Friday, April 29, 2016

Review: Buried But Not Gone by Juli Monroe @1to1Discovery



Genre: Fantasy/Thriller

Description:
Denise Evans life has been hectic with an abusive husband and trying to protect her son. When her husband is killed, she thinks she can move on, but soon Denise learns that it’s not that easy to get rid of him. A local warlock and professor, Jim Novick, helps Denise with the evil spirit while risking his own life.

Author:
Juli Monroe authored The Warlock Files, an urban fantasy series located in the DC Metro area. Beyond being a writer, Juli is also a networking and social media coach. Learn more about Ms. Monroe’s writing or other services check out her website.

Appraisal:
If you have read any of Juli Monroe’s books from The Warlock Files, a few surprise guests show up that will pleasantly surprise you. But make no mistake, this is not a book about Dafydd and Paul. Juli has created new characters with big problems in the same universe – which is something I absolutely love.
Buried But Not Gone features a warlock that has special powers, but is also disabled. While his disability can hinder him at times, it doesn’t get in the way of doing what needs to be done to help Denise.

The characters are very different than those in Monroe’s The Warlock Files series, so it’s good to have a change of pace. It’s darker than her previous books, yet the characters are just as interesting and layered as they fight against Denise’s husband who has come back from the dead.

Beyond the characters, Monroe is careful with the mythology. These details are very important and add to the authenticity of the writing.

I found the warlock Jim Novick very compelling and I wanted to learn more about him. Buried But Not Gone was an enjoyable read and I hope Monroe continues with this as another series.

Buy now from:     Kindle US      Kindle UK

FYI:
While the book contains characters from Monroe’s previous series, it’s not necessary to read them.

Format/Typo Issues:
No significant issues.

Approximate word count: 81-86,000 words

Rating: **** Four stars

Reviewed by: Sooz


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Reprise Review: Suddenly Sorceress by @EricaLuckeDean


Genre: Chick Lit/Paranormal

Description:
"PMS can be a real witch.

Ivie McKie isn’t your run-of-the-mill kindergarten teacher. After an encounter with a horny goat, followed by a confrontation with her lying, cheating fiancé, Ivie is shocked when the big jerk suddenly transforms into a skunk—the black and white furry variety.

Enlisting the help of her shopaholic friend Chloe and sexy club magician Jackson Blake, Ivie is forced to play a literal game of cat and mouse as she races against the clock to change her ex back before she's arrested for his murder... Ivie soon discovers what every witch worth her spell book knows: There’s nothing worse than a bad case of Post Magical Syndrome."

Author:
After walking away from her career as a business banker to pursue writing full-time, Erica Lucke Dean 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 180 lb. lap dog, and at least one ghost.

When she’s not writing or tending to her collection of crazy chickens and diabolical ducks, 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.”

Learn more at her website or follow her on Facebook.

Appraisal:
I’ve read books that combine something paranormal with another genre - romance, thriller, and horror immediately come to mind - but I don’t think I’ve ever read one that tossed chick-lit and paranormal together before. Both the story conflict and much of the humor in Suddenly Sorceress come about due to Ivie, the protagonist, finding that she can cast spells, although she’s not sure exactly how she’s doing it or how to undo what she’s done.

While I felt sorry for Ivie and wondered if she was going to find a way to turn her ex-fiancé back into a human, I was also laughing at her the entire time. Some of that was because of the situations she found herself in (getting attacked by a horny goat) and some was the author’s sense of humor or way of describing something. One example is the pop culture reference when Ivie as the narrator said she, “felt the wintry air soak into me and shook like Bruce Banner in the throes of a temper tantrum.” Another was prompted by her hair which changed color over time (although she wasn’t dyeing it) starting out with red highlights and eventually turning bright red, which prompted this:

I look like Ronald McDonald’s slutty younger sister. “Would you like a happy ending with that value meal?”

This was a very fun read, even for this non-chick.

Buy now from:    Kindle US    Kindle UK     Paperback

FYI:
Adult content and language.
Added for Reprise Review: Suddenly Sorceress was the winner in the Paranormal Romance category for BigAl’s Books and Pals 2014 Readers’ Choice Awards. Original review ran February 20, 2014.

Format/Typo Issues:
No significant issues.

