Friday, December 15, 2017

Review: The Redemption of Michael Hollister by Shawn Inmon


Genre: Time Travel

Description:

“All Michael Hollister wanted was death.

What he got, was time travel.

Convicted of murder, and with nothing left to live for, Michael commits suicide in his jail cell in 1977, then opens his eyes in 1966, in his eight-year-old body, all memories of his previous life intact.

His first thoughts are of the dark intentions of his father. When the man who raised him once again tries to do the unthinkable, Michael has a chance to right his childhood's greatest wrong. But, can he do that without becoming a killer all over again?”

Author:

“Have you ever noticed how almost every author on Amazon is both a ‘bestselling’ and ‘award winning’ author? Well, so is Shawn Inmon. He once dominated the Lithuanian Clog Dancing Romance category for two heady days back in 2013. He also was named third runner up in Mrs. Marsh's third grade spelling bee in 1968. Somewhere, he still has the certificate to prove it. Although he has never matched either of these two career highlights, he keeps plugging away.

Shawn hails from Mossyrock, Washington--the setting for his first two books, Feels Like the First Time, and Both Sides Now.

He is a full-time author who lives in picturesque Seaview, Washington on the Pacific Ocean.”

Appraisal:

This book is being billed as the second in the “Middle Falls Time Travel series.” The first, The Unusual Second Life of Thomas Weaver, had as its protagonist a character who died and found himself in a new life, kind of. He’d wake up as the same person, taken back in time to when he was a kid, but with all the knowledge of what he’d done in his past life or lives. Maybe a better term would be a “do over.” In that book Thomas had a classmate, Michael Hollister. If you’ve read the book you’ll know Michael wasn’t a very nice person. In fact, he was Oregon’s most prolific serial killer.

With that introduction to Michael you might wonder how he could possibly redeem himself. But when Michael finds a way to “end it all” while in prison, then wakes up in his boyhood bed in his boyhood home he’s smart enough to recognize the chance he’s been given. That’s the easy part. The hard part is figuring out what to do differently this time around.

The author does a masterful job of taking a character that was irredeemable to those who read the prior book and somehow redeeming him. Not excusing him for the crimes he committed in his past life, but helping us to understand how he got to that point and drawing us into the story so that we were pulling for Michael to find a different path for his life the next time around. The premise of the books in this series of being given another chance is an interesting mind exercise that makes for entertaining books. Well done, Mr. Inmon.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 55-60,000 words

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Review: STUFF by George Graybill

Genre: Non-Fiction

Description:

“From Archimedes’ bathtub to Schrödinger’s cat, the reader follows the dramatic and humorous events in the history of the ongoing struggle to understand the basic nature of matter and, in the process, painlessly absorbs all the major concepts of middle school physical science.

The structure of the book takes advantage of the fact that basic concepts about the nature of matter were discovered in roughly the same sequence they are taught. The book begins with the ancient Greeks, who first talked about atoms from a viewpoint that was more philosophical than scientific. The story of the next 2,000 years highlights the events and characters in the history of the study of matter. The book ends on the note that all the knowledge we have gained has led us back to asking philosophical questions such as, “Why does matter exist?” The tone is one of whimsy, weirdness, and irreverence. Although historical events are embellished or even completely fabricated for comic effect, it is always clear that the science is accurate. Adult readers will find this book thoroughly entertaining, but it can also serve as a supplement to a middle school physical science class. It should appeal to students who can’t get enough of science and to those looking for something less boring than their textbook.”

Author:

George Graybill says he has “worked as a professional student, oceanographer, bum, woodworker, research chemist, chemistry teacher, and science writer in that order.” Graybill has written everything from magazine articles and science textbooks to questions for standardized tests. You can find out more on his blog.

Appraisal:

The author lays out his goal for this book at the very beginning. He wants to mix interesting stories, jokes, and actual scientific facts in such a way that it is both educational and entertaining. As he put it, “It will be like eating ice cream that someone has secretly injected with vitamins.”

