Friday, August 18, 2017

Review: Southwest on the A303 by Adam Gary

Genre: Coming of Age

Description:

“Arguably one of England's most cherished and notorious roads, the A303 is filled with history, wonder, and magic. Adam takes us on a journey of adventure, self-discovery, and touching family bonds in this moving coming of age tale.
Alex is a young man in his early twenties who has fallen into a miserable state of mind, losing his motivation and love for life. When he receives the heartbreaking news that his beloved uncle has passed away, leaving Alex with all of his belongings - including his renowned VW Campervan - he sets out to Cornwall for the funeral, rediscovering his love for life along the way.”

Author:

The son of a professional dancer and painter, Adam Gary is a British actor and writer for TV. This novella, Southwest on the A303, is his first book.

For more, visit Mr. Gary’s website.

Appraisal:

From a big picture perspective, Southwest on the A303 is a decent enough coming-of-age tale with a unique story as its foundation. However, I thought the writing could stand a bit of tightening up, at times feeling a bit verbose. There were also bits of the story that didn’t ring true. They were little things like an extravagant parking charge at Stonehenge or Alex, the protagonist, jumping out of his camper van naked while parked by the side of the road without registering that he was doing that. But those little things add up, planting the seed in the back of the reader’s mind that the credible sounding parts of the story might not be believable either.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

The copy I received was an advance reviewer copy. I assume the book went through additional proofreading after it was sent to reviewers and can't judge the final product in this area.

Rating: *** Three Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 25-30,000 words

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Review: The Science of Success: What Researchers Know that You Should Know by Paula J. Caproni


Genre: Non-Fiction/Self-Help

Description:

“In this book you will learn what you need to do to achieve the success in life that you desire and deserve. The author provides you with a practical framework that will help you get better results at work, be successful in your career, and enjoy a fulfilling life outside of work.”

In short, this book answers these three main questions:

(1) What do the most successful people do differently than other people?

(2) How can those characteristics and behaviors be learned?

(3) How can you apply these lessons to your own life?”

Author:

Paula J. Caproni is a faculty member in the Management and Organizations Department at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. Professor Caproni received her MBA from the University of Massachusetts and her Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior from Yale University. In addition to teaching about leadership skills, effective coaching, developing power and influence, and creating high performing teams in the University of Michigan MBA and Executive Programs, she has served as the Academic Director of the Full-Time and Part-Time MBA Programs. She has coached over 500 executives and served as the lead Professional Development Coach for the Executive MBA Program and several Executive Education programs.”

Appraisal:

At its foundation, this book is looking at the scientific studies that have been done that pertain to being successful and based on that explains the steps you or anyone could take to become more successful, whatever that word means to you. In other words, Ms. Caproni has provided the data.

As I was reading I found myself providing anecdote in support of the theories. For example, there were multiple times the author mentioned joining and participating in a Toastmasters Club as something to help in a particular area, and I compared her suggestion to my own Toastmasters experiences, and they agreed. I found myself looking at successful people I know or situations I’ve been in and saw that they fit the patterns she describes.

One big takeaway that some people would benefit from learning is that a big part of success is believing you can achieve your goals and then taking the actions to get there, one step at a time. This is a book I wish I’d read years ago, but think even those getting a bit old like me could still profit from what it teaches.

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

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Review: Domitianus by Nicholas Forristal


Genre: Dark Fantasy/Zombie/Humor

Description:

“Once the Emperor of Rome, he was murdered by his subordinates – only to find himself alive and lost in a world he once knew so well. This is the story of one man’s journey from man to monster; from sanity to sadism. His immortality will take him from ancient Rome to the forgotten Atlantis, while the entrails of his enemies pave the way.”

Author:

“Nicholas Forristal has a B.S. in Psychology (aka a B.S. in BS). With his ‘free’ time, he regularly dislikes house work, remodeling his home and a sordid list of other lousy tasks. When no one is looking, Nicholas works on The Chronicles of M, an ever growing series of fantasy books that range from Historical fiction, to modern day wackiness. He's published some other stuff in the past. For example, a psychological paper on perception, but no one cares about such things. That's for nerds.”

To learn more visit Mr. Forristal’s website or follow him on Facebook.