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words

Rating: ***** Five stars

Reviewed by: BigAl



Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Review: Force of Will by Jack Volante AKA @VolanteJack



Genre: Short Story/Fantasy/Historical

Description:
What if the last emotion you experience, moments before you die, is the only thing that defines you in the afterlife?

This short story tells the first-hand account of one young man and what happens on his fateful last day in the magical land he inhabits. Little does he know that someone has been watching him from afar and has great plans for his future, although not in the way he would want. A spooky tale set in a paranormal, fantasy world and featuring the horrors of necromancy.

Author:
Form Jack Volante’s website: “A newly hatched writer in the self-publishing world. Jack has many stories currently bubbling inside his head, all trying to fight their way onto the page at once.
A lover of movies and a devourer of sci-fi and fantasy novels. Currently converting his fantasy screenplay into a full length novel. Jack has been writing, off and on, since 1997. Lives in Europe working in IT for a software company. Jack is also the proud father of two wonderful young sons.”
To learn more about Mr. Volante check out his blog or follow him on Facebook.

Appraisal:
We are thrown into the middle of a raging war just after a young soldier has been mortally wounded. He is not quite dead yet, however, and as he reminisces his life he hears a voice demanding him to get up and continue fighting. Even though he tries to comply, he is unable to because his legs are missing. This is an interesting perspective to be given as he describes the horrors of the undead army he had been fighting against. As the young soldier succumbs to death and the orders of the necromancer, his spirit, filled with an overpowering rage, rises in ghost form.

I found the story consuming even though I don’t normally read horror. It was the ghost story that drew me in and kept me reading. The twist of the ghost’s all-encompassing rage was unexpected and enjoyable at the end. I have to admit it left a smile on my face.

This short story was a quick read and well told. Future works from Mr. Volante could prove interesting to check out.

Buy now from:     Kindle US       Kindle UK

Format/Typo Issues:
I found nothing significant to speak of. An extra word, which can be seen in the preview, and a dropped ‘n’ on a word that should have been then, not the.

Rating: **** Four stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Print Length: 14 pages

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Reprise Review: Thrall by Jennifer Quintenz @jennq


Genre: YA / Coming of Age / Paranormal

Description:
Braedyn is a normal girl just trying to survive high school with her two devoted friends, Royal and Cassie. Together they're doing a pretty good job of shrugging off the slings and arrows cast their way by the popular crowd when a new boy, Lucas, moves into the house next door. Suddenly Braedyn finds herself falling in love for the first time.

But as her sixteenth birthday approaches, Braedyn discovers humankind is at war with the Lilitu, an ancient race of enticing demons that prey on human souls. Her father is a member of the Guard fighting against the Lilitu - and so are the new neighbors, including her crush, Lucas.

As her world starts to unravel at the seams, Braedyn learns the right answers aren't always clear or easy. And as for ’good‘ and ’evil‘ - it all depends on how we choose to act.
Inspired by the ancient Mesopotamian myths of Lilith and her offspring, Thrall explores first love, strong friendships, and taking on adult responsibilities against the backdrop of powerful supernatural forces and life-and-death stakes.”

Author:
Jennifer is a film and television writer, author, and graphic novelist. She has written for Twentieth Television, Intrepid Pictures, and Archaia Studios Press. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son.”

This is the first book in her The Daughters Of Lilith trilogy.

To learn more about Ms. Quintenz, visit her website.

Appraisal:
Braedyn’s life is turned upside down and sideways in this creative coming of age story. The Guard, a Special Forces group of human soldiers, thinks they have found a way to combat a coming war with the Lilitu, who are trying to break down the wall between the two worlds to take over earth. As Braedyn’s birthday approaches, she learns she is not who she thinks she was all these years growing up and neither is her father. This story examines nature verses nurture in an interesting thought provoking way as we experience life through Braedyn’s eyes.

I found the story compelling and my suspension of disbelief was easy to achieve. Ms. Quintenz did an excellent job conveying the high school tension between certain cliques in and out of school. Her characters were well rounded and the situations they found themselves in were realistic for the most part. This story has the potential for being an intriguing series. I hope the sequels will spend more time with Karayan. She had a disturbing upbringing and I hope that Braedyn can help her work through issues caused by that. There is potential for a mutually beneficial relationship between these two I would love to see explored.

