Monday, May 22, 2017

Review: Postcards from Mr. Pish Volume 2: A Cross Country Journal by K.S. Brooks


Genre: Children’s Picture Book/Educational

Description:

Postcards from Mr. Pish: A Cross-Country Journal, Volume II follows the lovable Jack Russell Terrier as he embarks on a new adventure, traveling from Washington State all the way to Maryland, through ten states and four provinces of Canada. Mr. Pish writes fun postcards with full color photographs and maps highlighting his days so that children, and adults, can learn about our world in an entertaining and memorable way. Best viewed on a full-color device.”

Author:

“K.S. Brooks has been writing for over thirty years. An award-winning author and photographer, she has written more than 30 titles, is currently the administrator for the superblog IndiesUnlimited.com, and is founder of ‘Authors for Hurricane Sandy Library Recovery’ and the ‘Liberty Library’ for soldiers and veterans.”

Ms. Brooks Postcards from Mr. Pish educational series currently has eight volumes, which includes Mr. Pish's National Park Centennial Celebration: A Mr. Pish All Ages Activity Book. For more, visit Ms Brooks website.

Appraisal:

If you are not familiar with Mr. Pish, he is a loveable Jack Russel Terrier. His human is K. S. Brooks who loves to travel, take pictures, and write about her adventures through Mr. Pish’s eyes. Postcards from Mr. Pish is a wonderful educational series written to engage kids of all ages. I love the way Mr. Pish engages the reader by asking questions to inspire dialogue.

The format of the postcard on each page is clever. Most pictures surrounding each card include Mr. Pish in the environment he is visiting. In this volume Mr. Pish is traveling from Washington State across four provinces in Canada to Maryland. Mr. Pish gives readers a unique perspective documenting his travels that are engaging and entertaining. I highly recommend any book in this series.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

This is Volume Two in Mr. Pish’s, Cross Country Journal series. Which is also a part of Mr. Pish's Postcards Series. Best viewed on a full-color device.

Format/Typo Issues:

None

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 2-3,000 words (30 pages)

Friday, May 19, 2017

Review: Race to the Bottom by Christopher Rhatigan


Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Crime Fiction

Description:

“Roy’s eking out an existence working a minimum wage job at a big box store when his girlfriend kicks him out for being a drunk piece of shit. Then a night out at the club with his friend Banksy goes south, leaving Roy in the middle of a murder investigation. All he wants is enough cash to drink, smoke, and sleep under a roof. Roy has two options: Watch his shitty life circle the drain or do something about it.”

Author:

“Chris Rhatigan is the co-publisher of crime fiction syndicate All Due Respect Books. He is the author of The Kind of Friends Who Murder Each Other, Squeeze, and Race to the Bottom.”

Appraisal:

If you've read anything by Chris Rhatigan or any of the other authors from All Due Respect Books, the publishing company he co-owns, you'll have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Race to the Bottom and the story will deliver just what you expect. You'll find characters who are chock-full of flaws. People will do things they probably shouldn't. Crimes will be committed. In many ways the story will be dark. (Other times, you'll laugh, although what you're laughing at might not really be funny. You're far from perfect yourself, you know.) This is a fast, intense read and despite Roy, the protagonist, having many flaws, I found myself feeling sympathetic for him and his plight.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Lots of adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 20-25,000 words

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Reprise Review: Girl Jacked by Christopher Greyson


Genre: Mystery

Description:

Jack Stratton, an Iraqi war veteran working as a police officer, is called on to track down his missing foster sister. The task proves far more complicated than it first seems.

Author:

Christopher has written the best-selling Jack Stratton mystery series with over 100,000 eBooks and paperbacks in distribution. The collection includes "Girl Jacked", "Jack Knifed", and "Jacks Are Wild". His latest novel "Jack the Giant Slayer" is due out summer of 2014. His background is an eclectic mix of degrees in Theatre, Communications and Computer Science. For more check out his website.

