believes he is ready for release in his twenties, but that doctor leaves the facility. A second doctor says he doubts the killer is ready to go free, and his parents have been paying the state to keep him locked away. It isn’t clear how or why he gets out.

The killer on the loose is portrayed as dysfunctional, yet somehow he manages to survive with no apparent means of support. The only way the reader is told he gets around is by walking. All we know about him is that he shows up at improbable instances and murders people “to ease his pain.”

Inexplicably, the killer becomes a folk hero, which is an odd distraction from the story line. Outside of horror or fantasy tales, a villain needs real-world credibility to invoke chills or fright. The Strawberries murderer doesn’t have it.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Victims include a toddler killed in a particularly vicious, as well as physically impossible, method. It was a needlessly vile scene and reason on its own to avoid this novel.

Format/Typo Issues:

Many.

Rating: *** Three Stars

Reviewed by: Sam Waite

Approximate word count: 80-85,000 words

Friday, July 21, 2017

Review: Tales of Aldura: Jezrei's Justice by Susan Stuckey


Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult/Short Story

Description:

“Elderly and frail, Jezrei is tasked with the safety of more than twenty children when the City of Azraelis is attacked by an enemy bent on slaughter and subjugation. How can one old man hope to stand against an entire army?”

Author:

Susan Stuckey: “Currently (mostly) retired, but 'back in the day' Susan was a meek, mild-mannered, self-effacing accountant/auditor by day but after 5:00 her imagination broke free. She either played with historical stories, or in the magical World of Aldura she created.

Besides playing in fantasy worlds and/or historical times, Susan dabbles in various hobbies, loves to try new recipes, and is the servant of multiple fur-children (both feline and canine).”

To learn more please visit Ms. Stuckey’s website or follow her on Facebook.
Appraisal:

This short story is a glowing testament for love and faith on many levels. Jezrei is an elderly Lieheiren Muhadun, a teaching priest with healing powers, of the Kalieri. He is tasked with the protection of a group of children in the Temple while the barbarian Halurdow storm the town killing and burning everything along their way.  

As the battle moves closer, Jezrei recites the history of the twin god, Azrael, who created the population and creatures of Aldura, the land on which the Kalieri live. Jezrei is able to see the hopelessness of their situation locked in the Temple. However, he is able to keep the children calm and with that peacefulness the children remind Jezrei the words spoken by Azrael as they come face to face with the Halurdow.

Ms. Stuckey has developed an intriguing and detailed history for her series. I find it a joy to be drawn into her stories. Even as heart-rending as Jezrei’s Justice could have been.  

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Jezrei’s Justice can be read as a standalone. However if you would like to see the published Tales of Aldura arranged in time-line order. Click here.

Format/Typo Issues:

I noticed no issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 4-5,000 words

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Review: Adventures in Self Driving Cars 2025 by William M. Rea


Genre: Non-fiction

Description:

“The purpose of this article is to explore what might happen when autopilot automobiles become accepted and used in America.

This short book will stimulate your thoughts.”

Author:

No information available.

Appraisal:

The title sounds fun, if a bit vague as to what the adventures it refers to might mean. The short description clarifies. While I suppose someone could think they’ll be reading a short science fiction story of some kind, I assumed what I’d find would be non-fiction. I was right.

Strictly speaking the short (make that extremely short) book technically comes through on its stated purpose. I suppose it even stimulated my thoughts a bit. But those thoughts were as likely to be “isn’t that obvious” or “you can’t be serious” or “what’s the point of this book again?” as actual thoughts about self-driving cars.

The book is primarily a bunch of questions. Some of them, such as wondering on various aspects of how the insurance for self-driving cars will work, are valid questions. They need to be asked and answered before self-driving cars owned by an average man-on-the-street hit the road. Bringing this consideration to my attention might even be useful although it is something that will have to be resolved before you or I will be able to buy our own self-driving car. Whatever the resolution, the average person is unlikely to have much input into finding the answers.