There was a lot of high stakes action as the winter solstice moves closer and the Lilitu converge on the town turning young men into Thralls to build an army to battle the Guard on this side of the Wall. When a new unit of Guards and spotters converge, chaos ensues and Braendyn is put to the test to prove whose side she is really on. Will Braedyn’s humanity be enough to over-power her genetics? Only time will tell in this original, action-packed series.

Buy now from:        Kindle US      Kindle UK     Paperback

FYI:
Added for Reprise review: Winner in the Young Adult category for 2014 Readers' Choice Awards at BigAl’s Books and Pals. Original review ran August 19, 2013.

Format/Typo Issues:
There are a few proofing issues, not enough to significantly impact my reading enjoyment.

Approximate word count: 95-100,000 words

Rating: ***** Five stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin


Monday, April 25, 2016

Review: Koolura and the Mayans by Michael Thal @koolura



Genre: Middle Grade/ Fantasy/ Adventure/ Mystery/ Science Fiction

Description:
Koolura is no ordinary girl. Neither is her best friend Leila. While visiting Mexico, the girls discover a device which hurtles them back in time to an early Mayan civilization. The Mayans have troubles of their own—the alien Aquari people have all but enslaved them. They need a goddess to set them free. Could Koolura be the one?”

Author:
Michael Thal is the author of five published novels—Goodbye Tchaikovsky, The Abduction of Joshua Bloom, and The Koolura SeriesThe Legend of Koolura, Koolura, Koolura and The Mystery at Camp Saddleback, and Koolura and the Mayans. He is also a columnist for the Los Angeles Examiner writing articles about parenting and education.”

Michael has a masters’ degrees in Education from Washington University, St. Louis and California State University, Northridge. Previously a middle school teacher, after suffering from a severe hearing loss leaving him near deaf, Michael redefined himself to become an award winning writer.”

Michael Thal is also a Pal here at BigAl’s Books and Pals. To learn more check out his website, where you will find Pop’s Blog, or the Koolura Series Facebook page.

Appraisal:
I think Koolura and the Mayans is my favorite book in the Koolura Series so far. Not only is it a fun adventure, it is a bit educational as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if this story sparked an interest in some to learn more about Mayan history. Of course there were plenty of fantasy elements woven in to make the story unique and captivating. Koolura gained new insight about her powers as well. The aliens added a fascinating element to the story. Advanced alien technology has often been theorized to be involved at many ancient sites around the world.

The plot is fast-moving as Koolura and her best friend, Leila, teleport to Oaxaca, Mexico to attend Koolura’s father’s wedding to Terri Lather. Leila’s parents are archaeologists, specializing in pre-Columbian culture, and Leila is anxious to explore ancient Mayan ruins. Their first stop is Monte Alban, the most important archaeological site in the Valley of Oaxaca. While they are exploring one of the ancient pyramids, where they don’t belong, they are thrown back in time over a thousand years where they encounter an alien race from the future enslaving the Mayans.

There were several twists which, without Koolura’s and Leila’s fast thinking, could have left us all with a wholly different future. The fact that the girls stumbled along the way added a touch of realism to their adventure. They are only twelve years-old, but they are smart, and a bit mischievous — they did break into a pyramid — after all. I also love the fact that these two friends communicate using American Sign Language like it is their own secret language. I can’t wait to see where their adventures take them next, the possibilities are now endless.

Buy now from:      Kindle US      Kindle UK     Paperback

FYI:
Koolura and the Mayans is the third book in the Koolura Series. Following book one, The Legend of Koolura, and book two, Koolura and the Mystery at Camp Saddleback. As with the first two books of this series, I think Mr. Thal included enough background material that this book could be enjoyed as a standalone.

Format/Typo Issues:
I noticed no issues at all with proofing or formatting.

Print Length: 137 pages

Rating: ***** Five stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin


Friday, April 22, 2016

Review: Spider's Lifeline by @LynneCantwell



Genre: Urban Fantasy/World Mythology/Native American

Description:
Webb Curtis lives in anticipation. His relatives do amazing things as a matter of course. His mother is Naomi Curtis, who facilitated the Gods’ power-sharing agreement that led to Their return to Earth. Older sister Sage saved the Earth by kicking the gods into action on climate change.

And Webb? Knitting is his superpower. He also knows the future, but only when he’s not directly involved. Now thirty-five and with a baby on the way, he is trying to find his place in the world. But his task will be complicated by a smoky interloper, an Icelandic princess, a tiny golden spider -- and Ragnarok, a.k.a. the end of the world. Not even Webb himself could have anticipated this...

