Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Review: The Last Deception by D.V. Berkom


Genre: Thriller

Description:

“In the Cold War, you knew who your friends and enemies were. In war today, there’s no difference.

Just when former assassin Leine Basso thinks she’s free from the business of murder and deception, a desperate call from a friend drags her back into the dark world of espionage and arms dealers.

Leine uncovers information that implicates a well-known Russian businessman in a horrendous deception that affects national security and could have global repercussions. It’s up to the former assassin to persuade the powers that be to ignore the obvious and trust her, or disregard the information and bring the world to the brink of a devastating war. Can she make it in time to warn them before The Last Deception?”

Author:

“DV Berkom is the USA Today best-selling author of two action-packed thriller series featuring strong female leads: Leine Basso and Kate Jones. Her love of creating resilient, kick-ass women characters stems from a lifelong addiction to reading spy novels, mysteries, and thrillers, and longing to find the female equivalent within those pages.”

Appraisal:

From book to book it’s hard to predict what kind of situation Leine Basso is going to find herself involved in. That she’s going to acquit herself well, dealing with whatever unexpected twists life throws at her, is the only predictable part of Leine’s life. In this latest installment of the series, Leine finds herself embroiled in a situation that, if it doesn’t go well, could have serious repercussions for much of the world.

As with any good story of this type, action was fast-paced. The reader is kept guessing at what’s going to happen next, and the tension is high. If you’re a thriller reader, especially if you like espionage or spy thrillers, The Last Deception is your kind of book.

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: 70-75,000 words

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Review: The Butcher's Daughter by Florence Grende


Genre: Memoir

Description:

“What was it like to hide with your family in the dense forests of Poland for two long years, as Mameh did, living in a hole in the ground, while being alert, always alert, to the sounds of Nazis and their dogs?

How was it to be both hunter and hunted, as Tateh was, taking up arms, bartering for and stealing food, fighting for another day of life, wounded and recovering, while protecting others hiding in the forest--the old, the infirm, the children?

And what was it like for the narrator, after the war, child of these two people, Mameh and Tateh, who held their stories close? And each of them haunted by the dead?

The Butcher's Daughter lays flesh on the bones of their stories. It is a book meant for all adults and young adults interested in:  the immigrant experience of a family across generations, coming of age in the Bronx, Eastern European Jewish culture, survival and partisan fighting in the frigid and dangerous woods of WWII Eastern Poland, living with and transmitting trauma, and for those just interested in a compelling story.”

Author:

“Florence Grende was born in American Occupied Germany to Holocaust survivor parents and grew up in the Bronx. As a young woman, she earned a Master of Social Work degree, and later, at age sixty, a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. The Butcher's Daughter is her debut book. She has also pursued careers first as a therapist, then an AT&T union worker, and a mixed-media artist.”

Appraisal:

I imagine memoir readers like reading about the experiences of others for different reasons. At least I know the appeal of a memoir can vary for me, depending on the author and what they have to say. In the case of The Butcher’s Daughter I found a few things that appealed to me.

One is the obvious and the author’s apparent primary goal, getting an understanding of what the author’s parents went through as Jewish people hiding from the Nazis and how that experience impacted the next generation. But I also found comparing the author’s experience to my own to be an interesting mental exercise. While a few years younger and living in a different area, I was impacted by many of the same historical events and cultural shifts. This helped me relate to the events on a more personal level.

Overall an enjoyable read. It should appeal to those who like to read the stories of “real” people (as opposed to the rich and/or famous).

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 35-40,000 words

Monday, November 20, 2017

Reprise Review: Conjure Woman's Cat by Malcolm R. Campbell


Genre: Magical Realism / Culture / Spirituality

Description:

“Lena, a shamanistic cat, and her conjure woman Eulalie live in a small town near the Apalachicola River in Florida’s lightly populated Liberty County, where longleaf pines own the world. In Eulalie’s time, women of color look after white children in the homes of white families and are respected, even loved, but distrusted and kept separated as a group…

When some white boys rape and murder a black girl named Mattie near the sawmill, the police have no suspects and don’t intend to find any. Eulalie, who sees conjure as a way of helping the good Lord work His will, intends to set things right by ‘laying tricks.’