But many of the questions seem to be stretching for things to be concerned about and either aren’t that big of a deal or will have to be resolved before these cars become widely available, just like with any new technology, like that horseless carriage Henry Ford invented. Won’t it scare the animals with all that noise? How are people going to refuel it? How will short people drive it if they can’t reach the pedals? What about really tall 8-year-olds?

This book’s premise is interesting. But why not answer some of the questions? I’m betting the answers are out there for some of them, or at least some possible answers. As it stands it feels like a pointless exercise in fear-mongering.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

A small number of proofing issues if we consider the term “self driving cars” correct. If we go with the usage that appears to be most common and think that this should be “self-driving cars” then we’ve got a big problem with typos. I wrote this off as a style decision rather than error.

Rating: ** Two Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 1-2,000 words

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Reprise Review: Follow The Joy by Jason Kurtz


Genre: Memoir

Description:

At age 27, the author bought a one-way ticket to India determined to let intuition be his guide. If that sounds like the introduction to a travelogue, you’d be right. But this book is indeed memoir, because the story is less about Jason’s travels than it is about a spiritual journey he undertakes as he strives to find meaning in his life.

Author:

Jason Kurtz is a psychoanalyst in private practice as well as the Director of Training for the Training Institute for Mental Health. Follow the Joy is his first book.

Appraisal:

I don’t read many memoirs. Perhaps I should, because I certainly enjoyed this one.

I selected the story because I’ve always found Eastern religions—in this instance, Buddhism and Hinduism—fascinating. They seem to embody the concept of selfless love and a search for oneness with the infinite but without the social, structural (and financial) trappings I associate with Christian religions.

Jason’s trip started in a most inauspicious manner, and rapidly went downhill from there. From the minute he landed, he was harassed by beggars and hustled each time he attempted a financial transaction with the locals. His failure to plan for or even anticipate what he was undertaking exposed him to a raw edge of Indian society far removed from glossy tourist posters featuring the Taj Mahal, or idealized Bollywood movie scenes.

Throughout, I admired his ability to look again, to challenge his initial impression of each place, or each person he met. This patience often enabled him to penetrate the superficial layers and gain a better understanding of why a person behaved as they did, or why a cultural structure existed.

Jason started his journey in the hopeful belief that in India he would find a purpose in his life. He was driven by a need to address certain character weaknesses that he believed were holding him back from achieving happiness.

Did he succeed?

Yes and no. Of course, everyone has their own route to happiness, but through Jason’s experiences, I came away with a better understanding of what is really involved in a search for inner-peace. His route would not be mine, but I’m glad he shared his journey with me.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Added for Reprise Review: Follow The Joy was a nominee in the Non-Fiction category for B&P 2015 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran August 10, 2014

Format/Typo Issues:

Too few to mention.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words

Monday, July 17, 2017

Review: Thistle Inferno by Aaron Michael Ritchey



Genre: Dystopian/Post-Apocalyptic/Adventure/Young Adult

Description:

“By 2058, both the Sino-American War and the Sterility Epidemic have decimated the male population. Electricity does not function in five western states. Collectively, they are known as the Juniper. It is the most dangerous place on Earth.

Cavatica Weller and her gunslinging sisters did the impossible: they took three thousand head of cattle across a wasteland of outlaws, blizzards, and a cloned army of super soldiers. But once again, they are on the run.

This time, there are no outsiders, they know who the enemy is, and the stakes have never been higher. In the deserts of a broken world, they’ll be pushed to their limits.

And standing between them and freedom is a mysterious city ruled by men.”

Author:

“Aaron Michael Ritchey was born with Colorado thunderstorms in his soul. He's sought shelter as a world traveler, an endurance athlete, a story addict, and even gave serious thought to becoming a Roman Catholic priest. After too brief a time in Paris, he moved back to the American West and lives semi-comfortably with three forces of nature: a little, blonde hurricane, an artistic tornado, and a beautiful, beautiful blizzard.”

Mr. Ritchey’s Long Live the Suicide King was a nominee in BigAl’s Books and Pals 2015 Readers’ Choice Awards under the YA category. For more information about Aaron Michael Ritchey please visit his website.