Author:
Lynne Cantwell is a contributing author at IndiesUnlimited where she shares her knowledge about Indie publishing and promotion. She has a master’s degree in fiction writing from Johns Hopkins University and is a former broadcast journalist who has written for CNN and Mutual/NBC Radio News, among other places. Ms. Cantwell currently lives near Washington, DC.

Ms. Cantwell is the author of The Pipe Woman Chronicles, which includes five books, The Land, Sea, Sky series, which includes three books, Spider’s Lifeline is the third volume in the Pipe Woman's Legacy books. Cantwell also has other works of fiction and non-fiction alike.”

You can learn more about Ms. Cantwell’s other books at her website or stalk her on Facebook.

Appraisal:
Spider's Lifeline is the third volume in the Pipe Woman's Legacy series and begins several years after the ending of Firebird’s Snare. At first I was a little disappointed to learn that Webb was now thirty-five years old. I suppose I wanted to watch him grow up. This book, however, has moved beyond a coming of age tale, instead dealing mainly with Norse mythology, concerning Ragnarok "Fate of the Gods," and Native American legends.

Webb does an excellent job setting up this story as well as filling in any background information we need to know. The story was mainly told from his first-person point-of-view with a few occasional point-of-view shifts to Sage, whose current mission intertwines with Webb’s nightmares. Several players are brought back into the mix to complicate and or help in the situation at hand. There are also a couple of new players woven in to make things even more interesting. One character has pleasantly surprised me and I eagerly wait to hear more about Antonia’s and Brock’s youngest son, Roman. He may well turn out to be an unsuspected ally. The other is the hereditary princess of Iceland, Ingrid Ingunnardottir, who seems to be causing disruptions on cosmic levels. Ms. Cantwell has indeed woven a tangled web.

I suspected as the story branched off into related story arcs—or strands of a web, if you don’t mind me saying—that there was no way to bring this book to a satisfying ending with Ragnarok looming. This story alludes to a disagreement between the Gods on a cosmic level that is starting to spill over into the mortal realm and might bring forth the end of the world. On the home front, society is breaking down and Sage is, yet again, conflicted about the role the Gods have chosen for her. This is also causing tension between Naomi and Sage as well.

One of the aspects I liked about Ms. Cantwell’s storytelling, which shines in this series, is the seeming role reversal of Sage and Webb. Sage’s patron, being the Phoenix, is outwardly more physically protective and aggressive. While Webb, being Heyoka—the sacred clown in the Lakota tradition—tends to be more introspective and creative. I love the unassuming air he exudes throughout this book. Despite the critical importance of this story to the series, Webb’s voice is light and easy to read. He is my favorite character of all and I loved getting to know him better.

If you are a reader who has aversions to cliff-hangers you may wish to wait for the next book to be released before reading this one. I could see it coming as there were many strands to this tangled web that needed resolving. I felt like I knew this author well enough that she wouldn’t let the story suffer by closing things up too quickly. So for that I was thankful. Now, I can’t wait for the next addition to this series. Hurry hard, Ms. Cantwell.

Buy now from:     Kindle US      Kindle UK    Paperback

FYI:
Spider's Lifeline is Book 3 of the Pipe Woman's Legacy series. While this book could be read as a stand-alone, because Ms. Cantwell does an excellent job filling the reader in on pertinent info, do yourself a favor and read book 1, Dragon’s Web, and book 2, Firebird's Snare.

I need to add a warning here, there were several F-bombs dropped and sexual abuse, including a mildly graphic rape, for those who have sensitivity in these areas.

Format/Typo Issues:
I found excellent formatting and editing.

Rating: ***** Five stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Print Length: 184 pages



Thursday, April 21, 2016

Reprise Review: Will You Love Me Tomorrow by @DannyGillan



Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Humor

Description:
Claire Rivers returns home to find her husband, Bryan, has committed suicide, no longer able to deal with his depression. A music executive, Jason Clemence, calls and offers Bryan the recording contract he’d always craved, unfortunately the artist is no more. Claire however, at Clemence’s suggestion, agrees to publish Bryan’s music posthumously, to massive success…

Author:
Danny Gillan was raised and still lives in Glasgow, Scotland. His first ambition was to be a musician, but ended up in the pub and hotel trade for a number of years in a wide variety of roles, interspersed with periods in social care.
Danny has written two novels, and a series of short stories which have appeared in several magazines and anthologies.