For the most part, I think he succeeds. I’m sure there are those who will never get this stuff, but for those who are interested it can refresh your memory about the stuff that you’ve forgotten. (I especially liked the discussion of the scientific method and the discussion of the definition of terms like theory and scientific law.) It will teach you things you might not have learned. (I’ve had a vague understanding of Schrödinger’s cat, but don’t think I’d ever understood the complete story of this famous feline before now.)

I’m not sure reading this is as good as ice cream, but it is pretty darn entertaining. And yeah, I learned stuff without really trying. Give it a try.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

A small number of typos and other proofing issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 25-30,000 words

Monday, December 11, 2017

Reprise Review: A Christmas Carol 2: The Return of Scrooge by Robert J. Elisberg



Genre: Christmas/Humor

Description:

“A continuation of the beloved Christmas tale that quickly goes flying off in its own comic direction. It begins five years after dear old Ebenezer Scrooge has passed away and left his thriving firm to his former clerk, Bob Cratchit. However, Bob's overly-generous benevolence with lending and charity-giving has driven the company into the ground, on the verge of bankruptcy. And so the ghost of Scrooge returns one Christmas Eve to teach Cratchit the true meaning of money. Making the swirling journey through Christmases past, present, and yet-to-be all the more of a chaotic ride for Cratchit are the dozens of characters from other Dickens novels woven throughout the story, together for the first time. God bless them, most everyone.”

Author:

Robert J. Ellsworth is a native of Chicago who has written for a number of magazines, written screenplays (some for movies you might have seen,) non-fiction books, and is a two-time recipient of the Lucille Ball Award for comedy screenwriting.

Appraisal:

It may seem strange to compare a Christmas book to the book The Princess Bride (you’ve seen the movie even if you haven’t read the book, right?), but I’m going to, because A Christmas Carol 2 reminded me of this classic in multiple ways (I know the literati might not call it a classic, but I do).

The first similarity is the premise that the book was written by someone other than the author. The Princess Bride was claimed to have been written by S. Morgenstern with a story involving the author, William Goldman, having it read to him as a sick child, only to discover as an adult that there were boring parts, so he’d republished it in what, if memory serves me correctly, was originally referred to as “the good parts edition.” This book (or so the claim goes) was written by Charles Dickens with Robert J. Ellsberg providing some commentary via footnotes.

Another similarity is the humor, sometimes subtle, in both. For example, A Christmas Carol 2 inserts short (sometimes just two or three words) from other sources (often Christmas songs and other seasonal fare) in ways that work in the context of the story, while evoking the source. I’m not sure whether everyone would see these as humorous, but it tickled my funny bone. A few examples are saying “the weather outside was frightful” or describing someone as “a jolly, happy soul with a corncob pipe and a button nose.” A second, ongoing joke was the appearance of several characters from other Dickens’ books with footnotes explaining the reason for including this character, often including actual (made up) quotes of correspondence between Dickens and his editor.

At one point as reading I started wondering if the author was making a political statement with the subtext (it seemed to be headed that way), but in the end, I decided I was probably seeing things (sometimes a cigar is just a cigar). If there was a message, it was one of moderation. I found this “sequel” to the beloved Christmas classic a fun read on many different levels.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count35-40,000 words

Friday, December 8, 2017

Review: The Most Boring Christmas Special Ever Written by Rudolf Kerkhoven


Genre: Satire/Christmas

Description:

“This Christmas season, give that special someone the gift of tedium.

BUYER BEWARE! Do NOT purchase this book if you are looking for any of the following:
-Miracles
-Elves
-General merriment
-Religious undertones
-Impromptu group renditions of Christmas carols
-People playing in snow
-A feeling of warmth and/or fuzziness
-Rekindled romance
-Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
-Santa*
-Joy
-That inner warmth that comes from giving someone the perfect gift

*Actually, Santa may make an appearance.”