Appraisal:

If you have been reading this series and enjoying the wild ride, hold on to your hats and boots ‘cause you ain’t seen nothin’ yet… The Weller sisters are pushed to the edge of insanity in Thistle Inferno. The steampunk element is pushed even further thanks to a new found ally. Also, an old friend of Wren’s joins the small group, at least for a while. We will have to watch for future development in this relationship.

There are more twists and turns in this virtual roller coaster than I have ever experienced before. There are a few slow parts, however, Mr. Ritchey is only giving you a chance to catch your breath before the ride starts again. Strength and fortitudes are tested again and again. Emotions are manic with a small degree of resolution reached. I’m not sure if I can keep up with all this tension, it’s wearing me down.

The New Morality code beliefs that Cavatica values so highly have always struck me wrong. They are way too strict for women where society has more women than men. It puzzles me that most women remain submissive. Cavatica has outgrown the submissive behavior because of their circumstances. Even though she is the youngest of the Weller sisters she has been leading the mission to deliver the sterility cure to the rest of the world. God is playing a larger role in Cavatica’s life, she’s grasping for strength outside of herself.

While I thought the New Morality was one of the worst codes to live by, I was mistaken. When our small group of crusader’s are taken captive by a group of hunters, they are led to a heavily guarded mysterious city ruled by men. Holy crappola! Women are viewed as property to be fought over. The more women a man owns the more status he has in their society. Entertainment in town are the bloody fights staged by men wanting a larger harem to call their own. Then, as I am giving up all hope for the Weller sisters and Micaiah’s survival, Mr. Ritchey leaves us with a small spark of hope for their future.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Thistle Inferno is book three in THE JUNIPER WARS series. I believe it is best to read books one and two before starting Thistle Inferno.

Format/Typo Issues:

I was given an unproofed ARC, so I can’t really comment on the finished product.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 85-90,000 words

Friday, July 14, 2017

Review: A Passport to a Nation of Talking Slugs and Other Stories by Andrew Kozma


Genre: Short Story Collection/Speculative Fiction

Description:

A Passport to a Nation of Talking Slugs is a collection of weird, speculative fiction containing four stories of people exploring strange places and situations, from a newly-discovered civilization of six-foot-tall talking slugs to being haunted by a man in a dark chocolate suit. Whether waking up in a prison camp or navigating a city full of copies of themselves, the characters in these stories are bent on understanding their world, even if that understanding also means the end of the world they thought they knew.”

Author:

Andrew Kozma is an award-winning author based in Houston, Texas. For more, visit his blog.

Appraisal:

I’d read another short collection of four stories by Andrew Kozma early this year, so decided to give this one a spin as well. The results are much the same. I called it a change of pace last time and, unless you read a steady diet of strange, weird, unusual and whatever words your thesaurus has for offbeat and different speculative fiction, it will be a change of pace for you too. This guy has an imagination and can string words together fairly well too.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 9-10,000 words

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Review: Thirty-Three Cecils by Everett De Morier


Genre: Literary Fiction

Description:

The novel purports to be the found journals of two men; Walker Roe (a once prominent cartoonist who went to jail for swindling and counterfeiting) and Riley Dutcher (a functioning alcoholic who worked in a landfill site office). What happens when their paths cross, and they start recording their experiences, is what the story is about. It’s just a story about a couple of ordinary Joes, really. But what a story!

Author:

Everett De Morier is a jobbing author, writing anything from articles about fishing to books about marriage. He is editor in chief of 543skills.com. He is also a playwright who has created seven original theatrical scripts, all produced by Cornerstone Drama of Dover, Delaware. This is his first novel. You can read more about him and the book on his Amazon author page.

Appraisal:

This is an extraordinary book. It defies description. In a good way. It begins by telling you the end (and it doesn’t matter): it continues by telling you the same story from two different viewpoints (and it doesn’t matter): and within each of those viewpoints material is often revisited several times (and it doesn’t matter). Despite this the account is both complex and fantastical. The story is fake news. Or is it? Its two protagonists are, neither of them, proud of their lives to date. And it is far from clear that their final project is anything to be proud of either. Their escapades, severally and together, are bizarre. The events that occur are impossible (and – guess what? – it doesn’t matter). There is a sort of cosmic inevitability about the plot development. Coincidences abound. Indeed, serendipity is ‘the scary thing’ that drives the book. That and the deep desire of Roe and Dutcher to become different men, to make amends to themselves, each other, their families and everyone else who was touched adversely by their lives.