Appraisal:

I didn’t realize this was such a popular title when I picked it (I usually try to give reviews to books that need them more). However, once I started reading I didn’t want to put the book down. The plot speeds along at a cracking pace, and Mr. Greyson manages to add layer upon layer of backstory to his two main characters—Jack Stratton, and Alice -- the eighteen-year-old sister of his foster brother, best friend, and Iraqi comrade in arms. The author pulls off a clever sleight of hand here, because these two characters start off pretty two-dimensional, and end up multi-faceted.

The plot twists and turns, covering a lot of ground and comes to a satisfactory ending which sets up the future books in the series. There is no doubt that these two characters have a lot of books in them.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Added for Reprise Review: Girl Jacked by Christopher Greyson was a nominee in the Mystery category for B&P 2015 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran July 7, 2014

Format/Typo Issues:

Too few to mention.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Approximate word count: 85-90,000 words 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Review: A World Apart by L J K Oliva


Genre: Fantasy/Paranormal

Description:

This pretty much sums the book up: "There are things that go bump in the night, Mr. MacMillian. It's my job to bump back." In these two sentences we learn that Powonia (Lena) Alan is a medium, helping stranded souls cross over, comfortable and competent in her work for ‘the other side’, fazed by very little, and certainly in much better control in such situations than PI Jesper MacMillian, who is coming at this particular case from the side of the living. Delightful encapsulation.

Author:

LJK Oliva says she writes urban fantasy and paranormal romance. That is all I can find out about her, despite her presence on Amazon, Goodreads, Facebook, Pinterest etc. The book under review is #1 in her Shades Below series. As well as things that go bump in the night, the series includes forays into vampiric and Ancient Egyptian plotlines.

Appraisal:

This novel is a lot of fun (if one can say that of a novel about dead people). The protagonists are drawn to the same crime – a dreadful death – by the unquiet soul of the deceased (which is the ambit of Lena and her brother Cyrus) and by his parents (who engage the aforementioned MacMillian, together with a cop ex-buddy called Mark Durbin: Durbin and MacMillian have baggage). The story flitters between the living and the no-longer-alive drawing on well-established tropes, but also investing them with original thinking.

There is romance in the mix. MacMillian and Lena have chemistry from the off. But then she meets and quickly begins to date the absurdly gorgeous Durbin, giving opportunities for introspection and angst within that triangle.

As well as romance we have Romani characters (MacMillian is one) bringing their hierarchies, prejudices and empathies to play in the story.

Minor characters such as Emil and Puzzle are well fleshed-out too (and carry their own stories later in the Shades Below series). The idea that there are people in the world who have the surname ‘Zarubabbel’ on their driving licences pleases me immensely.

In Lena, Oliva draws a character who feels completely real, apart from her ability to see dead people. I, too, felt I would finally be a grownup when I bought my first new cooker. (I turned out to be wrong. So is Lena.) Lena runs a tea shop. She is an expert on tea, treating each infusion as a little ritual. Lena’s inner monologue (through which much of the book is unfolded) is consistently believable and interesting.

However, one doesn’t read the book for the tea infusion recipes. This is a fast-paced whodunit incorporating the spirit world. The interactions between the characters (living and not so much) keep the pace going lickety-split throughout. The episode of Jimmy-as-poltergeist was particularly delightful.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

There is a slightly irritating tic involving short hyphens and missing spaces. Then there are the occasional malapropisms: ‘caliper’ for ‘calibre’; ‘bend’ for ‘bent’; ‘tram’ for ‘pram’, ‘banquets’ for ‘banquettes’. There are some other odd word choices which provide a momentary puzzlement before one decides it doesn’t matter and plunges back into the story. For example, I have no idea what ‘in the Veil’ refers to, nor how Powonia belongs ‘in hospice’.