Appraisal:

This isn’t just another zombie story. It’s a unique tale from the very first zombie, Domitianus, narrating the story of his second life to a man named Charles Uhler who wants to document Dom’s centuries as a zombie. Dom starts his second life as what seems like a typical zombie, a mindless, wandering, eating machine. The twist here is that Dom is not mindless, he is essentially a passenger in his own flesh and is horrified by what he is doing. Mr. Forristal does an exceptional job in conveying Dom’s inner feelings, thoughts, and dialogue as Dom evolves over his long second life.

The ever-changing scenery is well described as Dom wanders around parts of Europe and America. In his later years, Dom has evolved enough to blend with humans somewhat. He has lived long enough that time is irrelevant. His greatest desire is to build an army of zombies to conquer the world. In his demented, arrogant mind, he considers zombies superior beings.

There are many unexpected twists in this book, including the end, which struck me kind of like the ending of The Sixth Sense – forcing you to go back through the book and look for the clues you should have picked up on, but missed because you were enjoying the story. One of my favorite parts was when Kandake/Candace, Dom’s sort of mate, sends him to the market for cumin. They have become civilized enough to start cooking some of their meat to prepare dishes, instead of ripping the meat off the bone and devouring it raw.

Mr. Forristal writes with an intelligent, sharp wit of dark humor, which is woven throughout the whole book. If you enjoy zombie stories with a twisted sense of humor, you will enjoy Domitianus.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Twisted fantasy with a few F-bombs, dark humor, and gore.

Format/Typo Issues:

Small number of proofing errors. None of which threw me out of the story.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 65-70,000 words

Monday, August 14, 2017

Reprise Review: A Groovy Kind of Love by Karen Wojcik Berner


Genre: Women’s Fiction

Description:

A Groovy Kind of Love is the third and final installment of Karen Wojcik Berner’s Bibliophiles series. Written as stand-alone novels, each book focuses on one or two members of a fictional suburban classics book club, revealing their personal stories while the group explores tales spun by the masters.”

“After placating to his father’s demands that he play Little League baseball and major in computer programming in college rather than his beloved English literature, Thaddeus assumed that several years into his career, he would finally get some peace and quiet.

Then he met Spring Pearson, the younger, free-spirited daughter of Hippie parents, at a book club meeting. Instantly smitten, Thaddeus finally worked up the courage to ask Spring out. But will an old college pinkie-swear promise Spring made fifteen years ago get in the way of this bibliophilic romance?”

Author:

An award winning magazine writer and editor, this is Karen Wojcik Berner’s third novel. The other two (also part of the Bibliophiles series) are Whisper to a Scream and Until My Soul Gets it Right. Also included in this series is the short story, A Bibliophile Christmas.

For more, visit the author’s website.

Appraisal:

Since this is the final book planned for this series (yes, I’m disappointed about that), it makes sense to first consider the series as a whole. I’ve loved the concept from the start. I’d describe the books as “loosely coupled,” in that they share characters (the members of a classics book club), but unlike a typical series where each book stands alone and shares characters (think in terms of a mystery or detective series), the Bibliophiles avoids feeling samey. (I know, not a real word, so sue me.) Yet each book is enough alike that they should all appeal to the same groups of readers. One obvious group is avid readers who have at least one thing in common to help them relate with the protagonist of each book.

This installment focuses on Thaddeus, a straight-laced Anglophile, and Spring, the daughter of hippie parents. While more conventional than her parents, the free-spirited Spring is still influenced by her upbringing enough to be much different than Thaddeus. It’s a classic case of opposites attracting, with each learning from the other and in the process tempering their more extreme tendencies for the better. There are also some lessons in how our childhood influences the adults we eventually become, whether from embracing or rebelling against our roots.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Although part of a series, each book in the series stands alone.

Some adult language.

Added for Reprise Review: A Groovy Kind of Love was a nominee in the Women’s Fiction category for B&P 2015 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran January 12, 2015

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 65-70,000 words

Friday, August 11, 2017

Review: A Violent Light by Jim Baton


Genre: Suspense

Description:

The Youth For Peace Fresh Start Initiative gathers ten Muslim and ten Christian youth from ten nations around the world to learn new paths to peace. But the camp staff have some highly unorthodox teaching techniques. And when one by one the youth start disappearing, some of them wonder if the staff might not have an entirely different agenda. Those left behind must work together to solve the mystery before they also disappear. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to them, the entire world is watching…

Jim’s third novel of the Peace Trilogy confronts American prejudice head-on. Pursuing world peace today will require a generation committed to a deeper level of trust and cooperation than ever before.”