But Eulalie has secrets of her own, and it’s hard not to look back on her own life and ponder how the decisions she made while drinking and singing at the local juke were, perhaps, the beginning of Mattie’s ending.”

Author:

Malcolm R. Campbell lives in north Georgia and has worked as a corporate communications director, technical writer, and college journalism instructor. He now works as a grant writer for museums and other nonprofit organizations and writes stories.

For more, visit Campbell’s website.

Appraisal:

The Conjure Woman’s Cat is a novella set in the Florida Panhandle in the 1950s-era about Hoodoo, the KKK, and the blues. The story is told through Lena, Eulalie’s cat and her familiar. Lena is able to spirit walk and communicate with Eulalie. I had no trouble buying into this scenario, this is fiction and I was ready to believe. I found the characters well defined, believable, and they fit into the era the book was written to be in. Eulalie claims to be older than dirt, is full of gumption and spitfire. She has had a hard life and won’t take guff from anyone and she means to set things right. I loved this quote from Lena towards the end of the book.

My Conjure Woman believes no man, woman, or cat should question the consequences of calling upon folk magic, archangels, or the good Lord to rearrange the puzzle pieces that make up the world.

I have heard there is truth in that statement. One can ask the spirits, or pray, but one cannot direct the consequences. So, you better mean what you say and say what you mean.

The plot is multi-layered and confronts racism head-on. If you are offended by certain terms, this may not be the book for you, however it fits the era and is realistic of the times. This story concerns two families in particular. Both being torn apart, one eventually comes to terms with the past so the healing can begin. It’s a realistic and moving story that will break your heart but then try to make you whole again. This book gives you a look at how white justice was handled in the south. It is sad to believe that certain aspects of this still hold true today. No one can undo the past and it could take years to get past the hurt even if the pain is a sacred pain.

I dearly loved Eulalie and Willie, I could easily have been friends with them both. The more I read the name Eulalie the more I adored it. It has a beautiful rhythm and made me smile every time I read it. Eulalie was a wise woman and deserved the respect she was given. Kudos to Malcolm R. Campbell for a story well told.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Certain racist terms are used within this story, however they fit with the time and the story would seem unrealistic without them. If you are offended by such, perhaps this is not the book for you.

Format/Typo Issues:

I was given an ARC so I really can’t comment on the finished book, but I ran across no significant proofing or formatting issues in the copy I received.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count30-35,000 words

Friday, November 17, 2017

Review: Swerve by Mike Markel


Genre: Police Procedural

Description:

“The Central Montana State community has waited a year to learn whether Syclone Systems, a maker of self-driving car technology, will enter into a long-term R&D partnership with the university. At a live demo on campus, where the company is expected to announce its decision, its man on campus, Bryan Orville, is run down by one of his experimental cars. Whoever altered the car’s computer code to kill him also erased all the forensic evidence. Because Orville had some nasty habits--fooling around with grad students, stealing promising research ideas, and publicly humiliating professors who didn’t meet his standards--Seagate and Miner are swamped with suspects. When a second body turns up, and then someone hacks Syclone and threatens to put them out of business, the detectives devise a plan to lure the killer out of hiding with a phony reward for solving the hack. But the killer knows there is much more money to be made selling the company’s trade secrets on the dark web. Besides, the killer is quite busy planning one last murder.”

Author:

Mike Markel writes the Detectives Seagate and Miner Mystery series, which is set in the fictional small city of Rawlings, Montana, home of Central Montana State University. That university is somewhat like Boise State University, where Mike taught writing, but in Rawlings the weather is colder, the football team less successful, and the murder rate much, much higher. 