I became a little irked by the number of men in the book whose names began with D. (Especially when I needed to refer back when I came to write the review.) Durbin, Darius and Daniel is two Ds too many: there are 25 other letters in the alphabet…

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: Judi Moore

Approximate word count: 65-70,000 words

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Review: Dark Heart, Heavy Soul by Keith Nixon


Genre: Crime Fiction

Description:

“All Konstantin Boryakov wants is a quiet life. In Margate. But someone is looking for him, someone who’ll do whatever they can to get the ex-KGB agent’s attention. Enter Violet, a woman with a penchant for throwing people who upset her out of windows. And Campari.

Reluctantly, Konstantin finds himself building a team to pull off a heist – breaking into a high security cash deposit facility with a hot line to the police. But he’s not to take money, what he’s after is a case, containing something apparently even more precious than the £200 million in notes that’s held behind razor wire defences.”

Author:

“Keith Nixon has been writing since he was a child. In fact, some of his friends (& his wife) say he's never really grown up. Keith is currently gainfully employed in a senior sales role meaning he gets to use his one skill, talking. Keith writes crime and historical fiction novels.”

Appraisal:

This is Keith Nixon’s fourth book featuring ex-KGB agent Konstantin Boryakov. While Konstantin is doing his best to lay low, trouble has a way of finding him. When it does then he’ll do what needs to be done, whatever that may be. All of the Konstantin books have been intense, edge-of-the-seat reads. I’ve found the character of Konstantin interesting in that in many ways he seems amoral, yet when you look deep, it’s apparent how untrue that impression is.

What set Dark Heart, Heavy Soul apart from the prior books in the series for me was that I was never sure it was going to turn out okay. Normally when you’re reading a book like this that is part of a series, while things may get tense, in the back of your mind you expect the protagonist to come out on top in the end. That he or she will survive is never really in question. But as this story unfolded, with its various twists and turns, I found myself seriously wondering whether Konstantin had finally gotten into a situation he couldn’t get out of in one piece.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 55-60,000 words

Monday, May 15, 2017

Review: My Little Trainwreck by Eric Moyer


Genre: Contemporary Romance

Description:

“Laura Summer is desperate for a comeback. Now twenty-two, the former child star just landed the leading role in a potential blockbuster film. She’s anxious to jumpstart her failing career and clean up her public image. Scott Simmons needs money. His dream of owning the neighborhood bar seems far-fetched until Laura’s film production rolls into town and offers Scott a large sum of money to keep an eye on her. All he has to do is follow her everywhere she goes and keep her out of trouble. How difficult could it be? Scott’s willing to find out if he gets paid in the end. But there’s a catch. Laura’s the most notorious party girl in Hollywood. Keeping her on track will take everything he’s got, maybe even his heart, but falling in love with a trainwreck was never part of the deal.”

Author:

“Eric Moyer is an author and filmmaker… He is also the creator of the online children's series, Wilber the Cat. In 2015, he released the book, Back to Ocean City, a collection of short stories and screenplay excerpts. In 2016, he released My Little Trainwreck, an adaptation of one of his screenplays.”

To learn more about Mr. Moyer visit his website or Facebook page.

Appraisal:

We’ve all seen the tabloid headlines and watched as promising child stars grow up without boundaries and their lives spiral out of control. Laura Summer is one of these cases. Thankfully, at twenty-two she decides to turn her life around from the jet-setting-party-girl lifestyle and get back into serious acting. The problem is she’s a spoiled little rich girl who likes to get her way and she’s not above throwing a tantrum to insure she gets it. The movie’s producer, Victor Cashman, is an old family friend, so he knows what he’s in for. To make sure Laura behaves he hires a bodyguard to keep an eye on her at all times and to make sure she shows up on time for rehearsals and filming.

Scott Simmons is the manager of the local bar where the movie is being filmed. He wants to purchase the bar, however, he is low on funds. After being turned down at the bank for a loan he was counting on, he seizes the opportunity to become Laura’s bodyguard during the filming. It should be quick, easy cash, and basically a babysitting/chauffer job, right?