Author:

“Jim Baton has spent the last 20 years in the world’s largest Muslim nation, building bridges between Muslims and Christians who both desire peace. His speaking and writing call people out of fear and into authentic friendships that can change the world.”

Appraisal:

A Violent Light started out slow for me. The underlying political point was obvious and something I agreed with. (I also assumed no one who disagreed with that stance would be likely to even start reading the story and would abandon it quickly if they did.) That the staff and the youth camp were not what the kids expected (no matter how much they tried to rationalize a way for that to not be) and the reason why seemed obvious.

However, as the story progressed I found it drew me in more and more. I found myself struggling to decide who was thinking most clearly when proposing ways to react to the situations they found themselves in. Their struggles caused me to think more deeply about some of the more serious questions facing the world today. By the time the story hit the climax the intensity had hit a level I’d have never anticipated in the beginning. That slow start was more than made up for coming down the stretch.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Although a case could be made for this book being aimed at the young adult audience since the primary characters fit in that demographic, some portions might be too graphic or intense for some of the younger part of that demographic. (It might be too intense for some adults, too.)
Although this is the third and final book in a trilogy, it can be read as a standalone.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 80-85,000 words

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Review: King of Doubt by Peter Gibb


Genre: Memoir

Description:

In a small town on the west coast of Scotland, five-year-old Peter Gibb trades his soul to the devil in a futile attempt to win the approval of classmates, teachers, and parents. Follow the story of Peter's humorous but desperate struggle to find a way out of the dungeons of doubt.

Author:

Peter Gibb is an author, writing teacher, editor, coach, and speaker, committed to spreading the joys of memoir and mindfulness. Please visit him at www.petgergibb.org.


Appraisal:

This memoir is a brutally honest depiction of the effects that lifelong depression had on the writer. The manner in which the plot alternates between the author’s childhood and his adult self kept the plot fresh and compelling. That, I think, was the most remarkable aspect of the book. Depression is not a subject that easily engenders sympathy, and yet Mr. Gibb kept me engaged throughout — not an easy task considering the symptoms. The generational switching also reinforced the reality that depression is not a feeling, not a sadness, not “the blues,” but a disease, a mental imbalance that is neither age nor situationally dependent.

Certainly, the account will be interesting to other depression sufferers who will nod along with the challenges of living with this ailment, and perhaps learn some coping techniques. But, the quality of Mr. Gibb’s writing will extend the audience to those lucky souls who do not suffer from Peter’s internal demons. I think a non-sufferer will come away with a deeper understanding of the challenge of simply getting out of bed when the depressive is mired in the dark depths of a black period.

Buy now from:            Amazon US     Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues

No significant issues.

Rating:  **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Truth is Stranger than Fiction, a Guest Post from Melissa MacVicar



The truth is stranger than fiction. We hear this saying all the time. A story will run on the national news or Facebook or even in your hometown that seems completely impossible. But, it’s not impossible because it’s true. Crazy right?  Whether these are tragedies or feel good stories, we all look at them and say, unbelievable.

As a career, I teach writing to seventh graders at a public school. Twelve and thirteen year old human beings are some of the most fascinating life forms on the planet, trust me. I have been spending my days with them for the last nine years, and I swear they have taught me more lessons about life than I have taught them.

At the end of 7th grade, my students and I complete a six week debate unit. One part of a comprehensive unit of study in 2017 is something called essential questions. In case you aren’t up on the latest education lingo, an essential question is one that doesn’t have one set answer and is supposed to lead you to asking more questions.  Two of the essential questions I asked this year during the debate unit were: Are there any truths that are absolute or definite? and How does a person go about discovering the truth?
The students had some interesting answers. Most said that yes, indeed, there are facts that are absolutely true, and of course, they said you find them by Googling. 

What I didn’t discuss with my students, however, is something that I find fascinating and often touch on in my writing— to what extent do we spin our own truths or create our own versions of reality to suit our needs? 

As someone with a masters in clinical social work, I know all about the ways humans, myself included, protect our precious egos from assault. When we do something wrong, even if we know it is wrong, we usually have a good reason.  I once worked with someone who got arrested for drunk driving and when I saw him a few days later, I told him I was sorry to hear what happened. He said, “You know I’m really not a bad person, right?” For some reason, this has always stuck with me, perhaps because, indeed, I did know him to be a decent person. A decent person who made a bad decision, and luckily, no one got hurt. There have been times I’ve found myself wanting to say the exact same thing when I’ve ticked someone off or been the source of trouble for them.