I couldn’t put it down. And I know very well it will repay rereading.

I have no idea what genre this belongs in. But if you like a slow burn of a novel (and I do mean burn), then definitely put this on your ‘to read’ list.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

It’s a tad overwritten. De Morier does like to make the same point (usually) three times – and (being a fine, inventive writer) likes to make it in a different way each time. This does not lend itself to the wham-bam-thank-you-Ma’am style of novel which is currently fashionable. I occasionally felt I was disappearing over the hills and far away when following one of De Morier’s shaggy dog stories (do you call them that in the States?). But I found resistance to be futile – this book is completely beguiling if you just go with the flow.

Format/Typo Issues:

Too few to mention.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Judi Moore

Approximate word count: 105-110,000 words

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Review: Dark Designs by Stefanie Spangler


Genre: Paranormal/Urban Fantasy

Description:

“Twins Ivy and Violet Grant are opposites. Ivy, a hot-tempered redhead, couldn’t wait to get off the farm and see the world. Violet, a quiet brunette, was content to stay home and help their grandmother with the family business. The one thing they have in common is their magic.

Charlie Logan’s sinister obsession with Ivy Grant has ruled his life. When he discovers a book of dark magic during a burglary, he decides to return to Oak Hill and use his newfound power to gain control over Ivy.

Ivy and Violet, with help from their grandmother, need to practice their magic to overcome the evil seeping into their lives. A battle is coming, and Ivy’s life is not the only one at stake.”

Author:

“Stefanie lives in central Illinois with her husband and daughters. When she's not reading or writing, she’s usually editing someone else’s book or vacuuming up someone else's spilled cereal. But she also enjoys gardening, knitting, and forcing others to read her favorite books.”

To learn more check out Ms. Spangler’s website or follow her on Facebook.

Appraisal:

One of the reasons I chose this book to review is the beautiful cover design. I know better than to judge a book by its cover, but I’m an emotional reader and the artwork spoke to me. It’s sad the story didn’t deliver for me. I couldn’t connect with any of the characters. The book starts off with an incident that happened to Ivy when she was eight years old. Charlie Logan, a ranch hand, made advances towards Ivy in the barn. Grandpa Jack caught Charlie in the act, intervened, and threw him off the farm with a threat to never come back or Jack would kill him. This premise sets the theme of the story.

Then there is a time-warp that takes us to Ivy’s return from college to the farmhouse where she and her twin, Violet, were raised in by their grandparents. Grandpa Jack has passed away in the meantime, so, it’s Gram, Violet, and Ivy. Violet has taken over running the farm and Ivy wonders how she will fit in. She has an obsession with wanting to find her mother, Rachel, but nothing ever comes of that. I suppose Rachel will be addressed in book two? I had a hard time liking Ivy; I found her inconsistent, impulsive, and rather flaky. Gran has apparently taught her granddaughters some magic, but aside from reading the clouds and making protective spells, the reader is left clueless.

Needless to say, Charlie has returned to Oak Hills, in possession of a stolen book of black magic, with the intention of making Ivy his. For some reason, he is able to do more magic than the witches seem to be able to do. This was hard for me to justify in my head. Charlie is a malevolent soul of the most grievous sort. With Ivy back in town, he executes his evil plan. Our witches feel the evil in the air but just sit and wait for him to strike, more or less. When a small child who looks like Ivy is kidnapped, Ivy seems to pull herself out of her pity party.

This book moved very slowly for me. I found the characters’ behavior to be frustrating when I felt there should have been more growth. This is the author’s first book, so perhaps that is the issue here. I think maybe that some structural editing could have tightened it up and caught the issues that left me feeling a bit disappointed.

I did like Violet, she was stable and sure of herself. I also liked Officer Kevin Banniere and his developing relationship with Violet. The Chief of Police along with Kevin added a touch of realism to the story. The ending was way out of left field and unexpected. However it was not enough to save the book.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Only one F-bomb

Format/Typo Issues:

A small number of proofing errors including missing word, extra words, and repetition.