You can learn more about Danny at his Amazon author page. Also feel free to stalk him on Facebook.

Appraisal:
I’ve previously reviewed another piece of Danny Gillan’s work, A Selection of Meats and Cheeses – a collection of short stories, so I was very pleased to pick up a full-length novel of the author’s.

This is a long book (for me anyway) at 130,000 words however, even the shortest of narratives can feel like they take forever to read if they’re badly written, and vice versa. In this case the story literally tripped off the pages and I found myself hooked – Will You Love Me Tomorrow becomes increasingly compelling as it progresses.

One of the aspects I liked about it was the relatively few characters, meaning the author achieved a significant focus on the impact of Bryan’s depression / suicide. All were strong, well-drawn and added to the story and its progression. One in particular I liked was Clemence’s boss – Phillip Doland. He’s someone most of us would recognize (I do), a manager who’s risen to the top on other people’s hard work. Phillip uses bizarre swear words and is oblivious to everyone around him because all he sees is himself.

Claire herself is also very good. She could have been swept away in the suicide and aftermath, but strengthens throughout and finally turns the tables on the record company. Jason is a fish out of water, one minute confident, the next shaky. His interaction with Phillip is well done. Another valuable character is Bryan’s brother Thomas. He’s dislikable, a stuffed shirt who never valued his brother’s ability.

The story is made all the more touching, because, with the suicide laid out at the beginning, the reader knows the characters can do nothing to prevent Bryan’s fall. But we see the why and the characters learning from this as an experience.

The author’s experience in this field came through very clearly. Gillan doesn’t glorify the depression, rather it is portrayed as an affliction that can have a terrible impact on people – the treatment was compassionate, caring and tinged with humour. In fact, the latter element lifted the story too, it was by no means down and depressing. Ultimately it was uplifting and positive. The conclusion was satisfying.

Well written, touching, funny and reinforced my view that Danny Gillan is a high quality writer.

Buy now from:         Kindle US      Kindle UK     Paperback

FYI:
Some swearing.
Added for Reprise Review: Winner in the Humor category for 2014 Readers' Choice Awards at BigAl’s Books and Pals. Original review ran September 10, 2013.

Format/Typo Issues:
Nothing major.

Reviewed by: Keith Nixon

Approximate word count: 125-130,000 words

Rating: ***** Five stars



Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Review: What Happened to Winn Bailey by @EdwardGoldSFF



Genre: Short story/ Science Fiction/ Mystery

Description:
What Happened to Winn Bailey is a story about a man who wakes up in a strange place with no recollection of how he got there... and he's not alone... 

Author:
Edward Gold is a Science Fiction and Fantasy author and he also writes Children's books. He has won several contests for his short stories and has published several poems. He is the Organizer of a local writer's group with over 1,100 members. He has also produced, designed, and edited newsletters for several agencies and literary magazines. Learn more at his website.

Appraisal:
Set firmly in the sci-fi realm, this is a short story mystery. On the first page, Mr. Bailey wakes up in a very strange environment. I found the descriptions of his room intriguing and compelling. As the scene changes, the mystery deepens and develops and kept the pages turning.

Often in a short story, I find myself cheated by an ending that either doesn’t explain enough or is too trite to believe. But in this instance, the finale was both satisfying and thought provoking, although I had to wait until the last page to find out what was truly going on—which is as it should be.

Buy now from:         Kindle US        Kindle UK

Format/Typo Issues:
None.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Pete Barber


Approximate word count: 5,000

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Reprise Review: Weighted by @CiaraTKnight



Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy

Approximate word count: 10-11,000 words

Author:

Ciara Knight is the author of YA novels and speculative fiction. A native of Tampa, Florida, she currently resides in Kennesaw, Georgia where she is working on the third installment of The Neumarian Chronicles series, Balance. When not writing, Knight loves to travel. She’s even landed in a helicopter on an Alaskan glacier. Learn more about her at her website

Description:

Raeth Arteres, a Neumarian, is a prisoner on board the Queen’s airship. She is about to be interrogated by one of the queen’s henchmen using an experimental neuro-alterer. Raeth doesn’t expect to live to see adulthood. Her only hope is to keep the knowledge of her power from the evil Queen so as not to betray her family or her people.