Author:

The author of several novels, plus the co-author with Daniel Pitts of several choose-your-own-adventure books, Rudolf Kerkhoven lives in the Vancouver, British Columbia area. For more, visit his website.

Appraisal:

This is a Christmas story, kind of. It takes place on Christmas Eve, so it must be.

This is a choose your own adventure (or path or whatever) book, kind of. Adventure is singular, not plural.

But mostly this is satire. If you like dry humor… If you’re a bit of a nerdy nitpicker… If you find that people can be confusing… then this book might be satirizing you and I’d say puts you squarely in the target audience. If you can’t laugh at yourself and all that jazz, right?

Yeah, that all describes me. I’ve got the Christmas spirit now. If it describes you, this is the kind of book that will tickle your fancy. Or your funny bone. (If you’re ticklish.)

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

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Reprise Review : Pieces (stories) by Michael Crane


Genre: Short Story Collection/Literary Fiction

Description:

“When a little girl's body is found in the woods, a once quiet town is shaken to its core as it deals with the aftermath in this short story collection. In these twelve stories connected by a terrible tragedy, grown-ups and children alike try put the pieces back together again without any easy answers.”

Author:

Mr. Crane is an indie author of slice-of-life short stories, a series of drabble collections, and a horror novella and novelette. He has also contributed to several short story anthologies with other indie authors. Mr. Crane lives in Illinois with his wife, two cats, and a chinchilla.

You can connect with him on his Facebook page or blog.

Appraisal:

I have to say up front that I am a huge fan of Mr. Crane’s writing. I have read all of his works, even the ones he doesn’t like to talk about. I was excited to see him get back to writing another collection of slice-of-life stories. Pieces (stories) did not disappoint!

It is awesome the way each of these stories touch on the many different facets, fears, complications, and choices faced as both a child and in adulthood. Although the stories are complete read individually, every entry is made richer by the characters’ reactions to the tragic event that connects them together. Each one gets more personal as you learn details about who the missing girl is and what happened to her. It is perfect how it moves from the effects felt from hearing about the event, seeing it on TV, having it be located in your neighborhood, and ending up with the feelings of the missing girl’s best friend.

Here is how a few of the stories hit home for me. Dandyclean reminded me of the Beltway sniper attacks when everyone was suspicious of white box trucks in the area; also my dislike of door-to-door salespeople. In A Dangerous Place, I could hear my husband teasing me about being too connected with TV, the Internet, and my cell phone hyping all the tragic news and weather events. The ending was a big surprise for me! A Concerned Parent captures the difficult feelings parents must have about protecting and keeping their children safe while fostering independence. With all the abductions, murders, and shooting being reported, it’s not easy to keep thinking it won’t happen in my neighborhood. Vigilantes was a tough read… the emotions of what you would like to do, what you know is right, and how a personal experience can change your thinking. I felt that the author explored both the right and wrong with this situation and left it up in the air as to what might have happened.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No issues found.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Fredlet

Approximate word count25-30,000 words

Monday, December 4, 2017

Review: Take Risks: One Couple’s Journey to Quit Their Jobs and Hit the Open Road by Joe Russo


Genre: Travel Memoir/Motivational/Self-Help

Description:

“What if you could walk away from the pressures and stresses of corporate life, and live outside of the routines and restrictions? What if you could choose where you live on a daily basis, have a beach view on Monday and a view of the mountains on Friday? What if, instead of trading your days and weeks and years for a life deferred, you just went and lived that life right now?
These were the questions Joe and Kait Russo asked themselves as they faced endless corporate meetings, inconvenient business trips, and the crushing stress of ‘making it.’ It all changed when Kait asked Joe, ‘What if we sold our house and got an RV?’”

Author:

“In 2015 Joe Russo and his wife Kait quit their jobs, got rid of most of their possessions to live their dream – travel and work for themselves.”
“Joe Russo grew up in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. He's had an eclectic career starting in video game design, TV production and finally a 10 year career in Product Development before he decided to quit it all.”