Mike lives with his wife in Boise.”

For more from Mr. Markel, visit his website.

Appraisal:

I’ve read several of the Seagate and Miner book. I’ve liked all of them, but realized that my main reasons for liking each book has varied a lot. That’s a good thing. In some installments, in addition to the mystery at the heart of every book, I’ve been focused on Seagate and Miner’s relationship, how their flaws and idiosyncrasies tend to offset each other, making them a strong team. In other books, my focus is on something different. For Swerve that was the concept of self-driving cars and what some of the complications of these might turn out to be. But, as always, the mystery kept me guessing and Seagate and Miner kept me entertained as I tried to solve the case with them.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Some adult language.

While this is the eighth book in the Seagate and Miner Mystery series this can be read as a standalone.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 90-95,000 words

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Review: The Renegade Spy by Mark O'Neill


Genre: Thriller

Description:

“The German chancellor, Claudia Meyer, is riding a wave of popularity at home. But she also has her enemies, and one of them has hired an assassin - nicknamed "The Scorpion" - for twenty million Euros to kill her.

Little does the chancellor know that the Scorpion is relentless. He is ruthless, and he is extremely good at his job. The government has no clue what the Scorpion looks like and how he will strike. Not even her bodyguards are a guarantee of safety. All they know is that the Scorpion leaves a trail of dead bodies in his wake. Captain Sophie Decker of German Intelligence rapidly becomes Meyer's only chance of ultimate survival, along with her colleague, Lieutenant Wolfgang Schmitz.

Decker and Schmitz are given an order - stop the Scorpion by any means necessary - before the Scorpion gets to the chancellor.”

Author:

“Mark is a 40-something Scotsman, now living the expatriate lifestyle in W├╝rzburg, Germany. He is married to a beautiful German woman, and is part-owner to a gorgeous but crazy dog called Schlumpf.”

Appraisal:

There is a lot to like about this book. The overall story is good. The characters are okay and the author puts words together well enough.

The problem is when you get into the details of the story there are things that happen or the characters do that aren’t credible. For example, Captain Decker doing things that are of questionable legality. Pushing the limits some of the time might be believable, but she did this too much for me to buy into it.

Then when the bad guy in this story, The Scorpion, realizes that he’s not going to get paid the remainder of the money for what he was hired to do, there is no way any sane person is going to think he’d continue due to “professional pride.” My bull-pucky indicator went into full alert.

At times, as readers, we have to suspend disbelief about things that we know aren’t true. But there are limits and I found myself hitting against those limits way too often while reading The Renegade Spy.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Uses UK spelling conventions.

Format/Typo Issues:

A moderate number of proofing misses. Enough to notice, especially in a book this short, but not enough to decrease the rating.

Rating: *** Three Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 25-30,000 words

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Review: The Call by Laurie Boris


Genre: Women’s Fiction/Sports Fiction

Description:

“As one of the first female umpires in the minors, Margie puts up with insults and worse from people who think women don’t belong in baseball. Forget making history—Margie just wants to do her job and be part of the game she loves.

She’s ready for the rude comments. The lousy pay. The endless traveling. But when she suspects a big-name slugger of cheating, she has to choose: let the dirty player get away with it, or blow the whistle and risk her career…and maybe her twin brother’s major-league prospects, too.

Now it’s up to Margie to make the call.”

Author:

“Laurie Boris has been writing fiction for over twenty-five years and is the award-winning author of seven novels. When not playing with the universe of imaginary people in her head, she’s a freelance copyeditor and enjoys baseball, reading, and avoiding housework. She lives in New York’s lovely Hudson Valley.”

Appraisal:

For me this was a great read for many different reasons. Some of those reasons might be things that would apply to you too.