The plot keeps a steady pace as we gain insight into why Laura turned out to be the spoiled brat she is. She is difficult to like and I had a hard time identifying with her. Scott is a sweet, mild-mannered sort of man who lacks a backbone. He is pretty boring, but takes his job seriously and goes way beyond the call of duty, because he falls for Laura. The director, Jimmy Corn, is flat-out crazy. He generally directs blockbuster action films. He’s a bit out of his element directing a Romantic Chick-Lit film and it shows. Victor earns his pay by keeping Jimmy calm and focused.

There are unexpected twists and on set hijinks that help keep the pages turning. I found the story a little clich├ęd but entertaining. Scott’s sister, Alison, and Laura’s brother, Ricky, added a lot of personality to the book. The ending redeemed the characters for me and made the story worth reading.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK
  
FYI:

There is some violence and some bed hopping. Nothing too graphic.

Format/Typo Issues:

I came across a small number of proofing errors.

Rating: *** Three Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 35-40,000 words

Friday, May 12, 2017

Review: The Clerk by Matt Cowper


Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Description:

“Thomas Copeland has just turned forty years old, but unlike some men his age, he's not going to have a midlife crisis. Sure, he works at a small grocery store on the North Carolina coast, he doesn't have many friends, and he's unmarried and childless, but he's content with his simple life.

Others, however, are not so content, and they want to make sure Thomas knows it. Between a family curse, wanderlust-filled (and lust-filled) co-workers, a dangerously unhappy sister, and a vindictive ex-friend-with-benefits, Thomas finds himself in an exhausting battle to maintain his idyllic lifestyle.

Will Thomas be able to resolve – or at least survive – these dramas? Will he find love, or just tepid one-night stands? Will his boss ever notice he's cleaned the bathroom? What will he get his Secret Santa giftee? And what will be the ultimate fate of the grocery store where he works?

The Clerk is both satirical and poignant, a riveting exploration of the choices people make in the pursuit of freedom and success. You'll never look at a grocery store the same way again.”

Author:

“Matt Cowper lives on the North Carolina coast, where he gazes rapturously at beach sunsets, bikes on residential roads without spandex or a helmet, and spends too much time looking for something to watch on Netflix.

Prior to this self-publishing adventure (misadventure?), he washed dishes, delivered pizzas, worked as a VISTA, and explored New Zealand in a 1990 Toyota Corona.

He also has a degree in English, but MLA formatting and ‘genre theory have not been helpful in any areas of his life.”

For more, visit Mr Cowper’s website.

Appraisal:

Who knew that a story about a clerk in a grocery store could be fun to read. After all, there are no major conflicts, no dastardly villians, no mass shootings or personal tragedies--well there could have been, but there weren’t. At its heart, the novel is a character study of ordinary people, and an examination of what constitutes a happy life. The author delved long and deeply into the characters. In doing so, he brought me close to their lives. And isn’t the purpose of a story, to take the reader into another world?

For a first novel, this is a well written. The prose flowed, the dialog is sharp and believable, and the pages turn quickly. The only technical criticism I have relates to the frequent point of view switches. In parts, this worked as a technique to give a more complete perspective of how the characters were viewing a situation, but too often it became head-hoppingly confusing and tiring on the eye.

Buy now from:            Amazon US     Amazon UK

FYI:

A few F-Bombs and sexual references that may be unsuitable for some readers.

Format/Typo Issues

Clean copy.

Rating:  **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Approximate word count: 80-85,000 words

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Review: Redeeming Grace by Smoky Zeidel


Genre: Suspense/Historical Fiction

Description:

“It’s the early twentieth century, and the tragic deaths of her mother and two younger siblings have left Grace Harmon responsible for raising her sister Miriam and protecting her from their abusive father Luther, a zealot preacher with a penchant for speaking in Biblical verse who is on a downward spiral toward insanity.

In the midst of his delusions, Luther believes God has abandoned him and devises a plan to get back into His good graces—a plan that puts both his daughters’ lives in danger and unleashes a frenzy of events that threaten to destroy the entire family.