For more from Joe and his wife Kait, visit their website or check outtheir Youtube channel.

Appraisal:

I’d heard of the Russos, Joe and Kait, a year or two ago. I had liked their Facebook page and then forgot about them. Then a few weeks ago I noticed a Facebook post which led to binge watching a bunch of their videos on YouTube, some of which mentioned the book Joe had written that had just been released. Getting a copy of the book was the obvious next step. I’m glad I did.

As you’ll read in the book (or even reading the full book description on retail sites), the title of the book comes from advice Joe’s father gave him on his deathbed, to “take risks, and have lots of children.” The point Joe’s father was making, at least as I see it, is that the best things in life come from taking an intelligent risk. Investigate, prepare as best as you can, and then jump. The Russos did exactly that and this book takes us from their initial idea of selling their house, buying an RV, and hitting the road, up to taking the jump which I’ll define as pulling out on the highway in their new home on wheels. The book chronicles this process well.

I can see the appealing to three distinct groups, from least to most important. The first, readers of travel memoirs. While not much travel happens in this book, this is billed as book one in a series and logically the future volumes are going to chronicle the traveling The Russos have done since hitting the road. Travel book readers should start with this first volume as the foundation of understanding the history for future installments. The second group are those who have dreamed of doing exactly what The Russos have done. While everyone’s situation is different and therefore their decision making process would be different, the specifics of the research, thinking process, and decisions The Russos made would be good as a blueprint and to trigger ideas. But the most important is as inspiration. If you’re considering taking a risk, making that jump, the story of others who did that with good results may be just the inspiration you need. It was for me.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

A small number of minor proofing issues.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words

Friday, December 1, 2017

Reprise Review: The Awful Mess by Sandra Hutchison



Genre: Women’s Fiction

Description:

“Divorced by a husband who wanted children more than her, Mary Bellamy has left behind the Boston suburbs for tiny Lawson, New Hampshire, where she must cope with attentions from an unhappily-married Episcopal priest who'd like to save her heathen soul, but is susceptible to more earthly temptations. She's also wooed by a handsome local cop, an excellent kisser who confuses her by being in favor of gay rights, but opposed to sex before marriage.

Soon Mary also faces a crushing job loss, a pregnancy that wasn't supposed to be possible, a scandalous secret she must keep even at the expense of all her hopes, and an ex-husband whose disintegration threatens all that she has left. In this witty and affectionate tale of small town life, Mary discovers that the connections we make can result in terrifying risks, as well as unexpected blessings.”

Author:

A native Floridian, Sandra Hutchison moved north during high school and has remained there. Currently she lives in Troy, NY with her family and teaches writing at Hudson Valley Community College.

For more, visit Hutchison’s website.

Appraisal:

Reading the book description I realized that everything it says about the things the main character Mary experiences are the kind of happenings that are common, or at least not rare. Surely you’ve known women who have received attention from a married man or a person whose beliefs contradict stereotypes - maybe even seem contradictory.  We’ve all known people who have unexpectedly lost their job or women who have an unplanned pregnancy, even when they believed they weren’t capable of bearing children. And the scenario of someone going off-the-rails in the midst of a divorce, creating issues for their soon-to-be ex isn’t hard to imagine. I think I got drawn into Mary’s story so easily because I didn’t have to suspend disbelief for any of these things. That they happened all at once is the reason the expression “when it rains, it pours,” is now a cliché.

The Awful Mess was an engrossing, well written story. It’s made more so for being so easy to believe it could really happen. I just hope it doesn’t happen to anyone I know.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK
FYI:

Some sex and adult themes. Also, as the author puts it on Amazon, “This book contains some religious themes, but if you require piety and reverence in such matters, this is not the book for you. Skeptics, you will probably be able to cope.”

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count85-90,000 words