Rating: *** Three Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

Monday, July 10, 2017

Reprise Review: Lionel and the Golden Rule by Paul R Hewlett


Genre: Children’s Fiction

Description:

“Lionel is sick of his brother picking on him and of his mother yelling at him. One day, while cleaning the closet his mother has been after him about, he discovers not only boxes and old clothes, but a lucky charm with more magic than he bargained for. After an unusual encounter with his brother, Lionel knows things are about to change for the better.”

Author:

The author of two books in the “Lionel’s Grand Adventure” series, Paul R. Hewlett is an Air Force vet.

For more, visit Mr. Hewlett’s website.

Appraisal:

I drafted The Princess, my eleven year-old granddaughter, to read this book and give me a kid’s perspective to add to my own in writing this review. The Princess gave it high marks (a letter grade of A+) with the comment that she really liked it. She described it as having “a lot of fantasy” and a “moral about luck.”
I concur. It’s a fun read that should hit the sweet spot for its target audience (ages 7-10) with a lesson to be learned (I’d describe it as “be careful what you wish for”), that comes through clearly, yet doesn’t overshadow the fun of the story.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Added for Reprise Review: Lionel and the Golden Rule was a nominee in the Children/Middle Grade category for B&P 2015 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran December 19, 2014

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl with input from The Princess

Approximate word count: 10-15,000 words 

Friday, July 7, 2017

Review: A Reason to Believe by Donna Fasano


Genre: Sweet Romance/Contemporary/Fairy Tale

Description:

“It seems like a grand idea, temporarily trading her pixie wings for a womanly form to help handsome widower Paul Roland with his baby girl. And the moment she holds the precious bairn in her arms, Fern knows true happiness for the first time.

But Fern never anticipates the dizzying emotions she feels for the man who not only needs her as a nanny, but as a woman whose passion can heal his wounded heart. Suddenly the forbidden fairy rule she gently bends because of the baby is in danger of being irrevocably broken.

Some things are meant to be…”

Author:

“USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR DONNA FASANO is a three-time winner of the HOLT Medallion, a CataRomance Reviewers Choice Award winner for Best Single Title, a Desert Rose Golden Quill Award finalist, a Golden Heart finalist, and a two-time winner of Best Romance of the Year given by BigAl's Books & Pals Review Blog. Her books have sold 4 million copies worldwide and have been published in two dozen languages. Her novels have made the Kindle Top 100 Paid List numerous times, climbing as high as #1.”

You can learn more about Ms. Fasano on her website or stalk her on Facebook.
  
Appraisal:

“Oh by me heart” this is an enchanting story, which begins quite by accident. Paul Roland is an author who lost his muse and his wife, Marie, when she died two years ago during a difficult childbirth. Paul has brought Katy, their daughter, to visit and spend time with Marie’s parents in Ireland. Fern is an adventurous Pixie, full of curiosity, and a strong will. She is also not wary of humans, nonbelievers are unable to see all things magical. However, Fern gets great joy from playing and entertaining babies, who still have magical sight. And this is how she gets trapped in the sleeve of Katy’s sweater then ends up on an airplane headed to New York City. As Pixie Fern contemplates her predicament in a private space away from human eyes she suddenly finds herself transformed into human form.

The plot moves at a nice pace as Fern and Paul settle into a working relationship with Fern as Katy’s nanny and Paul tries to get back into his writing. Until Fern starts experiencing emotions she doesn’t understand and has no idea how to deal with. The twists in the story are enlightening, poignant, and honest. The depth of character development is much deeper than I expected in this type of story. Honestly I shouldn’t have been surprised, one of Ms. Fasano’s strengths is the depth of her characters and their realistic dialogue. But, I was expecting a lighthearted tale. Silly me!

Expect to be blown away by the complexity of the human spirit you will find in Fern and Paul’s journey in A Reason to Believe.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

A Reason to Believe is book three in A Family Forever Series.

Format/Typo Issues:

No Issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 40-45,000 words