Will Luther succeed in carrying out his crazed plot against his daughters, or will an unlikely hero step in to rescue them all?”

Author:

“Smoky Zeidel is a poet, novelist, 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 California. Her work has earned her several nominations for the prestigious Pushcart Prize. Smoky lives with her husband Scott and a plethora of animals, both domestic and wild.”

Appraisal:

Wow. What a story.

When I’m looking for a book to read, the information I use to decide will often set certain expectations. Things like the genre(s) I’ve been told the book fits in, past experience with the author’s books, and possibly the book description. For this book I had the blurb and information that it was in the suspense or thriller genre. Nothing else. It turns out that it could possibly be called historical since it takes place in the early twentieth century (clearly stated in the book description, but not something that registered with me) rather than contemporary times.

Although the story has the suspense you’d expect from that genre, what sets it apart is that the various causes of suspense have much deeper meaning beyond the obvious mystery and tension typical of the genre. You’ll have reason to consider family relationships and the obligations that might come with them from multiple angles. There are a couple story threads that should have you considering the past and how it impacts the present. If you’re inclined, you might find yourself considering religion as a tool for both good and evil. 

Suspense stories don’t typically have this much depth. That Redeeming Grace does is a positive from my viewpoint.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 50-55,000 words

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Review: Feminine Products by Rita Plush


Genre: Women’s Fiction

Description:

"Everyone’s got personal baggage, but Rusty Scanlon thinks she’s carrying more than her fair share. Owner of a trendy boutique in the outskirts of New York City, Rusty has an eye for fashion and a gift for messing up her love life. She doesn’t trust men. They’ve all abandoned her – the first being her carpenter father, who ran out on her and her mother when she was only six years old.

When she meets Walter Margolis, a guy who adores her, she thinks she has it all. Not so, she discovers when she tells him she’s pregnant and he suggests a paternity test. Rusty doesn’t know what to make of Walter’s reaction until he reveals the details of the accident he thinks he caused as a teenager, and the guilt that has tormented him all his adult life.

Rusty’s emotional rollercoaster ride is full of twists and turns that teach her and those around her about losing love and finding it, and what it means to be a family."

Author:

"Rita Plush is a writer, interior designer, and instructor of the decorative arts. She lives in Queens, New York. Her short stories have appeared in the Alaska Quarterly Review, Iconoclast, Passager, The MacGuffin, and others. She is the author of the novel Lily Steps Out, and a short-story collection titled Alterations.”

For more information, visit Ms Plush’s website.

Appraisal:

This is a gentle story gently told about a girl, Rusty Scanlon, whose father left her when she was six. This fact has informed her whole life so far. Rusty is successful; she owns a fashionable boutique in New York and loves her work. We meet her when she discovers she is pregnant - and delighted - as she loves the baby's father, Walter Margolis.

“A baby,” she whispers to the silent tiled room. “I’m going to have a baby.” She peers down and leans over, getting her face as close as possible to her belly and gives the air a little kiss."

The fact that she is pregnant makes her think and wonder about her father; she has always missed him and remembers him quite well, even though she was so young. Why had he left her, and her mother, Nadine?

The characters in this book are well drawn; Nadine is very much her own self - stylish and attractive, a yoga teacher who does her best to get on with her daughter. Their relationship is complex but loving.

Walter is an odd person with his own individual way of speaking; he is a serious man who considers every situation with slow deliberation, especially the fact that he is going to be a father. He has his own unhappy memories from childhood which make him wary and a bit withdrawn but he does love Rusty.

The book is written in sections; from different points of view, and from past and present circumstances. This is always a good thing in a book - it breaks up the action and fills out the whole story.

Rusty decides to find her father, Jack Paul, just about the same time he decides to find her. He gets a temporary job, teaching woodwork to teenage boys and discovers that he really enjoys it, and that he is very good at it.