Appraisal:

Weighted is a gripping novella about survival and loyalty. Ciara Knight does a wonderful job whetting the appetites of her readers with this 44-page thriller prequel to The Neumarian Chronicles series. In so doing, the author does an amazing job of developing her characters, especially the evil Queen and her naïve daughter, Princess Semara. Raeth soon learns that Semara may be her only hope for survival, or is she the good cop building trust to uncover Raeth’s biggest secret?

Availability:      Kindle US        Kindle UK  

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Reviewed by: Michael Thal

Rating: ***** Five stars

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Girl With The Cardboard Port by Judith L. McNeil


Genre: Memoir

Description:
This is the second of a two-book memoir. Beginning where the previous book ended, with fourteen year old Judith standing at a railway station in Queensland with all her belongings in a cardboard port (a cheap suitcase), it follows her life as she is flung from one disastrous situation into another. The first book--No One’s Child—is the best memoir I’ve ever read. You can find my review HERE. I’d say it’s essential to tackle that (you won’t regret it) to gain an understanding of Judith’s remarkable upbringing and the lack of adult support she received, which has a huge bearing on how her life turned out.

Author:
There’s not much in the way of publicity for this author. She wrote her life story in two books: No One’s Child and The Girl With The Cardboard Port. Her bio on Amazon offers this: “Judith L. McNeil lives in Queensland, Australia. She is now retired after decades spent working as a caregiver for the aged, but volunteering in the community is still very much a part of her life. Her interests other than writing are breeding Shitzus, landscape painting, and reading.”

Appraisal:
It’s difficult to write a review of this memoir without including spoilers—after all it’s a sequential look at one life. Once again, it’s Judith’s willingness to share her story truthfully and in bare-boned detail that makes this such a compelling read. Prepare yourself for a brutally honest peek into a world you’ll find hard to believe exists. I can only admire her fortitude and reflect on what a remarkable woman she is to have survived with her spirit intact.

I said in my review of the first book that I came away from reading No One’s Child buoyed by her humanity and humbled that she took the time to share her life with me. That was not the case with this story. I felt anger at the way her life had been effectively stolen from her until she reached her thirties. I regret that she has been left with permanent reminders of what she has lost. Judith McNeil is clearly a woman of substance who could have achieved great things had she been given the opportunity and support from responsible adults. Maybe that’s the moral that her life story leaves behind.

Buy now from:     Kindle US       Kindle UK

FYI:
No typos to mention. Australian dialect, but not an issue for comprehension.

Print Length: 245 pages

Reviewed by: Pete Barber


Rating: ***** Five stars

Friday, April 15, 2016

Review: Two Hearts in Winter by Donna Fasano @DonnaFaz


Genre: Contemporary Romance

Description:
Loss and betrayal have caused Heather Phillips to give up on love. She’s thrown herself into running The Lonely Loon, her Bed and Breakfast located on the boardwalk of Ocean City, Maryland. The 'off season' in this tourist town is usually a time of rest and reflection for her; however, DB Atwell, a famous author, arrives at The Loon for the winter to finish his long-overdue novel. Daniel, too, has faced grief, and tragedy continues to haunt him. Once Heather and Daniel meet, their lives will never be the same.”

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 #5.”

Learn more about Ms. Fasano at her website In All Directions and feel free to stalk her on Facebook.

Appraisal:
You can always count on Ms. Fasano to write about a topic that many women struggle with and do it with finesse. Her characters are also always strong but flawed. How she is able to shine a light on these flaws and allow us to follow their journey to completeness or happiness as they gain insight to tackle their problems head on is one of Ms. Fasano’s greatest strengths.

In this second book of Ms. Fasano’s Ocean City Boardwalk series we meet Heather Phillips, the owner and operator of The Lonely Loon Bed and Breakfast. She seems to have her life on track after suffering through a devastating break-up with a fiancé years ago over a decision she made for her own wellbeing. She’s now happy, prosperous, and has good friends she can count on. Her life would be almost perfect if it wasn’t for this cranky author, DB Atwell, who has rented the entire Bed and Breakfast for the whole winter so he can have peace and quiet to finish his next best seller. Heather has been walking on egg shells for over a month now and the quiet is driving her nuts. Heather is a social person who loves getting to know her guests, which is one reason her B&B is such a success, and it is Christmas Eve.