In my latest novel, One Broken Day, the main character, Lizzie, changes her identity and moves to Nantucket Island to escape her tragic past. She believes she has good reasons for lying and hiding the truth about who she is, but eventually, she finds out that the best intentions do not always matter.  The story is filled with ironic touches about the different personas we all create for ourselves even when we aren’t in dire circumstances like Lizzie. 

The truth has long been the subject of literary pondering, political diatribes, and heartfelt prayers, and I suspect it always will be. In the end, the truth is all we have. Our truth. The life we have lived. May it always be stranger than fiction in all the best ways possible. 

******

Melissa MacVicar was born and mostly raised on Nantucket Island, and she currently lives there with her husband and two teenage children. When not being a wife and mother and teaching writing to seventh graders, she enjoys binge watching shows like Big Little Lies, House of Cards, and Outlander. Despite the rumors to the contrary, she does not actually wish she was a teenager again.

Get Melissa's latest book, One Broken Day, from Amazon US or Amazon UK.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Review: Smugglers & Scones by Morgan C. Talbot


Genre: Cozy Mystery

Description:

“Pippa Winterbourne runs Moorehaven, the Oregon Coast’s quirkiest bed-and-breakfast and former home of world-famous mystery writer A. Raymond Moore. Guests come there to write their own crime novels. When a real-life murder takes a local’s life and washes a handsome boat pilot into her arms, Pippa is yanked into a deadly plot of her own. A tangle of secrets crashes past into present, and Pippa must uncover clues dating back to Seacrest’s Prohibition days, including a secret Moore himself hid from the world.

Juggling her book-writing guests, small-town intrigues, secret club agendas, and a possibly fatal attraction, Pippa must sort fact from fiction to know who to trust before a desperate killer claims a final revenge nearly a century in the making.”

Author:

“USA Today Bestselling Author Morgan Talbot is an outdoorsy girl with a deep and abiding love for the natural sciences. Her degrees involve English and jujitsu. She enjoys hiking, camping, and wandering in the woods looking for the trail to the car, but there isn't enough chocolate on the planet to bribe her into rock climbing.”

Appraisal:

I read and enjoyed Morgan Talbot’s “Caching Out” series, cozy mysteries that were built around geocaching, with this obscure hobby (at least it was to me) and those who participate playing a role in the mysteries. Smugglers & Scones is the first of a new series that takes place at a B&B located in the former home of a “world-famous mystery writer” on the Oregon Coast.

Talbot does a great job of describing the surroundings and setting the scene of a small Oregon Coast town. The characters were all interesting and added color to the story with the main character, Pippa, being one I hope to see again. There were plenty of twists and turns as Pippa uncovered the solution to the mystery which kept both her and I guessing to the very end.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No issues

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 80-85,000 word

Friday, August 4, 2017

Review: Orb Stones and Geoglyphs: A Writer's Journey by Daniel A. Smith


Genre: Memoir

Description:

“A soulful mix of geology, writing, rock and roll, and lost ancient nations from the author of the award winning historical novel, Storykeeper. A thought-provoking account of a ten-year search for mystical orbs, mysterious earthworks, and forgotten history will inspire the storyteller in all of us to begin their own journey.”

Author:

“Daniel grew up in Arkansas. In his youth, he began working for his father riding in a Studebaker pick-up truck around the state, servicing refrigeration units in tourist courts and small country stores. Years later after leaving the touring concert world as chief sound engineer for an eclectic range of musical artists, he traveled those same Arkansas back roads designing and installing permanent sound systems. For the first time, Daniel really began to notice the surprising number of ancient earthworks that covered the state.

He realized that he like everyone else he knew had no idea who built them, when, or why. What began as an observation grew to a driving curiosity to research historical documents and the state's vast archeological findings. The untold stories and lost history all around him inspired Daniel's debut novel, Storykeeper.”

Appraisal

More than once I’ve compared an author talking about how their book came to be as like a tour of the sausage factory. At least in a venue aimed at readers this is as likely to turn them off sausages as it is to entertain or inspire. (In a venue aimed at fellow authors, writers, or those specifically interested in the writing process, the reaction is obviously different.)