The main appeal is that this is a good story. The struggle to be as good as you can be at your chosen profession, the difficulties that sometimes complicate that, and figuring out how to deal with it, is something many of us can empathize with. I’ve also read a couple things lately that talked about how fiction can help us better understand the lives of people not like us, and this was good for me to imagine the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated profession. I suspect men and women are going to benefit from reading this kind of tale in different ways, but benefit regardless.

I’m not a big sports fan, but I’m sure those who are will enjoy the baseball part of the story. As someone who came of age about the same time as the characters in this story (late 70s) I found myself experiencing a bit of nostalgia that the typical reader wouldn’t. (But I refuse to call this historical fiction for you young’uns.) All in all, a good read, even for those who would typically stay away from women’s fiction or sports fiction.

I was also curious as to the status of female umpires in the major and minor leagues. How credible was this? What I found is that the first woman to work as an umpire in the minor leagues of professional baseball did so in 1972, so the story could have happened as indicated. But 45 years later it looks like women umpires are still a rarity with the first woman to work in the major leagues not doing so until 2007 and very few that work in professional baseball at any level. Maybe the difficulties Margie experiences are more contemporary than I thought.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Uses some adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 95-100,000 words

Monday, November 13, 2017

Review: The Moskowitz Code by Joel Bresler


Genre: Satire

Description:

“Just When You Thought it was Safe to be Healthy…

When his doctor mistakenly types the wrong code into his electronic medical record, Myron Moskowitz—Mike, to the entire world except his mother Celia—finds life, or at least the one he's grown used to, suddenly turned tush-over-teakettle. With that single dodgy digital diagnosis, a chain reaction is set in motion leading Mike to lose his job, accidentally get all trace of himself wiped off of every computer in the known universe, and seriously contemplate buying a Harley. And Mike isn't exactly what you'd call a motorcycle kind of Moskowitz.

Somehow Mike must find a way to get back on the grid and get his old job back, all without his wife finding out about any of it.”

Author:

“In the tradition of such heavyweights as P.G. Wodehouse, Evelyn Waugh and Douglas Adams, Bresler holds his own writing to a very high comedic standard. Which is not to imply that he is above throwing in any moderately-interesting pun that might find its way from pen to paper. He can lately be found deep in the desert Southwest, dodging snakes and cactus spines and ‘dry’ heat.”

Appraisal:

One minor error, really just a typo, and Mike Moskowitz’s life spirals out of control. It would be funny (let’s be honest, it really is) if it wasn’t so scary. (Glad it’s happening to him and not me.) The author does an excellent job of walking that fine line required to get the reader to suspend disbelief in a situation that, while very possible at the start, quickly crosses into the absurd. The story is not only amusing, but there might be a lesson buried in there about being careful what you wish for.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 65-70,000 words

Friday, November 10, 2017

Review: Shadowed Places by Smoky Zeidel


Genre: Short Story Collection

Description:

A collection of 4 short stories.

Author:

“Smoky Zeidel is a novelist and poet, 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--in lieu of having a midlife crisis when she turned 50--she succumbed to her bohemian urges and moved to Southern California. Her work has earned her five nominations for the prestigious Pushcart Prize.

Smoky lives in the Coachella Valley, which is part of the vast Colorado Desert in Southern California, with her husband Scott, two cats, and a Chihuahua named Tufa (who considers herself the Boss of Everything). She is an avid desert gardener, an orchid grower, and monarch caterpillar rancher. When she isn't writing, she spends her time hiking in the mountains and deserts with Scott, creating funky yard art, and resisting the urge to speak in haiku.”

Appraisal:

Four short stories with four very different protagonists. But each is going through something difficult and is doing what they deem as best for them. That and a dark edge are two things these stories have in common. Being entertaining, thought-provoking, and well written are three more commonalities. If you’re a fan of the short story form and looking for a few good ones, this collection would be a good choice.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 9-10,000 words

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Review: Resist the Machine by C. D. Verhoff


Genre: Dystopian/Young Adult

Description:

“When the government owns the gene pool, what could possibly go wrong? According to the leaders of Avantica, absolutely nothing. If in doubt, just look at the statistics. Their genetically engineered citizens enjoy the highest standard of living in the world. Crime and disease are nearly non-existent. Healthcare and housing are totally free. Why would anyone ever want to leave?