It turns out Daniel is dealing with more than his next novel and he is hiding from the paparazzi. I love the way Ms. Fasano is able to unfold her characters through realistic dialogue, it gives the reader a genuine sense of who they are. Daniel’s story is heartbreaking and gut-wrenching as he tries to navigate international politics while trying keep his sanity. When Heather begins to learn his story a compassion is awakened in her that she thought she had safely buried and she is forced to confront her past decision in a way she never imagined. I was able to feel her emotional turmoil as if it was my own.

The plot moves at a steady pace, but never too slowly, because there is a lot going on. We also get to revisit and learn more about people and events from her earlier works in this series. While it is not necessary to have read the first book of this series, Following His Heart or the related novella, An Almost Perfect Christmas to enjoy these parts of this story, I have to say that you are missing out on a couple of gems if you haven’t read them. Now I am anxious to learn more about Cathy!

I found Two Hearts in Winter a unique, captivating, emotional tale that will keep you thoroughly enthralled until the very end. Don’t miss this one, it will make your heart smile.

Buy now from:        Kindle US      Kindle UK      Paperback

FYI:
Two Hearts in Winter is Book 2 in the Ocean City Boardwalk series. This book can be read as a standalone story, as is true with other series books by Ms. Fasano.

Format/Typo Issues:
I found exceptional editing.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin


Print Length: 288 pages

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Reprise Review: Dashing Irish by @LynHornerAuthor



Genre: Western Romance/Historical Romance/Supernatural

Author:

Originally trained in the visual arts, Lyn Horner has worked as a fashion illustrator and an art instructor for Art Instruction Schools (famous for their “Draw Me” heads). Looking for a creative outlet after her kids left home, she started writing. The Texas Devlins series consists of three books; the first is White Witch, the second is Darlin' Irish, the third is Dashing Irish. She also has a Kindle-ready memoir, Six Cats in My Kitchen. For more information, visit Horner’s website.

Description:

Dashing Irish [originally title Dashing Druid] continues Lyn Horner’s unique Texas Devlins saga. This sensual western romance stars Tye Devlin, the eldest of three psychically gifted siblings. Descended from legendary Irish Druids, Tye is an empath. He ‘feels’ others’ emotions. Over time, he has learned to block out most of the ‘racket’ in order to save his sanity, but when he meets Texas cowgirl Lil Crawford, he has no defense against her hidden pain.”

“Set in the 1870s, against a backdrop of Texas ranch life and an iconic cattle drive, this epic love story pits Tye and Lil against dangerous enemies and their own feuding families as they fight their personal demons. Will they decide love is worth the consequences? Will Tye’s gift turn out to be a blessing or a curse?”

Appraisal:

I enjoyed Darlin’ Irish (originally titled Darlin' Druid), the first book of this series. Its combination of a solid western romance storyline with a unique twist on the formula, provided by the infusion of a significant amount of the supernatural was a fun read that was very different. Dashing Irish continues the story, this time focusing on Tye Devlin, the brother of the heroine in the first book, and the romance that kindles between him and a neighbor who has a history with his new brother-in-law.

For much of this book, the supernatural aspect of the series felt almost absent; mentioned, but low key and insignificant to the plot. However, the sexual tension between the hero and heroine was so strong that throwing in too much of the supernatural would have felt like overkill. During the later part of the book, the supernatural talents of the Devlin family come more to the fore, as tension of all types increases.

In the final analysis, I enjoyed this book even more than the first. I suspect part of that is that I (and I’m guessing most people) are able to become engrossed in a book easier and quicker if they have already “established a relationship” with the characters by reading and liking a prior book in the series.

Availability:     Kindle US       Kindle UK   

FYI:

Some mild adult content.

Could be read as a stand-alone, although reading the initial book of the series first is probably preferable.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues

Rating: ***** Five stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 115-120,000 words



Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Review: Labyrinth Quest by Yvonne Hertzberger @YHERTZBE


Genre: Magical Realism/Fantasy/Coming of Age/Adventure

Description:
While gathering food in the desert, M’rain, a young maiden, stops to rest in the mouth of a cave. She is captured and held by a mad man who has enslaved a small band to mine black rock.