I don’t feel this way about Orb Stones and Geoglyphs. When I tried to figure out why the conclusion I came to is that while the story told here is a true story of how the author’s first novel came to be, the novel wasn’t the point of the experience, but one of the results. The writing isn’t the focus, instead the important parts are the archaeological curiosities the author observed and the history he learned about due to digging deeper. More an adventure tale than a chronicle of schooling. Explaining much more than this will spoil the story, so I’ll finish by saying that those who like a good mystery and are interested in the history of North America should enjoy this quick read.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 15-20,000 words

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Review: The Wedding Planner’s Son by Donna Fasano


Genre: Sweet Romance/Short Story

Description:

“Tawny McNealy is a driven, high-achiever who fully expects to someday take over and run the family accounting firm. But when an attempt is made to use her as a pawn, Tawny flees to the only place she’s ever felt truly free and happy — the beach.

Jack Barclay spends his summer days creating romantic seaside weddings for lovers. His laid-back attitude has served him well over the years. He feels stressing out about work only causes a person to miss the best parts of life.

Jack and Tawny are as different as sea and sky, but the fascination they find in each other’s company can’t be denied. Can they withstand the crazy twists that fate tosses their way?”

Author:

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

You can learn more about Ms. Fasano on her website or stalk her onFacebook.

Appraisal:

Tawny McNealy has gotten herself in a real bind accepting an engagement ring from her friend/business partner during a surprise dinner party of family and friends. Both families are thrilled with their engagement. Immediately struck with second thoughts Tawny panics and takes off for the beach to clear her head, organize her thoughts, and decide how to handle her situation without hurting anyone’s feelings. She had no intention of falling asleep on a dune overlooking the ocean.

Jack Barclay and his trusty dog Roo happen to be setting up a sunrise wedding on the beach that morning. When Roo rudely awakens Tawny and she screams from the surprise, Jack comes to the rescue, not that she needed rescuing from the friendly dog. Jack apologizes for Roo’s behavior and offers to buy her breakfast.

Due to an unfortunate turn of events Tawny ends up staying at Jack’s place. As Jack and Tawny get to know each other they both feel an attraction to each other. Their dialogue is realistic and entertaining. They both live very different lives but are able to find some commonalities. Jack has been burned in a past relationship and is having trouble getting over it. With a mind-blowing twist everything in Jack’s life is turned upside down. I loved the way that Tawny and Jack are able to help each other on their journey.

The Wedding Planner’s Son is the perfect short story to read at the beach or on summer vacation. Ms. Fasano’s books are always intelligent, and humorous with clever twists you don’t see coming.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

The Wedding Planner’s Son is book six in Ms. Fasano’s OCEAN CITY BOARDWALK SERIES.

Format/Typo Issues:

I found no issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 13-14,000 words

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Review: One Broken Day by Melissa MacVicar

Genre: Young Adult/Romance/Coming of Age

Description:

“After a notorious school shooting leaves her a shadow of the girl she once was, seventeen-year-old Lizzie Beringer moves to Nantucket Island. There, Lizzie vows to hide her identity as the shooter’s sister. All her efforts to fly under the radar, however, are complicated by her P.T.S.D. and the attention she receives from two competing boys. While fending off the not-so-subtle advances of popular athlete Michael Wickersham, she must also deal with her growing feelings for her shy lab partner Gage Pike. Gage may act like he’s all wrong for her, but the pull between them is undeniable.

Under the threat of discovery and the possibility of testifying in a televised trial, Lizzie fights to keep her secrets and start her life over.”

Author:

“Melissa was born and mostly raised on Nantucket Island, and she currently lives there with her husband and two teenage children. When not being a wife and mother and teaching writing to seventh graders, she enjoys binge watching shows like Big Little Lies, House of Cards, and Outlander. Despite the rumors to the contrary, she does not actually wish she was a teenager again.”

Appraisal:

High school student Lizzie is living in a new place, Nantucket Island, and going to a new school where things are much different than California where she came from. The attention of two boys, one the popular athlete and the other a quiet, more cerebral type complicates her life immediately. Lizzie also has a secret past that she wants to keep under wraps, which means doing her best not to call attention to herself. Of course, the world has a way of upsetting the best laid plans.

How Lizzie juggles her conflicting wants and needs makes for an entertaining and thought-provoking read. In the process, she learns a lot about dealing with people and makes peace with her past.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

A small amount of adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

More proofreading issues than I like to see, but not enough to impact the book’s overall rating. Mostly minor issues, either missing or wrong words.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words