Meet 16-year-old Clara Spinner. By design she is supposed to be compassionate, serious to a fault, and content with her work, but someone at the population factory messed up. How else can she explain her rebellious streak, ability to appreciate a good joke, and the fact that she detests her first job assignment? Hiding her true nature is a daily battle and coworkers are getting suspicious. So when the military shows up, looking for someone with her skill set, Clara 'volunteers'. Fitting in with ruthless soldiers isn't easy, but that's the least of her worries after they land in a place opposed to everything Avantica stands for. Hearts and loyalties will be tested. Dystopian sci-fi with a touch of romance. Recommended for older teens and adults.”

Author:

C.D. Verhoff is a speculative fiction author from Ohio. For more, visit her blog.

Appraisal:

The future world this story is set in is an interesting one. It makes you consider what it means to be human and the possibility that close to perfection might not be so good. It’s an interesting premise and I enjoyed watching Clara struggle as she tried to resolve her feelings when they disagreed with what she’d been told was true. Although the book could use an additional round of proofreading to catch the things that have slipped through which shouldn’t have, if you’re not sensitive to a few too many typos and enjoy young adult dystopian, give this a try.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

A small amount of adult language.

This is the first volume of the Avant Nation series.

Format/Typo Issues:

More proofing and copyediting misses than I find acceptable.

Rating: *** Three Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 95-100,000 words

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Review: True Shifter (TOTEM Book 9) by Christine Rains


Genre: Fantasy/Romance/Mystery/Mythology

Description:

“Saskia Dorn can't bear to lose anyone else. But when the only man she's ever loved turns his back on her, she runs off to sacrifice herself to the totem quest.

With a disgusting kiss, a dying house spirit grants her the power to shift into any creature. Yet she has neither the time to train nor the imagination to utilize the gift to its fullest. How will she manage to defeat a villain who has mastered the ability and made her the person she is? Saskia only has a few freakin' hours to figure it out. After all, the fate of every shifter in the world depends on her victory.”

Author:

“Christine Rains is a writer, blogger, and geek mom. She has four degrees which help nothing with motherhood but make her a great Jeopardy player. When she's not reading or writing, she's going on adventures with her son or watching cheesy movies on Syfy Channel. She's a member of S.C.I.F.I. and Untethered Realms. She has one novel and several novellas and short stories published. Her newest urban fantasy series, Totem, is almost complete at nine books.”

To learn more visit Ms. Rains website or stalk her on Facebook.

Appraisal:

True Shifter, as far as I know, is the finale of the TOTEM series. And it packs a wallop! The tension and suspense ran high all through this novella. Saskia is faced with many challenges and conflicts, she’s intelligent and approached things in a logical manner. However, she is hard-headed, and still carries some insecurities. Watching her navigate the mysteries they are faced with to gain the remaining tokens is well written and enthralling.

Family and relationship dynamics play heavily in the plot as the story twists and turns back on itself. It turns out to be an emotional journey for the whole group. I was extremely satisfied with the captivating images painted by Ms. Rains, and the heart-warming climax of this series.

I’m hoping we get to hear further stories about the Dorn sisters and their chosen mates in the future. After all Lucky and Ametta need a new house spirit (domovoi) for the manor, and the kikimora, domovoi’s wife, has been charged with finding one. Then there is Berton Ellsworth, the vampire, who is inviting a water dragon to his castle. Seems like a lot of fun times ahead to me. :) 

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

True Shifter is book nine in the TOTEM series. It is important to read this series in order as events build, and the characters grow through the previous books in the series.

Be warned, there are several F-bombs dropped.

Format/Typo Issues:

I came across no significant issues in proofing or formatting.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 30-35,000 words