Glick, a magical lizard guardian of the caves, charges M’rain with rescuing all those held in the labyrinth of caves and restoring them to their home village. But M’rain only wants to go home. Part way through her quest she meets P’puck, a young man who is immediately smitten with M’rain. But she is not interested, nor is she free to decide her future until she completes her quest.
M’rain must navigate the treacherous caves and face her own fears to save the prisoners as well as herself.

Author:
Yvonne Hertzberger is a native of the Netherlands who immigrated to Canada in 1950. She is an avid student of human behaviour, which gives her the insights she uses to develop the characters in her writing. Hertzberger came to writing late in life, hence the self-proclaimed label 'late bloomer'. She began writing at the 'old' age of 56.

Her first Old World Fantasy novel Back From Chaos: Book One of Earth's Pendulum was published in 2009. The second volume Through Kestrel's Eyes is available and the third and final volume The Dreamt Child is now published. Hertzberger has contributions in Indies Unlimited: 2012 Flash Fiction Anthology and Indies Unlimited: Tutorials and Tools for Prospering in a Digital World. She is a contributing author to Indies Unlimited.”

Please check out her website for more information on Ms. Hertzberger or follow her on Facebook.

Appraisal:
I found the characters to be well-developed and Ms. Hertzberger’s fantasy world is described so aptly, I had no problem immersing myself into the scenes. K’kor was a desperately evil man who sought greatness by using and abusing others. He ruled a small group with a heavy hand and used their fear against them. Glick, the guardian spirit of the labyrinth of caves, was everything I expected him to be. He was illusive and cryptic in his communication with the main character M’rain, which caused her to seek answers within herself. M’rain had a strong personality; she was opinionated and let her expectations be known when she communicated with P’puck and the elders of his tribe.

I have some mixed feelings about this story. There was no great conflict or obstacles for M’rain to overcome, except for those that were within herself. Normally I would have no issue with that, but the story did not live up to the build-up of the dangers of the labyrinth. Glick guided and protected her during her physical quest through the caves. He also provided food substances and water throughout her travels. Despite the lack of challenge, the story moved along at a decent pace.

My problem with this story doesn’t arrive until M’rain and P’puck finally make it through the cave to M’rain’s tribe. It is time for M’rain to go through her woman’s rite of passage. I do think the details of this rite of passage were too graphic, and this is where I felt like M’rain’s character did not ring true. If the details had not been provided, it would have been easier to accept her nonchalant behavior after the rite. Perhaps if Ms. Hertzberger had set up the rite of passage better it wouldn't have seemed so shocking to me, or to others who may be sensitive to situations like this. Did M'rain know what to expect? Had she discussed this rite of passage with her mother or older sister? Even if she had recalled rumors from those who had gone before her, I think I would have felt better about it. She had been so strict with P’puck about not having any physical contact with her. Why would she find it so easy to allow these elder women of the tribe to violate her the way they did? She had to stand up to the elder men of her tribe to even seek council with them because she was a woman. But she didn’t stand up to the women? I can’t imagine this strong, young woman who fought so hard to be heard as an equal, with both tribes, just accept this treatment without some rebellion. So, I have some issues about the way this part of the story was told.

I also ran into some editing or proofing issues that I had trouble getting past. One was the overuse of the words she/he had had, which would have read better as she’d had or he’d had. Here are a couple of examples:
She had told him to bring his spear and had had him fashion one for her as well.
If she had had any doubts about her earlier decision the choice had now been taken from her.

Then there is this convoluted sentence:
He pressed the bone blade, not noticing the how chipped its edge was, reverently to his chest. Which would have read better as: He pressed the bone blade reverently to his chest, not noticing how chipped its edge was. OR Not noticing how chipped its edge was, he pressed the bone blade reverently to his chest.

In my opinion another round of proofing or copy editing would serve this book well, and I’ve had to deduct a star because of that.

That being said, the book is not without merit and I finished it quickly. I enjoy stories about early civilizations with strong characters. Learning their myths and legends while adding magical realism adds to the wonder of it all. If you are entertained by these type of stories you might enjoy this one as well.

Buy now from:    Kindle US     Kindle UK      Paperback

FYI:
One scene, the woman’s rite of passage I mentioned above, may be offensive to some readers. Ms. Hertzberger uses Canadian spellings.

Format/Typo Issues:
I found a few too many proofing misses for my comfort.

Rating: *** Three Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin


Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words