Not only does he take pride in their achievements, but when their mitered, mahogany-stained picture frames, and their hinged boxes are chosen for display in the showcase of the high school lobby with ‘Instructor: Jack Paul Scanlon,’ printed a little placard resting on a shelf in the case, he practically wears out the rubber on his Adidas tennis shoes, finding excuses to walk by and admire their work. I taught them that, he’d say to himself. I taught them that.

On the negative side the title Feminine Products seems a little strange. One immediately thinks of shampoos and perfumes and skin creams and it doesn't appear to have any connection to the story at all.

There are long passages in the book which could be lifted out altogether without disturbing the flow of the story; with a bit of tweaking they would make good short stories, particularly parts involving Jack Paul.

Overall the book is very enjoyable but because of the title and those long passages I am deducting one star.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: Four stars ****

Reviewed by: Joan Slowey

Approximate word count: 85-90,000 words

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Review: For the Love of Katie by Erica Lucke Dean

This is the second half of a doubleshot review. If you missed it, BigAl gave his thoughts on the same book this morning.


Genre: Chick Lit/Romantic Comedy

Description:

“Newlywed Katie Maxwell is ready to settle down and leave her amateur detective days behind. But when the veil of secrecy surrounding her husband’s latest project takes them to Europe, her penchant for sleuthing lands her in some serious hot foreign water.

Katie will need to think quickly to talk her way out of handcuffs and a Parisian jail cell. Too bad she doesn't speak French.”

Author:

Erica Lucke Dean: “After walking away from her career as a business banker to pursue writing full-time, Erica moved from the hustle and bustle of the big city to a small tourist town in the North Georgia Mountains where she lives in a 90-year-old haunted farmhouse with her workaholic husband, her 180lb lap dog, and at least one ghost.

When she's not busy writing or tending to her collection of crazy chickens, diabolical ducks, and a quintet of piglets, hell bent on having her for dinner, she's either reading bad fan fiction or singing karaoke in the local pub. Much like the main character in her first book, To Katie With Love, Erica is a magnet for disaster, and has been known to trip on air while walking across flat surfaces.
How she's managed to survive this long is one of life's great mysteries.”

To learn more about Ms. Dean and her books please visit her website or follow her on Facebook.

Appraisal:

Katie, who is now four months pregnant, gets arrested in Paris trying to spy on her husband, Cooper Maxwell, at his latest film shoot.  Unfortunately she isn’t carrying any ID to prove who she is. It could happen! At the end of To Katie With Love, the prior book in this series, the book skipped forward a year. While Katie is trying to convince the Paris police inspector, Henri Gaspard, who she is, the story jumps back, using this book to fill in the gap.

The hijinks and miscommunications at work are hysterical. All of Ms. Dean’s secondary character interactions are just as enjoyable as her main characters. They always add depth to the scenes. Vivian Allen, Cooper’s publicist, is a thorn in Katie’s side, and Cooper seems oblivious to Vivian’s advancements, which gives Katie the opportunity to rely on her own devices. We are then given the privilege of getting to know Katie’s parents, I think Katie takes after her mom a little more than she’s willing to admit. There is also no denying Katie is a gem in her father’s eyes. Cooper’s parents were both gems. Lizzie, Cooper’s mom, is excellent at reading people and knows how to get what she wants. Colin, Cooper’s father, is now enjoying his life since retiring from Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service. One would expect him to be a stuffy old Englishman, which is far from the truth. They are both delightful and will be wonderful grandparents. And I’m not just saying that because they have chickens and goats on their estate in England.

The storyline moves at a good pace with a couple wrenches thrown in to complicate things. A lot of For the Love of Katie is a comedy of errors that were no fault of her own. Then there are memorable scenes that are Katie’s fault, these all involved too many adult beverages. The ending is perfect as Cooper defines being the perfect man by accepting and relishing Katie for who she is. For the Love of Katie is an enchanting read I highly recommend.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

For the Love of Katie is book two in The Katie Chronicles. This book can be read as a standalone.

Format/Typo Issues:

I found no significant proofing errors in the Advanced Readers Copy I received.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 80-85,000 words